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Osama Bin Ladin: Wealth plus Extremism Equals Terrorism

At the end of May, 1998, ABC News’ John Miller was granted an interview with Osama bin Ladin, millionaire, Islamic fundamentalist, and financier of international terrorism. The interview provided a rare glimpse into the ideological worldview of a radical Muslim fundamentalist; whose influence with the “Afghan Veterans” qualifies him as one of the top backers of terrorism worldwide. Bin Ladin represents a new type of supporter of terrorism–the wealthy individual who, without reservation, places his extensive resources at the disposal of terrorist organizations. 

Religion in the Service of Terrorism

Bin Ladin, a Saudi millionaire and veteran of the Afghan war of 79-89, came to see that conflict in the light of “Muslim believers vs. heretics.” In his view, the term, “heretics” embraces the “pragmatic” Arab regimes (including his homeland, Saudi Arabia), and the United States, which he sees as taking over the Muslim holy sites of Mecca and Medina, and assisting the Jews in their conquest of Palestine.

In the course of the ABC interview bin Ladin presents the views typical of his organization, and of the majority of Sunni fundamentalist groups affiliated with him. This worldview, not only encourages the perpetration of acts of terrorism but sanctifies these acts by religious edict. For bin Ladin, political violence has the standing of a religious injunction. He sees the “Jihad” as necessary to raise the Muslim world above the world of the heretics, and argues that terrorism is justified by the degraded moral standards of his enemies, the Christians and the Jews. The United States, he maintains, is responsible for the most reprehensible acts of world terrorism, such as the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and carpet bombing in Iraq. While the Zionists–whom he refers to in terms reminiscent of the writers of “the Protocols of the Elders of Zion”–are held responsible for the massacre of Dir Yassin and Sabra and Shatila.

In order to further his religious “duties”, bin Ladin founded the International Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders.” This year this organization published a “fatwa” (religious ruling) proclaiming the “Jihad against the heretics who conquer Muslim lands” a duty incumbent upon all believing Muslims.

Terrorism Against America

Bin Ladin’s name has come up in connection with a number of terror attacks around the world, among them the attacks in Riyadh (November 95) and Dhahran (June 96), that left about 30 people dead, including 24 Americans. He is also implicated in the attacks on a Yeminite hotel (December 92) that injured several tourists; the assassination attempt on Egyptian president Mubarak in Ethiopia (June 95); the World Trade Center bombing (February 93) that killed 3 and injured hundreds; and the Somali attack on American forces that left hundreds wounded.

In speaking of his connection with these attacks and with those who perpetrate them, bin Ladin uses the kind of double talk characteristic of states supporting terrorism. On the one hand he expresses support and praise for acts of terror, referring to them as righteous and just acts, while at the same time disavowing all responsibility for their execution.

In his praise of terrorism bin Ladin treads a very thin line. For example, he admits that he was a good friend of Wali Khan, an accomplice of Ramzi Yousef’s who was indicted by an American court for planning to blow up over a dozen American planes in 1995. However, he denies knowing Ramzi Yousef personally, even though Yousef was a guest in a hotel in Pakistan owned by bin Ladin. In addition he denies all knowledge of, or participation in, Yousef’s terrorist activities. He does, however prophesy the advent of “future Ramzi Yousef’s.” Bin Ladin praised in particular the perpetrators of the Riyadh bombing, referring to the four men who were executed by the Saudis as “shahids”, or martyrs, who paved the way for other true believers.

The Afghan Veterans–a Means to an End

Bin Ladin plays an important role in supporting and enlarging the pool of Islamic fighters known as the “Afghan Veterans.” Today a large number of militants in Afghanistan owe allegiance to him. At the same time he maintains extensive ties with a number of international terror organizations–in Egypt, India, the Philippines, and elsewhere. These organizations enjoy the use of bin Ladin’s funding, his training camps, and possibly even his many companies around the world. These companies would be invaluable to any terrorist organization in furnishing logistic and communication support, as well as providing cover. In short, bin Ladin’s companies would play the same role as the diplomatic immunity provided by state sponsors of terrorism.

The principal danger presented by the phenomenon of “sub-state” supporters of terror like bin Ladin is the combination of tremendous financial resources coupled with an extremist ideology backed, in his view, by heavenly decree; an ideology which advocates the wholesale slaughter of its perceived enemies, whether soldiers or civilians, children or adults. Bin Ladin’s worldview sees the entire world as the battlefield.

The alliance of such an individual with a group of trained and experienced fighters, steeped in Islamic indoctrination, is potentially deadly. All the more so when the fighters are veterans of a long, and for their part, victorious war for the sake of religion. Such a combination is a recipe for acts of political violence and mass destruction. One cannot rule out the possibility of an organization espousing such a doctrine employing non-conventional methods. In the estimation of many security analysts, this combination of wealth and extremism gives the Afghan Veteran’s Association a place among the most dangerous organizations on the stage of international terrorism today.