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Bin Laden says he's pleased but not involved

The top suspect praises the attacks on the United States as "a punishment from Allah," a journalist with ties to him says.

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 13, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden congratulated the people who carried out the deadly terrorist strikes in the United States but denied Wednesday that he was involved, a Palestinian journalist said.

"Osama bin Laden thanked almighty Allah and bowed before him when he heard this news," Jamal Ismail, Abu Dhabi Television's bureau chief in Islamabad, said, quoting a close aide of bin Laden's. Ismail said the aide, whom he wouldn't identify by name, called him early Wednesday on a satellite telephone from a hide-out in Afghanistan.

Bin Laden praised the people who carried out the attacks in Washington and New York, Ismail said, quoting the aide. "But he had no information or knowledge about the attack" ahead of time, Ismail said.

The journalist has long-standing ties with bin Laden and has won rare interviews with him several times over the past few years.

The Taleban government calls bin Laden their guest and a hero of Islam.

The aide said that bin Laden has described the devastation in the United States as "a punishment from Allah," Ismail said. The United States had invited Allah's wrath because it is trying to control the entire world by force, Ismail said, quoting the aide.

"There are thousands of Muslims who have vowed for jihad (holy war) and martyrdom," according to bin Laden's aide. "They have experience to fight with all sorts of weapons."

The aide also denied reports of bin Laden's deteriorating health, according to Ismail, saying: "These are all false reports. He is well and strong."

Bin Laden's rage against America began festering in 1990, when the United States sent its troops to Saudi Arabia. They had come to defend the Persian Gulf oil powerhouse against an expansionist Iraq, but ended up with a new foe who vowed to destroy them.

Bin Laden first achieved prominence in Afghanistan during an insurgency against the invading Soviet Union in the 1980s. It was led by Afghan Islamic rebels, heavily bankrolled by the United States.

He is said to have received considerable money during the 10-year battle from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, which covertly helped finance the Islamic insurrection during the Cold War.

In 1989, when the fighting ended with Moscow's retreat, bin Laden returned home to Saudi Arabia. There, he began a confrontation with the Saudi monarchy over its decision to invite American troops into Saudi Arabia, the site of two of Islam's holiest places, Mecca and Medina.

Many devout Muslims believe that the land of Saudi Arabia, where the prophet Mohammed lived and died, is sacred and should be off-limits for nonbelievers. Only Muslims are permitted in the cities of Mecca and Medina.

In 1990, the United States deployed its troops to Saudi Arabia in response to Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait. The result was the Persian Gulf War.

Bin Laden rallied disgruntled Saudi veterans of the Afghan insurgency and openly accused Saudi Arabia's King Fahd of selling the holy sites of Islam to the United States.

Hounded by Saudi intelligence officials who arrested him for his criticism of the monarchy, bin Laden left in 1992 for Sudan, where hard-line Islamist Hasan Turabi was in power. There, bin Laden's Al-Qaida organization took shape, embracing a hard-line Islamist philosophy from north African countries and the Gulf states.

Since then, a whole string of terrorist attacks against U.S. targets have occurred at regular intervals, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the 1996 bombing of U.S. military housing in Saudi Arabia and the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.

Bin Laden never claimed responsibility for any of these attacks but has been accused of playing a role in most of them. Now he is the top suspect in Tuesday's horrific attacks in New York and Washington.

As recently as May of this year, bin Laden instructed hard-line Islamic activists at a Muslim convention in neighboring Pakistan to prepare the next generation for the jihad, or holy war.

"Issue a call to the young generation to get ready for the holy war and to prepare for that in Afghanistan because jihad in this time of crisis for Muslims is an obligation of all Muslims," he said in a statement.

In 1996, Sudan bowed to relentless pressure from the United States and asked bin Laden to leave. He moved to Afghanistan, with 180 followers and three wives, to join a guerrilla colleague from the days of the Soviet invasion. He is believed to operate at least two training centers in eastern Nangarhar province, at Darunta and Farmada.

Earlier this summer, a federal jury in New York convicted four bin Laden allies for their roles in the 1998 embassy bombings. Those attacks, like Tuesday's, were well-coordinated.

The FBI has placed a $5-million bounty on his head and the State Department has called him "one of the most significant sponsors of Islamic extremist activities in the world today."

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