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This transcript is produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

Inside the mind of Osama Bin Laden 26/9/01

The face of Osama Bin Laden is today everywhere. He has become a symbol of the suspicion and hatred between the Arab world and the West. But reading his published thoughts over the years, it is clear that his struggle had modest beginnings. It was during the Gulf War that Osama Bin Laden discovered the logic for war with America. The bombing of fellow Muslims in Iraq was an abomination and so was stationing of US troops in the land of Islam's holiest shrines, Mecca and Medina. When the war was over, Washington decided to keep several thousand troops in Saudi Arabia, a continuing irritant to Arabian militants who saw it as proof that the Al Saud dynasty was corrupt and serving the interests of infidels.

The fate, of any government which sells the interests of its own people and betrays the nation and commits offences which furnish grounds for expulsion from Islam is known. We expect for the ruler of Riyadh the same fate as for the Shah of Iran. We anticipate this to happen to him and to the influential people who stand by him and who have sided with the Jews and the Christians giving them free rein over the land of the two holy mosques. These are grave offences that are grounds for expulsion from the faith. They shall be wiped out.

Initially, Bin Laden did not act inside Saudi Arabia, but in 1995 he started bombing Americans in the country, most spectacularly the destruction of a housing block in 1996, killing 19 American servicemen. Bin Laden's key demand remained the removal of US troops from the Arabian peninsula and some Islamists believe he might have stopped his attacks then if that had happened.

Defence of Legitimate Rights for Saudi Arabia
Withdrawing the forces itself would have been a great symbolic act, but also the bombarding and acts of war against Iraq, even if they are done from Turkey, would be a sore point still. But if that was done it would most likely, have directed action toward the regimes. There's still grievance with the regimes, there's still grievance with the miserable situation in the Arab countries generally and Saudi Arabia specifically, but things would have been much milder and more localised not involving the Americans in any great extent, or in a relevant way.

The grim logic of terrorism was playing its role though, and American officials were determined not to be bombed out of Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden himself became the target for American intelligence activities. Expelled from Sudan, he moved to Afghanistan where he made contact with other militant Arab groups and broadened his ideology well beyond its original aims.

US Government Security Consultant
There's an increasingly anti-western component to Bin Laden's agenda. I think he sees the US as representative of the west, which stands against everything he thinks Islam stands for. The west is materialist and capitalist, soulless in some sense. Whereas he would say Islam is spiritual and fundamentally different and therefore the west is a fundamental threat to the fundamental values of Islam.

From his base in Afghanistan, Bin Laden issued a fatwa early in 1998 calling for an anti-American jihad that would be global and merciless:
"to kill the Americans and their allies, civilian and military, is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it, and in any country where it is possible to do it". It was a few months after this edict that bombers struck the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Bin Laden was later indicted by a US court for organising these acts. Only 12 of the 224 people killed were actually Americans, but by this time Bin Laden's ideology had become apocalyptic in its tone and scope.

We believe that the worst thieves in the world today and the worst terrorists are the Americans. Nothing could stop them except perhaps retaliation in kind. We don't have to differentiate between military or civilian. As far as we are concerned, they are all targets and this is what the fatwa says.

Following the embassy bombing, Bin Laden survived an American retaliatory strike and enjoyed a brief period of courting the international media. He allowed journalists to meet him in his mountain hideaways and laid out his plans for an escalating war. He told one magazine journalist of his quest for weapons of mass destruction. "If I have indeed acquired these weapons, then I thank God for enabling me to do so. And if I seek to acquire these weapons, then again I thank God for enabling me to do so."

The director of the CIA has said publicly that he's seen evidence that Bin Laden wants to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and we know from trail testimony that he made several attempts in the mid and late 1990's to acquire nuclear materials, not necessarily successful. We've seen some evidence of possible testing of chemical or biological agents and again the intelligence community has said publicly that they think he has the capability to carry out crude chemical attacks.

Bin Laden's ideology has broadened from it's originally narrow Saudi objective to taking the whole Arab confrontation with the west. He's added vanquishing Israel to his war aims too and he's been prepared to use more and more destructive weapons. It's hard to see how there could now be any meaningful dialogue with a person who's aims include toppling half the governments in the Middle East, wiping out Israel and killing Americans wherever they may be found. Since Bin Laden's search for weapons of mass destruction is already well advanced, any Western retaliation now can hardly incite him to greater horrors than those he was already planning. Bin Laden got plenty of experience of surviving in Afghanistan during his war against the Russians, he's been saying for years that he relishes a confrontation with the Americans in the same inhospitable land.

We've noticed during the last decade the US Government is going downhill and we also noticed the weakness of the American soldier who is merely programmed to win easy targets and not prepared for long bitter battles. That's a fact and it's been proven in Beirut when the marines flew out after two explosions and also after two explosions in Aden, when the Americans ran away in less than 24 hours. There was the same reaction in Somalia. But we are prepared for anything.

Bin Laden then is a man who revels in conflict, the wider and bloodier the better. His ideology leaves the West with few options since the imperative of self-defence alone impels America and its allies to use any methods available to prevent future terror.

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