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Tuesday, 13 November, 2001, 19:07 GMT
Bin Laden's continuing appeal
Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is a place of pilgrimage for Muslims
Frank Gardner

The Arabic satellite TV channel Al-Jazeera is the channel of choice for most Arabs in the Middle East.

But for Hassan, sitting in his living room in Saudi Arabia, news of Taleban casualties means more than it does to his neighbours. A short while ago, Hassan's brother left secretly to fight alongside the Taleban, pledging his loyalty to Osama Bin Laden.


Osama Bin Laden is a man whom you would like ... before he turned bad

Saudi journalist Jamal Al-Khashoggi

When asked how his parents felt about sending their son to his probable death, Hassan said their parents were initially hostile.

"But then we came round to the idea and we encouraged him and helped him," he said.

"And now we're proud that he's gone to be a holy warrior with the Muslims against the Americans."

Cult of Bin Laden

Hassan's brother is one of hundreds of young Saudis who left to join Osama Bin Laden soon after 11 September.

Although his appeal does now appear to be waning, the man still has a certain charisma amongst many Arabs.

Osama Bin Laden in Al-Jazeera TV broadcast
Bin Laden is a Muslim hero in the eyes of many Saudis

The Saudi journalist Jamal Al-Khashoggi is the first person ever to interview Bin Laden. I asked him what sort of a person this elusive man really is.

"Osama Bin Laden is a man whom you would like. [He's] a very nice man, very polite, never raises his voice, never argues," he said.

"I never see him screaming at anybody. He doesn't talk much. His messages are brief and to the point, and he was from a generation of Arab enthusiasts about Islamic causes."

'Far from spent'

But then, says Jamal, Osama Bin Laden turned bad, and fell in with a crowd of exiled Egyptian Islamists who corrupted him. So now that the war is taking its toll on Bin Laden's allies, the Taleban, are his days numbered?

Not according to the London-based Saudi dissident, Dr Saad Al-Faqih. He believes that Bin Laden's organization Al-Qaeda can survive whatever happens in Afghanistan.

"Even if the whole of Afghanistan is destroyed by a nuclear bomb, so imagine that the whole of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is destroyed, then two thirds of Bin Laden's followers are inside Saudi Arabia. So two thirds of Al-Qaeda are still there and active," he said.

Dr Saad also told me something that should worry the West. He said he believes an attack by Bin Laden's followers is imminent.

It could be against America, it could be against the Saudi government. But either way, it is clear that Osama Bin Laden and his followers are very far from being a spent force.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rahimullah Yusufzia
talked to Michel Peyrard in the presence of the Taleban governor
See also:

04 Nov 01 | Middle East
Taleban 'offered Bin Laden to Saudis'
03 Nov 01 | Middle East
Bin Laden popular in Saudi Arabia
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Who is Osama Bin Laden?
05 Nov 01 | Middle East
Many Saudis back Bin Laden
10 Nov 01 | Middle East
US-Arab relations 'in crisis'
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