by Carlos Latuf
Lawrence Wright, author of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning book “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11" , wrote in The New Yorker: “On September 11th, Zawahiri, bin Laden, and their followers evacuated their quarters in Kandahar and fled into the mountains, where they listened to an Arabic radio station's news flashes about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. According to a C.I.A. report about the events of that morning, at 9:53 A.M., between the crash of American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon and the downing of United Airlines Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, a member of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was overheard saying that the attackers were following through on "the doctor's program." [Source: Lawrence Wright, The New Yorker, September 16, 2002]

Recalling 9/11, Sulayman Abu Ghaith, al-Qaeda’s spokesman, said: “I was sitting with the sheikh [bin Laden] in a room. Then I left to go to another room, where there was a TV set. The TV broadcasted the big event. The scene was showing an Egyptian family sitting in their living room — they exploded with joy. There was a subtitle that read, “In revenge for the children of Al Aksa [the Palestinians], Osama bin Laden executes an operation against America.” So I went back to the sheikh, who was sitting in a room with 50 or 60 people. I tried to tell him about what I saw, but he made a gesture with his hands, meaning, “I know, I know.”

Kate Zernike and Michael T. Kaufman wrote in the New York Times: Bin Laden had never before claimed or accepted responsibility for terrorist attacks. But in a videotape found in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar weeks after the attacks, he did precisely that, reveling in the horror of Sept. 11. “We calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy, who would be killed based on the position of the tower,” he said. “We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic of them all.” [Source: Kate Zernike and Michael T. Kaufman, New York Times, May 2, 2011]

“In the videotape, showing him talking to followers nearly two months after the attacks, Bin Laden smiles, hungers to hear more approval and notes proudly that the attacks let loose a surge of interest in Islam around the world. He explained that the hijackers on the planes — “the brothers who conducted the operation” — did not know what the mission would be until just before they boarded the planes. They knew only that they were going to the United States on a mission of martyrdom.”

John-Thor Dahlburg and Alex Rodriguez wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “In his public pronouncements, Bin Laden rarely displayed emotion, and seldom smiled. But a video apparently made in early November 2001 and obtained by U.S. authorities showed a very different Bin Laden. On that tape, made during a meeting with supporters in eastern Afghanistan, Bin Laden laughed when recalling the carnage of Sept. 11. Here, there were no pro forma denials: Bin Laden said he knew four days in advance what was planned, though he admitted that the scale of death and destruction astonished him. Hours after the Sept. 11 attacks, he sent a message to Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist who had interviewed him before, that read, "I don't have any link to the U.S. attacks, but I support it." Later, in a statement faxed from an undisclosed hide-out, he called on Muslims in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan to join his holy war against the "Christian-Jewish Crusade." [Source: John-Thor Dahlburg and Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times May 2, 2011]

Many regard Khalid Sheik Mohammed as the main planner and organizer of September 11th. Terry McDermott wrote in The New Yorker: “Bin Laden’s main contributions to 9/11 were money and volunteers. Almost all the money was for living and travel expenses. This was not inconsequential, but terrorism is cheap. It doesn’t require huge numbers of people, elaborate infrastructure, or great technical skill. That is its advantage over the weapons and defenses of a modern, sophisticated state.” [Source: Terry McDermott, The New Yorker, September 13, 2010]

According to bin Laden’s driver Salim Hamdan bin Laden — negotiated mountaintops to get a satellite signal to allow him to watch the planes crash into the Twin Towers on television but was unsuccessful and was forced to listen to the events unfold on the radio.” [Source: Jonathan Turley, New York Times, August 21, 2008; “The Challenge, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and the Fight Over Presidential Power” by Jonathan Mahler (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008)]

Osama bin Laden and the United States

Dust covered 911 victims
Osama bin Laden declared that Islam was under attack by the United States and that “crimes and sins committed by Americans are clear declaration of war on God, his messengers and Muslims.” Bin Laden and others in Al-Qaida felt the United States was a paper tiger and they might be able to deal the country a devastating blow. Retreats from Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia were seen as signs of weakness.

Bin Laden declared war in the United States in 1991, describing it “the head of a snake.” In 1998, Osama bin Laden said, in Lebanon “The Marines left after two explosions. It proves that they can run in less than 24 hours, and this was also repeated in Somalia...After a few blows they ran in defeat. They forgot about being the world leader.” They “left, dragging the corpses” in “shameful defeat.”

Bin Laden’s argument for attacking the United States is based on his belief about American aggression against Islam which in turn is based on the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia. This argument is quite a stretch from the defined justification for jihad. Osama bin Laden has never been persecuted for his religion, the main justification for jihad, and his reasons for picking a fight with the United States are mostly political and personal, namely that he wants to overthrown the Saudi royal family. Some have called his justification for holy war is a “blatant fraud.”

Bin Laden founded a group called the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders. He helped organize and stage press conferences and media events in which he lashed out against Israel, American and governments in Muslim countries that were friendly with the West. In one interview he said, “You say I am fighting against the American civilians. My enemy is everyone who is fighting against me even by paying taxes.”

Osama bin Laden on the Planning and Execution of September 11th

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in 2001
Senior Al-Qaida leaders Khalid Shaikh Mohammed said Osama bin Laden personally picked the targets for the September 11th attacks. U.S. officials are not sure if Mohammed was telling the truth. Osama bin Laden is also said to have personally approved the attacks against the U.S.S. Cole and the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

On the first Al-Qaida-sanctioned videotape after 9/11 — released on October 7, 2001 as the U.S. bombing campaign against the Taliban began — bin Laden said: “There is America, hit by God in one of its softest spots. Its greatest buildings were destroyed, thank God for that. There is America, full of fear from its north to its south, from its west to its east. Thank God for that. What America tastes now is something insignificant compared to what we have tasted for scores of years. Our nation [the Islamic world] has tasted this humiliation and this degradation for more than 80 years.

Lawrence Wright wrote in the The New Yorker: “Osama bin Laden later boasted that he was the only one in the group’s upper hierarchy who had anticipated the magnitude of the wound that Al Qaeda inflicted on America, but he also admitted that he was surprised by the towers’ collapse. His goal, for at least five years, had been to goad America into invading Afghanistan, an ambition that had caused him to continually raise the stakes.”[Source: Lawrence Wright, The New Yorker, September 11, 2006]

Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist who had interviewed bin Laden, said: Bin Laden told me that “I became father of a girl after 9/11, and I gave her the name of Safia.” I said, “Why Safia?” And he said, “I gave her the name of Safia, who killed a Jew spy in the days of Holy Prophet Muhammad, so that’s why.” I said, “What is the age of your daughter?” He said, “Just one month. She will kill enemies of Islam like Safia of the Prophet’s time.” So you are visualizing a one-month-old girl as Safia, who should kill lots of Jews. This is the mind-set. [Source: Peter Bergen, Vanity Fair, January 2006]

Video of Bin Laden with 9/11 Hijackers

Mohamed Atta
In September 2011, Reuters reported: Al Jazeera television aired a video tape on showing al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden meeting what is said were some of the Sept. 11 attackers....The Arabic channel said the tape documented the “daily life” of al Qaeda operatives as they trained and prepared in the mountains of Afghanistan. Bin Laden was shown in long white robes walking through rocky terrain with aides carrying rifles. [Source: Reuters, September 7, 2011]

“Release of the five-year-old video was clearly timed to coincide with the anniversary of an attack that killed almost 3,000 and launched the United States on a “war on terror” from home shores to Iraq and Afghanistan. The channel identified two men in the tape as Ramzi Binalshibh, suspected coordinator of the Sept. 11 plot who was transferred recently to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, and Abu Hafs al-Masri -- a former top lieutenant of bin Laden killed in a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan in 2001.”

Wail al-Shehri
The video portrayed Saudi Arabian Bin Laden, dressed in dark robe and white headgear, greeting a fighter against the backdrop of a mountain. Two of the Sept. 11 attackers, Wael al-Shihri and Hamza al-Ghamdi, were shown presenting their taped “wills”. Al-Shihri’s address carried the English language subtitle “One of the Martyrs of the Manhattan Raid”. Al-Ghamdi is believed to have been among a group that took control of a United Airlines flight and crashed it into New York’s World Trade Centre on the morning of September 11, 2001.

“If we accept our humiliation ... the footsteps of the enemy will stretch from Jerusalem to Mecca,” a man identified as al-Ghamdi was shown as saying. Shihri spoke in a similar vein. “So if jihad is not now then when will it be? When will it be, while in Kashmir and the Philippines, the blood continues to flow. When will it be, while football is played with the heads of our brothers in Indonesia?” He spoke in front of a collage of pictures showed a building on fire, an airplane and the Pentagon.

Messages Written by Osama bin Laden After September 11th

Alan Cullison of the Wall Street Journal wrote in Atlantic Monthly: “Osama bin Laden himself was composing letters on the computer just weeks before the fall of Kabul. In them he defiantly addressed the American people with a statement of al-Qaeda's goals, which he then went on to spell out at much greater length for [Afghanistan’s leader] Mullah Omar, in the spirit of a powerful, high-level political adviser offering advice to a head of state. [Source: Alan Cullison, The Atlantic Monthly, September 2004, from files found on a computer used mainly by Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri]

A file on the computer from Osama bin Laden to The American People, dated October 3, 2001, read: “What takes place in America today was caused by the flagrant interference on the part of successive American governments into others' business. These governments imposed regimes that contradict the faith, values, and lifestyles of the people. This is the truth that the American government is trying to conceal from the American people.

“Our current battle is against the Jews. Our faith tells us we shall defeat them, God willing. However, Muslims find that the Americans stand as a protective shield and strong supporter, both financially and morally. The desert storm that blew over New York and Washington should, in our view, have blown over Tel Aviv. The American position obliged Muslims to force the Americans out of the arena first to enable them to focus on their Jewish enemy. Why are the Americans fighting a battle on behalf of the Jews? Why do they sacrifice their sons and interests for them?

A file on the computer from Osama bin Laden to Mullah Omar, dated October 3, 2001, read: “Highly esteemed Leader of the Faithful, Mullah Muhammad Omar, Mujahid, May God preserve him”1- We treasure your message, which confirms your generous, heroic position in defending Islam and in standing up to the symbols of infidelity of this time. 2- I would like to emphasize the major impact of your statements on the Islamic world. Nothing harms America more than receiving your strong response to its positions and statements. Thus it is very important that the Emirate respond to every threat or demand from America — with demands that America put an end to its support of Israel, and that U.S. forces withdraw from Saudi Arabia. Such responses nullify the effect of the American media on people's morale.

“Newspapers mentioned that a recent survey showed that seven out of every ten Americans suffer psychological problems following the attacks on New York and Washington. Although you have already made strong declarations, we ask you to increase them to equal the opponent's media campaign in quantity and force. Their threat to invade Afghanistan should be countered by a threat on your part that America will not be able to dream of security until Muslims experience it as reality in Palestine and Afghanistan.

9/11 victims
“3- Keep in mind that America is currently facing two contradictory problems: a) If it refrains from responding to jihad operations, its prestige will collapse, thus forcing it to withdraw its troops abroad and restrict itself to U.S. internal affairs. This will transform it from a major power to a third-rate power, similar to Russia. b) On the other hand, a campaign against Afghanistan will impose great long-term economic burdens, leading to further economic collapse, which will force America, God willing, to resort to the former Soviet Union's only option: withdrawal from Afghanistan, disintegration, and contraction.

“Thus our plan in the face of this campaign should focus on the following: Serving a blow to the American economy, which will lead to: a) Further weakening of the American economy b) Shaking the confidence in the American economy. This will lead investors to refrain from investing in America or participating in American companies, thus accelerating the fall of the American economy.

“Conduct a media campaign to fight the enemy's publicity. The campaign should focus on the following important points: a) Attempt to cause a rift between the American people and their government, by demonstrating the following to the Americans: “That the U.S. government will lead them into further losses of money and lives. “That the government is sacrificing the people to serve the interests of the rich, particularly the Jews. “That the government is leading them to the war front to protect Israel and its security. “America should withdraw from the current battle between Muslims and Jews. This plan aims to create pressure from the American people on their government to stop its campaign against Afghanistan, on the grounds that the campaign will cause major losses to the American people. “Imply that the campaign against Afghanistan will be responded to with revenge blows against America. I believe that we can issue, with your permission, a number of speeches that we expect will have the greatest impact, God willing, on the American, Pakistani, Arab, and Muslim people.

“Finally, I would like to emphasize how much we appreciate the fact that you are our Emir. I would like to express our great appreciation of your historical stands in the service of Islam and in the defense of the Prophet's tradition. We ask God to accept and reward such stands. We ask God to grant the Muslim Afghani nation, under your leadership, victory over the American infidels, just as He singled this nation out with the honor of defeating the Communist infidels. We ask God to lead you to the good of both this life and the afterlife....Peace upon you and God's mercy and blessings.... Your brother, Osama Bin Muhammad Bin Laden

Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein

20120711-Iraq Saddam_Hussein_(222).jpg
Saddam Hussein
Peter Bergen wrote: “Following the 9/11 attacks, the American public became convinced that Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda were in league. By February 2003, on the eve of hostilities in Iraq, more than two-thirds of Americans believed that Saddam was implicated in 9/11, and a majority continue to believe that Saddam either contributed “substantial” support to al-Qaeda or was behind 9/11, despite the fact that there is no evidence for those views. It is hardly surprising that the American public believes that there was an al-Qaeda--Saddam alliance, since Bush-administration officials constantly touted that supposed alliance as a pressing reason to go to war against Iraq. [Source: Peter Bergen, Vanity Fair, January 2006]

Bergen wrote the historical record demonstrates that bin Laden has, in fact, been a passionate opponent of Saddam Hussein for more than a decade and a half — especially ever since Saddam invaded Kuwait, in 1990. Bin Laden’s childhood friend Khaled Batarfi told Bergen: “Last time I saw [Osama] was 1990, six months before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. It was in Mecca, in a friend’s house, where a group of intellectuals meet every Friday. And he came and talked about jihad in Afghanistan and told us then that he’d speak to us about Saddam. He said, “We should train our people, our young, and increase our army and prepare for the day when eventually we are attacked. This guy [Saddam] can never be trusted.” He doesn’t believe [Saddam is] a Muslim. So he never liked him or trusted him. [Source: Peter Bergen, Vanity Fair, January 2006]

20120711-_Bush_addrC ongress_Sept._20.jpg
Bush addressing Congress_Sept._20
Abdel Bari Atwan, the Palestinian editor of Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper, interviewed bin Laden in 1996: The Palestine Liberation Organization used to be considered an atheist organization by Osama bin Laden because they sided with the Soviet Union. He considers [the late P.L.O. leader Yasser] Arafat a traitor. And a secularist. He hated his guts. He also didn’t like Saddam Hussein. And he still considered Saddam Hussein as a man who is a secular, but he didn’t actually insult Saddam Hussein the way he insulted Yasser Arafat. He didn’t like him, and he told me he wanted to kick him out of Iraq, as he considered the Ba’th regime to be an atheist regime. He considered Saddam Hussein an atheist, and he hates an atheist.

Hamid Mir, bin Laden’s Pakistani biographer and acquaintance, said bin Laden condemned Saddam Hussein in a 1997 interview: “He gave such kind of abuses that it was very difficult for me to write, [calling Hussein a] socialist motherfucker. [He said], “The land of the Arab world, the land is like a mother, and Saddam Hussein is fucking his mother.” He also explained that Saddam Hussein is against us, and he discourages Iraqi boys to come to Afghanistan.

In February 2003, on the eve of the Iraq war, bin Laden released an audiotape in which he said, “Needless to say, this crusade war is primarily targeted against the people of Islam. Regardless of the removal or the survival of the socialist [Ba’th] party or Saddam, Muslims in general and the Iraqis in particular must brace themselves for jihad.” Bin Laden went on to observe that “socialists are infidels,” implying that Saddam was an apostate from Islam, the gravest charge bin Laden could make against a fellow Muslim.

Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaida as Justification for Going to War in Iraq

The suggested Al-Qaida-Saddam link was one of the justifications the Bush administration used to invade Iraq. In a speech in October 2002, Bush said, “We’ve learned that Iraq has trained Al-Qaida members in bomb-making and poisons and gases.” In September 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said there was “bulletproof” evidence of an Iraq--al-Qaeda connection. In his January 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush said, “Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaeda.”

20120711-Chemical_weapons_February_5 _2003_chemical_weapons_facility iraq.jpg
chemical weapons facility in Iraq

Peter Bergen wrote in Vanity Fair: The centerpiece of the Bush administration’s brief for going to war in Iraq was Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the U.N. Security Council on February 5, 2003. In it Powell tried to make the case for an emerging alliance between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda in the person of the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi: What I want to bring to your attention today is the potentially much more sinister nexus between Iraq and the al-Qaeda terrorist network, a nexus that combines classic terrorist organizations and modern methods of murder. Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda lieutenants. [Source: Peter Bergen, Vanity Fair, January 2006]

Allegations that Al-Qaida members received training in using chemical and biological weapons were based on the confessions of a senior Al-Qaida military trainer from Libya named Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. Defense Intelliegence had serious questions about the veracity of these reports. The Libyan trainer for example could not name any Iraqis who were involved or name the weapons that were used. Libi recanted the story in January 2004.

Documents found in bombed headquarters of Iraqi intelligence showed the Saddam Hussein regime met with representatives from Al-Qaida in 1998. The documents mentioned that Iraq and Al-Qaida were drawn by a mutual hatred of Saudi Arabia and the United States and discussed a possible trip to Baghdad by Osama bin Laden. According to one of Saddam’s mistresses, Saddam met with Osama bin Laden twice, and Saddam gave him money. She said she met bin Laden in one of Saddam’s palaces in the late 1980s. Saddam’s son Uday told her about the 1996 visit. The Pentagon believed her story, the CIA and FBI didn’t and didn’t believe the meetings took place. While in detention Saddam told his guards he never dealt with Osama bin Laden.

Osama bin Laden and the Iraq War

Car bomb in Iraq
Peter Bergen wrote in Vanity Fair: As Michael Scheuer, who ran the C.I.A.”s bin Laden unit until 1999, has pointed out, if bin Laden believed in Christmas, the Iraq war would be his perfect present from Santa Claus. The 9/11 attacks and the subsequent war in Afghanistan severely damaged bin Laden’s organization. Al-Qaeda...lost its base and training camps in Afghanistan, while its leaders were on the run, captured, or dead. One year after the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda was still on life support.” Five years later “it’s on steroids.”[Source: Peter Bergen, Vanity Fair, January 2006]

“That’s because the Iraq war has proved to be a tremendous boost to bin Laden and Islamist militants around the world. Not only has the United States deposed Saddam Hussein, whom bin Laden has loathed for years, but the jihadists in Iraq are costing America in blood and money. What bin Laden had hoped to achieve in Afghanistan in the post-9/11 period, which was to drag the United States into a protracted guerrilla war like the one he had fought against the Soviets, never happened. Instead, that protracted guerrilla war is now playing out in Iraq, in the heart of the Middle East. The Iraq war greatly expanded the pool of terrorists around the world and increased attacks. The year 2003 saw the highest incidence of significant terrorist acts (ones in which people were killed) in two decades, and the number tripled in 2004.”

Bin Laden reveled in American reverses in Iraq in a “Message to the Iraqi People,” on a tape released by Al Jazeera on October 18, 2003: Thank you for your jihad, and may God help you. Be glad of the good news: America is mired in the swamps of the Tigris and Euphrates. Bush is easy prey. Here he is now in an embarrassing situation, and here is America today being ruined before the eyes of the whole world. O youth of Islam everywhere, especially in [Iraq’s] neighboring countries, jihad is your duty and rightness is your path.”

Iraq and September 11th

Car bombing Baghdad
Mohammed Atta, the leader of hijackers of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, reportedly met twice with Iraqi intelligence officers in Prague before the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001. It is not clear how true this report is.

After the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, Iraqi televison played patriotic music that began “Down with America” while showing images of the collapsing towers,

Saddam sent an E-mail message to at least one victim of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001. It read: “May God protect your life, as we Muslims say to anyone who loses somebody dear to him.”

Brian Michael Jenkins wrote in the Washington Post: “America’s invasion of Iraq was not, strictly speaking, an overreaction to 9/11. The Iraq war was a strategic decision by the Bush administration to remove a hostile government and a potential threat. The fact that the invasion was portrayed as part of the global war on terrorism — in an effort to gain domestic political support — does not make it so. In fact, the war was a huge diversion of U.S. resources from the terrorist fight and a boon to al-Qaeda recruiting. [Source: Brian Michael Jenkins, Washington Post, September 2, 2011; Jenkins is a senior adviser to the president of the Rand Corporation and is co-editor of “The Long Shadow of 9/11: America’s Response to Terrorism”]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2012

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