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[] Independent 23.10.02 (Fisk): Bin Laden's secrets are revealed by Al Jazeera journalist,


"Al-Qa'ida now passes its information through the internet, the book 
claims. Its messages are spread through a website called al-Nidaa  the 
Calling. The words of Mullah Omar are distributed on an Arabic website 
called the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan"

Bin Laden's secrets are revealed by Al Jazeera journalist

Intelligence agencies to study book on al-Qa'ida as suspect stands trial in 
Germany and diplomats debate Baghdad

By Robert Fisk in Beirut

23 October 2002

Heroic, vain, calculating, a caliph and a ruthless "terrorist"  a word 
Osama bin Laden uses of himself  are some of the characteristics of the 
al-Qa'ida leader that emerge from a remarkable new book by a journalist who 
knew him.

So does al-Qa'ida's order of battle in Afghanistan when 19 suicide 
attackers flew aircraft into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon a year 
ago. At least 62 British citizens, 30 Americans and eight Frenchmen were 
members of al-Qa'ida before 11 September, according to this extraordinary 
account of Mr bin Laden's war against the West.

Western and Arab intelligence agents will pore over Bin Laden Unmasked by 
Al Jazeera television's Islamabad correspondent, Ahmed Zeidan, a Syrian who 
has met Mr bin Laden several times, including at the wedding feast of Mr 
bin Laden's son Abdullah.

The 215-page treasure trove is being published in Beirut at a moment when 
the Americans say they don't know whether the world's most wanted man is 
alive or dead. Mr Zeidan believes he is alive; and recounts how Mr bin 
Laden persuaded Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, to allow him to stay in 
Afghanistan  a move that provoked America's bombardment of the country.

The book contains a wealth of unpublished material on the Saudi billionaire 
blamed for the 11 September crimes against humanity. Mr Zeidan's 
investigations reveal there were 2,742 Afghan "Arabs" from al-Qa'ida  in 
other words, Muslims who had fought for Mr bin Laden  in Afghanistan during 
the Taliban era: they included 62 Britons, 30 Americans, eight Frenchmen, 
1,660 north Africans, 680 Saudis, 480 Yemenis, 430 Palestinians, 270 
Egyptians, 520 Sudanese, 80 Iraqis, 33 Turks and 180 Filipinos. The 
Taliban,Mr Zeidan says, provided roughly the same breakdown.

During the Taliban rule, Arab Afghan fighters were dispersed across 
Afghanistan  this is al-Qa'ida's order of battle revealed for the first 
time  as 260 Arabs in four bases around Kandahar, 145 Arabs in Orzakan in 
two bases, 1,870 fighters in Kabul in seven bases, 404 around 
Mazar-i-Sharif, 400 in three bases around Kunduz, 300 in Laghman province, 
1,700 in 12 bases in Nangahar province opposite Pakistan's North-West 
Frontier province, 160 in Kunar, 600 in Khost and 740 in Paktia.

Al-Qa'ida now passes its information through the internet, the book claims. 
Its messages are spread through a website called al-Nidaa  the Calling. The 
words of Mullah Omar are distributed on an Arabic website called the 
"Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan".

The book contains an interview recorded in October 2000 in which Mr bin 
Laden recalls how Mullah Omar was approached by the Saudi head of 
intelligence, Prince Turki al-Faisal, on behalf of the Americans, to hand 
over Mr bin Laden, not long after the bombing of two American embassies in 
Africa. "The Taliban came to me, requesting that I should stop making 
statements about the Saudi kingdom and keep my declarations aimed at the 
Americans," Mr bin Laden told Mr Zeidan.

"I shed tears, and I told Mullah Omar that we would leave his country and 
head towards God's vast domain, but that we would leave our children and 
wives in his safekeeping. I said we would seek a land which was a haven for 
us. Mullah Omar said that things had not reached that stage. The Taliban 
then apologised and left me alone."

Mr bin Laden says it was a "natural state of affairs" there would be spies 
in his training camps, because "there were unbelievers among the ranks of 
the followers of the Prophet Mohamed, but that this did not mean that the 
Prophet ceased his work."

The book suggests Mr bin Laden may have turned to vanity as his campaign 
against the Americans continued. When Mr bin Laden's son married an Afghan 
woman last year, Mr Zeidan was a guest and spent the day with the al-Qa'ida 
leader. The Syrian journalist recalls how Mr bin Laden recited a poem in 
front of his fighters and then asked the cameraman to re-film the scene 
next day in front of the same men. "To me this showed Osama's vanity," Mr 
Zeidan writes. "Very few people, but usually those who understand the 
importance of public relations ... ever request re-filming ... He went as 
far as calling on al-Qa'ida members to sit facing him, to play the role of 
eulogisers as had happened at the wedding."

Mr bin Laden's response to the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden port is 
reported as follows: "I knelt thanking Allah for this heroic operation that 
destroyed American arrogance; it is a sign to the Americans that they must 
leave the Arab region and the Arabian peninsula in particular."

Mr bin Laden is quoted as saying that "the accession of a person like King 
Abdullah to the Jordanian throne will not change matters so long as Jordan 
doesn't have the resources to stand on its own feet. This condition applies 
to all Arab and Islamic countries that can't be independent nations on 
their own. The only solution is to revert to Arab and Islamic unity, which 
was the case before the collapse of the Ottoman Caliphate. Then, we used to 
live together for centuries, unlike the so-called [Arab] 'nations' so 
recently created, whose borders were imposed on them by the West."

The only question the book does not answer is whether Mr bin Laden is 
alive. Mr Zeidan says: "I think he is alive  the last tape he did for Al 
Jazeera, I think it was him."

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