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IUK: Fisk - Bin Laden: The target
By Robert Fisk

11/11/2001 4:06 pm Sun

Independent UK
11 November 2001

Bin Laden: The target

Robert Fisk

So far, he hasn't put a foot wrong. If Osama bin Laden did plan the 11 September attack in America - and still we wait to see the "overwhelming" proof Tony Blair has talked about, not the seven paragraphs of inference attached to British evidence about the earlier US embassy and warship bombings - then things are unfolding pretty much as he wanted.

President Bush vows revenge and enrages the Islamic world by bombing Afghanistan, the poorest Muslim nation on earth. More than 1,000 Muslims are secretly arrested by American police officers, some of them brutally beaten in detention. The United States - unable to bomb the Taliban into submission - cosies up to the murderers and rapists of the Northern Alliance, ensuring that the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan - the Pashtuns - remain loyal to their obscurantist masters.

True, the Alliance's bloodiest commander, Rashid Dostun - who first visited Washington in 1996 - has just captured Mazar-i-Sharif. But this is far from Mr bin Laden's mountain fastness, and Dostum's victory will instill rage and fear among millions of non-Taliban Pashtun Afghans.

Here for example is how Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid first met the man: "The first time I arrived at the fort to meet Dostum there were bloodstains and pieces of flesh in the muddy courtyard. The guards told me that an hour earlier Dostum had punished a soldier for stealing. The man had been tied to the tracks of a Russian-made tank which then drove around the courtyard crushing his body into mincemeat as Dostum watched." America's hero perhaps but not the sort of guy to raise popular support against Mr bin Laden.

Surely now the Americans will send in ground troops. For that - if Mr bin Laden is behind the American attack - is what he must all along have intended. First came the hopeless raid on Mullah Omar's office in Kandahar. Then the reported despatch of US Special Forces to the ruthless thugs of the Northern Alliance. Surely the US 10th Mountain Division cannot be far behind.

If the Taliban had anyone to fear, it was the Alliance's Shah Massoud. But he was murdered by two Arab suicide bombers on 9 September. Then Abdul Haq - a US favourite who opposed the Taliban - was hanged while trying to arrange a regional coup in Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan.

Messrs Bush and Blair may adopt Churchillian poses in Washington but Arab Gulf leaders are shivering in their golden palaces. For they know - as the others apparently do not - that Saudi Arabia is the principal target of Osama bin Laden's fury. We may overlook the fact that more than half the 11 September hijackers were Saudis - but the Saudi regime has not. How can it? The Saudi "masses'' will not storm onto the streets of Riyadh and Jeddah to overthrow the kingdom's rulers. The danger comes from within the royal family, from the disaffected royal princes who regard Mr bin Laden as an inspiration rather than a state enemy, from the senior ulema (Muslim scholars) who hear in his words the authentic voice of conservative Wahhabi Sunni Islam rather than the effete and corrupt edicts of King Fahd.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence, was the man who helped to choose Mr bin Laden to lead the "Arab brigade" against the Soviets in 1979. Hear now what the Good Prince had to say about him on the Arab MBC TV channel last week. He was, according to Turki al-Faisal, "a gentle, enthusiastic young man, not talkative and who did not raise his voice while talking. Bin Laden was generally a 'nice guy'." When the "Holy War" against the Soviets began, Prince Turki says he would travel to Pakistan to keep in touch with events. "It was there that I met him. Once or twice he was invited to the Saudi embassy ... He was in the area supporting jihad."

Mr bin Laden's error - or so says Prince Turki - was to think, back in 1990, that he could lead an Arab army against the Iraqi occupiers of Kuwait. King Fahd of Saudi Arabia preferred American troops for this onerous task. It was then that Prince Turki "saw radical changes in his personality ... From a calm, peaceful gentleman interested in helping Muslims, into a person who believed that he would be able to amass and command an army to liberate Kuwait. It revealed his arrogance and haughtiness.''

How Mr bin Laden must have smiled at this description. Any Arab nationalist would regard the desire to use his own people to free Kuwait - rather than an "infidel" army of Westerners - as heroic rather than arrogant. For Mr bin Laden, it is the Americans who are arrogant. And watching the contrails of the B-52s in the skies over Afghanistan last week and the pitiful groups of wounded Afghan civilians hobbling over the border into Pakistan, what Arab would disagree with him?

So far, then, Mr bin Laden is winning, and the Taliban - the "protectors of terrorism" - have turned into "tenacious warriors" according to the Pentagon's very own rear admiral spokesman. And the "mastermind of world terror" is too busy making videos to be "smoked" out of the cave in which he is supposedly hiding. As for the US 10th Mountain Division, what does Mr bin Laden have in store for them? A ripe old guerrilla war of the kind that drove the Soviet conscripts out of Afghanistan's moonscape? Or an explosion that will put even the World Trade Centre apocalypse in the shade?

Only on Friday morning, Mr bin Laden was telling his Pakistani biographer Hamid Mir that if "America used chemical or nuclear weapons against us then we may retort with chemical or nuclear weapons. We have the weapons as deterrents." True or false, these are not the words of a man who thinks he is losing the war.