American Jihad


This is Chapter VI from Author’s forthcoming book on Osama bin Laden.


About a month after Osama bin Laden arrived in Afghanistan, an explosion rocked King Abdul Aziz Airbase near Dhahran. Around 10 p.m. on June 25, 1996, a diesel tanker loaded with at least 5,000 pounds of plastic explosives was driven within 80 feet of the eight-storey al-Khobar dormitory where 100 U.S. Air Force personnel were housed. A few minutes later, the explosion, equivalent to 20,000 lbs. of TNT, blew off the side of Building 131, leaving a 35 x 85-foot crater. Buildings as far as three miles away also suffered blast damage.[1]

The Khobar bombing was the worst attack against overseas U.S. personnel since the Oct. 23, 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 marines, sailors and soldiers. U.S. sources said 19 servicemen were killed and 270 wounded in the Khobar blast, but Saudi officials said 386 were injured, including 147 Saudis.[2]

Though a surprise, the U.S. had to have suspected something was going to happen. U.S. Ambassador Raymond Mabus said the embassy had been receiving faxes from radical Islamist groups for three months warning U.S. and British military personnel to leave Saudi Arabia before July. In a public statement, the Islamic Movement for Change vowed “to exert all available means to evict these foreign forces.” It was one of the three groups that claimed responsibility for the Riyadh bombing seven-and-a half months earlier.[3]

To Americans, the idea that the attacks on the World Trade Center, Riyadh and Khobar could be considered acts of justified self-defence is absurd. They are deemed to be unambiguous acts of aggression. Anger, revenge and commiseration are the only appropriate emotional responses, because those who would do harm to the U.S. must by definition be driven by hatred and envy.

After the Khobar blast, the U.S. government also wrapped itself in the shroud of victimhood, as shown by President Bill Clinton’s remarks: “The explosion appears to be the work of terrorists. If that’s the case, like all Americans I am outraged by it. The cowards who committed this murderous act must not go unpunishedé Our condolences and our prayers go out to the victims, families and their friends.”[4] It does not occur to Clinton to acknowledge that many Muslims consider the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia to be an occupying force and an insult to Islam.

To underscore this point, Secretary of State Warren Christopher pledged that the bombing would not deter the United States from pursuing its mission in Saudi Arabia, but what that mission could be in mid-1996 is a mystery.[5] The U.S. had promised King Fahd that its forces would not stay in the kingdom longer than was necessary to address a potential threat from Iraq. Since Operation “Desert Storm” had been over for more than five years, the U.S. and other Western forces should have already left Saudi Arabia, just as the Islamic Movement for Change demanded. [6]

One does not have to sympathize with bin Laden to reject Clinton’s depiction of the Khobar bombing as a cowardly terrorist act. From the Islamists’ perspective, it was a legitimate act of defence in a jihad caused by the U.S.’s lingering presence in Saudi Arabia and the Saudi government’s refusal to evict them. The brutal friendship had created another enemy for the U.S. If that fact weren’t plain enough, bin Laden would soon spell it out in unambiguous language.

Declaration of War

From his new sanctuary in Khurasan, high in Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush, bin Laden wrote a 12-page epistle entitled Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places-Expel the Infidels from the Arab Peninsula. (See Appendix I.) The essence of the Declaration of War is best summed up in this passage:

“After Belief [Imaan] there is no more important duty than pushing the American enemy out of the holy land. No other priority, except Belief, could be considered before it; the people of knowledge, Ibn Taymiya, stated: ‘To fight in defence of religion and Belief is a collective duty; there is no other duty after Belief than fighting the enemy who is corrupting the life and the religion. There is no precondition for this duty, and the enemy should be fought with one’s best abilities. If it is not possible to push back the enemy except by the collective movement of the Muslim people, then there is a duty on the Muslims to ignore the minor differences among themselves; the ill effect of ignoring these differences, at a given period of time, is much less than the ill effect of the occupation of the Muslims’ land by the main Kufr [Infidel].’ “[7]

Replace “pushing the American enemy out of the holy land” with “pushing the Soviet enemy out of Afghanistan” and you have the essential mission of the mujahedin, whom the Reagan administration funded and supported to the tune of $3 billion. Now that the jihad was directed at the U.S., the once-virtuous “freedom fighter” overnight became the “evil terrorist.”

The Declaration of War is divided into five exhortations, throughout which citations from the Quran, invocations to God, and references to liberating the holy sites frequently recur.

The first is a general address to the umma and an outline of the grounds for the American jihad: a history of injustices and violence committed by the “Zionist-Crusader alliance”; the complicity of the Saudi regime and the security forces in these injustices; and the persecution and humiliation of loyal Saudi Muslims who opposed the government’s conduct before and during the Gulf War. After establishing the religious and political necessity of jihad, bin Laden instigates the umma to put aside their private quarrels and unite to evict the U.S. from Saudi Arabia.

The second is addressed to Saudi Arabia’s security and military forces to incite them to support the mujahedin. For the first time, bin Laden attacks King Fahd directly: “The King said that: ‘The issue is simple, the American and the alliance forces will leave the area in few months.’ Today, it is seven years since their arrival and the regime is not able to move them out of the country. The regime made no confession about its inability and carried on lying to the people claiming that the American will leave.”[8]

The third, only a few paragraphs long, is an exhortation to boycott American goods and is addressed to Muslims on the Arabian Peninsula: “It is incredible that our country is the world’s largest buyer of arms from the USA and the area’s biggest commercial partner of the Americans who are assisting their Zionist brothers in occupying Palestine and in evicting and killing the Muslims there, by providing arms, men and financial support.”[9]

The fourth is addressed to the youth of Islam, in whom bin Laden entrusts the execution of the jihad: “While some of the well-known individuals had hesitated in their duty of defending Islam and saving themselves and their wealth from the injustice, aggression and terror, exercised by the government, the youths (may Allah protect them) were forthcoming and raised the banner of jihad against the American-Zionist alliance occupying the sanctities of Islam. Others who have been tricked into loving this materialistic world, and those who have been terrorized by the government choose to give legitimacy to the greatest betrayal, the occupation of the land of the two Holy Places.”[10]

The final exhortation is a call to all Muslims to liberate the holy sites, and includes a stinging denunciation of ibn Saud for allowing the al-Aqsa mosque in al-Quds (Jerusalem) to fall into Zionist hands:

“[In] 1936 the awakened Muslim nation of Palestine started their great struggle, jihad, against the British occupying forces. Britain was impotent to stop the mujahedin and their jihad, but their devil inspired that there is no way to stop the armed struggle in Palestine unless through their agent King Abdul Aziz, who managed to deceive the mujahedin. King Abdul Aziz carried out his duty to his British masters. He sent his two sons to meet the mujahedin leaders and to inform them that King Abdul Aziz would guarantee the promises made by the British government in leaving the area and responding positively to the demands of the mujahedin if the latter stop their JihadéI feel still the pain of (the loss) of al-Quds in my internal organs. That loss is like a burning fire in my intestines.”[11]

Whether the presence of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia constituted an attack on Islam is a matter of debate-not every Arab or Arab government accepts the Wahhabi version of reality-but the Declaration of War cannot be written off as a mindless call to violence. It is a deliberate, cogently argued indictment of the world’s disregard for the welfare of Muslims, written by a devoutly religious man:

“It should not be hidden from you [God] that the people of Islam had suffered from aggression, iniquity and injustice imposed on them by the ZionistéCrusader alliance and their collaborators, to the extent that the Muslims’ blood became the cheapest and their wealth as loot in the hands of the enemies. Their blood was spilled in Palestine and Iraq. The horrifying pictures of the massacre of Qana, in Lebanon, are still fresh in our memory. Massacres in Tajikistan, Burma, Kashmir, Assam, the Philippines, Fatani, Ogaden, Somalia, Eritrea, Chechnya and in Bosnia-Herzegovina took place, massacres that send shivers in the body and shake the conscience. All of this and the world watched and heard, and not only didn’t respond to these atrocities, but also with a clear conspiracy between the USA and its allies and under the cover of the iniquitous United Nations, the dispossessed people were even prevented from obtaining arms to defend themselvesé Terrorizing you, while you are carrying arms on our land, is a legitimate and morally demanded duty.”[12]

The above-mentioned Qana massacre typifies the double standard that drives Islamist animosity toward the West and the U.S. in particular. On April 18, 1996, Israeli forces bombed the UN refugee compound in Qana during its “Grapes of Wrath” offensive against Shi’ite Hizballah bases in Southern Lebanon. More than 800 Lebanese fled the bombardment that killed and mutilated more than 100 Lebanese civilians, including infants. The UN investigation conducted by Maj. Gen. Frank van Kappen of the Netherlands determined that the attack was deliberate, given that two Israeli helicopters and a drone reconnaissance aircraft were overhead at the time and would have warned of the presence of civilians. Van Kappen asked Israel to offer evidence to refute the charges but did not receive any documents. Shortly after the massacre, Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent for the Independent, wrote:

“Not since Sabra and Chatila had I seen the innocent slaughtered like this. The Lebanese refugee women and children and men lay in heaps, their heads or arms or legs missing, beheaded or disemboweled. There were well over a hundred of them. A baby lay without a head. The Israeli shells had scythed through them as they lay in the United Nations shelter, believing that they were safe under the world’s protection. Like the Muslims of Srebrenica, the Muslims of Qana were wrong.”[13]

“Grapes of Wrath” was ostensibly a response to a Hizballah rocket attack on an Israeli patrol, but the patrol in question was planting anti-personnel mines and roadside explosives in UN territory. The Israelis gave UN representatives a map showing the location of the devices near the village of Henniyeh, about five miles from Qana.

However, a separate minefield near the village of Bradchit had already been sown, and a plastic explosive device along the road had killed a Lebanese teenager the previous month. That death prompted the Hizballah attack. Despite incontrovertible evidence that Israelis had planted the device, Foreign Minster Shimon Peres denied that Israelis had been in the Bradchit area. On the day of the Qana massacre, Israeli troops were in Bradchit and Henniyeh laying mines.[14]

Bin Laden condemns the massacre as an act of international terrorism, and his demand for justice and trials for the Israelis responsible is consistent with international law. Unfortunately for bin Laden, the U.S. controls the UN and Israel controls the U.S., as Fisk observed:

“A U.S./Israeli cover-up immediately took place. However, unexpected hard evidence, including a videotape of the attack, convinced UN investigators that the attack was premeditated. Severe pressure was brought on UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali not to release the report to the Security Council or the public. However, after watering it down as best he could, Boutros-Ghali was forced to release the report, some UN officials going so far as to indicate they would resign if he did not do so. Shamefully, though, the UN Security Council has refused to act on the report or to hold the Israelis accountable. Of course the American veto threat and tremendous pressures upon Boutros-Ghali and member states at the UN was behind this further demonstration of UN impotence and cowardice.”[15]

Israel has never been punished or held accountable for this atrocity; in fact, the U.S. rewarded Israel with money, sophisticated weaponry and intelligence-gathering technology:

Access to real-time satellite data for detecting ballistic missile launchers;

$200 million for Israel’s Arrow missile project;

$25 million to perfect the Nautilus Tactical High-Energy Laser system that can destroy small rockets such as the short range Katyushas;

F-15-I fighter-bombers; the latest version of the world’s leading warplane by McDonnell Douglas;

AMRAM air-to-air missiles, America’s most advanced weapon for aerial combat;

Additional access to technology such as super-computers;

Training Israelis to become astronauts;

Budgeting the first $50 million promised in March 1996 “to fight terrorism”;

Formal signing of an anti-terrorism cooperation agreement calling for sharing of information, resources, technology and training;

Formal signing of a “statement of intent” creating a working group to explore ways to bolster Israel’s military defense; and

Formation of a high-level steering committee to develop new ways of enhancing bilateral security cooperation, including possibly a formal defense treaty between the U.S. and Israel.[16]

Polite vs. impolite terror

Against the background of this and other anti-Arab atrocities, guerrilla-style bombings against U.S. targets must be understood less as acts of terror, than as acts of frustration and desperation. Yet it’s worth noting that the Qana massacre did not provoke bin Laden to deliver his Declaration of War, which came just four months thereafter. Because bin Laden’s concept of jihad is spiritual, not political, the violence committed against Allah in the name of “necessity” was far more serious than the political crimes committed against individual Muslims. With the U.S. forces lingering in Saudi Arabia five years after the end of hostilities, the time had come to “liberate” the land of the holy sites from “infidel” occupation. Bin Laden’s depiction of the brutal friendship and the dependent nature of the Saudi regime was spot on:

“The crusader forces became the main cause of our disastrous condition, particularly in the economical aspect of it due to the unjustified heavy spending on these forces. As a result of the policy imposed on the country, especially in the field of oil industry where production is restricted or expanded and prices are fixed to suit the American economy ignoring the economy of the country. Expensive deals were imposed on the country to purchase arms. People are asking, ‘What is the justification for the very existence of the regime, then?'”[17]

Had the U.S. removed its military from Saudi Arabia as promised, the Riyadh and Khobar bombings would not have occurred; the Declaration of War would not have been issued; the World Trade Centre would still be intact; and Osama bin Laden would be just an Islamist with a big bank account.

Of course, this scenario is utterly implausible. As we know, the U.S. did not send in its military to defend Saudi Arabia against a putative Iraqi threat. The U.S. used Iraq as a pretext to establish a military presence in Saudi Arabia to safeguard U.S. oil reserves. Even if the U.S. had the ability to respect and appreciate Islamic sensitivities, paranoia and economic self-interest precluded it from appreciating the disaster to come. Thus the Riyadh and Khobar bombings-or bombings like them-were inevitable.

Notwithstanding the substance of bin Laden’s case against the U.S. “occupation,” the bellicose language in the Declaration of War was enough to convince Americans that bin Laden was a maniac, and that Islam was a religion of violent fanatics. These anti-Muslim stereotypes were set in rhetorical granite on Feb. 23, 1998, when the London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper published a fax signed by bin Laden and four others on behalf of a group calling itself the World Islamic Front. In the statement, the signatories present a fatwah [judgment] against the United States that concluded:

“All these crimes and sins committed by the Americans are a clear declaration of war on God, his messenger, and Muslimsé. On that basis, and in compliance with God’s order, we issue the following fatwah to all Muslims: The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies-civilians and military-is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslimé.”[18]

The fatwah foreclosed any possibility that U.S. attitudes toward the Persian Gulf and Islamists would be governed by reason. The overt invocation to kill American civilians cleft the world in twain-the forces of good (the West) and the forces of evil (political Islam). The most damning aspect of the fatwah was not its message but its language. When the U.S. commits violence in the name of its or Israel’s self-interest, it employs euphemisms like “defending democracy,” “fighting terrorism” or “rolling-back communism.” Islamists, though, don’t share this squeamishness for honest, violent speech. They are candid about what they intend to do. But by eschewing euphemism, bin Laden and his followers placed themselves beyond the pale of polite, “civilized” society. After all, anyone who openly advocates terrorism and defines killing civilians as a sacred duty must be “evil.”

Yet the issue of good and evil is moot. The number of Muslims killed by the polite terrorism of the U.S. and Israel far exceeds the number of Jews and Americans killed by the Islamists’ impolite terrorism. Nevertheless, bin Laden would be damned because of what he said, more than for any specific acts of terrorism he may have committed.

The embassy bombings

On the morning of Friday, Aug. 7, 1998, a truck bomb exploded in a parking lot at the rear of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. The blast killed 213 people, including 44 embassy employees-12 Americans and 32 Kenyans. Ten Americans and 11 Kenyans were seriously injured. An estimated 200 Kenyan civilians were killed and 4,000 were injured by the blast in the vicinity of the embassy.

Nine minutes later, another truck bomb exploded in the U.S. embassy in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. No Americans were among the 11 killed, but many were among the 85 injured. In all, the two blasts killed 243 people, injured more than 4,000, and caused serious damage to buildings in the compounds and the surrounding areas. Both U.S. chanceries withstood the blasts but were rendered unusable.[19]

This time, though, the U.S. was not content simply to utter denunciations. Despite having no physical evidence to link bin Laden to the attacks, Clinton selected two sites allegedly affiliated with him to receive America’s wrath-one in Afghanistan, one in Sudan. As a former U.S. intelligence official put it: “It was all rather biblical. The president was very specific: he wanted two targets for the two embassies that were bombed.”[20]

On Aug. 20, within hours of the U.S. reprisal attacks, Clinton addressed the nation to explain what was done and why. The speech consists of three interwoven justifications that betray not only the political and moral baselessness of the attack-and the “war on terrorism” in general-but also the moral and political validity of bin Laden’s Declaration of War.

The military justification

“Our forces targeted one of the most active terrorist bases in the world. It contained key elements of the bin Laden network’s infrastructure and has served as a training camp for literally thousands of terrorists from around the globe. We have reason to believe that a gathering of key terrorist leaders was to take place there today, thus underscoring the urgency of our actions. Our forces also attacked a factory in Sudan associated with the bin Laden network. The factory was involved in the production of materials for chemical weapons.”-Clinton

Under Operation “Infinite Reach” the military fired 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles at six “terrorist camps” near the cities of Khost and Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. Of the four camps near Khost, two were operated by Pakistan, which lost five ISI officers and 20 trainees in the attack. In all, 21 people were killed, including three women and two children-but no “terrorists.” It turns out that the meeting Clinton mentioned took place a month earlier. Bin Laden and other mujahedin were nowhere near the camps. In the end, the U.S. expended $79 million-worth of satellite-guided cruise missiles to destroy an obstacle course, field barracks and a few tents.[21]

The other target was the $100 million al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan, which was deemed to be a site for the manufacture of Empta, a precursor agent in the manufacture of VX nerve gas. The “evidence” for this charge is a soil sample taken near the plant by a CIA operative; however, no independent evidence has substantiated the U.S. government’s claim. This is not surprising because Empta is chemically similar to certain pesticides found in the area, and is highly reactive. A test done during the following February found no evidence of Empta or its breakdown product Empa.[22]

Senior Pentagon officials also alleged that al-Shifa was part of Sudan’s military-industrial complex, to which bin Laden was known to have made financial contributions.[23] However, the U.S. has not proven any connection between bin Laden and the plant. Such a connection would not have even been possible, because several months before the attack the plant was sold to Saleh Idris, a millionaire Saudi national born in Sudan.

In May 1999, the U.S. unfroze Idris’s assets, thereby tacitly admitting that it had no case against him. Officially, government spokesmen refused to apologize to Idris, to admit that the attack had no merit, even though at the time senior security and intelligence personnel demonstrated that insufficient evidence existed to justify an attack.[24] In fact, the State Department was preparing a report to that effect, but Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had it stifled.

In July 2000, Idris filed a $50 million compensation lawsuit against the U.S. government. “I have never met nor spoken with Mr. Osama bin Laden nor with any agent of his,” Idris told the BBC.[25]

But biblical retribution, not rational evaluation of scientific data, was uppermost in Washington’s mind. As Clinton said in the address: “[The] risks from inaction to America and the world would be far greater than action, for that would embolden our enemies, leaving their ability and their willingness to strike us intact.” By making a virtue out of necessity, Clinton only proved that the decision to attack was militarily and politically irrational.

The legal/political justification

“Afghanistan and Sudan have been warned for years to stop harboring and supporting these terrorist groups. But countries that persistently host terrorists have no right to be safe havensé With compelling evidence [sic] that the bin Laden network of terrorist groups was planning to mount further attacksé I decided America must act. America has battled terrorism for many years. Where possible, we’ve used law enforcement and diplomatic tools to wage the fight. The long arm of American law has reached out around the world and brought to trial those guilty of attacks in New York, in Virginia, and in the Pacificé But there have been and will be times when law enforcement and diplomatic tools are simply not enough, when our very national security is challenged, and when we must take extraordinary steps to protect the safety of our citizens.” -Clinton

In trying to make a legal case for bombing Afghanistan and Sudan, Clinton did the opposite, saying, in effect: “If the U.S. can get what it wants through diplomacy and adherence to international law-fine, but when push comes to shove ‘the long arm of American law’ rules-international law be damned.”

But what qualifies as “American law” is a good question. The U.S. to date had not attempted to indict bin Laden, and had only circumstantial evidence linking him to the 1992 attempted bombing of U.S. troops in Yemen, the 1993 attacks on U.S. troops in Somalia, and the 1995 Riyadh bombing. Moreover, federal law enforcement officers were not even close to bringing criminal charges against bin Laden or anyone else related to the embassy bombings.[26] In short, the U.S. had no case.

The only country that has made any serious effort to prosecute bin Laden is Libya. In their book Ben Laden: la vérité intérdite [Bin Laden: the Forbidden Truth], French investigative reporters and intelligence experts Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquié published a confidential March 16, 1998, memo from Libya’s interior minister to Interpol charging bin Laden in the 1994 murders of German intelligence agents Silvan Becker and his wife.

Bin Laden wanted to settle in Libya in the early 1990s, but Moammar Qaddafi refused to admit him. Enraged by this refusal, bin Laden supported al-Muqatila, a radical Islamist group comprised of 20 Libyan veterans of the Afghan jihad who considered Qaddafi to be an infidel. Together with British intelligence, al-Muqatila tried to assassinate Qaddafi in 1996.[27]

Dasquié said the London-based Islamic Fighting Group (IFG), the most powerful Libyan dissident organization, has been linked directly to bin Laden. “Qaddafi even demanded Western police institutions, such as Interpol, pursue the IFG and bin Laden, but never obtained cooperation.” Interpol ignored the arrest warrant because of British collaboration with al-Muqatila, which has since been placed on the U.S.’s list of terrorist groups.

As for the place of the bombing in the context of international law, the Charter of the United Nations states that if a dispute arises between member-states that cannot be settled by “negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means” (Article 33), the dispute shall be referred to the Security Council (Article 37). Except for the Gulf War, the U.S. made the effort to obtain the fig leaf of Security Council sanction. Given the gravity of the embassy bombings, such an appeal stood a good chance of earning the sympathy of other Council members. However, the UN was set up to regulate affairs among nation-states, and the perpetrators of the Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam bombings were stateless. Nevertheless, under Article 34 the Security Council has the right to investigate any dispute, if asked. Since Afghanistan and Sudan, as member-states of the UN, played no role in the bombings, America’s unilateralism must be deemed an act of aggression by a rogue state and therefore a violation of international law.

Further evidence of the non-legal nature of the attack comes from Clinton’s failure to inform the government of Pakistan that cruise missiles would violate Pakistani air-space en-route to Afghanistan. The only Pakistani told was Gen. Jehangir Karamat, who was hosting a dinner for Gen. Joseph Ralston, the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As Mary Weaver recounted in the New Yorker:

“Around ten o’clock in the evening, as the two men were having dinner, Ralston looked up from his chicken tikka, checked his watch, and informed his host that in ten minutes some sixty Tomahawk cruise missiles would be entering Pakistan’s airspaceé’It was a “This is happening as we speak” kind of conversation,’ an American intelligence official told me. ‘Ralston was there, on the ground, to make absolutely certain that when the missiles flew across Pakistan’s radar screen they would not be misconstrued as coming from India and, as a consequence, be shot down.’ The intelligence official paused for a moment, and then said, ‘This is one hell of a way to treat our friends.'” [28]

The moral justification

“The groups associated with [Osama bin Laden] come from diverse places but share a hatred for democracy, a fanatical glorification of violence, and a horrible distortion of their religion to justify the murder of innocents. They have made the United States their adversary precisely because of what we stand for and what we stand against. A few months ago and again this week, bin Laden publicly vowed to wage a terrorist war against America, saying-and I quote-‘We do not differentiate between those dressed in military uniforms and civilians. They’re all targets.’ Their mission is murder, and their history is bloody. In recent years they killed American, Belgian, and Pakistani peacekeepers in Somaliaé

“This will be a long, ongoing struggle between freedom and fanaticism, between the rule of law and terrorism. We must be prepared to do all that we can for as long as we must. America is and will remain a target of terrorists precisely because we are leaders; because we act to advance peace, democracy and basic human values; because we’re the most open society on earth; and because, as we have shown yet again, we take an uncompromising stand against terrorism.”-Clinton

Before it was destroyed, the al-Shifa plant produced 50 percent of Sudan’s medicine, including 90 percent of the drugs to fight malaria, diarrhea, diabetes, tuberculosis and other treatable diseases, as well as anti-parasitic drugs for livestock. In January 1998, the factory won a $199,000 contract to ship 100,000 cartons of the anti-parasitic drug Shifazole, to Iraq under UN sanction. White cartons of the antibiotic were scattered in the rubble.[29] After the attack, Sudan was forced to import these drugs at considerable cost. As a result, many thousands of Sudanese civilians would die needlessly.

Even if the need for a retaliatory attack were defensible, the quality of intelligence that selected these targets vitiates any claim that the bombing had any connection to justice. It amounted to bombing for its own sake against two of the world’s poorest countries, thus qualifying as an act of terrorism. The only beneficiary was bin Laden. As Dr. Saad al Fagih told Frontline:

“After the American attack on Sudan and Afghanistan it became almost shameful to criticize bin Laden. People inside Saudi Arabia and in other Arab countries were full of anger towards America, and whoever can antagonize America would provide a fulfillment to their desire of discharging their anger. The American strike with the associated remarks by Clinton and American officials proved that bin Laden is a big challenge to America. In the mind of average Arab and Muslim bin Laden appeared as the man who was able to drive America so crazy that it started shooting haphazardly at unjustified targetsé.

“Those who had reservations of the African bombings thought that this arrogance of the Americans is much worse than the embassy bombings. Their view was that while bin Laden or others can make ‘executive’ mistakes because of their difficult circumstances, logistics and communication, America is not supposed to do this mistake, unless it is done on purpose.”[30]


Three months after the embassy bombings, the U.S. District Court (Southern District of New York) brought down an indictment against bin Laden, charging him with conspiracy to kill Americans, among other things. Yet the indictment does not connect bin Laden to any specific act of violence against the U.S. This was a political document, not a legal one, and based on the same guilt-by-association as was Clinton’s address. According to the New York Times:

“American officials say that so far firsthand evidence that could be used in court to prove that [bin Laden] commanded the bombings has proven difficult to obtain. According to the public record, none of the informants involved in the case have direct knowledge of bin Laden’s involvement. For now, officials say, federal prosecutors appear to be building a case that his violent words and ideas, broadcast from an Afghan cave, incited terrorist acts thousands of miles away. In their war against bin Laden, American officials portray him as the world’s most dangerous terrorist. But reporters for The New York Times and the PBS program Frontline, have found him to be less a commander of terrorists than an inspiration for themé’We can’t say for sure what was going on’ with him from 1991 to 1996-most of the years covered in the indictment-one senior official said.”[31]

The Times story generally accords with bin Laden’s own interpretation of the bombings, which he articulated in the first of a four-part interview with ABC on Dec. 12, 1998.

“ABC News-You have been charged with masterminding the bombings of the two U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Are these charges true?

Osama Bin Laden-Praise be to God, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds. Peace and blessings be upon Prophet Muhammad, his companions and his kin. Let me begin by stating that we, in the World Islamic Front for jihad against Jews and Crusaders, have, by the grace of God Almighty, issued a crystal clear fatwah calling on the Nation to carry on jihad aimed at liberating Islamic holy sites, and the Ancient House (The Holy Ka’aba), and Al-Aqsa Mosque and all Islamic lands.

ABC News -You warned that Americans would die. Then, two months later, the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar As Salaam were bombed. Were these bombings because of your fatwah (decree) against America?

Bin Laden -By the Grace of God, Praise and Glory be to him, we have repeatedly issued warnings over a number of years. Following these warnings and these calls, anti-American explosions took place in a number of Islamic countries. Most probably, these acts came about as a result of such calls and warnings. But only God knows the truth.

ABC News -If the targets of jihads are Americans, how can the deaths of so many Africans be justified?

Bin Laden-This question pre-supposes that it is me who carried out these explosions. My answer is that I understand the motives of the brothers who carry out acts of jihad against the enemies of the nation, namely the Americans and their supportersé [R]adio reports said that most of those killed were members of the American Embassy in Nairobi, which housed the largest CIA center in the African continent. We do understand what happened. Many people were saddened by the death of some innocent people outside the embassy building.”[32]

The day after the bombings, Sheikh Omar Barkri, bin Laden’s spokesman in London, gave an interview to Knight-Ridder Newspapers in which he said bin Laden had no connection to The Islamic Army for Liberating the Holy Sites, the group that claimed responsibility for the bombings: “‘Bin Laden was not the mastermind behind it. This was definitely not one of his projects. He endorsed it, but he did not order it. He is not a coward. If he had ordered this, he would take responsibility for ité This is a new group, and you can expect a lot of freelance groups to come up. But it is not a bin Laden organization.'”[33]

The USS Cole

On Oct. 13, 2000, the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole was docked in Aden to refuel en route to the Persian Gulf. At 12:15 p.m., a small harbour boat armed with explosives was steered into its side. The ship, built to withstand a pressure of 51,000 per square inch, sustained a 30 x 40 foot gaping hole, and extensive flooding. Seventeen people were killed and 39 were injured. The response was predictable: Clinton and other administration officials denounced the attackers as “cowardly,” vowed revenge, and tried to link the bombing to bin Laden. According to CNN: “The officials said the evidence suggests some suspects in the Cole attacké were in contact with bin Laden operatives in East Africa. The officials would not be more specific.”[34]

In contrast, the BBC offered sober speculation on bin Laden’s involvement and took what might be called a swipe at the U.S.’s obsession:

“Kuwait’s respected newspaper, Al-Rai al-Aam, printed an alleged telephone conversation with Mr. Bin Laden. The paper quotes him as saying that neither he nor his followers have any intention of striking civil or military installations in any Arab country. The world of militant Islamists is a shadowy and confusing one with no shortage of fanatics prepared to die in order to strike at U.S. and Israeli interests. If Osama bin Laden’s denial is confirmed, it removes the most obvious suspect and makes the job of U.S. detectives that much harder.”[35]


In 1992, Osama bin Laden did not even register on the U.S.’s terrorist radar, yet by the time of the USS Cole bombing eight years later he had spent two years on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “10 Most-Wanted” list and been placed under criminal indictment without benefit of evidence. The fact that these years also span the entire presidency of Bill Clinton is significant, for he is solely responsible for turning bin Laden into a celebrity. Larry Johnson, deputy director of the U.S. State Department Office of Counterterrorism (1989-1993), explained the folly of the Clinton administration’s response to bin Laden:

“They’re grossly exaggerating the problem. They are hyping ité Instead of saying ‘terrorism’s rising,’ (it’s not); ‘Terrorism is spreading,’ (it’s not); ‘More people are dying from terrorism,’ (not the case); they should be saying: ‘There’s one individual out there that really doesn’t like us, and he’s made it his mission in life to kill Americans, and we’ve gotta deal with him.’ But we need to have a voice of reason in that process instead of putting ourselves out crying ‘wolf,’ because this is essentially what’s taking place right now. They call it ‘the administration that cries “wolf.” ‘ “[36]

Not only does Clinton’s obsession with bin Laden defy reason, his entire “war on terrorism” qualifies as a folly, according to the three defining criteria set out by historian Barbara Tuchman in The March of Folly from Troy to Vietnam:

“[a policy] must be perceived to be counter-productive in its own time, not merely by hindsight”;

“a feasible alternative course of action must have been available”; and

“it should be that of a group, not an individual ruler, and should persist beyond any one political lifetime.”[37]

One month after the Cole bombing, Clinton’s reign expired, and the Supreme Court installed Texas Governor George W. Bush as president. Under Bush, Clinton’s folly would reach levels of savagery, irrationality and dishonesty not seen since the Vietnam War.


[1] Federal Bureau of Investigation press release, June 21, 2001.

[2] “Christopher Tours Saudi Bomb Wreckage,” CNN, June 26, 1996. However, in its June 30, 1998, Special Report on Terrorism, the Chicago-based Emergency Research and Response Institute (ERRI) put the casualty numbers at 19 servicemen killed and at least 300 others injured.

[3] Ibid, ERRI.

[4] President Clinton’s Remarks, CNN, June, 26, 1996.

[5] See “Christopher Tours Saudi Bomb Wreckage.”

[6] At an Aug. 8 press conference, Pres. George Bush strongly indicated that the U.S. military commitment was designed specifically to address the Iraqi military build-up, though not in such plain English:

Terence Hunt, Associated Press: “Is this an open-ended commitment? I mean, could this drag on for years?”

The President: “Nothing is open-ended, but I’m not worrying about that there at all. I’m worrying about getting them there and doing what I indicated in our speech in there is necessary: the defense of the Saudis and trying through concerted international means to reverse out this aggression. President George Bush’s Press Conference, The Bush Library, Aug. 8, 1990.

[7] Osama bin Laden, Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying The Land of the Two Holy Places, Oct. 23, 1996, p. 4. (All page references are approximate).

[8] Ibid, p. 6.

[9] Ibid., p. 7.

[10] Ibid., p. 9.

[11] Ibid., pp. 6, 10. Al-Aqsa is integral to Islam because it here Muhammad, the seventh and final prophet, led all prophets in prayer, and then ascended to heaven to receive God’s commandment to pray five times a day. Al-Aqsa is also the first qibla [direction of prayer], because in the early years of Islam, Muslims prayed toward Jerusalem. Muhammad later received a revelation from Archangel Jibril [Gabriel] telling him that the congregations should pray east towards Mecca, not west towards Jerusalem.

[12] Ibid., pp. 1, 10. To this list, bin Laden included the suffering of Iraq: “More than 600,000 Iraqi children have died due to lack of food and medicine, and as a result of the unjustifiable aggression (sanction) imposed on Iraq and its nation. The children of Iraq are our children. You, the U.S.A., together with the Saudi regime are responsible for the shedding of the blood of these innocent children. Due to all of that, whatever treaty you have with our country is now null and void.” (p. 11).

[13] Cited in The Qana massacre.,

[14] Robert Fisk, “The Deadly Secret That Led To Bloodbath At Qana,” The Independent, June 1, 1996, re-printed in Mid-East Realities.

[15] Robert Fisk, “Qana massacre coverup successful,” The Independent, July 2, 1996, re-printed in Mid-East Realities.

[16] Ibid, The Qana massacre

[17] Declaration, p. 2.

[18] “Bin-Laden, Others Sign Fatwa To ‘Kill Americans’ Everywhere,” Al-Quds al-Arabi, reprinted in English by Emergency Response and Research Institute, Feb. 23, 1998. See also Chapter IX note 26.

[19] Report of the Accountability Review Boards on the Embassy Bombings in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam on Aug. 7, 1998; James C. McKinley Jr., “Security Flaws Left Nairobi Embassy Open to Attack,” New York Times, Sept. 9, 1998.

[20] Cited in Mary Anne Weaver, “The Real bin Laden,” New Yorker, Jan. 24, 2000.

[21] Ibid. According to Frontline, the number of missiles was 75. Other sources put the total number of camps at four.

[22] James Risen and David Johnston, “Experts Find No Arms Chemicals at Bombed Sudan Plant,” New York Times, Feb. 9, 1999. The number of missiles fired at the plant is either six (Weaver) or 13 (Frontline).

[23] Vernon Loeb and Michael Grunwald, “U.S. fails to provide evidence against bin Laden,” The Washington Post, Aug. 20, 1998.

[24] Tony Karon, “Did U.S. Bomb Sudan in Error?” Time, Oct. 27, 1999.

[25] “US sued over Sudan strikes,” BBC News July 27, 2000.

[26] Ibid., “U.S. fails to provide evidence against bin Laden,” The Washington Post, Aug. 20, 1998.

[27]  Cited in “U.S. efforts to make peace summed up by ‘oil’,” an interview with the Irish Times, Nov. 19, 2001.

[28] Ibid., Weaver.

[29] “Questions remain about Sudan factory,” USA Today, 1999.

[30] “Hunting bin Laden,” A PBS Frontline Co-Production with The New York Times and Rain Media, Inc., Sept. 13, 2001.

[31] Tim Weiner, “U.S. Case Against bin Laden in Embasy [sic] Blasts Seems to Rest on Ideas,” New York Times, April 13, 1999.

[32] “Terror Suspect-An interview with Osama bin Laden,” ABC News, Dec. 28, 1998.

[33]  Joyce M. Davis, “Bin Laden asks Muslims worldwide to retaliate against the United States,” The Charlotte Observer, Aug. 22, 1998.

[34] “U.S. finds link between bin Laden and Cole bombing,” CNN, Dec. 7, 2000.

[35] Frank Gardner, “Bin Laden ‘denies’ Yemen blast,”, BBC News, Nov. 13.

[36] Interview: Larry Johnson, “Hunting bin Laden,” Frontline, Sept. 13, 2001.

[37] Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly from Troy to Vietnam, (New York: Ballantyne, 1984) p. 5.