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.
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. 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.
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].’ “
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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?'”
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.
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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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.”
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.'”
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.”
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
 Ibid, ERRI.
 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).
 Ibid., p. 7.
 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.
 Declaration, p. 2.
 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.
 Ibid. According to Frontline, the number of missiles was 75. Other sources put the total number of camps at four.
 Vernon Loeb and Michael Grunwald, “U.S. fails to provide evidence against bin Laden,” The Washington Post, Aug. 20, 1998.
 Tim Weiner, “U.S. Case Against bin Laden in Embasy [sic] Blasts Seems to Rest on Ideas,” New York Times, April 13, 1999.
 Joyce M. Davis, “Bin Laden asks Muslims worldwide to retaliate against the United States,” The Charlotte Observer, Aug. 22, 1998.
 Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly from Troy to Vietnam, (New York: Ballantyne, 1984) p. 5.