By Ben Perrin
He has been called the fundamentalist’s banker, a holy terror, a phenomenon
and, more recently, the world’s pre-eminent financier of anti-American terrorism.
Some liberal analysts might try to say that he is misunderstood or that
he had a rough childhood-neither are true of CNN’s "favourite"
terrorist Ussamah Bin Ladin. His new-found international fame is, of course,
attributed to links between his terrorist organisation and the bombing of
two American embassies in Africa last month, as well as the subsequent retaliation
of the United States by launching 75100 cruise missiles at targets
close to Bin Ladin.
It’s easy to play the game that terrorists and governments play: One
contends that a factory is a storehouse of chemical weapons, the other claims
it is a baby formula factory. And it’s not the first time that either the
United States government or its enemies abroad have played this game for
public opinion. With public outrage clearly on its side, news of the American
missile strikes on so-called terrorist targets spread like wildfire across
the networks. "America Strikes Back" was the banner flown for
the duration of the Aug. 20 retaliatory attacks on many networks as President
Clinton tried to show that he knew more than how to deny allegations and
Who is this man the American government has declared war on? How does
a single terrorist reach such notoriety and whom does such fame ultimately
Bin Ladin comes from a very wealthy family and is reputed to possess
over $300 million in personal assets. He decided to leave his father’s massive
"construction business" to fight the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan
in the late ’70s, bringing bulldozers, money and other heavy equipment with
"When the invasion of Afghanistan started, I was enraged and went
there at once," said Bin Ladin. Within months, he had recruited "thousands"
of other Arab fighters from across the Middle East to fight the Soviets.
It was at several critical junctures in his involvement with the guerrilla
groups that Bin Ladin’s outlook became forever changed. Witnessing the defeat
of the Soviets on several occasions convinced Bin Ladin that determined
men could beat a superpower with, in his own words, Allah on their side.
In 1993, Bin Ladin gave his first interview to a western reporter. At
this time, he claimed that all of his followers had been content to put
down their weapons and join him in building a "road to peace"
in Sudan. At this interview, the Independent’s Robert Fisk described Bin
Ladin as "a shy man."
However, this "bashful superstar" has an international network
of dubious contacts in most major American cities, and has already wired
money to many of them. More of his friends can be found in Hamas, Algeria’s
free independent state, and Hizballah. He has already made a declaration
of war against the u.s., and has declared a Jihad against all Americans.
Assassination attempts have been made on Bin Ladin’s life, and bounties
have been placed on his head.
Ironically, however, things may never have been better for "the
world’s most dangerous terrorist." Bin Ladin has been given new-found
notoriety and prestige in fanatic circles. There could be no greater recruitment
tool for Bin Ladin than for his declaration of Jihad against the u.s. to
be validated by last month’s counter-strike by the u.s. government. Now
that the President of the United States of America has labelled him an enemy
of the state, he is a hero in life and would be a martyr in death to his
brothers and sisters. His plight has been elevated. Funds will be easier
to raise, new recruits more expedient to muster and international contacts
more diverse. There is no doubt that Bin Ladin was involved in dubious activities
before last month’s embassy bombings, but now he has been singled out and
thus made a celebrity in his own way. He can only be laughing at the irony
of this situation. Being a lightning rod has made him glow among his peers.
Some U.S. officials have recognised that this effect could be dangerous.
One called Bin Ladin a "big fish" who has added leverage since
his heroic reputation gives him added influence. According to this official,
"Bin Ladin is the kind of guy who can go to someone and say, ‘I want
you to write out a six-figure cheque,’ and he gets it on the spot."
With his position given long term distinction and continued instability
in Africa and the Middle East, it is safe to say that we have not heard
the last from international man-of-mystery Ussamah Bin Ladin.