On September 11, 2001, the world changed forever as more than three thousand men, women, and children lost their lives in the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil. The attack was masterminded by Osama bin Laden and his Jihad group -- an organization that CNN's terrorism analyst Peter Bergen calls Holy War, Inc. One of the few Western journalists to have interviewed bin Laden face-to-face, Bergen has produced the definitive book on the global Jihadist network, revealing:
How bin Laden lives, travels, and communicates with his "cells."
How his role in the crushing defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan made him a hero to Muslims all over the world.
How the bombings of the American embassies in Africa and the USS Cole in Yemen were planned and executed.
What we can expect from Islamic extremists in the future.
Above all, Peter Bergen helps us to see bin Laden's organization in a radically new light: as a corporation that has exploited modern technology and weaponry in the service of global terrorism and the destruction of the West.
Both author and publisher will donate a portion of the proceeds from this book to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
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Peter Bergen is the author of Holy War, Inc. and The Osama Bin Laden I Know, both named among the best nonfiction books of the year by The Washington Post. He is a contributing editor at The New Republic and has worked as a correspondent for National Geographic television, Discovery, and CNN. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, Atlantic, Rolling Stone, Time, Vanity Fair, among other publications.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Prologue: How to Find the World's Most Wanted Man
When you go looking for Osama bin Laden, you don't find him: he finds you. It was March 1997 when the phone rang.
"Osama has agreed to meet with you in Afghanistan," said the voice at the other end of the line.
Bin Laden and his advisers had concluded that CNN, my then employer, was the best forum to broadcast his first television interview to the English-speaking world.
My interest in Afghanistan had been sparked in 1983, when I made a documentary about the millions of Afghan refugees pouring into Pakistan following the Soviet invasion of their country. A decade later, I traveled to Afghanistan to explore the links between the CIA-funded rebels who fought the Soviets and the 1993 bombing of New York's World Trade Center.
To me there was always an unresolved quality to the U.S. government's investigation of the first attempt to destroy the World Trade Center, which was also the first time international terrorists had successfully carried out a bombing operation on American soil. The government had convicted the actual bombers, but who was the mastermind of the operation? Who had bankrolled two of the bombers to fly from Pakistan to New York to carry out the attack?
The more I read about bin Laden, the more plausible a candidate he seemed. By 1996 the U.S. State Department was calling him "the most significant financial sponsor of Islamic extremist activities in the world today" and accusing him of running terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and Sudan. In August of that year, bin Laden issued his first call to Muslims to attack U.S. military targets, a summons that was well publicized in the Middle East.
My quest to find the mysterious Saudi multimillionaire began in North London. The quiet suburb of Dollis Hill is favored by Arab immigrants, who have set up mosques and Islamic schools on its leafy avenues. On an unassuming street of 1930s Tudor-style houses lived Khaled al-Fawwaz, the spokesman for a Saudi opposition group founded by bin Laden, the Advice and Reformation Committee. I had called from the United States a few weeks earlier, but Khaled had cut the conversation short.
"There are matters I do not want to discuss on the telephone," he said. It was a sensible precaution, since anyone remotely connected to bin Laden is likely to have a tapped phone.
When I arrived at Khaled's house, all the curtains were drawn. He answered the door dressed in a floor-length white robe and a red-and-white-checked headdress, wearing his full, bushy beard in the same manner that the Prophet Muhammad had worn his nearly a millennium and a half ago. Entering the house, I took my shoes off, as if I were already in the Middle East. Khaled conducted me into the tidy sitting room that also served as his office. On one side of the room were computers, printers, and faxes, and on another wall, shelves filled with books in Arabic. Khaled was thirty-four, but he seemed older -- worn down, perhaps, by the cares of a man who was once an entrepreneur in Saudi Arabia but was now a full-time opposition figure. Although England's liberal tradition of hospitality to dissidents allowed Khaled to function, he found London a worrisome place to bring up his children, given the constant assault of its hypersexualized, commercialized culture.
With an elaborate courtesy I came to recognize as one of his defining traits, Khaled offered me some flavored coffee and a plate of dates from an oasis town in Arabia. Then we got down to business, of a sort. Khaled seemed more interested in discussing the Koran and Saudi politics than in addressing the logistics of how exactly we would secure the interview with bin Laden.
Khaled repeatedly referred to himself as a "reformer" of the Saudi regime, not a revolutionary. He was not referring to reform in the nineteenth-century liberal sense, but to a literal reformation that sought to take Islam in Arabia back to the way it was practiced at the time of the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century. I was struck by how this desire to reform Islam echoed the Protestant Reformation's attempt to correct the abuses of the medieval Catholic Church and to return Christianity to its founding principles. Islam had seen countless such attempts to restore the perfect society of Muhammad and his immediate successors, the four "Rightly Guided" caliphs.
During the first week of meetings, Khaled gave me a preliminary picture of his friend Osama, describing him, in an accent tinged with the recently acquired cadences of North London, as "humble, charming, intelligent, a really significant wealthy chap for Islamic causes who gave up everything to go and fight in Afghanistan." Bin Laden's role in the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s had made him a hero throughout the Middle East.
Khaled said that bin Laden, now back in Afghanistan, was "violently opposed to the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia," troops who had arrived there in response to Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Bin Laden also believed the House of al-Saud, the family that has ruled Arabia for generations, were "apostates" from Islam. Apostasy is a grave charge to level against the Saudi royal family, who style themselves the protectors of the two holiest places in Islam, Mecca and Medina, and practice the most traditional form of Sunni Islam. Bin Laden's antipathy to the Saudi regime was peculiar because his family had grown extraordinarily rich as a result of their close relations with the royal family.
Khaled endorsed bin Laden's critique of the Saudi monarchy and the American presence on the holy land of the Arabian Peninsula. In his view, the Prophet Muhammad had banned the permanent presence of infidels in Arabia; hence bin Laden's opposition to the thousands of American troops based there. But Khaled added that while he would not condemn bin Laden's calls for violence against those soldiers, he could not condone them either.
When I pressed Khaled on the matter of the interview, he said that there were a number of potential problems. Bin Laden's personal safety was the paramount concern: several assassination attempts had been mounted against him by Saudi intelligence services.
"Are you sure none of your team are agents of the CIA?" he asked abruptly.
I assured him we were not -- but it is hard for some Middle Easterners to believe that journalists are not on the government payroll, as is sometimes the case in their own countries.
Nevertheless, Khaled said he would relay our interview request.
The telephone infrastructure in Afghanistan had been destroyed by years of war, so the only means of communication was by satellite phone. Bin Laden himself communicated only by radio, Khaled said, because he was well aware that intelligence agencies could easily monitor satellite phone calls. He told me that bin Laden hadn't wanted to do a television interview until recently. Of course, we were not the only ones interested in talking to the exiled Saudi; Khaled showed me a stack of interview requests from news organizations around the world. Still, Khaled said we had a chance. In the interim he suggested I go and speak to Dr. Saad al-Fagih, another Saudi dissident, for more background on bin Laden.
Dr. al-Fagih's office was not far from Khaled's house. A wiry, intense intellectual whose thin face is framed by heavy glasses, Dr. al-Fagih was a professor of surgery at the prestigious King Saud University and had studied at the Royal College of Surgeons in Scotland. Al-Fagih told me that he had performed surgery on the day he left Saudi Arabia for exile in England in 1994. In short, he was an unlikely revolutionary.
Al-Fagih's critique of the Saudi regime is as much political as religious, a fact reflected in his dress, which is invariably a suit. Certainly al-Fagih favors a conservative Islamic state, but his criticisms of the regime also focus on its corruption and mishandling of the economy. Al-Fagih calls his opposition group the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA). His approach to undermining the regime is determinedly modern. When I visited his office there were usually several earnest, bearded young men hunched over computer screens updating the group's web site, www.miraserve.com, in Arabic and English. The site analyzes news and trends in Saudi Arabia in a reasonably accurate and fair-minded manner. Dr. al-Fagih also proudly showed me his newly built radio studio, from which he planned to broadcast his message via satellite directly to the Saudi Kingdom.
During the eighties, Dr. al-Fagih had traveled to Peshawar, Pakistan to lend his services as a surgeon during the Afghan jihad against the Soviets. "I estimate that between twelve and fifteen thousand men served with bin Laden in the war in Afghanistan against the Soviets," al-Fagih told me. "Of those there are four thousand now committed to bin Laden's cause around the world." He said that some of these men were linked to bin Laden by a chain of command, but that the majority operated as part of a loose network "whose common link is respect for bin Laden as a great leader."
In London I was also introduced to an Arab I will call Ali, who had served with bin Laden's guerrillas as a medic for three years during the Afghan war. He would be the person guiding us to bin Laden if we got the green light to meet him. Our conversations were somewhat stilted since he spoke no English and I no Arabic, forcing us to communicate in rudimentary French.
Ali had spent more than a decade in Europe and had written extensively on Islamist struggles in the Middle East and Asia. A compact, muscular man not given to smiling from behind his bushy red beard, Ali projected an intense seriousness of purpose. One had the sense that he would be very calm under fire.
Despite the years he had spent in Europe, Ali could be somewhat reductive in his views. During one of our chats he said, "You realize that the U.S. foreign policy is run by three Jews? Albright, Berger, and Cohen." I resisted the impulse to tell Ali that it was the two most powerful men in Washington -- Bill Clinton a...
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