(Cont'd from above)
The next May, when the men accused of the Riyadh bombing were beheaded in Riyadh’s main square, they were forced to read a confession in which they acknowledged the connection to bin Laden. The next month, June 1996, a truck bomb destroyed Khobar Towers, an American military residence in Dhahran. It killed 19 soldiers.
Bin Laden fled to Afghanistan that summer after Sudan expelled him under pressure from the Americans and Saudis, and he forged an alliance with Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader of the Taliban. In August 1996, from the Afghan mountain stronghold of Tora Bora, bin Laden issued his “Declaration of War Against the Americans Who Occupy the Land of the Two Holy Mosques.”
“Muslims burn with anger at America,” it read. The presence of American forces in the Persian Gulf states “will provoke the people of the country and induces aggression on their religion, feelings, and prides and pushes them to take up armed struggle against the invaders occupying the land.”
The imbalance of power between American forces and Muslim forces demanded a new kind of fighting, he wrote, “in other words, to initiate a guerrilla war, where sons of the nation, not the military forces, take part in it.”
That same month in New York City, a federal grand jury began meeting to consider charges against bin Laden. Disputes arose among prosecutors and American law enforcement and intelligence officers about which attacks against American interests could truly be attributed to bin Laden — whether in fact he had, as an indictment eventually charged, trained and paid the men who killed the Americans in Somalia.
His foot soldiers, in testimony, offered differing pictures of bin Laden’s actual involvement. In some cases he could be as aloof as any boss with thousands of employees. Yet one of the men convicted of the bombings of the embassies said that bin Laden had been so involved that he was the one who had pointed at surveillance photos to direct where the truck bomb should be driven.
Bin Laden was becoming more emboldened, summoning Western reporters to his hideouts in Afghanistan to relay his message: He would wage war against the United States and its allies if Washington did not remove its troops from the gulf region.
“So we tell the Americans as a people,” he told ABC News, “and we tell the mothers of soldiers and American mothers in general that if they value their lives and the lives of their children, to find a nationalistic government that will look after their interests and not the interests of the Jews. The continuation of tyranny will bring the fight to America, as Ramzi Yousef and others did. This is my message to the American people: to look for a serious government that looks out for their interests and does not attack others, their lands, or their honor.”
In February 1998, he issued the edict calling for attacks on Americans anywhere in the world, declaring it an “individual duty” for all Muslims.
In June, the grand jury convened two years earlier issued its indictment, charging bin Laden with conspiracy to attack the United States abroad, for heading Al Qaeda and for financing terrorist activities around the world.
On Aug. 7, the eighth anniversary of the United States’ order sending troops into the gulf region, two bombs exploded simultaneously at the American Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The Nairobi bomb killed 213 people and wounded 4,500; the bomb in Dar es Salaam killed 11 and wounded 85.
The United States retaliated two weeks later with strikes against suspected terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, which officials contended— erroneously, it turned out — was producing chemical weapons for Al Qaeda.
Bin Laden had trapped the United States in an escalating spiral of tension, where any defensive or retaliatory actions would affirm the evils he said had provoked the attacks in the first place. In an interview with Time magazine that December, he brushed aside President Clinton’s threats against him, and referred to himself in the third person, as if recognizing or encouraging the notion that he had become larger than life.
“To call us Enemy No. 1 or Enemy No. 2 does not hurt us,” he said. “Osama bin Laden is confident that the Islamic nation will carry out its duty.”