Share this article

print logo

FOUNDATION FOR MURDER <br> EXPERTS AGREE THAT EVEN IF OSAMA BIN LADEN IS KILLED, TERRORISM WON'T END. HIS VAST NETWORK OF FUNDAMENTALIST MUSLIM FOLLOWERS, NOW IN 55 COUNTRIES, MUST BE BROKEN APART AS WELL.

In the mountains of Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden operates a university of terror and a grant-making foundation for terrorism.

Using a personal fortune of $300 million, bin Laden set up terrorist camps to train soldiers for his "jihad," or holy war.

Graduates then make their way in the world -- and return to bin Laden when they need money to carry out their terrorist plots.

President Bush now says he wants to get bin Laden, the chief suspect in last week's terrorist attacks, "dead or alive." But getting bin Laden won't necessarily end the war he declared on the United States in 1996 and that broke out in earnest last week.

To end that war, terrorism experts say, America must break apart al-Qaida, bin Laden's vast and loosely organized fundamentalist Muslim network, which now has tentacles reaching 55 countries.

"We have to understand his network and get to the key nodes that operate it," said Dennis K. McBride, a retired aerospace engineer and psychologist with theNavy. "Take out those nodes, and the network falls."

Details about those nodes are sketchy at best. Nevertheless, terrorism experts have a vague idea of how bin Laden operates.

Now 44, bin Laden doesn't fit the typical terrorist profile. He's tall, thin and prone to wearing a kindly smile. Yet his biographers call him a master organizer who used money and charisma to turn himself into an idol in some poor Muslim communities -- and the world's most wanted man.

In fact, they say last week's attacks provide a perfect illustration of how bin Laden operates. He spends freely, just as the suicide hijackers did in their attempts to get flight training and plane tickets. And he backs well-orchestrated terror schemes that leave few, if any, fingerprints.

"The attacks last week were a long time in planning," said Claude E. Welch Jr., a political science professor at the University at Buffalo. "It was well-financed and incredibly daring and imaginative in its execution."

The same can be said about the al-Qaida organization.

Al-Qaida's recruitment video shows soldiers in robes and hoods running through military exercises and attacking buildings. Graduates of those training camps then hook up with any of the 31 organizations that biographers have linked to bin Laden, or they can hatch a terrorist plot on their own.

"Bin Laden doesn't sit there in some cave and pull the strings on every operation," said Yonah Alexander, co-author of "Usama bin Laden's al-Qaida: Profile of a Terrorist Network."

Instead, bin Laden decides which organizations and which plots are worth funding.

Money is no obstacle. Besides a huge inheritance, bin Laden can count on money raised from construction companies that he owns, donations from like-minded Arab millionaires and possibly even drug revenues from Afghanistan, said Michael S. Swetnam, president of the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies and co-author of the book on bin Laden.

"He dispenses money and serves as a clearinghouse," said Stephen P. Cohen, a Brookings Institution scholar and former State Department official. "His organization sort of acts like a charitable foundation would in America."

But his foundation funds terror rather than charity.

There's one big advantage to bin Laden's approach to terrorism: It tends to protect bin Laden. Experts say that the plots he backs are carried out by small cells of operatives whose activities are unknown to almost everyone else linked in any way to bin Laden. That makes each terrorist act more difficult to investigate, more difficult to link to the guy at the top or anyone else.

Bin Laden favors funding suicide bombings for a similar reason.

"His real motive for (backing) a suicide bombing is: I need you to go away so there's no evidence," said McBride, the former Navy psychologist.

But how could bin Laden and his allied organizations recruit people to kill themselves in the name of their cause?

Wooing would-be bombers

He starts by making himself look like a hero. Bin Laden builds good will all through the Arab Third World by building hospitals and schools and aiding refugees, Cohen said.

Then the terrorists he funds tell young people that they can be heroes, too.

"They teach you from a young age the tremendous reward for dying for one's faith," Swetnam said. "People who do that are the heroes there. You're told that your death will bring splendors that you can't even imagine, so this is what you aspire to."

That's not all they're told. According to a long-standing federal indictment against him, bin Laden issued a fatwa, or religious edict, in 1998 calling for the killing of American civilians.

To combat such an enemy, experts say, the United States will have to focus on much more than bin Laden.

First, it will have to go after states such as Afghanistan that support him, though such states are few and far between.

So far, those who have studied bin Laden think he has failed in his attempts to obtain chemical, nuclear or biological weapons. That's partly because even rogue states such as Iraq are reluctant to help him in that way, said Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, chairman of a commission studying terrorism threats.

"Those states are afraid they'll eventually see those weapons turned against them," Gilmore said.

America will have to both attack and infiltrate the very heart of that fearsome enemy.

"We'll have to go after a network that goes across borders and that is right within our own," said Bertram S. Brown, a former director of the National Institute for Mental Health who has studied the psychology of terrorism.

Doing that means combining good intelligence and military tactics with some unconventional strategies. Alexander suggested a Marshall Plan for the impoverished parts of the region to build good will and give youngsters options to terror.

"If you just go in and wipe people out, you'll probably create as many terrorists as you wipe out," Alexander said.

The Soviet Union learned that lesson the hard way after it invaded Afghanistan in 1979 in hopes of propping up a Marxist government. And therein lies the beginning of bin Laden's story.

Biographers say bin Laden, the heir to a huge construction fortune, grew enraged and militantly Muslim in wake of the Soviet invasion.

So, from a base in Pakistan, he funneled money and humanitarian aid to the mujahedin, the Muslim resistance in Afghanistan that America supported at the time, too.

He formed al-Qaida ("the Base") in 1988, and with its help, Afghan forces drove the Soviets out of the country a year later.

By no means was bin Laden then finished as a radical Muslim activist. In 1990, he grew enraged about America's use of Saudi Arabia -- the Muslim holy land -- as a staging ground for the Persian Gulf War. American troops stayed there once the war ended, prompting him to declare holy war on America.

"Americans have committed unprecedented stupidity: They have attacked Islam and its most sacrosanct symbols," bin Laden said in a 1998 ABC interview. "We anticipate a bleak future for America. Instead of remaining United States, it shall end up separated states and shall have to carry the bodies of its sons back to America."

Groundwork for terrorism

While developing a motive to attack the United States, bin Laden also developed the machinery. Fleeing Saudi Arabia for Sudan in 1991, bin Laden set up his first terrorist training camps. U.S. intelligence officials believe his followers pulled off their first bombing, at a hotel where U.S. troops stayed in Yemen, a year later.

Since then, bin Laden and his followers have compiled an unparalleled resume of terror. Law enforcement officials link al-Qaida to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1996 bombing of U.S. military housing in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 attack on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.

By 1996, bin Laden had grown so notorious that Sudan's radical Muslim government asked him to leave. One country accepted him: Afghanistan, where the country's most extreme Muslim freedom fighters -- called the Taliban -- were consolidating control after a long civil war.

Bin Laden simply re-established his operation in what is, for him, a very hospitable environment. The Taliban bans television and every form of religion other than Islam.

That seems to be very much to bin Laden's liking. Increasingly over the years, he has portrayed himself as an enemy not only of the United States, but of all Western civilization.

"In today's wars, there are no morals, and it is clear that mankind has descended to the lowest degrees of decadence and oppression," bin Laden said in the ABC interview.

Bin Laden believes he sees a better way.

"It is an invitation that we extend to all the nations to embrace Islam, the religion that calls for justice, mercy and fraternity among all nations," he said. "We are entrusted to spread this message and to extend that call to all the people."

DEADLY RESUME

Osama bin Laden is suspected of orchestrating these attacks on Americans: 1993: World Trade Center ; six dead, more than 1,000 wounded.
1996: U. S. military housing complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia; 19 servicemen killed, 372 wounded.
1998: U. S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; 224 killed, 5,000 hurt.
2000: USS Cole, in Yemeni harbor of Aden: 17 sailors killed , 39 wounded.
2001: World Trade Center destroyed , Pentagon damaged: more than 5, 500 dead or missing.
e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com

There are no comments - be the first to comment