Osama bin Laden: High Priest of Terror
On Saturday October 14, 2002 one the worst acts of terrorism since the events of 9/11 was perpetrated when terrorists, allegedly linked to Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, blew up a nightclub in the resort town of Kuta Beach in Bali killing 202 people and wounding another 100. The bombing, alleged to have comprised two separate explosions, took place in and around the Sari nightclub, a popular spot for tourists. Many of the dead and wounded were vacationing Australians but a number of Indonesian, German, French, British and American tourists were also among the casualties with at least one American and five British citizens confirmed dead.
While the world's media was reporting this heinous event as the "new wave" of terrorism, Indonesian police were looking to question Islamic leader Abu Bakar Ba'asyir about the bombings. Australia and the U.S. had both named Ba'asyir's Jemaah Islamiya fundamentalist Islamic group as allegedly being responsible for the bombings, Ba'asyir himself was not considered a suspect. Jemaah Islamiya is alleged to have close ties to bin Laden and al Qaeda, a fact that seemed to be borne out when a videotape showing pictures of an al Qaeda training camp inside Indonesia was released by CNN. The tape, said to be from al Qaeda's own video library, shows Indonesian terrorists in training and many graphic scenes including "beheadings and amputations, atrocities the tape cites as reasons to join the Jihad in Indonesia." Indonesian and Australian investigators would later conclusively link key Bali bombing suspect Iman Samudra with Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.
A week after the bombing al Qaeda posted a message on a web site boasting that it had targeted "nightclubs and whorehouses in Indonesia" and was intending to target "Arab and Islamic countries which are part of a 'Jewish-Crusader' alliance."
In early November, the fight was taken back to the terrorists when six suspected al Qaeda members, including Abu Ali, an al Qaeda chief wanted in connection with the bombing of the USS Cole, were killed in Yemen when a CIA drone fired a missile striking the car they were traveling in. CNN called it: "the first direct U.S. strike against Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network outside Afghanistan since September 11."
Within weeks, an audiotape of a voice alleged to be bin Laden's was broadcast on an Arabic language television station praising the terror attacks in Yemen, Kuwait, Bali and Moscow as "a response to how the Muslims have been treated." The tape, believed by CIA analysts to be authentic also includes bin Laden saying: "Just like you kill us, we will kill you."
Several days later, Interpol's Secretary General Ronald Noble told news agencies that his department believed that bin Laden was "alive and well." He also issued a warning that al Qaeda operatives were "preparing simultaneous attacks in several countries."
On November 28, that warning became almost prophetic when terrorists launched two simultaneous attacks in Kenya. During the first attack, suicide bombers exploded a car bomb in front of the Paradise Hotel in Nairobi killing 13 people and the bombers. The hotel is owned by an Israeli company.
In the second attack, two missiles were fired at an Israeli charter jet near the Mombasa airport, but missed their target. Authorities later found two missile launchers just 300 yards from the airport.
The militant group, Al-Ittihad al-Islami, a group the U.S. State Department says "maintains ties to al Qaeda" was thought to be responsible for the attacks in Kenya and some of its members are believed to have trained in Afghanistan.
Within days, one of the three suicide terrorists involved in the hotel bombing was identified as Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, one of the most wanted al Qaeda terrorists sought by the FBI. One of the other bombers, Faed Ali Sayam, is also a well known al Qaeda terrorist. Both men were wanted in connection with 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa that killed 224 people.
A week later a website thought to be linked to al Qaeda posted a message warning of new attacks and taking responsibility for the attacks in Kenya. This was later confirmed when another web posting issued a statement saying: "Al Qaeda announces officially it's behind the two attacks in Mombasa, this statement comes as a challenge to the American enemy and to let it know it's capable of reaching anyplace in the world."
In late January, BBC Online carried a report from Al-Sharq Al Awsat, a London-based Arabic-language newspaper, indicating that Osama bin Laden had released a 26 page letter which included a call "for Muslims across the world to set aside their differences in the 'blessed and thankful jihad.'
According to the story, the letter is a preface for a book called The Islamic Deed Between the Calling of Community and the Calling for Conflict.
On February 12, CNN carried a report of yet another bin Laden audiotape being broadcast on the Qatar-based, Arabic-language network Al-Jazeera. The speaker, said to be bin Laden, told listeners: "In the name of God most merciful, a message to all brothers in Iraq. Peace be on you. All you believers fear God as he should be feared and say we will die as Muslims. We have been following anxiously the preparations of the crusaders to conquer the former capital of Islam and steal their wealth and impose a puppet regime that follows its masters in Washington and Tel Aviv, just like these Arab governments, in order to create what is called greater Israel. This is a war led by the infidels, by America and its spies and agents. We need your intention to be to fight for the sake of God, not for nationalism or any infidel regime, including Iraq."
Following the release of the tape, CIA Director George Tenet told the Senate Armed Services committee that the tape could be the precursor of further attacks as his department considered the content of the tape to be a "call to arms."
On Sunday, March 2, BBC Online carried a report describing how Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the man believed to be the key planner of the September 11 terrorist attacks and other al Qaeda attacks was among three terrorism suspects arrested in a CIA-led operation early Saturday in a house outside the Pakistani capital. It is considered to be the single, most important arrest since the terrorist attacks on September 11.
The following day, a bomb exploded at a Philippine airport killing at least 21 people and injuring 148. An hour later, another bomb exploded at a health center in Tagum City, 31 north of Davao, injuring two people.
While no one had claimed responsibility it was thought to be the work of a Phillipine based al Qaeda terrorist cell.
In the months that followed two other bombs exploded in market places in the Phillipines, and several more were detonated in and around the Moroccan cities of Casablanca, Marrakech, Agadir and Essaouira. Although no official responsibility was claimed, el Qaeda was thought to be responsible.
On August 5, a car bomb was detonated outside the U.S. owned Marriott hotel in downtown Jakarta killing at least 10 people and wounding more than 100. The al Qaeda-linked terror group Jemaah Islamiyah was believed to be behind the attack.
Two days later, an Indonesian court convicted Amrozi bin Nurhasyim for "orchestrating" the Bali nightclub bombing. Amrozi, dubbed the "smiling bomber" by the media, was sentenced to death for the crime.
On Thursday, August 14, Hambali, Asia's most wanted terrorist, was captured by Thai authorities in the central temple town of Ayutthaya. The clean-shaven Hambali, along with a woman believed to be his wife, was arrested and taken to an undisclosed location for questioning. Hambali, also known as Riduan Isamuddin, is Jemaah Islamiyah's chief of operations and the suspected mastermind behind a string of bombings in Southeast Asia and elsewhere including the Bali bombing. He has also been linked to the September 11 attacks, the USS Cole bombing and the Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta.
As the terrorist death toll attributed to Osama bin Laden and other factions aligned with his al Qaeda network continues to climb it is fairly certain that he is alive and well and still in control…or is he?
Following are a sketch and a computer enhanced photograph by forensic photographer Wesley W. Neville, depicting how Osama bin Laden may look today if he were to remove his customary headwear, beard and moustache.