ABC TV’s Lateline presenter Tony Jones interviewed Mr Bari Atwan on the program last night.
Osama bin Laden and his people are always glorifying that Muslim past, early Islamic history. That’s why they have the names of those great conquerors in that part of the world.
He wanted to imitate the Prophet Mohammed. They were humble, simple, and living a basic, austere way of life. Maybe this is the origin of his charisma. That’s why the people around him, they adore him, they consider him something different. He can be a Buddha or a violent Buddha, the one who actually gave up everything, wealth and money, to live this basic life. Who could be also Ghandi, but again a violent Ghandi, who actually distributed his wealth to the poor people. That’s why they actually like him. That’s why they believe in him.
And he rejected a lot of offers from his country, Saudi Arabia, to go back. He told me, he rejected more than $450 million in order to go back and live there and continue his business activities. When his followers hear these kind of stories, they consider him as a saint, as somebody, a monk, a pope or someone like that. So that’s why he’s actually very influential among certain frustrated young people in the Muslim world.
(edited portion) …the September 11, 2001 attacks were to draw America to the Middle East. It appears that Al Qaeda’s strategists actually anticipated the invasion of Iraq, and you write that they contacted bin Laden and actually got hundreds of Al Qaeda operatives onto the ground before the invasion to start preparing for the insurgency.
(when)..the Americans invaded Iraq, Al Qaeda was prepared for that. Immediately, they sent hundreds of people through the Syrian border, through the Turkish border, Iranian border, to go and set up bases in Iraq. Iraq is a safe haven for Al Qaeda because it has about 50 million pieces of arms. It has about five million tonnes of ammunition left by Saddam Hussein regimes and also the Sunni community, which was deposed from power by the American invasion, and they were actually very, very frustrated, very humiliated. So it was the best environment for Al Qaeda to set up its bases there.
That’s what we are seeing now. Al Qaeda is very strong, Al Qaeda is now expanding. We used to have one Al Qaeda in Tora Bora and Afghanistan, now it is like a monster, it is like Kentucky Fried Chickens, actually, opening branches everywhere in the world. We have Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, which is regrouping again; Al Qaeda in Iraq, which is very active; Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, which managed to destabilise the country there; Al Qaeda in Europe, and we saw what happened in Madrid in London; Al Qaeda in North Africa now, which is very, very active. I think this war against Iraq gave Al Qaeda a huge opportunity to expand, to recruit more people under its fold.