Friday, Mar 24, 2006 review of OBL I Know in Le Monde

Wanted: dead or alive, announced President George W. Bush over four years ago. Despite a reward of $25m Osama bin Laden is still at large. The mass of books claiming to explain the phenomenon have more than anything only deepened the mystery.

The man sitting opposite me in the hotel room in downtown Baghdad was adamant. His group did not ever combine forces with al-Qaida. They had never done so and they never would. “We met some of them, but we have refused to work with them because it is too dangerous,” he said. “They are really bloodthirsty people. They do not care if they kill honest Iraqi people. They are crazy, I tell you.”

Tuesday, Feb 28, 2006 The Madrassa Scapegoat

Peter Bergen is a Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation and an adjunct

professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Swati Pandey is a researcher and writer at the Los Angeles Times.

Bergen, author of the acclaimed Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden, has pieced together the accounts of over 50 people who have known bin Laden to construct a narrative of the man and his deeds.

After viewing an Al Qaeda videotape circulating on the Internet, Bergen wrote to John Burns saying that he was “alarmed” as it seemed to presage a major Al Qaeda attack. Burns filed a story which was put on the ‘New York Times’ website but not in the newspaper of September 9. Two days later the Times took the story off its website

When I visited Osama bin Laden’s former base in Tora Bora little more than a year ago, I climbed steep, scree-covered slopes to reach his Afghan house, perched high above the snow line and commanding views of verdant valleys several thousand feet below. The hamlet, known as Milawa, comprised several lookout posts strung out along ridge lines, a bakery, bin Laden’s two-bedroom house and even a crude swimming pool, all of which had been destroyed by U.S. air strikes in December 2001. It is a place where bin Laden seems to have been very happy. He once told Abdel Bari Atwan, a Palestinian journalist, “I really enjoy my life when I’m here. I feel secure in this place.”

After four years on the run, Osama Bin Laden, the world’s most wanted man, is nowhere to be found. So rather than answer the $50m question, “Where is Osama?”, journalist and terrorism expert Peter Bergen decided to take the easier option of finding out, “Who is Osama?”. As one of the few westerners ever to have met the Al-Qaeda leader face to face, he was well placed to do this.

For all their disagreements about whether Osama Bin Laden is an Islamofascist, an anti-imperialist or a religious nut who wants to restore the Islamic caliphate, almost all of those involved in the terrorism debate agree on one thing: that Bin Laden is a passionate guy with rock-hard beliefs. Those of a pro-war persuasion who consider Qaeda operatives to be “Islamofascists” imagine that Bin Laden must really, really hate Jews and Christians. Those of an anti-war persuasion who describe Bin Laden as “anti-imperialist” imagine that he must really, really oppose the US. And those who prefer a strictly religious explanation think Bin Laden is really, really committed to imposing sharia law on Muslim lands, if not the whole world. Such explanations have in common a perception that Bin Laden is a driven individual with a formidable programme that he will stop at nothing to implement. I mean, anyone who is willing to rough it in a cave in Pakistan, Waziristan or Wherever-istan, despite having a fortune of millions, and who sends young men to blow up themselves and scores of civilians, must really believe in what he is doing – right?

When the Arabic news network al-Jazeera broadcast a new audiotape believed to be from Osama bin Laden on Thursday, it gave us the first evidence we’ve had in 13 months that the al Qaeda leader still lives. Safely distanced from tell-tale telephones and e-mails that could be used to track him, he may now be giving broad guidance to his followers via a “Pony Express” of trusted couriers. Or he may have fled to a country other than Afghanistan or Pakistan, where he’s most frequently said to be lurking. One thing he is definitely not, however, is caught, “dead or alive,” at the instructions of President George W. Bush.

Sunday, Feb 19, 2006 Miami Herald review of OBL I KNow

The world’s most wanted and deadly terrorist worries about public relations, watches Larry King Live and carefully cultivates the image of soft-spoken, thoughtful cleric. But he has no real strategy left — just the tactic of extreme violence. And while he may be a legend in the Muslim world after overseeing the 9/11 attacks that killed 3,000 Americans, he also miscalculated the impact of those attacks and has become a divisive figure among even Muslim radicals.