Nov 17, 2001

LA Daily News review of Holy War documentary

11/17/2001 Los Angeles Daily News (Copyright 2001) "Holy War, Inc." is essentially a concise encapsulation of what we've learned about Osama bin Laden in the days since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., adding some less-well- known but equally chilling information. Former CNN reporter Peter Bergen, whose new book provides the title of this report, has been studying Afghanistan and Pakistan for nearly 20 years. Bergen tells us that bin Laden first got his taste for American blood in Somalia in the early '90s, when an American mission to deal with the nation's then-ruling warlord went horribly awry and 18 American servicemen were killed. Muslims were already angered at images of American troops celebrating Christmas in Muslim territory during the Gulf War, and another American assault on their lands - even if it was for the humanitarian purpose of restoring order to a war-torn land run by a corrupt and brutal regime - chafed even further. Bin Laden had helped train the Somalis who murdered, then desecrated, those soldiers and was empowered by the fact that soon after, the United States withdrew from Somalia. David Halberstam's current best seller, "War in a Time of Peace," calls Somalia the first foreign-policy disaster of the Clinton administration, though it was initiated while George Bush was still in office (Clinton's people waffled even further on an already shaky strategem). Though Halberstam doesn't mention bin Laden's participation, it's clear that in encouraging bin Laden, it was a greater disaster than anyone realized. Soon after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, police in Manilla located a laptop owned by Ramzi Yousef, who masterminded that attack. Bergen's reporting suggests that blueprints for the attacks of Sept. 11 - including a plot to simultaneously blow up 11 American airliners and another to slam planes into buildings - were in the computer's hard drive. Meanwhile, Ali Mohamed, a bin Laden operative, instructed commandos on combat in the Middle East: Officials recall him sniffing around for intelligence materials. These are just a couple of the ignored hints of ominous times ahead. "Holy War, Inc." also covers the 1998 attacks on U.S. Embassies in Africa (which, Bergen says, were never specifically ordered by bin Laden but carried out by his network), the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 and the thwarted millennium terror attacks. Provocative footage of a militant Islamic conference in London last spring is likewise shown, proving that, as satisfyingly cathartic as the capture or death of bin Laden may be for Americans, it will be but a symbolic victory in an ongoing struggle. "Holy War, Inc." opens and closes on footage of a Pakistani school where young boys rock back and forth ritualistically while memorizing the Koran - the headmaster piously admits he is training future jihad warriors.