Nov 11, 2001

THE SPIDER AND HIS WEB Osama bin Laden’s network of terror

Copyright 2001 Daily News, L.P. Daily News (New York) November 11, 2001, Sunday SPORTS FINAL EDITION SECTION: SHOWTIME; Pg. 15 LENGTH: 469 words HEADLINE: THE SPIDER AND HIS WEB Osama bin Laden's network of terror BYLINE: BY SHERRYL CONNELLY BODY: Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden By Peter L. Bergen Free Press $26 In 1997, CNN correspondent Peter Bergen interviewed an obscure terrorist in Afghanistan. Of course, that was back when the Western world knew little about Osama bin Laden. And cared less. In "Holy War, Inc.," Bergen compares Bin Laden's Al Qaeda network to a multinational holding company, with similar global reach. It has a truly international roster of "employees," drawn from at least 24 countries, including America. "Indeed, over the last two decades the United States has proved one of Al Qaeda's most useful bases of operations," Bergen writes, "serving as a fund-raising, recruiting, and training ground for dozens of its members." This much we already know from saturation news coverage since Sept. 11. But Bergen expertly details the complex international weave of Al Qaeda from its beginnings in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation of the '80s. Referring to the foreign-born Muslims who fought alongside the local warriors as "Afghan Arabs," Bergen dismisses as overhyped the accounts crediting their efforts as being decisive. "In the grand scheme of things the Afghan Arabs were no more than extras in the Afghan holy war. It was the lessons they learned from the jihad, rather than their contribution to it, that proved significant. "Those that had their tickets punched in the Afghan conflict went back to their home countries with the ultimate credential for later holy wars." The Soviet defeat in Afghanistan marked the profound shift from Arab nationalism - which directed militancy toward finite political ends - to Islamism. By comparison, Bin Laden's expansive objective is to create a community of Muslim believers holding uncontested occupation from Tunisia to Indonesia. Which is as likely, Bergen wryly notes, as the restoration of the Holy Roman Empire to Europe. Yet Bin Laden had the means to privatize terrorism, formerly always a state-sponsored endeavor. And he is but the CEO of a vast "corporation" whose only product is terrorism. Ayman al Zawahri, the leader of the Egyptian jihad, stands ready to assume command. He is variously credited with being Bin Laden's "mind" and more important to Al Qaeda than the fugitive Saudi billionaire himself. Bin Laden is the head of a military-religious complex committed to the most extreme strain of Islam, but Bergen stresses his is still "a political war, justified by his own understanding of Islam, directed at the symbols and institutions of American political power." It's not so simple a matter as by his targets you shall know him. Nevertheless, a reader finishes "Holy War, Inc." having more than satisfied basic course requirements for "Introduction to the Enemy."