Conversation With Terror

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Osama bin Laden--the alleged mastermind of attacks on two U.S. embassies--has been in hiding since the U.S. launched missiles against his bases in Afghanistan last August. Yet on Dec. 22, the summons suddenly came: Would Rahimullah Yusufzai, who reports for the News of Pakistan, as well as TIME and ABC, like to interview Bin Laden? After a car trip through the Afghan desert (and getting stuck in the sand three times), Yusufzai arrived at an encampment of three tents. Polite and given to praising God in nearly every sentence, Bin Laden sipped water from a cup (he was nursing a sore throat) and nestled an AK-47 as he spoke. Eager to deny reports that he has cancer, Bin Laden said he enjoys riding horses and playing soccer, but he used a stick to walk because of a bad back. He also spends time with his three wives and children in Afghanistan. Aides say his contact with the world is limited to newspaper and radio reports. Though he has a sat phone, it sits mostly idle: he fears the U.S. would use the signal to target an attack.

TIME: Are you responsible for the bomb attacks on the two American embassies in Africa?

Osama bin Laden: The International Islamic Front for Jihad against the U.S. and Israel has, by the grace of God, issued a crystal-clear fatwa [decree] calling on the Islamic nation to carry on jihad [holy war] aimed at liberating holy sites. The nation of Muhammad has responded to this appeal. If the instigation for jihad against the Jews and the Americans in order to liberate al-Aksa Mosque and the Holy Ka'aba [Islamic shrines in Jerusalem and Saudi Arabia] is considered a crime, then let history be a witness that I am a criminal. Our job is to instigate and, by the grace of God, we did that, and certain people responded to this instigation.

TIME: Do you know the men who have been arrested for these attacks?

Osama bin Laden: What I know is that those who risked their lives to earn the pleasure of God are real men. They managed to rid the Islamic nation of disgrace. We hold them in the highest esteem.

TIME: But all those arrested are said to have been associated with you.

Osama bin Laden: Wadih el-Hage [an alleged Bin Laden associate who is being held in custody in New York City on charges stemming from the attacks on the embassies] was one of our brothers whom God was kind enough to steer to the path of relief work for Afghan refugees. I still remember him, though I have not seen him or heard from him for many years. He has nothing to do with the U.S. allegations. As for Mohamed Rashed al-'Owhali [another suspect in the bombings], we were informed that he is a Saudi from the province of Najd. The fact of the matter is that America, and in particular the CIA, wanted to cover up its failure in the aftermath of the events that took place in Riyadh, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Capetown, Kampala--and other places, God willing, in the future--by arresting any person who had participated in the Islamic jihad in Afghanistan. We pray to God to end the plight [of the arrested men], and we are confident they will be exonerated.

TIME: How do you react to the December attack on Iraq by U.S. and British forces?

Osama bin Laden: There is no doubt that the treacherous attack has confirmed that Britain and America are acting on behalf of Israel and the Jews, paving the way for the Jews to divide the Muslim world once again, enslave it and loot the rest of its wealth. A great part of the force that carried out the attack came from certain gulf countries that have lost their sovereignty. Now infidels walk everywhere on the land where Muhammad was born and where the Koran was revealed to him. The situation is serious. The rulers have become powerless. Muslims should carry out their obligations, since the rulers of the region have accepted the invasion of their countries. These countries belong to Islam and not the rulers.

TIME: What can the U.S. expect from you now?

Osama bin Laden: Any thief or criminal or robber who enters another country in order to steal should expect to be exposed to murder at any time. For the American forces to expect anything from me personally reflects a very narrow perception. Thousands of millions of Muslims are angry. The Americans should expect reactions from the Muslim world that are proportionate to the injustice they inflict.

TIME: The U.S. says you are trying to acquire chemical and nuclear weapons.

Osama bin Laden: Acquiring weapons for the defense of Muslims is a religious duty. If I have indeed acquired these weapons, then I thank God for enabling me to do so. And if I seek to acquire these weapons, I am carrying out a duty. It would be a sin for Muslims not to try to possess the weapons that would prevent the infidels from inflicting harm on Muslims.

TIME: The U.S. is trying to stop the flow of funds to your organization. Has it been able to do so?

Osama bin Laden: The U.S. knows that I have attacked it, by the grace of God, for more than 10 years now. The U.S. alleges that I am fully responsible for the killing of its soldiers in Somalia. God knows that we have been pleased at the killing of American soldiers. This was achieved by the grace of God and the efforts of the mujahedin from among the Somali brothers and other Arab mujahedin who had been in Afghanistan before that. America has been trying ever since to tighten its economic blockade against us and to arrest me. It has failed. This blockade does not hurt us much. We expect to be rewarded by God.

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