Despite U.S. Pursuit, Bin Laden's in the Money

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The U.S. has put a $5 million bounty on his head and applied sanctions against his hosts, but accused superterrorist Osama bin Laden may be outspending Washington. Afghanistan’s rulers on Wednesday pooh-poohed the sanctions announced by President Clinton Tuesday to pressure them into ceasing their support for the Bin Laden network. And Bin Laden could well be in a position to handsomely compensate his hosts for some of their losses. While U.S. trade with Afghanistan amounted to little more than $28 million last year, Bin Laden is reported by the AP to have recently taken delivery of as much as $50 million in donations from Saudi and Gulf businessmen – and might have received a lot more if the Saudi government hadn’t intervened to stop the transfers.

The donations are not only worrying because they’re going to the man accused of planning last summer’s terror bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; they’re reportedly coming from elements of the very business elite that the U.S. views as the most innately pro-Western constituency in Arab countries. Bin Laden may have been disowned by his wealthy family and stripped of Saudi citizenship, but his message evidently resonates with more than only impoverished and disenfranchised elements. "In the U.S. it is assumed that if Arabs are well-off and educated that they automatically love America," says TIME Middle East reporter Amany Radwan. "But there are clearly many very wealthy people who share Bin Laden’s hostility to the lifestyle and pro-Western policies of the Saudi royal family, and are prepared to give him money despite everything that he’s been accused of." And the chilling prospect for the U.S. is that Bin Laden may be offering his backers more bang for their buck.