But before anyone jumps to the conclusion that these connections could lead straight to Bin Laden's lair, it's worth remembering that his organization is far less centralized than those of previous high-profile terrorists, such as the Palestinian Abu Nidal. After all, Bin Laden is less of a CEO and more the head of a loosely grouped holding company. He built his network by putting his considerable resources as a funder and fund-raiser at the center of an international movement to recruit fighters from throughout the Arab world to help Afghanistan resist the Soviet invasion. Those fighters became a nucleus that was deployed in other conflicts involving Muslims, such as Bosnia and Chechnya and, at Bin Laden-financed camps in Afghanistan, trained Islamic militants from countries as diverse as Pakistan and the Philippines.
Bin Laden channels money through a variety of legitimate charities and businesses, and is not averse to exploiting family ties: He is reported to have married off one of his daughters to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, making his relationship with Afghanistan's ruler that of a father-in-law. Even though groupings such as Algeria's Armed Islamic Group with which the group arrested in the U.S. is believed to be aligned long predated Bin Laden and have an entirely independent leadership structure, they are reported to have received financial and training assistance from the Saudi financier's Al Qaeda group. And because the Algerian group has no history of targeting the U.S., investigators suspect they may have been acting on behalf of Bin Laden, possibly to return a favor. But while finding a connection between Bin Laden and a group of Islamic terrorists may not be that difficult, it may be a lot harder to prove that they were acting on his orders.