Wrath of God

9 minute read
TIME Staff

Tall and lean, he was dressed in a traditional shalwar kameez–baggy trousers and long shirt–under a military fatigue jacket, with a scarf to fight the desert cold. An AK-47 assault rifle stood at his side. He spoke softly, in Arabic, praising God in nearly every sentence, but his voice rose whenever he criticized the United States. That he did often during the four-hour interview, his first since the U.S. tried to kill him.Osama bin Laden, the Saudi financier accused of masterminding the Aug. 7 bombings that took 224 lives at two U.S. embassies in Africa, escaped an American missile attack on his headquarters in southern Afghanistan nearly two weeks after the embassy blasts. In the months that followed, bin Laden heeded the orders of his host, the Taliban militia that controls most of Afghanistan, to avoid public statements. The Taliban’s leaders evidently didn’t want to complicate their budding relations with the outside world. But last month’s U.S. bombing of Iraq evidently convinced them they had little to lose from letting bin Laden talk. The exile himself wanted to deny involvement in the embassy bombings–and dispel rumors he is dying of cancer.So late last month, bin Laden summoned Rahimullah Yusufzai, a well-connected journalist who reports for Pakistan’s The News, as well as TIME and ABC News, to his tented encampment in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. Bin Laden has been on the move since the U.S. attack on his headquarters, and he avoids using a satellite phone for fear it could betray his location. During Yusufzai’s late-night conversation with bin Laden, the man the U.S. calls Public Enemy Number One appeared to be in good health, though he admitted to a sore throat and a bad back. He continually sipped water from a cup, and Yusufzai caught him on videotape walking with the aid of a stick (bodyguards erased that footage). Excerpts from the interview:PAGE 1||

TIME: Are you responsible for the bomb attacks on the two U.S. embassies in Africa?Osama bin Laden: The International Islamic Front for Jihad against the U.S. and Israel has issued a crystal-clear fatwa calling on the Islamic nation to carry on jihad 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 the Middle East] 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?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.bin Laden: Wadih el-Hage 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, we were informed that he is a Saudi from the province of Najd. Mamdouh Salim is a righteous man who memorizes the holy Koran. He was never a member of any jihad organization. The fact of the matter is that America, and in particular the CIA, wanted to cover up their 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: If the targets of jihad are Americans, how can you justify the deaths of Africans?bin Laden: This question pre-supposes that it is me who carried out these explosions. My answer is that I understand the motives of the brothers who act against the enemies of the nation. When it becomes apparent that it would be impossible to repel these Americans without assaulting them, even if this involved the killing of Muslims, this is permissible under Islam.TIME: How do you react to the December attack on Iraq by U.S. and British forces?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 to the rulers.TIME: What can the U.S. expect from you now?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. 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. How would you use these?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.|2|

TIME: Can you describe the U.S. air strikes on your camps?bin Laden: The American bombardment had only shown that the world is governed by the law of the jungle. That brutal, treacherous attack killed a number of civilian Muslims. As for material damage, it was minimal. By the grace of God, the missiles were ineffective. The raid proved that the American army is going downhill in its morale. Its members are too cowardly and too fearful to meet the young people of Islam face to face.TIME: The U.S. is trying to stop the flow of funds to your organization. Has it been able to do so?bin Laden: The U.S. knows that I have attacked it, by the grace of God, for more than ten 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.TIME: What will you do if the Taliban asks you to leave Afghanistan?bin Laden: That is not something we foresee. We do not expect to be driven out of this land. We pray to God to make our migration a migration in His cause.TIME: Do you expect any more attacks if you stay in Afghanistan?bin Laden: Any foreign attack on Afghanistan would not target an individual. It would not target Osama bin Laden personally. The fact is that Afghanistan, having raised the banner of Islam, has become a target for the crusader-Jewish alliance. We expect Afghanistan to be bombarded, even though the non-believers will say that they do so because of the presence of Osama. That is why we, together with our brothers, live on these mountains far away from Muslims in villages and towns, in order to spare them any harm.TIME: Is your Islamic message having an impact?bin Laden: Winds of change have blown in order to lift the injustice to which the world is subjected by America and its supporters and the Jews who are collaborating with them. Look at what is happening these days in Indonesia, where Suharto, a despot who ruled for 30 years, was overthrown. During his reign, the media glorified him, depicting him as the best president. The media in the Arab countries, regrettably, is doing the same these days. But things will change. The time will come, sooner rather than later, when criminal despots who betrayed God and His Prophet, and betrayed their trust and their nation, will face the same fate.TIME: But there are many Muslims who do not agree with your kind of violence.bin Laden: We should fully understand our religion. Fighting is a part of our religion and our Shari’a. Those who love God and his Prophet and this religion cannot deny that. Whoever denies even a minor tenet of our religion commits the gravest sin in Islam. Those who sympathize with the infidels–such as the PLO in Palestine, or the so-called Palestinian Authority–have been trying for tens of years to get back some of their rights. They laid down arms and abandoned what is called violence and tried peaceful bargaining. What did the Jews give them? They did not give them even 1% of their rights.TIME: America, the world’s only superpower, has called you Public Enemy Number One. Are you worried?bin Laden: Hostility toward America is a religious duty, and we hope to be rewarded for it by God. To call us Enemy Number One or Two does not hurt us. Osama bin Laden is confident that the Islamic nation will carry out its duty. I am confident that Muslims will be able to end the legend of the so-called superpower that is America.||3

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com