Leaving for Sudan was one of Usamah's options. This was not because it would be a new base for a new plan, but because he had heard a lot about this new country. The Islamists had started to talk about this country's enthusiasm about Islam and Muslims and its eagerness to implement an Islamic plan. Usamah thought he could provide something to this country through his trade and construction experience and his relations with the Kingdom and the Gulf. Besides, Sudan would provide him with a shelter to replace Afghanistan.
Usamah left for Sudan on a private plane in a secret flight toward the end of 1991. He took with him a number of his companions, while others followed him via other routes.
While in Sudan, the Sudanese Government was very hospitable toward him, but at that stage he was not in need of any financial support, because his money was still under his control. He managed to normally transfer a part of his funds and equipment from the Kingdom to Sudan.
Usamah did not contribute to any military action in Sudan, but he greatly contributed toward building roads, farms, and other construction projects. The most famous of these was Al-Tahaddi [Challenge] Road from Khartoum to Port Sudan.
Although Usamah left the Kingdom as explained above and although he was exposed to kidnapping and killing attempts in Afghanistan by the Saudi regime, he did not declare a hostile stand toward the ruling regime. He did not want to sever ties with religious personalities, merchants, and some influential people in the Kingdom. This policy was beneficial. Usamah managed to convince a large number of those people to support Sudan and hold investments in it. During that period, he was offered more than once a return to the country and was given guarantees, but he did not welcome the idea at all.
Interest in him grew noticeably at the end of 1992 when an order was issued to freeze his assets. Afterward, Usamah's case turned into a hot issue on the agenda of the US intelligence, and this issue was regularly raised between the Americans and the Saudi authorities. Pressures on Usamah intensified to make him return and the authority tried to embarrass him by putting pressure on his family and blackmailing him through them, but to no avail.
When the Saudi Government despaired of his return, King Fahd issued a decree abrogating his citizenship in early 1994. It is said that Usamah threw the civil status book onto the lap of one of the people dispatched by the authorities to persuade him to return before abrogating his citizenship. Usamah told this person: "Don't deal with me the way you deal with subordinates. Take it. I don't need it." These developments, which ended in abrogating his citizenship, coincided with other developments in the Kingdom, which Usamah had closely followed. The Islamic current had sent a number of memorandums, demanding reform. The last of these developments, which coincided with the abrogation of citizenship, was the case of the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights [CDLR] and the arrest campaign of its founders and sympathizers before the CDLR moved to London. These developments prompted Usamah to take the first declared initiative against the Saudi Government in early 1994 when he issued a personal statement responding to the decision abrogating his citizenship. After this statement, Usamah decided to act publicly, in cooperation with others. This led to the emergence of the Commission for Advice and Reform.
The Commission for Advice and Reform
When Usamah and a number of those cooperating with him saw the campaign launched by the state against the CDLR and the arrest of a number of its founders and others, some people advised him to form an alternative body, which he called "The Commission for Advice and Defense of Legitimate Rights" to replace the CDLR, which was suppressed. Usamah did not know that the CDLR was about to resume its work from London.
The CDLR reemerged from London, so his associates advised him to change that name and to choose another name because the CDLR chose its name first and the name must be changed in full. So the name was changed to "The Commission for Advice and Reform." The new commission began to issue different statements in its own name, and not in Usamah's personal name. The commission opened an office in London and appointed Khalid al-Fawwaz in charge of it. It is fair to say that the language of the statements of that commission was different from Bin-Ladin's recent statements.
We go back to his stay in Sudan. Throughout his stay in Sudan, Usamah was the focus of many Islamic movement pioneers from all over the world, journalists, and intelligence men and agents of the United States and some Arab countries. During that period, Usamah had maintained ties with ulema, preachers, and merchants in the Kingdom. He had also maintained ties with many old friends in jihad, whether those who remained in Pakistan and Afghanistan or those who returned to Arab countries.
During his stay in Sudan, two important developments were tied to him. The first: The incidents in Somalia and Yemen. The second: The Riyadh bombing.
As for the incidents in Somalia, they are well known. There was a small faction, led by a group of those who received training in Afghanistan. They played a role in qualitative operations against the Americans. As for Yemen, the United States and Yemen kept silent on incidents in which several Americans were killed in a hotel in Aden. Usamah takes pride in these operations, but he does not attribute them directly to himself. He just considers them part of his general circle.
As for the Riyadh bombing, evidence strongly indicates that the group behind it had a relationship with Usamah. Usamah did not deny the relationship and did not deny his support for the action, but he was accurate in that he did not attribute it to himself directly in any speech on any occasion.
Following the incidents in Somalia and the Riyadh bombing, Usamah's stay in Sudan after 1994 began to greatly embarrass the Sudanese Government, which came under strong pressure from the United States and Arab countries to expel or extradite him. The Sudanese tolerated the pressure for some time, but it was clear that they were not willing to remain patient for a long time. The Sudanese began to put pressure on the Arab Afghans to leave Sudan. Usamah was aware of the pressure against Sudan because the Sudanese had kept him informed of this. They might have told him once that he should consider leaving.
When Usamah felt that the Sudanese could no longer put up with him and were embarrassed to tell him that, he started to make arrangements for his departure by himself. To prepare for his departure, Usamah contacted his old friends of the Afghan mujahidin and chose from them Shaykh Yunos Khales and Shaykh Jalaloddin Haqqani, who had a strong influence in the Jalalabad region. This happened before Taleban extended its influence outside Kandahar, when Afghan areas were split between Afghan factions. After securing a place for him in Jalalabad, Usamah prepared to leave Sudan in a top-secret operation. For this purpose, he chartered a private plane that carried him, along with a number of his followers, to Afghanistan, where he was received by Shaykh Yunos Khales and Shaykh Haqqani. After his arrival there, he sent a message to Afghan factions telling them that he was still committed to not interfering in their differences and struggles. This was before the Taleban captured Jalalabad and then Kabul. Since his arrival in Afghanistan, a series of dramatic developments has taken place. These include the Al-Khubar bombing, the Taleban's capture of Jalalabad, the attempt to kidnap Usamah, and the statement of jihad against the Americans, which he issued in November 1996.
In June 1996, a large explosion rocked the city of Al-Khubar, killing 20 US military personnel and wounding hundreds. Usamah did not claim responsibility for the Al-Khubar bombing. He supported the bombing, without claiming responsibility for it. Meanwhile, the Saudi authorities were careful to pin the charge on Shiite elements, supported by Iran, in an attempt to discredit Bin-Ladin. The Saudi authorities continued to avoid holding Bin-Ladin responsible until one of the Saudi officials made a statement to AFP following the incidents of Kenya and Tanzania, in which he slipped and said that the reason for severing ties with the Taleban was that it sheltered the people wanted in Al-Khubar bombing from the group that accompanies Bin-Ladin. This statement was not repeated and no similar statement was made. On the contrary, the Saudis tried to blow the case of Hani al-Sayigh out of proportion to achieve the same goal.
Shortly after the Al-Khubar bombing, Usamah issued his first statement titled "Declaring Jihad to Drive Out the Infidels From the Peninsula of the Arabs." This time, the statement was not issued in the name of the Commission for Advice and Reform; it was issued in Bin-Ladin's name personally. The 12-page statement said that the situation of the Peninsula, under the presence of infidel forces, had not been experienced since the era of Prophet Muhammad, God's peace and blessings be upon him. The statement was sent by fax in the form of a booklet. It attracted the attention of some newspapers and news agencies.
At that stage, the Saudi ambassador in Islamabad tried to pressure Yunos Khales and Haqqani to hand over Usamah. The ambassador tried to tempt them by making certain offers, but Yunos Khales's reply was categorical. He said: If an animal seeks refuge with us, we will protect him. So how about a man who sacrificed himself and his money for the sake of God and jihad in Afghanistan? Afterward, Taleban invaded the region where Usamah was staying. By that time, Usamah had known some details about the Taleban, since Yunos Khales and Haqqani had already joined Taleban and considered themselves part of the Taleban army. However, Usamah had no idea what his situation would be after he had become in the region under their control. Usamah did not have to wait for long. Mola Omar, the leader of Taleban, sent a delegation to meet Usamah and to reassure him and tell him that he is still a guest. Mola Omar pledged to protect him, but he asked him to stop any media activity. Usamah had given interviews to CNN and the British Channel Four during that period.
The other development that happened afterward and that forced Usamah to move to Kandahar was the kidnapping attempt, which was leaked to Usamah and aborted before it was carried out. Mercenaries from the tribes on the Pakistani-Afghan border had been financed to carry out a lightning attack on the area where Usamah was staying and kidnap or kill him. Pakistan and other known countries had arranged the operation, but the news leaked to Usamah quickly so he made arrangements quickly to move to Kandahar, the stronghold of the Taleban, which is safer.
Face to Face With Mola Omar]
During Usamah's stay in Jalalabad, an important development took place: The Taleban entered Kabul almost without battles. This helped the Taleban, since it became the largest power in Afghanistan, despite the limited recognition of it. In the meantime, Usamah was planning to move to Kandahar to be safe from the kidnapping attempt, which we have previously noted. This development facilitated Usamah's move to Kandahar, since he traveled via Kabul. He went to Kabul by car and from Kabul to Kandahar by plane. When he arrived in Kandahar, Usamah was careful to meet Mola Omar, the amir of the Taleban, in person, because up until that moment, he had not met Mola Omar in spite of the frequent correspondence between them. The meeting took place in a very friendly atmosphere. It actually took place before the recent differences had surfaced between them. Mola Omar welcomed Usamah and expressed his happiness to host him. He said that he and the Taleban were honored to defend Usamah as an esteemed Arab guest and as a mujahid who fought with them in the Afghanistan war. In the same meeting, Mola Omar spoke about the serious challenges facing the Taleban after entering Kabul, especially facing the forces of Dostum. He told Usamah that it would be better if he decreased the media campaign and that this was only a request, and not an order or an obligation. Usamah responded by saying that he had already decided to reduce or totally freeze his media activity. So, Mola Omar was satisfied with this answer.
Meanwhile, the Saudi Government had recognized the Taleban, in a move believed to aim at embarrassing the Taleban to cooperate with it on the case of Usamah. The Saudi Government went a step further when it invited all members of the Taleban government and Mola Omar personally to perform hajj and 'umrah [minor pilgrimage] and host them as official guests. In fact, one of the key figures of the Taleban government, Prime Minister Mohammad Rabbani, visited the Kingdom to perform hajj. However, it seems that "good hospitality" did not change his attitude and the stands of his government. The position of Taleban toward Usamah did not change. The Taleban politely turned down the requests of several delegations sent by the Saudi Government, including diplomats, businessmen, Usamah's relatives, and intelligence figures.
Usamah Party to the Afghan War
Another development happened in those days making Usamah more popular with the Taleban. Usamah abandoned his neutral stand toward the dispute of the Afghan factions and decided to side strongly with the Taleban against Dostum. He ordered his men to fight alongside the Taleban. When Shah Masud insisted on becoming a party to the war, Usamah made the religious scholars who accompanied him issue a fatwa to the effect that fighting Masud is considered rightful jihad. This decision played an important role in helping the Taleban, since they had not yet arranged their affairs and all their initial victories happened almost without a fight. This is because of the concern of the people for the Taleban and the fact that field commanders surrendered to their authority. As for Dostum and Masud, their forces were more united because they convinced their followers that the war was ethnic, and not religious. What helped to keep them united was Dostum's dependence on the Uzbeks and Masud's dependence on the Tajiks. Masud and Dostum sought to persuade their followers that the Taleban were nothing but Pashtuns who wanted to control them. Add to this the fact that the Western world felt the danger of the Taleban only after the fall of Kabul and their protection of Usamah. This made Masud and Dostum win generous support from Russia, America, Turkey, Iran, and other sides. The Taleban were about to collapse in the face of the regular and united forces, which were supported by other parties. At least in two cases, it was Usamah's battalions that repulsed those forces from Kabul. The Taleban did not forget this and Usamah became more popular with them.
Another factor that made Usamah more popular with the Taleban was the fact that he freed up a number of specialized young people to help the Taleban in planning, management, and development of the new state. Although the group that was with Usamah is modest in knowledge, for the Taleban it was a team of university professors.
Another Kidnapping Attempt
The Americans and their allies did not despair of capturing Usamah. After they realized that it was impossible to persuade the Taleban [to extradite Bin-Ladin], the Americans, along with the Pakistanis and a third country, thought of preparing a plan to kidnap Usamah by carrying out a commando operation from Pakistani territory.
Training on the operation began in the end of the spring of 1997, provided that implementation would take place at the beginning of summer. The operation was kept under total secrecy. However, because Pakistan was a party to it, it was impossible to keep it secret, since the Pakistani military intelligence had many sympathizers with Usamah. The news was leaked to Usamah and other Arab parties, which leaked it to the press. Thus, the US plan was exposed and canceled. The Americans first denied the story, then later acknowledged that it was true. They attributed the cancellation of the plan to fear of casualties within US ranks.
Taleban Ulema With Bin-Ladin
Toward the end of 1997 and the beginning of 1998, Usamah decided to resume his activity. He first started with the ulema of Taleban and Pakistan. Usamah managed to get a fatwa from around 40 ulema in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The fatwa supported his statement to drive the infidel forces out of the Arabian Peninsula. The fatwa was circulated on a large scale in Pakistan and Afghanistan and was leaked to the press. The newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi published excerpts of it.
Through this statement, Usamah wanted to achieve two objectives. First, a comprehensive Islamic plan to mobilize Muslim ulema against US presence in the Arabian Peninsula, based on the fact that these signatures would be collected from other sides and countries. Second, to get a moral and Islamic cover within Afghanistan because he had decided to revive his media activity and he did not want to be in a weak position with Mola Omar.
The World Islamic Front
This development coincided with--God knows if this was one of its reasons or consequences--the assembly of a number of leaders of Islamic groups, especially the Egyptian jihad group, in Afghanistan. A large number of delegations flocked from Pakistan and Kashmir to see Usamah. One of those leaders talked Usamah into expanding the concept of war with the United States to fight it everywhere. This conviction grew larger to include, instead of fighting America, killing every American in the age of combat everywhere and anytime, along with the Jews. Those who convinced Usamah of the idea cited two justifications: One political, while the other was based on Islamic shari'ah.
The justification that is based on shari'ah is that the Americans are occupying the lands of the two holy mosques. Therefore, every American is considered supportive of the occupation of the Arabian Peninsula. Since the Americans and the Jews fight the Muslims everywhere and anytime and sanction the shedding of the blood of Muslim civilians, then killing the Americans and Jews is sanctioned, no matter where or when.
The political justification is that the United States has become enemy number one for Islam and is lying in wait for the Muslims and the Islamic groups. The United States no longer has any rival. Therefore, it is necessary that the Muslims should feel that they are enemies of the United States. This should turn into a major Islamic issue all over the Islamic world.
This conviction turned into action, by issuing a statement of the World Islamic Front in February 1998, which calls for killing the Americans and Jews everywhere and anytime. The statement was signed by Bin-Ladin; Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri for the Egyptian Jihad Group; and Rifa'i Taha, one of the officials of the Egyptian Islamic Group. It was also signed by the leader of one of the Kashmiri factions and one of the famous Pakistani leaders. The statement was disseminated and published by the press. The statement was a turning point for Usamah in several respects.
First, the statement represented a shift toward a global plan, instead of focusing on the issue of the US forces in the Arabian Peninsula.
Second, the statement represented what some people deemed abandonment of the caution Usamah had earlier been careful to maintain in his Islamic stand and the insistence to expand the circle of shedding blood.
Third, it was the first time that Usamah became a party to what looks like an Islamic alliance of jihad groups. In the past, he used to work with his own group and to reject declared alliances, while approving of the idea of cooperation and coordination, but without a declared alliance.
Dispute With Mola Omar
Mola Omar was not pleased with these activities. He considered them a violation of the moral commitment between him and Usamah during their previous meeting. Mola Omar sent a message to Usamah, asking him about what had happened. Usamah replied that the circumstances that necessitated halting media activities had ended and that there was no need for remaining silent. Usamah used the card of the ulema to strengthen his position, since the Taleban respect the opinion of the ulema, who all respect Mola Omar. Mola Omar was angry, but hid his anger and continued to try to convince Usamah to maintain his silence. Instead of remaining silent, Usamah took an escalatory attitude and called a news conference around May 1998. He arranged for the news conference secretly in an area near the border with Pakistan in the suburbs of Khost. A small number of journalists were invited. A few days before the conference, Usamah had given a lengthy interview to the American network ABC. In the news conference and in the interview, Usamah referred to the possibility of incidents against the Americans within a short period. He did not specify where.
Mola Omar again sent a message to Usamah, objecting to what happened and asking him to give an explanation. Usamah did not have any persuasive style to convince Mola Omar, except for the ulema. Indeed, Usamah's reply was that he accepts the judgment of the ulema. Mola Omar rejected the idea. This was not out of disrespect for the ulema, but to close this door. Mola Omar did not want to make it a habit for any person who wants to rebel to ask for the judgment of the ulema. Relations between the two men became tense. Mola Omar, who could have prevented Usamah from carrying out media activities, preferred to remain patient and to resort to persuasion for the time being.
US Embassies Bombed
Following Bin-Ladin's statements that he would strike within weeks, the Americans remained in a state of anticipation. The Americans took precautions against any attacks by declaring a state of maximum alert. However, all their precautions were taken in the Arab region, the Gulf, and, to some extent, in the Horn of Africa. While the Americans were on full alert, the strike was carried out against locations not anticipated by them; namely, their embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The two embassies were blown up by two booby-trapped trucks on 7 August 1998.
Commenting on the Western handling of this issue--whether through official parties or the media and research centers--might be more important than trying to delve into the actual blast. This is because the political, security, and strategic effects of this incident are more important than the incident itself. Apparently, the repercussions of such incidents are more important than the incidents themselves, in view of their own impact and nature. At the time, US official spokespersons were cautious not to accuse certain parties. In spite of this, media agencies, political experts, and official sources, which decline to be identified, contributed a great deal of comments, information, and analyses that help examine the repercussions of this incident. Upon conducting an in-depth examination of what was issued by those parties, we notice the following:
First, Islamic movements, or what the West calls Islamic fundamentalists, were the principal suspects. All other parties, such as Iran, Iraq, and Libya, were simply excluded. Many parties spoke about Shaykh Bin-Ladin and the Egyptian Jihad Group. Extensive reference was made to Bin-Ladin's threats of carrying out a strike within weeks. These threats came in Bin-Ladin's interview with the US network ABC. A reference was also made to the Jihad Group's statement, which was published in the Al-Hayah newspaper two days before the blast. Bin-Ladin was linked to the Egyptian Jihad through the statement of the World Islamic Front for Fighting Jews and Crusaders. These two parties were among the signatories to the statement.
Second, those bombings reopened the file of the Al-Khubar blast. Those responsible for the blast had not been announced until that date. It was noticed that the US press, for the first time, cited US officials as saying that America considered Bin-Ladin responsible for the Al-Khubar blast, and even for the Riyadh blast. In the past, US sources had cast doubt on the Saudi story about the involvement of Shiites and Iran and pointed to the possibility of the existence of domestic opposition that is responsible for the Al-Khubar blast.