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Archive for Wednesday, August 21, 2002

1998 tape shows bin Laden launching jihad

August 21, 2002

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— Surrounded by his key lieutenants and masked, gun-toting bodyguards, Osama bin Laden declared "holy war" against the West in a 1998 press conference that was videotaped by al-Qaida and aired Tuesday by CNN.

However, a Pakistani journalist who attended the press conference, staged at an al-Qaida camp near Khost in southeastern Afghanistan, recalled that the taciturn bin Laden showed passion only when he spoke on two issues: U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia and Israel's control of Jerusalem.

"Tears were moving down from his eyes when he was talking about al-Quds (Jerusalem) and the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia," said the journalist, Ismail Khan. Bin Laden claimed he was shipping weapons, including Stinger missiles, to his followers in Saudi Arabia, Khan said.

The tape aired by CNN on Tuesday was the second in a series that the network said it obtained from an al-Qaida archive in Afghanistan. The latest tape showed bin Laden warning of a mission that would "result in killing Americans and getting rid of them."

Bin Laden did not give more details. About two months later, however, nearly simultaneous attacks on U.S. Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killed 231 people, including 17 Americans, and wounded about 5,000. The United States blames al-Qaida for the Aug, 7, 1998 embassy bombings.

It appeared that the purpose of the press conference, which was restricted to select Pakistani journalists and one Chinese writer, was to announce a jihad, or holy war, against the United States and its allies.

Three months before the press conference, Bin Laden had announced formation of the "World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders," meaning the Christian West. The Front included several Islamic militant groups and declared its intention to attack Americans, including civilians, anywhere in the world.

Both of bin Laden's declarations attracted only modest international attention, even though they served as a harbinger to the attacks of Sept. 11.

"The purpose of our visit, I believe, was to announce the launching of the Islamic jihad or something like that," Khan, the journalist, said. "In between, he talked about issues like the presence of foreign troops in Saudi Arabia, operations in Palestine and what was happening in Chechnya and other places."

Khan said that when bin Laden talked of American forces in Saudi Arabia, birthplace of the Islamic faith, "it was a touchy issue for him and a very moving issue for him." Bin Laden was stripped of Saudi citizenship for his activities and his outspoken opposition to the ruling royal family.

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