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The Fate of Osama bin Laden

| 31 Comments | 8 TrackBacks

This was inspired somewhat by a recent post by Gregory Djerejian over at the Belgravia Dispatch. Now just to be clear so that nobody mistakes this as an attack on him, I like Greg, I respect him, and his blog is on my daily reading list right next to such daily Darling reads as Rantburg, Roger Simon, Belmont Club, ect.

Unfortunately, I tend to disagree with Greg's most recent conclusion that Osama bin Laden is among the deceased. I also think that a number of people (Greg not amongst them) don't adequately understand where it is that bin Laden falls into the grander picture of what al-Qaeda and its allied groups are. This is key, because if he is at some point confirmed as being captured or killed it will be imperative that the US understand what we've done - and what we've not done - in terms of the long-term destruction of our current adversary, meaning al-Qaeda and its allies in the International Islamic Front. This post is an effort to demonstrate this, as well as to tie together a number of semi-incoherent threads that have been floating through my feebled mind of late.

A few rebuttals, or why I think bin Laden's alive ...

Greg's post brought up a number of key points in terms of arguments in favor of bin Laden taking a dirt nap, so let me take the time to address them one-by-one to explain where my own conclusions on these tapes disagree with his own:

1. The fact that bin Laden hasn't issued an audiotape since May 7, 2004 is immaterial, given that he hadn't been heard from between December 2001 and October 2002. I also think that comparing the long periods of time between when these tapes have been issued in recent years to the relatively short amount of time in which they were issued in the immediate aftermath of September 11 is somewhat erroneous, since it fails to take into account that prior to October 7, 2001, the last time bin Laden appeared on videotape was in January of that same year to celebrate one of his son's weddings and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. So for him to go underground for long periods of time without communicating with the general public is by no means out of character, even during those periods of time when he is universally agreed upon to have been alive.

2. The April 15, 2004 audiotape that offered a truce (sulh, not hudna) to Europe is considered authentic by both European and US intelligence agencies. It is precisely for this reason that the Italian intelligence agency SISMI among others were worried about the possibility of terrorist attacks on the date of or shortly following the offer's expiration.

3. In the case of the January 2004 tape, here is what the speaker says: "From Osama Bin Laden to his brothers and sisters in the entire Islamic nation: May God's peace, mercy and blessings be upon you." This isn't exactly an introduction so much as it is him giving his blessing to the rest of the Muslim world.

4. The October 19, 2003 videotape, according to the Guardian article that Greg cites, apparently includes a call to attack US and British troops in Iraq, which enables us to date as being made at some point after March 2003. I'll deal with the issue of whether or not bin Laden could have predicted the US attack on Iraq a little further down. As far as him appearing healthy in the October 2003 videotape, he would have had nearly two years to recover from any injuries sustained during Operation Enduring Freedom.

5. I believe the video footage of bin Laden and al-Zawahiri walking along the mountainside with Amin al-Haq was actually shot in springtime and that there is some dispute as to whether or not it is pre-9/11 footage. In the absence of a consensus one way or another, I think one should refrain from having any kind of firm opinions about the tape and considering all options open.

6. Bin Laden released an audiotape on February 11, 2003 intended to coincide with the date of that year's Eid al-Fitr holiday, so there is not a gap between December 2002 and April 2003 in which bin Laden remains silent. It is on the February 2003 tape, incidentally, that he openly acknowledges that an alliance with the Baathist poses no threat to his agenda with respect to defeating the US.

7. The November 2002 audiotape that claimed responsibility for both Bali and the Moscow theater seige is the subject of a great deal of controversy ever since the Dalle Molle Institute for Perceptual Artificial Intelligence went public with its belief that the audiotape was a fake. Now I'm no voice or audio expert so I don't want to get into any deeper into this debate than I have to, but the Dalle Molle Institute's conclusions are far from definitive and the CIA stands by its belief that the November 2002 tape was indeed a genuine recording. As the Guardian story that Greg cited noted, the Institute of Linguistics and Phonetics believes the tape to be genuine. I should also note here that the CIA has access to a large number of intercepted phone calls from bin Laden's satellite phone that have not been disclosed to the public for a variety of reasons and as such has a far greater body of data against which to test these recordings.

8. The claim of responsibility for the September 11 attacks was indeed, as Greg notes, likely recorded pre-9/11. Though the fact that al-Qaeda was able to escape from Afghanistan with its audio and video team intact should at the very least make you wonder who else managed to get out ...

9. The "no videotape" argument for bin Laden being dead is in my mind rather disingenuous given that Saddam Hussein, who had a far, far larger ego than bin Laden ever did, never released one during his time on the lamb in Iraq, yet appeared to be alive and well in December 2003 when he was apprehended by US forces. I would also point out that there is currently a large body of evidence suggesting that bin Laden has changed his appearance in some fashion.

10. General President Musharraf of Pakistan is not a credible source of information on whether or not bin Laden is still alive in my view for a number of reasons, not the least of which being the fact that even if he was being completely candid to his interviewers (and intelligence about whether bin Laden is dead or alive could presumably change between interviews) one of his main sources of information is likely the dubiously-reliable ISI.

11. If the administration had anything resembling proof or even likely proof that bin Laden were dead, such as what any number of captured al-Qaeda leaders like Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, et al. have said on the subject, I think I can safely say that they would be screaming it from the roof tops, especially at this point. Then there's also the point that if the administration has been sitting on proof that bin Laden is dead and has chosen not to reveal it to the general public, there is an entirely justified Democratic criticism to be made that it withholding information of a vital sort from the American public.

12. Bin Laden doesn't view the world through the same prism that we do, even if he desires to influence our election one way or another. As such, I wouldn't expect that he would break cover just because he thought it might ensure a Bush defeat in November. Even if that is an outcome that he considers desireable, I think it's safe to say that neither Greg nor myself know enough about bin Laden's current situation to know whether or not him breaking cover in hopes of influencing the election would be something that he views as being in his best interest, especially if he has altered his appearance.

That being said ...

So why would bin Laden remain outside the public square for so long? It's a question that has boggled any number of intelligence analysts, but I think perhaps one of the most likely explanations occurs in Michael Ledeen's War Against the Terror Masters from pp. 49-50, which I trust he won't be too angry if I quote:

The US intelligence community, which had scoffed at the very idea of Iran/Al Qaeda cooperation, now seriously considered the possibility that bin Laden himself was hiding in the Islamic Republic. Nobody knew exactly where bin Laden had found refuge, but it would be entirely in character for the Shi'ite tyrants in Tehran to hide him. Their faith revolves around a "vanished imam" and they would understand that bin Laden might become even more powerful if he, too, vanished. The Iranians were adept at creating myths; they would relish turning bin Laden into a legendary figure. "Vanishing" bin Laden inside Iran would be easy, since, in addition to the normal hiding places in a country of seventy million people, there was a vast covert facility: the Chinese and North Koreans had dug an elaborate network of tunnels just north of Tehran, where weapons, ammunition, laboratories, and guests requiring total privacy could be secreted. Bin Laden was used to living in caves and tunnels, after all.

In all probability, the working relationship between Al Qaeda and Iran was forged in Afghanistan in the Afghan war against the Soviet Union and continued uninterrupted throughout the nineties. There were certainly many contacts during Osama's Sudan years, and while his move to Afghanistan and his intimate relationship with the Taliban (an enemy of Iran) undoubtedly caused problems, the link was never broken. Indeed, people in a position to know claim that shortly after September 11, bin Laden sent a video casette to Tehran, thanking the Iranian leaders for the precious assistance.

Ledeen wrote that back in September 2002 and looking back, it seems that he seems to have been proven all too correct. Based on what we know today:

  • Over 384 al-Qaeda operatives, including 18 senior leaders (if not bin Laden himself, certainly his top lieutenants), are holed up at Chalous and Lavizan. And guess who helps to staff Chalous? Russian, Chinese, and North Korean scientists.
  • According to the 9/11 commission report among other sources, bin Laden would have had good reason to thank Iran with respect to the 9/11 attacks. Others, such as Iranian defector Hamid Reza Zakiri, go even further to recount that bin Laden sent more than just a video to the Iranian leadership - he sent his son Saad, as well as his several of his wives and other children.

Now I know that conventional wisdom has bin Laden and al-Zawahiri as being in the Pakistani tribal areas (where there have been repeated sitings of both men), but consider this - when Pakistani forces launched a major offensive against al-Qaeda and its Pashtun tribal allies in April 2004, they were quite certain that they had Ayman al-Zawahiri cornered and were going to deliver a major prize to Musharraf's American backers. In the end, they ended up killing the man they believed to be al-Zawahiri who was being protected by hundreds fighters ... only for them to learn that it was none other than an Uzbek named Thuraya who was apparently serving as al-Zawahiri's body double. Who's to say that the "Osama" that any number of US and Pakistani detainees claim to have seen isn't just another such double? Their presence in the tribal areas would serve to keep US, Afghan, and Pakistani forces hunting in the tribal areas, all the while the real bin Laden was hundreds of miles away. I can't help but notice that since Thuraya was bagged, there has been a sizeable drop in the number of reputed al-Zawahiri sightings in the territories.

Heck, it'd be a pretty good plan if I was an international fugitive ...

And for whatever it's worth, the same source who told me that the reports of Adnan al-Shukrijumah in Latin American is bunk also said that according to Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, he last met with bin Laden in northern Pakistan in late 2002 and that bin Laden addressed him while wearing a hood that covered his face, kind of like Darth Sidious, I guess. I just mention this for the sake of completion and you can choose either to believe that or not.

What I know ...

For whatever it's worth, here my own private collection of the reports on bin Laden's movements and activities since November 10, 2001. All of this should be subject to change, as my most recent information on any of this dates to August 2004:

  • Swore to defeat the United States in a speech delivered to 1,000 Afghan tribal leaders at the Islamic Studies Center in Jalalabad on November 10, 2001.
    Left Jalalabad for Tora Bora on November 23 in a convoy of over 100 trucks and armored cars.
  • Family was entrusted to Saif al-Adel in December 2001 and handed over to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps for their protection.
  • Believed to have escaped from Tora Bora on December 12, 2001 during a 24 hour cease-fire between al-Qaeda fighters and US-backed militia forces.
  • Captured bin Laden bodyguard chief Abdullah Tabarak has told US interrogators that he played pre-recorded cassette tapes over bin Laden's satellite phone after December 12 to convince US intelligence that bin Laden was still at Tora Bora in a ruse that succeeded until December 16, when the stronghold fell to US, British, and Afghan forces.
  • Believed to have fled to Peshawar immediately following Tora Bora and taken refuge with members of Fazlur Rahman's Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islam party. May have undergone plastic surgery in early January 2002.
  • Received medical treatment from long-time physician Dr. Ahmed Khawaja in the Bajaur area of Pakistan under the protection of the Ghilzai tribesmen following Tora Bora. According to Khawaja's interrogation by Pakistani authorities, the long-standing rumors of bin Laden having kidney problems were a ruse deliberately concocted by the terrorist leader in order to have his enemies believe him to be largely immobile and dependent on frequent access to medical aid.
  • Intercepted communications from eastern Iran recorded conversations between bin Laden in Peshawar and senior al-Qaeda leaders in Iranian Baluchistan in January 2002. Confirmed by both US and Indian intelligence officials. These communications came to an end after they were reported by American and international media outlets.
  • Wrote a letter to Abu Zubaydah in Faisalabad in early 2002 investing him as the operational commander of al-Qaeda and urging him to continue the war against the US and its allies even if bin Laden and al-Zawahiri were killed.
  • Despite multiple reports placing him in Chechnya, Azad Kashmir, Shah-e-Khot, Jalalabad, and Karachi no confirmed sightings of bin Laden have been made since December 2001, leading a few in Western intelligence agencies to conclude that he died at Tora Bora.
  • "Recent" video footage released by al-Qaeda media organizations since 2001 is likewise regarded as inconclusive by most Western intelligence agencies.
  • In July 2002, bin Laden's eldest son Saad was formally invested as his father's heir apparent by Saif al-Adel and Mahfouz Ould Walid in Iran.
  • Arab media reports in August 2002 claimed that bin Laden had resumed active command and control of al-Qaeda, which would be consistent with the worldwide terror offensive launched by the network in two successive waves from September 2002 to January 2003 in its attempt to deter the US and its allies from attacking Iraq.
  • Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri are believed to have traveled to the Pakistani border towns of Dir and Shah Salim in August 2002 to solidify their new alliance with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami party. By this point, the towns of both Shah Salim and Murkushi had been operating as bonafide al-Qaeda enclaves inside of Pakistan for at least several months.
  • During their time in Pakistan, bin Laden and al-Zawahiri relied on an extensive security network that was set up to include three concentric circles spread out over a diameter of roughly 120 miles. The first ring sent a warning to the second ring whenever Pakistani troops entered the Northwest Frontier Province, while a smaller ring some 12 miles in diameter provided advance warning if the first ring had been breached or compromised. At the center of the security rings were the two al-Qaeda leaders, their aides, and bin Laden’s 200-strong bodyguard contingent.
  • After Ramzi Binalshibh's arrest in September 2002, 5 passports intended for bin Laden's children were recovered from Binalshibh's residence in addition to the terrorist's address book.
  • The Saudi-owned magazine al-Majallah published bin Laden's purported will from December 2001 in an October 2002 issue. In it, he expresses frustration at his Taliban allies and calls for a full purge within the terror network of all suspected "collaborators."
  • On November 11, 2002 an audiotape from bin Laden broadcast on al-Jazeera claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks that had occurred over the last several months on 3 continents. Despite the Lausanne-based Dalle Molle Institute for Perceptual Artificial Intelligence's findings that the audiotape was a fake, the CIA and NSA nevertheless continue to affirm that is genuine, citing a far greater body of data from which to compare it to, including hundreds of satellite phone calls intercepted by the US and allied intelligence agencies from 1996-1998.
  • Sent 3 Saudi emissaries with an audiotaped message from him to GSPC leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar in Niger in December 2002.
  • Last met with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (and Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani?) in December 2002 in Pakistani Baluchistan. According to Mohammed, senior al-Qaeda leaders travel in and out of Iran and into Pakistan through the Ribat tribal region. Mohammed further named bin Laden's backers inside Pakistan as Mehmed Ahmed, Hamid Gul, and Javir Nasir and claimed that he received messages from the terrorist leader through members of Dawood Ibrahim's criminal organization.
  • Using information gathered from the Spider Group [a special team of former Pakistani military officers hunting for al-Qaeda leaders in the Pakistani tribal areas under FBI direction], Pakistani authorities were able to apprehend Dr. Javed Ahmed Khawaja and his extended family in Lahore in December 2002. A naturalized American citizen, Ahmed had several computers full of information on al-Qaeda activities in the Bajaur tribal region in his possession and is believed to have provided medical treatment to bin Laden following Tora Bora in addition to harboring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Yasser al-Jaziri, Assadullah (the son of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman), Abu Faraj al-Libi, and 7 members of bin Laden’s bodyguard in the immediate aftermath of the al-Qaeda retreat from Tora Bora. Khawaja's phone number in Bajaur was among those found in Abu Zubaydah’s phone directory after his capture.
  • Son Ali was married to a Yemeni bride in Jeddah in January 2003.
  • February 2003 audiotape denounces planned US-led invasion of Iraq, authorizes al-Qaeda cooperation with Iraqi Baathists.
  • Eldest son Saad met with Saif al-Adel and Abu Musab Zarqawi at a safe house in Iranian Baluchistan in February 2003 to discuss plans to expand the al-Qaeda network inside Iraq.
  • UK-based al-Ansar News Agency (ANA) claimed to possess a videotape of bin Laden in which he stated that he would die in an attack on the United States at some point in 2003. However, the tape has not been released and ANA has a very poor track record in this regard.
  • Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told US interrogators that he had last met with bin Laden in December 2002 somewhere in southwestern Pakistani Baluchistan between Chaman and the Iranian border.
  • Khalid Sheikh Mohammed stated that when in Pakistan, bin Laden relies on an extensive network of phone calls, runners, intermediaries, and human couriers provided by the Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islam and Jamaat-e-Islami parties. Whenever he wishes to issue orders, he sends trusted human couriers to call an intermediary of one of his lieutenants to relay his orders.
  • Captured Taliban diplomat Nasser Ahmed Roohi claimed that bin Laden was in the Siakoh mountain range between the Afghan provinces of Nimroz and Helmand and Pakistani Baluchistan meeting with Taliban officials but that he left the area with his bodyguards as soon as he learned of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's arrest.
  • After the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the CIA suspected they had narrowed bin Laden and his entourage down to traveling in a huge Baluchi trading caravan moving between Pakistan and Iran. President Bush authorized Predator drones to launch a missile attack on the caravan if bin Laden was confirmed to be traveling in it. However, no such confirmation was forthcoming and the caravan crossed into Iran without incident.
  • Indian intelligence believes that former ISI chiefs Hamid Gul and Mehmud Ahmed are assisting bin Laden in escaping US and Pakistani efforts to arrest him.
  • Held a terrorist summit in Afghanistan in April 2003 to discuss the state of post-Baathist Iraq within the context of al-Qaeda's global jihad.
  • Summit attended by a mixture of al-Qaeda, Taliban, Chechen, and IMU members, as well as his trusted lieutenant Saif al-Adel. Al-Adel was designated al-Qaeda's new military commander in the wake of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's arrest.
  • A Pakistani police raid on a Karachi al-Qaeda safe house in April 2003 resulted in the capture of Tawfiq Attash Khallad and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s nephew Ali Abd al-Aziz (Ammar al-Baluchi), who had linked up with Khallad following his uncle’s arrest. Khallad was in the process of recruiting over a dozen LeJ members to perpetrate suicide attacks on the US airbase at Shehbaz in Jacobad as well as a suicide aircraft attack on the US consulate in Karachi. Khallad was found in possession of handwritten letters from bin Laden who had been delivered to him by courier.
  • All 6 sons were formally stripped of Saudi citizenship on July 7, 2003.
  • Top al-Qaeda courier Adil al-Jaziri was arrested by Pakistani authorities and handed over to the US in July 2003. Al-Jaziri had previously served as a top media aide to bin Laden and was responsible for arranging audiotapes from the al-Qaeda leadership to be smuggled from Pakistan to Qatar or the UAE for public broadcast.
  • Bin Laden is known amongst the tribesmen of Afghanistan's Kunar province as loar sheikh or "big chief."
  • German intelligence learned in September 2003 that Iranian authorities were aware of regular contact between bin Laden and senior al-Qaeda leaders in Iran but had done nothing to stop it.
  • US intelligence believed it had narrowed down bin Laden's location to an area of roughly 40 miles in Waziristan between Angoor Ada and the administrative capital in Wana in September 2003 based on electrontic intercepts from the region.
  • On September 11, 2003, al-Jazeera aired what it purported to be a new videotape of bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and Amin al-Haq walking through the mountains of Afghanistan. French counter-terrorism expert Roland Jacquard believes this to have been old footage shot sometime before December 26, 2001.
  • In an audiotape broadcast in October 2003, bin Laden sought to hold himself up as the only Arab leader capable of resisting the United States in the wake of the US-led war against Iraq. It also referenced a US budget figure released in July 2003.
  • A raw intelligence report by the ISAF in Afghanistan in October 2003 noted reports that bin Laden was living in Kunar province under the protection of the Guzer tribe.
  • Met with Taliban leaders during Ramadan 2003 to inform them that their monthly sum of $3,000,000 was being reduced to $1,500,000 to cover costs of supporting the jihad in Iraq.
  • A December 2003 audiotape from bin Laden referenced the capture of Saddam Hussein and denounced US and coalition efforts in Iraq as both neo-colonialism and the beginning of a new crusade.
  • Approved a major al-Qaeda attack in Rappahannock county, Virginia in late December 2003.
  • Multiple reports have claimed that bin Laden entered Iran with al-Zawahiri in July 2003 and have been replaced in Pakistan and Afghanistan with body doubles. These reports, one of which comes from a high-ranking member of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, state that he met with senior Iranian military commanders in the small town of Najmabad in Central district on October 23, 2003 and are regarded as credible by many in the US intelligence community.

The vast majority of this can be easily confirmed through open-source reporting by anybody who's interested. Heck, the majority of it can be confirmed just by using the Rantburg search engine. Suffice it to say that even some of this is true, the US has good reason to suspect that bin Laden is still at large and as long as that remains the case, he will remain a threat to the United States.

How he matters ... or doesn't

There are two schools of thought as to what will happen in the event bin Laden is captured or killed. The fear of him becoming a great hero for his followers or those who despise the US is pretty much fait accompli at this point - that much was ensured as soon as it was determined that he was the one who slaughtered 3,000 Americans on 9/11 and has created a terrorist coalition that is still standing after nearly 4 years of open warfare with a superpower. One school sees him as a Hitler-esque demagogue whose followers will almost certainly collapse into schism and infighting without his controlling personality, while the other sees him as nothing more than the end-product of a religio-ideological culture that has grown up over the last 80 to 1,300 years depending on your views of the current state of Islam. In other words, he's a cog in a machine, maybe even a valuable one, but him being captured or killed isn't ultimately going to change anything as far as the current conflict is concerned.

I myself tend to view both schools as containing a lot of truth to them. While it's certainly true that there is more to the current conflict than just bin Laden, I don't think his cult of personality should be under-estimated. As fun as it is to note with a chuckle that one of the most iconoclastic sects in human history seems to have no problem with posters and banners of the man, the idea of him being the Guy Who Stood Up To Amerikkka And Lived To Gloat About It strikes a powerful chord among his fellow travelers, and his death or capture would certainly serve as a powerful blow to the idea that he is the one on the winning side of this struggle. Certainly it would have a most demoralizing effect on al-Qaeda's rank-and-file, though to be quite honest I'd much rather he be killed on the battlefield than be taken prisoner: I can easily imagine a Beslan-style situation in which hundreds of innocent people are taken prisoner by al-Qaeda members in an effort to secure his release. Another factor that is likely in the event of his death or capture is that the fractures within al-Qaeda are likely to come home to roost (and the absence of such an occurence is one of the strongest indications IMO that he is alive) and we could easily see open warfare within the network along Saudi/Egyptian, Arab/South Asian, ecumenical/sectarian, or purist/pragmatic lines.

Ultimately, we'll just have to wait and see whether or not al-Qaeda as a network is able to survive bin Laden's death or capture. If it does (or has, from people who believe bin Laden to be among the deceased) then that should simply underscore just how deadly an enemy we're dealing with here: one whose hand can reach even from beyond the grave to threaten us.

8 TrackBacks

Tracked: October 20, 2004 8:03 AM
Wanted: Dead or Alive from THE BELGRAVIA DISPATCH
Excerpt: Someone got to B.D. via this Google search today (too lazy to click through? The search: "bin laden has not been heard from since") Well, since when? Since May 7th of this year when an (unauthenticated) audiotape emerged purporting to...
Tracked: October 20, 2004 8:07 AM
Wanted: Dead or Alive from THE BELGRAVIA DISPATCH
Excerpt: Someone got to B.D. via this Google search today (too lazy to click through? The search: "bin laden has not been heard from since") Well, since when? Since May 7th of this year when an (unauthenticated) audiotape emerged purporting to...
Tracked: October 20, 2004 8:10 AM
Wanted: Dead or Alive from THE BELGRAVIA DISPATCH
Excerpt: Someone got to B.D. via this Google search today (too lazy to click through? The search: "bin laden has not been heard from since") Well, since when? Since May 7th of this year when an (unauthenticated) audiotape emerged purporting to...
Tracked: October 20, 2004 12:07 PM
OBL-DOA from ModularParrot
Excerpt: I agree with Gregory Djerejian, counter-argument aside, that Osama has assumed room temp. The egomaniac OBL simply would not resist all the wonderful opportunities to blab on about western infidels during the American presidential race. OBL simply has ...
Tracked: October 20, 2004 12:13 PM
OBL-DOA from ModularParrot
Excerpt: I agree with Gregory Djerejian, counter-argument aside, that Osama has assumed room temp. The egomaniac OBL simply would not resist all the wonderful opportunities to blab on about western infidels during the American presidential race. OBL simply has ...
Tracked: October 20, 2004 4:11 PM
Bin Hidin'? from The Irish Trojan's Blog
Excerpt: Osama bin Laden: Dead or alive (maybe in Iran)?...
Tracked: October 21, 2004 4:30 PM
Excerpt: Winds of Change.NET: The Fate of Osama bin Laden Unfortunately, I tend to disagree with Greg's most recent conclusion that Osama bin Laden is among the deceased. I also think that a number of people (Greg not amongst them) don't adequately understand w...
Tracked: October 25, 2004 7:51 AM
OSAMA BIN LADEN -- from PRESTOPUNDIT -- "It's a team sport, baby!"
Excerpt: DEAD OR ALIVE? (via Just One Minute.)...

31 Comments

I would think that bin Laden is dead myself if it weren't for the fact that various intelligence agencies have said they believe those audio tapes are probably authentic.

Whew! One massive post. I pretty much agree/am persuaded, except for one major point: I think SH was on the lam, not the lamb. There's no evidence he was a sheep fornicator, much less a pedophilic one.

Dan,

As usual, you have a well-made case. Thanks for all of the info!

I am one of the "bin Laden is dead" theorists. I have recently mitigated my theory a bit to say it doesn't really matter. I know AQ is still quite operational and lethal, but the attacks are a lot more....disjointed(?) than we've seen in the past. I don't believe we are seeing an AQ (et al) with the resources they once had. This may be a stretch, but I am seeing an OBL (figuratively) the way Hitler was toward the end. Sitting in a bunker moving units that don't exist anymore around on a map - if not already dead.

Nicely done. I have a couple of problems with your analysis, incuding the exclusion of any discussion of why intelligence agencies might lie about their assessment of the authenticity of these recordings. And you note that bin Laden is seen as the leader of a terror network still standing after 4 years of war. I agree that the perception exists, but the reality is that the organizational structure of bin Laden's group doesn't even remotely resemble what it was on September 12.

These are details, and certainly open for interpretation. Thanks for your contribution to a fascinating discussion.

Brian H:

You'd be mighty surprised what some Iraqis'll say about him these days ...

Joel:

Al-Qaeda certainly doesn't have the resources that it once had - that's a simple consequence of US military action in Afghanistan. Of course, there's also an open question as to how many fighters they still have to play around with, which goes back to the issue of how many they had to begin with. We killed upwards of 10,000 in the first 3 months of OEF, for example.

As for Osama bin Laden being like Hitler in the last days of WW2, that's certainly the view that a number of people take, and al-Zawahiri's recent claim that victory was on their side in Afghanistan really does lead one to wonder what reality they're living in.

spongeworthy:

I agree that al-Qaeda today bears little resemblance to its pre-9/11 structure, but I still think that the argument that we haven't seen any in-fighting for the top spot is a powerful one to make. These groups tend to be made up of people with extremely large egos and in the absence of the top man they generally start fighting amongst themselves.

Dan, I was previously undecided, and your spectacular analysis has convinced me. Also, if the renal disease rumor had been true, Usama have had to have been on dialysis a while ago-- not a cave friendly procedure.

Put me down as strongly in favor of taking him out. Takes the wind out of the "paper tiger" argument.

Thanks to Dan and Greg for the two thoughtful essays. This cements in my mind that we really do not know what is going on. One thing we do know is that Bin Laden, at the end of the day, is not a major player.

Bush deminished OBL importance because there are bigger fish to fry:

AQ hostages in Iran... Iran seeking nuclear arms... Iran supports Bush for President (AP yesterday).

Another arms for hostages deal?? Pure speculation on an unlikely outcome.

Dan said "I agree that al-Qaeda today bears little resemblance to its pre-9/11 structure, but I still think that the argument that we haven't seen any in-fighting for the top spot is a powerful one to make. These groups tend to be made up of people with extremely large egos and in the absence of the top man they generally start fighting amongst themselves."

There hasn't been any infighting because Zawahiri is keeping the fiction of OBL being alive and he is issuing orders in his stead (think Borman vis a vis Hitler). Also because the top ranks have been so severely diminished the egos that would supplant Zawahiri aren't there. After being promoted to the top rank, you tend to defer for a time after your promotion. Plus if Zawahiri is doing the promoting he is putting his own boys in the top leadership. Of the top leadership how many come from Zawahiri organization?

I think OBL is dead. The very nature of the tapes and timing are too suspect. An egotist like OBL couldn't resist exhorting the troops onward in Iraq and Afghanistan particularly before the elections. It is convenient for both sides to have him alive at the moment. We have personalized this fight like we always do and he is our bogeyman. You can imagine how the pacifists would say "war's over lets go home and party" if his death is confirmed.

very interesting and thought provoking as usual, both to Dan and Greg.

I am still puzzled about the admins apparent reluctance to begin releasing info on the (alleged) AQ presence in Iran (ESPECIALLY if OBL, and not just Saif and Saad are there) I can see the following possible reasons

A. They think they can get a deal with Iran on nukes, and dont want to louse that up. They really DONT want another war against an Islamic state, given current strains, including Palestine, not for a long time anyway.
B. Theyre burned on Iraqi WMDs, and dont think anyone would beleive them
C. They dont want to release this till Iraq is stable, and US forces are out of overstretch mode
D. They're waiting till after the US election
E. They dont really beleive this - or at least Powell-Rice-Bush dont really beleive it, and Rummy, Cheney, and the second level neocons are too weak now to push a policy of making this public.
F. Some combination of the above.
G. Nobody serious really beleives this, and Dan is being taken for a ride by a small faction in the intell community.

Dont take G personally - I have no reason personally to beleive thats the case, but it does suggest itself to the skeptic. It does strike me that if OBL is alive and in Iran, and if John Kerry is elected on Nov. 2 that would create some interesting possibilities for him. He would have motivation to act against Iran, and he would have justification, and it would be harder for the Euros to argue that hes a warmonger than in the case with Bush - and he could simultaneously play very hard that HES taking this seriously, while the Bush admin sat on it. IE having won as Dean, he could solidify his position as Lieberman, using the very info the admin sat on fearing it (the notion of the admin beating the drums again) would scare folks into voting for the Deanish Kerry. OTOH hed still be faced with overstretch (assuming that ground forces would be needed, which i think is probable, despite reports from dissidents about how easy this might be) So maybe hed need to sit on it too - but that would mean losing the ability to hit the Bushies for sitting on it, and would have other disadvantages as well.

But it still strikes me that sitting on it is risky for the Bushies politically, as much so as letting it out.

Of the top leadership how many come from Zawahiri organization?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but a number of the old IJ crowd have been killed already. Dan?

Very informative post with many well put points.
But I strongly disagree with this statement:

If the administration had anything resembling proof or even likely proof that bin Laden were dead, such as what any number of captured al-Qaeda leaders like Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, et al. have said on the subject, I think I can safely say that they would be screaming it from the roof tops, especially at this point.

I don't think the adminsitration would be procaliming anything at all unless they had DNA style proof of his being dead. This was the same procedure they followed with both Saddam and his sons.

99% just isnt good enough in this type of situation.

sulh, not hudna

What is a sulh?

Dan -

Excellent post, with many good points - not sure if I agree with all your conclusions. My own sparse thoughts on the subject are here: My own sparse thoughts on the subject are here: Why does al-Qaeda not take advantage of the tremendous propaganda value that Osama bin Laden represents, by making him a regular Rush Limbaugh?

Either they are dumb, or Osama is unavailable for some reason.

I am concerned about the extent to which your more sensational claims come from one paper, Al Sharq Al Awsat. IRGC helps Zarqawi! 400 al Qaeda living it up in Iran! Zakiri's "disclosures". Are these stories any more to be believed than the pre-war intelligence on Iraq's WMD?

What is a sulh?

The terms granted to a defeated foe.

A hudna is a temporary ceasefire, typically used to regain strength.

Proof would do what benefit to what side? We see spin, slant, and actually false information daily. Who benefits from "news". I once spent 6 months just trying to get out of a "rat hole", looking back, that was a great time. Beats being chased, and nowhere to go.

Rik

Sorry for taking so long to reply ...

jinnderella:

Well, the doctor's the one who said that the whole idea of him having some kind of a kidney disease is false, though I would point out that if bin Laden has, as some have speculated, shacked up at the home of a prominent Pakistani politician from a major political outfit like Jamaat-e-Islami or Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islami, he could easily be receiving the medical attention he needs. Keep in mind that while there is a large concentration of al-Qaeda fighters in the tribal regions, a large percentage of al-Qaeda leaders captured in Pakistan appear to have chosen large urban areas like Karachi, Quetta, or Peshawar, where they can access reasonably modern technology and remain in touch with the rest of the network.

praktike:

I concur entirely.

Horst Graben:

Iran has been very clear that it does not intend to extradict the al-Qaeda leaders it has "in custody," even though the Iranian leadership is literally playing with fire on this one. I very much doubt that another "arms for hostages" deal is in the making.

As for the EIJ leadership, a fair number of them are currently deceased, especially in the upper levels of the organization. That's why people like Rabei Osman Ahmed, who was formerly a mid-level leader, have stepped into the fore.

Jeff Schaeper:

Al-Zawahiri and his lieutenants were already running much of al-Qaeda's operational infrastructure and have been ever since the Sudan days. You need to keep in mind, however, that the Egyptians who make up al-Qaeda's upper-most ranks are from 2 distinct and fairly uncooperative groups: Gamaa al-Islamiyyah and Egyptian Islamic Jihad. With bin Laden gone as the unifying force between the two of them, there is a lot of speculation that a power struggle could easily emerge along those old lines for who's the new man on top. Al-Zawahiri has the support of the EIJ members, but the Gamaa crowd follows bin Laden and would presumably oppose (along with the Gulf members of the group, who could easily rally around Saad bin Laden) any attempt by al-Zawahiri to consolidate power for himself.

liberalhawk:

Let me try and address these points as best I can:

A. The administration really doesn't want to talk about another war at this point, for obvious electoral reasons as well as the logistical difficulties involved. They know Kerry won't criticize them for that, again for obvious reasons, so it appears to me that they have some breathing room on this one.

B. Well, it is a valid concern. A lack of public credibility makes it a heck of a lot harder to argue in favor of regime change a second time around.

C. This is my sense of it. The obvious implications of the 9/11 report are pretty clear with respect to al-Qaeda/Iran and a fair number of people would demand action were it to be loudly proclaimed to the general public. As the administration feels that it is currently ill-prepared to deliver such action, they're playing things cool for the moment.

D. Most of it's already available to the general public, at least for anybody who's been paying attention long enough. It's just a matter of how loud said governments want to proclaim such things.

E. I dunno. We haven't seen the kind of debate within the intelligence community on Iran that appears to have existed on Iraq, which could be either very good or very bad.

F. Dunno.

G. If that's the case, then I'm in good company ;)

hm:

Yeah, but the administration never publicly entertained the belief that the Hussein family was dead until there were bodies or captives. As it turns out, that prudence was more than warranted. I think that the same is true in the case of bin Laden.

mitch:

The al-Sharq al-Awsat accounts are by no means the only source of information on Iranian ties to al-Qaeda. There's Judge Garzon, for example, as well as any number stories that have been reported in the Washington Post, The Age, Financial Times, Time Magazine, Newsweek, et al. I simply used the al-Sharq stuff this time around because it helped to make my point - I could just as easily have cited the Financial Times, no lightweight newspaper that, which published a purported eye witness account of bin Laden and al-Zawahiri inside Iran.

Dan, aren't you overstating the case a bit on the 9/11 report and Iran? AFAIK, all it says is that the hijackers passed through Iran. IIRC, our source for the claim that they were helped by an Iranian general is an article quoting an Iranian dissident in Al Sharq al Awsat, not the 9/11 report. Am I wrong here?

Praktike

From memory the 911 report suggests that some of the hijackers may have passed through Iran. It's not a hard fact. However, the most explosive revelation of the 911 report is that all of the hijackers were in the US at the time of the hijackings. They even seem to conclude that if their passports hadn't evaporated there would be clear and unambiguous evidence of US visas and port-of-entry stamps in them.

There do seem to be a lot of canards doing the rounds regarding connections between Iran and Al Qaeda. Perhaps the OSP is reprising its team B tactics? I would have thought that after the INA and INC disinfo about Iraq the titbits coming from Iranian exiles would have appropriate health warnings attached.

We do know that Iran arrested a number of possible AQ suspects after the US invasion of Afghanistan. Some have been passed on to the Saudis and some, apparently including UBL's son, are under house arrest. The reports emanating from ASAW seem to be based on supposed statements by those extradited from Iran; they're certainly not based on their having a reporter doing headcounts of interesting characters in Chalous.

It's also worth noting that anything Michael Leeden says should be taken with a shovel-full of salt. I very much doubt he has any insight into the mental processes of UBL, let alone the average muslim, whether Shia or Sunni. It's not remotely credible to suggest that he would be interested in recasting himself as the hidden imam for a sect whom he considers heretics. No Shia would ever entertain the idea that UBL could be the Mehdi. Hassan-I-Sabbah is a much more appropriate reference if you want to play this game.

It should also be noted that (1) the Iranians had sod all to do with the 1980's Afghan war - they were far too busy dealing with the more pressing problems of fighting the Iraqis and (2) after the Russians left, they then backed the Northern Alliance against the Taleban and (3) nearly entered the war after the Taleban and their AQ allies murdered Iranian diplomats in Herat. Ledeen's assertion of a history of cooperation is bunk.

daniel, you're going far beyond what I'm suggesting here. All I'm saying is that the 911 doesn't quite say what Dan is saying it says. He may be confusing his sources.

You're wrong about Iran's role in the Afghan War -- they financed several of the factions, and continued to fund Masud and the Hazaras throughout the 90s. As to Iranian ties to bin Laden, I think they're there but I'm not sure how serious they are. Are they just a connection via Hizb'allah, cooperation in bombings in Saudi Arabia, has the Iranian regime really arrested these guys, would they actually turn them over in exchange for the MEK, etc? Bin Laden is on record urging temporary cooperation with the Shia, following the suggestion of Turabi. But he also throws around words like "polytheists" to describe Shia. So where does he really stand? You don't know the answers to these questions any more than I do.

Here's an interesting rumination of the fate of bin Laden. Hat tip: Zenpundit.

Praktike:

I was referring to the stated Iranian policy of enabling al-Qaeda operatives safe passage in and out of Iran from Afghanistan, as is described in pp. 240-241 of the report, not the claim in al-Sharq al-Awsat that an IRGC general was personally involved in the safe passage.

Also, when did Osama ever call the Shi'ites polytheists? I know Zarqawi has, but bin Laden tends to be more ecumenical in his rhetoric.

daniel:

Oh Lordy, where do I start?

From memory the 911 report suggests that some of the hijackers may have passed through Iran. It's not a hard fact.

From p. 240 of the report:

But we now have evidence suggesting that 8 to 10 of the 14 Saudi "muscle" operatives traveled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001.

Continuing on ...

However, the most explosive revelation of the 911 report is that all of the hijackers were in the US at the time of the hijackings. They even seem to conclude that if their passports hadn't evaporated there would be clear and unambiguous evidence of US visas and port-of-entry stamps in them.

Maybe, though I think that we all could have guessed as much already. However, consider the following statement on p. 240:

Khallad and other detainees have described the willingness of Iranian officials to facilitate the travel of al Qaeda members through Iran, on their way to and from Afghanistan. For example, Iranian border inspectors would be told not to place telltale stamps in the passports of these travelers. Such arrangements were particularly beneficial to Saudi members of al Qaeda.

I doubt you'll find anything similar with reference to US officials.

here do seem to be a lot of canards doing the rounds regarding connections between Iran and Al Qaeda. Perhaps the OSP is reprising its team B tactics?

You mean like the top Spanish anti-terrorism judge stating that al-Qaeda's ruling council is now based in Iran? Or the numerous complaints from senior European officials that Iran is now a haven for al-Qaeda? Or similar complaints from Arab intelligence agencies? My God, I had no idea the OSP was so powerful ...

I would also recommend that you re-read the SSIC report on US pre-war intelligence concerning Iraq, as it clears both the OSP and the administration in general of the majority of the anti-war memes that have been circulating around since 2002. The same can be said of a number of claims concerning the Iraqi exile groups, with particular emphasis on the INC.

I would have thought that after the INA and INC disinfo about Iraq the titbits coming from Iranian exiles would have appropriate health warnings attached.

Like I said, read the SSIC report. The Iraqi exile groups may well have been full of shit (though I think that they've been unfairly maligned by their long-time opponents at the CIA who are seeking to use them as a scapegoat over the Agency's own intelligence failures with respect to Iraq, a debate for another time), but we didn't go to war on the basis of the good word of Ahmed Chalabi or his subordinates, the SSIC report makes that much quite clear. Everything that was told to the general public, including the information contained in Collin Powell's speech at the UN, was cleared by all of the major US intelligence agencies and there was a lot more to it than just the remarks of Iraqi exiles. Indeed, one of the things you notice when you read the SSIC report is just how little a role that the INC and groups like it played in the intelligence-gathering process.

Moreover, the Iranian exile groups have already caused some serious trouble for Iran with respect to revelations about its nuclear program. Hamid Reza Zakiri, for example, was thought credible enough by the German government to bring him into the trial of an accused co-conspirator in the 9/11 attacks.

We do know that Iran arrested a number of possible AQ suspects after the US invasion of Afghanistan.

Really? We know that the Iranian government has claimed as much, but they certainly haven't been forthcoming with details. Even the stuff about the 3 main al-Qaeda figures who are allegedly referenced as being in Iran (Saad bin Laden, Saif al-Adel, and Suleiman Abu Ghaith) all comes to us from anonymous sources.

Some have been passed on to the Saudis and some, apparently including UBL's son, are under house arrest.

If only they treated the student demonstrators the same way. Those who were handed over to Saudi authorities were promptly released by Prince Nayef's Interior Ministry, including some of the very people who later ended up carrying out the 2003 Riyadh bombings.

The reports emanating from ASAW seem to be based on supposed statements by those extradited from Iran; they're certainly not based on their having a reporter doing headcounts of interesting characters in Chalous.

Actually they're usually based on the reporting of Ali Nourizadeh, a London-based Iranian expatriate who usually attributes his stories to reformist dissidents in the IRGC and the Iranian Foreign Ministry who are angry over the current direction that people like Rafsanjani are taking their country in. Presumably people inside the Iranian government would be quite aware of how many al-Qaeda leaders are based in Chalous and why.

It's also worth noting that anything Michael Leeden says should be taken with a shovel-full of salt.

Why? Because he's a neocon?

I very much doubt he has any insight into the mental processes of UBL, let alone the average muslim, whether Shia or Sunni.

I would wager to guess that Ledeen has had contact with a lot more Iranian Muslims than you have and as such has picked up something of an understanding as to how they think. As far as understanding the mental processes of bin Laden, Ledeen spent a good chunk of his life researching totalitarian movements, enough perhaps that one might conclude that he knows a thing or two about people like bin Laden.

It's not remotely credible to suggest that he would be interested in recasting himself as the hidden imam for a sect whom he considers heretics. No Shia would ever entertain the idea that UBL could be the Mehdi. Hassan-I-Sabbah is a much more appropriate reference if you want to play this game.

That's a good argument, except that's not what Ledeen is saying. If the Iranians make bin Laden "disappear" for a while, it will be done in imitation of their belief in the Mahdi, not because they want to hold up bin Laden at some future date as the Mahdi.

It should also be noted that (1) the Iranians had sod all to do with the 1980's Afghan war - they were far too busy dealing with the more pressing problems of fighting the Iraqis

Untrue for the reasons that praktike notes below - Iran also helped to back the Sunni Hizb-e-Islami warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar during that period and Hekmatyar has since made common cause with both bin Laden and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

(2) after the Russians left, they then backed the Northern Alliance against the Taleban

Also true, a fact that Ledeen notes in the quote I referenced.

(3) nearly entered the war after the Taleban and their AQ allies murdered Iranian diplomats in Herat.

Actually, it was the Taliban rather than al-Qaeda that murdered the Iranian diplomats and it was in Mazar-e-Sharif that the killings took place. Iran may well have hated the Taliban and everything it stood for, but they were still pragmatic enough to work with al-Qaeda according to the 9/11 report.

Ledeen's assertion of a history of cooperation is bunk.

It isn't just Ledeen on this one, I'm afraid. It's been the assertion of the US government since at least 1998 and is also the position adopted by the sainted 9/11 report, to say nothing of the conclusions reached by any number of other governments on the subject. All Ledeen does is insist on calling a spade a spade.

Warning: long comment ahead.

Dan, I need some time to do more digging, but it appears that the most recent thing I was thinking about was the AQ in the Arabian Peninsula statement, not actually the words of Bin Laden himself. The statement pledged that AQ would "cleanse the Arabian Peninsula of polytheists."

That's probably not the best reference because, A, it isn't Bin Laden, and B, it's not entirely clear whether those guys were actually connected to Bin Laden.

Further back, on the February 11th tape Bin Laden said:

Prophet Muhammad, God's peace be upon him, said: "Avoid the seven grave sins; polytheism, sorcery, killing, unless permitted by God, usury, taking the money of orphans, fleeing from combat, and slandering innocent faithful women."

At the same time, however, he says this:
Under these circumstances, there will be no harm if the interests of Muslims converge with the interests of the socialists in the fight against the crusaders, despite our belief in the infidelity of socialists.

And this:

The fighting, which is waging and which will be waged these days, is very much like the fighting of Muslims against the Byzantine in the past.

And the convergence of interests is not detrimental. The Muslims' fighting against the Byzantine converged with the interests of the Persians.

And this was not detrimental to the companions of the prophet.

That supports your case, I would think.

By the way, in that statement he gives some clear indications that he was in Tora Bora.

The March 4, 2004 statement isn't nailed down, but in it he says:
Among these texts is a hadith by Uday Bin Bin-Hatim, who converted to Christianity before Islam, and who thought, as many people think, that following the leaders and ulema in allowing what has been forbidden by God and banning what has been allowed by God is not worship of these leaders and ulema and is not atheism, because this does not mean praying or fasting for them. However, when Bin Bin-Hatim came to the messenger of God, peace be upon him, while he was reading this Koranic verse: "They take their priests and their anchorites to be their lords in derogation of Allah" he said that he told the prophet: They did not worship them. The prophet answered: Yes, but they forbade what is allowed and allowed what has been forbidden and followed them. Therefore, this is what they worship.
Be careful with this verse, because this verse and that hadith clearly show that obedience to the ruler, a scholar, or anyone else in allowing what has been forbidden by God and banning what God has allowed is tantamount to worshipping them rather than God. This is a greater polytheism and drives the person away from faith, may God protect us and you from this.

This is what Almighty God disassociated himself of when he says: "Praise and glory to Him: (Far is He) from having the partners they associate (with Him)." (Koranic verse) after he says: "yet they were commanded to worship but One Allah. There is no god but He." (Koranic verse). This shows that issuing legislation concerning what is allowed and what is banned is a type of worship. This is one of the most important traits of God and one of the most important prerequisites for testifying that there is no god but Allah, the first and most important pillar of Islam. This is a serious warning to those who think that Islam is mere words uttered in which one testifies that there is no god but Allah, while they do not know that these words have requirements that if they do not heed, they would not be committed to the testimony that there is no go[d but Allah]. The gist here is that the absence of a comprehensive understanding of God's religion as a system for all walks of life, including Islam's way of holding the rulers accountable -- because if they follow God's religion things become good for the country and the people -- is one of the greatest flaws in the nation at present. We should be fully aware of this issue and start the reform march today in order to follow the right path, God willing. We should not continue in this wrong path for another century.

How would you interpret that? My understanding is that a standard Wahhabi gripe is the inclusion of anyone other than Allah in prayers, so he's pivoting here and arguing against the very idea of secular governance. But in so doing he's invoking anti-Shia rhetoric.

In his 1998 interview with John Miller he said that all Muslims should "unite in the fight against polytheism." There are several ways to interpret this, but the fact that he includes Jews and Crusaders in addition to polytheists says to me that he's digging at the Shia. I could be wrong.

But further back, he made a pretty clear statement in his 1996 declaration of war against America:
If there are more than one duty to be carried out, then the most important one should receive priority. Clearly after Belief (Imaan) there is no more important duty than pushing the American enemy out of the holy land. No other priority, except Belief, could be considered before it; the people of knowledge, Ibn Taymiyyah, stated: "to fight in defence of religion and Belief is a collective duty; there is no other duty after Belief than fighting the enemy who is corrupting the life and the religion. There is no preconditions for this duty and the enemy should be fought with one best abilities. (ref: supplement of Fatawa). If it is not possible to push back the enemy except by the collective movement of the Muslim people, then there is a duty on the Muslims to ignore the minor differences among themselves; the ill effect of ignoring these differences, at a given period of time, is much less than the ill effect of the occupation of the Muslims' land by the main Kufr. Ibn Taymiyyah had explained this issue and emphasised the importance of dealing with the major threat on the expense of the minor one. He described the situation of the Muslims and the Mujahideen and stated that even the military personnel who are not practising Islam are not exempted from the duty of Jihad against the enemy.

Ibn Taymiyyah, after mentioning the Moguls (Tatar) and their behaviour in changing the law of Allah, stated that: the ultimate aim of pleasing Allah, raising His word, instituting His religion and obeying His messenger (ALLAH'S BLESSING AND SALUTATIONS ON HIM) is to fight the enemy, in every aspects and in a complete manner; if the danger to the religion from not fighting is greater than that of fighting, then it is a duty to fight them even if the intention of some of the fighter is not pure i.e. fighting for the sake of leadership (personal gain) or if they do not observe some of the rules and commandments of Islam. To repel the greatest of the two dangers on the expense of the lesser one is an Islamic principle which should be observed. It was the tradition of the people of the Sunnah (Ahlul-Sunnah) to join and invade- fight- with the righteous and non righteous men. Allah may support this religion by righteous and non righteous people as told by the prophet (ALLAH'S BLESSING AND SALUTATIONS ON HIM). If it is not possible to fight except with the help of non righteous military personnel and commanders, then there are two possibilities: either fighting will be ignored and the others, who are the great danger to this life and religion, will take control; or to fight with the help of non righteous rulers and therefore repelling the greatest of the two dangers and implementing most, though not all, of the Islamic laws. The latter option is the right duty to be carried out in these circumstances and in many other similar situation. In fact many of the fights and conquests that took place after the time of Rashidoon, the guided Imams, were of this type. (majmoo' al Fatawa, 26/506).

No one, not even a blind or a deaf person , can deny the presence of the widely spread mischief's or the prevalence of the great sins that had reached the grievous iniquity of polytheism and to share with Allah in His sole right of sovereignty and making of the law.

One more thing: Bin Laden has clearly been up to his eyeballs with the SSP, which if nothing else is a group set up to kill Shia. This guy at Jamestown now says that Al Qaeda "no longer appears willing or able to control anti-Shi'ite elements within regional groups," about which more here.

So it's a mixed bag.

Praktike:

Good points but a couple of comments.

I'll have to go back and check the audio statements in question for certain, but I believe that bin Laden uses the word jahiliyyah and jahili that we translate into English as "polytheists" and is traditionally used by Islamists to refer to the infidel rulers of the Middle East. So when he or his minions refer to polytheists, it needs to be understood whether they're talking about jahili or another derogatory term used in reference to Shi'ites that also means "polytheists" or something to that effect but escapes my memory off-hand. To use an extremely imperfect analogy, if I tell you that we're going to go fight those bastards I don't mean that we're going to go fight everybody who was born out of wedlock.

As for the February 11, 2003 statement it makes pretty clear references to Tora Bora and him having survived the battle there. I believe he also has tips for the "mujahideen in Iraq," which as clear as he's likely to come in acknowledging him having his jackboots on the ground there.

The dilemma is pretty much the same in the other stuff you cite, because I don't know whether or not he's using jahili when he's ranting about the polytheists, which poses a definite problem in determining who he's talking about that wouldn't exist for another Arabic speaker. He certainly isn't referring to the Shi'ites by name or mocking their doctrine of the Hidden Imam the way that Zarqawi has.

As for the SeS/SSP, I'd argue that bin Laden is more isolated from it than some people would care to admit not because they're sectarian but because they're also a bunch of crooks and drug dealers, whereas bin Laden prefers to solidify his alliances with his more "legitimate" Pakistani allies like the LeT or JeM that generally steer clear of illegal activities inside of Pakistan to avoid angering their backers in the ISI. It's the same reason al-Qaeda has a lot stronger ties to the MILF than they do to Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, although that may be changing soon.

That being said, the Taliban did use the SeS and its evolutionary descendant LeJ extensively in Afghanistan against both the Northern Alliance and the Hazaras and post-9/11 al-Qaeda members in Pakistan have used them as a source of cheap muscle because their members are plentiful, fairly stupid, and knowledgeable about how to run an underground organization (especially in the greater Karachi area) since they've been banned inside of Pakistan for years. Note that despite all of the LeJ/SeS infrastructure inside of Pakistan, most of the al-Qaeda leaders who've been captured there have chosen to rely on established (and IMO loyal and disciplined) international terrorist organizations like the LeT or JeM or else bonafide Islamist political parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami.

I have appreciated reading all of your comments and hope that you don't mind me adding a few thoughts.
I've thought for some time that Osama is in Iran now because:
a) He sent his family there
b) His son was recorded (don't have the link) from a cell phone issuing orders in his father's name (doesn't mean that Osama wasn't near by or in good contact)
c) Son still issuing orders and contacts, but Zawhiri now appears alone on video, which I assume means they (he and Osama) are no longer together
d) Zawhiri is most likely not in Iran but probably holding forth in Pakistan/Afghan border
e) Lack of video tape and audios might mean that, at least, even as an esteemed "guest", the Iranians do not want anything to be tracked back to them. While they are thumbing their noses at us with "nukes", they have to know that the President, having said any regimes that support terrorists are the enemy, would be forced to follow up on this. Coupled with Iran's public insistance to get nuclear material (and probably nukes), I think the President would be able to muster up enough political will to do the job or at least do some air raids and back local insurgencies (I think the backing is going on now as it is; standby for air raids).
f) Zarqawi continues to travel in and out of Iran at will. He traveled through Iran to get to Ansar Islam. It is obvious that AQ understood that Iraq was next. The President couldn't have made it clearer in his Sept 20, 2001 speech. AQ would have to be complete morons not to go into iraq and start setting up infrastructure and support.
g) Iran would have to be complete morons to not know that the US was going into Iraq for same reason as (f). Which means they also had an interest in setting up their own support for guerilla warfare.
h) iran and AQs motives match: Don't let US turn Iraq into a non-Islamic Republic.
i) As much as Saad was in Iran and issuing orders on behalf of his father, it is probable that Iran would prefer to have direct talks with the "leader". The wily Mullahs of Iran would not bet their beards on a wet behind the ears son.
j) Once having OBL in Iran, it is very probable that he became a "guest". Well treated, but monitored and unlikely to be able to leave without due "deference" from his hosts.
h) Osama is not a moron. If he sent his family there he must have known it was a calculated risk. As much as he is some mythical leader, by reading his statements, he is very family oriented. he's not the kind to leave his family in the lion's den without some knowledge that they and eventually him would be living in a gilded cage once they entered. which brings me back to a previous subject, Zawihiri
i) he did not take Zawihiri with him. He left him behind to manage the troops should he not be able to come back or have direct management (think about negotiating with a potential enemy; you don't bring all your best fighters to the parle in case you need them to round up the troops and ride to the rescue or continue on the mission). And I think this is supported by Zawihiri now appearing alone with the AK47 next to him in the video. IIRC, past videos with them together show OBL with the weapon next to him. Seems like it was a passing of the baton.
j) What about zarqawi running in and out of Iran, but not OBL or his family or top lieutenants (actually, I think they were probably a few top lieutenants and some trusted second tier; again, you don't send all your best to a parle that might turn sour)? Zarqawi is actually dispensable in the whole scheme of things. He can come and go because he can be eliminated with their own guys or by dropping some intelligence. And no one would blink. You keep OBL in his gilded cage as assurance while you swing your deals. And it works nicely because, if it all starts going topsy turvey, you have your last ditch bargaining chip eating and drinking at your largesse.

So, yes, I believe it is very plausible that OBL is in Iran.

Dan, thanks for the response. Is it possible you're thinking of mushrikun?

I don't think he is dead because his family hasn't gone through mourning. This is very important in Islam. If he were dead, they would have found out about it.

Excellent presentation of the facts and conclusion. I disagree only with his location. I suspect he's still in the moutains in the north, whether in Afghanistan or Pakistan makes little difference.

The U.S. military and the Pakistanis continue to make various efforts in that area and even in the south. They may know something. They may not.

Here is a comment posted over at Roger Simon's blog that deserves to be read as a counterpoint to Dan's terrific article.

I also believe OBL is dead and furthermore that Bush is the sort of leader who just might be inclined to NOT use OBL's demise for political gain, if it means that the war benefits.

Pierre

Here is a snippet.
And a link to the rest of the article
Some excellent comments here...especially those arguing that OBL is dead. He is in fact dead. I've posted on this point for years, with various proofs, both anecdotal and factual. (See Froggyruminations last week for a precis.) I've made a number of jouneys to Afghanistan and Pakistan since 9/11 and have recently returned from latest trip. OBL is in fact assumed dead by the people of Afghanistan and "Pukhtunistan" (beyond the Indus River to eastern Afghanistan...including the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Baluch/Waziristan.) I've lived with these people since the Soviet War, including a 6 month stint in the same little neighborhood as OBL in 1987 and am one of the few outsiders who've travelled into the private tribal lands into Waziristan. (Training the mujahideen in filmmaking and setting up the first media center in that region of the world. He was well aware, as my immediate neighbor, of the effort to train the mujahideen in filmmaking. OBL, of course, at that time became fascinated with the power of the video image and began documenting his own movement.)

Question: What do Sir Lawrence Olivier and Osama bin Laden have in common? Answer: Both are now digitally re-created images used to manipulate the public. From beyond the grave, Olivier plays a mad scientist in the recent CG extravaganza, "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow," and Osama bin Laden reappears in the latest tape (in a similar world threatening role) to menace the American public into voting for George W. Bush a few days before the election, when Bush trails by one point in the polls. And who authenticates the tape? The government minions of he who gains. Oh, please.

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