Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Osama bin Laden: High Priest of Terror

Hall of the Mountain King

"Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies of Allah and your enemies, and others besides whom you may not know but whom Allah doth know." – The Koran 

Mountainous region of Afghanistan
Mountainous region of Afghanistan (CORBIS)

The two men stumbled over the broken, rocky ground as they followed their guides down a steep mountainside in the darkness.  After three days of rough travel through the villages of northern Pakistan, they were about to cross the border into Afghanistan.  The year was 1998.  The two men, dressed in traditional Muslim clothing to avoid scrutiny, were ABC News correspondent John Miller and cameraman Rick Bennett.  They had been sent to Afghanistan by their network to interview "the world's most dangerous terrorist," Osama bin Laden.

The clandestine approach was necessary because the ruling Taliban controlled the border and filming "of any living thing" was strictly forbidden.

At the bottom of the mountain they met up with a truck that carried their camera equipment and were driven higher into the mountains.  After several hours they reached a camp where their equipment was taken from them and examined thoroughly for hidden location devices that could give away the camp's position.

They were taken to a barracks, fed, given blankets and told to sleep on the floor.  Two days passed before they were told that bin Laden had agreed to see them.  Any thoughts of their subject being close by were quickly dispelled when they were loaded into another truck and driven even farther into the mountains.  Three torturous hours and many check points later they finally arrived at the meeting point.

Osama bin Laden's soldiers with weapons
Osama bin Laden's soldiers with weapons (CORBIS)

Bin Laden's men, carrying portable radios and armed with Kalishnikov AK-47 machine guns, swarmed around their vehicle brandishing their weapons menacingly.

A buzz of excitement swept through the camp as a four-wheel-drive truck entered the clearing.  Bin Laden's soldiers celebrated the event by firing their weapons into the air.  Their leader had arrived.

The promised interview was heavily structured.  A list of 16 questions had been submitted in advance, and bin Laden had agreed to answer all of them.  No follow-up questions were allowed, and no immediate translation of bin Laden's answers was permitted.  To further indicate their level of paranoia, the group refused to allow Bennett to use his professional, broadcast-quality camera and instead supplied a small home video camera and insisted he use it. 

Because of the restrictions, Miller was unable to immediately evaluate the results of his interview. Only when Miller returned to New York did he understand the portent of bin Laden's comments.  The terrorist leader had not only clearly reiterated his original 1996 threat of a jihad, or holy war, against any country that invaded or impeded the nation of Islam, he had specifically warned of mass genocide against the American people.

Osama Bin Laden with Hamid Mir
Osama Bin Laden with Hamid Mir (CORBIS)

Miller is one of a handful of foreign journalists allowed access to bin Laden over the last few years, and the others tell similar tales. Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir was subjected to a thorough body search during which he was stripped and had his abdomen scanned by ultrasound to check for hidden devices. It became clear that bin Laden only allowed journalists access when he wanted to use the world media to get his message out.  In Miller's case, it was a message of doom; the machinations were already underway for the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States.


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