One Man's Private Jihad

Bin Laden Three Years Before 9-11

The extent of his involvement, however, varies, and just how active a role he takes in certain actions isn't entirely clear. In the case of a 1995 Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, bombing—in which five American servicemen were killed—a federal grand jury in Manhattan continues to probe his suspected role. And he was never indicted in the World Trade Center bombing, though several current and former intelligence officials indicate they strongly suspect he had some connection.One of the convicted bombers, for instance, fled to Pakistan after the incident, where he hid out in a house for Islamist radicals that Bin Ladin had funded. Additionally, Bin Ladin and Wali Khan, the convicted mastermind of the bombing, are "good friends" according to Bin Ladin, who fought alongside Khan in Afghanistan.

As far as other actions are concerned, "Someone might suggest something and Bin Ladin might say, 'yeah,' " says a former CIA Middle East analyst. "A lot of these [terrorist acts] are cooked up ad hoc. And while I believe some of Bin Ladin's communications have been intercepted, part of what makes him so dangerous is that he's so low-tech and his people are so scattered. Communications for the planning of this were probably innocuous channels—letters, innocuous-sounding phone calls from relatives' houses."

The apparent confession in the embassy bombings appears to have clarified things considerably, however. According to Monday's Washington Post, Mohammed Sadiq Howaida—picked up for using a phony passport on a flight in from Kenya—has not only confessed to a role in the bombing, but has told authorities he was acting for Bin Ladin. Larry Barcella, an ex­assistant U.S. attorney who specialized in terrorist cases, predicts relatively quick indictments for Bin Ladin and his associates.

There is, however, the issue of apprehending Bin Ladin, whose remote location in Taliban territory does not lend itself to easy warrant service. In the meantime, national security expert Armstrong offers a suggestion: "The CIA might do better to figure out what the U.S. could do to support our friends without making regimes so ostentatiously corrupt that they end up giving credence to Bin Ladin."

Research: Brooke Stroud, Jennifer Del Medico

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