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As the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks approaches, a new biography traces the journey of Osama bin Laden, from a shy and religious teenager to the leader of a global jihadist group dedicated to mass murder.
Journalist Peter Bergen, who met the Al-Qaida leader in 1997, says a series of events continued to push bin Laden “further and further down the path of radicalization.”
“[Bin Laden] could have chosen a different path at several points in his life, ”says Bergen. “But the introduction of American troops into Saudi Arabia [in 1992] transformed his kind of latent anti-Americanism into a passionate hatred of the United States. “
Bergen says bin Laden believed the 9/11 attacks, of which he is credited with being the mastermind, would result in the withdrawal of US troops from Saudi Arabia and other places in the Middle East. “It was of course an illusion,” he adds. “It did not work.”
Bin Laden was killed in 2011 when US Navy SEALs attacked his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Bergen’s new book, The rise and fall of Osama bin Laden, is based on materials recovered in the enclosure as well as on interviews with a dozen people around Bin Laden.
Bergen says some of the items recovered from the 2011 raid were particularly surprising: “When I visited the complex, I actually saw what was in his room, the room he was killed in.” , says Bergen. “I saw the Just for Men hair dye in his toilet.… He wanted to look younger. When Bin Laden died, he was 54, but he certainly looked a lot older in reality. So he was using it. Just for Men hair dye. “
On the documents Bergen relied on to write the book
It was not until the end of 2017 that the Trump administration released the 470,000 files recovered in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Included in which was something that was described by the CIA as Bin Laden’s diary. It turned out to be something a little different. It is also handwritten in Arabic. It was a kind of family diary that the Bin Laden family essentially kept during the last weeks of Bin Laden’s life.
On the people Bin Laden kept with him in the compound
The total was 27 to 16 from his own family, and he had two bodyguards and their families. Typically, when we think of a fugitive, we don’t think of a fugitive taking three wives and a dozen children and grandchildren with them. But bin Laden, for all his many vices and all the evil, death and destruction that he chatted, he was sort of a family man, and he wanted to have his family around him.
On bin Laden’s personal security measures
Brent Stirton / Simon & Schuster
It was a prison of its own making. And he was the chief warden in a way. He himself was extremely careful in what he did. He was walking around the garden wearing a cowboy hat so no one could recognize him if there was a satellite over his head. He had a healthy respect for American spy skills.
Members of his family did not leave the compound. He never left the compound. And in fact, he was hiding to such an extent that one of the bodyguard’s wives did not know that it was Osama bin Laden who lived among them, even though she herself lived in the same compound.
And once Bin Laden appeared on TV, and one of the bodyguard’s 9-year-old daughters asked, “Isn’t that the guy who lives here?” And at that time, the bodyguard got rid of the television and told his daughter not to talk about it and also prevented all contact with the bin Laden family. So Bin Laden was hiding from people in his own compound.
On the importance of his two elder wives
Bin Laden’s two older wives played such an important role in his life. Two of them had a doctorate … One had a doctorate. in child psychology. Another had a doctorate. in Koranic grammar. And so these two older women are homeschooling the children. And they’ve been doing it for years, even before September 11. … And these wives also played an important role in helping Bin Laden think through complex strategic issues related to the future direction of Al-Qaida.
On bin Laden’s reaction to the Arab Spring
He wrote to one of his top MPs: “This is probably the most important development in the Middle East for centuries. But he was also puzzled as to what to do with these big events because he was aware that protesters in the streets of Cairo or in the streets of Tunisia were not waving banners of bin Laden demanding theocracies. to the Taliban. They demanded universal human rights, the right of assembly, freedom of expression, not to live under an authoritarian and corrupt government. So Bin Laden was really thinking, “How do I respond to that? How can I position myself to be relevant? What can I say about it?
The Arab Spring begins [in December 2010], and he was killed in May 2011. I think the fact that he was never really able to make a statement about the events of the Arab Spring during his lifetime speaks for itself, because he didn’t know everything. simply not what to say, how to position yourself as the leader of the Arab Spring.
On relations between al-Qaida and the Taliban
I think there is a lot of information in the documents that have been released from the Abbottabad compound that show that al-Qaida and the Taliban still have cordial relations, that al-Qaida was funding elements of the Taliban, instructing elements of the Taliban on what to do. They were cooperating in joint operations. And then, you know, move on to today. The United Nations published a report in June on relations between al-Qaida and the Taliban, describing them as very close. They even said that the relationship has grown stronger. …
The Trump administration began peace talks with the Taliban in 2018, which are based on the idea that al-Qaida and the Taliban had gone their separate ways, would go their separate ways. And it was just nonsense and a farce. And I think we’ll all see the Taliban recruiting foreign fighters from the Muslim world.
The split screen on September 11 [in 2021] will be the Taliban who will seize pieces of Afghanistan, using American military materiel they have seized, and [U.S. officials] read the names of the September 11 victims on the World Trade Center website. And, you know, I can’t imagine a worse split screen, but I think that’s probably what we’ll see.
Sam Briger and Joel Wolfram produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz and Seth Kelley adapted it for the web.