Bin Laden Reportedly Back at Helm of al Qaeda
August 27, 2002
By Michael Georgy
LONDON (Reuters) - Osama bin Laden is firmly back in command of al Qaeda and the group is digging in for guerrilla attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, an Arab journalist with close ties to the militant's associates said on Tuesday.
Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based daily al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper, said al Qaeda associates recently told him the network had regained confidence after facing intense U.S. bombing and was ready to fight U.S. troops over the long haul.
"Al Qaeda were shattered during the U.S. bombing so it was difficult for bin Laden to stay in control. Now they said he is fully in command again and they have regrouped and are organized again," Atwan told Reuters.
"Al Qaeda people say they are relaxed now and they will fight a war of attrition against U.S. soldiers," added Atwan, who interviewed bin Laden in 1996 and keeps in contact with his associates and followers.
Bin Laden was in good health and "safe" and was planning new attacks on the United States, he was told, but his whereabouts were not disclosed.
The United States launched strikes on Afghanistan last year to flush out al Qaeda and hunt down bin Laden, its prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, and punish the Taliban regime that protected him.
But remnants of al Qaeda and their Taliban allies have continually frustrated the U.S.-led coalition by hiding in mountains, melting into the local population or fleeing into neighboring Pakistan or Iran.
Atwan said that the al Qaeda and Taliban had re-established links that were severed when the United States began its military campaign in Afghanistan.
"They are working together again. They are organizing," he said.
There is no trail, meanwhile, leading to bin Laden.
Bin Laden's associates told Atwan that the Saudi-born militant was well, "safe" and planning new attacks on the United States. They did not say where bin Laden was currently living.
"My sense is that he will time any new attack to coincide with a U.S. attack on Iraq. He would want to capitalize on this to appeal to the Arab street so he will probably delay any attacks until the United States moves on Iraq," said Atwan.
"He will probably want to be seen as the only Arab standing up to the United States when the United States attacks Iraq."
Bin Laden made a series of defiant videotapes broadcast on television as U.S. warplanes pounded Afghanistan. But he has recently stayed out of sight.
His associates said Bin Laden, who has a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, was well protected but his entourage was small in order to avoid capture, said Atwan.
"He is the master of disguise and he is making sure that he is not giving anything away so he travels in a small group," he said.
Bin Laden's top aide Ayman al-Zawahri, the Egyptian-born chief strategist of al Qaeda, was with him along with a small group of militant bodyguards, Atwan was told.