Excerpt from Osama by Jonathan Randal, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Making of a Terrorist

by Jonathan Randal

Osama by Jonathan Randal X
Osama by Jonathan Randal
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2004, 352 pages
    Sep 2005, 368 pages

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In advertised as well as secret meetings, American emissaries constantly reminded Taliban representatives in no uncertain terms that time was running out, that Osama's next terrorist operation would at long last mean war. Such foreign warnings appeared to have a perverse effect on Mullah Omar. Already back in 1998, soon after the truck-bomb attacks on American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam that August, he had jeopardized official Saudi financing when the Kingdom's intelligence chief, Prince Turki al-Faisal, showed up in Kandahar mistakenly convinced Omar would honor an earlier pledge to hand Osama over.

Throughout 2001, telltale signs chronicled Osama's growing ascendancy over Mullah Omar. Osama openly defied the formal Taliban prohibition on his public pronouncements, staged an ostentatious wedding for a son and privately encouraged the destruction of the two giant Buddhas in Bamian and other pre-Islamic art, in keeping with the idol-smashing convictions of the puritanical Saudi Islamic faith of his upbringing.[2] But for all his careful cultivation of Mullah Omar, little if anything suggests Osama bothered to inform his host of his plans for September 11, which were a good two years in the making. To have so taken any of the Taliban into his confidence would only have encouraged dissension among those Afghan leaders who increasingly feared that Omar was allowing Osama to compromise their destiny. For years, for all the public show of solidarity with Osama--and their unconvincing claims to have him under their thumbs--Taliban leaders had argued privately among themselves about the obvious dangers of harboring a guest so patently determined to march to his own drummer. Those long-muffled dissensions were confirmed once the Taliban regime was dismantled in November 2001.

Long before, even the dimmest Afghan had an inkling of what was going on in dozens of Al-Qaeda training sites scattered around Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad and rural locations, many of them built into the Hindu Kush during the war against the Soviet Union. After all, some camps simultaneously housed Al-Qaeda terrorist trainees, Taliban conscripts and cannon fodder for Pakistan's irredentist campaign in Kashmir to weaken archenemy India. The more hardheaded Taliban thought of their self-styled Islamic emirate as a state, while recognizing that the United Nations and various nongovernmental humanitarian organizations provided what passed for the few government services on offer to the population. Osama indulged Mullah Omar's hankering for renewing the caliphate to run the Sunni Muslim world that Ataturk had abolished in 1924 soon after establishing the Turkish Republic. In fact, Osama was more interested in the process of getting there--jihad and his radical methodology of spreading holy war--than in the mundane business of running a government. And so Mullah Omar and the Taliban were expendable.

It soon became an article of faith for Americans that September 11 utterly changed their lives. Beauty, or in this case horror, was in the eye of the beholder. One of Americans' great strengths is their ability to live in the present and think in the future to such an extent that it is difficult to predict what enduring scars 9/11 will leave on the American psyche. Who before September 11 could have predicted that the Bush administration would abandon its inward-looking election platform and embark on a policy seemingly determined to reorder the Middle East, an undertaking that had brought woe to so many previous world powers? But more mundanely, what demonstrably changed was the modus operandi of terrorism; in that, 9/11 marked a radical departure.


  1. Washington Post, April 15, 2002. Seven months after 9/11, Al-Jazeera, the free-swinging satellite network based in Qatar and watched by millions of Arabs in preference to their own often-censored national stations, broadcast a cassette showing Saudi hijacker Ahmad Alghamdi announcing in a March 2001 "last will and testament" that he knew his forthcoming martyrdom-or suicide-mission would be against a target in the United States. "It is high time we killed Americans on their own turf," he said. Al-Jazeera news editor Ibrahim Hilal remarked, "This tape closes the door of suspicion. It is the final say that Al-Qaeda is behind it."

    Excerpted from Osama by Jonathan Randal Copyright© 2004 by Jonathan Randal. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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