The London-based Arabic satellite channel Middle East
Broadcasting Corp. reported that followers of bin Laden,
based in Afghanistan, were planning an attack on American
and Israeli "interests" within the next few weeks.
However, a close aide of Osama bin Laden denied reports that
they were planning terror attacks on U.S. and Israeli
interests worldwide. He did admit that they met the MBC
reporter. Also the Taliban, a fundamentalist Islamic militia
that controls most of Afghanistan, said on Sunday that bin
Laden would not be allowed to attack foreign targets.
"All activities by Osama are under control. There is no
possibility of using Afghan territory against any other
country," Taliban foreign ministry spokesman Mohammed Usman
What has been reported as already taking place is that
American armed forces throughout the Middle East were
already on full alert two days before the MBC report.
Warships in Bahrain, headquarters of the U.S. 5th Fleet,
were ordered to sea on Friday and three American amphibious
vessels left the Red Sea port of Aqaba on Saturday, cutting
short a military exercise in Jordan. The reports received by
American intelligence referred to a "nonspecific but
Bin Laden's motive is said to be based on the fact that U.S.
authorities have recently announced moves against his
followers. Last month an American jury convicted four
followers of bin Laden of plotting to bomb the embassies in
Kenya and Tanzania. Twelve Americans were among the 224
people killed in the attacks.
Last week another U.S. court indicted 14 suspects -- 13
Saudis and a Lebanese -- for the terrorist bombing in 1996
of a U.S. barracks in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 U.S.
The State Department issued a "worldwide caution" last
Friday, saying American citizens and interests abroad may be
at risk of a terrorist attack from extremist groups. It
mentioned groups with links to bin Laden and his Al-Qaida
organization as a possible source of a threat.
The Islamabad-based correspondent for the Middle East
Broadcasting Center (MBC), Bakri Attrani, said that he had
been taken by car across the Pakistan border into
Afghanistan, where he met bin Laden.
The terrorist leader, who is prohibited by the Taliban from
talking to the press, did not make any direct statement to
Mr. Attrani, but the correspondent reported that bin Laden's
supporters said that in the next two weeks "a severe blow is
expected against USA and Israeli interests worldwide." The
correspondent reported that bin Laden seemed pleased when
his supporters gave the warning.
Another videotape emerged last week, which showed bin Laden
telling his supporters: "It's time to penetrate America and
Israel and hit them where it hurts most." The Taliban
authorities claimed that it was a fake.
Despite international pressure and U.N. sanctions, the
Taliban have refused to hand Bin Laden over to stand a trial
for terrorism in the United States or a third country. They
say he is their guest and that the United States has no
evidence that he is involved in terrorism.
The Taliban control about 95 percent of Afghanistan and
espouse a strict version of Islam in a country ravaged by
decades of chaos and civil war. Recently they destroyed
several huge Buddhist carvings that were hundreds of years
Holy War Against Israel?
Hundreds of Muslim Arabs -- including Palestinians -- have
been learning terror techniques in camps run by Osama bin
Laden, the United States' most wanted terror suspect,
Israeli terrorism experts said. They said they feared the
current Palestinian uprising would go beyond a struggle for
statehood and become a holy war.
Yoram Schweitzer of the International Policy Institute for
Counter-Terrorism suggested that those returning to the
region from camps in Afghanistan and Chechnya are planning a
campaign of terror.
"These Afghan alumni see the national dispute between
Israelis and Palestinians as a very good chance to transform
this confrontation into a religious one," Schweitzer
Palestinians call their uprising the "Al Aksa Intifadah,"
referring to a mosque on the Har Habayis.
Ely Karmon, a senior researcher at the institute in
Herzilya, said, "The strategic aim of Hamas is to destroy
Israel through the armed struggle and to transform the new
Palestinian state into an Islamic state."
In June 2000, Israel arrested Nabil Okal, a member of the
Palestinian Islamic militant group Hamas. The Israelis said
he was sent to Pakistan four years ago to train in one of
bin Laden's camps. Hamas leaders denied they sent Okal to
Pakistan or that they had links to bin Laden.
Schweitzer said it's likely that others are training in bin
Laden's camps and will be sent to areas of Islamic conflict
to carry out attacks and to stir up religious sentiments.
Khatib says efforts to turn the conflict into a religious
battle are nothing new.
"The religious people have always been trying to turn it
into a religious conflict on both sides," he said. "But with
the failure of the peace process and Israel refusing to end
its occupation, the position of the secular camp -- which is
the Palestinian peace camp -- was shaken by the religious
fundamentalists who always say only through conflict can we
get our rights."
According to Dr. Gil Feiler, a senior researcher at Bar-Ilan
University's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Osama
bin Laden may be a threat to the United States but he is
little more than a nuisance for Israel. "He has so many
other things to support," said Feiler. "Really, Israel is
not at the top of his priorities."
Bin Laden has often named Israel as a principal enemy but no
concrete link has been proven between him and groups
planning attacks against Israel.
OC Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Malka revealed that a planned
terrorist attack against Israel, sponsored by Bin Laden, was
foiled a few months ago. "Bin Laden has tried, will try to
reach us, and may even reach us here in Israel," Malka said.
"He will try to make use of various countries around us from
which to infiltrate, and he will try various creative
But Feiler believes that the Bin Laden craze, spurred on by
the Americans has been blown out of proportion.
"We know that in the past years we didn't hear much about
Bin Laden vis-a-vis Israel. Most activity has been against
American targets," Feiler said. "I don't say that in the
future he won't threaten Israel, but you can count on the
fingers of one hand" the number of attacks being planned
against Israel by his group. According to Feiler, the main
worries for Israel are still Hamas and Hizbullah.