In perhaps his most explicit and detailed statement about the United States, Usama bin Ladin spoke on May 28, 1998, in Arabic, to John Miller of ABC News in his hideaway deep in the mountains of southern Afghanistan.1 A Saudi who became active against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, bin Ladin uses his great wealth to advance Islamist causes, primarily through his organization Al-Qa'ida. Although his expressions are stilted and the references sometimes obscure, bin Ladin makes many candid and startling observations in the following interview about the United States that go far to explain his many terrorist assaults on Americans. The interview is reprinted (with minor stylistic alterations) by permission of ABC News.
John Miller: Mr. bin Ladin, to Americans you are an interesting figure: A man who comes from a background of wealth and comforts who ended up fighting on the front lines. Many Americans would think that's unusual.
Usama bin Ladin: Thanks be to God. It is hard for one to understand if a person does not understand Islam. In our religion we believe that God created us to worship him. God created us and blessed us with this religion. He orders us to carry out the holy struggle, jihad, to raise His word above the words of the unbelievers.
We believe this is a form of worship we must follow without regard to our financial ability. It is untrue, as Westerners and secularists in the Arab world claim, that the reason for the awakening and the return to Islam is financial difficulties. In fact, the return of the people to Islam is a blessing from God, and they return out of a need for God.
This is not strange. During the days of jihad [against the Soviets in Afghanistan], thousands of young men who were well-off financially left the Arabian Peninsula and other areas to join the fighting. Hundreds of them were killed in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya. We pray God grants them martyr status.
Miller: I was wondering if you could tell me the story of the gun behind you and how you got it? It is kind of a legend that during the Afghan war you got it in hand-to-hand combat with Russians who were on a three-day assault on the camp.
Bin Ladin: We went through vicious battles with the Russians. It is enough to say that the Russians are known in the West for their brutality and viciousness. They used poisonous gas against us, which I personally experienced. They sent airplanes against our position, and we lost many fighters; but we were able to deter many commando attacks. We are worshipers of God, and we carry out our duties. Our duty is to call on all nations to join the light. Our first duty is as people of this religion and to fight for this religion.
The Westerners have been under the impression that we are butchers. They just need to look only at their [Western] brethren in east Europe, Turkey, and Albania to see how they embraced Islam and have for centuries lived happily with it. The Western masses have fallen under the influence of the Jewish media who do not broadcast information on Muslims except to report that we butcher-without showing that the number of us butchered is much bigger. It is our duty to lead people to light.
VIEWS OF AMERICA
Miller: You have been described as the "World's Most Wanted Man." There is word that the American government intends to put a price on your head in the millions [of dollars] for your capture. Do you think about that? Does it worry you?
Bin Ladin: Praise be to God. It does not worry us what the Americans think. What worries us is pleasing God.
The Americans impose themselves on everyone who believes in his own religion and rights. They accuse our children in Palestine of being terrorists, children who have no weapons and have not even reached maturity. At the same time the Americans defend with their airplanes and tanks a country-the state of the Jews-that has a policy of destroying the future of these children. Clinton stands after Qana [a town in Lebanon shelled by the Israelis] and defends the horrible massacre that severed the heads of children and killed about one hundred persons. Clinton claims Israel has the right to defend itself.
We do not worry about Americans' opinion, or the fact they place a price on our heads. As Muslims, we believe our fate is set. Even if the whole world decides to get together and kill us before our time has come, we will not die.
Miller: You have said, "If the Americans are so brave they will come and arrest me." Do you think that is something my country will try?
Bin Ladin: We have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weakness of the American soldier. He is ready to wage cold wars but unprepared to fight hot wars. This was proven in Beirut when the Marines fled after two explosions, showing they can run in less than twenty-four hours. This was then repeated in Somalia. We are ready for all occasions, we rely on God.
Miller: Mr. bin Ladin, you have issued a fatwa [Islamic edict] calling on all Muslims to kill Americans where they can, when they can. Is that directed at all Americans, just American military, just Americans in Saudi Arabia?
Bin Ladin: As we mentioned before, God ordered us in this religion to purify Muslim land of all non-believers, and especially the Arabian Peninsula where the Ka'ba [in Mecca] is. After World War II, the Americans became more aggressive and oppressive, especially in the Muslim world.
We are surprised this question is coming from Americans. Each action will solicit a similar reaction. We must use such punishment to keep your evil away from Muslims, Muslim children and women. American history does not distinguish between civilians and military, and not even women and children. Americans are the ones who used the bombs against Nagasaki. Can these bombs distinguish between infants and military? America does not have a religion that will prevent it from destroying all people.
Your situation with Muslims in Palestine is shameful, if there is any shame left in America. In the Sabra and Shatilla massacre [of 1982], a cooperative effort between Zionist and Christian forces, houses were demolished over the heads of children. Also, according to testimony of relief workers in Iraq, the American-led sanctions resulted in the death of over one million Iraqi children.
All of this was done in the name of American interests. We believe the Americans are the biggest thieves and terrorists in the world.
We do not differentiate between those dressed in military uniforms and civilians; they are all targets in this fatwa. The fatwa includes all that share or take part in killing of Muslims, assaulting holy places, or those who help the Jews occupy Muslim land.
Miller: Ramzi Yusuf [the World Trade Center bomber] was a follower [of yours]. Do you remember him? Did you know him?
Bin Ladin: Ramzi Yusuf became a well-known Muslim personality after the World Trade Center bombing and all Muslims know him. Unfortunately, I did not know him before the incident. I remember him as a Muslim who defended Islam from American aggression. He undertook this effort to let Americans know that their government assaults Muslims to insure Israeli and Jewish interests. Americans will see many youths who follow Ramzi Yusuf.
Miller: Wali Khan Amin Shah was captured in Manila [on terrorist charges]. American authorities believed he was working for you, funded by you, setting up training camps there, and that part of his plan was to plan the assassination of President Clinton during his trip to Manila.
Bin Ladin: Wali Khan is a Muslim youth. In Afghanistan, he is nicknamed "The Lion." He is one of the best youths, and we were good friends. We fought together in the same trench against the Russians until God sent them away in humiliating defeat.
You mentioned that he works for me. We do not have anyone who works for someone else. We all work for God and await his reward.
And regarding your mention of his attempt to assassinate President Clinton, it is not surprising. I did not know about it, but it is not surprising. As I said, every action solicits a similar reaction. What does Clinton expect from those whom he killed and from those whose children and mothers he assaulted? This is not a surprising matter.
Miller: Federal authorities in the United States are still investigating their suspicion that you ordered and funded the attacks on the United States military in Khobar and Riyadh[, two military installations in Saudi Arabia].
Bin Ladin: We roused the people, the Muslims, and carried fatwas from our ulema [religious authorities] after the Saudi government imprisoned them to placate the American government. The most prominent [of the ulema] are Sheikh Salman bin Fahd al-'Uda and Safad bin 'Abd ar-Rahman al-Awali.
We carried these fatwas and roused the people to eject this enemy from the holy land [of Saudi Arabia]; some of the people listened, including Khalid as-Sa'id, 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Mu'aththam, Hamud al-Hajari and Muslih as-Samarra'i.2 We pray that God grants them martyr status. They have raised the head of the Muslim nation high and washed away some of the dishonor we had to bear by the Saudi government's collaboration with the American government in the land of God. We look at these young men as great heroes and martyrs who followed the steps of the prophet, peace upon him. We called and they answered. We pray to God to accept them and bless their parents with patience.
Miller: You have been painted in America as a terrorist leader. To your followers you are a hero. How do you see yourself?
Bin Ladin: As I said before, we do not worry about what America says. We look at ourselves and our brethren as worshipers of God who created us to worship him and follow his books and prophets. I am one of God's worshipers. I worship God, which includes carrying out the jihad to raise God's word and evict the Americans from all Muslim land.
DESIRE TO DESTROY THE U.S.
Miller: No one expected the mujahidin [warriors engaged in jihad] to defeat the Russians in Afghanistan; that caused a surprise to everyone. What do you see as the future for the American involvement in the Middle East and taking on groups like yours?
Bin Ladin: NATO [the North Atlantic Treaty Organization], which America created, spent $455 billion improving weaponry to protect Europe and America from Russians, and they did not fire a single shot. God stood with the Muslims, the Afghan mujahidin, and those who fought with them from other Muslim countries. We fought against the Russians and the Soviet Union until-not to say we defeated them, but God defeated them-they became non-existent. There is a lesson to learn from this for he who wishes to learn it.
The Soviet Union entered [Afghanistan] in the last week of 1979, in December, and with God's help their flag was folded December 25, a few years later , and thrown in the trash, and there was nothing left to call the Soviet Union.
We are sure of God's victory and our victory against the Americans and the Jews as promised by the prophet, peace be upon him: "Judgment day shall not come until the Muslims fight the Jews, whereas the Jews will hide behind trees and stones, and the tree and the stone will speak and say, 'Muslim, behind me is a Jew; come and kill him,' except for the al-Ghargad tree, which is a Jewish plant."
Our battle with the Americans is larger than our battle with the Russians. The Americans made a very stupid mistake that no one has made before. They attacked the Muslim symbol, the qibla, of 200 million people.3 The reaction was very encouraging by the Muslim scholars and the youth. We predict a black day for America and the end of the United States as the United States, and it will become separate states and will retreat from our land and collect the bodies of its sons back to America, God willing.
THE SAUDI ROYAL FAMILY
Miller: What do you see as the future of the Saudi royal family and their involvement with America and United States military?
Bin Ladin: History has an answer to your question. Any government that sells its peoples' interests and betrays its people and takes actions that removes it from the Muslim nation will not succeed.
We predict that the Riyadh leader and those with him that stood with the Jews and Christians and forfeited al-Haramayn, the holy shrines [of Mecca and Medina], to Jews and Christians with American or other identities will disintegrate. They have abandoned the Muslim nation.
We predict that as with the Iran royal family, the shah, they will disperse and disappear. After God gave them property on the most sacred land and gave them unheard-of wealth from oil, still they sinned and did not value God's gift. We predict their destruction and dispersal after they have devastated the entire Muslim nation, especially the Muslim people of Iraq.
The prophet said, "A woman entered hell because of a cat. She did not feed it and blocked it from finding food on its own." She is going to hell for blocking a cat; what say those who agreed to the hundreds of thousands of troops who blockaded the millions of Muslims in Iraq?
Miller: Do you think the Saudi government wants the American military to stay?
Bin Ladin: This does not make a difference because of American opposition, aggression, and greed. The Americans came with [Saudi] government permission but now it makes no difference if the government wants them to stay or leave. You will leave only when the [Muslim] youth send you [home] in wooden boxes in which lie the bodies of American troops and civilians. The Muslim masses are moving towards liberating the Muslim world. God willing, we will win.
Miller: Describe the situation when your men took on the Americans in Somalia. Were you there?
Bin Ladin: After God honored us with victory in Afghanistan, and justice prevailed against those who slaughtered millions of Muslims in the Muslim republics, Muslim minds no longer believed in the myth of superpowers. The youth no longer saw America as a superpower.
After leaving Afghanistan they headed for Somalia and prepared for a long battle, thinking that the Americans were like the Russians. They were surprised when the Americans entered with 300,000 troops, and collected other troops from around the world-5,000 from Pakistan, 5,000 from India, 5,000 from Bangladesh, 5,000 from Egypt, Senegal, and others like Saudi Arabia. The youth were surprised at the low morale of the American soldiers and realized more than before that the America soldiers are paper tigers. After a few blows, the Americans ran away in defeat.
After a few blows, they forgot about being the world leader and the leader of the new world order. They left, dragging their corpses and their shameful defeat, and stopped using such titles. They learned in America that this name [i.e., God] is larger than them.
When this great defeat took place I was in Sudan, and it pleased me very much, just as it pleases all Muslims. God willing, the next victory will be in Hijaz and Najd, [provinces of] Saudi Arabia, and it will cause Americans to forget the horrors of Vietnam and Beirut.
Miller: Many Americans believe that fighting army-to-army, like what happened in Afghanistan, is heroic for either army, but setting off bombs killing civilians and innocents like the World Trade Center is terrorism.
Bin Ladin: They talk one way but act another. After our victory in Afghanistan over the Russians, the world media, lead by the American media, started a campaign against us that is still going on today (despite the fact that the Russians left in l989, almost ten years ago). They accuse us of being terrorists even though the mujahidin did not strike against the real terrorists, the Americans. That is one side.
On the other side, American policy does not differentiate between civilians, soldiers, and children, or between humans and animals. I mentioned Nagasaki and Hiroshima, where they tried to eliminate a whole people. As for Muslim victims, Westerners and Christians testified to the death of hundreds of thousands of our children in Iraq. And there is Qana, Sabra and Shattila, Deir Yasin, and Bosnia. The Crusaders [i.e., Christians] continue their slaughter of our mothers, sisters, and children, and America every time supports them and prevents weapons from reaching the Muslims. You do not have a religion that prevents you from carrying out these actions.
You do not have the right to object to like treatment. Every action solicits a reaction. It is a punishment that fits the crime. At the same time, our primary targets are military ones, plus those in the military's employment. Our religion forbids us to kill innocents-children and women who are not combatants. But women soldiers in the battle trenches receive the same treatment as combatant men.
GLOBAL TERROR, GLOBAL ENEMIES
Miller: Is there a high council of the leaders of different groups like yours that decides on ways and means to attack Americans?
Bin Ladin: After the Americans entered the holy land [i.e., Saudi Arabia in 1990], many emotions were roused in the Muslim world, more than we have seen before. A great meeting took place a few days ago in Pakistan, attended by a 150 scholars. Its goal was to work toward liberating the holy land and to coordinate efforts between Muslim masses. With God's blessings, scholars from Afghanistan, India, and other Muslim nations passed around individual fatwas, though no joint fatwas were passed; cooperation is expanding among supporters of this religion.
From this effort, the International Islamic Front for the Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders was formed, which we are a member of along with other groups. It has a Higher Council to coordinate rousing the Muslim nation to carry out jihad against Jews and Crusaders.
Miller: The American people by in large do not know the name Usama bin Ladin, but they soon will. Do you have a message to the American people?
Bin Ladin: I say that the American people gave power to a traitorous leadership. This became especially clear in Clinton's government. The American government is an agent that represents Israel inside America. Look at sensitive departments like the Defense Department or the State Department, or sensitive security departments like the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] and others; you find that Jews have the first word in the American government. That is how they use America to carry out their plans in the world, especially in the Muslim world.
The presence of Americans in the holy land [again, Saudi Arabia] supports the Jews and protects their backs. At a time when millions of Americans live on the street or below the poverty line, the American government is helping Israel occupy our land and build settlements in the holy land. The American government is throwing away the lives of Americans in Saudi Arabia for the interests of the Jews.
The Jews are a people who God cited in his holy book, the Qur'an, as having attacked prophets with lies. They attacked Mary and accused her of a great sin. They are a people who killed God's prophets. Would they not kill, rape, and steal from humans? They believe all humans were created for their use; Americans they found to be the best suited to do their will. The American government is driving America to destruction.
So, we tell the Americans as a people, and the mothers of soldiers and all American mothers, if they value their lives and those of their children, they should find a national government that will look after their interests, not those of the Jews. Continuation of the present tyranny will only bring the fighting to America, like Ramzi Yusuf and the others did.
This is my message to the American people: look for a serious government that watches out for its interests and does not attack the lands or the honor of others.
HOLDING THE UNITED STATES RESPONSIBLE
Miller: Mr. bin Ladin, these are most of the questions we came with. Is there anything else that I did not ask that you would like to add?
Bin Ladin: The issue of liberating holy lands is not my personal desire, for I am just a servant of God and one of God's soldiers in the Muslim nation. The movement is driving forward, fast and light. I am sure of our victory, with God's help, against America and the Jews. Every day the Americans delay their departure from the Muslim countries, they will receive a new corpse.
The American government has no choice but to pull its sons from the holy land [Saudi Arabia] especially and from the Muslim lands in general. It also has to refrain in any way from supporting the Israeli government that occupies our land.
We place complete responsibility on the American government for its attacks against Muslims and its support of regimes in our countries that go against the best interest of the people. We also hold it responsible for its attack on that symbol of Islam, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman,4 one of the most prominent Islamic scholars whom God gave the courage to speak the truth. We hear that he is in bad health. He is a man beyond sixty years of age, he is blind, and America treats him badly. The imprisonment of Sheikh Omar is an attack on the Muslim religion and on Muslim countries. We hold the United States completely responsible for his imprisonment and the imprisonment of other Muslims in America.
My advice to American journalists is: do not ask why we did what we did, but ask what their government had done that forced us to defend ourselves.
1 But bin Ladin's replies were not translated for Miller, who therefore could not ask follow-up questions.
2 All of whom the Saudi government accused of the Riyadh bombing, tried, and executed.
3 Meaning Mecca; the qibla is the direction in which Muslims turn to pray.
4 In jail for life in Missouri for his role in the attempted bombing of New York landmarks.