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The Story of Bin Laden & Al-Qaeda

Written By: Alex Newman  |  Posted: Saturday, May 14th, 2011

            The popular narrative surrounding the life of Osama bin Laden is filled with questions, intrigue, and misinformation. Though he ultimately became one of the most loathed figures in the American psyche, it's important to remember that bin Laden was once a good friend of the U.S. government. In many ways, he can even be considered a creation of American officials and their allies. His Mujahedeen, or Islamic warriors, were even armed, trained, supplied and financed by America and some of its allies.

            Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, writing in the U.K. Guardian, had some interesting observations. Noting that "throughout the 80s [bin Laden] was armed by the CIA and funded by the Saudis to wage jihad against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan," Cook called bin Laden "a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies." And while not everybody agrees that it was an accidental miscalculation, the fact that he worked with the U.S. government and other Western powers is beyond dispute.
            But how and why did bin Laden and the loose confederation of Muslim extremists known as the Mujahideen - supported by the U.S. government and its allies at various other times in recent decades, too - ultimately become so rabidly anti-American? The answers, as with everything about bin Laden, are complicated and debatable.
            Bin Laden was born into a life of privilege in Saudi Arabia, the son of a supremely wealthy businessman with a construction empire. After developing a passion for Islam, likely during his college years, he became outraged by the Soviet infidel invasion of Afghanistan. Like other men of faith, he saw the communist menace as a threat to his religion. So bin Laden traveled to the region, recruited soldiers, and played an important role in defeating the barbaric communist occupation and its puppet regime.
            In a 1995 interview, bin Laden boasted that his Islamic fighters in Afghanistan were trained by U.S. forces. "I created my first [military] camps, where these volunteers underwent training led by Pakistani and American officers," he told a French newspaper. "The arms were supplied by the Americans.... Our objective was the Islamic Revolution." Ironically, the CIA lessons in terror, combat and sabotage provided to the Jihadists were laced with fanatical Islamic teachings.
            And there was probably a reason for it. "These [establishment-backed] regimes [like the Taliban] and organizations [such as bin Laden's] are serving a hidden - though increasingly visible - purpose ... built into menacing perils to, among other things, justify the transformation of the UN's blue helmets into global gendarmes capable of enforcing UN dictates on all peoples and nations," William Jasper wrote in a 1998 cover story about bin Laden and "American-made terrorists" for The New American magazine.
            As it turns out, the U.S. government was deliberately sending the most aid to elements of the Mujahideen that were especially rabid in their anti-American and anti-Western sentiments. One of the largest Mujahideen recipients of U.S. support - the Hekmatyar - was actually collaborating with the communist invaders the CIA was supposedly trying to expel. The U.S. government sent stinger missiles, heavy weaponry, money, and trainers to the Muslim fanatics in massive convoys. And the biggest beneficiaries of the assistance were probably the worst suited to receive it.
            After the Soviet Union was expelled from Afghanistan, bin Laden and his men would eventually turn on their former allies - using their U.S.-provided weapons, ideology, and training on new targets. It appears that the problems may have started when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in the early '90s and the Saudi dictatorship became concerned that its own kingdom might be next.
            Bin Laden offered to do everything in his power to repel a feared Iraqi assault on Saudi Arabia. But, he was adamantly opposed to inviting foreign troops onto what Muslims believe is holy soil. The Saudi royal family, however, allowed U.S. and allied forces into the country anyway for what then-President George H.W. Bush called an effort to forge a "New World Order" by repelling the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
            Bin Laden was enraged, or so the story goes. And finally, after government pressure failed to silence him, he was exiled from Saudi Arabia, taking refuge under the hard-line Islamic dictatorship ruling the Sudan. It was there bin Laden reportedly decided that eliminating corrupt Arab dictatorships and replacing them with true Islamic governments free of Western influence would require attacks on the source of their power: the Western regimes - and the U.S. government in particular - that were propping them up.   
            In the mid '90s, bin Laden moved back to Afghanistan and reportedly announced "Jihad," or Holy War, against the U.S. government. His primary goal, he said, was to drive American troops from Islamic lands and eliminate U.S. and Western support for the corrupt regimes terrorizing much of the Muslim world.
            The name al-Qaeda, which in Arabic means "the base," was originally applied to the CIA's database of thousands of friendly Muslim extremists who were recruited, armed, and trained by the U.S. government. But under the al-Qaeda banner, bin Laden would inspire legions of Muslims angry at American meddling in the Middle East to unleash a reign of terror upon his new-found enemies.
            As part of the loose alliance of Islamic fundamentalists labeled al-Qaeda - though without any true global organizational structure such as the one mythologized in the press - bin Laden and his men reportedly struck at America 1998. According to a federal indictment, they  were involved in the bombings of two American embassies in Africa. After that, bin Laden's men reportedly drove C4 explosives into a U.S. Navy ship. They were also suspected in other bombings.
            But incredibly, the U.S. government and various Western intelligence agencies were once again helping bin Laden's Islamic warriors in the late '90s, even as then-President Clinton was pretending to show concern about bin Laden by bombing a pharmaceutical plant in the capital of Sudan. This time around, the American assistance to the Islamic extremists was provided in the former Yugoslavia via the al-Qaeda-linked Kosovo Liberation Army.
            "Many members of the Kosovo Liberation Army were sent for training in terrorist camps in Afghanistan," former Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia James Bissett told the Canadian National Post. "There is no question of their participation in conflicts in the Balkans. It is very well documented." Afterward, many Islamic extremists and Mujahedeen stayed in the region, even receiving passports from the U.S.-backed Muslim government in Sarajevo.
            After 2001, the story of bin Laden's becomes particularly murky. Credible sources have been reporting his death since late 2001. At the same time, however, other sources - including U.S. officials - have claimed that bin Laden was deliberately being allowed to escape by high-level authorities in America, Pakistan, and other nations on more than a few occasions.
            According to the official assassination narrative, which has continued to change dramatically since May 1, bin Laden managed to elude capture for more than a decade. President Obama said he was shot in the head after finally being tracked down to a compound outside the capital of Pakistan.
            Where bin Laden may have been during that decade - assuming he was actually alive - is currently unclear. Obama's terror czar suggested he was in the Pakistani compound for the last five or six years. But even if he had been alive and hiding there, he almost certainly was not any sort of leader any longer, according to analysts.
            But Islamic fundamentalists affiliated with what has come to be known as al-Qaeda are still around. And almost incredibly, they're still receiving support from the American government in Libya and elsewhere.
            The reality is that bin Laden and his fellow Muslim extremists enjoyed - and in many respects Muslim extremists continue to enjoy - a sort of love-hate relationship with the American government. The militants are often useful to Washington, pursuing the same goals as the U.S. foreign policy establishment from time to time. Even today, the American government is arming, funding, training, and supporting Islamic extremists in the joint effort to oust former U.S. ally Muammar Ghaddafi in Libya.
            As The New American reported, senior al-Qaeda leaders were among the first to openly back the rebellion in Libya. The U.S. government, NATO, and the United Nations came in later, providing air support and weapons to the militants. Some of the leaders of the uprising are in fact associated with al-Qaeda by their own admission. The U.S. government admits it, too.
            In fact, a former "high risk" Guantanamo Bay detainee assessed as a "probable" member of al-Qaeda and affiliated terror groups is now a U.S. ally and a leader in the Libyan rebellion. Another al-Qaeda fighter from Guantanamo was actually working for British and Canadian intelligence while blowing up churches in Pakistan. And the leader of another al-Qaeda-linked organization that was sending fighters to battle U.S. and international forces in Iraq is also leading the Libyan uprising.
            Critics of America's foreign policy have been sounding the alarm about the dangers of supporting terrorists, extremists, and dictators for as long as the U.S. government has been doing it. But under Republican and Democratic control alike, the unconstitutional U.S. government meddling around the world has only been accelerating. Today, America is involved in three openly announced wars in foreign countries and many more covert ones. And unfortunately for the American people, the consequences can be deadly.

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