Bin Laden, suspected in U.S. terror attacks, said to have network with global reach
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) – From his hide-out in Afghanistan, terror suspect Osama bin Laden directs a global network that reaches most corners of the globe: from the Comoros Islands to Jordan, from Canada to Australia.
The exiled Saudi billionaire can turn to experts in any of these places for tips, such as which countries have the most porous borders or the weakest security.
”When these people are captured … or when a suicide bomber kills himself, there are other volunteers to take their place,” said Vincent Cannistraro, a former chief of counterterrorism operations for the CIA.
U.S. administration officials say early evidence points to bin Laden’s involvement in Tuesday’s coordinated attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
If that’s the case, experts say, bin Laden would have easily had expert help in making the meticulous preparations needed.
It doesn’t take a large network, Cannistraro said, just believers willing to die for the cause.
”It’s the best kind of network you could have,” he said.
Bin Laden has strong family ties and a group of supporters in Boston, where the two planes used in the World Trade Center attacks were hijacked. One of his brothers set up scholarship funds at Harvard, while another relative owns condominiums in Charlestown. Two bin Laden associates also once worked as Boston cab drivers.
Experts say bin Laden oversees and is the inspiration for a loosely affiliated organization called al-Qaeda (The Base). Al-Qaeda’s followers are united by their loathing of the United States.
The organization consists of cells that together make up the network which includes the suicide bombers, the technical advisers and those who do the legwork.
They usually don’t know each other, the identity of the person they’re communicating with or why they have been ordered to carry out a task.
”Someone is pulling all those pieces together, and if you compromise one cell you don’t take down the entire organization,” said Frank Cilluffo, a policy analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
One example of how this works came to light after the 1999 arrest of Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian citizen who lived in Montreal, Canada.
Ressam and another Montreal Algerian, Mokhtar Haouari, are charged in an alleged plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport during millennium celebrations.
Ressam reportedly planned to scout the airport, perhaps planting a dummy suitcase near a ticket counter or some other crowded spot to see how long it took to arouse suspicion, a federal criminal justice source told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Ressam has told authorities that no one else involved in the plot knew which target he had selected, the source was quoted as saying.
The plan was foiled in December 1999, when Ressam was caught trying to enter Washington state from Canada in a car loaded with explosives.
Ressam also has said he owes his allegiance not to bin Laden but to Haydar Abu Doha, a London man close to bin Laden who was arrested recently on terrorism conspiracy charges.
Abu Doha is in custody in London, awaiting extradition to the United States where an indictment portrays him as a key figure in bin Laden’s network. Prosecutors allege that in 1998, he met with bin Laden in Afghanistan ”to discuss cooperation and coordination between al-Qaeda and a group of Algerian terrorists whose activities Abu Doha coordinated and oversaw.”
Another man, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a native of the Comoros Islands off the east coast of Africa, has been indicted by a U.S. District Court in New York for his alleged role in the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, one of two bombings that rocked Africa in August 1998. Fazul, who is at large, is believed to have trained in Afghanistan with bin Laden.
Raed Hijazi, a Jordanian-American, is standing trial in Jordan for terrorism. Jordanian officials say Hijazi has confessed to planning terrorist attacks and learning bomb-making in Afghan camps run by bin Laden.
On Christmas Eve 1994, the Armed Islamic Group in Algeria – a group with ties to bin Laden – hijacked an Air France plane, claiming it wanted to blow it up over Paris. The plane got as far as Marseille, where it was stormed and passengers freed. Three people were killed.
Bin Laden’s wealth makes it easy to attract recruits especially among large pools of unemployed young adults in regions where the United States is unpopular, said Cilluffo.
”In the past, terrorist organizations had to turn to nation-states to provide them with the funding and resources necessary to engage in high-scale terrorism,” he added. ”Bin Laden filled that vacuum.”
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