Terrorism as 'the Work of God'

Bin Laden is an eloquent spokesman for Muslim grievances against the West

BALTIMORE (September 17, 2001)--He has a soft voice, a melancholy smile and a gift for flowery Arabic, which allows Osama bin Laden to explain in pleasing poetry why all Americans should die.

To the West, bin Laden is the face of evil, a terrorist who has built a worldwide network connecting zealous fighters with rogue states. He is accused of involvement in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 people, and in the bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen last fall. That makes him a suspect in Tuesday's attacks on American soil.

"He's probably the most popular individual in the Muslim world," said Yossef Bodansky, author of Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America.

"He's the most lucid and eloquent spokesman for all of the grievances Muslims have toward the West, justified and unjustified."

Bin Laden, who had a university education in Saudi Arabia but lacks a formal Islamic education, has been able to make an exceptionally persuasive case that international terrorism is the work of God, Bodansky said.

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"It's correct that the majority of Muslims don't follow his beliefs, but we have yet to find someone with similar credentials who can make a contradictory case in Islamic terms," he said. "The contradictory arguments are made at the higher, academic level, but not at the popular level."

Bin Laden, who is in his mid-40's, is part of a large and influential Saudi family that made its money in construction. His own fortune is estimated at $350 million. He is the youngest of 24 brothers and has 16 to 18 children.

He was radicalized 20 years ago when he went to Afghanistan to fight in the jihad against the Soviet Union, which invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

"He fought bravely, and he returned to Saudi Arabia a hero," Bodansky said. Bin Laden objected to the American presence in Saudi Arabia after the end of the Persian Gulf war, creating diplomatic difficulties for his native country, and he was exiled to Sudan.

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