Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 8 July 2015

Robert Fisk: Pakistan knew Bin Laden's hiding place all along

Published 03/05/2011 | 00:00

In this undated still from video released Sept. 10, 2003, Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, left, and his top deputy Ayman al-Zawahri appear. A person familiar with developments on Sunday, May 1, 2011 says bin Laden is dead and the U.S. has the body. (AP Photo/Al Jazeera via APTN)
In this undated still from video released Sept. 10, 2003, Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, left, and his top deputy Ayman al-Zawahri appear. A person familiar with developments on Sunday, May 1, 2011 says bin Laden is dead and the U.S. has the body. (AP Photo/Al Jazeera via APTN)
In this Oct. 7, 2001, file photo, Osama bin Laden, left, with his top lieutenant Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahri, are seen at an undisclosed location in this television image broadcast. A person familiar with developments said Sunday, May 1, 2011 that bin Laden is dead and the U.S. has the body. (AP Photo/Al Jazeera, File)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 02: Kevin Van Orden, whose brother is in the U.S. Army, celebrates outside the World Trade Center site after the death of accused 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden was announced May 2, 2011 in New York City. Bin Laden was killed in an operation by U.S. Navy Seals in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
This frame grab from video obtained exclusively by ABC News, on Monday, May 2, 2011, shows a section of a room in the interior of the compound where it is believed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden lived in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Bin Laden, the face of global terrorism and mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was tracked down and shot to death in Pakistan, Monday, May 2, 2011, by an elite team of U.S. forces, ending an unrelenting manhunt that spanned a frustrating decade. (AP Photo/ABC News)
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011
MIAMI, FL - MAY 02: Bob Kunst holds a sign that reads, "Thank G-D Osama Bin Laden is Dead" as he and two others from Shalom International hold a rally to bring attention to the plight of Israel as well as to show their support for the action that killed Osama Bin Laden on May 2, 2011 in Miami, Florida. Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in was slain in Pakistan during a firefight with U.S. forces. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Penn State senior Jake Librizzi holds an American flag as he and others fill Beaver Canyon Avenue in downtown State College, Pa., around midnight on Sunday, May 1, 2011
BOSTON, MA - MAY 2: Flowers and an American flag lay on the Garden of Remembrance May 2, 2011 in the Boston Public Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. Families of local victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks gathered at the 9/11 memorial to reflect upon the death of Osama Bin Laden. Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 02: People look out at Ground Zero a day after the death of Osama Bin Laden on May 2, 2011 in New York City. President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden during a late night address to the nation from the White House in Washington on May 1. The mastermind of the September 11 terrorist attacks was killed in an American military operation at a compound in Pakistan. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 02: A U.S. soldier walks by newspaper clippings on a wall at Ground Zero heralding the death of Osama Bin Laden on May 2, 2011 in New York City. President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden during a late night address to the nation from the White House in Washington on May 1. The mastermind of the September 11 terrorist attacks was killed in an American military operation at a compound in Pakistan. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
SHANKSVILLE, PA - MAY 2: Scott and Walter Neilly, brothers, from Bradford, Pa look over the crash site of Flight 93 following the announcement that Osama Bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan May 2, 2011 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Nearly 10 years after September 11, 2001 construction is underway to erect a formal memorial at the crash site. Last night U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States had killed the most-wanted terrorist Osama Bin Laden in an operation led by U.S. Special Forces in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
Angry supporters of Pakistani religious party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam burn representation of the United States during a rally to condemn the killing of Osama bin Laden in Quetta, Pakistan on Monday, May 2, 2011. al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden was slain in his hideout in Pakistan early Monday in a firefight with U.S. forces, ending a manhunt that spanned a decade. (AP Photo/Arshad Butt)(AP Photo/Arshad Butt)
WASHINGTON - MAY 02: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) speaks as Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd (L) listens during a post-meeting joint press availability May 2, 2011 at the State Department in Washington, DC. Secretary Clinton said in a statement earlier that the death of Osama Bin Laden does not end the battle with al-Qaida. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 2: An armored Park Police vehicle sits parked at the base of the Washington Monument May 2, 2011 in Washington, DC. The DC area and other places around the nation have stepped up security after it was announced that Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the September 11th terror attacks, was killed in a firefight with United States forces in Pakistan. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 02: Ground Zero is viewed a day after the death of Osama Bin Laden on May 2, 2011 in New York City. President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden during a late night address to the nation from the White House in Washington on May 1. The mastermind of the September 11 terrorist attacks was killed in an American military operation at a compound in Pakistan. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 02: A woman poses near the back of a newspaper vendor displaying a paper heralding the death of Osama Bin Laden on May 2, 2011 in New York City. President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden during a late night address to the nation from the White House in Washington on May 1. The mastermind of the September 11 terrorist attacks was killed in an American military operation at a compound in Pakistan. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Imagecs)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 02: A passer by looks at newspaper headlines reporting the death of Osama Bin Laden, in front of the Newseum, on May 2, 2011 in Washington, DC. Last night U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States had killed the most-wanted terrorist Osama Bin Laden in an operation led by U.S. Special Forces in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 02: Workers at Ground Zero listen as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at a news conference at Ground Zero following the announcement of the death of al Qaeda founder and leader Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011 in New York City. U.S. President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden during a late night address to the nation from the White House in Washington on May 1. The mastermind of the September 11 terrorist attacks was killed in an American military operation at a compound in Pakistan. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 02: Workers at Ground Zero listen as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at a news conference at Ground Zero following the announcement of the death of al Qaeda founder and leader Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011 in New York City. U.S. President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden during a late night address to the nation from the White House in Washington on May 1. The mastermind of the September 11 terrorist attacks was killed in an American military operation at a compound in Pakistan. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 02: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stands with dignitaries and family of victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks at news conference at Ground Zero following the announcement of the death of al Qaeda founder and leader Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011 in New York City. U.S. President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden during a late night address to the nation from the White House in Washington on May 1. The mastermind of the September 11 terrorist attacks was killed in an American military operation at a compound in Pakistan. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
White House Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan (L) and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney
SHANKSVILLE, PA - MAY 2: Jeff Ray and his wife, Barbara, of Shanksville, Pa look over the crash site of Flight 93 following the announcement that Osama Bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan May 2, 2011 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Nearly 10 years after September 11, 2001 construction is underway to erect a formal memorial at the crash site. Last night U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States had killed the most-wanted terrorist Osama Bin Laden in an operation led by U.S. Special Forces in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
SHANKSVILLE, PA - MAY 2: Jeff Ray of Shanksville, Pa holds a sign he made as he looks over the crash site of Flight 93 following the announcement that Osama Bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan May 2, 2011 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Nearly 10 years after September 11, 2001 construction is underway to erect a formal memorial at the crash site. Last night U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States had killed the most-wanted terrorist Osama Bin Laden in an operation led by U.S. Special Forces in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
SHANKSVILLE, PA - MAY 2: Visitors Kathy Reid and Donna Warren look over the crash site of Flight 93 following the announcement that Osama Bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan May 2, 2011 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Nearly 10 years after September 11, 2001 construction is underway to erect a formal memorial at the crash site. Last night U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States had killed the most-wanted terrorist Osama Bin Laden in an operation led by U.S. Special Forces in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
SHANKSVILLE, PA - MAY 2: Jeff Ray and his wife, Barbara, of Shanksville, Pa look over the crash site of Flight 93 following the announcement that Osama Bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan May 2, 2011 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Nearly 10 years after September 11, 2001 construction is underway to erect a formal memorial at the crash site. Last night U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States had killed the most-wanted terrorist Osama Bin Laden in an operation led by U.S. Special Forces in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - MAY 02: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) and Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd (L) approach the podiums for a post-meeting joint press availability May 2, 2011 at the State Department in Washington, DC. Secretary Clinton said in a statement earlier that the death of Osama Bin Laden does not end the battle with al-Qaida. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 2: New York City Police officers and a K9 stand in a subway station May 2, 2011 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Security presence has been escalated as a precaution after U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States had killed the most-wanted terrorist Osama Bin Laden in an operation led by U.S. Special Forces at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. (Photo by Daniel Barry/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 02: A member of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) Emergency Service Unit stands guard at Grand Central Station a day after the death of Osama Bin Laden on May 2, 2011 in New York City. President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden during a late night address to the nation from the White House in Washington on May 1. The mastermind of the September 11 terrorist attacks was killed in an American military operation at a compound in Pakistan. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Massachusetts family members, from left, sisters Danielle and Carie Lemack who lost their mother Judy Larocque; Christy Coombs who lost her husband Jeffrey; and Irene Ross who lost her brother Richard Ross, all on ill-fated Flight 11 from Logan Airport on 9/11 grieve in Boston Monday, May 2, 2011 during a moment of silence at the Garden of Remembrance, a memorial dedicated to the 206 Massachusetts victims of September 11, 2001. The event was held in the wake of news of the death of Osama bin Laden. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
In this handout image provided by The White House, President Barack Obama listens during one in a series of meetings discussing the mission against Osama bin Laden, in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States had killed the most-wanted terrorist Osama Bin Laden in an operation led by U.S. Special Forces at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 1: In this handout image provided by The White House, President Barack Obama shakes hands with Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in the Green Room of the White House, following his statement detailing the mission against Osama bin Laden, May 1, 2011 in Washington, DC. CIA Director Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton are pictured at left. U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States had killed the most-wanted terrorist Osama Bin Laden in an operation led by U.S. Special Forces at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 1: In this handout image provided by The White House, President Barack Obama talks with members of the national security team at the conclusion of one in a series of meetings discussing the mission against Osama bin Laden, in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States had killed the most-wanted terrorist Osama Bin Laden in an operation led by U.S. Special Forces at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 1: In this handout image provided by The White House, President Barack Obama edits his remarks in the Oval Office prior to making a televised statement detailing the mission against Osama bin Laden, May 1, 2011 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States had killed the most-wanted terrorist Osama Bin Laden in an operation led by U.S. Special Forces at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 1: In this handout image provided by The White House, Senior administration officials listen as President Barack Obama delivers a statement in the East Room of the White House on the mission against Osama bin Laden, May 1, 2011 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States had killed the most-wanted terrorist Osama Bin Laden in an operation led by U.S. Special Forces at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 02: Police officers keep watch at a makeshift memorial on the fence surrounding the World Trade Center site after the death of accused 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden was announced May 2, 2011 in New York City. Bin Laden was killed in an operation by U.S. Navy Seals in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
This undated artist rendering handout provided by the CIA shows the Abbottabad compound in Pakistan where American forces in Pakistan killed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. (AP Photo/CIA)
Joe Pisciotta of Falls Church, Va., left, and Eric Tcotco, of Washington, who have never met before, have their photo taken together by an American flag in front of the White House in Washington, Monday, May 2, 2011, the day after Osama bin Laden was killed. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
John Flowers, graduating WVU basketball forward, center, prepares to jump as hundreds of fellow students celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden in Morgantown W.V. early Monday, May 2, 2011. Osama bin Laden, the face of global terrorism and architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was killed in a firefight with elite American forces in Pakistan on Monday, May 2, 2011 then quickly buried at sea. (AP Photo/Daily Athenaeum, Matt Sunday)
This frame grab from video obtained exclusively by ABC News, on Monday, May 2, 2011, shows a section of a room in the interior of the compound where it is believed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden lived in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Bin Laden, the face of global terrorism and mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was tracked down and shot to death in Pakistan, Monday, May 2, 2011, by an elite team of U.S. forces, ending an unrelenting manhunt that spanned a frustrating decade. (AP Photo/ABC News)
This frame grab from video obtained exclusively by ABC News, on Monday, May 2, 2011, shows a section of the compound where it is believed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden lived in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Bin Laden, the face of global terrorism and mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was tracked down and shot to death in Pakistan, Monday, May 2, 2011, by an elite team of U.S. forces, ending an unrelenting manhunt that spanned a frustrating decade. (AP Photo/ABC News)
Crowds celebrate on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington, early Monday, May 2, 2011, after President Barack Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed.
Osama bin Laden is seen in this undated photo taken from a television image. (Photo by Getty Images)
Osama bin Laden is seen aiming a weapon in this undated photo from Al-Jazeera TV. (Photo by Al-Jazeera/Getty Images)
Osama bin Laden
Afghan men point at a television screen as the killing of Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is announced in Kabul
A man who said he was dressed as "Captain America," cheers early Monday, May 2, 20111, across the street from the White House in Washington, as people gather to cheer the United States after it was announced that Osama bin Laden has been killed. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Osama Bin Laden, the al Qaida leader, appears on this layout for an FBI poster after he was placed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list in June 1999, in connection with the bombings of the U.S.
A crowd outside the White House in Washington, cheers Sunday, May 1, 2011, upon hearing the news that terrorist leader Osama bin Laden is dead. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
A driver and passengers celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden in the streets of Lawrence, Kan., Sunday, May 1, 2011. President Barack Obama announced Sunday night, May 1, 2011, that Osama bin Laden was killed in an operation led by the United States.(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
A crowd in New York's Times Square reacts to the news of Osama Bin Laden's death early Monday morning May 2, 2011. President Barack Obama announced Sunday night, May 1, 2011, that Osama bin Laden was killed in an operation led by the United States. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg)
Dustin Fredrickson, of New York, center, holds up an American flag as he stands on a fire truck amongst those gathered in New York's Times Square reacting to the news of Osama Bin Laden's death early Monday morning May 2, 2011. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg)
A man who said he was dressed as "Captain America," cheers early Monday, May 2, 20111, across the street from the White House in Washington, as people gather to cheer the United States after it was announced that Osama bin Laden has been killed. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Crowds celebrate on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington, early Monday, May 2, 2011, after President Barack Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Smoke, flames and debris erupt from one of the World Trade Center towers after a plane strikes it, in New York.
A U.S. Park Police officer is handed a flag as crowds celebrate on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington, early Monday, May 2, 2011, after President Barack Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Crowds celebrate on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington, early Monday, May 2, 2011, after President Barack Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
This April 1998 file photo is thought to show exiled al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan
Osama Bin Laden has been killed in a US operation (AP)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 02: A giant flag covers the Green Monster as the national anthem is played before the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Angels on May 2, 2011 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. Both teams lined up on the baseline to observe a moment of silence to honor those that have died from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a day after U.S. President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 02: A giant flag covers the Green Monster as the national anthem is played before the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Angels on May 2, 2011 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. Both teams lined up on the baseline to observe a moment of silence to honor those that have died from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a day after U.S. President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
1998 file photo, onlookers stand at the foot of the damaged buildings in Nairobi, Kenya, after a huge explosion ripped apart a building in the Kenyan capital, heavily destroying the U.S. Embassy. Osama bin Laden, leader of the al-Qaida organization behind the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks against the United States and blamed for the 1998 embassy bombing in Kenya and Tanzania, is dead, a person familiar with the situation said late Sunday. (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim, File)
Crowds celebrate on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington, early Monday, May 2, 2011, after President Barack Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

A middle-aged nonentity, a political failure outstripped by history – by the millions of Arabs demanding freedom and democracy in the Middle East – died in Pakistan yesterday. And then the world went mad.

Fresh from providing us with a copy of his birth certificate, the American President turned up in the middle of the night to provide us with a live-time death certificate for Osama bin Laden, killed in a town named after a major in the army of the old British Empire. A single shot to the head, we were told. But the body's secret flight to Afghanistan, an equally secret burial at sea? The weird and creepy disposal of the body – no shrines, please – was almost as creepy as the man and his vicious organisation.



The Americans were drunk with joy. David Cameron thought it "a massive step forward". India described it as a "victorious milestone". "A resounding triumph," Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu boasted. But after 3,000 American dead on 9/11, countless more in the Middle East, up to half a million Muslims dead in Iraq and Afghanistan and 10 years trying to find Bin Laden, pray let us have no more "resounding triumphs". Revenge attacks? Perhaps they will come, by the little groupuscules in the West, who have no direct contact with al-Qa'ida. Be sure, someone is already dreaming up a "Brigade of the Martyr Osama bin Laden". Maybe in Afghanistan, among the Taliban.

But the mass revolutions in the Arab world over the past four months mean that al-Qa'ida was already politically dead. Bin Laden told the world – indeed, he told me personally – that he wanted to destroy the pro-Western regimes in the Arab world, the dictatorships of the Mubaraks and the Ben Alis. He wanted to create a new Islamic Caliphate. But these past few months, millions of Arab Muslims rose up and were prepared for their own martyrdom – not for Islam but for freedom and liberty and democracy. Bin Laden didn't get rid of the tyrants. The people did. And they didn't want a caliph.



I met the man three times and have only one question left unasked: what did he think as he watched those revolutions unfold this year – under the flags of nations rather than Islam, Christians and Muslims together, the kind of people his own al-Qa'ida men were happy to butcher?



In his own eyes, his achievement was the creation of al-Qa'ida, the institution which had no card-carrying membership. You just woke up in the morning, wanted to be in al-Qa'ida – and you were. He was the founder. But he was never a hands-on warrior. There was no computer in his cave, no phone calls to set bombs off. While the Arab dictators ruled uncontested with our support, they largely avoided condemning American policy; only Bin Laden said these things. Arabs never wanted to fly planes into tall buildings, but they did admire a man who said what they wanted to say. But now, increasingly, they can say these things. They don't need Bin Laden. He had become a nonentity.



But talking of caves, Bin Laden's demise does bring Pakistan into grim focus. For months, President Ali Zardari has been telling us that Bin Laden was living in a cave in Afghanistan. Now it turns out he was living in a mansion in Pakistan. Betrayed? Of course he was. By the Pakistan military or the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence? Quite possibly both. Pakistan knew where he was.



Not only was Abbottabad the home of the country's military college – the town was founded by Major James Abbott of the British Army in 1853 – but it is headquarters of Pakistan's Northern Army Corps' 2nd Division. Scarcely a year ago, I sought an interview with another "most wanted man" – the leader of the group believed responsible for the Mumbai massacres. I found him in the Pakistani city of Lahore – guarded by uniformed Pakistani policemen holding machine guns.



Of course, there is one more obvious question unanswered: couldn't they have captured Bin Laden? Didn't the CIA or the Navy Seals or the US Special Forces or whatever American outfit killed him have the means to throw a net over the tiger? "Justice," Barack Obama called his death. In the old days, of course, "justice" meant due process, a court, a hearing, a defence, a trial. Like the sons of Saddam, Bin Laden was gunned down. Sure, he never wanted to be taken alive – and there were buckets of blood in the room in which he died.



But a court would have worried more people than Bin Laden. After all, he might have talked about his contacts with the CIA during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, or about his cosy meetings in Islamabad with Prince Turki, Saudi Arabia's head of intelligence. Just as Saddam – who was tried for the murder of a mere 153 people rather than thousands of gassed Kurds – was hanged before he had the chance to tell us about the gas components that came from America, his friendship with Donald Rumsfeld, the US military assistance he received when he invaded Iran in 1980.



Oddly, he was not the "most wanted man" for the international crimes against humanity of 11 September 2001. He gained his Wild West status by al-Qa'ida's earlier attacks on the US embassies in Africa and the attack on the US barracks in Dhahran. He was always waiting for Cruise missiles – so was I when I met him. He had waited for death before, in the caves of Tora Bora in 2001 when his bodyguards refused to let him stand and fight and forced him to walk over the mountains to Pakistan. Some of his time he would spend in Karachi – he was obsessed with Karachi; he even, weirdly, gave me photographs of pro-Bin Laden graffiti on the walls of the former Pakistani capital and praised the city's imams.



His relations with other Muslims were mysterious; when I met him in Afghanistan, he initially feared the Taliban, refusing to let me travel to Jalalabad at night from his training camp – he handed me over to his al-Qa'ida lieutenants to protect me on the journey next day. His followers hated all Shia Muslims as heretics and all dictators as infidels – though he was prepared to cooperate with Iraq's ex-Baathists against the country's American occupiers, and said so in an audiotape which the CIA typically ignored. He never praised Hamas and was scarcely worthy of their "holy warrior" definition yesterday which played – as usual – straight into Israel's hands.



In the years after 2001, I maintained a faint indirect communication with Bin Laden, once meeting one of his trusted al-Qa'ida associates at a secret location in Pakistan. I wrote out a list of 12 questions, the first of which was obvious: what kind of victory could he claim when his actions resulted in the US occupation of two Muslim countries? There was no reply for weeks. Then one weekend, waiting to give a lecture in Saint Louis in the US, I was told that Al Jazeera had produced a new audiotape from Bin Laden. And one by one – without mentioning me – he answered my 12 questions. And yes, he wanted the Americans to come to the Muslim world – so he could destroy them.



When Wall Street journalist Daniel Pearl was kidnapped, I wrote a long article in The Independent, pleading with Bin Laden to try to save his life. Pearl and his wife had looked after me when I was beaten on the Afghan border in 2001; he even gave me the contents of his contacts book. Much later, I was told that Bin Laden had read my report with sadness. But Pearl had already been murdered. Or so he said.



Yet Bin Laden's own obsessions blighted even his family. One wife left him, two more appeared to have been killed in Sunday's American attack. I met one of his sons, Omar, in Afghanistan with his father in 1994. He was a handsome little boy and I asked him if he was happy. He said "yes" in English. But last year, he published a book called Living Bin Laden and – recalling how his father killed his beloved dogs in a chemical warfare experiment – described him as an "evil man". In his book, he too remembered our meeting; and concluded that he should have told me that no, he was not a happy child.



By midday yesterday, I had three phone calls from Arabs, all certain that it was Bin Laden's double who was killed by the Americans – just as I know many Iraqis who still believe that Saddam's sons were not killed in 2003, nor Saddam really hanged. In due course, al-Qa'ida will tell us. Of course, if we are all wrong and it was a double, we're going to be treated to yet another videotape from the real Bin Laden – and President Barack Obama will lose the next election.

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