Friday, September 20, 2002
  Conversation with an Alleged Terror Mastermind, Part I
Because I have connex all over the world, I got one of my men in Khartoum to get in me in touch with Osama bin Laden. There were a few things I wanted to ask him, and I was afraid that any intermediary would water down – or inflate – his responses, kinda like that guy Tariq Aziz spins all things Saddam Hussein.

“Yes, Yousef, I can put you in touch with the sheikh,” my man told me. “He knows of your open mind, that you have no political agenda.”
“I only want to ask him a few questions,” I said. “No more than five minutes.”
“Agreed,” he said over the AT&T line. “I will have him call you in the next 24 hours.”

My phone has connected to it caller ID, a digital recorder that stores my conversations on my PC, and a translating device like they use at the UN so I can speak untrammeled with people of all languages. I turned the dial to ARABIC, though bin Laden speaks in a dialect more pure than those of the streets of Cairo or Baghdad.

A woman in a light-blue dress was shoeless and smiling when the phone snapped me from sleep. My room was dark, and I sat up before taking the phone.

“Hello, is that you?” I said.
“By the beneficence of The Prophet, I am here, Yousef,” he said. “Please respect my situation.”

“Yes, sir. I would like to ask you, first and foremost, why? So when my children ask me I will be able to explain.”
“Very well, Yousef,” he said. “We declared jihad against the U.S. government because the U.S. government is unjust, criminal and tyrannical.”
“Do you know that many Americans would agree with that position if it existed in a vacuum? If there weren’t photos and buildings and airliners. If it were said in a classroom.”
“Praise the enlightened, for their eyes see through the fallacy of their rulers,” he said. “But seeing is not always enough – action must be taken.”

“But then you had some stronger language, right?”
“I said, ‘We – with God's help – call on every Muslim who believes in God and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God's order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it.'”
“That’s pretty harsh, don’t you think? Does the death of a farmer in Iowa or a soccer mom in Cleveland serve God?”
“We are fighting an unconventional war, Yousef,” he paused. “We can’t line up our tanks and battle the mighty American military machine. That would not be practical. We must find other means to attack.”
“Some would call that cowardice, slaughtering people who’ve never heard of you.”
“Others would call it cunning, Yousef,” he said. “And rest assured, they will know my name.”
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