Bin Laden `leads global Islamic militants'

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The Independent Online
OSAMA BIN LADEN, the multi-millionaire Saudi Arabian exile accused by the United States of leading a campaign of terror against American citizens, heads a militant Islamic movement that has operated cells in different corners of the globe, including the United Kingdom, according to criminal charges against him.

A 50-page indictment first unveiled on Wednesday and made public in New York yesterday describes Mr bin Laden as the founder and chief of a group called Al Qaeda whose main mission is to drive the United States military from the Arabian peninsula and the Horn of Africa.

The document says the group was based in Sudan during the early 1990s and now is headquartered in Afghanistan.

In vivid detail, the indictment depicts an organisation that sought not only to kill American military personnel and, under a fatwa (Islamic decree) issued earlier this year, all American citizens, but also to acquire sophisticated armaments, including chemical and nuclear weapons.

The indictment charges Mr bin Laden and five co-defendants with serial attacks on US establishments. These include the two US embassies in East Africa that were bombed in early August, with the loss of more than 200 lives.

The document also alleges that operatives working for Mr bin Laden fomented and participated in an attack on US peace-keepers in Somalia in 1993, which claimed the lives of 18 US servicemen.

The US prosecutors also describe Al Qaeda as an organisation with an astonishing trans-global span. The indictment says it has forged links with Islamic fundamentalist groups around the world, including in Pakistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Tunisia, Lebanon and Sudan. Two countries where Al Qaeda allegedly had extensive operations of its own were identified as Sudan and Kenya.

In addition, the document states that since its inception in 1989 or before, Al Qaeda "maintained cells and personnel in a number of countries to facilitate its activities, including in Kenya, Tanzania, the United Kingdom and the United States". Prosecutors said the cell in Britain was located in London. The US cell was in a refugees assistance office in New York.

Mr bin Laden is accused of declaring serial fatwas - decrees to commit murder under Islamic law - aimed first at US military personnel and then at all US citizens. In particular, he is accused of issuing a fatwa last February under the banner of the International Islamic Front for Jihad on the Jews and the Crusaders. The indictment states: "This fatwa stated that Muslims should kill Americans - including civilians - anywhere in the world where they can be found."

In Islamabad yesterday an Islamic militant group threatened to retaliate if Mr bin Laden is arrested by US authorities. "If anything happens to him [Bin Laden], America will be responsible," said Omar Warsi, a leader of Pakistan's militant Sunni Muslim group, Sipah-e-Sahaba, or Guardians of the Friends of the Prophet.

n Western aid workers are to return to Kabul, the Afghan capital, after agreeing to conditions set by the hardline Taliban government, ending a four-month boycott of the city.

Almost all foreign aid organisations pulled their staff out of Kabul last July after the Taliban insisted that aid workers move into the derelict buildings of a former polytechnic on the outskirts of the city. Now almost half the agencies have agreed to the demand

Their decision, however, has caused a rift among the aid workers operating in Afghanistan. Many believe a piece-meal return to Kabul weakens the aid community's negotiating position with the Taliban.

"There are still a number of obstacles, over and above the move to the polytechnic, which need to be resolved. Keeping our options open is very important," said Charles McFadden, director of ACBAR, the body co-ordinating the various aid organisations.