Small comfort in Saudi rebel's dangerous exile

Agents mix with gun runners and drug dealers in the hunt for Gulf state's most wanted man, reports Robert Fisk in Afghanistan

Nangarhar Province - Three tents have already been erected for Osama Bin Laden's three wives. In the grass encampment outside Jalalabad, the families of the Arab mujahedin fighters who have followed the Saudi dissident back to Afghanistan have screened off the tents with canvas, and dug three separate latrines and a drainage ditch. "They will be living here among us," an Egyptian armed with a Kalashnikov rifle told me. "These are ladies who are used to living in comfort."

They will find little in Afghanistan. Many of the Arab families are still billeted in Afghan towns, but they will be gathered here in the coming weeks, defended by their own menfolk and under the eye of more than one foreign intelligence service.

Already, some of the "Afghan Arabs" believe that President Mubarak's government is after them. "Three Egyptian security men have been driving round here in a green pick-up truck," the Egyptian guard said. "We know who they are and have the number of their vehicle. A few days ago, they stopped beside my son and asked him: 'We know you are Abdullah and we know who your father is. Where is Bin Laden?' Then they asked him why I was in Afghanistan."

The man's teenage son, sitting in the grass beside him with a rifle on his lap, confirmed this. "There are people in the towns who work for the Americans and for other people," he said. "We see these people and we have to be careful."

No one is more of a target than Bin Laden himself, whose Arab mujahedin gunmen have been blamed by Arab and Western governments for insurrection in Egypt, Algeria and Saudi Arabia. In an interview with the Independent, Bin Laden warned Britain that it must withdraw its troops from Saudi Arabia following the killing of 19 Americans by a truck bomb in Dhahran - an incident which he claimed marked the start of a war between Muslims and the United States.

Another of the Arabs in the camp claimed there was "no other country left for Mr Bin Laden" outside Afghanistan. "When he was in Sudan, the Saudis wanted to capture him with the help of Yemenis. We know that the French government tried to persuade the Sudanese to hand him over to them because the Sudanese had given them the South American [Carlos]. The Americans were pressing the French to get hold of Bin Laden in Sudan. An Arab group paid by the Saudis tried to kill him, but Bin Laden's guards fired back and two of the men were wounded. The same people also tried to murder [Hassan] Tourabi [the de facto Islamist leader in Sudan]."

The Bin Laden camp - which is primarily for women and children rather than the Arab men - is vulnerable enough. Only a few strands of barbed wire separate it from the open countryside. "It's very dangerous here - the country is dangerous," the Egyptian said. "The Americans are trying to block the route to Afghanistan for the Arabs. I prefer the mountains. I feel safer there. This place is semi-Beirut."

Indeed it is. Many of the towns and cities of Afghanistan are the haunts of gun runners and drug dealers, each tribal society run by Afghan mafia.

In a nation whose economy has collapsed after seven years of civil war, the cost of betrayal is not high. Bin Laden boasted to the Independent that he would be able to propagate his views by fax and telephone from Afghanistan, a somewhat rash claim, since there is not a single international telephone line in Nangarhar province. He later said that Arab "brothers" outside Afghanistan could communicate his views for him.

Nor can he be under any illusions about the broken country to which he has returned. Bin Laden's mujahedin fought the Soviets in Afghanistan - losing around 500 men whose graves lie near the Pakistan border at Torkhum. After the Russian withdrawal he left for Sudan, disgusted by the Afghans' internecine fighting. Now he is back, but the civil war continues.

Returning from our meeting in Nangarhar province, the vehicle in which I was travelling with several armed Afghans was repeatedly stopped on bridges and road intersections by gunmen. One would crouch in front of the vehicle screaming at us to stop and pointing his rifle at the windscreen, while a second figure would sidle to the driver's door with a pistol and ask for his identification. "Afghanistan very difficult," the driver remarked dryly to me. Osama Bin Laden has chosen a dangerous exile.

A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home