With his high cheekbones, narrow eyes and long brown robe, Mr bin Laden looks every inch the mountain warrior of mujahedin legend. Chadored children danced in front of him, preachers acknowledged his wisdom. “We have been waiting for this road through all the revolutions in Sudan,” a sheikh said. “We waited until we had given up on everybody – and then Osama bin Laden came along.
Osama bin Laden sat in his gold-fringed robe, guarded by the loyal Arab mujahedin who fought alongside him in Afghanistan. Bearded, taciturn figures – unarmed, but never more than a few yards from the man who recruited them, trained them and then dispatched them to destroy the Soviet army – they watched unsmiling as the Sudanese villagers of Almatig lined up to thank the Saudi businessman who is about to complete the highway “linking their homes to Khartoum for the first time in history.
Outside Sudan, Mr bin Laden is not regarded with quite such high esteem. The Egyptian press claims he brought hundreds of former Arab fighters back to Sudan from Afghanistan, while the Western embassy circuit in Khartoum has suggested that some of the “Afghans” whom this Saudi entrepreneur flew to Sudan are now busy training for further jihad wars in Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt. Mr bin Laden is well aware of this. “The rubbish of the media and the embassies,” he calls it. “I am a construction engineer and an agriculturalist. If I had training camps here in Sudan, I couldn’t possibly do this job.
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