Magazine article Newsweek

The Mesmerizer: Born to Wealth, Bin Laden Studied Business Administration-Then Turned to Terror

Magazine article Newsweek

The Mesmerizer: Born to Wealth, Bin Laden Studied Business Administration-Then Turned to Terror

Article excerpt

Osama bin Laden likes to pose with an AK-47, yet he seems a bit awkward with a gun. He's a thin reed of a man--roughly 6 feet 5 and just 160 pounds, according to FBI Wanted posters--soft-spoken, languid in his movements, almost effeminate. His eyes twinkle. His immense charisma, in fact, derives not simply from his capacity for violence, but for the gentle manner in which he comports himself. He enjoys poetry, of a sort. The muse hit him during the wedding of his son Mohammed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, early this year--four months after the suicide bombing of the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors:

The pieces of the bodies of infidels were flying like dust particles/If you would have seen it with your own eyes, you would have been very pleased/And your heart would have been filled with joy.

That paean to the Cole bombers is now part of a bin Laden recruitment tape on sale around the Middle East and in other Islamic countries like Pakistan. The recitation is accompanied by video of an explosion--subtitled "Destruction of the Destroyer Cole"--followed by news footage of the damaged ship. The full 100 minutes of propaganda also features footage of bin Laden firing the AK-47, and a clip of him exhorting Muslims to further attacks. "With small means and great faith, we can defeat the mightiest military power of modern times," he says. "America is much weaker than it seems." At one point, bin Laden seems to be grooming his followers for suicide missions: "You will not die needlessly," he counsels them. "Your lives are in the hands of God."

Much to his own satisfaction, bin Laden has become the living symbol of global terror. This is partly related to his talent for orchestrating bombing operations. Yet his true genius is for building and buffing his own legend and rallying others to the cause. He's first among equals in a movement that includes some of the world's most ruthless--and ruthlessly ambitious--men. And he knows that every time America attacks him and fails, as it did with cruise missiles after the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa, his stature grows.

Bin Laden has spent much of his life preparing for an epic confrontation with what he calls the "Crusader-Zionist alliance." His family hails from the Hadramawt region of Yemen, but bin Laden was raised in Saudi Arabia, where his father had a fabulously successful construction company. Osama was the 17th of more than 50 children sired by his father. Some of the extended bin Laden brood apparently spent time in the United States and developed ties there, but Osama got his education in business administration at King Abdul Aziz University in Jidda, where he became attracted to fundamentalist ideology.

After the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the budding rebel found his cause. …

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