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Out of Nowhere?

By Professor Lawrence Freedman
Bin Laden's grievances

Osama Bin Laden
Osama Bin Laden ©
It may be that this was the thinking of Osama Bin Laden throughout the 1990s, as he developed a strategy for defeating America's foreign policy aims in the lead up to September 11. If we take al-Qaeda's leader at his word, his major grievance was with the US presence in his homeland of Saudi Arabia, following a decision by the Saudi government to permit American forces to enter the Kingdom in August 1990, in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Bin Laden saw this as a desecration of Islam's holiest sites.

'The withdrawal of the US from his country was the starting point for his demands, but was not all that he wanted.'

The withdrawal of the US from his country was the starting point for his demands, but was not all that he wanted. In the 1997 Arnett interview he explained that his objective was not only to drive the United States out of 'the Arabian peninsula' but also to force it to 'desist from aggressive intervention against Muslims in the whole world.'

These demands led Osama Bin Laden to develop an ambitious strategy. By causing mass casualties on a regular basis he could hope to persuade the Americans to keep clear of overseas conflicts. There was also a retributive element to the strategy - the militants of al-Qaeda and like-minded groups clearly wanted to punish the Americans for a whole range of policies, particularly for those it pursued in the Middle East, as well as for what they saw as its irreligious decadence.

Published: 2002-08-22



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