'Robert Fisk on Bin Laden at 50
The most wanted man on the planet was 36 when our veteran correspondent met him for the first time in the desert .
He was 36 when I first met him. Osama bin Laden's beard had no trace of grey in 1993. He was a young man, building a new road for poor villagers in Sudan, a trifle arrogant perhaps, very definitely wary of the Western journalist - 10 years older than him - who had turned up in the cold Sudanese desert one Sunday morning to talk to him about his war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
Was I going to ask him about "terror"? No, I wanted to know what it was like to fight the Russians. A Soviet mortar shell had fallen beside him, Bin Laden said. Nangahar province, maybe 1982. "I felt Seqina as I waited for it to explode," he said. Seqina means an almost religious calmness. The shell - and many must curse it for being a dud - did not explode. Otherwise Osama bin Laden would have been dead at 25.
When I met him again in Afghanistan in 1996, he was 39, raging against the corruption of the Saudi royal family, contemptuous of the West. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, Bin Laden told the House of Saud that his Arab legion could destroy the Iraqis; no need to bring the Americans to the land of Islam's two holiest places. The King turned him down. So the Americans were now also the target of Osama's anger.
Has he grown wiser with age? The next year, he told me he sought God's help "to turn America into a shadow of itself". I wrote "rhetoric" in the margin of my notebook - a mistake. Age was giving Bin Laden a dangerous self-confidence. But as the years after 11 September 2001 went by, I watched the al-Qa'ida leader's beard go grey in the videotapes. He talked about history more and more: the Balfour Declaration, the Sykes-Picot agreement, the end of the Ottoman Caliphate. His political speeches appealed to Arabs whose pro-American dictators would never have the courage to tell George W Bush to take his soldiers home.'
Lees verder: http://news.independent.co.uk/world/fisk/article2326225.ece