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Profile: Abdel-Bari Atwan
Positions that Abdel-Bari Atwan has held:
- Editor of Al Quds Al Arabi
Abdel-Bari Atwan was a participant or observer in the following events:
Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor in chief of the British-based pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi, travels to Afghanistan to interview Osama bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora.
Atwan's Journey to Afghanistan - The interview is arranged by Khalid al-Fawwaz, bin Laden’s representative in Europe. Atwan travels secretly to Peshawar, Pakistan, where he meets a representative of bin Laden. Then, dressed as an Afghan, he crosses the border with a series of guides and travels to Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, where he meets al-Qaeda manager Mohammed Atef. Atwan is then taken up into the mountains, to the Eagle’s Nest base, where he meets bin Laden. Atwan first meets him “sitting cross-legged on a carpet, a Kalashnikov in his lap,” and they chat informally and then have dinner. Atwan spends two days in bin Laden’s company, and is surprised that such a rich Saudi is staying in such a humble cave, measuring six meters by four, and eating such poor food.
Bin Laden Speaks to Atwan - Bin Laden makes a number of comments during the two days, saying he has no fear of death, he still controls significant sums of money, the US military presence in Saudi Arabia is wrong, and the Sudanese government treated him badly over his recent expulsion and their non-repayment of funds he invested in Sudan (see May 18, 1996). He also talks of his time in Sudan and Somalia, as well as attempts on his life and bribes offered to him to tow the line by Saudi intelligence services. In addition, he claims responsibility for the “Black Hawk Down” incident (see October 3-4, 1993) and the Khobar Towers bombing (see June 25, 1996), and says other operations are in preparation. Atwan also notes that one part of the Eagle’s Nest has computers and Internet access, although this is not common in 1996.
No Signs of Bin Laden's Poor Health - Before the trip, Atwan had heard that bin Laden suffered from some mild form of diabetes. However, he will later comment: “I didn’t notice him taking any medication or showing any signs of ill health at all. We walked for more than two hours in the snow-covered mountains, and he seemed fit and well.” Therefore, Atwan will describe later accounts that say bin Laden requires kidney dialysis as “fanciful.” [Atwan, 2006, pp. 15-37, 61-62]
In an interview with the London-based newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi, bin Laden boasts that he is planning an “unprecedented” strike against the US. Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the newspaper, will say, “Personally, we received information that he planned very, very big attacks against American interests. We received several warnings like this. We did not take it so seriously, preferring to see what would happen before reporting it.” [ABC News, 9/12/2001; Independent, 9/17/2001] The Washington Post will similarly report just after 9/11, “Interviewed last month in the mountains of southern Afghanistan by a London-based Arab journalist, he boasted—without going into detail—that he and his followers were planning ‘a very big one.’” [Washington Post, 9/13/2001] Atwan’s comment implies the warning is not published before 9/11. But Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will say shortly after 9/11, “Bin Laden’s people had made statements three weeks ago carried in the Arab press in [Britain] that they were preparing to carry out unprecedented attacks in the US.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/14/2001]
In Iraq, this photo is commonly called “The Statue of Liberty.” [Source: Public domain]Media outlets in the US, other than CBS, appear less interested in the Abu Ghraib scandal than elsewhere. The Guardian of London notes, “[I]t was no surprise that newspapers around the world made huge, horrified play of the events at the Abu Ghraib prison. It was more of a surprise, however, that the story did not receive the same level of coverage in the US papers.” [Guardian, 4/30/2004] People in the Middle East are generally outraged. For instance, Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the influential Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi, says in response, “The liberators are worse than the dictators.” He adds, “This is the straw that broke the camel’s back for America.” [Reuters, 4/30/2004] The scandal also causes outrage in Iraq, and polls show it turns most of the population against the US-led occupation (see April-May 2004). For many in Iraq, the iconic photo of a detainee standing on a box and threatened with electrocution becomes derisively known as “The Statue of Liberty.” [Newsweek, 7/19/2004]
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