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The death of Osama bin Laden

The death of Osama bin Laden
On May 2, 2011, a US special forces team stormed a walled compound in the northeastern Pakistani city of Abbottabad and shot dead Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda. (Getty Images)
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Updated 25 May 2020

The death of Osama bin Laden

The death of Osama bin Laden

Long before US special forces caught the world’s most-wanted man, our Southeast Asia  bureau chief interviewed him

Summary

On May 2, 2011, a US special forces team stormed a walled compound in the northeastern Pakistani city of Abbottabad and shot dead Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda.

The operation, carried out in the early hours of the morning, brought an end to a 10-year hunt for the world’s most-wanted terrorist, responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on the US in 2001 and numerous other terrorist outrages.

The following day, an Arab News editorial celebrated the “lifting of a curse” on the Muslim world. Bin Laden and his “twisted version of Islam,” declared the paper, had made the religion “feared and despised among millions upon millions of people” and had been responsible for much of “the spreading tide of international Islamophobia.”

DUBAI: The tall, thin man wore a smoke-colored, ankle-length thobe and bright white turban, and held an AK-74 assault rifle close to his chest. As I stepped into the room and he moved forward and embraced me, the gravity of the moment finally dawned: I was face to face with Osama bin Laden, the most-wanted man in the world.

I had spent a good part of my career over the decades thinking and writing about Bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda militant group that he had turned into a multinational enterprise for the export of militancy.

Key Dates

  • 1

    Osama bin Laden, son of a wealthy Saudi businessman, forms Al-Qaeda to support Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion.

    Timeline Image 1988

  • 2

    Saudi Arabia revokes bin Laden’s citizenship for his support of Islamic extremism.

  • 3

    Bin Laden issues a declaration of jihad, pledging to drive US forces from the Arabian Peninsula and overthrow the Saudi government.

  • 4

    Twin Al-Qaeda truck-bomb attacks on US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya leave 200 dead; the FBI places bin Laden on its most-wanted list.

    Timeline Image Aug. 7, 1998

  • 5

    Coordinated attacks on the US, masterminded by bin Laden, leave almost 3,000 dead.

    Timeline Image Sept. 11, 2001

  • 6

    Bin Laden escapes US attack on Al-Qaeda caves and tunnels in the Tora Bora mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

  • 7

    US Navy SEALs storm bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, shortly after 1 a.m. local time.

    Timeline Image May 2, 2011

Now here I was at his heavily guarded, mud-walled hideaway in southern Afghanistan on June 21, 2001 — less than three months before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 would spread the names Al-Qaeda and its founder to every corner of the globe.

I was Asia correspondent with the London-based Middle East Broadcasting Center at the time and had received a phone call three months before inviting me to Afghanistan to meet Bin Laden. So, as we settled down on a mattress on the floor that summer afternoon, my first question was why he had granted me the interview and what message he wanted to send to the world through me.

Moments earlier, Bin Laden had said he would be giving only “limited comments” as he was restrained from talking to the media by his hosts in Afghanistan, the Taliban, who rose to power in the war-ravaged nation largely on the strength of Bin Laden’s aid and, in turn, provided him refuge.

Instead, his aides in the room did much of the talking during the three-hour-long meeting. Notable among them were Mohammed Atif (alias Abu Hafs), Al-Qaeda’s military leader; Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who now heads what remains of the transnational militant group; and Othman, a man assigned to handle logistics for my interview and who identified himself only with a first name.

“President Obama said the remains had been handled in accordance with Islamic custom, which requires speedy burial, and the Pentagon later said the body was placed into the waters of the northern Arabian Sea after adhering to Islamic procedures — including washing the corpse — aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.”

From a front-page Arab News story by Azhar Masood

“In the coming weeks, there will be a big surprise; we are going to hit American and Israeli installations,” Abu Hafs said. “The coffin business will increase in the United States.”

I looked at Bin Laden and asked if this was true; he smiled and nodded.

In an interview with Pamela Constable for The Washington Post the following month, I would reiterate this: “They said there would be attacks against American and Israeli facilities within the next several weeks. I am 100 percent sure of this, and it was absolutely clear they had brought me there to hear this message.”

Two months later, the 9/11 attacks would prove that Bin Laden’s chilling message to me had, indeed, been true. 
When the interview ended, Bin Laden’s personal photographer snapped photos of us and filmed me with Al-Zawahiri and the Al-Qaeda founder, who said he would invite me to interview him again.




A page from the Arab News archive from May. 3, 2011.

“If something big happens, I will be hiding in the tribal areas of Pakistan,” Bin Laden said as he shook my hand and walked out of the room. “That’s where you can come again to interview me.”

A decade later, at 4 a.m. on May 2, 2011, I was at Islamabad airport ready to board a flight to Dubai when a journalist in Kabul texted, asking if I had heard rumors that Bin Laden had been killed in a US raid in Pakistan. A few hours earlier, a Pakistani journalist had sent me a text about a helicopter crash in the garrison city of Abbottabad.

Suspecting that the two events might be connected and following my reporter’s instinct, I walked up to an airline representative and told him that I was a journalist and needed his help getting my luggage off the flight. The man got excited at the news that Bin Laden may be dead and led me by the hand back through immigration, telling other colleagues to help me because I had to cover one of the biggest stories in modern history.

From the airport, I left directly for Abbottabad, 50 km north of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, arriving there at 9 a.m. By then, a large group of excited journalists had gathered near the compound where Bin Laden had hidden for years, kept from entering by Pakistani soldiers standing guard.

“Now here I was at his heavily guarded, mud-walled hideaway in southern Afghanistan on June 21, 2001 — less than three months before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.”

Baker Atyani

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama confirmed that Bin Laden had been killed in a night raid by US forces in Abbottabad city, not far from the tribal regions where the militant leader had told me he would flee from Afghanistan. It was the end of a decade-long hunt for the man who had redefined the threat of terrorism for the 21st century.

To date, the US has disclosed few details of the raid. Only a small number of people — a handful of senior administration and military officials and the Navy SEALs who carried out the operation — were privy to the events of May 2, and the US government classified most of the documents relating to the raid. Questions also remain about the

Pakistani government’s role, if any, in allowing Bin Laden to hide in a compound within sight of an elite military academy.

As the years go by, I often think of that meeting at Bin Laden’s desert hideout and whether he could have predicted that after him, Al-Qaeda’s ranks would be hollowed out by relentless American attacks and the rise of Daesh. I also wonder what more he would have had to say if we had met again.

Indeed, in November 2001, barely two months after the 9/11 attacks, Othman, Bin Laden’s logistics aide, called to say “the person” was ready to meet me again.
“Will you come?” he asked.

I never got back to Othman and so my meeting with Bin Laden remains the last time before 9/11 that the Al-Qaeda founder is known to have met and given an interview to a journalist.

  • Baker Atyani, head of Arab News’ Southeast Asia bureau, interviewed Osama bin Laden three months before the 9/11 attacks


Smugglers post gold from Dubai to India hidden in Tang

Smugglers post gold from Dubai to India hidden in Tang
Updated 10 min 7 sec ago

Smugglers post gold from Dubai to India hidden in Tang

Smugglers post gold from Dubai to India hidden in Tang
  • It is the latest ruse by smugglers trying to avoid hefty import duties for the precious metal by employing increasingly intriguing methods

DUBAI: Indian customs have foiled an attempt to post gold from Dubai disguised in containers of the popular Tang drink.

After sieving the contents of the drink mix, Chennai customs officials discovered it had been mixed with gold granules, according to a statement from the Commissioner of Customs at Chennai International Airport.
Officials probing the racket found that the address of the receiver had been misused.
It is the latest ruse by smugglers trying to avoid hefty import duties for the precious metal by employing increasingly intriguing methods.
Earlier this year officials at Chennai airport also nabbed two men trying to smuggle gold through the airport underneath their wigs.
The hapless pair were nabbed after their unusual hairstyles caught the attention of officials.

They were found to be carrying two gold paste packets weighing almost 700 g


Review: Kate Winslet exudes quiet brilliance in sleuthing series ‘Mare of Easttown’

Kate Winslet shines in this small town murder mystery. (Supplied)
Kate Winslet shines in this small town murder mystery. (Supplied)
Updated 25 min 17 sec ago

Review: Kate Winslet exudes quiet brilliance in sleuthing series ‘Mare of Easttown’

Kate Winslet shines in this small town murder mystery. (Supplied)

CHENNAI: British actress Kate Winslet has dabbled in period pieces, rom-coms, dramas and everything in between, but in her latest outing in “Mare of Easttown,” a series streaming on OSN in the Middle East, she absolutely dazzles as a detective in a small, conservative town in Pennsylvania.

In bleak, deprived small-town America, everybody knows everybody and working as a cop is not easy for Winslet’s character Mare Sheehan.

Mare, who rarely smiles but is not grumpy or snappy, carries her own demons. She is tired and weighed down by grief over a family tragedy. Add to the mix a wayward ex-husband (played by David Denman) and a cagey daughter (Angourie Rice), and it seems her personal life is enough to fill a drama series on its own.

But this is a murder mystery, and soon our protagonist is faced with the unsolved case of a 19-year-old missing girl and more. The girl had been gone for a year, and her mother is a friend of Mare’s, which makes it difficult and personal for the detective. And it seems like a hard bolt from the blue when Erin (Cailee Spaeny), a single teenage mother, is found dead in the woods one night after townsfolk had gathered for a party.

The people of Easttown, used to leading uneventful lives, are not pleased with the ramped up police presence — including the intrusion of a county detective, Colin Zabel (Evan Peters) who is brought in to assist Mare — and it is into this tense atmosphere that Brad Ingelsby, who created and wrote the series, tweaks the formula to add a romantic angle.

Mare meets writer and guest lecturer Richard Ryan (an intelligent, witty and charming Guy Pearce), who is visiting the town.

The writer turns “Mare of Easttown” from what could have been a dull and boring story into something that leaves us thirsting for more at the end of each twisting episode, where every detail matters.

It is a fantastic study in both police work and, more interestingly, the effect a brutal crime has on a community. The series is ably led by director Craig Zobel, who builds a convincing narrative style.

Of course, his eyes are on the star of the series, and it is remarkable to see Winslet so engaging.


Arab League, Muslim World League condemn Israeli attacks against Palestinians

Arab League, Muslim World League condemn Israeli attacks against Palestinians
Updated 28 min 55 sec ago

Arab League, Muslim World League condemn Israeli attacks against Palestinians

Arab League, Muslim World League condemn Israeli attacks against Palestinians
  • Aboul Gheit called on the international community to act immediately to stop the violence
  • The Muslim World League has strongly condemned the attacks at Al-Aqsa Mosque

CAIRO: The head of the Arab League condemned on Tuesday deadly Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip as “indiscriminate and irresponsible” and said Israel had provoked an earlier escalation in violence by its actions in Jerusalem.
“Israeli violations in Jerusalem, and the government’s tolerance of Jewish extremists hostile to Palestinians and Arabs, is what led to the ignition of the situation in this dangerous way,” Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a statement.
The attacks in Gaza were a “miserable show of force at the expense of children’s blood,” he said.
Aboul Gheit called on the international community to act immediately to stop the violence, saying continuing “Israeli provocations” were an affront to Muslims on the eve of the Eid holiday at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Arab League foreign ministers are holding a virtual meeting on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, the Muslim World League has strongly condemned the attacks at Al-Aqsa Mosque, it said in a statement.
The organization, issued Tuesday went on to say that it rejected the escalations against worshippers.
Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League further denounced all acts of violence that undermined the dignity and rights of the Palestinian people, as well as provoking the feelings of Muslims around the world.
Al-Issa called on the International community to put an end to the violence, preserve the right of the Palestinian people, provide the necessary protection of civilians, guarantee their right to practice their religion, and stop all violations and attacks.
He also reiterated the affirmation of standing by the Palestinian people. He said he supports all peace efforts to reach a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue.
He also said the solution should allow Palestinians to establish their independent state on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as their capital, in accordance with international legitimacy decisions and the Arab Peace Initiative.
Health officials in Gaza said at least 20 people, including nine children, were killed.


US actress, mogul Jessica Alba shows off Arab labels in New York

Jessica Alba showed off a pair of earrings by Lebanese-Brazilian fine jeweler Ana Khouri. (Getty Images)
Jessica Alba showed off a pair of earrings by Lebanese-Brazilian fine jeweler Ana Khouri. (Getty Images)
Updated 17 min 13 sec ago

US actress, mogul Jessica Alba shows off Arab labels in New York

Jessica Alba showed off a pair of earrings by Lebanese-Brazilian fine jeweler Ana Khouri. (Getty Images)

DUBAI: US actress and business mogul Jessica Alba showed off a pair of dainty heels by Lebanese designer Andrea Wazen and accessories by part-Arab jewelry designer Ana Khouri while out and about in New York last week.

The actress — who is also the co-founder of the billion-dollar home care business The Honest Company — was in New York to visit NASDAQ headquarters for the IPO of her company.

Later, she was spotted walking in Manhattan and even appeared on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” wearing a pair of dainty rose-colored mules by Wazen.

Alba showed off the Denver mesh mules in pink, which feature a translucent upper, thin ankle strap and elegant pointed toe shape. The heels complemented a dark sage green bag by Celine and a greige trench coat-and-sheath dress combination.

The entrepreneur and actress wore a pair of pink heels by Andrea Wazen. (Getty Images)

Wazen isn’t the only Arab designer Alba flaunted while out and about in New York. She attended the IPO of her company wearing chunky gold statement earrings by Lebanese-Brazilian fine jeweler Ana Khouri. 

New York-based Khouri has seen her pieces worn by everyone from Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron to Karlie Kloss and Alicia Vikander.

Wazen is also no stranger to celebrity fans, and has seen her designs sported by the likes of actress Gabrielle Union-Wade, model Ashley Graham, Katy Perry, Kylie Jenner and Jennifer Lopez during her “It’s My Party World Tour” in 2019.

The shoe designer is fresh off a win at the Footwear News (FN) Achievement Awards in December, nabbing the Emerging Talent prize.

“What a feeling… I cannot explain the joy and satisfaction I am feeling,” she wrote at the time, before thanking Michael Atmore, chief brand officer and the director of the event, for recognizing her as this year’s emerging talent, stylist Jill Jacobs for presenting her with the award and her team, who she said she couldn’t have “accomplished any of this” without.

“Last but not least, I would like to dedicate this award to my beautiful city, my source of inspiration and my home Beirut,” she wrote.


UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal

UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal
Updated 11 May 2021

UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal

UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal
  • The move signals Helios Towers’ entry to the Middle East market as a major tower infrastructure provider

DUBAI: British telecommunications company Helios Towers has signed a deal with Omantel to acquire 2,890 sites for $575 million from the sultanate’s largest mobile network operator.
The move signals Helios Towers’ entry to the Middle East market as a major tower infrastructure provider.
The deal is expected to bring in a $59 million bump in revenues in the first full year of operations.
It also involves a $35 million plan to add 300 new build-to-suit sites over the next seven years.
“We view Oman as a very attractive and supportive market for foreign investments, with strong growth and exciting future prospects,” the UK-based company’s chief Kash Pandya said in a statement.
He said the acquisition strengthens its business through “further hard-currency revenues and diversification” in what the CEO described as the fastest growing markets in the region.
“We look forward to working with Omantel and the other MNOs over the coming years to further develop next generation mobile infrastructure solutions and services in Oman,” he added.
The partnership reflects Oman’s FDI aspirations, Omantel CEO Tala Said Al-Mamari said, adding it will create jobs and opportunities in the country.
“This move also allows the monetization of our towers at attractive valuation levels, de-lever our balance sheet, and will accelerate network development in next generation advanced technologies,” he noted.
He said it would allow Omantel’s management to focus on innovation and product development while outsourcing infrastructure management to an independent firm.
The transaction will close by the end of 2021, and the long-term partnership will last for an initial period of 15 years.