ISLAMABAD: He's in high spirits, speaking confidently and laughing readily. Osama Bin Laden is a man at ease even though he feels that the Americans will eventually kill him, his Pakistani interviewer said on Saturday.
Journalist Hamid Mir ratcheted up the world's jitters on Saturday with an
exclusive interview with Laden in which the suspected terrorist mastermind
said he had nuclear and chemical weapons and was ready to use them.
Mir, who published the interview in Pakistan's English-language newspaper Dawn, says he met with Laden in 1997 and 1998. When he saw the shadowy Saudi millionaire this time in Afghanistan, he found him greatly changed. "Previously he was very softspoken," the 36-year-old Mir said. "But now he speaks like an experienced orator. He is very hard-hitting. He was in high spirits. He's very healthy and he laughs a lot.
"He's very critical about the government of Pakistan. Previously he was not so critical about Pakistan. So there is a big change in that man. He's more confident," said Mir, editor of the Urdu-language newspaper Ausaf.
The world's most hunted man since the September 11 terror attacks on the United States, Laden feels certain that the Americans will kill him sooner or later, according to Mir, who met him at a secret location outside Kabul. "He told me, 'I am ready to die.' He said, 'I know that they can bomb this place also. They are not aware that I am present here. But they are dropping bombs blindly everywhere. So I may get killed even with you.'"
"My cause will continue after my death," he quoted Laden as saying. "They think they will solve this problem by killing me. It's not easy to solve this problem. This war has been spread all over the world," he told Mir.
Laden, who is said to be constantly on the move to avoid capture and reportedly often shuttles from cave to cave, expressed no regret for his difficult circumstances. "I cannot gain anything by adopting this way of life," Mir quoted him as saying. "I am fighting because they are killing us. We are the victims and they are the aggressors, so we have no other option but to fight back," Laden further told Mir.
The interview conducted on Thursday was Laden's first since the kamikaze assaults on New York and Washington. But Mir said the terror suspect planned to invite journalists to Kabul for a press conference in the coming weeks.
The tortured logistics of organising Mir's session with Laden were typical of the clandestine, ultra-security-conscious world surrounding the terror suspect. The intense, mustachioed Mir, who contributes regularly to Dawn, was on a one-day trip to the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad when he mentioned to commanders of the ruling Taliban militia his desire to see Laden.
He drove to Kabul on Tuesday and checked into a small hotel. The next day, an Arab man came to pick him up and he spent the entire day shuttling from one place to another in a jeep. "In the night they took me out of Kabul to some unknown place where they changed the jeep. I was blindfolded and I was rolled in a blanket and they put me on the back seat of the jeep.
"After five hours, early in the morning of the eighth of November, I arrived at a place where he (Laden) appeared," Mir said.
He could not say where he was, offering only that "the place was much colder than Kabul. I think that maybe it was some area where snow was."
Mir was ushered into a small, unfurnished room with blankets covering the walls. Outside, the sounds of anti-aircraft guns echoed through the morning.
He said Laden arrived with his deputy Ayman al-Zawihiri and sat down on a traditional Afghan gadda, or cushion, for the interview.
When the article appeared on Saturday in the Dawn, Pakistan's largest English-language daily with a circulation of 196,000, it made Mir an instant celebrity. Media lined up at his home on a quiet street here for interviews.
But it's not the first time that the 14-year reporting veteran has put out controversial copy. Mir said he was fired from two previous publications for his writings about corruption in high places.
Mir thinks the interview might also cause trouble, appearing at a time when Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was in the United States for talks on Islamabad's role in the US-led coalition trying to hunt down Laden. He said the government and his bosses were not happy. "They say our president is in America and this interview will be published and it will create problems for him," Mir said. "I said this is your perception. This is not my problem," he said. ( AFP )