by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in Middle East
International, 12 January, 2001
bin Laden has been blamed for a "Millennium plot" which
allegedly aimed to hit targets in at least three countries last
The claim, by Richard Clarke,
President Clinton’s top terrorism adviser, came just a few days
before four men went on trial in New York accused of conspiring
with bin Laden to bomb the American embassies in Kenya and
Tanzania in 1998.
According to Clarke, the new
millennium could easily have begun with "1,000 Americans dead
at six or seven locations around the world". That this did
not happen was due partly to the failure of the attacks - all
planned for January 3 - and partly to the arrests of some of those
Investigations into the bombing of
the USS Cole in Yemen have revealed that there was an earlier plan
to attack the USS Sullivans as it refuelled in Aden on January 3
last year. That attack failed because the bombers’ boat almost
sank under the weight of the explosives.
Other suspects arrested by the
Jordanian authorities have allegedly confessed to planning attacks
on the same day at the Radisson SAS Hotel in Amman and at two
sites frequented by Christian pilgrims: Mount Nebo and a spot on
the Jordan river associated with John the Baptist.
In the United States, Ahmed
Ressam, an Algerian who was arrested at the Canadian border in
December 1999 for allegedly smuggling components for three bombs,
is also alleged to have planned attacks the west coast of America
for January 3.
In an interview with the
Washington Post, Clarke said that "Jihadist" networks
linked to bin Laden exist in more than 45 countries, including the
Islamic Jihad in Egypt, the IMU in Uzbekistan, the Abu Sayyaf
group in the Philippines and Asbat al-Ansar in Lebanon.
There are, however, murmurings in
the United States about the way the Clinton administration has
focused on bin Laden. Robert Oakley, a senior counterterrorism
official during the Reagan era, said recently that "the
obsession with Osama" had simply increased his stature.
Robert Oakley, who chaired the
National Commission on Terrorism, said: "We say 'Osama bin
Laden' as shorthand for the Jihadist networks. By using that
shorthand too much, we have confused some people into thinking
that the problem is one man when the problem is not one man,
though he plays an important role and certainly had an
extraordinary role in creating this series of networks."
The New York trial, which opened
on January 3 - the anniversary of the "Millennium plot"
- will last at least nine months and jury selection alone may take
more than three weeks.
A total of 22 people have been
charged with the bombings: the four already in court, a fifth who
is due to arrive later, three awaiting extradition from Britain,
and 13, including bin Laden himself, who are still at large.
Prosecutors expect to call 100
witnesses from six countries. One man, Ali Mohamed, a former US
army sergeant, has already pleaded guilty to conspiring with bin
Laden and is expected to be the star witness for the prosecution.