'I Am Not Afraid Of Death'

PALESTINIAN JOURNALIST JAMAL ISMAIL'S MOBILE PHONE RANG JUST BEFORE prayers on Dec. 18. ""Peace be upon you,'' said the voice on the line. ""You may not recognize me, but I know you.'' The purpose of the mysterious call: to deliver the news that Osama bin Laden, America's most wanted man, was ready to talk. Within days, Ismail was on the road to Afghanistan and to bin Laden's hideout, deep in the mountain ranges controlled by the Taliban, the fundamentalist Islamic regime that now rules most of Afghanistan. Gripping a machine gun, bin Laden on Dec. 22 spoke for more than two hours with Ismail, who provided NEWSWEEK with this transcript. Bin Laden was joined in his tent by two sons but complained that his eldest son and other relatives have been prevented from coming to Afghanistan--or from sending him his share of proceeds from the family business. He prefaced his answers to every question with the same phrase: ""Al hamdo lillah''--all thanks and praise to the Almighty. Excerpts:

BIN LADEN: I heard about the bombings the same way everyone else heard about them, from the television or radio. I did not order them but was very glad for what happened to the Americans there. [The bombings] were Islamic revenge on American spies in East Africa. Many oppressed Muslims are ready to die in the war against the Americans. Those who did it may be some of these oppressed Muslims.

Howaida was tortured in Pakistan and Kenya, therefore his so-called confession is meaningless. It indicates the failure of American intelligence in the world. The American president and his administration are under the influence of the Jewish Zionist lobby in America, who are pushing the American people to do what Israel cannot do.

No one is afraid of Americans now. You saw the crowded demonstrations in Damascus and Cairo. [The attack] was aggression against the needy people of Iraq, not against the Iraqi regime--which was supported by the Americans and the British during the war against Iran. No one talked about Iraq when it used chemical weapons against the Kurdish people in the '80s, and no one is mentioning anything about the weapons of mass destruction in Israel. They want to destroy Iraq now because it has the potential to challenge Israel. Muslims and Arabs should not allow this by any means.

If the Israelis are killing the small children in Palestine and the Americans are killing the innocent people in Iraq, and if the majority of the American people support their dissolute president, this means the American people are fighting us and we have the right to target them.

Muslim scholars have issued a fatwa [a religious order] against any American who pays taxes to his government. He is our target, because he is helping the American war machine against the Muslim nation.

It is very strange: If America has all the mass-destruction weapons, that is nothing. If the Jewish state has the same weapons, it is OK. But if a Muslim state like Pakistan tries to defend itself against the Hindu hegemony in South Asia, everything should be done to prevent it from doing so. We don't consider it a crime if we tried to have nuclear, chemical, biological weapons. Our holy land is occupied by Israeli and American forces. We have the right to defend ourselves and to liberate our holy land.

The Americans are committing another lie. I'm healthier now than any time before, as is the Muslim nation uprising against the aggressive Americans and their allies, especially the Jewish state of Israel. Our duty is to ask every Muslim to participate in this jihad [holy war].

I am not afraid of death. I came here to die. Some of my supporters followed me here just to die for the cause of Islam. They are ready to defend me and to kill anyone who thinks of attacking our positions or sites.

I did not even change one of my bodyguards as a result. None of the Arab-Afghans are so cheap as to be purchased by the Americans and betray me or my followers.

If the Americans have charges against me, I have charges against them. I am ready to go to the Taliban Islamic court, but not as an accused person. I have evidence against the Americans; they have absolutely no evidence against me. As for a neutral court, we do not believe there is any neutrality. There is a war waged by Americans against Islam and Muslims all over the world, and Americans themselves do not believe in neutrality. They want everyone to be their slave, or he will be considered an enemy.

We support the Taliban, and we consider ourselves part of them. Our blood is mixed with the blood of our Afghan brothers. For us, there is only one government in Afghanistan. It is the Taliban government. We obey all its orders. Afghanistan was the place where we buried the Soviet Union, and it will be the place to bury the Americans for their designs on the Muslims.

The front is an umbrella to all organizations fighting the jihad against Jews and crusaders. The response from Muslim nations has been greater than we expected. We are urging all of them to start fighting, or at least to start preparing to fight, against the enemies of Islam.

If some brothers discovered that they started their jihad before they were sufficiently prepared, that does not mean that the way of jihad is wrong. We have urged all Muslims to study the case of each of their countries and to decide when they can start their jihad. If the time is not suitable, this does not mean they should just sit. It means they must work hard in preparation. You have to do many things before waging jihad, and every Muslim should prepare himself very well for this.

We have not made any new hideouts, as the coward Americans are saying. As for a new wave of bombings, you should address this question to all Muslims, who are preparing for revenge against Americans and who want to liberate their holy places.