Before the country opened its eyes in shock at the catastrophe that unfolded the morning of Sept. 11, the nation had already lost more than 300 citizens from terrorist attacks in just the last decade.
Before news networks replayed the coordinated assaults on D.C. and New York City, Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network had already killed more than 258 civilians in systematic strikes, 10 minutes apart on two US embassies in East Africa.
Before Sept. 11, terrorists linked to the bin Laden network targeted and attacked Americans, but never with the magnitude of that Tuesday.
“We should not have been surprised,” said Jerrold Post, a GW professor of political psychology and frequent guest on CNN. “This conflict has been going on a long time as bin Laden has been increasingly active in opposing America since 1991.”
Post said with the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, the coordinated embassy bombings in 1998 and the use of a mode of transport, a boat, to blow a hold in the U.S.S. Cole last November, bin Laden set the groundwork for Sept. 11.
Bin Laden, a Saudi-born billionaire accused of coordinating and funding a terrorist network responsible for multiple attacks during the 1990’s, turned his attention to America during the 1991 Persian Gulf War with U.S. troops stationed on sacred Saudi soil.
“This was a wealthy man of privilege, well educated, but who really believed that Muslims could defend themselves and should defend themselves,” said New York Times correspondent Judith Miller in an interview with PBS Sept. 12.
Miller, who has covered bin Laden since 1993, said he had given the U.S. numerous warnings about an impending strike.
In a February 1998 interview with a Middle Eastern network, bin Laden warned that he was going to bring jihad to America, but the world did not take his threats seriously, Miller said.
Bin Laden has recently accused the United States of imperialism, citing United Nations sanctions on Iraq, American troops stationed in Saudi Arabia and the ongoing Israel-Palestinian conflict as reasons for his aggression.
Post and Miller, however, said bin Laden is using the issues to gain a wider following.
“It is important to emphasize that issues like the Middle East peace process have been seized,” Post said. “His goal is to establish a radical Islamic hegemony where Muslim nations are consistent with shareah, Islamic religious law.”
Bin laden ascribes to the strict Wahabi brand of Islam, a seventh century interpretation of the religious texts.
“He sees America as a threat to the values of the Koran and the values of Islam,” Post said.
Post called the first phase of the war on terrorism a “great success” but said the United States has a long road ahead.
“There is a huge difference between the conventional military phase and the daunting task of rooting out the Al Qaeda network,” he said, which includes independent cells in 30-55 countries with contingency plans on how to survive logistically through the anticipated attack on Afghanistan.
Post objected to the use of the word “war” to describe the U.S. policy on terrorism.
“You can’t eliminate terrorism; its been here since the Garden of Eden,” Post said. “You need to eliminate it in frequency . if terrorism is psychological warfare, you need to counter it with your own.”
He said the United States should focus on inhibiting possible terrorists from joining the networks, creating dissention in the group, facilitating the elimination of members and the “delegitimization” of bin Laden.