This is an interview from TV that I found very, very interesting. I hope other people find it interesting too. EDIT: Bolded some bits up.
With the horror of the Madrid bombing still fresh in our minds the world is more focused than ever on Osama bin Laden. Who is this man, what does he want, can he ever be captured? Our next guest, one of Pakistan's leading television and newspaper journalists, is not only writing a biography of the man, he's the only journalist to have met or spoken with bin Laden since September 11. With us tonight to offer a rare glimpse inside the life and mind of this century's most wanted man, from Islamabad, please welcome Hamid Mir.
Andrew Denton: Welcome Hamid, thank you for being with us this evening. You had met Osama bin Laden on two previous occasions as part of the biography you are writing, but the third time you met him in November 2001 was quite different to all the others. Can you tell us about that journey you took from Jalalabad to Kabul and what you had to go through before you could meet him?
Hamid Mir: It was seventh of November, and for the whole day they were investigating me, shifting me from one hideout to another and they forced me to take a shower for maybe ten times in just forty to fifty minutes with very hot water, they were suspecting me that maybe somebody has placed some chemicals on my body and through those chemicals the Americans can detect my location through the satellites. So they were pressurising me to take bath again and again, it was very difficult to take bath with hot water ten times in forty to fifty minutes, but I did it for my interview, but that day I never saw him and then I spent another night in their hideouts in Kabul and in the late night they blindfolded me and they put me in a vehicle, the vehicle was travelling for the whole night and the next day early in the morning of eighth of November 2001 I got the opportunity to interview the world's most wanted person for two hours.
Andrew Denton: Going through this process Hamid were you frightened for your life at any time?
Hamid Mir: Yes certainly I was frightened but you see just five minutes before my third planned meeting with the most wanted person, when they were searching my body, somebody put his hands inside my underwear and they were, they were touching my balls. So it was a shocking action for me and I was very angry, I was fighting, I started fighting with them, "what are you doing with my balls, why are you touching my balls?" So they said it's our security, our security people they are trained to do all these things maybe you have something placed in your balls. So you see then it was I was very light and we exchanged some jokes with each. I said are you guys, you are gays, they said no, no, no, we are not gays, we are just searching your body. So I was very tense, but you see when they searched my body I was very relaxed.
Andrew Denton: Very wise I think. There is a saying is there not Hamid, that when they've got you by the balls your heart and mind soon follows?
Hamid Mir: Ha, ha, ha, ha.
Andrew Denton: So, when you finally met Osama bin Laden what was he like?
Hamid Mir: He was very confident, he was very cool, very calm, but when my interview began we were talking to each other for more than two hours when the interview was finished it was early morning so when the interview was finished my camera was off, my tape recorder was off, they served us breakfast. So I was surprised to know that Osama bin Laden was eating a lot. He was eating a lot of beef, a lot of olives, lot of butter, jam, cheese and I was not taking all these things, I was taking very light breakfast. So I asked Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri who was sitting next to us that why your leader, Osama bin Laden, is eating too much olives? So Dr al-Zawahiri told me because he is eating a lot of olives because he has four wives and he is trying to increase his sexual power. So I asked him that I have read some reports in the Western media that he is suffering from kidney disease, is he a patient of kidney disease? Osama bin Laden responded and he said "Mr Mir, look I can ride my horse for seventy kilometres without any stop and no kidney patient can ride his horse seventy kilometres without stop. I'm not a kidney patient". So he was, you see in a very light mood and he was very calm, cool and during that meeting he got a message from wireless that his some of his very close aides, Jamin Agani, he was an Uzbec commander, the commander of al-Qaeda's fifty sixth brigade, he was killed in Musharraf. So for some seconds I saw some disappointment and anger on the face of Osama bin Laden because he was not happy to listen that news, but after that again he was very, very normal.
Andrew Denton: Hamid what sort of a mind does Osama bin Laden have?
Hamid Mir: Ah, when I was talking to him I was trying to read his face, I was trying to read his mind, he was ready to face that. He told me many times that "Mr Mir maybe this place will be bombed by the Americans and you will be killed with me". So I ignored when he told me these things first time, then he repeated that thing. "Mr Mir you may be killed with me at this place. I ignored it second time". When he repeated this sentence, "Mr Mir you will be killed, you maybe killed here with me and what will happen with your family?" So that when he repeated that third time I was so confused, I was terrified and I said, "Mr bin Laden if I'm killed here with you who will report your interview, why are you try terrorising me?", so he laughed and I was trying to see in his eyes and there was no fear in his eyes actually I was terrified, I was feeling bad but he was not.
Andrew Denton: What is it do you think that makes him a leader of men?
Hamid Mir: Yes this is a very interesting question. I met him first time in 1997, I met him second time in 1998, and 2001 I have a lot of interaction with his close aides. I think that he is not a born leader, he is not a good politician, he is a good fighter that's all. He was a good fighter and because he participated in some battles on the front against the Soviet troops that's why he became a hero for the Arab fighters because he belonged to a very rich family. So very few rich Saudis, very few rich Arabs were participating on the warfront. But if you talk to him directly, if you exchange your views with him, he cannot convince you on many issues and I think the brain behind him is Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri. He is the real man. He is the real brain behind Osama bin Laden. He is the real strategist. Osama bin Laden is only a front frontman, he is a face and the real man behind him is Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Andrew Denton: That's interesting, it's quite at odds with the view that is put forward of him in the West. You said that he had changed quite a lot from when you had met him four years earlier, in what way?
Hamid Mir: Yes, when I met him first time his only aim was to he wanted the expulsion of the American troops from Saudi Arabia, that's all. But with the passage of time his agenda was increasing and then he said that he wanted to establish an international Islamic government, Kulafic. And he, in 1998 he was talking against the Americans. I asked him "how can you justify the killing of the innocent Americans in the light of the Islamic teachings because our holy book, Koran, says that the blood of an innocent non-Muslim is equal to the blood of a Muslim? So how can you justify that the Muslims should kill all the Americans because there are a lot of innocent people in America?". So it was very difficult for him to justify his famous fatwah, his famous edict in the light of Islamic teachings. And when in 2001 I confronted him again he admitted that yes there are some good people in the West, yes there are some good people in America who are coming on the roads of New York and Washington and who are not supporting George W Bush war in Afghanistan. So he said that yes there are some good people. So I realised that there is a change in his ideas.
Andrew Denton: He said that he had nuclear weapons. Did you believe him?
Hamid Mir: Yes he said at that time it was very difficult for me to believe, but when my interview was finished I asked Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri that your leader never allowed me to probe this claim that he has nuclear weapons. So you tell me it is difficult to believe that you can have nuclear weapons. If you have how can you maintain them, how will you use those weapons because you don't have a delivery system? So Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri laughed and he said, Mr Mir if you have thirty million dollars, go to the black market in the central Asia, contact any disgruntled Soviet scientist and a lot of dozens of smart briefcase bombs are available. They have contacted us, we sent our people to Moscow to Tashkent to other central Asian states and they negotiated and we purchased some suitcase bombs. So that was his claim.
Andrew Denton: You implied before that Osama bin Laden is merely the front for Dr Zwarihi, can you tell me more about Dr al-Zawahiri is he in fact the man America should be seeking?
Hamid Mir: Yes I think that he is the man responsible for all the big terrorist attacks in the recent past and you see when he joined Osama bin Laden Osama, bin Laden became more dangerous. Dr al-Zawahiri can speak very good English, he has travelled from Norway to New Zealand. He spend lot of time in New Zealand on fake passports, he spend a lot of time in Switzerland, he spend a lot of time in African countries. He escaped many times, he was arrested in Russia in 1996, but he was using a fake Sudanese passport so that's why he was released. Then he was arrested in Iran in 2002, he was arrested mistakenly but then he was released because the Iranian government is secretly supporting some al-Qaeda operatives. So he has a lot of links not only inside Iran, but in all parts of the world, he has travelled a lot. So that's why I think he is more dangerous than bin Laden.
Andrew Denton: What was he doing in New Zealand?
Hamid Mir: Yes you see he told me that in early nineties he had travelled to New Zealand, he was there to meet some of his people and he came to Australia and then from Australia he went to Indonesia, from Indonesia he went to Philippine, from Philippine he went to Switzerland. So he said that he travelled continuously for more than eight to nine months and maybe in those days, in early '96, he was on a mission to organise his network all over the world.
Andrew Denton: What do they want Hamid do you think, Osama bin Laden and Dr Zawahiri, do they want to destroy America, what is their goal?
Hamid Mir: This is their claim which is not a secret that they want to take revenge. You see two, two years ago Osama bin Laden wrote an open letter to the American people. The letter has not been publicised, but in that letter, I got a copy of that letter through one of his messengers and in that letter he explained that why they hate America. And both Osama bin Laden and Dr Zawahiri they are the co-authors of that letter. It is a very comprehensive letter, and that letter they have mentioned two to three points on which they want to justify their hatred against America and one point is the atrocities going on in Palestine, the second point is Chechnya, the third point is Kashmir and they say that the United Nations Security Council have some resolutions against the Israelis and against the Indians, but United Nations is not interested to implement its resolutions against Israel and India because they are not Muslim countries.
But they have implemented their resolutions, they imposed a lot of restrictions on some Islamic countries like Sudan and Syria because they are Muslims and he also says that East Timor got independence through United Nations because East Timor is a Christian country and the Kashmiris and Palestinians they are not getting independence despite the fact that resolutions support their right of self determination and the only problem is they are Muslims. So actually Osama bin Laden is exploiting all these contradictions in the policies of UN and United States and these contradictions in the policies of UN and US, these are his real strength. He is fighting a political war. I don't see that if you talk to him on religion and if you ask him that justify your war against America on religious grounds he will not convince you, he it will be very difficult for him to convince you religiously. But when he talk politics you can judge that he is talking sense, he can convince some disgruntled and angry Muslim youth. But if he talk on religion he cannot convince you.
Andrew Denton: You met with Osama bin Laden and Dr Zawahiri for two hours, what happened after you left?
Hamid Mir: Ha, ha. When I left that place, that place was bombed by the American planes, American B52 bombers, I don't know how the Americans got the information about the location of my interview with him, but you see I escaped that just for thirty minutes because next day Osama bin Laden ah he told the person who was taking me from Kabul to Jalalabad, he told him that when you left that place within ten minutes we also left that place and after leaving that place within twenty minutes the place was bombed. So I think that not only myself but the most wanted person escaped death just for twenty to thirty minutes.
Andrew Denton: You believe that during the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2002 that Osama bin Laden sought sanctuary in Iran is that correct?
Hamid Mir: Ah yes, you see in July 2002 some of the Arab operatives of al-Qaeda they contacted me in Karachi, I was in Karachi, and they contacted me in Karachi and they offered me another interview with him and they said that if you are ready to go to Iran without passport we can arrange your meeting. I don't know whether the Iranian government was in knowledge of his presence in Iran. But recently when I interviewed Mr Kofir Black, he is the counter-intelligence chief of the US State Department, he told me, he claimed that the Iranian government was aware about the presence of some top al-Qaeda operatives in Iran.
Andrew Denton: How can you be sure Hamid that Osama is actually alive?
Hamid Mir: Oh yes it's a good question. You see recently Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri sent me his 42 minute long message on a CD, it was an audio message, and in that message he claimed that Osama bin Laden is alive and according to some evidence Osama bin Laden was seen last time in the mountains of Horst which is in Afghanistan and there is a big search operation going on in the tribal areas of Pakistan also and I have travelled in that area, a lot of people told me that Osama bin Laden is alive, he is hiding in the mountains of Horst and Gilbaze and he was moving in that area one year ago, but they say that, no he is very safe. Some Taliban operatives in Afghanistan contacted some Western news agencies and they have provided them video and audio messages and they are claiming in those messages that Osama bin Laden is still alive.
Andrew Denton: Would al-Qaeda be much weakened if Osama bin Laden were killed?
Hamid Mir: Yes al-Qaeda will be weakened but I think still al-Qaeda is a big track, it's like a wounded snake and you see the wounded snake is always more dangerous than a normal snake.
A normal snake would like to run away from you if you are trying to catch him or if you are trying to kill him. The normal snake will try to run away, but a wounded snake will always try to hit back and these days al-Qaeda is like a wounded snake and that's why it's more dangerous and I don't think that after his killing al-Qaeda will be eliminated because thousands of al-Qaeda operatives who were trained inside Afghanistan, they moved from Afghanistan in the European and Western countries before the fall of the Taliban regime in December 2001. So I think that they are still in a position to carry out some dangerous operations and I think that there is a need to address this problem of terrorism politically. We cannot eliminate the threat of terrorism by military power.
Andrew Denton: Hamid it would be remiss of me not to ask, seeing as you have put yourself on the line tonight, what your book is going to be called so we can watch out for it?
Hamid Mir: You must read the book. So I think that this book will tell you that some very powerful elements within the Saudi establishment they are also supporting Osama bin Laden. One part of the Saudi establishment is against the other part of the Saudi establishment and I think that a very powerful part of the Saudi establishment is using them and that's I think these things are also in the knowledge of the US administration and that's why they are putting a lot of pressure on the Saudis also. I think that in future this will become a big issue and my book will definitely reveal lot of things and pray for me that I should not face a lot of problems after the publication of the book.
Andrew Denton: Hamid Mir I really appreciate you sharing your information with us tonight, stay safe and we look forward to the book. Thank you.
Hamid Mir: Thank you.