ABC News: Iraqi intelligence chief met with bin Laden in December 1998
SHOW: ABC NEWS SATURDAY NIGHT
JANUARY 14, 1999
BYLINE: J. MILLER, J. MCWETHY, S. MACVICAR, CYNTHI MCFADDEN
HIGHLIGHT: TARGET AMERICA: THE TERRORIST WAR
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, this is Crime and Justice.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN, ABC News: (voice-over) The enemy is out there. Terrorists targeting Americans around the world.
PRUDENCE BUSHNELL, U.S. Ambassador to Kenya: It is a least manly way of going to war that I can think of.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) Where will innocent people die next? Will the new front line be abroad or at home?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Intelligence sources telling Time magazine they believe Osama bin Laden may be planning an attack on New York or Washington.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) It's a shadowy network of radical fundamentalists led by this man.
OSAMA BIN LADEN: (through translator) We predict a black day for America.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) With a $5 million award posted for his capture.
Rep. PORTER GOSS, Chairman, Select Intelligence Committee: What amazes me a little bit is ABC seems to be able to sit down and talk to Osama bin Laden.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) Tonight, an exclusive ABC News interview with the man who declared war on the United States -- terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. His loyal foot soldiers are even here in the U.S., hidden among us, awaiting his call to deadly action.
OSAMA BIN LADEN: (through translator) We do not differentiate between those dressed in military uniforms and civilians.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) Now, the real story behind the deadly embassy bombings, over 220 dead and more than 4,000 injured. Was the government warned? And why is bin Laden in secret meetings with Saddam Hussein's top men? ABC News has learned of a high-risk mission planned by U.S. commandos. But will they get to Osama bin Laden in time? Can anything stop the slaughter?
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, "Target America: The Terrorist War." With reports from John Miller, Sheila MacVicar and John McWethy in Washington. Now, from New York, Cynthia McFadden.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN, ABC News: Good evening. And welcome to ABC News Crime and Justice. Over the next several weeks, we'll be bringing you a series of stories about people on both sides of the law -- some fascinating, some frightening.
We start with one of the biggest threats facing the world today, terrorism. It's an issue of such great concern that ABC News assembled a team to take you moment by moment through the recent African embassy bombings and deep inside the FBI and CIA investigations.
Sheila MacVicar from London, John McWethy from the Pentagon and John Miller from our law and justice unit here in New York will tell you who was behind the bombs, how the bombings were planned and what the U.S. government is going to do about it.
Tonight, you'll hear information never before made public about the man who has been called America's number-one enemy, Osama bin Laden, and his worldwide network of devoted soldiers. We begin in East Africa on that terrible day last August. We must warn you, some of the footage you're about to see is graphic.
ONDEKO AURA, Kenyan Broadcasting: It was reminiscent of doomsday. The first thing I saw was a thick cloud of smoke billowing above my head. Minutes later, I saw people running, bleeding profusely.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) Ondeko Aura is a reporter for Nairobi Television. On the morning of August 7, 1998, he and his crew were about to do an interview two blocks away from the American embassy.
ONDEKO AURA: It brings back to memory nightmares. I'll tell you, sometimes it's not easy to sleep. Sometimes those dead bodies come back to mind. You're seeing them in your sleep. You see the injured screaming in your sleep. You wake up sweating.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) U.S. intelligence officials believe the planning for this particular nightmare began more than a year earlier. During August of 1997, in Nairobi, a small group of Islamic fundamentalists had taken up residence. True believers in the terrorist creed -- that with a pickup truck and 2,000 pounds of TNT, the power is yours. Target a superpower and become a player. One of them wrote a letter to a comrade, foreshadowing what was to come.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: "There is a war, and the situation is dangerous. The fact of these matters and others leave us no choice but to ask ourselves -- are we ready for that big clandestine battle?"
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) What is shocking is that a full year before the bombs explode in Africa, the CIA and FBI had intercepted this letter. The letter ends with this...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN:..."say a lot of prayers for us so God may grant us success."
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) The answer to their prayers would come as the details of their plan are put in place. According to the FBI, the following is the chain of events. By August 1, 1998, the suspects have been using the rented villa in the suburbs of Nairobi for five months. They have picked a target. They are building a bomb.
The next day they check into this hotel, leaving the elements for the bomb at the villa. August 4 -- the suspects finalize their plans, taking a practice drive past their target -- the U.S. embassy.
("Hail To The Chief" plays)
(voice-over) August 6 -- in Washington, the President is trying to conduct business as usual. If he is distracted, it is not by a terrorist plot half a world away, but by a former White House intern giving testimony today to a Washington grand jury.
Friday, August 7 -- leaving the villa just before rush hour, the suspects are driving two Toyota trucks -- one carrying the bomb. They are headed toward their target. It is a suicide mission. The U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Prudence Bushnell, says she remembers the morning clearly.
PRUDENCE BUSHNELL, U.S. Ambassador to Kenya: Every Friday, we have a senior staff meeting scheduled. And indeed, I had one scheduled that day.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) Four hundred fifteen miles away in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, American embassy personnel are also heading to work. One of them, Justena Mdobilu, is starting her morning in the usual way -- praying for God's protection.
Back in Nairobi, Joanne Huskey is bringing her kids to the embassy for their school shots. They arrive at the embassy gate at the same moment as a Toyota truck.
JOANNE HUSKEY: I noticed the truck, and I noticed that it was not an embassy truck. It was probably some kind of a delivery truck, and it seemed to have a tarpaulin over the top.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) She has no idea that inside that truck is a bomb. It's now 10:30 in the morning. The guard refuses to let the truck enter.
EMBASSY GUARD: These guys were strange. I never seen them before.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) Inside the embassy, Major Neil Kringel is enduring the Friday staff meeting.
Maj. NEIL KRINGEL: 10:35, and I was thinking, "Oh, boy, how boring this meeting was." It was really, really dragging to me. And all of a sudden, we heard this small bang.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) That small bang was a stun grenade, a diversion to help the terrorists move their truck closer to the embassy.
NEIL KRINGEL: Nine, 10 seconds later was the huge bang.
PRUDENCE BUSHNELL: Kaboom!
JOANNE HUSKEY: And the whole thing blew up.
NEIL KRINGEL: And then I realized, "Jesus, we've just been bombed."
ONDEKO AURA: There has been a powerful bomb blast at the American embassy. Numerous people are feared dead. Hundreds of others are feared injured. Ondeko Aura, KBC (ph) News, outside the American embassy, Nairobi.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) The force of the bomb sent scraps of metal and glass flying at a terrifying 21,000 miles per hour -- a deadly shower that kills many of those drawn to the windows to investigate that first explosion. Those who survive have to find a way out.
JOANNE HUSKEY: Then we heard voices calling out, and them asking where the door was, where's a door? I would say, "I know there's a door somewhere here." And finally, we saw a light.
PRUDENCE BUSHNELL: We went down an absolutely torturous journey, 21 flights of stairs, blood all over the place. And the farther down we got, the darker it became and the more smoke there was. At one point, I thought, "I'm going to die."
ONDEKO AURA: Just next to the U.S. embassy building, I see a very familiar face. Who's face is this? The U.S. ambassador Bushnell. She was bleeding from the head, from the hands.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) Seven minutes later, the American embassy in Dar es Salaam is rocked by an enormous explosion. Justena Mdobilu, who started the morning praying for protection, is inside the crumbling building.
JUSTENA MDOBILU: It was this "bhhhhh." It reverberated through my body.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) The bomb is identical to the one used in Nairobi -- 2,000 pounds of TNT. Back in Washington, the President is awakened in the hours before dawn with news of the bombings. Already medical supplies are being sent from U.S. bases in Germany, as FBI and CIA counterterrorism experts assemble at Andrews Air Force Base for a flight to Africa.
Within hours, U.S. officials will name Osama bin Laden the architect of the bombings. ABC's Sheila MacVicar reports how bin Laden became a legend in the business of terror.
SHEILA MACVICAR, ABC News: (voice-over) Just who is Osama bin Laden? He is a son of privilege, one of 53 children of a Saudi Arabian billionaire, himself married with three wives and seven children, an unlikely holy warrior. He uses his own fortune, estimated at $300 million or more, to fund his battles.
No millionaire life for him. He lives as a guerrilla fighter, his base in the mountains of Afghanistan. Barri Atwan, editor of the respected Arabic daily Al-Quds, has tracked bin Laden's life.
BARRI ATWAN, Editor, Al-Quds: He gave up wealth. He gave up money, and he decided to go and fight for Muslim causes until he dies as martyr. In the Arab world, in the Muslim world, he is a hero.
SHEILA MACVICAR: (voice-over) The United States first heard of Osama bin Laden 20 years ago. His story began during the Afghan war, the last great stand-off between Communist Soviet Union and the United States. Bin Laden was one of thousands of Arabs who volunteered alongside the Muslim Afghanis, allied to the Americans by a common cause -- the defeat of the Soviets.
But with Russians driven from Afghanistan, bin Laden began to focus on what the U.S. was doing. And he didn't like what he saw.
BARRI ATWAN: The man hates the American policies in the region. He considers America or the American administration the main enemy of the Muslim and Arab worlds.
SHEILA MACVICAR: (voice-over) In his homeland of Saudi Arabia, bin Laden was angered by the arrival of U.S. forces, welcomed by a royal family he denounced as corrupt. The Americans were occupiers, he said, with no business in the Muslim holy land.
VINCE CANNISTRARO, ABC News Intelligence Consultant: To Osama, these were infidels. These were nonbelievers, and they were there despoiling Saudi Arabia, which should be the pristine guardian of Islam.
SHEILA MACVICAR: (voice-over) He declared his own war -- a war investigators now suspect began back in 1993 at the World Trade Center, continued in Saudi Arabia and Somalia, where it was his fighters who killed 18 U.S. soldiers and forced the U.S. to leave Somalia. For bin Laden, it was an important lesson -- the U.S. could be made to withdraw.
Last February, bin Laden and other Islamic militants formed "the world Islamic front for holy war against Jews and Americans."
STANLEY BEDLINGTON, Former CIA Analyst: He is driven by his extremist version of Islam which is far, far, removed from the voices of authentic Islam.
SHEILA MACVICAR: (voice-over) He issued this ominous warning -- "Killing Americans and their allies, civilian and military," he said, "is an individual duty for every Muslim."
Three months later, ABC's John Miller was waiting to meet the man U.S. authorities now call public enemy number one.
JOHN MILLER, ABC News: (voice-over) Peshawar, Pakistan. To find Osama bin Laden, you start here. Of course, you don't find bin Laden, unless he wants you to. Days before, our contacts in bin Laden's organization instructed us to dress in the clothing of the region. At airports, we were handed tickets just before the flights. We were never told our destinations in advance.
In the late afternoon of May 20, two months before the embassy bombings, we were loaded into the back of a truck and driven toward the Khyber Pass, the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Two of bin Laden's men led us over the border into Afghanistan on foot. That night, another truck took us to bin Laden's camps. In the early morning hours of May 22, Osama bin Laden made his entrance.
(voice-over) This scene, of course, was a show for the cameras. We understood that. Even so, after two days in the camps, it was clear to us that the men around bin Laden, hundreds of them, idolize him. He is, for lack of a better comparison, like a god to them.
But bin Laden downplays his own power. He denied ordering the various attacks he'd been linked to but said he supported the attacks and knew many of the suspects. And he warned America should brace for more.
OSAMA BIN LADEN: (through translator) We predict a black day for America and the end of the United States. And they will retreat from our land and collect the bodies of their sons back to America.
JOHN MILLER: (voice-over) That was a direct threat against the U.S. military. But bin Laden was very deliberate in his next threat -- that the killing would not be limited to American soldiers.
OSAMA BIN LADEN: (through translator) We do not differentiate between those dressed in military uniforms and civilians. They are all targets in this fatwa.
JOHN MILLER: (voice-over) Like the bullets his followers fired into the sky, bin Laden's threats seemed to hang in the air that night. He did not say how Americans would die or when or where. Of course, if plans for the embassy bombings had begun in March, as the FBI now alleges, then bin Laden already knew that night in late May, how, when and where.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: When we come back, U.S. investigators sort through the rubble. We'll show you why they say Osama bin Laden was the mastermind.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) Nairobi, Kenya, August 8, 1998. Over the next week, this makeshift morgue will become a painful stop for those looking for their loved ones. By week's end, more than 220 people are dead, with over 4,000 injured.
Among the dead are 12 Americans. A career diplomat and his 20-year-old son. A Marine sergeant come to cash his paycheck. A 40-year-old Air Force officer, who'd just turned down an offer to return to Washington because she loved Africa.
But in those first horrible hours, it was unclear who was dead and who was alive.
ROBERT KIRK, Embassy Worker: There were helicopters all around, and people were just -- it was just mayhem.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) After the bombing, Robert Kirk searched frantically for his wife, Arlene. Both worked at the embassy in Nairobi. Both had the day off, but Arlene decided to go in for just a minute to check her e-mail.
ROBERT KIRK: OK, I just told everyone that "I want to see my wife. I want to see her condition before I leave this place. Simple as that. And I waited there.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) All the while thinking about the life they had shared -- traveling the world and working together, raising a family. About an hour later, his worst fears were confirmed.
ROBERT KIRK: She was wrapped in a blanket, but her hair was exposed and I could tell it was her by her hair. And I remember the only thing I said was, "Oh, my God," and closed the blanket because her face was disfigured.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) That first night there was little hope for survivors until rescuers heard a voice from deep under the rubble. Rose Macharia, a 36-year-old mother of three, could be heard faintly begging for help.
RESCUER: Rose, Rose!
ONDEKO AURA: I was on top of the debris reporting, and I hear the rescuers calling, "Rose, Rose!" They call out her name.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) Businessman Vimal Shah is one of the many who try to help her.
VIMAL SHAH, Businessman: Because this could fall any time.
She was saying, "Get me out. I need help. I need assistance." And she was knocking on the concrete there.
ONDEKO AURA: Rose seems to be the driving factor of the rescue mission. She seems to give hope of at least achieving some success in retrieving somebody alive from the wreckage.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) And for five long days, rescuers struggle to free her. As the search for survivors continues, the first wave of counterterrorism investigators from the CIA and FBI begin to arrive. They are 13 hours late because of problems with a transport plane. The FBI's Mike Brooks is among the first on the scene and sets up a command post.
MIKE BROOKS, FBI: In going through the embassy and knowing that people died in that building, you see nametags. You see name plates. You see pictures, personal effects. And you wonder what happened to this person? Did this person live? Did this person die? How could anyone have survived this at all?
JOHN MILLER: (voice-over) Immediately following the embassy bombings, bin Laden vanishes from his camps. For weeks, he is deep in hiding. December 24 -- somewhere in the Afghan desert, inside a tent, Osama bin Laden meets an ABC News reporter for a second exclusive interview. With bin Laden in the tent are his top advisors. By now, the U.S. has offered a $5 million reward for bin Laden's capture.
OSAMA BIN LADEN: (through translator) If the instigation for Jihad against the Jews and the Americans is considered a crime, let history be a witness that I am a criminal.
JOHN MILLER: (voice-over) It is the first time bin Laden has been seen since the embassy bombings. He denies ordering the attacks but says he believes his calls for war on the United States have been heard.
OSAMA BIN LADEN: (through translator) Most probably these acts came about as a result of such calls and warnings, but only God knows the truth.
JOHN MILLER: (voice-over) But we asked bin Laden even if he supported the killing of Americans in the name of Jihad, how could he justify the Africans, the Muslims and children who were hurt and killed?
OSAMA BIN LADEN: (through translator) When it becomes apparent that it would be impossible to repel these Americans without assaulting them, even if this involved the killing of Muslims, this is permissible under Islam.
JOHN MILLER: (voice-over) In spite of bin Laden's denials, he was the leading suspect from day one. But before the FBI could try and prove who the bombers were working for, they had to find the bombers. The FBI's Ken Pernick tried to put himself inside the bomber's head.
KEN PERNICK, FBI: If I was the terrorist, how would I plan to do this? When I put myself in their shoes, I can begin to help focus my own investigation. What would I use? What kind of people would use?
JOHN MILLER: (voice-over) The answers to "what kind of people" came in more quickly than investigators could have imagined. August 7, the same day the bombs went off, a plane coming from Nairobi touches down in Karachi, Pakistan. At passport control, one of the passengers appears nervous. Immigration officials say he hands them this false passport.
Shift commander Riaz Gondal questions the man in this office. Gondal says they learn his real name is Muhammad Sadiq Odeh, and they say he admits to being an explosives expert, trained in bin Laden's camps.
RIAZ GONDAL, Pakistani Immigration Official: When he was being interrogated, at one point, he admitted frankly that he is a member of Al Qaeda organization, which is headed by Mr. Osama bin Laden.
JOHN MILLER: (voice-over) According to Gondal, Odeh describes planning the bombing at the Hilltop Hotel and gives the names of the other bombers. And so, within 24 hours of the bombing, alert Pakistani immigration officials hand investigators the first big break.
August 9 -- two days after the bombing. Nairobi police receive a tip about another man who went by the name Khalid. He is said to be among the injured. Peter Mbuvi is the assistant chief of detectives for Kenya's national police.
Det. PETER MBUVI, Kenya's National Police: The force behind the arrest of this person, of Khalid, came from a member of the public who became suspicious.
JOHN MILLER: (voice-over) Kenyan investigators find Khalid. They say his real name is Mohammed Al Owali. He has a deep wound in his back. The FBI says Al Owali admits he got the wound running away from the truck that carried the bomb, that he rode in the truck to the embassy, that he was the man who threw the grenade at this guard.
EMBASSY GUARD: He pull out something, then he threw.
JOHN MILLER: (voice-over) The FBI says Al Owali ran just before the explosion because he changed his mind about becoming a martyr. With two suspects talking, the FBI identifies a third, Harun Fazil, as the man who supervised the making of the bomb in that rented villa. Assistant director Lew Schiliro is the FBI's man in charge of the embassy bombing case.
LEWIS SCHILIRO, FBI Assistant Director in Charge: Fazil is believed to be originally from the Comoros Islands, is alleged to have been in Nairobi at the time of the bombings and is also have been alleged to have led the truck to the embassy.
JOHN MILLER: (voice-over) In the Comoros Islands, the FBI raids Fazil's home. Fazil is gone. Neighbors say Fazil was a serious young man who memorized the Koran and taught religious classes before moving to Kenya. ABC News obtained this video of an FBI evidence recovery team going over the house, looking for clues that might connect Fazil to the bombing.
LEWIS SCHILIRO: Fazil has become a subject of an international manhunt, somebody that's also subject to the $5 million State Department reward and is an individual we would desperately seek to get back to the United States to put on trial.
JOHN MILLER: (voice-over) ABC News also obtained this video, which FBI sources say shows Fazil on a mission for bin Laden in Kenya, as far back as 1996.
PETER MBUVI: What our investigations have revealed so far is that most of the people who are behind this incident, actually, they have all been financed by Osama bin Laden.
JOHN MILLER: (voice-over) While investigators were busy making their case, in Washington, ABC's John McWethy reports, top U.S. officials were looking for something more immediate.
("Nearer My God To Thee" plays)
JOHN MCWETHY, ABC News: (voice-over) August 12 -- by the time the bodies of the Americans killed in the embassy bombings are flown back to Washington, the President is already secretly exploring ways to retaliate.
Pres. BILL CLINTON: No matter what it takes, we must find those responsible for these evil acts and see that justice is done.
JOHN MCWETHY: (voice-over) With all evidence pointing to bin Laden, the President's national security team meets to consider options, including, ABC News has learned, sending an armed force into Afghanistan. But worry that bin Laden is preparing to hit again forces a quicker, lower-risk option -- unmanned Cruise missiles. Targets are examined, not only in Afghanistan and Sudan, but also Yemen.
(on camera) Intelligence intercepts give the White House, a key piece of information that drives both timing and location. On August 20, 13 days after the embassy bombings, bin Laden plans to gather his top lieutenants at a remote location in Afghanistan. That is the primary target. The unstated objective -- to kill Osama bin Laden.
(voice-over) But the President wants a second target and eventually chooses the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, which the CIA suspects of making chemical weapons and which appears to have financial ties to bin Laden.
August 17 -- in the midst of secret preparations for the retaliation, the President is forced to testify to the Kenneth Starr grand jury about Monica Lewinsky.
Pres. BILL CLINTON: I do.
JOHN MCWETHY: (voice-over) The next day, he heads for vacation on Martha's Vineyard and seclusion. But on August 20, instead of heading to the golf course as expected...
ANNOUNCER: This is an ABC News Special Report.
JOHN MCWETHY: (voice-over) The President stuns the White House press corps.
Pres. BILL CLINTON: Today, I ordered our armed forces to strike at terrorist-related facilities in Afghanistan and Sudan.
JOHN MCWETHY: (voice-over) Sixty-six of the 79 Cruise missiles used in the attack hit remote camps in Afghanistan, what officials described as bin Laden's graduate school for terrorists. In his most recent interview with ABC News, Bin Laden insists damage was minor, though he concedes 34 were killed. He says using unmanned Cruise missiles is cowardly, showing that the U.S. military is too fearful to meet the young people of Islam face to face.
Newly released satellite imagery shows, in before and after photographs, extensive destruction of what the U.S. claims was nearly 50 buildings, including this row of huts that apparently housed the leadership. General Hugh Shelton is chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
Gen. HUGH SHELTON, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: We also wanted to show that the United States will act decisively and in self-defense and preemptively, if necessary.
JOHN MCWETHY: (voice-over) Intelligence officials tell ABC News that the camps that once housed 600 people in training are now empty. Some of bin Laden's top people, it appears, were injured and a high-ranking aide killed. Bin Laden himself left the camp hours before the strike, perhaps tipped off by the sudden evacuation of the U.S. embassy in Pakistan the day before.
In Sudan, the pharmaceutical plant is turned to rubble. But from the first day, this target is a much tougher "sell" to the public.
WILLIAM COHEN, Secretary of Defense: We do know that he had contributed to this particular facility. We do know that this facility produces precursors that can result in the production of VX. And that was a sufficient connection for us.
JOHN MCWETHY: (voice-over) As it turns out, the U.S. really does not know either of those things. Bin Laden's direct financial ties to that plant are vague. And the U.S. does not know if any part of nerve gas was actually made there.
STANLEY BEDLINGTON: It was wrong, a mistake. And it made a lot of people in the administration feel good. You know, "We've hit him hard." But, in fact, all we did really is turn off a lot of people in the Muslim world, and in fact, we acted as a recruiter for Osama bin Laden.
JOHN MCWETHY: (voice-over) Officially, there is no second guessing.
Gen. HUGH SHELTON: There is absolutely no question in my mind that we hit the right targets.
JOHN MCWETHY: (voice-over) The administration claims the strikes, along with vastly expanded law enforcement efforts to squeeze bin Laden's network, are forcing him to look over his shoulder as never before.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: The American missile strikes may have slowed down bin Laden, but could the embassy bombings have been prevented altogether if the U.S. government had only paid more attention to warnings? And later, allegations that Osama bin Laden is seeking a new ally in Saddam Hussein.
ANNOUNCER: "Target America: The Terrorist War" will continue in a moment.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) In the year before the bombings, Ambassador Bushnell believed the bin Laden operatives in Nairobi had been disbanded. Even so, she repeatedly pled with her superiors in the State Department to move the embassy, which she considered vulnerable, in part, because it was too close to the street.
PRUDENCE BUSHNELL: It was clear that the reason they could not move our embassy was because there was not enough money.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) The ambassador took the extraordinary step of appealing directly to the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. But that plea, too, was turned down.
PRUDENCE BUSHNELL: The threat assessment in Nairobi was medium. For a lot of reasons, we did not meet the criteria. I understood that. I wasn't happy with it.
Adm. WILLIAM CROWE (Ret.): That was totally wrong.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) Admiral William Crowe, retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, headed up a team investigating embassy security worldwide in light of the African bombings. His commission report, released last week, concludes that the entire system used by the State Department, which classified Nairobi as under a medium threat, is deeply flawed.
The State Department agrees and has already begun to change the system. But Crowe points out, more money is needed, especially now.
WILLIAM CROWE: We have not seen fit, at least as yet, to invest very heavily in security and saving lives. And there are some weapons out there that they haven't used yet that would -- a very distinct possibility that they might be moving toward. That's chemical and biological.
So first of all, I believe that it is going to be an increased problem, and secondly, we would be foolish to treat it any other way.
ANNOUNCER: ABC News Crime and Justice continues after this from our ABC stations.
ANNOUNCER: "Target America: The Terrorist War" continues. Once again, Cynthia McFadden.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: Two years before the African bombings, U.S. intelligence on Osama bin Laden was raising new suspicions. The CIA, FBI and National Security Agency were so concerned about his activities that they agreed to take an extraordinary step. They formed a multiagency task force with one purpose -- tracking bin Laden's activities. They were certain he was transforming himself from thunder to fighter.
SHEILA MACVICAR: (voice-over) Although few Americans were familiar with his name before the bombings, the U.S. government was, in fact, trying to arrest bin Laden months before the embassies were destroyed.
April 1998 -- U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson goes to Afghanistan and secretly tries to negotiate with the Taliban, Afghanistan's fundamentalist rulers, for his arrest. He fails. Dr. Sa'ad Al Faqih, a Saudi dissident who opposes violence, says the U.S. tried again.
Dr. SA'AD AL FAQIH, Saudi Dissident: The leader of the Taliban said no way can we accept to meet the Americans when they strike us, claiming that we are involved in terrorism.
SHEILA MACVICAR: (voice-over) It is a sensitive time for the Taliban. They are looking for international recognition, but bin Laden is getting in the way. There is other pressure. The Saudis, long-time allies of the Taliban, cut off diplomatic relations and, more important, the flow of funds.
The Taliban begins suggesting they might put him on trial as a solution to their problem. The pressure is affecting his whole network. By September 23, this man, sent to London to spread bin Laden's message, has been arrested and alleged to be part of bin Laden's conspiracies.
In Germany, Mamdouh Salim, alleged to be a key military advisor and believed to be privy to bin Laden's most secret projects, is also apprehended. The U.S. government alleges he was under secret orders to procure enriched uranium for the purpose of developing nuclear weapons. These are allegations bin Laden does not now deny.
OSAMA BIN LADEN: (through translator) It would be a sin for Muslims not to try to possess the weapons that would prevent the infidels from inflicting harm on Muslims. But how we could use these weapons if we possess them is up to us.
SHEILA MACVICAR: (voice-over) With an American price on his head, there weren't many places bin Laden could go, unless he teamed up with another international pariah, one also with an interest in weapons of mass destruction.
VINCE CANNISTRARO: Osama believes in "the enemy of my enemy is my friend and is someone I should cooperate with." That's certainly the current case with Iraq.
SHEILA MACVICAR: (voice-over) Saddam Hussein has a long history of harboring terrorists. Carlos the Jackal, Abu Nidal, Abu Abbas, the most notorious terrorists of their era, all found shelter and support at one time in Baghdad. Intelligence sources say bin Laden's long relationship with the Iraqis began as he helped Sudan's fundamentalist government in their efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
Three weeks after the bombing, on August 31, bin Laden reaches out to his friends in Iraq and Sudan. Iraq's vice president arrives in Khartoum to show his support for the Sudanese after the U.S. attack. ABC News has learned that during these meetings, senior Sudanese officials acting on behalf of bin Laden ask if Saddam Hussein would grant him asylum.
(on camera) Iraq was, indeed, interested. ABC News has learned that in December, an Iraqi intelligence chief, named Farouk Hijazi, now Iraq's ambassador to Turkey, made a secret trip to Afghanistan to meet with bin Laden. Three intelligence agencies tell ABC News they cannot be certain what was discussed, but almost certainly, they say, bin Laden has been told he would be welcome in Baghdad.
(voice-over) And intelligence sources say they can only speculate on the purpose of an alliance. What could bin Laden offer Saddam Hussein? Only days after he meets Iraqi officials, bin Laden tells ABC News that his network is wide, and there are people prepared to commit terror in his name who he does not even control.
OSAMA BIN LADEN: (through translator) It is our job to incite and to instigate. By the grace of God, we did that, and certain people responded to this instigation.
SHEILA MACVICAR: (voice-over) In detail, his terrible call to arms is on the Internet, relayed through some mosques, handed out at demonstrations. It can inspire thousands beyond anyone's command.
Dr. SA'AD AL FAQIH: The danger of those groups to the West is they are so scattered and splintered that they can never be eradicated. They don't have a common chain of command.
SHEILA MACVICAR: (voice-over) But they do have a common goal, and they represent thousands of recruits to his war against America. Bin Laden has even found foot soldiers here, in the United States, as John Miller has discovered.
JOHN MILLER: (on camera) FBI agents of the New York office had been probing Osama bin Laden for two years before the East African bombings. But during the bombing investigation, hundreds of leads were pouring in here, to the FBI's command post in New York. Some of the most intriguing leads were pointing to two new suspects -- both of them, American citizens.
(voice-over) This tire store on a dusty road Fort Worth, Texas, is where the FBI found Wadih Al-Hage working to support his American wife and seven children. Before moving to Texas, Al-Hage lived in Nairobi, just blocks from the U.S. embassy. Osama bin Laden admits to knowing Al-Hage and says Al-Hage was running relief agencies.
OSAMA BIN LADEN: (through translator) As for Brother Wadih Al-Hage, he is one of our brothers, whom Allah -- praise and glory be to him -- was kind enough to steer to the path of participating in relief work for Afghan refugees.
JOHN MILLER: (voice-over) A year before the bombing, Kenyan police, the FBI and CIA raided Al-Hage's relief organization in this house. They say they found that incredible document in Al-Hage's computer -- the one that appears to be from bin Laden's group, or cell.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: "We, the East Africa cell members, do not want to know about the operation plans since we are just implementers."
JOHN MILLER: (voice-over) Now, the FBI believes the letter's author is Harun Fazil -- remember, the man now wanted for the Nairobi bombing. The letter appears to warn that the bomb makers or "engineers" should be careful, due to increasing U.S. surveillance.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: "Let the brother engineers be careful and be advised that any one of us could fall in the trap."
JOHN MILLER: (voice-over) After the discovery of the letter, Al-Hage was forced to leave Kenya. When he returned to the U.S., the FBI subpoenaed him to testify in this courthouse before the federal grand jury investigating bin Laden. Al-Hage denied any knowledge of a terrorist plot and moved to Texas.
1st TV REPORTER: FBI agents in Dallas had an Arlington suspect...
2nd TV REPORTER:...believe Al-Hage at one time served as personal secretary to bin Laden.
JOHN MILLER: (voice-over) A month after the embassy bombings, Al-Hage was arrested -- charged with being part of bin Laden's organization and lying to the grand jury. He is awaiting trial in this New York jail.
There is another American in this jail. Prosecutors say the charges against him are secret for reasons of national security. Federal sources say he is a key operative for Osama bin Laden.
ALI MUHAMMED: My name is Ali Muhammed. I am a former Egyptian officer.
JOHN MILLER: (voice-over) After leaving the Egyptian army, sources say Ali Muhammed was recruited by the CIA to infiltrate terrorist groups for the U.S. but was soon terminated as unreliable.
Still somehow, in 1986, he managed to come to America and join the Army. Part of his job was to participate in seminars for elite units at the special warfare school at Fort Bragg -- seminars about Islamic culture and politics.
In 1988, while Ali Muhammed was on active duty in the U.S. Army, he went on leave -- to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. His then-commander, Steve Neely, notified the Army brass.
STEVE NEELY: His going -- the trip, though, was a sensitive point, because he was an American soldier.
JOHN MILLER: (voice-over) Sources say Ali Muhammed left the Army and went to work for the Afghanistan Service Office in New York as a training officer. These 1989 surveillance photos show some of the men Sergeant Ali trained at target practice.
In the years that followed, the men in these photos were convicted of murder and bombing the World Trade Center and plotting to blow up bridges, tunnels and the U.N. building in New York. Prosecutors charged that bin Laden was the man behind the Afghanistan Service Office, which has since gone underground and now uses the name Al Qaeda. Bin Laden remains its leader.
LEWIS SCHILIRO: Bin Laden certainly has the resources to continue to hide, the resources to continue to maintain himself. It will be a very difficult process for the government to pursue.
JOHN MILLER: (voice-over) While investigators say time is on their side, ABC's John McWethy reports the government is not just sitting back and waiting for bin Laden's next attack.
JOHN MCWETHY: (voice-over) One of the other weapons the U.S. has in its war with bin Laden is use of military force. If Americans are attacked again -- and most Pentagon officials believe it is only a matter of time -- military sources say another Cruise missile strike against his network is almost certain.
(on camera) And there are other plans. ABC News has learned since August, the U.S. has considered several clandestine efforts to go after bin Laden in Afghanistan, trying to apprehend him so he could stand trial in the United States.
(voice-over) Officials say special operations commandos, working with the CIA, are constantly rehearsing such a mission which, by all accounts, would be very risky and could result in high American casualties. One of the biggest challenges is getting up to the minute intelligence on where bin Laden is and accurate projections on where he will be next.
Rep. PORTER GOSS, Chairman, Select Intelligence Committee: What amazes me a little bit is ABC seems to be able to sit down and talk to Osama bin Laden at the very same time that those of us who would like to apprehend him and bring him to justice seem to be unable to do that.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: When we come back, the conclusion of our report.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) In downtown New York City, behind the walls of this prison, four of the men the U.S. government has charged in connection with the bombing plot are under arrest. Osama bin Laden and seven others have been indicted but are still at large.
Back in Nairobi, in the five months since the bombing, scores of flowers have been placed where so many people's lives were changed forever. The State Department says there are no plans for a permanent memorial, but $119 million has been set aside to rebuild the two embassies.
CONGREGATION: (singing) Make me a channel of your peace.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) Those who survived are working on rebuilding, too. Without his wife, Arlene, Robert Kirk is struggling to raise a young son. Kirk is considering leaving Africa and joining the ministry.
Joanne Huskey, who arrived at the embassy at the same time as the truck bomb, is just thankful her family survived. She has dedicated herself to helping Kenyan families who were not so lucky.
JOANNE HUSKEY: We set up a relief fund, and we are targeting our efforts toward children.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: (voice-over) As for Rose Macharia, the Kenyan woman trapped beneath so much metal and concrete, rescuers spent five days guided by her voice and her will to live. But when they finally broke through to her, they were 10 minutes too late.
ONDEKO AURA: She was a source of inspiration when everybody hoped that she would be rescued, and when she died, those hopes were dashed.
PRUDENCE BUSHNELL: I keep going back to the site because I think that maybe I will develop calluses. That if I go back often enough, it won't have the emotional impact.
In point of fact, it still has the emotional impact. It is, in some respect, a sacred site, a holy site for me, because good people who were my friends and my colleagues died on that site. And every time I go into that building, I pay them respect, and I will continue to pay those people respect.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: That's our broadcast for tonight. Our hearts go out to the families who have lost so much.
For continuing coverage of the Senate impeachment trial, watch Nightline after your local news and Good Morning America tomorrow. And don't forget 20/20 Friday with Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs. For more on tonight's story, go to abcnews.com.
I'm Cynthia McFadden. From all of us here at ABC News, good night.