No "smoking gun" apparent in case against bin Laden
By Jerry White, AFP/Yahoo News, 5 October 2001
Britain has provided the most detailed outline yet of the case against Osama bin Laden, but the evidence which it says indicates his guilt over the September 11 attacks raises as many questions as answers.

Crucially, what has been made public so far does not appear to contain the elusive "smoking gun" proof to shore up a cast-iron legal case.

The 20-page dossier was published Thursday after Prime Minister Tony Blair told parliament he had "absolutely no doubt" of bin Laden's guilt.

He admitted there was not enough to convict the alleged terrorist leader in a court of law, but claimed there was "evidence of a very specific nature" on bin Laden's guilt that was too sensitive to release.

Experts agree that the dossier leaves many questions unanswered.

William Wallace, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, said the case was "persuasive rather than convincing."

"It would be extremely difficult at this stage to build a cast-iron case to stand up in a court of law," he told AFP.

But "it does provide a fairly good indication of his network."

Bin Laden, who is being harboured by Afghanistan's hardline Taliban regime, is the chief suspect for the devastating suicide plane attacks in New York and Washington which killed thousands.

In summary, the dossier says the "clear conclusions" are that bin Laden and al-Qaeda planned and carried out the attacks and were able to do so thanks to their ties with the Taliban.

Key planks are that shortly before September 11, bin Laden told associates he was preparing a "major attack on America."

In the preceding weeks, close associates were told to return to Afghanistan by September 10. Immediately before the attacks, some were naming the date for action as on or around September 11.

Finally, one of bin Laden's closest and most senior lieutenants carried out the detailed planning, the dossier alleges.

Supporting those allegations are others based around bin Laden's contacts, links to previous attacks, his modus operandi, political outlook and military capability.

But the dossier makes no mention of:

- a reported meeting between one of the main hijackers, Mohammed Atta, and an Iraqi intelligence officer

- a series of arrests in Europe under anti-terrorist legislation since the attacks

- the alleged bases of al-Qaeda cells in Britain and Germany

- the so-called "money trail" linking bin Laden to the Middle East, Europe and the United States

- similarities between the World Trade Center attacks and a 1994 attempt by Algeria's Armed Islamic Group to crash a hijacked plane into the Eiffel Tower in Paris

- a reported meeting early last year between two of the hijackers and a key figure in Malaysia said to have helped planned an attack on the USS Cole some months later.

Moreover, the dossier glosses over the alleged terrorists' connections with Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

And the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center is mentioned only in relation to a bin Laden quote that the bombers were "role models."

Wallace said he had no doubt the dossier was as much a political move as a legal one, giving vital but fearful allies such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia a welcome reason to support the seemingly inevitable US-led riposte.

"I have absolutely no doubt the Saudi connection will have been underplayed because the last thing anybody wants is to destabilise Saudi Arabia."

Also, the omission of any Baghdad connection may indicate that Iraq is not going to be a related target, as some in Washington have suggested.

"It is a sobering thought, that better evidence is required to prosecute a shoplifter than is needed to commence a world war," argued Anthony Scrivener, one of Britain's leading lawyers, in The Times.

But he conceded that the case centred on security and intelligence matters, which are "for governments to evaluate, together with hidden evidence."

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