In 1987, several years after he began training Arab volunteers to oust Soviet forces from Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden had a vision. The time had come, he told friends, to start a global jihad, or Islamic holy war, against the corrupt secular governments of the Muslim Middle East and the Western powers that supported them.
Mr. bin Laden, the Saudi millionaire, would use his camps in Afghanistan to take holy warriors from around the world -- who had always pursued local goals -- and shape them into an international network that would fight to bring all Muslims under a militant version of Islamic law.
Some of his comrades in arms warned him that the goal was unattainable.
"I talked to Osama one day and asked him what was he doing," recalled Abdullah Anas, an Algerian who was fighting in Afghanistan at the time and provided a rare personal narrative of the formation of Mr. bin Laden's organization. " 'Imagine after five years a guy from Malaysia goes back to his country. How can he remember you are his leader? He will get married, have children, engage in work in his country. How can you establish one camp for jihad in the world?'"
Osama bin Laden. The man whose vision of a worldwide jihad resulted in the founding of Al Qaeda. (Associated Press)
But he and other doubters watched as Mr. bin Laden, who is now America's most wanted terror suspect, set about doing just that. Mr. Anas's account and those of other witnesses, along with intelligence from United States, the Middle East and Europe, draw a vivid and newly detailed portrait of the birth of a modern jihad movement. What began as a holy war against the Soviet Union took on a new dimension, Mr. Anas said, when Mr. bin Laden broke away and established a new corps of militant Muslims whose ambitions reached far beyond the borders of Afghanistan.
From his Afghan camps, Mr. bin Laden created a kind of clearinghouse for Islamic terrorism, which American officials say not only conducts its own operations but trains and underwrites local militants, connecting home-grown plots to a global crusade.
His strategy is aptly captured by one of his many code names: The Contractor. The group he founded 13 years ago, Al Qaeda, Arabic for The Base, is led by masterful opportunists who tailor their roles to the moment, sometimes teaching the fine points of explosives, sometimes sending in their own operatives, sometimes simply supplying inspiration.
The group has become a beacon for Muslim Malaysians, Algerians, Filipinos, Palestinians, Egyptians, even Americans who have come to view the United States as their enemy, an imperial power propping up corrupt and godless governments. Mr. bin Laden has tried to bridge divisions in a movement long plagued by doctrinal, ethnic and geographic differences. "Local politics drives what they're doing, but it's much more visionary," said Robert Blitzer, a former F.B.I. counterterrorism official. "This is worldwide. This is, 'We want to be somewhere in a hundred years.' "
According to a recent Central Intelligence Agency analysis, Al Qaeda operates about a dozen Afghan camps that have trained as many as 5,000 militants, who in turn have created cells in 50 countries. Intelligence officials say the group is experimenting with chemical weapons, including nerve gas, at one of its camps.
Mr. bin Laden and his supporters use centuries-old interpretations of the Koran to justify violence in the name of God against fellow Muslims or bystanders -- a vision on the farthest extremes of one of the world's largest religions. But their operations are thoroughly modern -- encrypted e-mail, bomb-making recipes stored on CD-ROM's, cell phones and satellite communications.
The group plans attacks months or years in advance, investigators say. A former United States Army sergeant, Ali A. Mohamed -- who worked for Mr. bin Laden and is now a government witness -- has told prosecutors that Al Qaeda trains "sleeper" agents, or "submarines," to live undetected among local populations.
Mr. bin Laden has not achieved his more ambitious goals. He has not brought more Muslims under the rule of Islamic law, toppled any of the Arab governments he took aim at, or driven the United States out of the Middle East. His violence has repulsed many believers and prompted severe crackdowns in Arab states that already have limited political freedoms.
Nonetheless, he and his small inner circle have preoccupied American officials, paralyzing embassies, thwarting military exercises and making Americans abroad feel anxious and vulnerable. Earlier this month, the United States closed its Rome embassy for nearly two days after intelligence officials warned of a possible attack.
From top to bottom:
American officials have charged Mr. bin Laden with masterminding the 1998 bombings of two embassies in Africa that killed more than 200 people, and suspect him of involvement in the October bombing of the destroyer Cole in Yemen, which killed 17 sailors. Four men went on trial this month in lower Manhattan in the African bombings.
American authorities are also examining Al Qaeda's role in three plots timed to millennium celebrations in 1999 -- attacks directed at another American ship, a so-far unknown target in the United States, and tourist sites and a hotel in Jordan.
Mr. bin Laden's group has recently attempted operations against Israel -- a significant departure, American and Middle Eastern officials say. They acknowledge that he has ensured his organization's survival, in the event of his capture or death, by designating a successor: his longtime aide, Abdulaziz abu Sitta, an Egyptian known as Muhammad Atef or Abu Hoffs al-Masri. Last week, according to Al Jazeera, an Arab satellite channel, his son married Mr. Masri's daughter in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
"His arrest, which we dearly hope for, is only one step along the road of the many things we need to do to eliminate the network of organizations," said Richard A. Clarke, the top White House counterterrorism official.
Afghan War Draws Young Arab Fighters Al Qaeda grew out of the jihad inspired by Muslim scholars to combat the Soviet Union's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. They issued religious rulings, known as fatwas, which exhorted Muslims everywhere to defend the Islamic land of Afghanistan from infidels. Over the next few years, several thousand young Arab men joined the Afghan resistance.
One of the first to answer the call was a young Algerian named Boujema Bounouar, who went by the nom de guerre Abdullah Anas. In recent interviews in London, where he now lives, Mr. Anas recounted how Mr. bin Laden went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets and was drawn to a group of Egyptians who wanted to start a global jihad.
Mr. Anas, who is now a leader of an Algerian Islamic political party, is not a dispassionate observer. He acknowledges that he opposed Mr. bin Laden, whose program of terrorism, he says, has tarred the reputations of thousands of Arabs who fought honorably for the Afghan cause. But his firsthand account, which conforms with Western intelligence analysis, provides one of few portraits of Mr. bin Laden's evolution as a militant leader.
The two men were defined by many of the same forces. Mr. Anas said his journey from teacher of the Koran to holy warrior began in 1984, when he was 25 and living with his family in Western Algeria. Visiting the local library, he read in a news weekly about a religious ruling that waging war against the Soviets was every Muslim's duty.
"After a few days, everyone heard about this fatwa and started talking," he recalled. " 'here is this Afghanistan? Which people are they? How can we go there? How much is the ticket?'"
That year, Mr. Anas was among the million Muslims who participated in the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. "You feel very holy," he said. "People from all over the world. From Zimbabwe to New Delhi. Everyone is wearing just two pieces of white cotton. Everybody. You can't describe who is the minister, who is the president. No jewelry. No good suit."
In Mecca, he said, prayer leaders spoke emotionally about the jihad in Afghanistan.
He was standing in the marble expanse of the Great Mosque with 50,000 others when, he said, a friend pointed out a radical Palestinian scholar who was organizing the Arab support for the Afghans. His name was
Abdullah Azzam, and his writings, which would help spur the revival of the jihad movement in the 20th century, were just becoming widely known.
Mr. Anas introduced himself and asked whether the magazine article he had seen in the library was correct. Had the religious leaders agreed that fighting in Afghanistan was a duty of all Muslims?
"He said, 'Yes, it's true.' "
" 'O.K.,' I said. 'If I want to go to Afghanistan, what do I do now?' "
Mr. Azzam gave him a business card with a telephone number in Islamabad, Pakistan, where he was a university professor. A week later, Mr. Anas was on a flight from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan.
He had no idea where he was going, or what he would do. He dialed the only phone number he knew in Pakistan, reaching Mr. Azzam, who offered him a place to stay in his own house, a bustling salon frequented by students and scholars.
It was there that he first caught sight of Mr. Azzam's youngest daughter, whom he would marry five years later. And Mr. Azzam introduced him to a Saudi visitor identified in the traditional Arabic way, as Abu Abdullah, the father of his eldest son, Abdullah. The visitor was Osama bin Laden.
The two men exchanged pleasantries. Mr. bin Laden's name was well known. He was said to be the youngest of 24 brothers in a family that ran one of the largest construction companies in the Arab world.
Mr. bin Laden seemed no different from the other Arab volunteers who were starting to arrive in Pakistan, Mr. Anas recalled. The conversation turned to how the volunteers could help the Afghans win their jihad, and teach them more about Islam.
The Soviet forces had a considerable advantage in the Afghan conflict. Their helicopter gunships controlled the air, and their troops held the main roads. But the rebels had powerful friends. The United States and Saudi Arabia were spending millions funneling arms to the Afghans through Pakistan's intelligence service.
Mr. Anas began by teaching the Koran to the Afghan rebels, who did not speak Arabic and learned the verses by rote. He also led prayers at a "guest house" set up in Pakistan for Arab volunteers. At the time, he said, there were no more than a few dozen Arabs in the country, working with the rebels. None spoke the Afghan languages.
After a few months, Mr. Anas said, he trekked into Afghanistan to join a combat unit, one of three Arabs traveling with a caravan of 600 Afghan soldiers. He learned Farsi and took on the role of mediator, traveling among the feuding rebel camps. He spent most of each year inside Afghanistan.
Mr. Anas became a top aide to Commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, whose troops controlled northern Afghanistan and are now fighting the Taliban rulers -- who support Mr. bin Laden.
Like many Muslims who joined the rebels, Mr. Anas expected to die in the Afghan jihad and earn the special status designated in the Koran for martyrs, which includes forgiveness of sins and the enjoyment in Paradise of beautiful virgins. "It's not the main idea to be a shahid," or martyr, he said. "But it's part of my plan."
In the mid-1980's, American and Middle Eastern intelligence officials say, Mr. bin Laden moved to Peshawar, a Pakistani city near the border with Afghanistan. The city was a staging ground for the war against the Soviets; American, French and Pakistani intelligence officers intrigued and competed there to manipulate the Afghan cause to their countries' advantage.
Mr. bin Laden's fortune of several hundred million dollars gained him immediate popularity. "He was one of the guys who came to jihad in Afghanistan," Mr. Anas said. "But unlike the others, what he had was a lot of money. He's not very sophisticated politically or organizationally. But he's an activist with great imagination. He ate very little. He slept very little. Very generous. He'd give you his clothes. He'd give you his money."
Mr. Anas, who returned annually to Pakistan from the Afghan battlefields to visit with Mr. Azzam, said Mr. bin Laden at first slept in the guest house in Peshawar on a cushion on the floor. He recalled that Mr. Azzam liked to say: "You see, this man has everything in his country. You see he lives with all the poor people in this room."
At about this time, in 1984, Mr. Azzam set up the organization that would play a pivotal role in the global jihad over the next decade. It was called the Makhtab al Khadimat, the Office of Services, and its goal was to recruit and train Muslim volunteers for the Afghan fronts. Mr. Azzam raised money for the organization in countries overseas including the United States and gave impassioned speeches promoting the Afghan cause. Mr. bin Laden embraced the idea from its inception and became Mr. Azzam's partner, providing financial support and handling military affairs.
Mr. bin Laden worked best with small groups, Mr. Anas said. "When you sit with Osama, you don't want to leave the meeting," he said. "You wish to continue talking to him because he is very calm, very fluent."
A main goal of the Office of Services, Mr. Anas said, was to prevent the increasing number of outside volunteers from taking sides in the rebels' factional struggles. "We are in Afghanistan to help the jihad and all the Afghan people," Mr. Azzam told him.
But there was increasing frustration from many of the disaffected young Muslims over Mr. Azzam's insistence that the Office of Services support only the Afghan cause -- when many were agitated about the plight of their own homelands. Some approached Mr. bin Laden.
"They told him: 'You shouldn't be staying with Abdullah Azzam. He doesn't do anything about the regimes -- Saudi, Egyptian, Algerian. He's just talking about Afghanistan,' " Mr. Anas said.
"These people are always saying to Osama: 'You should establish something. Have a clear idea to use these people after Afghanistan for other wars.' "
Among those most ardently courting Mr. bin Laden was a group of Egyptian radicals called the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which helped assassinate President Anwar el-Sadat in 1981.
The Egyptian group advocated the overthrow of governments by terrorism and violence, and one of its key figures, Ayman al- Zawahiri, had taken shelter in Afghanistan. Mr. Anas said -- and Western intelligence agencies agree -- that Dr. Zawahiri was a commanding early influence on Mr. bin Laden. Today he is part of Al Qaeda's leadership, according to intelligence officials.
But Mr. Azzam quarreled bitterly with the Egyptians.
Mr. Anas said he once witnessed a heated argument between Mr. Azzam and Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, a radical religious scholar, who argued that the flouting of Islamic law had turned Presidents Mohammed Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt into infidels who could therefore be killed. Sheik Abdel Rahman later moved to Brooklyn, where he was associated with an Office of Services branch. In 1995 he was convicted of plotting to blow up New York landmarks.
In 1986, according to Mr. Anas and Middle Eastern intelligence officials, Mr. bin Laden began to chart a separate course. He established his own training camp for Persian Gulf Arabs, a group of about 50 who lived in tents set apart from the other Afghan fighters. He called the camp Al Masadah -- The Lion's Den.
Within little more than a year the movement divided, as Mr. bin Laden and the Egyptians founded Al Qaeda -- the "base" for what they hoped would be a global crusade.
Mr. Anas said Mr. Azzam confided to him that Egyptian ideologues had wooed Mr. bin Laden away, gaining access to his money. "He told me one time: 'I'm very upset about Osama. This heaven-sent man, like an angel. I am worried about his future if he stays with these people.' "
The differences between Mr. Azzam and Mr. bin Laden were largely tactical, Mr. Anas said, noting that the two men remained friends.
A committed enemy of Israel, Mr. Azzam believed the Arab warriors should focus on creating an Islamic state in Afghanistan, a process that could take decades. Mr. bin Laden, according to Mr. Anas, came to believe that such a war could be fought in many countries simultaneously.
"The arguments were very secret," Mr. Anas said. "Only three to four people knew about them at the time." Mr. Azzam saw little difference between the United States and the Soviet Union, contending in his articles and speeches that both were hostile to Islam. But Mr. Azzam opposed terrorism against the West, Mr. Anas said.
By the late 1980's, Peshawar had become a magnet for disaffected young Muslims who shared Mr. bin Laden's views. "Ten people would open a guest house and start issuing fatwas," Mr. Anas recalled. " 'We are going to make revolution in Jordan, in Egypt, in Syria.' And they haven't got any contact with the real jihad in Afghanistan."
The tide of the Afghan war was turning. Stinger missiles, provided through the American covert program, had forced Soviet aircraft to fly far above the battlefields. Afghanistan had become Moscow's Vietnam. By February 1989, the Soviets had withdrawn.
A C.I.A. official said that the agency, aware of the changing nature of the jihad, had taken some steps he would not specify to counter the threat. But Milt Bearden, the former C.I.A. station chief in Islamabad, who coordinated the agency's anti-Soviet effort in Afghanistan, disagreed.
"The Soviet Union, armed to the teeth, was falling apart," he said. "A shooting war then erupted in the Persian Gulf. Afghanistan was off the front burner."
When the war ended, he said, "we got the hell out of there."
The Afghan rebels' war continued, first against the Soviet-backed government and then within their own ranks. On Nov. 24, 1989, Mr. Azzam and two sons were killed by a car bomb in Peshawar as they drove to Friday Prayers. The murders were never solved.
Mr. Anas said he tried to take over leadership of the Office of Services. According to the C.I.A., the group split; the extremist faction took control, siding with Mr. bin Laden.
"They loved the ideas of Osama and the person of Abdullah Azzam," Mr. Anas said wistfully. "They don't love me."
From Many Lands, Under One Banner
Fired by their triumph over the Soviets, the Arabs who had fought in Afghanistan returned home, eager to apply the principles of jihad to their native lands.
The Koran sets strict limits on when and how holy war is to be undertaken. But Gilles Kepel, a leading French scholar of contemporary Islam, said the Afghan veterans were guided by their own radical interpretation of sacred Muslim texts. "Intoxicated by the Muslim victory in Afghanistan," he said, "they believed that it could be replicated elsewhere -- that the whole world was ripe for jihad, which is contrary to Islamic tradition."
They called themselves the Arab Afghans.
In Jordan some founded a group, Jaish Muhammad, that officials say took aim at King Hussein, whose family claims descent from the Prophet Muhammad.
In Algeria, the Arab Afghans were among the founders of the Armed Islamic Group, the most radical to emerge after the military government canceled the 1991 elections. Known by its French initials, G.I.A, it began by blowing up military targets and escalated to wholesale massacres of Algerians who did not believe in the jihad.
According to Mr. Anas, one of its founding members was an Algerian who had initially fought with him in Afghanistan but joined Al Qaeda in the late 1980's. Mr. Anas says he has been told that Mr. bin Laden provided some of the seed money for the G.I.A.
The early 1990's proved difficult for Mr. bin Laden. He was enraged by King Fahd's decision to let American troops wage the Persian Gulf war from Saudi Arabia, site of the two holiest shrines in Islam. He began to focus his wrath on the United States and the Saudi government. After the conflict ended, he moved to Afghanistan.
But his stay was brief. Within months he fled, telling associates that Saudi Arabia had hired the Pakistani intelligence service to kill him. There is no confirmation that such a plot existed. Nonetheless, in 1991, Mr. bin Laden moved to Sudan, where a militantly Islamic government had taken power.
Over the next five years, Mr. bin Laden built a group that combined legitimate business with support for world holy war.
He also set out to accomplish his overriding goal of gathering the leading Islamic extremist groups under one banner. According to Middle Eastern officials, Mr. bin Laden and his envoys met with radicals from Pakistan and Egypt to propose an international Islamic front, led by Afghan veterans, that would fight Americans and Jews.
Al Qaeda began training its own operatives. Ali Mohamed, the government witness, who has said he arranged Mr. bin Laden's move to Sudan, told investigators that he taught group members about weapons, explosives, kidnapping, urban fighting, counterintelligence and other tactics at camps in Afghanistan and Sudan. He said he showed some of the trainees how to set up cells "that could be used in operations."
The dispatch of American troops to Somalia in late 1992 and 1993 as part of a United Nations mission was another affront to Mr. bin Laden. The Bush administration presented it as a relief operation.
American officials say a defector from Al Qaeda told them it viewed the deployment as a dangerous expansion of American influence in the region and a step toward undermining the Islamic government of Sudan.
Al Qaeda privately issued fatwas that directed members to attack American soldiers in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Horn of Africa, according to American prosecutors. They said he also sent his military chief, an Egyptian who had been with him at the formation of Al Qaeda, to find the vulnerabilities of United Nations forces in Africa.
Al Qaeda created a cell in Kenya as a "gateway" to its operations in Somalia, the prosecutors assert. Members of the group blended into Kenyan society, opening legitimate businesses that sold fish and dealt in diamonds, and operating an Islamic charity.
Federal prosecutors say at least five group members crossed the border to Somalia, where they trained some of the fighters involved in an Oct. 3, 1993, battle with United States special forces that left 18 Americans and several hundred Somalis dead.
The battle, one of the most widely publicized setbacks for American forces in recent memory, cast a shadow over every subsequent Clinton administration debate on the possible uses of ground troops. American intelligence did not learn of Al Qaeda's role in the ambush until several years later.
Prosecutors say the group also considered attacking Americans in Kenya to retaliate for the Somalia mission. Mr. Mohamed testified that Mr. bin Laden sent him to Nairobi in late 1993 to look over possible American, French, British and Israeli targets for a bomb attack, including the American Embassy. He said he took photos, drew diagrams and wrote a report, which he delivered to his boss in Khartoum. "Bin Laden looked at the picture of the American Embassy and pointed to where a truck could go as a suicide bomber," he said.
American prosecutors say Al Qaeda had more grandiose plans: a leading member, an Iraqi who Mr. Anas said had first gravitated to Mr. bin Laden in Afghanistan, tried to buy enriched uranium in Europe.
The Iraqi, Mahdouh Mahmud Salim, forged links between Mr. bin Laden's group and others supported by Iran. Mr. Salim met with an Iranian religious official in Khartoum, and soon afterward, the prosecutors say, Al Qaeda members got training from Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite group in Lebanon skilled in making car bombs. American officials said this alliance was notable because it marked the first time radicals from the minority Shiite branch of Islam collaborated with extremists from the dominant Sunni branch.
Mr. bin Laden's business ventures in Sudan -- including a tannery, a transportation company and a construction concern -- raised money and served as cover for the travels of Mr. Salim and others, according to American officials. They said that his companies cornered Sudan's exports of gum, sunflower and sesame products -- and that he invested $50 million of his family money in a new Islamic bank in Khartoum.
As in Afghanistan, So in the World
The new jihad movement was fueled by the civil war that consumed Afghanistan in the early 1990's. The training camps that had once schooled soldiers to battle the Soviet enemy now attracted militants more interested in fomenting holy war back home -- in America, Europe or the Middle East -- than in the struggle for control of Afghanistan.
The Office of Services, the Pakistan-based group founded in the 1980's by Mr. Azzam to recruit soldiers for the anti-Soviet cause, arranged the travels of some of these new jihadists, according to European and American officials.
Many of those associated with the office, Mr. Anas said, shared Mr. bin Laden's vision of a global movement. American officials suspect they were acting under his instructions, though this remains a subject of debate among intelligence analysts.
American investigators stumbled across the first signs of the new global phenomenon in 1993, when they began to examine the bombing at the World Trade Center.
They discovered that the four men who carried out the attack, which killed 6 and wounded more than 1,000, had ties to Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, whom they charged with leading a worldwide "jihad organization" that had begun plotting to kill Americans as early as 1989.
Mr. Abdel Rahman was later convicted of conspiring to blow up New York landmarks, including the United Nations. But in the years since, American intelligence officials have come to believe that he and the World Trade Center bombers had ties to Al Qaeda.
The evidence is suggestive, but not conclusive. Several of those convicted in the World Trade Center case were associated with the Brooklyn refugee center that was a branch of the Office of Services, the Pakistan-based organization that Mr. bin Laden helped finance and lead. The Brooklyn center was headed for a time by Mustafa Shalabi, an Egyptian murdered in 1991 in a case that remains unsolved. Federal prosecutors recently disclosed that it was Mr. Shalabi whom Mr. bin Laden called in 1991 when he needed help moving to Sudan, according to Mr. Mohamed, the federal witness.
One of the men convicted of bombing the World Trade Center, Ahmad M. Ajaj, spent four months in Pakistan in 1992, returning to the United States with a bomb manual later seized by the United States government. An English translation of the document, entered into evidence in the World Trade Center trial, said that the manual was dated 1982, that it had been published in Amman, Jordan, and that it carried a heading on the front and succeeding pages: The Basic Rule.
Those appear to be errors. Two separate translations of the document, one done at the request of The New York Times, show that the heading said Al Qaeda -- which translates as The Base, the name of Mr. bin Laden's group. In addition, the document lists a publication date of 1989, a year after Mr. bin Laden founded his organization. And the place of publication is Afghanistan, not Jordan.
Steven Emerson, a terrorism expert who first pointed out the errors, said they deprived investigators of a subtle early clue to the existence of Mr. bin Laden's group.
While the trade center trial ended in 1994, federal prosecutors did not open their grand jury investigation of Mr. bin Laden and Al Qaeda until 1996.
"Had the government correctly translated the material," Mr. Emerson said, "it might have understood that the men who blew up the World Trade Center and Mr. bin Laden's group were linked."
Asked about the mistranslation, an official in the United States Attorney's office, who declined to be identified, said only that Mr. Ajaj had been carrying "voluminous material printed by various organizations." He added that their titles referred to international conspiracy, commando operations and engineering of explosives.
The jihad movement also took root in Europe. In August 1994, three young French Muslims of North African descent, wearing hoods and brandishing machine pistols, opened fire on tourists in a hotel lobby in Marrakesh, Morocco, killing two Spaniards and wounding a third. The French police investigating the attack learned that it had been planned by two Moroccan veterans of the Afghan war, who had recruited commandos for the attack in Paris and Orléans and sent more than a dozen of them to Afghanistan for training.
The indoctrination of the young Muslims began with religion, according to French court papers and testimony. An Orléans mathematics professor and interpreter of the Koran, Mohamed Zinédine, gathered around him a group of men from the slums of Orléans who wanted to learn how to pray. Later, French court papers say, he instructed them in the concept of waging jihad against corrupt governments, saying it was a higher stage of Islamic observance.
One young Moroccan testified that Mr. Zinédine -- who is now a fugitive -- showed him a videotape of Muslim victims of "torture in Bosnia, of babies with their throats cut, of pregnant women disemboweled, and fingernails torn off." The young man added, "He told me there was a way of helping them and that I must help them." Prayers for people like the Muslims in Bosnia, he quoted Mr. Zinédine as saying, were not enough. He must become an "armed humanitarian."
European investigators tracing the Afghan network in France, Belgium and Germany found records of phone calls between local extremists and the Office of Services in Pakistan. In March 1995, Belgian investigators came across another clue: A CD-ROM in the car of another Algerian, who had been trained in Afghanistan in 1992 and was part of the G.I.A. cell in Brussels. The CD was initially ignored, Belgian officials say.
Months later, the Belgians began translating its contents and discovered several different versions of a manual for terrorism that had begun circulating among Islamic militants in the early 1990's. The voluminous manual covered diverse subjects, from "psychological war in Islam" to "the organizational structure of Israeli intelligence" to "recruiting according to the American method."
The manual also offered detailed recipes for making bombs, including instructions on when to shake the chemicals and how to use a wristwatch as a detonator. In addition there were instructions on how to kill with toxins, gases and drugs. The preface included a dedication to the new hero of the holy war: Osama bin Laden. Versions of the manual circulated widely and were seized by the police all over Europe.
Reuel Gerecht, a former C.I.A. official, said he was told that the agency did not obtain its own copy of the manual before the end of 1999. "The truth is," he said, "they missed for years the largest terrorist guide ever written." The omission, he asserted, reflects the agency's reluctance to scrutinize the fallout from its support of the anti-Soviet jihad.
A C.I.A. official said that the agency had had "access to versions" of the manual since the late 1980's. "It's not the Holy Grail that Gerecht reports it to be," he said, adding that the terrorist-related parts were fairly recent additions.
By the mid-1990's, American officials had begun to focus on Mr. bin Laden and his entourage in Sudan. They saw him as the embodiment of a dangerous new development: a stateless sponsor of terrorism who was using his personal fortune -- which one Middle Eastern official estimated at $270 million -- to bankroll extremist causes.
American officials pressed Sudan to eject Mr. bin Laden, and in 1996 they succeeded, forcing him into exile. It was a diplomatic triumph, but one that many American officials would come to rue. Mr. bin Laden made his way back to Afghanistan, where a new group of young Islamic militants, the Taliban, was taking control.
American and Middle Eastern officials said some of the cash that the Taliban used to buy off local warlords came from Mr. bin Laden. Soon the new, hard-line rulers of Afghanistan allowed him to use their country to pursue his goal of creating "one jihad camp for the world," as Mr. Anas put it.
A Sacred Muslim Duty to Kill All Foes
Two years after he arrived in Afghanistan, in February 1998, Mr. bin Laden publicly announced his intentions. At a camp in Khost, in eastern Afghanistan, he and several other leaders of militant groups declared that they had founded the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders, an umbrella entity that included Al Qaeda and groups from Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh, among others.
The front issued the following fatwa: "To kill Americans and their allies, both civil and military, is an individual duty of every Muslim who is able, in any country where this is possible."
On Aug. 7, 1998, eight years to the day after the first American troops set foot in Saudi Arabia, Mr. bin Laden delivered on the threat, American prosecutors say. Bombs exploded hours apart at the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The plot, as described by federal prosecutors, was truly international. Prosecutors assert that the attacks were carried out by Muslims from Tanzania, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, most of whom were trained in Afghanistan. The Kenyan plotters, they say, spoke directly with Mr. bin Laden by satellite telephone as they developed their plans.
The attacks were costly for Al Qaeda. Less than two weeks after the embassy bombings, the United States conducted air strikes against Mr. bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan. Over the next two years, police and intelligence agencies around the world, many prodded by the United States, arrested more than 100 militants in some 20 countries.
Almost every month, authorities detain or question people with ties to Al Qaeda. Late last year, in what American officials described as one of the more alarming cases, the Kuwaiti police arrested a local man, an Afghan veteran, who said he was associated with Mr. bin Laden's group and planning to bomb American and Kuwaiti targets. American officials say he ultimately led the police to a weapons cache of almost 300 pounds of explosives and more than 1,400 detonators.
And in addition to the two-day closure of the American Embassy in Rome, officials say, recent warnings of a possible Al Qaeda attack prompted the United States to divert an entire carrier battle group scheduled to dock in Naples.
American officials acknowledge that Al Qaeda and Mr. bin Laden have proven resourceful, resilient adversaries. Much of his personal wealth has now been spent, or is in bank accounts that are now frozen. But officials say he is raising money through a network of charities and businesses. His group reconstitutes its networks in many countries as quickly as they are disrupted.
And failure can breed success. In late 1999, American officials say, a group of Yemenis botched an attempt to blow up an American ship, The Sullivans, as it passed through Yemen. Their boat, loaded with explosives, sank a few feet off shore.
This year, American officials say, a Saudi operative of Mr. bin Laden's who helped organize that attack worked with some of the same people on the bombing of the Cole in Yemen.
Internal crackdowns on Muslim militants, like the Algerian government's largely successful attempts to stamp out the G.I.A. in the mid- 1990's, have in several instances fueled the international jihad.
American officials said the most radical Algerians were now collaborating with Mr. bin Laden. In 1999, Algerians were for the first time implicated in plots against the United States, when Ahmed Ressam was arrested crossing the border from Canada with a carload of explosives. Mr. Ressam goes on trial later this year in Los Angeles.
American and Middle Eastern officials say Al Qaeda has now expanded its jihad to include Israel, which until recently had regarded Mr. bin Laden as an American problem. The officials say Al Qaeda has financed and trained an anti-Israel group, Asbat al Ansar, that operates from a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon.
Last June, Israel charged in a sealed indictment that a Hamas member who was plotting to attack targets within Israel, including settlers and the army, had been trained in one of Mr. bin Laden's Afghan camps. "Al Qaeda wants in on the action -- the new intifada against Israel," said one American official.
Olivier Roy, a French scholar who follows Islamic activities, says Al Qaeda's biggest asset is the thousands of jihadists around the world who no longer see their struggle in strictly local or even national terms, which makes them impervious to normal political or military pressure.
Mr. bin Laden's actions, he said, are "not the continuation of politics by other means."
"Osama bin Laden doesn't want to negotiate."