Delving into the mind of Osama bin Laden

Sacramento BeeSeptember 11, 2008 

For five years, a University of California, Davis, researcher has been replaying hundreds of hours of audiocassettes that, he says, yield deeper — and more complex — insights into the intellectual development of Osama bin Laden.

A collection of 1,500 audiocassettes was carted away from bin Laden's compound in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2001 and provides a glimpse into bin Laden's rise leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Certainly, few would dare humanize the man the United States calls its most wanted, who seven years after the country's deadliest terrorist attacks is still being sought dead or alive.

On the seventh anniversary of the attacks, the most brazen ever carried out anywhere in the world, bin Laden still looms large on the American psyche, its politics and public life.

Nearly 3,000 people died in attacks when four hijacked U.S. jetliners crashed into New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon and into a rural field in Pennsylvania.

In the years since the 2001 terrorist attacks, the Osama bin Laden who Americans have come to know and demonize has arrived in video dispatches – monologues excoriating the United States and filled with promises of further violence on American soil.

The audio tapes, some dating back to the 1960s, "show his evolution from a relatively unpolished Muslim reformer, orator and jihad recruiter to his current person," said Flagg Miller, an assistant professor of religious studies at UC Davis and the first academic researcher to study the tapes.

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