Under my Christmas tree this year, with or without a red ribbon, I would like to find Usama Bin Laden and/or his faithful sidekick, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian physician. The time for Al Qaeda's leaders to be brought to justice is long overdue. Bin Laden is still featured prominently on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, of course, but not Dr. Zawahiri, for some inscrutable reason.
The Saudi fugitive is now about 51 years old, the Bureau's posting reminds us, has brown hair, brown eyes, and an olive complexion. He is said to weigh about 160 pounds, though how the FBI knows this is unclear since it hasn't put him on a scale lately. The estimate is probably based on the videos that his outlets broadcast featuring his sermons to the faithful and new warnings to us infidels.
He is tall by Saudi standards – between 6′ 4″ to 6′ 6″, the FBI notes. He is left-handed, walks with a cane, and has no distinguishing scars or marks. The Bureau states his occupation as "unknown." Would "full-time terrorist" not be more accurate? Alas, there is no hint of a suspected location. But the Bureau does warn that he is "armed and extremely dangerous." No kidding.
The posting makes no mention of 9/11. Rather, it states that Bin Laden is wanted in connection with the August, 1998 twin bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa, where over 200 people died, and as a suspect in other, unspecified "terrorist attacks throughout the world."
The U.S. government has so far proved luckless in its campaign to hunt him down, "dead of alive," in George Bush's words -– another of the outgoing president's unfulfilled promises as he leaves office.
Why has Washington been unable to apprehend Bin Laden? Surely money has been no object.
Washington is offering a reward of up to $27 million for information leading directly to his arrest — $25 million from a State Department program and an additional $2 million from the Airline Pilots Association and the Air Transport Association. But no one has been tempted enough to turn him in.
Nor have the all-knowing eyes and ears of the National Security Agency, which found time to monitor the bedroom talk of soldiers abroad and calls between American civilians and their overseas friends and relatives, pinpointed Bin Laden's location.
Counterterrorism officials now slyly suggest that finding Bin Laden would not make much dent in Al Qaeda's operations. In a speech last April — one of the few such statements posted on the Bureau's web site –- FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, III told a British audience that the threat posed by the ever evolving, ever-adaptable Al Qaeda had morphed into a three-tiered challenge. First is the Al-Qaeda "core," which had established new sanctuaries in the "ungoverned spaces, tribal areas, and frontier provinces of Pakistan" where some intelligence officials suspect Bin Laden is hiding. The second tier is composed of the "Al-Qaeda franchises," small groups who have some ties to AQ, but are largely self-directed. The bottom tier threat comes from "homegrown extremists" who are "self-radicalizing, self-financing, and self-executing." –A New Jersey jury convicted a group of alleged home-grown terrorists on Monday — Muslim immigrants, who were planning to attack Fort Dix and gun down American soldiers.
In a ceremony Sunday commemorating the 20th anniversary of the victims of Pan Am Flight 103 –- an attack perpetrated not by Al Qaeda but by Libya -– Mueller declared that fighting terrorism remained the Bureau's "top priority." But the FBI's own "top ten" list challenges that claim: Bin Laden is the only international terrorist on the list. After seven years without a significant attack on American soil, pressure is growing to transfer agents from combating terrorism to fighting financial fraud and other crimes.
This would be a Christmas gift to Bin Laden, Zawahiri and the others still patiently plotting against America and its allies. Until they and other known terrorist leaders are killed or captured and brought to justice, downgrading terrorism as a threat would be foolhardy.