Since the attack on the World Trade Center in New York a torrent of books on Osama bin Laden has poured out of the world’s publishing houses, covering the whole spectrum from scholarly study to wild conspiracy theory. This book’s unique selling point lies in the fact that it was originally published in France in the week of 11 September and presciently discussed the prospect of terrorist attacks using ‘unforeseeable methods or techniques… calling on fanatical fighters ready to give up their lives’. Now translated into English and substantially updated, In The Name of Osama bin Laden attempts to explain exactly how this wealthy Saudi entrepreneur became the focus for a fundamentalist pan-Islamic movement. Jacquard tracks bin Laden’s wanderings in the 1990s through Sudan, Pakistan and finally Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, and reveals the web of money laundering and drug smuggling he tapped into and used for his jihad. This is in essence a short and rather conventional biography which breaks no new ground but is a good summary of current knowledge. The book’s editor Samia Serageldin provides an excellent introduction and afterword, and much of the interest lies in an extensive appendix of over 100 pages of documents, many freshly translated from Arabic.
Given his track record, we would do well to listen to Jacquard’s sobering conclusion that al-Qaeda, bin Laden’s creation, no longer needs either his physical existence or his funds; alive or dead, he has become the talisman for a diffuse, self-sufficient terrorist network with every intention of fulfilling its mission to ‘lead the world into the apocalypse’.