'Osama will be always a step ahead of the West'

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London, Mar 27: Osama bin Laden's loyal bodyguard Nasser al Bahri has claimed that the chief of al-Qaeda will always be one step ahead of Western intelligence. Talking to The Daily Telegraph, Bahri, 35, who is wanted by both the CIA and the FBI, and now lives in Yemen as a taxi driver, says what he remembers most about Osama was that "he was very, very active." "From the start of the day before dawn when he began his prayers to late at night he was always doing something, never resting. We were not living in a comfortable environment, but that did not stop him from all the time working, thinking and planning," Bahri said.

"After prayers came administration and after administration came meetings with distinguished visitors, sometimes secret visitors, but all day he never stopped," he added. Sitting in a quiet corner of a hotel restaurant in Sana'a, the capital of Yemen, Bahri shook his head at the colourful claims about his role in protecting bin Laden in the late 1990s. He refuted suggestions that he screened bin Laden's food for poison. He was also not under orders to shoot bin Laden dead if he was about to fall into enemy hands. Instead, he acted as an armed personal assistant, carrying his baggage, making sure his satellite communications were working and chivvying the various other members of the entourage from cooks to drivers. "To be honest I have never killed a man," said Bahri. "The worst moment came when a Sudanese man came for a visit and he became very rude and disrespectful to The Sheikh. I had to grab his hands and handcuff him and take him away.

"But even then the Sheikh told me to let him go." Like his sponsor, Bahri was born in Saudi Arabia to Yemeni immigrants. He was educated to the equivalent of A Level and left school at 18. He drifted through various jobs in his early 20s, falling in with a group of young jihadists disenchanted with pro-Western Saudi rulers. Bahri's time as bodyguard to bin Laden between 1996 and 2000 is perhaps of most interest to Western intelligence because it was when the al-Qaeda leader changed strategy.

"From the moment I knew him, he was thinking all the time about extending the war everywhere. He would always say we must hit America on a front that it never expects. He kept saying he wanted to fight America on a battlefield it cannot control," he said. Bahri said he had no idea at the time about the September 11 attacks but that when they happened he believed they fell into the pattern bin Laden had been formulating during their time together. Bahri left Afghanistan for Yemen in 2000 because his father in law was ill with a kidney condition. He flew home shortly before al-Qa'eda attacked the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden in late 2000.

Arrested in a round up of militants, he convinced the Yemeni authorities that he had no role in the attack, but still spent two years in jail, meaning he was under detention when the September 11 attacks took place. So desperate was US intelligence for leads after the attacks that FBI investigators flew to Yemen to interview him in jail more than once. He was released in 2002 and has since earned a living as a taxi driver and junior college lecturer in human resources.

ANI

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