London, Dec. 28 (ANI): A former Libyan militant, who now lives in a bustling north-west London borough, raining his three children watching his beloved Chelsea and listening to Pink Floyd, recalled how he shocked and upset Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden by saying that the jihadi movement over the last 20 to 30 years had been a total failure.
Noman Benotman, 43, was the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) - dedicated to overthrowing that country's dictator, Colonel Gaddafi. And like 200 other militants from across the Arab world, he had been summoned to Kandahar in Afghanistan to discuss Bin Laden's latest strategy in his terrorist war against the West.
That event took place in the summer of 2000 and within a few minutes of arriving at a modest guest house in the city, Noman recalls that he was greeted by his host and former comrade-in-arms, al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden.
At the Kandahar meeting Bin Laden had a proposal for Noman.
He recalled: "Bin Laden said to me, 'I need your group's help, I need your infrastructure, at least your media knowledge and networking'.
"I told him immediately, 'No, I can't'. I said, 'The last 20 or 30 years, the jihadi movement worldwide has been a total failure'.
"It was a complete shock to everybody. They didn't expect to hear that from someone like me. They stared at me, nobody answered.
"Bin Laden was sitting next to me, smiling, but he was upset."
Noman, 43, described Bin Laden as a very charismatic guy.
Noman said: "One of the most charismatic guys you will ever meet in your life. But, he's very calm, cool and not scary. The meeting was extraordinary. Many people had come from all over the world to Afghanistan to listen to Bin Laden's plans. He was keen to talk about bringing all the different militant groups under his umbrella, including LIFG."
Noman says he spent a week in Kandahar with the who's who of international jihadists including Bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri and other key al-Qaeda leaders.
Now, a decade on, sipping hot coffee and eating biscuits in a plush central London hotel earlier this month, Noman told The Sun: "I really pressed Bin Laden hard for the whole week I was there, repeating that jihad had been a failure. He ran out of ideas and arguments.
"Then he said, 'Look, there's one operation coming up and I can't cancel it because if I do it will demoralise my group. I've spent years and years planning it, I can't cancel, it's too late now'.
"He didn't give me details of where and how and whatever.
"He added, 'After that I will stop using Afghanistan as a base to attack the West.
"I sensed they were planning something big and said, 'If you keep escalating the war with the Americans, don't expect the US to respond at the same level you are used to'.
"They believed the Americans were cowards, paper tigers, who would respond with cruise missiles and never engage them on the ground.
"I told them that the West is a very open and liberal society. No one forces the men to be soldiers. It's a career for them."
Noman's protestations fell on deaf ears. A year later 19 al-Qaeda fanatics hijacked four aircraft, slamming two into the World Trade Center towers in New York, killing almost 3,000 innocents.
The US then unleashed its "war on terror", Saddam Hussein was toppled and a decade on conflict still rages in Afghanistan.
Today Noman is a family man living in London. He is devoted to fighting fundamentalism through the partly public-funded Quilliam Foundation think-tank.
Noman speaks fondly of his American-born wife and his family's life in London. Of the 7/7 attacks which left 52 dead in the capital in 2005, he added: "Londoners defeated terrorism. Afterwards people were going about their business as normal. It told al-Qaeda, 'You will never, ever defeat us'."
Staring out across the busy streets of London, he added: "I love Britain. There is a great level of freedom in this country - and hope too." (ANI)