Holy War Inc: Inside the secret world of Osama bin Laden

Review by Toby Gregory

ANY reader who has followed the post-September 11th news will be familiar with Peter Bergen. His knowledge of Osama bin Laden is really second to none and it is not surprising that he has been in great demand over the last few months.

Holy War Inc, is one of those books that you will find extremely difficult to put down. Bergen is an American by birth but grew up in England and has reported on previous conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan for over 15 years, and his wide knowledge of the Muslim world made him a natural choice when bin Laden wanted to speak to a western journalist.

Bergen tells more than just the story of Osama bin Laden; he actually retraces the origin of his beliefs and comes closer than anybody to uncovering the mystery which surrounds the Saudi-born renegade.

As he was putting the final touches to Holy War Inc, the events of September 11th happened and you get the distinct impression that Bergen, though absolutely horrified, was not surprised.

He has followed the followers of Osama bin Laden for years, studying why they hold the man with such esteem and wonders into areas and situations which so many would fear to tread.

With great skill he retraces the historical progress of bin Laden and what actually turned an ordinary happy-go-lucky man into the world's most wanted terrorist. Equally impressive is how he brings the reader into situations giving the book a brash, gritty edge which seldom shirks away from the real issues.

Like many authors, Bergen does not fail to mention that the CIA once supported and financed bin Laden. However, unlike many books, he does try and explain how bin Laden felt when bombs destroyed US embassies and killed hundreds.

No doubt this year, there will be hundreds of books appearing on the Afghanistan conflict and those who America hold responsible for the September 11th attacks. Few books, however, could be as revealing as this one as this was written by a man who reluctantly found himself in a number of tense situations, including inside bin Laden's headquarters, high up in the rocky mountains of Afghanistan.

When the end game arrives, many will seek the opinions of those who really knew Osama bin Laden. I'm sure that Peter Bergen will be very busy indeed.