Though al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden did not become household names to many Americans until after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Western media outlets immediately suggested that Bin Laden—or groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Egypt’s Islamic Jihad—likely had a hand in the plot.
Numerous articles published by the New York Times on September 12 raised the likelihood that Bin Laden was a prime suspect. As one article put it, “Nobody immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks. But the scale and sophistication of the operation, the extraordinary planning required for concerted hijackings by terrorists who had to be familiar with modern jetliners, and the history of major attacks on American targets in recent years led many officials and experts to point to Osama bin Laden, the Islamic militant believed to operate out of Afghanistan.”Serge Schmemann, “U.S. ATTACKED; President Vows to Exact Punishment for ‘Evil,’” New York Times, September 12, 2001, http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/12/us/us-attacked-president-vows-to-exact-punishment-for-evil.html?gwt=pay.
Another article, titled, “America the Vulnerable Meets a Ruthless Enemy,” pointed out that, “One of those certain to be high on that [suspect] list, Osama bin Laden, has made America’s helplessness in the face of terrorism a rallying cry, one he has used repeatedly to taunt the United States and to draw new recruits to his ranks of suicide bombers.”John F. Burns, “America the Vulnerable Meets a Ruthless Enemy,” New York Times, September 12, 2001, http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/12/international/12OSAM.html.
For its part, the Wall Street Journal suggested “multiple reasons to suspect Islamic extremists” like Bin Laden. For one, four al-Qaeda members were convicted in a Manhattan courtroom for their roles in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. “At the same time, Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, the spiritual leader of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Egypt’s largest militant group, sits in a U.S. prison in Minnesota for his role in planning an earlier but failed attempt at terrorism.”David S. Cloud and Neil King, “Attacks on Symbols of U.S. Power Alter Nation’s View of World Role,” Wall Street Journal, September 12, 2001, 1, 12, http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/wsj-paper-09122001.pdf.
However, in the UK, the Guardian’s coverage was not as quick to point the finger at Bin Laden. Ahdaf Soueif wrote, “You could almost say that US officialdom, the media and Hollywood dreamed this nightmare into reality…The prime suspect, we are told, is Osama bin Laden. It may have been him…Why did he do it? Because he hates America and wants to damage her?...Then why does he not gloat? Why has he said it was not his doing? The too-easy thing about having a fanatic perpetrator is that you can ignore logical questions to do with purpose and motivation.Ahdaf Soueif, “Our Poor, Our Weak, Our Hungry,” Guardian (London), September 15, 2001, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/sep/15/september11.politicsphilosophyandsociety.
Also writing in the Guardian, John Sutherland criticized George W. Bush’s rhetoric against al-Qaeda as “chillingly fundamentalist.” In response to Bush’s claim that Americans’ responsibility was to “answer these attacks and rid the world of evil,” Sutherland retorted, “The world? At least Reagan only wanted to destroy the evil empire…Bush, it seems, has Alexandrian ambitions in his world war on evil.”John Sutherland, “Crazy Talk,” Guardian (London), September 18, 2001, http://www.theguardian.com/books/2001/sep/19/september11.usa. Near the end of his piece, Sutherland skewered Bush for using the phrase “our hearts are steel” to mean that Americans will be steadfast in the face of terror. “Steel is not what modern armies use for high-grade weaponry…But somewhere, from the magmatic depths of his vocabulary, he wanted to echo Bismarck’s ‘Blut und Eisen’—blood and iron. It was adapted by Hitler, who instructed his troops that, in genocide, their hearts must be ‘hart wie Kruppstahl’—hard as Krupps steel.”John Sutherland, “Crazy Talk,” Guardian (London), September 18, 2001, http://www.theguardian.com/books/2001/sep/19/september11.usa.