[an error occurred while processing this directive]This interview originally appeared in TIME's January 11, 1999 issue
Tall and lean, he was dressed in a traditional shalwar kameez--baggy trousers and long shirt--under a military fatigue jacket, with a scarf to fight the desert cold. An AK-47 assault rifle stood at his side. He spoke softly, in Arabic, praising God in nearly every sentence, but his voice rose whenever he criticized the United States. That he did often during the four-hour interview, his first since the U.S. tried to kill him.
Osama bin Laden, the Saudi financier accused of masterminding the Aug. 7 bombings that took 224 lives at two U.S. embassies in Africa, escaped an American missile attack on his headquarters in southern Afghanistan nearly two weeks after the embassy blasts. In the months that followed, bin Laden heeded the orders of his host, the Taliban militia that controls most of Afghanistan, to avoid public statements. The Taliban's leaders evidently didn't want to complicate their budding relations with the outside world. But last month's U.S. bombing of Iraq evidently convinced them they had little to lose from letting bin Laden talk. The exile himself wanted to deny involvement in the embassy bombings--and dispel rumors he is dying of cancer.
So late last month, bin Laden summoned Rahimullah Yusufzai, a well-connected journalist who reports for Pakistan's The News, as well as TIME and ABC News, to his tented encampment in Afghanistan's Helmand province. Bin Laden has been on the move since the U.S. attack on his headquarters, and he avoids using a satellite phone for fear it could betray his location. During Yusufzai's late-night conversation with bin Laden, the man the U.S. calls Public Enemy Number One appeared to be in good health, though he admitted to a sore throat and a bad back. He continually sipped water from a cup, and Yusufzai caught him on videotape walking with the aid of a stick (bodyguards erased that footage). Excerpts from the interview: