Reporters on the Job

INTERVIEW WITH BIN LADEN'S FRIEND: Why did Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, a Saudi who befriended Osama bin Laden and allegedly financed Al Qaeda operations(page 7), agree to an interview with Australian reporter Catherine Taylor?

"After eight years of seeing his name trawled through the media as guilty, he apparently decided that he wanted to speak for himself. I noticed that he'd been interviewed by Arab News, and so I tracked him down and asked for an interview. He said yes. We spoke on the phone and via e-mail a couple of times to confirm the appointment. But right up until the moment we met, I wasn't sure that the interview would come off," says Catherine.

"From the start, he was very relaxed and welcoming. He had a copy of Thomas Friedman's book 'The Lexus and the Olive Tree' on his desk. A framed, colored-pencil sketch of the view from his cell at California's Santa Rita prison sat on top of the television set. We spent a long while chatting about how he manages to keep his four wives happy and how he won favor with the hardened criminals in prison by slipping bars of chocolate under their cell doors.

"Partway through my interview with Mr. Khalifa, I asked him if he thought Osama bin Laden was dead or alive. He said, 'Oh, he's alive, definitely alive. In fact, I saw him just three or four nights ago.'

"I gasped. I was on the edge of my seat. 'You saw Osama three nights ago? Where?'

"Khalifa realized his mistake and apologized for his poor English. 'I forgot to tell you this was a dream. I repeat that: this is a dream. I must be careful.' Then he laughed. By the way, in his dream, Osama told Khalifa that Al Qaeda did not exist."

David Clark Scott
World editor

Cultural snapshot
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