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Osama bin Laden wrote what is referred to as a fatwa in August 1996, and was one of several signatories of another and shorter fatwa in February 1998. Both documents appeared initially in the Arabic-language London newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi. At the time, bin Laden was not a wanted man in any country except his native Saudi Arabia, and was not yet known as the leader of the international terrorist organisation al-Qaeda. Therefore these fatwas, or fatawa, received relatively little attention until after the August 1998 United States embassy bombings, for which bin Laden is indicted. The indictment mentions the first fatwa, and claims that Khalid al-Fawwaz, of bin Laden's Advice and Reformation Committee in London, participated in its communication to the press.
Bin Laden's 1996 fatwa is entitled "Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places". This document is sometimes called the Ladenese epistle, a term derived from bin Laden's surname. It is a long piece, and complains of American activities in numerous countries. It was faxed to supporters across the world.
The 1998 fatwa reached al-Quds al-Arabi by fax, and was signed by five people, four of whom represented (or were said by the newspaper to represent) specific Islamist groups:
- Osama bin Laden
- Ayman al-Zawahiri, "emir of the Jihad Group in Egypt", probably meaning Islamic Jihad, now known as Egyptian Islamic Jihad
- Ahmed Refai Taha, alias Abu Yasser, of al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya (in Egypt). This endorsement was retracted because of the enormous unpopularity of terrorism in Egypt following the Luxor massacre of tourists and Egyptians by al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya. Taha , explained his signature to fellow members of the Islamic Group saying he had only been asked over the telephone to join in a statement of support for the Iraqi people. 
- Mir Hamzah, "secretary of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan", or so he claimed
- Fazul Rahman, "emir of the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh", probably Harakat ul-Jihad-i-Islami/Bangladesh or HUJI-B; HUJI itself is in Pakistan.
The signatories as a group were identified as the "World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders". This fatwa complains of American military presence in the Arabian Peninsula, and American support for Israel. It purports to provide religious authorization for indiscriminate killing of Americans and Jews everywhere. It appeared in February 1998 and the embassy bombings followed in August.
- ^ a b Text of the 1996 fatwa, translation by PBS
- ^ a b c Text of the 1998 fatwa translation by PBS
- ^ Copy of indictment USA v. Usama bin Laden et al., Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies
- ^ Bergen, Peter, "Holy War, Inc.", 2001
- ^ Text of the 1998 fatwa, translation by Federation of American Scientists
- ^ al-Zayyat, Montasser, The Road to al-Qaeda, The Story of Bin Laden's Right-Hand Man , University of Michigan Press. p.89