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Filmmaker warned bin Laden about attacking civilians

By Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, For CNN
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How bin Laden took on the Soviets
  • Esam Daraz followed bin Laden's jihad against the Soviets
  • His films helped cultivate bin Laden's notoriety
  • He agrees with Obama that photos of bin Laden's corpse should not be released

Cairo (CNN) -- A documentary filmmaker who followed Osama bin Laden's jihad against the Soviets in the mountains of Afghanistan during the 1980s said he once warned the world's most-wanted terrorist against attacking civilians.

Esam Daraz's films and books documented the birth of bin Laden's al Qaeda terror organization, and they ultimately helped cultivate bin Laden's international notoriety and inspire the jihadist movement of the 1980s.

The former Egyptian Intelligence army officer established himself as an acclaimed filmmaker after producing 30 documentary films in Egypt through his own production company founded in 1978.

"Afghanistan was the hotspot in 1980s so I decided to document the brutal Soviet attacks on the Muslims. I embedded with many of the leading Arab fighters on the battlefield and they trusted me so they led me to bin Laden. I followed his trail from 1987 until 1991, " Daraz explained reminiscing as he went through his archive of footage stored in his Cairo studio.

Daraz filmed bin laden and his 120 Arab fighters in the first training camp located amid the rugged terrain of Afghanistan. The men back then came from Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Egypt.

He produced three documentaries and five books about the war in Afghanistan, but his film "Arab Supporters in Afghanistan" remains his favorite piece of work because it featured bin Laden's first appearance on video. "The film was distributed across video stores in the Arabian Gulf. Stores were selling 20 copies at a time and sometimes in the hundreds as I learned when I contacted them anonymously inquiring about the sales. Many wholesale buyers distributed the film for free outside mosques in Saudi Arabia," he added.

Daraz claims that his film inspired thousands of Arab youth to join bin Laden's small group of fighters. "Bin Laden's office manager in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, informed me that millions of Saudi Riyals were donated by people and organizations supporting the movement after the release of my film," said Daraz. Around 1988 al Qaeda was established and Daraz met Ayman Al Zawahiri, also known on the field as Dr. Abdel Moez or bin Laden's personal adviser and physician. "I watched him personally monitor bin Laden's consistent low blood pressure and give him the required medicine many times on the battlefield," said Daraz.

Zawhiri's experience as the leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad supported bin Laden's aspirations calling for global jihad.

Bin Laden's secret of success was his compassion and his humbleness, according to Esam Daraz.

Daraz followed his friend bin Laden to Saudi Arabia in 1991 and stayed in his lavish villa housing his four wives and numerous children. Bin Laden was received as a hero who defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan. His public rhetoric against the Saudi government's cooperation with the U.S. administration got him in big trouble.

Daraz warned bin Laden about attacking civilians but the world's most wanted terrorist did not listen. "He drove me to the airport, and I sadly returned to Egypt in the winter of 1991 wondering if I would ever see him again," said Daraz.

Evidently, bin Laden's family disowned him and he was exiled to Sudan in 1992.

On May 2, 2011, bin Laden was shot and killed by U.S. Navy SEALs inside a residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in a covert operation authorized by President Barack Obama. The world awaited the release of images of a dead Bin Laden for proof and closure to the families who lost loved one's in the September 11 attacks orchestrated by al Qaeda.

Bin Laden had claimed responsibility for the attacks in 2004 after years of denial. The White House announced that they it will not release "trophy" pictures of Osama Bin Laden's body. "You will not see bin Laden walking on this Earth again," Obama said.

Esam Daraz disagrees with bin Laden and supports Obama's decision. "I cried when I saw the twin towers collapsing. I am a military man against the killing of civilians," he said.

"Obama is wise. The release of the photos would have provoked people who already disagree with the way he was killed and the disposal of the body at sea, even if those people did not support bin Laden's views."

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