Date: November 1996
Location: Kuwait, Afghanistan
Distributor: Channel 4 Dispatches – 48 min.
Credits: filmed by Claudio von Planta
Director and Reporter: Gwynne Roberts of RW Films
THE SAUDI TAPES shows the first ever televised interview with Osama Bin Ladin. It’s part of a 48 minute Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ investigation about the growing opposition movements against the Saudi royal family.

Production Notes:
This film was a scoop of veteran journalist and documentary filmmaker Gwynne Roberts. He was one of the few people in 1996, who knew about Osama Bin Ladin’s role as a terrorist leader. For many years Gwynne nurtured contacts to radical Islamists and one of them offered to organise an interview with Bin Ladin in Afghanistan. It was the beginning of a new trend where these radical Islamists started to use Western media channels for their propaganda.
Gwynne hired me as a cameraman because I had local knowledge from previous work in Afghanistan. We embarked on an extraordinary journey in Taleban land. Only a few months earlier they captured Kabul. It was the most destroyed city I have ever seen. But neither the Talebans nor the Russians have been responsible for all this devastation. The bombing was done by competing Mujahedin warlords after the Russian retreat in 1989. Despite all the bad press about the Talebans, I always feel it’s important to remember that certain Afghan warlords were much worse. In fact, in 1996 we met lots of ordinary people in the Pashtun areas who welcomed the Talebans because they established some form of law and order. Before it was total anarchy.
Working with Gwynne was a great opportunity to learn the journalistic trade from a master. For security reasons I wasn’t allowed to meet and film Osama Bin Ladin myself. I had to train a bodyguard to use my camera and film Gwynne with the world’s most wanted man. The interview was very restricted. Gwynne had to supply his questions in writing and Bin Ladin answered in a 30 minute propaganda monologue. Not much of this footage got used in the final film because Gwynne was only allowed to use one section without any cuts. At the time I was surprised that Gwynne stuck with the deal and didn’t use more footage. But in hindsight I now understand. He knew perfectly well that breaking a deal with Bin Ladin could have turned into his death sentence.


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