This story originally aired on April 2, 2006.
Since 9/11, our only knowledge of Osama bin Laden has come from the tapes he releases now and again. The rest is all speculation.
Al Qaeda operatives who have been close to bin Laden don't give interviews on television. That is, until one of them did, last March.
60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon traveled to Yemen, at the tip of the Arabian peninsula, to meet a man who, for a long time, was bin Laden's personal bodyguard.
Abu Jandal was the name by which he was known in al Qaeda. He is 33 years old and was with bin Laden in Afghanistan for four years, from 1996 to 2000. He did not speak to 60 Minutes to confess the errors of his ways. Abu Jandal is not a reformed terrorist. He believes today, as he did a decade ago, that al Qaeda is the way and Osama bin Laden is the man.
When he worked for bin Laden, Abu Jandal tells Simon he was often just a meter or a meter and a half away from the leader. And he was carrying two guns.
"I had my own gun, but there was also a special gun to be used if Sheikh Osama bin Laden was attacked and we were unable to save him, in which case I would have to kill him," Abu Jandal explains.
Asked under what circumstances he would have shot bin Laden, Abu Jandal said, "If he was going to be captured, Sheikh Osama preferred to be killed than to be captured."
Abu Jandal says he had eight rounds in his gun and tells Simon he was the only guard with instructions to kill bin Laden. "I was the only one who had the gun," he explains.
60 Minutes interviewed Abu Jandal for four hours, an interview that was interrupted for prayers. Simon met him in downtown Sana'a, the capital of Yemen, and one of the purest Islamic cities in the world. The mud-brick towers in the city look like they are carved out of the surrounding hills. They hold memories of the days when Muslims ruled much of the world, memories which still drive al Qaeda today.
Abu Jandal does not fight for al Qaeda any more, at least not with a gun, and he's finding adjustment to civilian life not easy after a decade as jihadist in Bosnia, Somalia and Afghanistan.
Asked if he misses his years with al Qaeda, Abu Jandal replied: "Yes, I do miss them. I especially miss being close to Sheikh Osama bin Laden."
Abu Jandal calls bin Laden "sheikh" as a sign of respect. And he says there was one thing this man, this proponent of global terrorism, wouldn't tolerate.
"If anyone used bad words, he was severely punished," he explains.
Abu Jandal says he once used the wrong word and was suspended from guard duty for three days.
"That's a hell of a punishment! He gave you three days off ..." Simon remarks.
"For me, it's not time off because I served God with this job. So when you deprive me of serving God, you deprive me of God's reward," Abu Jandal replies.
On a satellite photo, Abu Jandal showed 60 Minutes where bin Laden lived inside Tarnak Farms, the compound outside Kandahar in Afghanistan. This was home to al Qaeda's leadership before 9/11. He pointed to where al Qaeda had built tunnels in case of attack.
The American who was planning those attacks at the time was Mike Scheuer, head of the bin Laden unit at the CIA. He has never met Abu Jandal, but knows him well.
"I do think he is who he says he is," says Scheuer, referring to Abu Jandal. "What he says about events, people, al Qaeda, meshes very thoroughly with what we know, from both, from unclassified sources and from classified intelligence."
Abu Jandal says America's best chances to kill bin Laden came and went before 9/11. Paramount among them, August 1998, right after bin Laden bombed two U.S. embassies in East Africa. The al Qaeda leaders knew the Americans would retaliate, so they left their compound at Tarnak Farms and drove north.
"There was a fork in the road. One road leading to Khost and training camps, and another one leading to Kabul," Abu Jandal recalls. "I was with Sheikh Osama in the same vehicle with three guards, so he turned to us and said, 'What do you think? Khost or Kabul?' We told him, 'Let's just visit Kabul.' So Sheikh Osama said, 'OK, Kabul.' "
Kabul it was. The next evening, 75 American cruise missiles slammed into the training camp near Khost, the road not taken. The CIA had intelligence that bin Laden was going to be at the training camp that night.
"Kinda makes you wonder whose side God's on, doesn't it?" Scheuer says.