As attention is increasingly focussed on a “financial war on terrorism,” Sudan’s name continues to become an ever more conspicuous refrain. Given the extensive financial and commercial relationship between Osama bin Laden and the Khartoum regime during his five-year presence in Sudan, this is hardly surprising. But an article in today’s Wall Street Journal lays out in impressive detail the connections not only between the Khartoum regime, bin Laden, and his al-Qaeda network, but also the deep intertwining of Saudi financial institutions. As many have observed, Saudi Arabia has been remarkably unforthcoming about its financial connections to bin Laden and al-Qaeda. The growing body of evidence suggests they are right to be fearful of the implications of their seamy past.
Eric Reeves [November 2, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
A financial war on terrorism is clearly inevitable: unless terrorists can be deprived of financial and other resources, they will continue to mount large-scale and increasingly destructive attacks on all who oppose their maniacal vision. As an earlier series of analyses from this source has sought to demonstrate, the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum continues to support bin Laden and al-Qaeda, as well as other terrorists, in a variety of ways. It has seemed appropriate to reiterate the fact that the State Department’s most recent report on world terrorism (April 2001) declares: “[In 2000] Sudan continued to be used as a safe haven by members of various groups, including associates of Usama Bin Ladin’s al-Qaida organization.”
Moreover, Khartoum has used its diplomatic presence abroad to raise funds for bin Laden and al-Qaeda, to facilitate the movement of al-Qaeda operatives, and to recruit for al-Qaeda. And bin Laden’s huge financial and commercial resources in Sudan (banking, construction, agriculture) certainly did not evaporate when he left in 1996, but have remained accessible for his massive support of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The Washington Post (Oct 11, 2001) reported that that “Tens of millions of the $100 million provided by bin Laden to the Taliban since he arrived in Afghanistan from Sudan in 1996 has been directly traced to bin Laden entities through banking and other transfers.” This means Khartoum.
But though various features of this story have been reported in a number of newspaper investigations and governmental reports, the full picture has not yet been brought into focus. This is largely because of the sheer complexity of the mosaic of financial institutions involved. Reuters reported (Oct 10, 2001) on a report released by a French member of Parliament that noted, “Osama bin Laden could have links, direct or
indirect, with more than 500 banks, businesses and charities across the
globe.” Reuters also reported that “beyond the [bin Laden] family empire, [the French parliamentary report] detailed a network of financial institutions which it said the Islamic militant set up throughout the 1990s, mainly in places like Sudan, but with links or bases in Europe, many of them in Britain.”
Most strikingly, the French report (titled “Economic Environment of Osama bin Laden”) noted that besides direct funding from Islamic revolutionary groups based in Kandahar, Afghanistan, bin Laden also relies on a holding company based in Khartoum:
“According to the several cross-matched sources, this [Khartoum-based] holding company groups seven Sudanese firms and an indeterminate number of others in Yemen, in the import-export sector, publishing and ceramics, as well as electrics in Kenya” (Reuters, Oct 10, 2001).
It is in this context that we should see the significance of today’s well-researched Wall Street Journal reporting:
“U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials say they have information linking the [Saudi Arabian] Dallah al Baraka Group to transactions by al Qaeda and other extremist groups. One U.S. official said al Qaeda is suspected of using the banking services of one of the group’s biggest subsidiaries, the Jidda-based al Baraka Bank, which has offices across the Middle East and Asia.
“Officials wouldn’t give specific information about what transactions caught their interest. But Dallah’s chairman, Saleh Abdullah Kamel, is a longtime investor in a Sudanese bank used during the 1990s by al Qaeda.” (Wall Street Journal, November 2, 2001; available upon request)
The Sudanese bank in question is the now notorious al Shamal Islamic Bank, whose accounts have been frozen in France and whose activities have been highlighted in a Senate report by Senator Carl Levin. Indeed, al Shamal Islamic Bank’s links to bin Laden have been repeatedly reported on, including the fact that the bank was supplied with $50 million in start-up capital by bin Laden. The Journal goes on to note that:
“Mr. Kamel has extensive business ties in Sudan, which was used as a base by Mr. bin Laden in the 1990s before he moved to Afghanistan. Mr. Kamel is listed as an original investor and top shareholder in the al Shamal Islamic Bank of Khartoum, Sudan, which U.S. prosecutors say was used to funnel large amounts of money to al Qaeda operatives.”
And why wouldn’t al Shamal Islamic Bank “funnel large amounts of money to al Qaeda operatives”? Again, it was capitalized by bin Laden himself. Al Shamal Islamic Bank figures in other ways, as the Journal also reports:
“In 1996, the State Department alleged that Mr. bin Laden and several wealthy sympathizers of Sudan’s National Islamic Front founded the al Shamal Bank. During recent trials in New York of al Qaeda members involved in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa, witnesses testified that al Shamal was used to move at least $350,000 for al Qaeda, including a $250,000 wire transfer to the U.S. in 1993 for purchase of an airplane.”
An unflinching look at the realities of Khartoum’s ongoing support for international terrorism, and bin Laden and al-Qaeda in particular, should do a good deal to chasten the language now emanating from Washington about the regime’s “cooperation” in the war on terrorism. The Wall Street Journal article of today, along with a raft of previous reports, are only the prelude to several major investigative reports that will soon be appearing.
And for those who think that there has somehow been a general “moderating” of the National Islamic Front simply because Islamic ideologue Hassan al-Turabi has been sidelined, even a cursory examination of the evidence pouring in from southern Sudan should make fully clear that this regime remains fully committed to its own program of massive state-sponsored, state-conducted terrorism, directed now with especial ferocity at civilians in western Bahr el-Ghazal Province.
A war on terrorism cannot be won by expediency—or by a refusal to see what is represented by a government that is committed to attacks on civilians that serve no military purpose except to terrorize and destroy innocent men, women, and children. The recent deliberate attacks on UN World Food Program efforts in Bahr el-Ghazal to aid these desperate people is yet more evidence of what sort of morally deranged regime rules from Khartoum.
But increasingly in its response to Sudan, the Bush administration gives evidence of failing to understand this basic reality. Though it was politically obligatory for President Bush to renew yesterday the comprehensive US sanctions against Sudan, all other indications are ominous. Unless Special Envoy John Danforth proves more willing to confront the realities in Sudan than the recent State Department mission to Khartoum, we will soon see—and on an immense scale—the grim costs of expediency.