Osama bin Laden’s “Sudan Connection”: news reports continue to reveal an expanding set of links between bin Laden, his al-Qaeda organization, and the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum. The larger picture is one of substantial financial, logistical, and diplomatic aid for bin Laden emanating from Khartoum, and continuing long after bin Laden’s departure from Sudan in 1996. All this has put great pressure on Khartoum to “cooperate” in the US war on terrorism. They have done so by expediently dumping files that are not self-indicting, and by conveniently expelling some “extremists” to Egypt. But there is no reason to assume from what is in the public domain that this “cooperation” is anything but a purely expedient effort to forestall a US response to Sudan’s ongoing support for international terrorism.
Eric Reeves [October 12, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
Only the nave have assumed that Osama bin Laden’s departure from Sudan in 1996 marked the end of what had been an immensely productive relationship. Bin Laden left behind a financial and commercial empire that may have metamorphosed in some convenient ways, but has continued to support his efforts. Indeed, elements of his al-Qaeda organization have remained in Sudan and their presence is cited in the most recent State Department report on world terrorism (April 2001).
The natural fit between bin Laden and his Sudanese hosts has been too much overlooked in recent news reporting and commentary. As the distinguished Africa Confidential recently noted, drawing on a wide range of extremely well-place regional sources:
“The National Islamic Front (NIF) political and security apparatus is intact, as are the NIF’s and the international Islamists’ control of the economy. Many of those running terrorist training are still in security and ministerial jobs. So, well informed Sudanese doubt that the NIF will hand much of value to US investigators. The NIF is as Islamist as its friends Usama and the Taliban. This regime believes in what it does. Any concession is intended only to protect the greater cause. Secondly, any major betrayal would be suicidal, just as dangerous as holding free elections.”
(Africa Confidential, Volume 42, No. 19, September 28, 2001)
How well is this assessment borne out by news reporting? A survey of key recent disclosures offers an answer that should chasten optimistic US assessments of Khartoum’s “cooperation.”
Today’s Ottawa Citizen reports that the FBI has confirmed that Mohamed Atta, who piloted one of the commercial jetliners into the World Trade Center, “wired money to Mr. bin Laden’s former paymaster in Sudan, Shaykh Sai’id el Masry, also known as Mustafa Muhammad Ahmad, on the eve of the terrorist attacks” (Ottawa Citizen, October 12, 2001).
The Citizen goes on to report that testimony in the trial of four men convicted for the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania reveals, “Shaykh Sai’id [Mustafa Muhammad Ahmad] controlled the bin Laden financial network in Sudan through a company called Taba Investments, and used profits from related Sudanese banks and businesses to finance and cloak terrorist training.”
The Citizen concludes noting that this past weekend, British prime minister Tony Blair publicly disclosed that “these bin Laden companies were key assets in the al-Qaeda terrorist campaign. ‘Since 1989, Osama bin Laden has established a series of (Sudanese) businesses to provide income for al-Qaeda, and to provide cover for the procurement of explosives, weapons and chemicals, and for the travel of al-Qaeda operatives,’ said a report tabled in the British parliament.”
The Associated Press reports today that Ali Mohamed, who has pleaded guilty of conspiracy in the 1998 east African embassy bombings, has said “he [Mohamed] arranged security for a meeting in the Sudan between Hezbollah’s chief and bin Laden. Hezbollah provided explosives training for al-Qaida and Islamic Jihad, Mohamed said, while Iran supplied Egyptian Jihad with weapons and used Hezbollah to supply explosives that were disguised to look like rocks” (Associated Press, October 12, 2001).
The Washington Post, on October 11, reported 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.” These transfers would certainly have involved the Taba Investments Company (see above) and al-Shamal Bank in Khartoum, which received $50 million in start-up capital from bin Laden when he was in Sudan.
The Los Angeles Times, on October 7, reported that a unit of Islamic moujahedeen in Bosnia has been financed by bin Laden “by means of small convoys of recruits from the Arab world through his businesses in Sudan, according to Mideast sources.”
The Washington Post of October 9 reported on a terrorist suspect in Germany: “Aldy el-Attar, a 53-year-old surgeon who had a practice in the city of Neu-Ulm in the state of Bavaria, met separately both with alleged hijacker Mohamed Atta and Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, an alleged financier for Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network, the sources said. El-Attar traveled frequently in Europe and between Germany and Sudan.”
The Guardian of October 1 reports in detail on the financial background of bin Laden and al-Qaeda: “United States investigators believe they have found the ‘smoking gun’ linking Osama bin Laden to the September 11 terrorist attacks, with the discovery of financial evidence showing money transfers between the hijackers and a bin Laden aide in the United Arab Emirates.
The man at the centre of the financial web is believed to be Sheikh Saeed,
also known as Mustafa Mohamed Ahmad, who worked as a financial manager for bin Laden when the Saudi exile was based in Sudan, and is still a trusted paymaster in bin Laden’s al-Qaida organisation.
“While in Sudan, bin Laden bought his own bank, the Al Shamal Islamic Bank, with a handful of Sudanese partners linked to the Islamic regime in Khartoum. [While in Sudan] Bin Laden and his followers built up an intricate financial network based on Islamic practices, and dozens of ‘charities’ raising money for jihad from the rich and faithful around the Gulf.”
The most chilling and explicit report is still that of September 28, from the National Post (Canada). Citing documents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the National Post reported on two extremely disturbing developments:
 “Sudanese leaders agreed in 1998 to use their embassy staff in
New York, London and Rome to raise funds for Osama bin Laden, according to documents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).”
 “The documents, filed in Federal Court, also claim the Sudanese agreed to arrange for diplomatic credentials for bin Laden followers, allowing them unfettered travel around the world. The alleged agreement was struck between bin Laden’s top aide, Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahri, and ‘Sudanese Islamic leaders,’ the CSIS brief said.”
This report found its counterpart in the Hindustan Times (New Delhi) of September 20: “According to a senior police official, fresh evidence gathered by them has revealed that Ismail, the first secretary in the Sudanese embassy, was not only operating as a conduit of Osama bin Laden in the Capital [New Delhi] but was also trying to recruit more operatives for subversive activities.”
In aggregate, this is overwhelming evidence that Sudan has very much continued in the business of supporting world terrorism generally, and Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in particular. It forces the obvious question: how likely is it that this regime will be revealing of its own activities in “cooperating” with the US in the sharing of intelligence on terrorism?
We can be sure than revelations will continue to emerge about the role of Khartoum and the National Islamic Front regime in supporting international terrorism. Certainly the requisite callousness has long been demonstrated in their brutal conduct of the war against the south, where the terrorist bombing of innocent civilians is the standing order of the day.
In turn, if the US is not willing to look honestly at the context for the “intelligence” it is presently receiving from Khartoum, it will be hard to have confidence in either the acuity of our intelligence agencies, or the moral foundation of our “war on terrorism.”