Sudan and the financing of Osama bin Laden’s empire of terror:
The al-Shamal Bank in Khartoum is but the tip of a very nasty iceberg
Eric Reeves [September 27, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
The Boston Globe, CNN, and Reuters news-wire have all reported in the last day the continuing role of al-Shamal Bank in financing Osama bin Laden’s campaign of terror against the United States. Unsurprisingly, al-Shamal Bank is in Khartoum, capital of Sudan and the extremist National Islamic Front regime. This is the same regime—controlled by the same brutal figures—that gave safe haven to bin Laden from 1991 to 1996, and allowed him to bring his al-Qaeda terrorist organization to fruition. The Khartoum regime also gave bin Laden many lucrative opportunities not only in banking, but in agriculture and construction. And as the al-Shamal Bank example suggests, bin Laden continues to derive extensive support from Khartoum.
The Boston Globe reports in its extremely well-researched account (attached below) that: “‘Bin Laden could be using the [al-]Shamal bank to gain access to US banks,’ [Senator Carl] Levin said, calling for new laws that would prevent such access. Levin cited an instance in which $250,000 was wired from [al-]Shamal Bank to a bin Laden associate in Texas, who used the money to buy a plane for bin Laden.” According to CNN (Sept 26), bin Laden had provided $50 million in start-up capital for the al-Shamal Bank. It’s simply not credible that the Khartoum regime hasn’t been fully unaware of such a large financial presence in its banking system.
And as the Globe also notes in reporting on the years in which bin Laden was actually in Sudan: “US officials said bin Laden controlled some of the largest commercial enterprises in Sudan, generating both profits and a cover for terrorist activities.” Though bin Laden left Sudan in 1996, it would be nave in the extreme to believe that he simply severed his economic and financial ties.
On the contrary, there is a mountain of evidence to the contrary. Again, the disclosures about the al-Shamal Bank are certainly only the tip of a very ugly iceberg. As another State Department report on Sudan and bin Laden noted: “[Bin Laden] secured a near monopoly over Sudan’s major agricultural exports of gum, corn, sunflower, and sesame products.” Some of these assets are certainly still funding bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, and thus various of the terrorist assaults on the United States, including the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the original World Trade Center bombing, the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen—and the catastrophic assaults of September 11.
Much has been made in recent days of Khartoum’s statements of regret at the terrorist attacks of September 11, and some reports have suggested that there is now cooperation between Washington and Khartoum in the campaign against world terrorism. There has, in fact, been some FBI and CIA investigative presence in Sudan for over a year. But assessments of what intelligence and access Khartoum is actually offering, and the value of what is offered, should be regarded with extreme caution—as should Khartoum’s motives in “cooperating.”
The regime has hardly changed from the time it supported bin Laden openly. The same cast of vicious characters dominates in Khartoum and in the formulation of policies. Most notably, Khartoum’s conduct of the war against the peoples of the south and other marginalized areas of Sudan is still marked by genocidal ambition, by the most egregious of human rights violations, and by a refusal to negotiate peace in good faith. Their campaign against the south is nothing less than “state-sponsored terrorism.”
Notably, there is evidence of significant weapons deliveries to Khartoum from bin Laden’s new haven in Afghanistan. The Globe again reports: “[Bin Laden’s] businesses were not just focused on the bottom line, US prosecutors [in the embassy bombing trial] say. In one transaction, a bin Laden company sent sugar from Sudan to Afghanistan. But on its return flight, the rented Sudan Airways cargo plane was loaded with Milan rockets and Stinger missiles.”
Let’s be clear: Khartoum is “cooperating” on terrorism now only because it is acutely and fearfully aware of its own long history of giving safe haven to terrorists and encouraging terrorist activities. The April 2001 State Department report on world terrorism has not suddenly become irrelevant; it states clearly that “[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.”
And while some news organizations seem to be tripping over themselves to make much of the exceedingly guarded comments by the State Department, the Foreign Minister of Sudan has been quite blunt in his statements about what Sudan has and hasn’t done: Agence France-Presse (Sept 26) reports that Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail “denied that Khartoum had turned in persons or lists of persons to the United States. He was referring to rumors that his government had handed a number of Islamists to Egypt and the US.” Perhaps some useful intelligence is being developed behind the scenes; perhaps there have been a few convenient deportations, as some informed observers are reporting. But critical questions remain.
The most important question, and the one that will not go away, is the value of what the US is getting from Khartoum. The current issue of Africa Confidential, the most authoritative published source on Sudan, puts the matter this way:
“The N[ational I[slamic] F[ront] 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)
The latter point here is that those in Khartoum who are in a position to provide the most valuable intelligence to US anti-terrorist efforts are precisely the ones most likely to be implicated by such intelligence, given their past involvement in terrorism. And they are not of suicidal bent.
Khartoum is still deeply complicit in the financing and supporting of world terrorism. The regime is still engaged in a brutal and savagely destructive campaign of terror against its own people. US policy toward Sudan should keep these realities firmly in mind
The Boston Globe, September 27, 2001, Thursday
AMERICA PREPARES THE GLOBAL DIMENSION / TRACING THE
NETWORK; BIN LADEN DELIVERED WEAPONS, PROFITS
By Michael Kranish, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON – One of Osama bin Laden’s companies in Sudan would export sugar to Afghanistan and return with a cargo that included US-made Stinger missiles.
Another firm appeared to deal with finance, but some of its employees
were allegedly traveling the world as terrorists. A third company was in the
fishing business, but allegedly used the profits to pay for the bombing of
the US embassy in Kenya. Bin Laden also had a $50 million investment in a Sudanese bank.
The businesses are part of bin Laden’s six-year sojourn in Sudan. It was
there, in northern Africa, where bin Laden appears to have built much of the financial, fund-raising, and terrorist empire now under intensive investigation by US authorities. Yesterday, a Senate committee heard testimony that bin Laden not only appears to retain a stake in the Sudanese bank, but also has a network of more than 100 businesses and self-described charities that stretches around the globe and has so far eluded the grasp of US law enforcement.
Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said bin Laden’s investment in al-Shamal, a bank in Sudan, gave him access to banks around the world.
“Bin Laden could be using the Shamal bank to gain access to US banks,”
Levin said, calling for new laws that would prevent such access. Levin cited
an instance in which $250,000 was wired from Shamal Bank to a bin Laden associate in Texas, who used the money to buy a plane for bin Laden.
Despite President Bush’s order Monday to freeze assets of 27 entities
linked to bin Laden, Levin said his staff has found that accounts at several
banks linked to al-Shamal are still open to bin Laden.
The bank and the businesses in Sudan are part of a large empire. Bin
Laden’s funds come from a “network of financial donors, international
investments, legal businesses, criminal enterprises, smuggling mechanisms,
Muslim charitable organizations, Islamic banks, and underground money
transfer,” William F. Weschler, a former National Security Council official who has tracked bin Laden’s finances, said in testimony yesterday to the Senate banking committee.
Much of that network was developed during bin Laden’s years in Sudan, from about 1990 to 1996. US officials said bin Laden controlled some of the largest commercial enterprises in Sudan, generating both profits and a cover for terrorist activities.
An examination by the Globe of thousands of pages of trial transcripts,
State Department reports, and other material shows a clear trend: The
terrorists and their operations may operate on a low budget, with bin
Laden himself eschewing his Saudi mansions for an Afghan cave, but the
overall enterprise is funded well enough that large expenses have been
Senator John F. Kerry, a former member of the Senate Intelligence
Committee, estimated that bin Laden’s assets probably still exceed $200
million. Moreover, some of bin Laden’s cells, perhaps including the Sept. 11
hijackers, have raised money independently.
The depth of bin Laden’s financial assets greatly concerns US officials,
because evidence has been presented in a series of trials that bin Laden
associates have tried to buy items for a possible nuclear device, as well as
chemical weapons. In one case, a bin Laden associate tried to buy a
cylinder of uranium for $1.5 million.
When President Clinton ordered a missile strike against a Sudanese factory
in response to the 1998 bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania,
White House officials said the factory was targeted because it was part of
bin Laden’s Sudanese financial empire and was suspected of producing
chemical weapons. (The factory’s owner has denied any connection to bin
Laden or chemical weapons and has sued the United States. The source
of bin Laden’s initial wealth is clear. He inherited an estimated $300 million
after his father died; he is the 17th son of 52 children born to numerous
wives. Bin Laden reportedly used much of that money to help finance the
war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, particularly by buying heavy
Bin Laden was helped in that effort by the United States, which supplied
Afghan resistance fighters with many resources, including sophisticated
Stinger missiles and other weaponry. By some estimates, the United States
covertly pumped $3 billion to $6 billion of weapons and other goods into
the Afghan resistance.
Bin Laden also raised money through a self-described charity called al-Kifah, or the Struggle, which had perhaps 30 offices in the United States, including one with a Boston mailing address. The offices reportedly were financed by bin Laden and raised money and recruited Arab immigrants to fight in Afghanistan.
When the war in Afghanistan ended in 1989, bin Laden moved to Sudan to set up a string of businesses. Some of the Kifah centers in the United States then re focused on raising money for terrorism, US officials said.
Bin Laden chose Sudan as a base because the ruling party, the National
Islamic Front, shared much of his ideology. Bin Laden presented himself as a businessman who would help develop Sudan, an impoverished country that recently has been in the news for the selling of slaves.
Bin Laden arrived in Sudan angry at the US presence in his former homeland of Saudi Arabia. He soon began to wage a campaign against US troops who went to Somalia in 1993 in a mission called Operation Restore Hope. Bin Laden’s method was “to establish fake businesses, cover businesses that help fighters infiltrate through to Somalia,” Assistant US Attorney Paul Butler said in court this year.
The bin Laden businesses were coordinated in a suite of offices on Khartoum’s McNimr Street, with his personal office on the first floor.
Company travel was arranged through a committee that would supply fake
passports and fake names, possibly from documents that had been stolen,
according to testimony in the African bombing cases. Similar techniques may also have been used in the case of some of the hijackers involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.
There were also committees on the military, Islamic study, and a media
organization that published a newspaper, all overseen by Wadi al-Aqiq, the
“mother of all companies.”
During his years in Khartoum, bin Laden gave interviews to a Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.
“He had companies,” Khashoggi, deputy editor of Arab News, said in a
telephone interview from Saudi Arabia. “He had shares in banks. He was
building a major road. He began to settle down there as a businessman.
“The last time I talked to him [about five years ago], he talked more about
economics than politics,” he said.
His businesses were not just focused on the bottom line, US prosecutors
say. In one transaction, a bin Laden company sent sugar from Sudan to
Afghanistan. But on its return flight, the rented Sudan Airways cargo plane
was loaded with Milan rockets and Stinger missiles, apparently including
some of the weaponry the United States had sent to Afghan resistance
fighters, according to US officials.
The role of Hijra Construction was vital. The company’s main business was
road-building, just as bin Laden’s father built his fortune in Saudi Arabia.
Hijra Construction built a road linking Khartoum with Port Sudan and a major airport. The company also bought explosives that were used in road
But explosives also were used at a training camp at a farm in Sudan owned by another bin Laden company, Themar al Mubaraka, according to trial testimony.
Taba Investment, another bin Laden company, appeared to make a profit for bin Laden. Trial testimony showed that the company figured out how to make extra money by processing peanuts rather than shipping the raw crop to Europe. The State Department report says bin Laden “secured a near
monopoly over Sudan’s major agricultural exports of gum, corn, sunflower, and sesame products.”
By 1996, under pressure from the United States, Sudan had forced bin
Laden to leave. Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist, believes that this may have
required bin Laden to quickly liquidate his holdings, costing him millions of
dollars. “This is one of the reasons” that bin Laden hates the United States,
Khashoggi said. “I believe he lost a good portion of his money in Sudan.”
US officials dismiss such suggestions, saying that bin Laden attacked US
interests long before he left Sudan. Bin Laden himself said he wanted to
strike Americans because of the US presence in Islamic countries. In any
event, US officials said, upon returning to Afghanistan, bin Laden used some of his funds to help finance the Taliban, which now controls most of the country.
During the last five years in Afghanistan, bin Laden has received money
both from the self- described charitable organizations and from the web of
companies and investments he has scattered in dozens of countries. In
addition, there have been reports that some of Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest
businessmen paid millions in “protection money” to prevent attacks on their
Some observers, including Khashoggi, have wondered whether it was a
mistake for the United States to have forced bin Laden out of Sudan. Now, instead of knowing bin Laden’s exact whereabouts in Khartoum, the United States is facing a difficult search in the desolate terrain of Afghanistan.