By: Central Intelligence Agency
Source: Central Intelligence Agency. Usama bin Ladin: Islamic Extremist Financier . Available online at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB55/index1.html; website home page http://www.gwu.edu (accessed April 4, 2003).
About the Organization: In 1947, President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act creating the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The CIA is an independent, federal agency that reports directly to the president of the United States through the Director of Central Intelligence. It is part of the executive branch of the U.S. government, whereas the majority of other intelligence organizations belong to the Defense Department. The CIA's primary mission is to collect, evaluate, and distribute foreign intelligence to assist the president and congressional intelligence oversight committees in making decisions affecting national security. The CIA is prohibited by law from collecting intelligence relating to the domestic activities of United States citizens.
On September 11, 2001, the largest terrorist attack in modern history took place in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. Nineteen terrorists hijacked four fuel-laden passenger jetliners with the intent to crash them and kill as many people as possible. Two of the planes hit the World Trade Center in New York City, resulting in the collapse of the two towers. One plane struck the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, near Washington, D.C. The fourth plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field before it could reach its intended target. More than three thousand people were killed in the coordinated attack.
Responsibility for the assault was quickly found to lie with the al-Qaeda terrorist organization. Its leader, Osama bin Laden (also spelled Usama bin Ladin), was not new to the U.S. intelligence community. The Central Intelligence Agency had released a document in 1996 entitled "Usama bin Ladin: Islamic Extremist Financier," which reported that bin Laden was one of the most significant financial sponsors of "Islamic extremist activities" in the world. It was intended to provide the media with information about bin Ladin, whose name had been hitting the headlines in relation to various terrorist incidents and activities around the world in recent years, many of which were believed to be sponsored or supported by bin Laden himself.
A series of terrorist attacks during the early and mid-1990s drew increasing attention to Osama bin Laden and his group of militants, the Islamic Salvation Foundation, which came to be known popularly as al-Qaeda (also spelled al-Qaida, Arabic for "the base"). The combination of attacks on U.S. military personnel and assets in Somalia in 1992—killing 19 U.S. Marines—was the first time some connection was made between bin Laden and individuals attacking the United States. Terrorists linked to bin Ladin were also believed responsible for the February 26, 1993, bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City; the unsuccessful attack against New York City's Lincoln-Holland Tunnels and George Washington Bridge in July 1993; the planned assassination of President Bill Clinton (served 1993–2001) in the Philippines in 1995; the planned bombing of eleven American jumbo jets over the Pacific Ocean in 1995; the car bombing of the U.S. military mission in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1995; and the truck bombing of the Khobar Towers housing complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in 1996—killing nineteen American military personnel and wounding 240 others.
Later, after the publication of the CIA's 1996 report, other events would also be attributed to the group: the simultaneous truck bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; the plan to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport on New Year's 2000; the suicide dinghy attack on the USS Cole while in port at Aden, Yemen—killing seventeen Americansailors and injuring thirty-nine others in October 2000; and the September 11 attack that resulted in the deaths of more than three thousand people from over eighty nations.
The CIA's 1996 report is one of the first public U.S. government documentations of Osama bin Laden's activities, especially with regard to his financial dealings, which spanned across the region from Saudi Arabia and Sudan, to Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was not until 1998, after the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, however, that bin Laden was actually dubbed a "Specially Designated Terrorist" (SDT), and his organization, al-Qaeda, was designated a "Foreign Terrorist Organization" under U.S. Executive Order 12947. Moreover, it was not until this 1998 order that U.S. financial transactions with bin Laden and al-Qaeda were effectively banned and law enforcement could freeze their assets in the United States. This may indicate that the true threat posed to the United States by bin Laden and al-Qaeda—and their financial prowess—was not fully realized until that time, even though the 1996 document begins to outline bin Laden's vast financial network and sophistication.
After the events of September 11, 2001, U.S. president George W. Bush (served 2001–) declared a "war on terror," specifically targeting bin Laden and al-Qaeda and stating that he wanted bin Laden "dead or alive." Law enforcement was granted greater powers to freeze terrorist assets and the Departments of Justice and Treasury carefully examined hawalas, or Islamic charities, some of which were known or suspected to have helped funnel money to support terrorist groups.
Primary Source: Usama Bin Ladin: Islamic Extremist Financier
SYNOPSIS: The following document provides some detail about Osama bin Laden's financial activities from 1985 to 1996, when it was published. It is not an exhaustive intelligence study, but rather summarizes for public consumption the most important developments regarding bin Laden's financial dealings in support of extremist activities up to 1996. It also addresses bin Ladin's activities in Afghanistan during the Afghan resistance to the Soviet occupation of that country during the 1980s. Bin Laden played an integral role in bringing foreign fighters from other Muslim countries to assist the Afghans, and it was during this period that he personally became increasingly radicalized. After the Afghans defeated the Soviets in 1989, bin Laden worked to maintain the network of foreign fighters, many of whom had also become radicalized and more militant. This informal network would, later in the 1990s, form the basis of the terrorist group that came to be known as al-Qaeda.
Usama bin Muhammad bin Awad Bin Ladin is one of the most significant financial sponsors of Islamic extremist activities in the world today. One of some 20 sons of wealthy Saudi construction magnate Muhammad Bin Ladin—founder of the Kingdom's Bin Ladin Group business empire—Usama joined the Afghan resistance movement following the 26 December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. "I was enraged and went there at once," he claimed in a 1993 interview. "I arrived within days, before the end of 1979."
Bin Ladin gained prominence during the Afghan war for his role in financing the recruitment, transportation, and training of Arab nationals who volunteered to fight alongside the Afghan mujahedin. By 1985, Bin Ladin had drawn on his family's wealth, plus donations received from sympathetic merchant families in the Gulf region, to organize the Islamic Salvation Foundation, or al-Qaida, for this purpose.
- A network of al-Qaida recruitment centers and guesthouses in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan has enlisted and sheltered thousands of Arab recruits. This network remains active.
- Working in conjunction with extremist groups like the Egyptian al-Gama'at al-Islamiyyah, also know as the Islamic Group, al-Qaida organized and funded camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan that provided new recruits paramilitary training in preparation for the fighting in Afghanistan.
- Under al-Qaida auspices, Bin Ladin imported bulldozers and other heavy equipment to cut roads, tunnels, hospitals, and storage depots through Afghanistan's mountainous terrain to move and shelter fighters and supplies.
After the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, Bin Ladin returned to work in the family's Jeddah-based construction business. However, he continued to support militant Islamic groups that had begun targeting moderate Islamic governments in the region. Saudi officials held Bin Ladin's passport during 1989–1991 in a bid to prevent him from solidifying contacts with extremists whom he had befriended during the Afghan war.
Bin Ladin relocated to Sudan in 1991, where he was welcomed by National Islamic Front (NIF) leader Hasan al-Turabi. In a 1994 interview, Bin Ladin claimed to have surveyed business and agricultural investment opportunities in Sudan as early as 1983. He embarked on several business ventures in Sudan in 1990, which began to thrive following his move to Khartoum. Bin Ladin also formed symbiotic business relationships with wealthy NIF members by undertaking civil infrastructure development projects on the regime's behalf:
- Bin Ladin's company, Al-Hijrah for Construction and Development, Ltd., built the Tahaddi (challenge) road linking Khartoum with Port Sudan, as well as a modern international airport near Port Sudan.
- Bin Ladin's import-export firm, Wadi al-Aqiq Company, Ltd., in conjunction with his Taba Investment Company, Ltd., secured a near monopoly over Sudan's major agricultural exports of gum, corn, sunflower, and sesame products in cooperation with prominent NIF members. At the same time, Bin Ladin's Al-Themar al-Mubarakah Agriculture Company, Ltd. grew to encompass large tracts of land near Khartoum and in eastern Sudan.
- Bin Ladin and wealthy NIF members capitalized Al-Shamal Islamic Bank in Khartoum. Bin Ladin invested $50 million in the bank.
Bin Ladin's work force grew to include militant Afghan war veterans seeking to avoid a return to their own countries, where many stood accused of subversive and terrorist activities. In May 1993, for example, Bin Ladin financed the travel of 300 to 480 Afghan war veterans to Sudan after Islamabad launched a crackdown against extremists lingering in Pakistan. In addition to safehaven in Sudan, Bin Ladin has provided financial support to militants actively opposed to moderate Islamic governments and the West:
- Islamic extremists who perpetrated the December 1992 attempted bombings against some 100 U.S. servicemen in Aden (billeted there to support U.N. relief operations in Somalia) claimed that Bin Ladin financed their group.
- A joint Egyptian-Saudi investigation revealed in May 1993 that Bin Ladin business interests helped funnel money to Egyptian extremists, who used the cash to buy unspecified equipment, printing presses, and weapons.
- By January 1994, Bin Ladin had begun financing at least three terrorist training camps in northern Sudan (camp residents included Egyptian, Algerian, Tunisian and Palestinian extremists) in cooperation with the NIF. Bin Ladin's Al-Hijrah for Construction and Development works directly with Sudanese military officials to transport and provision terrorists training in such camps.
- Pakistani investigators have said that Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the alleged mastermind of the February 1993 World Trade Center bombing, resided at the Bin Ladin-funded Bayt Ashuhada (house of martyrs) guesthouse in Peshawar during most of the three years before his apprehension in February 1995.
- A leading member of the Egyptian extremist group al-Jihad claimed in a July 1995 interview that Bin Ladin helped fund the group and was at times witting of specific terrorist operations mounted by the group against Egyptian interests.
- Bin Ladin remains the key financier behind the "Kunar" camp in Afghanistan, which provides terrorist training to al-Jihad and al-Gama'at al-Islamiyyah members, according to suspect terrorists captured recently by Egyptian authorities.
Bin Ladin's support for extremist causes continues despite criticisms from regional governments and his family. Algeria, Egypt, and Yemen have accused Bin Ladin of financing militant Islamic groups on their soil (Yemen reportedly sought INTERPOL's assistance to apprehend Bin Ladin during 1994). In February 1994, Riyadh revoked Bin Ladin's Saudi citizenship for behavior that "contradicts the Kingdom's interests and risks harming its relations with fraternal countries." The move prompted Bin Ladin to form the Advisory and Reformation Committee, a London-based dissident organization that by July 1995 had issued over 350 pamphlets critical of the Saudi Government. Bin Ladin has not responded to condemnation leveled against him in March 1994 by his eldest brother, Bakr Bin Ladin, who expressed, through the Saudi media, his family's "regret, denunciation, and condemnation" of Bin Ladin's extremist activities.
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