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Bin Laden and Al Qaeda Finances

Terror chief has global cash machine, 9/16/01, Sunday Telegraph, London

Al'Qaeda 'has network of sleepers across North America', 9/15/01 The Daily Telegraph, London

Terror chief has global cash machine, 9/16/01, Sunday Telegraph, London

September 16, 2001, Sunday

Osama bin Laden has built a vast business empire to fund violence. Martin Bentham investigates


EVERY TIME a soft drink is sold in the world, there is a chilling possibility that Osama bin Laden's wealth increases - and with it the power of his terrorist network to wage war on the West.

Most drinks contain gum arabic, a substance that prevents particles settling in the bottom of a can or bottle. Much of it is produced in Sudan by the Gum Arabic Company, in which bin Laden, 44, has owned a large slice.

Although it is unclear precisely how much involvement he now has in the gum arabic trade, he has already earned tens of millions of pounds from the soft-drinks industry - providing years of finance for his Islamic terrorists. "It is possible that every time someone buys an American soft drink, they are helping to fill Osama bin Laden's coffers," said Simon Reeve, the author of The New Jackals, a recent book on the Saudi dissident's network. Bin Laden's earnings from gum arabic, which is also used in other foodstuffs and cosmetics, comprise only a part of his fortune.

He is thought to have earned pounds 18 million from a building contract for the expansion of the Islamic shrines at Mecca and Medina. Other revenue has come from currency trading and various businesses. Drug running in Afghanistan is now thought to be a principal source of his income. In the past, he has even been funded by the CIA.

The exact extent of his fortune can only be guessed at. The most authoritative estimates indicate that he is worth up to pounds 300 million.

"Bin Laden has resources and capabilities greater than many national governments," said Daniel Benjamin, of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank. "He is able to garner funds throughout the Islamic world. These come from rich sheikhs in the Gulf and the charity plate in radical mosques."

He was born in Riyadh, in 1957 - one of more than 50 children of Mohammed bin Laden, the founder of a building firm with a vast turnover. When his father died, he used his share of the wealth to enjoy a playboy life in Beirut in the early 1970s. Soon, he married and trained in management and civil engineering.

After the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, he funded Islamic resistance fighters. Money flowed in to help him - notably from the CIA - but also, it is thought, from other governments. When the Red Army pulled out in the late 1980s, bin Laden expanded his al-Qaeda organisation - also known as The Base - set up during the Afghan war. It began supporting the worldwide "Islamic struggle" against those deemed to be oppressing Muslims.

Paul Wilkinson, of the centre for the study of terrorism and political violence at St Andrews University in Scotland, said al-Qaeda's various components were used to move money, information and people around the world. This allowed bin Laden to act as a "super facilitator" for terrorists - some linked to other groups such as Islamic Jihad.

"His is a hydra-headed organisation," said Prof Wilkinson. "Its transnational nature makes it very difficult to stem the flow of funds."

A rare glimpse of al-Qaeda's inner workings came at the New York trial of four bin Laden-sponsored terrorists, convicted in July for their role in two US embassy bombings in Africa in 1998 that killed 224 people.

Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl, who says he was once the group's paymaster, told the court of a global web of bank accounts. One, he claimed, was at Barclays Bank in London.

The terrorist group was highly organised, he said, with its own finance committee.

Mr al-Fadl fled al-Qaeda in 1996 and turned himself over to American investigators.

Barclays Bank said yesterday that there was no record of any of its accounts being linked to bin Laden. A spokesman said: "We have carried out extensive checks to ensure that we are adhering to the legal guidelines."

Last night, Sheikh Abdullah Awad Aboud bin Laden, the head of the bin Laden family, expressed sorrow about the suffering caused by last week's attacks. "The family has announced its position [to distance itself from Osama] and condemned his acts," he said.

Al'Qaeda 'has network of sleepers across North America', 9/15/01 The Daily Telegraph, London

September 15, 2001, Saturday

HEADLINE: Hundreds of hidden terrorists loyal to Osama bin Laden are simply awaiting the call to strike again, writes Ahmed Rashid in Lahore


THE real fear for the future since the attacks in New York and Washington is that dozens, perhaps hundreds of operatives loyal to Al'Qaeda are in America and Canada ready to strike again, awaiting a call from Osama Bin Laden.

Al'Qaeda, or The Base, also has supporters in almost every European country and active cells in 34 nations.

In every terrorist act by Al'Qaeda since the early 1990s bin Laden has ensured that the actual suicide bombers were "sleepers", long-time residents of the countries they attacked, with ordinary jobs, identity papers and a social and family life. Bin Laden has spent a decade building up such networks of individuals, some of whom have never travelled to Afghanistan to meet him. "Bombing Afghanistan and bin Laden will just be lopping off the top of the tree, it will not be taking out all the branches, which are everywhere," said a Pakistani official.

Building up such a network has required money, weapons and secure sanctuaries and staging areas, which bin Laden has acquired only because the West has ignored the civil war in Afghanistan for a decade.

Bin Laden set up Al'Qaeda in Peshawar, Pakistan, in the late 1980s as a welfare organisation to pay pensions to the widows and orphans of Arabs who had died while fighting Soviet troops alongside the Afghan Mujaheddin. It expanded as bin Laden set up businesses, training schools and money laundering rings in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan and the Middle East.

He also had the resources of his wealthy family, the largest construction magnates in Saudi Arabia. His personal wealth was estimated by the CIA at pounds 160 million, although much of that was frozen by America after Al'Qaeda bombed two US embassies in Africa in 1998.

Since then bin Laden has raised funds by drugs trafficking from Afghanistan and smuggling consumer goods from Dubai and other ports in the Arabian Gulf to Iran, Pakistan and Central Asia.

Bin Laden has also ignored the world banking system in favour of "hundi". For decades, millions of migrant workers from the Indian subcontinent who work in the Arab states use Pakistani and Indian money lenders to send earnings home.

Last year Pakistan's State Bank received about pounds 540 million in remittances from the country's migrant workers. Hundi delivered an estimated pounds 2 billion. It is an informal system, which uses chits of paper, telephone calls and word of mouth. Workers in the Gulf hand over their earnings to money lenders, who phone their agents scattered in towns and villages in the home country, who in turn deliver the same sum to the families of the workers.

Hundi is now operating in America, Canada and Britain, and bin Laden has tapped into this risk-free system. The US attacks were likely to have been funded through hundi.

Afghanistan and the Taliban have provided extraordinary facilities not available anywhere in the shadowy world of international terrorism. Thousands of Al'Qaeda recruits spend six months of the year fighting for the Taliban, gaining battle experience and training in the use of weapons and explosives.

Since 1998, bin Laden has used fax, telephone and e-mail connections from Pakistan rather than Afghanistan, as satellite communications in Afghanistan are too closely monitored by the CIA.

Al'Qaeda is an umbrella organisation that now includes dozens of militant groups from around the Muslim world. Bin Laden provides funds, training facilities in Afghanistan and overall direction, but he does not necessarily provide daily control. Instead, these groups, such as the 20 Algerians arrested in Europe this summer, have their own agendas, which are not necessarily communicated to bin Laden, unless there are big operations such as the American attacks.

By distancing himself from these sub-groups, bin Laden has confidently been able to deny responsibility for every act of terrorism he has carried out, even though he has always praised the perpetrators, just as he has denied involvement in the American attacks but praised the suicide bombers.

Ahmed Rashid is the author of The Taliban, Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia, published by IB Tauris.

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LOAD-DATE: September 15, 2001



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