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Context of 'February 1985: Reagan Possibly Views Afghan Video Made by Bin Laden Brothers'

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Salem bin Laden in 1975.Salem bin Laden in 1975. [Source: Corbis]Salem bin Laden, Osama’s oldest brother, described by a French secret intelligence report as one of two closest friends of Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd who often performs important missions for Saudi Arabia, is involved in secret Paris meetings between US and Iranian emissaries this month, according to a French report. Frontline, which published the French report, notes that such meetings have never been confirmed. Rumors of these meetings have been called the “October Surprise” and some have speculated that in these meetings, George H. W. Bush negotiated a delay to the release of the US hostages in Iran, thus helping Ronald Reagan and Bush win the 1980 Presidential election. All of this is highly speculative, but if the French report is correct, it points to a long-standing connection of highly improper behavior between the Bush and bin Laden families. [PBS Frontline, 2001]

Entity Tags: Salem bin Laden, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Iran-Contra Affair

Salem bin Laden tells one of his employees, George Harrington, that his brother Osama, is, according to a later account by Harrington, “the liaison between the US, the Saudi government, and the Afghan rebels.” Salem, head of the bin Laden family, also says that he must visit Osama in Peshawar, a base inside Pakistan for the anti-Soviet mujaheddin, to check on what equipment the Saudi government is funneling to him. The two men fly up together with another employee, Bengt Johansson, and meet Osama that day. Osama also gives his brother and the two employees a tour of some facilities in Peshawar, including refugee camps, a hospital and an orphanage, and Salem films them to publicize his brother’s charitable work. [Coll, 2008, pp. 7-9]

Entity Tags: Salem bin Laden, Osama bin Laden, Bengt Johansson, George Harrington

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

According to author Steve Coll, US President Ronald Reagan may be given a briefing about Osama bin Laden’s charitable work in the Soviet-Afghan War, and may also see a video showing aspects of the work. If this is true, the briefing and video would come from Salem bin Laden, head of the bin Laden family, who made the video recently when visiting his brother Osama (see Early 1985).
Summit - Salem is in Washington at this time to attend a summit between Reagan and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. It is unclear what Salem’s role is at the summit, although one of the key areas of co-operation between the US and Saudi Arabia is support for the Afghan mujaheddin, and his brother Osama is a key figure who frequently travels between Saudi Arabia and mujaheddin bases in Pakistan. An attorney will later recall seeing a photograph of Salem and Reagan together at the meeting, but the photo will apparently be destroyed before it can be published.
Possible Briefing - Coll will comment: “It seems probable that when Salem reached Washington that winter, he would have passed to King Fahd, if not directly to the White House, the video evidence he had just gathered documenting Osama’s humanitarian work on the Afghan frontier.” Coll will add that Reagan takes pains to acknowledge Saudi Arabia’s efforts to support Afghan refugees on the Pakistani frontier, saying: “Their many humanitarian contributions touch us deeply.… Saudi aid to refugees uprooted from their homes in Afghanistan has not gone unnoticed here.” Coll will point out that the leading Saudi provider of such aid is Osama bin Laden, and that “Reagan’s language suggested that he had been given at least a general briefing about Osama’s work.” [Coll, 2008, pp. 11-12]

Entity Tags: Steve Coll, Osama bin Laden, Ronald Reagan, Salem bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bin Laden family head Salem bin Laden asks the Pentagon to supply anti-aircraft missiles to Arab volunteers fighting in the Soviet-Afghan War. The request is made on behalf of Salem’s brother Osama, who is establishing a semi-autonomous group of Arab volunteers outside the direct control of local Afghan commanders and will set up a camp just for Arabs later this year (see Late 1986). The Pentagon is asked because the US is already supplying anti-aircraft Stinger missiles to the Afghans. However, it does not reply to Salem, and the reason for the failure to reply is not known. According to a business partner involved in Salem’s efforts to secure the missiles, he makes several attempts to contact the Pentagon, but is unable to locate the right person in the defense bureaucracy. Later research will indicate that there is no formal decision by the Reagan administration not to supply the missiles or other equipment to the Arab volunteers. Pentagon official Michael Pillsbury will later say he was not aware of any such decision, but if such a decision had been taken, he would have been aware of it. [Coll, 2008, pp. 287]

Entity Tags: Michael Pillsbury, Salem bin Laden, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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