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Context of '1980-1989: CIA and British Train Mujaheddin in Afghanistan and Help Arm Bin Laden'

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Fearing a diplomatic incident, CIA and other US agents rarely venture into Afghanistan. Generally speaking, soldiers from the British elite Special Air Service (SAS) work with and train the mujaheddin instead. The SAS provides weapons training in Afghanistan until 1982 when Russian soldiers find the passports of two British instructors in a training camp. After that, mujaheddin are trained in secret camps in remote parts of Scotland. When the US decides to supply Stinger missiles to the mujaheddin in 1986, it is the SAS who provide the training in how to use them (see September 1986). But the SAS is taking orders from the CIA. The CIA also indirectly gives weapons to Osama bin Laden and other mujaheddin leaders. One former US intelligence official will say in 1999, “[US agents] armed [bin Laden’s] men by letting him pay rock-bottom prices for basic weapons.” But this person notes the relationship will later prove to be embarrassing to bin Laden and the CIA. “Of course it’s not something they want to talk about.” [Reeve, 1999, pp. 168]

Entity Tags: Special Air Service, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

After being recruited by Abdullah Azzam, an Arab Afghan leader and Osama bin Laden’s mentor, Essam al Ridi travels to Pakistan to join the mujaheddin fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He works for the mujaheddin for about 18 months, mostly as a purchaser of equipment abroad. He buys two sets of scuba diving equipment and six range finders in Britain, as well as night vision goggles and six night vision scopes from the US. He also purchases video equipment and batteries, and acquires equipment in Japan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Al Ridi will later say, as a witness in a US trial, that he travels “extensively almost every 15 days to 20 days” and that he has so many stamps his passport is nearly full by 1985. Al Ridi leaves Asia to return to the US in late 1984 or early 1985, apparently due to an argument about Osama bin Laden’s role in the jihad, but he will continue to send equipment to the mujaheddin. For example, he will later purchase assassination rifles for the jihad, apparently with the CIA’s knowledge, but it is unclear whether the CIA knows about these earlier transactions (see Early 1989). [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001]

Entity Tags: Abdullah Azzam, Essam al Ridi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Osama bin Laden, his mentor Abdullah Azzam, and Afghan warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf meet two unnamed men in Peshawar, Pakistan. The two men are “supposed to be from somewhere in Europe” and cannot speak Arabic. As a result, Essam al Ridi, an Egyptian who has lived in the US, attends the meeting as a translator. Al Ridi will later say that the two men speak English “with an accent” and that he was invited to the meeting to translate between the men on the one hand and Sayyaf and Azzam on the other, indicating that bin Laden did not need a translator and could speak English. This is the first of several meetings between bin Laden and al Ridi, who purchases equipment for anti-Soviet fighters (see Early 1983-Late 1984 and Early 1989). [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001]

Entity Tags: Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, Abdullah Azzam, Essam al Ridi, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Journalist Simon Reeve will claim in the 1999 book The New Jackals that US officials directly met with bin Laden in Afghanistan in the 1980s. He will write, “American emissaries are understood to have traveled to Pakistan for meetings with mujaheddin leaders… [A former CIA official] even suggests the US emissaries met directly with bin Laden, and that it was bin Laden, acting on advice from his friends in Saudi intelligence, who first suggested the mujaheddin should be given Stingers.” [Reeve, 1999, pp. 167, 176] The CIA begins supplying Stinger missiles to the mujaheddin in 1986 (see September 1986). After 9/11, the CIA will state, “Numerous comments in the media recently have reiterated a widely circulated but incorrect notion that the CIA once had a relationship with Osama bin Laden. For the record, you should know that the CIA never employed, paid, or maintained any relationship whatsoever with bin Laden.” [US State Department, 1/14/2005]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, United States

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Mujaheddin preparing to fire a stinger missile.Mujaheddin preparing to fire a stinger missile. [Source: National Geographic]Worried that the Soviets are winning the war in Afghanistan, the US decides to train and arm the mujaheddin with Stinger missiles. The Soviets are forced to stop using the attack helicopters that were being used to devastating effect. Some claim the Stingers turn the tide of the war and lead directly to Soviet withdrawal. Now the mujaheddin are better trained and armed than ever before. [Coll, 2004, pp. 11, 149-51; Clarke, 2004, pp. 48-50] The British Special Air Service (SAS) train the mujaheddin in how to use the Stingers (see 1980-1989).

Entity Tags: Special Air Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Essam al Ridi, a US-based Muslim who supports the mujaheddin in the Soviet-Afghan War, helps the CIA obtain photographs of a downed Russian helicopter, according to a statement al Ridi will later make to the New York Times. Al Ridi is an associate of leading Islamists Abdullah Azzam (see Early 1983-Late 1984 and Early 1989) and Osama bin Laden (see 1984 and Early 1993), and helps them purchase weapons. Al Ridi will help the FBI after the 1998 African embassy bombings (see October 1998). [New York Times, 6/3/2002] The CIA introduced stinger missiles into the war in late September 1986 to great effect against Soviet helicopters (see September 1986). [Coll, 2004, pp. 149-151] Presumably therefore, the CIA is asking al Ridi to get photos of a helicopter downed by a stinger shortly after they were introduced.

Entity Tags: Essam al Ridi, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan supplies North Korea with some basic technology for its nuclear program. The equipment is to be used for enriching uranium, but the Koreans are unable to make full use of the technology as they do not have the technical expertise to master the process alone. This causes co-operation between Pakistan and North Korea on nuclear matters to stall, until it is revived some years later (see Late 1990 or After). [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 220]

Entity Tags: Abdul Qadeer Khan

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

The US government sends 25 high-powered sniper rifles to a group of fighters in Afghanistan that includes bin Laden. The armor-piercing weapons have range-finding equipment and night-vision scopes. In an early 2001 US court trial, Essam al Ridi, a pilot for bin Laden in the early 1990s (see Early 1993), will recall that he helped ship the weapons to Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden’s mentor. Azzam and bin Laden are close to each other at this time, and al Ridi will later testify he sometimes saw the two of them together. The president of the US company that made the rifles will later state that the rifles “were picked up by US government trucks, shipped to US government bases, and shipped to those Afghan freedom fighters.” The rifles are considered ideal for assassination. [Associated Press, 10/16/2001] The order, worth about $150,000 at the time, is a significant one for the manufacturer, accounting for 15-25% of its annual turnover on the guns. Their export would usually require an end user certificate from the US Department of State, but the circumstances of the sale are unknown, as al Ridi is not asked how he manages to purchase such a large number of rifles. [New York Times, 10/7/2001; Sunday Tribune, 10/15/2001] The CIA will deny being involved in the transfer. [Central Intelligence Agency, 3/7/2002] However, al Ridi will say that the CIA was aware that bin Laden ended up with some of the guns. [New York Times, 6/3/2002] This shipment is especially significant because there was a protracted debate within the Reagan administration about sending sniper rifles to Afghanistan due to worries that it could violate a US law against assassinations and put US officials in legal jeopardy. In the end, the US gave less than 100 of such rifles without night-vision scopes to the government of Pakistan to pass on to mujaheddin, but the ones sent to Azzam had night-vision scopes. The timing is also significant since the Soviet Union agreed to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in 1988 and complete the pull out in February 1989, around when these rifles are sent. The rifles given to Pakistan appear to have arrived before 1987. [Washington Post, 7/20/1992]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, United States, Abdullah Azzam, Essam al Ridi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Pakistan sends a Stinger missile to North Korea. Pakistan obtained the Stinger from the US, which provided them to Pakistani-backed rebels during the Soviet-Afghan War in the 1980s (see September 1986). The missile is partly intended as a gift for the North Koreans—an incentive for the revival of co-operation between the two countries, which has been stalled for some time (see Late 1980s). In addition, the Stingers held by Pakistan are becoming useless, because their batteries are failing, and the Pakistanis hope that the North Koreans will be able to help them reverse engineer the batteries. The mission to North Korea is undertaken by ISI Director Javed Nasir at the behest of Pakistani army chief Mirza Aslam Beg and nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan, who will later become closely involved in co-operation with the North Koreans. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 220]

Entity Tags: Abdul Qadeer Khan, Javed Nasir, Aslam Beg

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Essam al Ridi.Essam al Ridi. [Source: CNN]Osama bin Laden buys a US military aircraft in Arizona, paying about $210,000 for a converted Saber-40. The transaction is arranged through Wadih El-Hage, a bin Laden employee in Sudan, and Essam al Ridi, a US-based helper for radical Islamists. Before the purchase is made, the two men discuss the transaction on the phone (see August 1992-1993) and El-Hage sends money to al Ridi, who had learned to fly in the US (see Between August 1992 and 1993). Bin Laden apparently wants to use the plane to transport stinger missiles from Pakistan to Sudan, but it is unclear whether it is ever actually used to do this. After modifying the plane, al Ridi flies it from the US to Khartoum, Sudan, where he meets El-Hage, bin Laden, al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef, and others. They have dinner, where al Ridi also sees “quite a few” AK 47s, and men in Sudanese military uniforms. Al Ridi also visits bin Laden at the offices of one of his companies, Wadi al Aqiq, and bin Laden offers him a job as a pilot, spraying crops and then shipping them to other countries. However, al Ridi, who argued with bin Laden during the Soviet-Afghan war, rejects the offer, saying bin Laden is not offering him enough money. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/16/2001; Washington Post, 5/19/2002] The plane will later be used to transport bin Laden operatives on a trip to Somalia before the “Black Hawk Down” incident (see Before October 1993), but al Ridi will later crash it (see (1994-1995)).

Entity Tags: Wadi al Aqiq, Wadih El-Hage, Essam al Ridi, Osama bin Laden, Mohammed Atef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Essam al Ridi, an associate of Osama bin Laden and Wadih El-Hage, one of the al-Qaeda operatives responsible for the recent embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), is contacted by US government officials working on the case. They want to interview al Ridi, who had various dealings with bin Laden and El-Hage in the early 1990s (see Early 1993, Before October 1993, and (1994-1995)), to help them build a case. Al Ridi, who is outside the US, is not given any assurances that he will not be arrested on his return, but is told there are no charges against him and no plans to charge him. Al Ridi decides to return and does not even bother to bring a lawyer to his meeting with the government. He will testify about his dealings with bin Laden and El-Hage at the trial of the embassy bombers in 2001. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001] However, al Ridi will later complain about his treatment after the court case. He will be detained, kicked, and held incommunicado during a visit to Egypt in May 2001, and fired by an airline after 9/11 because the FBI again asks for his help. After being fired, he will find it hard to get work. FBI agent Robert Miranda will admit some problems: “I said, ‘Help us, and we’ll help you,’ and it didn’t work out.” [New York Times, 6/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Essam al Ridi, Robert Miranda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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