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Context of '1984: Bin Laden and Other Mujaheddin Leaders Meet Mysterious Europeans in Pakistan'

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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

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

Afghan Arab Essam al Ridi purchases more equipment in the US for the mujaheddin fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He had previously worked as a buyer for the mujaheddin, traveling the world to acquire items for the anti-Soviet jihad (see Early 1983-Late 1984). However, in 1985 he fell out with the others over Osama bin Laden’s influence in the movement, which he thought was excessive, and returned to the US to work as a flight instructor. Al Ridi buys eleven pairs of night vision goggles and gives them to Wadih El-Hage, who will later become Osama bin Laden’s personal secretary (see October 1995). El-Hage takes them to Pakistan for use in his passenger luggage. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001] Al Ridi will later purchase assassination rifles for the fighters linked to bin Laden, apparently with the CIA’s knowledge, but it is unclear whether the CIA knows about this transaction (see Early 1989).

Entity Tags: Essam al Ridi, Wadih El-Hage

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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

The airplane that will be bought for bin Laden.The airplane that will be bought for bin Laden. [Source: Fox News]High-ranking al-Qaeda operative Wadih El-Hage contacts Essam al Ridi, a militant who had previously helped the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan (see Early 1983-Late 1984), to discuss buying a jet plane for Osama bin Laden. El Hage is at bin Laden’s base in Sudan, and al Ridi is in Texas, where he works as a flight instructor. The two men know each other from the 1980s, when they shipped equipment from the US to the mujaheddin in Afghanistan (see 1987 or 1988). The FBI has been aware of El-Hage’s terrorist connections for some time (see March 1991), and the CIA is monitoring bin Laden in Sudan (see February 1991- July 1992). There are “quite a few” communications, in which the two men discuss the price of the aircraft, the fact that the plane is for bin Laden, and the plane’s range. El-Hage says that the plane has to be able to fly 2,000 miles, as he and bin Laden want to use it to ship Stinger missiles from Peshawar, Pakistan, to Khartoum, Sudan, and al Ridi and El-Hage discuss the technicalities of shipping the missiles. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001] Bin Laden sends money for the plane to al Ridi in the US (see Between August 1992 and 1993), and al Ridi then buys the plane and flies it to Sudan (see Early 1993). It is unclear if these calls are monitored, although bin Laden is under surveillance by the US at this time (see Early 1990s and Early 1990s).

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Essam al Ridi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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

Bin Laden’s crashed airplane.Bin Laden’s crashed airplane. [Source: Fox News]Essam al Ridi, an associate of Osama bin Laden who previously purchased an aircraft for him (see Early 1993), is asked to sell the aircraft by Wadih El-Hage, another bin Laden associate. Al Ridi, who obtains US citizenship in 1994, agrees to check the plane out and try to sell it in Egypt, where he is living at the moment. Al Ridi goes to examine the plane, which is in Khartoum, Sudan. He travels through Nairobi, Kenya, because he is worried about surveillance by Egyptian intelligence, and meets El-Hage, who is now living in Nairobi. Upon arrival in Khartoum, El-Hage is met by Ihab Ali Nawawi, another bin Laden operative and US-trained pilot. They find that the plane is in poor condition, and try to repair it. However, both sets of brakes fail upon landing after a test flight and the plane crashes into a sandbank near the runway. The accident is noticed by the tower and “everybody else,” and is a major event because, as al Ridi will later say in court: “[T]his aircraft was very unique to Khartoum. There is no such private jet aircraft at Khartoum International Airport.” Al Ridi is extremely concerned because of bin Laden’s notoriety and because “[e]verybody knows that it is Osama bin Laden’s aircraft.” He knows Egyptian intelligence in Khartoum will soon find out about the incident and will then come looking for him, so he is “very concerned to leave,” and he takes the first plane out of the country. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001] The CIA has been monitoring bin Laden in Sudan since he moved there in 1991 (see February 1991- July 1992 and Early 1990s), and it would make sense that the CIA would learn of the accident due to the plane’s known ownership by bin Laden. However, it is unclear if they do so and what action they take based on it, if any. During the Soviet-Afghan War, al Ridi had supplied bin Laden with assassination rifles in Afghanistan, and later said that the CIA was aware of this transaction (see Early 1989).

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Ihab Ali Nawawi, Essam al Ridi

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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