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Context of 'Summer 1991: Bin Laden Leaves Saudi Arabia'

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After Iraq invades Kuwait (see November 8, 1990), bin Laden, newly returned to Saudi Arabia, offers the Saudi government the use of his thousands of veteran fighters from the Afghan war to defend the country in case Iraq attacks it. The Saudi government turns him down, allowing 300,000 US soldiers on Saudi soil instead. Bin Laden is incensed, and immediately goes from ally to enemy of the Saudis. [Coll, 2004, pp. 221-24, 270-71] After a slow buildup, the US invades Iraq in March 1991 and reestablishes Kuwait. [Posner, 2003, pp. 40-41] Bin Laden soon leaves Saudi Arabia and soon forms al-Qaeda ((see Summer 1991)).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Summer 1991: Bin Laden Leaves Saudi Arabia

Prince Turki al-Faisal.Prince Turki al-Faisal. [Source: Publicity photo]Bin Laden, recently returned to Saudi Arabia, has been placed under house arrest for his opposition to the continued presence of US soldiers on Saudi soil. [PBS Frontline, 2001] Controversial author Gerald Posner claims that a classified US intelligence report describes a secret deal between bin Laden and Saudi Intelligence Minister Prince Turki al-Faisal at this time. Although bin Laden has become an enemy of the Saudi state, he is nonetheless too popular for his role with the mujaheddin in Afghanistan to be easily imprisoned or killed. According to Posner, bin Laden is allowed to leave Saudi Arabia with his money and supporters, but the Saudi government will publicly disown him. Privately, the Saudis will continue to fund his supporters with the understanding that they will never be used against Saudi Arabia. The wrath of the fundamentalist movement is thus directed away from the vulnerable Saudis. [Posner, 2003, pp. 40-42] Posner alleges the Saudis “effectively had [bin Laden] on their payroll since the start of the decade.” [Time, 8/31/2003] This deal is reaffirmed in 1996 and 1998. Bin Laden leaves Saudi Arabia in the summer of 1991, returning first to Afghanistan. [Coll, 2004, pp. 229-31, 601-02] After staying there a few months, he moves again, settling into Sudan with hundreds of ex-mujaheddin supporters (see 1992-1996). [PBS Frontline, 2001]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Saudi Arabia, Gerald Posner, Turki al-Faisal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bin Laden (center) being feted by Sudanese leaders.Bin Laden (center) being feted by Sudanese leaders. [Source: CBC] (click image to enlarge)With a personal fortune of around $250 million (estimates range from $50 to $800 million [Miami Herald, 9/24/2001] ), Osama bin Laden begins plotting attacks against the US from his new base in Sudan. The first attack kills two tourists in Yemen at the end of 1992. [New Yorker, 1/24/2000] The CIA learns of his involvement in that attack in 1993, and learns that same year that he is channeling money to Egyptian extremists. US intelligence also learns that by January 1994 he is financing at least three militant training camps in North Sudan. [New York Times, 8/14/1996; PBS Frontline, 2001; US Congress, 7/24/2003]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Saudi government revokes bin Laden’s citizenship and moves to freeze his assets in Saudi Arabia because of his support for Muslim fundamentalist movements. [New York Times, 4/10/1994; PBS Frontline, 2001] However, allegedly, this is only a public front and they privately continue to support him as part of a secret deal allegedly made in 1991 (see Summer 1991). In fact, bin Laden will travel to Albania as part of an official Saudi delegation later in the month (see Shortly After April 9, 1994). The Saudis were said to have been pressured into this move after US officials privately met with Saudi officials and confronted them with satellite images of al-Qaeda training camps in northern Sudan. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 6/6/2005] But Alain Chouet, head of the French intelligence subdivision tracking terrorist movements, will later claim that bin Laden’s “loss of Saudi nationality is nothing but a farce.” [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Saudi Arabia, Alain Chouet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

1996: Saudi Regime Goes to ‘Dark Side’

The Saudi Arabian government, which allegedly initiated payments to al-Qaeda in 1991 (see Summer 1991), increases its payments in 1996, becoming al-Qaeda’s largest financial backer. It also gives money to other extremist groups throughout Asia, vastly increasing al-Qaeda’s capabilities. [New Yorker, 10/16/2001] Presumably, two meetings in early summer bring about the change. Says one US official, “[19]96 is the key year.… Bin Laden hooked up to all the bad guys—it’s like the Grand Alliance—and had a capability for conducting large-scale operations.” The Saudi regime, he says, had “gone to the dark side.” Electronic intercepts by the NSA “depict a regime increasingly corrupt, alienated from the country’s religious rank and file, and so weakened and frightened that it has brokered its future by channeling hundreds of millions of dollars in what amounts to protection money to fundamentalist groups that wish to overthrow it.” US officials later privately complain “that the Bush administration, like the Clinton administration, is refusing to confront this reality, even in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks.” [New Yorker, 10/16/2001] Martin Indyk, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, will later write, “The Saudis had protected themselves by co-opting and accommodating the Islamist extremists in their midst, a move they felt was necessary in the uncertain aftermath of the Gulf War. Since Saddam Hussein remained in power, weakened but still capable of lashing out and intent on revenge, the Saudis could not afford to send their American protector packing. Instead, they found a way to provide the United States with the access it needed to protect Saudi Arabia while keeping the American profile as low as possible.… [O]nce Crown Prince Abdullah assumed the regency in 1996 (see Late 1995), the ruling family set about the determined business of buying off its opposition.” Saudi charities are “subverted” to help transfer money to militant causes. “[T]he Clinton administration indulged Riyadh’s penchant for buying off trouble as long as the regime also paid its huge arms bills, purchased Boeing aircraft, kept the price of oil within reasonable bounds, and allowed the United States to use Saudi air bases to enforce the southern no-fly zone over Iraq and launch occasional military strikes to contain Saddam Hussein.” [Foreign Affairs, 1/1/2002]

Entity Tags: Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, National Security Agency, Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Saudi Arabia, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Prince Bandar, Saudi ambassador to the US since 1983, steps down and is replaced by Prince Turki al-Faisal. It is said that Prince Bandar had been suffering health problems and is not close to the new Saudi King Abdullah (see August 1, 2005). Prince Turki was Saudi intelligence minister from the late 1970s until about one week before 9/11 (see August 31, 2001). Then he served three years as Saudi ambassador to Britain. Prince Turki has had a controversial past. He was considered a mentor to bin Laden, and encouraged him to represent Saudi Arabia in the Afghanistan war against the Soviet Union. There are allegations that Prince Turki took part in a series of secret meetings between bin Laden and the Saudis over a period of many years (see Summer 1991; May 1996; Spring 1998; June 1998; July 1998; July 4-14, 2001). There are also allegations that he went falcon hunting in Afghanistan with bin Laden during much of the 1990s (see 1995-2001). In the wake of his appointment as ambassador, US officials try to downplay his past. One unnamed US official says, “Yes, he knew members of al-Qaeda. Yes, he talked to the Taliban. At times he delivered messages to us and from us regarding Osama bin Laden and others. Yes, he had links that in this day and age would be considered problematic, but at the time we used those links.” The official adds that Prince Turki seems to have “gotten out of that business” since 2001 and “he understands that times have changed.” He was sued in 2002 by a group of 9/11 victims’ relatives for allegedly supporting al-Qaeda, but his name was dropped from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see August 15, 2002). [New York Times, 7/21/2005]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Bandar bin Sultan, Al-Qaeda, Turki al-Faisal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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