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Context of '1993: US Government Turns Blind Eye to Illegal Weapons Pipeline to Muslim Bosnia'

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Elfatih Hassanein (center).Elfatih Hassanein (center). [Source: Magyar Iszlam]In 1987, a Sudanese man named Elfatih Hassanein found the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA). By mid-1991, Bosnian President Izetbegovic contacts Hassanein, who he has known since the 1970s. The two men agree to turn TWRA from an obscure charity into what the Washington Post will later call “the chief broker of black-market weapons deals by Bosnia’s Muslim-led government and the agent of money and influence in Bosnia for Islamic movements and governments around the world.” A banker in Vienna will later call Hassanein the “bagman” for Izetbegovic. “If the Bosnian government said we need flour, he ran after flour. If they said we need weapons, he ran after weapons.” [Washington Post, 9/22/1996; Schindler, 2007, pp. 148] The TWRA is controlled by a committee composed of Hassanein and:
bullet Hasan Cengic. He is in charge of arming a Bosnian militia run by the SDA party (see June 1991).
bullet Irfan Ljevakovic.
bullet Husein Zivalj.
bullet Dervis Djurdjevic.
All of them are important members of Izetbegovic’s SDA party, and all but Ljevakovic were codefendants with Izetbegovic in a 1983 trial. Most payments require the approval of three of the five, except for amounts greater than $500,000, in which case Izetbegovic has to give approval. The corruption from these higher-ups is said to be incredible, with up to half of all money passing through the TWRA going into their pockets. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 148-152] The TWRA is based in Vienna, Austria, and Izetbegovic personally guarantees Hassanein’s credentials with banks there. Soon, machine guns, missiles and other weapons are being shipped into Bosnia in containers marked as humanitarian aid. Hassanein is a member of Sudan’s government party and a follower of top Sudanese leader Hassan al-Turabi. Just like al-Turabi, he works with bin Laden and the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. He becomes the main agent in Europe for marketing and selling video and audio tapes of Abdul-Rahman’s sermons. In March 1992, the Sudanese government gives him a diplomatic passport and he uses it to illegally transport large amounts of cash from Austria into Bosnia without being searched. [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 140-141] The Saudi Arabian government is the biggest contributor to TWRA, but many other governments give money to it too, such as Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Brunei, Turkey, and Malaysia. Bin Laden is also a major contributor. [Washington Post, 9/22/1996] Author John Schindler will later note, “Relations between bin Laden and TWRA were close, not least because during the Bosnian war the al-Qaeda leadership was based in Khartoum, Sudan, under the protection of the Sudanese Islamist regime that was the ultimate backer of Hassanein and his firm.” TWRA also works closely with the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and most other charity fronts in Bosnia. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 151-152] A later study by the Bosnian government with help from Western intelligence agencies will determine that at least $2.5 billion passed through the TWRA to Bosnia between 1992 and 1995. The study will call the TWRA “a group of Bosnian Muslim wartime leaders who formed an illegal, isolated ruling oligarchy, comprising three to four hundred ‘reliable’ people in the military commands, the diplomatic service, and a number of religious dignitaries.… It was this organization, not the Government [of Bosnia], that controlled all aid that Islamic countries donated to the Bosnian Muslims throughout the war.” [Schindler, 2007, pp. 149-150]

Entity Tags: Omar Abdul-Rahman, Osama bin Laden, Dervis Djurdjevic, Alija Izetbegovic, Elfatih Hassanein, Hassan al-Turabi, Third World Relief Agency, Irfan Ljevakovic, Husein Zivalj, Hasan Cengic, International Islamic Relief Organization

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A secret weapons pipeline into Bosnia in violation of a UN arms embargo is exposed. Large transport planes have been arriving once a week for four weeks from Sudan to Maribor, Slovenia. The cargo is marked as humanitarian aid but in fact the planes are carrying tons of weapons, mostly from surplus stocks of old Soviet weapons. The planes are run by a company belonging to Victor Bout, a notorious illegal arms dealer who will later work closely with the Taliban in Afghanistan (see October 1996-Late 2001). [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 50-51, 268-269] Such planes have been bringing weapons through Croatia bound for Muslim Bosnia, but due to deteriorating relations between Croatia and Muslim Bosnia, the Croatian government stops the flights and impounds 120 tons of weapons. At the same time, chartered Russian helicopters fly more weapons directly into Muslim Bosnia. Austrian government agents learn that the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA) is financing all of these shipments. They are working with Hasan Cengic, a radical imam who is also a Bosnian government official. The TWRA and Cengic switch to other routes. The next year, the German government will stumbled across an illegal weapons deal being negotiated in Germany by Bosnian Muslims and Turkish arms dealers and arrest around 30. TWRA was the financial broker of the deal. But despite the exposure of TWRA as a charity front, no government takes any action against it and it will continue to be the main vehicle by which Muslim Bosnia gets illegal weapons. [Washington Post, 9/22/1996; Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 50-51, 268-269] Bout and Cengic will apparently continue working together. A 2004 Bosnian intelligence report will say that “Victor Bout in collaboration with Hasan Cengic is transporting weapons to Chechnya” via a Bout front company. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 50-51, 268-269]

Entity Tags: Victor Bout, Hasan Cengic, Third World Relief Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In 1996, the Washington Post reports that the Saudi Arabian government spent hundreds of millions of dollars to channel weapons to the Muslim Bosnians, and that the US government knew about it and assisted it. An anonymous Saudi official who took part in the effort will say that the US role “was more than just turning a blind eye to what was going on.… It was consent combined with stealth cooperation.… American knowledge began under [President George] Bush and became much greater under [President] Clinton.” The Bosnian program was modeled on Saudi and US cooperation to fund the mujaheddin in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The major difference is that if Afghanistan the Saudis and Americans split the costs, but in Bosnia the Saudis pay for everything. They spend $300 million on illegal weapons deliveries plus around $500 million in Saudi aid to the Bosnian government. The US helps because Saudi Arabia lacks the “technical sophistication” to mount the operation on their own. The Post will report, “The official refused to go into detail about the American role in the operation, other than to say that the Saudis had made use of the same ‘network’ of undercover operatives, arms salesmen, and ‘former this and former that’ set up during the Afghan operation.” The official does say, “We did not set up a formal structure, the way we did in Afghanistan. But logic tells you that without the consent of NATO, the United States, and Germany, there was no way it could have happened.” Most of the weapons go through Croatia since Bosnia lacks good access to the sea, and the Croatian government takes a cut of up to half of all the weapons. Some emergency deliveries are made through “secret nighttime flights to Tuzla and other airports under the control of the Bosnian authorities.” Other supplies come by sea, with NATO apparently turning a blind eye in their naval blockade of the coastline. The direct aid given to Bosnia is used to buy weapons on the black market at high prices, sometimes from Serb enemies. US government officials will later deny any such arrangement took place, but British, French, and other officials believe the US was secretly involved in efforts to arm the Bosnians. [Washington Post, 2/2/1996] Much of the money must go through the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA), since most illegal weapons get to Bosnia through the TWRA. This charity front has ties to Osama bin Laden and other radical militants (see Mid-1991-1996).

Entity Tags: United States, Third World Relief Agency, Saudi Arabia

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

According to a senior Western diplomat, in 1993 the Clinton administration learns about the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA) and its real purpose of secretly violating the UN embargo to get weapons to Bosnia (see Mid-1991-1996). But the US takes no action to stop its fund-raising or arms shipments. The diplomat will later say, “We were told [by Washington] to watch them but not interfere. Bosnia was trying to get weapons from anybody, and we weren’t helping much. The least we could do is back off. So we backed off.” TWRA has key offices in Austria and Germany, but authorities in both those countries refrain from shutting down TWRA as well. Austrian officials will later admit that “public pressure to support Bosnia’s Muslims allowed them to turn a blind eye to the agency’s activities.” [Washington Post, 9/22/1996] However, it seems probable that the US found out about TWRA’s smuggling activites earlier, when they were exposed in late 1992 (see September 1992). Further, there are suggestions that the US may have tacitly agreed to the illegal smuggling and even helped with it from the very beginning (see Late 1992-1995). The TWRA is linked to bin Laden and other radical militants, and in 1993 it helps fund bomb plotters in the US, but the FBI does not act on that link (see Late 1992-Early 1993 and Early April 1993).

Entity Tags: Third World Relief Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Clement Rodney Hampton-El.Clement Rodney Hampton-El. [Source: Jolie Stahl]FBI investigators begin monitoring Clement Rodney Hampton-El’s house in New York as they close in on the militants involved in the “Landmarks” plot (see June 24, 1993). They listen in on a call from Hampton-El’s right-hand man, Abu Ubaidah Yahya, as he is in Vienna, Austria, picking up money from the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA) for the militants in the US tied to the Landmarks plot. Over the next few months, Yahya is tracked as he makes several trips from the US to Vienna, picking up about $100,000. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 113] Hampton-El had also been in Vienna earlier in the year, picking up more money from TWRA for the plotters (see Late 1992-Early 1993). TWRA is funneling a huge amount of weapons to Muslim Bosnia in violation of a UN embargo but with the tacit approval of the US government (see Mid-1991-1996). It also has ties to radical militants like bin Laden and Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. The Washington Post will later report that, “Intelligence agencies say they have tapes of telephone calls by Abdul-Rahman to [TWRA’s] office.” The “Landmarks” bombers are closely associated with Abdul-Rahman and will be convicted along with him. [Washington Post, 9/22/1996] A secret 1996 CIA report will state that “according to a foreign government service” Elfatih Hassanein, the head of TWRA, “supports US Muslim extremists in Bosnia.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 1/1996] But apparently the US does not go after TWRA for its ties to the “Landmarks” plotters and the connection will not be publicized for years.

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Clement Rodney Hampton-El, Abu Ubaidah Yahya, Elfatih Hassanein, Third World Relief Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Ubaidah Yahya, an ex-US marine tied to many of the “Landmarks” bombers, is arrested and charged with gun running. According to charges, Yahya bought at least six assault weapons at a Virginia gun show in November 1992 and then later distributed them to a group of militants he was training at a training camp near New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania (see Late 1992-Early 1993). A number of the “Landmarks” bombers trained there and prosecutors claim the training was part of the overall “Landmarks” conspiracy, but strangely, Yahya is only charged with the gun running and not the training, even though the FBI actually briefly monitored him running the training camp (see January 16-17, 1993). Yahya, a US citizen who changed his name from Karl Dexter Taylor, runs a martial arts school in Brooklyn. [United Press International, 2/21/1995; New York Times, 2/22/1995] Yahya apparently fought in Bosnia for the Bosnian Muslims while the US government was secretly supporting the Bosnian Muslim cause (see Spring 1993). He was security chief for the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, a charity front linked to both al-Qaeda and the CIA (see 1986-1993). He also transported money for the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA) charity front (see Early April 1993) while the US government was deliberately turning a blind eye to its actions (see 1993). What happens next to Yahya is unclear. While the Lexis Nexus database reveals a number of articles about his arrest, there are no articles mentioning any subsequent trial or imprisonment.

Entity Tags: Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Abu Ubaidah Yahya, Third World Relief Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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