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Context of 'Early 1983-Late 1984: Afghan Arab Purchases Equipment for Mujaheddin in US and Britain'

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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)

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)

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). (Miller 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.

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).

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. (Hopper 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. (Dao 10/7/2001; Moloney 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. (Miller 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. (Coll 7/20/1992)

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).

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