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As Osama bin Laden gets involved with the mujaheddin resistance in Afghanistan, he also develops close ties to the Saudi intelligence agency, the GIP. Some believe that Saudi Intelligence Minister Prince Turki al-Faisal plays a middleman role between Saudi intelligence and mujaheddin groups (see Early 1980). Turki’s chief of staff is Ahmed Badeeb, and Badeeb had been one of bin Laden’s teachers when bin Laden was in high school. Badeeb will later say, “I loved Osama and considered him a good citizen of Saudi Arabia.” Journalist Steve Coll will later comment that while the Saudi government denies bin Laden is ever a Saudi intelligence agent, and the exact nature of his connections with the GIP remains murky, “it seems clear that bin Laden did have a substantial relationship with Saudi intelligence.” (Coll 2004, pp. 72, 86-87) The GIP’s favorite Afghan warlord is Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, while Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is the Pakistani ISI’s favorite warlord. Bin Laden quickly becomes close to both Sayyaf and Hekmatyar, even though the two warlords are not allies with each other. (Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 268) Some CIA officers will later say that bin Laden serves as a semi-official liaison between the GIP and warlords like Sayyaf. Bin Laden meets regularly with Prince Turki and Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif. Badeeb will later say bin Laden developed “strong relations with the Saudi intelligence and with our embassy in Pakistan.… We were happy with him. He was our man. He was doing all what we ask him.” Bin Laden also develops good relations with the ISI. (Coll 2004, pp. 72, 87-88) Bin Laden will begin clashing with the Saudi government in the early 1990s (see August 2, 1990-March 1991).
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)
Assistant Undersecretary of Defence Michael Pillsbury flies to the Afghan frontier to review training facilities used by two Afghan warlords, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. Although Pillsbury is not involved in the day-to-day running of the Soviet-Afghan War, he chairs an interagency White House group that sets US policy on its support for anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan. During the meetings, Pillsbury asks the two rebel commanders, both noted for their close relationship with Arab volunteers fighting in the war, about how effective the Arabs are and whether the US should allocate resources to them directly. However, both commanders reply that they do not want aid or supplies to be diverted to the Arabs, they want everything they can get for themselves. (Coll 2008, pp. 286-287) Despite this, CIA Director William Casey comes to an agreement with the Pakistani ISI to boost Arab participation in the war (see 1985-1986), and a group of Arabs led by Osama bin Laden will establish a camp independent of the Afghan leaders later in the year (see Late 1986).
By the mid-1980s, Osama bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam jointly founded a charity front based in Pakistan which is called Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) (which means “services office”) and is also known as Al-Kifah (which means “struggle”) (see 1984). Branches start to open in the US; the first one apparently opens in Tucson, Arizona, where al-Qaeda has a sleeper cell (see 1986). But around 1986, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, the right hand man of double agent Ali Mohamed, informally founds the branch in Brooklyn, New York, and it soon becomes the most important US branch. (Weiser, Sachs, and Kocieniewski 10/22/1998; Burr and Collins 2006, pp. 269-270) On December 29, 1987, three men, Mustafa Shalabi, Fawaz Damra, and Ali Shinawy, formally file papers incorporating Al-Kifah, which is called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. At first, it is located inside the Al Farouq mosque, which is led by Damra. But eventually it will get it own office space next to the mosque. Shalabi, a naturalized citizen from Egypt, runs the office with two assistants: Mahmud Abouhalima, who will later be convicted for a role in bombing the World Trade Center in 1993 (see February 26, 1993), and El Sayyid Nosair, who will assassinate a Jewish leader in New York in 1990 (see November 5, 1990). (Mitchell 4/11/1993; Hosenball 10/1/2001; Sullivan, Garrett, and Rutchick 11/4/2001) Jamal al-Fadl, a founding member of al-Qaeda and future FBI informant (see June 1996-April 1997), also works at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in its early days. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 155) The Brooklyn office recruits Arab immigrants and Arab-Americans to go fight in Afghanistan, even after the Soviets withdraw in early 1989. As many as 200 are sent there from the office. Before they go, the office arranges training in the use of rifles, assault weapons, and handguns, and then helps them with visas, plane tickets, and contacts. They are generally sent to the MAK/Al-Kifah office in Peshawar, Pakistan, and then connected to either the radical Afghan faction led by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf or the equally radical one led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. (Mitchell 4/11/1993) The CIA has some murky connection to Al-Kifah that has yet to be fully explained. Newsweek will later say the Brooklyn office “doubled as a recruiting post for the CIA seeking to steer fresh troops to the mujaheddin” fighting in Afghanistan. At the same time, the Brooklyn office is where “veterans of [the Afghan war arrived] in the United States—many with passports arranged by the CIA.” (Hosenball 10/1/2001) Robert I. Friedman, writing for New York magazine, will comment that the Brooklyn office was a refuge for ex- and future mujaheddin, “But the highlight for the center’s regulars were the inspirational jihad lecture series, featuring CIA-sponsored speakers.… One week on Atlantic Avenue, it might be a CIA-trained Afghan rebel traveling on a CIA-issued visa; the next, it might be a clean-cut Arabic-speaking Green Beret, who would lecture about the importance of being part of the mujaheddin, or ‘warriors of the Lord.’ The more popular lectures were held upstairs in the roomier Al-Farouq Mosque; such was the case in 1990 when Sheikh [Omar] Abdul-Rahman, traveling on a CIA-supported visa, came to town.” One frequent instructor is double agent Ali Mohamed, who is in the US Special Forces at the time (see 1987-1989). Bin Laden’s mentor Azzam frequently visits and lectures in the area. In 1988, he tells “a rapt crowd of several hundred in Jersey City, ‘Blood and martyrdom are the only way to create a Muslim society.… However, humanity won’t allow us to achieve this objective, because all humanity is the enemy of every Muslim.’” (Friedman 3/17/1995) Ayman Al-Zawahiri, future Al-Qaeda second in command, makes a recruiting trip to the office in 1989 (see Spring 1993). (Wright 9/9/2002) The Brooklyn office also raises a considerable amount of money for MAK/Al-Kifah back in Pakistan. The Independent will later call the office “a place of pivotal importance to Operation Cyclone, the American effort to support the mujaheddin. The Al-Kifah [Refugee Center was] raising funds and, crucially, providing recruits for the struggle, with active American assistance.” (Marshall 11/1/1998) Abdul-Rahman, better known as the “Blind Sheikh,” is closely linked to bin Laden. In 1990, he moves to New York on another CIA-supported visa (see July 1990) and soon dominates the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. Shalabi has a falling out with him over how to spend the money they raise and he is killed in mysterious circumstances in early 1991, completing Abdul-Rahman’s take over. Now, both the Brooklyn and Pakistan ends of the Al-Kifah/MAK network are firmly controlled by bin Laden and his close associates. In 1998, the US government will say that al-Qaeda’s “connection to the United States evolved from the Al-Kifah Refugee Center.” Yet there is no sign that the CIA stops its relationship with the Brooklyn office before it closes down shortly after the 1993 WTC bombing. (Weiser, Sachs, and Kocieniewski 10/22/1998)
Osama bin Laden leads a small force of Arab anti-Soviet fighters into Afghanistan to join local forces near the village of Jaji, a few miles from the Pakistan border. The territory where the group sets up is controlled by Afghan warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, an associate of bin Laden’s. One night, the Arabs’ tents are pelted by what appears to be debris from a distant explosion, and in the morning the men find that they are surrounded by mines. As they are withdrawing, they are hit by a missile, which lands a few meters from bin Laden, and there is a huge explosion on a nearby mountain. Three men are wounded and one dies. Finally, the local Afghan forces ask them to withdraw, because, in the words of author Lawrence Wright, “they were so useless.” This appears to be the first time bin Laden fires a weapon or is fired upon during the war. (Wright 2006, pp. 111)
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) fights and works in Afghanistan. KSM, a Pakistani who spent most of his childhood in Kuwait, went to college at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in the US from 1983 to 1986. Then, in 1987, he goes to Afghanistan to take part in the struggle against the Russians. Two of his brothers die in the fighting there. Another brother, Zahid Shaikh Mohammed, works for a prominent Islamic charity there and introduces KSM to Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, an Afghan warlord. KSM serves as Sayyaf’s secretary and helps recruit Arabs to fight in Afghanistan for Sayyaf’s faction. (Gunaratna 6/1/2005) At the time, the CIA and Saudi Arabia are spending billions of dollars funding warlords such as Sayyaf. The Los Angeles Times will later call Sayyaf “the favored recipient of money from the Saudi and American governments.” While in Afghanistan, KSM also gets to know bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and many other future al-Qaeda leaders. (McDermott, Meyer, and McDonnell 12/22/2002)
Osama bin Laden commands his first company-sized attack in the Soviet-Afghan War, but the assault is an abject failure. Bin Laden has planned for the attack for months in advance and assembled a force of 120 fighters, including ones not usually based at his Maasada camp and jihad leader Abdullah Azzam (see Late 1986). The Arabs are to attack an Afghan government base just before darkness under covering artillery fire provided by two Afghan rebel commanders, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Following a quick strike, the Arabs will then withdraw, using the night to hide from Soviet aircraft. However, the logistics are badly handled: ammunition is not supplied to forward positions, the Arabs forget electrical wire to connect rockets to detonators, and they run out of food. In addition, an Afghan government soldier overhears their preparations and opens fire with a machine gun, pinning them down. The Arabs are forced to withdraw without even having begun their attack, suffering three casualties, including one killed. This incident is a serious blow to their pride, and Pakistani authorities even begin shutting down Arab guest houses at the mujaheddin staging centers in Pakistan. (Wright 2006, pp. 115-116)
The Boston Globe will later say that throughout the 1980s, the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, “was a spiritual leader of the CIA-backed mujaheddin.” (Sennott 6/21/1995) The Atlantic Monthly will later report that in the late 1980s in Peshawar, Pakistan, Abdul-Rahman “became involved with the US and Pakistani intelligence officials who were orchestrating the [Afghan] war. The sixty or so CIA and Special Forces officers based there considered him a ‘valuable asset,’ according to one of them, and overlooked his anti-Western message and incitement to holy war because they wanted him to help unify the mujaheddin groups.” He is unable to unify the groups, but he helps coordinate some of their activities. He tends to favor the two most radically anti-Western factions led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. He also has close links to Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden’s mentor. (Weaver 5/1996) According to Barnett Rubin, a Columbia University professor and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Azzam was also working with the CIA to help recruit for and unite the mujaheddin groups (see 1985-1989), and when he is assassinated in 1989, the CIA relies even more heavily on Abdul-Rahman. Rubin claims the CIA pays to send him back to Peshawar “to preach to the Afghans about the necessity of unity to overthrow the Kabul regime.” As a reward for his help, the CIA gives him a visa to the US, even though he is on a terrorism watch list (see July 1990). (Friedman 3/17/1995) One source who worked with the CIA supply operation at this time will later say that Abdul-Rahman’s ties to Hekmatyar, the CIA’s most favored Afghan warlord, “put Sheikh Omar in the [CIA’s] good books. And believe me, later on when the Sheikh wanted to come to the States, he cashed in those chips.” (Lance 2006, pp. 20)
Four days after the Taliban conquers Kabul (see September 27, 1996), a classified CIA report notes that as the Taliban advance, they are closing some militant training camps but not others. They have closed the camps controlled by militant leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, militant leader Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, and Jamaat-i-Islami (a religious political party in Pakistan). They have kept open camps controlled by Osama bin Laden, militant leader Yunas Khalis, the Pakistan-based militant group Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (another religious political party in Pakistan). (Central Intelligence Agency 9/30/1996 )
The Northern Alliance releases a statement, saying, “Ahmed Shah Massoud was the target of an assassination attempt organized by the Pakistani [intelligence service] ISI and Osama bin Laden.” Massoud was the head leader of the Northern Alliance, the main group fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, until he was assassinated the previous day (see September 9, 2001). (Wesolowsky 9/10/2001; Gardiner and Rayman 9/15/2001; Reuters 10/4/2001) In June 2002, the New Yorker will report that there has been little to no investigation in Afghanistan into who was responsible for Massoud’s assassination. Even though the Northern Alliance has taken power, one of the figures some suspect of a role in the assassination is Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a warlord with radical Islamist ties but who also has gained power in the new Afghan government. However, Afghan Defense Minister and Northern Alliance leader Mohammad Qasim Fahim will tell the New Yorker that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was at ISI headquarters hours after Massoud was assassinated, possibly celebrating the assassination with ISI officials there (see September 9, 2001). (Anderson 6/10/2002) If Fahim had been immediately aware of this intelligence, it could help explain how quickly the Northern Alliance blamed the ISI.
A senior UN official reports that conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated significantly in nearly every respect. According to Lakhdar Brahima, UN special envoy to Afghanistan, the situation “is reminiscent to what was witnessed after the establishment of the mujaheddin government in 1992.” Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a member of the Wahhabi sect of Islam who opposed the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, along with several other warlords accused of atrocities in the mid-1990s, have returned to power and are effectively ruling the country, Brahima says. Several hold key positions within the government. They “continue to maintain their own private armies and… are reaping vast amounts of money from Afghanistan’s illegal opium trade…” The US, while claming to support Afghan President Karzai, is relying on these warlords to “help” hunt down Taliban and al-Qaeda factions, although the success rate is abysmal, and much of the intelligence provided by the warlords is faulty. The Taliban has begun to regroup, and now essentially controls much of the southern and eastern regions of the country. (Gannon 5/2004)
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