Profile: Al-Shamal Islamic Bank
Al-Shamal Islamic Bank was a participant or observer in the following events:
The CIA, which is conducting a surveillance operation against Osama bin Laden in Sudan (see February 1991- July 1992), penetrates a bank he uses. Billy Waugh, one of the CIA contractors performing the surveillance, will say: “[Bin Laden] went to the bank every day, and you might figure that if the [CIA] knew which bank he used, it would recruit someone within that bank to provide information. Well, by God they did.” Waugh will also say that the CIA “knew about [bin Laden’s] personal bank account.” However, details of what the CIA knew about bin Laden based on this penetration are not known. Although the bank most closely associated with bin Laden at this time is the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank (see August 14, 1996), in his autobiography Waugh calls the bank the “Arab Bank.” [Waugh and Keown, 2004, pp. 203] It is unclear exactly what bank Waugh is referring to. There is a bank called the Arab Bank that is alleged to be involved in terrorism finance. [MSNBC, 4/19/2005] However, the bank’s website states that its Sudan branch was nationalized in 1970. [Arab Bank, 3/23/2008] The Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa is also based in Khartoum at this time. [International Monetary Fund, 3/23/2008] However, there are no known connections between this bank and bin Laden.
Osama bin Laden sends about $250,000 to an associate named Essam al Ridi in the US. The money is moved in more than one transfer from the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank in Sudan and is for the purchase of a plane by al Ridi for bin Laden (see Early 1993). The CIA has been monitoring bin Laden’s banking operations for some time (see 1991-1992). Al Ridi will be asked about this transfer at the US trial of al-Qaeda operatives involved in the 1998 embassy bombings, where he is a witness for the prosecution. Under cross examination, he will say that he was not concerned about such large transfers from Sudan to Texas because receiving such monies was not a problem for him in the US, although it might have been a problem for him if he was still in Egypt. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001] Al Ridi previously purchased assassination rifles for the anti-Soviet Afghan Arabs, apparently with the CIA’s knowledge (see Early 1989).
The State Department issues a fact sheet on bin Laden, calling him “one of the most significant financial sponsors of Islamic extremist activities in the world today.” The text ties bin Laden to funding specific attacks, such as the attempt to kill dozens of US soldiers in Yemen in 1992 (see December 29, 1992). The fact sheet is also mentions the term “al-Qaeda,” leading to the first media reports using that term the next day (see August 14, 1996). The fact sheet also contains details about bin Laden’s finances, such as the allegation that he co-founded the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank in Sudan in 1990 with a group of wealthy Sudanese and capitalized it with $50 million of his fortune. [US Department of State, 8/14/1996; New York Times, 8/14/1996] Much of this information appears to come from al-Qaeda defector Jamal al-Fadl. The CIA had just finished debriefing him weeks before (see June 1996-April 1997).
Jamal al-Fadl, a highly-trusted informant who recently defected from al-Qaeda to the US (see June 1996-April 1997), is debriefed by FBI officials about al-Qaeda’s finances. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 497] According to the New Yorker, al-Fadl “provided a surprisingly full picture of al-Qaeda, depicting it as an international criminal network intent on attacking the United States. Al-Fadl said that he had handled many of al-Qaeda’s financial transactions after bin Laden left Afghanistan and moved the hub of his operations to [Sudan], in 1992. In this role, al-Fadl had access to bin Laden’s payroll and knew the details of al-Qaeda’s global banking networks, its secret membership lists, and its paramilitary training camps in Afghanistan, one of which he had attended, in the late eighties.” [New Yorker, 9/11/2006] For instance, al-Fadl reveals that bin Laden co-founded the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank in Sudan and capitalized it with $50 million. The US will make this allegation public shortly after al-Fadl is debriefed by the CIA (see August 14, 1996). Al-Fadl will further reveal that he and several other al-Qaeda operatives had accounts at the Al-Shamal Bank to finance their militant activities. [Chicago Tribune, 11/3/2001] Al-Fadl also reveals that bin Laden owns a number of businesses in Sudan, including:
The El-Hijra Construction and Development company, which builds a new airport at Port Sudan and a long highway linking Port Sudan to capital of Khartoum.
The Taba Investment Company, which deals in global stock markets and currency trading.
The Wadi al-Aqiq import/export company, which serves as the parent body for most of the other companies.
The Ladin International import-export company. In 1995, the FBI discovered links between this company and the Bojinka plot in the Philippines (see May 23, 1999).
And other businesses, including several farms, a tannery, and a trucking company. Al-Fadl reveals that some of the farms double as training camps.
Furthermore, he gives details of various bin Laden-linked bank accounts in Britain, Austria, Sudan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates. Even though bin Laden leaves Sudan in 1996, most of his businesses there will continue to operate under his ownership. The US will not take any action against these businesses before 9/11 (see March 16, 2000). [Herald Sun (Melbourne), 9/26/2001; London Times, 10/7/2001]
Intelligence Newsletter reports that a number of Osama bin Laden-owed businesses in Sudan are still operating and still controlled by bin Laden. The report specifically mentions Wadi al-Aqiq, El-Hijra Construction and Development, Taba Investment Company, and the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank. Bin Laden’s control of all these businesses were revealed in detail to US intelligence by al-Qaeda informant Jamal al-Fadl several years earlier (see December 1996-January 1997). The report notes that both Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid and his cousin-in-law Mohamedou Ould Slahi, both known al-Qaeda leaders, were reportedly employed in recent years by the El-Hijra company. The report further notes that money for bin Laden “pours into accounts at branch offices of Al Taqwa [Bank] in Malta,” Switzerland, and the Bahamas. Businesses and charities supporting bin Laden “are thriving around the world without any real curb on their operations” because “some US and European agencies hunting him seem to lack zeal” in stopping him. “To be sure, if journalists can track down bin Laden’s friends without too much trouble it can be imagined that law enforcement and intelligence agencies have long found the same connections. Recent anti-terrorism history has shown that when the authorities really want to crack down on an organization they cut off its financial and logistic roots. So why are bin Laden’s backers prospering when the world’s most powerful anti-terrorist organizations are chasing him?” [Intelligence Newsletter, 3/16/2000]
An operating branch of the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank photographed in Sudan in October 2004. [Source: Wayne Madsen]On September 24, 2001, the US freezes the bank accounts of a number of people and businesses allegedly linked to al-Qaeda (see September 24, 2001). However, no accounts at the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank in Sudan are frozen, despite a 1996 State Department report that bin Laden co-founded the bank and capitalized it with $50 million (see August 14, 1996). As the Chicago Tribune will later note, bin Laden has been more closely linked to this bank than to any other bank in the world. [Chicago Tribune, 11/3/2001] On September 26, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) publicly notes that Al-Shamal was able to obtain correspondent accounts with three US banks, as well as many European and Middle East banks, giving Al-Shamal direct or indirect access to US banking. [Senator Carl Levin, 9/26/2001] Al-Shamal claims that it cut ties with bin Laden long ago. However, tipped off by Levin’s comments, one day later a group of computer hackers claim to have hacked into Al-Shamal’s computers, found evidence of existing al-Qaeda-linked bank accounts, and then turned the information over to the FBI. The FBI neither confirms nor denies getting such information. [Washington Post, 10/12/2001] Several days later, it is reported that European banks are quietly cutting off all dealings with Al-Shamal despite the lack of any formal blacklisting of it. [Associated Press, 10/1/2001] The Los Angeles Times will later report that after 9/11, the Sudanese government greatly increased their cooperation with US intelligence in hopes of improving relations with the US. In November 2001, some FBI agents including Jack Cloonan go to Sudan and are allowed to interview the manager at Al-Shamal. Bank records are made available to US investigators as well. Cloonan will later say, “Until then, the Sudanese had a credibility problem with the US, but they gave us everything we asked for.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2005] But multiple sources will later report that, as of late 2002 at least, Saudi multimillionaire Adel Batterjee heads Al-Shamal and is one of its largest shareholders. [National Review, 10/28/2002; Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 112; Chicago Tribune, 2/22/2004] Batterjee had long been suspected of al-Qaeda ties and was even detained by the Saudi government over his al-Qaeda links in 1993 (see 1993). The US will officially designate him a terrorist financier in 2004 (see December 21, 2004). The Chicago Tribune notes that an official US blacklisting of the bank “could well have diplomatic repercussions that the White House… would rather avoid.” A Saudi financial services conglomerate, Dar Al-Maal Al-Islami Trust (DMI), has a major stake in Al-Shamal, and DMI is headed by Prince Mohammed al-Faisal al-Saud, a cousin of the Saudi King Fahd. (His accountant will later be arrested in Spain and accused of being an important al-Qaeda financier (see April 23, 2002).) Other Saudi royals and prominent businesspeople are also invested in DMI. [Chicago Tribune, 11/3/2001] Furthermore, one of the bank’s three founding members and major shareholders is Saleh Abdullah Kamel, a Saudi billionaire and chairman of the Dallah al-Baraka Group. [In These Times, 12/20/2002] Al-Shamal apparently continues to operate and the US apparently has not taken any action against it. It is unclear if Batterjee continues to run it.
The Boston Herald reports: “Three banks allegedly used by Osama bin Laden to distribute money to his global terrorism network have well-established ties to a prince in Saudi Arabia’s royal family, several billionaire Saudi bankers, and the governments of Kuwait and Dubai. One of the banks, Al-Shamal Islamic Bank in the Sudan, was controlled directly by bin Laden, according to a 1996 US State Department report.” A regional expert states, “I think we underestimate bin Laden. He comes from the highest levels of Saudi society and he has supporters at all levels of Saudi Arabia.” [Boston Herald, 10/14/2001] The US has yet to take any official steps against the Al-Shamal bank, and some suggest this is because of its ties to influential Saudi figures (see September 24, 2001 and After).
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