Follow @southasiaanalys

Markaz Dawa al Irshad: Talibanisation of nuclear Pakistan


by B.Raman

The 40-year-old Osman Bin Laden is the son of a Yemeni peasant who migrated to Saudi Arabia and became one of the richest construction magnates with assets worth US $ 5 billion of which , according to the "Time" magazine of May 6,1996, Osman Bin Laden personally controlled assets worth US $ 300 million.

The company owned by his family was given the contract by the King of Saudi Arabia for the renovation of the holy mosques in Mecca and Medina. During his participation in this construction as a student, Osman Bin Laden became intensely religious.

After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Osman Bin Laden, who had just then graduated from the King Abdul Aziz University, left the family business and moved over to Pakistan to organise a jihad against the Soviet troops in Afghanis

tan, with the help of his money and with over 6,000 Muslim volunteers recruited from the Arab and other Islamic countries. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the US and other Western intelligence agencies welcomed the assistance from Osman Bin Laden and his volunteers and helped them with guidance, training and arms and ammunition for fighting against the Soviet troops and those of the then Afghan President, the late Najibullah.

Osman Bin Laden personally participated in the fighting , constructed tunnels and other defensive structures along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and distinguished himself in the battles against Soviet troops at Jaji and Shaban.

He became a legendary figure for his religious intensity and courage. While recruiting volunteers for Afghanistan, he used to say: "One day of jihad in Afghanistan is equivalent to 1,000 days of namaz in a mosque."

In an interview to the "Time" (May 6,1996), Hamza Mohammed, one of the Palestinian volunteers who had served under Osman Bin Laden in Afghanistan, spoke of him reverentially as follows: "He was a hero to us because he was always on the front line, always moving ahead of everybody else.He not only gave his money, but also gave himself. He came down from his palace to live with the Afghan peasants and the Arab fighters. He cooked with them, ate with them, dug trenches with them. That was Bin Laden’s way."

After the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1988 and the fall of Najibullah in 1992, many of the Arab volunteers returned to their countries and started assisting local Islamic extremist groups in countries such as Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in organising an armed struggle against their Governments.

Even during the Afghan war, Osman Bin Laden had become a strong critic of the Saudi ruling family for its alleged corruption and failure to adhere strictly to the tenets of the religion. His criticism of the Saudi ruling family and particularly of King Fahd increased after the Gulf war of 1991. He described the King’s action in allowing US and other Western troops into Saudi territory for fighting against Iraq as desecration of the holy land by armed infidels. He allegedly fell out with the officers of the CIA and demanded the withdrawal of the US troops from Saudi territory.

Angered over his criticism, the King cancelled his Saudi passport and, before he could be arrested,Osman Bin Laden escaped to the Sudan and took shelter there.A large number of the Arab volunteers of Afghanistan vintage joined him there. He floated a construction company in the Sudan in which he gave jobs to these volunteers and allegedly used them for jihad in other countries.

The "Time" magazine reported that after he took sanctuary in the Sudan, Osman was suspected in the following incidents:

* In December, 1995, the British Police raided the London residence of an Algerian named Rachid Ramda and recovered communications from the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria, which was involved in seven explosions in France in 1995.They also discovered records of money transfers and allegedly managed to trace them to Osman Bin Laden’s office in Khartoum in the Sudan.

* Egyptian authorities suspected his involvement in a plot to assassinate President Hosni Mubarak in December,1995, which was foiled by the Egyptian security agencies.

*  According to Egyptian security agencies, Osman Bin Laden was the major financier of a training camp at Kunar in Afghanistan, where members of two terrorist organisations of Egypt called the Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Group (possibly the Al Gama Al Islamiya) were being trained.

* Citing its own intelligence sources, the US State Department claimed that Osman Bin Laden helped finance three terrorist training camps in Northern Sudan, where extremists from Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt were trained.

* The State Department also suspected that Osman Bin Laden had helped finance two bombing incidents in Aden in 1992 allegedly directed against US troops transiting to Somalia. While they escaped, two Italian tourists were killed.

* The Saudi authorities suspected his involvement in the explosion in November,1995, in a centre for the Saudi National Guards at Riyadh run by US troops. They also alleged his links with an anti-monarchy organisation called the Advice and Reformation Committee, which was then reportedly operating from London.

Even though Osman Bin Laden strongly refuted Western allegations of his involvement in terrorism, the "Time" reported as follows: "Despite his denials, Bin Laden remains a grave concern to those corrupt regimes (of the Gulf). He is, as a US official said, a big fish , since his heroic reputation gives him influence.According to this official, Bin Laden is the kind of guy who can go to someone and say, "I need you to write out a six-figure check" and he gets it on the spot. He hits up Islamic businessmen who in some cases may not know where their money is going. A lot of it isn’t going to re-build mosques in Bosnia or feed starving Muslims in Somalia. A lot of it is going to set up camps and support networks and procure material for terrorist operations."

In a report to the Congress in 1996, the US State Department called Bin Laden " one of the most significant financial sponsors of Islamic extremist activities in the world" and linked him to terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and the Sudan and alleged that he supported a group that tried to bomb US servicemen in Yemen in 1992.The report also revealed that for three years before the bombing in the World Trade Centre at New York in February,1993, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, one of the main perpetrators, who has since been arrested and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment by a New York court, had lived in a guest house in Pakistan paid for by Osman Bin Laden.

The State Department’s annual report for 1996 on "Patterns of Global Terrorism" highlighted the role of individual financiers in sponsoring terrorism. Testifying on the subject before the Congress, Mr.Philip C.Wilcox, the then head of the Counter-Terrorism Division of the State Department, said that the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad received significant support from individuals in the Persian Gulf as well as in the US. He added that while some contributors believed that they were supporting legitimate charitable organisations, others knowingly gave money to radical groups.

Reporting on the subject, the "New York Times" ( August 16,1996) said: " Much of the financial support for terrorists who attack Americans, Israelis and others sympathetic to the West comes from wealthy individuals from Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries allied with the US. Over the last decade, the US has focussed its anti-terrorism efforts on State sponsors of terrorism, forbidding trade with countries like Libya and Iran. But officials said that the emergence of sophisticated, privately financed networks of terrorists posed a new and even thornier set of diplomatic and legal challenges for Western Governments."

It added: " US officials suspect that businessmen in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates helped finance the operations of Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who has been charged with masterminding New York’s World Trade Centre bombing in February,1993, and a plot to blow up 11 American airliners. US intelligence agencies are closely examining the activities of Osman Bin Laden, the scion of a wealthy Saudi family stripped of his Saudi citizenship in 1994, who finances a host of hard-line groups from Egypt to Algeria. Officials in several countries, including the US, say that Bin Laden’s money , as well as money he raised, paid for terrorist acts in Europe, Africa and the Middle East against Americans and other Westerners."

The paper quoted Mr. Larry C.Johnson, a former counter-terrorism expert of the State Department, as saying as follows: "The ability of extremely wealthy individuals to bankroll mercenaries for their own end is a relatively new development and one we are not well equipped to deal with from an intelligence standpoint."

Ramzi Ahmed Yousef , the suspected beneficiary of alleged assistance from Osman Bin Laden, had arrived at the John F.Kennedy airport at New York on September 1,1992, with an Iraqi passport without a visa and sought political asylum in the US as an anti-Saddam Hussein political dissident and was allowed to enter the US temporarily pending examination of his application.

On November 9,1992, Ramzi Yousef reported to the Jersey City Police that he was a Pakistani national by name Abdul Basit Mahmud Abdul Karim, a Baluch, who had grown up in Kuwait and that he had lost his Pakistani passport after his entry into the US with a valid visa. With a copy of the loss report issued by the police, he went to the Pakistani Consulate in New York on December 31,1992, with photocopies of Abdul Basit’s previous passports and applied for a new passport. The Pakistani Consulate issued him a restricted validity passport valid for six months only. After the New York World Trade Centre bombing, he managed to escape to Pakistan with this passport.

After living for some months in Pakistan, Ramzi Yousef went to the Philippines where, in January,1995, he and some of his associates had plotted to blow up 11 US commercial aircraft. While mixing the material for the explosive device in a hired Manila flat, there was an accidental fire following which he fled to Pakistan leaving behind in the flat his personal computer which contained details of his hide-outs in Pakistan. The police recovered from the flat a letter which he had intended to send to the Manila authorities, threatening acts of violence if one of his associates, who was then in custody in Manila, was not released. In the letter, he had claimed that he had the ability "to make and use chemicals and poisonous gas…..for use against vital institutions and residential populations and the sources of drinking water."

In February, 1995, he was arrested in Pakistan and flown to the US to face trial. On March 8,1995, two officials of the US Consulate in Karachi were assassinated by unidentified elements. It was believed to be an act of reprisal against the arrest of Ramzi Yousef.

Reports in the Pakistani press after his arrest spoke of his involvement in acts of terrorism against Iran and Saudi Arabia and of his links with the Markaz Dawa Al Irshad, an Islamic extremist organisation of Pakistan, which has been involved in acts of terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir and other parts of India through its militant wing called Lashkar-e-Toiba.

The Pakistani press said that the Pakistani authorities suspected his involvement in the explosion in the shrine of Imam Ali Reza at Mashhad in Iran on June 20,1994, in which 70 Iranians were killed.The Pakistani press also claimed that Ramzi Yousef had an Iraqi background and shared the anti-Iran and anti-Saudi feelings of Iraq.

In an investigative report on Ramzi Yousef, Mr.Kamran Khan, the well-known Pakistani journalist, wrote as follows in the "News" of March 27,1995:

  • (a).Strong evidence suggested that Ramzi ran a network of Saudi nationals committed to destabilising the Saudi royal family.

  • (b).Through Munir Madni, a suspected Saudi national residing in Karachi, he had set up a front export-import company for importing holy water ("aabe zam zam") from Saudi Arabia and selling it to pious Muslims in Pakistan. In 1994, this company earned Rs. Seven million which was used to finance anti-royal family groups in Saudi Arabia.

  • (c). A highly informed source connected with a large Pakistani Islamic organisation (the Markaz Dawa Al Irshad) said that in the middle of 1994 a group of Saudis had visited Pakistan as guests of the organisation (Markaz) and sought political and material support for their campaign against the King. The group was given (by the Markaz ) equipment and training to install transmitters to relay radio broadcasts from a secret location inside Saudi Arabia. Several members of that group had earlier fought against Soviet troops in Afghanistan.

  • (d).Pakistani officials said that acts of violence committed by these groups inside Saudi Arabia were not known to the outside world. Pakistani investigation had also revealed that dozens of Saudis committed to jihad all over the world were visiting the military training camps inside Afghanistan. "These training camps are ideal places to rub shoulders with persons like Ramzi and to learn from their experience," said an official who believed that Ramzi’s colleagues in Pakistan and Afghanistan were still busy fuelling unrest in Saudi Arabia.

  • (e).Since the expulsion of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, at least 10,000 Pakistanis belonging to the Harkat-ul-Ansar, the Markaz, the Jamaat Islami and the Jamiat Ulema Islam have been trained in the use of explosives and hand grenades and in handling light and heavy weapons and in laying mines. * Concerned over the activities of Osman Bin Laden and his extremist followers from the Sudanese territory, the US authorities have placed the Sudan in the list of State-sponsors of terrorism since 1993 and have also imposed economic sanctions against it. They repeatedly requested the Sudanese authorities for his arrest and extradition to the US or Saudi Arabia so that he could be questioned on the suspicions against him, but the Sudanese authorities did not oblige.

However, after the interview given by him to the "Time" magazine, they asked him to leave the country. Osman Bin Laden himself was feeling uncomfortable after the Sudanese co-operation with the French authorities in the arrest and deportation of Carlos from the Sudan in August,1994. Other Muslim countries approached by him turned down his request for sanctuary.

The Burhanuddin Rabbani Government of Afghanistan was prepared to give him shelter in the territory controlled by it, but the Pakistani authorities were initially reluctant to let him transit through Pakistani territory lest Pakistan incur the displeasure of the US, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Ultimately, in 1996, they agreed to let him transit to Afghanistan on condition that he would not re-enter Pakistan again and would not indulge from Afghan territory in any activities against the US, Saudi Arabia and Egypt which might cause embarrassment to Pakistan.

In May,1996, "Asharq al-Aswat", an Arabic journal published from London, reported that Osman Bin Laden had moved from the Sudan to Afghanistan , but did not say when. On June 4,1996, the Sudanese Permanent Mission in New York informed the UN Security Council that he had left the Sudan on its directions, but did not say where he had gone.

In the first week of October,1996, "Al Hayat", an Arab daily of Egypt, quoting Taliban sources, reported that when the Taliban captured Jalalabad in September,1996, it found Osman Bin Laden living there and took him under its protection. The paper added that he had good relations with the Taliban even before it captured Jalalabad and that 300 other Arab-Islamic extremists were living in the areas controlled by the Taliban.

On March 28,1997, Mr.Amir Khan Muttaqui, the Taliban Government’s Minister for Culture, confirmed that Osman Bin Laden was living under the Taliban’s protection at Jalalabad and added that the Taliban would reject any request from abroad for his arrest and extradition. Mr.Muttaqui said that on March 25,1997, Osman Bin Laden had met Mr.Mohammad Omar, the supreme leader of the Taliban, at Kandahar, during which the latter had warned him not to launch any military action against Saudi Arabia from Afghan territory. He added: "Mullah Omar appealed to Osman to soften his stand on Saudi Arabia.The meeting was designed to assure other Muslim countries that they should not be concerned over the presence of Osman in Afghanistan."

On the same day, Radio Shariat of the Taliban also broadcast a message assuring that Saudi Arabia could not be a target because it was a sacred land for all Muslims.

"The Frontier Post" of Peshawar reported on July 4,1997, that the CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the US suspected that in addition to other acts of terrorism already mentioned, Osman Bin Laden had also motivated Ramzi to organise the New York World Trade Centre bombing and had, therefore, mounted a special operation from Pakistani territory to have him captured and taken to the US for interrogation.

Following the publication of this report, the Taliban moved Bin Laden from Jalalabad to Kandahar, the headquarters of its supreme leader, and provided him special protection with 150 armed guards. The Taliban also warned that any attempt to capture Bin Laden would prove costly to the US.

"The Muslim" of Pakistan reported on March 30,1998, that the US and Egyptian authorities suspected Osman Bin Laden in connection with a number of anonymous Fax messages threatening action against the US and Egypt received by their diplomatic missions in Pakistan and, hence, strengthened security.

In a statement issued on April 15,1998, Mr.Soofi Mohammad, the chief of the Tanseem Nifaz Sharia Mohammad of the Malakand Division in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, warned the Government of Pakistan that there would a revolt in the tribal areas if the Government helped the US in capturing Bin Laden. He added: "Osman is the hero of the entire Muslim Ummah.We are prepared to make any sacrifice for the protection of our hero."

The annual report for 1998 of the US State Department on Patterns of Global Terrorism, submitted to the Congress on May 4,1998, stated that Osman Bin Laden was shifted (by the Taliban) from Jalalabad to the Taliban’s headquarters in Kandahar in early 1997 and that he had established a new base of operations.It added that Muslims from around the world, including a large number of Egyptians, Algerians,Palestinians and Saudis, continued to use Afghanistan as a training ground. The Taliban, as well as many other combatants of the Afghan civil war, facilitated the training and provided indoctrination facilities for the non-Afghans in the territories they controlled. Several Afghan factions also provided logistic support , free passage and sometimes passports to the members of various terrorist organisations.These individuals , in turn, were involved in fighting in Bosnia, Chechnya, Tajikistan, Jammu & Kashmir of India, the Philippines and parts of the Middle East.

Earlier,during his visit to Afghanistan in April, 1998, Mr.Bill Richardson, the then US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, had urged the Taliban to arrest and hand over Bin Laden to the US authorities for interrogation. The Taliban turned down his request.