The Saudi defense minister, Prince Sultan, and the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar bin Sultan, denounced articles and editorials in the western press that suggested the Saudi regime had been complicit in terrorism, the New York Times reported. Prince Sultan told reporters in Tabuk Tuesday night that Saudi Arabia did not support terrorism, and was not against the U.S. or the west, but "we have our Arab and Islamic policy which we would not divert from in any way whatsoever." In an earlier interview with CNBC, Prince Bandar said, "We think he's evil, bin Laden. We think people who follow him are evil.... You guys are refusing to accept us." The statements by Sultan and son followed a press release from the Saudi embassy in Washington last week, which reiterated Bush's September 24 statement that "the Saudi Arabians have been nothing but cooperative." The Saudi assertions stood in marked contrast to a CNN report that a Saudi government official was among those named on the recently released videotape of Osama bin Laden as having issued a religious pronouncement or fatwa in support of the September 11 attacks. And in a related development, Pacifica radio reported that the U.S. government may have collaborated with Al Qaeda during the war in the Balkans.
The CNN report by national security correspondent David Ensor aired December 21. In it, Saudi dissident Ali Al-Ahmed said that bin Laden's guest, Khalid Al-Harbi, named Abdul Rahman Al-Barak as having issued a fatwa supporting the terrorist attacks on September 11. Dr. Al-Barak is a member of the Regulations and Management Committee of the Consultative Council of the Saudi Government. The official U.S. translation listed the name as Barani. According to the CNN report, Al-Barani is not a name found among Saudi Sunni Muslims. This and other assertions by Al-Ahmed concerning shortcomings in the official U.S. government translation were confirmed by an independent translator hired by CNN.
Bin Laden reportedly identified nine hijackers by name, including two -- Nawaf al Hazmi and Salam al Hazmi -- whose full names were mentioned. He also said that four were members of the Al Ghamdi tribe, and two others were named Al-Shehri. The official translation said only that bin Laden mentioned Mohammed Atta.
It is not clear why information would have been omitted from the official government transcription of the bin Laden videotape. Some observers have suggested that it is another example of the Bush administration seeking to shield the Saudi regime.
Meanwhile, on KPFA's Wednesday Flashpoints broadcast, University of Ottawa Economist Michel Chossudovsky described the war in Afghanistan not in the context of the "special relationship" with Saudi Arabia, but as another step in a process of militarization of the region. Chossudovsky sees the U.S. presence in Afghanistan as continuing the militarization of a corridor that runs from the Mediterranean through the Black Sea, the Caucasus mountains, past the Caspian Sea, and through Central Asia to the coast of Pakistan on the Arabian Sea. Afghanistan is the key to this path, which has functioned as a channel for communication, transportation, and commerce since ancient times. Chossudovsky noted that Afghanistan borders or is near to five nuclear powers: China, Russia, India, Pakistan, and Kazakhstan. He believes the U.S. has had territorial designs on this part of the world since the before the war in the Balkans, as part of the continued dismantling of the former Soviet Union.
In 1999 the U.S. Congress passed the Silk Road Strategy Act, "Support for the Economic and Political Independence of the Countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia." The nominal purpose of the act was to provide humanitarian aid and reconstruction assistance to facilitate:
- The creation of the basis for reconciliation between belligerents
- The promotion of economic development in areas of the countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia impacted by civil conflict and war
- The encouragement of broad regional cooperation among countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia that have been destabilized by internal conflicts.
The detail of the bill, however, allowed for the aid to include "promoting actively the participation of United States companies and investors in the planning, financing, and construction of infrastructure for communications, transportation, including air transportation, and energy and trade including highways, railroads, port facilities, shipping, banking, insurance, telecommunications networks, and gas and oil pipelines."
Moreover, the bill authorized assistance to "secure their borders and implement effective controls necessary to prevent the trafficking of illegal narcotics and the proliferation of technology and materials related to weapons of mass destruction ... and to contain and inhibit transnational organized criminal activities." The bill originally introduced in the senate contained specific "sense of the Congress" language that the U.S. should "encourage and assist the development of regional military cooperation among the countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia," through NATO. That language was omitted from the version of the bill that emerged from the House-Senate Conference.
The Silk Road Strategy Act became law on November 29, 1999 as a part of a consolidated appropriations bill. Six months earlier, representatives of Georgia, the Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldava had met at Uzbekistan's embassy in Washington, and announced their support for NATO's "Partnership for Peace" program. The new alliance, called GUUAM, was seen as a "critical challenge" to the Commonwealth of Independent States -- the informal grouping of central Asian republics organized by Moscow after the fall of the Soviet Union. The U.S. Defense Department also signed a "Plan of Cooperation" with Uzbekistan that year. Language in the agreement concerning border controls, weapons of mass destruction, etc. is echoed in the Silk Strategy Act. The military agreement goes beyond the legislation in referring to joint training activities, and restructuring the Uzbekistan military to improve interoperation with NATO. According to Chossudovsky, it is under this agreement that the U.S. is basing forces in Uzbekistan as part of the war in Afghanistan.
Also in the late 90's, according to Chossudovsky, U.S. and British special forces, NATO, and Al-Qaeda were all involved in essentially a co-operative enterprise in support of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during the war in the Balkans. A March 2000 report in The Sunday Times of London substantiates part of Chossudovsky's allegations. The report states that the CIA had supported the KLA prior to NATO bombing of the region. The American head of mission for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the organization that was monitoring the ceasefire in 1998 and 1999, was William Clark. Clark served as ambassador to El Salvador ten years earlier when the U.S. was "helping the government there to suppress leftist rebels while supporting the contra guerrillas against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua." CIA operatives were among the OSCE monitors, and developed contacts with the KLA during the monitoring period. When the monitors left Kosovo a week before the NATO bombing began, technical equipment including satellite phones and global positioning systems was secretly given to the KLA. KLA leaders reportedly had a mobile phone number for General Wesley Clark, the NATO commander. The KLA admitted "long-standing" connections to American and British intelligence organizations. KLA commander Shaban Shala reported having met with British, American and Swiss agents in 1996.
Recently, The Independent (UK) reported on an Interpol investigation that revealed that one of Osama bin Laden's top military commanders was attached to an elite KLA unit during the conflict in Kosovo. Gwen McClure, of the criminal subdivision of Interpol stated at a recent meeting of NATO representatives that "... several Algerian terrorist leaders were present at a meeting in Albania," during which various logistical structures were established. "Mr. bin Laden was known to be in the country at the time and was believed by Albanian police to have been at the meeting."
The Dayton peace agreement, which ended Bosnia’s civil war, ordered all foreign soldiers including those who fought alongside the mainly Muslim government army to leave Bosnia. These included Islamic radicals from the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and South East Asia. An unknown number remained, however, and obtained Bosnian citizenship by marrying Bosnian women or remaining in the army. Many of these mujaheddin continued to instruct Muslim forces in terrorist activities. Those activities came to light On December 18, 1995, some of those activities were exposed when an automobile bomb in Zenica detonated prematurely. The bomb was likely meant for U.S. NATO troops stationed in Bosnia-Herzegovina in retaliation for the life sentence given to Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, convicted of organizing the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.
In February 1996 NATO forces raided the training center of the Bosnian Muslim secret police (AID), located in a ski center near Fojnica. Several people were arrested for planning and preparing for terrorist activities. Terrorists were receiving instruction in how to disguise bombs as toys, dolls, and plastic ice cream cones.
The New York Times reported on June 26, 1997 that the individuals arrested in connection with the bombing of the Al Khobar building in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, confessed to having served with Bosnian Muslim forces, and admitted having ties to Osama Bin Laden.
Military affairs analyst Yossef Bodansky reported that the plot to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1997 was planned by Iranian agents from terrorist bases in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The plan to assassinate the Pope during a visit to Bologna was uncovered by Italian authorities. Fourteen members of a terrorist group consisting of 20 people holding Croatian, Bosnia-Herzegovinian, Tunisian, Algerian and Moroccan passports were arrested. The leaders were all former mujaheddin from Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Heroin and gun-trafficking gangs established during the war in Kosovo have continued to grow in strength. The network extends from Central Asia through Europe. Interpol traced money received by a Chechen group from criminal activities in Russia, through offshore banks in Europe, to Aghmed Ressam, arrested in December 1999. Ressam was trying to enter the U.S. from Canada, and had in his possession a explosives, a timing device, and false documents. He had shared an apartment with Said Atmani, a document forger with ties to a Montreal group connected to bin Laden by way of France and "several
mujaheddin groups who were active in Bosnia."
According to Chossudovsky, Islamic insurgencies throughout Central Asia, including Chechnya, can be linked to the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). The ISI in turn is linked to and receives funds from the CIA. Chossudovsky maintains that the ISI has used Islamic organizations to destabilize countries, including Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union.
The Centre for Peace in the Balkans notes a September 1999 report in the Bosnian Muslim weekly Dani that bin Laden and other suspected terrorists were issued Bosnia-Herzegovina passports. Bin Laden's was issued by the Bosnian embassy in Vienna in 1993. The Bosnian Muslim daily Oslobodjenje reported that three Egyptian nationals, believed linked to Saudi bin Laden, were arrested in Sarajevo in July 2001. Two of the suspects were reportedly holding Bosnian passports.
The second guest on Wednesday's Flashpoints Afghanistan segment, Margerie Cohn, professor at Thomas Jefferson Law School in San Diego, CA, noted another connection between the war in Kosovo and the present geopolitics of the region. Halliburton subsidiary Brown & Root was selected to build Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo. The $36.6 million construction project is the largest military base built since the Vietnam war. Vice President Dick Cheney headed Halliburton before joining the Bush administration.
Brown and Root has continued to serve as logistics contractor for the base, which Cohn observes is designed to be a permanent presence in the area. A recent Halliburton financial report, quoted by Col. David Hackworth, announces "Revenues and operating income at Brown & Root Services (B & R) were significantly higher than the prior year's quarter resulting from increased activity levels supporting the U.S. Army in the Balkans." Hackworth quotes a sergeant's comments on unnecessary maintenance: "B & R has been renovating everything. They pulled out all the shower panels and replaced them with new ones ... the old ones were more serviceable than ones you find in soldiers' quarters in the U.S. All they needed, at most, was a paint job."
Cohn believes Camp Bondsteel is an example of what we can expect in Afghanistan. Once a new government is installed, lucrative investment opportunities will abound for the military-industrial firms whose executive ranks now staff the Bush administration. Like the pharmaceutical company in the 80s that sold carcinogenic hair dye and cancer drugs, businesses such as those held by The Carlyle Group profit on both sides of war. Like the bin Laden family, which made millions on reconstructing the Khobar towers that their scion Osama destroyed, the CIA and its contractors use taxpayer money to train and arm insurgents who fight today on "our" side, and then use taxpayer money to catch and kill them when in a few years time "our" side and "their" side are no longer the same.
Jehl, Douglas "Saudis Assail 'Media Blitz' Against Them in the West" NY Times 21 Dec. 2001.
Ensor, David "Bin Laden named nine hijackers on tape, not one" CNN.com 21 Dec. 2001
Bohlen, Celestine "CRISIS IN THE BALKANS: RUSSIA; New Alliance Highlights Ebb of Russian Clout" NY Times 2 May 1999
Nichol, Jim "Central Asia’s New States: Political Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests" Congressional Research Service. 8 May 2001 (updated).
Walker, Tom and Aidan Laverty "CIA aided Kosovo guerrilla army" The Sunday Times 12 Mar. 2000
Brown, Colin "Bin Laden linked to Albanian drug gangs" Independent 21 Oct. 2001
Hackworth, David "When the Cannons Shoot, There's Brown and Root" King Features Syndicate Inc. 17 Aug. 2001
See also Family Affair: the Bushes and the bin Ladens.
For the text of the "Silk Road Strategy Act" search for H.R.3422 here.
Thanks to Chris Kee for pointing out the Flashpoints segment on Afghanistan.