WMD Terrorism and Bin Laden

Kimberly McCloud
Matthew Osborne
July 14, 2008

The trial of Bin Laden and others for the August 7, 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar al-Salaam, Tanzania, has shed light on the efforts of Bin Laden and his terrorist organization, Al-Qa’ida (“The Base”), to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Prosecution witness Jamal Ahmad al-Fadl detailed his efforts to assist Bin Laden in an attempt to acquire uranium, presumably for the development of nuclear weapons, from a source in Khartoum, Sudan, in late 1993 or early 1994. Although Bin Laden has made statements in the past regarding his interest in acquiring weapons of mass destruction for a jihad (holy war) against the West, Al-Fadl’s testimony—if it proves to be credible and accurate—provides important evidence of his actions to do so.

Although the information that Al-Fadl revealed in the trial has probably been known for some time by the U.S. government, it adds important new information to the public domain on the efforts of Bin Laden and Al-Qa’ida to acquire nuclear weapons, including specific names and places. CIA Director George Tenet, addressing the U.S. Congress on February 7, 2001, referred to Bin Laden as one of the leading threats to U.S. national security at home and abroad. It is therefore important to understand this threat in a realistic and accurate manner.

Following the links below to the testimony transcripts and to the U.S. indictment of Bin Laden et al. is a brief description of Al-Fadl and his testimony regarding the attempted acquisition of uranium, given on February 6, 7, and 13, 2001 during the trial at the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York. Also included are a chronology of key incidents related to Bin Laden’s connection to and interest in nuclear weapons as well as a list of significant events allegedly related to Bin Laden and/or Al-Qa’ida.

Al-Fadl’s Testimony – Full Text

United States District Court, Southern District of New York
United States v. Usama bin Laden et al., defendants
Testimony of prosecution witness Jamal Ahmad Al-Fadl

Day 1: February 6, 2001
Day 2: February 7, 2001
Day 3: February 13, 2001

See Also:

Full text of the U.S. indictment against Bin Laden et al

Summary of Al-Fadl’s Testimony

The Star Witness: Jamal Ahmad al-Fadl

Jamal Ahmad al-Fadl, a Sudanese national and the star witness for the prosecution in the current trial, has been in U.S. custody since 1996, when he turned himself in to an American embassy claiming to have information vital to U.S. national security. Allegedly, he warned an embassy official that a terrorist group wanted “to make war against your country,” but the warning did not prevent the subsequent bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He was taken into F.B.I. custody and eventually entered the U.S. witness protection program, where he became the U.S. government’s Confidential Source No. 1 (CS-1).

According to news sources, Al-Fadl testified in calm but heavily accented English about his relationship to Bin Laden and about Al-Qa’ida. He described his role in the preliminary phase of a $1.5 million acquisition of an unknown quantity of uranium in Khartoum, Sudan, although he did not know if the deal was ever concluded. Al-Fadl also spoke in great detail about the organizational structure of Al-Qa’ida and his eventual break from the group and Bin Laden.

Having grown disenchanted with his Al-Qa’ida salary, Al-Fadl began to embezzle money from Bin Laden’s commodity deals, secretly taking commissions from companies that were trading sugar and oil with the organization. Al-Fadl admitted to having stolen $110,000 and using the funds to purchase a car and four pieces of land. He was eventually accused of stealing by another Bin Laden aide, and after first denying the charge, he eventually confessed. Bin Laden demanded that Al-Fadl return the full amount of money stolen in exchange for “forgiveness,” but he was only able to repay $30,000. Fearful of the consequences of failing to pay back the debt, Al-Fadl approached government officials in several countries to inform them of his ties with Bin Laden, but was repeatedly rebuffed. He then decided to enter the visa line at an unnamed U.S. embassy. (1)

Both Bin Laden and the government of Sudan have publicly denied any connection, either present or past, to Al-Fadl. (2) Some question the informant’s credibility and character for a number of reasons. First, the circumstances surrounding Al-Fadl’s purported break with Bin Laden and Al-Qa’ida center on his willingness to deceive the group in order to reap illicit financial gains. He also provided information to the U.S. government in exchange for reduced prison time (he pleaded guilty in New York to a terrorism charge during secret proceedings and was promised a sentence of no more than 15 years), along with U.S. residency and personal and financial protection for himself and his family. During cross-examination, defense attorneys highlighted this fact, noting that it had cost the U.S. government approximately $945,000 to protect and house Al-Fadl since he began to cooperate with the United States. (3) Furthermore, his long police record (including a series of arrests in Hungary and Sudan, and a secret second marriage) provides grounds to question his overall reliability.

Nevertheless, if Al-Fadl never had any connection to Bin Laden and just sought to damage him and/or gain the benefits of living in the United States, it would not have been necessary for him to concoct a story of lies and deceit that could potentially damage his own credibility. It seems more likely that Bin Laden has good reason to try and distance himself from Al-Fadl in order to cover up his actions and discredit the informant’s information on Al-Qa’ida, its members, and outside contacts, such as those in Sudan. Similarly, the government of Sudan has an interest in calling Al-Fadl’s testimony into question.

During the trial, the prosecution was careful to avoid hiding the potentially damaging aspects of Al-Fadl’s personal history and revealed them in open court during his initial questioning on February 7, 2001. At the same time, the prosecutors underlined Al-Fadl’s credibility by asking him detailed questions on the stand about the Al-Qa’ida organization. In addition, another prosecution witness in the case, Essam Ridi, an Egyptian-born naturalized U.S. citizen and commercial pilot who had assisted Bin Laden in purchasing a used T-39 jet in 1993, confirmed a portion of Al-Fadl’s account regarding the shipment of Stinger shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles from Pakistan to Khartoum. (4)

The 1993-1994 Attempted Uranium Purchase in Sudan

During the third day of the trial, February 7, 2001, Al-Fadl testified that he was directly involved in an attempt to purchase uranium for Bin Laden at the end of 1993 or the beginning of 1994. According to his testimony, Al-Fadl was telephoned by a senior Al-Qa’ida official, Abu Fadhl [most probably Fadl or Fazl] al-Makkee, and was instructed to meet with a contact in Khartoum, Sudan, who allegedly possessed uranium. The witness met first with Abu Abd Allah al-Yemeni (aka Abu Dijana) and was given the name of another contact, Moqadem Salah Abd al-Mobruk, a lieutenant colonel in the Sudanese Army who, according to the testimony, had been a former minister during the Numeiri presidency (1969-83). (5)

Al-Fadl was charged with evaluating the situation, and after conferring with other associates, including his cousin, he met with al-Mobruk. Al-Mobruk referred Al-Fadl to a man named Basheer, and the two met at an office on Jambouria Street in Khartoum, Sudan. When questioned by Basheer as to whether Al-Qa’ida was serious about acquiring uranium, Al-Fadl claimed, “I know people, they [are] very serious, and they want to buy it.” He noted that Al-Qa’ida was concerned primarily with the quality of the material and the country of origin, and secondarily with the cost. The arranged price was $1.5 million, plus additional commissions for Basheer and al-Mobruk. At this point, the main issue concerned the method of testing the uranium.

After reporting back to al-Makkee, Al-Fadl was sent to speak with a new contact, Abu Rida al-Suri. This meeting took place at the Ikhlak Company in the Baraka building in Khartoum. Al-Suri instructed Al-Fadl to return to Basheer and report that the organization had an “electric machine” capable of testing uranium. Again through an intermediary, Al-Fadl arranged a meeting with Basheer and, in a small house in the town of Bait al-Mal, north of Khartoum, Al-Fadl and al-Suri were shown a cylinder approximately 2-3 feet tall with a lot of words engraved on it. The men were given a note that Al-Fadl was told to deliver to another contact, Abu Hajer, and then await further instructions. Al-Fadl did not recollect exactly what was written on the paper, only that it was written in English, said “South Africa” on it, and contained a serial number.

Hajer sent Al-Fadl back to al-Suri, and the two men held another meeting with Basheer during which they informed him that they were willing to purchase the cylinder. When questioned by Basheer regarding the method of testing the uranium, Al-Fadl remembered that al-Suri had claimed to have a machine from Kenya suitable for such purposes.

Al-Fadl was then instructed to arrange a meeting between al-Suri and al-Mobruk, after which he was informed that his services were no longer needed. Al-Fadl received $10,000 for his time and effort and did not take a further role in the uranium acquisition. However, he did claim that Al-Amin Abd al-Marouf, a member of the Islamic National Front in Sudan, informed him a few days later that the cylinder of uranium was to be tested in the town of Hilat Koko, Sudan. Al-Fadl testified that he did not know whether the uranium had in fact been tested and was not privy to any additional information about the transaction.

Significant Events Regarding Bin Laden’s Interest in Nuclear Weapons

September 25, 1998
Bin Laden’s aide Mamdouh Mahmud Salim was arrested in Munich, Germany, and charged with acting on behalf of Bin Laden to obtain nuclear materials. In particular, Salim reportedly attempted to obtain highly enriched uranium in the mid-1990s. (6)

August 16, 1998
Israeli military intelligence sources reported that Bin Laden paid over 2 million pounds sterling to a middle-man in Kazakhstan, who promised to deliver a “suitcase” bomb to Bin Laden within two years. In an attempt to prevent Bin Laden from obtaining such weapons from Kazakhstan, Israel sent a cabinet minister to the republic to persuade the Kazakh government to prevent such exchanges from occurring. (7)

October 6, 1998
The Saudi-owned, London-based Arabic newspaper, Al-Hayat, declared that Bin Laden had obtained nuclear weapons. (8)

November 13, 1998
Expanding on information in the October 6, 1998 article in Al-Hayat, the Arabic news magazine Al-Watan Al-Arabi reported that Bin Laden was engaged in a comprehensive plan to acquire nuclear weapons. From information reportedly provided by sources that included the Russian intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB), the report stated that Bin Laden had forged links with organized crime members in the former Soviet republics in Central Asia and the Caucasus. (9)

The Al-Watan Al-Arabi article cited one particular meeting in which an agreement was negotiated by some of Bin Laden’s followers and Chechen organized crime figures in Grozny, Chechnya. It was referred to as “the nuclear warheads deal.” Bin Laden reportedly gave the contacts in Chechnya $30 million in cash and two tons of opium in exchange for approximately 20 nuclear warheads. Sources stated that Bin Laden planned to have the warheads dismantled by his own team of scientists, who would then transform the weapons into “instant nukes” or “suitcase nukes.” (10)

Al-Watan Al-Arabi also reported that Bin Laden had tried a different route to acquisition before turning to Chechnya for nuclear weapons. According to the article, Bin Laden’s original strategy was to develop his own “in-house” nuclear manufacturing complex, in which small, tactical nuclear weapons would be manufactured from scratch. Beginning in 1993, Bin Laden instructed some of his aides to obtain weapons-grade uranium that could be used to develop small nuclear weapons. (11)

December 24, 1998
In an interview with Time Magazine, Bin Laden asserted that acquiring weapons of any type was a Muslim “religious duty.” When asked whether he was seeking to obtain chemical or nuclear weapons, Bin Laden replied, “Acquiring weapons for the defense of Muslims is a religious duty. If I have indeed acquired these weapons, then I thank God for enabling me to do so.” (12) He responded similarly to the same question in an ABC News interview two days later, stating, “If I seek to acquire such weapons, this is a religious duty. How we use them is up to us.” (13)

The Al-Watan al-Arabi source stated that Bin Laden’s team of scientists was composed of “five nuclear scientists from Turkmenistan,” and that the leader of the team “used to work on the atomic reactor of Iraq before it was destroyed by Israel in the 1980’s.” The same source also stated that the scientists were working to develop a nuclear reactor that could be used “to transform the fissionable material into a more active source, one which can produce a fission reaction from a very small amount of material and be placed in a package smaller than a backpack.” (14) In addition, the source stated that Bin Laden had hired “hundreds of atomic scientists” from the former Soviet Union. Reportedly, Bin Laden paid the scientists $2,000 per month, an amount much greater than their wages in the former Soviet republics. (15)

General 1997-1998
As a result of the revelations about Bin Laden’s alleged nuclear activities, intelligence agencies worldwide directed their attention to the apparent connection between opium production in Afghanistan and Al-Qa’ida’s interest in nuclear weapons. Opium farmers in Afghanistan produced approximately 3,269 tons of opium in 1997-98. In late 1998, Bin Laden reportedly sent interested parties to Afghanistan to buy large amounts of opium, probably to raise funds for Al-Qa’ida. (16)

Significant Events Allegedly Linked to Bin Laden and Al-Qa’ida

February 26, 1993
Bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City, killing six and injuring 1,042 people. (17)

October 3-4, 1993
Eighteen American servicemen killed—reportedly by Al-Qa’ida-trained fighters—in a firefight in Mogadishu, Somalia.

November 13, 1995
Bombing outside Saudi Arabia’s National Guard Communications Centre in Riyad, killing two Indians and five American servicemen. (18)

June 25, 1996
Bombing of the U.S. military housing complex, Khobar Towers, in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 American servicemen.

August 23, 1996
Bin Laden’s first stated fatwa (an opinion on civil or religious matters) identifying the United States as an enemy and urging Muslims to kill American military personnel abroad.

February 23, 1998
Second fatwa against the United States issued by the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders, a Bin Laden-led Islamic consortium reportedly including radical Muslim leaders from Islamic Jihad, Bangladesh, the Egyptian Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and the Pakistani Ansar:

“For over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbours, and turning its bases in the peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighbouring Muslim peoples….”

Bin Laden called upon Muslims to fight against the United States and its people “‘in accordance with the words of Almighty God.'” (19)

August 7, 1998
Near simultaneous bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar al-Salaam, Tanzania, killing a total of 224, including 12 Americans and 38 Foreign Service Nationals, and injuring more than 4,585. (20)

August 20, 1998
In retaliation against Al-Qa’ida and Bin Laden for the U.S. Embassy bombings, the United States conducted “Operation Infinite Reach,” the bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan, followed three hours later by the destruction of a suspected terrorist training camp in Khost, Afghanistan. Officials from the Clinton White House, the State Department, and U.S. intelligence agencies said that intelligence information indicated that the pharmaceutical plant and the training camp were linked to Bin Laden. Moreover, officials claimed that the Al-Shifa factory was not a pharmaceutical plant but a chemical weapons manufacturing complex engaged in the production of the nerve agent VX. (21)

[1] Benjamin, Weiser, “Witness Describes Break with Group Led by Bin Laden,” New York Times, February 8, 2001; www.nytimes.com, accessed on February 9, 2001.
[2] “Bin Laden and Sudan Disavow Government Informant,” CNN News, February 9, 2001; www.cnn.com, accessed on February 9, 2001.
[3] Benjamin Weiser, “Defense Grills Terror Witness on Bin Laden,” New York Times, February 14, 2001, B1.
[4] Vernon Loeb, “Jet Purchase, Bin Laden Linked,” Washington Post, February 15, 2001, A20.
[5] In the testimony, Al-Fadl reported that al Mobruk was a “Moqadem” in the Sudanese Army, saying, “He is…one eagle and one star.” The authors learned that this is equivalent to “lieutenant colonel” in a conversation on February 16, 2001 with Adel Darwish, Editor of World Media UK, London.
[6] Benjamin Weiser, “U.S. Says Bin Laden Aide Tried to Get Nuclear Weapons,” New York Times, September 26, 1998.
[7] Marie Colvin, “Holy War with US in His Sights,” Times, August 16, 1998.
[8] Abu Dhabi, “An Aid to the Taliban Leader Renews His Refusal to Give Information on Nuclear Weapons to Bin Laden from Central Asia,” Al-Hayat, October 6, 1998.
[9] “Report Links Bin-Laden, Nuclear Weapons,” Al-Watan Al-Arabi, November 13, 1998; available from: FBIS, Document ID FTS19981113001081, accessed on July 14, 1999.
[10] Al-Watan Al-Arabi, November 13, 1998. See also: Emil Torabi, “Bin Laden’s Nuclear Weapons,” Muslim Magazine (Winter 1998); www.muslimmag.org, accessed on July 13, 1999.
[11] Torabi.
[12] John Innes, “Bin Laden Admits He ‘Instigated’ US Embassy Attacks,” Scotsman, January 4, 1999, 2.
[13] ABC News Transcript of Interview with Osama bin Laden, December 24, 1998; http://ABCNEWS.com, accessed on March 2, 2001.
[14] Torabi.
[15] Al-Watan Al-Arabi, November 13, 1998. See also: Torabi.
[16] Jason Burke, “Bin-Laden Said Buying Up Afghan Opium Crop,” Observer, November 29, 1998; available from: FBIS, Document ID FTS 19981130000561, accessed on July 14, 1999.
[17] Simon Reeve, The New Jackals (Northeastern University Press, 1999), 15.
[18] Ibid., 183.
[19] Ibid., 194. Full text published in Al Quds al-Arabi on February 23, 1998.
[20] FBI “US Embassy Bombings: Summary,” www.fbi.gov, accessed on March 1, 2001.
[21] James Bennet, “U.S. Fury on 2 Continents: The Overview; U.S. Cruise Missiles Strike Sudan and Afghan Targets,” New York Times, August 21, 1998: A1. See also: Julian Beltrame, “U.S. Bombs Terrorist Outposts: Missile Attacks Hit Training Camps, Chemical Weapons Factory in Sudan and Afghanistan,” Ottawa Citizen, August 21, 1998: A1; Kathleen Kenna, “U.S. Pounds Afghan, Sudan ‘Terror Targets’ Missiles Hit Training Camp, Chemical Plant after New Threat Against Americans,” Toronto Star, August 21, 1998: A1.

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