"financier" of terror

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Sep 14 09:20:11 MDT 2001

Buried in an article in the NY Times on bin Laden in today's NY Times is
the rather startling admission that the USA and its allies have "frozen"
his bank accounts. This led me to do a search on Lexis-Nexis that came up
with supporting documentation:

"American officials acknowledge that Al Qaeda and Mr. bin Laden have proven
resourceful, resilient adversaries. Much of his personal wealth has now
been spent, or is in bank accounts that are now frozen. But officials say
he is raising money through a network of charities and businesses. His
group reconstitutes its networks in many countries as quickly as they are
disrupted." (NY Times, January 14, 2001)

In other words, he raises money like any other activist does--more or less.

The USA tends to project this kind of financial conspiracy-mongering into
its enemies, because this essentially is the way it operates. Since it buys
armies and political support in the third world, it assumes everybody else
does. Bin Laden is not the only Arab who has been portrayed in this manner.
The Saudi millionaire who owned the pharmaceutical plant that Clinton blew
up in Khartoum also got this treatment.

>>A world away, Salah Idris, a Saudi magnate who had purchased El Shifa
just five months before the attack, remembers thinking there had been some
terrible mistake. As problematic as the episode would soon become for the
Clinton administration, it was a full-blown catastrophe for Idris--and
losing a $ 30 million factory was just the half of it.

"He went to bed a major businessman--a millionaire hundreds of times
over--and woke up a major terrorist," said his attorney, George R. Salem, a
partner at the powerhouse Washington law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer
& Feld. "He figured all the administration needed to be told was--'This is
Salah Idris, a prominent Saudi businessman who owns the plant. You've made
a serious mistake. Let's deal with this quietly.' But it became immediately
clear that wasn't going to happen."

So Idris decided to fight back against the most powerful nation on
Earth--Washington-style. He took out his checkbook and hired himself a $ 3
million dream team of former U.S. officials, chemists, environmental
engineers and public relations men, including a former special assistant to
Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the CIA's former London station chief and
a spin doctor best known for his work on behalf of CBS and Mike Wallace
during the celebrated libel trial filed by retired Gen. William
Westmoreland.<<  The Washington Post July 25, 1999)

As we now know, Idris was vindicated.

As is usually the case, Robert Fisk poked through all the lies back in
1998. Rather than confront the social realities that explain bin Laden's
popularity, they prefer to believe their own mythology. Not a good way for
an imperialist bourgeoisie to prevail.

The Independent (London), August 24, 1998, Monday

So just how wealthy is America's new public enemy No 1?

Robert Fisk in Beirut

ARABS GREETED President Bill Clinton's ban on financial transactions with
the Saudi dissident, Osama bin Laden, with astonishment and mirth yesterday.

One Saudi I called shortly after the presidential announcement laughed for
more than 30 seconds on the telephone before he could control himself
sufficiently to explain that Mr bin Laden, who demands a United States
military withdrawal from Saudi Arabia, has for 10 years been campaigning
for a boycott of all American companies. "He even refuses to drink Pepsi-
Cola," the man said.

Americans may take it seriously. If they can accept labels such as "public
enemy number one" - Mr Clinton's infantile honour for a man who has been
seeking such an accolade for years - at face value, the latest presidential
decree in America's "war against terror" will seem to make sense. In the
Middle East, it is meaningless. True, the family construction company of
Bin Laden - in which Osama bin Laden's shareholding is frozen, and which
now has no financial dealings with him even though run by one of his more
than 40 brothers - may be treated with suspicion by US investors who do not
realise how many members there are in the Bin Laden family. But a man who
has always refused to buy an American car, an American videotape - even an
American soft drink - is unlikely to be trading in Wall Street. Osama bin
Laden has frequently spoken in public about the need to boycott the
American economy.

During his stay in Sudan, when he used the same construction equipment he
had employed in the war against the Russians in Afghanistan to build public
highways for Sudanese villagers, he controlled only one company that might
have done business with the Americans: Wadi al-Aqiq, an agricultural and
trade corporation that could have dealt with US concerns.

The Sudanese authorities paid him for his road projects not in cash but in
sesame seeds, which Mr bin Laden would then sell on the commodity market.
But for the most part, Wadi al-Aqiq would buy fertilisers from Europe. Mr
bin Laden did have stakes in a number of Sudanese banks that could have
used American companies, although not any more. When he left Sudan, his
friends say, Mr bin Laden liquidated all his business assets there and did
not get a cent for them because he had to leave the country so suddenly.

In reality, it does not cost a lot to maintain construction equipment and a
satellite telephone in the mountains of Afghanistan. Mr bin Laden's
guerrillas - who followed him through the war against Soviet occupation -
obey him through loyalty rather than money.

When his wives moved to Afghanistan with him they were housed in tents
beside a field, with latrines, sheltered by blankets, dug into the soil
outside. The bulldozers and earth-clearing vehicles Mr bin Laden used in
the Afghan war, and later in Sudan, were of largely Italian manufacture.
Five years ago they were already nearing the end of their days.

Some of Mr bin Laden's supporters say he receives money directly from Saudi
Arabia - quite probable in view of his popularity among some sections of
the ulema (religious leaders) there - but even if he did invest outside the
Gulf, he could do so under a different name. Many Middle East countries act
as money transactors - cash, for example, passes through Beirut night and
day - for unknown investors. Even today, minor shareholdings in many Middle
East projects are unknown. It is possible Muslims in the US have sent funds
to Mr bin Laden, though not of a kind that would make any appreciable
difference to his wealth.

He may be worth a few million dollars, though Saudis dispute even this.
"The idea that he has $ 250m pounds 152m is fantasy," another Saudi said
yesterday. "The Americans dream up these extraordinary figures, claim them
to be the truth, get them printed in the press and - just like that - they
have created the 'millionaire terrorist' that they want."

Of course, the US could say it has "compelling evidence" Mr bin Laden has
invested in a company, just as it claimed the Sudanese factory it destroyed
last week was making chemical weapon precursors. Which may - or, more
likely, may not - be true. But Mr bin Laden is likely to greet Mr Clinton's
latest blow in the "war against terror" as an American farce.

Louis Proyect
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