Osama Bin Laden: Islamic Extremist Financier

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"Osama Bin Laden: Islamic Extremist Financier"

CIA Assessment

Analyst report

By: Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

Date: August 14, 1996

Source: The Central Intelligence Agency

About the Author: Established by the National Security Act of 1947, the Central Intelligence Agency is charged with providing intelligence on matters of national security to top decision makers in the United States government. The director and the deputy director are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. In 1986, President Reagan established the CIA's Counter Terrorism Center (CTC) amid growing concern about international terrorism. The CTC is specifically charged with coordinating the efforts of the national intelligence community to "preempt, disrupt, and defeat terrorists."


In 1996, Osama Bin Laden was known to the CIA primarily as an Islamic extremist wanted by the government of Saudi Arabia, who had been trying to kidnap and/or kill him since 1991. Today, it is known that the United States had earned Bin Laden's permanent enmity even before that, in 1990, by using Saudi Arabia as a staging ground for the first Gulf War.

The following 1996 assessment by an unknown CIA analyst offers a fascinating snapshot into what little we did know of Bin Laden before he ever declared a fatwa against the United States.


Osama bin Muhammad bin Awad Bin Laden is one of the most significant financial sponsors of Islamic extremist activities in the world today. One of some 20 sons of wealthy Saudi construction magnate Muhammad Bin Laden, founder of the Kingdom's Bin Laden Group business empire, Osama joined the Afghan resistance movement following the 26 December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. "I was enraged and went there at once, " he claimed in a 1993 interview. "I arrived within days, before the end of 1979."

Bin Laden gained prominence during the Afghan war for his role in financing the recruitment, transportation, and training of Arab nationals who volunteered to fight alongside the Afghan mujahedin. By 1985, Bin Laden had drawn on his family's wealth plus donations received from sympathetic merchant families in the Gulf region, to organize the Islamic Salvation Foundation, or al-Qaeda, for this purpose.

  • A network of al-Qaeda recruitment centers and guest-houses in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan has enlisted and sheltered thousands of Arab recruits. This network remains active.
  • Working in conjunction with extremist groups like the Egyptian al-Gama'at al-Islamiyyah, also know as the Islamic Group, al-Qaeda organized and funded camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan that provided new recruits paramilitary training in preparation for the fighting in Afghanistan.
  • Under al-Qaeda auspices, Bin Laden imported bulldozers and other heavy equipment to cut roads, tunnels, hospitals, and storage depots through Afghanistan's mountainous terrain to move and shelter fighters and supplies.

After the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, Bin Laden returned to work in the family's Jeddah-based construction business. However, he continued to support militant Islamic groups that had begun targeting moderate Islamic governments in the region. Saudi officials held Bin Laden's passport during 1989–1991 in a bid to prevent him from solidifying contacts with extremists whom he had befriended during the Afghan war.

Bin Laden relocated to Sudan in 1991, where he was welcomed by National Islamic Front (NIF) leader Hasan al-Turabi. In a 1994 interview, Bin Laden claimed to have surveyed business and agricultural investment opportunities in Sudan as early as 1983. He embarked on several business ventures in Sudan in 1990, which began to thrive following his move to Khartoum. Bin Laden also formed symbiotic business relationships with wealthy NIF members by undertaking civil infrastructure development projects on the regime's behalf:

  • Bin Laden's company, Al-Hijrah for Construction and Development, Ltd., built the Tahaddi (challenge) road linking Khartoum with Port Sudan, as well as a modern international airport near Port Sudan.
  • Bin Laden's import-export firm, Wadi al-Aqiq Company, Ltd., in conjunction with his Taba Investment Company, Ltd., secured a near monopoly over Sudan's major agricultural exports of gum, corn, sunflower, and sesame products in cooperation with prominent NIF members. At the same time, Bin Laden's Al-Themar al-Mubarak-ah Agriculture Company, Ltd. grew to encompass large tracts of land near Khartoum and in eastern Sudan.
  • Bin Laden and wealthy NIF members capitalized Al-Shamal Islamic Bank in Khartoum. Bin Laden invested $50 million in the bank.

Bin Laden's work force grew to include militant Afghan war veterans seeking to avoid a return to their own countries, where many stood accused of subversive and terrorist activities. In May 1993, for example, Bin Laden financed the travel of 300 to 480 Afghan war veterans to Sudan after Islamabad launched a crackdown against extremists lingering in Pakistan. In addition to safehaven in Sudan, Bin Laden has provided financial support to militants actively opposed to moderate Islamic governments and the West:

  • Islamic extremists who perpetrated the December 1992 attempted bombings against some 100 U.S. servicemen in Aden (billeted there to support U.N. relief operations in Somalia) claimed that Bin Laden financed their group.
  • A joint Egyptian-Saudi investigation revealed in May 1993 that Bin Laden's business interests helped funnel money to Egyptian extremists, who used the cash to buy unspecified equipment, printing presses, and weapons.
  • By January 1994, Bin Laden had begun financing at least three terrorist training camps in northern Sudan (camp residents included Egyptian, Algerian, Tunisian and Palestinian extremists) in cooperation with the NIF. Bin Laden's Al-Hijrah for Construction and Development works directly with Sudanese military officials to transport and provision terrorists training in such camps.
  • Pakistani investigators have said that Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the alleged mastermind of the February 1993 World Trade Center bombing, resided at the Bin Laden-funded Bayt Ashuhada (house of martyrs) guesthouse in Peshawar during most of the three years before his apprehension in February 1995.
  • A leading member of the Egyptian extremist group al-Jihad claimed in a July 1995 interview that Bin Laden helped fund the group and was at times witting of specific terrorist operations mounted by the group against Egyptian interests.
  • Bin Laden remains the key financier behind the Kunar camp in Afghanistan, which provides terrorist training to al-Jihad and al-Gama'at al-Islamiyyah members, according to suspect terrorists captured recently by Egyptian authorities.

Bin Laden's support for extremist causes continues despite criticisms from regional governments and his family. Algeria, Egypt, and Yemen have accused Bin Laden of financing militant Islamic groups on their soil (Yemen reportedly sought INTERPOL's assistance to apprehend Bin Laden during 1994). In February 1994, Riyadh revoked Bin Laden's Saudi citizenship for behavior that "contradicts the Kingdom's interests and risks harming its relations with fraternal countries." The move prompted Bin Laden to form the Advisory and Reformation Committee, a London-based dissident organization that by July 1995 had issued over 350 pamphlets critical of the Saudi Government. Bin Laden has not responded to condemnation leveled against him in March 1994 by his eldest brother, Bakr Bin Laden, who expressed, through the Saudi media, his family's "regret, denunciation, and condemnation" of Bin Laden's extremist activities.


History and hindsight cast a sober light on this assessment. Nine days after its issuance, Bin Laden removed all doubt about his intentions by publishing his own Declaration of War against the United States. Clearly Bin Laden saw his own role as more than that of financier; his enmity was focused squarely on the United States.

While the author is aware of most of Bin Laden's activities during the period in question, there are some significant gaps. In October 1993, for example, eighteen U.S. servicemen involved in a humanitarian relief effort were ambushed and killed in Somalia. Bin Laden claimed responsibility in a 1997 interview with CNN.

Bin Laden's connection to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was not completely understood in 1996. Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 attack, had been in contact with Bin Laden's organization since 1988, had stayed in the house of martyrs before as well as after the bombing, and had acquired his bomb-making skills in one of Bin Laden's training camps.

Also notably absent is any mention of Bin Laden's combat experience during the war against the USSR in Afghanistan. Here, Bin Laden is cast in the role of financier, but beginning in 1986, he had occupied his own front, commanding his own fighters in hundreds of small operations and at least five major battles. Bin Laden has said that these experiences on the battlefield and later events in Somalia convinced him that terrorism was an effective weapon. Through his al-Qaeda terrorist network, he coordinated several attacks on United States and allied interests, including the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States and the March 11, 2004 attacks in Madrid, Spain.



Moore, Robin. The Hunt for Bin Laden. New York: Random House, Inc., 2003.

Jacquard, Roland. In the Name of Osama Bin Laden: Global Terrorism and the Bin Laden Brotherhood, Revised and Updated Edition. Durham: Duke University Press, 2002.

Web sites

CNN.com. "Special Report, War Against Terror: Osama Bin Laden." <http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2001/trade.center/binladen.section.html> (accessed June 26, 2005).