Bin Laden Son Plays Key Role in Al Qaeda

By Douglas Farah and Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Saad bin Laden, one of Osama bin Laden's oldest sons, has emerged in recent months as part of the upper echelon of the al Qaeda network, a small group of leaders that is managing the terrorist organization from Iran, according to U.S., European and Arab officials.

Saad bin Laden and other senior al Qaeda operatives were in contact with an al Qaeda cell in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in the days immediately prior to the May 12 suicide bombing there that left 35 people dead, including eight Americans, European and U.S. intelligence sources say. The sources would not divulge the nature or contents of the communications, but the contacts have led them to conclude that the Riyadh attacks were planned in Iran and ordered from there.

Although Saad bin Laden is not the top leader of the terrorist group, his presence in the decision-making process demonstrates his father's trust in him and an apparent desire to pass the mantle of leadership to a family member, according to numerous terrorism analysts inside and outside government.

Like other al Qaeda leaders in Iran, the younger bin Laden, who is believed to be 24 years old, is protected by an elite, radical Iranian security force loyal to the nation's clerics and beyond the control of the central government, according to U.S. and European intelligence officials. The secretive unit, known as the Jerusalem Force, has restricted the al Qaeda group's movements to its bases, mostly along the border with Afghanistan.

Also under the Jerusalem Force's protection is Saif al-Adel, al Qaeda's chief of military operations; Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, the organization's chief financial officer; and perhaps two dozen other top al Qaeda leaders, the officials said. Al-Adel and Abdullah are considered the top operational deputies to Osama bin Laden and his second-in-command, Ayman Zawahiri, who communicate with underlings almost exclusively through couriers.

The presence of Saad bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders in Iran has become part of a debate within the governments of the United States and Saudi Arabia over the best way to reduce Iranian support for terrorism. U.S. officials have sent stern warnings to the government of President Mohammad Khatami that Iran's harboring of senior al Qaeda operatives would have repercussions for a nation the Bush administration has labeled part of the "axis of evil."

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