Bin Laden Took Part in 1986 Arms Deal, Book Says

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 1, 2008; Page A12

Osama bin Laden flew to London in 1986 to help negotiate the purchase of Russian-made surface-to-air missiles to be used by Arab fighters then battling the Soviet military in Afghanistan, according to a new book on the bin Laden family.

Bin Laden and his half brother, Salem, met several times with the contacts at the luxury Dorchester hotel in London, according to "The Bin Ladens," by journalist Steve Coll. "Don't do any jokes with my brother," Salem is said to have told the others. "He's very religious."

The deal for Russian SA-7 missiles was arranged via "contacts" with the German arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch, through an associate of Salem bin Laden, the book says. It suggests that payment for the weapons was made by the government of Saudi Arabia and that the weapons eventually were purchased in South America.

At the time of the weapons shipments, both the U.S. and Saudi governments were supporting Afghan and Arab forces resisting the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan. But while the Reagan administration supplied Stinger missiles to the Afghans, the book says that the Afghans did not want the Americans providing such weaponry directly to Arab groups that had joined the fight, including forces organized by Osama bin Laden.

"We have made no bones about our support for the mujaheddin" fighters, Saudi Embassy spokesman Nail al-Jubeir said yesterday. "We matched the Americans dollar for dollar." But "in terms of what was bought, I really don't know," he said, adding that the Arabs eventually did receive the SA-7s.

Calls to Heckler & Koch's offices in Virginia and in Alabama were not returned.

Among other revelations, the book says that Jalaluddin Haqqani, an Afghan fighter against the Soviets and now a Taliban leader in Pakistan, received tens of thousands of dollars from the CIA as a "unilateral" asset of the intelligence agency in 1988 and 1989.

It also says that U.S. intelligence installed a listening device in a desk presented in the late 1970s to Saudi Prince Nayef when he became interior minister. Nayef's discovery of the bug, it says, negatively colored his views of the United States and inhibited his cooperation with U.S. counterterrorism efforts following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network was born in the years following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989. Coll, a former Washington Post managing editor and now president of the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank, won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction for "Ghost Wars," which examined the rise of al-Qaeda. "The Bin Ladens," published today by Penguin, traces the extended bin Laden family from Osama's great-great-grandfather through Osama's children and other members of the youngest generation. His father, Mohamed, had several wives and founded an international construction company that made Osama and many of his dozens of siblings wealthy.

According to the book and many previous accounts, few of Osama's far-flung relatives had any contact with him during the growth of al-Qaeda and rejected his turn to violence. Those living in or visiting the United States at the time of the 2001 attacks left the country about a week later on flights arranged by the Saudi government and with the approval of the FBI and the White House.

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