To search, type one or more key words below.
Search Search the web.
 Page Bottom 

Jihad Inc.: The bin Laden Network of Companies Exporting Terror

When the business was just a start-up, the boss had the first office on the left as you entered the eight- or nine-room headquarters on McNimr Street in downtown Khartoum, Sudan.

When people arrived for appointments, they checked in with his secretary, who sat at a desk outside his door. When he went on a business trip, he called the travel office, which arranged for his plane tickets and the visas he needed to go abroad.

While terrorists may be known for exporting chaos and mayhem, the international group that prosecutors say is run by Osama bin Laden emerged last week in the first two days of testimony at the trial in the American Embassy bombings in East Africa as a sleek and highly organized outfit in fairly good corporate trim.

According to a witness who once ran its payroll, the group, known as Al Qaeda (Arabic for the Base), was a model of efficiency, complete with a finance committee, a network of profitable business ventures, even an in-house newspaper published by a man called Abu Musab Reuter by his peers.

The portrait of Al Qaeda as a modern-day corporation was painted in Federal District Court in Manhattan by Jamal Ahmed Al- Fadl, who described himself as Mr. bin Laden's former paymaster and the third man to join the terrorist group.

On the witness stand, Mr. Al-Fadl, who left the group in 1996, laid out Al Qaeda's inner structure in detail, explaining who was in charge and how the group earned money.

The emir, or chief executive, was Mr. bin Laden, the witness said. Under him was a body called the Shura Council, a panel of a dozen or so top aides who, according to Mr. Al-Fadl, discussed pressing matters as a group because they had "more experience about jihad," or holy wars.

The organization was divided into specialized committees, Mr. Al-Fadl said. A military committee oversaw war training and weapons purchases; a finance committee ran the group's corporate holdings; an Islamic study committee issued rulings on religious law; and a media committee published the group's daily newspaper, Nashrat al Akhbar.

There was also a travel department, where "if you want to travel they give you passport," Mr. Al-Fadl testified.

While much has been written about Al Qaeda's military wing — its terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, for example, where recruits were taught to use C-4 explosives and rocket-propelled grenades — Mr. Al-Fadl provided new details about the group's extensive network of companies.

The first of these, the witness said, was a business called Wadi al-Aqiq, a corporate shell that operated in Sudan and that Mr. Al- Fadl said was the "mother of other companies." But as Al Qaeda solidified its position in Sudan, he said, other business ventures followed.

There was the Ladin International Company, an import-export concern; Taba Investment, a currency trading firm; Hijra Construction, which built bridges and roads; and the Themar al-Mubaraka Company, which grew sesame, peanuts and white corn for the group on a farm near Ed Damazin, Sudan.

At the farm, Al Qaeda also provided its members with refresher courses in light weapons and explosives, Mr. Al- Fadl said.

Al Qaeda not only had an officelike structure, the witness said, it also had office politics. Mr. Al-Fadl, who is Sudanese, said the terrorist group paid him about $300 a month. But his co-workers, he said, particularly Egyptians, received higher salaries.

"Some people, they got more," he testified. "Some people, they got less."

The group ran an international trading company that dealt in commodities like sugar and palm oil. It was from these transactions that a disgruntled Mr. Al-Fadl took $110,000 in illicit commissions and kickbacks. He was eventually caught, and, fearing for his life, left the group in 1996 after working there for nearly a decade. He fled into the arms of American investigators at an unidentified United States embassy.

Al Qaeda's money — and there was lots of it, Mr. Al-Fadl said without giving an exact amount — was held in a web of bank accounts in Europe, Asia and Sudan.

There was an account under the name Osama bin Laden in Bank Shaml in Khartoum, and at least three more under other names in three other Sudanese banks, he said. There were also accounts, he said, in Hong Kong and Malaysia and at Barclays Bank in London.

Like any successful business, Al Qaeda had its experts. A man named Abu Anas al-Liby, the witness said, was the resident computer wizard. Another man, Abu Khalid el-Masry, specialized in maintaining battle tanks, he said.

A third man, Abu Muaz el-Masry, the witness said, had an unlikely specialty: he was Al Qaeda's in-house interpreter of dreams.

"If anyone got dream and he believes that dream could become true," Mr. Al-Fadl said, "he go and tell him.

"Abu Muaz, he got great experience to tell the people what the dream going to be, and he's a scholar for that."

horizontal line
What's New Page to home page e-mail  Page Top