Trying Usama bin Ladin in absentia
by Steven Emerson
Middle East Quarterly
In the trial United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al. that began on February 5, 2001 in New York, government witnesses made much important information available about the nature of Bin Laden's terrorist operations. Here is a small selection of excerpts on such subjects as the structure of Bin Laden's organization, his relations and Hasan at-Turabi, his seeking weapons of mass destruction, and his possession of Stinger missiles.1 Commentary in the following is in italics, the transcript is in roman font. The court transcript's spelling and grammar are retained, with very minor changes for clarity.
Jamal Ahmed Mohamed El Fadl, the U.S. government's key witness, describes the committee structure of Bin Laden's organization, called al Qaeda (The Base). El Fadl's statements point to al Qaeda's cell-like makeup, its bureaucratic nature, and the leadership's delegating responsibilities according to members' specialized abilities.Q. Can you explain to the jury what the structure of al Qaeda was?
A. It got emir and different committee.
Q. Besides the emir, can you tell us what the committees were in al Qaeda?
A. Under the emir it's something called shura council.
Q. S-H-U-R-A, shura?
Q. Can you tell us what the function of the shura council was.
A. Shura council, it's discuss in a group and the people—and some people, they got more experience about Jihad. ...
Q. Besides the shura council, what other committees were there in al Qaeda?
A. Under shura council we have different committee. We have committee for military purpose.
Q. Could we talk about the committee for the military purpose for a moment. What did that committee do?
A. They only focus about military stuff, like training, helping people for do something about military, buy weapons. ...
Q. Besides the military committee, what other committees were here in al Qaeda under the shura council?
A. We got money and business committee.
Q. Can you explain to the jury what the money and business committee of al Qaeda did.
A. The people that run the business and the companies.
Q. Besides the fatwah committee, the military committee and the business committee, were there any other committees within Al Qaeda?
A. We got another committee for media reporting and the newspaper.
Q. Can you explain first what the newspaper was.
A. It's weekly report about what al Qaeda and about Islam in he world and Jihad.2
El Fadl explains al Qaeda's decision to move to the Sudan. This happened at a meeting in the Farouk camp in Afghanistan during which Mamdouh Salim (a.k.a. Abu Hajer al Iraqi) attempted to persuade the membership of the loyalty and piousness of the Sudanese National Islamic Front (NIF) and its leader, Hassan at-Turabi. Salim had to defend Turabi's Western education, for this aroused suspicion among the membership. This suspicion of Turabi, a dedicated Islamic fundamentalist who was willing to collaborate with and provide protection for Bin Laden, highlights the extreme paranoia and hatred of the West by Bin Laden's followers.Q. What happened when you were in the Farouk camp?
A. Some of the al Qaeda members in the camp, we got lecture by Abu Hajer al Iraqi, and he ask about what in the Sudan and what this relationship.
Q. Why don't you just slow down a moment and tell the jury what this is that a Abu Hajer al Iraqi told you in the Farouk camp?
A. He said he went over there and I met some of the Islamic National Front in Sudan and they are very good people and they very happy to make this relationship with al Qaeda, and they very happy to have al Qaeda if al Qaeda come over there, and he say I have some books from the scholar in that group, it's named Dr. Hassan al Turabi, and when he finish, some members they give him questions.
Q. Do you recall what any of the questions were that were put to Abu Hajer al Iraqi?
A. Yes, I remember some questions from people to him. One guy he ask him, Dr.
Hassan al Turabi, he study in Sorbonne, in French.
Q. The Sorbonne?
A. Yes. And he tell him we know he study also Islamic law but how we trust him, he
study in Europe.
Q. Do you recall what Abu Hajer al Iraqi's answer was?
A. He say no, that doesn't mean make the person bad. He say Dr. Hassan al Turabi, he
memorize the Koran and he know a lot about Koranic law, he was 40 years in
Q. Can you explain to the jury what da'wa is.
A. Da'wa mean the scholar or the person, he tell other people about the religion and
about Islam, and he know a lot about fatwah and he read a lot of books and he
study the law.
Q. What ended up happening? Did al Qaeda relocate to the Sudan?
El Fadl shed further light on relations between al Qaeda and the National Islamic Front (NIF) of Sudan; here he discusses their joint development of chemical and biological weapons.Q. Tell us about the time you went to Hilat Koko [a section of Khartoum] with Abu Hajer al Iraqi, what you discussed.
A. I learn that in this building they try to make chemical weapons with regular weapons.
Q. Can you explain what you mean by chemical weapons with regular weapons.
A. I remember another guy, he explain more to me about this.
Q. Who was that?
A. Amin Abdel Marouf.
Q. What did Amin Abdel Marouf explain to you?
A. He say the war between the government and the Sudan and the rebels in south Sudan it's like 30 years, and always the rebels during the rain time, they took the Sudanese army to north, and he say if we use weapons like that, it easy for us to win.
Q. Was there a war going on in the south of Sudan?
Q. That was between who and whom?
A. Between National Islamic Front, they run the government, and John Garang group.
Q. Returning to your conversation with Abu Hajer al Iraqi, did he discuss with you who it was that was trying to make the chemical weapons in the area there of Hilat Koko?
A. He tell me the al Qaeda group try to help Islamic National Front to do these weapons, to make these weapons.4
In a key passage, El Fadl describes al Qaeda's attempts to procure weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. The topic that follows describes the procurement of enriched uranium and the role of the Sudanese authorities, including a former president of the country, Salah Abdel al Mobruk, in making it available to al Qaeda for $1.5 million. The transcript provides a first documented reconstruction of an Islamist terrorist group trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction; it also demonstrates how easily enriched uranium was available to a terrorist group. Note in particular how routinely the conspirators approached this mission, not much different, say, from acquiring machine guns. Finally, the testimony suggests that this uranium remains in the possession of Bin Laden, one of the most terrifying (and under-reported) facts to emerge from the trial.Q. During the time you were involved with al Qaeda, did there come a time when you became involved in an attempt to purchase uranium?
Q. Can you tell us when that was?
A. That's area of '94 or end of '93.
Q. Can you tell us how you came to be involved in the purchase of uranium?
A. I remember Abu Fadhl al Makkee, he call me and he told me we hear somebody in Khartoum, he got uranium, and we need you to go and study that, is that true or not.
Q. The person who told you was Abu Fadhl al Makkee?
Q. What did you do after he told you this?
A. He told me go to Abu Abdullah al Yemeni and he talk more about that with you. Also go by Abu Dijana.
Q. Abu Abdullah al Yemeni and Abu Dijana, are they the same or different person?
A. Same person.
Q. Did you go see Abdullah al Yemeni?
Q. What happened when you saw him?
A. He told me somebody's name, Moqadem Salah Abdel al Mobruk. He is a minister during Numeiri time.
Q. Is he a former president of the Sudan?
A. Yes, '69 to '83.
Q. You said he is Moqadem. Is that a title?
A. He is army, one eagle and one star [i.e., a full colonel].
Q. Tell us what happened next.
A. Abu Dijana, he say we know this guy, we hear he got uranium and we need you to go and make sure that's right, maybe we need to buy that.
Q. Did you go to see this officer named Mobruk?
A. I went to one of my cousins, his name Faisal, and I ask him if he know Moqadam Salah Abdel al Mobruk.
Q. What happened then?
A. He told me, I know him but I don't have relationship with him, but I tell you I know somebody, he know him better than me. And he told me go to al Fadl al Shahideen. I went to al Fadl al Shahideen because I know him and I worked with him before, and I told him we want to see Salah Abdel al Mobruk. And he ask me what you want from him. I tell him we hear he got uranium and we want to now, if that true we want president to buy it.
Q. Did you actually then go see Mr. Mobruk?
A. Yes. He tell me give me few days and I call you back. After week or so he call me and he say I need to meet with you. And I sit down with him and he say I going to make appointment with you and Salah Abdel al Mobruk and you can talk to him face to face.
Q. Did you have, did you actually have a meeting with Salah Abdel al Mobruk?
Q. Tell us what happened at the meeting.
A. I went, and this is first time I meet him, and he told me this guy, his name Basheer, he going to help you, and go with him and discuss everything with him.
Q. Had you ever met this person named Basheer before?
Q. Did you go with Basheer?
Q. Tell the jury what you did.
A. We went to another office in Jambouria Street in Khartoum City.
Q. What happened when you went to that street in Khartoum?
A. Basheer, he told me, are you serious? You want uranium? I tell him yes. I know people, they very serious, and they want to buy it. And he told me did the money ready, and I say what they need. They need the information about uranium, they want to know which quality, which the country make it, and after that we going to talk with you about the price. He say I going to give you this information in a paper, and we need $1,500,000, and everything go well we need it outside. We need the money outside of Sudan.
Q. And the price was how much?
A. He say he need $1,500,000. And he say this is for the uranium. But he need commission for himself, and he need commission for Salah Abdel al Mobruk.
Q. What happened then?
A. After that he tell me how you going to check it? I tell him I don't know, I have to go to those people and I tell them what you tell me and I give you answer for that.
Q. What happened that?
A. After that I went to [Abu] Abdallah al Yemeni and I told him what I got. He told me go to Abu Fadhl al Makkee and told him about what you got, what you have information, and I went to Abu Fadhl al Makkee and I told him, and he say you have to go to Abu Rida al Suri and sit down with him and told him, and he going to go with you after that. I went to Ikhlak company in Baraka building in Khartoum City, and I told him about the whole information, and he say tell him we have our machine, electric machine, we going to check the uranium but first we want to see and we want information. We want to see the cylinder and we want to need information about the quality and which country it make. And he tell me, he give me a little paper and he tell me give him this paper and this information we need. I took the information and I go back to al Fadhl al Shaheedin and I told him I need meeting with Basheer.
Q. When you took the information you went back to al Fadhl al Shaheedin, and what did you do then?
A. Al Fadhl told me give me few days until I see what say Basheer and told Basheer this guy he want to meet you again and he need more information. After that, I remember al Fadhl, he call me and he tell me—he give me a date. He tell me in that day, 10:00 in the morning, I need you near Khartoum Bank in Jambouria Street. He told me if you Abu Rida al Suri with you, that's good. I told him we don't have to bring Abu Rida, we just want Basheer information. He told me no, maybe you go to see the cylinder but we don't know. I went back to Abu Rida and I told him that. He say I don't mind, yeah, I going to come in that time.
Q. Did you go to the meeting?
Q. Who did you go with?
A. We went over there and we meet Basheer, and he tell me leave your car here, and he tell Abu Rida leave your car there, and he go with me. I remember he got jeep and me and Abu Rida al Suri and al Fadl al Shaheedin, we went together to Khartoum north town, it's called —
Q. You went with al Fadl al Shaheedin and Abu Rida al Suri in a jeep to Khartoum north to a town called Bait al Mal, with Basheer?
A. And we went over there and we, they took us inside house in Bait al Mal, and after few minutes they bring a big bag and they open it, and it cylinder, like this tall.
Q. For the record, the witness is indicating approximately two to three feet.
A. It's like this tall, I believe. And they give us a paper before that, and Abu Rida al Suri, I remember he took the paper and it's a lot written in the cylinder. It's like —
Q. Tell the word that you are saying to the interpreter.
A. (Through the interpreter) The information was like engraved. (Continuing in English) Abu Rida al Suri looked to his paper and he looked to the cylinder, and after that he say OK, that is good. And he got conversation with Basheer, and we left the house, and few days later he told me —
THE COURT: Who told you?
A. Abu Rida al Suri, he told me go to al Fadl al Shaheedin and tell him we want to see Basheer again.
Q. So Abu Rida al Suri told you to go to al Fadl al Shaheedin and tell him that who wanted to meet?
A. He told me go to Basheer and tell him we need another meeting, and in the same time he give me the paper we got from Basheer about the information, and he told me I needed to take this paper to Abu Hajer and give him this paper, and whatever he tell you, or if he don't say anything, that's fine.
Q. So he told you to take the paper to Abu Hajer. What did you do?
A. I went to Abu Hajer in his house and I give him the paper and he need it and he say OK.
Q. What was on the paper?
A. It's information, I remember it say South Africa and serial number and quality something. It's all in English. So I don't remember all the what in the paper.
Q. What happened when you gave this paper to Abu Hajer?
A. He read it and he say OK, he say go back to Abu Rida al Suri.
Q. What happened then?
A. After that, I followed, he make a meeting with me and Basheer, and we told Basheer, the people they like to buy the cylinder. And he told me how you going to check it, and I told him what Abu Rida al Suri tell me, they wait for machine come from outside to check it.
Q. Did Abu Rida al Suri tell you where the machine to test the uranium was coming from?
A. He told me going to come from Kenya.
Q. Did you tell that to Basheer?
A. Yes, and he ask me how long is going to take. I tell him I don't know.
Q. What happened that?
A. After that, after few days Abu Fadl al Shahideen, he told me he make meeting between Abu Rida al Suri and Salah Abdel al Mobruk.
Q. So the meeting was between Abu Rida al Suri and Salah Abdel al Mobruk.
A. And I tell him I don't know that, and he say you have to talk with Abu Rida al Suri. And I told him you don't want me no more go for this, and he say yes, everything fine, you did great job, and he give me $10,000.
Q. Did he tell you what the $10,000 he gave you was for?
A. He says this is for what you did, and he told me don't tell Mohamed al Nalfi and don't tell anybody, you did great job, we going to check it and everything be fine.
Q. The person, Mohamed al Nalfi?
Q. What was your relationship with Mohamed al Nalfi?
A. He is one of our group and he married my sister daughter.
Q. After that, did you take any more role in this attempt to buy uranium? Did you do anything else?
Q. Did they ever tell you whether in fact they bought that uranium?
A. No, but I hear they check it in Hilat Koko.
MR. BAUGH: Objection, your Honor, to what he heard.
MR. FITZGERALD: We consent to that.
Q. After that, did you hear anything more about what happened to the uranium? Yes or no.
Q. Without telling us what was said, who told you this information?
A. Al Amin Abdel Marouf.
Q. Who is al Amin Abdel Marouf?
A. He work in our company before, and he is a member of National Islamic Front in Sudan.
Q. Is he one of the people you mentioned yesterday that you went to Hilat Koko with?
A. No, I didn't mention yesterday. I say his brother run the building, his brother Dr. Omar Abdel Marouf.
Q. Where did you have a conversation with the Abdel Marouf who told you what happened to the uranium?
A. This conversation in the company he run for National Islamic Front is called Kameem Company.
Q. Can you give the word to the interpreter.
THE INTERPRETER: The Summits, S-U-M-M-I-T, plural.
Q. What were the circumstances under which this person Abdel Marouf told you about what happened to the uranium?
A. He told me—
Q. Don't tell me what he said. What were the circumstances? How did it come up that you had a conversation?
A. I work with him before and we talk about the south Sudan and the army, they lose a lot of fighting because of the rain and the people in south Sudan do better in the rain against the government, and we talk about the chemical weapons, they try to build it to win the war in south Sudan. After that, he say you did great job about the uranium and they going to check it in Hilat Koko.5
Under cross examination, el Fadl describes the cylinder of uranium that he saw in greater detail:Q. You had a discussion on direct examination concerning an attempt to purchase uranium. Do you remember that?
Q. And that you were present at a location they brought a cylinder in a bag?
A. Location —
Q. I am asking, you were there at the time they brought a cylinder in a bag, right?
Q. What kind of bag was the cylinder carried in?
A. This size.
Q. Was it a fabric bag? Was it a paper bag?
A. It's something like first time in my life I saw bag that kind. So it look different than normal bag we use.
Q. What did it look like it was made out of?
A. You open it like that and when it have two halves, the size same, and in the back it's –
MR. SCHMIDT: Could you translate the question what material was the bag made out of. (Interpreted)
A. (Interpreted) Strong leather.
THE COURT: Leather?
THE INTERPRETER: Yes, your Honor.
Q. Did you see the bag carried into the room?
Q. How many people carried the bag into the room?
A. I think one person and one with him.
Q. How many hands was he holding the bag in?
A. I don't remember really.
Q. Did he pick up the bag and put it on a table?
A. No, they put it in moquette.
THE INTERPRETER: On the wall-to-wall carpet. It's called moquette. It's a French word.
Q. After they opened up the bag, did anybody do anything to the cylinder?
A. Only Abu Rida al Suri.
Q. What did he do?
A. He got paper in his hand and something written in the cylinder and he looked at the paper and he looked at the cylinder. He look at the cylinder and look at the paper for a few minutes.
Q. Did he pick up the cylinder?
Q. How many hands did he use to pick up the cylinder?
A. I remember he took it and he just put it like that. The cylinder is like this size.
Q. Approximately two and a half feet in length? Would that be about right?
A. It could be like this size. Could be.
Q. How big was the circumference around the pipe?
A. Maybe this.
Q. Do that again, please.
A. Maybe like this.
Q. Indicating maybe five, six inches?
THE COURT: Six inches in diameter?
MR. SCHMIDT: Diameter, excuse me. Thank you.
Q. After he looked at it, he put it back in the bag?
Q. And the people who brought the bag closed it up and walked out with it?
A. Yes. I walked first me and Bashir outside, and later on—after he close it, he still talk with the people and he tell me wait outside. Me and the guy Bashir went out.
Q. Did anyone open up the cylinder? (Interpreted)
The goal of obtaining nuclear weapons came up frequently among the al Qaeda membership while resident in Sudan. Al Fadl explains that their intention was "to kill a lot of people."Q. Now, I want to talk to you some about 1993 or '94. There came a time when you found out that, according to you, al Qaeda wanted to purchase uranium, correct?
Q. Did you know what they want uranium for?
A. I remember, yeah, Abu Jaffar al Tayar, he's Egyptian, and he say it's easy to kill more people with uranium.
Q. You can make a huge bomb with uranium, right?
Q. And you didn't say, I don't want any part of anything that will kill a lot of people, right?
Q. They asked you to go help get uranium, you said yeah?
Q. And so you went and you met with someone, right?
Q. And you tried to get as much information about the uranium as you could?
Q. You tried to find out if it was enriched or not enriched?
A. What "enriched"?
Q. It was ready to be made into a bomb immediately or had to have something else done to it?
A. The quality, yes.
Q. Try to find out what country it was from?
A. The quality and which land, yes.
Q. But you yourself were not an expert —
Q. —in uranium, were you?
A. No, I just, I got the information and I bring it back to somebody.
Q. Isn't the somebody you brought it back to Salim [one of Bin Laden's aides]?
A. Abu Musab al Suri.
Q. Did you ever talk to Salim about this bomb?
A. I give him the paper.
A. Yes, but we didn't talk about it.
Q. But you gave him the paper?
A. Just the paper.
Q. And according to you, he told you or you were told that he was going to get some kind of machine to test this uranium, right?
A. Not Salim, Abu Musab Suri told me machine going to come from Kenya.
Q. That was to see if this uranium was good enough to build a bomb to kill a whole lot of people, right?
Essam al Ridi, another government witness, describes how he was recruited by the al Qaeda network to purchase a jet aircraft in the United States to transport American-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles from Peshawar (near Afghanistan) to the Sudan.Q. Can you tell us what Wadih El Hage [a defendant in the case] told you when he first contacted you?
A. The interests of Usama Bin Laden in acquiring an airplane for Khartoum.
Q. And did you, did he tell you where Usama Bin Laden was living at the time?
Q. Where was he living?
A. In Khartoum, Sudan.
Q. And what did he tell you about the airplane that he wished you to purchase for Usama Bin Laden?
A. The price range within 350,000 US, and that is a range of about a little bit over two thousand miles.
Q. And did you have any further discussions with him about the financial arrangements for purchasing this airplane?
Q. What was that discussion?
A. Once I located an airplane with that price and that range, I've called Wadih and specifically told him, it's 350,000 and I'll be offered 9 percent from the dealer, the owner of the airplane.
Q. And what did you mean, you'll be offered 9 percent?
A. This is a customary commission when you buy or sell an aircraft in the US.
Q. And who would the commission go to?
A. To me.
Q. And did you have any discussions with anyone as to whether or not it was proper for
you to receive a commission on this airplane transaction?
Q. Who did you discuss this with?
A. I discussed it with my best friend Moataz al Hallak.
MR. FITZGERALD: We'll spell that M-O-A-T-A-Z A-L H-A-L-L-A-K.
Q. What was your understanding of what was a proper way to obtain a commission?
A. I have what I say knowledge about our religion and how to go about these things, but I wanted to make sure because Moataz in fact is much more knowledgeable [about Islam] than me. So I asked him what will be the best way for me to get any commission out of that sale without of course compromising our rules as Muslims. He suggested that, first of all, I have to become an owner of the entity, and, thereafter, I could be, since I'm an owner, I could resell it to a price that I choose to the new owner.
Q. And did you discuss this at all with Wadih El Hage?
Q. And what did you tell Wadih El Hage about how the financial arrangements would work regarding the airplane?
A. Well, actually this part did not really go through. They came later with a different price. Instead of 350 [thousand dollars], anything less than 250 [thousand dollars].
Q. You say "they came." Can you explain who?
A. I'm indicating Wadih El Hage and you know representing of course Usama [Bin Laden] in Khartoum.
Q. And what did he tell you about the changed price?
A. They wanted something within the 250,000 [thousand dollars] or less, and my response was, you'll never get a used jet aircraft for that price that will do the range that you want.
Q. And what happened then?
A. Actually, they came with that final decision, it doesn't matter. This is the budget and let's try to work with that budget.
Q. Was there any discussion of the reason why the range for the plane had to be two thousand miles?
Q. Can you tell us what was said?
A. They have some goods of their own they want to ship from Peshawar to Khartoum.
Q. And first of all, who is "they"?
A. Again, I'm referring to Wadih and Usama.
Q. And did he tell you what the goods were that he wanted to ship from Peshawar to Khartoum?
Q. What were they?
A. Stinger missiles.
Q. And when he told you they wanted to ship Stinger missiles from Peshawar to Khartoum, what did you say?
A. I said it's possible as long as we have arrangements from the departing country to the arriving country.
Q. And what do you mean by that?
A. I meant the legality, because it's clearly air policy.
Q. Did you discuss this with Wadih?
Q. Tell us what you told him about the legality of shipping the Stingers from Peshawar to Khartoum?
A. That we have to have a legal permit to depart Peshawar with that equipment on board, and the legal permit to land in Khartoum, which is not a problem because they could ally people in Peshawar and also in Khartoum. However, the problem with allies, once we have to divert or land for any fuel or any emergency in the countries in between, then it will be definitely exposed and then it will be absolutely a chaos.
Q. And what, if anything, did he say in response?
A. Nothing in particular. I was just explaining to them technicalities.8
Steven Emerson, a Washington-based specialist in Islamist terrorism, produced the award-winning documentary Jihad in America and has written four books.1 Full transcripts are available daily at http://cryptome.org/usa-v-ubl-dt.htm.
2 Day 2, pp. 204-10.
3 Day 2, p. 217
4 Day 2, p. 292
5 Day 3, pp. 357-366
6 Day 7, p. 982
7 Day 4, pp. 528-529.
8 Day 5 - Page 560