30 April 2012

Osama bin Laden and Opium

Seeds of Terror by Gretchen Peters, 2009, Excerpts

In the spring of 1996, Osama bin Laden’s return to Afghanistan heralded a new chapter in the Taliban chronicle, one that would have a dramatic impact on modern history. Unlike other terrorist leaders, bin Laden was not a military hero, nor a religious authority, nor an obvious representative of the downtrodden and disillusioned. He was a rich financier distinguished by his ability to organize an effective network. The financial network of bin Laden, as well as his network of investments, is similar to the network put in place in the 1980s by BCCI for its fraudulent operations, often with the same people [former directors and cadres of the bank and its affiliates, arms merchants, oil merchants, Saudi investors].

The structure of bin Laden’s network, which always blended business and terrorism, was similar to large, successful criminal organizations: flexible, diversified, decentralized, and compartmentalized. While in Sudan, bin Laden ran construction businesses, imported sugar and soap, and exported sesame seeds, palm oil, and sunflower seeds. He purchased farms, some of them enormous, which grew corn and peanuts and also served as training camps.

The Saudi exile wasted no time in ingratiating himself with Afghanistan’s new masters, helping to bankroll their takeover of Kabul. Bin Laden reportedly put up $3 million from his personal funds to pay off the remaining warlords who stood between the Taliban and the Afghan capital. The cash injection came at a crucial time, and Mullah Omar would never forget it.

Bin Laden served as a middleman between the Taliban and Arab drug smugglers for the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, using commissions to fund his training camps. The sheiks flew in on private jets and military transport planes, touching down at the Kandahar airfield and other smaller airstrips, supposedly to hunt rare falcons. Those flights transported weapons and material to the Taliban and al Qaeda and flew heroin out. It was widely known these hunting teams brought lavish amounts of equipment including vehicles, rifles, and tents, which they left with the Taliban.

Bin Laden hijacked the state-run Ariana Airlines, turning it into a narco-terror charter service ferrying Islamic militants, weapons, cash, and heroin to the Emirates and Pakistan. Mounting concern led to the UN sanctioning the Taliban in late 2000, barring Ariana from flying internationally. The Taliban turned to Viktor Bout, the notorious Russian spy-turned-smuggler whose Sharjah-based air cargo empire served as a sort of FedEx to criminals, rebel groups, and banana republics. Between 1998 and 2001, Bout sold Taliban twelve air freighters and continued to fly weapons, spare aircraft parts, and other supplies into Afghanistan. Flights with narcotics went direct from Helmand to the UAE.

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