September 22, 2001. Front page.
Bin Laden's links to Uganda revealed
By Monitor Team In Kampala & A Correspondent In Washington [i.e., me]
As intelligence forces in the United States and around the world search for those behind the Sept.11 terrorist attacks that killed over 6,300 people, most inquiries have led to one name: Osama bin Laden.
Bin Ladenís Al-Qaeda ("The Base") network spans dozens of countries. And one of those suspected of housing an Al-Qaeda cell is Uganda, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service.
Bin Ladenís links to Uganda are both multifaceted and mysterious. The Monitor has uncovered numerous press reports tying the Saudi multimillionaire to forces led by a Sheikh Abdullah; the Lordís Resistance Army that has terrorized northern Uganda for more than a decade; and two failed efforts to bomb the U.S. embassy in Kampala in 1998.
While any connection between people in Uganda and last weekís attacks is unclear, it is clear that Uganda has not avoided the long arm of terror wielded by Bin Laden.
Bin Ladenís advisory council linking a highly organized network of armed Islamist groups included a representative of the Islamic forces of Sheikh Abdullah in Uganda, according to a defecting Sudanese military officer who was quoted in a Human Rights Watch report of Aug. 20, 1998). Many of the groups in this network traced their routes to the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Hundreds of Afghan war veterans from numerous countries were dispersed to camps throughout Sudan for schooling in the use of explosives, forgery, coding, and other such skills. It is not clear if Abdullahís forces were among those trained.
More details of the camp emerged in a report later in 1998. Ugandans were trained at a Bin Laden-financed camp near Soba, 10 km south of Khartoum, in the 1990s, according to an ex-Sudanese military intelligence agent, the authoritative Janeís Intelligence Review, reported Oct. 1 1998).
The report also mentioned Bin Ladenís pan-Islamist coalition and the "advisory council'" which included representatives from at least 43 separate groups from around the world. One of these was the Islamic force of Sheikh Abdullah.
Four Sudanese, including Sheikh Abdullah Mohamed Ahamad (presumably the same Sheikh Abdullah whose Islamic forces were represented on Bin Ladenís council), were charged with levying war against the government of Uganda, and four Ugandans were jointly charged in Kampala with treason on October 1, 1997.
Prosecutor James Kato alleged that the accused and "others at large, between June 1994 and September 1997 at various places within Uganda, levied war against the Republic of Uganda." Sam Bitangaro of Bitangaro and Company Advocates and Norbert Mao of Mao, Owor, Oulanyah and Company advocates represented the accused persons. All the three lawyers are now MPs, and Bitangaro is a minister.
The 1998 report in Janeís Intelligence Review suggested that members of the LRA were trained at Bin Ladenís camp near Soba. It has also been established that the Sudanese government, which was closely connected to Bin Laden when he lived in Sudan from 1991 to 1996, supported the LRA during those years.
More insidiously, according to a report by David Blair in a British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph of March 29, 1999, Bin Laden was purchasing Ugandan children from the LRA to work on his marijuana farms in 1999.
This information came from children who escaped the drug dealers and from intercepted radio conversations, according to now Police chief Maj. Gen. Katumba Wamala, who was a brigadier and commander of the UPDF forces fighting the LRA at the time. Abducted Ugandan children were "selected" at the LRAís headquarters in Jabelin. Some were moved to Nsitu camp, where Arab slave dealers purchased some. These were transported to Juba airport and flown to Bin Ladenís camps in the Nile Valley, north of Khartoum.
Minister of Defence Amama Mbabazi, then the Ugandan minister of State for Foreign Affairs, was quoted in a Washington Post report by Karl Vick of Oct. 6, 1998, saying that Al-Qaeda twice targeted the U.S. embassy in Kampala; once to coincide with the Kenya and Tanzania embassy bombings of August 7, 1998, and again in September.
A Bill Clinton administration official said then the claim was "very plausible," as the embassy, then located in central Kampala, appeared on a list of targets compiled by Bin Laden.
Ugandan intelligence officials informed American officials of the second plot. In a coordinated sweep on Sept. 15, 1998, FBI agents accompanied Ugandan police in midnight raids that netted at least 18 arrests in Kampala. All but four of those arrested were released after 15 days in custody. The remaining four were not yet charged as of this report, despite Ugandan law requiring that charges be made within 48 hours.
Mbabazi said the second aborted attack may have been planned in retaliation for the 20 August 1998 U.S. cruise-missile bombing of targets in Afghanistan and Sudan, and for Ugandan President Yoweri Museveniís public praising of the U.S. bombing. Mbabazi noted that the coordinated bombings of three buses that killed at least 29 people in Kampala came five days after the U.S. missile strikes.
Muruli Mukasa, then the Minister of Security, told BBC News on Sept. 15, 1998 that some of the 18 people arrested that day appeared to be connected to the people believed to be behind the Aug. 7 U.S. embassy bombings. Mukasa said some of those arrested confessed to links with Bin Laden and the Sudanese government.
The Sept. 15 arrests were part of a track of the post-bombing investigation which targeted Al Qaedaís infrastructure, Jonathan S. Landy reported in the US newspaper The Christian Science Monitor, October 8, 1998. The track relied on information from Mohamed Sadek Odeh and Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-Owhali, two suspects in the Nairobi blast, intelligence gathered by the U.S. on Bin Laden since it began studying him in 1992, and a mole inside Al-Qaeda, dubbed CS-1 in court documents.
Bin Laden had lapis lazuli (a semiprecious stone valued for its deep blue color) interests in Uganda according to various reports that have been published since the Sept. 11 US attacks. L'Houssaine Kherchtou testified that he didnít remember if Wadih el Hage, a Bin Laden associate and a defendant in a federal trial alleging conspiracy in the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, sent people to get lapis lazuli stones from Uganda (testimony under cross-examination by Sam Schmidt, counsel for Wadih el Hage, U.S. District Court, February 26, 2001). Kherchtou, a government witness, was a member of al-Qaeda but broke with Bin Laden in 1996, he testified.
Seized along with Wadih el-Hage in his arrest was a business card from the Ministry of Justice in Uganda according to a Sept. 16, 2001 report in the Boston Herald. El-Hage was allegedly Bin Laden's personal secretary from 1992 to 1995, the manager of Bin Laden's Kenyan terrorist cell in 1996-97, and part of the fatal embassy bombing plot in Nairobi in 1998. The card from Uganda was one of many in three business card books El-Hage, 41, had in his home in Arlington, Texas.
Ali Abul-Saud Mustafa, a fugitive Egyptian Islamist radical arrested by U.S. authorities in 1999, visited Uganda during the course of travels to five African countries in 1995 and 1996 (Janeís Intelligence Review, 1 June 1999). Bin Laden assigned Mustafa to gather information about US embassies in Africa in the mid-1990s.
The Associated Press reported Sept. 19, 2001 that there was also an Egyptian, Ali al-Rashidi (also known by Abu-'Ubaydah al-Banshiri), who drowned in Ugandaís Lake Victoria in 1995, two years after he was sent to Africa to recruit members for Bin Ladenís al-Qaeda network.Copyright © 2002 Carl Bialik
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