After the downfall of the Soviet Union, and the bloody Afghan civil war, Osama bin Laden headed to Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the drums of war were rumbling, as Saddam Hussein was preparing his army to take over Kuwait.
Following the confrontation, Bin Laden, conforming to his peers in fundamentalist groups, refused the establishment of a multinational coalition with Britain and the United States to crush Saddam’s army and throw it out of Kuwait. After great difficulties, Bin Laden decided to leave Saudi Arabia and headed to Sudan under a purely investment cover.
He arrived in the capital Khartoum in 1990, which he visited in 1988 for humanitarian reasons due to the destructive floods in the country. There were many reasons why he was attracted to this place; fertile ground for agriculture and investment, old friendships as well the weak influence of the West there.
“The dreaming Mujahid” chose Sudan for a short recess that would not last. The ideas that he shared with his guests, friends, Muslim Brotherhood leaders and those who returned from Afghanistan eventually constituted the nucleus for the historic emergence of al-Qaeda.
Turabi and Bin Laden
Sudanese journalist Attaf Abdelwahab narrates that “Osama bin Laden lived in a three-storey house in the affluent Al-Riyadh neighborhood, east of Khartoum. As soon as he arrived in Khartoum, he founded two major projects; an agricultural project in the Blue Nile and which he called Wadi al-Aqiq and a construction project in northern Sudan as the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation (RCCNS-Sudan) assigned him the task of constructing the strategic Khartoum-Atbara road, or what is now known as Al-Tahadi Road (the challenge road).
The RCCNS was hoping that Osama bin Laden would help them extract the country’s wealth and establish projects that would be beneficial to the country, especially since it was its early days of governance. It was known that the leader of al-Qaeda came to Sudan as an investor.
All of his efforts and intentions were purely directed towards investment in the field of construction, a sector that his family specializes in. Al-Turabi emphasized that Osama had nothing to do with politics and was away from the spotlight during his stay in Sudan.
Bin Laden was happy with the space he had. He was free to move and meet friends and comrades. He was just worried about one thing, the moodiness of Hassan al-Turabi. Bin Laden told one of his visitors, American journalist Lawrence Wright, about his exasperation regarding the personality of Turabi, describing him as Machiavellian.They did not have a good relationship and there were plenty of gossip circulating between them. For instance, Turabi made fun of Bin Laden’s ignorance in Fiqh and sharia.
The 1996 Khobar operation was the result of coordination between Hezbollah- Hijaz, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and al-QaedaFahad Suleiman Shoqiran
Turabi financially exploited Bin Laden and used him politically as a tool for blackmail. However, an important step will mark a radical turning point in the strategies of partnership and hostility between Sunni terrorist organizations and their Shiite correspondents. Journalist Lawrence Wright wrote about this in his book entitled: ‘The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11’.
After two years in Sudan, Bin Laden dedicated himself to come up with a comprehensive plan — the goal was to confront the “crusaders”. He started looking for several tools and sought qualitative advice that would make the end of the twentieth century like a concert full of its share of firebombs so that the new millennium would inaugurate with a movie scene in the form of two aircrafts headed toward destroying two towers. Bin Laden was serious about opening the gates of hell. He had at his disposal human resources and money. He was only short of ideas.
Al-Turabi encouraged Bin Laden to move towards ideas that are more progressive and modern than rigid jurisprudential ideas. Turabi once said, in reference to the idea of Bin Laden’s alliance with Hezbollah: “If organizations cooperate and work together, they can cause many injuries to the enemy”.
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Bin Laden was convinced of the charming idea of the Sudanese leader which he uttered with his famous giggle and cunning smile. Bin Laden assigned the preparations to Mamdouh Salem (known as Abu Hajar al-Iraqi), who is a member of the organization and chose members from the Shiite movement to convince others.
The initiative was crowned with an important meeting between Imad Mughniyah and Osama bin Laden. The latter did not hide his admiration for Hezbollah’s approach in carrying out military operations launched since the early 1980s, and its methods of kidnapping, management of suicide bombings and embassies’ bombings. He wanted those experiences to be infused among al-Qaeda cadres.
A group of the organization’s elite traveled to southern Lebanon for training, under the patronage of Iran and upon its knowledge. It is true that the rapprochement between the two organizations was the brainchild of the cunning Hassan al-Turabi, but the sponsorship came from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and there is striking proof to that.
Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah
Since the early 1980s, Shiite political Islam and Khomeini’s teachings had started making their way to eastern Saudi Arabia, under many labels, publications, and organizations which originated in the 1970s. Nevertheless, the turning point according to the important observer Toby Mathieson as found in his book ‘Hizbullah al-Hijaz’ was in the mid-1980s during which revolutionary doctrines proliferated and snowballed a decade later. In the mid-1990s, the collaboration between al-Qaeda, Iran, and Hezbollah was at its peak. Yusef al-Ayeri, aka Al-Battar (Swift Sword), who was close to Bin Laden trained in the camps of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards inside Iran.
Ayeri later became the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and he was later killed in northern Saudi Arabia in Hail after a long chase on June 2, 2003. He had exquisite field capacities.
The organization enjoyed its most successful tactical stages thanks to the experiences accumulated in the camps of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, until finally its name appeared within a thundering operation on which it had worked on for a long time. On June 25, 1996, a tank filled with tons of TNT hit a US air force residential complex in Khobar, east of Saudi Arabia, killing 19 Americans and injuring hundreds.
This operation echoes the success of the partnership and the development of the coordination between Hezbollah-Hijaz, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Al-Qaeda. Dozens of Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda members were arrested. The two partners Osama bin Laden and Imad Mughniyah blessed this historical operation.
A repentant friend who was arrested after the Khobar bombings because he belonged to Hezbollah-Hejaz told me that one of his prison inmates was al-Qaeda commander Yusef al-Ayeri.
The latter had no problem with any partnership with the Shiite organization in the battlefields, but he never accepted to share a meal with them on the same table. And that is the story of an evil dark alliance.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.