What was Osama bin
Laden doing in the Sudan?
... [He] was on business in Sudan. And he was responsible for one of the big projects in Sudan, which is the, the highway which leaves Khartoum northward towards [Atbara] City. ...
When did you become aware that he might be
a problem for you?
In fact, during the attacks against Sudan and accusations towards Sudan of harboring terrorism, Osama bin Laden's name has popped up as one of the names that was targeted by those who were linking Sudan to terrorism.
This was six or seven years ago?
About three to four years ago.
And this was the US government talking to
you about him?
Mostly by the United States and Egypt.
And they were saying that he was sponsoring
assassinations or terrorist acts or what was he doing?
Osama was know to be in Afghanistan before [as] the leader of the group of Arabs who were in Afghanistan and who were financed and trained by the United States. After he came to Sudan, most of those who were linked to him from Afghanistan, they came and settled with him in Sudan. Some of them worked with him in his projects here in Sudan. ...
Most of the Arab youth [who] went there to Afghanistan ... were encouraged by their own respective government[s]. Most of these governments thought that these individuals, after their victory in Afghanistan, they had [a] spirit of being more fundamentalist, and they thought that they were looking forward to establish a fundamentalist or radical Islamic government in their own respective countries. Their presence was unwanted in their own respective countries. It happened at that time Sudan was open to all Arabs. They didn't need a visa to enter Sudan. As well as the Islamic Sheik of the government in Sudan [had] encouraged them to come to Sudan and enter and settle here.
So they were heroes as long as they were
fighting somewhere else but they were unwanted then at home.
Of course they were unwanted in their own
countries. Their presence in Khartoum has its own merits and reasons, but this, of course, did not give them the license to work here from Khartoum to destabilize their own countries or government. They didn't have a license to do that. ...
But a number of the people who have been charged in the United States, Osama bin Laden, Wadih El Hage,
and two others who lived here and worked here in Khartoum--they have been
charged in the Nairobi bombing. It would seem that they were doing or planning
or inclined to do these things.
... What we are sure about is that when they were in Sudan, they were not conducting any activity like that. Actually when we are asked, asked to send [Osama bin Laden] outside the country by the Saudis and others, we told them that it would be better to keep Osama bin Laden in Khartoum because here it is not [worried that he is going] to conduct any activity. He is busy with his own business. We can keep an eye on him ... .
But didn't the United States tell you that
we had evidence in the United States that he was involved in acts in Yemen, that
he was possibly linked to the bombings in Riyadh? That he was doing things.
All these accusations after he left Khartoum, because the bombing of Riyadh, everything, after he already left Sudan. Even the bombing of Riyadh.
Well, Riyadh was in '95.
'96, '96. We are sure that all this is after he left. Before that he didn't have any activity. Only when there was some tension between ... Sudan and Saudi Arabia. He just started doing some political leaflets against the government in Saudi Arabia. This is the only activity he conducted from inside Sudan. After that we had some contacts with the Saudi government. Even those what we called paper activity has been stopped after that agreement with the Saudis, before we sent him out of the country.
But, you know, in 1993 when the United States added you and Sudan to the terrorism list, the allegation is in the official statement that you provided a home base for all of these terrorist organizations. For bin Laden, for Hezbollah, for Hamas,
because that is what you did. You helped them all, giving them a home.
As I said, we had what they called the Afghan Arabs who were staying in Sudan. This has brought all this problems. But when we speak about parties like Hamas or Hezbollah, we don't deny that we had a relation with them. But all these parties, they don't need to stay in Sudan. For example, Hezbollah is a legitimate party in Lebanon. Is part of the parliament, is working there, its activities [are] in the southern part of Lebanon and they don't need the safe haven in Sudan.
So you are not the place where everyone
conspires to kill Americans?
We don't have any interest to make enemies with America or kill
Americans. On the contrary, we would like to have good relations and would like
to bring Americans to work with us in Sudan.
Help me understand or help us in the United
States understand. You met with Osama bin Laden?
What kind of person is he?
He is a very normal person and he is very religious. He believes in Islam and he believes in changing the state and the political Islam. The period that he spent in Afghanistan might have affected his personality to believe that he could change ... politically by military means.
And he had some of his fellow veterans here
in Khartoum with him?
Most of those were, or all of those were around him here. They were mainly working with him on his own projects and they didn't have any other activity other than those business projects that he was doing in Sudan.
But you see, at the same time in the United States, they are investigating the bombing of the World Trade Center and when they are investigating that bombing, they find money flowing from Osama bin Laden to some of the people who were involved in that bombing. And now they find many of those people they have charged in the Nairobi bombing. So from our perspective, it looks like he was here involved with people in the United States who were involved in terrorist acts and then he leaves, but then he and his friends do more. ... I guess I am asking, I am asking you if you can help us understand how they went from Afghanistan to here to apparently being involved in various terrorist acts either in the United States or in Kenya in Dar es
Of course I don't have relationship with him to tell you exactly how he acts, but what I know that when he was in Sudan, he didn't have any activity.
The reason I am asking is that the United
States then says ... you are involved. You are providing aid and support.
Of course the legal principle that the accused is innocent until you prove otherwise. I don't think the American and the US administration is working with this principle. In other countries the accused is convicted, unless otherwise he proves that he is not guilty.
And is that what happened to you when the
cruise missile showed up in Khartoum?
We are very sure of ourselves to the extent that which made us be astonished that how come a big power like the United States came not to know that this factory is only a pharmaceutical factory. This has led us to think that we believe that they know that this plant is innocent. They know that this does not produce any chemical weapons. And it was just bombed for other political reasons. ...
But you know, you do sit and you tell us he wasn't involved in any terrorist acts or planning while he was here in the Sudan. ... You tell us that you have no knowledge of him or his associates since then, and then we go to the US government and they say he was involved while he was here in Yemen. He was involved, they say, in Riyadh. He involved in sending money to people like Ramzi Yousef,
who was involved in the World Trade Center bombing. This is what the US
government says. And the US government says, in documents, I don't know if you
have seen them, that are put out by the US Congress, say that you were involved
with Iraq in chemical warfare. So it is almost like, to you, the sun is shining
and to the US government, it is dark and evil.
We are in the conviction that the United States knows that this information is false and all this informations are fabricated and the sources of this information, also they need to fabricate this information. The sources are Egypt, ... Uganda ... . All of them they have their own problems with Sudan. They are in need of the United States. They find it the easiest way to beat the Sudan and give false information. ...
You say when Osama bin Laden was here he
was not involved in any terrorist activities. You kept a close watch on him.
Today, in the United States, in court there is a document that says that one of his people, Mahmoud Salim,
was here in Khartoum, that he was involved in obtaining explosives, weapons
production, that he was involved in getting communications equipment for your
intelligence services, working with them.
First of all, all our information confirmed that all the accusations against the Mahmoud Salim are false accusations. I think that the American administration has failed to track the perpetrators of the operation of Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. And we think that they tried to convince their own citizens that they are doing something, but they did not hit the real thing about all this matter. We know that Salim used to work with Osama bin Laden but we know that he left Osama bin Laden a long time ago. It doesn't mean that anybody who knew Osama bin Laden, worked with him a certain time, that ... he is involved in anything that Osama bin Laden does. ... Until now we didn't have any information that links anybody related to Osama bin Laden doing anything from inside Sudan. And we do not want to defend Osama bin Laden, but even we believe that there is nothing concrete until now against Osama bin Laden. ...
Okay. Let me change the subject. The other area that is mentioned in the State Department is the attempted assassination of Mubarak
by Egyptian radicals and that some or one fled to the Sudan and that your
security service got involved in this.
From the first day that we got the information that one of these people entered Sudan, we checked our records at the airport and we made sure that this man really entered Sudan.
And did he enter Sudan?
He probably entered Sudan.
We found records that he entered Sudan through the airport after the attempt. But after that you could not trace him. ... Someone would say Mubarak
is not one of your favorite presidents.
We don't deny that we used to have problems with President Mubarak but it is known that we, as Sudanese, we have never been involved in such acts of assassination in Sudan. We don't have this history, even in our own oppositions, we didn't have this history of assassinations. We don't think that assassinating President Mubarak will solve any problem. ...
The New York Times reported that in
February of 1997 that you sent President Clinton a personal letter to allow US
intelligence and counter-terrorism people to come here to the Sudan, to have
access to anything they wanted, to stop terrorism.
That is true. I have sent a letter like this to President Clinton, until this moment we did not get any response to that.
You have ambassadors in the United States.
Have they asked?
It is our ambassador who took the letter and handed it there and tried to follow-up the matter with the White House ... . But nothing came and it was turned down.
See the difficulty for us is that if we
listen to you, then everything the US government is putting out, this
information, is false.
We assure you that all of it is false. And we are ready for any kind of investigation or fact finding, and we already asked for fact finding about Al Shifa.
Even now we are ready to receive any group from the American intelligence to
work on these matters ... . As I said ... I wrote to President Clinton asking
for cooperation. That means we were ready to accept any team from the FBI or CIA
or whatever to come here and work with out people and investigate. But they
refused. That means they were not interested in the truth, in the facts. They
were interested in passing their own false accusations. If they were interested
in the truth they would have sent people to come and investigate.