The Blog

The Pope of Terrorism, Part II

Hassan al-Turabi, Sudan, and the bin Laden-Iraq connection.

12:00 AM, Jul 26, 2005 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Turabi's request for an Iraqi safehaven for bin Laden came at a time when he had openly threatened terrorist retaliation against the United States. The strike on al-Shifa incensed Turabi. According to an account in the Christian Science Monitor shortly after the missile strike, he described the missile strike as an attack on Islam itself and sought to rally the Islamic world to his cause. He threatened, "This is a terrorist act against Sudan, a terrorist act . . . Islam now is entrenched, and no one can remove it by force anymore. If you use force, we can defend ourselves. If you come in peace, we welcome you; if you come to fight us, we can fight back. We are powerful."

Turabi also stressed the importance of bin Laden as a rallying point for the broader Islamic world calling him the "symbol of all anti-West forces in the world" and declaring that "[a]ll the Arab and Muslim young people, believe me, look to him as an example." He was not reserved in his estimate of how revenge would be exacted. According to an account in the New York Times he warned, "When you start fortifying your embassies it becomes very attractive--the Americans have made themselves very attractive targets . . . Probably he [Bin Laden] would try to mobilize friends--ex-Afghan fighters from Arab countries--and try to hit back against the Americans. Anywhere." He further warned that the missile strike would not defeat bin Laden but would instead "create 10,000 bin Ladens."

In an account from UPI in 2001, "a knowledgeable U.S. official" told the press outlet that Turabi sent emissaries to both Saddam and bin Laden in October 1998. "They carried Turabi's hand-written letter analyzing the Middle East situation and U.S. vulnerabilities." Turabi said that the "United States was so preoccupied by internal crisis, that it would be susceptible to a spectacular series of surprise terrorist attacks." The emissaries also discussed the use of chemical and biological weapons to be used in the attacks. This same account is given by Yossef Bodansky in his 1999 book, Bin Laden, The Man Who Declared War on America.

Two months later Saddam dispatched Faruq Hijazi, to meet bin Laden again, just days after the conclusion of Operation Desert Fox on December 21, 1998. This meeting triggered a series of reports about Turabi's role in bringing the two together. An account in Al Watan Al Arabi was typical in this regard:

Information available to these sources confirmed that bin-Ladin began to establish close ties with Iraq at least five years ago, specifically when the leader of Muslim extremists chose to reside in Sudan with the blessing and protection of Dr. Hassan al-Turabi, leader of the National Islamic Movement. These sources asserted that they received in the past few years confirmed and detailed information that cooperation between bin Ladin and Iraq entered 'an important and grave stage' through their cooperation in the field of producing chemical and biological weapons . . .

Additional open source reporting revealed that Turabi's Sudan continued to serve as a meeting place for Iraqi intelligence and al Qaeda throughout 1999. After a flurry of open source reporting from late 1998 into early 1999 the media's interest went cold, however. By that time Turabi had begun to fall out of favor with his past allies in the Sudanese government; in early 2001 he was thrown in jail.

EVEN FROM JAIL, however, his role in bringing Saddam and bin Laden together was reported by the U.S. intelligence community. As the war with Iraq approached, the National Security Agency issued a report in February 2003 which said that "former National Islamic Front leader Hasan al-Turabi served as an intermediary between Saddam and bin Laden."

That former National Islamic Front leader is now freed from jail.

Chances are he is willing, once again, to bring America's enemies together against her.

Thomas Joscelyn is an economist and writer living in New York.