Skip to comments.Bin Laden contact to become Saudi Arabia's man in London
Posted on 10/17/2002 5:55:03 PM PDT by knighthawk
Former spy chief named in September 11 lawsuit is likely to be welcomed by the diplomatic community
SAUDI ARABIA has chosen as its next ambassador to London its controversial former spy chief, a man who courted Osama bin Laden during the Cold War.
According to diplomatic sources, the Saudi authorities have selected as their new envoy Prince Turki al-Faisal, a leading member of the Saudi Royal Family and head of intelligence for nearly a quarter of a century. His appointment is expected to be confirmed within weeks and he is likely to take up his post as early as next month.
The Oxford-educated prince, who is the brother of the Foreign Minister, is well-known and liked among a generation of British diplomats and spies.
He is a major player in Saudi Arabia, one source said. His appointment shows how seriously the Saudis value their relationship with Britain. He knows this country inside out. He is a regular visitor.
However, Prince Turkis arrival is also likely to cause controversy. The prince, 57, was among several leading Saudi figures who were named in a $1 trillion (£643.5 billion) lawsuit filed by the families of the victims of the September 11 attacks, who claimed that he helped to fund bin Ladens terror network.
The outgoing ambassador, Ghazi Algosaibi, was withdrawn after he publicly praised a Palestinian suicide bomber and said that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was worse than the Nazi occupation of Europe.
Although the new envoy has been far less provocative in public statements, he has admitted holding several meetings with the worlds most wanted terrorist, whom he described as very soft- spoken and quite a pleasant man. Most of the meetings took place in Pakistan during the 1980s when Saudi Arabia, at the urging of the CIA, was helping to fund the Afghan Mujahidin fighting the Soviet occupation.
I met bin Laden five times during the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan, he told CNN earlier this year. This is from the mid-80s to 1990. And most of those times were in embassy receptions or in such functions that were held in Islamabad or Peshawar in Pakistan when I was there.
You know, at the time he was a volunteer that helped the Mujahidin against the Soviets with money and with equipment and so on.
After the war, however, bin Ladens relations with the Saudi authorities deteriorated, particularly after Riyadh invited US-led troops into Saudi Arabia to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.
Prince Turki said that he had one final meeting with bin Laden in Saudi Arabia, when he asked for support to overthrow the Marxist Government in South Yemen. Bin Laden turned from the easy-going, laid-back, shy person that I knew and met, to the person he became later on, one of the most violent and, I think, one of the cruellest killers in our modern history, he said in a speech earlier this year to the Centre for Contemporary Arab Studies in Washington.
Their paths crossed again eight years later, when America asked Saudi Arabia to help to catch bin Laden, who had already begun attacking US targets. This time the intelligence chief was sent to Afghanistan in June 1998 to negotiate with Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taleban leader, for bin Ladens arrest. Saudi Arabia was then one of only a handful of countries that recognised the Taleban authorities.
At first the Taleban leader was amenable and willing to negotiate the hand-over of bin Laden. Two months later, however, bin Ladens al- Qaeda organisation launched a simultaneous attack on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. When Prince Turki returned to Afghanistan in September to press for bin Ladens seizure, the Taleban leader accused Saudi Arabia of betraying Islam.
I just cut the meeting short and said I am not going to take any more abuse, Prince Turki said.
As I was leaving I turned to him and I said, Mullah Omar you are going to regret this act. It is going to bring harm not just to you, but to Afghanistan. Prince Turkis prediction was fulfilled last year. But his association with bin Laden and Afghanistan cost the spy chief his job as well.
Prince Turki had been the protégé of the late Kamal Adham, his uncle and the chief of al Istakhbarat al Amiyyah, the Saudi equivalent of MI6. When his uncle was removed from the post by the then Crown Prince Fahd in the late 1970s, Prince Turki took over as the intelligence chief.
He became a powerful and influential figure and developed particularly close links with MI6, making a number of visits to London to meet his British counterparts. After 24 years as head of Saudi intelligence he was removed from his job on August 31 last year, just before the September 11 al-Qaeda terrorist attacks in America.
Even before the attacks, diplomatic sources said that the Saudi Government had come under intense pressure from Washington to replace Prince Turki because of his past association and support for bin Laden. He always believed in keeping up contacts with the former Mujahidin rather than driving them underground, a colleague said.
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