When the United States decided to fully embrace the funding and arming of Islamic guerrilla fighters known as the “Mujahideen” to drive out the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, it was a turning point in history. Aside from the blowback, the “War on Terror,” and the enormous death toll that ensued, the strategy was considered an overwhelming “success” and the U.S. continued to engage with radical Islamists in countries like Azerbaijan, Bosnia, and Chechnya throughout the 1990s. If we fast forward to today we now know that Hillary Clinton was cognizant that Saudi Arabia was funding ISIS as “arms exports from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia increased by 97 percent” while she was Secretary of State.
The following is part one of a multi-part series that briefly explores the history of the U.S. government funding extremists throughout the 1980s and 1990s and the narco-arms trafficking business connected with these operations. During the Soviet-Afghan war the CIA funneled millions of dollars and arms to radical Islamists and then went on to do the same in other countries and republics such as Chechnya, the homeland of Boston bombers’ Tamerlan and Jahar Tsarnaev.
This series will also look at the Tsarnaev family’s relationship to the U.S. government, how scant attention has been given to the activities of the Watertown police department and Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s ties to drug trafficking, and how those activities may very well tie in with what was happening in the mid-1990s. Whether or not any of these events played a role in the Boston bombing is unknown but the fact that very few have discussed them in detail perhaps means that we should take a closer look.
The Muslim Brotherhood
In 1928, a school teacher by the name of Hassan al-Bana co-founded the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian organization now considered to be the “oldest political Islamist group in the Arab world.” According to a 2011 Stratfor report, “It was formed as a ‘social movement to pursue the revival of Islam in the country…when secular left-leaning nationalism was rising in the Arab and Muslim world.’” Twenty-five years later, Islamic scholar and writer Sayyid Qutb became a prominent figure of the organization and it was during this time period that Pan-Arabists led by Egypt’s future president, Gamal Nasser, staged a successful coup against the Egyptian government.
Pan-Arabists and Islamists (Muslim Brotherhood) both dreamed of “rescuing the Arab world from the legacies of European imperialism,” but ideological differences between Nasser’s Arab nationalism and the Brotherhood’s Islamist movement led to conflict. According to a U.S. cable from the embassy in Cairo:
“Shortly after the revolution, a 1953 decree banning political parties was deemed not to apply to the MB [Muslim Brotherhood] on the grounds that it was not a political party. Nonetheless, in 1954, Nasser invoked the decree, dissolving the MB, which was plotting his overthrow…In 1960, MB dissenters, lead by Sayyed Qutb, openly advocated the use of violence to overthrow Nasser’s ‘apostate regime.’ Once again, massive arrests of MB leaders and members took place.”
Qutb was imprisoned, released, re-arrested and finally hanged in 1966 after a failed attempt to assassinate then-President Nasser. His writings would go on to inspire al-Qaeda and other extremist groups.
Anwar Sadat succeeded Gamal Nasser as Egypt’s third president on October 15, 1970, but his peace deal with Israel in 1979 led to his assassination two years later. According to alijazeera.com, “War and peace with Israel defined Sadat’s presidency,” and in 1977 he became the first Arab leader to make an official visit to Israel. A year later, Sadat and then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed the Camp David Accords at the White House followed by a peace treaty that “ended hostilities between the two nations and returned control of the Sinai to Egypt.”
After being banned from Egypt because of its “early aim of overthrowing the Egyptian government,” the Muslim Brotherhood renounced violence and adopted a social services and education agenda under Sadat’s presidency. Although members of the organization jailed previously under Nasser were released under Sadat’s leadership, the renunciation splintered the Brotherhood giving birth to the extremist groups Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) and al Jama’a al-Islamiyya (“Islamic Group” or IG).
In 1980, the EIJ, led by co-founder Muhammad Abdul-Salam Farai, formed a coalition with al Jama’a al-Islamiyya which was originally formed as a (splinter) Sunni Islamist movement on university campuses and led by spiritual leader Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman. A year later and in retaliation for his 1979 peace agreement with Israel, a member of the EIJ gunned down Sadat during an annual victory parade. Al Jama’a was implicated in the plot.
Sadat’s assassination led to the arrest of hundreds of activists including Farai and Ayman al-Zawahir but unlike Farai, al-Zawahiri managed to escape execution and was eventually released. He became the new leader of EIJ and later went on to head al-Qaeda after Osama bin Laden’s death.
Huma Abedin and the Muslim World League
During this same period Hillary Clinton’s close associate and vice chair of her 2016 presidential campaign, Huma Abedin, and her family moved from the United States to Saudi Arabia where her father, Syed Abedin, became director of the London-based Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs, an initiative of the Muslim World League (MWL).
“First launched in 1978 and incorporated in London in 1983, the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs (IMMA) was established with the objective of studying the demographic and socio-economic situation of Muslim minority communities wherever they may reside. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, the work of the IMMA continues to follow the mission inspired by the dynamic and visionary leadership of the founding director of the Institute and chief editor of its publications, Dr. Syed Z. Abedin, who died in June 1993.”
The institute published an academic journal that became the Abedins’ family business and according to Jorgen S. Nielsen’s Contemporary Discussions on Religious Minorities in Islam, it had “the quiet but active support of then General Secretary of the Muslim League, Dr. Umar Abdallah Nasif” (a.k.a. “Naseef”). The journal and the MWL, the latter of which was established in Saudi Arabia in 1962, appear to share the same office address in London.
The MWL is also behind the Rabita Trust, International Islamic Relief Organization and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), an international Islamic educational organization associated with a website that was later used by Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev to communicate with William Plotnikov, a Canadian who was killed in Dagestan after traveling there to fight for the Islamist resistance.
The Soviet-Afghan War
After the Soviet-friendly Prime Minister of Afghanistan, Daoud Khan, overthrew the king in 1973, abolished the monarchy, and declared himself president, he “cracked down on Islamic groups, forcing their leadership to flee to Pakistan.” According Gary C. Schroen’s First In, Pakistan was “worried about the growing communist influence within the Daoud government,” and welcomed them with open arms. Daoud also adopted a campaign against Afghan communists exacerbating relations between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. He was eventually overthrown and murdered in 1978, along with eighteen members of his family by the Soviet-backed People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA).
Immediately after taking over the country, PDPA leader Nur Mohammed Taraki began “constructing a personality cult” and exiling Afghan communist rivals. Dissidents were hunted down, murdered, or they simply disappeared hastening an already deteriorating relationship with the Soviets. In December 1978, they signed a peace treaty but it failed to quell growing unrest. Like Daoud, in September 1979, he was overthrown and murdered by supporters of then-Prime Minister Hafizullah Amin, a rival Afghan communist politician. The Soviets and KGB suspected that Amin was working with the CIA and “pretending to be loyal to Moscow while secretly seeking partnerships with Pakistan and China.” Jeffrey St. Clair via Counterpunch:
“In September 1979 Taraki was killed in a coup organized by Afghan military officers. Hafizullah Amin was installed as president. He had impeccable western credentials, having been to Columbia University in New York and the University of Wisconsin. Amin had served as the president of the Afghan Students Association, which had been funded by the Asia Foundation, a CIA pass-through group, or front. After the coup Amin began meeting regularly with US Embassy officials at a time when the US was arming Islamic rebels in Pakistan.”
On December 27, 1974, Amin was assassinated inside the presidential palace, three days after Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan. The U.S. government, heavily concerned with Russia’s growing influence, implemented what is now known as “Operation Cyclone.” According to Professor Robert Billard Jr. in Operation Cyclone: How the United States Defeated the Soviet Union:
“The organization of a communist regime in Afghanistan, now fully supported by the Soviet Union, was of great importance to strategic interests of the United States. This was especially pertinent when, in February 1979, the Western friendly monarchy in Iran, led by the Shah, was dissolved and an anti-American Islamic Republic established in its place. To add to this, the ruling Ba’athist party (led by Saddam Hussein) of Iraq was strongly supported by the Soviet Union, as well as Soviet influence in Syria, Yemen, and Ethiopia.”
Three weeks after the Soviet invasion, the United States turned to China and Egypt for weapons and support:
“[President] Carter’s secretary of defense, Harold Brown, was in Beijing, arranging for a weapons transfer from the Chinese to the CIA-backed Afghani troops mustered in Pakistan. The Chinese, who were generously compensated for the deal, agreed and even consented to send military advisers. Brown worked out a similar arrangement with Egypt to buy $15 million worth of weapons. ‘The US contacted me,’ Anwar Sadat recalled shortly before his assassination. ‘They told me, “Please open your stores for us so that we can give the Afghans the armaments they need to fight.” And I gave them the armaments. The transport of arms to the Afghans started from Cairo on US planes.’”
And in an effort to shut down what the U.S. saw as a growing communist threat to Western interests, the CIA began to quietly and without congressional approval support the Afghan resistance. As a way to keep their presence out of Afghanistan they funneled millions of dollars through Pakistan’s intelligence agency, Inter-Services (ISI), and it was Zbigniew Brzezinski, then-U.S. Security Advisor to President Carter, who helped create and execute the plan known as Operation Cyclone:
“… the second course of action led to my going to Pakistan a month or so after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, for the purpose of coordinating with the Pakistanis a joint response, the purpose of which would be to make the Soviets bleed for as much and as long as is possible; and we engaged in that effort in a collaborative sense with the Saudis, the Egyptians, the British, the Chinese, and we started providing weapons to the Mujaheddin…”
The majority of money and arms was dispersed to extremist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Afghan politician and CIA darling who “made his public debut at the University of Kabul by killing a leftist student.” In 1969, Hekmatyar co-founded the university’s Muslim Youth Organization along with other students and faculty like Burhanuddin Rabbani who founded the Islamist Afghani political party, Jamiat-e-Islami, and Ahmed Massoud known as the “Lion of the Panjshir.” Rabbani and Massoud went on to form the Northern Alliance against the Taliban after the Soviet-Afghan war ended.
Hekmatyar, far more radical than his counterparts, eventually left the group and founded Hezb-e-Islami, a radical Islamist organization whose ideology stemmed from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Rabbani’s political party. From author William Blum’s Afghanistan, 1979-1992: America’s Jihad:
“His name was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. He was the head of the Islamic Party and he hated the United States almost as much as he hated the Russians. His followers screamed ‘Death to America’ along with ‘Death to the Soviet Union’… some of them had kidnapped the American ambassador in the capital city of Kabul, leading to his death in the rescue attempt…”
And according to Counterpunch:
“He urged his followers to throw acid in the faces of women not wearing the veil, kidnapped rival leaders, and built up his CIA-furnished arsenal against the day the Soviets would leave and the war for the mastery of Afghanistan would truly break out.”
Although it’s stunning that someone as radical and anti-American as Hekmatyar received the majority of money and arms from Pakistan during a CIA-funded jihad, the war wasn’t just about the Soviets and Hekmatyar’s prowess on the battle field. Ethnicity played a role, as well.
The Durand Line
In 1893, while Pakistan was still under British rule, the British Indian government and the Emir of Afghanistan signed an agreement that created the Durand Line which we know today as the international border between Afghanistan to the north and Pakistan to the south. However, at the time of the agreement it appears that neither party took into consideration the two major ethnic groups living in the region: The Pashtuns and the Punjabis which make up the largest ethnic groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, respectively. Both groups are mainly composed of Sunni Muslims.
When they carved up the area a large population of Pashtuns—more than half of the entire population to be exact—was living in the northern region of Pakistan. Thus, when the Durand Line was created following the topography of the land rather than ethnic boundaries it split the Pashtuns into two separate countries. In other words, more than half of the Pashtun population living in northern Pakistan found themselves under Punjabi rule.
Fast forward to 1973 when Daoud came to power in Afghanistan. He was a strong proponent of “Great Pashtunistan” (bringing the two regions together) which naturally alarmed Pakistan. So when the CIA’s favorite insurgent Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an ethnic Pashtun, fled to Pakistan in the early 1970s during Daoud’s crackdown, he was welcomed and trained by General Naseerullah Babar, a fellow ethnic Pashtun. According to Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars, “Babar and Hekmatyar, both ethnic Pashtuns, soon became confidants, and together they hatched a plan for an uprising against Daoud in 1975.” After the uprising failed:
“[It caused] a split among the Afghan exiles, with bad blood all around. Hekmatyar created his own organization, Hezb-e-Islami (Islamic Party), composed primarily of ethnic Pashtuns, and he forged close relations with ISI. Massoud stuck by Rabbani in Jamaat-e-Islami (Islamic Society), which was made up mostly of ethnic Tajiks.”
The debate over the Durand Line continues today:
“A brief, albeit bitter, exchange about the Durand Line between the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and the retired Pakistani general-turned-politician Naseerullah Babar is worth sharing.
Over a meal, Babar asked Omar if the latter recognised the Durand Line, ‘all problems would be resolved.’ Omar took serious offence at his guest’s unsolicited advice and, going against the grain of the Pashtun code of honour, shouted at Babar to stop eating and leave the place at once — calling Babar, who was an ethnic Pashtun, a ‘traitor.’”
Although it’s unknown if ethnicity was the deciding factor for which warlord received the most CIA booty, it seems likely that it had at least some influence. So it was Hekmatyar who became close to General Babar, other high-ranking Pakistani officials, and received the lion’s share of money and arms. And every U.S. dollar the CIA funneled through Pakistan’s intelligence service was matched by Saudi Arabia.
So what happens when the CIA and Saudi Arabia decide to adopt a foreign policy strategy that involves financing Islamic extremists? The Muslim World League’s umbrella organizations, splinter groups like the EIJ, and other organizations like Maktab al-Khidamat set up shop in Peshawar to recruit, finance, and train the Mujahideen against Soviet troops.
Funding, Drug Trafficking, and Propaganda
Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK)
In 1984, Osama bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam from King Abdul-Aziz University, the same higher learning institute where Huma Abedin’s father had taught, collaborated with EIJ leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to form Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK or “Afghan Services Bureau”), an organization used to raise funds and recruit foreign Mujahideen for the war.
They worked closely with Hekmatyar and the Muslim World League’s International Relief Organization. From Adam Fitzgerald’s From Pakistan to New York City, the Maktab al-Khidamat:
“The bureau at first existed in the Muslim Student Union building at Peshawar University. However it quickly came to an end as the influx of Arabs daily at the union office was not met with enthusiasm for the students there. In November 1984, Bin Laden would visit Peshawar, and he would rent a house which would become the base of operations for the bureau.”
“By 1985 the bureau adds another house named Bayt Abu Uthman. This house was used for the foreign and Saudi donors and VIP’s coming to aid in the conflict. Bin Laden would then rent another guest house named Bayt al-Ansar. Then another is also added, Bayt al-Shuhada. By 1988, there would be seven buildings operating as the Mahktab al-Khidamat.”
In 1986, MAK, again an organization co-founded by bin Laden and the leader of an organization that assassinated Egyptian President Sadat, was allowed to open dozens of recruitment centers throughout the United States including in Arizona and Brooklyn, New York, the latter of which was created under the name “Alkifah Refugee Center.”
Numerous intelligence sources and news outlets have reported on the CIA’s involvement and recently released documents on the war in Afghanistan confirm, yet again, that not only was the CIA funding the Mujahideen via Pakistan, they deliberately hid the fact that they were (with emphasis):
Attachment A is a complete list of the arms and ammunition given to the Afghan insurgents by Pakistan as of 26 February 1980.2 This list, given to us by the responsible Pakistan liaison officer, tallies with the list of supplies provided by this Agency [CIA] to Pakistan as of that date…
a. 60 AK–47 Assault rifles,
b. 60,000 rounds of AK–47 ammunition,
c. 20,000 rounds of .303 ammunition,
d. 200 magnetic anti-tank mines, and
e. 3 RPG–7 launchers and no more than 50 rockets.
During the week of 24 February the delivery to Gailani consisted of:
a. “About” 200 magnetic anti-tank mines,
b. “About” 60 anti-tank rockets, and
c. 30 AK–47 Assault rifles and a quantity of ammunition…
In sum, the weapons and supplies supplied by this Agency appear to be getting through to the insurgents and without the U.S. hand showing.
And according to Andrew G. Marshall from Geopolitical Monitor, the U.S. didn’t even wait for the Soviets to roll into Afghanistan. They had been funding the Afghan resistance well before. “In 1998, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, said in an interview with a French publication, Le Nouvel Observateur, that the US intervention in the Afghan-Soviet war did not begin in the 1980s, but that, ‘it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul,’ which precipitated the Soviet invasion into Afghanistan.”
The Rabita Trust
Numerous organizations were used to collect money for the Mujahideen or the Taliban after the Soviet-Afghan war ended including the now-defunct Rabita Trust established in the late 1980s by the Muslim World League’s Omar Naseef. Naseef is the one who gave the Abedin family business his blessing and perhaps it should be pointed out that numerous articles over the past few years have referenced Huma Abedin and her ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. This series isn’t about debating the merits of those accusations but it is important to note that the Muslim Brotherhood is an Egyptian organization formed back in 1928. The Abedin family works under the Muslim World League, a “quasi-government religious organization” formed in Saudi Arabia. Despite reports that the Muslim Brotherhood was influential in MWL’s founding, it’s important to note the difference.
With that said, despite the Muslim Brotherhood renouncing violence in the 1970s, it’s also important to remember that although the Brotherhood may “often differ in their public facing strategies, they are ultimately bound together by their shared ideology and their vision for an Islamic state governed by Islamic law.” Think Sayyid Qutb’s early teachings and Islamism vs. Nassar’s Arab nationalism. According to counterextremism.com:
“[T]he Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Iran—share more than deep ideological underpinnings, and their similarities far outweigh their differences. Long-term regional goals have also spurred various forms of cooperation between these groups—for example, between ISIS’s Sinai branch and the Brotherhood-affiliated Hamas, or between Iran and the Brotherhood against Saudi Arabia—as some Middle East governments rally against Islamism and Qutb-inspired jihadist groups.”
As for the MWL’s Rabita Trust, according to the United Nations Security Council (post-9/11), the trust was “a non-governmental organization based in Pakistan” that provided “logistical and financial support to Al-Qaida.” The trust was managed by Saudi citizen Wa’el Hamza Jalaidan and according to the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations:
“The Peshawar, Pakistan MWL [Muslim World League] branch office was taken over for a time by Wael Hamza Jalaidan…an old friend of Usama Bin Laden and Abdallah Azzam…U.S. authorities have also alleged personal contacts between Jalaidan and senior military lieutenants of Bin Laden, including Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri [EIJ] and now captured terrorist mastermind Abu Zubaydah.”
Members of the trust included Pakistan’s Minister of Finance and Saudi Prince Talal ibn Abdul Aziz as well as the president of the Council of Saudi Chamber of Commerce. The Congressional record also reflects that Jalaidan helped bin Laden “move money and men to and from the Balkans,” a likely reference to the subsequent wars that took place in Bosnia and/or Kosovo after the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan. Jalaidan was also named as one of the original co-founders of MAK and al-Qaeda.
Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI)
The Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) was also used by the CIA to move funds earmarked for the Soviet-Afghan war before the agency was publicly accused of having “co-opted the bank to turn it into a financier of covert intelligence activity such as arms sales to Iran, the profits of which went to aid the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.”
“The CIA kept funds at various BCCI branch offices, and it allegedly used BCCI’s home office in Pakistan as a conduit for some of the $2 billion in secret U.S. aid to mujahedin rebels fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan. A large chunk of that covert funding…was allegedly stolen by corrupt Pakistani officials using BCCI accounts.”
2 billion dollars in taxpayer money...stolen for a war Americans didn’t even know they were funding.https://www.youtube.com/embed/A9RCFZnWGE0?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en-US&autohide=2&wmode=transparent
BCCI was considered the “main international financial vehicle” for Pakistan’s intelligence agency according to WikiLeaks documents and just like the Iran-Contra scandal, they were engaged in drug trafficking with the CIA’s help:
“Nowhere, however, was the CIA more closely tied to drug traffic than it was in Pakistan during the Afghan War. As its principal conduit for arms and money to the Afghan guerrillas, the agency chose the Pakistan military’s Inter-Services Intelligence Bureau. The ISI in turn steered the CIA’s support toward Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Islamic fundamentalist. Mr. Hekmatyar received almost half of the agency’s financial support during the war…But many of his commanders were also major heroin traffickers….Soon the trucks that delivered arms to the guerrillas in Afghanistan were coming back down the Khyber Pass full of heroin.”
According to Counterpunch, there were at least seven warring factions in Afghanistan fighting for territory and control of the opium fields. Hekmatyar alone reportedly controlled six heroin factories and in 1989, he took control of the Helman Valley fields which were producing 260 tons of opium a year.
“The CIA was paying for everything regardless. The opium revenues were ending up in offshore accounts in the Habib Bank, one of Pakistan’s largest, and in the accounts of BCCI, founded by Agha Hasan Abedi, who began his banking career at Habib. The CIA was simultaneously using BCCI for its own secret transactions.”
As The New York Times explained in 1993, the war in Afghanistan created “another Golden Triangle: the Golden Crescent, sweeping through Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of the former Soviet Union. Many of those involved in the drug traffic are men who were once armed, trained and financed by the CIA.”
As to how the CIA got away with it for so long? Propaganda, of course. According to a 2010 Consortium News article, the U.S. government established the “Afghan Media Project,” run by Joachim Maitre who worked with Oliver North during the Iran-Contra scandal. Just how over the top was it? “On one especially memorable occasion when Afghanistan’s hard-line Islamists visited the White House, President Ronald Reagan described them as the Muslim world’s ‘moral equivalent of our founding father.” Based on the fact that America was built on slavery some might argue that Reagan was right.
Featured artwork by artist, journalist, and writer Jareth Copus (@RodionPress). You can find more of his work and donate at: https://www.patreon.com/jareth
Original Featured image: Ronald Reagan meets with the Mujahideen in the Oval Office in 1983. In 1985, the CIA also flew Hekmatyar to the U.S. but he refused to meet with Reagan because it would undermine him “throughout the Islamic world” (and yet we kept funding him). So for this press conference held two years later he was “replaced” with Younis Khalis, the godfather of the Taliban which was founded and came to power in Afghanistan a little more than a decade later. During Hekmatyar’s trip to the U.S. he was reportedly hosted by Zalmay Khalizad, a “neocon Operation Cyclone agent” who worked closely with Brzezinski and has reportedly been leading negotiations with the Taliban for the last year. In fact, he just met with the “head of the new Taliban team” two months ago. Read Alex Rubinstein’s Trump’s Taliban Talks Led by Neocon Operation Cyclone Agent & PNAC Member via mintpressnews.com for more.
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