As FBI agents pulled rubble from the bombed embassy buildings in Kenya and Tanzania this past week, they uncovered clues about who was responsible for the blasts. But as they shifted beams and moved broken furniture, did they also peel back layers of history to find out who gave birth to modern terrorism?
If so, the media missed it. Western newspapers and wire services stuck to the superficial story. They all had their favorite candidates for “terrorist of the moment”: Iranians, Syrians, Libyans, Iraqis, Sudanese, even Albanian Muslims. (Wasn’t that in “Wag the Dog”?) To lift a quote from Robert Kupperman, a so-called “terrorism expert”: “The Arabs did it.” As if that were all we needed to know.
But even if–if–that were true, there’s so much more to know, all of it important for understanding the real source of modern terrorism, and who should take the blame for it.
As of last Friday, August 14, the FBI and military intelligence focused their investigation of the bombings on one man: a wealthy, Saudi Arabian businessman named Osama bin Laden.
Now Saudi Arabia is one of our allies, right? So why would a Saudi businessman plant bombs outside U.S. embassies? Well, a major reason is that bin Laden was a former ally of the U.S. The CIA and Saudi intelligence heavily utilized his services during the Civil War in Afghanistan, where he served as a major “point man” for the distribution of millions of dollars in cash and weapons to the Moujahedeen rebels, and where he led his own fighting force of 10,000 men. In addition, he may have built up his vast wealth from both the black market arms trade and the local heroin trade that flourished during and after the war. Certainly, he has benefited from learning guerrilla warfare techniques taught to the Moujahedeen by the CIA–including the art of exploding car bombs outside government and public buildings in order to kill as many people, including civilians, as possible.
But, as we’ve seen with various dictators throughout history–for example, Manuel Noriega or Saddam Hussein–such dogs will often turn on their masters. In the case of fundamentalist Muslim mercenaries who fought in Afghanistan, this has proved to be the rule. The Afghanistan Civil War attracted mercenaries, arms dealers, drug runners, and fanatics from countries all over the world. The only common denominators among them were a very strict interpretation of the Koran and a hatred for both the U.S. and the Soviet Union as secular nations (and especially the U.S. for its support of Israel–although this never stopped them from taking our money and weapons to fight a “holy war”). Once the civil war ended in 1992 and these mercenaries were left to drift, they took their terrorist training, weapons, and drug money off to fight guerrilla wars in India, Kashmir, The Philippines, Sudan, and perhaps also Algeria. Some of them landed in Egypt, where they formed the Islamic Gama’at, a group that bombed tourist facilities and government offices; they were responsible for the Luxor massacre last November of 62 people, most of them tourists. Also, a small group of Moujahedeen veterans ended up in the U.S., where they bombed the World Trade Center in 1993.
Bin Laden is joining the ranks of such people–in fact, he may be leading a coalition of them in a holy war against the U.S., his former master. He currently resides in Afghanistan under the protection of the repressive Taliban government, and reportedly has access to plenty of weapons, explosives, and high tech equipment, including the ability to rent satellite space in order to send and receive messages. Of course, he is able to prosper because of the greed of arms manufacturers.
After decades of war in such places as Mozambique, Angola, Zaire, Rwanda, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Algeria, Chad, Nigeria, Liberia, Morocco, Western Sahara, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Northern Pakistan, and the former Soviet republics, large portions of Africa and the Middle East have been turned into an enormous arms bazaar–the largest arms market in the world. And the U.S. has directly benefited from wars that have devastated entire countries, because the U.S. is the world’s largest arms merchant.
Last year U.S. companies sold $15.2 billion worth of weapons, about 44 percent of the total share of the global arms trade. In addition, developing countries are our largest customers. Saudi Arabia is at the top of the list, with $11 billion in new purchases last year, and Egypt, Iran, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates are not far behind.
As long as these countries need to keep U.S.-trained terrorists at bay, they’ll need our weapons. What better way to ensure profits than to train fanatics and mercenaries and let them loose on the world? Unfortunately, there’s still the matter of blame for the deaths of over 250 people in Kenya and Tanzania. But for U.S. arms dealers, and their champion in the White House, those people are just “collateral damage.” And for the network news guys looking for gripping imagery in the rubble, following the trails of blood and money from their reputable boardroom sources is apparently too complex a story.