Prince Turki (Time)
HAMBURG, Germany — Two private Saudi companies linked with suspected Al Qaeda cells here and in Indonesia also have connections to the Saudi Arabian intelligence agency and its longtime chief, Prince Turki bin Faisal, according to information assembled by German intelligence analysts.
The Twaik Group and Rawasin Media Productions, both based in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, have served as fronts for the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate, according to an inquiry by Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND.
Twaik, a $100 million-a-year conglomerate, has diverse holdings inside and outside Saudi Arabia. Rawasin reports earnings of about $4 million a year from producing and selling audio and videotapes promoting the Wahhabi version of Islam that is Saudi Arabia’s dominant religion.
The conclusions reached by the BND inquiry were presented to the office of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder late last year and subsequently circulated within the German intelligence community.
The inquiry determined that Twaik, like Rawasin, was what one source described as “an organ of Saudi Arabia intelligence.”
In the late 1990s both Twaik and Rawasin employed Reda Seyam, a 44-year-old Egyptian suspected by Indonesian authorities of having helped finance the Bali nightclub bombing. Germany’s federal prosecutor is investigating Seyam on suspicion of supporting a foreign terrorist organization, namely Al Qaeda.
The German inquiry also discovered that, during 1999 and 2000, Seyam took several flights from Saudi Arabia to destinations in Europe on aircraft operated by the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate, or GID.
The Tribune reported last year that between 1995 and 1998, Twaik deposited more than $250,000 in bank accounts controlled by Mamoun Darkazanli, a Syrian-born Hamburg businessman and longtime Al Qaeda associate with close ties to the Sept. 11 hijackers during their years in the northern port city of Hamburg.
Abdulrahman Al-Fahhad, then the Twaik executive responsible for the company’s rental-car operations in the Balkans, acknowledged hiring Darkazanli in 1995 to supply cars from Germany for Twaik’s branch office in Albania. The money, Al-Fahhad said, had been for Darkazanli’s use in purchasing those cars.
Al-Fahhad also acknowledged hiring Seyam to manage Twaik’s rental-car office in nearby Bosnia-Herzegovina. In telephone interviews last year and earlier this month, Al-Fahhad continued to maintain that he could not remember how he met either Darkazanli or Seyam.
Twaik’s founder and owner of record, Saudi businessman Saleh Abdulaziz Al-Fahhad, did not respond to several written requests for comment on his company’s purported connections with Saudi intelligence, Rawasin and Seyam.
Rawasin did not respond to e-mailed requests for information beyond stating, “You can find our products in Islamic cassette shops.”
The BND inquiry has concluded that Seyam, one of whose specialties was videotaping Muslim fighters in action around the world, was sent to Indonesia by Rawasin a year before the October 2002 Bali bombing that killed 202 people and wounded more than 300.
It is not clear whether Seyam was working on his own or on behalf of Rawasin while he was distributing what Indonesian investigators said was tens of thousands of dollars to militant Islamists in Indonesia, including the convicted mastermind of the Bali bombings.
Neither Seyam nor Darkazanli, both of whom emigrated to Germany in the early 1980s and subsequently became naturalized German citizens, has been charged with any crime in Germany. Darkazanli is the target of a separate investigation by the federal prosecutor into the suspected laundering of Al Qaeda funds.
In 2002 and 2003 Seyam served a 10-month jail sentence in Indonesia for violating that country’s immigration laws. Darkazanli was accused in a Spanish indictment last year of having served as Osama bin Laden’s “financier in Europe.”
According to information gathered by the BND, the relationships between Twaik, Rawasin and the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate were established while the GID was headed by Prince Turki bin Faisal al Saud, the eighth and last son of the late Saudi King Faisal and currently the Saudi ambassador in London.
Prince Turki served as the chief of Saudi intelligence from 1978 until 2001. The Twaik Group was formed in 1985, and Rawasin in 1998, according to business records on file in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. In a March 18 letter faxed to the Tribune, Prince Turki stated only that “I have not developed any relationship with either group.”
Less than two weeks before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, the prince surprised observers by resigning after 23 years as head of Saudi intelligence. The official Saudi news agency said the resignation had been the prince’s decision.
In a February 2002 speech to an alumni reunion at Georgetown University, his alma mater, Turki recalled having met with Osama bin Laden on five occasions in the late 1980s, at a time when both the Saudis and the U.S. were supporting bin Laden and other Muslims battling the Soviet army in Afghanistan.
Turki described bin Laden, whom he met in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, as “a relatively pleasant man, very shy, softspoken.”
If the BND’s conclusions are correct, the linkage of Twaik to Saudi intelligence may resolve a question that has puzzled criminal investigators: Why would a conglomerate that then ranked 67th among all Saudi corporations choose a Muslim ideologue with no apparent business experience to manage its struggling rental-car operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina?
Those conclusions may also explain why a company whose operations within Saudi Arabia range from waste removal to the management of government hospitals undertook not one but two risky business ventures in the strife-torn Balkans, where several Saudi-based Muslim charities were spending tens of millions of dollars to aid the Muslim population.
Relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have been frayed by the Bush administration’s contention that wealthy individuals, companies and Islamic charities in that country may have contributed, consciously or otherwise, to the support of Islamic terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda.
There has been no indication thus far that any agency of the Saudi government or member of the Saudi royal family played a conscious role in supporting terrorist activities. A source familiar with the BND investigation said Saudi government officials outside the GID “probably” had no idea of the relationship among Rawasin, Twaik and the GID.
The BND’s conclusions might also raise questions about whether at least some of the Saudi government’s acknowledged support for armed struggles by Muslims in Afghanistan and elsewhere may have been diverted to attacks on Western interests.
No direct link
No direct connection between Saudi money and the Sept. 11 plotters in Hamburg has been found, though investigators here and in the U.S. continue to search for one. A senior FBI official acknowledged recently that the agency still did not know the “ultimate source” of the estimated $500,000 that financed the Sept. 11 hijackings.
Though both men are free, Seyam and Darkazanli are being kept under surveillance while the federal prosecutor’s investigation of their activities proceeds.
The investigation of Seyam has been hampered by the fact that, until two years ago, supporting a foreign terrorist organization like Al Qaeda was not illegal in Germany.
That loophole, which also has caused problems for the prosecutions of two accused Sept. 11 conspirators in Hamburg, has since been closed. The loophole is not an issue in the Darkazanli investigation, which is focused on ordinary criminal statutes that prohibit money laundering.
The new anti-terrorism statute, forbidding support for any organization foreign or domestic, is not retroactive. A decision on whether to arrest Seyam and to indict him on terrorism charges will depend on what prosecutors learn about his activities after the law was changed in August 2002.
Under German law, intelligence information like that collected about Seyam by the BND cannot be used to build a criminal case, something a source familiar with the BND’s investigation of Seyam described as “very frustrating.”
Seyam still could be charged with an ordinary crime not related to terrorism if the evidence to support such a charge exists. His ex-wife, a German woman named Regina Kreis, has emerged as a leading witness in the criminal investigation, which is being conducted by the German federal police, the BKA.
A ride to Germany
One BKA official, cautioning that his agency was not entirely convinced of Kreis’ credibility, said she had recalled for investigators riding in a car from Bosnia-Herzegovina to Germany with her husband and another man sometime in 1996.
From photographs Kreis identified the mystery passenger as Ramzi Binalshibh, who moved to Germany from Yemen the previous year and would later become the self-described “coordinator” of the Sept. 11 hijacking plot. Binalshibh is now in U.S. custody at an undisclosed location.
The journey with Binalshibh was first disclosed by the German magazine Der Spiegel, which reported last week that German authorities now consider Seyam “to be one of the most important Al Qaeda agents in Europe.”
Another German magazine, Focus, previously quoted Kreis as saying Seyam had been “in touch with Al Qaeda leaders” while the couple was living in Bosnia-Herzegovina and had taken part in a firing squad that executed a Serb in the summer of 1995.
Herbert Gude, a Focus reporter who interviewed Kreis while she was in the BKA’s witness protection program earlier this year, said she had been kept in the dark about her husband’s business affairs and could not explain how and why Seyam had been hired by Twaik.
Kreis, who converted to Islam after her 1988 marriage to Seyam and was divorced by her husband in 2001, was not living with Seyam in Jakarta when he was arrested there in September 2002.
Evidence of financing
Muchyar Yara, the spokesman for the Indonesian State Intelligence Bureau, or BIN, at the time of Seyam’s arrest, said investigators uncovered evidence indicating that Seyam was financing several suspected terrorists in Southeast Asia.
Yara said that when agents searched Seyam’s rented $4,000-a-month house, they recovered documents that included the names of suspected terrorists on Seyam’s payroll.
One of those names was Omar al-Farouq, believed by the U.S. to be a senior Al Qaeda representative in Southeast Asia. It was al-Farouq’s capture in Indonesia in June 2002, Yara said, that led BIN to Seyam.
Seyam’s “salary list,” Yara said, also included the name of Imam Samudra, a Balinese Islamic cleric sentenced to death last year after his conviction for masterminding the Bali attacks.
Samudra has admitted his role in the nightclub bombings. At his trial, Samudra reportedly declared that he was “grateful” for the deaths of more than 3,000 people in the Sept. 11 attacks.
In all, Yara said, Seyam apparently handed out many thousands of dollars during his Indonesian sojourn, including one particularly suspicious expenditure of $74,000 for a “speedboat.”
The BIN never found the speedboat, Yara said, noting that speedboats were “not such a common thing” in Indonesia. But he added that “we can’t say directly that the money was used for the Bali bomb.”
Despite the BIN’s conclusion that Seyam was “a very high-ranking officer of the international terrorism network,” Yara said, he was convicted only of working as a journalist while holding a tourist visa.
Seyam was not prosecuted on terrorism charges, Yara said, partly because of loopholes in the Indonesian anti-terrorism laws, and partly because of his German nationality. “We decided that his case would be better handled by Germany,” Yara said.
When Seyam’s jail sentence ran out in July 2003, he was handed over to the BKA, who returned him to Germany for questioning.
Interviewed by Der Spiegel in the small town near Stuttgart where he now lives, Seyam said he was being “persecuted” because of his reporting of injustices to Muslims while working as a correspondent for Al Jazeera, the Arab-owned satellite TV channel.
Al Jazeera’s Jakarta bureau chief, Othman al-Battiri, said in a telephone interview that Seyam had never been an Al Jazeera correspondent, and that his application for a job as a cameraman had been rejected. Editors at Al Jazeera headquarters in Qatar confirmed that the organization had never employed Seyam.
A heavily bearded man with what acquaintances describe as a brooding manner, Seyam arrived in Germany in the early 1980s to study mathematics in Freiberg. He became a naturalized German citizen after marrying Kreis.
“He was an ordinary Muslim who became a fanatic,” a senior BKA official said.
According to Abdulrahman Al-Fahhad, when Seyam took over the management of Twaik Rent-a-Car’s office in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo in October 1997, his instructions were to liquidate Twaik’s operation.
“We hired him to close the business,” Al-Fahhad said.
But Twaik’s deputy manager in Sarajevo, Haytham Elshazli, remembers Seyam struggling to make Twaik Rent-a-Car a going concern, albeit one with a radical Islamic face.
Soon after taking over Twaik, Elshazli said, Seyam fired the company’s only two female employees. He also brought a copy of the Koran to the office and began playing religious tapes during working hours.
When Seyam discovered that Twaik had rented a car to a woman with dual Israeli and American citizenship, Elshazli recalled, “He said, `Why are you renting to Israeli people, to Jews, to people like that …? You don’t have to be in contact with Jews, with such people.'”
Seyam’s exhortations drove away another Twaik employee, a non-observant Bosnian Muslim who spoke to the Tribune on condition that he not be identified.
“He said, `This is not good, you must have a wife, not a girlfriend, you mustn’t drink, you must go to mosque,'” the former employee recalled.
When the former employee told Seyam he intended to submit his resignation to Abdulrahman Al-Fahhad, he said Seyam replied that that wouldn’t be necessary, because “I’m the owner of Twaik now.”
Once Seyam took charge, Elshazli said, Abdulrahman Al-Fahhad’s inspection visits to Bosnia-Herzegovina ceased. At one point, Seyam brought in a dozen or so Arabs, men Elshazli described as hard-line Islamists, explaining that they were “accountants.”
The men copied every document in the Twaik files, Elshazli said, including the names and addresses of clients from the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo.
Within a few months of Seyam’s taking over, Elshazli was also out the door. “He said, `The company is ours now, and we are not satisfied with you anymore,'” Elshazli recalled. “Six months of nightmare.”
Whether despite Seyam’s efforts or because of them, Twaik’s enterprise in Bosnia-Herzegovina failed, and in 1998 Seyam disappeared from Bosnia-Herzegovina along with Twaik.
According to the BND investigation, he turned up the next year in Saudi Arabia, working for Rawasin Media Productions.
In early 2001 Seyam began shuttling between Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, where he reportedly videotaped fighting between the Muslim majority and the Christian minority in Indonesia’s remote Moluccas Islands. That little-publicized struggle is believed to have claimed thousands of lives over the past four years.
While Seyam was in Riyadh, according to Der Spiegel, “high-ranking Al Qaeda members” were seen visiting his house.
Among Seyam’s alleged visitors, the magazine said, was Osama bin Laden.