Monday, May 8, 2006, updated Friday, May 12, 2006

Bush CIA Nominee Turned Blind Eye As Arms Flowed To Al Qaeda In 1994, 1995

Michael V. Hayden's European Command Failed To Interdict Military Supplies To Bin Laden Terror Network in Bosnia

Gen. Michael V. Hayden

By J.M. Berger

From 1993 to 1995, money, arms and expertise flooded from the United States to al Qaeda military networks in Bosnia-Herzegovina -- all under the watchful eye of Gen. Michael V. Hayden -- then chief of U.S. military intelligence in the region and named Monday as President Bush's nominee to take over the CIA. (related story)


Hayden served as director of the U.S. European Command Intelligence Directorate, based in Stuttgart, Germany, from May 1993 to October 1995. He subsequently went on to lead the secretive National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005.


Hayden's role at the NSA has commanded the lion's share of media coverage so far, in part due to his involvement in the controversial wiretapping program and a telephone database program disclosed Thursday in USA Today (link). But equally serious questions exist about his involvement with U.S. initiatives that directly aided al Qaeda and may have even helped fund the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.


Hayden's role in Bosnia is far from clear, but his name has been linked repeatedly to allegations that the American government provided arms and other support to al Qaeda-linked militants inside Bosnia – support that continued even after investigations stemming from the World Trade Center bombing revealed a direct link between the Bosnia initiative and terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.


  • Hayden accompanied U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke on a trip to Croatia in November 1994, during which Holbrooke told the Bosnian government that the U.S. would encourage third-party countries to make covert shipments of arms and supplies for the use of al Qaeda's Bosnian network, in violation of a U.N. embargo.

  • Three months after the meeting, mysterious nighttime airlifts of arms and supplies to Bosnian Muslims began to pass through Hayden's intelligence apparatus unhindered, prompting U.N. observers to accuse the U.S. of deliberately allowing the so-called "black flights" to pass.

  • The official representing Bosnia at the November 1994 meeting (in which Holbrooke gave explicit approval to violations of the embargo) also sat on the board of a Vienna charity funded by Osama bin Laden. That charity – the Third World Relief Agency – directly shipped arms from the Sudan to Bosnian militants and also sent more than $40,000 in cash to the New York terrorist cell responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.


Hayden "had access to virtually all intelligence" generated by the U.S., U.N. and NATO regarding military activity in the Balkans, according to a 450-page report commissioned by the Dutch government to document a wide range of intelligence activity in Bosnia.[1]


Yet Al Qaeda operatives openly exploited U.S. political support for Bosnian Muslims to spearhead a global expansion of Osama bin Laden's anti-American jihad thoughout Hayden's entire tenure as senior military intelligence commander in the region.


Al Qaeda-linked militant in Bosnia with rocket launcher. Source: Jihadist propaganda video, The Martyrs of BosniaOn Hayden's watch, illegal arms ran through the U.N. embargo like water through a sieve, with the implicit or explicit blessing of the U.S. government, and arms and other supplies frequently ended up in the hands of known al Qaeda members. U.S. support for the arms shipments – and Hayden's failure to enforce the embargo – continued even after a high-profile member of the Bosnian network was convicted of plotting to blow up U.N. headquarters in New York City.


Hayden's sophisticated intelligence apparatus somehow failed to interdict the "black flights" – in which 132-foot wide, 155-ton cargo planes (accompanied by fighter jet escorts) transported arms and supplies from Sudan and Iran to mujahideen forces fighting on behalf of the Bosnian government.


Sources pointing to Hayden's role and the overall context of al Qaeda's Bosnian network include a 1996 Senate Select Committee probe of the arms shipments, al Qaeda documents and videotapes describing the activities of the Bosnian mujahideen, court transcripts related to the New York City terror cell, and additional court documents related to al Qaeda's misuse of charity funding.


Hayden has never been compelled to publicly testify about the events that took place in Bosnia during his time on station, yet many significant and disturbing questions remain – questions which are exponentially magnified by the prospect he could take the reins of the CIA.  




In early 1995, U.N. peacekeepers reported sighting nighttime flights into the Tuzla airbase in Croatia. The flights were not logged according to normal procedure for friendly aircraft. Under cover of darkness, Hercules C-130 aircraft were escorted by fighter jets to Tuzla, where they deposited crates of arms and supplies in violation of a U.N. weapons embargo on the region. Sightings of the "black flights" were reported by British and Norwegian military officers, among others.[2]


Weapons shipped to al Qaeda fighters in Bosnia. Source: Jihadist video propaganda, Fath Al-Mubeen After being dropped in Tuzla, the arms were shipped by land or air into Bosnia, destined for the Bosnian Muslim army, which included both official and irregular mujahideen regiments with extensive links to al Qaeda. The shipments included "weapons, ammunition, uniforms, helmets, new anti-tank weapons and Stingers," according to the Dutch intelligence survey.[3]


"Either the mission was carried out by powers capable of neutralizing the radar surveillance or it was made with the consent and support of the authorities commanding the assets in the area at the time," wrote Lt. Col. Christopher Le Hardy in a British Intelligence report dated Feb. 15, 1995. The "black flights" took place during period when only American planes were monitoring the Tuzla region. Le Hardy was pressured to change his report after U.S. officials protested.[4]  


Several European U.N. observers believed the operation was either conducted or condoned by the U.S. military intelligence apparatus, then commanded by Hayden. "They were American arms deliveries," said a British general with access to that country's Tuzla intelligence. "No doubt about that."[5]


No official investigation has ever reached a public finding regarding the origins of the flights themselves. However, the contents of the arms shipments were another matter. Both directly and indirectly, a significant portion of the supplies shipped to Bosnian Muslim fighters would be traced back to U.S. soil.




Al Qaeda-linked militant wearing new uniforms circa 1995, in a video associated with the Benevolence International Foundation. Source: Jihadist propaganda video, The Martyrs of BosniaMany of the arms shipments are believed to have originated in Iran. The LA Times reported in April 1996 that "President Clinton secretly gave a green light to covert Iranian arms shipments into Bosnia in 1994." The most infamous "green light" incident eventually became the subject of a 1996 Senate probe.


According to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:


"In April 1994, Croatian President Tudjman asked the U.S. Government what its view would be if Croatia resumed transshipment of arms to Bosnia (which U.S. officials knew would come primarily from Iran). National Security Advisor Tony Lake told the Committee that the U.S. decision to have Ambassador Galbraith reply that he had 'no instructions' was taken in the belief that this would likely result in Croatia going ahead with the resumed arms flow, and with that specific intent."[6]


The "no instructions" instruction trickled down the line, its effect magnifying into overt assurances during the next several months.


In November 1994, Richard Holbrooke – the Clinton Administration's diplomatic envoy to Bosnia – traveled to Zagreb, Croatia, accompanied by Gen. Hayden.[7] During the trip, Holbrooke met with Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic. (The record does not reflect whether Hayden attended the meeting.)


Holbrooke reportedly proposed to Silajdzic that the Bosnians accept the arms embargo for the next six months, in exchange for which the U.S. would encourage third-party countries to violate the arms embargo and ship additional military supplies to the Bosnians.


The "black flight" arms shipments to Tuzla began just three months later.[8] Gen. Hayden's intelligence apparatus failed to interdict and purportedly failed even to detect the covert shipments.


Later in 1995, U.S. government officials (including Holbrooke) abandoned all pretense of enforcing the embargo and signed off on specific shipments of rockets to Bosnia, after inspecting the weapons at the request of Croatian officials.[9]


Contemporaneous newspaper accounts charged that Hayden's colleague, deputy of the European Command Gen. Charles Boyd, also agreed to help facilitate covert assistance to Bosnian Muslims. The assurance was allegedly made during a secret meeting with the Bosnian Army's 6th Corps some time prior to November 1994. Holbrooke, who also attended the Boyd meeting, asserted to the Senate Select Committee under oath that no secret deal had been arranged, and the panel recorded that assertion as the whole of its investigation into the allegation.[10]




The November "green light" meeting in Zagreb took place more than 18 months after the U.S. government arrested members of the Bosnian mujahideen network for taking part in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.  


Al Qaeda-linked militant wearing new boots, as highlighted in the original video, which is associated with the Benevolence International Foundation. Source: Jihadist propaganda video, The Martyrs of BosniaAlmost immediately after the outbreak of hositilities in the region, al Qaeda group sent operatives into Bosnia with explicit orders to create a European base.[11] From the beginning, al Qaeda's intention was to launch military operations inside Bosnia, in support of the Bosnian Muslim government, and terrorist operations outside Bosnia.[12]


In the fall of 1992, al Qaeda sent an operative named Jamal al-Fadhl (who later turned government informant) to Zagreb, Croatia, in order to collect intelligence and investigate business opportunities on behalf of Osama bin Laden.


During meetings with al Qaeda members[13], al-Fadhl was told that the Chicago-based Benevolence International Foundation had funded weapons purchases for the mujahideen, with the assistance of Mohamed Loay Bayazid, aka Abu Rida al-Suri, an Syrian-American and one of al Qaeda's founding members.


Extensive inventories of covert supplies, including weapons, received by the Bosnian Muslims[14] throughout the conflict closely correlate with receipts for non-weaponry military supplies paid for by the Benevolence International Foundation.[15] The non-weapons supplies documented by BIF included new uniforms and boots for the mujahideen.


But some of the most devastating evidence of the Bosnian terror connection would surface far closer to home.




New York City native Clement Hampton-El fought with the mujahideen in Afghanistan in 1988. During his time in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Hampton-El met several members of the nascent al Qaeda organization. Hampton-El returned to New York later that year, where he involved himself in various jihadist causes.


Omar Abdel Rahman, shown in the Jihadist propaganda video, The Martyrs of BosniaIn August 1992, Hampton-El agreed to help recruit operatives to fight in Bosnia and to train other mujahideen for the effort. Over the course of 1993, members of Hampton-El's training group were arrested and indicted for complicity in the February bombing of the World Trade Center and a subsequent plot to bomb the U.N. and other New York City landmarks.[16]


Investigators discovered that, in January and February of 1993, Hampton-El made at least three trips to a Bosnia-related charity in Vienna, where he received large cash payments that he took back to New York.


Hampton-El received more than $40,000 in cash from Third World Relief Agency,[17] a Vienna-based charity with deep ties to Osama bin Laden, which was also directly implicated in the covert arms shipments to Bosnia. He smuggled the money back to New York over the course of three trips, where it was used by the New York terrorist cell led by Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman.


TWRA was founded by al-Fatih Ali Hassanein, a Sudanese diplomat directly tied to bin Laden and Rahman. In addition to the $40,000 payment couriered by Hampton-El, TWRA distributed videotapes of Rahman's sermons widely across Europe. [18] Rahman made several phone calls to the TWRA offices during the period before his arrest.  TWRA had been funded directly by Osama bin Laden as well as other wealthy Saudi patrons of jihad, to the tune of $300 million.[19]


Despite the fact that TWRA had been linked to the World Trade Center bombing as early as 1993, the State Department made overt efforts throughout the 1990s to protect TWRA from the scrutiny of investigators.


"We were told [by Washington] to watch them but not interfere," an unnamed Western diplomat told the Washington Post. "Bosnia was trying to get weapons from anybody, and we weren't helping much. The least we could do is back off. So we backed off."[20]


TWRA's team of supporters and board of directors boasted several Bosnia dignitaries – including Haris Silajdzic, the Bosnian official who received assurances that the U.S. would encourgage violations of the arms embargo during Holbrooke and Hayden's November 1994 trip to Zagreb.


In 1992, Silajdzic had traveled to Vienna to issue a bank guarantee for Hassanein.[21] That same year, TWRA helped smuggle arms into Bosnia – not just from Iran, but from Khartoum, Sudan, where Osama bin Laden was in the process of relocating al Qaeda. The arms were eventually shipped to the Bosnians via Tuzla. [22]


Related Story: What Did Hayden Know About the Srebrenica Massacre?

This article is the first in a series on U.S. support for al Qaeda in the Balkans.



[1] "Intelligence and the war in Bosnia 1992 – 1995: The role of the intelligence and security services," Chapter 8, Section 7. See The full report, commissioned by the Dutch goverrnment, is available here at The author was granted wide access to government officials and intelligence documents from the broad spectrum of participating countries.


[2] "Intelligence and the war in Bosnia 1992 – 1995: The role of the intelligence and security services," Chapter 4, Section 3.


[3] "Intelligence and the war in Bosnia 1992 – 1995: The role of the intelligence and security services," Chapter 4, Section 3. 


[6] Senate Select Committee Report on Iran/Bosnia Arms Transfers, November 1996. Available at


[8] The 1996 Senate report (Op cit.) noted that the Pentagon and CIA investigated the alleged airlift and found no evidence to support that they had occurred, However, the report said the Pentagon's "documentation of that investigation is scant." If the airlifts did occur, the Pentagon and CIA would themselves be deeply implicated for violating the embargo. No independent investigation of the claims by a U.S. government agency has been documented.


[9] Op cit., Senate Select Committee report, Nov. 1996.


[10] Op cit., Senate Select Committee report, Nov. 1996.


[11] Among the earliest al Qaeda members in Bosnia were Muhammad al-Habashi, aka Abu Zubair al Madani, and Abu Abbas al Madani, two Saudis who were killed in battle during 1993 and subsequently memorialized as martyrs by al Qaeda-linked propagandists.


[12] Many of the leading mujahideen commanders in Bosnia were associated with Egyptian Islamic Jihad and answered personally to Ayman Al-Zawahiri, a member of al Qaeda's ruling council.  Egyptian commanders in Bosnia included Moataz Billah, a renowned jihadist with ties to Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, and Abu Thabit, a former officer in the Egyptian Army.  Zawahiri coordinated efforts with the Iranian Hezbollah terrorist group  and with the core al Qaeda organization.


[13] Including Abu Zubair (see note 11).


[15] Op cit., USA v Enaam Arnaout, Government's evidentiary proffer, January 6, 2003, page 66 et al.


[16] USA v. Omar Ahmad Ali Abdel-Rahman et al, S5-93-CR-181


[17] Criminal Complaint, U.S. vs. Benevolence International Foundation Inc. and Enaam M. Arnaout, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, April 29, 2002


[18] Alms For Jihad, J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins, Cambridge University Press (2006)


[19] "Relief Agency Brokered Aid From Nations, Radical Groups," John Pomfret, Washington Post, Sept. 22, 1996.


[20] Ibid.