Bin Laden deputy charged by U.S. officials Suspect possibly involved in proposed purchase of uranium to make bombs

September 26, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK -- Federal authorities charged yesterday that a person described as a senior deputy to Osama bin Laden, the Saudi exile suspected in last month's bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, made significant efforts on behalf of the bin Laden group in 1993 to develop nuclear weapons.

The authorities said that in at least one case there was evidence of documents relating to a proposed purchase of enriched uranium, but they did not say whether the group ever obtained uranium.

The allegations, concerning Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, assert that bin Laden had an official agreement with the Iranian government and with Sudan's ruling party to oppose the United States, and suggested that the United States had penetrated the bin Laden organization and learned detailed information in 1996.

The allegations were contained in newly unsealed court papers that charged Salim with conspiracy to murder and to use weapons of mass destruction against Americans stationed outside the United States, including in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Somalia.

Salim was arrested in Germany last week after flying there from Sudan, and the U.S. government said yesterday that it would be seeking his extradition to face charges in Manhattan.

The government also asserted for the first time in court papers that the Iranian government had entered into a formal three-way "working agreement" with bin Laden and the National Islamic Front of the Sudan to "work together against the United States, Israel and the West." The front is the ruling party in Sudan.

Members of bin Laden's organization, al Qaeda, sent emissaries to Iran, and some of its members received explosives training in Lebanon from Hezbollah, the terrorist group backed by the Iranian government, prosecutors said in court papers filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

The government also said that during the time when the working agreement was being negotiated, Salim met with an Iranian religious official stationed in Khartoum and also traveled with al Qaeda members to Tehran to arrange for training by Iran in the use of explosives.

The allegations against Iran come at a sensitive time, since Tehran is trying to improve its relations with the West and is at odds with the Taliban, the dominant group in Afghanistan, which is protecting bin Laden.

The eight-page complaint was signed by FBI Agent Daniel Coleman and was approved by two federal prosecutors, Patrick Fitzgerald and Kenneth Karas, and an arrest warrant for Salim by a federal magistrate in Manhattan, James Francis. It was issued by the judge Sept. 14 under seal and made public yesterday. The complaint may be followed by an indictment which must be approved be a grand jury.

The authorities also acknowledged for the first time yesterday that the FBI had won the secret cooperation of an admitted terrorist in al Qaeda as early as 1996, and obtained extensive information about the group from the asset, who was not identified.

The source was described in court papers as someone who "was a member of al Qaeda for a number of years" and was "personally familiar" with bin Laden and Salim. The document said that the source "has admitted to participating in terrorist activity against American interests."

The document does say that the information from the source was provided to the FBI in the late summer and fall of 1996.

Pub Date: 9/26/98

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