By Jena Ardell
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Richard Clarke, in Against All Enemies, notes that in the '80s, "the Saudis took the lead in assembling the group of volunteers" to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Clarke writes: "The Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Turki, relied upon a man from a wealthy construction family that was close to the Saudi royal family. Turki empowered a son of that family, one Usama bin Laden, to recruit, move, train, and indoctrinate the Arab volunteers in Afghanistan. Many of those recruited were misfits in their own societies. Many had connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, a longtime fundamentalist group that had threatened Egypt and Syria. Many of these volunteers later became the Al Qaeda network of affiliated terrorist groups."
When the Afghan war was over and bin Laden went back to Saudi Arabia, "Prince Turki," Clarke wrote, "had reportedly asked him to organize a fundamentalist-religion-based resistance to the Communist-styled regime in South Yemen. (The contacts that bin Laden made then in Yemen proved valuable to Al Qaeda later)."
In the wake of the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Africa, the U.S. got the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to break diplomatic contact with the Taliban.
"Both also sent their own emissaries to reason with the Taliban," recalls Clarke. "The Saudi emissary was Intelligence Minister Prince Turki. Press reports suggested that he offered to increase aid to the Taliban if they would give up bin Laden."
That's not necessarily the way it happened: Laili Helms, the unofficial Taliban PR person in the U.S. before 9-11, told the Voice in a 2001 interview that she got a message in 1999 from the Taliban leadership that they were willing to turn over all of bin Laden's communications equipment, which they had seized, to the U.S.
When she called the State Department with this offer, officials were at first interested, but later said, "No. We want him." In the same year, Prince Turki reportedly came up with a scheme to capture bin Laden on his own; after consulting with the Taliban he flew his private plane to Kabul and drove out to see Mullah Omar at his headquarters. The two men sat down, as Helms recounts the story, and the Saudi said, "There's just one little thing. Will you kill bin Laden before you put him on the plane?" Mullah Omar called for a bucket of cold water. As the Saudi delegation fidgeted, he took off his turban, splashed water on his head, and then washed his hands before sitting back down. "You know why I asked for the cold water?" he asked Turki. "What you just said made my blood boil." Bin Laden was a guest of the Afghanis and there was no way they were going to kill him, though they might turn him over for a trial. At that the deal collapsed, according to Helms, and Turki flew home empty-handed.