Skip to comments.Osama s Pilot
Posted on 06/27/2002 10:22:25 PM PDT by OKCSubmariner
Essam Al-Ridi says his life is "ruined" because he agreed to testify for the Justice Department against al Qaeda members.
Airline pilot Essam Al-Ridi admits helping Osama bin Laden buy a plane to transport Stinger missiles 10 years ago. But he says he did the right thing as a U.S. citizen by testifying and helping to put four al Qaeda members behind bars.
The 1992 deal was years before bin Laden emerged as a terrorist leader, and Al-Ridi has never been accused of belonging to bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network. Al-Ridi, 43, was born in Egypt but came to the United States in 1982 and became a citizen in 1994. During the 1980s, when the Afghan mujahideen were fighting to expel the Soviet forces occupying their country, Al-Ridi, a devout Muslim, became an adviser for the Afghans.
It was during the Afghan war that Al-Ridi first met bin Laden, who was also helping the mujahideen. Al-Ridi says he helped the CIA arrange a shipment of 25 heavy-duty sniper guns to the Afghans, and that 11 of the guns ended up with bin Laden. The CIA denies ever supplying weapons to bin Laden.
"Osama was not a terrorist at the time. Osama was one of our tools to kick the Russians out," Al-Ridi said, adding that neither he nor the Americans he was dealing with saw any warning signs that bin Laden would one day turn against the United States.
Al-Ridi returned to his home in Texas in 1985, and later took a job as a pilot with Northwest Airlines. He says he cut off all direct contact with bin Laden.
Strictly a Business Deal
But in 1992 he unexpectedly had a call from bin Laden's personal aide, Wadih El-Hage. After returning from Afghanistan, bin Laden had been expelled from Saudi Arabia and moved to Sudan. Now, his aide said, he wanted a long-distance jet to transport Stinger missiles left over from the Afghan war to his new base in Sudan.
Al-Ridi says he bought and refurbished a surplus U.S. military T-39, a small twin-engine passenger jet, for $210,000 and flew it from California to Sudan, where he personally turned the keys over to bin Laden. Bin Laden threw a lavish dinner in his honor, Al-Ridi says. "To me, because I've seen him so many times, it was just another dinner with Osama," he said.
He says he regarded the job as "strictly a business deal" that he did for a $25,000 fee. "Had I knew that Osama would use any of what I provided him an airplane or anything else in a terrorist attack, I would never have been involved with him. Period," he said.
Al-Ridi says that bin Laden did not end up using the plane to transport the missiles.
Two More Flights
A few months later, in early 1993, El-Hage called again, asking Al-Ridi to fly five of bin Laden's business associates in the jet from Sudan to Nairobi, Kenya. U.S. intelligence sources now say that one of the passengers was Mohammed Atef, bin Laden's chief military commander and the man believed to have planned the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America. Al-Ridi says he had no idea who his passengers on the Kenya trip were, but admits it is possible that Atef and some of the other passengers were involved in events that led up to the October 1993 clash between Islamic militants and U.S. troops in neighboring Somalia, which left 18 Americans dead.
Al-Ridi says he was asked to fly the jet once more, in 1995, to test it after it had been baking under the Saharan sun for two years. During the test flight, the plane's brakes failed and it crashed into a sand dune. Al-Ridi says his co-pilot on the abortive flight was Ihab Mohammed Ali, an al Qaeda member who had trained at a U.S. flight school. Ali is now in U.S. custody.
Testifying for the Feds
U.S. investigators first heard of Al-Ridi in 1998, when they were investigating bin Laden's role in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. While searching El-Hage's computer, they found Al-Ridi's name and a record of his purchase of the jet in 1992.
Al-Ridi agreed to help the Justice Department's investigation. He provided testimony against El-Hage and three other al Qaeda operatives accused of planning the bombings. The four men were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
The lead prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, says Al-Ridi's testimony was key in linking the defendants with bin Laden. "I respect Essam Al-Ridi because he did stand up and do the right thing and testify," Fitzgerald told ABCNEWS.
In return for his testimony, Al-Ridi asked the Justice Department for one thing: protection from the Egyptian government, which has dealt harshly with veterans of the Afghan war and anyone associated with Islamic militants. Al-Ridi was afraid that if he visited Egypt, he might be arrested and even tortured for his involvement in Afghanistan and his dealings with bin Laden. During the trial, he testified that the Justice Department had agreed to tell Egyptian authorities that he was not directly involved with bin Laden's terrorist activity.
Living in Fear
But then, when Al-Ridi visited Egypt in May 2001, he says he was arrested by Egyptian agents, blindfolded, verbally abused, thrown around and handcuffed to a toilet without food or water. He says he had contacted FBI officials in Cairo before his visit, but that it nevertheless took 24 hours for them to secure his release.
Al-Ridi says he feels betrayed by the Justice Department, but Fitzgerald says the FBI upheld its pledge by stepping in as quickly as possible after his arrest. When his father died a few months later, Al-Ridi did not return to Egypt for the funeral, worried that U.S. officials could not guarantee his safety.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, two FBI agents visited Al-Ridi in Qatar, where he was working as a pilot trainer for Qatar Airways, to get more information about his experiences with bin Laden. A few days later, the airline fired him, telling him, he says, that he was a "security risk."
Now living with his wife and five children in Texas, Al-Ridi says he cannot get a job in aviation and his life savings are nearly gone. "Now my life is totally ruined because of my testimony," he said.
Nevertheless, he says he is still willing to help his country's fight against terror in any way he can. "I need to help secure this government, this country, because that is where my kids are going to grow up," he said.
ElHAge who contacted BIn Laden's pilot elRidi worked directly with the FBI informant, Ali Mohammed, an Egyptian, out of Dallas Texas while Ali Mohammed set up ALqaeda cells in the US and moved Bin Laden from Sudan to Afghanistan-this was all known to the FBI from 1992 to 1998. The FBI used 12 Dallas police officers to follwo Ali Mohammed, El HAge and other AlQaeda around the US, Dallas, and around the world as reported by Dallas TV stations in 1998. THis is another example of failed FBI policy of allowing known terrrosits to circulate for years in the US while they set up terror celss and train for more terror missions.This policy is still being followed by the FBI and is known to the DOJ, White House and the Senate Judiciary Committee who discussed it with me two monts ago.
PILOT: OSAMA'S JIHAD WAS 'STRICTLY BUSINESS'
News/Current Events News
Source: New York Post
Published: Thursday, February 15, 2001 Author: By DEVLIN BARRETT
Posted on 02/15/2001 01:25:29 PST by JohnHuang2
A former pilot for Osama bin Laden testified yesterday that he helped the terror boss buy a plane to ship men and missiles around the world, but was told it was "not jihad . . . just business."
Essam Al Ridi, who in the '80s fought alongside bin Laden in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, testified yesterday in Manhattan federal court against four accused terrorists charged with working for bin Laden.
The four are accused of conspiring to blow up American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people.
Al Ridi said he knew bin Laden, but didn't like the Saudi millionaire because he used his money to become a military leader without having any combat experience or training.
After the Afghan war, bin Laden tried to woo Al Ridi back to work for him by asking him to buy a $250,000 plane the terror boss said he needed for businesses.
Al Ridi, a naturalized U.S. citizen now living in Egypt, says he did not think bin Laden was leading a true Muslim holy war, and told him so.
"I do oppose the fact that you are a rich man and trying to be a decision-maker," Al Ridi said he told bin Laden. "I think what you have done to some of the guys [in Afghanistan] is, flat, killing."
Bin Laden answered: "This is not jihad. This is strictly business."
Al Ridi said he later flew five men to Kenya, but did not know what the men did once he left them there.
He also said one of bin Laden's lieutenants, Wadih El Hage, talked to him about flying American-made Stinger missiles from Afghanistan to Sudan for bin Laden. Al Ridi said he didn't know if the Stingers were ever shipped to Sudan.
El Hage is accused of overseeing bin Laden's business operations as well as the terror cell in Kenya that eventually attacked the U.S. Embassy there.
Al Ridi said he turned down bin Laden's long-term job offer, although he occasionally agreed to fly single trips for him.
All that ended, Al Ridi said, when the poorly maintained plane crashed at an airport in Khartoum, Sudan.
The pilot said he was so scared after the wreck of being identified as working for bin Laden that he rushed straight to the nearest airline terminal to get out of town.
"I told them, I need any flight, any destination out of Khartoum,'" he testified. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Yep. Business as usual.
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