Feb 18, 2020

The Other Latif: Episode 3

The Other Latif

Radiolab’s Latif Nasser always believed his name was unique, singular, completely his own. Until one day when he makes a bizarre and shocking discovery. He shares his name with another man: Abdul Latif Nasser, detainee 244 at Guantanamo Bay. The U.S. government paints a terrifying picture of The Other Latif as Al-Qaeda’s top explosives expert, and one of the most important advisors to Osama bin Laden. Nasser’s lawyer claims that he was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and that he was never even in Al-Qaeda. This clash leads Radiolab’s Latif into a years-long investigation, picking apart evidence, attempting to separate fact from fiction, and trying to uncover what this man actually did or didn’t do. Along the way, Radiolab’s Latif reflects on American values and his own religious past, and wonders how his namesake, a fellow nerdy, suburban Muslim kid, may have gone down such a strikingly different path.

 

Episode 3: Sudan

Latif turns his focus to Sudan, where his namesake spent time working on a sunflower farm. What could be suspicious about that?  Latif scrutinizes the evidence to try to discover whether - as Abdul Latif’s lawyer insists - it was just an innocent clerical job, or - as the government alleges - it was where he decided to become an extremist fighter.  

This episode was produced by Suzie Lechtenberg, Sarah Qari, and Latif Nasser. With help from Niza Nondo and Maaki Monem. Fact checking by Diane Kelly and Margot Williams. Editing by Jad Abumrad and Soren Wheeler. Original music by Jad Abumrad, Alex Overington, Jeremy Bloom, and Amino Belyamani. 

If you caught this episode on the radio, and want to learn or hear more from the excellent podcast Love Me, check them out here: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/loveme and to learn more about Mansoor Adafyi, check out his new book Don't Forget Us.

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate

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Speaker 1

Listener supported WNYC Studios. Wait. Okay. All right.

You're listening-Listening-... to Radiolab-Radiolab.... From- WNYC. C?

 

Latif Nasser:

Previously.

 

Speaker 3:

We were being chased by the police.

 

Latif Nasser:

All out.

 

Lena Abella-Saunders:

Yeah.

 

Latif Nasser:

Did he say he was with all these very bad people, al-Qaeda and the Taliban, directly associated with Osama bin Laden? Is it possible that he was just running with the wrong people?

 

Speaker 4:

These are the worst of the worst.

 

Shelby Sullivan-Bennis:

Abdul [Ti's 00:00:45] going to get out because he's clear. He's clear-

 

Latif Nasser:

And he will have a window when he comes here. I'm Latif Nasser, and this is The Other Latif. Episode three, Sudan. When we last left Abdul Latif Nasir, he was adrift. He was in his mid-twenties. His mom had died. He'd dropped out of school. He'd moved to Libya to make some money, but he was broke. His dreams of studying and teaching science were fading. So he makes a decision to move again, this time to Sudan. And Mohammed Daoudi in our last episode suggested maybe that's where it happened.

 

Mohammad Daoudi:

Sudan probably is your best bet to find out where and how-

 

Latif Nasser:

And if.

 

Mohammad Daoudi:

... the individual was radicalized.

 

Latif Nasser:

So that's the spot to pay attention to you think.

 

Mohammad Daoudi:

Yeah.

 

Latif Nasser:

The reason he said that had to do with timing. Abdul Latif set foot in Sudan in 1993. And around that time-

 

Speaker 7:

What is an Islamic State? An Islamic state is a state that is not the only Islamic at its private level, but also at the level of public life.

 

Latif Nasser:

There'd been a coup in Sudan, and a new government stepped in. And the most powerful person in this new government was a man named-

 

Speaker 7:

Dr. Hassan Al-Turabi.

 

Latif Nasser:

Hassan Turabi.

 

Speaker 8:

Man seen as the architect of the Sudanese Islamic State.

 

Speaker 9:

Islam is a comprehensive way of life.

 

Sulman Baldo:

Turabi had a great vision for his Islamic revolution in Sudan.

 

Latif Nasser:

[Sulman Baldo 00:02:31], former professor at the University of Khartoum.

 

Sulman Baldo:

Hassan Al-Turabi, he founded a congress which was open to all extremists. You had these revolutionary groups seeking change again as their respective governments.

 

Latif Nasser:

He basically invited the extremists of the world to come to Sudan and join a club.

 

Sulman Baldo:

The loose alliance of all the jihadi groups, Palestinians and-

 

Lawrence Wright:

Hamas and Hezbollah and international criminals like-

 

Sulman Baldo:

Carlos-

 

Lawrence Wright:

Carlos the Jackal.

 

Sulman Baldo:

... the Jackal of France.

 

Speaker 11:

Saddam Hussein sent people out to Khartoum.

 

Latif Nasser:

Journalists Peter Bergen and Lawrence Wright. Was Sudan in the mid-nineties kind of like the Berkeley in the sixties for Islamism kind of thing?

 

Peter Bergen:

Yeah, I think that's exactly right.

 

Lawrence Wright:

It was a convocation of different radical Islamist groups. I wouldn't have been surprised if they'd played intramural soccer with each other. Al-Qaeda had two teams, and they would play after the mosque on Fridays.

 

Latif Nasser:

Oh, you're not even kidding. That's for real?

 

Lawrence Wright:

Oh yeah. Yeah.

 

Latif Nasser:

I kind of imagine it as an upside down United Nations. Instead of embassies representing the governments of all these different countries. It was like you had groups from each of those different countries who wanted to overthrow those governments. So the mere fact that Abdul Latif Nasir went to Sudan at the precise moment when all of these extremists were flocking to the country, you could see that as suspicious. According to government documents, and his lawyer disputes this point, for the first few weeks in Sudan, Abdul Latif Nasir joined a Muslim missionary group, a kind of a Muslim Jehovah's Witnesses. He did that, allegedly, for 45 days, and then he set off in search of what the government calls, quote, "the perfect Islamic society."

 

Shelby Sullivan-Bennis:

It's always a little amusing to me how the government will characterize any period of time.

 

Latif Nasser:

That's Abdul Latif's lawyer Shelby Sullivan-Bennis.

 

Shelby Sullivan-Bennis:

as far as I am aware and believe, that is not an appropriate description of his time in Sudan.

 

Latif Nasser:

She says yeah, he may have been longing for purpose, may have been gradually turning to Islam, but the main reason he went to Sudan was to work, and that's what he ended up doing. He ended up finding a job in the middle of nowhere on a farm.

 

Shelby Sullivan-Bennis:

So Sudan was actually the place where he was overseeing the farming of sunflowers.

 

Latif Nasser:

Sunflowers?

 

Shelby Sullivan-Bennis:

Yeah. He was doing the sunflower farming, although I was advised by him multiple times he's not actually a farmer himself and possesses no skills in that regard.

 

Latif Nasser:

That's funny.

 

Shelby Sullivan-Bennis:

He was managing sort of from above, making sure people had enough resources and enough people on the field.

 

Latif Nasser:

And this is for the flowers or the oil or the seeds or the [crosstalk 00:05:38]?

 

Shelby Sullivan-Bennis:

I think it was the seeds. They were growing sunflowers kind of in a field and I think there were others surrounding it. But he was the sunflower man-

 

Latif Nasser:

Huh, yeah.

 

Shelby Sullivan-Bennis:

... which I thought was really endearing.

 

Latif Nasser:

I listen to this interview now and I'm like, "Ugh, idiot." I was so into the idea of the seeds and the process that I forgot to ask a pivotal question: who were those sunflowers being farmed for? After that conversation, I did some research and ended up bringing it up with Shelby again in a later interview.

 

Shelby Sullivan-Bennis:

His move to Sudan was also job based.

 

Latif Nasser:

I think you told me that he worked at a sunflower farm. He was not farming per se, but in a managementee-type position. Was that Osama bin Laden's farm?

 

Shelby Sullivan-Bennis:

So there's a distinction between information that I know, information I don't know, and information that is either classified or declassified that the client has told me. So I think I can't answer that question at all knowingly. I'm sorry.

 

Latif Nasser:

Okay. Yeah. I think he worked on Osama bin Laden's farm. So at about the age of 29, Abdul Latif Nasir is on the payroll of Osama bin Laden, the guy who ordered planes to fly into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the guy that the government would later allege Abdul Latif Nasir became an important military advisor to which does not look good. But if you stop to think about it, what does that even mean that he was working on Osama bin Laden's farm? Was that a real farm or was it a front? What was he doing there? When I first started reporting, these seem to be straight forward answerable questions. But yeah, that's not what they were at all.

 

Speaker 16:

[crosstalk 00:07:50] Hi, BBC. I can hear you. Hello? Hello? Hello, hello. We hear you.

 

Cathy Scott-Clark:

Hello. This is Cathy. Can you hear me?

 

Speaker 16:

Hello.

 

Latif Nasser:

First thing you immediately discover when you talk to people who scrutinized Osama bin Laden's life, people like Cathy Scott-Clark-

 

Cathy Scott-Clark:

I wrote a book called The Exile, which was a story of the last 10 years of Osama bin Laden.

 

Latif Nasser:

... and people like Lawrence Wright-

 

Lawrence Wright:

I'm an author and a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine.

 

Latif Nasser:

... is that during his Sudan years, approximately 1991 to 1996, Osama bin Laden saw himself as a totally different guy.

 

Lawrence Wright:

It was, in some ways, one of the happiest times in his life.

 

Cathy Scott-Clark:

After the end of the Soviet War in Afghanistan-

 

Latif Nasser:

He'd fought in the Afghan War against the Soviet Union.

 

Cathy Scott-Clark:

... working with the CIA-

 

Latif Nasser:

He'd squabbled with the Saudi government over their decision to let U.S. troops into the country.

 

Cathy Scott-Clark:

... got kicked out to Saudi Arabia.

 

Latif Nasser:

And when he shows up in Sudan, bin Laden, who by this point is 34 years old, has four wives, 13 children, had a thought that maybe he wasn't going to go back to fighting. Maybe he was ready for a new phase of his life here in Sudan as a nation builder, just like his dad. You see back in Saudi Arabia, the older bin Laden had been this huge construction tycoon.

 

Cathy Scott-Clark:

His father was extremely wealthy and had been killed in a plane crash. And as one of 17 sons, he was entitled to a sizable share of his father's estate. So he arrived in Sudan with a huge amount of money.

 

Latif Nasser:

And he was determined to use at least some of that money to help the Sudanese government develop their country.

 

Cathy Scott-Clark:

They were promising him huge contracts to build roads, and there were lots of opportunities because Sudan, it was kind of several years behind where Saudi Arabia was. Osama's father had sort of built Saudi Arabia, so he now thought, "Well, I'm going to build Sudan." He was, in his mind, building a perfect Islamic society.

 

Latif Nasser:

Hm. And literally building it.

 

Cathy Scott-Clark:

Yep.

 

Latif Nasser:

He built massive roads and bridges.

 

Cathy Scott-Clark:

Swimming pools, houses, whatever was needed.

 

Latif Nasser:

There's this interview, the first one bin Laden ever did with the Western media. It was published in the UK paper the Independent in 1993. The headline says "Anti-Soviet warrior puts his army on the road to peace." In it, the journalist Robert Fisk asks bin Laden, "After fighting the Russians, is it not anticlimactic for you and your fellow fighters to end up building roads in Sudan?" Bin Laden scoffs saying that he's a construction engineer. This is what he wants to do, not for profit, but to help local Muslims to improve their lives. Now as for the farm, how that enters the picture-

 

Lawrence Wright:

The government didn't have any money to pay him, so they gave him land.

 

Cathy Scott-Clark:

Which is why he ended up having a farm, the Damazin Farm.

 

Latif Nasser:

The Damazin Farm was about 300 miles southeast of Khartoum near the Ethiopian border.

 

Cathy Scott-Clark:

It was out in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing there at all when he was first given the land.

 

Latif Nasser:

But it was a part of the country that was verdant and green.

 

Lawrence Wright:

Sudan is a wonderfully fertile country. And bin Laden really had the idea it could feed the world if it were properly organized, and he's right.

 

Cathy Scott-Clark:

He raised cattle and horses, and there was corn and sesame and-

 

Latif Nasser:

Fava beans, watermelon.

 

Cathy Scott-Clark:

... all sorts of things.

 

Latif Nasser:

But the crop that was the most important to him was his sunflowers.

 

Cathy Scott-Clark:

His wife, Najwa, said he was obsessed with growing the biggest sunflower heads that existed in the whole world.

 

Latif Nasser:

Oh wow.

 

Lawrence Wright:

He thought that his sunflowers should be in the Guinness Book of World Records.

 

Latif Nasser:

What?

 

Lawrence Wright:

Yeah, he was very proud of his sunflowers.

 

Latif Nasser:

And Damazin Farm brought his whole family joy.

 

Cathy Scott-Clark:

He took his family down there at weekends, and they had a swimming pool down there and horses down there that they could ride occasionally when it was harvesting of sunflowers time. They would come down from Khartoum because they still lived in Khartoum, and all of the employees from Damazin Farm would be kind of sent away, out of the whole area so that the wives and the kids could get out pairs of scissors and come out into the fields and cut down some flowers for a few hours. It's a nice thing to do when you're stuck in the house most of the time, to get outside and take your veil off.

 

Latif Nasser:

And this brings us back to Abdul Latif Nasir.

 

Shelby Sullivan-Bennis:

He was the sunflower man.

 

Latif Nasser:

After that interview with Shelby, I went back to the U.S. government's declassified file on Abdul Latif Nasir and looked back over what it said about his time in Sudan. It didn't mention sunflowers, but it did say that he worked for two years as a production overseer.

 

Shelby Sullivan-Bennis:

Managing sort of from above, making sure people had enough resources and enough people on the field.

 

Latif Nasser:

So it seems to possibly match her story. But then it made me wonder what else was happening at that farm. How often would Osama bin Laden just stop by? Did they ever meet? Did they ever talk? What did they talk about? How did he get the job to begin with? This is a bookish guy from the city, no agricultural experience at all. How did he wind up there?

 

Lawrence Wright:

Well, Khartoum is a modest sized city.

 

Latif Nasser:

Lawrence Wright suggests that he was probably looking for a job, and he did what people looking for a job in Khartoum do. Maybe got a recommendation. Maybe he just wondered downtown.

 

Lawrence Wright:

If you go to downtown Khartoum and you walk along Mecca [Nimber 00:13:45] Street, that was the street where Wadi al Aqiq, the bin Laden holding company, was.

 

Sulman Baldo:

The mother of all companies.

 

Latif Nasser:

Sulman Baldo, again.

 

Sulman Baldo:

You could not miss the houses. You could not miss the companies. He was visible for everyone.

 

Lawrence Wright:

And if you were walking down that street and you were talking to someone, "Where do I find a job," they say, "Oh, walk over there and knock on the door."

 

Latif Nasser:

So presumably, that's what he did. He walked up to the door, knocked and then applied.

 

Wesley Wark:

Right.

 

Latif Nasser:

Would bin Laden and have interviewed every person who worked for him, or no, he was not that kind of boss?

 

Wesley Wark:

Well, so every case is different.

 

Latif Nasser:

This is Wesley work. He's a Canadian academic.

 

Wesley Wark:

My specialization has been in the fields of national security issues, including terrorism. I'm not familiar with what might be known about Mr. Nasir's involvement in Sudan, but bin Laden himself personally interviewed sort of key leadership and management. [crosstalk 00:14:46].

 

Latif Nasser:

What a weird job interview that must've been. I actually later found testimony from someone else who worked on that farm who said that Osama bin Laden preferred to interview job candidates himself for roles on the farm all the way down to assistant managers, which could have included Abdul Latif Nasir.

 

Speaker 19:

Please answer the required information accurately and truthfully.

 

Latif Nasser:

You can actually find online this job application. To be fair, it's not for the farm. It's an Al Qaeda job application.

 

Speaker 19:

Today's date, nickname, father's name, alias, grandfather's name.

 

Latif Nasser:

He probably didn't fill out this particular application.

 

Speaker 19:

Education level: primary, elementary, secondary?

 

Latif Nasser:

But it's weirdly corporate.

 

Speaker 19:

List the experience or expertise that you have in any area. What's your favorite material: science or literature?

 

Wesley Wark:

But by all accounts-

 

Speaker 19:

Please answer in the language you know.

 

Wesley Wark:

... what these job interviews were about-

 

Speaker 19:

Please write clearly and legibly.

 

Wesley Wark:

... was not really technical competence around whatever particular function bin Laden and wanted to see a person occupy. They apparently were interviews around-

 

Speaker 19:

How much of the Holy Quran have you memorized?

 

Wesley Wark:

... approachist Islam and-

 

Speaker 19:

Did you study Sharia? Who was your instructor?

 

Wesley Wark:

... religious and ideological purity.

 

Speaker 19:

What ideas and views do you, your family and your other acquaintances have about jihad in Allah's Saqeer?

 

Latif Nasser:

Huh.

 

Wesley Wark:

So they were being assessed in that light. That can be cast to suggest that anybody went through that process and passed that interview must have been, by definition, committed to jihad. I'm not so convinced by that.

 

Latif Nasser:

Wesley Wark has another idea.

 

Wesley Wark:

The thing to keep in mind is, again, Sudan's a very poor country. It didn't have much of a managerial or professional class. So bin Laden, as he embarked on this commercial empire building in Sudan, this state within a state, was desperate to hire people with some professional qualifications. Even if it was a silly kid in Nasir's case with a bit of a university education, that still would have made him stand out, perhaps, from many of the people that would be available to assist bin Laden in many of these enterprises in Sudan given the dire poverty of Sudan estate and economy.

 

Latif Nasser:

So it's like you're looking at the waiting room outside of that job interview and you're like, "Okay, that's my guy. He looks like management material, at least compared to everybody else."

 

Wesley Wark:

Yeah, he's got some university education. He's probably well-spoken, capable of managing and organizing. Who knows? But all of that kind of thing could go through your mind to make it less suspicious that a city kid would find himself working on a farm in Sudan.

 

Latif Nasser:

You should be a lawyer I think. Okay. So whether it's because he was personally suited or ideologically primed or just the best of the bunch who showed up, Abdul Latif Nasir lands this job on Osama bin Laden's farm. Now, one of bin Laden's former associates that for those years they were in Sudan, quote, "al-Qaeda was 99% a construction and agriculture company. But about that other 1%.

 

Lawrence Wright:

He loved being this plantation owner and having vast holdings, and he loved imagining himself as this great international businessman. At the same time, he missed the thrill of combat and the aura that surrounded him as the great Muslim warrior.

 

Latif Nasser:

So while he presented a public face of being the warrior on the road to peace, behind the scenes he was funding and encouraging violent actions abroad in places like Somalia, Algeria, Egypt, Yemen.

 

Speaker 7:

There are incidents in which the companies were a cover for military. You had this agenda in multiple countries of the Arab-Islamic world. However, I'm not sure that each and every individual who worked in these different companies or farms would be by necessity a fighter or a jihadist.

 

Latif Nasser:

But what about Abdul Latif Nasir? For those approximately two years that he was on Osama bin Laden's payroll-

 

Speaker 7:

Managing sort of from above.

 

Latif Nasser:

... was Abdul Latif just working a normal boring desk job, or was he in on it? I started to dig, to research the company, research the farm. And the deeper I dug, the more evidence I found. But the more evidence I found, the more I swung back and forth. So let's start on the most basic level. How big was this Osama bin Laden company, Wadi al Aqiq? Well, it was massive. Around that time it had about 10,000 employees. American companies now in that same ballpark: Netflix, Reebok, Wendy's. So this is a big company.

 

Lawrence Wright:

And there were different enterprises.

 

Latif Nasser:

And it wasn't even really one company. It was a cluster of companies. The Al-Hijrah construction company, the [Al-Kudurot 00:19:54] shipping company, a tannery, a bakery, an investment bank, even the [Al-Iclass 00:19:59] candy company. Who knew Osama bin Laden owned a candy company? There were at least two agricultural companies. One was called the Blessed Fruit Company, and they were pretty big as well. And as for the Damazin Farm-

 

Lawrence Wright:

My recollection is there were about 4,000 people, which is a considerable workforce for a farm.

 

Latif Nasser:

Huge. And the reason they had so many employees was that the farms, and in particular the Damazin Farm, were enormous.

 

Lawrence Wright:

Well, I don't know exactly how big each one of them was. One of them he said was bigger than the United Arab Emirates.

 

Latif Nasser:

Oh my God. That would be roughly the size of the state of South Carolina.

 

Lawrence Wright:

So they were considerable size.

 

Latif Nasser:

And not only that, the Damazin Farm was several hours drive from the company's headquarters in Khartoum. And this is in the nineties in Sudan, so pre-video conferencing, pre-internet. So huge company, huge farm, super remote. So so far it feels like blaming someone who works on this farm for being in al-Qaeda feels like blaming someone behind the counter at your local Wendy's for what the CEO believes or does in his spare time at corporate headquarters.

 

Wesley Wark:

You must confess, it goes back a number of years. [crosstalk 00:21:14]

 

Latif Nasser:

Wesley Wark actually told me the story of a different guy, an Egyptian guy, who worked a job just like Abdul Latif's at that same Sudanese farm the year before Abdul Latif started working there.

 

Wesley Wark:

A particular individual by the name of Mohamed Zeki Mahjoub-

 

Latif Nasser:

Mahjoub's story is actually very similar to Abdul Latif's story. He was a foreigner in Sudan, couldn't find a job, ends up interviewing with Osama bin Laden. They do an hour and a half or two hour interview where he claims bin Laden never even brought up religion. Mahjoub gets the job and then spends a year overseeing not just the irrigation and cultivation of what he says is a million acre farm, but also managing 4,000 workers who reported directly to him. According to this guy, Mahjoub, in that year long stretch, he only met bin Laden three times and each time it was totally mundane, just reporting on day-to-day operations, that kind of thing. But then later this guy Mohamed Zeki Mahjoub would face deportation hearings in Canada in large part for having that job in Sudan.

 

Wesley Wark:

It gets into that gray area of kind of guilt by association.

 

Latif Nasser:

The argument seems kind of thin, that is until you realize who else worked at the farm.

 

Cynthia Storer:

At a big farm, especially like Damazin, you're going to see a lot of veterans of the Afghan War because that's who was employed in these places.

 

Latif Nasser:

Again, former CIA analyst Cynthia Storer.

 

Cynthia Storer:

A lot of Arabs and Arab types.

 

Latif Nasser:

So if I'm at one of these businesses, if I'm at Wadi al Aqiq at the Damazin Farm and they call a staff meeting and I'm looking around the table at who's here, who am I looking at?

 

Cynthia Storer:

I mean you're probably looking at people from a lot of different nationalities and radical groups. You could be, you know, I'm the manager of X, but I also attend or run a training camp.

 

Latif Nasser:

Thanks to the later testimony of an al-Qaeda guy who worked in the business, we have a pretty good estimate of how many of the 4,000 farm employees were actually members of al-Qaeda.

 

Lawrence Wright:

Of that workforce, about 500 people were actual al-Qaeda members.

 

Latif Nasser:

Okay, so the majority of the people on this farm were just doing farm jobs, but about one in eight were likely affiliated with al-Qaeda. Okay, so now you might think this looks kind of suspicious again. But it turns out these violent revolutionary al-Qaeda guys working on this farm, they were very, very quiet. They thought of themselves as a clandestine and elite group. They wouldn't just let anyone in. And given who Abdul Latif was, on paper it seems like he was much more likely to be one of the majority of civilian employees rather than one of the minority of al-Qaeda plotters and fighters hidden amongst them.

 

Cathy Scott-Clark:

I totally believe that.

 

Latif Nasser:

Journalist Cathy Scott-Clark, again.

 

Cathy Scott-Clark:

If he's got no previous military experience, he's never trained in an al-Qaeda camp. He's never been-

 

Latif Nasser:

No. No, he had not.

 

Cathy Scott-Clark:

He's never fought in Afghanistan, then there's absolutely no way he is going to be let into any details about any kind of military training at the farm. And the mujahideen fighters would have kept totally separate from any civilian employees.

 

Latif Nasser:

Interesting. Huh.

 

Lawrence Wright:

To support that position, I reached out to Ali Soufan, the FBI agent who interrogated so many people, and he wasn't really familiar with him. And then I asked Mohamed [Libyiozod 00:24:44], the business manager of bin Laden's enterprises in Sudan, and he said to me that it didn't ring a bell.

 

Latif Nasser:

Also, Osama bin Laden had a personal secretary while he was in Sudan, a guy named Wadi Alhaj. That personal secretary had a phone book at the time. We managed to get a copy, looked up Abdul Latif's name and did not find it.

 

Lawrence Wright:

So it could be that he was just a low level employee.

 

Cathy Scott-Clark:

Kind of sort of sitting in a dusty office outside the field. And the people who get paid $200 a month come and clock into him every morning, and he makes sure that they're doing their jobs properly. That doesn't mean that he's a senior al-Qaeda character at all.

 

Latif Nasser:

There's actually some basis for this point in a declassified summary of a U.S. military interrogation of Abdul Latif in 2004. In the report it says, quote, "When asked if Osama bin Laden ever spoke directly to Nasir, Nasir related his only interaction with Isama bin Laden was to share greetings when they would pass by each other. Nasir stated that he was unsure if Osama bin Laden knew his name during that time in Sudan." During that same interrogation, according to the report, Abdul Latif claimed that it wasn't until the end of his two years working in Sudan that he realized that such a thing as al-Qaeda existed and that Osama bin Laden and all these guys working around him who fought with bin Laden in Afghanistan were part of it. Now granted, that could all be a lie. It could be a faulty memory. It could be a falsehood elicited through torture, but it does seem possible like every TV news interview of a neighbor who's like, "I had no idea what was going on next door." But that makes me wonder. What were these al-Qaeda guys on this farm actually doing?

 

Cathy Scott-Clark:

One thing I haven't said, which I should say, is that there was a small area in a far flung part of the farm where he did kind of put together this sort of little, what are they called, the al-Qaeda refresher course.

 

Sulman Baldo:

Oh, Al-Damazin Farm, very, very large farm. A portion of that farm, the northern reaches of it, were given over to what was called refresher training in firearms and explosives use by certain al-Qaeda recruits.

 

Cathy Scott-Clark:

A loss of mujahideen had come from Pakistan with him or had arrived subsequently to him arriving in Sudan because they had nowhere else to go. And so to stop them going crazy because they've trained as fighters, they had these little refresher courses, which were run at Damazin.

 

Latif Nasser:

So the Damazin Farm wasn't just a pretty field of watermelons and sunflowers. Then again, this was a farm the size of a small U.S. state and the training camp was supposedly tucked away in the very northern edge. Do you think it would have been possible? Just based on your previous knowledge, do you think it would have been possible to work there and not know about that stuff?

 

Cynthia Storer:

No, absolutely not. There are other places you could work and not know. You could work for some charitable organizations, big international ones, and not know that a particular office was full of jihadis because they might do all their bad business in the back room. Right?

 

Latif Nasser:

Right, right.

 

Cynthia Storer:

But you couldn't be at Damazin and not know.

 

Shelby Sullivan-Bennis:

How does she know that?

 

Latif Nasser:

I'm not sure. I need to go back and check.

 

Shelby Sullivan-Bennis:

How many people is she interviewed who actually lived in that place at that time who were not being tortured and will say anything to get you to stop?

 

Latif Nasser:

Right, right. We went back to Cynthia Storer to ask her how she did know that. The answer was that it's classified. Coming up: Abdul Latif leaves his job at the farm, or actually his job the farm leaves him.

 

Matt:

Hi, this is Matt from San Jose, California. Radiolab is supported in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan at www.sloan.org.

 

Lena Abella-Saunders:

Whether you're new to Pocket Casts or have been a fan for years, we're offering you a free three month trial of Pocket Casts Plus, giving you all the great features of our free mobile app plus more. Listen to the podcasts you love and discover even more when you redeem your trial at pocketcasts.com/wnyc.

 

Latif Nasser:

I'm Latif Nasser. This is The Other Latif. Now, the story of how these two men with three names leave the farm with sunflowers behind.

 

Lawrence Wright:

Towards the end of bin Laden's time in Sudan, America began to get upset about what he was up to.

 

Latif Nasser:

This is journalist Lawrence Wright, again.

 

Lawrence Wright:

And they suspected that his money was behind a lot of different terrorist groups, which it was. He was funding, for instance, the Islamist group in the Algerian Civil War and trying to stir up the Somali situation.

 

Speaker 22:

Dead American soldiers being dragged [crosstalk 00:30:29].

 

Lawrence Wright:

His family disowned him because he was attacking the king-

 

Latif Nasser:

That would be the King of Saudi Arabia.

 

Lawrence Wright:

... and the family. And I think the royal family sent Jamal Khashoggi, who is a very prominent journalist who knew bin Laden and had been his friend. They sent him to Sudan to try to get him to renounce violence. So Jamal, he was friendly enough with bin Laden that they could sit down and have dinner every night that Jamal was in Khartoum. Every night, course, was lamb. They would sit on the floor and eat with their fingers as is the Bedouin custom. And the very first night bin Laden told Jamal that he was opposed to violence. This is not the way we need to achieve our goals. And Jamal said, "I have my tape recorder. Just say that publicly, and you will be forgiven. You will be able to return to the kingdom." Bin Laden said maybe tomorrow. So Jamal came back the next day and bin Laden didn't want to talk about it. And he came back one more day and said, "Osama, I'm leaving tomorrow. If you want to make this statement, I'll be in the Hilton." And bin Laden never made the call.

 

Latif Nasser:

June 26th, 1995, there's an assassination attempt against the Egyptian president. Al-Qaeda is blamed.

 

Lawrence Wright:

And pressure began to be put by the American government on the Sudanese government. And then finally, the Sudanese government decided to agree with the Americans and drive him out of the country.

 

Latif Nasser:

On May 18th, 1996, Osama bin Laden, his family members and some of his closest allies, board a plane and flee Khartoum.

 

Lawrence Wright:

Bin Laden, when he was booted out, he had to leave really quickly.

 

Latif Nasser:

What did they leave hanging there in Sudan, if you know?

 

Cathy Scott-Clark:

Curtains, everything. Najwa, the first and the most chatty, friendly wife, I mean, she says they were told they could only pack one suitcase each. So everything that they had in the houses, furniture, everything, just one suitcase each. And she says that the plane was kind of segregated with curtains so that all the wives and children of Osama plus the wives of mujahedin fighters who were returning with him all kind of sat behind the black curtain. The men sat in another section of the plane. I know the women, I don't know about the men, but the women didn't know where they were going.

 

Lawrence Wright:

Bin Laden was chased out of Sudan. One of the great diplomatic goofs of our history. His land was simply confiscated along with his machinery and so on, his factories. I think part of what caused bin Laden to decide just a few months after to declare war on America is, essentially, he held America responsible for forcing the Sudanese to get rid of him. So the Sudanese, after stealing everything they could, flew him out of there to Afghanistan and the al-Qaeda as we know it was born.

 

Latif Nasser:

So now here's one of the most perplexing parts of the story. And it's where Abdul Latif comes back in. He wasn't on that plane. According to the declassified U.S. government documents, one day Abdul Latif went from his job on the farm to go to the company headquarters in Khartoum to pick up his monthly paycheck. And when he gets there he realizes everyone's just gone. He didn't know bin Laden had left. He just got left behind.

 

Cynthia Storer:

I would imagine just to picture what happens when Nasser sort of goes up to find out why he's not been paid is that there'll just be empty offices, kind of windows flapping open, nothing there. Everyone's gone. Everyone's cleared out on one day.

 

Latif Nasser:

Wow.

 

Lawrence Wright:

There were probably a lot of people like Nasir who went in to get their paycheck and found that their boss was no longer there.

 

Latif Nasser:

If you read the leaked government documents, they say that Abdul Latif Nasir was supposedly one of Osama bin Laden's top military advisers. Was he? He definitely doesn't seem like he was at this point. Certainly not important enough to have been on that plane. But this isn't the end of the story. A little over a year later, Abdul Latif would once again be in the same country as Osama bin Laden, where allegedly he (Abdul Latif) caused all kinds of trouble. In the next episode we come to the decisive moment-

 

Dan Harris:

We came in and we threw a BLU-82 at them.

 

Latif Nasser:

ABC's Dan Harris reports now from the front line.

 

Dan Harris:

16,000 pound of ice was dropped.

 

Speaker 24:

U.S. fighter planes and B-52s drop their payload.

 

Latif Nasser:

... where Abdul Latif Nasir actually comes into focus.

 

Dan Harris:

At a certain point it was as if he had decided to just tell the truth.

 

Latif Nasser:

For the first time. This episode was produced by Suzie Lechtenberg, Sarah Qari and me, Latif Nasser, with help from Niza Nondo. Fact-checking by Diane Kelly and Margot Williams. Editing by Jad Abumrad and Soren Wheeler. Original music by Jad Abumrad, Alex Overington, Jeremy Bloom and Amino Belyamani. Next episode one week from today.

 

Lena Abella-Saunders:

This is Lena Abella-Saunders from Temecula, California. Radiolab is created by Jad Abumrad with Robert Krulwich and produced by Soren Wheeler. Dylan Keefe is our Director of Sound Design. Suzie Lechtenberg is our Executive Producer. Our staff includes Simon Adler, Becca Bressler, Rachael Cusick, David Gebel, Bethel Habte, Tracie Hunte, Matt Kielty, Annie McEwen, Latif Nasser, Sarah Qari, Arianne Wack, Pat Walters, and Molly Webster with help from Shima Oliaee, W. Harry Fortuna, Sarah Sandbach, Malissa O’Donnell, Tad Davis, and Russell Gragg. Our fact-checker is Michelle Harris.

 

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