U.S. Sent Guns to bin Laden in 1980s
WASHINGTON (AP) -- More than a decade ago, the U.S. government sent
sniper rifles to a group of Muslim fighters in Afghanistan that included Osama bin Laden, according to
court testimony and the guns' maker.
The rifles, made by Barrett Firearms Manufacturing Inc. of Murfreesboro,
Tenn., and paid for by the
government, were shipped during the collaboration between the United States and Muslims then
fighting to drive the Soviet Union from Afghanistan.
Experts doubt the weapons could still be used, but the transaction further
accentuates how Americans
are fighting an enemy that U.S. officials once supported and liberally armed.
In a trial early this year of suspects in the 1998 bombings of U.S.
embassies in Africa, Essam Al-Ridi,
identified as a former pilot for bin Laden, said he shipped the weapons in 1989 to Sheik Abdallah
Azzam, bin Laden's ideological mentor. The weapons had range-finding equipment and night-vision
During the late 1980s, the United States supplied arms worth $500 million
a year to anti-Soviet
fighters including Afghanistan's current Taliban rulers, bin Laden and others. The supplies included a
range of weapons from small arms to shoulder-fired Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.
Al-Ridi, an American citizen born in Egypt, testified that Azzam liked
the rifles because they could be
``carried by individuals so it's made in such a way where you could have a heavy cannon but mobile
by an individual.''
While in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Al-Ridi said he saw bin Laden several times with Azzam.
Ronnie Barrett, president of Barrett Firearms, likened sale of the .50-caliber
armor-piercing rifles to
the supply of the Stinger surface-to-air missiles given to anti-Soviet guerrillas in Afghanistan.
``Barrett rifles were picked up by U.S. government trucks, shipped to
U.S. government bases and
shipped to those Afghan freedom fighters,'' Barrett said.
The sale was publicized by the Violence Policy Center, gun-control advocates
who want for more
restrictions on the sale of high-powered weapons such as the specialized Barrett exports.
``These .50-caliber sniper rifles are ideal tools for terror and assassination,'' VPC analyst Tom Diaz said.
Firearms expert Charles Cutshaw of Jane's Information Group said he
was more worried about the
Stingers than long-range sniper rifles.
``It seems to me that there are easier ways for a terrorist to get at
a high-value target than this,''
Cutshaw said. ``If they wanted to bring down an aircraft, the best way would be to bring it down with
a Stinger.'' Guerrillas using Stingers were credited with shooting down more than 270 Soviet aircraft.
Cutshaw said the sniper rifles are ``sort of overkill'' for shooting
people; more appropriate targets
would be vehicles or fuel tanks. But the Irish Republican Army used the weapon to kill 10 British
soldiers and policemen patrolling the Northern Ireland border in the 1990s.
The rifles could be used only with U.S.-made ammunition, but such ammunition
can be obtained in
neighboring Pakistan, Cutshaw said.
The Barrett rifles sold for $5,000 to $6,000 each, and both Barrett
and Cutshaw had doubts they
would still work due to dust and a lack of spare parts.
But the rifles could be functional if they have been kept in storage
since the purchase, Barrett said.
The Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan months after the rifles were sold.
``If it's not used, it could work,'' Barrett said. ``Age will not bother
the gun, just usage.''