With normal communications methods crippled since the attack on the World Trade Center, a previously under-achieving satellite-based phone system linked with Osama bin Laden’s family is, ironically, experiencing a boom in business.
Iridium telephones are suddenly in high demand, particularly in rescue efforts in New York and Washington.
While Iridium is a $5 billion business, the satellite phone system is a technological achievement that has, until now, been regarded as something of a joke in the telecommunications industry due to lack of consumer interest.
Little known, however, is the fact that bin Laden’s brother, at least once, served as a director of the U.S. telecommunications company backed by Motorola.
As late as three years ago, Hasan bin Laden served as a director of the Iridium Middle East Corp. subsidiary, reported the New York Daily News. The Saudi bin Laden Group, the family’s investment arm, has also reportedly invested in the global phone link firm.
A spokesman for the company denied, at that time, that the bin Laden Group and Hasan bin Laden had any financial or professional connection with Osama bin Laden, who even then was wanted on terrorism charges. The bin Laden family has claimed to have severed all ties with Osama after his role in masterminding the U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa in 1998.
“Our traffic went up significantly (after last Tuesday) and probably will continue that way until the networks are restored,” D. D’Ambrosio, executive vice president for business development at Iridium Satellite LLC in Leesburg, Va., told the Arizona Republic.
The company, which was formed last year to buy the Arizona-developed system out of bankruptcy, maintains one of its three global gateways in Tempe, and it relies on Motorola Inc.’s Scottsdale-based Integrated Information Systems Group to service its government users.
Iridium’s ability to bypass cell-phone towers and land-based telephone lines came in handy after terrorists rammed planes into New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Cellular phone service in lower Manhattan failed when the towers that transmit signals came crashing down along with the World Trade Center buildings. Land lines proved useless after authorities shut off utilities to the area. In Washington, cell-phone circuits were simply overloaded with panicked residents’ calls.
Iridium works through a system of 66 satellites circling 485 miles above the Earth.
The bin Laden family fortune has been estimated at $5 billion from its vast contracting and construction enterprises. Osama bin Laden’s personal fortune is valued at $300 million.
If the bin Laden family is, indeed, still involved in Iridium, a company that was recently reorganized after its unsuccessful debut on the telecommunications scene, it would not be the first time the bin Laden family has materially benefited directly from “black sheep” Osama bin Laden’s acts of terrorism.
The bin Laden family also helped rebuild a U.S. Air Force base in Saudi Arabia after the Khobar Towers were destroyed in 1996. Osama bin Laden is the chief suspect in that bombing.
Iridium Satellite LLC, a privately held company, is the successor to the bankrupt, delisted Iridium LLC. Iridium Satellite won a two-year contract in December to continue Defense Department service and launched commercial service in April. The company has distributed about 20,000 units so far, according to officials of the company.