A ‘sham’ diving resort set up in the Red Sea by Israel’s secret service in the 1980s later became a temporary headquarters for Osama bin Laden, it can be revealed.
The extraordinary link between Mossad and the world’s most famous terrorist emerged after a Netflix blockbuster, starring Ben Kingsley, told the first part of the story.
Mossad ran the isolated ‘holiday camp’ as a front to help smuggle Ethiopian Jews out of eastern Africa, with secret agents posing as receptionists and diving instructors to spirit people across the Ethiopian border to Sudan.
The daring operation, which saved at least 7,000 Jews over five years, inspired the film ‘The Red Sea Resort’ which was screened last year.
Now a book by the BBC’s Raffi Berg reveals how Al Qaeda chief bin Laden hid out there for two weeks in 1991 – after the Israelis did a midnight flit in 1985.
The terrorist spent several years living in Sudan, growing his businesses and masterminding his global terrorist network.
Speaking to MailOnline Berg said: ‘After the Israelis had long gone, a member of a wealthy family in Khartoum, who invested in the resort confirmed that Bin Laden had stayed there.
‘At the time he had been kicked out of Saudi Arabia for criticising the government over its links to the US and he needed refuge.
‘Sudan, being so hard up, welcomed the wealthy young Bin Laden with open arms without having any idea of his terrorist intentions.
‘No one knows what he got up to in the resort, but it’s an isolated site so he would have gone unnoticed.
‘The fact he moved in to a secret base once used by Mossad only adds to the intrigue.’
The Netflix film tells how the mysterious holiday village sprang up in Arous in 1981.
With 15 idyllic villas offering exquisite ocean views and a team of dive instructors, it looked like any other exclusive Red Sea holiday camp.
But the staff were really Mossad agents sent in on the orders of Israel Prime Minister Menachem Begin to get Jews out of Ethiopia, which was in the grip of a civil war that had claimed the lives of 1.4million people.
Tens of thousands of refugees fled to neighbouring Sudan, where they languished in squalid camps and slums.
Among them were members of a mysterious Jewish sect called Beta Israel, which had long ago become isolated from the mainstream Jewish world.
When the Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin, heard of their plight, he ordered his spies to evacuate as many as possible.
At the time, Sudan was an enemy of the Jewish state, meaning agents had to work undercover.
Led by an operative known as Dani, played in the Netflix film by Captain America actor Chris Evans, they employed local cleaning and restaurant staff but the secret agents ran the resort themselves, posing as diving instructors and receptionists.
By day the Mossad agents taught holidaymakers to dive. By night they drove to refugee camps in Sudan and picked up Beta Jews and transported them to the coast under cover of darkness, avoiding roadblocks.
From there they were loaded onto dinghies waiting in the Red Sea and taken to Israeli ship the INS Bat Galim which was anchored offshore – and sailed to Israel.
Never before seen photos show the agents at work at the resort, posing with guests and teaching them diving as a cover for the audacious assignment.
Over the years, the fake resort grew in popularity. Holidaymakers included a unit of Egyptian soldiers, some British SAS men and a number of dignitaries and diplomats.
None had any idea that they were being waited on by undercover Israeli operatives.
The rescue operation was a huge success as the Mossad smuggled 7,054 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.
In 1985, a coup in Sudan made the Israeli agents fear getting caught and they quickly abandoned the Arous facility.
The spies vanished during the night, leaving bewildered holidaymakers and staff to wonder where they had gone the next morning.
Six years after the Israelis left, bin Laden moved into the resort having been expelled from Saudi Arabia for his views of the government’s relationship with the US.
Back then, the 9/11 mastermind’s burgeoning terror credentials were not fully known as Sudan, Africa’s poorest country, welcomed the wealthy young man worth £200million to invest in its struggling economy.
Bin Laden’s presence in the country was of immense financial benefit to Sudan.
He founded several construction and farming businesses but at the same time he built his Al Qaeda terror network and issued fatwas against the US.
After his stay at Arous, the terrorist leader bought a house in Khartoum and a farm in Soba, on the banks of the Blue Nile, where he stayed with his four wives, horses and many children.
‘Red Sea Spies’ by Raffi Berg (Icon Books) is available to purchase from bookstores or online.