According to a new book on the bin Laden family, "The Bin Ladens," by journalist Steve Coll, the weapons were to be used by Arab fighters then battling the Soviet military in Afghanistan. Coll claims Bin Laden and his half brother, Salem, met several times with the contacts at London's Dorchester Hotel to arrange for the purchase of the Russian SA-7 missiles via the German arms manufacturer Heckler and Koch.
The Washington Post quotes Coll as saying that the Government of Saudi Arabia made the payment for the weapons and that the weapons eventually were purchased in South America.
At the time of the weapons shipments, both the U.S. and Saudi Arabian governments were supporting Afghan and Arab forces resisting the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan.
But while the Reagan administration supplied Stinger missiles to the Afghans, the book says that the Afghans did not want the Americans providing such weaponry directly to Arab groups that had joined the fight, including forces organized by Osama bin Laden.
Calls to Heckler and Koch's offices in Virginia and in Alabama were not returned.
Among other revelations, the book says that Jalaluddin Haqqani, an Afghan fighter against the Soviets and now a Taliban leader in Pakistan, received tens of thousands of dollars from the CIA as a "unilateral" asset of the intelligence agency in 1988 and 1989.
It also says that U.S. intelligence installed a listening device in a desk presented in the late 1970s to Saudi Prince Nayef when he became interior minister.
Nayef's discovery of the bug, it says, negatively coloured his views of the United States and inhibited his cooperation with U.S. counter-terrorism efforts following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.
According to the book and many previous accounts, few of Osama's far-flung relatives had any contact with him during the growth of al-Qaeda and rejected his turn to violence.
Those living in or visiting the United States at the time of the 2001 attacks left the country about a week later on flights arranged by the Saudi government and with the approval of the FBI and the White House.