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Mohamed Atta’s father, Mohamed el-Amir.Mohamed Atta’s father, Mohamed el-Amir. [Source: History Channel]Most of the future 9/11 hijackers are middle class and have relatively comfortable upbringings, even though, after 9/11, some people in Western countries will say one of the root causes of the attacks was poverty and assume that the hijackers must have been poor. The editor of Al Watan, a Saudi Arabian daily, will call the hijackers “middle class adventurers” rather than Islamist fundamentalist ideologues. (Sennott 3/3/2002)
bullet Mohamed Atta grows up in Cairo, Egypt. His father is an attorney, and both Atta and his two sisters attend university. (McDermott 2005, pp. 10-11)
bullet Marwan Alshehhi is from Ras al-Khaimah Emirate in the United Arab Emirates. His family is not particularly wealthy, but his father is a muezzin and one of his half-brothers a policeman. He attends university in Germany on a UAE army scholarship (see Spring 1996-December 23, 2000). (McDermott 2005, pp. 55)
bullet Ziad Jarrah is from Beirut, Lebanon. His father is a mid-level bureaucrat and his mother, from a well-off family, is a teacher. The family drives a Mercedes and Jarrah attends private Christian schools before going to study in Germany. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 4/19/2002; McDermott 2005, pp. 49-50)
bullet Hani Hanjour is from Taif, near Mecca in Saudi Arabia. His family has a car exporting business and a farm, which he manages for five years in the mid-1990s. (Goldstein, Sun, and Lardner 10/15/2001)
bullet Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi are from Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Their father owns a shop and the family is wealthy. (Khashoggi 9/20/2001; Wright 2006, pp. 378)
bullet Abdulaziz Alomari is from southwestern Saudi Arabia. He is a university graduate (see Late 1990s). He apparently marries and has a child, a daughter, before 9/11. (Sunday Times (London) 1/27/2002; Saudi Information Agency 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 232)
bullet Mohand Alshehri is from Tanooma in Asir Province, Saudi Arabia. He attends university (see Late 1990s). (Saudi Information Agency 9/11/2002)
bullet Hamza Alghamdi is from Baha Province, Saudi Arabia. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 231) He works as a stockboy in a housewares shop. (Sennott 3/3/2002)
bullet Fayez Ahmed Banihammad is from the United Arab Emirates. He gives his home address as being in Khor Fakkan, a port and enclave of Sharjah Emirate on the country’s east coast. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006) The 9/11 Commission will say he works as an immigration officer at one point. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 20 pdf file)
bullet Maqed Mojed is from Annakhil, near Medina in western Saudi Arabia. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 232) He attends university (see Late 1990s).
bullet Ahmed Alhaznawi is from Hera, Baha Province. His father is an imam at the local mosque and he is reported to attend university (see Late 1990s).
bullet Ahmed Alnami is from Abha, Asir Province. His family is one of government officials and scientists, and his father works for the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. He attends university (see Late 1990s). (Lamb 9/15/2002)
bullet Wail Alshehi and Waleed Alshehri are from Khamis Mushayt in Asir Province, southwestern Saudi Arabia. Their father is a businessman and builds a mosque as a gift to the town. They both go to college (see Late 1990s). The Alshehris are from a military family and have three older brothers who hold high rank at the nearby airbase. Their uncle, Major General Faez Alshehri, is the logistical director of Saudi Arabia’s armed forces. (Sennott 3/3/2002) Dr. Ali al-Mosa, a Saudi academic, will later comment: “Most of them were from very rich, top-class Saudi families. The father of the Alshehri boys is one of the richest people in the area and the other families are not far behind him.” (McGeough 10/5/2002)
The social situation of the families of Satam al Suqami, Ahmed Alghamdi, Saeed Alghamdi, and Khaled Almihdhar is unknown. However, Almihdhar is from a distinguished family that traces its lineage back to the Prophet Muhammad. (Wright 2006, pp. 379)

A secret weapons pipeline into Bosnia in violation of a UN arms embargo is exposed. Large transport planes have been arriving once a week for four weeks from Sudan to Maribor, Slovenia. The cargo is marked as humanitarian aid but in fact the planes are carrying tons of weapons, mostly from surplus stocks of old Soviet weapons. The planes are run by a company belonging to Victor Bout, a notorious illegal arms dealer who will later work closely with the Taliban in Afghanistan (see October 1996-Late 2001). (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 50-51, 268-269) Such planes have been bringing weapons through Croatia bound for Muslim Bosnia, but due to deteriorating relations between Croatia and Muslim Bosnia, the Croatian government stops the flights and impounds 120 tons of weapons. At the same time, chartered Russian helicopters fly more weapons directly into Muslim Bosnia. Austrian government agents learn that the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA) is financing all of these shipments. They are working with Hasan Cengic, a radical imam who is also a Bosnian government official. The TWRA and Cengic switch to other routes. The next year, the German government will stumbled across an illegal weapons deal being negotiated in Germany by Bosnian Muslims and Turkish arms dealers and arrest around 30. TWRA was the financial broker of the deal. But despite the exposure of TWRA as a charity front, no government takes any action against it and it will continue to be the main vehicle by which Muslim Bosnia gets illegal weapons. (Pomfret 9/22/1996; Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 50-51, 268-269) Bout and Cengic will apparently continue working together. A 2004 Bosnian intelligence report will say that “Victor Bout in collaboration with Hasan Cengic is transporting weapons to Chechnya” via a Bout front company. (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 50-51, 268-269)

The UN Security Council votes to impose a naval blockade around Serbia (which does not have much effect since Serbia is a landlocked country). While debating the resolution, a number of Islamic countries argue that Bosnia should be excluded from the arms embargo that was imposed on all former Yugoslavia republics in September 1991 (see September 26, 1991). But the US successfully leads an effort to shoot down the proposal. Former US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance tells the Security Council, “It taxes credulity to suggest that lifting the arms embargo for only one party is either feasible or desirable.” (Prial 11/17/1992) Ironically, around the same time, the US begins to secretly support Bosnian Muslim efforts to violate the embargo using a charity front controlled by radical militants (see September 1992).

Richard Chichakli.Richard Chichakli. [Source: Public domain]In the spring of 1993, Victor Bout moves to Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and begins to use it as the central hub of expanding business empire. Bout is an ex-Russian military officer and is rapidly developing an international network to buy, sell, and transport illegal goods, mostly weapons. The UAE is centrally located for his needs, and it has no money laundering laws, low taxes, and very lax banking regulations. Sharjah International Airport has almost no air passenger traffic at the time, being overshadowed by the popular airport in Dubai a short distance away. So the airport establishes a niche as an air cargo hub by offering tax incentives for cargo companies. In 1993, Richard Chichakli becomes friends and business partners with Bout. In 1995, Sharjah airport hires Chichakli to be the commercial manager of a new free trade zone now being heavily used by Bout. Chichakli, a Syrian by birth, has an interesting background. He claims to have been friends with Osama bin Laden while studying in Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s. He will later claim that he used to “sit around and eat sandwiches and sing songs” with bin Laden and his siblings, back when “Osama was OK.” In 1986, he moved to Texas, became a US citizen, and served in the US army until 1993, specializing in aviation, interrogation, and intelligence. He will later claim that he not only served in the US military, but also spent about 18 years working in intelligence (which, if true, would mean he was an intelligence agent when he was friends with bin Laden). Chichakli’s free trade zone is wildly successful. (Verloy 11/20/2002; Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 53-56) In 2000, US investigators will learn that Chichakli is living in Texas again and is still working closely with Bout. (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 53) However, no action will be taken against him until April 26, 2005, when US Treasury and FBI agents raid his home and business in Texas. They will seize his computer, documents, and over $1 million in assets as part of an investigation into Bout’s financial empire, but they will not arrest him. Chichakli will not be stopped when he leaves the US several days later. He will move to Syria, where it is later suspected that he and Bout supply Hezbollah with weapons (see July 2006). (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 247-248) Meanwhile, Sharjah and its airport will become a hub for al-Qaeda and the 9/11 plot. By 1996, there are daily flights between Afghanistan and Sharjah, and al-Qaeda uses Sharjah for drug and arms smuggling (see Mid-1996-October 2001). 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will live in Sharjah in 1998 (see July 8, 1999), and 9/11 plot facilitator Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi will be based in Sharjah in the months before the 9/11 attacks. Some of the 9/11 hijackers will pass through there and visit him (see Early-Late June, 2001).

Avelino “Sonny” Razon.Avelino “Sonny” Razon. [Source: Canadian Broadcasting Corp.]In December 1994, Philippine police reportedly begin monitoring a Pakistani businessman by the name of Tariq Javed Rana. According to Avelino Razon, a Philippine security official, the decision to put Rana under surveillance is prompted by a report that “Middle Eastern personalities” are planning to assassinate Pope John Paul II during his upcoming January 1995 visit to Manila. “[We] had one man in particular under surveillance—Tariq Javed Rana, a Pakistani suspected of supporting international terrorists with drug money. He was a close associate of Ramzi Yousef,” Razon later recalls. But it is possible that police began monitoring Rana before this date. In September, the Philippine press reported that he was a suspect in an illegal drug manufacturing ring, and the US embassy in Manila received a tip that Rana was linked to the ISI and was part of a plot to assassinate President Clinton during his November 1994 visit to Manila (see September 18-November 14, 1994). (Cockburn 3/9/2006) While under surveillance in December, Rana’s house burns down. Authorities determine that the fire was caused by nitroglycerin which can be used to improvise bombs. One month later, a fire caused by the same chemical is started in Ramzi Yousef’s Manila apartment (see January 6, 1995), leading to the exposure of the Bojinka plot to assassinate the Pope and crash a dozen airplanes. (Abuza 12/1/2002; Cockburn 3/9/2006) Rana is arrested by Philippine police in early April 1995. It is announced in the press that he is connected to Yousef and that he will be charged with investment fraud. He is said to have supported the militant group Abu Sayyaf and to have helped Yousef escape the Philippines after the fire in Yousef’s apartment. A search of the Lexis Nexus database shows there have been no media reports about Rana since his arrest. Around the same time as his arrest, six other suspected Bojinka plotters are arrested, but then eventually let go (see April 1, 1995-Early 1996). (Reid 4/2/1995)

After the Taliban takes control of the area around Kandahar, Afghanistan, in September 1994, prominent Persian Gulf state officials and businessmen, including high-ranking United Arab Emirates and Saudi government ministers such as Saudi Intelligence Minister Prince Turki al-Faisal, frequently secretly fly into Kandahar on state and private jets for bird hunting expeditions. (Williams 11/18/2001) General Wayne Downing, who will later serve as one of President Bush’s counterterrorism “tsars,” says: “They would go out and see Osama, spend some time with him, talk with him, you know, live out in the tents, eat the simple food, engage in falconing, some other pursuits, ride horses.” (Mitchell 9/5/2003) One noted visitor is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, United Arab Emirates (UAE) Defense Minister and Crown Prince for the emirate of Dubai. Another is Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, ruler of the UAE. While there, some develop ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda and give them money. Both Osama bin Laden and Taliban ruler Mullah Omar sometimes participate in these hunting trips. Al Maktoum allegedly hunts with bin Laden once in 1999 (see 1999). (Williams 11/18/2001; Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 120-121) On one occasion in 1999, the US will decide not to attack bin Laden with a missile because he’s bird hunting with important members of the UAE’s royal family (see February 11, 1999). US and Afghan officials suspect that the dignitaries’ outbound jets may also have smuggle out al-Qaeda and Taliban personnel. (Williams 11/18/2001) The CIA also develops suspicions that many royals use the hunting trips as cover to fly out of Afghanistan with large amounts of heroin, but they are unable to prove it (see 1998).

One of Ramzi Yousef’s timers seized by Philippines police in January 1995.One of Ramzi Yousef’s timers seized by Philippines police in January 1995. [Source: Peter Lance]Responding to an apartment fire, Philippine investigators uncover an al-Qaeda plot to assassinate the Pope that is scheduled to take place when he visits the Philippines one week later. While investigating that scheme, they also uncover Operation Bojinka, planned by the same people: 1993 WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). (Gumbel 6/6/2002; McDermott 6/24/2002; McDermott 9/1/2002) Many initial reports after 9/11 will claim the fire was accidental and the police discovery of it was a lucky break, but in 2002 the Los Angeles Times will report that the police started the fire on purpose as an excuse to look around the apartment. In the course of investigating the fire, one of the main plotters, Abdul Hakim Murad, is arrested. (McDermott 9/1/2002) The plot has two main components. On January 12, Pope John Paul II is scheduled to visit Manila and stay for five days. A series of bombs along his parade route would be detonated by remote control, killing thousands, including the Pope. Yousef’s apartment is only 500 feet from the residence where the Pope will be staying. (Reeve 1999, pp. 78; Lance 2006, pp. 138) Then, starting January 21, a series of bombs would be placed on airplanes. (Insight 5/27/2002) Five men, Yousef, Wali Khan Amin Shah, Abdul Hakim Murad, Abd al-Karim Yousef (a.k.a., Adel Anon, Yousef’s twin brother), and Khalid Al-Shaikh (thought to be an alias for KSM) would depart to different Asian cities and place a timed bomb on board during the first leg of passenger planes traveling to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu, and New York. They would then transfer to another flight and place a second bomb on board that flight. In all, 11 to 12 planes would blow up in a two day period over the Pacific. If successful, some 4,000 people would have been killed. (Agence France-Presse 12/8/2001; Insight 5/27/2002; Abuza 12/1/2002) According to another account, some of the bombs would be timed to go off weeks or even months later. Presumably worldwide air travel could be interrupted for months. (Lance 2003, pp. 260-61) A second wave of attacks involving crashing airplanes into buildings in the US would go forward later, once the pilots are trained for it (see February-Early May 1995).

President Clinton signs a classified presidential order “directing the Departments of Justice, State and Treasury, the National Security Council, the CIA, and other intelligence agencies to increase and integrate their efforts against international money laundering by terrorists and criminals.” The New York Times will later call this the first serious effort by the US government to track bin Laden’s businesses. However, according to the Times, “They failed.” William Wechsler, a National Security Council staff member during the Clinton administration, will say that the government agencies given the task suffered from “a lack of institutional knowledge, a lack of expertise… We could have been doing much more earlier. It didn’t happen.” (Weiner and Johnston 9/20/2001)

Robin Raphel.Robin Raphel. [Source: Mark Wilson / Agence France-Presse]Robin Raphel, Deputy Secretary of State for South Asia, speaks to the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister about Afghanistan. She says that the US government “now hopes that peace in the region will facilitate US business interests,” such as the proposed Unocal gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan. (Coll 2004, pp. 330)

In 1996, al-Qaeda assumes control of Ariana Airlines, Afghanistan’s national airline, for use in its illegal trade network. Passenger flights become few and erratic, as planes are used to fly drugs, weapons, gold, and personnel, primarily between Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Pakistan. The Emirate of Sharjah, in the UAE, becomes a hub for al-Qaeda drug and arms smuggling. Typically, “large quantities of drugs” are flown from Kandahar, Afghanistan, to Sharjah, and large quantities of weapons are flown back to Afghanistan. (Williams 11/18/2001) About three to four flights run the route each day. Many weapons come from Victor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer based in Sharjah. (Pasternak and Braun 1/20/2002) Afghan taxes on opium production are paid in gold, and then the gold bullion is flown to Dubai, UAE, and laundered into cash. (Farah 2/17/2002) Taliban officials regularly provide militants with false papers identifying them as Ariana Airlines employees so they can move freely around the world. For instance, one flight on a Ariana small plane in 2000 lists 33 crew members. A former National Security Council official later claims the US is well aware at the time that al-Qaeda agents regularly fly on Ariana Airlines. (However, US intelligence will not learn of the widespread use of forged Ariana IDs until after 9/11.) The CIA learns of Bout’s connection to Ariana and the Taliban in 1998, but takes no action (see 1998). The US presses the UAE for tighter banking controls, but moves “delicately, not wanting to offend an ally in an already complicated relationship,” and little changes by 9/11. (Williams 11/18/2001; Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 139) Much of the money for the 9/11 hijackers flows though these Sharjah, UAE, channels. There also are reports suggesting that Ariana Airlines might have been used to train Islamic militants as pilots. The illegal use of Ariana Airlines helps convince the United Nations to impose sanctions against Afghanistan in 1999, but the sanctions lack teeth and do not stop the airline. A second round of sanctions finally stops foreign Ariana Airlines flights, but its charter flights and other charter services keep the illegal network running. (Williams 11/18/2001) About nine of the 9/11 hijackers work at the Kandahar airport in 2000, which is Ariana’s main hub (see Summer 2000).

Taliban forces conquering Afghanistan.Taliban forces conquering Afghanistan. [Source: Banded Artists Productions]The Taliban conquer Kabul (Kugler 8/19/2002) , establishing control over much of Afghanistan. A surge in the Taliban’s military successes at this time is later attributed to an increase in direct military assistance from Pakistan’s ISI. (Frantz 12/8/2001) The oil company Unocal is hopeful that the Taliban will stabilize Afghanistan and allow its pipeline plans to go forward. According to some reports, “preliminary agreement [on the pipeline] was reached between the [Taliban and Unocal] long before the fall of Kabul .… Oil industry insiders say the dream of securing a pipeline across Afghanistan is the main reason why Pakistan, a close political ally of America’s, has been so supportive of the Taliban, and why America has quietly acquiesced in its conquest of Afghanistan.” (Lockwood 10/11/1996) The 9/11 Commission later concludes that some State Department diplomats are willing to “give the Taliban a chance” because it might be able to bring stability to Afghanistan, which would allow a Unocal oil pipeline to be built through the country. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)

Victor Bout.Victor Bout. [Source: New York Times]Russian arms merchant Victor Bout, who has been selling weapons to Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance since 1992, switches sides, and begins selling weapons to the Taliban and al-Qaeda instead. (Pasternak and Braun 1/20/2002; Smith et al. 4/17/2002; Los Angeles Times 5/19/2002) The deal comes immediately after the Taliban captures Kabul in late October 1996 and gains the upper hand in Afghanistan’s civil war. In one trade in 1996, Bout’s company delivers at least 40 tons of Russian weapons to the Taliban, earning about $50 million. (Osborn 2/16/2002) Two intelligence agencies later confirm that Bout trades with the Taliban “on behalf of the Pakistan government.” In late 2000, several Ukrainians sell 150 to 200 T-55 and T-62 tanks to the Taliban in a deal conducted by the ISI, and Bout helps fly the tanks to Afghanistan. (van Niekerk and Verloy 2/5/2002) Bout formerly worked for the Russian KGB, and now operates the world’s largest private weapons transport network. Based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bout operates freely there until well after 9/11. The US becomes aware of Bout’s widespread illegal weapons trading in Africa in 1995, and of his ties to the Taliban in 1996, but they fail to take effective action against him for years. (Los Angeles Times 5/19/2002) US pressure on the UAE in November 2000 to close down Bout’s operations there is ignored. Press reports calling him “the merchant of death” also fail to pressure the UAE. (Financial Times 6/10/2000; Bowcott and Norton-Taylor 12/23/2000) After President Bush is elected, it appears the US gives up trying to get Bout, until after 9/11. (Farah 2/26/2002; Smith et al. 4/17/2002) Bout moves to Russia in 2002. He is seemingly protected from prosecution by the Russian government, which in early 2002 will claim, “There are no grounds for believing that this Russian citizen has committed illegal acts.” (Smith et al. 4/17/2002) The Guardian suggests that Bout may have worked with the CIA when he traded with the Northern Alliance, and this fact may be hampering current international efforts to catch him. (Smith et al. 4/17/2002)

Jamal al-Fadl, a highly-trusted informant who recently defected from al-Qaeda to the US (see June 1996-April 1997), is debriefed by FBI officials about al-Qaeda’s finances. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 497) According to the New Yorker, al-Fadl “provided a surprisingly full picture of al-Qaeda, depicting it as an international criminal network intent on attacking the United States. Al-Fadl said that he had handled many of al-Qaeda’s financial transactions after bin Laden left Afghanistan and moved the hub of his operations to [Sudan], in 1992. In this role, al-Fadl had access to bin Laden’s payroll and knew the details of al-Qaeda’s global banking networks, its secret membership lists, and its paramilitary training camps in Afghanistan, one of which he had attended, in the late eighties.” (Mayer 9/11/2006) For instance, al-Fadl reveals that bin Laden co-founded the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank in Sudan and capitalized it with $50 million. The US will make this allegation public shortly after al-Fadl is debriefed by the CIA (see August 14, 1996). Al-Fadl will further reveal that he and several other al-Qaeda operatives had accounts at the Al-Shamal Bank to finance their militant activities. (Crewdson 11/3/2001) Al-Fadl also reveals that bin Laden owns a number of businesses in Sudan, including:
bullet The El-Hijra Construction and Development company, which builds a new airport at Port Sudan and a long highway linking Port Sudan to capital of Khartoum.
bullet The Taba Investment Company, which deals in global stock markets and currency trading.
bullet The Wadi al-Aqiq import/export company, which serves as the parent body for most of the other companies.
bullet The Ladin International import-export company. In 1995, the FBI discovered links between this company and the Bojinka plot in the Philippines (see May 23, 1999).
bullet And other businesses, including several farms, a tannery, and a trucking company. Al-Fadl reveals that some of the farms double as training camps.
Furthermore, he gives details of various bin Laden-linked bank accounts in Britain, Austria, Sudan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates. Even though bin Laden leaves Sudan in 1996, most of his businesses there will continue to operate under his ownership. The US will not take any action against these businesses before 9/11 (see March 16, 2000). (Moor 9/26/2001; Callinan 10/7/2001)

In 1998, CIA analysts realize that ground crews for illegal arms dealer Victor Bout are performing maintenance chores for Ariana Airlines planes flying to and from Afghanistan. Bout’s air fleet is based in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE), at the time, and in fact Bout has been working with the Taliban since about 1996 (see October 1996-Late 2001). The CIA has also been gathering intelligence that al-Qaeda operatives are frequently moving between Afghanistan and the UAE. Ariana, Afghanistan’s official airline, is the only airline making flights between the Middle East and Afghanistan. Therefore, Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, concludes that Ariana is being used as a “terrorist taxi service.” Scheuer concludes that Bout is assisting al-Qaeda. He will later comment that when al-Qaeda operatives would travel through the UAE, “it was almost always through Ariana flights. Since Bout’s operation was working with Ariana, they were part of the same set of concerns.” The CIA also notices an increasing number of Bout’s own planes flying to and from Afghanistan. Scheuer will later say, “Our human intelligence said it was mostly small arms and ammunition, going to Kandahar and occasionally to Kabul.” (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 138-140) However, while intelligence reports on Bout’s ties to the Taliban continue, interest in his activities in Afghanistan fades by the end of 1998. Scheuer will later claim that he tried to raise concern about the Bout flights with National Security Council officials, but saw little interest. “I never got a sense that he was important. He was part of the problem we had with the terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan, but there were so many parts we were dealing with.… [N]o one was going to fall on their sword to get Victor Bout.” (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 143) After 9/11, evidence will emerge that about nine of the 9/11 hijackers worked in the Kandahar airport heavily used by Bout’s airplanes (see Summer 2000).

Bombings of the Nairobi, Kenya, US embassy (left), and the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, US embassy (right).Bombings of the Nairobi, Kenya, US embassy (left), and the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, US embassy (right). [Source: Associated Press]Two US embassies in Africa are bombed within minutes of each other. At 10:35 a.m., local time, a suicide car bomb attack in Nairobi, Kenya, kills 213 people, including 12 US nationals, and injures more than 4,500. Mohamed al-Owhali and someone known only as Azzam are the suicide bombers, but al-Owhali runs away at the last minute and survives. Four minutes later, a suicide car bomb attack in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, kills 11 and injures 85. Hamden Khalif Allah Awad is the suicide bomber there. The attacks will be blamed on al-Qaeda. (PBS Frontline 2001; United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38 5/2/2001) The Tanzania death toll is low because, remarkably, the attack takes place on a national holiday so the US embassy there is closed. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 195) The attack shows al-Qaeda has a capability for simultaneous attacks. The Tanzania bombing appears to have been a late addition, as one of the arrested bombers will allegedly tell US agents that it was added to the plot only about 10 days in advance. (United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14 3/7/2001) A third attack against the US embassy in Uganda does not take place due to a last-minute delay (see August 7, 1998). (Associated Press 9/25/1998) August 7, 1998, is the eighth anniversary of the arrival of US troops in Saudi Arabia and some people will speculate that this is the reason for the date of the bombings. (Gunaratna 2003, pp. 46) In the 2002 book The Cell, reporters John Miller, Michael Stone, and Chris Mitchell will write: “What has become clear with time is that facets of the East Africa plot had been known beforehand to the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, and to Israeli and Kenyan intelligence services.… [N]o one can seriously argue that the horrors of August 7, 1998, couldn’t have been prevented.” They will also comment, “Inexplicable as the intelligence failure was, more baffling still was that al-Qaeda correctly presumed that a major attack could be carried out by a cell that US agents had already uncovered.” (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 195, 206) After 9/11, it will come to light that three of the alleged hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi, had some involvement in the bombings (see October 4, 2001, Late 1999, and 1993-1999) and that the US intelligence community was aware of this involvement by late 1999 (see December 15-31, 1999), if not before.

On August 20, 1998, President Clinton signs an Executive Order imposing sanctions against bin Laden and al-Qaeda. The order gives US officials the power to block accounts and impose sanctions on any government, organization, or person providing “material assistance” to al-Qaeda. Beginning in 1999, mid-level US officials travel to Saudi Arabia and a number of Persian Gulf countries seeking information about charities supporting al-Qaeda and attempting to put pressure of governments allowing such charities to operate (see June 1999). But these governments provide little to no assistance. The New York Times claims that by the end of 1999, “with the [US] embassy bombings receding into memory, the [Clinton] administration largely moved on. ‘These visits were not followed up by senior-level intervention by the State Department, or for that matter by Treasury, to those governments,’ [says] Stuart Eizenstadt, a Treasury official and a participant in the trips. ‘I think that was interpreted by those governments as meaning this was not the highest priority.’” William Wechsler, one US official involved in these efforts, will later claim, “We had only marginal successes.” He will cite the United Arab Emirates imposing money laundering laws for the first time in 1999 and efforts to ban flights by Ariana, the Afghan national airline (see November 14, 1999; January 19, 2001), as the main successes. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later notes that the Saudis promised information and support, but in the end gave little of either. He will claim that they “protested our focus on continuing contacts between Osama and his wealthy, influential family, who were supposed to have broken all ties with him years before. ‘How can we tell a mother not to call her son?’ they asked.” The New York Times concludes that by 9/11, “the assault on al-Qaeda’s finances had largely fallen by the wayside.” (Weiner and Johnston 9/20/2001; Eichenwald 12/10/2001; Clarke 2004, pp. 190-195)

Julie Sirrs.Julie Sirrs. [Source: Julie Sirrs]Julie Sirrs, a military analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), travels to Afghanistan. Fluent in local languages and knowledgeable about the culture, she made a previous undercover trip there in October 1997. She is surprised that the CIA was not interested in sending in agents after the failed missile attack on Osama bin Laden in August 1998, so she returns at this time. Traveling undercover, she meets with Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. She sees a terrorist training center in Taliban-controlled territory. Sirrs will later claim: “The Taliban’s brutal regime was being kept in power significantly by bin Laden’s money, plus the narcotics trade, while [Massoud’s] resistance was surviving on a shoestring. With even a little aid to the Afghan resistance, we could have pushed the Taliban out of power. But there was great reluctance by the State Department and the CIA to undertake that.” She partly blames the interest of the US government and the oil company Unocal to see the Taliban achieve political stability to enable a trans-Afghanistan pipeline (see May 1996 and September 27, 1996). She claims, “Massoud told me he had proof that Unocal had provided money that helped the Taliban take Kabul.” She also states, “The State Department didn’t want to have anything to do with Afghan resistance, or even, politically, to reveal that there was any viable option to the Taliban.” After two weeks, Sirrs returns with a treasure trove of maps, photographs, and interviews. (ABC News 2/18/2002; ABC News 2/18/2002; Sheehy 3/11/2004) By interviewing captured al-Qaeda operatives, she learns that the official Afghanistan airline, Ariana Airlines, is being used to ferry weapons and drugs, and learns that bin Laden goes hunting with “rich Saudis and top Taliban officials” (see Mid-1996-October 2001 and 1995-2001). (Braun and Pasternak 11/18/2001) When Sirrs returns from Afghanistan, her material is confiscated and she is accused of being a spy. Says one senior colleague, “She had gotten the proper clearances to go, and she came back with valuable information,” but high level officials “were so intent on getting rid of her, the last thing they wanted to pay attention to was any information she had.” Sirrs is cleared of wrongdoing, but her security clearance is pulled. She eventually quits the DIA in frustration in 1999. (ABC News 2/18/2002; Sheehy 3/11/2004) Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) will claim that the main DIA official behind the punishment of Sirrs is Lieutenant General Patrick Hughes, who later becomes “one of the top officials running the Department of Homeland Security.” (Dana Rohrabacher 6/21/2004)

William Wechsler.William Wechsler. [Source: CAP]Shortly after the US embassy bombings in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the US launches a new interagency effort to track bin Laden’s finances. There had been a previous interagency effort in 1995 but it had fizzled (see October 21, 1995). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke sets up a task force. He orders it to find out how much money bin Laden has, where it comes from, how it is distributed, and to stop it. Clarke appoints William Wechsler, a National Security Council staff member, to head the task force. The task force begins an investigation of bin Laden’s finances (see Late 1998). Clarke later writes that he and Wechsler “quickly [come] to the conclusion that the [US government] departments [are] generally doing a lousy job of tracking and disrupting international criminals’ financial networks and had done little or nothing against terrorist financing.” (Weiner and Johnston 9/20/2001; Clarke 2004, pp. 190-191) Clarke will later claim there was only limited effort from within the US government to fight bin Laden’s financial network. He will assert that within weeks of setting up the interagency effort, it was determined that only one person in the US government, a lowly Treasury Department official, appeared to have any expertise about the hawala system, an informal and paperless money transfer system used by al-Qaeda that is popular with Muslim populations worldwide (see 1993-September 11, 2001). Clarke will later write that the “CIA knew little about the [hawala] system, but set about learning. FBI knew even less, and set about doing nothing.” The FBI claims there are no hawalas in the US, but Wechsler finds several in New York City using a simple Internet search. Clarke will say, “Despite our repeated requests over the following years, nobody from the FBI ever could answer even our most basic questions about the number, location, and activities of major hawalas in the US—much less taken action.” The efforts of other departments are not much better. The one Treasury official with some expertise about hawalas is eventually let go before 9/11. (Clarke 2004, pp. 192-193) Efforts to pressure governments overseas also meet with little success (see August 20, 1998-1999).

A group of Abu Sayyaf militants photographed on July 16, 2000.A group of Abu Sayyaf militants photographed on July 16, 2000. [Source: Associated Press]In the book “Dollars for Terror” published this year, investigative journalist Richard Labeviere claims that the Philippine drug trade is worth billions of dollars a year and that Muslim militants connected to al-Qaeda have a role in it. “Admittedly, the Islamists do not control all of these flows, but the Abu Sayyaf group plays a big part. Its mercenaries look after the protection of transport and the shipping of cargoes via jungle airports in the [southern Philippines.] By the same air channels, and also by sea, weapons are delivered for the group’s combat unit. This supply chain is managed by Pakistani intermediaries who are trained directly in the Afghan camps around Peshawar” in Pakistan. He does not give his source for this information. (Labeviere 1999, pp. 365) Perhaps not coincidentally, a Pakistani believed to be connected to the drug trade is suspected of helping to fund the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), which was planned in the Philippines with the help of the Abu Sayyaf (see December 1994-April 1995). Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer, is said to use his network to ship weaponry to the Abu Sayyaf, though details have not been reported. Bout’s network also delivers weapons to the Taliban (see Mid-1996-October 2001). (McNeil 2/27/2002; Abuza 9/1/2005 pdf file) There are many reports on the Abu Sayyaf’s involvement with illegal drugs. For instance, in 2002 a Philippine newspaper will note that the region dominated by Abu Sayyaf has become such a notorious drug center that it is sometimes nicknamed “Little Colombia.” (Sicat 3/13/2002)

Witney Schneidman.Witney Schneidman. [Source: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars]In 1999, State Department official Witney Schneidman is collecting information on the many civil wars and conflicts raging in Africa. He notices that the name of Victor Bout, a Russian arms dealer, keeps popping up in many conflicts. Sometimes Bout is even supplying both sides of a civil war. In early summer 1999, an NSA official gives Schneidman a “drop dead” briefing about Bout, based mostly on communications intercepts the NSA has on him. Photos show dozens of airplanes parked in an airport in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, all of them owned by Bout. Schneidman begins mobilizing other officials. By early 2000, he and National Security Council adviser Lee Wolosky create a team to apprehend Bout. While Bout remains little known to the general public, for many US officials he becomes the most wanted criminal in the world, aside from Osama bin Laden and his top aides. National Security Council official Gayle Smith will later comment, “You want to talk about transnational threats? We had [al-Qaeda’s bombing in] East Africa, global warming, and Victor Bout.” No other arms dealer has an operation anywhere near the size of Bout’s, and his links to the Taliban and al-Qaeda are a special concern (see 1998). But Bout is not doing any business in the US and is breaking no US laws, so the team cannot gather enough evidence to issue an arrest warrant for him. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke considers targeting Bout for rendition, which is a very rare practice before 9/11. But when the Bush administration takes power in early 2001, Bout is deemed a less important priority, and ultimately no effective action is taken against him prior to 9/11 (see Early 2001-September 11, 2001). (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 1-7)

9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi leave Saudi Arabia after obtaining new passports and US visas there (see March 21, 1999, April 4, 1999, April 6, 1999, and April 3-7, 1999). According to the 9/11 Commission, their passports contain an “indicator of extremism” that is “associated with al-Qaeda.” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 9, 33 pdf file) According to author James Bamford, the indicator is a “secret coded indicator, placed there by the Saudi government, warning of a possible terrorist affiliation.” (Bamford 2008, pp. 58-59) The Saudi government reportedly uses this indicator to track some of the Saudi hijackers before 9/11 “with precision” (see November 2, 2007). Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi apparently return to Afghanistan to discuss an attack on the US. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 155) Salem Alhazmi’s destination is unknown. He will be reported to be in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and Afghanistan (see Summer 2000) the next year. Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi are placed on the Saudi terrorist watch list later this year (see Late 1999).

Richard Newcomb.Richard Newcomb. [Source: Scott Ferrell/ Getty Images]The US has been pressuring the Saudi government to do more to stop Saudi financing for al-Qaeda and other militant groups, but so far little has been accomplished (see August 20, 1998-1999). Vice President Al Gore contacts the Saudis and arranges for some US officials to have a meeting with their top security and banking officials. William Wechsler from the National Security Council (NSC), Richard Newcomb from the Treasury Department, and others on an NSC al-Qaeda financing task force meet about six senior Saudi officials in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. One US official will later recall, “We laid everything out—what we knew, what we thought. We told them we’d just had two of our embassies blown up and that we needed to deal with them in a different way.” But the Saudis have virtually no oversight over their charities and do not seem interested in changing that. Newcomb threatens to freeze the assets of certain groups and individuals if the Saudis do not crack down. The Saudis promise action, but nothing happens. A second visit by a US delegation in January 2000 is ineffective as well. (Kaplan, Ekman, and Latif 12/15/2003)

In 2008, the website Intelwire.com will obtain a declassified FBI document from this date. The content is heavily redacted, including the title, but the full title appears to be, “Summary of information obtained from the United Arab Emirates with regard to Manila Air fugitive Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.” The document appears to detail a briefing by United Arab Emirates (UAE) officials from the General Department of State Security to FBI officials visiting the UAE. It mentions that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) “who was reported to be in _____ during mid-1998, is still currently living in Sharjah, UAE, with his family.” The report also mentions that “in July 1998, authorities from ______ based on information probably obtained from Qatar, located KSM living and working in ____. After questioning him about his activities with the [Muslim Brotherhood], he was deported to Bahrain.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation 7/8/1999 pdf file) The 9/11 Commission will later mention this document a single time, and reveal that one of the redacted sections discusses KSM’s links to the Abu Sayyaf militant group in the Philippines. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 488) Sharjah is a major hub of al-Qaeda activity at this time (see Mid-1996-October 2001), and one of the 9/11 hijackers, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, is from the emirate of Sharjah (see 1980s and 1990s). 9/11 plot facilitator Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi will be based in Sharjah in the months before the 9/11 attacks, and some of the 9/11 hijackers will pass through there and visit him (see Early-Late June, 2001). It is not known what action US intelligence takes in response to this briefing.

Ahmed Shah Massoud.
Ahmed Shah Massoud. [Source: French Ministry of Foreign Affairs]Worried about intercepts showing a growing likelihood of al-Qaeda attacks around the millennium, the CIA steps up ties with Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban. The CIA sends a team of agents, led by bin Laden unit chief Richard Blee, to Massoud’s headquarters in a remote part of northern Afghanistan, seeking his help to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. The CIA team and Massoud meet twice, and Blee tells him, “We have a common enemy.” Massoud complains that the US is too focused on bin Laden, and is not interested in the root problems of Taliban, Saudi, and Pakistani support for terrorism that is propping him up. He agrees to help nonetheless, and the CIA gives him more aid in return. However, the US is officially neutral in the Afghan civil war and the agents are prohibited from giving any aid that would “fundamentally alter the Afghan battlefield.” The CIA team will later be reported to admire Massoud greatly. They see him as “a Che Guevara figure, a great actor on history’s stage,” and “a poet, a military genius, a religious man, and a leader of enormous courage who defied death and accepted its inevitability.” Author Steve Coll will write: “The CIA team had gone into the Panjshir [Valley, where Massoud’s headquarters is located] as unabashed admirers of Massoud. Now their convictions deepened even as they recognized that the agency’s new partnership with the Northern Alliance would be awkward, limited, and perhaps unlikely to succeed.” Perhaps because of this, the team members agree with Massoud’s criticism of US policy and agree to lobby for a policy change in his favor in Washington. (Coll 2004, pp. 469-472; Coll 2/23/2004) DIA agent Julie Sirrs, newly retired, is at Massoud’s headquarters at the same time as the CIA team (see October 1998). She gathers valuable intelligence from captured al-Qaeda soldiers while the CIA agents stay in their guesthouse. She will publish much of what she learns on this trip and other trips in the summer of 2001. (Washington Post 2/28/2004)

United Nations sanctions against Afghanistan take effect. The sanctions freeze Taliban assets and impose an air embargo on Ariana Airlines in an effort to force the Taliban to hand over bin Laden. (BBC 2/6/2000) It had been widely reported that Ariana had become a transportation arm for al-Qaeda (see Mid-1996-October 2001). However, Ariana will keep its illegal trade network flying, until stricter sanctions will ground it in 2001 (see January 19, 2001).

Treasury Department official Richard Newcomb has been to Saudi Arabia with other US officials in an attempt to pressure the Saudis to crack down on financing al-Qaeda, but no action has resulted (see June 1999). He had threatened to freeze the assets of certain individuals and groups funding al-Qaeda if not action is taken, and now he starts to act on that threat. As head of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, he submits names for sanctions. But imposing sanctions requires approval from an interagency committee, and the permission to go ahead is never given. CIA and FBI officials are “lukewarm to the idea, worried that sanctions would chill what little cooperation they had with their Saudi counterparts.” But the State Department puts up the most opposition. One official will later recall, “The State Department always thought we had much bigger fish to fry.” (Kaplan, Ekman, and Latif 12/15/2003)

Hamza Alghamdi in Afghanistan.Hamza Alghamdi in Afghanistan. [Source: Spiegel TV]Several of the 9/11 hijackers bring money into the US in the form of cash and traveler’s checks. At least $69,000 is imported this way:
bullet Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar bring in about $15,000 (see February 4, 2000);
bullet Marwan Alshehhi purchases $2,000 in traveler’s checks in New York on May 31, 2000, apparently using money withdrawn from his Dresdner bank account in Hamburg; (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 136 pdf file)
bullet Ziad Jarrah opens a bank account with a $2,000 deposit shortly after arriving in the US (see June 28-July 7, 2000);
bullet Majed Moqed, Wail Alshehri, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Saeed Alghamdi, Hamza Alghamdi, and Ahmed Alnami bring in traveler’s checks worth $43,980 purchased in the United Arab Emirates (see April 11-June 28, 2001); (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 137 pdf file)
bullet Khalid Almihdhar brings in traveler’s checks worth $4,900 purchased in Saudi Arabia. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 137 pdf file)

Intelligence Newsletter reports that a number of Osama bin Laden-owed businesses in Sudan are still operating and still controlled by bin Laden. The report specifically mentions Wadi al-Aqiq, El-Hijra Construction and Development, Taba Investment Company, and the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank. Bin Laden’s control of all these businesses were revealed in detail to US intelligence by al-Qaeda informant Jamal al-Fadl several years earlier (see December 1996-January 1997). The report notes that both Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid and his cousin-in-law Mohamedou Ould Slahi, both known al-Qaeda leaders, were reportedly employed in recent years by the El-Hijra company. The report further notes that money for bin Laden “pours into accounts at branch offices of Al Taqwa [Bank] in Malta,” Switzerland, and the Bahamas. Businesses and charities supporting bin Laden “are thriving around the world without any real curb on their operations” because “some US and European agencies hunting him seem to lack zeal” in stopping him. “To be sure, if journalists can track down bin Laden’s friends without too much trouble it can be imagined that law enforcement and intelligence agencies have long found the same connections. Recent anti-terrorism history has shown that when the authorities really want to crack down on an organization they cut off its financial and logistic roots. So why are bin Laden’s backers prospering when the world’s most powerful anti-terrorist organizations are chasing him?” (Intelligence Newsletter 3/16/2000)

Under interrogation after 9/11, al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash will claim he met some of the 9/11 hijackers at Kandahar airport in Afghanistan in the summer of 2000. Although he will not be able to recall all of them, he will say the group includes Satam Al Suqami, Waleed and Wail Alshehri, Abdulaziz Alomari, Hamza Alghamdi, Salem Alhazmi, and Majed Moqed. He will say he was closest to Saeed Alghamdi, whom he convinced to become a martyr and whom he asked to recruit a friend, Ahmed Alghamdi, to the same cause. However, doubts will later be expressed about the reliability of such statements from prisoners like bin Attash, due to the methods used to obtain them (see June 16, 2004) (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 233-4) Al-Qaeda’s division of passports and host country issues is based at the airport and it alters passports, visas and identification cards. Some people involved in the plot will later be reported to have altered travel documents (see July 23, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 56 pdf file) 9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alnami and would-be hijacker Mushabib al-Hamlan are also said to be at the same Kandahar camp, Al Farooq, and are assigned to guard the airport. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 526) By the late 1990s, the Kandahar airport will become the main logistics lifeline for al-Qaeda and the Taliban to the outside world. One Ariana pilot will later recall, “I would see Arabs with [satellite] phones walking around the terminal, in touch with the Taliban at the highest levels.” On one occasion, he sees Taliban ruler Mullah Omar meeting in the middle of the airport with a rebel leader from Tajikistan, surrounded by aides. “There they were, cross-legged on their mats, chattering into cell phones.” (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 140) At this time, the Kandahar airport is being mainly used by Ariana Airlines, which has been completely co-opted by al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and aircraft companies controlled by international arms dealer Victor Bout (see 1998).

Ali Abdul Aziz Ali.Ali Abdul Aziz Ali. [Source: FBI]Hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi receive a series of five money transfers from the United Arab Emirates:
bullet On June 29, $5,000 is wired by a person using the alias “Isam Mansur” to a Western Union facility in New York, where Alshehhi picks it up;
bullet On July 18, $10,000 is wired to Atta and Alshehhi’s joint account at SunTrust from the UAE Exchange Centre in Bur Dubai by a person using the alias “Isam Mansur”;
bullet On August 5, $9,500 is wired to the joint account from the UAE Exchange Centre by a person using the alias “Isam Mansour”;
bullet On August 29, $20,000 is wired to the joint account from the UAE Exchange Centre by a person using the alias “Mr. Ali”;
bullet On September 17 $70,000 is wired to the joint account from the UAE Exchange Centre by a person using the alias “Hani (Fawar Trading).” Some sources suggest a suspicious activity report was generated about this transaction (see (Late September 2000)). (Willman 11/29/2001; Beith 12/2/2001; Eichenwald 12/10/2001; MSNBC 12/11/2001; US Congress 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 134-5 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia; Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file) Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar previously received a transfer from the United Arab Emirates from a “Mr. Ali” (see April 16-18, 2000). The 9/11 Commission say this money was sent by Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (a.k.a. Ammar al-Baluchi), a nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 133-5 pdf file) Although he denies making the $5,000 transfer to Nawaf Alhazmi, Ali will admit sending Alshehhi these amounts and say that the money was Alshehhi’s (see March 30, 2007). He also admits receiving 16 phone calls from Alshehhi around this time (see June 4, 2000-September 11, 2001). (US Department of Defense 4/12/2007 pdf file) The hijackers may also receive another $100,000 around this time (see (July-August 2000)). It is suggested that Saeed Sheikh, who wires the hijackers money in the summer of 2001 (see Early August 2001), may be involved in one or both of these transfers. For example, French author Bernard-Henri Levy later claims to have evidence from sources inside both Indian and US governments of phone calls between Sheikh and Mahmood Ahmed, head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, during this same time period, and he sees a connection between the timing of the calls and the money transfers (see Summer 2000). (Swami 10/13/2001; Kak 10/18/2001; Levy 2003, pp. 320-324)

In October 2000, Congress authorizes a new unit within the Treasury Department called the Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center. Its task is to blend the expertise of the Treasury Department, CIA, FBI, and NSA in tracking and disrupting the finances of US-designated terrorist groups. Similar efforts had been tried twice before and fizzled out (see October 21, 1995; Late 1998). However, the unit is still getting organized at the time of the 9/11 attacks. Spurred by the attacks, the unit gets up and running on September 14, 2001. A Treasury spokesperson cites the logistical difficulties of bringing together representatives from different agencies in explaining the delay. (Levin and Meyer 10/15/2001)

Hamza Alghamdi.Hamza Alghamdi. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]Future 9/11 hijacker Hamza Alghamdi flies from Iran to Kuwait on October 8, travels to Qatar the next day, and enters Saudi Arabia on October 13. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 32-33 pdf file) According to the 9/11 Commission, he is accompanied on the flight from Iran to Kuwait by fellow hijacker Mohand Alshehri. The 9/11 Commission will mention this flight in a section of its final report suggesting co-operation on travel between Iran, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda—Iran may have helped al-Qaeda by allowing operatives to transit Iran on their way to and from Afghanistan without stamping their passports (see After October 12, 2000). According to a detainee who may have been tortured, Alghamdi was in Afghanistan in the summer of 2000 (see Summer 2000); according to militant leader Luai Sakra, he was in Turkey at around this time (see Late 1999-2000), so it is unclear where Alghamdi and Alshehri are coming from. In any case, there are no direct links between this flight and actions by Iranian operatives, although the commission will note in this context that a senior Hezbollah operative visited Saudi Arabia around this time, and planned to help people in Saudi Arabia travel to Iran. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 240) The 9/11 Commission’s statement that the hijackers took this flight will be based on intelligence reports from the NSA, mostly drafted shortly after 9/11. Another source for the paragraph that mentions this flight will be “operative’s claimed identification of photos of two Sept. 11 hijackers,” dated August 2002, although it will not be clear if this applies to this trip by Alghamdi and Alshehri. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 529; Shenon 2008, pp. 370-3)

9/11 Hijacker Ahmed Alhaznawi departs Saudi Arabia. The exact date of his departure is unknown, but it must be after he obtains a US visa at the US consulate in Jeddah on November 12 (see November 12, 2000). Although Alhaznawi’s precise destination is unknown, he reportedly returns to Afghanistan for training by early 2001 (see (December 2000-March 2001)) and will also arrive in the United Arab Emirates from Pakistan in early 2001 (see April 11-June 28, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 15, 36 pdf file) According to the 9/11 Commission, Alhaznawi may have had a passport containing an indicator of Islamic extremism (see Before November 12, 2000). Such indicators were used by the Saudi authorities to track some of the hijackers before 9/11 (see November 2, 2007).

Abdulaziz Alomari in a video released in 2002.Abdulaziz Alomari in a video released in 2002. [Source: Al Jazeera]9/11 hijacker Abdulaziz Alomari is reported to leave home in Saudi Arabia for Afghanistan at this time. (Saudi Information Agency 9/11/2002) However, he appears to have already been to Afghanistan, as he obtained a new passport on June 5, made an ATM withdrawal in Karachi, Pakistan, on July 8, and is said to have been seen near Kandahar, Afghanistan, in the summer (see Summer 2000). (US Department of State 6/18/2001; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 50 pdf file) Several of the other hijackers were in Afghanistan in the summer of 2000 and return to Saudi Arabia briefly at this time to obtain US visas (see, for example, September 4, 2000 and October 24, 2000). However, there is no record of Alomari receiving a visa at this time, so it is unclear why he would return to Saudi Arabia. Salem Alhazmi, with whom Alomari will later travel to the US (see April 23-June 29, 2001), also apparently returns to Saudi Arabia at this time, but does not obtain a visa (see November 2000). Alomari finally obtains a US visa in the summer of 2001 (see June 18, 2001).

Lee Wolosky.Lee Wolosky. [Source: Center for American Progress]By the end of the Clinton administration, an effort by some US officials to arrest international arms dealer Victor Bout is gathering steam (see Early Spring 1999-2000). National Security Council (NSC) adviser Lee Wolosky has been gathering evidence of Bout’s airplanes being used to smuggle weapons and possibly drugs for the Taliban. Shortly after the Bush administration takes office, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, Wolosky, and other NSC deputies hold a briefing about Bout’s activities for Condoleezza Rice, the new national security adviser. Rice appears interested, and authorizes the NSC team to continue to pursue an attempt to get an arrest warrant for Bout strong enough to secure a conviction. (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 186-187) However, Rice focuses on diplomatic solutions and does not allow any actual covert action against Bout. The FBI also does not have an open investigation into Bout and does not appear particularly interested in him. “Look but don’t touch,” is how one White House official will later describe Rice’s approach. (Landesman 8/17/2003; Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 193) In late spring 2001, Wolosky briefs Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley about Bout and global organized crime. He receives a go-ahead to present a full briefing to President Bush on the topic, but no specific date is set. Wolosky is still trying to arrange a date when the 9/11 attacks occur. The Bush administration’s interest in Bout was already fading before 9/11, and after 9/11 the remaining interest in him is lost, despite Bout’s ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Wolosky soon quits. “We knew we were being phased out,” he will later say. (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 193-194) Bout moves to Russia not long after 9/11, but Rice decides that Russia should not be pressured about arms trafficking in general and Bout in particular. One source who talks to Rice claims that she reasons the US has “bigger fish to fry.” (Landesman 8/17/2003)

New United Nations sanctions against Afghanistan take effect, adding to those from November 1999 (see November 14, 1999). The sanctions limit travel by senior Taliban authorities, freeze bin Laden’s and the Taliban’s assets, and order the closure of Ariana Airlines offices abroad. The sanctions also impose an arms embargo against the Taliban, but not against Northern Alliance forces battling the Taliban. (Associated Press 12/19/2000) The arms embargo has no visible effect because the sanctions fail to stop Pakistani military assistance. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) The sanctions also fail to stop the illegal trade network that the Taliban is secretly running through Ariana. Two companies, Air Cess and Flying Dolphin, take over most of Ariana’s traffic. Air Cess is owned by the Russian arms dealer Victor Bout (see Mid-1996-October 2001), and Flying Dolphin is owned by the United Arab Emirates’ former ambassador to the US, who is also an associate of Bout. In late 2000, despite reports linking Flying Dolphin to arms smuggling, the United Nations will give Flying Dolphin permission to take over Ariana’s closed routes, which it does until the new sanctions take effect. Bout’s operations are still functioning and he has not been arrested. (Pasternak and Braun 1/20/2002; van Niekerk and Verloy 2/5/2002) Ariana will essentially be destroyed in the October 2001 US bombing of Afghanistan. (Williams 11/18/2001)

The Russian Permanent Mission at the United Nations secretly submits “an unprecedentedly detailed report” to the UN Security Council about bin Laden, his whereabouts, details of his al-Qaeda network, Afghan drug running, and Taliban connections to Pakistan and the ISI. The report provides “a listing of all bin Laden’s bases, his government contacts and foreign advisers,” and enough information to potentially locate and kill him. It is said to contain an “astonishing degree of information.” The US fails to use the information in any noticable manner. Alex Standish, the editor of the highly respected Jane’s Intelligence Review, concludes that the attacks of 9/11 were less of an American intelligence failure than the result of “a political decision not to act against bin Laden.” (Jane's Intelligence Review 10/5/2001; Times of India 10/8/2001) In May 2002, Jane’s will further comment,“it is becoming clear that this was only the most high profile of a number of attempts by the Russians to alert the US and other members of the Security Council to the extent of the inter-dependence between the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the ISI. According to [our] Russian sources, there was a regular flow of information from Moscow to the US dating back to the last years of the Clinton presidency. It seems apparent, however, that although this intelligence was being received by the CIA and other US agencies, there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm within political - as opposed to military - circles for the launch of pre-emptive strikes against either the Taliban or al-Qaeda. However, given the detailed intelligence being provided by the Russians - and the fact that bin Laden was making very clear threats to launch further strikes against US targets - it seems bizarre, to say the least, that no high-level political decision was taken to focus US intelligence efforts on al-Qaeda and its international network…” (Jane's Intelligence Digest 5/28/2002)

Satam al Suqami.Satam al Suqami. [Source: FBI]Two of the 9/11 hijackers travel to Malaysia and spend some time there. Satam al Suqami arrives on April 1 and stays there for just under two weeks, before traveling to the United Arab Emirates. Abdulaziz Alomari arrives on May 7 and spends three weeks there, before departing for the same destination. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 42, 50 pdf file) There are no reports about what Alomari and al Suqami do in Malaysia or who they meet. Lead hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar visit Malaysia before 9/11 and meet other extremists there (see January 5-8, 2000), as does Zacarias Moussaoui (see September-October 2000). Almihdhar again visits Malaysia in the summer of 2001 (see June 2001), and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, an associate of the plot leaders, travels there in June 2001. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 243-4)

The muscle hijackers arrive in Dubai on their way to the US (see April 23-June 29, 2001):
bullet April 11: It is not known when Ahmed Alghamdi first arrives in Dubai, but he leaves on April 8, traveling to an unknown destination, and returns on April 11;
bullet April 12: Satam al Suqami arrives in the United Arab Emirates from Malaysia (see April 1-May 27, 2001);
bullet May 7, 2001: Ahmed Alhaznawi arrives in Abu Dhabi from Karachi by plane;
bullet May 13: Ahmed Alnami arrives in the United Arab Emirates by plane from Saudi Arabia;
bullet May 26: Hamza Alghamdi enters the United Arab Emirates;
bullet May 27: Abdulaziz Alomari arrives in Dubai from Malaysia (see April 1-May 27, 2001);
bullet June 1: It is not known when Wail Alshehri first arrives in Dubai, but he leaves on May 29, traveling to an unknown destination, and returns on June 1 with Ahmed Alhaznawi, who previously arrived on May 7, but must have left in the meantime;
bullet June 12: Saeed Alghamdi arrives in the United Arab Emirates from Saudi Arabia;
bullet June 28: Salem Alhazmi arrives in the United Arab Emirates from Saudi Arabia. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 42-50 pdf file)
The hijackers typically remain in Dubai for a few weeks before moving on to the US (see April 23-June 29, 2001). While in Dubai the hijackers purchase traveler’s checks:
bullet April 28: Majed Moqed purchases $2,980 in MasterCard travelers’ checks from the Thomas Cook Exchange in the nearby emirate of Sharjah;
bullet May 27, 2001: Ahmed Alnami purchases $10,000 of American Express travelers’ checks and Hamza Alghamdi purchases the same amount of Visa travelers’ checks in Dubai;
bullet June 6, 2001: Ahmed Alhaznawi purchases $3,000 of American Express travelers’ checks in Dubai;
bullet June 7, 2001: Wail Alshehri purchases $14,000 of American Express travelers’ checks in Sharjah;
bullet June 24: Fayez Ahmed Banihammad purchases $4,000 of Thomas Cook travelers’ checks in Sharjah. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 44-48 pdf file)
In addition, Wail Alshehri obtains an international driving permit in Sharjah on June 5. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 47 pdf file) Some of these hijackers are assisted by plot facilitator Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (see Early-Late June, 2001). It is not clear who helps the others, although Dubai-based Ali Abdul Aziz Ali previously assisted some of the hijackers (see June 29, 2000-September 18, 2000), and Saeed Sheikh, who has Dubai connections, may also assist some of them (see Early August 2001). In addition, Victor Bout, an arms dealer who flies shipments for al-Qaeda and the Taliban through the UAE, is based in Sharjah (see Mid-1996-October 2001).

Mohand Alshehri, apparently in Afghanistan.Mohand Alshehri, apparently in Afghanistan. [Source: As Sahab]Some of the “muscle hijackers” transit London when traveling between Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and the US (see April 11-June 28, 2001 and April 23-June 29, 2001):
bullet Satam al Suqami and Waleed Alshehri leave Dubai on April 22, change planes in London, and arrive in Orlando the next day.
bullet Majed Moqed and Ahmed Alghamdi fly from Dubai via London to Washington on May 2.
bullet Hamza Alghamdi, Ahmed Alnami, and Mohand Alshehri pass through London on their way from Dubai to Miami on May 28.
bullet Ahmed Alhaznawi and Wail Alshehri travel from Dubai to Miami via London on June 8.
bullet Fayez Ahmed Banihammad and Saeed Alghamdi transit London en route from Dubai to Orlando on June 27. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 42-50 pdf file)
There are also some reports that some of the hijackers spend more time in Britain (see January-June 2001 and June 2001). Ahmed Alghamdi is later said to have been on a British watch list and the Sunday Herald will say that he should have been “instantly ‘red-flagged’ by British intelligence” as he passed through Britain. Alghamdi was linked by the FBI to Raed Hijazi, an associate of Osama bin Laden in prison in Jordan for plotting a bombing campaign there, so the British may have watchlisted him based on information from the US. Two other hijackers that may have been on the British watch list are Satam al Suqami and Hamza Alghamdi, who were investigated by US customs together with Ahmed Alghamdi. If Ahmed Alghamdi was watchlisted based on US information, the names of the other two hijackers may have been passed to the British along with his name. Al Suqami and Ahmed Alghamdi are connected to both Hijazi and one of his associates, Nabil al-Marabh, and are reported to be under investigation, starting between autumn 2000 and spring 2001, by US customs and the FBI (see September 2000, Spring 2001 and September 11, 2001). A British intelligence source will say: “There is no way that MI5 and MI6 should have missed these guys. Britain has a history of having Islamic extremists in the country. We should have been watching them.” (MacKay 9/30/2001) Alghamdi appears to have been questioned about bin Laden after arriving in the US from London, but he is not stopped from entering the country (see May 2, 2001). According to The Times, the identities of some of the men are in question: “Officials hope that the inquiries in Britain will disclose the true identities of the suicide team. Some are known to have arrived in Britain using false passports and fake identities that they kept for the hijack. There are serious question marks over the identities of at least four of the visitors to Britain.” (McGrory and Kennedy 9/26/2001)

This Ahmed Al-Haznawi picture is a photocopy of his 2001 US visa application.This Ahmed Al-Haznawi picture is a photocopy of his 2001 US visa application. [Source: 9/11 Commission]The 13 hijackers commonly known as the “muscle” allegedly first arrive in the US. The muscle provides the brute force meant to control the hijacked passengers and protect the pilots. (Goldstein 9/30/2001) Yet, according to the 9/11 Commission, these men “were not physically imposing,” with the majority of them between 5 feet 5 and 5 feet 7 tall, “and slender in build.” (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004, pp. 8) According to FBI Director Mueller, they all pass through Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and their travel was probably coordinated from abroad by Khalid Almihdhar. (US Congress 9/26/2002) However, some information contradicts their official arrival dates:
bullet April 23: Waleed Alshehri and Satam Al Suqami arrive in Orlando, Florida. Suqami in fact arrived before February 2001. A man named Waleed Alshehri lived with a man named Ahmed Alghamdi in Virginia and Florida between 1997 and 2000. However, it is not clear whether they were the hijackers or just people with the same name (see 1999). (Telegraph 9/20/2001) Alshehri appears quite Americanized in the summer of 2001, frequently talking with an apartment mate about football and baseball, even identifying himself a fan of the Florida Marlins baseball team. (Associated Press 9/21/2001)
bullet May 2: Majed Moqed and Ahmed Alghamdi arrive in Washington. Both actually arrived by mid-March 2001. A man named Ahmed Alghamdi lived with a man named Waleed Alshehri in Florida and Virginia between 1997 and 2000. However, it is not clear whether they were the hijackers or just people with the same name (see 1999). (Telegraph 9/20/2001) Alghamdi apparently praises Osama bin Laden to Customs officials while entering the country and Moqed uses an alias (see May 2, 2001).
bullet May 28: Mohand Alshehri, Hamza Alghamdi, and Ahmed Alnami allegedly arrive in Miami, Florida. Alnami may have a suspicious indicator of terrorist affiliation in his passport (see April 21, 2001), but this is apparently not noticed by US authorities. The precise state of US knowledge about the indicator at this time is not known (see Around February 1993). The CIA will learn of it no later than 2003, but will still not inform immigration officials then (see February 14, 2003). According to other reports, however, both Mohand Alshehri and Hamza Alghamdi may have arrived by January 2001 (see January or July 28, 2001).
bullet June 8: Ahmed Alhaznawi and Wail Alshehri arrive in Miami, Florida. Alhaznawi may have a suspicious indicator of terrorist affiliation in his passport (see Before November 12, 2000), but this is apparently not noticed by US authorities.
bullet June 27: Fayez Banihammad and Saeed Alghamdi arrive in Orlando, Florida.
bullet June 29: Salem Alhazmi and Abdulaziz Alomari allegedly arrive in New York. According to other reports, however, Alhazmi arrived before February 2001. Alhazmi has a suspicious indicator of terrorist affiliation in his passport (see June 16, 2001), but this is apparently not noticed by US authorities.
After entering the US (or, perhaps, reentering), the hijackers arriving at Miami and Orlando airports settle in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, area along with Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Ziad Jarrah. The hijackers, arriving in New York and Virginia, settle in the Paterson, New Jersey, area along with Nawaf Alhazmi and Hani Hanjour. (US Congress 9/26/2002) Note the FBI’s early conclusion that 11 of these muscle men “did not know they were on a suicide mission.” (Rose 10/14/2001) CIA Director Tenet’s later claim that they “probably were told little more than that they were headed for a suicide mission inside the United States” (US Congress 6/18/2002) and reports that they did not know the exact details of the 9/11 plot until shortly before the attack (CBS News 10/9/2002) are contradicted by video confessions made by all of them in March 2001 (see (December 2000-March 2001)).

9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alhaznawi enters Saudi Arabia. The exact date on which he does so is unknown, but it must be between May 7, when he arrives in the United Arab Emirates from Pakistan (see April 11-June 28, 2001) and June 1, when he leaves Saudi Arabia (see June 1, 2001). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 151 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 42-50 pdf file) According to the 9/11 Commission, Alhaznawi may have had a passport with an indicator of Islamic extremism (see Before November 12, 2000). Such indicators were used by the Saudi authorities to track some of the hijackers before 9/11 (see November 2, 2007).

According to a July 2001 report from Human Rights Watch, the ISI has been “bankrolling Taliban military operations… arranging training for its fighters, planning and directing offensives, providing and facilitating shipments of ammunition and fuel, and on several occasions apparently directly providing combat support.” (Silverstein 10/9/2001) The report further states that Pakistan’s assistance “include[s] soliciting funding for the Taliban, bankrolling Taliban operations, providing diplomatic support as the Taliban’s virtual emissaries abroad, arranging training for Taliban fighters, recruiting skilled and unskilled manpower to serve in Taliban armies… In April and May 2001 Human Rights Watch sources reported that as many as thirty trucks a day were crossing the Pakistan border; sources inside Afghanistan reported that some of these convoys were carrying artillery shells, tank rounds, and rocket-propelled grenades. Such deliveries are in direct violation of UN sanctions.… Pakistan’s army and intelligence services, principally the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), contribute to making the Taliban a highly effective military force. While these Pakistani agencies do not direct the policies of the [Taliban’s army], senior Pakistani military and intelligence officers help plan and execute major military operations. A retired senior Pakistani military officer claimed in an interview with Human Rights Watch that up to 30 percent of Taliban fighting strength is made up of Pakistanis serving in units organized by [Pakistani] political parties.” (Human Rights Watch 7/1/2001)

Arnaud de Borchgrave.Arnaud de Borchgrave. [Source: Publicity photo]United Press International (UPI) reporter Arnaud de Borchgrave interviews top Taliban leader Mullah Omar in Afghanistan on June 13, 2001. The next day, in an article about the interview, de Borchgrave writes, “Saudi Arabia and the [United Arab Emirates] secretly fund the Taliban government by paying Pakistan for its logistical support to Afghanistan. Despite Pakistan’s official denials, the Taliban is entirely dependent on Pakistani aid. This was verified on the ground by UPI. Everything from bottled water to oil, gasoline and aviation fuel, and from telephone equipment to military supplies, comes from Pakistan.” (de Borchgrave 6/14/2001; Waterman 4/9/2004)

Documentation used by Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi in the United Arab Emirates.Documentation used by Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi in the United Arab Emirates. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi assists four hijackers transiting Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on their way to the US: Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Salem Alhazmi, Abdulaziz Alomari, and Saeed Alghamdi. Banihammad stays at al-Hawsawi’s flat in nearby Sharjah for two or three weeks and they open bank accounts together (see June 25, 2001 and Early August-August 22, 2001), and al-Hawsawi recognizes Alghamdi and Alhazmi from Afghanistan. He coordinates their arrival dates in telephone conversations with Mohamed Atta (see Late June-August, 2001) and then purchases tickets for them, paying for Alomari and Alhazmi. Al-Hawsawi provides this information to the US under interrogation, which is considered by some to make it unreliable (see June 16, 2004), and then again before a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay to determine his combat status (see March 9-April 28, 2007). (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file; US department of Defense 3/21/2007 pdf file) It is unclear who assisted the nine muscle hijackers who transited Dubai before this: Waleed Alshehri, Satam Al Suqami, Ahmed Alghamdi, Maqed Moqed, Hamza Alghamdi, Mohand Alshehri, Ahmed Alnami, Ahmed Alhaznawi, and Wail Alshehri (see April 11-June 28, 2001 and April 23-June 29, 2001).

The photograph of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed on his 2001 US visa application.The photograph of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed on his 2001 US visa application. [Source: 9/11 Commission]Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is granted a visa to enter the US, despite being under a federal terrorism indictment, having a $2 million reward on his head, and being one of only a dozen people in the world on a US domestic no-fly list (see April 24, 2000). There is no evidence that he actually uses his visa to travel to the US. Investigators speculate that he may have considered a trip to shepherd some aspect of the 9/11 plot. He applied for the visa using a Saudi passport and an alias (Abdulrahman al Ghamdi), but the photo he submitted is really of him. He uses the new, controversial Visa Express program that allows Saudis to apply for US visas without having to appear in person at any point during the application process (see May 2001). (Miller and Meyer 1/27/2004) Just a month earlier, the CIA passed a warning to all US intelligence agencies, certain military commanders, and parts of the Justice and Treasury Departments saying that Mohammed may be attempting to enter the US (see June 12, 2001). However, either this warning isn’t given to immigration officials or else they fail to notice his application. (Miller and Meyer 1/27/2004)

The ransom for a wealthy Indian shoe manufacturer kidnapped in Calcutta, India, two weeks earlier is paid to an Indian gangster named Aftab Ansari. Ansari is based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and has ties to the Pakistani ISI and Saeed Sheikh. Ansari gives some of the about $830,000 in ransom money to Saeed, who sends about $100,000 of it to future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta. (Watson 1/23/2002; Popham 1/24/2002) The Times of India will later report that Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed, the director of the ISI, instructed Saeed to transfer the $100,000 into Atta’s bank account. This is according to “senior government sources,” who will claim that the FBI has privately confirmed the story. (Joshi 10/9/2001) According to some accounts, the money is moved through a charity, the Al Rashid Trust. Some of the money is also channelled to the Taliban, as well as Pakistani and Kashmiri militant groups. (NewsInsight 1/4/2002; Press Trust of India 4/3/2002) The money is apparently paid into two of Atta’s accounts in Florida (see Summer 2001 and before). The Al Rashid Trust will be one of the first al-Qaeda funding vehicles to have its assets frozen after 9/11 (see September 24, 2001). A series of recovered e-mails will show the money is sent just after August 11. This appears to be one of a series of Indian kidnappings this gang carries out in 2001. (Mitra, Chakravarty, and Ghosh 2/14/2002; Srivastava 2/14/2002) Saeed provides training and weapons to the kidnappers in return for a percentage of the profits. (Swami 2/2/2002; India Today 2/25/2002) This account will frequently be mentioned in the Indian press, but will appear in the US media as well. For instance, veteran Associated Press reporter Kathy Gannon will write, “Western intelligence sources believe Saeed sent $100,000 to Mohamed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the Sept. 11 terrorist hijackings,” although they apparently think the hawala system was used for this. (Gannon 2/9/2002) Some evidence suggests Saeed may also have sent Atta a similar amount in 2000 (see (July-August 2000) and Summer 2000).

Both Russia and France have recently presented intelligence to the United Nations Security Council documenting that Pakistan is continuing to heavily support the Taliban (see March 7, 2001), in direct violation of UN sanctions (see January 19, 2001). Up to 30 ISI trucks a day are crossing into Afghanistan (see June 13, 2001 and Summer 2001). But on August 20, 2001, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf openly condemns the UN sanctions, saying: “The Taliban are the dominant reality in Afghanistan.… The unilateral arms embargo on the Taliban is unjustified, discriminatory, and will further escalate the war [between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance].” (Rashid 2008, pp. 60, 416)

In 2007, Los Angeles Times journalist Steven Braun, coauthor of a book on arms dealer Victor Bout, will claim, “We now know that one of Bout’s pals approached an American intelligence agent soon after the [9/11] attacks, suggesting that the US use his operation in arming the Northern Alliance against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. We don’t know for sure if the US accepted, but European intelligence officials believe a relationship blossomed. Within two years, Bout was flying for us not only in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan.” (Silverstein 7/26/2007) The Bout associate Braun refers to is Sanjivan Ruprah. In November 2001, Ruprah contacts an FBI agent and offers a deal. He and Bout will secretly help the US arm the Northern Alliance in its fight against the Taliban, and help the US gain information on al-Qaeda and other militant groups. He and Bout would provide and deliver many millions of dollars’ worth of weapons that the Northern Alliance has already told Bout that they need. It is unclear if the deal ever goes through, and some experts and officials doubt it. However, one European official will later say, “We know Bout had his aircraft near Afghanistan and made them available to the US efforts almost immediately. They needed him and he had the only airlift capacity in the region.… The deal was, if he flew, the US would leave him alone.” Richard Chichakli, a close associate of Bout’s, will later boast that Bout organized three flights carrying US personnel to Afghanistan. (He will later withdraw the claim.) Ruprah twice flies to the US for secret talks with the FBI about such deals, despite being on a UN travel ban list. Such contacts are kept secret from US officials attempting to arrest Bout. Ruprah will be arrested in Belgium in February 2002, and documents found in his possession are the only reason anything is known about his secret talks with the FBI. Two months later, he is freed on bail and immediately skips the country. He is soon arrested in Italy, then curiously freed on bail again, and then escapes again. He has not been rearrested since. (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 194-202) Prior to 9/11, Bout was the main arms dealer for the Taliban, greatly assisting al-Qaeda in the process. He had been supplying weapons to the Northern Alliance until about 1996, but switched sides once the Taliban gained the upper hand in the conflict (see October 1996-Late 2001). But despite these alleged US ties, it 2002 it will be reported that Bout has recently been helping al-Qaeda and the Taliban transport gold (see Summer 2002). He will work for the US military in Iraq in 2003 (see Late April 2003-2007).

In February 2002, the Belgian government secretly indicts Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer, on charges of money laundering and illegal weapons trafficking. For the first time, he can be legally arrested and Interpol issues a secret arrest warrant for him anywhere in the world. Later that month, solid intelligence indicates Bout is going to be on a flight from Moldova to Greece. An encrypted message is sent by British intelligence field agents once the plane takes off, alerting their superiors in London that they are preparing to arrest Bout in Athens. But shortly after the message is sent, Bout’s plane veers away from its flight plan and disappears off radar screens into mountainous terrain. It reappears on radar about ninety minutes later and lands in Athens. British special forces raid the plane, but find it empty except for the pilot and a few passengers. One European intelligence official familiar with the operation will later say, “There were only two intelligence services that could have decrypted the British transmission in so short a time. The Russians and the Americans. And we know for sure it was not the Russians.” (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 202-203) It has been alleged that the US began secretly working with Bout shortly after 9/11, despite his previous connections to the Taliban (see Shortly After September 11, 2001).

In September 2002, the Washington Post reports that European, US, and Pakistani investigators believe that al-Qaeda and the Taliban have secretly shipped large quantities of gold from Pakistan to Sudan in recent weeks and months. Disguised boxes of gold are taken by small boat from Karachi, Pakistan, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, or Iran, and then flown to Khartoum, Sudan. European officials claim that some of the chartered planes used to fly the gold and other commodities are linked to Victor Bout, the world’s largest illegal arms dealer. (Farah 9/3/2002) Bout worked extensively with the Taliban before 9/11 (see October 1996-Late 2001), but reportedly began working with the US after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). So if these various allegations against Bout are true, it means he would be working with the US and the Taliban and al-Qaeda at the same time. European and US intelligence sources say Sudan may have been chosen because Osama bin Laden used to live there and still retains business contacts there. The Taliban kept most of their money in gold when they ruled Afghanistan. Large amounts of gold were also apparently shipped out of Afghanistan shortly before the Taliban were driven from power there in late 2001. (Farah 9/3/2002) The US learned of bin Laden’s extensive financial network in Sudan several years before 9/11, but apparently never shut it down, even after 9/11 (see December 1996-January 1997 and March 16, 2000).

In late April 2003, the first civilian cargo planes begin arriving in Baghdad, Iraq, after US-led forces took over the city. As many as sixty civilian flights and seventy military flights arrive at Baghdad International Airport, all of them filled with supplies to replenish the US military effort and for Iraq’s reconstruction. The US military officers in charge of the airport, such as US Air National Guard Major Christopher Walker have no idea how private supply contracts were made or with whom, but they note that most of the pilots appear to be from Russia and various Eastern European countries, flying rugged Russian-made aircraft. On May 17, 2004, the Financial Times reports that many of the planes delivering supplies to US troops in Iraq are actually owned by a Russian named Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer. The United Nations has placed a ban on all dealings with Bout, due to his links to the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and many other militant and rebel groups around the world. Walker has never heard of Bout, but he is tasked to look into the allegations by his superiors. He quickly concludes that many of the planes flying into Baghdad daily are owned by Bout’s front companies, and that such Bout flights have been taking place over since the US reopened the airport. Bout’s companies have contracts flying in tents, food, and other supplies for US firms working for the US military in Iraq, including a large contract to fly supplies for Kellogg, Brown, and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, the company once run by Vice President Cheney. Bout’s companies also fly for US Air Mobility Command. Walker is reluctant to stop the flow of vital supplies, and leaves the issue to US military contracting officials to hire planes not linked to Bout. (Huband, Parker, and Turner 5/17/2004; Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 214-224) However, the US military does not stop hiring and using Bout’s planes until about 2007 (see Late April 2003-2007). Walker will later speculate, “If the government really wanted him bad they could have come up with a pretext and seized his planes. But I guess they looked at Victor Bout and figured this guy’s an asshole, but he’s our asshole, so let’s keep him in business.” (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 251)

Victor Bout in 2003.Victor Bout in 2003. [Source: James Hill / Contact Press]The New York Times Magazine publishes an article based on an interview with Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer. Bout worked extensively with the Taliban in the years before 9/11, and because of this, he claims, “I woke up after Sept. 11 and found I was second only to Osama,” in terms of being a wanted criminal. But he hints that he has powerful connections. “My clients, the governments… I keep my mouth shut.” He also points to the middle of his forehead and adds, “If I told you everything I’d get the red hole right here.” When asked about his possible ties to Russian intelligence, he says, “Until now you’ve been digging in a big lake with small spoons. There are huge forces…” He breaks his sentence, and explains to the reporter that he cannot explain too much about what the report calls “the triangulated relationship between him, governments, and his rogue clients.” An unnamed British arms investigator claims, “Bout is encouraged by Western intelligence agencies when it’s politically expedient.” Bout, a Russian, is interviewed in Moscow, where “he lives in plain sight… under the apparent protection of a post-Communist system that has profited from his activities as much as he has.” (Landesman 8/17/2003) It will later be alleged that Bout began working with US intelligence shortly after 9/11, if not before, despite being the main arms dealer to the Taliban (see Shortly After September 11, 2001).

A Tripartite Council is formed in accordance with Organization of American States resolutions CP/Res. 861 (February 19, 2004), CP/Res. 862 (February 26, 2004) and UN resolution S/1529 (February 29, 2004). Selected to serve on the council are Leslie Voltaire, Minister of Haitians Living Abroad; Paul Denis, Democratic Convergence spokesman; and Adamo Guino, UN Resident Coordinator in Haiti. The council is charged with the task of selecting a seven-member Council of Sages (see March 4, 2004). (Inter-American Institute of Human Rights 3/4/2004; Haiti Info 4/6/2004)

A Tripartite Council (see March 4, 2004) meets and selects a seven-member Council of Sages. It chooses Lamartine Clermont, Catholic Church; Ariel Henry, Democratic Convergence; Anne-Marie Issa, director-general of Signal FM Radio; Mac Donald Jean, Anglican Church; Danielle Magliore, director of ENFOFANM; Christian Rousseau, University administrator (previously involved in opposition student protests); and Paul Emile Simon, Fanmil Lavalas (party of Aristide government). (Toro 1999; Agence France-Presse 1/7/2004; Inter-American Institute of Human Rights 3/4/2004; US Department of State 3/19/2004; Haiti Info 4/6/2004)

Haitian Gerard Latortue is appointed Prime Minister by the seven-member Council of Sages formed under a plan approved by the United States, France and the Organization of American States (see March 5, 2004). Latortue, whose current place of residence is Boca Raton, Florida, has been living outside of Haiti for decades. (Agence France-Presse 3/11/2004; NBC 6 (Miami) 3/11/2004; Reuters 3/13/2004) The 69-year-old former foreign minister has worked for the UN Industrial Development Organization in Africa (1972-1994) and most recently has been working as an international business consultant in Miami. (Dodds 3/10/2004; NBC 6 (Miami) 3/11/2004; Haiti Support Group 3/17/2004) Hours after the appointment, US members of the international security force are fired upon by gunmen in three separate incidents while on patrol near the prime minister’s official residence. (Agence France-Presse 3/11/2004; Dodds 3/11/2004)

Gerard Latortue is flown from Florida to Haiti after being appointed the day before as the country’s new prime minister (see March 9, 2004). He is sworn in on March 12 (see March 12, 2004). (Dodds 3/11/2004; CBS News 3/11/2004)

Gerard Latortue is sworn in as prime minister of Haiti “before a crowd of 200 people under heavy security,” two days after arriving in Haiti from Florida. (James 3/13/2004)

The 9/11 Commission releases a new report on how the 9/11 plot developed. Most of their information appears to come from interrogations of prisoners Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), the 9/11 mastermind, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a key member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell. In this account, the idea for the attacks appears to have originated with KSM. In mid-1996, he met bin Laden and al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef in Afghanistan. He presented several ideas for attacking the US, including a version of the 9/11 plot using ten planes (presumably an update of Operation Bojinka’s second phase plot (see February-Early May 1995)). Bin Laden does not commit himself. In 1999, bin Laden approves a scaled-back version of the idea, and provides four operatives to carry it out: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Khallad bin Attash, and Abu Bara al Taizi. Attash and al Taizi drop out when they fail to get US visas. Alhazmi and Almihdhar prove to be incompetent pilots, but the recruitment of Mohamed Atta and the others in the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell solves that problem. Bin Laden wants the attacks to take place between May and July 2001, but the attacks are ultimately delayed until September. (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004) However, information such as these accounts resulting from prisoner interrogations is seriously doubted by some experts, because it appears they only began cooperating after being coerced or tortured. For instance, it is said that KSM was “waterboarded,” a technique in which his head is pushed under water until he nearly drowns. Information gained under such duress often is unreliable. Additionally, there is a serious risk that the prisoners might try to intentionally deceive. (Shenon and Marquis 6/17/2004) For instance, one CIA report of his interrogations is called, “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s Threat Reporting—Precious Truths, Surrounded by a Bodyguard of Lies.” (McDermott 6/23/2004) The Commission itself expresses worry that KSM could be trying to exaggerate the role of bin Laden in the plot to boost bin Laden’s reputation in the Muslim world. (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004) Most of what these prisoners have said is uncorroborated from other sources. (New York Times 6/17/2004) In 2007, it will be alleged that as much as 90 percent of KSM’s interrogation could be inaccurate, and that he has recanted some of his confessions (see August 6, 2007).

In July 2006, fighting breaks out in southern Lebanon between the Israeli military and Hezbollah. Western intelligence officials soon learn that Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer, has been spotted in a Hezbollah military building in Lebanon. Officials also discover that Richard Chichakli, Bout’s longtime business partner, has recently moved from the US to Damascus, Syria. Israeli officials suspect that Bout arms Hezbollah with sophisticated Russian-made armor-piercing antitank missiles. (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 254) Bout’s role is not confirmed at the time. But in 2008, journalist Douglas Farah, co-author of a 2007 book on Bout, will tell ABC News that recent intelligence indicates Bout did supply the armor-piercing missiles to Hezbollah. (Rood and Sauer 3/6/2008) In 2006, Bout’s network is also supplying the US military in Iraq (see Late April 2003-2007).

A map of the 2006 advance of the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia.A map of the 2006 advance of the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia. [Source: Public domain / James Dahl]In late July 2006, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist militant group, conquers the Somali capital of Mogadishu. Somalia has long been divided by various warlords and factions, but the ICU soon takes over much of the country. Within days of taking Mogadishu, a number of large Russian-made cargo planes begin landing in Mogadishu’s newly reopened airport, bringing in weapons for the ICU. US military officials order an investigation as to who is supplying the ICU, and within weeks US intelligence concludes that the planes are owned by companies linked to Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer. Soon, intelligence confirms that Bout is working closely not only with Islamist militias in Somalia, but also their allies in nearby Eritrea. (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 254-255) The ICU will lose control of Mogadishu and much of Somalia in December 2006 after Ethiopia invades the country (see December 24, 2006-January 2007), but the group continues fighting. Bout’s flights will continue into 2007. In July 2007, a Sunday Times reporter posing as a middleman for the ICU will arrange an arms deal with Alexander Radionov, who runs a front company linked to Bout. Had the reporter paid, Radionov would have parachuted eight tons of ammunition into Somalia. (Swain and Johnson-Thomas 7/15/2007) Bout had previously worked with other al-Qaeda linked Islamist groups, including the Taliban (see Summer 2002), but he has also been supplying the US military in Iraq since war began there in 2003 (see Late April 2003).

On December 24, 2006, Ethiopia invades Somalia with US encouragement, attacking the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist militant group that rules much of the country. The invasion is triggered because the ICU had encircled the Somali town of Baidoa, the last hold out of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the internationally recognized government of Somalia that actually controls very little of the country. Within days, the Ethiopians conquer the capital of Mogadishu and replace the ICU with the TFG. But Ethiopian troops remain in Somalia, occupying much of the country, and the ICU and other Islamist militant groups are not completely defeated. On January 5, 2007, al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri issues a message urging Somalis to “consume” the “crusader” Ethiopians “as the lions eat their prey.” (Perry and Kismayo 11/29/2007) The US had been quietly improving ties with Ethiopia, and had been secretly training Ethiopian forces in counterterrorism techniques for years. The US covertly assists Ethiopia’s invasion with spy satellite data and other intelligence. A secret US special forces unit, Task Force 88, launches operations into Somalia from Kenya and Ethiopia. On January 6, two US Air Force AC-130 gunships secretly arrive at a small airport in eastern Ethiopia. The next day, they carry out a strike near a small village close to the Kenyan border, attempting to kill al-Qaeda-linked militants fleeing the country. Eight people are killed, but apparently no important al-Qaeda leaders. (Gordon and Mazzetti 2/23/2007) A second AC-130 strike on January 23 also misses its target. It is unknown how many are killed, but the wreckage of six large trucks is later seen at the spot of the attack. But while the US strikes are unsuccessful, al-Qaeda leader Abu Talha al-Sudani is apparently killed at some point during the fighting between Ethiopian forces and Somali militants. The US will not officially say he is dead, but US officials will unofficially say he is to Time magazine later in the year. Al-Sudani is said to have been living in Somalia since 1993 and involved in al-Qaeda attacks in Kenya in 1998 and 2002. (DeYoung 1/8/2007; Perry and Kismayo 11/29/2007) By summer 2007, US and Ethiopian officials will claim that the war in Somalia is over. However, the fighting, the occasional US strikes, and the Ethiopian occupation, continue. (Perry and Kismayo 11/29/2007)

Victor Bout in handcuffs in Thailand on the day of his arrest.Victor Bout in handcuffs in Thailand on the day of his arrest. [Source: Associated Press]Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer, is arrested in Thailand. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had set up a sting operation to nab Bout. For months, DEA agents posed as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a militant group linked to drug trafficking and organized crime. DEA agents and Thai police meet Bout at the five-star Sofitel Silom Hotel in Bangkok, supposedly to finalize an arms deal, and immediately arrest him and his bodyguards. According to a Thai police officer, Bout does not resist arrest but merely says, “The game is over.” A relatively new DEA task force is behind Bout’s arrest, even as news reports indicate Bout’s fleet of aircraft has been shipping supplies to the US military in Iraq in recent years. The DEA agents posed as arms dealers working for FARC but went after Bout because of evidence that he had been involved in drug smuggling as well. Bout faces up to 10 years in prison in Thailand for taking part in illegal weapons deals there. US officials are also seeking Bout’s extradition to the US so he can face more charges. Bout is a Russian citizen and has been based in Russia in recent years, but the Russian government has decided against seeking his extradition. Mother Jones comments, “Willing to work for anyone, Bout’s business divorced itself from any political, philosophical, or moral constraint. It delivered military cargo with equal enthusiasm to terrorists, guerrilla insurgents, rebel warlords, embattled dictatorships, legitimate businesses, humanitarian aid groups, and sovereign governments, including the United States” (see Late April 2003-2007). He also worked with the Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked groups (see Summer 2002 and Late July 2006). Experts note that Bout’s network has been unique in providing a full range of smuggling services and it is unlikely it will survive without him. (Falconer 3/16/2006)

Taliban presence map: January-September 2009.Taliban presence map: January-September 2009. [Source: International Council on Security and Development]An international research and policy group reports that the Taliban have attained a permanent presence in about 80 percent of Afghanistan, up from 72 percent in November 2008 and 54 percent in November 2007. The International Council on Security and Development (ICOS), formerly known as The Senlis Council, also reports that another 17 percent of Afghanistan is seeing “substantial” Taliban activity. Furthermore, it reports a recent sharp rise in Taliban activity in the north, a formerly peaceful area. “The dramatic change in the last few months has been the deterioration of the situation in the north of Afghanistan, which was previously one of the most stable parts of Afghanistan. Provinces such as Kunduz and Balkh are now heavily affected by Taliban violence. Across the north of Afghanistan, there has been a dramatic increase in the rate of insurgent attacks against international, Afghan government, and civilian targets,” states Alexander Jackson, a policy analyst at ICOS. Spokeswoman Jane Francis says ICOS’s data is based on reports from a team in Afghanistan and was gathered from daily insurgent activity reports between January and September 2009. “The unrelenting and disturbing return, spread, and advance of the Taliban is now without question,” says Norine MacDonald QC, president and lead field researcher for ICOS. (International Council on Security and Development 9/10/2009; Associated Press 9/10/2009)

A US military newspaper reports that continued resurgence of the Taliban has led residents in Kabul to surmise that the US is supporting the Taliban. US support for the Taliban is “virtually ubiquitous” in Kabul, according to Stars and Stripes. “Now we think America is supporting both the Taliban and the Afghan government. That’s what everyone says,” states Kabul shopkeeper Qand Mohmadi. “We don’t know for sure why they are doing it,” says real estate broker Daoud Zadran. “Politics is bigger than our thoughts. But maybe America wants to build up the Taliban so they have an excuse to remain in Afghanistan because of the Iranian issue.” Stars and Stripes also reports that many residents suspect that the US and Western companies are colluding with Afghan officials to pilfer the economy. (Gisick 2/15/2009)
National Opinion Survey Reveals Public Alarm, Plummeting Confidence - A public opinion survey conducted by ABC News, the BBC, and the German TV station ARD finds plummeting public confidence in and support for the Afghan government and its Western allies. Just 40 percent of those surveyed say they feel the country is heading in the right direction, down from 77 percent in 2005. Approval of overall US efforts in Afghanistan is only 32 percent, compared to 68 percent three years ago. The poll also shows falling support for the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In 2005, 80 percent of Afghans said they supported the Karzai regime, but just 49 percent say the same thing today. In addition to corruption and complaints about food, fuel, and the economy, the resurgence of the Taliban is a key element of the public’s alarm: 58 percent of Afghans see the Taliban as the biggest danger to the country. 43 percent say the Taliban have grown stronger in the past year in comparison to 24 percent who think the movement has weakened. (Langer 2/9/2009)
Police Chief Doubts Veracity of Public Suspicions - One district police chief in Kabul expresses frustration with American efforts, but finds it hard to believe that the US is supporting the Taliban. “People see that America is so strong and they wonder—why can’t it wipe out the Taliban?” says Col. Najeeb Ullah Samsour, adding that he does not personally think the US is supporting the insurgents. “People are saying that for six or seven years we have all these international troops, but everything is getting worse… security, the economy, everything. So they think America must be supporting the Taliban.”
Osama bin Laden - “This government is so corrupt that if Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar were crossing the street together right outside, no one would call the police because they know the police would just take a bribe to let them go,” says resident Habib Rahman. “A lot of people say that Osama is really from America,” according to Nasrallah Wazidi. “They say he’s just playing a role like a movie star.” (Gisick 2/15/2009)

Afghan President Hamid Karzai says his administration is investigating numerous reports of “unknown” military helicopters carrying gunmen to the northern provinces of the country amid increasing militancy in the area. At a press conference, Karzai says that his government has received information over the last five months from local residents and officials indicating that unmarked helicopters have been ferrying militants to Baghlan, Kunduz, and Samangan provinces, and have been air-dropping them at night. “Even today we received reports that the furtive process is still ongoing,” he tells journalists, though he does not share any evidence, arguing that the issue is too sensitive. Karzai adds that authorities have received similar reports in the northwest as well, and that a comprehensive investigation is underway to determine which country the helicopters belonged to, why armed men are being snuck into the region, and whether increasing insecurity in the north is linked to this. “I hope in the near future we will find out who these helicopters belong to,” he says. (Ferghana Information Agency 10/12/2009; Press TV 10/12/2009; Daily Outlook Afghanistan 10/12/2009) Western officials will later deny there is any truth to the reports (see October 14 - 29, 2009). The Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) notes that helicopters are almost entirely the exclusive domain of foreign forces in Afghanistan; NATO forces control Afghanistan’s air space and have a monopoly on aircraft. IWPR reports that Afghans believe the insurgency is being deliberately moved north, with international troops transporting fighters in from the volatile south to create mayhem in new locations. (Kawoosh 10/29/2009) The International Council on Security and Development has reported a dramatic rise in Taliban presence and activity in the formerly peaceful north in recent months (see Between January and September 2009), coinciding with the helicopter reports. The Asia Times reports that the Taliban now have complete control over several districts in the northern province of Kunduz. (Niazmand 10/16/2009)
Who Are the Militants? - The majority of reports cite eyewitnesses who claim the militants are Taliban. In Kunduz province, northern Afghanistan, a soldier from the 209th Shahin Corps of the Afghan National Army tells of an incident in which helicopters intervened to rescue Taliban during a battle. “Just when the police and army managed to surround the Taliban in a village of Qala-e-Zaal district, we saw helicopters land with support teams,” he says. “They managed to rescue their friends from our encirclement, and even to inflict defeat on the Afghan National Army.” Residents in a district of Baghlan province also witness a battle in which they insist that two foreign helicopters offload Taliban fighters who then attack their district center. “I saw the helicopters with my own eyes,” says Sayed Rafiq of Baghlan-e-Markazi. “They landed near the foothills and offloaded dozens of Taliban with turbans, and wrapped in patus [a blanket-type shawl].” According to numerous media reports, the district police chief along with the head of counter-narcotics and a number of soldiers are killed in the attack. The governor of Baghlan-e-Markazi, Commander Amir Gul, insists that the Taliban fighters are delivered by helicopter. “I do not know to which country the helicopters belonged,” he tells the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. “But these are the same helicopters that are taking the Taliban from Helmand to Kandahar and from there to the north, especially to Baghlan.” According to Gul, the district department of the National Security Directorate has identified the choppers, but refuses to comment. Baghlan police chief, Mohammad Kabir Andarabi, says that his department has reported to Kabul that foreign helicopters are transporting the Taliban into Baghlan. Baghlan provincial governor, Mohammad Akbar Barikzai, tells a news conference that his intelligence and security services have discovered that unidentified helicopters have been landing at night in some parts of the province. “We are investigating,” he says. (Kawoosh 10/29/2009) Other officials say the militants are not only Taliban. The provincial governor of Kunduz claims the fighters being transported are members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Sanobar Shermatova, a Moscow-based Central Asia analyst, writes that the IMU likely comprises the bulk of Taliban-allied militants moving into northern Afghanistan. (Eurasianet 10/13/2009; Shermatova 11/6/2009) Afghan Lower House representative, Ms. Najia Aimaq, quotes Interior Ministry authorities who say that helicopters are transporting Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s men to the northern provinces to fight the Taliban. (Nukhost Daily via UNAMA 10/14/2009)
Who Is Providing the Air Transport? - Unconfirmed reports are circulating that the helicopters are American, according to Iran’s Press TV. (Press TV 10/12/2009) McClatchy suggests that although Karzai does not say which nations he suspects are providing the helicopters, his remarks stir speculation that the US is somehow involved. However, a Karzai campaign staffer will later clarify that Karzai does not mean to imply the helicopters are American (see October 14 - 29, 2009). “We believe what the American ambassador [Karl Eikenberry] has said, and that the helicopters don’t belong to America,” says Moen Marastyal, an Afghan parliament member who has worked on the Karzai re-election campaign. (Landay and Bernton 10/14/2009) Afghan political analyst Ghulam Haidar Haidar asserts that foreign forces led by the US are behind the increasing instability in Kunduz and that coalition forces are training and equipping the insurgents in order to spread insecurity to Central Asia. “The United States wants a base from which to threaten Russia,” he says. An unnamed resident from Chahr Dara district echoes Haidar’s analysis, insisting that the Taliban are being supported by the US. “I saw it with my own eyes,” he says. “I was bringing my cattle home in the evening, and I saw Taliban getting off American helicopters. They were also unloading motorcycles from these aircraft. Later, a local mullah whom I know very well went to talk to the Americans, and then the helicopter left.” (Niazmand 10/16/2009) Press TV will later cite unnamed diplomats who say the British army has been relocating Taliban insurgents from southern Afghanistan to the north via its Chinook helicopters. (Press TV 10/17/2009) According to Rahim Rahimi, a professor at Balkh University, both America and Britain are trying to undermine security in Afghanistan to justify the need for foreign forces. “They will try and destabilize the north any way they can,” he says. “It is a good excuse to expand their presence in the area, to get a grip on the gas and oil in Central Asia.” (Kawoosh 10/29/2009)

The price of the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle more than doubles in Afghanistan. Time reports that the price of a Chinese-made AK-47 smuggled in from Pakistan has risen to $400 from $150 in just three months. The Independent reports that the weapons are going for $600 apiece and that a steady stream of them is heading to the north of the country. Both sources suggest that the surge in demand for the guns is due in part to mounting tensions over the disputed August presidential elections, which are widely perceived by Afghans, diplomats, and foreign observers as marred by fraud in favor of current President Hamid Karzai. “People are arming themselves,” Time quotes one Western official in Kabul as saying. In the Panjshir Valley, the heartland of the Northern Alliance and a Tajik stronghold of presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah, former Mujahedeen commander Gul Shah Mohammed tells The Independent that the Tajiks will not tolerate being deprived by a fraudulent poll. “We know how to use these weapons, we haven’t forgotten how to fight,” he declares. (Sengupta 9/2/2009; McGirk 9/10/2009) Such a dramatic rise in price is an ominous sign of demand in a country already awash in weapons. In addition to the demand and flow of arms to the north, also portentous is the sharp rise in Taliban presence and activity in the previously peaceful northern regions of Afghanistan (see Between January and September 2009), and reports that Taliban and other insurgents are being ferried to the north by helicopter (see May-October 12, 2009).

Days after Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that his administration is investigating reports of “unknown” military helicopters carrying gunmen to the increasingly unstable northern provinces of the country (see May-October 12, 2009), US, NATO, and Afghan officials reject the reports and insinuations that Western forces are aiding the Taliban or other militants. US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, denounces reports that the US is secretly helping Afghanistan’s enemies with weapons and helicopters as outrageous and baseless. “We would never aid the terrorists that attacked us on September 11, that are killing our soldiers, your soldiers, and innocent Afghan civilians every day,” he says. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan 10/15/2009) A Karzai campaign staffer says that Karzai did not mean to imply the helicopters were American. “We believe what the American ambassador [Karl Eikenberry] has said, and that the helicopters don’t belong to America,” says Moen Marastyal, an Afghan parliament member who has worked on the Karzai re-election campaign. (Landay and Bernton 10/14/2009) According to the Ariana Television Network, the German ambassador to Afghanistan, Werner Hans Lauk, professes ignorance when asked about Karzai’s claim that helicopters are carrying armed individuals to the northern provinces. Germany is assigned command responsibility for the north. (Ariana Television Network 10/14/2009) “This entire business with the helicopters is just a rumor,” says Brigadier General Juergen Setzer, who is the recently appointed commander for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the north, which has overall control of the air space in that region. “It has no basis in reality, according to our investigations.” Captain Tim Dark, of Britain’s Task Force Helmand, is also vehement in his denunciation. “The thought that British soldiers could be aiding and abetting the enemy is just rubbish,” he says. “We have had 85 casualties so far this year.” (Kawoosh 10/29/2009)

Victor Bout being escorted by Drug Enforcement Administration agents as he is extradited to the US.Victor Bout being escorted by Drug Enforcement Administration agents as he is extradited to the US. [Source: Drug Enforcement Administration]Accused arms dealer Victor Bout is extradited from Thailand to the US on terrorism charges. Bout was arrested in Thailand in early 2008 (see March 6, 2008). He will be tried in the US on a variety of weapons dealing charges. For many years, Bout had a public reputation as the world’s most influential and notorious illegal arms dealer. Bout is Russian, and the Russian government strongly condemns the extradition. Russia’s Foreign Ministry issues a statement blaming “unprecedented political pressure” by the US on Thailand for Bout’s “illegal extradition.” The ministry also says that his guilt is unproven. (CNN 11/16/2010)

Victor Bout during his trial.Victor Bout during his trial. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Victor Bout is found guilty on conspiracy charges to kill US citizens and officials, deliver anti-aircraft missiles, and provide aid to a terrorist organization (see September 1992, 1993-1995, Mid-1996-October 2001, October 1996-Late 2001, 1998, 1998, January 1998-April 2001, 1999, Early 2001-September 11, 2001, January 19, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, Late February 2002, Summer 2002, Late April 2003, Late April 2003-2007, August 17, 2003, July 2006, Late July 2006, March 6, 2008, and November 16, 2010). In the the trial, which began on October 12, Bout was accused of agreeing to deliver 100 surface-to-air missiles, 20,000 high-powered weapons, and 10 million rounds of ammunition to rebels in Colombia sometime in 2008. Bout will be sentenced on February 8, 2012. The BBC’s Laura Trevelyan will note: “This was a potentially risky case for the US government. Bout was caught in a sting operation by informants working for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the so-called Farc rebels were actually former criminals and might have had their evidence discredited.” (BBC 11/2/2011)


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