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Context of 'Early 2000-2001: Italian Wiretaps Expose Militants’ European Network'

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Mohamed Daki.Mohamed Daki. [Source: Cageprisoners]Records indicate that would-be hijacker Ramzi Bin al-Shibh lives at the same Hamburg, Germany, address as a Moroccan named Mohamed Daki during this time. Daki will be arrested in April 2003, and will admit to knowing bin al-Shibh and some others in the Hamburg cell. In April 1999 Daki will obtain a visa to travel to the US, but it is not known if he goes there. It is generally assumed by the press that the Hamburg cell keep themselves separate from other al-Qaeda cells in Europe. However, Daki is an expert document forger and a member of al-Qaeda’s Milan cell. There is considerable evidence that the Milan cell has foreknowledge of the 9/11 plot. The cell is under heavy surveillance by Italian intelligence before 9/11 (see August 12, 2000 and January 24, 2001), but apparently the connection between the Milan and Hamburg cells through Daki is not made. German authorities will interview him after 9/11, and he will admit ties to bin al-Shibh, but he will be let go, not investigated further, and not put on any watch lists. He will later come under investigation in Italy for recruiting fighters to combat the US in Iraq. He will finally be arrested and charged for that, but not for his 9/11 connections. [Los Angeles Times, 3/22/2004; New York Times, 3/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Mohamed Daki, Al-Qaeda, Ramzi bin al-Shibh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Three Yemeni men are arrested in Turin, Italy. They are connected to planned attacks on US facilities in Europe. They are members of Islamic Jihad, the Egyptian militant group led by al-Qaeda number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Italian police search their apartments and discover beards, wigs, weapons, and contact details for Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. This information is quickly passed to the German domestic intelligence service. Prior to this point, Germany has been investigating Zammar (see March 1997-Early 2000), but apparently they are uncertain if his claims of training in Afghanistan and meeting bin Laden are idle boasts. But after these arrests in Italy, German intelligence will realize Zammar has connections to real terrorists. The surveillance operation on him, and others in the Hamburg cell, will increase in intensity. [Stern, 8/13/2003; Vanity Fair, 11/2004]

Entity Tags: Germany, Italy, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Islamic Jihad

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Sami Ben Khemais.Sami Ben Khemais. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Telephone wiretaps and listening devices used against a Milan-based Tunisian operative named Sami Ben Khemais provide investigators with “a trove of fresh information” and help them uncover a European network of Islamist radicals. Ben Khemais fell under surveillance some time after arriving in Italy from Afghan training camps in 1998 and has dealings with other radicals in Germany, Spain, Britain, France, Belgium, and Switzerland. Shortly after 9/11, a German official will say the network of interlocking cells uncovered changes counterterrorist thinking in Europe: “In the past, we had seen some links to Afghanistan, but we saw them as more or less acting here without close connections to al-Qaeda. Now we are seeing more and more links between cells and to al-Qaeda. We are rethinking everything.” The European cells are organized under two umbrellas, Takfir wal Hijra and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), and its three leaders are Abu Doha, who will be arrested in London (see February 2001); Mohamed Bensakhria, based in Frankfurt, but arrested in Spain; and Tarek Maaroufi, who is arrested in Belgium. The Milan cell of which Ben Khemais is part and which he finances by drug-trafficking, counterfeiting money and documents, and money laundering, is connected to the “Hamburg cell” that provides three 9/11 hijackers in various ways (see December 1997-November 1998, October 2, 1998, and 2000). [Boston Globe, 10/23/2001]

Entity Tags: Tarek Maaroufi, Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, Abu Doha, Islamic Cultural Institute, Mohamed Bensakhria, Sami Ben Khemais, Takfir Wal Hijra

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mohammed Ben Heni Lased.Mohammed Ben Heni Lased. [Source: Public domain]Italian and US authorities monitor an Italian cell of extremists linked to al-Qaeda (see Early 2000-2001) while its members discuss the use of a chemical weapon, but the cell does not appear to be able to make the weapon work. In phone conversations overheard by Italian intelligence operatives, Islamist extremists Sami Ben Khemais, Mohammed Ben Heni Lased, and others discuss the best way to transport chemicals—disguised as cans of tomatoes—and how to make a bomb out of a pressure cooker and a tape player. Ben Khemais also refers to a drug, for which a Libyan chemistry professor has a formula, but, although making the drug is supposedly easy, Ben Khemais cannot do it. He also suggests asking the Russian mafia for a chemical weapon, and refers to one man as “the sheik,” possibly meaning Osama bin Laden. However, despite his plans, no attacks are actually carried out. The Chicago Tribune will later comment, “Most of the talk is inconclusive, and, at times, Ben Khemais and his associates sound more like al-Qaeda wannabes than the calculating criminals as anti-terrorist investigators describe them.” [Chicago Tribune, 10/22/2001]

Entity Tags: Sami Ben Khemais, Mohammed Ben Heni Lased, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Doha, a key figure in al-Qaeda’s European network, is arrested at Heathrow airport in London. He is attempting to board a plane for Saudi Arabia, but several false passports are found in his hand luggage. A search of his London flat reveals passport photographs depicting him in various disguises, 20 credit cards, a telescopic rifle sight, and what police describe as terrorism paraphernalia. He is found to be involved in various plots around the world, including a section of the Millennium Plot that comprised a bombing of Los Angeles airport (see December 14, 1999), so the US soon asks for his extradition. He is also later said to have worked on plots to bomb the US, British, and Australian embassies in Singapore in December 2001, a planned attack on the Paris-Dakar rally in January 2000, a plot to attack the 1998 World Cup in France (see Late 1997-Early 1998), and other attacks. Abu Doha was close to Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for British intelligence (see Early 1997 and May 1999). Abu Doha’s deputy, Rabah Kadre, is also arrested. Although he has been under surveillance by British authorities since 1998 (see 1998), he is released, apparently because British authorities think they have insufficient evidence against him. He will later leave Britain, but be arrested following his re-entry (see November 2002). The British intelligence service MI5 will later say that Kadre is “Abu Doha’s successor” as a leader of the Europe-wide network. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 117-118, 240]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), Abu Doha, Rabah Kadre

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Following the arrest of extremists based around Milan, Italy, in April 2001 (see 2000-April 2001 and Early 2000-2001), local authorities begin to investigate associates of the arrested men. They find that when the group wants to send people to training camps in Afghanistan, this is arranged through two people based at the Islamic Cultural Institute, a well-known radical mosque in Milan. The two men who take care of the arrangements are Abdelhalim Remadna, an Algerian secretary of the mosque’s imam, and a Moroccan named Yassin Chekkouri, both of whom live inside the mosque and almost never leave. After several months of investigation, the authorities find them to be key players in a sophisticated network that is recruiting hundreds of European Muslims for al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. They also find that Remadna communicates frequently with a man named Abu Jaffa (a.k.a. Abu Jafar al-Jaziri), who runs a guesthouse for Algerian militants in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, and that the two of them coordinate the trainees’ movements. The group does not use the usual route for trainees through Pakistan, as it is aware Pakistani stamps in a passport indicate an affiliation with al-Qaeda. Instead, volunteers travel through Turkey and Iran. Members of Remadna’s network say that Iran provides “complete cooperation” with this. Remadna provides the volunteers with addresses of hotels and safe houses, where members of the network meet them and help them cross from Iran into Afghanistan. By analyzing phone traffic, the authorities find that militants from at least six European countries rely on Remadna to reach the Afghan camps. [Vidino, 2006, pp. 219-221]

Entity Tags: Yassin Chekkouri, Abu Jaffa, Abdelhalim Remadna, Islamic Cultural Institute

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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