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Context of 'January 2001: Death of Operative Puts New FBI Focus on Boston Cell'

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Four men, Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, Nabil al-Marabh, Raed Hijazi, and Bassam Kanj, meet each other in an Afghanistan training camp. All four of them take part in fighting against the Soviets. This is according to testimony by Elzahabi in 2004 (see April 16, 2004-June 25, 2004). Elzahabi will claim that while there, he met Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, later famous for allegedly attacking US soldiers in Iraq, and al-Qaeda leaders Abu Zubaida and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. This appears to be the genesis of a Boston al-Qaeda sleeper cell that will play vital roles in 9/11 and other al-Qaeda plots. The four men go their separate ways in subsequent years, but by 1998 all of them will be working as taxi drivers in Boston (see June 1995-Early 1999). [Boston Globe, 6/27/2004]

Entity Tags: Raed Hijazi, Nabil al-Marabh, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, Abu Zubaida, Bassam Kanj, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Nabil al-Marabh returned to Canada from Afghanistan in February 1994 using a fraudulent Saudi Arabian passport. But his request for asylum was eventually denied. He then enters the US in June 1995 and applies for asylum there. That too is denied, and he is ordered deported in 1997. But the order is not enforced and he continues to live in the US and Canada illegally until 9/11. [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/22/2001; Knight Ridder, 5/23/2003] Al-Marabh moves to Boston and gets a job as a taxi driver. He had known al-Qaeda operatives Bassam Kanj, Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, and Raed Hijazi in training camps in Afghanistan (see Late 1980s; 1989-1994), and this group of four regathers in Boston. Kanj has been there since 1995, driving taxis at the same company that hires al-Marabh. Elzahabi moves to Boston from New York City in 1997 and also gets a job at this same taxi company. There are conflicting accounts as to who brings Raed Hijazi to Boston and why he goes there, but by the beginning of 1998 he is also working for this taxi company. [Boston Globe, 2/5/2001; New York Times, 9/18/2001; New York Times, 10/14/2001; Washington Post, 9/4/2002] Al-Marabh and Hijazi are roommates for at least two months. While they work together driving taxis, Hijazi is saving his earnings to spend on bomb plots and is working on an al-Qaeda plot to attack a US warship. That plot will develop into the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. [ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002; Washington Post, 9/4/2002] Around the end of 1998, Kanj and Hijazi leave Boston to work on al-Qaeda plots overseas while Elzahabi leaves in 1999 to fight as a sniper in Chechnya. Al-Marabh will also leave, moving to Florida in early 1999 (see February 1999-February 2000), but he periodically returns to his Boston residence for some time, as his wife and son continue to live there. These four men will continue to help each other in various al-Qaeda plots. [Boston Globe, 2/5/2001; Boston Globe, 6/26/2004] Apparently, al-Qaeda recruiter Kamal Derwish also works at the same Boston taxi company, though the timing is not clear. He trained in Afghanistan in 1992, a time when al-Marabh was also there. He will be killed by a US missile strike in November 2002 (see November 3, 2002). [Christian Science Monitor, 5/23/2003] Even though the Boston FBI is aware long before 9/11 that at least four of the men are connected to al-Qaeda (see January 2001), the FBI will officially deny the possibility of any al-Qaeda cell in Boston until 2004 (see June 27, 2004).

Entity Tags: Bassam Kanj, Al-Qaeda, Nabil al-Marabh, Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, Kamal Derwish, Raed Hijazi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In 1997, Canadian intelligence begins investigating Abdullah Almalki, a Canadian exporter originally from Syria. Almalki is working with Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi and Abdelrahman Elzahabi, who are brothers and business partners, to send electronic equipment to Pakistan. Around 1995, the three of them sent large numbers of portable field radios to Pakistan. Apparently, some of them are used by Taliban and al-Qaeda forces (the US will later recover many field radios of the same make and model in Afghanistan after 9/11). However, there is no law against exporting the radios, and investigators are unable to prove any crime was committed. Abdelrahman is working in New York City as a mechanic while Mohamad Kamal is working in Boston as a taxi driver. Three other taxi drivers at the same company are al-Qaeda operatives who knew each other and Mohamad Kamal in Afghanistan (see Late 1980s and June 1995-Early 1999), and he will later admit to being a sniper instructor at the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. The FBI in Boston begins investigating him in 1999, but fails to prove he is a terrorist. They lose track of him when he leaves the US later that year to fight the Russians in Chechnya. The FBI later discovers him driving trucks in Minnesota and arrests him for lying to federal agents about his knowledge of the field radios (see Mid-August 2001). [Globe and Mail, 3/17/2007] It seems probable that the investigation of Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi strengthens suspicions about a Boston al-Qaeda cell. One of his associates at the taxi company, Raed Hijazi, works as an FBI informant starting in 1997 (see Early 1997-Late 1998]), and another, Nabil al-Marabh, is questioned by the FBI in 1999 (see April 1999-August 1999). Almalki is later arrested in Syria while visiting relatives there and severely tortured before eventually being released and returned to Canada (see September 19 or 20, 2003).

Entity Tags: Raed Hijazi, Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, Nabil al-Marabh, Abdullah Almalki, Abdelrahman Elzahabi, Khaldan training camp

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

FISA court judge Royce Lamberth was angry with the FBI over misleading statements made in FISA wiretap applications.FISA court judge Royce Lamberth was angry with the FBI over misleading statements made in FISA wiretap applications. [Source: Public domain]While monitoring foreign terrorists in the US, the FBI listens to calls made by suspects as a part of an operation called Catcher’s Mitt, which is curtailed at this time due to misleading statements by FBI agents. It is never revealed who the targets of the FBI’s surveillance are under this operation, but below are some of the terrorism suspects under investigation in the US at the time:
bullet Imran Mandhai, Shuyeb Mossa Jokhan and Adnan El Shukrijumah in Florida. They are plotting a series of attacks there, but Mandhai and Jokhan are brought in for questioning by the FBI and surveillance of them stops in late spring (see November 2000-Spring 2002 and May 2, 2001);
bullet Another Florida cell connected to Blind Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. The FBI has been investigating it since 1993 (see (October 1993-November 2001));
bullet Al-Qaeda operatives in Denver (see March 2000);
bullet A Boston-based al-Qaeda cell involving Nabil al-Marabh and Raed Hijazi. Cell members provide funding to terrorists, fight abroad, and are involved in document forging (see January 2001, Spring 2001, and Early September 2001);
bullet Fourteen of the hijackers’ associates the FBI investigates before 9/11. The FBI is still investigating four of these people while the hijackers associate with them; [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 169 pdf file]
bullet Hamas operatives such as Mohammed Salah in Chicago. Salah invests money in the US and sends it to the occupied territories to fund attacks (see June 9, 1998).
When problems are found with the applications for the wiretap warrants, an investigation is launched (see Summer-October 2000), and new requirements for warrant applications are put in place (see October 2000). From this time well into 2001, the FBI is forced to shut down wiretaps of al-Qaeda-related suspects connected to the 1998 US embassy bombings and Hamas (see March 2001 and April 2001). One source familiar with the case says that about 10 to 20 al-Qaeda related wiretaps have to be shut down and it becomes more difficult to get permission for new FISA wiretaps. Newsweek notes, “The effect [is] to stymie terror surveillance at exactly the moment it was needed most: requests from both Phoenix [with the Ken Williams memo (see July 10, 2001)] and Minneapolis [with Zacarias Moussaoui’s arrest] for wiretaps [will be] turned down [by FBI superiors],” (see August 21, 2001 and August 28, 2001). [Newsweek, 5/27/2002] Robert Wright is an FBI agent who led the Vulgar Betrayal investigation looking into allegations that Saudi businessman Yassin al-Qadi helped finance the embassy bombings, and other matters. In late 2002, he will claim to discover evidence that some of the FBI intelligence agents who stalled and obstructed his investigation were the same FBI agents who misrepresented the FISA petitions. [Judicial Watch, 9/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Royce Lamberth, Shuyeb Mossa Jokhan, Catcher’s Mitt, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Zacarias Moussaoui, Raed Hijazi, Mohammad Salah, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Adnan Shukrijumah, Central Intelligence Agency, Nabil al-Marabh, Ken Williams, Imran Mandhai, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bassam Kanj.
Bassam Kanj. [Source: FBI]Bassam Kanj is killed in a battle in Lebanon. Kanj lived on and off in Boston for nearly 15 years, and was a friend of al-Qaeda operatives Nabil al-Marabh, Raed Hijazi, and Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi. All four of them fought together in Afghanistan in the late 1980s (see Late 1980s), then worked at the same Boston taxi company in the 1990s (see June 1995-Early 1999). In late 1998, Kanj left Boston for Lebanon where he apparently recruited a couple hundred people to take part in a rebellion to overthrow the Lebanese government. He is killed during a five day battle, along with 21 others. Two days after the battle, a Lebanese newspaper identifies him as an al-Qaeda operative who had received financial support from bin Laden. This leads to a renewed focus on him in the US. In February 2001, the Boston Globe will report, “The FBI is continuing to look at Kanj’s and Hijazi’s activities in the Boston area in hopes of learning more about their contacts inside bin Laden’s far-flung organization.” Michael Rolince, chief of international terrorism operations for the FBI, will tell the Globe that both men had a “higher station” than most in al-Qaeda, and will add, “We are still trying to sort out who played what role.” [Boston Globe, 2/5/2001] Presumably, this leads the FBI to take another look at Nabil al-Marabh, who had been roommates with both Hijazi and Kanj and is already wanted for a variety of al-Qaeda contacts. An individual matching al-Marabh’s description is even mentioned in a prominent New York Times story about al-Qaeda in January 2001. The article states, “In early 1997, Hijazi moved to Boston, where he had a friend from his years in Afghanistan.” [New York Times, 1/15/2001] Yet apparently there is no concerted effort to find al-Marabh, who will even be set free after being arrested trying to illegally enter the US (see June 27, 2001-July 11, 2001). The Boston FBI began investigating Elzahabi for militant ties in 1999, but lost track of him when he went to fight in Chechnya (see 1997 and 1999). But apparently he is not detected reentering the US shortly before 9/11 (see Mid-August 2001).

Entity Tags: Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, Nabil al-Marabh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bassam Kanj, Michael Rolince, Raed Hijazi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A courtroom artist’s depiction of Mahmoud Jaballah.A courtroom artist’s depiction of Mahmoud Jaballah. [Source: CBC]On June 27, 2001, Nabil al-Marabh is arrested while trying to enter the US from Canada in the back of a tractor-trailer, carrying a forged Canadian passport and a bogus social insurance card. [St. Catherines Standard, 10/2/2001] The New York Times will note that, “American officials had plenty of reason to believe that he was up to no good. Nine months earlier, he had been identified to American intelligence agents as one of Osama bin Laden’s operatives in the United States. American customs agents knew about money he had transferred to an associate of Osama bin Laden in the Middle East. And the Boston police had issued a warrant for his arrest after he violated probation for stabbing a friend with a knife. But [US officials] simply let him go.” [New York Times, 10/14/2001] The US turns him back to the Canadians. He is held for two weeks, then released on bail despite evidence linking him to militants (see Shortly Before July 11, 2001). During his two-week detention in a Canadian prison, al-Marabh boasts to other prisoners that he remains in contact with the FBI. When one prisoner asks him why, his reply is “because I’m special.” After 9/11, these prisoners will be puzzled that the FBI has not tried to interview them on what they know about al-Marabh. Al-Marabh will fail to show up for a Canadian deportation hearing in August and for a court date in September. It appears he quickly sneaks back into the US instead. [St. Catherines Standard, 10/2/2001] Al-Marabh’s Boston landlord will later be asked if he thought al-Marabh could have been a terrorist. The landlord will reply, “He was too stupid, number one, to be a terrorist. Because terrorists today are very intelligent people. But he might be used by some smarter or intelligent sources, who use people like that.” [ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] In July, just after he is released on bail in Canada, the Boston police will go to his former Boston address with a warrant for his March arrest, but he will not be there. [New York Times, 10/14/2001] Also at some point in July, Canadian authorities inform US Customs about some dubious financial transactions involving al-Marabh, and apparently the information is used in a Customs money-laundering probe (see Spring 2001). [Newsweek, 10/1/2001] One prominent former Canadian intelligence official will say that whether a more detailed look at al-Marabh at this time could have stopped the 9/11 attacks is an “intriguing question.… It becomes ever more intriguing as evidence seeps in.” [Ottawa Citizen, 10/29/2001]

Entity Tags: Nabil al-Marabh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Canada

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi moves to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Elzahabi has a long association with al-Qaeda, and has just returned from Chechnya where he fought as a sniper (see April 16, 2004-June 25, 2004). His “name was known to the FBI well before the Sept. 11 attacks, according to law enforcement officials who declined to be identified. He also was on a list of possible or suspected terrorists” circulated to foreign airlines and banks shortly after 9/11. [Fox News, 6/26/2004; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 6/30/2004] In fact, Canadian intelligence began investigating him for suspected militant ties in 1997, and the Boston FBI began investigating him in 1999, but lost track of him when he left the US later that year (see 1997 and 1999). He was connected to al-Qaeda operatives Raed Hijazi, Nabil al-Marabh, and Bassam Kanj. He worked as a Boston taxi driver with them (see June 1995-Early 1999), and also fought with them in Afghanistan (see Late 1980s). Fox News will later note that Elzahabi has a “potential link to Zacarias Moussaoui” since Moussaoui moved to Minneapolis in early August 2001 and is arrested on August 15, but no firm connection between the two has been shown. It has not been reported exactly when Elzahabi arrives in Minneapolis, but he applies for a commercial driver’s license on August 23, 2001. He is fingerprinted for a criminal background check at that time, which presumably would alert the FBI that he is living in Minneapolis if they do not know already. But it is not known if Minneapolis FBI agents, desperately trying to get a warrant for Moussaoui, are told about Elzahabi before 9/11. In January 2002, the FBI will run his name through a database. Despite the FBI’s knowledge of his al-Qaeda ties, he is cleared to get the license. This allows him to haul hazardous materials. His friend and al-Qaeda operative Nabil al-Marabh received a similar license the year before (see August 2000-January 2001). Elzahabi will apply for a license allowing him to carry general freight in September 2003 and he will get insurance clearance to start work in April 2004. However, he will be arrested by FBI that same month (see April 16, 2004-June 25, 2004). [Fox News, 6/26/2004; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 6/30/2004]

Entity Tags: Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, Nabil al-Marabh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

It is reported that the FBI’s Boston office is investigating if there may have been an al-Qaeda sleeper cell in Boston and whether it may have had connections to the 9/11 attacks. The Boston FBI had previously denied the existence of any Boston cell, even though they knew before 9/11 that four Boston taxi drivers—Nabil al-Marabh, Raed Hijazi, Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, and Bassam Kanj—all knew each other well and were all connected to al-Qaeda (see January 2001; Mid-August 2001). But the FBI shows new interest in the possibility after indicting Elzahabi in Minnesota a few days earlier (see April 16, 2004-June 25, 2004). The Boston Globe comments, “The possibility that unknown people in Boston were providing support to terrorists, including the 10 who hijacked the two planes out of Logan Airport, has been the subject of much conjecture among law enforcement officials.” [Boston Globe, 6/27/2004] Unofficially, it seems that even before 9/11, some in the FBI thought that al-Qaeda had cells in Boston. On September 12, 2001, an anonymous long-time Boston FBI agent told the Boston Globe that there were “a lot of terrorist cells in [the Boston] area.… It’s a facilitator for terrorist activity. There have been cells here of bin Laden’s associates. They’re entrenched here.” [Boston Globe, 9/12/2001] Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says, “We uncovered plots in December of 1999 that also involved Boston cab drivers around the millennium rollover. I think there is a high probability the Boston FBI missed a major cell there.” [WCVB 5 (Boston), 6/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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