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Context of 'January 5-6, 2000: Al-Qaeda Operatives’ Failure to Meet in Singapore Has Important Consequences'

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Some attendees of the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), arrive early. Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash had lost a leg while fighting in Afghanistan in 1997. In early December 1999, he was in Afghanistan with Abu Bara al-Taizi (a.k.a. Zohair Mohammed Said) and others, attending a hijacking training course (see Late 1999 and Early December 1999). Bin Attash and al-Taizi have been selected by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to be hijackers for a planned Asian portion of the 9/11 plot (which will later be cancelled).
Surgery for Bin Attash's Leg - Bin Attash goes early to an al-Qaeda summit where hijacking plans will be discussed, in order to have prosthetic surgery for his leg. Al-Taizi goes with him. Malaysian security is said to be lax for Islamist militants, and Malaysia does not require a visa for citizens of many Middle Eastern countries. There is a clinic in Kuala Lumpur called Endolite, and other wounded militants have said they successfully concealed the origins of their combat wounds when receiving treatment there. Bin Attash got a prosthetic leg in Malaysia not long after losing his leg in 1997, but he is coming back to get a better one. He apparently gets the money for the prosthesis from his father, Osama bin Laden, and another al-Qaeda figure.
Link with Hambali - When bin Attash and al-Taizi arrive in Kuala Lumpur, they contact Hambali, the top al-Qaeda leader in Southeast Asia. Hambali picks them up at the airport and takes them to his home. Then he takes them to the Endolite clinic. Bin Attash and al-Taizi stay at or near the clinic for about 10 to 14 days. Bin Attash then takes about four flights in Southeast Asia to learn about security for the hijacking plan (see December 31, 1999-January 2, 2000), while al-Taizi apparently stays in Kuala Lumpur. According to Hambali’s later Guantanamo prison file, bin Attash and al-Taizi also investigate the security of US aircraft carriers in the region.
Others Arrive - On January 3, with bin Attash back from his flights, the two of them move to Yazid Sufaat’s condominium where the al-Qaeda summit will be held. Future 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi arrives there the next day. 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar arrives the day after that, and other attendees are arriving as well, allowing the summit to begin (see January 5-8, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 158-159; US Department of Defense, 12/6/2006; US Department of Defense, 10/25/2008; US Department of Defense, 10/30/2008] Note that this information is based on prisoner interrogations, which can be highly unreliable. However, it should be noted that the accounts of bin Attash, Hambali, and al-Taizi appear to largely match.

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Hambali, Abu Bara al-Taizi, Khallad bin Attash, Osama bin Laden, Yazid Sufaat, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi

The USS The Sullivans.The USS The Sullivans. [Source: US Navy]An al-Qaeda attack on USS The Sullivans in Yemen’s Aden harbor fails when their boat filled with explosives sinks. This is one of a series of failed al-Qaeda attacks planned to take place around the turn of the millennium (see December 31, 1999-January 1, 2000). But the attack remains undiscovered, and a duplication of the attack by the same people will successfully hit the USS Cole in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] The US will first learn of the planned The Sullivans attack when interrogating a suspect in the Cole bombing in early November 2000. [New York Times, 11/10/200]

Entity Tags: USS Cole, USS The Sullivans, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

On January 5, 2000, al-Qaeda operatives Ibrahim al-Thawar and Fahad al-Quso arrive in Bangkok, Thailand. They were part of an attempt to sink the USS The Sullivans, which failed in Yemen just a couple of days ago (see January 3, 2000). Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash has been a part of the same plot, and has been in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the past two weeks or so (see Mid-December 1999). Al-Thawar and al-Quso are bringing thousands of dollars for bin Attash (different accounts will name different amounts, but it could be as much as $36,000), and they plan to meet in Singapore. However, all three of them are unable to get Singapore visas. Bin Attash is attending an important al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur from January 5 to 8 (see January 5-8, 2000), and Malaysia does not require visas at all for most Middle Eastern countries. However, for whatever reason, bin Attash flies to Bangkok on January 6, instead of having one or both of the others fly to Kuala Lumpur. Apparently, the money is handed over and bin Attash flies back to Kuala Lumpur the next day to continue with the summit (see January 6, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 159]
Important Consequences - These interactions will have important consequences, because al-Quso will be questioned by the FBI in Yemen later in 2000 (see Late October-Late November 2000), after taking part in the bombing of the USS Cole there (see October 12, 2000). Al-Quso will confess to giving a large sum of money to bin Attash (see Early December 2000), and FBI agents will discover phone calls between al-Quso’s Bangkok hotel and a phone booth in front of the condominium where the al-Qaeda summit was held (see (January 5-8, 2000)). But the FBI agents will be unable to find out about the summit, and the CIA will not share the information it has about it, ruining a chance for the FBI to discover the 9/11 plot that had been discussed at the summit (see for instance April 2001).

Entity Tags: Fahad al-Quso, Ibrahim al-Thawar, Khallad bin Attash

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Two of the operatives attending al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit make short trips to neighboring countries, returning to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, within 24 hours. The two operatives are Nawaf Alhazmi and Khallad bin Attash and the two countries they visit are Thailand and Singapore, but it is not definitively known which operative goes to which country. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 4 pdf file] However, an associate of bin Attash’s, Fahad al-Quso, arrives in Thailand around this day (see January 5-6, 2000). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 269 pdf file] In addition, Alhazmi will later be said to have visited Singapore. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/4/2003] Presumably, therefore, it is bin Attash that travels to Thailand, whereas Alhazmi goes to Singapore. The 9/11 Commission will later say of these two trips, “After the fact, efforts were made to track them. US officials in Kuala Lumpur wondered if one of these Arabs was the still mysterious Nawaf. Both returned to Kuala Lumpur within the next 24 hours, though the authorities did not know it at the time.” [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 4 pdf file] Khalid Almihdhar is also said to visit Singapore, and both he and Alhazmi are said to travel to Indonesia around this time as well, but the circumstances of these additional trips, if they are actually made, are not known. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/4/2003] Almihdhar’s passport was copied by intelligence services on the way to Malaysia (see January 2-5, 2000) and a similar operation to obtain Alhazmi’s passport details failed (see January 2-4, 2000). These two trips represent opportunities to obtain Alhazmi and bin Attash’s passport details, but this is apparently not done, even though the two are under surveillance at this point (see January 5-8, 2000).

Entity Tags: Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, CIA Kuala Lumpur station, Central Intelligence Agency, Khallad bin Attash

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

October 12, 2000: USS Cole Bombed by Al-Qaeda

Damage to the USS Cole.Damage to the USS Cole. [Source: Department of Defense]The USS Cole is bombed in the Aden, Yemen harbor by two al-Qaeda militants, Hassan al-Khamri and Ibrahim al-Thawar (a.k.a. Nibras). Seventeen US soldiers are killed and 30 are wounded. The CIA will later conclude that with just slightly more skilled execution, the attack would have killed 300 and sunk the ship. [ABC News, 10/13/2000; Coll, 2004, pp. 532; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 191] The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) immediately takes credit for the attack. This is a Yemen-based Muslim militant group widely believed to have close ties to al-Qaeda (see 1996-1997 and After). [Guardian, 10/14/2000] The IAA statement is released by its spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997, (June 1998), and December 28, 1998 and After). Abu Hamza says that the attack was timed to mark the anniversary of the execution of the IAA’s former commander (see October 17, 1999). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 184] The prime minister of Yemen at the time of the bombing will say shortly after 9/11, “The Islamic Army was part of al-Qaeda.” [Guardian, 10/13/2001] The US soon learns the names of some al-Qaeda operatives involved in the attack, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Tawfiq bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso (see Early December 2000), and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000). 9/11 hijackers Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see October 10-21, 2000) and Khalid Almihdhar (see Around October 12, 2000) may also have been involved. This is a repeat of a previously attempted attack, against the USS The Sullivans, which failed and was apparently undetected (see January 3, 2000). [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002] The 9/11 Commission will later say the Cole bombing “was a full-fledged al-Qaeda operation, supervised directly by bin Laden. He chose the target and location of the attack, selected the suicide operatives, and provided the money needed to purchase explosives and equipment.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 190]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Khallad bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Islamic Army of Aden, USS Cole, Osama bin Laden, Ibrahim al-Thawar, Khalid Almihdhar, Fahad al-Quso, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hassan al-Khamri, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Fahad al-Quso, a Yemeni and known associate of Osama bin Laden, turns himself in to the Yemeni government after some of his relatives are questioned in the wake of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] He admits that he and one of the two Cole suicide bombers went to Bangkok, Thailand, and gave several thousand dollars to a man known as Khallad, who is identified as one of the masterminds of the Cole bombing. He says the money is to buy a new artificial leg for the one-legged Khallad. The transcript of the interrogation is given to the FBI a month later. FBI agent Ali Soufan sees the transcript and remembers a source he recruited in Afghanistan who spoke of a one-legged man named Khallad who is close to bin Laden. Khallad is his nickname; his real name is Tawfiq bin Attash. A mug shot of bin Attash is sent to this source, who makes a positive identification. Soufan wonders why money was being sent away from the Cole plotters and away from Yemen prior to a major planned attack and speculates that it may mean another al-Qaeda operation is being planned elsewhere. Soufan asks the CIA for information about Khallad and this other attack, which turns out to be 9/11, but the CIA withholds the information (see Late November 2000). Al-Quso will later reveal more to the FBI, leading to more missed opportunities (see Early December 2000). [Wright, 2006, pp. 328-329]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Fahad al-Quso, Ali Soufan, Khallad bin Attash, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Fahad al-Quso.Fahad al-Quso. [Source: FBI]In late October 2000, al-Qaeda operative Fahad al-Quso was interrogated by authorities in Yemen, and FBI agent Ali Soufan was able to use that information to discover the identity of one of the USS Cole bombing masterminds, Khallad bin Attash (see Late October-Late November 2000). In early December, while most FBI investigators are having to leave Yemen, Soufan is given the chance to interrogate al-Quso directly. Soufan gets al-Quso to admit that he had met with bin Attash and one of the Cole suicide bombers in Bangkok, Thailand, in January 2000 (see January 13, 2000). Al-Quso admits he gave bin Attash $36,000 and not the $5,000 for medical expenses that al-Quso had claimed when talking to the Yemenis the month before. Al-Quso says they stayed in the Washington Hotel in Bangkok, so Soufan checks telephone records to verify his account. Soufan finds records of phone calls between the hotel and al-Quso’s house in Yemen. They also find calls to both places from a pay phone in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The phone happens to be directly outside the condominium where an al-Qaeda summit was taking place a few days before al-Quso went to Bangkok (see January 5-8, 2000). Soufan asks the CIA for information about bin Attash, but the CIA wrongly claims it knows nothing, and doesn’t even tell Soufan of the Malaysia summit that it had closely monitored (see Late November 2000). [New York Times, 4/11/2004; Wright, 2006, pp. 330-331] Meanwhile, FBI head investigator John O’Neill correctly believes that al-Quso is still holding back important information (at the very least, al-Quso is still hiding his participation in the Malaysia summit). However, O’Neill had been kicked out of Yemen by his superiors a week or two before (see October 14-Late November, 2000), and without his influential presence the Yemeni government will not allow any more interrogations. After 9/11, al-Quso will finally admit to meeting with Alhazmi and Almihdhar. One investigator calls the missed opportunity of exposing the 9/11 plot through al-Quso’s connections “mind-boggling.” [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] In April 2003, al-Quso will escape from a Yemeni prison (see April 11, 2003-March 2004). [Associated Press, 4/11/2003]

Entity Tags: Ali Soufan, John O’Neill, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Khallad bin Attash, Fahad al-Quso

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Khallad bin Attash (left) and Khalid Almihdhar (right) were apparently confused by the CIA.Khallad bin Attash (left) and Khalid Almihdhar (right) were apparently confused by the CIA. [Source: FBI]Because the CIA thinks 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash are in the same place at the same time—in Bangkok, Thailand, for a meeting with Fahad al-Quso, an operative involved in the attack of the USS Cole, in January 2000 (see January 5-6, 2000)—and possibly because of the similarity between Almihdhar’s first name Khalid and bin Attash’s nickname Khallad, some officers apparently theorize that bin Attash and Almihdhar may be the same person. However, the FBI is not informed of this. In order to confirm or refute this theory, the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, asks for surveillance photos of an al-Qaeda summit that Almihdhar attended, intending to show the photos to a source who knows bin Attash and has previously identified him in another photo (see November 22-December 16, 2000 and Early January 2001). However, there is no record of this theory being communicated to the FBI, even though the CIA knows bin Attash was involved in the Cole bombing and the FBI is investigating him (see Late October-Late November 2000). Some CIA cables drafted at this time contain information about bin Attash and information not related to bin Attash; CIA officers are instructed to share the information not related to bin Attash with the FBI, but are not instructed to share the information about bin Attash and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later say that if the CIA had told the FBI more about bin Attash around this time, the FBI would have asked for more information about Almihdhar and had a better chance of locating him before 9/11. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 269-270, 278 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Office of the Inspector General (DOJ), Federal Bureau of Investigation, CIA Islamabad Station, Khalid Almihdhar, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ali Soufan in Afghanistan after 9/11.Ali Soufan in Afghanistan after 9/11. [Source: FBI]Ali Soufan, a lead investigator into the bombing of the USS Cole, again requests information from the CIA about leads turned up by the investigation. He made a similar request in late 2000, but got no reply (see Late November 2000). After learning that some of the bombers made calls between one of their houses in Yemen, the Washington Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, where some of them stayed, and a payphone in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (see (January 5-8, 2000) and Early December 2000), Soufan sends an official teletype with the request for information and also a photo of al-Qaeda manager Khallad bin Attash. The CIA is well aware that there was an al-Qaeda summit at a condominium near the payphone in Kuala Lumpur (see January 5-8, 2000), and in fact considered it so important that CIA Director George Tenet and other CIA leaders were repeatedly briefed about it (see January 6-9, 2000). [New York Times, 4/11/2004; Wright, 2006, pp. 330-331; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] The CIA even has photos from the Malaysia summit of al-Quso standing next to hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, and other photos of bin Attash standing next to Almihdhar. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 pdf file] However, the CIA does not share any of what they know with Soufan, and Soufan continues to remain unaware the Malaysia summit even took place. Author Lawrence Wright will later comment, “If the CIA had responded to Soufan by supplying him with the intelligence he requested, the FBI would have learned of the Malaysia summit and of the connection to Almihdhar and Alhazmi. The bureau would have learned—as the [CIA] already knew—that the al-Qaeda operatives were in America and had been there for more than a year. Because there was a preexisting indictment for bin Laden in New York, and Almihdhar and Alhazmi were his associates, the bureau already had the authority to follow the suspects, wiretap their apartment, intercept their communications, clone their computer, investigate their contacts—all the essential steps that might have prevented 9/11.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 330-331]

Entity Tags: Ali Soufan, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Lawrence Wright

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Abu Jandal.Abu Jandal. [Source: CNN]On the day of 9/11, FBI agent Ali Soufan happened to be in Yemen, working on the recently revived USS Cole bombing investigation there. For nearly a year, the CIA had hidden all information about the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia from Soufan (see Late October-Late November 2000 and Early December 2000). On September 12, 2001, he receives from the CIA a packet of information containing a complete report about the Malaysia summit and three surveillance photos from it. According to author Lawrence Wright, “When Soufan realized that the [CIA] and some people in the [FBI] had known for more than a year and a half that two of the hijackers [Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi] were in the [US], he ran into the bathroom and retched.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 362-367] A full list of the FBI officials who knew of the Malaysia summit is not known. However, in the summer of 2001 head of counterterrorism Dale Watson and acting Director Thomas Pickard were aware of it, but did not tell other officials on the CIA’s instructions (see July 12, 2001). [Pickard, 6/24/2004] Using the new information, Soufan interrogates Fahad al-Quso, an al-Qaeda operative who was involved with the Malaysia summit although he may not have actually attended it (see January 5-6, 2000). Al-Quso is living freely in Yemen but is pressured into talking to Soufan by the Yemeni government. After a few days, al-Quso admits to recognizing 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi, whom he met in Kandahar, Afghanistan, near the end of 1999. Abu Jandal, Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard, happens to be in custody in Yemen as well. After some more days, Jandal tells Soufan everything he knows about al-Qaeda. He recognizes photos of Alshehhi, Mohamed Atta, Khalid Almihdhar, and four other 9/11 hijackers, from when they were in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. [Wright, 2006, pp. 362-367]

Entity Tags: Khalid Almihdhar, Thomas Pickard, Mohamed Atta, Fahad al-Quso, Marwan Alshehhi, Dale Watson, Abu Jandal, Ali Soufan, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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