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Context of 'January 7-11, 1995: ’Intelligence Gold Mine’ Only Leads to Two More Arrests'

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Bomb damage in underground levels of the WTC in 1993.Bomb damage in underground levels of the WTC in 1993. [Source: Najlah Feanny/ Corbis]An attempt to topple the World Trade Center fails, but six people are killed and over 1000 are injured in the misfired blast. An FBI explosives expert later states that, “If they had found the exact architectural Achilles’ heel or if the bomb had been a little bit bigger, not much more, 500 pounds more, I think it would have brought her down.” Ramzi Yousef, who has close ties to bin Laden, organizes the attempt. [Village Voice, 3/30/1993; US Congress, 2/24/1998] The New York Times later reports on Emad Salem, an undercover agent who will be the key government witness in the trial against Yousef. Salem testifies that the FBI knew about the attack beforehand and told him they would thwart it by substituting a harmless powder for the explosives. However, an FBI supervisor called off this plan, and the bombing was not stopped. [New York Times, 10/28/1993] Other suspects were ineptly investigated before the bombing as early as 1990. Several of the bombers were trained by the CIA to fight in the Afghan war, and the CIA later concludes, in internal documents, that it was “partly culpable” for this bombing (see January 24, 1994). [Independent, 11/1/1998] 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is an uncle of Yousef and also has a role in the WTC bombing (see March 20, 1993). [Independent, 6/6/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] One of the attackers even leaves a message which will later be found by investigators, stating, “Next time, it will be very precise.” [Associated Press, 9/30/2001]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, Ramzi Yousef, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Emad Salem, Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In early 1995, the Bojinka plot, an early version of the 9/11 plot that would have killed thousands, is foiled in the Philippines (see January 6, 1995). It is quickly learned that Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, helped fund the plot while living in the Philippines as regional director of the Saudi-based charity, the Islamic International Relief Organization (IIRO). Wali Khan Amin Shah, a known bin Laden associate and Bojinka plotter, also was an employee of the IIRO in the Philippines. Yet the Philippine branch of the IIRO will remain open until 2000, apparently because of political pressure from Saudi Arabia. Even then, the IIRO is allowed to continue funding projects in the Philippines through a branch office in a neighboring country. One Philippine senior intelligence official will later complain, “We could not touch the IIRO.” [Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 pdf file] Counterterrorism expert Zachary Abuza will note that the IIRO is a “very well connected charity, whose supporters include the Saudi royal family and the top echelon of Filipino society.” One board member of “the IIRO Philippine office was, not coincidentally, the Saudi Ambassador.” [Contemporary Southeast Asia, 8/1/2003] In 1996, a secret CIA report will conclude that the IIRO is funding radical militant groups in many countries, including the Philippines, but the US will not move against it either (see January 1996). Another Philippines-based Islamic charity, the International Relations and Information Center (IRIC), is also connected to the Bojinka plot. The IRIC’s director is Ahmad al-Hamwi (better known by his alias Omar Abu Omar), who is the brother of Khalifa’s Philippine wife. Investigators determine that most of the funding for the Bojinka plot went through a bank account controlled by al-Hamwi. As a result, the IRIC is shut down in 1995 and al-Hamwi leaves the country. However, its operations and staff is taken over by another Islamic charity headed by Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari. Al-Ghafari is also a close associate of Khalifa and is believed to have been involved in the Bojinka plot as well (see June 1994). Al-Ghafari will finally be deported in 2002 after years of police protection (see October 8-November 8, 2002). [Washington Post, 12/30/2001; Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 pdf file; Australian, 4/8/2006] Al-Hamwi will be granted asylum in Australia in 1996 and will continue to live there even after media reports expose his presence there and his ties to Islamic militancy (see July 6, 1995-June 26, 1996). [Australian, 4/8/2006] US will finally officially declare the IIRO’s Philippine branch a terrorism funder in late 2006 (see August 3, 2006).

Entity Tags: Zachary Abuza, Operation Bojinka, Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari, International Relations and Information Center, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Ahmad al-Hamwi, International Islamic Relief Organization, Wali Khan Amin Shah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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). [Independent, 6/6/2002; Los Angeles Times, 6/24/2002; Los Angeles Times, 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. [Los Angeles Times, 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; Contemporary Southeast Asia, 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).

Entity Tags: Abd al-Karim Yousef, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ramzi Yousef, Wali Khan Amin Shah, Operation Bojinka, Al-Qaeda, Abdul Hakim Murad

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bomb making materials found in Yousef’s Manila apartment.Bomb making materials found in Yousef’s Manila apartment. [Source: CNN]After a late night raid of the Manila, Philippines, apartment central to the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), investigators find what the Los Angeles Times will call “an intelligence gold mine.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Very quickly, a team of US intelligence agents joins Philippine investigators to sort through the evidence, which fills three police vans. Investigators are able to match fingerprints in the apartment with fingerprints on record for Ramzi Yousef, already believed to be the mastermind behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993). There are priests’ robes, pipe bombs, a dozen passports, chemicals, maps of the Pope’s planned route through Manila, and more. [Washington Post, 9/30/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] “The most damning information was gleaned from Yousef’s notebook computer, and four accompanying diskettes.” The data is encrypted and in Arabic, but technicians are quickly able to decipher and translate it. [Washington Post, 9/30/2001] Computer data includes “the names of dozens of associates, and photos of some; a record of five-star hotels; and dealings with a trading corporation in London, a meat market owner in Malaysia, and an Islamic center in Tucson, Ariz.… They describe how money moved through an Abu Dhabi banking firm.” [Washington Post, 9/23/2001] Photographs of all five operatives who would place bombs on airplanes are recovered from a deleted computer file. [Los Angeles Times, 5/28/1995] Wali Khan Amin Shah is identified from one of these five photos, plus a list of cell phone numbers found on the hard drive. He is traced to another Manila apartment and arrested on January 11. Under interrogation, Shah, who soon escapes from custody in unexplained circumstances (see January 13, 1995), confesses that most of the funds for the Bojinka plot were channeled to Yousef through a bank account belonging to Ahmad al-Hamwi, a Syrian working at the International Relations and Information Center (IRIC), a charity front run by Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law. [Washington Post, 9/30/2001] But despite these leads, Ramzi Yousef is the only other person successfully arrested based on all this data (and Yousef’s arrest will largely be due to an informant responding to an existing tip off program (see February 7, 1995)). The Philippine government will arrest other Bojinka plotters later in the year, including another one of the five operatives assigned to place bombs on the planes, but they will all be released (see April 1, 1995-Early 1996). Al-Hamwi is never arrested, while Khalifa is actually in US custody at the time of the Bojinka raid but is soon let go (see April 26-May 3, 1995). The IRIC will be closed down, but its operations are immediately taken over by another close associate of Khalifa (see 1995 and After).

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Operation Bojinka, Wali Khan Amin Shah, International Relations and Information Center, Abdul Hakim Murad, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Ahmad al-Hamwi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Wali Khan Amin Shah, a conspirator in the Bojinka plot that was recently broken up by Philippine police (see January 6, 1995), escapes from prison just two days after he was arrested (see January 11, 1995). The circumstances of the escape are not known in detail. Based on interviews with counterterrorism officials, the New York Times will only write that Shah “somehow escaped from jail.” [New York Times, 12/13/1995; Ressa, 2003, pp. 43] Shah was one of only two conspirators seized around this time (see January 7-11, 1995), and was being held illegally. At the Bojinka trial in New York in 1996, a Philippine police official will admit that Shah was detained without having been properly arrested, advised of his rights, or arraigned before a judge, all of which is required by Philippine law. The official, Alex Paul Monteagudo, will also admit that a search of Shah’s apartment was conducted without a warrant and the items seized there were not subjected to forensic analysis. [New York Times, 8/1/1996]

Entity Tags: Wali Khan Amin Shah, Alex Paul Monteagudo

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

One day after returning to Pakistan with Ramzi Yousef from a failed attempt to blow up US airliners (see January 31-February 2, 1995), his accomplice Istaique Parker calls the US embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan and tells them he wants to turn in Yousef for reward money. Yousef had just told Parker that Parker’s name was on Yousef’s laptop that he left behind in the Philippines after the foiled Bojinka plot (see January 7-11, 1995). Parker realizes that it is just a matter of time before he is caught and he also had recently purchased a Newsweek magazine that had an article mentioning a $2 million reward for information leading to Yousef’s capture. Parker works with FBI and Pakistani agents and leads them to Yousef on February 7 (see February 7, 1995). Parker gets the reward money and a new identity in the US. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 105-106]

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Istaique Parker

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ramzi Yousef apprehended.Ramzi Yousef apprehended. [Source: Public domain]Ramzi Yousef is arrested in Pakistan, in a safe house owned by Osama bin Laden (see February 1992-February 7, 1995). At the time, Yousef’s uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is staying in the same building and brazenly gives an interview to Time magazine as “Khalid Sheikh,” describing Yousef’s capture. [Lance, 2003, pp. 328] Yousef had recruited Istaique Parker to implement a limited version of Operation Bojinka, but Parker got cold feet and instead turned in Yousef (see February 3-7, 1995). [Lance, 2003, pp. 284-85] Robert I. Friedman, writing for New York magazine, will later report that at this time the CIA “fought with the FBI over arresting Yousef in Pakistan—the CIA reportedly wanted to continue tracking him—and President Clinton was forced to intervene.” [New York Magazine, 3/17/1995] Yousef is rendered to the US the next day and makes a partial confession while flying there (see February 8, 1995).

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Operation Bojinka, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Istaique Parker, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Many of the Bojinka plotters are arrested in the Philippines and then let go. On April 1, the Philippines police arrest six foreigners, who are from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. They seize a cache of weapons and explosives in their apartments. It is announced the men have ties to Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman and Ramzi Yousef and that they are being charged with stockpiling illegal firearms. [New York Times, 4/3/1995; New York Times, 4/8/1995; South China Morning Post, 12/19/1995] On December 30, 15 more suspects are arrested. This group is made up of Iraqi, Sudanese, Saudi, and Pakistani nationals. They are found with guns and explosives. One of them is identified as Ramzi Yousef’s twin brother Abd al-Karim Yousef, who had been using the alias Adel Anon. [New York Times, 12/31/1995] Philippine authorities claim that not only were these men involved in the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), but they were also planning to assassinate President Fidel Ramos and commanders of the Philippines army and national police. [CNN, 1/3/1996] Edwin Angeles had been an undercover operative posing as a top leader in the Abu Sayyaf militant group (see Late 1994-January 1995 and Early February 1995), and now he leads the investigation to capture these men based on what he knew about them when he was in Abu Sayyaf. However, he later claims that not all of them were guilty and that some of them were framed by the planting of weapons and other evidence. He goes public with this complaint in early 1996. All of the men are released on bail and then all of them jump bail. Some flee the Philippines while others stay and go into hiding. [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 7/10/2001; Contemporary Southeast Asia, 12/1/2002] It is not known what happens to most of these men after their release. But one of the men arrested in March 1995, Hadi Yousef Alghoul, will be arrested in the Philippines again in late 2001. He will be found with nearly 300 sticks of dynamite and accused of involvement in other plots as well (see December 26, 2001). In 2003, it will be reported that Abd al-Karim Yousef was recently traveling with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), and in the wake of KSM’s 2003 arrest he is capable of taking over as al-Qaeda’s operational commander. [Washington Post, 3/4/2003; Time, 3/8/2003] It has not been explained why the Philippines did not turn him over to the US, since the US had put out an alert for him in March 1995, shortly after his brother Ramzi Yousef was arrested. [New York Times, 3/20/1995]

Entity Tags: Hadi Yousef Alghoul, Edwin Angeles, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Abd al-Karim Yousef, Ramzi Yousef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Newsday reports, “Some crucial computer evidence against notorious terrorist suspect Ramzi Yousef has been destroyed, and the FBI has begun an investigation into whether the CIA is responsible…” After the Bojinka plot was foiled in the Philippines (see January 6, 1995), a computer hard drive and several floppy discs were discovered in Yousef’s Manila apartment and found to contain a great deal of useful evidence. Pictures and phone numbers recovered from the hard drive led to the arrest of another Bojinka plotter just days later (see January 7-11, 1995). The computer files were copied by Philippine authorities and then turned over to the CIA. The CIA then “provided the FBI with a summary of the files, indicating they contained detailed information about Yousef’s coconspirators in the United States and overseas, including their names, addresses and in some cases, even phone numbers.… But when the CIA turned over the actual computer and disks, Justice Department experts determined that at least three separate computer deletion programs had been used to erase some of the data, law-enforcement sources said.” One US law-enforcement official complains, “We had teams of investigators frothing at the mouth to get at Yousef’s network. And we get handed an empty computer. It’s as if we’d been tracking a serial killer and someone intentionally shredded the investigative file.” Officials believe it is not likely the files will ever be recovered. Newsday reports that “The FBI is investigating whether CIA agents or their operatives intentionally destroyed the evidence.” Since Philippine authorities made copies of the files, the FBI has tried to get copies directly from them, but without success. [Newsday, 4/16/1995] A search of the Lexis Nexus database shows no follow up to this story. But only three Bojinka plotters—Ramzi Yousef, Abdul Hakim Murad, and Wali Khan Amin Shah—are arrested in the years before 9/11, and the rest of the network goes free.

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Philippines, Ramzi Yousef, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

An immigration judge approves the deportation of Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, saying “his presence in the United States would have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences.” Khalifa reportedly leaves the US for Jordan on May 3, although there is some evidence he remains in US custody until August (see May 3, 1995-August 31, 1995). [United Press International, 5/5/1995] He will quickly be retried in Jordan, pronounced not guilty of all charges, and set free (see July 19, 1995). Jacob Boesen, an analyst at the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, will later recall, “I remember people at the CIA who were ripsh_t at the time. Not even speaking in retrospect, but contemporaneous with what the intelligence community knew about bin Laden, Khalifa’s deportation was unreal.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 4/18/1995; Associated Press, 4/26/1995; New York Times, 5/2/2002; Lance, 2003, pp. 233-35] Author Peter Lance will later comment, “If this arrest had been properly followed up by the FBI and the Justice Department, it could have led to the seizure of both Ramzi Yousef and his uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and stopped the 9/11 plot dead in its tracks.” [Lance, 2006, pp. 158]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Jacob Boesen, Peter Lance, Jordan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ramzi Yousef and two other defendants, Abdul Hakim Murad and Wali Khan Amin Shah, are convicted of crimes relating to Operation Bojinka (see January 6, 1995). [CNN, 9/5/1996] In the nearly 6,000-page transcript of the three-month Bojinka trial, there is not a single mention of the “second wave” of Bojinka that closely paralleled the 9/11 plot. Interrogations by Philippine investigator Colonel Rodolfo Mendoza had exposed the details of this plot quite clearly (see January 20, 1995 and February-Early May 1995). However, not only does the FBI not call Mendoza to testify, but his name is not even mentioned in the trial, not even by his assistant, who does testify. “The FBI seemed to be going out of its way to avoid even a hint of the plot that was ultimately carried out on 9/11,” author Peter Lance will later note. [Lance, 2003, pp. 350-51] Murad was extensively tortured during his imprisonment in the Philippines (see After January 6, 1995), and some observers such as law professor Alan Dershowitz will assert that Murad’s case proves the reliability of torture, claiming that Murad’s torture prevented a major disaster. However, others disagree. Law professor Stephanie Athey, in her examination of the case, will write in 2007 that Murad’s torture actually produced little useful information. A computer found in Murad’s apartment held key details of the plot (see January 7-11, 1995 and Spring 1995). CIA agent Michael Scheuer will later say that the information collected from Murad’s apartment, not the information gleaned from Murad’s torture, provided actual useful intelligence. [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]

Entity Tags: Rodolfo Mendoza, Ramzi Yousef, Abdul Hakim Murad, Alan M. Dershowitz, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Michael Scheuer, Operation Bojinka, Stephanie Athey, Wali Khan Amin Shah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Harry Ellen.Harry Ellen. [Source: Associated Press]Harry Ellen, a businessman who converted to Islam, has high credibility with Muslims in Arizona because of his work on behalf of the Palestinian cause. He has had important meetings with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. In 1994, he began working as an FBI informant. Ken Williams, the Phoenix FBI agent who will later write the July 2001 “Phoenix memo”(see July 10, 2001), is his handler. In October 1996, Ellen tells Williams that he has suspicions about an Algerian pilot who is training other Middle Eastern men to fly. He later recalls, “My comment to Williams was that it would be pitiful if the bad guys were able to gain this kind of access to airplanes, flight training and crop dusters. I said, ‘You really ought to look at this, it’s an interesting mix of people.’” Ellen had previously begun spying on a man known as Abu Sief, which apparently is his alias. Sief had come to Arizona from New Jersey in 1993, and bragged about having close ties with al-Qaeda figures Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman and Ramzi Yousef (when Yousef’s computer is seized in the Philippines in 1995, there is a mention of a contact in Tucson, Arizona, but it is unknown if this is a reference to Sief or someone else (see January 7-11, 1995)). Sief attended a New Jersey mosque that many of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers also attended. Ellen soon sees the unnamed Algerian pilot meeting with Abu Sief. He tells this to Williams and later will claim, “I told him to be very concerned about air schools.” However, Ellen will claim that Williams responds by telling him to “leave it alone.” So he does. Ellen later believes that Williams should have sent the gist of his Phoenix memo at this time, instead of four and a half years later. Hani Hanjour is living in Phoenix by this time and taking flight training nearby (see October 1996-Late April 1999). Ellen later will say he did not know Hanjour directly, but he knew some of his friends and relatives. Ellen and Williams will have a falling out in late 1998 on an unrelated manner, and Ellen’s flow of information will stop. [Washington Post, 5/24/2002; New York Times, 5/24/2002; Lance, 2003, pp. 211, 352-355, inset 21]

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Harry Ellen, Ken Williams, Abu Sief, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Omar Abdul-Rahman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


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