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Context of 'January 25, 2002: Suspect Bosnian Charities Not Shut Down'

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Elfatih Hassanein (center).Elfatih Hassanein (center). [Source: Magyar Iszlam]In 1987, a Sudanese man named Elfatih Hassanein found the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA). By mid-1991, Bosnian President Izetbegovic contacts Hassanein, who he has known since the 1970s. The two men agree to turn TWRA from an obscure charity into what the Washington Post will later call “the chief broker of black-market weapons deals by Bosnia’s Muslim-led government and the agent of money and influence in Bosnia for Islamic movements and governments around the world.” A banker in Vienna will later call Hassanein the “bagman” for Izetbegovic. “If the Bosnian government said we need flour, he ran after flour. If they said we need weapons, he ran after weapons.” [Washington Post, 9/22/1996; Schindler, 2007, pp. 148] The TWRA is controlled by a committee composed of Hassanein and:
bullet Hasan Cengic. He is in charge of arming a Bosnian militia run by the SDA party (see June 1991).
bullet Irfan Ljevakovic.
bullet Husein Zivalj.
bullet Dervis Djurdjevic.
All of them are important members of Izetbegovic’s SDA party, and all but Ljevakovic were codefendants with Izetbegovic in a 1983 trial. Most payments require the approval of three of the five, except for amounts greater than $500,000, in which case Izetbegovic has to give approval. The corruption from these higher-ups is said to be incredible, with up to half of all money passing through the TWRA going into their pockets. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 148-152] The TWRA is based in Vienna, Austria, and Izetbegovic personally guarantees Hassanein’s credentials with banks there. Soon, machine guns, missiles and other weapons are being shipped into Bosnia in containers marked as humanitarian aid. Hassanein is a member of Sudan’s government party and a follower of top Sudanese leader Hassan al-Turabi. Just like al-Turabi, he works with bin Laden and the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. He becomes the main agent in Europe for marketing and selling video and audio tapes of Abdul-Rahman’s sermons. In March 1992, the Sudanese government gives him a diplomatic passport and he uses it to illegally transport large amounts of cash from Austria into Bosnia without being searched. [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 140-141] The Saudi Arabian government is the biggest contributor to TWRA, but many other governments give money to it too, such as Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Brunei, Turkey, and Malaysia. Bin Laden is also a major contributor. [Washington Post, 9/22/1996] Author John Schindler will later note, “Relations between bin Laden and TWRA were close, not least because during the Bosnian war the al-Qaeda leadership was based in Khartoum, Sudan, under the protection of the Sudanese Islamist regime that was the ultimate backer of Hassanein and his firm.” TWRA also works closely with the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and most other charity fronts in Bosnia. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 151-152] A later study by the Bosnian government with help from Western intelligence agencies will determine that at least $2.5 billion passed through the TWRA to Bosnia between 1992 and 1995. The study will call the TWRA “a group of Bosnian Muslim wartime leaders who formed an illegal, isolated ruling oligarchy, comprising three to four hundred ‘reliable’ people in the military commands, the diplomatic service, and a number of religious dignitaries.… It was this organization, not the Government [of Bosnia], that controlled all aid that Islamic countries donated to the Bosnian Muslims throughout the war.” [Schindler, 2007, pp. 149-150]

Entity Tags: Omar Abdul-Rahman, Osama bin Laden, Dervis Djurdjevic, Alija Izetbegovic, Elfatih Hassanein, Hassan al-Turabi, Third World Relief Agency, Irfan Ljevakovic, Husein Zivalj, Hasan Cengic, International Islamic Relief Organization

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

German and Austrian police raid the Vienna, Austria, office of the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA). Investigators fill three vans with documents, enabling them to gain a full picture of the illegal weapons network the TWRA has been running. But by this time, TWRA appears to be winding down most of its activities. The need for TWRA’s smuggling routes greatly declined after a direct weapons pipeline opened between Iran and Bosnia with the tacit approval of the US. But the raid results in no charges and TWRA’s Vienna office remains open. One Austrian investigator will later say, “They did a lot of talking here but as long as they did not move weapons through our territory, we could not arrest them.” [Washington Post, 9/22/1996] Authors J. Millard Burr and Robert Collins will later question that rationale, noting that, “The TWRA ledgers, however, gave a full accounting of the transfer of huge sums for arms trafficking through the First Austrian Bank.” The Bosnian government officially shuts down TWRA after the Austrian raid, but in fact it remains open and active in Bosnia, and continuing to ship weapons. In fact, TWRA will still remain open and active there and elsewhere long after 9/11 (see January 25, 2002). The US government has yet to take any official action against TWRA as well. [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 143]

Entity Tags: Third World Relief Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Saber Lahmar.Saber Lahmar. [Source: Public domain]Author Roland Jacquard will later claim that in 1996, al-Qaeda revives its militant network in Bosnia in the wake of the Bosnian war and uses the Saudi High Commission (SHC) as its main charity front to do so. [Jacquard, 2002, pp. 69] This charity was founded in 1993 by Saudi Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz and is so closely linked to and funded by the Saudi government that a US judge will later render it immune to a 9/11-related lawsuit after concluding that it is an organ of the Saudi government. [New York Law Journal, 9/28/2005]
bullet In 1994, British aid worker Paul Goodall is killed in Bosnia execution-style by multiple shots to the back of the head. A SHC employee, Abdul Hadi al-Gahtani, is arrested for the murder and admits the gun used was his, but the Bosnian government lets him go without a trial. Al-Gahtani will later be killed fighting with al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 143-144]
bullet In 1995, the Bosnian Ministry of Finance raids SHC’s offices and discovers documents that show SHC is “clearly a front for radical and terrorism-related activities.” [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 145]
bullet In 1995, US aid worker William Jefferson is killed in Bosnia. One of the likely suspects, Ahmed Zuhair Handala, is linked to the SHC. He also is let go, despite evidence linking him to massacres of civilians in Bosnia. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 263-264]
bullet In 1997, a Croatian apartment building is bombed, and Handala and two other SHC employees are suspected of the bombing. They escape, but Handala will be captured after 9/11 and sent to Guantanamo prison. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 266]
bullet In 1997, SHC employee Saber Lahmar is arrested for plotting to blow up the US embassy in Saravejo. He is convicted, but pardoned and released by the Bosnian government two years later. He will be arrested again in 2002 for involvement in an al-Qaeda plot in Bosnia and sent to Guantanamo prison (see January 18, 2002).
bullet By 1996, NSA wiretaps reveal that Prince Salman is funding Islamic militants using charity fronts (Between 1994 and July 1996).
bullet A 1996 CIA report mentions, “We continue to have evidence that even high ranking members of the collecting or monitoring agencies in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Pakistan - such as the Saudi High Commission - are involved in illicit activities, including support for terrorists” (see January 1996).
bullet Jacquard claims that most of the leadership of the SHC supports bin Laden. The SHC, while participating in some legitimate charitable functions, uses its cover to ship illicit goods, drugs, and weapons in and out of Bosnia. In May 1997, a French military report concludes: ”(T)he Saudi High Commission, under cover of humanitarian aid, is helping to foster the lasting Islamization of Bosnia by acting on the youth of the country. The successful conclusion of this plan would provide Islamic fundamentalism with a perfectly positioned platform in Europe and would provide cover for members of the bin Laden organization.” [Jacquard, 2002, pp. 69-71]
However, the US will take no action until shortly after 9/11, when it will lead a raid on the SHC’s Bosnia offices. Incriminating documents will be found, including information on how to counterfeit US State Department ID badges, and handwritten notes about meetings with bin Laden. Evidence of a planned attack using crop duster planes is found as well. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 129, 284] Yet even after all this, the Bosnian government will still refuse to shut down SHC’s offices and they apparently remain open (see January 25, 2002).

Entity Tags: Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, Al-Qaeda, Paul Goodall, Ahmed Zuhair Handala, Central Intelligence Agency, William Jefferson, Abdul Hadi al-Gahtani, Saber Lahmar, Saudi High Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US intelligence had been investigating the US-based Global Relief Foundation (GRF) long before 9/11 for links to al-Qaeda and other radical militant groups (see 1997-Late Spring 2001 and March 2000).The plan is to shut down a number of GRF’s overseas offices while continuing to monitor the GRF’s main office in Illinois and see how that office reacts to the overseas shutdowns. But on December 13, 2001, New York Times reporter Philip Shenon calls the Illinois office one day before the planned raids and asks them to comment about an imminent crack down on the charity (see December 3-14, 2001). The FBI quickly decides that the GRF is destroying documents after the tip-off, and they hastily arrange a raid on the Illinois office and the overseas offices the next day. Since the GRF and the Illinois-based Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) are considered to be closely linked, the BIF US office is raided and shut down at the same time, and the houses of GRF executive director Mohammad Chehade and BIF executive director Enaam Arnaout are searched. GRF fund-raiser Rabih Haddad is detained on the basis of overstaying a visa while Arnaout remains free in the US. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 98-100 pdf file] October 18, 2002, the Treasury Department will officially designate GRF a terrorism financier. It will do the same to BIF on November 19, 2002. The UN also soon lists both groups as linked to al-Qaeda. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 98-100 pdf file] Haddad will be imprisoned for 19 months and then deported for the immigration violation. [Metro Times, 3/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Global Relief Foundation, Al-Qaeda, Benevolence International Foundation, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Rabih Haddad, Enaam Arnaout, Mohammad Chehade, Philip Shenon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

It is reported that four charities operating in Bosnia are due to be shut down there within weeks. The four are Saudi High Relief Commission, Global Relief Foundation (GRF), Active Islamic Youth (AIO), and the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA). The Saudi High Commission is closely tied to the Saudi government and has given out hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Bosnia. At least three suspects recently arrested by the US worked for the Commission, and it had a long history of known militant links (see 1996 and After). In late 2001, GRF was shut down in the US and the UN shut its offices in nearby Kosovo (see December 14, 2001). In the early 1990s, TWRA funneled hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons to Bosnia in violation of a UN embargo (see Mid-1991-1996). A Bosnian police official says, “We have information that these groups are used to finance and support terrorism. There is also definitely money laundering here. And this laundering definitely shows evidence of sources in the narcotics and arms trades.” Bosnian Deputy Minister Rasim Kadic says, “A series of searches and other intelligence gathering proved activities and evidence that has no relationship to humanitarian work. Four groups have very suspicious financial dealings and other issues have made police very suspicious about these four groups.… We expect to make the hard decision to close some of these groups. We will say ‘Thank you for your help, but now you must go.’” Officials say have also discovered evidence of drug and weapons trafficking by the four charities. [United Press International, 1/25/2002] But in fact, the four charities are not shut down in Bosnia, except for GRF, which will have its offices there shut near the end of 2002. [BBC, 11/28/2002] In 2004, there will be reports that TWRA is operating in the Czech Republic. [BBC, 3/15/2004] And in 2005, counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will tell an Austrian newspaper that TWRA is still tied to radical militants and still active there. [BBC, 6/14/2005]

Entity Tags: Third World Relief Agency, Rohan Gunaratna, Saudi High Commission, Rasim Kadic, Global Relief Foundation, Active Islamic Youth

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Haris SilajdzicHaris Silajdzic [Source: Public domain]Press reports indicate that the Muslim leader of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, Haris Silajdzic, is under investigation for international arms smuggling. Police are also said to be investigating former Bosnian Deputy Defense Minister Hasan Cengic, Elfatih Hassanein, and Turkish businessman Nedim Suljak. Hassanein was the head of the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA) and Cengic was closely tied to TWRA. During the Bosnian war in the early 1990s, TWRA was a radical militant charity front providing cover for a massive illegal arms pipeline into Bosnia (see Mid-1991-1996). Silajdzic was Bosnian foreign minister during the war. Bosnian state prosecutors confirm that a weapons smuggling investigation into international illegal weapons smuggling had opened but refuse to say who is being targeted. [Agence France-Presse, 5/5/2007] TWRA has remained active and there are reports that it is still connected to radical militants (see January 25, 2002). In late 2006, it was announced that Hassanein was opening a new charity in Bosnia. [BBC, 12/29/2006]

Entity Tags: Nedim Suljak, Elfatih Hassanein, Hasan Cengic, Third World Relief Agency, Haris Silajdzic

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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