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Context of 'February 3, 2006: 23 Suspected Al-Qaeda Operatives Escape from Yemeni Prison; Government Collusion Is Suspected'

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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

The Lackawanna Six. Top row, from left: Faysal Galab, Mukhtar al-Bakri, and Sahim Alwan. Bottom row, from left: Yahya Goba, Shafel Mosed, and Yaseinn Taher.The Lackawanna Six. Top row, from left: Faysal Galab, Mukhtar al-Bakri, and Sahim Alwan. Bottom row, from left: Yahya Goba, Shafel Mosed, and Yaseinn Taher. [Source: Associated Press]A group of seven men in Lackawanna, near Buffalo, New York, are influenced by religious discussions with two al-Qaeda operatives, Kamal Derwish and Juma al-Dosari. The seven US citizens—Yaseinn Taher, Yahya Goba, Shafel Mosed, Mukhtar al-Bakri, Sahim Alwan, Faysal Galab, and Jaber Elbaneh—leave for jihad training in Afghanistan. They tell friends they are merely going to Pakistan for religious instruction. Escorted by Derwish, the men travel separately and attend a six-week long weapons course at the Al Farooq camp. Some of them meet Osama bin Laden in Kandahar and they all hear him give a speech (see (June 2001)). However, most of them apparently think they are in over their heads and find excuses to cut their basic training course short and return home. The six who return show little to no evidence of any al-Qaeda plotting in the following months. Jaber Elbaneh, however, becomes committed and stays overseas with al-Qaeda. The six who return will later be arrested and dubbed an al-Qaeda cell known as the “Lackawanna Six” (see September 13, 2002). [PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003]

Entity Tags: Yaseinn Taher, Al Farooq training camp, Shafel Mosed, Yahya Goba, Osama bin Laden, Faysal Galab, Jaber Elbaneh, Juma al-Dosari, Sahim Alwan, Mukhtar al-Bakri, Kamal Derwish

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Fahad al-Quso, far left, Jamal al-Badawi, in center with black cap, and two other militants in a Yemeni prison in February 2005.Fahad al-Quso, far left, Jamal al-Badawi, in center with black cap, and two other militants in a Yemeni prison in February 2005. [Source: Khaled Abdullah / Reuters / Corbis]Ten suspects in the USS Cole bombing escape from prison in Aden, Yemen. The suspects include al-Qaeda operatives Jamal al-Badawi and Fahad al-Quso, both thought to play important roles in the Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). [Associated Press, 4/11/2003] All ten are recaptured in Yemen in March 2004. [New York Times, 3/20/2004] After al-Badawi is recaptured, some Yemeni officials try unsuccessfully to claim a multimillion-dollar US award. Newsweek will later comment that this suggests the escape was a scam. At the time, al-Badawi apparently is friendly with Colonel Hussein al-Anzi, a top official in the Political Security Organization, Yemen’s version of the FBI. Al-Anzi will later be fired. [Newsweek, 2/13/2006] Al-Quso will later be sentenced to 10 years in prison in Yemen for his role in the Cole attack, while al-Badawi will be given the death penalty. However, al-Badawi will later escape again (see February 3, 2006), then be pardoned, and then imprisoned again (see October 17-29, 2007). Al-Quso also will be secretly freed by the Yemeni government in 2007 (see May 2007). [New York Times, 9/30/2004]

Entity Tags: Jamal al-Badawi, Yemeni Political Security Organization, Hussein al-Anzi, Fahad al-Quso

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Jaber Elbaneh.Jaber Elbaneh. [Source: Yahya Arhab / EPA / Corbi]Twenty-three suspected al-Qaeda operatives break out of a high-security prison in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a. Escapees include Jamal al-Badawi, wanted for a role in the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), and Jaber Elbaneh, a US citizen believed to be linked to the alleged al-Qaeda sleeper cell in Lackawanna, New York (see April-August 2001). The men allegedly tunnel their way from the prison to the bathroom of a neighboring mosque. However, the New York Times will later comment: “[T]hat account is viewed with great skepticism, both in the United States and in Yemen. Many in Yemen say the escape could not have taken place without assistance, whether from corrupt guards or through a higher-level plan.” [New York Times, 3/1/2008] The prison is located in the basement of the Political Security Organization (PSO), Yemen’s equivalent of the FBI. Several days later, a cable sent from the US embassy in Yemen notes “the lack of obvious security measures on the streets,” and concludes, “One thing is certain: PSO insiders must have been involved.” Newsweek comments: “[P]rivately, US officials say the plotters must have had serious—possibly high-level—help at the Political [Security Organization].…. [T]he head of the PSO, Ali Mutahar al-Qamish, is said to be under suspicion, according to two US officials.” [Newsweek, 2/13/2006] Al-Badawi and nine others escaped a Yemeni prison in 2003 and then were recaptured one year later (see April 11, 2003-March 2004). Al-Badawi and Elbaneh turn themselves in to the Yemeni government in 2007 and then are freed (see October 17-29, 2007 and February 23, 2008).

Entity Tags: Jamal al-Badawi, Ali Mutahar al-Qamish, Jaber Elbaneh, Yemeni Political Security Organization

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Two simultaneous suicide attacks on oil and gas installations in Yemen fail. The Safer refinery in Marib and the al-Dhabba terminal in Hadramout are attacked by four suicide bombers with car bombs, but Yemeni security forces blow the cars up just before they reach their targets. The four suicide bombers and one security guard are killed. The attacks come just a few days after al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called for attacks on oil facilities in the Persian Gulf region. A Yemeni court later sentences 32 men to between two and 15 years in jail for their roles in the attacks. Three of them are alleged al-Qaeda operatives tried in absentia who escaped from prison earlier in 2006 (see February 3, 2006). [BBC, 11/7/2007] Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam for several of the 9/11 hijackers while they lived in the US, was arrested in Yemen earlier in the month (see Early September 2006-December 2007). He allegedly also has a role preparing for the foiled attacks. [Australian, 11/3/2006; Australian, 11/4/2006] The attempted attacks also come just days before Yemen’s presidential elections. Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh, in power since 1978, quickly uses the attacks to criticize his opponent, because one of the opponents’ guards was accused of being involved. The guard is later acquitted. Saleh wins reelection. [New York Times, 3/1/2008] In 2008, one anonymous senior Yemeni official will tell the Washington Post that some important al-Qaeda members have had a long relationship with Yemen’s intelligence agencies and have targeted political opponents in the past. [Washington Post, 5/4/2008]

Entity Tags: Anwar al-Awlaki, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda, Ali Abdallah Saleh

Timeline Tags: Alleged Use of False Flag Attacks, Complete 911 Timeline

Security forces after the Sheba temple bombing.Security forces after the Sheba temple bombing. [Source: Marib Press / Associated Press]A suicide bomber drives into a convoy of Spanish tourists visiting an ancient temple in Yemen, killing eight Spaniards and two Yemenis. The attack takes place near a 3,000 year old temple dedicated to the Queen of Sheba, about 85 miles east of the capital of Sana’a. No group claims responsibility for the bombing, but less than two weeks earlier, the US embassy issued a warning for Americans to avoid the area, due to suspicions of a planned al-Qaeda attack. [Associated Press, 7/3/2007; BBC, 8/8/2007] One month later, Yemeni security forces kill some suspected al-Qaeda militants, including three men, Ali bin Ali Naser Doha, Naji Ali Jaradan, and Abdul-Aziz Saeed Jaradan, who are believed to have been involved in the bombing. One of those that is not killed is Kassem al-Raimi, an alleged top al-Qaeda operative thought to have masterminded the attack. Al-Raimi was one of many who escaped from a Yemeni prison the year before (see February 3, 2006). [BBC, 8/8/2007; Yemen Times, 8/12/2007] In several interviews after the bombing, Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh will claim his government has reached a new truce with al-Qaeda. [Associated Press, 10/26/2007]

Entity Tags: Naji Ali Jaradan, Kassem al-Raimi, Ali Abdallah Saleh, Ali bin Ali Naser Doha, Abdul-Aziz Saeed Jaradan, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Jamal al-Badawi in a Yemeni prison in 2005.Jamal al-Badawi in a Yemeni prison in 2005. [Source: Associated Press / Muhammed Al Qadhi]Al-Qaeda operative Jamal al-Badawi, considered one of the main planners of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000), turns himself in to Yemeni authorities on October 17, 2007. He had escaped a Yemeni prison the year before and had been sentenced to death in Yemen for his role in the bombing (see February 3, 2006). But on October 26, Yemeni authorities release him again in return for a pledge not to engage in any violent or al-Qaeda-related activity. Yemen often lets militants go free if they pledge not to attack within Yemen (see 2002 and After). The US has issued a $5 million reward for al-Badawi’s capture, but the Yemeni government refuses to extradite him. US officials are furious about the release, which is particularly galling because it comes just two days after President Bush’s top counterterrorism adviser Frances Townsend visits Yemen and praises the Yemeni government for their cooperation in fighting terrorism. The US had also just announced $20 million in new aid for Yemen, but threatens to cancel the aid due to al-Badawi’s release. Al-Badawi is put back in prison on October 29 and the aid program goes forward. However, US officials are dubious about al-Badawis’ real status. One official who visits him in prison gets the impression he was put in a prison cell just in time for the visit. [Newsweek, 10/27/2007; Newsweek, 10/31/2007; New York Times, 1/28/2008] In December 2007, a Yemeni newspaper reports that al-Badawi has again been seen roaming free in public. One source close to the Cole investigation will tell the Washington Post in 2008 that there is evidence that al-Badawi is still allowed to come and go from his prison cell. US officials have demanded to be able to conduct random inspections to make sure he stays in his cell, but apparently the Yemeni government has refused the demand. [Washington Post, 5/4/2008]

Entity Tags: Jamal al-Badawi, Frances Townsend

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Jaber Elbaneh’s appearance in court.Jaber Elbaneh’s appearance in court. [Source: Associated Press / Mohammed al-Qadhi.]Jaber Elbaneh, an Islamist militant wanted by the US, comes out of hiding to appear in court in Yemen, but is not arrested. Elbaneh, a US citizen and whose family came from Yemen, had lived in Lackawanna, New York, before the 9/11 attacks. He went to Afghanistan to train at an al-Qaeda training camp along with about six other men from Lackawanna, but while the others dropped out and returned to the US, Elbaneh never returned (see April-August 2001). He moved to Yemen. The Yemeni government says he also helped plan the 2002 attack on the oil tanker Limburg off Yemen’s coast (see October 6, 2002). He was arrested there in 2004 after being charged in the US for attending the training camp. He was sentenced to ten years in prison, but in February 2006, he and 22 other suspected al-Qaeda operatives escaped from a high-security Yemeni prison (see February 3, 2006). The US offered $5 million for information leading to his arrest. Elbaneh was then implicated in a September 2006 bombing in Yemen that took place several days before national elections (see September 15, 2006). Some suggest the bombers may have colluded with the government to use the bombing to successfully help Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh win reelection. Elbaneh was convicted, but allowed to stay at home under a loose form of house arrest. Given the outstanding $5 million reward for him, Elbaneh appears to surprise everyone by appearing in court where his conviction in the 2006 bombing was being appealed. Furthermore, he gives a speech proclaiming his innocence. He says that after his prison escape, he surrendered directly to President Saleh in May 2007, who absolved him of any jail time. The New York Times comments: “Perhaps the greatest mystery surrounding [Elbaneh] is his decision to appear in court… The Yemeni government has generally instructed the jihadists with whom it arranges amnesty to avoid the news media and keep low profiles. But Mr. Elbaneh deliberately spoke out in a public setting, with journalists present, and named the president in his brief tirade.” [Reuters, 2/27/2008; New York Times, 3/1/2008]

Entity Tags: Jaber Elbaneh, Ali Abdallah Saleh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A front-page Washington Post story reveals that, eight years after al-Qaeda bombed the USS Cole just off the coast of Yemen and killed 17 US soldiers (see October 12, 2000), “all the defendants convicted in the attack have escaped from prison or been freed by Yemeni officials.”
Two Key Suspects Keep Slipping from Yemeni Prisons - For instance, Jamal al-Badawi, a Yemeni and key organizer of the bombing, broke out of Yemeni prisons twice and then was secretly released in 2007 (see April 11, 2003-March 2004, February 3, 2006 and October 17-29, 2007). The Yemeni government jailed him again after the US threatened to cut aid to the country, but apparently he continues to freely come and go from his prison cell. US officials have demanded the right to perform random inspections to make sure he stays jailed. Another key Cole suspect, Fahad al-Quso, also escaped from a Yemeni prison and then was secretly released in 2007 (see May 2007). Yemen has refused to extradite al-Badawi and al-Quso to the US, where they have been indicted for the Cole bombing. FBI Director Robert Mueller flew to Yemen in April 2008 to personally appeal to Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh to extradite the two men. However, Saleh has refused, citing a constitutional ban on extraditing its citizens. Other Cole suspects have been freed after short prison terms in Yemen, and at least two went on to commit suicide attacks in Iraq.
US Unwilling to Try Two Suspects in Its Custody - Two more key suspects, Khallad bin Attash and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were captured by US forces and have been transferred to the US-run Guantanamo prison. Al-Nashiri is considered the mastermind of the Cole bombing, but the US made the decision not to indict either of them because pending criminal charges could have forced the CIA or the Pentagon to give up custody of the men. Al-Quso, bin Attash, and al-Nashiri all attended a key 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia where the 9/11 attacks were discussed (see January 5-8, 2000).
'The Forgotten Attack' - A week after the Cole bombing, President Bill Clinton vowed to hunt down the plotters and promised, “Justice will prevail.” But less than a month after the bombing, George W. Bush was elected president. Roger Cressey, a former counterterrorism official in the Clinton and Bush administrations who helped oversee the White House’s response to the Cole bombing, says, “During the first part of the Bush administration, no one was willing to take ownership of this. It didn’t happen on their watch. It was the forgotten attack.”
'Back to Square One' - Former FBI agent Ali Soufan, a lead investigator into the bombing, complains, “After we worked day and night to bring justice to the victims and prove that these Qaeda operatives were responsible, we’re back to square one. Do they have laws over there or not? It’s really frustrating what’s happening.” The Post comments, “Basic questions remain about which individuals and countries played a role in the assault on the Cole.
Possible Government Complicity - One anonymous senior Yemeni official tells the Post that al-Badawi and other al-Qaeda members have had a long relationship with Yemen’s intelligence agencies and have targeted political opponents in the past. For instance, in 2006, an al-Qaeda suicide attack in Yemen came just days before elections there, and Saleh tried to link one of the figures involved to the opposition party, helping Saleh win reelection (see September 15, 2006). Furthermore, there is evidence that figures within the Yemeni government were involved in the Cole bombing (see After October 12, 2000), and that the government also protected key bombers such as al-Nashiri in the months before and after the bombings (see April 2000 and Shortly After October 12, 2000).
Bush Unwilling to Meet with Victims' Relatives - Relatives of the soldiers killed in the bombing have attempted to meet with President Bush to press for more action, to no avail. John P. Clodtfelter Jr., whose son died on the Cole, says, “I was just flat told that he wouldn’t meet with us. Before him, President Clinton promised we’d go out and get these people, and of course we never did. I’m sorry, but it’s just like the lives of American servicemen aren’t that important.” [Washington Post, 5/4/2008]

Entity Tags: John P. Clodtfelter Jr., Ali Soufan, Ali Abdallah Saleh, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Fahad al-Quso, Jamal al-Badawi, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Yemen, Khallad bin Attash, Roger Cressey, Robert S. Mueller III, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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