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Context of 'February 15, 1999: Philippine Charities Exposed for Passing Money from Bin Laden to Militant Group, But Remain in Operation'

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Mohammed Jamal Khalifa. Apparently this photo was taken in the Philippines.Mohammed Jamal Khalifa. Apparently this photo was taken in the Philippines. [Source: Asharq al-Awsat]Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, moves to the Philippines and sets up numerous financial fronts to benefit al-Qaeda. Khalifa is not only one of bin Laden’s brothers-in-law, but he also says that during the 1980s, “Osama was my best friend. More than a brother….” [Australian, 1/16/2003; CNN, 11/25/2004] In the mid-1980s, Khalifa was already a very senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Lebanon and ran the Peshawar, Pakistan, office of the Muslim World League, where he was active in sending recruits to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan (see Late 1980s). Sent to the Philippines by bin Laden in 1987 or 1988, he soon marries two Filipino women. He sets up more than a dozen businesses and charities, all of which appear to be fronts to fund the Abu Sayyaf and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) militant groups:
bullet The Islamic Wisdom Worldwide Mission (IWWM), which will later be blamed for funneling bin Laden money to militants (see February 15, 1999 and October 8-November 8, 2002).
bullet The International Relations and Information Center (IRIC), which is later seen as the main funding vehicle for the Bojinka plot (see Spring 1995).
bullet The Philippine branch of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), founded in September 1991. The IIRO does some charity work, but a Philippine cabinet official will later note that it “built up the good will of the community through charity and then turned segments of the population into agents.” The IIRO is a charity suspected of funding militant activities in numerous places around the world, but the US has been reluctant to prosecute it due to its direct links to the Saudi government (see January 1996 and October 12, 2001). Khalifa is not only the first head of the IIRO’s Philippine branch, but also the IIRO’s regional director for all of Southeast Asia. The IIRO’s offices are often staffed by members of the Abu Sayyaf and MILF. For instance, one IIRO branch office director is also the Abu Sayyaf’s intelligence chief until he is killed in June 1994. [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 8/9/2000; CNN, 1/27/2002; Contemporary Southeast Asia, 8/1/2003; Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College, 9/1/2005 pdf file]
It is estimated that as much as 70 percent of the money from these fronts are spent on militant groups. In one case, a charity that Khalifa claimed had built 30 orphanages had only built one. [Newsweek International, 10/22/2001] The Philippines will investigate Khalifa and expel him from the country by late 1994 (see December 15, 1994 and December 1, 1994). He apparently never returns. He will no longer be directly connected to these charities, but they will all continue operating despite widely reported terrorist ties (see 1995 and After, February 15, 1999, August 9, 2000), and they will usually continue to be run by Khalifa’s close associates (see October 8-November 8, 2002 and September 25, 2003). The US will finally officially declare the Philippine branch of the IIRO a terrorism financier in 2006 (see August 3, 2006).

Entity Tags: International Relations and Information Center, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Muslim World League, Islamic Wisdom Worldwide Mission, International Islamic Relief Organization, Muslim Brotherhood

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A young Indonesian nicknamed Hambali forms a front company that ties al-Qaeda figures to the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), an early version of the 9/11 plot. Hambali had fought in Afghanistan in the late 1980’s, repeatedly met with bin Laden there, and allied himself to bin Laden’s cause. In 1994, Hambali, living in a village north of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, began frequently receiving visitors. According to his landlord, “Some looked Arab and others white.” There has been no explanation who these “white” visitors may have been. Hambali had been very poor prior to this time, but he is suddenly “flush with newfound cash” brought by the visitors. In June 1994, he founds a front company called Konsonjaya with Wali Khan Amin Shah, a key Bojinka plotter, and both their names are listed on the eight-person board of directors. Shah fought with bin Laden in Afghanistan, and bin Laden will even admit knowing him and praise him in an 1998 interview (see May 28, 1998). Philippine police phone taps show that frequent calls are made from the Konsonjaya offices in Malaysia to the Philippines offices of Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law who is also believed to be part of the Bojinka plot (see 1994). [Time, 4/1/2002] A Malaysian official will later say that Hambali spends time in the Philippines with Shah and bomber Ramzi Yousef in 1994 as they plan the Bojinka plot. [Washington Post, 2/3/2002] Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari, another Konsonjaya director, makes frequent trips from Malaysia to the Philippines while planning for the Bojinka plot is under way, and he is later believed to play a key role in financing the plot. In early 1995, after the Bojinka plot is broken up, one of the arrested Bojinka plotters will confess to Konsonjaya’s role in the plot (see February-Early May 1995) and a Philippine investigator’s flow chart of the Bojinka plotters and their connections will prominently include Konsonjaya (see Spring 1995). However, neither the Philippine nor US government appears interested in capturing Hambali, al-Ghafari, or the others involved in Konsonjaya before 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 6/24/2002; Contemporary Southeast Asia, 12/1/2002] Hambali will continue to live openly in Malaysia, even throwing a party every year for hundreds of people (see April 1991-Late 2000). He will go on to plan other al-Qaeda attacks and will attend a key planning meeting for the 9/11 plot in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). [Time, 4/1/2002] Al-Ghafari will finally be deported in 2002 after years of police protection (see October 8-November 8, 2002).

Entity Tags: Wali Khan Amin Shah, Ramzi Yousef, Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari, Konsonjaya, Hambali, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Operation Bojinka

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On the left: 5613 Leesburg Pike, address for WAMY’s US office. On the right: 5913 Leesburg Pike, the 2001 address for hijackers Hani Hanjour and Nawaf Alhazmi.On the left: 5613 Leesburg Pike, address for WAMY’s US office. On the right: 5913 Leesburg Pike, the 2001 address for hijackers Hani Hanjour and Nawaf Alhazmi. [Source: Paul Sperry]The FBI begin an investigation into two relatives of bin Laden in February 1996, then close it on September 11, 1996. The FBI wanted to learn more about Abdullah Awad bin Laden, “because of his relationship with the World Assembly of Muslim Youth [WAMY]—a suspected terrorist organization.” [Guardian, 11/7/2001] Abdullah Awad was the US director of WAMY and lived with his brother Omar in Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of Washington. They are believed to be nephews of Osama bin Laden. The coding on a leaked FBI document about the case, marked secret, indicates the case related to national security. WAMY’s office address is 5613 Leesburg Pike. It will later be determined that at least two of the 9/11 hijackers lived at 5913 Leesburg Pike for much of 2001 at the same time the two bin Laden brothers were working only three blocks away (see March 2001 and After). WAMY has been banned in Pakistan by this time. [BBC, 11/6/2001; Guardian, 11/7/2001] The Indian and Philippine governments also will cite WAMY for funding Islamic militancy. The 9/11 Commission later will hear testimony that WAMY “has openly supported Islamic terrorism. There are ties between WAMY and 9/11 hijackers. It is a group that has openly endorsed the notion that Jews must be killed.… [It] has consistently portrayed the United States, Jews, Christians, and other infidels as enemies who have to be defeated or killed. And there is no doubt, according to US intelligence, that WAMY has been tied directly to terrorist attacks.” [9/11 Commission, 7/9/2003, pp. 66] A security official who will later serve under President Bush will say, “WAMY was involved in terrorist-support activity. There’s no doubt about it.” [Vanity Fair, 10/2003] Before 9/11, FBI investigators had determined that Abdullah Awad had invested about $500,000 in BMI Inc., a company suspected of financing groups officially designated as terrorist organizations (see 1986-October 1999). [Wall Street Journal, 9/15/2003] The Bosnian government will say in September 2002 that a charity with Abdullah Awad bin Laden on its board had channeled money to Chechen guerrillas, something that reporter Greg Palast will claim “is only possible because the Clinton CIA gave the wink and nod to WAMY and other groups who were aiding Bosnian guerrillas when they were fighting Serbia, a US-approved enemy.” The investigation into WAMY will be restarted a few days after 9/11, around the same time these two bin Ladens will leave the US (see September 14-19, 2001). [Palast, 2002, pp. 96-99] (Note that Abdullah Awad bin Laden is Osama bin Laden’s nephew, and is not the same person as the Abdullah bin Laden who is Osama’s brother and serves as the bin Laden family spokesperson.) [Palast, 2002, pp. 98-99; Wall Street Journal, 9/15/2003] WAMY’s Virginia offices will be raided by US agents in 2004 (see June 1, 2004).

Entity Tags: Abdullah Awad bin Laden, Omar bin Laden, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Hashim Salamat.Hashim Salamat. [Source: BBC]Western intelligence monitors a series of phone calls in which bin Laden asks the leader of a Philippine militant group to set up more training camps that al-Qaeda can use. Bin Laden is said to call Hashim Salamat, the leader of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). There are reports that al-Qaeda started funding and using MILF training camps in 1995. But apparently bin Laden successfully asks for more camps because the movement of militants into Afghanistan has grown increasingly difficult since the African embassy bombings in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). [CNS News, 9/19/2002; CNN, 10/28/2002; Asia Times, 10/30/2003] The same month, Salamat claims in a BBC interview that the MILF has received money from bin Laden, but says that it has only been for humanitarian purposes. [New York Times, 2/11/1999; Asia Times, 10/30/2003]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Hashim Salamat, Moro Islamic Liberation Front

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A classified Philippine military report claims bin Laden is funding Muslim militants in the Philippines through known charity fronts. Some of the charities include World Alliance of Muslim Youth (WAMY), the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), and the Islamic Wisdom Worldwide Mission (IWWM). WAMY has been under investigation for ties militant groups in a number of countries, including the US (see February-September 11, 1996). The other two organizations are said to be connected to Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law. All the charities are accused of passing money on to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a militant group in the southern Philippines. [New Straits Times, 2/15/1999] Between this time and 9/11, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf militant group will say in an interview that “the primary purpose of the IIRO is to help groups like us.” [Newsweek International, 10/22/2001] Also in February 1999, the head of the MILF admits to getting funds from bin Laden, but says they are for humanitarian purposes only (see February 1999). The charities remain open after the report. In 2002, Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari, the head of the IWWM, will be arrested and deported. It will come out that he was arrested and then let go in 1995 after being strongly suspected of involvement in the Bojinka plot (see June 1994). He also had protectors in the police and military who are IWWM directors. In 2002, one of them will admit to having helped prevent his deportation (see October 8-November 8, 2002). The US will not officially accuse the IIRO’s Philippine branch of funding al-Qaeda until 2006 (see August 3, 2006).

Entity Tags: World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Osama bin Laden, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Abu Sayyaf, International Islamic Relief Organization, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari, Islamic Wisdom Worldwide Mission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In 1994, several key members of the Bojinka plot, which would have killed thousands if successful (see January 6, 1995), formed a front company called Konsonjaya as part of the plot (see June 1994). Konsonjaya was a trading company that ostensibly exported Malaysian palm oil to Afghanistan and also traded in honey from Sudan and Yemen. All these countries have been important nodes in al-Qaeda’s network. The Philippine government was already wiretapping calls to the Konsonjaya offices before the Bojinka plot was foiled (see 1994), and definitively linked the company to the plot by the spring of 1995 (see Spring 1995). As late as 1998, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was using Konsonjaya as cover in his international travels (see June 1998). By 1999, the FBI had realized the importance of Konsonjaya to the Bojinka plot, and had linked al-Qaeda leader Hambali to it (see May 23, 1999). [Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 pdf file] In February 2002, Rodolfo Mendoza, the former head of Philippine counter-terrorism who led that country’s Bojinka investigation, will say, “According to my analysis, Konsonjaya was the nerve center not only for business but also for operational supervision [of the Bojinka plot].… The most critical question now is, ‘Where are the other former directors of Konsonjaya?’” [Los Angeles Times, 2/7/2002] Konsonjaya’s eight-person board of directors was made up of:
bullet Amein Mohammed (Managing Director). His real name is Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari. He appears to have been heavily involved in the Bojinka plot. However, he has intelligence connections in the Philippines and remains the head of another front connected to Bojinka until November 2002. Then he is implicated in an October 2002 bombing and deported (see 1995 and After, February 15, 1999, and October 8-November 8, 2002). His current whereabouts are unknown.
bullet Amein Alsanani (also Managing Director).
bullet Annamalai N. L. Sundrasan (Secretary).
bullet Wali Khan Amin Shah. He is one of the main Bojinka plotters and will later be sentenced to life in prison in the US for his role in that plot (see September 5, 1996).
bullet Medhat Abdul Salam Shabana. Company records show Shabana is from Afghanistan.
bullet Riduan bin Isumuddin (Hambali). He is arrested in Thailand in 2003 and taken into US custody (see August 12, 2003). He is believed to have roles in the 9/11 attacks, the 2002 Bali bombings, and other attacks. [Los Angeles Times, 2/7/2002; Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 pdf file]
bullet Noralwizah Lee Binti Abdullah (Hambali’s wife). She is arrested with Hambali and immediately extradited to Malaysia. Two months later, the Malaysian government will place her in indefinite detention, where she apparently remains. A Malaysian official will say: “She was more than a wife to Hambali. She was a trusted aide who handled funds of the Jemaah Islamiyah [militant group].” [Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 pdf file; Sydney Morning Herald, 8/16/2003; Associated Press, 10/16/2003]
bullet Hemeid H. Alghamdi. He is described in company records as a thirty-year-old Saudi from Jeddah. [Los Angeles Times, 2/7/2002; Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 pdf file]
bullet Cosain Ramos (a.k.a. Abu Ali) is also connected to Konsonjaya, but apparently he used an alias so it is not clear which name matches his. He will be arrested in the Philippines in 2002 after being linked to the 2000 Christmas Eve bombings in Indonesia (see December 24-30, 2000 and Shortly Before December 24, 2000). But bizarrely, not only is he not charged, but he is given the job of janitor at the Philippines’s highest security prison and then helps a key al-Qaeda leader escape in 2003 (see July 14, 2003).
The Los Angeles Times reports in February 2002 that the whereabouts of most of the Konsonjaya board of directors remains unknown. [Los Angeles Times, 2/7/2002] But strangely, investigators seemingly remain uninterested in investigating Konsonjaya’s links. In October 2002, Sundrasan, the company’s secretary as well as one of the directors, will contact a Malaysian newspaper and tell them some details about the company, including that Amin Shah opened many bank accounts in the company’s name and that the company never really conducted any business. But he will also say that no investigators, journalists, or officials have ever questioned him about the company. [Malay Mail, 10/24/2002]

Entity Tags: Amein Alsanani, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Cosain Ramos, Hambali, Wali Khan Amin Shah, Annamalai N. L. Sundrasan, Noralwizah Lee Binti Abdullah, Konsonjaya, Rodolfo Mendoza, Hemeid H. Alghamdi, Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari, Medhat Abdul Salam Shabana

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A suspect in the 1995 Bojinka plot is arrested in the Philippines but is soon deported. Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari is believed to have played a key role in financing the Bojinka plot (see June 1994). After the Bojinka plot was foiled, he stayed in the Philppines and effectively took over a charity that is believed to have helped fund the plot (see 1995 and After). He is widely believed to be the successor to the local operations of Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law. The Philippine military arrested al-Ghafari after concluding he was a mastermind in an October 2, 2002 bombing that killed one US soldier and three civilians in the southern city of Zamboanga. [Manila Times, 10/9/2002; Manila Standard Today, 10/19/2002] Another mastermind of the bombing, Abu Sayyaf leader Abdulmukim Edris, will later be alleged to be a government mole (see October 2-November 12, 2002). One intelligence official says al-Ghafari had been “placed under surveillance after we established that he was in constant contact with members of Jemaah Islamiyah, mostly Indonesians, in the country, Abu Sayyaf bandits, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).” [Philippine Star, 10/9/2002] He is also accused of heading another group that funded two new al-Qaeda training camps in the Philippines. [Gulf News, 10/11/2002] Further, al-Ghafari’s brother belongs to the banned Palestinian militant group Hamas, and a foundation he controls was used as a gathering place for suspected Hamas sympathizers. The Manila Times will report that while some Philippine investigators had been interested in apprehending him for years, others in the government had protected him. For instance, Rex Piad, the Deputy Director-General of the national police, confirmed he helped al-Ghafari get two clearances that allowed him to stay in the country. Furthermore, Piad and retired generals Eduardo Cuadra and Percival Adiong “are directors of the Islamic Wisdom Worldwide Mission (IWWM), a foundation headed by al-Ghafari and a suspected conduit of funds for terrorist operations.” [Manila Times, 10/9/2002] In 1999, it was reported that bin Laden was funding Muslim militants through the IWWM and other charities, but these charities stayed open (see February 15, 1999). It is reported that al-Ghafari had long been in contact with Philippine intelligence agents, who tried to recruit him as a spy, supposedly unsuccessfully. He was going to meet with agents the night he was arrested. [Gulf News, 10/11/2002] On November 8, al-Ghafari is deported to Jordan. [Manila Standard Today, 11/9/2002] The Zamboanga bombing will be blamed on Abu Sayyaf, a group that has often been accused of colluding with the Philippine government. [Manila Standard Today, 4/26/2006]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Philippine National Police, Percival Adiong, Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Jemaah Islamiyah, Eduardo Cuadra, Hamas, Islamic Wisdom Worldwide Mission, Abu Sayyaf, Abdulmukim Edris, Rex Piad

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The US and UN finally officially designates the Philippines and Indonesian branches of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) as a financier of terrorism. Abdul Al-Hamid Sulaiman Al-Mujil, executive director of the IRRO’s far east division, is similarly designated as well. The IIRO is a major charity connected to the Saudi government that has long been suspected of financing Islamic militant groups (see January 1996). It was reported shortly after 9/11 that the US left the IIRO off a list of designated terrorism financiers so as to not embarrass the Saudi government (see October 12, 2001). The Philippine IIRO branch in particular has been publicly accused of funding al-Qaeda since the mid-1990s, due to the activities of Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law who headed that branch when he funded the Bojinka plot in the early 1990s (see 1987-1991). [Associated Press, 8/3/2006; Manila Times, 12/12/2006] A US Treasury Department press release says Al-Mujil has been nicknamed the “million dollar man” for his “long history of providing support to terrorist organizations.” He is accused of funding the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines and Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia. He is said to have had relationships with bin Laden and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. The press release also calls “a senior al-Qaeda member” and accuses the current director of the IIRO’s Philippine branch, Abd al-Hadi Daguit, “a trusted associate of Khalifa.” But curiously, Khalifa himself is still not officially listed, nor is Daguit. He will die in mysterious circumstances several months later. [Treasury Department, 8/3/2006]

Entity Tags: Abu Sayyaf, US Department of the Treasury, Osama bin Laden, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Al-Qaeda, International Islamic Relief Organization, Abd al-Hadi Daguit, Abdul Al-Hamid Sulaiman Al-Mujil, Jemaah Islamiyah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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