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Context of 'February 21, 1995: Mysterious US Militant Arrested on Minor Charges, Disppears from View'

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Fawaz Damra.Fawaz Damra. [Source: Associated Press]By the mid-1980s, Osama bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam jointly founded a charity front based in Pakistan which is called Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) (which means “services office”) and is also known as Al-Kifah (which means “struggle”) (see 1984). Branches start to open in the US; the first one apparently opens in Tucson, Arizona, where al-Qaeda has a sleeper cell (see 1986). But around 1986, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, the right hand man of double agent Ali Mohamed, informally founds the branch in Brooklyn, New York, and it soon becomes the most important US branch. [New York Times, 10/22/1998; Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 269-270] On December 29, 1987, three men, Mustafa Shalabi, Fawaz Damra, and Ali Shinawy, formally file papers incorporating Al-Kifah, which is called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. At first, it is located inside the Al Farouq mosque, which is led by Damra. But eventually it will get it own office space next to the mosque. Shalabi, a naturalized citizen from Egypt, runs the office with two assistants: Mahmud Abouhalima, who will later be convicted for a role in bombing the World Trade Center in 1993 (see February 26, 1993), and El Sayyid Nosair, who will assassinate a Jewish leader in New York in 1990 (see November 5, 1990). [New York Times, 4/11/1993; Newsweek, 10/1/2001; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 11/4/2001] Jamal al-Fadl, a founding member of al-Qaeda and future FBI informant (see June 1996-April 1997), also works at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in its early days. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 155] The Brooklyn office recruits Arab immigrants and Arab-Americans to go fight in Afghanistan, even after the Soviets withdraw in early 1989. As many as 200 are sent there from the office. Before they go, the office arranges training in the use of rifles, assault weapons, and handguns, and then helps them with visas, plane tickets, and contacts. They are generally sent to the MAK/Al-Kifah office in Peshawar, Pakistan, and then connected to either the radical Afghan faction led by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf or the equally radical one led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. [New York Times, 4/11/1993] The CIA has some murky connection to Al-Kifah that has yet to be fully explained. Newsweek will later say the Brooklyn office “doubled as a recruiting post for the CIA seeking to steer fresh troops to the mujaheddin” fighting in Afghanistan. At the same time, the Brooklyn office is where “veterans of [the Afghan war arrived] in the United States—many with passports arranged by the CIA.” [Newsweek, 10/1/2001] Robert I. Friedman, writing for New York magazine, will comment that the Brooklyn office was a refuge for ex- and future mujaheddin, “But the highlight for the center’s regulars were the inspirational jihad lecture series, featuring CIA-sponsored speakers.… One week on Atlantic Avenue, it might be a CIA-trained Afghan rebel traveling on a CIA-issued visa; the next, it might be a clean-cut Arabic-speaking Green Beret, who would lecture about the importance of being part of the mujaheddin, or ‘warriors of the Lord.’ The more popular lectures were held upstairs in the roomier Al-Farouq Mosque; such was the case in 1990 when Sheikh [Omar] Abdul-Rahman, traveling on a CIA-supported visa, came to town.” One frequent instructor is double agent Ali Mohamed, who is in the US Special Forces at the time (see 1987-1989). Bin Laden’s mentor Azzam frequently visits and lectures in the area. In 1988, he tells “a rapt crowd of several hundred in Jersey City, ‘Blood and martyrdom are the only way to create a Muslim society.… However, humanity won’t allow us to achieve this objective, because all humanity is the enemy of every Muslim.’” [New York Magazine, 3/17/1995] Ayman Al-Zawahiri, future Al-Qaeda second in command, makes a recruiting trip to the office in 1989 (see Spring 1993). [New Yorker, 9/9/2002] The Brooklyn office also raises a considerable amount of money for MAK/Al-Kifah back in Pakistan. The Independent will later call the office “a place of pivotal importance to Operation Cyclone, the American effort to support the mujaheddin. The Al-Kifah [Refugee Center was] raising funds and, crucially, providing recruits for the struggle, with active American assistance.” [Independent, 11/1/1998] Abdul-Rahman, better known as the “Blind Sheikh,” is closely linked to bin Laden. In 1990, he moves to New York on another CIA-supported visa (see July 1990) and soon dominates the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. Shalabi has a falling out with him over how to spend the money they raise and he is killed in mysterious circumstances in early 1991, completing Abdul-Rahman’s take over. Now, both the Brooklyn and Pakistan ends of the Al-Kifah/MAK network are firmly controlled by bin Laden and his close associates. In 1998, the US government will say that al-Qaeda’s “connection to the United States evolved from the Al-Kifah Refugee Center.” Yet there is no sign that the CIA stops its relationship with the Brooklyn office before it closes down shortly after the 1993 WTC bombing. [New York Times, 10/22/1998]

Entity Tags: Jamal al-Fadl, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Mustafa Shalabi, Maktab al-Khidamat, Osama bin Laden, Fawaz Damra, El Sayyid Nosair, Mahmud Abouhalima, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Central Intelligence Agency, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, Al Farouq Mosque, Abdullah Azzam, Ali Shinawy, Ali Mohamed, Al-Kifah Refugee Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Clement Rodney Hampton-El will later admit that he had been smuggling money into the US for military training from the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA). [USA v. Benevolence International Foundation and Enaam M. Arnaout, 4/29/2002, pp. 6-7 pdf file] Hampton-El is linked to Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman and the Al-Kifah Refugee Center and will later be given a long prison term for involvement in the “Landmarks” plot (see June 24, 1993). He makes several trips to Europe in 1992-1993, raising over $150,000 to fund a Pennsylvania training camp (see Late 1992-Early 1993). After one trip to Vienna, Austria (where TWRA has its headquarters), he returns to the US with $20,000 hidden in his pants to avoid the scrutiny of US customs officers. [United Press International, 8/2/1995] At the time, TWRA is funneling huge amounts of weapons into Bosnia in violation of a UN embargo but with the tacit approval of the US (see Mid-1991-1996). Hampton-El also travels to Bosnia around this time. [Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 73-74]

Entity Tags: Third World Relief Agency, Clement Rodney Hampton-El

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mohammed Abouhalima.Mohammed Abouhalima. [Source: Corbis]Siddig Siddig Ali, Abdo Mohammed Haggag, Abu Ubaidah Yahya, Mohammed Abouhalima, and others train at a militant training camp in New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania, with weapons and ammunition provided by Yahya and Clement Rodney Hampton-El (see February 21, 1995). Abouhalima will later be convicted for a role in the 1993 WTC bombing, as will his brother (see February 26, 1993) while the others mentioned will be convicted for roles in the related “Landmarks” plot (see June 24, 1993). [USA v. Omar Ahmad Ali Abdel-Rahman et al, 7/13/1995, pp. 9] Yahya is the chief instructor, as he is an ex-US Marine who served two tours in Vietnam and teaches at a martial arts academy. Siddig Ali will later say of Yahya, “[H]e’s decorated and has a lot of medals… [and he was] a great trainer…” The training even includes mock nighttime assaults on a nearby electric power substation. [Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 73] An FBI informant named Garrett Wilson helps lead the FBI to the camp, and the FBI monitors it for two days, January 16 and 17, but the monitoring team is mysteriously pulled away before the end of the second day (see January 16-17, 1993). In a wiretapped conversation with an FBI informant (most likely Wilson), Siddig Ali says regarding the camp, “Our goal is that these people get extensive and very, very, very good training, so that we can get started at anyplace where jihad (holy war) is needed… And after they receive their training, they go to Bosnia… And whoever survives, I mean, could come and [instruct] somewhere else, or Egypt, or any other place, etc…” [Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 73] Hampton-El makes trips to Europe to pick up money from the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA) charity front to fund the camp (see Late 1992-Early 1993). TWRA is funneling huge amounts of weapons into Bosnia in violation of a UN embargo but with the tacit approval of the US (see Mid-1991-1996).

Entity Tags: Siddig Siddig Ali, Mohammed Abouhalima, Clement Rodney Hampton-El, Garrett Wilson, Abdo Mohammed Haggag, Abu Ubaidah Yahya, Third World Relief Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

According to a senior Western diplomat, in 1993 the Clinton administration learns about the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA) and its real purpose of secretly violating the UN embargo to get weapons to Bosnia (see Mid-1991-1996). But the US takes no action to stop its fund-raising or arms shipments. The diplomat will later say, “We were told [by Washington] to watch them but not interfere. Bosnia was trying to get weapons from anybody, and we weren’t helping much. The least we could do is back off. So we backed off.” TWRA has key offices in Austria and Germany, but authorities in both those countries refrain from shutting down TWRA as well. Austrian officials will later admit that “public pressure to support Bosnia’s Muslims allowed them to turn a blind eye to the agency’s activities.” [Washington Post, 9/22/1996] However, it seems probable that the US found out about TWRA’s smuggling activites earlier, when they were exposed in late 1992 (see September 1992). Further, there are suggestions that the US may have tacitly agreed to the illegal smuggling and even helped with it from the very beginning (see Late 1992-1995). The TWRA is linked to bin Laden and other radical militants, and in 1993 it helps fund bomb plotters in the US, but the FBI does not act on that link (see Late 1992-Early 1993 and Early April 1993).

Entity Tags: Third World Relief Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On January 15, 1993, FBI informant Garrett Wilson had led the FBI to a meeting attended by Abu Ubaidah Yahya, Abdo Mohammed Haggag, and Siddig Siddig Ali (see January 15, 1993). Yahya is security chief for the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, a charity front tied to both al-Qaeda and the CIA (see 1986-1993), and Haggag and Siddig Ali both work with the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, who is also closely linked to Al-Kifah. Suspecting a violent plot, FBI agents have a plan to continuously monitor Yahya, Haggag, and Ali from when they leave the meeting, and for the next couple of days that is what they do. On January 16, Yahya leads the FBI to Jersey City, New Jersey, where he is holding exercises for a group of Sudanese and Middle Eastern men. Then the FBI follows Yahya and this group he is leading to a militant training camp on a farm in New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania. A squad of investigators watch them practicing martial arts, sniper firing, and rappelling. The agents think that they recognize one of the trainees as Mahmud Abouhalima, who they already strongly suspect was involved in the 1990 assassination of a Jewish leader (see November 5, 1990). (In fact, the trainee is his brother Mohammed - both of them are tall and red-headed.) However, on January 17, FBI supervisor Carson Dunbar calls the squad away from the training camp, preventing them from following the suspects as they return to their homes that evening. The FBI squad is upset, as they are sure following the suspects to their homes would lead to many new identifications and leads. Dunbar claims the surveillance is costing too much money and effectively shuts down further surveillance of everyone but Yahya and Clement Rodney Hampton-El, who has been working with Yahya, and only when they’re in close range of the FBI New York office. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 90-91] Yahya will continue to train his group at the Pennsylvania camp through early February (see December 1992-Early February 1993), but apparently without further FBI surveillance of them.

Entity Tags: Mohammed Abouhalima, Siddig Siddig Ali, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Mahmud Abouhalima, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Clement Rodney Hampton-El, Abdo Mohammed Haggag, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Carson Dunbar, Garrett Wilson, Abu Ubaidah Yahya

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In June 1993, Abu Ubaidah Yahya will tell the New York Times that early in the year he went to Bosnia with several other Muslims from the New York region to help embattled Bosnian Muslims “with technical advice and medical aid.” [New York Times, 6/26/1993] Yahya is an ex-US Marine connected to numerous figures in the 1993 WTC bombing and “Landmarks” bombing plots, and US intelligence had him under surveillance since January 1993 (see January 7-13, 1993), although how intensive the surveillance was is unknown. The FBI is aware that Yahya repeatedly travels in the spring of 1993 to Vienna, Austria, to pick up money from the Bosnian-linked Third World Relief Agency charity front (see Early April 1993), so presumably he goes to nearby Bosnia on some or all of those trips. It is likely he and his group actually go to Bosnia to fight, since one of his associates told an FBI informant that Yahya and a group of about ten men he trained were going to fight in Bosnia once their training session was over, and the training ended in February 1993 (see December 1992-Early February 1993). Saudis also gave Yahya’s close associate Clement Rodney Hampton-El a considerable amount of money to train militants in the US to fight in Bosnia (see December 1992). [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 113] Yahya is the security chief of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, a charity front linked to both al-Qaeda and the CIA (see 1986-1993). A group of US militants linked to Al-Kifah go fight in Bosnia starting in December 1992, but this must be a different group since Yahya is still training his group for another two months (see December 1992-June 1993 and December 1992-Early February 1993).

Entity Tags: Abu Ubaidah Yahya, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Clement Rodney Hampton-El

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Clement Rodney Hampton-El.Clement Rodney Hampton-El. [Source: Jolie Stahl]FBI investigators begin monitoring Clement Rodney Hampton-El’s house in New York as they close in on the militants involved in the “Landmarks” plot (see June 24, 1993). They listen in on a call from Hampton-El’s right-hand man, Abu Ubaidah Yahya, as he is in Vienna, Austria, picking up money from the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA) for the militants in the US tied to the Landmarks plot. Over the next few months, Yahya is tracked as he makes several trips from the US to Vienna, picking up about $100,000. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 113] Hampton-El had also been in Vienna earlier in the year, picking up more money from TWRA for the plotters (see Late 1992-Early 1993). TWRA is funneling a huge amount of weapons to Muslim Bosnia in violation of a UN embargo but with the tacit approval of the US government (see Mid-1991-1996). It also has ties to radical militants like bin Laden and Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. The Washington Post will later report that, “Intelligence agencies say they have tapes of telephone calls by Abdul-Rahman to [TWRA’s] office.” The “Landmarks” bombers are closely associated with Abdul-Rahman and will be convicted along with him. [Washington Post, 9/22/1996] A secret 1996 CIA report will state that “according to a foreign government service” Elfatih Hassanein, the head of TWRA, “supports US Muslim extremists in Bosnia.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 1/1996] But apparently the US does not go after TWRA for its ties to the “Landmarks” plotters and the connection will not be publicized for years.

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Clement Rodney Hampton-El, Abu Ubaidah Yahya, Elfatih Hassanein, Third World Relief Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Ubaidah Yahya, an ex-US marine tied to many of the “Landmarks” bombers, is arrested and charged with gun running. According to charges, Yahya bought at least six assault weapons at a Virginia gun show in November 1992 and then later distributed them to a group of militants he was training at a training camp near New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania (see Late 1992-Early 1993). A number of the “Landmarks” bombers trained there and prosecutors claim the training was part of the overall “Landmarks” conspiracy, but strangely, Yahya is only charged with the gun running and not the training, even though the FBI actually briefly monitored him running the training camp (see January 16-17, 1993). Yahya, a US citizen who changed his name from Karl Dexter Taylor, runs a martial arts school in Brooklyn. [United Press International, 2/21/1995; New York Times, 2/22/1995] Yahya apparently fought in Bosnia for the Bosnian Muslims while the US government was secretly supporting the Bosnian Muslim cause (see Spring 1993). He was security chief for the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, a charity front linked to both al-Qaeda and the CIA (see 1986-1993). He also transported money for the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA) charity front (see Early April 1993) while the US government was deliberately turning a blind eye to its actions (see 1993). What happens next to Yahya is unclear. While the Lexis Nexus database reveals a number of articles about his arrest, there are no articles mentioning any subsequent trial or imprisonment.

Entity Tags: Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Abu Ubaidah Yahya, Third World Relief Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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