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Context of 'March-September 1991: Radical Imams and Saudi Government Convert Many US Soldiers to Islam; Some Later Fight in Bosnia'

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In 1991, there is a surge in the number of US soldiers adhering to Islam, due to a conversion program sponsored by the Saudi government (see March-September 1991). Islamic activist Abdurahman Alamoudi approaches the US military and suggests they create a program for Muslim chaplains, similar to a longstanding program for Christian chaplains. His proposal is accepted and in 1991 he creates the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council (AMAFVAC) with the stated purpose to “certify Muslim chaplains hired by the military.” In 1993, the Defense Department certifies it as one of two organizations to select and endorse Muslim chaplains. The other is the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences (GSISS). [US Congress, Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, 10/14/2003; Wall Street Journal, 12/3/2003] That group is run by prominent Islamic scholar Taha Jabir Al-Alwani. Most of the roughly one dozen Muslim chaplains in the US military are educated there. In 2002, the US government searches the school and Al-Alwani’s home as part of a raid on the SAAR network (see March 20, 2002). He appears to also be named as an unindicted coconspirator in the Sami al-Arian trial. Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz says Al-Alwani is a “person who supports and funnels money to terrorist organizations,” but Al-Alwani denies all terrorism ties and has not been charged with any crime. [St. Petersburg Times, 3/27/2003] Most Muslim chaplains trained at GSISS then receive an official endorsement from Alamoudi’s AMAFVAC organization. US intelligence will learn in early 1994 that Alamoudi has ties to bin Laden (see Shortly After March 1994). [US Congress, Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, 10/14/2003] In 1996, counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson will warn in a Wall Street Journal editorial that Alamoudi openly supports Hamas, even after the US government officially designated it a terrorist organization (see March 13, 1996). [Wall Street Journal, 3/13/1996] But Alamoudi will work for the Defense Department until 1998 on an unpaid basis to nominate and to vet Muslim chaplain candidates. After that, he will give the task to others in his AMAFVAC organization. [US Congress, Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, 10/14/2003] Furthermore, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) will later allege the US the military allowed Muslim chaplains to travel to the Middle East on funds provided by the Muslim World League, which has been linked to al-Qaeda (see October 12, 2001). Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) will later comment, “It is remarkable that people who have known connections to terrorism are the only people to approve these chaplains.” [US News and World Report, 10/27/2003] In late 2003, Alamoudi will be arrested and later sentenced to 23 years in prison for terrorism-related crimes. The US military will announce around the same time that it is reviewing and overhauling its Muslim chaplain program. [US News and World Report, 10/27/2003]

Entity Tags: Taha Jabir Al-Alwani, Steven Emerson, US Department of Defense, Muslim World League, Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences, American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council, Abdurahman Alamoudi, Rita Katz, Charles Schumer, Jon Kyl

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bilal Philips.Bilal Philips. [Source: Lightuponlight.com]Shortly after the end of fighting in the US-led Persian Gulf war against Iraq, the US allows the Saudi government to conduct a massive program to convert US soldiers still stationed in Saudi Arabia (see March 1991) to Islam. Huge tents are erected near the barracks of US troops and Saudi imams lecture the soldiers about Islam and attempt to convert them. Within months, about 1,000 soldiers, and perhaps as many as 3,000, convert to Islam. Some US officials express concern about the aggressive conversion effort and the long term implications it may have, but the program is not stopped. Radical imam Bilal Philips helps lead the conversion effort. He will later explain that a special team of fluent English speakers, some trained in psychology, was amply paid by the Saudi government to convert the soldiers. Converts had their pilgrimages to Islamic holy cities paid for and Muslim imams were assigned to follow up with them when they returned to the US. Philips is openly hostile to the US, saying such things as, “Western culture led by the United States is an enemy of Islam.” He will later note that some of his converts went to fight in Bosnia and others were the subject of terrorism probes in the US. [US Congress, Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, 10/14/2003; Washington Post, 11/2/2003] Philips will work with the Saudi government and one of the “Landmarks” bombers to send 14 Muslim ex-US soldiers to fight in Bosnia in 1992 (see December 1992). Listed as an unindicted coconspirator in the 1993 WTC bombing, he will be deported from the US in 2004. [Australian Associated Press, 4/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Saudi Arabia, Bilal Philips, US Department of the Army

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Clement Rodney Hampton-El, one of the 1993 “Landmarks” bombers (see June 24, 1993), is summoned to the Saudi Embassy in Washington and told that wealthy Saudis are sponsoring fighters in Bosnia. Hampton-El has longstanding links to the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), which is closely tied to the Saudi government (see October 12, 2001). He is given $150,000 to recruit and train people in the US to fight in Bosnia. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 121-122] He starts a militant training camp in Pennsylvania that same month (see December 1992-Early February 1993) and gets $150,000 overseas from a bin Laden linked charity front (it is not known if this is the same $150,000 or additional money) (see Late 1992-Early 1993). The Saudi embassy also introduces him to a radical imam named Bilal Philips. Philips, a Canadian citizen and author on Islamic topics, has been employed by the Saudi government since early 1991 to proselytize among US soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia (see March-September 1991). Philips gives Hampton-El a list of likely candidates who are ex-US soldiers that Philips recently helped convert to Islam. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 121-122] That same month, 14 ex-US soldiers go to Bosnia to fight and train there (see December 1992-June 1993). They are led by double agent Ali Mohamed, who, like Hampton-El, is closely tied to the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in New York.

Entity Tags: Bilal Philips, Clement Rodney Hampton-El, Saudi Embassy (US)

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

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

Informant Emad Salem, pictured bent over in a green shirt, enables the FBI to take surveillance footage like this of the plotters making a bomb.Informant Emad Salem, pictured bent over in a green shirt, enables the FBI to take surveillance footage like this of the plotters making a bomb. [Source: National Geographic]Eight people are arrested, foiling a plot to bomb several New York City landmarks. The targets were the United Nations building, 26 Federal Plaza, and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels. This is known as the “Landmarks” or “Day of Terror” plot. The plotters are connected to Ramzi Yousef and the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. If the bombing, planned for later in the year, had been successful, thousands would have died. An FBI informant named Emad Salem had infiltrated the group, gathering information that leads to arrests of the plotters (see April 23, 1993). [US Congress, 7/24/2003] Abdul-Rahman will eventually be sentenced to life in prison for a role in the plot. Nine others will be given long prison terms, including Ibrahim El-Gabrowny and Clement Rodney Hampton-El. [New York Times, 1/18/1996] Siddig Siddig Ali, who was possibly the main force behind the plot (see April 23, 1993), will eventually be sentenced to only 11 years in prison because he agreed to provide evidence on the other suspects [New York Times, 10/16/1999]

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Siddig Siddig Ali, Ibrahim El-Gabrowny, Clement Rodney Hampton-El, Emad Salem, Omar Abdul-Rahman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Alamoudi, center, with Vice President Gore, left, and President Clinton, right. This picture is from a 1997 American Muslim Council newsletter and was presumably taken around that time.Alamoudi, center, with Vice President Gore, left, and President Clinton, right. This picture is from a 1997 American Muslim Council newsletter and was presumably taken around that time. [Source: CAIR]Abdo Mohammed Haggag, speechwriter for the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, makes a deal and agrees to testify against Abdul-Rahman in an upcoming US trial. [New York Times, 6/26/1994] He soon reveals that bin Laden has been paying for Abdul-Rahman’s living expenses since Abdul-Rahman moved to the US in 1990 (see July 1990). This is one of the first things that causes US intelligence to become interested in bin Laden. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 147-148] Further, Haggag reveals that the money was funneled through Abdurahman Alamoudi and his organization, the American Muslim Council. “Investigators tried to prove Alamoudi was a terror middleman but could not find ‘smoking gun’ evidence. That allowed Alamoudi to became a politically connected Muslim activist and co-founder of the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veteran Affairs Council, which helps the US military select Muslim chaplains.” [New York Post, 10/1/2003] This same year, Alamoudi will be one of the founders of Ptech, a US computer company with suspected terrorism ties (see 1994). It will later be alleged that he was able to operate with impunity for years due to his close ties to Grover Norquist, a powerful Republican lobbyist (see March 20, 2002). In 2004, the US will sentence him to 23 years in prison for illegal dealings with Libya (see October 15, 2004).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, American Muslim Council, Abdo Mohammed Haggag, Abdurahman Alamoudi, Omar Abdul-Rahman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

President Clinton meeting with Abdulrahman Alamoudi in the 1990s.President Clinton meeting with Abdulrahman Alamoudi in the 1990s. [Source: PBS]Counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson, head of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, criticizes the Clinton administration for its ties to Abdulrahman Alamoudi in a Wall Street Journal editorial. Alamoudi is a prominent Muslim activist and heads an organization called the American Muslim Council (AMC). Emerson notes that on November 9, 1995, President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore met with Alamoudi as part of a meeting with 23 Muslim and Arab leaders. And on December 8, 1995, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, met with Alamoudi at the White House along with several other American Islamic leaders. Emerson notes that Alamoudi openly supports Hamas, even though the US government officially designated it a terrorist financier in early 1995 (see January 1995), and he has been the primary public defender of high ranking Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk, who the US declared a terrorism financier and then imprisoned in 1995 (see July 5, 1995-May 1997). He notes that Alamoudi’s AMC also has close ties to other Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and in 1994 the AMC co-sponsored a trip to the US for Sudanese leader Hasan al-Turabi, a well-known radical militant who is hosting Osama bin Laden in Sudan at the time. Emerson concludes, “The president is right to invite Muslim groups to the White House. But by inviting the extremist element of the American Muslim community—represented by the AMC—the administration undercuts moderate Muslims and strengthens the groups committing terrorist attacks.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/13/1996] It will later be reported that in 1994, US intelligence discovered that the AMC helped pass money from bin Laden to Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, but it is not known if Clinton was aware of this (see Shortly After March 1994). But Alamoudi’s political influence in the US will not diminish and he will later be courted by future President Bush (see July 2000). He will eventually be sentenced to a long prison term for illegal dealings with Libya (see October 15, 2004).

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Steven Emerson, Mousa Abu Marzouk, Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Abdurahman Alamoudi, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Hassan al-Turabi, Anthony Lake, American Muslim Council, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Muslim World League logo.
Muslim World League logo. [Source: Muslim World League]The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and the Muslim World League (MWL) are Saudi charities directly financed by the Saudi government. In 1996, the CIA gave the State Department a report detailing evidence that the IIIRO supported terrorism. It claimed the IIRO has funded Hamas and six militant training camps in Afghanistan, and one funder of the Bojinka plot to blow up airplanes over the Pacific was the head of the IIRO office in the Philippines (see January 1996). US intelligence officials also believe that MWL employees were involved in the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Harper’s magazine claims that it has long been known that both groups helped fund al-Qaeda. However, in October 2001, it is reported that the Bush administration has left the two organizations off an October 12, 2001 list of designated terrorist groups to spare the Saudi government from embarrassment (see October 12, 2001). In March 2002, the Virginia offices of the IIRO and MWL will be raided by US Customs agents (see March 20, 2002). [Harper's, 3/2004] In September 2003, it will be reported that US officials recently gave Saudi officials a detailed documenting the IIRO’s terrorism links and asked the Saudis to close all of the organization’s overseas offices. [New York Times, 9/26/2003] However, as of January 2006, it will be reported that it appears the overseas offices of the IIRO and MWL are still open and the US has not officially declared either group to be terrorist sponsors. The US will still be complaining to the Saudis about these two organizations and others, and the Saudis will still not do anything about them (see January 15, 2006).

Entity Tags: International Islamic Relief Organization, Bush administration (43), Saudi Arabia, Muslim World League

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

March 20, 2002: SAAR Network Is Raided

US Customs Agents carry out boxes of evidence from SAAR network businesses on March 20, 2002.US Customs Agents carry out boxes of evidence from SAAR network businesses on March 20, 2002. [Source: Mike Theiler/ Getty Images]Scores of federal agents raid 14 entities in a cluster of more than 100 homes, charities, think tanks, and businesses in Herndon, Virginia, a town just outside of Washington with a large Muslim population. No arrests are made and no organizations are shut down, but over 500 boxes of files and computer files are confiscated, filling seven trucks. This group of interlocking entities is widely known as the SAAR network (it is also sometimes called the Safa Group). SAAR stands for Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, a Saudi banker and billionaire who largely funded the group beginning in the early 1980s (see July 29, 1983). He is said to be close to the Saudi ruling family and is on the Golden Chain, a list of early al-Qaeda supporters (see 1988-1989). [New York Times, 3/21/2002; Farah, 2004, pp. 152; Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004] The name and address of Salah al-Rajhi, Suleiman’s brother, was discovered in 1998 in the telephone book of Wadih El-Hage (see September 15, 1998). El-Hage was bin Laden’s personal secretary and was convicted of a role in the 1998 US embassy bombings. [New York Times, 3/25/2002] The raids are said to be primarily led by David Kane, a Customs agent working with a Customs investigation started just after 9/11 code-named Operation Greenquest. Many of the organizations are located at an office building at 555 Grove Street in Herndon. Kane writes in an affidavit for the raid that many organizations based there are “paper organizations” which “dissolve and are replaced by other organizations under the control of the same group of individuals.” [New York Times, 3/21/2002; Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004] Investigators appear to be primarily interested in the connections between the SAAR network and the Al Taqwa Bank, a Swiss bank closed after 9/11 on suspicions of funding al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups (see November 7, 2001). They are also interested in connections between both SAAR and Al Taqwa and the Muslim Brotherhood (see December 1982). According to author Douglas Farah, “US officials [later say] they had tracked about $20 million from [SAAR] entities flowing through Nada’s Bank al Taqwa, but said the total could be much higher. The ties between Nada and [SAAR] leaders were many and long-standing, as were their ties to other [Muslim] Brotherhood leaders.… For a time, Suleiman Abdel Aziz al-Rajhi, the SAAR Foundation founder, worked for Nada” at Al Taqwa’s Liechtenstein branch. [New York Times, 3/25/2002; Farah, 2004, pp. 154-155] Organizations and individuals targeted by the raid include:
bullet Yaqub Mirza. He is the director of virtually all of the organizations targeted in the raid. The Wall Street Journal claims, “US officials privately say Mr. Mirza and his associates also have connections to al-Qaeda and to other entities officially listed by the US as sponsors of terrorism.” [Wall Street Journal, 4/18/2002; Wall Street Journal, 12/6/2002]
bullet The SAAR Foundation or the Safa Trust, an umbrella group for the SAAR network. The SAAR Foundation had recently disbanded and reformed as the Safa Trust. [New York Times, 3/21/2002; Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2002; Washington Post, 10/7/2002]
bullet Hisham Al-Talib, who served as an officer of the SAAR Foundation and Safa Trust, had previously been an officer of firms run by Youssef Nada. Nada is one of the main owners of the Al Taqwa Bank. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2002]
bullet Mar-Jac Poultry Inc., an Islamic chicken processor with operations in rural Georgia. [Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004]
bullet Jamal Barzinji. An officer of Mar-Jac and other organizations targeted in the raid, he had previously been involved with Nada’s companies. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2002]
bullet The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO). [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
bullet The Muslim World League. It is considered to be a parent organization for the IIRO. [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
bullet International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIRT). The IIRT had been under investigation since at least 1998. [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
bullet Tarik Hamdi, an employee at IIRT. His home is also raided. He carried a battery for a satellite phone to Afghanistan in early 1998, and the battery was used for Osama bin Laden’s phone (see May 28, 1998). [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
bullet Abdurahman Alamoudi, a top Muslim lobbyist who formerly worked for one of the SAAR organizations. His nearby home is raided. The search yields a memo on large transactions involving Hamas, operations against the Israelis, and the notation “Met Mousa Abu Marzouk in Jordan.” Marzouk is a Hamas leader believed to be involved in fundraising for Hamas in the US for many years (see July 5, 1995-May 1997). Alamoudi is alleged to be a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. [Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004]
bullet Samir Salah, an Egyptian-born president of the Piedmont Trading Corporation, which is part of the SAAR network. He is also a former director and treasurer of the Al Taqwa Bank’s important Bahamas branch. Additionally, he was a founder of a Bosnian charity reportedly connected to a plot to blow up the US embassy in Bosnia. [New York Times, 3/25/2002]
bullet Ibrahim Hassabella. He is a shareholder of the SAAR Foundation and also a former secretary of the Al Taqwa Bank. [New York Times, 3/25/2002] Investigators will later find that much of SAAR’s money seemed to disappear into offshore bank accounts. For instance, in 1998, SAAR claimed to have moved $9 million to a charity based in the tax haven of the Isle of Man, but investigators will find no evidence the charity existed. One US official involved in the probe will say of SAAR, “Looking at their finances is like looking into a black hole.” [Washington Post, 10/7/2002] In 2003, it will be reported that US investigators are looking into reports that the director of the SAAR foundation for most of the 1990s stayed in the same hotel as three of the 9/11 hijackers the night before the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). Some US investigators had looked into the SAAR network in the mid-1990s, but the FBI blocked the investigation’s progress (see 1995-1998).

Abu Mansoor al-Amriki.Abu Mansoor al-Amriki. [Source: Al-Jazeera]A militant in a video message released this month has an interesting background. The message supports Shabab, one of two radical Islamic groups fighting for power in war-torn Somalia. According to a US intelligence source, the militant in the video, Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, is an ex-US soldier who fought in Bosnia in the early 1990s. No US soldiers officially fought in the Bosnia war, but about a dozen Muslim ex-US Special Forces soldiers fought in Bosnia and trained al-Qaeda and other mujaheddin forces there around 1993 (see December 1992-June 1993). At the time, the US military and Saudi government apparently had an interest in sending Muslim ex-Special Forces there (see December 1992-June 1993 and December 1992). Mansoor is said to be a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda’s East Africa leadership, and is a lead trainer for Somali insurgent forces. Although he only appears on video wearing a face mask, it is clear that he is Caucasian. [Middle East Times, 2/28/2008]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Shabab, Abu Mansoor al-Amriki

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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