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Context of 'April-August 2001: Would-Be Buffalo Sleeper Cell Attends Training Camps, Meets Bin Laden'

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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

John Walker Lindh.
John Walker Lindh. [Source: Alexandria, Virginia, Sheriff's Department]John Walker Lindh, a young Caucasian man from California who has converted to Islam, travels to Peshawar, Pakistan, in an attempt to fight for Islamic causes. He had been studying the Koran for about six months elsewhere in Pakistan, but otherwise had no particularly special training, qualifications, or connections. Within days, he is accepted into al-Qaeda and sent to the Al Farooq training camp in Afghanistan. Seven other US citizens are already training there (see April-August 2001). He inadvertently learns details of the 9/11 attacks. In June, he is told by an instructor that “bin Laden had sent forth some fifty people to carry out twenty suicide terrorist operations against the United States and Israel.” He learns that the 9/11 plot is to consist of five attacks, not the four that actually occur. The other fifteen operations are to take place later. He is asked if he wants to participate in a suicide mission, but declines. [Mahoney, 2003, pp. 162, 216; Bamford, 2004, pp. 234-36]
News of Upcoming Attacks Are Widespread in Camps - Although Lindh does not tell this information to any US officials, the fact that he learns this much so quickly is indicative of how widely news of the upcoming attacks are spreading in the al-Qaeda training camps. For instance, early 2001, bin Laden gave a speech at one of the camps talking about an attack on the US that would kill thousands (see Early 2001). In the summer, bin Laden specifically urges trainees to pray for the success of an upcoming attack involving 20 martyrs (see Summer 2001). By July, a source will tell the CIA that (see July 2001)
What Could an Informant in the Camps Learn? - Author James Bamford comments, “The decision to keep CIA employees at arm’s length from [al-Qaeda] was a serious mistake. At the same moment the CIA was convinced al-Qaeda was impenetrable, a number of American citizens were secretly joining al-Qaeda in Afghanistan—and being welcomed with open arms.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 161]

Entity Tags: John Walker Lindh, James Bamford, Al-Qaeda, Al Farooq training camp, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A group of seven Yemeni-Americans from Lackawanna, New York, go to train in Afghanistan (see April-August 2001). Just two days after some of them have arrived, two of the seven—Sahim Alwan and Jaber Elbaneh, plus their mentor Kamal Derwish, briefly meet Osama bin Laden in a small group setting. One of the men asks bin Laden about a rumor that something big is about to happen. Bin Laden responds: “They’re threatening us. And we’re threatening them. But there are brothers willing to carry their souls in their hands.” [Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 107-108] A couple of weeks later, the seven Lackawanna men and Derwish begin training at the Al Farooq training camp near Kandahar. One day, bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri come to their camp and bin Laden gives a speech in Arabic to the hundreds of trainees there. The crowd is told the speech is being videotaped. In his 20-minute speech, he discusses the merger between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad. At the end, he calls on the gathering to pray for the 40 operatives who are en route for a very important mission. He drops hints about suicide operations against the US and Israel. One of the seven men, Yaseinn Taher, speaks Arabic well enough to understand the speech, and explains the gist of it to the other six. The Lackawanna men also sense a mood in the camp that something big is going to happen soon. For instance, the camp is regularly conducting evacuation drills in anticipation of the US bombing it. [Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 117-120] One by one, all the members of the group except for Jaber Elbaneh drop out and go home before their basic training course is done. They will later be known as the “Lackawanna Six.” But none of the six tell any US authorities what they learned when they get back to the US before 9/11. Some of the six, such as Taher and Alwan, will later say that on the morning of 9/11 they realize the attack they are watching on television is what bin Laden was talking about when he discussed the 40 men on a suicide mission. [Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 136-138]

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Juma al-Dosari.Juma al-Dosari. [Source: PBS]In November 2001, al-Qaeda operative Juma al-Dosari is captured in Afghanistan. He is soon transferred to the Guantanamo prison. During interrogation in the spring of 2002, he reveals several aliases and that he was trying to recruit a group of US citizens in New York state known as the “Lackawanna Six.” Based on the aliases, US intelligence realizes they have already intercepted communications between him and Osama bin Laden’s son Saad bin Laden, and also him and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash. They learn he has a long history with al-Qaeda, having fought in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya. He was arrested in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia on different occasions for involvement in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombings (see June 25, 1996). He first went to the US in 1999, staying several months in Indiana. Then he got a job at a mosque in Bloomington, Indiana, in the autumn of 2000. He began traveling around the US as a visiting imam, but investigators believe this was just his cover while he worked to recruit for al-Qaeda. In April 2001, he visited Buffalo, New York, and helped convince the “Lackawanna Six” to go to Afghanistan (see April-August 2001). He left the US for Afghanistan in late September 2001. The FBI gets this information in May 2002 and begins monitoring the “Lackawanna Six,” as they are all back in the US. Investigators suspect al-Dosari recruited others in other cities, but they do not know who. [PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003; PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003] In 2007, al-Dosari will be released from Guantanamo without explanation and set free in Saudi Arabia (see July 16, 2007).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khallad bin Attash, Juma al-Dosari, Saad bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In early September 2002, a group of senior Bush administration officials gathers for a secret videoconference to decide what to do with the “Lackawanna Six,” the six Yemeni-Americans living in Lackawanna, New York, who had attended an al-Qaeda training camp before 9/11. Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argue that the men should be locked up indefinitely as “enemy combatants,” and thrown into a military brig with no right to trial or even to see a lawyer. The US has already done this with two other US citizens, Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla. According to a participant in the meeting, Cheney argues, “They are the enemy, and they’re right here in the country.” However, all six men left their basic training course early and there is no evidence any of them had carried out or even planned any terrorist acts (see April-August 2001). Attorney General John Ashcroft insists he can bring a tough criminal case against them for providing “material support” to al-Qaeda. Ashcroft wins the argument and the six men are formally charged several days later (see September 13, 2002). [Newsweek, 10/10/2007] The six men will all eventually strike plea bargains and plead guilty, saying they were essentially forced to because the government made clear that if they fought the charges they would be declared enemy combatants (see May 19, 2003).

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Faysal Galab, Mukhtar al-Bakri, Shafel Mosed, Yaseinn Taher, Sahim Alwan, John Ashcroft, Yahya Goba

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The FBI arrests six US citizens with a Yemeni background, on information provided by the CIA: Sahim Alwan, Mukhtar al-Bakri, Faysal Galab, Yahya Goba, Shafel Mosed and Yaseinn Taher. Five are arrested in their hometown Lackawanna, a suburb of Buffalo, New York. The sixth, who is connected to the other five, is arrested in Bahrain and then transferred to the US. [CBS News, 11/9/2002] They are hereafter nicknamed “the Lackawanna Six.” They reportedly traveled to Afghanistan in April and May 2001 to join in Islamic jihad and receive military training at the Al Farooq training camp run by al-Qaeda (see April-August 2001). They also allegedly met with Osama bin Laden (see (June 2001)). They are believed to have been encouraged to go to Afghanistan by two American veteran mujaheddin, Juma al-Dosari and Kamal Derwish, who fought in the war in Bosnia and who visited Lackawanna in early 2001. [Washington Post, 7/29/2003] One month later, a federal jury indicts the Lackawanna Six on two counts of providing material support to terrorism. They are charged with supporting terrorism. If found guilty, they could face up to 15 years in prison. All of them plead not guilty. [CBS News, 10/22/2002]

Entity Tags: Yahya Goba, Yaseinn Taher, Shafel Mosed, Sahim Alwan, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Kamal Derwish, Faysal Galab, Mukhtar al-Bakri, Juma al-Dosari

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, 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

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

Milt Bearden, a retired 30-year CIA veteran who served as senior manager for clandestine operations, writes: “The [Bush] administration’s claims of having ‘saved thousands of Americans’ can be dismissed out of hand because credible evidence has never been offered—not even an authoritative leak of any major terrorist operation interdicted based on information gathered from these interrogations in the past seven years. All the public gets is repeated references to Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002), the Lackawanna Six (see April-August 2001), the Liberty Seven (see June 23, 2006), and the Library Tower operation in Los Angeles (see October 2001-February 2002). If those slapstick episodes are the true character of the threat, then maybe we’ll be okay after all. When challenged on the lack of a game-changing example of a derailed operation, administration officials usually say that the need to protect sources and methods prevents revealing just how enhanced interrogation techniques have saved so many thousands of Americans. But it is irresponsible for any administration not to tell a credible story that would convince critics at home and abroad that this torture has served some useful purpose.” Bearden suggests that the CIA might have been permanently “broken” by its use of torture, and that some US officials will likely face the threat of being arrested overseas on torture charges for years to come. [Washington Independent, 7/1/2008]

Entity Tags: Milt Bearden, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

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