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Context of 'April 11, 2003-March 2004: Ten Cole Bombing Suspects Escape Prison in Yemen, Then Are Recaptured One Year Later'

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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

Fahad al-Quso.Fahad al-Quso. [Source: FBI]In late October 2000, al-Qaeda operative Fahad al-Quso was interrogated by authorities in Yemen, and FBI agent Ali Soufan was able to use that information to discover the identity of one of the USS Cole bombing masterminds, Khallad bin Attash (see Late October-Late November 2000). In early December, while most FBI investigators are having to leave Yemen, Soufan is given the chance to interrogate al-Quso directly. Soufan gets al-Quso to admit that he had met with bin Attash and one of the Cole suicide bombers in Bangkok, Thailand, in January 2000 (see January 13, 2000). Al-Quso admits he gave bin Attash $36,000 and not the $5,000 for medical expenses that al-Quso had claimed when talking to the Yemenis the month before. Al-Quso says they stayed in the Washington Hotel in Bangkok, so Soufan checks telephone records to verify his account. Soufan finds records of phone calls between the hotel and al-Quso’s house in Yemen. They also find calls to both places from a pay phone in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The phone happens to be directly outside the condominium where an al-Qaeda summit was taking place a few days before al-Quso went to Bangkok (see January 5-8, 2000). Soufan asks the CIA for information about bin Attash, but the CIA wrongly claims it knows nothing, and doesn’t even tell Soufan of the Malaysia summit that it had closely monitored (see Late November 2000). [New York Times, 4/11/2004; Wright, 2006, pp. 330-331] Meanwhile, FBI head investigator John O’Neill correctly believes that al-Quso is still holding back important information (at the very least, al-Quso is still hiding his participation in the Malaysia summit). However, O’Neill had been kicked out of Yemen by his superiors a week or two before (see October 14-Late November, 2000), and without his influential presence the Yemeni government will not allow any more interrogations. After 9/11, al-Quso will finally admit to meeting with Alhazmi and Almihdhar. One investigator calls the missed opportunity of exposing the 9/11 plot through al-Quso’s connections “mind-boggling.” [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] In April 2003, al-Quso will escape from a Yemeni prison (see April 11, 2003-March 2004). [Associated Press, 4/11/2003]

Entity Tags: Ali Soufan, John O’Neill, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Khallad bin Attash, Fahad al-Quso

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 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

Fahad al-Quso.Fahad al-Quso. [Source: New York Times]Fahad al-Quso, implicated in the 2000 USS Cole bombing, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Yemen in 2004 for his role in that bombing (see April 11, 2003-March 2004). He attended a key 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in which the 9/11 plot was discussed (see January 5-8, 2000). The US maintains a $5 million bounty for him. However, around May 2007, al-Quso is secretly freed. Since 2002, the Yemeni government has had a program of “reeducating” al-Qaeda prisoners and then releasing them (see 2002 and After). The US learns of al-Quso’s release in February 2008, but takes no known action in response. Al-Quso apparently remains free. [Washington Post, 5/4/2008]

Entity Tags: Fahad al-Quso

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

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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