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Context of 'April 16, 2007: French Investigative Journalist Exposes Pre-9/11 French Knowledge of Al-Qaeda'

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The French intelligence agency, the DGSE, publishes a 13-page classified report entitled “The Networks of Osama bin Laden.” According to a 2007 article, the report describes the “context, the anecdotal details, and all the strategic aspects relative to al-Qaeda” in “black and white” terms. It mentions a payment of $4.5 million from the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) to in Laden. The US will not go after the IIRO even years after 9/11 because of the organization’s close ties to the Saudi government (see October 12, 2001 and August 3, 2006). The report also doubts Osama bin Laden’s purported estrangement from the bin Laden family: “It seems more and more likely that bin Laden has maintained contacts with certain members of his family, although the family, which directs one of the largest groups of public works in the world, has officially renounced him. One of his brothers apparently plays a role as intermediary in its professional contacts or the monitoring of its business.” French officials will later claim they regularly passed on their intelligence on al-Qaeda to the CIA. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Osama bin Laden, International Islamic Relief Organization

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Midhat Mursi.Midhat Mursi. [Source: Washington Post]Agents of the DGSE, the French intelligence agency, examine an aerial photo and spot al-Qaeda leader Midhat Mursi (a.k.a. Abu Khabab al-Masri) standing close to Osama bin Laden. Mursi is considered al-Qaeda’s chief bomb maker and chemical weapons expert (he will apparently be killed in 2006 (see January 13, 2006). French intelligence reports from before 9/11 show that Mursi is being closely watched by intelligence agencies, with the French exchanging information about him with the Mossad, CIA, and Egyptian intelligence. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007] The quality of the aerial photo must have been extremely high in order for Mursi and bin Laden to be recognized, but it has not been explained how such a photo was obtained or what other photos of bin Laden or other al-Qaeda leaders may have been taken before 9/11. Less than two weeks later, the US begins flying Predator drones over Afghanistan to track bin Laden (see September 7-October 2000).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Midhat Mursi, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The French intelligence agency, DGSE, publishes nine intelligence reports between these dates on the subject of al-Qaeda threats against the US. Over three hundred pages of classified DGSE reports on al-Qaeda from July 2000 to October 2001 will be leaked to a French reporter in 2007. One of the nine reports on attacks against the US, dated January 5, 2001, will be detailed in a 2007 French newspaper article (see January 5, 2001), but the contents of the other eight remain unknown. DGSE officials will later claim that such reports would have certainly been passed on to the CIA. None of the contents of any of these French reports will be mentioned in the 2004 9/11 Commission report. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The first Predator flight over Afghanistan on September 7, 2000 captures bin Laden circled by security in his Tarnak Farms complex.The first Predator flight over Afghanistan on September 7, 2000 captures bin Laden circled by security in his Tarnak Farms complex. [Source: CBC]An unmanned spy plane called the Predator begins flying over Afghanistan, showing incomparably detailed real-time video and photographs of the movements of what appears to be bin Laden and his aides. It flies successfully over Afghanistan 16 times. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] President Clinton is impressed by a two-minute video of bin Laden crossing a street heading toward a mosque inside his Tarnak Farms complex. Bin Laden is surrounded by a team of a dozen armed men creating a professional forward security perimeter as he moves. The Predator has been used since 1996, in the Balkans and Iraq. One Predator crashes on takeoff and another is chased by a fighter, but it apparently identifies bin Laden on three occasions. Its use is stopped in Afghanistan after a few trials, mostly because seasonal winds are picking up. It is agreed to resume the flights in the spring, but the Predator fails to fly over Afghanistan again until after 9/11. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 220-21] On September 15, 2001, CIA Director Tenet apparently inaccurately tells President Bush, “The unmanned Predator surveillance aircraft that was now armed with Hellfire missiles had been operating for more than a year out of Uzbekistan to provide real-time video of Afghanistan.” [Washington Post, 1/29/2002]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Alain Chouet.Alain Chouet. [Source: La Repubblica]A five page summary French intelligence report dated on this day is entitled “Hijacking of an Airplane by Radical Islamists.” The report details tactical discussions since early 2000 between bin Laden, Chechen rebels, and the Taliban about a hijacking against US airlines (Early 2000 and October 2000). The plot considers hijacking a US airliner flying from Frankfurt to the US or hijacking a French or German airliner. The French intelligence comes from Uzbek spies who have infiltrated the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a militant group based in Uzbekistan next door to Afghanistan and closely tied to bin Laden and the Taliban. Some of the spies ended up in al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. The French report makes clear that the information was independently verified from other sources, including satellite telephone intercepts and possibly spies recruited in France. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007; Associated Press, 4/16/2007; Le Monde (Paris), 4/17/2007] When this French report will be leaked to the press in 2007, French officials will insist that the information in it would have been forwarded to the CIA at the time. For instance, Pierre-Antoine Lorenzi, responsible at the time for communications between French and other foreign intelligence services, will say the information would have gone to Bill Murray, chief of the CIA Paris station. Lorenzi says, “That, typically, is the kind of information that would certainly have been forwarded to the CIA. It would even have been an error not to have done it.” [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007] Alain Chouet, head of the French intelligence subdivision tracking terrorist movements, also says the information was certainly passed to the CIA. “We transmitted everything to our American counterparts, everything that could have posed a threat, and they did the same with us.” Chouet thinks it is possible the information was deliberate misdirection by al-Qaeda, because it does not mention multiple hijackings or suicide pilots. No CIA officials have gone on record saying that they received the warning. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007; Associated Press, 4/16/2007] However, the Chechens are likely connected to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab, who has a long history of collaboration with bin Laden (see 1986-March 19, 2002), and by April 2001 an FBI report says that Ibn Khattab and bin Laden are seriously planning an attack together, possibly against US interests (see Before April 13, 2001). In May 2001, President Bush will be given a warning entitled, “Terrorist Groups Said Cooperating on US Hostage Plot,” which could involve a hijacking to free al-Qaeda prisoners in the US (see May 23, 2001). The plot described by French intelligence is also designed to free al-Qaeda prisoners in the US, though this may just be coincidence as the terrorist groups in Bush’s warning have not been publicly named. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/17/2007]

Entity Tags: Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Pierre-Antoine Lorenzi, Alain Chouet, Bill Murray, Al-Qaeda

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

The US fires a missile from a Predator drone at a Pakistani village named Damadola, in the tribal region near the Afghanistan border. Apparently, al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, is targeted but not killed. Thirteen civilians, including women and children, are killed. Pakistani officials say four al-Qaeda operatives may have been killed as well, including bomb maker Midhat Mursi (a.k.a. Abu Khabab al-Masri), who has a $5 million bountry on his head. After the attack, villagers insist no members of al-Qaeda were anywhere near the village when it was hit. [ABC News, 1/18/2006; Associated Press, 1/22/2006] US and Pakistani officials later say that no al-Qaeda leaders were killed in the strike, only local villagers. It appears that the intelligence tip that led to the strike was bad, and al-Zawahiri and the others were never there in the first place. [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] The attack leads to a surge in support for al-Qaeda in Pakistan, including many marches of support near the targeted area. [ABC News, 1/18/2006; Associated Press, 1/22/2006] Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf condemns the attack as a violation of sovereignty and says it “was definitely not coordinated with [Pakistan].” [Washington Post, 1/31/2006] Al-Zawahiri appears in a video later in the month, taunting the US for failing to kill him in the raid. [BBC, 1/30/2006]

Entity Tags: Midhat Mursi, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Pervez Musharraf

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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

French investigative journalist Guillaume Dasquie writes an article for Le Monde detailing the extensive knowledge obtained by the French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) about al-Qaeda between July 2000 and October 2001. The article is based on a series of DGSE reports leaked to Dasquie about al-Qaeda’s funding (see July 24, 2000), aerial photographs of Osama bin Laden (see August 28, 2000), and al-Qaeda threats against the US (see Between September 2000 and August 2001), including aircraft piracy. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007; Le Monde (Paris), 7/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Guillaume Dasquie

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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