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Context of 'May 2001: CIA Learns Bin Laden Associates Are Heading to US, Preparing for Martyrdom'

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Ahmed Alnami in prayer.Ahmed Alnami in prayer. [Source: Spiegel TV]Eleven of the 9/11 hijackers stay in or pass through Britain, according to the British Home Secretary and top investigators. Most are in Britain between April and June, just passing through from Dubai, United Arab Emirates (see April 22-June 27, 2001). However, investigators suspect some stay in Britain for training and fundraising (see June 2001). The eleven are Satam Al Suqami, Waleed Alshehri, Majed Moqed, Ahmed al-Ghamdi, Hamza Alghamdi, Ahmed Alnami, Mohand Alshehri, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Wail Alshehri, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, and Saeed Alghamdi. Ahmed Alghamdi was one of several that should have been “instantly ‘red-flagged’ by British intelligence,” because of his links to Raed Hijazi, a suspected ally of bin Laden being held in Jordan on charges of conspiring to destroy holy sites. Apparently, the investigation concludes that other “muscle” hijackers and leaders like Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi did not pass through Britain at this time. [London Times, 9/26/2001; Washington Post, 9/27/2001; BBC, 9/28/2001; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/30/2001] However, police will investigate whether Atta visited Britain in 1999 and 2000, together with some Algerians. [Daily Telegraph, 9/30/2001] The London Times will also write, “Officials hope that the inquiries in Britain will disclose the true identities of the suicide team. Some are known to have arrived in Britain using false passports and fake identities that they kept for the hijack.” [London Times, 9/26/2001]

Entity Tags: Raed Hijazi, Saeed Alghamdi, Waleed Alshehri, Mohamed Atta, Wail Alshehri, Marwan Alshehhi, Satam Al Suqami, Hamza Alghamdi, Majed Moqed, Ahmed Alghamdi, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Mohand Alshehri, Ahmed Alnami, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

This Ahmed Al-Haznawi picture is a photocopy of his 2001 US visa application.This Ahmed Al-Haznawi picture is a photocopy of his 2001 US visa application. [Source: 9/11 Commission]The 13 hijackers commonly known as the “muscle” allegedly first arrive in the US. The muscle provides the brute force meant to control the hijacked passengers and protect the pilots. [Washington Post, 9/30/2001] Yet, according to the 9/11 Commission, these men “were not physically imposing,” with the majority of them between 5 feet 5 and 5 feet 7 tall, “and slender in build.” [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004, pp. 8] According to FBI Director Mueller, they all pass through Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and their travel was probably coordinated from abroad by Khalid Almihdhar. [US Congress, 9/26/2002] However, some information contradicts their official arrival dates:
bullet April 23: Waleed Alshehri and Satam Al Suqami arrive in Orlando, Florida. Suqami in fact arrived before February 2001. A man named Waleed Alshehri lived with a man named Ahmed Alghamdi in Virginia and Florida between 1997 and 2000. However, it is not clear whether they were the hijackers or just people with the same name (see 1999). [Daily Telegraph, 9/20/2001] Alshehri appears quite Americanized in the summer of 2001, frequently talking with an apartment mate about football and baseball, even identifying himself a fan of the Florida Marlins baseball team. [Associated Press, 9/21/2001]
bullet May 2: Majed Moqed and Ahmed Alghamdi arrive in Washington. Both actually arrived by mid-March 2001. A man named Ahmed Alghamdi lived with a man named Waleed Alshehri in Florida and Virginia between 1997 and 2000. However, it is not clear whether they were the hijackers or just people with the same name (see 1999). [Daily Telegraph, 9/20/2001] Alghamdi apparently praises Osama bin Laden to Customs officials while entering the country and Moqed uses an alias (see May 2, 2001).
bullet May 28: Mohand Alshehri, Hamza Alghamdi, and Ahmed Alnami allegedly arrive in Miami, Florida. Alnami may have a suspicious indicator of terrorist affiliation in his passport (see April 21, 2001), but this is apparently not noticed by US authorities. The precise state of US knowledge about the indicator at this time is not known (see Around February 1993). The CIA will learn of it no later than 2003, but will still not inform immigration officials then (see February 14, 2003). According to other reports, however, both Mohand Alshehri and Hamza Alghamdi may have arrived by January 2001 (see January or July 28, 2001).
bullet June 8: Ahmed Alhaznawi and Wail Alshehri arrive in Miami, Florida. Alhaznawi may have a suspicious indicator of terrorist affiliation in his passport (see Before November 12, 2000), but this is apparently not noticed by US authorities.
bullet June 27: Fayez Banihammad and Saeed Alghamdi arrive in Orlando, Florida.
bullet June 29: Salem Alhazmi and Abdulaziz Alomari allegedly arrive in New York. According to other reports, however, Alhazmi arrived before February 2001. Alhazmi has a suspicious indicator of terrorist affiliation in his passport (see June 16, 2001), but this is apparently not noticed by US authorities.
After entering the US (or, perhaps, reentering), the hijackers arriving at Miami and Orlando airports settle in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, area along with Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Ziad Jarrah. The hijackers, arriving in New York and Virginia, settle in the Paterson, New Jersey, area along with Nawaf Alhazmi and Hani Hanjour. [US Congress, 9/26/2002] Note the FBI’s early conclusion that 11 of these muscle men “did not know they were on a suicide mission.” [Observer, 10/14/2001] CIA Director Tenet’s later claim that they “probably were told little more than that they were headed for a suicide mission inside the United States” [US Congress, 6/18/2002] and reports that they did not know the exact details of the 9/11 plot until shortly before the attack [CBS News, 10/9/2002] are contradicted by video confessions made by all of them in March 2001 (see (December 2000-March 2001)).

Entity Tags: Marwan Alshehhi, Mohand Alshehri, Majed Moqed, Mohamed Atta, Ziad Jarrah, Saeed Alghamdi, Khalid Almihdhar, Waleed Alshehri, Wail Alshehri, Satam Al Suqami, Nawaf Alhazmi, Hani Hanjour, Salem Alhazmi, George J. Tenet, Hamza Alghamdi, Abdulaziz Alomari, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Ahmed Alghamdi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ahmed Alnami

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Washington Post will later report, “In May 2001, the CIA learned supporters of bin Laden were planning to infiltrate the United States; that seven were on their way to the United States, Canada and Britain; that his key operatives ‘were disappearing while others were preparing for martyrdom,’ and that bin Laden associates ‘were planning attacks in the United States with explosives.’” [US Congress, 9/18/2002; Washington Post, 9/19/2002] This information may be related to a warning given by captured al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam this month that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is seeking Canadian passports for himself and five other top militants in order to plant explosives in US cities (see May 30, 2001 and May 2001). [Calgary Herald, 4/3/2002] It is not known if the seven traveling to the US, Canada, and Britain refer to any of the 9/11 hijackers, but 11 of the hijackers travel to the US in May and June (see April 23-June 29, 2001), stopping in Britain along the way (see January-June 2001). Investigators will later say that they are not sure if the aliases Zubaida wanted on the Canadian passports could have been used by some of the 9/11 hijackers. [Calgary Herald, 4/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Ressam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

On May 16, an anonymous person calls the US embassy in the United Arab Emirates and warns that bin Laden supporters have been in the US and are planning an attack in the US using “high explosives.” The caller mentions that operatives are infiltrating the US from Canada, but there is no mention of when or where the attack might occur. The next day, based on this warning, the first item on the agenda for counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke’s interagency Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) is entitled: “[Osama bin Laden]: Operation Planned in US.” The anonymous caller’s tip cannot be later corroborated. In July, the CIA will share the warning with the FBI, the INS, the US Customs Service, and the State Department. It will also be mentioned in the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing given to President Bush (see August 6, 2001) and Bush will be told that the CIA and FBI are investigating it. But eventually, neither the CIA nor FBI is able to corraborate the information in the call. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; Washington Post, 9/19/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 255, 262, 535] There are some other possibly interlinked warnings this month also warning of an al-Qaeda plot to attack the US from Canada using explosives (see May 30, 2001, May 2001, and May 2001).

Entity Tags: White House, Osama bin Laden, Counterterrorism and Security Group, Richard A. Clarke, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ahmed Ressam as pictured in his Canadian passport.Ahmed Ressam as pictured in his Canadian passport. [Source: FBI]Ahmed Ressam is convicted in the spring of 2001 for attempting to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport (see December 14, 1999). Facing the likelihood of life in prison, he starts cooperating with authorities in an attempt to reduce his sentence. On this day, he details his experiences in al-Qaeda training camps and his many dealings with top al-Qaeda deputy Abu Zubaida. According to FBI notes from Ressam’s interrogation, Zubaida asked Ressam to send him six original Canadian passports to help Zubaida “get people to America” (see May 2001 and May 2001). Zubaida “wanted an operation in the US” and talked about the need to get explosives into the US for this operation, but Ressam makes it clear this was a separate plot from the one he was involved with. Notes from this day further explain that Ressam doesn’t know if any explosives made it into the US because once an operation is initiated, operators are not supposed to talk about it to anyone. [Calgary Herald, 4/3/2002; Newsweek, 4/28/2005] Zubaida told this to Ressam in 1999, but also indicated that he is willing to wait a year or more to make sure the plot comes to fruition successfully. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 146]
Similarity to 9/11 Attacks - There’s no concrete evidence that Ressam knows any detail of the 9/11 attacks. [Newsweek, 4/28/2005] However, Fox News will later report that roughly around this time Ressam testifies “that attack plans, including hijackings and attacks on New York City targets, [are] ongoing.” [Fox News, 5/17/2002] Questioned shortly after 9/11, Ressam will point out that given what he’s already told his US interrogators, the 9/11 attacks should not be surprising. He notes that he’d described how Zubaida talked “generally of big operations in [the] US with big impact, needing great preparation, great perseverance, and willingness to die.” Ressam had told of “plans to get people hired at airports, of blowing up airports, and airplanes.” [Newsweek, 4/28/2005]
Sharing the Warning - The CIA learns of this warning in June. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 146] Ressam will repeat some of this in a public trial in July (see July 8, 2001). Apparently, the FBI also waits until July to share the information from this debriefing with most other intelligence agencies, the INS, Customs Service, and the State Department. Ressam’s warnings will first be mentioned to Bush in his now famous August 6, 2001 briefing (see August 6, 2001), but as Newsweek will note, “The information from Ressam that was contained in [Bush’s] PDB [is] watered down and seem[s] far more bland than what the Algerian terrorist was actually telling the FBI.” Zubaida’s second plot will be boiled down to one sentence in the PDB: “Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaida was planning his own US attack.” [Newsweek, 4/28/2005]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Ahmed Ressam, Los Angeles International Airport, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In June 2001, the CIA learns that key al-Qaeda operatives are disappearing, while others are preparing for martyrdom. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] CIA Director George Tenet will later elaborate in a 2007 book that during the month of June, the CIA learns:
bullet Several training camps in Afghanistan are closing, a sign that al-Qaeda is anticipating a retaliatory strike.
bullet Bin Laden is leaving Afghanistan in fear of a US strike (this later turns out to be erroneous).
bullet Al-Qaeda operatives are leaving Saudi Arabia and returning to Afghanistan, which fits a pattern of movement just before attacks.
bullet Ayman al-Zawahiri is warning associates in Yemen to flee in anticipation of a crackdown.
bullet Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, one of the masterminds of the USS ‘Cole’ bombing, has disappeared.
bullet Other important operatives are disappearing or preparing for martyrdom.
bullet A key Afghan training camp commander was reportedly weeping for joy because he believed he could see his trainees in heaven. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 148-149] The CIA also heard in May that operatives are disappearing and preparing for martyrdom (see May 2001).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on August 6, 2001. Advisors wait with classified briefings.President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on August 6, 2001. Advisors wait with classified briefings. [Source: White House]President Bush receives a classified presidential daily briefing (PDB) at his Crawford, Texas ranch indicating that Osama bin Laden might be planning to hijack commercial airliners. The PDB provided to him is entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” The entire briefing focuses on the possibility of terrorist attacks inside the US. [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Newsweek, 5/27/2002] The analysts who drafted the briefing will say that they drafted it on the CIA’s initiative (see July 13, 2004), whereas in 2004 Bush will state that he requested a briefing on the topic due to threats relating to a conference in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001, where Western intelligence agencies believed Osama bin Laden was involved in a plot to crash an airplane into a building to kill Bush and other leaders (see April 13, 2004). The analysts will later explain that they saw it as an opportunity to convey that the threat of an al-Qaeda attack in the US was both current and serious. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 260] The existence of this briefing is kept secret, until it is leaked in May 2002, causing a storm of controversy (see May 15, 2002). While National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will claim the memo is only one and a half pages long, other accounts state it is 11 1/2 pages instead of the usual two or three. [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Newsweek, 5/27/2002; Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] A page and a half of the contents will be released on April 10, 2004; this reportedly is the full content of the briefing. [Washington Post, 4/10/2004] The briefing, as released, states as follows (note that the spelling of certain words are corrected and links have been added):
bullet Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US (see December 1, 1998). Bin Laden implied in US television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and “bring the fighting to America” (see May 26, 1998).
bullet After US missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, bin Laden told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a -REDACTED-service (see December 21, 1998).
bullet An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told -REDACTED- service at the same time that bin Laden was planning to exploit the operative’s access to the US to mount a terrorist strike.
bullet The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of bin Laden’s first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the US. Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself (see December 14, 1999), but that bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaida encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaida was planning his own US attack (see Late March-Early April 2001 and May 30, 2001).
bullet Ressam says bin Laden was aware of the Los Angeles operation.
bullet Although bin Laden has not succeeded, his attacks against the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Laden associates surveyed our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993 (see Late 1993-Late 1994), and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings were arrested and deported in 1997.
bullet Al-Qaeda members—including some who are US citizens—have resided in or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks (see January 25, 2001). Two al-Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were US citizens (see September 15, 1998), and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s (see November 1989 and September 10, 1998).
bullet A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks (see October-November 1998).
bullet “We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [REDACTED] service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul-Rahman and other US-held extremists” (see 1998, December 4, 1998, and May 23, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223] According to the Washington Post, this information came from a British service. [Washington Post, 5/18/2002]
bullet Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York (see May 30, 2001).
bullet The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full-field investigations throughout the US that it considers bin Laden-related (see August 6, 2001). CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group or bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives (see May 16-17, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223]
In retrospect, the briefing is remarkable for the many warnings that apparently are not included (see for instance, from the summer of 2001 prior to August alone: May 2001, June 2001, June 12, 2001, June 19, 2001, Late Summer 2001, July 2001, July 16, 2001, Late July 2001, Late July 2001, Summer 2001, June 30-July 1, 2001, July 10, 2001, and Early August 2001). According to one account, after the PDB has been given to him, Bush tells the CIA briefer, “You’ve covered your ass now” (see August 6, 2001). Incredibly, the New York Times later reports that after being given the briefing, Bush “[breaks] off from work early and [spends] most of the day fishing.” [New York Times, 5/25/2002] In 2002 and again in 2004, National Security Adviser Rice will incorrectly claim under oath that the briefing only contained historical information from 1998 and before (see May 16, 2002 and April 8, 2004).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Islamic Jihad, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Los Angeles International Airport, Condoleezza Rice, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, World Trade Center, Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Commission, Ahmed Ressam, Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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