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Context of 'Between June 24 and June 30, 2001: Reporter Describes the Signs that Bin Laden Intends to Conduct an Attack in the US'

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Mujaheddin battalions in formation during the Bosnia war. More details are unknown.Mujaheddin battalions in formation during the Bosnia war. More details are unknown. [Source: History Channel]Saudi multimillionaire Yassin al-Qadi forms the Muwafaq Foundation (also known as Blessed Relief). The Muwafaq Foundation is a charitable trust registered in Jersey, an island off the coast of Britain with lenient charity regulations. [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 121-123] Al-Qadi is said to be the chief investor, donating about $15 to $20 million for the charity from his fortune. He also persuades members of very rich and powerful Saudi families to help out. [Chicago Tribune, 10/29/2001] The foundation’s board of directors will later be called “the creme de la creme of Saudi society.” [New York Times, 10/13/2001] Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz’s legal team will later state that bin Mahfouz “was the principal donor to the foundation at its inception in 1991 but was not involved in the running of the charity.” They also will state that the foundation was purely humanitarian and had no terrorist ties. [Bin Mahfouz Info, 11/22/2005] The Muwafaq Foundation opens offices in several African countries, but it is soon suspected of providing funds for Islamic extremists. For instance, in 1992 it opens an office in Mogadishu, Somalia, at a time when al-Qaeda is assisting militants fighting US soldiers there (see October 3-4, 1993). Burr and Collins will claim “its purpose [there] consisted of transporting weapons and ammunition to Islamists in the city.” But most of the foundation’s work appears to center on Bosnia. It opens an office in neighboring Croatia in 1992, the same year the Bosnian war begins, and then in Sarajevo, Bosnia, a year later. By June 1993, group of mujaheddin fighting in the Zenica region of Bosnia form the Al Muwafaq Brigade. It consists of about 750 Afghan-Arabs and has Iranian advisers. According to Burr and Collins, it soon becomes well known in the region that the Muwafaq Foundation is funding the Al Muwafaq Brigade and at least one camp in Afghanistan training mujaheddin to fight in Bosnia. One member of the brigade is Ahmed Ressam, who will later be arrested in an al-Qaeda plot to blow up the Los Angeles airport (see December 14, 1999). In July 1995, a US Foreign Broadcast Information Service report indicates that the Muwafaq Foundation’s office in Zagreb, Croatia, is a bin Laden front. In early 1996, bin Laden will mention in an interview that he supports the “Muwafaq Society” in Zagreb. However, al-Qadi denies any ties to fighting mujaheddin. The brigade apparently disbands after the war ends in 1995 and the Muwafaq Foundation will close its Bosnia office by 1998. [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 121-123, 137-138] A secret 1996 CIA report will claim that Muwafaq has ties to the al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya militant group and helps fund mujaheddin fighting in Bosnia and at least one training camp in Afghanistan (see January 1996). The US will declare al-Qadi a terrorist financier shortly after 9/11 but has never taken any action against the Muwafaq Foundation (see 1995-1998).

Entity Tags: Yassin al-Qadi, Khalid bin Mahfouz, Muwafaq Foundation, Al Muwafaq Brigade, Osama bin Laden, Ahmed Ressam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Fateh Kamel.Fateh Kamel. [Source: Radio Canada]The Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn has an office in Zagreb, Croatia, also called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, and the links between the two are very close. Both are connected to Maktab al-Khidamat/Al-Kifah in Pakistan, which is an al-Qaeda charity front. Hassan Hakim, deputy director of the Zagreb office, says his office is linked only to the Brooklyn office. This is important because the Zagreb office is closely involved in assisting mujaheddin in the Bosnian war and the Brooklyn office is closely linked to the CIA, suggesting the CIA could be assisting the Bosnia mujaheddin through the relationship between Brooklyn and Zagreb offices. [Washington Post, 8/3/1993; Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 41] The Zagreb office will remain open after the Brooklyn office is closed in the wake of the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993), as all of the bombers were connected to that office. A Washington Post journalist who visits it in August 1993 describes it as being “housed in a modern, two-story building staffed by Arabs who identified themselves as Algerians.” [Washington Post, 8/3/1993] Like the Brooklyn office, the Zagreb office appears to be staffed with many militants involved in illegal activities:
bullet Fateh Kamel will reportedly be involved in many attacks and is considered a leader for Ahmed Ressam, who will attempt to bomb the Los Angeles airport (see December 14, 1999).
bullet Lionel Dumont is involved in numerous al-Qaeda plots, even as far afield as Japan.
bullet Hocine Senoussaoui is connected with Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and the GIA and will be arrested in France in 1996. [Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 164, 186, 189, 195]
bullet Kamar Eddine Kherbane, head of the Zagreb office, is a known al-Qaeda operative as well as a leader of an Algerian extremist group, and allegedly will be involved in the 9/11 attacks (see September 18-20, 2001).
bullet Hassan Hakim. A 1996 CIA report will say that he is a senior member of Algerian extremist groups and was arrested in France for weapons smuggling in July 1994.
bullet In 1996, a CIA report will say that an Algerian national connected to the Zagreb office is “preparing for an unspecified terrorist attack in Europe…” [Central Intelligence Agency, 1/1996]

Entity Tags: Lionel Dumont, Hocine Senoussaoui, Hassan Hakim, Kamer Eddine Kherbane, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Fateh Kamel, Maktab al-Khidamat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A young Indonesian nicknamed Hambali forms a front company that ties al-Qaeda figures to the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), an early version of the 9/11 plot. Hambali had fought in Afghanistan in the late 1980’s, repeatedly met with bin Laden there, and allied himself to bin Laden’s cause. In 1994, Hambali, living in a village north of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, began frequently receiving visitors. According to his landlord, “Some looked Arab and others white.” There has been no explanation who these “white” visitors may have been. Hambali had been very poor prior to this time, but he is suddenly “flush with newfound cash” brought by the visitors. In June 1994, he founds a front company called Konsonjaya with Wali Khan Amin Shah, a key Bojinka plotter, and both their names are listed on the eight-person board of directors. Shah fought with bin Laden in Afghanistan, and bin Laden will even admit knowing him and praise him in an 1998 interview (see May 28, 1998). Philippine police phone taps show that frequent calls are made from the Konsonjaya offices in Malaysia to the Philippines offices of Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law who is also believed to be part of the Bojinka plot (see 1994). [Time, 4/1/2002] A Malaysian official will later say that Hambali spends time in the Philippines with Shah and bomber Ramzi Yousef in 1994 as they plan the Bojinka plot. [Washington Post, 2/3/2002] Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari, another Konsonjaya director, makes frequent trips from Malaysia to the Philippines while planning for the Bojinka plot is under way, and he is later believed to play a key role in financing the plot. In early 1995, after the Bojinka plot is broken up, one of the arrested Bojinka plotters will confess to Konsonjaya’s role in the plot (see February-Early May 1995) and a Philippine investigator’s flow chart of the Bojinka plotters and their connections will prominently include Konsonjaya (see Spring 1995). However, neither the Philippine nor US government appears interested in capturing Hambali, al-Ghafari, or the others involved in Konsonjaya before 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 6/24/2002; Contemporary Southeast Asia, 12/1/2002] Hambali will continue to live openly in Malaysia, even throwing a party every year for hundreds of people (see April 1991-Late 2000). He will go on to plan other al-Qaeda attacks and will attend a key planning meeting for the 9/11 plot in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). [Time, 4/1/2002] Al-Ghafari will finally be deported in 2002 after years of police protection (see October 8-November 8, 2002).

Entity Tags: Wali Khan Amin Shah, Ramzi Yousef, Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari, Konsonjaya, Hambali, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Operation Bojinka

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

June 1996: Informant’s Clues Point to KSM

Wali Khan Amin Shah.Wali Khan Amin Shah. [Source: Peter Lance]While al-Qaeda operative Jamal al-Fadl gives a treasure trove of useful information on al-Qaeda to US intelligence (see June 1996-April 1997), one person he describes in detail is Wali Khan Amin Shah. Shah was one of the plotters of the Operation Bojinka plot (see February 7, 1995). Al-Fadl reveals that Shah has al-Qaeda ties. Author Peter Lance notes that US intelligence should have concluded that Shah’s fellow Operation Bojinka plotter, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), also has al-Qaeda ties. However, there is no new effort to find KSM, and he later goes on to mastermind the 9/11 attacks. [Lance, 2003, pp. 330-31]

Entity Tags: Peter Lance, Wali Khan Amin Shah, Al-Qaeda, Jamal al-Fadl, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An Inmarsat Compact M satellite phone, the type used by bin Laden.An Inmarsat Compact M satellite phone, the type used by bin Laden. [Source: Inmarsat]During this period, Osama bin Laden uses a satellite phone to direct al-Qaeda’s operations. The phone—a Compact M satellite phone, about the size of a laptop computer—was purchased by a student in Virginia named Ziyad Khaleel for $7,500 using the credit card of a British man named Saad al-Fagih. After purchasing the phone, Khaleel sent it to Khalid al-Fawwaz, al-Qaeda’s unofficial press secretary in London (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998). Al-Fawwaz then shipped it to bin Laden in Afghanistan. [CNN, 4/16/2001] It appears US intelligence actually tracks the purchase as it occurs (see November 1996-Late December 1999), probably because an older model satellite phone bin Laden has is already being monitored (see Early 1990s). Bin Laden’s phone (873682505331) is believed to be used by other top al-Qaeda leaders as well, including Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammad Atef. Al-Fawwaz also buys satellite phones for other top al-Qaeda leaders around the same time. Though the calls made on these phones are encrypted, the NSA is able to intercept and decrypt them. As one US official will put it in early 2001, “codes were broken.” [United Press International, 2/13/2001; Newsweek, 2/18/2002] The Los Angeles Times will report that the monitoring of these phones “produced tens of thousands of pages of transcripts over two years.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] Bin Laden’s satellite phone replaces an older model he used in Sudan that apparently was also monitored by the NSA (see Early 1990s). Billing records for his new phone are eventually released to the media in early 2002. Newsweek will note, “A country-by-country analysis of the bills provided US authorities with a virtual road map to important al-Qaeda cells around the world.” [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002] The countries called are:
bullet Britain (238 or 260). Twenty-seven different phone numbers are called in Britain. Accounts differ on the exact number of calls. Khalid al-Fawwaz, who helps publish statements by bin Laden, receives 143 of the calls, including the very first one bin Laden makes with this phone. Apparently most of the remaining calls are made to pay phones near him or to his associates. He also frequently calls Ibrahim Eidarous, who works with al-Fawwaz and lives near him. [CNN, 4/16/2001; Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 111]
bullet Yemen (221). Dozens of calls go to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, which is run by the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see Late August 1998). [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Bamford, 2008, pp. 8]
bullet Sudan (131). Bin Laden lived in Sudan until 1996 (see May 18, 1996), and some important al-Qaeda operatives remained there after he left (see February 5, 1998). [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
bullet Iran (106). Newsweek will later report: “US officials had little explanation for the calls to Iran. A Bush administration official said that US intelligence has believed for years that hard-line anti-American factions inside Iran helped bin Laden’s organization operate an ‘underground railroad’ smuggling Islamic militants to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.” [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
bullet Azerbaijan (67). An important al-Qaeda operative appears to be based in Baku, Azerbaijan. [Washington Post, 5/2/2001] This is most likely Ahmad Salama Mabruk, who is very close to al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri and is said to be the head of the al-Qaeda cell there. He kidnapped by the CIA in Baku in late August 1998 (see Late August 1998).
bullet Kenya (at least 56). In the embassy bombings trial, prosecutors introduce evidence showing 16 calls are made on this phone to some of the embassy bombers in Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), apparently all before a raid in August 1997 (see August 21, 1997). The defense introduces evidence showing at least 40 more calls are made after that time (see Late 1996-August 1998). [CNN, 4/16/2001]
bullet Pakistan (59).
bullet Saudi Arabia (57).
bullet A ship in the Indian Ocean (13).
bullet The US (6).
bullet Italy (6).
bullet Malaysia (4).
bullet Senegal (2). [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
bullet Egypt (unknown). Newsweek reports that calls are made to Egypt but doesn’t say how many. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002]
bullet Iraq (0). Press reports note that the records indicate zero calls were made to Iraq. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002] 1,100 total calls are made on this phone. Adding up the above numbers means that the destination of over 100 calls is still unaccounted for. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002] The use of this phone stops two months after the August 1998 embassy bombings in Africa. However, it appears bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders continue to use other satellite phones occasionally after this time. Shortly after 9/11, James Bamford, an expert authority on the agency, says “About a year or so ago the NSA lost all track of him.… He may still use [satellite phones] occasionally to talk about something mundane, but he discovered that the transmitters can be used for honing.” [CNN, 9/21/2001] According to a different account, bin Laden will attempt to use a different phone communication method, but US intelligence will soon discover it and continue monitoring his calls (see Late 1998 and After).

Entity Tags: Ziyad Khaleel, Saad al-Fagih, Osama bin Laden, Ibrahim Eidarous, Khalid al-Fawwaz, Mohammed Atef, Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Ahmad Salama Mabruk

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

During his interview with John Miller, bin Laden is positioned in front of East Africa on a map, and US embassies will be bombed in East Africa several months later. Bin Laden has considered it his religious duty to give warning before attacks and thus has left clues like this.During his interview with John Miller, bin Laden is positioned in front of East Africa on a map, and US embassies will be bombed in East Africa several months later. Bin Laden has considered it his religious duty to give warning before attacks and thus has left clues like this. [Source: CNN]In an interview with ABC News reporter John Miller, Osama bin Laden indicates he may attack a US military passenger aircraft using antiaircraft missiles. Bin Laden says: “We are sure of our victory. Our battle with the Americans is larger than our battle with the Russians.… We predict a black day for America and the end of the United States as United States, and will be separate states, and will retreat from our land and collect the bodies of its sons back to America.” In the subsequent media coverage, Miller will repeatedly refer to bin Laden as “the world’s most dangerous terrorist,” and “the most dangerous man in the world.” [ABC News, 5/28/1998; ABC News, 6/12/1998; Esquire, 2/1999; US Congress, 7/24/2003] The book The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright will later note, “Looming behind his head was a large map of Africa, an unremarked clue.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 264] Bin Laden admits to knowing Wali Khan Amin Shah, one of the Bojinka plotters (see June 1996), but denies having met Bojinka plotter Ramzi Yousef or knowing about the plot itself. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] A Virginia man named Tarik Hamdi (see March 20, 2002) helped set up Miller’s interview. He goes with Miller to Afghanistan and gives bin Laden a new battery for his satellite phone (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, will later claim that this battery was somehow bugged to help the US monitor bin Laden. [Newsweek, 8/10/2005] In 2005, Miller will become the FBI’s assistant director of the Office of Public Affairs. [All Headline News, 8/24/2005]

Entity Tags: John Miller, Operation Bojinka, Osama bin Laden, Vincent Cannistraro, Wali Khan Amin Shah, Tarik Hamdi, Ramzi Yousef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A US surface ship firing a missile. The date and time is unknown.A US surface ship firing a missile. The date and time is unknown. [Source: PBS]Hours before the US missile strike meant to assassinate bin Laden, he is warned that his satellite phone is being used to track his location and he turns it off. A former CIA official later alleges the warning came from supporters working for Pakistani intelligence, the ISI. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 201-202] It has been claimed that a tracking beacon was placed in bin Laden’s phone when a replacement battery was brought to him in May 1998 (see May 28, 1998). The US military only gave Pakistan about ten minutes’ advance notice that cruise missiles were entering their air space on their way to Afghanistan. This was done to make sure the missiles wouldn’t be misidentified and shot down. [New Yorker, 1/24/2000] But Pakistan was apparently aware several hours earlier, as soon as the missiles were launched. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later claims he was promised by the Navy that it would fire their missiles from below the ocean surface. However, in fact, many destroyers fired their missiles from the surface. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 188-89] He adds, “not only did they use surface ships—they brought additional ones in, because every captain wants to be able to say he fired the cruise missile.” [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] As a result, the ISI had many hours to alert bin Laden. Furthermore, Clarke later says, “I have reason to believe that a retired head of the ISI was able to pass information along to al-Qaeda that an attack was coming.” This is a likely reference to Hamid Gul, director of the ISI in the early 1990’s. [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] In 1999 the US will intercept communications suggesting that Gul played a role in forewarning the Taliban about the missile strike which may even had predated the firing of the cruise missiles (see July 1999). Clarke says he believes that “if the [ISI] wanted to capture bin Laden or tell us where he was, they could have done so with little effort. They did not cooperate with us because ISI saw al-Qaeda as helpful in pressuring India, particularly in Kashmir.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 188-89] Furthermore, bin Laden cancels a meeting with other al-Qaeda leaders after finding out that 180 US diplomats were being immediately withdrawn from Pakistan on a chartered plane. Thanks to these warnings, he is hundreds of miles away from his training camps when the missiles hit some hours later (see August 20, 1998). [Reeve, 1999, pp. 202]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Hamid Gul, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bin Laden’s satellite phone is being monitored by US intelligence at the time of the US embassy bombings in early August 1998 (see November 1996-Late August 1998 and 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).
Washington Times Article Falsely Blamed - On August 21, 1998, an article in the Washington Times says of bin Laden, “He keeps in touch with the world via computers and satellite phones…” The Washington Post will later note, “The information in the article does not appear to be based on any government leak and made no reference to government surveillance of bin Laden’s phone.” Other articles published on the same day make similar claims. However, it will become widely believed that this article causes bin Laden to stop using his satellite phone, which is being secretly monitored by the US (see November 1996-Late August 1998). [Washington Post, 12/20/2005] For instance, the 9/11 Commission will later blame this article and President Bush will repeat the story in late 2005. However, bin Laden’s use of a satellite phone was already widely publicized. For instance, in December 1996, Time magazine noted that bin Laden “uses satellite phones to contact fellow Islamic militants in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.” In 1997, bin Laden actually talked in a CNN interview about his use of satellite phones.
First Mention that US Was Monitoring His Calls in September - It is only on September 7, 1998, after bin Laden apparently stopped using his phone, that the Los Angeles Times is the first newspaper to mention that the US is monitoring his calls. The article says that US authorities “used their communications intercept capacity to pick up calls placed by bin Laden on his Inmarsat satellite phone, despite his apparent use of electronic ‘scramblers.’” [Washington Post, 12/22/2005]
Bin Laden Tipped Off by Missile Strike? - One possible explanation is that bin Laden stops using his phone after the August 1998 missile strike aimed at him (see August 20, 1998) for fear that the phone was used as a homing device for the missiles. The phone was in fact used as a homing device, and Defense Secretary William Cohen publicly acknowledged this by early 2001. The missile strike took place just one day before the Washington Times article. [United Press International, 2/21/2001] In 1998, a US man named Tarik Hamdi delivered a new battery for bin Laden’s phone. A former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center has stated that the battery was somehow bugged to improve US monitoring of bin Laden (see May 28, 1998).
Bin Laden Tipped Off before the Strike? - Another possibility is that bin Laden stopped using his phone just before the missile strike. Sunday Times reporter Simon Reeve claims the Pakistani ISI warned him about the strike hours before it happened, and told him that his phone use was being monitored by the US (see August 20, 1998). [Reeve, 1999, pp. 201-202]

Entity Tags: William S. Cohen, Tarik Hamdi, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will later write that after the US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), surveillance of al-Qaeda is stepped up around the world. “One intelligence officer attached to the French embassy in Islamabad, [Pakistan], urged his counterparts in foreign missions in Pakistan to detail the recipients of phone calls made by… al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida, then living in Peshawar, to individuals in their various countries.” As a result, “several governments [launch] investigations of their own.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 245] A close associate of Zubaida in Peshawar at this time is Khalil Deek, who is actually a mole for the Jordanian government (see 1998-December 11, 1999). One such investigation is launched by the Philippine government on October 16, 1998, after being asked by French intelligence to gather intelligence on people in the Philippines in contact with Zubaida. Code named CoPlan Pink Poppy, the investigation reveals connections between al-Qaeda and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a Philippine militant group. On December 16, 1999, Abdesselem Boulanouar and Zoheir Djalili, two French Algerians belonging to the Algerian al-Qaeda affiliate the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), are arrested due to information learned from monitoring Zubaida’s calls to the Philippines. Boulanouar is arrested at an airport carrying a terrorist training manual he admitted writing for the MILF. Both men also are arrested carrying explosive devices. French intelligence says Boulanouar had ties to Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), and like Ressam, may have been planning to carry out attacks at the turn of the millennium. He will be deported to France and imprisoned on terrorism related charges. CoPlan Pink Poppy will be canceled in 2000 for lack of funds. [Gulf News, 3/14/2000; Ressa, 2003, pp. 132-133; Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 245] However, while details are murky, it appears other governments continue to monitor Zubaida’s calls. Around the same time as the Philippines arrests, one militant in Jordan is even arrested while still in the middle of a phone call to Zubaida (see November 30, 1999). US intelligence will remain intensely focused on Zubaida before 9/11 (see Late March-Early April 2001 and May 30, 2001), and just days before 9/11 the NSA will monitor calls Zubaida is making to the US (see Early September 2001). It appears his calls will continue to be monitored after 9/11 as well (see October 8, 2001).

Entity Tags: Khalil Deek, Zoheir Djalili, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Abdesselem Boulanouar, Philippines, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Ressam, Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A Spanish newspaper later will claim that Ahmed Ressam, the al-Qaeda operative who attempted to bomb the Los Angeles airport at the turn of the millennium (see December 14, 1999), meets Mohamed Atta in the Alicante region of Spain in this year. It is unclear whether the men trained at the same camp while they were in Afghanistan. [Reuters, 11/26/2001; CTV, 9/14/2002] According to other Spanish reports, in 1997 or 1998 Atta was a student in Valencia under an assumed name (see 1997 or 1998). Valenica is less than 100 miles from Alicante. After his arrest, Ressam began cooperating with US investigators in the summer of 2001 (see May 30, 2001), leading to the possibility that he could have confirmed Atta’s identity as an al-Qaeda operative before 9/11, if he had been asked.

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Ahmed Ressam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

CIA Director George Tenet tells a closed session of Congress, “We have seen numerous reports that bin Laden and his associates are planning terrorist attacks against US officials and facilities in a variety of locations, including in the US.” [Coll, 2004, pp. 454] However, six months later and after a well-publicized attempted al-Qaeda attack on the Los Angeles airport (see December 14, 1999), he will not mention in an open session that bin Laden has the capability to stage attacks inside the US (see February 2, 2000).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, US Congress, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ahmed Ressam.Ahmed Ressam. [Source: Public domain]The CIA learns from the Jordanian government about an al-Qaeda millennium bombing plot in that country (see November 30, 1999). Further, the CIA concludes more attacks are likely soon, including some inside the US (see December 8, 1999). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is told of this, and he implements a plan to neutralize the threat. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 205, 211] The plan, approved by President Clinton, focuses on harassing and disrupting al-Qaeda members throughout the world. The FBI is put on heightened alert, counterterrorism teams are dispatched overseas, a formal ultimatum is given to the Taliban to keep al-Qaeda under control, and friendly intelligence agencies are asked to help. There are Cabinet-level meetings nearly every day dealing with terrorism [Washington Post, 4/2/2000; Associated Press, 6/28/2002] All US embassies, military bases, police departments, and other agencies are given a warning to be on the lookout for signs of an al-Qaeda millennium attack. One alert border agent responds by arresting terrorist Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), which leads to the unraveling of several bombing plots (see December 15-31, 1999). No terror attacks occur. However, Clarke claims the FBI generally remains unhelpful. For example, around this time the FBI says there are no websites in the US soliciting volunteers for training in Afghanistan or money for terrorist front groups. Clarke has a private citizen check to see if this is true, and within days, he is given a long list of such websites. The FBI and Justice Department apparently fail to do anything with the information. [Newsweek, 3/31/2004]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Taliban, Richard A. Clarke, Al-Qaeda, Jordan, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Ressam, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Diana Dean.Diana Dean. [Source: Seattle Times]Al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam is arrested in Port Angeles, Washington, attempting to enter the US with components of explosive devices. One hundred and thirty pounds of bomb-making chemicals and detonator components are found inside his rental car. He subsequently admits he planned to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on December 31, 1999. [New York Times, 12/30/2001] Alert border patrol agent Diana Dean stops him; she and other agents nationwide had been warned recently to look for suspicious activity. Ressam’s bombing would have been part of a wave of attacks against US targets over the New Year’s weekend (see December 15-31, 1999). He is later connected to al-Qaeda and convicted. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Diana Dean, Ahmed Ressam, Los Angeles International Airport, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

From left to right: Mokhtar Haouari, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, Abdel Ghani Meskini. The picture of Meskini is from an ATM camera.From left to right: Mokhtar Haouari, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, Abdel Ghani Meskini. The picture of Meskini is from an ATM camera. [Source: Public domain, public domain, and Seattle Times]In the wake of the arrest of Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), FBI investigators work frantically to uncover more millennium plots before the end of the year. US authorities also make a number of arrests.
bullet A telephone number found in Ressam’s pocket leads to Abdel Ghani Meskini, an Algerian living in New York City who had gone to Seattle to meet Ressam. Meskini is monitored and arrested in New York on December 30.
bullet One of Ressam’s credit cards leads to the arrest of Mokhtar Haouari, an Algerian living in Montreal, Canada. Meskini later cooperates with US investigators and is never charged, while Haouari will be sentenced to 24 years in prison. [Time, 2/7/2000; CNN, 1/16/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 298]
bullet Another Algerian associate of Ressam’s, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, escapes to Afghanistan, but will eventually be caught by the Algerian government and convicted in Algeria. [PBS Frontline, 10/25/2001]
bullet Investigators believe that Mohamedou Ould Slahi, an al-Qaeda operative whose cousin is a top al-Qaeda leader, went to Canada to give the go-ahead for Ressam’s attack. Slahi is arrested several times overseas, but never charged (see January-April 2000). [CNN, 3/6/2002]
bullet Khalid Deek, a US citizen, is arrested around this time for masterminding another al-Qaeda millennnium plot (see December 11, 1999). But counterterrorism expert Rita Katz will later say Deek was a suspected mastermind of Ressam’s Los Angeles airport plot, too. [Orange County Register, 9/12/2005] Deek’s name and phone number is found in Ressam’s telephone book. Ressam knew Deek from bin Laden training camps in Afghanistan. Both of them, like most of Ressam’s group, have links to the GIA, an Algerian militant group associated with al-Qaeda. [Newsweek (International), 3/13/2000]
Others escape the US after hearing media reports of Ressam’s arrest. However, enough people are caught to stop additional millennium attacks. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later says, “I think a lot of the FBI leadership for the first time realized that… there probably were al-Qaeda people in the United States. They realized that only after they looked at the results of the investigation of the millennium bombing plot.” [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] Yet Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger later claims that the FBI will still repeatedly assure the Clinton White House until Clinton leaves office that al-Qaeda lacks the ability to launch a domestic strike (see 2000).

Entity Tags: Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Sandy Berger, Khalil Deek, Mokhtar Haouari, Groupe Islamique Armé, Abdel Ghani Meskini, Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard A. Clarke, Ahmed Ressam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The FBI misses a chance to learn about Zacarias Moussaoui after a raid in Dublin, Ireland. On December 14, 1999, Ahmed Ressam was arrested trying to smuggle explosives into the US (see December 14, 1999). On December 21, Irish police arrest Hamid Aich and several other North African immigrants living in Dublin. [New York Times, 1/22/2000] During the arrests, police seize a large amount of documents relating to citizenship applications, identities, credit cards, and airplane tickets. A diagram of an electrical switch that could be used for a bomb is found that is identical to a diagram found in Ressam’s apartment in Vancouver, Canada. [Irish Times, 7/31/2002] The suspects are released about a day later, but, “Within days, authorities in Ireland and the United States began to realize that they might have missed a chance to learn more about a terrorist network.” [New York Times, 1/22/2000] It is discovered that Aich lived with Ressam in Montreal, and then later lived with him in Vancouver. Investigators conclude there has been an al-Qaeda cell in Dublin since the early 1990s, when the charity Mercy International opened an office there (this charity has several known al-Qaeda connections by this time (see 1988-Spring 1995 and Late 1996-August 20, 1998) and also an alleged CIA connection (see 1989 and After)). The cell is mainly involved in providing travel and identity documents for other cells committing violent acts. Investigators also connect Aich to the Islamic Jihad. But the US and Canada do not seek Aich’s extradition, and instead have the Irish police keep him under surveillance. He will escape from Ireland shortly before 9/11 (see June 3, 2001-July 24, 2001). [New York Times, 1/22/2000; Irish Times, 7/31/2002] Apparently, many of the documents seized in the raid will only be closely examined after 9/11. Documents will show that in 1999 and 2000, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a top al-Qaeda financier, worked with the Dublin cell to finance Moussaoui’s international travel. Aich made travel arrangements and possibly provided fake identification for Moussaoui. [Fox News, 7/30/2002; Irish Times, 7/31/2002] Presumably, had these links been discovered after the 1999 raid instead of after 9/11, events could have gone very differently when Moussaoui was arrested in the US in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001).

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Al-Qaeda, Mercy International, Islamic Jihad, Hamid Aich, Ahmed Ressam, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Earlier in December, the CIA estimated that al-Qaeda would launch between five and 15 attacks against American targets around the world over the New Year’s weekend, and that several targets would likely be inside the US (see December 8, 1999). Since late 1999, there has been intelligence that targets in Washington and New York would be attacked at this time. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] There in fact are a number of planned attacks, including bomb attacks on the Boston and Los Angeles airports (see December 14, 1999 and December 15-31, 1999), a hotel in Jordan (see November 30, 1999), and a naval ship in Yemen (see January 3, 2000). However, all of the attacks are foiled, thanks to alerts and luck. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In the wake of disrupting Ahmed Ressam’s millennium bomb plot at the end of 1999 and arresting his cohorts (see December 14, 1999) (see December 15-31, 1999), US intelligence remains concerned that al-Qaeda sleeper cells remain in the US (see March 10, 2000). However, Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger later claims that the FBI still repeatedly assures the Clinton White House that al-Qaeda lacks the ability to launch a domestic strike. [New York Times, 9/22/2002] He says, “Until the very end of our time in office, the view we received from the [FBI] was that al-Qaeda had limited capacity to operate in the US and any presence here was under surveillance.” No analysis is done before 9/11 to investigate just how big that presence might be. [Washington Post, 9/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Sandy Berger, Central Intelligence Agency, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi and one of his associates, Mohdar Abdullah, go to Los Angeles airport with hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, who is returning to the Middle East via Germany (see June 10, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222] Together with a third man, Alhazmi and Abdullah shoot videocamera footage there. They appear to be scouting out the airport and record secretly near the security area. The identity of the third man is not known, but he may be Khallam, an associate of Alhazmi and Almihdhar’s who they met the day before (see June 9, 2000). Al-Qaeda had plotted to bomb Los Angeles Airport not long before (see December 14, 1999). The tapes, which are not found until Abdullah is deported, will cause the FBI to re-start their investigation of him in 2006. [US District Court, Southern District of California, 10/29/2004 pdf file; MSNBC, 9/8/2006]

Entity Tags: Mohdar Abdullah, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khallam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The US intelligence community has been monitoring al-Qaeda telephone communications to and from a communications hub in Yemen since the late 1990s (see Late August 1998). The CIA intercepts an al-Qaeda operative say in a monitored phone call that bin Laden is planning a “Hiroshima-type event” against the US. Failed millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam, who is arrested in late 1999 (see December 14, 1999), confirms at the time that al-Qaeda is preparing such an attack. [New York Times, 10/14/2001; PBS, 10/3/2002] This sets off an immediate but unsuccessful search for further evidence. Shortly after 9/11, the New York Times will report that “intelligence officials now acknowledge that they never imagined that Mr. bin Laden’s organization had the ability to kill thousands of people in coordinated attacks on the American homeland. Looking back through the prism of Sept. 11, officials now say that the intercepted message was a telling sign of a drastic shift in the ambitions and global reach of al-Qaeda during the last three years.” [New York Times, 10/14/2001] There apparently is another intercepted message talking about a “Hiroshima” event in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Ressam, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Abu Doha, a key figure in al-Qaeda’s European network, is arrested at Heathrow airport in London. He is attempting to board a plane for Saudi Arabia, but several false passports are found in his hand luggage. A search of his London flat reveals passport photographs depicting him in various disguises, 20 credit cards, a telescopic rifle sight, and what police describe as terrorism paraphernalia. He is found to be involved in various plots around the world, including a section of the Millennium Plot that comprised a bombing of Los Angeles airport (see December 14, 1999), so the US soon asks for his extradition. He is also later said to have worked on plots to bomb the US, British, and Australian embassies in Singapore in December 2001, a planned attack on the Paris-Dakar rally in January 2000, a plot to attack the 1998 World Cup in France (see Late 1997-Early 1998), and other attacks. Abu Doha was close to Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for British intelligence (see Early 1997 and May 1999). Abu Doha’s deputy, Rabah Kadre, is also arrested. Although he has been under surveillance by British authorities since 1998 (see 1998), he is released, apparently because British authorities think they have insufficient evidence against him. He will later leave Britain, but be arrested following his re-entry (see November 2002). The British intelligence service MI5 will later say that Kadre is “Abu Doha’s successor” as a leader of the Europe-wide network. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 117-118, 240]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), Abu Doha, Rabah Kadre

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After being convicted for his part in al-Qaeda’s failed millennium attacks (see December 14, 1999), Ahmed Ressam tells US authorities that London-based radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri is an important figure in al-Qaeda. Ressam says that he heard many stories about Abu Hamza when he was in Afghanistan and that Abu Hamza has the power to refer recruits to other senior al-Qaeda figures. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 28] Abu Hamza already has a relationship with British security services (see Early 1997).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Ressam, Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 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

On June 3, 2001, a British newspaper reveals that Hamid Aich, who is on the FBI’s international wanted list, is living in Dublin where he is applying for asylum. [Mirror, 2/18/2001; News of the World, 6/3/2001] Irish intelligence has been monitoring Aich’s movements since 1997, when authorities tied him to the mass murder of 77 tourists in Luxor, Egypt (see November 18, 1997). [Mirror, 10/17/2001; Daily Telegraph, 11/8/2001] He has since been linked to a number of militant groups (see, e.g., December 14, 1999). It is believed that between 1999 and 2001, Aich assisted 22 Islamic terrorist organizations, and even funded non-Islamic groups, for instance giving $200,000 to the ETA, a separatist group in the Basque region of Spain. Aich was also the director of Mercy International’s Ireland branch. (This charity has several known al-Qaeda connections by this time (see 1988-Spring 1995 and Late 1996-August 20, 1998).) Despite these connections, he will continue to live openly in Dublin after the newspaper discloses his location. [Mirror, 9/17/2001] Irish authorities only publicly say, “Aich’s case is at a very delicate stage.” [News of the World, 6/3/2001] Then, on July 24, he leaves Ireland using a false passport. The FBI, which took no action against him while he was living in Dublin, is reportedly “furious” with Irish police for allowing him to escape. He has not been heard of since, and he has not been included in any known lists of wanted al-Qaeda leaders. It is believed that Aich eventually ends up in Afghanistan. After 9/11, Aich will be described as “one of the FBI’s chief targets” and “one of bin Laden’s most trusted men” who ranks seventh in al-Qaeda’s hierarchy. [Mirror, 9/17/2001]

Entity Tags: Hamid Aich, Zacarias Moussaoui, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mercy International, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Ressam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

John Miller.John Miller. [Source: FBI]ABC News reporter John Miller gives a speech in which he discusses the growing indications that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has plans to carry out an attack in the United States. Miller gives his speech at the annual conference of the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 286-287] The conference, held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from June 24 to June 30, is attended by around 700 law enforcement officers from around the world. [Sandia LabNews, 6/15/2001] Miller will later explain some of the thinking behind his claim that bin Laden could be planning an attack in the US. “At that time,” he will write, “US authorities were divided over where bin Laden would strike next. Most officials believed that he was aiming at ‘soft’ US targets overseas, based on his past actions and electronic phone intercepts of al-Qaeda members around the world.” Other officials, though, taking into account al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam’s failed plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport on December 31, 1999 (see December 14, 1999), believe his next attack will take place on US soil. Miller will write that a “spike in phone traffic among suspected al-Qaeda members in the early part of the summer, as well as debriefings of Ressam,” have convinced investigators that bin Laden is planning “a significant operation” and he is “planning it soon.” Furthermore, he will comment, “[N]o one working on the problem seemed to doubt bin Laden’s intentions to target Americans.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 287] Miller has been a correspondent for ABC News, with a primary focus on terrorism, since 1995. Notably, he interviewed bin Laden in Afghanistan in May 1998 (see May 28, 1998). Before joining ABC News, he spent many years as a television crime reporter in New York, and between 1994 and 1995 served as deputy police commissioner of New York City. [ABC News, 5/28/1998; Cincinnati Enquirer, 1/16/2002; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 8/23/2005; Hollywood Reporter, 10/17/2011]

Entity Tags: John Miller, Osama bin Laden

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

Margaret Gillespie, an FBI agent detailed to the CIA who has just found out that future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in the US (see August 21-22, 2001), suggests asking failed Millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam whether he recognizes Almihdhar, but the proposal is not acted on. Ressam was arrested on his way to bomb Los Angeles airport (see December 14, 1999), but has been co-operating with the US government against al-Qaeda (see May 30, 2001). Gillespie makes the suggestion in an e-mail to Tom Wilshire, a CIA representative to the FBI. It is unclear what Wilshire does with the suggestion, but Ressam is not interviewed. When shown photos of Almihdhar after 9/11, Ressam will not recognize him. The FBI also fails to ask Ressam about Zacarias Moussaoui before 9/11, but shortly after 9/11 Ressam will identity Moussaoui as a person that attended al-Qaeda’s camps in Afghanistan (see Late August-Early September 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 275-6, 541]

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Tom Wilshire, Khalid Almihdhar, Ahmed Ressam, Margaret Gillespie, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI fails to ask Ahmed Ressam, an al-Qaeda operative arrested during the Millennium alert (see December 14, 1999), whether he can identify Zacarias Moussaoui. Agents in Seattle holding Ressam receive a general notification about the Moussaoui case, but it lacks urgency and they do not follow up on it with Ressam (see September 4, 2001). When asked shortly after 9/11, Ressam will say he recognizes Moussaoui from al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan. The 9/11 Commission will conclude that had Ressam been shown photos of Moussaoui and identified him before 9/11, the FBI would have been able to search his belongings. The belongings contain enough information to potentially prevent 9/11 (see August 16, 2001). The FBI also fails to ask Ressam whether he recognizes Khalid Almihdhar at this time, although Ressam has never met Almihdhar and will not identify him after 9/11 (see August 21, 2001). [Sunday Times (London), 2/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 275-6, 541]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Ressam, FBI Headquarters, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mohamed Abdi, a 44-year-old Somali immigrant whose phone number was found in a car belonging to one the 9/11 hijackers, is detained without bail in Alexandria, Va. On September 12, 2001, FBI investigators discovered a car registered to 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi at Dulles Airport (see September 11-13, 2001). In the car, they found a Washington-area map with the name “Mohumad” and a Virginia phone number belonging to Mohamed Abdi. At the court hearing, an FBI investigator says that Abdi has not explained the finding and is suspected of being linked to the hijackers. FBI Special Agent Kevin W. Ashby also testifies that an article on Ahmed Ressam was found in Abdi’s clothing. Ressam was convicted of trying to bomb Los Angeles Airport in 2000 (see December 14, 1999). According to press reports, Abdi is not cooperating with police. He came to the United States in 1993 as a refugee. He later brought his wife and four children to the US and obtained US citizenship. Shortly after his arrival, Abdi worked for Caterair, a food service company at Reagan National Airport. At the time of his arrest, Abdi had been working as a low-paid security guard for Burns Security for seven years. Burns does not provide airport security services, however, a Burns subsidiary called Globe Aviation Services provides screening services at several US airports, including the American Airlines concourse at Boston’s Logan Airport, from which one of the hijacked flights took off (see October 10, 2001). Abdi, who has had financial difficulties for some time, is charged with check forgery. He is accused of forging his landlord’s signature to obtain a government housing subsidy. No terrorism charges are filed. [US District Court Eastern District of Virginia, 9/23/2001 pdf file; Washington Post, 9/27/2001 pdf file; Human Events, 10/15/2001; Human Events, 10/15/2001] In January 2002, Abdi will receive a four-month sentence for forgery. Any link he may have had with the hijackers will remain unclear. [Washington Post, 1/12/2002]

Entity Tags: Washington Dulles International Airport, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Nawaf Alhazmi, Logan International Airport, Mohamed Abdi, Globe Aviation Services Corp., Federal Bureau of Investigation, Burns Security

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).

Popular Science magazine carries a rare interview with Tom Owen, a voice analyst who has worked on identifying Osama bin Laden in recordings allegedly released by the al-Qaeda leader. Owen worked for US media on the identification of bin Laden’s voice in a November 2002 recording (see November 12, 2002), assisted by a captain of the Saudi Interior Ministry’s forensics department he had apparently been teaching at the time. Owen, one of only eight forensic voice analysts certified by the American Board of Recorded Evidence, and other US experts identified the voice as bin Laden’s, although a Swiss facility disagreed (see November 29, 2002). The interview describes Owen’s lab and how he works, pivoting off the November recording. Owen criticizes the Swiss analysis, saying that the advanced biometrics software the Swiss used cannot work with the noise on the tape, as it is “designed to work with perfect samples.” Cleaning up the tape would not help, as this would remove the high and low frequencies a biometric system needs to make its identification.
Voice Identification Methodology - To identify voices, Owen uses a spectrograph, which produces spectrograms—“a kind of graphic speech rendering that has changed little since the 1940s”—that are then compared. His favorite tool for analyses is a “piece of vintage equipment—a reel-to-reel Voice Identification 700 spectrograph built in 1973,” which “differs little from the analog machines US Army intelligence officers built to identify and track German radio operators during World War II.” When analyzing a new recording thought to be from bin Laden, Owen compares the spectrograms it produces with spectrograms from a known bin Laden interview, such as one he granted to ABC in 1998 (see May 28, 1998). According to the magazine, there are “only a half-dozen words in common between the November tape and the ABC interview,” although the standards of the American Board of Recorded Evidence demand 20 identical words, preferably spoken in the same order.
Listening for 'Quirky Mannerisms' - However, Owen also listens for “the multitude of quirky mannerisms and pronunciation foibles peculiar to each voice,” because a trained ear can detect “the subtle whistle caused by a missing tooth, a person’s tendency to swallow in the middle of a sentence, even the way someone sets his or her jaw when speaking.” Owen plays the reporter what he calls a short-term memory tape, apparently a crucial tool in aural voice identifications. The spliced tape toggles between 2.5-second segments of bin Laden’s ABC interview and the November tape; Owen uses the tape to listen for peculiarities in a voice, especially when vowels are spoken. According to Owen, who says bin Laden’s voice is what the magazine calls “plenty peculiar,” the tape proves it is the “same guy” on the November tape and in the 1998 interview. However, the reporter comments: “To my untrained ear, it could be Darth Vader behind the static.… This is the sort of gray area that tends to make legal observers worry about the state of forensic science.”
Comments on NSA - According to the magazine, Owen’s technology is similar to that which the NSA probably uses to analyze voices, although Owen thinks the NSA has samples of bin Laden’s voice he does not. However, he does not think it has made biometric breakthroughs in analysis despite its advanced technology, which is “mostly devoted to listening.” [Popular Science, 2/24/2003]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Tom Owen, National Security Agency, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey uses an anecdote about a cell phone battery to argue that the current legal system is poorly equipped to fight Islamic terrorism. The anecdote is told during his confirmation hearings, but he previously used it in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in August. Mukasey says that during Ramzi Yousef’s trial for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing: “[S]omebody testified to somebody having delivered a cell phone battery to someone else. That piece of testimony disclosed to al-Qaeda that a line of communication of theirs had been compromised and, in fact, was one of communication that our government was monitoring and from which it had gotten enormously valuable intelligence. That line of communication shut down within days of that testimony and I don’t know what we lost. Nobody knows what we lost. But we probably lost something enormously valuable.” Mukasey does not say which of Yousef’s two trials the testimony was at. [Wall Street Journal, 8/22/2007; CQ Transcripts Wire, 10/18/2007] This incident is not known and is not confirmed by other sources. It is unclear who the two militants were, and why the militant who received the cell phone battery would be unable to purchase it himself. Osama bin Laden is said to have received a doctored battery for his satellite (not cell) phone in Afghanistan, and this is said to have helped the US track him (see May 28, 1998). However, this apparently happened after Yousef was sentenced in the last of the two cases to come to trial, so it is unclear how this could have been mentioned at the trial (see January 8, 1998). A rumor later circulated that bin Laden had stopped using the satellite phone with the allegedly doctored battery based on a leak of intelligence to the press, but that appears to be an urban myth (see Late August 1998).

Entity Tags: Michael Mukasey

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

John Yoo, the former Bush administration legal adviser who authored numerous opinions on the legality of torture, detentions without legal representation, and warrantless wiretapping (see November 6-10, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, August 1, 2002, and August 1, 2002, among others), writes an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal opposing the Obama administration’s intent to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility (see January 20, 2009 and January 22, 2009)) and restrict the CIA’s ability to torture detainees (see January 22, 2009). Yoo, now a law professor and a member of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, writes that while President Obama’s decision “will please his base” and ease the objections to the Bush “imperial presidency,” it will “also seriously handicap our intelligence agencies from preventing future terrorist attacks.” Yoo writes that the Obama decisions mark a return “to the failed law enforcement approach to fighting terrorism that prevailed before Sept. 11, 2001.” Yoo recommends that Obama stay with what he calls “the Bush system” of handling terror suspects. Yoo fails to note that the US law enforcement system prevented, among others, the “millennium bombing” plot (see December 14, 1999), the plot to bomb New York City’s Lincoln and Holland Tunnels (see June 24, 1993), and Operation Bojinka (see January 6, 1995).
Obama Needs to be Able to Torture Prisoners Just as Bush Did, Yoo Declares - And by eschewing torture, Obama is giving up any chance on forcing information from “the most valuable sources of intelligence on al-Qaeda” currently in American custody. The Bush administration policies prevented subsequent terrorist attacks on the US, Yoo contends, and Obama will need the same widespread latitude to interrogate and torture prisoners that Bush employed: “What is needed are the tools to gain vital intelligence, which is why, under President George W. Bush, the CIA could hold and interrogate high-value al-Qaeda leaders. On the advice of his intelligence advisers, the president could have authorized coercive interrogation methods like those used by Israel and Great Britain in their antiterrorism campaigns. (He could even authorize waterboarding, which he did three times in the years after 9/11.)” It is noteworthy that Yoo refused to confirm that Bush ordered waterboarding of suspects during his previous Congressional hearings (see June 26, 2008).
Interrogations Must be 'Polite' - According to Yoo, in forcing the CIA and other US interrogators to follow the procedures outlined in the Army Field Manual, they can no longer use “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines used in police stations throughout America.… His new order amounts to requiring—on penalty of prosecution—that CIA interrogators be polite. Coercive measures are unwisely banned with no exceptions, regardless of the danger confronting the country.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/29/2009] Yoo is incorrect in this assertion. The Army Field Manual explicitly countenances many of the “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines” Yoo says it bans. Further, the Field Manual says nothing about requiring interrogators to be “polite.” [Army, 9/2006] And actual field interrogators such as the Army’s Matthew Alexander have repeatedly said that torturing prisoners is ineffective and counterproductive, while building relationships and treating prisoners with dignity during interrogations produces usable, reliable intelligence (see November 30, 2008).
Shutting Down Military Commissions - Obama’s order to stay all military commission trials and to review the case of “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh al-Marri (see June 23, 2003) is also mistaken, Yoo writes. Yoo fears that Obama will shut down the military commissions in their entirety and instead transfer detainees charged with terrorist acts into the US civilian court system. He also objects to Obama’s apparent intent to declare terrorists to be prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, instead of following the Bush precedent of classifying terrorists “like pirates, illegal combatants who do not fight on behalf of a nation and refuse to obey the laws of war.” To allow terror suspects to have rights under Geneva and the US legal system, Yoo asserts, will stop any possibility of obtaining information from those suspects. Instead, those suspects will begin using the legal system to their own advantage—refusing to talk, insisting on legal representation and speedy trials instead of cooperating with their interrogators. “Our soldiers and agents in the field will have to run more risks as they must secure physical evidence at the point of capture and maintain a chain of custody that will stand up to the standards of a civilian court,” Yoo writes. [Wall Street Journal, 1/29/2009] In reality, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), as well as the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 15, 2005) and the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006), all mandate that detainees must be handled according to the Geneva Conventions.
Risk to Americans - Another effect of transferring detainees into the civilian justice system, Yoo claims, is to allow “our enemies to obtain intelligence on us.” Defense lawyers will insist on revealing US intelligence—information and methods—in open court, and will no doubt force prosecutors to accept plea bargains “rather than risk disclosure of intelligence secrets.”
Obama 'Open[ed] the Door to Further Terrorist Acts on US Soil' - Obama said in his inaugural speech that the US must “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” Yoo calls that statement “naive,” and writes, “That high-flying rhetoric means that we must give al-Qaeda—a hardened enemy committed to our destruction—the same rights as garden-variety criminals at the cost of losing critical intelligence about real, future threats.” By making his choices, Yoo writes, “Mr. Obama may have opened the door to further terrorist acts on US soil by shattering some of the nation’s most critical defenses.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/29/2009]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Barack Obama, American Enterprise Institute, Wall Street Journal, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The CIA’s torture of a supposed high-ranking al-Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaida, produced no information that helped foil any terrorist attacks or plots, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Zubaida was subjected to intensive waterboarding and other tortures (see April - June 2002), and provided information about a fantastic array of al-Qaeda plots that sent CIA agents all over the globe chasing down his leads. But none of his information panned out, according to the former officials. Almost everything Zubaida said under torture was false, and most of the reliable information gleaned from him—chiefly the names of al-Qaeda members and associates—was obtained before the CIA began torturing him. Moreover, the US’s characterization of Zubaida as “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations” and a “trusted associate” of Osama bin Laden turned out to be false as well. Several sources have challenged the government’s characterization of Zubaida as a “high-level al-Qaeda operative” before now (see Shortly After March 28, 2002 and April 9, 2002 and After).
'Fixer' for Islamists before 9/11 - Zubaida, a native Palestinian, never even joined al-Qaeda until after 9/11, according to information obtained from court documents and interviews with current and former intelligence, law enforcement, and military sources. Instead, he was a “fixer” for a number of radical Islamists, who regarded the US as an enemy primarily because of its support for Israel. Many describe Zubaida as a “travel agent” for al-Qaeda and other radical Islamists. He joined al-Qaeda because of the US’s preparations to invade Afghanistan. US officials are contemplating what, if any, charges they can use to bring him into court. Zubaida has alleged links with Ahmed Ressam, the so-called “Millennium Bomber” (see December 14, 1999), and allegedly took part in plans to retaliate against US forces after the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001 (see December 17, 2001). But some US officials worry that bringing him into a courtroom would reveal the extent of his torture and abuse at the hands of the CIA, and that any evidence they might have against him is compromised because it was obtained in part through torture. Those officials want to send him to Jordan, where he faces allegations of conspiracy in terrorist attacks in that country.
Defending Zubaida's Information - Some in the US government still believe that Zubaida provided useful information. “It’s simply wrong to suggest that Abu Zubaida wasn’t intimately involved with al-Qaeda,” says a US counterterrorism official. “He was one of the terrorist organization’s key facilitators, offered new insights into how the organization operated, provided critical information on senior al-Qaeda figures… and identified hundreds of al-Qaeda members. How anyone can minimize that information—some of the best we had at the time on al-Qaeda—is beyond me.… Based on what he shared during his interrogations, he was certainly aware of many of al-Qaeda’s activities and operatives.” But the characterization of Zubaida as a well-connected errand runner was confirmed by Noor al-Deen, a Syrian teenager captured along with Zubaida at a Pakistani safe house (see March 28, 2002). Al-Deen readily answered questions, both in Pakistan and in a detention facility in Morocco. He described Zubaida as a well-known functionary with little knowledge of al-Qaeda operations. (Al-Deen was later transferred to Syria; his current whereabouts and status are unknown to the public.) A former Justice Department official closely involved in the early investigation of Zubaida says: “He was the above-ground support” for al-Qaeda and other radicals. “He was the guy keeping the safe house, and that’s not someone who gets to know the details of the plans. To make him the mastermind of anything is ridiculous.” A former intelligence officer says the US spent an inestimable amount of time and money chasing Zubaida’s “leads” to no effect: “We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms.”
Connected to KSM - Zubaida knew radical Islamist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed for years. Mohammed, often dubbed “KSM” by US officials, approached Zubaida in the 1990s about finding financial backers for a plan he had concocted to fly a small plane into the World Trade Center. Zubaida declined involvement but recommended he talk to bin Laden. Zubaida quickly told FBI interrogators of Mohammed and other al-Qaeda figures such as alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla (see May 8, 2002). He also revealed the plans of the low-level al-Qaeda operatives he fled Afghanistan with. Some wanted to strike US forces in Afghanistan with bombs, while others harbored ideas of further strikes on American soil. But he knew few details, and had no knowledge of plans by senior al-Qaeda operatives. At this point, the CIA took over the interrogations, and the torture began (see Mid-April-May 2002). As a result of the torture, Zubaida began alternating between obstinate silence and providing torrents of falsified and fanciful “intelligence”; when FBI “clean teams” attempted to re-interview some detainees who had been tortured in order to obtain evidence uncontaminated by abusive treatment, Zubaida refused to cooperate. Joseph Margulies, one of Zubaida’s attorneys, says: “The government doesn’t retreat from who KSM is, and neither does KSM. With Zubaida, it’s different. The government seems finally to understand he is not at all the person they thought he was. But he was tortured. And that’s just a profoundly embarrassing position for the government to be in.” Margulies and other lawyers want the US to send Zubaida to another country besides Jordan—Saudi Arabia, perhaps, where Zubaida has family. Military prosecutors have already deleted Zubaida’s name from the charge sheets of detainees who will soon stand trial, including several who were captured with Zubaida and are charged with crimes in which Zubaida’s involvement has been alleged.
Pressure from the White House - The pressure from the White House to get actionable information from Zubaida was intense (see Late March 2002), according to sources. One official recalls the pressure as “tremendous.” He says the push to force information from Zubaida mounted from one daily briefing to the next. “They couldn’t stand the idea that there wasn’t anything new. They’d say, ‘You aren’t working hard enough.’ There was both a disbelief in what he was saying and also a desire for retribution—a feeling that ‘He’s going to talk, and if he doesn’t talk, we’ll do whatever.’” [Washington Post, 3/29/2009]

Entity Tags: Jose Padilla, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Ressam, Abu Zubaida, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, US Department of Justice, Joseph Margulies, Central Intelligence Agency, Noor al-Deen

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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