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Context of 'June 27, 2001-July 11, 2001: Al-Marabh Arrested But Quickly Released; While in Prison He Boasts of FBI Ties'

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Nabil al-Marabh.Nabil al-Marabh. [Source: Associated Press]Nabil al-Marabh moves to Boston in 1989 and apparently lives there as a taxi driver for several years. [New York Times, 9/18/2001; Boston Herald, 9/19/2001] In a 2003 interview, al-Marabh will claim that he had a conflict with a fellow Boston taxi driver who falsely accused him of planning to bomb a car. He will say he spoke with FBI agents who concluded the allegations were false. But from this time on, the FBI repeatedly tried to recruit him to become an informant. He will claim he refused the offer (see Late August 2000). [Knight Ridder, 5/23/2003] In a 2002 statement, he will claim that he traveled to Pakistan in 1992 at the behest of a roommate who “both worked for the FBI and fought in Afghanistan.” (Interestingly, when al-Marabh will be briefly detained in Canada in the summer of 2001, fellow prisoners will claim that he repeatedly says he is in contact with the FBI because they find him “special”(see June 27, 2001-July 11, 2001).) Al-Marabh stays at the House of Martyrs, a guest house notoriously connected to bin Laden. He says he meets al-Qaeda operative Raed Hijazi there (though it seems likely they already met in Afghanistan in the late 1980s (see Late 1980s).) The two of them will later be roommates in Boston in the late 1990s (see June 1995-Early 1999). Curiously, one newspaper account will claim that Hijazi became an FBI informant around the time he was al-Marabh’s roommate (see Early 1997-Late 1998). [Washington Post, 9/4/2002] Al-Marabh and Hijazi go to a training camp in Afghanistan and receive training in rifles, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades. [Washington Post, 9/4/2002; Chicago Sun-Times, 9/5/2002; Associated Press, 6/3/2004] Al-Marabh later claims that he spends the next year or two in Pakistan working for the Muslim World League, an Islamic charity some have suspected of funding radical militants. He also later acknowledges distributing as much as $200,000 a month to various training camps in Afghanistan at this time, but claims it is for charitable causes. He says he decides to return to the US in the wake of a Pakistani crackdown on Arabs following the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. [Washington Post, 9/4/2002; New York Times, 7/31/2003; Associated Press, 6/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Muslim World League, Raed Hijazi, Nabil al-Marabh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Boston Globe will later report that in late August 2000, Nabl al-Marabh moves from Boston to Detroit, leaving his estranged wife behind. “Before he left, however, he told cabdriver friends that the FBI had approached him and was asking him questions about bin Laden’s operation, and that he was considering cooperating. The friends said that al-Marabh did not say why the FBI had approached him about bin Laden but that it may have been prompted by the Customs Service investigation that found that he had wired money to [al-Qaeda operative Raed] Hijazi. By this time, Hijazi was in jail in Jordan.” [Boston Globe, 10/15/2001] In a 2003 interview, al-Marabh will claim that in the early 1990s, while working as a taxi driver in Boston, he had a run-in with a fellow taxi driver “who he thinks falsely accused him of planning to bomb a car. He said he spoke freely with the FBI agents, who concluded that the allegations were false. From then on, he said, the FBI tried to recruit him to become an informant, and he refused.” He will also claim that in the early 1990s he had a roommate who both worked for the FBI and fought in Afghanistan (see 1989-1994). [Knight Ridder, 5/23/2003] But it is possible that al-Marabh accepts the FBI offer, because while in a Canadian prison in July 2001, he will boast to fellow prisoners that he remains in contact with the FBI (see June 27, 2001-July 11, 2001). Around this time, September 2000, it appears that the Jordanian government tells the US that Hijazi, al-Marabh, and 9/11 hijacker Hamza Alghamdi are connected through telephone numbers (see September 2000). Hijazi had already worked as an FBI informant while he was roommates with al-Marabh in Boston (see Early 1997-Late 1998). In the spring of 2001, al-Marabh will be investigated for links to three 9/11 hijackers (see Spring 2001), but he will nonetheless go on to have an important role in the 9/11 plot.

Entity Tags: Raed Hijazi, Nabil al-Marabh, Hamza Alghamdi, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bassam Kanj.
Bassam Kanj. [Source: FBI]Bassam Kanj is killed in a battle in Lebanon. Kanj lived on and off in Boston for nearly 15 years, and was a friend of al-Qaeda operatives Nabil al-Marabh, Raed Hijazi, and Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi. All four of them fought together in Afghanistan in the late 1980s (see Late 1980s), then worked at the same Boston taxi company in the 1990s (see June 1995-Early 1999). In late 1998, Kanj left Boston for Lebanon where he apparently recruited a couple hundred people to take part in a rebellion to overthrow the Lebanese government. He is killed during a five day battle, along with 21 others. Two days after the battle, a Lebanese newspaper identifies him as an al-Qaeda operative who had received financial support from bin Laden. This leads to a renewed focus on him in the US. In February 2001, the Boston Globe will report, “The FBI is continuing to look at Kanj’s and Hijazi’s activities in the Boston area in hopes of learning more about their contacts inside bin Laden’s far-flung organization.” Michael Rolince, chief of international terrorism operations for the FBI, will tell the Globe that both men had a “higher station” than most in al-Qaeda, and will add, “We are still trying to sort out who played what role.” [Boston Globe, 2/5/2001] Presumably, this leads the FBI to take another look at Nabil al-Marabh, who had been roommates with both Hijazi and Kanj and is already wanted for a variety of al-Qaeda contacts. An individual matching al-Marabh’s description is even mentioned in a prominent New York Times story about al-Qaeda in January 2001. The article states, “In early 1997, Hijazi moved to Boston, where he had a friend from his years in Afghanistan.” [New York Times, 1/15/2001] Yet apparently there is no concerted effort to find al-Marabh, who will even be set free after being arrested trying to illegally enter the US (see June 27, 2001-July 11, 2001). The Boston FBI began investigating Elzahabi for militant ties in 1999, but lost track of him when he went to fight in Chechnya (see 1997 and 1999). But apparently he is not detected reentering the US shortly before 9/11 (see Mid-August 2001).

Entity Tags: Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, Nabil al-Marabh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bassam Kanj, Michael Rolince, Raed Hijazi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Satam Al Suqami.Satam Al Suqami. [Source: FBI]In the wake of the foiled al-Qaeda plot to blow up hotels in Jordan during the millennium celebrations, Jordan gives tips to the US that launch a Customs investigation into one of the plotters, Raed Hijazi, and his US connections. “Customs agents for months traced money flowing from several Boston banks to banks overseas, where officials believe the funds were intended for bin Laden’s network.” In September and October 2000, Jordanian officials gave US investigators evidence of financial transactions connecting Raed Hijazi, Nabil al-Marabh, and future 9/11 hijacker Hamza Alghamdi (see September 2000; October 2000). By spring 2001, Custom agents further connect al-Marabh and Hijazi to financial deals with future 9/11 hijackers Ahmed Alghamdi and Satam Al Suqami. The Washington Post will later note, “These various connections not only suggest that investigators are probing ties between bin Laden and the hijackers, but also that federal authorities knew about some of those associations long before the bombings.” [Washington Post, 9/21/2001] It appears that the money flowed from al-Marabh to Alghamdi and Al Suqami. [Cox News Service, 10/16/2001; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] While accounts of these connections to Alghamdi and Al Suqami will be widely reported in the media in the months after 9/11, a Customs Service spokesman will say he can neither confirm nor deny the existence of the inquiry. [New York Times, 9/18/2001] It appears that the two hijackers are not put on any kind of watch list and are not stopped when they arrive in the US on April 23, 2001, and May 2, 2001, respectively (see April 23-June 29, 2001). British newspapers will note that Alghamdi was one of several hijackers who should have been “instantly ‘red-flagged’ by British intelligence” but in fact is not when he passes through Britain sometime in early 2001 (see January-June 2001). The 9/11 Commission Final Report will fail to mention the Customs investigation and will give no hint that these hijackers’ names were known in the US before 9/11.

Entity Tags: Satam Al Suqami, Raed Hijazi, 9/11 Commission, Nabil al-Marabh, US Customs Service, Jordan, Ahmed Alghamdi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A courtroom artist’s depiction of Mahmoud Jaballah.A courtroom artist’s depiction of Mahmoud Jaballah. [Source: CBC]On June 27, 2001, Nabil al-Marabh is arrested while trying to enter the US from Canada in the back of a tractor-trailer, carrying a forged Canadian passport and a bogus social insurance card. [St. Catherines Standard, 10/2/2001] The New York Times will note that, “American officials had plenty of reason to believe that he was up to no good. Nine months earlier, he had been identified to American intelligence agents as one of Osama bin Laden’s operatives in the United States. American customs agents knew about money he had transferred to an associate of Osama bin Laden in the Middle East. And the Boston police had issued a warrant for his arrest after he violated probation for stabbing a friend with a knife. But [US officials] simply let him go.” [New York Times, 10/14/2001] The US turns him back to the Canadians. He is held for two weeks, then released on bail despite evidence linking him to militants (see Shortly Before July 11, 2001). During his two-week detention in a Canadian prison, al-Marabh boasts to other prisoners that he remains in contact with the FBI. When one prisoner asks him why, his reply is “because I’m special.” After 9/11, these prisoners will be puzzled that the FBI has not tried to interview them on what they know about al-Marabh. Al-Marabh will fail to show up for a Canadian deportation hearing in August and for a court date in September. It appears he quickly sneaks back into the US instead. [St. Catherines Standard, 10/2/2001] Al-Marabh’s Boston landlord will later be asked if he thought al-Marabh could have been a terrorist. The landlord will reply, “He was too stupid, number one, to be a terrorist. Because terrorists today are very intelligent people. But he might be used by some smarter or intelligent sources, who use people like that.” [ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] In July, just after he is released on bail in Canada, the Boston police will go to his former Boston address with a warrant for his March arrest, but he will not be there. [New York Times, 10/14/2001] Also at some point in July, Canadian authorities inform US Customs about some dubious financial transactions involving al-Marabh, and apparently the information is used in a Customs money-laundering probe (see Spring 2001). [Newsweek, 10/1/2001] One prominent former Canadian intelligence official will say that whether a more detailed look at al-Marabh at this time could have stopped the 9/11 attacks is an “intriguing question.… It becomes ever more intriguing as evidence seeps in.” [Ottawa Citizen, 10/29/2001]

Entity Tags: Nabil al-Marabh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Canada

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Children at the Um Al-Qura Islamic School, where both Jaballah and Shehab served as principals.Children at the Um Al-Qura Islamic School, where both Jaballah and Shehab served as principals. [Source: Um Al-Qura Islamic School]On June 27, 2001, Nabil al-Marabh was arrested while trying to enter the US from Canada. He is already wanted in the US for skipping bail on an attempted murder charge, and US intelligence has linked him to al-Qaeda (see June 27, 2001-July 11, 2001). He is held in Canada. About two weeks after his arrest, there is a court hearing to determine if he should be released. His lawyer argues that he should be released because his uncle, Ahmed Shehab, can keep him in line. The lawyer does not mention that Shehab works at a school headed by Mahmoud Jaballah. Canadian intelligence has been closely monitoring Jaballah since 1996 and has overheard him communicating with many top militant leaders, including al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri (see May 11, 1996-August 2001 and February 1998). Presumably Canadian intelligence is well aware of Jaballah’s job at the school discussed in the hearing, yet this is never mentioned to the judge. Jaballah had been arrested in 1999 for suspected ties to Islamic militants and then released, and his school job had been mentioned in media reports. In August 2001, he will be arrested again, and Shebab will replace him as principal at the school. [Globe and Mail, 11/4/1999; New York Times, 10/14/2001; Toronto Star, 7/17/2004] While in jail, al-Marabh is visited by Hassan Almrei, who had been his roommate earlier in the year (see October 19, 2001). [MacLean's, 12/10/2001] Almrei will also later testify that in 1995 he obtained a false passport for al-Marabh, and that after al-Marabh’s arrest in June 2001, al-Marabh asked him to obtain a second false passport for him. [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2/22/2008 pdf file] Canadian authorities were investigating Almrei since at least September 2000, and may have suspected his role in a plot against the Toronto airport by this time (see January 2001-Summer 2001). But authorities either do not notice al-Marabh’s links to Jaballah and/or Almrei or do not care, because he is released on bail on July 11 and immediately disappears.

Entity Tags: Mahmoud Jaballah, Hassan Almrei, Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Nabil al-Marabh, Ahmed Shehab

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI decides not to charge Nabil al-Marabh on any terrorism related charge. Instead, on September 3, 2002, al-Marabh pleads guilty to illegally entering the US in June 2001 (see June 27, 2001-July 11, 2001), and is sentenced to only eight months in prison. [Chicago Sun-Times, 9/5/2002] Federal prosecutors claim that “at this time” there is no evidence “of any involvement by [al-Marabh] in any terrorist organization,” even though he has admitted to getting weapons training in Afghan training camps. [Washington Post, 9/4/2002] Numerous reported ties between al-Marabh and the 9/11 hijackers are apparently not mentioned in the trial (see September 2000; January 2001-Summer 2001; January 2001-Summer 2001; Spring 2001; Early September 2001). The judge states he cannot say “in good conscience” that he approves of the plea bargain worked out between the prosecution and defense, but he seems unable to stop it. He says, “Something about this case makes me feel uncomfortable. I just don’t have a lot of information.” He has a number of unanswered questions, such as how al-Marabh had $22,000 in cash and $25,000 worth of amber jewels on his possession when he was arrested, despite holding only a sporadic series of low-paying jobs. “These are the things that kind of bother me. It’s kind of unusual, isn’t it?” says the judge. [National Post, 9/4/2002] In 2003, the judge at al-Marabh’s deportation hearing will rule that al-Marabh presents “a danger to national security” and is “credibly linked to elements of terrorism” but this will not stop him from being deported.(see January 2004).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Nabil al-Marabh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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