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Context of 'June 1996-1997: US Intelligence Learns that Abu Qatada Is Al-Qaeda’s Religious Adviser'

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Rachid Ramda.Rachid Ramda. [Source: Public domain]The London Times publishes one of the first Western newspaper articles about Osama bin Laden. The article says, “A Saudi Arabian millionaire is suspected of channeling thousands of pounds to Islamic militants in London which may have bankrolled French terrorist bombings.” Bin Laden is referred to as “Oussama ibn-Laden.” It says that he sent money to Rachid Ramda, editor in chief of Al Ansar, the London-based newsletter for the radical Algerian militant group the GIA. However, government sources say that the money ostensibly for the newsletter was really used to fund a wave of militant attacks in France in 1995 (see July-October 1995). Ramda was arrested in London on November 4, 1995 at the request of the French government. [London Times, 1/5/1996] Two other people working as editors on the Al Ansar newsletter in 1995, Abu Qatada and Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, will later be found to be important al-Qaeda leaders (see June 1996-1997 and October 31, 2005). It will take ten years for Britain to extradite Ramda to France. He will be tried in France in 2005 and sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 1995 French attacks. [BBC, 10/26/2007] Bin Laden may have met with Ramda while visiting Britain in 1994 (see 1994). It will later be revealed that the 1995 attacks in France were led by an Algerian government mole (see July-October 1995), and the GIA as a whole was run by a government mole (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996).

Entity Tags: Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, Osama bin Laden, Groupe Islamique Armé, Rachid Ramda, Abu Qatada

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Qatada.Abu Qatada. [Source: AFP/Getty Images]From June 1996 into 1997, highly reliable al-Qaeda defector Jamal al-Fadl is debriefed by US intelligence (see June 1996-April 1997), and presumably he reveals what he knows about British imam Abu Qatada. As al-Fadl will later reveal in early 2001 court testimony, in the early 1990s bin Laden grew concerned about the perception of religious legitimacy of al-Qaeda action. In 1992 and 1993, he formed a fatwa committee, made up of al-Qaeda’s more religious leaders, to provide a fatwa (religious sanction) for al-Qaeda’s methods. The committee issues a secret fatwa allowing al-Qaeda to work to evict the US military from the Arabian peninsula. Al-Fadl claims that one of the key members of this fatwa committee is Abu Qatada. In the early 1990s, Abu Qatada is little known, but he moved to Britain in 1994, gained asylum there, and began to gain a public reputation as a radical Islamist preacher. [Corbin, 2003, pp. 37] Interestingly around the same time the US learns this information from al-Fadl, British intelligence begins using Qatada as an informant (see June 1996-February 1997).

Entity Tags: Jamal al-Fadl, Abu Qatada, US intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical and informer for Britain’s security services (see Early 1997), is given the prestigious Friday sermon spot at the large Finsbury Park mosque in London. He is suggested thanks to his work at a mosque in nearby Luton (see 1996) and at his interviews he manages to charm the mosque’s management committee, which is also pleased by his low financial demands.
Abu Qatada Rejected - The committee had also interviewed radical imam Abu Qatada, a well known scholar and author, for the position—Abu Qatada has militant links, but the committee is apparently not aware of them at this time. However, Abu Qatada told the committee that they should be grateful he was willing to take the job, demanding to see the mosque’s accounts and to receive 50 percent of all monies collected there. It is not known what Abu Qatada, an informer for British intelligence (see June 1996-February 1997), wanted to do with the money, but he is apparently a member of al-Qaeda’s fatwa committee (see June 1996-1997) and is linked to terrorism finance (see 1995-February 2001). Due to the mosque’s financial position, the committee does not offer the job to Abu Qatada.
Mosque Already Infiltrated by GIA - A group of Algerian radicals, many of whom are veterans of the Algerian Civil War and are members of the Algerian militant group the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), had already infiltrated the mosque, and the Algerians assist Abu Hamza after his appointment. One leading Algerian radical seen at the mosque is Ali Touchent, a suspected mole for the Algerian intelligence service (see November 1996).
Takeover - However, Abu Hamza soon begins to take the mosque away from the moderate trustees and turn it into a hotbed of radicalism. Initially, he claims that money has gone missing from a set of flats the mosque rents to tenants, then says that one of the flats is being used as a brothel and that one of the mosque’s old management team is taking a cut. Thanks to Abu Hamza’s exciting sermons, many more people attend the mosque, and there is not enough room to accommodate all of them in the main prayer hall. Abu Hamza makes money by selling tapes of his sermons, as well as videos of radicals fighting in Chechnya, Algeria, and Bosnia, in a shop he opens at the mosque. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 36-43]

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri, Abu Qatada, Finsbury Park Mosque, Groupe Islamique Armé

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Jordan requests the extradition from Britain of Abu Qatada, a cleric who sits on al-Qaeda’s fatwa committee (see June 1996-1997) and who is wanted in connection with a series of car bombings in Jordan. However, Britain, where Abu Qatada lives, declines the request and grants him asylum. Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “Britain had given shelter to one of the fiercest advocates of the global jihad. Abu Qatada lived and breathed the al-Qaeda ideology, issued religious decrees… allowing Algerian terrorists to commit mass murder in the name of God, and raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for Islamists to carry on the war against Russia in Chechnya.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 29] Abu Qatada is working as an informant with Britain’s security services at this time (see June 1996-February 1997).

Entity Tags: Abu Qatada, Jordan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Reda Hassaine, an informer for the British security service MI5, learns that a top London-based operative known as Abu Walid is to travel to Afghanistan. He also hears rumors that Abu Walid is to meet Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders and will not return to London after the meeting. The mission is so important that Abu Qatada, a leading imam who reportedly sits on al-Qaeda’s fatwa committee (see June 1996-1997) and also informs for MI5 (see June 1996-February 1997), is to hold a special prayer session to bless Abu Walid before he leaves. Hassaine attends the prayer session, but the militants realize he is an informant and attempt to murder him (see April 21, 2000). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 148] French intelligence had previously considered assassinating Abu Walid in London, but he will be reported to be in Afghanistan after the US invasion and will die in Chechnya in 2004 (see 1997-1998).

Entity Tags: Abu Walid, Reda Hassaine, UK Security Service (MI5)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

London imam Abu Qatada is arrested at a house in South London by Scotland Yard and MI5 officials. Intelligence agencies in eight countries, including Italy, France, and Germany, have claimed that Qatada has extensive al-Qaeda links, and he is believed to be a member of al-Qaeda’s fatwa (religious) committee (see June 1996-1997). Using anti-terrorist laws passed in December 2001, he is held at the Belmarsh high security prison without charge. He “disappeared” hours before the new laws went into effect (see Early December 2001). Several days before his arrest, Qatada came out of hiding to release a new document justifying the 9/11 attacks. He posted a ten-page document on the Internet entitled “The Legal Vision for the September 11 Events.” In it, he outlined the “moral” case for the attacks and praised Osama bin Laden for challenging the US. [London Times, 10/25/2002] Another radical London imam, Sheik Omar Bakri Mohamed, tells the press that Abu Qatada was arrested after family members visited his house and one of them used a cell phone that was apparently traced by the authorities. [New York Times, 10/26/2002] Qatada worked as an MI5 informant beginning in 1996 (see June 1996-February 1997).

Entity Tags: Abu Qatada, UK Security Service (MI5), Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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