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Context of 'June 1996-February 1997: British Intelligence Recruits Prominent Al-Qaeda Imam Abu Qatada'

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MI5 headquarters in London.MI5 headquarters in London. [Source: Cryptome]In June and December 1996, and again in February 1997, a British MI5 agent meets with radical Muslim imam Abu Qatada, hoping he will inform on his fellow extremists. Qatada is a Jordanian national who entered Britain in September 1993 using a forged United Arab Emirates passport, and was granted asylum in 1994.
Qatada Promises to Look after British Interests - In his meetings with the MI5 agent he claims to “wield powerful, spiritual influence over the Algerian community in London.” He says he does not want London to become a center for settling Islamic scores, and that he will report anyone damaging British interests. He says the individuals he has influence over pose no threat to British security, and promises that “he would not bite the hand that fed him.” He also promises to “report anyone damaging the interests of [Britain].” The MI5 agent records that “surprisingly enough—[Abu Qatada] revealed little love of the methodology and policies pursued by Osama bin Laden. He certainly left me with the impression that he had nothing but contempt for bin Laden’s distant financing of the jihad.” [Special Immigration Appeals Commission, 1/2004 pdf file; Channel 4 News (London), 3/23/2004; Guardian, 3/24/2004; London Times, 3/25/2004]
Links to Al-Qaeda - Yet Qatada is later described as being a “key [British] figure” in al-Qaeda related terror activity. Around 1996, a highly reliable informer told US intelligence that Qatada is on al-Qaeda’s fatwa (religious) committee (see June 1996-1997). Videos of his sermons are later discovered in the Hamburg flat used by Mohamed Atta. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, and Zacarias Moussaoui, who is later convicted in connection with the 9/11 attacks, are alleged to have sought religious advice from him. [BBC, 8/11/2005; Guardian, 8/11/2005]
Meetings Apparently Continue - Reportedly, after Qatada’s February 1997 meeting with the British agent, no further such meetings occur. [Special Immigration Appeals Commission, 1/2004 pdf file] However, some French officials later allege that Qatada continues to be an MI5 agent, and this is what allows him to avoid arrest after 9/11 (see Early December 2001). [Observer, 2/24/2002] It will later emerge that Bisher al-Rawi, a friend of Qatada, served as an informant and a go-between MI5 and Qatada in numerous meetings between late 2001 and 2002, when Qatada is finally arrested (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002). Furthermore, al-Rawi says he served as a translator between MI5 and Qatada before 9/11, suggesting that Qatada never stopped being an informant. [Observer, 7/29/2007]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), Abu Qatada, Bisher al-Rawi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Several weeks after the 9/11 attacks, two agents of MI5, the British equivalent of the FBI, meet with Bisher al-Rawi at his London house and try to recruit him to work as an informant. By one account, the meeting takes place one day after 9/11. Al-Rawi is an ideal candidate because he is well-educated, fluent in English, and a long-time friend of London imam Abu Qatada. [Independent, 3/16/2006; Washington Post, 4/2/2006] Qatada himself has been working as an informant for MI5 since 1996 (see June 1996-February 1997). Al-Rawi will later claim that MI5 asked him to serve as an interpreter between MI5 and Arabic speakers several times before 9/11. He did so, including interpreting for Qatada. He will later comment, ‘On two occasions I asked the officers in private, “Is it OK to have a relationship with Abu Qatada? Is this a problem?’ And they always said, ‘No, it’s fine, it’s OK.’” Al-Rawi agrees to become an informant and begins regularly meeting with the two agents in hotel rooms around London. [Independent, 3/16/2006] For the next year, he will mostly work as a go-between between MI5 and Qatada. Presumably, it would be dangerous for the well-known imam to be seen meeting directly with British agents (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002).

Entity Tags: Bisher al-Rawi, UK Security Service (MI5), Abu Qatada

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Qatada.Abu Qatada. [Source: Public domain]Al-Qaeda religious leader Abu Qatada disappears, despite being under surveillance in Britain. He has been “described by some justice officials as the spiritual leader and possible puppet master of al-Qaeda’s European networks.” [Time, 7/7/2002] He supposedly escapes from his house, which the police are monitoring, in a minivan with his heavily pregnant wife and four children. [London Times, 10/25/2002; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 108] Qatada had already been sentenced to death in abstentia in Jordan, and is wanted at the time by the US, Spain, France, and Algeria as well. [Guardian, 2/14/2002] In October 2001, the media had strongly suggested that Qatada would soon be arrested for his known roles in al-Qaeda plots, but no such arrest occurred. [London Times, 10/21/2001] In November, while Qatada was still living openly in Britain, a Spanish judge expressed disbelief that Qatada hadn’t been arrested already, as he has previously been connected to a Spanish al-Qaeda cell that may have met with Mohamed Atta in July 2001. [Observer, 11/25/2001] Time magazine will later claim that just before new anti-terrorism laws go into effect in Britain, Abu Qatada and his family are secretly moved to a safe house by the British government, where he is lodged, fed, and clothed by the government. “The deal is that Abu Qatada is deprived of contact with extremists in London and Europe but can’t be arrested or expelled because no one officially knows where he is,” says a source, whose claims were corroborated by French authorities. The British reportedly do this to avoid a “hot potato” trial. [Time, 7/7/2002] A British official rejects these assertions: “We wouldn’t give an awful lot of credence [to the story].” [Guardian, 7/8/2002] Some French officials tell the press that Qatada was allowed to disappear because he is actually a British intelligence agent. [Observer, 2/24/2002] It appears that Qatada held secret meetings with British intelligence in 1996 and 1997, and the British were under the impression that he was informing on al-Qaeda (though there is disagreement if he was misleading them or not) (see June 1996-February 1997). Qatada will be arrested in London on October 23, 2002 (see October 23, 2002).

Entity Tags: Algeria, Al-Qaeda, Abu Qatada, United Kingdom, Mohamed Atta, Central Intelligence Agency, Jordan, France, Spain

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Jamil al-Banna.Jamil al-Banna. [Source: Public domain]Jamil al-Banna is friends with Bisher al-Rawi, who is working as an informant for the British intelligence agency MI5. Al-Rawi is mostly helping MI5 communicate with imam Abu Qatada, who also is an MI5 informant but is pretending to be in hiding (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002 and Early December 2001). Al-Banna is aware of al-Rawi’s work and begins to help him. Sometimes al-Banna also serves as a go-between for MI5 and Abu Qatada. Al-Rawi stops working for MI5 in the summer of 2002 (see Summer 2002), but al-Banna does not. For instance, when Abu Qatada is arrested in late October 2002 (see October 23, 2002), al-Banna takes his wife and child home at the request of the British officials on the scene. [Independent, 3/16/2006] But in early November 2002, al-Banna will go to Gambia with al-Rawi on business, and MI5 will turn the two of them over to the CIA to be interrogated (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002).

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), Abu Qatada, Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil al-Banna

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, 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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