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Context of 'June 1999-March 2000: FBI Investigates Al-Qaeda-Linked Imam and Misses His Contacts with 9/11 Hijackers'

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The London-based Advice and Reformation Committee (ARC) establishes a secure system for communications between Saudi Arabia and London for Osama bin Laden. The system is set up by Denver resident Lujain al-Imam, wife of London-based Islamic activist Mohammad al-Massari, at his request. The calls are routed from Saudi Arabia to Britain through Denver, Colorado, using toll-free lines established for US servicemen during the Gulf War, in order to stop the Saudi government from intercepting the messages. After the system is set up, bin Laden calls al-Massari to thank him. It is not known how long the phone system is used. However, in late 2001 al-Imam will say that some of the people involved in setting up the system are still in the Denver area, but she will not name them. (Kilzer 11/12/2001)
Who Else Is in Denver? - The ARC is widely considered bin Laden’s publicity office. ARC head Khalid al-Fawwaz will be indicted for his involvement in the US embassy bombings in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998 and August 21, 2001). Denver-based radical publisher Homaidan al-Turki begins to be investigated over suspicions he is involved in terrorism in 1995, although it is unclear whether this is related to the Saudi Arabia-Britain phone lines. (Sarache 8/31/2006) Another likely suspect for this communications hub would be Ziyad Khaleel. He lives in Denver in the early 1990s until about 1994, and is vice president of the Denver Islamic Society. In 1998, he will work with al-Fawwaz to buy a satellite phone for bin Laden (see November 1996-Late August 1998). (Finley 1/27/1991; Branch-Brioso 1/22/2003) It seems likely Khaleel is in contact with Anwar al-Awlaki at this time, since al-Awlaki works as an imam for the Denver Islamic Society from 1994 to 1996. In 1999, al-Awlaki will be investigated by the FBI for his links to Khaleel (see June 1999-March 2000). He will go on to be the imam for a couple of the future 9/11 hijackers in San Diego, California, and then will become a prominent radical in Yemen. (Shane and Mekhennet 5/8/2010)

Omar al-Bayoumi.Omar al-Bayoumi. [Source: Saudi Government via Al Arabiya]The FBI conducts a counterterrorism inquiry on Omar al-Bayoumi, suspected al-Qaeda advance man, and possible Saudi agent. The FBI discovers he has been in contact with several people also under investigation. (US Congress 7/24/2003 pdf file) The FBI is given a tip that he was sent a suspicious package filled with wire from the Middle East, and that large numbers of Arab men routinely meet in his apartment. His landlord notices that he switches from driving a beat up old car to a new Mercedes. (Isikoff and Klaidman 7/28/2003) According to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, the FBI notes that al-Bayoumi has “access to seemingly unlimited funding from Saudi Arabia.” For instance, an FBI source identifies him as a person who has delivered about $500,000 from Saudi Arabia to buy a mosque in June 1998 (see June 1998). However, the FBI closes the inquiry “for reasons that remain unclear .” (US Congress 7/24/2003 pdf file) Also in 1999, al-Bayoumi is working as an employee of the Saudi company Dallah Avco but apparently is doing no work. Someone in the company tries to fire him and sends a note to the Saudi government about this, since the company is so closely tied to the government. However, Mohammed Ahmed al-Salmi, the Director General of Civil Aviation, replies that it is “extremely urgent” his job is renewed “as quickly as possible,” and so he keeps his job. (Simpson 8/11/2003)

Anwar al-Awlaki.Anwar al-Awlaki. [Source: Public domain]The FBI conducts a counterterrorism inquiry into Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam who will later be suspected of involvement in the 9/11 plot. He serves as the “spiritual leader” to several of the hijackers (see March 2001 and After), and by 2008 US intelligence will determine he is linked to al-Qaeda (see February 27, 2008).
bullet The investigation is opened when it is learned he had probably been visited by a “procurement agent” for bin Laden, Ziyad Khaleel. Khaleel had helped buy a satellite phone for bin Laden; when he is arrested in December 1999 he reportedly tells the FBI crucial details about al-Qaeda operations in the US (see December 29, 1999).
bullet In early 2000 the FBI is aware when al-Awlaki is visited by an unnamed close associate of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 131 pdf file; Schmidt 2/27/2008)
bullet He also serves as vice president of the Charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW), the US branch of a Yemeni charity founded by Sheikh Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, a Yemeni imam who the US will officially designate a terrorist in 2004. CSSW also has ties to the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, Italy, considered one of the centers of al-Qaeda activity in Europe. The FBI begins investigating CSSW in 1999 after a Yemeni politician visits the US to solicit donations for the charity, and then visits Mahmoud Es Sayed, a known al-Qaeda figure at the Islamic Cultural Institute, on the same trip. (Burr and Collins 2006, pp. 243; Schmidt 2/27/2008)
bullet The FBI learns that al-Awlaki knows individuals from the suspect Holy Land Foundation and others involved in raising money for Hamas. Sources allege that al-Awlaki has even more extremist connections.
But none of these links are considered strong enough for criminal charges, and the investigation is closed. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 517) Al-Awlaki is beginning to associate with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar shortly before the investigation ends. For instance, on February 4, one month before the FBI investigation is closed, al-Awlaki talks on the telephone four times with hijacker associate Omar al-Bayoumi. The 9/11 Commission will later speculate that these calls are related to Alhazmi and Almihdhar, since al-Bayoumi is helping them that day, and that Alhazmi or Almihdhar may even have been using al-Bayoumi’s phone at the time (see February 4, 2000). Al-Bayoumi had also been the subject of an FBI counterterrorism investigation in 1999 (see September 1998-July 1999).

Ziyad Khaleel in Missouri in 1996.Ziyad Khaleel in Missouri in 1996. [Source: Evan Kohlmann]Police in Jordan detain Ziyad Khaleel, who the FBI calls a Florida-based “procurement agent” for Osama bin Laden. The FBI says Khaleel’s role is to “procure computers, satellite telephones, and covert surveillance equipment” for al-Qaeda leaders. (Newsweek 2/7/2000) In 1995, Khaleel started studied at Columbia College in Kansas City. The following year, using money sent by others, the FBI monitored him as he helped bin Laden buy a satellite phone (see November 1996-Late December 1999 and November 1996-Late August 1998). He continued to buy new minutes and parts for the phone at least through 1998 (see July 29-August 7, 1998). (Morris 9/20/2001) While living in the US, he also was helping Hamas, the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), and working as a regional director for the Islamic American Relief Agency (IARA), which was directly funding bin Laden (see November 1996-Late December 1999). US intelligence also linked him to the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in 1994, a charity front with ties to both bin Laden and the CIA (see 1986-1993). Once in custody, Khaleel cooperates with the FBI and is said to provide “crucial evidence about bin Laden’s US operations.” But he is quickly released. He will graduate from Columbia College later in 2000. (Newsweek 2/7/2000; Morris 9/20/2001) He will continue to raise money in the US for Palestinian groups the US government will later say are terrorist-related. He will leave the US around early 2001 and apparently dies in a car crash in Saudi Arabia in 2002. (Branch-Brioso 1/22/2003; Isikoff and Hosenball 10/20/2004)

The 9/11 hijackers have links to several people associated with “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdul-Rahman, the spiritual head of the group that bombed the World Trade Center in 1993. Abdul-Rahman has been in prison since the mid-1990s.
bullet 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi attend a mosque in San Diego that is visited by an unnamed associate of Abdul-Rahman who is under investigation by the Los Angeles FBI (see June 1999-March 2000);
bullet The mosque is also attended by Osama Basnan, who threw a party for Abdul-Rahman in 1992 (see Spring 2000);
bullet 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta is seen with Adnan Shukrijumah, son of Abdul-Rahman’s former translator (see May 2, 2001) and Atta and hijacker Marwan Alshehhi may attend a mosque run by his father (see 2000-2001);
bullet Hijacker Mohand Alshehri is seen near the Minnesota clinic where Abdul-Rahman is being held (see August 2001);
bullet Some hijackers have the same mailing address as Abdul-Rahman and at least one of his associates (see Before September 11, 2001);
bullet Khalid Almihdhar and other hijackers obtain false ID cards from Mohamed el-Atriss, an associate of an unindicted co-conspirator at Abdul-Rahman’s trial (see (July-August 2001)); (Lance 2006, pp. 373)
bullet In addition, people attending a Bronx mosque are warned to stay away from lower Manhattan on 9/11 (see Early September 2001).
In early 2000, the Able Danger data-mining program apparently identifies Atta, Alshehhi, Alhazmi, and Almihdhar as members of al-Qaeda through their associations with people linked to Abdul-Rahman (see January-February 2000).

According to phone records, four calls take place between imam Anwar al-Awlaki and Omar al-Bayoumi on February 4, 2000. This is the same day 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar move into their own apartment in the Parkwood Apartments complex in San Diego (see February 4-Mid-May 2000). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 517) On this day, al-Bayoumi is the co-signer and guarantor on their lease, and pays their first months’ rent and deposit. It is possible they are using al-Bayoumi’s phone at this time. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/3/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 517) An FBI agent who investigated the calls will later say that he is 98 percent certain that the phone is being used by Alhazmi and Almihdhar at the time. The phone will call al-Awlaki on February 10, 16, and 18 as well (see Spring 2000). (9/11 Commission 11/17/2003 pdf file) Al-Bayoumi, a suspected Saudi spy, helps the hijackers settle in San Diego in many ways (see January 15-February 2000). Al-Awlaki is the imam for the hijackers at the Al-Ribat Al-Islami mosque (also known as Rabat) on the La Mesa-San Diego border (see February-August 2000). US investigators will later conclude he is connected to al-Qaeda and probably involved in the 9/11 plot. (Schmidt 2/27/2008) Al-Awlaki is the subject of an FBI counterterrorism investigation at the time these calls are made, but the investigation is closed one month later (see June 1999-March 2000).

The Dar al Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Virginia.The Dar al Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Virginia. [Source: Fox News]After living together in Phoenix since December 2000, 9/11 hijackers Hani Hanjour and Nawaf Alhazmi move to Falls Church, Virginia, where imam Anwar al-Awlaki preaches. (Fainaru and Ibrahim 9/10/2002; 9/11 Commission 1/26/2004) They live only a few blocks from where two nephews of Osama bin Laden with ties to terrorism go to work (see February-September 11, 1996 and June 1, 2004). They continue to live there off and on until around August. They begin attending the Dar al Hijrah mosque. (Fainaru and Ibrahim 9/10/2002) When they and hijacker Khalid Almihdhar lived in San Diego in early 2000, they attended a mosque there led by al-Awlaki. This imam moved to Falls Church in January 2001, and now the hijackers attend his sermons at the Dar al Hijrah mosque. Some later suspect that al-Awlaki is part of the 9/11 plot because of their similar moves, and other reasons:
bullet The FBI says al-Awlaki had closed door meetings with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in 2000 while all three of them were living in San Diego (see February-August 2000). (US Congress 7/24/2003 pdf file)
bullet Police later find the phone number of al-Awlaki’s mosque when they search “would-be twentieth hijacker” Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s apartment in Germany. (US Congress 7/24/2003 pdf file)
bullet The FBI was investigating al-Awlaki for ties to Islamic militant groups in early 2000 (see June 1999-March 2000).
bullet A neighbor of al-Awlaki later claims that, in the first week of August 2001, al-Awlaki knocked on his door and told him he is leaving for Kuwait: “He came over before he left and told me that something very big was going to happen, and that he had to be out of the country when it happened” (see Early August 2001). (Isikoff and Klaidman 7/28/2003)
US officials will allow al-Awlaki to leave the US twice in 2002, but by 2008 they will conclude that he is linked to al-Qaeda attacks (see Early September 2006-December 2007 and February 27, 2008).

Two agents from the Oklahoma City FBI office visit Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma, to learn about Zacarias Moussaoui’s training there earlier in the year. One of these agents had visited the same school in September 1999 to learn more about Ihab Ali Nawawi, an al-Qaeda agent who trained there in 1993. Apparently, this agent forgets the connection when he visits the school to look into Moussaoui. He later admits he should have connected the two cases. (Cullen and Ranalli 9/18/2001; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 322) The staff director of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry later states, “No one will ever know whether a greater focus on the connection between these events would have led to the unraveling of the September 11 plot.” (Smith 9/25/2002) The Oklahoma City office also does not connect Moussaoui to a memo that had come from its office in May 1998 warning that “large numbers of Middle Eastern males” were receiving flight training in Oklahoma and could be planning terrorist attacks (see May 15, 1998). Furthermore, Moussaoui’s Oklahoma roommate Hussein al-Attas is also under suspicion at this time (see August 16, 2001). One of the people who attempted to post bond for al-Attas, William Webb, had previously been the subject of an extensive investigation by the same Oklahoma City FBI office. Webb is a member of the extremist group the Muslim Brotherhood and is also Vice President of Overseas Operations and Recruiting for the Palestinian group Fatah. Further, Webb is connected to Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam who has frequent ties with some of the 9/11 hijackers and is suspected of involvement in the 9/11 plot (see March 2001 and After). Al-Awlaki was the subject of an FBI counterterrorism inquiry the year before (see June 1999-March 2000). These connections are also not noticed. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 322; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 134-5 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file)

The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s final report concludes that at least six 9/11 hijackers received “substantial assistance” from associates in the US, though it’s “not known to what extent any of these contacts in the United States were aware of the plot.” These hijackers came into contact with at least 14 people who were investigated by the FBI before 9/11, and four of those investigations were active while the hijackers were present. But in June 2002, FBI Director Mueller testified: “While here, the hijackers effectively operated without suspicion, triggering nothing that would have alerted law enforcement and doing nothing that exposed them to domestic coverage. As far as we know, they contacted no known terrorist sympathizers in the United States” (see June 18, 2002). CIA Director Tenet made similar comments at the same time, and another FBI official stated, “[T]here were no contacts with anybody we were looking at inside the United States.” These comments are untrue, because one FBI document from November 2001 uncovered by the Inquiry concludes that the six lead hijackers “maintained a web of contacts both in the United States and abroad. These associates, ranging in degrees of closeness, include friends and associates from universities and flight schools, former roommates, people they knew through mosques and religious activities, and employment contacts. Other contacts provided legal, logistical, or financial assistance, facilitated US entry and flight school enrollment, or were known from [al-Qaeda]-related activities or training.” (US Congress 7/24/2003 pdf file) The declassified sections of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s final report show the hijackers have contact with:
bullet Mamoun Darkazanli, investigated several times starting in 1993 (see 1993; Late 1998); the CIA makes repeated efforts to turn him into an informer (see December 1999).
bullet Mohammed Haydar Zammar, investigated by Germany since at least 1997 (see 1996), the Germans periodically inform the CIA what they learn.
bullet Osama Basnan, US intelligence is informed of his connections to Islamic militants several times in early 1990s but fails to investigate (see April 1998).
bullet Omar al-Bayoumi, investigated in San Diego from 1998-1999 (see September 1998-July 1999).
bullet Anwar al-Awlaki, investigated in San Diego from 1999-2000 (see June 1999-March 2000).
bullet Osama “Sam” Mustafa, owner of a San Diego gas station, and investigated beginning in 1991 (see Autumn 2000).
bullet Ed Salamah, manager of the same gas station, and an uncooperative witness in 2000 (see Autumn 2000).
bullet An unnamed friend of Hani Hanjour, whom the FBI tries to investigate in 2001.
bullet An unnamed associate of Marwan Alshehhi, investigated beginning in 1999.
bullet Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, who had contact with Basnan, al-Bayoumi, al-Awlaki, Mustafa, and Salamah, “maintained a number of other contacts in the local Islamic community during their time in San Diego, some of whom were also known to the FBI through counterterrorist inquiries and investigations,” but details of these individuals and possible others are still classified. (US Congress 7/24/2003 pdf file) None of the above people have been arrested or even publicly charged with any crime associated with terrorism, although Zammar is in prison in Syria.

The Washington Post reports that US intelligence has finally determined that Anwar al-Awlaki is linked to al-Qaeda. Al-Awlaki was an imam at two different mosques attended by hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Hani Hanjour, and he has been suspected of assisting the 9/11 plot. An anonymous US counterterrorism official tells the Post, “There is good reason to believe Anwar al-Awlaki has been involved in very serious terrorist activities since leaving the United States [after 9/11], including plotting attacks against America and our allies.” However, the US apparently did not ask Yemen to extradite him when he was arrested there in 2006, because there was no pending legal case against him. He continues to reside in Yemen and apparently still has not been charged with any crime. (Schmidt 2/27/2008) In December 2007, just two months before this article, the US approved the release of al-Awlaki in Yemen, apparently because there still was no pending legal case against him (see Early September 2006-December 2007). He also does not appear to be on any public wanted list.

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