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Context of 'July 19, 1995: Bin Laden’s Brother-in-Law Khalifa Set Free in Jordan'

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Mohammed Jamal Khalifa.Mohammed Jamal Khalifa. [Source: CBS News]Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, a brother-in-law to bin Laden, is arrested in the US. He is held for visa fraud, but he is believed to be a major terrorist. His arrest takes place at a Holiday Inn in Morgan Hill, California. [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/24/2001] That is only about 20 miles from Santa Clara, where double agent Ali Mohamed is running an al-Qaeda cell (see 1987-1998). Counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson will later say of Khalifa and Mohamed, “It seems to me that they were probably in contact. I’m basing that only intuitively on the fact that they were in the same area, they were close to bin Laden, and they would’ve had an incentive to stay together.” [Lance, 2006, pp. 167] According to one account, Khalifa is arrested on behalf of the government of Jordan, because he is on trial there. [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/24/2001] Another account claims that Philippine authorities “tipped off Federal authorities on Khalifa’s movements.” [Filipino Reporter, 4/27/1995] He is traveling on a Saudi passport. He’d flown into the US from London on December 1 and has papers indicating he would be heading back to the Philippines. [Lance, 2006, pp. 158-159] It has been claimed that the CIA helped him get his US visa (see December 1, 1994). There are many reasons for US authorities to suspect Khalifa is a major terrorist figure:
bullet He is arrested with Mohammed Loay Bayazid, one of the dozen or so original members of al-Qaeda. Bayazid had attempted to purchase nuclear material for bin Laden the year before (see December 16, 1994).
bullet Philippine investigators had recently completed a secret report on terrorist funding. The report focuses on Khalifa, and says his activities in the Philippines strongly link with Muslim extremist movements in Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Russia, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, Romania, Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan, Albania, the Netherlands, and Morocco. It calls a charity which Khalifa runs a “pipeline through which funding for the local extremists is being coursed.” Perhaps not coincidentally, the report was released just one day before Khalifa’s arrest in the US (see December 15, 1994).
bullet His possessions, which are quickly examined and translated, include a handwritten manual in Arabic detailing how to set up a terrorist curriculum at a school in the Philippines, giving lessons in bomb-making and assassination. [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/24/2001]
bullet Khalifa’s business card was discovered in a search of the New York City residence of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman in 1993 (see August 1993).
bullet He is an unindicted coconspirator in the “Landmarks” bombings plot, which would have killed thousands in New York City. The trial is getting underway at this time. Abdul-Rahman will be convicted and sentenced to over 300 years in prison (see June 24, 1993).
bullet A State Department cable from days after his arrest states Khalifa is a “known financier of terrorist operations and an officer of an Islamic NGO in the Philippines that is a known Hamas front.”
bullet An alias is found in his personal organizer that was also used in a bomb-making manual brought into the US by Ahmad Ajaj, Ramzi Yousef’s travel partner, when the two of them came to the US to implement the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see September 1, 1992).
bullet Bojinka plotter Wali Khan Amin Shah’s phone number is found in Khalifa’s possessions. The Bojinka plot, if successful, also would have killed thousands (see January 6, 1995). [Lance, 2006, pp. 158-159]
bullet A number in Pakistan that Ramzi Yousef had used to call the Philippines is found as well. Author Peter Lance will later note that such numbers “should have led the FBI directly to Ramzi Yousef, the world’s most wanted man” at the time. [Lance, 2006, pp. 160]
However, despite this wealth of highly incriminating material, within weeks of his arrest the US will decide to deport him to Jordan (see January 5, 1995). Over the next four months, even more of his links to terrorist activity will be discovered (see Late December 1994-April 1995). But Khalifa will be deported anyway (see April 26-May 3, 1995), and then soon freed in Jordan (see July 19, 1995).

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Steven Emerson, US Department of State, Wali Khan Amin Shah, Philippines, Ahmad Ajaj, Peter Lance, Mohammed Loay Bayazid, Ali Mohamed, Osama bin Laden, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Jordan, Omar Abdul-Rahman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bin Laden’s brother-in-law Mohammed Jamal Khalifa was arrested in the US in mid-December 1994 (see December 16, 1994-May 1995), and as he is held the evidence tying him to terrorism continues to grow:
bullet One week after his arrest, the State Department tells the immigration judge handling Khalifa’s case that he had “engaged in serious terrorist offenses” and that his release “would endanger US national security.” [Lance, 2006, pp. 158-159]
bullet In early January, police in the Philippines uncover the Bojinka plot, involving associates of Khalifa. A Philippine investigator makes a chart connecting the Bojinka figures and places Khalifa in the middle of it (see Spring 1995). The plot, if successful, would have killed thousands while also assassinating the Pope (see January 6, 1995). Meanwhile, The FBI translates literature in Khalifa’s luggage advocating training in assassination, explosives, and weapons, including discussions of the “wisdom of bombing churches and murdering Catholic priests.” [New York Times, 5/2/2002; Lance, 2003, pp. 233-35]
bullet Phone numbers to Khalifa’s Philippine charity fronts are found on bomber Ramzi Yousef’s laptop seized in early January 1995 as the Bojinka plot is exposed. Khalifa’s business card is found in the apartment Yousef was staying in as well. [Lance, 2006, pp. 158-159, 203]
bullet Bojinka plotter Wali Khan Amin Shah is arrested in early January 1995. He is found with multiple phone numbers for Khalifa. [Stephen Handelman, 7/31/1996; Lance, 2006, pp. 158-159]
bullet When Yousef is arrested in February 1995 (see February 7, 1995), he will be asked about Khalifa’s business card found in his apartment. According to an FBI report issued at the time, Yousef claims that he did not personally know Khalifa, but had been given the card by fellow Bojinka plotter Wali Khan Amin Shah as a contact in case he needed help. He also says that he is aware that Khalifa is a relative of Osama bin Laden. [Lance, 2006, pp. 203]
bullet In February and March, Philippine interrogation of one Bojinka plotter uncovers a planned second wave of attacks that would involve flying airplanes into US buildings, including the World Trade Center, CIA headquarters, and the Pentagon (see February-Early May 1995). This will eventually evolve into the 9/11 attacks. US investigators are notified about this sometime in the spring of 1995 (see Spring 1995).
bullet On April 1, Philippine authorities arrest six men and announce they are connected to Khalifa and Bojinka plotters such as Ramzi Yousef (see April 1, 1995-Early 1996). The Philippine Interior Secretary calls Khalifa a key figure in Islamic extremist efforts. [Associated Press, 4/16/1995]
bullet The Associated Press reports that Khalifa is believed to be “a key figure in efforts to recruit new members of the Abu Sayyaf group.” On April 4, the Abu Sayyaf raid a Christian town called Ipil and kill over fifty people in what is the group’s largest and most brutal terrorist attack (see April 4, 1995). This increases the importance of Khalifa’s ties with them. [Associated Press, 4/16/1995]
bullet Khalifa is accused by Yemen, Egypt, and Algeria of financing subversion in those countries. [Associated Press, 4/16/1995]
Despite all this evidence, Khalifa will soon be deported to Jordan for retrial there (see May 3, 1995-August 31, 1995), even though the key witness against him has already recanted. He will be found innocent and set free (see July 19, 1995).

Entity Tags: Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Abu Sayyaf, Osama bin Laden, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of State, Wali Khan Amin Shah, Philippines, Mohammed Loay Bayazid, Ramzi Yousef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In early 1995, the Bojinka plot, an early version of the 9/11 plot that would have killed thousands, is foiled in the Philippines (see January 6, 1995). It is quickly learned that Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, helped fund the plot while living in the Philippines as regional director of the Saudi-based charity, the Islamic International Relief Organization (IIRO). Wali Khan Amin Shah, a known bin Laden associate and Bojinka plotter, also was an employee of the IIRO in the Philippines. Yet the Philippine branch of the IIRO will remain open until 2000, apparently because of political pressure from Saudi Arabia. Even then, the IIRO is allowed to continue funding projects in the Philippines through a branch office in a neighboring country. One Philippine senior intelligence official will later complain, “We could not touch the IIRO.” [Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 pdf file] Counterterrorism expert Zachary Abuza will note that the IIRO is a “very well connected charity, whose supporters include the Saudi royal family and the top echelon of Filipino society.” One board member of “the IIRO Philippine office was, not coincidentally, the Saudi Ambassador.” [Contemporary Southeast Asia, 8/1/2003] In 1996, a secret CIA report will conclude that the IIRO is funding radical militant groups in many countries, including the Philippines, but the US will not move against it either (see January 1996). Another Philippines-based Islamic charity, the International Relations and Information Center (IRIC), is also connected to the Bojinka plot. The IRIC’s director is Ahmad al-Hamwi (better known by his alias Omar Abu Omar), who is the brother of Khalifa’s Philippine wife. Investigators determine that most of the funding for the Bojinka plot went through a bank account controlled by al-Hamwi. As a result, the IRIC is shut down in 1995 and al-Hamwi leaves the country. However, its operations and staff is taken over by another Islamic charity headed by Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari. Al-Ghafari is also a close associate of Khalifa and is believed to have been involved in the Bojinka plot as well (see June 1994). Al-Ghafari will finally be deported in 2002 after years of police protection (see October 8-November 8, 2002). [Washington Post, 12/30/2001; Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 pdf file; Australian, 4/8/2006] Al-Hamwi will be granted asylum in Australia in 1996 and will continue to live there even after media reports expose his presence there and his ties to Islamic militancy (see July 6, 1995-June 26, 1996). [Australian, 4/8/2006] US will finally officially declare the IIRO’s Philippine branch a terrorism funder in late 2006 (see August 3, 2006).

Entity Tags: Zachary Abuza, Operation Bojinka, Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari, International Relations and Information Center, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Ahmad al-Hamwi, International Islamic Relief Organization, Wali Khan Amin Shah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A Jordanian appeals court overturns the conviction of Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law. A Jordanian court had convicted Khalifa and sentenced him to death in December 1994, shortly after he was arrested in the US (see December 16, 1994-May 1995). His conviction hinged on the testimony of one witness, a student at a school in the Philippines run by one of Khalifa’s organizations. The witness claimed that Khalifa had given him $50,000 to finance bombings and assassinations in Jordan. But when the case goes to the appeals court, the witness recants, and the court overturns the conviction. [Associated Press, 4/9/1995; Associated Press, 4/16/1995; San Francisco Chronicle, 4/18/1995] Shortly after the court’s ruling, Khalifa’s lawyer says that Khalifa wants to be deported to Jordan and retried in person. He is confident a new trial will end in his acquittal. [Associated Press, 4/26/1995] The US will deport Khalifa to Jordan about one month later (see April 26-May 3, 1995). He will quickly be retried, found innocent, and set free (see July 19, 1995).

Entity Tags: Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Jordan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Philippine President Fidel Ramos says he has asked the US to postpone the deportation of Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, to Jordan. Khalifa had been arrested in the US in December 1994. Jordan requested his extradition and the US agreed, but earlier in April a Jordanian court overturned a conviction of Khalifa. Ramos says, “We have asked [US authorities] to hold his deportation because we are finding out his links with local terrorists here.” A Philippines intelligence report completed in December 1994 already tied Khalifa to several planned attacks that could have killed thousands (see December 15, 1994). By comparison, he has already been acquitted of attacks in Jordan that injured several but killed no one. [Japan Economic Newswire, 4/24/1995] Despite the request from Ramos, a US judge will approve Khalifa’s deportation to Jordan two days later (see April 26-May 3, 1995). He will be acquitted again there and then set free (see July 19, 1995).

Entity Tags: Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Fidel Ramos

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

An immigration judge approves the deportation of Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, saying “his presence in the United States would have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences.” Khalifa reportedly leaves the US for Jordan on May 3, although there is some evidence he remains in US custody until August (see May 3, 1995-August 31, 1995). [United Press International, 5/5/1995] He will quickly be retried in Jordan, pronounced not guilty of all charges, and set free (see July 19, 1995). Jacob Boesen, an analyst at the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, will later recall, “I remember people at the CIA who were ripsh_t at the time. Not even speaking in retrospect, but contemporaneous with what the intelligence community knew about bin Laden, Khalifa’s deportation was unreal.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 4/18/1995; Associated Press, 4/26/1995; New York Times, 5/2/2002; Lance, 2003, pp. 233-35] Author Peter Lance will later comment, “If this arrest had been properly followed up by the FBI and the Justice Department, it could have led to the seizure of both Ramzi Yousef and his uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and stopped the 9/11 plot dead in its tracks.” [Lance, 2006, pp. 158]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Jacob Boesen, Peter Lance, Jordan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bin Laden’s brother-in-law Mohammed Jamal Khalifa is pronounced not guilty of all charges and set free in a retrial in Jordan. Khalifa had been convicted and sentenced to death in a December 1994 Jordanian trial, but then a key witness recanted and the verdict was overturned in April 1995 (see Early April 1995). The US then deported him to Jordan to face retrial anyway (see April 26-May 3, 1995). [Agence France-Presse, 7/19/1995] He quickly returns to Saudi Arabia, where he has citizenship. Michael Scheuer, the first head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will later claim that that “day he flew back to Saudi Arabia, he was greeted by a limo and a high-ranking official of the government embraced him.” [Lance, 2006, pp. 164] One later article similarly claims, “Returning to Saudi Arabia, Khalifa was allegedly welcomed like a hero by Prince Sultan, Saudi’s second deputy premier.” [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 8/11/2000] Khalifa will go on to help found a militant group in Yemen that will take credit for the USS Cole bombing in 2000 (see 1996-1997 and After), while his Philippine front companies will continue to fund militant groups with few obstacles long after 9/11 (see 1995 and After).

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Jordan, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Sultan bin Faisal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, helps fund a militant group in Yemen that will later take credit for the 2000 USS Cole bombing. The group, the Islamic Army of Aden, is apparently formed in 1996 or 1997, but is not heard from until May 1998, when it issues the first of a series of political statements. The group will kidnap 16 mainly British tourists in December 1998 and four of the tourists will be killed during a shootout with police. The remaining hostages are rescued. [Yemen Gateway, 1/1999] Evidence ties Khalifa to the 1995 Bojinka plot and other violent acts, though he has denied all allegations that he is linked to terrorist groups. Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, later claims that not only did Khalifa fund the Islamic Army of Aden, but that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar had ties to the group as well. (A San Diego friend of Almihdhar’s will later say that Almihdhar told him he was a member of the group (see Around October 12, 2000).) [Wall Street Journal, 9/19/2001] Cannistraro further notes that Khalifa went on to form the group after being deported from the US in 1995. “He should never have been allowed to leave US custody.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/24/2001] The group praises bin Laden and uses a training camp reportedly established by him in southern Yemen. But the group is more clearly tied to Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri, a handless, one-eyed Afghan war veteran living and preaching openly in London. [Washington Post, 9/23/2001]

Entity Tags: Vincent Cannistraro, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Islamic Army of Aden, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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