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Context of 'July 24 or 28, 2001: Captured Operative Had Links That Could Have Led to Moussaoui, 9/11 Plot'

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Police in Leicester, England, investigate a terrorist fundraising ring based in that city and eventually wrap it up eleven days after 9/11. The men are connected to groups of Islamists in France (see March 15, 2005) and Spain (see September 26, 2001), as well as Finsbury Park mosque in London and leading radical Djamel Beghal, who has attended the mosque and whose arrest in the summer of 2001 (see July 24 or 28, 2001) apparently spurs the arrests in Britain.
The Cell - The two cell leaders live frugal lives in Leicester, claiming social security benefits under their real names, but work under false French documents. When police search a car belonging to one of the men, they find skimming machines used to steal details from credit cards, as well as boxes of unembossed cards from Visa and Mastercard. The cards are used to purchase goods in southern Spain, and the group is estimated to raise at least £800,000 (about US$1,200,000). The group is also involved in arranging forged visas for those traveling to training camps in Afghanistan. Eighteen arrests are made in total, and the two ringleaders are sentenced to eleven years each.
Extremists Raise Millions in Britain - Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later write that this was part of a larger pattern (see 1995-April 21, 2000): “British counterterrorist agencies now accept that in the years preceding the post-9/11 crackdown on militant Islamist networks in [Britain], millions of pounds were raised to finance violent groups operating in Afghanistan, Algeria, Chechnya, Kashmir, Yemen, and other jihad battlefields. Most of that money was raised through organized crime, ranging from sophisticated international credit card counterfeiting to benefit fraud and shoplifting gangs.” They add that “[r]acketeering was vital to the jihad” as Osama bin Laden lost most of his money in the early-to-mid 1990s: “The mujaheddin groups and terrorist cells around the world that allied themselves to the al-Qaeda ideology were largely autonomous and self-financing. Britain was a key source of that finance.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 68-69]

Entity Tags: Daniel McGrory, Sean O’Neill

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

CIA Director Tenet makes an urgent special request to 20 friendly foreign intelligence services, asking for the arrests of anyone on a list of known al-Qaeda operatives. [Washington Post, 5/17/2002] Also in late June, the CIA orders all its station chiefs overseas to share information on al-Qaeda with their host governments and to push for immediate disruptions of al-Qaeda cells. Vice President Cheney asks Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah for help on July 5, and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke makes appeals to other foreign officials. As a result, several terrorist operatives are detained by foreign governments. According to a later analysis by the 9/11 Commission, this possibly disrupts operations in the Persian Gulf and Italy (see June 13, 2001) and perhaps averts attacks against two or three US embassies. For instance, al-Qaeda operative Djamel Beghal is detained by the French government in July and gives up information about a plot to attack the US embassy in France (see July 24 or 28, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 258, 534] Perhaps as part of Tenet’s request for help, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, is detained in Jordan in July 2001 and then let go (see July 2001).

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, George J. Tenet, Al-Qaeda, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Djamel Beghal.
Djamel Beghal. [Source: Public domain]High-level al-Qaeda operative Djamel Beghal is arrested in Dubai on his way back from Afghanistan. Earlier in the month the CIA sent friendly intelligence agencies a list of al-Qaeda agents they wanted to be immediately apprehended, and Beghal was on the list (see July 3, 2001).
Information Obtained - Beghal quickly starts to talk, and tells French investigators about a plot to attack the American embassy in Paris. Crucially, he provides new details about the international-operations role of top al-Qaeda deputy Abu Zubaida, whom he had been with a short time before. [New York Times, 12/28/2001; Time, 8/12/2002] One European official says Beghal talks about “very important figures in the al-Qaeda structure, right up to bin Laden’s inner circle. [He] mention[s] names, responsibilities and functions—people we weren’t even aware of before. This is important stuff.” [Time, 11/12/2001] One French official says of Beghal’s interrogations, “We shared everything we knew with the Americans.” [Time, 5/19/2002]
Link to 9/11 - The New York Times later will report, “Enough time and work could have led investigators from Mr. Beghal to an address in Hamburg where Mohamed Atta and his cohorts had developed and planned the Sept. 11 attacks.” Beghal had frequently associated with Zacarias Moussaoui. However, although Moussaoui is arrested (see August 16, 2001) around the same time that Beghal is revealing the names and details of all his fellow operatives, Beghal is apparently not asked about Moussaoui. [New York Times, 12/28/2001; Time, 8/12/2002]
Timing of Arrest - Most media accounts place the arrest on July 28. However, in a 2007 book CIA Director George Tenet will say he received a briefing about the arrest on July 24. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 156-157]

Entity Tags: Djamel Beghal, Al-Qaeda, Mohamed Atta, George J. Tenet, Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

British authorities learn of the arrest of top Islamist militant Djamel Beghal in Dubai (see July 24 or 28, 2001), and the CIA tells them that an operative behind a plot Beghal is helping organize, a bombing of the US embassy in Paris, has arrived in Britain. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 157] It is unknown who the operative behind the plot is and what action British authorities take on the matter, but arrests of people linked to Beghal and his associates are made around Europe in the next few months (see September 13, 2001, September 26, 2001 and March 2000-September 22, 2001). Beghal has been active in Britain for some time, in particular at London’s radical Finsbury Park mosque, which is under surveillance by the British (see 1997), and a group of his associates are arrested in Britain one day after his capture is made public (see March 2000-September 22, 2001). However, no action is taken against one of his key associates, Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is an informer for the British (see Early 1997). Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “Despite Beghal’s clear links to operations in London and Leicester, however, there was no search of the [mosque] building and no attempt to arrest the chief recruiter [Abu Hamza] who had led the prayers there. The mosque continued to be at the centre of jihad recruitment.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 94]

Entity Tags: Djamel Beghal, Daniel McGrory, Sean O’Niell, Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

August 16, 2001: Zacarias Moussaoui Arrested

Zacarias Moussaoui after his arrest.Zacarias Moussaoui after his arrest. [Source: FBI]After being warned that Zacarias Moussaoui has raised suspicions at flight school (see August 11-15, 2001 and August 13-15, 2001), the FBI learns they can arrest him because he is in the US illegally. Four agents, Harry Samit, John Weess, Dave Rapp (all FBI) and Steve Nordmann (INS), drive to the Residence Inn, where Moussaoui and his associate Hussein al-Attas are staying. At the hotel Samit speaks on the phone to Joe Manarang from FBI headquarters; Manarang appeals for them to take the “cautious route” and not arrest Moussaoui. However, Samit refuses, as he has already notified the hotel clerk of their interest. Moussaoui is arrested around 4:00 p.m. on an immigration violation. At first Moussaoui shows the agents some documents, but then he becomes upset at missing his flight training. The FBI confiscates his belongings, including a computer laptop, but Moussaoui refuses permission for the belongings to be searched. A search of Moussaoui’s person yields a dagger with a two-inch blade, and another knife with a three-inch blade belonging to Moussoaui is found in the car. He also has boxing gloves and shin guards, and the arresting agents note he has prepared “through physical training for violent confrontation.” Al-Attas allows the agents to search his belongings and they believe al-Attas is in the US legally, so he is not arrested. However, al-Attas tells the FBI that Moussaoui is a radical religious Muslim and later makes several statements indicating Moussaoui may be a terrorist (see August 16, 2001). [MSNBC, 12/11/2001; US Congress, 10/17/2002; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006; Minneapolis Star Tribune, 6/4/2006] Al-Attas is arrested the next day (see August 17, 2001).

Entity Tags: John Weess, Zacarias Moussaoui, Steve Nordmann, Joe Manarang, Harry Samit, David Rapp, FBI Minnesota field office, Hussein al-Attas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

CIA Director George Tenet and senior CIA senior staff are briefed repeatedly about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui. When news of the case first reaches the CIA, Tenet is absent and his deputy John McLaughlin is briefed, probably around August 20, 2001. [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 541]
Series of Briefings - Tenet is informed of Moussaoui on August 23 in a briefing entitled “Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly.” The briefing states that Moussaoui paid for his training in cash, was interested to learn a plane’s doors do not open in flight, and wanted training on London to New York City flights. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria District, 7/31/2006 pdf file] At the same time Tenet is briefed on a number of other items, including the arrest of one of Moussaoui’s associates, Djamel Beghal (see July 24 or 28, 2001), and a group of Pakistanis arrested in Bolivia during preparations for a hijacking. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 200] Tenet and other CIA officials are then kept up to date with developments in the case in a series of at least five briefings. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file]
No Discussion with Other Agencies - However, others such as President Bush and the White House Counterterrorism Support Group (CSG) are not told about Moussaoui until after the 9/11 attacks begin (see August 16-September 10, 2001). Even the acting director of the FBI is not told (see August 16-September 10, 2001), despite the fact that lower level FBI officials who made the arrest tried to pass on the information. Tenet later maintains that there was no reason to alert President Bush or to share information about Moussaoui during an early September 2001 Cabinet-level meeting on terrorism, saying, “All I can tell you is, it wasn’t the appropriate place. I just can’t take you any farther than that.” [Washington Post, 4/17/2004; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 6 pdf file]
'Lousy Explanation' - 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer will later come to the conclusion that this is, in author Philip Shenon’s words, a “lousy explanation,” and that Tenet should have called Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard to talk about the case, because Tenet was well aware that the FBI was “dysfunctional” at terrorism investigations and that it did not have a permanent director at that time. Roemer will ask, “The report about Moussaoui shoots up the chain of command at the CIA like the lit fuse on a bomb, but Director Tenet never picks up the phone to call the FBI about it?” Roemer will conclude that a call from Tenet to Pickard might have prevented 9/11, and will be amazed Tenet does not mention it at the September terrorism meeting, “If the system is blinking red, why don’t you bring it up?” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 361]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, John E. McLaughlin, Central Intelligence Agency, Zacarias Moussaoui, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Nizar Trabelsi.Nizar Trabelsi. [Source: Daily Telegraph]Nizar Trabelsi, an al-Qaeda operative involved in numerous plots, is arrested in Brussels, Belgium. Police find machine pistols, chemical formulas for making bombs, detailed maps of the US embassy in Paris, and a business suit—it appears Trabelsi intended to walk into the embassy with the suit covering a suicide bomb vest and then detonate the explosives. The arrest is apparently due to information gleaned from Djamel Begham, a top al-Qaeda operative arrested in July (see July 24 or 28, 2001). Two of the plots Trabelsi is said to be involved in, an attack on a NATO base in Belgium and the attack on the US embassy in Paris, are thwarted. Trabelsi will later be found guilty in Belgium of planning the attack on the base (see September 30, 2003). [CNN, 10/3/2001] However, a third plot in which Trabelsi is involved—a plot to blow up two transatlantic airliners—is not thwarted. The plot is to be carried out by two al-Qaeda operatives who are in contact with Trabelsi around this time, Saajid Badat and Richard Reid. Reid returned to Europe from Asia in July or August (see July 2001), after which he stayed in Belgium with Trabelsi, who also found him work in hotel kitchens. Badat is also in contact with Trabelsi using phone cards, and analysis of them will help lead to his arrest some time later. The plot will fail when Badat backs out (see (December 14, 2001)) and Reid is unable to detonate the explosives before he is overpowered by fellow passengers and crew (see December 22, 2001). It is unclear why this third plot is not stopped as well after Trabelsi’s arrest. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 229-231] However, his arrest does lead to more arrests in Spain 13 days later (see September 26, 2001).

Entity Tags: Nizar Trabelsi, Richard C. Reid, Saajid Badat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The arrest of al-Qaeda operative Nizar Trabelsi is revealed in the international press by this date, if not earlier. An article published by UPI on this day names Trabelsi as having been arrested (see September 13, 2001) in connection with the capture of one of his associates, Djamel Beghal, in Dubai (see July 24 or 28, 2001). [United Press International, 9/21/2001] Trabelsi is linked to two shoe bombing plotters, Richard C. Reid and Saajit Badat. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 231] The arrest is also mentioned in subsequent days on CNN and in the Washington Post, for example. [Washington Post, 9/28/2001; CNN, 9/29/2001] Al-Qaeda may well already be aware that Trabelsi has been arrested, as he must have been out of contact for over a week at this point. However, the shoe bombing plot is not canceled and goes ahead, despite the bombers’ link to Trabelsi. One of the bombers backs out later for an unrelated reason (see (December 14, 2001)) and the other is thwarted when he attempts to blow up an aircraft in December (see December 22, 2001).

Entity Tags: Saajid Badat, Richard C. Reid, Nizar Trabelsi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Six Algerians are convicted in France of trying to blow up the US embassy in Paris. The ringleader is a top Islamist militant named Djamel Beghal, who was arrested in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) based on a US tip-off in 2001 (see July 24 or 28, 2001). Beghal is sentenced to ten years in prison, his associate Kamel Daoudi gets nine years, and the four others get between one and six. The sentences are for criminal association relating to a terrorist enterprise, although the alleged would-be suicide bomber, Nizar Trabelsi, is not charged or tried in France, and few details of the plot are offered in court. Trabelsi was arrested in Belgium shortly after 9/11 (see September 13, 2001), and is in prison there on other charges (see September 30, 2003). Beghal and the others say they are innocent, and Beghal alleges that the confession based on which the arrests were made was tortured out of him in the UAE. [Washington Post, 3/16/2005]

Entity Tags: Djamel Beghal, Kamel Daoudi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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