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Context of 'Before August 7, 1998: CIA Has Multiple Informants in Al-Qaeda Cell Planning African Embassy Bombings'

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It will later be revealed in a US trial that, by this time, US intelligence agents are aware that an al-Qaeda cell exists in Kenya. (In fact, it may have been aware of this since late 1994 (see Late 1994)). [East African, 1/1/2001] Further evidence confirming and detailing the cell is discovered in May and June of 1996 (see May 21, 1996). By August 1996, US intelligence is continually monitoring five telephone lines in Nairobi used by the cell members, such as Wadih El-Hage. The tapping reveals that the cell is providing false passports and other documents to operatives. They are sending coded telephone numbers to and from al-Qaeda headquarters in Afghanistan. The surveillance is apparently being conducted without the required approval of either President Clinton or Attorney General Janet Reno. [Associated Press, 12/19/2000; East African, 1/1/2001] Prudence Bushnell, the US ambassador to Kenya, will be briefed about the cell in early 1997, but will be told there is no evidence of a specific threat against the embassy or American interests in Kenya. [New York Times, 1/9/1999] Ali Mohamed, an al-Qaeda double agent living in California, will later admit in US court that he had been in long distance contact with Wadih El-Hage, one of the leaders of the cell, since at least 1996. It will also be revealed that US intelligence had been wiretapping Mohamed’s California phone calls since at least 1994 (see Late 1994), so presumably US intelligence is recording calls between Mohamed and the Kenya cell from both ends. The Nairobi phone taps continue until at least August 1997, when Kenyan and US agents conduct a joint search of El-Hage’s Nairobi house (see August 21, 1997). [United States of America v. Ali Mohamed, 10/20/2000; Associated Press, 12/19/2000; East African, 1/1/2001]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Ali Mohamed, Prudence Bushnell, Wadih El-Hage

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mustafa Mahmoud Said Ahmed.Mustafa Mahmoud Said Ahmed. [Source: PBS]An Egyptian named Mustafa Mahmoud Said Ahmed walks into the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, and tells CIA officers that he knows of a group planning to blow up the embassy. He reveals that he is part of the group and has already taken surveillance photos of the embassy for the attack. The details he mentions, such as the use of several vehicles and stun grenades, accurately depicts how the attack will actually occur nine months later. He works for an al-Qaeda front company in Kenya. The CIA sends the State Department two intelligence reports on Ahmed’s warning, but cautions that he may have fabricated his story. Ahmed is released and deported. He apparently is involved in the bombing of the US embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on the same day the Nairobi embassy is bombed. Ahmed will contact the British embassy the day after the bombings and offer to help. He is overheard saying that, “I told them everything I knew” and that he had been cooperating with Western officials “since last year.” He will reveal important information that leads to the arrest of some of the bombers (see August 8-15, 1998). [New York Times, 10/23/1998; New York Times, 1/9/1999; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 205] The State Department is in charge of embassy security, and the department steps up security at the Nairobi embassy for several weeks, but then security measures return to normal. Prudence Bushnell, the US Ambassador to Kenya, will plead for improved embassy security, but her requests will go unheeded (see December 1997-Spring 1998). [New York Times, 1/9/1999]

Entity Tags: Mustafa Mahmoud Said Ahmed, Central Intelligence Agency, Prudence Bushnell, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Usama al-Kini, a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam.Usama al-Kini, a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam. [Source: FBI]Most of the al-Qaeda operatives involved in the African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) leave the country the night before the bombings. Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah and Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani fly from Nairobi to Karachi, Pakistan, on one flight. Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam), Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, and five unnamed bombers fly from Nairobi to Karachi with a stopover in Dubai on another flight. Some use false passports, but others, such as Abdullah, travel in their real name. Two others, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan and Mustafa Fadhil, flew to Pakistan on August 2. Odeh is arrested at 5:30 a.m., Kenya time, while going through customs in Karachi, but the others on his flight are not (see 5:30 a.m., August 7, 1998). Two suicide bombers are killed in the bombings. The only operatives who remain in East Africa after the bombings are Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), who volunteered to clean up the evidence in Kenya, and Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, who volunteered to do the same in Tanzania, plus Mohamed al-Owhali, one of the suicide bombers in Kenya who unexpectedly ran away at the last minute and survived with only minor injuries. [United Press International, 1/2/2001; United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38, 5/2/2001] Given the extent to which US intelligence was monitoring the members of the Kenyan cell (see April 1996 and May 1998), and even reportedly had multiple informants in the cell (see Before August 7, 1998), it is unclear how the US missed the departure of nearly every suspect from Kenya.

Entity Tags: Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, Usama al-Kini, Mustafa Fadhil, Mohamed al-Owhali, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In his 1999 book The New Jackals, journalist Simon Reeve will claim, “The CIA… had informants working within the East Africa cell, but they apparently failed to warn of bin Laden’s plans” to bomb the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Reeve says this information comes from a current unnamed CIA official. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 199, 220] Reeve is referring to the cell led by Wadih El-Hage and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul). US intelligence had been aware of the cell and monitoring it since at least April 1996 (see April 1996). One of the informants mentioned above might be Mustafa Mahmoud Said Ahmed (see November 1997), but it is unknown who the other or others could be. Reeve will also claim that US moles within al-Qaeda provide information leading to multiple arrests after the bombings (see Late 1998).

Entity Tags: Simon Reeve, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

At approximately 5:30 in the morning, Kenya time, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh is arrested at the airport in Karachi, Pakistan. Odeh is one of the bombers in the embassy bombings which take place four hours later in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38, 5/2/2001]
Odeh Stopped Because of Alert Inspector or CIA? - He had flown out of Nairobi, Kenya, the night before, with his plane stopping in Dubai on the way to Pakistan (see August 6-7, 1998). According to some accounts, an inspector notices that Odeh’s passport picture has a beard, while Odeh does not have a beard and looks different. Furthermore, Odeh is unable to look the inspector in the eyes. But according to UPI, he is stopped because he had been identified by the CIA. In any case, over the next hours, he is handed over to intelligence officers and makes a full confession. He admits that he is a member of al-Qaeda, led by bin Laden, and that he is the head of the al-Qaeda cell in Kenya. He even gives the address of the villa where the bomb was built and the names of the other bombers. [Bergen, 2001, pp. 116; United Press International, 1/2/2001; Associated Press, 4/3/2001; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 213]
False or Mistaken Account by CIA Officer - CIA officer Gary Berntsen heads the CIA’s emergency deployment team to Tanzania in the immediate wake of the bombings. He will improbably claim in a 2005 book that the US at first primarily suspects Hezbollah. According to him, it is only on August 15 when a CIA officer in Karachi happens to notice an article saying that an Arab traveling on a false passport was arrested in Karachi near the time of the bombings. This is discovered to be Odeh, who is transferred to US custody. Only then does al-Qaeda’s involvement become clear. Perhaps to support this timeline, Berntsen also falsely claims that another bomber, Mohamed al-Owhali, is arrested on August 15 when in fact he is arrested three days earlier. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38, 5/2/2001; Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005]
Odeh's Confession and Other Al-Qaeda Evidence Kept Secret for Days - Publicly, the US does not link any evidence from the bombing to al-Qaeda until August 17, when Odeh’s confession is finally mentioned in front page news stories. Even then, the story is based on accounts from Pakistani officials and US officials say they cannot confirm it. [Washington Post, 8/17/1998] In fact, there is a wealth of information immediately tying al-Qaeda to the bombings that is kept secret, including wiretaps of many of the bombers (see April 1996 and May 1998), informants in the cell (see Before August 7, 1998), and even a statement of responsibility that was intercepted hours before the bombings had occurred (see August 5-7, 1998).

Entity Tags: Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, Mohamed al-Owhali, Central Intelligence Agency, Gary Berntsen, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bombings of the Nairobi, Kenya, US embassy (left), and the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, US embassy (right).Bombings of the Nairobi, Kenya, US embassy (left), and the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, US embassy (right). [Source: Associated Press] (click image to enlarge)Two US embassies in Africa are bombed within minutes of each other. At 10:35, local time, a suicide car bomb attack in Nairobi, Kenya, kills 213 people, including 12 US nationals, and injures more than 4,500. Mohamed al-Owhali and someone known only as Azzam are the suicide bombers, but al-Owhali runs away at the last minute and survives. Four minutes later, a suicide car bomb attack in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, kills 11 and injures 85. The attacks are blamed on al-Qaeda. Hamden Khalif Allah Awad is the suicide bomber there. [PBS Frontline, 2001; United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38, 5/2/2001] The Tanzania death toll is low because, remarkably, the attack takes place on a national holiday so the US embassy there is closed. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 195] The attack shows al-Qaeda has a capability for simultaneous attacks. The Tanzania bombing appears to have been a late addition, as one of the arrested bombers allegedly told US agents that it was added to the plot only about 10 days in advance. [United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14, 3/7/2001] A third attack against the US embassy in Uganda does not take place due to a last minute delay (see August 7, 1998). [Associated Press, 9/25/1998] August 7, 1998, is the eighth anniversary of the arrival of US troops in Saudi Arabia, and some speculate that is the reason for the date of the bombings. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 46] In the 2002 book The Cell, reporters John Miller, Michael Stone, and Chris Miller will write, “What has become clear with time is that facets of the East Africa plot had been known beforehand to the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, and to Israeli and Kenyan intelligence services.… [N]o one can seriously argue that the horrors of August 7, 1998, couldn’t have been prevented.” They will also comment, “Inexplicable as the intelligence failure was, more baffling still was that al-Qaeda correctly presumed that a major attack could be carried out by a cell that US agents had already uncovered.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 195, 206] After 9/11, it will come to light that three of the alleged hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi, had some involvement in the bombings (see October 4, 2001, Late 1999, and 1993-1999) and that the US intelligence community was aware of this involvement by late 1999 (see December 15-31, 1999), if not before.

Entity Tags: Hamden Khalif Allah Awad, Mohamed al-Owhali, Salem Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Azzam, Al-Qaeda, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Journalist Simon Reeve will write in the 1999 book The New Jackals that shortly after the African embassy bombings, “With the help of one, possibly two, medium-level moles within [al-Qaeda], Americans arrested and questioned 20 of bin Laden’s closest associates and began inquiries in 28 countries.” Reeve does not say how he knows this, but his book is heavily sourced by interviews with US intelligence officials. The notion that the US had moles within al-Qaeda runs counter to the usual official US position after 9/11 that al-Qaeda was nearly impenetrable. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 204] Top bin Laden associates arrested during this time include:
bullet Mamdouh Mahmud Salim (see September 16, 1998);
bullet Khalid al-Fawwaz, Ibrahim Eidarous, and Adel Abdel Bary (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998);
bullet Ihab Saqr, Essam Marzouk, and Ahmad Salama Mabruk (see Late August 1998);
bullet Ali Mohamed (see September 10, 1998); and
bullet Wadih El-Hage (see September 15, 1998).

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, US intelligence, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, Simon Reeve, Ihab Saqr, Ahmad Salama Mabruk, Adel Abdel Bary, Ali Mohamed, Essam Marzouk, Ibrahim Eidarous, Al-Qaeda, Khalid al-Fawwaz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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