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Context of 'August 10, 2006: Bojinka-Like Plot to Destroy Aircraft Is Foiled; Feasibility and Urgency of Plot Later Questioned'

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A man named Mohammed Saeed is stabbed to death in Birmingham, England. The police seek two subjects for questioning about the murder. One of them is Rashid Rauf, who will later be involved in a plot to blow up transatlantic airliners (see August 10, 2006). Rauf is currently studying at Portsmouth University, but leaves there without graduating and travels to Pakistan, in an apparent attempt to avoid the police. In Pakistan, Rauf marries into the family of Maulana Masood Azhar, founder of the militant organization Jaish-e-Mohammed. Azhar is well known in Britain, and Rauf’s association with him raises his standing with potential British radicals. [BBC, 11/22/2008]

Entity Tags: Rashid Rauf, Maulana Masood Azhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

British-Pakistani militant Rashid Rauf becomes “al-Qaeda’s director of European operations,” according to the Sunday Times. This apparently occurs some time around April 2005. Although Rauf soon becomes known to the authorities, the Times will say in 2009 that his real importance has been underestimated for some time. [Sunday Times (London), 4/12/2009] Perhaps the best-known plot Rauf will be involved in is a plan to bomb transatlantic airliners (see August 10, 2006).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Rashid Rauf

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Shehzad Tanweer.Shehzad Tanweer. [Source: Public domain]The Christian Science Monitor reports that police in Pakistan are carefully analyzing the cell phone records of the two 7/7 London bombers who trained there, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer. “While officials stress that it is a tedious process, it has already yielded the name of at least one significant suspect: Maulana Masood Azhar.” Azhar is leader of the Pakistani militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), which has technically been banned twice by the Pakistani government but continues to operate (see November 2003). [Christian Science Monitor, 8/1/2005] Tanweer met a JEM leader during visits to Pakistan in 2003 and 2004, and also associated with a JEM recruiting agent (see Late 2003). Sources also say that Haroon Rashid Aswat, the alleged mastermind of the 7/7 bombings, has links to JEM as well as al-Qaeda. [Guardian, 7/21/2005] Azhar is questioned shortly after the 7/7 bombings, but then let go. [Dawn (Karachi), 7/16/2005] However, there are no apparent repercussions for Azhar or his group, despite well-documented links to al-Qaeda and other attacks. In 2006, it will be reported that Azhar is keeping a low profile, but living openly in the city of Karachi and editing a militant newspaper there. Also in 2006, it will be reported that Rashid Rauf, the leader of a failed transatlantic airplane bomb plot (see August 10, 2006), is related to Azhar through the marriage of their siblings. [New York Times, 12/17/2007]

Entity Tags: Mohammad Sidique Khan, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Haroon Rashid Aswat, Maulana Masood Azhar, Shehzad Tanweer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US and British counterterrorism officials argue over whether to arrest a group of Islamic extremists plotting to blow up airliners over the Atlantic in a Bojinka-style plot using liquid bombs (see August 10, 2006). [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 234-7; MSNBC, 8/14/2006] Surveillance of the plotters is a British operation, but the US is kept fully informed and even President Bush is personally briefed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair on July 28. [Times (London), 9/8/2009; Times (London), 9/8/2009] Andy Hayman, assistant commissioner for specialist operations in the Metropolitan Police, will write in 2009: “Fearful for the safety of American lives, the US authorities had been getting edgy, seeking reassurance that this was not going to slip through our hands. We moved from having congenial conversations to eyeball-to-eyeball confrontations.” [Times (London), 9/8/2009] In the end, a senior CIA official travels to Pakistan. There he induces the local authorities to arrest one of the plotters, Rashid Rauf, who is in that country (see Between July 28 and August 9, 2006), necessitating a wave of arrests in Britain. After the plot is revealed and some of the plotters are arrested, some British officials will complain that the US triggered the arrests too early, saying further investigation could have led to other accomplices. One US official will say that the missed opportunities leading up to 9/11 put US intelligence services more on edge. These charges initially meet with official denials. Frances Townsend, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, says: “[W]e worked together to protect our citizens from harm while ensuring that we gathered as much info as possible to bring the plotters to justice. There was no disagreement between US and [British] officials.” [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 234-7; MSNBC, 8/14/2006] However, details of the dispute will become undeniably clear after the liquid bomb plotters are found guilty in Britain. [Times (London), 9/8/2009; Times (London), 9/8/2009]

Entity Tags: Rashid Rauf, Metropolitan Police Service, Frances Townsend, Andy Hayman, Tony Blair, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Jose Rodriguez, head of the National Clandestine Service at the CIA, travels to Pakistan to order local authorities there to arrest a militant named Rashid Rauf. Rauf is currently in Pakistan, but is a key figure in a British-based conspiracy to blow up several airliners with liquid bombs (see August 10, 2006). The British had briefed US officials on the surveillance of the plotters, but the US had pushed for immediate arrests, whereas Britain wanted to monitor the men for longer to gather evidence for a later prosecution (see Before August 10, 2006). After the Pakistani authorities follow Rodriguez’s instruction to arrest Rauf—without the British being notified in advance—the British have no choice but to prematurely arrest the other plotters, as they fear they will learn of Rauf’s arrest and begin to destroy evidence and disperse. According to the London Times, Rodriguez is ordered to Pakistan by US Vice President Dick Cheney. Michael Clarke, director of the British Royal United Services Institute, will say that after British Prime Minister Tony Blair briefed President Bush on July 28: “Vice President Cheney despatched a man called Jose Rodriguez to Pakistan in secret.… And after Mr Rodriguez’s arrival in Pakistan, Rashid Rauf was picked up. The British were hopping mad about that, because it meant that on August 10 they had no choice but to move in on this plot before all the evidence was as mature as possible. There is a general belief in British security circles that the despatch of Mr Rodriguez to [Pakistan] came straight from the White House.” Based on Clarke’s assessment and other sources, including Andy Hayman, former assistant commissioner for specialist operations in the Metropolitan Police, the Times will conclude that Cheney “nearly destroyed Britain’s efforts to bring the airline bomb plotters to justice.” [Times (London), 9/8/2009]

Entity Tags: National Clandestine Service, Andy Hayman, Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Clarke, Rashid Rauf, Royal United Services Institute, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Rashid Rauf.Rashid Rauf. [Source: Warrick Page/ Getty Images]British police arrest 24 people in connection with a plot to blow up aircraft flying from Britain to the United States. Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Paul Stephenson says the plot was “intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale.” [CNN, 8/10/2006] Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff describes the plot as “well-advanced and well-thought-out and… really resourced to succeed.” [MSNBC, 8/10/2006] He also likens it to the foiled 1995 Bojinka plot, one portion of which involved blowing up up to a dozen airplanes over the ocean using liquid explosives smuggled onto the planes. [CNN, 8/11/2006] The British threat warning level is raised to critical and London’s Heathrow Airport is closed to most European flights. US officials say the plot involved hiding liquid explosives in carry-on luggage, and up to 12 flights would have been targeted. A senior US congressional source says the plotters planned to carry sports drinks onto the flights, which would then be mixed with a gel-like substance. The explosives would be triggered by the electrical charge from an iPod or mobile phone. Administration officials say the plot involved British Airways, Continental, United, and American Airlines. The plotters intended to detonate the devices over New York, Washington, San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles. Officials say the plot demonstrates “very strong links to al-Qaeda” and was nearly operational. In the US, the Department of Homeland Security raises the terror threat to the highest level, red, meaning “severe,” for commercial flights originating in Britain and bound for the US. In addition, the threat level is raised to orange, or “high,” for all commercial flights operating in or coming to the US. [CNN, 8/10/2006] British officials say the death toll could have exceeded the 2,700 of the September 11 attacks, with one source calling the plot “our 9/11.” The arrests were spurred by the detention in Pakistan of one of the plotters, Rashid Rauf. The Pakistanis arrested him at the behest of US Vice President Dick Cheney (see Before August 10, 2006 and Between July 28 and August 9, 2006). [Guardian, 8/11/2006] Officials say some plotters already had tickets for flights and planned to stage test runs over the weekend. Despite the 24 arrests, five suspects in Britain are still being urgently hunted. One official says, “They didn’t get them all.” But British officials claim the arrests in London and Birmingham snare all the alleged “main players.” [MSNBC, 8/10/2006] British Home Secretary John Reid says the operation is ongoing and more arrests may be made. US officials say the suspects are all British citizens between the ages of 17 and 35, with some being of Pakistani ethnicity. They add that some of the suspects had been monitored by British intelligence for several months. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of the Metropolitan Police Service Anti-Terrorist Branch, says the arrests follow an “unprecedented level of surveillance” over several months involving meetings, movements, travel, spending, and the aspirations of a large group of people. [CNN, 8/10/2006]
Liquids, Gels, Electronics Banned from Flights - Homeland Security bans all liquids and gels except baby formula and prescription medications in the name of the ticket holder in carry-on luggage on all flights. Passengers traveling from and through British airports are temporarily permitted to only carry-on items on a restricted list. These items have to be carried in transparent plastic bags. No liquids can be carried on board, including liquid medications “unless verified as authentic.” All electronic items are also banned. [Detroit Free Press, 8/10/2006]
Arrests, Alert Questioned - In the days following the security operation, the arrests will meet with some skepticism. Stephen Glover of the Daily Mail points to previous baseless terror scares in the US and Britain, as well as questioning the political motivations of the home secretary. [Daily Mail, 8/16/2006] Douglas Fraser of the Herald in Edinburgh suggests the “political component” of the operation has caused skepticism. He says the intelligence services are taking credit for foiling a major plot by “ramping up the level of public concern about the threat.” He notes that the timing coincides with an attempt by the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair to return to an issue it was defeated on before: increasing to 90 days the amount of time that people can be detained without charge in the case of alleged terrorist offenses. [VOA News, 8/18/2006] Sean O’Neill and Stewart Tendler of the London Times urge the public and the media to wait for solid evidence before accepting the version of events presented by the government. They say previous bungled anti-terror operations have put pressure on the authorities to build a solid case in public. [London Times, 8/12/2006] In response to these criticisms, intelligence services will be hesitant to release much information publicly, but confirm to The Guardian that surveillance and tips from informants pointed to a plot in the making. Police identify the explosives to be used in the plot as TATP (triacetone triperoxide) and HMTD (hexamethylene triperoxide diamine), both peroxide-based liquid explosives. [Guardian, 8/19/2006] Police will also reveal that the raids uncovered jihadist materials, receipts of Western Union money transfers, seven martyrdom videos, and the last will and testament of one plotter. [New York Times, 8/28/2006]
Some Suspects to Be Released; Security Measures Probably Unnecessary - However, The Guardian does indicate that some of the arrested suspects are likely to be released and that the security measures instituted following the arrests are almost certainly unnecessary. [Guardian, 8/19/2006] Contradicting earlier reports, a senior British official will suggest an attack was not imminent, saying the suspects had not yet purchased any airline tickets. In fact, some do not even have passports. [MSNBC, 8/14/2006] Over two and a half weeks after the arrests, a target date for the attacks and number of planes involved will still be undetermined by investigators. The estimate of 10 to 12 planes is characterized by officials as speculative and exaggerated. Clarke acknowledges the police are still investigating “the number, destination, and timing of the flights.” [New York Times, 8/28/2006]
12 Suspects to Be Tried - Twelve suspects will be charged with terrorism offences near the end of August 2006. Trials are expected to start in January 2008 at the earliest. Prosecutor Colin Gibbs says he expects “a very long trial of [between] five and eight months.” [IOL, 9/4/2006]

Entity Tags: Michael Chertoff, Paul Stephenson, US Department of Homeland Security, Peter Clarke, Metropolitan Police Service Anti-Terrorist Branch, Sean O’Neill, Rashid Rauf, John Reid, Al-Qaeda, Douglas Fraser, United Airlines, Frances Townsend, Stephen Glover, British Airways, American Airlines, Stewart Tendler, Continental Airlines

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Rashid Rauf in Pakistani custody.Rashid Rauf in Pakistani custody. [Source: Farooq Naeem / Agence France-Presse]Terrorism charges are dropped in Pakistan against British-Pakistani militant Rashid Rauf, but he remains imprisoned there. Held since early August, Rauf was part of a British-based plot to blow up transatlantic airliners (see August 10, 2006). British officials have been seeking his extradition for five months, and the decision not to prosecute him in Pakistan on the charges apparently clears the way for him to be returned to Britain; although there is no extradition treaty between Pakistan and Britain, Pakistani officials indicate they are ready to send Rauf home. However, Rauf, who has denied any links with terrorism, still has to face trial next week on charges of carrying fake identity documents. His lawyer Hashmat Habib says the court’s decision to drop the terror charges clears Rauf of involvement in any bomb plots, and characterises the fake ID charges as “minor.” On the contrary, Rawalpindi police chief Saud Aziz says he will contest the court’s decision and insists Rauf had been involved in planning terrorist activities. “We did recover hydrogen peroxide from his possession and concentrated hydrogen peroxide mixed with gas can cause explosions,” he says. [Times (London), 4/12/2009] Rauf will escape prison in late 2007 in mysterious circumstances (see December 14, 2007).

Entity Tags: Rashid Rauf, Hashmat Habib, Saud Aziz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Rashid Rauf.Rashid Rauf. [Source: Associated Press]Al-Qaeda operative Rashid Rauf mysteriously escapes from a prison in Pakistan. Authorities will say he escapes after freeing himself from handcuffs while being transported from one prison to another. The two policemen escorting him allowed him to stop and pray at a mosque. According to The Guardian, “The officers claimed that when Rauf walked into the mosque they waited outside in their car, never considering for a moment that he could simply walk out of the back door.” Furthermore, they do not report the escape for several hours. The two policemen on the duty are arrested, but it is unclear what happens to them. The Pakistani government will say they must have been bribed to allow Rauf to escape.
Linked to Pakistani Militant Group - Rauf, a dual Pakistani and British citizen, was implicated as a leader of a 2006 plot to blow up airplanes in Britain using liquid explosives (see August 10, 2006). He was arrested in Pakistan. His wife is closely related to Maulana Masood Azhar, the founder of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistani militant group that has a history of links to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
Was He Allowed to Escape to Avoid Extradition? - Rauf’s lawyer will claim that it is not a case of simple bribery. “You could call it a ‘mysterious disappearance’ if you like, but not an escape,” he will say. “The Pakistanis are simply not interested in handing him over to the British. They never have been, although it is not clear why not.” In December 2006, terrorism charges against Rauf were dropped, but he remained in Pakistani custody on charges of carrying explosives and forged identity papers (see December 13, 2006). In November 2007, those charges were dropped and a judge ordered his immediate release. But less than an hour later, the Pakistani government announced that he would be extradited to Britain to be charged in the airplane plot, and he would remain in custody until that happened. His escape took place as he was getting close to being extradited. People at the mosque where he is supposed to have escaped will say that they never saw him or any policemen on this day, and the police never came looking for him later. [Guardian, 1/28/2008] In November 2008, it will be reported that Rauf was killed in a US drone strike, but his family will insist he remains alive (see November 22, 2008).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Maulana Masood Azhar, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Rashid Rauf

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Rashid Rauf, a leading British-Pakistani militant involved with a liquid bomb plot to destroy transatlantic airliners (see August 10, 2006), is reported to have been killed in Pakistan. Rauf is allegedly killed in a US airstrike by a pilotless drone in North Warizistan, a region associated with Pakistani militants. He is allegedly one of five people killed, along with a wanted Egyptian militant named Abu Zubair al-Masri. [BBC, 11/22/2009] However, the reports of his death are unconfirmed, and doubts will persist. [BBC, 11/22/2009; BBC, 11/26/2009] Rauf’s family disbelieve the claim. Speaking through Rauf’s lawyer Hashmat Malik, the family of Rauf’s wife in Pakistan says that the body had not been handed over to them, and the authorities are not responding to their questions. “It’s all a concocted story,” says Malik. “We’re sure that it is not Rashid Rauf.” He adds, “There was no reason for him to be in North Waziristan, he has no link with al-Qaeda or the Taliban.” Malik also comments that if Rauf is dead, then he did not die in this strike, but was murdered by Pakistan’s security services after he escaped from custody in mysterious circumstances the previous year (see December 14, 2007). [Guardian, 11/25/2008]

Entity Tags: Hashmat Malik, Abu Zubair al-Masri, Rashid Rauf

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A jury at Woolwich Crown Court in London, England, convicts the three alleged ringleaders of a plot to blow up transatlantic airliners (see August 10, 2006). However, some of their alleged accomplices are acquitted on some or all charges. The three men, Abdulla Ahmed Ali, Tanvir Hussain, and Assad Sarwar, are convicted of plotting to kill thousands of people by blowing up planes flying from London to the US with home-made liquid bombs disguised as drinks. This is the second trial on the case. At a previous trial, the three main defendants were found guilty of conspiracy to murder, but the jury was unable to decide whether the plans included detonating the bombs on the planes. One of the accomplices, Umar Islam, is convicted of conspiracy to murder, but the jury fails to reach a verdict on whether he was involved in the plot to blow up aircraft. Three others, Ibrahim Savant, Arafat Khan, and Waheed Zaman, are found not guilty of plotting to bomb aircraft, and the jury fails to reach a verdict on more general conspiracy to murder charges against them. It is unclear whether prosecutors will request another trial for these charges. An eighth man, Donald Stewart-Whyte, is cleared of all charges, and his lawyers call for an inquiry into why he was prosecuted. [BBC, 9/7/2009]

Entity Tags: Ibrahim Savant, Abdulla Ahmed Ali, Arafat Khan, Donald Stewart-Whyte, Tanvir Hussain, Waheed Zaman, Assad Sarwar, Umar Islam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The United States believes that at least a dozen senior leaders of al-Qaeda are on the run in Pakistan, according to Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI). He says, “Of the 20 senior leaders in al-Qaeda, at least a dozen of them we believe to be traveling around Pakistan someplace.” Rogers chairs the House Intelligence Committee, and is privy to secret intelligence not even most other members of Congress are briefed about. His comments come one day after Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan (see May 2, 2011). The Telegraph publishes a list of the 12 wanted in Pakistan, which seems to be based on intelligence from Rogers:
bullet Ayman al-Zawahiri. He is al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, and presumably the top al-Qaeda leader now that bin Laden has been killed.
bullet Saif al-Adel. He possibly is al-Qaeda’s military chief. Possibly recently released from house arrest in Iran.
bullet Suliman Abu Ghaith. He was al-Qaeda’s spokesperson until he was detained in Iran in 2002 or 2003. He apparently was allowed to leave in 2010 (see September 29, 2010), and it is believed he has rejoined al-Qaeda.
bullet Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah. He is said to be on al-Qaeda’s top council. He may also be in Iran.
bullet Adnan Shukrijumah. He used to live in the US, and he may be in charge of al-Qaeda operations in North America.
bullet Rashid Rauf. He was involved in a 2006 plot to blow up airplanes in Britain (see August 10, 2006). He escaped from a Pakistani prison in 2007 (see December 14, 2007), and was reported killed by a US drone attack in 2008 (see November 22, 2008), but some sources say he is still alive.
bullet Ilyas Kashmiri. He is thought to have masterminded some recent attacks in India and Pakistan.
bullet Hakimullah Mahsud. He is leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban), a group said to be closely allied with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. [Daily Telegraph, 5/3/2011]
bullet Ghulam Mustafa. He may have been al-Qaeda’s chief in Pakistan, but he was arrested and released twice by the Pakistani government between 2004 and 2006. Other militants now suspect him because of his suspiciously quick releases from prison, but he is still wanted by the US. [Asia Times, 1/5/2006; Daily Telegraph, 5/3/2011]
bullet Sheikh Abu Yahia al-Libi. He escaped from a US prison in Afghanistan in 2005 (see July 11, 2005), and has become a respected religious figure for al-Qaeda.
bullet Anas al-Liby. The US has a $5 million reward for him. He may have been arrested in 2002 (see January 20, 2002- March 20, 2002).
bullet Qari Saifullah Akhtar. He is the leader of the Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami (HUJI, or the Movement of Islamic Holy War), a Pakistani militant group. He also is an alleged member of al-Qaeda who was released by Pakistan from custody in December 2010. [Daily Telegraph, 5/3/2011]

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Anas al-Liby, Adnan Shukrijumah, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Suliman abu Ghaith, Sheikh Abu Yahia al-Libi, Tehrik-i-Taliban, Rashid Rauf, Ilyas Kashmiri, Hakimullah Mahsud, Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami, Mike Rogers, Ghulam Mustafa, Qari Saifullah Akhtar, Saif al-Adel

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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