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Context of 'Between September 2000 and August 2001: French Repeatedly Learn of Al-Qaeda Plots Against the US'

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Chechen rebel leader Ibn KhattabChechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab [Source: Associated Press]Osama bin Laden and Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab are, as a CIA officer puts it, “intricately tied together” in a number of ways. Their relationship apparently begins in the mid-1980s, when Ibn Khattab goes to fight in Afghanistan and reportedly meets bin Laden there. It ends in March 2002 with Khattab’s death (see March 19, 2002). [BBC, 4/26/2002; Independent, 5/1/2002; Washington Post, 4/26/2003; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file]
bullet They share fundraising and recruiting networks. For example, a Florida cell of radical Sunnis that is monitored by the FBI starting in 1993 is involved with both organizations (see (October 1993-November 2001)). Radical London imam Abu Qatada raises money for jihad in Chechnya (see 1995-February 2001 and February 2001) and is a key figure in al-Qaeda-related terrorism who is in communication with al-Qaeda logistics manager Abu Zubaida. [BBC, 3/23/2004; Nasiri, 2006, pp. 273] The Finsbury Park mosque of fellow London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri is used as a conduit for funds for both jihad in Chechnya and bin Laden’s Darunta camp in Afghanistan (see March 1999 and March 2000-February 2001);
bullet Bin Laden sends hundreds of fighters to help the Chechen cause, and this is publicly revealed no later than August 2000 (see May 2000);
bullet The two leaders debate strategy; [Terrorism Monitor, 1/26/2006] and
bullet Ibn Khattab establishes camps for trainees sent to him by bin Laden, and the US is aware of this no later than October 1998 (see October 16, 1998).
Despite bin Laden’s contribution to the Chechen effort, he does not have control of operations there. [Terrorism Monitor, 1/26/2006] Zacarias Moussaoui will later be linked to Khattab (see August 22, 2001).

Entity Tags: Ibn Khattab, Osama bin Laden, Islamic International Peacekeeping Brigade

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to a French intelligence report, in the beginning of 2000 bin Laden meets with Taliban leaders, other al-Qaeda leaders, and armed groups from Chechnya to plan a hijacking, possibly of an airplane flying to the US. They create a list of seven possible airlines to hijack: American, Delta, Continental, United, Air France, Lufthansa, and a vague “US Aero.” The group considers hijacking a US airline flying out of Frankfurt and diverting it to Iran or Afghanistan or hijacking a French or German plane and diverting it to Tajikistan or Afghanistan. The goals are to increase international pressure to force a Russian withdrawal from Chechnya and to force the release of Islamists in US prisons. [Associated Press, 4/16/2007; Le Monde (Paris), 4/17/2007] This latter goal is a likely reference to the Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, as US intelligence repeatedly hears of al-Qaeda hijacking plots to free him (see 1998, March-April 2001, and May 23, 2001). The Chechens are likely connected to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab, who has a long history of collaboration with bin Laden (see 1986-March 19, 2002 and Before April 13, 2001). According to other news reports, in early 2000, the CIA observed Mohamed Atta as he bought large quantities of chemicals in Frankfurt, apparently to build explosives (see January-May 2000), and in February and March 2001, Atta and two associates will apply for a job with Lufthansa Airlines at the Frankfurt airport that would give them access to secure areas of the airport, but apparently none of them are able to get the job (see February 15, 2001). Bin Laden will apparently uphold the decision to go forward with this plot later in 2000 (see October 2000) and the French will continue to report on the plot in January 2001, apparently passing the information to the CIA (see January 5, 2001). But it is unclear what happens after that and if the plot morphs into the 9/11 attacks, is canceled, or was a ruse all along. Some of the 9/11 hijackers fought in Chechnya and therefore might also be linked to Ibn Khattab (see 1996-December 2000).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Ibn Khattab, Mohamed Atta, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The French intelligence agency, the DGSE, publishes a 13-page classified report entitled “The Networks of Osama bin Laden.” According to a 2007 article, the report describes the “context, the anecdotal details, and all the strategic aspects relative to al-Qaeda” in “black and white” terms. It mentions a payment of $4.5 million from the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) to in Laden. The US will not go after the IIRO even years after 9/11 because of the organization’s close ties to the Saudi government (see October 12, 2001 and August 3, 2006). The report also doubts Osama bin Laden’s purported estrangement from the bin Laden family: “It seems more and more likely that bin Laden has maintained contacts with certain members of his family, although the family, which directs one of the largest groups of public works in the world, has officially renounced him. One of his brothers apparently plays a role as intermediary in its professional contacts or the monitoring of its business.” French officials will later claim they regularly passed on their intelligence on al-Qaeda to the CIA. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Osama bin Laden, International Islamic Relief Organization

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Midhat Mursi.Midhat Mursi. [Source: Washington Post]Agents of the DGSE, the French intelligence agency, examine an aerial photo and spot al-Qaeda leader Midhat Mursi (a.k.a. Abu Khabab al-Masri) standing close to Osama bin Laden. Mursi is considered al-Qaeda’s chief bomb maker and chemical weapons expert (he will apparently be killed in 2006 (see January 13, 2006). French intelligence reports from before 9/11 show that Mursi is being closely watched by intelligence agencies, with the French exchanging information about him with the Mossad, CIA, and Egyptian intelligence. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007] The quality of the aerial photo must have been extremely high in order for Mursi and bin Laden to be recognized, but it has not been explained how such a photo was obtained or what other photos of bin Laden or other al-Qaeda leaders may have been taken before 9/11. Less than two weeks later, the US begins flying Predator drones over Afghanistan to track bin Laden (see September 7-October 2000).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Midhat Mursi, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The French intelligence agency, DGSE, publishes nine intelligence reports between these dates on the subject of al-Qaeda threats against the US. Over three hundred pages of classified DGSE reports on al-Qaeda from July 2000 to October 2001 will be leaked to a French reporter in 2007. One of the nine reports on attacks against the US, dated January 5, 2001, will be detailed in a 2007 French newspaper article (see January 5, 2001), but the contents of the other eight remain unknown. DGSE officials will later claim that such reports would have certainly been passed on to the CIA. None of the contents of any of these French reports will be mentioned in the 2004 9/11 Commission report. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bin Laden has personally approves an al-Qaeda plan to hijack a US airplane. A French intelligence report in January 2001 will describe an al-Qaeda plot to hijack aircraft, possibly one flying from Frankfurt to the US (see January 5, 2001). The report notes that, “In October 2000 bin Laden attended a meeting in Afghanistan at which the decision to mount this action was upheld.” [Le Monde (Paris), 4/17/2007] At the meeting, bin Laden also decides that his next action against the US will involve a hijacking. However, there is still disagreement among al-Qaeda leaders over how the plot would work. [Agence France-Presse, 4/16/2007] The French report also claims that in early 2000, bin Laden met with Chechen rebels, the Taliban, and other al-Qaeda leaders to begin planning this hijacking (see Early 2000). The Chechens are likely connected to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab, who has a long history of collaboration with bin Laden (see 1986-March 19, 2002) and is said to be planning an attack against the US with him around this time (see Before April 13, 2001). The French will apparently pass all this information to the CIA in early 2001 (see January 5, 2001).

Entity Tags: Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Ibn Khattab

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Alain Chouet.Alain Chouet. [Source: La Repubblica]A five page summary French intelligence report dated on this day is entitled “Hijacking of an Airplane by Radical Islamists.” The report details tactical discussions since early 2000 between bin Laden, Chechen rebels, and the Taliban about a hijacking against US airlines (Early 2000 and October 2000). The plot considers hijacking a US airliner flying from Frankfurt to the US or hijacking a French or German airliner. The French intelligence comes from Uzbek spies who have infiltrated the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a militant group based in Uzbekistan next door to Afghanistan and closely tied to bin Laden and the Taliban. Some of the spies ended up in al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. The French report makes clear that the information was independently verified from other sources, including satellite telephone intercepts and possibly spies recruited in France. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007; Associated Press, 4/16/2007; Le Monde (Paris), 4/17/2007] When this French report will be leaked to the press in 2007, French officials will insist that the information in it would have been forwarded to the CIA at the time. For instance, Pierre-Antoine Lorenzi, responsible at the time for communications between French and other foreign intelligence services, will say the information would have gone to Bill Murray, chief of the CIA Paris station. Lorenzi says, “That, typically, is the kind of information that would certainly have been forwarded to the CIA. It would even have been an error not to have done it.” [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007] Alain Chouet, head of the French intelligence subdivision tracking terrorist movements, also says the information was certainly passed to the CIA. “We transmitted everything to our American counterparts, everything that could have posed a threat, and they did the same with us.” Chouet thinks it is possible the information was deliberate misdirection by al-Qaeda, because it does not mention multiple hijackings or suicide pilots. No CIA officials have gone on record saying that they received the warning. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007; Associated Press, 4/16/2007] However, the Chechens are likely connected to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab, who has a long history of collaboration with bin Laden (see 1986-March 19, 2002), and by April 2001 an FBI report says that Ibn Khattab and bin Laden are seriously planning an attack together, possibly against US interests (see Before April 13, 2001). In May 2001, President Bush will be given a warning entitled, “Terrorist Groups Said Cooperating on US Hostage Plot,” which could involve a hijacking to free al-Qaeda prisoners in the US (see May 23, 2001). The plot described by French intelligence is also designed to free al-Qaeda prisoners in the US, though this may just be coincidence as the terrorist groups in Bush’s warning have not been publicly named. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/17/2007]

Entity Tags: Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Pierre-Antoine Lorenzi, Alain Chouet, Bill Murray, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Dale Watson, head of the FBI’s counterterrorism program, sends a memo to FBI Director Louis Freeh warning that Islamic radicals are planning a “terrorist operation.” The memo states that “Sunni extremists with links to Ibn al Kahhatb, an extremist leader in Chechnya, and to Osama bin Laden [have been involved in] serious operational planning… since late 2000, with an intended culmination in late spring 2001.” Watson says the planning was sparked by the renewal of the Palestinian Intifada in September 2000. “[A]ll the players are heavily intertwined,” the memo notes. Additionally, the memo says that “[m]ultiple sources also suggest that [bin Laden’s] organization is planning a terrorist attack against US interests.” The memo is also sent to other FBI officials, such as International Terrorism Operations Section (ITOS) chief Michael Rolince, who will later be involved in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui (see Late August 2001 and (August 30-September 10, 2001)) [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/2001 pdf file] Based on this report, ITOS sends an e-mail (see April 13, 2001) to all field offices, asking agents to help identify information pertaining to the “current operational activities relating to Sunni extremism.” The e-mail does not mention Ibn Khattab. [Associated Press, 3/21/2006] These plans may be for the 9/11 attacks—at least some of the alleged hijackers are linked to bin Laden (see January 5-8, 2000), and Zacarias Moussaoui is linked to Ibn Khattab (see Late 1999-Late 2000). Some of the hijackers fought in Chechnya and therefore might also be linked to Ibn Khattab (see 1996-December 2000). Officials at FBI headquarters will later refuse a search warrant for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings saying they believe Ibn Khattab is not closely connected to Osama bin Laden and is not hostile to the US (see August 22, 2001 and August 23-27, 2001).

Entity Tags: Louis J. Freeh, Michael Rolince, Dale Watson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ibn Khattab

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) sent to top White House officials is entitled, “Terrorist Groups Said Cooperating on US Hostage Plot.” It warns of a possible hostage plot against the US abroad to force to release of prisoners being held in the US, including Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see July 1990). The report notes operatives might hijack an aircraft or storm a US embassy overseas. SEIBs are typically based on the previous day’s President Daily Briefing (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable President Bush is given this information. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 255-256, 533; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 2 pdf file] This report leads to an FAA warning to airlines noting the potential for “an airline hijacking to free terrorists incarcerated in the United States.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 255-256]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, White House, Omar Abdul-Rahman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

French investigative journalist Guillaume Dasquie writes an article for Le Monde detailing the extensive knowledge obtained by the French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) about al-Qaeda between July 2000 and October 2001. The article is based on a series of DGSE reports leaked to Dasquie about al-Qaeda’s funding (see July 24, 2000), aerial photographs of Osama bin Laden (see August 28, 2000), and al-Qaeda threats against the US (see Between September 2000 and August 2001), including aircraft piracy. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007; Le Monde (Paris), 7/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Guillaume Dasquie

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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