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Context of 'September 1, 1992: US Misses Opportunity to Stop First WTC Bombing and Discover Al-Qaeda'

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On April 24, 1992, Houston pizza deliveryman Ahmad Ajaj and San Antonio cabdriver Ibrahim Ahmad Suleiman fly together from Texas to Pakistan. Suleiman is a Texas contact of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, the Brooklyn-based Islamist militant organization linked to both the CIA and al-Qaeda (see 1986-1993). Suleiman had begun raising funds for the Afghan war in Texas in the late 1980s, and acquaintances said he traveled to Pakistan several times, carrying a briefcase full of cash to fund the mujaheddin fighting in Afghanistan. When they arrive in Pakistan, they stay at a hostel in Peshawar, near the Afghanistan border, known as the Abdullah Azzam House. Named after Osama bin Laden’s mentor Abdullah Azzam, this hostel is owned by Al-Kifah and also houses its Pakistan headquarters. Ajaj and Suleiman stay there off and on over the next several months. Al-Qaeda bomber Ramzi Yousef also sometimes stays there during the same months. Ajaj also allegedly receives explosives training at an Afghanistan training camp with Yousef. His letter of introduction to the camp is signed by an Azzam House official. On September 1, 1992, Ajaj and Yousef arrive together in New York City on a flight from Pakistan. Ajaj is carrying some bomb manuals; investigators will later find the fingerprints of Ajaj, Yousef, and Suleiman on them. Both men are carrying identification cards that give the PO box number in Tucson, Arizona, that matches an al-Kifah branch there. Ajaj is briefly detained at the airport, but Yousef is allowed to go. [Dallas Morning News, 6/8/1997] He gets into a taxi and tells the taxi driver to drive him to the building that houses the al-Qaeda headquarters in Brooklyn as well as the closely associated Al Farooq mosque, led at the time by the “Blind Shiekh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. [Lance, 2003] Ajaj and Yousef will later be sentenced to life in prison for their roles in the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993). Suleiman will only be sentenced to 10 months in prison for lying to a grand jury about his travels with Ajaj. [New York Times, 11/25/1998] A CIA internal report will conclude the agency is “partly culpable” for the WTC bombing, mainly due to its support for Al-Kifah (see January 24, 1994).

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Ibrahim Ahmad Suleiman, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Ahmad Ajaj, Abdullah Azzam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ahmad Ajaj.Ahmad Ajaj. [Source: FBI]Al-Qaeda operatives Ahmad Ajaj and Ramzi Yousef enter the US together. Ajaj is arrested at Kennedy Airport in New York City. Yousef is not arrested and will later mastermind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. “The US government was pretty sure Ajaj was a terrorist from the moment he stepped foot on US soil,” because his “suitcases were stuffed with fake passports, fake IDs, and a cheat sheet on how to lie to US immigration inspectors,” plus “two handwritten notebooks filled with bomb recipes, six bomb-making manuals, four how-to videotapes concerning weaponry, and an advanced guide to surveillance training.” However, Ajaj is charged only with passport fraud and serves a six-month sentence. From prison, Ajaj frequently calls Yousef and others involved in the 1993 WTC bombing plot, but no one will translate the calls until long after the bombing. [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] Ajaj will be released from prison three days after the WTC bombing, but is later rearrested and sentenced to more than 100 years in prison. [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] One of the manuals seized from Ajaj will be horribly mistranslated for the trial. For instance, the title page is said to say “The Basic Rule,” published in Jordan in 1982, when in fact the title says “al-Qaeda” (which means “the base” in English), published in Afghanistan in 1989. Investigators will subsequently complain that a proper translation could have shown an early connection between al-Qaeda and the WTC bombing. [New York Times, 1/14/2001] An Israeli newsweekly will report that the Palestinian Ajaj may have been a mole for the Israeli Mossad. The Village Voice will suggest that Ajaj may have had “advance knowledge of the World Trade Center bombing, which he shared with Mossad, and that Mossad, for whatever reason, kept the secret to itself.” Ajaj is not just knowledgeable, but is involved in the planning of the bombing from his prison cell. [Village Voice, 8/3/1993]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, Al-Qaeda, Ahmad Ajaj, Ramzi Yousef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission, relying on a CIA report, will later say that three of the men involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing travel on Saudi passports containing an indicator of possible Islamist extremism. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 46-47, 61 pdf file] Author James Bamford will say that it is a “secret coded indicator, placed there by the Saudi government, warning of a possible terrorist affiliation.” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 58-59] It is unclear what the indicator looks like precisely and who the men are. However, Ahmad Ajaj, an associate of lead bomber Ramzi Yousef, does have a Saudi passport. Some of the 9/11 hijackers will later use Saudi passports with the same indicator (see October 28, 2000, June 1, 2001, and June 13, 2001, and November 2, 2007). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 46-47, 61 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Ahmad Ajaj

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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