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Context of 'September 4, 2001: Secret Embedded Messages Help Show Milan Al-Qaeda Have 9/11 Foreknowledge'

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The Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, Italy.The Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, Italy. [Source: Public domain]By late 1998, US and Italian intelligence are already aware of the importance of a mosque in Milan, Italy, called the Islamic Cultural Institute. After 9/11, the Treasury Department will call the mosque “the main al-Qaeda station house in Europe. It is used to facilitate the movement of weapons, men and money across the world.” Additionally, they are aware that Ahmed Idris Nasreddin, a founder and director of Al Taqwa Bank, is also a founder and financier of the mosque. The mosque is also less than 50 miles away from Al Taqwa’s headquarters on the Swiss border.(see 1995-1997). [Newsweek, 3/18/2002] US officials will later say that al-Qaeda operatives involved in the 1998 US embassy bombings stayed at the Milan mosque. This causes US and Italian intelligence to watch the mosque more closely, and it also causes the US to look closer at Al Taqwa Bank (see 1997-September 11, 2001). [Newsweek, 3/18/2002] One member of the al-Qaeda cell in Milan lives in Hamburg with 9/11 plotter Ramzi bin al-Shibh for most of 1998 (see December 1997-November 1998). In 2000, Abderazek Mahdjoub, the head of the Milan cell, lives in Hamburg, attends the Al-Quds mosque that the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell attends, and has ties with some of the 9/11 hijackers (see 2000). Al-Qaeda operatives involved in the failed millennium bombing plot in Jordan also stay at the Milan mosque (see November 30, 1999). The Jordanian government later will claim that Al Taqwa helped fund these millennium bombers. [Newsweek, 3/18/2002; Newsweek, 4/12/2004] Starting in late 2000, Italian intelligence, wiretapping people associated with the Milan mosque and/or the Milan al-Qaeda cell, record conversations suggesting foreknowledge of the 9/11 plot (see August 12, 2000; January 24, 2001). This information is shared with the US in early 2001 (see March 2001). Additional evidence will come out after 9/11 suggesting some people in Milan had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks (see September 4, 2001; September 7, 2001). Given the closeness of the Al Taqwa Bank to the mosque, especially through Nasreddin, this raises the possibility of Al Taqwa involvement and knowledge of specific al-Qaeda plots, including the 9/11 attacks, though there is no known evidence of such direct ties except for the attempted millennium bombing mentioned above.

Entity Tags: Islamic Cultural Institute, Abderazek Mahdjoub, Italy, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, US Department of the Treasury, Ahmed Idris Nasreddin, Al-Qaeda, Al Taqwa Bank

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri sends a close associate, Mahmoud Es Sayed, to Italy. His task is to revitalize an Egyptian Islamist network in Milan and northern Italy, by setting up new cells and establishing contacts with other extremist networks operating in the area. He applies for asylum and, during the proceedings on his application, states that he is connected to Islamic Jihad. However, he is granted asylum anyway. He maintains close ties with one radical mosque in Milan, the Islamic Cultural Institute, and immediately becomes the undisputed leader of the city’s other extremist mosque, the Via Quaranta mosque. The Italian authorities, who are investigating radical Islamist networks at this time, learn of his arrival and importance within a few months. [Vidino, 2006, pp. 52, 221-2] There is evidence to indicate that Es Sayed has foreknowledge of 9/11 (see August 12, 2000 and September 4, 2001).

Entity Tags: Islamic Cultural Institute, Mahmoud Es Sayed, Via Quaranta Mosque

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman.Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman. [Source: US Defense Department]Italian intelligence successfully wiretaps an al-Qaeda cell in Milan, Italy, starting in late 1999. [Boston Globe, 8/4/2002] In a wiretapped conversation from this day, Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, a section chief in Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO - roughly the equivalent to the FBI in the US) traveling on a diplomatic passport (see Spring-Summer 1998), talks about a massive strike against the enemies of Islam involving aircraft and the sky. The conversation takes place in a car on the way to a terrorist summit near Bologna (see August 12, 2000 and Shortly After), and the person Abdulrahman talks to is Mahmoud Es Sayed, a close associate of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000). There are several significant aspects to the conversation:
bullet Abdulrahman makes comments indicating he has foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. He says that he is “studying airlines,” comments, “Our focus is only on the air,” and tells Es Sayed to remember the words “above the head.” He also says that next time they meet he hopes to bring Es Sayed “a window or piece of the airplane,” and that the security on Alitalia and at Rome airport is poor. The name of the operation is given as “Jihadia,” and Abdulrahman says, “the big blow will come from the other country: one of those blows no one can ever forget.” He adds: “[It is] moving from south to north, from east to west: whoever created this plan is crazy, but he’s also a genius. It will leave them speechless.” He also says: “We can fight any power using candles and airplanes: they will not be able to stop us with even their most powerful weapons. We must hit them. And keep your head up.… Remember, the danger in the airports.… If it happens the newspapers from all over the world will write about it.”
bullet Es Sayed remarks, “I know brothers who went to America with the trick of the wedding publications.” The phrase “Big wedding” is sometimes used by al-Qaeda as code for a bombing or attack, including 9/11 (see November 30, 1999 and Late Summer 2001), so, taken together with Abdulrahman’s remarks, this indicates an unconventional attack in the US using aircraft;
bullet The two discuss training camps in Yemen, which are “proceeding on a world scale.” They also mention youth in Italy, and presumably the youth are training;
bullet Es Sayed says, “my dream is building an Islamic state,” and Abdulrahman replies that this is possible because the Yemeni government is weak and “sooner or later we will dominate it;”
bullet Es Sayed asks after a person named Ayman, evidently al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri;
bullet Abdulrahman twice mentions the name of Abdul Mejid, apparently a reference to Abdul Mejid al-Zindani, a radical leader in Yemen and associate of Osama bin Laden (see January-August 1998);
bullet Es Sayed makes the cryptic comment, “One must be cautious, like in Iran; not a single photo.”
Beginning in October 2000, FBI experts will help Italian police analyze the intercepts and warnings. Related conversations are overheard early the next year (see January 24, 2001 and February 2001). Neither Italy nor the FBI will fully understand their meaning until after 9/11, but apparently the Italians will understand enough to give the US an attack warning in March 2001 (see March 2001). After 9/11, this conversation and others like it will cause US intelligence to think there may be a link between the 9/11 plot and Yemen’s PSO. [Los Angeles Times, 5/29/2002; Guardian, 5/30/2002; Washington Post, 5/31/2002; Wall Street Journal, 12/20/2002; Vidino, 2006, pp. 224-5] Author Lorenzo Vidino will later comment: “The chilling conversation alarmed officials before 9/11, but it took on a completely different resonance after the attacks had taken place. [Abdulrahman], who had close connections to the highest ranks of al-Qaeda, likely knew about the plan in advance and had told Es Sayed about it.” [Vidino, 2006, pp. 226]

Entity Tags: Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Mahmoud Es Sayed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Italian intelligence hears an interesting wiretapped conversation eerily similar to one from August 12, 2000 (see August 12, 2000). This conversation occurs between al-Qaeda operatives Mahmoud Es Sayed (see Summer 2000) and Ben Soltane Adel, two members of al-Qaeda’s Milan cell. Adel asks, in reference to fake documents, “Will these work for the brothers who are going to the United States?” Sayed responds angrily, saying: “[D]on’t ever say those words again, not even joking!… If it’s necessary… whatever place we may be, come up and talk in my ear, because these are very important things. You must know… that this plan is very, very secret, as if you were protecting the security of the state.” This will be one of many clues found from the Italian wiretaps and passed on to US intelligence in March 2001 (see March 2001). However, they apparently will not be properly understood until after 9/11. Adel will later be arrested and convicted of belonging to a terrorist cell, and Es Sayed will flee to Afghanistan in July 2001. [Los Angeles Times, 5/29/2002; Guardian, 5/30/2002]

Entity Tags: Mahmoud Es Sayed, Ben Soltane Adel, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At least one member of the al-Qaeda cell in Milan, Italy, apparently uses steganography, a method of encoding messages within computerized photographs. In Milan’s Via Quaranta mosque in Milan, frequented by Egyptian al-Qaeda operative Mahmoud Es Sayed, pictures of the World Trade Center that have steganographic messages in them are saved on a computer. A number of other pictures of world leaders and pornography are also manipulated in a similar manner. These pictures will not be discovered until months after 9/11, but they help suggest that some in the Milan cell had foreknowledge of the 9/11 plot. Es Sayed had been wiretapped on previous occasions, and was heard making comments suggesting he had such foreknowledge (see August 12, 2000) (see January 24, 2001). His current whereabouts are unknown. [ABC News, 5/8/2003]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Mahmoud Es Sayed, World Trade Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ben Soltane Adel, a Tunisian detained in Milan, Italy, for belonging to an extremist cell (see January 24, 2001), receives a letter from a fellow militant. The envelope contains an empty chewing gum wrapper. The wrapper is from Brooklyn Gum, a popular Italian brand that features a picture of the Brooklyn Bridge, so presumably it is a hint to Adel about the 9/11 targets. Prison guards notice the wrapper when they open the envelope and think it odd. However, they do not realize the full significance of it until five days later. [Vidino, 2006, pp. 226] Some Islamist militants in Milan appear to have foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks around this time (see September 7, 2001) and September 4, 2001). In January 2001, Adel was monitored talking about using forged documents to help the “brothers who are going to the United States” with Mahmoud Es Sayed, one of the people in Italy who seems to know about the 9/11 plot (see January 24, 2001 and August 12, 2000).
Release and Imprisoned Again - In early 2004, Adel will be released after serving a three and a half year sentence in Italy, and then deported to Tunisia. In June 2007, it will be reported that he is on a UN al-Qaeda and Taliban blacklist, and he is imprisoned in Tunisia. [Isle of Man Customs Division, 6/11/2007]

Entity Tags: Mahmoud Es Sayed, Ben Soltane Adel

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An Italian network of extremists that has been closely monitored by local authorities (see After April 2001) goes silent following 9/11, after which only one message is intercepted. The message, which says, “Congratulations for the USA,” is from an unknown militant to Abdelhalim Remadna, a leading radical based in Milan. Remadna is arrested on November 12 as he attempts to flee Italy. One of his associates, Yassin Chekkouri, is arrested on the same day. Remadna will be sentenced to eight years in prison, whereas Chekkouri will receive four. Mahmoud Es Sayed, one of their associates who apparently had some foreknowledge of 9/11 (see August 12, 2000 and September 4, 2001), escapes Italy some time in October, but is apparently killed at the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001. [Vidino, 2006, pp. 227-30]

Entity Tags: Abdelhalim Remadna, Yassin Chekkouri, Mahmoud Es Sayed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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