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Context of 'September 5-8, 2001: Raid on Arab Web Hosting Company Precedes 9/11 Attacks'

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Steve McGonigle.Steve McGonigle. [Source: University of Texas at Austin]In October 1994, CBS News shows a documentary made by counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson called Jihad in America that alleges the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) and Holy Land Foundation have given critical financial support to Hamas. The story is largely based on confessions that Hamas operative Mohammad Salah and another man gave to Israeli officials in 1993 (see January 1993). It claims that these two Texas-based organizations are sending more than a million dollars to Hamas, much of it to buy ammunition. The US officially declares Hamas a terrorist organization in 1995 (see January 1995), and a new law passed in 1996 confirms a 1995 executive order that giving any support to groups like Hamas a crime (see April 25, 1996). [Dallas Morning News, 10/5/1994; Dallas Morning News, 4/8/1996] In March 1996, the Israeli government closes the Jerusalem office of the Holy Land Foundation because of alleged ties to Hamas. This prompts Steve McGonigle, a reporter at the Dallas Morning News, to begin investigating Holy Land, since their headquarters are near Dallas. Beginning in April 1996, McGonigle begins reporting on Holy Land and their ties to Hamas. He notices by looking at public records that Mousa Abu Marzouk, the political leader of Hamas being detained in New York (see July 5, 1995-May 1997), has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding to Holy Land beginning in 1992, the same information that FBI agents like Robert Wright are already aware of. In 1997, the Associated Press will note that Marzouk gave Holy Land its single biggest contribution in the first five years of Holy Land’s existence. Members of Congress such as US Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) ask the IRS to revoke the Holy Land Foundation’s tax-exempt status because of its support for a US-designated terrorist group. McGonigle also publishes that Marzouk’s wife invested $250,000 in 1993 in InfoCom, the computer company located next to Holy Land that will also be accused of Hamas ties (see September 16, 1998-September 5, 2001). McGonigle will continue to write more stories about Holy Land and Hamas, causing Holy Land to sue his newspaper for defamation in April 2000 (the suit will be dropped after 9/11). [Dallas Morning News, 4/8/1996; Associated Press, 5/26/1997; Columbia Journalism Review, 1/2002] Yet despite all of this media coverage, InfoCom will not be raided until one week before 9/11 (see September 5-8, 2001), and the Holy Land Foundation will not be raided until after 9/11.

Entity Tags: Steve McGonigle, Mousa Abu Marzouk, Mohammad Salah, Steven Emerson, InfoCom Corp., Hamas, Islamic Association for Palestine, Nita Lowey, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On September 15, 1998, bin Laden’s former personal secretary Wadih El-Hage is arrested in the US (see September 15, 1998). His address book had been discovered in 1997 (see Shortly After August 21, 1997), but apparently after his arrest investigators pursue new leads from it. One name in the book is Ghassan Dahduli. Both El-Hage and Dahduli lived in Tucson, Arizona in the late 1980s. Dahduli ran an Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) office from the same Tucson mosque that El-Hage attended. Dahduli moved to Richardson, Texas, with the IAP office in 1990, around the time El-Hage moved to Arlington, Texas. Both towns are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. El-Hage lived in Africa for much of the 1990s, but by 1998 he was back in Texas and he was seen in a Texas restaurant with Dahduli. The IAP, InfoCom, and Holy Land Foundation all have offices next to each other, and all have been accused of being fronts for Hamas. Dahduli worked at both the IAP and InfoCom. [Dallas Morning News, 9/23/2001; Nation, 12/24/2001] Based on the connection between Dahduli and El-Hage and other information, the FBI opens up a criminal investigation into all three organizations in 1999. They determine that Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk invested $150,000 in InfoCom in 1992, and his wife Nadia Marzouk invested $250,000 in 1993. On September 25, 2000, federal agents confront Dahduli in a shopping center parking lot and threaten to deport him, but offer to not do so if he agrees to become an informant on these organizations. Dahduli refuses and publicizes the offer to turn informant, even putting information about it on the Internet. He applies for political asylum in the US. [Nation, 12/24/2001; Dallas Morning News, 12/20/2002] In early 2001, the Dallas Morning News begins publishing stories about InfoCom and its suspected ties to Hamas. Apparently, some combination of the Dahduli-El-Hage link, media pressure, and the investments of Marzouk and his wife prompts the FBI to raid InfoCom on September 5, 2001, one week before 9/11 (see September 5-8, 2001). It will be the only significant action the US government takes against a Muslim charity in the US before 9/11. [Columbia Journalism Review, 1/2002] Shortly after 9/11, Dahduli will be arrested and questioned. He will be deported to Jordan in December 2001. [Nation, 12/24/2001]

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Mousa Abu Marzouk, Nadia Marzouk, Islamic Association for Palestine, InfoCom Corporation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline


Infocom logo.
Infocom logo. [Source: Infocom]The US Joint Terrorism Task Force conducts a three-day raid of the offices of InfoCom Corporation, a Texas-based company that hosts about 500 mostly Arab websites, including Al Jazeera, the Arab world’s most popular news channel. [Guardian, 9/10/2001; Web Host Industry Review, 9/10/2001] Three days after the initial raid, the task force is “still busy inside the building, reportedly copying every hard disc they could find. It is not clear how long these websites remain shut down.” [Guardian, 9/10/2001] InfoCom began to be seriously investigated by the FBI in late 1998 when the name of an employee was discovered in the address book of bin Laden’s former personal secretary. There also was evidence of a financial link between InfoCom and a top Hamas leader (see October 1994-2001). InfoCom is closely connected to the Holy Land Foundation. Not only are the two organizations across the road from each other in Richardson, Texas, a number of employees work at both organizations. For instance, Ghassan Elashi is both the vice president of InfoCom and chairman of Holy Land. [Guardian, 9/10/2001; New York Times, 12/20/2002] A local bank closes Holy Land’s checking accounts totaling about $13 million around the same time as the raid on InfoCom, but Holy Land’s assets are not officially frozen by the government. [Dallas Business Journal, 9/7/2001] The US will shut down Holy Land and freeze their assets two months later (see December 4, 2001) for suspected ties to Hamas. Holy Land is represented by Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, a Washington, D.C., law firm with unusually close ties to the Bush White House. [Washington Post, 12/17/2001] In 2002, the five brothers running InfoCom will be charged of selling computer equipment overseas in violation of anti-terrorism laws and of supporting Hamas by giving money to Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk through 2001. In 2004, the five brothers will be convicted of the first charge, and in 2005, three brothers will be convicted of the second charge.(see December 18, 2002-April 2005). On a possibly connected note, in the Garland suburb adjoining Richardson, a fifth-grade boy apparently has foreknowledge of 9/11 (see September 10, 2001). [Houston Chronicle, 9/19/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, InfoCom Corporation, US Secret Service, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, Osama bin Laden, Ghassan Elashi, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Al Jazeera, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, Hamas, Mousa Abu Marzouk

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A fifth grader in Dallas, Texas, casually tells his teacher, “Tomorrow, World War III will begin. It will begin in the United States, and the United States will lose.” The teacher reports the comment to the FBI, but does not know if they act on it at the time. The student skips the next two days of school. The event may be completely coincidental, but the newspaper that reports the story also notes that two charities, Holy Land Foundation and InfoCom, located in an adjacent suburb have been under investigation based on suspected fund-raising activities for Islamic militant organizations. One InfoCom employee had his name in the telephone book of Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s personal secretary, and he was seen with El-Hage as recently as 1998 (see September 16, 1998-September 5, 2001). [Houston Chronicle, 9/19/2001] The FBI investigates and decides “no further investigation [is] warranted.” [Houston Chronicle, 10/1/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Holy Land Foundation is shut down and its assets are seized. Holy Land claimed to be the largest Muslim charity in the US. It claimed to raise millions for Palestinian refugees and denied any support for terrorism. In justifying the move, the US government presents evidence of ties between the Holy Land and Hamas. Much of this evidence dates back to 1993; the Associated Press titles a story on the closure, “Money Freeze A Long Time Coming.” [Associated Press, 12/5/2001] Holy Land offices in San Diego, California; Paterson, New Jersey; and Bridgeview, Illinois, are also raided. [CNN, 12/4/2001] The indictment says Holy Land has been “deeply involved with a network of Muslim Brotherhood organizations dedicated to furthering the Islamic fundamentalist agenda espoused by Hamas.” [Washington Post, 9/11/2004] Holy Land is represented by the powerful law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. Three partners at Akin, Gump are very close to President Bush: George Salem chaired Bush’s 2000 campaign outreach to Arab-Americans; Barnett “Sandy” Kress was appointed by Bush as an “unpaid consultant” on education reform and has an office in the White House; and James Langdon is one of Bush’s closest Texas friends. [Boston Herald, 12/11/2001; Washington Post, 12/17/2001] The leaders of Holy Land will be charged with a variety of crimes in 2002 and 2004 (see December 18, 2002-April 2005).

Entity Tags: Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, US Department of the Treasury, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ghassan Elashi holds a press conference and denies any connection to terrorist funding.Ghassan Elashi holds a press conference and denies any connection to terrorist funding. [Source: Associated Press]Mousa Abu Marzouk, his wife, and five brothers (Ghassan Elashi, Bayan Elashi, Hazim Elashi, Basman Elashi, and Ihsan Elashi) are charged with conspiracy, money laundering, dealing in the property of a designated terrorist, illegal export, and making false statements. The brothers are arrested in Texas, but Marzouk and his wife are living in Syria and remain free. Marzouk is considered a top leader of Hamas. FBI agent Robert Wright had been investigating Marzouk and the brothers since the late 1990s. Wright is set to appear on ABC News on December 19, 2002, to complain that the FBI had failed to prosecute Marzouk for years. As the New York Post notes, “That got results: A day before the show aired, Attorney General Ashcroft announced he would indict Marzouk.” [BBC, 12/18/2002; Associated Press, 12/18/2002; Washington Post, 12/19/2002; New York Post, 7/14/2004] FBI agent John Vincent, who worked closely with Wright, comments, “From within the FBI, [Wright] and I tried to get the FBI to use existing criminal laws to attack the infrastructure of terrorist organizations within the United States, but to no avail. It took an appearance [on television] by [Wright] and I to propel them into making arrests that they could have made as early as 1993.” [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003] ABC News similarly notes, “Marzouk was in US custody in 1997 and under criminal investigation then for much the same crimes cited today.” [ABC News, 12/18/2002] Ghassan Elashi was the vice president of InfoCom Corporation, which was raided on September 5, 2001 (see September 5-8, 2001). He was also chairman of Holy Land Foundation, which was shut down in December 2001. InfoCom and Holy Land were based in the same Texas office park and shared many of the same employees. [Guardian, 9/10/2001; CBS News, 12/18/2002; Associated Press, 12/23/2002] Holy Land raised $13 million in 2000 and claimed to be the largest Muslim charity in the US. The government charges that Hamas members met with Ghassan Elsashi and other Holy Land officials in 1993 to discuss raising money for the families of suicide bombers (see October 1993). Wright had begun an investigation into Holy Land that same year, but he faced obstacles from higher-ups and eventually his investigation was shut down. [CBS News, 12/18/2002; New York Times, 7/28/2004] In 2004, the five Elashi brothers will be convicted of selling computer equipment overseas in violation of anti-terrorism laws. In 2005, three of the brothers, Ghassan, Basman, and Bayan Elashi, will be found guilty of supporting Hamas by giving money to Mazouk through 2001. [BBC, 7/8/2004; Associated Press, 4/13/2005] In July 2004, Ghassan Elashi will be charged again, along with four other former Holy Land officials. Two other Holy Land officials will also charged but not arrested, since they had recently left the country. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) will state: “I wonder why this prosecution has taken so long. I think until recently we have not put the resources needed into tracking groups that finance terrorism, and the fact that they didn’t get 24-hour surveillance on these two who escaped is galling and perplexing.” [New York Times, 7/28/2004] In 2007, this court case will result in a mistrial, and be cast as a major setback for the Justice Department (see October 19, 2007).

Entity Tags: Charles Schumer, Bayan Elashi, Basman Elashi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ihsan Elashi, Mousa Abu Marzouk, John Ashcroft, Hazim Elashi, Ghassan Elashi, Nadia Elashi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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