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Context of 'Before September 11, 2001: Militant Operatives Told to Use Prominent Saudi Bank'

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The Golden Chain list.The Golden Chain list. [Source: Public domain]In March 2002, authorities in Bosnia, Sarajevo, will raid the offices of the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) due to suspected funding of al-Qaeda (see March 2002). The raid will uncover a handwritten list containing the name of twenty wealthy donors sympathetic to al-Qaeda. The list, referred to as “The Golden Chain,” contains both the names of the donors and the names of the recipients (but does not mention amounts given). Seven of the payments are made to Osama bin Laden. [United Press International, 2/11/2003] Most accounts will be vague on what year the Golden Chain document was written; some say 1988. [Wall Street Journal, 3/18/2003] But counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will say it dates from 1989. [US Congress, 10/22/2003] Al-Qaeda is formed in late 1988 (see August 11-20, 1988). The Wall Street Journal will later note, “The list doesn’t show any continuing support for al-Qaeda after the organization began targeting Americans, but a number of the Saudis on it have been under scrutiny by US officials as to whether they have supported terrorism in recent years.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/18/2003] The donors named include:
bullet The “Bin Laden brothers.” Their first names are not mentioned. They give money to Osama bin Laden. UPI will later point out that “the discovery of this document in Sarajevo calls into question whether al-Qaeda has received support from one of Osama’s scores of wealthy brothers.”
bullet Adel Batterjee, a wealthy Saudi businessman who is also the founder of both BIF and its predecessor, Lajnatt Al-Birr Al-Islamiah. He appears to be mentioned as a recipient three times. [United Press International, 2/11/2003] The US will declare him as a terrorist financier in 2004 (see December 21, 2004).
bullet Wael Hamza Julaidan, a Saudi millionaire and one of the founders of al-Qaeda. He is listed as a recipient. The US will declare him a terrorist financier in 2002 (see September 6, 2002).
bullet Saleh Kamel, a Saudi billionaire, and the majority shareholder of the Saudi conglomerate Dallah Albaraka. In 2003, Forbes will call him one of the richest people in the world. The list has him giving money to Batterjee.
bullet Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, another Saudi billionaire. The SAAR network, which is named after him, will be raided by the FBI in 2002 (see March 20, 2002). [Emerson, 2006, pp. 400]
bullet Khalid bin Mahfouz, another Saudi billionaire. A lawyer for bin Mahfouz will later say bin Mahfouz did contribute a small amount to fund the mujaheddin in the late 1980s, but only at the behest of the US and Saudi Arabia. [Wall Street Journal, 3/18/2003]

Entity Tags: Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, Saleh Abdullah Kamel, Benevolence International Foundation, Bosnia, Khalid bin Mahfouz, Adel Abdul Jalil Batterjee, Al-Qaeda, Wael Hamza Julaidan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The address book of Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s former personal secretary, is seized in a US intelligence raid in Nairobi, Kenya (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). One of the contacts in the book is billionaire Salah al-Rajhi. He and his brother Sulaiman al-Rajhi cofounded the Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp., which will have an estimated $28 billion in assets in 2006. Sulaiman started a network of organizations in Herndon, Virginia known as the SAAR network (named for the four initials in his name). This network will be raided by US officials in 2002 for suspected terrorist funding ties (see March 20, 2002). [Newsweek, 12/9/2002; Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007] Sulaiman also was on the “Golden Chain,” a list of early al-Qaeda funders (see 1988-1989). After 9/11, the US will seriously consider taking action against the Al-Rajhi Bank for alleged terrorist ties, but will ultimately do nothing (see Mid-2003 and Mid-2003). [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007]

Entity Tags: Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, Salah al-Rajhi, Wadih El-Hage

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mamdouh Mahmud Salim.Mamdouh Mahmud Salim. [Source: FBI]Mamdouh Mahmud Salim (a.k.a. Abu Hajer), an al-Qaeda operative from the United Arab Emirates connected to the 1998 East African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), is arrested at a used car dealership near Munich, Germany. He is arrested by a special commando unit of German police, with CIA agents directing them nearby. The German government has no idea who Salim is, and the US only notified Germany about the planned arrest five hours in advance. [PBS, 9/30/1998; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 12/12/2005] The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later say that Salim was Osama bin Laden’s “right hand man,” and “head of bin Laden’s computer operations and weapons procurement.” He is also “the most senior-level bin Laden operative arrested” up until this time. [New York Times, 9/29/2001; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 pdf file] Author Lawrence Wright will later note that bin Laden and Salim worked together in Afghanistan in the 1980s, “forging such powerful bonds that no one could get between them.” Salim was also one of the founding members of al-Qaeda (see August 11-20, 1988) and bin Laden’s personal imam (i.e., preacher). [Wright, 2006, pp. 131, 170] Starting in 1995, Salim had been making frequent visits to Germany. Mamoun Darkazanli, who lives in Hamburg and associates with Mohamed Atta’s al-Qaeda cell, had signing powers over Salim’s bank account. Both men attended Al-Quds mosque, the same Hamburg mosque as future 9/11 hijackers Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi attend. [Vanity Fair, 1/2002] The FBI learns much from Salim about al-Qaeda, and this information could be useful to the US embassy bombings investigation. However, the FBI is unwilling to brief its German counterparts on what it knows about Salim and al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 9/29/2001]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A portion of Salem Alhazmi’s New Jersey identification card. 
A portion of Salem Alhazmi’s New Jersey identification card. [Source: 9/11 Commission] (click image to enlarge)The US introduces the “Visa Express” program in Saudi Arabia, which allows any Saudi Arabian to obtain a visa through his or her travel agent instead of appearing at a consulate in person. An official later states, “The issuing officer has no idea whether the person applying for the visa is actually the person in the documents and application.” [US News and World Report, 12/12/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002] At the time, warnings of an attack against the US led by the Saudi Osama bin Laden are higher than they had ever been before— “off the charts” as one senator later puts it. [Los Angeles Times, 5/18/2002; US Congress, 9/18/2002] A terrorism conference had recently concluded that Saudi Arabia was one of four top nationalities in al-Qaeda. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 5/19/2002]
Suspect Travel Agency - Ten Saudi travel agency companies are allowed to issue US visas as part of the program. One company, Fursan Travel and Tourism, is a subsidiary of Al Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp., a multibillion Saudi banking conglomerate. Fursan is also the only one out of the ten deputized to handle the collection and initial processing of US visas. After 9/11, the CIA will suggest taking action against Al Rajhi for its suspected support of Islamist militancy, but the Bush Administration will decide not to do anything (see Mid-2003 and Mid-2003). It is believed that al-Qaeda and other militant groups advised their operatives to use Al Rajhi for their banking needs (see Before September 11, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003]
Used by 9/11 Plotters - Five hijackers—Khalid Almihdhar, Abdulaziz Alomari, Salem Alhazmi, Saeed Alghamdi, and Fayez Ahmed Banihammad—use Visa Express over the next month to enter the US. [US Congress, 9/20/2002] Alomari has a bank account with Al Rajhi, but it is unknown if he or any of the other hijackers use Fursan, the Al Rajhi subsidiary, since the names of travel agencies do not appear on copies of the hijackers’ visa applications that are later made public. [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003] Even 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will successfully get a US Visa through the “Visa Express” program in July (using a false name but real photograph), despite a posted $2 million reward for his capture. [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2004]
Saudi Visas Almost Never Rejected - Only three percent of Saudi visa applicants are turned down by US consular officers in fiscal 2000 and 2001. In contrast, about 25 percent of US visa seekers worldwide are rejected. Acceptance is even more difficult for applicants from countries alleged to have ties to terrorism such as Iraq or Iran. [Washington Post, 10/31/2001] The widely criticized program is finally canceled in July 2002, after a public outcry. [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Khalid Almihdhar, Fursan Travel and Tourism, Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz Alomari, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Salem Alhazmi, Saeed Alghamdi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi transfers $200 from his and Atta’s joint account at SunTrust Bank to fellow hijacker Abdulaziz Alomari’s account in Buraidah, Saudi Arabia. Alomari’s account is with Al Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp, which will later be unsuccessfully sued for allegedly supporting terrorism (see August 15, 2002). The transfer costs $50 plus charges. The reason for the transfer is not clear, as Alomari, who also has an account with the Hudson United Bank in the US (see June 27-August 23, 2001), had only left Florida the previous day and will be in Boston at the same time as Alshehhi on September 9. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia; Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file] Records show that Alshehhi completes the transaction just before 4.00 p.m. However, according to some accounts, Alshehhi is drinking at Shuckums bar at this time (see September 7, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/13/2001; Observer, 9/16/2001]

Entity Tags: Abdulaziz Alomari, Marwan Alshehhi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Al-Rajhi Bank logo.Al-Rajhi Bank logo. [Source: Al-Rajhi Bank.]Extremists order “operatives in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Yemen” to use accounts at the Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp, according to a 2003 CIA report. The Al-Rajhi Bank is one of the biggest Saudi banks, with billions in assets. Who gives this order and when will not be made public. However, some examples of militants using the bank will later be alleged:
bullet When al-Qaeda leader Mamdouh Mahmud Salim is arrested in late 1998 (see September 16, 1998), he is carrying records of an Al-Rajhi account.
bullet When Wadih El-Hage’s house in Kenya is raided in 1997, investigators find contact information in his address book for Salah Al-Rajhi, one of the billionaire co-owners of the bank (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007]
bullet Some of the 9/11 hijackers use the bank. For instance, Hani Hanjour is sent wire transfers from Al-Rajhi bank in Saudi Arabia at least six times in 1998 and 1999. In September 2000, Nawaf Alhazmi uses $2,000 in Al-Rajhi traveler’s checks paid for by an unnamed person in Saudi Arabia. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 19, 31, 33, 34, 41, 87 pdf file] And Abdulaziz Alomari has an account at the bank (see September 7, 2001).
bullet The bank is used by a number of charities suspected of militant links, including the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), the Muslim World League, the Saudi branch of Red Crescent, Global Relief Foundation, and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003]
bullet An al-Qaeda affiliate in Spain holds accounts at the bank. According to a fax later recovered by Spanish police, the group’s chief financier tells a business partner to use the bank for their transactions. [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003]
bullet In 2000, Al-Rajhi Bank couriers deliver money to insurgents in Indonesia to buy weapons and bomb-making materials.
bullet According to a 2003 German report, bank co-founder Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi contributes to a charity front buying weapons for Islamic militants in Bosnia in the early 1990s. He is also on the “Golden Chain,” a list of early al-Qaeda funders (see 1988-1989).
bullet A US intelligence memo from shortly after 9/11 will say that a money courier for al-Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, travels on a visa obtained by the bank.
The 2003 CIA report will state: “Islamic extremists have used Al-Rajhi Banking and Investment Corporation since at least the mid-1990s as a conduit for terrorist transactions.… Senior al-Rajhi family members have long supported Islamic extremists and probably know that terrorists use their bank.” [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007]

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, Salah al-Rajhi, Red Crescent (Saudi branch), World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Muslim World League, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Global Relief Foundation, Hani Hanjour, International Islamic Relief Organization, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, Abdulaziz Alomari, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi.Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi. [Source: Nadec]A CIA report strongly suggests that the Al-Rajhi Bank is being used to finance militants. The bank is one of the biggest in Saudi Arabia, with an estimated $26 billion in assets in 2006. The report states, “Islamic extremists have used Al-Rajhi Banking and Investment Corporation since at least the mid-1990s as a conduit for terrorist transactions… Senior al-Rajhi family members have long supported Islamic extremists and probably know that terrorists use their bank. Reporting indicates that senior al-Rajhi family members control the bank’s most important decisions and that [their] principal managers answer directly to Sulaiman [Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi]. The al-Rajhis know they are under scrutiny and have moved to conceal their activities from financial regulatory authorities.” It adds that in 2002, Sulaiman ordered the bank’s board “to explore financial instruments that would allow the bank’s charitable contributions to avoid official Saudi scrutiny.” US intelligence have extensive circumstantial evidence but no direct proof that bank managers knowingly support terrorism. For instance, the report says that in December 1998, Sulaiman and his brother Salah sent $4 million to Germany and Pakistan using “a unique computer code to send funds at regular intervals to unspecified recipients, suggesting they were trying to conceal the transactions and that the money may have been intended for illegitimate ends.” Islamist operatives in many countries have used the bank, including at least some al-Qaeda leaders and 9/11 hijackers (see Before September 11, 2001). In 1997, US investigators recovered the address book of al-Qaeda financier Wadih El-Hage, and discovered Salah al-Rajhi’s phone number in it (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). Salah is Sulaiman’s brother and co-owner of the bank. In 2002, the US will raid the SAAR Network, a collection of linked financial entities in the US suspected of funding militants. SAAR stands for Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, and the network was founded and funded by him (see March 20, 2002). [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007; Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007] The US government will subsequently consider taking overt action against the bank, but will ultimately decide against it (see Mid-2003). The bank continues to deny any links to Islamic militancy.

Entity Tags: Salah al-Rajhi, Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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