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Context of 'September 26, 2001: Six Algerians Linked to Several Terror Plots Arrested in Spain'

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Reda Hassaine, an informer for the Algerian (see Early 1995), French (see Early 1997), and British (see (November 11, 1998)) security services in London, witnesses a “multitude of illegal activities” at the radical Finsbury Park mosque. However, at this time the British authorities take no action against the mosque, which is run by Abu Hamza al-Masri, himself an informer for British intelligence (see Early 1997).
Skimming, Credit Cards - Hassaine will later say of illegal activities at the mosque: “It was going on all around you in the evenings and the afternoons. People were selling passports, stolen credit cards, and cloned credit cards. There were black boxes of the kind they used for skimming the numbers. They would recruit people who were working in petrol stations, hotels, restaurants, and give them the black boxes to collect the details from customers’ cards. Then they would use these cloned cards to buy trainers [running shoes], Levi’s 501s, [and] designer clothes which would be sold inside the mosque for cash.… If you wanted, you could buy a credit card for your own use, but it was always a gamble.… even if they were caught they were usually carrying a false identity. The police were never too bothered.”
Identity Fraud - The identity documents on sale were key: “The passport was useful because they could use it as proof of identity and then they could set up electricity, gas, or telephone accounts using a temporary address. British Telecom bills were the most useful. Then they would have proof of identity and proof of address, all that was needed to open a bank account. Using several identities they would open several bank accounts, manage them carefully for six months, keep maybe £1,000 in there, and the bank would offer them a credit card. So they would take the legitimate credit card and use it carefully for six months and the bank would offer them a loan. That’s when they strike.… [The banks] must have lost millions to people who were operating scams like that out of Finsbury Park.”
Benefit Fraud - Hassaine will add: “Those same people were all claiming income support and sub-letting rooms for which they were receiving housing benefit while living for free in the mosque itself. They had also lodged asylum claims; there were guys who set themselves up as translators and would sit in the mosque coaching people in stories of how they had been persecuted in Algeria or faced torture if they returned home. Once they got their story right they would be taken along to a friendly solicitor who would take on their asylum claim.”
'One Foot in the Mafia' - However: “And don’t believe for one minute that all this money went to the jihad. There are men who were into all these rackets at the mosque during the 1990s, who claimed to be mujaheddin but are now living happily back in Algiers in big houses and driving around in brand new Mercedes cars. The truth is that a lot of them had one foot in the mujaheddin and one foot in the mafia.”
Abu Hamza Confessed to Intelligence Handlers - Abu Hamza is never questioned about the the illegal activities, even after some of the people directly involved in it are later jailed. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment, “The British authorities were clearly aware that he was involved in fundraising for terrorism—not least because he confessed it to his contacts in the intelligence services.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 71-73, 290]
Britain a Fundraising Base - O’Neill and McGrory will also later highlight the importance of the funds raised in Britain for the global Islamist struggle (see March 2000-September 22, 2001): “The mujaheddin groups and terrorist cells around the world that allied themselves to the al-Qaeda ideology were largely autonomous and self-financing. Britain was a key source of that finance.”

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri, Reda Hassaine, Finsbury Park Mosque

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Djamel Beghal, who authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will call “al-Qaeda’s man in Paris,” leaves France and moves to London. He makes the move due to his dissatisfaction with life in France, because of the anti-Islamist climate in Paris and because of poor personal circumstances. On arrival in Britain, he rents properties in Leicester, in central England, and in London, where he begins to frequent Finsbury Park mosque. In early 1997 the mosque becomes a hotbed of Islamist radicalism when it is taken over by Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for British intelligence (see Early 1997 and March 1997). Beghal becomes one of the key figures at the mosque, which he uses to recruit potential al-Qaeda operatives, including shoe bomber Richard Reid (see Spring 1998). One of his recruiting techniques is to constantly lecture impressionable young men and, according to O’Niell and McGrory, “A recurrent theme of [his] nightly lectures [is] to tell the young men sitting at his feet that there [is] no higher duty than to offer themselves for suicide missions.” Beghal also travels the world, going to Afghanistan at least once to meet senior al-Qaeda leaders, possibly even Osama bin Laden, who Beghal claims gives him a set of prayer beads as thanks for his work. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 86-87, 89-90]

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri, Daniel McGrory, Djamel Beghal, Finsbury Park Mosque, Sean O’Niell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Police in Leicester, England, investigate a terrorist fundraising ring based in that city and eventually wrap it up eleven days after 9/11. The men are connected to groups of Islamists in France (see March 15, 2005) and Spain (see September 26, 2001), as well as Finsbury Park mosque in London and leading radical Djamel Beghal, who has attended the mosque and whose arrest in the summer of 2001 (see July 24 or 28, 2001) apparently spurs the arrests in Britain.
The Cell - The two cell leaders live frugal lives in Leicester, claiming social security benefits under their real names, but work under false French documents. When police search a car belonging to one of the men, they find skimming machines used to steal details from credit cards, as well as boxes of unembossed cards from Visa and Mastercard. The cards are used to purchase goods in southern Spain, and the group is estimated to raise at least £800,000 (about US$1,200,000). The group is also involved in arranging forged visas for those traveling to training camps in Afghanistan. Eighteen arrests are made in total, and the two ringleaders are sentenced to eleven years each.
Extremists Raise Millions in Britain - Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later write that this was part of a larger pattern (see 1995-April 21, 2000): “British counterterrorist agencies now accept that in the years preceding the post-9/11 crackdown on militant Islamist networks in [Britain], millions of pounds were raised to finance violent groups operating in Afghanistan, Algeria, Chechnya, Kashmir, Yemen, and other jihad battlefields. Most of that money was raised through organized crime, ranging from sophisticated international credit card counterfeiting to benefit fraud and shoplifting gangs.” They add that “[r]acketeering was vital to the jihad” as Osama bin Laden lost most of his money in the early-to-mid 1990s: “The mujaheddin groups and terrorist cells around the world that allied themselves to the al-Qaeda ideology were largely autonomous and self-financing. Britain was a key source of that finance.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 68-69]

Entity Tags: Daniel McGrory, Sean O’Neill

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Richard Reid, who will attempt to blow himself up on a flight to Miami five months later (see December 22, 2001), is sent on a spying mission to Israel. First, he obtains a new passport from the British consulate in Brussels to hide his travels to Pakistan shown in his old passport. Then Reid flies to Israel with El Al, testing the carrier’s security. He complains that screening has ruined his tape recorder and also notes how many times the cockpit door is opened, finding that the time just before passengers are told to fasten their seatbelts during descent is the best time to strike. In Tel Aviv, he cases buses, trains, churches, buildings, and shopping malls to determine the best targets to attack. Reid also examines tourist sites in Jerusalem, finding security lax at the Western Wall. After leaving Israel, he travels to Egypt, Turkey, and Pakistan. Investigators will later discover these details of his travels from a diary found on a computer at an al-Qaeda safe house in Kabul after the US invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 228-229]

Entity Tags: Richard C. Reid

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The NSA monitors calls between an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen and one or more operatives involved in a plot to attack the US embassy in Paris. The communications hub in Yemen is run by Ahmed al-Hada, father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, who is also involved in the US embassy bombings (see August 4-25, 1998), the USS Cole bombing (see Mid-August 1998-October 2000), and 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). The Paris plot is apparently foiled based on this information, although the details are sketchy. [US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] The name of the operative or operatives who talk to the communications hub in Yemen is unknown. One candidate is Djamel Beghal, who will be arrested on July 28 (see July 24 or 28, 2001) based on a tip-off issued by the CIA to partner agencies on July 3 (see July 3, 2001). Another is Nizar Trabelsi, who will be arrested on September 13, although Trabelsi may be arrested based on information gleaned from Beghal. Both Beghal (see Spring 1998) and Trabelsi (see September 13, 2001) are connected to a plot to destroy an airliner with a shoe bomb, but this is not stopped (see December 22, 2001).

Entity Tags: Djamel Beghal, Al-Qaeda, Nizar Trabelsi, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Djamel Beghal.
Djamel Beghal. [Source: Public domain]High-level al-Qaeda operative Djamel Beghal is arrested in Dubai on his way back from Afghanistan. Earlier in the month the CIA sent friendly intelligence agencies a list of al-Qaeda agents they wanted to be immediately apprehended, and Beghal was on the list (see July 3, 2001).
Information Obtained - Beghal quickly starts to talk, and tells French investigators about a plot to attack the American embassy in Paris. Crucially, he provides new details about the international-operations role of top al-Qaeda deputy Abu Zubaida, whom he had been with a short time before. [New York Times, 12/28/2001; Time, 8/12/2002] One European official says Beghal talks about “very important figures in the al-Qaeda structure, right up to bin Laden’s inner circle. [He] mention[s] names, responsibilities and functions—people we weren’t even aware of before. This is important stuff.” [Time, 11/12/2001] One French official says of Beghal’s interrogations, “We shared everything we knew with the Americans.” [Time, 5/19/2002]
Link to 9/11 - The New York Times later will report, “Enough time and work could have led investigators from Mr. Beghal to an address in Hamburg where Mohamed Atta and his cohorts had developed and planned the Sept. 11 attacks.” Beghal had frequently associated with Zacarias Moussaoui. However, although Moussaoui is arrested (see August 16, 2001) around the same time that Beghal is revealing the names and details of all his fellow operatives, Beghal is apparently not asked about Moussaoui. [New York Times, 12/28/2001; Time, 8/12/2002]
Timing of Arrest - Most media accounts place the arrest on July 28. However, in a 2007 book CIA Director George Tenet will say he received a briefing about the arrest on July 24. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 156-157]

Entity Tags: Djamel Beghal, Al-Qaeda, Mohamed Atta, George J. Tenet, Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

British authorities learn of the arrest of top Islamist militant Djamel Beghal in Dubai (see July 24 or 28, 2001), and the CIA tells them that an operative behind a plot Beghal is helping organize, a bombing of the US embassy in Paris, has arrived in Britain. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 157] It is unknown who the operative behind the plot is and what action British authorities take on the matter, but arrests of people linked to Beghal and his associates are made around Europe in the next few months (see September 13, 2001, September 26, 2001 and March 2000-September 22, 2001). Beghal has been active in Britain for some time, in particular at London’s radical Finsbury Park mosque, which is under surveillance by the British (see 1997), and a group of his associates are arrested in Britain one day after his capture is made public (see March 2000-September 22, 2001). However, no action is taken against one of his key associates, Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is an informer for the British (see Early 1997). Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “Despite Beghal’s clear links to operations in London and Leicester, however, there was no search of the [mosque] building and no attempt to arrest the chief recruiter [Abu Hamza] who had led the prayers there. The mosque continued to be at the centre of jihad recruitment.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 94]

Entity Tags: Djamel Beghal, Daniel McGrory, Sean O’Niell, Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Nizar Trabelsi.Nizar Trabelsi. [Source: Daily Telegraph]Nizar Trabelsi, an al-Qaeda operative involved in numerous plots, is arrested in Brussels, Belgium. Police find machine pistols, chemical formulas for making bombs, detailed maps of the US embassy in Paris, and a business suit—it appears Trabelsi intended to walk into the embassy with the suit covering a suicide bomb vest and then detonate the explosives. The arrest is apparently due to information gleaned from Djamel Begham, a top al-Qaeda operative arrested in July (see July 24 or 28, 2001). Two of the plots Trabelsi is said to be involved in, an attack on a NATO base in Belgium and the attack on the US embassy in Paris, are thwarted. Trabelsi will later be found guilty in Belgium of planning the attack on the base (see September 30, 2003). [CNN, 10/3/2001] However, a third plot in which Trabelsi is involved—a plot to blow up two transatlantic airliners—is not thwarted. The plot is to be carried out by two al-Qaeda operatives who are in contact with Trabelsi around this time, Saajid Badat and Richard Reid. Reid returned to Europe from Asia in July or August (see July 2001), after which he stayed in Belgium with Trabelsi, who also found him work in hotel kitchens. Badat is also in contact with Trabelsi using phone cards, and analysis of them will help lead to his arrest some time later. The plot will fail when Badat backs out (see (December 14, 2001)) and Reid is unable to detonate the explosives before he is overpowered by fellow passengers and crew (see December 22, 2001). It is unclear why this third plot is not stopped as well after Trabelsi’s arrest. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 229-231] However, his arrest does lead to more arrests in Spain 13 days later (see September 26, 2001).

Entity Tags: Nizar Trabelsi, Richard C. Reid, Saajid Badat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The arrest of al-Qaeda operative Nizar Trabelsi is revealed in the international press by this date, if not earlier. An article published by UPI on this day names Trabelsi as having been arrested (see September 13, 2001) in connection with the capture of one of his associates, Djamel Beghal, in Dubai (see July 24 or 28, 2001). [United Press International, 9/21/2001] Trabelsi is linked to two shoe bombing plotters, Richard C. Reid and Saajit Badat. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 231] The arrest is also mentioned in subsequent days on CNN and in the Washington Post, for example. [Washington Post, 9/28/2001; CNN, 9/29/2001] Al-Qaeda may well already be aware that Trabelsi has been arrested, as he must have been out of contact for over a week at this point. However, the shoe bombing plot is not canceled and goes ahead, despite the bombers’ link to Trabelsi. One of the bombers backs out later for an unrelated reason (see (December 14, 2001)) and the other is thwarted when he attempts to blow up an aircraft in December (see December 22, 2001).

Entity Tags: Saajid Badat, Richard C. Reid, Nizar Trabelsi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Six radical Algerians are arrested in Spain based on evidence uncovered in a Belgian investigation. The men are Mohamed Boualem Khnouni, who is identified as the cell leader, Hakim Zezour, Hocine Khouni, Yasin Seddiki, Madjid Sahouane, and Mohamed Belaziz. The Belgian investigation included the arrest of al-Qaeda operative Nizar Trabelsi (see September 13, 2001), said to be involved in several terrorist plots. Spanish Interior Minister Mariano Rajoy says that Trabelsi’s detention is “directly related” to the arrest of the six Algerians, said to be members of Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). The six have been under police surveillance for some time. The Spanish say that the cell sent optical, communications, computer, and electronic equipment to GSPC members in Algeria as well as making shipments to Chechnya. It also forged official documents and credit cards. In addition, the police seize false papers from several countries, as well as computer equipment used to forge airline tickets between Spain, France, and Algeria. [New York Times, 9/27/2001; Washington Post, 9/28/2001]

Entity Tags: Mohamed Belaziz, Hakim Zezour, Hocine Khouni, Mariano Rajoy, Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, Madjid Sahouane, Yasin Seddiki, Mohamed Boualem Khnouni

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Saajid Badat.Saajid Badat. [Source: BBC]Saajid Badat, a radical Muslim recruited to perform a shoe bombing on a transatlantic flight (see November 20, 2001), backs out of the plot. Although he already has a ticket to travel from Manchester to Amsterdam and then to the US for December 21, he sends his handler in Pakistan a short coded message saying he cannot go through with the attack. He hides the detonator and the explosive at his home, but, after his partner Richard Reid is arrested (see December 22, 2001), police will uncover Belgian telephone cards he had used to keep in touch with a local contact they had shared in Brussels, Nizar Trabelsi. The police will arrest Badat in November 2003 and in April 2005 he will be sentenced to 13 years in jail. The length of the sentence will reflect the co-operation he provides to police. [BBC News, 4/22/2005; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 231-232]

Entity Tags: Saajid Badat, Nizar Trabelsi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Richard Reid’s shoe bomb.
Richard Reid’s shoe bomb. [Source: NEFA Foundation]British citizen Richard Reid is arrested for trying to blow up a Miami-bound jet using explosives hidden in his shoe. [Associated Press, 8/19/2002] Reid fails in his attempt to destroy the American Airlines jet because he is unable to detonate the explosives—he cannot get the fuse to light using matches, despite using up six of them before he is overpowered by the stewards and passengers. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment, “Had Reid used a cheap disposable plastic cigarette lighter to ignite the fuse of his bomb, rather than a match that did not burn for long enough, forensic experts are sure there was enough plastic explosive in his boot to puncture the fuselage of Flight 63 and bring down the aircraft.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 215-217, 236] The attack is supposed to be one of two simultaneous attacks, but Reid’s partner, Saajit Badat, backs out shortly before the bombing (see (December 14, 2001)). Reid will later plead guilty to all charges, and declare himself a follower of Osama bin Laden. [CBS News, 10/4/2002] He may have ties to Pakistan. [Washington Post, 3/31/2002] It is later believed that Reid and others in the shoe bomb plot reported directly to 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). [CNN, 1/30/2003] It has been suggested that KSM has ties to the ISI, and that Reid is a follower of Ali Gilani, a religious leader believed to be working with the ISI (see January 6, 2002).

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Daniel McGrory, Sean O’Neill, Richard C. Reid

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Al-Qaeda operative Nizar Trabelsi is sentenced to ten years in jail in Belgium for his part in a plot to attack the NATO base in Kleine Brogel in the country’s north-east. A couple of hundred US troops were stationed at the base, which was also home to nuclear weapons. The plan was for Trabelsi to pack a van with as much explosive as it could carry, and drive it into the base canteen at lunchtime. Trabelsi admits his participation in the attack and boasts he was to be the first suicide bomber in Europe, but he refuses to give any details about other plots he is alleged to have been involved in, such as a planned bombing of the US embassy in Paris, France. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 227]

Entity Tags: Nizar Trabelsi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Six Algerians are convicted in France of trying to blow up the US embassy in Paris. The ringleader is a top Islamist militant named Djamel Beghal, who was arrested in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) based on a US tip-off in 2001 (see July 24 or 28, 2001). Beghal is sentenced to ten years in prison, his associate Kamel Daoudi gets nine years, and the four others get between one and six. The sentences are for criminal association relating to a terrorist enterprise, although the alleged would-be suicide bomber, Nizar Trabelsi, is not charged or tried in France, and few details of the plot are offered in court. Trabelsi was arrested in Belgium shortly after 9/11 (see September 13, 2001), and is in prison there on other charges (see September 30, 2003). Beghal and the others say they are innocent, and Beghal alleges that the confession based on which the arrests were made was tortured out of him in the UAE. [Washington Post, 3/16/2005]

Entity Tags: Djamel Beghal, Kamel Daoudi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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