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Context of 'September 30, 2003: Would-Be Suicide Bomber Sentenced to Ten Years in Prison'

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Abu Hamza.Abu Hamza. [Source: Ian Waldie / Reuters / Corbis]London-based imam Abu Hamza al-Masri starts working with two branches of the British security services, the police’s Special Branch and MI5, the domestic counterintelligence service. The relationships continue for several years and there are at least seven meetings between Abu Hamza and MI5 between 1997 and 2000 (see October 1, 1997, November 20, 1997, and September 1998). Based on records of the meetings, authors Daniel O’Neill and Sean McGrory will describe the relationship as “respectful, polite, and often cooperative.”
Rhetoric - One theme in the meetings, which take place at Abu Hamza’s home and a mosque he runs in Finsbury Park, is that the security services tell Abu Hamza that they do not want any trouble and ask him to tone down some of his more inflammatory comments. Abu Hamza listens politely, but always replies he is committed to jihad. However, over this period Abu Hamza’s rhetoric changes subtly, and he begins attacking “Zionists,” rather than simply “Jews.” Abu Hamza will later say that he asks security officers if his sermons are inappropriate, and they reply, “No, freedom of speech, you don’t have to worry unless we see blood on the streets.”
Information - Abu Hamza provides the security services with information about the ideology of various extremist factions, as well as “tidbits” of information about others, although in one case he provides specific intelligence that leads to the detention of two terrorist suspects. He also likes to “tell tales” about one of his rival preachers, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, and his Al-Muhajiroun organization.
Favors - Sometimes Abu Hamza asks for favors from his handlers. For example, on one occasion he requests the release of some associates after promising that they are not a threat in Britain.
Beyond the Reach of British Law - Abu Hamza will tell his aides that he is “beyond the reach of British law,” and will neglect to pay the mosque’s electricity and water bills. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later comment: “Increasingly, Abu Hamza acted as if Finsbury Park had divorced itself from Britain and was operating as an independent Muslim state. He contacted extremist groups, offering his services as an ambassador for them in [Britain] and presenting the mosque as a place of guaranteed asylum.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 96-97, 143-5]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), Sean O’Neill, Daniel McGrory, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Metropolitan Police Special Branch, Special Branch (Britain)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Nizar Trabelsi, who will later be found guilty of planning to bomb a NATO base (see September 30, 2003), attends the radical Islamist Finsbury Park mosque in London. The mosque is run by extremist imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for the British intelligence services (see Early 1997). Trabelsi is a former professional sportsman, but had drifted into drug dealing before being radicalized. Trabelsi will later go to Afghanistan, meeting Osama bin Laden there. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 226]

Entity Tags: Finsbury Park Mosque, Nizar Trabelsi

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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