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Context of 'September 1994-1996: Al-Zawahiri Manages Bosnian Mujaheddin from Bulgarian Base'

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Ayman al-Zawahiri in disguise.Ayman al-Zawahiri in disguise. [Source: Interpol]Al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri is said to visit Bosnia many times from around this date. A prominent Muslim Bosnian politician later claims that al-Zawahiri visited mujaheddin camps in central Bosnia as early as September 1992. The Egyptian government, which considers al-Zawahiri an important enemy, claims al-Zawahiri is running several mujaheddin operations in Bosnia through charity fronts. They also claim he meets regularly with Bosnian Muslim politicians in Sarajevo. He is further said to occasionally meet with Iranian government representatives to discuss the war in Bosnia, as Iran is supplying weapons to the Bosnian Muslims. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 123, 141] Anwar Shaaban, a radical imam leading the Bosnian mujaheddin effort from Milan, Italy (see Late 1993-1994), remains in regular contact with al-Zawahiri, according to Italian intelligence. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 164] In 1993, bin Laden reportedly puts al-Zawahiri in charge of the organization’s operations in the Balkans. [Ottawa Citizen, 12/15/2001] By 1994, al-Zawahiri will settle in Bulgaria to manage operations in Bosnia and the rest of the Balkan region (see September 1994-1996).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Anwar Shaaban, Ayman al-Zawahiri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of Islamic Jihad and Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, sends his brother Mohammed al-Zawahiri to the Balkans to help run the mujaheddin fighters in Bosnia. He is known as a logistics expert and is said to be the military commander of Islamic Jihad. Mohammed works in Bosnia, Croatia, and Albania under the cover of being an International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) official. He is said to make an extended stay in central Bosnia, where most of the mujaheddin are based, in 1993. He sets up an Islamic Jihad cell in Albania with over a dozen members to support the mujaheddin in Bosnia. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002; Schindler, 2007, pp. 123] Ayman also frequently visits Bosnia (see September 1992 and After) and by 1994 will move to Bulgaria to presumably work with Mohammed to manage operations in the Balkans region (see September 1994-1996).

Entity Tags: Mohammed al-Zawahiri, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Islamic Jihad, International Islamic Relief Organization

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Anwar Shaaban.Anwar Shaaban. [Source: Evan Kohlmann]The Islamic Cultural Institute mosque in Milan, Italy is dominated by Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, the Egyptian militant group led by Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. The imam of the mosque, Anwar Shaaban, is a leader of that group and also a leader of the mujaheddin efforts in Bosnia. The Islamic Cultural Institute serves as a transit and logistical base for mujaheddin coming or going to Bosnia (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995). After the 1993 WTC bombing, US investigators will discover heavy phone traffic between the Milan mosque and the Jersey City mosque run by Abdul-Rahman. Furthermore, they learn that bomber mastermind Ramzi Yousef used the Milan mosque as a logistical base as well. [Chicago Tribune, 10/22/2001] Yousef also prayed at the Milan mosque prior to the WTC bombing. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 171] Shaaban is a close friend of Talaat Fouad Qassem, another leader of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya and one of the highest ranking leaders of the mujaheddin fighting in Bosnia. Qassem is directing the flow of volunteers to Bosnia while living in political asylum in Denmark (see 1990). [Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 25] In April 1994, seven Arab men living in Denmark, including Qassem, are arrested. US prosecutors will later claim that fingerprints on documents and videotapes seized from the men match fingerprints on bomb manuals that Ahmad Ajaj was carrying when he entered the US with Yousef (see September 1, 1992). A raid on one apartment in Denmark uncovers bomb formulas, bomb making chemical, sketches of attack targets, some videotapes of Abdul-Rahman’s sermons, and a pamphlet claiming responsibility for the WTC bombing and promising more attacks. Also, phone records and documents found in Abdul-Rahman’s Jersey City apartment show the men in Denmark were communicating regularly with Abdul-Rahman. [New York Times, 4/15/1995] But no one in either Milan or Denmark will be charged with a role in the WTC bombing. Danish police will later say that none of the seized documents indicated that the Arab men personally took part in the bombing. The men all are released and ironically, two of them are granted political asylum in Denmark because they are members of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, which the Danish consider to be a persecuted group. [Associated Press, 6/28/1995] In 1995, an Italian magistrate will issue arrest warrants for Shaaban and 60 other extremists (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995), but Shaaban will flee to Bosnia, where he will die of bullet wounds in unexplained circumstances (see December 14, 1995). [Chicago Tribune, 10/22/2001] The US government will later call the Islamic Cultural Institute al-Qaeda’s main logistical base in Europe and some evidence will link figures connected to it to the 9/11 plot (see Late 1998-September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Talaat Fouad Qassem, Islamic Cultural Institute, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Anwar Shaaban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ayman al-Zawahiri.Ayman al-Zawahiri. [Source: Interpol]In 1996 it will be reported that the Egyptian government has been investigating Ayman al-Zawahiri and has determined he has been living in Sofia, Bulgaria, since September 1994 under an alias. Al-Zawahiri, head of Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, is considered one of Egypt’s top enemies. The Egyptians pass on details of al-Zawahiri’s whereabouts to the Bulgarian government, but Bulgaria has no extradition treaty with Egypt and he is not believed to have broken any Bulgarian laws. Al-Zawahiri is living there mainly to help manage the mujaheddin effort in nearby Bosnia. Prior to that, it is believed he mostly lived in Switzerland for about a year. [BBC, 2/29/1996; Intelligence Newsletter, 3/21/1996] A Wall Street Journal article will later claim that al-Zawahiri was in charge of al-Qaeda’s Balkans operations, running training camps, money-laundering, and drug running networks in the region. Supposedly there was an “elaborate command-and-control center” in Sofia, Bulgaria. [Wall Street Journal (Europe), 1/11/2001] His brother Mohammed al-Zawahiri also helps manage operations in the region, mostly from a base in Albania (see 1993). With the war in Bosnia over, Ayman al-Zawahiri will attempt to enter Chechnya in late 1996, only to be arrested and held by the Russians (see December 1, 1996-June 1997).

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In August 1996, fighting between Russian forces and Chechen separatists increases as Chechen rebels launch a successful attack on Grozny, which is by far the largest town in Chechnya. Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudayev had been killed in a Russian missile attack in April 1996, after which he was succeeded by Zemlikhan Yandarbiyev. Shortly after the attack on Grozny, Russian and Chechen leaders agree to a ceasefire. A further agreement on Russian troop withdrawals will be signed in November. In January 1997, Aslan Maskhadov wins presidential elections in Chechnya, and Russia recognizes his government. A formal peace treaty will be signed that May. However, the issue of independence for Chechnya will remain unresolved. [BBC, 3/12/2008] Islamist influence in the first Chechen war is minimal, and the number of foreign militants fighting in the war is small. Dudayev is said to be afraid of accepting money from terrorist sources out of fear this would demonize the rebel movement. But after Dudayev’s death and the end of the war, the Islamists will grow in power in Chechnya. [Washington Post, 4/26/2003]

Entity Tags: Dzhokhar Dudayev, Aslan Maskhadov

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The picture of Ayman al-Zawahiri on the fake Sudanese passport he used to enter Russia in 1996.The picture of Ayman al-Zawahiri on the fake Sudanese passport he used to enter Russia in 1996. [Source: Wall Street Journal]Ayman Zawahiri, leader of Islamic Jihad and effective number two leader of al-Qaeda, travels to Chechnya with two associates. His associates are Ahmad Salama Mabruk, head of Islamic Jihad’s cell in Azerbaijan, and Mahmud Hisham al-Hennawi, a well-traveled militant. Chechnya was fighting to break free from Russian rule and achieved a cease-fire and de facto independence earlier in the year (see August 1996). Zawahiri hopes to establish new connections there. However, on December 1, 1996, he and his associates are arrested by Russian authorities as they try to cross into Chechnya. Zawahiri is carrying four passports, none showing his real identity. The Russians confiscate Zawahiri’s laptop and send it to Moscow for analysis, but apparently they never translate the Arabic documents on it that could have revealed who he really is. Though some Russian investigators suspect Zawahiri is a “big fish,” they can’t prove it. He and his two associates are released after six months. [Wall Street Journal, 7/2/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 249-250] Later in December 2006, Canadian intelligence learns that Marbuk at least is being held. They know his real identity, but apparently do not share this information with Russia (see December 13, 1996-June 1997). Author Lawrence Wright will later comment, “This fiasco had a profound consequence. With even more defectors from [Islamic Jihad during Zawahiri’s unexplained absence] and no real source of income, Zawahiri had no choice but to join bin Laden” in Afghanistan. Prior to this arrest, Zawahiri had been travelling all over the world and earlier in 1996 he apparently lived in Switzerland and Sarajevo, Bosnia. But afterwards he remains in Afghanistan with bin Laden until the 9/11 attacks. As a result, Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda will grow even closer until they completely merge a few months before 9/11 (see June 2001). [Wright, 2006, pp. 249-250]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Islamic Jihad, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Lawrence Wright, Ahmad Salama Mabruk, Al-Qaeda, Mahmud Hisham al-Hennawi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On December 13, 1996, Mahmoud Jaballah, an Islamic Jihad member living in Canada, is told that Ahmad Salama Mabruk, a member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council, has been “hospitalized.” Canadian intelligence has been closely monitoring Jaballah since 1996, and it intercepts this call as well. This is actually a reference to the fact that Mabruk has been imprisoned in Russia. Mabruk has actually been arrested along with top Islamic Jihad leader Ayman al-Zawahiri near Chechnya earlier in the month, but they are both using aliases and it appears the Russian authorities have no idea who they really are or that they have any militant ties (see December 1, 1996-June 1997). However, over the next months, Canadian intelligence continues to monitor Jaballah as he collects $15,000, raised through his network of Canadian contacts, to help free Mabruk. Apparently this is a bribe. He coordinates these efforts with Thirwat Salah Shehata, another member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council, who is in Azerbaijan close to where Mabruk and al-Zawahiri have been arrested. The Russian government frees Mabruk and al-Zawahiri in June 1997. Since the Canadian government were aware of Mabruk’s real identity and that Jaballah was trying to free him, it is unknown why Canada did not alert Russia that they were holding an important terrorist leader, which might have alerted Russia to al-Zawahiri’s real identity as well. [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2/22/2008 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Ahmad Salama Mabruk, Thirwat Salah Shehata, Islamic Jihad, Mahmoud Jaballah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mohammed al-Zawahiri, brother of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, is arrested at Dubai airport in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While much less known than his brother, Mohammed quietly served an important role as Ayman’s deputy in Islamic Jihad, and as the group’s military commander (see 1993). He apparently disagreed with the increasing unification between Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda, and quit in 1998 over that issue. [Jacquard, 2002, pp. 108] He is arrested in the UAE and then flown to Egypt as a part of the CIA’s rendition program (see Summer 1995). A senior former CIA officer will later confirm US involvement in the operation. [Grey, 2007, pp. 246, 299] Mohammed had been sentenced to death in absentia in Egypt the year before. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002] But his execution is not carried out, and he is said to reveal what he knows about Islamic Jihad. In 2007 it will be reported that his sentence is likely to be lessened in return for agreeing to renounce violence. [Jacquard, 2002, pp. 108; Associated Press, 4/20/2007] Note: there is a dispute about when he was arrested. Some sources indicate it was in the spring of 1999. [Grey, 2007, pp. 246; Associated Press, 4/20/2007] Others indicate it was a year later. [Jacquard, 2002, pp. 108; New Yorker, 9/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Mohammed al-Zawahiri, Ayman al-Zawahiri

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Two major terrorist organizations, al-Qaeda and the Egypt-based Islamic Jihad, formally merged into one. This completes a merging process that had been going on for years (see August 11-20, 1988, December 1, 1996-June 1997, and February 22, 1998). The technical name of the new entity is Qaeda al-Jihad, though it is widely called al-Qaeda. Bin Laden remains in charge, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Islamic Jihad, remains second in command. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden, Islamic Jihad, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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