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Context of 'October 2002: FBI Inexplicably Fails to Detain Imam Al-Awlaki Linked to 9/11 Hijackers, Lets Him Leave US'

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Anwar al-Awlaki.Anwar al-Awlaki. [Source: Public domain]The FBI conducts a counterterrorism inquiry into Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam who will later be suspected of involvement in the 9/11 plot. He serves as the “spiritual leader” to several of the hijackers (see March 2001 and After), and by 2008 US intelligence will determine he is linked to al-Qaeda (see February 27, 2008).
bullet The investigation is opened when it is learned he had probably been visited by a “procurement agent” for bin Laden, Ziyad Khaleel. Khaleel had helped buy a satellite phone for bin Laden; when he is arrested in December 1999 he reportedly tells the FBI crucial details about al-Qaeda operations in the US (see December 29, 1999).
bullet In early 2000 the FBI is aware when al-Awlaki is visited by an unnamed close associate of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 pdf file; Washington Post, 2/27/2008]
bullet He also serves as vice president of the Charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW), the US branch of a Yemeni charity founded by Sheikh Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, a Yemeni imam who the US will officially designate a terrorist in 2004. CSSW also has ties to the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, Italy, considered one of the centers of al-Qaeda activity in Europe. The FBI begins investigating CSSW in 1999 after a Yemeni politician visits the US to solicit donations for the charity, and then visits Mahmoud Es Sayed, a known al-Qaeda figure at the Islamic Cultural Institute, on the same trip. [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 243; Washington Post, 2/27/2008]
bullet The FBI learns that al-Awlaki knows individuals from the suspect Holy Land Foundation and others involved in raising money for Hamas. Sources allege that al-Awlaki has even more extremist connections.
But none of these links are considered strong enough for criminal charges, and the investigation is closed. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 517] Al-Awlaki is beginning to associate with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar shortly before the investigation ends. For instance, on February 4, one month before the FBI investigation is closed, al-Awlaki talks on the telephone four times with hijacker associate Omar al-Bayoumi. The 9/11 Commission will later speculate that these calls are related to Alhazmi and Almihdhar, since al-Bayoumi is helping them that day, and that Alhazmi or Almihdhar may even have been using al-Bayoumi’s phone at the time (see February 4, 2000). Al-Bayoumi had also been the subject of an FBI counterterrorism investigation in 1999 (see September 1998-July 1999).

Entity Tags: Omar al-Bayoumi, Ziyad Khaleel, Nawaf Alhazmi, Osama bin Laden, Mahmoud Es Sayed, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Islamic Cultural Institute, Abdul Mejid al-Zindani, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Anwar al-Awlaki, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Charitable Society for Social Welfare

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar attend a San Diego mosque whose imam is Anwar al-Awlaki, and they have closed-door meetings with him. Al-Awlaki preaches at the Al-Ribat Al-Islami (also known as Rabat) mosque in La Mesa, a town right next to San Diego. After 9/11, the FBI will question al-Awlaki, and he will admit to meeting with Alhazmi several times, but say he does not remember what they discussed. He will not claim to remember Almihdhar at all. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 221] However, other accounts will suggest there is a much closer relationship, and with both hijackers. It is uncertain when they first meet, but a series of phone calls on February 4, 2000 connects the two hijackers, al-Awlaki, and a suspected Saudi spy named Omar al-Bayoumi (see February 4, 2000). The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later report that Alhazmi and Almihdhar “were closely affiliated with [al-Awlaki] who reportedly served as their spiritual adviser during their time in San Diego.… Several persons informed the FBI after September 11 that this imam had closed-door meetings in San Diego with Almihdhar, Alhazmi, and another individual, whom al-Bayoumi had asked to help the hijackers.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file]
Abdullah in Closed-Door Meetings? - This other person may be Mohdar Abdullah. Interviewed after 9/11, Abdullah will claim that al-Bayoumi specifically asked him “to be the individual to acclimate the hijackers to the United States, particularly San Diego, California.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 513] Furthermore, one witness will later claim to have met Alhazmi through both al-Awlaki and Abdullah. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 513] Abdullah may be told of the 9/11 plot in the spring of 2000 (see Early 2000), so presumably he could be a participant in secret meetings.
Investigator Confirms Closed-Door Meetings - Ray Fournier, a State Department official who will investigate al-Awlaki after 9/11, will say: “He was meeting with al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar in the ante room off of the Rabat mosque. Just the three of them. It stands to reason that when three people get together and two of them end up being hijackers that end up in the Pentagon, they’re obviously discussing how they’re going to stay on track.… He’s absolving them of their sins. He’s making sure that their cover within Western culture is being maintained. He’s making sure they’re going to stay operational.” Fournier also claims that al-Awlaki was radicalized before the hijackers came to San Diego. [KPBS, 6/10/2010]
Hijackers and Al-Awlaki Reunite in Virginia - Around August 2000, al-Awlaki resigns as imam and travels to unknown “various countries.” In early 2001, he will be appointed the imam to a much larger mosque in Falls Church, Virginia. [Copley News, 10/1/2001] Alhazmi, Almihdhar, and fellow hijacker Hani Hanjour will move to Virginia and attend al-Awlaki’s mosque there (see March 2001 and After). By 2008, US intelligence will conclude that al-Awlaki is an al-Qaeda operative (see February 27, 2008).

Entity Tags: Khalid Almihdhar, Anwar al-Awlaki, Nawaf Alhazmi, Mohdar Abdullah, Omar al-Bayoumi, Ray Fournier

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Dar al Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Virginia.The Dar al Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Virginia. [Source: Fox News]After living together in Phoenix since December 2000, 9/11 hijackers Hani Hanjour and Nawaf Alhazmi move to Falls Church, Virginia, where imam Anwar al-Awlaki preaches. [Washington Post, 9/10/2002; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] They live only a few blocks from where two nephews of Osama bin Laden with ties to terrorism go to work (see February-September 11, 1996 and June 1, 2004). They continue to live there off and on until around August. They begin attending the Dar al Hijrah mosque. [Washington Post, 9/10/2002] When they and hijacker Khalid Almihdhar lived in San Diego in early 2000, they attended a mosque there led by al-Awlaki. This imam moved to Falls Church in January 2001, and now the hijackers attend his sermons at the Dar al Hijrah mosque. Some later suspect that al-Awlaki is part of the 9/11 plot because of their similar moves, and other reasons:
bullet The FBI says al-Awlaki had closed door meetings with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in 2000 while all three of them were living in San Diego (see February-August 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file]
bullet Police later find the phone number of al-Awlaki’s mosque when they search “would-be twentieth hijacker” Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s apartment in Germany. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file]
bullet The FBI was investigating al-Awlaki for ties to Islamic militant groups in early 2000 (see June 1999-March 2000).
bullet A neighbor of al-Awlaki later claims that, in the first week of August 2001, al-Awlaki knocked on his door and told him he is leaving for Kuwait: “He came over before he left and told me that something very big was going to happen, and that he had to be out of the country when it happened” (see Early August 2001). [Newsweek, 7/28/2003]
US officials will allow al-Awlaki to leave the US twice in 2002, but by 2008 they will conclude that he is linked to al-Qaeda attacks (see Early September 2006-December 2007 and February 27, 2008).

Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Hani Hanjour, Germany, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, 9/11 Commission, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Anwar al-Awlaki, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ramzi bin al-Shibh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Yassin al-Qadi, a Saudi multimillionaire businessman, was officially declared a terrorist financier in October 2001 (see October 12, 2001). [Arab News, 9/26/2002] That same month, a number of employees at Ptech, a Boston-based computer company that al-Qadi and other individuals suspected of financing officially designated terrorist groups invested in (see 1994), tell the Boston FBI about the connections between Ptech and al-Qadi. However, FBI agents do little more than take their statements. A high-level government source later will claim the FBI does not convey the Ptech-al-Qadi link to Operation Greenquest, a Customs Department investigation into al-Qadi and other suspected financiers, and none of the government agencies using Ptech software are warned about the possible security threat Ptech represents. [Boston Globe, 12/7/2002; WBZ 4 (Boston), 12/9/2002] According to a private counterterrorism expert involved in investigating Ptech at the time, “Frighteningly, when an employee told [Ptech president Oussama Ziade] he felt he had to contact the FBI regarding al-Qadi’s involvement in the company, the president allegedly told him not to worry because Yaqub Mirza, who was on the board of directors of the company and was himself a target of a [Greenquest] terrorist financing raid in March 2002 (see March 20, 2002), had contacts high within the FBI.” [National Review, 5/27/2003] A Ptech investigation will finally begin in 2002 after more whistleblowers come forward (see May-December 5, 2002).

Entity Tags: US Customs Service, Yacub Mirza, Operation Greenquest, Yassin al-Qadi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ptech Inc., Oussama Ziade

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Larry Thompson.
Larry Thompson. [Source: White House]Serious tensions develop between the FBI and Operation Greenquest investigators in the wake of the Greenquest raid on the SAAR network in March 2002 (see After March 20, 2002). The Customs Department launched Greenquest, an investigation into the financing of al-Qaeda and similar groups, weeks after 9/11. In June 2002, the Washington Post will headline an article, “Infighting Slows Hunt for Hidden al-Qaeda Assets.” [Washington Post, 6/18/2002]
FBI Wants Control of Greenquest - With the creation of the new Department of Homeland Security (see November 25, 2002), the FBI and its parent agency the Justice Department are given a chance to gain total control over Operation Greenquest. Newsweek reports, “Internally, FBI officials have derided Greenquest agents as a bunch of ‘cowboys’ whose actions have undermined more important, long-range FBI investigations into terrorist financing.” Meanwhile: “The FBI-Justice move, pushed by [Justice Department] Criminal Division chief Michael Chertoff and Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, has enraged Homeland Security officials.… They accuse the [FBI] of sabotaging Greenquest investigations—by failing to turn over critical information to their agents—and trying to obscure a decade-long record of lethargy in which FBI offices failed to aggressively pursue terror-finance cases. ‘They [the FBI] won’t share anything with us,’ [says] a Homeland Security official. ‘Then they go to the White House and they accuse us of not sharing. If they can’t take it over, they want to kill it.’”
Derails Greenquest's Investigation into Firm with Terrorist Ties - This battle has a large effect on the investigation into Ptech, a Boston-based computer company with ties to suspected terrorist financiers. When Ptech whistleblowers approach the FBI, the FBI “apparently [does] little or nothing in response” (see Shortly After October 12, 2001 and May-December 5, 2002). Then Greenquest launches an investigation in Ptech, which culminates in a raid on the Ptech offices in December 2002 (see December 5, 2002). “After getting wind of the Greenquest probe, the FBI stepped in and unsuccessfully tried to take control of the case. The result, sources say, has been something of a train wreck.” [Newsweek, 4/9/2003]
Greenquest Based on Single FBI Agent's Investigations - Greenquest appears to have been heavily based on the pre-9/11 investigations of FBI agent Robert Wright. The New York Post will report in 2004: “After 9/11, Wright’s work was picked up by David Kane of the US Customs Service, who raided companies owned by [Yassin] al-Qadi, leading to al-Qadi’s designation as a ‘global terrorist’ and to money-laundering indictments of companies in Northern Virginia linked to al-Qadi and Soliman Biheiri (another Wright investigatee). The [Greenquest] indictments rely heavily on Wright’s work.” [New York Post, 7/14/2004]
FBI Will Win Battle for Greenquest - The FBI will eventually win the battle with Homeland Security and Customs, and Greenquest will cease to exist at the end of June 2003 (see May 13-June 30, 2003). [Newsweek, 4/9/2003]

Entity Tags: Operation Greenquest, Larry D. Thompson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Michael Chertoff, Ptech Inc.

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


Indira Singh.
Indira Singh. [Source: Michael Kane]In October 2001, Ptech insiders attempted to warn the FBI that suspected terrorist financier Yassin al-Qadi had funded Ptech (see Shortly After October 12, 2001). Then Indira Singh, an employee at JP Morgan Chase bank, develops her own suspicions about Ptech after her bank assigned her to investigate Ptech for a potential business deal. In May 2002, she speaks with the FBI about her concerns. Weeks later, she learns the FBI still has not told any other government agencies about the potential Ptech security threat. She later will recall, “the language, the kind of language law enforcement, counterterrorism, and the FBI agents themselves were using basically indicated to me that absolutely no investigation was going on, that it was totally at a standstill, at which point my hair stood on end.” She contacts a Boston CBS television station, WBZ-TV, and a reporter for the station named Joe Bergantino begins investigating Ptech. [Boston Globe, 12/7/2002; National Public Radio, 12/8/2002; WBZ 4 (Boston), 12/9/2002] Around the same time, a former government official with contacts in the Bush administration tells officials at the National Security Council about the Ptech allegations. By late August, Operation Greenquest then opens its own Ptech investigation. The FBI then tries “to muscle its way back into the probe once it [becomes] clear that [Greenquest is] taking the case seriously.” [Newsweek, 12/6/2002; WBZ 4 (Boston), 12/9/2002] Beginning in late November, US agents begin calling Ptech officials and asking them if they have ties to money laundering, thus tipping them off. Ptech will also be notified when a December raid will be occurring before it happens. [Associated Press, 1/3/2003] WBZ-TV prepared a story on Ptech, but withheld it from the public for more than three months after receiving “calls from federal law enforcement agencies, some at the highest levels.” The station claims the government launched its Ptech probe in August 2002, after they “got wind of our investigation” and “asked us to hold the story so they could come out and do their raid and look like they’re ahead of the game.” [Boston Globe, 12/7/2002; WBZ 4 (Boston), 12/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Operation Greenquest, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ptech Inc., National Security Council, Indira Singh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ali al Timini.Ali al Timini. [Source: Fox News]Shortly after 9/11, the FBI begins to suspect that Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam to several of the 9/11 hijackers, may have had some connection to the 9/11 plot. They interview him repeatedly, but cannot find enough evidence to charge him, and he cannot be deported since he is a US citizen. Investigators discover he had been arrested more than once for soliciting prostitutes. They learn he is consorting with prostitutes in Virginia, and contemplate jailing him on an obscure law against transporting prostitutes across state lines. However, this plan collapses when he leaves the US unexpectedly in March 2002. [US News and World Report, 6/13/2004] But on October 10, 2002, he makes a surprise return to the US. His name is on a terrorist watch list and he is detained when his plane lands in New York City. Customs agents notify the FBI, but they are told that his name was taken off the watch list just the day before. He is released after only three hours. It has not been explained why he name was taken off the list. Throughout 2002, al-Awlaki is also the subject of an active Customs investigation into money laundering called Operation Greenquest, but he is not arrested for this either, or for the earlier contemplated prostitution charges. [WorldNetDaily, 8/16/2003] At the time, the FBI is fighting Greenquest, and Customs officials will later accuse the FBI of sabotaging Greenquest investigations (see After March 20, 2002-Early 2003). While in the US, al-Awlaki visits the Fairfax, Virginia, home of Ali al Timimi, the leader of a nearby Islamic center. According to a later court filing, al-Awlaki attempts to get al Timimi to discuss the recruitment of young Muslims for militant causes, but al Timimi does not show interest. Al Timimi will later be sentenced to life in prison in the US for inciting young Muslims to fight in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11. [Washington Post, 2/27/2008] Al-Awlaki then leaves the US again. The FBI will later admit they were “very interested” in al-Awlaki and yet failed to stop him from leaving the country. One FBI source says, “We don’t know how he got out.” [US News and World Report, 6/13/2004] He will allegedly take part in other militant attacks (see September 15, 2006). By 2008, US intelligence will conclude that he is linked to al-Qaeda (see February 27, 2008).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, US Customs Service, Operation Greenquest, Anwar al-Awlaki, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Anwar al-Awlaki, the imam for three of the 9/11 hijackers in the US, lives openly in Britain.
Growing Suspicions about Al-Awlaki in US - After 9/11, US investigators increasingly suspect that al-Awlaki’s links with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Hani Hanjour in the US were more than just a coincidence. In October 2002, al-Awlaki is briefly detained while visiting the US but is not arrested, even though there is an outstanding warrant for his arrest (see October 2002). The FBI as a whole does not believe he was involved in the 9/11 plot. However, some disagree. One detective tells the 9/11 Commission in 2003 or 2004 that al-Awlaki “was at the center of the 9/11 story.” The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry releases its final report in 2003, and it states that al-Awlaki “was a central figure in a support network that aided [Alhazmi and Almihdhar]” (see August 1-3, 2003).
No Attempt to Arrest Him Living Openly in Britain - Al-Awlaki does not visit the US again, after his near arrest. But he lives openly in Britain, a close US ally. He teaches Islam to students in London and adopts an increasingly religious fundamentalist stance. His lectures grow in popularity, especially through sales of CDs of recorded speeches. He travels widely through Britain giving lectures. But despite growing evidence against him in the US, there is no known attempt to have him arrested in Britain. At some point in 2004, he moves to Yemen to preach and study there. [New York Times, 5/8/2010]

Entity Tags: Anwar al-Awlaki, 9/11 Commission, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Hani Hanjour, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

This Homeland Security department logo of an eye peeking
through a keyhole was copyrighted but apparently not used.
This Homeland Security department logo of an eye peeking through a keyhole was copyrighted but apparently not used. [Source: Public domain]President Bush signs legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge is promoted to secretary of homeland security. The department will consolidate nearly 170,000 workers from 22 agencies, including the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, the federal security guards in airports, and the Customs Service. [New York Times, 11/26/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/26/2002] However, the FBI and CIA, the two most prominent anti-terrorism agencies, will not be part of it. [New York Times, 11/20/2002] The department wants to be active by March 1, 2003, but “it’s going to take years to integrate all these different entities into an efficient and effective organization.” [New York Times, 11/20/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/26/2002] Some 9/11 victims’ relatives are angry over sections inserted into the legislation at the last minute. Airport screening companies will be protected from lawsuits filed by family members of 9/11 victims. Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband died in the World Trade Center, says: “We were down there lobbying last week and trying to make the case that this will hurt us, but they did it anyway. It’s just a slap in the face to the victims.” [New York Times, 11/26/2002] The legislation creating the new department contains sweeping new powers for the executive branch that go largely unremarked on by the media. The White House and the departments under its control can now withhold from the public vast amounts of information about “critical infrastructure,” such as emergency plans for major industrial sites, and makes the release of such information a criminal offense. The explanation is that keeping this information out of terrorist hands will prevent them from creating a “road map” for planning attacks; what is much less discussed is how little the public can now know about risky practices at industrial sites in their communities. [Savage, 2007, pp. 110]

Entity Tags: US Coast Guard, US Department of Homeland Security, US Customs Service, US Secret Service, George W. Bush, Kristen Breitweiser, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Relatives of September 11 Victims, Tom Ridge

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

FBI agents raid Ptech offices.FBI agents raid Ptech offices. [Source: ABC News]Federal agents search the offices of Ptech, Inc., a Boston computer software company, looking for evidence of links to Osama bin Laden. A senior Ptech official confirms that Yassin al-Qadi, one of 12 Saudi businessmen on a secret CIA list suspected of funneling millions of dollars to al-Qaeda, was an investor in the company, beginning in 1994. Ptech appears to have connections to other potential terrorist financiers (see 1994). In particular, there seem to be many ties between Ptech and BMI Inc., a New Jersey-based company whose list of investors has been called a “who’s who of designated terrorists and Islamic extremists” (see 1986-October 1999). [Newsweek, 12/6/2002; WBZ 4 (Boston), 12/9/2002] A former FBI counterterrorism official states, “For someone like [al-Qadi] to be involved in a capacity, in an organization, a company that has access to classified information, that has access to government open or classified computer systems, would be of grave concern.” [WBZ 4 (Boston), 12/9/2002] On the day after the raid, US authorities will claim that Ptech’s software has been scrutinized and poses no danger. But security expert John Pike comments, “When you look at all of the different military security agencies that they have as customers, it’s very difficult to imagine how they would not be encountering sensitive information, classified information.” [National Public Radio, 12/8/2002] The search into Ptech is part of Operation Greenquest, which has served 114 search warrants in the past 14 months involving suspected terrorist financing. Fifty arrests have been made and $27.4 million seized. [Forbes, 12/6/2002] However, the raid appears to have been largely for show. Ptech was notified by US officials in November that they were being investigated, and they were told in advance exactly when the raid would take place (see May-December 5, 2002). Top officials in the US government appear to have made up their minds before the results of the raid can even be examined. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer comments on the Ptech raid only hours after it ends: “The one thing I can share with you is that the products that were supplied by this company to the government all fell in the nonclassified area. None of it involved any classified products used by the government. The material has been reviewed by the appropriate government agencies, and they have detected absolutely nothing in their reports to the White House that would lead to any concern about any of the products purchased from this company.” [White House, 12/6/2002] The fact that the raid takes place at all appears to be due to the persistence of Operation Greenquest investigators, who are engaged at this time in a bureaucratic battle with other investigators over who will control US government investigations into terrorist financing (see After March 20, 2002-Early 2003). Greenquest will lose this battle early in 2003 and get shut down (see May 13-June 30, 2003). In his 2003 book Black Ice, author Dan Verton will call Ptech an “innocent” casualty of Operation Greenquest’s “scorched-earth” tactics. [Verton, 2003, pp. 223] No charges will be brought against Ptech, and the company will continue fulfilling sensitive government contracts under a new name (see May 14, 2004).

Entity Tags: Operation Greenquest, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Yassin al-Qadi, Central Intelligence Agency, Ari Fleischer, BMI Inc., Ptech Inc.

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI and Customs Department had been waging a bureaucratic war over control of Operation Greenquest, a controversial but largely fruitful Customs terrorist finance investigation (see After March 20, 2002-Early 2003). On May 13, 2003, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge signed a memorandum of agreement giving the FBI near total control over all terrorist finance investigations. According to the memorandum, if the FBI feels the case is related to terrorist financing and should belong to them, “the investigation and operation of the matter shall be led by the FBI.” The agreement also effectively ends Greenquest. The memo states, “The Secretary [of Homeland Security] agrees that no later than June 30, 2003, Operation Greenquest will no longer exist as a program name.” [National Review, 5/27/2003]

Entity Tags: US Customs Service, Operation Greenquest, John Ashcroft, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Tom Ridge

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In the wake of the release of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s full report, anonymous officials leak some details from a controversial, completely censored 28-page section that focuses on possible Saudi support for 9/11. According to leaks given to the New York Times, the section says that Omar al-Bayoumi and/or Osama Basnan “had at least indirect links with two hijackers [who] were probably Saudi intelligence agents and may have reported to Saudi government officials.” It also says that Anwar al-Awlaki “was a central figure in a support network that aided the same two hijackers.” Most connections drawn in the report between the men, Saudi intelligence, and 9/11 is said to be circumstantial. [New York Times, 8/2/2003] One key section is said to read, “On the one hand, it is possible that these kinds of connections could suggest, as indicated in a CIA memorandum, ‘incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists… On the other hand, it is also possible that further investigation of these allegations could reveal legitimate, and innocent, explanations for these associations.’”(see August 2, 2002) Some of the most sensitive information involves what US agencies are doing currently to investigate Saudi business figures and organizations. [Associated Press, 8/2/2003] According to the New Republic, the section outlines “connections between the hijacking plot and the very top levels of the Saudi royal family.” An anonymous official is quoted as saying, “There’s a lot more in the 28 pages than money. Everyone’s chasing the charities. They should be chasing direct links to high levels of the Saudi government. We’re not talking about rogue elements. We’re talking about a coordinated network that reaches right from the hijackers to multiple places in the Saudi government.… If the people in the administration trying to link Iraq to al-Qaeda had one-one-thousandth of the stuff that the 28 pages has linking a foreign government to al-Qaeda, they would have been in good shape.… If the 28 pages were to be made public, I have no question that the entire relationship with Saudi Arabia would change overnight.” [New Republic, 8/1/2003] The section also is critical that the issue of foreign government support remains unresolved. One section reads, “In their testimony, neither CIA or FBI officials were able to address definitely the extent of such support for the hijackers, globally or within the United States, or the extent to which such support, if it exists, is knowing or inadvertent in nature. This gap in intelligence community coverage is unacceptable.” [Boston Globe, 8/3/2003]

Entity Tags: Osama Basnan, Omar al-Bayoumi, Anwar al-Awlaki, Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Larry Mefford.Larry Mefford. [Source: James Kegley / San Francisco Chronicle]FBI officials maintain that 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar did not have anyone knowingly supporting their al-Qaeda activities when they lived in San Diego in 2000 and 2001.
FBI: Hijackers Had No Witting Support in San Diego - Larry Mefford, who was the FBI’s head of counterterrorism until November 2003, says: “Maybe there’s been something new. But as of the time of my retirement, there was no credible indication that anyone in Southern California helped the two terrorists with knowledge of the 9/11 plot.” And Richard Garcia, head of the FBI in Los Angeles, says, “If there was support, I think it was unwitting.” Garcia says that whatever support the hijackers received was from Muslims innocently helping other Muslims.
9/11 Commission Suggests Otherwise - However, the 9/11 Commission’s final report, published the same day as these comments, suggests otherwise. The report details extensive help the hijackers received, and strongly implies that at least some of their helpers, such as Mohdar Abdullah and Anwar al-Awlaki, were radical Islamists with a similar agenda as the hijackers. For instance, the report comments, “We believe it is unlikely that [Alhazmi] and Almihdhar… would have come to the United States without arranging to receive assistance from one or more individuals informed in advance of their arrival.” [Los Angeles Times, 7/24/2004]
9/11 Congressional Inquiry Also Suggests Otherwise - The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s final report concluded that at least six 9/11 hijackers received “substantial assistance” from associates in the US, though it is “not known to what extent any of these contacts in the United States were aware of the plot.” The inquiry focused on associates in San Diego, including Abdullah and al-Awlaki (see July 24, 2003). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file]
What about Abdullah and Al-Awlaki? - In late 2003, new evidence emerged that Abdullah might have had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks, but he was deported anyway, in May 2004 (see May 21, 2004). In late 2004, several months after the comments by Mefford and Garcia, more evidence against him will emerge, causing the FBI to reopen its investigation into him (see September 2003-May 21, 2004). In 2008, US intelligence will finally conclude that al-Awlaki is an al-Qaeda operative (see February 27, 2008), and he will be connected to a number of attacks in the US.

Entity Tags: Anwar al-Awlaki, Richard Garcia, Nawaf Alhazmi, Mohdar Abdullah, Khalid Almihdhar, 9/11 Commission, Larry Mefford

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Jaber Elbaneh.Jaber Elbaneh. [Source: Yahya Arhab / EPA / Corbi]Twenty-three suspected al-Qaeda operatives break out of a high-security prison in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a. Escapees include Jamal al-Badawi, wanted for a role in the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), and Jaber Elbaneh, a US citizen believed to be linked to the alleged al-Qaeda sleeper cell in Lackawanna, New York (see April-August 2001). The men allegedly tunnel their way from the prison to the bathroom of a neighboring mosque. However, the New York Times will later comment: “[T]hat account is viewed with great skepticism, both in the United States and in Yemen. Many in Yemen say the escape could not have taken place without assistance, whether from corrupt guards or through a higher-level plan.” [New York Times, 3/1/2008] The prison is located in the basement of the Political Security Organization (PSO), Yemen’s equivalent of the FBI. Several days later, a cable sent from the US embassy in Yemen notes “the lack of obvious security measures on the streets,” and concludes, “One thing is certain: PSO insiders must have been involved.” Newsweek comments: “[P]rivately, US officials say the plotters must have had serious—possibly high-level—help at the Political [Security Organization].…. [T]he head of the PSO, Ali Mutahar al-Qamish, is said to be under suspicion, according to two US officials.” [Newsweek, 2/13/2006] Al-Badawi and nine others escaped a Yemeni prison in 2003 and then were recaptured one year later (see April 11, 2003-March 2004). Al-Badawi and Elbaneh turn themselves in to the Yemeni government in 2007 and then are freed (see October 17-29, 2007 and February 23, 2008).

Entity Tags: Jamal al-Badawi, Ali Mutahar al-Qamish, Jaber Elbaneh, Yemeni Political Security Organization

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In early September 2006, Anwar al-Awlaki is arrested in Yemen at the request of the US government. Al-Awlaki served as imam to several of the 9/11 hijackers when they lived in the US (see March 2001 and After). [Australian, 11/4/2006] However, al-Awlaki is released in December 2007. The US was limited in how much it could pressure the government of Yemen to keep holding him, because he has never been formally charged with any crime. In a taped interview shortly after his release, he claims that while he was imprisoned in Yemen, he was interrogated by the FBI multiple times and asked about his dealings with the 9/11 hijackers. [Washington Post, 2/27/2008] According to the New York Times, “by the end of 2007, American officials, some of whom were disturbed at the imprisonment without charges of a United States citizen, signaled that they no longer insisted on al-Awlaki’s incarceration, and he was released.” [New York Times, 5/8/2010] By February 2008, just two months after US officials approved his release, US intelligence will conclude that al-Awlaki is linked to al-Qaeda (see February 27, 2008).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Anwar al-Awlaki

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Two simultaneous suicide attacks on oil and gas installations in Yemen fail. The Safer refinery in Marib and the al-Dhabba terminal in Hadramout are attacked by four suicide bombers with car bombs, but Yemeni security forces blow the cars up just before they reach their targets. The four suicide bombers and one security guard are killed. The attacks come just a few days after al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called for attacks on oil facilities in the Persian Gulf region. A Yemeni court later sentences 32 men to between two and 15 years in jail for their roles in the attacks. Three of them are alleged al-Qaeda operatives tried in absentia who escaped from prison earlier in 2006 (see February 3, 2006). [BBC, 11/7/2007] Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam for several of the 9/11 hijackers while they lived in the US, was arrested in Yemen earlier in the month (see Early September 2006-December 2007). He allegedly also has a role preparing for the foiled attacks. [Australian, 11/3/2006; Australian, 11/4/2006] The attempted attacks also come just days before Yemen’s presidential elections. Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh, in power since 1978, quickly uses the attacks to criticize his opponent, because one of the opponents’ guards was accused of being involved. The guard is later acquitted. Saleh wins reelection. [New York Times, 3/1/2008] In 2008, one anonymous senior Yemeni official will tell the Washington Post that some important al-Qaeda members have had a long relationship with Yemen’s intelligence agencies and have targeted political opponents in the past. [Washington Post, 5/4/2008]

Entity Tags: Anwar al-Awlaki, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda, Ali Abdallah Saleh

Timeline Tags: Alleged Use of False Flag Attacks, Complete 911 Timeline

Jaber Elbaneh’s appearance in court.Jaber Elbaneh’s appearance in court. [Source: Associated Press / Mohammed al-Qadhi.]Jaber Elbaneh, an Islamist militant wanted by the US, comes out of hiding to appear in court in Yemen, but is not arrested. Elbaneh, a US citizen and whose family came from Yemen, had lived in Lackawanna, New York, before the 9/11 attacks. He went to Afghanistan to train at an al-Qaeda training camp along with about six other men from Lackawanna, but while the others dropped out and returned to the US, Elbaneh never returned (see April-August 2001). He moved to Yemen. The Yemeni government says he also helped plan the 2002 attack on the oil tanker Limburg off Yemen’s coast (see October 6, 2002). He was arrested there in 2004 after being charged in the US for attending the training camp. He was sentenced to ten years in prison, but in February 2006, he and 22 other suspected al-Qaeda operatives escaped from a high-security Yemeni prison (see February 3, 2006). The US offered $5 million for information leading to his arrest. Elbaneh was then implicated in a September 2006 bombing in Yemen that took place several days before national elections (see September 15, 2006). Some suggest the bombers may have colluded with the government to use the bombing to successfully help Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh win reelection. Elbaneh was convicted, but allowed to stay at home under a loose form of house arrest. Given the outstanding $5 million reward for him, Elbaneh appears to surprise everyone by appearing in court where his conviction in the 2006 bombing was being appealed. Furthermore, he gives a speech proclaiming his innocence. He says that after his prison escape, he surrendered directly to President Saleh in May 2007, who absolved him of any jail time. The New York Times comments: “Perhaps the greatest mystery surrounding [Elbaneh] is his decision to appear in court… The Yemeni government has generally instructed the jihadists with whom it arranges amnesty to avoid the news media and keep low profiles. But Mr. Elbaneh deliberately spoke out in a public setting, with journalists present, and named the president in his brief tirade.” [Reuters, 2/27/2008; New York Times, 3/1/2008]

Entity Tags: Jaber Elbaneh, Ali Abdallah Saleh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Washington Post reports that US intelligence has finally determined that Anwar al-Awlaki is linked to al-Qaeda. Al-Awlaki was an imam at two different mosques attended by hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Hani Hanjour, and he has been suspected of assisting the 9/11 plot. An anonymous US counterterrorism official tells the Post, “There is good reason to believe Anwar al-Awlaki has been involved in very serious terrorist activities since leaving the United States [after 9/11], including plotting attacks against America and our allies.” However, the US apparently did not ask Yemen to extradite him when he was arrested there in 2006, because there was no pending legal case against him. He continues to reside in Yemen and apparently still has not been charged with any crime. [Washington Post, 2/27/2008] In December 2007, just two months before this article, the US approved the release of al-Awlaki in Yemen, apparently because there still was no pending legal case against him (see Early September 2006-December 2007). He also does not appear to be on any public wanted list.

Entity Tags: Anwar al-Awlaki, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A front-page Washington Post story reveals that, eight years after al-Qaeda bombed the USS Cole just off the coast of Yemen and killed 17 US soldiers (see October 12, 2000), “all the defendants convicted in the attack have escaped from prison or been freed by Yemeni officials.”
Two Key Suspects Keep Slipping from Yemeni Prisons - For instance, Jamal al-Badawi, a Yemeni and key organizer of the bombing, broke out of Yemeni prisons twice and then was secretly released in 2007 (see April 11, 2003-March 2004, February 3, 2006 and October 17-29, 2007). The Yemeni government jailed him again after the US threatened to cut aid to the country, but apparently he continues to freely come and go from his prison cell. US officials have demanded the right to perform random inspections to make sure he stays jailed. Another key Cole suspect, Fahad al-Quso, also escaped from a Yemeni prison and then was secretly released in 2007 (see May 2007). Yemen has refused to extradite al-Badawi and al-Quso to the US, where they have been indicted for the Cole bombing. FBI Director Robert Mueller flew to Yemen in April 2008 to personally appeal to Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh to extradite the two men. However, Saleh has refused, citing a constitutional ban on extraditing its citizens. Other Cole suspects have been freed after short prison terms in Yemen, and at least two went on to commit suicide attacks in Iraq.
US Unwilling to Try Two Suspects in Its Custody - Two more key suspects, Khallad bin Attash and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were captured by US forces and have been transferred to the US-run Guantanamo prison. Al-Nashiri is considered the mastermind of the Cole bombing, but the US made the decision not to indict either of them because pending criminal charges could have forced the CIA or the Pentagon to give up custody of the men. Al-Quso, bin Attash, and al-Nashiri all attended a key 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia where the 9/11 attacks were discussed (see January 5-8, 2000).
'The Forgotten Attack' - A week after the Cole bombing, President Bill Clinton vowed to hunt down the plotters and promised, “Justice will prevail.” But less than a month after the bombing, George W. Bush was elected president. Roger Cressey, a former counterterrorism official in the Clinton and Bush administrations who helped oversee the White House’s response to the Cole bombing, says, “During the first part of the Bush administration, no one was willing to take ownership of this. It didn’t happen on their watch. It was the forgotten attack.”
'Back to Square One' - Former FBI agent Ali Soufan, a lead investigator into the bombing, complains, “After we worked day and night to bring justice to the victims and prove that these Qaeda operatives were responsible, we’re back to square one. Do they have laws over there or not? It’s really frustrating what’s happening.” The Post comments, “Basic questions remain about which individuals and countries played a role in the assault on the Cole.
Possible Government Complicity - One anonymous senior Yemeni official tells the Post that al-Badawi and other al-Qaeda members have had a long relationship with Yemen’s intelligence agencies and have targeted political opponents in the past. For instance, in 2006, an al-Qaeda suicide attack in Yemen came just days before elections there, and Saleh tried to link one of the figures involved to the opposition party, helping Saleh win reelection (see September 15, 2006). Furthermore, there is evidence that figures within the Yemeni government were involved in the Cole bombing (see After October 12, 2000), and that the government also protected key bombers such as al-Nashiri in the months before and after the bombings (see April 2000 and Shortly After October 12, 2000).
Bush Unwilling to Meet with Victims' Relatives - Relatives of the soldiers killed in the bombing have attempted to meet with President Bush to press for more action, to no avail. John P. Clodtfelter Jr., whose son died on the Cole, says, “I was just flat told that he wouldn’t meet with us. Before him, President Clinton promised we’d go out and get these people, and of course we never did. I’m sorry, but it’s just like the lives of American servicemen aren’t that important.” [Washington Post, 5/4/2008]

Entity Tags: John P. Clodtfelter Jr., Ali Soufan, Ali Abdallah Saleh, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Fahad al-Quso, Jamal al-Badawi, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Yemen, Khallad bin Attash, Roger Cressey, Robert S. Mueller III, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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