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Context of 'October 19, 2001: Al-Marabh’s Former Roommate Arrested, Appears to Have Significant Al-Qaeda Ties'

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Mahmoud Jaballah.Mahmoud Jaballah. [Source: Public domain via Toronto Star]Islamic Jihad operative Mahmoud Jaballah enters Canada on May 11, 1996 and applies for refugee status. There is evidence Canadian intelligence, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), begins monitoring him shortly after his arrival. A 2008 CSIS report mentions details of phone calls Jaballah makes to high-ranking Islamic Jihad leaders as early as June 1996. The CSIS will later conclude that his “primary objective incoming to Canada was to acquire permanent status in a country where he would feel secure in maintaining communications with other [Islamic Jihad] members.” Jaballah is wary his calls may be monitored, and uses code words to discuss sensitive topics. But the CSIS is able to figure out many of the code words, for instance the mention of clothes to refer to travel documents.
bullet Jaballah frequently calls Thirwat Salah Shehata, one of nine members of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council; the Egyptian government will later also call Shehata “a key figure in bin Laden’s organization.” They are in regular contact until August 1998, when Shehata moves to a new location in Lebanon but does not give Jaballah his new phone number.
bullet Jaballah also stays in frequent contact with Ahmad Salama Mabruk, another member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council. Mabruk is arrested in 1998.
bullet Jaballah is also in frequent contact with Ibrahim Eidarous and Adel Abdel Bary, two Islamic Jihad operatives living in London and working closely with Khalid al-Fawwaz, Osama bin Laden’s de facto press secretary. He calls them over 60 times between 1996 and 1998. Bin Laden is monitored by Western intelligence agencies as he frequently calls Bary, Eidarous, and al-Fawwaz until all three are arrested one month after the 1998 African embassy bombings (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998). Jaballah presumably becomes more suspicious that he is being monitored in September 1998, when Canadian officials interview him and tell him they are aware of his contacts with the three men arrested in London.
bullet The CSIS will later call Jaballah an “established contact” for Ahmed Said Khadr, a founding al-Qaeda member living in Canada. Khadr had been arrested in Pakistan in 1995 for suspected involvement in an Islamic Jihad bombing there, but he was released several months later after pressure from the Canadian government. After returning to Canada, Khadr ran his own non-profit organization, Health and Education Projects International (HEPI), and allegedly used the money he raised to help fund the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan. If the CSIS was aware of Khadr’s activities through Jaballah, it is not clear why no action was taken against him or his charity before 9/11.
bullet Essam Marzouk is an al-Qaeda operative living in Vancouver, Canada. During one call, Jaballah is asked for Marzouk’s phone number. He says he does not have it, but gives the name of another operative, Mohamed Zeki Mahjoub, who is known to be in contact with Marzouk. Marzouk will later leave Canada to train the African embassy bombers, stopping by Toronto to visit Mahjoub on the way out of the country.
bullet Jaballah is monitored communicating with other Islamic Jihad operatives, including ones in Germany, Yemen, and elsewhere in Canada.
He is arrested in March 1999, but after his arrest his wife warns him to reduce his communications and offers to help obtain information from his associates. He acquires a post office box in August 1999 and uses it to continue communicating with militants overseas. He is released in November 1999 and the CSIS will later claim he continues to communicate with other militants until he is arrested again in August 2001. [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2/22/2008 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Khaldan training camp, Thirwat Salah Shehata, Mohamed Zeki Mahjoub, Osama bin Laden, Khalid al-Fawwaz, Ahmad Salama Mabruk, Ahmed Said Khadr, Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Mahmoud Jaballah, Adel Abdel Bary, Ibrahim Eidarous, Islamic Jihad, Essam Marzouk

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mahmoud Jaballah.Mahmoud Jaballah. [Source: Darren Ell]Mahmoud Jaballah is an Islamic Jihad operative living in Canada and being closely monitored by Canadian intelligence (see May 11, 1996-August 2001). On April 1997, Islamic Jihad top leader (and al-Qaeda number two leader) Ayman al-Zawahiri contacts Jaballah, and the phone call is monitored by Canadian intelligence, which later mentions that Jaballah tells al-Zawahiri about his status in Canada. In February 1998, Jaballah is given al-Zawahiri’s satellite phone number. Canadian intelligence later claims the number is “subsequently contacted many times by Jaballah.” [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2/22/2008 pdf file] Presumably Canadian intelligence begins monitoring al-Zawahiri’s phone number by this time, but details about what they do, how long they are able to monitor the number, and how much they learn remain unknown.

Entity Tags: Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mahmoud Jaballah, Islamic Jihad

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

As an al-Qaeda millennium plot is broken up in Jordan (see November 30, 1999), attention is focused on the fact that two of the plotters were long time US residents. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger sends a memo to President Clinton about the two men, Raed Hijazi and Khalil Deek. Hijazi had lived in California and then moved to Boston to drive a taxi there for several years. The 9/11 Commission will say Berger tells Clinton was a naturalized US citizen who had “been in touch with extremists in the United States as well as abroad.” Later in the month, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will warn Berger in an e-mail, “Foreign terrorist sleeper cells are present in the US and attacks in the US are likely.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 179, 501] Deek is arrested on December 11 (see December 11, 1999), but he will eventually be released without being charged (see May 2001). A few days later, Clarke authorizes a study that looks into Deek’s connections, but no action will be taken when it is discovered Deek’s next-door neighbor is still living in Anaheim, California, and running an al-Qaeda sleeper cell there (see December 14-25, 1999). Similarly, while Hijazi will be arrested overseas some months later (see September 2000), US intelligence seems oblivious to the other al-Qaeda operatives who have been his roommates and fellow taxi drivers in Boston (see June 1995-Early 1999 and October 2000). One of them, Nabil al-Marabh, will apparently go on to have a major role in the 9/11 plot (see for example January 2001-Summer 2001 and Early September 2001). Investigators will also fail to act on knowledge of financial transactions between Hijazi and three of the 9/11 hijackers (see Spring 2001).

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Khalil Deek, Raed Hijazi, Sandy Berger, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Nabil al-Marabh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In August 2000, Nabil al-Marabh moves to Detroit, Michigan, to enroll in a truck driving course in nearby Dearborn. [Knight Ridder, 5/23/2003] According to an informant who will claim that al-Marabh confided to him in 2002, al-Marabh is taking instructions from a mystery figure in Chicago known only as “al Mosul”, which means “boss” or “person in charge” in Arabic. Al Mosul asks al-Marabh to attend the driving school to get a commercial truck driver’s license. Also according to this informant, al-Marabh and Raed Hijazi have plans to steal a fuel truck from a rest stop in New York or New Jersey and detonate it in the heavily traveled Lincoln or Holland tunnels leading into New York City, but the plan is foiled when Hijazi is arrested in October 2000 (see October 2000) for an attempted bombing in Jordan (see November 30, 1999). [Knight Ridder, 5/23/2003] Al-Marabh may have moved to Detroit to avoid government scrutiny in Boston after stabbing a roommate in May 2000 (see May 30, 2000-March 2001). His wife and son apparently continue to live at his long-time Boston address until September 2000 and then move to elsewhere in the city without leaving a forwarding address. [New York Times, 9/18/2001; Boston Herald, 9/19/2001; New York Times, 9/21/2001] Al-Marabh continues to live in Detroit until January 2001. The Washington Post will note that al-Marabh “appears to [move] every few months or continually [change] his residence on official documents � at one point listing an address in Dearborn, Michigan, that is a truck stop.” [Washington Post, 9/21/2001; Knight Ridder, 5/23/2003] He repeatedly claims to Michigan state officials that he lost his license, and secures temporary driver’s licenses without photographs. [Washington Post, 9/21/2001] He receives five driver’s licenses in Michigan over a period of 13 months in addition to carrying driver’s licenses from Massachusetts, Illinois, Florida, and Ontario, Canada. [Toronto Star, 10/26/2001] He moves to Toronto, Canada in January 2001 (see January 2001-Summer 2001), but will return to Detroit in August 2001 and will still be getting duplicate Michigan licenses and looking for a tractor-trailer driving job in the week after 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2001; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002]

Entity Tags: Nabil al-Marabh, Al Mosul

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Hassan Almrei.Hassan Almrei. [Source: Darren Ell]On January 2, 1999, Hassan Almrei entered Canada and applied for political refugee status. He claimed his passport from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had been destroyed. He was given refugee status in June 2000. However, for unknown reasons Canadian officials begin investigating him. Immigration officials search his Toronto apartment on September 13, 2000. They discover the UAE passport that Almrei had claimed was destroyed, and determine it is fradulent. [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2/22/2008 pdf file] Almrei and al-Marabh are roommates at some point, probably in early 2001 (see January 2001-Summer 2001). It is probable that Canadian officials increase their interest in Almrei in the months before 9/11. A top Canadian intelligence (CSIS) official will later claim that Canadian authorities grew increasingly worried that a group of eight terrorists would attack Toronto around the time of 9/11. But there was not enough evidence to arrest them, so different means were used in an attempt to disrupt the plot. While these eight suspected terrorists have not been publicly named, it is likely one of them is Almrei. In 2008, Canadian intelligence officials will reveal that at some point they learned that in September 1999 Almrei and five others gained access to a restricted area at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. Almrei and the others appeared to have access cards and codes for restricted areas. Furthermore, Almrei will be arrested one month after 9/11 (see October 19, 2001) and photos of a security badge and airplane cockpit will be found on his computer. [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2/22/2008 pdf file] Almrei will later admit to significant ties to militants and militant training camps (see October 19, 2001).

Entity Tags: Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Nabil al-Marabh, Hassan Almrei

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ahmed Shehab.Ahmed Shehab. [Source: Ahmedshehab.com]The landlord and at least twelve tenants of a Toronto high rise building see 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi living there in the spring of 2001. Other witnesses recall seeing Alshehhi and/or hijacker Mohamed Atta in or near the building. Nabil al-Marabh is sporadically staying in the same building in an apartment unit owned by his uncle, Ahmed Shehab, a prominent local imam. None of the witnesses appear to have sighted any of the other hijackers. Alshehhi and Atta are also seen by eyewitnesses around this time at a Toronto photocopy shop owned by Shehab, and there are even some who see Atta occasionally working there (see January 2001-Summer 2001). [Toronto Sun, 9/28/2001; Toronto Sun, 9/28/2001; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] The apartment where al-Marabh stayed will not be raided by police until about two weeks after 9/11, and one week after reports of al-Marabh’s connections to the hijackers has been in the newspapers. The Toronto Sun will report, “Many [building] residents questioned why police waited so long to raid [the] apartment after al-Marabh was arrested. Several tenants alleged they had seen a man late at night during the past week, taking away boxes from the apartment.” [Toronto Sun, 9/28/2001] Al-Marabh also shares a Toronto apartment with Hassan Almrei, a Syrian who the Canadian authorities are already suspecting for possible militant ties (see September 13, 2000 and After). One article says that are roommates in 2001, and it would likely mean early 2001 since al-Marabh leaves Toronto during the summer. Canadian authorities will later arrest Almrei and discover that he has extensive connections with al-Qaeda (see October 19, 2001). [ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] Some of the 9/11 hijackers may have been in Toronto as late as the end of August 2001. A motel manager in Hollywood, Florida, will later say that Mohamed Atta and Ziad Jarrah stay at his motel on August 30, 2001. He will say they gave a non-existent Toronto address and drove a car with Ontario, Canada, license plates. They claimed to be computer engineers from Iran, and said they had just come down from Canada to find jobs. [Washington Post, 10/4/2001; Toronto Sun, 10/5/2001]

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Ahmed Shehab, Hassan Almrei, Nabil al-Marabh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A courtroom artist’s depiction of Mahmoud Jaballah.A courtroom artist’s depiction of Mahmoud Jaballah. [Source: CBC]On June 27, 2001, Nabil al-Marabh is arrested while trying to enter the US from Canada in the back of a tractor-trailer, carrying a forged Canadian passport and a bogus social insurance card. [St. Catherines Standard, 10/2/2001] The New York Times will note that, “American officials had plenty of reason to believe that he was up to no good. Nine months earlier, he had been identified to American intelligence agents as one of Osama bin Laden’s operatives in the United States. American customs agents knew about money he had transferred to an associate of Osama bin Laden in the Middle East. And the Boston police had issued a warrant for his arrest after he violated probation for stabbing a friend with a knife. But [US officials] simply let him go.” [New York Times, 10/14/2001] The US turns him back to the Canadians. He is held for two weeks, then released on bail despite evidence linking him to militants (see Shortly Before July 11, 2001). During his two-week detention in a Canadian prison, al-Marabh boasts to other prisoners that he remains in contact with the FBI. When one prisoner asks him why, his reply is “because I’m special.” After 9/11, these prisoners will be puzzled that the FBI has not tried to interview them on what they know about al-Marabh. Al-Marabh will fail to show up for a Canadian deportation hearing in August and for a court date in September. It appears he quickly sneaks back into the US instead. [St. Catherines Standard, 10/2/2001] Al-Marabh’s Boston landlord will later be asked if he thought al-Marabh could have been a terrorist. The landlord will reply, “He was too stupid, number one, to be a terrorist. Because terrorists today are very intelligent people. But he might be used by some smarter or intelligent sources, who use people like that.” [ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] In July, just after he is released on bail in Canada, the Boston police will go to his former Boston address with a warrant for his March arrest, but he will not be there. [New York Times, 10/14/2001] Also at some point in July, Canadian authorities inform US Customs about some dubious financial transactions involving al-Marabh, and apparently the information is used in a Customs money-laundering probe (see Spring 2001). [Newsweek, 10/1/2001] One prominent former Canadian intelligence official will say that whether a more detailed look at al-Marabh at this time could have stopped the 9/11 attacks is an “intriguing question.… It becomes ever more intriguing as evidence seeps in.” [Ottawa Citizen, 10/29/2001]

Entity Tags: Nabil al-Marabh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Canada

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In the weeks before 9/11, an associate of the 9/11 hijackers, Adnan Shukrijumah, travels around the US, visiting New York, Washington, and Chicago, as well as Montreal in Canada, for about a week each. (Nabil al-Marabh, a militant linked to the 9/11 attacks, is likely in Toronto, Canada, for most of this time period (see January 2001-Summer 2001 and Shortly Before July 11, 2001).) According to the FBI, he is scouting potential terrorist targets. Shukrijumah then visits his childhood home, Charlieville in Trinidad and Tobago, for a week, around the date of the attacks. Shukrijumah lives near the hijackers in Florida in 2001 and is apparently seen with Mohamed Atta (see 2000-2001 and May 2, 2001). He was also investigated by the FBI in the spring of 2001, as it thought he might be involved in terrorism (see (Spring 2001) and April-May 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 9/3/2006] According to neighbors of his parents, Shukrijumah is still seen in Florida until March 2003. But other accounts claim that he does not return to the US after 9/11 (see Between March 16 and 20, 2003).

Entity Tags: Adnan Shukrijumah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Children at the Um Al-Qura Islamic School, where both Jaballah and Shehab served as principals.Children at the Um Al-Qura Islamic School, where both Jaballah and Shehab served as principals. [Source: Um Al-Qura Islamic School]On June 27, 2001, Nabil al-Marabh was arrested while trying to enter the US from Canada. He is already wanted in the US for skipping bail on an attempted murder charge, and US intelligence has linked him to al-Qaeda (see June 27, 2001-July 11, 2001). He is held in Canada. About two weeks after his arrest, there is a court hearing to determine if he should be released. His lawyer argues that he should be released because his uncle, Ahmed Shehab, can keep him in line. The lawyer does not mention that Shehab works at a school headed by Mahmoud Jaballah. Canadian intelligence has been closely monitoring Jaballah since 1996 and has overheard him communicating with many top militant leaders, including al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri (see May 11, 1996-August 2001 and February 1998). Presumably Canadian intelligence is well aware of Jaballah’s job at the school discussed in the hearing, yet this is never mentioned to the judge. Jaballah had been arrested in 1999 for suspected ties to Islamic militants and then released, and his school job had been mentioned in media reports. In August 2001, he will be arrested again, and Shebab will replace him as principal at the school. [Globe and Mail, 11/4/1999; New York Times, 10/14/2001; Toronto Star, 7/17/2004] While in jail, al-Marabh is visited by Hassan Almrei, who had been his roommate earlier in the year (see October 19, 2001). [MacLean's, 12/10/2001] Almrei will also later testify that in 1995 he obtained a false passport for al-Marabh, and that after al-Marabh’s arrest in June 2001, al-Marabh asked him to obtain a second false passport for him. [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2/22/2008 pdf file] Canadian authorities were investigating Almrei since at least September 2000, and may have suspected his role in a plot against the Toronto airport by this time (see January 2001-Summer 2001). But authorities either do not notice al-Marabh’s links to Jaballah and/or Almrei or do not care, because he is released on bail on July 11 and immediately disappears.

Entity Tags: Mahmoud Jaballah, Hassan Almrei, Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Nabil al-Marabh, Ahmed Shehab

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Hassan Almrei.
Hassan Almrei. [Source: Public domain via CBC]Hassan Almrei, a Syrian national and an associate of Nabil al-Marabh, is arrested in Canada. He was al-Marabh’s Toronto apartment roommate in early 2001. Canadian authorities say Almrei’s honey and perfume business in the Middle East helped finance al-Qaeda. Following a raid on his apartment, police say they confiscated computers and disks that hold information about Osama bin Laden, numerous images of bin Laden and other al-Qaeda members, a hijacking planner, diagrams of plane cockpits and military weapons, and copies of passports and official IDs. Within a week of his arrest, the Canadian government declares Almrei a “threat to national security” and announces its intention to deport him to Syria. The Federal Court of Canada will later agree with investigators that Almrei is a “a member of an international network of extremist individuals who support the Islamic extremist ideals espoused by Osama bin Laden,” and was “involved in a forgery ring with international connections that produces false documents.” The court will approve his deportation. [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2001; Toronto Sun, 1/14/2002; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] Almrei will admit to attending training camps in Afghanistan and lying about his past to get into Canada as a refugee claimant in 1999, but will deny any link to al-Qaeda. As of late 2005, he will still be in a Canadian prison, appealing his deportation. He will say he fears death or torture if he is returned to Syria. [Toronto Sun, 10/20/2005] Almrei will be released from prison in Canada in December 2009 when he wins an appeal against the security certificate he is being held under. The judge, Justice Richard Mosley, says there were “reasonable grounds to believe that Hassan Almrei was a danger to the security of Canada when he was detained in 2001, [but] there are no longer reasonable grounds to believe that he is a security risk today.” [Toronto Star, 12/15/2008]

Entity Tags: Hassan Almrei, Nabil al-Marabh, Richard Mosley, Canada

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mohammed Azmath, left, and Syed Gul Mohammad Shah/ Ayub Ali  Khan, right.Mohammed Azmath, left, and Syed Gul Mohammad Shah/ Ayub Ali Khan, right. [Source: Associated Press]The New York Times reports that, although 830 people have been arrested in the 9/11 terrorism investigation (a number that eventually exceeds between 1,200 and 2,000 (see November 5, 2001), there is no evidence that anyone now in custody was a conspirator in the 9/11 attacks. Furthermore, “none of the nearly 100 people still being sought by the [FBI] is seen as a major suspect.” Of all the people arrested, only four, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ayub Ali Khan, Mohammed Azmath, and Nabil al-Marabh, are likely connected to al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 10/21/2001] Three of those are later cleared of ties to al-Qaeda. After being kept in solitary confinement for more than eight months without seeing a judge or being assigned a lawyer, al-Marabh pleads guilty to the minor charge of entering the United States illegally (see September 3, 2002) and is deported to Syria (see January 2004). There is considerable evidence al-Marabh did have ties to al-Qaeda and even the 9/11 plot (see September 2000; January 2001-Summer 2001; January 2001-Summer 2001; Spring 2001; Early September 2001). [Washington Post, 6/12/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 8/27/2002] On September 12, 2002, after a year in solitary confinement and four months before he was able to contact a lawyer, Mohammed Azmath pleads guilty to one count of credit card fraud, and is released with time served. Ayub Ali Khan, whose real name is apparently Syed Gul Mohammad Shah, is given a longer sentence for credit card fraud, but is released and deported by the end of 2002. [Village Voice, 9/25/2002; New York Times, 12/31/2002] By December 2002, only 6 are known to still be in custody, and none have been charged with any terrorist acts (see December 11, 2002). On September 24, 2001, Newsweek reported that “the FBI has privately estimated that more than 1,000 individuals—most of them foreign nationals—with suspected terrorist ties are currently living in the United States.” [Newsweek, 10/1/2001]

Entity Tags: Nabil al-Marabh, Al-Qaeda, Mohammed Azmath, Syed Gul Mohammad Shah, Zacarias Moussaoui, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The FBI decides not to charge Nabil al-Marabh on any terrorism related charge. Instead, on September 3, 2002, al-Marabh pleads guilty to illegally entering the US in June 2001 (see June 27, 2001-July 11, 2001), and is sentenced to only eight months in prison. [Chicago Sun-Times, 9/5/2002] Federal prosecutors claim that “at this time” there is no evidence “of any involvement by [al-Marabh] in any terrorist organization,” even though he has admitted to getting weapons training in Afghan training camps. [Washington Post, 9/4/2002] Numerous reported ties between al-Marabh and the 9/11 hijackers are apparently not mentioned in the trial (see September 2000; January 2001-Summer 2001; January 2001-Summer 2001; Spring 2001; Early September 2001). The judge states he cannot say “in good conscience” that he approves of the plea bargain worked out between the prosecution and defense, but he seems unable to stop it. He says, “Something about this case makes me feel uncomfortable. I just don’t have a lot of information.” He has a number of unanswered questions, such as how al-Marabh had $22,000 in cash and $25,000 worth of amber jewels on his possession when he was arrested, despite holding only a sporadic series of low-paying jobs. “These are the things that kind of bother me. It’s kind of unusual, isn’t it?” says the judge. [National Post, 9/4/2002] In 2003, the judge at al-Marabh’s deportation hearing will rule that al-Marabh presents “a danger to national security” and is “credibly linked to elements of terrorism” but this will not stop him from being deported.(see January 2004).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Nabil al-Marabh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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