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Context of 'October 23, 2002: London Imam Abu Qatada Arrested Shortly after Praising the 9/11 Attacks'

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Abu Qatada.Abu Qatada. [Source: AFP/Getty Images]From June 1996 into 1997, highly reliable al-Qaeda defector Jamal al-Fadl is debriefed by US intelligence (see June 1996-April 1997), and presumably he reveals what he knows about British imam Abu Qatada. As al-Fadl will later reveal in early 2001 court testimony, in the early 1990s bin Laden grew concerned about the perception of religious legitimacy of al-Qaeda action. In 1992 and 1993, he formed a fatwa committee, made up of al-Qaeda’s more religious leaders, to provide a fatwa (religious sanction) for al-Qaeda’s methods. The committee issues a secret fatwa allowing al-Qaeda to work to evict the US military from the Arabian peninsula. Al-Fadl claims that one of the key members of this fatwa committee is Abu Qatada. In the early 1990s, Abu Qatada is little known, but he moved to Britain in 1994, gained asylum there, and began to gain a public reputation as a radical Islamist preacher. [Corbin, 2003, pp. 37] Interestingly around the same time the US learns this information from al-Fadl, British intelligence begins using Qatada as an informant (see June 1996-February 1997).

Entity Tags: Jamal al-Fadl, Abu Qatada, US intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Radical London imam Abu Qatada is convicted in absentia on terrorism charges in Jordan. He is alleged to have masterminded a plot aimed at Western tourists. One bomb was discovered and defused outside the American School in Amman, the other, hidden in a car, exploded outside the Jerusalem Hotel, which is popular with US visitors. The prosecutor claimed that Abu Qatada, who was sentenced to life in prison, was the mastermind. [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 3/16/2004; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 107-108; Times (London), 4/15/2008] There were also to be bombs placed under the cars of a former intelligence chief and a former minister of the interior. [Associated Press, 4/15/2005] Abu Qatada will also be convicted in connection with the Millennium Plot in Jordan later this year (see November 30, 1999). However, he will deny the charges, saying: “Jordan discovers every year or two nothing but organizations claiming that they wanted to cause explosions and destruction. It was proven later that the explosions inside the cinema were unfortunately the work of some intelligence officers to cause confusion.” [CNN, 11/29/2001] Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law Mohamed Jamal Khalifa was deported from the US to Jordan in 1995 (see April 26-May 3, 1995), but Abu Qatada, who will be arrested in Britain in 2002 (see October 23, 2002), will still not have been deported to Jordan many years later, due to a drawn-out legal battle over his extradition.

Entity Tags: Abu Qatada

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bisher al-Rawi.Bisher al-Rawi. [Source: Public domain]In late September 2001, Bisher al-Rawi, a long-time friend of London imam Abu Qatada, agrees to become an informant for the British intelligence agency MI5 (see Late September 2001). Al-Rawi mainly works as an intermediary between MI5 and the high-profile imam. He will later explain that he agreed to work as an informant as an attempt to help ease tensions between the government and the Muslim community. Abu Qatada had begun working as an informant for MI5 in 1996 (see June 1996-February 1997), and contrary to some reports, his relationship with that agency had not yet ended. In December 2001, Abu Qatada reportedly disappears just before a new law passes that would allow his indefinite detention (see Early December 2001). British officials claim to have no idea where Abu Qatada is, and at first apparently they really do not. But al-Rawi soon finds out where he is, tells MI5, and begins passing messages back and forth between MI5 and Abu Qatada. [Observer, 7/29/2007] The Independent will later report, “Abu Qatada was completely aware of Mr al-Rawi’s relationship with MI5. Mr al-Rawi carried questions and answers between the parties, served as a translator, and participated in negotiations with Abu Qatada.” Al-Rawi himself will later say, “All I did in Britain was try to help with steps necessary to get a meeting between Abu Qatada and MI5. I was trying to bring them together. MI5 would give me messages to take to Abu Qatada, and Abu Qatada would give me messages to take back to them.” [Independent, 3/16/2006] According to his family members and his lawyer, soon the MI5 agents are coming to his house and calling him so frequently that his relatives complain. As a result, MI5 gives him a cell phone and agrees to meet with him elsewhere. The British government will later acknowledge that al-Rawi served as an unpaid informant in a court document. [Washington Post, 4/2/2006] In the summer of 2002, al-Rawi begins to have doubts about his role and is fired (see Summer 2002). Abu Qatada is arrested in late October 2002, just after coming out of hiding in an attempt to morally justify the 9/11 attacks (see October 23, 2002). In early November, al-Rawi will fly to Gambia and be detained there (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002). [Washington Post, 4/2/2006]

Entity Tags: Abu Qatada, UK Security Service (MI5), Bisher al-Rawi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Radical al-Qaeda-linked imam Abu Qatada claims to The Observer that shortly after 9/11, the British intelligence agency MI5 offered him a passport, an Iranian visa, and an opportunity to escape to Afghanistan. He claims he turned them down because he didn’t trust them. “If I get on a plane, I am afraid I will be shot or handed over to the Jordanians, the Egyptians, or the Saudis.” [Observer, 10/21/2001] Abu Qatada’s claim will gain credibility when it is later revealed that he was an MI5 informant (see June 1996-February 1997) and that MI5 hid him in Britain from December 2001 until he made comments supporting the 9/11 attacks in late 2002 (see Early December 2001 and October 23, 2002). His fear of being handed over will also gain credibility as the CIA’s rendition program is slowly made public in succeeding years.

Entity Tags: Abu Qatada, UK Security Service (MI5)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon issues an indictment of militants based in Spain who are said to be tied to the 9/11 attacks. Some of them are arrested soon after (see November 13, 2001), although some are not and go on to be involved in the Madrid train bombings (see November 13, 2001). In the indictment, Garzon highlights the links between the Spain-based operatives and militants in Britain. Leading London imam Abu Qatada is described as “the spiritual head of the mujaheddin in Europe,” a view shared by many intelligence agencies in Europe, and accused of moving money to finance al-Qaeda operations. The indictment also says that Barakat Yarkas, head of an al-Qaeda cell in Spain, visited Britain 20 times (see 1995-February 2001) and repeatedly met with Abu Qatada and three other al-Qaeda leaders in Britain, Abu Walid, Abu al-Hareth, and Abu Bashir. Abu Qatada has been working with the British security services for some time and continues to do so (see June 1996-February 1997, Early December 2001, and October 23, 2002). [Independent, 11/21/2001; The Independent, 11/21/2001; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 107] Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will write, “Judge Garzon in Spain claims that if you take every major al-Qaeda attack, including 9/11 and the Bali bombings, then list all those who played a part in their planning, funding and execution, you will find a line that always draws you back to Britain.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 112]

Entity Tags: Abu al-Hareth, Abu Qatada, Abu Bashir, Abu Walid, Baltasar Garzon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Qatada.Abu Qatada. [Source: Public domain]Al-Qaeda religious leader Abu Qatada disappears, despite being under surveillance in Britain. He has been “described by some justice officials as the spiritual leader and possible puppet master of al-Qaeda’s European networks.” [Time, 7/7/2002] He supposedly escapes from his house, which the police are monitoring, in a minivan with his heavily pregnant wife and four children. [London Times, 10/25/2002; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 108] Qatada had already been sentenced to death in abstentia in Jordan, and is wanted at the time by the US, Spain, France, and Algeria as well. [Guardian, 2/14/2002] In October 2001, the media had strongly suggested that Qatada would soon be arrested for his known roles in al-Qaeda plots, but no such arrest occurred. [London Times, 10/21/2001] In November, while Qatada was still living openly in Britain, a Spanish judge expressed disbelief that Qatada hadn’t been arrested already, as he has previously been connected to a Spanish al-Qaeda cell that may have met with Mohamed Atta in July 2001. [Observer, 11/25/2001] Time magazine will later claim that just before new anti-terrorism laws go into effect in Britain, Abu Qatada and his family are secretly moved to a safe house by the British government, where he is lodged, fed, and clothed by the government. “The deal is that Abu Qatada is deprived of contact with extremists in London and Europe but can’t be arrested or expelled because no one officially knows where he is,” says a source, whose claims were corroborated by French authorities. The British reportedly do this to avoid a “hot potato” trial. [Time, 7/7/2002] A British official rejects these assertions: “We wouldn’t give an awful lot of credence [to the story].” [Guardian, 7/8/2002] Some French officials tell the press that Qatada was allowed to disappear because he is actually a British intelligence agent. [Observer, 2/24/2002] It appears that Qatada held secret meetings with British intelligence in 1996 and 1997, and the British were under the impression that he was informing on al-Qaeda (though there is disagreement if he was misleading them or not) (see June 1996-February 1997). Qatada will be arrested in London on October 23, 2002 (see October 23, 2002).

Entity Tags: Algeria, Al-Qaeda, Abu Qatada, United Kingdom, Mohamed Atta, Central Intelligence Agency, Jordan, France, Spain

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Jamil al-Banna.Jamil al-Banna. [Source: Public domain]Jamil al-Banna is friends with Bisher al-Rawi, who is working as an informant for the British intelligence agency MI5. Al-Rawi is mostly helping MI5 communicate with imam Abu Qatada, who also is an MI5 informant but is pretending to be in hiding (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002 and Early December 2001). Al-Banna is aware of al-Rawi’s work and begins to help him. Sometimes al-Banna also serves as a go-between for MI5 and Abu Qatada. Al-Rawi stops working for MI5 in the summer of 2002 (see Summer 2002), but al-Banna does not. For instance, when Abu Qatada is arrested in late October 2002 (see October 23, 2002), al-Banna takes his wife and child home at the request of the British officials on the scene. [Independent, 3/16/2006] But in early November 2002, al-Banna will go to Gambia with al-Rawi on business, and MI5 will turn the two of them over to the CIA to be interrogated (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002).

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), Abu Qatada, Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil al-Banna

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

It will later be alleged that in August 2002, radical imam Abu Qatada calls Spanish militant Moutaz Almallah and asks him to live with him in London. Almallah does move to London one month later. For most of 2002, Qatada is supposedly hiding in London, but in fact British intelligence knows where he is (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002 and Summer-Early November 2002), and he has a history of being an British informant (see June 1996-February 1997). The account of Moutaz moving to London comes from the estranged wife of his brother Mouhannad Almallah. Shortly after the Madrid bombings, she will tell a Spanish judge about the call and much more. She will say both brothers had frequent contact with Abu Qatada before moving. Spanish authorities also are aware that the brothers are linked to Barakat Yarkas, who frequently traveled to London to meet with Abu Qatada for many years (see 1995-February 2001). Abu Qatada will be arrested in October 2002, not long after Moutaz moves there (see October 23, 2002), but Moutaz will continue to live in London while making occasional trips back to Spain. Moutaz will be arrested in Britain in 2005. He will be extradited to Spain for a role in the 2004 Madrid train bombings, but will not have been put on trial by July 2007. In 2007, Mouhannad will be sentenced to 12 years for his role in the bombings (see October 31, 2007). [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/28/2005]

Entity Tags: Mouhannad Almallah’s wife, Abu Qatada, Barakat Yarkas, Mouhannad Almallah, Moutaz Almallah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

London imam Abu Qatada is arrested at a house in South London by Scotland Yard and MI5 officials. Intelligence agencies in eight countries, including Italy, France, and Germany, have claimed that Qatada has extensive al-Qaeda links, and he is believed to be a member of al-Qaeda’s fatwa (religious) committee (see June 1996-1997). Using anti-terrorist laws passed in December 2001, he is held at the Belmarsh high security prison without charge. He “disappeared” hours before the new laws went into effect (see Early December 2001). Several days before his arrest, Qatada came out of hiding to release a new document justifying the 9/11 attacks. He posted a ten-page document on the Internet entitled “The Legal Vision for the September 11 Events.” In it, he outlined the “moral” case for the attacks and praised Osama bin Laden for challenging the US. [London Times, 10/25/2002] Another radical London imam, Sheik Omar Bakri Mohamed, tells the press that Abu Qatada was arrested after family members visited his house and one of them used a cell phone that was apparently traced by the authorities. [New York Times, 10/26/2002] Qatada worked as an MI5 informant beginning in 1996 (see June 1996-February 1997).

Entity Tags: Abu Qatada, UK Security Service (MI5), Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Beginning on January 17, 2003, Spanish police begin monitoring an apartment on Virgen de Coro street in Madrid owned by the brothers Moutaz and Mouhannad Almallah. Moutaz owns it but lives in London, so Mouhannad is the landlord and works there every day as well. Police were tipped off about the house earlier in the month by Mouhannad’s estranged wife. She revealed that a group of Islamist militants are regularly meeting there (see January 4, 2003). [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/10/2005] Both Almallah brothers ties to known al-Qaeda figures such as Barakat Yarkas and radical imam Abu Qatada, and Moutaz moved to London in August 2002 to live with Qatada (see August 2002). In 2007, an unnamed Spanish police officer testifying in the Madrid bombings trial will give details about the surveillance of the apartment. He will call it an important place for both meetings and recruitment. The police note that both brothers travel frequently to and from London and also regularly call London. These calls are usually followed by calls to the Middle East or North Africa. Police are aware that Moutaz has no job in London and is in the circle of people around Abu Qatada (although Abu Qatada himself was arrested in late 2002 see (see October 23, 2002)). Basel Ghalyoun and Fouad el Morabit live at the apartment and frequently meet there with Mouhannad Almallah and Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/21/2007] Ghalyoun will later admit that in early 2003, Fakhet began to “talk of carrying out an attack in Spain, making jihad…” He will say that others attending jihad meetings at the apartment in 2003 include Arish Rifaat and Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed. [El Mundo (Madrid), 10/15/2005] Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam is also frequently seen there. [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/28/2004] The surveillance intensifies in subsequent months, and soon the apartment is monitored with video as well (see Spring 2003 and After). Police will keep watching the apartment until arrests are made after the March 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Rifaat, Fakret, and others will allegedly blow themselves up shortly after the Madrid bombings (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). There are allegations Fakret was an informant (see Shortly After October 2003). Mouhannad Almallah, Ghalyoun, ben Sellam, and el Morabit will be convicted in 2007 and each sentenced to 12 years for roles in the bombings (see October 31, 2007). Ahmed will be convicted of different charges in Italy (see October 31, 2007). Curiously, when the apartment is raided shortly after the Madrid bombings, two documents belonging to police officer Ayman Maussili Kalaji will be found inside. Kalaji will admit to having a friendship with Moutaz Almallah dating back at least to 1995 (see May 16, 2005).

Entity Tags: Moutaz Almallah, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, Mouhannad Almallah, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam, Mouhannad Almallah’s wife, Basel Ghalyoun, Abu Qatada, Fouad el Morabit, Barakat Yarkas, Arish Rifaat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

By about 6:00 p.m. on April 3, 2004, a group of seven suspects in the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) are trapped in an apartment in the town of Leganes near Madrid and are engaged in a shootout with the police force surrounding them (see 2:00-9:00 p.m., April 3, 2004). This group of Islamist militants is said to be inspired by radical imam Abu Qatada, who has been held in the Belmarsh high security prison in Britain since 2002 (see October 23, 2002). Spanish police will later claim that these suspects call Qatada three times during the shootout, seeking religious authorization to commit suicide since they have been cornered by police. UPI will comment, “Madrid police could not explain how the terrorists could telephone somebody supposedly in a British prison.” They also call people in Indonesia and Tunisia who are said to be linked to suspected terrorists. They receive the permission from Qatada. Then they purify themselves with holy water from Mecca and dress in white funeral shrouds made from the apartment’s curtains. [United Press International, 5/14/2004] The seven suspects allegedly blow themselves up when police start to raid their apartment shortly after 9:00 p.m. (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004).

Entity Tags: Abu Qatada

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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