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Context of 'Between October 1997 and August 7, 1998: Ali Mohamed Gives FBI Hint of Upcoming Al-Qaeda Attack in East Africa'

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Bin Laden moves his base of operations from Afghanistan to Sudan (see Summer 1991), and asks US-al-Qaeda double agent Ali Mohamed to assist in the move. The New York Times will later report that US officials claim, “this was a complex operation, involving the transfer through several countries of Mr. bin Laden and at least two dozen of his associates.” Mohamed also stays busy frequenting mosques in the US, apparently recruiting operatives for al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 12/1/1998; Washington File, 5/15/2001] Ihab Ali Nawawi, an al-Qaeda operative based in Florida, helps Mohamed with the move. [Lance, 2006, pp. 123]

Entity Tags: Ihab Ali Nawawi, Osama bin Laden, Ali Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bin Laden asks double agent Ali Mohamed to set up an al-Qaeda cell in Nairobi, Kenya, to support al-Qaeda operations against the US intervention in the neighboring country of Somalia that year. He does so, setting up a cell of a dozen operatives. He creates a car business, a fishing business, and sells scuba diving equipment, luxury automobiles, and diamonds to create income for the cell, and a charity organization to provide operatives with documents. The cell will later plan the 1998 embassy bombings in both Nairobi and nearby Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). He also helps trains Somali clansmen in the months leading up to a battle that will kill 18 US soldiers (see Late 1992-October 1993 and October 3-4, 1993). [Los Angeles Times, 10/21/2000; Raleigh News and Observer, 10/21/2001; Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2001; Chicago Tribune, 12/11/2001]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Ali Mohamed, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

At some point not long after Ali Mohamed is interviewed by the FBI in the autumn of 1993, the US government begins tracking his movements and monitoring his phone calls. Eventually, this surveillance will lead US investigators to the al-Qaeda cell in Nairobi, Kenya (see Late 1994). It is not clear which governmental agency does this. Meanwhile, he continues to have periodic contact with the FBI. They are especially interested in what he knows about bin Laden, as bin Laden’s importance becomes increasingly evident. [New York Times, 12/1/1998]

Entity Tags: Ali Mohamed, Osama bin Laden, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Imad Mugniyah.
Imad Mugniyah. [Source: FBI]In February 1994, double agent Ali Mohamed goes to Sudan and trains Osama bin Laden’s bodyguards (see February 4-5, 1994 and Shortly Afterwards). While there, Mohamed arranges security for a meeting between bin Laden and Imad Mugniyah, the security chief for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah who is said to have directed the 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon (see April 18-October 23, 1983). Bin Laden and Mugniyah are said to discuss upcoming operations. Mugniyah is believed to be involved in the hijacking of an Air India jet in 1999 where passengers will be exchanged for three militants in Indian prisons, including Saeed Sheikh, who will be the paymaster for 9/11 (see December 24-31, 1999). Mohamed will later claim in court that Hezbollah subsequently provided explosives training for al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad. [Los Angeles Times, 10/21/2000; Raleigh News and Observer, 10/21/2001; Chicago Tribune, 12/11/2001; LA Weekly, 5/24/2002] A number of al-Qaeda operatives train with Hezbollah in Lebanon after this meeting (see Mid-1990s). Dan Benjamin and Steve Simon, director and senior director of the National Security Council’s counterterrorism team, will later write that “The meeting between the two preeminent terrorists of the era reportedly did take place, and there was an agreement to cooperate. But there the record ends; there is little evidence that a long-term bond between the Sunni and Shiite groups was ever formed.” [Benjamin and Simon, 2005, pp. 128] Mohamed will return to the US after an FBI agent phones him and asks to speak to him about an upcoming trial (see December 9, 1994).

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Imad Mugniyah, Ali Mohamed, Daniel Benjamin, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, Steve Simon, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US intelligence began monitoring Ali Mohamed in the autumn of 1993 (see Autumn 1993). The San Francisco Chronicle will later report that from “1994 to 1998… FBI agents trace phone calls from Mohamed’s California residences in Santa Clara and, later, Sacramento to bin Laden associates in [Nairobi, Kenya].” In late 1994, FBI agents discover that Mohamed is temporarily living in an al-Qaeda safe house in Nairobi. The FBI contacts him there and he returns to the US a short time later to be interviewed by the FBI (see December 9, 1994). [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/21/2001] When Mohamed is making arrangements to be interviewed by the FBI, he uses the telephone of Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s personal secretary who is part of the Kenya al-Qaeda cell. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 39, 5/3/2001] By 1996, US intelligence is continually monitoring five telephone lines in Nairobi used by the cell members, including those belonging to El-Hage (see April 1996).

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ali Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

FBI agent Jack Cloonan is given the task of building a file on double agent Ali Mohamed. Mohamed is living openly in California and has already confessed to working for al-Qaeda (see May 1993). He has been monitored since 1993 (see Autumn 1993). [Lance, 2006, pp. 138] Cloonan is part of Squad I-49, a task force made up of prosecutors and investigators that begins focusing on bin Laden in January 1996 (see January 1996). Mohamed has been an informant for FBI agents on the West Coast of the US (see 1992 and June 16, 1993), though when he stops working with them exactly remains unknown. Cloonan and other US officials will have dinner with Mohamed in October 1997 (see October 1997), but Mohamed will not be arrested until after the 1998 African embassy bombings (see September 10, 1998).

Entity Tags: Ali Mohamed, Jack Cloonan, I-49

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A passenger ferry capsizes on Lake Victoria in East Africa and one of the more than 800 who drown is Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, al-Qaeda’s military commander (his job will be taken over by Mohammed Atef). Al-Qaeda operatives Wadih El-Hage and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul) show up at the disaster scene to find out if al-Banshiri is still alive. There are many journalists covering the disaster and a Western investigator recognizes Fazul and El-Hage when they happen to appear in some of the widely broadcast footage. [Washington Post, 11/23/1998] El-Hage sends a computer file about the drowning to double agent Ali Mohamed in California. Mohamed’s computer hard drive will be copied by US intelligence in 1997 (see October 1997-September 10, 1998). The CIA already has much of El-Hage’s biography on file by this time. It appears this event, along with the defection of Jamal al-Fadl (see June 1996-April 1997), only strengthen knowledge of the Kenya cell gained earlier in the year (see April 1996). By August 1996, if not earlier, the phones of El-Hage and Fazul in Nairobi are bugged and closely monitored by the CIA and NSA. Apparently, not much is learned from these phone calls because the callers speak in code, but the CIA does learn about other al-Qaeda operatives from the numbers and locations that are being called. This information is shared with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), and the JTTF becomes “convinced that flipping El-Hage [is] the best way to get to bin Laden.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 200]

Entity Tags: Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Central Intelligence Agency, Ali Mohamed, Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Wadih El-Hage, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and FBI agents Jack Cloonan and Harlan Bell, all members of the I-49 squad, take Ali Mohamed out for dinner at a restaurant in Sacramento, California (he has recently moved there from Santa Clara, California). Fitzgerald pays for Mohamed’s meal. Cloonan will later recall, “The purpose in us going to meet Ali at that point in time is that we wanted to gain his cooperation. We knew of his long history having been connected to al-Qaeda, and what we desperately wanted was to convince Ali Mohamed to cooperate with us that night.” During the several-hour-long meeting, Mohamed says the following:
bullet He “loved” bin Laden and “believes in him.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/4/2001; Lance, 2006, pp. 274-276]
bullet He organized bin Laden’s move from Afghanistan to Sudan in 1991 (see Summer 1991).
bullet He was in Somalia training militants to fight US soldiers in 1993. He claims “bin Laden’s people were responsible” for the killing of 18 US soldiers there (see 1993).
bullet He trained bin Laden’s personal bodyguards in 1994 and he lived in bin Laden’s house while doing so (see Shortly After February 1994). [Lance, 2006, pp. 274-276]
bullet He says he trained people in “war zones, and… war zones can be anywhere.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2001]
bullet He asserts he doesn’t need a religious edict to make war on the US since it is “obvious” that the US is “the enemy.” Author Peter Lance will later note these words clearly “amounted to treason.”
bullet Cloonan will recall, “He said that he was in touch with hundreds of people he could call on in a moment’s notice that could be, quote, ‘operational,’ and wage jihad against the United States. Very brazenly, he said, ‘I can get out anytime and you’ll never find me. I’ve got a whole network. You’ll never find me.”
After dinner, Cloonan will recall that Fitzgerald turned to him and said, “This is the most dangerous man I have ever met. We cannot let this man out on the street.” But Lance will later note, “But that’s just what he did. Patrick Fitzgerald allowed Ali Mohamed to go free”—even though Mohamed firmly rejected the offer to cooperate. During the dinner, other agents break into Mohamed’s house and bug his computer (his phone is already tapped (see Late 1994). Mohamed will continue to live in California for nearly a year and won’t be arrested until after the August 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). The FBI apparently makes a report based on Mohamed’s comments at this meeting (see After October 1997). But no evidence has come to light that Mohamed’s confession is shared with top US officials or spread widely within US intelligence before 9/11. [Lance, 2006, pp. 274-276] In 2003, Fitzgerald will testify before a Senate committee and claim that when he had to make the decision after the embassy bombings whether or not to arrest Mohamed (see September 10, 1998), the “decision to arrest was made partly in the dark” because prosecutors could “not learn what information [the FBI] had gathered” on Mohamed. Fitzgerald will fail to mention that he was sitting with FBI agents when Mohamed gave this startling confession. [US Congress, 10/21/2003]

Entity Tags: Jack Cloonan, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Harlan Bell, I-49, Ali Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Double agent Ali Mohamed gives a hint about the upcoming African embassy bombings to an FBI agent. Harlan Bell, one of the FBI agents who met with Mohamed at an October 1997 dinner where Mohamed detailed his al-Qaeda ties (see October 1997), is apparently continuing to regularly talk to him on the phone (though it is not known what they discuss). Bell begins recording these phone calls (which are presumably being recorded by others as well since all of Mohamed’s communications are being monitored by this time (see October 1997-September 10, 1998)). FBI agent Jack Cloonan, who works with Bell in the I-49 bin Laden squad, will later recall that after the embassy bombings Bell will replay one of these taped conversations. “It became apparent from listening to one of those tapes that Ali was talking about a possible target in East Africa. He never specifically said the embassy or that he knew an attack was imminent, but he was giving this up in a sense before the attack took place.” [Lance, 2006, pp. 207-208]

Entity Tags: Ali Mohamed, Jack Cloonan, I-49, Harlan Bell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The FBI installs a wiretap in double agent Ali Mohamed’s computer (the FBI has been monitoring his phone since 1993 (see Autumn 1993 and Late 1994)). According to FBI agent Jack Cloonan, “The Sacramento [FBI] office did a wonderful job of getting into his apartment, wiring it up, and exploiting his computer. So we were able to download a lot of stuff.” [Lance, 2006, pp. 276] Not much is known about what is on his computer, but a 2001 trial will mention that Wadih El-Hage, head of the cell in Kenya planning the African embassy bombings (see Between October 1997 and August 7, 1998), sent Mohamed a computer file about the death of al-Qaeda leader Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri by drowning in Kenya in May 1996 (see May 21, 1996). [Lance, 2006, pp. 297-298] Journalist Peter Lance believes that, given Mohamed’s apparent foreknowledge of the embassy bombings, the computer probably contained references to that operation. In his book Triple Cross, he asks, “If [US agents] now had access to Mohamed’s phone and hard disk, why didn’t they come to understand his role as a key player in the embassy bombing plot?… If their motive was to lie in wait—to monitor his phone calls and e-mail traffic—why didn’t that surveillance put them right in the middle of the embassy plot?” [Lance, 2006, pp. 276]

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jack Cloonan, Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, Ali Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A 1997 FBI report on double agent Ali Mohamed states, “He knows, for example, that there are hundreds of ‘sleepers’ or ‘submarines’ in place who don’t fit neatly into the terrorist profile. These individuals don’t wear the traditional beards and don’t pray at the mosques.” [Raleigh News and Observer, 10/21/2001] This is very likely a reference to comments Mohamed made while having dinner with some FBI agents and US prosecutors on October 1997 (see October 1997). One attendee of that dinner, FBI agent Jack Cloonan, will recall a very similar comment Mohamed made then: “He said that he was in touch with hundreds of people he could call on in a moment’s notice that could be, quote, ‘operational,’ and wage jihad against the United States.” [Lance, 2006, pp. 274-276] If so, it is probable that other comments he made at the dinner were included in the FBI report as well, such as his comment that he loves and believes in bin Laden, the US is the enemy, and that he trained Somalis to kill US soldiers in 1993 (see October 1997). But the FBI still takes no action against him.

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Ali Mohamed, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bombings of the Nairobi, Kenya, US embassy (left), and the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, US embassy (right).Bombings of the Nairobi, Kenya, US embassy (left), and the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, US embassy (right). [Source: Associated Press] (click image to enlarge)Two US embassies in Africa are bombed within minutes of each other. At 10:35, local time, a suicide car bomb attack in Nairobi, Kenya, kills 213 people, including 12 US nationals, and injures more than 4,500. Mohamed al-Owhali and someone known only as Azzam are the suicide bombers, but al-Owhali runs away at the last minute and survives. Four minutes later, a suicide car bomb attack in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, kills 11 and injures 85. The attacks are blamed on al-Qaeda. Hamden Khalif Allah Awad is the suicide bomber there. [PBS Frontline, 2001; United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38, 5/2/2001] The Tanzania death toll is low because, remarkably, the attack takes place on a national holiday so the US embassy there is closed. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 195] The attack shows al-Qaeda has a capability for simultaneous attacks. The Tanzania bombing appears to have been a late addition, as one of the arrested bombers allegedly told US agents that it was added to the plot only about 10 days in advance. [United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14, 3/7/2001] A third attack against the US embassy in Uganda does not take place due to a last minute delay (see August 7, 1998). [Associated Press, 9/25/1998] August 7, 1998, is the eighth anniversary of the arrival of US troops in Saudi Arabia, and some speculate that is the reason for the date of the bombings. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 46] In the 2002 book The Cell, reporters John Miller, Michael Stone, and Chris Miller will write, “What has become clear with time is that facets of the East Africa plot had been known beforehand to the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, and to Israeli and Kenyan intelligence services.… [N]o one can seriously argue that the horrors of August 7, 1998, couldn’t have been prevented.” They will also comment, “Inexplicable as the intelligence failure was, more baffling still was that al-Qaeda correctly presumed that a major attack could be carried out by a cell that US agents had already uncovered.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 195, 206] After 9/11, it will come to light that three of the alleged hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi, had some involvement in the bombings (see October 4, 2001, Late 1999, and 1993-1999) and that the US intelligence community was aware of this involvement by late 1999 (see December 15-31, 1999), if not before.

Entity Tags: Hamden Khalif Allah Awad, Mohamed al-Owhali, Salem Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Azzam, Al-Qaeda, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Two days after the US embassy bombings in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the FBI interview double agent Ali Mohamed over the telephone. Mohamed is living openly in California. He says al-Qaeda is behind the bombings and that he knows who the perpetrators are, but he won’t give their names to the FBI. He also tries to downplay his involvement in the bombings, saying that he lived in Kenya in 1994 and ran front companies for bin Laden there, but when he was shown a file containing a plan to attack the US embassy in Kenya, he “discouraged” the cell members from carrying out the attack. A week later, prosecutors subpoena Mohamed to testify before a grand jury hearing in New York to be held in September. Author Peter Lance will later comment, “Considering that Mohamed had told [US Attorney Patrick] Fitzgerald at their dinner meeting in the fall of 1997 (see October 1997) that he had fake passports and the means to leave the country quickly, it’s mind-boggling how long it took the Feds to search his home…” They do not arrive at his house until August 24 (see August 24, 1998). On August 27, he again tells the FBI on the phone that he knows who the bombers are but again refuses to name names. He will not be arrested until September 10 (see September 10, 1998). [New York Times, 1/13/2001; Lance, 2006, pp. 296]

Entity Tags: Ali Mohamed, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Double agent Ali Mohamed is living openly in Sacramento, California. His computer and telephone are being monitored by the FBI (see October 1997-September 10, 1998). On August 9, two days after the African embassy bombings, he told the FBI on the telephone that he knows who the bombers are but he will not reveal their names (see August 9, 1998). On August 12, one of the bombers, Mohamed al-Owhali, is secretly arrested in Kenya and immediately begins confessing what he knows (see August 12-25, 1998). Somehow al-Qaeda operative Anas al-Liby learns about al-Owhali’s arrest, even though al-Liby is living in Britain, and later that month he calls Mohamed. The call is monitored and FBI agent Jack Cloonan will later recall, “Anas says to [Mohamed], ‘Do you know that brother [al-Owhali]? ‘Cause if you do, get the f_ck out of there.” Mohamed makes plans to escape the US, but strangely he decides to respond to a subpoena and testify in New York City before he goes. He will be arrested there on September 10, just after testifying (see September 10, 1998). [Lance, 2006, pp. 297-298] Remarkably, even though al-Liby worked with Mohamed and others on the embassy bomb plot in Kenya (see Late 1993-Late 1994), he is not arrested and continues to live in Britain. His residence there will not be raided until May 2000, and by that time he will be gone (see May 2000). It will later be alleged that al-Liby is protected because he worked with British intelligence on a plot to kill Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi (see 1996).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ali Mohamed, Anas al-Liby

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Patrick FitzgeraldPatrick Fitzgerald [Source: Publicity photo]Ali Mohamed is finally arrested after testifying at a grand jury hearing. The arrest is officially kept secret, but the media will report it one month later. [New York Times, 10/30/1998] Patrick Fitzgerald is on the prosecutor team that subpoenaed Mohamed to appear, but apparently he and the other prosecutors know very little about Mohamed. Fitzgerald blames this on a legal “wall” between intelligence gathering and criminal prosecution. He later will relate what happened on the day Mohamed testified: “Ali Mohamed lied in that grand jury proceeding and left the courthouse to go to his hotel, followed by FBI agents, but not under arrest. He had imminent plans to fly to Egypt. It was believed [by the prosecutors] at the time that Mohamed lied and that he was involved with the al-Qaeda network but Mohamed had not by then been tied to the [embassy] bombings. The decision had to be made at that moment whether to charge Mohamed with false statements. If not, Mohamed would leave the country. That difficult decision had to be made without knowing or reviewing the intelligence information on the other side of the ‘wall.’ It was ultimately decided to arrest Mohamed that night in his hotel room [and he was arrested]. [The prosecution] team got lucky but we never should have had to rely on luck. The prosecution team later obtained access to the intelligence information, including documents obtained from an earlier search of Mohamed’s home by the intelligence team on the other side of ‘the wall.’ Those documents included direct written communications with al-Qaeda members and a library of al-Qaeda training materials that would have made the decision far less difficult. (We could only obtain that access after the arrest with the specific permission of the Attorney General of the United States, based upon the fact that we had obligations to provide the defendant with discovery materials and because the intelligence investigation of Mohamed had effectively ended.)… Mohamed [later] stated that had he not been arrested on that day in September 1998, he had intended to travel to Afghanistan to rejoin Osama bin Laden. Thus, while the right decision to arrest was made partly in the dark, the ‘wall’ could easily have caused a different decision that September evening that would have allowed a key player in the al-Qaeda network to escape justice for the embassy bombing in Kenya and rejoin Osama bin Laden in a cave in Afghanistan, instead of going to federal prison.” [US Congress, 10/21/2003] Mohamed’s associate Khaled Abu el-Dahab, now living in Egypt, wil hear of Mohamed’s arrest and attempt to leave the country, but will be arrested in October 1998. He will be put on trial there and sentenced to 15 years in prison (see 1999). [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/21/2001]

Entity Tags: Ali Mohamed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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