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Context of 'October 1998: Associate of Embassy Bombers Meets Prosecutors, Will Agree to Testify in Court'

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Essam al Ridi, a US-based Muslim who supports the mujaheddin in the Soviet-Afghan War, helps the CIA obtain photographs of a downed Russian helicopter, according to a statement al Ridi will later make to the New York Times. Al Ridi is an associate of leading Islamists Abdullah Azzam (see Early 1983-Late 1984 and Early 1989) and Osama bin Laden (see 1984 and Early 1993), and helps them purchase weapons. Al Ridi will help the FBI after the 1998 African embassy bombings (see October 1998). [New York Times, 6/3/2002] The CIA introduced stinger missiles into the war in late September 1986 to great effect against Soviet helicopters (see September 1986). [Coll, 2004, pp. 149-151] Presumably therefore, the CIA is asking al Ridi to get photos of a helicopter downed by a stinger shortly after they were introduced.

Entity Tags: Essam al Ridi, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Essam al Ridi.Essam al Ridi. [Source: CNN]Osama bin Laden buys a US military aircraft in Arizona, paying about $210,000 for a converted Saber-40. The transaction is arranged through Wadih El-Hage, a bin Laden employee in Sudan, and Essam al Ridi, a US-based helper for radical Islamists. Before the purchase is made, the two men discuss the transaction on the phone (see August 1992-1993) and El-Hage sends money to al Ridi, who had learned to fly in the US (see Between August 1992 and 1993). Bin Laden apparently wants to use the plane to transport stinger missiles from Pakistan to Sudan, but it is unclear whether it is ever actually used to do this. After modifying the plane, al Ridi flies it from the US to Khartoum, Sudan, where he meets El-Hage, bin Laden, al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef, and others. They have dinner, where al Ridi also sees “quite a few” AK 47s, and men in Sudanese military uniforms. Al Ridi also visits bin Laden at the offices of one of his companies, Wadi al Aqiq, and bin Laden offers him a job as a pilot, spraying crops and then shipping them to other countries. However, al Ridi, who argued with bin Laden during the Soviet-Afghan war, rejects the offer, saying bin Laden is not offering him enough money. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/16/2001; Washington Post, 5/19/2002] The plane will later be used to transport bin Laden operatives on a trip to Somalia before the “Black Hawk Down” incident (see Before October 1993), but al Ridi will later crash it (see (1994-1995)).

Entity Tags: Wadi al Aqiq, Wadih El-Hage, Essam al Ridi, Osama bin Laden, Mohammed Atef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Al-Qaeda leaders travel from Khartoum, Sudan, to Mogadishu, Somalia, while US forces are present there. These forces will be attacked shortly afterwards in the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident (see October 3-4, 1993). This is only one of several trips to Somalia at this time (see Late 1992-October 1993).
Details of Trip - The names of all five operatives who travel are not known, but one of them is Mohammed Atef (a.k.a. Abu Hafs), who will later become al-Qaeda’s military commander. According to Essam al Ridi, the pilot who flies them on the first leg of the journey to Nairobi, Kenya, they are dressed in Saudi, Western, and Yemeni outfits. The trip from Khartoum to Nairobi is arranged by an associate of Osama bin Laden’s named Wadih El-Hage, and the five men continue from Nairobi to Mogadishu in a different aircraft. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001; United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 5/8/2001] Al Ridi will later say that at some time after the flight he heard the men had gone to Somalia to stir up tribal leaders against American peacekeeping forces. [New York Times, 6/3/2002]
Surveillance - Bin Laden and his associates are under surveillance in Sudan at this time, by the CIA and Egyptian intelligence (see February 1991- July 1992 and Early 1990s), and the plane used to make the trip to Nairobi is well-known at Khartoum airport and is associated with bin Laden (see (1994-1995)), so the CIA and Egyptians may learn of this trip. However, what action they take, if any, is not known. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001; United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 5/8/2001] In addition, Sudanese intelligence will later say that only a handful of al-Qaeda operatives travel to Somalia at this time, although it is not known when and how the Sudanese obtain this information. [Wright, 2006, pp. 188]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Mohammed Atef, Essam al Ridi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bin Laden’s crashed airplane.Bin Laden’s crashed airplane. [Source: Fox News]Essam al Ridi, an associate of Osama bin Laden who previously purchased an aircraft for him (see Early 1993), is asked to sell the aircraft by Wadih El-Hage, another bin Laden associate. Al Ridi, who obtains US citizenship in 1994, agrees to check the plane out and try to sell it in Egypt, where he is living at the moment. Al Ridi goes to examine the plane, which is in Khartoum, Sudan. He travels through Nairobi, Kenya, because he is worried about surveillance by Egyptian intelligence, and meets El-Hage, who is now living in Nairobi. Upon arrival in Khartoum, El-Hage is met by Ihab Ali Nawawi, another bin Laden operative and US-trained pilot. They find that the plane is in poor condition, and try to repair it. However, both sets of brakes fail upon landing after a test flight and the plane crashes into a sandbank near the runway. The accident is noticed by the tower and “everybody else,” and is a major event because, as al Ridi will later say in court: “[T]his aircraft was very unique to Khartoum. There is no such private jet aircraft at Khartoum International Airport.” Al Ridi is extremely concerned because of bin Laden’s notoriety and because “[e]verybody knows that it is Osama bin Laden’s aircraft.” He knows Egyptian intelligence in Khartoum will soon find out about the incident and will then come looking for him, so he is “very concerned to leave,” and he takes the first plane out of the country. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001] The CIA has been monitoring bin Laden in Sudan since he moved there in 1991 (see February 1991- July 1992 and Early 1990s), and it would make sense that the CIA would learn of the accident due to the plane’s known ownership by bin Laden. However, it is unclear if they do so and what action they take based on it, if any. During the Soviet-Afghan War, al Ridi had supplied bin Laden with assassination rifles in Afghanistan, and later said that the CIA was aware of this transaction (see Early 1989).

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Ihab Ali Nawawi, Essam al Ridi

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

Essam al Ridi, an associate of Osama bin Laden and Wadih El-Hage, one of the al-Qaeda operatives responsible for the recent embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), is contacted by US government officials working on the case. They want to interview al Ridi, who had various dealings with bin Laden and El-Hage in the early 1990s (see Early 1993, Before October 1993, and (1994-1995)), to help them build a case. Al Ridi, who is outside the US, is not given any assurances that he will not be arrested on his return, but is told there are no charges against him and no plans to charge him. Al Ridi decides to return and does not even bother to bring a lawyer to his meeting with the government. He will testify about his dealings with bin Laden and El-Hage at the trial of the embassy bombers in 2001. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001] However, al Ridi will later complain about his treatment after the court case. He will be detained, kicked, and held incommunicado during a visit to Egypt in May 2001, and fired by an airline after 9/11 because the FBI again asks for his help. After being fired, he will find it hard to get work. FBI agent Robert Miranda will admit some problems: “I said, ‘Help us, and we’ll help you,’ and it didn’t work out.” [New York Times, 6/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Essam al Ridi, Robert Miranda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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