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Context of 'Late October-Early November 2001: Al-Qaeda Fighters and Bin Laden Said to Move into Jalalabad without Hindrance'

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Bin Laden, dressed in combat fatigues, in Afghanistan during the 1980’s. (Note the image has been digitally altered to brighten the shadow on his face.)Bin Laden, dressed in combat fatigues, in Afghanistan during the 1980’s. (Note the image has been digitally altered to brighten the shadow on his face.) [Source: CNN]Osama bin Laden begins providing financial, organizational, and engineering aid for the mujaheddin in Afghanistan, with the advice and support of the Saudi royal family. [New Yorker, 11/5/2001] Some, including Richard Clarke, counterterrorism “tsar” during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, believe he was handpicked for the job by Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi intelligence (see Early 1980 and After). [New Yorker, 11/5/2001; Sunday Times (London), 8/25/2002] The Pakistani ISI want a Saudi prince as a public demonstration of the commitment of the Saudi royal family and as a way to ensure royal funds for the anti-Soviet forces. The agency fails to get royalty, but bin Laden, with his family’s influential ties, is good enough for the ISI. [Miami Herald, 9/24/2001] (Clarke will argue later that the Saudis and other Muslim governments used the Afghan war in an attempt to get rid of their own misfits and troublemakers.) This multinational force later coalesces into al-Qaeda. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 52]

Entity Tags: Turki al-Faisal, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Richard A. Clarke, Saudi General Intelligence Presidency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Sheikh Abdullah Azzam and his son-in-law Abdullah Anas in Afghanistan during the 1980s.Sheikh Abdullah Azzam and his son-in-law Abdullah Anas in Afghanistan during the 1980s. [Source: History Channel]Osama bin Laden, Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden’s mentor, and Abdullah Anas, Azzam’s son-in-law, create an organization called Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK), known in English as the Services Office. It is also known as Al-Kifah. This organization will become a key node in the private funding network for the Afghan war. [Bergen, 2006, pp. 28-30] The US government will later call it the “precursor organization to al-Qaeda.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 89 pdf file] Initially, Azzam runs it while bin Laden funds it. They create a guesthouse in Peshawar, Pakistan, to help foreign volunteers connect with rebel forces in Afghanistan. Prior to this time, the number of such volunteers is very small, perhaps only several dozen. But the number begins to dramatically expand. [New York Times, 1/14/2001; Bergen, 2006, pp. 28-30] Donors will include the Saudi intelligence agency, the Saudi Red Crescent, the Muslim World League, and private donors, including Saudi princes. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/23/2001] MAK/Al-Kifah begins fundraising in the US one year later (see 1985-1989).

Entity Tags: Maktab al-Khidamat, Abdullah Anas, Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Bin Laden’s house in Khartoum, Sudan.Bin Laden’s house in Khartoum, Sudan. [Source: PBS]It has not been revealed when US intelligence begins monitoring bin Laden exactly, though the CIA was tailing him in Sudan by the end of 1991 (see February 1991- July 1992). But in late 1995 the FBI is given forty thick files on bin Laden from the CIA and NSA, mostly communications intercepts (see October 1995). The sheer amount of material suggests the surveillance had been going on for several years. Dan Coleman, an FBI agent working with the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will begin examining these files and finds that many of them are transcripts from wiretapped phones tied to bin Laden’s businesses in Khartoum, Sudan, where bin Laden lives from 1991 to 1996. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 148-149; Wright, 2006, pp. 242-244] CIA Director George Tenet will later comment, “The then-obscure name ‘Osama bin Laden’ kept cropping up in the intelligence traffic.… [The CIA] spotted bin Laden’s tracts in the early 1990s in connection with funding other terrorist movements. They didn’t know exactly what this Saudi exile living in Sudan was up to, but they knew it was not good.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 100] The London Times will later report that in Sudan, “bin Laden used an $80,000 satellite phone and al-Qaeda members used radios to avoid being bugged…” [London Times, 10/7/2001] Bin Laden is mistaken in his belief that satellite phones cannot be monitored; a satellite phone he buys in 1996 will be monitored as well (see November 1996-Late August 1998).

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Osama bin Laden, Dan Coleman, Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Around the time of an al-Qaeda attack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (see November 13, 1995), four Yemeni mercenaries attempt to assassinate Osama bin Laden. The mercenaries jump off a pickup truck in front of bin Laden’s house in Khartoum, Sudan, and engage in a firefight with security guards. Three of the assassins and two of the guards are killed, but bin Laden emerges unscathed. The assassins were apparently employed by Saudi intelligence. There was an assassination attempt on bin Laden in 1994 as well (see February 4-5, 1994 and Shortly Afterwards). Double agent Ali Mohamed trained bin Laden’s bodyguards after that attempt. Now, working with Sudan’s intelligence agency, Mohamed increases bin Laden’s security. It is unknown if the attempt takes place before or after the Riyadh bombing. [MSNBC, 6/22/2005]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Saudi General Intelligence Presidency, Ali Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA’s bin Laden unit Alec Station sends a memo to CIA Director George Tenet warning him that the Saudi intelligence service should be considered a “hostile service” with regard to al-Qaeda. This means that, at the very least, they could not be trusted. In subsequent years leading up to 9/11, US intelligence will gather intelligence confirming this assessment and even suggesting direct ties between some in Saudi intelligence and al-Qaeda. For instance, according to a top Jordanian official, at some point before 9/11 the Saudis ask Jordan intelligence to conduct a review of the Saudi intelligence agency and then provide it with a set of recommendations for improvement. Jordanians are shocked to find Osama bin Laden screen savers on some of the office computers. Additionally, the CIA will note that in some instances after sharing communications intercepts of al-Qaeda operatives with the Saudis, the suspects would sometimes change communication methods, suggesting the possibility that they had been tipped off by Saudi intelligence. [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184]

Entity Tags: Saudi General Intelligence Presidency, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Alec Station, George J. Tenet, Jordan General Intelligence Department

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The French intelligence agency, the DGSE, publishes a 13-page classified report entitled “The Networks of Osama bin Laden.” According to a 2007 article, the report describes the “context, the anecdotal details, and all the strategic aspects relative to al-Qaeda” in “black and white” terms. It mentions a payment of $4.5 million from the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) to in Laden. The US will not go after the IIRO even years after 9/11 because of the organization’s close ties to the Saudi government (see October 12, 2001 and August 3, 2006). The report also doubts Osama bin Laden’s purported estrangement from the bin Laden family: “It seems more and more likely that bin Laden has maintained contacts with certain members of his family, although the family, which directs one of the largest groups of public works in the world, has officially renounced him. One of his brothers apparently plays a role as intermediary in its professional contacts or the monitoring of its business.” French officials will later claim they regularly passed on their intelligence on al-Qaeda to the CIA. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Osama bin Laden, International Islamic Relief Organization

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Midhat Mursi.Midhat Mursi. [Source: Washington Post]Agents of the DGSE, the French intelligence agency, examine an aerial photo and spot al-Qaeda leader Midhat Mursi (a.k.a. Abu Khabab al-Masri) standing close to Osama bin Laden. Mursi is considered al-Qaeda’s chief bomb maker and chemical weapons expert (he will apparently be killed in 2006 (see January 13, 2006). French intelligence reports from before 9/11 show that Mursi is being closely watched by intelligence agencies, with the French exchanging information about him with the Mossad, CIA, and Egyptian intelligence. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007] The quality of the aerial photo must have been extremely high in order for Mursi and bin Laden to be recognized, but it has not been explained how such a photo was obtained or what other photos of bin Laden or other al-Qaeda leaders may have been taken before 9/11. Less than two weeks later, the US begins flying Predator drones over Afghanistan to track bin Laden (see September 7-October 2000).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Midhat Mursi, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A former CIA counterterrorism expert later claims that an allied intelligence agency sees “two of Osama’s sisters apparently taking cash to an airport in Abu Dhabi [United Arab Emirates], where they are suspected of handing it to a member of bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization.” This is cited as one of many incidents showing an “interconnectedness” between bin Laden and the rest of his family. [New Yorker, 11/5/2001]

Entity Tags: Bin Laden Family, Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In late October, US intelligence reports begin noting that al-Qaeda fighters and leaders are moving into and around the Afghan city of Jalalabad. By early November, Osama bin Laden is said to be there. [Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later recall: “We knew from day one the likely places that bin Laden would flee to. There had been lots of work done before 9/11 on where did he hang out, statistical analysis even. We knew Tora Bora was the place where he would be likely to go. People in CIA knew that; people in the counterterrorism community knew about it. We knew that what you should have done was to insert special forces—Rangers, that sort of thing—up into that area as soon as possible.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] Knight Ridder Newspapers will later report: “American intelligence analysts concluded that bin Laden and his retreating fighters were preparing to flee across the border. However, the US Central Command, which was running the war, made no move to block their escape. ‘It was obvious from at least early November that this area was to be the base for an exodus into Pakistan,’ said one intelligence official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity. ‘All of this was known, and frankly we were amazed that nothing was done to prepare for it.’” [Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] The vast majority of al-Qaeda’s leaders and fighters will eventually escape into Pakistan. In 2006, Newsweek reporter and columnist Michael Hirsh will write that Bush’s decision to ignore accurate intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Tora Bora in favor of realigning the US’s war effort to focus on the “gathering threat” of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was a strategic blunder that ranks alongside Adolf Hitler’s decision to invade the USSR in 1941. [Rich, 2006, pp. 208]

Entity Tags: Michael Hirsh, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

The CIA’s inspector general, which is reviewing some aspects of the CIA’s performance with respect to 9/11, examines the agency’s analysis of Osama bin Laden-related matters before the attacks and finds it was wanting. The executive summary of the inspector general’s report will state that the US intelligence community’s understanding of al-Qaeda “was hampered by insufficient analytic focus, particularly regarding strategic analysis.” The inspector general also asks three former senior analysts to review what was produced about bin Laden. They find that there were some shortcomings, and that some important elements, such as discussions of the implications of information, were ignored. In addition they find there was:
bullet No comprehensive strategic assessment of al-Qaeda by any unit at the CIA;
bullet No comprehensive report focused on bin Laden after 1993;
bullet No examination of the possible use of planes as weapons;
bullet Limited analytic focus on the US as a target;
bullet No comprehensive analysis putting the increased threat reporting in the summer of 2001 into context;
bullet Not much strategic analysis in the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, where the analytical unit focused on current and tactical issues.
In addition, the National Intelligence Council produced its last terrorist threat assessment before 9/11 in 1995, although it was updated in 1997. Work on a new assessment began in early 2001, but was not completed by 9/11. [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xvii-xviii pdf file]

Entity Tags: Counterterrorist Center, Office of the Inspector General (CIA), Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest kills five CIA officers, two private US military contractors, a Jordanian, and an Afghan at a remote base in Afghanistan. Six others are wounded. The chief of the base is one of those killed. The attack at the CIA base known as Forward Operating Base Chapman is in Khost Province, only 10 miles from the Pakistan border. It is one of two bases in Afghanistan directly run by the CIA; both are used in the effort to hit al-Qaeda targets with Predator drones in Pakistan.
Triple Agent Suicide Bomber - The suicide bomber, Humam Khalil al-Balawi, is a Jordanian doctor. He also turns out to be a triple agent. Originally a supporter of al-Qaeda and other Islamist militant groups, he was recruited to be an informant for Jordanian intelligence. (The Jordanian killed in the suicide attack, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, was his handler.) Then the Jordanians passed him on to the CIA and he was an informant for them too. For months, he fed both intelligence agencies information that was used by US forces in Predator drone strikes. However, none of the targets were important, and this apparently was just a ploy to gain the CIA’s trust. He also was able to provide details on al-Qaeda sites in Pakistan in a way that proved he had been there. He even turned over photographs that gave “irrefutable proof” he had been in the presence of al-Qaeda’s top leadership.
Promising Meeting - Having gained the CIA’s trust, al-Balawi was able to enter the base through three checkpoints without being closely checked, although even visiting dignitaries must be checked. He promised important information about the whereabouts of al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. This was considered the best lead on al-Zawahiri in years, and the White House had been told to expect important information from al-Balawi’s debriefing. Typically, only one or two intelligence officials are present in informant debriefings, but his information is considered so important that eight people are near him when his bomb goes off. [London Times, 1/6/2010; Washington Post, 1/10/2010]
Base Commander Is 'World Class' Al-Qaeda Expert - Previously, al-Balawi had only met with Jordanian intelligence, but he was considered such a promising source that the CIA wanted to talk to him in person. The locale was chosen in part because the base commander, Jennifer Lynne Matthews, was considered a “world-class expert on al-Qaeda and counterterrorism operations,” who spent nearly 20 years in the CIA. She had been part of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, back in the 1990s. After 9/11, she was “integrally involved in all of the CIA’s rendition operations,” according to an intelligence source. For instance, she managed the operation that located and captured Abu Zubaida in 2002. From 2005 to 2009, she was the chief of the counterterrorism branch in London, and had a key role in breaking up a 2006 al-Qaeda plot to blow up airplanes. Then she volunteered to work in Afghanistan. [Washington Post, 1/10/2010; Washingtonian, 1/2011]
Seven Americans Killed - The CIA officers killed are Matthews, Darren LaBonte, Elizabeth Hanson, Harold Brown Jr., and Scott Michael Roberson. Blackwater private military contractors Jeremy Wise and Dane Clark Paresi are also killed in the attack. [Washington Post, 6/8/2010]
Lax Security Leads to Deaths - Al-Balawi is still outside when he is greeted by several CIA officials. Just as he is about to be carefully searched, he sets his bomb off. The blast is so powerful that it kills people standing some distance away. The CIA will later conduct an internal investigation and conclude that there were crucial security mistakes in letting him get so far into the base without being searched. [Washington Post, 1/10/2010; Washingtonian, 1/2011]
Militant Groups Claim Credit - Several days after the bombing, a video will emerge of al-Balawi sitting next to militant leader Hakimullah Mahsud. In it al-Balawi says that he will martyr himself in revenge for the 2009 killing of militant leader Baitullah Mashud. Baitullah led the Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban), and was replaced by Hakimullah after his death. The video makes obvious that the Tehrik-i-Taliban had a major role in the attack, but other Islamist militant groups take credit as well. Al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid also will take credit for the attack on behalf of al-Qaeda. He will say it is in revenge for Baitullah’s death, plus the death of two other militant leaders killed in Predator drone attacks. Since, as previously mentioned, al-Balawi apparently had photos and other evidence showing his al-Qaeda connections, it seems al-Qaeda has a role as well. Additionally, the CIA base is just across the border from North Waziristan, the center of power for the Haqqani network, which is a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. US officials believe that nothing happens in the region without the knowledge of the Haqqanis, and that network is probably involved as well. In the days after the suicide attack, the US will respond with an unusual number of drone attacks, most of them targeting Haqqani sites. US analysts fear the attack shows that the Tehrik-i-Taliban, Haqqani network, and al-Qaeda are effectively working together. [ABC News, 1/7/2010; New York Times, 1/9/2010] A later report will suggest that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, could have supplied the explosives used in the bombing (see January 6, 2010).

Entity Tags: Jennifer Lynne Matthews, Jeremy Wise, Taliban, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, Scott Michael Roberson, Tehrik-i-Taliban, Harold Brown Jr., Haqqani Network, Humam Khalil al-Balawi, Elizabeth Hanson, Al-Qaeda, Baitullah Mahsud, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Dane Clark Paresi, Central Intelligence Agency, Hakimullah Mahsud, Darren LaBonte

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

An unnamed senior NATO official says that Osama bin Laden is hiding in a house somewhere in northwest Pakistan. Al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is also hiding in a house somewhere nearby, but not in the same place as bin Laden. The official says, “Nobody in al-Qaeda is living in a cave.” This person adds that al-Qaeda’s top leadership is likely living in relative comfort, protected by locals and some members of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Additionally, top Taliban leader Mullah Omar lives in the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Karachi. It is unknown how the NATO official would know all this, but CNN says the person has access to classified information. [CNN, 10/18/2010] When a US raid kills bin Laden in May 2011, he will be found in a house in northwest Pakistan (see May 2, 2011), and there will be accusations that the ISI must have protected him there (see May 2, 2011 and After).

Entity Tags: Mullah Omar, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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