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Context of 'November 15-20, 2003: Al-Qaeda Hits Jewish and British Targets in Istanbul, Turkey'

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Al-Qaeda operative Luai Sakra apparently begins working as an informant for the CIA, Syrian intelligence, and Turkish intelligence. Sakra, a young Syrian whose parents were Turkish, attended the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan in 1997. He developed a bond with Abu Zubaida, the al-Qaeda leader who was logistics manager for the camp. Zubaida will later be captured and interrogated by the CIA and will reportedly confirm a link with Sakra. Zubaida tasked Sakra with building up an al-Qaeda network in Turkey. In 1999, the Syrian government began hunting him for his role in a revolt in a Lebanon refugee camp. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005] The Turkish newspaper Zaman will report shortly after his capture in 2005, “Sakra has been sought by the secret services since 2000.” The CIA interrogated him twice in 2000. “Following the interrogation, the CIA offered him employment. He also received a large sum of money by the CIA. However the CIA eventually lost contact with him. Following this development, in 2000 the CIA passed intelligence about Sakra through a classified notice to Turkey, calling for the Turkish (intelligence) to capture him. [They] caught Sakra in Turkey and interrogated him.” [Zaman, 8/14/2005] Sakra was then apparently let go again. He will then move Germany and assist some of the 9/11 hijackers (see September 2000-July 24, 2001), then reveal details about the 9/11 attacks to Syrian intelligence the day before 9/11 (see September 10, 2001). He also will later claim to have trained some 9/11 hijackers in Turkey starting in late 1999 (see Late 1999-2000). In 2007, former CIA Director George Tenet will write in his book “At the Center of the Storm” that “a source we were jointly running with a Middle Eastern country went to see his foreign handler and basically told him something big was about to go down.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 160] This is very likely a reference to Sakra, since no one else comes close to matching the description of telling a Middle Eastern government about the 9/11 attacks one day in advance, not to mention working as an informant for the CIA at the same time. Tenet’s revelation strongly supports the notion that Sakra in fact accepted the CIA’s offers in 2000 and had been working with the CIA and other intelligence agencies at least through 9/11.

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Luai Sakra, Abu Zubaida, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Luai Sakra.Luai Sakra. [Source: Associated Press]In his 2007 book At the Center of the Storm, former CIA Director George Tenet will write that on September 10, 2001, “a source we were jointly running with a Middle Eastern country went to see his foreign handler and basically told him that something big was about to go down. The handler dismissed him.” Tenet claims the warning was “frightening but without specificity.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 160] While Tenet will not mention the name of the source, his description perfectly matches a Syrian-born militant named Luai Sakra. Sakra will be arrested in Turkey in 2005 (see July 30, 2005) and reportedly will tell interrogators after his arrest, “I was one of the people who knew the 9/11 perpetrators, and I knew the plans and times beforehand.” He claims to have provided the pilots with passports and money (see September 2000-July 24, 2001). Der Spiegel will report, “Western investigators accept Sakra’s claims, by and large, since they coincide with known facts. On September 10, 2001, he tipped off the Syrian secret service… that terrorist attacks were about to occur in the United States. The evidently well-informed al-Qaeda insider even named buildings as targets, and airplanes as weapons. The Syrians passed on this information to the CIA—but only after the attacks.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005] In 2007, Sakra will also claim to have trained some of the 9/11 hijackers in Turkey starting in late 1999 (see Late 1999-2000). If Tenet is referring to Sakra, then it appears Sakra did develop a relationship with the CIA that continued at least through 9/11 (see 2000).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Luai Sakra, Syria

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Al-Qaeda operative Luai Sakra apparently goes into hiding in the region of Stuttgart, Germany, after 9/11. He reportedly gave details of the 9/11 attacks to the Syrian government shortly before 9/11 (see September 10, 2001). The Syrians then passed this on to the CIA shortly after 9/11. According to Der Spiegel, while Sakra’s name was not made public, “For the Mossad and the CIA he [soon] became one of the most wanted men in the world.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/15/2005] In late 2005, after Sakra’s arrest in Turkey (see July 30, 2005), the German television news show Panorama will report that the German BKA (Federal Office of Criminal Investigation) suspects the German BND (Federal Intelligence Service) to have helped Sakra escape from Germany in late 2001. Supposedly, German police had learned where he was staying in Germany, but the BND enabled him to escape via France to Syria in order to prevent further investigations about him. Panorama will report that Sakra was secretly still working for Syrian intelligence and was giving them information about al-Qaeda’s leadership. Sakra will go on to mastermind a series of suicide bombings in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2003 (see November 15-20, 2003) before being arrested in 2005 (see July 30, 2005). [Agence France-Presse, 10/27/2005] The Bundestag [lower chamber of the German parliament] Parliamentary Control Body will meet in November 2005 to discuss the allegations, but the session is held in secret and what is said exactly will not be not publicly revealed. [BBC, 11/9/2005] The Bundestag will later issue a short statement clearing the BND of any wrongdoing in the case. [Deutscher Bundestag, 11/30/2005] But in 2007, a book by former CIA Director George Tenet will indicate that not only did Sakra have some foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks, but he was an informant for the CIA and Syrian intelligence before 9/11 as well (see September 10, 2001). Other evidence suggests Sakra was also an informant for Turkish intelligence before 9/11 (see Early August 2001). If he was an informant for any of these countries, it would explain why the BND might have wanted to protect him from arrest and investigation.

Entity Tags: Luai Sakra, George J. Tenet, Bundestag, Bundeskriminalamt Germany, Central Intelligence Agency, Bundesnachrichtendienst

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The bombed Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul, Turkey.The bombed Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul, Turkey. [Source: Murad Sezer / Associated Press]On November 15, 2003, two Jewish synagogues are struck by suicide truck bombs in Istanbul, Turkey. Five days later, the British HSBC Bank and British Consulate in Istanbul are hit by more truck bombs. Fifty-eight people are killed in the attacks, including the British consul general, and over 750 are wounded. Turkish investigators believe the attacks were orchestrated by local al-Qaeda operatives after getting approval from Osama bin Laden. [BBC, 11/20/2003; BBC, 2/16/2007] In 2007, seven people will be sentenced to life in a Turkish prison for their role in the attacks. One of them is Luai Sakra, who confessed to being one of the two masterminds of the attacks (see March 21, 2006-February 16, 2007). Forty-one people receive shorter sentences, and 26 people are acquitted. [BBC, 2/16/2007] Evidence will later emerge suggesting that Sakra was an informant for the CIA, Turkey, and Syria at least in 2000 and 2001 (see 2000 and September 10, 2001).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Luai Sakra

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Luai Sakra shouting to passers-by while imprisoned in Turkey.Luai Sakra shouting to passers-by while imprisoned in Turkey. [Source: Reuters]Al-Qaeda operative Luai Sakra, recently arrested in Turkey (see July 30, 2005), is interrogated for four days by police in Istanbul. He apparently freely confesses to involvement in a number of attacks and even shouts out confessions to reporters and passers-by from the window of his prison cell. [BBC, 8/13/2005]
bullet He says, “I was one of the people who knew the perpetrators of September 11, and knew the time and plan before the attacks. I also participated in the preparations for the attacks to WTC and Pentagon. I provided money and passports.” He claims to know 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta. Sakra lived in Germany for about a year before the 9/11 attacks (see September 2000-July 24, 2001). [Zaman, 8/14/2005; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005] He also makes the claim that he helped some of the 9/11 hijackers near Bursa, Turkey, and will provide further details on this in 2007 (see Late 1999-2000). [Washington Post, 2/20/2006]
bullet Sakra claims to have co-masterminded a series of suicide bombings in Istanbul in 2003 that killed 58 people (see November 15-20, 2003). “I gave the orders, but as far as the targets, Habib Aktas made the decisions.” [Journal of Turkish Weekly, 8/13/2005]
bullet He claims to have fought for militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. In 1999, Sakra worked with al-Zarqawi to start a new Afghan training camp for Syrians and Jordanians and the two of them became friends. Sakra boasts of participating in the execution of a kidnapped Turkish truck driver in August 2004. The driver was abducted from the laundry facility on a US base in Iraq and at one point Sakra worked in the laundry service there. [Journal of Turkish Weekly, 8/13/2005; BBC, 8/13/2005; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005] A US official says “We are taking very seriously reports that he was in Fallujah, and is linked with al-Zarqawi.” [United Press International, 8/17/2005] A captured aide to al-Zarqawi later confirms that Sakra was a key aide to al-Zarqawi in Fallujah beginning in March 2004 and that Sakra “provided coordinates for mortar attacks on US bases in Mosul, Samarra, Baghdad, and Anbar province.” [Washington Post, 2/20/2006]
bullet Sakra’s lawyer also claims Sakra was a member of a gang that held Kenneth Bigley, a British contractor in Iraq, for three weeks and then murdered him in October 2004. [Guardian, 4/20/2006]
bullet He claims to have had foreknowledge of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005). He says he sent details about the attacks and who exactly took part in it to bin Laden via messenger some weeks afterwards. He also claims that he frequently communicated with bin Laden in person and by messenger. [Zaman, 8/15/2005]
bullet He claims to have sent many operatives to the US, Britain, Egypt, Syria, and Algeria to take part in various operations. [Zaman, 8/15/2005]
bullet He claims that the CIA, Syrian intelligence, and Turkish intelligence all wanted to employ him as an informant. The Turkish newspaper Zaman will conclude that Sakra likely did work for all three governments. “Sakra eventually became a triple agent for the secret services. Turkish security officials, interrogating a senior al-Qaeda figure for the first time, were thoroughly confused about what they discovered about al-Qaeda.” [Zaman, 8/14/2005] A Turkish security official will comment, “If during his trial, Sakra tells half of the information we heard from him, al-Qaeda’s real face will emerge. But what he has said so far has more to do about a formation permeated by secret services rather than the terror organization of al-Qaeda.” [Zaman, 8/15/2005]
bullet When offered a chance to pray, he surprisingly replies, “I don’t pray and I like alcohol. Especially whiskey and wine.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005]
Der Spiegel reports, “Western investigators accept Sakra’s claims, by and large, since they coincide with known facts.” After talking to Sakra, Turkish officials suggest he may be one of the top five most important members of al-Qaeda. One security official says, “He had an intellect of a genius.” However, he also was found with medicine to treat manic-depression and exhibits manic-depressive behavior. [Zaman, 8/14/2005; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005] Sakra will later be sentenced to life in prison (see March 21, 2006-February 16, 2007) for his self-confessed role in the 2003 Istanbul bombings (see November 15-20, 2003).

Entity Tags: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Habib Aktas, Mohamed Atta, Luai Sakra

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

There is a tumultuous trial of al-Qaeda operative Luai Sakra before he is finally convicted in early 2007. Sakra, considered a high-ranking leader, is on trial for co-masterminding a series of bombings in Istanbul, Turkey in 2003 (see November 15-20, 2003). There is also considerable evidence that he was an informant for the CIA, Turkey, and Syria (see 2000 and September 10, 2001). Having already confessed to assisting a number of attacks, including the 9/11 plot (see Early August 2005), Sakra makes additional claims during the trial. He says through his lawyer that shortly after being arrested in Turkey in 2005, he was visited in his Turkish prison cell by a group of English speaking foreigners. He claims that he was offered his freedom if he would falsely agree to testify that the Syrian government was involved in the assassination of Lebanese politician Rafiq Al-Hariri in 2005. He claims these people were aware that he had secretly met with the head of Syrian intelligence in the past, and that he turned down their offer. [BBC, 11/10/2005] At the start of the trial, Sakra appears quite different than he had when he was seen in public after being arrested seven months before, heavier and with a full beard. He claims to be a completely different person. The Washington Post will comment, “More than 20 journalists failed to recognize Sakra as he entered the court building,” and even his own lawyer claims to doubt Sakra’s identity. [Washington Post, 3/21/2006; BBC, 3/21/2006] Sakra’s trial leaves many questions about him unanswered. The London Times will later say that his “often outrageous behavior, conflicting statements of identity, and the suspicion that he has undergone extensive plastic surgery, have helped to build up a wall of mystery around him.” [London Times, 2/17/2007] Sakra’s lawyer will claim that if Sakra revealed all that he knew, “a few states would collapse.” [Washington Post, 3/21/2006] At the conclusion of the trial, Sakra and six others receive life in prison for their role in the 2003 Istanbul bombings. Forty-one people receive shorter sentences, and 26 people are acquitted. [BBC, 2/16/2007]

Entity Tags: Luai Sakra, Rafiq Al-Hariri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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