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Context of 'November 18, 1997: Tourists Massacred in Egypt; Al-Qaeda Leaders Said to Be Involved'

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Zahid Shaikh Mohammed, the brother of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), works as the head of the Pakistani branch of the charity Mercy International. A book published in 1999 will allege that this charity, based in the US and Switzerland, was used by the CIA to funnel money to Muslim militants fighting against US enemies in places such as Bosnia and Afghanistan (see 1989 and After). It is not known when Zahid got involved with the charity, but he is heading its Pakistani branch by 1988, when his nephew Ramzi Yousef first goes to Afghanistan (see Late 1980s). [Reeve, 1999, pp. 120] In the spring of 1993, US investigators raid Zahid’s house while searching for Yousef (see Spring 1993). Documents and pictures are found suggesting close links and even a friendship between Zahid and Osama bin Laden. Photos and other evidence also show close links between Zahid, KSM, and government officials close to Nawaf Sharif, who is prime minister of Pakistan twice in the 1990s. The investigators also discover that Zahid was seen talking to Pakistani President Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari during a Mercy International ceremony in February 1993. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 48-49, 120] But despite the raid, Zahid apparently keeps his job until about February 1995, when Yousef is arrested in Pakistan (see February 7, 1995). Investigators learn Yousef had made a phone call to the Mercy office, and there is an entry in Yousef’s seized telephone directory for a Zahid Shaikh Mohammed. Pakistani investigators raid the Mercy office, but Zahid has already fled. [United Press International, 4/11/1995; Guardian, 9/26/2001; McDermott, 2005, pp. 154, 162] It is unclear what subsequently happens to Zahid. In 1999 it will be reported that he is believed to be in Kuwait, but in 2002 the Kuwaiti government will announce he is a member of al-Qaeda, so presumably he is no longer welcome there. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 48; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Mercy International’s Kenya branch will later be implicated in the 1998 US embassy bombing in that country, as will KSM, Zahid’s brother (see Late August 1998).

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Zahid Shaikh Mohammed, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mercy International

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Leading London-based imam Abu Qatada denounces the Algerian GIA (Groupe Islamique Armé) over massacres of civilians the group has apparently conducted in Algeria, and severs ties with it. Fellow imam Abu Hamza al-Masri follows suit the next year. Abu Qatada says that support should no longer be provided to the GIA because they are declaring other Muslims infidels and killing them, although they are not learned men and do not have the authority to do this. This is highly controversial in the radical Islamic community in London, as some believe it is the government, not the GIA, that is carrying out the massacres, and Abu Qatada’s popularity declines. Abu Hamza initially defends the GIA, but, as the massacres get worse, support for the GIA in London ebbs. Eventually, Abu Hamza calls a GIA commander and asks for an explanation for a massacre. The commander says that the villagers were killed because they supported the moderate Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and Abu Hamza withdraws his support from the GIA a few weeks later. Omar Nasiri, who informs on Abu Hamza for French and British intelligence and listens in on the call to the commander, will later comment: “More than anything else, this episode proved to me that Abu Hamza was a sham. His objectives shifted with the wind. He needed the GIA to seduce followers away from Abu Qatada. Now, he saw that he might lose more than he gained by continuing to support it. For Abu Hamza, it was all about the zakat, the money he collected every week after the al-Jum’a prayers. The more people attended, the more cash there would be.” [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 271-2, 275, 295-6] Bin Laden denounces the GIA around the same time (see Mid-1996).

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), Groupe Islamique Armé, Omar Nasiri, Abu Qatada, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US intelligence begins monitoring telephones connected to the Kenyan branch of the charity Mercy International. By mid-1996, US intelligence began wiretapping telephones belonging to Wadih El-Hage, an al-Qaeda operative living in Nairobi, Kenya, and the NSA is also monitoring bin Laden’s satellite phone. By the end of 1996, the number of monitored phones in Kenya increases to five, and two of those are to Mercy International’s offices. What led investigators to this charity is unknown, and details of the calls have never been revealed. [New York Times, 1/13/2001] The Mercy International office will be raided shortly after the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), and incriminating files belonging to El-Hage will be found there (see October 1997). It will be discovered that the office worked closely with al-Qaeda. For instance, it issued identity cards for al-Qaeda leaders Ali Mohamed, Mohammed Atef, and even bin Laden himself. [Bergen, 2001, pp. 140; Financial Times, 11/28/2001] An al-Qaeda defector, L’Houssaine Kherchtou, will testify in a 2001 trial that al-Qaeda was heavily interacting with Mercy International’s Kenya branch, and a number of employees there, including the manager and accountant, were actually al-Qaeda operatives. [United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 8, 2/21/2001] A receipt dated just two weeks before the embassy bombings made a reference to “getting the weapons from Somalia.” [New York Times, 1/22/2000] Most crucially, there were a number of calls between Mercy director Ahmad Sheik Adam and bin Laden. [East African, 2/16/2000] And Adam’s mobile phone was used 12 times by El-Hage to speak to bin Laden or his associates. Presumably, such calls would have drawn obvious attention to the Kenya al-Qaeda cell and their embassy attack plans, yet none of the cell members were arrested until after the attack. The Kenya branch of Mercy International will be shut down by the end of 1998, but in 2001 it will be reported that Adam continues to live in Kenya and has not been arrested. [Agence France-Presse, 12/17/1998; BBC, 1/3/2001]

Entity Tags: US intelligence, Wadih El-Hage, Osama bin Laden, Ahmad Sheik Adam, Mercy International, National Security Agency, L’Houssaine Kherchtou

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Hamza.Abu Hamza. [Source: Ian Waldie / Reuters / Corbis]London-based imam Abu Hamza al-Masri starts working with two branches of the British security services, the police’s Special Branch and MI5, the domestic counterintelligence service. The relationships continue for several years and there are at least seven meetings between Abu Hamza and MI5 between 1997 and 2000 (see October 1, 1997, November 20, 1997, and September 1998). Based on records of the meetings, authors Daniel O’Neill and Sean McGrory will describe the relationship as “respectful, polite, and often cooperative.”
Rhetoric - One theme in the meetings, which take place at Abu Hamza’s home and a mosque he runs in Finsbury Park, is that the security services tell Abu Hamza that they do not want any trouble and ask him to tone down some of his more inflammatory comments. Abu Hamza listens politely, but always replies he is committed to jihad. However, over this period Abu Hamza’s rhetoric changes subtly, and he begins attacking “Zionists,” rather than simply “Jews.” Abu Hamza will later say that he asks security officers if his sermons are inappropriate, and they reply, “No, freedom of speech, you don’t have to worry unless we see blood on the streets.”
Information - Abu Hamza provides the security services with information about the ideology of various extremist factions, as well as “tidbits” of information about others, although in one case he provides specific intelligence that leads to the detention of two terrorist suspects. He also likes to “tell tales” about one of his rival preachers, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, and his Al-Muhajiroun organization.
Favors - Sometimes Abu Hamza asks for favors from his handlers. For example, on one occasion he requests the release of some associates after promising that they are not a threat in Britain.
Beyond the Reach of British Law - Abu Hamza will tell his aides that he is “beyond the reach of British law,” and will neglect to pay the mosque’s electricity and water bills. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later comment: “Increasingly, Abu Hamza acted as if Finsbury Park had divorced itself from Britain and was operating as an independent Muslim state. He contacted extremist groups, offering his services as an ambassador for them in [Britain] and presenting the mosque as a place of guaranteed asylum.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 96-97, 143-5]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), Sean O’Neill, Daniel McGrory, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Metropolitan Police Special Branch, Special Branch (Britain)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The British domestic counterintelligence service MI5 meets with Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading British imam and informer (see Early 1997). After the exchange of “pleasantries,” Abu Hamza and his handler discuss his recent breach with the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), an Algerian militant group, which has been indiscriminately killing civilians (see Mid 1996-October 1997). The handler notes that “[Abu] Hamza is bowed but not broken,” and adds, “For him the jihad goes on, if not in Algeria then somewhere else.” Abu Hamza tells the MI5 officer that Britain “is seen as a place to fundraise and to propagate Islam.” Authors Daniel O’Neill and Sean McGrory will later comment, “The admission that Abu Hamza and his followers were using [Britain] to raise funds to finance terrorism overseas did not seem to cause a blip on the MI5 agent’s radar.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 145]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), Sean O’Niell, Daniel McGrory, Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Tourists in Luxor, Egypt, cower as militants begin firing on them.Tourists in Luxor, Egypt, cower as militants begin firing on them. [Source: BBC]Fifty-eight foreign tourists are killed in Luxor, Egypt. Six radical militants attack an ancient Egyptian temple with machine guns before finally being killed by Egyptian police. The attack is the peak of a campaign to destroy the Egyptian tourism industry that had begun five years before. Thirty-four foreigners and 1,200 Egyptians were killed in the previous attacks. Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Group) takes credit for the attack. This group was founded in the late 1970s by Sheik Omar Abdul-Rahman. The militants are ultimately hoping to destabilize the Egyptian economy and overthrow the government. However, the attacks backfire, alienating many Egyptians. This will be the last serious militant attack in Egypt before 9/11. [New York Times, 11/18/1997; New York Times, 11/18/1997; Los Angeles Times, 10/26/2001] The Egyptian militant group Islamic Jihad is also thought to be involved. In 1999, Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda’s second in command, will be convicted in absentia for his role in this attack and other attacks. [BBC, 9/27/2004] Also in 1999, the Egyptian government will claim it has determined that bin Laden helped finance the attack. [BBC, 5/13/1999]

Entity Tags: Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Islamic Jihad

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The British domestic counterintelligence service MI5 meets with Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading British imam and informer (see Early 1997). In view of Egyptian-born Abu Hamza’s recent condemnation of the Algerian Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) over massacres of civilians (see Mid 1996-October 1997 and October 1, 1997), MI5 asks Abu Hamza to condemn a massacre of sixty people in Luxor, Egypt (see November 18, 1997), as it thinks this might calm tensions in Britain and elsewhere. However, he declines to do so, telling MI5 that Egypt is controlled by a “corrupt, Satanic tyranny,” and adds that British tourists should not travel to Egypt. In fact, in public sermons at this time he actually condones the attacks, saying that the tourism industry in Egypt is impure and should be Islamicized. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 145-6]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Diana Dean.Diana Dean. [Source: Seattle Times]Al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam is arrested in Port Angeles, Washington, attempting to enter the US with components of explosive devices. One hundred and thirty pounds of bomb-making chemicals and detonator components are found inside his rental car. He subsequently admits he planned to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on December 31, 1999. [New York Times, 12/30/2001] Alert border patrol agent Diana Dean stops him; she and other agents nationwide had been warned recently to look for suspicious activity. Ressam’s bombing would have been part of a wave of attacks against US targets over the New Year’s weekend (see December 15-31, 1999). He is later connected to al-Qaeda and convicted. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Diana Dean, Ahmed Ressam, Los Angeles International Airport, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The FBI misses a chance to learn about Zacarias Moussaoui after a raid in Dublin, Ireland. On December 14, 1999, Ahmed Ressam was arrested trying to smuggle explosives into the US (see December 14, 1999). On December 21, Irish police arrest Hamid Aich and several other North African immigrants living in Dublin. [New York Times, 1/22/2000] During the arrests, police seize a large amount of documents relating to citizenship applications, identities, credit cards, and airplane tickets. A diagram of an electrical switch that could be used for a bomb is found that is identical to a diagram found in Ressam’s apartment in Vancouver, Canada. [Irish Times, 7/31/2002] The suspects are released about a day later, but, “Within days, authorities in Ireland and the United States began to realize that they might have missed a chance to learn more about a terrorist network.” [New York Times, 1/22/2000] It is discovered that Aich lived with Ressam in Montreal, and then later lived with him in Vancouver. Investigators conclude there has been an al-Qaeda cell in Dublin since the early 1990s, when the charity Mercy International opened an office there (this charity has several known al-Qaeda connections by this time (see 1988-Spring 1995 and Late 1996-August 20, 1998) and also an alleged CIA connection (see 1989 and After)). The cell is mainly involved in providing travel and identity documents for other cells committing violent acts. Investigators also connect Aich to the Islamic Jihad. But the US and Canada do not seek Aich’s extradition, and instead have the Irish police keep him under surveillance. He will escape from Ireland shortly before 9/11 (see June 3, 2001-July 24, 2001). [New York Times, 1/22/2000; Irish Times, 7/31/2002] Apparently, many of the documents seized in the raid will only be closely examined after 9/11. Documents will show that in 1999 and 2000, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a top al-Qaeda financier, worked with the Dublin cell to finance Moussaoui’s international travel. Aich made travel arrangements and possibly provided fake identification for Moussaoui. [Fox News, 7/30/2002; Irish Times, 7/31/2002] Presumably, had these links been discovered after the 1999 raid instead of after 9/11, events could have gone very differently when Moussaoui was arrested in the US in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001).

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Al-Qaeda, Mercy International, Islamic Jihad, Hamid Aich, Ahmed Ressam, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

NATO troops patrol the village of Bocinja Donja in 2001.NATO troops patrol the village of Bocinja Donja in 2001. [Source: NATO / Paul Hanson]In the wake of the failed al-Qaeda millennium bomb plots, US investigators will discover that a number of suspects in the plots have connections to an obscure village in Bosnia named Bocinja Donja. At the end of the Bosnian war in late 1995, Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic kicked out the Serbians living in this small village 60 miles north of the capital of Sarajevo and gave their houses to about 100 former mujaheddin who fought in Bosnia. Most of them married local women, allowing them to stay despite a treaty requiring all foreign fighters to leave Bosnia. In contrast to the rest of Bosnia, the village is governed by strict Islamic law. Suspects who lived in or visited the village include:
bullet Karim Said Atmani. A former roommate of Ahmed Ressam, he is believed to be the document forger for Ressam’s group that attempted to bomb the Los Angeles airport (see December 14, 1999). He was a frequent visitor to Bosnia until late 1999. [Washington Post, 3/11/2000]
bullet Khalil Deek. Suspected of masterminding the Los Angeles airport plot (see December 15-31, 1999) and a Jordanian millennium plot (see December 11, 1999), Deek was investigated by US intelligence since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s) but inexplicably never even watchlisted until 2004 (see Spring 2004). Deek’s brother says Khalil lived in Bosnia for a while, working for a “Muslim relief organization.” [Washington Post, 3/11/2000; Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] He worked for the IARA, which reportedly funneled weapons and recruits into Bosnia (see Early 1990s).
bullet Hisham Diab. While he has not been explicitly connected to this village, he fought in Bosnia and was Deek’s next door neighbor and close al-Qaeda associate all through the 1990s (see March 1993-1996 and December 14-25, 1999), so presumably they spent time in Bosnia together. [New Yorker, 1/22/2007]
bullet Hamid Aich. He lived in Canada and is connected to Ressam’s group (see December 21, 1999). He also will openly live in Ireland and apparently fund a wide variety of militant groups and plots there before escaping to Afghanistan just before 9/11 (see June 3, 2001-July 24, 2001).
Other mujaheddin connected to this village are wanted by authorities in other countries for other alleged crimes. A senior US official will say, “We have been concerned about this community for years. We flushed out a lot of them [after the end of the war].… [But] we find the whole group of them a threat, and we want them out of there.” [Washington Post, 3/11/2000] Others tied to the millennium plots have ties to Bosnian war generally because Ressam belonged to a group of armed robbers called the “Roubaix gang” that trained in Islamic camps in Bosnia. [Los Angeles Times, 1/13/2000] Izetbegovic will step down as leader of Muslim Bosnia in October 2000. [New York Times, 10/20/2003] In late 2000 and early 2001, the mujaheddin will gradually be moved out of the village and replaced by the original Serbian inhabitants.

Entity Tags: Roubaix gang, Karim Said Atmani, Khalil Deek, Hamid Aich, Alija Izetbegovic, Hisham Diab

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On June 3, 2001, a British newspaper reveals that Hamid Aich, who is on the FBI’s international wanted list, is living in Dublin where he is applying for asylum. [Mirror, 2/18/2001; News of the World, 6/3/2001] Irish intelligence has been monitoring Aich’s movements since 1997, when authorities tied him to the mass murder of 77 tourists in Luxor, Egypt (see November 18, 1997). [Mirror, 10/17/2001; Daily Telegraph, 11/8/2001] He has since been linked to a number of militant groups (see, e.g., December 14, 1999). It is believed that between 1999 and 2001, Aich assisted 22 Islamic terrorist organizations, and even funded non-Islamic groups, for instance giving $200,000 to the ETA, a separatist group in the Basque region of Spain. Aich was also the director of Mercy International’s Ireland branch. (This charity has several known al-Qaeda connections by this time (see 1988-Spring 1995 and Late 1996-August 20, 1998).) Despite these connections, he will continue to live openly in Dublin after the newspaper discloses his location. [Mirror, 9/17/2001] Irish authorities only publicly say, “Aich’s case is at a very delicate stage.” [News of the World, 6/3/2001] Then, on July 24, he leaves Ireland using a false passport. The FBI, which took no action against him while he was living in Dublin, is reportedly “furious” with Irish police for allowing him to escape. He has not been heard of since, and he has not been included in any known lists of wanted al-Qaeda leaders. It is believed that Aich eventually ends up in Afghanistan. After 9/11, Aich will be described as “one of the FBI’s chief targets” and “one of bin Laden’s most trusted men” who ranks seventh in al-Qaeda’s hierarchy. [Mirror, 9/17/2001]

Entity Tags: Hamid Aich, Zacarias Moussaoui, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mercy International, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Ressam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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