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Context of 'November 19, 2008: Al-Qaeda Leader Al-Zawahiri Criticizes President Obama, Calls Him ‘House Negro’'

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Khaled Abu el-Dahab.Khaled Abu el-Dahab. [Source: Egyptian government]In the mid-1980’s, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, an Egyptian medical student, joins the militant group Islamic Jihad, and also meets Ali Mohamed. Mohamed convinces el-Dahab to move to the US and become a sleeper cell agent. El-Dahab does so in 1987, moving to Santa Clara, California, where Mohamed has a residence. El-Dahab marries an American woman, becomes a US citizen, and gets a job at a computer company. In 1987, a female acquaintance of el-Dahab enters his apartment unannounced and finds several men there cleaning rifles. She decides it is something she does not want to know about, and breaks off contact with him. In 1990, Mohamed and el-Dahab travel together to Afghanistan. They are financially supported by a network of US sympathizers, including two Egyptian-American doctors. Beginning in 1990, El-Dahab’s apartment becomes an important communications hub for al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad cells all over the world. For much of the 1990’s, the Egyptian government cut direct phone links to countries like Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan or Pakistan in an effort to disrupt communications between radical militants. So Dahab acts as a telephone operator for the Islamic Jihad network, using a three-way calling feature to connect operatives in far-flung countries. He communicates with bin Laden’s base in Sudan (where bin Laden lives until 1996). He receives phone calls from the likes of Islamic Jihad leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who also visits California twice (see Spring 1993; Late 1994 or 1995). He distributes forged documents and makes money transfers. He is trained to make booby-trapped letters, enrolls in a US flight school to learn how to fly gliders and helicopters, and recruits additional US sleeper agents (see Mid-1990s). He helps translate US army manuals and topographical maps into Arabic for al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad training. El-Dahab will move to Egypt in 1998 and get arrested in October of that year. He will confess his role in all of this in an Egyptian trial in 1999. The Egyptian government will sentence him to 15 years in prison (see 1999). (Sachs and Kifner 10/23/2001; London Times 11/11/2001; Williams 11/21/2001; Martin and Berens 12/11/2001)

CIA contractor Billy Waugh trains various al-Qaeda operatives around the globe, possibly for more than a decade. In his 2004 autobiography he will write, “I worked right there with these al-Qaeda operatives and heard these arguments [about the badness of US policy] firsthand many times, especially during an assignment in Yemen.” This training must take place between 1989, when he is hired by the CIA, and 2001, when he begins his last assignment for the agency in Afghanistan. The reference to Yemen may indicate that Waugh worked there during the 1994 civil war, when the US supported the religiously-oriented North Yemen against the breakaway south (see May 21-July 7, 1994). The descriptions of the extremists’ arguments and attitudes contained in his autobiography indicate that Waugh, who conducted surveillance against Osama bin laden in Sudan in the early 1990s (see February 1991- July 1992), has intimate knowledge of the extremists. For example, he will write, “I have spoken to some of those terrorists [from al-Qaeda and related organizations], and they consider terror attacks against the general public their only outlet to hurt and destroy the infidels who have wrongfully ousted them from their homes so many years in the past.” (Waugh and Keown 2004, pp. 173, 303, 308)

The southern part of Yemen attempts to cede from the rest of the country, but loses the ensuing war and north Yemeni forces take the south’s capital, Aden, reuniting the country. Yemen first united in 1990, but tensions between the two former independent halves of the country resulted in the civil war. As the south is regarded as communist, the north is backed by both the US and Osama bin Laden. (Whittaker 5/6/1994; Leupp 5/20/2002; Higgins and Cullison 12/20/2002; Katz 4/8/2004) The New York Times will say that the north Yemeni president uses “large numbers of Arab Afghans formed into Islamic terrorist units as his shock troops.” (Burns 11/26/2000) CIA officer Michael Scheuer will comment, “In 1993 and 1994, bin Laden sent al-Qaeda fighters from Pakistan to Afghanistan—via Sudan—to fight the Yemeni Communists in the civil war that yielded a reunified Yemen.” (Scheuer 2006, pp. 151) According to Western intelligence, before the war Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a brother of north Yemen’s President Ali Abdallah Saleh, received US$ 20 million from bin Laden to help settle Arab Afghan fighters in the country. When war breaks out, as military commander he deploys these fighters in the war’s final battle for the south’s capital of Aden. Despite its socialist tendencies, the south is backed by Saudi Arabia, as it thinks a divided Yemen is less of a threat to it. (Leupp 5/20/2002; Higgins and Cullison 12/20/2002; Katz 4/8/2004) Veteran Middle Eastern journalist Brian Whittaker will comment, “The Saudis invested hugely in the war on behalf of the South, and the outcome is a defeat for them as much as anyone.” (Whitaker 7/22/1994) After the war, the government will allow the radical fighters to settle in Yemen and use it as a base (see After July 1994).

Al-Qaeda deputy head Ayman al-Zawahiri spends time in Yemen and holds meetings there. Yemen is favorably inclined towards militants, due to the help they provided to the winning side in the 1994 civil war (see May 21-July 7, 1994 and After July 1994). Al-Zawahiri holds Islamic Jihad meetings at the Youth House, a government-run hall in the capital of Sana’a, according to confessions presented at a 1999 Cairo trial (see 1999). A defector will later reveal where al-Zawahiri is staying in Yemen to the local authorities, but the authorities, who sympathize with radical Islam, tip off al-Zawahiri and he escapes to Afghanistan (see Spring-Summer 1998). (Higgins and Cullison 12/20/2002) Al-Zawahiri is also reported to be in Yemen in the summer of 2001 (see Late July-August 2001).

After the Yemen civil war in 1994, in which militants helped North Yemen defeat its southern counterpart, there is an effort to absorb extremists into the mainstream (see After July 1994). However, some foreign intelligence services complain that this allows radicals to operate freely in Yemen. Nabil ad-Din, a former officer in Egypt’s state security will later say that “there were always problems” with Yemeni security officials because “they shared the same values of the people they were supposed to be arresting.” US officials will say that although some senior officers in the local Political Security Organization (PSO) take antiterrorism seriously, the organization as a whole tends to see Islamists as useful allies against domestic opponents. In addition, an Italian intelligence report will later state that the PSO even provides “logistical and intelligence assistance” to Islamic Jihad, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who frequently visits Yemen (see Mid-1990s-Spring 1998). (Higgins and Cullison 12/20/2002)

The CIA proposes a policy of abducting Islamic Jihad militants and sending them to Egypt which will soon be approved by President Bill Clinton (see June 21, 1995). The Clinton administration began a policy of allowing abductions, known as “renditions,” in 1993 (see 1993). At first, renditions were rarely used because few countries wanted the suspects. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is one of the architects of a 1995 agreement with Egypt to send rendered militants there. He will later recall: “It was begun in desperation.… We were turning into voyeurs. We knew where these people were, but we couldn’t capture them because we had nowhere to take them,” due to legal and diplomatic complications. The CIA realized that “we had to come up with a third party.” Egypt was the obvious choice because the Islamic Jihad is the prime political enemy of the Egyptian government, and many Islamic Jihad militants also work for al-Qaeda, an enemy of the US.
Turning a Blind Eye - However, the Egyptian secret police force, the Mukhabarat, is notorious for its torture of prisoners. As part of the program, the US helps track, capture, and transport suspects to Egypt (see Before Summer 1995) and then turns a blind eye while the Egyptians torture them. Scheuer claims the US could give the Egyptian interrogators questions they wanted put to the detainees in the morning and get answers by the evening. Because torture is illegal in the US, US officials are never present when the torture is done. Further, the CIA only abducts suspects who have already been convicted in absentia. Talaat Fouad Qassem is the first known person the CIA renders to Egypt (see September 13, 1995). But the number of renditions greatly increases in 1998, when the CIA gets a list of Islamic Jihad operatives around the world (see Late August 1998). These renditions result in a big trial in Egypt in 1999 that effectively destroys Islamic Jihad as a major force in that country (see 1999). (Mayer 2/8/2005)
CIA, NSC, Justice Department Lawyers Consulted - Scheuer will say that lawyers inside and outside the CIA are intensively consulted about the program: “There is a large legal department within the Central Intelligence Agency, and there is a section of the Department of Justice that is involved in legal interpretations for intelligence work, and there is a team of lawyers at the National Security Council, and on all of these things those lawyers are involved in one way or another and have signed off on the procedure. The idea that somehow this is a rogue operation that someone has dreamed up is just absurd.” (Grey 2007, pp. 140-141)
Leadership of Program - The rendition program does not focus solely on al-Qaeda-linked extremists, and other suspected terrorists are also abducted. Scheuer will later tell Congress, “I authored it and then ran and managed it against al-Qaeda leaders and other Sunni Islamists from August 1995, until June 1999.” (US Congress 4/17/2007 pdf file) A dedicated Renditions Branch will be established at CIA headquarters in 1997 (see 1997), but the relationship between Scheuer and its manager is not known—it is unclear whether this manager is a subordinate, superior, or equal of Scheuer, or whether Scheuer takes on this responsibility as well. After Scheuer is fired as unit chief in May 1999 (see June 1999), his role in the rendition program will presumably be passed on to his successor, Richard Blee, who will go on to be involved in rendition after 9/11 (see Shortly After December 19, 2001). In a piece apparently about Blee, journalist Ken Silverstein will say that he “oversaw… the [Counterterrorist Center] branch that directed renditions.” (Silverstein 1/28/2007)

Many high-ranking Yemeni government officials help al-Qaeda and other militants, beginning in 1996, according to Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, a Yemeni official who will be captured after 9/11 and sent to the US prison in Guanatanamo, Cuba. Abdulrahman is a section chief in Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO), the Yemeni equivalent of the FBI, until his arrest in 2002 (see September 2002). His 2008 Guantanamo file will state: “Detainee stated that since 1996, numerous high-ranking employees in the Yemeni government and PSO were involved in aiding al-Qaeda and other extremists through the provision of false passports and by giving them safe haven out of the country under the guise of deportation. These PSO officials included detainee; Mohammed al-Surmi, deputy chief of the PSO; Ghalib al-Qamish, director of the PSO; Colonel Ahmad Dirham, commander of the Deportation Department in the PSO; and Abdallah al-Zirka, an officer in the Yemeni Passport Authority. According to detainee, the second highest ranking person in the Yemeni government, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, was aware of the involvement of al-Surmi and al-Qamish in these activities since at least 1999.” An analyst notes in the file that Mohsen is the (half) brother of Yemeni President Saleh. (US Department of Defense 9/24/2008) Note that this is based on Guantanamo files leaked to the public in 2011 by the non-profit whistleblower group WikiLeaks. There are many doubts about the reliability of the information in the files (see April 24, 2011). However, it should also be noted that other information corroborates the charges, including the involvement of some names mentioned by Abdulrahman (for instance, see Spring-Summer 1998, After July 1994, December 26, 1998, and April 27, 2005).

Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar.Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar. [Source: Associated Press]Ahmed Nasrallah, a veteran al-Qaeda operative who has been in Yemen for several years, decides to defect and turn himself in to the Yemeni government. He discloses the location of al-Qaeda strongholds in Yemen and even gives away the location of al-Qaeda’s deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a southern Yemeni town. He describes al-Qaeda’s weaponry, security, and violent plans for the future. He offers to spy on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan or on a militant Yemeni group led by Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, a relative of hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. (In 1999 Zein will be caught and executed in Yemen for kidnappings and killings.) However, two officials in the Political Security Organization (Yemen’s equivalent of the FBI) have radical militant ties and hand over Nasrallah to al-Qaeda operatives. These operatives plan to kill him for betraying their group, but he escapes to Egypt before they can do so. The Egyptian government then interrogates him for more than a year. However, it is not known what he told them before 9/11, or what they might have passed to the US. One of the two Yemeni officers helping al-Qaeda on this matter, Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, will be recorded by Italian intelligence in 2000 apparently mentioning the upcoming 9/11 attacks (see August 12, 2000). The other officer, Mohammed al-Surmi, is Deputy Chief of the PSO. (Higgins and Cullison 12/20/2002)

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. (Weiser 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). (Williams 11/21/2001)

Dan ColemanDan Coleman [Source: CNN]Beginning in the autumn of 1998, the FBI uses the phone records of an al-Qaeda communications hub run by operative Ahmed al-Hada and his son Samir to build a map of al-Qaeda’s global organization. A map showing all the places in the world that have communicated with the hub is posted on the wall of the interagency counterterrorism I-49 squad in New York. The hub’s telephone number was uncovered during the East African embassy bombings investigation (see August 4-25, 1998 and Late August 1998). (Arrabyee 2/21/2002; Myers 7/21/2004; Wright 2006, pp. 343; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) According to FBI agent and I-49 squad member Dan Coleman, al-Hada is “uncle of half the violent jihadists we knew in the country.” (Suskind 2006, pp. 94) Several of his sons and sons-in-law are al-Qaeda operatives and some die fighting and training with radical Islamists; this is known to US intelligence before 9/11. Hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is also a son-in-law of al-Hada. (MSNBC 2/14/2002; Fox News 2/14/2002; Meyer 12/21/2005) The number is monitored by the NSA and over the next three years it mines intelligence that helps authorities foil a series of plots, including planned attacks on the US Embassy in Paris and the US Consulate in Istanbul, along with an attempted airline hijacking in Africa. However, the hub also serves as a planning center for the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, which is successful (see October 12, 2000). (Kaplan and Whitelaw 3/15/2004) The CIA, as the primary organization for gathering foreign intelligence, has jurisdiction over conversations on the al-Hada phone. Helped by the NSA, it stakes out the house—tapping the phone, planting bugs, and taking satellite photographs of its visitors. However, the CIA apparently does not provide the FBI with all the relevant information it is obtaining about al-Qaeda’s plans. (Wigmore 6/9/2002; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) For example, the FBI is not informed that hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi make calls to the communications hub from the US between spring 2000 and summer 2001 (see Spring-Summer 2000 and Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001). The FBI also asks the NSA to pass any calls between the communications hub and the US to the FBI, but the NSA does not do this either (see Late 1998). (Suskind 2006, pp. 94)

According to Ahmed Abdullah al-Hasani, who will later head the Yemeni navy and be Yemen’s ambassador to Syria, men from the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) meet with Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, half-brother of Yemen’s president Ali Abdallah Saleh. Al-Ahmar helped recruit Islamist radicals to fight in Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan War (see 1980-1990) and allegedly later received a payment from Osama bin Laden to help settle Afghan Arabs in Yemen (see May 21-July 7, 1994). The meeting follows the breaking up of an IAA plot to attack targets in Aden (see Before December 23, 1998 and December 23, 1998), and comes two days before the IAA takes Western hostages in an attempt to obtain the release of six recently arrested IAA operatives (see December 28-29, 1998). Al-Hasani will say, “Two days before the killings, members of the terrorist group were in al-Ahmar’s house in Sana’a,” the capital of Yemen. “They were also in telephone contact with Sana’a just before the shootings.” (Gadher 5/8/2005) Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will write that during the kidnapping, IAA leader Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar “bark[s] out his demands for a prisoner swap over the telephone to a half-brother of Yemen’s President Saleh, among others.” Presumably, this half-brother is al-Ahmar. In addition, on the last day of the kidnapping Almihdhar tells a local dignitary, “We have contacts at the highest level and we are expecting a response from them at noon.” (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 159-160) Exactly what al-Ahmar knows of the kidnapping in advance, if anything, is unclear.

A large group of Islamic Jihad operatives are sentenced in Cairo in what becomes known as the “Trial of the Albanian Returnees.” Various disclosures are made at the trial about the way Islamic Jihad operated and how it provided support to al-Qaeda by forging travel documents, transferring money, and arranging communications. One of the revelations is that al-Qaeda has a key communication hub in Yemen. Despite this revelation (see Late 1998-Early 2002), al-Qaeda will continue to use it through 2001 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). The defendants were arrested not only in Egypt, but also in Albania, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, and the United Arab Emirates. In 1995, the CIA arranged a deal with Egypt to capture Islamic Jihad operatives around the world and send them to Egypt to be tortured and prosecuted (see Summer 1995). Eighty-seven of the defendants are convicted and ten are sentenced to death, including al-Zawahiri, who is tried in absentia. (Sachs 11/21/2001) One of the convicted is Khaled Abu el-Dahab, who was operating a sleeper cell in California with double agent Ali Mohamed throughout the 1990’s (see 1987-1998). El-Dahab is sentenced to fifteen years in prison (see September 10, 1998). There are credible reports that many of the defendants confessed after being tortured in Egypt and Albania. (Sachs 11/21/2001; Wright 2006, pp. 269) The trial nearly eradicates the remnants of Islamic Jihad in Egypt and, according to some of the defendants, leaves only about forty members outside of Egypt. Al-Zawahiri and the other remaining members end up allying even closer to al-Qaeda. The two organizations will formally merge in early 2001 (see June 2001). (Wright 2006, pp. 336)

While the 9/11 hijackers are in the US, the NSA intercepts several calls between them and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by Ahmed al-Hada, who is hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s father-in-law (see August 4-25, 1998).
Summary of Calls -
bullet The first calls are made by Almihdhar and are intercepted during the spring and summer of 2000 (see Spring-Summer 2000).
bullet More calls are made by hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi after the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000 (see Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001).
bullet The final call from the US is intercepted just a few weeks before 9/11 (see (August 2001)).
The NSA intercepted the hijackers’ calls outside the US before this (see Early 1999 and December 29, 1999) and continues to do so in 2000 (see Summer 2000) after Almihdhar returns to Yemen (see June 10, 2000 and (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000)).
Calls' Content - Some of the calls may only contain non-operational information, as they are reportedly between Almihdhar and his wife. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Suskind 2006, pp. 94; Wright 2006, pp. 343) However, the calls are also used to relay messages to the 9/11 hijackers. (Embassy of Yemen (Washington) 2/13/2002; MSNBC 2/14/2002; Windrem 5/2005)
Agencies' Roles - The CIA is the lead agency monitoring the communications hub. It has planted bugs inside it and is wiretapping all calls (see Late August 1998). Intercepts of calls to and from the hub are a major plank of the US intelligence community’s effort to fight al-Qaeda. Also involved is the FBI, which is using phone records to plot these calls on a map (see Late 1998-Early 2002). Some of the calls intercepted by US intelligence come from Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone in Afghanistan (see August 4-25, 1998 and Late August 1998). After 9/11, counterterrorism officials will say that the number was one of the hottest targets being monitored by the NSA and was an “intelligence bonanza.” (Meyer 12/21/2005; Wright 2006, pp. 343)
Importance of Failure - Also after 9/11, counterterrorism officials will agree that the failure to follow leads to the US from this number was a huge missed opportunity to stop the 9/11 plot. For instance, FBI agent Kenneth Maxwell will say: “Two al-Qaeda guys living in California—are you kidding me? We would have been on them like white on snow: physical surveillance, electronic surveillance, a special unit devoted entirely to them.” (Myers 7/21/2004; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file)
Discussed after 9/11 - The failure to roll up the plot based on these communications intercepts will be discussed following 9/11 (see Summer 2002-Summer 2004 and March 15, 2004 and After).

Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman.Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman. [Source: US Defense Department]Italian intelligence successfully wiretaps an al-Qaeda cell in Milan, Italy, starting in late 1999. (Sennott 8/4/2002) In a wiretapped conversation from this day, Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, a section chief in Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO - roughly the equivalent to the FBI in the US) traveling on a diplomatic passport (see Spring-Summer 1998), talks about a massive strike against the enemies of Islam involving aircraft and the sky. The conversation takes place in a car on the way to a terrorist summit near Bologna (see August 12, 2000 and Shortly After), and the person Abdulrahman talks to is Mahmoud Es Sayed, a close associate of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000). There are several significant aspects to the conversation:
bullet Abdulrahman makes comments indicating he has foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. He says that he is “studying airlines,” comments, “Our focus is only on the air,” and tells Es Sayed to remember the words “above the head.” He also says that next time they meet he hopes to bring Es Sayed “a window or piece of the airplane,” and that the security on Alitalia and at Rome airport is poor. The name of the operation is given as “Jihadia,” and Abdulrahman says, “the big blow will come from the other country: one of those blows no one can ever forget.” He adds: “[It is] moving from south to north, from east to west: whoever created this plan is crazy, but he’s also a genius. It will leave them speechless.” He also says: “We can fight any power using candles and airplanes: they will not be able to stop us with even their most powerful weapons. We must hit them. And keep your head up.… Remember, the danger in the airports.… If it happens the newspapers from all over the world will write about it.”
bullet Es Sayed remarks, “I know brothers who went to America with the trick of the wedding publications.” The phrase “Big wedding” is sometimes used by al-Qaeda as code for a bombing or attack, including 9/11 (see November 30, 1999 and Late Summer 2001), so, taken together with Abdulrahman’s remarks, this indicates an unconventional attack in the US using aircraft;
bullet The two discuss training camps in Yemen, which are “proceeding on a world scale.” They also mention youth in Italy, and presumably the youth are training;
bullet Es Sayed says, “my dream is building an Islamic state,” and Abdulrahman replies that this is possible because the Yemeni government is weak and “sooner or later we will dominate it;”
bullet Es Sayed asks after a person named Ayman, evidently al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri;
bullet Abdulrahman twice mentions the name of Abdul Mejid, apparently a reference to Abdul Mejid al-Zindani, a radical leader in Yemen and associate of Osama bin Laden (see January-August 1998);
bullet Es Sayed makes the cryptic comment, “One must be cautious, like in Iran; not a single photo.”
Beginning in October 2000, FBI experts will help Italian police analyze the intercepts and warnings. Related conversations are overheard early the next year (see January 24, 2001 and February 2001). Neither Italy nor the FBI will fully understand their meaning until after 9/11, but apparently the Italians will understand enough to give the US an attack warning in March 2001 (see March 2001). After 9/11, this conversation and others like it will cause US intelligence to think there may be a link between the 9/11 plot and Yemen’s PSO. (Rotella and Meyer 5/29/2002; Carroll 5/30/2002; Delaney 5/31/2002; Higgins and Cullison 12/20/2002; Vidino 2006, pp. 224-5) Author Lorenzo Vidino will later comment: “The chilling conversation alarmed officials before 9/11, but it took on a completely different resonance after the attacks had taken place. [Abdulrahman], who had close connections to the highest ranks of al-Qaeda, likely knew about the plan in advance and had told Es Sayed about it.” (Vidino 2006, pp. 226)

During the trial of men accused of the 1998 East African embassy bombings, an FBI witness mentions that one of the defendants, Mohamed al-Owhali, told investigators that he had stayed in a Yemen-based al-Qaeda communications hub run by Ahmed al-Hada. He also revealed that he had called the hub before and after the Nairobi bombing. (Note: al-Hada’s surname is transliterated as “al-Hazza” during the trial.) The existence of the communications hub in Yemen is then reported by the US State Department, CNN, the Guardian, and UPI over the next few months. (Sale 2/13/2001; Aita 3/7/2001; United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14 3/7/2001; Hirschkorn 5/2/2001; Burke 8/5/2001) The hub was also previously mentioned at a big trial of Islamic Jihad operatives in Cairo (see 1999). The 9/11 hijackers have been calling the communications hub by phone since early 1999, at least (see, e.g., Early 1999). The calls are being intercepted by the NSA and some of them have originated from within the US (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). Perhaps unaware that the hub’s existence has been disclosed, they will make at least one more call to the hub (see (August 2001)).

Two major terrorist organizations, al-Qaeda and the Egypt-based Islamic Jihad, formally merged into one. This completes a merging process that had been going on for years (see August 11-20, 1988, December 1, 1996-June 1997, and February 22, 1998). The technical name of the new entity is Qaeda al-Jihad, though it is widely called al-Qaeda. Bin Laden remains in charge, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Islamic Jihad, remains second in command. (Wright 9/9/2002)

Ayman al-Zawahiri.Ayman al-Zawahiri. [Source: FBI]The US receives intelligence that bin Laden’s right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is receiving medical treatment at a clinic in Sana’a, Yemen. However, the Bush administration rejects a plan to capture him, as officials are not 100 percent sure the patient is al-Zawahiri. Officials later regret the missed opportunity. (ABC News 2/20/2002) In another account, an anonymous CIA source claims that the “Egyptian intelligence service briefed us that he was in a hospital in Sana’a. We sent a few people over there, and they made a colossal screwup. While our guys were conducting a surveillance of the hospital, the guards caught them with their videocameras.” (Wright 9/9/2002) CIA Director Tenet will touch on this incident in his 2007 book, saying that only that on July 24, 2001, “we had reporting that al-Zawahiri was in Yemen and we were pursuing confirmation and a plan to exfiltrate him to the United States. Although we doubted this information, it was out intention to play this hand out.” He doesn’t mention what happened after that. (Tenet 2007) Al-Zawahiri also appears to have spent time in Yemen in 1998 (see Spring-Summer 1998).

A high-ranking Yemeni defector alleges that the highest ranks of Yemen’s military and security forces have long collaborated with radical militants in the country. The defector, Ahmed Abdullah al-Hasani, was head of Yemen’s navy at the time of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000) and recently served as its ambassador to Syria. Al-Hasani claims that the perpetrators of the USS Cole attack “are well known by the regime and some are still officers in the national army.” The Yemeni government hindered the Cole investigation (see After October 12, 2000). Al-Hasani also says that Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, an army commander who is the half-brother of President Ali Abdallah Saleh and has links with radical militants (see 1980-1990 and May 21-July 7, 1994), was involved in a plot to kidnap Western tourists in 1998 (see December 26, 1998 and December 28-29, 1998). Al-Hasani arrived in Britain with his family, and is apparently debriefed by Western intelligence agencies. He claims to have fallen out with President Saleh over discrimination against southern Yemenis and fears he will be assassinated if he returns home. Yemeni authorities dismiss al-Hasani’s claims. “All these allegations are untrue and groundless,” says a government spokesman. “This man is making these allegations in order to legitimise and give significance to his claim of asylum.” (Gadher 5/8/2005)

A man thought to be al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a video in which he attacks recently elected US President Barack Obama. In his first speech since Obama’s election, al-Zawahiri speaks in front of pictures of Obama praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem during a pre-election visit to Israel, and African-American leader Malcolm X, who was murdered in 1965. The speech contrasts Obama with Malcolm X, who al-Zawahiri refers to as an “honorable” African-American and who is shown in video footage in the background. In one of his speeches, Malcolm X used the term “house negroes” in reference to domestic slaves who were considered more docile towards their masters than the field slaves. “It is true about you and people like you… what Malcolm X said about the house negroes,” al-Zawahiri says, referencing former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his successor Condoleezza Rice. “You represent the opposite to honorable black Americans like… Malcolm X.” He attacks Obama for “choosing to be an enemy of Islam and Muslims,” saying that the Muslim nation “had bitterly received” Obama’s support for Israel. “You have chosen to stand in the ranks of the enemies of Muslims and pray the prayer of the Jews, although you claim that your mother is Christian,” al-Zawahiri adds. The video also includes a warning about switching troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, which Obama has pledged to do. “What you have announced before… that you will withdraw [US] troops from Iraq [and send them] to Afghanistan is a policy that is doomed to failure,” says al-Zawahiri. “If you still want to be stubborn about America’s failure in Afghanistan, then remember the fate of [former US President George W.] Bush and [former Pakistani President] Pervez Musharraf, and the fate of the Soviets and British before them.” (Byers 11/19/2008)

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