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Context of 'November 24, 1989: Bin Laden’s Mentor Assassinated'

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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. (Engelberg 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. (Rashid 9/23/2001) MAK/Al-Kifah begins fundraising in the US one year later (see 1985-1989).

Makhtab al-Khidamat offices in the US in the late 1980s. Some of the offices in fact were represented by single individuals.Makhtab al-Khidamat offices in the US in the late 1980s. Some of the offices in fact were represented by single individuals. [Source: National Geographic] (click image to enlarge)Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden’s mentor, makes repeated trips to the US and other countries, building up his Pakistan-based organization, Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK), or “Services Office” in English. It is also known as Al-Kifah, which means “struggle.” Azzam founded the Al-Kifah/MAK in 1984 (see Late 1984). Branches open in over 30 US cities, as Muslim-Americans donate millions of dollars to support the Afghan war against the Soviet Union. The most important branch, called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, opens in Brooklyn, New York (see 1986-1993). Azzam is assassinated in a car bomb attack in late 1989 (see November 24, 1989). Bin Laden soon takes over the organization, which effectively morphs into al-Qaeda. His followers take over the US offices and they become financial conduits for al-Qaeda operations. (Lance 2003, pp. 40-41)

Fawaz Damra.Fawaz Damra. [Source: Associated Press]By the mid-1980s, Osama bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam jointly founded a charity front based in Pakistan which is called Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) (which means “services office”) and is also known as Al-Kifah (which means “struggle”) (see 1984). Branches start to open in the US; the first one apparently opens in Tucson, Arizona, where al-Qaeda has a sleeper cell (see 1986). But around 1986, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, the right hand man of double agent Ali Mohamed, informally founds the branch in Brooklyn, New York, and it soon becomes the most important US branch. (Weiser, Sachs, and Kocieniewski 10/22/1998; Burr and Collins 2006, pp. 269-270) On December 29, 1987, three men, Mustafa Shalabi, Fawaz Damra, and Ali Shinawy, formally file papers incorporating Al-Kifah, which is called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. At first, it is located inside the Al Farouq mosque, which is led by Damra. But eventually it will get it own office space next to the mosque. Shalabi, a naturalized citizen from Egypt, runs the office with two assistants: Mahmud Abouhalima, who will later be convicted for a role in bombing the World Trade Center in 1993 (see February 26, 1993), and El Sayyid Nosair, who will assassinate a Jewish leader in New York in 1990 (see November 5, 1990). (Mitchell 4/11/1993; Hosenball 10/1/2001; Sullivan, Garrett, and Rutchick 11/4/2001) Jamal al-Fadl, a founding member of al-Qaeda and future FBI informant (see June 1996-April 1997), also works at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in its early days. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 155) The Brooklyn office recruits Arab immigrants and Arab-Americans to go fight in Afghanistan, even after the Soviets withdraw in early 1989. As many as 200 are sent there from the office. Before they go, the office arranges training in the use of rifles, assault weapons, and handguns, and then helps them with visas, plane tickets, and contacts. They are generally sent to the MAK/Al-Kifah office in Peshawar, Pakistan, and then connected to either the radical Afghan faction led by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf or the equally radical one led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. (Mitchell 4/11/1993) The CIA has some murky connection to Al-Kifah that has yet to be fully explained. Newsweek will later say the Brooklyn office “doubled as a recruiting post for the CIA seeking to steer fresh troops to the mujaheddin” fighting in Afghanistan. At the same time, the Brooklyn office is where “veterans of [the Afghan war arrived] in the United States—many with passports arranged by the CIA.” (Hosenball 10/1/2001) Robert I. Friedman, writing for New York magazine, will comment that the Brooklyn office was a refuge for ex- and future mujaheddin, “But the highlight for the center’s regulars were the inspirational jihad lecture series, featuring CIA-sponsored speakers.… One week on Atlantic Avenue, it might be a CIA-trained Afghan rebel traveling on a CIA-issued visa; the next, it might be a clean-cut Arabic-speaking Green Beret, who would lecture about the importance of being part of the mujaheddin, or ‘warriors of the Lord.’ The more popular lectures were held upstairs in the roomier Al-Farouq Mosque; such was the case in 1990 when Sheikh [Omar] Abdul-Rahman, traveling on a CIA-supported visa, came to town.” One frequent instructor is double agent Ali Mohamed, who is in the US Special Forces at the time (see 1987-1989). Bin Laden’s mentor Azzam frequently visits and lectures in the area. In 1988, he tells “a rapt crowd of several hundred in Jersey City, ‘Blood and martyrdom are the only way to create a Muslim society.… However, humanity won’t allow us to achieve this objective, because all humanity is the enemy of every Muslim.’” (Friedman 3/17/1995) Ayman Al-Zawahiri, future Al-Qaeda second in command, makes a recruiting trip to the office in 1989 (see Spring 1993). (Wright 9/9/2002) The Brooklyn office also raises a considerable amount of money for MAK/Al-Kifah back in Pakistan. The Independent will later call the office “a place of pivotal importance to Operation Cyclone, the American effort to support the mujaheddin. The Al-Kifah [Refugee Center was] raising funds and, crucially, providing recruits for the struggle, with active American assistance.” (Marshall 11/1/1998) Abdul-Rahman, better known as the “Blind Sheikh,” is closely linked to bin Laden. In 1990, he moves to New York on another CIA-supported visa (see July 1990) and soon dominates the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. Shalabi has a falling out with him over how to spend the money they raise and he is killed in mysterious circumstances in early 1991, completing Abdul-Rahman’s take over. Now, both the Brooklyn and Pakistan ends of the Al-Kifah/MAK network are firmly controlled by bin Laden and his close associates. In 1998, the US government will say that al-Qaeda’s “connection to the United States evolved from the Al-Kifah Refugee Center.” Yet there is no sign that the CIA stops its relationship with the Brooklyn office before it closes down shortly after the 1993 WTC bombing. (Weiser, Sachs, and Kocieniewski 10/22/1998)

Edvard Shevardnadze.Edvard Shevardnadze. [Source: US Defense Department]The Politburo of the Soviet Communist Party decides that the Soviet-Afghan War should end “within one year or two.” This follows on from a tentative and secret agreement within the Politburo the previous year to eventually withdraw from Afghanistan. The withdrawal will be formalized in an agreement signed in Geneva in April 1988 (see April 1988) and the last troops with leave Afghanistan in February 1989 (see February 15, 1989). Soviet Foreign Minister Edvard Shevardnadze will inform US Secretary of State George Shultz of the decision the year after it is taken and the CIA will learn of it by November 1987. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 132-3, 486)

The Golden Chain list.The Golden Chain list. [Source: Public domain]In March 2002, authorities in Bosnia, Sarajevo, will raid the offices of the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) due to suspected funding of al-Qaeda (see March 2002). The raid will uncover a handwritten list containing the name of twenty wealthy donors sympathetic to al-Qaeda. The list, referred to as “The Golden Chain,” contains both the names of the donors and the names of the recipients (but does not mention amounts given). Seven of the payments are made to Osama bin Laden. (Prothero 2/11/2003) Most accounts will be vague on what year the Golden Chain document was written; some say 1988. (Simpson 3/18/2003) But counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will say it dates from 1989. (US Congress 10/22/2003) Al-Qaeda is formed in late 1988 (see August 11-20, 1988). The Wall Street Journal will later note, “The list doesn’t show any continuing support for al-Qaeda after the organization began targeting Americans, but a number of the Saudis on it have been under scrutiny by US officials as to whether they have supported terrorism in recent years.” (Simpson 3/18/2003) The donors named include:
bullet The “Bin Laden brothers.” Their first names are not mentioned. They give money to Osama bin Laden. UPI will later point out that “the discovery of this document in Sarajevo calls into question whether al-Qaeda has received support from one of Osama’s scores of wealthy brothers.”
bullet Adel Batterjee, a wealthy Saudi businessman who is also the founder of both BIF and its predecessor, Lajnatt Al-Birr Al-Islamiah. He appears to be mentioned as a recipient three times. (Prothero 2/11/2003) The US will declare him as a terrorist financier in 2004 (see December 21, 2004).
bullet Wael Hamza Julaidan, a Saudi millionaire and one of the founders of al-Qaeda. He is listed as a recipient. The US will declare him a terrorist financier in 2002 (see September 6, 2002).
bullet Saleh Kamel, a Saudi billionaire, and the majority shareholder of the Saudi conglomerate Dallah Albaraka. In 2003, Forbes will call him one of the richest people in the world. The list has him giving money to Batterjee.
bullet Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, another Saudi billionaire. The SAAR network, which is named after him, will be raided by the FBI in 2002 (see March 20, 2002). (Emerson 2006, pp. 400)
bullet Khalid bin Mahfouz, another Saudi billionaire. A lawyer for bin Mahfouz will later say bin Mahfouz did contribute a small amount to fund the mujaheddin in the late 1980s, but only at the behest of the US and Saudi Arabia. (Simpson 3/18/2003)

In an agreement signed in Geneva, Switzerland, the Soviet Union pledges to withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan by February 15, 1989. They will end up withdrawing the last of their soldiers on that exact date (see February 15, 1989). At the time, the Soviets have slightly over 100,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. (Keller 2/16/1989)

The notes from al-Qaeda’s formation meeting. The short lines on the right side are the list of attendees.The notes from al-Qaeda’s formation meeting. The short lines on the right side are the list of attendees. [Source: CNN]Bin Laden conducts two meetings to discuss “the establishment of a new military group,” according to notes that are found later. Notes reveal the group is initially called al-Qaeda al-Askariya, which roughly translates to “the military base.” But the name soon shortens to just al-Qaeda, meaning “the base” or “the foundation.” (Solomon 2/19/2003; Wright 2006, pp. 131-134) With the Soviets in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan, it is proposed to create the new group to keep military jihad, or holy war, alive after the Soviets are gone. The notes don’t specify what the group will do exactly, but it concludes, “Initial estimate, within six months of al-Qaeda (founding), 314 brothers will be trained and ready.” In fact, al-Qaeda will remain smaller than that for years to come. Fifteen people attend these two initial meetings. (Wright 2006, pp. 131-134) In addition to bin Laden, other attendees include:
bullet Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the head of the Egyptian militant group Islamic Jihad. (Wright 9/9/2002)
bullet Mohammed Atef, a.k.a. Abu Hafs.
bullet Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, a.k.a. Abu Hajer.
bullet Jamal al-Fadl.
bullet Wael Hamza Julaidan.
bullet Mohammed Loay Bayazid, a US citizen, who is notetaker for the meetings. (Wright 2006, pp. 131-134)
Al-Fadl will reveal details about the meetings to US investigators in 1996 (see June 1996-April 1997). Notes to the meeting will be found in Bosnia in early 2002. (Wright 9/9/2002) It will take US intelligence years even to realize a group named al-Qaeda exists; the first known incidence of US intelligence being told the name will come in 1993 (see May 1993).

A convoy of Soviet tanks leaving Afghanistan.A convoy of Soviet tanks leaving Afghanistan. [Source: National Geographic]Soviet forces withdraw from Afghanistan, in accordance with an agreement signed the previous year (see April 1988). However, Afghan communists retain control of Kabul, the capital, until April 1992. (Coll 7/19/1992) It is estimated that more than a million Afghans (eight per cent of the country’s population) were killed in the Soviet-Afghan War, and hundreds of thousands had been maimed by an unprecedented number of land mines. Almost half of the survivors of the war are refugees. (Wright 9/9/2002) Richard Clarke, a counterterrorism official during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and the counterterrorism “tsar” by 9/11, will later say that the huge amount of US aid provided to Afghanistan drops off drastically as soon as the Soviets withdraw, abandoning the country to civil war and chaos. The new powers in Afghanistan are tribal chiefs, the Pakistani ISI, and the Arab war veterans coalescing into al-Qaeda. (Clarke 2004, pp. 52-53)

Although the Soviets withdraw from Afghanistan in February 1989 (see February 15, 1989), the CIA continues to support the mujaheddin because the Soviet-allied Communist government stays in power in Kabul. Apparently, the CIA and the Saudi government continue to fund the mujaheddin at least until December 1990, although it could be longer because the Communist government remains in power in Kabul until 1992. The “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, reportedly has been working with the CIA in the 1980s to help unite the mujaheddin factions fighting each other (see Late 1980s). The Village Voice will later report that according to a “very high-ranking Egyptian official,” Abdul-Rahman continues to work with the CIA after moving to Brooklyn in July 1990 (see July 1990). He “work[s] closely with the CIA, helping to channel a steady flow of money, men, and guns to mujaheddin bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” But despite working with the CIA, Abdul-Rahman still considers the US the “Great Satan” and does not try to hide this. In one radio broadcast, he says that “Americans are descendants of apes and pigs who have been feeding from the dining tables of the Zionists, Communism, and colonialism.” Matti Steinberg, an expert on Islamic fundamentalism, says that Abdul-Rahman’s “long-term goal is to weaken US society and to show Arab rulers that the US is not an invulnerable superpower.” The Egyptian official will later complain, “We begged America not to coddle the sheikh.” (Friedman 3/30/1993)

President George Bush and Secretary of State James Baker decide that the US will cut off foreign aid to Pakistan because of its nuclear weapons program. Pakistan was a major recipient of foreign aid during the Soviet Afghan war, when the US channeled support to the mujaheddin through it, but Soviet forces began withdrawing from Afghanistan in February (see February 15, 1989). It is decided that aid will be provided for 1989, but not for 1990 (see October 1990). (Hersh 3/29/1993)

Sheikh Abdullah Azzam.Sheikh Abdullah Azzam. [Source: CNN]Bin Laden’s mentor Sheikh Abdullah Azzam is killed by a car bomb in Afghanistan. The killing is never solved. Azzam has no shortage of enemies. Suspects include the Mossad, CIA, Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the ISI, and bin Laden. The reason bin Laden is suspected is because he and Azzam were increasingly at odds over what approach to take since the Soviet Union had been driven from Afghanistan earlier in the year (see February 15, 1989). (Suellentrop 4/16/2002; Coll 2004, pp. 204) In 1998, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh will be arrested and later convicted for a role in the 1998 African embassy bombings. He reportedly will tell US interrogators that bin Laden “personally ordered the killing of Azzam because he suspected his former mentor had ties with the CIA.” However, it is not known if Odeh was just passing on a rumor. (Gunaratna 2003, pp. 32) Regardless, in the wake of Azzam’s death, bin Laden takes control of Azzam’s recruiting and support network, Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK)/Al-Kifah, and merges it with al-Qaeda, which was formed the year before (see August 11-20, 1988). (Suellentrop 4/16/2002; Coll 2004, pp. 204)

“A Call for Jihad in Bosnia” flyer published by the Al-Kifah Refugee Center’s Boston branch.“A Call for Jihad in Bosnia” flyer published by the Al-Kifah Refugee Center’s Boston branch. [Source: Public domain]The Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn, New York, is al-Qaeda’s main foothold in the US and most of the 1993 WTC bombers are closely tied to it. It had been formed in the 1980s to send militants to fight in Afghanistan and also help veteran fighters settle in the US (see 1986-1993). But the Afghanistan war against the Soviets ended in early 1989 and the winning factions soon began fighting amongst themselves (see February 15, 1989). But a new cause is on the horizon as Yugoslavia starts falling apart. By 1991, the center’s parent organization in Pakistan, Maktab al-Khidamat(MAK)/Al-Kifah begins setting up al-Qaeda charity fronts in the Bosnia region (see 1991). The main regional MAK/Al-Kifah branch in Zagreb, Croatia, is also called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center like the Brooklyn branch and has very close ties with that branch (see Early 1990s). In 1992, war breaks out in Bosnia (see April 6, 1992) and the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn shifts its focus fully to the Bosnia cause. For instance, the Boston branch publishes “A Call for Jihad in Bosnia.” It claims that more than 100,000 Bosnians had been killed and that thousands of Muslim girls had been kidnapped and kept in Yugoslav army camps for sex. It urges readers who wish “to provide the emerging jihad movement in Bosnia with more than food and shelter” to send their donations to Al-Kifah. And just as Al-Kifah led the effort to send US-based militants to fight in Afghanistan, it appears to do the same for Bosnia. Vanity Fair will later claim, “Dozens and perhaps hundreds of US residents are reported to have joined appeals to fight the Serbs in Bosnia.” (Scroggins 3/2005) The head of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center’s Zagreb branch, Kamer Eddine Kherbane, apparently is also one of the leaders of the mujaheddin fighters in Bosnia around this time (see 1990 and 1991). The CIA had ties to Al-Kifah during the Afghan war (see Late 1980s and After) and there is some circumstantial evidence of US government ties to it during the Bosnia war. In 1992, Ali Mohamed, a double agent and ex-US Special Forces officer with close ties to Al-Kifah, leads a group of US militants who are all ex-US soldiers to train and fight in Bosnia (see December 1992). Abu Ubaidah Yahya, an ex-US marine and security chief at the Brooklyn branch, will lead a second group of US militants to fight in Bosnia (see Spring 1993).

Neil Herman.Neil Herman. [Source: Paul Schneck Photography]The Al-Kifah Refugee Center is bin Laden’s largest fundraising group in the US and has offices in many cities (see 1986-1993 and 1985-1989). Counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson will later call it “al-Qaeda’s operational headquarters in the United States.” (Emerson 2006, pp. 436) Nearly every figure involved in the 1993 WTC bombing has a connection to the Al-Kifah branch in Brooklyn, New York. (Turque 3/29/1993) Bob Blitzer, a former FBI terrorism chief who heads the FBI’s first Islamic terrorism squad, is stunned to discover the number of militants connected to Al-Kifah who have left the US to fight for Muslim causes overseas. He will later remember thinking, “What the hell’s going on?” Neil Herman, head of the FBI’s WTC bombing investigation, will comment, “It was like a modern underground railroad.” But no effort is made to keep track of who has gone overseas to fight, even though many of the WTC bombers had gone overseas to fight then came back to use their training to plan an attack in the US. Furthermore, the Al-Kifah office in Brooklyn shuts itself down, but all the other branch offices remain open. US News and World Report will later note that the offices “were left largely intact [and] helped form the nucleus of bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network.” Herman will say, “They certainly continued on, but were somewhat fragmented.” Over time, the other branches generally go underground. Soon their functions are largely replaced by a network of Islamic charities. For instance, the functions of the Brooklyn branch, including its newsletter and website, are directly taken over by a new Boston-based charity called Care International (see April 1993-Mid-2003). Another charity is the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF), run by Enaam Arnaout, who is a veteran of the Al-Kifah Brooklyn office. (Kaplan 6/2/2002) The US will not freeze the assets of Al-Kifah until shortly after 9/11, long after all the US branches have dissolved (see September 24, 2001). There is evidence to suggest that the CIA had ties to Al-Kifah and blocked FBI investigations of it (see Late 1980s and After).

Aafia Siddiqui.Aafia Siddiqui. [Source: Public domain]The Al-Kifah Refugee Center is bin Laden’s largest fundraising group in the US and has offices in many cities (see 1986-1993 and 1985-1989). Counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson will later call it “al-Qaeda’s operational headquarters in the United States.” (Emerson 2006, pp. 436) In late March 1993, Newsweek will report that “virtually every principal figure implicated in the World Trade Center bombing” that took place the month before (see February 26, 1993) has a connection to the Al-Kifah branch in Brooklyn, New York. (Turque 3/29/1993) The Brooklyn branch quietly shuts itself down. But other branches stay open (see Shortly After February 26, 1993-1994) and the Boston branch appears to take over for the Brooklyn branch. In April 1993, it reincorporates under the new name Care International (which is not connected with a large US charity based in Atlanta with the same name). Emerson will later comment, “The continuity between the two organizations was obvious to anyone who scratched the surface.” For instance, Care takes over the publication of Al-Kifah’s pro-jihad newsletter, Al Hussam. (Emerson 2006, pp. 437) It also shares the same website and street address as the Al-Kifah Boston branch it took over. (Guidera and Simpson 11/21/2001) By the time of the WTC bombing, Al-Kifah is doing most of its fund raising for the mujaheddin fighting in Bosnia. For instance, one month after the bombing, a member of Al-Kifah/Care in Boston named Aafia Siddiqui sends Muslims newsgroups an e-mail pledge form asking for support for Bosnian widows and orphans. Siddiqui, a university student in Boston for most of the 1990s, is well known to Boston’s Muslim community as a dedicated Islamic activist. One imam will later recall, “She attended many conferences. Whenever there was an event, she would come.” But it appears Siddiqui is also a prominent al-Qaeda operative, working as a “fixer” for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Despite considerable suspicious evidence against her discovered shortly after 9/11, she will disappear in Pakistan in 2003 (see Late September 2001-March 2003). (Scroggins 3/2005) Two long-time Care employees are also be long-time employees of Ptech, a Boston-based computer firm formed in 1994 that will be raided in 2002 by the FBI for suspected radical militant ties. One of them writes many articles advocating Islamic jihad (see 1994). Emerson and his Investigative Project on Terrorism research team begins researching Care International in 1993, targeting it and several employees for suspected radical militant ties. The team discovers some checks made out to Care have notations on the back such as, “For jihad only.” (Keenan 9/11/2006) Presumably Emerson’s team shares what they learn with US intelligence, as his research on other matters lead to US government investigations around the same time (see for instance October 1994-2001). Al-Kifah branches in the US are connected to the charity Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) overseas, which is also sometimes called Al-Kifah. In 1996, a secret CIA report will assert that the main MAK office in Pakistan funds at least nine militant training camps in Afghanistan and has ties to bin Laden and other militant groups and leaders. Furthermore, it connects this office to the Al-Kifah office in Brooklyn and the 1993 WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef (see January 1996). But the FBI takes no action against any of the remaining Al-Kifah branches in the US before 9/11. The US will officially declare Al-Kifah and/or Maktab al-Khidamat a terrorist financier shortly after 9/11, but by then all the US branches have closed or changed their names (see September 24, 2001). One day after the declaration, a Boston Globe article will make the connection between Care and Al-Kifah, pointing out that Care and the old Al-Kifah branch in Boston share the exact same address. (Kranish and Kurkjian 9/26/2001) But the FBI will wait until 2003 before raiding the Care offices and shutting it down. The FBI will later state that Care raised about $1.7 million from 1993 to 2003. (Keenan 9/11/2006) Al-Kifah has had a murky connection with the CIA, at least in its early days. Shortly after 9/11, Newsweek will comment that Al-Kifah’s Brooklyn office “doubled as a recruiting post for the CIA seeking to steer fresh troops to the mujahedin.” (Hosenball 10/1/2001)

In the wake of his detention in Canada (see June 16, 1993), double agent Ali Mohamed is interviewed by the FBI and volunteers the earliest publicly known insider description of al-Qaeda. Mohamed is working as an FBI informant on smugglers moving illegal immigrants from Mexico to the US. FBI agent John Zent, Mohamed’s handler, interviews him in the FBI San Francisco office after having helped release him from Canadian custody. (Risen 10/31/1998; Lance 2006, pp. 125, 130) Mohamed says that bin Laden is running a group called “al-Qaeda.” Apparently, this is the first known instance of the FBI being told of that name, though it appears the CIA was aware of the name since at least 1991 (see February 1991). Mohamed claims to have met bin Laden and says bin Laden is “building an army” that could be used to overthrow the Saudi Arabian government. He admits that he has trained radical militants at bin Laden’s training camps in Sudan and Afghanistan. He says he taught them intelligence and anti-hijacking techniques. Mohamed apparently is given a polygraph test for the first time, and fails it (see 1992). However, he denies links to any criminal group or act. An FBI investigator later will say, “We always took him seriously. It’s just he only gave us 25 percent of what was out there.” In addition to his Canadian detention, the FBI is also interested in Mohamed because his name had surfaced in connection with the Al-Kifah Refugee Center as part of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing investigation. (Weiser and Risen 12/1/1998; Williams and McCormick 11/4/2001; Waldman 11/26/2001; Martin and Berens 12/11/2001) By the time this interview takes place, investigators looking into the World Trade Center bombing earlier in the year have already determined that top secret US military training manuals found in the possession of assassin El-Sayyid Nosair (see November 5, 1990) must have been stolen by Mohamed from the US army base where he had been stationed (see Spring 1993). Yet Mohamed is not arrested, though he is monitored (see Autumn 1993). New Yorker magazine will later note, “inexplicably, [the contents of the FBI’s] interview never found its way to the FBI investigators in New York.” (Wright 9/9/2002)

Oussama Ziade.Oussama Ziade. [Source: Beta Consulting]Ptech is founded in 1994 by Oussama Ziade, Hussein Ibrahim, and James Cerrato. Ziade came from Lebanon to study at Harvard University. As the Associated Press will describe it, Ptech’s “idea was to help complicated organizations like the military and large companies create a picture of how their assets—people and technology—work together. Then the software could show how little changes, like combining two departments, might affect the whole.” They raise $20 million to start the company. A number of Ptech employees and investors will later be suspected of having ties to groups that have been designated by the US as terrorist organizations: (CNN 12/6/2002; Guidera and Simpson 12/6/2002; Pope 1/3/2003)
bullet Yassin al-Qadi, a Saudi multimillionaire. He will invest $5 million of Ptech’s start-up money. The US will declare him an al-Qaeda financier shortly after 9/11 (see October 12, 2001). In 1998, al-Qadi will come under investigation by FBI agent Robert Wright (see October 1998) for potential ties to the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Al-Qadi is also a major investor in BMI Inc., an investment firm with connections to a remarkable number of suspected terrorist financiers (see 1986-October 1999). Al-Qadi later will claims that he sold his investment in Ptech in 1999, but there will be evidence he may continue to hold a financial stake after that year, and even after the US will officially declare him a terrorism financier (see 1999-After October 12, 2001). (Guidera and Simpson 12/6/2002; Mintz 12/7/2002; Pope 1/3/2003)
bullet Gamel Ahmed, Ptech’s comptroller in the mid-1990s. One al-Qadi loan Wright will investigate also involves Ahmed. (Pope 1/3/2003)
bullet Hussein Ibrahim, Ptech vice president and chief scientist. He also serves as vice president and then president of BMI from 1989 until 1995. He has no known direct terrorism finance connections, but it has been reported that al-Qadi brought Ibrahim into Ptech as his representative. (Guidera and Simpson 12/6/2002; WBZ 4 (Boston) 12/9/2002; Pope 1/3/2003)
bullet Soliman Biheiri. He is the head of BMI and a member of Ptech’s board. US prosecutors will later call him the US banker for the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned Egyptian militant group. He will later be convicted for lying and immigration fraud (see June 15, 2003). (Ehrenfeld 6/17/2005)
bullet Abdurahman Alamoudi. He is one of Ptech’s founders, as well as an investor in BMI. In 2004, the US will sentence him to 23 years in prison for illegal dealings with Libya (see October 15, 2004). (Markon 10/16/2004; Ehrenfeld 6/17/2005)
bullet Muhammed Mubayyid and Suheil Laheir. Neither have any known direct ties to terrorism financing. However, both are longtime Ptech employees whom formerly worked for Care International, a Boston-based suspect Islamic charity (not to be confused with a large international charity having the same name). (Guidera and Simpson 12/6/2002) In 2005, Mubayyid will be charged with conspiring to defraud the US and making false statements to the FBI. Care International had previously been the Boston branch of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center (see [a0493kifahboston]]) and a recruitment office for Mektab al Khidmat (MAK), the precursor organization to al-Qaeda (see 1985-1989). Laheir, Ptech’s chief architect, wrote many articles in support of Islamic holy war. He frequently quoted Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden’s mentor. (Emery 5/13/2005; Ehrenfeld 6/17/2005)
bullet Yaqub Mirza. He is a Ptech investor and on a Ptech advisory board. He directs SAAR, a multi-million dollar network of companies and charities in Herndon, Virginia (see July 29, 1983). In March 2002, US investigators will raid the SAAR network for suspected terrorism ties (see March 20, 2002). In late 2002, the Wall Street Journal will report, “US officials privately say Mr. Mirza and his associates also have connections to al-Qaeda and to other entities officially listed by the US as sponsors of terrorism.” (Guidera and Simpson 12/6/2002; WBZ 4 (Boston) 12/9/2002; Pope 1/3/2003)
bullet BMI itself directly invests in Ptech. It also gives Ptech a founding loan, and leases Ptech much of its office and computer equipment. (Guidera and Simpson 12/6/2002; Pope 1/3/2003) Ptech president Ziade and other Ptech employees will claim that all of their ties to suspected terrorist financiers are coincidental. By 2002, Ptech will have annual revenues of up to $10 million. (Guidera and Simpson 12/6/2002) Ptech’s potential ties to suspected terrorist financiers will be of particular concern because of its potential access to classified government information (see 1996-1997). (Guidera and Simpson 12/6/2002; Ranalli 12/7/2002) Joe Bergantino, a CBS journalist who will be the first to report on Ptech, will say of Ptech in 2002, “The worst-case scenario is that this is a situation where this was planned for a very long time to establish a company in this country and in the computer software business that would target federal agencies and gain access to key government data to essentially help terrorists launch another attack.” (National Public Radio 12/8/2002)

Benevolence International Foundation logo.Benevolence International Foundation logo. [Source: Benevolence International Foundation]One of the founders of al-Qaeda is arrested in the US and then let go. Mohammed Loay Bayazid is arrested in Morgan Hills, California, together with Mohammed Jamal Khalifa (see December 16, 1994-May 1995), Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law and a known terrorism financier, and Salem bin Laden, one of Osama’s brothers (see December 16, 1994). Bayazid was born in Syria but moved to the US with his parents as a teenager and became a US citizen. In the mid-1980s he went to fight in Afghanistan and befriended bin Laden. He was one of the original members of al-Qaeda and took the notes during the group’s founding meeting in 1988 (see August 11-20, 1988). Bayazid moved with bin Laden to Sudan in the early 1990s and has been called bin Laden’s main business adviser there. In 1993, it is believed he was involved in an al-Qaeda effort to purchase nuclear material. By 1994, Bayazid moved back to the US and became the president of the Chicago-based Benevolence International Foundation (BIF), a charity suspected of links to al-Qaeda. (Rizzo 9/9/2006) The driver’s license he shows for identification when arrests gives the Chicago office of BIF as his residence. (USA v. Benevolence International Foundation and Enaam M. Arnaout 4/29/2002, pp. 16-17 pdf file) But surprisingly given Bayazid’s history, he is released not long after his arrest in California. Lorenzo Vidino, an expert on Islamic militants, will later investigate Bayazid but is never able to determine when he was released, why, or where he went after that. (Rizzo 9/9/2006) There is evidence he stays in the US until April 1998, and then moves to Turkey. Bayazid will eventually reappear in Susan, where he will be interviewed by the FBI shortly after 9/11 (see November 2001). He apparently still operates several businesses there. He denies ever having any connection to terrorism. (Herrmann 5/1/2002; Rizzo 9/9/2006)

Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, one of the founders and top leaders of al-Qaeda (see August 11-20, 1988), periodically lives in the Philippines during these years. Philippine officials will later note that their country makes a good place for Islamic militants to hide out due to lax immigration and “places of refuge” in the southern Philippines where a number of Islamic groups are fighting the government. (Burgos 10/1/2001; Abuza 12/1/2002) In addition, Salim is believed to have visited Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) in 1994 while they were working on the Bojinka plot in the Philippines. It is thought that he already had close ties to KSM by that time. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 139) Salim will be arrested in Germany in late 1998 (see September 16, 1998) and charged with helping to plan the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Between 1994 and his 1998 arrest, it is believed he traveled to more than 20 countries, including Russia and Canada. (Bonner 12/5/1998)

Jamal al-Fadl testifying in a courtroom. Because his identity has been kept secret, his face has been blocked out.Jamal al-Fadl testifying in a courtroom. Because his identity has been kept secret, his face has been blocked out. [Source: CNN]Jamal al-Fadl, an al-Qaeda operative from al-Qaeda’s first meeting in the late 1980s until 1995, tells the US everything he knows about al-Qaeda. Before al-Fadl’s debriefings, US intelligence had amassed thick files on bin Laden and his associates and contacts. However, they had had no idea how the many pieces fit together. But an official says. “After al-Fadl, everything fell into place.” (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 154-65) The New Yorker will later call al-Fadl “arguably the United States’ most valuable informant on al-Qaeda.” FBI agent Dan Coleman will later say on al-Fadl, “He’s been very, very important to us. When it comes to understanding al-Qaeda, he’s the Rosetta Stone.” FBI agent Mike Anticev will similarly say, “He spoke to us in great detail, and everything that he told us panned out.” CIA officials debrief al-Fadl for a month and a half. Then the CIA hands him, and transcripts of all their interviews with him, over to the FBI. (Mayer 9/11/2006) Coleman and US prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald interrogate al-Fadl at a US military base in Germany for months. (Lance 2006, pp. 261) Roughly between November 1996 and April 1997, al-Fadl tells the FBI about:
bullet The historical background of al-Qaeda. Al-Fadl was one of al-Qaeda’s founding members (see August 11-20, 1988).
bullet The structure of al-Qaeda and its leadership composition.
bullet Al-Qaeda’s objectives and direction.
bullet Its financial infrastructure and networks. Al-Fadl has extensive knowledge of this because he worked as an al-Qaeda financial officer (see December 1996-January 1997).
bullet Its connections and collaboration with other terrorist groups and supporters.
bullet Its activities against US soldiers in Somalia (see October 3-4, 1993).
bullet Its activities in Bosnia. Al-Fadl was sent there on several missions (see Autumn 1992 and Autumn 1992).
bullet The Al-Kifah Refugee Center, al-Qaeda’s most important charity front in the US. Al-Fadl worked there in the 1980s (see 1986-1993).
bullet Bin Laden’s efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Al-Fadl was personally involved in an effort to buy uranium for al-Qaeda (see Late 1993). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 479)
bullet Bin Laden’s plans to attack either inside the US or US embassies (see Late 1996).
Al-Fadl continues to help US intelligence until current day. For instance, in 2000, he will help US officials capture his brother-in-law, Mohammed Suliman al-Nalfi, who is said to be close to Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Nalfi will eventually be sentenced to ten years in prison in the US. Al-Fadl will have no knowledge of the 9/11 plot, but he will continue to identify captured al-Qaeda operatives after 9/11. (Mayer 9/11/2006) Interestingly, al-Fadl, a Sudanese citizen, will later claim that he worked with the Sudanese intelligence agency with the direct approval of bin Laden. (Day 2. United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al. 2/6/2001)

Senior al-Qaeda operatives establish a front company called Maram in Istanbul, Turkey, as a travel agency and import-export business. Investigators will later say they suspect that the company may be involved in efforts to obtain material for nuclear weapons and that it provides money and other assistance to radicals traveling between Europe and training camps in Afghanistan. Turkish intelligence and several foreign agencies are aware that militants transit Turkey at this time and some of them are under surveillance (see 1996, 1995-2000, and Mid-1996), but it is unclear whether Maram itself is monitored. The company, which receives a donation of US$ 1.25 million from Saudi businessman Yassin al-Qadi (see January-August 1998), is established by Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, one of al-Qaeda’s founding members (see August 11-20, 1988), who is said to have a history of moving money and shopping for weapons for the organization. A few months later he transfers shares in the company to two other men. One is Wael Hamza Julaidan, a Saudi businessman also said to be a founder of al-Qaeda; the US will officially designate Julaidan a financial supporter of al-Qaeda in 2002 (see September 6, 2002). The other transferee is Mohammed Bayazid, another founder of al-Qaeda and a US citizen who was arrested in the US in 1994 and then let go (see December 16, 1994). (Frantz 9/19/2002) For a time before November 1998, toll records for the Illinois office of the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) show telephone contact with a number in Turkey associated with Bayazid. Phone records indicate Bayazid moves to Turkey around April 1998. (USA v. Benevolence International Foundation and Enaam M. Arnaout 4/29/2002, pp. 16-17 pdf file) US intelligence has been interested in BIF’s ties to al-Qaeda since at least 1993 (see 1993 and 1998), but apparently misses its links to Maram while the company is still open. After Salim is arrested in Germany in 1998 (see September 16, 1998), the company clears out its offices. A neighbor says, “I just came one morning and saw the office was empty. Nobody knows what happen[ed].” (Frantz 9/19/2002)

Mamdouh Mahmud Salim.Mamdouh Mahmud Salim. [Source: FBI]Mamdouh Mahmud Salim (a.k.a. Abu Hajer), an al-Qaeda operative from the United Arab Emirates connected to the 1998 East African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), is arrested at a used car dealership near Munich, Germany. He is arrested by a special commando unit of German police, with CIA agents directing them nearby. The German government has no idea who Salim is, and the US only notified Germany about the planned arrest five hours in advance. (PBS 9/30/1998; Cziesche et al. 12/12/2005) The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later say that Salim was Osama bin Laden’s “right hand man,” and “head of bin Laden’s computer operations and weapons procurement.” He is also “the most senior-level bin Laden operative arrested” up until this time. (Tagliabue and Bonner 9/29/2001; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 51 pdf file) Author Lawrence Wright will later note that bin Laden and Salim worked together in Afghanistan in the 1980s, “forging such powerful bonds that no one could get between them.” Salim was also one of the founding members of al-Qaeda (see August 11-20, 1988) and bin Laden’s personal imam (i.e., preacher). (Wright 2006, pp. 131, 170) Starting in 1995, Salim had been making frequent visits to Germany. Mamoun Darkazanli, who lives in Hamburg and associates with Mohamed Atta’s al-Qaeda cell, had signing powers over Salim’s bank account. Both men attended Al-Quds mosque, the same Hamburg mosque as future 9/11 hijackers Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi attend. (Rose 1/2002) The FBI learns much from Salim about al-Qaeda, and this information could be useful to the US embassy bombings investigation. However, the FBI is unwilling to brief its German counterparts on what it knows about Salim and al-Qaeda. (Tagliabue and Bonner 9/29/2001)

The arrest of al-Qaeda leader Mamdouh Mahmud Salim (a.k.a. Abu Hajer) points US and German investigators to Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, with a few of the future 9/11 hijackers. Salim is arrested on September 16, 1998, in Munich, Germany (see September 16, 1998). He is believed to be al-Qaeda’s financial chief, and is one of al-Qaeda’s founding members (see August 11-20, 1988). After Salim’s arrest, both German and US intelligence investigate his contacts in Germany and discover a link to Zammar. Zammar is already being investigated and monitored by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence service (see March 1997-Early 2000). (Cziesche et al. 12/12/2005) Presumably, the link between Zammar and Salim should increase the urgency of the German investigation. It is unknown when US intelligence begins monitoring Zammar, but the US will discover important links between Zammar and al-Qaeda in the summer of 1999 (see Summer 1999). US and German investigators also discover a link between Salim and Mamoun Darkazanli, a Hamburg associate of Zammar’s, and they monitor him as well (see Late 1998).

Top: a protest sign in a late 1998 Pakistan protest reads: “Down Down Clinton! Long Live Laden!” Bottom: a children’s toy featuring bin Laden from the late 1990s.Top: a protest sign in a late 1998 Pakistan protest reads: “Down Down Clinton! Long Live Laden!” Bottom: a children’s toy featuring bin Laden from the late 1990s. [Source: National Geographic]According to reports, the failed US missile attack against bin Laden on August 20, 1998 greatly elevates bin Laden’s stature in the Muslim world. A US defense analyst later states, “I think that raid really helped elevate bin Laden’s reputation in a big way, building him up in the Muslim world.… My sense is that because the attack was so limited and incompetent, we turned this guy into a folk hero.” (Gellman 10/3/2001) An Asia Times article published just prior to 9/11 suggests that because of the failed attack, “a very strong Muslim lobby emerge[s] to protect [bin Laden’s] interests. This includes Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, as well as senior Pakistani generals. Crown Prince Abdullah has good relations with bin Laden as both are disciples of slain Sheikh Abdullah Azzam (see 1985-1989).” (Shahzad 8/22/2001) In early 1999, Pakistani President Musharraf complains that by demonizing bin Laden, the US has turned him into a cult hero. The US decides to play down the importance of bin Laden. (Waterman 4/9/2004)

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)

FBI agent Jack Cloonan arrives in Sudan with several other FBI agents and is given permission by the Sudanese government to interview some al-Qaeda operatives living there. The interviews were conducted at safe houses arranged by Sudanese intelligence. Cloonan interviews Mubarak al Duri, an Iraqi. He lived in Tuscon, Arizona, in the late 1980s and early 1990s and was al-Qaeda’s chief agent attempting to purchase weapons of mass destruction (see 1986). Cloonan will later claim that al Duri and a second Iraqi al-Qaeda operative laughed when asked about possible bin Laden ties to Saddam Hussein’s government. “They said bin Laden hated Saddam.” Bin Laden considered Hussein “a Scotch-drinking, woman-chasing apostate.” Cloonan also interviews Mohammed Loay Bayazid, an American citizen and founding member of al-Qaeda (see August 11-20, 1988), who ran an al-Qaeda charity front in the US (see December 16, 1994). (Silverstein 4/29/2005) The CIA will interview them in 2002, but they apparently remain free in Sudan (see Mid-2002).

The United States Strategic Command (Stratcom) produces a document mentioning that the US backed some of al-Qaeda’s forerunners. The document, an after-action report for Stratcom’s Global Guardian exercise in 2001, contains summaries about terrorist groups from around the world. Its section on al-Qaeda states: “The group was originally brought together from elements of various insurgent military groups which have fought continuously in the Middle East since the 1980s. Some of these groups had US backing in the past.” Al-Qaeda was formed in 1988 (see August 11-20, 1988) by Arabs who had fought for the US-sponsored mujaheddin in the Soviet-Afghan war (see 1985-1986 and 1986-1992). (US Strategic Command 12/4/2011)

Wael Hamza Julaidan.Wael Hamza Julaidan. [Source: Public domain, via Evan Kohlmmann]The US and United Nations designate Wael Hamza Julaidan a terrorist financier and freezes the funds of the Rabita Trust. Julaidan worked with bin Laden’s mentor Abdullah Azzam in the Muslim World League in Pakistan in the 1980s and was one of the founders of al-Qaeda in 1988 (see August 11-20, 1988). (Kaplan, Ekman, and Latif 12/15/2003) Julaidan’s name was on the “Golden Chain” list of early al-Qaeda funders (see 1988-1989), serving as an intermediary between bin Laden and Saudi multimillionaires. Beginning in 2000, he became director general of the Rabita Trust, a Pakistani charity which the UN determined has been funding al-Qaeda. The US froze the bank accounts of the Rabita Trust shortly after 9/11 due to suspected terrorist links, but the organization changed its name and continued to operate (see Mid-September-October 12, 2001). Julaidan is considered highly connected in Saudi Arabia and even though the Saudi government officially goes along with the terrorist designations of Julaidan and the Rabita Trust, some top Saudi officials publicly defend him. For instance, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nawaf bin Abdul Aziz publicly suggests that Julaidan is innocent. Julaidan is not arrested and the Saudi government offers no proof that they seized any of his or Rabita’s bank accounts. In December 2003, the Washington Post will report that US and UN officials believe Julaidan continues to work with charity fronts and handles large sums of money. (Farah 12/14/2003; Burr and Collins 2006, pp. 100-101)

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