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Context of 'Mid-Late December 2000: Some CIA Officers Speculate 9/11 Hijacker Almihdhar May Be Al-Qaeda Leader Bin Attash, FBI Not Informed'

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On January 5, 2000, al-Qaeda operatives Ibrahim al-Thawar and Fahad al-Quso arrive in Bangkok, Thailand. They were part of an attempt to sink the USS The Sullivans, which failed in Yemen just a couple of days ago (see January 3, 2000). Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash has been a part of the same plot, and has been in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the past two weeks or so (see Mid-December 1999). Al-Thawar and al-Quso are bringing thousands of dollars for bin Attash (different accounts will name different amounts, but it could be as much as $36,000), and they plan to meet in Singapore. However, all three of them are unable to get Singapore visas. Bin Attash is attending an important al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur from January 5 to 8 (see January 5-8, 2000), and Malaysia does not require visas at all for most Middle Eastern countries. However, for whatever reason, bin Attash flies to Bangkok on January 6, instead of having one or both of the others fly to Kuala Lumpur. Apparently, the money is handed over and bin Attash flies back to Kuala Lumpur the next day to continue with the summit (see January 6, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 159]
Important Consequences - These interactions will have important consequences, because al-Quso will be questioned by the FBI in Yemen later in 2000 (see Late October-Late November 2000), after taking part in the bombing of the USS Cole there (see October 12, 2000). Al-Quso will confess to giving a large sum of money to bin Attash (see Early December 2000), and FBI agents will discover phone calls between al-Quso’s Bangkok hotel and a phone booth in front of the condominium where the al-Qaeda summit was held (see (January 5-8, 2000)). But the FBI agents will be unable to find out about the summit, and the CIA will not share the information it has about it, ruining a chance for the FBI to discover the 9/11 plot that had been discussed at the summit (see for instance April 2001).

Entity Tags: Fahad al-Quso, Ibrahim al-Thawar, Khallad bin Attash

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Fahad al-Quso, a Yemeni and known associate of Osama bin Laden, turns himself in to the Yemeni government after some of his relatives are questioned in the wake of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] He admits that he and one of the two Cole suicide bombers went to Bangkok, Thailand, and gave several thousand dollars to a man known as Khallad, who is identified as one of the masterminds of the Cole bombing. He says the money is to buy a new artificial leg for the one-legged Khallad. The transcript of the interrogation is given to the FBI a month later. FBI agent Ali Soufan sees the transcript and remembers a source he recruited in Afghanistan who spoke of a one-legged man named Khallad who is close to bin Laden. Khallad is his nickname; his real name is Tawfiq bin Attash. A mug shot of bin Attash is sent to this source, who makes a positive identification. Soufan wonders why money was being sent away from the Cole plotters and away from Yemen prior to a major planned attack and speculates that it may mean another al-Qaeda operation is being planned elsewhere. Soufan asks the CIA for information about Khallad and this other attack, which turns out to be 9/11, but the CIA withholds the information (see Late November 2000). Al-Quso will later reveal more to the FBI, leading to more missed opportunities (see Early December 2000). [Wright, 2006, pp. 328-329]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Fahad al-Quso, Ali Soufan, Khallad bin Attash, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Khallad bin Attash.Khallad bin Attash. [Source: FBI]After talks that last some time, Yemeni authorities agree to provide the FBI team investigating the USS Cole bombing with passport photos of suspects in the attack, including al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash. The photos are provided to lead investigators John O’Neill and Ali Soufan, and Soufan immediately sends bin Attash’s photo to the CIA and to an FBI colleague in Islamabad, Pakistan. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 192; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] The FBI colleague is Michael Dorris. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 117] The CIA agent is known only as “Chris.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 537] Chris shows the photo to a source, and the source, known only as “Omar,” confirms that the man in the photo is bin Attash. Author Lawrence Wright will comment, “This suggested strongly that al-Qaeda was behind the Cole attack.” However, this does not motivate the US to retaliate against al-Qaeda (see Shortly After October 12, 2000). Around this time, the FBI also learns that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, another al-Qaeda operative involved in the embassy bombings, had a hand in the Cole attack as well (see November-December 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 192; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, John O’Neill, Ali Soufan, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Chris”, “Omar”, Michael Dorris

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, writes a cable noting that further connections have been made between 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and al-Qaeda. This CIA station is already aware that Almihdhar attended an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). Due to these additional connections, the CIA believes that there may be a connection between Almihdhar and the USS Cole bombers and that Almihdhar may have met Fahad al-Quso and Khallad bin Attash, two of the operatives involved in the bombing, in Southeast Asia in January 2000 (see January 13, 2000 and Early December 2000). The station realizes this is important because bin Attash is linked to Osama bin Laden, but also speculates that bin Attash and Almihdhar may be the same person. The reason given for this speculation is that both bin Attash and Almihdhar are in Bangkok, Thailand, at the same time, in the second week of January 2000 (see Mid-Late December 2000). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 269-270 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, CIA Islamabad Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Khallad bin Attash (left) and Khalid Almihdhar (right) were apparently confused by the CIA.Khallad bin Attash (left) and Khalid Almihdhar (right) were apparently confused by the CIA. [Source: FBI]Because the CIA thinks 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash are in the same place at the same time—in Bangkok, Thailand, for a meeting with Fahad al-Quso, an operative involved in the attack of the USS Cole, in January 2000 (see January 5-6, 2000)—and possibly because of the similarity between Almihdhar’s first name Khalid and bin Attash’s nickname Khallad, some officers apparently theorize that bin Attash and Almihdhar may be the same person. However, the FBI is not informed of this. In order to confirm or refute this theory, the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, asks for surveillance photos of an al-Qaeda summit that Almihdhar attended, intending to show the photos to a source who knows bin Attash and has previously identified him in another photo (see November 22-December 16, 2000 and Early January 2001). However, there is no record of this theory being communicated to the FBI, even though the CIA knows bin Attash was involved in the Cole bombing and the FBI is investigating him (see Late October-Late November 2000). Some CIA cables drafted at this time contain information about bin Attash and information not related to bin Attash; CIA officers are instructed to share the information not related to bin Attash with the FBI, but are not instructed to share the information about bin Attash and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later say that if the CIA had told the FBI more about bin Attash around this time, the FBI would have asked for more information about Almihdhar and had a better chance of locating him before 9/11. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 269-270, 278 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Office of the Inspector General (DOJ), Federal Bureau of Investigation, CIA Islamabad Station, Khalid Almihdhar, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The CIA’s Counterterrorist Center passes a photo of hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and a photo of hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi taken at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000) to the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan. The station is to show the photos to a source, later referred to as “Omar,” to see if he can identify Khalid Almihdhar or al-Qaeda manager Khallad bin Attash, as Omar has previously identified bin Attash in another photo (see November 22-December 16, 2000). According to cables drafted at this time, the overseas station requested the photo of Almihdhar because it thinks that Almihdhar and bin Attash might be the same person (see Mid-Late December 2000). It is unclear why the photo of Alhazmi is also passed at the same time. The CIA has numerous other photos taken at the Malaysia summit as well as video (see January 5, 2000), but these are not passed. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 269-270 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Nawaf Alhazmi, Counterterrorist Center, CIA Islamabad Station, Khalid Almihdhar, “Omar”, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Nawaf Alhazmi (left) and Khallad bin Attash (right) are said to have been confused by an informer.
Nawaf Alhazmi (left) and Khallad bin Attash (right) are said to have been confused by an informer. [Source: FBI]A CIA officer in Islamabad, Pakistan, known only as “Chris” shows a source known as “Omar,” who provides information on al-Qaeda, photographs of future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi taken at the al-Qaeda Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 537; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 268-271 pdf file] Omar has previously identified a photo of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see November 22-December 16, 2000) and Chris has been told that bin Attash and Almihdhar might be the same person (see Mid-Late December 2000). Omar says that the photo of Alhazmi, who the CIA apparently does not recognize at this time, actually shows bin Attash. As Omar cannot identify Almihdhar, but says he can identify bin Attash, this indicates Almihdhar and bin Attash are not the same person. The identification causes the CIA to believe that bin Attash attended al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. Although this belief is based on a mistaken identification, it is actually correct, as bin Attash was present at the summit—the CIA has photos of bin Attash there, but fails to show them to Omar. This identification is important because bin Attash is a known bin Laden operative connected to the USS Cole attack and East African embassy bombings. The CIA also knows that Almihdhar and Alhazmi were at the summit, so this could connect them to the Cole attack. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 268-271 pdf file] An FBI official named Michael Dorris is also at the meeting. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 272 pdf file; Soufan, 2011] However, Dorris does not learn of the identification of bin Attash by “Omar.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 270-274 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Michael Dorris, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khallad bin Attash, Central Intelligence Agency, CIA Islamabad Station, Khalid Almihdhar, “Chris”, “Omar”, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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