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Context of '(December 2001): FBI Links KSM to Financing of 9/11 Attacks'

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One of Ramzi Yousef’s timers seized by Philippines police in January 1995.One of Ramzi Yousef’s timers seized by Philippines police in January 1995. [Source: Peter Lance]Responding to an apartment fire, Philippine investigators uncover an al-Qaeda plot to assassinate the Pope that is scheduled to take place when he visits the Philippines one week later. While investigating that scheme, they also uncover Operation Bojinka, planned by the same people: 1993 WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). [Independent, 6/6/2002; Los Angeles Times, 6/24/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Many initial reports after 9/11 will claim the fire was accidental and the police discovery of it was a lucky break, but in 2002 the Los Angeles Times will report that the police started the fire on purpose as an excuse to look around the apartment. In the course of investigating the fire, one of the main plotters, Abdul Hakim Murad, is arrested. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] The plot has two main components. On January 12, Pope John Paul II is scheduled to visit Manila and stay for five days. A series of bombs along his parade route would be detonated by remote control, killing thousands, including the Pope. Yousef’s apartment is only 500 feet from the residence where the Pope will be staying. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 78; Lance, 2006, pp. 138] Then, starting January 21, a series of bombs would be placed on airplanes. [Insight, 5/27/2002] Five men, Yousef, Wali Khan Amin Shah, Abdul Hakim Murad, Abd al-Karim Yousef (a.k.a., Adel Anon, Yousef’s twin brother), and Khalid Al-Shaikh (thought to be an alias for KSM) would depart to different Asian cities and place a timed bomb on board during the first leg of passenger planes traveling to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu, and New York. They would then transfer to another flight and place a second bomb on board that flight. In all, 11 to 12 planes would blow up in a two day period over the Pacific. If successful, some 4,000 people would have been killed. [Agence France-Presse, 12/8/2001; Insight, 5/27/2002; Contemporary Southeast Asia, 12/1/2002] According to another account, some of the bombs would be timed to go off weeks or even months later. Presumably worldwide air travel could be interrupted for months. [Lance, 2003, pp. 260-61] A second wave of attacks involving crashing airplanes into buildings in the US would go forward later, once the pilots are trained for it (see February-Early May 1995).

Entity Tags: Abd al-Karim Yousef, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ramzi Yousef, Wali Khan Amin Shah, Operation Bojinka, Al-Qaeda, Abdul Hakim Murad

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

FBI reward notice for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.FBI reward notice for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. [Source: FBI]Islamic militant Ramzi Yousef is sentenced to 240 years for his role in the 1993 WTC bombing. At the same time, prosecutors unseal an indictment against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) for participating with Yousef in the 1995 Operation Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995). In unsealing this, US Attorney Mary Jo White calls KSM a “major player” and says he is believed to be a relative of Yousef. [Washington Post, 1/9/1998] The US announces a $2 million reward for his capture in 1998 and wanted posters with his picture are distributed. [New York Times, 6/5/2002] This contradicts the FBI’s claim after 9/11 that they did not realize he was a major terrorist before 9/11. [US Congress, 12/11/2002] For instance, a senior FBI official later says, “He was under everybody’s radar. We don’t know how he did it. We wish we knew.… He’s the guy nobody ever heard of.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002] However, another official says, “We have been after him for years, and to say that we weren’t is just wrong. We had identified him as a major al-Qaeda operative before September 11.” [New York Times, 9/22/2002] Yet strangely, despite knowing KSM is a major al-Qaeda operations planner and putting out a large reward for his capture at this time, there is no worldwide public manhunt for him as there successfully was for his nephew Ramzi Yousef. KSM’s name remains obscure and he isn’t even put on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list until one month after 9/11. [Lance, 2003, pp. 327-30]

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mary Jo White, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Said Berraj.Said Berraj. [Source: Spanish Interior Ministry]Five suspected al-Qaeda operatives, Said Berraj, Amer el-Azizi, Mohamed Haddad, Lahcen Ikassrien, and Salahedin Benyaich, are arrested in Turkey. They are arrested two weeks after arriving in Turkey, apparently for failing to produce identification papers. They are later released, but the reason for releasing them is unknown. Turkey is a transit center and logistics base for al-Qaeda (see November 1996-September 1998 and Mid-1996) and el-Azizi is said to operate there, as well as in Iran and, possibly, Iraq. Berraj, Haddad, and el-Azizi will later be involved in an attack in Madrid, Spain, that kills nearly 200 people (see Before March 11, 2004 and 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) and Benyaich will later be jailed in Morocco on terrorism charges following a bombing in Casablanca (see May 16, 2003). El-Azizi will also apparently be involved in setting up a meeting where details of the 9/11 plot are finalized (see Before July 8, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2004; New York Times, 4/29/2004; New York Times, 4/30/2004; El Mundo (Madrid), 9/14/2004] Ikassrien will be arrested in Afghanistan in late 2001 and sent to the Guantanamo prison. He will be released back to Spain in 2005, charged for al-Qaeda links, an acquitted. [Associated Press, 10/11/2006]
Possible Informants - Berraj is an informant for Spanish intelligence, regularly meeting with intelligence agents in 2003. It is unknown when he begins informing (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004). Haddad will not be arrested in Morocco after the 2004 train bombings despite strong evidence he was directly involved, leading to suspicions that he has been a government informant (see Shortly After March 18, 2004). El-Azizi also will be suspected of being a government informant because he is tipped off by Spanish intelligence about a police raid (see Shortly After November 21, 2001). He is also arrested in Turkey for passport forgery at one point, and then let go, although it is not clear when. [Wall Street Journal, 3/19/2004] Turkish intelligence is aware of extremists’ use of Turkey as a base (see 1996), but it is unclear whether this is related to the arrest of the three men. El-Azizi will repeatedly evade arrest in Spain after 9/11, apparently with the help of Spanish intelligence (see October 2001 and Shortly After November 21, 2001).

Entity Tags: Lahcen Ikassrien, Said Berraj, Salahedin Benyaich, Mohamed Haddad, Amer el-Azizi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The US puts out an international arrest warrant for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). The warrant seeks KSM in connection with the 1995 Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995). [Knight Ridder, 3/13/2003] It is not clear why the US waited so long to issue this warrant, considering that the US connected him to a major terrorist act back in 1993 (see March 20, 1993), learned he was a major figure in the Bojinka plot in 1995 (see After February 7, 1995-January 1996), secretly indicted him in January 1996, and placed a $2 million reward on his head in January 1998 (see January 8, 1998).

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Some al-Qaeda operatives hold a meeting in northern Spain to finalize plans for the 9/11 attacks. Those allegedly present are listed below. The first two operatives listed are definitely present; it is less certain that the others are there:
bullet Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta. [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/30/2001]
bullet Ramzi bin al-Shibh, an associate of Atta from Hamburg, arrives in Spain on July 9, and stays until July 16. Spanish authorities are notified of his arrival in the country by German intelligence (see (Around July 9, 2001)). [New York Times, 5/1/2002]
bullet Some reports say that 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi attends, although if he does, he may use a false identity, as US immigration has no records of his departure or return. [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/30/2001; US Department of Justice, 5/20/2002]
bullet The Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia will later report that 9/11 hijackers Waleed and Wail Alshehri meet Atta on July 16. [Associated Press, 9/27/2001] However, there will be no mention of them attending the meeting in some other accounts. For example, their attendance will not be mentioned in the relevant section of the 9/11 Commission Report. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 243-5]
bullet Amer el-Azizi. [Wall Street Journal, 4/7/2004; Associated Press, 1/23/2005] El-Azizi, who seems to have made preparations for the meeting, is under surveillance at this time, as Spanish authorities are listening in on his phone calls. [Wall Street Journal, 3/19/2004] Calls possibly related to the meeting’s organization were overheard (see Before July 8, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2004; Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2004] Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon will later indict el-Azizi for helping plan 9/11 and say that he assisted the plotters by arranging accommodation for them and acting as a courier. However, US officials will be less certain of his involvement. [Associated Press, 1/23/2005] His arrest shortly after 9/11 will be frustrated by Spanish intelligence (see October 2001 and Shortly After November 21, 2001) and he will go on to be involved in the 2004 Madrid bombings (see Before March 11, 2004 and 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004).
bullet Barakat Yarkas, head of an al-Qaeda-linked cell in Spain. [New York Times, 11/20/2001; Los Angeles Times, 1/14/2003]
bullet Mohammed Belfatmi. Belfatmi is an associate of Yarkas, and lives near the hotels where Atta and bin al-Shibh stay. He will flee Europe just before 9/11 with Said Bahaji, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg (see September 3-5, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 1/14/2003; BBC Worldwide Monitoring, 12/2/2004]
bullet Mamoun Darkazanli and Mohammed Haydar Zammar, associates of Atta’s from Germany.
bullet Al Jazeera reporter Tayseer Allouni.
bullet Said Bahaji, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg. According to Spanish investigators, Bahaji is with Atta the entire time, and they both stay at the Monica Hotel. [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 137]
bullet 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). In 2002, Al Jazeera journalist Yosri Fouda will allegedly interview bin al-Shibh and KSM together before either of them are arrested (see April, June, or August 2002). Neither bin al-Shibh nor KSM will discuss any details of the meeting with Fouda, including who attended. KSM will neither confirm nor deny he was there. However, in a 2003 book, Fouda will claim that, according to Spanish investigators, the initial attendees are Atta, bin al-Shibh, Bahaji, and a fourth man who might be KSM. They are later joined by Alshehhi and two unnamed others. [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 137]
However, there is a parallel meeting in Granada, in the south of Spain, at this time, and Yarkas, Darkazanli, Zammar, and Allouni may only be at that meeting, and may not meet Atta and bin al-Shibh in person (see July 6, 2001 and Shortly After). [New York Times, 11/20/2001; Los Angeles Times, 1/14/2003] After being captured, bin al-Shibh will deny meeting anyone other than Atta while in Spain. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 243-5] However, questions will be raised about the quality of information obtained from detainees due to the methods—including torture—used to extract it (see June 16, 2004). The movements of Atta and his associates in Spain are apparently mirrored by those of FBI agents John O’Neill and Mark Rossini (see July 5-16, 2001).

Entity Tags: Mamoun Darkazanli, Wail Alshehri, Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mohamed Atta, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Amer el-Azizi, Yosri Fouda, Mohammed Belfatmi, Tayseer Allouni, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Said Bahaji, Barakat Yarkas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Zacarias Moussaoui writes the phone number of Amer el-Azizi in his notebook. El-Azizi is a Spain-based militant who is linked to 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see (November 2001)) and is thought to have helped set up a meeting between Mohamed Atta and Ramzi bin al-Shibh in Spain in July 2001 (see Before July 8, 2001 and July 8-19, 2001). It is unclear when the number is written in Moussaoui’s notebook or what type of contact there is between Moussaoui and el-Azizi, if any. [Wall Street Journal, 4/7/2004] However, the connection to el-Azizi does not appear to be mentioned at Moussaoui’s trial (see March 6-May 4, 2006), even though it would be one of very few pieces of evidence potentially tying Moussaoui to the 9/11 plot. The reason for this is unclear. El-Azizi’s arrest shortly after 9/11 will be frustrated by Spanish intelligence (see October 2001 and Shortly After November 21, 2001) and he will go on to be involved in the 2004 Madrid bombings (see Before March 11, 2004 and 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004).

Entity Tags: Amer el-Azizi, Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In April 2001, the CIA analyzed some “intriguing information associated with a person known as ‘Mukhtar.’” The CIA didn’t know who this was at the time, only that he was associated with top al-Qaeda deputy Abu Zubaida and that he seemed to be involved in planning al-Qaeda activities. On August 28, 2001, the CIA receives a cable reporting that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) has the nickname of Mukhtar (which means “brain” in Arabic). However, apparently no one at the CIA’s bin Laden unit makes the connection between this new information and the April 2001 information. The 9/11 Commission writes, “Only after 9/11 would it be discovered that Muhktar/KSM had communicated with a phone that was used by [Ramzi] bin al-Shibh, and that bin al-Shibh had used the same phone to communicate with [Zacarias] Moussaoui [who is in US custody by this time.]” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 322; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 277]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Ramzi Yousef, Alec Station, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Central Intelligence Agency, Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Amer el-Azizi slipped surveillance after 9/11.Amer el-Azizi slipped surveillance after 9/11. [Source: El Pais]Amer el-Azizi, an al-Qaeda operative active in Spain, escapes a round-up of suspected al-Qaeda operatives by fleeing the country two weeks before arrests start to be made, even though he is under surveillance. [Wall Street Journal, 3/19/2004; Wall Street Journal, 4/7/2004; Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2004] El-Azizi, who had previously been arrested and released twice (see October 10, 2000), returns to Spain shortly after this and falls under police surveillance, but his arrest is frustrated by Spanish intelligence (see Shortly After November 21, 2001). He goes on to play a role in the Madrid train bombings (see Before March 11, 2004 and 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004).

Entity Tags: Amer el-Azizi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

When investigators search the home of Amer el-Azizi, a known al-Qaeda operative, they find an e-mail address that connects him to 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). El-Azizi helped arrange a meeting between lead hijacker Mohamed Atta and an associate, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, in the run-up to 9/11 (see July 8-19, 2001), although he was monitored by Spanish authorities at the time (see Before July 8, 2001) and arrested in Turkey in 2000 (see October 10, 2000). His arrest shortly after 9/11 will be frustrated by Spanish intelligence (see October 2001 and Shortly After November 21, 2001) and he will go on to be involved in the 2004 Madrid bombings (see Before March 11, 2004 and 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). An indictment released in 2004 will say, “A fundamental document… connects Amer el-Azizi directly with those responsible for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and concretely with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed via the e-mail address identified as Safar86@usa.net.” The e-mail address “was being used by an individual who facilitated trips for al-Qaeda members in direct connection with [KSM], organizer of the attacks.” A detainee will also later say that el-Azizi was in contact with the 9/11 plotters via e-mail. [Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2004] After 9/11, however, when the Spanish want to indict el-Azizi, the US will be reluctant to turn the information over to them, and it will take six months to get it. Despite this, problems persist in information sharing between the US and Spain and this has an impact on prosecutions (see Mid-2002-June 1, 2006). [Wall Street Journal, 5/4/2004]

Entity Tags: Amer el-Azizi, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Spanish intelligence agency CESID (later renamed CNI) frustrates the arrest of a senior member of al-Qaeda in Europe, Amer el-Azizi, by Spanish police. Most members of the cell of which el-Azizi was a member were arrested shortly before, but el-Azizi had avoided the round-up by fleeing abroad (see October 2001). After returning to Spain, he again falls under police surveillance, but, according to Spanish police union head Jose Manuel Sanchez Fornet, his arrest is prevented by “interference” from CESID. Fornet will later say that a police recording made at this time shows two CESID agents going to el-Azizi’s house. This alerts el-Azizi that he is under surveillance and he flees his home. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/29/2004] El-Azizi then remains in Spain for some weeks, selling his car to an associate. When his apartment is searched, police find more than a dozen bags with radical Islamic books and videos. They also find videos of bin Laden on his computer and pamphlets from groups like Hamas. [Wall Street Journal, 3/19/2004; Wall Street Journal, 4/7/2004; Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2004] El-Azizi was arrested and released twice before (see October 10, 2000). He helped plan a meeting for Mohamed Atta just before 9/11 (see Before July 8, 2001 and July 8-19, 2001), and will go on to be involved in the Madrid train bombings (see Before March 11, 2004 and 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004).

Entity Tags: Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, Amer el-Azizi, Jose Manuel Sanchez Fornet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is allegedly first linked to the 9/11 plot around this time. According to an unnamed US counterterrorism official speaking to a reporter in June 2002 (see June 4, 2002), when KSM is first publicly identified as the 9/11 mastermind, “within three months” of 9/11, the FBI learns that KSM was involved in some financial transactions related to the funding of the 9/11 attacks. [Associated Press, 6/4/2002] KSM is also connected to the 9/11 hijackers in another way in November 2001 (see (November 2001)).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, where Abu Zubaida is arrested.The house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, where Abu Zubaida is arrested. [Source: New York Times]Al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan. He is the first al-Qaeda leader considered highly important to be captured or killed after 9/11.
Zubaida Injured during Raid - A joint team from the FBI, the CIA, and the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, raids the house where Zubaida is staying. Around 3 a.m., the team breaks into the house. Zubaida and three others wake up and rush to the rooftop. Zubaida and the others jump to a neighbor’s roof where they are grabbed by local police who are providing back-up for the capture operation. One of Zubaida’s associates manages to grab a gun from one of the police and starts firing it. A shoot-out ensues. The associate is killed, several police are wounded, and Zubaida is shot three times, in the leg, stomach, and groin. He survives. About a dozen other suspected al-Qaeda operatives are captured in the house, and more are captured in other raids that take place nearby at the same time. [New York Times, 4/14/2002; Suskind, 2006, pp. 84-89] US intelligence had slowly been closing in on Zubaida’s location for weeks, but accounts differ as to exactly how he was found (see February-March 28, 2002). He had surgically altered his appearance and was using an alias, so it takes a few days to completely confirm his identity. [New York Times, 9/10/2006]
Link to Pakistani Militant Group - A later US State Department report will mention that the building Zubaida is captured in is actually a Lashkar-e-Toiba safehouse. Lashkar-e-Toiba is a Pakistani militant group with many links to al-Qaeda, and it appears to have played a key role in helping al-Qaeda operatives escape US forces in Afghanistan and find refuge in Pakistan (see Late 2001-Early 2002). [US Department of State, 4/30/2008]
Rendition - Not long after his arrest, Zubaida is interrogated by a CIA agent while he is recovering in a local hospital (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). He then is rendered to a secret CIA prison, where he is interrogated and tortured (see Mid-May 2002 and After). Throughout his detention, members of the National Security Council and other senior Bush administration officials are briefed about Zubaida’s captivity and treatment. [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file]
Is Zubaida a High-Ranking Al-Qaeda Leader? - Shortly after the arrest, the New York Times reports that “Zubaida is believed by American intelligence to be the operations director for al-Qaeda and the highest-ranking figure of that group to be captured since the Sept. 11 attacks.” [New York Times, 4/14/2002] But it will later come out that while Zubaida was an important radical Islamist, his importance was probably overstated (see Shortly After March 28, 2002).
Tortured While in US Custody - Once Zubaida has sufficiently recovered from his injuries, he is taken to a secret CIA prison in Thailand for more interrogation. [Observer, 6/13/2004; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] One unnamed CIA official will later say: “He received the finest medical attention on the planet. We got him in very good health, so we could start to torture him.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100] Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld publicly vows that Zubaida will not be tortured, but it will later come out that he was (see Mid-May 2002 and After and April - June 2002). [New York Times, 4/14/2002]

Entity Tags: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, National Security Council, Donald Rumsfeld, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

In the wake of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida’s arrest (see March 28, 2002), the FBI discovers much useful information (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). FBI agent Dan Coleman leads a team to sort through Zubaida’s computer files and documents. However, at the same time, some US officials come to believe that Zubaida’s prominence in al-Qaeda’s hierarchy has been overestimated. Many FBI officials conclude that he was used as little more than a travel agent for training camp attendees because he was mentally ill. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]
FBI Agent Coleman: Zubaida Is Mentally Crippled - FBI counterterrorist operative Dan Coleman will go through Zubaida’s journals and other materials seized from his Faisalabad safe house. Coleman will say: “Abu Zubaydah was like a receptionist, like the guy at the front desk [of a hotel]. He takes their papers, he sends them out. It’s an important position, but he’s not recruiting or planning.” Because Zubaida is not conversant with al-Qaeda security methods, “[t]hat was why his name had been cropping up for years.” Of Zubaida’s diaries, Coleman will say: “There’s nothing in there that refers to anything outside his head, not even when he saw something on the news, not about any al-Qaeda attack, not even 9/11. All it does is reveal someone in torment. [Zubaida is physically and mentally crippled from wounds suffered fighting in Afghanistan in the early 1990s.] Based on what I saw of his personality, he could not be what they say he was.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008] Coleman will add: “He knew very little about real operations, or strategy. He was expendable.” Zubaida’s diary evidences his apparent schizophrenia; he wrote it in three different personas, or voices, each with a different and distinctive personality. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]
Islamist Al-Deen: Importance Overstated? - Noor al-Deen, a Syrian teenager, was captured along with Zubaida. The terrified al-Deen will readily answer questions from his captors, and will describe Zubaida as a well-known functionary with little knowledge of al-Qaeda operations. Al-Deen will be sent to a detention facility in Morocco and later to Syria; his subsequent whereabouts and status will remain unknown to the public. [Washington Post, 3/29/2009]
Informant Says Zubaida Behaved Oddly - Other accounts back up this assessment. For instance, Omar Nasiri, a former informant for European intelligence agencies who met Zubaida in the 1990s, will later describe Zubaida’s odd behavior, saying he “shuffled around his home in near-total darkness, carrying a gas lantern from room to room. He barely spoke and would often communicate by pointing.” [New Yorker, 1/22/2007]
CIA Officer Scheuer: Zubaida Served as Key Hub - Michael Scheuer, who previously ran the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see February 1996), will later say of Zubaida’s importance: “I’d followed him for a decade. If there was one guy you could call a ‘hub,’ he was it.” Scheuer will describe Zubaida not as an actual al-Qaeda member, but “the main cog in the way they organized,” a point of contact for Islamists from many parts of the globe seeking combat training in the Afghan camps. Scheuer will say that Zubaida, a Palestinian, “never swore bayat [al-Qaeda’s oath of allegiance] to bin Laden,” and he was bent on causing damage to Israel, not the US. [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Involvement in Pre-9/11 Plots - However, Zubaida does appear to have been involved in numerous plots before 9/11 (see for instance November 30, 1999 and Early September 2001). Al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam cooperated with US investigators after being arrested. He worked with Zubaida and suggested Zubaida was of some importance, but not one of al-Qaeda’s highest leaders. According to Ressam, Zubaida “is the person in charge of the [training] camps. He receives young men from all countries. He accepts you or rejects you. He takes care of the expenses of the camps. He makes arrangements for you when you travel coming in or leaving.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 133] Furthermore, when Zubaida was caught, apparently he and several others staying with him were in the middle of building a bomb. According to one of the CIA officers who helped capture him, the soldering iron used in making the bomb was still hot when he was captured (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file]
CIA Chief Tenet Rejects Diagnosis of Schizophrenia - In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet will claim that the reports that Zubaida was mentally unstable were “[b]aloney.… Apparently, the source of the rumor that Abu Zubaida was unbalanced was his personal diary, in which he adopted various personas. From that shaky perch, some junior Freudians leapt to the conclusion that Zubaida had multiple personalities. In fact, agency psychiatrists eventually determined that in his diary he was using a sophisticated literary device to express himself.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 243]
Zubaida Touted as High-Level Terror Chief - Regardless, despite being briefed otherwise, President Bush and others in his administration will repeatedly tout the importance of capturing Zubaida and no hint of any doubts about his importance or sanity will be publicly expressed (see April 9, 2002 and After). [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]

Entity Tags: Ron Suskind, George J. Tenet, Dan Coleman, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Abu Zubaida, Ahmed Ressam, Omar Nasiri, Noor al-Deen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

FBI senior interrogator and al-Qaeda expert Ali Soufan, in conjunction with FBI agent Steve Gaudin, interrogate suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) using traditional non-coercive interrogation methods, while Zubaida is under guard in a secret CIA prison in Thailand. A CIA interrogation team is expected but has not yet arrived, so Soufan and Gaudin who have been nursing his wounds are initially leading his questioning using its typical rapport-building techniques. “We kept him alive,” Soufan will later recall. “It wasn’t easy, he couldn’t drink, he had a fever. I was holding ice to his lips.” At the beginning, Zubaida denies even his identity, calling himself “Daoud;” Soufan, who has pored over the FBI’s files on Zubaida, stuns him by calling him “Hani,” the nickname his mother called him. Soufan and Gaudin, with CIA officials present, elicit what he will later call “important actionable intelligence” from Zubaida. To help get him to talk, the agents bring in a box of audiotapes and claim they contain recordings of his phone conversations. He begins to confess.
Zubaida Reveals KSM Is 9/11 Mastermind - Zubaida tells Soufan that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and confirms that Mohammed’s alias is “Mukhtar,” a vital fact US intelligence discovered shortly before 9/11 (see August 28, 2001). Soufan shows Zubaida a sheaf of pictures of terror suspects; Zubaida points at Mohammed’s photo and says, “That’s Mukhtar… the one behind 9/11” (see April 2002). Zubaida also tells Soufan about American al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla (see March 2002 and Mid-April 2002). In 2009, Soufan will write of his interrogations of Zubaida (see April 22, 2009): “This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.” When the CIA begins subjecting Zubaida to “enhanced interrogation tactics” (see Mid-April 2002), Soufan will note that they learn nothing from using those tactics “that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions… The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.” [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007; Mayer, 2008, pp. 155; New York Times, 4/22/2009; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
Standing Up to the CIA - The CIA interrogation team members, which includes several private contractors, want to begin using “harsh interrogation tactics” on Zubaida almost as soon as they arrive. The techniques they have in mind include nakedness, exposure to freezing temperatures, and loud music. Soufan objects. He yells at one contractor (whom other sources will later identify as psychologist James Mitchell—see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002, January 2002 and After and Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002), telling him that what he is doing is wrong, ineffective, and an offense to American values. “I asked [the contractor] if he’d ever interrogated anyone, and he said no,” Soufan will later say. But, Mitchell retorts that his inexperience does not matter. “Science is science,” he says. “This is a behavioral issue.” Instead, Mitchell says, Soufan is the inexperienced one. As Soufan will later recall, “He told me he’s a psychologist and he knows how the human mind works.” During the interrogation process, Soufan finds a dark wooden “confinement box” that the contractor has built for Zubaida. Soufan will later recall that it looked “like a coffin.” (Other sources later say that Mitchell had the box constructed for a “mock burial.”) An enraged Soufan calls Pasquale D’Amuro, the FBI assistant director for counterterrorism. “I swear to God,” he shouts, “I’m going to arrest these guys!” Soufan challenges one CIA official over the agency’s legal authority to torture Zubaida, saying, “We’re the United States of America, and we don’t do that kind of thing.” But the official counters with the assertion that the agency has received approval from the “highest levels” in Washington to use such techniques. The official even shows Soufan a document that the official claims was approved by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. It is unclear what document the official is referring to.
Ordered Home - In Washington, D’Amuro is disturbed by Soufan’s reports, and tells FBI director Robert Mueller, “Someday, people are going to be sitting in front of green felt tables having to testify about all of this.” Mueller orders Soufan and then Gaudin to return to the US, and later forbids the FBI from taking part in CIA interrogations (see May 13, 2004). [New York Times, 9/10/2006; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
Disputed Claims of Effectiveness - The New York Times will later note that officials aligned with the FBI tend to think the FBI’s techniques were effective while officials aligned with the CIA tend to think the CIA’s techniques were more effective. [New York Times, 9/10/2006] In 2007, former CIA officer John Kiriakou will make the opposite claim, that FBI techniques were slow and ineffective and CIA techniques were immediately effective. However, Kiriakou led the team that captured Zubaida in Pakistan and does not appear to have traveled with him to Thailand (see December 10, 2007). [ABC News, 12/10/2007; ABC News, 12/10/2007 pdf file]
Press Investigation Finds that FBI Interrogations Effective - In 2007, Vanity Fair will conclude a 10 month investigation comprising 70 interviews, and conclude that the FBI techniques were effective. The writers will later note, “America learned the truth of how 9/11 was organized because a detainee had come to trust his captors after they treated him humanely.” CIA Director George Tenet reportedly is infuriated that the FBI and not the CIA obtained the information and he demands that the CIA team get there immediately. But once the CIA team arrives, they immediately put a stop to the rapport building techniques and instead begin implementing a controversial “psychic demolition” using legally questionable interrogation techniques. Zubaida immediately stops cooperating (see Mid-April 2002). [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007]

Entity Tags: Steve Gaudin, Vanity Fair, Robert S. Mueller III, James Elmer Mitchell, Jose Padilla, Abu Zubaida, Ali Soufan, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, John Kiriakou, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pasquale D’Amuro

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

FBI agents are able to get prisoner Abu Zubaida to confess that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Zubaida, captured in Pakistan in March 2002 (see March 28, 2002), is considered a high-ranking prisoner, although there is controversy over just how important he was to al-Qaeda (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). FBI agents Ali Soufan and Steve Gaudin have been interrogating Zubaida using traditional non-coercive interrogation methods, while he is being held in a secret CIA prison in Thailand (see Late March through Early June, 2002). A CIA interrogation team is expected but has not yet arrived. Soufan shows Zubaida a sheaf of pictures of high priority suspects; Zubaida points at KSM’s photo and says, “That’s Mukhtar… the one behind 9/11.” Shortly before 9/11, US intelligence had learned that the alias “Mukhtar” was frequently used by KSM (see August 28, 2001), but this is important confirmation. The more stunning revelation is that KSM is “the one behind 9/11.” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 155; New York Times, 4/22/2009; Newsweek, 4/25/2009] Zubaida proceeds to lay out more details of the 9/11 plot, although exactly what and how much he says is unknown. [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007] It is unclear how much US intelligence knew about KSM’s role in the 9/11 attacks prior to this, although at least some was known (see (December 2001)).

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaida, Ali Soufan, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steve Gaudin, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The photo of Mohammed on the right has been flipped to better compare it.The photo of Mohammed on the right has been flipped to better compare it. [Source: FBI]Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is publicly identified as the “mastermind” behind the 9/11 attacks. He is believed to have arranged the logistics while on the run in Germany, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. In 1996, he had been secretly indicted in the US for his role in Operation Bojinka (see January 6, 1995), and the US began offering a $2 million reward for his capture in 1998 (see January 8, 1998), which increased to $25 million in December 2001. An international warrant for his arrest was issued in November 2000 (see November 17, 2000). [Associated Press, 6/4/2002; New York Times, 6/5/2002] According to the New York Times, “In recent months, American counterintelligence officials have identified a small group of other al-Qaeda lieutenants as the crucial figures behind the Sept. 11 attacks” aside from KSM. They include Mohammed Atef (who is already deceased), Abu Zubaida, and Ayman al-Zawahiri. [New York Times, 6/5/2002] There are conflicting accounts of how much US investigators knew about KSM before 9/11. He is Pakistani, although he was born and raised in Kuwait. [CBS News, 6/5/2002] He is an uncle of Ramzi Yousef, the bomber of the World Trade Center in 1993. [New York Times, 6/5/2002] In April 2002, captured al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida confessed that KSM was the 9/11 mastermind (see April 2002). It is not known how much US intelligence knew about KSM’s link to the 9/11 attacks prior that, although at least some was known (see (December 2001)).

Entity Tags: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Mohammed Atef, Ramzi Yousef, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Zubaida, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Spanish investigators and prosecutors attempting to jail people they believe are important al-Qaeda operatives seek US assistance, but the US fails to provide them with full co-operation. Spanish authorities started to build a case against a Spain-based al-Qaeda cell headed by Barakat Yarkas in the 1990s and some of the suspects were under surveillance as they allegedly assisted the 9/11 plot (see August 1998-September 11, 2001). The US has some information about them, but does not release what the Spanish need because the US apparently does not want to fight terrorism through law enforcement, but through more direct methods. A Spanish official says, “From the US point of view, everything is an intelligence affair, not a judicial matter… That is what is undermining the whole process.” In 2004, the Spanish official complains: “We could clearly prove the Spanish role in 9/11 if we had real cooperation. There are literally two or three elements missing to close the case, but as it is now, all of the suspects will go free.” One key dispute centers on US unwillingness to share evidence linking Spain-based al-Qaeda operative Amer el-Azizi to the 9/11 plot and Spanish officials spend six months persuading the US before getting a copy of a “specific element that provides a concrete link” between el-Azizi and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see (November 2001)). In addition, the US fails to provide information identifying Saudi Arabian investors in Spanish construction companies owned by a Syrian businessman, Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi, another suspected militant who is thought to have channeled money to extremists through his group of companies, as well as suspicious Islamic charities. [Wall Street Journal, 5/4/2004] This lack of co-operation hinders the prosecutions of the operatives and means they receive only relatively light sentences. For example, Yarkas is initially found guilty of both terrorism in Spain and assisting the 9/11 plot, but his 9/11 conviction is overturned on appeal (see September 26, 2005).

Entity Tags: Barakat Yarkas, Amer el-Azizi, Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Amer el-Azizi, a leading al-Qaeda operative, is thought to re-enter Spain to activate a cell that carries out train bombings in Madrid in 2004 (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), as he is seen by witnesses in Madrid after the attacks. [Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2004] A senior Spanish investigator will say in 2004, “There are people who have seen el-Azizi here in Spain after the attacks. It looks like he came back and may have directed the others. If he was here, his background would make it likely that he was the top guy. We have reliable witness accounts that he was here in significant places connected to the plot. The idea of el-Azizi as a leader has become more solid.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2004] His fingerprints are found in a safe house first used by the bombers in 2002. A Spanish investigator will comment, “El-Azizi was the brains, he was the link between the [bombers and the rest of al-Qaeda.” [Irujo, 2005, pp. 218; Vidino, 2006, pp. 320-321] El-Azizi was arrested in Turkey in 2000 with several of the 2004 Madrid bombers, but they were released for an unspecified reason (see October 10, 2000). Spanish intelligence also frustrated his arrest after 9/11 (see Shortly After November 21, 2001).

Entity Tags: Amer el-Azizi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Multiple bombs destroyed this train in Madrid, Spain.Multiple bombs destroyed this train in Madrid, Spain. [Source: Rafa Roa/ Cover/ Corbis] (click image to enlarge)At about 7:40 a.m., four trains are bombed in Madrid, Spain, killing 191 people and injuring about 1,800 more. These are not suicide bombings, but were set by cell phone timers. Basque separatists are initially blamed, but evidence later points to people loosely associated with al-Qaeda. It will later be reported that 34 out of the 40 main people suspected or arrested for involvement in the bombings were under surveillance in Spain prior to the bombings (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004). Most of the bombers had never been to any training camps. In 2006, Spanish investigators will announce that the bombings were inspired by al-Qaeda, but not ordered or funded by al-Qaeda’s leadership. Specifically, the bombers are said to have been inspired by a speech allegedly given by Osama bin Laden in October 2003 (see October 19, 2003). [New Yorker, 7/26/2004; Associated Press, 3/9/2006] However, there will also be evidence against this that will not be refuted. For instance, the investigators will claim that all the key participants are either dead or in jail, but a number of them remain free overseas. For example, Amer el-Azizi is implicated in the Madrid bombings (see Before March 11, 2004), and he has links to well-known al-Qaeda figures such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see (November 2001)), Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see Before July 8, 2001), and Zacarias Moussaoui (see Before August 16, 2001). In late 2002 or early 2003, el-Azizi is said to have met with Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of the key bombers, to discuss a bombing. He reportedly gave Fakhet permission to stage a bombing in the name of al-Qaeda, but it is unclear if he gave any funding or other assistance. [Associated Press, 4/10/2004; New Yorker, 7/26/2004] There are suggestions that el-Azizi was protected by Spanish intelligence (see Shortly After November 21, 2001), so the government may not be eager to highlight his involvement. Fakhet, considered one of the three masterminds of the bombings, may have been a government informant (see Shortly After October 2003). Many of the other plotters also appear to have been informants, and almost all the plotters were under surveillance before the bombings (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004). Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will say later in the month: “If we catch [bin Laden] this summer, which I expect, it’s two years too late. Because during those two years when forces were diverted to Iraq… al-Qaeda has metamorphosized into a hydra-headed organization with cells that are operating autonomously like the cells that operated in Madrid recently.” [USA Today, 3/28/2004] It will be noted that the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US and the Madrid train bombings are separated by a total of 911 days. [MSNBC, 3/19/2004; Bloomberg, 4/22/2005]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Amer el-Azizi, Al-Qaeda, Richard A. Clarke, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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