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Context of 'December 26, 1998: Future Kidnappers Allegedly Meet Half-Brother of Yemeni President'

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Sheikh Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad serves as Osama bin Laden’s “spiritual adviser” during the war between the Soviet Union and the US-backed mujaheddin in Afghanistan, according to a statement made by Sheikh al-Moayad at his trial in 2004-2005. [CNN News, 8/2/2005] Al-Moayad’s trial in the United States will cause resentment in Yemen because he is a highly-esteemed cleric and member of the influential Islah party. [Associated Press, 3/10/2005] Another of bin Laden’s “mentors” at this time is Abdul Mejid al-Zindani, a dynamic mujaheddin recruiter who becomes a leader of the Islah party. Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh’s half-brother and military commander Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar also recruits mujaheddin fighters for Bin Laden. These fighters will later establish training camps in Yemen. [World Press, 5/28/2005]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Abdul Mejid al-Zindani, Osama bin Laden, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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

Entity Tags: Yemen, Osama bin Laden, Saudi Arabia, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, United States

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) begins issuing what authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will describe as “provocative political statements.” The IAA is headed by Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, who claims to have fought in Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden, and the organization will go on to have links with al-Qaeda (see Early 2000 and October 12, 2000). The Yemeni government had previously ignored the group, but is now irked by the statements and asks the elders of Almihdhar’s tribe to muzzle him. However, this strategy does not work, so the government offers a reward for his capture, dead or alive. Despite this, the IAA will plot a series of attacks later in the year (see Before December 23, 1998). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 163]

Entity Tags: Islamic Army of Aden, Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading British imam and an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), concludes an agreement with Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, leader of the Yemen-based Islamic Army of Aden, who he had met in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. Abu Hamza sends followers for low-key militant training in Britain (see (Mid-1997) and (1998)), but this training consists of little more than survival courses and he needs a location where firearms can be used more freely. Therefore, Almihdhar agrees to provide training in Yemen, at a cost of £1,200 (about $1,800) per group of trainees. In return, Abu Hamza agrees to act as his press spokesman, and gives him a satellite phone costing £2,000 (about $3,200). Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later describe the training: “The climate was brutal, the food inedible, and most of [the British recruits] complained that they missed their computer games and creature comforts. They got to ride horses, fire off several rounds of ammunition from an automatic rifle, and were instructed how to rig explosive devices by men who had fought in Afghanistan. They were also taught what else they would need to do to kill hundreds of innocents in an attack planned for Christmas day.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 157-158, 162, 164-165] A group of Abu Hamza’s supporters who travel to Yemen for militant training with Almihdhar will later be arrested by police (see December 23, 1998) and Abu Hamza and Almihdhar will talk on the satellite phone during a kidnapping organized to engineer their release (see December 28-29, 1998).

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri, Islamic Army of Aden, Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Following al-Qaeda’s bombing of two US embassies in East Africa, the CIA notices that the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), an al-Qaeda affiliate, has praised the attack on its website. Also noting Yemeni links to the bombing itself, the CIA turns its attention to the IAA and its leader Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar. The CIA is assisted in this by the local Yemeni authorities. Officials in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a begin to compile a dossier on Almihdhar and his links to the West, including his fundraisers and supporters in Britain. They identify Finsbury Park mosque, run by British intelligence informer Abu Hamza al-Masri, as “crucial” to the IAA’s operations. Almihdhar has a co-operation agreement with Abu Hamza (see (June 1998)) that provides him with money and recruits, and an IAA emissary will allegedly visit London in September (see September 1998). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 163-164]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Islamic Army of Aden, Finsbury Park Mosque, Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), a local militant group linked to al-Qaeda (see Early 2000 and October 12, 2000), plots a series of strikes against Western-related targets in Aden, Yemen. According to the Yemeni authorities, the plot encompasses:
bullet An attack on the Movenpick hotel, which is used by Western tourists and had already been bombed in 1992 (see December 29, 1992);
bullet Firing rockets into a clinic in the grounds of Aden’s only Christian church;
bullet Murdering British diplomats at the British consulate;
bullet Attacks on the Al Shadhrawan nightclub;
bullet Hitting the UN office in Aden; and
bullet Attacking a hotel used by US troops.
However, the plot, headed by IAA leader Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, will be broken up on December 23, when six of the plotters linked to leading British imam Abu Hamza al-Masri are arrested by police in Aden (see December 23, 1998). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 159-160]

Entity Tags: Islamic Army of Aden, Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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

Entity Tags: Ahmed Abdullah al-Hasani, Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, Islamic Army of Aden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, leader of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic Army of Aden (see Early 2000 and October 12, 2000), telephones Abu Hamza al-Masri, a London-based imam and informer for the British security services (see Early 1997). Six operatives sent by Abu Hamza to Yemen for training had become involved in a bomb plot, but were arrested four days ago (see December 23, 1998). Almihdhar makes two calls to Abu Hamza, and tells him of the capture of the operatives, who include Abu Hamza’s stepson and former bodyguard. The two men apparently come up with a plan to capture some Western tourists, and Abu Hamza purchases more airtime worth £500 (about $800) for Almihdhar’s satellite phone. After the tourists are captured the next day (see December 28-29, 1998), Almihdhar will immediately telephone Abu Hamza and, according to one of the tourists’ drivers, say, “We’ve got the goods that were ordered, 16 cartons marked Britain and America.” This is not the only telephone contact between the two men, and authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will add, “What was apparent from the first hours of the hostage crisis was that the short-tempered [Almihdhar] needed the advice and reassurance of his spokesman in North London.” The calls are intercepted by the Government Communications Headquarters, Britain’s wiretapping agency, using a base in Cyprus. Although the communications cannot be used in court under British law, they are useful to the intelligence services in determining what is going on between Almihdhar and Abu Hamza. However, the intercepts are also shared with the FBI, which will later indicate it may use them in a US prosecution of Abu Hamza stemming from the fact that two of the kidnap victims are American nationals. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 156-157, 161, 180]

Entity Tags: Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Government Communications Headquarters, Islamic Army of Aden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A group of 20 people, including 16 western tourists, are kidnapped in southern Yemen by the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), an al-Qaeda affiliate. In return for releasing the hostages, IAA leader Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar demands the release of six IAA operatives arrested a few days earlier (see December 23, 1998). Almihdhar also makes further demands, including the release of more prisoners, an end to the US-led bombing of Iraq, and a change of government in Yemen. Knowing that it will be unable to meet all these demands and worried Almihdhar will carry out his threat to start executing the hostages, the day after the kidnapping the Yemen government sends in the army to rescue them, but four hostages die during the fighting. [Quin, 2005, pp. 31-62, 83, 126-7, 155-6, 200-1] Three of the militants are killed, and seven, including Almihdhar, are captured. However, some escape. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 168]
Motive - Hostage Mary Quin, who will write a book about the kidnapping, will later conclude that fear for the hostages’ safety is not the only motive for the attack by the army and that it is also a product of the government’s policy of attacking the IAA where possible. Yemen’s deputy foreign minister will comment: “We are not tolerating these groups. What happened in Abyan [where the hostages were held] was a reaction to a crackdown on these people.”
Link to Abu Hamza - Before and during the kidnapping, Almihdhar is in contact with the IAA’s spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Masri, in London, using a satellite phone Abu Hamza provided him with. One of the six operatives Almihdhar wants the government to release is Abu Hamza’s stepson. Almihdhar will be sentenced to death for his role, and most of the other kidnappers are also caught and punished (see October 17, 1999). The Yemen government later asks for the extradition of Abu Hamza, who has a relationship with British intelligence (see Early 1997), but the British government refuses (see January 1999). [Quin, 2005, pp. 31-62, 83, 126-7, 155-6, 200-1]
Relative of 9/11 Hijacker? - It will later be suggested that Almihdhar is a distant relative of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. [New York Times, 12/7/2001]

Entity Tags: Mary Quin, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, Islamic Army of Aden, Yemen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, the head of the Islamic Army of Aden, is captured in a failed hostage-taking operation (see December 28-29, 1998), one of his lieutenants, Hetam bin Farid, becomes its de-facto leader. However, bin Farid is arrested shortly after Almihdhar is executed (see October 17, 1999). At his trial, bin Farid will claim to be a police informer, although the judge will not accept this argument and will sentence him to seven years in prison. Bin Farid was involved in a plot to bomb targets in Yemen (see December 23, 1998), which was broken up by the police. Author Mary Quin, who will investigate the plot, will say that she does not believe the police’s account of the chance discovery of the plotters’ weapons, and speculate that bin Farid may have been telling the truth when he claimed to be an informer. [Quin, 2005, pp. 116, 127]

Entity Tags: Hetam bin Farid, Mary Quin, Islamic Army of Aden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Acting on a tip-off from a local sheikh, Yemeni security forces capture six men wanted on terrorism charges by Al Batan mountain, around 250 miles northeast of Aden. Four of the men are wanted in connection with a series of planned bombings in Yemen (see December 23, 1998). They are:
bullet Mohammed Kamel Mostafa, son of Abu Hamza al-Masri, a British militant leader and informer for the security services there (see Early 1997). Abu Hamza’s stepson is already in custody;
bullet Shazad Nabi, a British citizen;
bullet Ayaz Hussein, another British citizen; and
bullet Ali Meksen, an Algerian who apparently uses a number of false identities.
The other two are members of the Islamic Army of Aden, a local al-Qaeda affiliate. One is known as Abu Haraira, the other is Abdullah Salah al-Junaidi. Both had participated in a hostage-taking operation aimed at freeing six associates of the British men (see December 28-29, 1998). [Quin, 2005, pp. 107-108; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 177]

Entity Tags: Ayaz Hussein, Ali Meksen, Abu Haraira, Shazad Nabi, Mohammed Kamel Mostafa, Salah al-Junaidi, Islamic Army of Aden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The government of Yemen says that it has executed Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, leader of the al-Qaeda affiliate group the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), for his part in a kidnapping and murder plot (see December 28-29, 1998). However, the execution is not public and his body is not returned to his family. This leads Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading supporter of the IAA, to speculate that Almihdhar is still alive in prison. Yemeni journalist Bashraheel Bashraheel will also comment: “The execution would have sparked a civil war.… The tribal leaders know [Almihdhar] is still alive and have been bribed to persuade their followers not to rebel.” [Quin, 2005, pp. 126, 157-8, 187] It will later be suggested that Almihdhar is a distant relative of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. [New York Times, 12/7/2001]

Entity Tags: Yemen, Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, Bashraheel Bashraheel, Islamic Army of Aden, Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mohdar Abdullah.Mohdar Abdullah. [Source: San Diego Union-Tribune]Mohdar Abdullah, a friend of future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar when they live in San Diego, allegedly learns about the hijackers’ attack plans in early 2000. Abdullah helps Alhazmi and Almihdhar adjust to life in the US when they first arrive in San Diego. Abdullah speaks English well, and Alhazmi only speaks a little English and Almihdhar virtually none at all.
Alleged Prison Confessions - While imprisoned in the US in 2003 on minor charges, Abdullah will reportedly brag to other prisoners that he knew the two hijackers were planning a terrorist attack (see September 2003-May 21, 2004). According to one prisoner, Abdullah claims he had been told by an unnamed individual that Alhazmi and Almihdhar would be arriving in Los Angeles to carry out an attack before they arrived there on January 15, 2000 (see January 15, 2000). According to another prisoner, Abdullah claims that after Alhazmi and Almihdhar arrived in San Diego, they told him they planned to fly an airplane into a building and they invited him to join in the attack. Abdullah’s prison boasts will not be completely verified by the FBI. However, Abdullah will admit to the FBI that he knew of the hijackers’ extremist beliefs and that he was involved in the Islamic Army of Aden, a militant group in Yemen with al-Qaeda ties (see 1996-1997 and After and Around October 12, 2000). The 9/11 Commission will later comment, “Abdullah clearly was sympathetic to those extremist views.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 218-219]
Distantly Related to Almihdhar? - Abdullah is a Yemeni citizen, and after 9/11, it will be reported that the name in his Yemeni passport is actually Mohammed al-Mihdhar. Authorities don’t believe he is closely related to Khalid Almihdhar, but he could belong to the same tribe or clan. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/21/2001] There is evidence that Abdullah cases the Los Angeles airport in June 2000 with Alhazmi (see June 10, 2000), and he appears to know about the timing of the 9/11 attacks several weeks in advance (see Late August-September 10, 2001).

Entity Tags: Islamic Army of Aden, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Mohdar Abdullah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

Entity Tags: Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, Ahmed Abdullah al-Hasani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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