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Context of 'December 1999: British Authorities Return Confiscated Bomb Manual and Violence-Inciting Tapes to Top Militant and Informer Abu Hamza'

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Belgian investigators find a CD-ROM of a recently published al-Qaeda training manual and begin translating it a few months later. Versions of the manual will later circulate widely amongst radical militants. [New York Times, 1/14/2001] The Arabic manual is called the Encyclopedia of the Afghan Jihad and it is over 7,000 pages long. It explains in simple terms how to build bombs, shoot down aircraft, conduct surveillance, and so on. Much of the material is culled from US and British military manuals. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 93-94] A former CIA official will later claim the CIA did not obtain a copy of the manual until the end of 1999. “The truth is, they missed for years the largest terrorist guide ever written.” He blames CIA reluctance to scrutinize its support for the anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s. [New York Times, 1/14/2001] ABC News, which was first to report on the manual, also claims the CIA did not get a copy until December 1999 from a suspect in Jordan (see 1998-December 11, 1999 and December 11, 1999). [ABC News, 9/18/2000] The CIA, however, claims that the manual is not that important, and that in any case it had copies for years. [New York Times, 1/14/2001] According to another account, the CIA first received a copy from Jordan in 1997. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 94]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Hamza.Abu Hamza. [Source: Ian Waldie / Reuters / Corbis]London-based imam Abu Hamza al-Masri starts working with two branches of the British security services, the police’s Special Branch and MI5, the domestic counterintelligence service. The relationships continue for several years and there are at least seven meetings between Abu Hamza and MI5 between 1997 and 2000 (see October 1, 1997, November 20, 1997, and September 1998). Based on records of the meetings, authors Daniel O’Neill and Sean McGrory will describe the relationship as “respectful, polite, and often cooperative.”
Rhetoric - One theme in the meetings, which take place at Abu Hamza’s home and a mosque he runs in Finsbury Park, is that the security services tell Abu Hamza that they do not want any trouble and ask him to tone down some of his more inflammatory comments. Abu Hamza listens politely, but always replies he is committed to jihad. However, over this period Abu Hamza’s rhetoric changes subtly, and he begins attacking “Zionists,” rather than simply “Jews.” Abu Hamza will later say that he asks security officers if his sermons are inappropriate, and they reply, “No, freedom of speech, you don’t have to worry unless we see blood on the streets.”
Information - Abu Hamza provides the security services with information about the ideology of various extremist factions, as well as “tidbits” of information about others, although in one case he provides specific intelligence that leads to the detention of two terrorist suspects. He also likes to “tell tales” about one of his rival preachers, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, and his Al-Muhajiroun organization.
Favors - Sometimes Abu Hamza asks for favors from his handlers. For example, on one occasion he requests the release of some associates after promising that they are not a threat in Britain.
Beyond the Reach of British Law - Abu Hamza will tell his aides that he is “beyond the reach of British law,” and will neglect to pay the mosque’s electricity and water bills. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later comment: “Increasingly, Abu Hamza acted as if Finsbury Park had divorced itself from Britain and was operating as an independent Muslim state. He contacted extremist groups, offering his services as an ambassador for them in [Britain] and presenting the mosque as a place of guaranteed asylum.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 96-97, 143-5]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), Sean O’Neill, Daniel McGrory, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Metropolitan Police Special Branch, Special Branch (Britain)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Khalil Deek, an al-Qaeda operative living in California for most of the 1990s, moves to Peshawar, Pakistan, around this time. Al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is also operating from the same town and is a close associate of Deek. In fact, US intelligence have been investigating the two of them since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s). It appears Deek is under surveillance by this time. The Wall Street Journal will claim, “US intelligence officials had tracked the onetime California resident for years before they had tied him, [in December 1999], to [an] alleged Jordanian plot.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/8/2000] A 2005 book by counterterrorism expert Jean-Charles Brisard will similarly relate that by the spring of 1999, “For several months the Jordanian government, with the help of the American FBI, had been stepping up pressure on [Pakistan] to arrest [Deek].” [Brisard, 2005, pp. 65] Deek lives in a rented villa surrounded by high walls. He runs a small computer school and repair shop. He helps encrypt al-Qaeda’s Internet communications. He exports drums of local honey to the Middle East. Deek and Zubaida apparently use the honey to hide the shipment of drugs and weapons (see May 2000). [Wall Street Journal, 3/8/2000; Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] Deek also creates an electronic version of an al-Qaeda terrorist manual known as the Encyclopedia of Afghan Jihad. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004] “US authorities say his house near the Afghan border also served as a way station for recruits heading in and out of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/8/2000] Zubaida also screens recruits and directs them to training camps in Afghanistan. Deek and Zubaida share a Peshawar bank account. [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] It appears that Western intelligence agencies are monitoring Zubaida’s phone calls from 1998, if not earlier (see October 1998 and After and (Mid-1996)). Deek will be arrested on December 11, 1999, quickly deported to Jordan, and then released in 2001 (see December 11, 1999). It will later be alleged that Deek was a mole for the Jordanian government all along (see Shortly After December 11, 1999).

Entity Tags: Khalil Deek, Abu Zubaida, Jordan

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

Leading British imam Abu Hamza al-Masri is arrested for his part in the kidnapping and murder of Western tourists in Yemen (see December 28-29, 1998). A demonstration outside the police station where Abu Hamza is held attracts sixty people. Abu Hamza tells the police he has just been repeating what is written in the Koran and is released. Evidence seized from his home includes 750 video and audio tapes of his sermons and an eleven-volume Encyclopedia of Afghani Jihad, which are later returned to him (see December 1999). Reda Hassaine, an informer for the British security services (see March 1997-April 2000), is disappointed and notes cynically that “the British might consider the arrest operation successful, believing that it would ward off the danger of Abu Hamza or his followers carrying out any operations too close to home.” Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment, “Hassaine’s assessment was not far off the mark.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 140-3]

Entity Tags: Reda Hassaine, Daniel McGrory, Abu Hamza al-Masri, UK Security Service (MI5), Sean O’Neill

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

British authorities return items they previously confiscated from leading cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri over his involvement in the murder of Western tourists in Yemen (see December 28-29, 1998).
Tapes - The material is returned after Britain decides not to prosecute Abu Hamza for his part in the murders, and includes video and audio tapes “packed with the usual messages of intolerance and hatred, and culminating in exhortations to kill the enemies of Islam.” The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) deemed the evidence gathered by the police “insufficient” for a prosecution, although it will later be found that three of the tapes show Abu Hamza committing the offense of “soliciting to murder.” Apparently, detectives only watched one of the tapes, as they were not the focus of their inquiries, and the police report to the CPS did not mention them. Abu Hamza will later say that he takes their return as proof nothing he says in his sermons is illegal.
Encyclopedia of Jihad - He is also given back his encyclopedia of Afghan jihad, which contains “hundreds of pages of instructions and diagrams on making bombs, organizing ambushes, laying landmines and selecting targets—among them Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.” The encyclopedia has been known to investigators in Europe for some time (see March 1995 and 1998-December 11, 1999). Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will note ironically that the authorities apparently believe that the encyclopedia is “a legitimate thing for an advocate of eternal Holy War to have in his library.” The encyclopedia will later be described at a “terrorist manual” in a court case against Abu Hamza, where it will be a key piece of evidence against him.
Passport - However, the police do retain his passport, preventing Abu Hamza, an informer for Britain’s security services (see Early 1997), from traveling abroad. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 146, 289-290]

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri, Sean O’Neill, UK Security Service (MI5), Daniel McGrory

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Leading radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri is again arrested. He is already in prison, but this is because he is awaiting proceedings on his extradition to the US, where he faces criminal charges (see May 27, 2004 and May 27, 2004). However, the British government decides it would look bad for Britain to hand over Abu Hamza for prosecution in the US for crimes committed in Britain. Therefore, the British want to try Abu Hamza at home, and the police are instructed, in the words of authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory, to “build a case, and do it swiftly.” The police decide to use tapes of Abu Hamza preaching that they seized from his home in 1999 (see March 15-19, 1999) but later returned to him (see December 1999), as they now decide the tapes show Abu Hamza making inflammatory statements that reach the level of incitement to racial hatred and soliciting to murder. O’Niell and McGrory will comment: “America wanted to put Abu Hamza on trial for recruiting, financing, and directing terrorism, charges that could see him jailed for up to a hundred years. But British prosecutors chose to intervene and to accuse him of lesser offences, mostly under a century-and-a-half-old Victorian statute. The central charge was that he had crossed the boundaries of freedom of expression—the criminal equivalent of ignoring the park keeper’s ‘Keep off the grass’ sign. Somehow Britain managed to make it look as if Abu Hamza was getting off lightly again.” Abu Hamza will be charged with the offences two months later, and will be convicted in 2006 (see January 11-February 7, 2006). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 295]

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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