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Context of '1984 and After: US and British Intelligence Are Aware that Terrorist Abu Nidal Is Using BCCI in London, but Take No Action'

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Abu Ndal circa 1982.Abu Ndal circa 1982. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]The BBC will later suggest that US intelligence actually becomes aware of specific Abu Nidal accounts held in the criminal BCCI bank in 1984. This is because the FBI busts an illegal arms deal in New York City that involved Nidal’s BCCI accounts in London and a Nidal front company in Poland called SAS Trade at this time. [Herald Sun (Melbourne), 8/2/1991] In the 1980s, Nidal is considered the world’s most wanted terrorist. In December 1985, for instance, his network launches simultaneous attacks in Rome and Vienna, killing or wounding dozens. In 1986, the CIA tells the State Department in detail about the criminal BCCI bank’s links with Nidal and his terrorist network. They reveal that Nidal has multiple accounts at BCCI branches in Europe. [Beaty and Gwynne, 1993, pp. 328] In July 1987, Ghassan Qassem, manager of one of BCCI’s London branches, is contacted by the British intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6. They tell him that they know SAS Trade has many millions of dollars worth of accounts in his branch and that the company is an Abu Nidal front. Qassem agrees to be an informant. [Observer, 1/18/2004] Nidal first opened a BCCI account in London in 1980, depositing $50 million using an alias. In addition to being a terrorist, Nidal is an illegal arms dealer and BCCI helps him buy and sell weapons, oftentimes involving British companies. [Los Angeles Times, 9/30/1991] Qassem will later claim that he saw Nidal in Britain on three separate occasions and went shopping with him. In 1983, Nidal was interviewed by police, who took him straight to the airport and put him on a plane to leave the country. [Guardian, 7/30/1991; Observer, 1/18/2004] Qassem recognizes Nidal as a terrorist from a photograph in a magazine in 1987 and tells this to his BCCI superior, but he is told to keep quiet. The CIA and British intelligence use their knowledge of Nidal’s BCCI accounts to force SAS Trade to shut down in 1986, but usually they merely monitor terrorist activity. For instance, Nidal’s group teaches urban terrorist tactics to Peru’s Maoist Shining Path guerrillas in 1988. Shining Path pays Nidal $4 million for this work through his BCCI account and then attempts to bomb the US embassy in Lima later that year. Intelligence agencies also merely watch as Middle Eastern governments give tens of millions to Nidal through his BCCI accounts (see 1987-1990). In December 1989, Qassem tells his BCCI superiors that he is working with British intelligence. He is quickly fired. [Los Angeles Times, 9/30/1991] Nidal learns of the surveillance and empties the accounts before they can be frozen. [Guardian, 7/30/1991; Observer, 1/18/2004]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), SAS Trade, Abu Nidal Organization, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of State, Abu Nidal, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

By 1987, Abu Nidal is the world’s most well-known terrorist. His group has killed over 300 people. But in 1987 his attacks generally come to a halt. A French intelligence report in 1988 explains this is because Middle Eastern governments begin paying large sums of protection money in order not to be attacked. For instance, the government of Kuwait deposits $80 million into Nidal’s BCCI bank account in London in 1987. Kuwait will later deny the payments took place, but counterterrorism experts will dismiss the denials and say that such payments to Nidal were common. In 1988, the Defense Department will conclude that one third of Nidal’s money comes from his own businesses (he is an illegal arms dealer), one third from Arab governments, and one third from various blackmail schemes. Most of these transactions, including Nidal’s arms dealing transactions, are made through Nidal’s BCCI bank account in London, and US and British intelligence has been monitoring his account there since at least 1986 (see 1984 and After). But apparently they merely gather information and make little attempt to shut down Nidal or his finances. Nidal will eventually close out his London accounts in 1990. [Wall Street Journal, 8/9/1991; Los Angeles Times, 9/30/1991] Nidal will finally be murdered in mysterious circumstances in Iraq in August 2002. He will apparently stop his attacks around 1994. [Guardian, 8/20/2002]

Entity Tags: UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), UK Security Service (MI5), Bank of Credit and Commerce International, Abu Nidal, Abu Nidal Organization, Central Intelligence Agency, Kuwait

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Finsbury Park mosque.Finsbury Park mosque. [Source: Salim Fadhley / Public Domain]Omar Nasiri, an agent of the British intelligence services MI5 and MI6, and the French service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), penetrates radical Islamic circles in London, getting close to leading imams Abu Qatada and Abu Hamza (see Mid 1996-October 1997), learning about the Algerian Groupe Isamique Armé (GIA) (see November 1996), and dealing with al-Qaeda manager Abu Zubaida in Pakistan (see (Mid-1996) and (Mid-1996 and After)). Nasiri’s main task is to attend the main locations where radicals gather, Abu Qatada’s Four Feathers center and Abu Hamza’s Finsbury Park mosque, get close to senior operatives there to obtain information, and identify militants, even though the mosques, as Nasiri will later put it, are already “crawling with spies.” The British services are mostly interested in whether the radicals intend to attack in Britain, but, although they come close to inciting such attacks, they never cross the line. Nasiri will later comment: “[Abu Hamza] was inciting his followers to attack just about everywhere else, but never within England. He came very close to this line many times. He incited his followers to attack anyone who tried to claim Muslim land. He said many times that British soldiers and colonizers were fair game.” Nasiri, who previously received explosives training at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan (see Mid 1995-Spring 1996), also gets his associates in Afghanistan to send him his notebook from an explosives course and passes this on to his handlers, who are impressed at how sophisticated the formulae are. However, after a couple of years the radicals realize he is an informer. In addition, on the day of the African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) he is so upset that he switches his mobile phone off for the first time since he received it, so MI5 stops trusting him. He will later write: “They must have worried that I was, in fact, a sleeper and that I had disappeared to pursue some mission. I couldn’t blame them of course. I was a trained killer. From the very beginning they hadn’t trusted me; I knew that.” He has to leave Britain and his career as an informer is practically over. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 259-303]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Abu Hamza al-Masri, Finsbury Park Mosque, Omar Nasiri, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Abu Qatada

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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