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Context of '1993-1995: Former US Intelligence Agent and Arms Dealer Victor Bout Develop Town that Becomes Hub for Al-Qaeda and the 9/11 Plot'

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Richard Chichakli.Richard Chichakli. [Source: Public domain]In the spring of 1993, Victor Bout moves to Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and begins to use it as the central hub of expanding business empire. Bout is an ex-Russian military officer and is rapidly developing an international network to buy, sell, and transport illegal goods, mostly weapons. The UAE is centrally located for his needs, and it has no money laundering laws, low taxes, and very lax banking regulations. Sharjah International Airport has almost no air passenger traffic at the time, being overshadowed by the popular airport in Dubai a short distance away. So the airport establishes a niche as an air cargo hub by offering tax incentives for cargo companies. In 1993, Richard Chichakli becomes friends and business partners with Bout. In 1995, Sharjah airport hires Chichakli to be the commercial manager of a new free trade zone now being heavily used by Bout. Chichakli, a Syrian by birth, has an interesting background. He claims to have been friends with Osama bin Laden while studying in Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s. He will later claim that he used to “sit around and eat sandwiches and sing songs” with bin Laden and his siblings, back when “Osama was OK.” In 1986, he moved to Texas, became a US citizen, and served in the US army until 1993, specializing in aviation, interrogation, and intelligence. He will later claim that he not only served in the US military, but also spent about 18 years working in intelligence (which, if true, would mean he was an intelligence agent when he was friends with bin Laden). Chichakli’s free trade zone is wildly successful. [Center for Public Integrity, 11/20/2002; Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 53-56] In 2000, US investigators will learn that Chichakli is living in Texas again and is still working closely with Bout. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 53] However, no action will be taken against him until April 26, 2005, when US Treasury and FBI agents raid his home and business in Texas. They will seize his computer, documents, and over $1 million in assets as part of an investigation into Bout’s financial empire, but they will not arrest him. Chichakli will not be stopped when he leaves the US several days later. He will move to Syria, where it is later suspected that he and Bout supply Hezbollah with weapons (see July 2006). [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 247-248] Meanwhile, Sharjah and its airport will become a hub for al-Qaeda and the 9/11 plot. By 1996, there are daily flights between Afghanistan and Sharjah, and al-Qaeda uses Sharjah for drug and arms smuggling (see Mid-1996-October 2001). 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will live in Sharjah in 1998 (see July 8, 1999), and 9/11 plot facilitator Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi will be based in Sharjah in the months before the 9/11 attacks. Some of the 9/11 hijackers will pass through there and visit him (see Early-Late June, 2001).

Entity Tags: Victor Bout, Richard Chichakli

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In 1996, al-Qaeda assumes control of Ariana Airlines, Afghanistan’s national airline, for use in its illegal trade network. Passenger flights become few and erratic, as planes are used to fly drugs, weapons, gold, and personnel, primarily between Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Pakistan. The Emirate of Sharjah, in the UAE, becomes a hub for al-Qaeda drug and arms smuggling. Typically, “large quantities of drugs” are flown from Kandahar, Afghanistan, to Sharjah, and large quantities of weapons are flown back to Afghanistan. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] About three to four flights run the route each day. Many weapons come from Victor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer based in Sharjah. [Los Angeles Times, 1/20/2002] Afghan taxes on opium production are paid in gold, and then the gold bullion is flown to Dubai, UAE, and laundered into cash. [Washington Post, 2/17/2002] Taliban officials regularly provide militants with false papers identifying them as Ariana Airlines employees so they can move freely around the world. For instance, one flight on a Ariana small plane in 2000 lists 33 crew members. A former National Security Council official later claims the US is well aware at the time that al-Qaeda agents regularly fly on Ariana Airlines. (However, US intelligence will not learn of the widespread use of forged Ariana IDs until after 9/11.) The CIA learns of Bout’s connection to Ariana and the Taliban in 1998, but takes no action (see 1998). The US presses the UAE for tighter banking controls, but moves “delicately, not wanting to offend an ally in an already complicated relationship,” and little changes by 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001; Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 139] Much of the money for the 9/11 hijackers flows though these Sharjah, UAE, channels. There also are reports suggesting that Ariana Airlines might have been used to train Islamic militants as pilots. The illegal use of Ariana Airlines helps convince the United Nations to impose sanctions against Afghanistan in 1999, but the sanctions lack teeth and do not stop the airline. A second round of sanctions finally stops foreign Ariana Airlines flights, but its charter flights and other charter services keep the illegal network running. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] About nine of the 9/11 hijackers work at the Kandahar airport in 2000, which is Ariana’s main hub (see Summer 2000).

Entity Tags: Taliban, United Arab Emirates, United Nations, Al-Qaeda, Ariana Airlines, Victor Bout

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In 2008, the website Intelwire.com will obtain a declassified FBI document from this date. The content is heavily redacted, including the title, but the full title appears to be, “Summary of information obtained from the United Arab Emirates with regard to Manila Air fugitive Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.” The document appears to detail a briefing by United Arab Emirates (UAE) officials from the General Department of State Security to FBI officials visiting the UAE. It mentions that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) “who was reported to be in _____ during mid-1998, is still currently living in Sharjah, UAE, with his family.” The report also mentions that “in July 1998, authorities from ______ based on information probably obtained from Qatar, located KSM living and working in ____. After questioning him about his activities with the [Muslim Brotherhood], he was deported to Bahrain.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 7/8/1999 pdf file] The 9/11 Commission will later mention this document a single time, and reveal that one of the redacted sections discusses KSM’s links to the Abu Sayyaf militant group in the Philippines. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 488] Sharjah is a major hub of al-Qaeda activity at this time (see Mid-1996-October 2001), and one of the 9/11 hijackers, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, is from the emirate of Sharjah (see 1980s and 1990s). 9/11 plot facilitator Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi will be based in Sharjah in the months before the 9/11 attacks, and some of the 9/11 hijackers will pass through there and visit him (see Early-Late June, 2001). It is not known what action US intelligence takes in response to this briefing.

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Muslim Brotherhood, General Department of State Security

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Documentation used by Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi in the United Arab Emirates.Documentation used by Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi in the United Arab Emirates. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi assists four hijackers transiting Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on their way to the US: Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Salem Alhazmi, Abdulaziz Alomari, and Saeed Alghamdi. Banihammad stays at al-Hawsawi’s flat in nearby Sharjah for two or three weeks and they open bank accounts together (see June 25, 2001 and Early August-August 22, 2001), and al-Hawsawi recognizes Alghamdi and Alhazmi from Afghanistan. He coordinates their arrival dates in telephone conversations with Mohamed Atta (see Late June-August, 2001) and then purchases tickets for them, paying for Alomari and Alhazmi. Al-Hawsawi provides this information to the US under interrogation, which is considered by some to make it unreliable (see June 16, 2004), and then again before a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay to determine his combat status (see March 9-April 28, 2007). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US department of Defense, 3/21/2007 pdf file] It is unclear who assisted the nine muscle hijackers who transited Dubai before this: Waleed Alshehri, Satam Al Suqami, Ahmed Alghamdi, Maqed Moqed, Hamza Alghamdi, Mohand Alshehri, Ahmed Alnami, Ahmed Alhaznawi, and Wail Alshehri (see April 11-June 28, 2001 and April 23-June 29, 2001).

Entity Tags: Salem Alhazmi, Saeed Alghamdi, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Mohamed Atta, Abdulaziz Alomari, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In July 2006, fighting breaks out in southern Lebanon between the Israeli military and Hezbollah. Western intelligence officials soon learn that Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer, has been spotted in a Hezbollah military building in Lebanon. Officials also discover that Richard Chichakli, Bout’s longtime business partner, has recently moved from the US to Damascus, Syria. Israeli officials suspect that Bout arms Hezbollah with sophisticated Russian-made armor-piercing antitank missiles. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 254] Bout’s role is not confirmed at the time. But in 2008, journalist Douglas Farah, co-author of a 2007 book on Bout, will tell ABC News that recent intelligence indicates Bout did supply the armor-piercing missiles to Hezbollah. [ABC News, 3/6/2008] In 2006, Bout’s network is also supplying the US military in Iraq (see Late April 2003-2007).

Entity Tags: Richard Chichakli, Hezbollah, Victor Bout

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Victor Bout during his trial.Victor Bout during his trial. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Victor Bout is found guilty on conspiracy charges to kill US citizens and officials, deliver anti-aircraft missiles, and provide aid to a terrorist organization (see September 1992, 1993-1995, Mid-1996-October 2001, October 1996-Late 2001, 1998, 1998, January 1998-April 2001, 1999, Early 2001-September 11, 2001, January 19, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, Late February 2002, Summer 2002, Late April 2003, Late April 2003-2007, August 17, 2003, July 2006, Late July 2006, March 6, 2008, and November 16, 2010). In the the trial, which began on October 12, Bout was accused of agreeing to deliver 100 surface-to-air missiles, 20,000 high-powered weapons, and 10 million rounds of ammunition to rebels in Colombia sometime in 2008. Bout will be sentenced on February 8, 2012. The BBC’s Laura Trevelyan will note: “This was a potentially risky case for the US government. Bout was caught in a sting operation by informants working for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the so-called Farc rebels were actually former criminals and might have had their evidence discredited.” [BBC, 11/2/2011]

Entity Tags: Laura Trevelyan, Drug Enforcement Administration, Victor Bout

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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