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Context of '1987-1989: Ali Mohamed Meets with Islamic Militants Regularly While Instructor at US Base'

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Egyptian militants open fire on Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
Egyptian militants open fire on Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. [Source: Public domain]Ali Mohamed is a major in the Egyptian army. He is highly educated, speaking several languages and possessing two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree. In 1981 he was taking part in a special program for foreign officers at the US Army Special Forces school at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, while soldiers with radical Islamic beliefs from his Egyptian army unit assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. He is forced to quit in early 1984 on suspicions of becoming too religious. He approaches the CIA in Egypt and volunteers to be a spy. The CIA accepts, and he makes contact in Germany with a branch of Hezbollah, the Middle Eastern militant group. The CIA has claimed that Mohamed secretly tells Hezbollah members that he is working with the CIA, but the CIA quickly discovers this. The CIA supposedly suspects he wanted to help Hezbollah spy on the CIA and cuts off all further ties with him and tries to stop him from coming to the US. (Weiser and Risen 12/1/1998; Williams and McCormick 11/4/2001; Waldman 11/26/2001) But there will be claims that Mohamed then will come to the US through a secret CIA program. If true, this would cast doubt on the CIA’s account of their interaction with Mohamed (see September 1985).

Ali Mohamed, in one of the US military videos he helped create. In the lower picture, he is in the center, chairing a discussion on the Middle East with other US army officers.Ali Mohamed, in one of the US military videos he helped create. In the lower picture, he is in the center, chairing a discussion on the Middle East with other US army officers. [Source: US Army via CNN]Ali Mohamed enlists in the US Army and is posted to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. (He had taken part in a special program for foreign officers at Fort Bragg when he was a major in the Egyptian army in 1981 (see 1984)). He works first as a supply sergeant for a Green Beret unit, and then as an instructor at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School. Fort Bragg is no ordinary military base—one newspaper calls it the “US military’s top warfare planning center.” Mohamed will steal numerous top secret documents and pass them to al-Qaeda (see November 5, 1990). (Williams and McCormick 11/4/2001; Sullivan and Neff 11/13/2001) Mohamed trains and lectures soldiers being deployed to the Middle East on the region’s culture and politics. He also produces and appears in training videotapes about the Middle East. In one tape, he asserts that devout Muslims are widely misunderstood. “The term of fundamentalism scares people in the West. Everybody when he hears fundamentalist, he thinks about armed struggle. He thinks about radicals. He thinks about groups that are carrying weapons. The word fundamentalism does not mean extremism. It means just that ordinary Muslims accept everything—that this is my way.” One of his supervisors is Col. Norvell De Atkine, who later will say of Mohamed, “I don’t think he was anti-American. He was what I would call a Muslim fundamentalist, which isn’t a bomb thrower. I would not put him in that category.” (Weiser 10/30/1998) De Atkine is an expert on the Middle East and on the political aspects of military operations. In one of his articles he will praise the propaganda preparation for the Gulf War. (De Atkine 1999) De Atkine will also contribute articles to Middle East Forum, an aggressively neoconservative and pro-Israeli journal edited by Daniel Pipes. One of these, a denunciation of leftist and Arab influences in academia, will be written together with Pipes. (De Atkine and Pipes 1995)

The al-Kifah Refugee Center shared the same building as the Al-Farooq Mosque.The al-Kifah Refugee Center shared the same building as the Al-Farooq Mosque. [Source: National Geographic] (click image to enlarge)Ali Mohamed, while still an instructor at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (see 1986), frequently spends his weekends traveling to meet with Islamic activists at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 143-144) This center is the Brooklyn branch office of Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK)/Al-Kifah, which is a charity front in Pakistan closely tied to bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam. It also has ties to the CIA (see 1986-1993). Mohamed teaches the Islamic activists survival techniques, map reading and how to recognize tanks and other Soviet weapons. He frequently stays at the home of El-Sayyid Nosair (see November 5, 1990). In July 1989, the FBI monitors him teaching Nosair and some of the future members of the 1993 World Trade Center bomb plot how to shoot weapons (see July 1989). Towards the end of this period he informs his superiors that he has renewed his association with Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. (Weiser and Risen 12/1/1998; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 143-144) Mohamed will move to Brooklyn in May 1990 while also keeping a residence in Santa Clara, California. His connections to the Islamist network develop rapidly from this point on. (Weiser and Risen 12/1/1998; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 144)

Ali Mohamed, now an instructor at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (see 1986), travels to Afghanistan to train mujaheddin. He tells friends that he plans to join the mujaheddin in Afghanistan and “kill Russians.” He informs supervisor Lt. Col. Steve Neely of his plans, who passes the information up the chain of command. Lt. Col. Robert Anderson, Mohamed’s commanding officer, also reports Mohamed’s suspicious activities to Fort Bragg officials and army intelligence, but gets no response. Mohamed takes one month of leave and goes to Afghanistan. No action is taken to prevent him from doing this. (Weiser and Risen 12/1/1998; Sullivan and Neff 10/21/2001; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 143) When he returns, he boasts of his combat exploits to his colleagues. Lt. Col. Anderson writes up a second report and again gets no response. Freelance fighting would be a serious breach of military rules, and the New York Times will later note that, “The capture or death of an American serviceman in Afghanistan would have been a major international embarrassment to the United States.” However, no disciplinary action is taken against him. This leads Anderson to conclude that Mohamed’s activities are sponsored by a US intelligence agency. Anderson will state, “I think you or I would have a better chance of winning [the lottery], than an Egyptian major in the unit that assassinated [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat would have getting a visa, getting to California… getting into the Army and getting assigned to a Special Forces unit. That just doesn’t happen.” He will add that it is equally unthinkable that an ordinary US soldier would go unpunished after fighting in a foreign war. (Weiser and Risen 12/1/1998; Williams and McCormick 11/4/2001) Mohamed is also stealing classified documents from the base; some of them will be discovered by US investigators in 1990 (see November 5, 1990). According to a US army spokesperson, an officer working with Mohammed “did have some suspicions about what he did, but nothing came as a result of it. It really depended on who you believed.” (Hays and Theimer 12/31/2001)

Robert Morgenthau.Robert Morgenthau. [Source: Robert Maass / Corbis]In the late 1980s, Osama bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam are running a charity front called Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK)/Al-Kifah in Peshawar, Pakistan, and it has an important branch in Brooklyn, New York, called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center that is sending money and recruits to fight in Afghanistan. The CIA apparently helps the Al-Kifah Brooklyn office send up to 200 people from the US to fight in Afghanistan (see 1986-1993). Many of them are US citizens. Zalmay Khalilzad, a State Department Afghan specialist who will go on to become a prominent neoconservative, will later deny knowing of any Arab-Americans fighting with the mujaheddin. But one anonymous Congressional aide will recall occasional mentions of Al-Kifah Refugee Center or its head Mustafa Shalabi by some of the most radical mujaheddin. He will say: “Among that cabal, the extreme militant fringes, Shalabi was known.… [T]hey were asking to talk to him so he could organize some particular assistance.” The Neutrality Act prevents US citizens from fighting against countries not at war with the US, but the New York Times will note, “Yet there is no sign that a criminal investigation ever took place even though federal agents had come across broad hints about the center’s activities when they investigated the [Meir] Kahane assassination [in 1990] (see November 5, 1990) and the slaying of Mr. Shalabi [in 1991]” (see (February 28, 1991)). Kahane’s assassin, El Sayyid Nosair, was one of Shalabi’s assistants. (Mitchell 4/11/1993) Apparently the CIA’s ties to the Al-Kifah Refugee Center prevent other US agencies from investigating it, even after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, when all of the bombers are found to have been tied to the center. While Al-Kifah closes itself down shortly after the WTC bombing, it immediately reopens in Boston under a different name and continues to publish the same newsletter and post from the same website (see April 1993-Mid-2003). Robert I. Friedman, writing for New York magazine, will comment, “[W]hen the fanatical fervor [the CIA] whipped up leads to unintended consequences—the assassination of a Jewish militant leader in Manhattan, the bombing of the World Trade Center, a terror conspiracy to blow up the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels and other Manhattan landmarks—[the CIA tried] to discourage local law enforcement agencies and the FBI from looking into the matter too deeply.” After Nosair assassinates Kahane, the FBI tells District Attorney Robert Morgenthau that Nosair was a lone gunman, not part of a broader conspiracy. However, the FBI had truckloads of evidence connecting to Al-Kifah strongly suggesting otherwise that it does not closely investigate. The FBI also blocks him from tying Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman to the WTC bombing (see After February 26, 1993). Morgenthau will later speculate the CIA may have encouraged the FBI not to pursue any other leads. “The FBI lied to me,” he will say. “They’re supposed to untangle terrorist connections, but they can’t be trusted to do the job.” (Friedman 3/17/1995) Counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson will call Al-Kifah “al-Qaeda’s operational headquarters in the United States.” (Emerson 2006, pp. 436) In 1994, a secret internal CIA report will conclude that the agency is “partially culpable” for the WTC bombing because of its support for radicals connected to Al-Kifah. One CIA source will say, “By giving these people the funding that we did, a situation was created in which it could be safely argued that we bombed the World Trade Center” (see January 24, 1994). But even after 1994 there is little evidence that the links from Al-Kifah were carefully explored by any US government agency. For instance, the government will not freeze Al-Kifah’s funds until shortly after 9/11, long after it ceased to exist (see September 24, 2001).

Ali Mohamed, a spy for bin Laden working in the US military, trains Islamic radicals in the New York area. Mohamed is on active duty at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, at the time, but he regularly comes to Brooklyn on the weekends to train radicals at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, a charity connected to both bin Laden and the CIA. Lawyer Roger Savis will later say, “He came quite often and became a real presence in that [Al-Kifah] office, which later metastasized into al-Qaeda.… He would bring with him a satchel full of military manuals and documents. It was Ali Mohamed who taught the men how to engage in guerrilla war. He would give courses in how to make bombs, how to use guns, how to make Molotov cocktails.” Mohamed’s gun training exercises take place at five different shooting ranges. One series of shooting range sessions in July 1989 is monitored by the FBI (Mohamed apparently is not at those particular sessions in person) (see July 1989). Mohamed’s trainees include most of the future bombers of the World Trade Center in 1993. (Lance 2006, pp. 47-49)

Ali Mohamed, a spy for Osama bin Laden working in the US military, trains Muslim radicals. On this date, he travels with El Sayyid Nosair to the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn, a charity connected to bin Laden and the CIA, and shows training videos from the Fort Bragg military base where US Special Forces train. A former FBI agent will later comment: “You have an al-Qaeda spy who’s now a US citizen, on active duty in the US Army, and he brings along a video paid for by the US government to train Green Beret officers and he’s using it to help train Islamic terrorists so they can turn their guns on us.… By now the Afghan war is over.” (Lance 2006, pp. 48) Nosair, who watches the videos, will assassinate a Jewish leader in New York one year later (see November 5, 1990).

One of the Calverton surveillance photographs introduced as evidence in court (note that some faces have been blurred out).One of the Calverton surveillance photographs introduced as evidence in court (note that some faces have been blurred out). [Source: National Geographic]FBI agents photograph Islamic radicals shooting weapons at the Calverton Shooting Range, on Long Island, New York. The group is secretly monitored as they shoot AK-47 assault rifles, semiautomatic handguns, and revolvers for four successive weekends. The use of weapons such as AK-47’s are illegal in the US, but this shooting range is known to be unusually permissive. Ali Mohamed is apparently not at the range but has been training the five men there: El Sayyid Nosair, Mahmud Abouhalima, Mohammed Salameh, Nidal Ayyad, and Clement Rodney Hampton-El. Nosair will assassinate Rabbi Meir Kahane one year later (see November 5, 1990), and the others except for Hampton-El will be convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993), while Hampton-El will be convicted for a role in the “Landmarks” bombing plot (see June 24, 1993). Some FBI agents have been assigned to watch some Middle Eastern men who are frequenting the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn. Each weekend, Mohamed’s trainees drive from Al-Kifah to the shooting range, and a small FBI surveillance team follows them. The FBI has been given a tip that some Palestinians at Al-Kifah are planning violence targeting Atlantic City casinos. By August, the casino plot fails to materialize, and the surveillance, including that at the shooting range, comes to an end. Author Peter Lance will later say that why the FBI failed to follow up the shooting sessions is a “great unanswered question.” (Lance 2003, pp. 29-33; New York Times 10/5/2003)

In July 1990, the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, was mysteriously able to enter the US and remain there despite being a well known public figure and being on a watch list for three years (see July 1990).
bullet In late October 1990, he travels to London, so he is out of the US when one of his followers assassinates the Zionist rabbi Meir Kahane on November 5, 1990 (see November 5, 1990). He returns to the US in mid-November under the name “Omar Ahmed Rahman” and again has no trouble getting back in despite still being on the watch list. (Duke 7/13/1993)
bullet The State Department revokes his US visa on November 17 after the FBI informs it that he is in the US. (McKinley 12/16/1990)
bullet In December 1990, Abdul-Rahman leaves the US again to attend an Islamic conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. He returns nine days later and again has no trouble reentering, despite not even having a US visa at this point. (Duke 7/13/1993)
bullet On December 16, 1990, the New York Times publishes an article titled, “Islamic Leader on US Terrorist List Is in Brooklyn,” which makes his presence in the US publicly known. The Immigration and Nationalization Service (INS) is said to be investigating why he has not been deported already. (McKinley 12/16/1990)
bullet Yet in April 1991, the INS approves his application for permanent residence.
bullet He then leaves the US again in June 1991 to go on the religious hajj to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and returns on July 31, 1991. INS officials identify him coming in, but let him in anyway. (Mitchell 4/24/1993; Duke 7/13/1993)
bullet In June 1992, his application for political asylum will be turned down and his permanent residence visa revoked. But INS hearings on his asylum bid are repeatedly delayed and still have not taken place when the WTC is bombed in February 1993 (see February 26, 1993). (Lance 2003, pp. 105-106)
bullet Abdul-Rahman then goes to Canada around October 1992 and returns to the US yet again. The US and Canada claim to have no documentation on his travel there, but numerous witnesses in Canada see him pray and lecture there. Representative Charles Schumer (D-NY) says, “Here they spent all this time trying to get him out. He goes to Canada and gives them the perfect reason to exclude him and they don’t.”
bullet After the WTC bombing, the US could detain him pending his deportation hearing but chooses not to, saying it would be too costly to pay for his medical bills. (Mitchell 4/24/1993)
Abdul-Rahman will be involved in the follow up “Landmarks” plot (see June 24, 1993) before finally being arrested later in 1993. It will later be alleged that he was protected by the CIA. In 1995, the New York Times will comment that the link between Abdul-Rahman and the CIA “is a tie that remains muddy.” (MacFarquhar 10/2/1995)

Meir Kahane.Meir Kahane. [Source: Publicity photo]Egyptian-American El Sayyid Nosair assassinates controversial right-wing Zionist leader Rabbi Meir Kahane. Kahane’s organization, the Jewish Defense League, was linked to dozens of bombings and is ranked by the FBI as the most lethal domestic militant group in the US at the time. Nosair is captured after a police shoot-out. (Friedman 3/30/1993) Within hours, overwhelming evidence suggests that the assassination was a wide conspiracy but the US government will immediately declare that Nosair was a lone gunman and ignore the evidence suggesting otherwise (see November 5, 1990 and After). Nosair will later be acquitted of Kahane’s murder (though he will be convicted of lesser charges) as investigators continue to ignore most of the evidence in his case which links to a wider conspiracy (see December 7, 1991). Nosair is connected to al-Qaeda through his job at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, an al-Qaeda front (see 1986-1993). A portion of Nosair’s defense fund will be paid for by bin Laden, although this will not be discovered until some time later. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 8/16/2002; Lance 2003, pp. 34-37)

Invesigators remove boxes of evidence from El Sayyid Nosair’s residence hours after the assassination.Invesigators remove boxes of evidence from El Sayyid Nosair’s residence hours after the assassination. [Source: National Geographic]US government agencies cover up evidence of a conspiracy in the wake of El Sayyid Nosair’s assassination of controversial right-wing Zionist leader Rabbi Meir Kahane (see November 5, 1990). Nosair is captured a few blocks from the murder site after a police shoot-out. An FBI informant says he saw Nosair meeting with Muslim leader Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman a few days before the attack, and evidence indicating a wider plot with additional targets is quickly found. (Friedman 3/30/1993) Later that night, police arrive at Nosair’s house and find a pair of Middle Eastern men named Mahmud Abouhalima and Mohammed Salameh there. They are taken in for questioning. Additionally, police collect a total of 47 boxes of evidence from Nosair’s house, including: (Lance 2003, pp. 34-35)
bullet Thousands of rounds of ammunition.
bullet Maps and drawings of New York City landmarks, including the World Trade Center.
bullet Documents in Arabic containing bomb making formulas, details of an Islamic militant cell, and mentions of the term “al-Qaeda.”
bullet Recorded sermons by Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman in which he encourages his followers to “destroy the edifices of capitalism” and destroy “the enemies of Allah” by “destroying their… high world buildings.”
bullet Tape-recorded phone conversations of Nosair reporting to Abdul-Rahman about paramilitary training, and even discussing bomb-making manuals.
bullet Videotaped talks that Ali Mohamed delivered at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
bullet Top secret manuals also from Fort Bragg. There are even classified documents belonging to the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Commander in Chief of the Army’s Central Command. These manuals and documents had clearly come from Mohamed, who completed military service at Fort Bragg the year before and frequently stayed in Nosair’s house.
bullet A detailed and top secret plan for Operation Bright Star, a special operations training exercise simulating an attack on Baluchistan, a part of Pakistan between Afghanistan and the Arabian Sea. (Sullivan and Neff 10/21/2001; Sullivan and Neff 11/13/2001; Waldman 11/26/2001; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 8/16/2002; Lance 2003, pp. 34-35)
bullet Also within hours, two investigators will connect Nosair with surveillance photographs of Mohamed giving weapons training to Nosair, Abouhalima, Salameh, and others at a shooting range the year before (see July 1989). (Lance 2003, pp. 34-35) But, ignoring all of this evidence, still later that evening, Joseph Borelli, the New York police department’s chief detective, will publicly declare the assassination the work of a “lone deranged gunman.” He will further state, “I’m strongly convinced that he acted alone.… He didn’t seem to be part of a conspiracy or any terrorist organization.” The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later conclude, “The [New York Police Department] and the District Attorney’s office… reportedly wanted the appearance of speedy justice and a quick resolution to a volatile situation. By arresting Nosair, they felt they had accomplished both.” (Friedman 3/30/1993; Lance 2003, pp. 34-36) Abouhalima and Salameh are released, only to be later convicted for participating in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Investigators will later find in Nosair’s possessions a formula for a bomb almost identical to one used in the WTC bombing. (Friedman 3/17/1995) As one FBI agent will later put it, “The fact is that in 1990, myself and my detectives, we had in our office in handcuffs, the people who blew up the World Trade Center in ‘93. We were told to release them.” The 47 boxes of evidence collected at Nosair’s house that evening are stored away, inaccessible to prosecutors and investigators. The documents found will not be translated until after the World Trade Center bombing. Nosair will later be acquitted of Kahane’s murder (though he will be convicted of lesser charges), as investigators will continue to ignore all evidence that could suggest Nosair did not act alone (see December 7, 1991). (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 8/16/2002; Lance 2003, pp. 34-37) District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who prosecuted the case, will later speculate the CIA may have encouraged the FBI not to pursue any other leads. Nosair worked at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center which was closely tied to covert CIA operations in Afghanistan (see Late 1980s and After). (Friedman 3/17/1995)

Wadih El-Hage’s US passport. His face is overly dark due to a poor photocopy.Wadih El-Hage’s US passport. His face is overly dark due to a poor photocopy. [Source: US Justice Department] (click image to enlarge)The FBI begins to investigate Wadih El-Hage, who will soon work as bin Laden’s personal secretary. The FBI is investigating the February 1991 murder of Mustafa Shalabi (see (February 28, 1991)), the head of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, a charity with ties to both bin Laden and the CIA. El-Hage, a US citizen living in Texas, came to New York to briefly run Al-Kifah so Shalabi could take a trip overseas, and happened to arrive the same day that Shalabi was murdered. Investigators find a message from El-Hage on Shalabi’s answer machine. They learn El-Hage had been connected to the 1990 murder of a liberal imam in Tucson, Arizona (see January 1990). (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 148-149; Lance 2006, pp. 67-68) Further, he visited El Sayyid Nosair, who assassinated Meir Kahane the year before (see November 5, 1990), in prison, and left his name in the visitor’s log. (Lance 2003, pp. 50-51) However, the FBI decides there is not enough evidence to charge El-Hage with any crime. They lose track of him in early 1992, when he moves to Sudan and begins working there as bin Laden’s primary personal secretary. He will help bin Laden run many of his businesses, and will frequently take international trips on bin Laden’s behalf. (Zill 4/1999; Weiser 1/22/2000)

El Sayyid Nosair.El Sayyid Nosair. [Source: FBI]El-Sayyid Nosair is acquitted of killing Meir Kahane (see November 5, 1990), leader of the Jewish Defense League, but convicted of firearms offenses connected with his shooting of two witnesses during his attempt to flee. The judge will declare that the acquittal verdict “defie[s] reason” and sentence Nosair to 22 years by applying maximum sentences to his convictions on the other charges. (Friedman 3/30/1993; Marshall 11/1/1998; Lance 2003, pp. 65) The prosecution of Nosair was hobbled by the US government’s absolute refusal to acknowledge the possibility that the murder was anything other than the work of a “lone deranged gunman” despite information gained during the course of the investigation provided by an FBI operative that he had “very close” ties to the radical imam Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. Many boxes of evidence that could have sealed Nosair’s guilt on the murder charge and also shown evidence of a larger conspiracy were not allowed as evidence. (Friedman 3/30/1993; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 44-46) A portion of Nosair’s defense fund is paid for by bin Laden, but this will not be discovered until some time later. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 8/16/2002) District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who prosecuted the case, will later speculate the CIA may have encouraged the FBI not to pursue any other leads. Nosair worked at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center which was closely tied to covert CIA operations in Afghanistan (see Late 1980s and After). (Friedman 3/17/1995)

“A Call for Jihad in Bosnia” flyer published by the Al-Kifah Refugee Center’s Boston branch.“A Call for Jihad in Bosnia” flyer published by the Al-Kifah Refugee Center’s Boston branch. [Source: Public domain]The Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn, New York, is al-Qaeda’s main foothold in the US and most of the 1993 WTC bombers are closely tied to it. It had been formed in the 1980s to send militants to fight in Afghanistan and also help veteran fighters settle in the US (see 1986-1993). But the Afghanistan war against the Soviets ended in early 1989 and the winning factions soon began fighting amongst themselves (see February 15, 1989). But a new cause is on the horizon as Yugoslavia starts falling apart. By 1991, the center’s parent organization in Pakistan, Maktab al-Khidamat(MAK)/Al-Kifah begins setting up al-Qaeda charity fronts in the Bosnia region (see 1991). The main regional MAK/Al-Kifah branch in Zagreb, Croatia, is also called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center like the Brooklyn branch and has very close ties with that branch (see Early 1990s). In 1992, war breaks out in Bosnia (see April 6, 1992) and the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn shifts its focus fully to the Bosnia cause. For instance, the Boston branch publishes “A Call for Jihad in Bosnia.” It claims that more than 100,000 Bosnians had been killed and that thousands of Muslim girls had been kidnapped and kept in Yugoslav army camps for sex. It urges readers who wish “to provide the emerging jihad movement in Bosnia with more than food and shelter” to send their donations to Al-Kifah. And just as Al-Kifah led the effort to send US-based militants to fight in Afghanistan, it appears to do the same for Bosnia. Vanity Fair will later claim, “Dozens and perhaps hundreds of US residents are reported to have joined appeals to fight the Serbs in Bosnia.” (Scroggins 3/2005) The head of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center’s Zagreb branch, Kamer Eddine Kherbane, apparently is also one of the leaders of the mujaheddin fighters in Bosnia around this time (see 1990 and 1991). The CIA had ties to Al-Kifah during the Afghan war (see Late 1980s and After) and there is some circumstantial evidence of US government ties to it during the Bosnia war. In 1992, Ali Mohamed, a double agent and ex-US Special Forces officer with close ties to Al-Kifah, leads a group of US militants who are all ex-US soldiers to train and fight in Bosnia (see December 1992). Abu Ubaidah Yahya, an ex-US marine and security chief at the Brooklyn branch, will lead a second group of US militants to fight in Bosnia (see Spring 1993).

Emad Salem.Emad Salem. [Source: National Geographic]In mid-June 1992, FBI informant Emad Salem talks to El Sayyid Nosair, who is in prison for killing Zionist leader Rabbi Meir Kahane (see November 5, 1990). Nosair and an associate of his named Ali Shinawy reveal to Salem that their group (all of whom are close to Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman) is plotting to set off bombs at twelve “Jewish locations” in New York City, including temples and banks. A few days later, Nossair’s cousin Ibrahim El-Gabrowny introduces Salem to “Dr. Rashid,” which is an alias for Clement Rodney Hampton-El, although Salem does not know that yet. “Dr. Rashid” says he is unable to get the remote bomb detonators the group wants, but he can get already assembled pipe bombs for about $1,000 apiece, and guns. Salem and Shinawy agree to find a warehouse where they can build the bombs. Salem tells all of this to his FBI handlers Louis Napoli and John Anticev, but their boss, Carson Dunbar, insists that Salem has to wear a wire so they can record conversations in order to get the evidence to make a convincing court case against the plotters. But Salem, who is only being paid $500 a week to inform for the FBI, refuses to wear a wire, saying it is too dangerous. The FBI had been able to corroborate most of Salem’s information through their own surveillance such as the monitoring of Nosair’s calls from prison. But even though Salem is easily the FBI’s best source of information on Abdul-Rahman’s group, the FBI fires Salem in early July 1991. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 70-75) The FBI had a long tradition of having pure intelligence agents who did not wear wires. One FBI source will later note that the FBI could have easily gotten what they needed to make a criminal case without Salem wearing a wire. “It would just take a little more work. We’d have to take his leads and do surveillance. Follow these guys and contain the threat. This is what the FBI does.” (Lance 2003, pp. 92) Author Peter Lance will later comment that without Salem, “Now, when it came to Nosair, the bombing plot, and Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, the [FBI] was essentially flying blind.” The FBI will be unaware as the “Jewish locations” plot morphs into a plot to bomb the World Trade Center over the next several months. (Lance 2003, pp. 92)

The Independent will report in 1998, “In December 1992, a US army official met one of the Afghan veterans from Al-Kifah [Refugee Center] and offered help with a covert operation to support the Muslims in Bosnia, funded with Saudi money, according to one of those jailed for assisting with the New York bombings. But that effort quickly disintegrated, leaving a great deal of bad feeling.” (Marshall 11/1/1998) More details about this are not known. However, the plan may not have necessarily failed because it will later be reported that that very same month, double agent Ali Mohamed, an-ex US Special Forces soldier, is part of a 14-man al-Qaeda team made up of retired US military personnel that enters Bosnia through Croatia to train and arm mujaheddin fighters there in 1992 (see December 1992-June 1993). Mohamed is also closely tied to the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, which is located in Brooklyn, New York (see 1987-1989). Al-Kifah is closely tied to both al-Qaeda and the CIA (see 1986-1993). Also that same month, a Bosnian charity front largely funded by Saudi money begins paying for a militant training camp in Pennsylvania that trains some of those later arrested for roles in the New York bombing (see December 1992-Early February 1993).

Mohammed Abouhalima.Mohammed Abouhalima. [Source: Corbis]Siddig Siddig Ali, Abdo Mohammed Haggag, Abu Ubaidah Yahya, Mohammed Abouhalima, and others train at a militant training camp in New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania, with weapons and ammunition provided by Yahya and Clement Rodney Hampton-El (see February 21, 1995). Abouhalima will later be convicted for a role in the 1993 WTC bombing, as will his brother (see February 26, 1993) while the others mentioned will be convicted for roles in the related “Landmarks” plot (see June 24, 1993). (USA v. Omar Ahmad Ali Abdel-Rahman et al 7/13/1995, pp. 9) Yahya is the chief instructor, as he is an ex-US Marine who served two tours in Vietnam and teaches at a martial arts academy. Siddig Ali will later say of Yahya, “[H]e’s decorated and has a lot of medals… [and he was] a great trainer…” The training even includes mock nighttime assaults on a nearby electric power substation. (Kohlmann 2004, pp. 73) An FBI informant named Garrett Wilson helps lead the FBI to the camp, and the FBI monitors it for two days, January 16 and 17, but the monitoring team is mysteriously pulled away before the end of the second day (see January 16-17, 1993). In a wiretapped conversation with an FBI informant (most likely Wilson), Siddig Ali says regarding the camp, “Our goal is that these people get extensive and very, very, very good training, so that we can get started at anyplace where jihad (holy war) is needed… And after they receive their training, they go to Bosnia… And whoever survives, I mean, could come and [instruct] somewhere else, or Egypt, or any other place, etc…” (Kohlmann 2004, pp. 73) Hampton-El makes trips to Europe to pick up money from the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA) charity front to fund the camp (see Late 1992-Early 1993). TWRA is funneling huge amounts of weapons into Bosnia in violation of a UN embargo but with the tacit approval of the US (see Mid-1991-1996).

On January 15, 1993, FBI informant Garrett Wilson had led the FBI to a meeting attended by Abu Ubaidah Yahya, Abdo Mohammed Haggag, and Siddig Siddig Ali (see January 15, 1993). Yahya is security chief for the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, a charity front tied to both al-Qaeda and the CIA (see 1986-1993), and Haggag and Siddig Ali both work with the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, who is also closely linked to Al-Kifah. Suspecting a violent plot, FBI agents have a plan to continuously monitor Yahya, Haggag, and Ali from when they leave the meeting, and for the next couple of days that is what they do. On January 16, Yahya leads the FBI to Jersey City, New Jersey, where he is holding exercises for a group of Sudanese and Middle Eastern men. Then the FBI follows Yahya and this group he is leading to a militant training camp on a farm in New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania. A squad of investigators watch them practicing martial arts, sniper firing, and rappelling. The agents think that they recognize one of the trainees as Mahmud Abouhalima, who they already strongly suspect was involved in the 1990 assassination of a Jewish leader (see November 5, 1990). (In fact, the trainee is his brother Mohammed - both of them are tall and red-headed.) However, on January 17, FBI supervisor Carson Dunbar calls the squad away from the training camp, preventing them from following the suspects as they return to their homes that evening. The FBI squad is upset, as they are sure following the suspects to their homes would lead to many new identifications and leads. Dunbar claims the surveillance is costing too much money and effectively shuts down further surveillance of everyone but Yahya and Clement Rodney Hampton-El, who has been working with Yahya, and only when they’re in close range of the FBI New York office. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 90-91) Yahya will continue to train his group at the Pennsylvania camp through early February (see December 1992-Early February 1993), but apparently without further FBI surveillance of them.

Bomb damage in underground levels of the WTC in 1993.Bomb damage in underground levels of the WTC in 1993. [Source: Najlah Feanny/ Corbis]An attempt to topple the World Trade Center fails, but six people are killed and over 1000 are injured in the misfired blast. An FBI explosives expert later states that, “If they had found the exact architectural Achilles’ heel or if the bomb had been a little bit bigger, not much more, 500 pounds more, I think it would have brought her down.” Ramzi Yousef, who has close ties to bin Laden, organizes the attempt. (Friedman 3/30/1993; US Congress 2/24/1998) The New York Times later reports on Emad Salem, an undercover agent who will be the key government witness in the trial against Yousef. Salem testifies that the FBI knew about the attack beforehand and told him they would thwart it by substituting a harmless powder for the explosives. However, an FBI supervisor called off this plan, and the bombing was not stopped. (Blumenthal 10/28/1993) Other suspects were ineptly investigated before the bombing as early as 1990. Several of the bombers were trained by the CIA to fight in the Afghan war, and the CIA later concludes, in internal documents, that it was “partly culpable” for this bombing (see January 24, 1994). (Marshall 11/1/1998) 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is an uncle of Yousef and also has a role in the WTC bombing (see March 20, 1993). (Gumbel 6/6/2002; McDermott 9/1/2002) One of the attackers even leaves a message which will later be found by investigators, stating, “Next time, it will be very precise.” (Neumeister 9/30/2001)

One of the documents stolen by Ali Mohamed found in El-Sayyid Nosair’s residence. At the bottom are the words: ‘United States Army. John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center.’One of the documents stolen by Ali Mohamed found in El-Sayyid Nosair’s residence. At the bottom are the words: ‘United States Army. John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center.’ [Source: National Geographic]Not long after the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993 (see February 26, 1993), investigators discover a connection between some of the plotters, Ali Mohamed, and El-Sayyid Nosair (see November 5, 1990). The Wall Street Journal reports that investigators “went back to look at [Nosair’s] personal possessions. There, they finally saw the link to Mr. Mohamed.” Top secret US military documents obviously supplied by Mohamed are found among Nosair’s possessions. Still no action is taken against Mohamed. (Waldman 11/26/2001; Posner 2003, pp. 186-94)

In the wake of his detention in Canada (see June 16, 1993), double agent Ali Mohamed is interviewed by the FBI and volunteers the earliest publicly known insider description of al-Qaeda. Mohamed is working as an FBI informant on smugglers moving illegal immigrants from Mexico to the US. FBI agent John Zent, Mohamed’s handler, interviews him in the FBI San Francisco office after having helped release him from Canadian custody. (Risen 10/31/1998; Lance 2006, pp. 125, 130) Mohamed says that bin Laden is running a group called “al-Qaeda.” Apparently, this is the first known instance of the FBI being told of that name, though it appears the CIA was aware of the name since at least 1991 (see February 1991). Mohamed claims to have met bin Laden and says bin Laden is “building an army” that could be used to overthrow the Saudi Arabian government. He admits that he has trained radical militants at bin Laden’s training camps in Sudan and Afghanistan. He says he taught them intelligence and anti-hijacking techniques. Mohamed apparently is given a polygraph test for the first time, and fails it (see 1992). However, he denies links to any criminal group or act. An FBI investigator later will say, “We always took him seriously. It’s just he only gave us 25 percent of what was out there.” In addition to his Canadian detention, the FBI is also interested in Mohamed because his name had surfaced in connection with the Al-Kifah Refugee Center as part of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing investigation. (Weiser and Risen 12/1/1998; Williams and McCormick 11/4/2001; Waldman 11/26/2001; Martin and Berens 12/11/2001) By the time this interview takes place, investigators looking into the World Trade Center bombing earlier in the year have already determined that top secret US military training manuals found in the possession of assassin El-Sayyid Nosair (see November 5, 1990) must have been stolen by Mohamed from the US army base where he had been stationed (see Spring 1993). Yet Mohamed is not arrested, though he is monitored (see Autumn 1993). New Yorker magazine will later note, “inexplicably, [the contents of the FBI’s] interview never found its way to the FBI investigators in New York.” (Wright 9/9/2002)

Informant Emad Salem, pictured bent over in a green shirt, enables the FBI to take surveillance footage like this of the plotters making a bomb.Informant Emad Salem, pictured bent over in a green shirt, enables the FBI to take surveillance footage like this of the plotters making a bomb. [Source: National Geographic]Eight people are arrested, foiling a plot to bomb several New York City landmarks. The targets were the United Nations building, 26 Federal Plaza, and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels. This is known as the “Landmarks” or “Day of Terror” plot. The plotters are connected to Ramzi Yousef and the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. If the bombing, planned for later in the year, had been successful, thousands would have died. An FBI informant named Emad Salem had infiltrated the group, gathering information that leads to arrests of the plotters (see April 23, 1993). (US Congress 7/24/2003) Abdul-Rahman will eventually be sentenced to life in prison for a role in the plot. Nine others will be given long prison terms, including Ibrahim El-Gabrowny and Clement Rodney Hampton-El. (Fried 1/18/1996) Siddig Siddig Ali, who was possibly the main force behind the plot (see April 23, 1993), will eventually be sentenced to only 11 years in prison because he agreed to provide evidence on the other suspects (Weiser 10/16/1999)

Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli-American physician and protege of the extremist right-winger Rabbi Meir Kahane (see November 5, 1990), has been in a deep depression since Kahane’s assassination in 1990. After the signing of the Oslo Accords (see September 13, 1993), Goldstein decided that only an act of Kiddush ha-Shem—ritual self-sacrifice for the sanctification of God—can change history and return the world to what he sees as the pre-ordained path of Israeli domination of its traditional lands in the Middle East. Goldstein enters the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Israel, a sacred site for both Jews and Muslims. He is wearing his army uniform and carrying an assault rifle; worshipers assume he is a reserve officer on active duty coming to pray. Instead, Goldstein opens fire on a group of Palestinians praying there, killing 29 and wounding 150 more. Survivors eventually overcome Goldstein and beat him to death. The reaction among many right-wing Israelis, particularly in the outlying settlements, is ambivalent. Many deplore the violence but express sympathy for Goldstein’s desperation and theological anguish. The spokesman for the settlers’ rabbis committee says he sees no reason to condemn the murders. (Unger 2007, pp. 136-137)

Sections of the unindicted co-consiprator list for the “Landmarks” plot trial. Osama bin Laden is 95 and Ali Mohamed is 109.Sections of the unindicted co-consiprator list for the “Landmarks” plot trial. Osama bin Laden is 95 and Ali Mohamed is 109. [Source: National Geographic]In February 1995, the US government files a confidential court document listing bin Laden and scores of other people as possible co-conspirators in the 1993 New York City “Landmarks” plot (see June 24, 1993). Ali Mohamed’s name is on the list, confirming that investigators are aware of his involvement in al-Qaeda operations. Yet he continues to live openly in California. Mohamed obtains the document, though it is not clear how he obtained it. (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 472) US prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will later state that when Mohamed’s California residence is finally searched in 1998 (see August 24, 1998), investigators discover “a sensitive sealed document from the trial of Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman with notations indicating that [he sent it] to the head of the Kenyan al-Qaeda cell for delivery to bin Laden. I shudder to think of the people who may read this statement and where it may be found some day.” (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004) A later government indictment will say that Mohamed sent the list to Wadih El-Hage in Kenya who was told to hand deliver it to bin Laden in Afghanistan. (Lynch and Loeb 8/1/1999) If that is not enough to prove Mohamed’s duplicity, when El-Sayyid Nosair is defended in this trial, Nosair’s lawyers will expose more evidence about Mohamed. They argue that Nosair’s activities were part of a US-sponsored covert operation to train and arm the mujaheddin. They argue that Mohamed was the key link in this operation, and present evidence and witnesses showing how Mohamed trained the bomb plotters in 1989 (see July 1989). They mention the classified military manuals that Mohamed stole and gave the group (see November 5, 1990). Mohamed’s name and role in these activities come out publicly during the trial, and the Washington Post reports in 1998 that after hearing this testimony,“the FBI began to focus on Mohamed as a potential terrorism suspect.” Yet both US intelligence and al-Qaeda apparently continue to work with him. (Weiser 10/30/1998; Risen 10/31/1998)

Defense counsel for El Sayyid Nosair, one of the militants accused in the “Landmarks” bomb plot (see June 24, 1993) along with the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, applies for a missing witness instruction for double agent Ali Mohamed. The counsel, Roger Stavis, believes that it would benefit his client to have Mohamed testify, because Mohamed worked for militants connected to Abdul-Rahman as well as the FBI (see 1990), CIA (see 1984), and US army (see 1986). Therefore, Stavis might be able to use Nosair’s connection with Mohamed to convince the jury that Nosair was acting on the instructions of an agent of the US government. Stavis has been attempting to contact Mohamed with no success for some time, although the prosecution is in contact with him where he lives in California (see December 1994-January 1995). Under federal law, a trial judge can give a missing witness instruction if one party at a trial wants a witness to testify but cannot find him, whereas the other party can find him but does not seem to want him to testify. Based on such an instruction, the jury can then decide that the party that could find him, but did not get him to testify, did so deliberately because it thought the testimony would be damaging to it. Author Peter Lance will later comment that, given the circumstances, “Stavis had every right to expect that jury charge,” but Judge Michael Mukasey merely responds, “I don’t think a missing witness charge on that gentleman is warranted and I am not going to give one.” Lance will comment that by failing to grant the missing witness instruction, Mukasey helps “bury the significance” of Mohamed, and conceal his role in Islamic militancy from the public. (Lance 2006, pp. 208; Lance 9/25/2007) President Bush will later appoint Mukasey to be the US attorney general (see November 8, 2007).

The inside cover of the training manual found in Manchester, depicting a knife plunging through the Earth.The inside cover of the training manual found in Manchester, depicting a knife plunging through the Earth. [Source: FBI]British authorities raid the Manchester home of Anas al-Liby. Remarkably, al-Liby was a top al-Qaeda leader who nonetheless had been allowed to live in Britain (see Late 1995-May 2000); some speculate his treatment was connected to a joint al-Qaeda-British plot to assassinate Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi in 1996 (see 1996). (Observer 9/22/2001) The raid may have been conducted as part of an investigation into al-Liby’s role in the 1998 embassy bombings. (Associated Press 9/21/2001) Al-Liby is arrested and then let go for lack of evidence (see May 2000). But shortly after he is let go, investigators searching through his possessions find “Military Studies in the Jihad Against the Tyrants,” a 180-page al-Qaeda training manual written in Arabic. FBI agent Ali Soufan, who speaks Arabic, is the first to discover the manual. (Soufan 2011, pp. 113-114) The manual appears to have been written in the late 1980’s by double agent Ali Mohamed. He wrote the manual, and many others, by cobbling together information from his personal experiences and stolen US training guides (see November 5, 1990). Others have since updated it as different versions spread widely. “The FBI does not know if any of the Sept. 11 hijackers used the manual… However, many of their tactics come straight from Mohamed’s lessons, such as how to blend in as law-abiding citizens in a Western society.” (Martin and Berens 12/11/2001) George Andrew, deputy head of anti-terrorism for the FBI’s New York City office, later will claim that after studying the manual, the FBI suspect that al-Qaeda operatives are attempting to infiltrate US society. But the FBI think they are not yet ready to strike. (Associated Press 9/21/2001) The existence of the manual is made public in a US trial in April 2001. (Feuer and Weiser 4/5/2001)

The Sphinx Trading sign.The Sphinx Trading sign. [Source: National Geographic]Some of the 9/11 hijackers rent mailboxes from a company called Sphinx Trading, which was also used by ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul-Rahman and at least one of his associates. The mailboxes are located in Jersey City, New Jersey, four doors down from the mosque where Abdul-Rahman was imam in the early 1990s. El Sayyid Nosair, who assassinated Rabbi Meir Kahane and was linked to the Islamic militant cell Abdul-Rahman headed (see November 5, 1990 and December 7, 1991), also had a mailbox there before he was arrested in 1990. Sphinx Trading is owned by Waleed al-Noor, who was named an unindicted co-conspirator at the ‘Landmarks’ bomb plot trial (see June 24, 1993). The hijackers will later obtain fake IDs from al-Noor’s partner, Mohamed el-Atriss. The names of the hijackers who had mailboxes there are never given, but in the summer of 2001 el-Atriss interacts with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Abdulaziz Alomari, Khalid Almihdhar, and Hani Hanjour (see (July-August 2001)), at least. (Hanley 6/25/2003; Schwanberg 10/20/2003; Lance 2006, pp. 372-4; Kelly 9/11/2006) An FBI agent will later comment: “The fact that this location was where Almihdhar, in particular, got his bogus credentials, is not only shocking, it makes me angry. The [Joint Terrorist Task Force] in the [New York Office] had this location back in 1991. In the mid-90s they listed al-Noor, the coowner, as a coconspirator, unindicted in the plot to blow up bridges and tunnels. And now we find out that this is the precise location where the most visible of all the hijackers in the US got his ID? Incredible. All the Bureau’s New York Office had to do was sit on that place over the years and they would have broken right into the 9/11 plot.” (Lance 2006, pp. 373)

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