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Context of '1990: Islamist Militants Set Up Operations in Bosnia'

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Fawaz Damra.Fawaz Damra. [Source: Associated Press]By the mid-1980s, Osama bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam jointly founded a charity front based in Pakistan which is called Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) (which means “services office”) and is also known as Al-Kifah (which means “struggle”) (see 1984). Branches start to open in the US; the first one apparently opens in Tucson, Arizona, where al-Qaeda has a sleeper cell (see 1986). But around 1986, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, the right hand man of double agent Ali Mohamed, informally founds the branch in Brooklyn, New York, and it soon becomes the most important US branch. [New York Times, 10/22/1998; Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 269-270] On December 29, 1987, three men, Mustafa Shalabi, Fawaz Damra, and Ali Shinawy, formally file papers incorporating Al-Kifah, which is called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. At first, it is located inside the Al Farouq mosque, which is led by Damra. But eventually it will get it own office space next to the mosque. Shalabi, a naturalized citizen from Egypt, runs the office with two assistants: Mahmud Abouhalima, who will later be convicted for a role in bombing the World Trade Center in 1993 (see February 26, 1993), and El Sayyid Nosair, who will assassinate a Jewish leader in New York in 1990 (see November 5, 1990). [New York Times, 4/11/1993; Newsweek, 10/1/2001; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 11/4/2001] Jamal al-Fadl, a founding member of al-Qaeda and future FBI informant (see June 1996-April 1997), also works at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in its early days. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 155] The Brooklyn office recruits Arab immigrants and Arab-Americans to go fight in Afghanistan, even after the Soviets withdraw in early 1989. As many as 200 are sent there from the office. Before they go, the office arranges training in the use of rifles, assault weapons, and handguns, and then helps them with visas, plane tickets, and contacts. They are generally sent to the MAK/Al-Kifah office in Peshawar, Pakistan, and then connected to either the radical Afghan faction led by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf or the equally radical one led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. [New York Times, 4/11/1993] The CIA has some murky connection to Al-Kifah that has yet to be fully explained. Newsweek will later say the Brooklyn office “doubled as a recruiting post for the CIA seeking to steer fresh troops to the mujaheddin” fighting in Afghanistan. At the same time, the Brooklyn office is where “veterans of [the Afghan war arrived] in the United States—many with passports arranged by the CIA.” [Newsweek, 10/1/2001] Robert I. Friedman, writing for New York magazine, will comment that the Brooklyn office was a refuge for ex- and future mujaheddin, “But the highlight for the center’s regulars were the inspirational jihad lecture series, featuring CIA-sponsored speakers.… One week on Atlantic Avenue, it might be a CIA-trained Afghan rebel traveling on a CIA-issued visa; the next, it might be a clean-cut Arabic-speaking Green Beret, who would lecture about the importance of being part of the mujaheddin, or ‘warriors of the Lord.’ The more popular lectures were held upstairs in the roomier Al-Farouq Mosque; such was the case in 1990 when Sheikh [Omar] Abdul-Rahman, traveling on a CIA-supported visa, came to town.” One frequent instructor is double agent Ali Mohamed, who is in the US Special Forces at the time (see 1987-1989). Bin Laden’s mentor Azzam frequently visits and lectures in the area. In 1988, he tells “a rapt crowd of several hundred in Jersey City, ‘Blood and martyrdom are the only way to create a Muslim society.… However, humanity won’t allow us to achieve this objective, because all humanity is the enemy of every Muslim.’” [New York Magazine, 3/17/1995] Ayman Al-Zawahiri, future Al-Qaeda second in command, makes a recruiting trip to the office in 1989 (see Spring 1993). [New Yorker, 9/9/2002] The Brooklyn office also raises a considerable amount of money for MAK/Al-Kifah back in Pakistan. The Independent will later call the office “a place of pivotal importance to Operation Cyclone, the American effort to support the mujaheddin. The Al-Kifah [Refugee Center was] raising funds and, crucially, providing recruits for the struggle, with active American assistance.” [Independent, 11/1/1998] Abdul-Rahman, better known as the “Blind Sheikh,” is closely linked to bin Laden. In 1990, he moves to New York on another CIA-supported visa (see July 1990) and soon dominates the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. Shalabi has a falling out with him over how to spend the money they raise and he is killed in mysterious circumstances in early 1991, completing Abdul-Rahman’s take over. Now, both the Brooklyn and Pakistan ends of the Al-Kifah/MAK network are firmly controlled by bin Laden and his close associates. In 1998, the US government will say that al-Qaeda’s “connection to the United States evolved from the Al-Kifah Refugee Center.” Yet there is no sign that the CIA stops its relationship with the Brooklyn office before it closes down shortly after the 1993 WTC bombing. [New York Times, 10/22/1998]

Entity Tags: Jamal al-Fadl, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Mustafa Shalabi, Maktab al-Khidamat, Osama bin Laden, Fawaz Damra, El Sayyid Nosair, Mahmud Abouhalima, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Central Intelligence Agency, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, Al Farouq Mosque, Abdullah Azzam, Ali Shinawy, Ali Mohamed, Al-Kifah Refugee Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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. [New York Times, 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.” [New York Magazine, 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).

Entity Tags: Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Maktab al-Khidamat, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Central Intelligence Agency, El Sayyid Nosair, Mustafa Shalabi, Robert Morgenthau

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A convoy of Soviet tanks leaving Afghanistan.A convoy of Soviet tanks leaving Afghanistan. [Source: National Geographic]Soviet forces withdraw from Afghanistan, in accordance with an agreement signed the previous year (see April 1988). However, Afghan communists retain control of Kabul, the capital, until April 1992. [Washington Post, 7/19/1992] It is estimated that more than a million Afghans (eight per cent of the country’s population) were killed in the Soviet-Afghan War, and hundreds of thousands had been maimed by an unprecedented number of land mines. Almost half of the survivors of the war are refugees. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002] Richard Clarke, a counterterrorism official during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and the counterterrorism “tsar” by 9/11, will later say that the huge amount of US aid provided to Afghanistan drops off drastically as soon as the Soviets withdraw, abandoning the country to civil war and chaos. The new powers in Afghanistan are tribal chiefs, the Pakistani ISI, and the Arab war veterans coalescing into al-Qaeda. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 52-53]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Abdullah Anas.Abdullah Anas. [Source: History Channel]According to author Richard Labeviere, in this year Talaat Fouad Qassem, a leader of the Egyptian militant group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, is designated by a leaders from different radical militant groups to head up the militant effort in Bosnia. Qassem is living in exile in Denmark and recruits the help of two Algerian militants also living in exile in Europe, Kamer Eddine Kherbane and Abdullah Anas. In future years, the three of them will coordinate all the requests for volunteers from European countries who want to fight in Bosnia. They will send about 2,000 volunteers to camps in Bosnia near the towns of Zenica and Tuzla. Kherbane will directly lead the Tuzla group. [Labeviere, 1999, pp. 73] In 1991, Kherbane will set up a charity front in Croatia that is a branch of Maktab al-Khidamat/Al-Kifah, which is closely tied to al-Qaeda (see 1991 and Early 1990s). In 1995, Qassem will be abducted in Croatia by US forces and killed in Egypt (see September 13, 1995).

Entity Tags: Talaat Fouad Qassem, Kamer Eddine Kherbane, Abdullah Anas, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A 2006 analysis compiled jointly by US and Croatian intelligence will reveal that al-Qaeda began infiltrating the Balkans region even before the start of the Bosnian war in 1992. Kamer Eddine Kherbane, a member of Algerian militant group GIA, moved to Zagreb, Croatia, in 1991 to set up a charity front at the direct request of Osama bin Laden. The organization, called Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) or Al-Kifah, is closely tied to al-Qaeda. Its Brooklyn, New York, branch called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center is tied to both the 1993 WTC bombers and the CIA (see 1986-1993). [Associated Press, 4/17/2006] Apparently the Zagreb branch of MAK/Al-Kifah is also called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center like the Brooklyn branch and has very close ties with that branch (see Early 1990s). A Spanish police report will later claim that Kherbane is the head of the Zagreb branch. [CNN, 12/8/2002] The analysis will allege that Kherbane used Al-Kifah “to infiltrate GIA members into Bosnia,” and that Iran and unnamed Arab countries paid for the operation through money transfers. [Associated Press, 4/17/2006] Kherbane appears to have begun working with other radical militants in Bosnia in 1990 (see 1990).

Entity Tags: Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Osama bin Laden, Groupe Islamique Armé, Kamer Eddine Kherbane, Maktab al-Khidamat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

“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.” [Vanity Fair, 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).

Entity Tags: Ali Mohamed, Abu Ubaidah Yahya, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Kamer Eddine Kherbane, Maktab al-Khidamat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Territory controlled around the start of the war. White represents the Bosnian Serbs while gray represents Bosnian Muslims and Croats.Territory controlled around the start of the war. White represents the Bosnian Serbs while gray represents Bosnian Muslims and Croats. [Source: Time / Cowan, Castello, Glanton]Bosnia declares independence from Yugoslavia (which is now mostly made up of Serbia). The Bosnian Serbs immediately declare their own separate state, but remain closely tied to Serbia. War between Bosnia and Serbia begins immediately, adding to the existing war between Croatia and Serbia. Within days, the US recognizes the states of Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia. The European Union, which has already recognized Croatia and Slovenia, recognizes Bosnia as well. Serbia immediately gains the upper hand and within a month Serbian forces surround most of the area around the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. [US Department of State, 12/6/1995; Time, 12/31/1995; New York Times, 10/20/2003]

Entity Tags: Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ahmad Ajaj.Ahmad Ajaj. [Source: FBI]Al-Qaeda operatives Ahmad Ajaj and Ramzi Yousef enter the US together. Ajaj is arrested at Kennedy Airport in New York City. Yousef is not arrested and will later mastermind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. “The US government was pretty sure Ajaj was a terrorist from the moment he stepped foot on US soil,” because his “suitcases were stuffed with fake passports, fake IDs, and a cheat sheet on how to lie to US immigration inspectors,” plus “two handwritten notebooks filled with bomb recipes, six bomb-making manuals, four how-to videotapes concerning weaponry, and an advanced guide to surveillance training.” However, Ajaj is charged only with passport fraud and serves a six-month sentence. From prison, Ajaj frequently calls Yousef and others involved in the 1993 WTC bombing plot, but no one will translate the calls until long after the bombing. [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] Ajaj will be released from prison three days after the WTC bombing, but is later rearrested and sentenced to more than 100 years in prison. [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] One of the manuals seized from Ajaj will be horribly mistranslated for the trial. For instance, the title page is said to say “The Basic Rule,” published in Jordan in 1982, when in fact the title says “al-Qaeda” (which means “the base” in English), published in Afghanistan in 1989. Investigators will subsequently complain that a proper translation could have shown an early connection between al-Qaeda and the WTC bombing. [New York Times, 1/14/2001] An Israeli newsweekly will report that the Palestinian Ajaj may have been a mole for the Israeli Mossad. The Village Voice will suggest that Ajaj may have had “advance knowledge of the World Trade Center bombing, which he shared with Mossad, and that Mossad, for whatever reason, kept the secret to itself.” Ajaj is not just knowledgeable, but is involved in the planning of the bombing from his prison cell. [Village Voice, 8/3/1993]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, Al-Qaeda, Ahmad Ajaj, Ramzi Yousef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Double agent Ali Mohamed spends much of 1992 training al-Qaeda recruits in Afghanistan. But he also gives specialized training in Sudan, Bosnia, and other conflict zones. Using the alias Abu ‘Abdallah, he 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. Apparently this will come to light in a 1998 trial in Egypt. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 41, 150, 337] The training takes place at Meskovic, a village near the town of Tuzla. The 14-man team are smuggled into Bosnia one by one in December 1992. The team is said to be sponsored by a “mosque in Newark, New Jersey.” [Associated Press, 12/3/1995] Mohamed regularly trained militants at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, an al-Qaeda front in the US (see 1987-1989), and there was a mosque associated to it in Newark. This effort takes place at a time when Al-Kifah is sending many US-based militants to fight in Bosnia (see 1992). It will later be alleged that a US Army official met with people at Al-Kifah in December 1992 and offered to help with a covert operation to support Muslims in Bosnia (see December 1992). Twelve of the Americans leave within two months after training a group of 25 mujaheddin in insurgency warfare. But Mohamed and another American only known by the code name Abu Musa remain at Meskovic until June 1993, occasionally accompanying the mujaheddin on attacks behind Serb lines. [Associated Press, 12/3/1995]

Entity Tags: Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Al-Qaeda, Ali Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Friday prayers outside the Islamic Cultural Institute, on October 19, 2001. Friday prayers outside the Islamic Cultural Institute, on October 19, 2001. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]The Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, Italy, has numerous ties to terrorist activities during this period and after 9/11, and the Treasury Department will call the mosque “the main al-Qaeda station house in Europe.” It is initially headed by Anwar Shaaban (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995 and December 14, 1995), an opponent of the current Egyptian regime and a supporter of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya militant group, which is run by the ‘Blind Sheikh,’ Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see Late 1993-1994).
bullet It recruits fighters for militant Islamic causes and sends them to Afghanistan for training. One of the recruits, L’Houssaine Kherchtou, who will testify for the prosecution at the trial of men accused of bombing US embassies in Africa in 1998, will say that he knew Shaaban well, adding: “He was my guide. I went there every weekend to be with him.” After studying with Shaaban for some time, Shaaban arranges for Kherchtou and a group of other men to receive military training in Afghanistan. [Chicago Tribune, 10/22/2001]
bullet There is heavy telephone traffic between the Institute and the New York mosque run by Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, and Italian police say it is a logistical base for the WTC bombing (see Late 1993-1994).
bullet The Algerian militant group Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) gains influence in the mosque after Shaaban dies in the Bosnian Civil War (see After 1995).
bullet It creates a “cottage industry in supplying false passports and other bogus documents” according to European intelligence officials, and serves as a gateway to Europe for operatives from Afghanistan. [Boston Globe, 8/4/2002]

Entity Tags: L’Houssaine Kherchtou, Islamic Cultural Institute, Al-Qaeda, Anwar Shaaban, Omar Abdul-Rahman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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 in New York City fails, but six people are killed and over 1,000 injured in the misfired blast. The explosion is caused by the detonation of a truck bomb in the underground parking garage. An FBI explosives expert will later state, “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 Osama bin Laden, organizes the attempt. [Village Voice, 3/30/1993; US Congress, 2/24/1998] The New York Times will report on Emad Salem, an undercover agent who will be the key government witness in the trial against Yousef. Salem will testify that the FBI knew about the attack beforehand and told him it would thwart the attack by substituting a harmless powder for the explosives. However, an FBI supervisor called off this plan and the bombing was not stopped. [New York Times, 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 will conclude, in internal documents, that it was “partly culpable” for this bombing (see January 24, 1994). [Independent, 11/1/1998] 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is an uncle of Yousef and also has a role in the bombing (see March 20, 1993). [Independent, 6/6/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] One of the bombers even leaves a message, which will be found by investigators, stating, “Next time, it will be very precise.” [Associated Press, 9/30/2001]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden, World Trade Center, Emad Salem, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In June 1993, Abu Ubaidah Yahya will tell the New York Times that early in the year he went to Bosnia with several other Muslims from the New York region to help embattled Bosnian Muslims “with technical advice and medical aid.” [New York Times, 6/26/1993] Yahya is an ex-US Marine connected to numerous figures in the 1993 WTC bombing and “Landmarks” bombing plots, and US intelligence had him under surveillance since January 1993 (see January 7-13, 1993), although how intensive the surveillance was is unknown. The FBI is aware that Yahya repeatedly travels in the spring of 1993 to Vienna, Austria, to pick up money from the Bosnian-linked Third World Relief Agency charity front (see Early April 1993), so presumably he goes to nearby Bosnia on some or all of those trips. It is likely he and his group actually go to Bosnia to fight, since one of his associates told an FBI informant that Yahya and a group of about ten men he trained were going to fight in Bosnia once their training session was over, and the training ended in February 1993 (see December 1992-Early February 1993). Saudis also gave Yahya’s close associate Clement Rodney Hampton-El a considerable amount of money to train militants in the US to fight in Bosnia (see December 1992). [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 113] Yahya is the security chief of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, a charity front linked to both al-Qaeda and the CIA (see 1986-1993). A group of US militants linked to Al-Kifah go fight in Bosnia starting in December 1992, but this must be a different group since Yahya is still training his group for another two months (see December 1992-June 1993 and December 1992-Early February 1993).

Entity Tags: Abu Ubaidah Yahya, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Clement Rodney Hampton-El

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Anwar Shaaban.Anwar Shaaban. [Source: Evan Kohlmann]The Islamic Cultural Institute mosque in Milan, Italy is dominated by Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, the Egyptian militant group led by Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. The imam of the mosque, Anwar Shaaban, is a leader of that group and also a leader of the mujaheddin efforts in Bosnia. The Islamic Cultural Institute serves as a transit and logistical base for mujaheddin coming or going to Bosnia (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995). After the 1993 WTC bombing, US investigators will discover heavy phone traffic between the Milan mosque and the Jersey City mosque run by Abdul-Rahman. Furthermore, they learn that bomber mastermind Ramzi Yousef used the Milan mosque as a logistical base as well. [Chicago Tribune, 10/22/2001] Yousef also prayed at the Milan mosque prior to the WTC bombing. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 171] Shaaban is a close friend of Talaat Fouad Qassem, another leader of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya and one of the highest ranking leaders of the mujaheddin fighting in Bosnia. Qassem is directing the flow of volunteers to Bosnia while living in political asylum in Denmark (see 1990). [Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 25] In April 1994, seven Arab men living in Denmark, including Qassem, are arrested. US prosecutors will later claim that fingerprints on documents and videotapes seized from the men match fingerprints on bomb manuals that Ahmad Ajaj was carrying when he entered the US with Yousef (see September 1, 1992). A raid on one apartment in Denmark uncovers bomb formulas, bomb making chemical, sketches of attack targets, some videotapes of Abdul-Rahman’s sermons, and a pamphlet claiming responsibility for the WTC bombing and promising more attacks. Also, phone records and documents found in Abdul-Rahman’s Jersey City apartment show the men in Denmark were communicating regularly with Abdul-Rahman. [New York Times, 4/15/1995] But no one in either Milan or Denmark will be charged with a role in the WTC bombing. Danish police will later say that none of the seized documents indicated that the Arab men personally took part in the bombing. The men all are released and ironically, two of them are granted political asylum in Denmark because they are members of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, which the Danish consider to be a persecuted group. [Associated Press, 6/28/1995] In 1995, an Italian magistrate will issue arrest warrants for Shaaban and 60 other extremists (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995), but Shaaban will flee to Bosnia, where he will die of bullet wounds in unexplained circumstances (see December 14, 1995). [Chicago Tribune, 10/22/2001] The US government will later call the Islamic Cultural Institute al-Qaeda’s main logistical base in Europe and some evidence will link figures connected to it to the 9/11 plot (see Late 1998-September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Talaat Fouad Qassem, Islamic Cultural Institute, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Anwar Shaaban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ahmed Idris Nasreddin.Ahmed Idris Nasreddin. [Source: NBC News]A 1995 Italian intelligence report alleges the Switzerland-based Al Taqwa Bank is funding radical groups in Algeria, Tunisia, and Sudan, and is a major backer of Hamas, but Swiss authorities are slow to investigate. [Salon, 3/15/2002; Forward, 10/17/2003] The Italians are interested in Al Taqwa because of its connection to a radical Italian mosque, the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, which Al Taqwa founder and director Ahmed Idris Nasreddin helped create and finance in the early 1990s. The mosque is close to Al Taqwa’s headquarters in Lugano, a town on the border between Switzerland and Italy. It is also connected to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and extremists fighting in Bosnia (see Late 1993-1994) and European investigators increasingly suspect that the Milan mosque is an important general recruiting and supply center for al-Qaeda and other radical militant groups. [Newsweek, 3/18/2002] Reportedly, the Italians tell a Swiss prosecutor that Al Taqwa “comprises the most important financial structure of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic terrorist organizations.” Italian intelligence also finds links between Al Taqwa and the Milan mosque through Nasreddin. Additionally, two other top officials in the mosque are Al Taqwa shareholders. [Salon, 3/15/2002; Forward, 10/17/2003] Italian officials get the impression that Swiss officials are loathe to look into Al Taqwa. In 1997, the Italians convince a Swiss prosecutor to start questioning Al Taqwa officials. But reportedly, an Al Taqwa lawyer is able to make phone calls to influential people and have the investigation stopped. [Salon, 3/15/2002]

Entity Tags: Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Cultural Institute, Hamas, Ahmed Idris Nasreddin, Al Taqwa Bank, Al-Qaeda, Italy, Switzerland

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA proposes a policy of abducting Islamic Jihad militants and sending them to Egypt which will soon be approved by President Bill Clinton (see June 21, 1995). The Clinton administration began a policy of allowing abductions, known as “renditions,” in 1993 (see 1993). At first, renditions were rarely used because few countries wanted the suspects. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is one of the architects of a 1995 agreement with Egypt to send rendered militants there. He will later recall: “It was begun in desperation.… We were turning into voyeurs. We knew where these people were, but we couldn’t capture them because we had nowhere to take them,” due to legal and diplomatic complications. The CIA realized that “we had to come up with a third party.” Egypt was the obvious choice because the Islamic Jihad is the prime political enemy of the Egyptian government, and many Islamic Jihad militants also work for al-Qaeda, an enemy of the US.
Turning a Blind Eye - However, the Egyptian secret police force, the Mukhabarat, is notorious for its torture of prisoners. As part of the program, the US helps track, capture, and transport suspects to Egypt (see Before Summer 1995) and then turns a blind eye while the Egyptians torture them. Scheuer claims the US could give the Egyptian interrogators questions they wanted put to the detainees in the morning and get answers by the evening. Because torture is illegal in the US, US officials are never present when the torture is done. Further, the CIA only abducts suspects who have already been convicted in absentia. Talaat Fouad Qassem is the first known person the CIA renders to Egypt (see September 13, 1995). But the number of renditions greatly increases in 1998, when the CIA gets a list of Islamic Jihad operatives around the world (see Late August 1998). These renditions result in a big trial in Egypt in 1999 that effectively destroys Islamic Jihad as a major force in that country (see 1999). [New Yorker, 2/8/2005]
CIA, NSC, Justice Department Lawyers Consulted - Scheuer will say that lawyers inside and outside the CIA are intensively consulted about the program: “There is a large legal department within the Central Intelligence Agency, and there is a section of the Department of Justice that is involved in legal interpretations for intelligence work, and there is a team of lawyers at the National Security Council, and on all of these things those lawyers are involved in one way or another and have signed off on the procedure. The idea that somehow this is a rogue operation that someone has dreamed up is just absurd.” [Grey, 2007, pp. 140-141]
Leadership of Program - The rendition program does not focus solely on al-Qaeda-linked extremists, and other suspected terrorists are also abducted. Scheuer will later tell Congress, “I authored it and then ran and managed it against al-Qaeda leaders and other Sunni Islamists from August 1995, until June 1999.” [US Congress, 4/17/2007 pdf file] A dedicated Renditions Branch will be established at CIA headquarters in 1997 (see 1997), but the relationship between Scheuer and its manager is not known—it is unclear whether this manager is a subordinate, superior, or equal of Scheuer, or whether Scheuer takes on this responsibility as well. After Scheuer is fired as unit chief in May 1999 (see June 1999), his role in the rendition program will presumably be passed on to his successor, Richard Blee, who will go on to be involved in rendition after 9/11 (see Shortly After December 19, 2001). In a piece apparently about Blee, journalist Ken Silverstein will say that he “oversaw… the [Counterterrorist Center] branch that directed renditions.” [Harper's, 1/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Mukhabarat (Egypt), Richard Blee, Islamic Jihad, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Egypt, Michael Scheuer

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Talaat Fouad Qassem, 38, a known leader of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Group), an Egyptian extremist organization, is arrested and detained in Croatia as he travels to Bosnia from Denmark, where he has been been living after being granted political asylum. He is suspected of clandestine support of terrorist operations, including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993). He also allegedly led mujaheddin efforts in Bosnia since 1990 (see 1990). In a joint operation, he is arrested by Croatian intelligence agents and handed over to the CIA. Qassem is then interrogated by US officials aboard a US ship off the Croatian coast in the Adriatic Sea and sent to Egypt, which has a rendition agreement with the US (see Summer 1995). An Egyptian military tribunal has already sentenced him to death in absentia, and he is executed soon after he arrives. [Associated Press, 10/31/1995; Washington Post, 3/11/2002, pp. A01; Mahle, 2005, pp. 204-205; New Yorker, 2/8/2005] According to the 1999 book Dollars for Terror, two weeks before his abduction, Qassem was in Switzerland negotiating against Muslim Brotherhood leaders. Some Muslim Brotherhood exiles were negotiating with the Egyptian government to be allowed to return to Egypt if they agreed not to use Muslim Brotherhood Swiss bank accounts to fund Egyptian militant groups like Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, but Qassem and other radicals oppose this deal. So the removal of Qassem helps the Muslim Brotherhood in their conflict with more militant groups. [Labeviere, 1999, pp. 70-71]

Entity Tags: Croatia, Egypt, Talaat Fouad Qassem, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Muslim Brotherhood

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Melissa Boyle Mahle.Melissa Boyle Mahle. [Source: Publicity photo]According to a later account by CIA agent Melissa Boyle Mahle, “a tidbit received late in the year revealed the location” Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) in Qatar (see 1992-1996). [Mahle, 2005, pp. 247-248] This presumably is information the FBI learned in Sudan that KSM was traveling to Qatar (see Shortly Before October 1995). However, US intelligence should also have been aware that KSM’s nephew Ramzi Yousef attempted to call him in Qatar in February 1995 while Yousef was in US custody (see After February 7, 1995-January 1996). Mahle is assigned to verify KSM’s identity. She claims that at the time the CIA is aware of KSM’s involvement in the Bojinka plot in the Philippines (see January 6, 1995) and in the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993) She is able to match his fingerprints with a set of fingerprints the CIA already has in their files. [Guardian, 3/31/2005] By October 1995, the FBI tracks KSM to a certain apartment building in Qatar. Then, using high-technology surveillance, his presence in the building is confirmed. [Miniter, 2003, pp. 85-86] Mahle argues that KSM should be rendered out of the country in secret. The US began rendering terrorist suspects in 1993 (see 1993), and a prominent Egyptian extremist is rendered by the CIA in September 1995 (see September 13, 1995). She argues her case to CIA headquarters and to the highest reaches of the NSA, but is overruled. [Guardian, 3/31/2005] Instead, the decision is made to wait until KSM can be indicted in a US court and ask Qatar to extradite him to the US. Despite the surveillance on KSM, he apparently is able to leave Qatar and travel to Brazil with bin Laden and then back to Qatar at the end of 1995 (see December 1995). KSM will be indicted in early 1996, but he will escape from Qatar a few months later (see January-May 1996).

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Melissa Boyle Mahle, National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A suicide bombing destroys the police station in the town of Rijeka, Croatia, wounding 29 people. The Egyptian militant group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya takes credit for the bombing, saying it is revenge for the abduction of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya leader Talaat Fouad Qassem in Croatia the month before (see September 13, 1995). The Croatians will later determine that the mastermind, Hassan al-Sharif Mahmud Saad, and the suicide bomber were both tied to Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. They also were tied to the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, Italy, which in turn has ties to many militant attacks, some committed Ramzi Yousef (see 1995-1997). CIA soon discovers that the suicide bomber also worked for the Third World Refugee Center charity front (see January 1996). [Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 153-155] In 1999, the FBI’s Bojinka investigation will notice that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) was believed to be in neighboring Bosnia at the time and that the timing device of the bomb (a modified Casio watch) closely resembled those used by KSM and his nephew Yousef in the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995). Presumably, this would have increased the importance of catching KSM. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 489]

Entity Tags: Third World Relief Agency, Ramzi Yousef, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Hassan al-Sharif Mahmud Saad, Talaat Fouad Qassem, Islamic Cultural Institute

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Egyptian diplomat Alaa al-Din Nazmi is shot and killed as he is returning to his house in Geneva, Switzerland. While he is officially said to be negotiating with the World Trade Organization on economic matters, the Independent will later report, “Political sources suggested that Nazmi was working under diplomatic cover, and that his real job was to track down members of Egyptian Islamist armed groups in Europe who have sworn to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Nazmi’s murderers [say] as much two days later,” when they take credit for the killing, using an alias for Islamic Jihad. [Independent, 12/6/1995] Swiss authorities seem uninterested in vigorously pursuing political connections to the murder, which is never solved. However, it will later be reported, “According to various sources close to the investigation, the Egyptian diplomat had been handling several sensitive files relating precisely to the financial resources of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which $200 to $500 was managed by various financial organizations” in Switzerland. The diplomat had played a major part in an attempt to recover these funds. He was focusing on the Al Taqwa Bank on the Swiss-Italian border, known to be a major bank for the Muslim Brotherhood. [Labeviere, 1999, pp. 63-68] A few months earlier, Nazmi apparently had been in secret discussions with the Egyptian militant Talaat Fouad Qassem, who was then abducted by the CIA and executed in Egypt (see September 13, 1995). So Nazmi’s assassination is seen as revenge for the death of Qassem. [Labeviere, 1999, pp. 70-71]

Entity Tags: Alaa al-Din Nazmi, Al Taqwa Bank, Islamic Jihad, Muslim Brotherhood, Talaat Fouad Qassem

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Anwar Shaaban, an Islamist militant in charge of logistics for mujaheddin fighting in Bosnia, is killed in Croatia. Shaaban had been based at the Islamic Cultural Institute mosque in Milan, but managed to avoid arrest when it was raided (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995). On December 14, 1995, the same day a peace accord is signed ending the Bosnian war, Shaaban is killed by Croatian troops in what mujaheddin claim is an ambush. Shaaban’s diary is found, and it cites regular meetings between al-Qaeda leaders and leaders of the Bosnian Muslim government, including General Staff Chief Rasim Delic and Interior Minister Bakir Alispahic. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 216-217] Shaaban, a leader of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya militant group, had been in regular contact with Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman and al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 163-164]

Entity Tags: Rasim Delic, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Anwar Shaaban, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bakir Alispahic

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Following an investigation of extremists linked to the Islamic Cultural Institute mosque in Milan, Italy, arrests are made, but most of the suspects are eventually released. The mosque was a logistics base for radical Muslims fighting in Bosnia (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995 and Late 1993-1994) and has been under investigation for some time. However, according to the Chicago Tribune: “[T]he criminal case appears to [founder] on the vagaries of the Italian justice system. Because of limitations on jailing people charged with crimes committed outside Italy, most of the suspects [will be] released and [vanish].” [Chicago Tribune, 10/22/2001] People connected to the mosque will go on to be connected to numerous plots, such as the failed millennium attacks and 9/11 (see Late 1998-September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Islamic Cultural Institute

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, Italy.The Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, Italy. [Source: Public domain]By late 1998, US and Italian intelligence are already aware of the importance of a mosque in Milan, Italy, called the Islamic Cultural Institute. After 9/11, the Treasury Department will call the mosque “the main al-Qaeda station house in Europe. It is used to facilitate the movement of weapons, men and money across the world.” Additionally, they are aware that Ahmed Idris Nasreddin, a founder and director of Al Taqwa Bank, is also a founder and financier of the mosque. The mosque is also less than 50 miles away from Al Taqwa’s headquarters on the Swiss border.(see 1995-1997). [Newsweek, 3/18/2002] US officials will later say that al-Qaeda operatives involved in the 1998 US embassy bombings stayed at the Milan mosque. This causes US and Italian intelligence to watch the mosque more closely, and it also causes the US to look closer at Al Taqwa Bank (see 1997-September 11, 2001). [Newsweek, 3/18/2002] One member of the al-Qaeda cell in Milan lives in Hamburg with 9/11 plotter Ramzi bin al-Shibh for most of 1998 (see December 1997-November 1998). In 2000, Abderazek Mahdjoub, the head of the Milan cell, lives in Hamburg, attends the Al-Quds mosque that the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell attends, and has ties with some of the 9/11 hijackers (see 2000). Al-Qaeda operatives involved in the failed millennium bombing plot in Jordan also stay at the Milan mosque (see November 30, 1999). The Jordanian government later will claim that Al Taqwa helped fund these millennium bombers. [Newsweek, 3/18/2002; Newsweek, 4/12/2004] Starting in late 2000, Italian intelligence, wiretapping people associated with the Milan mosque and/or the Milan al-Qaeda cell, record conversations suggesting foreknowledge of the 9/11 plot (see August 12, 2000; January 24, 2001). This information is shared with the US in early 2001 (see March 2001). Additional evidence will come out after 9/11 suggesting some people in Milan had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks (see September 4, 2001; September 7, 2001). Given the closeness of the Al Taqwa Bank to the mosque, especially through Nasreddin, this raises the possibility of Al Taqwa involvement and knowledge of specific al-Qaeda plots, including the 9/11 attacks, though there is no known evidence of such direct ties except for the attempted millennium bombing mentioned above.

Entity Tags: Islamic Cultural Institute, Abderazek Mahdjoub, Italy, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, US Department of the Treasury, Ahmed Idris Nasreddin, Al-Qaeda, Al Taqwa Bank

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr.Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr. [Source: ABC]Italian resident Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, who previously informed for the CIA on extremists in Albania (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After and May 1997-2000), moves from Rome to Milan to live with a close associate of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000 and Summer 2000). Al-Zawahiri’s associate, Mahmoud Es Sayed, and Nasr arrive in Milan at the same time, and it appears their movements are coordinated. Nasr actually lives in Es Sayed’s apartment and the pair make use of two radical mosques in Milan, the Via Quaranta mosque, which is their headquarters, and the Islamic Cultural Institute (ICI), which is associated with a cell of radical Islamists that works with al-Qaeda and appears to have foreknowledge of 9/11 (see August 12, 2000 and March 2001). The ICI has a reputation as the most radical Islamic center in Italy, was a key supply point for Muslims fighting in Bosnia (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995), and was connected to the first World Trade Center bombing (see Late 1993-1994). Nasr serves as deputy imam at the ICI and preaches anti-US sermons. Italian law enforcement authorities monitor him with bugs in his apartment and through a tap on his phone, finding out that after 9/11 he recruits Muslims to go and fight in Afghanistan. He does not seem to be directly involved in serious illegal activity, but the information the Italians gain helps them monitor other radicals. His relationship with the CIA during his time in Italy is unclear, but in one monitored call after 9/11 he appears to be dissuading another radical from attacking Jews and in another he tells an associate not to carry out a car bombing. [Chicago Tribune, 7/2/2005; Vidino, 2006, pp. 242] The CIA will kidnap Nasr in 2003 (see Noon February 17, 2003).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Mahmoud Es Sayed, Islamic Cultural Institute, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Kamar Eddine Kherbane.Kamar Eddine Kherbane. [Source: Marco Hebdo]A militant leader named Kamar Eddine Kherbane is arrested in Morocco, but he has been given political asylum in Britain since 1994 and he is quickly deported to Britain and freed. Agence France-Presse claims that his arrest was “apparently in connection with the [9/11] attacks on the US.” The Moroccan government also questions him about arms smuggling. [Agence France-Presse, 9/20/2001] But by sending him back to Britain, the Moroccan government ignores an extradition request by the Algerian government who claim Kherbane is a wanted criminal and an al-Qaeda operative. [BBC, 9/21/2001] Kherbane was a founding member of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), an Algerian political party outlawed in the early 1990s. He is also a known al-Qaeda operative said to have met bin Laden on several occasions, most recently in 1998. He appears to have been a key leader of mujaheddin fighting in Bosnia (see 1990 and 1991). [Agence France-Presse, 9/20/2001] A Spanish police report will later claim that he was the head of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center’s Zabreb, Croatia, office (see Early 1990s). Al-Kifah was a US-based al-Qaeda charity front until the early 1990s that had ties to both the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the CIA (see 1986-1993). [CNN, 12/8/2002] Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna says Kherbane is “close to both the [Algerian] GIA and al-Qaeda’s leaderships.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 183] In an interview shortly after the Moroccan incident, Kherbane claims that he was released there because “Britain put a lot of pressure, which reached the point of threatening to expel the Moroccan ambassador from London.” He also admits to having met bin Laden in the 1990s. [BBC, 9/26/2001] It is not known why the British government helps him avoid being sent to Algeria. But a few days after his return to Britain, The London Times will report, “More than 20 Islamic terrorists, including those wanted for the murders of at least 100 people abroad, are living freely in Britain. Many on the global terror ‘wanted list’ have been granted political asylum despite being close to Osama bin Laden’s organization.” [London Times, 9/23/2001] A 2005 article will indicate Kherbane is still living openly in Britain. [BBC, 2/24/2005]

Entity Tags: United Kingdom, Morocco, Osama bin Laden, Kamer Eddine Kherbane, Al-Qaeda, Groupe Islamique Armé, Islamic Salvation Front, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Algeria

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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