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Context of '1991-1992: CIA Contractor Drafts Plan to Assassinate Bin Laden, but It Is Not Implemented'

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After being recruited by Abdullah Azzam, an Arab Afghan leader and Osama bin Laden’s mentor, Essam al Ridi travels to Pakistan to join the mujaheddin fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He works for the mujaheddin for about 18 months, mostly as a purchaser of equipment abroad. He buys two sets of scuba diving equipment and six range finders in Britain, as well as night vision goggles and six night vision scopes from the US. He also purchases video equipment and batteries, and acquires equipment in Japan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Al Ridi will later say, as a witness in a US trial, that he travels “extensively almost every 15 days to 20 days” and that he has so many stamps his passport is nearly full by 1985. Al Ridi leaves Asia to return to the US in late 1984 or early 1985, apparently due to an argument about Osama bin Laden’s role in the jihad, but he will continue to send equipment to the mujaheddin. For example, he will later purchase assassination rifles for the jihad, apparently with the CIA’s knowledge, but it is unclear whether the CIA knows about these earlier transactions (see Early 1989). [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001]

Entity Tags: Abdullah Azzam, Essam al Ridi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Afghan Arab Essam al Ridi purchases more equipment in the US for the mujaheddin fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He had previously worked as a buyer for the mujaheddin, traveling the world to acquire items for the anti-Soviet jihad (see Early 1983-Late 1984). However, in 1985 he fell out with the others over Osama bin Laden’s influence in the movement, which he thought was excessive, and returned to the US to work as a flight instructor. Al Ridi buys eleven pairs of night vision goggles and gives them to Wadih El-Hage, who will later become Osama bin Laden’s personal secretary (see October 1995). El-Hage takes them to Pakistan for use in his passenger luggage. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001] Al Ridi will later purchase assassination rifles for the fighters linked to bin Laden, apparently with the CIA’s knowledge, but it is unclear whether the CIA knows about this transaction (see Early 1989).

Entity Tags: Essam al Ridi, Wadih El-Hage

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

CIA contractor Billy Waugh trains various al-Qaeda operatives around the globe, possibly for more than a decade. In his 2004 autobiography he will write, “I worked right there with these al-Qaeda operatives and heard these arguments [about the badness of US policy] firsthand many times, especially during an assignment in Yemen.” This training must take place between 1989, when he is hired by the CIA, and 2001, when he begins his last assignment for the agency in Afghanistan. The reference to Yemen may indicate that Waugh worked there during the 1994 civil war, when the US supported the religiously-oriented North Yemen against the breakaway south (see May 21-July 7, 1994). The descriptions of the extremists’ arguments and attitudes contained in his autobiography indicate that Waugh, who conducted surveillance against Osama bin laden in Sudan in the early 1990s (see February 1991- July 1992), has intimate knowledge of the extremists. For example, he will write, “I have spoken to some of those terrorists [from al-Qaeda and related organizations], and they consider terror attacks against the general public their only outlet to hurt and destroy the infidels who have wrongfully ousted them from their homes so many years in the past.” [Waugh and Keown, 2004, pp. 173, 303, 308]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Billy Waugh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Osama bin Laden and Hassan al-Turabi in Sudan in the early 1990s.Osama bin Laden and Hassan al-Turabi in Sudan in the early 1990s. [Source: PBS]Hassan al-Turabi comes to power in Sudan in 1989, and his beliefs are ideologically compatible with bin Laden’s. With the Afghan war ending and the Afghans beginning to fight amongst themselves, al-Turabi sends a delegation and a letter to bin Laden, inviting him to collaborate and move to Sudan. Bin Laden agrees to the offer, but moves slowly. He sends advance teams to buy businesses and houses. He also visits Sudan himself to establish a relationship with al-Turabi. Gradually, about 1,000 bin Laden supporters move to Sudan. But bin Laden also keeps offices and guest houses in Pakistan, as well as training camps in Afghanistan, including the Darunta, Jihad Wal, Khaldan, Sadeek, Al Farooq, and Khalid ibn Walid camps. US-al-Qaeda double agent Ali Mohamed plays an important role in the move (see Summer 1991). [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 39-41]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Ali Mohamed, Khaldan training camp, Darunta training camp, Al Farooq training camp, Hassan al-Turabi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The National Imagery Office, which coordinates all US satellite activity, begins satellite surveillance of bin Laden’s bases and training camps in Sudan and Afghanistan. Also, bin Laden’s voice print, a computerized record of his voice is made from tapes of his speeches that were distributed in Saudi Arabia around the time of the Gulf War. The NSA is able to use the voice print to scan satellite and cell phone calls for a match. As a result, “on numerous occasions the NSA and CIA” are able to monitor bin Laden’s calls even if he is not using his usual satellite phone. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 206]

Entity Tags: National Imagery Office, Osama bin Laden, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

CIA contractor Billy Waugh, who is conducting surveillance against Osama bin Laden in Khartoum, Sudan (see February 1991- July 1992), drafts a plan to assassinate bin Laden. Waugh will later say that the plan, one of “hundreds” of such proposals he prepares for the CIA, is drafted as a natural part of the surveillance and “isn’t anything special,” but is just written “in case someone decided that was the necessary course of action.” The plan is to kill bin Laden while he is traveling, because that is when his security is worst. One CIA car would follow bin Laden on one of his regular trips out of town, another would approach bin Laden’s car from the opposite direction and ram into it. The driver of the trailing car would then get out and shoot bin Laden. Given the poor quality of the Sudanese security services, Waugh thinks it would be simple to evade capture after the shooting. However, the plan is not approved because of restrictions on assassinations at the CIA and because of a lack of specific intelligence tying bin Laden to terrorism at this point. Waugh then considers killing bin Laden himself from one of his surveillance positions without permission, but decides not to do so. [Waugh and Keown, 2004, pp. 207-210]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Billy Waugh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Billy Waugh.Billy Waugh. [Source: Billy Waugh]The CIA monitors bin Laden in Khartoum, Sudan, where he has just moved (see Summer 1991). Billy Waugh, an independent contractor working for the CIA, moves to Khartoum and is given the task of spying on him. Waugh is a legendary fighter already in his sixties who has performed special operations for the US Army and CIA for many years and will continue to do so until he is in his seventies. The Associated Press will later report that Waugh “played a typecast role as an aging American fitness enthusiast and would regularly jog past bin Laden’s home. He said he often came face-to-face with bin Laden, who undoubtedly knew the CIA was tailing him. Neither said anything, but Waugh recalled exchanging pleasantries with bin Laden’s Afghan guards.” [Waugh and Keown, 2004, pp. 121; Associated Press, 6/4/2005] Waugh will later recall, “I was on a tracking team in Sudan keeping track of [bin Laden] in his early days as a possible terrorist network leader. Our CIA Chief of Station there told me upon arrival that [he] was one of our targets, that he was a wealthy Saudi financier and possible supporter of the terrorist outfit called al-Qaeda. He ran companies there and even owned an entire street block in the al-Riyadh section of the city.… At the time of our surveillance operations against him in 1991-92, [he] was not a particularly high priority, though evidence was gathering about him. At the time, it would have been very easy to take him out.” Waugh also claims that he saw bin Laden “in the mountains of the Pakistan/Afghanistan border in the late 1980’s when we were training the [mujaheddin] resistance.” [Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International, 6/2005]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Billy Waugh, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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. [PBS Frontline, 4/1999; New York Times, 1/22/2000]

Entity Tags: El Sayyid Nosair, Mustafa Shalabi, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Wadih El-Hage

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bin Laden moves his base of operations from Afghanistan to Sudan (see Summer 1991), and asks US-al-Qaeda double agent Ali Mohamed to assist in the move. The New York Times will later report that US officials claim, “this was a complex operation, involving the transfer through several countries of Mr. bin Laden and at least two dozen of his associates.” Mohamed also stays busy frequenting mosques in the US, apparently recruiting operatives for al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 12/1/1998; Washington File, 5/15/2001] Ihab Ali Nawawi, an al-Qaeda operative based in Florida, helps Mohamed with the move. [Lance, 2006, pp. 123]

Entity Tags: Ihab Ali Nawawi, Osama bin Laden, Ali Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Double agent Ali Mohamed, after helping bin Laden move to Sudan (see Summer 1991), sets up three new al-Qaeda training camps there. The largest is a 20-acre site a few miles south of the capital of Khartoum. Up to 2,000 Muslim militants move to Sudan with bin Laden. After helping them move as well, Mohamed trains them in newly created camps on kidnapping, bomb-making, cell structure, urban warfare, and more. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 175; Lance, 2006, pp. 77-78]

Entity Tags: Ali Mohamed, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bin Laden’s house in Khartoum, Sudan.Bin Laden’s house in Khartoum, Sudan. [Source: PBS]It has not been revealed when US intelligence begins monitoring bin Laden exactly, though the CIA was tailing him in Sudan by the end of 1991 (see February 1991- July 1992). But in late 1995 the FBI is given forty thick files on bin Laden from the CIA and NSA, mostly communications intercepts (see October 1995). The sheer amount of material suggests the surveillance had been going on for several years. Dan Coleman, an FBI agent working with the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will begin examining these files and finds that many of them are transcripts from wiretapped phones tied to bin Laden’s businesses in Khartoum, Sudan, where bin Laden lives from 1991 to 1996. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 148-149; Wright, 2006, pp. 242-244] CIA Director George Tenet will later comment, “The then-obscure name ‘Osama bin Laden’ kept cropping up in the intelligence traffic.… [The CIA] spotted bin Laden’s tracts in the early 1990s in connection with funding other terrorist movements. They didn’t know exactly what this Saudi exile living in Sudan was up to, but they knew it was not good.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 100] The London Times will later report that in Sudan, “bin Laden used an $80,000 satellite phone and al-Qaeda members used radios to avoid being bugged…” [London Times, 10/7/2001] Bin Laden is mistaken in his belief that satellite phones cannot be monitored; a satellite phone he buys in 1996 will be monitored as well (see November 1996-Late August 1998).

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Osama bin Laden, Dan Coleman, Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The airplane that will be bought for bin Laden.The airplane that will be bought for bin Laden. [Source: Fox News]High-ranking al-Qaeda operative Wadih El-Hage contacts Essam al Ridi, a militant who had previously helped the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan (see Early 1983-Late 1984), to discuss buying a jet plane for Osama bin Laden. El Hage is at bin Laden’s base in Sudan, and al Ridi is in Texas, where he works as a flight instructor. The two men know each other from the 1980s, when they shipped equipment from the US to the mujaheddin in Afghanistan (see 1987 or 1988). The FBI has been aware of El-Hage’s terrorist connections for some time (see March 1991), and the CIA is monitoring bin Laden in Sudan (see February 1991- July 1992). There are “quite a few” communications, in which the two men discuss the price of the aircraft, the fact that the plane is for bin Laden, and the plane’s range. El-Hage says that the plane has to be able to fly 2,000 miles, as he and bin Laden want to use it to ship Stinger missiles from Peshawar, Pakistan, to Khartoum, Sudan, and al Ridi and El-Hage discuss the technicalities of shipping the missiles. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001] Bin Laden sends money for the plane to al Ridi in the US (see Between August 1992 and 1993), and al Ridi then buys the plane and flies it to Sudan (see Early 1993). It is unclear if these calls are monitored, although bin Laden is under surveillance by the US at this time (see Early 1990s and Early 1990s).

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Essam al Ridi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Al-Qaeda operatives train militants in Somalia to attack US soldiers who have recently been posted there. This training will culminate in a battle on October 3-4, 1993, in which 18 US soldiers are killed (see October 3-4, 1993). [Reeve, 1999, pp. 182; Piszkiewicz, 2003, pp. 100] In the months before this battle, various al-Qaeda operatives come and go, occasionally training Somalis. It is unknown if any operatives are directly involved in the battle. Operatives involved in the training include:
bullet Maulana Masood Azhar, who is a Pakistani militant leader connected with Osama bin Laden. He appears to serve as a key link between bin Laden and the Somali killers of US soldiers (see 1993). [Los Angeles Times, 2/25/2002]
bullet Ali Mohamed, the notorious double agent, apparently helps train the Somalis involved in the attack (see 1993).
bullet Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, al-Qaeda’s military commander, who is one of the leaders of the operation. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 77]
bullet Mohammed Atef, al-Qaeda’s deputy military commander. An informant will later testify in an early 2001 US trial that he flew Atef and four others from bin Laden’s base in Sudan to Nairobi, Kenya, to train Somalis (see Before October 1993). [New York Times, 6/3/2002]
bullet Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, who will later be convicted for a role in the 1998 US embassy bombings, will boast that he provided the rocket launchers and rifles that brought down the helicopters. [Washington Post, 11/23/1998; Lance, 2006, pp. 143] Odeh will later say that he is ordered to Somalia by Saif al Adel, acting for bin Laden. [Bergen, 2006, pp. 138-139]
bullet Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), who will also be convicted for the embassy bombings, trains militants in Somalia with Odeh. [Washington Post, 11/23/1998]
bullet Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who will be connected to the embassy bombings and will still be at large in 2007, is linked to the helicopter incident as well. [Lance, 2006, pp. 143]
bullet Muhsin Musa Matwalli Atwah, who will also be connected to the embassy bombings, will be killed in Pakistan in 2006 (see April 12, 2006). [CNN, 10/24/2006]
bullet Saif al-Islam al-Masri, a member of al-Qaeda’s ruling council. He will be captured in the country of Georgia in 2002 (see Early October 2002).
bullet Abu Talha al-Sudani, an al-Qaeda leader who settles in Somalia and remains there. He will reportedly be killed in Somalia in 2007 (see December 24, 2006-January 2007). [Washington Post, 1/8/2007]
Bin Laden dispatches a total of five groups, some of them trained by Ali Mohamed. [Lance, 2006, pp. 142] Atef reaches an agreement with one of the warlords, General Mohamed Farah Aideed, that bin Laden’s men will help him against the US and UN forces. These trips to Somalia will later be confirmed by L’Houssaine Kherchtou, testifying at the East African embassy bombings trial in 2001. Kherchtou will say that he met “many people” going to Somalia and facilitated their travel there from Nairobi, Kenya. [Bergen, 2006, pp. 138-139, 141]

Entity Tags: Ali Mohamed, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Mohamed Farah Aideed, Maulana Masood Azhar, Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Abu Talha al-Sudani, Saif al-Islam al-Masri, Mohammed Atef, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Essam al Ridi.Essam al Ridi. [Source: CNN]Osama bin Laden buys a US military aircraft in Arizona, paying about $210,000 for a converted Saber-40. The transaction is arranged through Wadih El-Hage, a bin Laden employee in Sudan, and Essam al Ridi, a US-based helper for radical Islamists. Before the purchase is made, the two men discuss the transaction on the phone (see August 1992-1993) and El-Hage sends money to al Ridi, who had learned to fly in the US (see Between August 1992 and 1993). Bin Laden apparently wants to use the plane to transport stinger missiles from Pakistan to Sudan, but it is unclear whether it is ever actually used to do this. After modifying the plane, al Ridi flies it from the US to Khartoum, Sudan, where he meets El-Hage, bin Laden, al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef, and others. They have dinner, where al Ridi also sees “quite a few” AK 47s, and men in Sudanese military uniforms. Al Ridi also visits bin Laden at the offices of one of his companies, Wadi al Aqiq, and bin Laden offers him a job as a pilot, spraying crops and then shipping them to other countries. However, al Ridi, who argued with bin Laden during the Soviet-Afghan war, rejects the offer, saying bin Laden is not offering him enough money. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/16/2001; Washington Post, 5/19/2002] The plane will later be used to transport bin Laden operatives on a trip to Somalia before the “Black Hawk Down” incident (see Before October 1993), but al Ridi will later crash it (see (1994-1995)).

Entity Tags: Wadi al Aqiq, Wadih El-Hage, Essam al Ridi, Osama bin Laden, Mohammed Atef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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. [New York Times, 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. [New York Times, 12/1/1998; San Francisco Chronicle, 11/4/2001; Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2001; Chicago Tribune, 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.” [New Yorker, 9/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Ali Mohamed, Al-Qaeda, John Zent, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Kifah Refugee Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The term “al-Qaeda” is first mentioned in the international media. An article by the French wire service Agence France-Presse on this day entitled “Jordanian Militants Train in Afghanistan to Confront Regime” uses the term, although it is spelled “Al-Ka’ida.” The article quotes a Jordanian militant who says he has been “trained by Al-Ka’ida, a secret organization in Afghanistan that is financed by a wealthy Saudi businessman who owns a construction firm in Jeddah, Ossama ibn Laden.” (The spelling is the same in the original.) [Wright, 2006, pp. 410] The term will not be mentioned in the US until August 1996 (see August 14, 1996).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Al-Qaeda leaders travel from Khartoum, Sudan, to Mogadishu, Somalia, while US forces are present there. These forces will be attacked shortly afterwards in the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident (see October 3-4, 1993). This is only one of several trips to Somalia at this time (see Late 1992-October 1993).
Details of Trip - The names of all five operatives who travel are not known, but one of them is Mohammed Atef (a.k.a. Abu Hafs), who will later become al-Qaeda’s military commander. According to Essam al Ridi, the pilot who flies them on the first leg of the journey to Nairobi, Kenya, they are dressed in Saudi, Western, and Yemeni outfits. The trip from Khartoum to Nairobi is arranged by an associate of Osama bin Laden’s named Wadih El-Hage, and the five men continue from Nairobi to Mogadishu in a different aircraft. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001; United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 5/8/2001] Al Ridi will later say that at some time after the flight he heard the men had gone to Somalia to stir up tribal leaders against American peacekeeping forces. [New York Times, 6/3/2002]
Surveillance - Bin Laden and his associates are under surveillance in Sudan at this time, by the CIA and Egyptian intelligence (see February 1991- July 1992 and Early 1990s), and the plane used to make the trip to Nairobi is well-known at Khartoum airport and is associated with bin Laden (see (1994-1995)), so the CIA and Egyptians may learn of this trip. However, what action they take, if any, is not known. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001; United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 5/8/2001] In addition, Sudanese intelligence will later say that only a handful of al-Qaeda operatives travel to Somalia at this time, although it is not known when and how the Sudanese obtain this information. [Wright, 2006, pp. 188]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Mohammed Atef, Essam al Ridi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A UN vehicle burning in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 3, 1993.A UN vehicle burning in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 3, 1993. [Source: CNN]Eighteen US soldiers are killed in Mogadishu, Somalia, in a spontaneous gun battle following an attempt by US Army Rangers and Delta Force to snatch two assistants of a local warlord; the event later becomes the subject of the movie Black Hawk Down. A 1998 US indictment will charge Osama bin Laden and his followers with training the attackers. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002]
Rocket Propelled Grenades - While rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) are not usually effective against helicopters, the fuses on the RPGs fired by the Somalis against US helicopters are modified so that they explode in midair. During the Soviet-Afghan War, bin Laden associates had learned from the US and British that, although it is hard to score a direct hit on a helicopter’s weak point—its tail rotor—a grenade on an adjusted fuse exploding in midair can spray a tail rotor with shrapnel, causing a helicopter to crash. [Los Angeles Times, 2/25/2002]
Possibly Trained by Al-Qaeda - For months, many al-Qaeda operatives had been traveling to Somalia and training militants in an effort to oppose the presence of US soldiers there. Even high-ranking al-Qaeda leaders like Mohammed Atef were directly involved (see Late 1992-October 1993).
Comment by Bin Laden - In a March 1997 interview, bin Laden will say of the Somalia attack, “With Allah’s grace, Muslims over there cooperated with some Arab mujaheddin who were in Afghanistan… against the American occupation troops and killed large numbers of them.” [CNN, 4/20/2001]
Some Al-Qaeda Operatives Leave Somalia after Battle - Al-Qaeda operative L’Houssaine Kherchtou, who supports the organization’s operations in Somalia, will later say that he was told this event also led at least some al-Qaeda members to flee Somalia. “They told me that they were in a house in Mogadishu and one of the nights one of the helicopters were shot, they heard some shooting in the next house where they were living, and they were scared, and the next day they left because they were afraid that they will be caught by the Americans.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 141]

Entity Tags: L’Houssaine Kherchtou, Mohammed Atef, Osama bin Laden, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bin Laden’s crashed airplane.Bin Laden’s crashed airplane. [Source: Fox News]Essam al Ridi, an associate of Osama bin Laden who previously purchased an aircraft for him (see Early 1993), is asked to sell the aircraft by Wadih El-Hage, another bin Laden associate. Al Ridi, who obtains US citizenship in 1994, agrees to check the plane out and try to sell it in Egypt, where he is living at the moment. Al Ridi goes to examine the plane, which is in Khartoum, Sudan. He travels through Nairobi, Kenya, because he is worried about surveillance by Egyptian intelligence, and meets El-Hage, who is now living in Nairobi. Upon arrival in Khartoum, El-Hage is met by Ihab Ali Nawawi, another bin Laden operative and US-trained pilot. They find that the plane is in poor condition, and try to repair it. However, both sets of brakes fail upon landing after a test flight and the plane crashes into a sandbank near the runway. The accident is noticed by the tower and “everybody else,” and is a major event because, as al Ridi will later say in court: “[T]his aircraft was very unique to Khartoum. There is no such private jet aircraft at Khartoum International Airport.” Al Ridi is extremely concerned because of bin Laden’s notoriety and because “[e]verybody knows that it is Osama bin Laden’s aircraft.” He knows Egyptian intelligence in Khartoum will soon find out about the incident and will then come looking for him, so he is “very concerned to leave,” and he takes the first plane out of the country. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001] The CIA has been monitoring bin Laden in Sudan since he moved there in 1991 (see February 1991- July 1992 and Early 1990s), and it would make sense that the CIA would learn of the accident due to the plane’s known ownership by bin Laden. However, it is unclear if they do so and what action they take based on it, if any. During the Soviet-Afghan War, al Ridi had supplied bin Laden with assassination rifles in Afghanistan, and later said that the CIA was aware of this transaction (see Early 1989).

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Ihab Ali Nawawi, Essam al Ridi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The southern part of Yemen attempts to cede from the rest of the country, but loses the ensuing war and north Yemeni forces take the south’s capital, Aden, reuniting the country. Yemen first united in 1990, but tensions between the two former independent halves of the country resulted in the civil war. As the south is regarded as communist, the north is backed by both the US and Osama bin Laden. [Guardian, 5/6/1994; CounterPunch, 5/20/2002; Wall Street Journal, 12/20/2002; Terrorism Monitor, 4/8/2004] The New York Times will say that the north Yemeni president uses “large numbers of Arab Afghans formed into Islamic terrorist units as his shock troops.” [New York Times, 11/26/2000] CIA officer Michael Scheuer will comment, “In 1993 and 1994, bin Laden sent al-Qaeda fighters from Pakistan to Afghanistan—via Sudan—to fight the Yemeni Communists in the civil war that yielded a reunified Yemen.” [Scheuer, 2006, pp. 151] According to Western intelligence, before the war Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a brother of north Yemen’s President Ali Abdallah Saleh, received US$ 20 million from bin Laden to help settle Arab Afghan fighters in the country. When war breaks out, as military commander he deploys these fighters in the war’s final battle for the south’s capital of Aden. Despite its socialist tendencies, the south is backed by Saudi Arabia, as it thinks a divided Yemen is less of a threat to it. [CounterPunch, 5/20/2002; Wall Street Journal, 12/20/2002; Terrorism Monitor, 4/8/2004] Veteran Middle Eastern journalist Brian Whittaker will comment, “The Saudis invested hugely in the war on behalf of the South, and the outcome is a defeat for them as much as anyone.” [Middle East International, 7/22/1994] After the war, the government will allow the radical fighters to settle in Yemen and use it as a base (see After July 1994).

Entity Tags: Yemen, Osama bin Laden, Saudi Arabia, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, United States

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Prosecutors in the “Landmarks” bombing trial want to speak with Ali Mohamed. FBI agents, working through an intermediary, track him to an al-Qaeda safe house in Nairobi. Mohamed will later testify in US court: “In late 1994, I received a call from an FBI agent who wanted to speak to me about the upcoming trial of United States vs. Abdul Rahman. I flew back to the United States, spoke to the FBI, but didn’t disclose everything that I knew.” [Washington File, 5/15/2001; Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] FBI agent Harlan Bell conducts the interview in the presence of Assistant US Attorney Andrew McCarthy, a prosecutor for the upcoming trial. Mohamed tells them that he is working in Kenya in the scuba diving business, when in fact he is helping the al-Qaeda cell there. He also says he went to Pakistan in 1991 to help Osama bin Laden move from Afghanistan to Sudan (see Summer 1991). Despite admitting this tie to bin Laden, there will apparently be no repercussions for Mohamed, aside from his name appearing on the trial’s unindicted co-consipirators list (see February 1995). [Lance, 2006, pp. 173-174] He will not appear at the trial, and it will be alleged that McCarthy told him to ignore a subpoena and not testify (see December 1994-January 1995). Mohamed will recall that after the interview, “I reported on my meeting with the FBI to [al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef] and was told not to return to Nairobi.” [Washington File, 5/15/2001]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Atef, Osama bin Laden, Harlan Bell, Andrew McCarthy, Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ali Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The FBI opens a case on Osama bin Laden. Dan Coleman and John Ligouri, members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), are sent to the CIA Counterterrorist Center (CTC) to see what the CIA knows about bin Laden. “They were amazed by the amount of material - some forty thick files’ worth - that they found.… Most of the information consisted of raw, unfocused data: itineraries, phone records, associates lists, investment holdings, bank transfers.” The vast majority of the data comes from NSA electronic eavesdropping and most of it has not been properly analyzed (see Early 1990s). They find that the CTC has been conducting a vigorous investigation on Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s personal secretary. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 148-149] Coleman will go on to become the FBI’s biggest expert on bin Laden and will help start the bureau’s bin Laden unit. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 90] It is not known when the CIA or NSA began monitoring bin Laden or El-Hage.

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Osama bin Laden, John Ligouri, Central Intelligence Agency, Counterterrorist Center, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dan Coleman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

David Cohen.David Cohen. [Source: Ting-Li Wang / New York Times]David Cohen, head of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, wants to test the idea of having a “virtual station,” which is a station based at CIA headquarters and focusing on one target. He chooses Michael Scheuer to run it. Scheuer is running the Islamic Extremist Branch of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center at the time and had suggested creating a station to focus just on bin Laden. The new unit, commonly called Alec Station, begins operations in February 1996 (see February 1996). The 9/11 Commission will later comment that Scheuer had already “noticed a recent stream of reports about bin Laden and something called al-Qaeda.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 109] It has been widely reported that US intelligence was unaware of the term al-Qaeda until after defector Jamal al-Fadl revealed it later in 1996 (see June 1996-April 1997). But Billy Waugh, an independent contractor hired by the CIA to spy on bin Laden and others in Sudan in 1991 to 1992, will later claim that the CIA was aware of the term al-Qaeda back then (see February 1991- July 1992). And double agent Ali Mohamed revealed the term to the FBI in 1993 (see May 1993). The term will first be used by the media in August 1996 (see August 14, 1996).

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Counterterrorist Center, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Alec Station, David Cohen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

According to counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, US intelligence monitoring al-Qaeda communications learn that al-Qaeda is canceling an attack on Western targets in Singapore. On April 18, 1996, 108 Lebanese civilians seeking refuge at a UN camp in Qana, Lebanon, are killed by mortars fired by Israeli forces. Bin Laden “was keen not to dissipate what he envisaged as widespread revulsion against Israel’s action and hence called off the strike in Southeast Asia. Al-Qaeda’s team in question was very determined to go ahead, having spent years preparing the attack, and according to the intercepts it proved difficult for Osama to convince it otherwise.” Gunaratna claims the US learned this through the NSA’s Echelon satellite network (see Before September 11, 2001) “and other technical monitoring of their communications traffic.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 133-134] If true, this case supports other evidence that the US was successfully monitoring bin Laden’s communications from an early date (see Early 1990s) and that al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asia operations were penetrated years before an important al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia discussing the 9/11 plot (see January 5-8, 2000).

Entity Tags: Echelon, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Jamal al-Fadl testifying in a courtroom. Because his identity has been kept secret, his face has been blocked out.Jamal al-Fadl testifying in a courtroom. Because his identity has been kept secret, his face has been blocked out. [Source: CNN]Jamal al-Fadl, an al-Qaeda operative from al-Qaeda’s first meeting in the late 1980s until 1995, tells the US everything he knows about al-Qaeda. Before al-Fadl’s debriefings, US intelligence had amassed thick files on bin Laden and his associates and contacts. However, they had had no idea how the many pieces fit together. But an official says. “After al-Fadl, everything fell into place.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 154-65] The New Yorker will later call al-Fadl “arguably the United States’ most valuable informant on al-Qaeda.” FBI agent Dan Coleman will later say on al-Fadl, “He’s been very, very important to us. When it comes to understanding al-Qaeda, he’s the Rosetta Stone.” FBI agent Mike Anticev will similarly say, “He spoke to us in great detail, and everything that he told us panned out.” CIA officials debrief al-Fadl for a month and a half. Then the CIA hands him, and transcripts of all their interviews with him, over to the FBI. [New Yorker, 9/11/2006] Coleman and US prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald interrogate al-Fadl at a US military base in Germany for months. [Lance, 2006, pp. 261] Roughly between November 1996 and April 1997, al-Fadl tells the FBI about:
bullet The historical background of al-Qaeda. Al-Fadl was one of al-Qaeda’s founding members (see August 11-20, 1988).
bullet The structure of al-Qaeda and its leadership composition.
bullet Al-Qaeda’s objectives and direction.
bullet Its financial infrastructure and networks. Al-Fadl has extensive knowledge of this because he worked as an al-Qaeda financial officer (see December 1996-January 1997).
bullet Its connections and collaboration with other terrorist groups and supporters.
bullet Its activities against US soldiers in Somalia (see October 3-4, 1993).
bullet Its activities in Bosnia. Al-Fadl was sent there on several missions (see Autumn 1992 and Autumn 1992).
bullet The Al-Kifah Refugee Center, al-Qaeda’s most important charity front in the US. Al-Fadl worked there in the 1980s (see 1986-1993).
bullet Bin Laden’s efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Al-Fadl was personally involved in an effort to buy uranium for al-Qaeda (see Late 1993). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 479]
bullet Bin Laden’s plans to attack either inside the US or US embassies (see Late 1996).
Al-Fadl continues to help US intelligence until current day. For instance, in 2000, he will help US officials capture his brother-in-law, Mohammed Suliman al-Nalfi, who is said to be close to Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Nalfi will eventually be sentenced to ten years in prison in the US. Al-Fadl will have no knowledge of the 9/11 plot, but he will continue to identify captured al-Qaeda operatives after 9/11. [New Yorker, 9/11/2006] Interestingly, al-Fadl, a Sudanese citizen, will later claim that he worked with the Sudanese intelligence agency with the direct approval of bin Laden. [Day 2. United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., 2/6/2001]

Entity Tags: Jamal al-Fadl, Mike Anticev, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Dan Coleman, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In 1999, a retired CIA official will claim that two days after the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia (see June 25, 1996), bin Laden is congratulated by colleagues about the bombing. Both Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda’s number two leader, and Ashra Hadi, head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, are monitored by the NSA as they call bin Laden. This helps confirm that bin Laden was being monitored while using his first satellite phone (see Early 1990s). It will be widely reported that he was monitored after he started using his second satellite phone later in 1996 (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Bin Laden does not exactly publicly take credit for the bombing, but later in the year he will say, “When I got the news about these blasts, I was very happy. This was a noble act. This was a great honor but, unfortunately, I did not conduct these explosions personally.” [Reeve, 1999, pp. 187; New Yorker, 9/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, National Security Agency, Osama bin Laden, Ashra Hadi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Based on a review of the Lexis-Nexus database, the term al-Qaeda is first mentioned in the mainstream media on this day. A United Press International article draws from a State Department fact sheet released today (see August 14, 1996) and states, “Earlier, during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Usama Bin Ladin drew on his family’s wealth ‘plus donations received from sympathetic merchant families in the Gulf region’ to organize the Islamic Salvation Foundation, or al-Qaida. The group established recruitment centers in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan that enlisted and sheltered thousands of Arab recruits to fight the Soviets. ‘This network remains active,’ the State Department said.” (The spelling is the same as in the original.) [US Department of State, 8/14/1996; United Press International, 8/14/1996] The term was first used in an overseas article by the French wire service Agence France-Presse, in May 1993 (see May 30, 1993). The CIA has been aware of the term since at least the start of 1996 (see Shortly Before February 1996) and possibly by 1991, if not earlier (see February 1991- July 1992). However, the term will remain little used and little understood by the media for the next several years. For instance, the New York Times will first mention it two years later in quoting the courtroom testimony of one of the plotters of the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). It is referred to as “al-Qaeda, an international terrorist group, led by Mr. bin Laden.” [New York Times, 8/28/1998]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

An Inmarsat Compact M satellite phone, the type used by bin Laden.An Inmarsat Compact M satellite phone, the type used by bin Laden. [Source: Inmarsat]During this period, Osama bin Laden uses a satellite phone to direct al-Qaeda’s operations. The phone—a Compact M satellite phone, about the size of a laptop computer—was purchased by a student in Virginia named Ziyad Khaleel for $7,500 using the credit card of a British man named Saad al-Fagih. After purchasing the phone, Khaleel sent it to Khalid al-Fawwaz, al-Qaeda’s unofficial press secretary in London (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998). Al-Fawwaz then shipped it to bin Laden in Afghanistan. [CNN, 4/16/2001] It appears US intelligence actually tracks the purchase as it occurs (see November 1996-Late December 1999), probably because an older model satellite phone bin Laden has is already being monitored (see Early 1990s). Bin Laden’s phone (873682505331) is believed to be used by other top al-Qaeda leaders as well, including Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammad Atef. Al-Fawwaz also buys satellite phones for other top al-Qaeda leaders around the same time. Though the calls made on these phones are encrypted, the NSA is able to intercept and decrypt them. As one US official will put it in early 2001, “codes were broken.” [United Press International, 2/13/2001; Newsweek, 2/18/2002] The Los Angeles Times will report that the monitoring of these phones “produced tens of thousands of pages of transcripts over two years.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] Bin Laden’s satellite phone replaces an older model he used in Sudan that apparently was also monitored by the NSA (see Early 1990s). Billing records for his new phone are eventually released to the media in early 2002. Newsweek will note, “A country-by-country analysis of the bills provided US authorities with a virtual road map to important al-Qaeda cells around the world.” [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002] The countries called are:
bullet Britain (238 or 260). Twenty-seven different phone numbers are called in Britain. Accounts differ on the exact number of calls. Khalid al-Fawwaz, who helps publish statements by bin Laden, receives 143 of the calls, including the very first one bin Laden makes with this phone. Apparently most of the remaining calls are made to pay phones near him or to his associates. He also frequently calls Ibrahim Eidarous, who works with al-Fawwaz and lives near him. [CNN, 4/16/2001; Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 111]
bullet Yemen (221). Dozens of calls go to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, which is run by the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see Late August 1998). [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Bamford, 2008, pp. 8]
bullet Sudan (131). Bin Laden lived in Sudan until 1996 (see May 18, 1996), and some important al-Qaeda operatives remained there after he left (see February 5, 1998). [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
bullet Iran (106). Newsweek will later report: “US officials had little explanation for the calls to Iran. A Bush administration official said that US intelligence has believed for years that hard-line anti-American factions inside Iran helped bin Laden’s organization operate an ‘underground railroad’ smuggling Islamic militants to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.” [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
bullet Azerbaijan (67). An important al-Qaeda operative appears to be based in Baku, Azerbaijan. [Washington Post, 5/2/2001] This is most likely Ahmad Salama Mabruk, who is very close to al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri and is said to be the head of the al-Qaeda cell there. He kidnapped by the CIA in Baku in late August 1998 (see Late August 1998).
bullet Kenya (at least 56). In the embassy bombings trial, prosecutors introduce evidence showing 16 calls are made on this phone to some of the embassy bombers in Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), apparently all before a raid in August 1997 (see August 21, 1997). The defense introduces evidence showing at least 40 more calls are made after that time (see Late 1996-August 1998). [CNN, 4/16/2001]
bullet Pakistan (59).
bullet Saudi Arabia (57).
bullet A ship in the Indian Ocean (13).
bullet The US (6).
bullet Italy (6).
bullet Malaysia (4).
bullet Senegal (2). [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
bullet Egypt (unknown). Newsweek reports that calls are made to Egypt but doesn’t say how many. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002]
bullet Iraq (0). Press reports note that the records indicate zero calls were made to Iraq. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002] 1,100 total calls are made on this phone. Adding up the above numbers means that the destination of over 100 calls is still unaccounted for. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002] The use of this phone stops two months after the August 1998 embassy bombings in Africa. However, it appears bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders continue to use other satellite phones occasionally after this time. Shortly after 9/11, James Bamford, an expert authority on the agency, says “About a year or so ago the NSA lost all track of him.… He may still use [satellite phones] occasionally to talk about something mundane, but he discovered that the transmitters can be used for honing.” [CNN, 9/21/2001] According to a different account, bin Laden will attempt to use a different phone communication method, but US intelligence will soon discover it and continue monitoring his calls (see Late 1998 and After).

Entity Tags: Ziyad Khaleel, Saad al-Fagih, Osama bin Laden, Ibrahim Eidarous, Khalid al-Fawwaz, Mohammed Atef, Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Ahmad Salama Mabruk

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The outside and inside of El-Hage’s house in Nairobi. These pictures were apparently taken during the 1997 raid and were used as evidence in El-Hage’s trial.The outside and inside of El-Hage’s house in Nairobi. These pictures were apparently taken during the 1997 raid and were used as evidence in El-Hage’s trial. [Source: FBI]Dan Coleman, an FBI agent working with Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, has been examining transcripts from wiretapped phones connected to bin Laden’s businesses in Sudan (see Early 1990s). One frequently called number belongs to Wadih El-Hage, a US citizen who is later revealed to be bin Laden’s personal secretary. El-Hage often makes obvious and clumsy attempts to speak in code. The CIA comes to believe that El-Hage might be recruited as an agent. On this day, Coleman, two CIA agents, and a Kenyan police officer enter El-Hage’s house in Nairobi, Kenya, with a search warrant. The investigators interview El-Hage (who returned that day from visiting bin Laden in Afghanistan) and confiscate his computer. [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001; Wright, 2006, pp. 242-244] A large amount of incriminating evidence is discovered in El-Hage’s documents and computer files (see Shortly After August 21, 1997 and Shortly After August 21, 1997). El-Hage moves to the US, where he is interviewed by a grand jury, then let go (see September 24, 1997). He will be arrested shortly after al-Qaeda bombs the US embassy in Nairobi (see September 15, 1998). He will be sentenced to life in prison for his role in that attack. State Department officials will later strongly assert that while staffers at the US embassy in Kenya were told about the raid at the time, they were not told about any potential connection to al-Qaeda. However, US intelligence officials strongly assert that the embassy staff was frequently briefed about the bin Laden connection. [New York Times, 1/9/1999]

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, US Department of State, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Central Intelligence Agency, Dan Coleman, Alec Station

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and FBI agents Jack Cloonan and Harlan Bell, all members of the I-49 squad, take Ali Mohamed out for dinner at a restaurant in Sacramento, California (he has recently moved there from Santa Clara, California). Fitzgerald pays for Mohamed’s meal. Cloonan will later recall, “The purpose in us going to meet Ali at that point in time is that we wanted to gain his cooperation. We knew of his long history having been connected to al-Qaeda, and what we desperately wanted was to convince Ali Mohamed to cooperate with us that night.” During the several-hour-long meeting, Mohamed says the following:
bullet He “loved” bin Laden and “believes in him.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/4/2001; Lance, 2006, pp. 274-276]
bullet He organized bin Laden’s move from Afghanistan to Sudan in 1991 (see Summer 1991).
bullet He was in Somalia training militants to fight US soldiers in 1993. He claims “bin Laden’s people were responsible” for the killing of 18 US soldiers there (see 1993).
bullet He trained bin Laden’s personal bodyguards in 1994 and he lived in bin Laden’s house while doing so (see Shortly After February 1994). [Lance, 2006, pp. 274-276]
bullet He says he trained people in “war zones, and… war zones can be anywhere.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2001]
bullet He asserts he doesn’t need a religious edict to make war on the US since it is “obvious” that the US is “the enemy.” Author Peter Lance will later note these words clearly “amounted to treason.”
bullet Cloonan will recall, “He said that he was in touch with hundreds of people he could call on in a moment’s notice that could be, quote, ‘operational,’ and wage jihad against the United States. Very brazenly, he said, ‘I can get out anytime and you’ll never find me. I’ve got a whole network. You’ll never find me.”
After dinner, Cloonan will recall that Fitzgerald turned to him and said, “This is the most dangerous man I have ever met. We cannot let this man out on the street.” But Lance will later note, “But that’s just what he did. Patrick Fitzgerald allowed Ali Mohamed to go free”—even though Mohamed firmly rejected the offer to cooperate. During the dinner, other agents break into Mohamed’s house and bug his computer (his phone is already tapped (see Late 1994). Mohamed will continue to live in California for nearly a year and won’t be arrested until after the August 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). The FBI apparently makes a report based on Mohamed’s comments at this meeting (see After October 1997). But no evidence has come to light that Mohamed’s confession is shared with top US officials or spread widely within US intelligence before 9/11. [Lance, 2006, pp. 274-276] In 2003, Fitzgerald will testify before a Senate committee and claim that when he had to make the decision after the embassy bombings whether or not to arrest Mohamed (see September 10, 1998), the “decision to arrest was made partly in the dark” because prosecutors could “not learn what information [the FBI] had gathered” on Mohamed. Fitzgerald will fail to mention that he was sitting with FBI agents when Mohamed gave this startling confession. [US Congress, 10/21/2003]

Entity Tags: Jack Cloonan, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Harlan Bell, I-49, Ali Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The State Department officially designates the Abu Sayyaf a foreign terrorist organization. The Abu Sayyaf is a militant group in the Philippines with reported connections to bin Laden. Thirty groups are newly listed, including other groups associated with bin Laden, such as the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) in Algeria. [New York Times, 10/7/1997] However, al-Qaeda will not be so listed until 1999 (see October 8, 1999). Al-Qaeda is still relatively unknown; the name was first mentioned in the media in 1996 (see August 14, 1996).

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Al-Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf, Groupe Islamique Armé

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A photocopy of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed’s Comoros passport in Sudan’s intelligence files.A photocopy of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed’s Comoros passport in Sudan’s intelligence files. [Source: Richard Miniter]Gutbi al-Mahdi, head of Sudan’s intelligence agency, sends a letter to David Williams, an FBI station chief. It reads, “I would like to express my sincere desire to start contacts and cooperation between our service and the FBI. I would like to take this opportunity with pleasure to invite you to visit our country. Otherwise, we could meet somewhere else.” Apparently the FBI is very eager to accept the offer and gain access to Sudan’s files on bin Laden and his associates. The US had been offered the files before (see March 8, 1996-April 1996; April 5, 1997), but the US position was that Sudan’s offers were not serious since Sudanese leader Hassan al-Turabi was ideologically close to bin Laden. But al-Turabi has lost power to moderates by this time, and in fact he is placed under arrest in 1998. There is a political battle between US agencies over the Sudanese offer, and in the end the State Department forbids any contact with al-Mahdi. On June 24, 1998, Williams is obliged to reply, “I am not currently in a position to accept your kind invitation.” Al-Madhi later will complain, “If they had taken up my offer in February 1998, they could have prevented the [US embassy] bombings.” Tim Carney, US ambassador to Sudan until 1997, will say, “The US failed to reciprocate Sudan’s willingness to engage us on serious questions of terrorism. We can speculate that this failure had serious implications - at the least for what happened at the US Embassies in 1998. In any case, the US lost access to a mine of material on bin Laden and his organization.” One of the plotters in the bombings is Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), who is living in Sudan but making trips to Kenya to participate in the bombing preparations. Sudan has files on him and continues to monitor him. Sudan also has files on Saif al-Adel, another embassy bomber who has yet to be captured. Sudan also has files on Wadih El-Hage and Mamdouh Mahmoud Salim, both of whom have contact with members of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell (see September 16, 1998; Late 1998; 1993). Salim even attends the same small Hamburg mosque as 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi. Vanity Fair magazine will suggest that if al-Madhi’s offer had been properly followed up, both the embassy bombings and the 9/11 attacks could have been foiled. [Vanity Fair, 1/2002] It is later revealed that the US was wiretapping bin Laden in Sudan on their own (see Early 1990s).

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Saif al-Adel, Tim Carney, US Department of State, Gutbi Al-Mahdi, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, David Williams, Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sudan, Osama bin Laden, Hassan al-Turabi, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bombings of the Nairobi, Kenya, US embassy (left), and the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, US embassy (right).Bombings of the Nairobi, Kenya, US embassy (left), and the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, US embassy (right). [Source: Associated Press]Two US embassies in Africa are bombed within minutes of each other. At 10:35 a.m., local time, a suicide car bomb attack in Nairobi, Kenya, kills 213 people, including 12 US nationals, and injures more than 4,500. Mohamed al-Owhali and someone known only as Azzam are the suicide bombers, but al-Owhali runs away at the last minute and survives. Four minutes later, a suicide car bomb attack in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, kills 11 and injures 85. Hamden Khalif Allah Awad is the suicide bomber there. The attacks will be blamed on al-Qaeda. [PBS Frontline, 2001; United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38, 5/2/2001] The Tanzania death toll is low because, remarkably, the attack takes place on a national holiday so the US embassy there is closed. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 195] The attack shows al-Qaeda has a capability for simultaneous attacks. The Tanzania bombing appears to have been a late addition, as one of the arrested bombers will allegedly tell US agents that it was added to the plot only about 10 days in advance. [United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14, 3/7/2001] A third attack against the US embassy in Uganda does not take place due to a last-minute delay (see August 7, 1998). [Associated Press, 9/25/1998] August 7, 1998, is the eighth anniversary of the arrival of US troops in Saudi Arabia and some people will speculate that this is the reason for the date of the bombings. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 46] In the 2002 book The Cell, reporters John Miller, Michael Stone, and Chris Mitchell will write: “What has become clear with time is that facets of the East Africa plot had been known beforehand to the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, and to Israeli and Kenyan intelligence services.… [N]o one can seriously argue that the horrors of August 7, 1998, couldn’t have been prevented.” They will also comment, “Inexplicable as the intelligence failure was, more baffling still was that al-Qaeda correctly presumed that a major attack could be carried out by a cell that US agents had already uncovered.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 195, 206] After 9/11, it will come to light that three of the alleged hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi, had some involvement in the bombings (see October 4, 2001, Late 1999, and 1993-1999) and that the US intelligence community was aware of this involvement by late 1999 (see December 15-31, 1999), if not before.

Entity Tags: Salem Alhazmi, Nawaf Alhazmi, Mohamed al-Owhali, Hamden Khalif Allah Awad, Khalid Almihdhar, Al-Qaeda, Azzam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Essam al Ridi, an associate of Osama bin Laden and Wadih El-Hage, one of the al-Qaeda operatives responsible for the recent embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), is contacted by US government officials working on the case. They want to interview al Ridi, who had various dealings with bin Laden and El-Hage in the early 1990s (see Early 1993, Before October 1993, and (1994-1995)), to help them build a case. Al Ridi, who is outside the US, is not given any assurances that he will not be arrested on his return, but is told there are no charges against him and no plans to charge him. Al Ridi decides to return and does not even bother to bring a lawyer to his meeting with the government. He will testify about his dealings with bin Laden and El-Hage at the trial of the embassy bombers in 2001. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001] However, al Ridi will later complain about his treatment after the court case. He will be detained, kicked, and held incommunicado during a visit to Egypt in May 2001, and fired by an airline after 9/11 because the FBI again asks for his help. After being fired, he will find it hard to get work. FBI agent Robert Miranda will admit some problems: “I said, ‘Help us, and we’ll help you,’ and it didn’t work out.” [New York Times, 6/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Essam al Ridi, Robert Miranda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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