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Context of '1993 and After: Milan Mosque Is ‘Main Al-Qaeda Station House in Europe’'

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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

In late 1993, the FBI discovers that WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef used a mosque in Milan, Italy, known as the Islamic Cultural Institute, as a logistical base (see Late 1993-1994). The Italian government begins investigating the mosque and soon discovers that it is the main European headquarters for Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, a radical Egyptian militant group, and is also the logistical base for mujaheddin traveling to fight in Bosnia. The mosque is run by Anwar Shaaban, who has a close working relationship with Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, and who also stays in regular contact with al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. Shaaban runs a training camp thirty miles outside of Milan where fighters heading to Bosnia can practice using weapons and explosives. The mosque also helps smuggle men, money, and weapons to Bosnia. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 163-164] On June 25, 1995, Italian police raid the mosque and over 70 other locations in northern Italy. Seventeen people are indicted and eleven of them are arrested, but that is only a fraction of the hundreds investigated. Inside the mosque, police find forgery tools, letters to wanted radicals around the world, and hundreds of false documents. Plots to bomb targets in other countries and a US target elsewhere in Italy are averted. Shaaban escapes arrest, as he had already left the country, but he is killed in Croatia a short time later (see December 14, 1995). [United Press International, 6/26/1995; Vidino, 2006, pp. 216-218] But the Islamic Cultural Institute will soon reopen and continue to be a focal point for radical militants in Europe. It will be linked the 9/11 attacks and other violent plots (see Late 1998-September 11, 2001).

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Islamist radicals based at the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, Italy, obtain the CIA’s Redbook, two Arabic copies of which will be found at the institute in a 1995 raid. Several seals, rubber stamps, blank and counterfeit documents, and other tools used to forge documents are also found in the raid. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 63 pdf file] The Redbook is a manual produced by the CIA for immigration officials; it helps the officials identify terrorists using telltale signs in their passports (see 1992). The institute is a key support center for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and al-Qaeda-linked radicals fighting in Bosnia (see 1993 and After and Late 1993-1994). It is unclear how the Redbook comes to be at the institute.

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Islamic Cultural Institute

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA begins a program to track Islamist militants in Europe. The program is operated by local stations in Europe and CIA manager Michael Scheuer, who will go on to found the agency’s bin Laden unit in early 1996 (see February 1996). The program is primarily focused on militants who oppose the Egyptian government. It traces the support network that supplies money and recruits to them and that organizes their propaganda. US Ambassador to Egypt Edward Walker will later say that the operation involves intercepting telephone calls and opening mail. Suspects are identified in Egypt and in European cities such as Milan (see 1993 and After), Oslo, and London (see (Late 1995)). [Grey, 2007, pp. 125] The intelligence gathered as a part of this operation will be used for the CIA’s nascent rendition program (see Summer 1995).

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Edward Walker, Central Intelligence Agency

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

The Algerian Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) gains more influence in the Islamic Cultural Institute, a militant mosque in Milan, Italy, following the death of its former head, Anwar Shaaban. Under the leadership of Shaaban, who died in the Bosnian war, the mosque had been built up into a key European logistics center for militant Islamists. [Chicago Tribune, 10/22/2001] The mosque is described as “the main al-Qaeda station house in Europe” (see 1993 and After), but the GIA is said to be infiltrated by government informers at this point and is losing strength in Algeria due to the penetration (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996).

Entity Tags: Groupe Islamique Armé, Islamic Cultural Institute

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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