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Context of '1993: Ali Mohamed Sets Up Nairobi Cell; Trains Somalis to Fight US Troops'

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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

Bin Laden asks double agent Ali Mohamed to set up an al-Qaeda cell in Nairobi, Kenya, to support al-Qaeda operations against the US intervention in the neighboring country of Somalia that year. He does so, setting up a cell of a dozen operatives. He creates a car business, a fishing business, and sells scuba diving equipment, luxury automobiles, and diamonds to create income for the cell, and a charity organization to provide operatives with documents. The cell will later plan the 1998 embassy bombings in both Nairobi and nearby Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). He also helps trains Somali clansmen in the months leading up to a battle that will kill 18 US soldiers (see Late 1992-October 1993 and October 3-4, 1993). [Los Angeles Times, 10/21/2000; Raleigh News and Observer, 10/21/2001; Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2001; Chicago Tribune, 12/11/2001]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Ali Mohamed, Al-Qaeda

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

Fazul Abdullah Mohammed.Fazul Abdullah Mohammed. [Source: FBI]FBI agent Dan Coleman and other US investigators discover a number of revealing items in the raid on Wadih El-Hage’s house in Nairobi, Kenya (see August 21, 1997). It is already known that El-Hage is a member of an al-Qaeda Kenya cell and bin Laden’s former personal secretary. Items found include:
bullet A letter is found on El-Hage’s confiscated personal computer written by Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), another member of the al-Qaeda Kenya cell who is living with El-Hage at the time. The letter was written a week before the raid. It refers to the “East African cell,” alludes to the cell’s role in attacking US soldiers in Somalia in 1993 (see Late 1992-October 1993 and 1993), explains that a cache of incriminating files was recently moved from El-Hage’s house and hidden, and says the members of the cell are “convinced one hundred percent” that they’re being monitored by intelligence agencies. It also talks about other operatives in the town of Mombasa, Kenya, and talks about the imminent arrival of “engineers” to help the cell. [New York Times, 1/9/1999; PBS Frontline, 4/1999; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 204-205]
bullet Another document found on the same computer reveals that El-Hage was sent to Kenya by bin Laden to initiate a “new policy” for the Kenya cell and “prepare 300 activists.” Other members of the cell were advised “of the need to move families to a secure region before the ‘activism.’” It notes that other operatives have carried out an operation in the capital of Ethiopia (presumably the attempted assassination of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (see Shortly After June 26, 1995)) and adds, “There are a lot of explosions in the other cities, and the brothers are taking up these operations.” [New York Times, 1/22/2000]
bullet A genuine-looking Kenyan travel stamp is found, which could be used to make documents appear authentic. [New York Times, 1/22/2000]
bullet Other files reveal that El-Hage and an associate are fabricating false passports for operatives in the Caucasus, as well as for fighters in Somalia. [New York Times, 1/22/2000]
bullet Further documents show that El-Hage bought guns for bin Laden in Eastern Europe and was making frequent trips to Tanzania (the Kenya al-Qaeda cell will bomb the US embassy in Tanzania in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). [Wright, 2006, pp. 244]
bullet Additionally, El-Hage’s address book is found, which provides many more leads (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). Yet, despite all this, no arrests are made and no urgent alarms are sounded. The wiretaps on the Kenya cell are actually stopped by the end of the month. [MSNBC, 12/4/2000] Crucial data about Fazul Abdullah Mohammed is found as well. US intelligence does look for him for a while. But he simply leaves Kenya for a few months and then returns, moving to another house in Nairobi and where he starts work on building bombs in May 1998. [MSNBC, 12/4/2000; Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001; US Congress, 10/21/2003] Author Lawrence Wright who interviews Coleman will paraphrase Coleman’s thoughts at the time: “Al-Qaeda was up to something, but it was unclear what that was. In any case, it was certainly a low-end operation, and the exposure of [El-Hage’s] house in Nairobi had no doubt put an end to it.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 244]

Entity Tags: Dan Coleman, Wadih El-Hage, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed

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

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] (click image to enlarge)Two US embassies in Africa are bombed within minutes of each other. At 10:35, 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. The attacks are blamed on al-Qaeda. Hamden Khalif Allah Awad is the suicide bomber there. [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 allegedly told 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 speculate that 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 Miller 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: Hamden Khalif Allah Awad, Mohamed al-Owhali, Salem Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Azzam, Al-Qaeda, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline


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