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Context of 'Late 1994: Tapped Phones Reveal Link between Ali Mohamed and Al-Qaeda Cell in Kenya'

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At some point not long after Ali Mohamed is interviewed by the FBI in the autumn of 1993, the US government begins tracking his movements and monitoring his phone calls. Eventually, this surveillance will lead US investigators to the al-Qaeda cell in Nairobi, Kenya (see Late 1994). It is not clear which governmental agency does this. Meanwhile, he continues to have periodic contact with the FBI. They are especially interested in what he knows about bin Laden, as bin Laden’s importance becomes increasingly evident. [New York Times, 12/1/1998]

Entity Tags: Ali Mohamed, Osama bin Laden, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US intelligence began monitoring Ali Mohamed in the autumn of 1993 (see Autumn 1993). The San Francisco Chronicle will later report that from “1994 to 1998… FBI agents trace phone calls from Mohamed’s California residences in Santa Clara and, later, Sacramento to bin Laden associates in [Nairobi, Kenya].” In late 1994, FBI agents discover that Mohamed is temporarily living in an al-Qaeda safe house in Nairobi. The FBI contacts him there and he returns to the US a short time later to be interviewed by the FBI (see December 9, 1994). [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/21/2001] When Mohamed is making arrangements to be interviewed by the FBI, he uses the telephone of Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s personal secretary who is part of the Kenya al-Qaeda cell. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 39, 5/3/2001] By 1996, US intelligence is continually monitoring five telephone lines in Nairobi used by the cell members, including those belonging to El-Hage (see April 1996).

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ali Mohamed

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

In 1995, the FBI is given the CIA’s files on bin Laden, and they discover that the CIA has been conducting a vigorous investigation on Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s personal secretary and a US citizen (see October 1995). The FBI had already started investigating El-Hage in 1991 (see March 1991), and in 1993 they found out he had bought weapons for one of the 1993 WTC bombers (see Summer 1993). Thanks to the CIA files, the FBI learns that in early 1992 El-Hage moved to Sudan and worked there as bin Laden’s personal secretary. [PBS Frontline, 4/1999; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 148-149] Then, in 1994, he moved to Nairobi, Kenya, and officially started running a bogus charity there called “Help Africa People.” [PBS Frontline, 4/1999; CNN, 10/16/2001] In fact, El-Hage is running an al-Qaeda cell that will later carry out the 1998 African embassy bombings. He stays in close contact with top al-Qaeda leaders. [PBS Frontline, 4/1999] Apparently El-Hage is under US surveillance in Kenya, or at least people he is calling are under surveillance. For instance, a phone call between El-Hage in Kenya and Ali Mohamed in California is recorded in late 1994 (see Late 1994).and there are many calls recorded between El-Hage and bin Laden in Sudan. FBI agent Dan Coleman will analyze all this information about El-Hage and eventually supervise a raid on his Kenya house in 1997 (see August 21, 1997). [Wright, 2006, pp. 242-244]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Help Africa People, Dan Coleman, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Wadih El-Hage

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The New York Times will later report that Ali Mohamed “[runs] afoul of the bin Laden organization after 1995 because of a murky dispute involving money and [is] no longer trusted by bin Laden lieutenants.” This is according to 1999 court testimony from Khaled Abu el-Dahab, the other known member of Mohamed’s Santa Clara, California, al-Qaeda cell (see 1987-1998). [New York Times, 11/21/2001] Another al-Qaeda operative in another trial will claim that in 1994 al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef refused to give Mohamed information because he suspected Mohamed was a US intelligence agent (see 1994). However, despite these accounts, it seems that Mohamed continues to be given sensitive assignments. For instance, later in 1996 he will help bin Laden move from Sudan to Afghanistan (see May 18, 1996), and he will be in contact with many of operatives in Kenya planning the US embassy bombing there until 1998, the year the bombing takes place (see Late 1994). The Associated Press will later comment that it is “unclear is how [Mohamed] was able to maintain his terror ties in the 1990s without being banished by either side, even after the Special Forces documents he had stolen turned up in [a] 1995 New York trial.”(see February 3, 1995) [Associated Press, 12/31/2001]

Entity Tags: Ali Mohamed, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

It will later be revealed in a US trial that, by this time, US intelligence agents are aware that an al-Qaeda cell exists in Kenya. (In fact, it may have been aware of this since late 1994 (see Late 1994)). [East African, 1/1/2001] Further evidence confirming and detailing the cell is discovered in May and June of 1996 (see May 21, 1996). By August 1996, US intelligence is continually monitoring five telephone lines in Nairobi used by the cell members, such as Wadih El-Hage. The tapping reveals that the cell is providing false passports and other documents to operatives. They are sending coded telephone numbers to and from al-Qaeda headquarters in Afghanistan. The surveillance is apparently being conducted without the required approval of either President Clinton or Attorney General Janet Reno. [Associated Press, 12/19/2000; East African, 1/1/2001] Prudence Bushnell, the US ambassador to Kenya, will be briefed about the cell in early 1997, but will be told there is no evidence of a specific threat against the embassy or American interests in Kenya. [New York Times, 1/9/1999] Ali Mohamed, an al-Qaeda double agent living in California, will later admit in US court that he had been in long distance contact with Wadih El-Hage, one of the leaders of the cell, since at least 1996. It will also be revealed that US intelligence had been wiretapping Mohamed’s California phone calls since at least 1994 (see Late 1994), so presumably US intelligence is recording calls between Mohamed and the Kenya cell from both ends. The Nairobi phone taps continue until at least August 1997, when Kenyan and US agents conduct a joint search of El-Hage’s Nairobi house (see August 21, 1997). [United States of America v. Ali Mohamed, 10/20/2000; Associated Press, 12/19/2000; East African, 1/1/2001]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Ali Mohamed, Prudence Bushnell, Wadih El-Hage

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 FBI installs a wiretap in double agent Ali Mohamed’s computer (the FBI has been monitoring his phone since 1993 (see Autumn 1993 and Late 1994)). According to FBI agent Jack Cloonan, “The Sacramento [FBI] office did a wonderful job of getting into his apartment, wiring it up, and exploiting his computer. So we were able to download a lot of stuff.” [Lance, 2006, pp. 276] Not much is known about what is on his computer, but a 2001 trial will mention that Wadih El-Hage, head of the cell in Kenya planning the African embassy bombings (see Between October 1997 and August 7, 1998), sent Mohamed a computer file about the death of al-Qaeda leader Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri by drowning in Kenya in May 1996 (see May 21, 1996). [Lance, 2006, pp. 297-298] Journalist Peter Lance believes that, given Mohamed’s apparent foreknowledge of the embassy bombings, the computer probably contained references to that operation. In his book Triple Cross, he asks, “If [US agents] now had access to Mohamed’s phone and hard disk, why didn’t they come to understand his role as a key player in the embassy bombing plot?… If their motive was to lie in wait—to monitor his phone calls and e-mail traffic—why didn’t that surveillance put them right in the middle of the embassy plot?” [Lance, 2006, pp. 276]

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jack Cloonan, Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, Ali Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Prudence Bushnell.
Prudence Bushnell. [Source: PBS]By December 1997, Prudence Bushnell, the US Ambassador to Kenya, is aware that her embassy could be in danger. She has been told of an August 1997 warning that proved there was an al-Qaeda cell in Nairobi (see Late 1994), a precise (and ultimately accurate) November 1997 warning detailing a plot to attack the embassy (see November 1997), and other recent warnings, including information indicating that she is an assassination target. She sends two cables to State Department headquarters in Washington, claiming that the embassy’s location makes it “extremely vulnerable to a terrorist attack,” and asks for security improvements to be made. The State Department turns down her requests and begins to see Bushnell as a nuisance. In early 1998, General Anthony Zinni, the commander of US forces in the region, visits the Nairobi embassy and decides it is vulnerable to terrorist attacks. He offers to send a security team to inspect the situation, but his offer is turned down. The State Department sends its own team instead and in March 1998 determines that about $500,000 worth of easily implemented improvements should make the embassy secure. But the money is not quickly allocated. Bushnell then sends “an emotional letter to Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright begging for the Secretary’s personal help.” She says she has been fighting for months for a more secure embassy as threats increase, and that the State Department’s refusal to grant her requests for funding is “endangering the lives of embassy personnel.” Albright takes no action. The embassy will be bombed in August (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). [New York Times, 1/9/1999]

Entity Tags: Prudence Bushnell, US Department of State, Anthony Zinni, Madeleine Albright

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline


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