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Context of 'Late 1996-August 20, 1998: US Intelligence Monitors Charity Tied to Al-Qaeda Cell in Kenya'

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US intelligence begins monitoring telephones connected to the Kenyan branch of the charity Mercy International. By mid-1996, US intelligence began wiretapping telephones belonging to Wadih El-Hage, an al-Qaeda operative living in Nairobi, Kenya, and the NSA is also monitoring bin Laden’s satellite phone. By the end of 1996, the number of monitored phones in Kenya increases to five, and two of those are to Mercy International’s offices. What led investigators to this charity is unknown, and details of the calls have never been revealed. [New York Times, 1/13/2001] The Mercy International office will be raided shortly after the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), and incriminating files belonging to El-Hage will be found there (see October 1997). It will be discovered that the office worked closely with al-Qaeda. For instance, it issued identity cards for al-Qaeda leaders Ali Mohamed, Mohammed Atef, and even bin Laden himself. [Bergen, 2001, pp. 140; Financial Times, 11/28/2001] An al-Qaeda defector, L’Houssaine Kherchtou, will testify in a 2001 trial that al-Qaeda was heavily interacting with Mercy International’s Kenya branch, and a number of employees there, including the manager and accountant, were actually al-Qaeda operatives. [United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 8, 2/21/2001] A receipt dated just two weeks before the embassy bombings made a reference to “getting the weapons from Somalia.” [New York Times, 1/22/2000] Most crucially, there were a number of calls between Mercy director Ahmad Sheik Adam and bin Laden. [East African, 2/16/2000] And Adam’s mobile phone was used 12 times by El-Hage to speak to bin Laden or his associates. Presumably, such calls would have drawn obvious attention to the Kenya al-Qaeda cell and their embassy attack plans, yet none of the cell members were arrested until after the attack. The Kenya branch of Mercy International will be shut down by the end of 1998, but in 2001 it will be reported that Adam continues to live in Kenya and has not been arrested. [Agence France-Presse, 12/17/1998; BBC, 1/3/2001]

Entity Tags: US intelligence, Wadih El-Hage, Osama bin Laden, Ahmad Sheik Adam, Mercy International, National Security Agency, L’Houssaine Kherchtou

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), one of the key bombers in the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), works for the charity Mercy International for a time in Kenya. He then joins Help Africa People, a charity front created by Wadih El-Hage, another key embassy bomber. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 20, 3/20/2001] In 2008, the Kenyan newspaper the Daily Nation will post some articles about the African embassy bombings based on declassified documents. One article will reveal that in early 1997, Fazul brought three more al-Qaeda operatives, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, Abdallah Nacha, and Mohamed al-Owhali, into Kenya. All three were also working with Mercy International, but were on temporary loan to Help Africa People. All of them will go on to play important roles in the embassy bombings. [Daily Nation, 8/2/2008; Daily Nation, 8/2/2008] From late 1996 until the embassy bombings, minus a few months near the start of 1998, US intelligence is monitoring two phone numbers at Mercy International’s Kenya office (see Late 1996-August 20, 1998), so it seems probable that the US would be aware of these men. In 1999, it will be alleged that the US-based Mercy International is actually a CIA front (see 1989 and After).

Entity Tags: Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Abdallah Nacha, Help Africa People, Mohamed al-Owhali, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Fazul Abdullah Mohammed.Fazul Abdullah Mohammed. [Source: Daily Nation]Shortly after the US raid on Wadih El-Hage’s house in Nairobi, Kenya (see August 21, 1997), US investigators discover a letter in the house that mentions a cache of incriminating files had been moved from the house and hidden elsewhere. Investigators suspect the files could contain evidence of a coming attack by El-Hage’s Nairobi cell. A law enforcement official later says US investigators begin a “somewhat frantic, concerted effort” to locate the missing files. “The concern was high enough about something being out there to go right away.” A search for the files is conducted at another location in Kenya in September 1997, but the files are not found. [New York Times, 1/9/1999] But despite this search, and even though other documents found in the raid refer to other unknown members of the cell and the imminent arrival of more operatives (see Shortly After August 21, 1997), the wiretaps on five phone numbers connected to El-Hage are discontinued in October 1997, one month after El-Hage moved to the US (see September 24, 1997). Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), who had been living with El-Hage and using the same phones as him, takes over running the cell. US intelligence will resume monitoring the phones in May 1998 and continue to monitor them through August 1998 (see May 1998), when the cell will successfully attack US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). It will be stated in the 2002 book The Cell, “The hardest thing to understand in retrospect is why US law enforcement did nothing else to disrupt the activities of the Nairobi cell” after the raid on El-Hage’s house. [New York Times, 1/13/2001; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 203-205] The files will be found only after the African embassy bombings, when the offices of the charity Mercy International are searched on August 20, 1998. They will contain incriminating information, including numerous phone calls from bin Laden to Nairobi. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al, 3/20/2001] It is not clear why the charity was not searched before the attacks, since two of the five phones monitored since 1996 were to Mercy’s Kenya offices (see Late 1996-August 20, 1998).

Entity Tags: Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Mercy International, US intelligence, Wadih El-Hage

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

The FBI misses a chance to learn about Zacarias Moussaoui after a raid in Dublin, Ireland. On December 14, 1999, Ahmed Ressam was arrested trying to smuggle explosives into the US (see December 14, 1999). On December 21, Irish police arrest Hamid Aich and several other North African immigrants living in Dublin. [New York Times, 1/22/2000] During the arrests, police seize a large amount of documents relating to citizenship applications, identities, credit cards, and airplane tickets. A diagram of an electrical switch that could be used for a bomb is found that is identical to a diagram found in Ressam’s apartment in Vancouver, Canada. [Irish Times, 7/31/2002] The suspects are released about a day later, but, “Within days, authorities in Ireland and the United States began to realize that they might have missed a chance to learn more about a terrorist network.” [New York Times, 1/22/2000] It is discovered that Aich lived with Ressam in Montreal, and then later lived with him in Vancouver. Investigators conclude there has been an al-Qaeda cell in Dublin since the early 1990s, when the charity Mercy International opened an office there (this charity has several known al-Qaeda connections by this time (see 1988-Spring 1995 and Late 1996-August 20, 1998) and also an alleged CIA connection (see 1989 and After)). The cell is mainly involved in providing travel and identity documents for other cells committing violent acts. Investigators also connect Aich to the Islamic Jihad. But the US and Canada do not seek Aich’s extradition, and instead have the Irish police keep him under surveillance. He will escape from Ireland shortly before 9/11 (see June 3, 2001-July 24, 2001). [New York Times, 1/22/2000; Irish Times, 7/31/2002] Apparently, many of the documents seized in the raid will only be closely examined after 9/11. Documents will show that in 1999 and 2000, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a top al-Qaeda financier, worked with the Dublin cell to finance Moussaoui’s international travel. Aich made travel arrangements and possibly provided fake identification for Moussaoui. [Fox News, 7/30/2002; Irish Times, 7/31/2002] Presumably, had these links been discovered after the 1999 raid instead of after 9/11, events could have gone very differently when Moussaoui was arrested in the US in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001).

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Al-Qaeda, Mercy International, Islamic Jihad, Hamid Aich, Ahmed Ressam, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

On June 3, 2001, a British newspaper reveals that Hamid Aich, who is on the FBI’s international wanted list, is living in Dublin where he is applying for asylum. [Mirror, 2/18/2001; News of the World, 6/3/2001] Irish intelligence has been monitoring Aich’s movements since 1997, when authorities tied him to the mass murder of 77 tourists in Luxor, Egypt (see November 18, 1997). [Mirror, 10/17/2001; Daily Telegraph, 11/8/2001] He has since been linked to a number of militant groups (see, e.g., December 14, 1999). It is believed that between 1999 and 2001, Aich assisted 22 Islamic terrorist organizations, and even funded non-Islamic groups, for instance giving $200,000 to the ETA, a separatist group in the Basque region of Spain. Aich was also the director of Mercy International’s Ireland branch. (This charity has several known al-Qaeda connections by this time (see 1988-Spring 1995 and Late 1996-August 20, 1998).) Despite these connections, he will continue to live openly in Dublin after the newspaper discloses his location. [Mirror, 9/17/2001] Irish authorities only publicly say, “Aich’s case is at a very delicate stage.” [News of the World, 6/3/2001] Then, on July 24, he leaves Ireland using a false passport. The FBI, which took no action against him while he was living in Dublin, is reportedly “furious” with Irish police for allowing him to escape. He has not been heard of since, and he has not been included in any known lists of wanted al-Qaeda leaders. It is believed that Aich eventually ends up in Afghanistan. After 9/11, Aich will be described as “one of the FBI’s chief targets” and “one of bin Laden’s most trusted men” who ranks seventh in al-Qaeda’s hierarchy. [Mirror, 9/17/2001]

Entity Tags: Hamid Aich, Zacarias Moussaoui, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mercy International, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Ressam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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