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Context of 'January-May 1996: US Fails to Capture KSM Living Openly in Qatar'

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Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) lives in Qatar during these years. He is invited there by Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani, Qatar’s Minister of Religious Affairs at the time. He works on a farm owned by al-Thani and lives in the open, not even bothering to use an alias. He works as a project engineer for the government. One US official will later recall that al-Thani “has this farm and he always had a lot of people around, the house was always overstaffed, a lot of unemployed Afghan Arabs…. There were always these guys hanging around and maybe a couple of Kalashnikovs [machine guns] in the corner.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002] KSM continues to plot and travel extensively, including a 1995 trip to fight in Bosnia with the trip’s expenses paid for by al-Thani. Apparently the CIA becomes aware that KSM is living there in 1995 and is also already aware of his role in the 1993 WTC bombing and the Bojinka plot (see October 1995). KSM will finally have to leave his Qatar base after his presence becomes too well known in early 1996 (see January-May 1996). [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 147, 488] KSM will return to Qatar occasionally, even staying there with the knowledge of some Qatari royals for two weeks after 9/11 (see Late 2001).

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

One of Ramzi Yousef’s timers seized by Philippines police in January 1995.One of Ramzi Yousef’s timers seized by Philippines police in January 1995. [Source: Peter Lance]Responding to an apartment fire, Philippine investigators uncover an al-Qaeda plot to assassinate the Pope that is scheduled to take place when he visits the Philippines one week later. While investigating that scheme, they also uncover Operation Bojinka, planned by the same people: 1993 WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). [Independent, 6/6/2002; Los Angeles Times, 6/24/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Many initial reports after 9/11 will claim the fire was accidental and the police discovery of it was a lucky break, but in 2002 the Los Angeles Times will report that the police started the fire on purpose as an excuse to look around the apartment. In the course of investigating the fire, one of the main plotters, Abdul Hakim Murad, is arrested. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] The plot has two main components. On January 12, Pope John Paul II is scheduled to visit Manila and stay for five days. A series of bombs along his parade route would be detonated by remote control, killing thousands, including the Pope. Yousef’s apartment is only 500 feet from the residence where the Pope will be staying. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 78; Lance, 2006, pp. 138] Then, starting January 21, a series of bombs would be placed on airplanes. [Insight, 5/27/2002] Five men, Yousef, Wali Khan Amin Shah, Abdul Hakim Murad, Abd al-Karim Yousef (a.k.a., Adel Anon, Yousef’s twin brother), and Khalid Al-Shaikh (thought to be an alias for KSM) would depart to different Asian cities and place a timed bomb on board during the first leg of passenger planes traveling to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu, and New York. They would then transfer to another flight and place a second bomb on board that flight. In all, 11 to 12 planes would blow up in a two day period over the Pacific. If successful, some 4,000 people would have been killed. [Agence France-Presse, 12/8/2001; Insight, 5/27/2002; Contemporary Southeast Asia, 12/1/2002] According to another account, some of the bombs would be timed to go off weeks or even months later. Presumably worldwide air travel could be interrupted for months. [Lance, 2003, pp. 260-61] A second wave of attacks involving crashing airplanes into buildings in the US would go forward later, once the pilots are trained for it (see February-Early May 1995).

Entity Tags: Abd al-Karim Yousef, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ramzi Yousef, Wali Khan Amin Shah, Operation Bojinka, Al-Qaeda, Abdul Hakim Murad

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After the Bojinka plot is exposed in the Philippines on January 6, 1995 (see January 6, 1995), most of the plotters are either arrested or flee the country. An exception is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). According to Philippine police reports, he stays in the country until September 1995. He is most likely under the protection of Abu Sayyaf, a local al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group. When he leaves, he goes to the Persian Gulf, where he already has protection in Qatar (see 1992-1996 and January-May 1996). [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 100] KSM trained Abu Sayyaf militants in the Philippines in 1991 (see 1991), his nephew Ramzi Yousef had done the same in 1994 (see August-September 1994), and some Abu Sayyaf figures were involved in the Bojinka plot (see Late 1994-January 1995). Abu Sayyaf has been deeply penetrated by informants at this time. In fact, a Philippine informant named Edwin Angeles is so deeply embedded in Abu Sayyaf that he actually is the group’s second in command (see Late 1994-January 1995). Angeles gives up his cover in February 1995, he was closely involved in the Bojinka plot, and he is debriefed for weeks and helps get a number of Abu Sayyaf leaders arrested. But it is unknown if he attempts to help find KSM (see Early February 1995).

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Abu Sayyaf, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Edwin Angeles

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Shortly after bomber Ramzi Yousef is arrested (see February 7, 1995), investigators discover a computer file of a letter on his laptop that is signed by “Khalid Sheikh, and Bojinka.” An eyewitness account of the arrest is given to Time magazine by a “Khalid Sheikh,” who is also staying in the same building. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 154, 162] Investigators also discover that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) had frequently visited Yousef’s apartment in Manila, Philippines, where the bombs for the Bojinka plot were being made. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] They also find Yousef has multiple fax and phone numbers for a “Khalid Doha.” Doha is the capital of Qatar. KSM has been living there openly since 1992 (see 1992-1995). Shortly after being apprehended, US authorities notice that Yousef calls one of these numbers in Qatar and asks to speak to a “Khalid.” The US already connected KSM to the 1993 WTC bombing just weeks after that attack and knew that he was living in Doha, Qatar (see March 20, 1993). [US Congress, 7/24/2003] There is an entry in Yousef’s seized telephone directory for a Zahid Shaikh Mohammed, Yousef’s uncle and KSM’s brother. Not long after this discovery is made, Pakistani investigators raid Zahid’s offices in Peshawar, Pakistan, but Zahid has already fled (see 1988-Spring 1995). In 1993, US investigators already discovered the connections between Yousef, Zahid, and KSM, after raiding Zahid’s house in Pakistan and finding pictures of them (see Spring 1993). [McDermott, 2005, pp. 154, 162] The FBI successfully arranges for a photograph to be taken of KSM. He is positively identified from the photo in December 1995. This results in his indictment in January 1996 for his role in the 1993 WTC bombing. US intelligence labels him a “top priority,” according the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry. [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003]

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Zahid Shaikh Mohammed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Melissa Boyle Mahle.Melissa Boyle Mahle. [Source: Publicity photo]According to a later account by CIA agent Melissa Boyle Mahle, “a tidbit received late in the year revealed the location” Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) in Qatar (see 1992-1996). [Mahle, 2005, pp. 247-248] This presumably is information the FBI learned in Sudan that KSM was traveling to Qatar (see Shortly Before October 1995). However, US intelligence should also have been aware that KSM’s nephew Ramzi Yousef attempted to call him in Qatar in February 1995 while Yousef was in US custody (see After February 7, 1995-January 1996). Mahle is assigned to verify KSM’s identity. She claims that at the time the CIA is aware of KSM’s involvement in the Bojinka plot in the Philippines (see January 6, 1995) and in the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993) She is able to match his fingerprints with a set of fingerprints the CIA already has in their files. [Guardian, 3/31/2005] By October 1995, the FBI tracks KSM to a certain apartment building in Qatar. Then, using high-technology surveillance, his presence in the building is confirmed. [Miniter, 2003, pp. 85-86] Mahle argues that KSM should be rendered out of the country in secret. The US began rendering terrorist suspects in 1993 (see 1993), and a prominent Egyptian extremist is rendered by the CIA in September 1995 (see September 13, 1995). She argues her case to CIA headquarters and to the highest reaches of the NSA, but is overruled. [Guardian, 3/31/2005] Instead, the decision is made to wait until KSM can be indicted in a US court and ask Qatar to extradite him to the US. Despite the surveillance on KSM, he apparently is able to leave Qatar and travel to Brazil with bin Laden and then back to Qatar at the end of 1995 (see December 1995). KSM will be indicted in early 1996, but he will escape from Qatar a few months later (see January-May 1996).

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Melissa Boyle Mahle, National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani.Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani. [Source: Fethi Belaid/ Agence France-Presse]Since Operation Bojinka was uncovered in the Philippines (see January 6, 1995), many of the plot’s major planners, including Ramzi Yousef, are found and arrested. One major exception is 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). He flees to Qatar in the Persian Gulf, where he has been living openly using his real name, enjoying the patronage of Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani, Qatar’s Interior Minister and a member of the royal family (see 1992-1996). [ABC News, 2/7/2003] He had accepted al-Thani’s invitation to live on his farm around 1992 (see 1992-1995). The CIA learned KSM was living in Qatar in 1995 after his nephew Ramzi Yousef attempted to call him there while in US custody (see After February 7, 1995-January 1996). The Sudanese government also tipped off the FBI that KSM was traveling to Qatar. Some CIA agents strongly urged action against KSM after his exact location in Qatar was determined, but no action was taken (see October 1995). In January 1996, KSM is indicted in the US for his role in the 1993 WTC bombing, and apparently this leads to an effort to apprehend him in Qatar that same month. FBI Director Louis Freeh sends a letter to the Qatari government asking for permission to send a team after him. [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002] One of Freeh’s diplomatic notes states that KSM was involved in a conspiracy to “bomb US airliners” and is believed to be “in the process of manufacturing an explosive device.” [New Yorker, 5/27/2002] Qatar confirms that KSM is there and is making explosives, but they delay handing him over. After waiting several months, a high-level meeting takes place in Washington to consider a commando raid to seize him. However, the raid is deemed too risky, and another letter is sent to the Qatari government instead. One person at the meeting later states, “If we had gone in and nabbed this guy, or just cut his head off, the Qatari government would not have complained a bit. Everyone around the table for their own reasons refused to go after someone who fundamentally threatened American interests….” [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002] Around May 1996, Mohammed’s patron al-Thani makes sure that Mohammed and four others are given blank passports and a chance to escape. A former Qatari police chief later says the other men include Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammed Atef, al-Qaeda’s number two and number three leaders, respectively (see Early 1998). [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; ABC News, 2/7/2003] In 1999, the New York Times will report that “Although American officials said they had no conclusive proof, current and former officials said they believed that the Foreign Minister [Sheik Hamed bin Jasim al-Thani] was involved, directly or indirectly” in tipping off KSM. [New York Times, 7/8/1999] KSM will continue to occasionally use Qatar as a safe haven, even staying there for two weeks after 9/11 (see Late 2001).

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Mohammed Atef, Hamed bin Jasim al-Thani, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Louis J. Freeh, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The CIA apparently ignores a warning from a recently retired CIA agent that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is heading al-Qaeda’s terrorist operations. Robert Baer left the CIA in late 1997 and began private consulting in the Middle East. Baer soon meets Hamad bin Jassim bin Hamad al Thani, who was Qatar’s minister of the economy and chief of police until he was deposed and exiled the year before. Al Thani tells Baer that KSM is now bin Laden’s chief of terrorist operations, and gives Baer other details about KSM, including how some Qatari royals helped KSM escape Qatar the year before after the CIA tracked him there (see January-May 1996 and Early 1998). In early 1998, Baer passes all this information on to a friend still in the CIA, who then passes it on to the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. But the friend writes back a week later, saying the CIA showed no interest. [Baer, 2003, pp. 190-198] The 9/11 Commission, by contrast, will later claim that, in 1997 and 1998, KSM has some links with al-Qaeda, but mostly helps them collect newspaper articles and update computer equipment. Supposedly, not until after the August 1998 embassy bombings does he begin working directly with al-Qaeda on plotting attacks. This account appears entirely based on KSM’s testimony taken while in US custody. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 149-150] It will later be reported that up to 90 percent of KSM’s testimony could be inaccurate, mostly due to the use of torture (see Late August 1998). Further, the CIA gained evidence shortly after the embassy bombings that KSM was one of the masterminds of those bombings, which would strongly support Baer’s information over the 9/11 Commission version (see August 6, 2007).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Robert Baer, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, 9/11 Commission, Hamad bin Jassim bin Hamad al Thani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The New York Times will later report that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) hides in Qatar for two weeks with the support of some members of the Qatari royal family. KSM stays there “with the help of prominent patrons” after fleeing from Kuwait. One of the Qatari royals sheltering KSM is possibly Abdul Karim al-Thani, who has repeatedly sheltered Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and given passports and more than $1 million to al-Qaeda. It is also possible that KSM may have received help from Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani, who is Qatar’s Interior Minister by this time and who allowed KSM live on his farm for several years until 1996 (see January-May 1996). CIA Director George Tenet is reportedly infuriated, but no action is taken. In fact, the US military will base its headquarters for the Iraq war in Qatar (see March 28, 2003). [New York Times, 2/6/2003]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abdul Karim al-Thani, Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani, Al-Qaeda, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Los Angeles Times reports that, ironically, the man in charge of security for the nation where the US bases its headquarters for the Iraq war is a supporter of al-Qaeda. Sheik Abdullah bin Khalid al-Thani is the Interior Minister of Qatar. US Central Command and thousands of US troops are stationed in that country. In 1996, al-Thani was Religious Minister and he apparently let 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) live on his farm (see January-May 1996). Mohammed was tipped off that the US was after him. Some US officials believe al-Thani was the one who helped KSM escape, just as he had assisted other al-Qaeda leaders on other occasions. [Los Angeles Times, 3/28/2003] Another royal family member has sheltered al-Qaeda leaders and given over $1 million to al-Qaeda. KSM was even sheltered by Qatari royalty for two weeks after 9/11 (see Late 2001). [New York Times, 2/6/2003] Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, who has ties to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993), the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), and also attended the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), was sheltered by al-Thani’s religious ministry in 2000. [Newsweek, 9/30/2002] Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says al-Thani “had great sympathy for Osama bin Laden, great sympathy for terrorist groups, was using his personal money and ministry money to transfer to al-Qaeda front groups that were allegedly charities.” However, the US has not attempted to apprehend al-Thani or take any other action against him. [Los Angeles Times, 3/28/2003]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Richard A. Clarke, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Osama bin Laden, Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani, United States, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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