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Context of '1997: US Action Against Holy Land Foundation Blocked Again'

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1989: Holy Land Foundation Formed in US

Holy Land Foundation logo.Holy Land Foundation logo. [Source: Holy Land Foundation]The Holy Land Foundation charity is established in the US, two years after Hamas was founded in the Middle East. From the very beginning, there are signs that Holy Land is supports illegal violent acts committed by Hamas. For instance, In 1990, Haitham Maghawri will apply for asylum in the US. He will tell the INS that he had been arrested several times in Lebanon, once for placing a car bomb. He will be denied asylum, but will gain permanent residence by marrying a US citizen. He then will become executive director of Holy Land. Additionally, government documents, corporate records, and Arabic-language articles show clear connections between Hamas, Holy Land, and a closely related group, the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP). For instance, in the late 1980s, Mousa Abu Marzouk, a known political leader of Hamas living in the US, is the chairman of IAP’s advisory committee and donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to the IAP. The IAP publicly recommends Muslims should donate money to Holy Land to support Hamas in the Palestinian intifada (uprising) against Israel. According to international law, violent acts against Israeli military targets are not illegal, but such acts against civilian targets are, and Hamas freely acknowledges that it does both. As a result, financial support in the US for Hamas is controversial and often done in secret. Hamas will not be officially declared a terrorist group until 1995, and after this all US financing support for Hamas will be done in secret (see January 1995). [Dallas Morning News, 4/8/1996; Associated Press, 12/12/2001; Chicago Tribune, 12/16/2001; Dallas Morning News, 12/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, Islamic Association for Palestine, Haitham Maghawri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

FBI agent Robert Wright is assigned to the FBI’s counterterrorism task force in Chicago. He had joined the FBI three years earlier. [New York Post, 7/14/2004; Washington Times, 7/18/2004] He immediately begins to uncover a wide network of suspected Hamas and al-Qaeda financiers inside the US. Apparently, he gets a key head start from the confession of Mohammad Salah in Israel in early 1993 (see January 1993). Salah names 23 organizations in the US who he says are secretly funding Hamas, and Israel shares this information with US officials. Some of his confession, including the mention of the Holy Land Foundation as a key Hamas funder, is even publicly revealed in a February 1993 New York Times article. [New York Times, 2/17/1993; Federal News Service, 6/2/2003] In the next few years, Wright will uncover evidence that leads him to suspect the following:
bullet Mousa Abu Marzouk, the political director of Hamas, has been laundering money and fundraising in the US for Hamas (see July 5, 1995-May 1997).
bullet The Holy Land Foundation charity is secretly financing Hamas suicide bombings (see October 1993; December 4, 2001).
bullet Saudi multimillionaire Yassin Al-Qadi is funding Hamas (see June 9, 1998).
bullet Al-Qadi is funding al-Qaeda attacks (see October 1998).
bullet Several other US residents and entities are also financing Hamas. In 1996, Wright’s investigations will turn into a larger investigation of terrorist financing, code named Vulgar Betrayal (see 1996). It will continue to discover more leads to connect not only to Hamas, but also to al-Qaeda. [New York Post, 7/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohammad Salah, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, Yassin al-Qadi, Vulgar Betrayal, Hamas, Mousa Abu Marzouk, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bomb damage in underground levels of the WTC in 1993.Bomb damage in underground levels of the WTC in 1993. [Source: Najlah Feanny/ Corbis]An attempt to topple the World Trade Center fails, but six people are killed and over 1000 are injured in the misfired blast. An FBI explosives expert later states that, “If they had found the exact architectural Achilles’ heel or if the bomb had been a little bit bigger, not much more, 500 pounds more, I think it would have brought her down.” Ramzi Yousef, who has close ties to bin Laden, organizes the attempt. [Village Voice, 3/30/1993; US Congress, 2/24/1998] The New York Times later reports on Emad Salem, an undercover agent who will be the key government witness in the trial against Yousef. Salem testifies that the FBI knew about the attack beforehand and told him they would thwart it by substituting a harmless powder for the explosives. However, an FBI supervisor called off this plan, and the bombing was not stopped. [New York Times, 10/28/1993] Other suspects were ineptly investigated before the bombing as early as 1990. Several of the bombers were trained by the CIA to fight in the Afghan war, and the CIA later concludes, in internal documents, that it was “partly culpable” for this bombing (see January 24, 1994). [Independent, 11/1/1998] 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is an uncle of Yousef and also has a role in the WTC bombing (see March 20, 1993). [Independent, 6/6/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] One of the attackers even leaves a message which will later be found by investigators, stating, “Next time, it will be very precise.” [Associated Press, 9/30/2001]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, Ramzi Yousef, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Emad Salem, Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hanooti.Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hanooti. [Source: Muslim World League Canada]The FBI secretly records top Hamas leaders meeting in a Philadelphia hotel. Five Hamas leaders meet with three leaders of the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation charity (see 1989), including CEO Shukri Abu Baker and chairman Ghassan Elashi. A peace accord between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) had just been made, and this group meets to decide how to best oppose that. It is decided that “most or almost all of the funds collected [by Holy Land] in the future should be directed to enhance [Hamas] and to weaken the self-rule government” of Palestinian and PLO leader Yasser Arafat. According to an FBI memo released in late 2001 that summarizes the surveillance, “In the United States, they could raise funds, propagate their political goals, affect public opinion and influence decision-making of the US government.” The FBI also learns from the meeting that Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk gave Holy Land large sums of cash to get the charity started. Holy Land will eventually grow to become the largest Muslim charity in the US. In a January 1995 public conference also monitored by the FBI, Holy Land CEO Abu Baker will be introduced to the audience as a Hamas senior vice president. One Hamas military leader there will tell the crowd, “I’m going to speak the truth to you. It’s simple. Finish off the Israelis! Kill them all! Exterminate them! No peace ever!” [New York Times, 12/6/2001; Emerson, 2002, pp. 89-90; CBS News, 12/18/2002] Investigators conclude at the time that some of Holy Land’s “key decision makers [are] Hamas members, the foundation [is] the primary US fundraising organ for Hamas, and most of its expenditures [go] to build support for Hamas and its goal of destroying Israel.” [Dallas Morning News, 12/5/2001] Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hanooti is one of the attendees for Hamas. In 1995, he will be listed as an unindicted coconspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993). In the early 1990s, he is the imam at a Jersey City, New Jersey, mosque where at least one of the WTC bombers regularly prays and where al-Qaeda leader Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman often delivers incendiary speeches. An FBI report claims Al-Hanooti raised more than $6 million for Hamas in 1993 alone, funneling much of it through the Holy Land Foundation. As of the end of 2005, Al-Hanooti will still be an imam in the US and will continue to deny all charges against him. [Albany Times-Union, 6/30/2002] Chicago FBI agents Robert Wright and John Vincent try and fail to get a criminal prosecution against the attendees of this meeting. Instead, the attendees will not be charged with criminal activity connected to this meeting until 2002 and 2004 (see December 18, 2002-April 2005). Vincent will comment in 2002 that the arrests made that year could have been made in 1993 instead. One of the Hamas attendees of the meeting, Abdelhaleem Ashqar, will be not arrested until 2004 (see August 20, 2004), and other attendees like Ismail Selim Elbarasse have never been arrested. Elbarasse, a college roommate of Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk, will be detained in 2004 on the accusation of working with Marzouk to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Hamas, but not charged. [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003; Baltimore Sun, 8/26/2004] Oliver “Buck” Revell, head of the Dallas FBI office at the time, will say after 9/11 that the US government should have shut down Holy Land as soon as it determined it was sending money to Hamas (even though raising money for Hamas is not a criminal act in the US until 1995 (see January 1995)). [Associated Press, 12/12/2001]

Entity Tags: Shukri Abu Baker, Ghassan Elashi, Mousa Abu Marzouk, Palestinian Liberation Organization, Hamas, Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hanooti, Yasser Arafat, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Oliver (“Buck”) Revell, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, Abdelhaleem Ashqar, John Vincent, Ismail Selim Elbarasse

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

FBI agent Robert Wright had begun to investigate terrorism financing in 1993, and apparently quickly discovered many leads (see After January 1993). However, he will later claim that by 1994, he encounters resistance to his investigations from the FBI’s International Terrorism Unit. Wright will claim, “[T]here existed a concerted effort on the part of agents conducting counterterrorism intelligence investigations to insulate the subjects of their investigations from criminal investigation and prosecution.” In 2002, Wright will claim that the agents were doing this because they were lazy, and he will sue these unnamed agents. [United Press International, 5/30/2002] But in 2003, he will suggest that in addition to such incompetence, his investigations into Hamas operatives living in the US were deliberately blocked so Hamas would be able to foment enough violence in Israel to derail the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He will allege that some people in the FBI had a political agenda regarding Israel contrary to President Clinton’s (see June 2, 2003). [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003]

Entity Tags: Robert G. Wright, Jr., Hamas, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

As President Clinton issues an executive order making it a felony to raise or transfer funds to designated terrorist groups or their front organizations (see January 1995), counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and Treasury official Richard Newcomb look for opportunities to use the new power. They review files to see if there are any clear cut cases to use it on. They decide that the Holy Land Foundation is in violation of the new order. Customs officials prepare to raid Holy Land’s headquarters in Arlington, Texas, and seize all their assets. However, FBI Director Louis Freeh and Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin object. Both claim the executive order might not hold up to legal challenges. Freeh additionally says he is concerned with alienating Arabs in the US, and Rubin is afraid the raid might discourage investment in the US. The raid is cancelled. [New York Times, 1/26/1995; Clarke, 2004, pp. 98] The FBI is also aware of a public event held in January where the leader of Hamas’ political wing is the keynote speaker. He urges the crowd, “I am going to speak the truth to you. It’s simple. Finish off the Israelis. Kill them all! Exterminate them! No peace ever!” Holy Land raises over $200,000 for Hamas from the event. The same speaker helps Holy Land raise money with many other events in the US. [Los Angeles Times, 12/6/2001; Associated Press, 3/15/2002] After Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk is arrested trying to enter the US in July 1995 (see July 5, 1995-May 1997), agents who search his belongings find financial records showing that he invested $250,000 in Holy Land in 1992. Holy Land continues to pay him monthly profits on his investment even after Hamas was declared a terrorist organization and news of his arrest made the front pages of US newspapers (in fact, Holy Land will continue to pay him through 2001). Although Holy Land is in clear violation of the law, the raid still does not occur. [Dallas Morning News, 12/19/2002] In 1996, Congress will pass a law that confirms it is illegal to financially support officially designated terrorism groups such as Hamas. (see April 25, 1996). Clarke has never explained why Holy Land is not raided after the passage of this law, or in subsequent years when yet more evidence of terrorist ties are uncovered (see 1997; September 16, 1998-September 5, 2001). Holy Land will finally be raided after 9/11 (see December 4, 2001), largely on the basis of evidence collected in 1993 (see October 1993). In 2004, the US government will claim that Holy Land raised over $12 million for Hamas between January 1995, when funding Hamas became illegal in the US, and December 2001, when Holy Land was shut down. [Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 7/27/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Richard Newcomb, US Department of the Treasury, Louis J. Freeh, Mousa Abu Marzouk, Hamas, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bob Rubin, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mousa Abu Marzouk.Mousa Abu Marzouk. [Source: US Department of Corrections]On July 5, 1995, high-level Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk is detained at a New York City airport as he tries to enter the US. An immigration agent checks Marzouk’s name against a watch list and finds a match. Marzouk’s name had apparently been added to the watch list in recent months, so he had not been stopped on previous trips. Although not a US citizen, he had been living in the US for 14 years. Israel considers him the head of Hamas’ political wing, and he is already under indictment in Israel for at least ten attacks that killed at least 47 people. In 1994 he appeared on Lebanese television to take credit for a Hamas suicide attack in Israel, saying, “Death is a goal to every Muslim.” When he is detained in New York, he is found with an address book that the FBI says contains the names, telephone numbers, and addresses of numerous “active and violent terrorists and terrorist organizations.” More than 20 percent of the addresses are in the US. He is also carrying paperwork connecting him to charities and companies worth more than $10 million, which the FBI suspect are part of a Hamas money laundering operation in the US. On August 16, 1995, the US declares him a “Specially Designated Terrorist.” [New York Times, 7/28/1995; Emerson, 2002, pp. 86-87; Federal News Service, 6/2/2003; Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004] In August 1995, the US announces it will extradite Marzouk to Israel rather than try him in the US. Extradition hearings proceed slowly until 1997, when Marzouk announces he will no longer fight being deported to Israel. Then Israel makes the surprise announcement that it is no longer seeking Marzouk’s extradition. They cite a fear of a highly publicized trial and the fear of retaliatory terrorist attacks. In May 1997, the US deports Marzouk to Jordan, “ending what had become an embarrassing case for both the United States and Israel.” Jordan in turn deports him to Syria, where he will live and continue to work as a top Hamas leader. At the time of his deportation, it is claimed that one reason Marzouk is being deported is because the evidence against him is weak. [New York Times, 4/4/1997; New York Times, 5/6/1997; Emerson, 2002, pp. 87-89] However, FBI agent Robert Wright will later claim that he uncovered more than enough evidence to convict Marzouk, but that higher-ups in the FBI did not want to disrupt the Hamas support network in the US, apparently in hopes that Hamas would commit enough violent attacks to disrupt peace negotiations between Israel and more moderate Palestinians (see June 2, 2003).

Entity Tags: Hamas, Mousa Abu Marzouk, United States, Robert G. Wright, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Vulgar Betrayal, the most significant US government investigation into terrorist financing before 9/11, is launched. This investigation grows out of investigations Chicago FBI agent Robert Wright had begun in 1993 (see After January 1993), and Wright appears to be the driving force behind Vulgar Betrayal. He later will say, “I named the case Vulgar Betrayal because of the many gross betrayals many Arab terrorists and their supporters” committed against the US, but the name will later prove to be bitterly ironic for him. Over a dozen FBI agents are assigned it and a grand jury is empanelled to hear evidence. Wright will be removed from the investigation in late 1999 (see August 3, 1999), and it will be completely shut down in early 2000 (see August 2000). [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003; Chicago Tribune, 8/22/2004; LA Weekly, 8/25/2004; Judicial Watch, 12/15/2004] The investigation will first identify suspected terrorism financier Yassin al-Qadi as a target in 1997, but it will run into many obstacles in investigating him and others. Assistant US attorney Mark Flessner, the lead prosecutor for Vulgar Betrayal, will later claim that supervisors at the Justice Department’s headquarters obstructed the investigation because it appeared to trace terrorism financing to important figures in Saudi Arabia, a key US ally. Wright will later state that had the leads into al-Qadi and others been fully investigated, “I believe the FBI could have identified other significant links to Osama bin Laden, links which may have been addressed to prevent future attacks against the United States by bin Laden and his terrorist trainees.” [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003; Chicago Tribune, 8/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Mark Flessner, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice, Vulgar Betrayal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

April 25, 1996: New Anti-Terrorism Law Passed

President Clinton signs the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which the New York Times calls “broad legislation that provides new tools and penalties for federal law-enforcement officials to use in fighting terrorism.” The Clinton administration proposed the bill in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). In many ways, the original bill will be mirrored by the USA Patriot Act six years later (see October 26, 2001). Civil libertarians on both the left and right opposed the legislation. Political analyst Michael Freeman called the proposal one of the “worst assaults on civil liberties in decades,” and the Houston Chronicle called it a “frightening” and “grievous” assault on domestic freedoms. Many Republicans opposed the bill, and forced a compromise that removed increased wiretap authority and lower standards for lawsuits against sellers of guns used in crimes. CNN called the version that finally passed the Republican-controlled Congress a “watered-down version of the White House’s proposal. The Clinton administration has been critical of the bill, calling it too weak. The original House bill, passed last month, had deleted many of the Senate’s anti-terrorism provisions because of lawmakers’ concerns about increasing federal law enforcement powers. Some of those provisions were restored in the compromise bill.” [CNN, 4/18/1996; New York Times, 4/25/1996; Roberts, 2008, pp. 35] An unusual coalition of gun rights groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and civil liberties groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) led the opposition to the law. [New York Times, 4/17/1996] By the time Congress passed the bill, it had been, in the words of FBI Director Louis Freeh, “stripped… of just about every meaningful provision.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 35] The law makes it illegal in the US to provide “material support” to any organization banned by the State Department. [Guardian, 9/10/2001]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Louis J. Freeh, National Rifle Association, American Civil Liberties Union, Clinton administration, Michael Freeman, USA Patriot Act, US Congress

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties, US Domestic Terrorism

The US government once again considers going after the Holy Land Foundation for its ties to Hamas. Israel freezes the foundation’s assets this year, and the Treasury Department proposes making a similar asset freeze in the US as well. [Wall Street Journal, 2/27/2002] In 2000, the New York Times will report, “Some government officials recommended that the group be prosecuted in 1997 for supporting Hamas, the militant Islamic group. But others opposed the effort, fearing that it would expose intelligence sources and spur public criticism of the administration as anti-Muslim.” [New York Times, 2/19/2000] Those pushing to prosecute the group would certainly include Vulgar Betrayal investigation FBI agents like Robert Wright. Wright had been aware of Holy Land’s ties to Hamas since 1993 (see After January 1993 and October 1993). However, Attorney General Janet Reno blocks the proposal and no action is taken. [Wall Street Journal, 2/27/2002] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke claims that in 1995 he pushed for something to be done to Holy Land, but higher-ups overruled him (see January 1995-April 1996).

Entity Tags: Janet Reno, Hamas, Vulgar Betrayal, US Department of the Treasury, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, Robert G. Wright, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

FBI agent Robert Wright, apparently frustrated that his Vulgar Betrayal investigation is not allowed to criminally charge Hamas operative Mohammad Salah and Saudi multimillionaire Yassin al-Qadi, gets a court order to seize $1.4 million in bank accounts and the Chicago house Salah owns. Wright says in the suit that the money is linked directly to al-Qadi and would be destined for terrorist activities. Wright uses a civil forfeiture law that had been frequently used to seize properties and funds of drug dealers or gangsters, but had never been used for accused terrorists. Salah had living in Chicago since his release from an Israeli prison in November 1997. A highly detailed affidavit tracks wire transfers from the US and Switzerland to specific Hamas attacks in Israel. Al-Qadi’s money was deposited in bank accounts controlled by Salah, who is called an important courier and financial agent for Hamas. Then Salah invested the money in BMI Inc., a real estate investment firm with ties to many suspected terrorism financiers (see 1986-October 1999). Some of the money is eventually withdrawn by Salah, brought to the West Bank, and given to Hamas operatives there (see 1989-January 1993). Salah denies the charges and says all the transfers were for charitable causes. Al-Qadi also claims innocence. [New York Times, 6/14/1998; United Press International, 5/30/2002; Wall Street Journal, 12/6/2002] However, a federal judge agrees to the defendants’ request for a stay order, and the suit is said to “languish” in a Chicago federal court. The funds remain frozen and Salah continues to live in his house. [Wall Street Journal, 9/25/2001] During the summer of 2001, the government will negotiate with Salah to settle the civil case, according to court records. [Chicago Tribune, 8/22/2004] The Justice Department will even move ahead with plans to return $1.4 million that Wright had seized from al-Qadi. But the transfer will be set for October 2001, “and the 9/11 attacks came first, prompting wiser minds at Justice to quash the move.” [New York Post, 7/14/2004] But also, in 2000, the parents of a US teenager said to have been killed by a Hamas attack in Israel will sue Salah and others for damaged based on this investigation, and they will win the suit in 2004 (see May 12, 2000-December 9, 2004). The US government will finally arrest Salah in 2004, and will charge him for many of the same offenses described in this 1998 case (see August 20, 2004). As of the end of 2005, al-Qadi has not been charged of any crime.

Entity Tags: BMI Inc., Vulgar Betrayal, US Department of Justice, Al-Qaeda, Mohammad Salah, Hamas, Robert G. Wright, Jr.

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

In the wake of the US embassy bombings in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the US arrests Wadih El-Hage, who will later be convicted for his role in those bombings. Looking through his diaries, investigators discover a reference to a “joint venture” between al-Qaeda and the Holy Land Foundation, a charity based in Texas known for its support of Hamas. The name and phone number of a Texas man connected to Holy Land is also found in El-Hage’s address book (see September 16, 1998-September 5, 2001). The US had considered taking action against Holy Land in 1995 (see January 1995-April 1996) and again in 1997 (1997). Yet, as the Wall Street Journal will later note, “Even when [this] evidence surfaced in 1998 suggesting a tie between the foundation and Osama bin Laden, federal investigators didn’t act.” [Wall Street Journal, 2/27/2002]

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Osama bin Laden, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline


Mark Flessner.
Mark Flessner. Two months after the US embassy bombings in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), FBI agent Robert Wright and his Vulgar Betrayal investigation discover evidence they think ties Saudi multimillionaire Yassin al-Qadi to the bombings. Since 1997, Wright had been investigating a suspected terrorist cell in Chicago that was connected to fundraising for Hamas. They discovered what they considered to be clear proof that al-Qadi and other people they were already investigating had helped fund the embassy bombings. Wright asks FBI headquarters for permission to open an investigation into this money trail at this time, but the permission is not granted. Wright will later recall, “The supervisor who was there from headquarters was right straight across from me and started yelling at me: ‘You will not open criminal investigations. I forbid any of you. You will not open criminal investigations against any of these intelligence subjects.’” Instead, they are told to merely follow the suspects and file reports, but make no arrests. Federal prosecutor Mark Flessner, working with the Vulgar Betrayal investigation, later will claim that a strong criminal case was building against al-Qadi and his associates. “There were powers bigger than I was in the Justice Department and within the FBI that simply were not going to let [the building of a criminal case] happen. And it didn’t happen.… I think there were very serious mistakes made. And I think, it perhaps cost, it cost people their lives ultimately.” [ABC News, 12/19/2002] Flessner later will speculate that Saudi influence may have played a role. ABC News will report in 2002, “According to US officials, al-Qadi [has] close personal and business connections with the Saudi royal family.” [ABC News, 11/26/2002] Wright later will allege that FBI headquarters even attempted to shut down the Vulgar Betrayal investigation altogether at this time. He says, “They wanted to kill it.” [ABC News, 12/19/2002] However, he will claim, “Fortunately an assistant special agent in Chicago interceded to prevent FBI headquarters from closing Operation Vulgar Betrayal.” [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003] He claims that a new supervisor will write in late 1998, “Agent Wright has spearheaded this effort despite embarrassing lack of investigative resources available to the case, such as computers, financial analysis software, and a team of financial analysts. Although far from being concluded, the success of this investigation so far has been entirely due to the foresight and perseverance of Agent Wright.” [Federal News Service, 5/30/2002] When the story of this interference in the alleged al-Qadi-embassy bombings connection will be reported in late 2002, Wright will conclude, “September the 11th is a direct result of the incompetence of the FBI’s International Terrorism Unit. No doubt about that. Absolutely no doubt about that. You can’t know the things I know and not go public.” He will remain prohibited from telling all he knows, merely hinting, “There’s so much more. God, there’s so much more. A lot more.” [ABC News, 12/19/2002]

Entity Tags: Yassin al-Qadi, Hamas, US Department of Justice, International Terrorism Unit, Mark Flessner, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Vulgar Betrayal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Holy Land Foundation is shut down and its assets are seized. Holy Land claimed to be the largest Muslim charity in the US. It claimed to raise millions for Palestinian refugees and denied any support for terrorism. In justifying the move, the US government presents evidence of ties between the Holy Land and Hamas. Much of this evidence dates back to 1993; the Associated Press titles a story on the closure, “Money Freeze A Long Time Coming.” [Associated Press, 12/5/2001] Holy Land offices in San Diego, California; Paterson, New Jersey; and Bridgeview, Illinois, are also raided. [CNN, 12/4/2001] The indictment says Holy Land has been “deeply involved with a network of Muslim Brotherhood organizations dedicated to furthering the Islamic fundamentalist agenda espoused by Hamas.” [Washington Post, 9/11/2004] Holy Land is represented by the powerful law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. Three partners at Akin, Gump are very close to President Bush: George Salem chaired Bush’s 2000 campaign outreach to Arab-Americans; Barnett “Sandy” Kress was appointed by Bush as an “unpaid consultant” on education reform and has an office in the White House; and James Langdon is one of Bush’s closest Texas friends. [Boston Herald, 12/11/2001; Washington Post, 12/17/2001] The leaders of Holy Land will be charged with a variety of crimes in 2002 and 2004 (see December 18, 2002-April 2005).

Entity Tags: Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, US Department of the Treasury, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ghassan Elashi holds a press conference and denies any connection to terrorist funding.Ghassan Elashi holds a press conference and denies any connection to terrorist funding. [Source: Associated Press]Mousa Abu Marzouk, his wife, and five brothers (Ghassan Elashi, Bayan Elashi, Hazim Elashi, Basman Elashi, and Ihsan Elashi) are charged with conspiracy, money laundering, dealing in the property of a designated terrorist, illegal export, and making false statements. The brothers are arrested in Texas, but Marzouk and his wife are living in Syria and remain free. Marzouk is considered a top leader of Hamas. FBI agent Robert Wright had been investigating Marzouk and the brothers since the late 1990s. Wright is set to appear on ABC News on December 19, 2002, to complain that the FBI had failed to prosecute Marzouk for years. As the New York Post notes, “That got results: A day before the show aired, Attorney General Ashcroft announced he would indict Marzouk.” [BBC, 12/18/2002; Associated Press, 12/18/2002; Washington Post, 12/19/2002; New York Post, 7/14/2004] FBI agent John Vincent, who worked closely with Wright, comments, “From within the FBI, [Wright] and I tried to get the FBI to use existing criminal laws to attack the infrastructure of terrorist organizations within the United States, but to no avail. It took an appearance [on television] by [Wright] and I to propel them into making arrests that they could have made as early as 1993.” [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003] ABC News similarly notes, “Marzouk was in US custody in 1997 and under criminal investigation then for much the same crimes cited today.” [ABC News, 12/18/2002] Ghassan Elashi was the vice president of InfoCom Corporation, which was raided on September 5, 2001 (see September 5-8, 2001). He was also chairman of Holy Land Foundation, which was shut down in December 2001. InfoCom and Holy Land were based in the same Texas office park and shared many of the same employees. [Guardian, 9/10/2001; CBS News, 12/18/2002; Associated Press, 12/23/2002] Holy Land raised $13 million in 2000 and claimed to be the largest Muslim charity in the US. The government charges that Hamas members met with Ghassan Elsashi and other Holy Land officials in 1993 to discuss raising money for the families of suicide bombers (see October 1993). Wright had begun an investigation into Holy Land that same year, but he faced obstacles from higher-ups and eventually his investigation was shut down. [CBS News, 12/18/2002; New York Times, 7/28/2004] In 2004, the five Elashi brothers will be convicted of selling computer equipment overseas in violation of anti-terrorism laws. In 2005, three of the brothers, Ghassan, Basman, and Bayan Elashi, will be found guilty of supporting Hamas by giving money to Mazouk through 2001. [BBC, 7/8/2004; Associated Press, 4/13/2005] In July 2004, Ghassan Elashi will be charged again, along with four other former Holy Land officials. Two other Holy Land officials will also charged but not arrested, since they had recently left the country. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) will state: “I wonder why this prosecution has taken so long. I think until recently we have not put the resources needed into tracking groups that finance terrorism, and the fact that they didn’t get 24-hour surveillance on these two who escaped is galling and perplexing.” [New York Times, 7/28/2004] In 2007, this court case will result in a mistrial, and be cast as a major setback for the Justice Department (see October 19, 2007).

Entity Tags: Charles Schumer, Bayan Elashi, Basman Elashi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ihsan Elashi, Mousa Abu Marzouk, John Ashcroft, Hazim Elashi, Ghassan Elashi, Nadia Elashi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abdelhaleem Ashqar.Abdelhaleem Ashqar. [Source: Paul J. Richards / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]NBS News and ABC News report that Mohammad Salah is living openly in Chicago. The US government had declared Salah a “designated global terrorist,” in 1995 and his name has remained on the list ever since (see February 1995). Salah was convicted in Israel for being a member of Hamas and served five years in prison. Suspected Hamas fundraiser Jamil Sarsour is running a grocery store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. US officials say Sarsour helped finance a string of suicide bus bombings in Israel, including one that killed two Americans. He also spent several years in an Israeli prison in the 1990s. Furthermore, suspected Hamas fundraiser Abdelhaleem Ashqar is working as a professor at Howard University in Washington. NBC additionally reports there are “about two dozen [other] alleged Hamas operatives in the United States now under investigation by the FBI.” FBI agent Robert Wright began investigating these men and others in the early 1990s. For instance, Ashqar organized a secret Hamas fundraising meeting in Philadelphia in the early 1990s that was wiretapped by the FBI (see October 1993). Wright believes Sarsour has been a pivotal figure in sending funds from the US to Hamas overseas since the early 1990s (see 1989-January 1993). Wright claims that the FBI could have moved against Hamas in the US years before 9/11. He says, “The Hamas criminal enterprise has been flourishing since then. These guys are still operating strong today because we’re doing absolutely nothing about it. The FBI has turned a blind eye to what they are doing.” Salah, who had been employed as a college professor in Chicago since February 2002, is fired from his job as a result of these stories. [MSNBC, 6/2/2003; ABC News, 6/5/2003; ABC News, 6/12/2003] But the men are not arrested in the wake of the media reports. Salah and Ashqar will finally be indicted in August 2004 (see August 20, 2004).

Entity Tags: Mohammad Salah, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Abdelhaleem Ashqar, Jamil Sarsour

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

August 20, 2004: Salah Finally Arrested

Mohammad Salah, Mousa Abu Marzouk, and Abdelhaleem Ashqar are indicted on racketeering conspiracy charges. Salah and Ashqar are arrested. Marzouk, considered a high-ranking Hamas leader, is out of reach in Syria. Marzouk had been charged in 2002 on related matters (see December 18, 2002-April 2005). Ashqar was already under house arrest on related charges of contempt and obstruction of justice. The three are accused of using US bank accounts to launder millions of dollars to support Hamas. The indictment alleges the laundered money was used to pay for murders, kidnappings, assaults, and passport fraud. Many of the charges date to the early 1990s (see 1989-January 1993) and had been the subject of legal cases in 1998 and 2000 (see June 9, 1998; May 12, 2000-December 9, 2004). [New York Times, 8/21/2004; Associated Press, 8/24/2004] Salah and Ashqar had been living openly in the US for several years. The US had declared Salah a “designated global terrorist” in 1995 and he returned to Chicago in 1997 (see February 1995). The media reported on this in 2003 but they still were not arrested (see June 2-5, 2003). In 1993, Ashqar took part in a secret Hamas meeting in Philadelphia that was wiretapped by the FBI (see October 1993). [ABC News, 6/12/2003; New York Times, 8/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Mohammad Salah, Abdelhaleem Ashqar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Hamas, Mousa Abu Marzouk

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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