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Context of '1998: US Intelligence Starts Investigating Al-Qaeda-Linked Charity in US, After Knowing of Its Militant Ties for Years'

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Abu Abdel Aziz Barbaros in Bosnia in September 1992. His beard is dyed with henna.Abu Abdel Aziz Barbaros in Bosnia in September 1992. His beard is dyed with henna. [Source: Pascal le Segretain / Corbis]Jamal al-Fadl, an al-Qaeda financial agent, is sent from bin Laden’s headquarters in Sudan to Zagreb, Croatia, to gather information about the Bosnian war and the prospects of buying businesses in Croatia for al-Qaeda. In Croatia, he meets with Enaam Arnaout (who will soon become the head of the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) in the US), and al-Qaeda operatives Abu Abdel Aziz Barbaros (a.k.a. Abdel Rahman al Dosari), and Abu Zubair al Madani, one of bin Laden’s cousins (he will later be killed fighting in Bosnia). Barbaros tells al-Fadl that al-Qaeda is seeking to create training camps in Bosnia, develop relationships with Bosnian charities, and establish businesses to help finance al-Qaeda activities. He says that BIF is providing money for al-Qaeda to buy weapons to use in Bosnia and that they have already obtained some weapons from Germany with the help of BIF and Mohammed Loay Bayazid (who also works for BIF in the US). According to a later Justice Department indictment, Barbaros also says that “al-Qaeda’s goal in Bosnia [is] to establish a base for operations in Europe against al-Qaeda’s true enemy, the United States.” Around this time, BIF begins providing food, clothing, money and communications equipment to fighters in Bosnia, including the elite Black Swans unit. [USA v. Enaam M. Arnaout, 10/6/2003, pp. 24-25 pdf file; Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 16-17] In 1996, al-Fadl will defect from al-Qaeda and tell all he knows to US investigators (see June 1996-April 1997).

Entity Tags: Black Swans, Abu Abdel Aziz Barbaros, Abu Zubair al Madani, Benevolence International Foundation, Enaam Arnaout, Jamal al-Fadl, Al-Qaeda, Mohammed Loay Bayazid

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Guardian reports in May 1993 that the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) (then known as Lajnat al-Birr al-Islamiyya) has been closed in Saudi Arabia and “its head, Adel Batterjee, a known political activist, has been detained by the police.” The Guardian hints that the shut down is related to pressure from the Egyptian government. This is possibly the only instance of the Saudis shutting down a charity before 9/11. [Guardian, 5/5/1993] Al-Qaeda will determine later in the year that the shut down was because the Saudis had found a link between BIF and al-Qaeda, but an operative will report that the problem has been fixed. [USA v. Enaam M. Arnaout, 10/6/2003 pdf file] Batterjee is also mentioned in a 1992 New York Times article as the chairman of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), flying wounded Saudis fighting in the Bosnian war and giving them free medical treatment. [New York Times, 12/5/1992] BIF stops operating in Saudi Arabia but expands its operations in the US (see 1992-1993). [USA v. Enaam M. Arnaout, 10/6/2003 pdf file] The FBI will not begin to seriously investigate it until 1998 (see 1998). US agents will raid WAMY offices in 2004 for suspected ties to radical militants (see June 1, 2004).

Entity Tags: Adel Abdul Jalil Batterjee, Al-Qaeda, World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Benevolence International Foundation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Kifah Wael Jayyousi.Kifah Wael Jayyousi. [Source: Robert A. Reeder]A Florida cell of Islamic radicals carries out fundraising, training, and recruitment to support the global jihad movement. The group is monitored by the FBI from the early 1990s, but no action is taken against it until after 9/11. The cell’s most prominent members are Adham Amin Hassoun, Mohammed Hesham Youssef, Kifah Wael Jayyousi, Kassem Daher, and Jose Padilla. Adnan Shukrijumah may also be involved (see (Spring 2001)).
bullet Both Hassoun and Jayyousi are associates of “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdul-Rahman and the FBI monitors telephone conversations between them and Abdul-Rahman from January 1993 to 1995, at least. After Abdul-Rahman is taken into police custody in July 1993, according to an FBI agent, Jayyousi calls Abdul-Rahman in jail to “update the sheikh with jihad news, many times reading accounts and statements issued directly by terrorist organizations.” [St. Petersburg Times, 11/23/2003; Lance, 2006, pp. 126-8; Associated Press, 4/8/2006; International Herald Tribune, 1/4/2007]
bullet Funds are provided through bank accounts of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Group), the Canadian Islamic Association, and Benevolence International Foundation (BIF), for which Hassoun files incorporation papers in Florida. The cell pays out thousands of dollars in checks, some of which are marked “Chechnya”, “Kosovo,” or “for tourism”.
bullet They try to talk in code, but the code is unsophisticated; for example “tourism” apparently means “terrorism”. In addition, they are not very careful and in one conversation overheard by the FBI, which records tens of thousands of their conversations from the early 1990s, one plotter asks another if he has enough “soccer equipment” to “launch an attack on the enemy.” In another, the conspirators discuss a $3,500 purchase of “zucchini” in Lebanon.
bullet Cell members are involved in jihad, through funding or direct participation, in Egypt, Somalia, Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Libya, Kosovo, the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, and Azerbaijan.
bullet They are involved with both bin Laden and Chechen leader Ibn Khattab; for example, in one conversation Youssef tells Hassoun that he would be traveling “there at Osama’s and… Khattab’s company.” [Indictment. United States v. Jose Padilla, 11/17/2005 pdf file]
bullet They publish the Islam Report, a radical magazine about jihad. [Associated Press, 4/8/2006]
It is unclear why the FBI monitors the cell for almost a decade before doing anything. However, some of their activities are focused on Bosnia, where the US is turning a blind eye, or even actively assisting Islamic militants fighting on the Bosnian side (see 1992-1995 and April 27, 1994). The cell is broken up in the months after 9/11, and Hassoun, Jayyousi, and Padilla are sent for trial, which begins in 2007. [International Herald Tribune, 1/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Mohamed Hesham Youssef, Adnan Shukrijumah, Adham Amin Hassoun, Kifah Wael Jayyousi, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Kassem Daher, Jose Padilla, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Canadian Islamic Association, Benevolence International Foundation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mohammed Loay Bayazid.Mohammed Loay Bayazid. [Source: Intelwire.com]According to reliable al-Qaeda defector Jamal al-Fadl (see June 1996-April 1997), in late 1993 he meets with a former high-ranking Sudanese government official to discuss buying enriched uranium. Is taken to an anonymous address in Khartoum, Sudan, and shown a two- to three-foot long metal cylinder with South African markings. Intermediaries demand $1.5 million to buy the cylinder which is supposed to contain uranium. Mohammed Loay Bayazid, a founding member of al-Qaeda and also president of the US-based Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) at the time, is brought in to examine the deal. Al-Fadl is then instructed to write a document for al-Qaeda leader Mamdouh Mahmud Salim detailing the offer. Salim reviews the document and approves the purchase. Al-Fadl never sees the purchase go through, but he is given $10,000 for his role and is told the uranium will be shipped to Cyprus to be tested. He later learns from second-hand sources that the deal went through and the uranium was good. If so, there has been no sign of al-Qaeda attempting to use the uranium ever since. US intelligence does not know about the deal at the time, but learns of it when al-Fadl defects in 1996 (see June 1996-April 1997). The incident will be referred to in an indictment against Salim in 1998. [Boston Globe, 9/16/2001; New York Daily News, 10/1/2001; Lance, 2006, pp. 262-263]

Entity Tags: Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, Al-Qaeda, Jamal al-Fadl, Mohammed Loay Bayazid

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Benevolence International Foundation logo.Benevolence International Foundation logo. [Source: Benevolence International Foundation]One of the founders of al-Qaeda is arrested in the US and then let go. Mohammed Loay Bayazid is arrested in Morgan Hills, California, together with Mohammed Jamal Khalifa (see December 16, 1994-May 1995), Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law and a known terrorism financier, and Salem bin Laden, one of Osama’s brothers (see December 16, 1994). Bayazid was born in Syria but moved to the US with his parents as a teenager and became a US citizen. In the mid-1980s he went to fight in Afghanistan and befriended bin Laden. He was one of the original members of al-Qaeda and took the notes during the group’s founding meeting in 1988 (see August 11-20, 1988). Bayazid moved with bin Laden to Sudan in the early 1990s and has been called bin Laden’s main business adviser there. In 1993, it is believed he was involved in an al-Qaeda effort to purchase nuclear material. By 1994, Bayazid moved back to the US and became the president of the Chicago-based Benevolence International Foundation (BIF), a charity suspected of links to al-Qaeda. [Kansas City Star, 9/9/2006] The driver’s license he shows for identification when arrests gives the Chicago office of BIF as his residence. [USA v. Benevolence International Foundation and Enaam M. Arnaout, 4/29/2002, pp. 16-17 pdf file] But surprisingly given Bayazid’s history, he is released not long after his arrest in California. Lorenzo Vidino, an expert on Islamic militants, will later investigate Bayazid but is never able to determine when he was released, why, or where he went after that. [Kansas City Star, 9/9/2006] There is evidence he stays in the US until April 1998, and then moves to Turkey. Bayazid will eventually reappear in Susan, where he will be interviewed by the FBI shortly after 9/11 (see November 2001). He apparently still operates several businesses there. He denies ever having any connection to terrorism. [Chicago Sun-Times, 5/1/2002; Kansas City Star, 9/9/2006]

Entity Tags: Lorenzo Vidino, Mohammed Loay Bayazid, Benevolence International Foundation, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On July 4, 1995, six Western tourists are kidnapped in Kashmir, India. A Norwegian is soon found beheaded while an American manages to escape. The remaining hostages, two British, one German, and one American, are never found and are apparently killed in December 1995. The kidnapping is executed by an alias of the Pakistani militant group later known as Harkat ul-Mujahedeen. The kidnappers demand the release of a number of jailed Islamists, including Saeed Sheikh and Maulana Masood Azhar, both imprisoned in India (see November 1994-December 1999). Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna claims the leaders of the operation were trained by al-Qaeda. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 284-285] In January 1996, a secret CIA report will say that, according to a foreign intelligence agency, Enaam Arnaout, the US director of the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF), was in Pakistan and matches the description of a man involved in the kidnapping who then left Pakistan in early October for Bosnia via the US. [Central Intelligence Agency, 1/1996] Yet despite this information, the US will take no action against Arnaout or BIF. The US will not even designate Harkat ul-Mujahedeen until over two years after the kidnapping. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 284-285] An airplane hijacking in 1999 will free Azhar and Sheikh (see December 24-31, 1999).

Entity Tags: Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, Enaam Arnaout, Al-Qaeda, Benevolence International Foundation, Central Intelligence Agency, Maulana Masood Azhar, Saeed Sheikh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Jamal al-Fadl testifying in a courtroom. Because his identity has been kept secret, his face has been blocked out.Jamal al-Fadl testifying in a courtroom. Because his identity has been kept secret, his face has been blocked out. [Source: CNN]Jamal al-Fadl, an al-Qaeda operative from al-Qaeda’s first meeting in the late 1980s until 1995, tells the US everything he knows about al-Qaeda. Before al-Fadl’s debriefings, US intelligence had amassed thick files on bin Laden and his associates and contacts. However, they had had no idea how the many pieces fit together. But an official says. “After al-Fadl, everything fell into place.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 154-65] The New Yorker will later call al-Fadl “arguably the United States’ most valuable informant on al-Qaeda.” FBI agent Dan Coleman will later say on al-Fadl, “He’s been very, very important to us. When it comes to understanding al-Qaeda, he’s the Rosetta Stone.” FBI agent Mike Anticev will similarly say, “He spoke to us in great detail, and everything that he told us panned out.” CIA officials debrief al-Fadl for a month and a half. Then the CIA hands him, and transcripts of all their interviews with him, over to the FBI. [New Yorker, 9/11/2006] Coleman and US prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald interrogate al-Fadl at a US military base in Germany for months. [Lance, 2006, pp. 261] Roughly between November 1996 and April 1997, al-Fadl tells the FBI about:
bullet The historical background of al-Qaeda. Al-Fadl was one of al-Qaeda’s founding members (see August 11-20, 1988).
bullet The structure of al-Qaeda and its leadership composition.
bullet Al-Qaeda’s objectives and direction.
bullet Its financial infrastructure and networks. Al-Fadl has extensive knowledge of this because he worked as an al-Qaeda financial officer (see December 1996-January 1997).
bullet Its connections and collaboration with other terrorist groups and supporters.
bullet Its activities against US soldiers in Somalia (see October 3-4, 1993).
bullet Its activities in Bosnia. Al-Fadl was sent there on several missions (see Autumn 1992 and Autumn 1992).
bullet The Al-Kifah Refugee Center, al-Qaeda’s most important charity front in the US. Al-Fadl worked there in the 1980s (see 1986-1993).
bullet Bin Laden’s efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Al-Fadl was personally involved in an effort to buy uranium for al-Qaeda (see Late 1993). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 479]
bullet Bin Laden’s plans to attack either inside the US or US embassies (see Late 1996).
Al-Fadl continues to help US intelligence until current day. For instance, in 2000, he will help US officials capture his brother-in-law, Mohammed Suliman al-Nalfi, who is said to be close to Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Nalfi will eventually be sentenced to ten years in prison in the US. Al-Fadl will have no knowledge of the 9/11 plot, but he will continue to identify captured al-Qaeda operatives after 9/11. [New Yorker, 9/11/2006] Interestingly, al-Fadl, a Sudanese citizen, will later claim that he worked with the Sudanese intelligence agency with the direct approval of bin Laden. [Day 2. United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., 2/6/2001]

Entity Tags: Jamal al-Fadl, Mike Anticev, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Dan Coleman, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Senior al-Qaeda operatives establish a front company called Maram in Istanbul, Turkey, as a travel agency and import-export business. Investigators will later say they suspect that the company may be involved in efforts to obtain material for nuclear weapons and that it provides money and other assistance to radicals traveling between Europe and training camps in Afghanistan. Turkish intelligence and several foreign agencies are aware that militants transit Turkey at this time and some of them are under surveillance (see 1996, 1995-2000, and Mid-1996), but it is unclear whether Maram itself is monitored. The company, which receives a donation of US$ 1.25 million from Saudi businessman Yassin al-Qadi (see January-August 1998), is established by Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, one of al-Qaeda’s founding members (see August 11-20, 1988), who is said to have a history of moving money and shopping for weapons for the organization. A few months later he transfers shares in the company to two other men. One is Wael Hamza Julaidan, a Saudi businessman also said to be a founder of al-Qaeda; the US will officially designate Julaidan a financial supporter of al-Qaeda in 2002 (see September 6, 2002). The other transferee is Mohammed Bayazid, another founder of al-Qaeda and a US citizen who was arrested in the US in 1994 and then let go (see December 16, 1994). [New York Times, 9/19/2002] For a time before November 1998, toll records for the Illinois office of the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) show telephone contact with a number in Turkey associated with Bayazid. Phone records indicate Bayazid moves to Turkey around April 1998. [USA v. Benevolence International Foundation and Enaam M. Arnaout, 4/29/2002, pp. 16-17 pdf file] US intelligence has been interested in BIF’s ties to al-Qaeda since at least 1993 (see 1993 and 1998), but apparently misses its links to Maram while the company is still open. After Salim is arrested in Germany in 1998 (see September 16, 1998), the company clears out its offices. A neighbor says, “I just came one morning and saw the office was empty. Nobody knows what happen[ed].” [New York Times, 9/19/2002]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Loay Bayazid, Wael Hamza Julaidan, Maram, Al-Qaeda, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The FBI begins an investigation into the Illinois-based Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) by chance. A Chicago FBI agent is attending a conference in Washington, DC, and learns of foreign intelligence reports that BIF executive director Enaam Arnaout was involved in providing logistical support for radical militants. It is not clear why the Chicago office near BIF’s headquarters was not already informed about BIF and Arnaout, given what US intelligence already knows by this time: [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 95 pdf file]
bullet Beginning in 1993, the FBI was continually monitoring an al-Qaeda cell in Florida that sends money to militants overseas using BIF bank accounts, and one of the cell members filed BIF’s incorporation papers (see (October 1993-November 2001)). The FBI interviewed one of the cell members, Adham Amin Hassoun, and asked him about BIF and Arnaout. BIF founder Adel Batterjee was listed on the incorporation papers (see 1993).
bullet It was reported in the Guardian and other newspapers in 1993 that BIF was shut down in Saudi Arabia, when closing a charity was a highly unusual move for that country. The Guardian says that BIF founder Batterjee, “a known political activist,” has been detained. Media reports also link him to assisting Saudi fighters in the Bosnian war (see 1993).
bullet In 1994, Mohammed Loay Bayazid, president of BIF at the time, was arrested in the US with Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, and another of bin Laden’s brothers. Khalifa was quickly linked to the Bojinka plot and many other al-Qaeda ties and plots, yet all three were let go and Bayaid continued to work at BIF until 1998. Bayazid was one of al-Qaeda’s founding members (see December 16, 1994).
bullet In early 1996, a secret CIA report suggested that Arnaout was involved in the kidnapping and murders of a small group of Western tourists in Kashmir, including Americans (see July 4, 1995). The report also links BIF to other militant charity fronts and extremists, including the commander of a training camp in Afghanistan. [Central Intelligence Agency, 1/1996]
bullet In 1996, trusted al-Qaeda defector Jamal al-Fadl revealed that bin Laden considered BIF one of its three most important charity fronts (see 1993), and the FBI was heavily involved in debriefing al-Fadl for many months (see June 1996-April 1997). Al-Fadl also met with Arnaout and other al-Qaeda leaders in Bosnia and discussed many operations, including how to use Bosnia to establish a base to fight the US (see Autumn 1992).
bullet In 1996, al-Fadl also revealed that BIF president Bayazid took part in an al-Qaeda attempt to buy enriched uranium (see Late 1993).
bullet In early 1998, Bayazid moves to Turkey and works with Maram, an al-Qaeda front company involving a number of well-known al-Qaeda figures. US intelligence learns of calls between BIF headquarters in Illinois and Bayazid in Turkey (see November 1996-September 1998).
These agents will open a full field investigation into BIF in February 1999 (see February 1999-September 10, 2001). They will later learn some useful information from the CIA, but just what is unclear. The 9/11 Commission will say that the “CIA held back some information” from these agents, supposedly “because of fears of revealing sources and methods in any potential criminal litigation…” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 96 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Loay Bayazid, Enaam Arnaout, Central Intelligence Agency, Adel Abdul Jalil Batterjee, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Adham Amin Hassoun, Benevolence International Foundation, Al-Qaeda, Jamal al-Fadl

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The FBI’s Chicago office opens a full field investigation into the Illinois based Benevolence International Foundation (BIF), after one of its agents stumbled across links between BIF and radical militants while attending a conference. The CIA and FBI already have extensive evidence linking BIF to al-Qaeda from a variety of sources but how much of that is shared with the Chicago office after they start their investigation is unclear (see 1998). Chicago FBI agents begin looking through BIF’s trash and learn much, since BIF officials throw out their phone records and detailed reports without shredding them. They also cultivate a source who gives them some useful information about BIF, but apparently no smoking guns. But they run into many difficulties:
bullet In the summer of 1999, the FBI sends a request to the Saudi government asking for information about Adel Batterjee, the founder of BIF, but they get no reply before 9/11.
bullet In April 2000, they apply for a FISA warrant so they can conduct electronic surveillance, but it is not approved until after 9/11. It has not been explained why there was such a long delay.
bullet They discover the bank account numbers of the BIF’s overseas offices and ask for help from other US intelligence agencies to trace the money, but they never hear back about this before 9/11.
bullet They submit a request to an allied European country for information about European intelligence reports linking BIF executive director Enaam Arnaout to the kidnapping and murders of Americans in Kashmir in 1995. But they never even receive an acknowledgment that the request was received (see July 4, 1995).
bullet A European intelligence agency invites the Chicago agents to a meeting to share information about BIF, but the agents are not allowed to go as their superiors say they cannot afford to send them. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 96-98 pdf file]
BIF will not be shut down until shortly after 9/11 (see December 14, 2001).

Entity Tags: Adel Abdul Jalil Batterjee, Benevolence International Foundation, Enaam Arnaout, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI Chicago field office, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline


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