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Context of '1998: By Some Accounts, Al-Qaeda Begins Planning for 9/11'

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Tayseer Allouni.Tayseer Allouni. [Source: Public domain / Antonio Casas]Al Jazeera reporter Tayseer Allouni makes several trips to Turkey and Afghanistan, taking money with him and giving it to people who are later said to be militants. Allouni, some of whose telephone conversations are recorded by Spanish authorities from the mid-1990s (see 1995 and After), makes numerous trips to Turkey and Afghanistan, carrying no more than $4,000 each time. Allouni’s associates include Mamoun Darkazanli and Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who are linked to 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Ziad Jarrah (see November 1, 1998-February 2001 and October 9, 1999), as well as Spain-based al-Qaeda operative Barakat Yarkas, who also is in contact with Darkazanli and Zammar (see August 1998-September 11, 2001). [Miles, 2005, pp. 306-313] In 2000, Allouni is monitored by the Spanish government as he makes several trips to Afghanistan. His lawyer will later concede that he was given $35,000 by Yarkas, and Allouni will acknowledge that he did carry thousands of dollars from Yarkas to Afghanistan, Turkey, and Chechnya. [Chicago Tribune, 10/19/2003] However, Allouni will later say he is not a member of al-Qaeda and was only taking the money to friends and other Syrian exiles. He will later interview Osama bin Laden (see October 20, 2001) and be sentenced to jail for his alleged al-Qaeda membership (see September 26, 2005). [Miles, 2005, pp. 306-313]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Barakat Yarkas, Mamoun Darkazanli, Al Jazeera, Tayseer Allouni, Spain

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

According to closed-session testimony by CIA, FBI and NSA heads, al-Qaeda begins planning the 9/11 attacks this year. [USA Today, 6/18/2002] In a June 2002 interview, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed also asserts that planning for the attacks begin at this time. [Associated Press, 9/8/2002] However, it appears the targeting of the WTC and pilot training began even earlier. An al-Qaeda operative in Spain will later be found with videos filmed in 1997 of major US structures (including “innumerable takes from all distances and angles” of the WTC). There are numerous connections between Spain and the 9/11 hijackers, including an important meeting there in July 2001, however, the person who filmed the 1997 video will be acquitted of making it for al-Qaeda in 2005 (see September 26, 2005). [Associated Press, 7/17/2002] Hijacker Waleed Alshehri was living in Florida since 1995, started training for his commercial pilot training degree in 1996, and obtained his license in 1997 (though it is not certain if this refers to the same person). [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/16/2001; Associated Press, 7/17/2002]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Waleed Alshehri, World Trade Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Some al-Qaeda operatives hold a meeting in northern Spain to finalize plans for the 9/11 attacks. Those allegedly present are listed below. The first two operatives listed are definitely present; it is less certain that the others are there:
bullet Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta. [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/30/2001]
bullet Ramzi bin al-Shibh, an associate of Atta from Hamburg, arrives in Spain on July 9, and stays until July 16. Spanish authorities are notified of his arrival in the country by German intelligence (see (Around July 9, 2001)). [New York Times, 5/1/2002]
bullet Some reports say that 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi attends, although if he does, he may use a false identity, as US immigration has no records of his departure or return. [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/30/2001; US Department of Justice, 5/20/2002]
bullet The Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia will later report that 9/11 hijackers Waleed and Wail Alshehri meet Atta on July 16. [Associated Press, 9/27/2001] However, there will be no mention of them attending the meeting in some other accounts. For example, their attendance will not be mentioned in the relevant section of the 9/11 Commission Report. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 243-5]
bullet Amer el-Azizi. [Wall Street Journal, 4/7/2004; Associated Press, 1/23/2005] El-Azizi, who seems to have made preparations for the meeting, is under surveillance at this time, as Spanish authorities are listening in on his phone calls. [Wall Street Journal, 3/19/2004] Calls possibly related to the meeting’s organization were overheard (see Before July 8, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2004; Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2004] Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon will later indict el-Azizi for helping plan 9/11 and say that he assisted the plotters by arranging accommodation for them and acting as a courier. However, US officials will be less certain of his involvement. [Associated Press, 1/23/2005] His arrest shortly after 9/11 will be frustrated by Spanish intelligence (see October 2001 and Shortly After November 21, 2001) and he will go on to be involved in the 2004 Madrid bombings (see Before March 11, 2004 and 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004).
bullet Barakat Yarkas, head of an al-Qaeda-linked cell in Spain. [New York Times, 11/20/2001; Los Angeles Times, 1/14/2003]
bullet Mohammed Belfatmi. Belfatmi is an associate of Yarkas, and lives near the hotels where Atta and bin al-Shibh stay. He will flee Europe just before 9/11 with Said Bahaji, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg (see September 3-5, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 1/14/2003; BBC Worldwide Monitoring, 12/2/2004]
bullet Mamoun Darkazanli and Mohammed Haydar Zammar, associates of Atta’s from Germany.
bullet Al Jazeera reporter Tayseer Allouni.
bullet Said Bahaji, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg. According to Spanish investigators, Bahaji is with Atta the entire time, and they both stay at the Monica Hotel. [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 137]
bullet 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). In 2002, Al Jazeera journalist Yosri Fouda will allegedly interview bin al-Shibh and KSM together before either of them are arrested (see April, June, or August 2002). Neither bin al-Shibh nor KSM will discuss any details of the meeting with Fouda, including who attended. KSM will neither confirm nor deny he was there. However, in a 2003 book, Fouda will claim that, according to Spanish investigators, the initial attendees are Atta, bin al-Shibh, Bahaji, and a fourth man who might be KSM. They are later joined by Alshehhi and two unnamed others. [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 137]
However, there is a parallel meeting in Granada, in the south of Spain, at this time, and Yarkas, Darkazanli, Zammar, and Allouni may only be at that meeting, and may not meet Atta and bin al-Shibh in person (see July 6, 2001 and Shortly After). [New York Times, 11/20/2001; Los Angeles Times, 1/14/2003] After being captured, bin al-Shibh will deny meeting anyone other than Atta while in Spain. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 243-5] However, questions will be raised about the quality of information obtained from detainees due to the methods—including torture—used to extract it (see June 16, 2004). The movements of Atta and his associates in Spain are apparently mirrored by those of FBI agents John O’Neill and Mark Rossini (see July 5-16, 2001).

Entity Tags: Mamoun Darkazanli, Wail Alshehri, Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mohamed Atta, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Amer el-Azizi, Yosri Fouda, Mohammed Belfatmi, Tayseer Allouni, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Said Bahaji, Barakat Yarkas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet.Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet. [Source: Spanish Interior Ministry]Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, later considered one of about three masterminds of the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), is already being monitored by Spanish intelligence. On this day, he is photographed with Barakat Yarkas, leader of al-Qaeda’s main cell in Spain. Yarkas will be arrested for an alleged role in the 9/11 attacks less than a month later (see November 13, 2001). [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/16/2005] Fakhet had been under surveillance since 2000. [Irujo, 2005, pp. 182-186] He will allegedly blow himself up not long after the bombings (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). There are allegations that he was an informant at least by 2003 (see Shortly After October 2003). Also seen in the pictures are Yusuf Galan, another member of Yarkas’s cell who will be arrested with Yarkas and later convicted (see September 26, 2005), and Mouhannad Almallah, who has been under surveillance since at least 1998. Almallah will later be sentenced to 12 years in prison for a role in the Madrid bombings (see October 31, 2007). [El Mundo (Madrid), 10/27/2004]

Entity Tags: Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, Barakat Yarkas, Mouhannad Almallah, Yusuf Galan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Baltasar Garzon.Baltasar Garzon. [Source: Associated Press]Spanish intelligence has been watching an al-Qaeda cell in Madrid for years, and has been aware since 1995 that cell members are committing a variety of crimes in Spain (see 1995 and After and Late 1995 and After), but none of them have ever been arrested. Finally, after investigators find links between the cell and the 9/11 hijacker cell in Hamburg (see Shortly After September 11, 2001), the decision is made to shut the cell down. On November 13, 2001 Spanish police arrest cell leader Barakat Yarkas, a.k.a., Abu Dahdah, and ten other alleged members of his cell, including Yusuf Galan and Mohamed Needl Acaid. Spanish police, led by judge Baltasar Garzon, appear confident that they smashed the al-Qaeda presence in Spain. However, a number of suspects are left at large who will go on to take part in the 2004 Madrid bombings (see November 13, 2001). [New York Times, 11/14/2001; New York Times, 10/26/2004] Yarkas, Galan, Acaid, and others will be convicted for various crimes in 2005 (see September 26, 2005).

Entity Tags: Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, Yusuf Galan, Baltasar Garzon, Barakat Yarkas, Mohamed Needl Acaid

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Spanish investigators and prosecutors attempting to jail people they believe are important al-Qaeda operatives seek US assistance, but the US fails to provide them with full co-operation. Spanish authorities started to build a case against a Spain-based al-Qaeda cell headed by Barakat Yarkas in the 1990s and some of the suspects were under surveillance as they allegedly assisted the 9/11 plot (see August 1998-September 11, 2001). The US has some information about them, but does not release what the Spanish need because the US apparently does not want to fight terrorism through law enforcement, but through more direct methods. A Spanish official says, “From the US point of view, everything is an intelligence affair, not a judicial matter… That is what is undermining the whole process.” In 2004, the Spanish official complains: “We could clearly prove the Spanish role in 9/11 if we had real cooperation. There are literally two or three elements missing to close the case, but as it is now, all of the suspects will go free.” One key dispute centers on US unwillingness to share evidence linking Spain-based al-Qaeda operative Amer el-Azizi to the 9/11 plot and Spanish officials spend six months persuading the US before getting a copy of a “specific element that provides a concrete link” between el-Azizi and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see (November 2001)). In addition, the US fails to provide information identifying Saudi Arabian investors in Spanish construction companies owned by a Syrian businessman, Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi, another suspected militant who is thought to have channeled money to extremists through his group of companies, as well as suspicious Islamic charities. [Wall Street Journal, 5/4/2004] This lack of co-operation hinders the prosecutions of the operatives and means they receive only relatively light sentences. For example, Yarkas is initially found guilty of both terrorism in Spain and assisting the 9/11 plot, but his 9/11 conviction is overturned on appeal (see September 26, 2005).

Entity Tags: Barakat Yarkas, Amer el-Azizi, Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

German investigators believe they know of nine people who are still living and who played roles in assisting the 9/11 plot, the Chicago Tribune reports. An unnamed senior German intelligence official says he believes these nine cover everyone linked to the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell who helped plan, finance, or carry out the plot. However, he says “there may be people still in Hamburg who had a certain knowledge” of the plot. The nine are:
bullet Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, a Yemeni. He is considered the head of the 9/11 plot in Germany while the hijackers were living in the US. He was captured in Pakistan in 2002 and put in the secret CIA prison system (see September 11, 2002).
bullet Mounir El Motassadeq, a Moroccan. He knew the others in the Hamburg cell and trained in Afghanistan (see May 22 to August 2000). He has been arrested and charged with a role in the 9/11 plot. He will later be convicted (see January 8, 2007).
bullet Abdelghani Mzoudi, a Moroccan. Mzoudi lived with Mohamed Atta and others in the Hamburg cell, and he is alleged to have attended a training camp in Afghanistan in 2000 (see Summer 2000). He has been arrested in Germany and charged with a role in the 9/11 attacks. He will later be acquitted after the US fails to cooperate with German prosecutors (see February 5, 2004-June 8, 2005).
bullet Barakat Yarkas, a Spaniard. He is alleged to be the leader of al-Qaeda in Spain. Germans believe he helped arrange a meeting between Atta and bin al-Shibh in Spain two months before 9/11 (see July 8-19, 2001). He is imprisoned in Spain on various terrorism charges. He will later be convicted to 12 years in prison, but not for any role in 9/11 (see September 26, 2005).
bullet Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a Moroccan. He was investigated for al-Qaeda ties for years prior to 9/11. He was captured in Morocco after 9/11 and renditioned to a prison in Syria (see December 2001).
bullet Said Bahaji, a German. He is said to be a computer expert who taught Atta and others how to use computers to communicate. He fled Germany just before 9/11 (see September 3-5, 2001). There is a warrant for his arrest (see September 21, 2001), but he remains free.
bullet Zakariya Essabar, a Moroccan. He lived with Atta, Bahaji, and others. He trained in Afghanistan and attempted to get a US visa (see January-October 2000). He fled Germany just before 9/11 (see Late August 2001). There is a warrant for his arrest (see October 19, 2001), but he remains free overseas.
bullet Mamoun Darkazanli, a Syrian. He had been investigated for al-Qaeda ties for years before 9/11 (see 1993), and he knew Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and other members of the Hamburg cell (see October 9, 1999). He remains free in Germany (see November 11, 2010).
bullet Abdul-Matin Tatari, a Syrian. He runs a textile company called Tatex Trading that investigators suspect helped get money and visas for al-Qaeda operatives (see September 10, 2002-June 2003). He was questioned on September 10, 2002, but he remains free in Germany. [Chicago Tribune, 10/22/2002]
More than Just Nine - But a few months later, the Chicago Tribune will report that investigators believe there are many more members of the Hamburg cell than was previously reported (see February 25, 2003). For instance, one likely participant who will only become publicly known many years later is Naamen Meziche. He was friends with Atta and others in the Hamburg cell, and he will be killed by a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2010 (see October 5, 2010).

Entity Tags: Marwan Alshehhi, Barakat Yarkas, Abdul-Matin Tatari, Abdelghani Mzoudi, Mamoun Darkazanli, Zakariya Essabar, Said Bahaji, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Naamen Meziche, Mounir El Motassadeq, German intelligence community, Mohamed Atta, Mohammed Haydar Zammar

In April 2003, Spanish police alert judge Baltasar Garzon to the existence of an Islamist militant cell in Madrid. Garzon has generally led al-Qaeda related investigations in Spain. An intelligence report to Garzon details a cell led by Mustapha Maymouni. Its assistant leaders are said to be Driss Chebli, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, and the brothers Hassan and Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam. The cell is linked to the radical Takfir Wal Hijra movement and the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (MICG). The MICG is said to be led by Amer el-Azizi, who escaped arrest in Spain (see Shortly After November 21, 2001), and an international arrest warrant has been issued for him. The cell has links to el-Azizi as well. In fact, the wife of one of the cell members recently told the authorities that Fakhet and others are staying in contact with el-Azizi by e-mail (see January 4, 2003), a lead that apparently is not pursued. In May 2003, suicide bombings in Casablanca, Morocco, kill 45, and the MICG is quickly identified as the group behind the attacks. Maymouni had gone to Morocco just before the bombings and is arrested there later in May (see Late May-June 19, 2003). On June 25, 2003, Chebli is arrested in Spain for his links to the Casablanca bombings. He will later be accused of a minor role in the 9/11 plot and sentenced to six years in prison (see September 26, 2005). However, the others are not arrested at this time. The police who are monitoring Fakhet will later say they do not understand why Fakhet at least was not arrested after the Casablanca bombings due to his link to Maymouni, who is his brother-in-law. Authorities will claim he was not arrested because there was no evidence he was involved in any plot. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/3/2007] However, this cell is being monitored by a variety of means, including the use of an informant named Abdelkader Farssaoui, a.k.a. Cartagena (see October 2002-June 2003). Even before the Casablanca bombings, Farssaoui tells his handlers that this cell is discussing launching attacks in Morocco and Spain. [El Mundo (Madrid), 10/18/2004] Furthermore, a 2002 report said that Fakhet was preparing for “violent action” (see 2002). Farssaoui will later claim that he came across evidence that Fakhet was also an informant (see Shortly After October 2003). Fakhet will take over leadership of the group after Maymouni’s arrest and will lead most of them in carrying out the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004).

Entity Tags: Takfir Wal Hijra, Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Mustapha Maymouni, Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam, Driss Chebli, Abdelkader Farssaoui, Amer el-Azizi, Baltasar Garzon, Hassan ben Sellam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A Spanish court sentences a number of people to prison for connections to al-Qaeda. The main defendant, Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, is convicted of leading an al-Qaeda cell in Madrid and conspiring to commit the 9/11 attacks by hosting a meeting in Spain in July 2001 attended by Mohamed Atta, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and others (see July 8-19, 2001). He is sentenced to 27 years in prison. [New York Times, 9/27/2005] However, in 2006, Spain’s supreme court will overturn his 9/11 conspiracy conviction, after prosecutors reverse themselves and ask that the conviction be dismissed. One of the reasons for the dismissal is that the US, which possesses evidence supporting the convictions, is reluctant to provide it (see Mid-2002-June 1, 2006). This will leave Zacarias Moussaoui the only person in the world jailed for a role in the 9/11 attacks. Yarkas will still have to serve a 12-year sentence for leading an al-Qaeda cell. [London Times, 6/1/2006] Seventeen men besides Yarkas, mostly Syrians, are also found guilty and are given sentences of six to eleven years. One of these is Tayseer Allouni, a correspondent for the Al Jazeera satellite network. He is convicted of giving $4,500 to a family of Syrian exiles in Afghanistan. The prosecutor alleged the family were al-Qaeda operatives, while Allouni argued he gave the money for humanitarian reasons. Two others, a Moroccan named Driss Chebli and a Syrian named Ghasoub al-Abrash Ghalyoun, were acquitted of being involved in the 9/11 plot, but Chebli was convicted of collaborating with a terrorist group. Ghalyoun was accused of videotaping the World Trade Center and other American landmarks in 1997 for the 9/11 plotters, but he claimed he was just a tourist (see 1998). [New York Times, 9/27/2005; Washington Post, 9/27/2005; Financial Times, 9/27/2005]

Entity Tags: Driss Chebli, Ghasoub al-Abrash Ghalyoun, Barakat Yarkas, Tayseer Allouni

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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