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Context of 'After August 7, 1998: CIA Focuses on Yemeni Terror Group, London Connection Found to Be ‘Crucial’'

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Abu Hamza.Abu Hamza. [Source: Ian Waldie / Reuters / Corbis]London-based imam Abu Hamza al-Masri starts working with two branches of the British security services, the police’s Special Branch and MI5, the domestic counterintelligence service. The relationships continue for several years and there are at least seven meetings between Abu Hamza and MI5 between 1997 and 2000 (see October 1, 1997, November 20, 1997, and September 1998). Based on records of the meetings, authors Daniel O’Neill and Sean McGrory will describe the relationship as “respectful, polite, and often cooperative.”
Rhetoric - One theme in the meetings, which take place at Abu Hamza’s home and a mosque he runs in Finsbury Park, is that the security services tell Abu Hamza that they do not want any trouble and ask him to tone down some of his more inflammatory comments. Abu Hamza listens politely, but always replies he is committed to jihad. However, over this period Abu Hamza’s rhetoric changes subtly, and he begins attacking “Zionists,” rather than simply “Jews.” Abu Hamza will later say that he asks security officers if his sermons are inappropriate, and they reply, “No, freedom of speech, you don’t have to worry unless we see blood on the streets.”
Information - Abu Hamza provides the security services with information about the ideology of various extremist factions, as well as “tidbits” of information about others, although in one case he provides specific intelligence that leads to the detention of two terrorist suspects. He also likes to “tell tales” about one of his rival preachers, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, and his Al-Muhajiroun organization.
Favors - Sometimes Abu Hamza asks for favors from his handlers. For example, on one occasion he requests the release of some associates after promising that they are not a threat in Britain.
Beyond the Reach of British Law - Abu Hamza will tell his aides that he is “beyond the reach of British law,” and will neglect to pay the mosque’s electricity and water bills. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later comment: “Increasingly, Abu Hamza acted as if Finsbury Park had divorced itself from Britain and was operating as an independent Muslim state. He contacted extremist groups, offering his services as an ambassador for them in [Britain] and presenting the mosque as a place of guaranteed asylum.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 96-97, 143-5]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), Sean O’Neill, Daniel McGrory, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Metropolitan Police Special Branch, Special Branch (Britain)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Leading radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for Britain’s security services (see Early 1997), begins to establish a series of training camps in Britain in order to toughen up recruits he wishes to send to fight for Islam abroad. He knows that not all the training can be performed in Britain, but thinks that British teenagers may not be able to cope with the rigors of foreign camps straightaway; the British camps are simply meant as an introduction to the training regime. His first step is to establish a group to examine the laws about firing guns on private property and consider acquiring a country retreat for his militia. Initially, Abu Hamza takes advantage of venues used by companies for team bonding exercises, but he later hires an old monastery in Kent and a farm in Scotland for the groups to use. There, recruits learn to strip down AK-47 machine guns and decommissioned grenades, as well as working with mock rocket launchers. Another site he uses is the Brecon Beacons in Wales, and he hires two ex-soldiers who claim to have been in Special Forces to train his recruits. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 83-84] Abu Hamza will later attempt to start a similar camp in the US (see November 1999-Early 2000).

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Police stop a car carrying supporters of Abu Hamza al-Masri on their way back from a paramilitary training camp in Wales. The supporters include Mohsin Ghalain, Abu Hamza’s stepson, and Mohammed Kamel Mostafa, his son. Abu Hamza, an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), began setting up training camps and courses in Britain the previous year to prepare his supporters to fight for Muslim causes abroad (see (Mid-1997)). Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will point out that the police followed the men’s car for some time before it was stopped and, “The authorities clearly had this group on a watch-list.” The police search the car, making remarks indicating they expect to find firearms. However, none are found, as the weapons were given to the men’s trainers, ex-soldiers in the British army, after the end of the course. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 84] Ghalain and Mostafa will later attempt to carry out terrorist attacks in Yemen, but will be thwarted (see December 23, 1998).

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri, Mohammed Kamel Mostafa, Mohsin Ghalain

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading British imam and an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), concludes an agreement with Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, leader of the Yemen-based Islamic Army of Aden, who he had met in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. Abu Hamza sends followers for low-key militant training in Britain (see (Mid-1997) and (1998)), but this training consists of little more than survival courses and he needs a location where firearms can be used more freely. Therefore, Almihdhar agrees to provide training in Yemen, at a cost of £1,200 (about $1,800) per group of trainees. In return, Abu Hamza agrees to act as his press spokesman, and gives him a satellite phone costing £2,000 (about $3,200). Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later describe the training: “The climate was brutal, the food inedible, and most of [the British recruits] complained that they missed their computer games and creature comforts. They got to ride horses, fire off several rounds of ammunition from an automatic rifle, and were instructed how to rig explosive devices by men who had fought in Afghanistan. They were also taught what else they would need to do to kill hundreds of innocents in an attack planned for Christmas day.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 157-158, 162, 164-165] A group of Abu Hamza’s supporters who travel to Yemen for militant training with Almihdhar will later be arrested by police (see December 23, 1998) and Abu Hamza and Almihdhar will talk on the satellite phone during a kidnapping organized to engineer their release (see December 28-29, 1998).

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri, Islamic Army of Aden, Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Following al-Qaeda’s bombing of two US embassies in East Africa, the CIA notices that the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), an al-Qaeda affiliate, has praised the attack on its website. Also noting Yemeni links to the bombing itself, the CIA turns its attention to the IAA and its leader Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar. The CIA is assisted in this by the local Yemeni authorities. Officials in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a begin to compile a dossier on Almihdhar and his links to the West, including his fundraisers and supporters in Britain. They identify Finsbury Park mosque, run by British intelligence informer Abu Hamza al-Masri, as “crucial” to the IAA’s operations. Almihdhar has a co-operation agreement with Abu Hamza (see (June 1998)) that provides him with money and recruits, and an IAA emissary will allegedly visit London in September (see September 1998). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 163-164]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Islamic Army of Aden, Finsbury Park Mosque, Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

An emissary of the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), a Yemeni-based al-Qaeda affiliate, visits Finsbury Park mosque in London, according to an unnamed intelligence service. The mosque is run by Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical and informer for the British security services (see Early 1997). According to authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory, the emissary is “greeted like a hero” by Abu Hamza, addresses worshippers at the mosque, distributes leaflets, and collects money, presumably for jihad in Yemen. Abu Hamza and the IAA are co-operating closely at this time (see (June 1998)). The intelligence service, possibly the CIA or a local Yemeni service working with it, learns of this visit around the time it is made, and the visit is one reason it finds the London connection is “crucial” to the IAA (see After August 7, 1998). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 164]

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri, Finsbury Park Mosque, Islamic Army of Aden, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Supporters of Shariah, a radical organization run by leading British imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, issue a threat of attacks in Yemen. The threat, described by authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory as a “blustering communiqué,” is published in the group’s October 1998 newsletter. In language that is “juvenile and insulting,” the US military and other “unbelievers” are warned to leave Yemen or suffer the consequences. Abu Hamza, an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), has recently started working with the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA—see (June 1998)), a Yemen-based militant organization. The IAA will be near to implementing a massive plot in December involving close associates of Abu Hamza (see Before December 23, 1998 and December 23, 1998), but it is unclear if Abu Hamza is aware of this plot at the time the communiqué is published. Abu Hamza will follow up in the next month’s newsletter with more of the same, accusing a country he refers to as the “United Snakes of America” of plotting “a secret operation to target Muslim fundamentalists in the region.” He adds: “We see this as a powerful detonator for Muslims to explode in the faces of the Snakes of America. This will hopefully trigger a domino effect in the Peninsula. As observers have seen the more frequent explosions in the land of Yemen in the last four months, especially in the crude oil pipeline which is the blood for the American vampires.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 164]

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri, Islamic Army of Aden, Supporters of Shariah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A group of six young men are arrested in Yemen, where they are alleged to have been planning a series of bombings. Five of the men are British. They include Mohsin Ghalain, the stepson of Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical cleric in Britain and informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), and Shahid Butt, Abu Hamza’s “six-foot four-inch enforcer.” The men are members of the militant Supporters of Sharia organization run by Abu Hamza and are in Yemen to work with the Islamic Army of Aden, a local radical organization and al-Qaeda affiliate.
Arrest Merely a Coincidence - The Yemeni government will say that they are arrested purely by coincidence, after the police notice a group of them committing a minor traffic violation. When their vehicle is found and searched following a chase, a cache of weapons and explosives is found in it.
Skepticism about Yemeni Claim - However, author Mary Quin will later comment: “Several aspects of the story about how the Britons were apprehended did not ring true. Having spent a week on Yemeni roads myself, it seemed highly unlikely that a police officer would bother to pull over a vehicle at midnight for something as mundane as going the wrong way around a traffic island.… The fact that the car happened to be stashed with weapons and explosives seemed too much of a coincidence. I was also suspicious of the reported speed with which the police located the two hotels where the defendants were staying.”
Informant Tip? - Instead, Quin will speculate that the Yemeni authorities were tipped off by an informer, Hetam bin Farid, who will later go on to command the Islamic Army of Aden (see (December 30, 1998-October 31, 1999)). Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will also say that the timing of the arrests “suggest[s] that Yemeni intelligence services had prior warning of the bomb plot.” [Quin, 2005, pp. 103-4, 116; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 156-157, 176, 178-179]

Entity Tags: Supporters of Sharia, Islamic Army of Aden, Hetam bin Farid, Mohsin Ghalain, Shahid Butt

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A group of 20 people, including 16 western tourists, are kidnapped in southern Yemen by the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), an al-Qaeda affiliate. In return for releasing the hostages, IAA leader Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar demands the release of six IAA operatives arrested a few days earlier (see December 23, 1998). Almihdhar also makes further demands, including the release of more prisoners, an end to the US-led bombing of Iraq, and a change of government in Yemen. Knowing that it will be unable to meet all these demands and worried Almihdhar will carry out his threat to start executing the hostages, the day after the kidnapping the Yemen government sends in the army to rescue them, but four hostages die during the fighting. [Quin, 2005, pp. 31-62, 83, 126-7, 155-6, 200-1] Three of the militants are killed, and seven, including Almihdhar, are captured. However, some escape. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 168]
Motive - Hostage Mary Quin, who will write a book about the kidnapping, will later conclude that fear for the hostages’ safety is not the only motive for the attack by the army and that it is also a product of the government’s policy of attacking the IAA where possible. Yemen’s deputy foreign minister will comment: “We are not tolerating these groups. What happened in Abyan [where the hostages were held] was a reaction to a crackdown on these people.”
Link to Abu Hamza - Before and during the kidnapping, Almihdhar is in contact with the IAA’s spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Masri, in London, using a satellite phone Abu Hamza provided him with. One of the six operatives Almihdhar wants the government to release is Abu Hamza’s stepson. Almihdhar will be sentenced to death for his role, and most of the other kidnappers are also caught and punished (see October 17, 1999). The Yemen government later asks for the extradition of Abu Hamza, who has a relationship with British intelligence (see Early 1997), but the British government refuses (see January 1999). [Quin, 2005, pp. 31-62, 83, 126-7, 155-6, 200-1]
Relative of 9/11 Hijacker? - It will later be suggested that Almihdhar is a distant relative of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. [New York Times, 12/7/2001]

Entity Tags: Mary Quin, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, Islamic Army of Aden, Yemen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Yemen asks Britain to hand over militant cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is wanted in connection with crimes committed by the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA—see December 23, 1998). [Quin, 2005, pp. 107] Although Abu Hamza has not yet been formally charged with a role in the plot, Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh complains that he has been “planning and financing sabotage and bombings in Yemen.” Saleh also writes a personal letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair asking him to send the cleric to Yemen for trial. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 164, 172, 177] However, Britain says that it has not received a formal request for extradition. Author Mary Quin will later comment, “Since no extradition treaty exists between Yemen and Britain, it is unlikely that a formal request would have been made—but very likely that Yemen communicated its strong desire to lay its hands on the handless Hamza, one way or another.” Abu Hamza supports and funds jihad in Yemen and is the IAA’s spokesperson (see (June 1998)). In December 1998, one of the IAA’s demands in return for freeing kidnapped hostages was that Abu Hamza’s stepson be released from prison in Yemen (see December 28-29, 1998). [Quin, 2005, pp. 107] As a result of the row between the two countries, on January 3 Britain announces that Yemen’s application to join the Commonwealth has been rejected, because it “does not meet the entry criteria on good governance.” Yemen responds that it does not care and it is withdrawing the application anyway. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 172]

Entity Tags: Mary Quin, Ali Abdallah Saleh, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Islamic Army of Aden, Yemen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ten alleged operatives of the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) go on trial in Aden, Yemen. Six of the men were arrested in December (see December 23, 1998), whereas four are arrested on the first day of the trial (see January 27, 1999).
Defendants - The men, eight Britons and two Algerians who previously lived in Britain, are linked to radical British imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997). For example, they include his son Mohammed Kamel Mostafa, his stepson Mohsin Ghalain, and Shahid Butt, an aide. The men initially confess, but later claim that the confessions were beaten out of them (see January 1999). Abu Hamza has numerous links to the IAA and spoke on the phone to its operational commander during a kidnapping organized to secure the release of the first six men captured (see (June 1998), October 1998, December 27, 1998, December 28-29, 1998, and December 28, 1998 and After).
British Links - The trial focuses on the men’s connections to Abu Hamza, as the Yemeni government places the blame for its domestic troubles on outside influences. The first sentence the prosecutor utters is, “This offence started in London in the offices of SoS [Supporters of Shariah] which is owned by Abu Hamza and who exports terrorism to other countries.”
Trial Descends into Chaos - The first day sets the pattern for the proceedings. The men’s translator mistakenly says the prosecutor is seeking the death sentence, and the court descends into uproar, leading to an adjournment after just 50 minutes. According to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, the trial is further marred by “constant interruptions, endless adjournments, inexplicable delays, and time-wasting.” However, a “drip-feed” of incriminating information from the men’s confessions and the evident links between Abu Hamza and the IAA turns the tide in favor of the prosecution.
Men Sentenced - All the men are found guilty. Ghalain and Malik Nasser are given the heaviest sentences of seven years. Butt gets five years for being a member of a terrorist gang, but Kamel only gets three. O’Niell and McGrory will comment: “Every few minutes the judgement was punctuated by mentions of Abu Hamza, who the court was satisfied was deserving of most of the blame. That day his name, and not those of his followers, dominated the local headlines.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 177-184]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Kamel Mostafa, Malik Nasser, Shahid Butt, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Mohsin Ghalain

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

James Ujaama, a follower of militant London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, contacts Abu Hamza from the US and offers the use of a ranch in the remote town of Bly, Oregon, as a militant training camp. Ujaama found out about the ranch through a friend, Sami Osman, who lives there with a group of radical Muslims. Abu Hamza is having problems in Britain due to tight firearms laws and the collapse of a scheme he had to send his recruits to Yemen for weapons training (see (June 1998)). Ujaama faxes Abu Hamza, saying that the ranch could be used to establish a training camp and that he and his associates are stockpiling weapons and ammunition. In addition, the ranch looks “just like Afghanistan” and Oregon is a good place for the camp because it is a “pro-militia and firearms state.” Finally, the ranch is good because, if Abu Hamza comes there, the unbelievers will not be able to remove him “without a serious armed fight.” Two leading associates of Abu Hamza will soon arrive to check the ranch out (see November 1999-Early 2000). Calls between Abu Hamza and the US are noted by the authorities around this time, although it is unclear if this fax is intercepted (see November-December 1999). Osman is under surveillance by the FBI until he moves to the ranch, but the FBI will lose him due to his relocation and only find him again after he is mentioned in a report by an Oregon policeman in the middle of December. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 188-189]

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri, Sami Osman, James Ujaama

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

October 12, 2000: USS Cole Bombed by Al-Qaeda

Damage to the USS Cole.Damage to the USS Cole. [Source: Department of Defense]The USS Cole is bombed in the Aden, Yemen harbor by two al-Qaeda militants, Hassan al-Khamri and Ibrahim al-Thawar (a.k.a. Nibras). Seventeen US soldiers are killed and 30 are wounded. The CIA will later conclude that with just slightly more skilled execution, the attack would have killed 300 and sunk the ship. [ABC News, 10/13/2000; Coll, 2004, pp. 532; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 191] The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) immediately takes credit for the attack. This is a Yemen-based Muslim militant group widely believed to have close ties to al-Qaeda (see 1996-1997 and After). [Guardian, 10/14/2000] The IAA statement is released by its spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997, (June 1998), and December 28, 1998 and After). Abu Hamza says that the attack was timed to mark the anniversary of the execution of the IAA’s former commander (see October 17, 1999). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 184] The prime minister of Yemen at the time of the bombing will say shortly after 9/11, “The Islamic Army was part of al-Qaeda.” [Guardian, 10/13/2001] The US soon learns the names of some al-Qaeda operatives involved in the attack, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Tawfiq bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso (see Early December 2000), and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000). 9/11 hijackers Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see October 10-21, 2000) and Khalid Almihdhar (see Around October 12, 2000) may also have been involved. This is a repeat of a previously attempted attack, against the USS The Sullivans, which failed and was apparently undetected (see January 3, 2000). [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002] The 9/11 Commission will later say the Cole bombing “was a full-fledged al-Qaeda operation, supervised directly by bin Laden. He chose the target and location of the attack, selected the suicide operatives, and provided the money needed to purchase explosives and equipment.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 190]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Khallad bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Islamic Army of Aden, USS Cole, Osama bin Laden, Ibrahim al-Thawar, Khalid Almihdhar, Fahad al-Quso, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hassan al-Khamri, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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