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Context of 'November 1999-Early 2000: Possible 7/7 Bombings Mastermind Tries to Set up Militant Training Camp in Oregon'

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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

Radical British cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri sends an associate, James Ujaama, to the US to raise funds for his operations. Abu Hamza, an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), is linked to both Osama bin Laden (see March 1999 and Summer 2001) and the Islamic Army of Aden, a Yemeni al-Qaeda-affiliate (see December 23, 1998 and December 28-29, 1998). Ujaama, an American citizen, arrives in London in 1999 and soon becomes part of Abu Hamza’s inner circle. Between 1999 and 2002 Ujaama makes 11 trips back to the US. Allegedly, one of the trips is to raise money for Abu Hamza’s activities in Britain through a tour of US mosques. Another is an attempt to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon (see November 1999-Early 2000). Ujaama also travels to Afghanistan several times (see December 2000-December 2001), and may train at camps there. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 188]

Entity Tags: James Ujaama, Abu Hamza al-Masri

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

The ranch near Bly, Oregon.The ranch near Bly, Oregon. [Source: Seattle Times]Haroon Rashid Aswat and Oussama Kassir, assistants to leading London-based radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, arrive in the US to assess the suitability of a proposed terrorist training camp. Upon arrival, they meet up with James Ujaama, another associate of Abu Hamza who proposed the camp (see October 1999) and its owner Sami Osman. Aswat is considered a close aide to Abu Hamza, who himself is an informer for the British (see Early 1997), and will later be described as the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings.
Unsuitable Facility - However, Aswat and Kassir are unhappy with what they find, especially as Ujaama does not have a key to unlock the gate to the ranch when they arrive. In addition, the ranch lacks food, running water, toilet facilities, and barracks, and only has a simple trailer on it. They stay at the ranch for about two months and conduct weapons training for around 15 militants present. According to a witness, Kassir brags that he is a “hit man” for Abu Hamza and Osama bin Laden and has had jihad training in Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Lebanon. Jihadi videos are shown and a computer disc with details of how to improvise poisons is displayed. In addition, a scheme for poisoning a water supply is discussed, as are armed robberies, building an underground bunker to conceal weapons, and firebombing vehicles.
FBI Investigation - However, on December 13 Osman’s car is stopped due to a faulty brake light and the police officer notices that two men, who turn out to be Aswat and Kassir, are acting strangely in the car. For example, Aswat clutches a briefcase closely to his chest as the police officer questions him. The FBI previously had Osman under surveillance, but has lost him. A database check performed by the officer alerts the FBI and an agent is immediately dispatched to Bly. He shows a surveillance photo of Aswat and Kassir to the officer, who identifies them as the other two men in the car. More FBI agents arrive to investigate the ranch, but, before they can raid it, Aswat and Kassir leave for Seattle. There, Aswat allegedly boasts of being bin Laden’s “hit man,” just as Kassir has done.
Advised to Abandon Ranch - Aswat and Kassir eventually return to Britain and advise Abu Hamza against putting any further effort into the ranch. Kassir will be arrested in the Czech Republic and extradited in 2007 to stand trial. [Daily Mail, 7/24/2005; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/31/2005; Seattle Times, 8/9/2005; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 185-186, 194; Associated Press, 9/26/2007]

Entity Tags: Sami Osman, James Ujaama, Oussama Kassir, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Haroon Rashid Aswat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After being indoctrinated by radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri in London (see 1999-2000), a recruit named Feroz Abbasi travels to Pakistan and then Afghanistan for military training. On his journey to Pakistan he is accompanied by James Ujaama, who had tried to help Abu Hamza establish a militant training camp in the US (see November 1999-Early 2000). Before departure, Abu Hamza told Abbasi he would train with the Taliban, and that they would then expect him to fight for them, to which he agreed. After staying at an Islamic Jihad guest house in Kabul, for which Abu Hamza reportedly has the number, Abbasi undergoes basic training at Al Farooq camp, including instruction in weapons handling, battlefield maneuvers, and explosives. The camp is also visited by Osama bin Laden, who lectures the new recruits on politics. Abbasi later returns to Al Farooq for a more advanced course, covering reconnaissance, guerrilla warfare, and ambushes. After this, Abbasi, “Australian Taliban” David Hicks, and another man are interviewed by al-Qaeda military commander Mohammed Atef, and Abbasi agrees to perform missions for Atef, which may include a suicide bombing. Abbasi then has even more advanced training, focusing on assassinations and running a sleeper cell, at a camp by Kandahar airport. At some time in September 2001, he explicitly volunteers for a suicide mission. However, he is captured by the Northern Alliance three months later. When caught, he has a grenade concealed on him and could detonate it, killing himself and the two Northern Alliance soldiers that captured him. He hesitates because he does not want to kill fellow Muslims, and the grenade is found. The Afghans then put him in prison in Kandahar for two days, before formally transferring him to the US military. He is held in a prison at Kandahar airport, and then flown to Guantanamo in Cuba, where he will be held for three years. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 201-202, 208-213]

Entity Tags: David Hicks, Al Farooq training camp, Osama bin Laden, James Ujaama, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Feroz Abbasi, Mohammed Atef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In 2002, federal prosecutors are building a case against a group of Islamist militants for attempting to start a militant training camp in Oregon in 1999 (see November 1999-Early 2000). They prepare charges against radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, his “highly public aide” Haroon Rashid Aswat, Oussama Kassir (who visited the prospective camp with Aswat), and James Ujaama. Ujaama is living in Seattle, but the others are believed to be overseas. Seattle prosecutors want to seek a grand jury indictment against all of them, which would result in arrest warrants and possible detention for extradition. However, this plan is blocked by higher-level officials at Justice Department headquarters, who want most of the case to be handled by the US Attorney’s Office in New York City. Seattle prosecutors are only allowed to bring charges against Ujaama. [Seattle Times, 7/24/2005] They go ahead and arrest Ujaama in August 2002, finding weapons and training materials, and charge him with conspiring with Abu Hamza “to provide material support and resources” to the Taliban. One of his associates, Feroz Abbasi, is already in Guantanamo Bay, and is talking to interrogators about trips Ujaama has made to Afghanistan (see December 2000-December 2001). Ujaama quickly agrees to co-operate with the authorities, giving them details about Abu Hamza’s activities, and is given a two-year sentence for a lesser offence. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 189-190, 198-200] The others are merely listed in Ujaama’s indictment as unindicted co-conspirators. Abu Hamza has actually been working as an informant for British intelligence (see Early 1997), but by early 2004 his relationship with the British has soured (see April 2003 and April 26, 2004), and the US Justice Department will finally indict him for charges relating to the training camp in May 2004. However, Aswat still will not be indicted. When asked why Aswat is not indicted as well, a federal official in Seattle will reply with frustration, “That’s a great question.” [Seattle Times, 7/24/2005] Shortly after the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), it will be widely reported that Aswat was the attack’s mastermind (see Late June-July 7, 2005). Then a counterterrorism expert will claim that Aswat was also an informant for British intelligence, and this explains why the US never indicted him and other mysteries surrounding him (see July 29, 2005).

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, James Ujaama, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Haroon Rashid Aswat, Oussama Kassir

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A surveillance photo of Momin Khawaja (in grey sweater) and unidentified man on February 20, 2004.A surveillance photo of Momin Khawaja (in grey sweater) and unidentified man on February 20, 2004. [Source: Public domain via the Globe and Mail]According to a joint Canadian and British report sent to Pakistani authorities in September 2005, Mohammed Junaid Babar, Momin Khawaja, and Haroon Rashid Aswat meet in London in February 2004. Babar and Khawaja are both members of a British fertilizer bomb plot (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004), but Khawaja is living in Canada and making occasional trips to Britain to meet the other plotters there, and Babar is based in Pakistan and also occasionally coming to Britain. By this time, the British intelligence agency MI5 has learned of the plot and is intensely monitoring all the major plotters, including Khawaja. US intelligence has apparently been monitoring Babar since late 2001 (see Early November 2001-April 10, 2004), and Newsweek will state he is definitely being monitored by February 2004 (see March 2004). [Daily Times (Lahore), 9/7/2005; Globe and Mail, 7/4/2008] Newsweek will later confirm, “Aswat is believed to have had connections to some of the suspects in the fertilizer plot,” and his name is given to the US as part of a list of people suspected of involvement in the plot. [Newsweek, 7/20/2005; Newsweek, 7/25/2005] He is the most interesting figure in this meeting. The US has wanted him since at least 2002 for his role in attempting to set up a militant training camp in Oregon (see November 1999-Early 2000). It will later be widely reported that he is the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005) and may even simultaneously be an informant for British intelligence. Babar, Khawaja, and other major figures in the fertilizer plot will be arrested at the end of March 2004 (see March 29, 2004 and After and April 10, 2004), but Aswat curiously is not arrested, even though British intelligence had compiled a large dossier on him and considered him a “major terrorist threat” by 2003 (see Early 2003).

Entity Tags: Mohammed Junaid Babar, Haroon Rashid Aswat, Mohammad Momin Khawaja

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The US indicts leading radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, shortly after his arrest in Britian (see May 27, 2004). Abu Hamza is indicted on eleven counts, covering his part in a kidnapping scheme in Yemen (see December 28-29, 1998), the recruitment of a radical named Feroz Abbasi to attend a training camp in Afghanistan (see December 2000-December 2001), and a conspiracy to open a jihad training camp in Oregon (see November 1999-Early 2000).
Alleged Contact with High-Ranking al-Qaeda Terrorists - At the extradition hearing, the lawyer acting for the US describes Abu Hamza as having “engaged in a systematic pattern of terrorist activity since at least 1998….” The lawyer also points out: “He is no less than a supporter and facilitator of terrorism. He has been in contact with and provided support for terrorist groups and people associated with terrorist groups… He has had contact with high-ranking terrorists in the Taliban and al-Qaeda.” Abu Hamza declines to go to the US voluntarily and decides to fight the extradition request.
Indictment Is Media Event - The arrest and indictment is major news in the US and television programming is interrupted for a live press conference by Attorney General John Ashcroft. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later comment: “The Americans were jubilant, so much so that they insisted that daytime soap operas were interrupted to carry live television coverage of a press conference hosted by John Ashcroft, then Attorney General in the Bush administration. Ashcroft was joined on the platform by a crowd of smiling deputies, federal prosecutors, FBI officials and police chiefs. Just in case the public did not grasp the message, there was a huge portrait of Abu Hamza alongside them, caught in mid-rant, his one eye glaring, the steel hook raised.” Assistant Attorney General Christopher Wray calls Abu Hamza “a terrorist facilitator with a global reach,” and New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly says, “Think of him as a freelance consultant to terrorist groups worldwide.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 282-5]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Daniel McGrory, Raymond Kelly, Sean O’Neill, Christopher Wray

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Around early June 2005, US intelligence learns that Haroon Rashid Aswat is living in South Africa. An associate will later say that he had known Aswat there for about five months, and that Aswat was making money by selling religious CDs and DVDs. [Press Trust of India, 8/2/2005] The US wants Aswat for a role he allegedly played in trying to set up a militant training camp in Oregon in 1999 (see November 1999-Early 2000), although he has not been formally charged yet (see August 2002). US officials contact the South African government and ask if they can take him into custody. Aswat is a British citizen, so South Africa relays the request to Britain and British officials block the request. When the debate continues, he manages to leave the country. [CNN, 7/28/2005] An unnamed US official will tell the Telegraph: “The discussion was whether or not they would render him. He’s got [British] papers and they said you can’t render somebody with [British] papers.” British officials will complain that they would have cooperated had the US simply pursued a formal extradition request instead of pushing for a rendition. A senior US intelligence official will add, “Nobody is going to say there is a row or a rift but there was certainly dissatisfaction and exasperation here over the handling of this case.” [Daily Telegraph, 7/31/2005] He apparently returns to Britain and meets with and phones the suicide bombers of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005 and Late June-July 7, 2005). He will be named the mastermind of those bombings in many newspapers. One counterterrorism expert will allege that Aswat also was an informant for British intelligence, and this would explain why the British were protecting him (see July 29, 2005).

Entity Tags: US intelligence, Haroon Rashid Aswat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

John Loftus (right) is asked a question from an audience member while on Fox News on July 29, 2005. John Loftus (right) is asked a question from an audience member while on Fox News on July 29, 2005. [Source: Fox News]In an interview on Fox News, counterterrorism expert John Loftus claims that Haroon Rashid Aswat, named in recent reports as the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings earlier in the month (see July 7, 2005), is actually an agent of the British intelligence agency MI6. Loftus says: “[W]hat’s really embarrassing is that the entire British police are out chasing [Aswat], and one wing of the British government, MI6 or the British Secret Service, has been hiding him. And this has been a real source of contention between the CIA, the Justice Department, and Britain.… He’s a double agent.” The interviewer clarifies, “So he’s working for the Brits to try to give them information about al-Qaeda, but in reality he’s still an al-Qaeda operative.” Loftus replies: “Yeah. The CIA and the Israelis all accused MI6 of letting all these terrorists live in London not because they’re getting al-Qaeda information, but for appeasement. It was one of those you leave us alone, we leave you alone kind of things.” Loftus then explains that Aswat has been wanted by US prosecutors in Seattle since 2002 for attempting to help set up a training camp in Oregon (see November 1999-Early 2000). “[W]e’ve just learned that the headquarters of the US Justice Department ordered the Seattle prosecutors not to touch Aswat [because] apparently Aswat was working for British intelligence. Now Aswat’s boss, the one-armed [London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri], he gets indicted two years later. So the guy above him and below him get indicted, but not Aswat. Now there’s a split of opinion within US intelligence. Some people say that the British intelligence fibbed to us. They told us that Aswat was dead, and that’s why the New York group dropped the case. That’s not what most of the Justice Department thinks. They think that it was just again covering up for this very publicly affiliated guy with [the British militant group] Al-Muhajiroun. He was a British intelligence plant. So all of a sudden he disappears. He’s in South Africa. We think he’s dead; we don’t know he’s down there. Last month the South African Secret Service come across the guy. He’s alive.” The host asks: “Yeah, now the CIA says, oh he’s alive. Our CIA says OK let’s arrest him. But the Brits say no again?” Loftus replies: “The Brits say no. Now at this point, two weeks ago, the Brits know that the CIA wants to get a hold of Haroon. So what happens? He takes off again, goes right to London. He isn’t arrested when he lands, he isn’t arrested when he leaves. [Even though] he’s on the watch list. The only reason he could get away with that was if he was working for British intelligence. He was a wanted man.” Loftus finally explains that Aswat’s relationship with British intelligence began in the late 1990s with the war in Kosovo. The US, Britain, and radical Muslims were all on the same side, helping the Muslims in Kosovo fight the Serbians. Loftus says that Al-Muhajiroun was involved in recruiting British Muslims to fight in Kosovo, and Aswat was part of that effort. [Fox News, 7/29/2005] Two days after Loftus’s comments, the Sunday Times reports that senior British officials “deny ‘any knowledge’ that he might be an agent for either MI5 or MI6.” [Sunday Times (London), 7/31/2005]

Entity Tags: Al-Muhajiroun, Haroon Rashid Aswat, Abu Hamza al-Masri, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), John Loftus

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Haroon Rashid Aswat, arrested in Zambia around July 21, 2005 (see (July 21, 2005)), is extradited from Zambia back to Britain. Aswat is a British citizen and spent most of his life there until disappearing several years earlier. Numerous media accounts refer to him as the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005 and Late June-July 7, 2005), but British authorities seem mysteriously uninterested in him (see Late July 2005 and After). Even as he arrives in Britain and has yet to be questioned about any role in the 7/7 bombings, officials make clear that they have no intention of charging him for any crime. Instead, they plan to extradite him to the US, as the US has just issued a warrant for his arrest relating to his efforts to help start a militant training camp in Oregon in 1999 (see November 1999-Early 2000). Briefly appearing in court upon his arrival in Britain, Aswat denies any terrorism link and says he does not want to be extradited to the US. He is immediately placed in Belmarsh Prison, Britain’s highest security jail. [London Times, 8/8/2005]

Entity Tags: Haroon Rashid Aswat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A British high court approves the extradition of Haroon Rashid Aswat to the US. Many media accounts have described Aswat as the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005 and Late June-July 7, 2005). However, British authorities appear to be ignoring his possible connection to the 7/7 bombings and are allowing him to be extradited to the US on unrelated charges of helping to create a militant training camp in Oregon (see November 1999-Early 2000). The US has promised that he will not be sent to the prison in Guantanamo or turned over to a third country. [Guardian, 11/30/2006] As of mid-2008, Aswat has yet to be extradited.

Entity Tags: Haroon Rashid Aswat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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