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Context of 'Autumn 1992: Al-Qaeda Builds Operations in Bosnia to Attack Europe and US'

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Fawaz Damra.Fawaz Damra. [Source: Associated Press]By the mid-1980s, Osama bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam jointly founded a charity front based in Pakistan which is called Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) (which means “services office”) and is also known as Al-Kifah (which means “struggle”) (see 1984). Branches start to open in the US; the first one apparently opens in Tucson, Arizona, where al-Qaeda has a sleeper cell (see 1986). But around 1986, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, the right hand man of double agent Ali Mohamed, informally founds the branch in Brooklyn, New York, and it soon becomes the most important US branch. [New York Times, 10/22/1998; Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 269-270] On December 29, 1987, three men, Mustafa Shalabi, Fawaz Damra, and Ali Shinawy, formally file papers incorporating Al-Kifah, which is called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. At first, it is located inside the Al Farouq mosque, which is led by Damra. But eventually it will get it own office space next to the mosque. Shalabi, a naturalized citizen from Egypt, runs the office with two assistants: Mahmud Abouhalima, who will later be convicted for a role in bombing the World Trade Center in 1993 (see February 26, 1993), and El Sayyid Nosair, who will assassinate a Jewish leader in New York in 1990 (see November 5, 1990). [New York Times, 4/11/1993; Newsweek, 10/1/2001; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 11/4/2001] Jamal al-Fadl, a founding member of al-Qaeda and future FBI informant (see June 1996-April 1997), also works at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in its early days. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 155] The Brooklyn office recruits Arab immigrants and Arab-Americans to go fight in Afghanistan, even after the Soviets withdraw in early 1989. As many as 200 are sent there from the office. Before they go, the office arranges training in the use of rifles, assault weapons, and handguns, and then helps them with visas, plane tickets, and contacts. They are generally sent to the MAK/Al-Kifah office in Peshawar, Pakistan, and then connected to either the radical Afghan faction led by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf or the equally radical one led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. [New York Times, 4/11/1993] The CIA has some murky connection to Al-Kifah that has yet to be fully explained. Newsweek will later say the Brooklyn office “doubled as a recruiting post for the CIA seeking to steer fresh troops to the mujaheddin” fighting in Afghanistan. At the same time, the Brooklyn office is where “veterans of [the Afghan war arrived] in the United States—many with passports arranged by the CIA.” [Newsweek, 10/1/2001] Robert I. Friedman, writing for New York magazine, will comment that the Brooklyn office was a refuge for ex- and future mujaheddin, “But the highlight for the center’s regulars were the inspirational jihad lecture series, featuring CIA-sponsored speakers.… One week on Atlantic Avenue, it might be a CIA-trained Afghan rebel traveling on a CIA-issued visa; the next, it might be a clean-cut Arabic-speaking Green Beret, who would lecture about the importance of being part of the mujaheddin, or ‘warriors of the Lord.’ The more popular lectures were held upstairs in the roomier Al-Farouq Mosque; such was the case in 1990 when Sheikh [Omar] Abdul-Rahman, traveling on a CIA-supported visa, came to town.” One frequent instructor is double agent Ali Mohamed, who is in the US Special Forces at the time (see 1987-1989). Bin Laden’s mentor Azzam frequently visits and lectures in the area. In 1988, he tells “a rapt crowd of several hundred in Jersey City, ‘Blood and martyrdom are the only way to create a Muslim society.… However, humanity won’t allow us to achieve this objective, because all humanity is the enemy of every Muslim.’” [New York Magazine, 3/17/1995] Ayman Al-Zawahiri, future Al-Qaeda second in command, makes a recruiting trip to the office in 1989 (see Spring 1993). [New Yorker, 9/9/2002] The Brooklyn office also raises a considerable amount of money for MAK/Al-Kifah back in Pakistan. The Independent will later call the office “a place of pivotal importance to Operation Cyclone, the American effort to support the mujaheddin. The Al-Kifah [Refugee Center was] raising funds and, crucially, providing recruits for the struggle, with active American assistance.” [Independent, 11/1/1998] Abdul-Rahman, better known as the “Blind Sheikh,” is closely linked to bin Laden. In 1990, he moves to New York on another CIA-supported visa (see July 1990) and soon dominates the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. Shalabi has a falling out with him over how to spend the money they raise and he is killed in mysterious circumstances in early 1991, completing Abdul-Rahman’s take over. Now, both the Brooklyn and Pakistan ends of the Al-Kifah/MAK network are firmly controlled by bin Laden and his close associates. In 1998, the US government will say that al-Qaeda’s “connection to the United States evolved from the Al-Kifah Refugee Center.” Yet there is no sign that the CIA stops its relationship with the Brooklyn office before it closes down shortly after the 1993 WTC bombing. [New York Times, 10/22/1998]

Entity Tags: Jamal al-Fadl, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Mustafa Shalabi, Maktab al-Khidamat, Osama bin Laden, Fawaz Damra, El Sayyid Nosair, Mahmud Abouhalima, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Central Intelligence Agency, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, Al Farouq Mosque, Abdullah Azzam, Ali Shinawy, Ali Mohamed, Al-Kifah Refugee Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

August 11-20, 1988: Bin Laden Forms Al-Qaeda

The notes from al-Qaeda’s formation meeting. The short lines on the right side are the list of attendees.The notes from al-Qaeda’s formation meeting. The short lines on the right side are the list of attendees. [Source: CNN]Bin Laden conducts two meetings to discuss “the establishment of a new military group,” according to notes that are found later. Notes reveal the group is initially called al-Qaeda al-Askariya, which roughly translates to “the military base.” But the name soon shortens to just al-Qaeda, meaning “the base” or “the foundation.” [Associated Press, 2/19/2003; Wright, 2006, pp. 131-134] With the Soviets in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan, it is proposed to create the new group to keep military jihad, or holy war, alive after the Soviets are gone. The notes don’t specify what the group will do exactly, but it concludes, “Initial estimate, within six months of al-Qaeda (founding), 314 brothers will be trained and ready.” In fact, al-Qaeda will remain smaller than that for years to come. Fifteen people attend these two initial meetings. [Wright, 2006, pp. 131-134] In addition to bin Laden, other attendees include:
bullet Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the head of the Egyptian militant group Islamic Jihad. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002]
bullet Mohammed Atef, a.k.a. Abu Hafs.
bullet Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, a.k.a. Abu Hajer.
bullet Jamal al-Fadl.
bullet Wael Hamza Julaidan.
bullet Mohammed Loay Bayazid, a US citizen, who is notetaker for the meetings. [Wright, 2006, pp. 131-134]
Al-Fadl will reveal details about the meetings to US investigators in 1996 (see June 1996-April 1997). Notes to the meeting will be found in Bosnia in early 2002. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002] It will take US intelligence years even to realize a group named al-Qaeda exists; the first known incidence of US intelligence being told the name will come in 1993 (see May 1993).

Entity Tags: Mohammed Loay Bayazid, Osama bin Laden, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, Jamal al-Fadl, Mohammed Atef, Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Wael Hamza Julaidan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

In 2001, Jamal al-Fadl, a highly reliable al-Qaeda defector (see June 1996-April 1997), will claim that numerous al-Qaeda operatives went to Lebanon and received training from the militant group Hezbollah. Double agent Ali Mohamed sets up a meeting between Osama bin Laden and Hezbollah leader Imad Mugniyah in early 1994 (see Shortly After February 1994). After that meeting, al-Fadl will claim, the following al-Qaeda figures train with Hezbollah:
bullet Saif al-Islam al-Masri, a member of al-Qaeda’s military ruling council.
bullet Abu Talha al-Sudani, an al-Qaeda leader living in Somalia.
bullet Saif al Adel, al-Qaeda’s probable number three leader after the death of Mohammed Atef in 2001.
bullet Two others. One of them runs one of al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan.
Al-Fadl will add that some videotapes are brought back and he sees one of them. It teaches how to blow up “big buildings.” [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 2, 2/6/2001] Ali Mohamed will also claim in court that Hezbollah subsequently provides explosives training for al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad. So will US prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who states, “in the middle of the 1990s, al-Qaeda members received sophisticated explosives training from Hezbollah, despite the deep religious differences between the Sunni members of al-Qaeda and the Shiite members of Hezbollah.” [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] However, it seems the links between al-Qaeda and Hezbollah decline after this time.

Entity Tags: Jamal al-Fadl, Abu Talha al-Sudani, Ali Mohamed, Osama bin Laden, Imad Mugniyah, Saif al-Adel, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Saif al-Islam al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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

Qatar Charitable Society logo.Qatar Charitable Society logo. [Source: Qatar Charitable Society]Osama bin Laden privately identifies the three most important charity fronts used to finance al-Qaeda. He names:
bullet The Muslim World League (MWL), a Saudi charity closely tied to the Saudi government.
bullet Benevolence International Foundation (BIF), a charity based in Chicago, Illinois.
bullet The Qatar Charitable Society (QCS). Al-Qaeda apparently will stop using this organization after it is publicly linked to an assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 1995 (see Shortly After June 26, 1995).
Bin Laden tells this to Jamal al-Fadl, who is helping to run bin Laden’s businesses in Sudan. A Justice Department brief will later explain, “[Al-Fadl] understood from conversations with bin Laden and others in al-Qaeda that the charities would receive funds that could be withdrawn in cash and a portion of the money used for legitimate relief purposes and another portion diverted for al-Qaeda operations. The money for al-Qaeda operations would nevertheless be listed in the charities’ books as expenses for building mosques or schools or feeding the poor or the needy.” [USA v. Enaam M. Arnaout, 10/6/2003 pdf file] In 1996, al-Fadl will quit al-Qaeda and tell US investigators all he knows about the organization and its finances (see June 1996-April 1997). Yet the US has yet to list the MWL or QCS as terrorism financiers, and will wait until 2002 before listing BIF. The US knew about the MWL’s support for radical militants even before al-Fadl defected (see January 1996), but its ties to the Saudi government has repeatedly protected it (see October 12, 2001).

Entity Tags: Qatar Charitable Society, Benevolence International Foundation, Muslim World League, Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Jamal al-Fadl

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

A UN vehicle burning in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 3, 1993.A UN vehicle burning in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 3, 1993. [Source: CNN]Eighteen US soldiers are killed in Mogadishu, Somalia, in a spontaneous gun battle following an attempt by US Army Rangers and Delta Force to snatch two assistants of a local warlord; the event later becomes the subject of the movie Black Hawk Down. A 1998 US indictment will charge Osama bin Laden and his followers with training the attackers. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002]
Rocket Propelled Grenades - While rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) are not usually effective against helicopters, the fuses on the RPGs fired by the Somalis against US helicopters are modified so that they explode in midair. During the Soviet-Afghan War, bin Laden associates had learned from the US and British that, although it is hard to score a direct hit on a helicopter’s weak point—its tail rotor—a grenade on an adjusted fuse exploding in midair can spray a tail rotor with shrapnel, causing a helicopter to crash. [Los Angeles Times, 2/25/2002]
Possibly Trained by Al-Qaeda - For months, many al-Qaeda operatives had been traveling to Somalia and training militants in an effort to oppose the presence of US soldiers there. Even high-ranking al-Qaeda leaders like Mohammed Atef were directly involved (see Late 1992-October 1993).
Comment by Bin Laden - In a March 1997 interview, bin Laden will say of the Somalia attack, “With Allah’s grace, Muslims over there cooperated with some Arab mujaheddin who were in Afghanistan… against the American occupation troops and killed large numbers of them.” [CNN, 4/20/2001]
Some Al-Qaeda Operatives Leave Somalia after Battle - Al-Qaeda operative L’Houssaine Kherchtou, who supports the organization’s operations in Somalia, will later say that he was told this event also led at least some al-Qaeda members to flee Somalia. “They told me that they were in a house in Mogadishu and one of the nights one of the helicopters were shot, they heard some shooting in the next house where they were living, and they were scared, and the next day they left because they were afraid that they will be caught by the Americans.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 141]

Entity Tags: L’Houssaine Kherchtou, Mohammed Atef, Osama bin Laden, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence

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

David Cohen.David Cohen. [Source: Ting-Li Wang / New York Times]David Cohen, head of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, wants to test the idea of having a “virtual station,” which is a station based at CIA headquarters and focusing on one target. He chooses Michael Scheuer to run it. Scheuer is running the Islamic Extremist Branch of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center at the time and had suggested creating a station to focus just on bin Laden. The new unit, commonly called Alec Station, begins operations in February 1996 (see February 1996). The 9/11 Commission will later comment that Scheuer had already “noticed a recent stream of reports about bin Laden and something called al-Qaeda.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 109] It has been widely reported that US intelligence was unaware of the term al-Qaeda until after defector Jamal al-Fadl revealed it later in 1996 (see June 1996-April 1997). But Billy Waugh, an independent contractor hired by the CIA to spy on bin Laden and others in Sudan in 1991 to 1992, will later claim that the CIA was aware of the term al-Qaeda back then (see February 1991- July 1992). And double agent Ali Mohamed revealed the term to the FBI in 1993 (see May 1993). The term will first be used by the media in August 1996 (see August 14, 1996).

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Counterterrorist Center, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Alec Station, David Cohen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A passenger ferry capsizes on Lake Victoria in East Africa and one of the more than 800 who drown is Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, al-Qaeda’s military commander (his job will be taken over by Mohammed Atef). Al-Qaeda operatives Wadih El-Hage and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul) show up at the disaster scene to find out if al-Banshiri is still alive. There are many journalists covering the disaster and a Western investigator recognizes Fazul and El-Hage when they happen to appear in some of the widely broadcast footage. [Washington Post, 11/23/1998] El-Hage sends a computer file about the drowning to double agent Ali Mohamed in California. Mohamed’s computer hard drive will be copied by US intelligence in 1997 (see October 1997-September 10, 1998). The CIA already has much of El-Hage’s biography on file by this time. It appears this event, along with the defection of Jamal al-Fadl (see June 1996-April 1997), only strengthen knowledge of the Kenya cell gained earlier in the year (see April 1996). By August 1996, if not earlier, the phones of El-Hage and Fazul in Nairobi are bugged and closely monitored by the CIA and NSA. Apparently, not much is learned from these phone calls because the callers speak in code, but the CIA does learn about other al-Qaeda operatives from the numbers and locations that are being called. This information is shared with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), and the JTTF becomes “convinced that flipping El-Hage [is] the best way to get to bin Laden.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 200]

Entity Tags: Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Central Intelligence Agency, Ali Mohamed, Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Wadih El-Hage, National Security Agency

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

The State Department issues a fact sheet on bin Laden, calling him “one of the most significant financial sponsors of Islamic extremist activities in the world today.” The text ties bin Laden to funding specific attacks, such as the attempt to kill dozens of US soldiers in Yemen in 1992 (see December 29, 1992). The fact sheet is also mentions the term “al-Qaeda,” leading to the first media reports using that term the next day (see August 14, 1996). The fact sheet also contains details about bin Laden’s finances, such as the allegation that he co-founded the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank in Sudan in 1990 with a group of wealthy Sudanese and capitalized it with $50 million of his fortune. [US Department of State, 8/14/1996; New York Times, 8/14/1996] Much of this information appears to come from al-Qaeda defector Jamal al-Fadl. The CIA had just finished debriefing him weeks before (see June 1996-April 1997).

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Al-Shamal Islamic Bank, Osama bin Laden, Jamal al-Fadl

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 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

Jamal al-Fadl, a highly-trusted informant who recently defected from al-Qaeda to the US (see June 1996-April 1997), is debriefed by FBI officials about al-Qaeda’s finances. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 497] According to the New Yorker, al-Fadl “provided a surprisingly full picture of al-Qaeda, depicting it as an international criminal network intent on attacking the United States. Al-Fadl said that he had handled many of al-Qaeda’s financial transactions after bin Laden left Afghanistan and moved the hub of his operations to [Sudan], in 1992. In this role, al-Fadl had access to bin Laden’s payroll and knew the details of al-Qaeda’s global banking networks, its secret membership lists, and its paramilitary training camps in Afghanistan, one of which he had attended, in the late eighties.” [New Yorker, 9/11/2006] For instance, al-Fadl reveals that bin Laden co-founded the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank in Sudan and capitalized it with $50 million. The US will make this allegation public shortly after al-Fadl is debriefed by the CIA (see August 14, 1996). Al-Fadl will further reveal that he and several other al-Qaeda operatives had accounts at the Al-Shamal Bank to finance their militant activities. [Chicago Tribune, 11/3/2001] Al-Fadl also reveals that bin Laden owns a number of businesses in Sudan, including:
bullet The El-Hijra Construction and Development company, which builds a new airport at Port Sudan and a long highway linking Port Sudan to capital of Khartoum.
bullet The Taba Investment Company, which deals in global stock markets and currency trading.
bullet The Wadi al-Aqiq import/export company, which serves as the parent body for most of the other companies.
bullet The Ladin International import-export company. In 1995, the FBI discovered links between this company and the Bojinka plot in the Philippines (see May 23, 1999).
bullet And other businesses, including several farms, a tannery, and a trucking company. Al-Fadl reveals that some of the farms double as training camps.
Furthermore, he gives details of various bin Laden-linked bank accounts in Britain, Austria, Sudan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates. Even though bin Laden leaves Sudan in 1996, most of his businesses there will continue to operate under his ownership. The US will not take any action against these businesses before 9/11 (see March 16, 2000). [Herald Sun (Melbourne), 9/26/2001; London Times, 10/7/2001]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation, El-Hijra Construction and Development, Ladin International, Al-Shamal Islamic Bank, Jamal al-Fadl, Taba Investment Company, Osama bin Laden, Wadi al-Aqiq

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In mid-1996, Jamal al-Fadl will walk into a US embassy in Eritrea, defect from al-Qaeda, and become a key informant for the US about al-Qaeda’s inner workings and leadership (see June 1996-April 1997). The 9/11 Commission’s final report will later mention, “Corroborating evidence [to al-Fadl’s revelations] came from another walk-in source at a different US embassy.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 109] Nothing more has been publicly revealed about this other defector, except for a 9/11 Commission footnote mentioning that the information about his defection comes from a January 1997 CIA cable. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 479] This person does not seem to be L’Houssaine Kherchtou, another al-Qaeda defector from around this time, since the 9/11 Commission mentions him by name elsewhere in their final report, and he does not talk to the US until mid-2000 (see Summer 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 62] This also does not fit the profile of Essam al Ridi, another al-Qaeda informant, who does not get into contact with US officials until after the embassy bombings in 1998. [Radio Free Europe, 9/10/2006] The 9/11 Commission also notes that, “More confirmation [about al-Fadl’s revelations] was supplied later that year by intelligence and other sources, including material gathered by FBI agents and Kenyan police from an al-Qaeda cell in Nairobi” (see August 21, 1997). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 109]

Entity Tags: Jamal al-Fadl, 9/11 Commission

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

A US grand jury issues a sealed indictment, charging bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders with conspiracy to attack the United States. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] The grand jury began preparing the indictment in January 1998 (see January 1998). It is largely based on information from Jamal al-Fadl, a former al-Qaeda operative (see June 1996-April 1997). [PBS Frontline, 2001; New York Times, 9/30/2001; US Congress, 7/24/2003] This secret indictment will be superseded by a public one issued in November 1998 (see November 4, 1998). [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, 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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