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Context of 'Autumn 1998: Rumors of Bin Laden Plot Involving Aircraft in New York and Washington Surface Again'

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US intelligence obtains information from several sources that bin Laden is considering attacks in the US, including Washington and New York. This information is given to senior US officials in July 1998. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] Information mentions an attack in Washington, probably against public places. US intelligence assumes that bin Laden places a high priority on conducting attacks in the US. More information about a planned al-Qaeda attack on a Washington government facility will be uncovered in the spring of 1999. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file; US Congress, 7/24/2003]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US intelligence hears of a bin Laden plot involving aircraft in the New York and Washington areas. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; New York Times, 9/18/2002] In December it will learn that al-Qaeda plans to hijack US aircraft are proceeding well and that two individuals have successfully evaded checkpoints in a dry run at a New York airport. [US Congress, 7/24/2003]

Entity Tags: US intelligence, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli.Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli. [Source: Public domain]On December 4, 1998, an item in President Clinton’s Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) is titled, “Bin Laden Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other Attacks.” The PDB says “Bin Laden and is allies are preparing for attacks in the US, including an aircraft hijacking to obtain the release of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, Ramzi Yousef, and Muhammad Sadiq ‘Awda. One source quoted a senior member of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (IG) saying that, as of late October, the IG had completed planning for an operation in the US on behalf of bin Laden, but that the operation was on hold. A senior bin Laden operative from Saudi Arabia was to visit IG counterparts in the US soon thereafter to discuss options-perhaps including an aircraft hijacking.” The same source says bin Laden may implement plans to hijack US aircraft before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on December 20 and that two members of the operational team had evaded security checks in a recent trial run at a New York airport. A possible different source says that in late September, Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli, brother of the assassin of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and described in the PDB as an IG leader, was planning to hijack a US airliner during the “next couple of weeks” to free Abdul-Rahman and other prisoners. The PDB also says that “some members of the bin Laden network have received hijack training, according to various sources, but no group directly tied to bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization has ever carried out an aircraft hijacking. Bin Laden could be weighing other types of operations against US aircraft.” The PDB mentions other bin Laden related threats, including recent reports that the IG has obtained surface-to-air missiles and intends to move them from Yemen to Saudi Arabia to shoot down aircraft. [Washington Post, 7/18/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 128-130] The private intelligence group Stratfor will later say that, in addition to his ties with IG, Islambouli worked with bin Laden in the Maktab al-Khidamat charity front in Pakistan and is believed to have lived in Afghanistan in the 1990s as “part of the group of key Egyptian advisers surrounding bin Laden.” Islambouli will formally join with al-Qaeda in 2006. [Stratfor, 8/10/2006] In early 1998, the CIA ignored information from a recently retired CIA agent that claimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was in a terrorist cell with Islambouli, both were experts on plane hijackings, and were planning to hijack planes (see Early 1998). Perhaps not coincidentally, on this same day, CIA Director George Tenet issues a “declaration of war” against al-Qaeda in a memo to the US intelligence community (see December 4, 1998). Also on this day, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke holds a meeting of his interagency Counterterrorism and Security Group (CSG) to discuss the threat. The group agrees that New York City airports should go on a maximum security alert that weekend and security should be boosted at other East Coast airports. The FBI, FAA, and New York City Police Department get versions of the PDB report. Later in December and again in January 1999 the source says the hijacking has been postponed because two operatives have been arrested in Washington or New York. But the FBI is unable to find any information to support the threat nor is it able to verify any arrests similar to what the source described, and the source remains mysterious. The high alert in New York airports is canceled by the end of January. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 128-130] This PDB will be mentioned in President Bush’s famous August 6, 2001 PDB, but mentions that US officials “have not been able to corroborate” the plot (see August 6, 2001).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Federal Aviation Administration, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Richard A. Clarke, Counterterrorism and Security Group, Ramzi Yousef, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli, Muhammad Sadiq ‘Awda, Osama bin Laden, New York City Police Department, Maktab al-Khidamat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

US intelligence learns that an al-Qaeda operative is considering mounting operations in the US. There is no information on the timing or specific targets. [US Congress, 9/18/2002]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In 1999, a Moroccan named Hassan Dabou infiltrated al-Qaeda for the Moroccan intelligence agency. He was sent to Afghanistan, posing as an Islamic radical on the run from the Moroccan government. While there, he was able to grow close to bin Laden. He heard bin Laden repeatedly vent his anger at the failure of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 (see February 26, 1993). Bin Laden was “very disappointed” that the towers did not fall. Dabou heard that bin Laden had planned “something spectacular” involving “large scale operations in New York in the summer or fall of 2001.” Moroccan intelligence passed this information to US. Around this time, US intelligence is so interested that they call Dabou to Washington to report on this information in person. Dabout makes the trip in secret, but apparently his cover is blown and he is unable to go back and gather more intelligence. Dabou is still in Washington cooperating with US intelligence agents when 9/11 occurs. After 9/11 he will remain in Washington, get a new identity, and continue to work with US intelligence. [Agence France-Presse, 11/22/2001; International Herald Tribune, 5/21/2002; London Times, 6/12/2002]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Hassan Dabou, World Trade Center, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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