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Context of 'Summer 2000: High-Ranking Al-Qaeda Operative Arrives in Italy to Revitalise Network'

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Yemeni security officer Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman travels to Switzerland to purchase passport forgery equipment for Islamist extremists. Abdulsalam is a section chief in Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO), the Yemeni equivalent of the FBI (see August 12, 2000). Abdulrahman purchases tools to forge Schengen visas, which allow their holder to travel without border controls in some European Union countries. Italian authorities investigating Abdulrahman and his associates will learn this by 2002. They will speculate that Abdulrahman is an expert forger and that he trains a militant named Mahmoud Es Sayed, a close associate of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000), in forgery. Es Sayed will travel to Italy in 2000 from Yemen, where he will begin forging documents (see Summer 2000). Abdulrahman has close ties to radical organizations and provides false documents and airline tickets to al-Qaeda members to facilitate their travels to Europe. [Vidino, 2006, pp. 223-4]

Entity Tags: Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri sends a close associate, Mahmoud Es Sayed, to Italy. His task is to revitalize an Egyptian Islamist network in Milan and northern Italy, by setting up new cells and establishing contacts with other extremist networks operating in the area. He applies for asylum and, during the proceedings on his application, states that he is connected to Islamic Jihad. However, he is granted asylum anyway. He maintains close ties with one radical mosque in Milan, the Islamic Cultural Institute, and immediately becomes the undisputed leader of the city’s other extremist mosque, the Via Quaranta mosque. The Italian authorities, who are investigating radical Islamist networks at this time, learn of his arrival and importance within a few months. [Vidino, 2006, pp. 52, 221-2] There is evidence to indicate that Es Sayed has foreknowledge of 9/11 (see August 12, 2000 and September 4, 2001).

Entity Tags: Islamic Cultural Institute, Mahmoud Es Sayed, Via Quaranta Mosque

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman.Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman. [Source: US Defense Department]Italian intelligence successfully wiretaps an al-Qaeda cell in Milan, Italy, starting in late 1999. [Boston Globe, 8/4/2002] In a wiretapped conversation from this day, Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, a section chief in Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO - roughly the equivalent to the FBI in the US) traveling on a diplomatic passport (see Spring-Summer 1998), talks about a massive strike against the enemies of Islam involving aircraft and the sky. The conversation takes place in a car on the way to a terrorist summit near Bologna (see August 12, 2000 and Shortly After), and the person Abdulrahman talks to is Mahmoud Es Sayed, a close associate of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000). There are several significant aspects to the conversation:
bullet Abdulrahman makes comments indicating he has foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. He says that he is “studying airlines,” comments, “Our focus is only on the air,” and tells Es Sayed to remember the words “above the head.” He also says that next time they meet he hopes to bring Es Sayed “a window or piece of the airplane,” and that the security on Alitalia and at Rome airport is poor. The name of the operation is given as “Jihadia,” and Abdulrahman says, “the big blow will come from the other country: one of those blows no one can ever forget.” He adds: “[It is] moving from south to north, from east to west: whoever created this plan is crazy, but he’s also a genius. It will leave them speechless.” He also says: “We can fight any power using candles and airplanes: they will not be able to stop us with even their most powerful weapons. We must hit them. And keep your head up.… Remember, the danger in the airports.… If it happens the newspapers from all over the world will write about it.”
bullet Es Sayed remarks, “I know brothers who went to America with the trick of the wedding publications.” The phrase “Big wedding” is sometimes used by al-Qaeda as code for a bombing or attack, including 9/11 (see November 30, 1999 and Late Summer 2001), so, taken together with Abdulrahman’s remarks, this indicates an unconventional attack in the US using aircraft;
bullet The two discuss training camps in Yemen, which are “proceeding on a world scale.” They also mention youth in Italy, and presumably the youth are training;
bullet Es Sayed says, “my dream is building an Islamic state,” and Abdulrahman replies that this is possible because the Yemeni government is weak and “sooner or later we will dominate it;”
bullet Es Sayed asks after a person named Ayman, evidently al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri;
bullet Abdulrahman twice mentions the name of Abdul Mejid, apparently a reference to Abdul Mejid al-Zindani, a radical leader in Yemen and associate of Osama bin Laden (see January-August 1998);
bullet Es Sayed makes the cryptic comment, “One must be cautious, like in Iran; not a single photo.”
Beginning in October 2000, FBI experts will help Italian police analyze the intercepts and warnings. Related conversations are overheard early the next year (see January 24, 2001 and February 2001). Neither Italy nor the FBI will fully understand their meaning until after 9/11, but apparently the Italians will understand enough to give the US an attack warning in March 2001 (see March 2001). After 9/11, this conversation and others like it will cause US intelligence to think there may be a link between the 9/11 plot and Yemen’s PSO. [Los Angeles Times, 5/29/2002; Guardian, 5/30/2002; Washington Post, 5/31/2002; Wall Street Journal, 12/20/2002; Vidino, 2006, pp. 224-5] Author Lorenzo Vidino will later comment: “The chilling conversation alarmed officials before 9/11, but it took on a completely different resonance after the attacks had taken place. [Abdulrahman], who had close connections to the highest ranks of al-Qaeda, likely knew about the plan in advance and had told Es Sayed about it.” [Vidino, 2006, pp. 226]

Entity Tags: Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Mahmoud Es Sayed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Italian counterterrorist authorities monitor a summit of leading Islamist militants near Bologna. Attendees at the meeting, which is arranged through an extremist mosque in Milan called the Islamic Cultural Institute, include:
bullet Mahmoud Es Sayed, a close associate of al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000). He had recently been sent by al-Zawahiri to revise the militant network in northern Italy (see Summer 2000).
bullet Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, a section chief with Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO—roughly equivalent to the FBI). Es Sayed and Abdulrahman are overheard discussing an attack using aircraft on their way to the summit, indicating they have foreknowledge of 9/11 (see August 12, 2000). The two of them will be recorded a few months later discussing trying to get some of their associates into the US (see February 2001). In 2002, Abdulrahman will be arrested and sent to the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba (see September 2002).
bullet Ayub Usama Saddiq Ali, an Islamic Jihad leader and another close associate of al-Zawahiri’s. Ali was convicted of murder in Egypt but fled to Germany and was granted political asylum there in 1999. Future 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah called him once in 1999 and will call him again in August 2001 (see November 7, 1999 and August 4, 2001).
bullet Mohammed Fazazi, the spiritual leader of the Moroccan group Salafia Jihadia, which will be responsible for a 2003 attack in Casablanca (see May 16, 2003). Fazazi is also the imam at Hamburg’s Al-Quds mosque, which is attended by the core cell of future 9/11 hijacker pilots, including Jarrah (see Early 1996 and (April 1, 1999)). Fazazi’s presence indicates a further connection between the cell in Milan, which is under heavy surveillance by Italian authorities (see 2000), and the cell in Hamburg, but this link will not be exploited to prevent 9/11. [Vidino, 2006, pp. 230]

Entity Tags: Ayub Usama Saddiq Ali, Salafia Jihadia, Mohammed Fazazi, Islamic Cultural Institute, Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, Mahmoud Es Sayed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Italian intelligence hears an interesting wiretapped conversation eerily similar to one from August 12, 2000 (see August 12, 2000). This conversation occurs between al-Qaeda operatives Mahmoud Es Sayed (see Summer 2000) and Ben Soltane Adel, two members of al-Qaeda’s Milan cell. Adel asks, in reference to fake documents, “Will these work for the brothers who are going to the United States?” Sayed responds angrily, saying: “[D]on’t ever say those words again, not even joking!… If it’s necessary… whatever place we may be, come up and talk in my ear, because these are very important things. You must know… that this plan is very, very secret, as if you were protecting the security of the state.” This will be one of many clues found from the Italian wiretaps and passed on to US intelligence in March 2001 (see March 2001). However, they apparently will not be properly understood until after 9/11. Adel will later be arrested and convicted of belonging to a terrorist cell, and Es Sayed will flee to Afghanistan in July 2001. [Los Angeles Times, 5/29/2002; Guardian, 5/30/2002]

Entity Tags: Mahmoud Es Sayed, Ben Soltane Adel, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At least one member of the al-Qaeda cell in Milan, Italy, apparently uses steganography, a method of encoding messages within computerized photographs. In Milan’s Via Quaranta mosque in Milan, frequented by Egyptian al-Qaeda operative Mahmoud Es Sayed, pictures of the World Trade Center that have steganographic messages in them are saved on a computer. A number of other pictures of world leaders and pornography are also manipulated in a similar manner. These pictures will not be discovered until months after 9/11, but they help suggest that some in the Milan cell had foreknowledge of the 9/11 plot. Es Sayed had been wiretapped on previous occasions, and was heard making comments suggesting he had such foreknowledge (see August 12, 2000) (see January 24, 2001). His current whereabouts are unknown. [ABC News, 5/8/2003]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Mahmoud Es Sayed, World Trade Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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