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Context of 'Before October 3, 1993: Bin Laden Operatives in Somalia Build Bomb, but Attack on UN Fails'

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Al-Qaeda operatives train militants in Somalia to attack US soldiers who have recently been posted there. This training will culminate in a battle on October 3-4, 1993, in which 18 US soldiers are killed (see October 3-4, 1993). [Reeve, 1999, pp. 182; Piszkiewicz, 2003, pp. 100] In the months before this battle, various al-Qaeda operatives come and go, occasionally training Somalis. It is unknown if any operatives are directly involved in the battle. Operatives involved in the training include:
bullet Maulana Masood Azhar, who is a Pakistani militant leader connected with Osama bin Laden. He appears to serve as a key link between bin Laden and the Somali killers of US soldiers (see 1993). [Los Angeles Times, 2/25/2002]
bullet Ali Mohamed, the notorious double agent, apparently helps train the Somalis involved in the attack (see 1993).
bullet Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, al-Qaeda’s military commander, who is one of the leaders of the operation. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 77]
bullet Mohammed Atef, al-Qaeda’s deputy military commander. An informant will later testify in an early 2001 US trial that he flew Atef and four others from bin Laden’s base in Sudan to Nairobi, Kenya, to train Somalis (see Before October 1993). [New York Times, 6/3/2002]
bullet Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, who will later be convicted for a role in the 1998 US embassy bombings, will boast that he provided the rocket launchers and rifles that brought down the helicopters. [Washington Post, 11/23/1998; Lance, 2006, pp. 143] Odeh will later say that he is ordered to Somalia by Saif al Adel, acting for bin Laden. [Bergen, 2006, pp. 138-139]
bullet Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), who will also be convicted for the embassy bombings, trains militants in Somalia with Odeh. [Washington Post, 11/23/1998]
bullet Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who will be connected to the embassy bombings and will still be at large in 2007, is linked to the helicopter incident as well. [Lance, 2006, pp. 143]
bullet Muhsin Musa Matwalli Atwah, who will also be connected to the embassy bombings, will be killed in Pakistan in 2006 (see April 12, 2006). [CNN, 10/24/2006]
bullet Saif al-Islam al-Masri, a member of al-Qaeda’s ruling council. He will be captured in the country of Georgia in 2002 (see Early October 2002).
bullet Abu Talha al-Sudani, an al-Qaeda leader who settles in Somalia and remains there. He will reportedly be killed in Somalia in 2007 (see December 24, 2006-January 2007). [Washington Post, 1/8/2007]
Bin Laden dispatches a total of five groups, some of them trained by Ali Mohamed. [Lance, 2006, pp. 142] Atef reaches an agreement with one of the warlords, General Mohamed Farah Aideed, that bin Laden’s men will help him against the US and UN forces. These trips to Somalia will later be confirmed by L’Houssaine Kherchtou, testifying at the East African embassy bombings trial in 2001. Kherchtou will say that he met “many people” going to Somalia and facilitated their travel there from Nairobi, Kenya. [Bergen, 2006, pp. 138-139, 141]

Entity Tags: Ali Mohamed, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Mohamed Farah Aideed, Maulana Masood Azhar, Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Abu Talha al-Sudani, Saif al-Islam al-Masri, Mohammed Atef, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bin Laden asks double agent Ali Mohamed to set up an al-Qaeda cell in Nairobi, Kenya, to support al-Qaeda operations against the US intervention in the neighboring country of Somalia that year. He does so, setting up a cell of a dozen operatives. He creates a car business, a fishing business, and sells scuba diving equipment, luxury automobiles, and diamonds to create income for the cell, and a charity organization to provide operatives with documents. The cell will later plan the 1998 embassy bombings in both Nairobi and nearby Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). He also helps trains Somali clansmen in the months leading up to a battle that will kill 18 US soldiers (see Late 1992-October 1993 and October 3-4, 1993). [Los Angeles Times, 10/21/2000; Raleigh News and Observer, 10/21/2001; Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2001; Chicago Tribune, 12/11/2001]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Ali Mohamed, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Al-Qaeda leaders travel from Khartoum, Sudan, to Mogadishu, Somalia, while US forces are present there. These forces will be attacked shortly afterwards in the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident (see October 3-4, 1993). This is only one of several trips to Somalia at this time (see Late 1992-October 1993).
Details of Trip - The names of all five operatives who travel are not known, but one of them is Mohammed Atef (a.k.a. Abu Hafs), who will later become al-Qaeda’s military commander. According to Essam al Ridi, the pilot who flies them on the first leg of the journey to Nairobi, Kenya, they are dressed in Saudi, Western, and Yemeni outfits. The trip from Khartoum to Nairobi is arranged by an associate of Osama bin Laden’s named Wadih El-Hage, and the five men continue from Nairobi to Mogadishu in a different aircraft. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001; United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 5/8/2001] Al Ridi will later say that at some time after the flight he heard the men had gone to Somalia to stir up tribal leaders against American peacekeeping forces. [New York Times, 6/3/2002]
Surveillance - Bin Laden and his associates are under surveillance in Sudan at this time, by the CIA and Egyptian intelligence (see February 1991- July 1992 and Early 1990s), and the plane used to make the trip to Nairobi is well-known at Khartoum airport and is associated with bin Laden (see (1994-1995)), so the CIA and Egyptians may learn of this trip. However, what action they take, if any, is not known. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001; United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 5/8/2001] In addition, Sudanese intelligence will later say that only a handful of al-Qaeda operatives travel to Somalia at this time, although it is not known when and how the Sudanese obtain this information. [Wright, 2006, pp. 188]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Mohammed Atef, Essam al Ridi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Arab fighters sent to Somalia to assist locals fighting US forces there build a car bomb to attack a UN target. However, the attack fails. Details such as why the bomb fails and the exact operatives involved in the attack are not known, although the names of some al-Qaeda operatives traveling to Somalia at this time, such as Ali Mohamed and Mohamed Atef, are known (see Late 1992-October 1993). [Wright, 2006, pp. 188] Al-Qaeda operative L’Houssaine Kherchtou, who assists the organization’s operations in Somalia, will later say, “They [the members of al-Qaeda] helped some Somalis they wanted to put some explosives in a car and to put it inside a compound of United Nations, and they didn’t succeed to do that.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 141]

Entity Tags: L’Houssaine Kherchtou

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

Fazul Abdullah Mohammed.Fazul Abdullah Mohammed. [Source: FBI]FBI agent Dan Coleman and other US investigators discover a number of revealing items in the raid on Wadih El-Hage’s house in Nairobi, Kenya (see August 21, 1997). It is already known that El-Hage is a member of an al-Qaeda Kenya cell and bin Laden’s former personal secretary. Items found include:
bullet A letter is found on El-Hage’s confiscated personal computer written by Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), another member of the al-Qaeda Kenya cell who is living with El-Hage at the time. The letter was written a week before the raid. It refers to the “East African cell,” alludes to the cell’s role in attacking US soldiers in Somalia in 1993 (see Late 1992-October 1993 and 1993), explains that a cache of incriminating files was recently moved from El-Hage’s house and hidden, and says the members of the cell are “convinced one hundred percent” that they’re being monitored by intelligence agencies. It also talks about other operatives in the town of Mombasa, Kenya, and talks about the imminent arrival of “engineers” to help the cell. [New York Times, 1/9/1999; PBS Frontline, 4/1999; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 204-205]
bullet Another document found on the same computer reveals that El-Hage was sent to Kenya by bin Laden to initiate a “new policy” for the Kenya cell and “prepare 300 activists.” Other members of the cell were advised “of the need to move families to a secure region before the ‘activism.’” It notes that other operatives have carried out an operation in the capital of Ethiopia (presumably the attempted assassination of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (see Shortly After June 26, 1995)) and adds, “There are a lot of explosions in the other cities, and the brothers are taking up these operations.” [New York Times, 1/22/2000]
bullet A genuine-looking Kenyan travel stamp is found, which could be used to make documents appear authentic. [New York Times, 1/22/2000]
bullet Other files reveal that El-Hage and an associate are fabricating false passports for operatives in the Caucasus, as well as for fighters in Somalia. [New York Times, 1/22/2000]
bullet Further documents show that El-Hage bought guns for bin Laden in Eastern Europe and was making frequent trips to Tanzania (the Kenya al-Qaeda cell will bomb the US embassy in Tanzania in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). [Wright, 2006, pp. 244]
bullet Additionally, El-Hage’s address book is found, which provides many more leads (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). Yet, despite all this, no arrests are made and no urgent alarms are sounded. The wiretaps on the Kenya cell are actually stopped by the end of the month. [MSNBC, 12/4/2000] Crucial data about Fazul Abdullah Mohammed is found as well. US intelligence does look for him for a while. But he simply leaves Kenya for a few months and then returns, moving to another house in Nairobi and where he starts work on building bombs in May 1998. [MSNBC, 12/4/2000; Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001; US Congress, 10/21/2003] Author Lawrence Wright who interviews Coleman will paraphrase Coleman’s thoughts at the time: “Al-Qaeda was up to something, but it was unclear what that was. In any case, it was certainly a low-end operation, and the exposure of [El-Hage’s] house in Nairobi had no doubt put an end to it.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 244]

Entity Tags: Dan Coleman, Wadih El-Hage, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The FBI releases a list of its 22 most wanted terrorists. The US government offers up to $5 million for information leading to the capture of anyone of the list. The men are:
bullet Al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden, who was indicted by a grand jury in 1998 (see June 8, 1998), Ayman al-Zawahiri, linked to a 1995 bombing in Pakistan (see November 19, 1995), and Mohammed Atef, who provided training to Somali fighters before the Black Hawk Down incident (see Late 1992-October 1993);
bullet Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), for his role in the 1995 Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995). KSM is actually the mastermind of 9/11, although the US intelligence community has allegedly not yet pieced this information together (see (November 7, 2001));
bullet Several other operatives suspected of involvement in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998): Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (see August 2, 2008), Mustafa Fadhil, Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam (see August 6-7, 1998)), Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (see July 25-29, 2004), Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan (see July 11, 2002), Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (see September 10, 2002), Anas al-Liby (see January 20, 2002- March 20, 2002), Saif al-Adel (see Spring 2002), Ahmed Mohammed Hamed Ali, and Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah (see April 12, 2006);
bullet Abdul Rahman Yasin, a US-Iraqi involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see March 4-5,1993);
bullet Ahmed Ibrahim Al-Mughassil, Ali Saed Bin Ali El-Houri, Ibrahim Salih Mohammed Al-Yacoub, and Abdelkarim Hussein Mohamed Al-Nasser, for their alleged part in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia (see June 25, 1996);
bullet Imad Mugniyah, Hassan Izz-Al-Din, and Ali Atwa for the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in June 1985. [CNN, 10/10/2001]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Atef, Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah, Mustafa Fadhil, Osama bin Laden, Saif al-Adel, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Usama al-Kini, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, Imad Mugniyah, Mohammed Hamed Ali, Hassan Izz-Al-Din, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Abdul Rahman Yasin, Abdelkarim Hussein Mohamed Al-Nasser, Ahmed Ibrahim Al-Mughassil, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, Ibrahim Salih Mohammed Al-Yacoub, Ali Saed Bin Ali El-Houri, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ali Atwa, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Anas al-Liby

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Saif al-Islam al-Masri, a member of al-Qaeda’s military ruling council, is among 15 Arabs captured in the Pankisi Gorge, a lawless area in the country of Georgia, near Chechnya. Georgian and US special forces work together in a raid that results in the captures. Al-Islam is transferred into US custody. The Pankisi Gorge has long been used as a support area by al-Qaeda and other groups to assist the rebels fighting in Chechnya, which is directly on the other side of the Caucasus mountain range. About 100 al-Qaeda operatives and many more Chechen rebels were said to have been living there unmolested for years, but raids around this time are said to clear out the safe haven. Al-Islam has long been a key member of al-Qaeda, although little known to the public. For instance, he fought against US troops in Somalia in 1993 (see Late 1992-October 1993). [Washington Post, 10/22/2002; MSNBC, 5/2005] What becomes of him after his capture is also mysterious. As of mid-2008, there have been no reports of what has happened to him since, not even reports by human rights groups alleging that he is being secretly held.

Entity Tags: Saif al-Islam al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah.Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah. [Source: FBI]Mohsin Musa Matawalli Atwah, an Egyptian al-Qaeda operative, is killed in a remote village in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan. There was a $5 million bountry for Atwah, who was wanted for involvement in the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Witnesses describe a missile strike followed by a Pakistani helicopter gunship attack. The attack is said to have killed nine people, including two young children. [Associated Press, 4/13/2006; CNN, 10/24/2006]

Entity Tags: Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On December 24, 2006, Ethiopia invades Somalia with US encouragement, attacking the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist militant group that rules much of the country. The invasion is triggered because the ICU had encircled the Somali town of Baidoa, the last hold out of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the internationally recognized government of Somalia that actually controls very little of the country. Within days, the Ethiopians conquer the capital of Mogadishu and replace the ICU with the TFG. But Ethiopian troops remain in Somalia, occupying much of the country, and the ICU and other Islamist militant groups are not completely defeated. On January 5, 2007, al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri issues a message urging Somalis to “consume” the “crusader” Ethiopians “as the lions eat their prey.” [Time, 11/29/2007] The US had been quietly improving ties with Ethiopia, and had been secretly training Ethiopian forces in counterterrorism techniques for years. The US covertly assists Ethiopia’s invasion with spy satellite data and other intelligence. A secret US special forces unit, Task Force 88, launches operations into Somalia from Kenya and Ethiopia. On January 6, two US Air Force AC-130 gunships secretly arrive at a small airport in eastern Ethiopia. The next day, they carry out a strike near a small village close to the Kenyan border, attempting to kill al-Qaeda-linked militants fleeing the country. Eight people are killed, but apparently no important al-Qaeda leaders. [New York Times, 2/23/2007] A second AC-130 strike on January 23 also misses its target. It is unknown how many are killed, but the wreckage of six large trucks is later seen at the spot of the attack. But while the US strikes are unsuccessful, al-Qaeda leader Abu Talha al-Sudani is apparently killed at some point during the fighting between Ethiopian forces and Somali militants. The US will not officially say he is dead, but US officials will unofficially say he is to Time magazine later in the year. Al-Sudani is said to have been living in Somalia since 1993 and involved in al-Qaeda attacks in Kenya in 1998 and 2002. [Washington Post, 1/8/2007; Time, 11/29/2007] By summer 2007, US and Ethiopian officials will claim that the war in Somalia is over. However, the fighting, the occasional US strikes, and the Ethiopian occupation, continue. [Time, 11/29/2007]

Entity Tags: Abu Talha al-Sudani, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Transitional Federal Government (Somalia), US Military, Islamic Courts Union

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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