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Context of 'Before Spring 2000: Islamist Extremists Arrested in Syria for Weapons Smuggling, but Subsequently Released'

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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

Mahmoud Es Sayed is arrested in Syria with other militants on weapons smuggling charges, according to Italian authorities. The Italians will learn this later based on wiretaps of Es Sayed, a close associate of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. While in prison, Es Sayed is visited by Muftafa Tlass, the Syrian defense minister, and Es Sayed tells him that the weapons are meant to fight Jews. Tlass, a virulent anti-Semite who even claimed in a book that Jews kill non-Jews to use their blood to make pastries, arranges for the release of the whole group, and puts them in touch with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. [Vidino, 2006, pp. 222]

Entity Tags: Mahmoud Es Sayed, Muftafa Tlass

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr.Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr. [Source: ABC]Italian resident Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, who previously informed for the CIA on extremists in Albania (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After and May 1997-2000), moves from Rome to Milan to live with a close associate of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000 and Summer 2000). Al-Zawahiri’s associate, Mahmoud Es Sayed, and Nasr arrive in Milan at the same time, and it appears their movements are coordinated. Nasr actually lives in Es Sayed’s apartment and the pair make use of two radical mosques in Milan, the Via Quaranta mosque, which is their headquarters, and the Islamic Cultural Institute (ICI), which is associated with a cell of radical Islamists that works with al-Qaeda and appears to have foreknowledge of 9/11 (see August 12, 2000 and March 2001). The ICI has a reputation as the most radical Islamic center in Italy, was a key supply point for Muslims fighting in Bosnia (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995), and was connected to the first World Trade Center bombing (see Late 1993-1994). Nasr serves as deputy imam at the ICI and preaches anti-US sermons. Italian law enforcement authorities monitor him with bugs in his apartment and through a tap on his phone, finding out that after 9/11 he recruits Muslims to go and fight in Afghanistan. He does not seem to be directly involved in serious illegal activity, but the information the Italians gain helps them monitor other radicals. His relationship with the CIA during his time in Italy is unclear, but in one monitored call after 9/11 he appears to be dissuading another radical from attacking Jews and in another he tells an associate not to carry out a car bombing. [Chicago Tribune, 7/2/2005; Vidino, 2006, pp. 242] The CIA will kidnap Nasr in 2003 (see Noon February 17, 2003).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Mahmoud Es Sayed, Islamic Cultural Institute, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, 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

Ayub Usama Saddiq Ali.Ayub Usama Saddiq Ali. [Source: Marco Stepniak / Bild]Future 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah telephones Ayub Usama Saddiq Ali, an imam and an Islamic Jihad leader wanted for murder in Egypt. No details about the call are known except that it lasts 13 minutes. Jarrah also called Ali in November 1999 (see November 7, 1999). Ali was convicted of murder in Egypt in 1996, but he fled to Muenster, Germany, and received political asylum there in October 1999. Also in October 1999, Ali was on a published list of the Egyptian government’s most wanted terrorists (see October 2, 1999), and he is said to be a close associate of al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri. Jarrah’s two phone calls to Ali will be mentioned in a classified 2002 FBI report about the 9/11 hijackers, but it is unclear how or when the FBI learns about the calls. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1/11/2002; Vidino, 2006, pp. 230; Bild, 3/10/2011]
Ali Attended a Monitored Terror Summit in Italy - On August 12, 2000, Ali attended a terrorist summit in Bologna, Italy, that lasted for several days and was monitored by the Italian government (see August 12, 2000 and Shortly After). Also attending the summit were Mahmoud Es Sayed, another close associate of al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000) and Yemeni government official Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman. On their way to the summit, Es Sayed and Abdulrahman were overheard discussing an attack using aircraft, indicating they have some level of foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks (see August 12, 2000). Also attending the summit was Mohammed Fazazi, the imam of the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg, Germany, that Jarrah and other members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell regularly attend (see Early 1996 and (April 1, 1999)). Fazazi will be convicted of a role in a bombing in Casablanca, Morocco, in 2003 (see May 16, 2003). The summit was organized by the Islamic Cultural Institute, which is the epicenter of an al-Qaeda cell in Milan, Italy, that was heavily monitored by the Italian government at the time (see 2000). [Vidino, 2006, pp. 230] It is not known if the Italian government warned the German government of Ali’s presence at this summit, or if Ali was monitored by anyone in Germany after it.
Asylum Status Later Stripped - Beginning in 2007, the German government will attempt to strip Ali of his asylum status because of his link to Islamic Jihad. He will lose that status in 2011, but is not subsequently deported from Germany. [Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg), 3/9/2011; Bild, 3/10/2011]

Entity Tags: Ayub Usama Saddiq Ali, Islamic Jihad, Ziad Jarrah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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