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Context of 'Late 1993-December 14, 1995: Logistical Base for Militants Fighting in Bosnia Is Investigated and Shut Down'

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Friday prayers outside the Islamic Cultural Institute, on October 19, 2001. Friday prayers outside the Islamic Cultural Institute, on October 19, 2001. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]The Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, Italy, has numerous ties to terrorist activities during this period and after 9/11, and the Treasury Department will call the mosque “the main al-Qaeda station house in Europe.” It is initially headed by Anwar Shaaban (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995 and December 14, 1995), an opponent of the current Egyptian regime and a supporter of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya militant group, which is run by the ‘Blind Sheikh,’ Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see Late 1993-1994).
bullet It recruits fighters for militant Islamic causes and sends them to Afghanistan for training. One of the recruits, L’Houssaine Kherchtou, who will testify for the prosecution at the trial of men accused of bombing US embassies in Africa in 1998, will say that he knew Shaaban well, adding: “He was my guide. I went there every weekend to be with him.” After studying with Shaaban for some time, Shaaban arranges for Kherchtou and a group of other men to receive military training in Afghanistan. [Chicago Tribune, 10/22/2001]
bullet There is heavy telephone traffic between the Institute and the New York mosque run by Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, and Italian police say it is a logistical base for the WTC bombing (see Late 1993-1994).
bullet The Algerian militant group Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) gains influence in the mosque after Shaaban dies in the Bosnian Civil War (see After 1995).
bullet It creates a “cottage industry in supplying false passports and other bogus documents” according to European intelligence officials, and serves as a gateway to Europe for operatives from Afghanistan. [Boston Globe, 8/4/2002]

Entity Tags: L’Houssaine Kherchtou, Islamic Cultural Institute, Al-Qaeda, Anwar Shaaban, Omar Abdul-Rahman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In late 1993, the FBI discovers that WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef used a mosque in Milan, Italy, known as the Islamic Cultural Institute, as a logistical base (see Late 1993-1994). The Italian government begins investigating the mosque and soon discovers that it is the main European headquarters for Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, a radical Egyptian militant group, and is also the logistical base for mujaheddin traveling to fight in Bosnia. The mosque is run by Anwar Shaaban, who has a close working relationship with Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, and who also stays in regular contact with al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. Shaaban runs a training camp thirty miles outside of Milan where fighters heading to Bosnia can practice using weapons and explosives. The mosque also helps smuggle men, money, and weapons to Bosnia. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 163-164] On June 25, 1995, Italian police raid the mosque and over 70 other locations in northern Italy. Seventeen people are indicted and eleven of them are arrested, but that is only a fraction of the hundreds investigated. Inside the mosque, police find forgery tools, letters to wanted radicals around the world, and hundreds of false documents. Plots to bomb targets in other countries and a US target elsewhere in Italy are averted. Shaaban escapes arrest, as he had already left the country, but he is killed in Croatia a short time later (see December 14, 1995). [United Press International, 6/26/1995; Vidino, 2006, pp. 216-218] But the Islamic Cultural Institute will soon reopen and continue to be a focal point for radical militants in Europe. It will be linked the 9/11 attacks and other violent plots (see Late 1998-September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Anwar Shaaban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA and Albanian intelligence recruit an informer knowledgeable about al-Qaeda in the Balkans. The informer, whose name is Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, but is known as Abu Omar, is recruited by a special unit of the Albanian National Intelligence Service (ShIK) created at the behest of the CIA. An officer in the unit, Astrit Nasufi, will say that the unit is actually run by a CIA agent known as “Mike” who is based on the US embassy in Tirana, Albania, and who teaches them intelligence techniques. The CIA and ShIK are worried about a possible assassination attempt against the Egyptian foreign minister, who is to visit Albania soon, so about twelve radical Egyptians, members of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and Islamic Jihad, are detained beforehand. Nasr is not on the list, but is detained because of a link to a suspect charity, the Human Relief and Construction Agency (HRCA). He is held for about 10 days and, although he initially refuses to talk, ShIK has a “full file” on him after a week. He provides information about around ten fellow Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya members working for HRCA and two other charities, the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation and the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society, both of which will be declared designated supporters of terrorism after 9/11. However, he says there are no plans to kill the Egyptian foreign minister, as this would mean Albania would no longer be a safe haven for fundamentalist Muslims. The intelligence Nasr goes on to provide is regarded as good quality and includes the identities of operatives monitoring the US embassy and entering and leaving Albania. The CIA is most interested in monitoring former mujaheddin joining the Bosnian Muslims, and Nasr also provides intelligence on Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya branches in Britain, Germany, and Italy, in particular the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, which is a base for mujaheddin operations in the Balkans and is raided by the Italian government around this time (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995). Even though cooperation appears to be good, after a few weeks Nasr suddenly disappears and the CIA tells ShIK that Nasr has moved to Germany. [Chicago Tribune, 7/2/2005] Nasr will later surface in Italy and will become close to Islamic militants in Milan (see Summer 2000), but will be kidnapped by the CIA after 9/11 (see Noon February 17, 2003).

Entity Tags: Revival of Islamic Heritage Society, Islamic Jihad, State Intelligence Service (Albania), Central Intelligence Agency, Astrit Nasufi, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, Islamic Cultural Institute, Human Relief and Construction Agency, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Kosovar Albanian Struggle

Anwar Shaaban, an Islamist militant in charge of logistics for mujaheddin fighting in Bosnia, is killed in Croatia. Shaaban had been based at the Islamic Cultural Institute mosque in Milan, but managed to avoid arrest when it was raided (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995). On December 14, 1995, the same day a peace accord is signed ending the Bosnian war, Shaaban is killed by Croatian troops in what mujaheddin claim is an ambush. Shaaban’s diary is found, and it cites regular meetings between al-Qaeda leaders and leaders of the Bosnian Muslim government, including General Staff Chief Rasim Delic and Interior Minister Bakir Alispahic. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 216-217] Shaaban, a leader of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya militant group, had been in regular contact with Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman and al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 163-164]

Entity Tags: Rasim Delic, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Anwar Shaaban, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bakir Alispahic

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Following an investigation of extremists linked to the Islamic Cultural Institute mosque in Milan, Italy, arrests are made, but most of the suspects are eventually released. The mosque was a logistics base for radical Muslims fighting in Bosnia (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995 and Late 1993-1994) and has been under investigation for some time. However, according to the Chicago Tribune: “[T]he criminal case appears to [founder] on the vagaries of the Italian justice system. Because of limitations on jailing people charged with crimes committed outside Italy, most of the suspects [will be] released and [vanish].” [Chicago Tribune, 10/22/2001] People connected to the mosque will go on to be connected to numerous plots, such as the failed millennium attacks and 9/11 (see Late 1998-September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Islamic Cultural Institute

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, Italy.The Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, Italy. [Source: Public domain]By late 1998, US and Italian intelligence are already aware of the importance of a mosque in Milan, Italy, called the Islamic Cultural Institute. After 9/11, the Treasury Department will call the mosque “the main al-Qaeda station house in Europe. It is used to facilitate the movement of weapons, men and money across the world.” Additionally, they are aware that Ahmed Idris Nasreddin, a founder and director of Al Taqwa Bank, is also a founder and financier of the mosque. The mosque is also less than 50 miles away from Al Taqwa’s headquarters on the Swiss border.(see 1995-1997). [Newsweek, 3/18/2002] US officials will later say that al-Qaeda operatives involved in the 1998 US embassy bombings stayed at the Milan mosque. This causes US and Italian intelligence to watch the mosque more closely, and it also causes the US to look closer at Al Taqwa Bank (see 1997-September 11, 2001). [Newsweek, 3/18/2002] One member of the al-Qaeda cell in Milan lives in Hamburg with 9/11 plotter Ramzi bin al-Shibh for most of 1998 (see December 1997-November 1998). In 2000, Abderazek Mahdjoub, the head of the Milan cell, lives in Hamburg, attends the Al-Quds mosque that the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell attends, and has ties with some of the 9/11 hijackers (see 2000). Al-Qaeda operatives involved in the failed millennium bombing plot in Jordan also stay at the Milan mosque (see November 30, 1999). The Jordanian government later will claim that Al Taqwa helped fund these millennium bombers. [Newsweek, 3/18/2002; Newsweek, 4/12/2004] Starting in late 2000, Italian intelligence, wiretapping people associated with the Milan mosque and/or the Milan al-Qaeda cell, record conversations suggesting foreknowledge of the 9/11 plot (see August 12, 2000; January 24, 2001). This information is shared with the US in early 2001 (see March 2001). Additional evidence will come out after 9/11 suggesting some people in Milan had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks (see September 4, 2001; September 7, 2001). Given the closeness of the Al Taqwa Bank to the mosque, especially through Nasreddin, this raises the possibility of Al Taqwa involvement and knowledge of specific al-Qaeda plots, including the 9/11 attacks, though there is no known evidence of such direct ties except for the attempted millennium bombing mentioned above.

Entity Tags: Islamic Cultural Institute, Abderazek Mahdjoub, Italy, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, US Department of the Treasury, Ahmed Idris Nasreddin, Al-Qaeda, Al Taqwa Bank

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

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