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Context of 'Late 1997: Phone Calls Alert US Intelligence to Al-Qaeda Operatives in Hamburg'

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Bin Laden’s house in Khartoum, Sudan.Bin Laden’s house in Khartoum, Sudan. [Source: PBS]It has not been revealed when US intelligence begins monitoring bin Laden exactly, though the CIA was tailing him in Sudan by the end of 1991 (see February 1991- July 1992). But in late 1995 the FBI is given forty thick files on bin Laden from the CIA and NSA, mostly communications intercepts (see October 1995). The sheer amount of material suggests the surveillance had been going on for several years. Dan Coleman, an FBI agent working with the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will begin examining these files and finds that many of them are transcripts from wiretapped phones tied to bin Laden’s businesses in Khartoum, Sudan, where bin Laden lives from 1991 to 1996. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 148-149; Wright, 2006, pp. 242-244] CIA Director George Tenet will later comment, “The then-obscure name ‘Osama bin Laden’ kept cropping up in the intelligence traffic.… [The CIA] spotted bin Laden’s tracts in the early 1990s in connection with funding other terrorist movements. They didn’t know exactly what this Saudi exile living in Sudan was up to, but they knew it was not good.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 100] The London Times will later report that in Sudan, “bin Laden used an $80,000 satellite phone and al-Qaeda members used radios to avoid being bugged…” [London Times, 10/7/2001] Bin Laden is mistaken in his belief that satellite phones cannot be monitored; a satellite phone he buys in 1996 will be monitored as well (see November 1996-Late August 1998).

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Osama bin Laden, Dan Coleman, Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Dollis Hill, the London street where Khalid al-Fawwaz runs bin Laden’s de facto press office.Dollis Hill, the London street where Khalid al-Fawwaz runs bin Laden’s de facto press office. [Source: Telegraph]Khalid al-Fawwaz moves to London and becomes bin Laden’s de facto press secretary there. Al-Fawwaz, a Saudi, had fought with bin Laden in Afghanistan and lived with him in Sudan. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 180, 192] He headed the al-Qaeda cell in Kenya for about a year until early 1994 when he was arrested there. He went to London shortly after bribing his way out of Kenyan custody. [Daily Telegraph, 9/19/2001; Financial Times, 11/29/2001] He opens a London office of the Advice and Reformation Committee (ARC), a bin Laden front. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 180, 192] Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later call this bin Laden’s “European headquarters.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 110] Al-Fawwaz also allegedly opens an account at Barclays Bank. US officials believe he uses the account to channel funds to al-Qaeda operatives around the world. He will be heavily monitored by Western intelligence agencies for most of this time. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 180, 192] For instance, the NSA will record bin Laden phoning him over 200 times from 1996 to 1998 (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Bin Laden also frequently calls al-Fawwaz’s work phone, and Ibrahim Eidarous and Adel Abdel Bary, who work with al-Fawwaz at the London ARC office. [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002] He works directly with some al-Qaeda cells during this time. For instance, a letter found on Wadih El-Hage’s computer in a late 1997 raid (see August 21, 1997) will repeatedly mention al-Fawwaz by his real first name. One part of the letter says that al-Fawwaz “asked me also to write periodically about the entire situation of the [al-Qaeda Nairobi] cell and the whole group here in east Africa.” [Reeve, 1999, pp. 180, 192] Al-Fawwaz publishes a total of 17 fatwas issued by bin Laden between 1996 and 1998 and also arranges media interviews with him (see August 1996 and February 22, 1998). [Daily Telegraph, 9/19/2001; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 111] But al-Fawwaz, along with Eidarous and Abdel Bary, will not be arrested until shortly after the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998 and September 23, 1998-July 12, 1999). Many years after their arrests, the three of them will remain in a British prison without being tried while fighting extradition to the US (see December 12, 2001 and After). [Daily Telegraph, 9/19/2001; Financial Times, 11/29/2001]

Entity Tags: Khalid al-Fawwaz, Ibrahim Eidarous, Adel Abdel Bary, Osama bin Laden, National Security Agency, Advice and Reformation Committee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In 1995, the FBI is given the CIA’s files on bin Laden, and they discover that the CIA has been conducting a vigorous investigation on Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s personal secretary and a US citizen (see October 1995). The FBI had already started investigating El-Hage in 1991 (see March 1991), and in 1993 they found out he had bought weapons for one of the 1993 WTC bombers (see Summer 1993). Thanks to the CIA files, the FBI learns that in early 1992 El-Hage moved to Sudan and worked there as bin Laden’s personal secretary. [PBS Frontline, 4/1999; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 148-149] Then, in 1994, he moved to Nairobi, Kenya, and officially started running a bogus charity there called “Help Africa People.” [PBS Frontline, 4/1999; CNN, 10/16/2001] In fact, El-Hage is running an al-Qaeda cell that will later carry out the 1998 African embassy bombings. He stays in close contact with top al-Qaeda leaders. [PBS Frontline, 4/1999] Apparently El-Hage is under US surveillance in Kenya, or at least people he is calling are under surveillance. For instance, a phone call between El-Hage in Kenya and Ali Mohamed in California is recorded in late 1994 (see Late 1994).and there are many calls recorded between El-Hage and bin Laden in Sudan. FBI agent Dan Coleman will analyze all this information about El-Hage and eventually supervise a raid on his Kenya house in 1997 (see August 21, 1997). [Wright, 2006, pp. 242-244]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Help Africa People, Dan Coleman, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Wadih El-Hage

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

It will later be revealed in a US trial that, by this time, US intelligence agents are aware that an al-Qaeda cell exists in Kenya. (In fact, it may have been aware of this since late 1994 (see Late 1994)). [East African, 1/1/2001] Further evidence confirming and detailing the cell is discovered in May and June of 1996 (see May 21, 1996). By August 1996, US intelligence is continually monitoring five telephone lines in Nairobi used by the cell members, such as Wadih El-Hage. The tapping reveals that the cell is providing false passports and other documents to operatives. They are sending coded telephone numbers to and from al-Qaeda headquarters in Afghanistan. The surveillance is apparently being conducted without the required approval of either President Clinton or Attorney General Janet Reno. [Associated Press, 12/19/2000; East African, 1/1/2001] Prudence Bushnell, the US ambassador to Kenya, will be briefed about the cell in early 1997, but will be told there is no evidence of a specific threat against the embassy or American interests in Kenya. [New York Times, 1/9/1999] Ali Mohamed, an al-Qaeda double agent living in California, will later admit in US court that he had been in long distance contact with Wadih El-Hage, one of the leaders of the cell, since at least 1996. It will also be revealed that US intelligence had been wiretapping Mohamed’s California phone calls since at least 1994 (see Late 1994), so presumably US intelligence is recording calls between Mohamed and the Kenya cell from both ends. The Nairobi phone taps continue until at least August 1997, when Kenyan and US agents conduct a joint search of El-Hage’s Nairobi house (see August 21, 1997). [United States of America v. Ali Mohamed, 10/20/2000; Associated Press, 12/19/2000; East African, 1/1/2001]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Ali Mohamed, Prudence Bushnell, Wadih El-Hage

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A passenger ferry capsizes on Lake Victoria in East Africa and one of the more than 800 who drown is Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, al-Qaeda’s military commander (his job will be taken over by Mohammed Atef). Al-Qaeda operatives Wadih El-Hage and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul) show up at the disaster scene to find out if al-Banshiri is still alive. There are many journalists covering the disaster and a Western investigator recognizes Fazul and El-Hage when they happen to appear in some of the widely broadcast footage. [Washington Post, 11/23/1998] El-Hage sends a computer file about the drowning to double agent Ali Mohamed in California. Mohamed’s computer hard drive will be copied by US intelligence in 1997 (see October 1997-September 10, 1998). The CIA already has much of El-Hage’s biography on file by this time. It appears this event, along with the defection of Jamal al-Fadl (see June 1996-April 1997), only strengthen knowledge of the Kenya cell gained earlier in the year (see April 1996). By August 1996, if not earlier, the phones of El-Hage and Fazul in Nairobi are bugged and closely monitored by the CIA and NSA. Apparently, not much is learned from these phone calls because the callers speak in code, but the CIA does learn about other al-Qaeda operatives from the numbers and locations that are being called. This information is shared with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), and the JTTF becomes “convinced that flipping El-Hage [is] the best way to get to bin Laden.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 200]

Entity Tags: Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Central Intelligence Agency, Ali Mohamed, Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Wadih El-Hage, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

An Inmarsat Compact M satellite phone, the type used by bin Laden.An Inmarsat Compact M satellite phone, the type used by bin Laden. [Source: Inmarsat]During this period, Osama bin Laden uses a satellite phone to direct al-Qaeda’s operations. The phone—a Compact M satellite phone, about the size of a laptop computer—was purchased by a student in Virginia named Ziyad Khaleel for $7,500 using the credit card of a British man named Saad al-Fagih. After purchasing the phone, Khaleel sent it to Khalid al-Fawwaz, al-Qaeda’s unofficial press secretary in London (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998). Al-Fawwaz then shipped it to bin Laden in Afghanistan. [CNN, 4/16/2001] It appears US intelligence actually tracks the purchase as it occurs (see November 1996-Late December 1999), probably because an older model satellite phone bin Laden has is already being monitored (see Early 1990s). Bin Laden’s phone (873682505331) is believed to be used by other top al-Qaeda leaders as well, including Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammad Atef. Al-Fawwaz also buys satellite phones for other top al-Qaeda leaders around the same time. Though the calls made on these phones are encrypted, the NSA is able to intercept and decrypt them. As one US official will put it in early 2001, “codes were broken.” [United Press International, 2/13/2001; Newsweek, 2/18/2002] The Los Angeles Times will report that the monitoring of these phones “produced tens of thousands of pages of transcripts over two years.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] Bin Laden’s satellite phone replaces an older model he used in Sudan that apparently was also monitored by the NSA (see Early 1990s). Billing records for his new phone are eventually released to the media in early 2002. Newsweek will note, “A country-by-country analysis of the bills provided US authorities with a virtual road map to important al-Qaeda cells around the world.” [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002] The countries called are:
bullet Britain (238 or 260). Twenty-seven different phone numbers are called in Britain. Accounts differ on the exact number of calls. Khalid al-Fawwaz, who helps publish statements by bin Laden, receives 143 of the calls, including the very first one bin Laden makes with this phone. Apparently most of the remaining calls are made to pay phones near him or to his associates. He also frequently calls Ibrahim Eidarous, who works with al-Fawwaz and lives near him. [CNN, 4/16/2001; Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 111]
bullet Yemen (221). Dozens of calls go to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, which is run by the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see Late August 1998). [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Bamford, 2008, pp. 8]
bullet Sudan (131). Bin Laden lived in Sudan until 1996 (see May 18, 1996), and some important al-Qaeda operatives remained there after he left (see February 5, 1998). [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
bullet Iran (106). Newsweek will later report: “US officials had little explanation for the calls to Iran. A Bush administration official said that US intelligence has believed for years that hard-line anti-American factions inside Iran helped bin Laden’s organization operate an ‘underground railroad’ smuggling Islamic militants to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.” [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
bullet Azerbaijan (67). An important al-Qaeda operative appears to be based in Baku, Azerbaijan. [Washington Post, 5/2/2001] This is most likely Ahmad Salama Mabruk, who is very close to al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri and is said to be the head of the al-Qaeda cell there. He kidnapped by the CIA in Baku in late August 1998 (see Late August 1998).
bullet Kenya (at least 56). In the embassy bombings trial, prosecutors introduce evidence showing 16 calls are made on this phone to some of the embassy bombers in Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), apparently all before a raid in August 1997 (see August 21, 1997). The defense introduces evidence showing at least 40 more calls are made after that time (see Late 1996-August 1998). [CNN, 4/16/2001]
bullet Pakistan (59).
bullet Saudi Arabia (57).
bullet A ship in the Indian Ocean (13).
bullet The US (6).
bullet Italy (6).
bullet Malaysia (4).
bullet Senegal (2). [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
bullet Egypt (unknown). Newsweek reports that calls are made to Egypt but doesn’t say how many. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002]
bullet Iraq (0). Press reports note that the records indicate zero calls were made to Iraq. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002] 1,100 total calls are made on this phone. Adding up the above numbers means that the destination of over 100 calls is still unaccounted for. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002] The use of this phone stops two months after the August 1998 embassy bombings in Africa. However, it appears bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders continue to use other satellite phones occasionally after this time. Shortly after 9/11, James Bamford, an expert authority on the agency, says “About a year or so ago the NSA lost all track of him.… He may still use [satellite phones] occasionally to talk about something mundane, but he discovered that the transmitters can be used for honing.” [CNN, 9/21/2001] According to a different account, bin Laden will attempt to use a different phone communication method, but US intelligence will soon discover it and continue monitoring his calls (see Late 1998 and After).

Entity Tags: Ziyad Khaleel, Saad al-Fagih, Osama bin Laden, Ibrahim Eidarous, Khalid al-Fawwaz, Mohammed Atef, Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Ahmad Salama Mabruk

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In 2001, four men will be convicted of participating in the 1998 embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). During their trial, it will come to light that the NSA was listening in on bin Laden’s satellite phone (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Additionally, during this time bin Laden calls some of the plotters of the bombing before the bombing takes place. The prosecution will show records revealing that bin Laden calls Kenya 16 times, apparently all before an August 1997 raid on the Nairobi, Kenya, house of Wadih El-Hage (see August 21, 1997), who is taking part in the embassy bombing plot and is bin Laden’s former personal secretary. The transcripts of two calls between El-Hage and al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef (using bin Laden’s phone) are even read to the jury in the trial. The defense however, shows that at least 40 additional calls are made from bin Laden’s phone to Kenya after El-Hage left Kenya in September 1997. Further, El-Hage makes some calls to Khalid al-Fawwaz, who essentially is serving as bin Laden’s press secretary in London and is being frequently called by bin Laden around the same time. The transcript of a February 1997 call between El-Hage and Mohamed Saddiq Odeh, one of the other embassy bombing plotters, is also read to the jury. The US had been wiretapping El-Hage’s phone and other phones connected to the al-Qaeda Kenya cell, since at least April 1996 (see April 1996). [CNN, 4/16/2001] In one call, El-Hage is overheard saying after returning from visiting bin Laden in Afghanistan that bin Laden has given the Kenya al-Qaeda cell a “new policy.” After the raid on El-Hage’s house, US investigators will discover that policy is “militarizing” the cell. But most details of what is said in these calls has not been made public. [Washington Post, 5/2/2001] In another call in July 1997, cell member Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul) specifies which mobile phone the cell needs to use when calling bin Laden. [New York Times, 1/13/2001] US intelligence also listens in during this time as bin Laden frequently calls the Kenya office of Mercy International, an office that is being monitored because of suspected al-Qaeda ties (see Late 1996-August 20, 1998). It has not been explained how the US failed to stop the August 1998 embassy bombings, given their surveillance of all these calls before the bombing took place.

Entity Tags: Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Wadih El-Hage, Mohammed Atef, Osama bin Laden, Khalid al-Fawwaz, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In mid-1996, Jamal al-Fadl will walk into a US embassy in Eritrea, defect from al-Qaeda, and become a key informant for the US about al-Qaeda’s inner workings and leadership (see June 1996-April 1997). The 9/11 Commission’s final report will later mention, “Corroborating evidence [to al-Fadl’s revelations] came from another walk-in source at a different US embassy.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 109] Nothing more has been publicly revealed about this other defector, except for a 9/11 Commission footnote mentioning that the information about his defection comes from a January 1997 CIA cable. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 479] This person does not seem to be L’Houssaine Kherchtou, another al-Qaeda defector from around this time, since the 9/11 Commission mentions him by name elsewhere in their final report, and he does not talk to the US until mid-2000 (see Summer 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 62] This also does not fit the profile of Essam al Ridi, another al-Qaeda informant, who does not get into contact with US officials until after the embassy bombings in 1998. [Radio Free Europe, 9/10/2006] The 9/11 Commission also notes that, “More confirmation [about al-Fadl’s revelations] was supplied later that year by intelligence and other sources, including material gathered by FBI agents and Kenyan police from an al-Qaeda cell in Nairobi” (see August 21, 1997). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 109]

Entity Tags: Jamal al-Fadl, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Tayyib al-Madani (a.k.a. Abu Fadel) turns himself in to the Saudi government. He handled the distribution of al-Qaeda’s finances and ran some of Osama bin Laden’s businesses in Sudan. It is said that he had to approve every al-Qaeda expenditure of more than $1,000. [Risen, 2006, pp. 181] Tayyib is close to bin Laden and is married to bin Laden’s niece. FBI agent Ali Soufan will later say that Tayyib had lost a leg many years earlier, fighting in Afghanistan against the Soviets. In constant pain since his amputation, he went to London to seek treatment. Eventually, he turns himself in to the Saudis in London in the hope that they can help with his medical problems. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 45-46] The Saudi government gives the US some limited information it learns from questioning Tayyib. The US presses the Saudi government for direct access to him to learn more, but the Saudis will not allow it (see September-November 1998). In August 1997, the Daily Telegraph will publicly reveal that Tayyib has turned himself in. The article suggests that he may have been working as a Saudi double agent for some time before defecting. US sources will say that Saudis have shared information that some money has been sent from bin Laden bank accounts in Pakistan and Afghanistan to individuals in London, Detroit, Brooklyn, and Jersey City in New Jersey. The article will note that Tayyib’s “information is thought to have been the reason a federal grand jury has been secretly convened in New York to examine the financing of terrorism in America.” It is unclear what becomes of the individuals being sent the money, but the article will suggest that the recent arrest of two Palestinians planning an attack in New York City is connected to Tayyib’s revelations (see July 31, 1997). [Daily Telegraph, 8/2/1997]

Entity Tags: Saudi Arabia, Ali Soufan, Tayyib al-Madani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On August 2, 1997, the Telegraph reports that Tayyib al-Madani, a chief financial officer for bin Laden, turned himself in to the Saudis in May 1997 (see May 1997). Later in the month, US agents raid Wadih El-Hage’s house in Nairobi, Kenya (see August 21, 1997). El-Hage and and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), both members of the al-Qaeda cell in Nairobi, Kenya, start a flurry of phone traffic, warning other operatives about the raid and the defection. Their phones are already being monitored by the CIA and NSA (see May 21, 1996), who continue to listen in as they communicate nearly every day with al-Qaeda operatives in places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, London, and Germany. They also phone other members of their cell in Mombasa, Kenya. It appears they realize their phones are being bugged because at one point Fazul explicitly warns an operative in Hamburg, Germany, Sadek Walid Awaad (a.k.a. Abu Khadija), to stop calling because the lines are bugged. However, US intelligence is able to learn much just from the numbers and locations that are being called. For instance, the call to Awaad alerts US intelligence to other operatives in Hamburg who know the 9/11 hijackers living there (see Late 1997). [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 200-202; El Pais, 9/17/2003]

Entity Tags: US intelligence, Tayyib al-Madani, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Wadih El-Hage, Sadek Walid Awaad

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The outside and inside of El-Hage’s house in Nairobi. These pictures were apparently taken during the 1997 raid and were used as evidence in El-Hage’s trial.The outside and inside of El-Hage’s house in Nairobi. These pictures were apparently taken during the 1997 raid and were used as evidence in El-Hage’s trial. [Source: FBI]Dan Coleman, an FBI agent working with Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, has been examining transcripts from wiretapped phones connected to bin Laden’s businesses in Sudan (see Early 1990s). One frequently called number belongs to Wadih El-Hage, a US citizen who is later revealed to be bin Laden’s personal secretary. El-Hage often makes obvious and clumsy attempts to speak in code. The CIA comes to believe that El-Hage might be recruited as an agent. On this day, Coleman, two CIA agents, and a Kenyan police officer enter El-Hage’s house in Nairobi, Kenya, with a search warrant. The investigators interview El-Hage (who returned that day from visiting bin Laden in Afghanistan) and confiscate his computer. [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001; Wright, 2006, pp. 242-244] A large amount of incriminating evidence is discovered in El-Hage’s documents and computer files (see Shortly After August 21, 1997 and Shortly After August 21, 1997). El-Hage moves to the US, where he is interviewed by a grand jury, then let go (see September 24, 1997). He will be arrested shortly after al-Qaeda bombs the US embassy in Nairobi (see September 15, 1998). He will be sentenced to life in prison for his role in that attack. State Department officials will later strongly assert that while staffers at the US embassy in Kenya were told about the raid at the time, they were not told about any potential connection to al-Qaeda. However, US intelligence officials strongly assert that the embassy staff was frequently briefed about the bin Laden connection. [New York Times, 1/9/1999]

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, US Department of State, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Central Intelligence Agency, Dan Coleman, Alec Station

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

Al Haramain Foundation’s Kenya office in 2004.Al Haramain Foundation’s Kenya office in 2004. [Source: Associated Press]An informant tells an intelligence agency allied to the US that the Nairobi, Kenya, branch of a Saudi charity named the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation is plotting to blow up the US embassy in Nairobi. The chief of the CIA station in Kenya passes on this informant’s warning to Ambassador Prudence Bushnell and others at the embassy. On October 31, 1997, the Kenyan government acts on the informants’ tip, arresting nine Arabs connected to the charity and seizing their files.
Charity Already Linked to Al-Qaeda Cell in Kenya - A 1996 secret CIA report shows the CIA has already linked Al Haramain to militants, smuggling, drug running, and prostitution (see January 1996). In August 1997, US intelligence raids the Kenya house of Wadih el-Hage because they correctly believe he is heading an al-Qaeda cell there (see August 21, 1997). The raid uncovers a business card belonging to Mansour al-Kadi, the Deputy General of Al Haramain’s worldwide operations (see Shortly After August 21, 1997).
CIA Fails to Take Warning Seriously - The CIA sends a special team to analyze the files and finds no evidence of a plot. This team wants to question the nine arrested Arabs, but the CIA station chief refuses to ask the Kenyan government for access to the suspects, saying he doesn’t want to bother them any more about the issue. The CIA drops the investigation and the nine Arabs are deported. Ambassador Bushnell is told that the threat has been eliminated. But some members of the CIA team are furious and feel that their investigation was short-circuited. Some intelligence officials believe at the time that members of the charity have ties to bin Laden. [New York Times, 1/9/1999]
Charity Later Linked to Kenya Bombings - The Nairobi embassy will be bombed in August 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). In 2004, it will be reported that according to US officials, “A wholesale fish business financed with Al Haramain funds… steered profits to the al-Qaeda cell behind the [embassy bombing].” One of the bombers confessed days after the bombing that this “business was for al-Qaeda.” [Associated Press, 6/7/2004] In 2004, the Treasury Department will say that two members of the Al Haramain branch in the nearby Comoros Islands helped some of the bombers escape from Kenya after the bombings. [US Treasury Department, 9/9/2004]
Charity Stays Open, Linked to Later Kenya Bombing - A month later after the bombing,s the Kenyan government will ban Al Haramain from the country, but its office nonetheless remains open. Some funds connected to it are believed to have helped support the al-Qaeda cell behind the 2002 bombings in Mombasa, Kenya (see November 28, 2002). Yet Al Haramain’s Kenya office still remains open until late 2004, when Al Haramain is shut down worldwide (see March 2002-September 2004). [Associated Press, 6/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Al-Qaeda, Prudence Bushnell, Central Intelligence Agency, Mansour al-Kadi, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Texas tire store where El-Hage worked in 1997.The Texas tire store where El-Hage worked in 1997. [Source: CNN]In August 1997, US intelligence raids the home of Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s former personal secretary and a US citizen (see August 21, 1997). With his cover blown, El-Hage decides to return to the US. Arriving at a New York City airport on September 23, he is served with a subpoena to testify before a grand jury the next day. He testifies for several hours and is questioned extensively. [United State of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 36, 4/30/2001] US prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will later claim that “El-Hage chose to lie repeatedly to the grand jury, but even in his lies he provided some information of potential use to the intelligence community—including potential leads” to the location of his confederates and wanted missing files. [New York Times, 1/9/1999; US Congress, 10/21/2003] But after this, El-Hage is not arrested. He moves back to Texas, where he had lived in the early 1990s, and works in a tire store. [Arizona Republic, 9/28/2001] In October 1997, he is interviewed by agents in Texas [United State of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 28, 4/12/2001] , and then left alone until August 1998 when he will be interrogated again shortly after the bombings in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). He is ultimately arrested and found guilty for his role in those bombings.

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Fazul Abdullah Mohammed.Fazul Abdullah Mohammed. [Source: Daily Nation]Shortly after the US raid on Wadih El-Hage’s house in Nairobi, Kenya (see August 21, 1997), US investigators discover a letter in the house that mentions a cache of incriminating files had been moved from the house and hidden elsewhere. Investigators suspect the files could contain evidence of a coming attack by El-Hage’s Nairobi cell. A law enforcement official later says US investigators begin a “somewhat frantic, concerted effort” to locate the missing files. “The concern was high enough about something being out there to go right away.” A search for the files is conducted at another location in Kenya in September 1997, but the files are not found. [New York Times, 1/9/1999] But despite this search, and even though other documents found in the raid refer to other unknown members of the cell and the imminent arrival of more operatives (see Shortly After August 21, 1997), the wiretaps on five phone numbers connected to El-Hage are discontinued in October 1997, one month after El-Hage moved to the US (see September 24, 1997). Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), who had been living with El-Hage and using the same phones as him, takes over running the cell. US intelligence will resume monitoring the phones in May 1998 and continue to monitor them through August 1998 (see May 1998), when the cell will successfully attack US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). It will be stated in the 2002 book The Cell, “The hardest thing to understand in retrospect is why US law enforcement did nothing else to disrupt the activities of the Nairobi cell” after the raid on El-Hage’s house. [New York Times, 1/13/2001; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 203-205] The files will be found only after the African embassy bombings, when the offices of the charity Mercy International are searched on August 20, 1998. They will contain incriminating information, including numerous phone calls from bin Laden to Nairobi. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al, 3/20/2001] It is not clear why the charity was not searched before the attacks, since two of the five phones monitored since 1996 were to Mercy’s Kenya offices (see Late 1996-August 20, 1998).

Entity Tags: Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Mercy International, US intelligence, Wadih El-Hage

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Sky 1, the ship purchased by Sadek Walid Awaad and other al-Qaeda operatives, shown as it sank in 2000.The Sky 1, the ship purchased by Sadek Walid Awaad and other al-Qaeda operatives, shown as it sank in 2000. [Source: Tele News Company]US intelligence monitoring the al-Qaeda cell in Kenya trace phone calls to al-Qaeda operatives in Hamburg, Germany, where some of the 9/11 hijackers are living (see August 1997). Around August 1997, Sadek Walid Awaad (a.k.a. Abu Khadija) calls Kenya and is traced by US intelligence to where he lives in Hamburg. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 201; El Pais, 9/17/2003] Sometime over the next year or so, it is discovered that Awaad has engaged in business dealing with Mamoun Darkazanli, another al-Qaeda operative. Awaad used a Hamburg address for some of his business dealings that was also used by Darkazanli and Wadih El-Hage, who served as bin Laden’s business secretary in Kenya. In 1994, Awaad, Darkazanli, and El-Hage worked together to buy a ship for bin Laden. Apparently US intelligence puts this together by 1998, as one of El-Hage’s notebooks seized in a late 1997 raid details the transaction (see August 21, 1997). Investigators later believe Darkazanli is part of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell with 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and others. [New York Times, 12/27/2001] Less is known about Awaad and whomever he may have associated with. But in a public trial in early 2001, El-Hage identified him as an Iraqi al-Qaeda operative with German and Israeli passports. [Day 2. United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., 2/6/2001; Day 6. United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., 2/15/2001] An al-Qaeda operative with an Israeli passport connected to the Hamburg cell would seem to be highly unusual and significant, but there has been almost no mention of him in the media after 9/11 and it is unknown if he has ever been arrested.

Entity Tags: US intelligence, Sadek Walid Awaad, Mamoun Darkazanli, Wadih El-Hage

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ali Mohamed, the al-Qaeda double agent living in California, receives a letter from Ihab Ali Nawawi (an apparent al-Qaeda sleeper cell operative living in Orlando, Florida, at the time (see September 1999)). Nawawi tells Mohamed that Wadih El-Hage, a key member of the al-Qaeda cell in Kenya, has been interviewed by the FBI (see August 21, 1997). Mohamed is given a new contact number for El-Hage. Mohamed calls El-Hage and speaks to him about this, then calls other operatives who pass on the warning of the FBI’s interest in El-Hage to bin Laden. US intelligence is monitoring Mohamed’s phone calls at this time, so presumably they are aware of these connections. [New York Times, 10/24/2000; Raleigh News and Observer, 10/21/2001; Chicago Tribune, 12/11/2001] Yet, despite all of these monitored communications, neither Mohamed, nor Nawawi, nor El-Hage, are apprehended at this time, even though all three are living in the US. Their plot to blow up two US embassies in Africa succeeds in August 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Ihab Ali Nawawi, Ali Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Wadih El-Hage asks an associate, Essam al Ridi, for advice on his status with the FBI. El-Hage, who helps al-Qaeda bomb US embassies in Africa not long after this (see September 15, 1998), is under investigation by the FBI and his home in Nairobi, Kenya, was searched the previous year (see August 21, 1997). El-Hage is meeting al Ridi to act as a mediator between al Ridi and a mutual acquaintance, with whom al Ridi is arguing over a business deal in which he made money on a plane he sold to Osama bin Laden (see Early 1993). According to al Ridi, El-Hage solicits his advice “on the status that he had with the FBI.” It is unclear why El-Hage would think al Ridi might know his status with the FBI. Al Ridi asks El-Hage if there is anything that he should be concerned about, and El-Hage replies, “No, absolutely.” Al Ridi then advises El-Hage to tell the FBI everything he knows, “Be very forthcoming and very honest and clear with them and just carry it out until it’s over.” El-Hage also says that items were seized from his home indicating he was linked to al Ridi (see Shortly After August 21, 1997), but the two do not discuss the possibility that al Ridi might be contacted by the US government, although he will later testify for the prosecution at the embassy bombers’ US trial. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001]

Entity Tags: Essam al Ridi, Wadih El-Hage, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In an early 2001 UPI article, it will be reported that “Final approval for the [August 7, 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998)] was given August 4 or 5 with [Mohammed Saddiq] Odeh and [Mustafa] Fadhil coordinating details over the phone. They had met in Kenya in April to discuss operational details, US government sources said.” Both Odeh and Fadhil are in Kenya at the time, and they fly out of the country together on August 6. [United Press International, 1/2/2001] Odeh had been living and working in Mombasa, Kenya, with two other al-Qaeda operatives, and US intelligence monitored calls in early 1997 to cell members in Mombasa (see August 1997). They monitored a call to Odeh in which another cell member complained that Odeh was using the wrong phone number to discuss al-Qaeda business (see February 7-21, 1997), so it seems probable that Odeh’s phone was monitored after that time. Phone tapping of the cell was cut off in late 1997, but resumed in May 1998 (see May 1998).

Entity Tags: Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, Mustafa Fadhil

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Wadih El Hage.Wadih El Hage. [Source: FBI]On September 15, 1998, Wadih El-Hage is arrested in the US after appearing before a US grand jury. A US citizen, he had been bin Laden’s personal secretary. He will later be convicted for a role in the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). [New York Times, 9/18/1998]

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline


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