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Context of 'Late 1998-September 11, 2001: Mosque Connections Hint at Al Taqwa Knowledge of Al-Qaeda Plots'

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Anwar Shaaban.Anwar Shaaban. [Source: Evan Kohlmann]The Islamic Cultural Institute mosque in Milan, Italy is dominated by Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, the Egyptian militant group led by Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. The imam of the mosque, Anwar Shaaban, is a leader of that group and also a leader of the mujaheddin efforts in Bosnia. The Islamic Cultural Institute serves as a transit and logistical base for mujaheddin coming or going to Bosnia (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995). After the 1993 WTC bombing, US investigators will discover heavy phone traffic between the Milan mosque and the Jersey City mosque run by Abdul-Rahman. Furthermore, they learn that bomber mastermind Ramzi Yousef used the Milan mosque as a logistical base as well. [Chicago Tribune, 10/22/2001] Yousef also prayed at the Milan mosque prior to the WTC bombing. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 171] Shaaban is a close friend of Talaat Fouad Qassem, another leader of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya and one of the highest ranking leaders of the mujaheddin fighting in Bosnia. Qassem is directing the flow of volunteers to Bosnia while living in political asylum in Denmark (see 1990). [Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 25] In April 1994, seven Arab men living in Denmark, including Qassem, are arrested. US prosecutors will later claim that fingerprints on documents and videotapes seized from the men match fingerprints on bomb manuals that Ahmad Ajaj was carrying when he entered the US with Yousef (see September 1, 1992). A raid on one apartment in Denmark uncovers bomb formulas, bomb making chemical, sketches of attack targets, some videotapes of Abdul-Rahman’s sermons, and a pamphlet claiming responsibility for the WTC bombing and promising more attacks. Also, phone records and documents found in Abdul-Rahman’s Jersey City apartment show the men in Denmark were communicating regularly with Abdul-Rahman. [New York Times, 4/15/1995] But no one in either Milan or Denmark will be charged with a role in the WTC bombing. Danish police will later say that none of the seized documents indicated that the Arab men personally took part in the bombing. The men all are released and ironically, two of them are granted political asylum in Denmark because they are members of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, which the Danish consider to be a persecuted group. [Associated Press, 6/28/1995] In 1995, an Italian magistrate will issue arrest warrants for Shaaban and 60 other extremists (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995), but Shaaban will flee to Bosnia, where he will die of bullet wounds in unexplained circumstances (see December 14, 1995). [Chicago Tribune, 10/22/2001] The US government will later call the Islamic Cultural Institute al-Qaeda’s main logistical base in Europe and some evidence will link figures connected to it to the 9/11 plot (see Late 1998-September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Talaat Fouad Qassem, Islamic Cultural Institute, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Anwar Shaaban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ahmed Idris Nasreddin.Ahmed Idris Nasreddin. [Source: NBC News]A 1995 Italian intelligence report alleges the Switzerland-based Al Taqwa Bank is funding radical groups in Algeria, Tunisia, and Sudan, and is a major backer of Hamas, but Swiss authorities are slow to investigate. [Salon, 3/15/2002; Forward, 10/17/2003] The Italians are interested in Al Taqwa because of its connection to a radical Italian mosque, the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, which Al Taqwa founder and director Ahmed Idris Nasreddin helped create and finance in the early 1990s. The mosque is close to Al Taqwa’s headquarters in Lugano, a town on the border between Switzerland and Italy. It is also connected to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and extremists fighting in Bosnia (see Late 1993-1994) and European investigators increasingly suspect that the Milan mosque is an important general recruiting and supply center for al-Qaeda and other radical militant groups. [Newsweek, 3/18/2002] Reportedly, the Italians tell a Swiss prosecutor that Al Taqwa “comprises the most important financial structure of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic terrorist organizations.” Italian intelligence also finds links between Al Taqwa and the Milan mosque through Nasreddin. Additionally, two other top officials in the mosque are Al Taqwa shareholders. [Salon, 3/15/2002; Forward, 10/17/2003] Italian officials get the impression that Swiss officials are loathe to look into Al Taqwa. In 1997, the Italians convince a Swiss prosecutor to start questioning Al Taqwa officials. But reportedly, an Al Taqwa lawyer is able to make phone calls to influential people and have the investigation stopped. [Salon, 3/15/2002]

Entity Tags: Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Cultural Institute, Hamas, Ahmed Idris Nasreddin, Al Taqwa Bank, Al-Qaeda, Italy, Switzerland

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Al Taqwa Bank had offices in this building in Lugano, Italy, on the border with Switzerland.The Al Taqwa Bank had offices in this building in Lugano, Italy, on the border with Switzerland. [Source: Keystone]Newsweek will later claim that US investigators “on bin Laden’s trail” had known about the Al Taqwa Bank in Switzerland and its support for al-Qaeda “for years. But the group’s mazelike structure made it hard to track, and the Feds considered it a low priority.” A senior Treasury official later will tell Congress that US investigators learned in 1997 that Hamas had transferred $60 million into accounts at the Al Taqwa Bank. Also in 1997, US investigators learn the names of many Al Taqwa shareholders. Many of them turn out to be rich and powerful Arabs, including members of the bin Laden family and members of the Kuwaiti royal family (see 1997-December 1999). Newsweek later will claim that, “The US took a harder look at Al Taqwa after the [1998 US] embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Sources say US intelligence tracked telephone contacts between Al Taqwa and members of bin Laden’s inner circle. Al-Qaeda operatives would call Al Taqwa representatives in the Bahamas as they moved around the world. Still, the network’s complex structure made it difficult to prove how money changed hands, and the investigation stalled. Under US pressure, the Bahamian government revoked Al Taqwa’s license [in the spring of 2001]. Treasury officials say the network continued to do business anyway.” [Newsweek, 3/18/2002] The US will declare Al Taqwa a terrorist financier two months after 9/11 (see November 7, 2001).

Entity Tags: Hamas, US Department of the Treasury, Al Taqwa Bank, US Congress, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mohamed Daki.Mohamed Daki. [Source: Cageprisoners]Records indicate that would-be hijacker Ramzi Bin al-Shibh lives at the same Hamburg, Germany, address as a Moroccan named Mohamed Daki during this time. Daki will be arrested in April 2003, and will admit to knowing bin al-Shibh and some others in the Hamburg cell. In April 1999 Daki will obtain a visa to travel to the US, but it is not known if he goes there. It is generally assumed by the press that the Hamburg cell keep themselves separate from other al-Qaeda cells in Europe. However, Daki is an expert document forger and a member of al-Qaeda’s Milan cell. There is considerable evidence that the Milan cell has foreknowledge of the 9/11 plot. The cell is under heavy surveillance by Italian intelligence before 9/11 (see August 12, 2000 and January 24, 2001), but apparently the connection between the Milan and Hamburg cells through Daki is not made. German authorities will interview him after 9/11, and he will admit ties to bin al-Shibh, but he will be let go, not investigated further, and not put on any watch lists. He will later come under investigation in Italy for recruiting fighters to combat the US in Iraq. He will finally be arrested and charged for that, but not for his 9/11 connections. [Los Angeles Times, 3/22/2004; New York Times, 3/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Mohamed Daki, Al-Qaeda, Ramzi bin al-Shibh

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

On December 5, 1999, a Jordanian raid discovers 71 vats of bomb making chemicals in this residence.On December 5, 1999, a Jordanian raid discovers 71 vats of bomb making chemicals in this residence. [Source: Judith Miller]Jordanian officials successfully uncover an al-Qaeda plot to blow up the Radisson Hotel in Amman, Jordan, and other sites on January 1, 2000. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] The Jordanian government intercepts a call between al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida and a suspected Jordanian terrorist named Abu Hoshar. Zubaida says, “The training is over.” [New York Times, 1/15/2001] Zubaida also says, “The grooms are ready for the big wedding.” [Seattle Times, 6/23/2002] This call reflects an extremely poor code system, because the FBI had already determined in the wake of the 1998 US embassy bombings that “wedding” was the al-Qaeda code word for bomb. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 214] Furthermore, it appears al-Qaeda fails to later change the system, because the code-name for the 9/11 attack is also “The Big Wedding.” [Chicago Tribune, 9/5/2002] Jordan arrests Hoshar while he’s still on the phone talking to Zubaida. In the next few days, 27 other suspects are charged. A Jordanian military court will initially convict 22 of them for participating in planned attacks, sentencing six of them to death, although there will be numerous appeals (see April 2000 and After). In addition to bombing the Radisson Hotel around the start of the millennium, the plan calls for suicide bombings on two border crossings with Israel and a Christian baptism site. Further attacks in Jordan are planned for later. The plotters had already stockpiled the equivalent of 16 tons of TNT, enough to flatten “entire neighborhoods.” [New York Times, 1/15/2001] Key alleged plotters include:
bullet Raed Hijazi, a US citizen who is part of a Boston al-Qaeda cell (see June 1995-Early 1999). He will be arrested and convicted in late 2000 (see September 2000 and October 2000). [New York Times, 1/15/2001]
bullet Khalid Deek, who is also a US citizen and part of an Anaheim, California al-Qaeda cell. He will be arrested in Pakistan and deported to Jordan, but strangely he will released without going to trial.
bullet Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He will later be a notorious figure in the Iraq war starting in 2003. [Washington Post, 10/3/2004]
bullet Luai Sakra. The Washington Post will later say he “played a role” in the plot, though he is never charged for it. Sakra apparently is a CIA informant before 9/11, perhaps starting in 2000 (see 2000). [Washington Post, 2/20/2006]
The Jordanian government will also later claim that the Al Taqwa Bank in Switzerland helped finance the network of operatives who planned the attack. The bank will be shut down shortly after 9/11 (see November 7, 2001). [Newsweek, 4/12/2004]

Entity Tags: Raed Hijazi, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, Al Taqwa Bank, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Khalil Deek, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Abu Hoshar, Jordan, Luai Sakra

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Abderazek Mahdjoub.Abderazek Mahdjoub. [Source: Associated Press]Abderazek Mahdjoub, an Algerian living in Hamburg, Germany, attends the Al-Quds mosque, and has ties to some of the 9/11 hijackers. According to a senior German intelligence official, Mahdjoub is under observation by German domestic intelligence since at least this year. However, he is also connected to the al-Qaeda cell in Milan and in fact is believed to be the head of that cell. There is considerable evidence that the Milan cell has foreknowledge of the 9/11 plot. The cell is under heavy surveillance by Italian intelligence before 9/11 (see August 12, 2000) (see January 24, 2001). But apparently the connection between the Milan and Hamburg cells through Mahdjoub is not made. He is also tied to Mohamed Daki, another alleged member of the Milan cell periodically living in Hamburg before 9/11 (see December 1997-November 1998). He apparently will continue to be a major organizer after 9/11, and the Italian and German governments will fail to share information about him. He is suspected of leading European recruitment of those who want to fight the US in Iraq. In late 2003, he will finally be arrested trying to cross the border into Iraq. He is put in German custody. [New York Times, 11/29/2003; New York Times, 3/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Germany, Mohamed Daki

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 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 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

The Italian government gives the US information about possible attacks based on apartment wiretaps in the Italian city of Milan. [Fox News, 5/17/2002] Presumably, the information includes a discussion between two al-Qaeda agents talking about a “very, very secret” plan to forge documents “for the brothers who are going to the United States” (see January 24, 2001). The warning may also mention a wiretap the previous August involving one of the same people, who discussed a massive strike against the enemies of Islam involving aircraft (see August 12, 2000) and another of his monitored conversations in which he discusses travel by al-Qaeda operatives to the US (see February 2001).

Entity Tags: 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


Father Jean-Marie Benjamin.
Father Jean-Marie Benjamin. [Source: Public domain]At a wedding in Todi, Italy, Father Jean-Marie Benjamin is told of a plot to attack the US and Britain using hijacked airplanes as weapons. He is not told specifics regarding time or place. He immediately passes what he knows to a judge and several politicians. He later will state, “Although I am friendly with many Muslims, I wondered why they were telling me, specifically. I felt it my duty to inform the Italian government.” Benjamin has been called “one of the West’s most knowledgeable experts on the Muslim world.” Two days after 9/11, he will meet with the Italian Foreign Minister on this topic. He will say he learned the attack on Britain failed at the last minute. [Zenit (Vatican), 9/16/2001] An al-Qaeda cell based in nearby Milan, Italy, appears to have had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks (see August 12, 2000) and (see January 24, 2001). It is not known if the Italian government warns the US government of this latest warning before 9/11.

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Jean-Marie Benjamin

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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