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Context of 'Late 1998: Moles within Al-Qaeda Lead to Arrests of 20 of Bin Laden’s Closest Associates'

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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 his 1999 book The New Jackals, journalist Simon Reeve will claim, “The CIA… had informants working within the East Africa cell, but they apparently failed to warn of bin Laden’s plans” to bomb the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Reeve says this information comes from a current unnamed CIA official. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 199, 220] Reeve is referring to the cell led by Wadih El-Hage and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul). US intelligence had been aware of the cell and monitoring it since at least April 1996 (see April 1996). One of the informants mentioned above might be Mustafa Mahmoud Said Ahmed (see November 1997), but it is unknown who the other or others could be. Reeve will also claim that US moles within al-Qaeda provide information leading to multiple arrests after the bombings (see Late 1998).

Entity Tags: Simon Reeve, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Essam Marzouk.Essam Marzouk. [Source: Public domain]In mid-August 1998, the Mossad intercepts a phone call indicating that an Egyptian militant named Ihab Saqr is planning to meet an Iranian intelligence agent in a hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, in one week’s time. Saqr is believed to be Ayman al-Zawahiri’s chief of staff. The Mossad is very interested in the Iranian connection but they have no presence in Azerbaijan, so they contact the CIA. The CIA leads a capture operation, with one Mossad agent, Michael Ross, also in attendance. The CIA captures Saqr and two men he is meeting with, but neither of them turn out to be Iranian. The other men are Essam Marzouk and Ahmad Salama Mabruk. Marzouk is an al-Qaeda explosives expert who has just trained the men who bombed two US embassies in Africa earlier in the month. He had been living in Canada and Canadian intelligence has long been suspicious about his militant ties. Mabruk is a known member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council. The US quickly renditions Saqr, Marzouk, and Mabruk to Egypt. Marzouk is sentenced to 15 years in prison, Mabruk is sentenced to life in prison, and Saqr’s fate in Egypt is unknown. [National Post, 10/15/2005; Ross and Kay, 2007, pp. 214-224] The US discovers a treasure trove of information about al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad in Mabruk’s laptop (see Late August 1998). But it is unclear why the US was seemingly in the dark and only arresting these figures by chance, because US intelligence had long been monitoring calls between Osama bin Laden and Mabruk in Baku (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Furthermore, Canadian intelligence had also monitored many calls between Mabruk and an Islamic Jihad operative in Canada. (Note that some accounts place the timing of this capture in July 1998, but Canadian intelligence is monitoring Mabruk’s communications up through and after the embassy bombings in August (see August 5-7, 1998 and August 8, 1998 and Shortly After).)

Entity Tags: Islamic Jihad, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Ahmad Salama Mabruk, Central Intelligence Agency, Ihab Saqr, Israel Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks (Mossad), Michael Ross, Essam Marzouk, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Patrick FitzgeraldPatrick Fitzgerald [Source: Publicity photo]Ali Mohamed is finally arrested after testifying at a grand jury hearing. The arrest is officially kept secret, but the media will report it one month later. [New York Times, 10/30/1998] Patrick Fitzgerald is on the prosecutor team that subpoenaed Mohamed to appear, but apparently he and the other prosecutors know very little about Mohamed. Fitzgerald blames this on a legal “wall” between intelligence gathering and criminal prosecution. He later will relate what happened on the day Mohamed testified: “Ali Mohamed lied in that grand jury proceeding and left the courthouse to go to his hotel, followed by FBI agents, but not under arrest. He had imminent plans to fly to Egypt. It was believed [by the prosecutors] at the time that Mohamed lied and that he was involved with the al-Qaeda network but Mohamed had not by then been tied to the [embassy] bombings. The decision had to be made at that moment whether to charge Mohamed with false statements. If not, Mohamed would leave the country. That difficult decision had to be made without knowing or reviewing the intelligence information on the other side of the ‘wall.’ It was ultimately decided to arrest Mohamed that night in his hotel room [and he was arrested]. [The prosecution] team got lucky but we never should have had to rely on luck. The prosecution team later obtained access to the intelligence information, including documents obtained from an earlier search of Mohamed’s home by the intelligence team on the other side of ‘the wall.’ Those documents included direct written communications with al-Qaeda members and a library of al-Qaeda training materials that would have made the decision far less difficult. (We could only obtain that access after the arrest with the specific permission of the Attorney General of the United States, based upon the fact that we had obligations to provide the defendant with discovery materials and because the intelligence investigation of Mohamed had effectively ended.)… Mohamed [later] stated that had he not been arrested on that day in September 1998, he had intended to travel to Afghanistan to rejoin Osama bin Laden. Thus, while the right decision to arrest was made partly in the dark, the ‘wall’ could easily have caused a different decision that September evening that would have allowed a key player in the al-Qaeda network to escape justice for the embassy bombing in Kenya and rejoin Osama bin Laden in a cave in Afghanistan, instead of going to federal prison.” [US Congress, 10/21/2003] Mohamed’s associate Khaled Abu el-Dahab, now living in Egypt, wil hear of Mohamed’s arrest and attempt to leave the country, but will be arrested in October 1998. He will be put on trial there and sentenced to 15 years in prison (see 1999). [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/21/2001]

Entity Tags: Ali Mohamed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

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

Mamdouh Mahmud Salim.Mamdouh Mahmud Salim. [Source: FBI]Mamdouh Mahmud Salim (a.k.a. Abu Hajer), an al-Qaeda operative from the United Arab Emirates connected to the 1998 East African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), is arrested at a used car dealership near Munich, Germany. He is arrested by a special commando unit of German police, with CIA agents directing them nearby. The German government has no idea who Salim is, and the US only notified Germany about the planned arrest five hours in advance. [PBS, 9/30/1998; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 12/12/2005] The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later say that Salim was Osama bin Laden’s “right hand man,” and “head of bin Laden’s computer operations and weapons procurement.” He is also “the most senior-level bin Laden operative arrested” up until this time. [New York Times, 9/29/2001; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 pdf file] Author Lawrence Wright will later note that bin Laden and Salim worked together in Afghanistan in the 1980s, “forging such powerful bonds that no one could get between them.” Salim was also one of the founding members of al-Qaeda (see August 11-20, 1988) and bin Laden’s personal imam (i.e., preacher). [Wright, 2006, pp. 131, 170] Starting in 1995, Salim had been making frequent visits to Germany. Mamoun Darkazanli, who lives in Hamburg and associates with Mohamed Atta’s al-Qaeda cell, had signing powers over Salim’s bank account. Both men attended Al-Quds mosque, the same Hamburg mosque as future 9/11 hijackers Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi attend. [Vanity Fair, 1/2002] The FBI learns much from Salim about al-Qaeda, and this information could be useful to the US embassy bombings investigation. However, the FBI is unwilling to brief its German counterparts on what it knows about Salim and al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 9/29/2001]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Journalist Simon Reeve will write in the 1999 book The New Jackals that shortly after the African embassy bombings, “With the help of one, possibly two, medium-level moles within [al-Qaeda], Americans arrested and questioned 20 of bin Laden’s closest associates and began inquiries in 28 countries.” Reeve does not say how he knows this, but his book is heavily sourced by interviews with US intelligence officials. The notion that the US had moles within al-Qaeda runs counter to the usual official US position after 9/11 that al-Qaeda was nearly impenetrable. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 204] Top bin Laden associates arrested during this time include:
bullet Mamdouh Mahmud Salim (see September 16, 1998);
bullet Khalid al-Fawwaz, Ibrahim Eidarous, and Adel Abdel Bary (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998);
bullet Ihab Saqr, Essam Marzouk, and Ahmad Salama Mabruk (see Late August 1998);
bullet Ali Mohamed (see September 10, 1998); and
bullet Wadih El-Hage (see September 15, 1998).

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, US intelligence, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, Simon Reeve, Ihab Saqr, Ahmad Salama Mabruk, Adel Abdel Bary, Ali Mohamed, Essam Marzouk, Ibrahim Eidarous, Al-Qaeda, Khalid al-Fawwaz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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