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Context of 'Mid-September 2001-October 7, 2001: US Fails to Strike at Bin Laden Despite Good Intelligence'

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Sheikh Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad serves as Osama bin Laden’s “spiritual adviser” during the war between the Soviet Union and the US-backed mujaheddin in Afghanistan, according to a statement made by Sheikh al-Moayad at his trial in 2004-2005. (Wald and Kokenes 8/2/2005) Al-Moayad’s trial in the United States will cause resentment in Yemen because he is a highly-esteemed cleric and member of the influential Islah party. (Weissenstein 3/10/2005) Another of bin Laden’s “mentors” at this time is Abdul Mejid al-Zindani, a dynamic mujaheddin recruiter who becomes a leader of the Islah party. Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh’s half-brother and military commander Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar also recruits mujaheddin fighters for Bin Laden. These fighters will later establish training camps in Yemen. (Novak 5/28/2005)

Personnel at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) are briefed about the threat posed by Osama bin Laden. Lieutenant Colonel Mark Stuart, an intelligence officer at NEADS, will tell the 9/11 Commission that NORAD’s Continental United States Region has developed an “Osama bin Laden… threat briefing,” which is the last briefing of its kind before 9/11. The increased threat level relating to bin Laden and al-Qaeda is then “briefed at NEADS,” he will say. Further details of the briefing NEADS personnel receive are unstated. (9/11 Commission 10/30/2003; 9/11 Commission 10/30/2003 pdf file) NEADS, based in Rome, New York, is responsible for protecting the airspace in which the hijackings take place on September 11. It will therefore be responsible for coordinating the US military’s response to the hijackings. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 17; Bronner 8/1/2006; Shenon 2008, pp. 203)

A close aide to Osama bin Laden reports that bin Laden denies any role in the previous day’s attacks on the United States, but has praised those responsible for them. (Gannon 9/12/2001) The aide, one of bin Laden’s senior lieutenants, speaks by satellite telephone with Palestinian journalist Jamal Ismail, who is the Islamabad bureau chief of Abu Dhabi Television. (Associated Press 9/12/2001; Guardia 9/13/2001) Ismail has long-standing ties with bin Laden and has conducted several interviews with him over the last few years. (Associated Press 9/13/2001) The aide, who does not want to be publicly named, calls Ismail early in the day from a hideout somewhere in Afghanistan. He quotes bin Laden as calling the attacks on the US “punishment from almighty Allah” for America’s attempt to “control the entire world by force.” He tells Ismail, “Osama bin Laden thanked Almighty Allah and bowed before him when he heard this news [of the attacks].” But, the aide says, bin Laden has stated, “I have no information about the attackers or their aims and I don’t have any links with them.” (Gannon 9/12/2001; Guardia 9/13/2001; Reuters 9/13/2001; BBC 9/14/2001)

According to author James Risen, at some point after 9/11 but before the start of bombing in Afghanistan, “US intelligence located Osama bin Laden, but the US military was not prepared to strike him. [US] intelligence officials say that at the time, the US military was developing a plan for an air campaign over Afghanistan that was not flexible enough to take advantage of the sudden windfall of intelligence concerning bin Laden. This little-known opportunity to kill bin Laden came before the terrorist leader fled into the mountains of southeastern Afghanistan, where he became much more difficult to track.” (Risen 2006, pp. 185)


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