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Context of 'Mid-2003: US Suspicious that Major Saudi Bank Is Supporting Islamic Militants, But Takes No Action against It'

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The Golden Chain list.The Golden Chain list. [Source: Public domain]In March 2002, authorities in Bosnia, Sarajevo, will raid the offices of the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) due to suspected funding of al-Qaeda (see March 2002). The raid will uncover a handwritten list containing the name of twenty wealthy donors sympathetic to al-Qaeda. The list, referred to as “The Golden Chain,” contains both the names of the donors and the names of the recipients (but does not mention amounts given). Seven of the payments are made to Osama bin Laden. [United Press International, 2/11/2003] Most accounts will be vague on what year the Golden Chain document was written; some say 1988. [Wall Street Journal, 3/18/2003] But counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will say it dates from 1989. [US Congress, 10/22/2003] Al-Qaeda is formed in late 1988 (see August 11-20, 1988). The Wall Street Journal will later note, “The list doesn’t show any continuing support for al-Qaeda after the organization began targeting Americans, but a number of the Saudis on it have been under scrutiny by US officials as to whether they have supported terrorism in recent years.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/18/2003] The donors named include:
bullet The “Bin Laden brothers.” Their first names are not mentioned. They give money to Osama bin Laden. UPI will later point out that “the discovery of this document in Sarajevo calls into question whether al-Qaeda has received support from one of Osama’s scores of wealthy brothers.”
bullet Adel Batterjee, a wealthy Saudi businessman who is also the founder of both BIF and its predecessor, Lajnatt Al-Birr Al-Islamiah. He appears to be mentioned as a recipient three times. [United Press International, 2/11/2003] The US will declare him as a terrorist financier in 2004 (see December 21, 2004).
bullet Wael Hamza Julaidan, a Saudi millionaire and one of the founders of al-Qaeda. He is listed as a recipient. The US will declare him a terrorist financier in 2002 (see September 6, 2002).
bullet Saleh Kamel, a Saudi billionaire, and the majority shareholder of the Saudi conglomerate Dallah Albaraka. In 2003, Forbes will call him one of the richest people in the world. The list has him giving money to Batterjee.
bullet Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, another Saudi billionaire. The SAAR network, which is named after him, will be raided by the FBI in 2002 (see March 20, 2002). [Emerson, 2006, pp. 400]
bullet Khalid bin Mahfouz, another Saudi billionaire. A lawyer for bin Mahfouz will later say bin Mahfouz did contribute a small amount to fund the mujaheddin in the late 1980s, but only at the behest of the US and Saudi Arabia. [Wall Street Journal, 3/18/2003]

Entity Tags: Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, Saleh Abdullah Kamel, Benevolence International Foundation, Bosnia, Khalid bin Mahfouz, Adel Abdul Jalil Batterjee, Al-Qaeda, Wael Hamza Julaidan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The address book of Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s former personal secretary, is seized in a US intelligence raid in Nairobi, Kenya (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). One of the contacts in the book is billionaire Salah al-Rajhi. He and his brother Sulaiman al-Rajhi cofounded the Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp., which will have an estimated $28 billion in assets in 2006. Sulaiman started a network of organizations in Herndon, Virginia known as the SAAR network (named for the four initials in his name). This network will be raided by US officials in 2002 for suspected terrorist funding ties (see March 20, 2002). [Newsweek, 12/9/2002; Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007] Sulaiman also was on the “Golden Chain,” a list of early al-Qaeda funders (see 1988-1989). After 9/11, the US will seriously consider taking action against the Al-Rajhi Bank for alleged terrorist ties, but will ultimately do nothing (see Mid-2003 and Mid-2003). [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007]

Entity Tags: Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, Salah al-Rajhi, 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

Elizabeth Colton (left) may have issued Satam al Suqami’s US visa.Elizabeth Colton (left) may have issued Satam al Suqami’s US visa. [Source: US Department of State/FBI]Future 9/11 hijacker Satam al Suqami obtains a US visa from the American embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Al Suqami has traveled extensively around Asia in recent years (see November 5, 1998-September 24, 2000) and uses a passport that has fraudulent travel stamps that will later be associated with al-Qaeda, but this is apparently not noticed. The application is incomplete, as al Suqami does not give the name and address of his current employer. The consular officer who issues the visa will later tell the House Committee on Government Reform that al Suqami was interviewed and will recall details of the interview: The reason for the interview is because al Suqami gives his occupation as “dealer,” which Saudis often use to mean businessman, and several questions are asked, including who is paying for his trip. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 16, 38 pdf file] The officer will repeat this claim to the State Department’s inspector general, adding that she specifically remembers the interview, has a photographic memory, and recalls al Suqami’s photo. [Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 2/6/2003] However, the officer will say that notes are always taken during interviews and there are no such notes on al Suqami’s application. The 9/11 Commission will say that this raises “the possibility that the officer’s memory of having conducted the interview was false.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 16 pdf file] The officer’s identity is unknown, although she may well be Elizabeth Colton. The 9/11 Commission’s Terrorist Travel monograph will say that, before joining the State Department, the officer had interviwed the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 49, 62 pdf file] Colton has previously been chief of Newsweek’s bureau in Cairo, Egypt, where the Blind Sheikh lived before immigrating to the US (see December 15, 1986-1989). [Consulate General of the United States, Dubai, UAE, 8/2007] She has also met other notable personalities in the Middle East, such as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. [State Magazine, 11/2000] A State Department inspector general memo of an interview of the officer will say that she helped develop the Visa Express program introduced in Saudi Arabia in May and June of 2001 (see May 2001). [Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 2/6/2003] The Visa Express manual will list Colton as the program’s Riyadh contact. [Embassy of the United States, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 6/2001]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Satam Al Suqami, Elizabeth O. Colton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A portion of Salem Alhazmi’s New Jersey identification card. 
A portion of Salem Alhazmi’s New Jersey identification card. [Source: 9/11 Commission] (click image to enlarge)The US introduces the “Visa Express” program in Saudi Arabia, which allows any Saudi Arabian to obtain a visa through his or her travel agent instead of appearing at a consulate in person. An official later states, “The issuing officer has no idea whether the person applying for the visa is actually the person in the documents and application.” [US News and World Report, 12/12/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002] At the time, warnings of an attack against the US led by the Saudi Osama bin Laden are higher than they had ever been before— “off the charts” as one senator later puts it. [Los Angeles Times, 5/18/2002; US Congress, 9/18/2002] A terrorism conference had recently concluded that Saudi Arabia was one of four top nationalities in al-Qaeda. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 5/19/2002]
Suspect Travel Agency - Ten Saudi travel agency companies are allowed to issue US visas as part of the program. One company, Fursan Travel and Tourism, is a subsidiary of Al Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp., a multibillion Saudi banking conglomerate. Fursan is also the only one out of the ten deputized to handle the collection and initial processing of US visas. After 9/11, the CIA will suggest taking action against Al Rajhi for its suspected support of Islamist militancy, but the Bush Administration will decide not to do anything (see Mid-2003 and Mid-2003). It is believed that al-Qaeda and other militant groups advised their operatives to use Al Rajhi for their banking needs (see Before September 11, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003]
Used by 9/11 Plotters - Five hijackers—Khalid Almihdhar, Abdulaziz Alomari, Salem Alhazmi, Saeed Alghamdi, and Fayez Ahmed Banihammad—use Visa Express over the next month to enter the US. [US Congress, 9/20/2002] Alomari has a bank account with Al Rajhi, but it is unknown if he or any of the other hijackers use Fursan, the Al Rajhi subsidiary, since the names of travel agencies do not appear on copies of the hijackers’ visa applications that are later made public. [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003] Even 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will successfully get a US Visa through the “Visa Express” program in July (using a false name but real photograph), despite a posted $2 million reward for his capture. [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2004]
Saudi Visas Almost Never Rejected - Only three percent of Saudi visa applicants are turned down by US consular officers in fiscal 2000 and 2001. In contrast, about 25 percent of US visa seekers worldwide are rejected. Acceptance is even more difficult for applicants from countries alleged to have ties to terrorism such as Iraq or Iran. [Washington Post, 10/31/2001] The widely criticized program is finally canceled in July 2002, after a public outcry. [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Khalid Almihdhar, Fursan Travel and Tourism, Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz Alomari, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Salem Alhazmi, Saeed Alghamdi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Margaret Gillespie.Margaret Gillespie. [Source: Doug Dreyer / Associated Press]The FBI and the CIA hold a meeting to discuss the investigation into the USS Cole bombing and a possible connection between it and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). However, the CIA and FBI headquarters refuse to share all they know, and agents investigating the Cole bombing become angry over this.
Attendees - The meeting, which lasts between two and four hours, is attended by CIA officer Clark Shannon, FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, an FBI agent loaned to the CIA named Margaret Gillespie, FBI agent Steve Bongardt, FBI agent Russell Fincher, and Assistant US Attorney David Kelley.
Purpose - Although there is no agenda for the meeting and Corsi will later say it is a brainstorming session, author Lawrence Wright will say that one of the reasons for the meeting is that CIA officer Tom Wilshire, an associate of Shannon’s, “want[ed] to know… what the FBI knew” about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. [ABC News, 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-294 pdf file; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] FBI agent Ali Soufan will also say that he later learned that Wilshire “was fishing to see if the FBI knew anything about the men in the photos.” [Soufan, 2011, pp. 243]
Photos Shown - Initially, Bongardt and Fincher brief Shannon on progress in the Cole investigation. Corsi then shows the two Cole investigators three photographs taken at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000), showing future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and another man, and Shannon asks if the agents recognize Fahad al-Quso, who is thought to have attended the Malaysia summit and has been interviewed by the FBI. However, one of the photos shows Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and a tree, and the CIA has already recognized Almihdhar and Alhazmi, so it is unclear how the Cole investigators are supposed to recognize al-Quso in the photo. Corsi received the photographs from Wilshire, but Wilshire did not provide her with all the relevant information about them (see Late May, 2001).
Questions Asked - Bongardt and Fincher ask who is in the pictures, why were taken, and whether there are other photos of the meeting. Shannon refuses to say, but Corsi eventually admits one of the men is named Khalid Almihdhar. As a name alone is not sufficient reason to start an investigation, Bongardt asks for a date of birth or other details that will allow him to know which Khalid Almihdhar in the world is being discussed, but Shannon refuses to provide them. Shannon admits that Almihdhar was traveling on a Saudi passport and then leaves the meeting. Lawrence Wright will say that providing a date of birth is “standard procedure—the first thing most investigators would do.” Realizing that the photos pertain to the Cole investigation, Bongardt and Fincher become angry at the lack of information being provided and the meeting descends into a “shouting match.” [ABC News, 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-294 pdf file; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file]
What Shannon Knew - Shannon will later admit that at this time he knew Almihdhar had a US visa, that Alhazmi had traveled to the US in 2000, that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash had been recognized in one of the photos, and that Alhazmi was known to be an experienced operative. However, he does not tell any of this to any FBI agents, as he apparently thinks he does not have the authority. He does not let them keep copies of the photos either and will give conflicting accounts of the meeting after 9/11 (see Between September 12, 2001 and October 17, 2002). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-292 pdf file]
Corsi Withholds Information - Corsi has NSA information saying Almihdhar and Alhazmi attended the Malaysia meeting, but apparently believes that the Cole agents cannot be told more because of restrictions on sharing intelligence with criminal agents (see July 19, 1995). However, one of the Cole agents present is an intelligence agent, so the information can be communicated to him immediately without Corsi obtaining permission from the NSA and/or Justice Department. In addition, the NSA sent the information to the FBI’s New York field office, where the Cole investigators are based, in 1999 (see December 1999-January 2000). Furthermore, when she asks the NSA’s permission to share the information 10 weeks later, the NSA approves the request on the same day (see August 27-28, 2001). She does not share the information at this time, but promises Bongardt and Fincher to try to do so later. The Cole agents will not receive more information for months. [US Congress, 9/20/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 269, 537]
Almihdhar Gets New Visa - Two days after this meeting, Almihdhar has no trouble getting a new, multiple reentry US visa (see May 2001 and June 13, 2001). [US News and World Report, 12/12/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Dina Corsi, Khalid Almihdhar, David Kelley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Clark Shannon, Margaret Gillespie, Ali Soufan, Steve Bongardt, Central Intelligence Agency, Russell Fincher, Khallad bin Attash, Nawaf Alhazmi, Lawrence Wright

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Saeed Algahdmi, in a video apparently made in December 2000.Saeed Algahdmi, in a video apparently made in December 2000. [Source: As-Sahab]Future 9/11 hijacker Saeed Alghamdi obtains a US visa from the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The application is made through the Visa Express program (see May 2001), using a passport issued two days earlier. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24 pdf file] The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003]
Lies on Application - Alghamdi lies on his application form, claiming that he has never before applied for a US visa, when in fact he obtained one the previous year, also from Steinger (see September 4, 2000). Fellow hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Ahmed Alnami make similar false statements on their visa applications around this time (see April 23, 2001 and June 13, 2001), although Alnami corrects his application. The information about his previous visa is available at the consulate, but is not accessed, as consular workers do not usually examine previous visa issunces, only refusals. The 9/11 Commission will speculate that he lied on purpose to conceal the previous application. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24 pdf file]
Fraudulent Features - The Commission will also suggest that one or more of Alghamdi’s passports may contain fraudulent features, but will claim that this is not certain, as Alghamdi’s passport was not recovered after 9/11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 563-4; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 42 pdf file] This is an error by the Commission, as Alghamdi’s passport will actually be found after 9/11 and the Commission will be aware of this (see Shortly After September 11, 2001).
KSM's Travel Agent - The travel agency used for the Visa Express application is Minhal Travel, which will also later be used by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to obtain a US visa (see July 23, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24, 29 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office, Minhal Travel, Saeed Alghamdi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar obtains a second US visa from the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24-25 pdf file] The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the future 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003] Almihdhar’s passport, which was issued two weeks previously (see June 1, 2001), lacks an expiry date, but contains an indicator of possible terrorist affiliation used by the Saudi authorities to track suspected radicals (see November 2, 2007). His application form is incomplete, as it lists his occupation as “businessman,” but does not give his employer’s name and address.
Lies on Application Form - The form, which is submitted through the Visa Express program (see May 2001), meaning Almihdhar is not interviewed, contains two lies: Almihdhar says he has never received an American visa or traveled to the US, whereas he received a visa in 1999 (see April 3-7, 1999) and traveled to the US on it in 2000 (see January 15, 2000). As Almihdhar’s first visa was also issued by the Jeddah consulate, through which the CIA sent radical Arabs to the US for training during the Soviet-Afghan war (see September 1987-March 1989), consular officials could discover he is lying, but information about prior visas issuances is not automatically displayed to them.
Known Terrorist - By this time, several intelligence agencies are aware that Almihdhar is an al-Qaeda operative; for example, the CIA (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000), NSA (see December 29, 1999), FBI (see January 5-6, 2000), a US Army intelligence program (see January-February 2000), the Saudi General Intelligence Presidency (see 1997), Malaysian Special Branch (see January 5-8, 2000), and an intelligence service in the United Arab Emirates (see January 2-5, 2000)).
Parallels to Case of Blind Sheikh - Almihdhar will re-enter the US on the visa three weeks later (see July 4, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will find that the series of missteps preceding the issuance of visas to Almihdhar and the other future 9/11 hijackers has some “eerie parallels” to the “series of exceptional failures” that led to US visas being issued to the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see December 15, 1986-1989 and July 1990). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24-27, 33, 49 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Khalid Almihdhar, Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Future 9/11 hijacker Abdulaziz Alomari obtains a US visa from the American consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 525] The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003] Alomari’s application is incomplete, as he lists his home address as the Alqudos Hotel in Jeddah. He is not interviewed and the application is submitted by Attar Travel as a part of the Visa Express program (see May 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 25 pdf file] Further, Alomari leaves blank the fields for his sex, his wife’s name, and his school’s address, although he says he is a student. He claims to be a tourist, that he wants to stay two months from June 25, and that he will first stay at the JKK Whyndam Hotel. [US Department of State, 6/18/2001] The 9/11 Commission will say Alomari’s passport contains fraudulent travel stamps whose use will subsequently be associated with al-Qaeda. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 563-4; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 25 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Abdulaziz Alomari, Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Future 9/11 hijacker Salem Alhazmi obtains a US visa from the American consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. There are some problems with his visa application, which is submitted through the Visa Express program (see May 2001):
bullet The application is incomplete;
bullet Alhazmi gives his occupation as “unemployed” (this does not concern consular staff because Saudi Arabia is a rich country);
bullet His passport is only four days old;
bullet The passport contains a suspicious indicator of Islamic extremism placed their by Saudi intelligence in order to track him (see June 16, 2001 and November 2, 2007). Some of the radicals who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 also had Saudi passports with the same indicator (see Around February 1993); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 563-4; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 25-6 pdf file]
bullet Some of the other future hijackers who apply for visas around this time lie on their applications, claiming never to have received a US visa before, although the opposite is true (see April 23, 2001, June 12, 2001, and June 13, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will not discuss whether Alhazmi claims on this application to have received a US visa before or not, as the Commission will appear to be unaware of any such previous application by him. However, according to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Alhazmi did previously obtain a US visa, in 1999 (see April 3-7, 1999); [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004 pdf file]
bullet The NSA has been intercepting calls between Alhazmi and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen for at least two years (see Early 1999, Shortly Before December 29, 1999, and Summer 2000);
bullet The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the future 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003]

Entity Tags: Salem Alhazmi, Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The photograph of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed on his 2001 US visa application.The photograph of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed on his 2001 US visa application. [Source: 9/11 Commission]Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is granted a visa to enter the US, despite being under a federal terrorism indictment, having a $2 million reward on his head, and being one of only a dozen people in the world on a US domestic no-fly list (see April 24, 2000). There is no evidence that he actually uses his visa to travel to the US. Investigators speculate that he may have considered a trip to shepherd some aspect of the 9/11 plot. He applied for the visa using a Saudi passport and an alias (Abdulrahman al Ghamdi), but the photo he submitted is really of him. He uses the new, controversial Visa Express program that allows Saudis to apply for US visas without having to appear in person at any point during the application process (see May 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2004] Just a month earlier, the CIA passed a warning to all US intelligence agencies, certain military commanders, and parts of the Justice and Treasury Departments saying that Mohammed may be attempting to enter the US (see June 12, 2001). However, either this warning isn’t given to immigration officials or else they fail to notice his application. [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, US Department of the Treasury, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi transfers $200 from his and Atta’s joint account at SunTrust Bank to fellow hijacker Abdulaziz Alomari’s account in Buraidah, Saudi Arabia. Alomari’s account is with Al Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp, which will later be unsuccessfully sued for allegedly supporting terrorism (see August 15, 2002). The transfer costs $50 plus charges. The reason for the transfer is not clear, as Alomari, who also has an account with the Hudson United Bank in the US (see June 27-August 23, 2001), had only left Florida the previous day and will be in Boston at the same time as Alshehhi on September 9. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia; Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file] Records show that Alshehhi completes the transaction just before 4.00 p.m. However, according to some accounts, Alshehhi is drinking at Shuckums bar at this time (see September 7, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/13/2001; Observer, 9/16/2001]

Entity Tags: Abdulaziz Alomari, Marwan Alshehhi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Al-Rajhi Bank logo.Al-Rajhi Bank logo. [Source: Al-Rajhi Bank.]Extremists order “operatives in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Yemen” to use accounts at the Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp, according to a 2003 CIA report. The Al-Rajhi Bank is one of the biggest Saudi banks, with billions in assets. Who gives this order and when will not be made public. However, some examples of militants using the bank will later be alleged:
bullet When al-Qaeda leader Mamdouh Mahmud Salim is arrested in late 1998 (see September 16, 1998), he is carrying records of an Al-Rajhi account.
bullet When Wadih El-Hage’s house in Kenya is raided in 1997, investigators find contact information in his address book for Salah Al-Rajhi, one of the billionaire co-owners of the bank (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007]
bullet Some of the 9/11 hijackers use the bank. For instance, Hani Hanjour is sent wire transfers from Al-Rajhi bank in Saudi Arabia at least six times in 1998 and 1999. In September 2000, Nawaf Alhazmi uses $2,000 in Al-Rajhi traveler’s checks paid for by an unnamed person in Saudi Arabia. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 19, 31, 33, 34, 41, 87 pdf file] And Abdulaziz Alomari has an account at the bank (see September 7, 2001).
bullet The bank is used by a number of charities suspected of militant links, including the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), the Muslim World League, the Saudi branch of Red Crescent, Global Relief Foundation, and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003]
bullet An al-Qaeda affiliate in Spain holds accounts at the bank. According to a fax later recovered by Spanish police, the group’s chief financier tells a business partner to use the bank for their transactions. [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003]
bullet In 2000, Al-Rajhi Bank couriers deliver money to insurgents in Indonesia to buy weapons and bomb-making materials.
bullet According to a 2003 German report, bank co-founder Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi contributes to a charity front buying weapons for Islamic militants in Bosnia in the early 1990s. He is also on the “Golden Chain,” a list of early al-Qaeda funders (see 1988-1989).
bullet A US intelligence memo from shortly after 9/11 will say that a money courier for al-Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, travels on a visa obtained by the bank.
The 2003 CIA report will state: “Islamic extremists have used Al-Rajhi Banking and Investment Corporation since at least the mid-1990s as a conduit for terrorist transactions.… Senior al-Rajhi family members have long supported Islamic extremists and probably know that terrorists use their bank.” [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007]

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, Salah al-Rajhi, Red Crescent (Saudi branch), World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Muslim World League, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Global Relief Foundation, Hani Hanjour, International Islamic Relief Organization, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, Abdulaziz Alomari, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

March 20, 2002: SAAR Network Is Raided

US Customs Agents carry out boxes of evidence from SAAR network businesses on March 20, 2002.US Customs Agents carry out boxes of evidence from SAAR network businesses on March 20, 2002. [Source: Mike Theiler/ Getty Images]Scores of federal agents raid 14 entities in a cluster of more than 100 homes, charities, think tanks, and businesses in Herndon, Virginia, a town just outside of Washington with a large Muslim population. No arrests are made and no organizations are shut down, but over 500 boxes of files and computer files are confiscated, filling seven trucks. This group of interlocking entities is widely known as the SAAR network (it is also sometimes called the Safa Group). SAAR stands for Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, a Saudi banker and billionaire who largely funded the group beginning in the early 1980s (see July 29, 1983). He is said to be close to the Saudi ruling family and is on the Golden Chain, a list of early al-Qaeda supporters (see 1988-1989). [New York Times, 3/21/2002; Farah, 2004, pp. 152; Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004] The name and address of Salah al-Rajhi, Suleiman’s brother, was discovered in 1998 in the telephone book of Wadih El-Hage (see September 15, 1998). El-Hage was bin Laden’s personal secretary and was convicted of a role in the 1998 US embassy bombings. [New York Times, 3/25/2002] The raids are said to be primarily led by David Kane, a Customs agent working with a Customs investigation started just after 9/11 code-named Operation Greenquest. Many of the organizations are located at an office building at 555 Grove Street in Herndon. Kane writes in an affidavit for the raid that many organizations based there are “paper organizations” which “dissolve and are replaced by other organizations under the control of the same group of individuals.” [New York Times, 3/21/2002; Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004] Investigators appear to be primarily interested in the connections between the SAAR network and the Al Taqwa Bank, a Swiss bank closed after 9/11 on suspicions of funding al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups (see November 7, 2001). They are also interested in connections between both SAAR and Al Taqwa and the Muslim Brotherhood (see December 1982). According to author Douglas Farah, “US officials [later say] they had tracked about $20 million from [SAAR] entities flowing through Nada’s Bank al Taqwa, but said the total could be much higher. The ties between Nada and [SAAR] leaders were many and long-standing, as were their ties to other [Muslim] Brotherhood leaders.… For a time, Suleiman Abdel Aziz al-Rajhi, the SAAR Foundation founder, worked for Nada” at Al Taqwa’s Liechtenstein branch. [New York Times, 3/25/2002; Farah, 2004, pp. 154-155] Organizations and individuals targeted by the raid include:
bullet Yaqub Mirza. He is the director of virtually all of the organizations targeted in the raid. The Wall Street Journal claims, “US officials privately say Mr. Mirza and his associates also have connections to al-Qaeda and to other entities officially listed by the US as sponsors of terrorism.” [Wall Street Journal, 4/18/2002; Wall Street Journal, 12/6/2002]
bullet The SAAR Foundation or the Safa Trust, an umbrella group for the SAAR network. The SAAR Foundation had recently disbanded and reformed as the Safa Trust. [New York Times, 3/21/2002; Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2002; Washington Post, 10/7/2002]
bullet Hisham Al-Talib, who served as an officer of the SAAR Foundation and Safa Trust, had previously been an officer of firms run by Youssef Nada. Nada is one of the main owners of the Al Taqwa Bank. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2002]
bullet Mar-Jac Poultry Inc., an Islamic chicken processor with operations in rural Georgia. [Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004]
bullet Jamal Barzinji. An officer of Mar-Jac and other organizations targeted in the raid, he had previously been involved with Nada’s companies. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2002]
bullet The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO). [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
bullet The Muslim World League. It is considered to be a parent organization for the IIRO. [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
bullet International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIRT). The IIRT had been under investigation since at least 1998. [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
bullet Tarik Hamdi, an employee at IIRT. His home is also raided. He carried a battery for a satellite phone to Afghanistan in early 1998, and the battery was used for Osama bin Laden’s phone (see May 28, 1998). [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
bullet Abdurahman Alamoudi, a top Muslim lobbyist who formerly worked for one of the SAAR organizations. His nearby home is raided. The search yields a memo on large transactions involving Hamas, operations against the Israelis, and the notation “Met Mousa Abu Marzouk in Jordan.” Marzouk is a Hamas leader believed to be involved in fundraising for Hamas in the US for many years (see July 5, 1995-May 1997). Alamoudi is alleged to be a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. [Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004]
bullet Samir Salah, an Egyptian-born president of the Piedmont Trading Corporation, which is part of the SAAR network. He is also a former director and treasurer of the Al Taqwa Bank’s important Bahamas branch. Additionally, he was a founder of a Bosnian charity reportedly connected to a plot to blow up the US embassy in Bosnia. [New York Times, 3/25/2002]
bullet Ibrahim Hassabella. He is a shareholder of the SAAR Foundation and also a former secretary of the Al Taqwa Bank. [New York Times, 3/25/2002] Investigators will later find that much of SAAR’s money seemed to disappear into offshore bank accounts. For instance, in 1998, SAAR claimed to have moved $9 million to a charity based in the tax haven of the Isle of Man, but investigators will find no evidence the charity existed. One US official involved in the probe will say of SAAR, “Looking at their finances is like looking into a black hole.” [Washington Post, 10/7/2002] In 2003, it will be reported that US investigators are looking into reports that the director of the SAAR foundation for most of the 1990s stayed in the same hotel as three of the 9/11 hijackers the night before the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). Some US investigators had looked into the SAAR network in the mid-1990s, but the FBI blocked the investigation’s progress (see 1995-1998).

Shayna Steinger, a consular officer who issued 12 visas to the 9/11 hijackers (see July 1, 2000), gives incorrect testimony about one of the visa issuances to the House Committee on Government Reform. The incorrect testimony concerns the issue of a visa to Hani Hanjour, the alleged pilot of Flight 77, which hit the Pentagon. Steinger initially refused to grant Hanjour a visa (see September 10, 2000), but then reversed her decision two weeks later (see September 25, 2000). Steinger claims that she initially denied Hanjour a visa because he applied under the Visa Express program. However, the visa was denied in September 2000 and the Visa Express program did not begin until May 2001 (see May 2001). Steinger claims to have a memory of the event which cannot be correct. “I remember that I had refused him for interview, because he had applied for a tourist visa and he said that his reason for going to the United States was to study,” she tells the committee. The denial was “for administrative reasons,” she adds. It meant: “No. Come in. I want to talk to you.” The 9/11 Commission will point out that this cannot have been the case, stating, “In fact, the date Hanjour applied (as shown on his written application) and the date he was denied (as shown both on the application and on [the State Department’s] electronic records) are the same: September 10, 2000.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 37-38 pdf file] This is apparently the first time Steinger has been interviewed by anyone about the 12 visa issuances. [Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003] Steinger will be interviewed twice more about the visas, changing her story about Hanjour. One interview is by the State Department’s inspector general (see January 20, 2003), the other by the 9/11 Commission (see December 30, 2003).

Entity Tags: Shayna Steinger, 9/11 Commission, House Committee on Government Reform

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US intelligence has long suspected the Al-Rajhi Bank for supporting radical militant causes. However, the US has not acted overtly against the Saudi bank because it is so large and influential, with an estimated $26 billion in assets and yearly profits of almost $2 billion in 2006. In mid-2003, a new CIA report details linkages between the bank and militants (see Before September 11, 2001), and suggests that the owners of the bank are aware of these links and have an extremist agenda (see Mid-2003). The US begins to rethink the quiet diplomacy approach. Deputies from the CIA, National Security Council, Treasury and State departments meet to discuss the problem. They debate officially listing the bank as a supporter of terrorism. They also consider the possibility of covert operations against the bank, such as interfering with the bank’s internal operations. Another possibility is working with other countries for more scrutiny and regulatory action against the bank. But ultimately, the Bush administration decides against all these options and chooses merely to continue privately exerting pressure on the Saudi government in hopes that the Saudis will do something. [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007] In late 2004, Homeland Security Adviser Frances Townsend will make a secret visit to Saudi Arabia to put more pressure on the government to do something about the bank. [Wall Street Journal, 10/1/2004] What the US has done regarding the bank since that time is unknown. The bank denies any ties to Islamic militancy.

Entity Tags: National Security Council, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Frances Townsend, US Department of the Treasury, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline


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