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Context of '(Mid-1996): French and British Intelligence Listen in on Al-Qaeda Communications, Asset Relays Messages for Al-Qaeda'

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al-Qaeda Afghan training camp.al-Qaeda Afghan training camp. [Source: Al Jazeera]A French intelligence asset called Omar Nasiri, who has previously informed on a Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) cell in Brussels (see Mid 1994-March 2, 1995), is given the task of penetrating the network of militant camps in Afghanistan. He flies to Pakistan and soon is in contact with the al-Qaeda network. He is sent to Peshawar, where he meets al-Qaeda leaders Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and Abu Zubaida. From there he is then taken to al-Libi’s Khaldan camp inside Afghanistan, where he receives physical and weapons training, as well as religious instruction. The training also includes blocks on explosives, tactics, hand-to-hand combat, surveillance, and kidnapping, and is at least partially derived from US army manuals. While at the camp he is told by Kashmiri militants that they have been trained by the Pakistani army (see (Mid 1995-Spring 1996)) and he uses money given to him by French intelligence to purchase weapons for al-Qaeda (see (Late 1995-Spring 1996)). After several months of training at Khaldan and Darunta camps, he returns to Europe via Peshawar. In Peshawar he again meets Abu Zubaida, who gives Nasiri a phone number where he can be reached and asks him to send money from Europe. Upon returning to Europe, Nasiri contacts his handler at French intelligence and tells him about the camps. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 101-244, 253-7]

Entity Tags: Omar Nasiri, Abu Zubaida, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Finsbury Park mosque.Finsbury Park mosque. [Source: Salim Fadhley / Public Domain]Omar Nasiri, an agent of the British intelligence services MI5 and MI6, and the French service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), penetrates radical Islamic circles in London, getting close to leading imams Abu Qatada and Abu Hamza (see Mid 1996-October 1997), learning about the Algerian Groupe Isamique Armé (GIA) (see November 1996), and dealing with al-Qaeda manager Abu Zubaida in Pakistan (see (Mid-1996) and (Mid-1996 and After)). Nasiri’s main task is to attend the main locations where radicals gather, Abu Qatada’s Four Feathers center and Abu Hamza’s Finsbury Park mosque, get close to senior operatives there to obtain information, and identify militants, even though the mosques, as Nasiri will later put it, are already “crawling with spies.” The British services are mostly interested in whether the radicals intend to attack in Britain, but, although they come close to inciting such attacks, they never cross the line. Nasiri will later comment: “[Abu Hamza] was inciting his followers to attack just about everywhere else, but never within England. He came very close to this line many times. He incited his followers to attack anyone who tried to claim Muslim land. He said many times that British soldiers and colonizers were fair game.” Nasiri, who previously received explosives training at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan (see Mid 1995-Spring 1996), also gets his associates in Afghanistan to send him his notebook from an explosives course and passes this on to his handlers, who are impressed at how sophisticated the formulae are. However, after a couple of years the radicals realize he is an informer. In addition, on the day of the African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) he is so upset that he switches his mobile phone off for the first time since he received it, so MI5 stops trusting him. He will later write: “They must have worried that I was, in fact, a sleeper and that I had disappeared to pursue some mission. I couldn’t blame them of course. I was a trained killer. From the very beginning they hadn’t trusted me; I knew that.” He has to leave Britain and his career as an informer is practically over. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 259-303]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Abu Hamza al-Masri, Finsbury Park Mosque, Omar Nasiri, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Abu Qatada

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Omar Nasiri, who informs on al-Qaeda for the British intelligence service MI6 and the French service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DSGE), makes contact with al-Qaeda logistics manager Abu Zubaida using a telephone bugged by MI6. Nasiri met Abu Zubaida in Pakistan (see Mid 1995-Spring 1996). Usually, when Nasiri calls the number, he talks to one of Abu Zubaida’s associates, but sometimes he talks to Abu Zubaida himself. The phone is used to relay messages between Abu Zubaida in Pakistan and al-Qaeda representatives in London, in particular leading imam Abu Qatada. The French will apparently make great use of this information (see October 1998 and After). [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 270-1, 273, 281]

Entity Tags: Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Abu Zubaida, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Abu Qatada, Omar Nasiri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Khalil Deek, an al-Qaeda operative living in California for most of the 1990s, moves to Peshawar, Pakistan, around this time. Al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is also operating from the same town and is a close associate of Deek. In fact, US intelligence have been investigating the two of them since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s). It appears Deek is under surveillance by this time. The Wall Street Journal will claim, “US intelligence officials had tracked the onetime California resident for years before they had tied him, [in December 1999], to [an] alleged Jordanian plot.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/8/2000] A 2005 book by counterterrorism expert Jean-Charles Brisard will similarly relate that by the spring of 1999, “For several months the Jordanian government, with the help of the American FBI, had been stepping up pressure on [Pakistan] to arrest [Deek].” [Brisard, 2005, pp. 65] Deek lives in a rented villa surrounded by high walls. He runs a small computer school and repair shop. He helps encrypt al-Qaeda’s Internet communications. He exports drums of local honey to the Middle East. Deek and Zubaida apparently use the honey to hide the shipment of drugs and weapons (see May 2000). [Wall Street Journal, 3/8/2000; Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] Deek also creates an electronic version of an al-Qaeda terrorist manual known as the Encyclopedia of Afghan Jihad. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004] “US authorities say his house near the Afghan border also served as a way station for recruits heading in and out of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/8/2000] Zubaida also screens recruits and directs them to training camps in Afghanistan. Deek and Zubaida share a Peshawar bank account. [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] It appears that Western intelligence agencies are monitoring Zubaida’s phone calls from 1998, if not earlier (see October 1998 and After and (Mid-1996)). Deek will be arrested on December 11, 1999, quickly deported to Jordan, and then released in 2001 (see December 11, 1999). It will later be alleged that Deek was a mole for the Jordanian government all along (see Shortly After December 11, 1999).

Entity Tags: Khalil Deek, Abu Zubaida, Jordan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will later write that after the US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), surveillance of al-Qaeda is stepped up around the world. “One intelligence officer attached to the French embassy in Islamabad, [Pakistan], urged his counterparts in foreign missions in Pakistan to detail the recipients of phone calls made by… al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida, then living in Peshawar, to individuals in their various countries.” As a result, “several governments [launch] investigations of their own.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 245] A close associate of Zubaida in Peshawar at this time is Khalil Deek, who is actually a mole for the Jordanian government (see 1998-December 11, 1999). One such investigation is launched by the Philippine government on October 16, 1998, after being asked by French intelligence to gather intelligence on people in the Philippines in contact with Zubaida. Code named CoPlan Pink Poppy, the investigation reveals connections between al-Qaeda and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a Philippine militant group. On December 16, 1999, Abdesselem Boulanouar and Zoheir Djalili, two French Algerians belonging to the Algerian al-Qaeda affiliate the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), are arrested due to information learned from monitoring Zubaida’s calls to the Philippines. Boulanouar is arrested at an airport carrying a terrorist training manual he admitted writing for the MILF. Both men also are arrested carrying explosive devices. French intelligence says Boulanouar had ties to Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), and like Ressam, may have been planning to carry out attacks at the turn of the millennium. He will be deported to France and imprisoned on terrorism related charges. CoPlan Pink Poppy will be canceled in 2000 for lack of funds. [Gulf News, 3/14/2000; Ressa, 2003, pp. 132-133; Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 245] However, while details are murky, it appears other governments continue to monitor Zubaida’s calls. Around the same time as the Philippines arrests, one militant in Jordan is even arrested while still in the middle of a phone call to Zubaida (see November 30, 1999). US intelligence will remain intensely focused on Zubaida before 9/11 (see Late March-Early April 2001 and May 30, 2001), and just days before 9/11 the NSA will monitor calls Zubaida is making to the US (see Early September 2001). It appears his calls will continue to be monitored after 9/11 as well (see October 8, 2001).

Entity Tags: Khalil Deek, Zoheir Djalili, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Abdesselem Boulanouar, Philippines, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Ressam, Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bensayah Belkacem at Guantanamo.Bensayah Belkacem at Guantanamo. [Source: US Defense Department]US intelligence intercepts numerous phone calls between Abu Zubaida and other al-Qaeda leaders and Bensayah Belkacem, an operative living in Bosnia. The New York Times will later report that shortly after 9/11, “American intelligence agencies, working closely with the government of neighboring Croatia, listened in as Mr. Belkacem and others discussed plans for attacks.” One US official says, “He was apparently on the phone constantly to Afghanistan, with Zubaida and others. There were dozens of calls to Afghanistan.” Belkacem, an Algerian, had moved to Bosnia to fight in the early 1990s war there, then obtained Bosnian citizenship and settled in Zenica, working for an Islamic charity. [New York Times, 1/23/2002] On October 8, 2001, Bosnian police detain Belkacem. While searching his home, they find a piece of note listing the name “Abu Zubeida” and Zubaida’s phone number. [Washington Post, 8/21/2006] It is later revealed that Belkacem made 70 calls to Zubaida between 9/11 and his arrest and more calls before then. He had repeatedly sought a visa to leave Bosnia for Germany just before 9/11. Phone transcripts show Zubaida and Belkacem discussed procuring passports. [Time, 11/12/2001] A US official will later claim that it was believed Zubaida was in Afghanistan with bin Laden at the time of Belkacem’s arrest. [New York Times, 1/23/2002] It has not been explained why this knowledge was not used to capture or kill Zubaida and/or bin Laden. It appears that Western intelligence agencies had been monitoring Zubaida’s calls as far back as 1996 (see (Mid-1996) and October 1998 and After). Belkacem and five of his associates will be renditioned to Guantanamo Bay prison in 2002 and remain imprisoned there (see January 18, 2002).

Entity Tags: Abu Zubaida, Bensayah Belkacem, US intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

When al-Qaeda logistics manager Abu Zubaida is arrested in late March 2002 (see March 28, 2002), his computer is searched. According to the Washington Post: “When agents found Zubaida’s laptop computer, a senior law enforcement source said, they discovered that the vast majority of people he had been communicating with were being monitored under FISA warrants or international spying efforts. ‘Finally, we got some comfort’ that surveillance efforts were working, said a government official familiar with Zubaida’s arrest.” The fact some of his contacts are monitored under FISA warrants indicates that they are in the US, as FISA warrants are only used for US targets (see 1978). The monitoring of Abu Zubaida’s communications began in the mid-1990s, at the latest (see (Mid-1996) and October 1998 and After), and continued after 9/11 (see October 8, 2001). [Washington Post, 2/9/2006] Some will later suggest that Zubaida may have had mental problems (see Shortly After March 28, 2002), but this apparently did not stop him from being a key al-Qaeda contact point. FBI agent Dan Coleman, an expert on al-Qaeda, will later say that the FBI “all knew he was crazy, and they knew he was always on the damn phone.” [Washington Post, 12/18/2007] Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, says of Zubaida shortly after Zubaida’s capture, “He was the guy that had the direct contact with prominent al-Qaeda cell leaders abroad, and he knew where they all were. He would have been the guy co-ordinating new attacks.” [Observer, 4/7/2002]

Entity Tags: Dan Coleman, Vincent Cannistraro, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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