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Context of 'Mid-1996-September 11, 2001: KSM Travels World; Involved in Many Al-Qaeda Operations'

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After fleeing Qatar, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) travels the world and plans many al-Qaeda operations. He previously was involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and the Operation Bojinka plot. [Time, 1/20/2003] He is apparently involved in the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the 2000 USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000), and other attacks. One US official later says, “There is a clear operational link between him and the execution of most, if not all, of the al-Qaeda plots over the past five years.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002] He lives in Prague, Czech Republic, through much of 1997. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] By 1999, he is living in Germany and visiting with the hijackers there. [New York Times, 6/8/2002; New York Times, 9/22/2002] Using 60 aliases and as many passports, he travels through Europe, Africa, the Persian Gulf, Southeast Asia and South America, personally setting up al-Qaeda cells. [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002; Time, 1/20/2003]

Entity Tags: USS Cole, Al-Qaeda, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bombings of the Nairobi, Kenya, US embassy (left), and the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, US embassy (right).Bombings of the Nairobi, Kenya, US embassy (left), and the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, US embassy (right). [Source: Associated Press] (click image to enlarge)Two US embassies in Africa are bombed within minutes of each other. At 10:35, local time, a suicide car bomb attack in Nairobi, Kenya, kills 213 people, including 12 US nationals, and injures more than 4,500. Mohamed al-Owhali and someone known only as Azzam are the suicide bombers, but al-Owhali runs away at the last minute and survives. Four minutes later, a suicide car bomb attack in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, kills 11 and injures 85. The attacks are blamed on al-Qaeda. Hamden Khalif Allah Awad is the suicide bomber there. [PBS Frontline, 2001; United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38, 5/2/2001] The Tanzania death toll is low because, remarkably, the attack takes place on a national holiday so the US embassy there is closed. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 195] The attack shows al-Qaeda has a capability for simultaneous attacks. The Tanzania bombing appears to have been a late addition, as one of the arrested bombers allegedly told US agents that it was added to the plot only about 10 days in advance. [United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14, 3/7/2001] A third attack against the US embassy in Uganda does not take place due to a last minute delay (see August 7, 1998). [Associated Press, 9/25/1998] August 7, 1998, is the eighth anniversary of the arrival of US troops in Saudi Arabia, and some speculate that is the reason for the date of the bombings. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 46] In the 2002 book The Cell, reporters John Miller, Michael Stone, and Chris Miller will write, “What has become clear with time is that facets of the East Africa plot had been known beforehand to the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, and to Israeli and Kenyan intelligence services.… [N]o one can seriously argue that the horrors of August 7, 1998, couldn’t have been prevented.” They will also comment, “Inexplicable as the intelligence failure was, more baffling still was that al-Qaeda correctly presumed that a major attack could be carried out by a cell that US agents had already uncovered.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 195, 206] After 9/11, it will come to light that three of the alleged hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi, had some involvement in the bombings (see October 4, 2001, Late 1999, and 1993-1999) and that the US intelligence community was aware of this involvement by late 1999 (see December 15-31, 1999), if not before.

Entity Tags: Hamden Khalif Allah Awad, Mohamed al-Owhali, Salem Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Azzam, Al-Qaeda, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta arrives in the early morning in Prague, Czech Republic, by bus from Cologne, Germany. He plays on slot machines at the Happy Day Casino, then disappears. It will never be discovered where he sleeps in Prague. He takes the midday flight to New York the next day (see June 3, 2000). [Czech Radio, 9/3/2004] After 9/11, this trip will fuel the controversy over whether Atta meets an Iraqi agent in Prague in 2001 (see April 8, 2001 and September 18, 2001-April 2007). It is not entirely clear why Atta chooses to fly to the US from the Czech Republic, although 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will be reported to have lived in Prague in the late 1990s (see Mid-1996-September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 9/11 Timeline

October 12, 2000: USS Cole Bombed by Al-Qaeda

Damage to the USS Cole.Damage to the USS Cole. [Source: Department of Defense]The USS Cole is bombed in the Aden, Yemen harbor by two al-Qaeda militants, Hassan al-Khamri and Ibrahim al-Thawar (a.k.a. Nibras). Seventeen US soldiers are killed and 30 are wounded. The CIA will later conclude that with just slightly more skilled execution, the attack would have killed 300 and sunk the ship. [ABC News, 10/13/2000; Coll, 2004, pp. 532; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 191] The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) immediately takes credit for the attack. This is a Yemen-based Muslim militant group widely believed to have close ties to al-Qaeda (see 1996-1997 and After). [Guardian, 10/14/2000] The IAA statement is released by its spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997, (June 1998), and December 28, 1998 and After). Abu Hamza says that the attack was timed to mark the anniversary of the execution of the IAA’s former commander (see October 17, 1999). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 184] The prime minister of Yemen at the time of the bombing will say shortly after 9/11, “The Islamic Army was part of al-Qaeda.” [Guardian, 10/13/2001] The US soon learns the names of some al-Qaeda operatives involved in the attack, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Tawfiq bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso (see Early December 2000), and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000). 9/11 hijackers Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see October 10-21, 2000) and Khalid Almihdhar (see Around October 12, 2000) may also have been involved. This is a repeat of a previously attempted attack, against the USS The Sullivans, which failed and was apparently undetected (see January 3, 2000). [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002] The 9/11 Commission will later say the Cole bombing “was a full-fledged al-Qaeda operation, supervised directly by bin Laden. He chose the target and location of the attack, selected the suicide operatives, and provided the money needed to purchase explosives and equipment.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 190]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Khallad bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Islamic Army of Aden, USS Cole, Osama bin Laden, Ibrahim al-Thawar, Khalid Almihdhar, Fahad al-Quso, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hassan al-Khamri, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A photo of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed allegedly taken during his capture in 2003 (there are controversies about the capture).A photo of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed allegedly taken during his capture in 2003 (there are controversies about the capture). [Source: FBI]Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) attends his combat status review tribunal at Guantanamo Bay (see March 9-April 28, 2007), where he admits participating in the 9/11 attacks and numerous other plots, and offers a defense of his actions. He claims responsibility or co-responsibility for a list of 31 plots, including:
bullet The 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993);
bullet The 9/11 operation: “I was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z”;
bullet The murder of Daniel Pearl (see January 31, 2002): “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl”;
bullet The late 2001 shoe bombing operation (see December 22, 2001);
bullet The 2002 Bali nightclub bombings (see October 12, 2002);
bullet A series of ship-bombing operations (see Mid-1996-September 11, 2001 and June 2001);
bullet Failed plots to assassinate several former US presidents;
bullet Planned attacks on bridges in New York;
bullet Various other failed attacks in the US, UK, Israel, Indonesia, Australia, Japan, Azerbaijan, the Philippines, India, South Korea, and Turkey;
bullet The planned destruction of an El-Al flight in Bangkok;
bullet The Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), and assassination plans for President Clinton (see September 18-November 14, 1994) and the Pope (see September 1998-January 1999); and
bullet Planned attacks on the Library Tower in California, the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Empire State Building in New York, and the “Plaza Bank” in Washington State (see October 2001-February 2002). [US Department of Defense, 3/10/2007 pdf file] However, the Plaza Bank was not founded until 2006, three years after KSM was captured. The bank’s president comments: “We’re confused as to how we got on that list. We’ve had a little bit of fun with it over here.” [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3/15/2007]
On the other hand, KSM denies receiving funds from Kuwait or ever heading al-Qaeda’s military committee; he says this was a reporting error by Yosri Fouda, who interviewed him in 2002 (see April, June, or August 2002). In addition, he claims he was tortured, his children were abused in detention, and that he lied to his interrogators (see June 16, 2004). He also complains that the tribunal system is unfair and that many people who are not “enemy combatants” are being held in Guantanamo Bay. For example, a team sent by a Sunni government to assassinate bin Laden was captured by the Taliban, then by the US, and is being held in Guantanamo Bay. He says that his membership of al-Qaeda is related to the Bojinka operation, but that even after he became involved with al-Qaeda he continued to work with another organization, which he calls the “Mujaheddin,” was based in Pakistan, and for which he says he killed Daniel Pearl. [US Department of Defense, 3/10/2007 pdf file] (Note: KSM’s cousin Ramzi Yousef was involved with the militant Pakistani organization Sipah-e-Sahaba.) [Reeve, 1999, pp. 50, 54, 67] Mohammed says he was waterboarded by his interrogators. He is asked: “Were any statements you made as the result of any of the treatment that you received during that time frame from 2003 to 2006? Did you make those statements because of the treatment you receive from these people?” He responds, “CIA peoples. Yes. At the beginning, when they transferred me.” [ABC News, 4/11/2008] He goes on to compare radical Islamists fighting to free the Middle East from US influence to George Washington, hero of the American War of Independence, and says the US is oppressing Muslims in the same way the British are alleged by some to have oppressed Americans. Regarding the fatalities on 9/11, he says: “I’m not happy that three thousand been killed in America. I feel sorry even. I don’t like to kill children and the kids.” Although Islam prohibits killing, KSM argues that there is an exception because “you are killing people in Iraq.… Same language you use, I use.… The language of war is victims.” [US Department of Defense, 3/10/2007 pdf file] The hearing is watched from an adjoining room on closed circuit television by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) and former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL). [US Congress, 3/10/2007] KSM’s confession arouses a great deal of interest in the media, which is skeptical of it (see March 15-23, 2007 and Shortly After).

Entity Tags: Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Carl Levin

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A cartoonist’s view of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s confession.A cartoonist’s view of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s confession. [Source: Rob Rodgers / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s (KSM) confession at a Guantanamo Bay hearing (see March 10, 2007), becomes, as Time puts it, “a focus of cable TV and other media coverage, a reminder of America’s ongoing battle against international terrorism.” [Time, 3/15/2007] However, terrorism analysts are skeptical of some aspects of it. In an article entitled Why KSM’s Confession Rings False, former CIA agent Robert Baer says that KSM is “boasting” and “It’s also clear he is making things up.” Specifically, Baer doubts that KSM murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (see January 31, 2002). Baer notes that this “raises the question of just what else he has exaggerated, or outright fabricated.” Baer also points out he does not address the question of state support for al-Qaeda and that “al-Qaeda also received aid from supporters in Pakistan, quite possibly from sympathizers in the Pakistani intelligence service.” [Time, 3/15/2007] Pearl’s father also takes the confession of his son’s murder “with a spice of doubt.” [Hindustan Times, 3/23/2007] Journalist Yosri Fouda, who interviewed KSM in 2002 (see April, June, or August 2002), comments, “he seems to be taking responsibility for some outrages he might not have perpetrated, while keeping quiet about ones that suggest his hand.” Specifically, he thinks KSM may have been involved in an attack in Tunisia that killed about 20 people (see April 11, 2002). [London Times, 3/18/2007] KSM is also believed to have been involved in the embassy and USS Cole bombings (see Mid-1996-September 11, 2001), but these are also not mentioned. Terrorism analyst Bruce Riedel also does not take the confession at face value, saying, “He wants to promote his own importance. It’s been a problem since he was captured.” [Time, 3/15/2007] The Los Angeles Times notes that, according to intelligence officials, “the confession should be taken with a heavy dose of skepticism.” A former FBI manager says: “Clearly he is responsible for some of the attacks. But I believe he is taking credit for things he did not have direct involvement in.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/16/2007] The Seattle Post-Intelligencer points out that the Plaza Bank, one of the targets KSM says he planned to attack, was actually established in 2006, three years after he was captured. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3/15/2007] Michael Scheuer, formerly head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, notes KSM only says he is “involved” in the plots and that 31 plots in 11 years “can hardly be called excessive.” [Hindustan Times, 3/23/2007] Some media are even more skeptical. For example, the Philadelphia Inquirer comments that KSM, “claimed credit for everything but being John Wilkes Booth’s handler.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/30/2007]

Entity Tags: Yosri Fouda, Judea Pearl, Daniel Pearl, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Michael Scheuer, Robert Baer, Bruce Riedel

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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