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Context of 'Shortly Before October 20, 2005: US, Britain Reportedly Search for Bin Laden’s Body in Rubble Following Earthquake'

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A UN vehicle burning in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 3, 1993.A UN vehicle burning in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 3, 1993. [Source: CNN]Eighteen US soldiers are killed in Mogadishu, Somalia, in a spontaneous gun battle following an attempt by US Army Rangers and Delta Force to snatch two assistants of a local warlord; the event later becomes the subject of the movie Black Hawk Down. A 1998 US indictment will charge Osama bin Laden and his followers with training the attackers. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002]
Rocket Propelled Grenades - While rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) are not usually effective against helicopters, the fuses on the RPGs fired by the Somalis against US helicopters are modified so that they explode in midair. During the Soviet-Afghan War, bin Laden associates had learned from the US and British that, although it is hard to score a direct hit on a helicopter’s weak point—its tail rotor—a grenade on an adjusted fuse exploding in midair can spray a tail rotor with shrapnel, causing a helicopter to crash. [Los Angeles Times, 2/25/2002]
Possibly Trained by Al-Qaeda - For months, many al-Qaeda operatives had been traveling to Somalia and training militants in an effort to oppose the presence of US soldiers there. Even high-ranking al-Qaeda leaders like Mohammed Atef were directly involved (see Late 1992-October 1993).
Comment by Bin Laden - In a March 1997 interview, bin Laden will say of the Somalia attack, “With Allah’s grace, Muslims over there cooperated with some Arab mujaheddin who were in Afghanistan… against the American occupation troops and killed large numbers of them.” [CNN, 4/20/2001]
Some Al-Qaeda Operatives Leave Somalia after Battle - Al-Qaeda operative L’Houssaine Kherchtou, who supports the organization’s operations in Somalia, will later say that he was told this event also led at least some al-Qaeda members to flee Somalia. “They told me that they were in a house in Mogadishu and one of the nights one of the helicopters were shot, they heard some shooting in the next house where they were living, and they were scared, and the next day they left because they were afraid that they will be caught by the Americans.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 141]

Entity Tags: L’Houssaine Kherchtou, Mohammed Atef, Osama bin Laden, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After pressure from the US (see March-May 1996), the Sudanese government asks bin Laden to leave the country. He decides to go to Afghanistan. He departs along with many other al-Qaeda members, plus much money and resources. Bin Laden flies to Afghanistan in a C-130 transport plane with an entourage of about 150 men, women, and children, stopping in Doha, Qatar, to refuel, where governmental officials greet him warmly. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Coll, 2004, pp. 325] The US knows in advance that bin Laden is going to Afghanistan, but does nothing to stop him. Sudan’s defense minister Elfatih Erwa later says in an interview, “We warned [the US]. In Sudan, bin Laden and his money were under our control. But we knew that if he went to Afghanistan no one could control him. The US didn’t care; they just didn’t want him in Somalia. It’s crazy.” [Washington Post, 10/3/2001; Village Voice, 10/31/2001] US-al-Qaeda double agent Ali Mohamed handles security during the move. [Raleigh News and Observer, 10/21/2001]

Entity Tags: Somalia, Osama bin Laden, Sudan, Elfatih Erwa, Al-Qaeda, Ali Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Destruction at the Khobar Towers, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.Destruction at the Khobar Towers, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. [Source: US Air Force]Explosions destroy the Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 American soldiers and wounding 500. [CNN, 6/26/1996] Saudi officials will later interrogate the suspects, declare them guilty, and execute them—without letting the FBI talk to them. [PBS Frontline, 2001; Irish Times, 11/19/2001] Saudis will blame Hezbollah, the Iranian-influenced group, but US investigators will still believe Osama bin Laden was involved. [Seattle Times, 10/29/2001] US intelligence will be listening when al-Qaeda’s number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri calls bin Laden two days after the bombing to congratulate him on the operation (see June 27, 1996). The New York Times will report that Mamoun Darkazanli, a suspected al-Qaeda financier with extensive ties to the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell, is involved in the attack. [New York Times, 9/25/2001; New York Times, 9/29/2001] Bin Laden will admit to instigating the attacks in a 1998 interview. [Miami Herald, 9/24/2001] Ironically, the bin Laden family’s construction company will be awarded the contract to rebuild the installation. [New Yorker, 11/5/2001] In 1997, Canada will catch one of the Khobar Towers attackers and extradite him to the US. However, in 1999, he will be shipped back to Saudi Arabia before he can reveal what he knows about al-Qaeda and the Saudis. One anonymous insider will call it “President Clinton’s parting kiss to the Saudis.” [Palast, 2002, pp. 102] In June 2001, a US grand jury will indict 13 Saudis for the bombing. According to the indictment, Iran and Hezbollah were also involved in the attack. [US Congress, 7/24/2003]

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Hezbollah, Osama bin Laden, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Al-Qaeda, Mamoun Darkazanli

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor in chief of the British-based pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi, travels to Afghanistan to interview Osama bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora.
Atwan's Journey to Afghanistan - The interview is arranged by Khalid al-Fawwaz, bin Laden’s representative in Europe. Atwan travels secretly to Peshawar, Pakistan, where he meets a representative of bin Laden. Then, dressed as an Afghan, he crosses the border with a series of guides and travels to Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, where he meets al-Qaeda manager Mohammed Atef. Atwan is then taken up into the mountains, to the Eagle’s Nest base, where he meets bin Laden. Atwan first meets him “sitting cross-legged on a carpet, a Kalashnikov in his lap,” and they chat informally and then have dinner. Atwan spends two days in bin Laden’s company, and is surprised that such a rich Saudi is staying in such a humble cave, measuring six meters by four, and eating such poor food.
Bin Laden Speaks to Atwan - Bin Laden makes a number of comments during the two days, saying he has no fear of death, he still controls significant sums of money, the US military presence in Saudi Arabia is wrong, and the Sudanese government treated him badly over his recent expulsion and their non-repayment of funds he invested in Sudan (see May 18, 1996). He also talks of his time in Sudan and Somalia, as well as attempts on his life and bribes offered to him to tow the line by Saudi intelligence services. In addition, he claims responsibility for the “Black Hawk Down” incident (see October 3-4, 1993) and the Khobar Towers bombing (see June 25, 1996), and says other operations are in preparation. Atwan also notes that one part of the Eagle’s Nest has computers and Internet access, although this is not common in 1996.
No Signs of Bin Laden's Poor Health - Before the trip, Atwan had heard that bin Laden suffered from some mild form of diabetes. However, he will later comment: “I didn’t notice him taking any medication or showing any signs of ill health at all. We walked for more than two hours in the snow-covered mountains, and he seemed fit and well.” Therefore, Atwan will describe later accounts that say bin Laden requires kidney dialysis as “fanciful.” [Atwan, 2006, pp. 15-37, 61-62]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Atef, Abdel-Bari Atwan, Khalid al-Fawwaz, al-Quds al-Arabi, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The US and Britain send a team to search for the body of Osama bin Laden in the rubble of the Pakistani town of Balakot, according to the British Sunday Express newspaper. The al-Qaeda leader is thought to have been buried there following a recent earthquake. The British component comprises members of the foreign intelligence service MI6 and the SAS Special Forces unit; the Americans are US Special Forces. The team, whose deployment is approved by President Bush, is flown in from Afghanistan equipped with imagery and eavesdropping technology, high-tech weapons systems, and linguists. The search is motivated by the fact that, days before the earthquake happened, an American satellite spotted an al-Qaeda training camp in a nearby area and obtained high-resolution close-ups. A senior intelligence officer in Washington says: “One of those photos bore a remarkable resemblance to bin Laden. His face looked thinner, which is in keeping with our reports that his kidney condition has worsened.” This is a reference to the rumor that bin Laden has kidney problems (see November 23, 1996). The Sunday Express will report: “In recent weeks, both MI6 and the CIA have established that bin Laden has received a portable kidney dialysis machine from China but it requires electricity to power it. Drones, unmanned aircraft that US Special Forces launched from Afghanistan last week, have reported that the area along the border has lost all power supplies.” However, the state of bin Laden’s kidneys will still be shrouded in mystery two years later (see Late 2007). According to the report, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has agreed to keep other rescue teams working to locate survivors away from the border area where the search for bin Laden is concentrated. [Daily Times (Lahore), 10/20/2005] There are no reports that the search is a success. A man thought to be bin Laden will continue to release audio messages (see, for example, January 19, 2006).

Entity Tags: Special Air Service, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Pervez Musharraf, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Dr. Clive Williams, director of terrorism studies at the Australian National University, claims he has seen evidence indicating that Osama bin Laden is either dead or seriously ill. The evidence was provided by an Indian colleague and indicated bin Laden died of massive organ failure in April 2005. “It does seem reasonably convincing based on the evidence that I’ve been provided with that he’s certainly either severely incapacitated or dead at this stage,” Williams comments, adding that bin Laden has not released a statement for some time. [Sydney Morning Herald, 1/16/2006] Bin Laden releases a new audio statement three days later (see January 19, 2006), but the origin of this tape will be questioned (see January 19, 2006). [Christian Science Monitor, 1/20/2006]

Entity Tags: Clive Williams, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A new audio tape reported to be from Osama bin Laden surfaces. In the tape, the US is offered a truce by al-Qaeda. The voice on the tape criticizes President Bush, and discusses the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are said to be going badly for the US. The tape is also critical of the Pentagon’s efforts to manage the war news, and references an alleged US plan to attack the headquarters of Al Jazeera in Qatar. After comparing the US to Saddam Hussein and saying that US soldiers are raping women and taking them hostage, the voice says the US is torturing detainees, and that “Iraq has become a point of attraction and recruitment of qualified resources.” The voice also threatens further attacks in the US, “Operations are under preparation, and you will see them on your own ground once they are finished, God willing.” The US is offered a truce: “We do not object to a long-term truce with you on the basis of fair conditions that we respect… In this truce, both parties will enjoy security and stability and we will build Iraq and Afghanistan, which were destroyed by the war.” He also recommends the book Rogue State by William Blum. [BBC, 1/19/2006] The US rejects the proposed truce, and Vice President Dick Cheney calls it a “ploy”. [BBC, 1/20/2006] However, a bin Laden expert is skeptical about the tape (see January 19, 2006).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Osama bin Laden is again rumored to be dead. The rumor is first sparked by the French newspaper L’Est Republicain, which publishes what it describes as a confidential document from the French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure saying that bin Laden died of typhoid on August 23. The report is apparently based on information from Saudi Arabian intelligence. The issue becomes, as Time magazine puts it, “the question of the day,” but the accuracy of the report is questioned by French President Jacques Chirac, Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Turki al-Faisal, CIA Director Michael Hayden, and others, who all tell the media they think bin Laden may still be alive. Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, remarks that leaks can be used for manipulation, saying, “When there are leaks… one can say that [they] were done especially.” [Time, 9/23/2006; MSNBC, 9/24/2006] Another video of bin Laden footage will be released a week later (see September 30, 2006), apparently by the US. A rumor of bin Laden’s death also preceded an audiotape released earlier in the year (see January 16, 2006, January 19, 2006, and January 19, 2006).

Entity Tags: Vladimir Putin, Osama bin Laden, Jacques Chirac, Michael Hayden, Al-Qaeda, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Turki al-Faisal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

According to Time magazine, the CIA produces a report saying that Osama bin Laden has long-term kidney disease and may only have months to live. Time cites as its source “two US officials familiar with the report.” Allegedly, the CIA managed to get the names of some of the medications bin Laden is taking. How this was done is unclear. One of the sources says the report concluded, “Based on his current pharmaceutical intake, [we] would expect that he has no more than six to 18 months to live and impending kidney failure.” However, some observers will dispute the alleged report’s apparent claims. Paul Pillar, a former deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, will say, “It’s trying to make a diagnosis from thousands of miles away with only fragments of the medical chart.” Former Bush administration official Frances Fragos Townsend will add: “I’ve read all the same conflicting reports [on bin Laden’s health] that people have talked to you about. I never found one set of reporting more persuasive than another.” When Time breaks the story the next year, the CIA will even disavow the claims attributed to the report. “I have found no one here familiar with this alleged report or the analytic line it supposedly conveys,” says CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano. “The fact that anonymous sources attribute views to the CIA is not, by itself, reason to believe the agency actually holds those views.” [Time, 6/30/2009]

Entity Tags: Frances Townsend, Central Intelligence Agency, Paul Gimigliano, Paul R. Pillar, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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