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Context of 'Spring 1998: French Intelligence Considers Kidnapping British Informer Abu Hamza in London'

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According to a book by French counterterrorism expert Roland Jacquard first published just prior to 9/11, “Bin Laden himself traveled to Manchester and the London suburb of Wembley in 1994 to meet associates of the GIA, notably those producing the Al Ansar newsletter. Financed by a bin Laden intermediary, this newsletter called for a jihad against France in 1995, the opening salvo of which was the Saint-Michel metro attack.” [Jacquard, 2002, pp. 67] The GIA is an Algerian militant group heavily infiltrated by government moles around this time (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996), and the wave of attacks against France have been called false flag attacks designed to discredit Muslim opponents to the government of Algeria (see January 13,1995 and July-October 1995). It is unknown if bin Laden is duped by the GIA, but in 1996 he will withdraw support from the group, claiming it has been infiltrated by spies (see Mid-1996). Bin Laden appears to make many trips to London in the early 1990s (see Early 1990s-Late 1996). If Jacquard is correct, it seems probable that bin Laden meets with Rachid Ramda at this time, because he is editor-in-chief of Al Ansar and also allegedly finances the GIA attacks in France. Bin Laden will later be accused of funding the attacks through Ramda (see January 5, 1996). [Jacquard, 2002, pp. 64]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Groupe Islamique Armé, Rachid Ramda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) logo.The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) logo. [Source: Public domain]The Italian government hosts a meeting in Rome of Algerian political parties, including the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), whose probable election win was halted by an army coup in 1992 (see January 11, 1992). Eight political parties representing 80 percent of the vote in the last multi-party election agree on a common platform brokered by the Catholic community of Sant’Egidio, Italy, known as the Sant’Egidio Platform. The militant Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) is the only significant opposition force not to participate in the agreement. The parties agree to a national conference that would precede new multi-party elections. They call for an inquiry into the violence in Algeria, a return to constitutional rule, and the end of the army’s involvement in politics. The Independent notes the agreement “[does] much to bridge the enmity between religious and lay parties and, most significantly, pushe[s] the FIS for the first time into an unequivocal declaration of democratic values.” French President Francois Mitterrand soon proposes a European Union peace initiative to end the fighting in Algeria, but the Algerian government responds by recalling its ambassador to France. [Independent, 2/5/1995] The Washington Post notes that the agreement “demonstrate[s] a growing alliance between the Islamic militants [such as the GIA], waging a deadly underground war with government security forces, and the National Liberation Front,” Algeria’s ruling party, as both are opposed to peace with the FIS and other opposition parties. [Washington Post, 1/14/1995] The Guardian will later report that these peace overtures “left [Algeria’s] generals in an untenable position. In their desperation, and with the help of the DRS [Algeria’s intelligence agency], they hatched a plot to prevent French politicians from ever again withdrawing support for the military junta.” The GIA is heavily infilrated by Algerian government moles at this time and even the GIA’s top leader, Djamel Zitouni, is apparently working for Algerian intelligence (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996). Some GIA moles are turned into agent provocateurs. GIA leader Ali Touchent, who the Guardian will say is one of the Algerian moles, begins planning attacks in France in order to turn French public opinion against the Algerian opposition and in favor of the ruling Algerian government (see July-October 1995). The GIA also plots against some of the FIS’s leaders living in Europe. [Guardian, 9/8/2005]

Entity Tags: National Liberation Front, Islamic Salvation Front, Algerian army, Groupe Islamique Armé, Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité, Francois Mitterrand, Ali Touchent

Timeline Tags: Alleged Use of False Flag Attacks, Complete 911 Timeline

A Paris subway car bombed in 1995.A Paris subway car bombed in 1995. [Source: Associated Press]Ten French citizens die and more than two hundred are injured in a series of attacks in France from July to October 1995. Most of the attacks are caused by the explosion of rudimentary bombs in the Paris subway. The deaths are blamed on the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) Algerian militant group. Some members of the banned Algerian opposition Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) living in exile in France are killed as well. For instance, high-level FIS leader Abdelbaki Sahraoui is assassinated on July 11, 1995. The GIA takes credit for these acts. The attacks mobilize French public opinion against the Islamic opposition in Algerian and causes the French government to abandon its support for recent Algerian peace plans put forth by a united opposition front (see January 13,1995). [BBC, 10/30/2002; Randal, 2005, pp. 171, 316-317; Guardian, 9/8/2005] However, in September 1995, French Interior Minister Jean-Louis Debré says, “It cannot be excluded that Algerian intelligence may have been implicated” in the first bombing, which hit the Saint-Michel subway stop in Paris on July 25 and killed eight. [BBC, 10/31/2002; Randal, 2005, pp. 316-317] And as time goes on, Algerian officials defect and blame Algerian intelligence for sponsoring all the attacks. Ali Touchent is said to be the GIA leader organizing the attacks (see January 13,1995). But Mohammed Samraoui, former deputy chief of the Algerian army’s counterintelligence unit, will later claim that Touchent was an Algerian intelligence “agent tasked with infiltrating Islamist ranks abroad and the French knew it.” But he adds the French “probably did not suspect their Algerian counterparts were prepared to go so far.” [Randal, 2005, pp. 316-317] A long-time Algerian secret agent known only by the codename Yussuf-Joseph who defected to Britain will later claim that the bombings in France were supported by Algerian intelligence in order to turn French public opinion against the Islamic opposition in Algeria. He says that intelligence agents went sent to France by General Smain Lamari, head of the Algerian counterintelligence department, to directly organize at least two of the French bombings. The operational leader was actually Colonel Souames Mahmoud, head of the intelligence at the Algerian Embassy in Paris. [Observer, 11/9/1997] In 2002, a French television station will air a 90-minute documentary tying the bombings to Algerian intelligence. In the wake of the broadcast, Alain Marsaud, French counterintelligence coordinator in the 1980s, will say, “State terrorism uses screen organizations. In this case, [the GIA was] a screen organization in the hands of the Algerian security services… it was a screen to hold France hostage.” [New Zealand Listener, 2/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Ali Touchent, Islamic Salvation Front, Alain Marsaud, Mohammed Samraoui, Abdelbaki Sahraoui, Souames Mahmoud, Yussuf-Joseph, Smain Lamari, Jean-Louis Debré

Timeline Tags: Alleged Use of False Flag Attacks, Complete 911 Timeline

Mustafa Setmarian Nasar.Mustafa Setmarian Nasar. [Source: Public domain]Spanish intelligence learns that al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, a.k.a. Abu Musab al-Suri, has visited Mamoun Darkazanli in Hamburg this year. Darkazanli is an associate of the 9/11 hijackers living in Hamburg. The Spanish are aware of Nasar due to his links to Barakat Yarkas, as Yarkas and his Madrid cell are being monitored (see 1995 and After). It is unknown if the Spanish realize that Nasar is an important al-Qaeda leader at this time, but they do learn that he met Osama bin Laden. [National Review, 5/21/2004; Brisard and Martinez, 2005, pp. 109-110, 195] Nasar receives $3,000 from Darkazanli while living in Britain in 1995 through 1996. This is according to German police documents, and it is unknown if German and/or Spanish authorities are aware of this link at the time. [Chicago Tribune, 7/12/2005] In 1998, the Spanish will discover that Darkazanli and Yarkas are in frequent phone contact with each other. They share their information with the CIA (see August 1998-September 11, 2001). Nasar leaves Britain in 1996 after realizing the British authorities suspect his involvement in a series of 1995 bombings in France (see July-October 1995). [National Review, 5/21/2004] He will be arrested in Pakistan in 2005 after the US announces a $5 million reward for his capture (see October 31, 2005).

Entity Tags: Barakat Yarkas, Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, Mamoun Darkazanli

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Rachid Ramda.Rachid Ramda. [Source: Public domain]The London Times publishes one of the first Western newspaper articles about Osama bin Laden. The article says, “A Saudi Arabian millionaire is suspected of channeling thousands of pounds to Islamic militants in London which may have bankrolled French terrorist bombings.” Bin Laden is referred to as “Oussama ibn-Laden.” It says that he sent money to Rachid Ramda, editor in chief of Al Ansar, the London-based newsletter for the radical Algerian militant group the GIA. However, government sources say that the money ostensibly for the newsletter was really used to fund a wave of militant attacks in France in 1995 (see July-October 1995). Ramda was arrested in London on November 4, 1995 at the request of the French government. [London Times, 1/5/1996] Two other people working as editors on the Al Ansar newsletter in 1995, Abu Qatada and Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, will later be found to be important al-Qaeda leaders (see June 1996-1997 and October 31, 2005). It will take ten years for Britain to extradite Ramda to France. He will be tried in France in 2005 and sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 1995 French attacks. [BBC, 10/26/2007] Bin Laden may have met with Ramda while visiting Britain in 1994 (see 1994). It will later be revealed that the 1995 attacks in France were led by an Algerian government mole (see July-October 1995), and the GIA as a whole was run by a government mole (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996).

Entity Tags: Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, Osama bin Laden, Groupe Islamique Armé, Rachid Ramda, Abu Qatada

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Omar Nasiri, an operative who informs on groups related to al-Qaeda for the British intelligence service MI6 and the French service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), sees Ali Touchent, a key member of the Algerian militant Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) in London. British intelligence officers follow Touchent, but lose track of him. Touchent, who is suspected of being an Algerian government agent who has penetrated the GIA, is thought to be responsible for bombings in France, one of which occurs shortly after this sighting. Nasiri sees Touchent at the Four Feathers club during a talk by a radical cleric. Although Nasiri does not initially realize the man is Touchent, he recognizes he is important and immediately informs MI6 after the talk. MI6 identifies Touchent from photographs taken of the attendees. When Nasiri asks his MI6 handler how they could have lost such an important militant leader, the handler replies: “He was at a café. Our guys were watching him. And then he somehow disappeared.” [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 277-278] The Guardian will later report, “Despite being publicly identified by the Algerian authorities as the European ringleader of the GIA and by French investigators as the key organizer” of the 1995 Paris metro bombings (see July-October 1995), “Touchent evaded capture, returned to Algeria, and settled in a secure police quarter of Algiers.” Mohammed Samraoui, a former colonel in Algerian intelligence, will later say, “French intelligence knew that Ali Touchent was [an Algerian government] operative charged with infiltrating pro-Islamist cells in foreign countries.” [Guardian, 9/8/2005] He will be sentence in absentia to ten years in prison in France in 1998, even though the Algerian government claims he was killed in 1997. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 346-347]

Entity Tags: UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Groupe Islamique Armé, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Ali Touchent, Mohammed Samraoui, Omar Nasiri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A special team from the French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) monitors Islamic radicals centered on the Finsbury Park mosque. This is one of several DGSE operations in London (see 1997-1998 and Spring 1998), which the French are aware is a hotbed of Islamist extremism. Around this time the French are worried that the radicals who gather there may be plotting an attack on the 1998 World Cup, but the surveillance may well continue after the World Cup ends. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 126]

Entity Tags: Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Finsbury Park Mosque

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

French authorities worry about a possible attack by militant Islamists during the 1998 World Cup in France. This “huge security headache” is primarily related to Algerian militants who previously bombed the Paris metro in 1995 (see July-October 1995) and are now “living untroubled lives in London.” Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will write: “France was on edge. Such was her anxiety about the World Cup that she demanded cooperation from her European neighbours. Where she deemed that collaboration was lacking, or less than enthusiastic, she was sending her own teams of agents abroad to carry out the task of gathering intelligence on Islamist militants.” In this context the French authorities are most concerned about London-based radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, a spiritual leader for the Algerians (see Spring 1998). One of the people plotting attacks at the World Cup, an Algerian, is arrested in Belgium in March 1998, and this leads to further arrests across Europe, although the actual nature of the plot is not known definitively. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 123-4, 128]

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Informers for the British authorities monitoring the radical Finsbury Park mosque in London identify a key extremist named Rabah Kadre. One of the informers, Reda Hassaine, mentions him in a number of reports and British authorities realise that he is an important figure in Islamist operations in Britain. In fact, Kadre is the second in command to radical leader Abu Doha, who heads a Europe-wide network of extremists. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 240]

Entity Tags: Reda Hassaine, Rabah Kadre

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) considers kidnapping Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical imam who is an informer for two British security services in London (see Early 1997). The plan, which is never implemented, is communicated to a French informer named Reda Hassaine by a handling agent known only as “Jerome.”
Concern about World Cup - Jerome tells Hassaine: “Something has to be done. [French Interior Minister Jean Pierre] Chevenement says he cannot sleep on Thursday nights wondering what threat is going to emerge from London Algerians the next morning or what Abu Hamza is going to say in his Friday sermon. Paris is very anxious that they will threaten France again.” The French are particularly worried that there will be an attack during the 1998 World Cup in France (see Late 1997-Early 1998).
Kidnap Plan - The plan is essentially to kidnap Abu Hamza in front of his home while he is only protected by his sons, bundle him into a van, and then race for a French ferry docked at one of the Channel ports. Hassaine’s role in the plan is not well-defined; he may be required as a lookout or to create a distraction.
Assistance from British Authorities - Jerome says that the British intelligence services MI5 and MI6 might be prepared to turn a blind eye to the operation, but the regular British police will not help with it: “In short, if anything went wrong, all hell would break lose.” Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “The scandal could be bigger than the blowing up of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in 1985 in New Zealand. But such was the level of French frustration—from the minister of the interior downwards—with the British that all options were being counternanced.”
Many Other Intelligence Services Share Concerns - The French are not the only non-British intelligence service to be concerned about Abu Hamza’s activities. Agencies from Spain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands all tell their British counterparts that Abu Hamza is a terror leader, but the British take no action. Egypt even offers to swap a British prisoner for Abu Hamza, but to no avail. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 123, 125-126, 288]

Entity Tags: Jean Pierre Chevenement, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Reda Hassaine

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A top al-Qaeda operative known as Abu Doha arrives in London to take up a leading role in operations there. French intelligence chief Pierre de Bousquet de Florian will describe Abu Doha, an Algerian better known as “the Doctor,” as al-Qaeda’s main recruiting sergeant in Europe, adding that “it is not possible to over-emphasize his importance” because he is the “principal catalyst” for the establishment of a network of North African radicals across Britain, Europe, and North America. Abu Doha, who has already established a special section for North African trainees at the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan, links up with Abu Hamza al-Masri, a local militant leader and radical imam who is an informer for the British authorities (see Early 1997). He bases himself at Abu Hamza’s mosque, Finsbury Park, where he unifies rival Algerian factions, increasing the flow of funds and recruits sent to the camps in Afghanistan. After he is captured (see February 2001), a British judge at an immigration appeals tribunal will say: “In Afghanistan he had held a senior position in the training camps organizing the passage of mujaheddin volunteers to and from those camps. He had a wide range of extremist Islamic contacts inside and outside [Britain] including links to individuals involved in terrorist operations. He was involved in a number of extremist agendas. By being in [Britain] he had brought cohesion to Algerian extremists based here and he had strengthened the existing links with individuals associated with the terrorist training facilities in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 116-117]

Entity Tags: Finsbury Park Mosque, Abu Doha, Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Diana Dean.Diana Dean. [Source: Seattle Times]Al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam is arrested in Port Angeles, Washington, attempting to enter the US with components of explosive devices. One hundred and thirty pounds of bomb-making chemicals and detonator components are found inside his rental car. He subsequently admits he planned to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on December 31, 1999. [New York Times, 12/30/2001] Alert border patrol agent Diana Dean stops him; she and other agents nationwide had been warned recently to look for suspicious activity. Ressam’s bombing would have been part of a wave of attacks against US targets over the New Year’s weekend (see December 15-31, 1999). He is later connected to al-Qaeda and convicted. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Diana Dean, Ahmed Ressam, Los Angeles International Airport, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Sami Ben Khemais.Sami Ben Khemais. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Telephone wiretaps and listening devices used against a Milan-based Tunisian operative named Sami Ben Khemais provide investigators with “a trove of fresh information” and help them uncover a European network of Islamist radicals. Ben Khemais fell under surveillance some time after arriving in Italy from Afghan training camps in 1998 and has dealings with other radicals in Germany, Spain, Britain, France, Belgium, and Switzerland. Shortly after 9/11, a German official will say the network of interlocking cells uncovered changes counterterrorist thinking in Europe: “In the past, we had seen some links to Afghanistan, but we saw them as more or less acting here without close connections to al-Qaeda. Now we are seeing more and more links between cells and to al-Qaeda. We are rethinking everything.” The European cells are organized under two umbrellas, Takfir wal Hijra and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), and its three leaders are Abu Doha, who will be arrested in London (see February 2001); Mohamed Bensakhria, based in Frankfurt, but arrested in Spain; and Tarek Maaroufi, who is arrested in Belgium. The Milan cell of which Ben Khemais is part and which he finances by drug-trafficking, counterfeiting money and documents, and money laundering, is connected to the “Hamburg cell” that provides three 9/11 hijackers in various ways (see December 1997-November 1998, October 2, 1998, and 2000). [Boston Globe, 10/23/2001]

Entity Tags: Tarek Maaroufi, Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, Abu Doha, Islamic Cultural Institute, Mohamed Bensakhria, Sami Ben Khemais, Takfir Wal Hijra

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A group of London radicals purchases communications equipment worth $335,000 for the Chechen rebels. One of the purchasers is Abu Doha, one of the most senior al-Qaeda members ever to have lived in Britain (see February 2001) and a worshipper at the Finsbury Park mosque of Abu Hamza al-Masri. The equipment includes 19 satellite telephones and 36 SIM cards with airtime. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 67-8]

Entity Tags: Abu Doha, Islamic International Peacekeeping Brigade, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Finsbury Park Mosque

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Doha, a key figure in al-Qaeda’s European network, is arrested at Heathrow airport in London. He is attempting to board a plane for Saudi Arabia, but several false passports are found in his hand luggage. A search of his London flat reveals passport photographs depicting him in various disguises, 20 credit cards, a telescopic rifle sight, and what police describe as terrorism paraphernalia. He is found to be involved in various plots around the world, including a section of the Millennium Plot that comprised a bombing of Los Angeles airport (see December 14, 1999), so the US soon asks for his extradition. He is also later said to have worked on plots to bomb the US, British, and Australian embassies in Singapore in December 2001, a planned attack on the Paris-Dakar rally in January 2000, a plot to attack the 1998 World Cup in France (see Late 1997-Early 1998), and other attacks. Abu Doha was close to Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for British intelligence (see Early 1997 and May 1999). Abu Doha’s deputy, Rabah Kadre, is also arrested. Although he has been under surveillance by British authorities since 1998 (see 1998), he is released, apparently because British authorities think they have insufficient evidence against him. He will later leave Britain, but be arrested following his re-entry (see November 2002). The British intelligence service MI5 will later say that Kadre is “Abu Doha’s successor” as a leader of the Europe-wide network. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 117-118, 240]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), Abu Doha, Rabah Kadre

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Hamza al-Masri.Abu Hamza al-Masri. [Source: BBC]The Italian Secret Service SISDE records a meeting in the Finsbury Park mosque, in northern London, Britain. Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri (an Afghanistan war veteran heading a radical Islamic group), Mustapha Melki (linked to al-Qaeda member Abu Doha—see February 2001), and a man only known as Omar talk to each other. Notes of the meeting state, “Abu Hamza proposed an ambitious but unlikely plot which involved attacks carried by planes.” This is apparently a reference to an attack on the upcoming G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, scheduled in several weeks (see July 20-22, 2001). But unlike other reports of an al-Qaeda attack on that summit, this refers to an attack using more than one plane. The notes of the meeting conclude, “The belief that Osama bin Laden is plotting an attack is spreading among the radical Islamic groups.” [Discovery News, 9/13/2001]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, Mustapha Melki, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Al-Qaeda, Italian Secret Service, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

British authorities arrest Rabah Kadre, the leader of a Europe-wide extremist network, over fears he may soon be involved in an attack inside Britain. Kadre first fell under surveillance in Britain in 1998 (see 1998), and was arrested and released in 2001 (see February 2001). He subsequently left Britain and, according to intelligence reports, fought in Chechnya. However, he was then located by a French intelligence service in Bratislava, Slovakia, and tracked to London. British authorities debate whether to monitor him or arrest him now, in order to avoid the possibility he could activate a cell, which would then carry out an attack. The decision to arrest him is taken because, according to a security official, he is “too much of a risk.” The arrest is coordinated with French authorities, who detain another four men in Paris, finding a recipe for making cyanide and a chemical warfare protection suit. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 240]

Entity Tags: Rabah Kadre

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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