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Context of 'Summer 2000: FBI Extracts Confession from Embassy Bombing Cell Member without Torture'

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In late 1993, bin Laden asks Ali Mohamed to scout out possible US, British, French, and Israeli targets in Nairobi, Kenya. Mohamed will later confess that in December 1993, “I took pictures, drew diagrams and wrote a report.” Then he travels to Sudan, where bin Laden and his top advisers review Mohamed’s work. In 1994, Mohamed claims that “bin Laden look[s] at a picture of the American Embassy and point[s] to where a truck could go as a suicide bomber.” A truck will follow bin Laden’s directions and crash into the embassy in 1998. Mohamed seems to spend considerable time in Nairobi working with the cell he set up there and conducting more surveillance. He also is sent to the East African nation of Djibouti to scout targets there, and is asked to scout targets in the West African nation of Senegal. [Los Angeles Times, 10/21/2000; Chicago Tribune, 12/11/2001; LA Weekly, 5/24/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] Much of his work seems to be done together with Anas al-Liby, a top al-Qaeda leader with a mysterious link to Western intelligence agencies similar to Mohamed’s. In 1996, British intelligence will pay al-Liby to assassinate Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi (see 1996), and then will let him live openly in Britain until 2000 (see Late 1995-May 2000). Al-Liby is said to be a “computer wizard” known for “working closely” with Mohamed. [New York Times, 2/13/2001; New York Times, 4/5/2001] L’Houssaine Kherchtou, an al-Qaeda member who later turns witness for a US trial (see September 2000), was trained in surveillance techniques in Pakistan by Mohamed in 1992. Kherchtou will claim he later comes across Mohamed in 1994 in Nairobi. Mohamed, Anas al-Liby, and a relative of al-Liby’s use Kherchtou’s apartment for surveillance work. Kherchtou sees al-Liby with a camera about 500 meters from the US embassy. [Washington File, 2/22/2001] Mohamed returns to the US near the end of 1994 after an FBI agent phones him in Nairobi and asks to speak to him about an upcoming trial. [Washington File, 2/22/2001]

Entity Tags: Ali Mohamed, L’Houssaine Kherchtou, Anas al-Liby, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In mid-1996, Jamal al-Fadl will walk into a US embassy in Eritrea, defect from al-Qaeda, and become a key informant for the US about al-Qaeda’s inner workings and leadership (see June 1996-April 1997). The 9/11 Commission’s final report will later mention, “Corroborating evidence [to al-Fadl’s revelations] came from another walk-in source at a different US embassy.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 109] Nothing more has been publicly revealed about this other defector, except for a 9/11 Commission footnote mentioning that the information about his defection comes from a January 1997 CIA cable. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 479] This person does not seem to be L’Houssaine Kherchtou, another al-Qaeda defector from around this time, since the 9/11 Commission mentions him by name elsewhere in their final report, and he does not talk to the US until mid-2000 (see Summer 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 62] This also does not fit the profile of Essam al Ridi, another al-Qaeda informant, who does not get into contact with US officials until after the embassy bombings in 1998. [Radio Free Europe, 9/10/2006] The 9/11 Commission also notes that, “More confirmation [about al-Fadl’s revelations] was supplied later that year by intelligence and other sources, including material gathered by FBI agents and Kenyan police from an al-Qaeda cell in Nairobi” (see August 21, 1997). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 109]

Entity Tags: Jamal al-Fadl, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The British intelligence service MI6 and Moroccan intelligence approach al-Qaeda operative L’Houssaine Kherchtou in an attempt to recruit him. Kherchtou is disillusioned with al-Qaeda and has been under surveillance by the Moroccans for some time. The results of the first meeting are not known, but after it Kherchtou returns to Nairobi, Kenya, where he had helped with a plot to bomb the US embassy and provided his apartment to other conspirators (see Late 1993-Late 1994), and makes contact with other cell members again in early August. He apparently does not know the precise details of the operation, but when the attack happens (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), he realizes who did it. MI6 is aware that he is in Kenya and he is detained at the airport by local authorities and turned over to them. MI6 debriefs him about the embassy bombings, but this information is not immediately shared with the FBI (see Shortly After August 7, 1998), which later takes him into custody (see Summer 2000). [American Prospect, 6/19/2005]

Entity Tags: UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (Morocco), L’Houssaine Kherchtou

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 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

After the bombings of two US embassies in East Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the British intelligence service MI6 obtains some important information about the attacks, but does not share it with the FBI. MI6 obtains the information from a member of the bombing cell, L’Houssaine Kherchtou, who already has a relationship with MI6 when the attack happens (see Mid-Summer 1998). Kherchtou tries to flee Kenya after the bombing, but, tipped off by the British, local authorities detain him and hand him over to MI6. He is debriefed in Nairobi, but, although the British say they share the information with the CIA, they do not provide it to the FBI, which is investigating the bombing. FBI agent Jack Cloonan will later comment: “[W]e’ve got hundreds of agents on the ground in Kenya and Tanzania trying to figure out what happened. Let me just say it would have been real helpful if the British had told us they had one of the cell members in custody.” Kherchtou helped plan the bombings (see Late 1993-Late 1994) and is handed over to the FBI in the summer of 2000, later becoming a star prosecution witness at the trial (see Summer 2000 and September 2000). [American Prospect, 6/19/2005]

Entity Tags: Jack Cloonan, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), L’Houssaine Kherchtou

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The FBI extracts a full confession from L’Houssaine Kherchtou, also known as “Joe the Moroccan,” a member of the cell that bombed the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya (see Late 1993-Late 1994 and 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). However, in contrast with methods used on al-Qaeda operatives after 9/11, he is not tortured and the FBI is at pains to treat him well.
Relaxing Surroundings, Respectful Treatment - FBI agent Jack Cloonan will later say of the initial interrogation, which took place in Morocco, “The setting was beautiful, it was this grand house with stables out back, gazelles bouncing in the background, palm trees, three-course meals.” Kherchtou had a relationship with the British intelligence service MI6 (see Mid-Summer 1998 and Shortly After August 7, 1998), but had broken off contact with it and has to be lured to Morocco, where his debriefing is headed by Patrick Fitzgerald. Cloonan will later describe the questioning: “We advised [Kherchtou] of his rights. We told him he could have a lawyer anytime, and that he could pray at any time he wanted. We were letting the Moroccans sit in on this, and they were dumbfounded.… The Moroccans said he’d never talk. He never shut up for 10 days.” Fitzgerald denies Kherchtou a plea bargaining agreement, and says he must plead guilty to conspiracy to murder, for which he may receive a life sentence, though Fitzgerald promises to ask the judge for leniency. However, Cloonan will later say, “His wife needed money for medical treatment in Khartoum, and al-Qaeda had failed to provide it.” It is Cloonan’s “in” with Kherchtou, who is also sure that the US will not torture him. When Kherchtou wavers, Cloonan steps in. As he recalls: “I said, ‘Joe, you understand English, so I’d like you to go out and pray on this with your two Moroccan brothers.’ I thought Fitzy was going to give birth. Joe went out and prayed and came back and said yes.” He provides the FBI with details of the plot and becoming a star witness at the trial (see September 2000). [American Prospect, 6/19/2005; Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Invaluable Information - Kherchtou’s information, provided at a time when the US knows comparatively little about al-Qaeda, is, in Cloonan’s assessment, invaluable. “He told us about a lot of things,” Cloonan later says. “We learned how they recruited people, their front organizations, how they used NGOs [non-governmental organizations], false passports, what they thought about kidnapping, how they developed targets, did their surveillance, a day in the life of Osama bin Laden, what weapons they used, what vehicles they drove, who was the principal liaison with the Sudanese government, that there was a relationship between al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, how they did their training exercises, their finances, and their membership.” After the trial, he enters the witness protection program in the US. Four of his onetime associates will receive life sentences as a direct result of his information. [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
FBI Use Kherchtou as Example of Successful Interrogation Tacticss - FBI officials will later compare this outcome favorably to procedures used by other US agencies after 9/11. For example, following the detainee abuse scandals after 9/11, FBI manager Tom Harrington will write that the FBI has “been successful for many years obtaining confessions via non-confrontational interviewing techniques.” Cloonan will later contrast Kherchtou’s treatment with that of al-Qaeda training manager Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi in December 2001, when the US sent al-Libi to Egypt to be tortured and interrogated, but some of the information he provided there turned out to be false (see December 19, 2001 and January 2002 and After). [American Prospect, 6/19/2005]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Jack Cloonan, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Thomas J. Harrington, L’Houssaine Kherchtou

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Courtroom drawing of L’Houssaine Kherchtou.Courtroom drawing of L’Houssaine Kherchtou. [Source: C. Cornell/ CNN]Al-Qaeda defector L’Houssaine Kherchtou (see Summer 2000) tells the FBI that between 1992 and 1995 he trained in Nairobi, Kenya, to be a pilot for al-Qaeda. His training ended when he began to drift away from al-Qaeda in 1995. Kherchtou, who began working with MI6 before the African embassy bombings (see Mid-Summer 1998), is a key prosecution witness at the bombing trial in early 2001, where he repeats the information in public. He will later go into the witness protection program. [Washington File, 2/22/2001; American Prospect, 6/19/2005]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, L’Houssaine Kherchtou

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, captured by Pakistani forces six weeks earlier (see November 11, 2001), is handed over to US authorities at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Two FBI agents from New York are tasked with interrogating him. One of the agents, Russell Fincher, spends more than 80 hours with al-Libi discussing religion and prayer in an effort to establish a close bond. It works, and al-Libi opens up to Fincher, giving him information about Zacarias Moussaoui and the so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001). [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 120] But despite this progress, he will soon be transferred to Egypt and tortured there into making some false confessions (see January 2002 and After).

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Richard C. Reid, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Russell Fincher

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

At the request of CIA Director George Tenet, the White House orders the FBI to hand Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a captured al-Qaeda operative being held in Afghanistan (see December 19, 2001), over to the CIA. One day before the transfer, a CIA officer enters al-Libi’s cell, interrupting an interrogation being conducted by FBI agent Russel Fincher, and tells al-Libi: “You’re going to Cairo, you know. Before you get there I’m going to find your mother and I’m going to f_ck her.” Soon after, al-Libi is flown to Egypt. [Newsweek, 6/21/2004; Washington Post, 6/27/2004; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 121] The CIA officer will later be identified as “Albert,” a former FBI translator. [Mayer, 2008, pp. 106] Presumably, this is the same former FBI translator named “Albert” who will later threaten al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri with a gun and drill during interrogations (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003 and Late December 2002 or Early January 2003). [Associated Press, 9/7/2010] Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, will later say: “He’s carried off to Egypt, who torture him. And we know that he’s going to be tortured. Anyone who’s worked on Egypt, has worked on other countries in the Middle East, knows that. Egyptians torture him, and he provides a lot of information.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
Provides Mix of Valid, False Information - It is unclear whether al-Libi is interrogated solely by Egyptian officials, or by a combination of Egyptian and CIA interrogators. Al-Libi is subjected to a series of increasingly harsh techniques, including at least one, waterboarding, that is considered torture (see Mid-March 2002). Reputedly, he is finally broken after being waterboarded and then forced to stand naked in a cold cell overnight where he is repeatedly doused with cold water by his captors. Al-Libi is said to provide his Egyptian interrogators with valuable intelligence about an alleged plot to blow up the US Embassy in Yemen with a truck bomb, and the location of Abu Zubaida, who will be captured in March 2002 (see Mid-May 2002 and After). However, in order to avoid harsh treatment he will also provide false information to the Egyptians, alleging that Iraq trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases. Officials will later determine that al-Libi has no knowledge of such training or weapons, and fabricates the statements out of fear and a desire to avoid further torture. Sources will later confirm that al-Libi did not try to deliberately mislead his captors; rather, he told them what he thought they wanted to hear. [ABC News, 11/18/2005; New York Times, 12/9/2005]
Using Allegations in White House Statements - Both President Bush (see October 7, 2002) and Secretary of State Colin Powell (see February 5, 2003) will include these allegations in major speeches.
Shifting Responsibility for Interrogations to CIA from FBI - The FBI has thus far taken the lead in interrogations of terrorist suspects, because its agents are the ones with most experience. The CIA’s apparent success with al-Libi contributes to the shift of interrogations from the bureau to the CIA. [Washington Post, 6/27/2004] Such methods as making death threats, advocated by the CIA, are opposed by the FBI, which is used to limiting its questioning techniques so the results from interrogations can be used in court. [Washington Post, 6/27/2004] “We don’t believe in coercion,” a senior FBI official says. [Guardian, 9/13/2004]

Entity Tags: “Albert”, Russell Fincher, George J. Tenet, Vincent Cannistraro, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Upon his return from a brief tour of the Guantanamo detention facility (see January 30, 2009), Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) delivers a speech on the floor of the Senate recommending that the facility remain open, despite President Obama’s decision to close it (see January 22, 2009). Inhofe says, “The military detention facilities at GTMO meet the highest international standards and are a fundamental part of protecting the lives of Americans from terrorism.” He says “[t]he detainees are being treated humanely,” there are “two lawyers for every detainee that has been charged or had charges preferred against them,” and there is one health care professional for every two detainees, ensuring that they receive the highest level of medical care (see April-May 2002, August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003, and March 10-April 15, 2007). Guantanamo “is the only complex in the world that can safely and humanely hold these individuals who pose such a grave security risk to the US,” Inhofe insists. “It is a secure location away from population centers, provides the maximum security required to prevent escape, provides multiple levels of confinement opportunities based on the compliance of the detainee, and provides medical care not available to a majority of the population of the world.” He goes on: “Furthermore, GTMO is the single greatest repository of human intelligence in the war on terror. This intelligence has prevented terrorist attacks and saved lives in the past and continues to do so today (see Summer 2000 and November 30, 2008). New intelligence is continually being collected from detainees at GTMO and is being used to fight terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the globe.” Since the US “will continue to capture, hold and detain enemy combatants,” he says, “we require a location to safely detain and care for these detainees.” [US Senate, 2/5/2009] Fellow Republican Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), who joined Inhofe on the tour, agrees, saying that the Guantanamo facility is “well thought out and in keeping with our nation’s highest ideals.” Burr adds that it is the US guards, not the prisoners, who are being mistreated: “If anyone receives mistreatment at Guantanamo, it is the guard force. They must endure frequent verbal and physical attacks from detainees while maintaining the highest standard of care for those same individuals.” [US Senate, 2/2/2009] Neither Inhofe nor Burr address the hunger strike among Guantanamo detainees, nor the allegations that prisoners are being force-fed and beaten (see February 8, 2009). Satyam Khanna of the left-leaning website Think Progress notes: “It is unclear how Inhofe and his conservative colleagues failed to see 50 detainees on hunger strike, some near death, while touring the prison. Conveniently, none of the senators alerted the public to these facts upon their return.” [Think Progress, 2/9/2009]

Entity Tags: Richard Burr, Barack Obama, James M. Inhofe, Satyam Khanna

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

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