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Context of 'Summer 2001: 9/11 Hijackers’ Associates Call Monitored Al-Qaeda Communications Hub in Yemen'

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Mohamed al-Owhali.Mohamed al-Owhali. [Source: CNN]Before and after the August 7, 1998 attack on the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), a bomber involved in that attack named Mohamed al-Owhali makes a series of calls to al-Qaeda associate Ahmed al-Hada, who runs an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen. Al-Owhali briefly stayed at the hub about three months before the bombings and made some calls from there. He then traveled to other locations, including Pakistan, and flew to Kenya on August 2. Beginning August 4, he makes a series of calls to al-Hada at the Yemen hub. The details of these calls have not been revealed, but they continue until about two hours before the embassy bombings take place. Al-Owhali is supposed to be martyred in the attack, but he runs away at the last minute and survives. Beginning on August 8, he repeatedly calls al-Hada, asking for help getting out of Kenya. He eventually receives $1,000 from him. Al-Hada is actually about to fly to Kenya to help al-Owhali get out when al-Owhali is arrested on August 12. Al-Hada also receives three calls from bin Laden’s satellite phone, which is being monitored by the NSA (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Following a raid by London police, the FBI allegedly trace a fax claiming responsibility for the attack through Baku, Azerbaijan, to bin Laden’s satellite phone, which leads them to the communications hub in Sana’a (however, it is likely that the NSA at least is already monitoring the hub phone number). Phone records for the hub direct them to al-Owhali in Nairobi. Al-Owhali has already been arrested based on a tip-off and, after the FBI interrogators realize he is lying to them, he confesses to calling the number. [United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14, 3/7/2001; United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 23, 3/27/2001; Observer, 8/5/2001] The translator during al-Owhali’s interviews is Mike Feghali, who will later be accused of serious improprieties after 9/11 by whistleblower Sibel Edmonds (see July-August 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/9/1998, pp. 1 pdf file] Author Lawrence Wright will say, “This Yemeni telephone number would prove to be one of the most important pieces of information the FBI would ever discover, allowing investigators to map the links of the al-Qaeda network all across the globe.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 275-8] The NSA may well already have been aware of the number since bin Laden’s monitored phone called it many times, but the US intelligence community now begins a joint effort to exploit it (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). Other apparently inaccurate stories about how al-Owhali was captured have been reported in the press. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 48]

Entity Tags: Mohamed al-Owhali, Mike Feghali, Ahmed al-Hada, National Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

While the 9/11 hijackers are in the US, the NSA intercepts several calls between them and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by Ahmed al-Hada, who is hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s father-in-law (see August 4-25, 1998).
Summary of Calls -
bullet The first calls are made by Almihdhar and are intercepted during the spring and summer of 2000 (see Spring-Summer 2000).
bullet More calls are made by hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi after the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000 (see Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001).
bullet The final call from the US is intercepted just a few weeks before 9/11 (see (August 2001)).
The NSA intercepted the hijackers’ calls outside the US before this (see Early 1999 and December 29, 1999) and continues to do so in 2000 (see Summer 2000) after Almihdhar returns to Yemen (see June 10, 2000 and (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000)).
Calls' Content - Some of the calls may only contain non-operational information, as they are reportedly between Almihdhar and his wife. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; Wright, 2006, pp. 343] However, the calls are also used to relay messages to the 9/11 hijackers. [Embassy of Yemen (Washington), 2/13/2002; MSNBC, 2/14/2002; MSNBC, 5/2005]
Agencies' Roles - The CIA is the lead agency monitoring the communications hub. It has planted bugs inside it and is wiretapping all calls (see Late August 1998). Intercepts of calls to and from the hub are a major plank of the US intelligence community’s effort to fight al-Qaeda. Also involved is the FBI, which is using phone records to plot these calls on a map (see Late 1998-Early 2002). Some of the calls intercepted by US intelligence come from Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone in Afghanistan (see August 4-25, 1998 and Late August 1998). After 9/11, counterterrorism officials will say that the number was one of the hottest targets being monitored by the NSA and was an “intelligence bonanza.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Wright, 2006, pp. 343]
Importance of Failure - Also after 9/11, counterterrorism officials will agree that the failure to follow leads to the US from this number was a huge missed opportunity to stop the 9/11 plot. For instance, FBI agent Kenneth Maxwell will say: “Two al-Qaeda guys living in California—are you kidding me? We would have been on them like white on snow: physical surveillance, electronic surveillance, a special unit devoted entirely to them.” [MSNBC, 7/21/2004; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file]
Discussed after 9/11 - The failure to roll up the plot based on these communications intercepts will be discussed following 9/11 (see Summer 2002-Summer 2004 and March 15, 2004 and After).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, National Security Agency, Hoda al-Hada, Ahmed al-Hada, Kenneth Maxwell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Before the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, Ramzi bin al-Shibh makes two trips to Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, and will later be said to play a role in the attack. Although bin al-Shibh is never named as a certain participant in the operation, he flies from Frankfurt, Germany, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), on October 10, 2000. The next day, he flies from Dubai to Sana’a, putting him there one day before the bombing (see October 12, 2000). He flies from Sana’a to Dubai on October 21, and where he goes from there is not certain. [Los Angeles Times, 10/24/2001; Khan, 8/11/2002 pdf file; Australian, 12/24/2002; McDermott, 2005, pp. 209] Bin al-Shibh was also in Yemen for about four weeks up until a month before the bombing (see August-September 2000). Note also that the CIA is working with the Dubai airport to track all suspected militants passing through it, although it is not known if bin al-Shibh is suspected at this time (see 1999). He apparently attended an al-Qaeda summit with the other commanders of the ship-bombing operation in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000) and some media reports indicate an application for a US visa he makes after the attack is rejected due to concerns about his involvement in the bombing. For example, the Los Angeles Times, based on conversations with law enforcement officials, will report that bin al-Shibh is “linked to the terrorist attack in Yemen on the US Navy destroyer Cole.[Los Angeles Times, 10/21/2001] Newsweek, the BBC, and Al Jazeera journalist Yosri Fouda will also report similar statements by law enforcement officials (see May 17, 2000-May 2001). [Newsweek, 11/26/2001; BBC, 9/14/2002; TBS Journal, 10/2002] One of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, may also be involved in the bombing (see Around October 12, 2000).

Entity Tags: Ramzi bin al-Shibh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, an al-Qaeda leader involved in the attack on the USS Cole, is said to meet two associates, Ahmed al-Hada and al-Hada’s nephew Ramzi bin al-Shibh, in Yemen. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; Newsweek, 12/2/2002] Al-Hada, an operative who runs a communications hub for Osama bin Laden, has been under surveillance since 1998, at least (see August 4-25, 1998). The surveillance of al-Hada is reportedly so important that his house is monitored by spy satellites, to visually identify everyone coming and going (see Late August 1998), although it is unclear where the meeting with al-Nashiri takes place. The exact timing of this meeting and that with bin al-Shibh is not known, although bin al-Shibh stays in Yemen for about four weeks up until a month before the bombing (see August-September 2000), and then arrives in Yemen again one day before the bombing (see October 10-21, 2000). [Newsweek, 12/2/2002] Bin al-Shibh is repeatedly denied a US visa. Although the earlier applications are denied on the grounds he may stay in the US, it will later be suggested that his presumed role in the Cole bombing may have influenced one or more later denials (see May 17, 2000-May 2001).

Entity Tags: Ahmed al-Hada, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Associates of the 9/11 hijackers call a number in Yemen also called by the radicals who bombed two US embassies in East Africa in 1998. The calls, which MSNBC says are made “in the weeks before the attacks,” are presumably to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by Ahmed al-Hada, an associate of Nairobi embassy bomber Mohamed al-Owhali (see August 4-25, 1998). The number is monitored by US intelligence at this time and is also called by the hijackers themselves (see Early 2000-Summer 2001), at least one of the calls being around this time (see (August 2001)). But it is not clear what intelligence the NSA and CIA gleaned from these calls or which associates of the hijackers make the calls. [MSNBC, 10/3/2001] However, it is thought that one of the hijackers’ associates, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, met with an associate of al-Hada’s in Yemen the year before (see Before October 12, 2000) and traveled to Yemen before the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 10-21, 2000).

Entity Tags: Ahmed al-Hada, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The NSA has been intercepting calls between at least two 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by al-Qaeda operative Ahmed al-Hada over an approximately 18-month period before 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). According to MSNBC, the final intercepted call comes “only weeks” before 9/11. [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] Around the same time there is great alarm in the US intelligence community over a communications intercept in Yemen indicating there was going to be a major al-Qaeda attack against US interests (see June 30-July 1, 2001). Further, the investigation of the USS Cole bombing has reignited interest in Almihdhar and Alhazmi on the part of the US intelligence community since at least June 2001 (see June 11, 2001 and July 13, 2001). The two of them are placed on an international no-fly list in late August (see August 23, 2001).

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, Ahmed al-Hada, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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