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Context of 'January 17, 2002: Bosnian Court Orders Al-Qaeda Suspects Released after US Fails to Provide Evidence of Allegations'

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Al-Hajj Boudella.Al-Hajj Boudella. [Source: Public domain via National Public Radio]Enaam Arnaout, head of the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) in the US and an al-Qaeda operative, personally arranges for nine elite instructors from the Al-Sadda training camp in Afghanistan to be sent to central Bosnia to train mujaheddin there. One of the trainers is Al-Hajj Boudella, who will become the long-time director of the BIF’s office in Bosnia. He will be arrested shortly after 9/11 and renditioned to the Guantanamo Bay prison in 2002 (see January 18, 2002). [Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 19-20, 255]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Enaam Arnaout, Benevolence International Foundation, Al-Hajj Boudella

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz.Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz. [Source: Public domain]By 1994, if not earlier, the NSA is collecting electronic intercepts of conversations between Saudi Arabian royal family members. Journalist Seymour Hersh will later write, “according to an official with knowledge of their contents, the intercepts show that the Saudi government, working through Prince Salman [bin Abdul Aziz], contributed millions to charities that, in turn, relayed the money to fundamentalists. ‘We knew that Salman was supporting all of the causes,’ the official told me.” By July 1996 or soon after, US intelligence “had more than enough raw intelligence to conclude… bin Laden [was] receiving money from prominent Saudis.” [Hersh, 2004, pp. 324, 329-330] One such alleged charity front linked to Salman is the Saudi High Commission in Bosnia (see 1996 and After). Prince Salman has long been the governor of Riyadh province. At the time, he is considered to be about fourth in line to be king of Saudi Arabia. His son Prince Ahmed bin Salman will later be accused of having connections with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see Early April 2002). [PBS, 10/4/2004] It appears this surveillance of Saudi royals will come to an end in early 2001 (see (February-March 2001)).

Entity Tags: Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, National Security Agency, Saudi Arabia

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Saber Lahmar.Saber Lahmar. [Source: Public domain]Author Roland Jacquard will later claim that in 1996, al-Qaeda revives its militant network in Bosnia in the wake of the Bosnian war and uses the Saudi High Commission (SHC) as its main charity front to do so. [Jacquard, 2002, pp. 69] This charity was founded in 1993 by Saudi Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz and is so closely linked to and funded by the Saudi government that a US judge will later render it immune to a 9/11-related lawsuit after concluding that it is an organ of the Saudi government. [New York Law Journal, 9/28/2005]
bullet In 1994, British aid worker Paul Goodall is killed in Bosnia execution-style by multiple shots to the back of the head. A SHC employee, Abdul Hadi al-Gahtani, is arrested for the murder and admits the gun used was his, but the Bosnian government lets him go without a trial. Al-Gahtani will later be killed fighting with al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 143-144]
bullet In 1995, the Bosnian Ministry of Finance raids SHC’s offices and discovers documents that show SHC is “clearly a front for radical and terrorism-related activities.” [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 145]
bullet In 1995, US aid worker William Jefferson is killed in Bosnia. One of the likely suspects, Ahmed Zuhair Handala, is linked to the SHC. He also is let go, despite evidence linking him to massacres of civilians in Bosnia. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 263-264]
bullet In 1997, a Croatian apartment building is bombed, and Handala and two other SHC employees are suspected of the bombing. They escape, but Handala will be captured after 9/11 and sent to Guantanamo prison. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 266]
bullet In 1997, SHC employee Saber Lahmar is arrested for plotting to blow up the US embassy in Saravejo. He is convicted, but pardoned and released by the Bosnian government two years later. He will be arrested again in 2002 for involvement in an al-Qaeda plot in Bosnia and sent to Guantanamo prison (see January 18, 2002).
bullet By 1996, NSA wiretaps reveal that Prince Salman is funding Islamic militants using charity fronts (Between 1994 and July 1996).
bullet A 1996 CIA report mentions, “We continue to have evidence that even high ranking members of the collecting or monitoring agencies in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Pakistan - such as the Saudi High Commission - are involved in illicit activities, including support for terrorists” (see January 1996).
bullet Jacquard claims that most of the leadership of the SHC supports bin Laden. The SHC, while participating in some legitimate charitable functions, uses its cover to ship illicit goods, drugs, and weapons in and out of Bosnia. In May 1997, a French military report concludes: ”(T)he Saudi High Commission, under cover of humanitarian aid, is helping to foster the lasting Islamization of Bosnia by acting on the youth of the country. The successful conclusion of this plan would provide Islamic fundamentalism with a perfectly positioned platform in Europe and would provide cover for members of the bin Laden organization.” [Jacquard, 2002, pp. 69-71]
However, the US will take no action until shortly after 9/11, when it will lead a raid on the SHC’s Bosnia offices. Incriminating documents will be found, including information on how to counterfeit US State Department ID badges, and handwritten notes about meetings with bin Laden. Evidence of a planned attack using crop duster planes is found as well. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 129, 284] Yet even after all this, the Bosnian government will still refuse to shut down SHC’s offices and they apparently remain open (see January 25, 2002).

Entity Tags: Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, Al-Qaeda, Paul Goodall, Ahmed Zuhair Handala, Central Intelligence Agency, William Jefferson, Abdul Hadi al-Gahtani, Saber Lahmar, Saudi High Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bensayah Belkacem at Guantanamo.Bensayah Belkacem at Guantanamo. [Source: US Defense Department]US intelligence intercepts numerous phone calls between Abu Zubaida and other al-Qaeda leaders and Bensayah Belkacem, an operative living in Bosnia. The New York Times will later report that shortly after 9/11, “American intelligence agencies, working closely with the government of neighboring Croatia, listened in as Mr. Belkacem and others discussed plans for attacks.” One US official says, “He was apparently on the phone constantly to Afghanistan, with Zubaida and others. There were dozens of calls to Afghanistan.” Belkacem, an Algerian, had moved to Bosnia to fight in the early 1990s war there, then obtained Bosnian citizenship and settled in Zenica, working for an Islamic charity. [New York Times, 1/23/2002] On October 8, 2001, Bosnian police detain Belkacem. While searching his home, they find a piece of note listing the name “Abu Zubeida” and Zubaida’s phone number. [Washington Post, 8/21/2006] It is later revealed that Belkacem made 70 calls to Zubaida between 9/11 and his arrest and more calls before then. He had repeatedly sought a visa to leave Bosnia for Germany just before 9/11. Phone transcripts show Zubaida and Belkacem discussed procuring passports. [Time, 11/12/2001] A US official will later claim that it was believed Zubaida was in Afghanistan with bin Laden at the time of Belkacem’s arrest. [New York Times, 1/23/2002] It has not been explained why this knowledge was not used to capture or kill Zubaida and/or bin Laden. It appears that Western intelligence agencies had been monitoring Zubaida’s calls as far back as 1996 (see (Mid-1996) and October 1998 and After). Belkacem and five of his associates will be renditioned to Guantanamo Bay prison in 2002 and remain imprisoned there (see January 18, 2002).

Entity Tags: Abu Zubaida, Bensayah Belkacem, US intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After three months, none of the allegations that the US made against the six men arrested in Bosnia in October 2001 (see January 18, 2002) have been proven, and the Supreme Court of the Muslim-Croat Federation orders their release. The US refused to provide evidence in court that the men were tied to al-Qaeda, as alleged. After the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) says that four of the six men cannot be expelled from the country until it has ruled on their appeal against the retraction of their citizenship. A hearing is scheduled for February 11. [BBC, 1/22/2002; CNN, 1/18/2004; Washington Post, 5/11/2004] At least some of the six figures do seem to have ties to al-Qaeda. For instance, Saber Lahmar was convicted in Bosnia of attempting to blow up the US embassy there in 1997 (see 1996 and After). But the evidence against them is based on communications intercepts, and the US is unwilling to release any details about that information. The hearing never takes place, because the US takes custody of the men as they are released and renditions them to the Guantanamo prison (see January 18, 2002).

Entity Tags: Mohamed Nechle, Saber Lahmar, Mustafa Ait Idir, Lakhdar Boumediene, Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Al-Qaeda, Supreme Court of the Muslim-Croat Federation, Al-Hajj Boudella, Bensayah Belkacem

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Saber Lahmar.Saber Lahmar. [Source: US Defense Department]The US renditions six suspects to Guantanamo, even though their cases are under appeal in Bosnia. On October 8, 2001, Bosnian police arrested Bensayah Belkacem, an Algerian given Bosnian citizenship and living in Bosnia. US intelligence intercepted numerous phone calls between Abu Zubaida and other al-Qaeda leaders and Belkacem (see October 8, 2001). On October 16, a conversation was overheard in which US and British targets in Bosnia are mentioned, and a Bosnian associate of Belkacem’s named Saber Lahmar said to another associate, “Tomorrow we will start.” US and British embassies were shut down that night, and Lahmar and four associates - Al-Hajj Boudella, Lakhdar Boumediene, Mustafa Ait Idir, and Mohamed Nechle - were quickly arrested. Lahmar worked for the Saudi High Commission. In 1997 he was arrested and convicted of plotting to bomb the US embassy in Sarajevo, but then pardoned and released by the Bosnian government (see 1996 and After). Boudella was an elite al-Qaeda training camp trainer in Afghanistan and Bosnia, then worked at the Benevolence International Foundation, which the US declared a terrorism financier after 9/11 (see 1993). Belkacem’s other associates worked for other charities such as the Red Crescent society and Taibah International. [Time, 11/12/2001] On January 18, 2002, the Bosnian government determines they don’t have enough evidence to charge the six men since the US will not share details of its communications intercepts. A high court rules that the men are not allowed to be deported until their appeals are heard. [BBC, 1/22/2002] But the men are nonetheless released directly into the custody of US soldiers, who immediately fly them to the Guantanamo Bay prison. The handover is denounced as illegal by human rights groups. It is believed the US put intense pressure on Bosnia to hand them over. [BBC, 1/22/2002; New York Times, 1/23/2002] The Bosnian government, still not privy to the intercepts, will later clear them of all charges, but the US will continue to hold them in Guantanamo without revealing any of the evidence said to justify their detention. [Washington Post, 8/21/2006]

Entity Tags: Saudi High Commission, Mohamed Nechle, Mustafa Ait Idir, Al-Hajj Boudella, Bensayah Belkacem, Lakhdar Boumediene, Saber Lahmar, Taibah International

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

It is reported that four charities operating in Bosnia are due to be shut down there within weeks. The four are Saudi High Relief Commission, Global Relief Foundation (GRF), Active Islamic Youth (AIO), and the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA). The Saudi High Commission is closely tied to the Saudi government and has given out hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Bosnia. At least three suspects recently arrested by the US worked for the Commission, and it had a long history of known militant links (see 1996 and After). In late 2001, GRF was shut down in the US and the UN shut its offices in nearby Kosovo (see December 14, 2001). In the early 1990s, TWRA funneled hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons to Bosnia in violation of a UN embargo (see Mid-1991-1996). A Bosnian police official says, “We have information that these groups are used to finance and support terrorism. There is also definitely money laundering here. And this laundering definitely shows evidence of sources in the narcotics and arms trades.” Bosnian Deputy Minister Rasim Kadic says, “A series of searches and other intelligence gathering proved activities and evidence that has no relationship to humanitarian work. Four groups have very suspicious financial dealings and other issues have made police very suspicious about these four groups.… We expect to make the hard decision to close some of these groups. We will say ‘Thank you for your help, but now you must go.’” Officials say have also discovered evidence of drug and weapons trafficking by the four charities. [United Press International, 1/25/2002] But in fact, the four charities are not shut down in Bosnia, except for GRF, which will have its offices there shut near the end of 2002. [BBC, 11/28/2002] In 2004, there will be reports that TWRA is operating in the Czech Republic. [BBC, 3/15/2004] And in 2005, counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will tell an Austrian newspaper that TWRA is still tied to radical militants and still active there. [BBC, 6/14/2005]

Entity Tags: Third World Relief Agency, Rohan Gunaratna, Saudi High Commission, Rasim Kadic, Global Relief Foundation, Active Islamic Youth

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Supreme Court rules 5-4 that foreign terror suspects held without charge at Guantanamo Bay have the Constitutional right to challenge their detention in US civilian courts. The Court splits along ideological lines, with the more liberal and moderate members supporting the finding, and the more conservative members opposing it. Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a centrist, writes the ruling. He writes, “The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.” The ruling specifically strikes down the portion of the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006) that denies detainees their habeas corpus rights to file petitions. [Associated Press, 6/12/2008; Associated Press, 6/12/2008] The case is Boumediene v. Bush, and was filed in the Supreme Court in March 2007 on behalf of Lakhdar Boumediene, a Bosnian citizen held in the Guantanamo camp since 2002 (see January 18, 2002). It was combined with a similar case, Al Odah v United States (see October 20, 2004). [Oyez (.org), 6/2007; Jurist, 6/29/2007]
'Stinging Rebuke' for Bush Administration - The ruling is considered a serious setback for the Bush administration (a “stinging rebuke,” in the words of the Associated Press), which insists that terror suspects detained at Guantanamo and elsewhere have no rights in the US judicial system. It is unclear whether the ruling will lead to prompt hearings for detainees [Associated Press, 6/12/2008; Associated Press, 6/12/2008] ; law professor James Cohen, who represents two detainees, says, “Nothing is going to happen between June 12 and January 20,” when the next president takes office. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr says the decision will not affact war crimes trials already in the works: “Military commission trials will therefore continue to go forward.”
Scalia: Ruling Will 'Cause More Americans to Be Killed' - President Bush says he disagrees with the ruling, and says he may seek new legislation to keep detainees under lock and key. Justice Antonin Scalia, the leader of the Court’s ideological right wing, agrees; in a “blistering” dissent, he writes that the decision “will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.” In his own dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts argues that the ruling strikes down “the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants.” Joining Scalia and Roberts in the minority are Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Voting in the majority are Kennedy and Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, and John Paul Stevens.
Military Tribunals 'Doomed,' Says Navy Lawyer - Former Navy lawyer Charles Swift, who argued a similar case before the Supreme Court in Hamdan v Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), says he believes the ruling removes any legal basis for keeping Guantanamo open, and says that military tribunals are “doomed.” The entire rationale for Guantanamo and the tribunals, Swift says, is the idea that “constitutional protections wouldn’t apply.” But now, “The court said the Constitution applies. They’re in big trouble.” Democrats and many human rights organizations hail the ruling as affirming the US’s commitment to the rule of law; some Republican lawmakers say the ruling puts foreign terrorists’ rights over the safety of the American people. Vincent Warren, the head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, says: “The Supreme Court has finally brought an end to one of our nation’s most egregious injustices. By granting the writ of habeas corpus, the Supreme Court recognizes a rule of law established hundreds of years ago and essential to American jurisprudence since our nation’s founding.” [Associated Press, 6/12/2008]

Entity Tags: Stephen Breyer, Vincent Warren, US Supreme Court, Samuel Alito, Military Commissions Act, Peter Carr, Bush administration (43), Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Charles Swift, Clarence Thomas, David Souter, George W. Bush, Lakhdar Boumediene, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, James Cohen, John G. Roberts, Jr, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Federal Judge Richard Leon rules that the US government has unlawfully held five Algerian men at Guantanamo for nearly seven years (see January 18, 2002). Leon orders their release. Leon rules that the government’s case, based on a slender compilation of classified evidence, was too weak to justify the five men’s continued detention. The government’s case is based on a single “classified document from an unnamed source” for its central claim against the men, and the court has no way to accurately judge its credibility. “To rest on so thin a reed would be inconsistent with this court’s obligation,” Leon writes. He urges the Bush administration not to appeal the ruling, and recommends that they be released “forthwith.” Leon rules that a sixth Algerian, Bensayah Belkacem (see October 8, 2001), is being lawfully detained due to his demonstrable ties with al-Qaeda. The six are among the Guantanamo inmates who won a narrowly decided Supreme Court case recognizing their right to seek redress in the US court system (see June 22, 2008), and include Lakhdar Boumediene, for whom the Court’s ruling was named. Leon, a Republican appointee previously considered sympathetic to the Bush administration’s position on the detention of suspects, urges the government not to appeal his ruling: such an appeal could take as much as two years, and, he notes, “Seven years of waiting for our legal system to give them an answer to a question so important is, in my judgment, more than plenty.” If the government chooses not to appeal, the lawyers for the detainees expect them to be released into Bosnia, where they were arrested in early 2002. The Justice Department calls the ruling “perhaps an understandable consequence of the fact that neither the Supreme Court nor Congress has provided rules on how these habeas corpus cases should proceed in this unprecedented context.” One of the detainees’ lawyers, Robert Kirsch, says the case illustrates “the human cost of what can happen when mistakes are made at the highest levels of our government, and no one has the courage to acknowledge those mistakes.” Other detainee lawyers say the case is a broad repudiation of the Bush administration’s attempts to use the Guantanamo facility to avoid the scrutiny of US judges. Lawyer Zachary Katznelson, a member of the British human rights group Reprieve, says, “The decision by Judge Leon lays bare the scandalous basis on which Guantánamo has been based—slim evidence of dubious quality.” The case was not strengthened by the Bush administration’s pursuit of it: originally the six were charged with planning a bomb attack on the US Embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia, but in October, Justice Department lawyers abruptly withdrew those accusations. [New York Times, 11/20/2008; National Review, 11/20/2008] The five will be released the following month (see December 2008).

Entity Tags: Reprieve, Bensayah Belkacem, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Lakhdar Boumediene, Zachary Katznelson, US Supreme Court, Richard J. Leon, US Department of Justice, Robert Kirsch

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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