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Context of 'July 8, 2004: Magazine Correctly Predicts ‘July Surprise’ Al-Qaeda Arrest'

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The FBI releases a list of its 22 most wanted terrorists. The US government offers up to $5 million for information leading to the capture of anyone of the list. The men are:
bullet Al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden, who was indicted by a grand jury in 1998 (see June 8, 1998), Ayman al-Zawahiri, linked to a 1995 bombing in Pakistan (see November 19, 1995), and Mohammed Atef, who provided training to Somali fighters before the Black Hawk Down incident (see Late 1992-October 1993);
bullet Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), for his role in the 1995 Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995). KSM is actually the mastermind of 9/11, although the US intelligence community has allegedly not yet pieced this information together (see (November 7, 2001));
bullet Several other operatives suspected of involvement in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998): Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (see August 2, 2008), Mustafa Fadhil, Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam (see August 6-7, 1998)), Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (see July 25-29, 2004), Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan (see July 11, 2002), Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (see September 10, 2002), Anas al-Liby (see January 20, 2002- March 20, 2002), Saif al-Adel (see Spring 2002), Ahmed Mohammed Hamed Ali, and Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah (see April 12, 2006);
bullet Abdul Rahman Yasin, a US-Iraqi involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see March 4-5,1993);
bullet Ahmed Ibrahim Al-Mughassil, Ali Saed Bin Ali El-Houri, Ibrahim Salih Mohammed Al-Yacoub, and Abdelkarim Hussein Mohamed Al-Nasser, for their alleged part in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia (see June 25, 1996);
bullet Imad Mugniyah, Hassan Izz-Al-Din, and Ali Atwa for the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in June 1985. [CNN, 10/10/2001]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Atef, Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah, Mustafa Fadhil, Osama bin Laden, Saif al-Adel, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Usama al-Kini, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, Imad Mugniyah, Mohammed Hamed Ali, Hassan Izz-Al-Din, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Abdul Rahman Yasin, Abdelkarim Hussein Mohamed Al-Nasser, Ahmed Ibrahim Al-Mughassil, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, Ibrahim Salih Mohammed Al-Yacoub, Ali Saed Bin Ali El-Houri, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ali Atwa, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Anas al-Liby

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On July 8, 2004, the New Republic predicts a “July surprise” from the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign involving the arrest of a high-value target in Pakistan by the end of the month. The magazine reports that in the spring of 2004, the administration increased pressure on Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, or Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, all believed to be hiding in Pakistan. Bush officials such as CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell and his assistant, Christina Rocca, State Department counterterrorism chief Cofer Black, and others all visited Pakistan in recent months to urge Pakistan to increase its efforts in the war on terrorism. The New Republic comments, “This public pressure would be appropriate, even laudable, had it not been accompanied by an unseemly private insistence that the Pakistanis deliver these high-value targets (HVTs) before Americans go to the polls in November.” Bush spokespeople deny that the administration exerted any such pressure. But according to one source in the Pakistani ISI, “The Pakistani government is really desperate and wants to flush out bin Laden and his associates after the latest pressures from the US administration to deliver before the [upcoming] US elections.” Another source in the Pakistani Interior Ministry says, “The Musharraf government has a history of rescuing the Bush administration. They now want Musharraf to bail them out when they are facing hard times in the coming elections.” And another ISI source says that the Pakistanis “have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must.” The Pakistanis have even been given a target date, according to the second ISI source: “The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ISI director Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq’s] meetings in Washington.” The source says that a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that “it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July”—the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston. One Pakistani general said recently, “If we don’t find these guys by the election, they are going to stick this whole nuclear mess [relating to A. Q. Khan] up our _sshole.” The Bush administration apparently is using a carrot-and-stick approach to make sure such an arrest takes place on schedule. The New Republic observes: “Pushing Musharraf to go after al-Qaeda in the tribal areas may be a good idea despite the risks. But, if that is the case, it was a good idea in 2002 and 2003. Why the switch now? Top Pakistanis think they know: This year, the president’s reelection is at stake.” [New Republic, 7/29/2004] Pakistan will announce the capture of al-Qaeda leader Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani on July 29, just hours before Democratic presidential John Kerry’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. The authors of the New Republic article will claim vindication for their prediction (see July 25-29, 2004).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Pervez Musharraf, Colin Powell, Christina Rocca, Cofer Black, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abdul Qadeer Khan, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, Mullah Omar, John Kerry, George J. Tenet, George W. Bush, Ehsan ul-Haq

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2004 Elections

On July 13, 2004, a young Pakistani al-Qaeda operative named Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan was arrested in Pakistan (see July 13, 2004). US intelligence agents find what they later call a “treasure trove” of information in Noor Khan’s computers and documents. [CNN, 8/2/2004] They realize that Khan has served as a communications hub of sorts for al-Qaeda. He is in frequent contact with dozens of other al-Qaeda terrorists around the world and passing messages back and forth from more senior al-Qaeda operatives. Intelligence agents quickly realize that, through Khan, they can penetrate deep into the core of al-Qaeda’s current operations. Around the weekend of July 24-25, the Pakistanis convince Khan to “turn,” or become a double agent. Khan sends e-mails to dozens of activists in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and other countries. He requests that they contact him immediately and reveal where they are. As the emails come back, intelligence agents all over the world go into action to monitor those who have replied to Khan. [Guardian, 8/8/2004] Newsweek later reports that he sends e-mails to at least six contacts in the US, but the results of this are unknown. A senior US intelligence official confirms that Khan contacted people in the US, but believes number is less than six. [MSNBC, 8/8/2004] Some of Khan’s contacts are quickly arrested, including Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian wanted since 1998 for his role in the bombing of the US embassy in his home country (see July 25-29, 2004). [Suskind, 2006] Some communications take time to reach him. He is sometimes sent handwritten notes or computer discs from the mountains where bin Laden and other top leaders are hiding out. These are delivered by secretive relays of couriers who never see each other, using dead drops to avoid being traced. Other messages come from far-flung intermediaries who forward e-mail without knowing what it means, where it is going, or who is sending it. [MSNBC, 8/8/2004] However, on August 1, Bush administration officials leak Noor Khan’s name to the press and the New York Times prints his name one day later. This only gives one week for the sting operation to work. Intelligence officials are crushed the operation has to end before it could expose many more al-Qaeda operatives (see August 2, 2004).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani.Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. [Source: FBI]Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a high-level al-Qaeda operative from Tanzania suspected of participating in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in East Africa, is captured in Gujrat, Pakistan, after a violent standoff with Pakistani police. [CNN, 8/3/2004] Ghailani’s arrest is publicly announced on July 29, four days later. The announcement by Pakistan’s Interior Minister Faisal Hayat is made in an unusual late-night press conference that takes place just hours before John Kerry accepts the Democratic nomination for president. [Salon, 8/17/2004] Pakistani authorities say the announcement of Ghailani’s arrest was delayed four days because of the need to confirm his identity before making the proclamation. [BBC, 7/30/2004] But former Pakistani official Husain Haqqani later claims the announcement was timed to upstage the Kerry speech. [Salon, 8/17/2004; United States Conference on International Religious Freedom, 6/30/2005] An article in the New Republic published earlier in the month reported that the Bush administration was asking Pakistan to make high-profile arrests of al-Qaeda suspects during the Democratic National Convention in order to redirect US media attention from the nomination of John Kerry (see July 8, 2004). [New Republic, 7/29/2004] John Judis, who co-wrote the article predicting such an arrest, says the day after the arrest is announced, “Well, the latest development pretty much confirms what we wrote in the article, which is that there was pressure for Pakistan to produce a high-value target during the last 10 days of July and to announce that arrest.” He also asks why is it “they announced [the arrest] at all? Because when you have somebody who’s been in hiding since 1998, they have an enormous amount of information and contacts. By announcing this guy’s arrest, what you do is you warn off everybody who’s been associated with him from the last five or six years. You tell them that they better get their act together or they are going to be found. So, there’s some, really a lot of questions of why they announced this thing when they did.… It may be in this case that we—that we, and the Pakistanis got somebody and prematurely announced this person’s arrest in order to have an electoral impact.” [Democracy Now!, 7/30/2004]

Entity Tags: John Judis, Faisal Hayat, John Ashcroft, John Kerry, Husein Haqqani, George W. Bush, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 2004 Elections

Former Pakistani government official Husain Haqqani says that Pakistan, not the US government, may have originally leaked the news to the international press that Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, an al-Qaeda operative turned informant for the US and Pakistan, was a double agent (see August 2, 2004). The leak of Khan’s identity ruins his capability to provide information about al-Qaeda and allows senior al-Qaeda operatives to escape arrest. Haqqani writes that there are two possible reasons for Pakistan’s decision to leak such damaging information: either Pakistani officials were eager to demonstrate their success in penetrating al-Qaeda, or, more likely, that Pakistan wanted to curb the inroads being made into al-Qaeda in order to keep the terrorist group safe and functional. A second leak, from Pakistani intelligence officials like the first, fingered US officials for the leak. The US government accepted the responsibility for outing Khan because, Haqqani writes, administration officials were complicit in the leak, and because the Bush administration is involved in a twisted, mutually duplicitous relationship with the Musharraf regime of Pakistan: “ostensibly driven by the mutual desire for security, there is clearly a political element to the relationship related to the survival of both the Bush and the Musharraf governments.” [Salon, 8/17/2004] On August 6, 2004, former President Bill Clinton accused the Bush administration of essentially contracting out US security and the hunt for Osama bin Laden to Pakistan in its zeal to wage war in Iraq (see August 6, 2004). One consequence of the decision to subcontract the hunt for members of al-Qaeda to Pakistan is that the terrorists appear to be regrouping and regaining in strength. [Washington Post, 8/14/2004] Haqqani believes that the two have mutual political concerns: while Pakistan cooperates, to a point, in hunting down al-Qaeda members, the government of Pervez Musharraf is more secure. In return, Pakistani officials, known for their reticence, have lately been unusually forthcoming in issuing well-timed reports designed to help Bush’s re-election efforts. For instance, on July 29, just hours before John Kerry’s speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president, Pakistan’s interior minister, Faisal Hayat, held an unusual late-night press conference announcing the arrest of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the man wanted for the 1998 terrorist bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see July 25-29, 2004). [Salon, 8/17/2004]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, George W. Bush, Faisal Hayat, Pervez Musharraf, Husein Haqqani, John Kerry, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On a September 30, 2004, presidential debate with John Kerry, President Bush says, “75 percent of known al-Qaeda leaders have been brought to justice.” But there is no evidence to support such a number. He uses this same number in other speeches around this time. In 2003, Bush’s top advisers typically said that more than one-third of the most wanted leaders had been found. Prior to the Republican convention in early September, the White House had claimed that “two-thirds” of the “senior al-Qaeda and associated leaders, operational managers, and key facilitators” had been captured or killed. But while the White House numbers were increasing as the November 2004 presidential election drew closer, the number of top al-Qaeda figures captured or killed remained essentially unchanged - Hassan Ghul was captured in early 2004 (see January 23, 2004). In October 2004, the Washington Post learns 28 of the approximately 30 names on a classified and unpublished “high-value targets” list of al-Qaeda leaders. Only 14, or half, are known to be killed or captured. (Other al-Qaeda leaders captured in 2004, such as Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (see July 25-29, 2004), apparently are not considered important enough to be included in the list seen by the Washington Post.) [Washington Post, 10/22/2004; American Prospect, 11/1/2004] In 2008, it will be reported that, of the 37 people the CIA deemed the most important al-Qaeda leaders in 2002, only 15 have been captured or killed. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 280-281]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2004 Elections

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani at arraignment in New York, June 9th, 2009.Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani at arraignment in New York, June 9th, 2009. [Source: Reuters / Christine Cornell]Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani is sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). US District Judge Lewis Kaplan imposes the maximum sentence. In November 2010, Ghailani was convicted of conspiracy to destroy buildings or property of the United States. The verdict included a special finding that his conduct caused at least one death. But this was only one of the 285 charges against him, and he was acquitted of 273 counts of murder or attempted murder. Ghailani was captured in Pakistan in 2004 (see July 25-29, 2004), kept in the CIA’s secret prison system, and then was held in the US prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, starting in late 2006 (see September 2-3, 2006). He was transferred to the mainland of the US in 2009. He was the first former Guantanamo prison to be tried in a US civilian court, and his trial has been widely seen as a test case on whether other prisoners held outside the US legal system should be tried in US courts. Critics argue that Ghailani’s verdict shows the other prisoners still in Guantanamo should be tried in military tribunals there. But others point to the verdict as an example of the fairness of the US justice system. Prosecutors had been seeking life in prison for Ghailani, and that is the sentence he ultimately receives, even though he is only convicted of one count. His defense lawyers didn’t try to argue that Ghailani had no role in the embassy bombings, but instead argued that he was duped by other people and didn’t really know what he was doing. [Christian Science Monitor, 1/25/2011]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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