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Profile: Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman
a.k.a. Abd Al Salam Al Hilah
Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman was a participant or observer in the following events:
Many high-ranking Yemeni government officials help al-Qaeda and other militants, beginning in 1996, according to Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, a Yemeni official who will be captured after 9/11 and sent to the US prison in Guanatanamo, Cuba. Abdulrahman is a section chief in Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO), the Yemeni equivalent of the FBI, until his arrest in 2002 (see September 2002). His 2008 Guantanamo file will state: “Detainee stated that since 1996, numerous high-ranking employees in the Yemeni government and PSO were involved in aiding al-Qaeda and other extremists through the provision of false passports and by giving them safe haven out of the country under the guise of deportation. These PSO officials included detainee; Mohammed al-Surmi, deputy chief of the PSO; Ghalib al-Qamish, director of the PSO; Colonel Ahmad Dirham, commander of the Deportation Department in the PSO; and Abdallah al-Zirka, an officer in the Yemeni Passport Authority. According to detainee, the second highest ranking person in the Yemeni government, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, was aware of the involvement of al-Surmi and al-Qamish in these activities since at least 1999.” An analyst notes in the file that Mohsen is the (half) brother of Yemeni President Saleh. [US Department of Defense, 9/24/2008] Note that this is based on Guantanamo files leaked to the public in 2011 by the non-profit whistleblower group WikiLeaks. There are many doubts about the reliability of the information in the files (see April 24, 2011). However, it should also be noted that other information corroborates the charges, including the involvement of some names mentioned by Abdulrahman (for instance, see Spring-Summer 1998, After July 1994, December 26, 1998, and April 27, 2005).
Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar. [Source: Associated Press]Ahmed Nasrallah, a veteran al-Qaeda operative who has been in Yemen for several years, decides to defect and turn himself in to the Yemeni government. He discloses the location of al-Qaeda strongholds in Yemen and even gives away the location of al-Qaeda’s deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a southern Yemeni town. He describes al-Qaeda’s weaponry, security, and violent plans for the future. He offers to spy on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan or on a militant Yemeni group led by Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, a relative of hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. (In 1999 Zein will be caught and executed in Yemen for kidnappings and killings.) However, two officials in the Political Security Organization (Yemen’s equivalent of the FBI) have radical militant ties and hand over Nasrallah to al-Qaeda operatives. These operatives plan to kill him for betraying their group, but he escapes to Egypt before they can do so. The Egyptian government then interrogates him for more than a year. However, it is not known what he told them before 9/11, or what they might have passed to the US. One of the two Yemeni officers helping al-Qaeda on this matter, Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, will be recorded by Italian intelligence in 2000 apparently mentioning the upcoming 9/11 attacks (see August 12, 2000). The other officer, Mohammed al-Surmi, is Deputy Chief of the PSO. [Wall Street Journal, 12/20/2002]
Yemeni security officer Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman travels to Switzerland to purchase passport forgery equipment for Islamist extremists. Abdulsalam is a section chief in Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO), the Yemeni equivalent of the FBI (see August 12, 2000). Abdulrahman purchases tools to forge Schengen visas, which allow their holder to travel without border controls in some European Union countries. Italian authorities investigating Abdulrahman and his associates will learn this by 2002. They will speculate that Abdulrahman is an expert forger and that he trains a militant named Mahmoud Es Sayed, a close associate of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000), in forgery. Es Sayed will travel to Italy in 2000 from Yemen, where he will begin forging documents (see Summer 2000). Abdulrahman has close ties to radical organizations and provides false documents and airline tickets to al-Qaeda members to facilitate their travels to Europe. [Vidino, 2006, pp. 223-4]
Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman. [Source: US Defense Department]Italian intelligence successfully wiretaps an al-Qaeda cell in Milan, Italy, starting in late 1999. [Boston Globe, 8/4/2002] In a wiretapped conversation from this day, Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, a section chief in Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO - roughly the equivalent to the FBI in the US) traveling on a diplomatic passport (see Spring-Summer 1998), talks about a massive strike against the enemies of Islam involving aircraft and the sky. The conversation takes place in a car on the way to a terrorist summit near Bologna (see August 12, 2000 and Shortly After), and the person Abdulrahman talks to is Mahmoud Es Sayed, a close associate of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000). There are several significant aspects to the conversation:
Abdulrahman makes comments indicating he has foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. He says that he is “studying airlines,” comments, “Our focus is only on the air,” and tells Es Sayed to remember the words “above the head.” He also says that next time they meet he hopes to bring Es Sayed “a window or piece of the airplane,” and that the security on Alitalia and at Rome airport is poor. The name of the operation is given as “Jihadia,” and Abdulrahman says, “the big blow will come from the other country: one of those blows no one can ever forget.” He adds: “[It is] moving from south to north, from east to west: whoever created this plan is crazy, but he’s also a genius. It will leave them speechless.” He also says: “We can fight any power using candles and airplanes: they will not be able to stop us with even their most powerful weapons. We must hit them. And keep your head up.… Remember, the danger in the airports.… If it happens the newspapers from all over the world will write about it.”
Es Sayed remarks, “I know brothers who went to America with the trick of the wedding publications.” The phrase “Big wedding” is sometimes used by al-Qaeda as code for a bombing or attack, including 9/11 (see November 30, 1999 and Late Summer 2001), so, taken together with Abdulrahman’s remarks, this indicates an unconventional attack in the US using aircraft;
The two discuss training camps in Yemen, which are “proceeding on a world scale.” They also mention youth in Italy, and presumably the youth are training;
Es Sayed says, “my dream is building an Islamic state,” and Abdulrahman replies that this is possible because the Yemeni government is weak and “sooner or later we will dominate it;”
Es Sayed asks after a person named Ayman, evidently al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri;
Abdulrahman twice mentions the name of Abdul Mejid, apparently a reference to Abdul Mejid al-Zindani, a radical leader in Yemen and associate of Osama bin Laden (see January-August 1998);
Es Sayed makes the cryptic comment, “One must be cautious, like in Iran; not a single photo.”
Beginning in October 2000, FBI experts will help Italian police analyze the intercepts and warnings. Related conversations are overheard early the next year (see January 24, 2001 and February 2001). Neither Italy nor the FBI will fully understand their meaning until after 9/11, but apparently the Italians will understand enough to give the US an attack warning in March 2001 (see March 2001). After 9/11, this conversation and others like it will cause US intelligence to think there may be a link between the 9/11 plot and Yemen’s PSO. [Los Angeles Times, 5/29/2002; Guardian, 5/30/2002; Washington Post, 5/31/2002; Wall Street Journal, 12/20/2002; Vidino, 2006, pp. 224-5] Author Lorenzo Vidino will later comment: “The chilling conversation alarmed officials before 9/11, but it took on a completely different resonance after the attacks had taken place. [Abdulrahman], who had close connections to the highest ranks of al-Qaeda, likely knew about the plan in advance and had told Es Sayed about it.” [Vidino, 2006, pp. 226]
Italian counterterrorist authorities monitor a summit of leading Islamist militants near Bologna. Attendees at the meeting, which is arranged through an extremist mosque in Milan called the Islamic Cultural Institute, include:
Mahmoud Es Sayed, a close associate of al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000). He had recently been sent by al-Zawahiri to revise the militant network in northern Italy (see Summer 2000).
Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, a section chief with Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO—roughly equivalent to the FBI). Es Sayed and Abdulrahman are overheard discussing an attack using aircraft on their way to the summit, indicating they have foreknowledge of 9/11 (see August 12, 2000). The two of them will be recorded a few months later discussing trying to get some of their associates into the US (see February 2001). In 2002, Abdulrahman will be arrested and sent to the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba (see September 2002).
Ayub Usama Saddiq Ali, an Islamic Jihad leader and another close associate of al-Zawahiri’s. Ali was convicted of murder in Egypt but fled to Germany and was granted political asylum there in 1999. Future 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah called him once in 1999 and will call him again in August 2001 (see November 7, 1999 and August 4, 2001).
Mohammed Fazazi, the spiritual leader of the Moroccan group Salafia Jihadia, which will be responsible for a 2003 attack in Casablanca (see May 16, 2003). Fazazi is also the imam at Hamburg’s Al-Quds mosque, which is attended by the core cell of future 9/11 hijacker pilots, including Jarrah (see Early 1996 and (April 1, 1999)). Fazazi’s presence indicates a further connection between the cell in Milan, which is under heavy surveillance by Italian authorities (see 2000), and the cell in Hamburg, but this link will not be exploited to prevent 9/11. [Vidino, 2006, pp. 230]
Mahmoud Es Sayed (aka Abu Saleh), a member of an Italian al-Qaeda cell being monitored by the authorities there, calls an associate, Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, in Yemen to discuss travel to the US. Abdulrahman is a section chief in Yemen’s Political Security Organization (see August 12, 2000), but Italian authorities overhear Es Sayed telling Abdulrahman’s younger brother, “I heard you were going to America.” The brother replies: “I’m sorry to say we’re not able to get in. It is our most important wish and our big target.” [Wall Street Journal, 12/20/2002] Italian authorities had previously overheard conversations between Es Sayed and Albdulrahman in which they discussed a massive strike against the enemies of Islam involving aircraft (see August 12, 2000). The US will soon be warned of this (see March 2001).
Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, a section chief in Yemen’s Political Security Organization, the Yemeni equivalent of the FBI, disappears in Cairo, Egypt, after going there on business. Abdulrahman, who appears to have had foreknowledge of 9/11 (see August 12, 2000), calls his family after arriving in Cairo, but is apparently kidnapped by Egyptian intelligence and handed over to the CIA. However, it is unclear whether the CIA takes him to Azerbaijan or Afghanistan. [Vidino, 2006, pp. 230; Grey, 2007, pp. 252] He will later be taken to Guantanamo (see September 20, 2004).
Fourteen prisoners are transferred from Afghanistan to Guantanamo. They include Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, a Yemeni security official who had foreknowledge of 9/11 and was seized in Egypt (see August 12, 2000 and September 2002), and Saifulla Paracha, a Pakistani citizen who was arrested and sent to Bagram in July 2003 (see July 2003). All the other twelve detainees had previously been transported to Afghanistan as a part of the CIA’s rendition program. [Knight Ridder, 1/11/2005; Grey, 2007, pp. 257]
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