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TWA Flight 841, en route to New York City from Tel Aviv, explodes in mid-air. The Boeing 747 stopped in Athens for a routine layover, took off, and shortly thereafter reported an engine on fire. Soon after the report, the plane explodes and crashes into the Ionian Sea. Seventy-nine passengers and nine crew members die. A TWA spokesman in New York says that sabotage is “highly unlikely,” but a youth organization in Beirut with connections to Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal claims that one of its members surreptitiously placed a bomb on board. In general, aviation officials scoff at the idea that a terrorist would have bombed a plane. However, in May 1995, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will find that the plane was destroyed by a bomb. The NTSB’s final report will say that the “probable cause of this accident was the detonation of an explosive device within the aft cargo compartment of the aircraft which rendered the aircraft uncontrollable.” (Board 5/26/1975 ; Werth 2006, pp. 324-325)
The BBC will later suggest that US intelligence actually becomes aware of specific Abu Nidal accounts held in the criminal BCCI bank in 1984. This is because the FBI busts an illegal arms deal in New York City that involved Nidal’s BCCI accounts in London and a Nidal front company in Poland called SAS Trade at this time. (Herald Sun (Melbourne) 8/2/1991) In the 1980s, Nidal is considered the world’s most wanted terrorist. In December 1985, for instance, his network launches simultaneous attacks in Rome and Vienna, killing or wounding dozens. In 1986, the CIA tells the State Department in detail about the criminal BCCI bank’s links with Nidal and his terrorist network. They reveal that Nidal has multiple accounts at BCCI branches in Europe. (Beaty and Gwynne 1993, pp. 328) In July 1987, Ghassan Qassem, manager of one of BCCI’s London branches, is contacted by the British intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6. They tell him that they know SAS Trade has many millions of dollars worth of accounts in his branch and that the company is an Abu Nidal front. Qassem agrees to be an informant. (Walsh 1/18/2004) Nidal first opened a BCCI account in London in 1980, depositing $50 million using an alias. In addition to being a terrorist, Nidal is an illegal arms dealer and BCCI helps him buy and sell weapons, oftentimes involving British companies. (Rempel and Frantz 9/30/1991) Qassem will later claim that he saw Nidal in Britain on three separate occasions and went shopping with him. In 1983, Nidal was interviewed by police, who took him straight to the airport and put him on a plane to leave the country. (Norton-Taylor 7/30/1991; Walsh 1/18/2004) Qassem recognizes Nidal as a terrorist from a photograph in a magazine in 1987 and tells this to his BCCI superior, but he is told to keep quiet. The CIA and British intelligence use their knowledge of Nidal’s BCCI accounts to force SAS Trade to shut down in 1986, but usually they merely monitor terrorist activity. For instance, Nidal’s group teaches urban terrorist tactics to Peru’s Maoist Shining Path guerrillas in 1988. Shining Path pays Nidal $4 million for this work through his BCCI account and then attempts to bomb the US embassy in Lima later that year. Intelligence agencies also merely watch as Middle Eastern governments give tens of millions to Nidal through his BCCI accounts (see 1987-1990). In December 1989, Qassem tells his BCCI superiors that he is working with British intelligence. He is quickly fired. (Fineman 9/30/1991) Nidal learns of the surveillance and empties the accounts before they can be frozen. (Norton-Taylor 7/30/1991; Walsh 1/18/2004)
By 1987, Abu Nidal is the world’s most well-known terrorist. His group has killed over 300 people. But in 1987 his attacks generally come to a halt. A French intelligence report in 1988 explains this is because Middle Eastern governments begin paying large sums of protection money in order not to be attacked. For instance, the government of Kuwait deposits $80 million into Nidal’s BCCI bank account in London in 1987. Kuwait will later deny the payments took place, but counterterrorism experts will dismiss the denials and say that such payments to Nidal were common. In 1988, the Defense Department will conclude that one third of Nidal’s money comes from his own businesses (he is an illegal arms dealer), one third from Arab governments, and one third from various blackmail schemes. Most of these transactions, including Nidal’s arms dealing transactions, are made through Nidal’s BCCI bank account in London, and US and British intelligence has been monitoring his account there since at least 1986 (see 1984 and After). But apparently they merely gather information and make little attempt to shut down Nidal or his finances. Nidal will eventually close out his London accounts in 1990. (Carley 8/9/1991; Rempel and Frantz 9/30/1991) Nidal will finally be murdered in mysterious circumstances in Iraq in August 2002. He will apparently stop his attacks around 1994. (MacAskill 8/20/2002)
Omar Mohammed Ali Rezaq is rendered from Nigeria to the US. (Grey 2007, pp. 245) Rezaq had led the hijacking of an EgyptAir plane for the Abu Nidal group in 1985, and had been sentenced to 25 years in prison in Malta after the plane was re-taken there with much loss of life. However, Rezaq only served seven years before somehow leaving the prison and traveling to Ghana. When he attempts to enter Nigeria, he is seized by the local authorities and turned over to the FBI, which renders him to the US. Rezaq will later be sentenced to 25 years in jail in the US for air piracy, and Judge Royce Lamberth will recommend that any request for parole be rejected. The other hijackers died when the plane was retaken. (CNN 10/7/1996)
Military spokesperson Navy Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem says, “We’re going to stop chasing… the shadows of where we thought [bin Laden and Mullah Omar were] and focus more on the entire picture of the country, where these pockets of resistance are, what do the anti-Taliban forces need, so that we can develop a better intelligence picture. The job is not complete and those leaders whom we wish to have from the al-Qaeda and Taliban chain of command, we are casting a wide net—a worldwide net, as well as regional, for where they are.” This announcement comes just two days after reports that Mullah Omar escaped an encirclement near Kandahar and fled into the nearby hills (see January 6, 2002). (Reuters 1/8/2002)
The London Daily Telegraph reports that it has obtained a copy of a memo purportedly written to Saddam Hussein by Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, the former head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, describing a three-day “work program” Atta participated in at Abu Nidal’s base in Baghdad. The memo, dated July 1, 2001, also includes a report about a shipment sent to Iraq by way of Libya and Syria. The Telegraph asserts that the shipment is “believed to be uranium.” Future Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi backs the validity of the document. (Coughlin 12/14/2003) But Newsweek quickly reports that the document is probably a fabrication, citing both the FBI’s detailed Atta timeline and a document expert who, amongst other things, distrusts an unrelated second “item” on the same document, which supports a discredited claim that Iraq sought uranium from Niger. (Isikoff 12/17/2003) Very few media outlets pick up the Telegraph’s story. It will later be revealed that many forged documents purporting a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda were left in places for US troops to find (see Shortly After April 9, 2003).
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