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By the mid-1980s, Osama bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam jointly founded a charity front based in Pakistan which is called Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) (which means “services office”) and is also known as Al-Kifah (which means “struggle”) (see 1984). Branches start to open in the US; the first one apparently opens in Tucson, Arizona, where al-Qaeda has a sleeper cell (see 1986). But around 1986, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, the right hand man of double agent Ali Mohamed, informally founds the branch in Brooklyn, New York, and it soon becomes the most important US branch. (Weiser, Sachs, and Kocieniewski 10/22/1998; Burr and Collins 2006, pp. 269-270) On December 29, 1987, three men, Mustafa Shalabi, Fawaz Damra, and Ali Shinawy, formally file papers incorporating Al-Kifah, which is called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. At first, it is located inside the Al Farouq mosque, which is led by Damra. But eventually it will get it own office space next to the mosque. Shalabi, a naturalized citizen from Egypt, runs the office with two assistants: Mahmud Abouhalima, who will later be convicted for a role in bombing the World Trade Center in 1993 (see February 26, 1993), and El Sayyid Nosair, who will assassinate a Jewish leader in New York in 1990 (see November 5, 1990). (Mitchell 4/11/1993; Hosenball 10/1/2001; Sullivan, Garrett, and Rutchick 11/4/2001) Jamal al-Fadl, a founding member of al-Qaeda and future FBI informant (see June 1996-April 1997), also works at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in its early days. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 155) The Brooklyn office recruits Arab immigrants and Arab-Americans to go fight in Afghanistan, even after the Soviets withdraw in early 1989. As many as 200 are sent there from the office. Before they go, the office arranges training in the use of rifles, assault weapons, and handguns, and then helps them with visas, plane tickets, and contacts. They are generally sent to the MAK/Al-Kifah office in Peshawar, Pakistan, and then connected to either the radical Afghan faction led by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf or the equally radical one led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. (Mitchell 4/11/1993) The CIA has some murky connection to Al-Kifah that has yet to be fully explained. Newsweek will later say the Brooklyn office “doubled as a recruiting post for the CIA seeking to steer fresh troops to the mujaheddin” fighting in Afghanistan. At the same time, the Brooklyn office is where “veterans of [the Afghan war arrived] in the United States—many with passports arranged by the CIA.” (Hosenball 10/1/2001) Robert I. Friedman, writing for New York magazine, will comment that the Brooklyn office was a refuge for ex- and future mujaheddin, “But the highlight for the center’s regulars were the inspirational jihad lecture series, featuring CIA-sponsored speakers.… One week on Atlantic Avenue, it might be a CIA-trained Afghan rebel traveling on a CIA-issued visa; the next, it might be a clean-cut Arabic-speaking Green Beret, who would lecture about the importance of being part of the mujaheddin, or ‘warriors of the Lord.’ The more popular lectures were held upstairs in the roomier Al-Farouq Mosque; such was the case in 1990 when Sheikh [Omar] Abdul-Rahman, traveling on a CIA-supported visa, came to town.” One frequent instructor is double agent Ali Mohamed, who is in the US Special Forces at the time (see 1987-1989). Bin Laden’s mentor Azzam frequently visits and lectures in the area. In 1988, he tells “a rapt crowd of several hundred in Jersey City, ‘Blood and martyrdom are the only way to create a Muslim society.… However, humanity won’t allow us to achieve this objective, because all humanity is the enemy of every Muslim.’” (Friedman 3/17/1995) Ayman Al-Zawahiri, future Al-Qaeda second in command, makes a recruiting trip to the office in 1989 (see Spring 1993). (Wright 9/9/2002) The Brooklyn office also raises a considerable amount of money for MAK/Al-Kifah back in Pakistan. The Independent will later call the office “a place of pivotal importance to Operation Cyclone, the American effort to support the mujaheddin. The Al-Kifah [Refugee Center was] raising funds and, crucially, providing recruits for the struggle, with active American assistance.” (Marshall 11/1/1998) Abdul-Rahman, better known as the “Blind Sheikh,” is closely linked to bin Laden. In 1990, he moves to New York on another CIA-supported visa (see July 1990) and soon dominates the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. Shalabi has a falling out with him over how to spend the money they raise and he is killed in mysterious circumstances in early 1991, completing Abdul-Rahman’s take over. Now, both the Brooklyn and Pakistan ends of the Al-Kifah/MAK network are firmly controlled by bin Laden and his close associates. In 1998, the US government will say that al-Qaeda’s “connection to the United States evolved from the Al-Kifah Refugee Center.” Yet there is no sign that the CIA stops its relationship with the Brooklyn office before it closes down shortly after the 1993 WTC bombing. (Weiser, Sachs, and Kocieniewski 10/22/1998)
Ali Mohamed, while still an instructor at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (see 1986), frequently spends his weekends traveling to meet with Islamic activists at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 143-144) This center is the Brooklyn branch office of Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK)/Al-Kifah, which is a charity front in Pakistan closely tied to bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam. It also has ties to the CIA (see 1986-1993). Mohamed teaches the Islamic activists survival techniques, map reading and how to recognize tanks and other Soviet weapons. He frequently stays at the home of El-Sayyid Nosair (see November 5, 1990). In July 1989, the FBI monitors him teaching Nosair and some of the future members of the 1993 World Trade Center bomb plot how to shoot weapons (see July 1989). Towards the end of this period he informs his superiors that he has renewed his association with Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. (Weiser and Risen 12/1/1998; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 143-144) Mohamed will move to Brooklyn in May 1990 while also keeping a residence in Santa Clara, California. His connections to the Islamist network develop rapidly from this point on. (Weiser and Risen 12/1/1998; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 144)
Despite being on a US terrorist watch list for three years, radical Muslim leader Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman enters the US on a “much-disputed” tourist visa issued by an undercover CIA agent. (Friedman 3/30/1993; Weaver 5/1996; Lance 2003, pp. 42) Abdul-Rahman was heavily involved with the CIA and Pakistani ISI efforts to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan, and became famous traveling all over the world for five years recruiting new fighters for the Afghan war. The CIA gave him visas to come to the US starting in 1986 (see December 15, 1986-1989) . However, he never hid his prime goals to overthrow the governments of the US and Egypt. (Weaver 5/1996) FBI agent Tommy Corrigan will later say that prior to Abdul-Rahman’s arrival, “terrorism for all intents and purposes didn’t exist in the United States. But [his] arrival in 1990 really stoke the flames of terrorism in this country. This was a major-league ballplayer in what at the time was a minor-league ballpark. He was… looked up to worldwide. A mentor to bin Laden, he was involved with the MAK over in Pakistan.” The charity front Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) is also known as Al-Kifah, and it has a branch in Brooklyn known as the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. The head of that branch, Mustafa Shalabi, picks up Abdul-Rahman at the airport when he first arrives and finds an apartment for him. Abdul-Rahman soon begins preaching at Al Farouq mosque, which is in the same building as the Al-Kifah office, plus two other locals mosques, Abu Bakr and Al Salaam. (Lance 2006, pp. 53) He quickly turns Al-Kifah into his “de facto headquarters.” (Weaver 5/1996) He is “infamous throughout the Arab world for his alleged role in the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.” Abdul-Rahman immediately begins setting up a militant Islamic network in the US. (Friedman 3/30/1993) He is believed to have befriended bin Laden while in Afghanistan, and bin Laden secretly pays Abdul-Rahman’s US living expenses. (Weaver 5/1996; ABC News 8/16/2002) For the next two years, Abdul-Rahman will continue to exit and reenter the US without being stopped or deported, even though he is still on the watch list (see Late October 1990-October 1992).
Beginning in November 1992, Egyptian intelligence repeatedly warns US intelligence that Sheikh Abdul-Rahman’s principal mosques in the US, the Al Salaam and Al Farouq mosques in Brooklyn, are “hotbeds of terrorist activity,” and that Abdul-Rahman is plotting a new round of terrorist attacks in Egypt. The Al-Kifah Refugee Center charity front is based inside the Al Farouq mosque (see 1986-1993). One Egyptian official later says, “There were many, many contacts between Cairo and Washington.” On November 12, 1992, members of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya militant group led by Abdul-Rahman machine-guns a bus-load of Western tourists in Egypt, injuring five Germans. (Friedman 3/30/1993) Between February 6 and 11, 1993, some FBI agents travel to Cairo, Egypt, to discuss Egyptian concerns with officials there. The Egyptians are said to warn about certain terrorist cells in the US connected to Abdul-Rahman but do not specifically warn about the WTC bombing. (Jehl 4/6/1993) Perhaps as a result of these concerns, on February 13, the FBI obtains a FISA warrant and begins tapping Abdul-Rahman’s phone calls. (Lance 2003, pp. 103) Shortly after the WTC bombing two weeks later (see February 26, 1993), Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will say that the bombing could have been prevented if Egypt’s warnings had been heeded. (Jehl 4/6/1993)
A US Army intelligence program called Able Danger identifies five al-Qaeda terrorist cells; one of them has connections to Brooklyn, New York and will become informally known as the “Brooklyn” cell by the Able Danger team. This cell includes 9/11 hijacker leader Mohamed Atta, and three other 9/11 hijackers: Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Nawaf Alhazmi. According to a former intelligence officer who claims he worked closely with Able Danger, the link to Brooklyn is not based upon any firm evidence, but computer analysis that established patterns in links between the four men. “[T]he software put them all together in Brooklyn.” (Jehl 8/9/2005; Washington Times 8/22/2005; Fox News 8/23/2005; Goodwin 9/2005) However, that does not necessarily imply them being physically present in Brooklyn. A lawyer later representing members of Able Danger states, “At no time did Able Danger identify Mohamed Atta as being physically present in the United States.” Furthermore, “No information obtained at the time would have led anyone to believe criminal activity had taken place or that any specific terrorist activities were being planned.” (CNN 9/21/2005; US Congress 9/21/2005) James D. Smith, a contractor working with the unit, discovers Mohamed Atta’s link to al-Qaeda. (Green 9/1/2005) Smith has been using advanced computer software and analysing individuals who are going between mosques. He has made a link between Mohamed Atta and Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, ringleader of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. (Fox News 8/28/2005; Goodwin 9/2005) Atta is said to have some unspecified connection to the Al Farouq mosque in Brooklyn, a hotbed of anti-American sentiment once frequented by Abdul-Rahman, which also contained the notorious Al-Kifah Refugee Center. (Phucas 9/22/2005) Smith obtained Atta’s name and photograph through a private researcher in California who was paid to gather the information from contacts in the Middle East. (Shenon 8/22/2005) Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer claims the photo is not the well-known menacing Florida driver’s license photo of Atta. “This is an older, more grainy photo we had of him. It was not the best picture in the world.” It is said to contain several names or aliases for Atta underneath it. (Shaffer 9/20/2005; Crewdson and Zajac 9/28/2005) LIWA analysts supporting Able Danger make a chart, which Shaffer describes in a radio interview as, “A chart probably about a 2x3 which had essentially five clusters around the center point which was bin Laden and his leadership.” (Shaffer 9/16/2005) The 9/11 Commission later claims that Atta only enters the United States for the first time several months later, in June 2000 (see June 3, 2000). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 224) However, investigations in the months after 9/11 find that Mohamed Atta and another of the hijackers rented rooms in Brooklyn around this time (see Spring 2000). Other newspaper accounts have the CIA monitoring Atta starting in January 2000, while he is living in Germany (see January-May 2000). Atta, Alshehhi, Almihdhar, Alhazmi and other hijackers have connections to associates of Sheikh Abdul-Rahman (see Early 2000-September 10, 2001).
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