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a.k.a. Al-Qaida, Al-Qa'ida
Al-Qaeda was a participant or observer in the following events:
Page 6 of 12 (1112 events)previous
An operating branch of the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank photographed in Sudan in October 2004. [Source: Wayne Madsen]On September 24, 2001, the US freezes the bank accounts of a number of people and businesses allegedly linked to al-Qaeda (see September 24, 2001). However, no accounts at the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank in Sudan are frozen, despite a 1996 State Department report that bin Laden co-founded the bank and capitalized it with $50 million (see August 14, 1996). As the Chicago Tribune will later note, bin Laden has been more closely linked to this bank than to any other bank in the world. [Chicago Tribune, 11/3/2001] On September 26, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) publicly notes that Al-Shamal was able to obtain correspondent accounts with three US banks, as well as many European and Middle East banks, giving Al-Shamal direct or indirect access to US banking. [Senator Carl Levin, 9/26/2001] Al-Shamal claims that it cut ties with bin Laden long ago. However, tipped off by Levin’s comments, one day later a group of computer hackers claim to have hacked into Al-Shamal’s computers, found evidence of existing al-Qaeda-linked bank accounts, and then turned the information over to the FBI. The FBI neither confirms nor denies getting such information. [Washington Post, 10/12/2001] Several days later, it is reported that European banks are quietly cutting off all dealings with Al-Shamal despite the lack of any formal blacklisting of it. [Associated Press, 10/1/2001] The Los Angeles Times will later report that after 9/11, the Sudanese government greatly increased their cooperation with US intelligence in hopes of improving relations with the US. In November 2001, some FBI agents including Jack Cloonan go to Sudan and are allowed to interview the manager at Al-Shamal. Bank records are made available to US investigators as well. Cloonan will later say, “Until then, the Sudanese had a credibility problem with the US, but they gave us everything we asked for.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2005] But multiple sources will later report that, as of late 2002 at least, Saudi multimillionaire Adel Batterjee heads Al-Shamal and is one of its largest shareholders. [National Review, 10/28/2002; Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 112; Chicago Tribune, 2/22/2004] Batterjee had long been suspected of al-Qaeda ties and was even detained by the Saudi government over his al-Qaeda links in 1993 (see 1993). The US will officially designate him a terrorist financier in 2004 (see December 21, 2004). The Chicago Tribune notes that an official US blacklisting of the bank “could well have diplomatic repercussions that the White House… would rather avoid.” A Saudi financial services conglomerate, Dar Al-Maal Al-Islami Trust (DMI), has a major stake in Al-Shamal, and DMI is headed by Prince Mohammed al-Faisal al-Saud, a cousin of the Saudi King Fahd. (His accountant will later be arrested in Spain and accused of being an important al-Qaeda financier (see April 23, 2002).) Other Saudi royals and prominent businesspeople are also invested in DMI. [Chicago Tribune, 11/3/2001] Furthermore, one of the bank’s three founding members and major shareholders is Saleh Abdullah Kamel, a Saudi billionaire and chairman of the Dallah al-Baraka Group. [In These Times, 12/20/2002] Al-Shamal apparently continues to operate and the US apparently has not taken any action against it. It is unclear if Batterjee continues to run it.
Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) later claims that about two weeks after 9/11, he is given a chart by friends of his from the Army’s Information Dominance Center, in cooperation with special ops. The chart indicates various al-Qaeda cells that were identified by a military intelligence unit called Able Danger. Early in 2000, this unit identified, amongst others, an al-Qaeda cell based in Brooklyn, New York, which included Mohamed Atta and three other future 9/11 hijackers (see January-February 2000). Atta’s name is said to be on the chart given to Weldon. Shortly after being given the chart, Weldon meets with Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and shows the chart to him. Weldon claims, “Hadley looked at the chart and said, Congressman, where did you get that chart from? I said, I got it from the military.… Steve Hadley said, Congressman, I am going to take this chart, and I am going to show it to the man. The man that he meant… was the President of the United States. I said, Mr. Hadley, you mean you have not seen something like this before from the CIA, this chart of al-Qaeda worldwide and in the US? And he said, No, Congressman. So I gave him the chart.” [US Congress. House, 6/27/2005; Delaware County Daily Times, 8/12/2005; Fox News, 8/22/2005] However, a spokesman for Hadley later disputes this account, and says, “Mr. Hadley does not recall any chart bearing the name or photo of Mohamed Atta. [National Security Council] staff reviewed the files of Mr. Hadley as well as of all [National Security Council] personnel… That search has turned up no chart.” [Washington Post, 9/24/2005] Representative Dan Burton (R-IN) later recalls attending the meeting and remembers the chart, but can’t recall if Atta was on it or not. [New York Times, 10/1/2005] Curt Weldon also later claims that the copy of the chart he gives to Hadley is his only one. [Time, 8/29/2005] However, apparently contradicting this, Weldon will give a speech in 2002 showing the chart (see May 23, 2002).
In January 2002, the US Treasury Department will send a letter to Swiss authorities stating that Youssef Nada and Ali bin Mussalim, two leaders of the Al Taqwa Bank in Switzerland, provided “indirect investment services for al-Qaeda, investing funds for bin Laden, and making cash deliveries on request to the al-Qaeda organization.” Furthermore, the letter will claim that such assistance continued until “late September 2001,” and that Mussalim carries a Saudi diplomatic passport. Mussalim had been known for controversial financial dealings since the early 1980s, when US prosecutors accused him of taking part in attempts to corner the world silver market. In 1994 he was an intermediary in a multi-billion dollar deal between the Saudi and French governments. He will die of cancer in June 2004, one month after reports of the US Treasury letter first publicly emerged. The Financial Times will call Al-Qaeda Will Conquer, the 2005 book which will be the first to reveal documentation of these claims about Mussalim, “uncomfortable reading for the Saudi government.” [Newsweek, 4/12/2004; Financial Times, 4/27/2005] For many years up to and past 9/11, he held Saudi ministerial status as an “advisor at the Royal Court” and was a close confidant of Saudi King Fahd. The Los Angeles Times will comment, “One is left wondering how the Sept. 11 commission could report that ‘we have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded [al-Qaeda].’” [Los Angeles Times, 6/26/2005] The US will declare the Al Taqwa Bank a terrorist financier in November 2001 (see November 7, 2001).
British Prime Minister Tony Blair says, “I have seen absolutely powerful incontrovertible evidence of [Osama bin Laden’s] link to the events of the 11th of September.” However, he says that because “much of this evidence comes to us from sensitive sources, from intelligence sources,” there is a question over how much of it can be made public. [BBC, 9/30/2001; Daily Telegraph, 10/1/2001] Three days later, the two British opposition leaders meet for a 45-minute confidential briefing with Blair, where he shows them this evidence. Following this briefing, Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy says he now accepts there is “compelling evidence” of Bin Laden’s guilt. [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2001; Guardian, 10/4/2001] Blair refers to the evidence he has seen on October 4, 2001, when he presents to Parliament a paper indicating that al-Qaeda is responsible for 9/11 (see October 4, 2001), but again he says that because of sensitivity issues, “It is not possible without compromising people or security to release precise details.” [CNN, 10/4/2001]
On October 8, 2001, Gen. Tommy Franks, Central Command commander in chief, says of the war in Afghanistan, “We have not said that Osama bin Laden is a target of this effort. What we are about is the destruction of the al-Qaeda network, as well as the… Taliban that provide harbor to bin Laden and al-Qaeda.” [USA Today, 10/8/2001] Later in the month, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld makes similar comments, “My attitude is that if [bin Laden] were gone tomorrow, the same problem would exist. He’s got a whole bunch of lieutenants who have been trained and they’ve got bank accounts all over some 50 or 60 countries. Would you want to stop him? Sure. Do we want to stop the rest of his lieutenants? You bet. But I don’t get up in the morning and say that is the end; the goal and the endpoint of this thing. I think that would be a big mistake.” [USA Today, 10/24/2001] One military expert will later note, “There appears to be a real disconnect between what the US military was engaged in trying to do during the battle for Tora Bora - which was to destroy al-Qaeda and the Taliban - and the earlier rhetoric of President Bush, which had focused on getting bin Laden.” [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers will make a similar comment in April 2002 (see April 4, 2002). [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002]
The Library Tower in Los Angeles. It is later renamed the US Bank Tower. [Source: Kim D. Johnson / Associated Press]9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) attempts to organize a follow up attack to the 9/11 attacks. Beginning in October 2001, KSM and Hambali, a top al-Qaeda leader in Southeast Asia, recruit four operatives for the new plot, all of them Malaysian:
Mohamad Farik Amin (a.k.a. Zubair).
Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep (a.k.a. Lillie).
Masran bin Arshad.
The plan is for these operatives to blow up the doors to airplane cockpits using shoe bombs, take over flying the aircraft, and then crash them into US buildings—essentially the same technique as was used in the 9/11 attacks, except with the addition of the shoe bomb and the use of East Asians instead of Middle Easterners. Apparently several buildings are initially targeted. KSM will later name them as the Library Tower in Los Angeles (later renamed the US Bank tower), the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Empire State Building in New York, and a tall building in Washington State. But the plot soon focuses on just the Library Tower, the tallest building on the West Coast of the US, due to a lack of pilots. The members of the plot go to Afghanistan and swear an oath of loyalty to Osama bin Laden, and then continue to train with Hambali in Asia. However, the plot does not go far because Zakaria, the only trained pilot of the group (see (Spring 2000)), drops out in late 2001, saying he has small children to consider. In February 2002, bin Arshad, the leader of the four operatives, is arrested and other other members decide the plot has been canceled. Zakaria turns himself in to Malaysian authorities in 2002, and apparently remains in detention in Malaysia without being charged. Amin and Bin Lep will be arrested in 2003 with Hambali and taken into US custody (see August 12, 2003). Amin, Bin Lep, and Hambali will all be transferred to Guantanamo prison as high-value detainees in 2006 (see September 2-3, 2006). It is unknown who arrests bin Arshad or what becomes of him. [Time, 10/5/2003; Time, 10/6/2003; White House, 2/9/2006; Associated Press, 2/10/2006; US Department of Defense, 3/10/2007 ]
The Washington Post reports in late 2004 that, shortly after Richard Myers officially becomes Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman on October 1, 2001, he raises doubts about the military plan to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan. General Tommy Franks, the chief of US Central Command, plans a single thrust towards the capital, Kabul, from the north. Myers urges Franks to open a southern front. A brigade of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Uzbekistan and two Marine Expeditionary Forces in the Arabian Sea are prepared and in position for the role. However, Franks does not position a blocking force to meet any retreating forces. The Washington Post reports, “Some Bush administration officials now acknowledge privately they consider that a costly mistake.” Franks later claims that it would have taken too much time to put a force into position and would have antagonized the country’s Pashtun majority. Most of al-Qaeda and the Taliban’s leaders are eventually able to escape the country. “A high-ranking war planner [later] likened the result to throwing a rock at a nest of bees, then trying to chase them down, one by one, with a net.”
[Washington Post, 10/22/2004]
Ummah Tameer-e-Nau’s headquarters in Kabul. [Source: CBC]In early October 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Pakistan and discusses the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. He offers US technical assistance to improve the security of Pakistan’s nukes, but Pakistan rejects the offer. Powell also says that the CIA learned of a secret meeting held in mid-August 2001 between two Pakistani nuclear scientists and al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Mid-August 2001). As a result of US pressure, Pakistan arrests the two scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, on October 23. The Pakistani ISI secretly detains them for four weeks, but concludes that they are harmless and releases them. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 264-268; Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 269-271] In mid-November, after the Taliban is routed from Kabul (see November 13, 2001), the CIA takes over the headquarters there of Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), a charity founded by the two scientists. In addition to charity material, they find numerous documents and pieces of equipment to help build WMD, including plans for conducting an anthrax attack. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 322] As a result, on December 1, CIA Director George Tenet, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, head of the CIA Counterterrorist Center’s WMD branch, and a CIA analyst named Kevin make an emergency trip to Pakistan to discuss the issue. Accompanied by Wendy Chamberlin, the US ambassador to Pakistan, Tenet meets with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and urges him to take stronger action against the two scientists and their UTN charity. Musharraf reluctantly agrees, and the two men are rearrested. According to a 2007 book by Tenet, after being tested by a team of US polygraph experts and questioned by US officials, “Mahmood confirmed all we had heard about the August 2001 meeting with Osama bin Laden, and even provided a hand-drawn rough bomb design that he had shared with al-Qaeda leaders.” During the meeting, an unnamed senior al-Qaeda leader showed Mahmood a cannister that may have contained some kind of nuclear material. This leader shared ideas about building a simple firing system for a nuclear “dirty bomb” using commercially available supplies. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 264-268; Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 269-271] However, on December 13, the two scientists are quietly released again. The US does not officially freeze UTN’s assets until December 20, and Pakistan apparently follows suit a short time later (see December 20, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 12/24/2001; Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 271]
Entity Tags: Wendy Chamberlin, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pervez Musharraf, Al-Qaeda, Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, Colin Powell, George J. Tenet, Osama bin Laden, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network
In mid-November 2001, the Washington Post will report that senior Air Force officials are upset they have missed opportunities to hit top al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders since the start of the bombing of Afghanistan. According to these officials, the Air Force believes it has the leaders in its crosshairs as many as ten times, but they are unable to receive a timely clearance to fire. Cumbersome approval procedures, a concern not to kill civilians, and a power play between the Defense Department and the CIA contribute to the delays. One anonymous Air Force official later says, “We knew we had some of the big boys. The process is so slow that by the time we got the clearances, and everybody had put in their 2 cents, we called it off.” The main problem is that commanders in the region have to ask for permission from General Tommy Franks, based in Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, or even Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and other higher-ups. Air Force generals complain to Franks about the delay problem, but never receive a response. For example, at one point in October, a Taliban military convoy is moving north to reinforce front line positions. Targeters consider it an easy mark of clear military value. But permission from Central Command is denied on the suspicion that the target is so obvious that “it might be a trick.” In another example, a target is positively identified by real-time imagery from a Predator drone, but Central Command overrides the decision to strike, saying they want a second source of data. An anonymous official calls this request for independent verification of Predator imagery “kind of ridiculous.” [Washington Post, 11/18/2001] The London Times paraphrase officials who claim that, “Attempts to limit collateral damage [serve] merely to prolong the war, and force the Pentagon to insert commandos on the ground to hunt down the same targets.” [London Times, 11/19/2001] By the end of the war, only one top al-Qaeda leader, Mohammed Atef, is killed in a bombing raid (see November 15, 2001), and no top Taliban leaders are killed.
A confidential list of people suspected of helping the al-Qaeda terrorist network leaks out on the Internet. The list of 370 individuals was put together by the FBI and European security agencies, and had been circulated to central banks and government financial authorities cooperating in the fight against terrorism. The 22-page document is posted on the website of Finland’s Financial Supervision Authority, RATA. [Daily Telegraph, 10/5/2001; United Press International, 10/11/2001] It is the most extensive list of its kind yet made public by authorities anywhere in the world. [Helsingin Sanomat, 10/5/2001] Some of its entries include only a name. [United Press International, 10/11/2001] But, in many cases, aliases, last known addresses, dates of birth, and sometimes phone numbers are given. Many of the addresses are in the United States—with Florida featuring extensively—or Germany, particularly Hamburg. [Helsingin Sanomat, 10/4/2001; Daily Telegraph, 10/5/2001] More than 300 of the names on the list came from US sources, and are listed with US addresses or Social Security numbers. Out of the 370 individuals, all of whom have Arab names, the FBI and other security authorities have identified the nationalities of 163. Saudi Arabians form the largest group, with 59 being on the list. The FBI has been unable to identify the nationality of the other 207 individuals. According to UPI: “With the exception of the two Americans [on the list], all of those listed would have had to apply for American visas in their home countries to enter the United States legally. Yet the spreadsheet’s sparse information seemed to indicate that the FBI apparently had been unable to locate the information that these applications normally would contain.” At least 77 of those on the list lived near flight schools. Many of the individuals have aliases, with some having up to 20. [United Press International, 10/11/2001] The list includes all 19 of the alleged 9/11 hijackers, who are mostly listed as “possibly deceased.” It also includes al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. It will be removed from the RATA website within 24 hours, at the recommendation of the Finnish data protection commissioner. The London Daily Telegraph cautions, “Like any police intelligence file,” the list “is based on hearsay and unverified leads, and should have been kept strictly confidential to protect those falsely accused. It is far from clear whether the telephone numbers or email addresses are reliable.” For example, “A random call to a suspect in Vero Beach, Florida, was answered by the receptionist of a commercial law firm, who angrily slammed down the receiver.” [RATA, 10/3/2001 ; Daily Telegraph, 10/5/2001; Helsingin Sanomat, 10/5/2001]
Tony Blair presenting evidence on October 4, 2001. [Source: Associated Press]British Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly presents a paper containing evidence that al-Qaeda is responsible for the 9/11 attacks. [Los Angeles Times, 10/4/2001; Los Angeles Times, 10/5/2001] Secretary of State Powell and other US officials had promised on September 23 that the US would present a paper containing such evidence. [Los Angeles Times, 9/24/2001] However, the US paper is never released (see September 23-24, 2001). Apparently, the British paper is meant to serve as a substitute. [New Yorker, 5/27/2002] It begins, “This document does not purport to provide a prosecutable case against Osama bin Laden in a court of law.” Nevertheless, it continues, “on the basis of all the information available [Her Majesty’s Government] is confident of its conclusions as expressed in this document.” [BBC, 10/4/2001] In his speech, Blair claims, “One of bin Laden’s closest lieutenants has said clearly that he helped with the planning of the September 11 attacks and admitted the involvement of the al-Qaeda organization” and that “there is other intelligence, we cannot disclose, of an even more direct nature indicating guilt” of al-Qaeda in the attacks. [CNN, 10/4/2001; Time, 10/5/2001] There has been no confirmation or details since of these claims. Even though most of the evidence in the British paper comes from the US, pre-attack warnings, such as the August 6, 2001 memo (see August 6, 2001) to Bush titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US,” are not included. In fact, Blair’s paper states, “incorrectly, that no such information had been available before the attacks: ‘After 11 September we learned that, not long before, bin Laden had indicated he was about to launch a major attack on America.’” [New Yorker, 5/27/2002]
The five fatal victims of the anthrax attacks, from to right: Josep Curseen Jr., Thomas Morris, Ottilie Lundgren, Robert Stevens, and Kathy Nguyen. [Source: Reuters and Associated Press] (click image to enlarge)Two waves of letters containing anthrax are received by media outlets including NBC and the New York Post (see September 17-18, 2001), and Democratic senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy (see October 6-9, 2001). The letters sent to the senators both contain the words “Death to America, Death to Israel, Allah is Great.” Five people die:
October 5: Robert Stevens, 63, an employee at the Sun, a tabloid based in Florida.
October 21: Thomas Morris Jr., 55, a postal worker in Washington, DC.
October 22: Joseph Curseen Jr., 47, a postal worker in Washington, DC.
October 31: Kathy Nguyen, 61, a hospital employee in New York City.
November 21: Ottilie Lundgren, 94, of Oxford, Connecticut.
At least 22 more people get sick but survive. Thirty-one others test positive for exposure. As a result of these deaths and injuries, panic sweeps the nation. On October 16, the Senate office buildings are shut down, followed by the House of Representatives, after 28 congressional staffers test positive for exposure to anthrax (see October 16-17, 2001). A number of hoax letters containing harmless powder turn up, spreading the panic further. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001; Associated Press, 8/7/2008] Initially it is suspected that either al-Qaeda or Iraq are behind the anthrax letters (see October 14, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 17, 2001, and October 18, 2001). [Observer, 10/14/2001; BBC, 10/16/2001] However, by November, further investigation leads the US government to conclude that, “everything seems to lean toward a domestic source.… Nothing seems to fit with an overseas terrorist type operation (see November 10, 2001).” [Washington Post, 10/27/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 11/10/2001]
In August 2008, the New York Daily News will report that after Robert Stevens is the first to die in the anthrax attacks on October 5, 2001 (see October 5-November 21, 2001), White House officials repeatedly press FBI Director Robert Mueller to prove the attacks were conducted by al-Qaeda. According to an unnamed retired senior FBI official, Mueller was verbally “beaten up” during President Bush’s daily intelligence briefings for not producing proof linking the attacks to al-Qaeda. “They really wanted to blame somebody in the Middle East,” this FBI official will say. But within days, the FBI learned the anthrax was a difficult to make weapons-grade strain. “Very quickly, [experts at Fort Detrick, Maryland] told us this was not something some guy in a cave could come up with. [Al-Qaeda] couldn’t go from box cutters one week to weapons-grade anthrax the next.” But several days after this conclusion is reached, Bush and Cheney nonetheless make public statements suggesting al-Qaeda was the culprit (see October 15, 2001 and October 12, 2001). [New York Daily News, 8/2/2008]
“Operation Enduring Freedom,” the US’s first military answer to the attacks of 9/11, starts with a bombing campaign on selected targets in the Afghan countryside. On October 19, Special Forces troops are deployed to occupy parts of the country in collaboration with the Northern Alliance, an armed faction hostile towards the Taliban government. In the following weeks, a fierce hunt ensues for members of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. [White House, 5/10/2005]
Khalid Khawaja. [Source: CNN]Ex-CIA Director James Woolsey, as part of his attempt to gather evidence that could tie Iraq to the 9/11 attacks, contacts the Taliban. He works with Mansoor Ijaz, a US businessman of Pakistani origin, who is a lobbyist for Pakistan in the US, an occasional Fox News commentator, and has extensive political ties in the US. Woolsey is also vice chairman of the board of Ijaz’s company. Woolsey and Ijaz work with Khalid Khawaja, a friend of Osama bin Laden and ex-ISI operative. The three plus an unnamed US journalist arrange to meet with Taliban leader Mullah Omar in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on October 8. The Taliban agree to tell Woolsey about a meeting between Iraqi and al-Qaeda officials that took place in 1997, and possibly other similar information. Apparently in return they hope to avert the US invasion of Afghanistan. However, the US bombing begins on October 7, and the meeting is called off. [Dawn (Karachi), 2/15/2002; Financial Times, 3/6/2003] At least part of this team will later play another behind-the-scenes role. After being given a tip that Mansoor Ijaz is connected to leading militant Muslims in Pakistan, reporter Daniel Pearl will connect with Khalid Khawaja, who in turn connects him with militant Muslims who kidnap and eventually kill him. A leading Pakistani newspaper will claim that at one point Newsweek is about to accuse Khawaja of involvement in the plot to kidnap Pearl, but Ijaz vouches for Khawaja and convinces Newsweek to pull back its accusations. [Dawn (Karachi), 2/15/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002]
Ali Jan Orakzai. [Source: Associated Press]Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf appoints a general sympathetic to the Taliban to seal off the Afghanistan border as US forces close in on al-Qaeda and Taliban militants on the other side. Ali Jan Orakzai is appointed on October 8, 2001, a day Musharraf responded to US pressure and fired some Islamist extremist officers, only to replace them with other Islamist extremist officers (see October 8, 2001). Orakzai, a friend and close adviser to Musharraf, will generally be known as someone who hates the US and sympathizes with the Taliban (see Late 2002-Late 2003). His instructions are to send troops to Pakistan’s tribal region next to Afghanistan to catch fleeing terrorists. On October 11, Pakistani helicopters will begin dropping soldiers in mountainous regions where no Pakistani soldiers had been to before. By December 2001, Orakzai will position more than 30,000 soldiers in the region. [London Times, 1/22/2005] However, when he ends his command of troops in the region in 2004, he will claim that his forces never even saw one Arab there (see January 22, 2005). Musharraf will finally fire him in 2007 for his ineffectiveness and militant sympathies (see July 19, 2007).
Mohammed Heikal. [Source: Publicity photo]Mohammed Heikal, longtime Egyptian journalist, former government spokesman, and the “Arab world’s foremost political commentator,” expresses disbelief that bin Laden and al-Qaeda could have conducted the 9/11 attack without the US knowing. “Bin Laden has been under surveillance for years: every telephone call was monitored and al-Qaeda has been penetrated by American intelligence, Pakistani intelligence, Saudi intelligence, Egyptian intelligence. They could not have kept secret an operation that required such a degree of organization and sophistication.” [Guardian, 10/10/2001]
A 70-page French intelligence report claims: “The financial network of [Osama] bin Laden, as well as his network of investments, is similar to the network put in place in the 1980s by BCCI for its fraudulent operations, often with the same people (former directors and cadres of the bank and its affiliates, arms merchants, oil merchants, Saudi investors). The dominant trait of bin Laden’s operations is that of a terrorist network backed up by a vast financial structure.” The BCCI was the largest Islamic bank in the world before it collapsed in July 1991 (see July 5, 1991). A senior US investigator will later say US agencies are looking into the ties outlined by the French because “they just make so much sense, and so few people from BCCI ever went to jail. BCCI was the mother and father of terrorist financing operations.” The report identifies dozens of companies and individuals who were involved with BCCI and were found to be dealing with bin Laden after the bank collapsed. Many went on to work in banks and charities identified by the US and others as supporting al-Qaeda. About six ex-BCCI figures are repeatedly named, including Saudi multi-millionaire Ghaith Pharaon (see October 10, 2001). The role of Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz in supporting bin Laden is emphasized in the report. In 1995, bin Mahfouz paid a $225 million fine in a settlement with US prosecutors for his role in the BCCI scandal. [Washington Post, 2/17/2002] Bin Laden lost money when BCCI was shut down, but may have benefited in the long term as other militants began relying on his financial network instead of BCCI’s (see July 1991 and After July 1991). Representatives of bin Mahfouz will later argue that this report is false and was in fact prepared by Jean-Charles Brisard and not the French intelligence service. Bin Mahfouz has begun libel proceedings against Mr. Brisard, claiming that he has made unfounded and defamatory allegations, and denies that he has ever supported terrorism. [Kendall Freeman, 5/13/2004 ]
Suliman abu Ghaith in an October 2001 video. [Source: Al Jazeera]Al-Qaeda spokesperson Suliman abu Ghaith calls the 9/11 attacks a “good deed” and threatens new attacks. The statement is made public in a video broadcast on Al Jazeera on this day, but it was recorded a few days earlier. Abu Ghaith does not explicitly state that al-Qaeda was behind the 9/11 attacks, but he does not deny it either. He says: “The actions by these young men who destroyed the United States and launched the storm of planes against it have done a good deed. They transferred the battle into the US heartland. Let the United States know that with God’s permission, the battle will continue to be waged on its territory until it leaves our lands, stops its support for the Jews, and lifts the unjust embargo on the Iraqi people who have lost more than one million children.” [BBC, 10/10/2001] Several days later, he will make another video statement. He warns Muslims in the US and Britain not travel by plane or live in skyscrapers, and tells all non-Muslims to leave the Arabian Peninsula. [BBC, 10/14/2001]
Five major US television networks agree to self-censor their news broadcasts of statements by Osama bin Laden and his associates. The agreement, made by ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox News, comes after a conference call between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and the heads of the networks; Rice’s call comes after White House press secretary Ari Fleischer warns reporters that statements from suspected terrorists could contain anything from incitement to coded messages, and asks them not to print full transcripts of bin Laden’s messages (see October 10, 2001). [BBC, 10/11/2001; Rich, 2006, pp. 31] Rice asks that, instead of automatically airing bin Laden videotapes, news executives should carefully review the tapes and remove any “inflammatory language” before broadcasting. [Current Events, 11/9/2001] The networks say they will now review them first, and edit or censor them as needed. While the American news networks are willing to comply with Rice’s recommendation, the Arab news network Al Jazeera disagrees: chief editor Ibrahim Halil says, “I don’t think the United States, which taught the world about freedom of expression, should now begin to limit it.” Al Jazeera has been the first to broadcast many of the statements in question, broadcasts which were often picked up by American news networks and shown in their entirety. [BBC, 10/11/2001]
'A Silky Form of Censorship' - According to the New York Times, the five networks have never before consulted one another as a group and made such a collective policy decision about news coverage. The executives deny that they were threatened or pressured by Rice or any other White House officials: “Ms. Rice made no specific request of news organizations, other than that we consider the possible existence of such messages in deciding whether and how to air portions of al-Qaeda statements,” says an ABC spokesman. They also deny that the decision amounts to censorship. CBS says it is committed to “responsible journalism that informs the public without jeopardizing American lives.” CBS president Andrew Heyward says: “The issue… was raised by the transmission of unedited, extended propaganda messages from a terrorist group… with the will to kill thousands of people. No network wants to serve as the platform for that propaganda.” And Fox News chairman Roger Ailes notes that “[Rice] was very, very careful to talk about freedom of the press and not to suggest how we do our job.” Matthew Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a media watchdog group, has a different view. He calls the decision “a silky form of censorship.” Network executives say that the likelihood of bin Laden using his statements to send coded messages to “sleeper” agents in the US is unlikely, and if he is, the agents could get the statements from printed transcripts or Internet video. “What sense would it make to keep the tapes off the air if the message could be found transcripted in newspapers or on the Web?” one executive asks. “The videos could also appear on the Internet. They’d get the message anyway.” [BBC, 10/11/2001; Current Events, 11/9/2001]
Notion that Censorship Could Disrupt Al-Qaeda Communications Fantastical, Says Media Critic - Author and media critic Frank Rich is fascinated by the assumptions behind Rice’s assertions: in 2006, he will write that the Bush administration “entertain[s] at least a passing fantasy that al-Qaeda, despite its access both to the Internet and to the Arabic superstation Al Jazeera… could be disrupted by having its videos kept off the likes of Fox.” The administration’s “ambitions to manage the news [knows] no bounds.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 31]
British Broadcasters Refuse Similar Request - A similar request by the British government is flatly refused; the BBC issues a short statement reading, “Government interference will be resisted.” The Canadian government does not issue such a request, leaving the decision of whether to air unedited broadcasts of the terrorists’ statements up to news executives and editors. [Toronto Star, 9/8/2002]
Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Al Jazeera, Center for Media and Public Affairs, CNN, Andrew Heyward, Ari Fleischer, Al-Qaeda, CBS News, ABC News, New York Times, Roger Ailes, Fox News, Condoleezza Rice, Ibrahim Halil, Frank Rich, Matthew Felling, NBC News, British Broadcasting Corporation
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Dr. Eileen Preisser testifies before a congressional briefing. Dr. Preisser was one of four analysts in the US Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) supporting Able Danger in late 1999 and 2000 (see Fall 1999). While her testimony remains classified, the next day, Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT) gives a brief summary: “In a briefing we had yesterday, we had Eileen [Preisser], who argues that we don’t have the data we need because we don’t take all the public data that is available and mix it with the security data. And just taking public data, using, you know, computer systems that are high-speed and able to digest, you know, literally floors’ worth of material, she can take relationships that are seven times removed, seven units removed, and when she does that, she ends up with relationships to the bin Laden group where she sees the purchase of chemicals, the sending of students to universities. You wouldn’t see it if you isolated it there, but if that unit is connected to that unit, which is connected to that unit, which is connected to that unit, you then see the relationship. So we don’t know ultimately the authenticity of how she does it, but when she does it, she comes up with the kind of answer that you have just asked, which is a little unsettling.” [US Congress. House. Committee on Government Reform. Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs and International Relations, 10/12/2001] Note that according to some media accounts, the CIA monitored Mohamed Atta purchasing large quantities of chemicals in Germany in the spring of 2000 (see January-May 2000). Atta also sends a series of e-mails to the US in the spring of 2000, inquiring about flight school opportunities for himself and a “small group” of his associates (see January-March 2000). Dr. Preisser is apparently willing to testify about her role in how Able Danger uncovered Atta’s name, but in September 2005 she is prohibited from publicly testifying before Congress (see September 21, 2005).
The US and Britain freeze the assets of 39 additional individuals and organizations designated by the US as connected to terrorism. $24 million is seized. The British also freeze the assets of 27 other entities named by the US in late September 2001 (see September 24, 2001). The new list includes 33 individuals and six organizations. Twenty-two of the individuals appeared on the FBI’s latest “most wanted terrorists” list. Saudi multimillionaire businessman Yassin al-Qadi is named (see October 12, 2001). So is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who will later be identified as the mastermind of 9/11. Five of the names were al-Qaeda leaders on a United Nations list published in March 8, 2001, with a recommendation that all nations freeze their assets. Other countries froze the assets of those on that list before 9/11, but the US did not (see March 8, 2001).
[Associated Press, 10/12/2001; Guardian, 10/13/2001; Los Angeles Times, 10/15/2001]
Vice President Dick Cheney suggests al-Qaeda could be behind the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Cheney tells PBS: “We know that [Osama bin Laden] has over the years tried to acquire weapons of mass destruction, both biological and chemical weapons. We know that he’s trained people in his camps in Afghanistan. For example, we have copies of the manuals that they’ve actually used to train people with respect to how to deploy and use these kinds of substances. So, you start to piece it altogether. Again, we have not completed the investigation and maybe it’s coincidence, but I must say I’m a skeptic.” He adds, “I think the only responsible thing for us to do is proceed on the basis that it could be linked.” [BBC, 10/13/2001] A senior FBI official will claim in 2008 that this comment came shortly after the FBI told the White House that the anthrax strain was most likely too technically advanced to have been made by al-Qaeda (see Shortly After October 5, 2001).
An al-Qaeda representative offers to arrange a television interview of Osama bin Laden. There are two versions of how this offer is made. According to CNN, an al-Qaeda contact of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, with which it has a footage-sharing agreement, invites CNN and Al Jazeera to submit questions to bin Laden. CNN, worried about accusations of improper conduct, contacts the other major US television news stations and tells them it will share any footage that emerges. It also says it will only air the interview as long as it is newsworthy and not “propaganda.” CNN then draws up six questions about al-Qaeda’s role in 9/11 and the recent anthrax attacks in the US. It gives the questions to Al Jazeera, which adds another 25 and sends them to its Kabul bureau, which, in turn, passes them on to its al-Qaeda contact. The ethics of this are hotly debated in the US media, with Fox News publicly refusing to participate. Nevertheless, an Al Jazeera manager will later say: “I assure you they [Fox] contacted me to send more questions of their own. I got calls and emails from them.” Fox will later admit to the contacts, but say it would only have agreed to take part in the event of a regular interview. However, Al Jazeera media relations manager Jihad Ballout will contradict CNN’s account of the offer, saying the two organizations are approached independently, and al-Qaeda eventually chooses Al Jazeera. [Miles, 2005, pp. 175-176, 179-180] The interview will take place on October 20 (see October 20, 2001).
At a press conference in Italy, President Bush says “there may be some possible link” between the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) and al-Qaeda. He adds: “We have no hard data yet, but it’s clear that [Osama] bin Laden is a man who’s an evil man. He and his spokesmen are openly bragging about how they hope to inflict more pain on our country. So we’re watching every piece of evidence.” [CNN, 10/15/2001] A senior FBI official will claim in 2008 that this comment came shortly after the FBI told the White House that the anthrax strain was most likely too technically advanced to have been made by al-Qaeda (see Shortly After October 5, 2001).
“The Financial Services Authority—Britain’s main financial regulator—has cleared bin Laden and his henchmen of insider trading. There has been a widespread suspicion that members of the al-Qaeda organization had cashed in on the US attacks, dumping airline, aerospace and insurance company shares before September 11th. The Authority says that after a thorough investigation, it has found no hard evidence of any such deals in London.”
[American Public Media, 10/17/2001] On September 24, Belgium’s Financial Minister had claimed there were strong suspicions that British markets may have been used for 9/11-related insider trading in early September. [CNN, 9/24/2001]
Mohammed Azmath, left, and Syed Gul Mohammad Shah/ Ayub Ali Khan, right. [Source: Associated Press]The New York Times reports that, although 830 people have been arrested in the 9/11 terrorism investigation (a number that eventually exceeds between 1,200 and 2,000 (see November 5, 2001), there is no evidence that anyone now in custody was a conspirator in the 9/11 attacks. Furthermore, “none of the nearly 100 people still being sought by the [FBI] is seen as a major suspect.” Of all the people arrested, only four, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ayub Ali Khan, Mohammed Azmath, and Nabil al-Marabh, are likely connected to al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 10/21/2001] Three of those are later cleared of ties to al-Qaeda. After being kept in solitary confinement for more than eight months without seeing a judge or being assigned a lawyer, al-Marabh pleads guilty to the minor charge of entering the United States illegally (see September 3, 2002) and is deported to Syria (see January 2004). There is considerable evidence al-Marabh did have ties to al-Qaeda and even the 9/11 plot (see September 2000; January 2001-Summer 2001; January 2001-Summer 2001; Spring 2001; Early September 2001). [Washington Post, 6/12/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 8/27/2002] On September 12, 2002, after a year in solitary confinement and four months before he was able to contact a lawyer, Mohammed Azmath pleads guilty to one count of credit card fraud, and is released with time served. Ayub Ali Khan, whose real name is apparently Syed Gul Mohammad Shah, is given a longer sentence for credit card fraud, but is released and deported by the end of 2002. [Village Voice, 9/25/2002; New York Times, 12/31/2002] By December 2002, only 6 are known to still be in custody, and none have been charged with any terrorist acts (see December 11, 2002). On September 24, 2001, Newsweek reported that “the FBI has privately estimated that more than 1,000 individuals—most of them foreign nationals—with suspected terrorist ties are currently living in the United States.” [Newsweek, 10/1/2001]
Osama bin Laden admits “inciting” the 9/11 attacks in a controversial interview by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV station. The interview is conducted by Tayseer Allouni, Al Jazeera’s Kabul correspondent. Allouni had discussed a possible interview of bin Laden with al-Qaeda about a week previously (see Mid-October 2001), but nothing further had been said and Allouni assumed the interview would not be conducted.
Taken Blindfolded to Bin Laden - However, he is contacted by al-Qaeda representatives, who tell him they will take him to a story. He is blindfolded and driven around in circles outside Kabul for some time, until the car stops, the blindfold is taken off, and he finds himself in an unknown place, face-to-face with bin Laden. The al-Qaeda leader is wearing camouflage fatigues and has a sub-machine gun close by; there are other armed men present. Allouni is told he cannot use his own questions, but will ask a set of questions prepared by al-Qaeda.
Bin Laden 'Ambiguously' Discusses Responsibility for 9/11 - The interview lasts for over an hour and covers several topics. On the key question of responsibility for 9/11, author Hugh Miles will point out that bin Laden speaks “ambiguously, seeming first to deny, then confirm, his involvement in the attacks.” When asked about US allegations of his responsibility, bin Laden answers: “America has made many accusations against us and many other Muslims around the world. Its charge that we are carrying out acts of terrorism is unwarranted.” However, a few seconds later he adds, “If inciting people to do that is terrorism, and if killing those who kill our sons is terrorism, then let history be witness that we were terrorists.” He then says: “We kill the kings of the infidels, kings of the crusaders, and civilian infidels in exchange for those of our children they kill. This is permissible in Islamic law and logically.” Allouni interrupts him and asks, “They kill our innocents, so we kill their innocents?” The reply is, “So we kill their innocents.” Bin Laden also gives a vague non-answer to a question about his responsibility for the recent anthrax attacks in the US: “These diseases are a punishment from God and a response to oppressed mothers’ prayers in Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, and everywhere.”
Interview Not Broadcast - Al Jazeera decides not to broadcast the interview. Its media relations manager, Jihad Ballout, will later say the decision is taken because the questions Allouni was forced to ask came from bin Laden, and because “bin Laden was using Al Jazeera to give out a very edited and sanitized statement to his people. It was a message, a pure message.” Neither does Al Jazeera inform CNN of the interview. However, western intelligence services will obtain it (see Before November 11, 2001) and it will eventually be broadcast on CNN in early 2002 (see January 31, 2002). [CNN, 2/5/2002; Miles, 2005, pp. 177-179, 182]
The Chinese internet news site Zhongxin Wang publishes a detailed account of the purported assassination of Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar, according to James S. Robbins, a professor of international relations at the National Defense University’s School for National Defense Studies. According to the account, both men were killed by associates at an underground base near Kandahar on October 16. The associates shot them twice in the back, and one of bin Laden’s sons and two of Omar’s were also killed. The report will be picked up by a Japanese daily and the National Review Online, which will cite some circumstantial evidence it says supports the claim. [National Review Online, 10/25/2001] However, both bin Laden and Mullah Omar will later be reported to have lived past this date (see, for example, November 7, 2001 and October 6, 2002).
Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, dismisses bin Laden’s claims that al-Qaeda’s fight is in solidarity with Iraqis and Palestinians. Powell argues: “We cannot let Osama bin Laden pretend that he is doing it in the name of helping the Iraqi people or the Palestinian people. He doesn’t care one whit about them. He has never given a dollar toward them. He has never spoken out for them.” [US Congress, 10/25/2001, pp. 6; Slate, 2/11/2003]
The US government no longer thinks al-Qaeda is behind the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The Washington Post reports in a front-page story: “Top FBI and CIA officials believe that the anthrax attacks… are likely the work of one or more extremists in the United States who are probably not connected to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist organization, government officials said yesterday.” An unnamed senior official adds, “Everything seems to lean toward a domestic source… Nothing seems to fit with an overseas terrorist type operation.” The Post suggests neo-Nazi and/or right-wing hate groups could be behind it. [Washington Post, 10/27/2001] Not long after, the FBI releases a profile of the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks. He is suspected of being a lone, male domestic terrorist, with a scientific background and laboratory experience who could handle hazardous materials. [St. Petersburg Times, 11/10/2001]
In a television interview, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) supports the allegation that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague. McCain says, “The evidence is very clear.” This comment comes several days after a Czech government official claimed that the meeting took place (see October 26, 2001). McCain makes other comments around the same time also trying to link Iraq to the 9/11 attacks. For instance, in mid-September 2001, he told television host Jay Leno that he believes “some other countries” had assisted al-Qaeda, suggesting Iraq, Iran, and Syria as potential suspects. McCain also relies on dubious claims made by Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (INC). For instance, in a television interview, McCain echoes the INC’s claim that two Iraqi defectors know about terrorist training camps in Iraq (see November 6-8, 2001). McCain claims there are “credible reports of involvement between Iraqi administration officials, Iraqi officials and the terrorists.” In 2006, McCain will admit that he had been “too enamored with the INC.” [New York Times, 8/16/2008]
An Australian citizen named Mamdouh Habib is arrested in Pakistan by Pakistani authorities. He is arrested while traveling on a bus from Quetta to Karachi, after possibly attending an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. Also arrested on the bus are Ibrahim Diab, a Lebanese national, and Bechim Ademi, a naturalized German, two recently recruited members of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany that also included a few of the 9/11 hijackers (see September 10, 2001). Diab and Ademi are also coming from an al-Qaeda training camp, but they will later claim they had only just met Habib in Quetta before getting on the bus. Pakistani authorities appear to have been looking for Diab and Ademi, and only picked up Habib because he was with them. However, Diab and Ademi are soon returned to Germany and then released, while Habib is renditioned to Egypt and tortured there, and then sent to the US-run Guantanamo prison in Cuba (see October 29, 2001-April 2002). [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 7/20/2004; Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ]
Gary Bernsten. [Source: CNN]Veteran CIA agent Gary Berntsen leads a CIA undercover team, codenamed Jawbreaker, to capture or kill bin Laden in Afghanistan (see September 26, 2001). In a 2005 book, also called Jawbreaker, Berntsen will describe how his team monitored multiple intelligence reports tracking bin Laden on a path through Jalalabad to Tora Bora (see November 13, 2001). He will claim that at the start of December 2001, one of his Arabic-speaking CIA agents finds a radio on a dead al-Qaeda fighter during a battle in the Tora Bora region. This agent hears bin Laden repeatedly attempt to rally his troops. On the same radio, that agent and another CIA agent who speaks Arabic hear bin Laden apologizing to his troops for getting them trapped and killed by US aerial bombing. Based on this information, Berntsen makes a formal request for 800 US troops to be deployed along the Pakistani border to prevent bin Laden’s escape. The request is not granted. Berntsen’s lawyer later claims, “Gary coordinated most of the boots on the ground. We knew where bin Laden was within a very circumscribed area. It was full of caves and tunnels but we could have bombed them or searched them one by one. The Pentagon failed to deploy sufficient troops to seal them off.” Although the area is heavily bombed, bin Laden is able to escape (see Mid-December 2001). [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 43-64; London Times, 8/14/2005; MSNBC, 12/29/2005; Financial Times, 1/3/2006] A Knight Ridder investigative report will later conclude, “While more than 1,200 US Marines [sit] at an abandoned air base in the desert 80 miles away, Franks and other commanders [rely] on three Afghan warlords and a small number of American, British, and Australian special forces to stop al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters from escaping across the mountains into Pakistan.” Military and intelligence officials warn Franks that the two main Afghan commanders cannot be trusted. This turns out to be correct, as the warlords accept bribes from al-Qaeda leaders to let them escape. [Knight Ridder, 10/30/2004] In 2005, Berntsen will call himself a supporter of Bush and will say he approves of how CIA Director Porter Goss is running the CIA, but he will nonetheless sue the CIA for what he claims is excessive censorship of his book. [London Times, 8/14/2005; MSNBC, 12/29/2005]
In late October, US intelligence reports begin noting that al-Qaeda fighters and leaders are moving into and around the Afghan city of Jalalabad. By early November, Osama bin Laden is said to be there. [Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later recall: “We knew from day one the likely places that bin Laden would flee to. There had been lots of work done before 9/11 on where did he hang out, statistical analysis even. We knew Tora Bora was the place where he would be likely to go. People in CIA knew that; people in the counterterrorism community knew about it. We knew that what you should have done was to insert special forces—Rangers, that sort of thing—up into that area as soon as possible.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] Knight Ridder Newspapers will later report: “American intelligence analysts concluded that bin Laden and his retreating fighters were preparing to flee across the border. However, the US Central Command, which was running the war, made no move to block their escape. ‘It was obvious from at least early November that this area was to be the base for an exodus into Pakistan,’ said one intelligence official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity. ‘All of this was known, and frankly we were amazed that nothing was done to prepare for it.’” [Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] The vast majority of al-Qaeda’s leaders and fighters will eventually escape into Pakistan. In 2006, Newsweek reporter and columnist Michael Hirsh will write that Bush’s decision to ignore accurate intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Tora Bora in favor of realigning the US’s war effort to focus on the “gathering threat” of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was a strategic blunder that ranks alongside Adolf Hitler’s decision to invade the USSR in 1941. [Rich, 2006, pp. 208]
FBI agent Jack Cloonan arrives in Sudan with several other FBI agents and is given permission by the Sudanese government to interview some al-Qaeda operatives living there. The interviews were conducted at safe houses arranged by Sudanese intelligence. Cloonan interviews Mubarak al Duri, an Iraqi. He lived in Tuscon, Arizona, in the late 1980s and early 1990s and was al-Qaeda’s chief agent attempting to purchase weapons of mass destruction (see 1986). Cloonan will later claim that al Duri and a second Iraqi al-Qaeda operative laughed when asked about possible bin Laden ties to Saddam Hussein’s government. “They said bin Laden hated Saddam.” Bin Laden considered Hussein “a Scotch-drinking, woman-chasing apostate.” Cloonan also interviews Mohammed Loay Bayazid, an American citizen and founding member of al-Qaeda (see August 11-20, 1988), who ran an al-Qaeda charity front in the US (see December 16, 1994). [Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2005] The CIA will interview them in 2002, but they apparently remain free in Sudan (see Mid-2002).
In the late autumn of 2001, when US-allied forces are overrunning Taliban positions in Afghanistan, the Darunta camp run by al-Qaeda is seized and searched. Al-Qaeda leader Midhat Mursi (a.k.a. Abu Khabab al-Masri) ran al-Qaeda’s WMD program and conducted crude chemical weapons experiments there. The CIA recovers one document there by Mursi that refers to connections between al-Qaeda and Pakistani nuclear scientists. It reads, in part, “As you instructed us you will find attached a summary of the discharges from a traditional nuclear reactor, amongst which are radioactive elements that could be used for military ends. One can use them to contaminate an area or halt the advance of the enemy. It is possible to get more information from our Pakistani friends who have great experience in this sphere.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 345; Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 294] This could be a reference to links between al-Qaeda and the Pakistani nuclear scientists working with the Ummah Tameer-e-Nau charity front (see 2000 and Mid-August 2001).
Al-Qaeda documents found in Kabul by CNN reporters [Source: CNN]As US forces invade Afghanistan, they and the journalists following them, uncover a quantity of al-Qaeda documents in training camps and houses used by the organization. The documents reveal a chilling array of terrorist plots. Some documents are apparently related to the planning of the 9/11 attacks. [Observer, 11/18/2001] A New York Times reporter finds two houses in Kabul’s diplomatic district containing, among other papers, a map showing the locations of power plants in Europe, Africa and Asia; training notebooks in military tactics and bomb-making; a list of Florida flight schools and a form that comes with “Microsoft Flight Simulator 98”; a document entitled “Before and After Precautions For Using Chemical, Biological, and Nuclear Warfare”; and a notebook on how to make nitroglycerine, dynamite, and fertilizer bombs, with a note next to one of the formulas saying “the type used in Oklahoma.” [New York Times, 11/17/2001] CNN reporters are led by Afghan police to a house in an upscale district of Kabul, which is apparently the same as the one visited by the New York Times reporter. In it they find a quantity of documents revealing al-Qaeda’s interest in acquiring nuclear weapons (see Mid-August 2001) and conventional explosives. According to David Albright, a nuclear weapons expert who is asked by CNN to analyze the documents, “These are people who are thinking through problems in how to cause destruction, for a well-thought-through political strategy.” [CNN, 12/4/2001; CNN, 1/24/2002; CNN, 1/25/2002; Albright, 11/6/2002] However, an extensive review of the documents later concludes that al-Qaeda’s main activity was to support the Taliban. “Reporters for The New York Times collected over 5,000 pages of documents from abandoned safe houses and training camps destroyed by bombs.… The documents show that the training camps, which the Bush administration has described as factories churning out terrorists, were instead focused largely on creating an army to support the Taliban, which was waging a long ground war against the Northern Alliance.… They show no specific plans for terror operations abroad, and while hinting at an ambition to use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, they contain no evidence that the groups possess them.” [New York Times, 3/17/2002]
Many locals in Afghanistan reportedly witness a remarkable escape of al-Qaeda forces from Kabul around this time. One local businessman says, “We don’t understand how they weren’t all killed the night before because they came in a convoy of at least 1,000 cars and trucks. It was a very dark night, but it must have been easy for the American pilots to see the headlights. The main road was jammed from eight in the evening until three in the morning.” This convoy was thought to have contained al-Qaeda’s top officials [London Times, 7/22/2002]
Mohammed Junaid Babar. [Source: London Times]In early November 2001, a young man using the name Mohammad Junaid appears in several print interviews in Pakistan. He appears unmasked in video interviews shown on CNN in the US and ITN in Britain. He says that he is going to fight US soldiers in Afghanistan with the Taliban even though he is a US citizen and his mother was in the World Trade Center on 9/11 and barely survived the attack. He says, “I will kill every American that I see in Afghanistan, and every American I see in Pakistan.” In fact, his full name is Mohammed Junaid Babar. [Boston Globe, 11/6/2001; London Times, 5/3/2007] He is a long-time member of Al-Muhajiroun, a radical Islamist group based in Britain but which also has a New York branch that Babar is involved with. [Guardian, 4/30/2007]
Placed on Watch List and Monitored - Babar is immediately placed on no-fly watch lists and monitored by intelligence agencies. The Washington Post will later report, “US counterterrorism officials said Babar first hit their radar screen in late 2001…” [Washington Post, 7/25/2005] Jon Gilbert, who interviews him in Pakistan in November 2001, will later say, “The authorities had been diligently tracking him since the day our first interview had been aired.” Babar left the US shortly after the 9/11 attack, and apparently had no ties with Islamist militants prior to his departure.
Babar Lives in Pakistan, Works with Al-Qaeda - He does not return there for some time. Instead, he lives in Pakistan and frequently makes trips to Britain (but is not stopped from coming or going, despite being on the watch list). He becomes increasingly involved in helping al-Qaeda with logistics, such as fund-raising, supplying equipment from overseas, and helping to set up training camps in Pakistan’s tribal regions. He also becomes actively involved in a fertilizer bomb plot in Britain. in 2002, he sometimes he attends talks by radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri with other members of the fertilizer plot in London’s Finsbury Park mosque. [Washington Post, 7/25/2005; Guardian, 4/30/2007; London Times, 5/3/2007]
Monitored Meeting with Key Militants - Meanwhile, intelligence agencies continue to monitor him. Details on such surveillance are scanty, but he apparently is monitored meeting with lead 7/7 London bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan in England in 2003 (see 2003). Newsweek will also later mention that “Babar was tracked flying off [in early 2004] to South Waziristan in Pakistan, where he attended what some analysts believe was a terror summit that included the notorious al-Qaeda operative Adnan Shukrijumah and Dhiren Barot, the operative suspected of casing New York financial institutions a few years earlier” (see March 2004). His Internet use at a public library is also monitored, and he is said to exchange messages with al-Qaeda operatives. [Newsweek, 1/24/2005]
Arrested in US - Babar finally returns to the US on April 6, 2004, although why he does this is a mystery since his confederates in the fertilizer bomb plot had been arrested in Canada, Britain, and Pakistan just days earlier, and their arrests had been immediately publicized (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). Babar is arrested by the FBI four days after his arrival, and quickly begins completely cooperating with the authorities (see April 10, 2004).
Suspicions He Was US Agent Since 2001 - The London Times will later comment, “Some suggest that he may have already been an FBI agent” before he was arrested. [London Times, 5/3/2007] The BBC will similarly say, “Inevitably there were suspicions that he’d been an FBI agent all along.” [BBC, 5/25/2007] But while that issue remains unclear, he proves to be an increasingly valuable source of information about al-Qaeda as more is learned about what he knows. One US law enforcement official will say in late 2005, “This guy’s connection to different cells and plots just seems to be expanding. He is the fish that is getting bigger.” [Washington Post, 7/25/2005]
Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, posing as Jamal al-Ghurairy for Frontline. [Source: PBS]An Iraqi defector identifying himself as Jamal al-Ghurairy, a former lieutenant general in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence corps, the Mukhabarat, tells two US reporters that he has witnessed foreign Islamic militants training to hijack airplanes at an alleged Iraqi terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, near Baghdad. Al-Ghurairy also claims to know of a secret compound at Salman Pak where Iraqi scientists, led by a German, are producing biological weapons. Al-Ghurairy is lying both about his experiences and even his identity, though the reporters, New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges and PBS’s Christopher Buchanan, do not know this. The meeting between al-Ghurairy and the reporters, which takes place on November 6, 2001, in a luxury suite in a Beirut hotel, was arranged by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). Buchanan later recalls knowing little about al-Ghurairy, except that “[h]is life might be in danger. I didn’t know much else.” Hedges recalls the former general’s “fierce” appearance and “military bearing.… He looked the part.” Al-Ghurairy is accompanied by several other people, including the INC’s political liaison, Nabeel Musawi. “They were slick and well organized,” Buchanan recalls. Hedges confirms al-Ghurairy’s credibility with the US embassy in Turkey, where he is told that CIA and FBI agents had recently debriefed him. The interview is excerpted for an upcoming PBS Frontline episode, along with another interview with an INC-provided defector, former Iraqi sergeant Sabah Khodada, who echoes al-Ghurairy’s tale. While the excerpt of al-Ghurairy’s interview is relatively short, the interview itself takes over an hour. Al-Ghurairy does not allow his face to be shown on camera.
Times Reports Defectors' Tale - Two days later, on November 8, Hedges publishes a story about al-Ghurairy in the New York Times Times. The Frontline episode airs that same evening. [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges does not identify al-Ghurairy by name, but reports that he, Khodada, and a third unnamed Iraqi sergeant claim to have “worked for several years at a secret Iraqi government camp that had trained Islamic terrorists in rotations of five or six months since 1995. They said the training at the camp, south of Baghdad, was aimed at carrying out attacks against neighboring countries and possibly Europe and the United States.” Whether the militants being trained are linked to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the defectors cannot be sure, nor do they know of any specific attacks carried out by the militants. Hedges writes that the interviews were “set up by an Iraqi group that seeks the overthrow of… Hussein.” He quotes al-Ghurairy as saying, “There is a lot we do not know. We were forbidden to speak about our activities among each other, even off duty. But over the years, you see and hear things. These Islamic radicals were a scruffy lot. They needed a lot of training, especially physical training. But from speaking with them, it was clear they came from a variety of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States. The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.” He uses Khodada’s statements as support for al-Ghurairy’s, identifies Khodada by name, and says that Khodada “immigrated to Texas” in May 2001 “after working as an instructor for eight years at Salman Pak…” He quotes the sergeant as saying, “We could see them train around the fuselage. We could see them practice taking over the plane.” Al-Ghurairy adds that the militants were trained to take over a plane without using weapons. Hedges reports that Richard Sperzel, the former chief of the UN biological weapons inspection teams in Iraq, says that the Iraqis always claimed Salman Pak was an anti-terror training camp for Iraqi special forces. However, Sperzel says, “[M]any of us had our own private suspicions. We had nothing specific as evidence.” The US officials who debriefed al-Ghurairy, Hedges reports, do not believe that the Salman Pak training has any links to the 9/11 hijackings. Hedges asks about one of the militants, a clean-shaven Egyptian. “No, he was not Mohamed Atta.” Atta led the 9/11 hijackers. Hedges notes that stories such as this one will likely prompt “an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq.” [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
Heavy Press Coverage - The US media immediately reacts, with op-eds running in major newspapers throughout the country and cable-news pundits bringing the story to their audiences. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice says of the story, “I think it surprises no one that Saddam Hussein is engaged in all kinds of activities that are destabilizing.” The White House will use al-Ghurairy’s claims in its background paper, “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” prepared for President’s Bush September 12, 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002). Though the tale lacks specifics, it helps bolster the White House’s attempts to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 hijackers, and helps promote Iraq as a legitimate target in the administration’s war on terror. (Five years later, the reporters involved in the story admit they were duped—see April 2006.)
Complete Fiction - The story, as it turns out, is, in the later words of Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather, “an elaborate scam.” Not only did US agents in Turkey dismiss the purported lieutenant general’s claims out of hand—a fact they did not pass on to Hedges—but the man who speaks with Hedges and Buchanan is not even Jamal al-Ghurairy. The man they interviewed is actually a former Iraqi sergeant living in Turkey under the pseudonym Abu Zainab. (His real name is later ascertained to be Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, and is a former Iraqi general and senior officer in the Mukhabarat.) The real al-Ghurairy has never left Iraq. In 2006, he will be interviewed by Fairweather, and will confirm that he was not the man interviewed in 2001 (see October 2005). [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges and Buchanan were not the first reporters to be approached for the story. The INC’s Francis Brooke tried to interest Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff in interviewing Khodada to discuss Salman Pak. Isikoff will recall in 2004 that “he didn’t know what to make of the whole thing or have any way to evaluate the story so I didn’t write about it.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
"The Perfect Hoax" - The interview was set up by Chalabi, the leader of the INC, and former CBS producer Lowell Bergman. Bergman had interviewed Khodada previously, but was unable to journey to Beirut, so he and Chalabi briefed Hedges in London before sending him to meet with the defector. Chalabi and Bergman have a long relationship; Chalabi has been a source for Bergman since 1991. The CIA withdrew funding from the group in 1996 (see January 1996) due to its poor intelligence and attempts at deception. For years, the INC combed the large Iraqi exile communities in Damascus and Amman for those who would trade information—real or fabricated—in return for the INC’s assistance in obtaining asylum to the West. Helping run that network was Mohammed al-Zubaidi, who after 9/11 began actively coaching defectors, according to an ex-INC official involved in the INC’s media operations (see December 17, 2001 and July 9, 2004). The ex-INC official, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, did everything from help defectors brush up and polish their stories, to concocting scripts that defectors with little or no knowledge could recite: “They learned the words, and then we handed them over to the American agencies and journalists.” After 9/11, the INC wanted to come up with a big story that would fix the public perception of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Al-Zubaidi was given the task. He came up with al-Ghurairy. He chose Zainab for his knowledge of the Iraqi military, brought him to Beirut, paid him, and began prepping him. In the process, al-Zainab made himself known to American and Turkish intelligence officials as al-Ghurairy. “It was the perfect hoax,” al-Haideri will recall in 2006. “The man was a born liar and knew enough about the military to get by, whilst Saddam’s regime could hardly produce the real Ghurairy without revealing at least some of the truth of the story.” Al-Haideri will say that the reality of the Salman Pak story was much as the Iraqis claimed—Iraqi special forces were trained in hostage and hijack scenarios. Al-Zubaidi, who in 2004 will admit to his propaganda activities, calls Al-Zainab “an opportunist, cheap and manipulative. He has poetic interests and has a vivid imagination in making up stories.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006]
Stories Strain Credulity - Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay later says of al-Qurairy, “As you track their stories, they become ever more fantastic, and they’re the same people who are telling these stories, until you get to the most fantastic tales of all, which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine.” Perhaps al-Qurairy’s most fabulous story is that of a training exercise to blow up a full-size mockup of a US destroyer in a lake in central Iraq. Landay adds, “Or, jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, and this was coming from people, who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their rank would change.… And, you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. There’s something wrong here, because in this story he was a major, but in this story the guy’s a colonel. And, in this story this was his function, but now he says in this story he was doing something else.’” Landay’s bureau chief, John Walcott, says of al-Qurairy, “What he did was reasonably clever but fairly obvious, which is he gave the same stuff to some reporters that, for one reason or another, he felt would simply report it. And then he gave the same stuff to people in the Vice President’s office [Dick Cheney] and in the Secretary of Defense’s office [Donald Rumsfeld]. And so, if the reporter called the Department of Defense or the Vice President’s office to check, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, I think that’s… you can go with that. We have that, too.’ So, you create the appearance, or Chalabi created the appearance, that there were two sources, and that the information had been independently confirmed, when, in fact, there was only one source. And it hadn’t been confirmed by anybody.” Landay adds, “[L]et’s not forget how close these people were to this administration, which raises the question, was there coordination? I can’t tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
No Evidence Found - On April 6, 2003, US forces will overrun the Salman Pak facility. They will find nothing to indicate that the base was ever used to train terrorists (see April 6, 2003).
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Sperzel, Newsweek, Saddam Hussein, Taliban, New York Times, Sabah Khodada, Washington Post, United Nations, Vanity Fair, Nabeel Musawi, Public Broadcasting System, Mother Jones, Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, Chris Hedges, Al-Qaeda, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Mukhabarat, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Francis Brooke, Lowell Bergman, Michael Isikoff, Mohammed al-Zubaidi, Jonathan Landay, John Walcott, Jamal al-Ghurairy, Jack Fairweather, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christopher Buchanan, Iraqi National Congress
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
Italian police raid Youssef Nada’s villa in Lugano, Italy. [Source: Keystone]The US and other countries announce the closure of the Al Taqwa Bank and the Al Barakaat financial network. President Bush says, “Al Taqwa and Al Barakaat raise funds for al-Qaeda. They manage, invest and distribute those funds.” US officials claim that both entities skimmed a part of the fees charged on each financial transaction it conducted and paid it to al-Qaeda. This would provide al-Qaeda with tens of millions of dollars annually. Additionally, Al Taqwa would provide investment advice and transfer cash for al-Qaeda. Al Taqwa is based in Switzerland while Al Barakaat is based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Over 100 nations are said to be cooperating with efforts to block the funds of these two groups. [New York Times, 11/8/2001] Swiss authorities raid Al Taqwa-related businesses and the homes of bank leaders Youssef Nada, Ali Himmat, and Ahmad Huber, but no arrests are made. In January 2002, Nada will announce that the Al Taqwa Bank is shutting down, due to bad publicity after the raids. He will maintain that he and his organization are completely innocent. [Newsweek, 11/7/2001; Reuters, 1/10/2002] Days after 9/11, Huber called the 9/11 attacks “counterterror against American-Israeli terror,” the World Trade Center a “the Twin Towers of the godless,” and the Pentagon “a symbol of Satan,” yet he will claim to have no ties to the attackers. [Playboy, 2/1/2002; Newsweek, 3/18/2002] In searching Nada’s house, Swiss authorities discover a document entitled “The Project,” which is a strategic plan for the Muslim Brotherhood to infiltrate and defeat Western countries (see December 1982). By late 2002, both the US and UN will declare Al Taqwa Bank, Nada, and Ahmed Idris Nasreddin, another founder and director of the bank, supporters of terrorism. All of their accounts will be declared frozen worldwide. [US Department of the Treasury, 8/29/2002] However, while Al Taqwa itself will be shut down, later reports will indicate that other financial entities operated by the directors will continue to operate freely (see June-October 2005).
Western intelligence services obtain a copy of a secret Al Jazeera interview of Osama bin Laden. Al Jazeera had decided not to broadcast the interview, conducted on October 20 (see October 20, 2001), because its correspondent had not been allowed to ask his own questions, but had been told what to say by bin Laden. [Miles, 2005, pp. 179, 181] The fact that the video is obtained by Western intelligence is first revealed by the Daily Telegraph, which says the transcript proves bin Laden’s responsibility for 9/11 and that it will soon be used as the “centrepiece of Britain and America’s new evidence against bin Laden.” [Daily Telegraph, 11/11/2001] Author Hugh Miles will note that bin Laden is actually ambiguous about his responsibility for 9/11 on the tape, and will speculate about how it was obtained. According to Miles, al-Qaeda kept a copy of the tape, but it is unlikely that al-Qaeda would give it to Western intelligence or CNN, which will air it later (see January 31, 2002). Therefore, the tape was probably obtained for the West by US authorities, who “made it their business to know all of Al Jazeera’s internal affairs.” [Miles, 2005, pp. 179-182] On November 14, British Prime Minister Tony Blair will refer to the video in a speech before the House of Commons and say, “The intelligence material now leaves no doubt whatever of the guilt of bin Laden and his associates.” [CNN, 11/14/2001; UK Prime Minister, 11/14/2001] Yet the British government will say it does not have a copy of the video, only information about it from intelligence sources. [Washington Post, 11/14/2001]
Bin Laden gave a speech in front of about 1,000 supporters on November 10, 2001 in the town of Jalalabad, Afghanistan. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] On the night of November 13, a convoy of 1,000 or more al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters escapes from Jalalabad and reaches the fortress of Tora Bora after hours of driving and then walking. Bin Laden is believed to be with them, riding in one of “several hundred cars” in the convoy. The US bombs the nearby Jalalabad airport, but apparently does not attack the convoy. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] The Northern Alliance captures Jalalabad the next day. [Sydney Morning Herald, 11/14/2001]
Northern Alliance forces entering Kabul. One holds a poster of recently assassinated Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. [Source: Getty Images] (click image to enlarge)Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, falls to the Northern Alliance. The Taliban will abandon the rest of the country over the next few weeks. [BBC, 11/13/2001] The US and Pakistan did not want the Northern Alliance to conquer Kabul for ethnic and strategic regions. But after a change in US bombing tactics, the Taliban front line unexpectedly and suddenly collapsed, making this conquest all but inevitable (see October-Early November 2001). It is later reported that the US paid about $70 million in bribes to get dozens of Taliban leaders to surrender or change sides. This is credited with assisting the sudden collapse of Taliban forces. [Washington Times, 2/7/2002; Washington Post, 11/18/2002]
At the request of the Pakistani government, the US secretly allows rescue flights into the besieged Taliban stronghold of Kunduz, in Northern Afghanistan, to save Pakistanis fighting for the Taliban (and against US forces) and bring them back to Pakistan. Pakistan’s President “Musharraf won American support for the airlift by warning that the humiliation of losing hundreds—and perhaps thousands—of Pakistani Army men and intelligence operatives would jeopardize his political survival.”
[New Yorker, 1/21/2002] Dozens of senior Pakistani military officers, including two generals, are flown out. [NOW with Bill Moyers, 2/21/2003] In addition, it is reported that the Pakistani government assists 50 trucks filled with foreign fighters to escape the town. [New York Times, 11/24/2001] Many news articles at the time suggest an airlift is occurring. [Independent, 11/16/2001; New York Times, 11/24/2001; BBC, 11/26/2001; Independent, 11/26/2001; Guardian, 11/27/2001; MSNBC, 11/29/2001] Significant media coverage fails to develop, however. The US and Pakistani governments deny the existence of the airlift. [US Department of State, 11/16/2001; New Yorker, 1/21/2002] On December 2, when asked to assure that the US did not allow such an airlift, Rumsfeld says, “Oh, you can be certain of that. We have not seen a single—to my knowledge, we have not seen a single airplane or helicopter go into Afghanistan in recent days or weeks and extract people and take them out of Afghanistan to any country, let alone Pakistan.”
[MSNBC, 4/13/2003] Reporter Seymour Hersh believes that Rumsfeld must have given approval for the airlift. [NOW with Bill Moyers, 2/21/2003] However, The New Yorker magazine reports, “What was supposed to be a limited evacuation apparently slipped out of control and, as an unintended consequence, an unknown number of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters managed to join in the exodus.” A CIA analyst says, “Many of the people they spirited away were in the Taliban leadership” who Pakistan wanted for future political negotiations. US intelligence was “supposed to have access to them, but it didn’t happen,” he says. According to Indian intelligence, airlifts grow particularly intense in the last three days before the city falls on November 25. Of the 8,000 remaining al-Qaeda, Pakistani, and Taliban, about 5,000 are airlifted out and 3,000 surrender. [New Yorker, 1/21/2002] Hersh later claims that “maybe even some of bin Laden’s immediate family were flown out on those evacuations.”
[NOW with Bill Moyers, 2/21/2003]
Ismail Khan. [Source: US Navy]Independent warlord Ismail Khan’s troops and other Northern Alliance fighters are reportedly ready to take back Pashtun areas from Taliban control at this time. Khan, former and future governor of Herat province and one of Afghanistan’s most successful militia leaders, later maintains that “we could have captured all the Taliban and the al-Qaeda groups. We could have arrested Osama bin Laden with all of his supporters.” [USA Today, 1/2/2002] However, according to Khan, his forces hold back at the request of the US, who allegedly do not want the non-Pashtun Northern Alliance to conquer Pashtun areas. British newspapers at the time report bin Laden is surrounded in a 30-mile area, but the conquest of Kandahar takes weeks without the Northern Alliance (see November 25, 2001). However, more reliable reports place bin Laden near Tora Bora by mid-November (see November 13, 2001). [CNN, 11/18/2001]
Mohammed Atef. [Source: FBI]Al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef (a.k.a. Abu Hafs) is believed to have been killed in Gardez, near Kabul, Afghanistan. Atef is considered al-Qaeda’s military commander, and one of its top leaders. Initial reports claim he was killed by a US bombing raid, but later reports will reveal he was hit by Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone. [US Department of State, 11/16/2001; ABC News, 11/17/2001; Newsweek, 11/11/2002] CIA Director George Tenet will later indicate that Atef was “a key player in the 9/11 attacks,” but the exact nature of his role has not been revealed. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 187] Documents and videotapes are discovered by US forces in the rubble after the raid. Details on two upcoming al-Qaeda attacks are discovered. Investigators examining the videotapes find images of about 50 al-Qaeda operatives (see November 15-Late December 2001). [Suskind, 2006, pp. 57]
Hazrat Ali. [Source: Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images]Hazrat Ali and Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, warlords in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, both later claim that they are first approached in the middle of November by US officers and asked to take part in an attack on Tora Bora. They agree. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] By late November, the US-allied warlords assemble a motley force of about 2,500 Afghans supported by a fleet of old Russian tanks at the foot of the Tora Bora mountains. They are poorly equipped and trained and have low morale. The better-equipped Taliban and al-Qaeda are 5,000 feet up in snow-covered valleys, forests, and caves. [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005] On December 3, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor overhears Ali in a Jalalabad, Afghanistan, hotel making a deal to give three al-Qaeda operatives safe passage out of the country. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] The US chooses to rely mainly on Hazrat Ali’s forces for the ground offensive against Tora Bora. Ali supposedly pays one of his aides $5,000 to block the main escape routes to Pakistan. But in fact this aide helps Taliban and al-Qaeda escape along these routes. Afghan villagers in the area later even claim that they took part in firefights with fighters working for Ali’s aide who were providing cover to help al-Qaeda and Taliban escape. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] Author James Risen later claims, “CIA officials are now convinced that Hazrat Ali’s forces allowed Osama bin Laden and his key lieutenants to flee Tora Bora into Pakistan. Said a CIA source, ‘We realized those guys just opened the door. It wasn’t a big secret.’” While the US will never publicly blame Ali for assisting in the escape, the CIA will internally debate having Ali arrested by the new Afghan government. But this idea will be abandoned and Ali will become the new strongman in the Jalalabad region. [Risen, 2006, pp. 168-169] CIA official Michael Scheuer later will comment, “Everyone who was cognizant of how Afghan operations worked would have told Mr. Tenet that [his plan to rely on Afghan warlords] was nuts. And as it turned out, he was.… The people we bought, the people Mr. Tenet said we would own, let Osama bin Laden escape from Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan into Pakistan.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
A US airstrike in the Tora Bora region. [Source: Gary Bernsten]Heavy US bombing of Tora Bora, the Taliban and al-Qaeda mountainous stronghold near the Pakistani border, begins. A large convoy containing bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders arrived in Tora Bora about three day earlier. The son of a tribal elder later recalls, “At first, we thought that the US military was trying to frighten the Arabs out, since they were only bombing from one side.” Rather than send in US ground forces in large numbers, the US chooses to supply two local warlords and have their fighters do most of the fighting while heavy bombing continues. Within days, a small number of US special forces are brought in to assist the local warlords. One of the warlords chosen, Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, was actually living in exile in France and has to be flown to Afghanistan. He is “known to many as a ruthless player in the regional smuggling business.” Between 1,500 to 2,000 of bin Laden’s fighters are in Tora Bora when the battle begins. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] There are two main mountain passes out of Tora Bora and into Pakistan. From the beginning on this day, eyewitnesses report that the US bombs only one pass. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002] The fighting and bombing will continue through early December (see December 5-17, 2001) while bin Laden and most of his forces escape via the other pass (see November 28-30, 2001).
A Tora Bora cave used by al-Qaeda forces in December 2001. [Source: Chris Hondros / Getty Images]According to Newsweek, approximately 600 al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, including many senior leaders, escape Afghanistan on this day. This is the first day of heavy bombing of the Tora Bora region (see November 16, 2001). There are two main routes out of the Tora Bora cave complex to Pakistan. The US bombs only one route, so the 600 are able to escape without being attacked using the other route. Hundreds will continue to use the escape route for weeks, generally unbothered by US bombing or Pakistani border guards. US officials later privately admit they lost an excellent opportunity to close a trap. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002] On the same day, the media reports that the US is studying routes bin Laden might use to escape Tora Bora [Los Angeles Times, 11/16/2001] , but the one escape route is not closed, and by some accounts bin Laden and others escape into Pakistan will use this same route several weeks later (see November 28-30, 2001). High-ranking British officers will later privately complain, “American commanders had vetoed a proposal to guard the high-altitude trails, arguing that the risks of a firefight, in deep snow, gusting winds, and low-slung clouds, were too high.” [New York Times, 9/30/2002]
Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle, discussing the US’s planned reaction to the 9/11 attacks, says that Iraq is next on the US’s military strike list. CNN anchor John King asks, “Next phase Saddam Hussein?” and Perle replies, “Absolutely.” The day before, on ABC, Perle explained why the US had to make such a move: “Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein, plus his known contact with terrorists, including al-Qaeda terrorists, is simply a threat too large to continue to tolerate.” And what would the upshot of such an invasion be? Perle tells his CNN listeners, “We would be seen as liberators in Iraq.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
When US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is asked by a reporter what the US might do to prevent the Arab Taliban and Chechen soldiers surrendering in Kunduz from going free, Rumsfeld responds, “It would be most unfortunate if the foreigners in Afghanistan—the al-Qaeda and the Chechens and others who have been there working with the Taliban—if those folks were set free and in any way allowed to go to another country and cause the same kind of terrorist acts.” [US Department of Defense, 11/20/2001; Fox News, 11/22/2001; Associated Press, 11/22/2001]
Taliban fighters being transported to Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]The foreign Taliban fighters, who surrendered in Kunduz the day before (see November 23, 2001), are taken into custody by General Dostum who wants to send them to a Soviet-built airfield in Mazar-i-Sharif. But US Special Forces say the runway might be needed for military operations. A last minute decision is then made to transport the prisoners to Dostum’s 19th Century Qala-i-Janghi fortress. Prior to leaving for the compound, all of the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters are supposed to be disarmed, but for some reason fighters in only three of the five transport vehicles are actually checked. [Guardian, 11/27/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001] The foreign Taliban fighters arrive at the Qala-i-Janghi fort early in the morning. When some of Dostum’s men attempt to frisk the group of fighters who have not yet been disarmed, one of the Chechen prisoners detonates a hand grenade, killing himself, several other prisoners, and two Northern Alliance commanders. As a result, the weapons search is abandoned and the prisoners are herded into a stable area north of the fort. Between two and eight of the prisoners in the stable area blow themselves up that night. As a result, the Northern Alliance decides to relocate them into the basement of the fortress. [London Times, 11/28/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001; Newsweek, 12/1/2001]
Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodham, who works in Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith’s office, asks Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to “[o]btain approval of creation of a Team B” (see Early 1976) which “[t]hrough independent analysis and evaluation… would determine what is known about al-Qaeda’s worldwide terror network, its suppliers, and relationship to states and other international terrorist organizations.” The 1976 Team B exercise was a deeply flawed effort by conservatives and neoconservatives to second-guess the US intelligence community’s findings about Soviet military and intelligence capabilities (see November 1976). Feith studied under Team B leader Richard Pipes at Harvard, and shares his fundamental distaste and mistrust of US intelligence capabilities. Feith and Wolfowitz believe that “Team B” showed just how limited and misguided the CIA’s intelligence reporting could be, and think that the same “Team B” approach could provide heretofore-unrevealed information about Islamist terrorism. Feith sets about producing a report “proving” a sinister relationship between al-Qaeda and Iraq (see July 25, 2002), while Wolfowitz begins work on what will become the Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 218-220]
Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, ’Team B’, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Douglas Feith, Office of Special Plans, US Department of Defense, Richard Pipes, Peter Rodham
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, US International Relations, Neoconservative Influence
A US Special Forces soldier stationed in Fayetteville, North Carolina, later (anonymously) claims that the US has bin Laden pinned in a certain Tora Bora cave on this day, but fails to act. Special Forces soldiers allegedly sit by waiting for orders and watch two helicopters fly into the area where bin Laden is believed to be, load up passengers, and fly toward Pakistan. No other soldiers have come forward to corroborate the story, but bin Laden is widely believed to have been in the Tora Bora area at the time. [Fayetteville Observer, 8/2/2002] Newsweek separately reports that many locals “claim that mysterious black helicopters swept in, flying low over the mountains at night, and scooped up al-Qaeda’s top leaders.”
[Newsweek, 8/11/2002] Perhaps coincidentally, on the same day this story is reported, months after the fact, the media also will report a recent spate of strange deaths at the same military base in Fayetteville. Five soldiers and their wives died since June 2002 in apparent murder-suicides. At least three were Special Forces soldiers recently returned from Afghanistan. [Independent, 8/2/2002] Other reports indicate that bin Laden crosses the border into Pakistan by foot instead (see November 28-30, 2001).
The German government arrests Mounir El Motassadeq in Hamburg on the “urgent suspicion of supporting a terrorist group.” El Motassadeq, a Moroccan student, is believed to be part of al-Qaeda’s Hamburg cell, along with a few of the 9/11 hijackers. After 9/11, he did not attempt to leave Germany, and he was under surveillance for weeks before his arrest. He fell under suspicion when investigators discovered that he had power of attorney over a bank account in the name of 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi. [Washington Post, 11/29/2001] El Motassadeq will be charged with a role in the 9/11 plot in late 2002 (see August 29, 2002). He will be convicted in 2003 (see February 18, 2003).
A dog exposed to chemical poison. [Source: CNN]An al-Qaeda video shows how the organization tested a chemical weapon by gassing several dogs. The video is undated but is believed to have been made before the US invasion of Afghanistan. It was found among a trove of al-Qaeda videos by a CNN reporter (see August 2002). The video shows a dog exposed to the vapors of an unknown chemical. The dog is seen going into convulsions and finally collapsing. The chemical may be cyanide or a nerve agent such as sarin. [New York Times, 8/19/2002; CNN, 8/19/2002]
The New York Times will later report that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) hides in Qatar for two weeks with the support of some members of the Qatari royal family. KSM stays there “with the help of prominent patrons” after fleeing from Kuwait. One of the Qatari royals sheltering KSM is possibly Abdul Karim al-Thani, who has repeatedly sheltered Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and given passports and more than $1 million to al-Qaeda. It is also possible that KSM may have received help from Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani, who is Qatar’s Interior Minister by this time and who allowed KSM live on his farm for several years until 1996 (see January-May 1996). CIA Director George Tenet is reportedly infuriated, but no action is taken. In fact, the US military will base its headquarters for the Iraq war in Qatar (see March 28, 2003). [New York Times, 2/6/2003]
According to a 2009 Senate Armed Services Committee report (see April 21, 2009), US counterterrorism officials are growing frustrated at the lack of “useful leads” coming from interrogations of suspected terrorists. The officials are particularly concerned with what one Army major will later recall as “establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq.” The lack of actionable intelligence will result in military interrogators resorting to much harsher interrogation methods. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
After US forces conquer Kandahar, Afghanistan, in early December 2001, al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida gets Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) to help al-Qaeda operatives escape from Afghanistan to Pakistan. LeT has already given operatives safe houses in the Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Muzaffarabad, trained them there, and helped them travel to Afghanistan to fight US troops. This is according to US government documents leaked by the nonprofit whistleblower group Wikileaks in 2011. These documents provide some details:
In 2002, three suspected al-Qaeda operatives are arrested in a safe house in Lahore, Pakistan, run by a LeT member. This person had been helping al-Qaeda operatives and their families move to Lahore. Pakistani officials transfer the three al-Qaeda suspects to US custody, but they release the LeT member. [Express Tribune, 5/12/2011]
On December 11, 2001, a Saudi named Abdul Aziz al-Matrafi is arrested by police at the Lahore airport. Al-Matrafi is the director of the Wafa Humanitarian Organization, a non-profit organization that the US officially designated an al-Qaeda front in late September 2001 (see September 24, 2001). Al-Matrafi had been staying at an LeT linked non-profit in Lahore, and LeT provided him with a visa and exit paperwork to leave Pakistan. Al-Matrafi is handed over to US custody several days later, and he will eventually be sent to the US-run prison in Guantanamo. [US Department of Defense, 10/25/2007; Express Tribune, 5/12/2011]
A Saudi named Jabir Hasan Mohammad al-Qahtani, a suspected al-Qaeda operative who also works for the Wafa Humanitarian Organization, is captured in Kabul, Afghanistan, in mid-November 2001. He is discovered to possess 16 $100 bills. He will later be transferred to the Guantanamo prison. An intelligence analyst will later note: “There were individuals passing out $100 notes to al-Qaeda fighters fleeing Afghanistan for Pakistan. This may have been a part of the help that LeT provided al-Qaeda members.” [US Department of Defense, 2/11/2005; Express Tribune, 5/12/2011]
When al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan, on March 28, 2002 (see March 28, 2002), more than 30 other suspected al-Qaeda operatives are arrested at the same time. These arrests take place in two safe houses in Faisalabad run by LeT. The safe houses are apparently run by Hamidullah Khan Niazi, an educational professor and head of the LeT in Faisalabad. Niazi’s house is raided at the same time, and he and 11 others are arrested. According to media reports shortly after the raid, electronic intercepts show that Niazi’s home phone was used by Lashkar-e-Toiba members to help al-Qaeda. However, Niazi and the others at his house are released several days later. [Observer, 4/7/2002; New York Times, 4/14/2002; US Department of Defense, 11/11/2008] But The Observer reports that local police nevertheless say Niazi’s “apparent links to Zubaida are evidence that Pakistan’s militant Islamic fringe is providing key assistance to al-Qaeda as it tries to regroup.” [Observer, 4/7/2002]
In 2003, the London Times will report, “US intelligence says [Lashkar-e-Toiba] smuggled [Zubaida] out of Afghanistan, taking advantage of the fact that police never stop their distinctive Landcruisers, which have tinted windows and Free Kashmir numberplates.” [London Times, 3/30/2003]
As some of the examples above indicate, al-Qaeda operatives are often taken into US custody while LeT members are often let go, even though the US names LeT a terrorist group in December 2001 (see December 20, 2001). This may be due to ties between LeT and the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. For instance, a 2009 diplomatic cable by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will note continued links between the ISI and LeT (see December 2009).
In September 2002, shortly after the arrest of al-Qaeda leader Ramzi bin al-Shibh in Karachi, Pakistan (see September 11, 2002), the New York Times will report: “Even before Mr. bin al-Shibh’s arrest, European officials warned that al-Qaeda appeared to have shifted much of its operations in Pakistan to Karachi. A year ago, 90 percent of communications and other links between suspected al-Qaeda members in Europe and individuals in Pakistan were traced to the city of Peshawar, near the Afghan border, a European law enforcement official said. As of this spring, roughly half of intercepted communications and other links were being traced to Karachi.” A European diplomat comments, “Obviously the brains and money for the terrorists have shifted from Peshawar to Karachi.” [New York Times, 9/15/2002] Presumably many of the communications to Peshawar involve al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida, considered a key communications hub and who has been monitored by a number of intelligence agencies, including the French, since at least 1998 (see October 1998 and After). Zubaida moves from his long-time base in Peshawar to the Pakistani city of Faisalabad after 9/11 and is captured there in March 2002 (see March 28, 2002). Al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh are interviewed in Karachi around June 2002, a fact that is quickly shared with US intelligence (see June 14, 2002 and Shortly After).
The mountains of Waziristan. [Source: BBC] (click image to enlarge)In December 2001, al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan are defeated in the battle of Tora Bora, and the survivors generally flee across the border into Pakistan’s tribal region. Many flee into the region of South Waziristan, since it is directly adjacent to Tora Bora and there are no Pakistani government forces guarding the border there (see December 10, 2001). In March 2002, several hundred more militants flee from Afghanistan into South Waziristan after Operation Anaconda (see March 2-13, 2002). They rebuild their central command there, particularly in a remote part of South Waziristan known as the Shakai valley. [New York Times, 6/30/2008] Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later describe South Waziristan: “With its high mountains, steep slopes, deep ravines littered with broken rock and shale, and its thick forests, it was an ideal hideout. Many of its valleys were virtually inaccessible, except along steep winding paths that required the agility of mountain climbers, and were easy to defend.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 148, 268] In the spring of 2002, US intelligence begins reporting that large numbers of foreigners are hiding in South Waziristan and neighboring North Waziristan. But Gen. Ali Jan Orakzai, the commander of Pakistani forces in the area containing Waziristan, is skeptical. Born in the tribal region, Orakzai is said to be Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s close friend and main adviser on the region. Even in 2008, he will tell the New York Times that he considered the US warnings about al-Qaeda to be mere “guesswork” and that his soldiers “found nothing.” Former US intelligence officials will agree that nothing is found, because they say that Orakzai’s military forces only enter the region in large, slow-moving sweeps that are easily avoided by militants. Robert Grenier, CIA station chief in Pakistan at the time, will later suggest that Orakzai did not want to find the foreigners as this could have caused trouble, including a tribal uprising. Grenier will say, “Orakzai and others didn’t want to believe [the foreigners were there] because it would have been an inconvenient fact.” [New York Times, 6/30/2008]
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf meets with Wendy Chamberlin, the US ambassador to Pakistan, and asks for US support to help him extend his control over the tribal areas near the Afghanistan border. At the time, al-Qaeda and Taliban forces are being defeated in Afghanistan and fleeing to the tribal region. Musharraf suggests the local people can be bought off with basic government services such as schools, clinics, and roads, and that large cash rewards could be offered to locals who help track down fugitive militants. Musharraf claims he would need $40 million to implement such a plan. Chamberlin agrees, but Congress soon refuses to fund the money, and only gives $14 million for local law enforcement. Charlie Flickner, a Republican clerk on the House Appropriations Committee, successfully lobbies his Republican colleagues not to support it. One anonymous Democrat on the committee will later say: “We blew it. There was a window of opportunity, but we lost it by not funding them adequately.” The tribal areas soon become a strong base for al-Qaeda and the Taliban. [New Yorker, 7/28/2003]
Alan Cullison, a Wall Street Journal reporter in Afghanistan, obtains two computers looted from an al-Qaeda house in Kabul. One computer apparently belonged to al-Qaeda military commander Mohammed Atef but contained few files. The other had been used mostly by al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman Al-Zawahiri and had about 1,000 files dating back to 1997. The reporter later gives the computers to the CIA which confirms the authenticity of the files. The computer files reveal how al-Qaeda operates on a day-to-day basis. The files include correspondence, budgets, attack plans, and training manuals. Messages between various al-Qaeda’s offices reveal a fractious, contentious community of terror plotters. There are disputes about theology, strategy, and even expense reports. A montage of 9/11 television reports set to rousing victory reports shows that the computer was used after the attacks. While some of the new information is surprising, for the most part it confirms the claims made about al-Qaeda by Western governments. A letter drafted on the computer in May 2001 confirms that al-Qaeda was behind the assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud (see September 9, 2001). Other messages shows that the organization orchestrated the 1998 embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). However, there is no material relating specifically to the plotting of the 9/11 attacks. [Wall Street Journal, 12/31/2001; Atlantic Monthly, 9/2004]
Agus Dwikarna. [Source: Christian Science Monitor]In October 2000, Agus Dwikarna, an Indonesian militant linked to al-Qaeda, helps establish the paramilitary organization Laskar Jundullah. It is modeled after Laskar Jihad, another paramilitary organization formed earlier (see January 1999-July 2001), except Laskar Jihad draws its recruits from the Indonesian island of Java whereas Laskar Jundullah draws its recruits from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Laskar Jundullah gathers about 2,000 recruits to central Sulawesi. Mostly using bats and machetes, they support local Muslims in violent conflicts with Christians near the town of Poso, which have been occurring off and on since 1998, with heavy casualties on both sides. [Human Rights Watch, 12/2002; Conboy, 2003, pp. 223-224] In the second half of 2001, some al-Qaeda linked figures begin helping Dwikarna and Laskar Jundullah:
Omar al-Faruq, a Kuwaiti, who is said to be a key go-between for al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah. Al-Faruq and Dwikarna hosted al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri when he visited Indonesia in 2000 (see June 2000).
Syeh Hussein, a.k.a. Rashid, a Saudi. He is al-Faruq’s handler and is said to have access to Osama bin Laden. He is posing as a representative of the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation. Dwikarna is also posing as an Al Haramain employee (see June 2000). [Conboy, 2003, pp. 223-224]
Reda Seyam, a.k.a. Abu Daud, an Egyptian. He had fought with al-Qaeda in Bosnia in the early 1990s and also has links to key al-Qaeda figures, including having met directly with bin Laden. He had worked for the Twaik Group, said to be a front for the Saudi intelligence agency, and is in Indonesia working for Rawasin Media Productions, which is also said to be a Saudi intelligence front (see 1995-1998). [Conboy, 2003, pp. 223-224; Chicago Tribune, 3/31/2004]
On December 1, 2001, al-Faruq, Hussein, and Seyam meet with fifty Laskar Jundullah recruits near the town of Poso, in central Sulawesi. They present the recruits with weapons, including high quality M-16s and Uzis (which are very unavailable in Indonesia except from military or overseas sources). Near midnight, the group goes to Sepe, a small Christian village near Poso. They attack the village, burning about two hundred houses and killing an unknown number of people. The attack is filmed using night vision equipment. [Conboy, 2003, pp. 223-224] There are allegations that some Indonesian military units take part in the attack. Since 90% of Indonesia’s population is Muslim, most Indonesian soldiers are Muslim as well. Human Rights Watch will later comment, “there is evidence that [Indonesian] soldiers did engage the attackers in a fight [at Sepe], as three soldiers from Infantry Battalion 711 from Palu were reported in critical condition.” Around this time, Laskar Jundullah forces attack about seven other Christian villages in the region. There are reports the Indonesian military sometimes joins these attacks and at other times fails to help the attacked villages. These attacks are little noticed outside of Indonesia, and the involvement of al-Qaeda-linked figures will not be publicly revealed until later. But there is pressure within Indonesia for the government to do something. More military units are bought in several days after the Sepe attack, and they largely quell the violence. [Human Rights Watch, 12/2002] Around December 4, six suspicious foreign men, believed to be Islamist militants, are detained in the area and then let go. [BBC, 12/4/2001] Later that month, Laskar Jundullah is implicated in a bombing of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in the city of Ujung Pandang, in southern Sulawesi. The group plans further attacks, but it is divided by internal squabbles. Dwikarna, who was not present in the Sepe attack, is upset at the others for recklessly filming themselves in the attack and then planning to use the footage for propaganda purposes. Seyam will be arrested in Indonesia late 2002 and footage of the Sepe attack apparently will be found with him. Dwikarna will be arrested in 2002 as well. His group, and the violence in Sulawesi, will generally come to an end that same year. [Human Rights Watch, 12/2002; Conboy, 2003, pp. 223-224]
Haji Juma Khan. [Source: US government]Afghan drug kingpin Haji Juma Khan (see July 2000) is arrested and taken into US custody. Although his role in the illegal drug trade is known to US officials, he is let go. A European counterterrorism expert says, “At the time, the Americans were only interested in catching bin Laden and Mullah Omar.” Another major kingpin is arrested and released around this time as well (see Late 2001). After being released, Khan reestablishes a smuggling network that greatly benefits the Taliban and al-Qaeda. For instance, in May 2004, a tip off will reveal that Khan is employing a fleet of cargo ships to move Afghan heroin out of Pakistan to the Middle East. Some return trips bring back plastic explosives, antitank mines, and other weapons to be used against US troops in Afghanistan. In 2004, Assistant Secretary of State Bobby Charles says of Khan, “He’s obviously very tightly tied to the Taliban.… There are central linkages among Khan, Mullah Omar, and bin Laden.” [Time, 8/2/2004] In 2006, a report by the research arm of Congress will label Khan as one of three prominent drug kingpins with ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, but he apparently has not yet been put on the official US list of wanted drug figures. [Congressional Research Service, 1/25/2006]
Abu Qatada. [Source: Public domain]Al-Qaeda religious leader Abu Qatada disappears, despite being under surveillance in Britain. He has been “described by some justice officials as the spiritual leader and possible puppet master of al-Qaeda’s European networks.” [Time, 7/7/2002] He supposedly escapes from his house, which the police are monitoring, in a minivan with his heavily pregnant wife and four children. [London Times, 10/25/2002; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 108] Qatada had already been sentenced to death in abstentia in Jordan, and is wanted at the time by the US, Spain, France, and Algeria as well. [Guardian, 2/14/2002] In October 2001, the media had strongly suggested that Qatada would soon be arrested for his known roles in al-Qaeda plots, but no such arrest occurred. [London Times, 10/21/2001] In November, while Qatada was still living openly in Britain, a Spanish judge expressed disbelief that Qatada hadn’t been arrested already, as he has previously been connected to a Spanish al-Qaeda cell that may have met with Mohamed Atta in July 2001. [Observer, 11/25/2001] Time magazine will later claim that just before new anti-terrorism laws go into effect in Britain, Abu Qatada and his family are secretly moved to a safe house by the British government, where he is lodged, fed, and clothed by the government. “The deal is that Abu Qatada is deprived of contact with extremists in London and Europe but can’t be arrested or expelled because no one officially knows where he is,” says a source, whose claims were corroborated by French authorities. The British reportedly do this to avoid a “hot potato” trial. [Time, 7/7/2002] A British official rejects these assertions: “We wouldn’t give an awful lot of credence [to the story].” [Guardian, 7/8/2002] Some French officials tell the press that Qatada was allowed to disappear because he is actually a British intelligence agent. [Observer, 2/24/2002] It appears that Qatada held secret meetings with British intelligence in 1996 and 1997, and the British were under the impression that he was informing on al-Qaeda (though there is disagreement if he was misleading them or not) (see June 1996-February 1997). Qatada will be arrested in London on October 23, 2002 (see October 23, 2002).
The United States Strategic Command (Stratcom) produces a document mentioning that the US backed some of al-Qaeda’s forerunners. The document, an after-action report for Stratcom’s Global Guardian exercise in 2001, contains summaries about terrorist groups from around the world. Its section on al-Qaeda states: “The group was originally brought together from elements of various insurgent military groups which have fought continuously in the Middle East since the 1980s. Some of these groups had US backing in the past.” Al-Qaeda was formed in 1988 (see August 11-20, 1988) by Arabs who had fought for the US-sponsored mujaheddin in the Soviet-Afghan war (see 1985-1986 and 1986-1992). [US Strategic Command, 12/4/2011]
US Special Forces unloading equipment in the Tora Bora region. [Source: Banded Artists Productions] (click image to enlarge)Around December 5, 2001, about three-dozen US special forces position themselves at strategic spots in the Tora Bora region to observe the fighting. Using hand-held laser target designators, they “paint” targets to bomb. Immediately the US bombing becomes more accurate. With this improved system in place, the ground battle for Tora Bora begins in earnest. However, as the Christian Science Monitor later notes, “The battle was joined, but anything approaching a ‘siege’ of Tora Bora never materialized.” No other US troops take part, and US-allied afghans fight unenthusiastically and sometimes even fight for the other side (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001). [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] The Tora Bora battle will end with a victory for the US-allied forces by December 17, 2001 (see December 17, 2001). However, the Daily Telegraph will later report, “In retrospect, and with the benefit of dozens of accounts from the participants, the battle for Tora Bora looks more like a grand charade.” Eyewitnesses express shock that the US pinned in Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, thought to contain many high leaders, on three sides only, leaving the route to Pakistan open. An intelligence chief in Afghanistan’s new government says, “The border with Pakistan was the key, but no one paid any attention to it. In addition, there were plenty of landing areas for helicopters had the Americans acted decisively. Al-Qaeda escaped right out from under their feet.” [Daily Telegraph, 2/23/2002]
Zacarias Moussaoui is criminally indicted for his role in the 9/11 attacks. If he is found guilty, he could be sentenced to death. [MSNBC, 12/11/2001; Associated Press, 12/12/2001] Moussaoui has admitted to being a member of al-Qaeda, but while he has been involved in militant activity, many have expressed doubts that he was involved in the 9/11 plot.
Haji Zaman Ghamsharik speaking to reporters on December 16, 2001. [Source: Chris Hondros / Getty Images]US-allied warlord Haji Zaman Ghamsharik makes radio contact with some al-Qaeda commanders in Tora Bora and offers a cease-fire so bin Laden can negotiate a surrender. The other US-allied warlord, Hazrat Ali, is also in secret talks with al-Qaeda and acquiesces to the deal. The US military is reportedly furious, but the fighting stops for the night. US intelligence later concludes that about 800 al-Qaeda fighters escape Tora Bora that night during the cease fire. [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005] Other rival Afghan commanders in the area later accuse Ghamsharik of accepting a large bribe from al-Qaeda so they can use the cease fire to escape. [New York Times, 9/30/2002] There are other accounts that the US-allied warlords helped instead of hindered al-Qaeda (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001).
Qatari citizen Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a computer science graduate student at Illinois’s Bradley University, is arrested as a material witness to the 9/11 attacks. [Peoria Journal Star, 12/19/2001; CNN, 12/13/2005] Al-Marri was interviewed twice by the FBI, once on October 2 and again on December 11. Both times, according to the FBI, he lied in response to their questions. Al-Marri claimed to have entered the US on September 10, 2001, his first visit to the country since 1991, when he earned his undergraduate degree at Bradley. [CBS News, 6/23/2003; CNN, 12/13/2005]
Connections to 9/11 Terrorists Alleged - The FBI says al-Marri has been in the US since 2000. Al-Marri denied calling the United Arab Emirates phone number of Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of suspected “20th hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui. Prosecutors say al-Hawsawi provided financial backing to Moussaoui and the 9/11 hijackers, and allegedly helped some of the hijackers travel from Pakistan to the United Arab Emirates and then to the US in preparation for the attacks. [CBS News, 6/23/2003; Progressive, 3/2007] (Al-Hawsawi will be captured in Pakistan in March 2003, and detained in an undisclosed location somewhere outside the US. See Early-Late June, 2001) [CNN, 12/13/2005] The government also alleges that the phone number was a contact number for Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, another unindicted co-conspirator in the Moussaoui indictment. The government says that two calling cards were used to call the number, which was also listed as a contact number on a package it believes was sent by 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta to the UAE on September 8, 2001. The cards were allegedly used to place phone calls from al-Marri’s residence, from his cellphone, and from the Marriott hotel room he was staying in on September 11. However, none of the three calls to the UAE number were made from phones registered to Al-Marri, though, nor is there proof he placed them. Some of the calls made from the card to the UAE were placed to relatives of al-Marri. [Bradley Scout, 3/29/2002] In March 2002, Justice Department official Alice Fisher will say that an unnamed al-Qaeda detainee “in a position to know… positively identified al-Marri as an al-Qaeda sleeper operative who was tasked to help new al-Qaeda operatives get settled in the United States for follow-on attacks after 9/11.” That unidentified tipster brought al-Marri to the attention of federal law enforcement shortly after the attacks. FBI officials have said that al-Marri is not considered to have played any part in the attacks, but is still considered a danger to the US. [Knight Ridder, 6/23/2003] In 2003, the FBI adds that it found “an almanac with bookmarks in pages that provided information about major US dams, reservoirs, waterways and railroads.” [Knight Ridder, 6/24/2003] He is believed to be a relative of Saudi national and future Guantanamo detainee Mohamed al-Khatani, who is said to be an intended 9/11 hijacker (see July 2002). [New York Times, 6/21/2004]
Bank and Credit Card Fraud - According to the FBI, al-Marri obtained a bank account under a false name, rented a motel room under a false name to create a mailing address, and formed a fake company, AAA Carpet, using the motel’s address. The FBI also says al-Marri used a fake Social Security number to open three other bank accounts. Al-Marri was carrying well over 15 fake credit card numbers on him when he was interviewed yesterday, says the US Attorney’s office in Illinois. [CBS News, 6/23/2003; Progressive, 3/2007] There are also allegedly over 1,000 more in his personal computer files. He has missed so many classes, the FBI says, that he is on the verge of flunking out. The FBI says al-Marri’s computer also contains Arabic lectures by Osama bin Laden, photographs of the 9/11 attacks, and a cartoon of planes crashing into the World Trade Center. The computer has a folder labeled “jihad arena,” and another labeled “chem,” which, government officials say, contains industrial chemical distributor websites used by al-Marri to obtain information about hydrogen cyanide, a poisonous gas used in chemical weapons. [CNN, 12/13/2005] Al-Marri consents to the search and the seizure of his computer and other possessions. [Bradley Scout, 3/29/2002] Al-Marri will be charged with financial crimes in 2002 (see February 8, 2002), charges that later will be dropped (see June 23, 2003). [CBS News, 6/23/2003]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Zacarias Moussaoui, Mohamed al-Khatani, Alice Fisher, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohamed Atta, Al-Qaeda, Bradley University, Osama bin Laden, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
US intelligence had been investigating the US-based Global Relief Foundation (GRF) long before 9/11 for links to al-Qaeda and other radical militant groups (see 1997-Late Spring 2001 and March 2000).The plan is to shut down a number of GRF’s overseas offices while continuing to monitor the GRF’s main office in Illinois and see how that office reacts to the overseas shutdowns. But on December 13, 2001, New York Times reporter Philip Shenon calls the Illinois office one day before the planned raids and asks them to comment about an imminent crack down on the charity (see December 3-14, 2001). The FBI quickly decides that the GRF is destroying documents after the tip-off, and they hastily arrange a raid on the Illinois office and the overseas offices the next day. Since the GRF and the Illinois-based Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) are considered to be closely linked, the BIF US office is raided and shut down at the same time, and the houses of GRF executive director Mohammad Chehade and BIF executive director Enaam Arnaout are searched. GRF fund-raiser Rabih Haddad is detained on the basis of overstaying a visa while Arnaout remains free in the US. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 98-100 ] October 18, 2002, the Treasury Department will officially designate GRF a terrorism financier. It will do the same to BIF on November 19, 2002. The UN also soon lists both groups as linked to al-Qaeda. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 98-100 ] Haddad will be imprisoned for 19 months and then deported for the immigration violation. [Metro Times, 3/17/2004]
Yunus Qanooni, the interior minister of Afghanistan’s new government, accuses elements of Pakistan’s ISI of helping bin Laden and Mullah Omar escape from Afghanistan to Pakistan. He further asserts that the ISI are still “probably protecting” both bin Laden and Mullah Omar and “concealing their movements and sheltering leaders of Taliban and al-Qaeda.” [BBC, 12/30/2001; New York Times, 2/13/2002] In addition, New Yorker magazine will report in early 2002, “Some CIA analysts believe that bin Laden eluded American capture inside Afghanistan with help from elements of the [ISI].” [New Yorker, 1/21/2002] Another report suggests that Hamid Gul, former director of the ISI, is behind moves to help the Taliban establish a base in remote parts of Pakistan just across the Afghanistan border. Gul was head of the ISI from 1987 to 1989, but has remained close to Afghan groups in subsequent years and has been nicknamed the “godfather of the Taliban.” One report will later suggest that he was one of the masterminds of the 9/11 plot (see July 22, 2004). The US is said to be interested in interrogating Gul, but “because of his high profile and the ripples it would cause in the Pakistan army, this is unlikely to happen…” Yet, at the same time that the ISI is reportedly helping al-Qaeda and the Taliban escape, the Pakistan army is deployed to the Afghanistan border in large numbers to prevent them from escaping. [Asia Times, 12/13/2001] In November 2001, it was reported that the US was continuing to rely on the ISI for intelligence about Afghanistan, a move none other than Gul publicly derided as “foolish.”(see November 3, 2001).
Four prisoners captured at Tora Bora and shown to the media on December 17, 2001. [Source: Getty Images]US-allied forces declare that the battle of Tora Bora has been won. A ten-day ground offensive that began on December 5 has cleared out the remaining Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Tora Bora. The Afghan war is now widely considered to be over. However, many will later consider the battle a failure because most of the enemy escapes (see December 5-17, 2001), and because the Taliban will later regroup. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] The Christian Science Monitor later reports that up to 2,000 Taliban and al-Qaeda were in the area when the battle began. The vast majority successfully fled, and only 21 al-Qaeda fighters were finally captured. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] US intelligence analysts later estimate that around 1,000 to 1,100 al-Qaeda fighters and an unknown number of leaders escaped Tora Bora, while Pakistani officials estimate 4,000 fighters plus 50 to 80 leaders escaped (see October 2004). [Knight Ridder, 10/30/2004] Author Ron Suskind will suggest in 2006 that there were just over 1,000 al-Qaeda and Taliban in the area, and of those, 250 were killed or captured. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 75 Sources: Ron Suskind] Bin Laden left the area by December 15, if not earlier (see December 15, 2001 and Mid-December 2001). It is believed that al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, also escaped the area around the same time. [Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002]
Yazid Sufaat. [Source: FBI]Yazid Sufaat is arrested in Malaysia. Sufaat is a Malaysian who owns a condominum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where a January 2000 al-Qaeda summit was held (see January 5-8, 2000). He also graduated in 1987 from a California university with a degree in biological sciences. According to interrogations of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Hambali, and other captured prisoners, Sufaat was given the lead in developing chemical and biological weapons for al-Qaeda, but he apparently had been unable to buy the kind of anthrax he wanted for an attack. Zacarias Moussaoui, Mohamed Atta, and other al-Qaeda operatives appeared to have had an interest in crop dusters before 9/11. It has been suggested that this interest served to further Sufaat’s biological weapons plot. This would especially make sense in the case of Moussaoui, since he stayed with Sufaat in Sufaat’s Malaysia apartment for two months in late 2000 (see September-October 2000). The US will only be able to directly interview Sufaat on one brief occasion, in November 2002. [Washington Post, 3/28/2003; CNN, 10/10/2003; Chicago Tribune, 12/7/2003] Sufaat will be released in 2008. The Malaysian government will never try or charge him (see December 4, 2008).
President Bush says he has not ruled out bringing treason charges against John Walker Lindh, a US citizen (see Late morning, November 25, 2001). While he at first called him a “poor boy” who was “misled,” Bush now says Lindh is a member of al-Qaeda. “Walker’s unique,” Bush says, “in that he’s the first American al-Qaeda fighter that we have captured.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 12/22/2001]
The media reports that Osama bin Laden died of lung problems in the mountains of Tora Bora in mid-December. The report, which quotes a Taliban leader who allegedly attended bin Laden’s funeral, is originally published in the Pakistan Observer, and then picked up by Fox News. According to the Taliban leader, bin Laden was suffering from a serious lung complication and succumbed to the disease. He also claims bin Laden was laid to rest honorably near where he died and his grave was made as per his Wahabi belief. About 30 close associates of bin Laden, including his most trusted and personal bodyguards, his family members, and some “Taliban friends,” attended the funeral. A volley of bullets was also fired to pay final tribute to him. The Taliban leader claims to have seen bin Laden’s face before the burial and says, “he looked pale… but calm, relaxed, and confident.” When asked where bin Laden was buried, the leader says, “I am sure that like other places in Tora Bora, that particular place too must have vanished.” [Fox News, 12/26/2001] A man thought to be bin Laden will continue to issue media statements after his alleged death (see, for example, November 12, 2002). At the time this report becomes public, other accounts suggest bin Laden is alive, has just escaped from the battle of Tora Bora, and is fleeing pursuers (see December 8-14, 2001).
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld makes a public announcement that he is planning to move Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station. The number of people in US custody and destined for Guantanamo is allegedly small. According to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, they number eight individuals aboard the USS Peleliu and 37 at a US base near Kandahar airport. [Dawn (Karachi), 12/28/2001] Troops, earlier stationed at nearby Camp Rhino, where John Walker Lindh was detained, are being transferred to Guantanamo. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/15/2005] The reason for choosing Guantanamo for detaining suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban members is unclear. Rumsfeld says: “I would characterize Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as the least worst place we could have selected. Its disadvantages seem to be modest relative to the alternatives.” [Dawn (Karachi), 12/28/2001] Rumsfeld does not inform reporters of the legal opinion about to be released by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that he feels makes Guantanamo uniquely qualified to serve as a prisoner for terror suspects
(see December 28, 2001). According to the OLC opinion, Guantanamo is outside the US itself, so US courts have no jurisdiction to oversee conditions or activities there. It is also not on soil controlled by any other court system. And, unlike other facilities considered for housing terror suspects (see January 11, 2002), Guantanamo is not on the soil of a friendly government with which the US has lease and status of force agreements, but rather on the soil of a hostile Communist government whose predecessor had signed a perpetual lease with the US. The base, therefore, is, according to the OLC, under the sole jurisdiction of the US military and its commander in chief, and not subject to any judicial or legislative review. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write, “Guantanamo was chosen because it was the best place to set up a law-free zone.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 145]
In the 1990s, Afghan drug kingpin Haji Bashir Noorzai developed close ties to Taliban top leader Mullah Omar, al-Qaeda, and the Pakistani ISI. He becomes the top drug kingpin in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. He is also reputedly the richest person in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s banker. For instance, according to US sources, as the Taliban began their military defeat after 9/11, they entrusted Noorzai with as much as $20 million in Taliban money for safekeeping. But he then surrenders to the US military in Afghanistan. Noorzai later says of this time, “I spent my days and nights comfortably. There was special room for me. I was like a guest, not a prisoner.” [CBS News, 2/7/2002; Risen, 2006, pp. 152-162] He spends several days in custody at the Kandahar airport. He speaks to US military and intelligence officials, but is released before Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents arrive in the country to question him. [National Public Radio, 4/26/2002] The other top drug kingpin for the Taliban is also arrested then let go by the US at this time (see December 2001 and After). Noorzai then lives in Pakistan, where he has been given a Pakistani passport by the ISI. He operates drug-processing laboratories there and has little trouble traveling to other countries. [Risen, 2006, pp. 152-162] In 2004 it will be reported, “According to House International Relations Committee testimony this year, Noorzai smuggles 4,400 pounds of heroin out of the Kandahar region to al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan every eight weeks.” [USA Today, 10/26/2004]
The US strikes a secret deal with Pakistan, allowing a US operation in Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden. This will be reported by the Guardian shortly after bin Laden is killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). The Guardian will claim this account is “according to serving and retired Pakistani and US officials.” The deal is struck between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and US President George W. Bush shortly after bin Laden escapes the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan in December 2001 (see December 15, 2001). At the time, it is widely believed bin Laden escaped into Pakistan. The deal allows the US to conduct their own raids inside Pakistan if the target is bin Laden, al-Qaeda deputy head Ayman al-Zawahiri, or whoever the number three al-Qaeda leader is. Afterwards, Pakistan would vigorously protest, but this would just be to mollify public opinion. An unnamed senior Pakistani official will later say that the deal is reaffirmed in early 2008, when Musharraf’s grip on power is slipping. (Musharraf will resign in August 2008 (see August 18, 2008).) This same Pakistani official will say of the May 2011 US Special Forces raid that kills bin Laden in Pakistan, “As far as our American friends are concerned, they have just implemented the agreement.” [Guardian, 5/9/2011]
Twice in 2002, the US passes requests to Iran to deliver al-Qaeda suspects to the the Afghan government. Iran transfers two of the suspects and seeks more information about others. Iran, in turn, asks the US to question four Taliban prisoners held at the US-run Guantanamo prison. The four men are suspects in the 1998 killing of nine Iranian diplomats in Kabul, Afghanistan. But in late 2001, the Bush administration decided on a policy of accepting help with counterterrorism efforts from officially declared state sponsors of terrorism such as Iran, but not giving any help back (see Late December 2001). As a result, the Iranian request is denied. Counterterrorism “tsar” Wayne Downing will later comment, “I sided with the [CIA] guys on that. I was willing to make a deal with the devil if we could clip somebody important off or stop an attack.” The Washington Post will report, “Some believe important opportunities were lost.” [Washington Post, 10/22/2004]
An analysis of the contents of a laptop computer belonging to al-Qaeda obtained by US forces in Afghanistan in January 2002 shows that the organization may be plotting attacks on the US infrastructure by seizing control of the computer systems used to run power plants, dams, or subways. The laptop was used to visit a site that offers a “Sabotage Handbook” for would-be hackers. Other visited sites are devoted to SCADA software (Systems Control And Data Acquisition), which have largely replaced manual controls to operate plants and machinery. The Washington Post reports that Al-Qaeda detainees interrogated at Guantanamo have revealed plans to use such tools although details are not available. The information obtained is strikingly reminiscent of a recent case of electronic intrusion (see Summer 2001). [Washington Post, 6/27/2002; PBS Frontline, 3/18/2003; Washington Post, 3/11/2005]
In an attempt to find Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts, CIA intelligence analysts construct a composite profile of what an ideal courier for bin Laden would look like. Then they match this with what they know about bin Laden’s couriers. One US official will later say, “It was like doing the profile of a serial killer.” One courier, whose apparent real name is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, fits the profile very closely. However, at this time, US intelligence only knows him by his alias, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti (see Early 2002).
He is a Pakistani Pashtun, and speaks Pashto. Most Taliban leaders are Pashtun and speak Pashto.
He speaks fluent Arabic, since he grew up in the Persian Gulf. This enables him to speak to bin Laden supporters from many countries in the Muslim world.
He is a trusted aide of al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libbi.
He had been a part of al-Qaeda for many years prior to 9/11.
He is adept at the use of computers.
He is fiercely loyal to bin Laden. For instance, according to multiple prisoners at Guantanamo, he was last seen next to bin Laden when bin Laden fled the Tora Bora mountains in December 2001.
An unnamed US official will later say that Ahmed emerged as the most ideal courier for bin Laden, and thus, the best way to get to bin Laden. “He fit all the needs. He was high on the short list,” the official will say. As a result, the search for Ahmed is intensified. More prisoners in US custody are asked what they know about him. [MSNBC, 5/4/2011]
Helaluddin Helal, Afghanistan’s deputy interior minister in 2002 and 2003, later claims that he becomes convinced at this time that Pakistani ISI officers are protecting bin Laden. He says that he passes intelligence reports on the location of Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, but nothing is done in response. “We would tell them we had information that al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders were living in specific areas. The Pakistanis would say no, you’re wrong, but we will go and check. And then they would come back and say those leaders are not living there. [The Pakistanis] were going to these places and moving the al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 9/9/2007] Some al-Qaeda leaders are captured during this time, but there are also reports that Taliban leaders are living openly in Pakistan (see December 24, 2001 and 2002-2006).
Adel al-Nusairi, a Saudi Arabian police officer, is captured in Afghanistan and eventually sent to the US detention facility at Guantanamo. Al-Nusairi will recall that he is interrogated for hours on end, but only after being injected with some form of drug. “I’d fall asleep” after the shots, he will tell his attorney, Anant Raut, in 2005. After he is awakened, he is interrogated in marathon questioning sessions, where, he later claims, he gives false information in order to be left alone. “I was completely gone,” he will recall. “I said, ‘Let me go. I want to go to sleep. If it takes saying I’m a member of al-Qaeda, I will.’” After years of captivity, al-Nusairi is eventually returned to Saudi Arabia without being charged with a crime; he never learns what kind of drugs he was subjected to while in US custody. He believes he was given drugs in order to coerce him into making statements that would implicate him in terrorist activity. Raut will later recall: “They thought he was hiding something. He was injected in the arm with something that made him tired—that made his brain cloudy. When he would try to read the Koran, his brain would not focus. He had unusual lethargy and would drool on himself.” Al-Nusairi will recall one interrogation session in an ice-cold room where he is so cold and desperate for sleep that he signs a confession testifying to his involvement in al-Qaeda. According to al-Nusairi, the interrogator watched him sign his name, and “then he smiled and turned off the air conditioner. And I went to sleep.” Al-Nusairi is held for three years more until he is abruptly returned to Saudi custody and released. Raut will later muse, “He signed the statement, and they declared him an enemy combatant, yet they released him anyway with no explanation.” [Washington Post, 4/22/2008]
American al-Qaeda member Jose Padilla (see September-October 2000) and an unidentified associate approach an al-Qaeda operations chief to propose detonating a nuclear bomb in the US. The plan is considered too far-fetched, and the idea of a radioactive “dirty bomb” is floated instead. Al-Qaeda leaders consider Padilla an incompetent who has virtually no chance of pulling off such an attack (see Mid-April 2002). [Associated Press, 6/2004]
Ali Soufan, an experienced FBI interrogator with an extensive knowledge of both Arab culture and al-Qaeda (see Late December 1999, Late October-Late November 2000, November 11, 2000, Early December 2000, and Late March through Early June, 2002), goes to Guantanamo to conduct training on non-coercive interrogation methods for the interrogators stationed there. Soufan says that not only are these methods the most effective, but they are critical to maintaining the US image in the Middle East and elsewhere. “The whole world is watching what we do here,” Soufan says. “We’re going to win or lose this war depending on how we do this.” According to Robert McFadden, a US naval criminal investigator who worked with Soufan on the USS Cole investigation, the interrogators from law enforcement nod in agreement, while the military intelligence officers just sit and look at Soufan “with blank stares.” McFadden will later recall: “It’s like they were thinking, ‘This is bullcrap.’ Their attitude was, ‘You guys are cops; we don’t have time for this.’” [Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
Members of the US Fifth Special Forces Group pose with future Afghan president Hamid Karzai, whom they are protecting.
[Source: US Military]The Atlantic Monthly will later report, “By the beginning of 2002, US and Northern Alliance forces had beaten the Taliban but lost bin Laden. At that point the United States faced a consequential choice: to bear down even harder in Afghanistan, or to shift the emphasis in the global war on terror somewhere else.… Implicitly at the beginning of 2002, and as a matter of formal policy by the end, it placed all other considerations second to regime change in Iraq.” [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004] In February, 2002, Gen. Tommy Franks allegedly tells Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), “Senator, we have stopped fighting the war on terror in Afghanistan. We are moving military and intelligence personnel and resources out of Afghanistan to get ready for a future war in Iraq” (see February 19, 2002). [Council on Foreign Relations, 3/26/2004] This shift from Afghanistan to Iraq involves a change of focus and attention (see Early 2002). Additionally, while the total number of US troops (less than 10,000) in Afghanistan does not go down, there is a considerable shift of specialized personnel and equipment many months before the war in Iraq will begin:
On February 15, 2002, President Bush directs the CIA to conduct operations in Iraq (see Early 2002). In mid-March, the CIA tells the White House that it is cutting back operations in Afghanistan (see Spring 2002).
Most of Task Force 5, a top-secret elite CIA and military special forces group, is called home from Afghanistan to prepare for operations in Iraq (see Early 2002).
In March 2002, Fifth Group Special Forces, an elite group whose members speak Arabic, Pashtun, and Dari, that is apparently different from Task Force 5, is sent from Afghanistan to Iraq (see March 2002).
The US Air Force’s only two specially-equipped spy planes that had successfully intercepted the radio transmissions and cell phone calls of al-Qaeda’s leaders are pulled from Afghanistan to conduct surveillance over Iraq. NSA satellites are “boreholed,” (or redirected) from Afghanistan to Iraq as well
(see May 2002).
Almost all Predator drones are withdrawn from Afghanistan and apparently moved to the Persian Gulf region for missions over Iraq (see April 2002).
More personnel will shift to Iraq in late 2002 and early 2003 (see Late 2002-Early 2003). In 2007, retired US Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO supreme commander, will say that Iraq caused the US to “take its eye off the ball” in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, National Security Agency, Thomas Franks, George W. Bush, Flynt Leverett, Al-Qaeda, James L. Jones, Bush administration (43), Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Central Intelligence Agency, Taliban
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
The CIA first learns that Osama bin Laden has a trusted courier who uses the alias Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. CIA Director Leon Panetta will later state, “The first mention of the name Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, as well as a description of him as an important member of al-Qaeda, came from a detainee held in another country.” US intelligence won’t learn the courier’s real name is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed until years later. When they do, this will be the vital clue that leads them to bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan. [MSNBC, 5/4/2011; Washington Post, 5/12/2011; Associated Press, 6/1/2011]
Sometime in early 2002, President Bush signs a secret executive order authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to wiretap phone conversations and read e-mails to and from US citizens. The order extends an operation set into motion at least as early as October 2001 to begin wiretapping US citizens’ phones in a response to the 9/11 attacks. When the program is revealed by the US media in late 2005 (see December 15, 2005), Bush and his officials will say the program is completely legal, though it ignores the requirements of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that requires the government to obtain court-issued warrants to mount surveillance against US citizens. They will insist that only those suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda are monitored, and only when those individuals make or receive international communications. [New York Times, 12/15/2005; Washington Post, 12/22/2005; Newsweek, 12/22/2008] Bush’s order authorizes the NSA to monitor international telephone conversations and international e-mails of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of US citizens without court warrants, in an effort to track what officials call “dirty numbers” linked to al-Qaeda. When the program is finally revealed by the New York Times over three years later (see December 15, 2005), officials will say that the NSA still seeks warrants to monitor domestic communications. But there is little evidence of this (see, for example, Spring 2001). The presidential order is a radical shift in US surveillance and intelligence-gathering policies, and a major realignment for the NSA, which is mandated to only conduct surveillance abroad. Some officials believe that the NSA’s domestic eavesdropping crosses constitutional limits on legal searches. “This is really a sea change,” a former senior official who specializes in national security law will say in December 2005. “It’s almost a mainstay of this country that the NSA only does foreign searches.” [New York Times, 12/15/2005] Some sources indicate that NSA domestic surveillance activities, such as data-mining, the use of information concerning US persons intercepted in foreign call monitoring, and possibly direct surveillance of US persons, took place prior to 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001).
By early 2002, Syria emerges as one of the CIA’s most effective intelligence sources on al-Qaeda. Syria is one of seven countries on a State Department list of sponsors of terrorism. It has been on that list since 1979, mostly because of its support for Hezbollah combating Israel. But Syria is also an opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood, and al-Qaeda has many connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, especially its Syrian branch. According to journalist Seymour Hersh in New Yorker magazine, “The Syrians had compiled hundreds of files on al-Qaeda, including dossiers on the men who participated—and others who wanted to participate—in the September 11th attacks. Syria also penetrated al-Qaeda cells throughout the Middle East and in Arab exile communities throughout Europe.” It appears Syrian intelligence may even have penetrated the Hamburg cell tied to the 9/11 plot, as hijacker Mohamed Atta and other cell members, such as Mohammed Haydar Zammar, occasionally worked at a German firm called Tatex Trading, which was infiltrated by Syrian intelligence (see September 10, 2002-June 2003). For a time, the Syrians give much of what they know to the CIA and FBI. A former State Department official says, “Up through January of 2003, the cooperation was top-notch. Then we were going to do Iraq, and some people in the [Bush] administration got heavy-handed. They wanted Syria to get involved in operational stuff having nothing to do with al-Qaeda and everything to do with Iraq. It was something Washington wanted from the Syrians, and they didn’t want to do it.” Hersh reports, “The collapse of the liaison relationship has left many CIA operatives especially frustrated. ‘The guys are unbelievably pissed that we’re blowing this away,’ a former high-level intelligence official told me. ‘There was a great channel… The Syrians were a lot more willing to help us, but they’—[Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld and his colleagues—“want to go in [Syria after the Iraq war].’” [New Yorker, 7/18/2003]
Al-Qaeda forces have been driven out of Afghanistan but regroup in the tribal border region of Pakistan called South Waziristan (see December 2001-Spring 2002). However, the Pakistani government is strict about preventing US forces from crossing the border in pursuit of bin Laden or any other al-Qaeda figures. According to author James Risen, “Green Berets who served in southeastern Afghanistan say that there have been a series of tense confrontations—and even firefights—between American and Pakistani forces along the border. Both sides have largely covered up the incidents.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 181] There is no sign later of a significant change in policy, although minor skirmishes persist. For part of 2002 and into 2003, some US special forces are allowed into the region, but only by traveling with the Pakistani army, and this arrangement does not last for long (see 2002-Early 2003).
In late December 1999, Rita Katz, working with the Investigative Project on Terrorism, gave a presentation in the White House to members of the National Security Council (NSC) about a suspected al-Qaeda sleeper cell based in Anaheim, California (see December 25, 1999). The NSC forwarded the information her team gleaned from public sources to the FBI. Katz later repeatedly asked a contact she had with the NSC named Peter what happened to the lead she gave them. Peter replied that he assumed the FBI was just sitting on the material. [Katz, 2003, pp. 180] Around January 2002, Katz is contacted by an FBI agent in California who is looking for investigative leads on al-Qaeda in California. Katz forwards him all her information she gave in her White House presentation back in 1999. According to Katz, the agent looks over the material and says it is “very strong… I want to go all the way with this investigation.” Then the agent registers his investigation with the FBI so other agents with leads could contact him. A few days later, he calls Katz and says that he has been taken off the case because it falls into the jurisdiction of the FBI’s Anaheim office. Apparently that office does nothing with the lead. In 1999, Katz suggested the cell included Khalil Deek, arrested in late 1999 for involvement in a millennium bomb plot in Jordan (see December 11, 1999), his brother Tawfiq Deek, Hisham Diab, and Khalid Ashour. [Katz, 2003, pp. 186-187] ABC News will later report that Diab continued to live in Anaheim until June 2001, when he apparently moved to Afghanistan to stay with top al-Qaeda leaders. [ABC News, 12/23/2004] Khalil Deek is mysteriously released in Jordan around the same time (see May 2001); it will later be alleged that he was a mole for the Jordanian government (see Shortly After December 11, 1999). By late 1999, Ashour had requested asylum in the US. Katz will later note that he “could have been easily located, investigated, and if necessary, denied asylum and deported.” But as of 2003, Katz claims Ashour still lives in the US. [Katz, 2003, pp. 187] Tawfiq Deek apparently continues to live in Anaheim as well, where he works for the state’s Department of Toxic Substance Control as a chemical engineer. He denies all terrorism ties, though he confirms that he was an active member of the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), which the FBI has called a Hamas front group. [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005] Another associate of the above group, Adam Gadahn, will emerge in Afghanistan in 2004 as a prominent al-Qaeda spokesman (see Spring 2004).
As soon as terror suspect Tarek Dergoul arrives at Bagram, he is subjected to treatment that he later describes as sexually humiliating. “When I arrived, with a bag over my head, I was stripped naked and taken to a big room with 15 or 20 MP’s. They started taking photos and then they did a full cavity search. As they were doing that they were taking close-ups, concentrating on my private parts.” Dergoul sees other prisoners enduring beatings, which he is spared. “Guards with guns and baseball bats would make the detainees squat for hours, and if they fell over from exhaustion, they’d beat them until they lost consciousness. They called it ‘beat down.’” Dergoul is interrogated 20 to 25 times at Bagram. Once, a team from the British intelligence agency MI5 is present, at which occasion he is told his family’s assets will be seized. His interrogators accuse him of fighting with al-Qaeda in the Tora Bora mountains. Although he says none of that is true, Dergoul finally breaks. “I was in extreme pain from the frostbite and other injuries and I was so weak I could barely stand. It was freezing cold and I was shaking and shivering like a washing machine. The interrogators, who questioned me at gunpoint, said if I confessed I’d be going home. Finally I agreed I’d been at Tora Bora—though I still wouldn’t admit I’d ever met bin Laden.” [Guardian, 3/13/2004; Observer, 5/16/2004]
Vice President Dick Cheney, sometimes accompanied by his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, visits the offices of US intelligence analysts working at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia “approximately 10” times. He interrogates them on their intelligence work on Iraq. Some analysts later complain that Cheney’s visits made them feel pressured to provide the administration with conclusions that supported the case for war. Other analysts will say they did not feel pressured. [Washington Post, 6/5/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 6/5/2003; Guardian, 7/17/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 336; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 242] Michael Sulick, deputy chief of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, will later recall, “It was like they were hoping we’d find something buried in the files or come back with a different answer.” As a result of these visits, Sulick believes that agency analysts became “overly eager to please.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 4-5] According to Ray McGovern, a 27-year veteran CIA analyst, these visits were “unprecedented.” [Common Dreams, 7/23/2003] In 2006, author Craig Unger will call the visits “a highly irregular occurrence.” Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman will recall: “I was at the CIA for 24 years. The only time a vice president came to the CIA building was for a ceremony, to cut a ribbon, to stand on a stage, but not to harangue analysts about finished intelligence.… When they go, it’s usually for some ceremonial reason, to hand out an award or to cut a ribbon. Then they get the hell out.” Former DIA analyst Patrick Lang will say: “Many, many of them [CIA analysts] have told me they were pressured. And there are a lot of ways. Pressure takes a lot of forms.” A State Department official will note: “For the vice president to be meeting with analysts, that was a real red flag. It was so unusual. It was clear that people were being leaned on. Usually, if a high-ranking official wants information, it gets tasked out through appropriate channels. It was highly unusual to lock these people in a room and keep pressing. It crossed the line between… intellectual inquiry and not accepting the real answer.” Another intelligence source says: “[Cheney] wanted them to make a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. He already got them to agree on nuclear weapons. But he wanted the al-Qaeda connection.” Retired CIA officer Richard Kerr, brought back to the agency to study intelligence failures, later describes “overwhelming consumer demand” on agency analysts, which Kerr will say results in flawed intelligence reports. The pressure brought on analysts, another source says, is “brutal.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 211; Unger, 2007, pp. 262-263] Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) also makes visits to CIA headquarters in Langley. [Guardian, 7/17/2003]
The US wants al-Qaeda leader Hassan Ghul arrested, but the Pakistani government will not do so, apparently because he is part of a Pakistani militant group supported by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Details and timing are vague, but US intelligence becomes increasingly interested in Ghul. He is believed to be part of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida’s secret network of moneymen and couriers. According to a 2011 article by the Associated Press, the CIA has been pressing the Pakistani government to arrest Ghul “for years.” After 9/11, Ghul hides in Lahore, Pakistan, in safe houses run by the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). This group helps many al-Qaeda operatives escape Afghanistan and hide in Pakistan after 9/11, and it even helps Zubaida escape and hide (see Late 2001-Early 2002). However, the ISI refuses to arrest Ghul. The Associated Press will report that “former CIA officers who targeted Ghul said he had ties to the Lashkar-e-Toiba terror group, which had the backing of the ISI.” Eventually, the CIA learns that Ghul plans to meet with al-Qaeda operatives fighting against US forces in Iraq. Ghul is captured in Iraq on January 23, 2004 (see January 23, 2004). However, the Pakistani government is said to be furious that Ghul has been captured, and the US is pressed to return him. The US transfers him to a secret CIA prison instead. [Associated Press, 6/15/2011]
Ali Gilani. [Source: CNN]The Boston Globe reports that shoe bomber Richard Reid may have had ties with an obscure Pakistani group called Al-Fuqra. Reid apparently visited the Lahore, Pakistan, home of Ali Gilani, the leader of Al-Fuqra. [Boston Globe, 1/6/2002] Reporter Daniel Pearl reads the article and decides to investigate. [Vanity Fair, 8/2002] Pearl believes he is on his way to interview Gilani when he is kidnapped. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002] A 1995 State Department report said Al-Fuqra’s main goal is “purifying Islam through violence.” [Vanity Fair, 8/2002] Intelligence experts now say Al-Fuqra is a splinter group of Jaish-e-Mohammed, with ties to al-Qaeda. [United Press International, 1/29/2002] Al-Fuqra claims close ties with the Muslims of the Americas, a US tax-exempt group claiming about 3,000 members living in rural compounds in 19 states, the Caribbean, and Europe. Members of Al-Fuqra are suspected of at least 13 fire bombings and 17 murders, as well as theft and credit-card fraud. Gilani, who had links to people involved in the 1993 WTC bombing, fled the US after the bombing. He admitted he works with the ISI, and now lives freely in Pakistan. [Boston Globe, 1/6/2002; News (Islamabad), 2/15/2002; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002] Saeed Sheikh “has long had close contacts” with the group, and praises Gilani for his “unexplained services to Pakistan and Islam.” [News (Islamabad), 2/18/2002; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002]
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