Profile: Anwar al-Awlaki
a.k.a. Anwar Al Aulaqi
Anwar al-Awlaki was a participant or observer in the following events:
The London-based Advice and Reformation Committee (ARC) establishes a secure system for communications between Saudi Arabia and London for Osama bin Laden. The system is set up by Denver resident Lujain al-Imam, wife of London-based Islamic activist Mohammad al-Massari, at his request. The calls are routed from Saudi Arabia to Britain through Denver, Colorado, using toll-free lines established for US servicemen during the Gulf War, in order to stop the Saudi government from intercepting the messages. After the system is set up, bin Laden calls al-Massari to thank him. It is not known how long the phone system is used. However, in late 2001 al-Imam will say that some of the people involved in setting up the system are still in the Denver area, but she will not name them. [Scripps Howard News Service, 11/12/2001]
Who Else Is in Denver? - The ARC is widely considered bin Laden’s publicity office. ARC head Khalid al-Fawwaz will be indicted for his involvement in the US embassy bombings in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998 and August 21, 2001). Denver-based radical publisher Homaidan al-Turki begins to be investigated over suspicions he is involved in terrorism in 1995, although it is unclear whether this is related to the Saudi Arabia-Britain phone lines. [Associated Press, 8/31/2006] Another likely suspect for this communications hub would be Ziyad Khaleel. He lives in Denver in the early 1990s until about 1994, and is vice president of the Denver Islamic Society. In 1998, he will work with al-Fawwaz to buy a satellite phone for bin Laden (see November 1996-Late August 1998). [Denver Post, 1/27/1991; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/22/2003] It seems likely Khaleel is in contact with Anwar al-Awlaki at this time, since al-Awlaki works as an imam for the Denver Islamic Society from 1994 to 1996. In 1999, al-Awlaki will be investigated by the FBI for his links to Khaleel (see June 1999-March 2000). He will go on to be the imam for a couple of the future 9/11 hijackers in San Diego, California, and then will become a prominent radical in Yemen. [New York Times, 5/8/2010]
Anwar al-Awlaki. [Source: Public domain]The FBI conducts a counterterrorism inquiry into Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam who will later be suspected of involvement in the 9/11 plot. He serves as the “spiritual leader” to several of the hijackers (see March 2001 and After), and by 2008 US intelligence will determine he is linked to al-Qaeda (see February 27, 2008).
The investigation is opened when it is learned he had probably been visited by a “procurement agent” for bin Laden, Ziyad Khaleel. Khaleel had helped buy a satellite phone for bin Laden; when he is arrested in December 1999 he reportedly tells the FBI crucial details about al-Qaeda operations in the US (see December 29, 1999).
In early 2000 the FBI is aware when al-Awlaki is visited by an unnamed close associate of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 ; Washington Post, 2/27/2008]
He also serves as vice president of the Charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW), the US branch of a Yemeni charity founded by Sheikh Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, a Yemeni imam who the US will officially designate a terrorist in 2004. CSSW also has ties to the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, Italy, considered one of the centers of al-Qaeda activity in Europe. The FBI begins investigating CSSW in 1999 after a Yemeni politician visits the US to solicit donations for the charity, and then visits Mahmoud Es Sayed, a known al-Qaeda figure at the Islamic Cultural Institute, on the same trip. [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 243; Washington Post, 2/27/2008]
The FBI learns that al-Awlaki knows individuals from the suspect Holy Land Foundation and others involved in raising money for Hamas. Sources allege that al-Awlaki has even more extremist connections.
But none of these links are considered strong enough for criminal charges, and the investigation is closed. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 517] Al-Awlaki is beginning to associate with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar shortly before the investigation ends. For instance, on February 4, one month before the FBI investigation is closed, al-Awlaki talks on the telephone four times with hijacker associate Omar al-Bayoumi. The 9/11 Commission will later speculate that these calls are related to Alhazmi and Almihdhar, since al-Bayoumi is helping them that day, and that Alhazmi or Almihdhar may even have been using al-Bayoumi’s phone at the time (see February 4, 2000). Al-Bayoumi had also been the subject of an FBI counterterrorism investigation in 1999 (see September 1998-July 1999).
Entity Tags: Omar al-Bayoumi, Ziyad Khaleel, Nawaf Alhazmi, Osama bin Laden, Mahmoud Es Sayed, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Islamic Cultural Institute, Abdul Mejid al-Zindani, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Anwar al-Awlaki, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Charitable Society for Social Welfare
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar attend a San Diego mosque whose imam is Anwar al-Awlaki, and they have closed-door meetings with him. Al-Awlaki preaches at the Al-Ribat Al-Islami (also known as Rabat) mosque in La Mesa, a town right next to San Diego. After 9/11, the FBI will question al-Awlaki, and he will admit to meeting with Alhazmi several times, but say he does not remember what they discussed. He will not claim to remember Almihdhar at all. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 221] However, other accounts will suggest there is a much closer relationship, and with both hijackers. It is uncertain when they first meet, but a series of phone calls on February 4, 2000 connects the two hijackers, al-Awlaki, and a suspected Saudi spy named Omar al-Bayoumi (see February 4, 2000). The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later report that Alhazmi and Almihdhar “were closely affiliated with [al-Awlaki] who reportedly served as their spiritual adviser during their time in San Diego.… Several persons informed the FBI after September 11 that this imam had closed-door meetings in San Diego with Almihdhar, Alhazmi, and another individual, whom al-Bayoumi had asked to help the hijackers.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
Abdullah in Closed-Door Meetings? - This other person may be Mohdar Abdullah. Interviewed after 9/11, Abdullah will claim that al-Bayoumi specifically asked him “to be the individual to acclimate the hijackers to the United States, particularly San Diego, California.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 513] Furthermore, one witness will later claim to have met Alhazmi through both al-Awlaki and Abdullah. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 513] Abdullah may be told of the 9/11 plot in the spring of 2000 (see Early 2000), so presumably he could be a participant in secret meetings.
Investigator Confirms Closed-Door Meetings - Ray Fournier, a State Department official who will investigate al-Awlaki after 9/11, will say: “He was meeting with al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar in the ante room off of the Rabat mosque. Just the three of them. It stands to reason that when three people get together and two of them end up being hijackers that end up in the Pentagon, they’re obviously discussing how they’re going to stay on track.… He’s absolving them of their sins. He’s making sure that their cover within Western culture is being maintained. He’s making sure they’re going to stay operational.” Fournier also claims that al-Awlaki was radicalized before the hijackers came to San Diego. [KPBS, 6/10/2010]
Hijackers and Al-Awlaki Reunite in Virginia - Around August 2000, al-Awlaki resigns as imam and travels to unknown “various countries.” In early 2001, he will be appointed the imam to a much larger mosque in Falls Church, Virginia. [Copley News, 10/1/2001] Alhazmi, Almihdhar, and fellow hijacker Hani Hanjour will move to Virginia and attend al-Awlaki’s mosque there (see March 2001 and After). By 2008, US intelligence will conclude that al-Awlaki is an al-Qaeda operative (see February 27, 2008).
According to phone records, four calls take place between imam Anwar al-Awlaki and Omar al-Bayoumi on February 4, 2000. This is the same day 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar move into their own apartment in the Parkwood Apartments complex in San Diego (see February 4-Mid-May 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 517] On this day, al-Bayoumi is the co-signer and guarantor on their lease, and pays their first months’ rent and deposit. It is possible they are using al-Bayoumi’s phone at this time. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/3/2001 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 517] An FBI agent who investigated the calls will later say that he is 98 percent certain that the phone is being used by Alhazmi and Almihdhar at the time. The phone will call al-Awlaki on February 10, 16, and 18 as well (see Spring 2000). [9/11 Commission, 11/17/2003 ] Al-Bayoumi, a suspected Saudi spy, helps the hijackers settle in San Diego in many ways (see January 15-February 2000). Al-Awlaki is the imam for the hijackers at the Al-Ribat Al-Islami mosque (also known as Rabat) on the La Mesa-San Diego border (see February-August 2000). US investigators will later conclude he is connected to al-Qaeda and probably involved in the 9/11 plot. [Washington Post, 2/27/2008] Al-Awlaki is the subject of an FBI counterterrorism investigation at the time these calls are made, but the investigation is closed one month later (see June 1999-March 2000).
An unnamed FBI agent who investigates suspected Saudi spy Omar al-Bayoumi after 9/11 will later tell the 9/11 Commission that he is 98 percent sure that future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar use al-Bayoumi’s cell phone during the first couple of months of 2000. For instance, a San Diego associate of al-Bayoumi’s will later state in an interview that when he received a page on February 15, 2000 for al-Bayoumi’s cell phone, he called the number and found he was speaking to Nawaf Alhazmi instead of al-Bayoumi. There are four calls from al-Bayoumi’s cell phone to radical imam Anwar al-Awlaki on February 4, 2000 (see February 4, 2000). There are calls to al-Awlaki on February 10, 16, and 18 as well. The agent will also note that there are numerous other calls on this phone from this time period that have never been investigated, and this should be an issue of grave concern. [9/11 Commission, 11/17/2003 ]
The Dar al Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Virginia. [Source: Fox News]After living together in Phoenix since December 2000, 9/11 hijackers Hani Hanjour and Nawaf Alhazmi move to Falls Church, Virginia, where imam Anwar al-Awlaki preaches. [Washington Post, 9/10/2002; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] They live only a few blocks from where two nephews of Osama bin Laden with ties to terrorism go to work (see February-September 11, 1996 and June 1, 2004). They continue to live there off and on until around August. They begin attending the Dar al Hijrah mosque. [Washington Post, 9/10/2002] When they and hijacker Khalid Almihdhar lived in San Diego in early 2000, they attended a mosque there led by al-Awlaki. This imam moved to Falls Church in January 2001, and now the hijackers attend his sermons at the Dar al Hijrah mosque. Some later suspect that al-Awlaki is part of the 9/11 plot because of their similar moves, and other reasons:
The FBI says al-Awlaki had closed door meetings with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in 2000 while all three of them were living in San Diego (see February-August 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
Police later find the phone number of al-Awlaki’s mosque when they search “would-be twentieth hijacker” Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s apartment in Germany. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
The FBI was investigating al-Awlaki for ties to Islamic militant groups in early 2000 (see June 1999-March 2000).
A neighbor of al-Awlaki later claims that, in the first week of August 2001, al-Awlaki knocked on his door and told him he is leaving for Kuwait: “He came over before he left and told me that something very big was going to happen, and that he had to be out of the country when it happened” (see Early August 2001). [Newsweek, 7/28/2003]
US officials will allow al-Awlaki to leave the US twice in 2002, but by 2008 they will conclude that he is linked to al-Qaeda attacks (see Early September 2006-December 2007 and February 27, 2008).
Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Hani Hanjour, Germany, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, 9/11 Commission, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Anwar al-Awlaki, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ramzi bin al-Shibh
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Nawaf Alhazmi and Hani Hanjour rent an apartment in Alexandria, Virginia, for about a month, with the help of Eyad Alrababah, a man whom they met at a local mosque. The mosque is run by Anwar al-Awlaki, an associate of Alhazmi’s from San Diego who was investigated by the FBI over terrorism suspicions (see March 2001 and After). Alhazmi and Hanjour had previously lived in Phoenix, Arizona (see December 12, 2000-March 2001) and will later move to Paterson, New Jersey (see March 2001-September 1, 2001). Alrababah will later say that he just happened to meet them after a service in the mosque, when they mentioned they were looking for an apartment and he had a friend who had one to rent. However, given al-Awlaki’s previous association with Alhazmi, some FBI agents will later doubt this and suspect that al-Awlaki told Alrababah to help the hijackers. The 9/11 Commission will comment, “We share that suspicion, given the remarkable coincidence of al-Awlaki’s prior relationship with Alhazmi.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 230]
A neighbor of Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam who had frequent contact with future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Hani Hanjour in San Diego and/or Virginia (see March 2001 and After), will later claim that, in the first week of August 2001, al-Awlaki knocks on his door and tells him he is leaving for Kuwait. “He came over before he left and told me that something very big was going to happen, and that he had to be out of the country when it happened,” the neighbor says. [Newsweek, 7/28/2003] The neighbor, Lincoln W. Higgie, lives in San Diego, California, and has long been friendly with al-Awlaki. Al-Awlaki had already moved to Virginia earlier in the year (see March 2001 and After), but apparently he is briefly stopping by San Diego. Higgie will later recall that he tells al-Awlaki to visit if he is ever in the area. Al-Awlaki replies: “I don’t think you’ll be seeing me. I won’t be coming back to San Diego again. Later on you’ll find out why.” [New York Times, 5/8/2010]
Two agents from the Oklahoma City FBI office visit Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma, to learn about Zacarias Moussaoui’s training there earlier in the year. One of these agents had visited the same school in September 1999 to learn more about Ihab Ali Nawawi, an al-Qaeda agent who trained there in 1993. Apparently, this agent forgets the connection when he visits the school to look into Moussaoui. He later admits he should have connected the two cases. [Boston Globe, 9/18/2001; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 322] The staff director of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry later states, “No one will ever know whether a greater focus on the connection between these events would have led to the unraveling of the September 11 plot.” [New York Daily News, 9/25/2002] The Oklahoma City office also does not connect Moussaoui to a memo that had come from its office in May 1998 warning that “large numbers of Middle Eastern males” were receiving flight training in Oklahoma and could be planning terrorist attacks (see May 15, 1998). Furthermore, Moussaoui’s Oklahoma roommate Hussein al-Attas is also under suspicion at this time (see August 16, 2001). One of the people who attempted to post bond for al-Attas, William Webb, had previously been the subject of an extensive investigation by the same Oklahoma City FBI office. Webb is a member of the extremist group the Muslim Brotherhood and is also Vice President of Overseas Operations and Recruiting for the Palestinian group Fatah. Further, Webb is connected to Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam who has frequent ties with some of the 9/11 hijackers and is suspected of involvement in the 9/11 plot (see March 2001 and After). Al-Awlaki was the subject of an FBI counterterrorism inquiry the year before (see June 1999-March 2000). These connections are also not noticed. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 322; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 134-5 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ]
Ali al Timini. [Source: Fox News]Shortly after 9/11, the FBI begins to suspect that Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam to several of the 9/11 hijackers, may have had some connection to the 9/11 plot. They interview him repeatedly, but cannot find enough evidence to charge him, and he cannot be deported since he is a US citizen. Investigators discover he had been arrested more than once for soliciting prostitutes. They learn he is consorting with prostitutes in Virginia, and contemplate jailing him on an obscure law against transporting prostitutes across state lines. However, this plan collapses when he leaves the US unexpectedly in March 2002. [US News and World Report, 6/13/2004] But on October 10, 2002, he makes a surprise return to the US. His name is on a terrorist watch list and he is detained when his plane lands in New York City. Customs agents notify the FBI, but they are told that his name was taken off the watch list just the day before. He is released after only three hours. It has not been explained why he name was taken off the list. Throughout 2002, al-Awlaki is also the subject of an active Customs investigation into money laundering called Operation Greenquest, but he is not arrested for this either, or for the earlier contemplated prostitution charges. [WorldNetDaily, 8/16/2003] At the time, the FBI is fighting Greenquest, and Customs officials will later accuse the FBI of sabotaging Greenquest investigations (see After March 20, 2002-Early 2003). While in the US, al-Awlaki visits the Fairfax, Virginia, home of Ali al Timimi, the leader of a nearby Islamic center. According to a later court filing, al-Awlaki attempts to get al Timimi to discuss the recruitment of young Muslims for militant causes, but al Timimi does not show interest. Al Timimi will later be sentenced to life in prison in the US for inciting young Muslims to fight in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11. [Washington Post, 2/27/2008] Al-Awlaki then leaves the US again. The FBI will later admit they were “very interested” in al-Awlaki and yet failed to stop him from leaving the country. One FBI source says, “We don’t know how he got out.” [US News and World Report, 6/13/2004] He will allegedly take part in other militant attacks (see September 15, 2006). By 2008, US intelligence will conclude that he is linked to al-Qaeda (see February 27, 2008).
Anwar al-Awlaki, the imam for three of the 9/11 hijackers in the US, lives openly in Britain.
Growing Suspicions about Al-Awlaki in US - After 9/11, US investigators increasingly suspect that al-Awlaki’s links with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Hani Hanjour in the US were more than just a coincidence. In October 2002, al-Awlaki is briefly detained while visiting the US but is not arrested, even though there is an outstanding warrant for his arrest (see October 2002). The FBI as a whole does not believe he was involved in the 9/11 plot. However, some disagree. One detective tells the 9/11 Commission in 2003 or 2004 that al-Awlaki “was at the center of the 9/11 story.” The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry releases its final report in 2003, and it states that al-Awlaki “was a central figure in a support network that aided [Alhazmi and Almihdhar]” (see August 1-3, 2003).
No Attempt to Arrest Him Living Openly in Britain - Al-Awlaki does not visit the US again, after his near arrest. But he lives openly in Britain, a close US ally. He teaches Islam to students in London and adopts an increasingly religious fundamentalist stance. His lectures grow in popularity, especially through sales of CDs of recorded speeches. He travels widely through Britain giving lectures. But despite growing evidence against him in the US, there is no known attempt to have him arrested in Britain. At some point in 2004, he moves to Yemen to preach and study there. [New York Times, 5/8/2010]
The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s final report concludes that at least six 9/11 hijackers received “substantial assistance” from associates in the US, though it’s “not known to what extent any of these contacts in the United States were aware of the plot.” These hijackers came into contact with at least 14 people who were investigated by the FBI before 9/11, and four of those investigations were active while the hijackers were present. But in June 2002, FBI Director Mueller testified: “While here, the hijackers effectively operated without suspicion, triggering nothing that would have alerted law enforcement and doing nothing that exposed them to domestic coverage. As far as we know, they contacted no known terrorist sympathizers in the United States” (see June 18, 2002). CIA Director Tenet made similar comments at the same time, and another FBI official stated, “[T]here were no contacts with anybody we were looking at inside the United States.” These comments are untrue, because one FBI document from November 2001 uncovered by the Inquiry concludes that the six lead hijackers “maintained a web of contacts both in the United States and abroad. These associates, ranging in degrees of closeness, include friends and associates from universities and flight schools, former roommates, people they knew through mosques and religious activities, and employment contacts. Other contacts provided legal, logistical, or financial assistance, facilitated US entry and flight school enrollment, or were known from [al-Qaeda]-related activities or training.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ] The declassified sections of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s final report show the hijackers have contact with:
Mamoun Darkazanli, investigated several times starting in 1993 (see 1993; Late 1998); the CIA makes repeated efforts to turn him into an informer (see December 1999).
Mohammed Haydar Zammar, investigated by Germany since at least 1997 (see 1996), the Germans periodically inform the CIA what they learn.
Osama Basnan, US intelligence is informed of his connections to Islamic militants several times in early 1990s but fails to investigate (see April 1998).
Omar al-Bayoumi, investigated in San Diego from 1998-1999 (see September 1998-July 1999).
Anwar al-Awlaki, investigated in San Diego from 1999-2000 (see June 1999-March 2000).
Osama “Sam” Mustafa, owner of a San Diego gas station, and investigated beginning in 1991 (see Autumn 2000).
Ed Salamah, manager of the same gas station, and an uncooperative witness in 2000 (see Autumn 2000).
An unnamed friend of Hani Hanjour, whom the FBI tries to investigate in 2001.
An unnamed associate of Marwan Alshehhi, investigated beginning in 1999.
Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, who had contact with Basnan, al-Bayoumi, al-Awlaki, Mustafa, and Salamah, “maintained a number of other contacts in the local Islamic community during their time in San Diego, some of whom were also known to the FBI through counterterrorist inquiries and investigations,” but details of these individuals and possible others are still classified. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ] None of the above people have been arrested or even publicly charged with any crime associated with terrorism, although Zammar is in prison in Syria.
Entity Tags: Robert S. Mueller III, Osama Basnan, Osama (“Sam”) Mustafa, Nawaf Alhazmi, Omar al-Bayoumi, Mamoun Darkazanli, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Ed Salamah, Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Anwar al-Awlaki, George J. Tenet, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
In the wake of the release of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s full report, anonymous officials leak some details from a controversial, completely censored 28-page section that focuses on possible Saudi support for 9/11. According to leaks given to the New York Times, the section says that Omar al-Bayoumi and/or Osama Basnan “had at least indirect links with two hijackers [who] were probably Saudi intelligence agents and may have reported to Saudi government officials.” It also says that Anwar al-Awlaki “was a central figure in a support network that aided the same two hijackers.” Most connections drawn in the report between the men, Saudi intelligence, and 9/11 is said to be circumstantial. [New York Times, 8/2/2003] One key section is said to read, “On the one hand, it is possible that these kinds of connections could suggest, as indicated in a CIA memorandum, ‘incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists… On the other hand, it is also possible that further investigation of these allegations could reveal legitimate, and innocent, explanations for these associations.’”(see August 2, 2002) Some of the most sensitive information involves what US agencies are doing currently to investigate Saudi business figures and organizations. [Associated Press, 8/2/2003] According to the New Republic, the section outlines “connections between the hijacking plot and the very top levels of the Saudi royal family.” An anonymous official is quoted as saying, “There’s a lot more in the 28 pages than money. Everyone’s chasing the charities. They should be chasing direct links to high levels of the Saudi government. We’re not talking about rogue elements. We’re talking about a coordinated network that reaches right from the hijackers to multiple places in the Saudi government.… If the people in the administration trying to link Iraq to al-Qaeda had one-one-thousandth of the stuff that the 28 pages has linking a foreign government to al-Qaeda, they would have been in good shape.… If the 28 pages were to be made public, I have no question that the entire relationship with Saudi Arabia would change overnight.” [New Republic, 8/1/2003] The section also is critical that the issue of foreign government support remains unresolved. One section reads, “In their testimony, neither CIA or FBI officials were able to address definitely the extent of such support for the hijackers, globally or within the United States, or the extent to which such support, if it exists, is knowing or inadvertent in nature. This gap in intelligence community coverage is unacceptable.” [Boston Globe, 8/3/2003]
Larry Mefford. [Source: James Kegley / San Francisco Chronicle]FBI officials maintain that 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar did not have anyone knowingly supporting their al-Qaeda activities when they lived in San Diego in 2000 and 2001.
FBI: Hijackers Had No Witting Support in San Diego - Larry Mefford, who was the FBI’s head of counterterrorism until November 2003, says: “Maybe there’s been something new. But as of the time of my retirement, there was no credible indication that anyone in Southern California helped the two terrorists with knowledge of the 9/11 plot.” And Richard Garcia, head of the FBI in Los Angeles, says, “If there was support, I think it was unwitting.” Garcia says that whatever support the hijackers received was from Muslims innocently helping other Muslims.
9/11 Commission Suggests Otherwise - However, the 9/11 Commission’s final report, published the same day as these comments, suggests otherwise. The report details extensive help the hijackers received, and strongly implies that at least some of their helpers, such as Mohdar Abdullah and Anwar al-Awlaki, were radical Islamists with a similar agenda as the hijackers. For instance, the report comments, “We believe it is unlikely that [Alhazmi] and Almihdhar… would have come to the United States without arranging to receive assistance from one or more individuals informed in advance of their arrival.” [Los Angeles Times, 7/24/2004]
9/11 Congressional Inquiry Also Suggests Otherwise - The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s final report concluded that at least six 9/11 hijackers received “substantial assistance” from associates in the US, though it is “not known to what extent any of these contacts in the United States were aware of the plot.” The inquiry focused on associates in San Diego, including Abdullah and al-Awlaki (see July 24, 2003). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
What about Abdullah and Al-Awlaki? - In late 2003, new evidence emerged that Abdullah might have had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks, but he was deported anyway, in May 2004 (see May 21, 2004). In late 2004, several months after the comments by Mefford and Garcia, more evidence against him will emerge, causing the FBI to reopen its investigation into him (see September 2003-May 21, 2004). In 2008, US intelligence will finally conclude that al-Awlaki is an al-Qaeda operative (see February 27, 2008), and he will be connected to a number of attacks in the US.
In early September 2006, Anwar al-Awlaki is arrested in Yemen at the request of the US government. Al-Awlaki served as imam to several of the 9/11 hijackers when they lived in the US (see March 2001 and After). [Australian, 11/4/2006] However, al-Awlaki is released in December 2007. The US was limited in how much it could pressure the government of Yemen to keep holding him, because he has never been formally charged with any crime. In a taped interview shortly after his release, he claims that while he was imprisoned in Yemen, he was interrogated by the FBI multiple times and asked about his dealings with the 9/11 hijackers. [Washington Post, 2/27/2008] According to the New York Times, “by the end of 2007, American officials, some of whom were disturbed at the imprisonment without charges of a United States citizen, signaled that they no longer insisted on al-Awlaki’s incarceration, and he was released.” [New York Times, 5/8/2010] By February 2008, just two months after US officials approved his release, US intelligence will conclude that al-Awlaki is linked to al-Qaeda (see February 27, 2008).
Two simultaneous suicide attacks on oil and gas installations in Yemen fail. The Safer refinery in Marib and the al-Dhabba terminal in Hadramout are attacked by four suicide bombers with car bombs, but Yemeni security forces blow the cars up just before they reach their targets. The four suicide bombers and one security guard are killed. The attacks come just a few days after al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called for attacks on oil facilities in the Persian Gulf region. A Yemeni court later sentences 32 men to between two and 15 years in jail for their roles in the attacks. Three of them are alleged al-Qaeda operatives tried in absentia who escaped from prison earlier in 2006 (see February 3, 2006). [BBC, 11/7/2007] Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam for several of the 9/11 hijackers while they lived in the US, was arrested in Yemen earlier in the month (see Early September 2006-December 2007). He allegedly also has a role preparing for the foiled attacks. [Australian, 11/3/2006; Australian, 11/4/2006] The attempted attacks also come just days before Yemen’s presidential elections. Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh, in power since 1978, quickly uses the attacks to criticize his opponent, because one of the opponents’ guards was accused of being involved. The guard is later acquitted. Saleh wins reelection. [New York Times, 3/1/2008] In 2008, one anonymous senior Yemeni official will tell the Washington Post that some important al-Qaeda members have had a long relationship with Yemen’s intelligence agencies and have targeted political opponents in the past. [Washington Post, 5/4/2008]
The Washington Post reports that US intelligence has finally determined that Anwar al-Awlaki is linked to al-Qaeda. Al-Awlaki was an imam at two different mosques attended by hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Hani Hanjour, and he has been suspected of assisting the 9/11 plot. An anonymous US counterterrorism official tells the Post, “There is good reason to believe Anwar al-Awlaki has been involved in very serious terrorist activities since leaving the United States [after 9/11], including plotting attacks against America and our allies.” However, the US apparently did not ask Yemen to extradite him when he was arrested there in 2006, because there was no pending legal case against him. He continues to reside in Yemen and apparently still has not been charged with any crime. [Washington Post, 2/27/2008] In December 2007, just two months before this article, the US approved the release of al-Awlaki in Yemen, apparently because there still was no pending legal case against him (see Early September 2006-December 2007). He also does not appear to be on any public wanted list.
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