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Profile: Ariana Airlines

Ariana Airlines was a participant or observer in the following events:

In 1996, al-Qaeda assumes control of Ariana Airlines, Afghanistan’s national airline, for use in its illegal trade network. Passenger flights become few and erratic, as planes are used to fly drugs, weapons, gold, and personnel, primarily between Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Pakistan. The Emirate of Sharjah, in the UAE, becomes a hub for al-Qaeda drug and arms smuggling. Typically, “large quantities of drugs” are flown from Kandahar, Afghanistan, to Sharjah, and large quantities of weapons are flown back to Afghanistan. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] About three to four flights run the route each day. Many weapons come from Victor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer based in Sharjah. [Los Angeles Times, 1/20/2002] Afghan taxes on opium production are paid in gold, and then the gold bullion is flown to Dubai, UAE, and laundered into cash. [Washington Post, 2/17/2002] Taliban officials regularly provide militants with false papers identifying them as Ariana Airlines employees so they can move freely around the world. For instance, one flight on a Ariana small plane in 2000 lists 33 crew members. A former National Security Council official later claims the US is well aware at the time that al-Qaeda agents regularly fly on Ariana Airlines. (However, US intelligence will not learn of the widespread use of forged Ariana IDs until after 9/11.) The CIA learns of Bout’s connection to Ariana and the Taliban in 1998, but takes no action (see 1998). The US presses the UAE for tighter banking controls, but moves “delicately, not wanting to offend an ally in an already complicated relationship,” and little changes by 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001; Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 139] Much of the money for the 9/11 hijackers flows though these Sharjah, UAE, channels. There also are reports suggesting that Ariana Airlines might have been used to train Islamic militants as pilots. The illegal use of Ariana Airlines helps convince the United Nations to impose sanctions against Afghanistan in 1999, but the sanctions lack teeth and do not stop the airline. A second round of sanctions finally stops foreign Ariana Airlines flights, but its charter flights and other charter services keep the illegal network running. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] About nine of the 9/11 hijackers work at the Kandahar airport in 2000, which is Ariana’s main hub (see Summer 2000).

Entity Tags: Taliban, United Arab Emirates, United Nations, Al-Qaeda, Ariana Airlines, Victor Bout

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In 1998, CIA analysts realize that ground crews for illegal arms dealer Victor Bout are performing maintenance chores for Ariana Airlines planes flying to and from Afghanistan. Bout’s air fleet is based in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE), at the time, and in fact Bout has been working with the Taliban since about 1996 (see October 1996-Late 2001). The CIA has also been gathering intelligence that al-Qaeda operatives are frequently moving between Afghanistan and the UAE. Ariana, Afghanistan’s official airline, is the only airline making flights between the Middle East and Afghanistan. Therefore, Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, concludes that Ariana is being used as a “terrorist taxi service.” Scheuer concludes that Bout is assisting al-Qaeda. He will later comment that when al-Qaeda operatives would travel through the UAE, “it was almost always through Ariana flights. Since Bout’s operation was working with Ariana, they were part of the same set of concerns.” The CIA also notices an increasing number of Bout’s own planes flying to and from Afghanistan. Scheuer will later say, “Our human intelligence said it was mostly small arms and ammunition, going to Kandahar and occasionally to Kabul.” [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 138-140] However, while intelligence reports on Bout’s ties to the Taliban continue, interest in his activities in Afghanistan fades by the end of 1998. Scheuer will later claim that he tried to raise concern about the Bout flights with National Security Council officials, but saw little interest. “I never got a sense that he was important. He was part of the problem we had with the terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan, but there were so many parts we were dealing with.… [N]o one was going to fall on their sword to get Victor Bout.” [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 143] After 9/11, evidence will emerge that about nine of the 9/11 hijackers worked in the Kandahar airport heavily used by Bout’s airplanes (see Summer 2000).

Entity Tags: Taliban, Alec Station, Al-Qaeda, Ariana Airlines, Michael Scheuer, Victor Bout, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Arms dealer Victor Bout secretly sells twelve heavy-duty cargo planes to the Taliban. They are given false registries as civilian aircraft belonging to Ariana Airlines, Afghanistan’s national airline. The planes enable the Taliban to buy and transport more weapons and move al-Qaeda and Taliban figures more easily. The Taliban usually purchase the additional weapons from Bout as well. When US forces take control of Afghanistan in late 2001, they will discover huge caches of munitions that had been flown into the Kandahar airport before 9/11 and generally hidden in storerooms near the airport. Al-Qaeda and Taliban share the caches, and likely use remnants of them in fighting the US in late 2001, 2002 and beyond. Apparently, US intelligence does not notice the airplane purchases until after 9/11. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 126-129, 279]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Ariana Airlines, Al-Qaeda, Victor Bout

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Julie Sirrs.Julie Sirrs. [Source: Julie Sirrs]Julie Sirrs, a military analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), travels to Afghanistan. Fluent in local languages and knowledgeable about the culture, she made a previous undercover trip there in October 1997. She is surprised that the CIA was not interested in sending in agents after the failed missile attack on Osama bin Laden in August 1998, so she returns at this time. Traveling undercover, she meets with Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. She sees a terrorist training center in Taliban-controlled territory. Sirrs will later claim: “The Taliban’s brutal regime was being kept in power significantly by bin Laden’s money, plus the narcotics trade, while [Massoud’s] resistance was surviving on a shoestring. With even a little aid to the Afghan resistance, we could have pushed the Taliban out of power. But there was great reluctance by the State Department and the CIA to undertake that.” She partly blames the interest of the US government and the oil company Unocal to see the Taliban achieve political stability to enable a trans-Afghanistan pipeline (see May 1996 and September 27, 1996). She claims, “Massoud told me he had proof that Unocal had provided money that helped the Taliban take Kabul.” She also states, “The State Department didn’t want to have anything to do with Afghan resistance, or even, politically, to reveal that there was any viable option to the Taliban.” After two weeks, Sirrs returns with a treasure trove of maps, photographs, and interviews. [ABC News, 2/18/2002; ABC News, 2/18/2002; New York Observer, 3/11/2004] By interviewing captured al-Qaeda operatives, she learns that the official Afghanistan airline, Ariana Airlines, is being used to ferry weapons and drugs, and learns that bin Laden goes hunting with “rich Saudis and top Taliban officials” (see Mid-1996-October 2001 and 1995-2001). [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] When Sirrs returns from Afghanistan, her material is confiscated and she is accused of being a spy. Says one senior colleague, “She had gotten the proper clearances to go, and she came back with valuable information,” but high level officials “were so intent on getting rid of her, the last thing they wanted to pay attention to was any information she had.” Sirrs is cleared of wrongdoing, but her security clearance is pulled. She eventually quits the DIA in frustration in 1999. [ABC News, 2/18/2002; New York Observer, 3/11/2004] Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) will claim that the main DIA official behind the punishment of Sirrs is Lieutenant General Patrick Hughes, who later becomes “one of the top officials running the Department of Homeland Security.” [Dana Rohrabacher, 6/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Unocal, Osama bin Laden, US Department of State, Northern Alliance, Patrick Hughes, Defense Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Al-Qaeda, Julie Sirrs, Central Intelligence Agency, Dana Rohrabacher, Ariana Airlines

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. [Source: UAE Government]Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, United Arab Emirates (UAE) Defense Minister and Crown Prince for the emirate of Dubai, allegedly goes bird hunting with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Bin Laden is already widely considered to have approved the bombing of two US embassies in Africa the year before (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001; Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 120-121] In early February 1999, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke meets with Al Maktoum in the UAE and gets him to agree to work with the US to get bin Laden. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 486] Al Maktoum is known to love bird hunting, as do many other UAE royals (see 1995-2001). The US calls off an attack on bin Laden in 1999 because he is bird hunting with UAE royals at the time (see February 11, 1999). Al Maktoum hunts in Afghanistan several times in 1998 and 1999, but is only known to hunt with bin Laden once. He is so impressed by the Taliban that in 1999 he suspends all landing fees for Ariana Airlines, the Afghanistan national airline which has been effectively taken over by the Taliban and al-Qaeda by this time (see Mid-1996-October 2001). His father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, ruler of the UAE, also hunts in Afghanistan around this time, but there are no reports of him hunting with bin Laden. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001; Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 120-121] In 2006, Al Maktoum will become the Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE, and the ruler of the emirate of Dubai. In 2007, his wealth will be estimated at $16 billion. [Forbes, 8/30/2007] As ruler of Dubai, he and his family have 100% ownership and control of DP World, a UAE company that will be the subject of controversy when it attempts to purchase some US port facilities in 2006. [Newsweek International, 3/16/2006]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Ariana Airlines, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

United Nations sanctions against Afghanistan take effect. The sanctions freeze Taliban assets and impose an air embargo on Ariana Airlines in an effort to force the Taliban to hand over bin Laden. [BBC, 2/6/2000] It had been widely reported that Ariana had become a transportation arm for al-Qaeda (see Mid-1996-October 2001). However, Ariana will keep its illegal trade network flying, until stricter sanctions will ground it in 2001 (see January 19, 2001).

Entity Tags: Ariana Airlines, Osama bin Laden, Taliban, United Nations, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Under interrogation after 9/11, al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash will claim he met some of the 9/11 hijackers at Kandahar airport in Afghanistan in the summer of 2000. Although he will not be able to recall all of them, he will say the group includes Satam Al Suqami, Waleed and Wail Alshehri, Abdulaziz Alomari, Hamza Alghamdi, Salem Alhazmi, and Majed Moqed. He will say he was closest to Saeed Alghamdi, whom he convinced to become a martyr and whom he asked to recruit a friend, Ahmed Alghamdi, to the same cause. However, doubts will later be expressed about the reliability of such statements from prisoners like bin Attash, due to the methods used to obtain them (see June 16, 2004) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 233-4] Al-Qaeda’s division of passports and host country issues is based at the airport and it alters passports, visas and identification cards. Some people involved in the plot will later be reported to have altered travel documents (see July 23, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 56 pdf file] 9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alnami and would-be hijacker Mushabib al-Hamlan are also said to be at the same Kandahar camp, Al Farooq, and are assigned to guard the airport. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 526] By the late 1990s, the Kandahar airport will become the main logistics lifeline for al-Qaeda and the Taliban to the outside world. One Ariana pilot will later recall, “I would see Arabs with [satellite] phones walking around the terminal, in touch with the Taliban at the highest levels.” On one occasion, he sees Taliban ruler Mullah Omar meeting in the middle of the airport with a rebel leader from Tajikistan, surrounded by aides. “There they were, cross-legged on their mats, chattering into cell phones.” [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 140] At this time, the Kandahar airport is being mainly used by Ariana Airlines, which has been completely co-opted by al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and aircraft companies controlled by international arms dealer Victor Bout (see 1998).

Entity Tags: Wail Alshehri, Waleed Alshehri, Mullah Omar, Khallad bin Attash, Ariana Airlines, Salem Alhazmi, Satam Al Suqami, Ahmed Alnami, Ahmed Alghamdi, Abdulaziz Alomari, Saeed Alghamdi, Majed Moqed, Mushabib al-Hamlan, Hamza Alghamdi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

New United Nations sanctions against Afghanistan take effect, adding to those from November 1999 (see November 14, 1999). The sanctions limit travel by senior Taliban authorities, freeze bin Laden’s and the Taliban’s assets, and order the closure of Ariana Airlines offices abroad. The sanctions also impose an arms embargo against the Taliban, but not against Northern Alliance forces battling the Taliban. [Associated Press, 12/19/2000] The arms embargo has no visible effect because the sanctions fail to stop Pakistani military assistance. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The sanctions also fail to stop the illegal trade network that the Taliban is secretly running through Ariana. Two companies, Air Cess and Flying Dolphin, take over most of Ariana’s traffic. Air Cess is owned by the Russian arms dealer Victor Bout (see Mid-1996-October 2001), and Flying Dolphin is owned by the United Arab Emirates’ former ambassador to the US, who is also an associate of Bout. In late 2000, despite reports linking Flying Dolphin to arms smuggling, the United Nations will give Flying Dolphin permission to take over Ariana’s closed routes, which it does until the new sanctions take effect. Bout’s operations are still functioning and he has not been arrested. [Los Angeles Times, 1/20/2002; Gazette (Montreal), 2/5/2002] Ariana will essentially be destroyed in the October 2001 US bombing of Afghanistan. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001]

Entity Tags: United Nations, Victor Bout, Ariana Airlines, Osama bin Laden, Flying Dolphin, Air Cess, Northern Alliance, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Four members of the American delegation to the “First Conference on Jerusalem” (from right to left): Ahmed Yusef, Abdurrahman Alamoudi, Yaser Bushnaq, and Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad.Four members of the American delegation to the “First Conference on Jerusalem” (from right to left): Ahmed Yusef, Abdurrahman Alamoudi, Yaser Bushnaq, and Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad. [Source: Minaret of Freedom Institute] (click image to enlarge)Hundreds of the world’s most extreme Islamic militants attend an unprecedented conference in Beirut, Lebanon called “The First Conference on Jerusalem.” Participants include leaders of al-Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and militants from Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, Algeria, Sudan, Qatar, and Yemen. The conference is held with the purpose of uniting militant groups for holy war against Israel and the US. The participants create a new organization called “the Jerusalem Project,” with the goal of winning total Muslim control over Jerusalem. The participants produce a document which calls for a boycott on US and Israeli products and states, “The only decisive option to achieve this strategy [to regain Jerusalem] is the option of jihad [holy war] in all its forms and resistance… America today is a second Israel.” [Jerusalem Post, 6/22/2001; Fox News, 5/17/2002] At least four of the attendees come from the US. One of them, Abdurahman Alamoudi, is a prominent lobbyist in the US for Muslim causes. Yet there is no indication Alamoudi faces any investigation in the US after attending this conference. In fact, in June 2001, Alamoudi will apparently take part in a meeting with Vice President Cheney at the White House for a briefing on the Bush administration’s domestic and foreign policies of interest to the American Muslim community. [Jerusalem Post, 6/22/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 3/11/2003; Minaret of Freedom Institute, 2/8/2005] Another participant in the conference is Ahmad Huber, a director of the Al Taqwa Bank, which will be shut down in the months after 9/11 for suspected terrorism ties. Huber is known for his connections to both neo-Nazi and radical Muslim groups (see 1988). After 9/11, Huber will claim that he met some al-Qaeda leaders in this conference and will praise them for being “very discreet, well-educated, and very intelligent people.” [Financial Times, 11/8/2001; Playboy, 2/1/2002] Huber says that in the five years before 9/11, the bin Laden family sponsors Al Taqwa’s attendance at several international Muslim conferences, possibily including this one. He nonetheless claims the family is estranged from Osama bin Laden. [Le Monde (Paris), 5/3/2002] It has not been reported if Alamoudi met with Huber or any al-Qaeda leaders while at the conference. Alamoudi will later be sentenced to 23 years in prison in the US for illegal dealings with Libya (see October 15, 2004).

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jerusalem Project, Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Air Cess, Ahmad Huber, Al Taqwa Bank, Ariana Airlines, Abdurahman Alamoudi, Hamas, Bin Laden Family

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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