This page can be viewed at http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=ayman_al-zawahiri
a.k.a. Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri, Ayman Rabi' El-Zawahri, Ayman al-Zawahri
In June 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon and US Marines were sent to Lebanon as a peacekeeping force in September 1982. On April 18, 1983, the US embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, is bombed by a suicide truck attack, killing 63 people. On October 23, 1983, a Marine barracks in Beirut is bombed by another suicide truck attack, killing 241 Marines. In February 1984, the US military will depart Lebanon. The radical militant group Islamic Jihad will take credit for both attacks (note that this is not the group led by Ayman al-Zawahiri). The group is believed to be linked to Hezbollah. Prior to this year, attacks of this type were rare. But the perceived success of these attacks in getting the US to leave Lebanon will usher in a new era of suicide attacks around the world. The next two years in particular will see a wave of such attacks in the Middle East, many of them committed by the radical militant group Hezbollah. (US Congress 7/24/2003; US Congress 7/24/2003 ) The Beirut bombings will also inspire Osama bin Laden to believe that the US can be defeated by suicide attacks. For instance, he will say in a 1998 interview: “We have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weakness of the American soldier who is ready to wage Cold Wars and unprepared to fight long wars. This was proven in Beirut when the Marines fled after two explosions.” (Laden 5/28/1998) In 1994, he will hold a meeting with a top Hezbollah leader (see Shortly After February 1994) and arrange for some of his operatives to be trained in the truck bombing techniques that were used in Beirut. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 48)
William Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut, is kidnapped by militants who claim to be part of a mysterious organization they call Islamic Jihad. Buckley will die in June 1985, after 15 months of captivity, neglect, and torture. The CIA will not acknowledge his death until 1987. His body will not be returned to the US until December 1991. Buckley’s captivity, and that of at least five other American hostages, will be cited as one of the precipitating factors in the Iran-Contra arms deals. (PBS 2000; Arlington Cemetery (.net) 4/23/2006) (Note: Some sources cite the date of his capture as March 16, not March 3.) (New York Times 11/19/1987) It remains unclear exactly who Buckley’s captors are. This “Islamic Jihad” organization is not the same group as is later led by Sunni militant Ayman al-Zawahiri, nor is it the Palestinian organization of the same name. In the 2001 book Sacred Rage, author Robin B. Wright notes that a group spokesman claims, “We are neither Iranians, Syrians nor Palestinians, but Muslims who follow the precepts of the Koran.” Wright calls the organization “a mysterious group about which nothing was known” except for its “pro-Iranian” ideology, probably “more of an information network for a variety of cells or movements rather than a cohesive or structured independent group of extremists.” (Wright 2001, pp. 73, 85) New Yorker reporter Jeffrey Goldberg later writes that he believes the organization is either a precursor to the Lebanese militant organization Hezbollah or a more violent adjunct to that organization. (Goldberg 10/14/2002)
By the mid-1980s, Osama bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam jointly founded a charity front based in Pakistan which is called Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) (which means “services office”) and is also known as Al-Kifah (which means “struggle”) (see 1984). Branches start to open in the US; the first one apparently opens in Tucson, Arizona, where al-Qaeda has a sleeper cell (see 1986). But around 1986, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, the right hand man of double agent Ali Mohamed, informally founds the branch in Brooklyn, New York, and it soon becomes the most important US branch. (Weiser, Sachs, and Kocieniewski 10/22/1998; Burr and Collins 2006, pp. 269-270) On December 29, 1987, three men, Mustafa Shalabi, Fawaz Damra, and Ali Shinawy, formally file papers incorporating Al-Kifah, which is called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. At first, it is located inside the Al Farouq mosque, which is led by Damra. But eventually it will get it own office space next to the mosque. Shalabi, a naturalized citizen from Egypt, runs the office with two assistants: Mahmud Abouhalima, who will later be convicted for a role in bombing the World Trade Center in 1993 (see February 26, 1993), and El Sayyid Nosair, who will assassinate a Jewish leader in New York in 1990 (see November 5, 1990). (Mitchell 4/11/1993; Hosenball 10/1/2001; Sullivan, Garrett, and Rutchick 11/4/2001) Jamal al-Fadl, a founding member of al-Qaeda and future FBI informant (see June 1996-April 1997), also works at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in its early days. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 155) The Brooklyn office recruits Arab immigrants and Arab-Americans to go fight in Afghanistan, even after the Soviets withdraw in early 1989. As many as 200 are sent there from the office. Before they go, the office arranges training in the use of rifles, assault weapons, and handguns, and then helps them with visas, plane tickets, and contacts. They are generally sent to the MAK/Al-Kifah office in Peshawar, Pakistan, and then connected to either the radical Afghan faction led by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf or the equally radical one led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. (Mitchell 4/11/1993) The CIA has some murky connection to Al-Kifah that has yet to be fully explained. Newsweek will later say the Brooklyn office “doubled as a recruiting post for the CIA seeking to steer fresh troops to the mujaheddin” fighting in Afghanistan. At the same time, the Brooklyn office is where “veterans of [the Afghan war arrived] in the United States—many with passports arranged by the CIA.” (Hosenball 10/1/2001) Robert I. Friedman, writing for New York magazine, will comment that the Brooklyn office was a refuge for ex- and future mujaheddin, “But the highlight for the center’s regulars were the inspirational jihad lecture series, featuring CIA-sponsored speakers.… One week on Atlantic Avenue, it might be a CIA-trained Afghan rebel traveling on a CIA-issued visa; the next, it might be a clean-cut Arabic-speaking Green Beret, who would lecture about the importance of being part of the mujaheddin, or ‘warriors of the Lord.’ The more popular lectures were held upstairs in the roomier Al-Farouq Mosque; such was the case in 1990 when Sheikh [Omar] Abdul-Rahman, traveling on a CIA-supported visa, came to town.” One frequent instructor is double agent Ali Mohamed, who is in the US Special Forces at the time (see 1987-1989). Bin Laden’s mentor Azzam frequently visits and lectures in the area. In 1988, he tells “a rapt crowd of several hundred in Jersey City, ‘Blood and martyrdom are the only way to create a Muslim society.… However, humanity won’t allow us to achieve this objective, because all humanity is the enemy of every Muslim.’” (Friedman 3/17/1995) Ayman Al-Zawahiri, future Al-Qaeda second in command, makes a recruiting trip to the office in 1989 (see Spring 1993). (Wright 9/9/2002) The Brooklyn office also raises a considerable amount of money for MAK/Al-Kifah back in Pakistan. The Independent will later call the office “a place of pivotal importance to Operation Cyclone, the American effort to support the mujaheddin. The Al-Kifah [Refugee Center was] raising funds and, crucially, providing recruits for the struggle, with active American assistance.” (Marshall 11/1/1998) Abdul-Rahman, better known as the “Blind Sheikh,” is closely linked to bin Laden. In 1990, he moves to New York on another CIA-supported visa (see July 1990) and soon dominates the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. Shalabi has a falling out with him over how to spend the money they raise and he is killed in mysterious circumstances in early 1991, completing Abdul-Rahman’s take over. Now, both the Brooklyn and Pakistan ends of the Al-Kifah/MAK network are firmly controlled by bin Laden and his close associates. In 1998, the US government will say that al-Qaeda’s “connection to the United States evolved from the Al-Kifah Refugee Center.” Yet there is no sign that the CIA stops its relationship with the Brooklyn office before it closes down shortly after the 1993 WTC bombing. (Weiser, Sachs, and Kocieniewski 10/22/1998)
Islamic Jihad, headed by future al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri from around 1987, receives some of the money the CIA spends on helping radical Islamist fighters against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. It is unclear whether the money is paid to the group directly or through an intermediary, or how much money the group receives from the CIA. (Burke 1/17/1999)
In the mid-1980’s, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, an Egyptian medical student, joins the militant group Islamic Jihad, and also meets Ali Mohamed. Mohamed convinces el-Dahab to move to the US and become a sleeper cell agent. El-Dahab does so in 1987, moving to Santa Clara, California, where Mohamed has a residence. El-Dahab marries an American woman, becomes a US citizen, and gets a job at a computer company. In 1987, a female acquaintance of el-Dahab enters his apartment unannounced and finds several men there cleaning rifles. She decides it is something she does not want to know about, and breaks off contact with him. In 1990, Mohamed and el-Dahab travel together to Afghanistan. They are financially supported by a network of US sympathizers, including two Egyptian-American doctors. Beginning in 1990, El-Dahab’s apartment becomes an important communications hub for al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad cells all over the world. For much of the 1990’s, the Egyptian government cut direct phone links to countries like Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan or Pakistan in an effort to disrupt communications between radical militants. So Dahab acts as a telephone operator for the Islamic Jihad network, using a three-way calling feature to connect operatives in far-flung countries. He communicates with bin Laden’s base in Sudan (where bin Laden lives until 1996). He receives phone calls from the likes of Islamic Jihad leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who also visits California twice (see Spring 1993; Late 1994 or 1995). He distributes forged documents and makes money transfers. He is trained to make booby-trapped letters, enrolls in a US flight school to learn how to fly gliders and helicopters, and recruits additional US sleeper agents (see Mid-1990s). He helps translate US army manuals and topographical maps into Arabic for al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad training. El-Dahab will move to Egypt in 1998 and get arrested in October of that year. He will confess his role in all of this in an Egyptian trial in 1999. The Egyptian government will sentence him to 15 years in prison (see 1999). (Sachs and Kifner 10/23/2001; London Times 11/11/2001; Williams 11/21/2001; Martin and Berens 12/11/2001)
Osama bin Laden conducts two meetings to discuss “the establishment of a new military group,” according to notes that will be found later. Notes will reveal the group is initially called al-Qaeda al-Askariya, which roughly translates to “the military base.” But the name will soon shorten to just al-Qaeda, meaning “the base” or “the foundation.” (Solomon 2/19/2003; Wright 2006, pp. 131-134) With the Soviets in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan, it is proposed to create the new group to keep military jihad, or holy war, alive after the Soviets are gone. The notes don’t specify what the group will do exactly, but they conclude, “Initial estimate, within six months of al-Qaeda [founding], 314 brothers will be trained and ready.” In fact, al-Qaeda will remain smaller than this for years to come. Fifteen people attend these two initial meetings. (Wright 2006, pp. 131-134) In addition to bin Laden, other attendees include:
Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the head of the Egyptian militant group Islamic Jihad. (Wright 9/9/2002)
Mohammed Atef, a.k.a. Abu Hafs.
Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, a.k.a. Abu Hajer.
Wael Hamza Julaidan.
Mohammed Loay Bayazid, a US citizen, who is notetaker for the meetings. (Wright 2006, pp. 131-134)
Al-Fadl will reveal details about the meetings to US investigators in 1996 (see June 1996-April 1997). Notes to the meeting will be found in Bosnia in early 2002. (Wright 9/9/2002) It will take US intelligence years even to realize a group named al-Qaeda exists; the first known incidence of US intelligence being told the name will come in 1993 (see May 1993).
In July 1991, the criminal BCCI bank is shut down (see July 5, 1991), and Osama bin Laden apparently loses some of his fortune held in BCCI accounts as a result (see July 1991). But while bin Laden loses money, he and his future second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri gain influence. Other Islamist militants have been heavily relying on BCCI for their finances, and in the wake of BCCI’s collapse they are forced to bank elsewhere. Author Roland Jacquard will later claim that “following [the bank’s closure], funds [are] transferred from BCCI to banks in Dubai, Jordan, and Sudan controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. Some of the money [is] handed back to organizations such as the FIS [a political party in Algeria]. Another portion [is] transferred by Ayman al-Zawahiri to Switzerland, the Netherlands, London, Antwerp, and Malaysia.” (Jacquard 2002, pp. 129) Author Adam Robinson will come to similar conclusions, noting that when BCCI collapses bin Laden has just moved to Sudan, which is ruled by Hassan al-Turabi, who has similar Islamist views to bin Laden. Robinson writes, “Without a system by which money could be transferred around the world invisibly, it would be relatively simple for terrorist funds to be traced. Dealing with this crisis fell to al-Turabi. In desperation he turned to Osama.… The future of the struggle could come to rest on Osama’s shoulders.” Over the next several months, bin Laden and a small team of financial experts work on a plan to replace the functions of BCCI. Bin Laden already knows many of the main Islamist backers from his experience in the Afghan war. “During the summer of 1991 he discreetly made contact with many of the wealthiest of these individuals, especially those with an international network of companies.… Within months, Osama unveiled before an astonished al-Turabi what he called ‘the Brotherhood Group.’” This is apparently a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. Robinson says this group is made up of 134 Arab businessmen with a collective wealth of many billions of dollars. The network will effectively replace BCCI for Islamist militants. (Robinson 2001, pp. 138-139) A French report shortly after 9/11 will confirm that bin Laden’s network largely replaces BCCI (see October 10, 2001). Right around this time, bin Laden is seen at the London estate of Khalid bin Mahfouz, one of the major investors in BCCI (see (1991)).
Ali Mohamed returns to fight in Afghanistan, even though the Soviets have been defeated and the country is now involved in civil war. He trains rebel commanders in military tactics. This is just one of many such trips, as he later will confess spending several months out of each year training operatives overseas for most of the 1990’s. (Weiser and Risen 12/1/1998; Williams and McCormick 9/21/2001; Williams and McCormick 10/11/2001) US prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will later say of Mohamed’s visits to Afghanistan, “Mohamed did not [make a loyalty pledge] to al-Qaeda but he trained most of al-Qaeda’s top leadership—including bin Laden and [Ayman] al-Zawahiri—and most of al-Qaeda’s top trainers. Mohamed taught surveillance, counter-surveillance, assassinations, kidnapping, codes, ciphers and other intelligence techniques.” (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004) FBI agent Jack Cloonan will later say that in addition to bin Laden, others who attend Mohamed’s course are Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, al-Qaeda’s first military commander, and Mohammed Atef, its second military commander. (Lance 2006, pp. 104-105) During this 1992 trip he teaches intelligence tradecraft, later admitting, “I taught my trainees how to create cell structures that could be used for operations.” Also around this time, he is detained by Italian authorities at the Rome airport when airport security discovers his luggage has false compartments. He is let go after convincing the Italians that he is fighting terrorists. (Weiser and Risen 12/1/1998; Williams and McCormick 9/21/2001; Williams and McCormick 10/11/2001) Mohamed will regularly return to Afghanistan in years to come, as part of at least 58 trips overseas leaving from the US. (Martin and Berens 12/11/2001) Nabil Sharef, a university professor and former Egyptian intelligence officer, will say, “For five years he was moving back and forth between the US and Afghanistan. It’s impossible the CIA thought he was going there as a tourist. If the CIA hadn’t caught on to him, it should be dissolved and its budget used for something worthwhile.” (Waldman 11/26/2001)
Al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri is said to visit Bosnia many times from around this date. A prominent Muslim Bosnian politician later claims that al-Zawahiri visited mujaheddin camps in central Bosnia as early as September 1992. The Egyptian government, which considers al-Zawahiri an important enemy, claims al-Zawahiri is running several mujaheddin operations in Bosnia through charity fronts. They also claim he meets regularly with Bosnian Muslim politicians in Sarajevo. He is further said to occasionally meet with Iranian government representatives to discuss the war in Bosnia, as Iran is supplying weapons to the Bosnian Muslims. (Schindler 2007, pp. 123, 141) Anwar Shaaban, a radical imam leading the Bosnian mujaheddin effort from Milan, Italy (see Late 1993-1994), remains in regular contact with al-Zawahiri, according to Italian intelligence. (Schindler 2007, pp. 164) In 1993, bin Laden reportedly puts al-Zawahiri in charge of the organization’s operations in the Balkans. (Taylor 12/15/2001) By 1994, al-Zawahiri will settle in Bulgaria to manage operations in Bosnia and the rest of the Balkan region (see September 1994-1996).
Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of Islamic Jihad and Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, sends his brother Mohammed al-Zawahiri to the Balkans to help run the mujaheddin fighters in Bosnia. He is known as a logistics expert and is said to be the military commander of Islamic Jihad. Mohammed works in Bosnia, Croatia, and Albania under the cover of being an International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) official. He is said to make an extended stay in central Bosnia, where most of the mujaheddin are based, in 1993. He sets up an Islamic Jihad cell in Albania with over a dozen members to support the mujaheddin in Bosnia. (Wright 9/9/2002; Schindler 2007, pp. 123) Ayman also frequently visits Bosnia (see September 1992 and After) and by 1994 will move to Bulgaria to presumably work with Mohammed to manage operations in the Balkans region (see September 1994-1996).
In 1993, the membership director for Islamic Jihad is arrested in Egypt. At the time, Islamic Jihad is a mostly Egyptian-based militant group led by Ayman al-Zawahiri and loosely working with al-Qaeda. It has a blind cell structure so members in one cell do not know members in another. But the membership director has a computer file with the names, addresses, and potential hideouts of every member. As a result, about 800 members are arrested and jailed in Egypt, effectively decimating the group there. Most of the remaining members are in scattered cells in other countries. The group is nearly broke as well, and most members go on the al-Qaeda payroll at this time, since Osama bin Laden has lots of money. Al-Zawahiri will later confide to a friend that joining with bin Laden had been “the only solution to keeping the [Islamic] Jihad organization alive.” In November 1993, while the trials against the 800 arrested members in Egypt are going on, the group attempts to strike back by assassinating Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Sidqi. A car bomb explodes as he drives past a girls’ school in Cairo. Sidqi is unhurt, but a young girl is killed and 21 other people are injured. The girl’s death outrages the Egyptian public to a surprising degree, strongly damaging the group’s reputation in Egypt. This drives Islamic Jihad even closer to al-Qaeda, which has an international focus instead of an Egyptian focus. (Wright 2006, pp. 184-186)
Ali Mohamed helps Ayman al-Zawahiri enter the US for a fundraising tour and acts as his head of security during his stay. At the time, al-Zawahiri is known to have been the head of the militant group Islamic Jihad since the late 1980’s. He is also al-Qaeda’s de facto number two leader, though this is not widely known. This is apparently his second visit to the US; having previously paid a recruiting visit to the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn in 1989 (see 1986-1993). The exact timing of this second visit is disputed, but New Yorker magazine will report that “people at the FBI” assert “al-Zawahiri arrived in America shortly after the first bombing of the World Trade Center” in February 1993. Al-Zawahiri stays at Mohamed’s residence in Santa Clara, California, posing as a representative of a charity organization. It is said that not much money is raised. (Wright 9/9/2002) Al-Zawahiri will make another apparently more successful fundraising trip to the US in either late 1994 or sometime in 1995 (see Late 1994 or 1995).
In late 1993, the FBI discovers that WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef used a mosque in Milan, Italy, known as the Islamic Cultural Institute, as a logistical base (see Late 1993-1994). The Italian government begins investigating the mosque and soon discovers that it is the main European headquarters for Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, a radical Egyptian militant group, and is also the logistical base for mujaheddin traveling to fight in Bosnia. The mosque is run by Anwar Shaaban, who has a close working relationship with Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, and who also stays in regular contact with al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. Shaaban runs a training camp thirty miles outside of Milan where fighters heading to Bosnia can practice using weapons and explosives. The mosque also helps smuggle men, money, and weapons to Bosnia. (Schindler 2007, pp. 163-164) On June 25, 1995, Italian police raid the mosque and over 70 other locations in northern Italy. Seventeen people are indicted and eleven of them are arrested, but that is only a fraction of the hundreds investigated. Inside the mosque, police find forgery tools, letters to wanted radicals around the world, and hundreds of false documents. Plots to bomb targets in other countries and a US target elsewhere in Italy are averted. Shaaban escapes arrest, as he had already left the country, but he is killed in Croatia a short time later (see December 14, 1995). (Willan 6/26/1995; Vidino 2006, pp. 216-218) But the Islamic Cultural Institute will soon reopen and continue to be a focal point for radical militants in Europe. It will be linked the 9/11 attacks and other violent plots (see Late 1998-September 11, 2001).
Shortly after 9/11, unnamed FBI agents will tell a British newspaper that bin Laden stayed in London for several months in 1994. He was already wanted by the US, but “confusion at British intelligence agencies allowed him to slip away.” However, it may not simply have been confusion as British intelligence has a history of not acting on radical Muslim militants in Britain. One Israeli intelligence source will tell the same newspaper, “We know they come and go as they like in Britain. In the past our government has remonstrated with the Home Office but nothing has happened.” (Gardner 9/16/2001) A US Congressional Research Service report completed shortly before 9/11 will similarly conclude that bin Laden visited London in 1994. He lived for a few months in Wembley establishing his de facto press office called the Advice and Reformation Committee (ARC), headed by Khalid al-Fawwaz (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998). (MacAskill, Norton-Taylor, and Borger 9/14/2001) The book Bin Laden: Behind the Mask of the Terrorist by Adam Robinson will also state that bin Laden visits London for three months in early 1994, buying a house near Harrow Road in Wembley through an intermediary. The house will continued to be used by ARC long after he leaves. Bin Laden even attends a football (soccer) game at Arsenal. (Robinson 2001, pp. 167-168; BBC 11/11/2001) There are reports that bin Laden visits Britain at other times (see Early 1990s-Late 1996) and even considers applying for political asylum there in 1995 (see Late 1995). Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, is also “said to have lived in Britain for a time after fleeing Cairo, [Egypt, in the 1980s,] but [British ministers] refused Egypt’s request to arrest and extradite him.” (McGrory 9/24/2001)
Al-Qaeda deputy head Ayman al-Zawahiri spends time in Yemen and holds meetings there. Yemen is favorably inclined towards militants, due to the help they provided to the winning side in the 1994 civil war (see May 21-July 7, 1994 and After July 1994). Al-Zawahiri holds Islamic Jihad meetings at the Youth House, a government-run hall in the capital of Sana’a, according to confessions presented at a 1999 Cairo trial (see 1999). A defector will later reveal where al-Zawahiri is staying in Yemen to the local authorities, but the authorities, who sympathize with radical Islam, tip off al-Zawahiri and he escapes to Afghanistan (see Spring-Summer 1998). (Higgins and Cullison 12/20/2002) Al-Zawahiri is also reported to be in Yemen in the summer of 2001 (see Late July-August 2001).
In 1996 it will be reported that the Egyptian government has been investigating Ayman al-Zawahiri and has determined he has been living in Sofia, Bulgaria, since September 1994 under an alias. Al-Zawahiri, head of Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, is considered one of Egypt’s top enemies. The Egyptians pass on details of al-Zawahiri’s whereabouts to the Bulgarian government, but Bulgaria has no extradition treaty with Egypt and he is not believed to have broken any Bulgarian laws. Al-Zawahiri is living there mainly to help manage the mujaheddin effort in nearby Bosnia. Prior to that, it is believed he mostly lived in Switzerland for about a year. (BBC 2/29/1996; Intelligence Newsletter 3/21/1996) A Wall Street Journal article will later claim that al-Zawahiri was in charge of al-Qaeda’s Balkans operations, running training camps, money-laundering, and drug running networks in the region. Supposedly there was an “elaborate command-and-control center” in Sofia, Bulgaria. (Kurop 1/11/2001) His brother Mohammed al-Zawahiri also helps manage operations in the region, mostly from a base in Albania (see 1993). With the war in Bosnia over, Ayman al-Zawahiri will attempt to enter Chechnya in late 1996, only to be arrested and held by the Russians (see December 1, 1996-June 1997).
Ali Mohamed helps Ayman al-Zawahiri enter the US for another fundraising tour and acts as his head of security during his stay. At the time, al-Zawahiri is known to have been the head of the militant group Islamic Jihad since the late 1980’s. He is also al-Qaeda’s de facto number two leader, though this is not widely known. This is apparently his third visit to the US after recruiting and fundraising trips in 1989 and 1993 (see Spring 1993) . (Wright 9/9/2002) Al-Zawahiri travels on a passport forged by Mohamed and uses a false name. He pretends to be a doctor for a charity raising money for refugees in Afghanistan, but in fact raises money for his Islamic Jihad group. Some donors know his true purpose, and others do not. According to one security expert, he is also in the US “to see whom he could recruit here, what could be done here—preparing the establishment of a base.” Mohamed and Khaled Abu el-Dahab (see 1987-1998), the two known members of a Santa Clara, California, based al-Qaeda sleeper cell, host al-Zawahiri in Santa Clara and escort him to nearby mosques in Santa Clara, Stockton, and Sacramento. (Williams and McCormick 10/11/2001; Martin and Berens 12/11/2001) He spends weeks in the US, traveling to other states such as Texas and New York to raise money from mosques there as well. He raises as much as $500,000. El-Dahab is later told some of the money collected is used later in the year to fund bombing of Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, killing 17 diplomats (see November 19, 1995). (Williams and McCormick 10/11/2001) Accounts on the timing of the trip are vague, and differ as to whether it took place in late 1994 or some time in 1995. Perhaps coincidentally, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, is arrested in mid-December 1994 in Morgan Hill, California, approximately 30 miles from Santa Clara. The FBI finds and quickly translates literature in Khalifa’s luggage advocating training in assassination, explosives, and weapons, bombing churches, and murdering Catholic priests, but seemingly inexplicably, they deport him a few months later (see December 16, 1994-May 1995). Two directors of President Clinton’s National Security Council’s counterterrorism team later will claim that they did not learn of al-Zawahiri’s trips until 1999, and even then they only learned about it by accident and were unable to get the FBI to reveal any more about the trips (see 1999).
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak arrives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to attend the Organization of African Unity summit. Less than an hour after his arrival, Islamist militants attack his motorcade. Gunmen shoot at his limousine, but the grenade launcher they have malfunctions. Ethiopian soldiers kill five of the assassins and capture three more, while two of Mubarak’s bodyguards are killed. A second ambush is planned further down the road, but the motorcade turns around, probably saving Mubarak’s life. Investigators determine that the Egyptian-based militant groups Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and Islamic Jihad worked with al-Qaeda on the plot. The leader of the plot was Mustafa Hamza, a leader in both al-Qaeda and Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. Ayman al-Zawahiri was also involved, and personally inspected the planned killing ground. The Sudanese intelligence agency also assisted. For instance, the weapons were smuggled into the country through the Sudanese embassy. Ethiopia and Egypt charge the government of Sudan with complicity in the attack. Bin Laden is living openly in Sudan at the time. Egyptian officials privately tell US intelligence they believe Osama bin Laden funded the attack, and the US agrees. The US contemplates attacking bin Laden in Sudan, but decides against it (see Shortly After June 26, 1995). (MSNBC 5/2005; Wright 2006, pp. 213-214) In 1998, Hamza will become overall head of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, running it while in hiding outside of Egypt. In late 2004, he will be extradited from Iran to stand trial in Egypt (see Spring 2002). (Reuters 1/9/2005)
Talaat Fouad Qassem, 38, a known leader of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Group), an Egyptian extremist organization, is arrested and detained in Croatia as he travels to Bosnia from Denmark, where he has been been living after being granted political asylum. He is suspected of clandestine support of terrorist operations, including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993). He also allegedly led mujaheddin efforts in Bosnia since 1990 (see 1990). In a joint operation, he is arrested by Croatian intelligence agents and handed over to the CIA. Qassem is then interrogated by US officials aboard a US ship off the Croatian coast in the Adriatic Sea and sent to Egypt, which has a rendition agreement with the US (see Summer 1995). An Egyptian military tribunal has already sentenced him to death in absentia, and he is executed soon after he arrives. (Olsen 10/31/1995; Chandrasekaran and Finn 3/11/2002, pp. A01; Mahle 2005, pp. 204-205; Mayer 2/8/2005) According to the 1999 book Dollars for Terror, two weeks before his abduction, Qassem was in Switzerland negotiating against Muslim Brotherhood leaders. Some Muslim Brotherhood exiles were negotiating with the Egyptian government to be allowed to return to Egypt if they agreed not to use Muslim Brotherhood Swiss bank accounts to fund Egyptian militant groups like Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, but Qassem and other radicals oppose this deal. So the removal of Qassem helps the Muslim Brotherhood in their conflict with more militant groups. (Labeviere 1999, pp. 70-71)
The Islamic Jihad blows up the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. Two cars filled with explosives crash through the embassy gates, killing the bombers and sixteen others. Ayman al-Zawahiri will later write in a book, “The bomb left the embassy’s ruined building as an eloquent and clear message.” Islamic Jihad is already closely tied to al-Qaeda by this time. (Wright 9/9/2002) The Egyptian government had recently dispatched up to 100 government agents to London with the task of eliminating militants opposed to the Egyptian government. The Independent will later report, “Sources in Cairo said that several of the dead embassy officials were working under cover as diplomats to help the Pakistani authorities track down” militants. In the wake of the attack, plans to send more Egyptian government agents to Pakistan to hunt militants in that region are scuttled. (Fisk 12/6/1995) Some of the money for the bombing operation was apparently raised by al-Zawahiri on a fundraising trip to the US (see Late 1994 or 1995). One suspect, a Canadian citizen named Ahmed Said Khadr, will be arrested in Pakistan a short time after the bombings. He will soon be released at the request of the Canadian prime minister, but will later be revealed to be a founding member of al-Qaeda (see January 1996-September 10, 2001).
Anwar Shaaban, an Islamist militant in charge of logistics for mujaheddin fighting in Bosnia, is killed in Croatia. Shaaban had been based at the Islamic Cultural Institute mosque in Milan, but managed to avoid arrest when it was raided (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995). On December 14, 1995, the same day a peace accord is signed ending the Bosnian war, Shaaban is killed by Croatian troops in what mujaheddin claim is an ambush. Shaaban’s diary is found, and it cites regular meetings between al-Qaeda leaders and leaders of the Bosnian Muslim government, including General Staff Chief Rasim Delic and Interior Minister Bakir Alispahic. (Schindler 2007, pp. 216-217) Shaaban, a leader of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya militant group, had been in regular contact with Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman and al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. (Schindler 2007, pp. 163-164)
Since Operation Bojinka was uncovered in the Philippines (see January 6, 1995), many of the plot’s major planners, including Ramzi Yousef, are found and arrested. One major exception is 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). He flees to Qatar in the Persian Gulf, where he has been living openly using his real name, enjoying the patronage of Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani, Qatar’s Interior Minister and a member of the royal family (see 1992-1996). (Ross and Scott 2/7/2003) He had accepted al-Thani’s invitation to live on his farm around 1992 (see 1992-1995). The CIA learned KSM was living in Qatar in 1995 after his nephew Ramzi Yousef attempted to call him there while in US custody (see After February 7, 1995-January 1996). The Sudanese government also tipped off the FBI that KSM was traveling to Qatar. Some CIA agents strongly urged action against KSM after his exact location in Qatar was determined, but no action was taken (see October 1995). In January 1996, KSM is indicted in the US for his role in the 1993 WTC bombing, and apparently this leads to an effort to apprehend him in Qatar that same month. FBI Director Louis Freeh sends a letter to the Qatari government asking for permission to send a team after him. (McDermott, Meyer, and McDonnell 12/22/2002) One of Freeh’s diplomatic notes states that KSM was involved in a conspiracy to “bomb US airliners” and is believed to be “in the process of manufacturing an explosive device.” (Hersh 5/27/2002) Qatar confirms that KSM is there and is making explosives, but they delay handing him over. After waiting several months, a high-level meeting takes place in Washington to consider a commando raid to seize him. However, the raid is deemed too risky, and another letter is sent to the Qatari government instead. One person at the meeting later states, “If we had gone in and nabbed this guy, or just cut his head off, the Qatari government would not have complained a bit. Everyone around the table for their own reasons refused to go after someone who fundamentally threatened American interests….” (McDermott, Meyer, and McDonnell 12/22/2002) Around May 1996, Mohammed’s patron al-Thani makes sure that Mohammed and four others are given blank passports and a chance to escape. A former Qatari police chief later says the other men include Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammed Atef, al-Qaeda’s number two and number three leaders, respectively (see Early 1998). (McDermott 9/1/2002; Ross and Scott 2/7/2003) In 1999, the New York Times will report that “Although American officials said they had no conclusive proof, current and former officials said they believed that the Foreign Minister [Sheik Hamed bin Jasim al-Thani] was involved, directly or indirectly” in tipping off KSM. (Risen and Weiser 7/8/1999) KSM will continue to occasionally use Qatar as a safe haven, even staying there for two weeks after 9/11 (see Late 2001).
Explosions destroy the Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 American soldiers and wounding 500. (CNN 6/26/1996) Saudi officials will later interrogate the suspects, declare them guilty, and execute them—without letting the FBI talk to them. (PBS Frontline 2001; Marlow 11/19/2001) Saudis will blame Hezbollah, the Iranian-influenced group, but US investigators will still believe Osama bin Laden was involved. (Seattle Times 10/29/2001) US intelligence will be listening when al-Qaeda’s number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri calls bin Laden two days after the bombing to congratulate him on the operation (see June 27, 1996). The New York Times will report that Mamoun Darkazanli, a suspected al-Qaeda financier with extensive ties to the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell, is involved in the attack. (Miller 9/25/2001; Tagliabue and Bonner 9/29/2001) Bin Laden will admit to instigating the attacks in a 1998 interview. (Rosenberg 9/24/2001) Ironically, the bin Laden family’s construction company will be awarded the contract to rebuild the installation. (Mayer and Szechenyi 11/5/2001) In 1997, Canada will catch one of the Khobar Towers attackers and extradite him to the US. However, in 1999, he will be shipped back to Saudi Arabia before he can reveal what he knows about al-Qaeda and the Saudis. One anonymous insider will call it “President Clinton’s parting kiss to the Saudis.” (Palast 2002, pp. 102) In June 2001, a US grand jury will indict 13 Saudis for the bombing. According to the indictment, Iran and Hezbollah were also involved in the attack. (US Congress 7/24/2003)
In 1999, a retired CIA official will claim that two days after the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia (see June 25, 1996), bin Laden is congratulated by colleagues about the bombing. Both Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda’s number two leader, and Ashra Hadi, head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, are monitored by the NSA as they call bin Laden. This helps confirm that bin Laden was being monitored while using his first satellite phone (see Early 1990s). It will be widely reported that he was monitored after he started using his second satellite phone later in 1996 (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Bin Laden does not exactly publicly take credit for the bombing, but later in the year he will say, “When I got the news about these blasts, I was very happy. This was a noble act. This was a great honor but, unfortunately, I did not conduct these explosions personally.” (Reeve 1999, pp. 187; Wright 9/9/2002)
During this period, Osama bin Laden uses a satellite phone to direct al-Qaeda’s operations. The phone—a Compact M satellite phone, about the size of a laptop computer—was purchased by a student in Virginia named Ziyad Khaleel for $7,500 using the credit card of a British man named Saad al-Fagih. After purchasing the phone, Khaleel sent it to Khalid al-Fawwaz, al-Qaeda’s unofficial press secretary in London (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998). Al-Fawwaz then shipped it to bin Laden in Afghanistan. (Hirschkorn 4/16/2001) It appears US intelligence actually tracks the purchase as it occurs (see November 1996-Late December 1999), probably because an older model satellite phone bin Laden has is already being monitored (see Early 1990s). Bin Laden’s phone (873682505331) is believed to be used by other top al-Qaeda leaders as well, including Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammad Atef. Al-Fawwaz also buys satellite phones for other top al-Qaeda leaders around the same time. Though the calls made on these phones are encrypted, the NSA is able to intercept and decrypt them. As one US official will put it in early 2001, “codes were broken.” (Sale 2/13/2001; Hosenball and Klaidman 2/18/2002) The Los Angeles Times will report that the monitoring of these phones “produced tens of thousands of pages of transcripts over two years.” (Braun et al. 10/14/2001) Bin Laden’s satellite phone replaces an older model he used in Sudan that apparently was also monitored by the NSA (see Early 1990s). Billing records for his new phone are eventually released to the media in early 2002. Newsweek will note, “A country-by-country analysis of the bills provided US authorities with a virtual road map to important al-Qaeda cells around the world.” (Fielding and Gadhery 3/24/2002) The countries called are:
Britain (238 or 260). Twenty-seven different phone numbers are called in Britain. Accounts differ on the exact number of calls. Khalid al-Fawwaz, who helps publish statements by bin Laden, receives 143 of the calls, including the very first one bin Laden makes with this phone. Apparently most of the remaining calls are made to pay phones near him or to his associates. He also frequently calls Ibrahim Eidarous, who works with al-Fawwaz and lives near him. (Hirschkorn 4/16/2001; Hosenball and Klaidman 2/18/2002; Fielding and Gadhery 3/24/2002; O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 111)
Yemen (221). Dozens of calls go to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, which is run by the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see Late August 1998). (Hosenball and Klaidman 2/18/2002; McDermott 9/1/2002; Bamford 2008, pp. 8)
Sudan (131). Bin Laden lived in Sudan until 1996 (see May 18, 1996), and some important al-Qaeda operatives remained there after he left (see February 5, 1998). (Fielding and Gadhery 3/24/2002)
Iran (106). Newsweek will later report: “US officials had little explanation for the calls to Iran. A Bush administration official said that US intelligence has believed for years that hard-line anti-American factions inside Iran helped bin Laden’s organization operate an ‘underground railroad’ smuggling Islamic militants to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.” (Hosenball and Klaidman 2/18/2002; Fielding and Gadhery 3/24/2002)
Azerbaijan (67). An important al-Qaeda operative appears to be based in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Loeb 5/2/2001) This is most likely Ahmad Salama Mabruk, who is very close to al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri and is said to be the head of the al-Qaeda cell there. He kidnapped by the CIA in Baku in late August 1998 (see Late August 1998).
Kenya (at least 56). In the embassy bombings trial, prosecutors introduce evidence showing 16 calls are made on this phone to some of the embassy bombers in Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), apparently all before a raid in August 1997 (see August 21, 1997). The defense introduces evidence showing at least 40 more calls are made after that time (see Late 1996-August 1998). (Hirschkorn 4/16/2001)
Saudi Arabia (57).
A ship in the Indian Ocean (13).
The US (6).
Senegal (2). (Fielding and Gadhery 3/24/2002)
Egypt (unknown). Newsweek reports that calls are made to Egypt but doesn’t say how many. (Hosenball and Klaidman 2/18/2002)
Iraq (0). Press reports note that the records indicate zero calls were made to Iraq. (Hosenball and Klaidman 2/18/2002; Fielding and Gadhery 3/24/2002) 1,100 total calls are made on this phone. Adding up the above numbers means that the destination of over 100 calls is still unaccounted for. (Hosenball and Klaidman 2/18/2002) The use of this phone stops two months after the August 1998 embassy bombings in Africa. However, it appears bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders continue to use other satellite phones occasionally after this time. Shortly after 9/11, James Bamford, an expert authority on the agency, says “About a year or so ago the NSA lost all track of him.… He may still use [satellite phones] occasionally to talk about something mundane, but he discovered that the transmitters can be used for honing.” (Sieberg 9/21/2001) According to a different account, bin Laden will attempt to use a different phone communication method, but US intelligence will soon discover it and continue monitoring his calls (see Late 1998 and After).
Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of Islamic Jihad and effective number two leader of al-Qaeda, travels to Chechnya with two associates. His associates are Ahmad Salama Mabruk, head of Islamic Jihad’s cell in Azerbaijan, and Mahmud Hisham al-Hennawi, a well-traveled militant. Chechnya was fighting to break free from Russian rule and achieved a cease-fire and de facto independence earlier in the year (see August 1996). Al-Zawahiri hopes to establish new connections there. However, on December 1, 1996, he and his associates are arrested by Russian authorities as they try to cross into Chechnya. Al-Zawahiri is carrying four passports, none showing his real identity. The Russians confiscate al-Zawahiri’s laptop and send it to Moscow for analysis, but apparently they never translate the Arabic documents on it that could reveal who he really is. Though some Russian investigators suspect al-Zawahiri is a “big fish,” they cannot prove it. He and his two associates are released after six months. (Higgins and Cullison 7/2/2002; Wright 2006, pp. 249-250) Later in December 1996, Canadian intelligence learns that Mabruk at least is being held. They know his real identity, but apparently do not share this information with Russia (see December 13, 1996-June 1997). Author Lawrence Wright will later comment: “This fiasco had a profound consequence. With even more defectors from [Islamic Jihad during al-Zawahiri’s unexplained absence] and no real source of income, Zawahiri had no choice but to join bin Laden” in Afghanistan. Prior to this arrest, al-Zawahiri had been traveling all over the world and earlier in 1996 he apparently lived in Switzerland and Sarajevo, Bosnia. But afterwards he remains in Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden until the 9/11 attacks. As a result, Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda will grow even closer until they completely merge a few months before 9/11 (see June 2001). (Wright 2006, pp. 249-250)
On December 13, 1996, Mahmoud Jaballah, an Islamic Jihad member living in Canada, is told that Ahmad Salama Mabruk, a member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council, has been “hospitalized.” Canadian intelligence has been closely monitoring Jaballah since 1996, and it intercepts this call as well. This is actually a reference to the fact that Mabruk has been imprisoned in Russia. Mabruk has actually been arrested along with top Islamic Jihad leader Ayman al-Zawahiri near Chechnya earlier in the month, but they are both using aliases and it appears the Russian authorities have no idea who they really are or that they have any militant ties (see December 1, 1996-June 1997). However, over the next months, Canadian intelligence continues to monitor Jaballah as he collects $15,000, raised through his network of Canadian contacts, to help free Mabruk. Apparently this is a bribe. He coordinates these efforts with Thirwat Salah Shehata, another member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council, who is in Azerbaijan close to where Mabruk and al-Zawahiri have been arrested. The Russian government frees Mabruk and al-Zawahiri in June 1997. Since the Canadian government were aware of Mabruk’s real identity and that Jaballah was trying to free him, it is unknown why Canada did not alert Russia that they were holding an important terrorist leader, which might have alerted Russia to al-Zawahiri’s real identity as well. (Canadian Security Intelligence Service 2/22/2008 )
Fifty-eight foreign tourists are killed in Luxor, Egypt. Six radical militants attack an ancient Egyptian temple with machine guns before finally being killed by Egyptian police. The attack is the peak of a campaign to destroy the Egyptian tourism industry that had begun five years before. Thirty-four foreigners and 1,200 Egyptians were killed in the previous attacks. Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Group) takes credit for the attack. This group was founded in the late 1970s by Sheik Omar Abdul-Rahman. The militants are ultimately hoping to destabilize the Egyptian economy and overthrow the government. However, the attacks backfire, alienating many Egyptians. This will be the last serious militant attack in Egypt before 9/11. (Jehl 11/18/1997; Ibrahim 11/18/1997; Gettleman 10/26/2001) The Egyptian militant group Islamic Jihad is also thought to be involved. In 1999, Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda’s second in command, will be convicted in absentia for his role in this attack and other attacks. (BBC 9/27/2004) Also in 1999, the Egyptian government will claim it has determined that bin Laden helped finance the attack. (Plett 5/13/1999)
Mahmoud Jaballah is an Islamic Jihad operative living in Canada and being closely monitored by Canadian intelligence (see May 11, 1996-August 2001). On April 1997, Islamic Jihad top leader (and al-Qaeda number two leader) Ayman al-Zawahiri contacts Jaballah, and the phone call is monitored by Canadian intelligence, which later mentions that Jaballah tells al-Zawahiri about his status in Canada. In February 1998, Jaballah is given al-Zawahiri’s satellite phone number. Canadian intelligence later claims the number is “subsequently contacted many times by Jaballah.” (Canadian Security Intelligence Service 2/22/2008 ) Presumably Canadian intelligence begins monitoring al-Zawahiri’s phone number by this time, but details about what they do, how long they are able to monitor the number, and how much they learn remain unknown.
Osama bin Laden issues a fatwa (religious edict), declaring it the religious duty of all Muslims “to kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military… in any country in which it is possible.” (Al-Quds al-Arabi (London) 2/23/1998; PBS Frontline 2001; Mackay 9/16/2001) This is an expansion of an earlier fatwa issued in August 1996, which called for attacks in the Arabian Peninsula only (see August 1996). Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of the Egyptian militant group Islamic Jihad, is one of many militant leaders who sign the fatwa. This reveals to the public an alliance between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad that has long been in effect. According to journalist Lawrence Wright, the fatwa was actually mostly written by al-Zawahiri the month before, even though it is released in bin Laden’s name only. (Some members of Islamic Jihad are upset by it and quit the group.) (Wright 2006, pp. 259-261) Also signing the fatwa are representatives from militant groups in Afghanistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen, Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya, Pakistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, the Philippines, Tajikistan, Chechnya, Bangladesh, Kashmir, Azerbaijan, and Palestine. All these representatives call themselves allied to the “International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders” (the name al-Qaeda has not been widely popularized yet). New York magazine will note, “The [fatwa gives] the West its first glimpse of the worldwide conspiracy that [is] beginning to form.” (Wright 9/9/2002) The fatwa is published by Khalid al-Fawwaz, who runs bin Laden’s European headquarters in London, and its publication is preceded by what authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory term a “barrage of calls” from bin Laden’s monitored satellite phone to al-Fawwaz. However, this does not motivate British authorities to take any action against al-Fawwaz. (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 111) In March 1998, 40 Afghan clerics issue a fatwa calling for a jihad against the US. A group of Pakistani clerics issues a similar fatwa in April. These fatwas give much more religious authority to bin Laden’s fatwa. It is suspected that bin Laden “discreetly prompted these two bodies to issue the ordinances.” (Gunaratna 2003, pp. 62-63) Bin Laden then will hold a press conference in May 1998 to publicize the fatwa (see May 26, 1998).
Ahmed Nasrallah, a veteran al-Qaeda operative who has been in Yemen for several years, decides to defect and turn himself in to the Yemeni government. He discloses the location of al-Qaeda strongholds in Yemen and even gives away the location of al-Qaeda’s deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a southern Yemeni town. He describes al-Qaeda’s weaponry, security, and violent plans for the future. He offers to spy on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan or on a militant Yemeni group led by Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, a relative of hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. (In 1999 Zein will be caught and executed in Yemen for kidnappings and killings.) However, two officials in the Political Security Organization (Yemen’s equivalent of the FBI) have radical militant ties and hand over Nasrallah to al-Qaeda operatives. These operatives plan to kill him for betraying their group, but he escapes to Egypt before they can do so. The Egyptian government then interrogates him for more than a year. However, it is not known what he told them before 9/11, or what they might have passed to the US. One of the two Yemeni officers helping al-Qaeda on this matter, Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, will be recorded by Italian intelligence in 2000 apparently mentioning the upcoming 9/11 attacks (see August 12, 2000). The other officer, Mohammed al-Surmi, is Deputy Chief of the PSO. (Higgins and Cullison 12/20/2002)
Bin Laden discusses “bringing the war home to America,” in a press conference from Khost, Afghanistan. (US Congress 9/18/2002) Bin Laden holds his first and only press conference to help publicize the fatwa he published several months before. Referring to the group that signed the fatwa, he says, “By God’s grace, we have formed with many other Islamic groups and organizations in the Islamic world a front called the International Islamic Front to do jihad against the crusaders and Jews.” He adds later, “And by God’s grace, the men… are going to have a successful result in killing Americans and getting rid of them.” (Robertson 8/20/2002) He also indicates the results of his jihad will be “visible” within weeks. (US Congress 7/24/2003) Two US embassies will be bombed in August (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Bin Laden sits next to Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammed Atef during the press conference. Two Pakistani journalists and one Chinese journalist attends. But event never gets wide exposure because no independent videotaping is allowed (however, in 2002 CNN will obtain video footage of the press conference seized after the US conquered Afghanistan in late 2001). Pakistani journalist Ismail Khan attends and will later recall, “We were given a few instructions, you know, on how to photograph and only take a picture of Osama and the two leaders who were going to sit close by him. Nobody else.” Two sons of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman attend and distribute what they claim is the will or fatwa of their father (see May 1998), who has been sentenced to life in prison in the US. Journalist Peter Bergen will later comment that the significance of the sons’ presence at the press conference “can’t be underestimated” because it allows bin Laden to benefit from Abdul-Rahman’s high reputation amongst radical militants. Bergen also later says the press conference is a pivotal moment for al-Qaeda. “They’re going public. They’re saying, ‘We’re having this war against the United States.’” (Robertson 8/20/2002) The specific comment by bin Laden about “bringing the war home to America” will be mentioned in the August 2001 memo given to President Bush entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001).
A joint surveillance operation conducted by the CIA and Albanian intelligence identifies an Islamic Jihad cell that is allegedly planning to bomb the US Embassy in Tirana, Albania’s capital. The cell was created in the early 1990s by Mohammed al-Zawahiri, brother of Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The operation intercepts lengthy discussions between the cell and Ayman. (Mayer 2/8/2005; Wright 2006, pp. 269) At the behest of the US government, Egypt, which is co-operating with the US over renditions (see Summer 1995), issues an arrest warrant for Shawki Salama Attiya, one of the militants in the cell. Albanian forces then arrest Attiya and four of the other suspected militants. A sixth suspect is killed, but two more escape. The men are taken to an abandoned airbase, where they are interrogated by the CIA, and then flown by a CIA-chartered plane to Cairo, Egypt, for further interrogation. The men are tortured after arriving in Egypt:
Ahmed Saleh is suspended from the ceiling and given electric shocks; he is later hanged for a conviction resulting from a trial held in his absence;
Mohamed Hassan Tita is hung from his wrists and given electric shocks to his feet and back;
Attiya is given electric shocks to his genitals, suspended by his limbs and made to stand for hours in filthy water up to his knees;
Ahmed al-Naggar is kept in a room for 35 days with water up to his knees, and has electric shocks to his nipples and penis; he is later hanged for an offence for which he was convicted in absentia;
Essam Abdel-Tawwab will also describe more torture for which prosecutors later find “recovered wounds.”
On August 5, 1998, a letter by Ayman al-Zawahiri will be published that threatens retaliation for the Albanian abductions (see August 5, 1998). Two US embassies in Africa will be bombed two days later (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). (Chandrasekaran and Finn 3/11/2002, pp. A01; Mayer 2/8/2005; Grey 2007, pp. 128) The US State Department will later speculate that the timing of the embassy bombings was in fact in retaliation for these arrests. (Taylor 12/15/2001)
The Islamic Jihad, a militant group that has joined forces with al-Qaeda, issues a statement threatening to retaliate against the US for its involvement rounding up an Islamic Jihad cell in Albania (see Summer 1998). It is believed Ayman al-Zawahiri wrote the statement, which says, “We wish to inform the Americans… of preparations for a response which we hope they read with care, because we shall write it with the help of God in the language they understand.” The bombing of two US embassies in Africa follows two days later (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). (Feyerick 1/2001; Wright 2006, pp. 269)
Around the time of a US missile strike against al-Qaeda leaders (see August 20, 1998), Ayman al-Zawahiri uses Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone to speak to Rahimullah Yusufzai, a leading Pakistani reporter for the BBC and the Karachi-based News. During the call, Al-Zawahiri denies al-Qaeda is responsible for attacks on two US embassies in East Africa, which killed over 200 people (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998): “Mr. bin Laden has a message. He says, ‘I have not bombed the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. I have declared jihad, but I was not involved.’” Although bin Laden’s trial for the embassy bombings in Afghanistan, arranged by the Taliban, collapses when the US fails to provide sufficient evidence of his involvement (see (October 25-November 20, 1998)), bin Laden is generally thought to have known of and authorized the two attacks. (Wright 2006, pp. 279, 283)
Before the US fires missiles in an attempt to kill al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, it fails to launch aircraft to track the usage of satellite phones by al-Qaeda leaders (see August 19, 1998 and August 20, 1998). Al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri actually talks to a journalist on the phone around the time of the missile strike (see August 20, 1998) and, had the US had aircraft monitoring Afghanistan, his error in using the phone may have resulted in his death, although this is not certain. Author Lawrence Wright will later comment: “If surveillance aircraft had been positioned in the region, al-Zawahiri’s call to the reporter would have given agents his exact location. But the strike was delivered so quickly that there was little time to prepare. Still, American intelligence knew in general where bin Laden and al-Zawahiri were hiding, so the fact that the surveillance aircraft were not available prior to the strike is inexplicable. Had they pinpointed al-Zawahiri prior to launch there is little question that he would have been killed in the strike. On the other hand, it takes several hours to prepare a missile for firing, and the flight time from the warships in the Arabian sea across Pakistan to eastern Afghanistan was more than two hours. By the time al-Zawahiri picked up the phone the missiles were probably already on their way and it was already too late.” (Wright 2006, pp. 283)
In mid-August 1998, the Mossad intercepts a phone call indicating that an Egyptian militant named Ihab Saqr is planning to meet an Iranian intelligence agent in a hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, in one week’s time. Saqr is believed to be Ayman al-Zawahiri’s chief of staff. The Mossad is very interested in the Iranian connection but they have no presence in Azerbaijan, so they contact the CIA. The CIA leads a capture operation, with one Mossad agent, Michael Ross, also in attendance. The CIA captures Saqr and two men he is meeting with, but neither of them turn out to be Iranian. The other men are Essam Marzouk and Ahmad Salama Mabruk. Marzouk is an al-Qaeda explosives expert who has just trained the men who bombed two US embassies in Africa earlier in the month. He had been living in Canada and Canadian intelligence has long been suspicious about his militant ties. Mabruk is a known member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council. The US quickly renditions Saqr, Marzouk, and Mabruk to Egypt. Marzouk is sentenced to 15 years in prison, Mabruk is sentenced to life in prison, and Saqr’s fate in Egypt is unknown. (Bell 10/15/2005; Ross and Kay 2007, pp. 214-224) The US discovers a treasure trove of information about al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad in Mabruk’s laptop (see Late August 1998). But it is unclear why the US was seemingly in the dark and only arresting these figures by chance, because US intelligence had long been monitoring calls between Osama bin Laden and Mabruk in Baku (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Furthermore, Canadian intelligence had also monitored many calls between Mabruk and an Islamic Jihad operative in Canada. (Note that some accounts place the timing of this capture in July 1998, but Canadian intelligence is monitoring Mabruk’s communications up through and after the embassy bombings in August (see August 5-7, 1998 and August 8, 1998 and Shortly After).)
Dan Benjamin and Steve Simon, director and senior director of the National Security Council’s counterterrorism team, review some old intelligence files and learn that Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda’s number two leader, had done fundraising in the US a few years earlier (see Spring 1993) (see Late 1994 or 1995). They call FBI agents Michael Rolince and Steve Jennings to a meeting at the White House. Benjamin will recall, “We said to them: ‘This is incredible. Al-Zawahiri was here. He must have been fundraising, he had to have handlers. What can you tell us?’ And [one of them] said, ‘We got it covered. Don’t worry about it.’ And it was a blow-off.” Only later do Benjamin and Simon learn that one of al-Zawahiri’s hosts had been Ali Mohamed, even though Mohamed is already in US custody and his arrest had been front page news by the time the White House meeting took place. The FBI still fails to pursue the connection and rejects an offer of new authority to monitor activity in radical mosques. (Weiser 10/30/1998; CBS News 10/2/2002; Washington Post 10/2/2002; Benjamin and Simon 2005, pp. 306-307, 465)
Starting in 1999 and continuing over the next two years, al-Qaeda makes persistent but unsuccessful efforts to obtain anthrax, according to US officials. This conclusion is based on documents found by coalition forces in an al-Qaeda camp in Kandahar in late 2001. The letters are written by Abdur Rauf, a Pakistani microbiologist, to Ayman al-Zawahiri and detail his efforts to obtain samples of anthrax as well as equipment to grow the bacteria. Rauf is a specialist in food production with the prestigious Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in Lahore. Scientific articles on culturing bacteria, including anthrax, will also be found with the letters, along with rudimentary laboratories. One of the notes is written on the stationery of the Society for Applied Microbiology, a scientific organization to which Rauf belongs. The note is believed to have been written while Rauf was attending a scientific conference at Porton Down, Britain’s leading biodefense research center. The letters show that Rauf was unable to obtain a pathogenic strain of anthrax and that al-Qaeda’s bioweapons program is only at an early stage before being disrupted by the late 2001 invasion of Afghanistan (see (Late 2001)). (Lipton 5/21/2005; Warrick 10/31/2006)
A large group of Islamic Jihad operatives are sentenced in Cairo in what becomes known as the “Trial of the Albanian Returnees.” Various disclosures are made at the trial about the way Islamic Jihad operated and how it provided support to al-Qaeda by forging travel documents, transferring money, and arranging communications. One of the revelations is that al-Qaeda has a key communication hub in Yemen. Despite this revelation (see Late 1998-Early 2002), al-Qaeda will continue to use it through 2001 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). The defendants were arrested not only in Egypt, but also in Albania, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, and the United Arab Emirates. In 1995, the CIA arranged a deal with Egypt to capture Islamic Jihad operatives around the world and send them to Egypt to be tortured and prosecuted (see Summer 1995). Eighty-seven of the defendants are convicted and ten are sentenced to death, including al-Zawahiri, who is tried in absentia. (Sachs 11/21/2001) One of the convicted is Khaled Abu el-Dahab, who was operating a sleeper cell in California with double agent Ali Mohamed throughout the 1990’s (see 1987-1998). El-Dahab is sentenced to fifteen years in prison (see September 10, 1998). There are credible reports that many of the defendants confessed after being tortured in Egypt and Albania. (Sachs 11/21/2001; Wright 2006, pp. 269) The trial nearly eradicates the remnants of Islamic Jihad in Egypt and, according to some of the defendants, leaves only about forty members outside of Egypt. Al-Zawahiri and the other remaining members end up allying even closer to al-Qaeda. The two organizations will formally merge in early 2001 (see June 2001). (Wright 2006, pp. 336)
The Egyptian government posts a list of its 14 most wanted terrorists; half of them are believed to be living in Britain. The list is published on an Egyptian government website and Al-Sharq al-Awsat, a popular Arabic international newspaper based in London. It includes many members of Islamic Jihad, the Egyptian militant group that has essentially merged with al-Qaeda by this time. Names on the list include:
Ayman al-Zawahiri. He is the top leader of Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda’s number two leader. He was sentenced to death in absentia in Egypt, and the US has a $5 million bounty on him by this time.
Thirwat Salah Shehata. He is another high-ranking Islamic Jihad leader. He was sentenced to death twice in Egypt.
Adel Abdel Bary. He was granted asylum in Britain despite being sentenced to death in Egypt, and ran the Islamic Jihad office in London. But he was arrested there in 1998 and is fighting deportation to the US on charges of involvement in the al-Qaeda African embassy bombings.
Adel Abdel-Quddus, an Islamic Jihad leader. He received a death sentence in connection with an assassination attempt in 1993. He was granted asylum in Austria.
Ayub Usama Saddiq Ali, another Islamic Jihad leader. He was sentenced to death on murder charges in Egypt. He moved to Germany and is granted asylum there in October 1999. 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah will call him twice, once in November 1999 and once in August 2001 (see November 7, 1999 and August 4, 2001).
Ahmed Refai Taha, head of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the Egyptian militant group formerly led by the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. In September 2000, al-Qaeda will publish a video of Osama bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and Taha threatening revenge if the Blind Sheikh is not released (see September 21, 2000). Taha was sentenced to death in Egypt.
Mustafa Hamza, leader of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and an al-Qaeda leader as well. He was sentenced to death three times in Egypt. He is believed to have led an assassination attempt of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 1995 (see June 26, 1995).
Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli, brother of the assassin of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and an Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya leader. He also was sentenced to death in Egypt, and is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan with bin Laden.
Ahmed Hussein Ugayzah, sentenced to life imprisonment in Egypt. He was an aide to al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan, but he had a falling out with him and joined the Vanguards of Conquest, an Islamic Jihad splinter group.
Yassir al-Sirri. He was sentenced to death in Egypt in 1994 for a role in an attempted assassination attempt in 1993. But he moved to Britain and was granted asylum. (Al-Sharq al-Awsat 10/2/1999; Moussa 10/18/2001) Shortly after 9/11, the Guardian will report that seven of the men on the list live in London, but it is not mentioned which of the seven live there. (Travis 9/28/2001) There appear to have been no arrests of any of the above figures in Britain after the publication of the list.
Future 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah telephones Ayub Usama Saddiq Ali, an imam and Islamic Jihad leader wanted for murder in Egypt. No details about the call are known except that it lasts seven minutes. Ali was convicted of murder in Egypt in 1996, but he fled to Muenster, Germany, and received political asylum there in October 1999. Also in October 1999, Ali was on a published list of the Egyptian government’s most wanted terrorists (see October 2, 1999). He is said to be a close associate of al-Qaeda’s second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri. This phone call will be mentioned in a classified 2002 FBI report about the 9/11 hijackers, but it is unclear how or when the FBI learns about it. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 1/11/2002; Vidino 2006, pp. 230; Engelberg and Brekenkamp 3/10/2011) In 2000, Ali will attend a terrorist summit in Italy that is also attended by some al-Qaeda operatives who seem to have foreknowledge of the 9/11 plot, and Mohammed Fazazi, the imam at the Al-Quds mosque that Jarrah regularly attends (see August 12, 2000 and Shortly After). Beginning in 2007, the German government will attempt to strip Ali of his asylum status because of his link to Islamic Jihad. He will lose that status in 2011, but he is not subsequently deported from Germany. (Engelberg and Brekenkamp 3/10/2011) Jarrah will call Ali again in August 2001 (see August 4, 2001).
Mohammed al-Zawahiri, brother of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, is arrested at Dubai airport in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While much less known than his brother, Mohammed quietly served an important role as Ayman’s deputy in Islamic Jihad, and as the group’s military commander (see 1993). He apparently disagreed with the increasing unification between Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda, and quit in 1998 over that issue. (Jacquard 2002, pp. 108) He is arrested in the UAE and then flown to Egypt as a part of the CIA’s rendition program (see Summer 1995). A senior former CIA officer will later confirm US involvement in the operation. (Grey 2007, pp. 246, 299) Mohammed had been sentenced to death in absentia in Egypt the year before. (Wright 9/9/2002) But his execution is not carried out, and he is said to reveal what he knows about Islamic Jihad. In 2007 it will be reported that his sentence is likely to be lessened in return for agreeing to renounce violence. (Jacquard 2002, pp. 108; Associated Press 4/20/2007) Note: there is a dispute about when he was arrested. Some sources indicate it was in the spring of 1999. (Grey 2007, pp. 246; Associated Press 4/20/2007) Others indicate it was a year later. (Jacquard 2002, pp. 108; Wright 9/9/2002)
Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s second in command, and Mohammed Atef, al-Qaeda’s military chief, visit the Indonesian province of Aceh to examine expanding al-Qaeda operations there. They are guided by al-Qaeda operatives Agus Dwikarna and Omar al-Faruq. Dwikarna is working as a regional head of the Indonesia branch of the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, a charity directly tied to the Saudi government. US officials already strongly suspected Al Haramain helped fund the 1998 African embassy bombings (see Autumn 1997), though none of their offices were shut down. Dwikarna uses Al Haramain to funnel al-Qaeda money into Southeast Asia and give al-Qaeda operatives cover as charity workers; he also runs an al-Qaeda training camp on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Dwikarna will be arrested in 2001 and al-Faruq in 2002. Both will confess to using Al Haramain to fund al-Qaeda operations. Despite this, Al Haramain’s Indonesia’s office not only stays open, but in 2002 it signs an agreement with the Indonesian government to expand operations while it continues to divert charity money to militant operations. The United Nations will finally blacklist Al Haramain offices worldwide in 2004 (see March 2002-September 2004). (Ressa 8/30/2002; Ressa 2003, pp. 95-96; Burr and Collins 2006, pp. 41, 202) At the time, an Indonesian government mole named Fauzi Hasbi has deeply penetrated Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda’s main Southeast Asian affiliate (see 1979-February 22, 2003). Hasbi does not meet with al-Zawahiri and Atef during their visit, but he does speak to al-Zawahiri on the telephone. Hasbi also met with al-Faruq in December 1999. It is unknown if Hasbi knew enough to potentially lead to a capture of the two al-Qaeda leaders. (International Crisis Group 12/11/2002)
A videotape message featuring bin Laden calling for more attacks on the US is aired on Al Jazeera. The video ends with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri saying, “Enough of words, it is time to take action against this iniquitous and faithless force [the United States], which has spread troops through Egypt, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.” (CNN 10/20/2000; Gertz 8/26/2002) Further, bin Laden is wearing a distinctive, curved Yemeni dagger. Lawrence Wright will later mention in the book The Looming Tower that this was a “teasing clue” similar to other clues he had left before other attacks. (Wright 2006, pp. 318) DIA analyst Kie Fallis later recalls, “Every time he put out one of these videotapes, it was a signal that action was coming.” He claims that after hearing of the video, he “knew then it would be within a month or two.” But nonetheless, his suggestion to put out a general attack warning will go unheeded (see May 2000-Late September 2000). An al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole follows less than a month later (see October 12, 2000). (Gertz 8/26/2002)
Al Jazeera broadcasts a video featuring Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Ahmed Refai Taha, head of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya militant group formerly led by the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. In the video, filmed in Afghanistan several months earlier, bin Laden promises “to do all we can” to liberate Abdul-Rahman from his imprisonment in the US. Al-Zawahiri says that he is “talking business” about helping to free Abdul-Rahman. “I’m talking jihad.” Additionally, Mohammed Omar Abdul-Rahman, one of the Blind Sheikh’s sons, is heard on the tape saying, “O brothers, everywhere, avenge your leaders, avenge your sheik. Let’s go to the grounds of jihad. Let us spill blood. Let’s go spill blood.” (Preston 9/8/2004) In July 2001, the FBI will overhear an Arabic translator tell the Blind Sheikh that the October 2000 bombing of the USS ‘Cole’ was done for him “so he could be released.” The translator is also overheard saying that if he is not released, the bombers are prepared to “execute another operation.” (Weiser 6/6/2002)
In 2008, Abdelkader Belliraj, a Belgian government informant heading an Islamist militant group in Morocco, will be arrested in Morocco (see February 18, 2008 and February 29, 2008). Moroccan Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa will claim that in 2001 Belliraj and several of his followers travel to Afghanistan to meet al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Zawahiri gives Belliraj specific instructions to carry out. Belliraj’s followers then train in al-Qaeda camps alongside militants belonging to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, another al-Qaeda linked Moroccan militant group. That group will later carry out a series of attacks in Casablanca in 2003 (see May 16, 2003) and play a role in the Madrid train bombings in 2004 (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). It is not known if Belliraj meets al-Zawahiri before or after the 9/11 attacks. (Rotella 2/27/2008; Het Laatste News 3/4/2008) Belliraj’s group maintains al-Qaeda links after this. For instance, in 2005 Belliraj visits training camps run by the Algerian militant group the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. One year later, that group will change its name to be Al-Qaeda in the Magreb. (Maghreb Arabe Presse 3/2/2008)
Two major terrorist organizations, al-Qaeda and the Egypt-based Islamic Jihad, formally merged into one. This completes a merging process that had been going on for years (see August 11-20, 1988, December 1, 1996-June 1997, and February 22, 1998). The technical name of the new entity is Qaeda al-Jihad, though it is widely called al-Qaeda. Bin Laden remains in charge, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Islamic Jihad, remains second in command. (Wright 9/9/2002)
In June 2001, the CIA learns that key al-Qaeda operatives are disappearing, while others are preparing for martyrdom. (US Congress 9/18/2002) CIA Director George Tenet will later elaborate in a 2007 book that during the month of June, the CIA learns:
Several training camps in Afghanistan are closing, a sign that al-Qaeda is anticipating a retaliatory strike.
Bin Laden is leaving Afghanistan in fear of a US strike (this later turns out to be erroneous).
Al-Qaeda operatives are leaving Saudi Arabia and returning to Afghanistan, which fits a pattern of movement just before attacks.
Ayman al-Zawahiri is warning associates in Yemen to flee in anticipation of a crackdown.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, one of the masterminds of the USS ‘Cole’ bombing, has disappeared.
Other important operatives are disappearing or preparing for martyrdom.
A key Afghan training camp commander was reportedly weeping for joy because he believed he could see his trainees in heaven. (Tenet 2007, pp. 148-149) The CIA also heard in May that operatives are disappearing and preparing for martyrdom (see May 2001).
Baker Atyani, a reporter for the Middle East Broadcasting Company interviews bin Laden. Keeping a promise made to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, bin Laden does not say anything substantive, but Ayman al-Zawahiri and other top al-Qaeda leaders promise that “[the] coming weeks will hold important surprises that will target American and Israeli interests in the world.” (Mroue 6/24/2001; Associated Press 6/25/2001) Atyani says, “There is a major state of mobilization among the Osama bin Laden forces. It seems that there is a race of who will strike first. Will it be the United States or Osama bin Laden?” (Reuters 6/23/2001) He adds, “I told my channel that his followers were telling me that the coffin business will increase in the states, the United States.” (CNN 8/23/2006) After 9/11, Aytani will conclude, “I am 100 percent sure of this, and it was absolutely clear they had brought me there to hear this message.” (Bamford 2004, pp. 236) He is also shown a several-months-old videotape in which bin Laden declares, “It’s time to penetrate America and Israel and hit them where it hurts most.” The video is soon made public (see June 21, 2001). (CNN 6/21/2001) Author James Bamford theorizes that the original 9/11 plot involved a simultaneous attack on Israel and that shoe bomber Richard Reid may have originally wanted to target an Israeli aircraft around this time. For instance, Reid flies to Tel Aviv, Israel on July 12, 2001, to test if airline security would check his shoes for bombs. (Bamford 2004, pp. 236-39)
CIA official Richard Blee gives a briefing on the state of the terrorism threat to CIA Director George Tenet and Counterterrorist Center Director Cofer Black. According to an account by Tenet in his 2007 book, Blee identifies more than 10 specific pieces of intelligence about impending attacks. Tenet claims that experienced analysts call this intelligence “both unprecedented and virtually 100 percent reliable.” Blee specifically mentions:
A key Afghanistan training camp commander was seen weeping with joy because he believed he could see his trainees in heaven, implying a successful suicide attack to come.
For the last three to five months, al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is believed to have been involved in an unprecedented effort to prepare terrorist operations.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, one of the USS Cole bombing masterminds, has disappeared. (Tenet 2007, pp. 149) Leaders of the Cole bombing are believed to be planning new attacks against the US. (Tenet 2007, pp. 147)
Other important operatives around the world are disappearing or preparing for martyrdom. (Tenet 2007, pp. 149)
Blee concludes by saying: “Based on a review of all source reporting over the last five months, we believe that [Osama bin Laden] will launch a significant terrorist attack against US and/or Israeli interests in the coming weeks. The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities or interests. Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning.” (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 322; Tenet 2007, pp. 149) This warning, including the concluding quote, is shared with “senior Bush administration officials” in early July. (US Congress 9/18/2002)
Bin Laden, America’s most wanted criminal with a $5 million bounty on his head, supposedly receives lifesaving treatment for renal failure from American specialist Dr. Terry Callaway at the American hospital in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. He is possibly accompanied by Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri (who is said to be bin Laden’s personal physician as well as al-Qaeda’s second-in-command), plus several bodyguards. Callaway supposedly treated bin Laden in 1996 and 1998, also in Dubai. Callaway later refuses to answer any questions on this matter. (Richard 10/31/2001; Agence France-Presse 11/1/2001; Sage 11/1/2001) During his stay, bin Laden is visited by “several members of his family and Saudi personalities,” including Prince Turki al-Faisal, then head of Saudi intelligence. (Sampson 11/1/2001) On July 12, bin Laden reportedly meets with CIA agent Larry Mitchell in the hospital. Mitchell apparently lives in Dubai as an Arab specialist under the cover of being a consular agent. The CIA, the Dubai hospital, and even bin Laden deny the story. The two news organizations that broke the story, Le Figaro and Radio France International, stand by their reporting. (Richard 10/31/2001; Labeviere 11/1/2001) The explosive story is widely reported in Europe, but there are only two, small wire service stories on it in the US. (Bryant 11/1/2001; Laden 11/10/2001) The Guardian claims that the story originated from French intelligence, “which is keen to reveal the ambiguous role of the CIA, and to restrain Washington from extending the war to Iraq and elsewhere.” The Guardian adds that during his stay bin Laden is also visited by a second CIA officer. (Sampson 11/1/2001) In 2003, reporter Richard Labeviere will provide additional details of what he claims happened in a book entitled “The Corridors of Terror.” He claims he learned about the meeting from a contact in the Dubai hospital. He claims the event was confirmed in detail by a Gulf prince who presented himself as an adviser to the Emir of Bahrain. This prince claimed the meeting was arranged by Prince Turki al-Faisal. The prince said, “By organizing this meeting…Turki thought he could start direct negotiations between [bin Laden] and the CIA on one fundamental point: that bin Laden and his supporters end their hostilities against American interests.” In exchange, the CIA and Saudis would allow bin Laden to return to Saudi Arabia and live freely there. The meeting is said to be a failure. (Reuters 11/14/2003) On July 15, Larry Mitchell reportedly returns to CIA headquarters to report on his meeting with bin Laden. (Labeviere 11/1/2001) French counterterrorism expert Antoine Sfeir says the story of this meeting has been verified and is not surprising: It “is nothing extraordinary. Bin Laden maintained contacts with the CIA up to 1998. These contacts have not ceased since bin Laden settled in Afghanistan. Up to the last moment, CIA agents hoped that bin Laden would return to the fold of the US, as was the case before 1989.” (Bouilhet 11/1/2001) A CIA spokesman calls the entire account of bin Laden’s stay at Dubai “sheer fantasy.” (Reuters 11/14/2003)
The US receives intelligence that bin Laden’s right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is receiving medical treatment at a clinic in Sana’a, Yemen. However, the Bush administration rejects a plan to capture him, as officials are not 100 percent sure the patient is al-Zawahiri. Officials later regret the missed opportunity. (ABC News 2/20/2002) In another account, an anonymous CIA source claims that the “Egyptian intelligence service briefed us that he was in a hospital in Sana’a. We sent a few people over there, and they made a colossal screwup. While our guys were conducting a surveillance of the hospital, the guards caught them with their videocameras.” (Wright 9/9/2002) CIA Director Tenet will touch on this incident in his 2007 book, saying that only that on July 24, 2001, “we had reporting that al-Zawahiri was in Yemen and we were pursuing confirmation and a plan to exfiltrate him to the United States. Although we doubted this information, it was out intention to play this hand out.” He doesn’t mention what happened after that. (Tenet 2007) Al-Zawahiri also appears to have spent time in Yemen in 1998 (see Spring-Summer 1998).
Some time before 9/11, ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed learns that two prominent Pakistani nuclear scientists met with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan in mid-August 2001. Bin Laden revealed to the two scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, that he had acquired nuclear material and wanted their help to turn it into a weapon (see Mid-August 2001). ISI Director Mahmood is said to have learned about this through military contacts, as several Pakistani generals sit on the board of directors of a charity run by the two scientists that assists the Taliban. For instance, Hamid Gul, a former director of the ISI, is the charity’s honorary patron and was in Afghanistan at the time of the meeting. However, the ISI does not warn the US or take any action against the scientists or their charity. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 310-311)
Two retired Pakistani nuclear scientists meet with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri at a campfire in a compound near Kandahar, Afghanistan. The more prominent scientist, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, worked with A. Q. Khan for two decades before having a falling out with him in the early 1990s (however, he was seen with Khan earlier in 2001 (see April 2001)). A highly regarded scientist, he also became an advocate of the Taliban and published a pamphlet predicting that “by 2002 millions may die through mass destruction weapons… terrorist attack, and suicide.” He was forced to retire in 1999 after publicly advocating sharing nuclear technology with other Islamic countries. The other scientist, Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, also retired in 1999 after a long career. In 2000, the two men set up a charity, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, purporting to conduct relief work in Afghanistan (see 2000). Bin Laden allegedly tells the scientists that he has made great headway in advancing the apocalypse predicted by Mahmood. He claims that he has acquired highly enriched uranium from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and wants their help to turn it into a bomb. The scientists reply that while they could help with the science of fissile materials, they are not weapons designers. They are also asked with other Pakistani weapons experts could be approached for help. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 310-311) They spend two or three days at the compound and discuss how the material could be used to create a so-called dirty bomb, in which radioactive material is blown up using conventional explosives to spread radiation. But the discussion apparently ends inconclusively when bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and others depart abruptly for the mountains. Before leaving, bin Laden says that something great is going to happen soon and Muslims around the world will join them in holy war. (Frantz and Collins 2007, pp. 264-265) Both US intelligence and Pakistani ISI learn about this meeting prior to the 9/11 attacks, but neither group will take any effective action as a result (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001 and Between Mid-August and September 10, 2001).
Extremists order “operatives in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Yemen” to use accounts at the Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp, according to a 2003 CIA report. The Al-Rajhi Bank is one of the biggest Saudi banks, with billions in assets. Who gives this order and when will not be made public. However, some examples of militants using the bank will later be alleged:
When al-Qaeda leader Mamdouh Mahmud Salim is arrested in late 1998 (see September 16, 1998), he is carrying records of an Al-Rajhi account.
When Wadih El-Hage’s house in Kenya is raided in 1997, investigators find contact information in his address book for Salah Al-Rajhi, one of the billionaire co-owners of the bank (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). (Simpson 7/26/2007)
Some of the 9/11 hijackers use the bank. For instance, Hani Hanjour is sent wire transfers from Al-Rajhi bank in Saudi Arabia at least six times in 1998 and 1999. In September 2000, Nawaf Alhazmi uses $2,000 in Al-Rajhi traveler’s checks paid for by an unnamed person in Saudi Arabia. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 19, 31, 33, 34, 41, 87 ) And Abdulaziz Alomari has an account at the bank (see September 7, 2001).
The bank is used by a number of charities suspected of militant links, including the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), the Muslim World League, the Saudi branch of Red Crescent, Global Relief Foundation, and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). (Mowbray 10/13/2003)
An al-Qaeda affiliate in Spain holds accounts at the bank. According to a fax later recovered by Spanish police, the group’s chief financier tells a business partner to use the bank for their transactions. (Mowbray 10/13/2003)
In 2000, Al-Rajhi Bank couriers deliver money to insurgents in Indonesia to buy weapons and bomb-making materials.
According to a 2003 German report, bank co-founder Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi contributes to a charity front buying weapons for Islamic militants in Bosnia in the early 1990s. He is also on the “Golden Chain,” a list of early al-Qaeda funders (see 1988-1989).
A US intelligence memo from shortly after 9/11 will say that a money courier for al-Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, travels on a visa obtained by the bank.
The 2003 CIA report will state: “Islamic extremists have used Al-Rajhi Banking and Investment Corporation since at least the mid-1990s as a conduit for terrorist transactions.… Senior al-Rajhi family members have long supported Islamic extremists and probably know that terrorists use their bank.” (Simpson 7/26/2007)
The CIA learns that two prominent Pakistani nuclear scientists have met with al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in mid-August 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell will tell Pakistani officials when he visits Pakistan in October this year (see Early October-December 2001). In the meeting, the two scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, discussed helping al-Qaeda make a nuclear weapon (see Mid-August 2001). (Frantz and Collins 2007, pp. 268-269) CIA Director George Tenet will confirm, in a 2007 book, that the CIA learned of this meeting prior to 9/11. He will write: “A Western intelligence service came to us in the fall of 2001 [with details of the meeting].… [The] CIA pressed the Pakistanis to confront Mahmood and Majeed with this new information. We put [evidence that a charity named Ummah Tameer-e-Nau run by Mahmood and Majeed tried to sell Libya a nuclear weapon] on the table. We also passed new information that had been collected by other intelligence services. To no avail. Then 9/11 struck and there was no slowing down in this pursuit.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 264) No evidence will be presented showing that President Bush or other top US officials are warned of this, or that there are any general warnings inside the US government about this. Pakistan is not successfully pressured about it before 9/11 (in fact, the Pakistani ISI already knows about it and has failed to warn the US (see Between Mid-August and September 10, 2001)), and after 9/11 the only action Pakistan will take is to twice arrest and then quickly release the two scientists. Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will comment in a 2007 book, “This information, added to the missing canisters of highly enriched uranium [in Pakistan], might have been sufficient to redirect” top Bush officials to take sterner action against al-Qaeda before 9/11. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 311)
New Yorker magazine will later report that bin Laden, al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri, and some of their followers evacuated their residences in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and fled into the nearby mountains. By the time the attacks start, they are listening to an Arabic radio station reporting about the 9/11 attacks as they happen. (Wright 9/9/2002)
The National Security Agency (NSA) reportedly intercepts a phone call from one of bin Laden’s operatives in Afghanistan to a phone number in the Republic of Georgia. The caller says he has “heard good news” and that another target is still to come (presumably, the target Flight 93 is intended to hit). (CBS News 9/4/2002) The caller is also supposed to say that the attackers are following through on “the doctor’s program.” This is said to be a reference to al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has a doctorate in medicine. (Wright 9/9/2002) Since the 9/11 crisis began, NSA translators have been told to focus on Middle Eastern intercepts and translate them as they are received instead of oldest first, as is the usual practice. This call is translated in the next hour or two, and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld hears about it just after noon. (CBS News 9/4/2002; Bamford 2004, pp. 54)
At some point after 9/11, the US government begins compiling a list of “high-value” al-Qaeda linked militant leaders to be killed or captured. President Bush authorizes the assassination of high-value targets on September 17, 2001 (see September 17, 2001), so the creation of the list presumably takes place shortly after that. US intelligence agencies typically propose a name for the list, and prepare a dossier that explains who the target is and why that person deserves to be on the list. Then, a committee of bureaucrats and lawyers from the Justice Department, CIA, Pentagon, and other agencies reviews the dossier. If it finds the evidence convincing, the name is included on the “high-value target” list, which means the person cannot only be captured by US forces, but is legally allowed to be killed. At any one time, there are between 10 and 30 people on the list. Top al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are on the list from the very beginning. In 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will secretly authorize the killing of top targets anywhere in the world (see July 22, 2002), increasing the danger of being named on the list. In 2010, Anwar al-Awlaki will be added to the list. This will be the first time a US citizen is added. (Bohan et al. 5/12/2011) The CIA already had prepared a list of high-value targets it thought deserved to be assassinated before 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001).
The US freezes the bank accounts of 27 individuals and organizations, alleging that they had channeled money to al-Qaeda.
The list includes the names of nine Middle Eastern groups that are members of bin Laden’s International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders alliance announced in 1998 (see February 22, 1998). Such groups include the Islamic Army of Aden (based in Yemen), the GIA (Algeria), and Abu Sayyaf (the Philippines).
Individuals named include obvious al-Qaeda figures such as Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, and Muhammad Atef. (Miller 9/25/2001)
Makhtab Al-Khidamat/Al-Kifah, a charity based in Pakistan. A Brooklyn, New York, branch was called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center and had ties to both the 1993 WTC bombing and the CIA (see 1986-1993). It appears it was shut down in Pakistan in late 1995 (see Shortly After November 19, 1995). The Wall Street Journal notes that it “may be defunct or at least operating in a much-diminished capacity only in Afghanistan.” (Cohen et al. 9/25/2001)
The Al-Rashid Trust. This is primarily a humanitarian organization that aims to eject western charities from Afghanistan by taking over their activities. The trust is also so closely linked to the Kashmiri-focused jihidist organization Jaish-e-Mohammed that the Asia Times will comment, “It is often difficult to distinguish between the two outfits, as they share offices and cadres.” The Jaish-e-Mohammed was founded by Maulana Masood Azhar, an associate of 9/11 financier Saeed Sheikh, with the support of the ISI (see December 24-31, 1999). In addition, the trust also provides support to the Taliban, and, occasionally, al-Qaeda. The trust works closely with the Arab-run Wafa Humanitarian Organization. It will continue its social and humanitarian projects, as well as its support for militant Islamic activities, under various names and partnerships despite this ban.
The Wafa Humanitarian Organization, an Arab-run charity. It is closely tied to the Al-Rashid Trust. (Escobar 10/26/2001; Farah 12/14/2003)
A company belonging to one of the hijackers’ associates, the Mamoun Darkazanli Import-Export Company. It is not clear where the Mamoun Darkazanli Import-Export Company is or was based, as it was never incorporated in Hamburg, where Darkazanli lived and associated with some of the 9/11 hijackers. Darkazanli’s personal assets are frozen in October (see September 24-October 2, 2001). (Crewdson 11/17/2002) However, according to some reports, some of the money transferred to the hijackers in the US in 2001 came through the Al-Rashid Trust (see Early August 2001) and possibly another account, and some of the money the hijackers received in 2000 may have come through Mamoun Darkazanli’s accounts (see June 2000-August 2001).
The move is largely symbolic, since none of the entities have any identifiable assets in the US. (Miller 9/25/2001) Reporter Greg Palast will later note that US investigators likely knew much about the finances of those organizations before 9/11, but took no action. (Bosse 3/20/2003)
In a recorded statement broadcast on television worldwide, Osama bin Laden issues a strongly worded message to the United States, but makes no claim of responsibility for 9/11. The recording is broadcast on the Al Jazeera television network within an hour of the first US strikes on Afghanistan, and is then shown by CNN. There is no date on the tape and no immediate way of determining where it was made. (Burns 10/8/2001) Bin Laden is shown sitting in a stone cave. His top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, appears at his side. (Shama 10/8/2001) Referring to the 9/11 attacks, bin Laden says, “What the United States tastes today is a very small thing compared to what we have tasted for tens of years.” He praises those responsible, saying, “I ask God Almighty to elevate their status and grant them paradise.” (BBC 10/7/2001) It is the first time he has spoken publicly about 9/11. But he makes no claim in his statement of having been responsible for the attacks. (Shama 10/8/2001) He has previously explicitly denied responsibility for 9/11 (see September 16, 2001 and September 28, 2001). Bin Laden concludes his message warning, “[N]either the United States nor he who lives in the United States will enjoy security before we can see it as a reality in Palestine and before all the infidel armies leave the land of Mohammed.” (BBC 10/7/2001) The following day, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer will tell reporters that, after watching this message, President Bush concluded that bin Laden “virtually took responsibility” for 9/11. (CNN 10/8/2001)
The FBI releases a list of its 22 most wanted terrorists. The US government offers up to $5 million for information leading to the capture of anyone of the list. The men are:
Al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden, who was indicted by a grand jury in 1998 (see June 8, 1998), Ayman al-Zawahiri, linked to a 1995 bombing in Pakistan (see November 19, 1995), and Mohammed Atef, who provided training to Somali fighters before the Black Hawk Down incident (see Late 1992-October 1993);
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), for his role in the 1995 Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995). KSM is actually the mastermind of 9/11, although the US intelligence community has allegedly not yet pieced this information together (see (November 7, 2001));
Several other operatives suspected of involvement in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998): Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (see August 2, 2008), Mustafa Fadhil, Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam (see August 6-7, 1998)), Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (see July 25-29, 2004), Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan (see July 11, 2002), Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (see September 10, 2002), Anas al-Liby (see January 20, 2002- March 20, 2002), Saif al-Adel (see Spring 2002), Ahmed Mohammed Hamed Ali, and Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah (see April 12, 2006);
Abdul Rahman Yasin, a US-Iraqi involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see March 4-5,1993);
Ahmed Ibrahim Al-Mughassil, Ali Saed Bin Ali El-Houri, Ibrahim Salih Mohammed Al-Yacoub, and Abdelkarim Hussein Mohamed Al-Nasser, for their alleged part in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia (see June 25, 1996);
Imad Mugniyah, Hassan Izz-Al-Din, and Ali Atwa for the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in June 1985. (CNN 10/10/2001)
A London Times article by Daniel McGrory claims that not only did Mohamed Atta meet with an Iraqi agent in Prague, but that “a special FBI team” is studying “a report from Prague that anthrax spores were given to Atta” during the meeting. Furthermore, “Saddam’s agents were spotted at various times this year with Atta in Germany, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic,” and that Atta met with the agent in Prague at least four times. Additionally, an Iraqi intelligence agent in Rome was seen with Atta in Prague and Hamburg and then disappeared shortly before the 9/11 attacks. The article also alleges numerous meetings between Iraqi agents and Osama bin Laden, as well as a meeting between al-Qaeda second-in command Ayman Zawahiri and Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yasin Ramadan. Furthermore, al-Qaeda operatives were supposedly given advanced weapons training in Iraq supervised by Saddam Hussein’s son Uday Hussein. The article mentions no sources at all for these stunning allegations, except to refer to some other recent articles in a couple of cases. However, the article does mention former CIA Director James Woolsey, and it seems probable that Woolsey is a force behind the article, since he is in London at the time attempting to find evidence supporting the Prague meeting and Iraqi involvement in the anthrax attacks (see Mid-September-October 2001). (McGrory 10/27/2001) This article represents the height of the propaganda effort attempting to link al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government together. Many of the allegations in the article are never mentioned in any other newspaper article, and all of them will eventually be debunked.
Gary Berntsen, leader of the CIA effort in Afghanistan, names the four most wanted terrorist suspects in Afghanistan at a meeting of his team. They are al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, his second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda military commander Mohammed Atef, and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). Berntsen places one of his subordinates in charge of these four men, giving orders to “find and kill” them. Berntsen also wants the Taliban’s top three intelligence officials killed. (Berntsen and Pezzullo 2005, pp. 114) While the connections between the other three and al-Qaeda are well known by this time, the US government apparently first develops information indicating KSM is the mastermind behind 9/11 during FBI questioning of military training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida around April 2002. (Soufan 4/22/2009) However, KSM is an known terrorist and one of the top 22 fugitives named by the FBI the previous month (see October 10, 2001).
A conversation between Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda spokesman Suliman abu Ghaith, and Khaled al-Harbi, a veteran of al-Qaeda’s jihad in Bosnia, is videotaped. A portion of the taped conversation is later said to be found by the US and will be used as evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in 9/11. (Unknown 2001; Jeffery 12/13/2001; Kohlmann 2004, pp. 28-9) According to a translation released by the Pentagon, the man said to be bin Laden says: “[W]e calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy, who would be killed based on the position of the tower. We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic of them all… (inaudible)… due to my experience in this field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is what we had hoped for.” He continues: “We had notification since the previous Thursday that the event would take place that day. We had finished our work that day and had the radio on. It was 5:30 p.m. our time.… Immediately, we heard the news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We turned the radio station to the news from Washington.… At the end of the newscast, they reported that a plane just hit the World Trade Center.… After a little while, they announced that another plane had hit the World Trade Center. The brothers who heard the news were overjoyed by it.” (US Department of Defense 12/13/2001 ) The release of the tape, which is said to be found by US intelligence officers in Jalalabad, will be a major news story, and the tape will be taken by the media as proof of bin Laden’s responsibility for 9/11. President Bush will comment, “For those who see this tape, they’ll realize that not only is he guilty of incredible murder, he has no conscience and no soul, that he represents the worst of civilization.” British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will add, “By boasting about his involvement in the evil attacks, bin Laden confirms his guilt.” (BBC 12/14/2001; Fox News 12/14/2001; Koppel 12/16/2001) However, the tape will later be disputed from three points of view:
The accuracy of the translation will be questioned (see December 20, 2001). For example, the man thought to be bin Laden does not say “we calculated in advance the number of casualties,” but “we calculated the number of casualties”;
An analyst will conclude that the tape was actually made earlier as a part of a US-run sting operation (see (September 26, 2001));
Some commentators will question whether the person in the video is actually bin Laden (see December 13, 2001).
In mid-2002, Al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda will allegedly interview al-Qaeda figures Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see April, June, or August 2002). In a 2003 book he will co-write, Fouda will claim that he asked an unnamed al-Qaeda operative who was setting up the interview if the bin Laden video was fake. This person will supposedly reply: “No. The tape, the brothers said—I am not sure whether they left it behind or not—but the Sheikh [bin Laden], yes, was talking to someone from Mecca.” (Fouda and Fielding 2003, pp. 135)
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. (Cullison and Higgins 12/31/2001; Cullison 9/2004)
Al-Qaeda top leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri escape from the Tora Bora battle north to a remote province in Afghanistan. In the years just after the Tora Bora battle, the conventional wisdom will be that bin Laden escapes across the nearby border into Pakistan. A 2006 book by Ron Suskind will be the first to publicly make the argument that bin Laden actually stays in Afghanistan and heads to even more remote regions north of Tora Bora, starting around December 15, 2001 (see December 15, 2001). After bin Laden is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), US officials will reveal that this ‘go north’ theory has become the new conventional wisdom. According to the Washington Post: “US interrogators later learned from Guantanamo detainees that bin Laden had actually taken a more daring route, to the north toward Jalalabad, right past the approaching US and British Special Forces and their Afghan allies. After resting there, he proceeded on horseback on a several days’ journey into Konar province, in Afghanistan’s far northeast.” An unnamed US official will tell the Post: “It’s still unclear who bribed who and who talked to who, [but] bin Laden got out. Knowing the land, knowing the people who could direct you, he was able to get out to Konar [and into valleys] that no one has subdued… places the Soviets never pacified.” Al-Zawahiri takes the same route, perhaps traveling with bin Laden. (Finn, Shapira, and Fisher 5/6/2011) Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri will stay in Konar for months before finally moving to Pakistan (see Late December 2001-Late 2002).
In Stockholm, Sweden, around 5 p.m., a group of Swedish and US agents seize Egyptian nationals Ahmed Agiza and Muhammed Al-Zery on the street without warning, and drive them immediately to the Stockholm airport. The two men applied for asylum in 2000 and are legal Swedish residents. A Swedish policeman stationed at the airport later reports that the handful of agents escorting the Egyptians are wearing hoods. (Whitlock 7/25/2004) At the local airport police office, the clothes of the detainees are cut with scissors, and replaced with red overalls, and the men are tied with handcuffs and leg irons. They are then taken aboard a US-registered Gulfstream V jet, and by 10:00 p.m., they are in the air on their way to Cairo, Egypt, where they allegedly will be tortured. “[I]t was pretty blatant” that they will be tortured, a former intelligence official says. (Hersh 9/13/2004) More than a month will pass before Swedish officials visit Agiza and Zery to ensure that they are being treated properly. In a report made public shortly after the first visit, Swedish Ambassador to Egypt Sven Linder will write that the two prisoners said they had been treated “excellently” and that “they seemed well-nourished and showed no external signs of physical abuse or such things.” But in the section of the report marked classified, he writes that Agiza complained of having been subjected to “excessive brutality” at the hands of the Swedish security police, and that he was repeatedly beaten in Egyptian prisons. (Whitlock 7/25/2004) Agiza’s lawyers later acknowledge that he has been a member of “Egyptian Islamic Jihad,” and was close at one time to al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. According to his lawyers, however, Agiza has not had ties with Zawahiri since a decade ago, and denounces the use of violence by al-Qaeda. In 1999, while living in Iran, he was convicted in absentia by an Egyptian military court for being a member of an illegal organization. He will later be sentenced to 25 years in prison in Egypt (see October 2003). Al-Zery’s involvement with terrorism, on the other hand, is much less apparent. According to Swedish officials, he too was convicted in absentia in Egypt, though this is disputed by his lawyers and human rights groups. He will be released after two years without being charged (see October 2003). (Whitlock 7/25/2004)
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.” (Walsh 5/9/2011)
Al-Qaeda top leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri hide out in a remote province in Afghanistan for most of 2002. After bin Laden is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), US officials will reveal that they no longer believe the conventional account that he and al-Zawahiri left the Tora Bora battle by escaping into nearby Pakistan. Instead, the two of them headed north into Konar, a remote Afghanistan province, around December 15, 2001 (see (December 15, 2001)). According to one unnamed US official, they stay in mountain valleys “that no one has subdued… places the Soviets never pacified.” Their exact location during this time is unknown. Some Guantanamo prisoners will later tell interrogators that the two leaders stay in Konar for up to 10 months. But even bin Laden’s closest followers don’t know exactly where he or al-Zawahiri have gone in Konar. One US intelligence official will later say: “It became clear that [bin Laden] was not meeting with [his followers] face to face.… People we would capture had not seen him.” (Finn, Shapira, and Fisher 5/6/2011) Exactly how, when, or where bin Laden and al-Zawahiri go after Konar will not be revealed. But there will be reports that bin Laden moves to the village of Chak Shah Mohammad in northwest Pakistan in 2003 (see 2003-Late 2005).
Informants spot al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a medical clinic in Gardez, Afghanistan. Green Berets are located just five minutes away, but they are ordered to stand down so Navy SEAL Team Six can raid the clinic and capture or kill al-Zawahiri. But the SEAL team is apparently located much farther away and too much time elapses while they are preparing for the raid, allowing al-Zawahiri to escape. In 2004, the Washington Post will mention this as one of a series of incidents in which Green Berets units were passed over and opportunities to get important wanted men were lost. (Vistica 1/5/2004)
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is publicly identified as the “mastermind” behind the 9/11 attacks. He is believed to have arranged the logistics while on the run in Germany, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. In 1996, he had been secretly indicted in the US for his role in Operation Bojinka (see January 6, 1995), and the US began offering a $2 million reward for his capture in 1998 (see January 8, 1998), which increased to $25 million in December 2001. An international warrant for his arrest was issued in November 2000 (see November 17, 2000). (Associated Press 6/4/2002; Risen 6/5/2002) According to the New York Times, “In recent months, American counterintelligence officials have identified a small group of other al-Qaeda lieutenants as the crucial figures behind the Sept. 11 attacks” aside from KSM. They include Mohammed Atef (who is already deceased), Abu Zubaida, and Ayman al-Zawahiri. (Risen 6/5/2002) There are conflicting accounts of how much US investigators knew about KSM before 9/11. He is Pakistani, although he was born and raised in Kuwait. (CBS News 6/5/2002) He is an uncle of Ramzi Yousef, the bomber of the World Trade Center in 1993. (Risen 6/5/2002) In April 2002, captured al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida confessed that KSM was the 9/11 mastermind (see April 2002). It is not known how much US intelligence knew about KSM’s link to the 9/11 attacks prior that, although at least some was known (see (December 2001)).
Al-Qaeda spokesperson Suliman Abu Ghaith allegedly claims that al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, plus Taliban leader Mullah Omar, are alive and well. “I want to assure Muslims that Sheik Osama bin Laden… is in good and prosperous health and all what is being rumored about his illness and injury in Tora Bora has no truth,” he says. He adds that al-Qaeda is ready to attack new targets, and says it is responsible for a recent bombing of a synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia (see April 11, 2002). Although he does not explicitly say al-Qaeda was behind the 9/11 attacks, he calls the attacks a “great historic victory that broke the backs of the Americans, the strongest power in this world.” The comments are made in an audiotape played on Al Jazeera. The authenticity of the recording has not been independently confirmed, and Al Jazeera does not explain how it got the recording or when it was made. (Associated Press 6/22/2002) Abu Ghaith previously issued video recordings of his statements (see October 10, 2001).
The New York Times reports that 10 out of the 24 al-Qaeda leaders considered most important by the CIA before 9/11 have been killed or captured. (Risen and Filkins 9/10/2002) The four most important figures considered still at large are:
Osama bin Laden (Saudi). He will be killed in 2011 (see May 2, 2011).
Ayman al-Zawahiri (Egyptian).
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (Kuwaiti/Pakistani). He will be captured in 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003).
Saif al-Adel (Egyptian).
Other figures considered still at large are:
Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (Egyptian).
Mustafa Muhammad Fadhil (Egyptian).
Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah (Egyptian). He will be killed in 2006 (see April 12, 2006).
Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam) (Kenyan). He will be killed in 2009 (see January 1, 2009).
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul) (Comoros Islander). He will be killed in 2011 (see June 10, 2011).
Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian) (Mauritanian).
Amin ul-Haq (Afghan).
Midhat Mursi (Egyptian). He will be killed in 2008 (see July 28, 2008).
Anas al-Liby (Libyan). He may have been secretly captured already (see January 20, 2002- March 20, 2002).
Suliman abu Ghaith (Kuwaiti).
Saad bin Laden (Saudi). He apparently will be killed in 2009 (see July 22, 2009).
Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (Saudi). He will be captured in 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). (New York Times 9/10/2002)
The four leaders captured are:
Abu Zubaida (Palestinian) (see March 28, 2002).
Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi (Yemeni) (see Late 2001 and February 7, 2002).
Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (Libyan) (see December 19, 2001).
Abu Zubair al-Haili (Saudi) (see June 8, 2002 and After). (New York Times 9/10/2002)
Five of the six leaders believed killed are:
Mohammed Atef (Egyptian) (see November 15, 2001).
Abu Jaffa (a.k.a. Abu Jafar al-Jaziri) (Algerian).
Abu Salah al-Yemeni (Yemeni).
Tariq Anwar al-Sayyid Ahmad (Egyptian).
Muhammad Salah (a.k.a. Nasr Fahmi Nasr Hasanayn) (Egyptian). (New York Times 9/10/2002)
The sixth leader believed killed is not named. One year after 9/11, US intelligence identifies 20 current high-ranking al-Qaeda leaders, though it is not mentioned who the six new leaders are who replaced some of the killed or captured leaders. (Risen and Filkins 9/10/2002) This list of leaders, while instructive, is curiously incomplete because it fails to mention al-Qaeda leaders known as important to US intelligence before 9/11, such as Hambali, Khallad bin Attash, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Thirwat Salah Shehata, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, and Mohammed Jamal Khalifa.
Shortly after the arrest of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) (see February 29 or March 1, 2003), US investigators will allegedly find out that he had recently met with Osama bin Laden. Later in 2003, authors Nick Fielding and Yosri Fouda will claim that not long after KSM is transferred from Pakistani to US custody, he confesses that he had met with bin Laden within the past two months. Bin Laden is said to be in good health. KSM met him in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan after a journey involving a complicated network of phone calls and couriers. He also says that bin Laden has been concentrating his forces in South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region, and bin Laden has formed an alliance with Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Fielding and Fouda will note that this story seems confirmed by the fact that within days of KSM’s arrest, residents in the town of Chaman in Baluchistan said that US aircraft dropped millions of leaflets mentioning the $25 million reward for bin Laden’s arrest. KSM also allegedly claims to know that al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri recently returned to Quetta, Pakistan, after spending time in the Middle East. Also within days of KSM’s arrest, millions of leaflets about al-Zawahiri and his reward are dropped in that region. (Fouda and Fielding 2003, pp. 184) It is likely that KSM is tortured during this time (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003). KSM will later say, “During the harshest period of my interrogation, I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop” (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003).
In February 2003, some radical militants are arrested in Bahrain. A joint US-Saudi raid of an apartment in Saudi Arabia owned by one of them reveals the designs for a bomb called a mubtakkar. This bomb is made of two widely available chemicals, sodium cyanide and hydrogen, which combine to create hydrogen cyanide. When turned to gas, it is lethal, and counterterrorism experts are highly alarmed at this technical breakthrough. CIA Director Tenet briefs President Bush about the mubtakkar bomb in early March. (Suskind 2006, pp. 193-197; Suskind 6/17/2006) Journalist Ron Suskind calls it a “nightmare delivery system—portable, easy to construct, deadly.” The CIA has a highly placed al-Qaeda informant codenamed Ali, and in late March they contact him to learn more about the bomb. He tells his CIA handlers that Yusef al-Ayeri, a Saudi in charge of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian peninsula, visited al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in January 2003. He told al-Zawahiri of an already advanced plot in the US. Operatives loosely linked to al-Qaeda had traveled to the US in the fall of 2002 and thoroughly cased locations in New York City. They would place the mubtakkar bomb in subway cars and remotely activate them. The group was ready to implement an attack in about 45 days. According to Suskind, several thousand people could be killed. But Ali learned that al-Zawahiri called off the attacks, though Ali does not know the reason why. The group did cancel the attack, and US intelligence never learns who exactly they were. President Bush and others puzzle why the attack was canceled and speculate that al-Qaeda put it aside in favor of an even bigger attack. (Suskind 2006, pp. 216-220; Suskind 6/17/2006) Suskind’s account will cause alarm when revealed in 2006. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) will say that authorities took the plot seriously but were never able to confirm its existence. Other officials will debate the effectiveness of the bomb and how many deaths it could have caused. (CNN 6/18/2006) University of Maryland professor Milton Leitenberg later says of the bomb, “What you would get, in all probability, is a big bang, a big splash, but very little gas.” He also says that concentrations of key chemicals present in household materials are so low “you would get next to nothing” by using them, and one would have to get them from a chemical supplier or steal them from a laboratory. One counterterrorism official points out, “If this is such an amazing weapon, and the design for it is out there, why has no one ever used it?” (Waterman 6/27/2006) An article by the private intelligence service Stratfor is also skeptical and suggests that al-Zawahiri called off the attack because it wouldn’t have been as deadly as if conventional bombs were used instead. (Burton 6/21/2006) CIA Deputy Counter Terrorism Center Director Hank Crumpton will also later suggest that a team was recruited to stage the attack but apparently never was sent to the US. (Thomas 8/28/2007)
A man thought to be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri calls for the overthrow of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in an audio cassette made public on this day. The man calls on Pakistanis to “unite and cooperate to topple this traitor and install a sincere leadership that would defend Islam and Muslims.” (Rashid 2008, pp. 230, 436) There will be two apparently al-Qaeda-linked assassination attempts against Musharraf in December 2003 (see December 14 and 25, 2003).
On December 14, 2003, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf survives an assassination attempt when a powerful bomb goes off 30 seconds after his highly-guarded convoy crosses a bridge in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. The heavily guarded bridge is just a mile from Musharraf’s house, yet militants were able to spend severals days tying explosives to the pylons below it. His life is saved by a jamming device in his car given to him by the FBI, which temporarily jams all telephone signals and thus delays the explosion. On December 25, 2003, two suicide bombers launch another attempt to assassinate Musharraf, driving car bombs into his convoy a short distance from the location of the previous attack. Their car bombs fail to kill him and he escapes with only a cracked windscreen on his car, but 16 others nearby are killed.
Investigation - The identities of the two suicide bombers are soon discovered. One is Mohammed Jamil, a member of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) militant group who fought with the Taliban. The other is Hazir Sultan, who also fought with the Taliban. The memory chip from Jamil’s phone is found in the debris, and it is discovered he talked to a policeman who told him the timing of Musharraf’s convoy. Only a handful of military officers knew the route and timing of Musharraf’s travels and which of several identical cars he would be using at any given time, suggesting that elements within the military were involved in the attacks. Investigators also discover that the explosives used in the attacks came from an al-Qaeda camp in the Pakistani tribal area of South Waziristan. (Rashid 2008, pp. 230-232)
Militant Leaders against Musharraf - Osama bin Laden apparently called for Musharraf’s overthrow in October 2002 (see October 9, 2002), and Ayman al-Zawahiri apparently did the same in September 2003 (see September 28, 2003). In the months prior to the assassination attempts, Maulana Masood Azhar, head of JEM, gave a speech at a prominent mosque calling for Musharraf’s assassination. (Hasan 7/27/2007)
Limited Crackdown - Musharraf responds by reshuffling positions in the military high command. More than 150 military and security personnel will eventually be arrested and interrogated. Twelve suspects are eventually found guilty and sentenced to death for roles in the attacks; at least six are military officers. It is believed the suicide bombers and these officers were recruited and trained by Amjad Farooqi, a JEM leader also closely linked to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi, said to be Farooqi’s superior, is also allegedly involved. A massive manhunt for Farooqi and al-Libbi will ensue. Farooqi will eventually be killed in September 2004 (see September 27, 2004) and al-Libbi captured in May 2005 and taken into US custody (see May 2, 2005). However, Musharraf’s response is relatively restrained. He avoids calls to launch a crackdown on the entire Islamist militant movement in Pakistan. He does not ban any militant groups, nor does he arrest militant leaders, not even Azhar, the head of JEM who had publicly called for his assassination. (JEM had been banned in Pakistan for a second time the month before (see November 2003).) He does allow the Pakistani Army to attack the safe haven of South Waziristan several months later, but only after the US gives him an ultimatum, essentially forcing him to do so (see March 18- April 24, 2004). (BBC 9/27/2004; Rashid 2008, pp. 230-232)
In 2004, Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill) visits Pakistan to find out why the US Rewards for Justice program has generated so little information regarding al-Qaeda’s leadership. In the early 1990s, the program was effective in helping to catch al-Qaeda bomber Ramzi Yousef after a $2 million reward was announced for him and a huge number of matchboxes with his picture and the reward information on it were distributed in countries where he was likely to be (see April 2, 1993). The program has $25 million rewards for al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and lesser rewards for other al-Qaeda leaders. Kirk discovers that the US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan has effectively shut down the reward program. There is no radio or television advertising. A bin Laden matchbook campaign had begun in 2000 (see February 16, 2000), but the embassy has stopped giving away matchbooks with photos of bin Laden and other leaders. Kirk will later say: “We were at zero. I couldn’t believe it.” Embassy officials tell Kirk they are busy with other issues, such as assisting US troops in Afghanistan. Kirk proposes a congressional bill that would increase funding for the rewards program to advertise, extend the program to target drug kingpins (especially those who fund al-Qaeda and the Taliban), and make other reforms and improvements. But apparently the bill does not pass and the problem is not fixed. In 2008, Kirk will complain, “[T]he key thing about the Rewards for Justice program is that no one in a rural area—anywhere—knows about it.” Former CIA officer Arthur Keller will also say in 2008 that there are people in Pakistan and elsewhere with information who would be open to informing. “They’d love to have a $25 million bounty, and they aren’t supportive of Osama. But they don’t necessarily trust the US. Who do you report it to? The local police chief?… They’re not sure who to turn to or who to trust.” (US Congress, House 2/12/2004; Whitlock 5/17/2008) In 2006, the program will conduct a large advertising blitz in the US, seemingly one of the most unlikely places to figure leaders such as bin Laden (see December 2006).
In mid-March 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Pakistan. He reportedly gives Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf an ultimatum: either Pakistan attacks the al-Qaeda safe haven in the South Waziristan tribal region, or the US will. On March 16, hundreds of Frontier Corps soldiers surround a compound in the village of Kalosha, a few miles from the capital of South Waziristan. Apparently, they are looking for Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al-Qaeda-linked militant group based in nearby Uzbekistan. But the poorly trained Frontier Corps local militia have walked into a trap, and are badly defeated by about 2,000 al-Qaeda, Taliban, and IMU militants who greatly outnumber them. Yuldashev escapes.
Escalation - Ali Jan Orakzai, the regional commander of the Pakistani army, immediately rushes in eight thousand regular troops in an effort to save the situation. For the next two weeks, heavy fighting rages in South Waziristan. Helicopter gunships, fighter bombers, and heavy artillery are brought in to help defeat the militants, but the militants have heavy weapons as well and command the heights in extremely difficult mountainous terrain. (Rashid 2008, pp. 270-271)
Al-Zawahiri Supposedly Surrounded - On March 18, Musharraf boasts on CNN that a “high-value target” has been surrounded, and suggests that it could be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. He claims that 200 well-armed al-Qaeda fighters are protecting him. (CNN 3/18/2004; FOX News 3/18/2004) On March 19, Pakistani officials say that al-Zawahiri has escaped the South Waziristan village where he was supposedly surrounded. (Interactive Investor 3/19/2004) In all likelihood, al-Zawahiri was never there, but was used as an excuse to justify the debacle.
Al-Qaeda Victorious - Heavy fighting continues for the next several weeks. Musharraf eventually orders local commanders to strike a deal with the militants to end the fighting. The fighting finally ends on April 24, when the Pakistani government signs an agreement with the militants, pardoning their leaders. The government claims that 46 of its soldiers were killed, while 63 militants were killed and another 166 were captured. But privately, army officers admit that their losses were close to 200 soldiers killed. US officials monitoring the fighting will later admit that the army attack was a disaster, resulting from poor planning and a near total lack of coordination. Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid will later comment: “But there were deeper suspicions. The ISI had held meetings with the militants and possessed detailed information about the enemy’s numbers and armaments, but this intelligence did not seem to have been conveyed to the Frontier Corps. Western officers in [Afghanistan and Pakistan] wondered if the failed attack was due to a lack of coordination or was deliberate.” Orakzai, the army commander in charge of the offensive, reportedly intensely hates the US and has sympathy for the Taliban (see Late 2002-Late 2003). But there is no internal inquiry, even though many soldiers deserted or refused to fire on the militants. Nek Mohammed, a native local militant leader, emerges as a hero (see April 24-June 18, 2004). (PBS Frontline 10/3/2006; Rashid 2008, pp. 270-271)
On July 8, 2004, the New Republic predicts a “July surprise” from the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign involving the arrest of a high-value target in Pakistan by the end of the month. The magazine reports that in the spring of 2004, the administration increased pressure on Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, or Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, all believed to be hiding in Pakistan. Bush officials such as CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell and his assistant, Christina Rocca, State Department counterterrorism chief Cofer Black, and others all visited Pakistan in recent months to urge Pakistan to increase its efforts in the war on terrorism. The New Republic comments, “This public pressure would be appropriate, even laudable, had it not been accompanied by an unseemly private insistence that the Pakistanis deliver these high-value targets (HVTs) before Americans go to the polls in November.” Bush spokespeople deny that the administration exerted any such pressure. But according to one source in the Pakistani ISI, “The Pakistani government is really desperate and wants to flush out bin Laden and his associates after the latest pressures from the US administration to deliver before the [upcoming] US elections.” Another source in the Pakistani Interior Ministry says, “The Musharraf government has a history of rescuing the Bush administration. They now want Musharraf to bail them out when they are facing hard times in the coming elections.” And another ISI source says that the Pakistanis “have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must.” The Pakistanis have even been given a target date, according to the second ISI source: “The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ISI director Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq’s] meetings in Washington.” The source says that a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that “it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July”—the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston. One Pakistani general said recently, “If we don’t find these guys by the election, they are going to stick this whole nuclear mess [relating to A. Q. Khan] up our _sshole.” The Bush administration apparently is using a carrot-and-stick approach to make sure such an arrest takes place on schedule. The New Republic observes: “Pushing Musharraf to go after al-Qaeda in the tribal areas may be a good idea despite the risks. But, if that is the case, it was a good idea in 2002 and 2003. Why the switch now? Top Pakistanis think they know: This year, the president’s reelection is at stake.” (Judis, Ackerman, and Ansari 7/29/2004) Pakistan will announce the capture of al-Qaeda leader Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani on July 29, just hours before Democratic presidential John Kerry’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. The authors of the New Republic article will claim vindication for their prediction (see July 25-29, 2004).
A man thought to be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new video on Al Jazeera saying that the “mujaheddin” (Taliban and al-Qaeda forces) are gaining ground in Afghanistan. Wearing a white turban and glasses and with an assault rifle propped behind him, he says that the fighters control the country’s south and east, and that their victory is “just a matter of time.” He adds: “The Americans are hiding now in trenches and they refuse to come out and meet the mujaheddin, despite the mujaheddin antagonizing them with bombing and shooting and roadblocks around them. Their defense focuses on air strikes, which wastes America’s money in just stirring up sand.” This is the first al-Qaeda video release in a year. (CNN 9/9/2004)
The BBC airs a three-part documentary entitled “The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear.” It is directed by Adam Curtis, who the Guardian calls “perhaps the most acclaimed maker of serious television programs in Britain.” The documentary argues that much of what we have been told about the threat of international terrorism “is a fantasy that has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It is a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services, and the international media.” The documentary begins by focusing on Sayyid Qutb in Egypt and Leo Strauss in the US. Both developed theories in the 1950’s and 1960’s that liberalism and individualism was weakening the moral certainties of their societies. Qutb has a strong influence on Islamic Jihad leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and then through him, Osama bin Laden. Strauss meanwhile has a strong effect on neoconservatives such as Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Paul Wolfowitz, who all eventually gain prominent positions in George W. Bush’s administration. The documentary follows the rise of Islamic radicals and compares and contrasts this with the rise of the neoconservatives. Curtis argues that both groups have greatly benefited from 9/11, because both have been able to use fear of terrorism to gain widespread popular support. Curtis claims that al-Qaeda is not the highly centralized, widespread, and powerful organization that it is frequently depicted to be. Rather, it is more of a concept and loose alliance of groups with coinciding interests. He says, “Almost no one questions this myth about al-Qaeda because so many people have got an interest in keeping it alive.” The documentary gains favorable reviews in newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, and the Guardian. (Regan 10/18/2004; BBC 2 10/20/2004; BBC 2 10/27/2004; BBC 2 11/3/2004; BBC 2 11/3/2004; Scheer 1/11/2005)
US intelligence learns through communications intercepts about a meeting of al-Qaeda leaders in Bajaur, in the remote border regions of Pakistan near Afghanistan (one account says the meeting is in nearby North Waziristan instead). Intelligence officials have an “80 percent confidence” that al-Qaeda’s second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri and/or other top al-Qaeda leaders are attending the meeting. One intelligence official involved in the operation says, “This was the best intelligence picture we had ever seen” about a high-value target. (Mazzetti 7/8/2007; Thomas 8/28/2007; Mazetti and Rohde 6/30/2008)
Size of US Force Grows - The original plan calls for cargo planes to carry 30 Navy Seals near the target, then they will use motorized hang gliders to come closer and capture or kill al-Zawahiri. The plan is enthusiastically endorsed by CIA Director Porter Goss and Joint Special Operations Commander Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal. But Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his assistant Stephen Cambone are uncertain. They increase the size of the force to 150 to take care of contingencies. (Thomas 8/28/2007) One senior intelligence official involved later says for effect, “The whole thing turned into the invasion of Pakistan.” (Mazzetti 7/8/2007)
"Frenzied" Debate - But even as US special forces are boarding C-130 cargo planes in Afghanistan, there are “frenzied exchanges between officials at the Pentagon, Central Command, and the CIA about whether the mission was too risky.” Some CIA officials in Washington even try to give orders to execute the raid without informing US Ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker, who apparently is often opposed to such missions. (Mazetti and Rohde 6/30/2008)
Rumsfeld Gives Up Without Asking - Having decided to increase the force, Rumsfeld then decides he couldn’t carry out such a large mission without Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s permission. But with the cargo planes circling and the team waiting for a green light, Rumsfeld decides that Musharraf would not approve. He cancels the mission without actually asking Musharraf about it. It is unclear whether President Bush is informed about the mission. The New York Times will later report that “some top intelligence officials and members of the military’s secret Special Operations units” are frustrated at the decision to cancel the operation, saying the US “missed a significant opportunity to try to capture senior members of al-Qaeda.” (Mazzetti 7/8/2007) It is not clear why the US does not hit the meeting with a missile fired from a Predator drone instead, as they will do to kill an al-Qaeda leader inside Pakistan a couple of months later (see May 8, 2005).
Classified files stolen from a US army base in Afghanistan and sold in a local market that date from this time include maps marking the location of al-Qaeda training camps and leaders in Pakistan. One map shows the location of four al-Qaeda training camps in the tribal areas of Pakistan near the Afghan border. This map also shows the location in Pakistan of al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Other maps and documents indicate 16 al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Pakistan. This includes Mullah Omar, the top Taliban leader. But bin Laden is not mentioned. (Ross 6/22/2006) One document dated October 2004 indicates two of the Taliban’s main leaders, Mullah Akhter Osmani and Mullah Obaidullah, are in Pakistan, while top leader Mullah Omar and four others are in southern Afghanistan. (Watson 4/10/2006)
A new video tape said to show al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is broadcast on Al Jazeera. In the video, the first said to be from al-Zawahiri since February, he attacks the US and its influence in the Middle East, saying, “The removal of the Crusader and Jewish invaders won’t occur by peaceful demonstrations,” and, “Reform and expelling the invaders from the countries of Islam won’t happen except through fighting for God’s sake.” The video shows the man thought to be al-Zawahiri sitting before a plain backdrop with an automatic weapon leaned next to him. He wears a white turban and black and white robes. It is unclear how Al Jazeera obtains the tape. (Associated Press 6/17/2005)
The Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh is hit by three simultaneous suicide bombings. At least 88 are killed and over 150 are wounded. The town, located on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, is popular with Westerners and many of the victims are from various European countries. The four star Ghazala Gardens hotel is directly hit, while the other two bombers are stopped at security checkpoints and forced to detonate themselves in areas without many tourists. (BBC 7/23/2005; Howie and Ross 7/26/2005) A previously unknown Egyptian group called Tawhid and Jihad takes credit for the attacks, saying they were done on orders from al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri. The Egyptian government received a warning about an imminent terror attack in the town several days in advance, but apparently mistakenly believed it would target casinos instead of hotels. (Innes 7/27/2005)
A man thought to be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new video mentioning the recent London bombings (see July 7, 2005) and threatening more attacks unless the West withdraws from Iraq. He calls the 9/11 attacks “initial clashes” and warns the US, “If you go on with the same policy of aggression against Muslims, you will see, with God’s will, what will make you forget the horrible things in Vietnam and Afghanistan.” Regarding the 7/7 bombings in Britain, the man thought to be al-Zawahiri does not directly take credit for them, but says, “Blair has brought to you destruction in central London, and he will bring more of that, God willing,” adding, “As to the nations of the crusader alliance, we have offered you a truce if you leave the land of Islam.” The tape, which is five minutes long, was left at an unspecified Al Jazeera office. This is reportedly the seventh video or audio tape released by al-Zawahiri since 9/11. He sits in front of a woven cloth that moves during the video, presumably with the wind, indicating the tape was made outdoors. (Fox News 8/5/2005)
The Al Jazeera satellite network broadcasts a video apparently featuring short speeches from Mohammad Sidique Khan, considered the lead suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings, and al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. The two do not appear together. The man resembling Khan praises “our beloved sheikh, Osama bin Laden.” He declares: “Until we feel security, you will be our target. Until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people, we will not stop this fight. We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation.” The man resembling Al-Zawahiri does not explicitly take credit for the 7/7 bombings, but he speaks of “the blessed London battle, which came as a slap to the face of the tyrannical, crusader British arrogance.… Like its glorious predecessors in New York, Washington, and Madrid, this blessed battle has transferred the battle to the enemies’ land.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair has strenuously denied that the 7/7 bombings were inspired by British involvement in the Iraq war, but the man resembling al-Zawahiri refers to the “inferno of Iraq,” and says Blair is conducting a “crusader war against Islam.” There are no obvious visual signs of where the speeches were recorded. (Cowell 9/2/2005) Remarkably, British counterterrorism officials continue to deny a direct al-Qaeda link to the 7/7 bombings and are not convinced by the video. One unnamed senior official says, “It leaves us in the same position.” A police source admits that the video “makes it a bit more likely al-Qaeda were directly involved.” The video is made by As-Sahab, the al-Qaeda media production company behind other al-Qaeda videos. (Dodd and Norton-Taylor 9/3/2005) Another 7/7 bomber will apparently appear in a similar video one year later (see July 6, 2006).
The US fires a missile from a Predator drone at a Pakistani village named Damadola, in the tribal region near the Afghanistan border. Apparently, al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, is targeted but not killed. Thirteen civilians, including women and children, are killed. Pakistani officials say four al-Qaeda operatives may have been killed as well, including bomb maker Midhat Mursi (a.k.a. Abu Khabab al-Masri), who has a $5 million bountry on his head. After the attack, villagers insist no members of al-Qaeda were anywhere near the village when it was hit. (Khan and Ross 1/18/2006; Associated Press 1/22/2006) US and Pakistani officials later say that no al-Qaeda leaders were killed in the strike, only local villagers. It appears that the intelligence tip that led to the strike was bad, and al-Zawahiri and the others were never there in the first place. (Whitlock 9/9/2007) The attack leads to a surge in support for al-Qaeda in Pakistan, including many marches of support near the targeted area. (Khan and Ross 1/18/2006; Associated Press 1/22/2006) Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf condemns the attack as a violation of sovereignty and says it “was definitely not coordinated with [Pakistan].” (Whitlock and Pincus 1/31/2006) Al-Zawahiri appears in a video later in the month, taunting the US for failing to kill him in the raid. (BBC 1/30/2006)
Excerpts from a new video from a man thought to be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri are aired on Al Jazeera television. The release follows a failed US attempt to kill al-Zawahiri with a missile two weeks ago (see January 13, 2006). The man said to be al-Zawahiri says that the airstrike killed innocent people and comments: “Bush, do you know where I am? I am among the Muslim masses.” Analyst Jere Van Dyk says that releasing the video is al-Zawahiri’s way of letting the Muslim world know: “I’m alive, you missed me! And I am still very strong.” The man in the video also comments: “Butcher of Washington, you are not only defeated and a liar, but also a failure. You are a curse on your own nation and you have brought and will bring them only catastrophes and tragedies.” The speaker, who wears white robes and a white turban against a black background in the video, calls Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf a “traitor,” and criticizes the US for rejecting an offer of a truce made by Osama bin Laden. (CBS News 1/31/2006)
A new video thought to be from al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri praises the insurgency in Iraq. He describes militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as a “beloved brother” and says, “I have lived with him up close and have seen nothing but good from him.” However, the video was apparently made some time previously, in November 2005, and the man thought to be al-Zawahiri says it was made to mark the fourth anniversary of the battle of Tora Bora (see November 16, 2001). By November 2005, al-Zarqawi had had some sort of relationship with al-Qaeda for about a year (see October 17, 2004), but this relationship will end upon his death in mid-June (see June 8, 2006). (BBC 4/13/2006)
Around the summer of 2006, the CIA sends up to 50 additional case officers to Pakistan and Afghanistan as part of a renewed effort to find al-Qaeda’s top leaders. This is said to be a dramatic increase in the number of CIA case officers permanently stationed in those countries. All of the newly arrived personnel are given the primary task of finding Osama bin Laden and his second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri. Some former CIA officials will say this new push comes after the White House pushed the CIA to step up the effort to find bin Laden. Mid-term US Congressional elections are being held in November 2006. However, the CIA will deny any pressure from the White House and say it was “driven solely by operational considerations.” But the renewed effort results in no significant leads on the whereabouts of bin Laden or al-Zawahiri. US intelligence officials will largely blame this on the peace treaty signed between the Pakistani government and Islamist militants in North Waziristan in early September 2006 (see September 5, 2006). As part of the treaty, the Pakistani army withdraws ten of thousands of troops from Waziristan and other tribal border regions where the hunt for al-Qaeda leaders has been focused. A senior US intelligence official will later comment: “Everything was undermined by the so-called peace agreement in North Waziristan. Of all the things that work against us in the global war on terror, that’s the most damaging development. The one thing al-Qaeda needs to plan an attack is a relatively safe place to operate.” The Los Angeles Times will comment, “The pullback took significant pressure off al-Qaeda leaders and the tribal groups protecting them.” (Miller 5/20/2007)
One day before the first anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), the Al Jazeera satellite network broadcasts video speeches from what appears to be Shehzad Tanweer, one of the 7/7 suicide bombers, and al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. A similar video apparently featuring 7/7 bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan and al-Zawahiri was broadcast two months after the 7/7 bombings (see September 1, 2005). As with that video, the two speakers appear separately. The man resembling Tanweer says, “What you have witnessed now is only the beginning of a string of attacks that will continue and become stronger until you pull your forces out of Afghanistan and Iraq and until you stop your financial and military support to America and Israel.” The man resembling al-Zawahiri seems to make al-Qaeda’s first explicit claim to have directly masterminded the 7/7 bombings as he says that Khan and Tanweer had been trained “in the manufacture of explosives” at al-Qaeda training camp. The videotape also separately shows what seems to be a militant training camp, but there are no obvious clues where or when the speeches were recorded. British officials have generally tried to downplay any al-Qaeda link to the bombings. But after this video is broadcast, Peter Clarke, the Metropolitan Police force’s head of anti-terrorism, says, “Such information as we do have does suggest there is probably a link to al-Qaeda.” (Cowell 7/7/2006; Ansari 7/8/2006)
A man thought to be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new video recording, which is aired on Al Jazeera. In the video he says that the Egyptian group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya has joined forces with al-Qaeda and the two will form “one line, facing its enemies.” The spiritual leader of Al-Gama is the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, currently in prison in the US on terror charges (see (April 25-May 1989) and 1997-2002). Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya leader Mohamed Hakaima appears in the video and confirms the link-up. Before it was folded into al-Qaeda, Al-Zawahiri himself headed the Egyptian organization Islamic Jihad, which had sometimes worked with Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. However, Al-Gam’a al-Islamiyya, which renounced violence in 1998 following which hundreds of its members were released from jail, denies the alliance, and analysts say that Hakaima is not a top leader in the organization. It issues a statement in Egypt that “categorically denies” al-Zawahiri’s claims, and a former leader, Sheikh Abdel Akher Hammad, says, “If [some] brothers… have joined, then this is their personal view and I don’t think that most Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya members share that same opinion.” (CNN 8/5/2006; Al Jazeera 8/7/2006)
A video lasting one hour and 16 minutes is released by a man thought to be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri to mark the fifth anniversary of 9/11. He calls on Muslims to resist the US, threatens “new events,” and says, “Your leaders are hiding from you the true extent of the disaster.” He also calls for the release of the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, and says attacks on Westeners and Jews are considered fair, as “the reality of international politics is the humiliation and repression of the Muslim at the hands of the idol-kings who dominate this world.” In addition, he comments that the war in Afghanistan “is very good” for the Taliban, and that allied troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are “doomed.” The video, which was made available by being posted on the Internet, references recent events such as a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. According to CNN, the video is “more technically sophisticated” than previous al-Qaeda videos, as it has subtitles, a highlights section at the beginning, and an interviewer who asks the man thought to be al-Zawahiri questions. (CNN 9/11/2006)
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. (Chulov and Stewart 11/3/2006; Stewart and Chulov 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. (Worth 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. (Whitlock 5/4/2008)
The US launches a Predator drone missile strike on a madrassa (religious school) in the Bajour district of Pakistan’s tribal region, then Pakistan sends in helicopters to attack the survivors. The aim is to kill al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, but he is not there. Pakistani officials initially claim that a number of al-Qaeda operatives are killed, including Abu Ubaida al-Masri, an operational leader. But the next day they only say that some Taliban members are killed. (Debat 10/30/2006; Debat 10/31/2006) The attack is said to have killed 82, many of them students at the madrassa located in Chenagai, a hamlet of Damadola village, which had been hit by a Predator strike earlier in the year (see January 13, 2006). (Lamb 11/26/2006)
On December 24, 2006, Ethiopia invades Somalia with US encouragement, attacking the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist militant group that rules much of the country. The invasion is triggered because the ICU had encircled the Somali town of Baidoa, the last hold out of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the internationally recognized government of Somalia that actually controls very little of the country. Within days, the Ethiopians conquer the capital of Mogadishu and replace the ICU with the TFG. But Ethiopian troops remain in Somalia, occupying much of the country, and the ICU and other Islamist militant groups are not completely defeated. On January 5, 2007, al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri issues a message urging Somalis to “consume” the “crusader” Ethiopians “as the lions eat their prey.” (Perry and Kismayo 11/29/2007) The US had been quietly improving ties with Ethiopia, and had been secretly training Ethiopian forces in counterterrorism techniques for years. The US covertly assists Ethiopia’s invasion with spy satellite data and other intelligence. A secret US special forces unit, Task Force 88, launches operations into Somalia from Kenya and Ethiopia. On January 6, two US Air Force AC-130 gunships secretly arrive at a small airport in eastern Ethiopia. The next day, they carry out a strike near a small village close to the Kenyan border, attempting to kill al-Qaeda-linked militants fleeing the country. Eight people are killed, but apparently no important al-Qaeda leaders. (Gordon and Mazzetti 2/23/2007) A second AC-130 strike on January 23 also misses its target. It is unknown how many are killed, but the wreckage of six large trucks is later seen at the spot of the attack. But while the US strikes are unsuccessful, al-Qaeda leader Abu Talha al-Sudani is apparently killed at some point during the fighting between Ethiopian forces and Somali militants. The US will not officially say he is dead, but US officials will unofficially say he is to Time magazine later in the year. Al-Sudani is said to have been living in Somalia since 1993 and involved in al-Qaeda attacks in Kenya in 1998 and 2002. (DeYoung 1/8/2007; Perry and Kismayo 11/29/2007) By summer 2007, US and Ethiopian officials will claim that the war in Somalia is over. However, the fighting, the occasional US strikes, and the Ethiopian occupation, continue. (Perry and Kismayo 11/29/2007)
Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike