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Profile: Djamel Beghal
Djamel Beghal was a participant or observer in the following events:
Djamel Beghal, who authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will call “al-Qaeda’s man in Paris,” leaves France and moves to London. He makes the move due to his dissatisfaction with life in France, because of the anti-Islamist climate in Paris and because of poor personal circumstances. On arrival in Britain, he rents properties in Leicester, in central England, and in London, where he begins to frequent Finsbury Park mosque. In early 1997 the mosque becomes a hotbed of Islamist radicalism when it is taken over by Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for British intelligence (see Early 1997 and March 1997). Beghal becomes one of the key figures at the mosque, which he uses to recruit potential al-Qaeda operatives, including shoe bomber Richard Reid (see Spring 1998). One of his recruiting techniques is to constantly lecture impressionable young men and, according to O’Niell and McGrory, “A recurrent theme of [his] nightly lectures [is] to tell the young men sitting at his feet that there [is] no higher duty than to offer themselves for suicide missions.” Beghal also travels the world, going to Afghanistan at least once to meet senior al-Qaeda leaders, possibly even Osama bin Laden, who Beghal claims gives him a set of prayer beads as thanks for his work. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 86-87, 89-90]
While at the radical Finsbury Park mosque in London, future shoe bomber Richard Reid, at this time an angry young Muslim, meets an Algerian named Djamel Beghal, known as a top militant Islamist. Beghal’s task at Finsbury Park, run by British intelligence informer Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997), is that of a “talent spotter”—he tells impressionable young men about jihad in places like Algeria and gets them to talk about their frustrations. If Beghal thinks a person has the potential to do more than just talk, he can arrange for the person to travel to a training camp in Afghanistan. Reid travels to Afghanistan after being selected by Beghal, although he will later fail to carry out his suicide mission (see December 22, 2001). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 225]
The NSA monitors calls between an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen and one or more operatives involved in a plot to attack the US embassy in Paris. The communications hub in Yemen is run by Ahmed al-Hada, father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, who is also involved in the US embassy bombings (see August 4-25, 1998), the USS Cole bombing (see Mid-August 1998-October 2000), and 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). The Paris plot is apparently foiled based on this information, although the details are sketchy. [US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] The name of the operative or operatives who talk to the communications hub in Yemen is unknown. One candidate is Djamel Beghal, who will be arrested on July 28 (see July 24 or 28, 2001) based on a tip-off issued by the CIA to partner agencies on July 3 (see July 3, 2001). Another is Nizar Trabelsi, who will be arrested on September 13, although Trabelsi may be arrested based on information gleaned from Beghal. Both Beghal (see Spring 1998) and Trabelsi (see September 13, 2001) are connected to a plot to destroy an airliner with a shoe bomb, but this is not stopped (see December 22, 2001).
[Source: Public domain]High-level al-Qaeda operative Djamel Beghal is arrested in Dubai on his way back from Afghanistan. Earlier in the month the CIA sent friendly intelligence agencies a list of al-Qaeda agents they wanted to be immediately apprehended, and Beghal was on the list (see July 3, 2001).
Information Obtained - Beghal quickly starts to talk, and tells French investigators about a plot to attack the American embassy in Paris. Crucially, he provides new details about the international-operations role of top al-Qaeda deputy Abu Zubaida, whom he had been with a short time before. [New York Times, 12/28/2001; Time, 8/12/2002] One European official says Beghal talks about “very important figures in the al-Qaeda structure, right up to bin Laden’s inner circle. [He] mention[s] names, responsibilities and functions—people we weren’t even aware of before. This is important stuff.” [Time, 11/12/2001] One French official says of Beghal’s interrogations, “We shared everything we knew with the Americans.” [Time, 5/19/2002]
Link to 9/11 - The New York Times later will report, “Enough time and work could have led investigators from Mr. Beghal to an address in Hamburg where Mohamed Atta and his cohorts had developed and planned the Sept. 11 attacks.” Beghal had frequently associated with Zacarias Moussaoui. However, although Moussaoui is arrested (see August 16, 2001) around the same time that Beghal is revealing the names and details of all his fellow operatives, Beghal is apparently not asked about Moussaoui. [New York Times, 12/28/2001; Time, 8/12/2002]
Timing of Arrest - Most media accounts place the arrest on July 28. However, in a 2007 book CIA Director George Tenet will say he received a briefing about the arrest on July 24. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 156-157]
British authorities learn of the arrest of top Islamist militant Djamel Beghal in Dubai (see July 24 or 28, 2001), and the CIA tells them that an operative behind a plot Beghal is helping organize, a bombing of the US embassy in Paris, has arrived in Britain. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 157] It is unknown who the operative behind the plot is and what action British authorities take on the matter, but arrests of people linked to Beghal and his associates are made around Europe in the next few months (see September 13, 2001, September 26, 2001 and March 2000-September 22, 2001). Beghal has been active in Britain for some time, in particular at London’s radical Finsbury Park mosque, which is under surveillance by the British (see 1997), and a group of his associates are arrested in Britain one day after his capture is made public (see March 2000-September 22, 2001). However, no action is taken against one of his key associates, Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is an informer for the British (see Early 1997). Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “Despite Beghal’s clear links to operations in London and Leicester, however, there was no search of the [mosque] building and no attempt to arrest the chief recruiter [Abu Hamza] who had led the prayers there. The mosque continued to be at the centre of jihad recruitment.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 94]
Six Algerians are convicted in France of trying to blow up the US embassy in Paris. The ringleader is a top Islamist militant named Djamel Beghal, who was arrested in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) based on a US tip-off in 2001 (see July 24 or 28, 2001). Beghal is sentenced to ten years in prison, his associate Kamel Daoudi gets nine years, and the four others get between one and six. The sentences are for criminal association relating to a terrorist enterprise, although the alleged would-be suicide bomber, Nizar Trabelsi, is not charged or tried in France, and few details of the plot are offered in court. Trabelsi was arrested in Belgium shortly after 9/11 (see September 13, 2001), and is in prison there on other charges (see September 30, 2003). Beghal and the others say they are innocent, and Beghal alleges that the confession based on which the arrests were made was tortured out of him in the UAE. [Washington Post, 3/16/2005]
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