Profile: Groupe Islamique ArmÃ© (GIA)
a.k.a. Armed Islamic Group, Arabic al-Jama'ah al-Islamiyah al-Musallaha
Groupe Islamique ArmÃ© (GIA) was a participant or observer in the following events:
Mohammed Samraoui. [Source: Rachad]Mohammed Samraoui, the Algerian army’s deputy chief counterintelligence specialist, will later desert in disgust and explain in a French trial that the Algerian army helped create the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), supposedly an Islamist militant group linked to al-Qaeda fighting the Algerian government. He will say that in the months before an Algerian army coup in January 1992 the Algerian army “created the GIA” in an attempt to weaken and destroy the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), an Islamist political party poised to take power in elections. He will say, “We established a list of the most dangerous people and demanded their arrest, but in vain: they were needed [to be free] to create terrorist groups. Instead, we arrested right, left, and center. We were trying to radicalize the movement.” Army intelligence identified Algerians returning from the Soviet-Afghan war and many times recruited them. “They all took the flight home via Tunis because it was half-price. As soon as they landed in Algiers, we took them in hand.” [Randal, 2005, pp. 169-170]
A 2006 analysis compiled jointly by US and Croatian intelligence will reveal that
al-Qaeda began infiltrating the Balkans region even before the start of the Bosnian war in 1992. Kamer Eddine Kherbane, a member of Algerian militant group GIA, moved to Zagreb, Croatia, in 1991 to set up a charity front at the direct request of Osama bin Laden. The organization, called Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) or Al-Kifah, is closely tied to al-Qaeda. Its Brooklyn, New York, branch called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center is tied to both the 1993 WTC bombers and the CIA (see 1986-1993). [Associated Press, 4/17/2006] Apparently the Zagreb branch of MAK/Al-Kifah is also called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center like the Brooklyn branch and has very close ties with that branch (see Early 1990s). A Spanish police report will later claim that Kherbane is the head of the Zagreb branch. [CNN, 12/8/2002] The analysis will allege that Kherbane used Al-Kifah “to infiltrate GIA members into Bosnia,” and that Iran and unnamed Arab countries paid for the operation through money transfers. [Associated Press, 4/17/2006] Kherbane appears to have begun working with other radical militants in Bosnia in 1990 (see 1990).
GIA logo. [Source: Public domain]The Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), established in 1991, allegedly is an Islamist militant group linked to al-Qaeda, but there are allegations it was manipulated by the Algerian government from its inception (see 1991). Militants launch their first attack in December 1991, shortly before an Algerian army coup (see January 11, 1992), striking a military base, killing conscripts there and seizing weapons. The GIA competes with an existing militant group, the Armed Islamic Movement (MIA), which changes its name to the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS) in 1993 and becomes the armed wing of the banned FIS party. After the army coup, the GIA and AIS stage many attacks in Algeria. The GIA is more active, targeting many government employees, intellectuals, and foreigners for assassination, and attacking factories, railroads, bridges, banks, military garrisons, and much more. They generally try to minimize civilian casualties, but hope to create a state of fear that will lead to paralysis and the collapse of the government. The group goes through four leaders during this time. But in October 1994 a new leader will take over, dramatically changing the direction of the group (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996). [Crotty, 2005, pp. 291]
By 1993, the Algerian militant group Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) is extremely active launching attacks in Algeria. For instance, in a two month period of 1994 alone, it will burn down over 500 schools. In 1993, bin Laden sends Qari Said al-Jazairi, an Algerian member of al-Qaeda’s shura (ruling council), to meet with rebel leaders in the mountains. He gives them $40,000 but warns them there is no room for compromise with the government and total war is the only solution. This marginalizes the moderates. According to later testimony by key al-Qaeda defector Jamal al-Fadl, the GIA is then treated as an affiliate of al-Qaeda. [Day 2. United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., 2/6/2001; Wright, 2006, pp. 189-190] Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders may not be aware of it, but the GIA is highly infiltrated by the Algerian intelligence agency by this time (see 1991).
According to a book by French counterterrorism expert Roland Jacquard first published just prior to 9/11, “Bin Laden himself traveled to Manchester and the London suburb of Wembley in 1994 to meet associates of the GIA, notably those producing the Al Ansar newsletter. Financed by a bin Laden intermediary, this newsletter called for a jihad against France in 1995, the opening salvo of which was the Saint-Michel metro attack.” [Jacquard, 2002, pp. 67] The GIA is an Algerian militant group heavily infiltrated by government moles around this time (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996), and the wave of attacks against France have been called false flag attacks designed to discredit Muslim opponents to the government of Algeria (see January 13,1995 and July-October 1995). It is unknown if bin Laden is duped by the GIA, but in 1996 he will withdraw support from the group, claiming it has been infiltrated by spies (see Mid-1996). Bin Laden appears to make many trips to London in the early 1990s (see Early 1990s-Late 1996). If Jacquard is correct, it seems probable that bin Laden meets with Rachid Ramda at this time, because he is editor-in-chief of Al Ansar and also allegedly finances the GIA attacks in France. Bin Laden will later be accused of funding the attacks through Ramda (see January 5, 1996). [Jacquard, 2002, pp. 64]
French authorities raid safe houses for activists linked with the Algerian militant organization Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA). These raids turn up telephone and fax numbers of London addresses that are then passed to the British authorities, along with the names of suspects the French want the British to investigate. These names include that of Rachid Ramda, who will later go on to mastermind a wave of bombings in France that kill 10 people (see July-October 1995). However, British authorities fail to do anything with this information. After the attacks, the French will say that if MI5 and other British authorities had acted on it, the wave of attacks could have been averted. Ramda will be arrested after the bombings, but it will take 10 years to extradite him to France (see January 5, 1996). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 113-114]
The groundwork for al-Qaeda’s network in Europe is laid in the early 1990s by militant groups from North Africa, in particular the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) of Algeria. However, the GIA is penetrated both at home and abroad by the Algerian army and intelligence establishment and is sometimes even led by moles (see 1991, October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996 and July-October 1995). After elections are canceled in Algeria (see January 11, 1992), it begins to set up logistical support networks in border countries such as Spain and Germany, as well as in Britain and Belgium (see Mid 1994-March 2, 1995) and joins up with al-Qaeda (see 1993). A senior French investigator will say that the GIA was “part of a franchising company known as al-Qaeda.” This provides al-Qaeda with a well-established network of cells to carry out a broader jihad from its European base against Islamic countries to which al-Qaeda is hostile. [Boston Globe, 8/4/2002] The government penetration of the GIA will be so complete by 1996 that Osama bin Laden will withdraw his support from the organization (see Mid-1996).
Omar Nasiri (a pseudonym), a member of a cell of the al-Qaeda-linked Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) Algerian militant group in Brussels, Belgium, steals money from a more senior member of the cell. Not knowing what to do and being unhappy about the way the cell uses his mother’s house, he contacts French intelligence, which gives him money to repay what he stole and makes him an informer. Nasiri, whose task for the cell is to purchase weapons and ammunition, also smuggles explosives into North Africa before a bombing there (see January 30, 1995 and Before). He provides information about the cell’s members, associates passing through, weapons smuggling, and the GIA’s main publication, Al Ansar, which is put together in his bedroom for a time. The cell and other parts of the network are raided in March 1995 by the Belgian authorities and some members are jailed. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 3-100] Nasiri subsequently penetrates al-Qaeda’s camps in Afghanistan, meets some of its top commanders and reports on them to French and British intelligence (see Mid 1995-Spring 1996 and Summer 1996-August 1998).
Reda Hassaine. [Source: CBC]A journalist named Reda Hassaine is hired by the Algerian security services to perform a mission directed against the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), an Islamist militant group. He goes to London, where he meets a GIA member and receives a fax machine from him. The fax machine is broken, but was previously used to distribute GIA messages and its memory holds “scores of phone numbers identifying GIA men in Algeria who had sent communiqués” to Britain. Hassaine takes the fax machine back to Algeria and gives it to the security services there; what use they make of the numbers is unknown. Hassaine’s contact in London also gives him cash for the GIA, which Hassaine passes on to the security services. In return, Hassaine gives the contact a false passport that can be tracked. [Observer, 2/18/2001; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 130]
Djamel Zitouni. [Source: Fides Journal]Djamel Zitouni takes over the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA). There are allegations that the Algerian government manipulated the GIA from its creation in 1991 (see 1991). After going through several leaders, it appears that the GIA’s new leader Zitouni is in fact an agent of the Algerian intelligence agency. For instance, in 2005 the Guardian will report that Algerian intelligence “managed to place Djamel Zitouni, one of the Islamists it controlled, at the head of the GIA.” [Guardian, 9/8/2005] And journalist Jonathan Randal will write in a 2005 book that according to Abdelkhader Tigha, a former Algerian security officer, “army intelligence controlled overall GIA leader Djamel Zitouni and used his men to massacre civilians to turn Algerian and French public opinion against the jihadis.” [Randal, 2005, pp. 170-171] Indeed, prior to Zitouni taking over, the GIA tried to limit civilian casualties in their many attacks (see December 1991-October 27, 1994). But Zitouni launches many attacks on civilian targets. He also attacks other Islamist militant groups, such as the rival Islamic Salvation Army (AIS). He also launches a series of attacks inside France. [Crotty, 2005, pp. 291-292] Zitouni also kills many of the genuine Islamists within the GIA. [New Zealand Listener, 2/14/2004] These controversial tactics cause the GIA to slowly lose popular support and the group also splits into many dissident factions. Some international militant leaders such as Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Qatada continue to support the GIA. He will finally be killed by a rival faction on July 16, 1996. [Crotty, 2005, pp. 291-292]
Algerian journalist Reda Hassaine, who has previously performed one mission for the Algerian security services directed against the militant Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) (see August 1994), persuades the Algerian government to hire him on a more permanent basis. Hassaine approaches the Algerians because gunmen have assassinated a close friend in Algiers and he holds the GIA responsible. He makes the approach in London, where he now lives, by contacting the Algerian embassy. His case is handled by a colonel in the Algerian intelligence service, with whom Hassaine meets in various London pubs for several years. Hassaine is tasked with attending the various extremist mosques, in particular a mosque in Finsbury Park, as well as coffee shops. His job is to keep his eyes and ears open and also to report on specific GIA operatives. Hassaine will later focus on the Finsbury Park Mosque and will say of the extremists who passed through it: “They came from all over the world, spent some time there and went somewhere else—Kashmir, Afghanistan, wherever. And many of them would come back again. The mosque was a rest place for them, they would return from jihad and start telling the younger ones about it, brainwashing another lot of recruits.” Hassaine will be hired by French intelligence in 1997 (see Early 1997), after which he appears to do less for the Algerians. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 130-134]
The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) logo. [Source: Public domain]The Italian government hosts a meeting in Rome of Algerian political parties, including the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), whose probable election win was halted by an army coup in 1992 (see January 11, 1992). Eight political parties representing 80 percent of the vote in the last multi-party election agree on a common platform brokered by the Catholic community of Sant’Egidio, Italy, known as the Sant’Egidio Platform. The militant Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) is the only significant opposition force not to participate in the agreement. The parties agree to a national conference that would precede new multi-party elections. They call for an inquiry into the violence in Algeria, a return to constitutional rule, and the end of the army’s involvement in politics. The Independent notes the agreement “[does] much to bridge the enmity between religious and lay parties and, most significantly, pushe[s] the FIS for the first time into an unequivocal declaration of democratic values.” French President Francois Mitterrand soon proposes a European Union peace initiative to end the fighting in Algeria, but the Algerian government responds by recalling its ambassador to France. [Independent, 2/5/1995] The Washington Post notes that the agreement “demonstrate[s] a growing alliance between the Islamic militants [such as the GIA], waging a deadly underground war with government security forces, and the National Liberation Front,” Algeria’s ruling party, as both are opposed to peace with the FIS and other opposition parties. [Washington Post, 1/14/1995] The Guardian will later report that these peace overtures “left [Algeria’s] generals in an untenable position. In their desperation, and with the help of the DRS [Algeria’s intelligence agency], they hatched a plot to prevent French politicians from ever again withdrawing support for the military junta.” The GIA is heavily infilrated by Algerian government moles at this time and even the GIA’s top leader, Djamel Zitouni, is apparently working for Algerian intelligence (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996). Some GIA moles are turned into agent provocateurs. GIA leader Ali Touchent, who the Guardian will say is one of the Algerian moles, begins planning attacks in France in order to turn French public opinion against the Algerian opposition and in favor of the ruling Algerian government (see July-October 1995). The GIA also plots against some of the FIS’s leaders living in Europe. [Guardian, 9/8/2005]
Omar Nasiri, an operative of the Algerian Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) and informer for French intelligence, smuggles explosives into North Africa before a massacre by the GIA in Algeria. Nasiri takes the explosives hidden in a car for a GIA cell in Belgium, for which he works as an ammunition and weapons purchaser (see Mid 1994-March 2, 1995). Nasiri tells his contact at the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) about the trip beforehand, but refuses to provide the French with updates about his progress while on route to Tangiers, Morocco, where he passes the car and explosives on to another operative. A short while after this, there is a car bombing in Algiers, in neighboring Algeria, killing over 40 people. Nasiri later comments: “I don’t know if the explosives I carried were used in that blast. I will never know. The GIA had lots of suppliers, of course. And yet I kept thinking about the urgency of the trip. The way [an operative] yelled at me, and the frustration in [another operative]‘s voice when I threatened to keep the car. The speed with which the mechanic replaced the engine in Brussels. Was everything timed for this attack? I will never know the truth, but the question still haunts me.” [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 63-81]
The Algerian Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) gains more influence in the Islamic Cultural Institute, a militant mosque in Milan, Italy, following the death of its former head, Anwar Shaaban. Under the leadership of Shaaban, who died in the Bosnian war, the mosque had been built up into a key European logistics center for militant Islamists. [Chicago Tribune, 10/22/2001] The mosque is described as “the main al-Qaeda station house in Europe” (see 1993 and After), but the GIA is said to be infiltrated by government informers at this point and is losing strength in Algeria due to the penetration (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996).
At some point in the mid-to-late 1990s, French authorities ask their counterparts in Britain to ban the militant newsletter Al Ansar, which is published in Britain by supporters of the radical Algerian organization Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA). Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will describe the newsletter: “This was handed out at mosques, youth clubs, and restaurants popular with young Arabs. It eulogized atrocities carried out by mujaheddin in Algeria, recounting graphic details of their operations, and described in deliberately provocative language an attack on a packed passenger train and the hijacking of a French airliner in December 1994 which was intended to be flown into the Eiffel Tower.” They add that its past editors “read like a who’s who of Islamist extremists,” including Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for the British authorities (see Early 1997 and Before October 1997), Abu Qatada, another British informer (see June 1996-February 1997), and Rachid Ramda, the mastermind of a series of attacks in France who operated from Britain (see 1994 and July-October 1995). The newsletter is also linked to Osama bin Laden (see 1994 and January 5, 1996). However, British authorities say that the newsletter cannot be banned. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 112-113]
Rachid Ramda. [Source: Public domain]The London Times publishes one of the first Western newspaper articles about Osama bin Laden. The article says, “A Saudi Arabian millionaire is suspected of channeling thousands of pounds to Islamic militants in London which may have bankrolled French terrorist bombings.” Bin Laden is referred to as “Oussama ibn-Laden.” It says that he sent money to Rachid Ramda, editor in chief of Al Ansar, the London-based newsletter for the radical Algerian militant group the GIA. However, government sources say that the money ostensibly for the newsletter was really used to fund a wave of militant attacks in France in 1995 (see July-October 1995). Ramda was arrested in London on November 4, 1995 at the request of the French government. [London Times, 1/5/1996] Two other people working as editors on the Al Ansar newsletter in 1995, Abu Qatada and Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, will later be found to be important al-Qaeda leaders (see June 1996-1997 and October 31, 2005). It will take ten years for Britain to extradite Ramda to France. He will be tried in France in 2005 and sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 1995 French attacks. [BBC, 10/26/2007] Bin Laden may have met with Ramda while visiting Britain in 1994 (see 1994). It will later be revealed that the 1995 attacks in France were led by an Algerian government mole (see July-October 1995), and the GIA as a whole was run by a government mole (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996).
A photo montage of the seven murdered monks from Tibhirine. [Source: Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance] (click image to enlarge)On March 26, 1996, a group of armed men break into a Trappist monastery in the remote mountain region of Tibhirine, Algeria, and kidnap seven of the nine monks living there. They are held hostage for two months and then Djamel Zitouni, head of the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), announces that they were all killed on May 21, 1996. The French government and the Roman Catholic church state the GIA is to blame. But years later, Abdelkhader Tigha, former head of Algeria’s military security, will claim the kidnapping was planned by Algerian officials to get the monks out of a highly contested area. He says government agents kidnapped the monks and then handed them to a double agent in the GIA. But the plan went awry and the militants assigned to carry it out killed the monks. Furthermore, it will later be alleged that Zitouni was a mole for Algerian intelligence (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996). [Independent, 12/24/2002; United Press International, 8/20/2004] In 2004, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will reopen the controversy when he says of the monks’ deaths, “Not all truth is good to say when [the issue is still] hot.” [United Press International, 8/20/2004] He will also say, “Don’t forget that the army saved Algeria. Whatever the deviations there may have been, and there were some, just because you have some rotten tomatoes you do not throw all of them away.” [Daily Telegraph, 4/7/2004]
By 1996, the bombing campaign of the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) targeting the civilian population in Algeria shocks even other radical Muslim militants around the world. The GIA has been supported by bin Laden since its inception, but through an associate group al-Qaeda declares: “Due to the deviations and legal mistakes committed by its [leader]… jihad in Algeria, which started almost five years ago, faced a major setback following the massacre of a number of leading scholarly and jihadi figures by the current [leader] of the GIA, who is believed to be surrounded by regime spies and collaborators.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 184] Prominent radical imams Abu Qatada and Abu Hamza are forced to denounce the GIA around the same time due to widespread revulsion about the group’s tactics (see Mid 1996-October 1997).
The next year, al-Qaeda will make a final public break with the GIA and form a new group to replace it (see September 1997-May 1998).
Leading London-based imam Abu Qatada denounces the Algerian GIA (Groupe Islamique Armé) over massacres of civilians the group has apparently conducted in Algeria, and severs ties with it. Fellow imam Abu Hamza al-Masri follows suit the next year. Abu Qatada says that support should no longer be provided to the GIA because they are declaring other Muslims infidels and killing them, although they are not learned men and do not have the authority to do this. This is highly controversial in the radical Islamic community in London, as some believe it is the government, not the GIA, that is carrying out the massacres, and Abu Qatada’s popularity declines. Abu Hamza initially defends the GIA, but, as the massacres get worse, support for the GIA in London ebbs. Eventually, Abu Hamza calls a GIA commander and asks for an explanation for a massacre. The commander says that the villagers were killed because they supported the moderate Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and Abu Hamza withdraws his support from the GIA a few weeks later. Omar Nasiri, who informs on Abu Hamza for French and British intelligence and listens in on the call to the commander, will later comment: “More than anything else, this episode proved to me that Abu Hamza was a sham. His objectives shifted with the wind. He needed the GIA to seduce followers away from Abu Qatada. Now, he saw that he might lose more than he gained by continuing to support it. For Abu Hamza, it was all about the zakat, the money he collected every week after the al-Jum’a prayers. The more people attended, the more cash there would be.” [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 271-2, 275, 295-6] Bin Laden denounces the GIA around the same time (see Mid-1996).
Omar Nasiri, an operative who informs on groups related to al-Qaeda for the British intelligence service MI6 and the French service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), sees Ali Touchent, a key member of the Algerian militant Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) in London. British intelligence officers follow Touchent, but lose track of him. Touchent, who is suspected of being an Algerian government agent who has penetrated the GIA, is thought to be responsible for bombings in France, one of which occurs shortly after this sighting. Nasiri sees Touchent at the Four Feathers club during a talk by a radical cleric. Although Nasiri does not initially realize the man is Touchent, he recognizes he is important and immediately informs MI6 after the talk. MI6 identifies Touchent from photographs taken of the attendees. When Nasiri asks his MI6 handler how they could have lost such an important militant leader, the handler replies: “He was at a café. Our guys were watching him. And then he somehow disappeared.” [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 277-278] The Guardian will later report, “Despite being publicly identified by the Algerian authorities as the European ringleader of the GIA and by French investigators as the key organizer” of the 1995 Paris metro bombings (see July-October 1995), “Touchent evaded capture, returned to Algeria, and settled in a secure police quarter of Algiers.” Mohammed Samraoui, a former colonel in Algerian intelligence, will later say, “French intelligence knew that Ali Touchent was [an Algerian government] operative charged with infiltrating pro-Islamist cells in foreign countries.” [Guardian, 9/8/2005] He will be sentence in absentia to ten years in prison in France in 1998, even though the Algerian government claims he was killed in 1997. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 346-347]
Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical and informer for Britain’s security services (see Early 1997), is given the prestigious Friday sermon spot at the large Finsbury Park mosque in London. He is suggested thanks to his work at a mosque in nearby Luton (see 1996) and at his interviews he manages to charm the mosque’s management committee, which is also pleased by his low financial demands.
Abu Qatada Rejected - The committee had also interviewed radical imam Abu Qatada, a well known scholar and author, for the position—Abu Qatada has militant links, but the committee is apparently not aware of them at this time. However, Abu Qatada told the committee that they should be grateful he was willing to take the job, demanding to see the mosque’s accounts and to receive 50 percent of all monies collected there. It is not known what Abu Qatada, an informer for British intelligence (see June 1996-February 1997), wanted to do with the money, but he is apparently a member of al-Qaeda’s fatwa committee (see June 1996-1997) and is linked to terrorism finance (see 1995-February 2001). Due to the mosque’s financial position, the committee does not offer the job to Abu Qatada.
Mosque Already Infiltrated by GIA - A group of Algerian radicals, many of whom are veterans of the Algerian Civil War and are members of the Algerian militant group the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), had already infiltrated the mosque, and the Algerians assist Abu Hamza after his appointment. One leading Algerian radical seen at the mosque is Ali Touchent, a suspected mole for the Algerian intelligence service (see November 1996).
Takeover - However, Abu Hamza soon begins to take the mosque away from the moderate trustees and turn it into a hotbed of radicalism. Initially, he claims that money has gone missing from a set of flats the mosque rents to tenants, then says that one of the flats is being used as a brothel and that one of the mosque’s old management team is taking a cut. Thanks to Abu Hamza’s exciting sermons, many more people attend the mosque, and there is not enough room to accommodate all of them in the main prayer hall. Abu Hamza makes money by selling tapes of his sermons, as well as videos of radicals fighting in Chechnya, Algeria, and Bosnia, in a shop he opens at the mosque. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 36-43]
Omar Nasiri, who informs on al-Qaeda for the British intelligence service MI5 and the French service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), lends his phone to an operative of the Algerian militant Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) his handlers are interested in. The operative, known only as “Khaled,” uses the phone to make a call to Algeria that is recorded by MI5. Khaled later borrows the phone several times, and MI5 records calls he makes all over Europe. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 291-2]
Hassan Hattab. [Source: Public domain]Facing criticism by bin Laden and other Islamist militants for massacres of fellow Muslims in Algeria (see Mid-1996), the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) issues a statement defending its actions. It states all of the Algerian populace are apostates and deserve to die for not supporting the GIA. It justifies to raping of captured women. This statement is considered so outrageous that al-Qaeda cuts all ties to the GIA leadership, denounces top leader Antar Zouabri, and encourages another GIA leader, Hassan Hattab, to form a new group. In May 1998, Hattab and several hundred GIA members leave the GIA and creates the new Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). Bin Laden tries to persuade the GSPC to concentrate their attacks on Algerian security forces. Within one year, the GSPC is already estimated to have 3,000 armed supporters. The GIA continues but at a reduced level as the al-Qaeda supported GSPC becomes the main radical militant group in Algeria. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 209; Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 184-185]
Leading radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri edits the Al Ansar newsletter published for the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), a radical faction engaged in a bitter civil war with the Algerian government. It is unclear when Abu Hamza starts editing the publication, but it was previously edited by Abu Qatada, another leading radical London imam who broke with the GIA in the summer of 1996, so Abu Hamza may have started editing it then (see January 5, 1996 and Mid 1996-October 1997). It was also previously edited by Rachid Ramda, a suspect in bombings in France, and was reportedly financed by Osama bin Laden (see 1994). In the mid-1990s, the GIA commits a series of massacres of the civilian population in Algeria, apparently due to a change of the organization’s direction initiated by an Algerian government mole (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996). Abu Hamza, himself an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), initially supports the GIA despite the massacres, although other senior Islamists such as bin Laden and Abu Qatada break with the group over the issue (see Mid-1996 and Mid 1996-October 1997). However, by the fall of 1997 worshippers at Finsbury park mosque in London, where Abu Hamza preaches, are so angry that he is forced to stop editing Al Ansar and sever his ties with the organization. What happens to Al Ansar after this is not known, but it presumably fades in importance as the GIA declines in importance as well. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 43]
The State Department officially designates the Abu Sayyaf a foreign terrorist organization. The Abu Sayyaf is a militant group in the Philippines with reported connections to bin Laden. Thirty groups are newly listed, including other groups associated with bin Laden, such as the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) in Algeria. [New York Times, 10/7/1997] However, al-Qaeda will not be so listed until 1999 (see October 8, 1999). Al-Qaeda is still relatively unknown; the name was first mentioned in the media in 1996 (see August 14, 1996).
French intelligence learns Zacarias Moussaoui went to an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in 1998 (see 1995-1998).
[Independent, 12/11/2001] The Associated Press will report that he was placed on the watch list for alleged links to the GIA, an Algerian militant group. [Associated Press, 5/19/2002] The French also warn the British about Moussaoui’s training camp connections. [Los Angeles Times, 12/13/2001] French investigators ask MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, to place Moussaoui under surveillance. In early December 2001, the Independent will report that “The request appears to have been ignored” and that the British “appear to have done nothing with the information.”
[Independent, 12/11/2001] However, later in the same month, the Observer will report that MI5 did in fact place Moussaoui under surveillance, as MI5 was monitoring his telephone calls in 2000 (see Mid-2000-December 9, 2000).
A list of Al Taqwa Bank shareholders as of December 1999 includes Khaldoun Dia Eddine, who is also president of the Committee to Aid Refugees of Bosnia-Herzegovina. [Salon, 3/15/2002] He is said to work closely with Ahmed Idris Nasreddin, one of the top Al Taqwa figures. In 1999, it is alleged that Eddine was also the head of the Gulf Office, an Al Taqwa subsidiary that the Italian government investigated in 1994 for its ties with the GIA, an Algerian militant group connected to al-Qaeda. Eddine also works for Mercy International, a Muslim charity with numerous ties to al-Qaeda and also alleged ties to the CIA (see 1989 and After). By 1999, Eddine is managing the Mercy International office in Tirana, Albania, and is said to be managing “one of the principal channels for weapons delivery for the Kosovo Liberation Army, with the financial and logistic support of the Muslim World League.” [Labeviere, 1999] There is no indication that Eddine is ever later arrested or charged with any crime.
The British intelligence service MI5 attempts to recruit an unnamed senior figure in the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), an Algerian terrorist organization many of whose operatives are based in London. An Algerian informer called Reda Hassaine helps with the attempted recruitment, and is instructed to befriend the GIA leader, and to find him an apartment in London so he no longer has to sleep in Finsbury Park mosque, a hotbed of extremism. It is unclear whether the recruitment is successful, but Hassaine obtains new information and passes it on to MI5. In August 1999, he finds that three operatives of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), another Algerian terrorist organization allied with al-Qaeda, have arrived in London and informs the British authorities of this. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 147]
From left to right: Mokhtar Haouari, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, Abdel Ghani Meskini. The picture of Meskini is from an ATM camera. [Source: Public domain, public domain, and Seattle Times]In the wake of the arrest of Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), FBI investigators work frantically to uncover more millennium plots before the end of the year. US authorities also make a number of arrests.
A telephone number found in Ressam’s pocket leads to Abdel Ghani Meskini, an Algerian living in New York City who had gone to Seattle to meet Ressam. Meskini is monitored and arrested in New York on December 30.
One of Ressam’s credit cards leads to the arrest of Mokhtar Haouari, an Algerian living in Montreal, Canada. Meskini later cooperates with US investigators and is never charged, while Haouari will be sentenced to 24 years in prison. [Time, 2/7/2000; CNN, 1/16/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 298]
Another Algerian associate of Ressam’s, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, escapes to Afghanistan, but will eventually be caught by the Algerian government and convicted in Algeria. [PBS Frontline, 10/25/2001]
Investigators believe that Mohamedou Ould Slahi, an al-Qaeda operative whose cousin is a top al-Qaeda leader, went to Canada to give the go-ahead for Ressam’s attack. Slahi is arrested several times overseas, but never charged (see January-April 2000). [CNN, 3/6/2002]
Khalid Deek, a US citizen, is arrested around this time for masterminding another al-Qaeda millennnium plot (see December 11, 1999). But counterterrorism expert Rita Katz will later say Deek was a suspected mastermind of Ressam’s Los Angeles airport plot, too. [Orange County Register, 9/12/2005] Deek’s name and phone number is found in Ressam’s telephone book. Ressam knew Deek from bin Laden training camps in Afghanistan. Both of them, like most of Ressam’s group, have links to the GIA, an Algerian militant group associated with al-Qaeda. [Newsweek (International), 3/13/2000]
Others escape the US after hearing media reports of Ressam’s arrest. However, enough people are caught to stop additional millennium attacks. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later says, “I think a lot of the FBI leadership for the first time realized that… there probably were al-Qaeda people in the United States. They realized that only after they looked at the results of the investigation of the millennium bombing plot.” [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] Yet Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger later claims that the FBI will still repeatedly assure the Clinton White House until Clinton leaves office that al-Qaeda lacks the ability to launch a domestic strike (see 2000).
Kamar Eddine Kherbane. [Source: Marco Hebdo]A militant leader named Kamar Eddine Kherbane is arrested in Morocco, but he has been given political asylum in Britain since 1994 and he is quickly deported to Britain and freed. Agence France-Presse claims that his arrest was “apparently in connection with the [9/11] attacks on the US.” The Moroccan government also questions him about arms smuggling. [Agence France-Presse, 9/20/2001] But by sending him back to Britain, the Moroccan government ignores an extradition request by the Algerian government who claim Kherbane is a wanted criminal and an al-Qaeda operative. [BBC, 9/21/2001] Kherbane was a founding member of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), an Algerian political party outlawed in the early 1990s. He is also a known al-Qaeda operative said to have met bin Laden on several occasions, most recently in 1998. He appears to have been a key leader of mujaheddin fighting in Bosnia (see 1990 and 1991). [Agence France-Presse, 9/20/2001] A Spanish police report will later claim that he was the head of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center’s Zabreb, Croatia, office (see Early 1990s). Al-Kifah was a US-based al-Qaeda charity front until the early 1990s that had ties to both the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the CIA (see 1986-1993). [CNN, 12/8/2002] Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna says Kherbane is “close to both the [Algerian] GIA and al-Qaeda’s leaderships.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 183] In an interview shortly after the Moroccan incident, Kherbane claims that he was released there because “Britain put a lot of pressure, which reached the point of threatening to expel the Moroccan ambassador from London.” He also admits to having met bin Laden in the 1990s. [BBC, 9/26/2001] It is not known why the British government helps him avoid being sent to Algeria. But a few days after his return to Britain, The London Times will report, “More than 20 Islamic terrorists, including those wanted for the murders of at least 100 people abroad, are living freely in Britain. Many on the global terror ‘wanted list’ have been granted political asylum despite being close to Osama bin Laden’s organization.” [London Times, 9/23/2001] A 2005 article will indicate Kherbane is still living openly in Britain. [BBC, 2/24/2005]
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. [New York Times, 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.” [Wall Street Journal, 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. [Asia Times, 10/26/2001; Washington Post, 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). [Chicago Tribune, 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. [New York Times, 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. [Santa Fe New Mexican, 3/20/2003]
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Maktab al-Khidamat, Mamoun Darkazanli, Mohammed Atef, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Greg Palast, Abu Sayyaf, Groupe Islamique ArmÃ©, Al Rashid Trust, US Department of the Treasury, Al-Qaeda, Wafa Humanitarian Organization
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Allekema Lamari, one of about three of the 2004 Madrid train bombing masterminds, is released from a Spanish prison in 2002. The Spanish government will later call him the “emir” of the bombings. Most of the alleged Madrid bombers have little formal connection to any Islamist militant group or training camp, but Lamari has an extensive background as an Algerian militant. He was imprisoned in Spain in 1997 for belonging to the GIA militant group. When he is released from prison in 2002, an informant named Safwan Sabagh closely follows him. Sabagh travels with him, and moves towns at the same time Lamari does. Sabagh has a special assignment from the Spanish intelligence agency, the CNI, to focus on Lamari, since Lamari is considered such a dangerous character. Sabagh is considered an excellent informant and gives a steady stream of information about Lamari. For instance, on March 8, just three days before the Madrid bombings, Lamari calls Sabagh and appears nervous and concerned about something that has to happen soon. Sabagh is with Lamari when Lamari meets other masterminds of the plot, such as Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet. Sabagh also introduces Lamari to Mohamed Afalah and vouches that he is a person Lamari can trust. [El Mundo (Madrid), 10/17/2005] Afalah becomes Lamari’s driver, bodyguard, and confidante, but Afalah also is an informant for the CNI. [El Mundo (Madrid), 1/15/2007] Furthermore, three other CNI informants, Abdelkader Farssaoui (alias Cartagena), Smail Latrech, and Rabia Gaya, also sometimes keep tabs on Lamari. Several weeks after the Madrid bombings, Sabagh will be arrested and held for one day, and then let go. It has not been explained how the CNI is unable to stop the Madrid bombings when possibly the most important mastermind of those bombings was surrounded by so many informants. [El Mundo (Madrid), 10/17/2005]
Habib Souaidia. [Source: Public domain]Algerian general Khaled Nezzar loses a libel suit in France against Habib Souaidia, a former lieutenant in the Algerian army. Souaidia claimed in a 2001 book that in the 1990s the Algerian army frequently massacred Algerian civilians and then blamed Islamic militants for the killings. The French court rules that the contents of Souaidia’s book are “legitimate.” The court declares that it could not judge Algeria’s history but Souaidia had acted in good faith in making his allegations. [Agence France-Presse, 9/27/2002; Inter Press Service, 9/30/2002] Souaidia served in the Algerian army until 1996 and took part in operations against Islamic militants. Nezzar is considered the real power in Algeria, still ruling behind a facade of civilian rule ever since the early 1990s. Several former Algerian officers living in exile testified in court and corroborated Souaidia’s statements. For instance:
Souaidia told the French court, “In the beginning we spoke about restoring order in the country. But very soon the generals made of us an army of wild murderers.… We had permission to kill whoever we wanted to for nothing at all.” He pointed to Nezzar in the courtroom and said that “at the same time they were counting the millions of dollars they had stolen from the people.”
Former colonel Mohammed Samraoui testified that “the Algerian army used all means to attack the Islamic rebellion: blackmail, corruption, threats, killings…we used terrorist methods to attack terrorism even before it had appeared.”
Former officer Ahmed Chouchene said that soldiers were told they could kill civilians as much as they liked as long as they could “produce a false explanation for the killings.” They were taught that “their role was not to apply law, but to circumvent it.” [Inter Press Service, 9/30/2002]
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