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Profile: Hisham Diab
Hisham Diab was a participant or observer in the following events:
Saraah Olson. [Source: ABC News]In 1992 and early 1993, the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, visits a mosque in Anaheim, California, and is hosted by an al-Qaeda sleeper cell there. Cell leaders Hisham Diab and Khalil Deek live next door to each other and are avid followers of Abdul-Rahman. Apparently he stays with Deek on one trip and with Diab on another. Saraah Olson, Diab’s wife, sees Abdul-Rahman on television in connection with the February 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993) and fears that her husband is a terrorist. She will later claim, “I called the FBI. I said I have information about the blind sheikh. He’s been to my house, and I need to speak to someone.” But she will say they responded, “We don’t know who you’re talking about. Thank you for the information. And they hung up.” [ABC News, 12/23/2004; ABC News, 12/23/2004] From 1990 until 1996, when she divorces Diab, she claims that “some of Osama bin Laden’s top deputies would stay with her and her husband.” She claims she repeatedly tried to warn the FBI about this but was never taken seriously. She also claims that even after Abdul-Rahman was arrested in mid-1993, he would regularly call Diab from prison each Sunday and deliver fiery sermons that were recorded and distributed to some of his other followers. US intelligence had been investigating Deek since at least the late 1980s but never took any action against him (see Late 1980s). [ABC News, 12/23/2004; Los Angeles Times, 10/8/2006] Apparently also in the early 1990s, the FBI is apparently aware that Deek is running militant training camps in California for followers of Abdul-Rahman, but they take no action against him or the camps (see Early 1990s). Diab eventually becomes a US citizen and then will leave the US in June 2001. He is now believed to be hiding in Pakistan with top al-Qaeda leaders. The FBI has been asked about Olson’s allegations but has neither confirmed nor denied them. [ABC News, 12/23/2004]
Rita Katz. [Source: Publicity photo /]Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, hearing about Ahmed Ressam’s arrest earlier in the day (see December 14, 1999), hires a team of private terrorism analysts to complete a report on militant Islamic cells in North America. The Investigative Project on Terrorism, led by Steven Emerson, finishes the report just prior to the end of the year, hoping to help stop any millennium plots. [New Yorker, 5/29/2006] Investigator Rita Katz discovers that a man named Khalil Deek who has just been arrested in Jordan for a role in a millennium plot is a US citizen (see December 11, 1999). Using only public records, she begins looking into Deek’s activities in the US. She believes that she discovers a sleeper cell consisting of: [Katz, 2003, pp. 161-162]
Khalil Deek. He is an al-Qaeda operative who has lived in Anaheim, California, for most of the 1990s. A former senior CIA official will later claim that Deek’s extremist connections were already “well established in the classified intelligence” by this time, and in fact, it will later be reported that Deek’s connections with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida had been investigated since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s). Katz learns from intelligence reports that Deek has connections to a militant cell based in Montreal, Canada that includes Ressam. She suspects that Deek is coordinating al-Qaeda groups in North America. [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005; New Yorker, 1/22/2007] Deek regularly wires tens of thousands of dollars to overseas destinations. Business records show Deek was still in Anaheim as late as August 1998. The research team discovers Deek may have been visiting the US as late as September 1999. [US Congress, 1/25/2000; Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006]
Hisham Diab. Katz learns that Diab is Deek’s next door neighbor in Anaheim and she suspects the two of them have been operating a sleeper cell there (in fact, Diab’s wife had already repeatedly tried to warn the FBI about her husband, to no avail (see March 1993-1996). [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005]
She discovers that Deek and Diab have formed a charity front called Charity Without Borders (this group received a $75,000 state grant in 1997 to distribute fliers encouraging the recycling of used motor oil). [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005; Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006]
Tawfiq Deek, Khalil Deek’s brother. Katz discovers that Tawfiq has presented himself as the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) spokesman in California. Katz calls the IAP the “Hamas front in America.” [Katz, 2003, pp. 167] Khalid Ashour, a Palestinian. He had lived in the same apartment building as the Deek brothers and Diab, and also worked with the IAP. But what most interests Katz is that he had been heavily involved in the Islamic Center of Tuscon in the early 1990s. The Islamic Center is important for the IAP but is also believed to be the focal point for al-Qaeda’s first base in the US (see 1994). Katz discovers that he had been arrested in 1991 trying to enter the US with a fake ID and border guards found handbooks of explosives and bombs in his car. In 1999, he had moved nearly half a million dollars out of the US despite holding a job that only paid $600 a week. [Katz, 2003, pp. 167-168]
Although Katz does not discover it at the time, another associate of the Deeks and Diab in Anaheim named Adam Gadahn will later emerge as a prominent al-Qaeda spokesman in Afghanistan (see Spring 2004).
Katz, Emerson, and other members of the Investigative Project on Terrorism will brief members of the National Security Council about what they learned on December 25, 1999, but no action will be taken against the suspects they have uncovered (see December 25, 1999).
US intelligence learns about a likely al-Qaeda cell in California but fails to act on it. In early December 1999, US intelligence learned that a participant in an attempted al-Qaeda linked millennium plot in Jordan was a US citizen by the name of Khalil Deek. President Clinton was immediately notified because of the implication that al-Qaeda had a presence inside the US (see December 9, 1999). The FBI began interviewing Deek’s neighbors in Anaheim, California, but apparently learned little. However Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke tasked the Investigative Project on Terrorism, a private research team, to look into Deek’s US ties. On this day, the team goes to the White House and gives a report on their findings to Clarke and an assistant of his known only as Peter, and others on the National Security Council (NSC). Rita Katz has been leading the research effort and gives a presentation outlining the sleeper cell they believe they have discovered in Anaheim consisting of Deek, his brother Tawfiq Deek, Khalid Ashour, Hisham Diab, and a charity front known as Charity Without Borders (see December 14-25, 1999). According to a later account by Katz, Clarke, Peter, and the others are impressed at how much the team was able to learn looking only through public records. They express surprise that the FBI was not able to learn as much. The NSC gives the information to the FBI but apparently they do nothing with it. Katz will report in 2003 that Ashour is still living in California even though his request for asylum could have been easily denied. [Katz, 2003, pp. 156-174]
NATO troops patrol the village of Bocinja Donja in 2001. [Source: NATO / Paul Hanson]In the wake of the failed al-Qaeda millennium bomb plots, US investigators will discover that a number of suspects in the plots have connections to an obscure village in Bosnia named Bocinja Donja. At the end of the Bosnian war in late 1995, Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic kicked out the Serbians living in this small village 60 miles north of the capital of Sarajevo and gave their houses to about 100 former mujaheddin who fought in Bosnia. Most of them married local women, allowing them to stay despite a treaty requiring all foreign fighters to leave Bosnia. In contrast to the rest of Bosnia, the village is governed by strict Islamic law. Suspects who lived in or visited the village include:
Karim Said Atmani. A former roommate of Ahmed Ressam, he is believed to be the document forger for Ressam’s group that attempted to bomb the Los Angeles airport (see December 14, 1999). He was a frequent visitor to Bosnia until late 1999. [Washington Post, 3/11/2000]
Khalil Deek. Suspected of masterminding the Los Angeles airport plot (see December 15-31, 1999) and a Jordanian millennium plot (see December 11, 1999), Deek was investigated by US intelligence since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s) but inexplicably never even watchlisted until 2004 (see Spring 2004). Deek’s brother says Khalil lived in Bosnia for a while, working for a “Muslim relief organization.” [Washington Post, 3/11/2000; Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] He worked for the IARA, which reportedly funneled weapons and recruits into Bosnia (see Early 1990s).
Hisham Diab. While he has not been explicitly connected to this village, he fought in Bosnia and was Deek’s next door neighbor and close al-Qaeda associate all through the 1990s (see March 1993-1996 and December 14-25, 1999), so presumably they spent time in Bosnia together. [New Yorker, 1/22/2007]
Hamid Aich. He lived in Canada and is connected to Ressam’s group (see December 21, 1999). He also will openly live in Ireland and apparently fund a wide variety of militant groups and plots there before escaping to Afghanistan just before 9/11 (see June 3, 2001-July 24, 2001).
Other mujaheddin connected to this village are wanted by authorities in other countries for other alleged crimes. A senior US official will say, “We have been concerned about this community for years. We flushed out a lot of them [after the end of the war].… [But] we find the whole group of them a threat, and we want them out of there.” [Washington Post, 3/11/2000] Others tied to the millennium plots have ties to Bosnian war generally because Ressam belonged to a group of armed robbers called the “Roubaix gang” that trained in Islamic camps in Bosnia. [Los Angeles Times, 1/13/2000] Izetbegovic will step down as leader of Muslim Bosnia in October 2000. [New York Times, 10/20/2003] In late 2000 and early 2001, the mujaheddin will gradually be moved out of the village and replaced by the original Serbian inhabitants.
In late December 1999, Rita Katz, working with the Investigative Project on Terrorism, gave a presentation in the White House to members of the National Security Council (NSC) about a suspected al-Qaeda sleeper cell based in Anaheim, California (see December 25, 1999). The NSC forwarded the information her team gleaned from public sources to the FBI. Katz later repeatedly asked a contact she had with the NSC named Peter what happened to the lead she gave them. Peter replied that he assumed the FBI was just sitting on the material. [Katz, 2003, pp. 180] Around January 2002, Katz is contacted by an FBI agent in California who is looking for investigative leads on al-Qaeda in California. Katz forwards him all her information she gave in her White House presentation back in 1999. According to Katz, the agent looks over the material and says it is “very strong… I want to go all the way with this investigation.” Then the agent registers his investigation with the FBI so other agents with leads could contact him. A few days later, he calls Katz and says that he has been taken off the case because it falls into the jurisdiction of the FBI’s Anaheim office. Apparently that office does nothing with the lead. In 1999, Katz suggested the cell included Khalil Deek, arrested in late 1999 for involvement in a millennium bomb plot in Jordan (see December 11, 1999), his brother Tawfiq Deek, Hisham Diab, and Khalid Ashour. [Katz, 2003, pp. 186-187] ABC News will later report that Diab continued to live in Anaheim until June 2001, when he apparently moved to Afghanistan to stay with top al-Qaeda leaders. [ABC News, 12/23/2004] Khalil Deek is mysteriously released in Jordan around the same time (see May 2001); it will later be alleged that he was a mole for the Jordanian government (see Shortly After December 11, 1999). By late 1999, Ashour had requested asylum in the US. Katz will later note that he “could have been easily located, investigated, and if necessary, denied asylum and deported.” But as of 2003, Katz claims Ashour still lives in the US. [Katz, 2003, pp. 187] Tawfiq Deek apparently continues to live in Anaheim as well, where he works for the state’s Department of Toxic Substance Control as a chemical engineer. He denies all terrorism ties, though he confirms that he was an active member of the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), which the FBI has called a Hamas front group. [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005] Another associate of the above group, Adam Gadahn, will emerge in Afghanistan in 2004 as a prominent al-Qaeda spokesman (see Spring 2004).
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