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Profile: Ibn Khattab
Ibn Khattab was a participant or observer in the following events:
Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab [Source: Associated Press]Osama bin Laden and Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab are, as a CIA officer puts it, “intricately tied together” in a number of ways. Their relationship apparently begins in the mid-1980s, when Ibn Khattab goes to fight in Afghanistan and reportedly meets bin Laden there. It ends in March 2002 with Khattab’s death (see March 19, 2002). [BBC, 4/26/2002; Independent, 5/1/2002; Washington Post, 4/26/2003; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ]
They share fundraising and recruiting networks. For example, a Florida cell of radical Sunnis that is monitored by the FBI starting in 1993 is involved with both organizations (see (October 1993-November 2001)). Radical London imam Abu Qatada raises money for jihad in Chechnya (see 1995-February 2001 and February 2001) and is a key figure in al-Qaeda-related terrorism who is in communication with al-Qaeda logistics manager Abu Zubaida. [BBC, 3/23/2004; Nasiri, 2006, pp. 273] The Finsbury Park mosque of fellow London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri is used as a conduit for funds for both jihad in Chechnya and bin Laden’s Darunta camp in Afghanistan (see March 1999 and March 2000-February 2001);
Bin Laden sends hundreds of fighters to help the Chechen cause, and this is publicly revealed no later than August 2000 (see May 2000);
The two leaders debate strategy; [Terrorism Monitor, 1/26/2006] and
Ibn Khattab establishes camps for trainees sent to him by bin Laden, and the US is aware of this no later than October 1998 (see October 16, 1998).
Despite bin Laden’s contribution to the Chechen effort, he does not have control of operations there. [Terrorism Monitor, 1/26/2006] Zacarias Moussaoui will later be linked to Khattab (see August 22, 2001).
Shamil Basayev (left) and Ibn Khattab. [Source: Associated Press]A Saudi named Ibn Khattab becomes the central point for a foothold gained by radical Islamists in the conflict in Chechnya. Ibn Khattab had fought in Afghanistan in the late 1980s while still in his teens, and also with Arab units in Bosnia in the early 1990s. [New York Times, 12/9/2001] In addition, he had spent some time in Afghanistan in the early 1990s and met Osama bin Laden, whom he will later call “a good man.” [US Department of State, 2/28/2003] Continuing to follow radical Islamist causes, Khattab led an Arab unit in the civil war in Tajikistan in the early 1990s. In February 1995, he travels with seven other veteran mujaheddin fighters to Chechnya, which had been invaded by Russia two months earlier. At this time, the number of Islamist fighters is quite small, less than 100. But Khattab takes command of this group and the group makes a reputation as fierce fighters. Khattab also befriends Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, who later declares him his brother. In March 1994, Basayev had attended a training camp in Afghanistan, then come back later in the year, bringing more Chechen fighters to train as well. [US Department of State, 2/28/2003] Khattab extensively videotapes the activities of his small fighting unit, making numerous videotapes and CDs. This gives them an influence far outweighing their numbers, and the video footage is especially effective in raising money for the Chechen cause from rich donors in the Middle East. While Khattab’s military influence is negligible within the larger effort of the first Chechen war, Khattab’s acceptance into the rebel command structure and his alliance with Basayev will allow him to have a larger political and societal influence when the war ends in late 1996. [Terrorism Monitor, 1/26/2006]
In 1996, Zacarias Moussaoui begins recruiting other young Muslims to fight for Islamic militant causes in Chechnya and Kosovo. [Time, 9/24/2001] He recruits for Chechen warlord Ibn Khattab, the Chechen leader most closely linked to al-Qaeda (see August 24, 2001). Details on his Kosovo links are still unknown. For most of this time, he is living in London and is often seen at the Finsbury Park mosque run by Abu Hamza al-Masri. For a time, Moussaoui has two French Caucasian roommates, Jerome and David Courtailler. The family of these brothers later believes that Moussaoui recruits them to become radical militants. The brothers will later be arrested for suspected roles in plotting attacks on the US embassy in Paris and NATO’s headquarters in Brussels. [Scotsman, 10/1/2001] David Courtailler will later confess that at the Finsbury Park mosque he was given cash, a fake passport, and the number of a contact in Pakistan who would take him to an al-Qaeda camp. [London Times, 1/5/2002] French intelligence later learns that one friend he recruits, Masooud Al-Benin, dies in Chechnya in 2000 (see Late 1999-Late 2000). Shortly before 9/11, Moussaoui will try to recruit his US roommate at the time, Hussein al-Attas, to fight in Chechnya. Al-Attas will also see Moussaoui frequently looking at websites about the Chechnya conflict. [Daily Oklahoman, 3/22/2006] Moussaoui also goes to Chechnya himself in 1996-1997 (see 1996-Early 1997).
According to British intelligence, Zacarias Moussaoui fights in Chechnya with Islamist militants there. Using previously gained computer skills, he mostly works as an information specialist. He helps militants forge computer links and post combat pictures on radical Muslim websites. It is not known when British intelligence learns this. [USA Today, 6/14/2002] Moussaoui also helps recruit militants to go fight in Chechnya (see 1996-2001). He likely assists Chechen warlord Ibn Khattab, the Chechen leader most closely linked to al-Qaeda (see August 24, 2001).
Ibn Khattab, the Saudi mujaheddin fighter who recently became a leader in the rebel movement in Chechnya (see February 1995-1996), establishes some militant training camps in Chechnya after the first Chechen war ends in late 1996 (see August 1996). The camps mostly train Chechens and others from nearby regions in the Caucasus Mountains. But a trickle of Arab fighters continues to arrive and join his forces as well. [Terrorism Monitor, 1/26/2006] Khattab’s main training camp is near the village of Serzhen-Yurt. Arab instructors teach locals how to shoot weapons and lay mines while also teaching the Koran and the fundamentalist Wahhabist theology favored by Khattab. One Chechen will later tell the Washington Post that Islamist militants “went to the market and they paid with dollars. There was no power here; there was disorder everywhere, and their influence was very strong.… The poor Chechen people were already suffering so much and our young guys simply couldn’t think. They were ready to accept any ideas.” [Washington Post, 9/26/2001]
In 1996, rebel forces in Chechnya outlasted the Russian army and were able to effectively achieve a de facto independence from Russia (see August 1996). Aslan Maskhadov wins presidential elections in early 1997. But in-fighting amongst the victorious Chechen forces begins, and Maskhadov struggles for control against a number of field commanders and local chieftains. In particular, one powerful Chechen warlord named Shamil Basayev quits Maskhadov’s government and joins up with Ibn Khattab, a Saudi who only recently moved to Chechnya and built up his own forces (see February 1995-1996). [Washington Post, 3/10/2000] Khattab is an Islamist who leads many foreigners fighting in Chechnya as a jihad cause. Basayev, while Chechen, trained in a militant training camp in Pakistan around 1990 and is sympathetic to Khattab’s religious cause. [BBC, 3/20/2000] The Washington Post will later comment: “Islamic extremists figured hardly at all in Chechnya’s first war for independence from Russia, from 1994 to 1996. That was clearly a nationalist movement. But when that war ended with no clear winner, Chechnya lay in ruins, presenting fertile ground for Islamic militants.” [Washington Post, 9/26/2001] Russia tries to bolster the Maskhadov government by sending it arms and funds and even training its troops. Several assassination attempts are made against him and he is saved twice by an armored limousine Russia provides him with. Kidnappings for ransom become the order of the day. Between 1997 and 1999, more than 1,000 people are kidnapped in Chechnya. [Washington Post, 3/10/2000] In June 1998, amid growing lawlessness, Maskhadov imposes a state of emergency. But this does not restore order. Radical Islamists led by Basayev and Khattab are growing more popular. In January 1999, Maskhadov gives in to pressure and declares that Sharia (strict Islamic law) will be phased in over three years. But this is not good enough for the Islamists, who announce the formation of a rival body to govern Chechnya according to Sharia immediately, and call on Maskhadov to relinquish the presidency. [BBC, 3/12/2008]
Mohamed Harkat. [Source: CBC]In February 1997, Mohamed Harkat, an Islamic militant living in Canada who is being monitored by Canadian intelligence (CSIS), contacts a person in Pakistan whom he refers to as Haji Wazir. Harkat asks him about Ibn Khattab, a warlord in Chechnya linked to al-Qaeda, and other people linked to Islamic militancy. Canadian intelligence is monitoring the call. In October 1997, Harkat is interviewed by Canadian intelligence and he tells them he has a banker friend named Haji Wazir and that he has deposited some money in Wazir’s bank. Canadian intelligence will later comment in court documents that Haji Wazir is another name for Pacha Wazir (haji is an honoric for someone who has been on the haj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca), and that Wazir is a “shadowy financial kingpin from the United Arab Emirates.… Wazir was the main money-handler for Osama Bin Laden.” Furthermore, Harkat is involved with terrorist financing for Khattab and al-Qaeda in association with Wazir. [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2/22/2008 ] Presumably Wazir becomes known to Western intelligence agencies at this time, if he is not known already, but no country will take any action against him until one year after 9/11 (see Late September 2002).
In 1998, Saif al-Islam al-Masri, a member of al-Qaeda’s ruling military council, is appointed Benevolence International Foundation’s (BIF) officer in Grozny, Chechnya. BIF is a US-based charity with numerous ties to al-Qaeda that is being investigated by the FBI at this time (see 1998). It will be shut down in late 2001 (see December 14, 2001). From 1995 to 2001, BIF provides money, anti-mine boots, camouflage military uniforms, and other supplies to the Chechen rebels who are fighting the Russian army. BIF is particularly close to Ibn Khattab, the Chechen warlord linked to Osama bin Laden, and BIF is even mentioned on Khattab’s website at the time, as a charity to use to give to the Chechen cause. The BIF office in Baku, Azerbaijan, which serves as support to nearby Chechnya, is manned by a member of a militant group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Afghan warlord closely linked to al-Qaeda. In 1999, Enaam Arnaout, head of BIF’s US office, tours Chechnya and reports on the roles al-Islam, Khattab, and others are playing there. US intelligence is aware of al-Islam’s al-Qaeda role at this time, and recovered his passport photo in a raid on the house of al-Qaeda leader Wadih El-Hage in Kenya in 1997 (see August 21, 1997). [USA v. Enaam M. Arnaout, 10/6/2003 ] El-Hage was monitored talking on the phone to al-Islam in 1996 and 1997. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 37, 5/1/2001] However, either US intelligence failed to notice al-Islam’s link to BIF at the time, or failed to do anything about it. It is not known when he stops working for BIF. He will not be captured until 2002, when US forces help catch him just outside of Chechnya (see Early October 2002).
The Defense Intelligence Agency acquires a report on the connections between Osama bin Laden and Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab. The report states that Ibn Khattab fought with bin Laden in Afghanistan and established training camps in Chechnya at bin Laden’s request. It also says that bin Laden has met with Chechen leaders and agreed to help them with “financial supplies”, and that the Chechen camps will be used to train European militants to conduct kidnappings and terrorist acts against French, Israeli, US, and British citizens. A direct route from Afghanistan to Chechnya has been established through Turkey and Azerbaijan, and is being used for “volunteers”, as well as drug smuggling. [Defense Intelligence Agency, 10/16/1998 ] What US intelligence knows about the relationship between Ibn Khattab and bin Laden will play an important role in the handling of the Zacarias Moussaoui case just before 9/11 (see August 22, 2001 and August 24, 2001).
The Vladikavkaz train station is bombed. Vladikavkaz is the capital of North Ossetia, a Russian region close to Chechnya. Eleven people are reported injured. The Kommersant newspaper writes that “investigators are certain that the bombing was the work of Chechen rebel field commander [Ibn] Khattab”, according to the Jamestown Foundation’s Monitor, which summarizes Russian and East European publications. However, another major Russian newspaper, Izvestia, expresses doubts about Khattab’s culpability. “The paper asked why there have been no comments on the arrest of officers from the 58th army based in Vladikavkaz, who were caught with dozens of kilograms of explosives. It also asked why the 58th army’s commanders and the heads of the North Caucasus Military district reacted so harshly to indications that those officers arrested with explosives belonged to the GRU—military intelligence. [Monitor, 6/30/1999] It is unclear from available sources when this arrest was made or if any investigation was conducted. This is the third bombing in Vladikavkaz since March 1999 (see March 19, 1999 and May 16, 1999).
Attack on Dagestan [Source: BBC]A group of Chechen rebels led by Shamil Basayev and Ibn Khattab cross into neighboring Russian region of Dagestan and seize two villages near the border with Chechnya. According to most Russian and international news accounts, the militia has about 2,000 fighters. They are Islamic militants aiming to unify Chechnya and Dagestan into a single Islamic state under Sharia (strict Islamic law). The Russian government reacts immediately by sending a large number of troops to drive them back into Chechnya. [BBC, 8/8/1999; New York Times, 8/8/1999; BBC, 8/9/1999; New York Times, 8/13/1999; BBC, 8/16/1999] Basayev and Khattab preceded the attack by building fortified bases in Dagestan. Russian intelligence officer Anton Surikov will later say that Russian officials had indications that something was being planned at the Dagestan border. “It was not being hidden. There was a certain panic here.” A senior Russian official will also say, “The dates [of the assault] were definitely known several days before.” But “the area is hilly and difficult to guard. There are hundreds of different paths, plenty of canyons, mountain paths. There is no border, actually.… That is why it is not possible just to line up soldiers to guard the border.” [Washington Post, 3/10/2000]
According to a later US State Department report, in October 1999, representatives of the allied Chechen warlords Shamil Basayev and Ibn Khattab travel to Kandahar, Afghanistan, to meet with Osama bin Laden. Both warlords already have some al-Qaeda ties (see February 1995-1996). Full scale war between Chechen and Russian forces has just resumed (see September 29, 1999). Bin Laden agrees to provide substantial military and financial assistance. He makes arrangements to send several hundred fighters to Chechnya to fight against Russian troops there. Later in 1999, bin Laden sends substantial amounts of money to Basayev and Khattab for training, supplies, and salaries. At the same time, some Chechen fighters attend Afghanistan training camps. Some of them stay and join al-Qaeda’s elite 055 Brigade fighting the Northern Alliance. In October 2001, with the US about to attack the Taliban in Afghanistan, Ibn Khattab will send more fighters to Afghanistan. [US Department of State, 2/28/2003]
According to a French intelligence report, in the beginning of 2000 bin Laden meets with Taliban leaders, other al-Qaeda leaders, and armed groups from Chechnya to plan a hijacking, possibly of an airplane flying to the US. They create a list of seven possible airlines to hijack: American, Delta, Continental, United, Air France, Lufthansa, and a vague “US Aero.” The group considers hijacking a US airline flying out of Frankfurt and diverting it to Iran or Afghanistan or hijacking a French or German plane and diverting it to Tajikistan or Afghanistan. The goals are to increase international pressure to force a Russian withdrawal from Chechnya and to force the release of Islamists in US prisons. [Associated Press, 4/16/2007; Le Monde (Paris), 4/17/2007] This latter goal is a likely reference to the Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, as US intelligence repeatedly hears of al-Qaeda hijacking plots to free him (see 1998, March-April 2001, and May 23, 2001). The Chechens are likely connected to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab, who has a long history of collaboration with bin Laden (see 1986-March 19, 2002 and Before April 13, 2001). According to other news reports, in early 2000, the CIA observed Mohamed Atta as he bought large quantities of chemicals in Frankfurt, apparently to build explosives (see January-May 2000), and in February and March 2001, Atta and two associates will apply for a job with Lufthansa Airlines at the Frankfurt airport that would give them access to secure areas of the airport, but apparently none of them are able to get the job (see February 15, 2001). Bin Laden will apparently uphold the decision to go forward with this plot later in 2000 (see October 2000) and the French will continue to report on the plot in January 2001, apparently passing the information to the CIA (see January 5, 2001). But it is unclear what happens after that and if the plot morphs into the 9/11 attacks, is canceled, or was a ruse all along. Some of the 9/11 hijackers fought in Chechnya and therefore might also be linked to Ibn Khattab (see 1996-December 2000).
Bin Laden has personally approves an al-Qaeda plan to hijack a US airplane. A French intelligence report in January 2001 will describe an al-Qaeda plot to hijack aircraft, possibly one flying from Frankfurt to the US (see January 5, 2001). The report notes that, “In October 2000 bin Laden attended a meeting in Afghanistan at which the decision to mount this action was upheld.” [Le Monde (Paris), 4/17/2007] At the meeting, bin Laden also decides that his next action against the US will involve a hijacking. However, there is still disagreement among al-Qaeda leaders over how the plot would work. [Agence France-Presse, 4/16/2007] The French report also claims that in early 2000, bin Laden met with Chechen rebels, the Taliban, and other al-Qaeda leaders to begin planning this hijacking (see Early 2000). The Chechens are likely connected to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab, who has a long history of collaboration with bin Laden (see 1986-March 19, 2002) and is said to be planning an attack against the US with him around this time (see Before April 13, 2001). The French will apparently pass all this information to the CIA in early 2001 (see January 5, 2001).
Dale Watson, head of the FBI’s counterterrorism program, sends a memo to FBI Director Louis Freeh warning that Islamic radicals are planning a “terrorist operation.” The memo states that “Sunni extremists with links to Ibn al Kahhatb, an extremist leader in Chechnya, and to Osama bin Laden [have been involved in] serious operational planning… since late 2000, with an intended culmination in late spring 2001.” Watson says the planning was sparked by the renewal of the Palestinian Intifada in September 2000. “[A]ll the players are heavily intertwined,” the memo notes. Additionally, the memo says that “[m]ultiple sources also suggest that [bin Laden’s] organization is planning a terrorist attack against US interests.” The memo is also sent to other FBI officials, such as International Terrorism Operations Section (ITOS) chief Michael Rolince, who will later be involved in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui (see Late August 2001 and (August 30-September 10, 2001)) [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/2001 ] Based on this report, ITOS sends an e-mail (see April 13, 2001) to all field offices, asking agents to help identify information pertaining to the “current operational activities relating to Sunni extremism.” The e-mail does not mention Ibn Khattab. [Associated Press, 3/21/2006] These plans may be for the 9/11 attacks—at least some of the alleged hijackers are linked to bin Laden (see January 5-8, 2000), and Zacarias Moussaoui is linked to Ibn Khattab (see Late 1999-Late 2000). Some of the hijackers fought in Chechnya and therefore might also be linked to Ibn Khattab (see 1996-December 2000). Officials at FBI headquarters will later refuse a search warrant for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings saying they believe Ibn Khattab is not closely connected to Osama bin Laden and is not hostile to the US (see August 22, 2001 and August 23-27, 2001).
Shortly after discovering that Osama bin Laden and Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab may be planning an attack against the US (see Before April 13, 2001), the FBI sends a message to all its field offices summarizing intelligence reporting to date on the Sunni extremist threat (see February 6, 2001). (Bin Laden is the most wanted Sunni extremist by this time.) The offices are told to task all resources, including human sources and electronic databases, for any information pertaining to “current operational activities relating to Sunni extremism.” No specific domestic threat is mentioned, but the FBI’s mission is to protect domestic security while the CIA is in charge of overseas threats. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 255; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 1 ] There is no mention about what is done, if anything, in response to this message. This also appears to be the last time before 9/11 that FBI field offices are tasked to work on any Muslim extremist threat in the US. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 264]
Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab promises some “very big news” to his fighters and this statement is communicated to the CIA. The CIA then forwards the warning to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice together with several similar pieces of intelligence, saying it is evidence that an al-Qaeda attack is imminent (see July 10, 2001). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 151] The FBI is already aware that Ibn Khattab and Osama bin Laden, who have a long relationship (see 1986-March 19, 2002), may be planning a joint attack against US interests (see Before April 13, 2001). One of the operatives, Zacarias Moussaoui, will be arrested a month later (see August 16, 2001), but a search warrant for his belongings will not be granted (see August 16, 2001, August 22, 2001 and August 28, 2001).
After being contacted by FBI headquarters (see (August 20, 2001)) and the local Minneapolis field office (see August 24, 2001), the CIA offers an opinion on the Moussaoui case. In response to French information linking Moussaoui to the Chechen rebels (see August 22, 2001), a CIA officer tells Minneapolis agent Harry Samit that this is “highly interesting,” adding, “[I] am not sure why this is not enough to firmly link Moussaoui to a terrorist group—Ibn Al-Khattab is well known to be the leader of the Chechen mujaheddin movement and to be a close buddy with bin Laden from their earlier fighting days. From a read of the [French] info, Moussaoui is a recruiter for Khattab. I can confirm from our own info that in fact the dead guy [Masooud Al-Benin] in fact was a fighter for Khattab who perished in Chechnya in April 2000” (see Late 1999-Late 2000). In a document submitted to court, the CIA officer will state “[T]he connection between Ibn Khattab and Osama bin Laden had been known for years at the CIA… it was crystal clear that Khattab and [bin Laden] were intricately tied together and they had clearly shared funding operations and training… it was no leap of faith to connect Khattab to [bin Laden] and there was lots of information connecting the two groups… the FBI informed [me] that French information discerned that Moussaoui had recruited for Khattab, clearly establishing his connection to Khattab, and thereby his connection to [bin Laden].” However, FBI headquarters, which is aware that bin Laden and the Chechen rebel leader are plotting together against the US (see, e.g., Before April 13, 2001), will refuse to apply for a search warrant for Moussaoui’s belongings, saying that the connections between Moussaoui and the Chechen rebels, and the Chechen rebels and bin Laden are not strong enough to justify one (see August 20-September 11, 2001 and August 28, 2001). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ]
Ibn Khattab, a Chechen rebel leader with links to al-Qaeda, is assassinated by the Russian government. Other Chechen rebel leaders say that Khattab is killed by a poisoned letter given to him by Russia’s intelligence agency, the FSB. The Russians do not present another version of his death. Khattab is unique amongst Chechen leaders because he was actually a Jordanian from a Saudi tribe who moved to Chechnya in 1995 shortly after fighting began there and became one of the top leaders of the Chechen rebellion. He was the main link between the Chechens and Islamist militants like bin Laden (see 1986-March 19, 2002). [BBC, 4/26/2002; Independent, 5/1/2002; MSNBC, 6/22/2005]
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