Profile: International Relations and Information Center (IRIC)
International Relations and Information Center (IRIC) was a participant or observer in the following events:
Mohammed Jamal Khalifa. Apparently this photo was taken in the Philippines. [Source: Asharq al-Awsat]Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, moves to the Philippines and sets up numerous financial fronts to benefit al-Qaeda. Khalifa is not only one of bin Laden’s brothers-in-law, but he also says that during the 1980s, “Osama was my best friend. More than a brother….” [Australian, 1/16/2003; CNN, 11/25/2004] In the mid-1980s, Khalifa was already a very senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Lebanon and ran the Peshawar, Pakistan, office of the Muslim World League, where he was active in sending recruits to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan (see Late 1980s). Sent to the Philippines by bin Laden in 1987 or 1988, he soon marries two Filipino women. He sets up more than a dozen businesses and charities, all of which appear to be fronts to fund the Abu Sayyaf and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) militant groups:
The Islamic Wisdom Worldwide Mission (IWWM), which will later be blamed for funneling bin Laden money to militants (see February 15, 1999 and October 8-November 8, 2002).
The International Relations and Information Center (IRIC), which is later seen as the main funding vehicle for the Bojinka plot (see Spring 1995).
The Philippine branch of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), founded in September 1991. The IIRO does some charity work, but a Philippine cabinet official will later note that it “built up the good will of the community through charity and then turned segments of the population into agents.” The IIRO is a charity suspected of funding militant activities in numerous places around the world, but the US has been reluctant to prosecute it due to its direct links to the Saudi government (see January 1996 and October 12, 2001). Khalifa is not only the first head of the IIRO’s Philippine branch, but also the IIRO’s regional director for all of Southeast Asia. The IIRO’s offices are often staffed by members of the Abu Sayyaf and MILF. For instance, one IIRO branch office director is also the Abu Sayyaf’s intelligence chief until he is killed in June 1994. [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 8/9/2000; CNN, 1/27/2002; Contemporary Southeast Asia, 8/1/2003; Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College, 9/1/2005 ]
It is estimated that as much as 70 percent of the money from these fronts are spent on militant groups. In one case, a charity that Khalifa claimed had built 30 orphanages had only built one. [Newsweek International, 10/22/2001] The Philippines will investigate Khalifa and expel him from the country by late 1994 (see December 15, 1994 and December 1, 1994). He apparently never returns. He will no longer be directly connected to these charities, but they will all continue operating despite widely reported terrorist ties (see 1995 and After, February 15, 1999, August 9, 2000), and they will usually continue to be run by Khalifa’s close associates (see October 8-November 8, 2002 and September 25, 2003). The US will finally officially declare the Philippine branch of the IIRO a terrorism financier in 2006 (see August 3, 2006).
In early 1995, the Bojinka plot, an early version of the 9/11 plot that would have killed thousands, is foiled in the Philippines (see January 6, 1995). It is quickly learned that Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, helped fund the plot while living in the Philippines as regional director of the Saudi-based charity, the Islamic International Relief Organization (IIRO). Wali Khan Amin Shah, a known bin Laden associate and Bojinka plotter, also was an employee of the IIRO in the Philippines. Yet the Philippine branch of the IIRO will remain open until 2000, apparently because of political pressure from Saudi Arabia. Even then, the IIRO is allowed to continue funding projects in the Philippines through a branch office in a neighboring country. One Philippine senior intelligence official will later complain, “We could not touch the IIRO.” [Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 ] Counterterrorism expert Zachary Abuza will note that the IIRO is a “very well connected charity, whose supporters include the Saudi royal family and the top echelon of Filipino society.” One board member of “the IIRO Philippine office was, not coincidentally, the Saudi Ambassador.” [Contemporary Southeast Asia, 8/1/2003] In 1996, a secret CIA report will conclude that the IIRO is funding radical militant groups in many countries, including the Philippines, but the US will not move against it either (see January 1996). Another Philippines-based Islamic charity, the International Relations and Information Center (IRIC), is also connected to the Bojinka plot. The IRIC’s director is Ahmad al-Hamwi (better known by his alias Omar Abu Omar), who is the brother of Khalifa’s Philippine wife. Investigators determine that most of the funding for the Bojinka plot went through a bank account controlled by al-Hamwi. As a result, the IRIC is shut down in 1995 and al-Hamwi leaves the country. However, its operations and staff is taken over by another Islamic charity headed by Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari. Al-Ghafari is also a close associate of Khalifa and is believed to have been involved in the Bojinka plot as well (see June 1994). Al-Ghafari will finally be deported in 2002 after years of police protection (see October 8-November 8, 2002). [Washington Post, 12/30/2001; Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 ; Australian, 4/8/2006] Al-Hamwi will be granted asylum in Australia in 1996 and will continue to live there even after media reports expose his presence there and his ties to Islamic militancy (see July 6, 1995-June 26, 1996). [Australian, 4/8/2006] US will finally officially declare the IIRO’s Philippine branch a terrorism funder in late 2006 (see August 3, 2006).
Bomb making materials found in Yousef’s Manila apartment. [Source: CNN]After a late night raid of the Manila, Philippines, apartment central to the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), investigators find what the Los Angeles Times calls “an intelligence gold mine.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Very quickly, a team of US intelligence agents joins Philippine investigators to sort through the evidence, which fills three police vans. Investigators are able to match fingerprints in the apartment with fingerprints on record for Ramzi Yousef, already believed to be the mastermind behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993). There are priests’ robes, pipe bombs, a dozen passports, chemicals, maps of the Pope’s planned route through Manila, and more. [Washington Post, 9/30/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] “The most damning information was gleaned from Yousef’s notebook computer, and four accompanying diskettes.” The data is encrypted and in Arabic, but technicians are quickly able to decipher and translate it. [Washington Post, 9/30/2001] Computer data includes “the names of dozens of associates, and photos of some; a record of five-star hotels; and dealings with a trading corporation in London, a meat market owner in Malaysia, and an Islamic center in Tucson, Ariz.… They describe how money moved through an Abu Dhabi banking firm.” [Washington Post, 9/23/2001] Photographs of all five operatives who would place bombs on airplanes are recovered from a deleted computer file. [Los Angeles Times, 5/28/1995] Wali Khan Amin Shah is identified from one of these five photos, plus a list of cell phone numbers found on the hard drive. He is traced to another Manila apartment and arrested on January 11. Under interrogation, Shah, who soon escapes from custody in unexplained circumstances (see January 13, 1995), confesses that most of the funds for the Bojinka plot were channeled to Yousef through a bank account belonging to Ahmad al-Hamwi, a Syrian working at the International Relations and Information Center (IRIC), a charity front run by Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law. [Washington Post, 9/30/2001] But despite these leads, Ramzi Yousef is the only other person successfully arrests based on all this data (and Yousef’s arrest will largely be due to an informant responding to an existing tip off program (see February 7, 1995)). The Philippine government will arrest other Bojinka plotters later in the year, including another one of the five operatives assigned to place bombs on the planes, but they will all be released (see April 1, 1995-Early 1996). Al-Hamwi is never arrested, while Khalifa is actually in US custody at the time of the Bojinka raid but is soon let go (see April 26-May 3, 1995). The IRIC will be closed down, but its operations are immediately taken over by another close associate of Khalifa (see 1995 and After).
The flow chart made by Colonel Mendoza. [Source: Peter Lance] (click image to enlarge)Philippines investigator Colonel Rodolfo Mendoza makes a remarkably accurate flow chart connecting many key operators in the Bojinka plot, and sends it to US investigators. The chart is based on what he is learning from interrogating Bojinka plotter Abdul Hakim Murad (see February-Early May 1995), while also drawing on a terrorism report he recently finished (see December 15, 1994) and debriefings of a key undercover operative (see Early February 1995). The chart identifies the following key organizations as being involved in the plot:
Al-Harakat al-Islamiya. Meaning “Islamic Movement,” this is an apparently meaningless group name used by Ramzi Yousef and others to disguise their connections to al-Qaeda. Yousef also sometimes uses the equally meaningless name “The Liberation Army.”
The Abu Sayyaf. This Philippine Muslim militant group is believed to help with the Bojinka plot that is also penetrated by Philippine intelligence (see Late 1994-January 1995). The chart mentions 20 Abu Sayyaf operatives trained by Yousef in 1992 (see December 1991-May 1992). [Lance, 2003, pp. 303-4]
IRIC (International Research and Information Center). Most of the money for Bojinka is believed to flow through this charity front. The chart names the only three employees: Mohammed Jamal Khalifa (bin Laden’s brother-in-law), Abu Omar (whose real name is Ahmad al-Hamwi (see 1995 and After), and Dr. Zubair. Mendoza’s 1994 report names Abdul Salam Zubair as an Iraqi working as Khalifa’s assistant in running a number of charity fronts. [Japan Economic Newswire, 4/24/1995; Lance, 2003, pp. 303-4]
Konsonjaya. Money for the Bojinka plot also flows through this Malaysian business front (see June 1994). Amien Mohammed (real name: Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari) is named and is one of the company directors. There is a link to Wali Khan Amin Shah, another company director. Hambali, a major al-Qaeda figure, is also a company director but is not included in the chart.
The chart also mentions many other key figures in the plot:
Osama bin Laden, who is connected to the IRIC and Yousef’s group.
“Usama Asmorai / Wali K” is Wali Khan Amin Shah.
“Yousef / Adam Ali / A Basit” is Ramzi Yousef.
“Salem Ali / Mohmad” is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM).
Abdul Hakin Murad. [Lance, 2003, pp. 303-4]
“Ibrahim Muneer / Munir.” Ibrahim Munir, a rich Saudi Arabian businessman, has close ties to bin Laden. He came to the Philippines in November and witnesses say he was Yousef’s constant companion. In 2003, it will be reported he is still wanted by authorities. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 139; Ressa, 2003, pp. 20]
The names in hexagonal boxes are the girlfriends of the plotters. Some Bojinka money is transferred in their names.
However, despite the accurate information in this chart, only Shah, Yousef, and Murad will be caught before 9/11. Khalifa is actually in US custody at the time the US is given this chart (see December 16, 1994-May 1995), but he is allowed to be deported a short time later (see April 26-May 3, 1995). The US also learns about a connection between Konsonjaya and bin Laden by searching Yousef’s apartment. But the other Konsonjaya directors, including Hambali, will not be apprehended, and the IRIC will be allowed to continue functioning with the same staff after being taken over by another charity front connected to Khalifa (see 1995 and After). [Lance, 2003, pp. 303-4]
Entity Tags: Rodolfo Mendoza, Ramzi Yousef, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Wali Khan Amin Shah, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ahmad al-Hamwi, Abu Sayyaf, Abdul Salam Zubair, Konsonjaya, Hambali, Abdul Hakim Murad, International Relations and Information Center, Ibrahim Munir
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
A Syrian suspected of involvement in the al-Qaeda Bojinka plot is granted asylum in Australia even though the Australian government is aware of some of his apparent terrorism ties. Ahmad al-Hamwi, a.k.a. Omar Abu Omar, was head of the International Relations and Information Center (IRIC) from 1993 to 1995, a charity front closely tied to the failed Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995). In 1995, Philippine investigators determined that most of the funding for the plot went through a bank account controlled by al-Hamwi. [Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 ] At the same time, he was roommates with Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, and married the sister of one of Khalifa’s Philippine wives. He worked closely with Khalifa in the IRIC until Khalifa was forced to leave the country in late 1994 (see December 1, 1994). [Australian, 4/8/2006] Shortly after the Bojinka plot is foiled by Philippines authorities in early 1995, the IRIC is shut down and al-Hamwi is brought in for questioning. However, he is let go and travels to Australia in July 1995 then immediately applies for asylum there. The Australian asylum review board is aware of the following things:
He was interrogated by Philippines intelligence and questioned about his ties to WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef and the Bojinka plot to kill the Pope.
He tells the review board that he was interrogated by a senior officer with direct ties to the Philippine president
He came into Australia using a fake Dutch passport and has two fake Syrian passports.
He has ties to Khalifa, who had been convicted of funding a bombing in Jordan.
He is a longtime member of the militant group the Muslim Brotherhood.
But incredibly, in June 1996 he is granted him asylum on the grounds that he could be persecuted in Syria due to his ties to the Brotherhood. [Refugee Review Tribunal, 6/26/1996; Australian, 4/8/2006] In 2006, it will be reported that he is still living openly in Australia. Further, Philippines intelligence alleges that he came to the Philippines after having been banned from Turkey for his suspected involvement in a 1986 bombing there. It is not clear how the Australian government missed information like this, or if they just ignored it. [Australian, 4/8/2006] In the wake of these 2006 reports, the Australian government will claim to be investigating his status. Yet there have been no reports that he has been arrested or had his residency revoked since then. [Australian, 4/10/2006; Age (Melbourne), 4/10/2006]
Now living in Saudi Arabia, bin Laden’s brother-in-law Mohammed Jamal Khalifa keeps in contact with charity fronts and militant groups he helped to organize. According to a Philippines police report, he maintains contact with:
Leaders of the Philippine militant groups Abu Sayyaf and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Abdul Salam Zubair, who was a key employee in the IRIC (International Relations and Information Center), a charity front used in the Bojinka plot (see Spring 1995). By this time, Zubair is working with Khalifa Trading Industries in Manila with other Khalifa associates.
The staff of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) in the Philippines. Many of its staffers, including its Philippines coordinator, are also believed to be Hamas operatives. The US will designate the chapter a terrorist financier in 2006 (see August 3, 2006).
Ibrahim Mata, the head of Islamic Studies, Call and Guidance (ISCAG), in the Philippines.
- - The Philippine chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 194]
The Benevolence International Foundation (BIF). In a post-9/11 trial in the US, US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald will allege that the Illinois office of BIF calls Khalifa in Saudi Arabia as recently as November 19, 1998. [USA v. Benevolence International Foundation and Enaam M. Arnaout, 4/29/2002, pp. 14, 21-22 ] The US will officially designate BIF a terrorism financier in 2002. Khalifa also still visits the Philippines periodically (see Late 1995-September 11, 2001).
Entity Tags: International Relations and Information Center, Benevolence International Foundation, Abu Sayyaf, Abdul Salam Zubair, Hamas, International Islamic Relief Organization, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Muslim Brotherhood, Khalifa Trading Industries, Islamic Studies, Call and Guidance, Ibrahim Mata
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
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