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a.k.a. Al-Jihad, Egyptian Islamic Jihad
Islamic Jihad, headed by future al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri from around 1987, receives some of the money the CIA spends on helping radical Islamist fighters against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. It is unclear whether the money is paid to the group directly or through an intermediary, or how much money the group receives from the CIA. (Burke 1/17/1999)
In the mid-1980’s, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, an Egyptian medical student, joins the militant group Islamic Jihad, and also meets Ali Mohamed. Mohamed convinces el-Dahab to move to the US and become a sleeper cell agent. El-Dahab does so in 1987, moving to Santa Clara, California, where Mohamed has a residence. El-Dahab marries an American woman, becomes a US citizen, and gets a job at a computer company. In 1987, a female acquaintance of el-Dahab enters his apartment unannounced and finds several men there cleaning rifles. She decides it is something she does not want to know about, and breaks off contact with him. In 1990, Mohamed and el-Dahab travel together to Afghanistan. They are financially supported by a network of US sympathizers, including two Egyptian-American doctors. Beginning in 1990, El-Dahab’s apartment becomes an important communications hub for al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad cells all over the world. For much of the 1990’s, the Egyptian government cut direct phone links to countries like Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan or Pakistan in an effort to disrupt communications between radical militants. So Dahab acts as a telephone operator for the Islamic Jihad network, using a three-way calling feature to connect operatives in far-flung countries. He communicates with bin Laden’s base in Sudan (where bin Laden lives until 1996). He receives phone calls from the likes of Islamic Jihad leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who also visits California twice (see Spring 1993; Late 1994 or 1995). He distributes forged documents and makes money transfers. He is trained to make booby-trapped letters, enrolls in a US flight school to learn how to fly gliders and helicopters, and recruits additional US sleeper agents (see Mid-1990s). He helps translate US army manuals and topographical maps into Arabic for al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad training. El-Dahab will move to Egypt in 1998 and get arrested in October of that year. He will confess his role in all of this in an Egyptian trial in 1999. The Egyptian government will sentence him to 15 years in prison (see 1999). (Sachs and Kifner 10/23/2001; London Times 11/11/2001; Williams 11/21/2001; Martin and Berens 12/11/2001)
Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of Islamic Jihad and Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, sends his brother Mohammed al-Zawahiri to the Balkans to help run the mujaheddin fighters in Bosnia. He is known as a logistics expert and is said to be the military commander of Islamic Jihad. Mohammed works in Bosnia, Croatia, and Albania under the cover of being an International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) official. He is said to make an extended stay in central Bosnia, where most of the mujaheddin are based, in 1993. He sets up an Islamic Jihad cell in Albania with over a dozen members to support the mujaheddin in Bosnia. (Wright 9/9/2002; Schindler 2007, pp. 123) Ayman also frequently visits Bosnia (see September 1992 and After) and by 1994 will move to Bulgaria to presumably work with Mohammed to manage operations in the Balkans region (see September 1994-1996).
In 1993, the membership director for Islamic Jihad is arrested in Egypt. At the time, Islamic Jihad is a mostly Egyptian-based militant group led by Ayman al-Zawahiri and loosely working with al-Qaeda. It has a blind cell structure so members in one cell do not know members in another. But the membership director has a computer file with the names, addresses, and potential hideouts of every member. As a result, about 800 members are arrested and jailed in Egypt, effectively decimating the group there. Most of the remaining members are in scattered cells in other countries. The group is nearly broke as well, and most members go on the al-Qaeda payroll at this time, since Osama bin Laden has lots of money. Al-Zawahiri will later confide to a friend that joining with bin Laden had been “the only solution to keeping the [Islamic] Jihad organization alive.” In November 1993, while the trials against the 800 arrested members in Egypt are going on, the group attempts to strike back by assassinating Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Sidqi. A car bomb explodes as he drives past a girls’ school in Cairo. Sidqi is unhurt, but a young girl is killed and 21 other people are injured. The girl’s death outrages the Egyptian public to a surprising degree, strongly damaging the group’s reputation in Egypt. This drives Islamic Jihad even closer to al-Qaeda, which has an international focus instead of an Egyptian focus. (Wright 2006, pp. 184-186)
Al-Qaeda deputy head Ayman al-Zawahiri spends time in Yemen and holds meetings there. Yemen is favorably inclined towards militants, due to the help they provided to the winning side in the 1994 civil war (see May 21-July 7, 1994 and After July 1994). Al-Zawahiri holds Islamic Jihad meetings at the Youth House, a government-run hall in the capital of Sana’a, according to confessions presented at a 1999 Cairo trial (see 1999). A defector will later reveal where al-Zawahiri is staying in Yemen to the local authorities, but the authorities, who sympathize with radical Islam, tip off al-Zawahiri and he escapes to Afghanistan (see Spring-Summer 1998). (Higgins and Cullison 12/20/2002) Al-Zawahiri is also reported to be in Yemen in the summer of 2001 (see Late July-August 2001).
Ali Mohamed helps Ayman al-Zawahiri enter the US for another fundraising tour and acts as his head of security during his stay. At the time, al-Zawahiri is known to have been the head of the militant group Islamic Jihad since the late 1980’s. He is also al-Qaeda’s de facto number two leader, though this is not widely known. This is apparently his third visit to the US after recruiting and fundraising trips in 1989 and 1993 (see Spring 1993) . (Wright 9/9/2002) Al-Zawahiri travels on a passport forged by Mohamed and uses a false name. He pretends to be a doctor for a charity raising money for refugees in Afghanistan, but in fact raises money for his Islamic Jihad group. Some donors know his true purpose, and others do not. According to one security expert, he is also in the US “to see whom he could recruit here, what could be done here—preparing the establishment of a base.” Mohamed and Khaled Abu el-Dahab (see 1987-1998), the two known members of a Santa Clara, California, based al-Qaeda sleeper cell, host al-Zawahiri in Santa Clara and escort him to nearby mosques in Santa Clara, Stockton, and Sacramento. (Williams and McCormick 10/11/2001; Martin and Berens 12/11/2001) He spends weeks in the US, traveling to other states such as Texas and New York to raise money from mosques there as well. He raises as much as $500,000. El-Dahab is later told some of the money collected is used later in the year to fund bombing of Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, killing 17 diplomats (see November 19, 1995). (Williams and McCormick 10/11/2001) Accounts on the timing of the trip are vague, and differ as to whether it took place in late 1994 or some time in 1995. Perhaps coincidentally, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, is arrested in mid-December 1994 in Morgan Hill, California, approximately 30 miles from Santa Clara. The FBI finds and quickly translates literature in Khalifa’s luggage advocating training in assassination, explosives, and weapons, bombing churches, and murdering Catholic priests, but seemingly inexplicably, they deport him a few months later (see December 16, 1994-May 1995). Two directors of President Clinton’s National Security Council’s counterterrorism team later will claim that they did not learn of al-Zawahiri’s trips until 1999, and even then they only learned about it by accident and were unable to get the FBI to reveal any more about the trips (see 1999).
The CIA proposes a policy of abducting Islamic Jihad militants and sending them to Egypt which will soon be approved by President Bill Clinton (see June 21, 1995). The Clinton administration began a policy of allowing abductions, known as “renditions,” in 1993 (see 1993). At first, renditions were rarely used because few countries wanted the suspects. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is one of the architects of a 1995 agreement with Egypt to send rendered militants there. He will later recall: “It was begun in desperation.… We were turning into voyeurs. We knew where these people were, but we couldn’t capture them because we had nowhere to take them,” due to legal and diplomatic complications. The CIA realized that “we had to come up with a third party.” Egypt was the obvious choice because the Islamic Jihad is the prime political enemy of the Egyptian government, and many Islamic Jihad militants also work for al-Qaeda, an enemy of the US.
Turning a Blind Eye - However, the Egyptian secret police force, the Mukhabarat, is notorious for its torture of prisoners. As part of the program, the US helps track, capture, and transport suspects to Egypt (see Before Summer 1995) and then turns a blind eye while the Egyptians torture them. Scheuer claims the US could give the Egyptian interrogators questions they wanted put to the detainees in the morning and get answers by the evening. Because torture is illegal in the US, US officials are never present when the torture is done. Further, the CIA only abducts suspects who have already been convicted in absentia. Talaat Fouad Qassem is the first known person the CIA renders to Egypt (see September 13, 1995). But the number of renditions greatly increases in 1998, when the CIA gets a list of Islamic Jihad operatives around the world (see Late August 1998). These renditions result in a big trial in Egypt in 1999 that effectively destroys Islamic Jihad as a major force in that country (see 1999). (Mayer 2/8/2005)
CIA, NSC, Justice Department Lawyers Consulted - Scheuer will say that lawyers inside and outside the CIA are intensively consulted about the program: “There is a large legal department within the Central Intelligence Agency, and there is a section of the Department of Justice that is involved in legal interpretations for intelligence work, and there is a team of lawyers at the National Security Council, and on all of these things those lawyers are involved in one way or another and have signed off on the procedure. The idea that somehow this is a rogue operation that someone has dreamed up is just absurd.” (Grey 2007, pp. 140-141)
Leadership of Program - The rendition program does not focus solely on al-Qaeda-linked extremists, and other suspected terrorists are also abducted. Scheuer will later tell Congress, “I authored it and then ran and managed it against al-Qaeda leaders and other Sunni Islamists from August 1995, until June 1999.” (US Congress 4/17/2007 ) A dedicated Renditions Branch will be established at CIA headquarters in 1997 (see 1997), but the relationship between Scheuer and its manager is not known—it is unclear whether this manager is a subordinate, superior, or equal of Scheuer, or whether Scheuer takes on this responsibility as well. After Scheuer is fired as unit chief in May 1999 (see June 1999), his role in the rendition program will presumably be passed on to his successor, Richard Blee, who will go on to be involved in rendition after 9/11 (see Shortly After December 19, 2001). In a piece apparently about Blee, journalist Ken Silverstein will say that he “oversaw… the [Counterterrorist Center] branch that directed renditions.” (Silverstein 1/28/2007)
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak arrives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to attend the Organization of African Unity summit. Less than an hour after his arrival, Islamist militants attack his motorcade. Gunmen shoot at his limousine, but the grenade launcher they have malfunctions. Ethiopian soldiers kill five of the assassins and capture three more, while two of Mubarak’s bodyguards are killed. A second ambush is planned further down the road, but the motorcade turns around, probably saving Mubarak’s life. Investigators determine that the Egyptian-based militant groups Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and Islamic Jihad worked with al-Qaeda on the plot. The leader of the plot was Mustafa Hamza, a leader in both al-Qaeda and Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. Ayman al-Zawahiri was also involved, and personally inspected the planned killing ground. The Sudanese intelligence agency also assisted. For instance, the weapons were smuggled into the country through the Sudanese embassy. Ethiopia and Egypt charge the government of Sudan with complicity in the attack. Bin Laden is living openly in Sudan at the time. Egyptian officials privately tell US intelligence they believe Osama bin Laden funded the attack, and the US agrees. The US contemplates attacking bin Laden in Sudan, but decides against it (see Shortly After June 26, 1995). (MSNBC 5/2005; Wright 2006, pp. 213-214) In 1998, Hamza will become overall head of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, running it while in hiding outside of Egypt. In late 2004, he will be extradited from Iran to stand trial in Egypt (see Spring 2002). (Reuters 1/9/2005)
The CIA and Albanian intelligence recruit an informer knowledgeable about al-Qaeda in the Balkans. The informer, whose name is Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, but is known as Abu Omar, is recruited by a special unit of the Albanian National Intelligence Service (ShIK) created at the behest of the CIA. An officer in the unit, Astrit Nasufi, will say that the unit is actually run by a CIA agent known as “Mike” who is based on the US embassy in Tirana, Albania, and who teaches them intelligence techniques. The CIA and ShIK are worried about a possible assassination attempt against the Egyptian foreign minister, who is to visit Albania soon, so about twelve radical Egyptians, members of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and Islamic Jihad, are detained beforehand. Nasr is not on the list, but is detained because of a link to a suspect charity, the Human Relief and Construction Agency (HRCA). He is held for about 10 days and, although he initially refuses to talk, ShIK has a “full file” on him after a week. He provides information about around ten fellow Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya members working for HRCA and two other charities, the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation and the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society, both of which will be declared designated supporters of terrorism after 9/11. However, he says there are no plans to kill the Egyptian foreign minister, as this would mean Albania would no longer be a safe haven for fundamentalist Muslims. The intelligence Nasr goes on to provide is regarded as good quality and includes the identities of operatives monitoring the US embassy and entering and leaving Albania. The CIA is most interested in monitoring former mujaheddin joining the Bosnian Muslims, and Nasr also provides intelligence on Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya branches in Britain, Germany, and Italy, in particular the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, which is a base for mujaheddin operations in the Balkans and is raided by the Italian government around this time (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995). Even though cooperation appears to be good, after a few weeks Nasr suddenly disappears and the CIA tells ShIK that Nasr has moved to Germany. (Crewdson and Hundley 7/2/2005) Nasr will later surface in Italy and will become close to Islamic militants in Milan (see Summer 2000), but will be kidnapped by the CIA after 9/11 (see Noon February 17, 2003).
Egyptian diplomat Alaa al-Din Nazmi is shot and killed as he is returning to his house in Geneva, Switzerland. While he is officially said to be negotiating with the World Trade Organization on economic matters, the Independent will later report, “Political sources suggested that Nazmi was working under diplomatic cover, and that his real job was to track down members of Egyptian Islamist armed groups in Europe who have sworn to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Nazmi’s murderers [say] as much two days later,” when they take credit for the killing, using an alias for Islamic Jihad. (Fisk 12/6/1995) Swiss authorities seem uninterested in vigorously pursuing political connections to the murder, which is never solved. However, it will later be reported, “According to various sources close to the investigation, the Egyptian diplomat had been handling several sensitive files relating precisely to the financial resources of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which $200 to $500 was managed by various financial organizations” in Switzerland. The diplomat had played a major part in an attempt to recover these funds. He was focusing on the Al Taqwa Bank on the Swiss-Italian border, known to be a major bank for the Muslim Brotherhood. (Labeviere 1999, pp. 63-68) A few months earlier, Nazmi apparently had been in secret discussions with the Egyptian militant Talaat Fouad Qassem, who was then abducted by the CIA and executed in Egypt (see September 13, 1995). So Nazmi’s assassination is seen as revenge for the death of Qassem. (Labeviere 1999, pp. 70-71)
The Islamic Jihad blows up the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. Two cars filled with explosives crash through the embassy gates, killing the bombers and sixteen others. Ayman al-Zawahiri will later write in a book, “The bomb left the embassy’s ruined building as an eloquent and clear message.” Islamic Jihad is already closely tied to al-Qaeda by this time. (Wright 9/9/2002) The Egyptian government had recently dispatched up to 100 government agents to London with the task of eliminating militants opposed to the Egyptian government. The Independent will later report, “Sources in Cairo said that several of the dead embassy officials were working under cover as diplomats to help the Pakistani authorities track down” militants. In the wake of the attack, plans to send more Egyptian government agents to Pakistan to hunt militants in that region are scuttled. (Fisk 12/6/1995) Some of the money for the bombing operation was apparently raised by al-Zawahiri on a fundraising trip to the US (see Late 1994 or 1995). One suspect, a Canadian citizen named Ahmed Said Khadr, will be arrested in Pakistan a short time after the bombings. He will soon be released at the request of the Canadian prime minister, but will later be revealed to be a founding member of al-Qaeda (see January 1996-September 10, 2001).
Islamic Jihad operative Mahmoud Jaballah enters Canada on May 11, 1996 and applies for refugee status. There is evidence Canadian intelligence, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), begins monitoring him shortly after his arrival. A 2008 CSIS report mentions details of phone calls Jaballah makes to high-ranking Islamic Jihad leaders as early as June 1996. The CSIS will later conclude that his “primary objective incoming to Canada was to acquire permanent status in a country where he would feel secure in maintaining communications with other [Islamic Jihad] members.” Jaballah is wary his calls may be monitored, and uses code words to discuss sensitive topics. But the CSIS is able to figure out many of the code words, for instance the mention of clothes to refer to travel documents.
Jaballah frequently calls Thirwat Salah Shehata, one of nine members of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council; the Egyptian government will later also call Shehata “a key figure in bin Laden’s organization.” They are in regular contact until August 1998, when Shehata moves to a new location in Lebanon but does not give Jaballah his new phone number.
Jaballah also stays in frequent contact with Ahmad Salama Mabruk, another member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council. Mabruk is arrested in 1998.
Jaballah is also in frequent contact with Ibrahim Eidarous and Adel Abdel Bary, two Islamic Jihad operatives living in London and working closely with Khalid al-Fawwaz, Osama bin Laden’s de facto press secretary. He calls them over 60 times between 1996 and 1998. Bin Laden is monitored by Western intelligence agencies as he frequently calls Bary, Eidarous, and al-Fawwaz until all three are arrested one month after the 1998 African embassy bombings (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998). Jaballah presumably becomes more suspicious that he is being monitored in September 1998, when Canadian officials interview him and tell him they are aware of his contacts with the three men arrested in London.
The CSIS will later call Jaballah an “established contact” for Ahmed Said Khadr, a founding al-Qaeda member living in Canada. Khadr had been arrested in Pakistan in 1995 for suspected involvement in an Islamic Jihad bombing there, but he was released several months later after pressure from the Canadian government. After returning to Canada, Khadr ran his own non-profit organization, Health and Education Projects International (HEPI), and allegedly used the money he raised to help fund the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan. If the CSIS was aware of Khadr’s activities through Jaballah, it is not clear why no action was taken against him or his charity before 9/11.
Essam Marzouk is an al-Qaeda operative living in Vancouver, Canada. During one call, Jaballah is asked for Marzouk’s phone number. He says he does not have it, but gives the name of another operative, Mohamed Zeki Mahjoub, who is known to be in contact with Marzouk. Marzouk will later leave Canada to train the African embassy bombers, stopping by Toronto to visit Mahjoub on the way out of the country.
Jaballah is monitored communicating with other Islamic Jihad operatives, including ones in Germany, Yemen, and elsewhere in Canada.
He is arrested in March 1999, but after his arrest his wife warns him to reduce his communications and offers to help obtain information from his associates. He acquires a post office box in August 1999 and uses it to continue communicating with militants overseas. He is released in November 1999 and the CSIS will later claim he continues to communicate with other militants until he is arrested again in August 2001. (Canadian Security Intelligence Service 2/22/2008 )
Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of Islamic Jihad and effective number two leader of al-Qaeda, travels to Chechnya with two associates. His associates are Ahmad Salama Mabruk, head of Islamic Jihad’s cell in Azerbaijan, and Mahmud Hisham al-Hennawi, a well-traveled militant. Chechnya was fighting to break free from Russian rule and achieved a cease-fire and de facto independence earlier in the year (see August 1996). Al-Zawahiri hopes to establish new connections there. However, on December 1, 1996, he and his associates are arrested by Russian authorities as they try to cross into Chechnya. Al-Zawahiri is carrying four passports, none showing his real identity. The Russians confiscate al-Zawahiri’s laptop and send it to Moscow for analysis, but apparently they never translate the Arabic documents on it that could reveal who he really is. Though some Russian investigators suspect al-Zawahiri is a “big fish,” they cannot prove it. He and his two associates are released after six months. (Higgins and Cullison 7/2/2002; Wright 2006, pp. 249-250) Later in December 1996, Canadian intelligence learns that Mabruk at least is being held. They know his real identity, but apparently do not share this information with Russia (see December 13, 1996-June 1997). Author Lawrence Wright will later comment: “This fiasco had a profound consequence. With even more defectors from [Islamic Jihad during al-Zawahiri’s unexplained absence] and no real source of income, Zawahiri had no choice but to join bin Laden” in Afghanistan. Prior to this arrest, al-Zawahiri had been traveling all over the world and earlier in 1996 he apparently lived in Switzerland and Sarajevo, Bosnia. But afterwards he remains in Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden until the 9/11 attacks. As a result, Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda will grow even closer until they completely merge a few months before 9/11 (see June 2001). (Wright 2006, pp. 249-250)
On December 13, 1996, Mahmoud Jaballah, an Islamic Jihad member living in Canada, is told that Ahmad Salama Mabruk, a member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council, has been “hospitalized.” Canadian intelligence has been closely monitoring Jaballah since 1996, and it intercepts this call as well. This is actually a reference to the fact that Mabruk has been imprisoned in Russia. Mabruk has actually been arrested along with top Islamic Jihad leader Ayman al-Zawahiri near Chechnya earlier in the month, but they are both using aliases and it appears the Russian authorities have no idea who they really are or that they have any militant ties (see December 1, 1996-June 1997). However, over the next months, Canadian intelligence continues to monitor Jaballah as he collects $15,000, raised through his network of Canadian contacts, to help free Mabruk. Apparently this is a bribe. He coordinates these efforts with Thirwat Salah Shehata, another member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council, who is in Azerbaijan close to where Mabruk and al-Zawahiri have been arrested. The Russian government frees Mabruk and al-Zawahiri in June 1997. Since the Canadian government were aware of Mabruk’s real identity and that Jaballah was trying to free him, it is unknown why Canada did not alert Russia that they were holding an important terrorist leader, which might have alerted Russia to al-Zawahiri’s real identity as well. (Canadian Security Intelligence Service 2/22/2008 )
In July 1997, Islamic Jihad operative Mahmoud Jaballah receives a fax from Ahmad Salama Mabruk, a member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council living in Azerbaijan. Canadian intelligence has been closely monitoring Jaballah since he arrived in Canada in 1996 (see May 11, 1996-August 2001) and they learn the contents of this fax while monitoring him. Mabruk’s fax gives guidance on how to recruit new operatives. Jaballah responds by telling Mabruk and Thirwat Salah Shehata, another member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council, that he already has recruited some people affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Furthermore, they have Canadian residence papers, they have been tested, and they have proven reliable. He says it is time for them to be briefed about their duties. Mabruk replies that he is pleased and that these new recruits are very much needed. (Canadian Security Intelligence Service 2/22/2008 ) Perhaps not coincidentally, it will later be reported that also in 1997, Canadian intelligence begins a large-scale investigation of Islamic militants in Canada that will eventually be formally named Project A/O Canada. (Freeze 3/17/2007)
Fifty-eight foreign tourists are killed in Luxor, Egypt. Six radical militants attack an ancient Egyptian temple with machine guns before finally being killed by Egyptian police. The attack is the peak of a campaign to destroy the Egyptian tourism industry that had begun five years before. Thirty-four foreigners and 1,200 Egyptians were killed in the previous attacks. Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Group) takes credit for the attack. This group was founded in the late 1970s by Sheik Omar Abdul-Rahman. The militants are ultimately hoping to destabilize the Egyptian economy and overthrow the government. However, the attacks backfire, alienating many Egyptians. This will be the last serious militant attack in Egypt before 9/11. (Jehl 11/18/1997; Ibrahim 11/18/1997; Gettleman 10/26/2001) The Egyptian militant group Islamic Jihad is also thought to be involved. In 1999, Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda’s second in command, will be convicted in absentia for his role in this attack and other attacks. (BBC 9/27/2004) Also in 1999, the Egyptian government will claim it has determined that bin Laden helped finance the attack. (Plett 5/13/1999)
Mahmoud Jaballah is an Islamic Jihad operative living in Canada and being closely monitored by Canadian intelligence (see May 11, 1996-August 2001). On April 1997, Islamic Jihad top leader (and al-Qaeda number two leader) Ayman al-Zawahiri contacts Jaballah, and the phone call is monitored by Canadian intelligence, which later mentions that Jaballah tells al-Zawahiri about his status in Canada. In February 1998, Jaballah is given al-Zawahiri’s satellite phone number. Canadian intelligence later claims the number is “subsequently contacted many times by Jaballah.” (Canadian Security Intelligence Service 2/22/2008 ) Presumably Canadian intelligence begins monitoring al-Zawahiri’s phone number by this time, but details about what they do, how long they are able to monitor the number, and how much they learn remain unknown.
Osama bin Laden issues a fatwa (religious edict), declaring it the religious duty of all Muslims “to kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military… in any country in which it is possible.” (Al-Quds al-Arabi (London) 2/23/1998; PBS Frontline 2001; Mackay 9/16/2001) This is an expansion of an earlier fatwa issued in August 1996, which called for attacks in the Arabian Peninsula only (see August 1996). Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of the Egyptian militant group Islamic Jihad, is one of many militant leaders who sign the fatwa. This reveals to the public an alliance between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad that has long been in effect. According to journalist Lawrence Wright, the fatwa was actually mostly written by al-Zawahiri the month before, even though it is released in bin Laden’s name only. (Some members of Islamic Jihad are upset by it and quit the group.) (Wright 2006, pp. 259-261) Also signing the fatwa are representatives from militant groups in Afghanistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen, Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya, Pakistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, the Philippines, Tajikistan, Chechnya, Bangladesh, Kashmir, Azerbaijan, and Palestine. All these representatives call themselves allied to the “International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders” (the name al-Qaeda has not been widely popularized yet). New York magazine will note, “The [fatwa gives] the West its first glimpse of the worldwide conspiracy that [is] beginning to form.” (Wright 9/9/2002) The fatwa is published by Khalid al-Fawwaz, who runs bin Laden’s European headquarters in London, and its publication is preceded by what authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory term a “barrage of calls” from bin Laden’s monitored satellite phone to al-Fawwaz. However, this does not motivate British authorities to take any action against al-Fawwaz. (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 111) In March 1998, 40 Afghan clerics issue a fatwa calling for a jihad against the US. A group of Pakistani clerics issues a similar fatwa in April. These fatwas give much more religious authority to bin Laden’s fatwa. It is suspected that bin Laden “discreetly prompted these two bodies to issue the ordinances.” (Gunaratna 2003, pp. 62-63) Bin Laden then will hold a press conference in May 1998 to publicize the fatwa (see May 26, 1998).
Essam Marzouk, an explosives expert and training camp instructor, goes to Kosovo to support the Muslim cause there. He is there at some time between March and August 1998, though how long he stays exactly is unknown. During this same time, he also goes to Afghanistan and trains the men who will bomb two US embassies in Africa in August (see June 16, 1993-February 1998). He is closely linked to both al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad. (Armstrong and Matas 11/15/2001; Ha and Freeze 9/7/2002) He will be arrested in Azerbaijan in late August 1998 (see Late August 1998). It has not been reported who he met in Kosovo or what he did there exactly.
A joint surveillance operation conducted by the CIA and Albanian intelligence identifies an Islamic Jihad cell that is allegedly planning to bomb the US Embassy in Tirana, Albania’s capital. The cell was created in the early 1990s by Mohammed al-Zawahiri, brother of Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The operation intercepts lengthy discussions between the cell and Ayman. (Mayer 2/8/2005; Wright 2006, pp. 269) At the behest of the US government, Egypt, which is co-operating with the US over renditions (see Summer 1995), issues an arrest warrant for Shawki Salama Attiya, one of the militants in the cell. Albanian forces then arrest Attiya and four of the other suspected militants. A sixth suspect is killed, but two more escape. The men are taken to an abandoned airbase, where they are interrogated by the CIA, and then flown by a CIA-chartered plane to Cairo, Egypt, for further interrogation. The men are tortured after arriving in Egypt:
Ahmed Saleh is suspended from the ceiling and given electric shocks; he is later hanged for a conviction resulting from a trial held in his absence;
Mohamed Hassan Tita is hung from his wrists and given electric shocks to his feet and back;
Attiya is given electric shocks to his genitals, suspended by his limbs and made to stand for hours in filthy water up to his knees;
Ahmed al-Naggar is kept in a room for 35 days with water up to his knees, and has electric shocks to his nipples and penis; he is later hanged for an offence for which he was convicted in absentia;
Essam Abdel-Tawwab will also describe more torture for which prosecutors later find “recovered wounds.”
On August 5, 1998, a letter by Ayman al-Zawahiri will be published that threatens retaliation for the Albanian abductions (see August 5, 1998). Two US embassies in Africa will be bombed two days later (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). (Chandrasekaran and Finn 3/11/2002, pp. A01; Mayer 2/8/2005; Grey 2007, pp. 128) The US State Department will later speculate that the timing of the embassy bombings was in fact in retaliation for these arrests. (Taylor 12/15/2001)
In February 2000, CIA Director George Tenet testifies to Congress, “Since July 1998, working with foreign governments worldwide, we have helped to render more than two dozen terrorists to justice. More than half were associates of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization.” Renditions are a policy of grabbing a suspect off the street of one country and taken the person to another where he was wanted for a crime or questioning without going through the normal legal and diplomatic procedures. (Associated Press 12/27/2005) The CIA had a policy of rendering Islamic Jihad suspects to Egypt since 1995 (see Summer 1995). In July 1998, the CIA discovered a laptop containing organizational charts and locations of al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad operatives, so presumably these renditions are a direct result of that intelligence find (see Late August 1998).
The Islamic Jihad, a militant group that has joined forces with al-Qaeda, issues a statement threatening to retaliate against the US for its involvement rounding up an Islamic Jihad cell in Albania (see Summer 1998). It is believed Ayman al-Zawahiri wrote the statement, which says, “We wish to inform the Americans… of preparations for a response which we hope they read with care, because we shall write it with the help of God in the language they understand.” The bombing of two US embassies in Africa follows two days later (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). (Feyerick 1/2001; Wright 2006, pp. 269)
Mahmoud Jaballah is an Islamic Jihad operative living in Canada, and all his communications are being monitored by Canadian intelligence. He has already been monitored frequently contacting Ibrahim Eidarous and Adel Abdel Bary, two Islamic Jihad operatives living in London and working closely with Khalid al-Fawwaz, Osama bin Laden’s de facto press secretary. He also has been in frequent contact with Ahmad Salama Mabruk, a member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council living in Baku, Azerbaijan, and Thirwat Salah Shehata, another ruler council member with Mabruk in Baku at the time (see May 11, 1996-August 2001).
Canadian Communications Relay - In the days before al-Qaeda’s African embassy bombings (see a080798embassy), he serves as a communications relay between the operatives in London and Baku. Canadian intelligence (CSIS) will later comment, “The ability to relay communications through a third country is invaluable to a clandestine operation, providing a more secure means of communication and decreasing the likelihood of being detected.”
Calls on August 5 - On August 5, two days before the embassy bombings, Jaballah contacts Shehata in Baku three times. This is the day Islamic Jihad releases a statement vowing revenge on the US for the recent extradition of Islamic Jihad members from Albania (see August 5, 1998). (Canadian Security Intelligence Service 2/22/2008 )
Calls on August 6 - There are at least two monitored calls on August 6, directly between London and Baku. Their contents are not revealed, but one is about three minutes long. (United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 27 4/4/2001)
Calls on August 7, Hours before the Bombings - On August 7, the morning of the bombings, Mabruk contacts Jaballah and tells him that Eidarous should contact him at Shehata’s phone number. There is no further elaboration except that Mabruk says the matter is “very important.” Shortly afterwards, Jaballah calls Eidarous’s cell phone and relays the message from Mabruk. (O'Neill 9/19/2001; Bell 10/15/2005) The exact timing of these calls are not specified, but at 2:14 a.m. London time, there is a call from Baku to London. (United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 27 4/4/2001) At 4:45 a.m. London time, a fax claiming responsibility for the embassy bombings is sent from Baku to a shop near Eidarous and Abdel Bary in London. The fingerprints of Eidarous and Abdel Bary are later found on a photocopy of the fax. It is also known that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has been monitoring the phones of Mabruk, Eidarous, and Abdel Bary, because Osama bin Laden’s phone has been monitored since 1996 and he had frequently called all three of them (see November 1996-Late August 1998). The NSA noticed a surge of phone calls involving them several days before the embassy bombings (see July 29-August 7, 1998). The two embassy bombings take place within about ten minutes of each other around 10:30 a.m. local time in East Africa. This time zone is three hours later than London time, which means the bombings take place around 7:30 a.m. London time. The fax claiming responsibility for the bombings is actually sent to London about three hours before the bombings take place. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer 7/13/1999; O'Neill 9/19/2001)
Fax Names Nairobi and Dar es Salaam Bombings in Advance - The fax takes credit for the embassy bombings in the name of the “The Islamic Army for the Liberation of the Holy Places,” a previously unused name. It states that “The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies, civilians and military, is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it in order to liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque (Mecca) from their grip.” It specifically calls the bombing in Nairobi the “Holy Ka’ba operation,” and bombing in Dar es Salaam is called the “Al-Aqsa Mosque operation.” It adds that two men from Saudi Arabia carried out the Nairobi bombing and that one man from Egypt carried out the Dar es Salaam bombing. This in fact is what happens several hours later. The operatives in London then fax the statement to a number of press agencies after the bombings, including Al Jazeera and the Associated Press. (United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 27 4/4/2001; United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38 5/2/2001; Hirschkorn 5/2/2001) So Canadian and US intelligence had an opportunity to give an advanced warning about the bombings. It is not known why they do not do this.
Canadian intelligence has been monitoring Mahmoud Jaballah, an operative in Canada serving as a communications relay between high-ranking Islamic Jihad figures (see May 11, 1996-August 2001). He is monitored as he relays a series of phone calls between operatives in London and Baku, Azerbaijan, in the days and hours before the African embassy bombings on August 7, 1998 (see August 5-7, 1998 and 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). He is in communication with Thirwat Salah Shehata and Ahmad Salama Mabruk in Baku; both belong to Islamic Jihad’s nine member ruling council. On August 8, Mabruk again calls Jaballah and tells him to contact an operative in London to give him Mabruk’s latest phone number. He asks Jaballah to tell others not to contact him anymore, since he and Shehata will soon be leaving Azerbaijan and their phone numbers there will no longer work. Shehata does leave Azerbaijan shortly thereafter, but soon contacts Jaballah through an intermediary to tell him of his new location in Lebanon. However, he says he does not have a telephone there and falls out of contact with Jaballah after that. (Canadian Security Intelligence Service 2/22/2008 ) Shehata and Mabruk have just been directly implicated in the embassy bombings, since they sent the fax taking credit for the bombings to bin Laden’s press office in London several hours before the bombings. Phone calls to them monitored by Canadian intelligence make their role clear (see August 5-7, 1998). However, there is no known attempt to apprehend the two of them in Baku, or Shehata later in Lebanon. Mabruk is captured in Baku later in the month, but this stems from a Mossad tip to arrest someone else, and Mabruk is unexpectedly at the scene of the capture and picked up as well (see Late August 1998). Shortly after 9/11, the US will include Shehata on a list of the 12 most wanted terrorist suspects. Since then his whereabouts are unknown, but there have been no reports that he has been captured or killed. He is considered to be involved in funding al-Qaeda. (Rahim 5/22/2003) In 2005, MSNBC will suggest he is being held in a loose house arrest by the Iranian government with a number of al-Qaeda leaders (see Spring 2002).
CIA operatives kidnap Ahmad Salama Mabruk and two other members of Islamic Jihad outside a restaurant in Baku, Azerbaijan (see Late August 1998). This is part of a covert CIA program to arrest Islamic Jihad operatives around the world and send them to Egypt (see Summer 1995). (Higgins and Cullison 7/2/2002) Mabruk is the closest ally of Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s number two leader. Mabruk’s laptop computer turns out to contain al-Qaeda organizational charts and vital information about Islamic Jihad members in Europe. FBI agent Dan Coleman later calls this “the Rosetta Stone of al-Qaeda.” However, the CIA will not turn this information over to the FBI. John O’Neill, head of the FBI’s New York office, tries to get around this by sending an agent to Azerbaijan to get copies of the computer files from the Azerbaijani government. When that fails, he persuades President Clinton to personally appeal to the president of Azerbaijan for the files. The FBI eventually gets the files, but the incident deepens the tensions between the CIA and FBI. (Wright 2006, pp. 268-269) The US monitored 67 phone calls between bin Laden and Azerbaijan from 1996 to 1998 (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Presumably, many of these would have been to Mabruk. Mabruk is sent to Egypt and given a long prison sentence. (Higgins and Cullison 7/2/2002)
In mid-August 1998, the Mossad intercepts a phone call indicating that an Egyptian militant named Ihab Saqr is planning to meet an Iranian intelligence agent in a hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, in one week’s time. Saqr is believed to be Ayman al-Zawahiri’s chief of staff. The Mossad is very interested in the Iranian connection but they have no presence in Azerbaijan, so they contact the CIA. The CIA leads a capture operation, with one Mossad agent, Michael Ross, also in attendance. The CIA captures Saqr and two men he is meeting with, but neither of them turn out to be Iranian. The other men are Essam Marzouk and Ahmad Salama Mabruk. Marzouk is an al-Qaeda explosives expert who has just trained the men who bombed two US embassies in Africa earlier in the month. He had been living in Canada and Canadian intelligence has long been suspicious about his militant ties. Mabruk is a known member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council. The US quickly renditions Saqr, Marzouk, and Mabruk to Egypt. Marzouk is sentenced to 15 years in prison, Mabruk is sentenced to life in prison, and Saqr’s fate in Egypt is unknown. (Bell 10/15/2005; Ross and Kay 2007, pp. 214-224) The US discovers a treasure trove of information about al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad in Mabruk’s laptop (see Late August 1998). But it is unclear why the US was seemingly in the dark and only arresting these figures by chance, because US intelligence had long been monitoring calls between Osama bin Laden and Mabruk in Baku (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Furthermore, Canadian intelligence had also monitored many calls between Mabruk and an Islamic Jihad operative in Canada. (Note that some accounts place the timing of this capture in July 1998, but Canadian intelligence is monitoring Mabruk’s communications up through and after the embassy bombings in August (see August 5-7, 1998 and August 8, 1998 and Shortly After).)
Three Yemeni men are arrested in Turin, Italy. They are connected to planned attacks on US facilities in Europe. They are members of Islamic Jihad, the Egyptian militant group led by al-Qaeda number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Italian police search their apartments and discover beards, wigs, weapons, and contact details for Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. This information is quickly passed to the German domestic intelligence service. Prior to this point, Germany has been investigating Zammar (see March 1997-Early 2000), but apparently they are uncertain if his claims of training in Afghanistan and meeting bin Laden are idle boasts. But after these arrests in Italy, German intelligence will realize Zammar has connections to real terrorists. The surveillance operation on him, and others in the Hamburg cell, will increase in intensity. (Laabs 8/13/2003; Zeman et al. 11/2004)
A large group of Islamic Jihad operatives are sentenced in Cairo in what becomes known as the “Trial of the Albanian Returnees.” Various disclosures are made at the trial about the way Islamic Jihad operated and how it provided support to al-Qaeda by forging travel documents, transferring money, and arranging communications. One of the revelations is that al-Qaeda has a key communication hub in Yemen. Despite this revelation (see Late 1998-Early 2002), al-Qaeda will continue to use it through 2001 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). The defendants were arrested not only in Egypt, but also in Albania, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, and the United Arab Emirates. In 1995, the CIA arranged a deal with Egypt to capture Islamic Jihad operatives around the world and send them to Egypt to be tortured and prosecuted (see Summer 1995). Eighty-seven of the defendants are convicted and ten are sentenced to death, including al-Zawahiri, who is tried in absentia. (Sachs 11/21/2001) One of the convicted is Khaled Abu el-Dahab, who was operating a sleeper cell in California with double agent Ali Mohamed throughout the 1990’s (see 1987-1998). El-Dahab is sentenced to fifteen years in prison (see September 10, 1998). There are credible reports that many of the defendants confessed after being tortured in Egypt and Albania. (Sachs 11/21/2001; Wright 2006, pp. 269) The trial nearly eradicates the remnants of Islamic Jihad in Egypt and, according to some of the defendants, leaves only about forty members outside of Egypt. Al-Zawahiri and the other remaining members end up allying even closer to al-Qaeda. The two organizations will formally merge in early 2001 (see June 2001). (Wright 2006, pp. 336)
The Egyptian government posts a list of its 14 most wanted terrorists; half of them are believed to be living in Britain. The list is published on an Egyptian government website and Al-Sharq al-Awsat, a popular Arabic international newspaper based in London. It includes many members of Islamic Jihad, the Egyptian militant group that has essentially merged with al-Qaeda by this time. Names on the list include:
Ayman al-Zawahiri. He is the top leader of Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda’s number two leader. He was sentenced to death in absentia in Egypt, and the US has a $5 million bounty on him by this time.
Thirwat Salah Shehata. He is another high-ranking Islamic Jihad leader. He was sentenced to death twice in Egypt.
Adel Abdel Bary. He was granted asylum in Britain despite being sentenced to death in Egypt, and ran the Islamic Jihad office in London. But he was arrested there in 1998 and is fighting deportation to the US on charges of involvement in the al-Qaeda African embassy bombings.
Adel Abdel-Quddus, an Islamic Jihad leader. He received a death sentence in connection with an assassination attempt in 1993. He was granted asylum in Austria.
Ayub Usama Saddiq Ali, another Islamic Jihad leader. He was sentenced to death on murder charges in Egypt. He moved to Germany and is granted asylum there in October 1999. 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah will call him twice, once in November 1999 and once in August 2001 (see November 7, 1999 and August 4, 2001).
Ahmed Refai Taha, head of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the Egyptian militant group formerly led by the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. In September 2000, al-Qaeda will publish a video of Osama bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and Taha threatening revenge if the Blind Sheikh is not released (see September 21, 2000). Taha was sentenced to death in Egypt.
Mustafa Hamza, leader of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and an al-Qaeda leader as well. He was sentenced to death three times in Egypt. He is believed to have led an assassination attempt of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 1995 (see June 26, 1995).
Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli, brother of the assassin of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and an Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya leader. He also was sentenced to death in Egypt, and is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan with bin Laden.
Ahmed Hussein Ugayzah, sentenced to life imprisonment in Egypt. He was an aide to al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan, but he had a falling out with him and joined the Vanguards of Conquest, an Islamic Jihad splinter group.
Yassir al-Sirri. He was sentenced to death in Egypt in 1994 for a role in an attempted assassination attempt in 1993. But he moved to Britain and was granted asylum. (Al-Sharq al-Awsat 10/2/1999; Moussa 10/18/2001) Shortly after 9/11, the Guardian will report that seven of the men on the list live in London, but it is not mentioned which of the seven live there. (Travis 9/28/2001) There appear to have been no arrests of any of the above figures in Britain after the publication of the list.
Future 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah telephones Ayub Usama Saddiq Ali, an imam and Islamic Jihad leader wanted for murder in Egypt. No details about the call are known except that it lasts seven minutes. Ali was convicted of murder in Egypt in 1996, but he fled to Muenster, Germany, and received political asylum there in October 1999. Also in October 1999, Ali was on a published list of the Egyptian government’s most wanted terrorists (see October 2, 1999). He is said to be a close associate of al-Qaeda’s second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri. This phone call will be mentioned in a classified 2002 FBI report about the 9/11 hijackers, but it is unclear how or when the FBI learns about it. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 1/11/2002; Vidino 2006, pp. 230; Engelberg and Brekenkamp 3/10/2011) In 2000, Ali will attend a terrorist summit in Italy that is also attended by some al-Qaeda operatives who seem to have foreknowledge of the 9/11 plot, and Mohammed Fazazi, the imam at the Al-Quds mosque that Jarrah regularly attends (see August 12, 2000 and Shortly After). Beginning in 2007, the German government will attempt to strip Ali of his asylum status because of his link to Islamic Jihad. He will lose that status in 2011, but he is not subsequently deported from Germany. (Engelberg and Brekenkamp 3/10/2011) Jarrah will call Ali again in August 2001 (see August 4, 2001).
The FBI misses a chance to learn about Zacarias Moussaoui after a raid in Dublin, Ireland. On December 14, 1999, Ahmed Ressam was arrested trying to smuggle explosives into the US (see December 14, 1999). On December 21, Irish police arrest Hamid Aich and several other North African immigrants living in Dublin. (Rashbaum 1/22/2000) During the arrests, police seize a large amount of documents relating to citizenship applications, identities, credit cards, and airplane tickets. A diagram of an electrical switch that could be used for a bomb is found that is identical to a diagram found in Ressam’s apartment in Vancouver, Canada. (Cusack 7/31/2002) The suspects are released about a day later, but, “Within days, authorities in Ireland and the United States began to realize that they might have missed a chance to learn more about a terrorist network.” (Rashbaum 1/22/2000) It is discovered that Aich lived with Ressam in Montreal, and then later lived with him in Vancouver. Investigators conclude there has been an al-Qaeda cell in Dublin since the early 1990s, when the charity Mercy International opened an office there (this charity has several known al-Qaeda connections by this time (see 1988-Spring 1995 and Late 1996-August 20, 1998) and also an alleged CIA connection (see 1989 and After)). The cell is mainly involved in providing travel and identity documents for other cells committing violent acts. Investigators also connect Aich to the Islamic Jihad. But the US and Canada do not seek Aich’s extradition, and instead have the Irish police keep him under surveillance. He will escape from Ireland shortly before 9/11 (see June 3, 2001-July 24, 2001). (Rashbaum 1/22/2000; Cusack 7/31/2002) Apparently, many of the documents seized in the raid will only be closely examined after 9/11. Documents will show that in 1999 and 2000, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a top al-Qaeda financier, worked with the Dublin cell to finance Moussaoui’s international travel. Aich made travel arrangements and possibly provided fake identification for Moussaoui. (Cameron 7/30/2002; Cusack 7/31/2002) Presumably, had these links been discovered after the 1999 raid instead of after 9/11, events could have gone very differently when Moussaoui was arrested in the US in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001).
About a dozen of Osama bin Laden’s trusted followers hold a secret, “top-level al-Qaeda summit” in the city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Ressa 8/30/2002; Eckert 9/27/2002) According to an unnamed senior CIA official, before the summit started, the CIA learned that “11 young guys” were going to attend, and “young guys” is slang for operatives traveling. (Bamford 2008, pp. 18) Plans for the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the 9/11 attacks are discussed. (Kelley 2/12/2002; Ressa 8/30/2002) At the request of the CIA, the Malaysian Secret Service monitors the summit and then passes the information on to the US (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). Attendees of the summit are said to include:
Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar - The CIA and FBI will later miss many opportunities to foil the 9/11 plot through Alhazmi and Almihdhar and the knowledge of their presence at this summit. The CIA already knows many details about these two by the time the summit begins (see January 2-4, 2000), and tracked Almihdhar as he traveled to it (see January 2-5, 2000).
Yazid Sufaat - Sufaat is a Malaysian who owns the condominium where the summit is held. He is also a trained biologist and is said to be a leading figure in al-Qaeda’s attempts to get a biological or chemical weapon. (Shenon and Johnston 1/31/2002; Isikoff and Klaidman 6/2/2002) Malaysian officials also recognize Sufaat from summit surveillance photos, as he is a long-time Malaysian resident (see Shortly After January 8, 2000). (Pereira 2/10/2002) A possibility to expose the 9/11 plot through Sufaat’s presence at this summit will later be missed in September 2000 (see September-October 2000). Sufaat will travel to Afghanistan in June 2001 and be arrested by Malaysian authorities when he returns to Malaysia in late 2001 (see December 19, 2001). (Abuza 12/24/2002) He will be released in 2008 (see December 4, 2008).
Hambali - An Indonesian militant known as Hambali, or Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin (BBC 8/15/2003) , was heavily involved in the Bojinka plot, an early version of the 9/11 plot (see January 6, 1995 and June 1994). (Ressa 3/14/2002; Ressa 8/30/2002) The FBI was aware of who he was and his connections to the Bojinka plot at least by 1999 and identified a photograph of him by that time (see May 23, 1999). He will be arrested by Thai authorities in August 2003 (see August 12, 2003). (CNN 8/14/2003; CBS News 8/15/2003) Malaysian officials recognize Hambali from summit surveillance photos, as he is a long-time Malaysian resident. But the US does not tell them of his Bojinka connections, so they will not know to arrest him after the summit is over (see Shortly After January 8, 2000). (Pereira 2/10/2002)
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed - Mohammed is sometimes referred to as “KSM,” an al-Qaeda leader and the alleged “mastermind” of the 9/11 attacks. The US has known KSM is an Islamic militant since the exposure of Operation Bojinka in January 1995 (see January 6, 1995), and knows what he looks like. US officials will state that they only realized the summit was important in 2001, but the presence of KSM should have proved its importance. (Fineman and Drogin 2/2/2002) Although the possible presence of KSM at this summit will be disputed by US officials, one counterterrorism expert will testify before the 9/11 Commission in 2003 that he has access to transcripts of KSM’s interrogations since his capture, and that KSM has admitted leading this summit and telling the attendees about a planes-as-weapons plot targeting the US (see July 9, 2003). (Isikoff and Hosenball 7/9/2003; Blomquist 7/10/2003) Many other media reports will identify him as being there. (Gumbel 6/6/2002; Ressa 8/30/2002; Ressa 11/7/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 10/29/2003) For instance, according to Newsweek: “Mohammed’s presence would make the intelligence failure of the CIA even greater. It would mean the agency literally watched as the 9/11 scheme was hatched—and had photographs of the attack’s mastermind… doing the plotting.” (Isikoff and Hosenball 7/9/2003) In Hambali’s 2008 Guantanamo file, it will be mentioned that KSM stays a week at Sufaat’s condominium with Alhazmi and Almihdhar, which would seem to make clear that KSM is there for the entire duration of the summit (see Early January 2000). (US Department of Defense 10/30/2008)
Khallad bin Attash - Khallad bin Attash, a “trusted member of bin Laden’s inner circle,” is in charge of bin Laden’s bodyguards, and serves as bin Laden’s personal intermediary at least for the USS Cole bombing. (Klaidman, Isikoff, and Hosenball 9/20/2001 ) He is also thought to be a “mastermind” of that attack. Attash is reportedly planning to be one of the 9/11 hijackers, but will be unable to get a US visa. (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004, pp. 8) US intelligence had been aware of his identity as early as 1995. (US Congress 9/18/2002) A possibility to expose the 9/11 plot through bin Attash’s presence at this summit will be missed in January 2001 (see January 4, 2001). Bin Attash had been previously arrested in Yemen for suspected terror ties, but was let go (see Summer 1999). (Abuza 12/1/2002) He will be captured in Pakistan by the US in April 2003 (see April 29, 2003). In 2008, Newsweek will report that bin Attash confessed during interrogation that, while staying at Sufaat’s condominium, he and Alhazmi talked “about the possibility of hijacking planes and crashing them or holding passengers as hostages.” (Hosenball 12/16/2008)
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri - Al-Nashiri is one of al-Qaeda’s top field commanders and operates out of Malaysia while 9/11 is being prepared. (Los Angeles Times 10/10/2001; Gunaratna 2003, pp. 188; Graham and Nussbaum 2004, pp. 59) He was involved in an arms smuggling plot (see 1997) and the East African embassy bombings (see August 22-25 1998), in which his cousin was martyred (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). He also organized the attack against the USS The Sullivans (see January 3, 2000), and will be involved in the attacks against the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the Limburg (see October 6, 2002). He will be arrested in the United Arab Emirates in November 2002 (see Early October 2002). An al-Qaeda operative identified a photo of al-Nashiri for the FBI in late 1998 (see August 22-25 1998). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3) (Note: in the sources, al-Nashiri is referred to by two of his aliases: Muhammad Omar al-Harazi and Al Safani.) (CNN 12/11/2000; Central Intelligence Agency 9/6/2006)
Ramzi bin al-Shibh - Investigators believe he wants to be the 20th 9/11 hijacker. His presence at the summit may not be realized until after 9/11, despite the fact that US intelligence has a picture of him next to bin Attash, and has video footage of him. (Thomas 11/26/2001; Finn 7/14/2002; Elliott 9/15/2002; Schrom 10/1/2002; Ressa 11/7/2002) German police will have credit card receipts indicating bin al-Shibh is in Malaysia at this time. (McDermott 9/1/2002) Ulrich Kersten, director of Germany’s federal anticrime agency, the Bundeskriminalamt, will later say, “There are indications that Ramzi bin al-Shibh was in Kuala Lumpur for the meeting.” (Frantz and Butler 8/24/2002) Another account noting he was photographed at the summit will further note that he enters and leaves Thailand three times in the first three weeks of January 2000. (Drogin and Meyer 10/17/2001) Anonymous Malaysian officials will later claim he is at the summit, but US officials will deny it. Two local militants who serve as drivers for the attendees will later be arrested in Malaysia. They will be shown photos of the attendees, and confirm that bin al-Shibh was at the summit. (Sullivan 9/20/2002) One account will say he is recognized at the time of the summit, which makes it hard to understand why he is not tracked back to Germany and the Hamburg cell with Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers. (Gebauer 10/1/2002) Another opportunity to expose the 9/11 plot through bin al-Shibh’s presence at this summit will be missed in June. It appears bin al-Shibh and Almihdhar are directly involved in the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000 (see October 10-21, 2000). (Whitaker 10/15/2001; Finn 7/14/2002; Hosenball 9/4/2002)
Salem Alhazmi - Alhazmi, a 9/11 hijacker and brother of Nawaf Alhazmi, is possibly at the summit, although very few accounts will mention it. (Abuza 12/24/2002) US intelligence intercepts from before the summit indicate that he at least had plans to attend. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 51 )
Abu Bara al-Taizi (a.k.a. Zohair Mohammed Said) - A Yemeni al-Qaeda operative, al-Taizi is reportedly meant to be one of the 9/11 hijackers, but will be unable to enter the US due to greater scrutiny for Yemenis. (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004, pp. 8) Al-Taizi will be captured in Pakistan in February 2002, and then sent to the US prison in Guantanamo a few months later (see February 7, 2002). According to his 2008 Guantanamo file, he traveled from Afghanistan to Malaysia with bin Attash about two weeks before the summit. Bin Attash was missing a leg, and he had a prosthetic leg fitted and then stayed in the hospital to recover from the surgery. Bin Attash and al-Taizi stay at Sufaat’s house for the duration of the summit. Al-Taizi then flies to Yemen to visit his family there. (US Department of Defense 10/25/2008)
Others - Unnamed members of the Egyptian-based Islamic Jihad are also said to be at the summit. (King and Bhatt 10/21/2001) Islamic Jihad merged with al-Qaeda in February 1998. (James 11/17/2001) However, according to the Wall Street Journal, bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso are suspected of being Islamic Jihad members at one point, so this may just be a reference to them. (Cloud, Wartzman, and Tkacik 10/8/2001) Note that there are a total of 10 names mentioned above, and it will be reported that the CIA learned that 11 operatives were to attend, so either not all of them make it, or some names of attendees will remain unknown.
Summit Associates - The following individuals are probably not at the summit meetings, but are in the region and assisting or linked with the attendees at this time:
Fahad Al-Quso - Al-Quso is a top al-Qaeda operative who is involved in the bombing of the USS Cole. Some sources will indicate al-Quso is present in Malaysia, and a person who looks like him will later be seen in a photograph of the meeting (see June 11, 2001). (Klaidman, Isikoff, and Hosenball 9/20/2001 ) However, other sources will say al-Quso did not reach Kuala Lumpur, but met with bin Attash around this time in Bangkok, Thailand (see January 5-6, 2000 and January 8-15, 2000). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 159; Wright 2006, pp. 330) Although al-Quso apparently is not at the summit, there are a series of phone calls during the time of the summit between his hotel in Bangkok, a phone booth near the condominium where the summit is held, and his family home in Yemen (see (January 5-8, 2000)). Al-Quso will be arrested by Yemeni authorities in the fall of 2000 (see Late October-Late November 2000), but the FBI will not be given a chance to fully interrogate him before 9/11. He will escape from prison in 2003. (CNN 5/15/2003)
Ahmad Sajuli Abdul Rahman - An operative of Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate, Sajuli takes the visiting Arabs around Kuala Lumpur, but apparently does not attend the summit meetings. (US Congress 10/17/2002) According to the later Guantanamo file of summit attendee al-Taizi, one of the attendees Sajuli escorts around town is future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. Sajuli also helps arrange al-Taizi’s transportation at the end of the summit. (US Department of Defense 10/25/2008) Sajuli will be arrested in Malaysia in December 2001 (see December 29, 2001).
Ahmad Hikmat Shakir - A suspected al-Qaeda agent of Iraqi nationality, Shakir is a greeter at Kuala Lumpur airport. He meets Almihdhar there and travels with him to the apartment where the summit is held, but he probably does not attend the summit meetings. (Associated Press 10/2/2002; Isikoff and Klaidman 10/7/2002; Abuza 12/24/2002; Landay 6/12/2004) After 9/11, he will be linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 Bojinka plot. Jordan will arrest him and let him go after the US says it doesn’t want to take custody of him (see September 17, 2001).
Dhiren Barot - Dhiren Barot (a.k.a. Abu Eissa al-Hindi) is a British citizen of Indian descent. According to a 2006 Observer article, Barot “is not believed to have been present” at the summit meetings. However, he does go to Kuala Lumpur during the time of the summit with summit attendee bin Attash. And shortly after the summit, Barot holds meetings with Hambali. It will later be reported that Barot is sent by KSM to New York City in early 2001 to case potential targets there, although whether this is part of the 9/11 plot or some other plot is unclear (see May 30, 2001). Barot will be arrested in 2004 in Britain for plotting attacks there, and sentenced to 30 years in prison (see August 3, 2004). (Doward 12/12/2006)
Another Unnamed Local Militant - Malaysian officials will say that two local Jemaah Islamiyah act as drivers for the attendees. These drivers apparently have no idea who the attendees are or what they are doing; they are just tasked to drive them around. In a 2002 Associated Press article, officials will not name these drivers, but will say that they are among the dozens of alleged Jemaah Islamiyah militants arrested in December 2001 and January 2002. Since Sajuli mentioned above is arrested at that time, he presumably is one of these drivers. It is not known who the other driver is. (Sufaat will be arrested at that time as well, but the Associated Press article will make clear Sufaat is not one of the drivers.) (Sullivan 9/20/2002)
Probably Not Involved: Mohamed al-Khatani - A Saudi, he allegedly will confess to attending the summit while being held in the US Guantanamo prison (see July 2002). He apparently will unsuccessfully attempt to enter the US in August 2001 to join the 9/11 plot (see August 4, 2001). However, al-Khatani will later recant his testimony and say he lied to avoid torture (see October 26, 2006). Furthermore, his 2008 Guantanamo file, leaked to the public in 2011, contains no hint of him even possibly attending the summit. The contents of the file must be treated with extreme caution, especially since he is repeatedly and brutally tortured (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and January 14, 2009). But according to the general narrative of the file, al-Khatani had no involvement with Islamist militancy in early 2000, only starts to get involved with militants in mid-2000, and first attends a militant training camp in Afghanistan in late 2000. (US Department of Defense 10/30/2008)
CIA Director George Tenet tells a Senate committee in open session that bin Laden “wants to strike further blows against America.” He points out the close links between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad and says this is part of an “intricate web of alliances among Sunni extremists worldwide, including North Africans, radical Palestinians, Pakistanis, and Central Asians.” He points out ties between drug traffickers and the Taliban and says, “There is ample evidence that Islamic extremists such as Osama bin Laden use profits from the drug trade to support their terror campaign.” But there is no mention of Pakistan’s support for al-Qaeda and the Taliban, despite CIA knowledge of this (see Autumn 1998). Instead, he claims Iran is “the most active state sponsor” of terrorism. Additionally, he does not mention that bin Laden is capable of planning attacks inside the US, even though he told that to Congress in a closed session six months earlier (see June 24, 1999). (Senate 2/2/2000)
Hundreds of the world’s most extreme Islamic militants attend an unprecedented conference in Beirut, Lebanon called “The First Conference on Jerusalem.” Participants include leaders of al-Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and militants from Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, Algeria, Sudan, Qatar, and Yemen. The conference is held with the purpose of uniting militant groups for holy war against Israel and the US. The participants create a new organization called “the Jerusalem Project,” with the goal of winning total Muslim control over Jerusalem. The participants produce a document which calls for a boycott on US and Israeli products and states, “The only decisive option to achieve this strategy [to regain Jerusalem] is the option of jihad [holy war] in all its forms and resistance… America today is a second Israel.” (Radler 6/22/2001; Cameron 5/17/2002) At least four of the attendees come from the US. One of them, Abdurahman Alamoudi, is a prominent lobbyist in the US for Muslim causes. Yet there is no indication Alamoudi faces any investigation in the US after attending this conference. In fact, in June 2001, Alamoudi will apparently take part in a meeting with Vice President Cheney at the White House for a briefing on the Bush administration’s domestic and foreign policies of interest to the American Muslim community. (Radler 6/22/2001; Jacoby 3/11/2003; Ahmad 2/8/2005) Another participant in the conference is Ahmad Huber, a director of the Al Taqwa Bank, which will be shut down in the months after 9/11 for suspected terrorism ties. Huber is known for his connections to both neo-Nazi and radical Muslim groups (see 1988). After 9/11, Huber will claim that he met some al-Qaeda leaders in this conference and will praise them for being “very discreet, well-educated, and very intelligent people.” (Williamson and Jaklin 11/8/2001; Reynolds 2/1/2002) Huber says that in the five years before 9/11, the bin Laden family sponsors Al Taqwa’s attendance at several international Muslim conferences, possibily including this one. He nonetheless claims the family is estranged from Osama bin Laden. (Le Monde (Paris) 5/3/2002) It has not been reported if Alamoudi met with Huber or any al-Qaeda leaders while at the conference. Alamoudi will later be sentenced to 23 years in prison in the US for illegal dealings with Libya (see October 15, 2004).
Two major terrorist organizations, al-Qaeda and the Egypt-based Islamic Jihad, formally merged into one. This completes a merging process that had been going on for years (see August 11-20, 1988, December 1, 1996-June 1997, and February 22, 1998). The technical name of the new entity is Qaeda al-Jihad, though it is widely called al-Qaeda. Bin Laden remains in charge, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Islamic Jihad, remains second in command. (Wright 9/9/2002)
Future 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah telephones Ayub Usama Saddiq Ali, an imam and an Islamic Jihad leader wanted for murder in Egypt. No details about the call are known except that it lasts 13 minutes. Jarrah also called Ali in November 1999 (see November 7, 1999). Ali was convicted of murder in Egypt in 1996, but he fled to Muenster, Germany, and received political asylum there in October 1999. Also in October 1999, Ali was on a published list of the Egyptian government’s most wanted terrorists (see October 2, 1999), and he is said to be a close associate of al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri. Jarrah’s two phone calls to Ali will be mentioned in a classified 2002 FBI report about the 9/11 hijackers, but it is unclear how or when the FBI learns about the calls. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 1/11/2002; Vidino 2006, pp. 230; Engelberg and Brekenkamp 3/10/2011)
Ali Attended a Monitored Terror Summit in Italy - On August 12, 2000, Ali attended a terrorist summit in Bologna, Italy, that lasted for several days and was monitored by the Italian government (see August 12, 2000 and Shortly After). Also attending the summit were Mahmoud Es Sayed, another close associate of al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000) and Yemeni government official Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman. On their way to the summit, Es Sayed and Abdulrahman were overheard discussing an attack using aircraft, indicating they have some level of foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks (see August 12, 2000). Also attending the summit was Mohammed Fazazi, the imam of the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg, Germany, that Jarrah and other members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell regularly attend (see Early 1996 and (April 1, 1999)). Fazazi will be convicted of a role in a bombing in Casablanca, Morocco, in 2003 (see May 16, 2003). The summit was organized by the Islamic Cultural Institute, which is the epicenter of an al-Qaeda cell in Milan, Italy, that was heavily monitored by the Italian government at the time (see 2000). (Vidino 2006, pp. 230) It is not known if the Italian government warned the German government of Ali’s presence at this summit, or if Ali was monitored by anyone in Germany after it.
Asylum Status Later Stripped - Beginning in 2007, the German government will attempt to strip Ali of his asylum status because of his link to Islamic Jihad. He will lose that status in 2011, but is not subsequently deported from Germany. (Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg) 3/9/2011; Engelberg and Brekenkamp 3/10/2011)
President Bush receives a classified presidential daily briefing (PDB) at his Crawford, Texas ranch indicating that Osama bin Laden might be planning to hijack commercial airliners. The PDB provided to him is entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” The entire briefing focuses on the possibility of terrorist attacks inside the US. (Sanger 5/15/2002; Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002) The analysts who drafted the briefing will say that they drafted it on the CIA’s initiative (see July 13, 2004), whereas in 2004 Bush will state that he requested a briefing on the topic due to threats relating to a conference in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001, where Western intelligence agencies believed Osama bin Laden was involved in a plot to crash an airplane into a building to kill Bush and other leaders (see April 13, 2004). The analysts will later explain that they saw it as an opportunity to convey that the threat of an al-Qaeda attack in the US was both current and serious. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260) The existence of this briefing is kept secret, until it is leaked in May 2002, causing a storm of controversy (see May 15, 2002). While National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will claim the memo is only one and a half pages long, other accounts state it is 11 1/2 pages instead of the usual two or three. (Sanger 5/15/2002; Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002; Schrom 10/1/2002) A page and a half of the contents will be released on April 10, 2004; this reportedly is the full content of the briefing. (Pincus and Eggen 4/10/2004) The briefing, as released, states as follows (note that the spelling of certain words are corrected and links have been added):
Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US (see December 1, 1998). Bin Laden implied in US television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and “bring the fighting to America” (see May 26, 1998).
After US missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, bin Laden told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a -REDACTED-service (see December 21, 1998).
An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told -REDACTED- service at the same time that bin Laden was planning to exploit the operative’s access to the US to mount a terrorist strike.
The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of bin Laden’s first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the US. Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself (see December 14, 1999), but that bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaida encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaida was planning his own US attack (see Late March-Early April 2001 and May 30, 2001).
Ressam says bin Laden was aware of the Los Angeles operation.
Although bin Laden has not succeeded, his attacks against the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Laden associates surveyed our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993 (see Late 1993-Late 1994), and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings were arrested and deported in 1997.
Al-Qaeda members—including some who are US citizens—have resided in or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks (see January 25, 2001). Two al-Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were US citizens (see September 15, 1998), and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s (see November 1989 and September 10, 1998).
A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks (see October-November 1998).
“We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [REDACTED] service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul-Rahman and other US-held extremists” (see 1998, December 4, 1998, and May 23, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 223) According to the Washington Post, this information came from a British service. (Woodward and Eggen 5/18/2002)
Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York (see May 30, 2001).
The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full-field investigations throughout the US that it considers bin Laden-related (see August 6, 2001). CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group or bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives (see May 16-17, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 223)
In retrospect, the briefing is remarkable for the many warnings that apparently are not included (see for instance, from the summer of 2001 prior to August alone: May 2001, June 2001, June 12, 2001, June 19, 2001, Late Summer 2001, July 2001, July 16, 2001, Late July 2001, Late July 2001, Summer 2001, June 30-July 1, 2001, July 10, 2001, and Early August 2001). According to one account, after the PDB has been given to him, Bush tells the CIA briefer, “You’ve covered your ass now” (see August 6, 2001). Incredibly, the New York Times later reports that after being given the briefing, Bush “[breaks] off from work early and [spends] most of the day fishing.” (Rich 5/25/2002) In 2002 and again in 2004, National Security Adviser Rice will incorrectly claim under oath that the briefing only contained historical information from 1998 and before (see May 16, 2002 and April 8, 2004).
Yuval Steinitz, a Likud party member of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, suggests that the imposition of a pro-American regime in Baghdad would ease Israel’s discomfort with Syria, which it views as a threat. Steinitz says, “After Iraq is taken by US troops and we see a new regime installed as in Afghanistan, and Iraqi bases become American bases, it will be very easy to pressure Syria to stop supporting terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, to allow the Lebanese army to dismantle Hezbollah, and maybe to put an end to the Syrian occupation in Lebanon. If this happens we will really see a new Middle East.” (Lynfield 8/30/2002)
A secret CIA report on possible links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi government is finished and sent to top US officials. The report, entitled “Iraqi Support of Terrorism,” was substantially finished by December 2002, but was delayed while other US officials put pressure on the CIA to withdraw or revise the report, because it did not find as much evidence of a Hussein-al-Qaeda link as they would have liked. In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet will describe in detail what was in the report. “Our analysts believed that there was a solid basis for identifying three areas of concern with regard to Iraq and al-Qaeda: safe haven, contacts, and training. But they could not translate this data into a relationship where these two entities had ever moved beyond seeking ways to take advantage of each other.… Ansar al-Islam, a radical Kurdish Islamic group [based in northern Iraq areas out of Iraqi government control], was closely allied to al-Qaeda.… We believed that up to two hundred al-Qaeda fighters began to relocate [to Ansar al-Islam] camps after the Afghan campaign began in the fall of 2001.” He says that one of their camps near the town of Khurmal linked to militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi “engaged in production and training in the use of low-level poisons such as cyanide.” He says that nearly 100 operatives in Western Europe connected to this camp were arrested, but, “What was even more worrisome was that by the spring and summer of 2002, more than a dozen al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists converged on Baghdad, with apparently no harassment on the part of the Iraqi government. They had found a comfortable and secure environment in which they moved people and supplies to support al-Zarqawi’s operations in northeastern Iraq.” He mentions Thirwat Salah Shehata and Yussef Dardiri, considered to be among Islamic Jihad’s best operational planners, as those in Baghdad at the time, and that “Credible information told us that Shehata was willing to strike US, Israeli, and Egyptian targets sometime in the future.” He concludes, “Do we know just how aware Iraqi authorities were of these terrorists’ presence either in Baghdad or northeastern Iraq? No, but from an intelligence point of view it would have been difficult to conclude that the Iraqi intelligence service was not aware of their activities. Certainly, we believe that at least one senior [Ansar al-Islam] operative maintained some sort of liaison relationship with the Iraqis. But operational direction and control? No.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 349-351) It is not clear from Tenet’s book just how much of the above description is of what the CIA believed at the time and how much is what Tenet still believed to be true in 2007. Some of Tenet’s claims from his book appear overblown, such as the danger of poison production in the Khurmal camp (see March 31, 2003). A new CIA report in 2005 (ignored in Tenet’s book) will conclude that Hussein’s government “did not have a relationship, harbor, or even turn a blind eye toward al-Zarqawi and his associates” (see October 2005). (Mazzetti 9/8/2006) In 2006, a bipartisan US Senate report on “Pre-war Intelligence on Iraq” will note that “detainees that originally reported on [links between Ansar al-Islam and Iraqi intelligence] have recanted, and another detainee, in September 2003, was deemed to have insufficient access and level of detail to substantiate his claims.” The report will conclude, “Postwar information reveals that Baghdad viewed Ansar al-Islam as a threat to the regime and that [Iraqi intelligence] attempted to collect intelligence on the group.” (US Senate and Intelligence Committee 9/8/2006 )
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