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Profile: Khaled Abu el-Dahab

Khaled Abu el-Dahab was a participant or observer in the following events:

Fawaz Damra.Fawaz Damra. [Source: Associated Press]By the mid-1980s, Osama bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam jointly founded a charity front based in Pakistan which is called Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) (which means “services office”) and is also known as Al-Kifah (which means “struggle”) (see 1984). Branches start to open in the US; the first one apparently opens in Tucson, Arizona, where al-Qaeda has a sleeper cell (see 1986). But around 1986, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, the right hand man of double agent Ali Mohamed, informally founds the branch in Brooklyn, New York, and it soon becomes the most important US branch. (Weiser, Sachs, and Kocieniewski 10/22/1998; Burr and Collins 2006, pp. 269-270) On December 29, 1987, three men, Mustafa Shalabi, Fawaz Damra, and Ali Shinawy, formally file papers incorporating Al-Kifah, which is called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. At first, it is located inside the Al Farouq mosque, which is led by Damra. But eventually it will get it own office space next to the mosque. Shalabi, a naturalized citizen from Egypt, runs the office with two assistants: Mahmud Abouhalima, who will later be convicted for a role in bombing the World Trade Center in 1993 (see February 26, 1993), and El Sayyid Nosair, who will assassinate a Jewish leader in New York in 1990 (see November 5, 1990). (Mitchell 4/11/1993; Hosenball 10/1/2001; Sullivan, Garrett, and Rutchick 11/4/2001) Jamal al-Fadl, a founding member of al-Qaeda and future FBI informant (see June 1996-April 1997), also works at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in its early days. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 155) The Brooklyn office recruits Arab immigrants and Arab-Americans to go fight in Afghanistan, even after the Soviets withdraw in early 1989. As many as 200 are sent there from the office. Before they go, the office arranges training in the use of rifles, assault weapons, and handguns, and then helps them with visas, plane tickets, and contacts. They are generally sent to the MAK/Al-Kifah office in Peshawar, Pakistan, and then connected to either the radical Afghan faction led by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf or the equally radical one led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. (Mitchell 4/11/1993) The CIA has some murky connection to Al-Kifah that has yet to be fully explained. Newsweek will later say the Brooklyn office “doubled as a recruiting post for the CIA seeking to steer fresh troops to the mujaheddin” fighting in Afghanistan. At the same time, the Brooklyn office is where “veterans of [the Afghan war arrived] in the United States—many with passports arranged by the CIA.” (Hosenball 10/1/2001) Robert I. Friedman, writing for New York magazine, will comment that the Brooklyn office was a refuge for ex- and future mujaheddin, “But the highlight for the center’s regulars were the inspirational jihad lecture series, featuring CIA-sponsored speakers.… One week on Atlantic Avenue, it might be a CIA-trained Afghan rebel traveling on a CIA-issued visa; the next, it might be a clean-cut Arabic-speaking Green Beret, who would lecture about the importance of being part of the mujaheddin, or ‘warriors of the Lord.’ The more popular lectures were held upstairs in the roomier Al-Farouq Mosque; such was the case in 1990 when Sheikh [Omar] Abdul-Rahman, traveling on a CIA-supported visa, came to town.” One frequent instructor is double agent Ali Mohamed, who is in the US Special Forces at the time (see 1987-1989). Bin Laden’s mentor Azzam frequently visits and lectures in the area. In 1988, he tells “a rapt crowd of several hundred in Jersey City, ‘Blood and martyrdom are the only way to create a Muslim society.… However, humanity won’t allow us to achieve this objective, because all humanity is the enemy of every Muslim.’” (Friedman 3/17/1995) Ayman Al-Zawahiri, future Al-Qaeda second in command, makes a recruiting trip to the office in 1989 (see Spring 1993). (Wright 9/9/2002) The Brooklyn office also raises a considerable amount of money for MAK/Al-Kifah back in Pakistan. The Independent will later call the office “a place of pivotal importance to Operation Cyclone, the American effort to support the mujaheddin. The Al-Kifah [Refugee Center was] raising funds and, crucially, providing recruits for the struggle, with active American assistance.” (Marshall 11/1/1998) Abdul-Rahman, better known as the “Blind Sheikh,” is closely linked to bin Laden. In 1990, he moves to New York on another CIA-supported visa (see July 1990) and soon dominates the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. Shalabi has a falling out with him over how to spend the money they raise and he is killed in mysterious circumstances in early 1991, completing Abdul-Rahman’s take over. Now, both the Brooklyn and Pakistan ends of the Al-Kifah/MAK network are firmly controlled by bin Laden and his close associates. In 1998, the US government will say that al-Qaeda’s “connection to the United States evolved from the Al-Kifah Refugee Center.” Yet there is no sign that the CIA stops its relationship with the Brooklyn office before it closes down shortly after the 1993 WTC bombing. (Weiser, Sachs, and Kocieniewski 10/22/1998)

Khaled Abu el-Dahab.Khaled Abu el-Dahab. [Source: Egyptian government]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)

Essam Marzouk.Essam Marzouk. [Source: FBI]US-al-Qaeda double agent Ali Mohamed is detained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Vancouver, British Columbia, after attempting to pick up a man named Essam Marzouk, who is carrying numerous false passports. The RCMP identifies Mohamed as a top al-Qaeda operative. Mohamed admits to it that he traveled to Vancouver to help Marzouk sneak into the US and admits working closely with Osama bin Laden. (Williams and McCormick 11/4/2001; Oziewicz and Ha 11/22/2001; Waldman 11/26/2001) After many hours of questioning, Mohamed tells the Canadian officials to call John Zent, his handler at the FBI. Zent confirms that Mohamed works for the FBI and asks them to release him. They do. (Lance 2006, pp. 124) Mohamed is accompanied by fellow al-Qaeda operative Khaled Abu el-Dahab (see 1987-1998), who brings $3,000 sent by bin Laden to pay for Marzouk’s bail. Marzouk had run one of bin Laden’s training camps in Afghanistan and was an active member of the al-Qaeda allied group Islamic Jihad at the time. However, Canadian intelligence apparently is unaware of his past. Marzouk will spend almost a year in detention. But then, again with the help of another visit to Canada by Mohamed, Marzouk will be released and allowed to live in Canada (see June 16, 1993-February 1998). He later will help train the bombers who carry out the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). (Oziewicz and Ha 11/22/2001; Bell 11/26/2005) Jack Cloonan, an FBI agent who later investigates Mohamed, will say: “I don’t think you have to be an agent who has worked terrorism all your life to realize something is terribly amiss here. What was the follow up? It just sort of seems like [this incident] dies.” (Lance 2006, pp. 125)

A young Ayman al-Zawahiri dressed as a Westerner.A young Ayman al-Zawahiri dressed as a Westerner. [Source: Public domain via BBC]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).

Andrew McCarthy.Andrew McCarthy. [Source: Front Page Magazine]In December 1994, defense attorney Roger Stavis is preparing to defend his client El Sayyid Nosair in the upcoming landmarks trial. He discovers the top secret US military training manuals found in Nosair’s house and begins investigating Ali Mohamed, the US soldier (and double agent) who stole the manuals and gave them to Nosair. Stavis wants to defend Nosair on the basis that since Nosair was trained by Mohamed, who worked for the CIA and US military, the US government should share culpability for Nosair’s crimes. He writes up a subpoena for Mohamed. Stravis later recalls, “I wanted him. And I tried everything to find him.” But Mohamed has disappeared and not even his wife in California knows where he is. However, US intelligence is secretly monitoring him (see Autumn 1993) and they know he is in Kenya. An FBI agent calls him there and tells him to come back to be interviewed. Mohamed immediately returns to the US and on December 9 he is interviewed by FBI agent Harlan Bell and Assistant US Attorney Andrew McCarthy, one of the prosecutors for the upcoming trial (see December 9, 1994). Mohamed stays in touch after the interview, for instance talking to McCarthy on the phone on December 22. But when the trial starts on January 30, 1995, Stavis is told that Mohamed cannot be found and never responded to the subpoena. In 1999, Ibrahim El-Gabrowny, Nosair’s cousin, will find himself in a jail cell next to Mohamed. El-Gabrowny will later allege that he asked why Mohamed never showed up in court to support Nosair. Mohamed supposedly responds that he did get the subpoena, but that McCarthy advised him to ignore it and not testify and that McCarthy would cover up for him. Had Mohamed testified, McCarthy would have had a more difficult time getting a conviction, and the revelations of Mohamed’s ties to the CIA, FBI, and US military would have been highly embarrassing. Author Peter Lance will later note also that had Mohamed testified in the high profile trial, he would have become too well known to continue working as an informant and double agent. (Lance 2006, pp. 171-178)

Khaled Abu el-Dahab travels to Afghanistan to be personally congratulated by bin Laden. He is congratulated for recruiting 10 US citizens of Middle Eastern descent into al-Qaeda. Bin Laden was particularly keen to recruit such people so their US passports could be used for international travel by other al-Qaeda operatives. El-Dahab makes this visit with Ali Mohamed; the two of them make up the heart of an al-Qaeda cell based in Santa Clara, California (see 1987-1998). El-Dahab will reveal this information in a 1999 trial in Egypt. The names of the recruits and other details about them apparently are not publicly revealed, and it is unclear if or when they are ever uncovered. (Williams 11/21/2001)

Patrick FitzgeraldPatrick Fitzgerald [Source: Publicity photo]Ali Mohamed is finally arrested after testifying at a grand jury hearing. The arrest is officially kept secret, but the media will report it one month later. (Weiser 10/30/1998) Patrick Fitzgerald is on the prosecutor team that subpoenaed Mohamed to appear, but apparently he and the other prosecutors know very little about Mohamed. Fitzgerald blames this on a legal “wall” between intelligence gathering and criminal prosecution. He later will relate what happened on the day Mohamed testified: “Ali Mohamed lied in that grand jury proceeding and left the courthouse to go to his hotel, followed by FBI agents, but not under arrest. He had imminent plans to fly to Egypt. It was believed [by the prosecutors] at the time that Mohamed lied and that he was involved with the al-Qaeda network but Mohamed had not by then been tied to the [embassy] bombings. The decision had to be made at that moment whether to charge Mohamed with false statements. If not, Mohamed would leave the country. That difficult decision had to be made without knowing or reviewing the intelligence information on the other side of the ‘wall.’ It was ultimately decided to arrest Mohamed that night in his hotel room [and he was arrested]. [The prosecution] team got lucky but we never should have had to rely on luck. The prosecution team later obtained access to the intelligence information, including documents obtained from an earlier search of Mohamed’s home by the intelligence team on the other side of ‘the wall.’ Those documents included direct written communications with al-Qaeda members and a library of al-Qaeda training materials that would have made the decision far less difficult. (We could only obtain that access after the arrest with the specific permission of the Attorney General of the United States, based upon the fact that we had obligations to provide the defendant with discovery materials and because the intelligence investigation of Mohamed had effectively ended.)… Mohamed [later] stated that had he not been arrested on that day in September 1998, he had intended to travel to Afghanistan to rejoin Osama bin Laden. Thus, while the right decision to arrest was made partly in the dark, the ‘wall’ could easily have caused a different decision that September evening that would have allowed a key player in the al-Qaeda network to escape justice for the embassy bombing in Kenya and rejoin Osama bin Laden in a cave in Afghanistan, instead of going to federal prison.” (US Congress 10/21/2003) Mohamed’s associate Khaled Abu el-Dahab, now living in Egypt, wil hear of Mohamed’s arrest and attempt to leave the country, but will be arrested in October 1998. He will be put on trial there and sentenced to 15 years in prison (see 1999). (Williams 11/21/2001)

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)

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