!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Mahmoud Es Sayed
Mahmoud Es Sayed was a participant or observer in the following events:
Anwar al-Awlaki. [Source: Public domain]The FBI conducts a counterterrorism inquiry into Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam who will later be suspected of involvement in the 9/11 plot. He serves as the “spiritual leader” to several of the hijackers (see March 2001 and After), and by 2008 US intelligence will determine he is linked to al-Qaeda (see February 27, 2008).
The investigation is opened when it is learned he had probably been visited by a “procurement agent” for bin Laden, Ziyad Khaleel. Khaleel had helped buy a satellite phone for bin Laden; when he is arrested in December 1999 he reportedly tells the FBI crucial details about al-Qaeda operations in the US (see December 29, 1999).
In early 2000 the FBI is aware when al-Awlaki is visited by an unnamed close associate of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 ; Washington Post, 2/27/2008]
He also serves as vice president of the Charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW), the US branch of a Yemeni charity founded by Sheikh Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, a Yemeni imam who the US will officially designate a terrorist in 2004. CSSW also has ties to the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, Italy, considered one of the centers of al-Qaeda activity in Europe. The FBI begins investigating CSSW in 1999 after a Yemeni politician visits the US to solicit donations for the charity, and then visits Mahmoud Es Sayed, a known al-Qaeda figure at the Islamic Cultural Institute, on the same trip. [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 243; Washington Post, 2/27/2008]
The FBI learns that al-Awlaki knows individuals from the suspect Holy Land Foundation and others involved in raising money for Hamas. Sources allege that al-Awlaki has even more extremist connections.
But none of these links are considered strong enough for criminal charges, and the investigation is closed. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 517] Al-Awlaki is beginning to associate with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar shortly before the investigation ends. For instance, on February 4, one month before the FBI investigation is closed, al-Awlaki talks on the telephone four times with hijacker associate Omar al-Bayoumi. The 9/11 Commission will later speculate that these calls are related to Alhazmi and Almihdhar, since al-Bayoumi is helping them that day, and that Alhazmi or Almihdhar may even have been using al-Bayoumi’s phone at the time (see February 4, 2000). Al-Bayoumi had also been the subject of an FBI counterterrorism investigation in 1999 (see September 1998-July 1999).
Entity Tags: Omar al-Bayoumi, Ziyad Khaleel, Nawaf Alhazmi, Osama bin Laden, Mahmoud Es Sayed, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Islamic Cultural Institute, Abdul Mejid al-Zindani, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Anwar al-Awlaki, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Charitable Society for Social Welfare
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Mahmoud Es Sayed is arrested in Syria with other militants on weapons smuggling charges, according to Italian authorities. The Italians will learn this later based on wiretaps of Es Sayed, a close associate of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. While in prison, Es Sayed is visited by Muftafa Tlass, the Syrian defense minister, and Es Sayed tells him that the weapons are meant to fight Jews. Tlass, a virulent anti-Semite who even claimed in a book that Jews kill non-Jews to use their blood to make pastries, arranges for the release of the whole group, and puts them in touch with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. [Vidino, 2006, pp. 222]
Al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri sends a close associate, Mahmoud Es Sayed, to Italy. His task is to revitalize an Egyptian Islamist network in Milan and northern Italy, by setting up new cells and establishing contacts with other extremist networks operating in the area. He applies for asylum and, during the proceedings on his application, states that he is connected to Islamic Jihad. However, he is granted asylum anyway. He maintains close ties with one radical mosque in Milan, the Islamic Cultural Institute, and immediately becomes the undisputed leader of the city’s other extremist mosque, the Via Quaranta mosque. The Italian authorities, who are investigating radical Islamist networks at this time, learn of his arrival and importance within a few months. [Vidino, 2006, pp. 52, 221-2] There is evidence to indicate that Es Sayed has foreknowledge of 9/11 (see August 12, 2000 and September 4, 2001).
Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr. [Source: ABC]Italian resident Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, who previously informed for the CIA on extremists in Albania (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After and May 1997-2000), moves from Rome to Milan to live with a close associate of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000 and Summer 2000). Al-Zawahiri’s associate, Mahmoud Es Sayed, and Nasr arrive in Milan at the same time, and it appears their movements are coordinated. Nasr actually lives in Es Sayed’s apartment and the pair make use of two radical mosques in Milan, the Via Quaranta mosque, which is their headquarters, and the Islamic Cultural Institute (ICI), which is associated with a cell of radical Islamists that works with al-Qaeda and appears to have foreknowledge of 9/11 (see August 12, 2000 and March 2001). The ICI has a reputation as the most radical Islamic center in Italy, was a key supply point for Muslims fighting in Bosnia (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995), and was connected to the first World Trade Center bombing (see Late 1993-1994). Nasr serves as deputy imam at the ICI and preaches anti-US sermons. Italian law enforcement authorities monitor him with bugs in his apartment and through a tap on his phone, finding out that after 9/11 he recruits Muslims to go and fight in Afghanistan. He does not seem to be directly involved in serious illegal activity, but the information the Italians gain helps them monitor other radicals. His relationship with the CIA during his time in Italy is unclear, but in one monitored call after 9/11 he appears to be dissuading another radical from attacking Jews and in another he tells an associate not to carry out a car bombing. [Chicago Tribune, 7/2/2005; Vidino, 2006, pp. 242] The CIA will kidnap Nasr in 2003 (see Noon February 17, 2003).
Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman. [Source: US Defense Department]Italian intelligence successfully wiretaps an al-Qaeda cell in Milan, Italy, starting in late 1999. [Boston Globe, 8/4/2002] In a wiretapped conversation from this day, Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, a section chief in Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO - roughly the equivalent to the FBI in the US) traveling on a diplomatic passport (see Spring-Summer 1998), talks about a massive strike against the enemies of Islam involving aircraft and the sky. The conversation takes place in a car on the way to a terrorist summit near Bologna (see August 12, 2000 and Shortly After), and the person Abdulrahman talks to is Mahmoud Es Sayed, a close associate of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000). There are several significant aspects to the conversation:
Abdulrahman makes comments indicating he has foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. He says that he is “studying airlines,” comments, “Our focus is only on the air,” and tells Es Sayed to remember the words “above the head.” He also says that next time they meet he hopes to bring Es Sayed “a window or piece of the airplane,” and that the security on Alitalia and at Rome airport is poor. The name of the operation is given as “Jihadia,” and Abdulrahman says, “the big blow will come from the other country: one of those blows no one can ever forget.” He adds: “[It is] moving from south to north, from east to west: whoever created this plan is crazy, but he’s also a genius. It will leave them speechless.” He also says: “We can fight any power using candles and airplanes: they will not be able to stop us with even their most powerful weapons. We must hit them. And keep your head up.… Remember, the danger in the airports.… If it happens the newspapers from all over the world will write about it.”
Es Sayed remarks, “I know brothers who went to America with the trick of the wedding publications.” The phrase “Big wedding” is sometimes used by al-Qaeda as code for a bombing or attack, including 9/11 (see November 30, 1999 and Late Summer 2001), so, taken together with Abdulrahman’s remarks, this indicates an unconventional attack in the US using aircraft;
The two discuss training camps in Yemen, which are “proceeding on a world scale.” They also mention youth in Italy, and presumably the youth are training;
Es Sayed says, “my dream is building an Islamic state,” and Abdulrahman replies that this is possible because the Yemeni government is weak and “sooner or later we will dominate it;”
Es Sayed asks after a person named Ayman, evidently al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri;
Abdulrahman twice mentions the name of Abdul Mejid, apparently a reference to Abdul Mejid al-Zindani, a radical leader in Yemen and associate of Osama bin Laden (see January-August 1998);
Es Sayed makes the cryptic comment, “One must be cautious, like in Iran; not a single photo.”
Beginning in October 2000, FBI experts will help Italian police analyze the intercepts and warnings. Related conversations are overheard early the next year (see January 24, 2001 and February 2001). Neither Italy nor the FBI will fully understand their meaning until after 9/11, but apparently the Italians will understand enough to give the US an attack warning in March 2001 (see March 2001). After 9/11, this conversation and others like it will cause US intelligence to think there may be a link between the 9/11 plot and Yemen’s PSO. [Los Angeles Times, 5/29/2002; Guardian, 5/30/2002; Washington Post, 5/31/2002; Wall Street Journal, 12/20/2002; Vidino, 2006, pp. 224-5] Author Lorenzo Vidino will later comment: “The chilling conversation alarmed officials before 9/11, but it took on a completely different resonance after the attacks had taken place. [Abdulrahman], who had close connections to the highest ranks of al-Qaeda, likely knew about the plan in advance and had told Es Sayed about it.” [Vidino, 2006, pp. 226]
Italian counterterrorist authorities monitor a summit of leading Islamist militants near Bologna. Attendees at the meeting, which is arranged through an extremist mosque in Milan called the Islamic Cultural Institute, include:
Mahmoud Es Sayed, a close associate of al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000). He had recently been sent by al-Zawahiri to revise the militant network in northern Italy (see Summer 2000).
Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, a section chief with Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO—roughly equivalent to the FBI). Es Sayed and Abdulrahman are overheard discussing an attack using aircraft on their way to the summit, indicating they have foreknowledge of 9/11 (see August 12, 2000). The two of them will be recorded a few months later discussing trying to get some of their associates into the US (see February 2001). In 2002, Abdulrahman will be arrested and sent to the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba (see September 2002).
Ayub Usama Saddiq Ali, an Islamic Jihad leader and another close associate of al-Zawahiri’s. Ali was convicted of murder in Egypt but fled to Germany and was granted political asylum there in 1999. Future 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah called him once in 1999 and will call him again in August 2001 (see November 7, 1999 and August 4, 2001).
Mohammed Fazazi, the spiritual leader of the Moroccan group Salafia Jihadia, which will be responsible for a 2003 attack in Casablanca (see May 16, 2003). Fazazi is also the imam at Hamburg’s Al-Quds mosque, which is attended by the core cell of future 9/11 hijacker pilots, including Jarrah (see Early 1996 and (April 1, 1999)). Fazazi’s presence indicates a further connection between the cell in Milan, which is under heavy surveillance by Italian authorities (see 2000), and the cell in Hamburg, but this link will not be exploited to prevent 9/11. [Vidino, 2006, pp. 230]
Italian intelligence hears an interesting wiretapped conversation eerily similar to one from August 12, 2000 (see August 12, 2000). This conversation occurs between al-Qaeda operatives Mahmoud Es Sayed (see Summer 2000) and Ben Soltane Adel, two members of al-Qaeda’s Milan cell. Adel asks, in reference to fake documents, “Will these work for the brothers who are going to the United States?” Sayed responds angrily, saying: “[D]on’t ever say those words again, not even joking!… If it’s necessary… whatever place we may be, come up and talk in my ear, because these are very important things. You must know… that this plan is very, very secret, as if you were protecting the security of the state.” This will be one of many clues found from the Italian wiretaps and passed on to US intelligence in March 2001 (see March 2001). However, they apparently will not be properly understood until after 9/11. Adel will later be arrested and convicted of belonging to a terrorist cell, and Es Sayed will flee to Afghanistan in July 2001. [Los Angeles Times, 5/29/2002; Guardian, 5/30/2002]
Mahmoud Es Sayed (aka Abu Saleh), a member of an Italian al-Qaeda cell being monitored by the authorities there, calls an associate, Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, in Yemen to discuss travel to the US. Abdulrahman is a section chief in Yemen’s Political Security Organization (see August 12, 2000), but Italian authorities overhear Es Sayed telling Abdulrahman’s younger brother, “I heard you were going to America.” The brother replies: “I’m sorry to say we’re not able to get in. It is our most important wish and our big target.” [Wall Street Journal, 12/20/2002] Italian authorities had previously overheard conversations between Es Sayed and Albdulrahman in which they discussed a massive strike against the enemies of Islam involving aircraft (see August 12, 2000). The US will soon be warned of this (see March 2001).
At least one member of the al-Qaeda cell in Milan, Italy, apparently uses steganography, a method of encoding messages within computerized photographs. In Milan’s Via Quaranta mosque in Milan, frequented by Egyptian al-Qaeda operative Mahmoud Es Sayed, pictures of the World Trade Center that have steganographic messages in them are saved on a computer. A number of other pictures of world leaders and pornography are also manipulated in a similar manner. These pictures will not be discovered until months after 9/11, but they help suggest that some in the Milan cell had foreknowledge of the 9/11 plot. Es Sayed had been wiretapped on previous occasions, and was heard making comments suggesting he had such foreknowledge (see August 12, 2000)
(see January 24, 2001). His current whereabouts are unknown. [ABC News, 5/8/2003]
Ben Soltane Adel, a Tunisian detained in Milan, Italy, for belonging to an extremist cell (see January 24, 2001), receives a letter from a fellow militant. The envelope contains an empty chewing gum wrapper. The wrapper is from Brooklyn Gum, a popular Italian brand that features a picture of the Brooklyn Bridge, so presumably it is a hint to Adel about the 9/11 targets. Prison guards notice the wrapper when they open the envelope and think it odd. However, they do not realize the full significance of it until five days later. [Vidino, 2006, pp. 226] Some Islamist militants in Milan appear to have foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks around this time (see September 7, 2001) and September 4, 2001). In January 2001, Adel was monitored talking about using forged documents to help the “brothers who are going to the United States” with Mahmoud Es Sayed, one of the people in Italy who seems to know about the 9/11 plot (see January 24, 2001 and August 12, 2000).
Release and Imprisoned Again - In early 2004, Adel will be released after serving a three and a half year sentence in Italy, and then deported to Tunisia. In June 2007, it will be reported that he is on a UN al-Qaeda and Taliban blacklist, and he is imprisoned in Tunisia. [Isle of Man Customs Division, 6/11/2007]
An Italian network of extremists that has been closely monitored by local authorities (see After April 2001) goes silent following 9/11, after which only one message is intercepted. The message, which says, “Congratulations for the USA,” is from an unknown militant to Abdelhalim Remadna, a leading radical based in Milan. Remadna is arrested on November 12 as he attempts to flee Italy. One of his associates, Yassin Chekkouri, is arrested on the same day. Remadna will be sentenced to eight years in prison, whereas Chekkouri will receive four. Mahmoud Es Sayed, one of their associates who apparently had some foreknowledge of 9/11 (see August 12, 2000 and September 4, 2001), escapes Italy some time in October, but is apparently killed at the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001. [Vidino, 2006, pp. 227-30]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.