Profile: Nabil al-Marabh
Nabil al-Marabh was a participant or observer in the following events:
Four men, Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, Nabil al-Marabh, Raed Hijazi, and Bassam Kanj, meet each other in an Afghanistan training camp. All four of them take part in fighting against the Soviets. This is according to testimony by Elzahabi in 2004 (see April 16, 2004-June 25, 2004). Elzahabi will claim that while there, he met Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, later famous for allegedly attacking US soldiers in Iraq, and al-Qaeda leaders Abu Zubaida and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. This appears to be the genesis of a Boston al-Qaeda sleeper cell that will play vital roles in 9/11 and other al-Qaeda plots. The four men go their separate ways in subsequent years, but by 1998 all of them will be working as taxi drivers in Boston (see June 1995-Early 1999). [Boston Globe, 6/27/2004]
Nabil al-Marabh. [Source: Associated Press]Nabil al-Marabh moves to Boston in 1989 and apparently lives there as a taxi driver for several years. [New York Times, 9/18/2001; Boston Herald, 9/19/2001] In a 2003 interview, al-Marabh will claim that he had a conflict with a fellow Boston taxi driver who falsely accused him of planning to bomb a car. He will say he spoke with FBI agents who concluded the allegations were false. But from this time on, the FBI repeatedly tried to recruit him to become an informant. He will claim he refused the offer (see Late August 2000). [Knight Ridder, 5/23/2003] In a 2002 statement, he will claim that he traveled to Pakistan in 1992 at the behest of a roommate who “both worked for the FBI and fought in Afghanistan.” (Interestingly, when al-Marabh will be briefly detained in Canada in the summer of 2001, fellow prisoners will claim that he repeatedly says he is in contact with the FBI because they find him “special”(see June 27, 2001-July 11, 2001).) Al-Marabh stays at the House of Martyrs, a guest house notoriously connected to bin Laden. He says he meets al-Qaeda operative Raed Hijazi there (though it seems likely they already met in Afghanistan in the late 1980s (see Late 1980s).) The two of them will later be roommates in Boston in the late 1990s (see June 1995-Early 1999). Curiously, one newspaper account will claim that Hijazi became an FBI informant around the time he was al-Marabh’s roommate (see Early 1997-Late 1998). [Washington Post, 9/4/2002] Al-Marabh and Hijazi go to a training camp in Afghanistan and receive training in rifles, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades. [Washington Post, 9/4/2002; Chicago Sun-Times, 9/5/2002; Associated Press, 6/3/2004] Al-Marabh later claims that he spends the next year or two in Pakistan working for the Muslim World League, an Islamic charity some have suspected of funding radical militants. He also later acknowledges distributing as much as $200,000 a month to various training camps in Afghanistan at this time, but claims it is for charitable causes. He says he decides to return to the US in the wake of a Pakistani crackdown on Arabs following the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. [Washington Post, 9/4/2002; New York Times, 7/31/2003; Associated Press, 6/3/2004]
Nabil al-Marabh returned to Canada from Afghanistan in February 1994 using a fraudulent Saudi Arabian passport. But his request for asylum was eventually denied. He then enters the US in June 1995 and applies for asylum there. That too is denied, and he is ordered deported in 1997. But the order is not enforced and he continues to live in the US and Canada illegally until 9/11. [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/22/2001; Knight Ridder, 5/23/2003] Al-Marabh moves to Boston and gets a job as a taxi driver. He had known al-Qaeda operatives Bassam Kanj, Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, and Raed Hijazi in training camps in Afghanistan (see Late 1980s; 1989-1994), and this group of four regathers in Boston. Kanj has been there since 1995, driving taxis at the same company that hires al-Marabh. Elzahabi moves to Boston from New York City in 1997 and also gets a job at this same taxi company. There are conflicting accounts as to who brings Raed Hijazi to Boston and why he goes there, but by the beginning of 1998 he is also working for this taxi company. [Boston Globe, 2/5/2001; New York Times, 9/18/2001; New York Times, 10/14/2001; Washington Post, 9/4/2002] Al-Marabh and Hijazi are roommates for at least two months. While they work together driving taxis, Hijazi is saving his earnings to spend on bomb plots and is working on an al-Qaeda plot to attack a US warship. That plot will develop into the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. [ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002; Washington Post, 9/4/2002] Around the end of 1998, Kanj and Hijazi leave Boston to work on al-Qaeda plots overseas while Elzahabi leaves in 1999 to fight as a sniper in Chechnya. Al-Marabh will also leave, moving to Florida in early 1999 (see February 1999-February 2000), but he periodically returns to his Boston residence for some time, as his wife and son continue to live there. These four men will continue to help each other in various al-Qaeda plots. [Boston Globe, 2/5/2001; Boston Globe, 6/26/2004] Apparently, al-Qaeda recruiter Kamal Derwish also works at the same Boston taxi company, though the timing is not clear. He trained in Afghanistan in 1992, a time when al-Marabh was also there. He will be killed by a US missile strike in November 2002 (see November 3, 2002). [Christian Science Monitor, 5/23/2003] Even though the Boston FBI is aware long before 9/11 that at least four of the men are connected to al-Qaeda (see January 2001), the FBI will officially deny the possibility of any al-Qaeda cell in Boston until 2004 (see June 27, 2004).
In 1997, Canadian intelligence begins investigating Abdullah Almalki, a Canadian exporter originally from Syria. Almalki is working with Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi and Abdelrahman Elzahabi, who are brothers and business partners, to send electronic equipment to Pakistan. Around 1995, the three of them sent large numbers of portable field radios to Pakistan. Apparently, some of them are used by Taliban and al-Qaeda forces (the US will later recover many field radios of the same make and model in Afghanistan after 9/11). However, there is no law against exporting the radios, and investigators are unable to prove any crime was committed. Abdelrahman is working in New York City as a mechanic while Mohamad Kamal is working in Boston as a taxi driver. Three other taxi drivers at the same company are al-Qaeda operatives who knew each other and Mohamad Kamal in Afghanistan (see Late 1980s and June 1995-Early 1999), and he will later admit to being a sniper instructor at the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. The FBI in Boston begins investigating him in 1999, but fails to prove he is a terrorist. They lose track of him when he leaves the US later that year to fight the Russians in Chechnya. The FBI later discovers him driving trucks in Minnesota and arrests him for lying to federal agents about his knowledge of the field radios (see Mid-August 2001). [Globe and Mail, 3/17/2007] It seems probable that the investigation of Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi strengthens suspicions about a Boston al-Qaeda cell. One of his associates at the taxi company, Raed Hijazi, works as an FBI informant starting in 1997 (see Early 1997-Late 1998]), and another, Nabil al-Marabh, is questioned by the FBI in 1999 (see April 1999-August 1999). Almalki is later arrested in Syria while visiting relatives there and severely tortured before eventually being released and returned to Canada (see September 19 or 20, 2003).
Raed Hijazi’s Boston taxi license. [Source: FBI]Raed Hijazi, an al-Qaeda operative later convicted in Jordan for attempting to blow up hotels there, is living and working in Boston with Nabil al-Marabh. According to an FBI source described in media reports as both “reliable” and “high-level,” Hijazi is approached by FBI agents investigating a drug-trafficking network bringing in white heroin from Afghanistan. According to the source, Hijazi becomes “a willing informant” about the network. The source will claim that Hijazi also provided information about “Arab terrorists and terrorist sympathizers,” but the agents were more interested in the heroin trade. [WCVB 5 (Boston), 10/16/2001] The timing of this is unclear, but it must have occurred between early 1997 and late 1998, the only time Hijazi lived in Boston (see June 1995-Early 1999). An FBI spokeswoman will decline to comment on the issue except to say, “Based on the reporting, I would question [Hijazi’s] reliability [as an informant].” [Boston Herald, 10/17/2001]
Nabil al-Marabh makes “several large deposits, withdrawals and overseas wire transfers” that a Boston bank flags as suspicious. [Associated Press, 6/3/2004] Presumably some of these transfers go to al-Qaeda operative Raed Hijazi, as it will later be known he frequently sends money to Hijazi during this period (see October 2000). Some of these funds may even go to several of the 9/11 hijackers (see September 2000; Spring 2001). As al-Marabh holds nothing but a low wage taxi driving job, it is unclear where this money is coming from. [Associated Press, 6/3/2004]
In February 1999, Nabil al-Marabh moves to Tampa, Florida. He gets a Florida driver’s license and begins driving taxis in Tampa, just as he did previously in Boston. According to an apartment complex manager, from February 1999 to February 2000 he lives in an apartment with another Arab man with a different last name. Investigators later will wonder if al-Marabh was an advance man for the Florida-based 9/11 hijackers. Tampa is about 50 miles north of Venice, where several 9/11 hijacker pilots will attend flight schools beginning in July 2000 (see July 1-3, 2000). While immigration records indicate Mohamed Atta will first arrive in the US in June 2000, there is some evidence of him being in the US before then (see Late April-Mid-May 2000; April 2000), and he may arrive in Florida by September 1999 (see September 1999). [New York Times, 9/18/2001; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] Most of the information on al-Marabh’s taxi license application is fraudulent, including where he lived and worked from 1994 to 1999. [ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] In May 1999, a potential al-Qaeda sleeper agent named Ihab Ali Nawawi is arrested in Orlando, Florida, about 80 miles from Tampa. Nawawi had been working as a taxi driver and was in contact with top al-Qaeda leaders. While the similarity between him and al-Marabh is intriguing, there is no known reported connection in Florida between the two men (see May 18, 1999). In the early 1990s, both worked for the Pakistani branch of the Muslim World League, a charity with suspected terrorism ties (see 1989-1994). [St. Petersburg Times, 10/28/2001] Al-Marabh also apparently goes to Afghanistan some time in 1999 or early 2000. [Canadian Press, 10/11/2001]
Nabil al-Marabh will claim in a 2002 statement that in May 1999, the FBI approaches him in Boston, looking for Raed Hijazi. Al-Marabh will say he lied and said he did not know Hijazi, even though he knew him well. Hijazi apparently has not been involved in any violent crime yet, but will participate in a failed attempt to bomb a hotel in Jordan (see November 30, 1999) and will help plan the USS Cole bombing in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). [Washington Post, 9/4/2002] In August 1999 FBI agents again visit al-Marabh’s Boston apartment to ask him about another man. Al-Marabh’s wife will later recall that the first name of this man is Ahmed. [New York Times, 10/14/2001] He is from Jordan and had lived in their apartment for two months. [New York Times, 9/21/2001] Around the same time, the Boston FBI is looking for another associate of al-Marabh’s, Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi (see 1997 and 1999). They work at the same taxi company and fought together in Afghanistan.
As an al-Qaeda millennium plot is broken up in Jordan (see November 30, 1999), attention is focused on the fact that two of the plotters were long time US residents. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger sends a memo to President Clinton about the two men, Raed Hijazi and Khalil Deek. Hijazi had lived in California and then moved to Boston to drive a taxi there for several years. The 9/11 Commission will say Berger tells Clinton was a naturalized US citizen who had “been in touch with extremists in the United States as well as abroad.” Later in the month, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will warn Berger in an e-mail, “Foreign terrorist sleeper cells are present in the US and attacks in the US are likely.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 179, 501] Deek is arrested on December 11 (see December 11, 1999), but he will eventually be released without being charged (see May 2001). A few days later, Clarke authorizes a study that looks into Deek’s connections, but no action will be taken when it is discovered Deek’s next-door neighbor is still living in Anaheim, California, and running an al-Qaeda sleeper cell there (see December 14-25, 1999). Similarly, while Hijazi will be arrested overseas some months later (see September 2000), US intelligence seems oblivious to the other al-Qaeda operatives who have been his roommates and fellow taxi drivers in Boston (see June 1995-Early 1999 and October 2000). One of them, Nabil al-Marabh, will apparently go on to have a major role in the 9/11 plot (see for example January 2001-Summer 2001 and Early September 2001). Investigators will also fail to act on knowledge of financial transactions between Hijazi and three of the 9/11 hijackers (see Spring 2001).
Nabil al-Marabh stabs his Boston roommate in the knee during an argument on May 30, 2000. He pleads guilty in December 2000 to assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. [Boston Herald, 9/20/2001] He is given a six-month suspended sentence, but fails to report to his probation officer. An arrest warrant is issued for him in March 2001. [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2001; Ottawa Citizen, 10/29/2001] In July, just after he has been released on bail in Canada, the Boston police go to al-Marabh’s former Boston address with the arrest warrant. His landlord tells them al-Marabh is gone and has not left a forwarding address. [New York Times, 10/14/2001]
FISA court judge Royce Lamberth was angry with the FBI over misleading statements made in FISA wiretap applications. [Source: Public domain]While monitoring foreign terrorists in the US, the FBI listens to calls made by suspects as a part of an operation called Catcher’s Mitt, which is curtailed at this time due to misleading statements by FBI agents. It is never revealed who the targets of the FBI’s surveillance are under this operation, but below are some of the terrorism suspects under investigation in the US at the time:
Imran Mandhai, Shuyeb Mossa Jokhan and Adnan El Shukrijumah in Florida. They are plotting a series of attacks there, but Mandhai and Jokhan are brought in for questioning by the FBI and surveillance of them stops in late spring (see November 2000-Spring 2002 and May 2, 2001);
Another Florida cell connected to Blind Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. The FBI has been investigating it since 1993 (see (October 1993-November 2001));
Al-Qaeda operatives in Denver (see March 2000);
A Boston-based al-Qaeda cell involving Nabil al-Marabh and Raed Hijazi. Cell members provide funding to terrorists, fight abroad, and are involved in document forging (see January 2001, Spring 2001, and Early September 2001);
Fourteen of the hijackers’ associates the FBI investigates before 9/11. The FBI is still investigating four of these people while the hijackers associate with them; [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 169 ]
Hamas operatives such as Mohammed Salah in Chicago. Salah invests money in the US and sends it to the occupied territories to fund attacks (see June 9, 1998).
When problems are found with the applications for the wiretap warrants, an investigation is launched (see Summer-October 2000), and new requirements for warrant applications are put in place (see October 2000). From this time well into 2001, the FBI is forced to shut down wiretaps of al-Qaeda-related suspects connected to the 1998 US embassy bombings and Hamas (see March 2001 and April 2001). One source familiar with the case says that about 10 to 20 al-Qaeda related wiretaps have to be shut down and it becomes more difficult to get permission for new FISA wiretaps. Newsweek notes, “The effect [is] to stymie terror surveillance at exactly the moment it was needed most: requests from both Phoenix [with the Ken Williams memo (see July 10, 2001)] and Minneapolis [with Zacarias Moussaoui’s arrest] for wiretaps [will be] turned down [by FBI superiors],” (see August 21, 2001 and August 28, 2001). [Newsweek, 5/27/2002] Robert Wright is an FBI agent who led the Vulgar Betrayal investigation looking into allegations that Saudi businessman Yassin al-Qadi helped finance the embassy bombings, and other matters. In late 2002, he will claim to discover evidence that some of the FBI intelligence agents who stalled and obstructed his investigation were the same FBI agents who misrepresented the FISA petitions. [Judicial Watch, 9/11/2002]
Entity Tags: Royce Lamberth, Shuyeb Mossa Jokhan, Catcher’s Mitt, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Zacarias Moussaoui, Raed Hijazi, Mohammad Salah, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Adnan Shukrijumah, Central Intelligence Agency, Nabil al-Marabh, Ken Williams, Imran Mandhai, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
In August 2000, Nabil al-Marabh moves to Detroit, Michigan, to enroll in a truck driving course in nearby Dearborn. [Knight Ridder, 5/23/2003] According to an informant who will claim that al-Marabh confided to him in 2002, al-Marabh is taking instructions from a mystery figure in Chicago known only as “al Mosul”, which means “boss” or “person in charge” in Arabic. Al Mosul asks al-Marabh to attend the driving school to get a commercial truck driver’s license. Also according to this informant, al-Marabh and Raed Hijazi have plans to steal a fuel truck from a rest stop in New York or New Jersey and detonate it in the heavily traveled Lincoln or Holland tunnels leading into New York City, but the plan is foiled when Hijazi is arrested in October 2000 (see October 2000) for an attempted bombing in Jordan (see November 30, 1999). [Knight Ridder, 5/23/2003] Al-Marabh may have moved to Detroit to avoid government scrutiny in Boston after stabbing a roommate in May 2000 (see May 30, 2000-March 2001). His wife and son apparently continue to live at his long-time Boston address until September 2000 and then move to elsewhere in the city without leaving a forwarding address. [New York Times, 9/18/2001; Boston Herald, 9/19/2001; New York Times, 9/21/2001] Al-Marabh continues to live in Detroit until January 2001. The Washington Post will note that al-Marabh “appears to [move] every few months or continually [change] his residence on official documents � at one point listing an address in Dearborn, Michigan, that is a truck stop.” [Washington Post, 9/21/2001; Knight Ridder, 5/23/2003] He repeatedly claims to Michigan state officials that he lost his license, and secures temporary driver’s licenses without photographs. [Washington Post, 9/21/2001] He receives five driver’s licenses in Michigan over a period of 13 months in addition to carrying driver’s licenses from Massachusetts, Illinois, Florida, and Ontario, Canada. [Toronto Star, 10/26/2001] He moves to Toronto, Canada in January 2001 (see January 2001-Summer 2001), but will return to Detroit in August 2001 and will still be getting duplicate Michigan licenses and looking for a tractor-trailer driving job in the week after 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2001; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002]
The Boston Globe will later report that in late August 2000, Nabl al-Marabh moves from Boston to Detroit, leaving his estranged wife behind. “Before he left, however, he told cabdriver friends that the FBI had approached him and was asking him questions about bin Laden’s operation, and that he was considering cooperating. The friends said that al-Marabh did not say why the FBI had approached him about bin Laden but that it may have been prompted by the Customs Service investigation that found that he had wired money to [al-Qaeda operative Raed] Hijazi. By this time, Hijazi was in jail in Jordan.” [Boston Globe, 10/15/2001] In a 2003 interview, al-Marabh will claim that in the early 1990s, while working as a taxi driver in Boston, he had a run-in with a fellow taxi driver “who he thinks falsely accused him of planning to bomb a car. He said he spoke freely with the FBI agents, who concluded that the allegations were false. From then on, he said, the FBI tried to recruit him to become an informant, and he refused.” He will also claim that in the early 1990s he had a roommate who both worked for the FBI and fought in Afghanistan (see 1989-1994). [Knight Ridder, 5/23/2003] But it is possible that al-Marabh accepts the FBI offer, because while in a Canadian prison in July 2001, he will boast to fellow prisoners that he remains in contact with the FBI (see June 27, 2001-July 11, 2001). Around this time, September 2000, it appears that the Jordanian government tells the US that Hijazi, al-Marabh, and 9/11 hijacker Hamza Alghamdi are connected through telephone numbers (see September 2000). Hijazi had already worked as an FBI informant while he was roommates with al-Marabh in Boston (see Early 1997-Late 1998). In the spring of 2001, al-Marabh will be investigated for links to three 9/11 hijackers (see Spring 2001), but he will nonetheless go on to have an important role in the 9/11 plot.
Hamza Alghamdi. [Source: FBI]Raed Hijazi, Nabil al-Marabh’s former Boston roommate, is tried and convicted in Jordan for his role in planned millennium bombings in that country. (Hijazi is tried in absentia since he has yet to be arrested, but will later be retried in person and reconvicted.) In the wake of the trial, Jordanian officials send information to US investigators that shows Nabil al-Marabh and future 9/11 hijacker Hamza Alghamdi are associates of Hijazi. The Washington Post will report, “An FBI document circulated among law enforcement agencies [just after 9/11] noted that Hijazi, who is in a Jordanian jail, had shared a telephone number with [9/11] hijacker, Hamza Alghamdi.” Apparently this document is created when Jordan sends the US this information in late 2000. [Washington Post, 9/21/2001] The Boston Globe will later report that an FBI investigation found that “al-Marabh had, in the report’s language, a ‘telephone connection’ with one of the suspected hijackers, according to a federal source involved in the investigation. However, the source was uncertain whether the connection involved telephone conversations between al-Marabh and the unidentified suspect, or whether it involved their sharing a telephone number.” This is a probable reference to the same FBI report mentioning the Alghamdi-Hijazi phone link, especially since the same Globe article mentions that around the this time al-Marabh tells his coworkers that the FBI has been asking him about his links to bin Laden (see Late August 2000). [Boston Globe, 10/15/2001] It appears that Alghamdi is not put on any kind of watch list and will not be stopped when he will arrive in the US by January 2001 (see January or July 28, 2001) nor again on May 23, 2001 (see April 23-June 29, 2001). The 9/11 Commission Final Report will fail to mention any investigation into Alghamdi and will give no hint that his name was known to US authorities before 9/11.
Hassan Almrei. [Source: Darren Ell]On January 2, 1999, Hassan Almrei entered Canada and applied for political refugee status. He claimed his passport from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had been destroyed. He was given refugee status in June 2000. However, for unknown reasons Canadian officials begin investigating him. Immigration officials search his Toronto apartment on September 13, 2000. They discover the UAE passport that Almrei had claimed was destroyed, and determine it is fradulent. [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2/22/2008 ] Almrei and al-Marabh are roommates at some point, probably in early 2001 (see January 2001-Summer 2001). It is probable that Canadian officials increase their interest in Almrei in the months before 9/11. A top Canadian intelligence (CSIS) official will later claim that Canadian authorities grew increasingly worried that a group of eight terrorists would attack Toronto around the time of 9/11. But there was not enough evidence to arrest them, so different means were used in an attempt to disrupt the plot. While these eight suspected terrorists have not been publicly named, it is likely one of them is Almrei. In 2008, Canadian intelligence officials will reveal that at some point they learned that in September 1999 Almrei and five others gained access to a restricted area at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. Almrei and the others appeared to have access cards and codes for restricted areas. Furthermore, Almrei will be arrested one month after 9/11 (see October 19, 2001) and photos of a security badge and airplane cockpit will be found on his computer. [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2/22/2008 ] Almrei will later admit to significant ties to militants and militant training camps (see October 19, 2001).
Raed Hijazi. [Source: Associated Press]Raed Hijazi participated in a failed attempt to bomb a hotel in Jordan at the start of the millennium (see November 30, 1999) and helped plan the USS Cole bombing in early October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). Hijazi knew Nabil al-Marabh in Boston, where they were roommates and drove taxis for the same company. In May 1999, the FBI had already approached al-Marabh looking for Hijazi, but al-Marabh will later claim he lied and said he did not know him. [Washington Post, 9/4/2002] Hijazi is arrested in Syria this month and imprisoned in Jordan, where he has just been convicted for his failed bomb attempt there. He quickly begins to cooperate with investigators, identifies himself as an al-Qaeda operative, and also identifies al-Marabh as an al-Qaeda operative still living in the US. Customs agents soon discover that al-Marabh had on at least one occasion wired money to Hijazi that was used to fund the failed millennium plot. These agents will eventually learn that al-Marabh repeatedly sent money overseas to Hijazi. Ahmed Ressam, arrested in late 1999 for attempting to bomb the Los Angeles airport, helps confirm the connection between al-Marabh and Hijazi. Ressam will start cooperating with US investigators in early 2001, but it is not clear if he gave this information before 9/11 or just after it. [New York Times, 9/18/2001; New York Times, 10/14/2001; New York Times, 10/14/2001; Toronto Sun, 11/16/2001; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] Yet, the New York Times will note, “For months after the CIA learned of his ties to the bin Laden network, Mr. Marabh moved about unfettered—traveling around the [US], moving large amounts of money, getting duplicate driver’s licenses, and forging immigration documents.” [New York Times, 10/14/2001]
Ahmed Shehab. [Source: Ahmedshehab.com]The landlord and at least twelve tenants of a Toronto high rise building see 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi living there in the spring of 2001. Other witnesses recall seeing Alshehhi and/or hijacker Mohamed Atta in or near the building. Nabil al-Marabh is sporadically staying in the same building in an apartment unit owned by his uncle, Ahmed Shehab, a prominent local imam. None of the witnesses appear to have sighted any of the other hijackers. Alshehhi and Atta are also seen by eyewitnesses around this time at a Toronto photocopy shop owned by Shehab, and there are even some who see Atta occasionally working there (see January 2001-Summer 2001). [Toronto Sun, 9/28/2001; Toronto Sun, 9/28/2001; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] The apartment where al-Marabh stayed will not be raided by police until about two weeks after 9/11, and one week after reports of al-Marabh’s connections to the hijackers has been in the newspapers. The Toronto Sun will report, “Many [building] residents questioned why police waited so long to raid [the] apartment after al-Marabh was arrested. Several tenants alleged they had seen a man late at night during the past week, taking away boxes from the apartment.” [Toronto Sun, 9/28/2001] Al-Marabh also shares a Toronto apartment with Hassan Almrei, a Syrian who the Canadian authorities are already suspecting for possible militant ties (see September 13, 2000 and After). One article says that are roommates in 2001, and it would likely mean early 2001 since al-Marabh leaves Toronto during the summer. Canadian authorities will later arrest Almrei and discover that he has extensive connections with al-Qaeda (see October 19, 2001). [ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] Some of the 9/11 hijackers may have been in Toronto as late as the end of August 2001. A motel manager in Hollywood, Florida, will later say that Mohamed Atta and Ziad Jarrah stay at his motel on August 30, 2001. He will say they gave a non-existent Toronto address and drove a car with Ontario, Canada, license plates. They claimed to be computer engineers from Iran, and said they had just come down from Canada to find jobs. [Washington Post, 10/4/2001; Toronto Sun, 10/5/2001]
[Source: FBI]Bassam Kanj is killed in a battle in Lebanon. Kanj lived on and off in Boston for nearly 15 years, and was a friend of al-Qaeda operatives Nabil al-Marabh, Raed Hijazi, and Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi. All four of them fought together in Afghanistan in the late 1980s (see Late 1980s), then worked at the same Boston taxi company in the 1990s (see June 1995-Early 1999). In late 1998, Kanj left Boston for Lebanon where he apparently recruited a couple hundred people to take part in a rebellion to overthrow the Lebanese government. He is killed during a five day battle, along with 21 others. Two days after the battle, a Lebanese newspaper identifies him as an al-Qaeda operative who had received financial support from bin Laden. This leads to a renewed focus on him in the US. In February 2001, the Boston Globe will report, “The FBI is continuing to look at Kanj’s and Hijazi’s activities in the Boston area in hopes of learning more about their contacts inside bin Laden’s far-flung organization.” Michael Rolince, chief of international terrorism operations for the FBI, will tell the Globe that both men had a “higher station” than most in al-Qaeda, and will add, “We are still trying to sort out who played what role.” [Boston Globe, 2/5/2001] Presumably, this leads the FBI to take another look at Nabil al-Marabh, who had been roommates with both Hijazi and Kanj and is already wanted for a variety of al-Qaeda contacts. An individual matching al-Marabh’s description is even mentioned in a prominent New York Times story about al-Qaeda in January 2001. The article states, “In early 1997, Hijazi moved to Boston, where he had a friend from his years in Afghanistan.” [New York Times, 1/15/2001] Yet apparently there is no concerted effort to find al-Marabh, who will even be set free after being arrested trying to illegally enter the US (see June 27, 2001-July 11, 2001). The Boston FBI began investigating Elzahabi for militant ties in 1999, but lost track of him when he went to fight in Chechnya (see 1997 and 1999). But apparently he is not detected reentering the US shortly before 9/11 (see Mid-August 2001).
Satam Al Suqami. [Source: FBI]In the wake of the foiled al-Qaeda plot to blow up hotels in Jordan during the millennium celebrations, Jordan gives tips to the US that launch a Customs investigation into one of the plotters, Raed Hijazi, and his US connections. “Customs agents for months traced money flowing from several Boston banks to banks overseas, where officials believe the funds were intended for bin Laden’s network.” In September and October 2000, Jordanian officials gave US investigators evidence of financial transactions connecting Raed Hijazi, Nabil al-Marabh, and future 9/11 hijacker Hamza Alghamdi (see September 2000; October 2000). By spring 2001, Custom agents further connect al-Marabh and Hijazi to financial deals with future 9/11 hijackers Ahmed Alghamdi and Satam Al Suqami. The Washington Post will later note, “These various connections not only suggest that investigators are probing ties between bin Laden and the hijackers, but also that federal authorities knew about some of those associations long before the bombings.” [Washington Post, 9/21/2001] It appears that the money flowed from al-Marabh to Alghamdi and Al Suqami. [Cox News Service, 10/16/2001; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] While accounts of these connections to Alghamdi and Al Suqami will be widely reported in the media in the months after 9/11, a Customs Service spokesman will say he can neither confirm nor deny the existence of the inquiry. [New York Times, 9/18/2001] It appears that the two hijackers are not put on any kind of watch list and are not stopped when they arrive in the US on April 23, 2001, and May 2, 2001, respectively (see April 23-June 29, 2001). British newspapers will note that Alghamdi was one of several hijackers who should have been “instantly ‘red-flagged’ by British intelligence” but in fact is not when he passes through Britain sometime in early 2001 (see January-June 2001). The 9/11 Commission Final Report will fail to mention the Customs investigation and will give no hint that these hijackers’ names were known in the US before 9/11.
A courtroom artist’s depiction of Mahmoud Jaballah. [Source: CBC]On June 27, 2001, Nabil al-Marabh is arrested while trying to enter the US from Canada in the back of a tractor-trailer, carrying a forged Canadian passport and a bogus social insurance card. [St. Catherines Standard, 10/2/2001] The New York Times will note that, “American officials had plenty of reason to believe that he was up to no good. Nine months earlier, he had been identified to American intelligence agents as one of Osama bin Laden’s operatives in the United States. American customs agents knew about money he had transferred to an associate of Osama bin Laden in the Middle East. And the Boston police had issued a warrant for his arrest after he violated probation for stabbing a friend with a knife. But [US officials] simply let him go.” [New York Times, 10/14/2001] The US turns him back to the Canadians. He is held for two weeks, then released on bail despite evidence linking him to militants (see Shortly Before July 11, 2001). During his two-week detention in a Canadian prison, al-Marabh boasts to other prisoners that he remains in contact with the FBI. When one prisoner asks him why, his reply is “because I’m special.” After 9/11, these prisoners will be puzzled that the FBI has not tried to interview them on what they know about al-Marabh. Al-Marabh will fail to show up for a Canadian deportation hearing in August and for a court date in September. It appears he quickly sneaks back into the US instead. [St. Catherines Standard, 10/2/2001] Al-Marabh’s Boston landlord will later be asked if he thought al-Marabh could have been a terrorist. The landlord will reply, “He was too stupid, number one, to be a terrorist. Because terrorists today are very intelligent people. But he might be used by some smarter or intelligent sources, who use people like that.” [ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] In July, just after he is released on bail in Canada, the Boston police will go to his former Boston address with a warrant for his March arrest, but he will not be there. [New York Times, 10/14/2001] Also at some point in July, Canadian authorities inform US Customs about some dubious financial transactions involving al-Marabh, and apparently the information is used in a Customs money-laundering probe (see Spring 2001). [Newsweek, 10/1/2001] One prominent former Canadian intelligence official will say that whether a more detailed look at al-Marabh at this time could have stopped the 9/11 attacks is an “intriguing question.… It becomes ever more intriguing as evidence seeps in.” [Ottawa Citizen, 10/29/2001]
Children at the Um Al-Qura Islamic School, where both Jaballah and Shehab served as principals. [Source: Um Al-Qura Islamic School]On June 27, 2001, Nabil al-Marabh was arrested while trying to enter the US from Canada. He is already wanted in the US for skipping bail on an attempted murder charge, and US intelligence has linked him to al-Qaeda (see June 27, 2001-July 11, 2001). He is held in Canada. About two weeks after his arrest, there is a court hearing to determine if he should be released. His lawyer argues that he should be released because his uncle, Ahmed Shehab, can keep him in line. The lawyer does not mention that Shehab works at a school headed by Mahmoud Jaballah. Canadian intelligence has been closely monitoring Jaballah since 1996 and has overheard him communicating with many top militant leaders, including al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri (see May 11, 1996-August 2001 and February 1998). Presumably Canadian intelligence is well aware of Jaballah’s job at the school discussed in the hearing, yet this is never mentioned to the judge. Jaballah had been arrested in 1999 for suspected ties to Islamic militants and then released, and his school job had been mentioned in media reports. In August 2001, he will be arrested again, and Shebab will replace him as principal at the school. [Globe and Mail, 11/4/1999; New York Times, 10/14/2001; Toronto Star, 7/17/2004] While in jail, al-Marabh is visited by Hassan Almrei, who had been his roommate earlier in the year (see October 19, 2001). [MacLean's, 12/10/2001] Almrei will also later testify that in 1995 he obtained a false passport for al-Marabh, and that after al-Marabh’s arrest in June 2001, al-Marabh asked him to obtain a second false passport for him. [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2/22/2008 ] Canadian authorities were investigating Almrei since at least September 2000, and may have suspected his role in a plot against the Toronto airport by this time (see January 2001-Summer 2001). But authorities either do not notice al-Marabh’s links to Jaballah and/or Almrei or do not care, because he is released on bail on July 11 and immediately disappears.
Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi moves to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Elzahabi has a long association with al-Qaeda, and has just returned from Chechnya where he fought as a sniper (see April 16, 2004-June 25, 2004). His “name was known to the FBI well before the Sept. 11 attacks, according to law enforcement officials who declined to be identified. He also was on a list of possible or suspected terrorists” circulated to foreign airlines and banks shortly after 9/11. [Fox News, 6/26/2004; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 6/30/2004] In fact, Canadian intelligence began investigating him for suspected militant ties in 1997, and the Boston FBI began investigating him in 1999, but lost track of him when he left the US later that year (see 1997 and 1999). He was connected to al-Qaeda operatives Raed Hijazi, Nabil al-Marabh, and Bassam Kanj. He worked as a Boston taxi driver with them (see June 1995-Early 1999), and also fought with them in Afghanistan (see Late 1980s). Fox News will later note that Elzahabi has a “potential link to Zacarias Moussaoui” since Moussaoui moved to Minneapolis in early August 2001 and is arrested on August 15, but no firm connection between the two has been shown. It has not been reported exactly when Elzahabi arrives in Minneapolis, but he applies for a commercial driver’s license on August 23, 2001. He is fingerprinted for a criminal background check at that time, which presumably would alert the FBI that he is living in Minneapolis if they do not know already. But it is not known if Minneapolis FBI agents, desperately trying to get a warrant for Moussaoui, are told about Elzahabi before 9/11. In January 2002, the FBI will run his name through a database. Despite the FBI’s knowledge of his al-Qaeda ties, he is cleared to get the license. This allows him to haul hazardous materials. His friend and al-Qaeda operative Nabil al-Marabh received a similar license the year before (see August 2000-January 2001). Elzahabi will apply for a license allowing him to carry general freight in September 2003 and he will get insurance clearance to start work in April 2004. However, he will be arrested by FBI that same month (see April 16, 2004-June 25, 2004). [Fox News, 6/26/2004; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 6/30/2004]
Two months after 9/11, the Toronto Sun will report, “[Canadian] and US police probing [Nabil] al-Marabh have learned he had a flurry of phone calls and financial transactions with [Mohamed] Atta and [Marwan] Alshehhi days before the attacks.” [Toronto Sun, 10/16/2001] Additionally, Canadian authorities will claim that in the days before 9/11, al-Marabh sends money through a Toronto bank account to at least three men who will later be arrested in the US for supporting roles in the 9/11 attacks. The names of the three men have not been released. At least $15,000 is sent to the men in the days before 9/11. A source close to the investigation will say, “There are several links between this man and others in the US. There was money going back and forth.” Thousands more will be withdrawn from suspicious accounts in the days after 9/11. [Toronto Sun, 10/4/2001; Toronto Sun, 10/5/2001] US intelligence also intercepts al-Marabh’s associates making post-9/11 phone calls praising the attacks. [Ottawa Citizen, 10/29/2001] Al-Marabh sent money on other occasions. For instance, in May 2001, he made at least 15 monetary transactions, mostly sending money transfers to the US from Toronto. In late June 2001, he transferred $15,000 to an account in the US. It has not been revealed who he sent these transfers to. [New York Times, 10/14/2001; Toronto Sun, 10/16/2001] A Canadian police source will say, “There were a lot of banking activities prior to the attacks. There was a lot of money being moved through accounts, but most were small amounts.” [Toronto Sun, 10/17/2001] Canadian officials will call al-Marabh a “bureaucratic terrorist,” who provided logistical support, funding, and other services to the hijackers. [Toronto Sun, 10/30/2001]
Nageeb Abdul Jabar Mohammed Al-Hadi is on an airplane from Frankfurt, Germany, to Chicago when the flight is diverted to Toronto, Canada, due to the shutdown of flights to the US in the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks. Customs officers search his suitcases and find two Lufthansa airline crew uniforms (he was a Lufthansa sales representative in Yemen) and a piece of torn paper with cryptic writing on it sewn into the pocket of a pair of pants. He is also carrying four Yemeni passports, each with a different passport number. Three bear his photograph and variations of his name, while a fourth has the name and photo of another person. He is married to a US woman living in Detroit. He is arrested and detained. [Hamilton Spectator, 9/26/2001] Al-Hadi is connected through telephone records to Nabil al-Marabh. [Toronto Sun, 9/27/2001] In May 2002, it will be reported that Canada has approved his deportation to the US, where he is wanted on several charges of passport forgery. [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 5/7/2002] It appears that in January 2003, he is convicted in the US on the forgery charges. [Washington Post, 6/12/2005]
One day after 9/11, the New York Times will report that FBI agents in Florida investigating the hijackers quickly “descended on flight schools, neighborhoods and restaurants in pursuit of leads.” At one flight school, “students said investigators were there within hours of Tuesday’s attacks.” [New York Times, 9/13/2001] Also on September 12, the Times will report, “Authorities said they had also identified accomplices in several cities who had helped plan and execute Tuesday’s attacks. Officials said they knew who these people were and important biographical details about many of them. They prepared biographies of each identified member of the hijack teams, and began tracing the recent movements of the men.” [New York Times, 9/13/2001] In September 2002, 9/11 victim’s relative Kristen Breitweiser, testifying before the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, will cite these news reports and will ask, “How did the FBI know exactly where to go only a few hours after the attacks? How did they know which neighborhoods, which flight schools and which restaurants to investigate so soon in the case?… How are complete biographies of the terrorists, and their accomplices, created in such short time? Did our intelligence agencies already have open files on these men? Were they already investigating them? Could the attacks of September 11th been prevented?” [US Congress, 9/18/2002] In at least some cases, it appears that US intelligence did quickly access existing files on the hijackers. The Washington Post reports, “In the hours after Tuesday’s bombings, investigators searched their files on [Satam] Al Suqami and [Ahmed] Alghamdi, noted the pair’s ties to [Nabil] al-Marabh and launched a hunt for him.” A top Customs official claims that by checking flight manifests and comparing them with other information such as watch lists, he is able to determine the names of all 19 hijackers by 11:00 a.m.(see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/21/2001]
The Detroit house where Nabil al-Marabh used to live and where Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan, and Farouk Ali-Haimoud are arrested. [Source: BBC]Federal agents looking for Nabil al-Marabh fail to find him at an old Detroit address, but they accidentally discover three other possible operatives there. Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan, and Farouk Ali-Haimoud are arrested. They were working as dishwashers at the Detroit airport. Investigators initially believe they were casing the airport for possible security breaches. [Boston Globe, 11/15/2002] An associate of theirs named Abel Ilah Elmardoudi will be arrested in North Carolina in November 2002. [Boston Globe, 11/15/2002] All four men will be put on trial. Initially, the evidence against them appears strong. For instance, a notebook is found that seems to show a plot to assassinate ex-Defense Secretary William Cohen during a visit to Turkey. [Washington Post, 9/20/2001; Associated Press, 11/17/2001] A stash of false documents is also found, and the men have false passports, Social Security cards, and immigration papers. Some of these documents connect them to al-Marabh. [Boston Herald, 9/20/2001; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002; Boston Globe, 11/15/2002] Al-Marabh had moved out of the Detroit address and the men moved in about two years earlier. [Local 4 News (Detroit), 9/22/2001] In June 2003, Elmardoudi and Koubriti will be convicted of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and Hannan will be convicted of document fraud. However, the case against them will later fall apart amidst charges of prosecutorial misconduct. The so-called assassination plot on Cohen, for instance, appears to have been based on random doodles by a mentally unstable friend. All convictions will eventually be overturned and the men will be freed (see June 2003-August 2004).
After being briefly detained in July 2001, Nabil al-Marabh went Chicago and spent the next two months working for an uncle there. [Knight Ridder, 5/23/2003] In early September, he got a job working the late shift at a quickie market and liquor store. On September 19, his uncle shows up at the store to tell al-Marabh that his face has been on television and that he is wanted by the FBI. He and his uncle are still discussing this when the FBI arrives a few minutes later and takes him away. [New York Times, 10/14/2001] He has $22,000 in cash and $25,000 worth of amber jewels in his possession when arrested, despite holding only a sporadic series of low-paying jobs. [National Post, 9/4/2002] Al-Marabh appears to have been working on some kind of plot involving hazardous materials and trucks since at least August 2000 (see August 2000-January 2001). He had just received another duplicate of his Michigan hazardous materials driver’s license on September 16 and apparently is waiting for another duplicate to arrive. [New York Times, 9/21/2001; Local 4 News (Detroit), 9/22/2001] He has applied for a job at a local trucking company but is arrested before completing the application process. [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2001; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] In the days after his arrest, about ten Middle Eastern men across the US will be arrested for having similar hazardous materials licenses that have been fraudulently obtained. Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, an al-Qaeda operative and friend of al-Marabh, began applying for a hazardous materials license in Minnesota in August 2001 (see Mid-August 2001). [WCVB 5 (Boston), 9/27/2001] In January 2002, it will be reported that “federal authorities now believe al-Qaeda had planted [al-Marabh in Chicago] to help prepare for the next volley of terrorist attacks.” [ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002]
[Source: Public domain via CBC]Hassan Almrei, a Syrian national and an associate of Nabil al-Marabh, is arrested in Canada. He was al-Marabh’s Toronto apartment roommate in early 2001. Canadian authorities say Almrei’s honey and perfume business in the Middle East helped finance al-Qaeda. Following a raid on his apartment, police say they confiscated computers and disks that hold information about Osama bin Laden, numerous images of bin Laden and other al-Qaeda members, a hijacking planner, diagrams of plane cockpits and military weapons, and copies of passports and official IDs. Within a week of his arrest, the Canadian government declares Almrei a “threat to national security” and announces its intention to deport him to Syria. The Federal Court of Canada will later agree with investigators that Almrei is a “a member of an international network of extremist individuals who support the Islamic extremist ideals espoused by Osama bin Laden,” and was “involved in a forgery ring with international connections that produces false documents.” The court will approve his deportation. [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2001; Toronto Sun, 1/14/2002; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] Almrei will admit to attending training camps in Afghanistan and lying about his past to get into Canada as a refugee claimant in 1999, but will deny any link to al-Qaeda. As of late 2005, he will still be in a Canadian prison, appealing his deportation. He will say he fears death or torture if he is returned to Syria. [Toronto Sun, 10/20/2005] Almrei will be released from prison in Canada in December 2009 when he wins an appeal against the security certificate he is being held under. The judge, Justice Richard Mosley, says there were “reasonable grounds to believe that Hassan Almrei was a danger to the security of Canada when he was detained in 2001, [but] there are no longer reasonable grounds to believe that he is a security risk today.” [Toronto Star, 12/15/2008]
Mohammed Azmath, left, and Syed Gul Mohammad Shah/ Ayub Ali Khan, right. [Source: Associated Press]The New York Times reports that, although 830 people have been arrested in the 9/11 terrorism investigation (a number that eventually exceeds between 1,200 and 2,000 (see November 5, 2001), there is no evidence that anyone now in custody was a conspirator in the 9/11 attacks. Furthermore, “none of the nearly 100 people still being sought by the [FBI] is seen as a major suspect.” Of all the people arrested, only four, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ayub Ali Khan, Mohammed Azmath, and Nabil al-Marabh, are likely connected to al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 10/21/2001] Three of those are later cleared of ties to al-Qaeda. After being kept in solitary confinement for more than eight months without seeing a judge or being assigned a lawyer, al-Marabh pleads guilty to the minor charge of entering the United States illegally (see September 3, 2002) and is deported to Syria (see January 2004). There is considerable evidence al-Marabh did have ties to al-Qaeda and even the 9/11 plot (see September 2000; January 2001-Summer 2001; January 2001-Summer 2001; Spring 2001; Early September 2001). [Washington Post, 6/12/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 8/27/2002] On September 12, 2002, after a year in solitary confinement and four months before he was able to contact a lawyer, Mohammed Azmath pleads guilty to one count of credit card fraud, and is released with time served. Ayub Ali Khan, whose real name is apparently Syed Gul Mohammad Shah, is given a longer sentence for credit card fraud, but is released and deported by the end of 2002. [Village Voice, 9/25/2002; New York Times, 12/31/2002] By December 2002, only 6 are known to still be in custody, and none have been charged with any terrorist acts (see December 11, 2002). On September 24, 2001, Newsweek reported that “the FBI has privately estimated that more than 1,000 individuals—most of them foreign nationals—with suspected terrorist ties are currently living in the United States.” [Newsweek, 10/1/2001]
A Washington Post article hints at the US government’s use rendition and torture. It refers to four suspects out of the hundreds arrested in the US—Zacarias Moussaoui, Nabil al-Marabh, Ayub Ali Khan, and Mohammed Azmath—who may actually have links to al-Qaeda (see October 20, 2001). The article quotes an “experienced FBI agent involved in the investigation,” who says: “We are known for humanitarian treatment, so basically we are stuck.… Usually there is some incentive, some angle to play, what you can do for them. But it could get to that spot where we could go to pressure… where we won’t have a choice, and we are probably getting there.” The article goes on to mention: “Among the alternative strategies under discussion are using drugs or pressure tactics, such as those employed occasionally by Israeli interrogators, to extract information. Another idea is extraditing the suspects to allied countries where security services sometimes employ threats to family members or resort to torture.” [Washington Post, 10/21/2001] Although it is little known in the US at the time, the CIA has already been renditioning suspects to countries known for practicing torture (see September 23, 2001), and has made arrangements with NATO countries to increase the number of such renditions (see October 4, 2001). Azmath and Khan will later be cleared of al-Qaeda ties and released (see October 20, 2001). Al-Marabh will be deported to Syria under mysterious circumstances and rearrested by the Syrian government (see Spring 2004). Moussaoui will be sentenced to life in prison in the US (see May 3, 2006).
In November 2001, US police called Nabil al-Marabh one of their top five suspects in the 9/11 attacks. [Toronto Sun, 11/23/2001] In mid-January 2002, Canadian police call him “the real thing.” [Toronto Sun, 11/23/2001] In late January 2002, it is reported that in Chicago, “Federal agents say criminal charges spelling out his role [in 9/11 and other plots] are likely within a few weeks.” [ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] Yet, shortly after this, there seems to be a dramatic change of opinion at Justice Department headquarters about al-Marabh. US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago drafts an indictment against Nabil al-Marabh, charging him with multiple counts of making false statements in his interviews with FBI agents. Fitzgerald already has several successful al-Qaeda prosecutions. However, the indictments are rejected by Justice Department headquarters in the name of protecting intelligence. In December 2002, Fitzgerald tracks down a Jordanian informant who had spent time with al-Marabh in a federal detention cell earlier in the year because of minor immigration problems. Fitzgerald has the man flown to Chicago and oversees his debriefing. The man reveals numerous criminal acts that al-Marabh confessed to him in prison, and the information fits with what is already known of al-Marabh’s history (see December 2002). However, Fitzgerald is still not allowed to indict al-Marabh. Another prosecutor in Detroit, trying some associates of al-Marabh in an ultimately unsuccessful case there, also expresses a desire to indict al-Marabh, but is not allowed to do so (see Early 2003). [Associated Press, 6/3/2004] Al-Marabh will ultimately be deported to Syria after serving a short sentence on minor charges (see January 2004).
The FBI decides not to charge Nabil al-Marabh on any terrorism related charge. Instead, on September 3, 2002, al-Marabh pleads guilty to illegally entering the US in June 2001 (see June 27, 2001-July 11, 2001), and is sentenced to only eight months in prison. [Chicago Sun-Times, 9/5/2002] Federal prosecutors claim that “at this time” there is no evidence “of any involvement by [al-Marabh] in any terrorist organization,” even though he has admitted to getting weapons training in Afghan training camps. [Washington Post, 9/4/2002] Numerous reported ties between al-Marabh and the 9/11 hijackers are apparently not mentioned in the trial (see September 2000; January 2001-Summer 2001; January 2001-Summer 2001; Spring 2001; Early September 2001). The judge states he cannot say “in good conscience” that he approves of the plea bargain worked out between the prosecution and defense, but he seems unable to stop it. He says, “Something about this case makes me feel uncomfortable. I just don’t have a lot of information.” He has a number of unanswered questions, such as how al-Marabh had $22,000 in cash and $25,000 worth of amber jewels on his possession when he was arrested, despite holding only a sporadic series of low-paying jobs. “These are the things that kind of bother me. It’s kind of unusual, isn’t it?” says the judge. [National Post, 9/4/2002] In 2003, the judge at al-Marabh’s deportation hearing will rule that al-Marabh presents “a danger to national security” and is “credibly linked to elements of terrorism” but this will not stop him from being deported.(see January 2004).
Nabil al-Marabh is serving an eight-month prison sentence for illegally entering the US. A Jordanian in prison with al-Marabh earlier in 2002 informs against him, claiming that al-Marabh tells him many details of his terrorism ties. The informant, who shows “a highly detailed knowledge of his former cell-mate’s associations and movements” [Globe and Mail, 6/4/2004] , claims that al-Marabh:
admitted he sent money to a former roommate, Raed Hijazi, who is later convicted of trying to blow up a hotel in Jordan (see November 30, 1999), and that he aided Hijazi’s flight from authorities. [Associated Press, 6/3/2004]
planned to die a martyr by stealing a gasoline truck, driving it into either the Lincoln or Holland tunnels in New York City, turning it sideways, opening its fuel valves and having an al-Qaeda operative shoot a flare to ignite a massive explosion. The plan was cancelled when Hijazi was arrested in Jordan in October 2000. [Toronto Sun, 10/16/2001; Associated Press, 6/3/2004]
trained on rifles and rocket-propelled grenades at militant camps in Afghanistan. [Associated Press, 6/3/2004]
boasted about getting drunk with two 9/11 hijackers. [Globe and Mail, 6/4/2004]
asked his uncle to hide an important data CD from Canadian police. [Globe and Mail, 6/4/2004]
claimed he took instructions from a mysterious figure in Chicago known as “al Mosul” which means “boss” in Arabic. [Associated Press, 6/3/2004]
acknowledged he distributed as much as $200,000 a month to training camps in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. [Associated Press, 6/3/2004] FBI agents are able to confirm portions of the informant’s claims. US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, after being denied permission to indict al-Marabh, uses the informant’s information to press again for an indictment. But the Justice Department continues to refuse to allow an indictment, and al-Marabh will eventually be deported to Syria (see January-2002-December 2002). [Associated Press, 6/3/2004]
David Nahmias. [Source: US Department of Justice]US prosecutors in Detroit are trying four men accused of an al-Qaeda plot. The men, Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan, and Farouk Ali-Haimoud, were arrested shortly after 9/11. They had been living in a Detroit apartment previously occupied by Nabil al-Marabh (see September 17, 2001). Yousef Hmimssa, a Moroccan national, had lived in the Detroit apartment with al-Marabh. When the FBI raided the apartment, they found fake immigration papers linking Hmimssa and al-Marabh, along with attack plans. [ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] Hmimssa will later be the key witness in the trial against the four arrested Detroit men (see June 2003-August 2004). The FBI later identify three other witnesses—a landlord, a Jordanian informant, and a prison inmate—who linked the four arrested men to al-Marabh (see December 2002). The Detroit prosecutors want to charge al-Marabh as a fifth defendant. However, Deputy Assistant Attorney General David Nahmias prevents them from doing so. He says, “My understanding is that the only connection between al-Marabh and your case was an apparent misidentification by a landlord.” Additionally, memos written by Detroit prosecutors during the trial will later show that they believed the Justice Department was preventing them from introducing some of their most dramatic evidence in the trial. Lead Detroit prosecutor Richard Convertino will later say: “There was a series of evidence, pieces of evidence, that we wanted to get into our trial that we were unable to do. Things that would have strengthened the case immeasurably, and made the case much stronger, exponentially.” For instance, the FBI had learned before the trial that al-Qaeda leader Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi told US interrogators after his capture that bin Laden had authorized an attack on the US air base in Incirlik, Turkey. The FBI also found sketches in the Detroit apartment of what they believed was the same base. The prosecutors wanted to link this evidence to testimony by the al-Libi, but he was handed over to Egypt to be tortured and prosecutors were not able to interview him or use him as a witness (see January 2002 and After). Turkish authorities will later claim that their own evidence indicates bin Laden did authorize an attack on the base at one point. Detroit prosecutors also later complain that the lone Justice Department lawyer sent to help with the case had no intention of helping with the trial, and spent most of his time in Detroit staying in his hotel room or playing basketball. [Associated Press, 8/9/2004] In 2002, Chicago prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is also prohibited from charging al-Marabh with any crime (see January-2002-December 2002).
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Richard Convertino, Yousef Hmimssa, Nabil al-Marabh, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, David Nahmias, Abel-Ilah Elmardoudi, Ahmed Hannan, Karim Koubriti, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Farouk Ali-Haimoud
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Nabil al-Marabh. [Source: Associated Press]After Nabil al-Marabh’s eight-month prison sentence was completed in 2003, he remained in a Chicago prison awaiting deportation. However, deportation proceedings were put on hold because federal prosecutors lodged a material witness warrant against him. When the warrant is dropped, al-Marabh is cleared to be deported to Syria. [Associated Press, 1/29/2003; Associated Press, 6/3/2004] In late 2002, the US government argued that there was no evidence al-Marabh had ever been involved in any terrorist activity or connected to any terrorist organization (see September 3, 2002). However, in al-Marabh’s deportation hearing, the judge rules that he “does present a danger to national security,” is “credibly linked to elements of terrorism,” and has a “propensity to lie.” A footnote in his 2003 deportation ruling states, “The FBI has been unable to rule out the possibility that al-Marabh has engaged in terrorist activity or will do so if he is not removed from the United States.” He is deported nonetheless, and prosecutors from two US cities are not allowed to indict him. Both Democratic and Republican Senators will later express bafflement and complain about this deportation (see June 30, 2004). [Associated Press, 6/3/2004]
In May 2005, the Globe and Mail reports that friends and family of Nabil al-Marabh fear he is being jailed in Syria. He apparently lives freely there for a few months after being deported from the US in January 2004 (see January 2004), but then is arrested by Syrian intelligence agents. The article will note that, “US deportation records show that Mr. al-Marabh had expressed fears about being conscripted or tortured in Syria, which is notorious for abusing its prisoners.” [Globe and Mail, 5/11/2005] In late 2007, it will be reported that it is believed al-Marabh is still jailed in Syria, though there have been no reports of him being officially charged with any crime. [National Post, 10/6/2007]
Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi is confronted by the FBI and agrees to a series of voluntary interviews. He admits to training at a militant training camp in Afghanistan in the late 1980s (see Late 1980s). He admits to having known al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaida, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi while living there. He worked in Afghanistan as a sniper in combat and as an instructor at the training camps until 1995. After getting a gunshot wound, he moved to Boston and drove a taxi. Al-Qaeda operatives Nabil al-Marabh, Bassam Kanj, and Raed Hijazi also moved to Boston and worked at the same taxi company (see June 1995-Early 1999). In 1999, he went to Chechnya and fought as a sniper, returning to the US one month before 9/11 (see Mid-August 2001). On June 25, 2004, Elzahabi is charged with lying to the FBI about the extent of his relationship with Hijazi while living in Boston. In addition, it is claimed that in 1995 he sent a large number of field radios to Afghanistan. Some of this equipment was recovered by US soldiers after 9/11. He is charged with lying about shipping these radios. [Boston Globe, 6/26/2004; Fox News, 6/26/2004] In December 2005, he will be indicted for possessing fraudulent immigration documents and faking a marriage to remain in the US. However, he still has not been tried on the earlier charges. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 12/8/2005]
The Associated Press reports that both Republicans and Democrats have expressed outrage that Nabil al-Marabh was deported in January 2004 (see January 2004). Several senators have written letters to Attorney General John Ashcroft, demanding an explanation. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IN) states that the circumstances of al-Marabh’s deportation—who was “at one time No. 27 on the [FBI] list of Most Wanted Terrorists”—are “of deep concern and appear to be a departure from an aggressive, proactive approach to the war on terrorism.” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) wrote to Ashcroft, “The odd handling of this case raises questions that deserve answers from the Justice Department.… Why was a suspected terrorist returned to a country that sponsors terrorism? We need to know that the safety of the American people and our strategic goals in countering terrorism are paramount factors when decisions like this are made.” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) says, “It seems that pursuing a military tribunal, a classified criminal trial, or continued immigration proceedings would have made more sense than merely deporting a suspected terrorist.” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has also made inquiries into the case. Prosecutors in several US cities sought to bring criminal cases against al-Marabh and a US attorney in Chicago drafted an indictment against him, which he apparently was not allowed to pursue (see January-2002-December 2002). [Associated Press, 6/30/2004] Apparently, no explanation from Ashcroft is ever given. The 9/11 Commission Final Report, released a couple of months later, will fail to mention al-Marabh at all.
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