Profile: Omar Nasiri
Omar Nasiri was a participant or observer in the following events:
Omar Nasiri (a pseudonym), a member of a cell of the al-Qaeda-linked Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) Algerian militant group in Brussels, Belgium, steals money from a more senior member of the cell. Not knowing what to do and being unhappy about the way the cell uses his mother’s house, he contacts French intelligence, which gives him money to repay what he stole and makes him an informer. Nasiri, whose task for the cell is to purchase weapons and ammunition, also smuggles explosives into North Africa before a bombing there (see January 30, 1995 and Before). He provides information about the cell’s members, associates passing through, weapons smuggling, and the GIA’s main publication, Al Ansar, which is put together in his bedroom for a time. The cell and other parts of the network are raided in March 1995 by the Belgian authorities and some members are jailed. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 3-100] Nasiri subsequently penetrates al-Qaeda’s camps in Afghanistan, meets some of its top commanders and reports on them to French and British intelligence (see Mid 1995-Spring 1996 and Summer 1996-August 1998).
Said Chedadi. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Beginning in 1995, Barakat Yarkas, head of an al-Qaeda cell in Madrid, Spain, begins traveling frequently to Britain. Yarkas is being constantly monitored by Spanish intelligence (see 1995 and After) and they learn that his cell is raising money for the Islamist militants in Chechnya who are fighting the Russian army there. Yarkas and fellow cell member Said Chedadi solicit funds from Arab business owners in Madrid and then take the cash to radical imam Abu Qatada in London. Abu Qatada is coordinating fundraising efforts, and from June 1996 onwards, he is also working as an informant for British intelligence, although just how long and how closely he works for them is unclear (see June 1996-February 1997). [Irujo, 2005, pp. 64-65] According to a later Spanish government indictment, Yarkas makes over 20 trips from Spain to Britain roughly between 1995 and 2000. He mostly meets with Qatada and Abu Walid, who an indictment will later call Abu Qatada’s right-hand man. From 1998 onwards, Spanish militant Jamal Zougam also travels occasionally to London to meet with Qatada. Investigators later suspect he travels with Yarkas on at least one of these trips. [Independent, 11/21/2001; El Mundo (Madrid), 7/8/2005] From 1996 to 1998, an informant named Omar Nasiri informs on Abu Qatada and Walid for British intelligence (see Summer 1996-August 1998). Nasiri sometimes passes phones messages between the both of them and al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida, and also reveals that Walid has been to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 265-282] Waild, a Saudi, apparently will be killed in Chechnya in 2004. [Guardian, 10/3/2006] In February 2001, British police will raid Abu Qatada’s house and find $250,000, including some marked “for the Mujaheddin in Chechnya” (see February 2001). However, he will not be arrested, and it is not clear if he and/or Yarkas continue raising money for Chechnya after the raid. Chedadi will later be sentenced to eight years and Zougam will get life in prison for roles in the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see October 31, 2007). [Agence France-Presse, 1/26/2006]
Omar Nasiri, an operative of the Algerian Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) and informer for French intelligence, smuggles explosives into North Africa before a massacre by the GIA in Algeria. Nasiri takes the explosives hidden in a car for a GIA cell in Belgium, for which he works as an ammunition and weapons purchaser (see Mid 1994-March 2, 1995). Nasiri tells his contact at the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) about the trip beforehand, but refuses to provide the French with updates about his progress while on route to Tangiers, Morocco, where he passes the car and explosives on to another operative. A short while after this, there is a car bombing in Algiers, in neighboring Algeria, killing over 40 people. Nasiri later comments: “I don’t know if the explosives I carried were used in that blast. I will never know. The GIA had lots of suppliers, of course. And yet I kept thinking about the urgency of the trip. The way [an operative] yelled at me, and the frustration in [another operative]‘s voice when I threatened to keep the car. The speed with which the mechanic replaced the engine in Brussels. Was everything timed for this attack? I will never know the truth, but the question still haunts me.” [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 63-81]
al-Qaeda Afghan training camp. [Source: Al Jazeera]A French intelligence asset called Omar Nasiri, who has previously informed on a Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) cell in Brussels (see Mid 1994-March 2, 1995), is given the task of penetrating the network of militant camps in Afghanistan. He flies to Pakistan and soon is in contact with the al-Qaeda network. He is sent to Peshawar, where he meets al-Qaeda leaders Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and Abu Zubaida. From there he is then taken to al-Libi’s Khaldan camp inside Afghanistan, where he receives physical and weapons training, as well as religious instruction. The training also includes blocks on explosives, tactics, hand-to-hand combat, surveillance, and kidnapping, and is at least partially derived from US army manuals. While at the camp he is told by Kashmiri militants that they have been trained by the Pakistani army (see (Mid 1995-Spring 1996)) and he uses money given to him by French intelligence to purchase weapons for al-Qaeda (see (Late 1995-Spring 1996)). After several months of training at Khaldan and Darunta camps, he returns to Europe via Peshawar. In Peshawar he again meets Abu Zubaida, who gives Nasiri a phone number where he can be reached and asks him to send money from Europe. Upon returning to Europe, Nasiri contacts his handler at French intelligence and tells him about the camps. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 101-244, 253-7]
While training at al-Qaeda’s Afghan camps (see Mid 1995-Spring 1996), French intelligence informer Omar Nasiri meets a number of Kashmiri militants who are training to go back and fight the Indians in held Kashmir. The militants say that they received training from the Pakistani military. Nasiri will later write: “The Kashmiris also talked about their route to the camps. They didn’t come like I did through Peshawar. First they trained with a unit of the Pakistani military, which then sent them on to the camps. Every one of them told me the same thing.” [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 175]
While training at al-Qaeda’s Afghan camps (see Mid 1995-Spring 1996), French intelligence informer Omar Nasiri uses money given to him by his handler to purchase supplies for the training camps. Nasiri received $16,500 from the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) for the mission and gives much of this to Khaldan camp leader Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi for food, ammunition, and other supplies. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 99, 178-9, 249]
Finsbury Park mosque. [Source: Salim Fadhley / Public Domain]Omar Nasiri, an agent of the British intelligence services MI5 and MI6, and the French service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), penetrates radical Islamic circles in London, getting close to leading imams Abu Qatada and Abu Hamza (see Mid 1996-October 1997), learning about the Algerian Groupe Isamique Armé (GIA) (see November 1996), and dealing with al-Qaeda manager Abu Zubaida in Pakistan (see (Mid-1996) and (Mid-1996 and After)). Nasiri’s main task is to attend the main locations where radicals gather, Abu Qatada’s Four Feathers center and Abu Hamza’s Finsbury Park mosque, get close to senior operatives there to obtain information, and identify militants, even though the mosques, as Nasiri will later put it, are already “crawling with spies.” The British services are mostly interested in whether the radicals intend to attack in Britain, but, although they come close to inciting such attacks, they never cross the line. Nasiri will later comment: “[Abu Hamza] was inciting his followers to attack just about everywhere else, but never within England. He came very close to this line many times. He incited his followers to attack anyone who tried to claim Muslim land. He said many times that British soldiers and colonizers were fair game.” Nasiri, who previously received explosives training at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan (see Mid 1995-Spring 1996), also gets his associates in Afghanistan to send him his notebook from an explosives course and passes this on to his handlers, who are impressed at how sophisticated the formulae are. However, after a couple of years the radicals realize he is an informer. In addition, on the day of the African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) he is so upset that he switches his mobile phone off for the first time since he received it, so MI5 stops trusting him. He will later write: “They must have worried that I was, in fact, a sleeper and that I had disappeared to pursue some mission. I couldn’t blame them of course. I was a trained killer. From the very beginning they hadn’t trusted me; I knew that.” He has to leave Britain and his career as an informer is practically over. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 259-303]
The French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) is aware that radical Muslims appear to be traveling through Turkey on their way to training in a third country, presumably Afghanistan. DGSE informer Omar Nasiri will later comment: “[T]he DGSE had noticed a lot of men were disappearing from France, men who were under surveillance. They would attend the radical mosques every day and then, suddenly, they were gone. They went to Turkey and disappeared. A few months later they would be back at the mosques in France, but no one knew where they had been in the meantime. The DGSE thought they were at the training camps.” [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 96] Turkish intelligence is also aware militants transit Turkey at this time and informs German intelligence (see 1996). Several of the 9/11 hijackers will also transit Turkey (see Late November-Early December 1999).
Omar Nasiri, who informs on al-Qaeda for the British intelligence service MI6 and the French service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DSGE), makes contact with al-Qaeda logistics manager Abu Zubaida using a telephone bugged by MI6. Nasiri met Abu Zubaida in Pakistan (see Mid 1995-Spring 1996). Usually, when Nasiri calls the number, he talks to one of Abu Zubaida’s associates, but sometimes he talks to Abu Zubaida himself. The phone is used to relay messages between Abu Zubaida in Pakistan and al-Qaeda representatives in London, in particular leading imam Abu Qatada. The French will apparently make great use of this information (see October 1998 and After). [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 270-1, 273, 281]
Leading London-based imam Abu Qatada denounces the Algerian GIA (Groupe Islamique Armé) over massacres of civilians the group has apparently conducted in Algeria, and severs ties with it. Fellow imam Abu Hamza al-Masri follows suit the next year. Abu Qatada says that support should no longer be provided to the GIA because they are declaring other Muslims infidels and killing them, although they are not learned men and do not have the authority to do this. This is highly controversial in the radical Islamic community in London, as some believe it is the government, not the GIA, that is carrying out the massacres, and Abu Qatada’s popularity declines. Abu Hamza initially defends the GIA, but, as the massacres get worse, support for the GIA in London ebbs. Eventually, Abu Hamza calls a GIA commander and asks for an explanation for a massacre. The commander says that the villagers were killed because they supported the moderate Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and Abu Hamza withdraws his support from the GIA a few weeks later. Omar Nasiri, who informs on Abu Hamza for French and British intelligence and listens in on the call to the commander, will later comment: “More than anything else, this episode proved to me that Abu Hamza was a sham. His objectives shifted with the wind. He needed the GIA to seduce followers away from Abu Qatada. Now, he saw that he might lose more than he gained by continuing to support it. For Abu Hamza, it was all about the zakat, the money he collected every week after the al-Jum’a prayers. The more people attended, the more cash there would be.” [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 271-2, 275, 295-6] Bin Laden denounces the GIA around the same time (see Mid-1996).
The British intelligence service MI6 and the French service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) send al-Qaeda $3,000 though one of their assets, Omar Nasiri, who has penetrated al-Qaeda’s camps in Afghanistan and its network in London (see Mid 1995-Spring 1996 and Summer 1996-August 1998). The money is sent to al-Qaeda logistics manager Abu Zubaida, whose phone calls they are listening to with Nasiri’s help (see (Mid-1996)). The money is wired to a Pakistani bank account whose number Abu Zubaida has given to Nasiri in three instalments of $1,000. At first, the British and French do not want to send the money, but Nasiri tells them it is essential for his cover and that Zubaida expects it, so they provide it. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 271-3]
Omar Nasiri, an operative who informs on groups related to al-Qaeda for the British intelligence service MI6 and the French service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), sees Ali Touchent, a key member of the Algerian militant Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) in London. British intelligence officers follow Touchent, but lose track of him. Touchent, who is suspected of being an Algerian government agent who has penetrated the GIA, is thought to be responsible for bombings in France, one of which occurs shortly after this sighting. Nasiri sees Touchent at the Four Feathers club during a talk by a radical cleric. Although Nasiri does not initially realize the man is Touchent, he recognizes he is important and immediately informs MI6 after the talk. MI6 identifies Touchent from photographs taken of the attendees. When Nasiri asks his MI6 handler how they could have lost such an important militant leader, the handler replies: “He was at a café. Our guys were watching him. And then he somehow disappeared.” [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 277-278] The Guardian will later report, “Despite being publicly identified by the Algerian authorities as the European ringleader of the GIA and by French investigators as the key organizer” of the 1995 Paris metro bombings (see July-October 1995), “Touchent evaded capture, returned to Algeria, and settled in a secure police quarter of Algiers.” Mohammed Samraoui, a former colonel in Algerian intelligence, will later say, “French intelligence knew that Ali Touchent was [an Algerian government] operative charged with infiltrating pro-Islamist cells in foreign countries.” [Guardian, 9/8/2005] He will be sentence in absentia to ten years in prison in France in 1998, even though the Algerian government claims he was killed in 1997. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 346-347]
Omar Nasiri, who informs on al-Qaeda for the British intelligence service MI5 and the French service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), lends his phone to an operative of the Algerian militant Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) his handlers are interested in. The operative, known only as “Khaled,” uses the phone to make a call to Algeria that is recorded by MI5. Khaled later borrows the phone several times, and MI5 records calls he makes all over Europe. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 291-2]
In the wake of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida’s arrest (see March 28, 2002), the FBI discovers much useful information (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). FBI agent Dan Coleman leads a team to sort through Zubaida’s computer files and documents. However, at the same time, some US officials come to believe that Zubaida’s prominence in al-Qaeda’s hierarchy has been overestimated. Many FBI officials conclude that he was used as little more than a travel agent for training camp attendees because he was mentally ill. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]
FBI Agent Coleman: Zubaida Is Mentally Crippled - FBI counterterrorist operative Dan Coleman will go through Zubaida’s journals and other materials seized from his Faisalabad safe house. Coleman will say: “Abu Zubaydah was like a receptionist, like the guy at the front desk [of a hotel]. He takes their papers, he sends them out. It’s an important position, but he’s not recruiting or planning.” Because Zubaida is not conversant with al-Qaeda security methods, “[t]hat was why his name had been cropping up for years.” Of Zubaida’s diaries, Coleman will say: “There’s nothing in there that refers to anything outside his head, not even when he saw something on the news, not about any al-Qaeda attack, not even 9/11. All it does is reveal someone in torment. [Zubaida is physically and mentally crippled from wounds suffered fighting in Afghanistan in the early 1990s.] Based on what I saw of his personality, he could not be what they say he was.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008] Coleman will add: “He knew very little about real operations, or strategy. He was expendable.” Zubaida’s diary evidences his apparent schizophrenia; he wrote it in three different personas, or voices, each with a different and distinctive personality. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]
Islamist Al-Deen: Importance Overstated? - Noor al-Deen, a Syrian teenager, was captured along with Zubaida. The terrified al-Deen will readily answer questions from his captors, and will describe Zubaida as a well-known functionary with little knowledge of al-Qaeda operations. Al-Deen will be sent to a detention facility in Morocco and later to Syria; his subsequent whereabouts and status will remain unknown to the public. [Washington Post, 3/29/2009]
Informant Says Zubaida Behaved Oddly - Other accounts back up this assessment. For instance, Omar Nasiri, a former informant for European intelligence agencies who met Zubaida in the 1990s, will later describe Zubaida’s odd behavior, saying he “shuffled around his home in near-total darkness, carrying a gas lantern from room to room. He barely spoke and would often communicate by pointing.” [New Yorker, 1/22/2007]
CIA Officer Scheuer: Zubaida Served as Key Hub - Michael Scheuer, who previously ran the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see February 1996), will later say of Zubaida’s importance: “I’d followed him for a decade. If there was one guy you could call a ‘hub,’ he was it.” Scheuer will describe Zubaida not as an actual al-Qaeda member, but “the main cog in the way they organized,” a point of contact for Islamists from many parts of the globe seeking combat training in the Afghan camps. Scheuer will say that Zubaida, a Palestinian, “never swore bayat [al-Qaeda’s oath of allegiance] to bin Laden,” and he was bent on causing damage to Israel, not the US. [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Involvement in Pre-9/11 Plots - However, Zubaida does appear to have been involved in numerous plots before 9/11 (see for instance November 30, 1999 and Early September 2001). Al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam cooperated with US investigators after being arrested. He worked with Zubaida and suggested Zubaida was of some importance, but not one of al-Qaeda’s highest leaders. According to Ressam, Zubaida “is the person in charge of the [training] camps. He receives young men from all countries. He accepts you or rejects you. He takes care of the expenses of the camps. He makes arrangements for you when you travel coming in or leaving.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 133] Furthermore, when Zubaida was caught, apparently he and several others staying with him were in the middle of building a bomb. According to one of the CIA officers who helped capture him, the soldering iron used in making the bomb was still hot when he was captured (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 ]
CIA Chief Tenet Rejects Diagnosis of Schizophrenia - In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet will claim that the reports that Zubaida was mentally unstable were “[b]aloney.… Apparently, the source of the rumor that Abu Zubaida was unbalanced was his personal diary, in which he adopted various personas. From that shaky perch, some junior Freudians leapt to the conclusion that Zubaida had multiple personalities. In fact, agency psychiatrists eventually determined that in his diary he was using a sophisticated literary device to express himself.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 243]
Zubaida Touted as High-Level Terror Chief - Regardless, despite being briefed otherwise, President Bush and others in his administration will repeatedly tout the importance of capturing Zubaida and no hint of any doubts about his importance or sanity will be publicly expressed (see April 9, 2002 and After). [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]
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