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Profile: Osama bin Laden
a.k.a. Osama Muhammad Al-Wahad bin Laden, Usama bin Laden, OBL, UBL, The Sheikh, Abu Abdullah, Sheikh, Osama bin Ladin, Mujahid Shaykh, Shaykh Usama Bin Ladin, Emir, Director
Osama bin Laden was a participant or observer in the following events:
Khaled al-Harbi (right) talking to Osama bin Laden or one of his doubles. [Source: US Department of Defense]A conversation between Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda spokesman Suliman abu Ghaith, and Khaled al-Harbi, a veteran of al-Qaeda’s jihad in Bosnia, is videotaped. A portion of the taped conversation is later said to be found by the US and will be used as evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in 9/11. [Unknown, 2001; Guardian, 12/13/2001; Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 28-9] According to a translation released by the Pentagon, the man said to be bin Laden says: “[W]e calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy, who would be killed based on the position of the tower. We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic of them all… (inaudible)… due to my experience in this field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is what we had hoped for.” He continues: “We had notification since the previous Thursday that the event would take place that day. We had finished our work that day and had the radio on. It was 5:30 p.m. our time.… Immediately, we heard the news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We turned the radio station to the news from Washington.… At the end of the newscast, they reported that a plane just hit the World Trade Center.… After a little while, they announced that another plane had hit the World Trade Center. The brothers who heard the news were overjoyed by it.” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 ] The release of the tape, which is said to be found by US intelligence officers in Jalalabad, will be a major news story, and the tape will be taken by the media as proof of bin Laden’s responsibility for 9/11. President Bush will comment, “For those who see this tape, they’ll realize that not only is he guilty of incredible murder, he has no conscience and no soul, that he represents the worst of civilization.” British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will add, “By boasting about his involvement in the evil attacks, bin Laden confirms his guilt.” [BBC, 12/14/2001; Fox News, 12/14/2001; CNN, 12/16/2001] However, the tape will later be disputed from three points of view:
The accuracy of the translation will be questioned (see December 20, 2001). For example, the man thought to be bin Laden does not say “we calculated in advance the number of casualties,” but “we calculated the number of casualties”;
An analyst will conclude that the tape was actually made earlier as a part of a US-run sting operation (see (September 26, 2001));
Some commentators will question whether the person in the video is actually bin Laden (see December 13, 2001).
In mid-2002, Al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda will allegedly interview al-Qaeda figures Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see April, June, or August 2002). In a 2003 book he will co-write, Fouda will claim that he asked an unnamed al-Qaeda operative who was setting up the interview if the bin Laden video was fake. This person will supposedly reply: “No. The tape, the brothers said—I am not sure whether they left it behind or not—but the Sheikh [bin Laden], yes, was talking to someone from Mecca.” [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 135]
Hazrat Ali. [Source: Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images]Hazrat Ali and Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, warlords in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, both later claim that they are first approached in the middle of November by US officers and asked to take part in an attack on Tora Bora. They agree. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] By late November, the US-allied warlords assemble a motley force of about 2,500 Afghans supported by a fleet of old Russian tanks at the foot of the Tora Bora mountains. They are poorly equipped and trained and have low morale. The better-equipped Taliban and al-Qaeda are 5,000 feet up in snow-covered valleys, forests, and caves. [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005] On December 3, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor overhears Ali in a Jalalabad, Afghanistan, hotel making a deal to give three al-Qaeda operatives safe passage out of the country. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] The US chooses to rely mainly on Hazrat Ali’s forces for the ground offensive against Tora Bora. Ali supposedly pays one of his aides $5,000 to block the main escape routes to Pakistan. But in fact this aide helps Taliban and al-Qaeda escape along these routes. Afghan villagers in the area later even claim that they took part in firefights with fighters working for Ali’s aide who were providing cover to help al-Qaeda and Taliban escape. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] Author James Risen later claims, “CIA officials are now convinced that Hazrat Ali’s forces allowed Osama bin Laden and his key lieutenants to flee Tora Bora into Pakistan. Said a CIA source, ‘We realized those guys just opened the door. It wasn’t a big secret.’” While the US will never publicly blame Ali for assisting in the escape, the CIA will internally debate having Ali arrested by the new Afghan government. But this idea will be abandoned and Ali will become the new strongman in the Jalalabad region. [Risen, 2006, pp. 168-169] CIA official Michael Scheuer later will comment, “Everyone who was cognizant of how Afghan operations worked would have told Mr. Tenet that [his plan to rely on Afghan warlords] was nuts. And as it turned out, he was.… The people we bought, the people Mr. Tenet said we would own, let Osama bin Laden escape from Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan into Pakistan.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
A US airstrike in the Tora Bora region. [Source: Gary Bernsten]Heavy US bombing of Tora Bora, the Taliban and al-Qaeda mountainous stronghold near the Pakistani border, begins. A large convoy containing bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders arrived in Tora Bora about three day earlier. The son of a tribal elder later recalls, “At first, we thought that the US military was trying to frighten the Arabs out, since they were only bombing from one side.” Rather than send in US ground forces in large numbers, the US chooses to supply two local warlords and have their fighters do most of the fighting while heavy bombing continues. Within days, a small number of US special forces are brought in to assist the local warlords. One of the warlords chosen, Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, was actually living in exile in France and has to be flown to Afghanistan. He is “known to many as a ruthless player in the regional smuggling business.” Between 1,500 to 2,000 of bin Laden’s fighters are in Tora Bora when the battle begins. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] There are two main mountain passes out of Tora Bora and into Pakistan. From the beginning on this day, eyewitnesses report that the US bombs only one pass. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002] The fighting and bombing will continue through early December (see December 5-17, 2001) while bin Laden and most of his forces escape via the other pass (see November 28-30, 2001).
It is believed bin Laden makes a speech before a crowd of about 1,000 followers in the village of Milawa, Afghanistan. This village is on the route from Tora Bora to the Pakistani border, about eight to ten hours by walking. In his last known public appearance, bin Laden encourages his followers to leave Afghanistan, so they could regroup and fight again. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] It is believed he crosses the border into Pakistan a few days later (see November 28-30, 2001; November 28, 2001).
A US Special Forces soldier stationed in Fayetteville, North Carolina, later (anonymously) claims that the US has bin Laden pinned in a certain Tora Bora cave on this day, but fails to act. Special Forces soldiers allegedly sit by waiting for orders and watch two helicopters fly into the area where bin Laden is believed to be, load up passengers, and fly toward Pakistan. No other soldiers have come forward to corroborate the story, but bin Laden is widely believed to have been in the Tora Bora area at the time. [Fayetteville Observer, 8/2/2002] Newsweek separately reports that many locals “claim that mysterious black helicopters swept in, flying low over the mountains at night, and scooped up al-Qaeda’s top leaders.”
[Newsweek, 8/11/2002] Perhaps coincidentally, on the same day this story is reported, months after the fact, the media also will report a recent spate of strange deaths at the same military base in Fayetteville. Five soldiers and their wives died since June 2002 in apparent murder-suicides. At least three were Special Forces soldiers recently returned from Afghanistan. [Independent, 8/2/2002] Other reports indicate that bin Laden crosses the border into Pakistan by foot instead (see November 28-30, 2001).
Osama bin Laden’s father, Mohammed bin Laden, with Faisal al-Saud, the Saudi king in the middle of the 20th century. [Source: CNN]The Financial Times estimates that the bin Laden family’s business, the Saudi Binladin Group, is worth about $36 billion. Osama bin Laden inherited about $300 million at the age of ten on the death of his father, but he may be worth much more today. While he spends large amounts each month supporting terror, he reportedly gets large amounts from rich Saudis every month to make up for the losses. [Financial Times, 11/28/2001] The 9/11 Commission later disputes these figures and claims that bin Laden only gets about $1 million a year for about two decades until around 1994 (see August 21, 2004). [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004]
Bin Laden made his last known public appearance on November 25, 2001, giving a speech in the village of Milawa, Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border (see November 25, 2001). According to later interviews with many locals in the area, it is believed he and four loyalists cross the Pakistan border between November 28 and 30. [Daily Telegraph, 2/23/2002; Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] According to another account, bin Laden crosses the border at this time by helicopter instead (see November 28, 2001). His voice continues to be heard until December 10 on short wave radio transmissions in the Tora Bora enclave he had proportedly left. According to later interviews with loyalists, he calls from Pakistan to Tora Bora to urge his followers to keep fighting. But according to some eyewitness accounts, bin Laden is still in Tora Bora to make the radio transmissions, then leaves with about 30 followers by horseback. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Newsweek, 8/11/2002]
Abdullah Tabarak. [Source: Public domain]As US forces close in on Tora Bora, bin Laden’s escape is helped by a simple ruse. A loyal bodyguard named Abdallah Tabarak takes bin Laden’s satellite phone and goes in one direction while bin Laden goes in the other. It is correctly assumed that the US can remotely track the location of the phone. Tabarak is eventually captured with the phone while bin Laden apparently escapes. Tabarak is later put in the US-run Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. Interrogation of him and others in Tora Bora confirm the account. [Washington Post, 1/21/2003] This story indicates bin Laden was still at least occasionally using satellite phones long after media reports that the use of such phones could reveal his location (see February 9-21, 2001). The US will consider Tabarak such a high-value prisoner that at one point he will be the only Guantanamo prisoner that the Red Cross will be denied access to. However, in mid-2004 he will be released and returned to his home country of Morocco, then released by the Moroccan government by the end of the year. Neither the US nor the Moroccan government will offer any explanation for his release. The Washington Post will call the release of the well-known and long-time al-Qaeda operative an unexplained “mystery.” [Washington Post, 1/30/2006]
A. Q. Khan (left) and Pervez Musharraf (right). [Source: CBC] (click image to enlarge)After CIA Director George Tenet visits Pakistan and pressures the Pakistani government to take stronger action against the charity front Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN) (see Early October-December 2001), the CIA learns more about the organization. The CIA was previously aware that the two prominent nuclear scientists who co-founded UTN, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, had met with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and advised them on how to make a nuclear weapon (see Mid-August 2001). However, the CIA discovers that other nuclear scientists are also connected to UTN, including Mirza Yusef Beg, a former member of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), and Humayun Niaz, also formerly with the PAEC. At least two senior Pakistani military officers are also connected to UTN. All these men are brought in and questioned by US officials. But the CIA is unable to question two others connected to UTN, Muhammad Ali Mukhtar, a nuclear physicist who worked for the PAEC as a weapons expert, and Suleiman Asad, who worked at A. Q. Khan’s Kahuta Research Laboratories (KRL) in its weapons design division. The CIA reasons that these two scientists would be the type of nuclear bomb makers bin Laden was most interested in. However, the Pakistani government claims that the two are in Burma working on a top secret project and cannot be brought back to Pakistan for questioning. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 320-321] Shortly after 9/11, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf called one of the leaders of Burma and asked if the two scientists could be given asylum there. [New York Times, 12/9/2001] The CIA is also interested in talking to Hamid Gul, a former ISI director and UTN’s honorary patron, but Pakistan will not allow him to be questioned either, even though he had met with Mahmood in Afghanistan around the time Mahmood met with bin Laden and al-Zawahiri. As a result, the CIA is unable to learn just how much UTN could have assisted al-Qaeda with weapons of mass destruction. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 320-321]
Entity Tags: Suleiman Asad, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, Pervez Musharraf, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, Mullah Omar, Humayun Niaz, Hamid Gul, Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, Central Intelligence Agency, Muhammad Ali Mukhtar, Osama bin Laden, Kahuta Research Laboratories, Mirza Yusef Beg
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network
Jordanian Islamist militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi flees Afghanistan (see Early 2000-December 2001) and heads to Iran where he continues to run his militant group, al-Tawhid. He uses telephones and a network of couriers to maintain contact with operatives in Europe. By April 2002, he still is based in Iran and has little to no ties to Iraq. But some time in mid-2002, he unites with Ansar al-Islam, an Islamist group based in a part of northern Iraq controlled by Kurdish rebels and opposed to Saddam Hussein (see Mid-2002). He reportedly moves his base of operations there and establishes an explosive training center camp there as well. [Independent, 2/6/2003; Newsweek, 6/25/2003] In an effort to justify military action against Iraq, the Bush administration will later claim that Saddam Hussein is aware of al-Zarqawi’s presence in Baghdad and therefore is guilty of knowingly harboring a terrorist (see September 26, 2002). The administration will also allege—falsely—that al-Zarqawi is a senior al-Qaeda agent and that his visit is evidence that Saddam’s regime has ties to Osama bin Laden. [Guardian, 10/9/2002; Independent, 2/6/2003; Newsweek, 6/25/2003 Sources: Shadi Abdallah] But the administration never offers any conclusive evidence to support this allegation. The claim is disputed by intelligence analysts in both Washington and London. [Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003]
Bush administration officials go to Saudi Arabia in a second attempt to obtain Saudi government cooperation in the 9/11 investigation. The Saudis have balked at freezing assets of organizations linked to bin Laden. Shortly thereafter, the Boston Herald runs a series of articles on the Saudis, citing an expert who says, “If there weren’t all these other arrangements—arms deals and oil deals and consultancies—I don’t think the US would stand for this lack of cooperation.” Another expert states that “it’s good old fashioned ‘I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine.’ You have former US officials, former presidents, aides to the current president, a long line of people who are tight with the Saudis.… We are willing to basically ignore inconvenient truths that might otherwise cause our blood to boil.” These deals are worth an incredible amount of money; one Washington Post reporter claims that prior to 1993, US companies spent $200 billion on Saudi Arabia’s defenses alone. [PBS, 2/16/1993; Boston Herald, 12/10/2001; Boston Herald, 12/11/2001]
US Special Forces unloading equipment in the Tora Bora region. [Source: Banded Artists Productions] (click image to enlarge)Around December 5, 2001, about three-dozen US special forces position themselves at strategic spots in the Tora Bora region to observe the fighting. Using hand-held laser target designators, they “paint” targets to bomb. Immediately the US bombing becomes more accurate. With this improved system in place, the ground battle for Tora Bora begins in earnest. However, as the Christian Science Monitor later notes, “The battle was joined, but anything approaching a ‘siege’ of Tora Bora never materialized.” No other US troops take part, and US-allied afghans fight unenthusiastically and sometimes even fight for the other side (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001). [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] The Tora Bora battle will end with a victory for the US-allied forces by December 17, 2001 (see December 17, 2001). However, the Daily Telegraph will later report, “In retrospect, and with the benefit of dozens of accounts from the participants, the battle for Tora Bora looks more like a grand charade.” Eyewitnesses express shock that the US pinned in Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, thought to contain many high leaders, on three sides only, leaving the route to Pakistan open. An intelligence chief in Afghanistan’s new government says, “The border with Pakistan was the key, but no one paid any attention to it. In addition, there were plenty of landing areas for helicopters had the Americans acted decisively. Al-Qaeda escaped right out from under their feet.” [Daily Telegraph, 2/23/2002]
British special forces soldiers from the Special Air Service (SAS) and the Special Boat Service (SBS) pursue Osama bin Laden as he flees the battle of Tora Bora (see November 16, 2001 and December 5-17, 2001). According to author Michael Smith, at one point they are “20 minutes” behind bin Laden, but they are “pulled off to allow US troops to go in for the kill.” However, it takes hours for the Americans to arrive, by which time bin Laden has escaped. [London Times, 2/12/2007]
Qatari citizen Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a computer science graduate student at Illinois’s Bradley University, is arrested as a material witness to the 9/11 attacks. [Peoria Journal Star, 12/19/2001; CNN, 12/13/2005] Al-Marri was interviewed twice by the FBI, once on October 2 and again on December 11. Both times, according to the FBI, he lied in response to their questions. Al-Marri claimed to have entered the US on September 10, 2001, his first visit to the country since 1991, when he earned his undergraduate degree at Bradley. [CBS News, 6/23/2003; CNN, 12/13/2005]
Connections to 9/11 Terrorists Alleged - The FBI says al-Marri has been in the US since 2000. Al-Marri denied calling the United Arab Emirates phone number of Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of suspected “20th hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui. Prosecutors say al-Hawsawi provided financial backing to Moussaoui and the 9/11 hijackers, and allegedly helped some of the hijackers travel from Pakistan to the United Arab Emirates and then to the US in preparation for the attacks. [CBS News, 6/23/2003; Progressive, 3/2007] (Al-Hawsawi will be captured in Pakistan in March 2003, and detained in an undisclosed location somewhere outside the US. See Early-Late June, 2001) [CNN, 12/13/2005] The government also alleges that the phone number was a contact number for Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, another unindicted co-conspirator in the Moussaoui indictment. The government says that two calling cards were used to call the number, which was also listed as a contact number on a package it believes was sent by 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta to the UAE on September 8, 2001. The cards were allegedly used to place phone calls from al-Marri’s residence, from his cellphone, and from the Marriott hotel room he was staying in on September 11. However, none of the three calls to the UAE number were made from phones registered to Al-Marri, though, nor is there proof he placed them. Some of the calls made from the card to the UAE were placed to relatives of al-Marri. [Bradley Scout, 3/29/2002] In March 2002, Justice Department official Alice Fisher will say that an unnamed al-Qaeda detainee “in a position to know… positively identified al-Marri as an al-Qaeda sleeper operative who was tasked to help new al-Qaeda operatives get settled in the United States for follow-on attacks after 9/11.” That unidentified tipster brought al-Marri to the attention of federal law enforcement shortly after the attacks. FBI officials have said that al-Marri is not considered to have played any part in the attacks, but is still considered a danger to the US. [Knight Ridder, 6/23/2003] In 2003, the FBI adds that it found “an almanac with bookmarks in pages that provided information about major US dams, reservoirs, waterways and railroads.” [Knight Ridder, 6/24/2003] He is believed to be a relative of Saudi national and future Guantanamo detainee Mohamed al-Khatani, who is said to be an intended 9/11 hijacker (see July 2002). [New York Times, 6/21/2004]
Bank and Credit Card Fraud - According to the FBI, al-Marri obtained a bank account under a false name, rented a motel room under a false name to create a mailing address, and formed a fake company, AAA Carpet, using the motel’s address. The FBI also says al-Marri used a fake Social Security number to open three other bank accounts. Al-Marri was carrying well over 15 fake credit card numbers on him when he was interviewed yesterday, says the US Attorney’s office in Illinois. [CBS News, 6/23/2003; Progressive, 3/2007] There are also allegedly over 1,000 more in his personal computer files. He has missed so many classes, the FBI says, that he is on the verge of flunking out. The FBI says al-Marri’s computer also contains Arabic lectures by Osama bin Laden, photographs of the 9/11 attacks, and a cartoon of planes crashing into the World Trade Center. The computer has a folder labeled “jihad arena,” and another labeled “chem,” which, government officials say, contains industrial chemical distributor websites used by al-Marri to obtain information about hydrogen cyanide, a poisonous gas used in chemical weapons. [CNN, 12/13/2005] Al-Marri consents to the search and the seizure of his computer and other possessions. [Bradley Scout, 3/29/2002] Al-Marri will be charged with financial crimes in 2002 (see February 8, 2002), charges that later will be dropped (see June 23, 2003). [CBS News, 6/23/2003]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Zacarias Moussaoui, Mohamed al-Khatani, Alice Fisher, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohamed Atta, Al-Qaeda, Bradley University, Osama bin Laden, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
The man in the picture on the left is supposed to be bin Laden in October 2001. The picture on the right is undisputendly bin Laden in December [Source: Reuters]Following the release of a home video in which Osama bin Laden apparently confesses to involvement in 9/11 (see Mid-November 2001), some commentators question its authenticity, as a number of strange facts about the video soon emerge. For example, all previous videos had been made with the consent of bin Laden, and usually released to the Arabic television channel Al Jazeera. This video was supposedly recorded without his knowledge, found in a house in Afghanistan, and then passed to the CIA by an unknown person or group. Experts point out that it would be possible to fake such a video. So many people doubt the video’s authenticity that President Bush soon makes a statement, saying it was “preposterous for anybody to think this tape was doctored. Those who contend it’s a farce or a fake are hoping for the best about an evil man.” [Guardian, 12/15/2001] Some commentators will suggest that the person thought to be bin Laden is not actually the al-Qaeda leader. For example, arabist Kevin Barrett will say that the person in the video is “at least 40 or 50 pounds heavier, and his facial features [are] obviously different.” [Capital Times (Madison), 2/14/2006] The man said to be bin Laden also makes some questionable statements in the video:
“I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building…” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 ] The jet fuel spilled from the planes burned up about 10 minutes after impact (see 8:57 a.m. September 11, 2001), the towers’ structure did not melt (see September 12, 2001-February 2002), and the towers were not made of iron, but steel. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 6] Bin Laden had studied civil engineering at university and had experience as a construction contractor. [Burke, 2004, pp. 47; Laden, 2005, pp. xii-xiii] It is unclear why he would think the towers were made of iron.
“We did not reveal the operation to [the brothers who conducted the operation] until they are there and just before they boarded the planes.” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 ] All the hijackers purchased tickets for the 9/11 flights about two weeks in advance (see August 25-September 5, 2001). The six plot leaders had flight training (see July 6-December 19, 2000, (June 28-December 2000), January-February 2001, and May 5 and 10, 2000), and some of the other 13 are thought to have assisted with target surveillance and casing flights (see May 24-August 14, 2001, August 1, 2001, June 2001 and August 2001).
“Those who were trained to fly didn’t know the others. One group of people did not know the other group.” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 ] The opposite is true: the pilots intermingled with the muscle and the teams for the various planes mixed (see April 23-June 29, 2001, April 12-September 7, 2001, and June 27-August 23, 2001).
There are reports that bin Laden had from four to ten look-alike doubles at the time. [Agence France-Presse, 10/7/2001; London Times, 11/19/2001]
US bombing in Tora Bora, December 14, 2001. [Source: Romeo / Gacad Agence France-Presse]According to author Ron Suskind, on this date bin Laden makes a broadcast on his shortwave radio from somewhere within Tora Bora, Afghanistan. He praises his “most loyal fighters” still fighting in Tora Bora and says “forgive me” for drawing them into a defeat. He says the battle will continue “on new fronts.” Then he leads a prayer and leaves Tora Bora. Suskind says, “With a small band, he escaped on horseback toward the north. The group, according to internal CIA reports, took a northerly route to the province of Nangarhar—past the Khyber Pass, and the city of Jalalabad—and into the province of Konar. That day and the next, much of the remaining al-Qaeda force of about 800 soldiers moved to the south toward Pakistan.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 74-75 Sources: Ron Suskind] A radio had been captured by US allied forces some days earlier, allowing the US to listen in to bin Laden’s communications (see Late October-Early December 2001). In another account, a professional guide and former Taliban official later claims to have led bin Laden and a group of about 30 at this time on a four day trip into Pakistan and then back into a different part of Afghanistan. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002] Still other accounts have bin Laden heading south into Pakistan at this time instead (see Mid-December 2001). An article in the British Daily Telegraph entitled “Bin Laden’s voice heard on radio in Tora Bora” will appear the very next day, detailing some of these communications. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001]
Al-Qaeda top leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri escape from the Tora Bora battle north to a remote province in Afghanistan. In the years just after the Tora Bora battle, the conventional wisdom will be that bin Laden escapes across the nearby border into Pakistan. A 2006 book by Ron Suskind will be the first to publicly make the argument that bin Laden actually stays in Afghanistan and heads to even more remote regions north of Tora Bora, starting around December 15, 2001 (see December 15, 2001). After bin Laden is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), US officials will reveal that this ‘go north’ theory has become the new conventional wisdom. According to the Washington Post: “US interrogators later learned from Guantanamo detainees that bin Laden had actually taken a more daring route, to the north toward Jalalabad, right past the approaching US and British Special Forces and their Afghan allies. After resting there, he proceeded on horseback on a several days’ journey into Konar province, in Afghanistan’s far northeast.” An unnamed US official will tell the Post: “It’s still unclear who bribed who and who talked to who, [but] bin Laden got out. Knowing the land, knowing the people who could direct you, he was able to get out to Konar [and into valleys] that no one has subdued… places the Soviets never pacified.” Al-Zawahiri takes the same route, perhaps traveling with bin Laden. [Washington Post, 5/6/2011] Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri will stay in Konar for months before finally moving to Pakistan (see Late December 2001-Late 2002).
Yunus Qanooni, the interior minister of Afghanistan’s new government, accuses elements of Pakistan’s ISI of helping bin Laden and Mullah Omar escape from Afghanistan to Pakistan. He further asserts that the ISI are still “probably protecting” both bin Laden and Mullah Omar and “concealing their movements and sheltering leaders of Taliban and al-Qaeda.” [BBC, 12/30/2001; New York Times, 2/13/2002] In addition, New Yorker magazine will report in early 2002, “Some CIA analysts believe that bin Laden eluded American capture inside Afghanistan with help from elements of the [ISI].” [New Yorker, 1/21/2002] Another report suggests that Hamid Gul, former director of the ISI, is behind moves to help the Taliban establish a base in remote parts of Pakistan just across the Afghanistan border. Gul was head of the ISI from 1987 to 1989, but has remained close to Afghan groups in subsequent years and has been nicknamed the “godfather of the Taliban.” One report will later suggest that he was one of the masterminds of the 9/11 plot (see July 22, 2004). The US is said to be interested in interrogating Gul, but “because of his high profile and the ripples it would cause in the Pakistan army, this is unlikely to happen…” Yet, at the same time that the ISI is reportedly helping al-Qaeda and the Taliban escape, the Pakistan army is deployed to the Afghanistan border in large numbers to prevent them from escaping. [Asia Times, 12/13/2001] In November 2001, it was reported that the US was continuing to rely on the ISI for intelligence about Afghanistan, a move none other than Gul publicly derided as “foolish.”(see November 3, 2001).
A videotape obtained by the CIA shows bin Laden at the end of the Tora Bora battle. He is walking on a trail either in Afghanistan and heading toward Pakistan, or already in Pakistan. Bin Laden is seen instructing his party how to dig holes in the ground to lie undetected at night. A US bomb explodes in the distance. Referring to where the bomb was dropped, he says, “We were there last night.” The existence of this videotape will not be reported until late 2006. [Washington Post, 9/10/2006] In September 2005, the New York Times will report that, “On or about Dec. 16, 2001, according to American intelligence estimates, bin Laden left Tora Bora for the last time, accompanied by bodyguards and aides.… Bin Laden and his men are believed to have journeyed on horseback directly south toward Pakistan.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005] Other accounts have him heading north into other parts of Afghanistan around this time instead (see December 15, 2001).
US intelligence and Pentagon officials admit having lost track of Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora area in the Northwest of Afghanistan. “The chatter stopped,” says John Stufflebeem. According to commanders of the Northern Alliance, as many as 500 al-Qaeda members might still be at large. [St. Petersburg Times, 12/18/2001] The same day, Rumsfeld says he has heard that there were 30 or 31 persons being held in custody around Tora Bora as of December 16. It is unclear whether any high-ranking al-Qaeda members are among them. Meanwhile, a detention center is being built at Kandahar. [Associated Press, 12/17/2001]
Four prisoners captured at Tora Bora and shown to the media on December 17, 2001. [Source: Getty Images]US-allied forces declare that the battle of Tora Bora has been won. A ten-day ground offensive that began on December 5 has cleared out the remaining Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Tora Bora. The Afghan war is now widely considered to be over. However, many will later consider the battle a failure because most of the enemy escapes (see December 5-17, 2001), and because the Taliban will later regroup. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] The Christian Science Monitor later reports that up to 2,000 Taliban and al-Qaeda were in the area when the battle began. The vast majority successfully fled, and only 21 al-Qaeda fighters were finally captured. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] US intelligence analysts later estimate that around 1,000 to 1,100 al-Qaeda fighters and an unknown number of leaders escaped Tora Bora, while Pakistani officials estimate 4,000 fighters plus 50 to 80 leaders escaped (see October 2004). [Knight Ridder, 10/30/2004] Author Ron Suskind will suggest in 2006 that there were just over 1,000 al-Qaeda and Taliban in the area, and of those, 250 were killed or captured. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 75 Sources: Ron Suskind] Bin Laden left the area by December 15, if not earlier (see December 15, 2001 and Mid-December 2001). It is believed that al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, also escaped the area around the same time. [Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002]
The Asia Times reports that Osama bin Laden has sought refuge in Iran and is being sheltered by members of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK). The report—citing Pakistani jihadi who fought in Afghanistan, journalists, and intelligence sources—says bin Laden crossed into Iran from Afghanistan around the time of the surrender of Kandahar (see November 25, 2001). [Asia Times, 12/19/2001] This report will later be shown to wildly clash with more reliable evidence placing bin Laden in Tora Bora near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border at this time instead.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz admits interrogations of individuals, who were captured when the al-Qaeda stronghold near Tora Bora fell two days before, have not yielded timely information on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. “Most of what I’ve seen seems to be second-hand reports—that we’re not talking to people who are at least telling us that they met with bin Laden or they talked with bin Laden,” he says. “I think one guy claims that he saw bin Laden from several hundred yards away. It’s that quality of information.” He added: “It was a pretty confused situation.” [Associated Press, 12/19/2001]
Following the release of a home video in which Osama bin Laden apparently confesses to involvement in 9/11 (see Mid-November 2001), a German TV show checks the translation provided by the Pentagon and finds it is flawed. According to Professor Gernot Rotter, scholar of Islamic and Arabic Studies at the University of Hamburg, “This tape is of such poor quality that many passages are unintelligible. And those that are intelligible have often been taken out of context, so that you can’t use that as evidence. The American translators who listened to the tape and transcribed it obviously added things that they wanted to hear in many places.” For example, the sentence translated by Pentagon contractors as “We calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy,” is said to be wrong, and the words “in advance” were apparently not said by bin Laden. The sentence “We had notification since the previous Thursday that the event would take place that day” is also said to be wrong and the word “previous” is not said by bin Laden. In addition, the sentence “We asked each of them to go to America” is said to be a mistranslation; it should have been “They were required to go to America.” [Monitor-TV (Germany), 12/20/2001]
In an interview with the Washington Post, President Bush says that, in contrast to the period before 9/11, “there was a significant difference in my attitude after September 11” about al-Qaeda and the threat it posed to the United States. Before the attacks: “I was not on point, but I knew [Osama bin Laden] was a menace and I knew he was a problem. I knew he was responsible, or we felt he was responsible, for the previous bombings that killed Americans. I was prepared to look at a plan that would be a thoughtful plan that would bring him to justice, and would have given the order to do that. I have no hesitancy about going after him. But I didn’t feel that sense of urgency, and my blood was not nearly as boiling.” Author Philip Shenon will comment that this interview is something Bush “almost certainly regretted later.” Shenon will also comment on who should have imparted such a sense of urgency, “If anyone on the White House staff had responsibility for making Bush’s blood ‘boil’ that summer about Osama bin Laden, it was [National Security Adviser] Condoleezza Rice.” [Washington Post, 5/17/2002; Shenon, 2008, pp. 154-155]
Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl writes stories about the ISI that will lead to his kidnapping and murder (see January 31, 2002).
On December 24, 2001, he reports about ties between the ISI and a Pakistani organization, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, that was working on giving bin Laden nuclear secrets before 9/11 (see 2000 and Mid-August 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 12/24/2001]
A few days later, he reports that the ISI-supported militant organization Jaish-e-Mohammed still has its office running and bank accounts working, even though President Pervez Musharraf claims to have banned the group. The Jaish-i-Mohammed is connected to the Al Rashid Trust, one of the first entities whose assets were frozen by the US after 9/11 and through which funding may have passed on its way to the hijackers in the US (see Early August 2001 and September 24, 2001). “If [Pearl] hadn’t been on the ISI’s radarscope before, he was now.” [Wall Street Journal, 12/31/2001; Guardian, 7/16/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002]
He begins investigating links between shoe bomber Richard Reid and Pakistani militants, and comes across connections to the ISI and a mysterious religious group called Al-Fuqra. [Washington Post, 2/23/2002]
He also may be looking into the US training and backing of the ISI. [Gulf News, 3/25/2002]
He is writing another story on Dawood Ibrahim, a powerful Islamic militant and gangster protected by the ISI, and other Pakistani organized crime figures. [Newsweek, 2/4/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002]
Former CIA agent Robert Baer later claims to be working with Pearl on an investigation of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. [United Press International, 4/9/2004] It is later suggested that Mohammed masterminds both Reid’s shoe bomb attempt and the Pearl kidnapping, and has connections to Pakistani gangsters and the ISI, so some of these explanations could fit together. [Asia Times, 10/30/2002; CNN, 1/30/2003; United Press International, 4/9/2004] Kidnapper Saeed will later say of Pearl, “Because of his hyperactivity he caught our interest.” [News (Islamabad), 2/15/2002] Pearl is kidnapped on January 23, 2002, and his murder is confirmed on February 22, 2002. [CNN, 2/22/2002]
Osama bin Laden making his “Nineteen Students” speech. [Source: Al Jazeera]Osama bin Laden makes a new video statement about 9/11, again denying the US has enough evidence against him to warrant an attack on Afghanistan (see September 16, 2001 and September 28, 2001), which he calls “a vicious campaign based on mere suspicion.” However, in what Professor Bruce Lawrence calls “his most extended and passionate celebration of the hijackers of 9/11,” he praises the 19 who carried out “the blessed strikes against global unbelief and its leader America.” He says of the hijackers, “It was not nineteen Arab states that did this deed. It was not Arab armies or ministries who humbled the oppressor who harms us in Palestine and elsewhere. It was nineteen post-secondary school students—I beg Allah almighty to accept them—who shook America’s throne, struck its economy right in the heart, and dealt the biggest military power a mighty blow, by the grace of Allah Almighty.” He continues by saying that the hijackers “are the people who have given up everything for the sake of ‘There is no Allah but Allah.’” He also criticizes Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and suggests that Israel is trying to expand its borders to Medina, currently in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden also attacks the sanctions against Iraq, which he notes have resulted in “the murder of over a million children.” [Laden, 2005, pp. 145-157] Bin Laden’s left arm appears to be injured in the video, fueling speculation he was wounded in the battle for Afghanistan [CNN, 7/23/2002] No new videotapes of Bin Laden speaking are released for nearly three years after this (see October 29, 2004). [BBC, 10/30/2004]
The media reports that Osama bin Laden died of lung problems in the mountains of Tora Bora in mid-December. The report, which quotes a Taliban leader who allegedly attended bin Laden’s funeral, is originally published in the Pakistan Observer, and then picked up by Fox News. According to the Taliban leader, bin Laden was suffering from a serious lung complication and succumbed to the disease. He also claims bin Laden was laid to rest honorably near where he died and his grave was made as per his Wahabi belief. About 30 close associates of bin Laden, including his most trusted and personal bodyguards, his family members, and some “Taliban friends,” attended the funeral. A volley of bullets was also fired to pay final tribute to him. The Taliban leader claims to have seen bin Laden’s face before the burial and says, “he looked pale… but calm, relaxed, and confident.” When asked where bin Laden was buried, the leader says, “I am sure that like other places in Tora Bora, that particular place too must have vanished.” [Fox News, 12/26/2001] A man thought to be bin Laden will continue to issue media statements after his alleged death (see, for example, November 12, 2002). At the time this report becomes public, other accounts suggest bin Laden is alive, has just escaped from the battle of Tora Bora, and is fleeing pursuers (see December 8-14, 2001).
The new Afghan Interior Minister Younis Qanooni claims that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, helped Osama bin Laden escape from Afghanistan: “Undoubtedly they (ISI) knew what was going on.” He claims that the ISI is still supporting bin Laden even if Pakistani President Musharraf isn’t. [BBC, 12/30/2001]
James Dobbins, the Bush Administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan, later will say that three decisions in late 2001 “really shaped” the future of Afghanistan. “One was that US forces were not going to do peacekeeping of any sort, under any circumstances. They would remain available to hunt down Osama bin Laden and find renegade Taliban, but they were not going to have any role in providing security for the country at large. The second was that we would oppose anybody else playing this role outside Kabul. And this was at a time when there was a good deal of interest from other countries in doing so.” The main reason for this is because it is felt this would tie up more US resources as well, for instance US airlifts to drop supplies. The third decision is that US forces would not engage in any counter-narcotics activities. The Atlantic Monthly will later note, “One effect these policies had was to prolong the disorder in Afghanistan and increase the odds against a stable government. The absence of American or international peacekeepers guaranteed that the writ of the new [Hamid] Karzai government would extend, at best, to Kabul itself.”
[Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004]
The US strikes a secret deal with Pakistan, allowing a US operation in Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden. This will be reported by the Guardian shortly after bin Laden is killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). The Guardian will claim this account is “according to serving and retired Pakistani and US officials.” The deal is struck between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and US President George W. Bush shortly after bin Laden escapes the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan in December 2001 (see December 15, 2001). At the time, it is widely believed bin Laden escaped into Pakistan. The deal allows the US to conduct their own raids inside Pakistan if the target is bin Laden, al-Qaeda deputy head Ayman al-Zawahiri, or whoever the number three al-Qaeda leader is. Afterwards, Pakistan would vigorously protest, but this would just be to mollify public opinion. An unnamed senior Pakistani official will later say that the deal is reaffirmed in early 2008, when Musharraf’s grip on power is slipping. (Musharraf will resign in August 2008 (see August 18, 2008).) This same Pakistani official will say of the May 2011 US Special Forces raid that kills bin Laden in Pakistan, “As far as our American friends are concerned, they have just implemented the agreement.” [Guardian, 5/9/2011]
Al-Qaeda top leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri hide out in a remote province in Afghanistan for most of 2002. After bin Laden is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), US officials will reveal that they no longer believe the conventional account that he and al-Zawahiri left the Tora Bora battle by escaping into nearby Pakistan. Instead, the two of them headed north into Konar, a remote Afghanistan province, around December 15, 2001 (see (December 15, 2001)). According to one unnamed US official, they stay in mountain valleys “that no one has subdued… places the Soviets never pacified.” Their exact location during this time is unknown. Some Guantanamo prisoners will later tell interrogators that the two leaders stay in Konar for up to 10 months. But even bin Laden’s closest followers don’t know exactly where he or al-Zawahiri have gone in Konar. One US intelligence official will later say: “It became clear that [bin Laden] was not meeting with [his followers] face to face.… People we would capture had not seen him.” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011] Exactly how, when, or where bin Laden and al-Zawahiri go after Konar will not be revealed. But there will be reports that bin Laden moves to the village of Chak Shah Mohammad in northwest Pakistan in 2003 (see 2003-Late 2005).
In an attempt to find Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts, CIA intelligence analysts construct a composite profile of what an ideal courier for bin Laden would look like. Then they match this with what they know about bin Laden’s couriers. One US official will later say, “It was like doing the profile of a serial killer.” One courier, whose apparent real name is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, fits the profile very closely. However, at this time, US intelligence only knows him by his alias, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti (see Early 2002).
He is a Pakistani Pashtun, and speaks Pashto. Most Taliban leaders are Pashtun and speak Pashto.
He speaks fluent Arabic, since he grew up in the Persian Gulf. This enables him to speak to bin Laden supporters from many countries in the Muslim world.
He is a trusted aide of al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libbi.
He had been a part of al-Qaeda for many years prior to 9/11.
He is adept at the use of computers.
He is fiercely loyal to bin Laden. For instance, according to multiple prisoners at Guantanamo, he was last seen next to bin Laden when bin Laden fled the Tora Bora mountains in December 2001.
An unnamed US official will later say that Ahmed emerged as the most ideal courier for bin Laden, and thus, the best way to get to bin Laden. “He fit all the needs. He was high on the short list,” the official will say. As a result, the search for Ahmed is intensified. More prisoners in US custody are asked what they know about him. [MSNBC, 5/4/2011]
Bruce Riedel. [Source: Brookings Institute]Bruce Riedel, a South Asia expert at the CIA, will say in 2007 shortly after retiring, “There hasn’t been a serious lead on Osama bin Laden since early 2002. What we’re doing now is shooting in the dark in outer space. The chances of hitting anything are zero.” Other intelligence officials interviewed by Newsweek will agree that since that time US intelligence has never had a better than 50 percent certainty about his location. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007] An anonymous former CIA official will similarly tell the Los Angeles Times in 2007 that not only does the US have no idea where bin Laden is, but since 2002 the US has not even had information that “you could validate historically,” meaning a tip on a previous bin Laden location that could be subsequently verified (see May 20, 2007). [Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2007]
Members of the US Fifth Special Forces Group pose with future Afghan president Hamid Karzai, whom they are protecting.
[Source: US Military]The Atlantic Monthly will later report, “By the beginning of 2002, US and Northern Alliance forces had beaten the Taliban but lost bin Laden. At that point the United States faced a consequential choice: to bear down even harder in Afghanistan, or to shift the emphasis in the global war on terror somewhere else.… Implicitly at the beginning of 2002, and as a matter of formal policy by the end, it placed all other considerations second to regime change in Iraq.” [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004] In February, 2002, Gen. Tommy Franks allegedly tells Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), “Senator, we have stopped fighting the war on terror in Afghanistan. We are moving military and intelligence personnel and resources out of Afghanistan to get ready for a future war in Iraq” (see February 19, 2002). [Council on Foreign Relations, 3/26/2004] This shift from Afghanistan to Iraq involves a change of focus and attention (see Early 2002). Additionally, while the total number of US troops (less than 10,000) in Afghanistan does not go down, there is a considerable shift of specialized personnel and equipment many months before the war in Iraq will begin:
On February 15, 2002, President Bush directs the CIA to conduct operations in Iraq (see Early 2002). In mid-March, the CIA tells the White House that it is cutting back operations in Afghanistan (see Spring 2002).
Most of Task Force 5, a top-secret elite CIA and military special forces group, is called home from Afghanistan to prepare for operations in Iraq (see Early 2002).
In March 2002, Fifth Group Special Forces, an elite group whose members speak Arabic, Pashtun, and Dari, that is apparently different from Task Force 5, is sent from Afghanistan to Iraq (see March 2002).
The US Air Force’s only two specially-equipped spy planes that had successfully intercepted the radio transmissions and cell phone calls of al-Qaeda’s leaders are pulled from Afghanistan to conduct surveillance over Iraq. NSA satellites are “boreholed,” (or redirected) from Afghanistan to Iraq as well
(see May 2002).
Almost all Predator drones are withdrawn from Afghanistan and apparently moved to the Persian Gulf region for missions over Iraq (see April 2002).
More personnel will shift to Iraq in late 2002 and early 2003 (see Late 2002-Early 2003). In 2007, retired US Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO supreme commander, will say that Iraq caused the US to “take its eye off the ball” in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, National Security Agency, Thomas Franks, George W. Bush, Flynt Leverett, Al-Qaeda, James L. Jones, Bush administration (43), Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Central Intelligence Agency, Taliban
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
The CIA first learns that Osama bin Laden has a trusted courier who uses the alias Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. CIA Director Leon Panetta will later state, “The first mention of the name Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, as well as a description of him as an important member of al-Qaeda, came from a detainee held in another country.” US intelligence won’t learn the courier’s real name is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed until years later. When they do, this will be the vital clue that leads them to bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan. [MSNBC, 5/4/2011; Washington Post, 5/12/2011; Associated Press, 6/1/2011]
As soon as terror suspect Tarek Dergoul arrives at Bagram, he is subjected to treatment that he later describes as sexually humiliating. “When I arrived, with a bag over my head, I was stripped naked and taken to a big room with 15 or 20 MP’s. They started taking photos and then they did a full cavity search. As they were doing that they were taking close-ups, concentrating on my private parts.” Dergoul sees other prisoners enduring beatings, which he is spared. “Guards with guns and baseball bats would make the detainees squat for hours, and if they fell over from exhaustion, they’d beat them until they lost consciousness. They called it ‘beat down.’” Dergoul is interrogated 20 to 25 times at Bagram. Once, a team from the British intelligence agency MI5 is present, at which occasion he is told his family’s assets will be seized. His interrogators accuse him of fighting with al-Qaeda in the Tora Bora mountains. Although he says none of that is true, Dergoul finally breaks. “I was in extreme pain from the frostbite and other injuries and I was so weak I could barely stand. It was freezing cold and I was shaking and shivering like a washing machine. The interrogators, who questioned me at gunpoint, said if I confessed I’d be going home. Finally I agreed I’d been at Tora Bora—though I still wouldn’t admit I’d ever met bin Laden.” [Guardian, 3/13/2004; Observer, 5/16/2004]
Defense Department pamplet with a badly doctored photo of bin Laden. Note the blurry area around his neck.
[Source: US Defense Department]It is reported that the State Department said Mohamed Atta “wanted to learn to fly, but didn’t need to take off and land” when this information clearly refers to Zacarias Moussaoui (although that story isn’t exactly true for him either (see August 13-15, 2001)). It is also reported that the military dropped leaflets in Afghanistan which featured photos depicting bin Laden in Western clothing, with his hair cut short and beard shaved off. An expert says “Frankly, this is sloppy,” and the article calls these propaganda efforts “worthy of the tabloids.”
[Associated Press, 1/4/2002]
The FBI has asked Pakistan for permission to question Maulana Masood Azhar, the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed, according to reports. Pakistan arrested him on December 25, 2001, after US pressure to do so. One Pakistani official says, “The Americans are aware Azhar met bin Laden often, and are convinced he can give important information about bin Laden’s present whereabouts and even the September 11 attacks.” But the “primary reason” for US interest is the link between Azhar and Saeed Sheikh. They hope to learn about Saeed’s involvement in financing the 9/11 attacks. Whether Pakistan gives permission to question Azhar is unclear. Four days later, the US officially asks Pakistan for help in finding and extraditing Saeed. [Gulf News, 1/5/2002]
Plane’s tail hangs from the Bank of America building in Tampa, Florida. [Source: Anomalies-Unlimited]Fifteen-year-old Charles J. Bishop, a high school student from Tarpon Springs, Florida, steals a small aircraft. As soon as the plane takes off, the air traffic controllers alert the United States Coast Guard and MacDill Air Force Base. Despite repeated warnings from a helicopter dispatched by the Coast Guard, the small plane continues on until it collides with an office building. The plane crashes between the 23rd and 24th floors of the 42-story Bank of America Tower in Tampa at 5:00 p.m. Before the incident, he is authorized to do a pre-flight check but not to get in an aircraft alone.
Investigation - After the crash, investigators discover that the teen had a troubled past. Officials rule out terrorism although eye witnesses say that the plane makes no apparent attempt to avoid hitting the building. Officials finally suggest that the crash is an apparent suicide. In addition, a note found in the wreckage states that he voices support for Osama bin Laden. However, there is no evidence that the teen has any connection with any terror group. Later authorities confiscate a computer from Bishop’s parents’ house to figure out what motive is involved in the incident. Moments after the incident, President George W. Bush is briefly informed about the incident and two unrelated crashes that same day. In April 2002, transcripts obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reveal new details about the incident, which include how close the small plane came to a Southwest Airlines flight.
Other Consequences - Bishop’s mother files a $70 million dollar lawsuit against Roche Laboratories, who makes an acne medicine called Accutane. According to the lawsuit claim the medicine has side effects such as depression and suicidal actions, which the claim states was the cause of the incident. Also, numerous security measures are taken in response to the incident. The FAA releases a security notice on January 6, the day after the incident. The notice includes security and regulations pertaining to underaged flight students. In addition, the FAA and other similar aircraft organizations propose more security of flight schools and small aircraft. While authorities state that the crash is due to an “abuse of trust” rather than a security breach, others argue for the need of increased security due to the simplicity of such actions. [Anomalies-Unlimited, 7/28/2006]
Military spokesperson Navy Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem says, “We’re going to stop chasing… the shadows of where we thought [bin Laden and Mullah Omar were] and focus more on the entire picture of the country, where these pockets of resistance are, what do the anti-Taliban forces need, so that we can develop a better intelligence picture. The job is not complete and those leaders whom we wish to have from the al-Qaeda and Taliban chain of command, we are casting a wide net—a worldwide net, as well as regional, for where they are.” This announcement comes just two days after reports that Mullah Omar escaped an encirclement near Kandahar and fled into the nearby hills (see January 6, 2002). [Reuters, 1/8/2002]
Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf says that he thinks Osama bin Laden is most likely dead because he has been unable to get treatment for his kidney disease. “I think now, frankly, he is dead for the reason he is a… kidney patient,” says Musharraf in an interview with CNN. According to Musharraf, Pakistan knows bin Laden took two dialysis machines into Afghanistan, and, “One was specifically for his own personal use.” Musharraf adds: “I don’t know if he has been getting all that treatment in Afghanistan now. And the photographs that have been shown of him on television show him extremely weak.… I would give the first priority that he is dead and the second priority that he is alive somewhere in Afghanistan.” However, some US officials are skeptical of this. One senior Bush administration official says Musharraf reached a “reasonable conclusion,” but warns it is only a guess. “We don’t have remains or evidence of his death. So it is a decent and reasonable conclusion—a good guess but it is a guess,” says the official. He adds that US intelligence indicates bin Laden needs dialysis every three days and, “it is fairly obvious that that could be an issue when you are running from place to place, and facing the idea of needing to generate electricity in a mountain hideout.” However, another US official contradicts the reports of bin Laden’s health problems, saying there is “no evidence” the suspected terrorist mastermind has ever suffered kidney failure or required kidney dialysis. The official calls such suggestions a “recurrent rumor.” [CNN, 1/18/2002]
Vice President Cheney says, “And we want bin Laden, and I think we will get him, but I’m more concerned about disrupting all of these terrorist cells out there. Bin Laden by himself isn’t that big a threat. Bin Laden connected to this worldwide organization of terror is a threat. We’re going to go after him, but we’re also after the network.” [ABC News, 1/27/2002]
CNN broadcasts an interview of Osama bin Laden conducted by Al Jazeera reporter Tayseer Allouni. The interview was recorded in October 2001 (see October 20, 2001). [CNN, 2/5/2002; Miles, 2005, pp. 176-177] Al Jazeera had decided not to broadcast the interview because al-Qaeda operatives intimidated Allouni, he was not allowed to ask his own questions, and the station thought the resulting product was just propaganda for bin Laden. However, Western intelligence agencies obtained the tape (see Before November 11, 2001), and news of it leaked to the media. CNN then obtained a copy and now broadcasts it, thinking this a media coup. For example, CNN executive Eason Jordan says the video is “extremely newsworthy… it not only absolutely warrants being seen, it must be seen.” It is unclear where CNN got the tape from. Author Hugh Miles will suggest that the network acquired the tape with the blessing of the US government. He will point out that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice recently instructed news outlets not to air bin Laden messages, apparently for fear they may contain hidden signals. However, CNN is not rebuked for running excerpts from the tape. Miles will also point out that Al Jazeera’s refusal to broadcast the tape is used to attack the station in the US media, as it is “widely insinuated that the affair had been an attempt by Al Jazeera to cover up bin Laden’s confession of responsibility for 9/11.” However, in retrospect, Miles will say it is a “smear campaign by the coalition, bitter at Al Jazeera’s coverage of the war and desperate to have bin Laden’s near-confession on air, to prove their vengeful war was justified.” [Miles, 2005, pp. 177-182]
Somewhere along the mountainous eastern border of Afghanistan, a Predator drone reportedly follows and kills three men. One of them is a tall man in robes who officials operating the drone think is Osama bin Laden. However, the victims will turn out to be innocent Afghan villagers, gathering scrap metal. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
US Central Command watches as a Predator drone captures images of a very tall man being greeted by a small group of people in the Zawar Kili area of eastern Afghanistan. It is quickly agreed the man could be Osama bin Laden, who is known to be unusually tall. Within minutes, approval is given to launch a Hellfire missile from the drone. By this time, the tall man has broken off from the group with two others. The missile hones in on him and kills him and his two companions. Journalists will later report that the men were villagers who had been scavenging in the woods for scrap metal. [New Yorker, 12/16/2002; Reuters, 5/12/2011] But in trying to determine the identity of the target, US intelligence gets bin Laden family DNA (see Shortly After February 4, 2002).
Sheikh Sheikh photographed while in secret custody in February 2002. [Source: CNN]Pakistani police, with the help of the FBI, determine Saeed Sheikh is behind the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl, but are unable to find him. They round up about ten of his relatives and threaten to harm them unless he turns himself in. Saeed Sheikh does turn himself in, but to Ijaz Shah, his former ISI boss. [Boston Globe, 2/7/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002] The ISI holds Saeed for a week, but fails to tell Pakistani police or anyone else that they have him. This “missing week” is the cause of much speculation. The ISI never tells Pakistani police any details about this week. [Newsweek, 3/11/2002] Saeed also later refuses to discuss the week or his connection to the ISI, only saying, “I will not discuss this subject. I do not want my family to be killed.” He adds, “I know people in the government and they know me and my work.” [Newsweek, 3/13/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002] It is suggested Saeed is held for this week to make sure that Pearl would be killed. Saeed later says that during this week he got a coded message from the kidnappers that Pearl had been murdered. Also, the time might have been spent working out a deal with the ISI over what Saeed would tell police and the public. [Newsweek, 3/11/2002] Several others with both extensive ISI and al-Qaeda ties wanted for the kidnapping are arrested around this time. [Washington Post, 2/23/2002; London Times, 2/25/2002] One of these men, Khalid Khawaja, “has never hidden his links with Osama bin Laden. At one time he used to fly Osama’s personal plane.” [Pakistan News Service (Newark, CA), 2/11/2002]
Shortly after a US Predator drone strike on a target that might be Osama bin Laden (see February 4, 2002), US intelligence gets bin Laden family DNA with help from the Saudi government to help determine the identity of the target. The target turns out to be some innocent Afghan men instead. But now the US has DNA for any future bin Laden identity checks. [Reuters, 5/12/2011]
Hassan Ali bin Attash. [Source: US Defense Department]Pakistani forces raid a safe house in Karachi, Pakistan, and arrest 17 suspected al-Qaeda operatives. All 17 will eventually be sent to the US-run Guantanamo prison in Cuba.
Abu Bara al-Taizi - One of them is Abu Bara al-Taizi (a.k.a. Zohair Mohammed Said), who attended the al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000) and was to be a hijacker for an Asian portion of the 9/11 attacks that never materialized. Al-Taizi will be handed to the US on February 27, and then transferred to Guantanamo a few months later.
Abdu Ali Sharqawi - The safe house is run by Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi, a Yemeni commonly known as Riyadh the Facilitator. He is arrested as well, but he will not be handed to the US and then sent to Guantanamo until September 2004. [US Department of Defense, 7/7/2008; US Department of Defense, 10/25/2008] Another Guantanamo prisoner, Hassan Ali bin Attash, will later say that he and al-Sharqawi were held in a Jordanian prison for over a year. That would explain most of the time between al-Sharqawi’s arrest and his transfer to Guantanamo. [US Department of Defense, 6/25/2008] The New York Times will later identify al-Sharqawi as one of the four most important al-Qaeda leaders captured in the first year after 9/11. [New York Times, 9/10/2002]
Al-Sharqawi's Al-Qaeda Activity - According to al-Sharqawi’s Guantanamo file, he joined al-Qaeda after fighting in Bosnia in 1995 and was closely linked to many al-Qaeda leaders. For a time, he even took part in weekly planning meetings with Osama bin Laden and others. In the summer of 2001, he began running the safe house in Karachi. His file says that he photo-identifies 11 of the 9/11 hijackers and provides varying amounts of information on each of them. He estimates that he helped over 100 al-Qaeda operatives leave Pakistan in the post-9/11 crackdown before his safe house was shut down. 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh passed through his safe house in January 2002, a few weeks before the safe house is raided. As of late 2008, al-Sharqawi, al-Taizi, and nine others captured in the raid remain imprisoned in Guantanamo, while six others have been transferred out. [US Department of Defense, 7/7/2008; US Department of Defense, 10/25/2008] Most of the above is based on Guantanamo files leaked to the public in 2011 by the non-profit whistleblower group WikiLeaks. There are many doubts about the reliability of the information in the files (see April 24, 2011).
Neighbor's Tip Led to Raid - The safe house was discovered because the Pakistani Army asked the public for leads on the movements of suspicious foreigners. Apparently one or more neighbors pointed out the safe house (see Late 2001).
The Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv notes: “If one looks at the map of the big American bases created [in the Afghan war], one is struck by the fact that they are completely identical to the route of the projected oil pipeline to the Indian Ocean.” Ma’ariv also states, “Osama bin Laden did not comprehend that his actions serve American interests… If I were a believer in conspiracy theory, I would think that bin Laden is an American agent. Not being one I can only wonder at the coincidence.”
[Chicago Tribune, 3/18/2002]
A Gallup poll conducted in Muslim nations shows 18 percent believe that Arabs were responsible for 9/11 and 61 percent do not. In Pakistan, 86 percent say Arabs were not responsible. [Guardian, 2/28/2002] Even Pakistani President Musharraf has said bin Laden was not the mastermind, though he says that he probably supported it. [Reuters, 8/4/2002]
US troops investigate two dead bodies on March 17, 2002, as Operation Anaconda comes to a close. [Source: Joe Raedle/ Reuters]The US launches Operation Anaconda, a major offensive in Shah-i-Kot valley, near the town of Gardez, Afghanistan. About 2,000 US and allied soldiers attack a Taliban and al-Qaeda stronghold in the valley. The goal is to surround and cut off the Taliban and al-Qaeda from being able to retreat into Pakistan. Officially, the operation is hailed as an easy victory. For instance, Gen. Tommy Franks calls the operation “an unqualified and absolute success.” [Radio Free Europe, 3/20/2002] A Pentagon spokesperson calls the operation “a great success,” and says that of the hundreds or even thousands of enemy fighters trapped in the valley,“less than 100 escaped.” [New York Times, 3/14/2002] Up to 800 Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters are reported killed. [New York Times, 3/14/2002]
Unexpected Resistance - However, other accounts paint a different picture. The operation runs into unexpected resistance from the start, and eight US soldiers and a small number of allied Afghan fighters are killed in the first few days. The London Times later notes, “what was to have been a two-day operation stretched to 12.” Australian special forces troops who took part later say the operation was botched. “They blamed much of the problem on inadequate US air power, poor intelligence, and faulty technology.” [Radio Free Europe, 3/20/2002; London Times, 6/18/2002]
Militants Able to Escape - It appears that, as in Tora Bora, Afghan warlord armies supervised by a small number of US special forces, were given the key task of cutting off escape routes. At least one of the warlords involved had tricked the US military earlier in the war. “Although [Afghan] commanders insisted from the start of the campaign that the slopes were surrounded, [one Afghan commander] admitted that there had been at least one escape route” left open. The Guardian notes that “US troops spent weeks planning the attack on Shah-i-Kot, training and arming Afghan soldiers to prevent a repeat of the battle at Tora Bora,” but nonetheless, “nearly all the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters appeared to have fled the area.” [Washington Post, 3/4/2002; Guardian, 3/15/2002] Most flee across the border into Pakistan (see December 2001-Spring 2002). The New York Times even reported that “some participants… said the Taliban had more or less come and gone as they pleased, visiting villagers in nearby towns.” [New York Times, 3/14/2002] One captured Taliban soldier who fought in the battle later claims that bin Laden made a brief personal appearance to rally his troops. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002] Only about 20 prisoners are captured and fewer than 20 bodies are found. [New York Times, 3/14/2002; New York Times, 3/18/2002] After retreating, the Taliban and al-Qaeda will change strategies and no longer attempt to congregate in Afghanistan in large numbers.
Abdullah bin Laden, bin Laden family spokesman (not the Abdullah connected to WAMY). [Source: Agence France-Presse.]Abdullah bin Laden, spokesman for the bin Laden family and one of Osama’s many brothers, speaks directly to the press for the first time since 9/11. He says that the family cut all personal and financial ties to Osama in 1993 and that no family member has contact with him or provides any kind of support for him. “We went through a tough time. It was difficult. We felt we are a victim as well.” [ABC News, 3/29/2002]
Ramzi bin al-Shibh. [Source: FBI]It is originally reported that Al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda interviews 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and 9/11 associate Ramzi Bin al-Shibh at a secret location in Karachi, Pakistan, in either June [London Times, 9/8/2002] or August. [Guardian, 9/9/2002] Details and audio footage of the interview come out between September 8 and 12, 2002. The video footage of the interview al-Qaeda promised to hand over is never given to Al Jazeera. [Associated Press, 9/8/2002] Both figures claim the 9/11 attacks were originally going to target nuclear reactors, but “decided against it for fear it would go out of control.” Interviewer Fouda is struck that KSM and bin al-Shibh remember only the hijackers’ code names, and have trouble remembering their real names. [Australian, 9/9/2002] KSM, who calls himself the head of al-Qaeda’s military committee and refers to bin al-Shibh as the coordinator of the “Holy Tuesday” operation, reportedly acknowledges “[a]nd, yes, we did it.” [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 38] These interviews “are the first full admission by senior figures from bin Laden’s network that they carried out the September 11 attacks.” [London Times, 9/8/2002] Some, however, call Fouda’s claims into doubt. For example, the Financial Times states: “Analysts cited the crude editing of [Fouda’s interview] tapes and the timing of the broadcasts as reasons to be suspicious about their authenticity. Dia Rashwan, an expert on Islamist movements at the Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies in Cairo, said: ‘I have very serious doubts [about the authenticity of this tape]. It could have been a script written by the FBI.’” [Financial Times, 9/11/2002] KSM is later variously reported to be arrested in June 2002, killed or arrested in September 2002, and then arrested in March 2003. After this last arrest report, for the first time Fouda claims this interview took place in April, placing it safely before the first reports of KSM’s capture. [Guardian, 3/4/2003; CTV Television, 3/6/2003] Bin al-Shibh also gets captured several days after Fouda’s interview is broadcast, and some reports say he is captured because this interview allows his voice to be identified. [Observer, 9/15/2002; CBS News, 10/9/2002] As a result, Fouda has been accused of betraying al-Qaeda, and now fears for his life. [Independent, 9/17/2002] As the Washington Post states, “Now Al Jazeera is also subject to rumors of a conspiracy.” [Washington Post, 9/15/2002] Yet after being so reviled by al-Qaeda supporters, Fouda is later given a cassette said to be a bin Laden speech. [MSNBC, 11/18/2002] US officials believe the voice on that cassette is “almost certainly” bin Laden, but one of the world’s leading voice-recognition institutes said it is 95 percent certain the tape is a forgery. [BBC, 11/18/2002; BBC, 11/29/2002] It will later be revealed that details of the interview were told to the CIA in mid-June 2002, which directly resulted in bin al-Shibh’s arrest a few months later (see June 14, 2002 and Shortly After).
Around April 2002, most Predator drones are withdrawn from Afghanistan and apparently moved to the Persian Gulf region for missions over Iraq. Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) will later call the Predator “just about the perfect weapon in our hunt for Osama bin Laden.” He will later comment that their removal is “a clear case of how the Bush administration’s single-minded focus on Iraq undermined the war against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.” [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 121; Washington Post, 10/22/2004; Rashid, 2008, pp. 134] Additionally, over the next years, all new Predators built are sent to Iraq and none to Afghanistan. A former Central Command official will say in 2007, “If we were not in Iraq, we would have double or triple the number of Predators across Afghanistan, looking for Taliban and peering into the tribal areas.” [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
Myers making his comments at a press conference. [Source: Banded Artists Productions]Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers states, “The goal has never been to get bin Laden.” He adds, “Obviously, that’s desirable,” but then he hints it won’t be desirable to do so soon, saying, “I just read a piece by some analysts that said you may not want to go after the top people in these organizations. You may have more effect by going after the middlemen, because they’re harder to replace. I don’t know if that’s true, or not, and clearly we would like to eventually get bin Laden.” [Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields, 4/6/2002] In early 2005, the recently retired Executive Director of the CIA will explicitly state that it is better to let bin Laden remain free (see January 9, 2005).
Saeed Sheikh surrounded by police.
[Source: unknown]The Pakistani trial of Saeed Sheikh and three others begins. [BBC, 7/5/2002] NBC reports that death sentences are expected for the four accused killers of Daniel Pearl, despite a lack of evidence. The case will be decided in top secret by handpicked judges in Pakistan’s anti-terrorism courts. “Some in Pakistan’s government also are very concerned about what [the defendant] Saeed might say in court. His organization and other militant groups here have ties to Pakistan’s secret intelligence agency [the ISI]. There are concerns he could try to implicate that government agency in the Pearl case, or other questionable dealings that could be at the very least embarrassing, or worse.”
[MSNBC, 4/5/2002] Later in the month the London Times says that the real truth about Saeed will not come out in the trial because, “Sheikh is no ordinary terrorist but a man who has connections that reach high into Pakistan’s military and intelligence elite and into the innermost circles of Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda organization.”
[London Times, 4/21/2002]
The Washington Post reports, “The Bush administration has concluded that Osama bin Laden was present during the battle for Tora Bora late last year and that failure to commit US ground troops to hunt him was its gravest error in the war against al-Qaeda,” allowing bin Laden to escape. The newspaper claims that while the administration has failed to acknowledge the mistake publicly, “inside the government there is little controversy on the subject.” [Washington Post, 4/17/2002] The next day, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld denies this, and states he did not know at the time of the assault, “nor do I know today of any evidence that he was in Tora Bora at the time or that he left Tora Bora at the time or even where he is today.” [USA Today, 4/18/2002] Apparently, Rumsfeld soon forces the removal of Cofer Black from his position of head of the CIA’s counterterrorism division, because Rumsfeld thinks Black leaked information for this damning Washington Post article (see May 17, 2002).
The New York Post has a banner headline on May 16, 2002. [Source: New York Post]The Bush administration is embarrassed when the CBS Evening News reveals that President Bush had been warned about al-Qaeda domestic attacks in August 2001 (see August 6, 2001). [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Washington Post, 5/16/2002] CBS’s David Martin reports: “The president’s daily intelligence brief is delivered to the president each morning, often by the director of central intelligence himself. In the weeks before 9/11 it warned that an attack by Osama bin Laden could involve the hijacking of a US aircraft.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 113] Bush had repeatedly said that he had “no warning” of any kind. Press secretary Ari Fleischer states unequivocally that while Bush had been warned of possible hijackings, “[t]he president did not—not—receive information about the use of airplanes as missiles by suicide bombers.” [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Washington Post, 5/16/2002] “Until the attack took place, I think it’s fair to say that no one envisioned that as a possibility.” [MSNBC, 9/18/2002] Fleischer claims the August memo was titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike the US,” but the real title is soon found to end with “Strike in US” [Washington Post, 5/18/2002] The Guardian will state a few days later, “[T]he memo left little doubt that the hijacked airliners were intended for use as missiles and that intended targets were to be inside the US.” It further states that, “now, as the columnist Joe Conason points out in the current edition of the New York Observer, ‘conspiracy’ begins to take over from ‘incompetence’ as a likely explanation for the failure to heed—and then inform the public about—warnings that might have averted the worst disaster in the nation’s history.” [Guardian, 5/19/2002] Current deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will point out in 2008: “The [CBS] report left much open to question. Was it suggesting that the president had received info that should have led him to act? Was it just a possible warning sign, like many others that may have gone unheeded? Or was it something else, possibly a nonspecific bit of intelligence from years earlier?” McClellan will write that the uncertainty “mattered little to Democratic leaders in Congress. They saw an opportunity to attack the president’s strong suit—his leadership in the war on terrorism—and cut into his enormous popularity ahead of the midterm elections that coming November.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 113]
It is announced that Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s counterterrorism division for the last three years, has been assigned to another position. However, in 2004, six anonymous US intelligence officials will claim that, in fact, Black is removed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld because Black publicly revealed details of the US military’s failure to capture or kill bin Laden in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in late 2001. Sources will call Black “very aggressive, very knowledgeable,” in fighting al-Qaeda. According to these sources, after the Tora Bora battle ended, an intelligence analysis determined that bin Laden had been trapped in Tora Bora, and deemed his escape a “significant defeat” for the US. Rumsfeld, however, disagreed with the criticism, and said there was not enough “solid evidence” to come to that conclusion. Black then spoke on deep background to the Washington Post, and on April 17, 2002, the Post called the failure to capture bin Laden “the gravest error in the war against al-Qaeda.”(see April 17, 2002) Rumsfeld learned about Black’s role and used his influence to get him removed. [United Press International, 7/29/2004]
Al-Qaeda spokesperson Suliman Abu Ghaith allegedly claims that al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, plus Taliban leader Mullah Omar, are alive and well. “I want to assure Muslims that Sheik Osama bin Laden… is in good and prosperous health and all what is being rumored about his illness and injury in Tora Bora has no truth,” he says. He adds that al-Qaeda is ready to attack new targets, and says it is responsible for a recent bombing of a synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia (see April 11, 2002). Although he does not explicitly say al-Qaeda was behind the 9/11 attacks, he calls the attacks a “great historic victory that broke the backs of the Americans, the strongest power in this world.” The comments are made in an audiotape played on Al Jazeera. The authenticity of the recording has not been independently confirmed, and Al Jazeera does not explain how it got the recording or when it was made. [Associated Press, 6/22/2002] Abu Ghaith previously issued video recordings of his statements (see October 10, 2001).
FBI Executive Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Dale Watson says he thinks Osama bin Laden is “probably” dead. According to the BBC, this is “thought to be the first time a senior US law enforcement official has publicly offered an opinion on whether bin Laden… is dead or alive.” “Is [bin Laden] alive or is he dead?” Watson says at a law enforcement conference in Washington, DC. “I am not really sure of the answer.… I personally think he is probably not with us anymore but I have no evidence to support that.” The BBC will add that “Watson’s comments suggest that the FBI, at least, has no firsthand information that confirms bin Laden is still alive.” However, other US officials tell the Associated Press they are surprised by Watson’s remarks, as the US administration’s official position remains that it does not know where bin Laden is, or whether he is still alive. [BBC, 7/18/2002]
Al-Qaeda videos. [Source: CNN]CNN reporter Nic Robertson obtains a large number of al-Qaeda videos in Afghanistan. The tapes show the organization’s capabilities in bomb-making and assassination techniques, and its efforts to develop chemical weapons (see Before December 2001). Among the 250 tapes obtained, many provide instructions in terror techniques. Others show al-Qaeda meetings with Osama bin Laden, or bin Laden interviews with journalists. Al-Qaeda’s global reach is also evident from the tapes provided by affiliated groups in Bosnia, Chechnya, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, Burma, Algeria, and Sudan. According to counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, the tapes show that al-Qaeda has become “an organization of organizations… waging a universal jihad campaign.” The earliest are from the 1980s; the latest include news reporting of the 9/11 attacks. “This is their history, the record room of Osama bin Laden,” says Gunaratna. “No terrorist organization is ever known to have put this much knowledge on videotape before,” reports CNN. [New York Times, 8/19/2002; CNN, 8/19/2002; CNN, 8/23/2002] CNN does not disclose how it obtained the material, except to say that a trusted source drove Robertson to a remote part of Afghanistan and that the tapes had been moved from their original location. [CNN, 8/19/2002]
This unnamed Pakistani intelligence agent was captured on undercover video in January 2001 as part of Operation Diamondback. [Source: Dateline NBC]MSNBC airs recordings informant Randy Glass made of arms dealers and Pakistani ISI agents attempting to buy nuclear material and other illegal weapons for bin Laden. [MSNBC, 8/2/2002] Meanwhile, it is reported that federal investigators are re-examining the arms smuggling case involving Glass “to determine whether agents of the Pakistani government tried to buy missiles and nuclear weapons components in the United States last year for use by terrorists or Pakistan’s military.” [Washington Post, 8/2/2002] Two such ISI agents, Rajaa Gulum Abbas and Abdul Malik, are already secretly indicted by this time. But Glass still says, “The government knows about those involved in my case who were never charged, never deported, who actively took part in bringing terrorists into our country to meet with me and undercover agents.” [Cox News Service, 8/2/2002] One such person may be a former Egyptian judge named Shireen Shawky, who was interested in buying weapons for the Taliban and attended a meeting in July 1999 in which ISI agent Rajaa Gulum Abbas said the WTC would be destroyed. [MSNBC, 8/2/2002; WPBF 25 (West Palm Beach), 8/5/2002] Others not charged may include Mohamed el Amir and Dr. Magdy el Amir.
Entity Tags: Randy Glass, Taliban, World Trade Center, Rajaa Gulum Abbas, Shireen Shawky, Pakistan, Mohamed el Amir, Osama bin Laden, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Magdy el Amir, Abdul Malik
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network
The envelope mailed to the Connecticut State Attorney’s Office. [Source: FBI]The Connecticut State Attorney’s Office receives a threatening letter containing a white powdery substance. The letter, addressed to US Attorney John A. Danaher, mentions anthrax, and references Osama bin Laden. Laboratory analysis will confirm that the white powder does not contain anthrax or any other toxins. The office will be closed for two days. The letter is later found to have been mailed from a prison in Cheshire, Connecticut, and the mailer is soon identified as inmate Noel Davila. Davila will confess to preparing and mailing the letter. He will be convicted of threatening to use weapons of mass destruction, and will be sentenced to 35 years in prison. [Associated Press, 9/23/2002; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2009]
Appearing on NBC’s Dateline, former CIA agent Robert Baer says the US collects virtually no intelligence about Saudi Arabia nor are they given any intelligence collected by the Saudis. He says this is because there are implicit orders from the White House that say: “Do not collect information on Saudi Arabia because we’re going to risk annoying the royal family.” On the same television program, despite being on a US list of suspected terrorist financiers since October 2001, Saudi millionaire Yassin al-Qadi says, “I’m living my life here in Saudi Arabia without any problem” because he is being protected by the Saudi government. Al-Qadi admits to giving bin Laden money for his “humanitarian” work, but says this is different from bin Laden’s militant activities. Presented with this information, the US Treasury Department only says that the US “is pleased with and appreciates the actions taken by the Saudis” in the war on terror. The Saudi government still has not given US intelligence permission to talk to any family members of the hijackers, even though some US journalists have had limited contact with a few. [MSNBC, 8/25/2002]
Wael Hamza Julaidan. [Source: Public domain, via Evan Kohlmmann]The US and United Nations designate Wael Hamza Julaidan a terrorist financier and freezes the funds of the Rabita Trust. Julaidan worked with bin Laden’s mentor Abdullah Azzam in the Muslim World League in Pakistan in the 1980s and was one of the founders of al-Qaeda in 1988 (see August 11-20, 1988). [US News and World Report, 12/15/2003] Julaidan’s name was on the “Golden Chain” list of early al-Qaeda funders (see 1988-1989), serving as an intermediary between bin Laden and Saudi multimillionaires. Beginning in 2000, he became director general of the Rabita Trust, a Pakistani charity which the UN determined has been funding al-Qaeda. The US froze the bank accounts of the Rabita Trust shortly after 9/11 due to suspected terrorist links, but the organization changed its name and continued to operate (see Mid-September-October 12, 2001). Julaidan is considered highly connected in Saudi Arabia and even though the Saudi government officially goes along with the terrorist designations of Julaidan and the Rabita Trust, some top Saudi officials publicly defend him. For instance, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nawaf bin Abdul Aziz publicly suggests that Julaidan is innocent. Julaidan is not arrested and the Saudi government offers no proof that they seized any of his or Rabita’s bank accounts. In December 2003, the Washington Post will report that US and UN officials believe Julaidan continues to work with charity fronts and handles large sums of money. [Washington Post, 12/14/2003; Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 100-101]
The top picture is of Waleed Alshehri. The bottom two pictures are said to be of hijackers planning the 9/11 attacks, but no faces are shown to help confirm this. [Source: Spiegel TV]Al Jazeera television broadcasts video footage in which bin Laden appears to take credit for the 9/11 attacks. Some of the video footage shows some 9/11 hijackers, including Ahmed Alnami, Hamza Alghamdi, Saeed Alghamdi, Waleed Alshehri, and Wail Alshehri, talking with each other and studying maps and flight manuals. At one point, hands are shown over maps of the US and the Pentagon, but no faces are shown as this happens. One section of the video is hijacker Abdulaziz Alomari reading last will and testament in which he praises Osama bin Laden (see September 9, 2002). Al Jazeera says the video was filmed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in early 2001. Additional footage has bin Laden hailing the hijackers as heroes, but there is no video footage of him saying this, only his voice over still photographs of the hijackers. The Financial Times will report, “But analysts cited the crude editing of the tapes and the timing of the broadcasts as reasons to be suspicious about their authenticity. The skepticism was deepened by Al Jazeera’s silence yesterday about how it had obtained the videos.” [Financial Times, 9/11/2002] Al Jazeera shows an interview of al-Qaeda leaders Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) around the same time (see September 8-11, 2002). Yosri Fouda, who allegedly was the one who interviewed bin al-Shibh and KSM several months earlier, will later claim that parts of the documentary were narrated by bin al-Shibh, although the voice is not identified as his. And bin al-Shibh was working on the documentary when the interview took place. [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 158-159]
Pictures of the hijackers from each team. The teams are listed from top to bottom, and hijackers in each team are listed clockwise from top left. Flight 11 (Abdulaziz Alomari, Mohamed Atta, Waleed Alshehri, Wail Alshehri, Satam Suqami); Flight 77 (Khalid Almihdhar, Hani Hanjour, Nawaf Alhazmi, Majed Moqed, Salem Alhazmi); Flight 93 (Ahmed Alhaznawi, Ziad Jarrah, Saeed Alghamdi, Ahmed Alnami), Flight 175 (Ahmed Alghamdi, Marwan Alshehhi, Hamza Alghamdi, Mohand Alshehri, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad). [Source: Al Jazeera] (click image to enlarge)Al-Qaeda appears to have martyr videos for most of the 9/11 hijackers. The Al Jazeera satellite network shows an hour-long video about al-Qaeda containing footage given to it from al-Qaeda of some of the 9/11 hijackers, including a martyr video from hijacker Abdulaziz Alomari (see September 9, 2002 and September 9, 2002). A martyr video from hijacker Ahmed Alhaznawi was shown in April 2002 (see April 15, 2002). But this new hour-long video contains images of each of the hijacker teams that hijacked Flights 11, 77, 93 and 175 on September 11. These images show pictures of each hijacker in the team floating over a background. The pictures of the four hijacker pilots appear to come from newspaper photographs, but the rest seem to come from other hijacker martyr videos that have yet to be released. All these martyr videos are said to have been recorded in late 2000 or early 2001 in Afghanistan (see (December 2000-March 2001)). As the pictures of the hijackers show up, a voice said to belong to Osama bin Laden praises each of them. He calls the hijackers “men who changed the course of history” for the better. [BBC, 9/10/2002] In future years, more hijacker martyr videos will be released, and images from these videos will match pictures of the hijacker teams in the hour-long 2002 video (see September 12, 2003, September 7, 2006, and September 19, 2008).
Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Waleed Alshehri, Ahmed Alghamdi, Abdulaziz Alomari, Ahmed Alnami, Satam Al Suqami, Wail Alshehri, Saeed Alghamdi, Majed Moqed, Hamza Alghamdi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Salem Alhazmi, Mohand Alshehri, Osama bin Laden, Ahmed Alhaznawi
Abdulaziz Alomari in his martyr video. [Source: Al Jazeera]A martyr video of 9/11 hijacker Abdulaziz Alomari is broadcast on the Al Jazeera satellite network. In it, Alomari gives a speech that he calls his last will and testament, and says: “I am writing this with my full conscience and I am writing this in expectation of the end, which is near. An end that is really a beginning.” He implores the US to “take your fat hands off the land of Arabs.… We will get you. We will humiliate you. We will never stop following you.… God praise everybody who trained and helped me, namely the leader Sheikh Osama bin Laden. May God bless him. May God accept our deeds.” It is believed that Alomari recorded the video around March 2001, the same time most of the other 9/11 hijackers recorded similar videos (see March 2001), and the background of a burning Pentagon was added digitally after 9/11. [CNN, 9/9/2002; Washington Post, 9/11/2002] Alomari’s speech is part of an hour-long al-Qaeda video broadcast on Al Jazeera (see September 9, 2002).
Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam). [Source: FBI]The New York Times reports that 10 out of the 24 al-Qaeda leaders considered most important by the CIA before 9/11 have been killed or captured. [New York Times, 9/10/2002] The four most important figures considered still at large are:
Osama bin Laden (Saudi). He will be killed in 2011 (see May 2, 2011).
Ayman al-Zawahiri (Egyptian).
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (Kuwaiti/Pakistani). He will be captured in 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003).
Saif al-Adel (Egyptian).
Other figures considered still at large are:
Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (Egyptian).
Mustafa Muhammad Fadhil (Egyptian).
Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah (Egyptian). He will be killed in 2006 (see April 12, 2006).
Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam) (Kenyan). He will be killed in 2009 (see January 1, 2009).
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul) (Comoros Islander). He will be killed in 2011 (see June 10, 2011).
Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian) (Mauritanian).
Amin ul-Haq (Afghan).
Midhat Mursi (Egyptian). He will be killed in 2008 (see July 28, 2008).
Anas al-Liby (Libyan). He may have been secretly captured already (see January 20, 2002- March 20, 2002).
Suliman abu Ghaith (Kuwaiti).
Saad bin Laden (Saudi). He apparently will be killed in 2009 (see July 22, 2009).
Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (Saudi). He will be captured in 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). [New York Times, 9/10/2002]
The four leaders captured are:
Abu Zubaida (Palestinian) (see March 28, 2002).
Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi (Yemeni) (see Late 2001 and February 7, 2002).
Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (Libyan) (see December 19, 2001).
Abu Zubair al-Haili (Saudi) (see June 8, 2002 and After). [New York Times, 9/10/2002]
Five of the six leaders believed killed are:
Mohammed Atef (Egyptian) (see November 15, 2001).
Abu Jaffa (a.k.a. Abu Jafar al-Jaziri) (Algerian).
Abu Salah al-Yemeni (Yemeni).
Tariq Anwar al-Sayyid Ahmad (Egyptian).
Muhammad Salah (a.k.a. Nasr Fahmi Nasr Hasanayn) (Egyptian). [New York Times, 9/10/2002]
The sixth leader believed killed is not named. One year after 9/11, US intelligence identifies 20 current high-ranking al-Qaeda leaders, though it is not mentioned who the six new leaders are who replaced some of the killed or captured leaders. [New York Times, 9/10/2002] This list of leaders, while instructive, is curiously incomplete because it fails to mention al-Qaeda leaders known as important to US intelligence before 9/11, such as Hambali, Khallad bin Attash, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Thirwat Salah Shehata, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, and Mohammed Jamal Khalifa.
Entity Tags: Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah, Muhammad Salah, Mohammed Atef, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Suliman abu Ghaith, Saif al-Adel, Saad bin Laden, Usama al-Kini, Midhat Mursi, Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid, Osama bin Laden, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Abu Jaffa, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi, Abu Salah al-Yemeni, Abu Zubaida, Abu Zubair al-Haili, Anas al-Liby, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Amin ul-Haq, Al-Qaeda
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
The White House publishes a 26-page government white paper titled, “A Decade of Deception and Defiance,” which seeks to demonstrate that Saddam Hussein represents a serious and imminent threat to the United States. The report, written by White House Iraq Group member James Wilkinson, relies primarily on public sources, including reports that have been published by human rights groups and the State Department, as well as various newspaper articles, including two by the New York Times. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 48] Section 5 of the report deals with “Saddam Hussein’s support for international terrorism,” though it makes no attempt to tie Hussein’s government to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden. It lists six points linking Saddam Hussein to terrorist activities, some dating as far back as the ‘70s. One of the points criticizes Iraq for its ties to the Mujahadeen-e Khalq Organization (MKO), an obscure militant Iranian dissident group whose main office is in Baghdad. The report says: “Iraq shelters terrorist groups including the Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MKO), which has used terrorist violence against Iran and in the 1970s was responsible for killing several US military personnel and US civilians.” The paper notes that the US State Department classified MKO as a “foreign terrorist organization” in 1997, “accusing the Baghdad-based group of a long series of bombings, guerilla cross-border raids and targeted assassinations of Iranian leaders.” [Newsweek, 9/26/2002 Sources: Richard Durbin] The administration is quickly ridiculed for making the claim when, two weeks later, Newsweek reports that MKO’s front organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, has a small office in the National Press Building in Washington, DC. It is also reported that only two years beforehand this very group had been supported by then-Senator John Ashcroft and more than 200 other members of Congress. On several issues the senator and his colleagues had expressed solidarity with MKO at the behest of their Iranian-American constituencies. [Newsweek, 9/26/2002] Another allegation included in the paper states that Iraqi defector Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a civil engineer, “had visited twenty secret facilities for chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.” According to the White House dossier, Haideri “supported his claims with stacks of Iraqi government contracts, complete with technical specifications.” Ten months earlier, the CIA had debriefed Haideri in Bangkok and concluded from the results of a polygraph that Haideri account was a complete fabrication (see December 17, 2001). [Executive Office of the President, 9/12/2002 ]
Mohammed Meguerba [Source: BBC]The first traces of the alleged ricin plot later uncovered in London in January 2003 (see January 7, 2003) are discovered in the wake of the arrest of an illegal Algerian immigrant. Mohammed Meguerba, later alleged to be the mastermind of the plot, is arrested in north London with various false IDs. An epileptic, Meguerba had entered Britain as an illegal immigrant. He had left his homeland in 1995 and traveled through Europe. He became a waiter in Ireland and married, divorced, remarried and, “by pure chance or cultural void,” said Algerian secret service, “allowed himself to be recruited by fundamentalists” at a Belfast mosque in 2000. Activists in London sent him to training camps in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden himself allegedly gave him a mission in Britain and supplied him with documentation and money. [Observer, 4/17/2005] After this training, Meguerba returned to London in March 2002. He went to the Finsbury Park mosque, where he began to work on crude poisons with fellow Algerian Kamal Bourgass. On September 18, 2002, Meguerba is arrested in London during an operation into suspected terrorist fundraising. But he is released on bail after suffering an epileptic fit, and then flees to Algeria. [London Times, 5/9/2005] On December 16, 2002, Meguerba is arrested in Algeria by security forces after allegedly being smuggled in by Islamist radicals. On December 28, police begin his interrogation. Within two days, he tells them that he had been working with an al-Qaeda cell in north London and had been helping them produce poisons at a flat. Authorities in Britain receive this information from the Algerian security forces on January 2 or 3. The Algerian intelligence report spurs British authorities into action. As well as information on the poison plot, it contains information on many individuals in Britain who are allegedly engaged in hard-line, violent Islamic radicalism. The report also suggests the existence of a number of terrorist cells in Britain. [Observer, 4/17/2005] Meguerba names Bourgass as ringleader and other Algerians as co-conspirators. [Independent, 4/17/2005] Meguerba had been held in a secret detention center for 17 months by the Algerian security service. His relatives are unaware he had been held from December 2002 until he was moved to a prison in Algiers. When they are finally permitted to visit him, Meguerba weighs 77 lbs and claims he has been badly tortured. These claims are backed up another Algerian man, residing in Britain, who was detained in Algiers in January 2003 and placed by his interrogators in a room with Meguerba, whom the man describes as “bruised, cut, and swollen.” Upon his appearance in an Algiers court, Meguerba appears frail and is missing teeth. The confession extracted from Meguerba during this time was the evidence that led to the Wood Green raid. However, during the later trial, the confession is not relied on by the prosecution as the allegations of torture could be raised by the defense. One source says “the Government has introduced the Human Rights Act but finds itself relying on regimes with appalling human rights records for information.” Algerian secret services deny the claims of torture. [London Times, 5/9/2005]
During a White House meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, George Bush makes the claim that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden work together. “They’re both risks, they’re both dangerous,” Bush tells reporters. “The danger is, is that they work in concert,” he says in response to a question from a Reuters reporter. “The difference, of course, is that al-Qaeda likes to hijack governments. Saddam Hussein is a dictator of a government. Al-Qaeda hides, Saddam doesn’t, but the danger is, is that they work in concert. The danger is, is that al-Qaeda becomes an extension of Saddam’s madness and his hatred and his capacity to extend weapons of mass destruction around the world. Both of them need to be dealt with. The war on terror, you can’t distinguish between al-Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror. And so it’s a comparison that is - I can’t make because I can’t distinguish between the two, because they’re both equally as bad, and equally as evil, and equally as destructive.” [Knight Ridder, 9/25/2002; Washington Post, 9/26/2002; US President, 9/30/2002; Center for Public Integrity, 1/23/2008] Later in the day, Bush’s comments are downplayed by White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who says that Bush did not mean bin Laden and Hussein are working together, but rather that there is the danger that they could work together. He explains: “Clearly, al-Qaeda is operating inside Iraq. In the shadowy world of terrorism, sometimes there is no precise way to have definitive information until it is too late.” [Washington Post, 9/26/2002; White House, 9/25/2003] Bush fails to mention that the Defense Intelligence Agency has found no evidence of any such connections (see July 2002), or that eight days before his statement, the director of the CIA, George Tenet, told a Senate committee that no such connections can be shown to exist (see September 17, 2002). [Center for Public Integrity, 1/23/2008]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says that Osama bin Laden is “probably” dead, but former Taliban leader Mullah Omar is alive. Karzai makes the comments in a CNN interview on the eve of the anniversary of the start of the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan. “I would come to believe that [bin Laden] probably is dead,” Karzai says. “But still, you never know. He might be alive. Five months ago, six months ago, I was thinking that he was alive. The more we don’t hear of him, and the more time passes, there is the likelihood that he probably is either dead or seriously wounded somewhere.” However, Mullah Omar is alive. “We know of that,” he says. “And we have come close to arresting him several times, but he’s been able to escape.” Karzai adds: “I believe he is most of the time inside Afghanistan. He could go, from time to time, toward our borders, but he stays around the Afghan area, sometimes close to the borders.” [CNN, 10/6/2002]
A man claiming to be Osama bin Laden calls for the overthrow of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in a message made public on this day. The man calls on “my Pakistani Muslim brothers… to get rid of the shameful Musharraf.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 230, 436] Despite this, Musharraf makes no serious attempt to disrupt an al-Qaeda safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region where most al-Qaeda leaders are believed to be hiding, and in fact elements of the Pakistani government continue to assist al-Qaeda there (see Late 2002-Late 2003). Musharraf will finally take some action against al-Qaeda’s presence in Pakistan after two failed assassination attempts against him in late 2003 (see December 14 and 25, 2003).
Saudi Arabia announces that Turki al-Faisal will be its next ambassador to Britain. Turki is a controversial figure because of his long-standing relationship to bin Laden. He has also been named in a lawsuit (see August 15, 2002) by 9/11 victims’ relatives against Saudi Arabians for their support of al-Qaeda before 9/11. It is later noted that his ambassador position could give him diplomatic immunity from the lawsuit. [New York Times, 12/30/2002] Turki’s predecessor as ambassador was recalled after it was revealed he had written poems praising suicide bombers. [Observer, 3/2/2003] Articles reporting on his new posting suggest that Turki last met bin Laden in the early 1990s, before bin Laden became wanted by the US for his anti-American militancy. [London Times, 10/18/2002; Guardian, 10/19/2002] However, these reports fail to mention other reported contacts with bin Laden, including a possible secret meeting in 1998 (see July 1998).
The US tightens immigration restrictions for 18 countries. All males over age 16 coming to the US from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, or Yemen must register with the US government and be photographed and fingerprinted at their local INS office.
[Washington Post, 11/7/2002; Newsday, 11/23/2002] Two countries not included are: Pakistan (the home country of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and many other al-Qaeda members) and Saudi Arabia (the home country of bin Laden and 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers). After criticism that they were not included, these two countries are added to the list on December 13, 2002. [New York Times, 12/19/2002]
Following six attacks by different radical Islamic groups in Tunisia (see April 11, 2002), Pakistan, Yemen (see October 6, 2002), Kuwait, Bali (see October 12, 2002), and Moscow, a new audio message is released by a man said by some to be Osama bin Laden, although the identity of the speaker will be disputed (see November 29, 2002). The voice on the tape outlines a principle he says he and his allies are using: reciprocity. He comments: “If it pains you to see your victims and your allies’ victims in Tunisia, Karachi, Failaka, and Oman, then remember that our children are murdered daily in Palestine and Iraq… If it pains you to see your victims in Moscow, then remember ours in Chechnya. How long will fear, killing, destruction, displacement, orphaning, and widowing be our sole destiny, while security, stability, and happiness is yours? This is injustice. The time has come to settle accounts. Just as you kill, so you shall be killed; just as you bomb, so you shall be bombed. And there will be more to come.” [Laden, 2005, pp. 173-5]
The release of an audio message by a man thought to be Osama bin Laden (see November 12, 2002) sparks several publications to run stories about the authentication of the voice on the tape. These articles make several points about voice analysis of apparent bin Laden recordings:
Machine analysis: Some aspects of voice identification are done my machine. Voice authentication software measures the acoustic qualities of a person’s voice, such as pitch, loudness, basic resonances, frequency, and amplitude. [New Scientist, 11/13/2002; Slate, 11/15/2002] This produces spectrographic information and can also be used to look for specific features of a voice, such as a nasal quality. In addition, every person creates the same sounds using a slightly different set of basic pitches, so the set of frequencies in bin Laden’s vowels, like those in “ea” from “fear,” will be marginally different from anyone else’s. By examining this frequency detail for every vowel and comparing them to previous examples, a machine analysis can tell if they are the same and were all said by him. [Slate, 11/15/2002] However, “People hardly ever pronounce the same word the same way twice, even in the same utterance,” says Robert Berkovitz, a speech analyst with Sensimetrics Corp. [CBS News, 11/13/2002]
Human analysis: Some aspects of voice identification are done by humans, who are, according to Slate, “very good at doing the kind of thing most people do subconsciously—telling if someone comes from a particular region by recognizing basic vowel and consonant qualities.” For example, a human analyst can tell whether the “Ye” sound in “Yemen” is of the right length and stress for bin Laden’s dialect. [Slate, 11/15/2002] Experts listen to previous recordings of bin Laden, and compare them syllable by syllable. [New Scientist, 11/13/2002; Slate, 11/15/2002] Experts can also verify whether words on a tape generally match those uttered by someone of bin Laden’s age and educational background. [Slate, 11/15/2002]
Quality of tape: According to Slate, the November tape is “allegedly very noisy and possibly went down a phone line at some point.” [Slate, 11/15/2002] However, the New Scientist reports, “Voice analysis experts say the quality of the recording appears good enough to determine if the recording is genuine.” It also quotes Steve Cain of Forensic Tape Analysis, a company that received snippets of the tape from US media, who says, “It seems like it is at least clear enough and there’s enough amplitude of that unknown speaker’s voice that if you had a known sample of bin Laden it would be possible.” [New Scientist, 11/13/2002]
Splicing: Analysis can determine whether a tape is spliced together. Potential red flags include hitches in timing and rhythm, removal of background noise, and different pitch to accommodate for differences in background noise. [Slate, 11/15/2002]
It makes no difference to voice analysis what language a recording is in. [CBS News, 11/13/2002]
Uncertainty: The New Scientist quotes Tomi Kinnunnen, an expert in computer analysis of speech at the University of Joensuu, Finland, as saying: “There is always the possibility of error.… But if you have a clean sample with little noise, you can quite reliably say [who it is].” [New Scientist, 11/13/2002] However, according to Slate, human and machine analyses can be “formidable,” but “neither type of analysis can say with 100 percent certainty that the speaker on the tape is bin Laden or anyone else.” [Slate, 11/15/2002] CBS finds that intelligence analysts are convinced the tape is from bin Laden, but “they will never be sure,” because “Computer voice analysis lacks the accuracy of fingerprint or DNA identification and can be hamstrung by a skilled impersonator or low-quality recording.” “You can say with some probability, but you can never be sure,” says Kenneth Stevens, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology expert on speech analysis and synthesis. “Where there’s a combination of strong motivation and relatively weak science, there’s an opportunity for deception,” adds Berkovitz. “You can’t put the voice in a slot and have it come out saying, ‘This is Joe Smith.’” [CBS News, 11/13/2002]
One analyst, Matsumi Suzuki of Japan Acoustic Lab, Tokyo, says that, although the recording seems genuine, the speaker sounds ill. [New Scientist, 11/13/2002]
Right wing journalist Arnaud De Borchgrave, writing for United Press International, claims that although the US has given millions of dollars to buy the loyalty of Pakistani tribal leaders in an attempt to learn more about al-Qaeda leaders, they are ignoring a cooperative tribal leader who has the best information on bin Laden’s whereabouts. De Borchgrave calls this leader a “good news source… his information [is] prescient and invariably accurate.” Since November 2001, De Borchgrave and others have given the name of this tribal leader to top US leaders, but the tribal leader still has not been contacted. De Borchgrave concludes from this lack of interest that perhaps neither Pakistan nor the US is actually interested in capturing bin Laden. He notes that some people are speculating that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf fears the US will lose interest in Pakistan and greatly reduce economic aid commitments once bin Laden is captured or killed. He also speculates that US leaders think getting bin Laden “might detract from the current ‘get [Saddam] Hussein’ priority objective” and trigger more terror attacks. [United Press International, 11/18/2002]
Assef Shawkat, head of Syrian intelligence. [Source: Agence France-Presse]German intelligence officials are able to interview Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg with some of the 9/11 hijackers, while he is being secretly held in a Syrian prison. Zammar was born and raised in Syria but later became a German citizen. He was arrested in Morocco in late 2001 and sent by the US to Syria for torture and interrogation (see October 27-November 2001 and December 2001).
Secret Deal between Syria and Germany - In July 2002, German officials met with Syrian officials at the German Federal Chancellery in Berlin. The Syrians were led by Assef Shawkat, a trusted associate and relative of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Germans included the heads of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) and the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA). The Syrians wanted the Germans to call off a German legal case that had charged two Syrians, one of them an employee at the Syrian embassy, with espionage. The Syrians also wanted Germany to call off an investigation into President Assad’s uncle, Faisal Sammak, for storing explosives at a diplomatic residence, which resulted in a 1983 bombing in Berlin that killed one person. The Germans in return wanted the Syrians to disband their network of spies in Germany, and they wanted access to Zammar. The Germans and Syrians struck a deal based on these demands. Shortly thereafter, German prosecutors dropped the charges against the two Syrians accused of espionage. In return, German officials are allowed to meet with Zammar as long as the meeting and all information from it remain secret.
Meeting with Zammar - On November 20, 2002, six German intelligence officials, including those from the BND and BKA, plus those from the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), go to Damascus, Syria, to see Zammar. The prison is notorious for frequently using torture, and the German officials cannot miss that Zammar has been ill-treated and tortured. In fact, Zammar used to weigh about 300 pounds, and he has lost around 100 pounds. Zammar speaks with surprising candor, perhaps feeling confident that the Germans will never be able to use his confession in any criminal case because he has been so clearly tortured by the Syrians. Zammar admits that he attended a militant training camp in Afghanistan in 1991. He attended another Afghan camp in 1994, where he learned how to use poison and various weapons. In the summer of 1995, he fought with the Bosnian Muslims against the Serbs. In September 2000, he says he brought money to Afghanistan for al-Qaeda and even had a face-to-face meeting with Osama bin Laden (see September-October 2000).
Zammar's Link to the 9/11 Plotters - Zammar claims that he met 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta at the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg in 1996, and met hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh soon thereafter. He met hijacker Marwan Alshehhi in 1998, and had more contact with him. Zammar claims he helped Atta, bin al-Shibh, Alshehhi, and hijacker Ziad Jarrah get to Afghanistan in late 1999. However, when they returned, he only heard a general account of their training and he was not told anything about the 9/11 plot. Zammar had a sense that something big was happening, because in early September 2001, many of the members of the Hamburg cell left Germany for Afghanistan around the same time. For instance, when cell member Said Bahaji left Germany (see September 3-5, 2001), Zammar and some other friends (including Mounir El Motassadeq and Abdelghani Mzoudi) accompanied him to the airport to say goodbye. The German officials realize that Zammar may not be as honest about his knowledge of the 9/11 plot as he is with other details, but they are fairly certain from their intelligence investigation that he supported the hijackers in a general way without having detailed foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 11/21/2005] However, in 2003 it will emerge that another al-Qaeda operative told investigators that Zammar told him in August 2001 to leave Germany very soon because something big was about to happen (see August 2001). So Zammar may not have been honest on his knowledge of the 9/11 plot. [Los Angeles Times, 1/30/2003]
Intelligence Cannot Be Used - The German officials show Zammar a series of photographs of suspected German militants and ask him to identify them. He does identify and discuss some of them, including German businessman Mamoun Darkazanli. Discussions with Zammar continue for three days. However, none of his confession will subsequently be used in any court cases. Der Spiegel will later comment, “The six officials [who questioned Zammar] and their agencies know full well that no court operating under the rule of law would ever accept an interrogation conducted in a Damascus prison notorious for its torture practices.”
Secret Deal Falls Apart - German officials plan to return to Syria and question Zammar some more. However, this never happens because the Syrians renege on their part of the deal, after they fail to cut back on their spying efforts in Germany. One anonymous German official will later say, “The [deal] was an attempt, but we now know that it was a mistake.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 11/21/2005]
Entity Tags: Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Said Bahaji, Shu’bat al-Mukhabarat al-‘Askariyya, Osama bin Laden, Ziad Jarrah, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Mounir El Motassadeq, Bundeskriminalamt Germany, Al-Qaeda, Assef Shawkat, Bashar Assad, Abdelghani Mzoudi, Mohamed Atta, Bundesnachrichtendienst, Marwan Alshehhi, Mamoun Darkazanli, Faisal Sammak, Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The authenticity of a new audio tape purportedly made by bin Laden, in which he praises recent attacks in Bali, Kuwait, Yemen and Moscow (see November 12, 2002), is disputed by Swiss voice analysts. US officials believe the voice is “almost certainly” bin Laden, but the Dalle Molle Institute for Perceptual Artificial Intelligence in Switzerland, one of the world’s leading voice-recognition institutes, is 95 percent certain the tape is a forgery. [BBC, 11/13/2002; BBC, 11/18/2002; BBC, 11/29/2002; Toronto Star, 12/16/2002] Two weeks after it was broadcast, a British newspaper publishes the complete text of a “letter to the American people,” purportedly written by bin Laden. [Observer, 11/25/2002] However, “diplomats [are] skeptical about the authenticity of the document.” [Guardian, 10/15/2002] The institute will not continue to analyse bin Laden’s speeches (see February 12, 2003).
Mohammed al-Khatani, the alleged would-be “20th 9/11 hijacker,” reveals crucial information about Osama bin Laden’s courier, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed. US intelligence already knows some details about Ahmed, based on interrogations of other prisoners, but they only know him by his alias Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti and they don’t yet know how important a courier he is. Around this time, al-Khatani faces harsh interrogation techniques that even a senior Bush administration official will later say meet the legal definition of torture (see January 14, 2009). Al-Khatani gives the name “Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti” (with two A’s in Ahmed). He says that Ahmed is a “senior al-Qaeda facilitator” and a “courier” who worked for 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and others. When al-Khatani was preparing to be one of the 9/11 hijackers, Ahmed gave him computer training in Karachi, Pakistan, “for his mission to the United States,” on KSM’s orders, indicating that Ahmed had some level of foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. He also says that Ahmed was seen in the Tora Bora mountains in late 2001, and it is possible Ahmed was one of the people with bin Laden in Tora Bora before bin Laden disappeared. [MSNBC, 5/4/2011]
The CIA makes a fake video of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, although the video is apparently never used. The video shows bin Laden and some associates of his sitting around a campfire, swigging bottles of liquor and talking about having had sex with boys, according to a former CIA official. The actors are drawn from “some of us darker-skinned employees,” the official will say. The timing of this effort is unclear, although it is apparently linked to discussions about making similar videos, including one of a fake Saddam Hussein having sex with a boy, prior to the 2003 Iraq invasion (see Before March 20, 2003). According to another former officer, the projects grind to a halt as nobody can come to an agreement on them. In particular, they are opposed by Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt and his deputy, Hugh Turner, who keeps “throwing darts at it.” The officer will say that the ideas are ridiculous and, “They came from people whose careers were spent in Latin America or East Asia,” and do not understand the cultural nuances of the region. “Saddam playing with boys would have no resonance in the Middle East—nobody cares,” a third former official will say. “Trying to mount such a campaign would show a total misunderstanding of the target. We always mistake our own taboos as universal when, in fact, they are just our taboos.” After the CIA abandons the projects, they are apparently revived by the military. “The military took them over,” one former official will say. “They had assets in psy-war down at Ft. Bragg,” at the Army’s Special Warfare Center. The projects will be revealed in the Washington Post in 2010. [Washington Post, 5/25/2010]
French special forces soldiers later interviewed for a documentary film will claim that they had Osama bin Laden in their sights once in 2003 and once in 2004 but were never given the go-ahead to fire from their US superiors. One French soldier says, “In 2003 and 2004 we had bin Laden in our sights. The sniper said ‘I have bin Laden’.” It then reportedly takes two hours for the request to shoot to reach US officers who could authorize it, but the French soldier says, “There was a hesitation in command,” and the authorization never came. Four French soldiers are interviewed who back up this claim, but a French military spokesperson denies it. France has roughly 200 elite troops operating under US command near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan at the time. [Reuters, 12/19/2006; CBC News, 12/22/2006]
The final version of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s report is heavily censored. [Source: Agence France-Presse]The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry is originally expected to release its complete and final report in January 2003, but the panel spends seven months negotiating with the Bush administration about what material can be made public, and the final report is not released until July 2003. In late March 2003, the US launches an attack on Iraq, beginning a long war. [Washington Post, 7/27/2003] The administration originally wanted two thirds of the report to remain classified. [Associated Press, 5/31/2003] The inquiry concluded in July 2002 that Mohamed Atta never met with an Iraqi agent in Prague, as some have claimed, but it is unable to make that conclusion public until now (see Late July 2002). Former Senator Max Cleland (D-GA), a member of the 9/11 Commission, will later claim: “The administration sold the connection [between Iraq and al-Qaeda] to scare the pants off the American people and justify the war. There’s no connection, and that’s been confirmed by some of bin Laden’s terrorist followers.… What you’ve seen here is the manipulation of intelligence for political ends. The reason this report was delayed for so long—deliberately opposed at first, then slow-walked after it was created—is that the administration wanted to get the war in Iraq in and over… before [it] came out. Had this report come out in January  like it should have done, we would have known these things before the war in Iraq, which would not have suited the administration.” [United Press International, 7/25/2003] Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), one of the inquiry’s chairmen, also suspects that the administration deliberately does not hurry the declassification process along. However, he thinks this is because there is a “direct line between the terrorists and the government of Saudi Arabia.” According to author Philip Shenon, Graham thinks the administration wants to keep this material from the public because of its “determination to keep Saudi oil flowing to the United States.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 50-51]
Chak Shah Mohammad Khan. [Source: DPA] (click image to enlarge)From 2003 until late 2005, Osama bin Laden allegedly lives in a town near Abbottabad, Pakistan. Abbottabad is where he will be killed in 2011 (see May 2, 2011). This is according to Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah, one of bin Laden’s three wives, who will reportedly be with bin Laden when US Special Forces raid his Abbottabad compound and kill him. After the raid, Amal will talk to Pakistani investigators. She reportedly will tell them that bin Laden moves with his family to Chak Shah Mohammad Khan, a village about a mile from the town of Haripur. Haripur, in turn, is 22 miles south of Abbottabad and 40 miles north of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. They will move to the Abbottabad compound in late 2005 (see Late 2005-Early 2006) and stay there until the raid that kills bin Laden in 2011. [Dawn (Karachi), 5/7/2011] After bin Laden’s wife mentions bin Laden’s stay in Chak Shah Mohammad Khan in May 2011, the village will be visited by many journalists and officials. It is an extremely isolated and poor village, with no phone lines and no Internet (although some do use cell phones). Villagers say they have never seen bin Laden, and most say they have never even heard of him, and have no idea what he looks like. However, most villagers also do not rule out that he could have hidden nearby. There are a series of abandoned caves near the village, and bin Laden’s wife has said they lived in one of the caves. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 5/9/2011]
The wife of Mouhannad Almallah gives a statement against her husband to police. She says that he systematically beats her. She also accurately describes in detail his Islamist militant ties:
She says that militants regularly met at her apartment. She and her husband have just moved, and militant continue to meet at their new apartment on Virgen del Coro street in Madrid.
She says that her husband lived with Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet for a month in December 2002. Mustapha Maymouni, Fakhet’s brother-in-law, visited as well. They moved when they felt they were suspected by police.
She saw her husband open several boxes and noticed they contained books and videos about Osama bin Laden.
Her husband and his brother, Moutaz Almallah, strongly suspect their phones are being monitored. Moutaz lives in London but frequently visits Spain (see August 2002).
She describes four particularly important meetings held in her apartment beginning in November 2002. Moutaz and Mouhannad Almallah, Fakhet, and Mayoumi attended all the meetings. Basel Ghalyoun attended the fourth one. In these meetings, they always speak of attack and jihad. They talk about bin Laden, but refer to him as “Emir.”
Sometimes her husband Mouhannad and Fakhet discuss Amer el-Azizi, who fled a police raid in November 2001 (see Shortly After November 21, 2001). She finds out they helped him escape Spain dressed as a woman. El-Azizi is believed to be linked to the 9/11 attacks (see Before July 8, 2001).
Both Mouhannad and Fakhet remain in contact with el-Azizi by e-mail. Her husband’s brother Moutaz does as well.
She occasionally sees her husband with Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino.”
Police apparently take her warnings seriously because they begin monitoring her apartment in March 2003 (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). Most of these people—Fakhet, el-Azizi, Ghalyoun, and both Almallah brothers—are already under surveillance (see December 2001-June 2002). [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/28/2005] All of the people she mentions are believed to have important roles in the 2004 Madrid bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), except for Maymouni, who will be arrested and jailed later in 2003 for having a pivotal role in the May 2003 Casablanca bombings (see May 16, 2003).
John le Carre. [Source: BBC]Famous spy novelist John le Carré, in an essay entitled, “The United States of America Has Gone Mad,” says “The reaction to 9/11 is beyond anything Osama bin Laden could have hoped for in his nastiest dreams. As in McCarthy times, the freedoms that have made America the envy of the world are being systematically eroded.” He also comments, “How Bush and his junta succeeded in deflecting America’s anger from bin Laden to Saddam Hussein is one of the great public relations conjuring tricks of history.” [London Times, 1/15/2003]
The British Defense Intelligence Staff Agency (DIS) completes a classified study which concludes that Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden’s earlier attempts to collaborate had “foundered” due to ideological differences. The report says: “While there have been contacts between al-Qaeda and the regime in the past, it is assessed that any fledgling relationship foundered due to mistrust and incompatible ideology.” Osama bin Laden’s objectives, notes the report, are “in ideological conflict with present day Iraq.” The top secret report is sent to Prime Minister Tony Blair and other senior members of his government. [United Kingdom, n.d.; BBC, 2/5/2003; Independent, 2/6/2003]
Secretary of State Colin Powell obtains an advance transcript of a new audio tape thought to be from Osama bin Laden before it is broadcast on Al Jazeera, but misrepresents the contents to a US Senate panel, implying it shows a partnership between al-Qaeda and Iraq. [CNN, 2/12/2003] Following Powell’s initial claim the tape exists, Al Jazeera says that it has no such tape and dismisses Powell’s statement as a rumor. [Associated Press, 2/12/2003] However, later in the day Al Jazeera says that it does have the tape. [Reuters, 2/12/2003] It is unclear how Powell obtains the advance copy, and Counterpunch even jokes, “Maybe the CIA gave Powell the tape before they delivered it to Al Jazeera?” [CounterPunch, 2/13/2003] In his testimony to the Senate Budget Committee Powell says, “[Bin Laden] speaks to the people of Iraq and talks about their struggle and how he is in partnership with Iraq.” [CNN, 2/12/2003] Powell’s spokesperson, Richard Boucher, says that the recording proves “that bin Laden and Saddam Hussein seem to find common ground.” [Reuters, 2/11/2003; New York Times, 2/12/2003; Washington Post, 11/12/2003] However, although bin Laden tells his supporters in Iraq they may fight alongside the Saddam Hussein, if the country is invaded by the US (see November 12, 2002), he does not express any direct support for the current regime in Iraq, which he describes as “pagan.” [CNN, 2/12/2003] A senior editor for Al Jazeera says the tape offers no evidence of ties between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. “When you hear it, it doesn’t prove any relation between bin Laden or al-Qaeda group and the Iraqi regime,” he argues. [ABC News, 2/12/2003] Several news reports also challenge Powell and Boucher’s interpretation. For example, CNN reveals that the voice had criticized Saddam’s regime, declaring that “the socialists and the rulers [had] lost their legitimacy a long time ago, and the socialists are infidels regardless of where they are, whether in Baghdad or in Aden.” [CNN, 2/11/2003; New York Times, 11/12/2003] Similarly, a report published by Reuters notes that the voice “did not express support for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein—it said Muslims should support the Iraqi people rather than the country’s government.” [Reuters, 2/11/2003]
Swiss voice analysts at the Dalle Molle Institute for Perceptual Artificial Intelligence decline to examine a new recording issued by a man thought to be Osama bin Laden (see February 11 or 12, 2003 and February 12, 2003). The institute previously analyzed a speech made by a man thought to be bin Laden and concluded that the speaker was not actually him (see November 29, 2002). The institute says that the previous analysis was done at the request of a French TV channel and was “mainly motivated by pure scientific curiosity.” It also says that the poor quality of that recording coupled with the limited number of voice examples meant that it was unlikely the recording could ever be properly authenticated. [Swissinfo (.org), 2/12/2003] However, US officials tell CNN that “this tape was of much better quality than the previous one presumed to be from bin Laden, which Al Jazeera broadcast in November.” [CNN, 2/12/2003] The institute does not analyze any later tapes thought to be released by bin Laden.
Popular Science magazine carries a rare interview with Tom Owen, a voice analyst who has worked on identifying Osama bin Laden in recordings allegedly released by the al-Qaeda leader. Owen worked for US media on the identification of bin Laden’s voice in a November 2002 recording (see November 12, 2002), assisted by a captain of the Saudi Interior Ministry’s forensics department he had apparently been teaching at the time. Owen, one of only eight forensic voice analysts certified by the American Board of Recorded Evidence, and other US experts identified the voice as bin Laden’s, although a Swiss facility disagreed (see November 29, 2002). The interview describes Owen’s lab and how he works, pivoting off the November recording. Owen criticizes the Swiss analysis, saying that the advanced biometrics software the Swiss used cannot work with the noise on the tape, as it is “designed to work with perfect samples.” Cleaning up the tape would not help, as this would remove the high and low frequencies a biometric system needs to make its identification.
Voice Identification Methodology - To identify voices, Owen uses a spectrograph, which produces spectrograms—“a kind of graphic speech rendering that has changed little since the 1940s”—that are then compared. His favorite tool for analyses is a “piece of vintage equipment—a reel-to-reel Voice Identification 700 spectrograph built in 1973,” which “differs little from the analog machines US Army intelligence officers built to identify and track German radio operators during World War II.” When analyzing a new recording thought to be from bin Laden, Owen compares the spectrograms it produces with spectrograms from a known bin Laden interview, such as one he granted to ABC in 1998 (see May 28, 1998). According to the magazine, there are “only a half-dozen words in common between the November tape and the ABC interview,” although the standards of the American Board of Recorded Evidence demand 20 identical words, preferably spoken in the same order.
Listening for 'Quirky Mannerisms' - However, Owen also listens for “the multitude of quirky mannerisms and pronunciation foibles peculiar to each voice,” because a trained ear can detect “the subtle whistle caused by a missing tooth, a person’s tendency to swallow in the middle of a sentence, even the way someone sets his or her jaw when speaking.” Owen plays the reporter what he calls a short-term memory tape, apparently a crucial tool in aural voice identifications. The spliced tape toggles between 2.5-second segments of bin Laden’s ABC interview and the November tape; Owen uses the tape to listen for peculiarities in a voice, especially when vowels are spoken. According to Owen, who says bin Laden’s voice is what the magazine calls “plenty peculiar,” the tape proves it is the “same guy” on the November tape and in the 1998 interview. However, the reporter comments: “To my untrained ear, it could be Darth Vader behind the static.… This is the sort of gray area that tends to make legal observers worry about the state of forensic science.”
Comments on NSA - According to the magazine, Owen’s technology is similar to that which the NSA probably uses to analyze voices, although Owen thinks the NSA has samples of bin Laden’s voice he does not. However, he does not think it has made biometric breakthroughs in analysis despite its advanced technology, which is “mostly devoted to listening.” [Popular Science, 2/24/2003]
Osama bin Laden allegedly attends a gathering of Islamist militants in Pakistan’s tribal region. In 2011, after bin Laden’s death, the New York Times will claim that an unnamed Pakistani militant leader alleges that he sees bin Laden in the spring of 2003. Accompanied by Arab and Chechen bodyguards, bin Laden arrives unexpectedly at a meeting of nearly 100 militants at a mountain village in North Waziristan. Apparently, bin Laden doesn’t make his presence known to the entire gathering. However, the militant leader meets him briefly inside a house, and he is sure it is bin Laden because he met him once, prior to the 9/11 attacks. This leader is an informant for the Pakistani military at this time, but he will not tell the Times if he passes this information on to his Pakistani handlers. He will also claim that from about 2002 to 2004, bin Laden moves from place to place in the tribal region. He speculates that after the US begins drone strikes in the tribal region in 2004, bin Laden moves to one of Pakistan’s towns outside of the tribal region where drone strikes don’t reach. [New York Times, 6/23/2011]
Shortly after the arrest of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) (see February 29 or March 1, 2003), US investigators will allegedly find out that he had recently met with Osama bin Laden. Later in 2003, authors Nick Fielding and Yosri Fouda will claim that not long after KSM is transferred from Pakistani to US custody, he confesses that he had met with bin Laden within the past two months. Bin Laden is said to be in good health. KSM met him in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan after a journey involving a complicated network of phone calls and couriers. He also says that bin Laden has been concentrating his forces in South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region, and bin Laden has formed an alliance with Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Fielding and Fouda will note that this story seems confirmed by the fact that within days of KSM’s arrest, residents in the town of Chaman in Baluchistan said that US aircraft dropped millions of leaflets mentioning the $25 million reward for bin Laden’s arrest. KSM also allegedly claims to know that al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri recently returned to Quetta, Pakistan, after spending time in the Middle East. Also within days of KSM’s arrest, millions of leaflets about al-Zawahiri and his reward are dropped in that region. [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 184] It is likely that KSM is tortured during this time (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003). KSM will later say, “During the harshest period of my interrogation, I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop” (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003).
The Los Angeles Times reports that, ironically, the man in charge of security for the nation where the US bases its headquarters for the Iraq war is a supporter of al-Qaeda. Sheik Abdullah bin Khalid al-Thani is the Interior Minister of Qatar. US Central Command and thousands of US troops are stationed in that country. In 1996, al-Thani was Religious Minister and he apparently let 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) live on his farm (see January-May 1996). Mohammed was tipped off that the US was after him. Some US officials believe al-Thani was the one who helped KSM escape, just as he had assisted other al-Qaeda leaders on other occasions. [Los Angeles Times, 3/28/2003] Another royal family member has sheltered al-Qaeda leaders and given over $1 million to al-Qaeda. KSM was even sheltered by Qatari royalty for two weeks after 9/11 (see Late 2001). [New York Times, 2/6/2003] Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, who has ties to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993), the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), and also attended the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), was sheltered by al-Thani’s religious ministry in 2000. [Newsweek, 9/30/2002] Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says al-Thani “had great sympathy for Osama bin Laden, great sympathy for terrorist groups, was using his personal money and ministry money to transfer to al-Qaeda front groups that were allegedly charities.” However, the US has not attempted to apprehend al-Thani or take any other action against him. [Los Angeles Times, 3/28/2003]
US troops in Saudi Arabia at some point before 9/11. [Source: PBS]On April 30, 2003, the US announces that it is withdrawing most of its troops from Saudi Arabia. About 10,000 US soldiers have been stationed there since the first Gulf War (see August 5, 1990 and After and March 1991). The withdrawal is completed by the end of August 2003. About several hundred US military personnel remain in the country to train Saudi forces and tend to military sales. The US moves the rest of its troops to new bases in Qatar and other Persian Gulf countries, as well as building new bases in Iraq, conquered just a month before the announcement. [Agence France-Presse, 8/26/2003] The withdrawal of US troops from Saudi Arabia has been bin Laden’s most persistent demand since the troops entered the country in 1990. For instance, in his 1996 fatwa (see August 1996), he said, “The latest and greatest of these aggressions incurred by Muslims since the death of the Prophet… is the occupation of the land of the two Holy Places… by the armies of the American Crusaders and their allies.” [Daily Telegraph, 4/30/2003] One senior US military official says the decision to leave was made partly to help relieve internal political pressure on the royal family: “The Saudis will be happy when we leave. But they’re concerned that it not look as if it’s precipitous, because it will look like bin Laden won.” [Washington Post, 4/30/2003] One unnamed senior Saudi prince who participated in high-level debates about the withdrawal says, “We are fighting for our lives, and we are going to do what is necessary to save our behinds.” [New York Times, 4/30/2003]
Nearly half the US intelligence agents and commandos in Afghanistan and Pakistan are reassigned to Iraq as the resistance begins intensifying there. Some politicians in Washington apparently privately complain that President Bush is easing the pressure on bin Laden. Many transferred to Iraq end up in an elite task force created in October 2003 to track down Saddam Hussein and other resistance figures. But there is no anticipated shift of personnel back to Afghanistan after Hussein is captured in December 2003. Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, will say shortly after Hussein’s capture, “Clearly, the resources devoted to bin Laden were diluted, but I don’t expect a switch back to Afghanistan just because of the capture of [Hussein].” [Knight Ridder, 12/14/2003]
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