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Author Roland Jacquard will later claim that in 1996, al-Qaeda revives its militant network in Bosnia in the wake of the Bosnian war and uses the Saudi High Commission (SHC) as its main charity front to do so. (Jacquard 2002, pp. 69) This charity was founded in 1993 by Saudi Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz and is so closely linked to and funded by the Saudi government that a US judge will later render it immune to a 9/11-related lawsuit after concluding that it is an organ of the Saudi government. (Hamblett 9/28/2005)
In 1994, British aid worker Paul Goodall is killed in Bosnia execution-style by multiple shots to the back of the head. A SHC employee, Abdul Hadi al-Gahtani, is arrested for the murder and admits the gun used was his, but the Bosnian government lets him go without a trial. Al-Gahtani will later be killed fighting with al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. (Schindler 2007, pp. 143-144)
In 1995, the Bosnian Ministry of Finance raids SHC’s offices and discovers documents that show SHC is “clearly a front for radical and terrorism-related activities.” (Burr and Collins 2006, pp. 145)
In 1995, US aid worker William Jefferson is killed in Bosnia. One of the likely suspects, Ahmed Zuhair Handala, is linked to the SHC. He also is let go, despite evidence linking him to massacres of civilians in Bosnia. (Schindler 2007, pp. 263-264)
In 1997, a Croatian apartment building is bombed, and Handala and two other SHC employees are suspected of the bombing. They escape, but Handala will be captured after 9/11 and sent to Guantanamo prison. (Schindler 2007, pp. 266)
In 1997, SHC employee Saber Lahmar is arrested for plotting to blow up the US embassy in Saravejo. He is convicted, but pardoned and released by the Bosnian government two years later. He will be arrested again in 2002 for involvement in an al-Qaeda plot in Bosnia and sent to Guantanamo prison (see January 18, 2002).
By 1996, NSA wiretaps reveal that Prince Salman is funding Islamic militants using charity fronts (Between 1994 and July 1996).
A 1996 CIA report mentions, “We continue to have evidence that even high ranking members of the collecting or monitoring agencies in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Pakistan - such as the Saudi High Commission - are involved in illicit activities, including support for terrorists” (see January 1996).
Jacquard claims that most of the leadership of the SHC supports bin Laden. The SHC, while participating in some legitimate charitable functions, uses its cover to ship illicit goods, drugs, and weapons in and out of Bosnia. In May 1997, a French military report concludes: ”(T)he Saudi High Commission, under cover of humanitarian aid, is helping to foster the lasting Islamization of Bosnia by acting on the youth of the country. The successful conclusion of this plan would provide Islamic fundamentalism with a perfectly positioned platform in Europe and would provide cover for members of the bin Laden organization.” (Jacquard 2002, pp. 69-71)
However, the US will take no action until shortly after 9/11, when it will lead a raid on the SHC’s Bosnia offices. Incriminating documents will be found, including information on how to counterfeit US State Department ID badges, and handwritten notes about meetings with bin Laden. Evidence of a planned attack using crop duster planes is found as well. (Schindler 2007, pp. 129, 284) Yet even after all this, the Bosnian government will still refuse to shut down SHC’s offices and they apparently remain open (see January 25, 2002).
After three months, none of the allegations that the US made against the six men arrested in Bosnia in October 2001 (see January 18, 2002) have been proven, and the Supreme Court of the Muslim-Croat Federation orders their release. The US refused to provide evidence in court that the men were tied to al-Qaeda, as alleged. After the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) says that four of the six men cannot be expelled from the country until it has ruled on their appeal against the retraction of their citizenship. A hearing is scheduled for February 11. (Kroeger 1/22/2002; CNN 1/18/2004; Priest and Stephens 5/11/2004) At least some of the six figures do seem to have ties to al-Qaeda. For instance, Saber Lahmar was convicted in Bosnia of attempting to blow up the US embassy there in 1997 (see 1996 and After). But the evidence against them is based on communications intercepts, and the US is unwilling to release any details about that information. The hearing never takes place, because the US takes custody of the men as they are released and renditions them to the Guantanamo prison (see January 18, 2002).
The US renditions six suspects to Guantanamo, even though their cases are under appeal in Bosnia. On October 8, 2001, Bosnian police arrested Bensayah Belkacem, an Algerian given Bosnian citizenship and living in Bosnia. US intelligence intercepted numerous phone calls between Abu Zubaida and other al-Qaeda leaders and Belkacem (see October 8, 2001). On October 16, a conversation was overheard in which US and British targets in Bosnia are mentioned, and a Bosnian associate of Belkacem’s named Saber Lahmar said to another associate, “Tomorrow we will start.” US and British embassies were shut down that night, and Lahmar and four associates - Al-Hajj Boudella, Lakhdar Boumediene, Mustafa Ait Idir, and Mohamed Nechle - were quickly arrested. Lahmar worked for the Saudi High Commission. In 1997 he was arrested and convicted of plotting to bomb the US embassy in Sarajevo, but then pardoned and released by the Bosnian government (see 1996 and After). Boudella was an elite al-Qaeda training camp trainer in Afghanistan and Bosnia, then worked at the Benevolence International Foundation, which the US declared a terrorism financier after 9/11 (see 1993). Belkacem’s other associates worked for other charities such as the Red Crescent society and Taibah International. (Purvis 11/12/2001) On January 18, 2002, the Bosnian government determines they don’t have enough evidence to charge the six men since the US will not share details of its communications intercepts. A high court rules that the men are not allowed to be deported until their appeals are heard. (Kroeger 1/22/2002) But the men are nonetheless released directly into the custody of US soldiers, who immediately fly them to the Guantanamo Bay prison. The handover is denounced as illegal by human rights groups. It is believed the US put intense pressure on Bosnia to hand them over. (Kroeger 1/22/2002; Shenon 1/23/2002) The Bosnian government, still not privy to the intercepts, will later clear them of all charges, but the US will continue to hold them in Guantanamo without revealing any of the evidence said to justify their detention. (Whitlock 8/21/2006)
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