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Profile: Omar Abdul-Rahman

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Omar Abdul-Rahman was a participant or observer in the following events:

Founded in 1976, Faisal Islamic Bank of Egypt (FIBE) is part of the banking empire built by Saudi Prince Mohammed al-Faisal. Several of the founding members are leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. The growth of Islamic banking directly funds the political growth of the Islamist movement and allows the Saudis to pressure poorer Islamic nations, like Egypt, to shift their policies to the right. The Islamic banking boom is closely associated with the neoliberal free-trade philosophy of the Chicago School of Economics, with the free-trade prescriptions of the International Monetary Fund, and with conservative think-tanks like the Virginia-based Islamic Free Market Institute. FIBE is also closely associated with the infamous Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which will be found to be deeply implicated in the illegal arms and narcotics trades, and with the funding of terrorist organizations when it collapses in 1991. Investigators will also find that BCCI held $589 million in “unrecorded deposits,” $245 million of which were placed with FIBE. (Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 164 - 175)

Ahmed Ben Bella, a former president of Algeria, reportedly holds a secret meeting at his Switzerland home attended by “major figures in some of the world’s most violent groups.” People attending the meeting include the Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (known as the “Blind Sheikh”); Youssef Nada, head of the Al Taqwa Bank and a major Muslim Brotherhood figure; and Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, a leading Lebanese Shi’ite Muslim scholar. US government sources believe Ben Bella, who is allegedly linked to violent Sudanese and Libyan groups, called the meeting to discuss ways to spread Muslim fundamentalism into the West. (Buffalo News 7/6/1993) Shortly after 9/11, a document called “The Project” written in 1982 will be found in Nada’s house. It outlines a secret Muslim Brotherhood plan to infiltrate and defeat Western countries (see December 1982).

Fawaz Damra.Fawaz Damra. [Source: Associated Press]By the mid-1980s, Osama bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam jointly founded a charity front based in Pakistan which is called Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) (which means “services office”) and is also known as Al-Kifah (which means “struggle”) (see 1984). Branches start to open in the US; the first one apparently opens in Tucson, Arizona, where al-Qaeda has a sleeper cell (see 1986). But around 1986, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, the right hand man of double agent Ali Mohamed, informally founds the branch in Brooklyn, New York, and it soon becomes the most important US branch. (Weiser, Sachs, and Kocieniewski 10/22/1998; Burr and Collins 2006, pp. 269-270) On December 29, 1987, three men, Mustafa Shalabi, Fawaz Damra, and Ali Shinawy, formally file papers incorporating Al-Kifah, which is called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. At first, it is located inside the Al Farouq mosque, which is led by Damra. But eventually it will get it own office space next to the mosque. Shalabi, a naturalized citizen from Egypt, runs the office with two assistants: Mahmud Abouhalima, who will later be convicted for a role in bombing the World Trade Center in 1993 (see February 26, 1993), and El Sayyid Nosair, who will assassinate a Jewish leader in New York in 1990 (see November 5, 1990). (Mitchell 4/11/1993; Hosenball 10/1/2001; Sullivan, Garrett, and Rutchick 11/4/2001) Jamal al-Fadl, a founding member of al-Qaeda and future FBI informant (see June 1996-April 1997), also works at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in its early days. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 155) The Brooklyn office recruits Arab immigrants and Arab-Americans to go fight in Afghanistan, even after the Soviets withdraw in early 1989. As many as 200 are sent there from the office. Before they go, the office arranges training in the use of rifles, assault weapons, and handguns, and then helps them with visas, plane tickets, and contacts. They are generally sent to the MAK/Al-Kifah office in Peshawar, Pakistan, and then connected to either the radical Afghan faction led by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf or the equally radical one led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. (Mitchell 4/11/1993) The CIA has some murky connection to Al-Kifah that has yet to be fully explained. Newsweek will later say the Brooklyn office “doubled as a recruiting post for the CIA seeking to steer fresh troops to the mujaheddin” fighting in Afghanistan. At the same time, the Brooklyn office is where “veterans of [the Afghan war arrived] in the United States—many with passports arranged by the CIA.” (Hosenball 10/1/2001) Robert I. Friedman, writing for New York magazine, will comment that the Brooklyn office was a refuge for ex- and future mujaheddin, “But the highlight for the center’s regulars were the inspirational jihad lecture series, featuring CIA-sponsored speakers.… One week on Atlantic Avenue, it might be a CIA-trained Afghan rebel traveling on a CIA-issued visa; the next, it might be a clean-cut Arabic-speaking Green Beret, who would lecture about the importance of being part of the mujaheddin, or ‘warriors of the Lord.’ The more popular lectures were held upstairs in the roomier Al-Farouq Mosque; such was the case in 1990 when Sheikh [Omar] Abdul-Rahman, traveling on a CIA-supported visa, came to town.” One frequent instructor is double agent Ali Mohamed, who is in the US Special Forces at the time (see 1987-1989). Bin Laden’s mentor Azzam frequently visits and lectures in the area. In 1988, he tells “a rapt crowd of several hundred in Jersey City, ‘Blood and martyrdom are the only way to create a Muslim society.… However, humanity won’t allow us to achieve this objective, because all humanity is the enemy of every Muslim.’” (Friedman 3/17/1995) Ayman Al-Zawahiri, future Al-Qaeda second in command, makes a recruiting trip to the office in 1989 (see Spring 1993). (Wright 9/9/2002) The Brooklyn office also raises a considerable amount of money for MAK/Al-Kifah back in Pakistan. The Independent will later call the office “a place of pivotal importance to Operation Cyclone, the American effort to support the mujaheddin. The Al-Kifah [Refugee Center was] raising funds and, crucially, providing recruits for the struggle, with active American assistance.” (Marshall 11/1/1998) Abdul-Rahman, better known as the “Blind Sheikh,” is closely linked to bin Laden. In 1990, he moves to New York on another CIA-supported visa (see July 1990) and soon dominates the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. Shalabi has a falling out with him over how to spend the money they raise and he is killed in mysterious circumstances in early 1991, completing Abdul-Rahman’s take over. Now, both the Brooklyn and Pakistan ends of the Al-Kifah/MAK network are firmly controlled by bin Laden and his close associates. In 1998, the US government will say that al-Qaeda’s “connection to the United States evolved from the Al-Kifah Refugee Center.” Yet there is no sign that the CIA stops its relationship with the Brooklyn office before it closes down shortly after the 1993 WTC bombing. (Weiser, Sachs, and Kocieniewski 10/22/1998)

Radical Muslim leader Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman obtains his first US visa via the CIA. A State Department official will later discover this was the first of six US visas given to him between 1986 and 1990. All are approved by CIA agents acting as consular officers at US embassies in Sudan and Egypt. “The CIA officers claimed they didn’t know the sheikh was one of the most notorious political figures in the Middle East and a militant on the State Department’s list of undesirables.” But one top New York investigator will later say, “Left with the choice between pleading stupidity or else admitting deceit, the CIA went with stupidity.” (Quinn-Judge and Sennott 2/3/1995; Friedman 3/17/1995) Abdul-Rahman uses the visas to attend conferences of Islamic students in the US. Then he visits Pakistan, where he preaches at Peshawar, visits the Saudi embassy in Islamabad, and is “lionized at receptions heavily attended by Americans.” He plays a prominent role in recruiting mujaheddin fighters to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. (Kepel 2002, pp. 300) In 1989, Abdul-Rahman is arrested in Egypt and held under very closely guarded house arrest, but he manages to escape one year later, possibly by being smuggled out of his house in a washing machine. The CIA gives him another US visa and he moves to the US (see July 1990). (Bernstein 1/8/1995) Journalist Simon Reeve will claim in his 1999 book The New Jackals that, “The CIA, it is now clear, arranged the visa[s] to try and befriend the Sheikh in advance of a possible armed fundamentalist revolution in Egypt.” According to a retired CIA official, the CIA recalled mistakes made with the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran and were trying to win Abdul-Rahman’s trust. (Reeve 1999, pp. 60)

The al-Kifah Refugee Center shared the same building as the Al-Farooq Mosque.The al-Kifah Refugee Center shared the same building as the Al-Farooq Mosque. [Source: National Geographic] (click image to enlarge)Ali Mohamed, while still an instructor at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (see 1986), frequently spends his weekends traveling to meet with Islamic activists at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 143-144) This center is the Brooklyn branch office of Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK)/Al-Kifah, which is a charity front in Pakistan closely tied to bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam. It also has ties to the CIA (see 1986-1993). Mohamed teaches the Islamic activists survival techniques, map reading and how to recognize tanks and other Soviet weapons. He frequently stays at the home of El-Sayyid Nosair (see November 5, 1990). In July 1989, the FBI monitors him teaching Nosair and some of the future members of the 1993 World Trade Center bomb plot how to shoot weapons (see July 1989). Towards the end of this period he informs his superiors that he has renewed his association with Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. (Weiser and Risen 12/1/1998; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 143-144) Mohamed will move to Brooklyn in May 1990 while also keeping a residence in Santa Clara, California. His connections to the Islamist network develop rapidly from this point on. (Weiser and Risen 12/1/1998; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 144)

Abdullah Azzam in Afghanistan.Abdullah Azzam in Afghanistan. [Source: Al Jazeera]The Boston Globe will later say that throughout the 1980s, the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, “was a spiritual leader of the CIA-backed mujaheddin.” (Sennott 6/21/1995) The Atlantic Monthly will later report that in the late 1980s in Peshawar, Pakistan, Abdul-Rahman “became involved with the US and Pakistani intelligence officials who were orchestrating the [Afghan] war. The sixty or so CIA and Special Forces officers based there considered him a ‘valuable asset,’ according to one of them, and overlooked his anti-Western message and incitement to holy war because they wanted him to help unify the mujaheddin groups.” He is unable to unify the groups, but he helps coordinate some of their activities. He tends to favor the two most radically anti-Western factions led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. He also has close links to Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden’s mentor. (Weaver 5/1996) According to Barnett Rubin, a Columbia University professor and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Azzam was also working with the CIA to help recruit for and unite the mujaheddin groups (see 1985-1989), and when he is assassinated in 1989, the CIA relies even more heavily on Abdul-Rahman. Rubin claims the CIA pays to send him back to Peshawar “to preach to the Afghans about the necessity of unity to overthrow the Kabul regime.” As a reward for his help, the CIA gives him a visa to the US, even though he is on a terrorism watch list (see July 1990). (Friedman 3/17/1995) One source who worked with the CIA supply operation at this time will later say that Abdul-Rahman’s ties to Hekmatyar, the CIA’s most favored Afghan warlord, “put Sheikh Omar in the [CIA’s] good books. And believe me, later on when the Sheikh wanted to come to the States, he cashed in those chips.” (Lance 2006, pp. 20)

The “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, visits London and gives several talks there to recruit fighters for the war in Afghanistan. The visits may be paid for by the CIA, which is said to be paying for his travel at this point and is also said to arrange US visas for him (see July 1990). The talks are attended by future extremist leader Abu Hamza al-Masri. (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 17-18)

Although the Soviets withdraw from Afghanistan in February 1989 (see February 15, 1989), the CIA continues to support the mujaheddin because the Soviet-allied Communist government stays in power in Kabul. Apparently, the CIA and the Saudi government continue to fund the mujaheddin at least until December 1990, although it could be longer because the Communist government remains in power in Kabul until 1992. The “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, reportedly has been working with the CIA in the 1980s to help unite the mujaheddin factions fighting each other (see Late 1980s). The Village Voice will later report that according to a “very high-ranking Egyptian official,” Abdul-Rahman continues to work with the CIA after moving to Brooklyn in July 1990 (see July 1990). He “work[s] closely with the CIA, helping to channel a steady flow of money, men, and guns to mujaheddin bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” But despite working with the CIA, Abdul-Rahman still considers the US the “Great Satan” and does not try to hide this. In one radio broadcast, he says that “Americans are descendants of apes and pigs who have been feeding from the dining tables of the Zionists, Communism, and colonialism.” Matti Steinberg, an expert on Islamic fundamentalism, says that Abdul-Rahman’s “long-term goal is to weaken US society and to show Arab rulers that the US is not an invulnerable superpower.” The Egyptian official will later complain, “We begged America not to coddle the sheikh.” (Friedman 3/30/1993)

Members of Egyptian militant group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, whose spiritual head is the ‘Blind Sheikh,’ Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, hold a series of secret meetings with US officials at the American embassy in Cairo. The meetings are initiated by Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, which wants to co-operate with the US, because it thinks the US is co-operating with and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. At the meetings, representatives of the group tell the US:
bullet Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya has between 150,000 and 200,000 members;
bullet One of the representatives at the meetings sat on Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya’s shura, or leadership council, between 1981 and 1988. The 11 members of the group’s shura are named at the meetings, as is its operational commander;
bullet Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya thinks highly of Saudi Arabian King Fahd, but believes he should take a stronger line against Iran. However, Abdul-Rahman met an Iranian delegation in Pakistan in autumn 1988;
bullet The group will not attack US diplomats;
bullet Abdul-Rahman travels to the US yearly, and also travels to Britain;
bullet The group is not as secret and violent as represented by the Egyptian government and has undergone a “change in thinking,” becoming concerned about its radical and violent image.
Embassy officials are skeptical about some of the claims, as the group’s representatives reveal more than the officials think is prudent. One year after the meetings, Abdul-Rahman will be issued a US visa by a CIA officer and move to the US (see July 1990). (US Embassy in Cairo 4/25/1989 pdf file; US Embassy in Cairo 5/3/1989 pdf file)

Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman.Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. [Source: FBI]Despite being on a US terrorist watch list for three years, radical Muslim leader Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman enters the US on a “much-disputed” tourist visa issued by an undercover CIA agent. (Friedman 3/30/1993; Weaver 5/1996; Lance 2003, pp. 42) Abdul-Rahman was heavily involved with the CIA and Pakistani ISI efforts to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan, and became famous traveling all over the world for five years recruiting new fighters for the Afghan war. The CIA gave him visas to come to the US starting in 1986 (see December 15, 1986-1989) . However, he never hid his prime goals to overthrow the governments of the US and Egypt. (Weaver 5/1996) FBI agent Tommy Corrigan will later say that prior to Abdul-Rahman’s arrival, “terrorism for all intents and purposes didn’t exist in the United States. But [his] arrival in 1990 really stoke the flames of terrorism in this country. This was a major-league ballplayer in what at the time was a minor-league ballpark. He was… looked up to worldwide. A mentor to bin Laden, he was involved with the MAK over in Pakistan.” The charity front Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) is also known as Al-Kifah, and it has a branch in Brooklyn known as the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. The head of that branch, Mustafa Shalabi, picks up Abdul-Rahman at the airport when he first arrives and finds an apartment for him. Abdul-Rahman soon begins preaching at Al Farouq mosque, which is in the same building as the Al-Kifah office, plus two other locals mosques, Abu Bakr and Al Salaam. (Lance 2006, pp. 53) He quickly turns Al-Kifah into his “de facto headquarters.” (Weaver 5/1996) He is “infamous throughout the Arab world for his alleged role in the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.” Abdul-Rahman immediately begins setting up a militant Islamic network in the US. (Friedman 3/30/1993) He is believed to have befriended bin Laden while in Afghanistan, and bin Laden secretly pays Abdul-Rahman’s US living expenses. (Weaver 5/1996; ABC News 8/16/2002) For the next two years, Abdul-Rahman will continue to exit and reenter the US without being stopped or deported, even though he is still on the watch list (see Late October 1990-October 1992).

In July 1990, the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, was mysteriously able to enter the US and remain there despite being a well known public figure and being on a watch list for three years (see July 1990).
bullet In late October 1990, he travels to London, so he is out of the US when one of his followers assassinates the Zionist rabbi Meir Kahane on November 5, 1990 (see November 5, 1990). He returns to the US in mid-November under the name “Omar Ahmed Rahman” and again has no trouble getting back in despite still being on the watch list. (Duke 7/13/1993)
bullet The State Department revokes his US visa on November 17 after the FBI informs it that he is in the US. (McKinley 12/16/1990)
bullet In December 1990, Abdul-Rahman leaves the US again to attend an Islamic conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. He returns nine days later and again has no trouble reentering, despite not even having a US visa at this point. (Duke 7/13/1993)
bullet On December 16, 1990, the New York Times publishes an article titled, “Islamic Leader on US Terrorist List Is in Brooklyn,” which makes his presence in the US publicly known. The Immigration and Nationalization Service (INS) is said to be investigating why he has not been deported already. (McKinley 12/16/1990)
bullet Yet in April 1991, the INS approves his application for permanent residence.
bullet He then leaves the US again in June 1991 to go on the religious hajj to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and returns on July 31, 1991. INS officials identify him coming in, but let him in anyway. (Mitchell 4/24/1993; Duke 7/13/1993)
bullet In June 1992, his application for political asylum will be turned down and his permanent residence visa revoked. But INS hearings on his asylum bid are repeatedly delayed and still have not taken place when the WTC is bombed in February 1993 (see February 26, 1993). (Lance 2003, pp. 105-106)
bullet Abdul-Rahman then goes to Canada around October 1992 and returns to the US yet again. The US and Canada claim to have no documentation on his travel there, but numerous witnesses in Canada see him pray and lecture there. Representative Charles Schumer (D-NY) says, “Here they spent all this time trying to get him out. He goes to Canada and gives them the perfect reason to exclude him and they don’t.”
bullet After the WTC bombing, the US could detain him pending his deportation hearing but chooses not to, saying it would be too costly to pay for his medical bills. (Mitchell 4/24/1993)
Abdul-Rahman will be involved in the follow up “Landmarks” plot (see June 24, 1993) before finally being arrested later in 1993. It will later be alleged that he was protected by the CIA. In 1995, the New York Times will comment that the link between Abdul-Rahman and the CIA “is a tie that remains muddy.” (MacFarquhar 10/2/1995)

The FBI is apparently under pressure to back off from investigating Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. One week after the murder of Zionist rabbi Meir Kahane, a long-time FBI counterterrorism expert meets with one of his top undercover operatives. According to the FBI agent, the undercover operative asks, “Why aren’t we going after the Sheikh [Abdul-Rahman]?” The FBI agent replies, “It’s hands-off.” He further explains, “It was no accident that the Sheikh got a visa and that he’s still in the country. He’s here under the banner of national security, the State Department, the NSA, and the CIA.” The agent concludes that Abdul-Rahman is untouchable. Noting how the government is already firmly suggesting that El Sayyid Nosair was the only one involved in Kahane’s murder, he says, “I haven’t seen the lone-gunman theory advocated [so forcefully] since John F. Kennedy.” (Friedman 3/30/1993) The FBI will also fail to look at a wealth of evidence suggesting others were involved in the assassination (see November 5, 1990 and After).

Around February 28, 1991, Mustafa Shalabi, head of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center’s main US office in Brooklyn, is murdered. Al-Kifah is a charity front with ties to both the CIA and al-Qaeda (see 1986-1993). Shalabi’s body is found in his house on March 1. He had been shot and stabbed multiple times and $100,000 was stolen. Shalabi is found with two red hairs in his hand, and the FBI soon suspects Mahmud Abouhalima, who is red-headed, for the murder. Abouhalima identified Shalabi’s body for the police, falsely claiming to be Shalabi’s brother. He will later be one of the 1993 WTC bombers. Shalabi had been having a growing public dispute with the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, over where to send the roughly one million dollars Al-Kifah was raising annually. Abdul-Rahman wanted some of the money to be used to overthrow the Egyptian government while Shalabi wanted to send all of it to Afghanistan. Shalabi had given up the fight and had already booked a flight to leave the US when he was killed. The murder is never solved. (Lance 2003, pp. 49-52; Lance 2006, pp. 65-66) Abdul Wali Zindani takes over as head of Al-Kifah and apparently will run the office until it closes shortly after the 1993 WTC bombing. He is nephew of Sheikh Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, a radical imam in Yemen with ties to bin Laden. Abdul-Rahman, also linked to bin Laden, increases his effective control over Al-Kifah and its money. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 82) Al-Kifah’s links to al-Qaeda were already strong before Shalabi’s death. But author Peter Lance will later comment that after his death, “Osama bin Laden had an effective al-Qaeda cell right in the middle of Brooklyn, New York. A tough look at the Shalabi murder might have ripped the lid off al-Qaeda years before the FBI ever heard of the network.” (Lance 2003, pp. 52)

Elfatih Hassanein (center).Elfatih Hassanein (center). [Source: Magyar Iszlam]In 1987, a Sudanese man named Elfatih Hassanein found the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA). By mid-1991, Bosnian President Izetbegovic contacts Hassanein, who he has known since the 1970s. The two men agree to turn TWRA from an obscure charity into what the Washington Post will later call “the chief broker of black-market weapons deals by Bosnia’s Muslim-led government and the agent of money and influence in Bosnia for Islamic movements and governments around the world.” A banker in Vienna will later call Hassanein the “bagman” for Izetbegovic. “If the Bosnian government said we need flour, he ran after flour. If they said we need weapons, he ran after weapons.” (Pomfret 9/22/1996; Schindler 2007, pp. 148) The TWRA is controlled by a committee composed of Hassanein and:
bullet Hasan Cengic. He is in charge of arming a Bosnian militia run by the SDA party (see June 1991).
bullet Irfan Ljevakovic.
bullet Husein Zivalj.
bullet Dervis Djurdjevic.
All of them are important members of Izetbegovic’s SDA party, and all but Ljevakovic were codefendants with Izetbegovic in a 1983 trial. Most payments require the approval of three of the five, except for amounts greater than $500,000, in which case Izetbegovic has to give approval. The corruption from these higher-ups is said to be incredible, with up to half of all money passing through the TWRA going into their pockets. (Schindler 2007, pp. 148-152) The TWRA is based in Vienna, Austria, and Izetbegovic personally guarantees Hassanein’s credentials with banks there. Soon, machine guns, missiles and other weapons are being shipped into Bosnia in containers marked as humanitarian aid. Hassanein is a member of Sudan’s government party and a follower of top Sudanese leader Hassan al-Turabi. Just like al-Turabi, he works with bin Laden and the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. He becomes the main agent in Europe for marketing and selling video and audio tapes of Abdul-Rahman’s sermons. In March 1992, the Sudanese government gives him a diplomatic passport and he uses it to illegally transport large amounts of cash from Austria into Bosnia without being searched. (Burr and Collins 2006, pp. 140-141) The Saudi Arabian government is the biggest contributor to TWRA, but many other governments give money to it too, such as Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Brunei, Turkey, and Malaysia. Bin Laden is also a major contributor. (Pomfret 9/22/1996) Author John Schindler will later note, “Relations between bin Laden and TWRA were close, not least because during the Bosnian war the al-Qaeda leadership was based in Khartoum, Sudan, under the protection of the Sudanese Islamist regime that was the ultimate backer of Hassanein and his firm.” TWRA also works closely with the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and most other charity fronts in Bosnia. (Schindler 2007, pp. 151-152) A later study by the Bosnian government with help from Western intelligence agencies will determine that at least $2.5 billion passed through the TWRA to Bosnia between 1992 and 1995. The study will call the TWRA “a group of Bosnian Muslim wartime leaders who formed an illegal, isolated ruling oligarchy, comprising three to four hundred ‘reliable’ people in the military commands, the diplomatic service, and a number of religious dignitaries.… It was this organization, not the Government [of Bosnia], that controlled all aid that Islamic countries donated to the Bosnian Muslims throughout the war.” (Schindler 2007, pp. 149-150)

El Sayyid Nosair.El Sayyid Nosair. [Source: FBI]El-Sayyid Nosair is acquitted of killing Meir Kahane (see November 5, 1990), leader of the Jewish Defense League, but convicted of firearms offenses connected with his shooting of two witnesses during his attempt to flee. The judge will declare that the acquittal verdict “defie[s] reason” and sentence Nosair to 22 years by applying maximum sentences to his convictions on the other charges. (Friedman 3/30/1993; Marshall 11/1/1998; Lance 2003, pp. 65) The prosecution of Nosair was hobbled by the US government’s absolute refusal to acknowledge the possibility that the murder was anything other than the work of a “lone deranged gunman” despite information gained during the course of the investigation provided by an FBI operative that he had “very close” ties to the radical imam Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. Many boxes of evidence that could have sealed Nosair’s guilt on the murder charge and also shown evidence of a larger conspiracy were not allowed as evidence. (Friedman 3/30/1993; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 44-46) A portion of Nosair’s defense fund is paid for by bin Laden, but this will not be discovered until some time later. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 8/16/2002) District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who prosecuted the case, will later speculate the CIA may have encouraged the FBI not to pursue any other leads. Nosair worked at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center which was closely tied to covert CIA operations in Afghanistan (see Late 1980s and After). (Friedman 3/17/1995)

Al-Qaeda operative Khalil Deek runs military training camps in Southern California in the early 1990s. Those trained in the camps include followers of the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, and some of the people involved in the 1993 “Landmarks” plot (see June 24, 1993). Deek is a member of an al-Qaeda sleeper cell based in Orange County and has reportedly been under investigation by US intelligence since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s). Rita Katz, a private counterterrorism expert who sometimes works with US officials, will learn of these camps when speaking to an FBI agent in early 2002. According to Katz, she is told that the FBI had known about the camps for “years” but had not acted because of the “wall” between criminal and intelligence investigations. The FBI agent will tell Katz that the information about the camps was “Intel information. Unusable.” (Katz 2003, pp. 186-187) Deek also attracts attention for his suspected involvement with Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the militant group led by Abdul-Rahman, because of the group’s plans “to bomb a Masonic temple in Los Angeles.” (Anderson 9/15/2005) Katz will conclude that “the FBI had learned that Deek was running military training camps for al-Qaeda in California and was planning to blow up various American targets. And the agency let these people go about their business undisturbed.” (Katz 2003, pp. 186-187) Around the same time, Deek also works in Bosnia for a charity suspected of funneling weapons and new recruits to the mujaheddin fighting there (see Early 1990s). In late 1999, Deek will be captured overseas for participation in a planned millennium bombing (see December 11, 1999). It will later be alleged that he was a mole for the Jordanian government (see Shortly After December 11, 1999).

Emad Salem.Emad Salem. [Source: National Geographic]In mid-June 1992, FBI informant Emad Salem talks to El Sayyid Nosair, who is in prison for killing Zionist leader Rabbi Meir Kahane (see November 5, 1990). Nosair and an associate of his named Ali Shinawy reveal to Salem that their group (all of whom are close to Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman) is plotting to set off bombs at twelve “Jewish locations” in New York City, including temples and banks. A few days later, Nossair’s cousin Ibrahim El-Gabrowny introduces Salem to “Dr. Rashid,” which is an alias for Clement Rodney Hampton-El, although Salem does not know that yet. “Dr. Rashid” says he is unable to get the remote bomb detonators the group wants, but he can get already assembled pipe bombs for about $1,000 apiece, and guns. Salem and Shinawy agree to find a warehouse where they can build the bombs. Salem tells all of this to his FBI handlers Louis Napoli and John Anticev, but their boss, Carson Dunbar, insists that Salem has to wear a wire so they can record conversations in order to get the evidence to make a convincing court case against the plotters. But Salem, who is only being paid $500 a week to inform for the FBI, refuses to wear a wire, saying it is too dangerous. The FBI had been able to corroborate most of Salem’s information through their own surveillance such as the monitoring of Nosair’s calls from prison. But even though Salem is easily the FBI’s best source of information on Abdul-Rahman’s group, the FBI fires Salem in early July 1991. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 70-75) The FBI had a long tradition of having pure intelligence agents who did not wear wires. One FBI source will later note that the FBI could have easily gotten what they needed to make a criminal case without Salem wearing a wire. “It would just take a little more work. We’d have to take his leads and do surveillance. Follow these guys and contain the threat. This is what the FBI does.” (Lance 2003, pp. 92) Author Peter Lance will later comment that without Salem, “Now, when it came to Nosair, the bombing plot, and Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, the [FBI] was essentially flying blind.” The FBI will be unaware as the “Jewish locations” plot morphs into a plot to bomb the World Trade Center over the next several months. (Lance 2003, pp. 92)

Osama Basnan, who will later be accused of assisting two 9/11 hijackers in San Diego (see December 4, 1999), throws a party for the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. The party is held at Basnan’s house in Washington, DC. In 1993, the FBI will receive reports about Basnan hosting this party. In 1992, the FBI was told that Basnan had a link to the Eritrean Islamic Jihad, a militant group later linked to al-Qaeda (see May-December 1992). Furthermore, records indicate Basnan entered the US in 1980 on a guest visa and has been in the country illegally ever since. But the FBI fails to investigate Basnan and no effort is made to deport him. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/3/2001 pdf file; US Congress 7/24/2003 pdf file) A post-9/11 FBI report will indicate that in 1992 Basnan is working for the Saudi government in some capacity, but details of his job will remain classified (see October 3, 2001).

Beginning in November 1992, Egyptian intelligence repeatedly warns US intelligence that Sheikh Abdul-Rahman’s principal mosques in the US, the Al Salaam and Al Farouq mosques in Brooklyn, are “hotbeds of terrorist activity,” and that Abdul-Rahman is plotting a new round of terrorist attacks in Egypt. The Al-Kifah Refugee Center charity front is based inside the Al Farouq mosque (see 1986-1993). One Egyptian official later says, “There were many, many contacts between Cairo and Washington.” On November 12, 1992, members of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya militant group led by Abdul-Rahman machine-guns a bus-load of Western tourists in Egypt, injuring five Germans. (Friedman 3/30/1993) Between February 6 and 11, 1993, some FBI agents travel to Cairo, Egypt, to discuss Egyptian concerns with officials there. The Egyptians are said to warn about certain terrorist cells in the US connected to Abdul-Rahman but do not specifically warn about the WTC bombing. (Jehl 4/6/1993) Perhaps as a result of these concerns, on February 13, the FBI obtains a FISA warrant and begins tapping Abdul-Rahman’s phone calls. (Lance 2003, pp. 103) Shortly after the WTC bombing two weeks later (see February 26, 1993), Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will say that the bombing could have been prevented if Egypt’s warnings had been heeded. (Jehl 4/6/1993)

In mid-November 1992, Garrett Wilson, an FBI informant who sells military equipment and conducts paramilitary training, is contacted by someone named “Dr. Rashid.” Wilson had previously been contacted by Abu Ubaidah Yahya, the security chief at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn, a charity front tied to both al-Qaeda and the CIA (see 1986-1993). Wilson’s FBI handlers are excited to learn about this because in June 1992, a “Dr. Rashid” had met with FBI informant Emad Salem and offered to supply bombs and guns (see Early July 1992). The FBI runs a background check and determines “Dr. Rashid” is really Clement Rodney Hampton-El, who works at a hospital in Long Island. The also learn from phone records that he has recently made calls to the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. On December 20, 1992, Wilson meets with Yahya and Hampton-El. They tell him that they want him to train eight to ten men for an international jihad battalion separate from another small group Al-Kifah wants Wilson to help train (see October 3, 1992). Hampton-El says he will provide AK-47s for the training sessions, but is looking for detonator caps, which are needed to make bombs. He also says the group will be sent to fight in Bosnia, but they are asking to be instructed in sniper firing and frontal assaults on buildings. Wilson tells FBI agent Tommy Corrigan, “It sounds to me like they either want to kidnap or kill someone.” Corrigan and other FBI agents are alarmed. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 83-84)

Friday prayers outside the Islamic Cultural Institute, on October 19, 2001. Friday prayers outside the Islamic Cultural Institute, on October 19, 2001. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]The Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, Italy, has numerous ties to terrorist activities during this period and after 9/11, and the Treasury Department will call the mosque “the main al-Qaeda station house in Europe.” It is initially headed by Anwar Shaaban (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995 and December 14, 1995), an opponent of the current Egyptian regime and a supporter of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya militant group, which is run by the ‘Blind Sheikh,’ Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see Late 1993-1994).
bullet It recruits fighters for militant Islamic causes and sends them to Afghanistan for training. One of the recruits, L’Houssaine Kherchtou, who will testify for the prosecution at the trial of men accused of bombing US embassies in Africa in 1998, will say that he knew Shaaban well, adding: “He was my guide. I went there every weekend to be with him.” After studying with Shaaban for some time, Shaaban arranges for Kherchtou and a group of other men to receive military training in Afghanistan. (Hundley 10/22/2001)
bullet There is heavy telephone traffic between the Institute and the New York mosque run by Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, and Italian police say it is a logistical base for the WTC bombing (see Late 1993-1994).
bullet The Algerian militant group Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) gains influence in the mosque after Shaaban dies in the Bosnian Civil War (see After 1995).
bullet It creates a “cottage industry in supplying false passports and other bogus documents” according to European intelligence officials, and serves as a gateway to Europe for operatives from Afghanistan. (Sennott 8/4/2002)

Garrett Wilson, a paramilitary trainer and gun seller working as an FBI informant, had made an agreement to give weapons training to a group of radical militants, but the FBI canceled the plan at the last minute after FBI superior Carson Dunbar worried the FBI could be training future terrorists. Wilson had made the arrangement with Clement Rodney Hampton-El and Abu Ubaidah Yahya, both of whom are connected to the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, which is linked to al-Qaeda and the CIA (see 1986-1993). But while the training has been canceled, Wilson’s cover as an informant has not been blown yet and his FBI handlers realize that Wilson would still have to give Hampton-El some equipment he’d bought for him. His FBI handlers Tommy Corrigan and John Liguori proposes that Wilson meet Hampton-El so the FBI can monitor the meeting and see where the trail leads. This time, they avoid Dunbar and get permission from a different supervisor, Neil Herman. Wilson goes to meet Hampton-El at a New Jersey hotel on January 15, 1993. Hampton-El isn’t there, but Yahya is, along with two others that Wilson does not know. Wilson hands off the equipment (weapons and military manuals) and quickly leaves, and then the FBI tails the others as they leave. Yahya returns in one car to the Al-Kifah office, where he is the security chief. The others go in another car to the apartment where the Blind Shiekh, Shiekh Omar Abdul-Rahman, lives. The FBI quickly determines the other two men at the meeting are Abdo Mohammed Haggag, Abdul-Rahman’s speechwriter, and Siddig Siddig Ali, Abdul-Rahman’s Sudanese translator. Corrigan, Liguori, and other FBI agents are stunned by the connections to Abdul-Rahman, who is a well-known public figure. But they will only be allowed to follow up for several days before the surveillance operation is canceled. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 87-90)

On January 15, 1993, FBI informant Garrett Wilson had led the FBI to a meeting attended by Abu Ubaidah Yahya, Abdo Mohammed Haggag, and Siddig Siddig Ali (see January 15, 1993). Yahya is security chief for the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, a charity front tied to both al-Qaeda and the CIA (see 1986-1993), and Haggag and Siddig Ali both work with the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, who is also closely linked to Al-Kifah. Suspecting a violent plot, FBI agents have a plan to continuously monitor Yahya, Haggag, and Ali from when they leave the meeting, and for the next couple of days that is what they do. On January 16, Yahya leads the FBI to Jersey City, New Jersey, where he is holding exercises for a group of Sudanese and Middle Eastern men. Then the FBI follows Yahya and this group he is leading to a militant training camp on a farm in New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania. A squad of investigators watch them practicing martial arts, sniper firing, and rappelling. The agents think that they recognize one of the trainees as Mahmud Abouhalima, who they already strongly suspect was involved in the 1990 assassination of a Jewish leader (see November 5, 1990). (In fact, the trainee is his brother Mohammed - both of them are tall and red-headed.) However, on January 17, FBI supervisor Carson Dunbar calls the squad away from the training camp, preventing them from following the suspects as they return to their homes that evening. The FBI squad is upset, as they are sure following the suspects to their homes would lead to many new identifications and leads. Dunbar claims the surveillance is costing too much money and effectively shuts down further surveillance of everyone but Yahya and Clement Rodney Hampton-El, who has been working with Yahya, and only when they’re in close range of the FBI New York office. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 90-91) Yahya will continue to train his group at the Pennsylvania camp through early February (see December 1992-Early February 1993), but apparently without further FBI surveillance of them.

Siddig Siddig Ali.Siddig Siddig Ali. [Source: Chester Higgins / New York Times]In March 1995, Emad Salem, an FBI informant and an ex-Egyptian army officer, publicly testifies in a 1995 trial of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing plotters. He mentions a plot taking place at this time by Islamic radicals tied to the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see July 1990). A Sudanese Air Force pilot would hijack an airplane, attack Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, then crash the plane into the US Embassy in Cairo, Egypt. Siddig Siddig Ali, who will be one of the defendants in the trial, asks Salem for help to find “gaps in the air defense in Egypt” so the pilot could “bomb the presidential house and then turn around, crash the plane into the American embassy after he ejects himself out of the plane.” Abdul-Rahman gives his approval to the plot, but apparently it never goes beyond the discussion stage. Although details of this plot are in public records of the World Trade Center bombing trial, both the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry and 9/11 Commission fail to mention it. (Lance 2004, pp. 196; Berger 4/8/2004) Abdul-Rahman is closely tied to bin Laden and in fact in 1998 there will be an al-Qaeda hijacking plot designed to free him from prison (see 1998). Individuals connected to Abdul-Rahman and al-Qaeda will also plot to crash an airplane into the White House in 1996 (see January 1996).

Nidal Ayyad.Nidal Ayyad. [Source: FBI]An Egyptian official will later detail an alleged confession of Mahmud Abouhalima made at this time. Abouhalima was captured in Egypt in March 1993 and reportedly tortured into a confession there before being handed over to US officials. He will later be convicted for a role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993). Abouhalima supposedly confessed that the bomb plot originated in Afghanistan among Arab veterans of the Afghan war. He also tells his interrogators that it was approved by men describing themselves as Iranian intelligence agents and by the “Blind Shiekh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. Abouhalima further confessed that he was a member of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Group), a militant group headed by Abdul-Rahman, and that the group obtained its money from various sources including the German offices of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is unclear how much this account can be trusted, especially since the Egyptian government has conflicts with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood at the time. (Hedges 7/16/1993) However, two March 1993 Los Angeles Times and New York Times reports appears to confirm at least part of Abouhalima’s confession. The Times articles reports that two of the bomb plotters, Mohammed Salameh and Nidal Ayyad, had bank accounts in the US where they received a total of $10,000 sent from Germany prior to the bombing. (Fritz and Jackson 3/12/1993; Blumenthal 3/12/1993) And in 1999, journalist Simon Reeve will report, “FBI and CIA investigations traced some of the money given to the WTC conspirators back to Germany and the Muslim Brotherhood.” (Reeve 1999, pp. 245) However, nothing more about this possible Muslim Brotherhood connection has been reported since.

After the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993), New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s investigators search El Sayyid Nosair’s belongings (see November 5, 1990 and After) and find a bomb formula which was quite similar to the bomb used to attack the WTC. This discovery would link Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman’s group to the bombing. The belongings also include a taped plea from Abdul-Rahman to destroy “the towers that constitute the pillars” of the civilization of “enemies of God.” Some suspect this is a reference to the WTC. But the FBI refuses to acknowledge and follow up on the bomb formula or other leads from Nosair. Morgenthau later concludes that the CIA may have pressured the FBI to back off from evidence which led to Abdul-Rahman, as well as blocking other investigative leads (see Late 1980s and After). (Goodman 11/21/1994; Friedman 3/17/1995)

Saraah Olson.Saraah Olson. [Source: ABC News]In 1992 and early 1993, the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, visits a mosque in Anaheim, California, and is hosted by an al-Qaeda sleeper cell there. Cell leaders Hisham Diab and Khalil Deek live next door to each other and are avid followers of Abdul-Rahman. Apparently he stays with Deek on one trip and with Diab on another. Saraah Olson, Diab’s wife, sees Abdul-Rahman on television in connection with the February 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993) and fears that her husband is a terrorist. She will later claim, “I called the FBI. I said I have information about the blind sheikh. He’s been to my house, and I need to speak to someone.” But she will say they responded, “We don’t know who you’re talking about. Thank you for the information. And they hung up.” (ABC News 12/23/2004; Ross and Scott 12/23/2004) From 1990 until 1996, when she divorces Diab, she claims that “some of Osama bin Laden’s top deputies would stay with her and her husband.” She claims she repeatedly tried to warn the FBI about this but was never taken seriously. She also claims that even after Abdul-Rahman was arrested in mid-1993, he would regularly call Diab from prison each Sunday and deliver fiery sermons that were recorded and distributed to some of his other followers. US intelligence had been investigating Deek since at least the late 1980s but never took any action against him (see Late 1980s). (Ross and Scott 12/23/2004; Krikorian and Reza 10/8/2006) Apparently also in the early 1990s, the FBI is apparently aware that Deek is running militant training camps in California for followers of Abdul-Rahman, but they take no action against him or the camps (see Early 1990s). Diab eventually becomes a US citizen and then will leave the US in June 2001. He is now believed to be hiding in Pakistan with top al-Qaeda leaders. The FBI has been asked about Olson’s allegations but has neither confirmed nor denied them. (Ross and Scott 12/23/2004)

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is quoted in an Egyptian newspaper saying Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman had worked with the CIA. Under pressure from the US State Department, the newspaper’s editor retracts the story a few days later. (Quinn-Judge and Sennott 2/3/1995; Lance 2006, pp. 127)

Informant Emad Salem, pictured bent over in a green shirt, enables the FBI to take surveillance footage like this of the plotters making a bomb.Informant Emad Salem, pictured bent over in a green shirt, enables the FBI to take surveillance footage like this of the plotters making a bomb. [Source: National Geographic]Eight people are arrested, foiling a plot to bomb several New York City landmarks. The targets were the United Nations building, 26 Federal Plaza, and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels. This is known as the “Landmarks” or “Day of Terror” plot. The plotters are connected to Ramzi Yousef and the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. If the bombing, planned for later in the year, had been successful, thousands would have died. An FBI informant named Emad Salem had infiltrated the group, gathering information that leads to arrests of the plotters (see April 23, 1993). (US Congress 7/24/2003) Abdul-Rahman will eventually be sentenced to life in prison for a role in the plot. Nine others will be given long prison terms, including Ibrahim El-Gabrowny and Clement Rodney Hampton-El. (Fried 1/18/1996) Siddig Siddig Ali, who was possibly the main force behind the plot (see April 23, 1993), will eventually be sentenced to only 11 years in prison because he agreed to provide evidence on the other suspects (Weiser 10/16/1999)

In a July 1993 intelligence report, the CIA notes that Osama bin Laden has been paying to train members of the Egyptian militant group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya in Sudan, where he lives. The CIA privately concludes he is an important terrorist financier (see 1993). In August 1993, the State Department sees links between bin Laden and the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see August 1993), who leads Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and was recently arrested in the US (see July 3, 1993). A State Department report comments that bin Laden seems “committed to financing ‘Jihads’ against ‘anti-Islamic’ regimes worldwide.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 109, 479) In August 1993, the State Department also puts bin Laden on its no-fly watch list (see August 12, 1993 and Shortly Thereafter). However, US intelligence will be slow to realize he is more directly involved than just giving money. Some intelligence reports into 1997 will continue to refer to him only as a militant financier. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 109, 479)

The “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, is arrested in Brooklyn after a long stand off. The “Landmarks” plot was rolled up on June 24, 1993, and many of Abdul-Rahman’s close associates were arrested on that day (see June 24, 1993). But Abdul-Rahman moved to the Abu Bakr mosque and stayed there. His presence in a mosque and the many supporters that gathered to surround it makes his arrest difficult. But after long negotiations, on July 3, 1993, he is arrested on immigration charges and taken to prison. (Mitchell 7/3/1993) He will later be charged with a role in the “Landmarks” plot and eventually sentenced to life in prison. (Fried 1/18/1996)

After the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, is arrested for his involvement in several bomb plots (see July 3, 1993), his New Jersey residence is searched by the FBI. A business card from Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, is found. Sixty-two thousand dollars in cash is also found in Abdul-Rahman’s briefcase, suggesting he is being well funded. (Lance 2006, pp. 139)

Kifah Wael Jayyousi.Kifah Wael Jayyousi. [Source: Robert A. Reeder]A Florida cell of Islamic radicals carries out fundraising, training, and recruitment to support the global jihad movement. The group is monitored by the FBI from the early 1990s, but no action is taken against it until after 9/11. The cell’s most prominent members are Adham Amin Hassoun, Mohammed Hesham Youssef, Kifah Wael Jayyousi, Kassem Daher, and Jose Padilla. Adnan Shukrijumah may also be involved (see (Spring 2001)).
bullet Both Hassoun and Jayyousi are associates of “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdul-Rahman and the FBI monitors telephone conversations between them and Abdul-Rahman from January 1993 to 1995, at least. After Abdul-Rahman is taken into police custody in July 1993, according to an FBI agent, Jayyousi calls Abdul-Rahman in jail to “update the sheikh with jihad news, many times reading accounts and statements issued directly by terrorist organizations.” (Adams 11/23/2003; Lance 2006, pp. 126-8; Anderson 4/8/2006; Sontag 1/4/2007)
bullet Funds are provided through bank accounts of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Group), the Canadian Islamic Association, and Benevolence International Foundation (BIF), for which Hassoun files incorporation papers in Florida. The cell pays out thousands of dollars in checks, some of which are marked “Chechnya”, “Kosovo,” or “for tourism”.
bullet They try to talk in code, but the code is unsophisticated; for example “tourism” apparently means “terrorism”. In addition, they are not very careful and in one conversation overheard by the FBI, which records tens of thousands of their conversations from the early 1990s, one plotter asks another if he has enough “soccer equipment” to “launch an attack on the enemy.” In another, the conspirators discuss a $3,500 purchase of “zucchini” in Lebanon.
bullet Cell members are involved in jihad, through funding or direct participation, in Egypt, Somalia, Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Libya, Kosovo, the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, and Azerbaijan.
bullet They are involved with both bin Laden and Chechen leader Ibn Khattab; for example, in one conversation Youssef tells Hassoun that he would be traveling “there at Osama’s and… Khattab’s company.” (Indictment. United States v. Jose Padilla 11/17/2005 pdf file)
bullet They publish the Islam Report, a radical magazine about jihad. (Anderson 4/8/2006)
It is unclear why the FBI monitors the cell for almost a decade before doing anything. However, some of their activities are focused on Bosnia, where the US is turning a blind eye, or even actively assisting Islamic militants fighting on the Bosnian side (see 1992-1995 and April 27, 1994). The cell is broken up in the months after 9/11, and Hassoun, Jayyousi, and Padilla are sent for trial, which begins in 2007. (Sontag 1/4/2007)

In late 1993, the FBI discovers that WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef used a mosque in Milan, Italy, known as the Islamic Cultural Institute, as a logistical base (see Late 1993-1994). The Italian government begins investigating the mosque and soon discovers that it is the main European headquarters for Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, a radical Egyptian militant group, and is also the logistical base for mujaheddin traveling to fight in Bosnia. The mosque is run by Anwar Shaaban, who has a close working relationship with Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, and who also stays in regular contact with al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. Shaaban runs a training camp thirty miles outside of Milan where fighters heading to Bosnia can practice using weapons and explosives. The mosque also helps smuggle men, money, and weapons to Bosnia. (Schindler 2007, pp. 163-164) On June 25, 1995, Italian police raid the mosque and over 70 other locations in northern Italy. Seventeen people are indicted and eleven of them are arrested, but that is only a fraction of the hundreds investigated. Inside the mosque, police find forgery tools, letters to wanted radicals around the world, and hundreds of false documents. Plots to bomb targets in other countries and a US target elsewhere in Italy are averted. Shaaban escapes arrest, as he had already left the country, but he is killed in Croatia a short time later (see December 14, 1995). (Willan 6/26/1995; Vidino 2006, pp. 216-218) But the Islamic Cultural Institute will soon reopen and continue to be a focal point for radical militants in Europe. It will be linked the 9/11 attacks and other violent plots (see Late 1998-September 11, 2001).

Anwar Shaaban.Anwar Shaaban. [Source: Evan Kohlmann]The Islamic Cultural Institute mosque in Milan, Italy is dominated by Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, the Egyptian militant group led by Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. The imam of the mosque, Anwar Shaaban, is a leader of that group and also a leader of the mujaheddin efforts in Bosnia. The Islamic Cultural Institute serves as a transit and logistical base for mujaheddin coming or going to Bosnia (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995). After the 1993 WTC bombing, US investigators will discover heavy phone traffic between the Milan mosque and the Jersey City mosque run by Abdul-Rahman. Furthermore, they learn that bomber mastermind Ramzi Yousef used the Milan mosque as a logistical base as well. (Hundley 10/22/2001) Yousef also prayed at the Milan mosque prior to the WTC bombing. (Gunaratna 2003, pp. 171) Shaaban is a close friend of Talaat Fouad Qassem, another leader of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya and one of the highest ranking leaders of the mujaheddin fighting in Bosnia. Qassem is directing the flow of volunteers to Bosnia while living in political asylum in Denmark (see 1990). (Kohlmann 2004, pp. 25) In April 1994, seven Arab men living in Denmark, including Qassem, are arrested. US prosecutors will later claim that fingerprints on documents and videotapes seized from the men match fingerprints on bomb manuals that Ahmad Ajaj was carrying when he entered the US with Yousef (see September 1, 1992). A raid on one apartment in Denmark uncovers bomb formulas, bomb making chemical, sketches of attack targets, some videotapes of Abdul-Rahman’s sermons, and a pamphlet claiming responsibility for the WTC bombing and promising more attacks. Also, phone records and documents found in Abdul-Rahman’s Jersey City apartment show the men in Denmark were communicating regularly with Abdul-Rahman. (McKinley 4/15/1995) But no one in either Milan or Denmark will be charged with a role in the WTC bombing. Danish police will later say that none of the seized documents indicated that the Arab men personally took part in the bombing. The men all are released and ironically, two of them are granted political asylum in Denmark because they are members of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, which the Danish consider to be a persecuted group. (Associated Press 6/28/1995) In 1995, an Italian magistrate will issue arrest warrants for Shaaban and 60 other extremists (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995), but Shaaban will flee to Bosnia, where he will die of bullet wounds in unexplained circumstances (see December 14, 1995). (Hundley 10/22/2001) The US government will later call the Islamic Cultural Institute al-Qaeda’s main logistical base in Europe and some evidence will link figures connected to it to the 9/11 plot (see Late 1998-September 11, 2001).

By 1990, Arizona became one of the main centers in the US for radical Muslims, and it remains so through 9/11. A number of future al-Qaeda leaders live in Tucson, Arizona, in the early 1990s (see 1986). Around 1991, future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour moved to Arizona for the first time (see October 3, 1991-February 1992) and he will spend much of the rest of the decade in the state. The FBI apparently remains largely oblivious of Hanjour, though one FBI informant claims that by 1998 they “knew everything about the guy.” (Yardley and Thomas 6/19/2002; Fainaru and Ibrahim 9/10/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 521) In 1994, the Phoenix FBI office uncovers startling evidence connecting Arizona to radical Muslim militants. According to FBI agent James Hauswirth, they are told that a group of “heavy duty associates” of al-Qaeda leader Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman have arrived in the area, fleeing New York in the wake of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. They are in the area to train a recruit as a suicide bomber. The recruit apparently is an FBI informant. FBI agent Ken Williams, who will later author the July 2001 “Phoenix memo,” orders surveilance of the training. The informant is driven to a remote stretch of desert and instructed in how to use explosives. A device is thrown at a car, but it fails to explode. The FBI secretly videotapes the entire incident. One of the two men is later positively linked to Abdul-Rahman. But apparently the investigation into the people involved fails to make progress. Hauswirth later blames this on a lack of support from higher-ups in the Phoenix office, recalling, “The drug war was the big thing back then, and terrorism was way on the back burner.” Additionally, also in 1994, a key FBI informant will begin monitoring local radical militants (see October 1996). However, terrorism will remain a low priority for the Phoenix, Arizona, FBI office (see April 2000-June 2001). (Los Angeles Times 5/26/2002; Yardley and Thomas 6/19/2002; Lance 2003, pp. 209-210)

The Boston Herald reports that an internal CIA report has concluded that the agency is “partially culpable” for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993) because it helped train and support some of the bombers. One source with knowledge of the report says, “It was determined that a significant amount of blowback appeared to have occurred.” A US intelligence source claims the CIA gave at least $1 billion to forces in Afghanistan connected to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. More than a half-dozen of the WTC bombers belonged to this faction, and some of the CIA money paid for their training. The source says, “By giving these people the funding that we did, a situation was created in which it could be safely argued that we bombed the World Trade Center.” Those connected to the bombing who went to Afghanistan include Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, Clement Rodney Hampton-el, Siddig Siddig Ali, Ahmed Ajaj, and Mahmud Abouhalima. (Miner 1/24/1994) Additionally, Ramzi Yousef trained in Afghanistan near the end of the Afghan war, and there are claims he was recruited by the CIA (see Late 1980s). “Intelligence sources say the CIA used the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn—founded to support the Afghani rebels fighting Soviet occupation—to funnel aid to Hekmatyar, setting the stage for terrorists here to acquire the money, guns and training needed to later attack the Trade Center. CIA support also made it easier for alleged terrorist leaders to enter the country.” (Miner 1/24/1994) It will later be alleged that the CIA repeatedly blocked investigations relating to Al-Kifah, which was al-Qaeda’s operational base in the US (see Late 1980s and After).

Alamoudi, center, with Vice President Gore, left, and President Clinton, right. This picture is from a 1997 American Muslim Council newsletter and was presumably taken around that time.Alamoudi, center, with Vice President Gore, left, and President Clinton, right. This picture is from a 1997 American Muslim Council newsletter and was presumably taken around that time. [Source: CAIR]Abdo Mohammed Haggag, speechwriter for the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, makes a deal and agrees to testify against Abdul-Rahman in an upcoming US trial. (McFadden 6/26/1994) He soon reveals that bin Laden has been paying for Abdul-Rahman’s living expenses since Abdul-Rahman moved to the US in 1990 (see July 1990). This is one of the first things that causes US intelligence to become interested in bin Laden. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 147-148) Further, Haggag reveals that the money was funneled through Abdurahman Alamoudi and his organization, the American Muslim Council. “Investigators tried to prove Alamoudi was a terror middleman but could not find ‘smoking gun’ evidence. That allowed Alamoudi to became a politically connected Muslim activist and co-founder of the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veteran Affairs Council, which helps the US military select Muslim chaplains.” (Weiss 10/1/2003) This same year, Alamoudi will be one of the founders of Ptech, a US computer company with suspected terrorism ties (see 1994). It will later be alleged that he was able to operate with impunity for years due to his close ties to Grover Norquist, a powerful Republican lobbyist (see March 20, 2002). In 2004, the US will sentence him to 23 years in prison for illegal dealings with Libya (see October 15, 2004).

Mohammed Jamal Khalifa.Mohammed Jamal Khalifa. [Source: CBS News]Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, a brother-in-law to bin Laden, is arrested in the US. He is held for visa fraud, but he is believed to be a major terrorist. His arrest takes place at a Holiday Inn in Morgan Hill, California. (Hoge 10/24/2001) That is only about 20 miles from Santa Clara, where double agent Ali Mohamed is running an al-Qaeda cell (see 1987-1998). Counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson will later say of Khalifa and Mohamed, “It seems to me that they were probably in contact. I’m basing that only intuitively on the fact that they were in the same area, they were close to bin Laden, and they would’ve had an incentive to stay together.” (Lance 2006, pp. 167) According to one account, Khalifa is arrested on behalf of the government of Jordan, because he is on trial there. (Hoge 10/24/2001) Another account claims that Philippine authorities “tipped off Federal authorities on Khalifa’s movements.” (Europa 4/27/1995) He is traveling on a Saudi passport. He’d flown into the US from London on December 1 and has papers indicating he would be heading back to the Philippines. (Lance 2006, pp. 158-159) It has been claimed that the CIA helped him get his US visa (see December 1, 1994). There are many reasons for US authorities to suspect Khalifa is a major terrorist figure:
bullet He is arrested with Mohammed Loay Bayazid, one of the dozen or so original members of al-Qaeda. Bayazid had attempted to purchase nuclear material for bin Laden the year before (see December 16, 1994).
bullet Philippine investigators had recently completed a secret report on terrorist funding. The report focuses on Khalifa, and says his activities in the Philippines strongly link with Muslim extremist movements in Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Russia, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, Romania, Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan, Albania, the Netherlands, and Morocco. It calls a charity which Khalifa runs a “pipeline through which funding for the local extremists is being coursed.” Perhaps not coincidentally, the report was released just one day before Khalifa’s arrest in the US (see December 15, 1994).
bullet His possessions, which are quickly examined and translated, include a handwritten manual in Arabic detailing how to set up a terrorist curriculum at a school in the Philippines, giving lessons in bomb-making and assassination. (Hoge 10/24/2001)
bullet Khalifa’s business card was discovered in a search of the New York City residence of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman in 1993 (see August 1993).
bullet He is an unindicted coconspirator in the “Landmarks” bombings plot, which would have killed thousands in New York City. The trial is getting underway at this time. Abdul-Rahman will be convicted and sentenced to over 300 years in prison (see June 24, 1993).
bullet A State Department cable from days after his arrest states Khalifa is a “known financier of terrorist operations and an officer of an Islamic NGO in the Philippines that is a known Hamas front.”
bullet An alias is found in his personal organizer that was also used in a bomb-making manual brought into the US by Ahmad Ajaj, Ramzi Yousef’s travel partner, when the two of them came to the US to implement the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see September 1, 1992).
bullet Bojinka plotter Wali Khan Amin Shah’s phone number is found in Khalifa’s possessions. The Bojinka plot, if successful, also would have killed thousands (see January 6, 1995). (Lance 2006, pp. 158-159)
bullet A number in Pakistan that Ramzi Yousef had used to call the Philippines is found as well. Author Peter Lance will later note that such numbers “should have led the FBI directly to Ramzi Yousef, the world’s most wanted man” at the time. (Lance 2006, pp. 160)
However, despite this wealth of highly incriminating material, within weeks of his arrest the US will decide to deport him to Jordan (see January 5, 1995). Over the next four months, even more of his links to terrorist activity will be discovered (see Late December 1994-April 1995). But Khalifa will be deported anyway (see April 26-May 3, 1995), and then soon freed in Jordan (see July 19, 1995).

Sections of the unindicted co-consiprator list for the “Landmarks” plot trial. Osama bin Laden is 95 and Ali Mohamed is 109.Sections of the unindicted co-consiprator list for the “Landmarks” plot trial. Osama bin Laden is 95 and Ali Mohamed is 109. [Source: National Geographic]In February 1995, the US government files a confidential court document listing bin Laden and scores of other people as possible co-conspirators in the 1993 New York City “Landmarks” plot (see June 24, 1993). Ali Mohamed’s name is on the list, confirming that investigators are aware of his involvement in al-Qaeda operations. Yet he continues to live openly in California. Mohamed obtains the document, though it is not clear how he obtained it. (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 472) US prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will later state that when Mohamed’s California residence is finally searched in 1998 (see August 24, 1998), investigators discover “a sensitive sealed document from the trial of Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman with notations indicating that [he sent it] to the head of the Kenyan al-Qaeda cell for delivery to bin Laden. I shudder to think of the people who may read this statement and where it may be found some day.” (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004) A later government indictment will say that Mohamed sent the list to Wadih El-Hage in Kenya who was told to hand deliver it to bin Laden in Afghanistan. (Lynch and Loeb 8/1/1999) If that is not enough to prove Mohamed’s duplicity, when El-Sayyid Nosair is defended in this trial, Nosair’s lawyers will expose more evidence about Mohamed. They argue that Nosair’s activities were part of a US-sponsored covert operation to train and arm the mujaheddin. They argue that Mohamed was the key link in this operation, and present evidence and witnesses showing how Mohamed trained the bomb plotters in 1989 (see July 1989). They mention the classified military manuals that Mohamed stole and gave the group (see November 5, 1990). Mohamed’s name and role in these activities come out publicly during the trial, and the Washington Post reports in 1998 that after hearing this testimony,“the FBI began to focus on Mohamed as a potential terrorism suspect.” Yet both US intelligence and al-Qaeda apparently continue to work with him. (Weiser 10/30/1998; Risen 10/31/1998)

A Boston Globe article publicly exposes Ali Mohamed, calling him “a shadowy individual described by defense attorneys as a key figure in the largest terrorism trial in US history.” The trial is the prosecution of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman and others for the 1993 “Landmarks” bombing plot (see June 24, 1993). The Globe article notes that Mohamed was in the US Special Forces and connects him to both Abdul-Rahman’s radical militant group and the CIA. A senior US official claims that Mohamed’s “presence in the country is the result of an action initiated by [the CIA].” The article further states, “Senior officials say Mohamed, who is of Egyptian origin, benefited from a little known visa-waiver program that allows the CIA and other security agencies to bring valuable agents into the country, bypassing the usual immigration formalities. Intelligence sources say that waivers are controlled by the CIA’s Department of Operations, the clandestine side of the agency, and have been used ‘sparingly’ in recent years. Waivers are generally used to bring into the country people who have served the agency in sensitive positions overseas. They come here, an intelligence officer said, because they fear for their lives, have been promised asylum in return for cooperation, or need to be debriefed after an operation.” According to the article, “Mohamed dropped out of sight several years ago, and his whereabouts remain unknown.” But in fact, the FBI interviewed him three months earlier and remains aware of his whereabouts (see December 9, 1994). Mohamed will continue to work with al-Qaeda despite this exposure. (Quinn-Judge and Sennott 2/3/1995)

Many of the Bojinka plotters are arrested in the Philippines and then let go. On April 1, the Philippines police arrest six foreigners, who are from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. They seize a cache of weapons and explosives in their apartments. It is announced the men have ties to Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman and Ramzi Yousef and that they are being charged with stockpiling illegal firearms. (Shenon 4/3/1995; Shenon 4/8/1995; Dikkenberg 12/19/1995) On December 30, 15 more suspects are arrested. This group is made up of Iraqi, Sudanese, Saudi, and Pakistani nationals. They are found with guns and explosives. One of them is identified as Ramzi Yousef’s twin brother Abd al-Karim Yousef, who had been using the alias Adel Anon. (McFadden 12/31/1995) Philippine authorities claim that not only were these men involved in the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), but they were also planning to assassinate President Fidel Ramos and commanders of the Philippines army and national police. (CNN 1/3/1996) Edwin Angeles had been an undercover operative posing as a top leader in the Abu Sayyaf militant group (see Late 1994-January 1995 and Early February 1995), and now he leads the investigation to capture these men based on what he knew about them when he was in Abu Sayyaf. However, he later claims that not all of them were guilty and that some of them were framed by the planting of weapons and other evidence. He goes public with this complaint in early 1996. All of the men are released on bail and then all of them jump bail. Some flee the Philippines while others stay and go into hiding. (Philippine Daily Inquirer 7/10/2001; Abuza 12/1/2002) It is not known what happens to most of these men after their release. But one of the men arrested in March 1995, Hadi Yousef Alghoul, will be arrested in the Philippines again in late 2001. He will be found with nearly 300 sticks of dynamite and accused of involvement in other plots as well (see December 26, 2001). In 2003, it will be reported that Abd al-Karim Yousef was recently traveling with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), and in the wake of KSM’s 2003 arrest he is capable of taking over as al-Qaeda’s operational commander. (Schmidt and Pincus 3/4/2003; Elliott 3/8/2003) It has not been explained why the Philippines did not turn him over to the US, since the US had put out an alert for him in March 1995, shortly after his brother Ramzi Yousef was arrested. (Burns 3/20/1995)

Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of Israel’s right-wing Likud party, publishes a short book calling on Western nations to unite against terrorism, called Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists. (Grose 11/5/1995; Bernstein 11/22/1995; Netanyahu 2001) In the book, Netanyahu describes his long personal involvement in counterterrorism. He served in Israel’s elite commando unit, Sayeret Matkal, and participated in freeing airline hostages in 1972. (Sontag 4/20/1999) His brother Jonathan was also a member of Sayaret Maktal and was killed during the rescue of hostages at Entebbe in 1976. (Berg 7/3/2006) Netanyahu created an institute devoted to counterterrorism research and named it after his brother. The Jonathan Institute organized a major international conference in 1979 attended by, among others, Senator Henry Jackson (D-WA) and George H. W. Bush. (Netanyahu 2001, pp. 63-65) The new terrorist network, warns Netanyahu, was born at the end of the Afghan War among Arab Mujahedeen veterans. “The Soviet Union completed its withdrawal from Kabul in 1989,” he writes, “and the Islamic resistance forces have since dispersed.… [T]he Islamic resistance won, offering proof of the innate faithful supremacy of Islam over the infidel powers. In many cases these providential warriors have since been in search of the next step on the road to the triumph of Islam. Often they have had to move from country to country, having been denied the right to return to their home countries for fear that their excessive zeal would find an outlet there. Since the end of the war in Afghanistan, an international Sunni terrorist network has thus sprung into being, composed in the main of Islamic veterans and their religious leaders.… It is this group which is associated with bombers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan.” (Netanyahu 2001, pp. 80-81) Netanyahu also warns of the spread of Jihadist groups among Muslim communities in Western countries. For example, El Sayyid Nosair, an Egyptian immigrant who murdered an Israeli rabbi in New York in 1990 (see November 5, 1990), was a follower of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, who immigrated to the United States in the early 1990s. The bombers involved in the 1993 World Trade Center attack were also followers of Abdul-Rahman. After the attack, investigators re-examined files found at Nosair’s home. One document said, “We have to thoroughly demoralize the enemies of God… by means of destroying and blowing up the towers that constitute the pillars of their civilization, such as the tourist attractions and the high buildings of which they are so proud.” (Netanyahu 2001, pp. 94)

Anwar Shaaban, an Islamist militant in charge of logistics for mujaheddin fighting in Bosnia, is killed in Croatia. Shaaban had been based at the Islamic Cultural Institute mosque in Milan, but managed to avoid arrest when it was raided (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995). On December 14, 1995, the same day a peace accord is signed ending the Bosnian war, Shaaban is killed by Croatian troops in what mujaheddin claim is an ambush. Shaaban’s diary is found, and it cites regular meetings between al-Qaeda leaders and leaders of the Bosnian Muslim government, including General Staff Chief Rasim Delic and Interior Minister Bakir Alispahic. (Schindler 2007, pp. 216-217) Shaaban, a leader of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya militant group, had been in regular contact with Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman and al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. (Schindler 2007, pp. 163-164)

Harry Ellen.Harry Ellen. [Source: Associated Press]Harry Ellen, a businessman who converted to Islam, has high credibility with Muslims in Arizona because of his work on behalf of the Palestinian cause. He has had important meetings with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. In 1994, he began working as an FBI informant. Ken Williams, the Phoenix FBI agent who will later write the July 2001 “Phoenix memo”(see July 10, 2001), is his handler. In October 1996, Ellen tells Williams that he has suspicions about an Algerian pilot who is training other Middle Eastern men to fly. He later recalls, “My comment to Williams was that it would be pitiful if the bad guys were able to gain this kind of access to airplanes, flight training and crop dusters. I said, ‘You really ought to look at this, it’s an interesting mix of people.’” Ellen had previously begun spying on a man known as Abu Sief, which apparently is his alias. Sief had come to Arizona from New Jersey in 1993, and bragged about having close ties with al-Qaeda figures Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman and Ramzi Yousef (when Yousef’s computer is seized in the Philippines in 1995, there is a mention of a contact in Tucson, Arizona, but it is unknown if this is a reference to Sief or someone else (see January 7-11, 1995)). Sief attended a New Jersey mosque that many of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers also attended. Ellen soon sees the unnamed Algerian pilot meeting with Abu Sief. He tells this to Williams and later will claim, “I told him to be very concerned about air schools.” However, Ellen will claim that Williams responds by telling him to “leave it alone.” So he does. Ellen later believes that Williams should have sent the gist of his Phoenix memo at this time, instead of four and a half years later. Hani Hanjour is living in Phoenix by this time and taking flight training nearby (see October 1996-Late April 1999). Ellen later will say he did not know Hanjour directly, but he knew some of his friends and relatives. Ellen and Williams will have a falling out in late 1998 on an unrelated manner, and Ellen’s flow of information will stop. (Priest and Leiby 5/24/2002; Thomas 5/24/2002; Lance 2003, pp. 211, 352-355, inset 21)

Lynne Stewart.Lynne Stewart. [Source: Robert Livingston/ public domain]The ‘Blind Sheikh,’ Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, who has been in a maximum security facility since his conviction on terrorism charges in the mid 1990s, communicates with his supporters through his legal team, radical attorney Lynne Stewart, paralegal Ahmed Abdel Sattar, and interpreter Mohamed Yousry. Abdul-Rahman, who is held at the Supermax prison in Colorado and then at a medical facility in Minnesota, has no access to the outside world except through the team and he uses them to pass on advice. Author Peter Bergen will comment: “Sheikh Abdul-Rahman’s incarceration has not prevented him from communicating important messages to his followers through his family or lawyers; for instance, in 1997 he endorsed a ceasefire between the Egyptian government and the terrorist Islamic Group. Then in 2000 Sheikh Abdul-Rahman publicly withdrew his support from that ceasefire.” In addition, his will, which appears in 1998 and urges attacks against the US, may also be smuggled out by his legal team (see May 1998). However, passing on such information during the thrice-yearly visits is against the rules agreed for the visits. Stewart, who attempts to distract the prison guards while Abdul-Rahman passes on the messages, will be indicted in 2002 and found guilty on several charges, including conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists. She will be sentenced to 28 months in jail. (Cassel 10/12/2002; Fox News 2/11/2005; CNN 2/14/2005; Bergen 2006, pp. 208-9; McCarthy 10/17/2006) In 2001, one of the 9/11 hijackers, Mohand Alshehri, is reportedly seen near the Minnesota facility where Abdul-Rahman is being held (see August 2001).

Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer.Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer. [Source: Associated Press]Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer, and Lafi Khalil, two Palestinian men who had recently immigrated from the West Bank to the US, are arrested in New York City. They are found with a number of hand made bombs, and officials claim they were mere hours away from using them on a busy Atlantic Avenue subway station and on a commuter bus. Police were tipped off to them by a roommate. (Barry 8/1/1997; CNN 8/2/1997) In the days immediately after the arrests, numerous media reports claim that the FBI has tied the two men to Hamas. For instance, the Associated Press reports, “The FBI has linked two suspects in a Brooklyn suicide-bombing plot to the militant Mideast group Hamas… One man was linked to Hamas by intelligence sources, the other through an immigration document he had filled out in which he said he had been accused in Israel of having been in a terrorist organization. The organization, the source said, was Hamas.” Reports say both suspects “are working for Mousa Abu Marzouk, the Hamas political leader who lived in Virginia for 15 years before being arrested in 1995, imprisoned as a terrorism suspect, and then deported earlier [in 1997].”(see July 5, 1995-May 1997) (Associated Press 8/1/1997; CNN 8/2/1997) According to another account, “law enforcement authorities say these suspects made frequent phone calls from local neighborhood stores to various Hamas organization offices in the Middle East.” (PBS 8/1/1997) Just days earlier, there had been a Hamas suicide bombing in Israel that killed fifteen people. Mezer or Khalil reportedly called the suicide bombers “heroes” and added, “We wish to join them.” (Barry 8/2/1997) A note is found in their apartment that threatens a series of attacks unless several jailed militants were released, including Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, Ramzi Yousef, and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the top leader of Hamas. A copy of the letter was sent to the State Department two days before their arrest. A portrait of Abdul-Rahman is also found on the wall of their apartment. (CNN 8/2/1997; Kifner 8/6/1997) However, on August 4, US officials announce that the two had no ties to Hamas or any other organization. In his trial, Mezer will say he planned to use the bombs to kill as many Jews as possible, though not in a subway. He will describe himself as a supporter of Hamas but not a member. He will be convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Khalil will be acquitted of the terrorism charge, but convicted of having a fake immigration card. He will be sentenced to three years in prison and then ordered deported. (CNN 8/4/1997; Fried 7/21/1998; Zeller 9/19/2001)

A son of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, the al-Qaeda leader convicted in 1995 of conspiring to blow up tunnels and other New York City landmarks, is heard to say that the best way to free his father from a US prison might be to hijack an American plane and exchange the hostages. This will be mentioned in President Bush’s August 2001 briefing titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001). (Woodward and Eggen 5/18/2002) It may be the warning was discovered by reporters at bin Laden’s press conference this month, since two of Abdul-Rahman’s sons are there and speak in belligerent tones (see May 26, 1998 and May 1998). A similar warning will be discovered in May 2001, but will not be mentioned in Bush’s briefing (see May 23, 2001).

Osama Basnan, a Saudi living in California, claims to write a letter to Saudi Arabian Prince Bandar bin Sultan and his wife, Princess Haifa bint Faisal, asking for financial help because his wife needs thyroid surgery. The Saudi embassy sends Basnan $15,000 and pays the surgical bill. However, according to University of California at San Diego hospital records, Basnan’s wife, Majeda Dweikat, is not treated until April 2000. (Serrano, McManus, and Krikorian 11/24/2002) Basnan will later come under investigation for possibly using some of this money to support two of the 9/11 hijackers who arrive in San Diego (see November 22, 2002), although the 9/11 Commission will conclude that evidence does not support these charges. (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004)

The card containing Abdul-Rahman’s message.The card containing Abdul-Rahman’s message. [Source: Peter Bergen]Pakistani journalist Ismail Khan is given a copy of ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul-Rahman’s purported will by one of his sons, while attending bin Laden’s first and only press conference in May 1998 (see May 26, 1998). Abdul-Rahman is serving life in prison in the US but his will anticipates that he will die soon from mistreatment. He says, “Extract the most violent revenge… Cut off all relations with [the Americans, Christians, and Jews], tear them to pieces, destroy their economies, burn their corporations, destroy their peace, sink their ships, shoot down their planes, and kill them on air, sea, and land. And kill them wherever you may find them, ambush them, take them hostage, and destroy their observatories. Kill these infidels.” Whether this will really was smuggled out of a US prison or not, the words will have a big impact for bin Laden’s followers and mark a dramatic increase in the violent rhetoric used by al-Qaeda. Ahmed Ressam, who will later be arrested for trying to bomb the Los Angeles airport, trains at the Khaldan training camp in mid-1998. He will later testify that this statement from Abdul-Rahman was widely distributed at the training camp. (Bergen 2006, pp. 204-205) US intelligence is presumably aware of the purported will, since CNN will report about it later in 1998. (CNN 11/8/1998) Journalist Peter Bergen, who is given a copy of the message around this time, will later comment that the message to “attack the US economy and American aviation was an important factor in the 9/11 attacks.… [His] fatwas are the nearest equivalent al-Qaeda has to an ex cathedra statement by the Pope.… [He] was able for the first time in al-Qaeda’s history to rule that it was legally permissible, and even desirable, to carry out attacks against American planes and corporations, exactly the type of attacks that took place on 9/11.” Bergen notes that while one cannot be certain if Abdul-Rahman actually wrote the message, in other cases his imprisonment did not prevent him from getting messages out through his family or lawyers. (Bergen 2006, pp. 208-209)

Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli.Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli. [Source: Public domain]On December 4, 1998, an item in President Clinton’s Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) is titled, “Bin Laden Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other Attacks.” The PDB says “Bin Laden and is allies are preparing for attacks in the US, including an aircraft hijacking to obtain the release of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, Ramzi Yousef, and Muhammad Sadiq ‘Awda. One source quoted a senior member of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (IG) saying that, as of late October, the IG had completed planning for an operation in the US on behalf of bin Laden, but that the operation was on hold. A senior bin Laden operative from Saudi Arabia was to visit IG counterparts in the US soon thereafter to discuss options-perhaps including an aircraft hijacking.” The same source says bin Laden may implement plans to hijack US aircraft before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on December 20 and that two members of the operational team had evaded security checks in a recent trial run at a New York airport. A possible different source says that in late September, Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli, brother of the assassin of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and described in the PDB as an IG leader, was planning to hijack a US airliner during the “next couple of weeks” to free Abdul-Rahman and other prisoners. The PDB also says that “some members of the bin Laden network have received hijack training, according to various sources, but no group directly tied to bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization has ever carried out an aircraft hijacking. Bin Laden could be weighing other types of operations against US aircraft.” The PDB mentions other bin Laden related threats, including recent reports that the IG has obtained surface-to-air missiles and intends to move them from Yemen to Saudi Arabia to shoot down aircraft. (Schmidt 7/18/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 128-130) The private intelligence group Stratfor will later say that, in addition to his ties with IG, Islambouli worked with bin Laden in the Maktab al-Khidamat charity front in Pakistan and is believed to have lived in Afghanistan in the 1990s as “part of the group of key Egyptian advisers surrounding bin Laden.” Islambouli will formally join with al-Qaeda in 2006. (Burton 8/10/2006) In early 1998, the CIA ignored information from a recently retired CIA agent that claimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was in a terrorist cell with Islambouli, both were experts on plane hijackings, and were planning to hijack planes (see Early 1998). Perhaps not coincidentally, on this same day, CIA Director George Tenet issues a “declaration of war” against al-Qaeda in a memo to the US intelligence community (see December 4, 1998). Also on this day, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke holds a meeting of his interagency Counterterrorism and Security Group (CSG) to discuss the threat. The group agrees that New York City airports should go on a maximum security alert that weekend and security should be boosted at other East Coast airports. The FBI, FAA, and New York City Police Department get versions of the PDB report. Later in December and again in January 1999 the source says the hijacking has been postponed because two operatives have been arrested in Washington or New York. But the FBI is unable to find any information to support the threat nor is it able to verify any arrests similar to what the source described, and the source remains mysterious. The high alert in New York airports is canceled by the end of January. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 128-130) This PDB will be mentioned in President Bush’s famous August 6, 2001 PDB, but mentions that US officials “have not been able to corroborate” the plot (see August 6, 2001).

Anwar al-Awlaki.Anwar al-Awlaki. [Source: Public domain]The FBI conducts a counterterrorism inquiry into Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam who will later be suspected of involvement in the 9/11 plot. He serves as the “spiritual leader” to several of the hijackers (see March 2001 and After), and by 2008 US intelligence will determine he is linked to al-Qaeda (see February 27, 2008).
bullet The investigation is opened when it is learned he had probably been visited by a “procurement agent” for bin Laden, Ziyad Khaleel. Khaleel had helped buy a satellite phone for bin Laden; when he is arrested in December 1999 he reportedly tells the FBI crucial details about al-Qaeda operations in the US (see December 29, 1999).
bullet In early 2000 the FBI is aware when al-Awlaki is visited by an unnamed close associate of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 131 pdf file; Schmidt 2/27/2008)
bullet He also serves as vice president of the Charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW), the US branch of a Yemeni charity founded by Sheikh Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, a Yemeni imam who the US will officially designate a terrorist in 2004. CSSW also has ties to the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, Italy, considered one of the centers of al-Qaeda activity in Europe. The FBI begins investigating CSSW in 1999 after a Yemeni politician visits the US to solicit donations for the charity, and then visits Mahmoud Es Sayed, a known al-Qaeda figure at the Islamic Cultural Institute, on the same trip. (Burr and Collins 2006, pp. 243; Schmidt 2/27/2008)
bullet The FBI learns that al-Awlaki knows individuals from the suspect Holy Land Foundation and others involved in raising money for Hamas. Sources allege that al-Awlaki has even more extremist connections.
But none of these links are considered strong enough for criminal charges, and the investigation is closed. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 517) Al-Awlaki is beginning to associate with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar shortly before the investigation ends. For instance, on February 4, one month before the FBI investigation is closed, al-Awlaki talks on the telephone four times with hijacker associate Omar al-Bayoumi. The 9/11 Commission will later speculate that these calls are related to Alhazmi and Almihdhar, since al-Bayoumi is helping them that day, and that Alhazmi or Almihdhar may even have been using al-Bayoumi’s phone at the time (see February 4, 2000). Al-Bayoumi had also been the subject of an FBI counterterrorism investigation in 1999 (see September 1998-July 1999).

The FAA’s Office of Civil Aviation Security Intelligence sends an internal memo summarizing the al-Qaeda hijacking threat. After reciting information available on the topic, a few principal scenarios are presented. One of them is a “suicide hijacking operation.” The 9/11 Commission will comment on this and another memo the previous year, “In 1998 and 1999, the FAA intelligence unit produced reports about the hijacking threat posed by bin Ladin and al-Qaeda, including the possibility that the terrorist group might try to hijack a commercial jet and slam it into a US landmark.” However, FAA analysts consider this an option of last resort, because “it does not offer an opportunity for dialogue to achieve the key goal of obtaining [Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman] and other key captive extremists.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 345, 561; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 53)

A blurry photograph of a 2005 reconstruction of the pre-9/11 Able Danger chart showing Mohamed Atta and others.A blurry photograph of a 2005 reconstruction of the pre-9/11 Able Danger chart showing Mohamed Atta and others. [Source: C-SPAN]A US Army intelligence program called Able Danger identifies five al-Qaeda terrorist cells; one of them has connections to Brooklyn, New York and will become informally known as the “Brooklyn” cell by the Able Danger team. This cell includes 9/11 hijacker leader Mohamed Atta, and three other 9/11 hijackers: Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Nawaf Alhazmi. According to a former intelligence officer who claims he worked closely with Able Danger, the link to Brooklyn is not based upon any firm evidence, but computer analysis that established patterns in links between the four men. “[T]he software put them all together in Brooklyn.” (Jehl 8/9/2005; Washington Times 8/22/2005; Fox News 8/23/2005; Goodwin 9/2005) However, that does not necessarily imply them being physically present in Brooklyn. A lawyer later representing members of Able Danger states, “At no time did Able Danger identify Mohamed Atta as being physically present in the United States.” Furthermore, “No information obtained at the time would have led anyone to believe criminal activity had taken place or that any specific terrorist activities were being planned.” (CNN 9/21/2005; US Congress 9/21/2005) James D. Smith, a contractor working with the unit, discovers Mohamed Atta’s link to al-Qaeda. (Green 9/1/2005) Smith has been using advanced computer software and analysing individuals who are going between mosques. He has made a link between Mohamed Atta and Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, ringleader of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. (Fox News 8/28/2005; Goodwin 9/2005) Atta is said to have some unspecified connection to the Al Farouq mosque in Brooklyn, a hotbed of anti-American sentiment once frequented by Abdul-Rahman, which also contained the notorious Al-Kifah Refugee Center. (Phucas 9/22/2005) Smith obtained Atta’s name and photograph through a private researcher in California who was paid to gather the information from contacts in the Middle East. (Shenon 8/22/2005) Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer claims the photo is not the well-known menacing Florida driver’s license photo of Atta. “This is an older, more grainy photo we had of him. It was not the best picture in the world.” It is said to contain several names or aliases for Atta underneath it. (Shaffer 9/20/2005; Crewdson and Zajac 9/28/2005) LIWA analysts supporting Able Danger make a chart, which Shaffer describes in a radio interview as, “A chart probably about a 2x3 which had essentially five clusters around the center point which was bin Laden and his leadership.” (Shaffer 9/16/2005) The 9/11 Commission later claims that Atta only enters the United States for the first time several months later, in June 2000 (see June 3, 2000). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 224) However, investigations in the months after 9/11 find that Mohamed Atta and another of the hijackers rented rooms in Brooklyn around this time (see Spring 2000). Other newspaper accounts have the CIA monitoring Atta starting in January 2000, while he is living in Germany (see January-May 2000). Atta, Alshehhi, Almihdhar, Alhazmi and other hijackers have connections to associates of Sheikh Abdul-Rahman (see Early 2000-September 10, 2001).

The 9/11 hijackers have links to several people associated with “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdul-Rahman, the spiritual head of the group that bombed the World Trade Center in 1993. Abdul-Rahman has been in prison since the mid-1990s.
bullet 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi attend a mosque in San Diego that is visited by an unnamed associate of Abdul-Rahman who is under investigation by the Los Angeles FBI (see June 1999-March 2000);
bullet The mosque is also attended by Osama Basnan, who threw a party for Abdul-Rahman in 1992 (see Spring 2000);
bullet 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta is seen with Adnan Shukrijumah, son of Abdul-Rahman’s former translator (see May 2, 2001) and Atta and hijacker Marwan Alshehhi may attend a mosque run by his father (see 2000-2001);
bullet Hijacker Mohand Alshehri is seen near the Minnesota clinic where Abdul-Rahman is being held (see August 2001);
bullet Some hijackers have the same mailing address as Abdul-Rahman and at least one of his associates (see Before September 11, 2001);
bullet Khalid Almihdhar and other hijackers obtain false ID cards from Mohamed el-Atriss, an associate of an unindicted co-conspirator at Abdul-Rahman’s trial (see (July-August 2001)); (Lance 2006, pp. 373)
bullet In addition, people attending a Bronx mosque are warned to stay away from lower Manhattan on 9/11 (see Early September 2001).
In early 2000, the Able Danger data-mining program apparently identifies Atta, Alshehhi, Alhazmi, and Almihdhar as members of al-Qaeda through their associations with people linked to Abdul-Rahman (see January-February 2000).

Four Arabs allegedly visit the headquarters of the Abu Sayyaf Islamist militant group, deep in the jungles of the southern Philippines. One of them goes by the name Ibnu bin Laden and appears to be a close relative of Osama bin Laden. They give equipment and money. Just days later, Abu Sayyaf militants seize about 50 students and teachers and demand the release of Ramzi Yousef and Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman from US prisons in exchange for their hostages. (They are ultimately unsuccessful in winning their demands.) Osama bin Laden’s ties to Abu Sayyaf go back at least to 1988, when it is believed he personally visited the Philippines. (Schloss and Robles 10/11/2001 Sources: Wahab Akbar)

Ayman al-Zawahiri (left), Ahmed Refai Taha (center), and Osama bin Laden (right) on Al Jazeera.Ayman al-Zawahiri (left), Ahmed Refai Taha (center), and Osama bin Laden (right) on Al Jazeera. [Source: Al Jazeera]Al Jazeera broadcasts a video featuring Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Ahmed Refai Taha, head of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya militant group formerly led by the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. In the video, filmed in Afghanistan several months earlier, bin Laden promises “to do all we can” to liberate Abdul-Rahman from his imprisonment in the US. Al-Zawahiri says that he is “talking business” about helping to free Abdul-Rahman. “I’m talking jihad.” Additionally, Mohammed Omar Abdul-Rahman, one of the Blind Sheikh’s sons, is heard on the tape saying, “O brothers, everywhere, avenge your leaders, avenge your sheik. Let’s go to the grounds of jihad. Let us spill blood. Let’s go spill blood.” (Preston 9/8/2004) In July 2001, the FBI will overhear an Arabic translator tell the Blind Sheikh that the October 2000 bombing of the USS ‘Cole’ was done for him “so he could be released.” The translator is also overheard saying that if he is not released, the bombers are prepared to “execute another operation.” (Weiser 6/6/2002)

Chris Isham.Chris Isham. [Source:]In March 2001, the ISI learns that one of bin Laden’s operatives, who is working on a sensitive al-Qaeda job in Afghanistan, has been providing information to the CIA at the US consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan. The operative, whose CIA codename is “Max,” becomes worried that the ISI will disclose to al-Qaeda his dealings with the CIA. The next month, ABC News reporters Chris Isham and John Miller meet with Max and help him defect to the US and talk to the FBI. Max tells the reporters that in 1999 and 2000 he was trained as part of a small group by Saif al-Adel, one of al-Qaeda’s top leaders. Asked by Isham and Miller whether al-Qaeda is planning any operations targeting the US, he describes a plan to hijack an airplane carrying a US senator or ambassador and then use the dignitary to bargain for the release of the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. US intelligence learned of the same basic plot idea in 1998 (see 1998). Max does defect and will be extensively debriefed by the FBI. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 282) In May 2001, a Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) will be sent to top White House officials warning that “terrorist groups [are] cooperating on [a] US hostage plot”(see May 23, 2001). It is not known for how long Max was talking to the CIA or what he told them before he was exposed, but his account contradicts assertions that US intelligence did not have any well placed informants in al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. An Afghan named “Ahmed” defects around the same time and there are similarities between his case and that of Max, but it is unknown if they are in fact the same person or not (see April 2001).

Peter Jouvenal.Peter Jouvenal. [Source: Dominc Medley]British cameraman Peter Jouvenal is reporting on Afghanistan at this time and using a young Afghan known only as “Ahmed” to run errands. Ahmed also has a job running errands for Osama bin Laden at the same time. Jouvenal will later recount that Ahmed was helping bin Laden by “meeting people in Pakistan and taking them across the border, taking messages around for Osama, buying his food, taking messages to the Internet and logging on and receiving, printing, sending.” Ahmed buys bin Laden’s meals most every day. But Jouvenal says that “somewhere on the line Ahmed tied up with the CIA” and decided that working for bin Laden was too dangerous. Ahmed asks Jouvenal for help to get a visa for himself and his family to defect to the US, which Ahmed eventually gets. He also tells Jouvenal that al-Qaeda is planning to hijack an airplane in the US in an attempt to get Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman released from prison. (Bergen 2006, pp. 287-289) There are some similarities between Ahmed’s case and the case of “Max” who leaves Afghanistan around the same time and warns of a hijacking, but there are differences as well (see March-April 2001). It is not known if they are the same person. Regardless, Ahmed’s case contradicts CIA assertions that they never had any asserts close to bin Laden. It is not known why the CIA did not use Ahmed to track bin Laden’s location or poison his food. One month later the White House will be warned of the hijacking plot, but it is unknown if this came from Ahmed or other sources (see May 23, 2001).

A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) sent to top White House officials is entitled, “Terrorist Groups Said Cooperating on US Hostage Plot.” It warns of a possible hostage plot against the US abroad to force to release of prisoners being held in the US, including Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see July 1990). The report notes operatives might hijack an aircraft or storm a US embassy overseas. SEIBs are typically based on the previous day’s President Daily Briefing (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable President Bush is given this information. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 255-256, 533; US District Court of Eastern Virginia 5/4/2006, pp. 2 pdf file) This report leads to an FAA warning to airlines noting the potential for “an airline hijacking to free terrorists incarcerated in the United States.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 255-256)

Mohand Alshehri.Mohand Alshehri. [Source: FBI]Hijacker Mohand Alshehri is apparently seen in a bar in Rochester, Minnesota, and is engaged in conversation with a woman there. Rochester is home to the Federal Medical Center prison, where the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, is held from 1998 to 2002. The hijackers have a number of tangential links to him (see Early 2000-September 10, 2001). The woman, Nancy Hanlon, often runs into Arabs at the bar, which is popular with Saudis receiving medical treatment nearby. Hanlon will later describe Alshehri as “young, dishevelled—and utterly despondent. He was slumped over a glass of beer… It was overwhelming—the despair that a person can give out! Out of every part of him. His face.” During their three-hour conversation Alshehri, who claims to be a pilot and produces a pilot’s ID, insists, “You are talking to a dead man. I don’t exist. I’m a ghost. I’m not even here, I’m dead… I’ve got myself into something there is no way out. There is no way out… It has been decided. He has decided it. It is done. It is finished.” However, he does brighten up a few times and says, “We are really going to show your country something. Something big. It’s going to be really big.” After 9/11, Hanlon apparently remains unaware of pictures showing Alshehri as one of the 9/11 hijackers. She goes to the FBI in 2002 and identifies Alshehri from a series of photographs. However, the FBI will say there is no reason to believe Alshehri ever visited Rochester. (McGill 6/30/2004)

President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on August 6, 2001. Advisors wait with classified briefings.President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on August 6, 2001. Advisors wait with classified briefings. [Source: White House]President Bush receives a classified presidential daily briefing (PDB) at his Crawford, Texas ranch indicating that Osama bin Laden might be planning to hijack commercial airliners. The PDB provided to him is entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” The entire briefing focuses on the possibility of terrorist attacks inside the US. (Sanger 5/15/2002; Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002) The analysts who drafted the briefing will say that they drafted it on the CIA’s initiative (see July 13, 2004), whereas in 2004 Bush will state that he requested a briefing on the topic due to threats relating to a conference in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001, where Western intelligence agencies believed Osama bin Laden was involved in a plot to crash an airplane into a building to kill Bush and other leaders (see April 13, 2004). The analysts will later explain that they saw it as an opportunity to convey that the threat of an al-Qaeda attack in the US was both current and serious. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260) The existence of this briefing is kept secret, until it is leaked in May 2002, causing a storm of controversy (see May 15, 2002). While National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will claim the memo is only one and a half pages long, other accounts state it is 11 1/2 pages instead of the usual two or three. (Sanger 5/15/2002; Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002; Schrom 10/1/2002) A page and a half of the contents will be released on April 10, 2004; this reportedly is the full content of the briefing. (Pincus and Eggen 4/10/2004) The briefing, as released, states as follows (note that the spelling of certain words are corrected and links have been added):
bullet Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US (see December 1, 1998). Bin Laden implied in US television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and “bring the fighting to America” (see May 26, 1998).
bullet After US missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, bin Laden told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a -REDACTED-service (see December 21, 1998).
bullet An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told -REDACTED- service at the same time that bin Laden was planning to exploit the operative’s access to the US to mount a terrorist strike.
bullet The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of bin Laden’s first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the US. Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself (see December 14, 1999), but that bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaida encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaida was planning his own US attack (see Late March-Early April 2001 and May 30, 2001).
bullet Ressam says bin Laden was aware of the Los Angeles operation.
bullet Although bin Laden has not succeeded, his attacks against the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Laden associates surveyed our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993 (see Late 1993-Late 1994), and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings were arrested and deported in 1997.
bullet Al-Qaeda members—including some who are US citizens—have resided in or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks (see January 25, 2001). Two al-Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were US citizens (see September 15, 1998), and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s (see November 1989 and September 10, 1998).
bullet A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks (see October-November 1998).
bullet “We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [REDACTED] service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul-Rahman and other US-held extremists” (see 1998, December 4, 1998, and May 23, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 223) According to the Washington Post, this information came from a British service. (Woodward and Eggen 5/18/2002)
bullet Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York (see May 30, 2001).
bullet The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full-field investigations throughout the US that it considers bin Laden-related (see August 6, 2001). CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group or bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives (see May 16-17, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 223)
In retrospect, the briefing is remarkable for the many warnings that apparently are not included (see for instance, from the summer of 2001 prior to August alone: May 2001, June 2001, June 12, 2001, June 19, 2001, Late Summer 2001, July 2001, July 16, 2001, Late July 2001, Late July 2001, Summer 2001, June 30-July 1, 2001, July 10, 2001, and Early August 2001). According to one account, after the PDB has been given to him, Bush tells the CIA briefer, “You’ve covered your ass now” (see August 6, 2001). Incredibly, the New York Times later reports that after being given the briefing, Bush “[breaks] off from work early and [spends] most of the day fishing.” (Rich 5/25/2002) In 2002 and again in 2004, National Security Adviser Rice will incorrectly claim under oath that the briefing only contained historical information from 1998 and before (see May 16, 2002 and April 8, 2004).

The Sphinx Trading sign.The Sphinx Trading sign. [Source: National Geographic]Some of the 9/11 hijackers rent mailboxes from a company called Sphinx Trading, which was also used by ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul-Rahman and at least one of his associates. The mailboxes are located in Jersey City, New Jersey, four doors down from the mosque where Abdul-Rahman was imam in the early 1990s. El Sayyid Nosair, who assassinated Rabbi Meir Kahane and was linked to the Islamic militant cell Abdul-Rahman headed (see November 5, 1990 and December 7, 1991), also had a mailbox there before he was arrested in 1990. Sphinx Trading is owned by Waleed al-Noor, who was named an unindicted co-conspirator at the ‘Landmarks’ bomb plot trial (see June 24, 1993). The hijackers will later obtain fake IDs from al-Noor’s partner, Mohamed el-Atriss. The names of the hijackers who had mailboxes there are never given, but in the summer of 2001 el-Atriss interacts with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Abdulaziz Alomari, Khalid Almihdhar, and Hani Hanjour (see (July-August 2001)), at least. (Hanley 6/25/2003; Schwanberg 10/20/2003; Lance 2006, pp. 372-4; Kelly 9/11/2006) An FBI agent will later comment: “The fact that this location was where Almihdhar, in particular, got his bogus credentials, is not only shocking, it makes me angry. The [Joint Terrorist Task Force] in the [New York Office] had this location back in 1991. In the mid-90s they listed al-Noor, the coowner, as a coconspirator, unindicted in the plot to blow up bridges and tunnels. And now we find out that this is the precise location where the most visible of all the hijackers in the US got his ID? Incredible. All the Bureau’s New York Office had to do was sit on that place over the years and they would have broken right into the 9/11 plot.” (Lance 2006, pp. 373)

President Bush in front of the Islamic Center on September 17, 2001. Alamoudi is on the far right.President Bush in front of the Islamic Center on September 17, 2001. Alamoudi is on the far right. [Source: Martin H. Simon/ Corbis]In the weeks after 9/11, President Bush makes a number of public appearances with Muslim leaders in an attempt to reach out to what is perceived as the moderate Muslim community. However, some leaders invited to appear with Bush are actually radical Islamists with suspected terrorism ties. For instance, on September 14, 2001, Bush appears at a prayer service dedicated to the victims of the 9/11 attacks with Abdurahaman Alamoudi, the president of the American Muslim Council. US intelligence had suspected Alamoudi of ties with bin Laden and other terrorist leaders since 1994 (see Shortly After March 1994), and in late 2000 the Bush campaign returned a campaign contribution from Alamoudi because of his controversial ties (see July 2000). Alamoudi also proclaimed his support for Hamas and Hezbollah, both officially designated terrorist groups by the US, at a 2000 public rally in Washington. Another invited attendee at the prayer service is Muzzammil Siddiqi, the spiritual leader of the Islamic Society of Orange County. Siddiqi said of the US government a year earlier, “If you remain on the side of injustice the wrath of God will come.” (Fox News 10/1/2001) In the early 1990s, the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, lectured about violent jihad at Siddiqi’s mosque while Siddiqi sat beside him to translate. Several members of an al-Qaeda sleeper cell, including Khalil Deek and Adam Gadahn, were regular attendees at his mosque. (Khatchadourian 1/22/2007) “Former Secret Service officer Ron Williams says, “The intelligence community has known for sometime the association of Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi and Mr. Alamoudi and their association with terrorist organizations.” (Fox News 10/1/2001) Agha Jafri, a Shia Muslim leader, calls Siddiqi part of a Saudi-backed “mafia” intent on crushing moderate Sufi and Shiite Muslims in the US and says, “They hate us.” (Jacoby 3/11/2003) On September 17, 2001, Bush speaks before the Islamic Center, a Washington mosque. Alamoudi is again pictured with Bush. On September 26, Bush meets with 15 prominent Muslim leaders at the White House. Siddiqi sits next to Bush. Other Muslim leaders at these meetings have expressed support for Hamas and other officially designated terrorist groups. Influential Republican lobbyist Grover Norquist has been working to build a political alliance between the Republican Party and Muslim Americans since at least 1998 (see 1998-September 2001), and he is allegedly responsible for arranging these meetings and vouching for the attendees. (Foer 11/1/2001) Bush apparently does not make any more public appearances with Alamoudi or Siddiqi after a Fox News report in early October 2001 regarding their appearances with him. (Fox News 10/1/2001) It will later come out that Alamoudi met with two of the 9/11 hijackers’ suspected associates in 2000 (see October-November 2000), and in 2004, Alamoudi will be sentenced to a long prison term for illegal dealings with Libya (see October 15, 2004). Siddiqi remains an imam in Orange County and denies any terrorism links. An FBI official will say in 2007, “We have a very strong relationship with Dr. Siddiqi.” (Khatchadourian 1/22/2007)

A classified FBI report on this date indicates that alleged hijacker associate Osama Basnan has long-time links to both the bin Laden family and the Saudi government. The report states that Basnan has “been determined to have known Osama bin Laden’s family in Saudi Arabia and to have telephonic contact with members of bin Laden’s family who are currently in the US.” It also states, “The possibility of [Basnan] being affiliated with the Saudi Arabian Government or the Saudi Arabian Intelligence Service is supported by [Basnan] listing his employment in 1992 as the—.” Unfortunately, the rest of that sentence remains redacted. The report further notes that the fact that in July 2001 Basnan moved into the same San Diego apartment building where hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and hijacker associate Omar al-Bayoumi lived right after al-Bayoumi moved away “could indicate he succeeded Omar al-Bayoumi and may be undertaking activities on behalf of the Government of Saudi Arabia” (see June 23-July 2001). The FBI report, which will be obtained by the website in 2008, is heavily redacted, and all mentions of Basnan’s name appear to be redacted. However, one can sometimes determine when Basnan is being referred to. For instance, the same paragraph that mentions his link to the bin Laden family also says the same person with that link hosted a party for Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman in 1992, and press reports have indicated that person was Basnan (see October 17, 1992). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/3/2001 pdf file)

The Blind Sheikh’s sons Mohammad Omar Abdul-Rahman and Ahmad Abdul-Rahman in 1998. It is not clear which is which.The Blind Sheikh’s sons Mohammad Omar Abdul-Rahman and Ahmad Abdul-Rahman in 1998. It is not clear which is which. [Source: CNN]Pakistani authorities raid an apartment in Quetta, Pakistan, and apparently arrest Mohammad Omar Abdul-Rahman, a son of the Blind Sheikh,’ Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. Supposedly, communications found at the apartment lead to the later arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). (Johnston 3/4/2003) Government officials say he is a senior al-Qaeda operative who ran a training camp in Afghanistan before 9/11 attacks and also had a role in operational planning. Another son of the blind sheik, Ahmad Abdul-Rahman, was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001, but Ahmad was not considered to be high ranking. (Associated Press 3/4/2003) But even though Mohammad Omar’s arrest is reported in the New York Times and elsewhere, there is no official announcement. In December 2005, his name will be on a list published by ABC News of high-detainees being held in a secret CIA prison (see November 2005). (ABC News 12/5/2005) In 2006, the US will announce that it is emptying the CIA prisons and transferring all high-level prisoners to Guantanamo, but he will not be one of those transferred and it is unclear what happened to him (see September 2-3, 2006).

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