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Profile: Wadih El-Hage
a.k.a. Wadih el-Hage, Wadih El Hage, Abd'al Sabur, Abdel Saboor, Abdus Sabur, Abed al-Sabour al-Lubnani
Wadih El-Hage was a participant or observer in the following events:
Islamic Center of Tucson. [Source: Jacob Rader]In 1986, Maktab al-Khidamat (a.k.a. Al-Kifah), the precursor organization to al-Qaeda, opens its first branch in the US at the Islamic Center of Tucson, in Tucson, Arizona. Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz will later call the Islamic Center, “basically, the first cell of al-Qaeda in the United States; that is where it all started.” The organization’s journal, Al Jihad (Holy War), is initially distributed in the US from there. Other branches around the US soon follow (see 1985-1989). [New York Times, 6/19/2002]
A number of important future al-Qaeda figures are connected to the Tucson branch in the 1980s and into the early 1990s, including:
Mohammed Loay Bayazid, one of the founders of al-Qaeda two years later.
Wael Hamza Julaidan, another founder of al-Qaeda, and a Saudi multimillionaire. He was president of the Islamic Center starting in 1983 and leaves the US around 1986.
Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s future personal secretary, who will later be convicted for a role in the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). El-Hage is connected to the murder of a liberal imam at the rival mosque to the Islamic Center in 1990 (see January 1990).
Mubarak al Duri, al-Qaeda’s chief agent attempting to purchase weapons of mass destruction. [Washington Post, 9/10/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 521]
Throughout the 1980s, the mosque provides money, support, and fighters to the mujaheddin fighting in Afghanistan. Around 1991, future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour will move 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. He will briefly live in Tucson, but his ties to earlier al-Qaeda connections there remain elusive. [Washington Post, 9/10/2002]
Afghan Arab Essam al Ridi purchases more equipment in the US for the mujaheddin fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He had previously worked as a buyer for the mujaheddin, traveling the world to acquire items for the anti-Soviet jihad (see Early 1983-Late 1984). However, in 1985 he fell out with the others over Osama bin Laden’s influence in the movement, which he thought was excessive, and returned to the US to work as a flight instructor. Al Ridi buys eleven pairs of night vision goggles and gives them to Wadih El-Hage, who will later become Osama bin Laden’s personal secretary (see October 1995). El-Hage takes them to Pakistan for use in his passenger luggage. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001] Al Ridi will later purchase assassination rifles for the fighters linked to bin Laden, apparently with the CIA’s knowledge, but it is unclear whether the CIA knows about this transaction (see Early 1989).
Dr. Rashad Khalifa in 1989. [Source: Public domain]Al-Qaeda operative Wadih el-Hage is linked to the killing of a liberal imam in Tucson, Arizona. Dr. Rashad Khalifa preaches at the Masjid Tucson. There is another mosque in Tucson, the Islamic Center, that is favored by radical Islamists, including al-Qaeda figures like el-Hage (see 1986). Many at the Islamic Center complain about Khalifa and his liberal views, such as allowing men and women to pray together. At some unknown later time, el-Hage will tell US investigators that in January 1990, he is visited by an unnamed, tall, bearded, Egyptian man who says that he has come from New York. This man says he has come to Tucson to investigate Khalifa. El-Hage serves the man lunch at his house while the man continues to angrily complain about Khalifa. El-Hage will tell investigators the man then leaves and he never sees him again. Later this month, on January 31, Khalifa is found murdered in the kitchen of his mosque. Investigators suspect the unnamed man was sent from New York by radical Islamists there. Osama bin Laden has a base of support at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in New York, and another base of support in Tucson. El-Hage will later tell investigators that he thought Khalifa’s murder was justified. Starting in 1991, the FBI will begin investigating El-Hage, and he will be implicated in the murder of Khalifa, but there is not enough evidence to charge him. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 45-46] However, he will be indicted for lying about his knowledge of the murder. He also says that the murder is a “good thing.” [CBS News, 10/21/2001] Later, seven people will be indicted in Colorado on charges of conspiracy to kill Khalifa. All seven are believed to be members of al-Fuqra, a Muslim extremist group based in Pakistan that has been tied to terrorist activities. Six will be convicted and the seventh will flee the country. However, none of the seven are thought to have committed the murder. In 2009, the prime suspect, Glen Cusford Francis, a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, will be arrested in Canada and charged with the murder. [Tucson Citizen, 4/29/2009]
Wadih El-Hage’s US passport. His face is overly dark due to a poor photocopy. [Source: US Justice Department] (click image to enlarge)The FBI begins to investigate Wadih El-Hage, who will soon work as bin Laden’s personal secretary. The FBI is investigating the February 1991 murder of Mustafa Shalabi (see (February 28, 1991)), the head of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, a charity with ties to both bin Laden and the CIA. El-Hage, a US citizen living in Texas, came to New York to briefly run Al-Kifah so Shalabi could take a trip overseas, and happened to arrive the same day that Shalabi was murdered. Investigators find a message from El-Hage on Shalabi’s answer machine. They learn El-Hage had been connected to the 1990 murder of a liberal imam in Tucson, Arizona (see January 1990). [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 148-149; Lance, 2006, pp. 67-68] Further, he visited El Sayyid Nosair, who assassinated Meir Kahane the year before (see November 5, 1990), in prison, and left his name in the visitor’s log. [Lance, 2003, pp. 50-51] However, the FBI decides there is not enough evidence to charge El-Hage with any crime. They lose track of him in early 1992, when he moves to Sudan and begins working there as bin Laden’s primary personal secretary. He will help bin Laden run many of his businesses, and will frequently take international trips on bin Laden’s behalf. [PBS Frontline, 4/1999; New York Times, 1/22/2000]
Bin Laden’s house in Khartoum, Sudan. [Source: PBS]It has not been revealed when US intelligence begins monitoring bin Laden exactly, though the CIA was tailing him in Sudan by the end of 1991 (see February 1991- July 1992). But in late 1995 the FBI is given forty thick files on bin Laden from the CIA and NSA, mostly communications intercepts (see October 1995). The sheer amount of material suggests the surveillance had been going on for several years. Dan Coleman, an FBI agent working with the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will begin examining these files and finds that many of them are transcripts from wiretapped phones tied to bin Laden’s businesses in Khartoum, Sudan, where bin Laden lives from 1991 to 1996. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 148-149; Wright, 2006, pp. 242-244] CIA Director George Tenet will later comment, “The then-obscure name ‘Osama bin Laden’ kept cropping up in the intelligence traffic.… [The CIA] spotted bin Laden’s tracts in the early 1990s in connection with funding other terrorist movements. They didn’t know exactly what this Saudi exile living in Sudan was up to, but they knew it was not good.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 100] The London Times will later report that in Sudan, “bin Laden used an $80,000 satellite phone and al-Qaeda members used radios to avoid being bugged…” [London Times, 10/7/2001] Bin Laden is mistaken in his belief that satellite phones cannot be monitored; a satellite phone he buys in 1996 will be monitored as well (see November 1996-Late August 1998).
In January 1992, Wadih El-Hage is briefly arrested and detained by police in Arlington, Texas, for a traffic violation. Police records show the driver of the car is Marwan Salama. From late 1992 until about a month before the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993 (see February 26, 1993), more than two dozen calls were placed from phones used by the bombers to an Arlington number used by Salama. Salama is never charged with any crime and continues to live in the US at least through late 1998. [Dallas Morning News, 10/28/1998] Several months later, El-Hage moves to Sudan to work as bin Laden’s personal secretary. He registers his presence there with the US consulate. [Jacquard, 2002, pp. 80] US intelligence began investigating El-Hage in 1991 for links to both a murder and an assassination in the US (see March 1991), and in the summer of 1993 one of the WTC bombers reveals his links to El-Hage (see Summer 1993). Presumably, links can be drawn between the bombers and El-Hage working for bin Laden in Sudan, but it is unknown if that link is made.
The airplane that will be bought for bin Laden. [Source: Fox News]High-ranking al-Qaeda operative Wadih El-Hage contacts Essam al Ridi, a militant who had previously helped the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan (see Early 1983-Late 1984), to discuss buying a jet plane for Osama bin Laden. El Hage is at bin Laden’s base in Sudan, and al Ridi is in Texas, where he works as a flight instructor. The two men know each other from the 1980s, when they shipped equipment from the US to the mujaheddin in Afghanistan (see 1987 or 1988). The FBI has been aware of El-Hage’s terrorist connections for some time (see March 1991), and the CIA is monitoring bin Laden in Sudan (see February 1991- July 1992). There are “quite a few” communications, in which the two men discuss the price of the aircraft, the fact that the plane is for bin Laden, and the plane’s range. El-Hage says that the plane has to be able to fly 2,000 miles, as he and bin Laden want to use it to ship Stinger missiles from Peshawar, Pakistan, to Khartoum, Sudan, and al Ridi and El-Hage discuss the technicalities of shipping the missiles. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001] Bin Laden sends money for the plane to al Ridi in the US (see Between August 1992 and 1993), and al Ridi then buys the plane and flies it to Sudan (see Early 1993). It is unclear if these calls are monitored, although bin Laden is under surveillance by the US at this time (see Early 1990s and Early 1990s).
Jamal al-Fadl travels to Vienna and has meetings with the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA), which has its headquarters in Vienna. He opens up a Vienna bank account and al-Qaeda operative Wadih El-Hage also opens up a Vienna bank account around this time. Presumably these accounts are used by al-Qaeda to send money to TWRA for operations in Bosnia. Around the same time, al-Qaeda leader Mamdouh Mahmud Salim tells al-Fadl that al-Qaeda’s goal is to make Bosnia a base for European operations. [United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 21, 3/22/2001; USA v. Enaam M. Arnaout, 10/6/2003, pp. 24-25 ] TWRA will funnel hundreds of millions of dollars into Bosnia for illegal weapons purchases over the next several years while the US watches but fails to act. In 1996, al-Fadl will defect from al-Qaeda and tell all he knows to US investigators (see June 1996-April 1997).
Essam al Ridi. [Source: CNN]Osama bin Laden buys a US military aircraft in Arizona, paying about $210,000 for a converted Saber-40. The transaction is arranged through Wadih El-Hage, a bin Laden employee in Sudan, and Essam al Ridi, a US-based helper for radical Islamists. Before the purchase is made, the two men discuss the transaction on the phone (see August 1992-1993) and El-Hage sends money to al Ridi, who had learned to fly in the US (see Between August 1992 and 1993). Bin Laden apparently wants to use the plane to transport stinger missiles from Pakistan to Sudan, but it is unclear whether it is ever actually used to do this. After modifying the plane, al Ridi flies it from the US to Khartoum, Sudan, where he meets El-Hage, bin Laden, al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef, and others. They have dinner, where al Ridi also sees “quite a few” AK 47s, and men in Sudanese military uniforms. Al Ridi also visits bin Laden at the offices of one of his companies, Wadi al Aqiq, and bin Laden offers him a job as a pilot, spraying crops and then shipping them to other countries. However, al Ridi, who argued with bin Laden during the Soviet-Afghan war, rejects the offer, saying bin Laden is not offering him enough money. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/16/2001; Washington Post, 5/19/2002] The plane will later be used to transport bin Laden operatives on a trip to Somalia before the “Black Hawk Down” incident (see Before October 1993), but al Ridi will later crash it (see (1994-1995)).
Mahmud Abouhalima. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Mahmud Abouhalima is arrested for his role in the February 1993 WTC bombing. He meets with US investigators without his lawyer and provides a detailed account of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, bin Laden’s main support base in the US in the early 1990s. He says that twice he turned to a Texas acquaintance named Wadih El-Hage to buy weapons for his associates. El-Hage, who turns out to be bin Laden’s personal secretary (see September 15, 1998), will later be caught and convicted of bombing the US embassies in Africa in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Abouhalima further recounts fighting in Afghanistan with the mujaheddin in the 1980s and tells of travelling to training camps with a Palestinian man named Mohammed Odeh. A Palestinian man with the name Mohammed Saddiq Odeh will later be convicted of a role in the 1998 embassy bombings as well. Abouhalima offers additional inside information about the bomb plot and his associates in exchange for a lighter sentence. But, as the New York Times will later note, prosecutors turn down the offer “for reasons that remain unclear.” Abouhalima is later found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. [New York Times, 10/22/1998]
Mohamed Zeki Mahjoub. [Source: Public domain]On June 16, 1993, Islamic militant Essam Marzouk arrives in Vancouver, Canada, and immediately arouses suspicion. He is arrested after immigration officials discover his suitcase is full of fake passports. Furthermore, he admits he had spent five years as an “Arab volunteer” in Pakistan and Afghanistan. [National Post, 10/14/2005] Al-Qaeda double agent Ali Mohamed is there to pick him up at the airport, and ends up getting questioned. He is asked if Marzouk fought in Afghanistan or knows how to use explosives. But Mohamed claims to be an FBI asset and the FBI vouches for him, so he is let go. Marzouk is detained for nearly a year, but is also let go after another visit by Mohamed (see June 16, 1993). [Globe and Mail, 9/7/2002] Marzouk applies for and receives political refugee status, but Canadian intelligence are suspicious about him and put him under surveillance. They also repeatedly interview him. However, they do not find anything incriminating. Canadian intelligence is aware that Ali Mohamed is making repeated visits to Vancouver to meet Marzouk. But the Canadians still only know Mohamed as an FBI asset and the FBI fails to tell them more about Mohamed, despite growing evidence against him. Marzouk starts a business with a friend named Amer Hamed. But Canadian intelligence remains suspicious and does not give Marzouk the security clearance to become a permanent resident. In 1997 and 1998, there are several calls between Marzouk and the home number of Mohamed Zeki Mahjoub, an Islamic Jihad operative living in Toronto. Mahjoub is under heavy surveillance, including being physically trailed, so presumably Canadian intelligence is aware of these calls. [Toronto Star, 7/17/2004] Additionally, a Canadian judge will later say that Mubarak Al Duri was “reported to be Osama bin Laden’s principal procurement agent for weapons of mass destruction,” and had lived in the Vancouver area at some point, probably the late 1990s. [National Post, 11/26/2005] In 2000, Canadian intelligence will discover that Al Duri also has been in contact with Mahjoub. [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2/22/2008 ] In 1997, the FBI discovers Marzouk’s Vancouver address in the address book of Wadih El-Hage, Osama bin Laden’s former personal secretary. But it is unknown if this information is ever shared with Canadian intelligence (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). [National Post, 3/19/2002] In February 1998, Marzouk sells his assets and leaves Canada with Hamed. But on the way out of the country he stops at a house near Toronto, Canada, where Ahmed Said Khadr, a suspected high-ranking al-Qaeda member, lives. He meets with Mahjoub at Khadr’s house. Marzouk soon flies to Afghanistan. He had been a training camp instructor there in the early 1990s, and now he is assigned to train the men who are to attack US embassies in Africa. In July, Marzouk travels to Nairobi to help with the final preparations for the bombings. Hamed, Marzouk’s partner in Vancouver, is killed by a US missile in August in retaliation for the embassy bombings earlier that month. After further travel, Marzouk is arrested in Azerbaijan. [National Post, 10/14/2005]
Bin Laden’s crashed airplane. [Source: Fox News]Essam al Ridi, an associate of Osama bin Laden who previously purchased an aircraft for him (see Early 1993), is asked to sell the aircraft by Wadih El-Hage, another bin Laden associate. Al Ridi, who obtains US citizenship in 1994, agrees to check the plane out and try to sell it in Egypt, where he is living at the moment. Al Ridi goes to examine the plane, which is in Khartoum, Sudan. He travels through Nairobi, Kenya, because he is worried about surveillance by Egyptian intelligence, and meets El-Hage, who is now living in Nairobi. Upon arrival in Khartoum, El-Hage is met by Ihab Ali Nawawi, another bin Laden operative and US-trained pilot. They find that the plane is in poor condition, and try to repair it. However, both sets of brakes fail upon landing after a test flight and the plane crashes into a sandbank near the runway. The accident is noticed by the tower and “everybody else,” and is a major event because, as al Ridi will later say in court: “[T]his aircraft was very unique to Khartoum. There is no such private jet aircraft at Khartoum International Airport.” Al Ridi is extremely concerned because of bin Laden’s notoriety and because “[e]verybody knows that it is Osama bin Laden’s aircraft.” He knows Egyptian intelligence in Khartoum will soon find out about the incident and will then come looking for him, so he is “very concerned to leave,” and he takes the first plane out of the country. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001] The CIA has been monitoring bin Laden in Sudan since he moved there in 1991 (see February 1991- July 1992 and Early 1990s), and it would make sense that the CIA would learn of the accident due to the plane’s known ownership by bin Laden. However, it is unclear if they do so and what action they take based on it, if any. During the Soviet-Afghan War, al Ridi had supplied bin Laden with assassination rifles in Afghanistan, and later said that the CIA was aware of this transaction (see Early 1989).
US intelligence began monitoring Ali Mohamed in the autumn of 1993 (see Autumn 1993). The San Francisco Chronicle will later report that from “1994 to 1998… FBI agents trace phone calls from Mohamed’s California residences in Santa Clara and, later, Sacramento to bin Laden associates in [Nairobi, Kenya].” In late 1994, FBI agents discover that Mohamed is temporarily living in an al-Qaeda safe house in Nairobi. The FBI contacts him there and he returns to the US a short time later to be interviewed by the FBI (see December 9, 1994). [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/21/2001] When Mohamed is making arrangements to be interviewed by the FBI, he uses the telephone of Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s personal secretary who is part of the Kenya al-Qaeda cell. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 39, 5/3/2001] By 1996, US intelligence is continually monitoring five telephone lines in Nairobi used by the cell members, including those belonging to El-Hage (see April 1996).
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. [Washington Post, 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. [New York Times, 10/30/1998; New York Times, 10/31/1998]
In 1995, the FBI is given the CIA’s files on bin Laden, and they discover that the CIA has been conducting a vigorous investigation on Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s personal secretary and a US citizen (see October 1995). The FBI had already started investigating El-Hage in 1991 (see March 1991), and in 1993 they found out he had bought weapons for one of the 1993 WTC bombers (see Summer 1993). Thanks to the CIA files, the FBI learns that in early 1992 El-Hage moved to Sudan and worked there as bin Laden’s personal secretary. [PBS Frontline, 4/1999; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 148-149] Then, in 1994, he moved to Nairobi, Kenya, and officially started running a bogus charity there called “Help Africa People.” [PBS Frontline, 4/1999; CNN, 10/16/2001] In fact, El-Hage is running an al-Qaeda cell that will later carry out the 1998 African embassy bombings. He stays in close contact with top al-Qaeda leaders. [PBS Frontline, 4/1999] Apparently El-Hage is under US surveillance in Kenya, or at least people he is calling are under surveillance. For instance, a phone call between El-Hage in Kenya and Ali Mohamed in California is recorded in late 1994 (see Late 1994).and there are many calls recorded between El-Hage and bin Laden in Sudan. FBI agent Dan Coleman will analyze all this information about El-Hage and eventually supervise a raid on his Kenya house in 1997 (see August 21, 1997). [Wright, 2006, pp. 242-244]
The FBI opens a case on Osama bin Laden. Dan Coleman and John Ligouri, members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), are sent to the CIA Counterterrorist Center (CTC) to see what the CIA knows about bin Laden. “They were amazed by the amount of material - some forty thick files’ worth - that they found.… Most of the information consisted of raw, unfocused data: itineraries, phone records, associates lists, investment holdings, bank transfers.” The vast majority of the data comes from NSA electronic eavesdropping and most of it has not been properly analyzed (see Early 1990s). They find that the CTC has been conducting a vigorous investigation on Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s personal secretary. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 148-149] Coleman will go on to become the FBI’s biggest expert on bin Laden and will help start the bureau’s bin Laden unit. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 90] It is not known when the CIA or NSA began monitoring bin Laden or El-Hage.
It will later be revealed in a US trial that, by this time, US intelligence agents are aware that an al-Qaeda cell exists in Kenya. (In fact, it may have been aware of this since late 1994 (see Late 1994)). [East African, 1/1/2001] Further evidence confirming and detailing the cell is discovered in May and June of 1996 (see May 21, 1996). By August 1996, US intelligence is continually monitoring five telephone lines in Nairobi used by the cell members, such as Wadih El-Hage. The tapping reveals that the cell is providing false passports and other documents to operatives. They are sending coded telephone numbers to and from al-Qaeda headquarters in Afghanistan. The surveillance is apparently being conducted without the required approval of either President Clinton or Attorney General Janet Reno. [Associated Press, 12/19/2000; East African, 1/1/2001] Prudence Bushnell, the US ambassador to Kenya, will be briefed about the cell in early 1997, but will be told there is no evidence of a specific threat against the embassy or American interests in Kenya. [New York Times, 1/9/1999] Ali Mohamed, an al-Qaeda double agent living in California, will later admit in US court that he had been in long distance contact with Wadih El-Hage, one of the leaders of the cell, since at least 1996. It will also be revealed that US intelligence had been wiretapping Mohamed’s California phone calls since at least 1994 (see Late 1994), so presumably US intelligence is recording calls between Mohamed and the Kenya cell from both ends. The Nairobi phone taps continue until at least August 1997, when Kenyan and US agents conduct a joint search of El-Hage’s Nairobi house (see August 21, 1997). [United States of America v. Ali Mohamed, 10/20/2000; Associated Press, 12/19/2000; East African, 1/1/2001]
A passenger ferry capsizes on Lake Victoria in East Africa and one of the more than 800 who drown is Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, al-Qaeda’s military commander (his job will be taken over by Mohammed Atef). Al-Qaeda operatives Wadih El-Hage and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul) show up at the disaster scene to find out if al-Banshiri is still alive. There are many journalists covering the disaster and a Western investigator recognizes Fazul and El-Hage when they happen to appear in some of the widely broadcast footage. [Washington Post, 11/23/1998] El-Hage sends a computer file about the drowning to double agent Ali Mohamed in California. Mohamed’s computer hard drive will be copied by US intelligence in 1997 (see October 1997-September 10, 1998). The CIA already has much of El-Hage’s biography on file by this time. It appears this event, along with the defection of Jamal al-Fadl (see June 1996-April 1997), only strengthen knowledge of the Kenya cell gained earlier in the year (see April 1996). By August 1996, if not earlier, the phones of El-Hage and Fazul in Nairobi are bugged and closely monitored by the CIA and NSA. Apparently, not much is learned from these phone calls because the callers speak in code, but the CIA does learn about other al-Qaeda operatives from the numbers and locations that are being called. This information is shared with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), and the JTTF becomes “convinced that flipping El-Hage [is] the best way to get to bin Laden.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 200]
According to the New Yorker, “Two years before the embassy bombings in East Africa, [Al-Qaeda defector Jamal al-Fadl] warned US officials that bin Laden’s followers might try to attack US embassies abroad or targets inside America.” [New Yorker, 9/11/2006] He also reveals that al-Qaeda maintains an important cell in Nairobi, Kenya. He gives the names of many operatives, including Wadih El-Hage, the head of the Nairobi cell. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 200] Al-Fadl defected to the US in mid-1996 and became a high-trusted informant (see June 1996-April 1997). In an early 2001 trial, he will roughly repeat the warning he gave, saying, “maybe [al-Qaeda] try to do something inside United States and they try to fight the United States Army outside, and also they try make bomb against some embassy outside.” Two US embassies will be bombed in Africa in August 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). [CNN, 2/7/2001]
In 2001, four men will be convicted of participating in the 1998 embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). During their trial, it will come to light that the NSA was listening in on bin Laden’s satellite phone (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Additionally, during this time bin Laden calls some of the plotters of the bombing before the bombing takes place. The prosecution will show records revealing that bin Laden calls Kenya 16 times, apparently all before an August 1997 raid on the Nairobi, Kenya, house of Wadih El-Hage (see August 21, 1997), who is taking part in the embassy bombing plot and is bin Laden’s former personal secretary. The transcripts of two calls between El-Hage and al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef (using bin Laden’s phone) are even read to the jury in the trial. The defense however, shows that at least 40 additional calls are made from bin Laden’s phone to Kenya after El-Hage left Kenya in September 1997. Further, El-Hage makes some calls to Khalid al-Fawwaz, who essentially is serving as bin Laden’s press secretary in London and is being frequently called by bin Laden around the same time. The transcript of a February 1997 call between El-Hage and Mohamed Saddiq Odeh, one of the other embassy bombing plotters, is also read to the jury. The US had been wiretapping El-Hage’s phone and other phones connected to the al-Qaeda Kenya cell, since at least April 1996 (see April 1996). [CNN, 4/16/2001] In one call, El-Hage is overheard saying after returning from visiting bin Laden in Afghanistan that bin Laden has given the Kenya al-Qaeda cell a “new policy.” After the raid on El-Hage’s house, US investigators will discover that policy is “militarizing” the cell. But most details of what is said in these calls has not been made public. [Washington Post, 5/2/2001] In another call in July 1997, cell member Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul) specifies which mobile phone the cell needs to use when calling bin Laden. [New York Times, 1/13/2001] US intelligence also listens in during this time as bin Laden frequently calls the Kenya office of Mercy International, an office that is being monitored because of suspected al-Qaeda ties (see Late 1996-August 20, 1998). It has not been explained how the US failed to stop the August 1998 embassy bombings, given their surveillance of all these calls before the bombing took place.
US intelligence begins monitoring telephones connected to the Kenyan branch of the charity Mercy International. By mid-1996, US intelligence began wiretapping telephones belonging to Wadih El-Hage, an al-Qaeda operative living in Nairobi, Kenya, and the NSA is also monitoring bin Laden’s satellite phone. By the end of 1996, the number of monitored phones in Kenya increases to five, and two of those are to Mercy International’s offices. What led investigators to this charity is unknown, and details of the calls have never been revealed. [New York Times, 1/13/2001] The Mercy International office will be raided shortly after the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), and incriminating files belonging to El-Hage will be found there (see October 1997). It will be discovered that the office worked closely with al-Qaeda. For instance, it issued identity cards for al-Qaeda leaders Ali Mohamed, Mohammed Atef, and even bin Laden himself. [Bergen, 2001, pp. 140; Financial Times, 11/28/2001] An al-Qaeda defector, L’Houssaine Kherchtou, will testify in a 2001 trial that al-Qaeda was heavily interacting with Mercy International’s Kenya branch, and a number of employees there, including the manager and accountant, were actually al-Qaeda operatives. [United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 8, 2/21/2001] A receipt dated just two weeks before the embassy bombings made a reference to “getting the weapons from Somalia.” [New York Times, 1/22/2000] Most crucially, there were a number of calls between Mercy director Ahmad Sheik Adam and bin Laden. [East African, 2/16/2000] And Adam’s mobile phone was used 12 times by El-Hage to speak to bin Laden or his associates. Presumably, such calls would have drawn obvious attention to the Kenya al-Qaeda cell and their embassy attack plans, yet none of the cell members were arrested until after the attack. The Kenya branch of Mercy International will be shut down by the end of 1998, but in 2001 it will be reported that Adam continues to live in Kenya and has not been arrested. [Agence France-Presse, 12/17/1998; BBC, 1/3/2001]
The Global Relief Foundation (GRF) is incorporated in Bridgeview, Illinois, in 1992. The US government will later claim that its founders had previously worked with Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK)/ Al-Kifah, which was the precursor to al-Qaeda (see Late 1984). By 2000, the US branch of GRF will report over $5 million in annual contributions, and 90% of that will be sent overseas. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 89-90 ] The FBI’s Chicago office first became aware of GRF in the mid-1990s due to GRF’s connection to MAK/ Al-Kifah and other alleged radical militant links. After discovering a series of calls between GRF officials and others with terrorist links, the Chicago office opens a full field investigation in 1997. FBI agents begin physically monitoring the GRF office and searching through its trash. But the Chicago agents are repeatedly obstructed by FBI headquarters, which takes six months to a year to approve routine requests such as searches for GRF’s telephone and bank records. The Chicago agents get more help from foreign countries where the GRF has offices, and largely based on this overseas information, they conclude the GRF is funding terrorism overseas. They submit a request for a FISA warrant to step up surveillance, but it takes a full year for the warrant to be approved. After getting the approval, they begin electronic surveillance as well. By late 1999, they are convinced that the GRF executive director Mohammad Chehade is a member of both Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and al-Qaeda. For instance, Chehade called a mujaheddin leader closely tied to bin Laden, and there were calls between GRF and Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s former personal secretary and one of the 1998 African embassy bombers. Searching through GRF’s trash, the agents find evidence that GRF has bought sophisticated military-style handheld radios and sent them to Chechnya. By the start of 2001, the agents are convinced that GRF is funding militant groups, but they are unable to prove where the money is going overseas. They cannot make a formal request for bank records in other countries because they are conducting an intelligence investigation, not a criminal investigation. The Chicago agents want to travel to Europe to meet with officials investigating GRF there, but they are not allowed to go. Their superiors site budget constraints. In late spring 2001, the FISA warrant is not extended, effectively ending any chance the FBI could act against GRF before 9/11. No reason has been given why the warrant was not extended, but around this time FBI headquarters do not even submit a valid FISA application for GRF put forth by the FBI’s Detroit office (see March 2000). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 89-94 ] The GRF’s offices in the US and overseas will be shut down shortly after 9/11 (see December 14, 2001). In 2004, it will be reported that Chehade is still living in the US and has not been charged with any crimes. [Metro Times, 3/17/2004]
Mustafa Fadhil. [Source: FBI]US intelligence is monitoring the phones of an al-Qaeda cell in Kenya (see
April 1996 and Late 1996-August 1998), as well as the phones of Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Between January 30 and February 3, 1997, al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef calls Wadih El-Hage, the leader of the Kenyan cell, several times. El-Hage then flies to Pakistan and on February 4, he is monitored calling Kenya and gives the address of the hotel in Peshawar where he is staying. On February 7, he calls Kenyan cell member Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul) and says he is still in Peshawar, waiting to enter Afghanistan and meet al-Qaeda leaders. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 37, 5/1/2001] Then, later on February 7, Fazul calls cell member Mohammed Saddiq Odeh. According to a snippet of the call discussed in a 2001 trial, Fazul informs Odeh about a meeting between the “director” and the “big boss,” which are references to El-Hage and Osama bin Laden respectively. In another monitored call around this time, Fazul talks to cell member Mustafa Fadhil, and they complain to each other that Odeh is using a phone for personal business that is only meant to be used for al-Qaeda business. Then, on February 21, El-Hage is back in Kenya and talks to Odeh on the phone in another monitored call. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 37, 5/1/2001; United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 39, 5/3/2001]
In February 1997, Wadih El-Hage, Osama bin Laden’s former personal secretary now living in Kenya and working on an al-Qaeda bomb plot, goes to Afghanistan and visits bin Laden and al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef (see February 7-21, 1997). He returns to Kenya with a seven-page report from Atef, al-Qaeda’s military commander, that details al-Qaeda’s new ties to the Taliban. Atef writes: “We wish to put our Muslim friends in the picture of the events, especially that the media portrayed an untrue image about the Taliban movement. Our duty towards the movement is to stand behind it, support it materially and morally.” On February 25, 1997, El-Hage faxes the report to some associates with the suggestion that it be shared with the “brothers in work.” US intelligence is monitoring El-Hage’s phone and learns the contents of the fax and whom it is sent to. The fax is sent to:
Ali Mohamed, the US-al-Qaeda double agent living in California. Mohamed has already been under surveillance since 1993 for his al-Qaeda ties (see Autumn 1993). He will not be arrested until one month after the 1998 African embassy bombings (see September 10, 1998).
Ihab Ali Nawawi, an apparent al-Qaeda operative living in Orlando, Florida. It is not known if Nawawi is monitored after this, but communications between him, Mohamed, and El-Hage are discovered in January 1998 (see January 1998). He will not be arrested until May 1999 (see May 18, 1999).
Farid Adlouni. He is a civil engineer living in Lake Oswego, Oregon. In 1996 and 1997, El-Hage calls Adlouni in Oregon 72 times, sometimes just before or after meeting with bin Laden. Later in 1997, Adlouni’s home phone and fax numbers will be found in two personal phone directories and one notebook kept by El-Hage (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). Records show that El-Hage has extensive dealings with Adlouni, mostly by selling gems El-Hage bought in Africa for a better price in the US. The FBI interviews Adlouni twice in late 1997, but he is not arrested. As of 2002, it will be reported that he continues to live in Oregon and remains a “person of interest” and subject of investigation by the FBI.
Other copies of the fax are sent to associates in Germany, but they have not been named. Apparently these contacts do not result in any arrests, as there are no known arrests of al-Qaeda figures in Germany in 1997. [Oregonian, 9/13/2002]
On August 2, 1997, the Telegraph reports that Tayyib al-Madani, a chief financial officer for bin Laden, turned himself in to the Saudis in May 1997 (see May 1997). Later in the month, US agents raid Wadih El-Hage’s house in Nairobi, Kenya (see August 21, 1997). El-Hage and and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), both members of the al-Qaeda cell in Nairobi, Kenya, start a flurry of phone traffic, warning other operatives about the raid and the defection. Their phones are already being monitored by the CIA and NSA (see May 21, 1996), who continue to listen in as they communicate nearly every day with al-Qaeda operatives in places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, London, and Germany. They also phone other members of their cell in Mombasa, Kenya. It appears they realize their phones are being bugged because at one point Fazul explicitly warns an operative in Hamburg, Germany, Sadek Walid Awaad (a.k.a. Abu Khadija), to stop calling because the lines are bugged. However, US intelligence is able to learn much just from the numbers and locations that are being called. For instance, the call to Awaad alerts US intelligence to other operatives in Hamburg who know the 9/11 hijackers living there (see Late 1997). [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 200-202; El Pais, 9/17/2003]
Michael Scheuer, the first head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will later write, “For most of a year the bin Laden unit prepared for an operation in a foreign city that was set to come to fruition in late-summer 1997. The unit’s lead US-based officer on this operation was an extraordinarily able analyst from [the FBI]; she knew the issue cold. Days before the operation occurred the [FBI] ordered her back to its headquarters. She protested, but was told that she would not be promoted if she balked at returning. I protested to my superiors and to the three most senior officers of the [FBI] who were then in charge of terrorism. All refused to intervene. The operation was much less well exploited because of the loss of this officer.” Other clues mentioned by Scheuer indicate this operation is the raid on Wadih El-Hage’s house in Nairobi, Kenya (see August 21, 1997). [Atlantic Monthly, 1/2004; Scheuer, 2005, pp. 191-192]
The outside and inside of El-Hage’s house in Nairobi. These pictures were apparently taken during the 1997 raid and were used as evidence in El-Hage’s trial. [Source: FBI]Dan Coleman, an FBI agent working with Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, has been examining transcripts from wiretapped phones connected to bin Laden’s businesses in Sudan (see Early 1990s). One frequently called number belongs to Wadih El-Hage, a US citizen who is later revealed to be bin Laden’s personal secretary. El-Hage often makes obvious and clumsy attempts to speak in code. The CIA comes to believe that El-Hage might be recruited as an agent. On this day, Coleman, two CIA agents, and a Kenyan police officer enter El-Hage’s house in Nairobi, Kenya, with a search warrant. The investigators interview El-Hage (who returned that day from visiting bin Laden in Afghanistan) and confiscate his computer. [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001; Wright, 2006, pp. 242-244] A large amount of incriminating evidence is discovered in El-Hage’s documents and computer files (see Shortly After August 21, 1997 and Shortly After August 21, 1997). El-Hage moves to the US, where he is interviewed by a grand jury, then let go (see September 24, 1997). He will be arrested shortly after al-Qaeda bombs the US embassy in Nairobi (see September 15, 1998). He will be sentenced to life in prison for his role in that attack. State Department officials will later strongly assert that while staffers at the US embassy in Kenya were told about the raid at the time, they were not told about any potential connection to al-Qaeda. However, US intelligence officials strongly assert that the embassy staff was frequently briefed about the bin Laden connection. [New York Times, 1/9/1999]
Al Haramain Islamic Foundation’s main office in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. [Source: Bilal Qabalan / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]Wadih El-Hage has been bin Laden’s personal secretary since the early 1990s. When US agents raid his house in Nairobi, Kenya, they seize his address book (see August 21, 1997), which contains the names and phone numbers for many other al-Qaeda operatives. [CNN, 5/25/2001] The names discovered in the book include:
Ali Mohamed, the al-Qaeda double agent living in California. US investigators are already tapping his California phone and have been tapping calls between him and El-Hage since at least 1996 (see April 1996).
Mamoun Darkazanli. He is a Syrian-born businessman living in Hamburg, Germany, who has contacts with Mohamed Atta’s al-Qaeda cell in the same city. Darkazanli’s name and phone number are listed, and El-Hage even has a business card listing El-Hage’s address in Texas and Darkazanli’s address in Hamburg (see Late 1998).
Ghassan Dahduli. He works at two US non-profit organizations, the Islamic Association for Palestine and InfoCom. Both organizations will be shut down for supporting terrorist networks (see September 16, 1998-September 5, 2001).
Salah al-Rajhi (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). He and his brother of Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, are billionaires and jointly own the Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp. Sulaiman started a network of organizations in Herndon, Virginia known as the SAAR network (named for the four initials in his name). This network will be raided by US officials in 2002 for suspected terrorist funding ties (see March 20, 2002). [Newsweek, 12/9/2002]
Ihab Ali Nawawi, an al-Qaeda operative living in Florida. He is referred to as “Ihab Ali” and his location in Tampa, Florida, is mentioned. He will not be arrested until May 1999 (see May 18, 1999). [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 39, 5/3/2001]
Essam Marzouk. He is linked to both al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad and is living in Vancouver, Canada at the time. He will later train the 1998 embassy bombers. It is unclear if the link to Marzouk is shared with Canadian intelligence (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). [National Post, 3/19/2002]
Essam al Ridi. He is a US citizen and a pilot who helped bin Laden buy an airplane in the US in the early 1990s (see Early 1993). He appears to have no militant ties after that. In late 1999, US prosecutors will contact al Ridi where he is living in Bahrain and convince him to testify against El-Hage and others involved in the 1998 embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). [CNN, 7/2/2002]
Farid Adlouni. He is a civil engineer living in Lake Oswego, Oregon. In 1996 and 1997, El-Hage calls Adlouni in Oregon 72 times, sometimes just before or after meeting with bin Laden. Adlouni’s home phone and fax numbers are be found in two personal phone directories and one notebook kept by El-Hage (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). Earlier in 1997, El-Hage also sent him a fax written by al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef (see Febuary 25, 1997). Records show that El-Hage has extensive dealings with Adlouni, mostly by selling gems El-Hage bought in Africa for a better price in the US. The FBI interviews Adlouni twice in late 1997, but he is not arrested. As of 2002, it will be reported that he continues to live in Oregon and remains a “person of interest” and subject of investigation by the FBI. [Oregonian, 9/13/2002]
Khalid al-Fawwaz. He is al-Qaeda’s de facto press secretary in London. El-Hage gives al-Fawwaz’s correct name, London phone number, and street address, but lists him as living in Texas. Presumably this is a slight attempt at subterfuge. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38, 5/2/2001]
A business card in the name Mamdouh M. Salim is found. This is a reference to Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, a known al-Qaeda leader. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 37, 5/1/2001]
A business card belonging to Mansour al-Kadi is found. [New Yorker, 4/21/2008] Al-Kadi is the Deputy General of the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, a suspect Saudi charity closely linked to the Saudi government. Al-Kadi will be fired in early 2004 and the entire foundation will be shut down several months later (see March 2002-September 2004). The Treasury Department will later say that Al Haramain has a role in the 1998 African embassy bombings (see Autumn 1997). [US Treasury Department, 9/9/2004]
Several business cards relating to the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO). A 1996 CIA report connected the IIRO to terrorist funding, but the IIRO will not be prosecuted due to its close ties to the Saudi government (see January 1996 and October 12, 2001). [Newsweek, 12/9/2002]
According to author Douglas Farah, the address book is “full of the names of diamond dealers and jewelers, often including the purchaser’s home phone number.” This suggests al-Qaeda could be profiting from the diamond trade in Africa. [Farah, 2004, pp. 64-65]
But Farah also will note in 2004 that many of the leads from El-Hage’s address book and other documents discovered around the same time are not fully explored. In fact, he says that “Most of El-Hage’s notebooks, written in Arabic, have still not been translated into English.” [Farah, 2004, pp. 64-65]
Entity Tags: Ihab Ali Nawawi, International Islamic Relief Organization, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, Khalid al-Fawwaz, Mamoun Darkazanli, Ghassan Dahduli, Farid Adlouni, Ali Mohamed, Essam Marzouk, Essam al Ridi, Wadih El-Hage, Salah al-Rajhi, Mansour al-Kadi, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed. [Source: FBI]FBI agent Dan Coleman and other US investigators discover a number of revealing items in the raid on Wadih El-Hage’s house in Nairobi, Kenya (see August 21, 1997). It is already known that El-Hage is a member of an al-Qaeda Kenya cell and bin Laden’s former personal secretary. Items found include:
A letter is found on El-Hage’s confiscated personal computer written by Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), another member of the al-Qaeda Kenya cell who is living with El-Hage at the time. The letter was written a week before the raid. It refers to the “East African cell,” alludes to the cell’s role in attacking US soldiers in Somalia in 1993 (see Late 1992-October 1993 and 1993), explains that a cache of incriminating files was recently moved from El-Hage’s house and hidden, and says the members of the cell are “convinced one hundred percent” that they’re being monitored by intelligence agencies. It also talks about other operatives in the town of Mombasa, Kenya, and talks about the imminent arrival of “engineers” to help the cell. [New York Times, 1/9/1999; PBS Frontline, 4/1999; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 204-205]
Another document found on the same computer reveals that El-Hage was sent to Kenya by bin Laden to initiate a “new policy” for the Kenya cell and “prepare 300 activists.” Other members of the cell were advised “of the need to move families to a secure region before the ‘activism.’” It notes that other operatives have carried out an operation in the capital of Ethiopia (presumably the attempted assassination of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (see Shortly After June 26, 1995)) and adds, “There are a lot of explosions in the other cities, and the brothers are taking up these operations.” [New York Times, 1/22/2000]
A genuine-looking Kenyan travel stamp is found, which could be used to make documents appear authentic. [New York Times, 1/22/2000]
Other files reveal that El-Hage and an associate are fabricating false passports for operatives in the Caucasus, as well as for fighters in Somalia. [New York Times, 1/22/2000]
Further documents show that El-Hage bought guns for bin Laden in Eastern Europe and was making frequent trips to Tanzania (the Kenya al-Qaeda cell will bomb the US embassy in Tanzania in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). [Wright, 2006, pp. 244]
Additionally, El-Hage’s address book is found, which provides many more leads (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). Yet, despite all this, no arrests are made and no urgent alarms are sounded. The wiretaps on the Kenya cell are actually stopped by the end of the month. [MSNBC, 12/4/2000] Crucial data about Fazul Abdullah Mohammed is found as well. US intelligence does look for him for a while. But he simply leaves Kenya for a few months and then returns, moving to another house in Nairobi and where he starts work on building bombs in May 1998. [MSNBC, 12/4/2000; Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001; US Congress, 10/21/2003] Author Lawrence Wright who interviews Coleman will paraphrase Coleman’s thoughts at the time: “Al-Qaeda was up to something, but it was unclear what that was. In any case, it was certainly a low-end operation, and the exposure of [El-Hage’s] house in Nairobi had no doubt put an end to it.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 244]
The address book of Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s former personal secretary, is seized in a US intelligence raid in Nairobi, Kenya (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). One of the contacts in the book is billionaire Salah al-Rajhi. He and his brother Sulaiman al-Rajhi cofounded the Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp., which will have an estimated $28 billion in assets in 2006. Sulaiman started a network of organizations in Herndon, Virginia known as the SAAR network (named for the four initials in his name). This network will be raided by US officials in 2002 for suspected terrorist funding ties (see March 20, 2002). [Newsweek, 12/9/2002; Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007] Sulaiman also was on the “Golden Chain,” a list of early al-Qaeda funders (see 1988-1989). After 9/11, the US will seriously consider taking action against the Al-Rajhi Bank for alleged terrorist ties, but will ultimately do nothing (see Mid-2003 and Mid-2003). [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007]
Ahmed Said Khadr, standng on the left, in an orphanage while working for Human Concern International. [Source: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation]During an FBI raid on a suspected al-Qaeda cell in Kenya, US investigators discover the address book of Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s former personal secretary (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). The book contains the names of many militant contacts around the world.
One entry in his book is for “Essam,” giving an address in Surrey, near Vancouver, British Columbia. That address is where Essam Marzouk lives. [National Post, 3/19/2002] Marzouk moved to Vancouver in 1993, and ever since his arrival Canadian intelligence has suspected he is a radical militant and has been monitoring him (see June 16, 1993-February 1998). It is not clear if the FBI ever shares the El-Hage link with Canadian intelligence, and apparently the Canadians are unable to gather enough evidence to arrest Marzouk and other probable al-Qaeda operatives living in Vancouver until they leave in 1998.
The raid also discovers the business card of Kaleem Akhtar, executive director of Human Concern International, a Canadian based charity. While Akhtar has not been accused of any militant links, up until 1996, a Canadian named Ahmed Said Khadr worked for the charity. [National Post, 3/19/2002] In late 1995, he was arrested for suspected involvement in the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan, which was blamed on Islamic Jihad (see November 19, 1995), but he was let go a short time later due to a request from the Canadian prime minister. In 1998, it will be reported that he is frequently traveling between Pakistan and Canada and is wanted by the Pakistani government, but he will not be arrested in either country. It will later be determined that he was one of the founding members of al-Qaeda. [Globe and Mail, 9/5/1998]
Another business card found during the raid has an Ottawa, Canada, phone number written on the back. Who this number belongs to has not been made public, except that the number is out of service by 2002. [National Post, 3/19/2002] However, there are some militant contacts in Ottawa around this time, including Khadr on occasion. In March 1997, Canadian intelligence monitor a militant named Mohamed Harkat as he says he will be meeting Khadr in Ottawa later that month. [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2/22/2008 ] Is it unknown if the FBI shares the other phone numbers with Canadian intelligence.
Al Haramain Foundation’s Kenya office in 2004. [Source: Associated Press]An informant tells an intelligence agency allied to the US that the Nairobi, Kenya, branch of a Saudi charity named the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation is plotting to blow up the US embassy in Nairobi. The chief of the CIA station in Kenya passes on this informant’s warning to Ambassador Prudence Bushnell and others at the embassy. On October 31, 1997, the Kenyan government acts on the informants’ tip, arresting nine Arabs connected to the charity and seizing their files.
Charity Already Linked to Al-Qaeda Cell in Kenya - A 1996 secret CIA report shows the CIA has already linked Al Haramain to militants, smuggling, drug running, and prostitution (see January 1996). In August 1997, US intelligence raids the Kenya house of Wadih el-Hage because they correctly believe he is heading an al-Qaeda cell there (see August 21, 1997). The raid uncovers a business card belonging to Mansour al-Kadi, the Deputy General of Al Haramain’s worldwide operations (see Shortly After August 21, 1997).
CIA Fails to Take Warning Seriously - The CIA sends a special team to analyze the files and finds no evidence of a plot. This team wants to question the nine arrested Arabs, but the CIA station chief refuses to ask the Kenyan government for access to the suspects, saying he doesn’t want to bother them any more about the issue. The CIA drops the investigation and the nine Arabs are deported. Ambassador Bushnell is told that the threat has been eliminated. But some members of the CIA team are furious and feel that their investigation was short-circuited. Some intelligence officials believe at the time that members of the charity have ties to bin Laden. [New York Times, 1/9/1999]
Charity Later Linked to Kenya Bombings - The Nairobi embassy will be bombed in August 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). In 2004, it will be reported that according to US officials, “A wholesale fish business financed with Al Haramain funds… steered profits to the al-Qaeda cell behind the [embassy bombing].” One of the bombers confessed days after the bombing that this “business was for al-Qaeda.” [Associated Press, 6/7/2004] In 2004, the Treasury Department will say that two members of the Al Haramain branch in the nearby Comoros Islands helped some of the bombers escape from Kenya after the bombings. [US Treasury Department, 9/9/2004]
Charity Stays Open, Linked to Later Kenya Bombing - A month later after the bombing,s the Kenyan government will ban Al Haramain from the country, but its office nonetheless remains open. Some funds connected to it are believed to have helped support the al-Qaeda cell behind the 2002 bombings in Mombasa, Kenya (see November 28, 2002). Yet Al Haramain’s Kenya office still remains open until late 2004, when Al Haramain is shut down worldwide (see March 2002-September 2004). [Associated Press, 6/7/2004]
The Texas tire store where El-Hage worked in 1997. [Source: CNN]In August 1997, US intelligence raids the home of Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s former personal secretary and a US citizen (see August 21, 1997). With his cover blown, El-Hage decides to return to the US. Arriving at a New York City airport on September 23, he is served with a subpoena to testify before a grand jury the next day. He testifies for several hours and is questioned extensively. [United State of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 36, 4/30/2001] US prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will later claim that “El-Hage chose to lie repeatedly to the grand jury, but even in his lies he provided some information of potential use to the intelligence community—including potential leads” to the location of his confederates and wanted missing files. [New York Times, 1/9/1999; US Congress, 10/21/2003] But after this, El-Hage is not arrested. He moves back to Texas, where he had lived in the early 1990s, and works in a tire store. [Arizona Republic, 9/28/2001] In October 1997, he is interviewed by agents in Texas [United State of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 28, 4/12/2001] , and then left alone until August 1998 when he will be interrogated again shortly after the bombings in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). He is ultimately arrested and found guilty for his role in those bombings.
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed. [Source: Daily Nation]Shortly after the US raid on Wadih El-Hage’s house in Nairobi, Kenya (see August 21, 1997), US investigators discover a letter in the house that mentions a cache of incriminating files had been moved from the house and hidden elsewhere. Investigators suspect the files could contain evidence of a coming attack by El-Hage’s Nairobi cell. A law enforcement official later says US investigators begin a “somewhat frantic, concerted effort” to locate the missing files. “The concern was high enough about something being out there to go right away.” A search for the files is conducted at another location in Kenya in September 1997, but the files are not found. [New York Times, 1/9/1999] But despite this search, and even though other documents found in the raid refer to other unknown members of the cell and the imminent arrival of more operatives (see Shortly After August 21, 1997), the wiretaps on five phone numbers connected to El-Hage are discontinued in October 1997, one month after El-Hage moved to the US (see September 24, 1997). Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), who had been living with El-Hage and using the same phones as him, takes over running the cell. US intelligence will resume monitoring the phones in May 1998 and continue to monitor them through August 1998 (see May 1998), when the cell will successfully attack US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). It will be stated in the 2002 book The Cell, “The hardest thing to understand in retrospect is why US law enforcement did nothing else to disrupt the activities of the Nairobi cell” after the raid on El-Hage’s house. [New York Times, 1/13/2001; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 203-205] The files will be found only after the African embassy bombings, when the offices of the charity Mercy International are searched on August 20, 1998. They will contain incriminating information, including numerous phone calls from bin Laden to Nairobi. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al, 3/20/2001] It is not clear why the charity was not searched before the attacks, since two of the five phones monitored since 1996 were to Mercy’s Kenya offices (see Late 1996-August 20, 1998).
The FBI installs a wiretap in double agent Ali Mohamed’s computer (the FBI has been monitoring his phone since 1993 (see Autumn 1993 and Late 1994)). According to FBI agent Jack Cloonan, “The Sacramento [FBI] office did a wonderful job of getting into his apartment, wiring it up, and exploiting his computer. So we were able to download a lot of stuff.” [Lance, 2006, pp. 276] Not much is known about what is on his computer, but a 2001 trial will mention that Wadih El-Hage, head of the cell in Kenya planning the African embassy bombings (see Between October 1997 and August 7, 1998), sent Mohamed a computer file about the death of al-Qaeda leader Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri by drowning in Kenya in May 1996 (see May 21, 1996). [Lance, 2006, pp. 297-298] Journalist Peter Lance believes that, given Mohamed’s apparent foreknowledge of the embassy bombings, the computer probably contained references to that operation. In his book Triple Cross, he asks, “If [US agents] now had access to Mohamed’s phone and hard disk, why didn’t they come to understand his role as a key player in the embassy bombing plot?… If their motive was to lie in wait—to monitor his phone calls and e-mail traffic—why didn’t that surveillance put them right in the middle of the embassy plot?” [Lance, 2006, pp. 276]
The Sky 1, the ship purchased by Sadek Walid Awaad and other al-Qaeda operatives, shown as it sank in 2000. [Source: Tele News Company]US intelligence monitoring the al-Qaeda cell in Kenya trace phone calls to al-Qaeda operatives in Hamburg, Germany, where some of the 9/11 hijackers are living (see August 1997). Around August 1997, Sadek Walid Awaad (a.k.a. Abu Khadija) calls Kenya and is traced by US intelligence to where he lives in Hamburg. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 201; El Pais, 9/17/2003] Sometime over the next year or so, it is discovered that Awaad has engaged in business dealing with Mamoun Darkazanli, another al-Qaeda operative. Awaad used a Hamburg address for some of his business dealings that was also used by Darkazanli and Wadih El-Hage, who served as bin Laden’s business secretary in Kenya. In 1994, Awaad, Darkazanli, and El-Hage worked together to buy a ship for bin Laden. Apparently US intelligence puts this together by 1998, as one of El-Hage’s notebooks seized in a late 1997 raid details the transaction (see August 21, 1997). Investigators later believe Darkazanli is part of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell with 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and others. [New York Times, 12/27/2001] Less is known about Awaad and whomever he may have associated with. But in a public trial in early 2001, El-Hage identified him as an Iraqi al-Qaeda operative with German and Israeli passports. [Day 2. United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., 2/6/2001; Day 6. United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., 2/15/2001] An al-Qaeda operative with an Israeli passport connected to the Hamburg cell would seem to be highly unusual and significant, but there has been almost no mention of him in the media after 9/11 and it is unknown if he has ever been arrested.
In 1998, Saif al-Islam al-Masri, a member of al-Qaeda’s ruling military council, is appointed Benevolence International Foundation’s (BIF) officer in Grozny, Chechnya. BIF is a US-based charity with numerous ties to al-Qaeda that is being investigated by the FBI at this time (see 1998). It will be shut down in late 2001 (see December 14, 2001). From 1995 to 2001, BIF provides money, anti-mine boots, camouflage military uniforms, and other supplies to the Chechen rebels who are fighting the Russian army. BIF is particularly close to Ibn Khattab, the Chechen warlord linked to Osama bin Laden, and BIF is even mentioned on Khattab’s website at the time, as a charity to use to give to the Chechen cause. The BIF office in Baku, Azerbaijan, which serves as support to nearby Chechnya, is manned by a member of a militant group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Afghan warlord closely linked to al-Qaeda. In 1999, Enaam Arnaout, head of BIF’s US office, tours Chechnya and reports on the roles al-Islam, Khattab, and others are playing there. US intelligence is aware of al-Islam’s al-Qaeda role at this time, and recovered his passport photo in a raid on the house of al-Qaeda leader Wadih El-Hage in Kenya in 1997 (see August 21, 1997). [USA v. Enaam M. Arnaout, 10/6/2003 ] El-Hage was monitored talking on the phone to al-Islam in 1996 and 1997. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 37, 5/1/2001] However, either US intelligence failed to notice al-Islam’s link to BIF at the time, or failed to do anything about it. It is not known when he stops working for BIF. He will not be captured until 2002, when US forces help catch him just outside of Chechnya (see Early October 2002).
Ali Mohamed, the al-Qaeda double agent living in California, receives a letter from Ihab Ali Nawawi (an apparent al-Qaeda sleeper cell operative living in Orlando, Florida, at the time (see September 1999)). Nawawi tells Mohamed that Wadih El-Hage, a key member of the al-Qaeda cell in Kenya, has been interviewed by the FBI (see August 21, 1997). Mohamed is given a new contact number for El-Hage. Mohamed calls El-Hage and speaks to him about this, then calls other operatives who pass on the warning of the FBI’s interest in El-Hage to bin Laden. US intelligence is monitoring Mohamed’s phone calls at this time, so presumably they are aware of these connections. [New York Times, 10/24/2000; Raleigh News and Observer, 10/21/2001; Chicago Tribune, 12/11/2001] Yet, despite all of these monitored communications, neither Mohamed, nor Nawawi, nor El-Hage, are apprehended at this time, even though all three are living in the US. Their plot to blow up two US embassies in Africa succeeds in August 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).
A photocopy of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed’s Comoros passport in Sudan’s intelligence files. [Source: Richard Miniter]Gutbi al-Mahdi, head of Sudan’s intelligence agency, sends a letter to David Williams, an FBI station chief. It reads, “I would like to express my sincere desire to start contacts and cooperation between our service and the FBI. I would like to take this opportunity with pleasure to invite you to visit our country. Otherwise, we could meet somewhere else.” Apparently the FBI is very eager to accept the offer and gain access to Sudan’s files on bin Laden and his associates. The US had been offered the files before (see March 8, 1996-April 1996; April 5, 1997), but the US position was that Sudan’s offers were not serious since Sudanese leader Hassan al-Turabi was ideologically close to bin Laden. But al-Turabi has lost power to moderates by this time, and in fact he is placed under arrest in 1998. There is a political battle between US agencies over the Sudanese offer, and in the end the State Department forbids any contact with al-Mahdi. On June 24, 1998, Williams is obliged to reply, “I am not currently in a position to accept your kind invitation.” Al-Madhi later will complain, “If they had taken up my offer in February 1998, they could have prevented the [US embassy] bombings.” Tim Carney, US ambassador to Sudan until 1997, will say, “The US failed to reciprocate Sudan’s willingness to engage us on serious questions of terrorism. We can speculate that this failure had serious implications - at the least for what happened at the US Embassies in 1998. In any case, the US lost access to a mine of material on bin Laden and his organization.” One of the plotters in the bombings is Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), who is living in Sudan but making trips to Kenya to participate in the bombing preparations. Sudan has files on him and continues to monitor him. Sudan also has files on Saif al-Adel, another embassy bomber who has yet to be captured. Sudan also has files on Wadih El-Hage and Mamdouh Mahmoud Salim, both of whom have contact with members of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell (see September 16, 1998; Late 1998; 1993). Salim even attends the same small Hamburg mosque as 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi. Vanity Fair magazine will suggest that if al-Madhi’s offer had been properly followed up, both the embassy bombings and the 9/11 attacks could have been foiled. [Vanity Fair, 1/2002] It is later revealed that the US was wiretapping bin Laden in Sudan on their own (see Early 1990s).
Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Saif al-Adel, Tim Carney, US Department of State, Gutbi Al-Mahdi, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, David Williams, Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sudan, Osama bin Laden, Hassan al-Turabi, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
US intelligence resumes monitoring the al-Qaeda cell in Kenya, and continues to listen in all the way through the US embassy attacks that the cell implements in August 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). US intelligence had begun wiretapping five phones used by the cell by late 1996, including the phones of cell leader Wadih El-Hage and two phones belonging to Mercy International, a charity believed to have been used as a front by the Kenya cell. The monitoring stopped in October 1997, though it is not clear why. The New York Times will report that “after a break, [monitoring] began again in May 1998, just months before the bombing and precisely during the time the government now asserts the attack was being planned.” It is not known what caused the monitoring to resume nor has it been explained how the cell was able to succeed in the embassy attacks while being monitored. [New York Times, 1/13/2001]
Wadih El-Hage asks an associate, Essam al Ridi, for advice on his status with the FBI. El-Hage, who helps al-Qaeda bomb US embassies in Africa not long after this (see September 15, 1998), is under investigation by the FBI and his home in Nairobi, Kenya, was searched the previous year (see August 21, 1997). El-Hage is meeting al Ridi to act as a mediator between al Ridi and a mutual acquaintance, with whom al Ridi is arguing over a business deal in which he made money on a plane he sold to Osama bin Laden (see Early 1993). According to al Ridi, El-Hage solicits his advice “on the status that he had with the FBI.” It is unclear why El-Hage would think al Ridi might know his status with the FBI. Al Ridi asks El-Hage if there is anything that he should be concerned about, and El-Hage replies, “No, absolutely.” Al Ridi then advises El-Hage to tell the FBI everything he knows, “Be very forthcoming and very honest and clear with them and just carry it out until it’s over.” El-Hage also says that items were seized from his home indicating he was linked to al Ridi (see Shortly After August 21, 1997), but the two do not discuss the possibility that al Ridi might be contacted by the US government, although he will later testify for the prosecution at the embassy bombers’ US trial. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001]
Wadih El Hage. [Source: FBI]On September 15, 1998, Wadih El-Hage is arrested in the US after appearing before a US grand jury. A US citizen, he had been bin Laden’s personal secretary. He will later be convicted for a role in the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). [New York Times, 9/18/1998]
In the wake of the US embassy bombings in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the US arrests Wadih El-Hage, who will later be convicted for his role in those bombings. Looking through his diaries, investigators discover a reference to a “joint venture” between al-Qaeda and the Holy Land Foundation, a charity based in Texas known for its support of Hamas. The name and phone number of a Texas man connected to Holy Land is also found in El-Hage’s address book (see September 16, 1998-September 5, 2001). The US had considered taking action against Holy Land in 1995 (see January 1995-April 1996) and again in 1997 (1997). Yet, as the Wall Street Journal will later note, “Even when [this] evidence surfaced in 1998 suggesting a tie between the foundation and Osama bin Laden, federal investigators didn’t act.” [Wall Street Journal, 2/27/2002]
On September 15, 1998, bin Laden’s former personal secretary Wadih El-Hage is arrested in the US (see September 15, 1998). His address book had been discovered in 1997 (see Shortly After August 21, 1997), but apparently after his arrest investigators pursue new leads from it. One name in the book is Ghassan Dahduli. Both El-Hage and Dahduli lived in Tucson, Arizona in the late 1980s. Dahduli ran an Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) office from the same Tucson mosque that El-Hage attended. Dahduli moved to Richardson, Texas, with the IAP office in 1990, around the time El-Hage moved to Arlington, Texas. Both towns are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. El-Hage lived in Africa for much of the 1990s, but by 1998 he was back in Texas and he was seen in a Texas restaurant with Dahduli. The IAP, InfoCom, and Holy Land Foundation all have offices next to each other, and all have been accused of being fronts for Hamas. Dahduli worked at both the IAP and InfoCom. [Dallas Morning News, 9/23/2001; Nation, 12/24/2001] Based on the connection between Dahduli and El-Hage and other information, the FBI opens up a criminal investigation into all three organizations in 1999. They determine that Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk invested $150,000 in InfoCom in 1992, and his wife Nadia Marzouk invested $250,000 in 1993. On September 25, 2000, federal agents confront Dahduli in a shopping center parking lot and threaten to deport him, but offer to not do so if he agrees to become an informant on these organizations. Dahduli refuses and publicizes the offer to turn informant, even putting information about it on the Internet. He applies for political asylum in the US. [Nation, 12/24/2001; Dallas Morning News, 12/20/2002] In early 2001, the Dallas Morning News begins publishing stories about InfoCom and its suspected ties to Hamas. Apparently, some combination of the Dahduli-El-Hage link, media pressure, and the investments of Marzouk and his wife prompts the FBI to raid InfoCom on September 5, 2001, one week before 9/11 (see September 5-8, 2001). It will be the only significant action the US government takes against a Muslim charity in the US before 9/11. [Columbia Journalism Review, 1/2002] Shortly after 9/11, Dahduli will be arrested and questioned. He will be deported to Jordan in December 2001. [Nation, 12/24/2001]
Journalist Simon Reeve will write in the 1999 book The New Jackals that shortly after the African embassy bombings, “With the help of one, possibly two, medium-level moles within [al-Qaeda], Americans arrested and questioned 20 of bin Laden’s closest associates and began inquiries in 28 countries.” Reeve does not say how he knows this, but his book is heavily sourced by interviews with US intelligence officials. The notion that the US had moles within al-Qaeda runs counter to the usual official US position after 9/11 that al-Qaeda was nearly impenetrable. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 204] Top bin Laden associates arrested during this time include:
Mamdouh Mahmud Salim (see September 16, 1998);
Khalid al-Fawwaz, Ibrahim Eidarous, and Adel Abdel Bary (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998);
Ihab Saqr, Essam Marzouk, and Ahmad Salama Mabruk (see Late August 1998);
Ali Mohamed (see September 10, 1998); and
Wadih El-Hage (see September 15, 1998).
Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, US intelligence, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, Simon Reeve, Ihab Saqr, Ahmad Salama Mabruk, Adel Abdel Bary, Ali Mohamed, Essam Marzouk, Ibrahim Eidarous, Al-Qaeda, Khalid al-Fawwaz
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
In an interview for Time magazine held on this date, Osama bin Laden is asked whether he was responsible for the August 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). He replies, “If the instigation for jihad against the Jews and the Americans in order to liberate [Islamic shrines in Mecca and Medina] is considered a crime, then let history be a witness that I am a criminal. Our job is to instigate and, by the grace of God, we did that—and certain people responded to this instigation.… I am confident that Muslims will be able to end the legend of the so-called superpower that is America.” He admits knowing certain people accused of being behind the bombing, such as Wadih El-Hage and Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, but denies they had any connection to the bombings. [Time, 1/11/1999; Globe and Mail, 10/5/2001]
On top is El-HageÃ¢Â€Â™s business card for his fake charity, Help Africa People. Below is his card for his business Anhar Trading. On the lower left is a US address and on the lower right is DarkazanliÃ¢Â€Â™s address in Germany. [Source: CNN]The CIA first became interested in Mamoun Darkazanli in 1993 (see 1993). The FBI shows interest in Darkazanli after al-Qaeda operatives Wadih El Hage and Mamdouh Mahmud Salim (a.k.a. Abu Hajer) are arrested in late 1998 (see September 16, 1998-September 5, 2001 and September 16, 1998). According to FBI documents, Darkazanli’s fax and telephone numbers are discovered in El Hage’s address book. Darkazanli’s Deutsche Bank account number is found in the book as well. [CNN, 10/16/2001] El-Hage had created a number of shell companies as fronts for al-Qaeda activities, and one of these uses the address of Darkazanli’s apartment. [Chicago Tribune, 11/17/2002] Further, El-Hage’s business card shows Darkazanli’s Hamburg address. The FBI also discovers that Darkazanli has power of attorney over a bank account belonging to Salim, a high-ranking al-Qaeda member. El Hage will later be convicted for his role in the 1998 US embassy bombings, and Salim will remain in US custody. [New York Times, 6/20/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ] By this time, Darkazanli is associating with members of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell, and may be a member of the cell himself.
Al-Rajhi Bank logo. [Source: Al-Rajhi Bank.]Extremists order “operatives in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Yemen” to use accounts at the Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp, according to a 2003 CIA report. The Al-Rajhi Bank is one of the biggest Saudi banks, with billions in assets. Who gives this order and when will not be made public. However, some examples of militants using the bank will later be alleged:
When al-Qaeda leader Mamdouh Mahmud Salim is arrested in late 1998 (see September 16, 1998), he is carrying records of an Al-Rajhi account.
When Wadih El-Hage’s house in Kenya is raided in 1997, investigators find contact information in his address book for Salah Al-Rajhi, one of the billionaire co-owners of the bank (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007]
Some of the 9/11 hijackers use the bank. For instance, Hani Hanjour is sent wire transfers from Al-Rajhi bank in Saudi Arabia at least six times in 1998 and 1999. In September 2000, Nawaf Alhazmi uses $2,000 in Al-Rajhi traveler’s checks paid for by an unnamed person in Saudi Arabia. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 19, 31, 33, 34, 41, 87 ] And Abdulaziz Alomari has an account at the bank (see September 7, 2001).
The bank is used by a number of charities suspected of militant links, including the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), the Muslim World League, the Saudi branch of Red Crescent, Global Relief Foundation, and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003]
An al-Qaeda affiliate in Spain holds accounts at the bank. According to a fax later recovered by Spanish police, the group’s chief financier tells a business partner to use the bank for their transactions. [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003]
In 2000, Al-Rajhi Bank couriers deliver money to insurgents in Indonesia to buy weapons and bomb-making materials.
According to a 2003 German report, bank co-founder Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi contributes to a charity front buying weapons for Islamic militants in Bosnia in the early 1990s. He is also on the “Golden Chain,” a list of early al-Qaeda funders (see 1988-1989).
A US intelligence memo from shortly after 9/11 will say that a money courier for al-Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, travels on a visa obtained by the bank.
The 2003 CIA report will state: “Islamic extremists have used Al-Rajhi Banking and Investment Corporation since at least the mid-1990s as a conduit for terrorist transactions.… Senior al-Rajhi family members have long supported Islamic extremists and probably know that terrorists use their bank.” [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007]
Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, Salah al-Rajhi, Red Crescent (Saudi branch), World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Muslim World League, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Global Relief Foundation, Hani Hanjour, International Islamic Relief Organization, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, Abdulaziz Alomari, Nawaf Alhazmi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Khalfan Khamis Mohamed. [Source: FBI]Four men are sentenced to life in prison for their roles in the African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). The four are:
Khalfan Khamis Mohamed.
Mohammed Saddiq Odeh. [CNN, 10/21/2001]
Another man in custody for the embassy bombings, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, attempted to stab a prison guard and was removed from the trail and eventually given 32 years in prison for the stabbing instead. [CNN, 5/4/2004] Double agent Ali Mohamed is also in custody and pleads guilty for a role in the bombings, but he is never sentenced and his fate remains murky (see July 2001-December 2001). A New York jury considered the death penalty for some of them, but deadlocked on that and opted for life in prison without parole instead. Over a dozen people remain wanted for their alleged roles in the embassy bombings, including all of the suspected masterminds. [CNN, 10/21/2001]
The 2007 PBS documentary “America at a Crossroads: The Brotherhood” will claim that Spanish investigators discovered this picture of Darkazanli holding a Kalishnikov rifle in Afghanistan. [Source: PBS]A Spanish judge issues an indictment against Mamoun Darkazanli and 34 others, alleging that they belonged to or supported the al-Qaeda cell in Madrid, which assisted the 9/11 hijackers in planning the attack. Darkazanli’s name appears 177 times in the 690-page indictment. He is accused of acting as bin Laden’s “financier in Europe.”
“The list of those with whom Darkazanli has done business or otherwise exchanged money reads like a Who’s Who of al-Qaeda: Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s one-time personal secretary; [Tayyib al-Madani], the husband of bin Laden’s niece and, before 9/11, al-Qaeda’s chief financial officer; and Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, the head of a training camp for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan who journeyed to Hamburg to visit Darkazanli in 1996.” [Chicago Tribune, 10/5/2003] The CIA had been monitoring Darkazanli sometime before December 1999 and had tried to convince Germany to “turn” him into an al-Qaeda informant. However, the CIA refused Germany’s request to share information regarding Darkazanli’s terrorist ties in the spring of 2000 (see Spring 2000). [Chicago Tribune, 11/17/2002]
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