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Profile: Zachary Abuza
Zachary Abuza was a participant or observer in the following events:
In early 1995, the Bojinka plot, an early version of the 9/11 plot that would have killed thousands, is foiled in the Philippines (see January 6, 1995). It is quickly learned that Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, helped fund the plot while living in the Philippines as regional director of the Saudi-based charity, the Islamic International Relief Organization (IIRO). Wali Khan Amin Shah, a known bin Laden associate and Bojinka plotter, also was an employee of the IIRO in the Philippines. Yet the Philippine branch of the IIRO will remain open until 2000, apparently because of political pressure from Saudi Arabia. Even then, the IIRO is allowed to continue funding projects in the Philippines through a branch office in a neighboring country. One Philippine senior intelligence official will later complain, “We could not touch the IIRO.” [Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 ] Counterterrorism expert Zachary Abuza will note that the IIRO is a “very well connected charity, whose supporters include the Saudi royal family and the top echelon of Filipino society.” One board member of “the IIRO Philippine office was, not coincidentally, the Saudi Ambassador.” [Contemporary Southeast Asia, 8/1/2003] In 1996, a secret CIA report will conclude that the IIRO is funding radical militant groups in many countries, including the Philippines, but the US will not move against it either (see January 1996). Another Philippines-based Islamic charity, the International Relations and Information Center (IRIC), is also connected to the Bojinka plot. The IRIC’s director is Ahmad al-Hamwi (better known by his alias Omar Abu Omar), who is the brother of Khalifa’s Philippine wife. Investigators determine that most of the funding for the Bojinka plot went through a bank account controlled by al-Hamwi. As a result, the IRIC is shut down in 1995 and al-Hamwi leaves the country. However, its operations and staff is taken over by another Islamic charity headed by Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari. Al-Ghafari is also a close associate of Khalifa and is believed to have been involved in the Bojinka plot as well (see June 1994). Al-Ghafari will finally be deported in 2002 after years of police protection (see October 8-November 8, 2002). [Washington Post, 12/30/2001; Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 ; Australian, 4/8/2006] Al-Hamwi will be granted asylum in Australia in 1996 and will continue to live there even after media reports expose his presence there and his ties to Islamic militancy (see July 6, 1995-June 26, 1996). [Australian, 4/8/2006] US will finally officially declare the IIRO’s Philippine branch a terrorism funder in late 2006 (see August 3, 2006).
The ten ex-9/11 Commissioners issue a report card to monitor the progress on implementation of the commission’s recommendations given in their July 2004 final report, and they generally give harsh grades. The report card assigns letter grades to the commission’s 41 key recommendations. In nearly half the categories, the government receives a D, F, or incomplete grade. There is only one high grade, an A-minus for its “vigorous effort against terrorist financing.” [Washington Post, 12/6/2005] Ironically, that one good grade runs counter to the opinion of many counterterrorism experts. For instance, author Zachary Abuza has said, “The glaring exception to the success in fighting terrorism has been on the financial front…” [Contemporary Southeast Asia, 8/1/2003] The report card criticizes the government for:
still not checking the identities of airplane passengers against a complete terrorism watch list.
continuing to allocate domestic security funding without considering that certain parts of the country are at greater risk than others.
excessive secrecy regarding intelligence spending.
the handling of detainees.
persistent problems in first responder communication systems. [Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2005]
the slow transformation of and continuing problems with the FBI. [Washington Post, 12/6/2005]
The report does not give grades to President Bush or any other specific officials. The 9/11 Commission formally ceased operations after issuing its final report, but some members formed a privately funded foundation to monitor progress. The foundation disbands after releasing the report card. White House spokesman Scott McClellan defends the Bush administration’s efforts, saying, “The best way to protect the American people is to take the fight to the enemy, to stay on the offensive.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2005]
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