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US troops in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s.US troops in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s. [Source: PBS]As the Gulf War against Iraq ends, the US stations some 15,000-20,000 soldiers in Saudi Arabia permanently. [Nation, 2/15/1999] President George H. W. Bush falsely claims that all US troops have withdrawn. [Guardian, 12/21/2001] The US troop’s presence is not admitted until 1995, and there has never been an official explanation as to why they remained. The Nation postulates that they are stationed there to prevent a coup. Saudi Arabia has an incredible array of high-tech weaponry, but lacks the expertise to use it and it is feared that Saudi soldiers may have conflicting loyalties. In 1998, bin Laden will say in a fatwa: “For more than seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples” (see February 22, 1998). [Nation, 2/15/1999] US troops will finally leave in 2003, shortly after the start of the Iraq war and the construction of new military bases in other Persian Gulf countries (see April 30-August 26, 2003).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, United States, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Forty militant Orthodox rabbis in Israel’s West Bank settlements, including Rabbi Eliezar Melamed, the secretary of the Rabbinical Council of the Land of Israel, begin deliberations to decide whether Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his “evil government” are in violation of that most fundamentalist of Jewish religious precepts, halachic law (see September 13, 1993). They discuss whether Rabin’s actions call into play two halachic edicts, a din rodef, the duty to kill a Jew who imperils the life or property of another Jew, and the din moser, the duty to eliminate a Jew who intends to turn another Jew over to non-Jewish authorities. A din moser is sometimes considered the Jewish equivalent of an Islamic fatwa. Most of these discussions take place in private, with no paper trail to provide evidence of the deliberations. [Unger, 2007, pp. 138]

Entity Tags: Yitzhak Rabin, Eliezar Melamed, Rabbinical Council of the Land of Israel

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Bin Laden arrives in Afghanistan on May 18, 1996 after being expelled from Sudan (see May 18, 1996). Initially, bin Laden stays in an area not controlled by the Taliban, who are fighting for control of the country. But by the end of September 1996, the Taliban conquer the capital of Kabul and gain control over most of the the country (see September 27, 1996). Bin Laden then becomes the guest of the Taliban. The Taliban, bin Laden, and their mutual ally Gulbuddin Hekmatyar then call for a jihad against Ahmed Shah Massoud, who retains control over a small area along Afghanistan’s northern border. As bin Laden establishes a new safe base and political ties, he issues a public fatwa, or religious decree, authorizing attacks on Western military targets in the Arabian Peninsula (see August 1996). [Coll, 2004, pp. 326-328]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Ahmed Shah Massoud

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Qatada.Abu Qatada. [Source: AFP/Getty Images]From June 1996 into 1997, highly reliable al-Qaeda defector Jamal al-Fadl is debriefed by US intelligence (see June 1996-April 1997), and presumably he reveals what he knows about British imam Abu Qatada. As al-Fadl will later reveal in early 2001 court testimony, in the early 1990s bin Laden grew concerned about the perception of religious legitimacy of al-Qaeda action. In 1992 and 1993, he formed a fatwa committee, made up of al-Qaeda’s more religious leaders, to provide a fatwa (religious sanction) for al-Qaeda’s methods. The committee issues a secret fatwa allowing al-Qaeda to work to evict the US military from the Arabian peninsula. Al-Fadl claims that one of the key members of this fatwa committee is Abu Qatada. In the early 1990s, Abu Qatada is little known, but he moved to Britain in 1994, gained asylum there, and began to gain a public reputation as a radical Islamist preacher. [Corbin, 2003, pp. 37] Interestingly around the same time the US learns this information from al-Fadl, British intelligence begins using Qatada as an informant (see June 1996-February 1997).

Entity Tags: Jamal al-Fadl, Abu Qatada, US intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bin Laden issuing his 1996 fatwa.Bin Laden issuing his 1996 fatwa. [Source: PBS]Secure in his new base in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden issues a public fatwa, or religious decree, authorizing attacks on Western military targets in the Arabian Peninsula. This eliminates any doubts that bin Laden is merely a financier of attacks, rather than an active militant. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] He made a similar call to attack US troops in Saudi Arabia in an open letter to the Saudi king the year before (see August 1995), which was followed by an actual attack (see November 13, 1995). The fatwa is published by Khalid al-Fawwaz, who runs bin Laden’s European headquarters in London. However, British authorities do not appear concerned. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 111] He will issue a new fatwa in 1998 authorizing attacks against the US and its allies all over the world (see February 22, 1998).

Entity Tags: Khalid al-Fawwaz, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical and informer for Britain’s security services (see Early 1997), is given the prestigious Friday sermon spot at the large Finsbury Park mosque in London. He is suggested thanks to his work at a mosque in nearby Luton (see 1996) and at his interviews he manages to charm the mosque’s management committee, which is also pleased by his low financial demands.
Abu Qatada Rejected - The committee had also interviewed radical imam Abu Qatada, a well known scholar and author, for the position—Abu Qatada has militant links, but the committee is apparently not aware of them at this time. However, Abu Qatada told the committee that they should be grateful he was willing to take the job, demanding to see the mosque’s accounts and to receive 50 percent of all monies collected there. It is not known what Abu Qatada, an informer for British intelligence (see June 1996-February 1997), wanted to do with the money, but he is apparently a member of al-Qaeda’s fatwa committee (see June 1996-1997) and is linked to terrorism finance (see 1995-February 2001). Due to the mosque’s financial position, the committee does not offer the job to Abu Qatada.
Mosque Already Infiltrated by GIA - A group of Algerian radicals, many of whom are veterans of the Algerian Civil War and are members of the Algerian militant group the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), had already infiltrated the mosque, and the Algerians assist Abu Hamza after his appointment. One leading Algerian radical seen at the mosque is Ali Touchent, a suspected mole for the Algerian intelligence service (see November 1996).
Takeover - However, Abu Hamza soon begins to take the mosque away from the moderate trustees and turn it into a hotbed of radicalism. Initially, he claims that money has gone missing from a set of flats the mosque rents to tenants, then says that one of the flats is being used as a brothel and that one of the mosque’s old management team is taking a cut. Thanks to Abu Hamza’s exciting sermons, many more people attend the mosque, and there is not enough room to accommodate all of them in the main prayer hall. Abu Hamza makes money by selling tapes of his sermons, as well as videos of radicals fighting in Chechnya, Algeria, and Bosnia, in a shop he opens at the mosque. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 36-43]

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri, Abu Qatada, Finsbury Park Mosque, Groupe Islamique Armé

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

November 1997: Ali Soufan Joins the FBI

Ali Soufan.Ali Soufan. [Source: CBS News]Ali Soufan joins the FBI. Soufan is a US citizen and recently graduated from a US university, but he is a Muslim who was born and raised in Lebanon and speaks fluent Arabic, making him particularly suited to understanding Islamist militant threats. Soufan is assigned to the FBI’s New York office, which happens to be the office taking the lead in cases involving Osama bin Laden. Initially, Soufan is assigned to Mafia cases. But he has had a long-standing interest in bin Laden, and after reading in an Arabic newspaper about bin Laden’s fatwa (religious edict) against the US in February 1998 (see February 22, 1998), he will write an FBI memo explaining the fatwa’s significance. This will get him increasingly involved in counterterrorism cases, and shortly after the East African embassy bombings in August 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), he will be assigned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). He will begin working with FBI bin Laden expert John O’Neill and the counterterrorism I-49 squad, which is increasingly focusing on bin Laden. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 1-16]

Entity Tags: I-49, Ali Soufan, John O’Neill, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Osama bin Laden, Joint Terrorism Task Force

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Jordan requests the extradition from Britain of Abu Qatada, a cleric who sits on al-Qaeda’s fatwa committee (see June 1996-1997) and who is wanted in connection with a series of car bombings in Jordan. However, Britain, where Abu Qatada lives, declines the request and grants him asylum. Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “Britain had given shelter to one of the fiercest advocates of the global jihad. Abu Qatada lived and breathed the al-Qaeda ideology, issued religious decrees… allowing Algerian terrorists to commit mass murder in the name of God, and raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for Islamists to carry on the war against Russia in Chechnya.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 29] Abu Qatada is working as an informant with Britain’s security services at this time (see June 1996-February 1997).

Entity Tags: Abu Qatada, Jordan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Osama bin Laden (right), Mohammed Atef (center), and an unidentified militant at the press conference publicizing the expanded fatwa in May 1998. Ayman al-Zawahiri is out of the picture, sitting on the other side of bin Laden.Osama bin Laden (right), Mohammed Atef (center), and an unidentified militant at the press conference publicizing the expanded fatwa in May 1998. Ayman al-Zawahiri is out of the picture, sitting on the other side of bin Laden. [Source: BBC]Osama bin Laden issues a fatwa (religious edict), declaring it the religious duty of all Muslims “to kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military… in any country in which it is possible.” [Al-Quds al-Arabi (London), 2/23/1998; PBS Frontline, 2001; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/16/2001] This is an expansion of an earlier fatwa issued in August 1996, which called for attacks in the Arabian Peninsula only (see August 1996). Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of the Egyptian militant group Islamic Jihad, is one of many militant leaders who sign the fatwa. This reveals to the public an alliance between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad that has long been in effect. According to journalist Lawrence Wright, the fatwa was actually mostly written by al-Zawahiri the month before, even though it is released in bin Laden’s name only. (Some members of Islamic Jihad are upset by it and quit the group.) [Wright, 2006, pp. 259-261] Also signing the fatwa are representatives from militant groups in Afghanistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen, Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya, Pakistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, the Philippines, Tajikistan, Chechnya, Bangladesh, Kashmir, Azerbaijan, and Palestine. All these representatives call themselves allied to the “International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders” (the name al-Qaeda has not been widely popularized yet). New York magazine will note, “The [fatwa gives] the West its first glimpse of the worldwide conspiracy that [is] beginning to form.” [New Yorker, 9/9/2002] The fatwa is published by Khalid al-Fawwaz, who runs bin Laden’s European headquarters in London, and its publication is preceded by what authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory term a “barrage of calls” from bin Laden’s monitored satellite phone to al-Fawwaz. However, this does not motivate British authorities to take any action against al-Fawwaz. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 111] In March 1998, 40 Afghan clerics issue a fatwa calling for a jihad against the US. A group of Pakistani clerics issues a similar fatwa in April. These fatwas give much more religious authority to bin Laden’s fatwa. It is suspected that bin Laden “discreetly prompted these two bodies to issue the ordinances.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 62-63] Bin Laden then will hold a press conference in May 1998 to publicize the fatwa (see May 26, 1998).

Entity Tags: Islamic Jihad, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden, Khalid al-Fawwaz, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Top: Bin Laden, surrounded by security, walking to the press conference. Bottom: the three journalists attending the press conference sit next to bin Laden.Top: Bin Laden, surrounded by security, walking to the press conference. Bottom: the three journalists attending the press conference sit next to bin Laden. [Source: CNN]Bin Laden discusses “bringing the war home to America,” in a press conference from Khost, Afghanistan. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] Bin Laden holds his first and only press conference to help publicize the fatwa he published several months before. Referring to the group that signed the fatwa, he says, “By God’s grace, we have formed with many other Islamic groups and organizations in the Islamic world a front called the International Islamic Front to do jihad against the crusaders and Jews.” He adds later, “And by God’s grace, the men… are going to have a successful result in killing Americans and getting rid of them.” [CNN, 8/20/2002] He also indicates the results of his jihad will be “visible” within weeks. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] Two US embassies will be bombed in August (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Bin Laden sits next to Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammed Atef during the press conference. Two Pakistani journalists and one Chinese journalist attends. But event never gets wide exposure because no independent videotaping is allowed (however, in 2002 CNN will obtain video footage of the press conference seized after the US conquered Afghanistan in late 2001). Pakistani journalist Ismail Khan attends and will later recall, “We were given a few instructions, you know, on how to photograph and only take a picture of Osama and the two leaders who were going to sit close by him. Nobody else.” Two sons of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman attend and distribute what they claim is the will or fatwa of their father (see May 1998), who has been sentenced to life in prison in the US. Journalist Peter Bergen will later comment that the significance of the sons’ presence at the press conference “can’t be underestimated” because it allows bin Laden to benefit from Abdul-Rahman’s high reputation amongst radical militants. Bergen also later says the press conference is a pivotal moment for al-Qaeda. “They’re going public. They’re saying, ‘We’re having this war against the United States.’” [CNN, 8/20/2002] The specific comment by bin Laden about “bringing the war home to America” will be mentioned in the August 2001 memo given to President Bush entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Ismail Khan, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Ahmad Abdul-Rahman, Mohammed Atef, Mohammed Omar Abdul-Rahman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

CIA Director George Tenet issues a “declaration of war” on al-Qaeda, in a memorandum circulated in the intelligence community. This is ten months after bin Laden’s fatwa on the US (see February 22, 1998), which is called a “de facto declaration of war” by a senior US official in 1999. Tenet says, “We must now enter a new phase in our effort against bin Laden.… each day we all acknowledge that retaliation is inevitable and that its scope may be far larger than we have previously experienced.… We are at war.… I want no resources or people spared in this efforts [sic], either inside CIA or the [larger intelligence] community.” Yet a Congressional joint committee later finds that few FBI agents ever hear of the declaration. Tenet’s fervor does not “reach the level in the field that is critical so [FBI agents] know what their priorities are.” In addition, even as the counterterrorism budget continues to grow generally, there is no massive shift in budget or personnel until after 9/11. For example, the number of CIA personnel assigned to the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) stays roughly constant until 9/11, then nearly doubles from approximately 400 to approximately 800 in the wake of 9/11. The number of CTC analysts focusing on al-Qaeda rises from three in 1999 to five by 9/11. [New York Times, 9/18/2002; US Congress, 9/18/2002] Perhaps not coincidentally, on the same day Tenet issues his declaration, President Clinton is given a briefing entitled “Bin Laden Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other Attacks” and US intelligence scrambles to respond to this threat (see December 4, 1998).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Counterterrorist Center, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Reda Hassaine, an informer for the British security service MI5, learns that a top London-based operative known as Abu Walid is to travel to Afghanistan. He also hears rumors that Abu Walid is to meet Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders and will not return to London after the meeting. The mission is so important that Abu Qatada, a leading imam who reportedly sits on al-Qaeda’s fatwa committee (see June 1996-1997) and also informs for MI5 (see June 1996-February 1997), is to hold a special prayer session to bless Abu Walid before he leaves. Hassaine attends the prayer session, but the militants realize he is an informant and attempt to murder him (see April 21, 2000). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 148] French intelligence had previously considered assassinating Abu Walid in London, but he will be reported to be in Afghanistan after the US invasion and will die in Chechnya in 2004 (see 1997-1998).

Entity Tags: Abu Walid, Reda Hassaine, UK Security Service (MI5)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

FBI agent Ken Williams.FBI agent Ken Williams. [Source: FBI]Phoenix, Arizona, FBI agent Ken Williams sends a memorandum warning about suspicious activities involving a group of Middle Eastern men taking flight training lessons in Arizona. The memo is titled: “Zakaria Mustapha Soubra; IT-OTHER (Islamic Army of the Caucasus),” because it focuses on Zakaria Soubra, a Lebanese flight student in Prescott, Arizona, and his connection with a terror group in Chechnya that has ties to al-Qaeda. It is subtitled: “Osama bin Laden and Al-Muhjiroun supporters attending civil aviation universities/colleges in Arizona.” [Fortune, 5/22/2002; Arizona Republic, 7/24/2003] Williams’ memo is based on an investigation of Sorba that Williams had begun in 2000 (see April 2000), but he had trouble pursuing because of the low priority the Arizona FBI office gave terror investigations (see April 2000-June 2001). Additionally, Williams had been alerted to suspicions about radical militants and aircraft at least three other times (see October 1996; 1998; November 1999-August 2001). In the memo, Williams does the following:
bullet Names nine other suspect students from Pakistan, India, Kenya, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] Hijacker Hani Hanjour, attending flight school in Arizona in early 2001 and probably continuing into the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001), is not one of the students, but, as explained below, it seems two of the students know him. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file; Washington Post, 7/25/2003]
bullet Notes that he interviewed some of these students, and heard some of them make hostile comments about the US. Additionally, he noticed that they were suspiciously well informed about security measures at US airports. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002]
bullet Notes an increasing, “inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest” taking flight lessons in Arizona. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file]
bullet Suspects that some of the ten people he has investigated are connected to al-Qaeda. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file] One person on the list, Ghassan al Sharbi, will be arrested in Pakistan in March 2002 with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). Al Sharbi attended a flight school in Prescott, Arizona. He also apparently attended the training camps in Afghanistan and swore loyalty to bin Laden in the summer of 2001. He apparently knows Hani Hanjour in Arizona (see October 1996-Late April 1999). He also is the roommate of Soubra, the main target of the memo. [Los Angeles Times, 1/24/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 521]
bullet Discovers that one of them was communicating through an intermediary with Abu Zubaida. This apparently is a reference to Hamed al Sulami, who had been telephoning a Saudi imam known to be Zubaida’s spiritual advisor. Al Sulami is an acquaintance of Hanjour in Arizona (see October 1996-Late April 1999). [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 520-521, 529]
bullet Discusses connections between several of the students and a radical group called Al-Muhajiroun. [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002] This group supported bin Laden, and issued a fatwa, or call to arms, that included airports on a list of acceptable terror targets. [Associated Press, 5/22/2002] Soubra, the main focus of the memo, is a member of Al-Muhajiroun and an outspoken radical. He met with Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, the leader of Al-Muhajiroun in Britain, and started an Arizona chapter of the organization. After 9/11, some US officials will suspect that Soubra has ties to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. He will be held two years, then deported to Lebanon in 2004. [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001; Los Angeles Times, 1/24/2003; Arizona Republic, 5/2/2004; Arizona Monthly, 11/2004] Though Williams doesn’t include it in his memo, in the summer of 1998, Bakri publicized a fax sent by bin Laden to him that listed al-Qaeda’s four objectives in fighting the US. The first objective was “bring down their airliners.” (see Summer 1998). [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001]
bullet Warns of a possible “effort by Osama bin Laden to send students to the US to attend civil aviation universities and colleges” [Fortune, 5/22/2002] , so they can later hijack aircraft. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002]
bullet Recommends that the “FBI should accumulate a listing of civil aviation universities and colleges around the country. FBI field offices with these types of schools in their area should establish appropriate liaison. FBI [headquarters] should discuss this matter with other elements of the US intelligence community and task the community for any information that supports Phoenix’s suspicions.” [Arizona Republic, 7/24/2003] (The FBI has already done this, but because of poor FBI communications, Williams is not aware of the report.)
bullet Recommends that the FBI ask the State Department to provide visa data on flight school students from Middle Eastern countries, which will facilitate FBI tracking efforts. [New York Times, 5/4/2002]
The memo is addressed to the following FBI Agents:
bullet Dave Frasca, chief of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters;
bullet Elizabeth Harvey Matson, Mark Connor and Fred Stremmel, Intelligence Operations Specialists in the RFU;
bullet Rod Middleton, acting chief of the Usama bin Laden Unit (UBLU);
bullet Jennifer Maitner, an Intelligence Operations Specialist in the UBLU;
bullet Jack Cloonan, an agent on the New York FBI’s bin Laden unit, the I-49 squad; (see January 1996 and Spring 2000).
bullet Michael S. Butsch, an agent on another New York FBI squad dealing with other Sunni terrorists. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 7/10/2001 pdf file; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file]
However, the memo is not uploaded into the FBI’s information system until the end of the month and is apparently not received by all these people (see July 27, 2001 and after). Williams also shares some concerns with the CIA (see (July 27, 2001)). [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002] One anonymous government official who has seen the memo says, “This was as actionable a memo as could have been written by anyone.” [Insight, 5/27/2002] However, the memo is merely marked “routine,” rather than “urgent.” It is generally ignored, not shared with other FBI offices, and the recommendations are not taken. One colleague in New York replies at the time that the memo is “speculative and not very significant.” [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file] Williams is unaware of many FBI investigations and leads that could have given weight to his memo. Authorities later claim that Williams was only pursuing a hunch, but one familiar with classified information says, “This was not a vague hunch. He was doing a case on these guys.” [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002]

Entity Tags: Jennifer Maitner, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Fred Stremmel, Ghassan al Sharbi, Hani Hanjour, I-49, Jack Cloonan, Elizabeth Matson, Islamic Army of the Caucasus, David Frasca, Michael Butsch, Al-Muhajiroun, Zakaria Mustapha Soubra, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, Al-Qaeda, Rod Middleton, Osama bin Laden, Radical Fundamentalist Unit, Mark Connor, Ken Williams, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Daily Mail will later report, “US aviation authorities were warned of a terrorist attack by an Islamic group only days before the September 11 atrocities. The CIA issued a confidential warning that Muslim fundamentalists were preparing a spectacular attack imminently, but it was unable to specify the target.” Around this time, author Salman Rushdie is traveling in North America to promote a new book. [Daily Mail, 10/7/2001] In 1989, Iranian clerics issued a fatwa (death threat) against Rushdie for perceived insults to Islam, but the fatwa was lifted in 1998 and Rushdie had recently emerged from hiding. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 9/23/2001] According to the Daily Mail, aviation regulators conclude Rushdie is the likely target of this CIA warning, and the FAA imposes new restrictions on him on September 6, 2001 (see September 6, 2001). At least two airlines prevent Rushdie from flying with them at all. [Daily Mail, 10/7/2001] Apparently the FAA takes no other action and gives no other warning except for extra security measures involving Rushdie. The 9/11 Commission will later briefly mention the pre-9/11 restrictions on Rushdie but will not explain what the intelligence was exactly that led to the restrictions. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 56]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Federal Aviation Administration, Salman Rushdie

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

On the morning of September 11, 2001, just hours before the 9/11 attacks begin, the Globe and Mail, Canada’s largest newspaper, reports a front page story entitled “Air-Travel Ban Keeps Rushdie Out of Canada.” The story notes that author Salman Rushdie was not allowed on an Air Canada flight into Canada on September 7, 2001, and he canceled a planned Canadian trip as a result. The article correctly notes that on September 6, the FAA “issued an emergency directive banning Mr. Rushdie from all flights in and out of the United States, reflecting a heightened state of alert” (see September 6, 2001). Rushdie is also having trouble flying inside the US because of the restrictions and one US flight he had recently scheduled had been canceled. The article says the FAA will not explain why the directive about Rushdie had been issued. [Globe and Mail, 9/11/2001] But the Daily Mail will later report that the CIA gave the FAA warning of a spectacular and imminent Muslim fundamentalist attack and the FAA incorrectly guessed this had to do with Rushdie traveling on a book tour (see Shortly Before September 6, 2001). Rushdie had been the subject of an Iranian fatwa (death threat) until it was lifted in 1998. He was in Houston, Texas, for a book reading as part of a North American book tour and planned to fly to Minneapolis on 9/11. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 9/23/2001] This news report about the FAA’s heightened state of alert is only reported in the Globe and Mail before the 9/11 attacks begin. A search of the Lexis Nexus database shows articles about it in just six news sources in the weeks after the attacks. [United Press International, 9/11/2001; New York Post, 9/21/2001; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 9/23/2001; London Times, 9/27/2001; Ananova, 9/27/2001; Daily Mail, 10/7/2001]

Entity Tags: Salman Rushdie, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ahmed Refai Taha.Ahmed Refai Taha. [Source: Al-Ahram]Ahmed Refai Taha, head of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, an Egyptian militant group, is arrested at the airport in Damascus, Syria, and then quietly extradited to Egypt. He is reportedly executed in Egypt soon thereafter. Taha was one of the signers of bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa calling for the killing of Americans and Jews around the world (see February 22, 1998). He also appeared with bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in a video in 2000 (see September 21, 2000). [MSNBC, 6/22/2005] CIA Director George Tenet will later claim that Taha was living in Syria and was arrested on a tip provided by the CIA. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 148]

Entity Tags: Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Ahmed Refai Taha, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

London imam Abu Qatada is arrested at a house in South London by Scotland Yard and MI5 officials. Intelligence agencies in eight countries, including Italy, France, and Germany, have claimed that Qatada has extensive al-Qaeda links, and he is believed to be a member of al-Qaeda’s fatwa (religious) committee (see June 1996-1997). Using anti-terrorist laws passed in December 2001, he is held at the Belmarsh high security prison without charge. He “disappeared” hours before the new laws went into effect (see Early December 2001). Several days before his arrest, Qatada came out of hiding to release a new document justifying the 9/11 attacks. He posted a ten-page document on the Internet entitled “The Legal Vision for the September 11 Events.” In it, he outlined the “moral” case for the attacks and praised Osama bin Laden for challenging the US. [London Times, 10/25/2002] Another radical London imam, Sheik Omar Bakri Mohamed, tells the press that Abu Qatada was arrested after family members visited his house and one of them used a cell phone that was apparently traced by the authorities. [New York Times, 10/26/2002] Qatada worked as an MI5 informant beginning in 1996 (see June 1996-February 1997).

Entity Tags: Abu Qatada, UK Security Service (MI5), Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow and Ernest May, a long-time associate of Zelikow and consultant to the commission, complete an outline of the commission’s final report, although the commission has barely began its work and will not report for another 16 months. The outline is detailed and contains chapter headings, subheadings, and sub-subheadings. The outline anticipates a 16-chapter report (note: the final report only has 13) that starts with a history of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa against the US. There will then be chapters on US counterterrorism policy, threat reporting leading up to 9/11, and the attacks themselves will be in chapter seven (in the final report, the day of 9/11 chapter is moved to the start).
"Blinding Effects of Hindsight" - Zelikow and May even have a chapter ten entitled “Problems of Foresight—And Hindsight,” with a sub-chapter on “the blinding effects of hindsight,” (actually chapter 11 in the final report, slightly renamed “Foresight—And Hindsight;” the “blinding effects” sub-heading does not appear in the final version, but the chapter starts with a meditation on the value of hindsight).
Kept Secret - Zelikow shows the report to Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice-chairman Lee Hamilton and they like it, but think it could be seen as evidence that they have pre-determined the outcome. Therefore, they all decide it should be kept secret from the commission’s staff. According to May it is “treated as if it were the most classified document the commission possessed.” Zelikow comes up with his own internal classification system, labeling it “Commission Sensitive,” a phrase that appears on the top and bottom of each page.
Staff Alarmed - When the staff find out about it and are given copies over a year later, they are alarmed. They realize that the sections of the report about the Bush administration’s failings will be in the middle of the report, and the reader will have to wade past chapters on al-Qaeda’s history to get to them. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “Many assumed the worst when they saw that Zelikow had proposed a portion of the report entitled ‘The Blinding Effects of Hindsight.’ What ‘blinding hindsight’? They assumed Zelikow was trying to dismiss the value of hindsight regarding the Bush administration’s pre-9/11 performance.” In addition, some staffers begin circulating a parody entitled “The Warren Commission Report—Preemptive Outline.” One of the parody’s chapter headings is “Single Bullet: We Haven’t Seen the Evidence Yet. But Really. We’re Sure.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 388-389]

Entity Tags: Lee Hamilton, Ernest May, Thomas Kean, 9/11 Commission, Philip Zelikow

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

US troops in Saudi Arabia at some point before 9/11.US troops in Saudi Arabia at some point before 9/11. [Source: PBS]On April 30, 2003, the US announces that it is withdrawing most of its troops from Saudi Arabia. About 10,000 US soldiers have been stationed there since the first Gulf War (see August 5, 1990 and After and March 1991). The withdrawal is completed by the end of August 2003. About several hundred US military personnel remain in the country to train Saudi forces and tend to military sales. The US moves the rest of its troops to new bases in Qatar and other Persian Gulf countries, as well as building new bases in Iraq, conquered just a month before the announcement. [Agence France-Presse, 8/26/2003] The withdrawal of US troops from Saudi Arabia has been bin Laden’s most persistent demand since the troops entered the country in 1990. For instance, in his 1996 fatwa (see August 1996), he said, “The latest and greatest of these aggressions incurred by Muslims since the death of the Prophet… is the occupation of the land of the two Holy Places… by the armies of the American Crusaders and their allies.” [Daily Telegraph, 4/30/2003] One senior US military official says the decision to leave was made partly to help relieve internal political pressure on the royal family: “The Saudis will be happy when we leave. But they’re concerned that it not look as if it’s precipitous, because it will look like bin Laden won.” [Washington Post, 4/30/2003] One unnamed senior Saudi prince who participated in high-level debates about the withdrawal says, “We are fighting for our lives, and we are going to do what is necessary to save our behinds.” [New York Times, 4/30/2003]

Entity Tags: United States, Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald testifies before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary about post-9/11 legislative changes, and says that the removal of the “wall” was a significant step forward for US counterintelligence. The wall was a set of procedures which regulated the passage of intelligence information within the FBI and from the FBI to prosecutors (see July 19, 1995). Fitzgerald says the removal of the wall represented “the single greatest change that could be made to protect our country.” He cites four cases that he says are examples of how the wall and other such obstacles have hampered counterterrorism efforts:
bullet The arrest of Ali Mohamed. Fitzgerald claims it would have been “far less difficult” to arrest al-Qaeda operative Ali Mohamed for his involvement in the attacks on US embassies in East Africa (see September 10, 1998) had it not been for the wall. [US Congress, 10/21/2003] However, author Peter Lance will point out, “But Fitzgerald neglected to tell the senators that… prosecutors and FBI agents had been monitoring the bombing cell members for two years or that they’d had multiple face-to-face meetings with Mohamed himself.” Mohamed, who was called a “key figure” in the Day of Terror plot in the US press in early 1995 (see February 3, 1995), had actually met Fitzgerald a year before the arrest and told him that he had trained bin Laden’s bodyguards, lived in bin Laden’s house, loved and believed in bin Laden, and that he didn’t need a fatwa to attack the US, as it was obvious the US was the enemy (see After October 1997). [Lance, 2006, pp. 274-6, 299-300]
bullet The Day of Terror conspiracy. After the partial success of the World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993), the conspirators planned to attack other targets in New York, but were arrested by the FBI, which had penetrated their cell. All of the arrested plotters were successfully convicted. However, Fitzgerald tells the committee, “Prosecutors were in the dark about the details of the plot until very late in the day.” [US Congress, 10/21/2003; Lance, 2006, pp. 118-9]
bullet The Millennium Alert. Fitzgerald says that in 1999, investigations into suspected millennium plots were hampered because “criminal prosecutors received information only in part and with lag time so as not to breach the wall.” All attacks planned for the millennium failed, including one plot to bomb the Los Angeles airport (see December 31, 1999-January 1, 2000).
bullet Sharing Wadih El-Hage’s grand jury interview. In 1997, Al-Qaeda operative El-Hage provided information about bin Laden and his associates to a grand jury. Fitzgerald wanted to pass some of this information along to intelligence investigators (see September 24, 1997) but was unable to because grand jury information cannot be shared with intelligence investigators. To get around this restriction, an FBI agent had to get El-Hage to repeat the information outside the grand jury room. (Note: this example is not directly related to the “wall” under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but rather to a similar obstacle governing the passage of information in the opposite direction—from criminal agents to intelligence agents). [US Congress, 10/21/2003]

Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ali Mohamed, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Peter Lance

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil.Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil. [Source: Public domain]The Los Angeles Times reports that Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, leader of the Pakistani militant group Harkat ul-Mujahedeen (HUM), is living and operating openly in Pakistan. He lives with his family in the city of Rawalpindi and urges his followers to fight the US. Khalil was a signatory to Osama bin Laden’s February 1998 fatwa [religious edict] that encouraged attacks on Americans and Jews anywhere in the world (see February 22, 1998). In late 1998, Khalil said, “We will hit back at [the Americans] everywhere in the world, wherever we find them. We have started a holy war against the US and they will hardly find a tree to take shelter beneath it.” The Pakistani government banned HUM in January 2002 (see Shortly After January 12-March 2002), but the group simply changed its name to Jamiat ul-Ansar and continued to operate. Then it was banned again in November 2003 (see November 2003). The Times reports that HUM is openly defying the most recent ban. HUM publishes a monthly magazine that urges volunteers to fight the US in Afghanistan and Iraq. In a recent issue published since the most recent ban, Khalil calls on followers to “sacrifice our life, property and heart” in order to help create one Muslim nation that will control the whole world. The magazine continues to appear on newsstands in Pakistan and gives announcements for upcoming HUM meetings and events, despite the group supposedly being banned.
Government Takes No Action - The Pakistani government claims not to know where Khalil is, even though his magazine publishes his contact information (Times reporters attempting to find him for an interview were detained and roughed up by his supporters.) Government officials also claim that Khalil and HUM are doing nothing illegal, even though HUM’s magazine makes clear fund-raising appeals in each issue, and Pakistani law clearly specifies that banned groups are not allowed to fund-raise. Officials also say that they don’t know where the leaders of other banned militant groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Toiba are, but these leaders make frequent public appearances and documents obtain by the Times show the ISI intelligence agency is closely monitoring them. Militant leader Maulana Masood Azhar has not been arrested even though his group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, was recently implicated in the attempted assassination of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (see December 14 and 25, 2003). [Los Angeles Times, 1/25/2004]
Link to California Suspect - In 2005, a Pakistani immigrant to the US named Umer Hayat will be arrested in California on terrorism charges. He will allegedly confess to having toured training camps in Pakistan run by Khalil, who is a family friend. He will only serve a short time for making false statements to the FBI, but his son Hamid Hayat will be sentenced to 24 years in prison on similar charges (see June 3, 2005). [Los Angeles Times, 6/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Umer Hayat, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Maulana Masood Azhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a video accusing Iran of collaborating with the United States. Excerpts of the video are played on the Qatar-based pan-Arabic TV channel Al Jazeera, but apparently not posted to the websites usually used for disseminating such videos. Al-Zawahiri says Tehran is “cooperating with the Americans in occupying Iraq and Afghanistan,” and denounces the Iranians for recognizing the two governments. “Not even one Shiite authority—whether in Iraq or elsewhere—has issued a fatwa [religious edict] obligating jihad and taking up of arms against the American crusader invaders in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he adds. The video also features clips of al-Qaeda operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. [Los Angeles Times, 9/9/2008]

Entity Tags: Al Jazeera, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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