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Afghanistan has been mired in civil war ever since the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989. The Taliban arise organically in early 1994, but are soon co-opted by the Pakistani ISI (see Spring-Autumn 1994). By mid-October 1994, the Taliban takes over the town of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. Before the end of the month, John Monjo, the US ambassador to Pakistan, makes a tour of areas controlled by the Taliban with Pakistan’s Interior Minister Nasrullah Babar, who is said to have been been a force behind the Taliban’s creation. The State Department issues a press release calling the victory of the “students” a “positive development likely to bring stability back to the area.” [Labeviere, 1999, pp. 261-262]
The CIA supposedly backs the Taliban around the same time the Pakistani ISI starts strongly backing them (see Spring-Autumn 1994 and 1994-1997). According to a senior Pakistani intelligence source interviewed by British journalist Simon Reeves, the CIA provides Pakistan satellite information giving the secret locations of scores of Soviet trucks that contain vast amounts of arms and ammunition. The trucks were hidden in caves at the end of the Afghan war. Pakistan then gives this information to the Taliban. “The astonishing speed with which the Taliban conquered Afghanistan is explained by the tens of thousands of weapons found in these trucks….” [Reeve, 1999, pp. 191] Journalist Steve Coll will later similarly note that at this time, the Taliban gain access to “an enormous ISI-supplied weapons dump” in caves near the border town of Spin Boldak. It has enough weapons left over from the Soviet-Afghan war to supply tens of thousands of soldiers. [Coll, 2004, pp. 291] Another account will point out that by early 1995, the Taliban was equipped with armored tanks, ten combat airplanes, and other heavy weapons. They are thus able to conquer about a third of the country by February 1995. “According to the files at one European intelligence agency, these military advances can be explained mainly by ‘strong military training, not only by the Pakistani services, but also by American military advisers working under humanitarian cover.’” Later in 1995, a Turkish newsweekly will claim to have learned from a classified report given to the Turkish government that the CIA, ISI, and Saudi Arabia were all collaborating to build up the Taliban so they could quickly unite Afghanistan. [Labeviere, 1999, pp. 262-263]
The Taliban, while just starting to take over Afghanistan, forms an important alliance with a powerful mafia of truck transporters based in Quetta, Pakistan (near the Afghanistan border) and Kandahar, Afghanistan. [Rashid, 2001, pp. 22] The transporters pay hefty fees to the Taliban, who, in return, suppress any local warlords who interfere with the mafia’s trade. Additionally, the Taliban ensures that roads are kept open so that the transporters can operate freely. Taliban expert and author Ahmed Rashid argues that the alliance between the Taliban and the Quetta mafia becomes so successful that it ultimately destabilizes not only Afghanistan, but Pakistan as well. [Rashid, 2001, pp. 191-195]
In 2007, a French newspaper will report that the French intelligence agency, the DGSE, set up a unit focusing on bin Laden by 1995. This predates the CIA unit focusing on him established in 1996 (see February 1996). As part of their efforts against bin Laden, the DGSE manipulates and turns “young candidates for the jihad from the suburbs of the big cities of Europe.” They also work with Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban, and intercept satellite telephone conversations. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007]
Zacarias Moussoui’s French national identification card. [Source: FBI]French agents believe Zacarias Moussaoui makes a trip to an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in 1995. After this, he goes to Chechnya and joins Muslims radicals fighting Russian troops there. French intelligence learns of this, though when they learn it is not clear. He then attends the Khaldan al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan around April 1998. French intelligence will apparently learn of this second trip to Afghanistan in 1999 (see 1999). [MSNBC, 12/11/2001; Independent, 12/11/2001; CBS News, 5/8/2002] The French additionally come to believe that Moussaoui had been in contact with Farid Melouk, an Algerian suspected of belonging to the GIA, an Algerian militant group. Melouk is arrested in 1998 after a shootout with police in Brussels, Belgium, and later sentenced to nine years of prison. [Guardian, 9/18/2001]
After the Taliban takes control of the area around Kandahar, Afghanistan, in September 1994, prominent Persian Gulf state officials and businessmen, including high-ranking United Arab Emirates and Saudi government ministers such as Saudi Intelligence Minister Prince Turki al-Faisal, frequently secretly fly into Kandahar on state and private jets for bird hunting expeditions. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] General Wayne Downing, who will later serve as one of President Bush’s counterterrorism “tsars,” says: “They would go out and see Osama, spend some time with him, talk with him, you know, live out in the tents, eat the simple food, engage in falconing, some other pursuits, ride horses.” [MSNBC, 9/5/2003] One noted visitor is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, United Arab Emirates (UAE) Defense Minister and Crown Prince for the emirate of Dubai. Another is Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, ruler of the UAE. While there, some develop ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda and give them money. Both Osama bin Laden and Taliban ruler Mullah Omar sometimes participate in these hunting trips. Al Maktoum allegedly hunts with bin Laden once in 1999 (see 1999). [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001; Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 120-121] On one occasion in 1999, the US will decide not to attack bin Laden with a missile because he’s bird hunting with important members of the UAE’s royal family (see February 11, 1999). US and Afghan officials suspect that the dignitaries’ outbound jets may also have smuggle out al-Qaeda and Taliban personnel. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] The CIA also develops suspicions that many royals use the hunting trips as cover to fly out of Afghanistan with large amounts of heroin, but they are unable to prove it (see 1998).
Tayseer Allouni. [Source: Public domain / Antonio Casas]Al Jazeera reporter Tayseer Allouni makes several trips to Turkey and Afghanistan, taking money with him and giving it to people who are later said to be militants. Allouni, some of whose telephone conversations are recorded by Spanish authorities from the mid-1990s (see 1995 and After), makes numerous trips to Turkey and Afghanistan, carrying no more than $4,000 each time. Allouni’s associates include Mamoun Darkazanli and Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who are linked to 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Ziad Jarrah (see November 1, 1998-February 2001 and October 9, 1999), as well as Spain-based al-Qaeda operative Barakat Yarkas, who also is in contact with Darkazanli and Zammar (see August 1998-September 11, 2001). [Miles, 2005, pp. 306-313] In 2000, Allouni is monitored by the Spanish government as he makes several trips to Afghanistan. His lawyer will later concede that he was given $35,000 by Yarkas, and Allouni will acknowledge that he did carry thousands of dollars from Yarkas to Afghanistan, Turkey, and Chechnya. [Chicago Tribune, 10/19/2003] However, Allouni will later say he is not a member of al-Qaeda and was only taking the money to friends and other Syrian exiles. He will later interview Osama bin Laden (see October 20, 2001) and be sentenced to jail for his alleged al-Qaeda membership (see September 26, 2005). [Miles, 2005, pp. 306-313]
al-Qaeda Afghan training camp. [Source: Al Jazeera]A French intelligence asset called Omar Nasiri, who has previously informed on a Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) cell in Brussels (see Mid 1994-March 2, 1995), is given the task of penetrating the network of militant camps in Afghanistan. He flies to Pakistan and soon is in contact with the al-Qaeda network. He is sent to Peshawar, where he meets al-Qaeda leaders Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and Abu Zubaida. From there he is then taken to al-Libi’s Khaldan camp inside Afghanistan, where he receives physical and weapons training, as well as religious instruction. The training also includes blocks on explosives, tactics, hand-to-hand combat, surveillance, and kidnapping, and is at least partially derived from US army manuals. While at the camp he is told by Kashmiri militants that they have been trained by the Pakistani army (see (Mid 1995-Spring 1996)) and he uses money given to him by French intelligence to purchase weapons for al-Qaeda (see (Late 1995-Spring 1996)). After several months of training at Khaldan and Darunta camps, he returns to Europe via Peshawar. In Peshawar he again meets Abu Zubaida, who gives Nasiri a phone number where he can be reached and asks him to send money from Europe. Upon returning to Europe, Nasiri contacts his handler at French intelligence and tells him about the camps. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 101-244, 253-7]
While training at al-Qaeda’s Afghan camps (see Mid 1995-Spring 1996), French intelligence informer Omar Nasiri meets a number of Kashmiri militants who are training to go back and fight the Indians in held Kashmir. The militants say that they received training from the Pakistani military. Nasiri will later write: “The Kashmiris also talked about their route to the camps. They didn’t come like I did through Peshawar. First they trained with a unit of the Pakistani military, which then sent them on to the camps. Every one of them told me the same thing.” [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 175]
While training at al-Qaeda’s Afghan camps (see Mid 1995-Spring 1996), French intelligence informer Omar Nasiri uses money given to him by his handler to purchase supplies for the training camps. Nasiri received $16,500 from the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) for the mission and gives much of this to Khaldan camp leader Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi for food, ammunition, and other supplies. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 99, 178-9, 249]
In June 2004, the Los Angeles Times will report that, according to some 9/11 Commission members and US counterterrorism officials, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia cut secret deals with the Taliban and bin Laden before 9/11. These deals date to this year, if not earlier, and will successfully shield both countries from al-Qaeda attacks until long after 9/11. “Saudi Arabia provid[es] funds and equipment to the Taliban and probably directly to bin Laden, and [doesn’t] interfere with al-Qaeda’s efforts to raise money, recruit and train operatives, and establish cells throughout the kingdom, commission and US officials [say]. Pakistan provide[s] even more direct assistance, its military and intelligence agencies often coordinating efforts with the Taliban and al-Qaeda, they [say].” The two countries will become targets of al-Qaeda attacks only after they launch comprehensive efforts to eliminate the organization’s domestic cells. In Saudi Arabia, such efforts won’t begin until late 2003. [Los Angeles Times, 7/16/2004] However, such allegations go completely unmentioned in the 9/11 Commission’s final report, which only includes material unanimously agreed upon by the ten commissioners. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004]
I-49, a squad of FBI agents and Justice Department prosecutors that began focusing on bin Laden in 1996 (see January 1996), is upset that the NSA is not sharing with them data it has obtained through the monitoring of al-Qaeda. To get around this, the squad builds a satellite telephone booth in Kandahar, Afghanistan, for international calls. The FBI squad not only monitors the calls, but also videotapes the callers with a camera hidden in the booth. [Wright, 2006, pp. 344] It has not been revealed when this booth was built or what information was gained from it. However, the New York Times will later paraphrase an Australian official, who says that in early September 2001, “Just about everyone in Kandahar and the al-Qaeda camps knew that something big was coming, he said. ‘There was a buzz.’” Furthermore, also in early September 2001, the CIA monitors many phone calls in Kandahar and nearby areas where al-Qaeda operatives allude to the upcoming 9/11 attack (see Early September 2001).
The Associated Press will later report that the Enron corporation bribes Taliban officials as part of a “no-holds-barred bid to strike a deal for an energy pipeline in Afghanistan.” Atul Davda, a senior director for Enron’s International Division, will later claim, “Enron had intimate contact with Taliban officials.” Presumably this effort began around 1996, when a power plant Enron was building in India ran into trouble and Enron began an attempt to supply it with natural gas via a planned pipeline through Afghanistan (see 1995-November 2001 and June 24, 1996). In 1997, Enron executives privately meet with Taliban officials in Texas (see December 4, 1997). They are “given the red-carpet treatment and promised a fortune if the deal [goes] through.” It is alleged Enron secretly employs CIA agents to carry out its dealings overseas. According to a CIA source, “Enron proposed to pay the Taliban large sums of money in a ‘tax’ on every cubic foot of gas and oil shipped through a pipeline they planned to build.” This source claims Enron paid more than $400 million for a feasibility study on the pipeline and “a large portion of that cost was pay-offs to the Taliban.” Enron continues to encourage the Taliban about the pipeline even after Unocal officially gives up on the pipeline in the wake of the African embassy bombings (see December 5, 1998). An investigation after Enron’s collapse in 2001 (see December 2, 2001) will determine that some of this pay-off money ended up funding al-Qaeda. [Associated Press, 3/7/2002]
Ahmed Said Khadr in a hospital bed during his hunger strike, being visited by journalists. [Source: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation]In late 1995, Ahmed Said Khadr is arrested in Pakistan for a suspected role in the November 1995 bombing of the Egyptian embassy in that country (see November 19, 1995). Khadr was born an Egyptian and became a Canadian citizen, and is an employee of Human Concern International (HCI), a Canadian-based charity. [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 276-277]
Smuggling During the Afghan War - The Canadian government was already aware of Khadr’s militant ties before the bombing. In the late 1980s, a federal Canadian official was asked by a diplomat in Pakistan about Khadr. The official did not know who that was, so the diplomat explained that Khadr was involved in smuggling Saudi money into Afghanistan while using HCI as a cover. This person further said that, “For months, the Afghan scene in Islamabad buzzed with this and other information” about Khadr. This was passed on to other parts of the Canadian government, but no action was taken. [National Post, 9/6/2002]
Khadr Released Due to Hunger Strike - After his late 1995 arrest, Khadr begins a hunger strike from within a Pakistani prison. In January 1996, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien visits Pakistan and, in response to popular pressure caused by the hunger strike, asks the Pakistani government to release him. Khadr is released several months later. He returns to Canada and stops working with HCI, but starts a new charity called Health and Education Project International. [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 276-277]
HCI Linked to Al-Qaeda - A January 1996 CIA report claims that the entire Peshawar, Pakistan, HCI branch that Khadr heads is staffed by Islamist militants and that its Swedish branch is smuggling weapons to Bosnia (see January 1996). In a June 1996 interview with an Egyptian weekly, Osama bin Laden surprisingly identifies HCI as a significant supporter of al-Qaeda. [Emerson, 2006, pp. 398, 423]
Monitoring Khadr's Associates - Also around 1996, the Canadian intelligence agency CSIS begins monitoring several suspected radical militants living in Canada. The CSIS will later call one of them, Mahmoud Jaballah, an “established contact” of Khadr. [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2/22/2008 ] Another, Mohamed Zeki Mahjoub, will also be called a contact of Khadr. [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2/22/2008 ] The CSIS has yet to reveal details of when such contacts are made, except in the case of Mohamed Harkat. It will be mentioned that in March 1997 Harkat is recorded saying that he is about to meet Khadr in Ottawa, Canada. [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2/22/2008 ]
Wanted Again in Pakistan - On September 5, 1998, the Globe and Mail will report that Khadr is wanted in Pakistan again for his role in the Egyptian embassy bombing. A Pakistani official says that Khadr is living in Afghanistan, has contacts with Osama bin Laden, and is using his charity as a cover for smuggling and banking transactions. The executive director of HCI tells the newspaper that Khadr was last seen in Ottawa, Canada, about three months earlier, and, “We do learn once in a while that he was in Pakistan or Canada or moving back and forth.” [Globe and Mail, 9/5/1998]
Listed by UN - In January 2001, the United Nations places Khadr on a list of those who support terrorism associated with bin Laden. [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2/22/2008 ]
But despite all this, there is no evidence the Canadian government attempts to arrest or even indict him before 9/11. (The Egyptian government does pressure the Pakistani ISI to capture him in the summer of 2001 (Summer 2001).) Khadr will be killed in Pakistan in October 2003. It will eventually emerge that he was a founding member of al-Qaeda and an important leader of that group (see October 2, 2003).
Robin Raphel. [Source: Mark Wilson / Agence France-Presse]Robin Raphel, Deputy Secretary of State for South Asia, speaks to the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister about Afghanistan. She says that the US government “now hopes that peace in the region will facilitate US business interests,” such as the proposed Unocal gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan. [Coll, 2004, pp. 330]
After pressure from the US (see March-May 1996), the Sudanese government asks bin Laden to leave the country. He decides to go to Afghanistan. He departs along with many other al-Qaeda members, plus much money and resources. Bin Laden flies to Afghanistan in a C-130 transport plane with an entourage of about 150 men, women, and children, stopping in Doha, Qatar, to refuel, where governmental officials greet him warmly. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Coll, 2004, pp. 325] The US knows in advance that bin Laden is going to Afghanistan, but does nothing to stop him. Sudan’s defense minister Elfatih Erwa later says in an interview, “We warned [the US]. In Sudan, bin Laden and his money were under our control. But we knew that if he went to Afghanistan no one could control him. The US didn’t care; they just didn’t want him in Somalia. It’s crazy.” [Washington Post, 10/3/2001; Village Voice, 10/31/2001] US-al-Qaeda double agent Ali Mohamed handles security during the move. [Raleigh News and Observer, 10/21/2001]
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]
Mushaf Ali Mir. [Source: Paknews.com]According to controversial author Gerald Posner, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida meet with senior members of Pakistan’s military, including Mushaf Ali Mir, who becomes chief of Pakistan’s air force in 2000. Bin Laden moved to Afghanistan the month before, and the Pakistanis offer him protection if he allies with the Taliban. The alliance will prove successful, and bin Laden will call it “blessed by the Saudis,” who are already giving money to both the Taliban and al-Qaeda. [Posner, 2003, pp. 105-06; Time, 8/31/2003] Perhaps not coincidentally, this meeting comes only one month after a deal was reportedly made that reaffirmed Saudi support for al-Qaeda. Bin Laden is initially based in Jalalabad, which is free of Taliban control, but after the deal, he moves his base to Kandahar, which is the center of Taliban power. [Asia Times, 9/17/2003]
In 1996, al-Qaeda assumes control of Ariana Airlines, Afghanistan’s national airline, for use in its illegal trade network. Passenger flights become few and erratic, as planes are used to fly drugs, weapons, gold, and personnel, primarily between Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Pakistan. The Emirate of Sharjah, in the UAE, becomes a hub for al-Qaeda drug and arms smuggling. Typically, “large quantities of drugs” are flown from Kandahar, Afghanistan, to Sharjah, and large quantities of weapons are flown back to Afghanistan. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] About three to four flights run the route each day. Many weapons come from Victor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer based in Sharjah. [Los Angeles Times, 1/20/2002] Afghan taxes on opium production are paid in gold, and then the gold bullion is flown to Dubai, UAE, and laundered into cash. [Washington Post, 2/17/2002] Taliban officials regularly provide militants with false papers identifying them as Ariana Airlines employees so they can move freely around the world. For instance, one flight on a Ariana small plane in 2000 lists 33 crew members. A former National Security Council official later claims the US is well aware at the time that al-Qaeda agents regularly fly on Ariana Airlines. (However, US intelligence will not learn of the widespread use of forged Ariana IDs until after 9/11.) The CIA learns of Bout’s connection to Ariana and the Taliban in 1998, but takes no action (see 1998). The US presses the UAE for tighter banking controls, but moves “delicately, not wanting to offend an ally in an already complicated relationship,” and little changes by 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001; Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 139] Much of the money for the 9/11 hijackers flows though these Sharjah, UAE, channels. There also are reports suggesting that Ariana Airlines might have been used to train Islamic militants as pilots. The illegal use of Ariana Airlines helps convince the United Nations to impose sanctions against Afghanistan in 1999, but the sanctions lack teeth and do not stop the airline. A second round of sanctions finally stops foreign Ariana Airlines flights, but its charter flights and other charter services keep the illegal network running. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] About nine of the 9/11 hijackers work at the Kandahar airport in 2000, which is Ariana’s main hub (see Summer 2000).
In 1999, a retired CIA official will claim that two days after the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia (see June 25, 1996), bin Laden is congratulated by colleagues about the bombing. Both Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda’s number two leader, and Ashra Hadi, head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, are monitored by the NSA as they call bin Laden. This helps confirm that bin Laden was being monitored while using his first satellite phone (see Early 1990s). It will be widely reported that he was monitored after he started using his second satellite phone later in 1996 (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Bin Laden does not exactly publicly take credit for the bombing, but later in the year he will say, “When I got the news about these blasts, I was very happy. This was a noble act. This was a great honor but, unfortunately, I did not conduct these explosions personally.” [Reeve, 1999, pp. 187; New Yorker, 9/9/2002]
State Department analysts warn the Clinton administration in a top secret assessment that bin Laden’s move from Sudan to Afghanistan will offer him an “ideal haven.” The warning comes exactly one month after he made the move (see May 18, 1996). Analysts say that “his prolonged stay in Afghanistan - where hundreds of ‘Arab mujaheddin’ receive terrorist training and key extremist leaders often congregate - could prove more dangerous to US interests in the long run than his three-year liaison with Khartoum,” in Sudan. Further, bin Laden’s public statements suggest an “emboldened” man capable of “increased terrorism.” Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit at the time, will later comment, “The thinking was that he was in Afghanistan, and he was dangerous, but because he was there, we had a better chance to kill him. But at the end of the day, we settled for the worst possibility - he was there and we didn’t do anything.” [New York Times, 8/17/2005]
A secret CIA report indicates the Pakistani ISI is giving “at least $30,000 - and possibly as much as $60,000 - per month” to the Harkat ul-Ansar, a Pakistani radical militant group that will be renamed Harkat ul-Mujahedeen (HUM) one year later. By this time, US intelligence is aware this group kidnapped and killed Americans and other Westerners in 1995 (see July 4, 1995). The CIA reports that Pakistan says it is reducing some of its monetary support to the group, presumably in an effort to avoid being placed on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism. But apparently this is just posturing, because in 2001 the State Department will report that the ISI is continuing to fund HUM (see April 30, 2001). The CIA also notes that HUM “might undertake terrorist actions against civilian airliners.” Saeed Sheikh, an alleged 9/11 paymaster, is a leader of the group (see April 1993), and in 1999 an airplane hijacking will free him and another HUM leader from prison (see December 24-31, 1999). [Central Intelligence Agency, 8/1996 ] Several months later, another secret US report will note the growing ties between HUM, Osama bin Laden, and the Taliban. But the US will not take any serious action against HUM or Pakistan. [US Embassy (Islamabad), 2/6/1997 ] HUM deputy chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil will be one of the cosigners to bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa declaring it a Muslim duty to kill Americans and Jews (see February 22, 1998). [Scott, 2007, pp. 172]
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).
Ahmed Rashid. [Source: Jane Scherr/ University of California, Berkeley]Ahmed Rashid, correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and The Daily Telegraph, conducts extensive investigative research in Afghanistan after the Taliban conquest of Kabul. As he will later write in his 2000 book, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, he sees a “massive regional polarization between the USA, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the Taliban on one side and Iran, Russia, the Central Asian states and the anti-Taliban alliance on the other. While some focused on whether there was a revival of the old CIA-ISI connection from the Afghan jihad era, it became apparent to me that the strategy over pipelines had become the driving force behind Washington’s interest in the Taliban, which in turn was prompting a counter-reaction from Russia and Iran. But exploring this was like entering a labyrinth, where nobody spoke the truth or divulged their real motives or interests. It was the job of a detective rather than a journalist because there were few clues. Even gaining access to the real players in the game was difficult, because policy was not being driven by politicians and diplomats, but by the secretive oil companies and intelligence services of the regional states.” [Rashid, 2001, pp. 163]
Taliban forces conquering Afghanistan. [Source: Banded Artists Productions]The Taliban conquer Kabul [Associated Press, 8/19/2002] , establishing control over much of Afghanistan. A surge in the Taliban’s military successes at this time is later attributed to an increase in direct military assistance from Pakistan’s ISI. [New York Times, 12/8/2001] The oil company Unocal is hopeful that the Taliban will stabilize Afghanistan and allow its pipeline plans to go forward. According to some reports, “preliminary agreement [on the pipeline] was reached between the [Taliban and Unocal] long before the fall of Kabul .… Oil industry insiders say the dream of securing a pipeline across Afghanistan is the main reason why Pakistan, a close political ally of America’s, has been so supportive of the Taliban, and why America has quietly acquiesced in its conquest of Afghanistan.” [Daily Telegraph, 10/11/1996] The 9/11 Commission later concludes that some State Department diplomats are willing to “give the Taliban a chance” because it might be able to bring stability to Afghanistan, which would allow a Unocal oil pipeline to be built through the country. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
Four days after the Taliban conquers Kabul (see September 27, 1996), a classified CIA report notes that as the Taliban advance, they are closing some militant training camps but not others. They have closed the camps controlled by militant leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, militant leader Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, and Jamaat-i-Islami (a religious political party in Pakistan). They have kept open camps controlled by Osama bin Laden, militant leader Yunas Khalis, the Pakistan-based militant group Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (another religious political party in Pakistan). [Central Intelligence Agency, 9/30/1996 ]
Victor Bout. [Source: New York Times]Russian arms merchant Victor Bout, who has been selling weapons to Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance since 1992, switches sides, and begins selling weapons to the Taliban and al-Qaeda instead. [Los Angeles Times, 1/20/2002; Guardian, 4/17/2002; Los Angeles Times, 5/19/2002] The deal comes immediately after the Taliban captures Kabul in late October 1996 and gains the upper hand in Afghanistan’s civil war. In one trade in 1996, Bout’s company delivers at least 40 tons of Russian weapons to the Taliban, earning about $50 million. [Guardian, 2/16/2002] Two intelligence agencies later confirm that Bout trades with the Taliban “on behalf of the Pakistan government.” In late 2000, several Ukrainians sell 150 to 200 T-55 and T-62 tanks to the Taliban in a deal conducted by the ISI, and Bout helps fly the tanks to Afghanistan. [Gazette (Montreal), 2/5/2002] Bout formerly worked for the Russian KGB, and now operates the world’s largest private weapons transport network. Based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bout operates freely there until well after 9/11. The US becomes aware of Bout’s widespread illegal weapons trading in Africa in 1995, and of his ties to the Taliban in 1996, but they fail to take effective action against him for years. [Los Angeles Times, 5/19/2002] US pressure on the UAE in November 2000 to close down Bout’s operations there is ignored. Press reports calling him “the merchant of death” also fail to pressure the UAE. [Financial Times, 6/10/2000; Guardian, 12/23/2000] After President Bush is elected, it appears the US gives up trying to get Bout, until after 9/11. [Washington Post, 2/26/2002; Guardian, 4/17/2002] Bout moves to Russia in 2002. He is seemingly protected from prosecution by the Russian government, which in early 2002 will claim, “There are no grounds for believing that this Russian citizen has committed illegal acts.” [Guardian, 4/17/2002] The Guardian suggests that Bout may have worked with the CIA when he traded with the Northern Alliance, and this fact may be hampering current international efforts to catch him. [Guardian, 4/17/2002]
A classified US intelligence report concludes the ISI “is supplying the Taliban forces with munitions, fuel, and food.” The report notes that while the food shipments are taking place openly, “the munitions convoys depart Pakistan late in the evening hours and are concealed to reveal their true contents.” [US Intelligence, 10/22/1996 ]
An Inmarsat Compact M satellite phone, the type used by bin Laden. [Source: Inmarsat]During this period, Osama bin Laden uses a satellite phone to direct al-Qaeda’s operations. The phone—a Compact M satellite phone, about the size of a laptop computer—was purchased by a student in Virginia named Ziyad Khaleel for $7,500 using the credit card of a British man named Saad al-Fagih. After purchasing the phone, Khaleel sent it to Khalid al-Fawwaz, al-Qaeda’s unofficial press secretary in London (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998). Al-Fawwaz then shipped it to bin Laden in Afghanistan. [CNN, 4/16/2001] It appears US intelligence actually tracks the purchase as it occurs (see November 1996-Late December 1999), probably because an older model satellite phone bin Laden has is already being monitored (see Early 1990s). Bin Laden’s phone (873682505331) is believed to be used by other top al-Qaeda leaders as well, including Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammad Atef. Al-Fawwaz also buys satellite phones for other top al-Qaeda leaders around the same time. Though the calls made on these phones are encrypted, the NSA is able to intercept and decrypt them. As one US official will put it in early 2001, “codes were broken.” [United Press International, 2/13/2001; Newsweek, 2/18/2002] The Los Angeles Times will report that the monitoring of these phones “produced tens of thousands of pages of transcripts over two years.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] Bin Laden’s satellite phone replaces an older model he used in Sudan that apparently was also monitored by the NSA (see Early 1990s). Billing records for his new phone are eventually released to the media in early 2002. Newsweek will note, “A country-by-country analysis of the bills provided US authorities with a virtual road map to important al-Qaeda cells around the world.” [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002] The countries called are:
Britain (238 or 260). Twenty-seven different phone numbers are called in Britain. Accounts differ on the exact number of calls. Khalid al-Fawwaz, who helps publish statements by bin Laden, receives 143 of the calls, including the very first one bin Laden makes with this phone. Apparently most of the remaining calls are made to pay phones near him or to his associates. He also frequently calls Ibrahim Eidarous, who works with al-Fawwaz and lives near him. [CNN, 4/16/2001; Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 111]
Yemen (221). Dozens of calls go to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, which is run by the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see Late August 1998). [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Bamford, 2008, pp. 8]
Sudan (131). Bin Laden lived in Sudan until 1996 (see May 18, 1996), and some important al-Qaeda operatives remained there after he left (see February 5, 1998). [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
Iran (106). Newsweek will later report: “US officials had little explanation for the calls to Iran. A Bush administration official said that US intelligence has believed for years that hard-line anti-American factions inside Iran helped bin Laden’s organization operate an ‘underground railroad’ smuggling Islamic militants to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.” [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
Azerbaijan (67). An important al-Qaeda operative appears to be based in Baku, Azerbaijan. [Washington Post, 5/2/2001] This is most likely Ahmad Salama Mabruk, who is very close to al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri and is said to be the head of the al-Qaeda cell there. He kidnapped by the CIA in Baku in late August 1998 (see Late August 1998).
Kenya (at least 56). In the embassy bombings trial, prosecutors introduce evidence showing 16 calls are made on this phone to some of the embassy bombers in Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), apparently all before a raid in August 1997 (see August 21, 1997). The defense introduces evidence showing at least 40 more calls are made after that time (see Late 1996-August 1998). [CNN, 4/16/2001]
Saudi Arabia (57).
A ship in the Indian Ocean (13).
The US (6).
Senegal (2). [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
Egypt (unknown). Newsweek reports that calls are made to Egypt but doesn’t say how many. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002]
Iraq (0). Press reports note that the records indicate zero calls were made to Iraq. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002] 1,100 total calls are made on this phone. Adding up the above numbers means that the destination of over 100 calls is still unaccounted for. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002] The use of this phone stops two months after the August 1998 embassy bombings in Africa. However, it appears bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders continue to use other satellite phones occasionally after this time. Shortly after 9/11, James Bamford, an expert authority on the agency, says “About a year or so ago the NSA lost all track of him.… He may still use [satellite phones] occasionally to talk about something mundane, but he discovered that the transmitters can be used for honing.” [CNN, 9/21/2001] According to a different account, bin Laden will attempt to use a different phone communication method, but US intelligence will soon discover it and continue monitoring his calls (see Late 1998 and After).
Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor in chief of the British-based pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi, travels to Afghanistan to interview Osama bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora.
Atwan's Journey to Afghanistan - The interview is arranged by Khalid al-Fawwaz, bin Laden’s representative in Europe. Atwan travels secretly to Peshawar, Pakistan, where he meets a representative of bin Laden. Then, dressed as an Afghan, he crosses the border with a series of guides and travels to Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, where he meets al-Qaeda manager Mohammed Atef. Atwan is then taken up into the mountains, to the Eagle’s Nest base, where he meets bin Laden. Atwan first meets him “sitting cross-legged on a carpet, a Kalashnikov in his lap,” and they chat informally and then have dinner. Atwan spends two days in bin Laden’s company, and is surprised that such a rich Saudi is staying in such a humble cave, measuring six meters by four, and eating such poor food.
Bin Laden Speaks to Atwan - Bin Laden makes a number of comments during the two days, saying he has no fear of death, he still controls significant sums of money, the US military presence in Saudi Arabia is wrong, and the Sudanese government treated him badly over his recent expulsion and their non-repayment of funds he invested in Sudan (see May 18, 1996). He also talks of his time in Sudan and Somalia, as well as attempts on his life and bribes offered to him to tow the line by Saudi intelligence services. In addition, he claims responsibility for the “Black Hawk Down” incident (see October 3-4, 1993) and the Khobar Towers bombing (see June 25, 1996), and says other operations are in preparation. Atwan also notes that one part of the Eagle’s Nest has computers and Internet access, although this is not common in 1996.
No Signs of Bin Laden's Poor Health - Before the trip, Atwan had heard that bin Laden suffered from some mild form of diabetes. However, he will later comment: “I didn’t notice him taking any medication or showing any signs of ill health at all. We walked for more than two hours in the snow-covered mountains, and he seemed fit and well.” Therefore, Atwan will describe later accounts that say bin Laden requires kidney dialysis as “fanciful.” [Atwan, 2006, pp. 15-37, 61-62]
Not long after bin Laden moves back to Afghanistan (see After May 18, 1996-September 1996), he tries to influence an election in Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto, Prime Minister of Pakistan, is running for reelection against Nawaz Sharif, who had been prime minister earlier in the 1990s. (Bin Laden apparently helped Sharif win in 1990 (see October 1990).) “According to Pakistani and British intelligence sources, bin Laden traveled into Pakistan to renew old acquaintances within the ISI, and also allegedly met or talked with” Sharif. Sharif wins the election. Bhutto will later claim that bin Laden used a variety of means to ensure her defeat and undermine her. She will mention one instance where bin Laden allegedly gave $10 million to some of her opponents. Journalist Simon Reeve will later point out that while Bhutto claims could seem self-serving, “her claims are supported by other Pakistani and Western intelligence sources.” [Reeve, 1999, pp. 188-189] It will later be reported that double agent Ali Mohamed told the FBI in 1999 that bin Laden gave Sharif $1 million at some point while Sharif was prime minister (see Between Late 1996 and Late 1998). There are also reports that bin Laden helped Sharif become prime minister in 1990 (see October 1990). While Sharif will not support the radical Islamists as much as they had hoped, they will have less conflict with him that they did with Bhutto. For instance, she assisted in the arrest of Ramzi Yousef (see February 7, 1995), who had attempted to assassinate her (see July 1993).
When bin Laden moved from Sudan to Afghanistan (see May 18, 1996), he was forced to leave most of his personal fortune behind. Additionally, most of his training camps were in Sudan and those camps had to be left behind as well. But after the Taliban conquers most of Afghanistan and forms an alliance with bin Laden (see After May 18, 1996-September 1996), the Pakistani ISI persuades the Taliban to return to bin Laden the Afghanistan training camps that he controlled in the early 1990s before his move to Sudan. The ISI subsidizes the cost of the camps, allowing bin Laden to profit from the fees paid by those attending them. The ISI also uses the camps to train militants who want to fight against Indian forces in Kashmir. [Wright, 2006, pp. 250] In 2001, a Defense Intelligence Agency agent will write about the al-Badr II camp at Zhawar Kili. “Positioned on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, it was built by Pakistan contractors funded by the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), and protected under the patronage of a local and influential Jadran tribal leader, Jalalludin [Haqani],” the agent writes. “However, the real host in that facility was the Pakistani ISI. If this was later to be bin Laden’s base, then serious questions are raised by the early relationship between bin Laden and Pakistan’s ISI.” [Defense Intelligence Agency, 10/2/2001 ]
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.
The CIA’s bin Laden unit repeatedly and formally requests assistance from the US military to help plan operations against bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Michael Scheuer, the head of the unit, later will recall, “We needed and asked for special operations officers.” But even after the US embassy bombings in August 1998, cooperation is not forthcoming. Finally, in June 1999, the unit is sent individuals who are not special operations officers and only have experience on Iran. Scheuer later will complain, “The bin Laden unit received no support from senior [CIA] officials vis-a-vis the US military.” Scheuer is fired from the unit in June 1999, so presumably his first-hand knowledge of relations between the CIA and Pentagon ends at this time. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004]
Bin Laden establishes and maintains a major role in opium drug trade, soon after moving the base of his operations to Afghanistan. Opium money is vital to keeping the Taliban in power and funding bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network. One report estimates that bin Laden takes up to 10 percent of Afghanistan’s drug trade by early 1999. This would give him a yearly income of up to $1 billion out of $6.5 to $10 billion in annual drug profits from within Afghanistan. [Financial Times, 11/28/2001] The US monitors bin Laden’s satellite phone starting in 1996 (see November 1996-Late August 1998). According to one newspaper, “Bin Laden was heard advising Taliban leaders to promote heroin exports to the West.” [Guardian, 9/27/2001]
Special CIA paramilitary teams enter Afghanistan again in 1997. [Washington Post, 11/18/2001] Gary Schroen, head of the CIA’s Pakistan office during the late 1990’s, will later comment, “We had connections to the Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Massoud’s group of Tajik fighters up in the north. The CIA was sending teams into northern Afghanistan from ‘97 up until about 2000 to meet with Massoud’s people, to try to get them involved.” [PBS Frontline, 1/20/2006] (The CIA’s anti-Soviet covert operations officially ended in January 1992. [Coll, 2004, pp. 233] ) Around 1999 there will be a push to recruit more agents capable of operating or traveling in Afghanistan. Many locals will be recruited, but apparently none is close to bin Laden (see 1999). This problem is not fixed in succeeding years. [Washington Post, 2/22/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
By the start of 1997, Alec Station, the CIA unit created the year before to focus entirely on bin Laden (see February 1996), is certain that bin Laden is not just a financier but an organizer of terrorist activity. It is aware bin Laden is conducting an extensive effort to get and use a nuclear weapon (see Late 1996). It knows that al-Qaeda has a military committee planning operations against US interests worldwide. However, although this information is disseminated in many reports, the unit’s sense of alarm about bin Laden isn’t widely shared or understood within the intelligence and policy communities. Employees in the unit feel their zeal attracts ridicule from their peers. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] Some higher-ups begin to deride the unit as hysterical doomsayers, and refer to the unit as “The Manson Family.” Michael Scheuer, head of the unit until 1999, has an abrasive style. He and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke do not get along and do not work well together. Scheuer also does not get along with John O’Neill, the FBI’s most knowledgeable agent regarding bin Laden. The FBI and Alec Station rarely share information, and at one point an FBI agent is caught stuffing some of the unit’s files under his shirt to take back to O’Neill. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
Raed Hijazi’s Boston taxi license. [Source: FBI]Raed Hijazi, an al-Qaeda operative later convicted in Jordan for attempting to blow up hotels there, is living and working in Boston with Nabil al-Marabh. According to an FBI source described in media reports as both “reliable” and “high-level,” Hijazi is approached by FBI agents investigating a drug-trafficking network bringing in white heroin from Afghanistan. According to the source, Hijazi becomes “a willing informant” about the network. The source will claim that Hijazi also provided information about “Arab terrorists and terrorist sympathizers,” but the agents were more interested in the heroin trade. [WCVB 5 (Boston), 10/16/2001] The timing of this is unclear, but it must have occurred between early 1997 and late 1998, the only time Hijazi lived in Boston (see June 1995-Early 1999). An FBI spokeswoman will decline to comment on the issue except to say, “Based on the reporting, I would question [Hijazi’s] reliability [as an informant].” [Boston Herald, 10/17/2001]
Imagery of bin Laden’s Tarnak Farms compound prepared for the aborted operation. [Source: CBC]In 1997 and early 1998, the US develops a plan to capture Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. A CIA-owned aircraft is stationed in a nearby country, ready to land on a remote landing strip long enough to pick him up. However, problems with having to hold bin Laden too long in Afghanistan make the operation unlikely. The plan morphs into using a team of Afghan informants to kidnap bin Laden from inside his heavily defended Tarnak Farm complex. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, calls the plan “the perfect operation.” Gary Schroen, the lead CIA officer in the field, agrees, and gives it about a 40 percent chance of succeeding. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 220-221; Washington Post, 2/22/2004; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] The Pentagon also reviews the plan, finding it well crafted. In addition, there is “plausible denialability,” as the US could easily distance itself from the raid. Scheuer will comment, “It was the perfect capture operation becauase even if it went completely wrong and people got killed, there was no evidence of a US hand.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 192] However, higher-ups at the CIA are skeptical of the plan and worry that innocent civilians might die. The plan is given to CIA Director George Tenet for approval, but he rejects it without showing it to President Clinton. He considers it unlikely to succeed and decides the Afghan allies are too unreliable. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 220-221; Washington Post, 2/22/2004; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Additionally, earlier in May 1998, the Saudis promised to try to bribe the Taliban and try bin Laden themselves, and apparently Tenet preferred this plan (see May 1998). Scheuer is furious. After 9/11 he will complain, “We had more intelligence against this man and organization than we ever had on any other group we ever called a terrorist group, and definitive and widely varied [intelligence] across all the ends, and I could not understand why they didn’t take the chance.” [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] There will be later speculation that the airstrip used for these purposes is occupied and will be used as a base of operations early in the post-9/11 Afghan war. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001]
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]
Spanish intelligence has been monitoring an al-Qaeda cell based in Madrid led by Barakat Yarkas (see 1995 and After), and they are aware that a leader of the cell named Chej Salah left Spain in late 1995 and moved to Peshawar, Pakistan. He serves there as an al-Qaeda talent scout, sending the most promising recruits to a training camp in Afghanistan. Yarkas’s cell is recruiting youths in Spanish mosques to join al-Qaeda. On May 22, 1997, the Spanish monitor a phone call in which Salah tells Yarkas that the recruits he is sending are being taken care of by al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. Despite such knowledge, the Spanish government will not arrest any members of the Madrid cell until after 9/11. This is according to a book by Jose María Irujo, lead investigative journalist for the Spanish newspaper El Pais. [Irujo, 2005, pp. 23-40]
Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) officially recognize the Taliban government. Pakistan is the first to give recognition, doing so on the same day the Taliban temporarily conquers the town of Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. [Washington Post, 5/28/1997; Guardian, 5/29/1997] On 9/11, these three will still be the only countries that recognize the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan. [US Congress, 7/24/2003]
A classified US cable on this date reveals US intelligence is aware that the Taliban are paying the Pakistani government for wheat and fuel with drugs. The cable suggests that Pakistan is planning to demand hard currency instead of drugs in order to restrain drug trafficking and increase revenue, but it is unclear if this change ever takes place. [US Embassy (Islamabad), 8/13/1997 ]
Tom Simons. [Source: Stanford University press]According to later released US documents, US Ambassador to Pakistan Tom Simons
criticizes a high-ranking Pakistani official about Pakistan’s aid to the Taliban. This official protests that total Pakistani aid to the Taliban is only about half a million dollars. However, Simons replies that even if he believed that figure, it does not include wheat, petroleum, oil, lubricants, and “trucks and buses full of adolescent [fighters] crossing the frontier shouting ‘allahu akbar’ and going into the line with a day or two of weapons training. That [is] Pakistan’s real aid.” [US Embassy (Islamabad), 8/27/1997 ]
[Source: USIS, American Embassy]Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski publishes a book, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, in which he portrays the Eurasian landmass as the key to world power, and Central Asia with its vast oil reserves as the key to domination of Eurasia. He states that for the US to maintain its global primacy, it must prevent any possible adversary from controlling that region. He notes: “The attitude of the American public toward the external projection of American power has been much more ambivalent. The public supported America’s engagement in World War II largely because of the shock effect of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.” He predicts that because of popular resistance to US military expansionism, his ambitious Central Asian strategy can not be implemented, “except in the circumstance of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat.” [Brzezinski, 1997, pp. 24-25, 210-11] The book also theorizes that the US could be attacked by Afghan terrorists, precipitating a US invasion of Afghanistan, and that the US may eventually seek control of Iran as a key strategic element in the US’s attempt to exert its influence in Central Asia and the Middle East. [Brzezinski, 1997]
Industry newsletter reports that Saudi Arabia has abandoned plans for open bids on a $2 billion power plant near Mecca, deciding that the government will build it instead. Interestingly, one of the bids was made by a consortium of Enron, the Saudi Binladin Group (run by Osama’s family), and Italy’s Ansaldo Energia. [Alexander's Gas & Oil Connections, 1/22/1998]
Thomas Gouttierre. [Source: University of Nebraska]Unocal pays University of Nebraska $900,000 to set up a training facility near Osama bin Laden’s Kandahar compound, to train 400 Afghan teachers, electricians, carpenters and pipe fitters in anticipation of using them for their pipeline in Afghanistan. One hundred and fifty students are already attending classes in southern Afghanistan. Unocal is playing University of Nebraska professor Thomas Gouttierre to develop the training program. Gouttierre travels to Afghanistan and meets with Taliban leaders, and also arranges for some Taliban leaders to visit the US around this time (see December 4, 1997). [Daily Telegraph, 12/14/1997; Coll, 2004, pp. 364] It will later be revealed that the CIA paid Gouttierre to head a program at the University of Nebraska that created textbooks for Afghanistan promoting violence and jihad (see 1984-1994). Gouttierre will continue to work with the Taliban after Unocal officially cuts off ties with them. For instance, he will host some Taliban leaders visiting the US in 1999 (see July-August 1999).
Taliban representatives in Texas, 1997. [Source: Lions Gate Films]Representatives of the Taliban are invited guests to the Texas headquarters of Unocal to negotiate their support for the pipeline. Future President George W. Bush is Governor of Texas at the time. The Taliban appear to agree to a $2 billion pipeline deal, but will do the deal only if the US officially recognizes the Taliban regime. The Taliban meet with US officials. According to the Daily Telegraph, “the US government, which in the past has branded the Taliban’s policies against women and children ‘despicable,’ appears anxious to please the fundamentalists to clinch the lucrative pipeline contract.” A BBC regional correspondent says that “the proposal to build a pipeline across Afghanistan is part of an international scramble to profit from developing the rich energy resources of the Caspian Sea.” [BBC, 12/4/1997; Daily Telegraph, 12/14/1997] It has been claimed that the Taliban meet with Enron officials while in Texas (see 1996-September 11, 2001). Enron, headquartered in Texas, has an large financial interest in the pipeline at the time (see June 24, 1996). The Taliban also visit Thomas Gouttierre, an academic at the University of Nebraska, who is a consultant for Unocal and also has been paid by the CIA for his work in Afghanistan (see 1984-1994 and December 1997). Gouttierre takes them on a visit to Mt. Rushmore. [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 328-329]
Mohamed Atta. [Source: Der Spiegel]Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta leaves Hamburg for some time in late 1997 and early 1998, and he may go to militant training camps in Afghanistan, possibly with hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh. When Atta returns in the spring of 1998 he tells his roommate that he has been on another pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca, although author Terry McDermott will later note, “He had been on hajj just 18 months earlier, and it would be unlikely for a student—even one so devout—to go twice so quickly or stay so long.” This is Atta’s longest absence since arriving in Hamburg, and there is no record of him spending any substantial portion of it at home in Cairo. According to McDermott, he leaves Hamburg “as he usually did over the winter holiday.” [McDermott, 2005, pp. 57] But according to the 9/11 Commission, the gap is in February-March 1998, “a period for which there is no evidence of his presence in Germany.” Atta’s friends hold a party for him on his return, which is unusual for a student who has just returned from home. After returning to Germany, Atta applies for a new passport, something he will also do after returning from Afghanistan in early 2000 (see Late 1999). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 167] There are other unexplained absences from Hamburg by members of the same cell around this time (see Summer-Winter 1998). Although the 9/11 Commission, based on information obtained from detainees during interrogation, will say that Atta and his associates do not travel to Afghanistan and join al-Qaeda until late 1999, some commentators will disagree and say that this happens earlier. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 57] For example, McDermott will say of the cell members’ various disappearances in 1997-8, “Practically, there is only one place they likely would have gone—Afghanistan.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 166] Jane Corbin will say that “[t]he time that Mohamed Atta spent in Afghanistan in 1998 was a period of ambitious reach for Osama bin Laden.” [Corbin, 2003, pp. 142] Jason Burke will say that “[i]n early 1998, [Atta] is thought to have traveled to Afghanistan, probably to Khaldan camp.” [Burke, 2004, pp. 243] In mid-2002, Al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda will allegedly interview bin al-Shibh and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Pakistan (see April, June, or August 2002). In a book he co-writes in 2003, he will claim that an al-Qaeda operative known only by a nickname Fouda gave him so he could call him something—Abu Bakr—helped set up the interview. At one point, Bakr allegedly told Fouda that he met Atta and bin al-Shibh at a training camp around this time, saying: “They came together. I did not know who they were.… Brother Ramzi was very active and very much into media, and brother Atta was very kind.” Bin al-Shibh disappears in Germany for several months in late 1997, and re-enters Germany on a new visa in December 1997. [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 124]
In 1998, CIA analysts realize that ground crews for illegal arms dealer Victor Bout are performing maintenance chores for Ariana Airlines planes flying to and from Afghanistan. Bout’s air fleet is based in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE), at the time, and in fact Bout has been working with the Taliban since about 1996 (see October 1996-Late 2001). The CIA has also been gathering intelligence that al-Qaeda operatives are frequently moving between Afghanistan and the UAE. Ariana, Afghanistan’s official airline, is the only airline making flights between the Middle East and Afghanistan. Therefore, Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, concludes that Ariana is being used as a “terrorist taxi service.” Scheuer concludes that Bout is assisting al-Qaeda. He will later comment that when al-Qaeda operatives would travel through the UAE, “it was almost always through Ariana flights. Since Bout’s operation was working with Ariana, they were part of the same set of concerns.” The CIA also notices an increasing number of Bout’s own planes flying to and from Afghanistan. Scheuer will later say, “Our human intelligence said it was mostly small arms and ammunition, going to Kandahar and occasionally to Kabul.” [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 138-140] However, while intelligence reports on Bout’s ties to the Taliban continue, interest in his activities in Afghanistan fades by the end of 1998. Scheuer will later claim that he tried to raise concern about the Bout flights with National Security Council officials, but saw little interest. “I never got a sense that he was important. He was part of the problem we had with the terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan, but there were so many parts we were dealing with.… [N]o one was going to fall on their sword to get Victor Bout.” [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 143] After 9/11, evidence will emerge that about nine of the 9/11 hijackers worked in the Kandahar airport heavily used by Bout’s airplanes (see Summer 2000).
A houbara bustard. [Source: Eric and David Hosking / Corbis]In 1998, the CIA becomes interested in the links between arms dealer Victor Bout, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, and some US counternarcotics officials are particularly intrigued by a pattern they see between the flight patterns of Bout’s airplanes to and from Afghanistan and the hunting vacations of some Persian Gulf royals. Many of the Persian Gulf elite are known to regularly go bird hunting in Afghanistan, sometimes meeting Taliban ruler Mullah Omar and/or Osama bin Laden during their hunting trips (see 1995-2001). US analysts notice that there is a surge of Bout-controlled flights to Afghanistan in February and March of each year, the same time many royal elite fly to Afghanistan on their private jets in time for the migration of thousands of houbara bustards through Afghanistan. Then, in early autumn, there is another surge of flights by both Bout’s planes and the royal jets when the bustards migrate through the country again. Officials at the CIA’s counternarcotics center suspect some of the royals are using the hunting flights as cover to export heroin. The Bout flights increase the suspicion, since he is a known drug trafficker as well as an arms dealer. Scheuer will later comment, “They were very interested on the counternarcotics side about the patterns between Bout’s flights and the bustard-hunting season.” British intelligence is interested in the same thing, and at one point they approach United Arab Emirates (UAE) officials for permission to sneak a team of agents aboard one of Bout’s flights to search for Afghan heroin. However, they are unable to get permission, and the CIA also does not act on these suspicions. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 141]
Bin Laden holds a meeting with other top al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan this month to prepare for a new wave of attacks. CIA analysts are able to learn some about this meeting, apparently largely due to NSA communications intercepts. On US official will say later in 1998, “There were reams of intel documenting bin Laden before” the African embassy bombings later in the year (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Another official will say, “We’ve had the book on this guy for a long time.” But it is not known which attacks may have been discussed at this meeting or how much US intelligence knew about what was said there. [New York Times, 9/6/1998]
Arms dealer Victor Bout secretly sells twelve heavy-duty cargo planes to the Taliban. They are given false registries as civilian aircraft belonging to Ariana Airlines, Afghanistan’s national airline. The planes enable the Taliban to buy and transport more weapons and move al-Qaeda and Taliban figures more easily. The Taliban usually purchase the additional weapons from Bout as well. When US forces take control of Afghanistan in late 2001, they will discover huge caches of munitions that had been flown into the Kandahar airport before 9/11 and generally hidden in storerooms near the airport. Al-Qaeda and Taliban share the caches, and likely use remnants of them in fighting the US in late 2001, 2002 and beyond. Apparently, US intelligence does not notice the airplane purchases until after 9/11. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 126-129, 279]
In an interview, Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Adviser, admits that it was US policy to support radical Islamists to undermine Russia. He admits that US covert action drew Russia into starting the Afghan war in 1979 (see July 3, 1979). Asked if he has regrets about this, he responds, “Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war.” Then he is asked if he regrets “having given arms and advice to future terrorists,” and he responds, “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?” The interviewer then says, “Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today.” But Brzezinski responds, “Nonsense! It is said that the West had a global policy in regard to Islam. That is stupid. There isn’t a global Islam….” [Le Nouvel Observateur (Paris), 1/15/1998] Even after 9/11, Brzezinski will maintain that the covert action program remains justified. [Nation, 10/25/2001]
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).
Sources who know bin Laden claim his stepmother, Al-Khalifa bin Laden, has the first of two meetings with her stepson in Afghanistan during this period. This trip was arranged by Prince Turki al-Faisal, then the head of Saudi intelligence. Turki was in charge of the “Afghanistan file” for Saudi Arabia, and had long-standing ties to bin Laden and the Taliban since 1980. [New Yorker, 11/5/2001]
According to a later declassified US government cable, a Pakistani foreign ministry official admits to a US official that Pakistan has been giving the Taliban weapons. He says Pakistan “had not provided arms and ammunition to the Taliban since three or four months.” [US Embassy (Islamabad), 3/9/1998 ] But Pakistan does not stop giving weapons. In fact, in July 1998, another US government cable indicates Pakistani support for the Taliban “appears to be getting stronger.” Another Pakistani official admits Pakistan is giving the Taliban about $1 million a month to pay the salaries of Taliban officials and commanders, but claims this is merely “humanitarian” assistance. [US Embassy (Islamabad), 7/1/1998 ]
Bill Richardson. [Source: BBC]Bill Richardson, the US Ambassador to the UN, meets Taliban officials in Kabul. (All such meetings are illegal, because the US still officially recognizes the government the Taliban ousted as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan.) US officials at the time call the oil and gas pipeline project a “fabulous opportunity” and are especially motivated by the “prospect of circumventing Iran, which offers another route for the pipeline.” [Boston Globe, 9/20/2001] Richardson tries to persuade the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden to the US, promising to end the international isolation of the Taliban if they cooperate. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 195; US Department of State, 1/30/2004]
The card containing Abdul-Rahman’s message. [Source: Peter Bergen]Pakistani journalist Ismail Khan is given a copy of ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul-Rahman’s purported will by one of his sons, while attending bin Laden’s first and only press conference in May 1998 (see May 26, 1998). Abdul-Rahman is serving life in prison in the US but his will anticipates that he will die soon from mistreatment. He says, “Extract the most violent revenge… Cut off all relations with [the Americans, Christians, and Jews], tear them to pieces, destroy their economies, burn their corporations, destroy their peace, sink their ships, shoot down their planes, and kill them on air, sea, and land. And kill them wherever you may find them, ambush them, take them hostage, and destroy their observatories. Kill these infidels.” Whether this will really was smuggled out of a US prison or not, the words will have a big impact for bin Laden’s followers and mark a dramatic increase in the violent rhetoric used by al-Qaeda. Ahmed Ressam, who will later be arrested for trying to bomb the Los Angeles airport, trains at the Khaldan training camp in mid-1998. He will later testify that this statement from Abdul-Rahman was widely distributed at the training camp. [Bergen, 2006, pp. 204-205] US intelligence is presumably aware of the purported will, since CNN will report about it later in 1998. [CNN, 11/8/1998] Journalist Peter Bergen, who is given a copy of the message around this time, will later comment that the message to “attack the US economy and American aviation was an important factor in the 9/11 attacks.… [His] fatwas are the nearest equivalent al-Qaeda has to an ex cathedra statement by the Pope.… [He] was able for the first time in al-Qaeda’s history to rule that it was legally permissible, and even desirable, to carry out attacks against American planes and corporations, exactly the type of attacks that took place on 9/11.” Bergen notes that while one cannot be certain if Abdul-Rahman actually wrote the message, in other cases his imprisonment did not prevent him from getting messages out through his family or lawyers. [Bergen, 2006, pp. 208-209]
Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999, later will claim that in a one-year period starting in May 1998, the CIA gives the US government “about ten chances to capture bin Laden or kill him with military means. In all instances, the decision was made that the ‘intelligence was not good enough.’ This assertion cannot be debated publicly without compromising sources and methods. What can be said, however, is that in all these cases there was more concern expressed by senior bureaucrats and policymakers about how international opinion would react to a US action than there was concern about what might happen to Americans if they failed to act. Indeed, on one occasion these senior leaders decided it was more important to avoid hitting a structure near bin Laden’s location with shrapnel, than it was to protect Americans.” He will later list six of the attempts in a book:
May 1998: a plan to capture bin Laden at his compound south of Kandahar, canceled at the last minute (see 1997-May 29, 1998).
September 1998: a capture opportunity north of Kandahar, presumably by Afghan tribals working for the CIA (see September-October 1998).
December 1998: canceled US missile strike on the governor’s palace in Kandahar (see December 18-20, 1998).
February 1999: Military attack opportunity on governor’s residence in Herat (see February 1999).
February 1999: Multiple military attack opportunities at a hunting camp near Kandahar attended by United Arab Emirates royals (see February 11, 1999).
May 1999: Military attack opportunities on five consecutive nights in Kandahar (see May 1999).
Also in late August 1998, there is one failed attempt to kill bin Laden.(see August 20, 1998) [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004; Scheuer, 2008, pp. 284]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later will strongly disagree with Scheuer’s assessment, claiming that the intelligence needed for such an attack on bin Laden was never very good. But he will also point out that the National Security Council and White House never killed any of the operations Scheuer wanted. It was always CIA Director George Tenet and other top CIA leaders who rejected the proposals. Scheuer will agree that it was always Tenet who turned down the operations. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
Hamid Mir interviewing Osama bin Laden shortly after 9/11. [Source: Corbis]In early May 1998, Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir interviews bin Laden in Kandahar, Afghanistan. During the interview, bin Laden tells Mir that he will be holding a press conference soon and invites Mir to attend. Mir will later recall that bin Laden showed him a list of journalists invited. More than 22 names are on the list, including CNN reporters Peter Bergen and Peter Arnett, and an unnamed reporter from the BBC. Mir says he will not attend, explaining that he is worried the press conference will be bombed. “I think that you are inviting a lot of Pakistani journalists. No doubt I have contacts with the intelligence guys, but I am not their informer. They will go back; they will help the intelligence agencies to bomb your compound.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 200-202] The press conference will take place later in the month and while al-Qaeda’s three top leaders bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Mohammed Atef attend, only three journalists show up (see May 26, 1998). Presumably the press conference presents a rare opportunity to take out al-Qaeda’s top leadership in one fell swoop, perhaps as they are coming or going to it, but there is no known debate by US officials or officials in other countries about ways to take advantage of this gathering. The 9/11 Commission’s final report will not mention the press conference at all.
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).
During Osama bin Laden’s one and only press conference, which takes place in Khost, Afghanistan (see May 26, 1998), Mohamed al-Owhali is photographed. Presumably his picture is taken by one of the journalists in attendance there. Al-Owhali will go on to be directly involved in the African embassy bombings several months later (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), and will be convicted in the US for a role in those bombings (see October 21, 2001). It is not known who takes al-Owhali’s picture or if US intelligence has access to the picture before the embassy bombings. [Jacquard, 2002, pp. 283]
During his interview with John Miller, bin Laden is positioned in front of East Africa on a map, and US embassies will be bombed in East Africa several months later. Bin Laden has considered it his religious duty to give warning before attacks and thus has left clues like this. [Source: CNN]In an interview with ABC News reporter John Miller, Osama bin Laden indicates he may attack a US military passenger aircraft using antiaircraft missiles. Bin Laden says: “We are sure of our victory. Our battle with the Americans is larger than our battle with the Russians.… We predict a black day for America and the end of the United States as United States, and will be separate states, and will retreat from our land and collect the bodies of its sons back to America.” In the subsequent media coverage, Miller will repeatedly refer to bin Laden as “the world’s most dangerous terrorist,” and “the most dangerous man in the world.” [ABC News, 5/28/1998; ABC News, 6/12/1998; Esquire, 2/1999; US Congress, 7/24/2003] The book The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright will later note, “Looming behind his head was a large map of Africa, an unremarked clue.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 264] Bin Laden admits to knowing Wali Khan Amin Shah, one of the Bojinka plotters (see June 1996), but denies having met Bojinka plotter Ramzi Yousef or knowing about the plot itself. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] A Virginia man named Tarik Hamdi (see March 20, 2002) helped set up Miller’s interview. He goes with Miller to Afghanistan and gives bin Laden a new battery for his satellite phone (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, will later claim that this battery was somehow bugged to help the US monitor bin Laden. [Newsweek, 8/10/2005] In 2005, Miller will become the FBI’s assistant director of the Office of Public Affairs. [All Headline News, 8/24/2005]
Bin Laden sends a fax from Afghanistan to Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, a London-based Muslim imam who dubs himself the “mouth, eyes, and ears of Osama bin Laden.” Bakri publicly releases what he calls bin Laden’s four specific objectives for a holy war against the US. The instruction reads, “Bring down their airliners. Prevent the safe passage of their ships. Occupy their embassies. Force the closure of their companies and banks.” Noting this, the Los Angeles Times will wryly comment that “Bin Laden hasn’t been shy about sharing his game plan.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] In 2001, FBI agent Ken Williams will grow concerned about some Middle Eastern students training in Arizona flight schools. He will link several of them to Al-Muhajiroun, an extremist group founded by Bakri. Williams will quote several fatwas (calls to action) from Bakri in his later-famous July 2001 memo (see July 10, 2001). However, he apparently will not be aware of this particular call to action. These students linked to Bakri’s group apparently have no connection to any of the 9/11 hijackers. In another interview before 9/11, Bakri will boast of recruiting “kamikaze bombers ready to die for Palestine.”
(see Early September 2001) [Associated Press, 5/23/2002]
Relations between Taliban head Mullah Omar and bin Laden grow tense, and Omar discusses a secret deal with the Saudis, who have urged the Taliban to expel bin Laden from Afghanistan. Head of Saudi intelligence Prince Turki al-Faisal travels to Kandahar, Afghanistan, and brokers the deal. According to Turki, he seeks to have the Taliban turn bin Laden over to Saudi custody. Omar agrees in principle, but requests that the parties establish a joint commission to work out how bin Laden would be dealt with in accordance with Islamic law. [Coll, 2004, pp. 400-02] Note that some reports of a meeting around this time—and the deal discussed—vary dramtically from Turki’s version (see May 1996 and July 1998). If this version is correct, before a deal can be reached, the US strikes Afghanistan in August in retaliation for the US African embassy bombings (see August 20, 1998), driving Omar and bin Laden back together. Turki later states that “the Taliban attitude changed 180 degrees,” and that Omar is “absolutely rude” to him when he visits again in September (see Mid-September 1998). [Guardian, 11/5/2001; London Times, 8/3/2002]
Khalid al-Fawwaz. [Source: CNN]The NSA is monitoring phone calls between bin Laden in Afghanistan and Khalid al-Fawwaz in London, yet no action is taken after al-Fawwaz is given advanced notice of the African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Al-Fawwaz, together with Ibrahim Eidarous and Adel Abdel Bary, are operating as bin Laden’s de facto international media office in London, and the NSA has listened in for two years as bin Laden called them over 200 times (see November 1996-Late August 1998). On July 29, 1998, al-Fawwaz is called from Afghanistan and told that more satellite minutes are needed because many calls are expected in the next few days. Al-Fawwaz calls a contact in the US and rush orders 400 more minutes for bin Laden’s phone. A flurry of calls on bin Laden’s phone ensues, though what is said has not been publicly revealed. [Knight Ridder, 9/20/2001] On August 7 at around 4:45 a.m., about three hours before the bombings take place, a fax taking credit for the bombings is sent to a shop near al-Fawwaz’s office. The fingerprints of his associates Eidarous and Abdel Bary are later found on the fax. They fax a copy of this to the media from a post office shortly after the bombings and their fingerprints are found on that fax as well. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 7/13/1999; Daily Telegraph, 9/19/2001] Canadian intelligence is monitoring an operative named Mahmoud Jaballah who is serving as a communication relay between operatives in Baku and London. He is monitored talking to people both in Baku and London just before the fax is sent from Baku to London (see August 5-7, 1998). The NSA has also been monitoring the operatives in Baku (see November 1996-Late August 1998). It is not clear why the Canadians or the NSA fail to warn about the bombings based on these monitored phone calls. Before 9/11, bin Laden’s phone calls were regularly translated and analyzed in less an hour or so. It has not been explained why this surge of phone calls before the embassy bombings did not result in any new attack warnings. The three men will be arrested shortly after the embassy bombings (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998).
Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah. This picture appears to be a colorized version of his more common black and white passport picture. [Source: FBI]After the African embassy bombings, a bomber named Mohammed Saddiq Odeh confesses his role to the FBI. In doing so, he describes a conversation he had with Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, one of the leaders of the bomb plot. According to the later court testimony of an FBI agent, Abdullah tells Odeh on August 6, 1998, one day before the bombings: “I just got news from Kandahar, which is an area in Afghanistan, that all the people have been evacuated. And Odeh says, what do you mean? And he says, well, we’re expecting a retaliation by the United States Navy, we’re expecting their warplanes to start hitting us and we’re expecting missile attacks.” [United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 12, 2/28/2001] Presumably, US intelligence would notice such evacuations, as they are closely monitoring al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan at the time. For instance, Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit at the time, will later say that since the 1980s, “the CIA and the US intelligence community kept a steady, inquisitive, and increasingly knowledgeable eye on these facilities.” [Scheuer, 2008, pp. 32]
President Clinton is aware of the links between the Pakistani ISI, Taliban, and al-Qaeda. In his 2005 autobiography, he will explain why he did not warn the Pakistani government more than several minutes in advance that it was firing missiles over Pakistan in an attempt to hit Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan (see August 20, 1998). He will write: “Although we were trying to work with Pakistan to defuse tensions on the Indian subcontinent, and our two nations had been allies during the Cold War, Pakistan supported the Taliban and, by extension, al-Qaeda. The Pakistani intelligence service used some of the same camps that bin Laden and al-Qaeda did to train the Taliban and insurgents who fought in Kashmir. If Pakistan had found out about our planned attacks in advance, it was likely that Pakistani intelligence would warn the Taliban or even al-Qaeda.” [Clinton, 2005, pp. 799] Despite this precaution, it appears the ISI successfully warns bin Laden in advance anyway (see August 20, 1998). Clinton takes no firm against against Pakistan for its links to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, such as including Pakistan on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Through its own monitoring of Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone, the CIA determines that he intends to travel to a training camp in Khost, in eastern Afghanistan. The CIA has to use its own equipment to do this because of a dispute with the NSA, which refused to provide it with full details of its intercepts of bin Laden’s calls (see December 1996). Although the CIA can only get half of what the NSA gets, shortly after the attacks on US embassies in East Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), it determines that bin Laden will travel to Khost the next day. On that day, the US launches several missile strikes, one of which is against Khost (see August 20, 1998), but bin Laden does not travel there, evading the missiles. Some will later claim that bin Laden changes his mind on the way there for no particular reason, but there will also be allegations that the Pakistani ISI warned him of the upcoming attack (see July 1999). [Wright, 2006, pp. 283]
Around the time of a US missile strike against al-Qaeda leaders (see August 20, 1998), Ayman al-Zawahiri uses Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone to speak to Rahimullah Yusufzai, a leading Pakistani reporter for the BBC and the Karachi-based News. During the call, Al-Zawahiri denies al-Qaeda is responsible for attacks on two US embassies in East Africa, which killed over 200 people (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998): “Mr. bin Laden has a message. He says, ‘I have not bombed the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. I have declared jihad, but I was not involved.’” Although bin Laden’s trial for the embassy bombings in Afghanistan, arranged by the Taliban, collapses when the US fails to provide sufficient evidence of his involvement (see (October 25-November 20, 1998)), bin Laden is generally thought to have known of and authorized the two attacks. [Wright, 2006, pp. 279, 283]
Before the US fires missiles in an attempt to kill al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, it fails to launch aircraft to track the usage of satellite phones by al-Qaeda leaders (see August 19, 1998 and August 20, 1998). Al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri actually talks to a journalist on the phone around the time of the missile strike (see August 20, 1998) and, had the US had aircraft monitoring Afghanistan, his error in using the phone may have resulted in his death, although this is not certain. Author Lawrence Wright will later comment: “If surveillance aircraft had been positioned in the region, al-Zawahiri’s call to the reporter would have given agents his exact location. But the strike was delivered so quickly that there was little time to prepare. Still, American intelligence knew in general where bin Laden and al-Zawahiri were hiding, so the fact that the surveillance aircraft were not available prior to the strike is inexplicable. Had they pinpointed al-Zawahiri prior to launch there is little question that he would have been killed in the strike. On the other hand, it takes several hours to prepare a missile for firing, and the flight time from the warships in the Arabian sea across Pakistan to eastern Afghanistan was more than two hours. By the time al-Zawahiri picked up the phone the missiles were probably already on their way and it was already too late.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 283]
El Shifa Plant in Sudan. [Source: US government]The US fires 66 missiles at six al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and 13 missiles at a pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, Sudan, in retaliation for the US embassy bombings. [Washington Post, 10/3/2001] The US insists the attacks are aimed at terrorists “not supported by any state,” despite obvious evidence to the contrary. The Sudanese Al Shifa factory is hit in the middle of the night when it is unoccupied. Intelligence will later suggest that the factory had no links to bin Laden (see September 23, 1998). Between six and 30 people are killed in the Afghanistan attacks. But no important al-Qaeda figures die. [Observer, 8/23/1998; New Yorker, 1/24/2000; Wright, 2006, pp. 285] At least one of the missiles accidentally landed inside Pakistan and Pakistan may have been able to build their own cruise missile from examining the remains. There are additional reports that bin Laden was able to sell unexploded missiles to China for more than $10 million. [Wright, 2006, pp. 285] President Clinton is soon widely accused of using the missile strike to distract the US public from a personal sex scandal (see August 17-Late August 1998).
A US surface ship firing a missile. The date and time is unknown. [Source: PBS]Hours before the US missile strike meant to assassinate bin Laden, he is warned that his satellite phone is being used to track his location and he turns it off. A former CIA official later alleges the warning came from supporters working for Pakistani intelligence, the ISI. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 201-202] It has been claimed that a tracking beacon was placed in bin Laden’s phone when a replacement battery was brought to him in May 1998 (see May 28, 1998). The US military only gave Pakistan about ten minutes’ advance notice that cruise missiles were entering their air space on their way to Afghanistan. This was done to make sure the missiles wouldn’t be misidentified and shot down. [New Yorker, 1/24/2000] But Pakistan was apparently aware several hours earlier, as soon as the missiles were launched. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later claims he was promised by the Navy that it would fire their missiles from below the ocean surface. However, in fact, many destroyers fired their missiles from the surface. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 188-89] He adds, “not only did they use surface ships—they brought additional ones in, because every captain wants to be able to say he fired the cruise missile.” [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] As a result, the ISI had many hours to alert bin Laden. Furthermore, Clarke later says, “I have reason to believe that a retired head of the ISI was able to pass information along to al-Qaeda that an attack was coming.” This is a likely reference to Hamid Gul, director of the ISI in the early 1990’s. [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] In 1999 the US will intercept communications suggesting that Gul played a role in forewarning the Taliban about the missile strike which may even had predated the firing of the cruise missiles (see July 1999). Clarke says he believes that “if the [ISI] wanted to capture bin Laden or tell us where he was, they could have done so with little effort. They did not cooperate with us because ISI saw al-Qaeda as helpful in pressuring India, particularly in Kashmir.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 188-89] Furthermore, bin Laden cancels a meeting with other al-Qaeda leaders after finding out that 180 US diplomats were being immediately withdrawn from Pakistan on a chartered plane. Thanks to these warnings, he is hundreds of miles away from his training camps when the missiles hit some hours later (see August 20, 1998). [Reeve, 1999, pp. 202]
In the wake of the US missile strike on Afghanistan (see August 20, 1998), the Taliban is under intense pressure to turn over bin Laden or face further attacks. Several days later, top Taliban leader Mullah Omar announces that he does not know where bin Laden is, except that he is no longer in Afghanistan. Journalist Kathy Gannon will later claim that the Pakistan army secretly gave bin Laden sanctuary in Pakistan at this time to ease US pressure on the Taliban. Taliban fighters traveling with bin Laden will later tell Gannon about a convoy of around 20 vehicles that brought bin Laden to Chirat, a commando training base in northwest Pakistan. He stayed there with his bodyguards and some senior Taliban leaders for several weeks. Gannon will later comment, “Mullah Omar needed some breathing space and Pakistan provided it.” [Gannon, 2005, pp. 163-164]
State Department official Michael Malinowski. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]Two days after the US missile strikes on militant training camps in Afghanistan (see August 20, 1998), top Taliban leader Mullah Omar unexpectedly telephones the State Department in Washington. He talks to Michael Malinowski, office director for Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh in the Bureau of South Asian Affairs. Although Mullah Omar does not threaten the US, he suggests that the missile strikes could spark more terrorist attacks. He says the Taliban is open to the idea of establishing a secure communication channel with US officials, possibly through the US embassy in Pakistan (there is no embassy in Afghanistan). The State Department comments, “Omar’s contact with a US official is rather remarkable, given his reclusive nature and his past avoidance of contact with all things American.” [US Department of State, 8/23/1998 ; US Department of State, 1/14/2002] The US then sends the Taliban some evidence of bin Laden’s militant activities (see August 23, 1998), but it appears the secure communications channel never materializes.
After being asked by Taliban leader Mullah Omar (see August 22, 1998), the US sends the Taliban a cable about bin Laden’s activities. The cable states, “We have detailed and solid evidence that Osama bin Laden has been engaged and is still engaged in planning, organizing, and funding acts of international terror.” However, the sections on the various plots in which bin Laden is supposed to have been involved are brief and do not include supporting evidence. For example, the Yemen bombing in 1992 (see December 29, 1992) is described in a single sentence: “Bin Laden and his network conspired to kill US servicemen in Yemen who were on their way to participate in the humanitarian mission ‘Operation Restore Hope’ in Somalia in 1992.” [US Department of State, 8/23/1998 ] Afghanistan’s supreme court will later acquit bin Laden of his involvement in the 1998 embassy bombings (see (October 25-November 20, 1998)) because of the US’s refusal to provide the court with the requested evidence.
A satellite image of the Zhawar Kili training camp in Afghanistan, taken shortly before it was hit by a US missile strike in August, 1998. [Source: Corbis] (click image to enlarge)The New York Times reports that the training camps recently attacked by the US in Afghanistan were built by the US and its allies, years before. The US and Saudi Arabia gave the Afghans between $6 billion and $40 billion to fight the Soviets in the 1980s (see December 8, 1979). Many of the people targeted by the missile attacks were trained and equipped by the CIA years before. [New York Times, 8/24/1998]
Following the cruise missile attack on al-Qaeda targets on August 20 (see August 20, 1998), immediate plans are made for follow up attacks to make sure bin Laden is killed. However, on this day, Defense Secretary William Cohen is advised that available targets are not promising. Some question the use of expensive missiles to hit very primitive training camps, and there is the concern that if bin Laden is not killed, his stature will only grow further. As discussions continue, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke prepares a plan he calls “Delenda,” which means “to destroy” in Latin. His idea is to have regular, small strikes in Afghanistan whenever the intelligence warrants it. The plan is rejected. Counterterrorism officials in the Defense Secretary’s office independently create a similar plan, but it too is rejected. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The Delenda Plan also calls for diplomacy against the Taliban, covert action focused in Afghanistan, and financial measures to freeze bin Laden-related funds. These aspects are not formally adopted, but they guide future efforts. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
Bin Laden’s satellite phone is being monitored by US intelligence at the time of the US embassy bombings in early August 1998 (see November 1996-Late August 1998 and 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).
Washington Times Article Falsely Blamed - On August 21, 1998, an article in the Washington Times says of bin Laden, “He keeps in touch with the world via computers and satellite phones…” The Washington Post will later note, “The information in the article does not appear to be based on any government leak and made no reference to government surveillance of bin Laden’s phone.” Other articles published on the same day make similar claims. However, it will become widely believed that this article causes bin Laden to stop using his satellite phone, which is being secretly monitored by the US (see November 1996-Late August 1998). [Washington Post, 12/20/2005] For instance, the 9/11 Commission will later blame this article and President Bush will repeat the story in late 2005. However, bin Laden’s use of a satellite phone was already widely publicized. For instance, in December 1996, Time magazine noted that bin Laden “uses satellite phones to contact fellow Islamic militants in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.” In 1997, bin Laden actually talked in a CNN interview about his use of satellite phones.
First Mention that US Was Monitoring His Calls in September - It is only on September 7, 1998, after bin Laden apparently stopped using his phone, that the Los Angeles Times is the first newspaper to mention that the US is monitoring his calls. The article says that US authorities “used their communications intercept capacity to pick up calls placed by bin Laden on his Inmarsat satellite phone, despite his apparent use of electronic ‘scramblers.’” [Washington Post, 12/22/2005]
Bin Laden Tipped Off by Missile Strike? - One possible explanation is that bin Laden stops using his phone after the August 1998 missile strike aimed at him (see August 20, 1998) for fear that the phone was used as a homing device for the missiles. The phone was in fact used as a homing device, and Defense Secretary William Cohen publicly acknowledged this by early 2001. The missile strike took place just one day before the Washington Times article. [United Press International, 2/21/2001] In 1998, a US man named Tarik Hamdi delivered a new battery for bin Laden’s phone. A former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center has stated that the battery was somehow bugged to improve US monitoring of bin Laden (see May 28, 1998).
Bin Laden Tipped Off before the Strike? - Another possibility is that bin Laden stopped using his phone just before the missile strike. Sunday Times reporter Simon Reeve claims the Pakistani ISI warned him about the strike hours before it happened, and told him that his phone use was being monitored by the US (see August 20, 1998). [Reeve, 1999, pp. 201-202]
In response to the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), an interagency US intelligence team is created to identify potential bombing targets in Afghanistan. The team continues to work steadily. By 2001, it will have a comprehensive list of potential bombing targets in the country. This list will be turned over the US military after 9/11 and used during the bombing campaign beginning in October 2001 (see October 7, 2001). [Risen, 2006, pp. 154]
By this time, US intelligence has documented many links between the Pakistani ISI, Taliban, and al-Qaeda. It is discovered that the ISI maintains about eight stations inside Afghanistan which are staffed by active or retired ISI officers. The CIA has learned that ISI officers at about the colonel level regularly meet with bin Laden or his associates to coordinate access to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. The CIA suspects that the ISI is giving money and/or equipment to bin Laden, but they find no evidence of direct ISI involvement in al-Qaeda’s overseas attacks. The ISI generally uses the training camps to train operatives to fight a guerrilla war in the disputed Indian province of Kashmir. But while these ISI officers are following Pakistani policy in a broad sense, the CIA believes the ISI has little direct control over them. One senior Clinton administration official will later state that it was “assumed that those ISI individuals were perhaps profiteering, engaged in the drug running, the arms running.” One US official aware of CIA reporting at this time later comments that Clinton’s senior policy team saw “an incredibly unholy alliance that was not only supporting all the terrorism that would be directed against us” but also threatening “to provoke a nuclear war in Kashmir.” [Coll, 2004, pp. 439-440]
Afghan tribal allies of the US apparently make some failed attempts to capture Osama bin Laden around this time. The 9/11 Commission will later report that during these two months: “[T]he tribals claimed to have tried at least four times to ambush bin Laden. Senior CIA officials doubted whether any of these ambush attempts actually occurred. But the tribals did seem to have success in reporting where bin Laden was.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 127] Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit at the time, will later list a September 1998 attempt by the tribals to capture bin Laden north of Kandahar as one of the ten missed opportunities to capture him in 1998 and 1999. [Scheuer, 2008, pp. 284]
According to Saudi intelligence minister Prince Turki al-Faisal, he participates in a second meeting with Taliban leader Mullah Omar at this time. Supposedly, earlier in the year Omar made a secret deal with Turki to hand bin Laden over to Saudi Arabia (see June 1998) and Turki is now ready to finalize the deal. ISI Director Gen. Naseem Rana is at the meeting as well. But in the wake of the US missile bombing of Afghanistan (August 20, 1998), Omar yells at Turki and denies ever having made a deal. Turki leaves empty handed. [Wright, 2006, pp. 244] However, other reports stand in complete contrast to this, suggesting that earlier in the year Turki colluded with the ISI to support bin Laden, not capture him (see May 1996 and July 1998).
Julie Sirrs. [Source: Julie Sirrs]Julie Sirrs, a military analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), travels to Afghanistan. Fluent in local languages and knowledgeable about the culture, she made a previous undercover trip there in October 1997. She is surprised that the CIA was not interested in sending in agents after the failed missile attack on Osama bin Laden in August 1998, so she returns at this time. Traveling undercover, she meets with Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. She sees a terrorist training center in Taliban-controlled territory. Sirrs will later claim: “The Taliban’s brutal regime was being kept in power significantly by bin Laden’s money, plus the narcotics trade, while [Massoud’s] resistance was surviving on a shoestring. With even a little aid to the Afghan resistance, we could have pushed the Taliban out of power. But there was great reluctance by the State Department and the CIA to undertake that.” She partly blames the interest of the US government and the oil company Unocal to see the Taliban achieve political stability to enable a trans-Afghanistan pipeline (see May 1996 and September 27, 1996). She claims, “Massoud told me he had proof that Unocal had provided money that helped the Taliban take Kabul.” She also states, “The State Department didn’t want to have anything to do with Afghan resistance, or even, politically, to reveal that there was any viable option to the Taliban.” After two weeks, Sirrs returns with a treasure trove of maps, photographs, and interviews. [ABC News, 2/18/2002; ABC News, 2/18/2002; New York Observer, 3/11/2004] By interviewing captured al-Qaeda operatives, she learns that the official Afghanistan airline, Ariana Airlines, is being used to ferry weapons and drugs, and learns that bin Laden goes hunting with “rich Saudis and top Taliban officials” (see Mid-1996-October 2001 and 1995-2001). [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] When Sirrs returns from Afghanistan, her material is confiscated and she is accused of being a spy. Says one senior colleague, “She had gotten the proper clearances to go, and she came back with valuable information,” but high level officials “were so intent on getting rid of her, the last thing they wanted to pay attention to was any information she had.” Sirrs is cleared of wrongdoing, but her security clearance is pulled. She eventually quits the DIA in frustration in 1999. [ABC News, 2/18/2002; New York Observer, 3/11/2004] Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) will claim that the main DIA official behind the punishment of Sirrs is Lieutenant General Patrick Hughes, who later becomes “one of the top officials running the Department of Homeland Security.” [Dana Rohrabacher, 6/21/2004]
Entity Tags: Taliban, Unocal, Osama bin Laden, US Department of State, Northern Alliance, Patrick Hughes, Defense Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Al-Qaeda, Julie Sirrs, Central Intelligence Agency, Dana Rohrabacher, Ariana Airlines
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
The Defense Intelligence Agency acquires a report on the connections between Osama bin Laden and Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab. The report states that Ibn Khattab fought with bin Laden in Afghanistan and established training camps in Chechnya at bin Laden’s request. It also says that bin Laden has met with Chechen leaders and agreed to help them with “financial supplies”, and that the Chechen camps will be used to train European militants to conduct kidnappings and terrorist acts against French, Israeli, US, and British citizens. A direct route from Afghanistan to Chechnya has been established through Turkey and Azerbaijan, and is being used for “volunteers”, as well as drug smuggling. [Defense Intelligence Agency, 10/16/1998 ] What US intelligence knows about the relationship between Ibn Khattab and bin Laden will play an important role in the handling of the Zacarias Moussaoui case just before 9/11 (see August 22, 2001 and August 24, 2001).
After the Taliban is warned that bin Laden has been accused of involvement in the recent 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), it initiates judicial proceedings against him. But when the US fails to provide Afghanistan’s supreme court with sufficient evidence, bin Laden is acquitted. [Associated Press, 11/20/1998] The Taliban has already received some claims regarding bin Laden’s involvement in terrorism from the US (see August 23, 1998), but these are insufficient and more evidence is requested. Originally, there is no cut-off date for supplying evidence, but when the US does nothing, the Taliban leaders become frustrated and announce a time limit on the inquiry: “If anyone has any evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in cases of terrorism, subversion, sabotage, or any other acts, they should get it to the court before November 20. If by then there is nothing, we will close the case and in our eyes he will be acquitted.” In a November 10 cable the US embassy in Pakistan, which also handles Afghan affairs, comments: “The Taliban appear to many observers not to be totally unreasonable in their demand that the US provide them evidence on bin Laden.” [US Embassy (Islamabad), 11/10/1998 ] The US then sends the Taliban a video of an interview bin Laden gave CNN in 1997, a transcript of his ABC 1998 interview, and a copy of his US indictment for the embassy bombings. [US Department of State, 11/11/1998 ] The inquiry is headed by the country’s chief justice, Noor Mohamed Saqib. After the evidence is found not to be enough and bin Laden is set free, Saqib comments: “It is their shame that they have been silent. America is wrong about bin Laden… Anything that happens now anywhere in the world they blame Osama, but the reality is in the proof and they have not given us any. It’s over and America has not presented any evidence. Without any evidence, bin Laden is a man without sin… he is a free man.” [Associated Press, 11/20/1998] However, the State Department says that it did not “endorse, support, or request” the sharia court trial, but simply wanted bin Laden extradited. A White House spokesperson says, “Without commenting on the rigor of the Taliban judicial system, it is clear that Mr. bin Laden is a proven threat to US national interests.” [US Department of State, 11/11/1998 ; Associated Press, 11/20/1998] The Taliban’s leadership is not satisfied with the outcome of the trial and will subsequently ask the US for help in getting rid of bin Laden (see November 28, 1998).
According to the 1999 book The New Jackals by journalist Simon Reeve, bin Laden is nearly poisoned to death this month. The operation “involved American technology and know-how in concert with Saudi finance and manpower, thus avoiding any difficult questions in the US Congress about state-sponsored assassinations. The attack involved an assassin called Siddiq Ahmed who was paid $267,000 to poison bin Laden. It was only partially successful, causing acute kidney failure.” [Reeve, 1999, pp. 204] Apparently, different Saudi factions have vastly different attitudes towards bin Laden, because the same book claims that around this same time, Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi intelligence minister, may have met with senior Taliban leaders to extract guarantees of support for bin Laden, to ensure the Taliban would not hand bin Laden over to the US. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 191] No post-9/11 investigations will mention this alleged poisoning incident.
Senior Taliban spokesman Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil meets diplomats from the US embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, to examine new ways of resolving the problem of Osama bin Laden’s presence in Afghanistan after judicial proceedings against him collapse there (see (October 25-November 20, 1998)). Ahmed expresses his opinion that Taliban leaders are caught between “a rock and a hard place” since, if they expel bin Laden without cause they will have internal problems and, if they do not, they will have external ones due to the US. Ahmed suggests that the Saudis have a key to the solution. Afghan and Saudi religious scholars could convene a joint meeting and issue a ruling that bin Laden had acted illegally, for example by holding a news conference when he was under a communication ban. He could then be expelled without this causing internal unrest in Afghanistan and the problem would be resolved “in minutes, not hours.” The US would be happy if bin Laden were expelled to Saudi Arabia or Egypt, but the Saudis apparently do not favor a joint meeting and the proposal is not acted upon. [US Department of State, 11/28/1998 ]
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
Shortly after an August 1998 US missile strike on Afghanistan (see August 20, 1998), bin Laden stops using his satellite phone, correctly deciding that it was being monitored by US intelligence (see Late August 1998). According to counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, al-Qaeda quickly “developed a system to deceive those monitoring his calls. [But] Western security and intelligence agencies were soon able to monitor the new system, which was based on transferring international calls within safe houses in Pakistan to make them seem like domestic calls.” Other al-Qaeda leaders such as Abu Zubaida will be frequently monitored as they make calls using this new system (see October 1998 and After). Gunaratna later claims to have learned this from a confidential source in a “communications monitoring agency” in Western Europe. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 15-16, 3291] It is not known how long it took until al-Qaeda realized this new system was compromised, but there are accounts of bin Laden and Zubaida’s calls being monitored days before 9/11 (see Early September 2001, September 9, 2001, and Early September 2001).
The governor’s mansion in Kandahar, Afghanistan. [Source: CBC]On December 18, 2000, CIA receives a tip that bin Laden will be staying overnight on December 20 at the governor’s mansion in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Missile strikes are readied against him. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 130-131] Gary Schroen, head of the CIA’s Pakistan office, e-mails CIA headquarters with the message, “Hit him tonight—we may not get another chance.” However, principal advisers to President Clinton agree not to recommend a strike because of doubts about the intelligence and worries about collateral damage. The military estimates the attacks will kill about 200 people, presumably most of them innocent bystanders. Schroen will later recall, “It struck me as rather insane, frankly. They decided not to attack bin Laden because he was in a building in fairly close proximity to a mosque. And they were afraid that some of the shrapnel was going to hit the mosque and somehow offend the Muslim world, and so they decided not to shoot on that occasion. That’s the kind of reason for not shooting that the policy maker, anyway, came up with endlessly.” [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; CBC, 9/12/2006] Later intelligence appears to show that bin Laden left before the strike could be readied, but some aware of the intelligence felt it was a chance that should have been taken anyway. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 130-131] In the wake of this incident, officials attempt to find alternatives to cruise missiles, such a precision strike aircraft. However, US Central Command Chief General Anthony Zinni is apparently opposed to deployment of these aircraft near Afghanistan, and they are not deployed. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
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]
An AC-130. [Source: US Air Force]In the immediate aftermath of a decision not to attack bin Laden with cruise missiles for fear of collateral damage (see December 18-20, 1998), the US military looks for other options than the inaccurate cruise missiles. On this day, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Henry Shelton formally directs Generals Anthony Zinni and Peter J. Schoomaker to develop plans for an AC-130 gunship attack against al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan. The AC-130 is an aircraft designed specifically for special forces missions. It can fly in fast or from a high altitude, undetected by radar. It is capable of rapidly firing precision-guided projectiles that are much less likely to cause collateral damage. The two generals do submit such a plan on January 12, 1999, but the plan will never be developed beyond this initial document. One reason is that Zinni is against the idea. Another obstacle is that due to technical reasons the AC-130s would need to be based in a nearby country (most likely Uzbekistan, which is the most supportive of US efforts to get bin Laden at this time (see 1998 and After)). Political agreements allowing for basing and overflight rights would have to be arranged, but there is never any attempt to do so. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 135, 486]
According to US intelligence sources, Farouk Hijazi, the Iraqi ambassador to Turkey, visits Afghanistan in late 1998 after US cruise missiles are fired on al-Qaeda training camps following the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Hijazi, who is also a longtime intelligence officer, meets Osama bin Laden in Kandahar and extends an offer from Baghdad to provide refuge for him and Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Bin Laden reportedly rejects the offer because he doesn’t want his organization dominated by Saddam Hussein. After the 9/11 attacks, proponents of invading Iraq will claim the visit makes Hijazi a key link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Hijazi will be captured by US troops in late April 2003 after the US/British invasion of Iraq begins. [Guardian, 2/16/1999; Associated Press, 9/27/2001; Knight Ridder, 10/7/2002; Associated Press, 4/25/2003; Associated Press, 7/13/2003] However, in 2006, a bipartisan Senate report will conclude that Hijazi did meet with bin Laden, but in 1995, not 1998 (see Early 1995).
A joint project team run by the CIA and NSA slips into Afghanistan and places listening devices within range of al-Qaeda’s tactical radios. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001]
CIA already has a network of local agents in Afghanistan by this time (see 1997). However, in this year there is a serious effort to increase the network throughout Afghanistan and other countries for the purpose of capturing bin Laden and his deputies. [United Press International, 10/17/2002] Many are put on the CIA’s payroll, including some Taliban military leaders. Many veterans of the Soviet war in the 1980s who worked with the CIA then are recruited again. All of these recuitments are kept secret from Pakistani intelligence because of their support of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. [Coll, 2004, pp. 491-492] CIA Director George Tenet will later state that by 9/11, “a map would show that these collection programs and human networks were in place in such numbers to nearly cover Afghanistan. This array means that, when the military campaign to topple the Taliban and destroy al-Qaeda [begins in October 2001], we [are] able to support it with an enormous body of information and a large stable of assets.” [US Congress, 10/17/2002] However, apparently none of these sources are close enough to bin Laden to know about his movements in advance. [Coll, 2004, pp. 491-492]
FBI Minneapolis agent Harry Samit learns that an unnamed man plans to travel from the US to Afghanistan to train militants there, and that one of his relatives has applied to join the Minnesota National Guard. Samit wants to run a check on him and notify the National Guard, as he is worried because guardsmen have access to local airports. However, he is blocked for several months by Michael Maltbie, an agent in the Radical Fundamentalist Unit at FBI headquarters, who becomes “extremely agitated” and says this is “just the sort of thing that would get the FBI into trouble.” [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 3/21/2006; Knight Ridder, 3/21/2006; Hearst Newspapers, 3/21/2006] Samit and Maltbie will later have another running disagreement over the Zacarias Moussaoui case (see August 15-September 10, 2001, August 20-September 11, 2001, August 27, 2001, and August 28, 2001).
Ahmed al-Hada, an operative who runs a communications hub for al-Qaeda in Yemen, travels to Afghanistan and attends a banquet, where, US intelligence learns, he sits next to Osama bin Laden. The communications hub run by al-Hada, who fought in the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, helped coordinate the East African embassy bombings and has been under heavy surveillance by the NSA and other US agencies since at least late 1998 (see Late August 1998). [Newsweek, 2/18/2002]
Rita Katz, a researcher at The Investigative Project on Terrorism, discovers a book called The Arab Volunteers in Afghanistan. Published in Arabic in 1991, the book is very obscure. The 9/11 Commission will later say the book contains “a particularly useful insight into the evolution of al-Qaeda—written by an early bin Laden associate, Adel Batterjee, under a pseudonym.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 467] Katz discovers that Batterjee was close acquaintances with Osama bin Laden and that the book describes bin Laden’s career and that of many others during the 1980s war in Afghanistan in great detail. She will later call the book “practically the ‘Who’s Who of al-Qaeda’” because so many people described in it went on to become important al-Qaeda figures. The book discusses:
Adel Batterjee, the author of the book and a Saudi millionaire. He helped found the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF). The US will declare him a terrorism financier in 2004.
Wael Hamza Julaidan, a Saudi multimillionaire. The US will designate him a terrorism financier in 2002 (see September 6, 2002).
Enaam Arnaout. He runs the US headquarters of BIF from 1993 until late 2001, when the US will shut BIF down.
Mohammed Loay Bayazid, a US citizen. He is a founding member of al-Qaeda and worked in the US for BIF until 1998.
Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law. He is tied to the Bojinka plot and numerous militant charity fronts.
Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi (the book mentions him by his alias, Abu Talha). Considered al-Qaeda’s main financier of cells in Europe, he will be arrested a few months after 9/11 (see April 23, 2002).
Wali Khan Amin Shah, one of the Bojinka plotters. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 468]
Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, an al-Qaeda leader involved in the 1998 African embassy bombings who will be arrested in Germany in 1998 (see September 16, 1998). [National Review, 10/28/2002]
Katz says that “many, many others” are mentioned. “Many others mentioned in the book decorate the FBI’s ‘most wanted’ lists.… There was nothing like [the] book to put everything in order, organize loose bits of information, and clear parts that were obscure to me (and to everyone else.)” Katz has connections in the US government, so she calls the White House and tries to convey the importance of the book’s information. She repeatedly sends them translations of important sections. However, she sees very little interest in the book. After 9/11, she will get a call from the Justice Department, finally expressing interest. Katz will later comment, “The government took interest in the book only after 9/11, two years after I’d first discovered it and offered it to them. No wonder that government agents told me I knew more about al-Qaeda than they did.”
Entity Tags: Wali Khan Amin Shah, White House, Rita Katz, Osama bin Laden, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Adel Abdul Jalil Batterjee, Al-Qaeda, Enaam Arnaout, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi, Mohammed Loay Bayazid, Wael Hamza Julaidan
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
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