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Events: (Note that this is not the preferable method of finding events because not all events have been assigned topics yet)
Cover art for the 1966 film ‘Lost Command,’ based on the book ‘Les Centurions.’ [Source: Cinema Forever (.com)]The French novel Les Centurions, by Jean Larteguy, features an early version of the so-called “ticking time bomb” scenario, in which torture is used to force critical information from a prisoner. The book, set during France’s occupation of Algeria, features a hero who beats up a female Arab dissident in order to learn the location of bombs planted throughout the city of Algiers. The hero uses the information gleaned from the beating of the woman to find and defuse the bombs. The book will be made into a 1966 film, Lost Command, starring Anthony Quinn. [Cinema Forever, 2009; National Public Radio, 5/5/2009]
Mohammed Samraoui. [Source: Rachad]Mohammed Samraoui, the Algerian army’s deputy chief counterintelligence specialist, will later desert in disgust and explain in a French trial that the Algerian army helped create the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), supposedly an Islamist militant group linked to al-Qaeda fighting the Algerian government. He will say that in the months before an Algerian army coup in January 1992 the Algerian army “created the GIA” in an attempt to weaken and destroy the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), an Islamist political party poised to take power in elections. He will say, “We established a list of the most dangerous people and demanded their arrest, but in vain: they were needed [to be free] to create terrorist groups. Instead, we arrested right, left, and center. We were trying to radicalize the movement.” Army intelligence identified Algerians returning from the Soviet-Afghan war and many times recruited them. “They all took the flight home via Tunis because it was half-price. As soon as they landed in Algiers, we took them in hand.” [Randal, 2005, pp. 169-170]
GIA logo. [Source: Public domain]The Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), established in 1991, allegedly is an Islamist militant group linked to al-Qaeda, but there are allegations it was manipulated by the Algerian government from its inception (see 1991). Militants launch their first attack in December 1991, shortly before an Algerian army coup (see January 11, 1992), striking a military base, killing conscripts there and seizing weapons. The GIA competes with an existing militant group, the Armed Islamic Movement (MIA), which changes its name to the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS) in 1993 and becomes the armed wing of the banned FIS party. After the army coup, the GIA and AIS stage many attacks in Algeria. The GIA is more active, targeting many government employees, intellectuals, and foreigners for assassination, and attacking factories, railroads, bridges, banks, military garrisons, and much more. They generally try to minimize civilian casualties, but hope to create a state of fear that will lead to paralysis and the collapse of the government. The group goes through four leaders during this time. But in October 1994 a new leader will take over, dramatically changing the direction of the group (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996). [Crotty, 2005, pp. 291]
A large rally for the FIS on January 9, 1992, in Algiers, Algeria. [Source: Gyori Antoine / Corbis]Starting in 1989, the Algerian government allows political reform and elections. The country has been ruled by one party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), since independence. In June 1990, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won by large margins in local elections. Journalist Jonathan Randal will later comment that “the outcome was more a massive no-confidence vote against the corrupt, incompetent, and self-satisfied secular establishment than an endorsement of an Islamic republic.” In legislative elections in December 1991, the FIS wins again. They seem poised to win a runoff election one month later that would put them in power. But on January 11, 1992, the army stages a coup, overthrowing President Chadli Benjedid and canceling the runoff elections. Within months, the FIS is banned, its local officials elected in 1990 are removed from office, and tens of thousands of suspected sympathizers imprisoned and often tortured. Radical Islamists go underground and launch a number of violent militant groups. Over 150,000 will die over the next decade. [Randal, 2005, pp. 165-167]
After the junta ruling Algeria suspends elections and declares martial law (see January 11, 1992), the US decides to tacitly support the junta’s actions. Islamist groups were poised to take power. Secretary of State James Baker will later explain, “We pursued a policy of excluding the radical fundamentalists in Algeria even as we recognized that this was somewhat at odds with our support of democracy.” A State Department report will later comment that the US supported the Algerian junta with “something of a wink and a nod.” Algeria will become embroiled in a civil war and the Algerian government’s crackdown on opponents will become increasingly brutal, but the US will continue to support the junta. [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 315-316]
By 1993, the Algerian militant group Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) is extremely active launching attacks in Algeria. For instance, in a two month period of 1994 alone, it will burn down over 500 schools. In 1993, bin Laden sends Qari Said al-Jazairi, an Algerian member of al-Qaeda’s shura (ruling council), to meet with rebel leaders in the mountains. He gives them $40,000 but warns them there is no room for compromise with the government and total war is the only solution. This marginalizes the moderates. According to later testimony by key al-Qaeda defector Jamal al-Fadl, the GIA is then treated as an affiliate of al-Qaeda. [Day 2. United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., 2/6/2001; Wright, 2006, pp. 189-190] Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders may not be aware of it, but the GIA is highly infiltrated by the Algerian intelligence agency by this time (see 1991).
In 2007, former CIA Director George Tenet will write, “As early as 1993, [the CIA] had declared bin Laden to be a significant financier backer of Islamic terrorist movements. We knew he was funding paramilitary training of Arab religious militants in such far-flung places as Bosnia, Egypt, Kashmir, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, and Yemen” (see July-August 1993). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 100]
The groundwork for al-Qaeda’s network in Europe is laid in the early 1990s by militant groups from North Africa, in particular the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) of Algeria. However, the GIA is penetrated both at home and abroad by the Algerian army and intelligence establishment and is sometimes even led by moles (see 1991, October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996 and July-October 1995). After elections are canceled in Algeria (see January 11, 1992), it begins to set up logistical support networks in border countries such as Spain and Germany, as well as in Britain and Belgium (see Mid 1994-March 2, 1995) and joins up with al-Qaeda (see 1993). A senior French investigator will say that the GIA was “part of a franchising company known as al-Qaeda.” This provides al-Qaeda with a well-established network of cells to carry out a broader jihad from its European base against Islamic countries to which al-Qaeda is hostile. [Boston Globe, 8/4/2002] The government penetration of the GIA will be so complete by 1996 that Osama bin Laden will withdraw his support from the organization (see Mid-1996).
Omar Nasiri (a pseudonym), a member of a cell of the al-Qaeda-linked Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) Algerian militant group in Brussels, Belgium, steals money from a more senior member of the cell. Not knowing what to do and being unhappy about the way the cell uses his mother’s house, he contacts French intelligence, which gives him money to repay what he stole and makes him an informer. Nasiri, whose task for the cell is to purchase weapons and ammunition, also smuggles explosives into North Africa before a bombing there (see January 30, 1995 and Before). He provides information about the cell’s members, associates passing through, weapons smuggling, and the GIA’s main publication, Al Ansar, which is put together in his bedroom for a time. The cell and other parts of the network are raided in March 1995 by the Belgian authorities and some members are jailed. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 3-100] Nasiri subsequently penetrates al-Qaeda’s camps in Afghanistan, meets some of its top commanders and reports on them to French and British intelligence (see Mid 1995-Spring 1996 and Summer 1996-August 1998).
Reda Hassaine. [Source: CBC]A journalist named Reda Hassaine is hired by the Algerian security services to perform a mission directed against the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), an Islamist militant group. He goes to London, where he meets a GIA member and receives a fax machine from him. The fax machine is broken, but was previously used to distribute GIA messages and its memory holds “scores of phone numbers identifying GIA men in Algeria who had sent communiqués” to Britain. Hassaine takes the fax machine back to Algeria and gives it to the security services there; what use they make of the numbers is unknown. Hassaine’s contact in London also gives him cash for the GIA, which Hassaine passes on to the security services. In return, Hassaine gives the contact a false passport that can be tracked. [Observer, 2/18/2001; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 130]
Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, is in the Netherlands at this time. He meets with representatives of:
The Muwafaq Foundation, a Saudi funded charity operating from the town of Breda, Netherlands.
The Egyptian militant group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Group), led by Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman.
The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), an outlawed Islamist political party in Algeria.
What happens in Khalifa’s meetings is unknown, but the next month he opens a branch of the Muwafaq Foundation in the Philippines. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 168, 194, 342] Saudi multimillionaire Yassin al-Qadi is believed to be the chief funder of Muwafaq; the US will pronounce him a terrorist financier shortly after 9/11 (see October 12, 2001). The US will later claim Muwafaq funded the Abu Sayyaf militant group in the Philippines (see 1995-1998). A secret 1996 CIA report will claim that Muwafaq has ties to Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and helps fund mujaheddin fighting in Bosnia (see 1991-1995) and at least one training camp in Afghanistan (see January 1996).
Djamel Zitouni. [Source: Fides Journal]Djamel Zitouni takes over the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA). There are allegations that the Algerian government manipulated the GIA from its creation in 1991 (see 1991). After going through several leaders, it appears that the GIA’s new leader Zitouni is in fact an agent of the Algerian intelligence agency. For instance, in 2005 the Guardian will report that Algerian intelligence “managed to place Djamel Zitouni, one of the Islamists it controlled, at the head of the GIA.” [Guardian, 9/8/2005] And journalist Jonathan Randal will write in a 2005 book that according to Abdelkhader Tigha, a former Algerian security officer, “army intelligence controlled overall GIA leader Djamel Zitouni and used his men to massacre civilians to turn Algerian and French public opinion against the jihadis.” [Randal, 2005, pp. 170-171] Indeed, prior to Zitouni taking over, the GIA tried to limit civilian casualties in their many attacks (see December 1991-October 27, 1994). But Zitouni launches many attacks on civilian targets. He also attacks other Islamist militant groups, such as the rival Islamic Salvation Army (AIS). He also launches a series of attacks inside France. [Crotty, 2005, pp. 291-292] Zitouni also kills many of the genuine Islamists within the GIA. [New Zealand Listener, 2/14/2004] These controversial tactics cause the GIA to slowly lose popular support and the group also splits into many dissident factions. Some international militant leaders such as Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Qatada continue to support the GIA. He will finally be killed by a rival faction on July 16, 1996. [Crotty, 2005, pp. 291-292]
French special forces storming the hijacked Air France plane. [Source: French channel 3]An Air France Airbus A300 carrying 227 passengers and crew is hijacked in Algiers, Algeria by four Algerians wearing security guard uniforms. They are members of a militant group linked to al-Qaeda. They land in Marseille, France, and demand a very large amount of jet fuel. During a prolonged standoff, the hijackers kill two passengers and release 63 others. They are heavily armed with 20 sticks of dynamite, assault rifles, hand grenades, and pistols. French authorities later determine their aim is to crash the plane into the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but French Special Forces storm the plane before it can depart from Marseille. [Time, 1/2/1995; New York Times, 10/3/2001] Time magazine details the Eiffel Tower suicide plan in a cover story. A week later, Philippine investigators breaking up the Bojinka plot in Manila find a copy of the Time story in bomber Ramzi Yousef’s possessions. Author Peter Lance notes that Yousef had close ties to Algerian Islamic militants and may have been connected to or inspired by the plot. [Time, 1/2/1995; Lance, 2003, pp. 258] Even though this is the third attempt in 1994 to crash an airplane into a building, the New York Times will note after 9/11 that “aviation security officials never extrapolated any sort of pattern from those incidents.” [New York Times, 10/3/2001] Some doubts about who was ultimately behind the hijacking will surface later when allegations emerge that the GIA is infiltrated by Algerian intelligence. There is even evidence the top leader of the GIA at this time is a government mole (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996). As journalist Jonathan Randal later relates, the aircraft was originally held at the Algiers airport “in security circumstances so suspect the French government criticized what it felt was the Algerian authorities’ ambiguous behavior. Only stern French insistence finally extracted [Algerian government] authorization to let the aircraft take off.” [Randal, 2005, pp. 171]
Algerian journalist Reda Hassaine, who has previously performed one mission for the Algerian security services directed against the militant Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) (see August 1994), persuades the Algerian government to hire him on a more permanent basis. Hassaine approaches the Algerians because gunmen have assassinated a close friend in Algiers and he holds the GIA responsible. He makes the approach in London, where he now lives, by contacting the Algerian embassy. His case is handled by a colonel in the Algerian intelligence service, with whom Hassaine meets in various London pubs for several years. Hassaine is tasked with attending the various extremist mosques, in particular a mosque in Finsbury Park, as well as coffee shops. His job is to keep his eyes and ears open and also to report on specific GIA operatives. Hassaine will later focus on the Finsbury Park Mosque and will say of the extremists who passed through it: “They came from all over the world, spent some time there and went somewhere else—Kashmir, Afghanistan, wherever. And many of them would come back again. The mosque was a rest place for them, they would return from jihad and start telling the younger ones about it, brainwashing another lot of recruits.” Hassaine will be hired by French intelligence in 1997 (see Early 1997), after which he appears to do less for the Algerians. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 130-134]
The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) logo. [Source: Public domain]The Italian government hosts a meeting in Rome of Algerian political parties, including the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), whose probable election win was halted by an army coup in 1992 (see January 11, 1992). Eight political parties representing 80 percent of the vote in the last multi-party election agree on a common platform brokered by the Catholic community of Sant’Egidio, Italy, known as the Sant’Egidio Platform. The militant Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) is the only significant opposition force not to participate in the agreement. The parties agree to a national conference that would precede new multi-party elections. They call for an inquiry into the violence in Algeria, a return to constitutional rule, and the end of the army’s involvement in politics. The Independent notes the agreement “[does] much to bridge the enmity between religious and lay parties and, most significantly, pushe[s] the FIS for the first time into an unequivocal declaration of democratic values.” French President Francois Mitterrand soon proposes a European Union peace initiative to end the fighting in Algeria, but the Algerian government responds by recalling its ambassador to France. [Independent, 2/5/1995] The Washington Post notes that the agreement “demonstrate[s] a growing alliance between the Islamic militants [such as the GIA], waging a deadly underground war with government security forces, and the National Liberation Front,” Algeria’s ruling party, as both are opposed to peace with the FIS and other opposition parties. [Washington Post, 1/14/1995] The Guardian will later report that these peace overtures “left [Algeria’s] generals in an untenable position. In their desperation, and with the help of the DRS [Algeria’s intelligence agency], they hatched a plot to prevent French politicians from ever again withdrawing support for the military junta.” The GIA is heavily infilrated by Algerian government moles at this time and even the GIA’s top leader, Djamel Zitouni, is apparently working for Algerian intelligence (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996). Some GIA moles are turned into agent provocateurs. GIA leader Ali Touchent, who the Guardian will say is one of the Algerian moles, begins planning attacks in France in order to turn French public opinion against the Algerian opposition and in favor of the ruling Algerian government (see July-October 1995). The GIA also plots against some of the FIS’s leaders living in Europe. [Guardian, 9/8/2005]
Omar Nasiri, an operative of the Algerian Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) and informer for French intelligence, smuggles explosives into North Africa before a massacre by the GIA in Algeria. Nasiri takes the explosives hidden in a car for a GIA cell in Belgium, for which he works as an ammunition and weapons purchaser (see Mid 1994-March 2, 1995). Nasiri tells his contact at the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) about the trip beforehand, but refuses to provide the French with updates about his progress while on route to Tangiers, Morocco, where he passes the car and explosives on to another operative. A short while after this, there is a car bombing in Algiers, in neighboring Algeria, killing over 40 people. Nasiri later comments: “I don’t know if the explosives I carried were used in that blast. I will never know. The GIA had lots of suppliers, of course. And yet I kept thinking about the urgency of the trip. The way [an operative] yelled at me, and the frustration in [another operative]‘s voice when I threatened to keep the car. The speed with which the mechanic replaced the engine in Brussels. Was everything timed for this attack? I will never know the truth, but the question still haunts me.” [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 63-81]
A Paris subway car bombed in 1995. [Source: Associated Press]Ten French citizens die and more than two hundred are injured in a series of attacks in France from July to October 1995. Most of the attacks are caused by the explosion of rudimentary bombs in the Paris subway. The deaths are blamed on the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) Algerian militant group. Some members of the banned Algerian opposition Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) living in exile in France are killed as well. For instance, high-level FIS leader Abdelbaki Sahraoui is assassinated on July 11, 1995. The GIA takes credit for these acts. The attacks mobilize French public opinion against the Islamic opposition in Algerian and causes the French government to abandon its support for recent Algerian peace plans put forth by a united opposition front (see January 13,1995). [BBC, 10/30/2002; Randal, 2005, pp. 171, 316-317; Guardian, 9/8/2005] However, in September 1995, French Interior Minister Jean-Louis Debré says, “It cannot be excluded that Algerian intelligence may have been implicated” in the first bombing, which hit the Saint-Michel subway stop in Paris on July 25 and killed eight. [BBC, 10/31/2002; Randal, 2005, pp. 316-317] And as time goes on, Algerian officials defect and blame Algerian intelligence for sponsoring all the attacks. Ali Touchent is said to be the GIA leader organizing the attacks (see January 13,1995). But Mohammed Samraoui, former deputy chief of the Algerian army’s counterintelligence unit, will later claim that Touchent was an Algerian intelligence “agent tasked with infiltrating Islamist ranks abroad and the French knew it.” But he adds the French “probably did not suspect their Algerian counterparts were prepared to go so far.” [Randal, 2005, pp. 316-317] A long-time Algerian secret agent known only by the codename Yussuf-Joseph who defected to Britain will later claim that the bombings in France were supported by Algerian intelligence in order to turn French public opinion against the Islamic opposition in Algeria. He says that intelligence agents went sent to France by General Smain Lamari, head of the Algerian counterintelligence department, to directly organize at least two of the French bombings. The operational leader was actually Colonel Souames Mahmoud, head of the intelligence at the Algerian Embassy in Paris. [Observer, 11/9/1997] In 2002, a French television station will air a 90-minute documentary tying the bombings to Algerian intelligence. In the wake of the broadcast, Alain Marsaud, French counterintelligence coordinator in the 1980s, will say, “State terrorism uses screen organizations. In this case, [the GIA was] a screen organization in the hands of the Algerian security services… it was a screen to hold France hostage.” [New Zealand Listener, 2/14/2004]
The Algerian Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) gains more influence in the Islamic Cultural Institute, a militant mosque in Milan, Italy, following the death of its former head, Anwar Shaaban. Under the leadership of Shaaban, who died in the Bosnian war, the mosque had been built up into a key European logistics center for militant Islamists. [Chicago Tribune, 10/22/2001] The mosque is described as “the main al-Qaeda station house in Europe” (see 1993 and After), but the GIA is said to be infiltrated by government informers at this point and is losing strength in Algeria due to the penetration (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996).
At some point in the mid-to-late 1990s, French authorities ask their counterparts in Britain to ban the militant newsletter Al Ansar, which is published in Britain by supporters of the radical Algerian organization Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA). Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will describe the newsletter: “This was handed out at mosques, youth clubs, and restaurants popular with young Arabs. It eulogized atrocities carried out by mujaheddin in Algeria, recounting graphic details of their operations, and described in deliberately provocative language an attack on a packed passenger train and the hijacking of a French airliner in December 1994 which was intended to be flown into the Eiffel Tower.” They add that its past editors “read like a who’s who of Islamist extremists,” including Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for the British authorities (see Early 1997 and Before October 1997), Abu Qatada, another British informer (see June 1996-February 1997), and Rachid Ramda, the mastermind of a series of attacks in France who operated from Britain (see 1994 and July-October 1995). The newsletter is also linked to Osama bin Laden (see 1994 and January 5, 1996). However, British authorities say that the newsletter cannot be banned. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 112-113]
Rachid Ramda. [Source: Public domain]The London Times publishes one of the first Western newspaper articles about Osama bin Laden. The article says, “A Saudi Arabian millionaire is suspected of channeling thousands of pounds to Islamic militants in London which may have bankrolled French terrorist bombings.” Bin Laden is referred to as “Oussama ibn-Laden.” It says that he sent money to Rachid Ramda, editor in chief of Al Ansar, the London-based newsletter for the radical Algerian militant group the GIA. However, government sources say that the money ostensibly for the newsletter was really used to fund a wave of militant attacks in France in 1995 (see July-October 1995). Ramda was arrested in London on November 4, 1995 at the request of the French government. [London Times, 1/5/1996] Two other people working as editors on the Al Ansar newsletter in 1995, Abu Qatada and Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, will later be found to be important al-Qaeda leaders (see June 1996-1997 and October 31, 2005). It will take ten years for Britain to extradite Ramda to France. He will be tried in France in 2005 and sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 1995 French attacks. [BBC, 10/26/2007] Bin Laden may have met with Ramda while visiting Britain in 1994 (see 1994). It will later be revealed that the 1995 attacks in France were led by an Algerian government mole (see July-October 1995), and the GIA as a whole was run by a government mole (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996).
A photo montage of the seven murdered monks from Tibhirine. [Source: Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance] (click image to enlarge)On March 26, 1996, a group of armed men break into a Trappist monastery in the remote mountain region of Tibhirine, Algeria, and kidnap seven of the nine monks living there. They are held hostage for two months and then Djamel Zitouni, head of the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), announces that they were all killed on May 21, 1996. The French government and the Roman Catholic church state the GIA is to blame. But years later, Abdelkhader Tigha, former head of Algeria’s military security, will claim the kidnapping was planned by Algerian officials to get the monks out of a highly contested area. He says government agents kidnapped the monks and then handed them to a double agent in the GIA. But the plan went awry and the militants assigned to carry it out killed the monks. Furthermore, it will later be alleged that Zitouni was a mole for Algerian intelligence (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996). [Independent, 12/24/2002; United Press International, 8/20/2004] In 2004, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will reopen the controversy when he says of the monks’ deaths, “Not all truth is good to say when [the issue is still] hot.” [United Press International, 8/20/2004] He will also say, “Don’t forget that the army saved Algeria. Whatever the deviations there may have been, and there were some, just because you have some rotten tomatoes you do not throw all of them away.” [Daily Telegraph, 4/7/2004]
By 1996, the bombing campaign of the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) targeting the civilian population in Algeria shocks even other radical Muslim militants around the world. The GIA has been supported by bin Laden since its inception, but through an associate group al-Qaeda declares: “Due to the deviations and legal mistakes committed by its [leader]… jihad in Algeria, which started almost five years ago, faced a major setback following the massacre of a number of leading scholarly and jihadi figures by the current [leader] of the GIA, who is believed to be surrounded by regime spies and collaborators.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 184] Prominent radical imams Abu Qatada and Abu Hamza are forced to denounce the GIA around the same time due to widespread revulsion about the group’s tactics (see Mid 1996-October 1997).
The next year, al-Qaeda will make a final public break with the GIA and form a new group to replace it (see September 1997-May 1998).
Leading London-based imam Abu Qatada denounces the Algerian GIA (Groupe Islamique Armé) over massacres of civilians the group has apparently conducted in Algeria, and severs ties with it. Fellow imam Abu Hamza al-Masri follows suit the next year. Abu Qatada says that support should no longer be provided to the GIA because they are declaring other Muslims infidels and killing them, although they are not learned men and do not have the authority to do this. This is highly controversial in the radical Islamic community in London, as some believe it is the government, not the GIA, that is carrying out the massacres, and Abu Qatada’s popularity declines. Abu Hamza initially defends the GIA, but, as the massacres get worse, support for the GIA in London ebbs. Eventually, Abu Hamza calls a GIA commander and asks for an explanation for a massacre. The commander says that the villagers were killed because they supported the moderate Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and Abu Hamza withdraws his support from the GIA a few weeks later. Omar Nasiri, who informs on Abu Hamza for French and British intelligence and listens in on the call to the commander, will later comment: “More than anything else, this episode proved to me that Abu Hamza was a sham. His objectives shifted with the wind. He needed the GIA to seduce followers away from Abu Qatada. Now, he saw that he might lose more than he gained by continuing to support it. For Abu Hamza, it was all about the zakat, the money he collected every week after the al-Jum’a prayers. The more people attended, the more cash there would be.” [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 271-2, 275, 295-6] Bin Laden denounces the GIA around the same time (see Mid-1996).
Omar Nasiri, an operative who informs on groups related to al-Qaeda for the British intelligence service MI6 and the French service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), sees Ali Touchent, a key member of the Algerian militant Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) in London. British intelligence officers follow Touchent, but lose track of him. Touchent, who is suspected of being an Algerian government agent who has penetrated the GIA, is thought to be responsible for bombings in France, one of which occurs shortly after this sighting. Nasiri sees Touchent at the Four Feathers club during a talk by a radical cleric. Although Nasiri does not initially realize the man is Touchent, he recognizes he is important and immediately informs MI6 after the talk. MI6 identifies Touchent from photographs taken of the attendees. When Nasiri asks his MI6 handler how they could have lost such an important militant leader, the handler replies: “He was at a café. Our guys were watching him. And then he somehow disappeared.” [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 277-278] The Guardian will later report, “Despite being publicly identified by the Algerian authorities as the European ringleader of the GIA and by French investigators as the key organizer” of the 1995 Paris metro bombings (see July-October 1995), “Touchent evaded capture, returned to Algeria, and settled in a secure police quarter of Algiers.” Mohammed Samraoui, a former colonel in Algerian intelligence, will later say, “French intelligence knew that Ali Touchent was [an Algerian government] operative charged with infiltrating pro-Islamist cells in foreign countries.” [Guardian, 9/8/2005] He will be sentence in absentia to ten years in prison in France in 1998, even though the Algerian government claims he was killed in 1997. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 346-347]
Reda Hassaine, who had previously informed for an Algerian intelligence service in London (see Early 1995), begins working for the French service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE). The co-operation is initiated by Hassaine, who goes to the French embassy in London and says he has information about the 1995 Paris metro bombings (see July-October 1995). Hassaine’s French handler, known only as “Jerome,” wants to know the names of everybody at the mosque in Finsbury Park, a hotbed of extremism where Abu Hamza al-Masri is the imam. Hassaine is shown “hundreds and hundreds of photographs,” and the French appear to have photographed “everyone with a beard in London—even if you were an Irishman with a red beard they took your photograph.” Hassaine’s busiest day of the week is Friday, when he has to hear Abu Hamza pray at Finsbury Park mosque, as well as making a mental note of any announcements and collecting a copy of the Algerian militant newsletter Al Ansar. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 124, 133-134]
After Abu Hamza al-Masri takes over as the Friday preacher at Finsbury Park Mosque, a mole working for the Algerian government is told to find out everything he can about Abu Hamza. The mole, Reda Hassaine, has been working for the Algerians against the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) in London for some time (see Early 1995). The Algerians know that Abu Hamza met with Algerian fighters in Bosnia (see 1995), and is at the top of the GIA’s network of foreign supporters. Hassaine goes to the mosque every day and, as he and Abu Hamza have two mutual acquaintances, he is sometimes able to sit with him and listen to him speak. He does not get to know Abu Hamza well, but hears him constantly talking about jihad, killing, and life after death. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 132]
Omar Nasiri, who informs on al-Qaeda for the British intelligence service MI5 and the French service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), lends his phone to an operative of the Algerian militant Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) his handlers are interested in. The operative, known only as “Khaled,” uses the phone to make a call to Algeria that is recorded by MI5. Khaled later borrows the phone several times, and MI5 records calls he makes all over Europe. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 291-2]
Hassan Hattab. [Source: Public domain]Facing criticism by bin Laden and other Islamist militants for massacres of fellow Muslims in Algeria (see Mid-1996), the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) issues a statement defending its actions. It states all of the Algerian populace are apostates and deserve to die for not supporting the GIA. It justifies to raping of captured women. This statement is considered so outrageous that al-Qaeda cuts all ties to the GIA leadership, denounces top leader Antar Zouabri, and encourages another GIA leader, Hassan Hattab, to form a new group. In May 1998, Hattab and several hundred GIA members leave the GIA and creates the new Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). Bin Laden tries to persuade the GSPC to concentrate their attacks on Algerian security forces. Within one year, the GSPC is already estimated to have 3,000 armed supporters. The GIA continues but at a reduced level as the al-Qaeda supported GSPC becomes the main radical militant group in Algeria. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 209; Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 184-185]
The State Department officially designates the Abu Sayyaf a foreign terrorist organization. The Abu Sayyaf is a militant group in the Philippines with reported connections to bin Laden. Thirty groups are newly listed, including other groups associated with bin Laden, such as the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) in Algeria. [New York Times, 10/7/1997] However, al-Qaeda will not be so listed until 1999 (see October 8, 1999). Al-Qaeda is still relatively unknown; the name was first mentioned in the media in 1996 (see August 14, 1996).
A list of Al Taqwa Bank shareholders as of December 1999 includes Khaldoun Dia Eddine, who is also president of the Committee to Aid Refugees of Bosnia-Herzegovina. [Salon, 3/15/2002] He is said to work closely with Ahmed Idris Nasreddin, one of the top Al Taqwa figures. In 1999, it is alleged that Eddine was also the head of the Gulf Office, an Al Taqwa subsidiary that the Italian government investigated in 1994 for its ties with the GIA, an Algerian militant group connected to al-Qaeda. Eddine also works for Mercy International, a Muslim charity with numerous ties to al-Qaeda and also alleged ties to the CIA (see 1989 and After). By 1999, Eddine is managing the Mercy International office in Tirana, Albania, and is said to be managing “one of the principal channels for weapons delivery for the Kosovo Liberation Army, with the financial and logistic support of the Muslim World League.” [Labeviere, 1999] There is no indication that Eddine is ever later arrested or charged with any crime.
The British intelligence service MI5 attempts to recruit an unnamed senior figure in the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), an Algerian terrorist organization many of whose operatives are based in London. An Algerian informer called Reda Hassaine helps with the attempted recruitment, and is instructed to befriend the GIA leader, and to find him an apartment in London so he no longer has to sleep in Finsbury Park mosque, a hotbed of extremism. It is unclear whether the recruitment is successful, but Hassaine obtains new information and passes it on to MI5. In August 1999, he finds that three operatives of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), another Algerian terrorist organization allied with al-Qaeda, have arrived in London and informs the British authorities of this. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 147]
Ahmed Ressam. [Source: Public domain]The CIA learns from the Jordanian government about an al-Qaeda millennium bombing plot in that country (see November 30, 1999). Further, the CIA concludes more attacks are likely soon, including some inside the US (see December 8, 1999). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is told of this, and he implements a plan to neutralize the threat. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 205, 211] The plan, approved by President Clinton, focuses on harassing and disrupting al-Qaeda members throughout the world. The FBI is put on heightened alert, counterterrorism teams are dispatched overseas, a formal ultimatum is given to the Taliban to keep al-Qaeda under control, and friendly intelligence agencies are asked to help. There are Cabinet-level meetings nearly every day dealing with terrorism [Washington Post, 4/2/2000; Associated Press, 6/28/2002] All US embassies, military bases, police departments, and other agencies are given a warning to be on the lookout for signs of an al-Qaeda millennium attack. One alert border agent responds by arresting terrorist Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), which leads to the unraveling of several bombing plots (see December 15-31, 1999). No terror attacks occur. However, Clarke claims the FBI generally remains unhelpful. For example, around this time the FBI says there are no websites in the US soliciting volunteers for training in Afghanistan or money for terrorist front groups. Clarke has a private citizen check to see if this is true, and within days, he is given a long list of such websites. The FBI and Justice Department apparently fail to do anything with the information. [Newsweek, 3/31/2004]
From left to right: Mokhtar Haouari, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, Abdel Ghani Meskini. The picture of Meskini is from an ATM camera. [Source: Public domain, public domain, and Seattle Times]In the wake of the arrest of Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), FBI investigators work frantically to uncover more millennium plots before the end of the year. US authorities also make a number of arrests.
A telephone number found in Ressam’s pocket leads to Abdel Ghani Meskini, an Algerian living in New York City who had gone to Seattle to meet Ressam. Meskini is monitored and arrested in New York on December 30.
One of Ressam’s credit cards leads to the arrest of Mokhtar Haouari, an Algerian living in Montreal, Canada. Meskini later cooperates with US investigators and is never charged, while Haouari will be sentenced to 24 years in prison. [Time, 2/7/2000; CNN, 1/16/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 298]
Another Algerian associate of Ressam’s, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, escapes to Afghanistan, but will eventually be caught by the Algerian government and convicted in Algeria. [PBS Frontline, 10/25/2001]
Investigators believe that Mohamedou Ould Slahi, an al-Qaeda operative whose cousin is a top al-Qaeda leader, went to Canada to give the go-ahead for Ressam’s attack. Slahi is arrested several times overseas, but never charged (see January-April 2000). [CNN, 3/6/2002]
Khalid Deek, a US citizen, is arrested around this time for masterminding another al-Qaeda millennnium plot (see December 11, 1999). But counterterrorism expert Rita Katz will later say Deek was a suspected mastermind of Ressam’s Los Angeles airport plot, too. [Orange County Register, 9/12/2005] Deek’s name and phone number is found in Ressam’s telephone book. Ressam knew Deek from bin Laden training camps in Afghanistan. Both of them, like most of Ressam’s group, have links to the GIA, an Algerian militant group associated with al-Qaeda. [Newsweek (International), 3/13/2000]
Others escape the US after hearing media reports of Ressam’s arrest. However, enough people are caught to stop additional millennium attacks. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later says, “I think a lot of the FBI leadership for the first time realized that… there probably were al-Qaeda people in the United States. They realized that only after they looked at the results of the investigation of the millennium bombing plot.” [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] Yet Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger later claims that the FBI will still repeatedly assure the Clinton White House until Clinton leaves office that al-Qaeda lacks the ability to launch a domestic strike (see 2000).
The Wall Street Journal editorial page reacts to the 9/11 attacks by advocating that the US attack “terrorist camps in Syria, Sudan, Libya, and Algeria, and perhaps even in parts of Egypt.” [American Conservative, 3/24/2003]
Kamar Eddine Kherbane. [Source: Marco Hebdo]A militant leader named Kamar Eddine Kherbane is arrested in Morocco, but he has been given political asylum in Britain since 1994 and he is quickly deported to Britain and freed. Agence France-Presse claims that his arrest was “apparently in connection with the [9/11] attacks on the US.” The Moroccan government also questions him about arms smuggling. [Agence France-Presse, 9/20/2001] But by sending him back to Britain, the Moroccan government ignores an extradition request by the Algerian government who claim Kherbane is a wanted criminal and an al-Qaeda operative. [BBC, 9/21/2001] Kherbane was a founding member of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), an Algerian political party outlawed in the early 1990s. He is also a known al-Qaeda operative said to have met bin Laden on several occasions, most recently in 1998. He appears to have been a key leader of mujaheddin fighting in Bosnia (see 1990 and 1991). [Agence France-Presse, 9/20/2001] A Spanish police report will later claim that he was the head of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center’s Zabreb, Croatia, office (see Early 1990s). Al-Kifah was a US-based al-Qaeda charity front until the early 1990s that had ties to both the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the CIA (see 1986-1993). [CNN, 12/8/2002] Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna says Kherbane is “close to both the [Algerian] GIA and al-Qaeda’s leaderships.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 183] In an interview shortly after the Moroccan incident, Kherbane claims that he was released there because “Britain put a lot of pressure, which reached the point of threatening to expel the Moroccan ambassador from London.” He also admits to having met bin Laden in the 1990s. [BBC, 9/26/2001] It is not known why the British government helps him avoid being sent to Algeria. But a few days after his return to Britain, The London Times will report, “More than 20 Islamic terrorists, including those wanted for the murders of at least 100 people abroad, are living freely in Britain. Many on the global terror ‘wanted list’ have been granted political asylum despite being close to Osama bin Laden’s organization.” [London Times, 9/23/2001] A 2005 article will indicate Kherbane is still living openly in Britain. [BBC, 2/24/2005]
Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, posing as Jamal al-Ghurairy for Frontline. [Source: PBS]An Iraqi defector identifying himself as Jamal al-Ghurairy, a former lieutenant general in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence corps, the Mukhabarat, tells two US reporters that he has witnessed foreign Islamic militants training to hijack airplanes at an alleged Iraqi terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, near Baghdad. Al-Ghurairy also claims to know of a secret compound at Salman Pak where Iraqi scientists, led by a German, are producing biological weapons. Al-Ghurairy is lying both about his experiences and even his identity, though the reporters, New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges and PBS’s Christopher Buchanan, do not know this. The meeting between al-Ghurairy and the reporters, which takes place on November 6, 2001, in a luxury suite in a Beirut hotel, was arranged by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). Buchanan later recalls knowing little about al-Ghurairy, except that “[h]is life might be in danger. I didn’t know much else.” Hedges recalls the former general’s “fierce” appearance and “military bearing.… He looked the part.” Al-Ghurairy is accompanied by several other people, including the INC’s political liaison, Nabeel Musawi. “They were slick and well organized,” Buchanan recalls. Hedges confirms al-Ghurairy’s credibility with the US embassy in Turkey, where he is told that CIA and FBI agents had recently debriefed him. The interview is excerpted for an upcoming PBS Frontline episode, along with another interview with an INC-provided defector, former Iraqi sergeant Sabah Khodada, who echoes al-Ghurairy’s tale. While the excerpt of al-Ghurairy’s interview is relatively short, the interview itself takes over an hour. Al-Ghurairy does not allow his face to be shown on camera.
Times Reports Defectors' Tale - Two days later, on November 8, Hedges publishes a story about al-Ghurairy in the New York Times Times. The Frontline episode airs that same evening. [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges does not identify al-Ghurairy by name, but reports that he, Khodada, and a third unnamed Iraqi sergeant claim to have “worked for several years at a secret Iraqi government camp that had trained Islamic terrorists in rotations of five or six months since 1995. They said the training at the camp, south of Baghdad, was aimed at carrying out attacks against neighboring countries and possibly Europe and the United States.” Whether the militants being trained are linked to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the defectors cannot be sure, nor do they know of any specific attacks carried out by the militants. Hedges writes that the interviews were “set up by an Iraqi group that seeks the overthrow of… Hussein.” He quotes al-Ghurairy as saying, “There is a lot we do not know. We were forbidden to speak about our activities among each other, even off duty. But over the years, you see and hear things. These Islamic radicals were a scruffy lot. They needed a lot of training, especially physical training. But from speaking with them, it was clear they came from a variety of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States. The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.” He uses Khodada’s statements as support for al-Ghurairy’s, identifies Khodada by name, and says that Khodada “immigrated to Texas” in May 2001 “after working as an instructor for eight years at Salman Pak…” He quotes the sergeant as saying, “We could see them train around the fuselage. We could see them practice taking over the plane.” Al-Ghurairy adds that the militants were trained to take over a plane without using weapons. Hedges reports that Richard Sperzel, the former chief of the UN biological weapons inspection teams in Iraq, says that the Iraqis always claimed Salman Pak was an anti-terror training camp for Iraqi special forces. However, Sperzel says, “[M]any of us had our own private suspicions. We had nothing specific as evidence.” The US officials who debriefed al-Ghurairy, Hedges reports, do not believe that the Salman Pak training has any links to the 9/11 hijackings. Hedges asks about one of the militants, a clean-shaven Egyptian. “No, he was not Mohamed Atta.” Atta led the 9/11 hijackers. Hedges notes that stories such as this one will likely prompt “an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq.” [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
Heavy Press Coverage - The US media immediately reacts, with op-eds running in major newspapers throughout the country and cable-news pundits bringing the story to their audiences. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice says of the story, “I think it surprises no one that Saddam Hussein is engaged in all kinds of activities that are destabilizing.” The White House will use al-Ghurairy’s claims in its background paper, “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” prepared for President’s Bush September 12, 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002). Though the tale lacks specifics, it helps bolster the White House’s attempts to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 hijackers, and helps promote Iraq as a legitimate target in the administration’s war on terror. (Five years later, the reporters involved in the story admit they were duped—see April 2006.)
Complete Fiction - The story, as it turns out, is, in the later words of Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather, “an elaborate scam.” Not only did US agents in Turkey dismiss the purported lieutenant general’s claims out of hand—a fact they did not pass on to Hedges—but the man who speaks with Hedges and Buchanan is not even Jamal al-Ghurairy. The man they interviewed is actually a former Iraqi sergeant living in Turkey under the pseudonym Abu Zainab. (His real name is later ascertained to be Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, and is a former Iraqi general and senior officer in the Mukhabarat.) The real al-Ghurairy has never left Iraq. In 2006, he will be interviewed by Fairweather, and will confirm that he was not the man interviewed in 2001 (see October 2005). [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges and Buchanan were not the first reporters to be approached for the story. The INC’s Francis Brooke tried to interest Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff in interviewing Khodada to discuss Salman Pak. Isikoff will recall in 2004 that “he didn’t know what to make of the whole thing or have any way to evaluate the story so I didn’t write about it.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
"The Perfect Hoax" - The interview was set up by Chalabi, the leader of the INC, and former CBS producer Lowell Bergman. Bergman had interviewed Khodada previously, but was unable to journey to Beirut, so he and Chalabi briefed Hedges in London before sending him to meet with the defector. Chalabi and Bergman have a long relationship; Chalabi has been a source for Bergman since 1991. The CIA withdrew funding from the group in 1996 (see January 1996) due to its poor intelligence and attempts at deception. For years, the INC combed the large Iraqi exile communities in Damascus and Amman for those who would trade information—real or fabricated—in return for the INC’s assistance in obtaining asylum to the West. Helping run that network was Mohammed al-Zubaidi, who after 9/11 began actively coaching defectors, according to an ex-INC official involved in the INC’s media operations (see December 17, 2001 and July 9, 2004). The ex-INC official, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, did everything from help defectors brush up and polish their stories, to concocting scripts that defectors with little or no knowledge could recite: “They learned the words, and then we handed them over to the American agencies and journalists.” After 9/11, the INC wanted to come up with a big story that would fix the public perception of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Al-Zubaidi was given the task. He came up with al-Ghurairy. He chose Zainab for his knowledge of the Iraqi military, brought him to Beirut, paid him, and began prepping him. In the process, al-Zainab made himself known to American and Turkish intelligence officials as al-Ghurairy. “It was the perfect hoax,” al-Haideri will recall in 2006. “The man was a born liar and knew enough about the military to get by, whilst Saddam’s regime could hardly produce the real Ghurairy without revealing at least some of the truth of the story.” Al-Haideri will say that the reality of the Salman Pak story was much as the Iraqis claimed—Iraqi special forces were trained in hostage and hijack scenarios. Al-Zubaidi, who in 2004 will admit to his propaganda activities, calls Al-Zainab “an opportunist, cheap and manipulative. He has poetic interests and has a vivid imagination in making up stories.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006]
Stories Strain Credulity - Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay later says of al-Qurairy, “As you track their stories, they become ever more fantastic, and they’re the same people who are telling these stories, until you get to the most fantastic tales of all, which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine.” Perhaps al-Qurairy’s most fabulous story is that of a training exercise to blow up a full-size mockup of a US destroyer in a lake in central Iraq. Landay adds, “Or, jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, and this was coming from people, who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their rank would change.… And, you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. There’s something wrong here, because in this story he was a major, but in this story the guy’s a colonel. And, in this story this was his function, but now he says in this story he was doing something else.’” Landay’s bureau chief, John Walcott, says of al-Qurairy, “What he did was reasonably clever but fairly obvious, which is he gave the same stuff to some reporters that, for one reason or another, he felt would simply report it. And then he gave the same stuff to people in the Vice President’s office [Dick Cheney] and in the Secretary of Defense’s office [Donald Rumsfeld]. And so, if the reporter called the Department of Defense or the Vice President’s office to check, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, I think that’s… you can go with that. We have that, too.’ So, you create the appearance, or Chalabi created the appearance, that there were two sources, and that the information had been independently confirmed, when, in fact, there was only one source. And it hadn’t been confirmed by anybody.” Landay adds, “[L]et’s not forget how close these people were to this administration, which raises the question, was there coordination? I can’t tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
No Evidence Found - On April 6, 2003, US forces will overrun the Salman Pak facility. They will find nothing to indicate that the base was ever used to train terrorists (see April 6, 2003).
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Sperzel, Newsweek, Saddam Hussein, Taliban, New York Times, Sabah Khodada, Washington Post, United Nations, Vanity Fair, Nabeel Musawi, Public Broadcasting System, Mother Jones, Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, Chris Hedges, Al-Qaeda, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Mukhabarat, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Francis Brooke, Lowell Bergman, Michael Isikoff, Mohammed al-Zubaidi, Jonathan Landay, John Walcott, Jamal al-Ghurairy, Jack Fairweather, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christopher Buchanan, Iraqi National Congress
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
Labed Ahmed (a.k.a. Ahmed Taleb). [Source: US Defense Department]Alleged al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Labed Ahmed (a.k.a. Ahmed Taleb) is arrested in Faisalabad, Pakistan, as part of a series of raids that also results in the arrest of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida and other suspected al-Qaeda operatives (see March 28, 2002). Apparently, he is in the same house as Zubaida when both of them are arrested. Ahmed is transferred to US custody two months later, and then sent to the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, on August 5, 2002.
History of Robbery and Drug Dealing - Ahmed is an Algerian in his late 40s. In the early 1980s, he served in the Algerian army for four years. He was found guilty several times of robbery. In the early 1990s, he lived in Italy and was found guilty several times of drug dealing and robbery. From 1994 onwards he lived in Hamburg, Germany, and spent a total of two years in prison for a variety of crimes, including robbery and credit card fraud. He continued to deal illegal drugs. Eventually, he became a radical Islamist and associated with members of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, although when and how this happened is unclear. (Note that in 1995, Hamburg cell member and future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta was investigated for petty drug crimes (see 1995).) [US Department of Defense, 9/16/2005]
Plane Flight with Hamburg Cell Members - On September 3, 2001, Ahmed flew to Pakistan with cell member Said Bahaji, another older Algerian named Ismail Bin Murabit (a.k.a. Ismail Ben Mrabete), and others suspected of links to the Hamburg cell. They stayed in the same hotel when they arrived in Karachi, Pakistan. Information on Ahmed’s travel was uncovered by German investigators (see September 3-5, 2001).
Training and Fighting in Afghanistan, Hiding in Pakistan - According to Ahmed’s 2008 Guantanamo file, Ahmed confesses that he, Bin Murabit, and Bahaji traveled together to the al-Faruq training camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan. There, they met Zakariya Essabar, another Hamburg cell member who had just left Germany (see Late August 2001). Ahmed and Bin Murabit stayed together and trained at a variety of locations in Afghanistan. Later in 2001, they fought against US forces near Bagram, Afghanistan. Ahmed then snuck across the Pakistan border with the help of the Lashkar-e-Toiba militant group, and lived in the same safe house as Zubaida and other militants for about a month before they are all captured. Apparently, Ahmed split up from Bin Murabit at some point, because Bin Murabit is not captured, and it is unclear what happens to him. [US Department of Defense, 4/23/2008] (Note that the contents of these Guantanamo files are often based on dubious sources, and sometimes on torture (see April 24, 2011).) Despite Ahmed’s links to the Hamburg cell and Zubaida, he will be transferred to Algeria on November 10, 2008. It is unknown if he is set free or imprisoned by the Algerian government. [New York Times, 4/25/2011]
Mohammed Meguerba [Source: BBC]The first traces of the alleged ricin plot later uncovered in London in January 2003 (see January 7, 2003) are discovered in the wake of the arrest of an illegal Algerian immigrant. Mohammed Meguerba, later alleged to be the mastermind of the plot, is arrested in north London with various false IDs. An epileptic, Meguerba had entered Britain as an illegal immigrant. He had left his homeland in 1995 and traveled through Europe. He became a waiter in Ireland and married, divorced, remarried and, “by pure chance or cultural void,” said Algerian secret service, “allowed himself to be recruited by fundamentalists” at a Belfast mosque in 2000. Activists in London sent him to training camps in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden himself allegedly gave him a mission in Britain and supplied him with documentation and money. [Observer, 4/17/2005] After this training, Meguerba returned to London in March 2002. He went to the Finsbury Park mosque, where he began to work on crude poisons with fellow Algerian Kamal Bourgass. On September 18, 2002, Meguerba is arrested in London during an operation into suspected terrorist fundraising. But he is released on bail after suffering an epileptic fit, and then flees to Algeria. [London Times, 5/9/2005] On December 16, 2002, Meguerba is arrested in Algeria by security forces after allegedly being smuggled in by Islamist radicals. On December 28, police begin his interrogation. Within two days, he tells them that he had been working with an al-Qaeda cell in north London and had been helping them produce poisons at a flat. Authorities in Britain receive this information from the Algerian security forces on January 2 or 3. The Algerian intelligence report spurs British authorities into action. As well as information on the poison plot, it contains information on many individuals in Britain who are allegedly engaged in hard-line, violent Islamic radicalism. The report also suggests the existence of a number of terrorist cells in Britain. [Observer, 4/17/2005] Meguerba names Bourgass as ringleader and other Algerians as co-conspirators. [Independent, 4/17/2005] Meguerba had been held in a secret detention center for 17 months by the Algerian security service. His relatives are unaware he had been held from December 2002 until he was moved to a prison in Algiers. When they are finally permitted to visit him, Meguerba weighs 77 lbs and claims he has been badly tortured. These claims are backed up another Algerian man, residing in Britain, who was detained in Algiers in January 2003 and placed by his interrogators in a room with Meguerba, whom the man describes as “bruised, cut, and swollen.” Upon his appearance in an Algiers court, Meguerba appears frail and is missing teeth. The confession extracted from Meguerba during this time was the evidence that led to the Wood Green raid. However, during the later trial, the confession is not relied on by the prosecution as the allegations of torture could be raised by the defense. One source says “the Government has introduced the Human Rights Act but finds itself relying on regimes with appalling human rights records for information.” Algerian secret services deny the claims of torture. [London Times, 5/9/2005]
Habib Souaidia. [Source: Public domain]Algerian general Khaled Nezzar loses a libel suit in France against Habib Souaidia, a former lieutenant in the Algerian army. Souaidia claimed in a 2001 book that in the 1990s the Algerian army frequently massacred Algerian civilians and then blamed Islamic militants for the killings. The French court rules that the contents of Souaidia’s book are “legitimate.” The court declares that it could not judge Algeria’s history but Souaidia had acted in good faith in making his allegations. [Agence France-Presse, 9/27/2002; Inter Press Service, 9/30/2002] Souaidia served in the Algerian army until 1996 and took part in operations against Islamic militants. Nezzar is considered the real power in Algeria, still ruling behind a facade of civilian rule ever since the early 1990s. Several former Algerian officers living in exile testified in court and corroborated Souaidia’s statements. For instance:
Souaidia told the French court, “In the beginning we spoke about restoring order in the country. But very soon the generals made of us an army of wild murderers.… We had permission to kill whoever we wanted to for nothing at all.” He pointed to Nezzar in the courtroom and said that “at the same time they were counting the millions of dollars they had stolen from the people.”
Former colonel Mohammed Samraoui testified that “the Algerian army used all means to attack the Islamic rebellion: blackmail, corruption, threats, killings…we used terrorist methods to attack terrorism even before it had appeared.”
Former officer Ahmed Chouchene said that soldiers were told they could kill civilians as much as they liked as long as they could “produce a false explanation for the killings.” They were taught that “their role was not to apply law, but to circumvent it.” [Inter Press Service, 9/30/2002]
Alleged ricin ingredients. [Source: BBC]Home Secretary David Blunkett and Health Secretary John Reid issue a joint statement claiming “traces of ricin” and castor beans capable of making “one lethal dose” were found in a raid on a flat in Wood Green, north London, which also resulted in several arrests (see January 5, 2003). The joint statement says “ricin is a toxic material which if ingested or inhaled can be fatal… our primary concern is the safety of the public.” Prime Minister Tony Blair says the discovery highlights the perils of weapons of mass destruction, adding: “The arrests which were made show this danger is present and real and with us now. Its potential is huge.” Dr. Pat Troop, the government’s deputy chief medical officer, issues a statement with police confirming that materials seized “tested positive for the presence of ricin poison.” A small number of easily obtainable castor beans are found. But the same day, chemical weapons experts at the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down in Wiltshire discover in more accurate tests that the initial positive result for ricin was false: there was no ricin in the flat. But this finding will not be released publicly for two years. [Independent, 4/17/2005] Dr. Martin Pearce, head of the Biological Weapons Identification Group, confirms that there was no ricin in the flat. This report is also suppressed. [Guardian, 4/15/2004] The Ministry of Defence later confirms that the results of the Porton Down test are not released to police and ministers until March 20, 2003, one day after war in Iraq begins. [BBC, 9/15/2005] It appears that there was the intention to create ricin, based on evidence discovered in other raids, but not the technical know-how to actually do so (see January 20, 2003 and January 5, 2003).
Spanish police arrest 16 alleged al-Qaeda operatives in Barcelona, Girona, and other cities in northeastern Spain. Officials say the men may have links to the recent alleged ricin plot in Britain (see January 5, 2003). [CBC News, 1/24/2003] Police allegedly discover large quantities of bomb-making material, manuals on chemical warfare, and equipment to manufacture false credit cards and identity documents, as well as a cache of timers, fuses and remote-control devices. [Time, 1/26/2003] Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar says the people arrested “were preparing to commit attacks”; other officials say that a major attack has been foiled. Since the 9/ 11 attacks, 35 suspected Islamic terrorists have been arrested in Spain. [CBC News, 1/24/2003] The British media quickly identifies chemicals confiscated by Spanish police as ricin. However, it soon emerges that the Spanish police report refers to “resina” (resin). Other “evidence” gathered in the raid soon proves to be equally useless. The chemicals discovered by police are comprised of “two drums with liquids which in the first analysis contain aliphatic hydrocarbons, and a bottle, also with liquid, in which appear substances present in resins and synthetic rubber.” Subsequent tests prove that the liquids are harmless. Tests by US experts on the alleged ricin powder reveal it to be detergent. The electronic equipment proves to be equally innocuous (mobile phones, wires, etc.). It is also revealed that the raid was instigated by a French examining magistrate, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, dubbed Europe’s leading al-Qaeda investigator. Bruguiere had claimed that four of the Algerians arrested by French police in December in connection with the planned bombing of Strasburg cathedral had been in contact with the suspects. But when Guillermo Ruiz Polanco—the Spanish examining magistrate in charge of the case—asks to see the French court’s evidence, he is met with bureaucratic delay. Then, a month after the arrests, Bruguiere communicates he will not be asking for the extradition of any of the 16. Even Mohamed Amine Benaboura, who allegedly lived with one of the French al-Qaeda suspects, or Mohamed Tahraoui, who was found with a false French passport, arouse no interest from Paris. By April, all the suspects will be released, the court citing lack of evidence. “Very weak,” is Polanco’s view of the evidence the police have presented so far against the Algerians and Moroccans accused of plotting mass murder. [New Statesman, 4/14/2003]
Vice President Dick Cheney tells Rocky Mountain News that a November 2003 article published in the conservative Weekly Standard (see November 14, 2003) represents “the best source of information” on cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaeda. The article was based on a leaked intelligence memo that had been written by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith in 2002 and was the product of the Office of Special Plans (see August 2002). Cheney also insists that the administration’s decision to invade Iraq was “perfectly justified.” [Rocky Mountain News, 1/10/2004; Knight Ridder, 3/9/2004]
After one of Britain’s longest criminal trials and 74 hours of deliberation, the jury acquits Mouloud Sihali, David Khalef, Sidali Feddag, and Mustapha Taleb of conspiracy to carry out a chemical attack. The jury decides that the prosecution has failed to prove any existence of an al-Qaeda plot or any ability to produce weapons of mass destruction (see January 7, 2003). On April 12, the jury acquits Kamal Bourgass of the most serious charge—conspiracy to carry out the attack—but finds him guilty of “conspiracy to commit a public nuisance by the use of poisons or explosives to cause disruption, fear or injury.” The judge sentences him to 17 years in prison. [Independent, 4/17/2005] He has previously been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a policeman, as well as receiving jail terms for the attempted murder of other policemen during a fight when he was arrested. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 248] The government admits that no ricin was found in the invesigation, only 20 castor beans, some cherry stones, apple pips, and botched “nicotine poison” in a Nivea jar (see January 5, 2003). Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald drops the charges against four other alleged conspirators the day before their trial starts. Khalid Alwerfeli, Samir Asli, Mouloud Bouhrama, and Kamal Merzoug are formally declared innocent. Mohammed Meguerba has yet to stand trial in Algeria and remains in custody. [Independent, 4/17/2005] Five of the acquitted make fresh asylum applications. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office had been in talks with Algeria about returning the men, but lawyers point to Meguerba’s alleged torture at the hands of the Algerian security forces as evidence that it will be impossible to deport any of the ricin defendants despite them being cleared (see September 18, 2002-January 3, 2003). [London Times, 5/9/2005] The cost of this trial and another related one exceeds £20 million. At one point, 800 police officers worked on the investigation, which included more than 100 arrests and operations in 16 countries. [Guardian, 4/14/2005]
Entity Tags: Mouloud Sihali, Samir Asli, Mouloud Bouhrama, Sidali Feddag, Mohammed Meguerba, Mustapha Taleb, Khalid Alwerfeli, Kamal Bourgass, David Khalef, Michel Massih, Ken Macdonald, Kamal Merzoug
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Kamal Bourgass [Source: BBC]After an 11-week trial at the Old Bailey, Kamal Bourgass is sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum of 22 years, for murdering DC Stephen Oake during a raid on a flat in Crumpsall Lane, Manchester, as part of the investigation into the alleged ricin plot in north London (see January 5, 2003). The sentence is kept secret due to the impending trial of Bourgass and others for the alleged plot, where Bourgass will only be found guilty on a secondary charge (see April 8-12, 2004). [Independent, 4/17/2005]
Science academies from the G8, China, Brazil, India, and South Africa issue a statement urging G8 governments to remain committed to the climate change solutions agreed at the G8 summit in Scotland the year before. Scientists are worried that energy security concerns will push the issue of climate change off the agenda at the G8 summit in St. Petersburg that will be taking place from July 15-17. [Reuters, 6/14/2006]
Damage after one of the Algiers bombings. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Two bombs hit Algiers, the capital of Algeria. At least 23 people are killed and 160 are injured. One of the bombs hits the prime minister’s office but the prime minister is not injured; the other bomb hits a police station. The group Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb reportedly takes credit for the bombings. The group, known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) until recently, is considered the main Islamist rebel group in Algeria. [BBC, 4/11/2007]
Andrew Warren, chief of the CIA’s station in Algeria, allegedly date-rapes an Algerian national with German citizenship. When Warren is later confronted with the allegations, he will admit having sex with the woman, but deny raping her. The woman is invited to a party at Warren’s residence by US embassy employees. Although she does not know Warren, he makes her a whiskey and coke, which is prepared out of her sight. During the evening, she drinks several such beverages, and begins to feel the effects of the alcohol. While having her last drink, she feels a sudden need to vomit and runs to the toilet. According to a witness, while the woman is vomiting in the bathroom, Warren stands at the door and says she should stay the night at his house. The woman will say she does not remember anything after this, and the witness will say all the other guests depart at this time, leaving only the alleged victim, the witness, and Warren in the house. The woman will later say she wakes up alone and naked on a bed with a headache and a pain in her vaginal area, making her think she recently had sex, although she cannot remember it. She also notices a condom with what appears to be sperm inside it on the floor by the bed. She calls the witness on her cell phone and tells her to come quickly. When the witness arrives, the woman shows her the condom and the two women then quickly leave the house. The witness will also later say that she recalls Warren using a video camera during the party and that he was recording the victim. Another witness will recall the woman being at the party and getting drunk there. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/2008 ] The witness will subsequently complain to the embassy (see June 1, 2008) and date rape drugs will be found in a search of Warren’s house (see October 13, 2008).
Andrew Warren, chief of the CIA’s station in Algeria, allegedly date-rapes a woman who is an Algerian national, but is resident in Spain. When Warren is later confronted with the allegations, he will admit having sex with the woman, but deny raping her. The woman will say that by the date of the alleged date rape she has known Warren for several months, having met him with her husband at a function related to the US Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, where Warren used to work. Warren invites her to his residence and gives her a tour. They sit down on the couch and Warren takes a photograph of her on his digital phone, with her permission. Warren then offers to make her a drink, she asks for an apple martini, and he prepares it in the kitchen. After they finish their drinks, Warren offers her another and goes to the kitchen to make it. However, when she follows him, he hands her a plate of crackers and sends her away, so the drink is prepared out of her sight. The woman suddenly feels sick while drinking the second martini, and begins to pass in and out of consciousness. The next thing she recalls is being in Warren’s bathroom upstairs and feeling sick, although Warren is trying to remove her pants. She asks Warren to stop, but he says she will feel better after a bath and continues to undress her. The woman then remembers being in the bath in her shirt, and slipping under water. Then she recalls being out of the bath and trying to put her jeans back on. The next thing she remembers is being on Warren’s bed and him trying to undress her again. Warren comments, “Nobody stays in my expensive sheets with clothes on.” As Warren takes her clothes off, she repeatedly asks, “What’s happening to me?” Finally, the woman recalls seeing Warren naked with an erection and about to penetrate her. She asks him to use a condom and remembers only images of him having sex with her. The woman later wakes up in Warren’s bed, but will not recall how she gets dressed and goes home. About two days later, she texts Warren, accusing him of abusing her. According to her, he replies, “I am sorry.” She tells her husband and psychologist of the incident, but will not inform anybody at the US Embassy until she returns to Algeria in September (see September 15, 2008). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/2008 ] Date rape drugs will be found in a search of Warren’s house (see October 13, 2008).
An Algerian woman who was allegedly date-raped by local CIA station chief Andrew Warren (see September 2007) complains about this to the US embassy. She makes a statement to the US Marine Security Guard detachment commander, saying that she was date-raped the previous year. The commander then reports the allegations to Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) agent Kevin Whitson. Another DSS agent, Jared Campbell, will later travel to Germany, where the woman resides, and will interview her there on September 25, 2008, learning details of the alleged rape. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/2008 ]
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