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The British domestic counterintelligence service MI5 meets with Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading British imam and informer (see Early 1997). In view of Egyptian-born Abu Hamza’s recent condemnation of the Algerian Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) over massacres of civilians (see Mid 1996-October 1997 and October 1, 1997), MI5 asks Abu Hamza to condemn a massacre of sixty people in Luxor, Egypt (see November 18, 1997), as it thinks this might calm tensions in Britain and elsewhere. However, he declines to do so, telling MI5 that Egypt is controlled by a “corrupt, Satanic tyranny,” and adds that British tourists should not travel to Egypt. In fact, in public sermons at this time he actually condones the attacks, saying that the tourism industry in Egypt is impure and should be Islamicized. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 145-6]
The term “Londonistan” is invented by French intelligence officials at some time before 1998, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory. The term’s invention is provoked by an arrangement between the British authorities and Islamist militants sometimes known as the “covenant of security” (see August 22, 1998), whereby Britain provides a safe haven from which London-based Islamists can support violence in other countries, such as Bosnia and Chechnya (see 1995 and February 2001), but also France. O’Neill and McGrory will comment: “The prominent French judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere was so appalled by Britain’s attitude that he talked of ‘Londonistan’ as being the city of choice as a safe haven for Islamic terrorists and a place ‘full of hatred.‘… Bruguiere wondered whether Britain was just being selfish, and whether because these radical groups had not struck in [Britain] the security agencies simply did not care what they were doing. The French investigators also protested that Britain was also ignoring the systematic fraud and corruption carried out by these groups.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 104, 109]
Jordan requests the extradition from Britain of Abu Qatada, a cleric who sits on al-Qaeda’s fatwa committee (see June 1996-1997) and who is wanted in connection with a series of car bombings in Jordan. However, Britain, where Abu Qatada lives, declines the request and grants him asylum. Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “Britain had given shelter to one of the fiercest advocates of the global jihad. Abu Qatada lived and breathed the al-Qaeda ideology, issued religious decrees… allowing Algerian terrorists to commit mass murder in the name of God, and raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for Islamists to carry on the war against Russia in Chechnya.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 29] Abu Qatada is working as an informant with Britain’s security services at this time (see June 1996-February 1997).
Reda Hassaine, a mole for the French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) who has penetrated militant Islamist circles in London (see Early 1997), launches an extremist newsletter to boost his standing. The project is expressly approved by his DGSE handler, who gives Hassaine £1,500 (about US$ 2,250) to fund the launch. The primary aim of the project is to bring Hassaine closer to Abu Qatada, a key militant leader in London. In addition to this, the newsletter enhances Hassaine’s position at the Finsbury Park mosque, a hotbed of Islamist radicalism, and he now has “free run” of it, enabling him to gather more information. He sees false documents being ordered and traded, stolen goods offered for sale, widespread benefit frauds organized, and credit card cloning taking place “on a cottage-industry scale.” Much of the money generated goes to various mujaheddin groups. He is also able to get access to militant communiqués before they are published, and he passes them to his French handler. The first edition of the newsletter, called Journal du Francophone, is entitled Djihad contre les Etats-unis (Jihad against the United States) and is accompanied by a photo of Osama bin Laden. The content is anti-American, anti-Israeli, and it is “full of florid praise for the mujaheddin.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 134-135]
Radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri helps recruit Saajid Badat, who will later go on to be involved in a shoe bombing plot. Unlike many of Abu Hamza’s recruits, Badat is middle-class, but has argued with his father and moved to London. There Badat attends mosques around the capital and is moved by the plight of Muslims in the former Yugoslavia. Badat is impressed by Abu Hamza’s rhetoric and the fact that he actually went to Bosnia, and goes to Sarajevo himself in 1998. He then goes to study Islam in madrassas (Islamic boarding schools) in the Middle East and Pakistan. His travel to training camps in Afghanistan at the start of 1999 is reportedly arranged by the same people that perform the same service for fellow shoe bomber Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001), whom Badat will link up with in Pakistan in November 2001 (see November 20, 2001). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 229-230]
Nizar Trabelsi, who will later be found guilty of planning to bomb a NATO base (see September 30, 2003), attends the radical Islamist Finsbury Park mosque in London. The mosque is run by extremist imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for the British intelligence services (see Early 1997). Trabelsi is a former professional sportsman, but had drifted into drug dealing before being radicalized. Trabelsi will later go to Afghanistan, meeting Osama bin Laden there. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 226]
Following a talk in Burnley by radical London cleric and informer Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997), seven young men from the northern English town go to Afghanistan, where two of them die. At the talk, one of Abu Hamza’s aides, a man from Birmingham in central England who had fought in Afghanistan and Bosnia, had given a warm-up speech demanding violence and “blood sacrifice” in Britain. He told the audience: “Get training. There must be some martial arts brothers amongst yourselves. You have to pump into the brothers what you are training for. It’s so you can get the kuffar and crush his head in your arms, so you can wring his throat, so you can whip his intestines out. That’s why you do the training, so you can rip the people to pieces. Forget wasting a bullet on them, cut them in half.” The seven local men leave shortly after, saying they are going to Pakistan to study in religious schools. A few months later, news arrives that two of the men, one a university student, the other an accountancy graduate, have been killed in shelling by the Northern Alliance in Kabul. It comes to light that they had been approached to help the Taliban. Local community leader Rafique Malik will say: “Nobody knew, not even their parents, that they were going to Afghanistan. They went to Pakistan and the next thing their parents heard is that they are dead.” Abu Hamza will subsequently be banned from preaching in the Burnley mosque. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 59-60]
Informers for the British authorities monitoring the radical Finsbury Park mosque in London identify a key extremist named Rabah Kadre. One of the informers, Reda Hassaine, mentions him in a number of reports and British authorities realise that he is an important figure in Islamist operations in Britain. In fact, Kadre is the second in command to radical leader Abu Doha, who heads a Europe-wide network of extremists. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 240]
The British “Animal Rights Militia,” an offshoot of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF—see 1976), threatens to kill 10 scientists if ALF member Barry Horne, serving 18 years in prison for waging a 1994 firebombing campaign that caused extensive damage to stores in England, dies while on a hunger strike. Horne discontinues the strike after 68 days. Horne had previously vowed to die, telling a reporter: “This is the end. In death you win. Words are cheap. Only actions really count. This is not for me, it is for every animal in every torture lab. We are creating a turning point—a moment in history that will be remembered. Never doubt this. We will see an end to this evil.” After he ceases his hunger strike, an obscure animal rights group called “Animals Betrayed Coalition” (ABC) announces: “Barry’s hunger strike has achieved more than we could ever have imagined. [The strike] has caused people in and out of the [animal rights] movement to reassess the priorities in their lives and do that bit more for the animals. People have asked, ‘What can be happening to animals in laboratories that is so bad that someone is prepared to die for it?’” Apparently, Horne ends his hunger strike after receiving a promise that the British government will review its policies towards animal experiments. Of ARM’s promise to kill scientists if he dies, Horne says: “People must do what they feel is right in response to my death.… Look at the evil of Nazis and the level of violence needed, quite rightly, to stop them.” [Fur Commission, 12/15/1998; Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
At a Friday sermon, radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri curses King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and praises suicide bombers who recently attacked a rush-hour bus in Jerusalem. The sermon is delivered at the Finsbury Park mosque in London, which was actually paid for in part by King Fahd. A moderate Muslim who attends the sermon is angry at the praise for suicide bombings and goes to see Abu Hamza, an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), asking, “How dare you celebrate other people’s misery?” However, he is intimidated by Abu Hamza’s minders and receives no reply. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 46-47]
Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading London radical and informer for the security services (see Early 1997), tells his inner circle of his plans for the future. According to authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory, he “confide[s] to his inner circle at a meeting in his office in January 1998 that he [is] convinced it [is] his destiny to inspire a generation of jihadis [holy warriors]. It [does] not matter how young they [are]; he [is] convinced that the sooner he [has] the chance to influence juvenile minds, the better.” The authors will attribute this to the fact that he “yearn[s] to run [al-Qaeda’s] British franchise.” Numerous intelligence services have informers inside the mosque, and may learn of Abu Hamza’s intentions. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 79, 84]
Western intelligence agencies learn that Kang Thae Yun, a North Korean diplomat who facilitates nuclear co-operation between his government and Pakistan, is involved in negotiations between the Pakistan-based Tabani Corporation and a Russian company that makes mass spectrometers, lasers, and carbon fiber. They also learn he is discussing a purchase of maraging steel, which can be used in a nuclear program, but this steel is for his own government. The knowledge spurs MI6 and the CIA to increase their efforts to find out whether the North Koreans have established a cascade to weaponize uranium using technology obtained from Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 279-180]
The French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) considers kidnapping Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical imam who is an informer for two British security services in London (see Early 1997). The plan, which is never implemented, is communicated to a French informer named Reda Hassaine by a handling agent known only as “Jerome.”
Concern about World Cup - Jerome tells Hassaine: “Something has to be done. [French Interior Minister Jean Pierre] Chevenement says he cannot sleep on Thursday nights wondering what threat is going to emerge from London Algerians the next morning or what Abu Hamza is going to say in his Friday sermon. Paris is very anxious that they will threaten France again.” The French are particularly worried that there will be an attack during the 1998 World Cup in France (see Late 1997-Early 1998).
Kidnap Plan - The plan is essentially to kidnap Abu Hamza in front of his home while he is only protected by his sons, bundle him into a van, and then race for a French ferry docked at one of the Channel ports. Hassaine’s role in the plan is not well-defined; he may be required as a lookout or to create a distraction.
Assistance from British Authorities - Jerome says that the British intelligence services MI5 and MI6 might be prepared to turn a blind eye to the operation, but the regular British police will not help with it: “In short, if anything went wrong, all hell would break lose.” Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “The scandal could be bigger than the blowing up of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in 1985 in New Zealand. But such was the level of French frustration—from the minister of the interior downwards—with the British that all options were being counternanced.”
Many Other Intelligence Services Share Concerns - The French are not the only non-British intelligence service to be concerned about Abu Hamza’s activities. Agencies from Spain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands all tell their British counterparts that Abu Hamza is a terror leader, but the British take no action. Egypt even offers to swap a British prisoner for Abu Hamza, but to no avail. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 123, 125-126, 288]
The British intelligence service MI6 forms the opinion that Pakistani nuclear proliferator A. Q. Khan is using his North Korean connections in an attempt to purchase items for resale. The items include rare metals, magnets, and other difficult-to-source products. The purpose is to establish an export stock of goods that Khan can sell on to other countries. MI6 informs US intelligence agencies of its belief and the reasons for it (see 1997 and February 1998). [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 279-280]
While at the radical Finsbury Park mosque in London, future shoe bomber Richard Reid, at this time an angry young Muslim, meets an Algerian named Djamel Beghal, known as a top militant Islamist. Beghal’s task at Finsbury Park, run by British intelligence informer Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997), is that of a “talent spotter”—he tells impressionable young men about jihad in places like Algeria and gets them to talk about their frustrations. If Beghal thinks a person has the potential to do more than just talk, he can arrange for the person to travel to a training camp in Afghanistan. Reid travels to Afghanistan after being selected by Beghal, although he will later fail to carry out his suicide mission (see December 22, 2001). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 225]
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]
The radical Finsbury Park mosque becomes what one informer will call “an al-Qaeda guest house in London.” The informer, Reda Hassaine, works for two British intelligence services (see (November 11, 1998) and (May 1999)), and one of his tasks is to monitor the mosque’s leader Abu Hamza al-Masri, himself an informer for the British (see Early 1997).
Experienced Fighters - Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later write: “For some visitors, the mosque was a secure retreat for rest and recreation after a tour of duty in the holy war. Such was Finsbury Park’s reputation that an international brigade of Islamic militants used it as a safe haven for a spot of leave before they returned to the jihad front line and undertook terror operations.”
Raw Recruits - Hassaine will say the mosque was especially important to al-Qaeda because the experienced fighters on leave could mix with potential recruits: “The mosque was secure. It offered money, tickets, and names of people to meet in Pakistan. It was an al-Qaeda guest house in London. The boys could come back from the jihad and find a place to stay, to talk about war, to be with their own kind of people, to make plans and to recruit other people. These people, if they thought you were willing to do the jihad, they paid special attention to you. If they thought you were willing, that is when Abu Hamza would step in to do the brainwashing. Once he started, you wouldn’t recover. You would become a ‘special guest’ of the mosque until they could measure your level of commitment and they could organize your trip to Afghanistan.”
Numbers - O’Neill and McGrory will say that the exact number of recruits who pass through Finsbury Park and the Afghan camps is unclear, although “hundreds and hundreds of suspects” from around the world are linked to the mosque. London Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens will say two thousand recruits from the mosque undergo terror training, whereas one of his successors, Sir Ian Blair, will say it was closer to a tenth of that number. O’Neill and McGrory will add: “MI5 has never revealed its tally. However many it was, not a single recruit who attended these camps was ever arrested when he got home.” The CIA will later be surprised by the “sizable number” of al-Qaeda recruits who both train in the camps in Afghanistan and attend Finsbury Park. After the invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, the FBI will find questionnaires completed by the recruits, and some of these will specify Abu Hamza as the person who referred them to the camps, also giving “jihad” as their ambition after completing their training. O’Neill and McGrory will point out, “Such was Abu Hamza’s stature that having his name as a reference would guarantee his nominees acceptance at Khaldan,” an al-Qaeda camp.
'The World Capital of Political Islam' - O’Neill and McGrory will conclude, “The result of Abu Hamza’s recruitment regime—and that pursued by the other fundamentalist groups which had made London the world capital of political Islam—was that more young men from Britain embarked on suicide missions than from all the other countries of Europe combined.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 86, 97-98, 101-102]
Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading British imam and an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), concludes an agreement with Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, leader of the Yemen-based Islamic Army of Aden, who he had met in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. Abu Hamza sends followers for low-key militant training in Britain (see (Mid-1997) and (1998)), but this training consists of little more than survival courses and he needs a location where firearms can be used more freely. Therefore, Almihdhar agrees to provide training in Yemen, at a cost of £1,200 (about $1,800) per group of trainees. In return, Abu Hamza agrees to act as his press spokesman, and gives him a satellite phone costing £2,000 (about $3,200). Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later describe the training: “The climate was brutal, the food inedible, and most of [the British recruits] complained that they missed their computer games and creature comforts. They got to ride horses, fire off several rounds of ammunition from an automatic rifle, and were instructed how to rig explosive devices by men who had fought in Afghanistan. They were also taught what else they would need to do to kill hundreds of innocents in an attack planned for Christmas day.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 157-158, 162, 164-165] A group of Abu Hamza’s supporters who travel to Yemen for militant training with Almihdhar will later be arrested by police (see December 23, 1998) and Abu Hamza and Almihdhar will talk on the satellite phone during a kidnapping organized to engineer their release (see December 28-29, 1998).
A five-day wedding celebration in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, provides an opportunity for key players in A. Q. Khan’s nuclear smuggling ring to get together and discuss moving some of their operations from Dubai to Southeast Asia and Africa. The groom is Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, a key facilitator for Khan who is to marry a woman named Nazimah, the daughter of his aunt and a Malaysian diplomat. Other key players who attend the meeting include European figures in the network Henk Slebos and Peter Griffin, Griffin’s wife Anna, Brigadier Sajawal Khan Malik, a Pakistani military official close to Khan, Farooq Hashmi and Mohammad Farooq, other Pakistani associates of Khan, and Dr. Riaz Chowhan, a general and Khan’s physician. Abdul Siddiqui, father of a London-based Khan associate, is also in attendance, as are 300 employees from a Dubai-based Khan front company called SMB Computers and 100 scientists from Khan Research Laboratories in Pakistan. Griffin will say that Khan keeps a low profile at the wedding, commenting, “He made no mention of the recent nuclear tests in Pakistan and kept in the background throughout the celebration.” Khan and his associates spend some time planning to relocate some of their operations, as their hub in Dubai is now well known to intelligence services (see Early 1998). Some elements are to be moved to Southeast Asia and some to Africa, and a new client list is also discussed. Intelligence agents working for Britain and the US also attend the wedding and learn of what Khan is planning. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 282-283]
Entity Tags: SMB Computers, Riaz Chowhan, Peter Griffin, Kahuta Research Laboratories, Henk Slebos, Abdul Qadeer Khan, Abdul Siddiqui, Anna Griffin, Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, Farooq Hashmi, Mohammad Farooq
Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network
The British intelligence service MI6 and Moroccan intelligence approach al-Qaeda operative L’Houssaine Kherchtou in an attempt to recruit him. Kherchtou is disillusioned with al-Qaeda and has been under surveillance by the Moroccans for some time. The results of the first meeting are not known, but after it Kherchtou returns to Nairobi, Kenya, where he had helped with a plot to bomb the US embassy and provided his apartment to other conspirators (see Late 1993-Late 1994), and makes contact with other cell members again in early August. He apparently does not know the precise details of the operation, but when the attack happens (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), he realizes who did it. MI6 is aware that he is in Kenya and he is detained at the airport by local authorities and turned over to them. MI6 debriefs him about the embassy bombings, but this information is not immediately shared with the FBI (see Shortly After August 7, 1998), which later takes him into custody (see Summer 2000). [American Prospect, 6/19/2005]
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).
A spy working for Algerian intelligence is caught at the radical Finsbury Park mosque in London. The Algerians have been monitoring the mosque, run by British intelligence informer Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997), for some time (see Early 1995) because of its connections to militants in Algeria (see Mid 1996-October 1997). The spy is caught recording Abu Hamza’s sermons, but details such as the spy’s identity and what happens to him are unknown. Abu Hamza will later laugh off the incident: “Not just them [the Algerians], but the Saudis, Egyptians, Iraqis, the Jordanians and Yemenis all have their secret services here. We have even caught them filming in the toilets, but these people cannot defeat us.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 80]
London’s Finsbury Park mosque hosts a lecture by a young radical who has trained in South Asia and fought in Kashmir, a region claimed by both India and Pakistan. The mosque is run by Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for British intelligence (see Early 1997), and he intends the talk to be part of the process of enticing radical Muslims to go and actually fight abroad. One of the group of about 40 listeners, Salman Abdullah, will later tell reporters about the evening. Following an introduction by Abu Hamza, the fighter—referred to only as Mohammed and himself a former attendee at the mosque—tells the listeners about his travel to South Asia, his training there, and then how he saw action in held Kashmir. He is praised highly by Abu Hamza for taking this final step and not just getting training.
'The Gullible and Confused' - Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will describe what Abu Hamza was doing: “Abdullah and the others were entranced, and Abu Hamza looked on contentedly. This is what he did best—open the door to jihadi groups around the world. Recruitment is a gradual process, and it begins crucially with manipulators like Abu Hamza. He takes the raw material, the gullible and confused, and decides whether these young minds and bodies can be shaped at training camps abroad, then sent on terror missions or employed to do other chores for the cause of Islamist extremism.”
'A Stepping Stone to Holy War' - O’Niell and McGrory will add: “Abu Hamza’s role at Finsbury Park was to instil self-belief among these boys, inflame them with his rhetoric and make them feel they had a purpose in life, namely to pursue the tested course he and other militants mapped out for them. Teenagers like Abdullah [were]… steered… to academies like Finsbury Park, which was fast earning a reputation as a magnet for radicals. Abu Hamza regarded his mosque as a stepping stone to holy war. Waiting inside Finsbury Park for the new arrivals were talent-spotters, men who had trained in Afghanistan or other war zones and whose job now was to weed out the poseurs and exhibitionists from the boys who might be some use.”
Under Surveillance - O’Niell and McGrory will also point out: “Foreign intelligence services knew this selection process was happening within months of Abu Hamza taking over in north London in March 1997. They had their own informants inside.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 76-79]
Ibrahim Eidarous (the picture has been edited to cover a window reflection on his face). [Source: Bureau of Prisons]Mahmoud Jaballah is an Islamic Jihad operative living in Canada, and all his communications are being monitored by Canadian intelligence. He has already been monitored frequently contacting Ibrahim Eidarous and Adel Abdel Bary, two Islamic Jihad operatives living in London and working closely with Khalid al-Fawwaz, Osama bin Laden’s de facto press secretary. He also has been in frequent contact with Ahmad Salama Mabruk, a member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council living in Baku, Azerbaijan, and Thirwat Salah Shehata, another ruler council member with Mabruk in Baku at the time (see May 11, 1996-August 2001).
Canadian Communications Relay - In the days before al-Qaeda’s African embassy bombings (see a080798embassy), he serves as a communications relay between the operatives in London and Baku. Canadian intelligence (CSIS) will later comment, “The ability to relay communications through a third country is invaluable to a clandestine operation, providing a more secure means of communication and decreasing the likelihood of being detected.”
Calls on August 5 - On August 5, two days before the embassy bombings, Jaballah contacts Shehata in Baku three times. This is the day Islamic Jihad releases a statement vowing revenge on the US for the recent extradition of Islamic Jihad members from Albania (see August 5, 1998). [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2/22/2008 ]
Calls on August 6 - There are at least two monitored calls on August 6, directly between London and Baku. Their contents are not revealed, but one is about three minutes long. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 27, 4/4/2001]
Calls on August 7, Hours before the Bombings - On August 7, the morning of the bombings, Mabruk contacts Jaballah and tells him that Eidarous should contact him at Shehata’s phone number. There is no further elaboration except that Mabruk says the matter is “very important.” Shortly afterwards, Jaballah calls Eidarous’s cell phone and relays the message from Mabruk. [Daily Telegraph, 9/19/2001; National Post, 10/15/2005] The exact timing of these calls are not specified, but at 2:14 a.m. London time, there is a call from Baku to London. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 27, 4/4/2001] At 4:45 a.m. London time, a fax claiming responsibility for the embassy bombings is sent from Baku to a shop near Eidarous and Abdel Bary in London. The fingerprints of Eidarous and Abdel Bary are later found on a photocopy of the fax. It is also known that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has been monitoring the phones of Mabruk, Eidarous, and Abdel Bary, because Osama bin Laden’s phone has been monitored since 1996 and he had frequently called all three of them (see November 1996-Late August 1998). The NSA noticed a surge of phone calls involving them several days before the embassy bombings (see July 29-August 7, 1998). The two embassy bombings take place within about ten minutes of each other around 10:30 a.m. local time in East Africa. This time zone is three hours later than London time, which means the bombings take place around 7:30 a.m. London time. The fax claiming responsibility for the bombings is actually sent to London about three hours before the bombings take place. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 7/13/1999; Daily Telegraph, 9/19/2001]
Fax Names Nairobi and Dar es Salaam Bombings in Advance - The fax takes credit for the embassy bombings in the name of the “The Islamic Army for the Liberation of the Holy Places,” a previously unused name. It states that “The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies, civilians and military, is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it in order to liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque (Mecca) from their grip.” It specifically calls the bombing in Nairobi the “Holy Ka’ba operation,” and bombing in Dar es Salaam is called the “Al-Aqsa Mosque operation.” It adds that two men from Saudi Arabia carried out the Nairobi bombing and that one man from Egypt carried out the Dar es Salaam bombing. This in fact is what happens several hours later. The operatives in London then fax the statement to a number of press agencies after the bombings, including Al Jazeera and the Associated Press. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 27, 4/4/2001; United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38, 5/2/2001; CNN, 5/2/2001] So Canadian and US intelligence had an opportunity to give an advanced warning about the bombings. It is not known why they do not do this.
Following al-Qaeda’s bombing of two US embassies in East Africa, the CIA notices that the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), an al-Qaeda affiliate, has praised the attack on its website. Also noting Yemeni links to the bombing itself, the CIA turns its attention to the IAA and its leader Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar. The CIA is assisted in this by the local Yemeni authorities. Officials in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a begin to compile a dossier on Almihdhar and his links to the West, including his fundraisers and supporters in Britain. They identify Finsbury Park mosque, run by British intelligence informer Abu Hamza al-Masri, as “crucial” to the IAA’s operations. Almihdhar has a co-operation agreement with Abu Hamza (see (June 1998)) that provides him with money and recruits, and an IAA emissary will allegedly visit London in September (see September 1998). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 163-164]
In November 1997, an Egyptian named Mustafa Mahmoud Said Ahmed walked into the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, and told CIA officers of a group planning to blow up the embassy (see November 1997). His warning would turn out to be a startlingly accurate description of the 1998 US embassy bombing in Nairobi (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Ahmed apparently is involved in the bombing of the US embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, that takes place the same day the Nairobi embassy is bombed. One day after the attacks, Ahmed contacts the British embassy and offers to help. He is overheard saying, “I told them everything I knew.” He also tells the British that it was “not the first time” he had cooperated with Western officials, and that he had been doing so “since last year.” [New York Times, 10/23/1998; New York Times, 1/9/1999] CIA officer Gary Berntsen will later reveal that he meets Ahmed as Ahmed is being kicked out of an allied government’s embassy. Berntsen then interviews Ahmed, and while the account of the interview is almost completely censored, Ahmed apparently gives information that leads to the arrest of one of the embassy bombers in Pakistan on August 15. This is the crucial break that allows the US to conclusively determine al-Qaeda’s role in the bombings and arrest some of the other bombers. [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 22-25] The US does not ask for Ahmed’s extradition, and he is charged for the Tanzania bombing in that country. The New York Times will report, “Several non-American diplomats in the region [speculate] that the United States is allowing the Tanzanians to try Mr. Ahmed because they fear his trial in America might bring to light his dealings with American authorities and other Western intelligence services.” [New York Times, 10/23/1998; New York Times, 1/9/1999] In March 2000, Tanzania will announce that all charges against Ahmed have been dropped and he is being deported. No reason will be given. [New York Times, 3/20/2000]
After the bombings of two US embassies in East Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the British intelligence service MI6 obtains some important information about the attacks, but does not share it with the FBI. MI6 obtains the information from a member of the bombing cell, L’Houssaine Kherchtou, who already has a relationship with MI6 when the attack happens (see Mid-Summer 1998). Kherchtou tries to flee Kenya after the bombing, but, tipped off by the British, local authorities detain him and hand him over to MI6. He is debriefed in Nairobi, but, although the British say they share the information with the CIA, they do not provide it to the FBI, which is investigating the bombing. FBI agent Jack Cloonan will later comment: “[W]e’ve got hundreds of agents on the ground in Kenya and Tanzania trying to figure out what happened. Let me just say it would have been real helpful if the British had told us they had one of the cell members in custody.” Kherchtou helped plan the bombings (see Late 1993-Late 1994) and is handed over to the FBI in the summer of 2000, later becoming a star prosecution witness at the trial (see Summer 2000 and September 2000). [American Prospect, 6/19/2005]
Zacarias Moussaoui’s flat in Brixton, London, is raided after the bombing of two US embassies in East Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), according to a statement made by Moussaoui in a pre-trial motion. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/2/2002 ] There are no other reports of this and it is unclear why his flat would be raided, although there were raids in London following the embassy bombings, as bin Laden faxed a claim of responsibility to associates in the British capital (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998 and July 29-August 7, 1998). In addition, Moussaoui may be linked to a man named David Courtailler, who trained at radical camps in Afghanistan and is questioned in France in the wake of the embassy bombings. Courtailler lived in London and frequented the same mosques as Moussaoui, and intelligence agencies believe Courtailler lived with Moussaoui at one point. However, Courtailler will deny ever having met him. French authorities requested a raid of Moussaoui’s previous flat in 1994, but the raid was not carried out at that time (see 1994). [Los Angeles Times, 10/20/2001] Note: the actual text of the handwritten motion by Moussaoui is, “It is not the case that my address 23 A Lambert Road was raided after the Embassy bombing in Africa.” However, this appears to be a frequent grammatical error by Moussaoui, who is not a native speaker of English. For example, he may have been intending to ask a rhetorical question, but got the words “it” and “is” in the wrong places. Moussaoui uses the same formulation—“it is not the case that”—for events which did occur and which he seems to believe occurred, for example, “It is not the case that Mohammad Atta flew out of Miami to Madrid Spain for a week,” and, “It is not the case that Coleen Rowley, an FBI Agent in Minneapolis, sent a letter to the Congress,” so presumably he also alleges his flat was raided after the embassy bombings. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/2/2002 ]
Double agent Ali Mohamed is living openly in Sacramento, California. His computer and telephone are being monitored by the FBI (see October 1997-September 10, 1998). On August 9, two days after the African embassy bombings, he told the FBI on the telephone that he knows who the bombers are but he will not reveal their names (see August 9, 1998). On August 12, one of the bombers, Mohamed al-Owhali, is secretly arrested in Kenya and immediately begins confessing what he knows (see August 12-25, 1998). Somehow al-Qaeda operative Anas al-Liby learns about al-Owhali’s arrest, even though al-Liby is living in Britain, and later that month he calls Mohamed. The call is monitored and FBI agent Jack Cloonan will later recall, “Anas says to [Mohamed], ‘Do you know that brother [al-Owhali]? ‘Cause if you do, get the f_ck out of there.” Mohamed makes plans to escape the US, but strangely he decides to respond to a subpoena and testify in New York City before he goes. He will be arrested there on September 10, just after testifying (see September 10, 1998). [Lance, 2006, pp. 297-298] Remarkably, even though al-Liby worked with Mohamed and others on the embassy bomb plot in Kenya (see Late 1993-Late 1994), he is not arrested and continues to live in Britain. His residence there will not be raided until May 2000, and by that time he will be gone (see May 2000). It will later be alleged that al-Liby is protected because he worked with British intelligence on a plot to kill Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi (see 1996).
When asked why militant Islamic groups based in London never attack in Britain, leading imam Omar Bakri Mohammed says that he has a deal with the British government: “I work here in accordance with the covenant of peace which I made with the British government when I got [political] asylum.… We respect the terms of this bond as Allah orders us to do.” [Terrorism Monitor, 7/7/2005] Bakri will confirm this in a later interview: “The British government knows who we are. MI5 has interrogated us many times. I think now we have something called public immunity.” [MEMRI, 10/24/2001] Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will point out that other London imams, such as Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997) and Abu Qatada (see June 1996-February 1997), had a similar arrangement: “The [imams] all claimed that Islamist radicals felt safe in London as they were protected by what they called the ‘covenant of security.’ This, they explained, was a deal whereby if extremist groups pledged not to stage attacks or cause disruption in [Britain], the police and intelligence agencies left them alone. British government ministers were appalled at the suggestion that they had entered into such a pact. But other countries were left to wonder aloud why [the British government] continued to ignore warnings that radical organizations were using London as a safe haven, and allowing these extremists to behave as if they were immune from prosecution.… To European eyes, these men seemed to do as they pleased.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 108]
A group of recruits at the radical Finsbury Park mosque in London, which is run by British intelligence informer and radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997), starts to be groomed as suicide bombers. The group includes shoe bomber Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001) and Saajid Badat, one of his accomplices (see (December 14, 2001)). Some of the suicide squad live in Brixton, south London, with Zacarias Moussaoui. Salam Abdullah, a radical who attends the mosque at this time, will later say, “You could tell from the way they were treated by Abu Hamza and his aides that they were marked for something special, but we didn’t know it was for suicide attacks.” Other mosque-goers do not discuss the group, and the men do not talk about their mission, but periodically disappear, presumably to go abroad for training. Some of them are foreigners, who are known only by their nicknames, and are sent to Finsbury Park from other militant centers around Britain and Europe. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later comment: “It was in north London that the suicide bombers were provided with money, documents, and the names of the contacts who would steer them to the intended targets in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir, and the cities of Europe.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 89-93] In addition to being an informer for the British, Abu Hamza is himself under surveillance by numerous intelligence services, including the same British ones he works for (see Summer 1996-August 1998, (November 11, 1998), and February 1999). What the British authorities know of this squad, and whether they attempt to do anything about it is unknown.
The British domestic counterintelligence service MI5 meets with Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading British imam and informer (see Early 1997). They discuss “training camps” Abu Hamza’s mosque is organizing for Islamist radicals, although it is unclear if these camps are in Britain or overseas. One of his MI5 handlers informs him he is “walking a dangerous tightrope.” Another agent later notes, “I informed him that incitement even to commit terrorism and violence overseas was fraught with peril.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 146]
An emissary of the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), a Yemeni-based al-Qaeda affiliate, visits Finsbury Park mosque in London, according to an unnamed intelligence service. The mosque is run by Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical and informer for the British security services (see Early 1997). According to authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory, the emissary is “greeted like a hero” by Abu Hamza, addresses worshippers at the mosque, distributes leaflets, and collects money, presumably for jihad in Yemen. Abu Hamza and the IAA are co-operating closely at this time (see (June 1998)). The intelligence service, possibly the CIA or a local Yemeni service working with it, learns of this visit around the time it is made, and the visit is one reason it finds the London connection is “crucial” to the IAA (see After August 7, 1998). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 164]
A person or persons at the radical Finsbury Park mosque in London tells a recruit about to travel to Pakistan to beware of some radical groups there, because they are controlled by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI. The recruit, Salman Abdullah, is told not to hand over his identity documents to militants who may try to persuade him to leave the group he is being sent to and join a different group. The reason given is that these other groups are closely monitored and sometimes run by elements in the ISI. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 82]
After being recruited to fight for radical Muslim causes by British intelligence informer and radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997, August 1998, and August 1998 or Shortly After), Salman Abdullah leaves London and travels to Pakistan. One of Abu Hamza’s aides gives him an airline ticket, £700 in cash (about US$1,100), and a phone number in Islamabad to call when he arrives. He is taken by a contact for a month’s hard training, and then brought back to central Pakistan. Finally, he goes to the disputed region of Kashmir for three months and spends his time there “engaged in sporadic firefights” against Indian forces. Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “Abdullah’s tour of duty guaranteed him a hero’s welcome on his return to north London. His stature as a ‘jihadi’ meant that Abu Hamza could employ him in a new role, as a propagandist, inciting others to follow his path.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 81-82]
Khalid al-Fawwaz, Osama bin Laden’s de facto press secretary, is arrested in London on September 23, 1998. He is arrested with six other suspects, presumably including Ibrahim Eidarous and Adel Abdel Bary. The three of them effectively run the Advice and Reformation Committee (ARC), a bin Laden front in London. Al-Fawwaz is arrested again on September 27 at the request of the US, which issues an extradition warrant for him the same day. On July 12, 1999, Eidarous and Bary are arrested again, as the US issues extradition warrants for them as well. All three are charged in the US for roles in the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Apparently, none of them are released before being arrested on the new charges (see July 12, 1999). Presumably, the other three who were originally arrested are released. [New York Times, 9/29/1998; New York Times, 7/13/1999] It is not clear why the three were not arrested earlier, or why they were not charged in Britain. They had been monitored in London for years. Bin Laden called them over 200 hundred times from 1996 to 1998, and they are alleged to have been involved in many plots (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998). For instance, the three received a fax from al-Qaeda operatives taking credit for the embassy bombings hours before the bombings actually took place and passed it on to media outlets (see July 29-August 7, 1998). In 1996, the US requested that Britain should arrest al-Fawwaz, Eidarous, and Bary, but the British decided there wasn’t enough evidence. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 98]
Supporters of Shariah, a radical organization run by leading British imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, issue a threat of attacks in Yemen. The threat, described by authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory as a “blustering communiqué,” is published in the group’s October 1998 newsletter. In language that is “juvenile and insulting,” the US military and other “unbelievers” are warned to leave Yemen or suffer the consequences. Abu Hamza, an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), has recently started working with the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA—see (June 1998)), a Yemen-based militant organization. The IAA will be near to implementing a massive plot in December involving close associates of Abu Hamza (see Before December 23, 1998 and December 23, 1998), but it is unclear if Abu Hamza is aware of this plot at the time the communiqué is published. Abu Hamza will follow up in the next month’s newsletter with more of the same, accusing a country he refers to as the “United Snakes of America” of plotting “a secret operation to target Muslim fundamentalists in the region.” He adds: “We see this as a powerful detonator for Muslims to explode in the faces of the Snakes of America. This will hopefully trigger a domino effect in the Peninsula. As observers have seen the more frequent explosions in the land of Yemen in the last four months, especially in the crude oil pipeline which is the blood for the American vampires.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 164]
Graham Hall’s back, branded with the letters ALF. [Source: The Mail on Sunday]British reporter Graham Hall, who in 1998 infiltrated a British cell of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF—see 1976) with a hidden camera and captured footage of ALF’s British spokesman Robin Webb giving a bomb-making manual to activists and suggesting a target, is abducted, apparently by ALF members. They blindfold Hall and threaten to kill him, then brand the letters ALF on his back before throwing him out of a van onto a deserted road. Hall produced a documentary, Inside the ALF, that portrayed the organization as violent and extremist. Webb says the documentary was heavily and selectively edited, and says of the branding, “People who make a living in this way have to expect from time to time to take the consequences of their actions.” The British television network that aired the documentary, Channel 4, has offered to pay for plastic surgery for Hall, who considers himself an animal rights supporter but finds ALF’s tactics too extreme. Police refuse to prosecute Webb and other ALF members, who in Hall’s film boast of numerous bombings and arson attacks. Hall says of the ALF members he encountered: “Even I underestimated them. They are highly organized and totally obsessed—they’ll stop at nothing. That conflict is now out of hand and ready to explode.… I have been badly shaken by this but it will not deter me from carrying on. I will not rest until I bring these men to justice… and it won’t be the sort of justice they deal in. They are terrorists, not animal rights campaigners. They can’t function without violence. They have done this to me because I hurt them with my film. They wanted to get back at me, pure and simple.… One day I will infiltrate the ALF again. And next time they won’t get away with it.” [The Mail on Sunday, 11/7/1999; Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
A group of moderate Muslim community leaders tries to serve a court order instructing radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri and his followers to vacate Finsbury Park mosque. The community leaders and Abu Hamza, an informer for British intelligence against other Islamist extremists (see Early 1997), have been battling over the mosque for some time. On the first attempt to serve the order, one of Abu Hamza’s sons snatches the court papers and throws them away.
Second Attempt - On a second attempt a day later, the community leaders are ambushed on the stairs inside the mosque by a mob of Abu Hamza’s supporters, and two of them are physically thrown down the stairs. One of the ambushed men runs to the police standing outside the mosque’s gates and, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory: “The officers heard the commotion, and could see these elderly men limping out of the door cut and bruised, but said that the court injunction gave them no power to arrest any of the mob inside.” The police, who had also refused to help earlier in the year, tell the startled community leaders that they have been aware for some time that Abu Hamza was the subject of previous injunctions from other mosques. They say the solution is to get an eviction order, although this will be costly and time-consuming, and they will do nothing against Abu Hamza in the meantime.
Trustees Give Up - The legal battles will continue for several months, after which Abu Hamza offers the community leaders a truce. However, he immediately breaks the truce and the leaders, exhausted, give up. Kadir Barkatullah, one of the management committee ousted by Abu Hamza, will say that he and others make a total of seven complaints to the police about Abu Hamza, but nothing is ever done. Although British Prime Minister Tony Blair will tell Muslim leaders to act against extremists in their local communities, according to Barkatullah, “When we did do precisely that with Abu Hamza, we were ignored.”
Incidents Continue - Despite the supposed truce, attacks on moderate Muslims associated with the mosque will continue; one of the community leaders is attacked in his shop with a baseball bat, and an imam is beaten unconscious inside the mosque. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 34-35, 46-47, 288]
Radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri takes over a second mosque in London, at Stockwell in the city’s south. He already controls the large Finsbury Park mosque in north London (see March 1997) and is working with British intelligence at this time (see Early 1997). Abu Hamza also expands his operations by preaching in other towns and cities in Britain. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later comment: “Like a medieval monarch, Abu Hamza wasn’t satisfied with just Finsbury Park, and wanted to expand his fiefdom. His first step was to take his roadshow around the country, poisoning other mosques with his hateful creed then leaving it to hand-picked locals and some his Supporters of Shariah hard men to complete the takeover at mosques such as that in Stockwell, south London. He roamed the country with a convoy of cars, always with an entourage of minders in tow to whip up the crowd.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 48-49]
The French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) fires Reda Hassaine, a mole who has penetrated radical Islamist circles in London (see Early 1997 and 1998). Hassaine is fired despite his detailed reports and great access to top militant leaders, because the French see him as a “maverick” who also works with the British press, and suspect he is still also working for the Algerian government (see Early 1995). In particular, a new Algerian intelligence officer has arrived in London and DGSE managers are suspicious of this officer for some reason. Hassaine’s French handler, “Jerome,” says his bosses are making a mistake by firing Hassaine because he thinks that radical Islam is becoming more dangerous, but complains that the decision is not his to make. Hassaine is given severance pay of £2,000 (about US$ 3,000), and in return signs a statement saying he will not talk about his work for the DGSE. Hassaine will later be hired as an informer for British intelligence. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 133-136]
Reda Hassaine, an Algerian mole who has penetrated radical Islamist circles in London, goes to Scotland Yard and tells the British police that he has vital information for the anti-terrorist branch. Hassaine had previously informed on Islamist extremists in London for Algerian and French services, but has just been fired by the French (see Early 1995 and November 4, 1998). He speaks to two officers with the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch about his work for the French, whom he had helped monitor leading extremist Abu Hamza al-Masri and Algerian terrorists living in London. Although most of Special Branch’s officers focus on Irish terrorism, they decide to hire Hassaine. The work is “frequently frustrating,” and only lasts for six months, after which control of Hassaine is passed to Britain’s domestic intelligence service, MI5 (see (May 1999)). After it is decided that Hassaine will leave the service of Special Branch and be transferred to MI5, Special Branch asks him to sign a letter saying that he is aware he will go to jail if he talks to anyone about his relationship with them, and if he is arrested by police, he will not be protected by immunity from prosecution. However, Hassaine is angry at this and refuses to sign. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 137-8]
Princess Diana at a mine field in Angola in 1997. [Source: Tim Graham / Corbis]The NSA admits that US intelligence agencies possess 1,056 pages of classified information regarding Britain’s Princess Diana. British tabloids portray the documents as rife with salacious information on Diana’s “most intimate love secrets” about her relationship with Egyptian billionaire Dodi al-Fayed, but the actual documentation may not be so lurid. The NSA recently denied a Freedom of Information request from the Internet news service APB Online about information it has collected on Diana, who died in a tragic car accident in 1997. (It is unclear whether US intelligence has any unreleased information about the circumstances of Diana’s death. [APB Online, 11/30/1998; Washington Post, 12/12/1998] The NSA has denied monitoring Diana on the night of her death, an allegation raised by The Observer in 2006.) [MSNBC, 12/11/2006] In the two-page letter denying the request, the NSA admits to possessing a “Diana file,” but refuses to divulge what is in that file. A US intelligence official says the information is made up of conversations between other people who mentioned Diana; the references to Diana in those intercepted conversations are “incidental.” The official says Diana was never a particular target of the NSA’s Echelon surveillance program. However, the NSA has classified 124 pages of the “Diana documents” as top secret “because their disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.” According to a recent report by the European Parliament, the NSA routinely monitors virtually “all e-mail, telephone and fax communications… within Europe” (see July 11, 2001). Intelligence expert Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists says “the US and our allies promiscuously collect electronic communications around the world. Whether the descriptions of Echelon are accurate or not, that much is definitely true.” Some believe that lurid snippets of information leaked to the British press regarding Diana’s affair with Fayed, and her ambivalent relationship with Prince Charles, may have come from Echelon wiretaps and surveillance. Another FAS scientist, John Pike, says the NSA and other US intelligence agencies may have been monitoring Diana to protect her from terrorist attacks. Pike says it is also possible she may have been monitored because of her involvement in banning land mines, a position opposed by the Pentagon. [APB Online, 11/30/1998; Washington Post, 12/12/1998] Former NSA official Wayne Madsen will say in 2000, “[W]hen NSA extends the big drift net out there, it’s possible that they’re picking up more than just her conversations concerning land mines. What they do with that intelligence, who knows?” [CBS News, 2/27/2000] In August 1999, the NSA will deny another Freedom of Information request about its “Diana file” from the British newspaper The Guardian. [Guardian, 8/6/1999]
Iraq announces that it no longer recognizes the UN-mandated “no-fly zones” in its northern and southern sectors, and begins acting more aggressively towards US and British aircraft enforcing those zones. In return, the US revises its rules of engagement so that pilots have broader discretion to respond to actual or threatened attacks. By August 1999, US aircraft have launched over 1,000 missiles at Iraqi targets. Iraqi locations are bombed on virtually a daily basis. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 122]
UNSCOM executive chairman Richard Butler orders the withdrawal of weapons inspectors from Iraq, accusing the Iraqis of not cooperating. His actions follow a phone conversation with Peter Burleigh, the American representative to the United Nations, basically warning Butler that the US intends to strike Iraq (see December 16-19, 1998). [New York Times, 12/18/1998] In his book, Saddam Defiant, Butler will recall: “I received a telephone call from US Ambassador Peter Burleigh inviting me for a private conversation at the US mission.… Burleigh informed me that on instructions from Washington it would be ‘prudent to take measures to ensure the safety and security of UNSCOM staff presently in Iraq.‘… I told him that I would act on this advice and remove my staff from Iraq.” Butler’s order to withdraw is made without the permission of the UN Security Council. [Butler, 2000, pp. 224] Years later, the American press and government will say that on this day Saddam Hussein “kicked out” inspectors. [Extra!, 10/2002]
Air Traffic Controllers on board the USS Enterprise guide strike aircraft on bombing runs into Iraq. Photo taken December 17, 1998. [Source: US Navy]The US and Britain launch a joint series of over 250 air strikes against Iraqi military targets, in a campaign dubbed “Operation Desert Fox.” The air strikes are designed to, in the mission statement released by the US Navy, “degrade Saddam Hussein’s ability to make and to use weapons of mass destruction,” to “diminish Saddam Hussein’s ability to wage war against his neighbors,” and to “demonstrate to Saddam Hussein the consequences of violating international obligations.” The air strikes are carried out by US Navy and Marine Corps aircraft from the USS Enterprise, from US and British military bases in the region. The strikes feature, among other weaponry, over 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from naval vessels and US Air Force B-52s. Defense officials say that many of the strikes focus on destroying or damaging targets in southern Iraq, including surface-to-air missile sites, airfields, and command-and-control sites, all with the aim of giving US pilots a “safer corridor” to reach targets in the north. [American Forces Press Service, 12/18/1998; Barletta and Jorgensen, 5/1999; Roberts, 2008, pp. 121; US Department of Defense, 3/7/2008] Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz will later say that at least 62 Iraqis are killed in the strikes. No US or British casualties are reported. [BBC, 2002]
Failure to Comply with UN Inspections - President Bill Clinton explains that the military operation was in response to Iraq’s refusal to comply with UN weapons inspections (see December 16, 1998). “The international community gave Saddam one last chance to resume cooperation with the weapons inspectors,” Clinton says. “Saddam’s deception has defeated their effectiveness. Instead of the inspectors disarming Saddam, the Iraqi dictator has disarmed the inspectors.… Saddam has failed to seize the chance. So we had to act and act now.” Clinton continues, “Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas, or biological weapons.” He has used them before, Clinton adds, and “left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again.” [American Forces Press Service, 12/17/1998] US Secretary of Defense William Cohen says that the attacks “degraded Saddam Hussein’s ability to deliver chemical and biological weapons,” and defends the US’s right to act unilaterally against Iraq if it is in “our national interest.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair agrees with Clinton’s assessment. “He is a serial breaker of promises,” Blair says. [CNN, 12/16/1998]
Real Aim to Destabilize Hussein? - In January 1999, reporter William Arkin, a defense specialist, will write that he believes the strikes were designed to do far more than punish Iraq for not complying with UN inspections. The extremely specific target listings—down to specific buildings—and the nature of the targets chosen will lead Arkin to believe that Desert Fox was designed to cripple Iraq’s ability to wage war. Only 13 of the 100 or so sites were identified as chemical or biological weapons production or research facilities, Arkin will write. Additionally, Arkin will comment that the US-British strikes were not just to “degrade” Iraq’s military capabilities, but to destabilize the Hussein regime. [Washington Post, 1/17/1999]
Accusations of Political Distraction - Many of Clinton’s political opponents, including Republican lawmakers and conservative commentators and radio hosts, accuse Clinton, both during and after the strikes, of attempting to use a military operation to distract the nation from his admission of a sexual liaison with intern Monica Lewinsky. [BBC, 2002]
Destroys Remainder of Iraq's WMD Stockpiles - In 2004, US weapons inspector David Kay will say that Desert Fox and other 1998 air strikes destroyed the remaining stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons left over from the Gulf War (see January 23, 2004).
A group of six young men are arrested in Yemen, where they are alleged to have been planning a series of bombings. Five of the men are British. They include Mohsin Ghalain, the stepson of Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical cleric in Britain and informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), and Shahid Butt, Abu Hamza’s “six-foot four-inch enforcer.” The men are members of the militant Supporters of Sharia organization run by Abu Hamza and are in Yemen to work with the Islamic Army of Aden, a local radical organization and al-Qaeda affiliate.
Arrest Merely a Coincidence - The Yemeni government will say that they are arrested purely by coincidence, after the police notice a group of them committing a minor traffic violation. When their vehicle is found and searched following a chase, a cache of weapons and explosives is found in it.
Skepticism about Yemeni Claim - However, author Mary Quin will later comment: “Several aspects of the story about how the Britons were apprehended did not ring true. Having spent a week on Yemeni roads myself, it seemed highly unlikely that a police officer would bother to pull over a vehicle at midnight for something as mundane as going the wrong way around a traffic island.… The fact that the car happened to be stashed with weapons and explosives seemed too much of a coincidence. I was also suspicious of the reported speed with which the police located the two hotels where the defendants were staying.”
Informant Tip? - Instead, Quin will speculate that the Yemeni authorities were tipped off by an informer, Hetam bin Farid, who will later go on to command the Islamic Army of Aden (see (December 30, 1998-October 31, 1999)). Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will also say that the timing of the arrests “suggest[s] that Yemeni intelligence services had prior warning of the bomb plot.” [Quin, 2005, pp. 103-4, 116; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 156-157, 176, 178-179]
Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, leader of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic Army of Aden (see Early 2000 and October 12, 2000), telephones Abu Hamza al-Masri, a London-based imam and informer for the British security services (see Early 1997). Six operatives sent by Abu Hamza to Yemen for training had become involved in a bomb plot, but were arrested four days ago (see December 23, 1998). Almihdhar makes two calls to Abu Hamza, and tells him of the capture of the operatives, who include Abu Hamza’s stepson and former bodyguard. The two men apparently come up with a plan to capture some Western tourists, and Abu Hamza purchases more airtime worth £500 (about $800) for Almihdhar’s satellite phone. After the tourists are captured the next day (see December 28-29, 1998), Almihdhar will immediately telephone Abu Hamza and, according to one of the tourists’ drivers, say, “We’ve got the goods that were ordered, 16 cartons marked Britain and America.” This is not the only telephone contact between the two men, and authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will add, “What was apparent from the first hours of the hostage crisis was that the short-tempered [Almihdhar] needed the advice and reassurance of his spokesman in North London.” The calls are intercepted by the Government Communications Headquarters, Britain’s wiretapping agency, using a base in Cyprus. Although the communications cannot be used in court under British law, they are useful to the intelligence services in determining what is going on between Almihdhar and Abu Hamza. However, the intercepts are also shared with the FBI, which will later indicate it may use them in a US prosecution of Abu Hamza stemming from the fact that two of the kidnap victims are American nationals. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 156-157, 161, 180]
Radical imam and British intelligence informer Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997) defends the kidnapping of Western hostages in Yemen by the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA—see December 28-29, 1998) in the British media. The IAA is an al-Qaeda affiliate (see Early 2000 and October 12, 2000) and Abu Hamza acts as its press officer. Although it is unusual for radical Islamists to appear on television in Britain at this time, Abu Hamza does not shy away from the publicity. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will even call him a “publicity junkie,” and comment on his television appearances: “[Abu Hamza] tried to defend the indefensible by appearing on television and supporting the gunmen holding innocent Western hostages in the desert. Much of what he had to say in his strangled English about ‘jihad’ and martyrdom baffled his armchair British audience, most of who at the time had never heard of al-Qaeda.… He would stab his hook at the camera lens as he issued his bloodcurdling threats against politicians who did not heed his advice. His language was provocative, his demeanour threatening, but he had achieved one ambition—people in Britain suddenly knew the name of Abu Hamza.” His appearances do not go down well with the media, and, in O’Neill and McGrory’s words, he is “vilified .. after he admitted that he was the press officer for the kidnappers from the pompously named Islamc Army of Aden and Abyan.” Abu Hamza will later admit that this is the biggest mistake he ever makes. According to O’Neill and McGrory: “He [loses] friends and credibility, and [becomes] a marked man by the security authorities in Britain. But his standing with young British extremists [is] boosted.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 158-159, 172-173]
Following the exposure of a bomb plot (see December 23, 1998) and a kidnapping and murder (see December 28-29, 1998) in Yemen, local officials place most of the blame for the problems on British-based radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri. According to authors Daniel McGrory and Sean O’Neill, local security official General Mohammed Turaik can “barely bring himself to mouth the name of Abu Hamza.” He is “almost incoherent with rage that the man he held responsible for the bloodshed was giving television interviews in London, and not standing in the dock of an Aden court to face his accusers.” Yemen compiles a large amount of evidence about Abu Hamza’s involvement, but also blames al-Qaeda-linked training camps in Afghanistan for altering the thinking of Yemenis who went there. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 170-171]
Yemeni officials initially agree to receive a team of British investigators who will look into a kidnapping and murder case in which Yemeni terrorists abducted Western tourists, including some from Britain (see December 28-29, 1998). Initially, leading security official General Mohammed Turaik says that there is no point in British investigators coming to Yemen, because his office managed to rapidly wrap up the inquiry. However, he adds that if the British want to visit the scene of the kidnap and talk to imprisoned kidnappers, then they can. However, when the investigators arrive, according to authors Daniel McGrory and Sean O’Neill, they “find themselves restricted to hanging around their hotels. Requests to travel to Abyan to see where the hostages died were left in an in-tray. Suggestions that the… detectives might question the six men the General claimed had been sent from Finsbury Park [a British mosque associated with radicalism], to blow up British targets in Aden were ignored.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 171] The reason for this change of opinion is unclear. It may be due to deteriorating diplomatic relations between Yemen and Britain (see January 1999). Another explanation would be that a prominent relative of Yemen’s president, General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, is said to have met with the kidnappers in advance (see December 26, 1998).
Saeed Sheikh, imprisoned in India from 1994 to December 1999 for kidnapping Britons and Americans, meets with a British official and a lawyer nine times while in prison. Supposedly, the visits are to check on his living conditions, since he is a British citizen. [Los Angeles Times, 2/8/2002] However, the London Times will later claim that British intelligence secretly offers amnesty and the ability to “live in London a free man” if he will reveal his links to al-Qaeda. The Times claims that he refuses the offer. [Daily Mail, 7/16/2002; London Times, 7/16/2002] Yet after he is rescued in a hostage swap deal in December, the press reports that he, in fact, is freely able to return to Britain. [Press Trust of India, 1/3/2000] He visits his parents there in 2000 and again in early 2001 and is alleged to wire money to the 9/11 hijackers during this period (see Early August 2001). [BBC, 7/16/2002; Daily Telegraph, 7/16/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002] He is not charged with kidnapping until well after 9/11. Saeed’s kidnap victims call the government’s decision not to try him a “disgrace” and “scandalous.” [Press Trust of India, 1/3/2000] The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review later suggests that not only is Saeed closely tied to both the ISI and al-Qaeda, but may also have been working for the CIA: “There are many in [Pakistani President] Musharraf’s government who believe that Saeed Sheikh’s power comes not from the ISI, but from his connections with our own CIA. The theory is that… Saeed Sheikh was bought and paid for.” [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002]
MI6 headquarters in London. [Source: Cryptome]MI6, the British intelligence agency, gives a secret report to liaison staff at the US embassy in London. The reports states that al-Qaeda has plans to use “commercial aircraft” in “unconventional ways,”
“possibly as flying bombs.” [Sunday Times (London), 6/9/2002]
Radical British cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri sends an associate, James Ujaama, to the US to raise funds for his operations. Abu Hamza, an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), is linked to both Osama bin Laden (see March 1999 and Summer 2001) and the Islamic Army of Aden, a Yemeni al-Qaeda-affiliate (see December 23, 1998 and December 28-29, 1998). Ujaama, an American citizen, arrives in London in 1999 and soon becomes part of Abu Hamza’s inner circle. Between 1999 and 2002 Ujaama makes 11 trips back to the US. Allegedly, one of the trips is to raise money for Abu Hamza’s activities in Britain through a tour of US mosques. Another is an attempt to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon (see November 1999-Early 2000). Ujaama also travels to Afghanistan several times (see December 2000-December 2001), and may train at camps there. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 188]
Feroz Abbasi, a Uganda-born British resident who has recently embraced Islam, begins to frequent the Finsbury Park mosque, which is headed by radical imam Abu Hamza. He joins Abu Hamza’s organization, the Supporters of Sharia, but is told he is not yet ready to go and fight in Chechnya. He is gradually given small tasks at the mosque, and, after proving himself loyal by performing these tasks, Abu Hamza arranges for him to travel to Afghanistan for training there. After the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Abbasi will nearly succeed in blowing himself up with two Northern Alliance soldiers (see December 2000-December 2001). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 203-208]
Kevin Kjonaas. [Source: Anti-Defamation League]Animal Liberation Front (ALF—see 1976) activist Kevin Kjonaas, the organization’s spokesman, is forced to testify before a grand jury as to his knowledge of an ALF “direct action” against a University of Minnesota research facility that released 166 animals from testing labs and caused some $700,000 in damage to equipment. Kjonaas also has his house raided by FBI agents. Instead of staying in the US and facing a second round of testimony, Kjonaas goes to Great Britain, where he becomes active with Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), a British animal rights organization. Kjonaas will return to the US in 2001 and establish an American chapter of SHAC. He will continue to speak for the organization despite a 2004 arrest. [Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
Yemen asks Britain to hand over militant cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is wanted in connection with crimes committed by the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA—see December 23, 1998). [Quin, 2005, pp. 107] Although Abu Hamza has not yet been formally charged with a role in the plot, Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh complains that he has been “planning and financing sabotage and bombings in Yemen.” Saleh also writes a personal letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair asking him to send the cleric to Yemen for trial. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 164, 172, 177] However, Britain says that it has not received a formal request for extradition. Author Mary Quin will later comment, “Since no extradition treaty exists between Yemen and Britain, it is unlikely that a formal request would have been made—but very likely that Yemen communicated its strong desire to lay its hands on the handless Hamza, one way or another.” Abu Hamza supports and funds jihad in Yemen and is the IAA’s spokesperson (see (June 1998)). In December 1998, one of the IAA’s demands in return for freeing kidnapped hostages was that Abu Hamza’s stepson be released from prison in Yemen (see December 28-29, 1998). [Quin, 2005, pp. 107] As a result of the row between the two countries, on January 3 Britain announces that Yemen’s application to join the Commonwealth has been rejected, because it “does not meet the entry criteria on good governance.” Yemen responds that it does not care and it is withdrawing the application anyway. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 172]
Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading London-based radical cleric and informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), calls for the overthrow of the government of Yemen, headed by President Ali Abdallah Saleh. This is part of a war of words after Yemen arrested Abu Hamza’s stepson and some other associates (see December 23, 1998) for allegedly planning attacks in Yemen. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 181]
The six-nation “Contact Group,” comprised of delegations from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia, meets in London to discuss a resolution to the Kosovo conflict. At the conclusion of the conference, they issue an ultimatum to the Yugoslavian government and Kosovar Albanians, requiring them to attend peace talks in Rambouillet, France beginning on February 6 (see February 6-23, 1999). [Press Association (London), 1/29/1999; BBC, 1/30/1999] However, It appears only the KLA is invited to speak on behalf of the Kosovar Albanians, not Ibrahim Rugova—the only democratically elected leader of Kosovo—or any other member of the Kosovo Democratic League. “Western diplomats have described Rugova as increasingly irrelevant, while the key players in Kosovo are now the rebels of the KLA,” the BBC reports. [BBC, 1/31/1999]
Following a plot in which British citizens are kidnapped and murdered in Yemen, the Special Branch of London’s Metropolitan Police shows greater interest in Finsbury Park mosque. The mosque is associated with leading extremist Abu Hamza al-Masri, who supported the plot (see December 28-29, 1998). It is also attended by “20th hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui, “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid (see March 1997-April 2000), and Djamal Beghal, a top radical Islamist. Reda Hassaine, a Special Branch informer who has penetrated the mosque, is quizzed on “every detail” of what he knows about it. He is also shown some photographs of people who attend the mosque, and asked about Abu Hamza and other radical groups in London. In addition, he draws a sketch of the building indicating the prayer room, Abu Hamza’s office, the kitchen, and the sleeping areas. Hassaine is also asked to provide regular reports, and, in March, to turn over all material he has collected, his notes, newsletters, and other documents. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 86, 140-141]
Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical imam who informs for the British authorities (see Early 1997), tells a rally of Islamist extremists in London that they should attack aircraft over London, and shows them a plan for doing so. The scheme is called the “MUSLIM ANTI-AIRCRAFT NET,” and Abu Hamza explains it to his audience with the aid of a diagram on a sheet that drops down behind him when he starts to speak. Abu Hamza sets aside his usual style of whipping his listeners up into a frenzy, instead choosing to speak “like a college professor.” He tells them that the purpose of the net “is to make the skies very high-risk for anybody who flies.” The equipment consists of a series of wire nets, held in the air by gas-filled balloons. When an aircraft is caught in the net, one of the mines attached to it explodes, destroying the aircraft. The diagram contains an image of a US fighter diving into one of the traps. Abu Hamza concludes: “This is not very clever, but it will work. Now invent your own idea and never give up.” The meeting is attended by an unnamed informer for the French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), who is amazed by the plan. Abu Hamza has an agreement with the British authorities that he can pursue terrorist activities abroad, but that there should be no violence in Britain (see October 1, 1997). This would appear to be a breach of the agreement, and the informer thinks that if a fellow informer for the British police is present, action must be taken against Abu Hamza. However, nothing is done against Abu Hamza over the plan, which seems not to be implemented. The meeting is also attended by Omar Bakri Mohamed, who has a deal similar to Abu Hamza’s with the British authorities (see August 22, 1998) and is head of the Al-Muhajiroun organization. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 103-105]
Radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri sends money to bin Laden’s Darunta camp, which is part of al-Qaeda’s network of training camps in Afghanistan. Abu Hamza, who is under investigation by Scotland Yard at this time for his involvement in a kidnapping and murder scheme in Yemen, apparently diverts the money from a fund at London’s Finsbury Park Mosque, which he runs. The US will later say it has e-mail traffic that proves the transfer. Abu Hamza trained at the camp in the mid-1990s. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 74-5]
Leading British imam Abu Hamza al-Masri is arrested for his part in the kidnapping and murder of Western tourists in Yemen (see December 28-29, 1998). A demonstration outside the police station where Abu Hamza is held attracts sixty people. Abu Hamza tells the police he has just been repeating what is written in the Koran and is released. Evidence seized from his home includes 750 video and audio tapes of his sermons and an eleven-volume Encyclopedia of Afghani Jihad, which are later returned to him (see December 1999). Reda Hassaine, an informer for the British security services (see March 1997-April 2000), is disappointed and notes cynically that “the British might consider the arrest operation successful, believing that it would ward off the danger of Abu Hamza or his followers carrying out any operations too close to home.” Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment, “Hassaine’s assessment was not far off the mark.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 140-3]
A top al-Qaeda operative known as Abu Doha arrives in London to take up a leading role in operations there. French intelligence chief Pierre de Bousquet de Florian will describe Abu Doha, an Algerian better known as “the Doctor,” as al-Qaeda’s main recruiting sergeant in Europe, adding that “it is not possible to over-emphasize his importance” because he is the “principal catalyst” for the establishment of a network of North African radicals across Britain, Europe, and North America. Abu Doha, who has already established a special section for North African trainees at the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan, links up with Abu Hamza al-Masri, a local militant leader and radical imam who is an informer for the British authorities (see Early 1997). He bases himself at Abu Hamza’s mosque, Finsbury Park, where he unifies rival Algerian factions, increasing the flow of funds and recruits sent to the camps in Afghanistan. After he is captured (see February 2001), a British judge at an immigration appeals tribunal will say: “In Afghanistan he had held a senior position in the training camps organizing the passage of mujaheddin volunteers to and from those camps. He had a wide range of extremist Islamic contacts inside and outside [Britain] including links to individuals involved in terrorist operations. He was involved in a number of extremist agendas. By being in [Britain] he had brought cohesion to Algerian extremists based here and he had strengthened the existing links with individuals associated with the terrorist training facilities in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 116-117]
Reda Hassaine, an Algerian informer working for the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch against Islamist extremists in London, is passed to MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence service. One of his tasks is to identify men who attend Finsbury Park mosque, a hotbed of radicalism, in photographs MI5 gives him. For the first six-month trial period, Hassaine is given £300 (equivalent of $450) per month plus £80 for expenses, but MI5 tells him to claim unemployment and housing benefit as well, “because, after all, we were dealing with the security of the country,” and “it would be a good cover story because everyone in Finsbury Park was foreign and on benefits.” In return for his work, Hassaine is promised he will obtain indefinite leave to remain in Britain, but in February 2000 he will only receive leave to remain for four years, which he will be unhappy about. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 138-9, 147-148]
A shipment of special aluminum for the A. Q. Khan network is seized in London by British customs. The shipment was arranged by Abu Bakr Siddiqui, a British-based supplier for the Khan network. Siddiqui’s company, Orland Europe Ltd., received the order in November 1998 from a Dubai-based facilitator for Khan’s network named Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, but it had originated with Mohammad Farooq, director of foreign procurement at Khan Research Laboratories.
Siddiqui Warned - Customs learned of the order thanks to a tipoff from the British intelligence agency MI6. Customs agent Maxine Crook and a colleague called on Siddiqui in January 1999 to inform him that the export of some metals required a license, and, if there was any doubt, it was best to contact the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to check if one was required for a specific transaction. Crook also told Siddiqui that he should contact the DTI if he again did business with three companies with which he had previously traded, and that Dubai was a well-known “diversionary point” for goods going to “countries of concern” related to the smuggling of components for nuclear programs. Finally, Crook told Siddiqui he should consult the DTI about the current order for the aluminum. After the visit, Crook sent Siddiqui a letter summarizing the main points of the visit, and Siddiqui acknowledged the letter.
Seizure - Siddiqui went ahead with the order without asking for a license anyway, and customs officials seize it on the docks in London. A search of his home and office yields records of millions of dollars’ worth of equipment that has been shipped to Khan over the last decade, a brochure describing the uranium enrichment process, a photo of Siddiqui and Khan together, and a magazine with an article on Khan in which he said he wanted to “buy whatever we can from the international market” to support Pakistan’s nuclear program. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 178-180]
Following a raid on Abu Bakr Siddiqui, a supplier for A. Q. Khan’s nuclear proliferation ring (see May 7, 1999), British customs examines the evidence it has seized and realizes that the investigation is not a simple case of Siddiqui exporting specialized metals without a license, but that they have opened a much larger can of worms. The investigation, known as Operation Akin, is led by Atif Amin, a British-born Muslim of Pakistani descent assigned to a special counterproliferation team, and they question Siddiqui twice, learning a lot more about the Khan network in the process. Customs also arranges that if a contact of Siddiqui, the Dubai-based businessman Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, enters Britain, he will be arrested. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 180-181]
According to Reda Hassaine, an Algerian mole working against Islamist extremists in London for MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence service, his handler tells him MI5 is powerless against Algerian extremists in London. Hassaine will say: “He [the handler] certainly never cared about what I cared most about, that hundreds of people were being killed in Algeria and that many of the killers and the organizers of the massacres had escaped to London. ‘Oh, what can we do?’ he would say. ‘We can’t stop them, there is nothing we can do.’” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 139]
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]
MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, reports, “Intelligence suggests that while [Osama bin Laden] is seeking to launch an attack inside the US, he is aware that the US will provide a tough operating environment for his organization.” [Daily Telegraph, 10/5/2009] It is unclear who this report is sent to, or what information it is based on. MI6, not MI5, is usually tasked with foreign intelligence.
The British intelligence agency MI6 monitors shipments made by the A. Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network from Pakistan to Libya via Dubai, United Arab Emirates. MI6 asks a British customs officer, Malcolm Nesbit, who is stationed in Dubai, to help with the operation. At MI6’s request, he finds when certain containers arrive in Dubai, how long they stay, when they leave port, and what they carry. Nesbit does not understand the full implications of this surveillance at the time, but will realize why MI6 wanted the information later, when another customs agent investigates Khan’s network in Dubai (see Late March 2000). The contents of the containers are not known, although it is known that Khan is shipping centrifuge parts to Libya through Dubai at this time (see Late March 2000). [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 189]
The FBI is told that three arrested Islamist militants working for Osama bin Laden are about to be released from prison in the UK. But the FBI works quickly and prevents their release. Khalid al-Fawwaz, Ibrahim Eidarous, and Adel Abdel Bary had been arrested in London on September 23, 1998, not long after the US embassy bombings in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Al-Fawwaz is an al-Qaeda operative while Eidarous and Bary are Islamic Jihad operatives, but all three of them ran the Advice and Reformation Committee (ARC), a bin Laden front in London (see September 23, 1998-July 12, 1999). The three of them had been arrested for a role in the embassy bombings, but in July 1999, a British judge says there is not enough evidence to keep them imprisoned. FBI agents Ali Soufan, Dan Coleman, Jack Cloonan, and US attorneys Patrick Fitzgerald and Ken Karas work quickly and put together a request to have the three men extradited to the US to stand trial there. (The US already had requested al-Fawwaz’s extradition shortly after his arrest in September (see September 23, 1998-July 12, 1999).) As a result, the three men are rearrested on July 12, 1999, apparently without ever being released, and a long battle to extradite them begins. [New York Times, 7/13/1999; Soufan, 2011, pp. 97-104]
Leading London-based radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for the British authorities (see Early 1997), calls on his followers to “kill the infidels” during a sermon delivered in Arabic in Finsbury Park mosque. He says: “When the forbidden months are past, it is a timed period, then fight and kill the infidels wherever you find them. He [Allah] did not say only here or here or here. Wherever you find them, except where it is forbidden like the Sacred Mosque. Wherever you find them, the kuffar is killed. Wherever you find them, take them and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 57-58]
James Ujaama, a follower of militant London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, contacts Abu Hamza from the US and offers the use of a ranch in the remote town of Bly, Oregon, as a militant training camp. Ujaama found out about the ranch through a friend, Sami Osman, who lives there with a group of radical Muslims. Abu Hamza is having problems in Britain due to tight firearms laws and the collapse of a scheme he had to send his recruits to Yemen for weapons training (see (June 1998)). Ujaama faxes Abu Hamza, saying that the ranch could be used to establish a training camp and that he and his associates are stockpiling weapons and ammunition. In addition, the ranch looks “just like Afghanistan” and Oregon is a good place for the camp because it is a “pro-militia and firearms state.” Finally, the ranch is good because, if Abu Hamza comes there, the unbelievers will not be able to remove him “without a serious armed fight.” Two leading associates of Abu Hamza will soon arrive to check the ranch out (see November 1999-Early 2000). Calls between Abu Hamza and the US are noted by the authorities around this time, although it is unclear if this fax is intercepted (see November-December 1999). Osman is under surveillance by the FBI until he moves to the ranch, but the FBI will lose him due to his relocation and only find him again after he is mentioned in a report by an Oregon policeman in the middle of December. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 188-189]
Yassir al-Sirri speaking to the media in London in 2003. [Source: Hossam el-Hamalawy]The Egyptian government posts a list of its 14 most wanted terrorists; half of them are believed to be living in Britain. The list is published on an Egyptian government website and Al-Sharq al-Awsat, a popular Arabic international newspaper based in London. It includes many members of Islamic Jihad, the Egyptian militant group that has essentially merged with al-Qaeda by this time. Names on the list include:
Ayman al-Zawahiri. He is the top leader of Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda’s number two leader. He was sentenced to death in absentia in Egypt, and the US has a $5 million bounty on him by this time.
Thirwat Salah Shehata. He is another high-ranking Islamic Jihad leader. He was sentenced to death twice in Egypt.
Adel Abdel Bary. He was granted asylum in Britain despite being sentenced to death in Egypt, and ran the Islamic Jihad office in London. But he was arrested there in 1998 and is fighting deportation to the US on charges of involvement in the al-Qaeda African embassy bombings.
Adel Abdel-Quddus, an Islamic Jihad leader. He received a death sentence in connection with an assassination attempt in 1993. He was granted asylum in Austria.
Ayub Usama Saddiq Ali, another Islamic Jihad leader. He was sentenced to death on murder charges in Egypt. He moved to Germany and is granted asylum there in October 1999. 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah will call him twice, once in November 1999 and once in August 2001 (see November 7, 1999 and August 4, 2001).
Ahmed Refai Taha, head of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the Egyptian militant group formerly led by the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. In September 2000, al-Qaeda will publish a video of Osama bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and Taha threatening revenge if the Blind Sheikh is not released (see September 21, 2000). Taha was sentenced to death in Egypt.
Mustafa Hamza, leader of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and an al-Qaeda leader as well. He was sentenced to death three times in Egypt. He is believed to have led an assassination attempt of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 1995 (see June 26, 1995).
Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli, brother of the assassin of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and an Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya leader. He also was sentenced to death in Egypt, and is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan with bin Laden.
Ahmed Hussein Ugayzah, sentenced to life imprisonment in Egypt. He was an aide to al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan, but he had a falling out with him and joined the Vanguards of Conquest, an Islamic Jihad splinter group.
Yassir al-Sirri. He was sentenced to death in Egypt in 1994 for a role in an attempted assassination attempt in 1993. But he moved to Britain and was granted asylum. [Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 10/2/1999; Al-Ahram Weekly, 10/18/2001] Shortly after 9/11, the Guardian will report that seven of the men on the list live in London, but it is not mentioned which of the seven live there. [Guardian, 9/28/2001] There appear to have been no arrests of any of the above figures in Britain after the publication of the list.
Entity Tags: Ahmed Hussein Ugayzah, Ahmed Refai Taha, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Al-Qaeda, Ayub Usama Saddiq Ali, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Egypt, Adel Abdel-Quddus, Yassir al-Sirri, Islamic Jihad, Mustafa Hamza, Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli, Vanguards of Conquest, Thirwat Salah Shehata
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Reda Hassaine. [Source: CBC]Reda Hassaine, an informer for the British intelligence service MI5, learns that a group of Arab men who fought in the anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s have arrived in Britain from Yemen. He obtains their names and passport numbers, and also finds they have settled in the Birmingham area. Recognizing the importance of the men, he asks to be allowed to get close to them, but MI5 tells him to stay in London. Thinking that MI5 will pay no attention, Hassaine becomes angry and shouts, “Are any of you interested in catching these terrorists?” He goes to Birmingham on his own initiative and obtains information on the group, which is passed to the Sunday Times [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 147] It is unclear why the jihadis move to Birmingham and who, if anybody, they meet there. A senior radical named Anas al-Liby, who is connected to the embassy bombing plot (see Shortly After August 12, 1998), lives in Manchester, about two hours’ drive from Birmingham, around this time (see May 2000). Omar al-Bayoumi, an associate of 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, will move to Birmingham in the summer of 2001 (see June 23-July 2001 and September 21-28, 2001).
The ranch near Bly, Oregon. [Source: Seattle Times]Haroon Rashid Aswat and Oussama Kassir, assistants to leading London-based radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, arrive in the US to assess the suitability of a proposed terrorist training camp. Upon arrival, they meet up with James Ujaama, another associate of Abu Hamza who proposed the camp (see October 1999) and its owner Sami Osman. Aswat is considered a close aide to Abu Hamza, who himself is an informer for the British (see Early 1997), and will later be described as the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings.
Unsuitable Facility - However, Aswat and Kassir are unhappy with what they find, especially as Ujaama does not have a key to unlock the gate to the ranch when they arrive. In addition, the ranch lacks food, running water, toilet facilities, and barracks, and only has a simple trailer on it. They stay at the ranch for about two months and conduct weapons training for around 15 militants present. According to a witness, Kassir brags that he is a “hit man” for Abu Hamza and Osama bin Laden and has had jihad training in Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Lebanon. Jihadi videos are shown and a computer disc with details of how to improvise poisons is displayed. In addition, a scheme for poisoning a water supply is discussed, as are armed robberies, building an underground bunker to conceal weapons, and firebombing vehicles.
FBI Investigation - However, on December 13 Osman’s car is stopped due to a faulty brake light and the police officer notices that two men, who turn out to be Aswat and Kassir, are acting strangely in the car. For example, Aswat clutches a briefcase closely to his chest as the police officer questions him. The FBI previously had Osman under surveillance, but has lost him. A database check performed by the officer alerts the FBI and an agent is immediately dispatched to Bly. He shows a surveillance photo of Aswat and Kassir to the officer, who identifies them as the other two men in the car. More FBI agents arrive to investigate the ranch, but, before they can raid it, Aswat and Kassir leave for Seattle. There, Aswat allegedly boasts of being bin Laden’s “hit man,” just as Kassir has done.
Advised to Abandon Ranch - Aswat and Kassir eventually return to Britain and advise Abu Hamza against putting any further effort into the ranch. Kassir will be arrested in the Czech Republic and extradited in 2007 to stand trial. [Daily Mail, 7/24/2005; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/31/2005; Seattle Times, 8/9/2005; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 185-186, 194; Associated Press, 9/26/2007]
British authorities notice that leading London-based radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri is making a number of calls to the same number in the small town of Bly in Oregon, USA. Abu Hamza is an informer for British intelligence (see Early 1997), but they are monitoring him anyway. The Oregon number is for a mountain ranch where Abu Hamza intends to establish a terrorist training camp (see October 1999 and November 1999-Early 2000). The calls, made from Abu Hamza’s office in Finsbury Park mosque, lead the British to contact the local sheriff’s department to ask for information about the ranch. The department flies over it and sends a detective to take photographs, but nothing of significance is discovered. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 188-189]
British authorities return items they previously confiscated from leading cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri over his involvement in the murder of Western tourists in Yemen (see December 28-29, 1998).
Tapes - The material is returned after Britain decides not to prosecute Abu Hamza for his part in the murders, and includes video and audio tapes “packed with the usual messages of intolerance and hatred, and culminating in exhortations to kill the enemies of Islam.” The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) deemed the evidence gathered by the police “insufficient” for a prosecution, although it will later be found that three of the tapes show Abu Hamza committing the offense of “soliciting to murder.” Apparently, detectives only watched one of the tapes, as they were not the focus of their inquiries, and the police report to the CPS did not mention them. Abu Hamza will later say that he takes their return as proof nothing he says in his sermons is illegal.
Encyclopedia of Jihad - He is also given back his encyclopedia of Afghan jihad, which contains “hundreds of pages of instructions and diagrams on making bombs, organizing ambushes, laying landmines and selecting targets—among them Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.” The encyclopedia has been known to investigators in Europe for some time (see March 1995 and 1998-December 11, 1999). Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will note ironically that the authorities apparently believe that the encyclopedia is “a legitimate thing for an advocate of eternal Holy War to have in his library.” The encyclopedia will later be described at a “terrorist manual” in a court case against Abu Hamza, where it will be a key piece of evidence against him.
Passport - However, the police do retain his passport, preventing Abu Hamza, an informer for Britain’s security services (see Early 1997), from traveling abroad. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 146, 289-290]
A libel lawsuit filed in May 1999 by Michael Ashcroft, the treasurer of Britain’s Conservative Party, against the London Times is settled without any money changing hands. The Times printed a story on July 21, 1999 alleging that Ashcroft was under investigation by the US Drug Enforcement Administration for being involved in money laundering and other drug-related crimes. Times publisher Rupert Murdoch has the newspaper print a front-page statement withdrawing the allegations. Ashcroft is a billionaire businessman with extensive interests in Belize. By settling the suit, Murdoch and Ashcroft avoid a lengthy court fight that could strongly, and negatively, impact the Tories’ chances in the upcoming elections. Supporters of Times editor Peter Stothard say the paper did not make an apology, and insist that the Times’s investigation into Ashcroft’s affairs has been vindicated. [Guardian, 12/9/1999] The Times investigation began with a leak of unclassified information from former DEA agent Jonathan Randel, who will be sentenced to jail for the leak (see January 15, 2003).
With the passing of UN Resolution 1284, the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) is created to assist in the disarming of Iraq. The new body replaces the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM). UNMOVIC is deliberately designed to prevent infiltration by spies of the UN Security Council member states, specifically the US and Britain. This had been a problem with its predecessor, UNSCOM. The UN diminishes the role of Americans in the new commission by abolishing the powerful office of deputy chairman, which had always been held by an American, and by appointing non-Americans to important positions. In the new inspections body, “The highest-ranking American in the agency now has a relatively lowly job, in charge of the training division.” A Chinese official holds the senior “activity evaluation” position and a Russian official is in charge of “liaising with foreign governments and companies.” Another reform is that the inspectors will use commercial satellite companies, instead of US spy satellites, to monitor Iraq’s activities. [London Times, 9/18/2002]
During a question and answer session after a speaking engagement in Blackburn, London-based radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for the British authorities (see Early 1997), tells his followers that suicide bombings are okay. A young man in the audience asks if it is permissible to blow oneself up in the cause of the jihad. Abu Hamza replies: “It is not called suicide, it is called shahid operation. It is not called suicide, this is called Shahada, martyring, because if the only way to hurt the enemies of Islam except by taking your life for that then it is allowed.” He adds: “If he is a person who actually wants to go to paradise, if he’s sincere about the beautiful women of paradise which one day, insha’Allah, he will go to paradise and she will tell him ‘I used to watch you‘… This religion quenches this thirst with the blood of martyrs. This religion fires the people with the blood of its sons and if it wasn’t for those minority few, the weak in their armoury, strong in their blood and their faith, without them the world wouldn’t have shook.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 58]
British authorities repeatedly reject requests submitted by Italian judge Stefano D’Ambruoso, who wants to interview leading London-based radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri. The requests are made because D’Ambruoso is surprised by how many times Abu Hamza’s name crops up in connection with terror inquiries in Italy. However, the Metropolitan Police, for which Abu Hamza works as an informer (see Early 1997), declines the requests, saying that it cannot force Abu Hamza to talk to D’Ambruoso. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 107-108] The Metropolitan Police had previously hampered an interview of Abu Hamza by French authorities (see 1997). The exact timing of the requests is not known, but links between terror cells based in Milan and London are discovered in 2000-2001 (see Early 2000-2001, Between 2000 and April 2001, and June 29, 2001), so they presumably begin to be submitted at this time. Britain has a “covenant of security” with Abu Hamza and other leading radicals which allows them to encourage militant operations outside Britain (see August 22, 1998).
Sami Ben Khemais. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Telephone wiretaps and listening devices used against a Milan-based Tunisian operative named Sami Ben Khemais provide investigators with “a trove of fresh information” and help them uncover a European network of Islamist radicals. Ben Khemais fell under surveillance some time after arriving in Italy from Afghan training camps in 1998 and has dealings with other radicals in Germany, Spain, Britain, France, Belgium, and Switzerland. Shortly after 9/11, a German official will say the network of interlocking cells uncovered changes counterterrorist thinking in Europe: “In the past, we had seen some links to Afghanistan, but we saw them as more or less acting here without close connections to al-Qaeda. Now we are seeing more and more links between cells and to al-Qaeda. We are rethinking everything.” The European cells are organized under two umbrellas, Takfir wal Hijra and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), and its three leaders are Abu Doha, who will be arrested in London (see February 2001); Mohamed Bensakhria, based in Frankfurt, but arrested in Spain; and Tarek Maaroufi, who is arrested in Belgium. The Milan cell of which Ben Khemais is part and which he finances by drug-trafficking, counterfeiting money and documents, and money laundering, is connected to the “Hamburg cell” that provides three 9/11 hijackers in various ways (see December 1997-November 1998, October 2, 1998, and 2000). [Boston Globe, 10/23/2001]
In 2000 through early 2001, Italian intelligence monitoring an al-Qaeda cell in Milan, Italy (see Early 2000-2001 and 2000-April 2001), hears operative Sami Ben Khemais citing instructions from London imam Abu Qatada. His comments include the statement: “Abu Qatada can convert anyone because he knows all religions, sects and philosophies. Abu Qatada has ordered all Muslims to spend their money on the cause of Allah, no matter how much money they have, thousands, millions, it’s not important. He says that money for God’s cause should be given to the mujaheddin, and not to the mosques.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 3/16/2004] Abu Qatada had been working as an informant for British intelligence but it is unknown when the relationship ends (see June 1996-February 1997). Abu Qatada’s apartment is raided in February 2001, but it is unknown if that is before or after these comments are recorded (see February 2001). Ben Khemais is arrested in Italy in April 2001 (see 2000-April 2001).
Jamal Zougam. [Source: El Mundo]By 2000, a Moroccan living in Spain named Jamal Zougam begins to attract the attention of Spanish intelligence. Barakat Yarkas frequently travels to London to meet with al-Qaeda-linked imam Abu Qatada, and Zougam accompanies Yarkas on at least one of these trips (see 1995-February 2001). Spanish intelligence is monitoring Yarkas and his cell, and they are aware that Zougam is introduced to Qatada as “a gifted young recruit.” [Agence France-Presse, 3/17/2004; Irujo, 2005, pp. 77-79] In June 2001, a French investigator warns that Zougam is an important militant with international links and advise the Spanish to arrest him (see June 2001). Around the same time, Spanish investigators learn that Zougam met with Mohammed Fazazi, a Moroccan imam who preached at the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg, Germany, that is attended by some of the 9/11 hijackers (see 1993-Late 2001). On August 14, 2001, Zougam is recorded telling Yarkas that he had offered Fazazi money for the jihad cause. Fazazi is also linked to Abu Qatada and had met him in London. After the May 2003 Casablanca bombings (see May 16, 2003), interest in Zougam increases as the Moroccan, Spanish, and French governments all suspect he was involved in those bombings. But he is still not arrested, and his surveillance in Spain is not increased, apparently due to lack of resources. [New York Times, 3/17/2004; Observer, 3/21/2004] In the days before the March 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), Zougam makes about a dozen phone calls to contacts in London. He is said to talk to four al-Qaeda suspects, as well as a “radical London-based preacher” - a possible reference to Abu Qatada. Zougam will later be sentenced to life in prison for playing a direct role in the Madrid bombings. [Daily Mail, 11/1/2007] After the Madrid bombings, British authorities will say that there was a “definite link” to Britain in the bomb plot. Zougam is believed to have made trips to London in search of funding, planning, and logistical help, and supplying equipment and false identification papers for the bombers. [Independent, 3/19/2004] One figure believed central to the bomb plot, Moutaz Almallah, will be arrested in London in 2005 and extradited to Spain in 2007 (see May 16, 2005).
The NSA’s Echelon satellite surveillance system has eavesdropped on numerous public figures, human rights organizations, charities, and even the Vatican, former British intelligence officials admit (see February 27, 2000). The NSA, which shares information with Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, has eavesdropped on, among others, Princess Diana (see November 30, 1998), Mark Thatcher (the son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher), the Pope, Mother Teresa, Amnesty International, Christian Aid, and others. It is unclear exactly when the NSA performed its surveillance operations, and what information it collected. The officials choose to speak out after the European Parliament announces it will open an inquiry into Echelon’s operations (see July 11, 2001). Former NSA official Wayne Madsen says, “Anybody who is politically active will eventually end up on the NSA’s radar screen.” The NSA routinely monitors charities and human rights organizations operating overseas because they often have access to information about regimes opposed to Western interests. Madsen believes the NSA spied on Diana because of her human rights work; he says that “undisclosed material held in US government files on Princess Diana was collected because of her work with the international campaign to ban landmines.” Mark Thatcher was monitored in the 1980s because of his work on the huge al-Yamamah arms contract being negotiated between Britain and Saudi Arabia. The NSA also monitored conversations by officials of the Panavia consortium, which builds the Tornado fighter plane. British Aerospace is a major partner in the consortium. “I just think of Echelon as a great vacuum cleaner in the sky which sucks everything up,” says former Canadian intelligence officer Mike Frost. “We just get to look at the goodies.” Former US computer software manager Margaret Newsham, who worked during the 1980s at the Menwith Hill listening station in Yorkshire, says, “I was aware that massive security violations were taking place. If these systems were for combating drugs or terrorism, that would be fine. But not for use in spying on individuals.” Newsham recalls being shocked when she overheard conversations by then-US senator Strom Thurmond (see April, 1988). “It was evident American constitutional laws had been broken,” she says. [London Times, 2/27/2000]
Entity Tags: Strom Thurmond, Wayne Madsen, Panavia, Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, Christian Aid, British Aerospace, Amnesty International, Echelon, European Parliament, Margaret Newsham, Margaret Thatcher, National Security Agency, Mark Thatcher, Mike Frost
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Mike Frost. [Source: NineMSN]One of the few commercial media reports about Echelon, the NSA’s global surveillance network (see April 4, 2001), appears on CBS’s 60 Minutes. The report is disturbing in its portrayal of Echelon as a surveillance system capable of, in host Steve Kroft’s words, capturing “virtually every electronic conversation around the world.” Kroft continues, “[V]irtually every signal radiated across the electromagnetic spectrum is being collected and analyzed,” including land line and cell phone signals, ATM transactions, fax machines,public and private radio broadcasts, even baby monitors. Mike Frost, a former intelligence officer for the CSE, the Canadian equivalent of the National Security Agency which often works closely with the NSA, says, “The entire world, the whole planet” is being surveilled. “Echelon covers everything that’s radiated worldwide at any given instant.… Every square inch is covered.” Listening stations around the world transmit their data to the NSA’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, where, as Kroft says, “acres of supercomputers scan millions of transmissions word by word, looking for key phrases and, some say, specific voices that may be of major significance.” Frost adds, “Everything is looked at. The entire take is looked at. And the computer sorts out what it is told to sort out, be it, say, by key words such as ‘bomb’ or ‘terrorist’ or ‘blow up,’ to telephone numbers or—or a person’s name. And people are getting caught, and—and that’s great.” Echelon is so secret that even its successes are not publicly documented, though it is believed that, among other successes, it helped capture international terrorist “Carlos the Jackal,” and helped identify two Libyans accused of planting a bomb on PanAm Flight 103 [CBS News, 2/27/2000] which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people. [Washington Post, 12/22/1988] “I say, never over-exaggerate the capacity of a system such as Echelon,” Frost noted in a 1999 interview with the Australian press. “Never ever over-exaggerate the power that these organizations have to abuse a system such as Echelon. Don’t think it can’t happen in Australia. Don’t think it can’t happen in Canada, because it does.” [NineMSN, 5/23/1999]
Monitoring Legal Conversations - As successful as Echelon has been in capturing terrorists, international drug dealers, and various criminals, it has raised serious concerns for its capability of monitoring ordinary, innocent civilians. Frost says that such monitoring happens every day: “Not only possible, not only probable, but factual. While I was at CSE, a classic example: A lady had been to a school play the night before, and her son was in the school play and she thought he did a—a lousy job. Next morning, she was talking on the telephone to her friend, and she said to her friend something like this, ‘Oh, Danny really bombed last night,’ just like that. The computer spit that conversation out. The analyst that was looking at it was not too sure about what the conversation w—was referring to, so erring on the side of caution, he listed that lady and her phone number in the database as a possible terrorist.” Though the NSA has a long and checkered history of spying on American citizens, including extensive monitoring of antiwar and civil rights protesters during the 1970s, the agency refuses to provide any information about its activities—not to the public and not even to Congress. Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) has for years pressed for more information about the program, which he recently said “engages in the interception of literally millions of communications involving United States citizens.” Even the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss (R-FL) had trouble getting information when he requested it last year. At the time, Goss said, “[T]here was some information about procedures in how the NSA people would employ some safeguards, and I wanted to see all the correspondence on that to make sure that those safeguards were being completely honored. At that point, one of the counsels of the NSA said, ‘Well, we don’t think we need to share this information with the Oversight Committee.’ And we said, ‘Well, we’re sorry about that. We do have the oversight, and you will share the information with us,’ and they did.” Goss had to threaten to cut the NSA’s budget before the agency would share even limited information with him. When asked how he can be sure the NSA isn’t listening in on ordinary citizens’ communications, Goss merely says, “We do have methods for that, and I am relatively sure that those procedures are working very well.”
Princess Diana, Human Rights Organizations Monitored - Evidence presented in the broadcast also suggests the NSA was monitoring Princess Diana (see November 30, 1998), as well as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and other groups (see February 27, 2000). [CBS News, 2/27/2000]
British Ministers Monitored - Frost cites an instance where then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher monitored two of her own ministers (see 1983).
Americans Monitored - Former NSA contractor Margaret Newsham recalls hearing a monitored conversation featuring then-Senator Strom Thurmond (see April, 1988). Frost is not surprised. “Oh, of course it goes on,” he says. “Been going on for years. Of course it goes on.” Kroft asks, “You mean the National Security Agency spying on politicians in… in the United States?” Frost replies, “Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? Sounds like the world of fiction. It’s not; not the world of fiction. That’s the way it works. I’ve been there. I was trained by you guys” (see 1980s). Goss seems less concerned. He says that it is “[c]ertainly possible that something like that could happen. The question is: What happened next?… It is certainly possible that somebody overheard me in a conversation. I have just been in Europe. I have been talking to people on a telephone and elsewhere. So it’s very possible somebody could have heard me. But the question is: What do they do about it? I mean, I cannot stop the dust in the ether; it’s there. But what I can make sure is that it’s not abused—the capability’s not abused, and that’s what we do.”
Used for Corporate Advantage - In 2001, the European Parliament released a report listing many of Echelon’s surveillance stations around the world and detailing their capabilities (see July 11, 2001). Kroft notes, “The report says Echelon is not just being used to track spies and terrorists. It claims the United States is using it for corporate and industrial espionage as well, gathering sensitive information on European corporations, then turning it over to American competitors so they can gain an economic advantage.”
Encryption Effective? - European governments and corporations are encrypting more and more of their phone, fax, and e-mail transmissions to keep Echelon from listening in. In response, the US government is pressuring the Europeans to give US law enforcement and intelligence agencies software keys so that they can unlock the code in matters of national security. Parliament member Glyn Ford is not opposed to the idea in principle: “[I]f we are not assured that that is n—not going to be abused, then I’m afraid we may well take the view, ‘Sorry, no.’ In [Britain], it’s traditional for people to leave a key under the doormat if they want the neighbors to come in and—and do something in their house. Well, we’re neighbors, and we’re not going to leave the electronic key under the doormat if you’re going to come in and steal the family silver.” The NSA, CSE, and even Echelon are necessary evils, Ford acknowledges, but, “My concern is no accountability and nothing—no safety net in place for the innocent people that fall through the cracks. That’s my concern.” [CBS News, 2/27/2000]
Entity Tags: Greenpeace, Wayne Madsen, Glyn Ford, Echelon, Communications Security Establishment, Central Intelligence Agency, Amnesty International, Strom Thurmond, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Steve Kroft, Princess Diana, Mike Frost, Margaret Thatcher, Margaret Newsham, National Security Agency, Robert “Bob” Barr, House Intelligence Committee, Porter J. Goss, Ilich RamÃrez Sanchez
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Shortly before British customs agent Atif Amin is to leave for Dubai to pursue an investigation into the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring (see After May 10, 1999), he is warned off a particular company by the British intelligence agency MI6. According to authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento, the message comes through “liaison channels” and informs Amin that he should “steer clear” of a company called Desert Electrical Equipment Factory, even if the company comes up in his investigation. British customs are not investigating the company in connection with Khan’s operations, although its owner is reportedly a partner of Khan associate Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir in another company called SMB Computers. Libyan officials will later tell investigators that at this time Desert Electrical’s facilities are being used to manufacture centrifuge components and train Libyan scientists. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 181-182] The MI6 station chief in Dubai will warn Amin off another company involved in the smuggling ring (see March 2000).
After arriving in Dubai to investigate the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring, British customs agent Atif Amin meets the chief of the British intelligence agency MI6’s station in the United Arab Emirates. Amin briefs the station chief on the investigation he plans to conduct, and gives him a list of companies he intends to visit. The station chief asks to be kept up-to-date, but the only concern he expresses is that Amin should, in the words of authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento, “not get too close to one of the institutions on the list, Habib Bank.” The bank was used by one of Khan’s suppliers, Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, to send payments to another, Abu Bakr Siddiqui. It is unclear why the station chief makes this request. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 182] MI6 had previously asked Amin to stay away from another of the companies involved in the smuggling ring (see March 2000).
A group of London radicals purchases communications equipment worth $335,000 for the Chechen rebels. One of the purchasers is Abu Doha, one of the most senior al-Qaeda members ever to have lived in Britain (see February 2001) and a worshipper at the Finsbury Park mosque of Abu Hamza al-Masri. The equipment includes 19 satellite telephones and 36 SIM cards with airtime. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 67-8]
British customs agent Atif Amin, who is investigating the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring in Dubai, periodically briefs the local station of the British intelligence agency MI6 on how his investigation is proceeding. He tells MI6 that he has discovered new front companies and apartments used by Khan during his trips to Dubai. According to authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento: “But MI6 offered Amin no useful information or assistance. The general sense, according to a source familiar with the briefings, was one of displeasure that the inquiry was taking place at all.” However, the station chief does tell Amin that the Khan network is aware of the investigation, but does not think it will turn up much. Presumably, MI6 obtains this information from communications intercepts. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 184]
Police in Leicester, England, investigate a terrorist fundraising ring based in that city and eventually wrap it up eleven days after 9/11. The men are connected to groups of Islamists in France (see March 15, 2005) and Spain (see September 26, 2001), as well as Finsbury Park mosque in London and leading radical Djamel Beghal, who has attended the mosque and whose arrest in the summer of 2001 (see July 24 or 28, 2001) apparently spurs the arrests in Britain.
The Cell - The two cell leaders live frugal lives in Leicester, claiming social security benefits under their real names, but work under false French documents. When police search a car belonging to one of the men, they find skimming machines used to steal details from credit cards, as well as boxes of unembossed cards from Visa and Mastercard. The cards are used to purchase goods in southern Spain, and the group is estimated to raise at least £800,000 (about US$1,200,000). The group is also involved in arranging forged visas for those traveling to training camps in Afghanistan. Eighteen arrests are made in total, and the two ringleaders are sentenced to eleven years each.
Extremists Raise Millions in Britain - Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later write that this was part of a larger pattern (see 1995-April 21, 2000): “British counterterrorist agencies now accept that in the years preceding the post-9/11 crackdown on militant Islamist networks in [Britain], millions of pounds were raised to finance violent groups operating in Afghanistan, Algeria, Chechnya, Kashmir, Yemen, and other jihad battlefields. Most of that money was raised through organized crime, ranging from sophisticated international credit card counterfeiting to benefit fraud and shoplifting gangs.” They add that “[r]acketeering was vital to the jihad” as Osama bin Laden lost most of his money in the early-to-mid 1990s: “The mujaheddin groups and terrorist cells around the world that allied themselves to the al-Qaeda ideology were largely autonomous and self-financing. Britain was a key source of that finance.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 68-69]
Investigators Atif Amin of British customs and Alwari Essam of the Dubai police learn that the A. Q. Khan nuclear procurement ring has shipped ring magnets, key components for building centrifuges, from Pakistan to Libya, via Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The discovery is made when they visit a company called Deepsea Freight Services, a shipping agency that had been used by Abu Bakr Siddiqui, the subject of a British customs investigation, to ship goods from Britain to two Khan front companies in Pakistan, United Engineering and Trading Co. and Allied Engineering. The manager at Deepsea, K. Hafeez Uddin, shows the two investigators files about the traffic and they find documents about shipments of goods from Siddiqui in Britain to Dubai-based businessman Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, and then from Tahir to the Khan fronts in Pakistan. However, Amin then notices documents about shipments of the ring magnets from one of the front companies in Pakistan to Tahir in Dubai, and then on to Libya. The consignee for some of the ring magnet shipments is a company called Desert Electrical, a company the British intelligence service MI6 had warned Amin to avoid looking into (see March 2000). Amin asks to take the files, but Hafeez refuses permission, and also does not allow copies to be made, meaning the two investigators leave with no documentation. Hafeez will later make a series of contradictory statements about his business dealings with the Khan network, but a source on the British customs investigation will say, “The fact is that Deepsea received multiple shipments from Siddiqui and forwarded them on to Pakistan,” adding, “It also received multiple shipments from [Khan Research Laboratories]-related companies destined for Tahir’s front companies in Dubai.” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 186-7]
Immediately after an investigation by Atif Amin of British customs and Alwari Essam of the police in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, finds that Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan is shipping centrifuge components to Libya (see Late March 2000), Essam’s superiors impose heavy restrictions on the inquiry. There is a “widespread commotion” at police headquarters when they arrive back from conducting a key interview and they are confronted by a group of police officers. The two men are split up and Essam receives a 40-minute talk from his police bosses and Dubai’s internal security service telling him that what he and Amin have been doing has to stop. He is accused of helping Amin “reveal A. Q. Khan in Dubai,” and asked why Amin wants to know where Khan stays in Dubai. The security service even suggests that Amin is really an MI6 agent plotting to assassinate the Pakistani. New limitations are imposed on their inquiry:
They cannot conduct interviews in the field, but witnesses and suspects have to be invited to police headquarters, and may decline to come. Amin will be allowed to submit questions, but will not be allowed to perform the interviews himself. However, if the interviews are to be used in a British court case, Amin has to perform them himself under British rules of law;
If Atif wants materials or records, he cannot go and get them himself, but must ask the Dubai police to do so;
In addition, Amin must give the Dubai police all the documents he has collected during the investigation, including those from the British section of the inquiry.
Amin is understandably angry at the restrictions, which will make it impossible to conduct a meaningful inquiry, but, as there is little he can do at this time, he decides to continue and try to get the restrictions lifted. He asks the Dubai police to get him a file containing documents about shipments from Khan front companies in Pakistan to Libya, but, when the file arrives, the Libyan documents have been removed and the file is noticeably thinner. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 187-9]
British customs agent Atif Amin briefs the chief of station for the British intelligence service MI6 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, about the state of his investigation into the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring, but the station chief fails to disclose important information to Amin. Amin has found that Khan is not only procuring material for Pakistan’s nuclear program, but is also shipping centrifuge components to Libya (see Late March 2000). MI6 is already aware that Khan is moving material to Libya and has actually been monitoring these shipments in Dubai (see Second Half of 1999), but the station chief fails to mention this to Amin. In fact, MI6 had previously warned Amin to stay away from one of the companies involved in the shipments to Libya (see March 2000). Instead, the station chief insists that Amin narrate a detailed report of his investigation, which is then immediately sent to London. When writing down what Amin tells him, the station chief embellishes some of the facts, and Amin has to go through the report and have the embellishments taken out. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 189-190]
The British intelligence service MI6 tells Atif Amin, a British customs agent investigating the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, that the ring may attempt to kill him. However, Amin will later suspect that MI6 exaggerates these threats in an attempt to hamper his investigation. MI6 passes the news to Amin by having him woken at two o’clock in the morning at his Dubai hotel, and telling him to come down to the lobby, where he is met by the MI6 station chief and another customs agent.
Threats - At a table, the station chief leans over and whispers to Amin, “You’re at risk here,” and, when Amin seems not to understand the urgency of the threat, adds, “You’re in danger.” He also tells Amin, “You can’t stay here,” and: “You can’t keep doing what you’re doing. You have to get out.” The station chief then says he has received a telex from London that said Khan and his associates were discussing Amin and were angry about him. Apparently, physical reprisals had been mentioned, and, implying MI6 is monitoring Khan’s phone, the station chief says that the Pakistani scientist has called Amin—a Muslim—a “traitor” to the “cause.” The station chief adds, “These people are dangerous,” because: “They have assets in the local mafia they use for smuggling. They won’t hesitate to kill people.” He even suggests Amin might not be safe in his hotel and that he should move in with the other customs agent, Malcolm Nesbit. However, Amin does not regard the threats as serious and remains in his hotel.
Exaggerated - Later that day, Amin speaks to Nesbit on the phone and expresses the idea that the station chief may have been playing up the threat from Khan’s network. Nesbit agrees and suggests it is because Amin has stumbled across information showing that Khan is shipping nuclear technology to Libya (see Late March 2000). MI6 had been monitoring these shipments (see Second Half of 1999), had warned Amin off one of the companies involved (see March 2000), and had failed to disclose information about the Libyan shipments to him (see Late March 2000). Authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento will comment, “It seemed both Khan and MI6 shared an interest in shutting down Amin’s inquiry.” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 190-191]
Euan Stewart, a senior official at British customs, talks to a high-level representative for the British intelligence service MI6 about a British customs investigation into the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling network in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. According to lead investigator Atif Amin, who Stewart later tells about the discussion, the MI6 official compliments customs on its work, “Your man’s turned over far more stones over there than we’ve managed in the last few years and he’s found lots of insects crawling around underneath.” This is apparently a reference to Amin’s discovery that the network is shipping centrifuge components from Pakistan to Libya via Dubai (see Late March 2000). MI6 has been monitoring Khan’s operations in Dubai and knows a lot about them, but did not know of these components. However, the MI6 official then says, “If I was you, I’d get my man out of there.” This is seemingly a reference to threats coming from the Khan network against Amin (see Late March 2000) and also MI6’s displeasure at the investigation (see March 2000 and Late March 2000). Authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento will explain: “But while Amin had turned up valuable intelligence, he had also created what MI6 and the policy makers who control it perceived to be a quandary: Should they act on the intelligence, disrupt Khan’s network, and expose Libya’s nuclear program, or should they continue their monitoring operation? They chose the later option. In fact, it would be another three years before MI6 and its American counterpart finally deemed the time right to take action—a move that would be accompanied by great fanfare and self-congratulation. In the meantime, Khan’s network had been allowed to continue peddling its dangerous goods.” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 192-193]
British customs recalls one of its agents, Atif Amin, from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where he was investigating the A. Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network. Amin learns of his recall in a phone call from his acting boss, who tells him to “[g]et your ass on the next flight to London.” Amin protests, saying that threats that have apparently been made against him by the network are not as bad as is being made out (see Late March 2000), and that he could stay at the British embassy, rather than a hotel. However, his boss says that the orders have come from above and there can be no discussion. Amin had been about to interview a key Khan associate, Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, but is forced to return home before doing so. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 191-192]
The Inland Revenue loses a test case against Arsenal and two of its players, Dennis Bergkamp and David Platt, over the use of image rights provisions in playing contracts to avoid tax. Bergkamp (see June 20, 1995) and Platt (see July 10, 1995) receive a portion of the money Arsenal pays them not as salary, but as compensation for the use of their image rights. The Inland Revenue claims to the Tax Special Commissioners hearing the case that this is a “smokescreen” for paying them money offshore to avoid tax, and that Arsenal, Platt, and Bergkamp should be subjected to income tax and national insurance contributions via Arsenal’s payroll. However, the commissioners decide that the payments are legitimately made in return for allowing Arsenal to exploit the players’ images, a purpose different to playing football. [SportsPro, 2/25/2011] The making of payments to footballers for image rights will grow in future years, although the British tax authorities will win a settlement for the scheme’s over-use in 2011 (see (March 2011)).
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