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Sheikh Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad serves as Osama bin Laden’s “spiritual adviser” during the war between the Soviet Union and the US-backed mujaheddin in Afghanistan, according to a statement made by Sheikh al-Moayad at his trial in 2004-2005. [CNN News, 8/2/2005] Al-Moayad’s trial in the United States will cause resentment in Yemen because he is a highly-esteemed cleric and member of the influential Islah party. [Associated Press, 3/10/2005] Another of bin Laden’s “mentors” at this time is Abdul Mejid al-Zindani, a dynamic mujaheddin recruiter who becomes a leader of the Islah party. Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh’s half-brother and military commander Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar also recruits mujaheddin fighters for Bin Laden. These fighters will later establish training camps in Yemen. [World Press, 5/28/2005]
CIA contractor Billy Waugh trains various al-Qaeda operatives around the globe, possibly for more than a decade. In his 2004 autobiography he will write, “I worked right there with these al-Qaeda operatives and heard these arguments [about the badness of US policy] firsthand many times, especially during an assignment in Yemen.” This training must take place between 1989, when he is hired by the CIA, and 2001, when he begins his last assignment for the agency in Afghanistan. The reference to Yemen may indicate that Waugh worked there during the 1994 civil war, when the US supported the religiously-oriented North Yemen against the breakaway south (see May 21-July 7, 1994). The descriptions of the extremists’ arguments and attitudes contained in his autobiography indicate that Waugh, who conducted surveillance against Osama bin laden in Sudan in the early 1990s (see February 1991- July 1992), has intimate knowledge of the extremists. For example, he will write, “I have spoken to some of those terrorists [from al-Qaeda and related organizations], and they consider terror attacks against the general public their only outlet to hurt and destroy the infidels who have wrongfully ousted them from their homes so many years in the past.” [Waugh and Keown, 2004, pp. 173, 303, 308]
The United Nations Security Council passes Resolution 687. The resolution “[w]elcom[es] the restoration to Kuwait of its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and the return of its legitimate government.” The bulk of the resolution addresses Iraq, requiring that nation to destroy all of its chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons, as well as all of its ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometers. The resolution says that Iraq’s compliance will represent “steps towards the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery and the objective of a global ban on chemical weapons.” Other portions of the resolution require Iraq to pay war reparations to Kuwait, to honor its international debts, and reaffirm the Iraq sanctions already passed by the UN. The resolution also paves the way for the controversial Oil-for-Food program by taking charge of Iraq’s petroleum exports. On the UN Security Council, twelve nations vote for the resolution; one, Cuba, votes against it, and two, Ecuador and Yemen, abstain. [United Nations, 4/3/1991; UNDemocracy (.com), 4/3/1991]
Yemeni Sheikh Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad helps funnel Islamist warriors to Bosnia for al-Qaeda from 1992 through 1995, prosecutors will allege during his 2004-2005 trial. [Associated Press, 3/10/2005] At the trial, a “protected” Croatian witness will testify that al-Moayad is involved in laundering $800-$900 million from a Saudi charitable organization through the Croatian Zagrebacka Bank. The stated purpose of these funds is to aid Muslim refugees from the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, but 90 percent of this money actually goes to al-Qaeda guerrillas fighting on the Bosnian Muslim side. [Agence France-Presse, 9/21/2005]
The Movenpick hotel in Aden, Yemen. [Source: Al Bab]Bombs explode at two hotels, the Movenpick and the Gold Mohur, in Aden, Yemen, killing a tourist and a hotel worker. US soldiers involved in an operation in Somalia are sometimes billeted nearby, but none are killed or injured in the blasts. [Bergen, 2001, pp. 176; Scheuer, 2006, pp. 147] US intelligence will conclude in April 1993 that “[Osama bin Laden] almost certainly played a role” in this attack. However, there will be little chance of a successful prosecution due to lack of evidence. [Bergen, 2001, pp. 176; US Congress, 7/24/2003] Other operatives involved in the bombing are reputedly “point man” Tariq Nasr al-Fadhli, a leading Afghan veteran and tribal leader who will later live on a Yemeni government stipend, and Jamal al-Nahdi, who reportedly loses a hand in the Movenpick blast. [New York Times, 11/26/2000] The Yemen government will send an armored brigade to arrest al-Fadhli and he will eventually surrender, but soon be set free. Author Peter Bergen will comment, “[T]he Yemeni government seems to have developed amnesia: al-Fadhli became a member of the president’s personally selected consultative council and his sister is married to General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, a member of President Saleh’s family; al-Nahdi is a businessman in Sana’a and a member of the permanent committee of Yemen’s ruling party.” [Bergen, 2001, pp. 176] The US will announce that it is withdrawing from Yemen shortly after the bombings (see Shortly After December 29, 1992).
Following attacks on two hotels near where US troops stayed (see December 29, 1992), the US announces it will no longer use Yemen as a base to support operations in Somalia. [Bergen, 2001, pp. 176] Although no US troops are killed, the attacks are regarded as a success by militant Islamists. In 1998, Osama bin Laden will say, “The United States wanted to set up a military base for US soldiers in Yemen, so that it could send fresh troops to Somalia… The Arab mujaheddin related to the Afghan jihad carried out two bomb explosions in Yemen to warn the United States, causing damage to some Americans staying in those hotels. The United States received our warning and gave up the idea of setting up its military bases in Yemen. This was the first al-Qaeda victory scored against the Crusaders.” [Scheuer, 2006, pp. 147]
In 2007, former CIA Director George Tenet will write, “As early as 1993, [the CIA] had declared bin Laden to be a significant financier backer of Islamic terrorist movements. We knew he was funding paramilitary training of Arab religious militants in such far-flung places as Bosnia, Egypt, Kashmir, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, and Yemen” (see July-August 1993). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 100]
The southern part of Yemen attempts to cede from the rest of the country, but loses the ensuing war and north Yemeni forces take the south’s capital, Aden, reuniting the country. Yemen first united in 1990, but tensions between the two former independent halves of the country resulted in the civil war. As the south is regarded as communist, the north is backed by both the US and Osama bin Laden. [Guardian, 5/6/1994; CounterPunch, 5/20/2002; Wall Street Journal, 12/20/2002; Terrorism Monitor, 4/8/2004] The New York Times will say that the north Yemeni president uses “large numbers of Arab Afghans formed into Islamic terrorist units as his shock troops.” [New York Times, 11/26/2000] CIA officer Michael Scheuer will comment, “In 1993 and 1994, bin Laden sent al-Qaeda fighters from Pakistan to Afghanistan—via Sudan—to fight the Yemeni Communists in the civil war that yielded a reunified Yemen.” [Scheuer, 2006, pp. 151] According to Western intelligence, before the war Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a brother of north Yemen’s President Ali Abdallah Saleh, received US$ 20 million from bin Laden to help settle Arab Afghan fighters in the country. When war breaks out, as military commander he deploys these fighters in the war’s final battle for the south’s capital of Aden. Despite its socialist tendencies, the south is backed by Saudi Arabia, as it thinks a divided Yemen is less of a threat to it. [CounterPunch, 5/20/2002; Wall Street Journal, 12/20/2002; Terrorism Monitor, 4/8/2004] Veteran Middle Eastern journalist Brian Whittaker will comment, “The Saudis invested hugely in the war on behalf of the South, and the outcome is a defeat for them as much as anyone.” [Middle East International, 7/22/1994] After the war, the government will allow the radical fighters to settle in Yemen and use it as a base (see After July 1994).
Following the Yemen Civil War, which Islamic militants help the north to win, the militants are allowed to settle in Yemen. Before the war, Osama bin Laden had provided several million dollars to Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a Yemeni general and a brother of Yemen’s President Ali Abdallah Saleh, to help settle Arab Afghan fighters in the country (see May 21-July 7, 1994). Yemeni Prime Minister Abd al-Karim al-Iryani will later say: “Yes, these jihadis have helped us during the secessionist war, and yes, we decided that they must be absorbed into the government system afterwards and not let loose to cause trouble.” This policy is devised by President Saleh, who becomes known for his “big tent” strategy of reaching out to Islamic militants. [New York Times, 11/26/2000] In 2000, Jane’s Intelligence Review will comment that “harboring terrorists has become something of a cottage industry in Yemen” and estimate the number of militants who fought in the Soviet-Afghan War present in the country may be as high as 2,000. Bin Laden, whose family is originally from Yemen, is also said to visit the county a number of times. The money he provides is used to set up small businesses, including safe houses and document forgery shops. Yemen becomes a base for al-Qaeda operations in Africa and counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will later write, “Only some 35 percent of Yemen is under the permanent influence and control of the government, so its state of lawlessness would have made it an ideal base for al-Qaeda.” [Jane's Intelligence Review, 7/1/1999; Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 186-7]
Al-Qaeda deputy head Ayman al-Zawahiri spends time in Yemen and holds meetings there. Yemen is favorably inclined towards militants, due to the help they provided to the winning side in the 1994 civil war (see May 21-July 7, 1994 and After July 1994). Al-Zawahiri holds Islamic Jihad meetings at the Youth House, a government-run hall in the capital of Sana’a, according to confessions presented at a 1999 Cairo trial (see 1999). A defector will later reveal where al-Zawahiri is staying in Yemen to the local authorities, but the authorities, who sympathize with radical Islam, tip off al-Zawahiri and he escapes to Afghanistan (see Spring-Summer 1998). [Wall Street Journal, 12/20/2002] Al-Zawahiri is also reported to be in Yemen in the summer of 2001 (see Late July-August 2001).
After the Yemen civil war in 1994, in which militants helped North Yemen defeat its southern counterpart, there is an effort to absorb extremists into the mainstream (see After July 1994). However, some foreign intelligence services complain that this allows radicals to operate freely in Yemen. Nabil ad-Din, a former officer in Egypt’s state security will later say that “there were always problems” with Yemeni security officials because “they shared the same values of the people they were supposed to be arresting.” US officials will say that although some senior officers in the local Political Security Organization (PSO) take antiterrorism seriously, the organization as a whole tends to see Islamists as useful allies against domestic opponents. In addition, an Italian intelligence report will later state that the PSO even provides “logistical and intelligence assistance” to Islamic Jihad, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who frequently visits Yemen (see Mid-1990s-Spring 1998). [Wall Street Journal, 12/20/2002]
Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, helps fund a militant group in Yemen that will later take credit for the 2000 USS Cole bombing. The group, the Islamic Army of Aden, is apparently formed in 1996 or 1997, but is not heard from until May 1998, when it issues the first of a series of political statements. The group will kidnap 16 mainly British tourists in December 1998 and four of the tourists will be killed during a shootout with police. The remaining hostages are rescued. [Yemen Gateway, 1/1999] Evidence ties Khalifa to the 1995 Bojinka plot and other violent acts, though he has denied all allegations that he is linked to terrorist groups. Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, later claims that not only did Khalifa fund the Islamic Army of Aden, but that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar had ties to the group as well. (A San Diego friend of Almihdhar’s will later say that Almihdhar told him he was a member of the group (see Around October 12, 2000).) [Wall Street Journal, 9/19/2001] Cannistraro further notes that Khalifa went on to form the group after being deported from the US in 1995. “He should never have been allowed to leave US custody.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/24/2001] The group praises bin Laden and uses a training camp reportedly established by him in southern Yemen. But the group is more clearly tied to Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri, a handless, one-eyed Afghan war veteran living and preaching openly in London. [Washington Post, 9/23/2001]
Many high-ranking Yemeni government officials help al-Qaeda and other militants, beginning in 1996, according to Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, a Yemeni official who will be captured after 9/11 and sent to the US prison in Guanatanamo, Cuba. Abdulrahman is a section chief in Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO), the Yemeni equivalent of the FBI, until his arrest in 2002 (see September 2002). His 2008 Guantanamo file will state: “Detainee stated that since 1996, numerous high-ranking employees in the Yemeni government and PSO were involved in aiding al-Qaeda and other extremists through the provision of false passports and by giving them safe haven out of the country under the guise of deportation. These PSO officials included detainee; Mohammed al-Surmi, deputy chief of the PSO; Ghalib al-Qamish, director of the PSO; Colonel Ahmad Dirham, commander of the Deportation Department in the PSO; and Abdallah al-Zirka, an officer in the Yemeni Passport Authority. According to detainee, the second highest ranking person in the Yemeni government, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, was aware of the involvement of al-Surmi and al-Qamish in these activities since at least 1999.” An analyst notes in the file that Mohsen is the (half) brother of Yemeni President Saleh. [US Department of Defense, 9/24/2008] Note that this is based on Guantanamo files leaked to the public in 2011 by the non-profit whistleblower group WikiLeaks. There are many doubts about the reliability of the information in the files (see April 24, 2011). However, it should also be noted that other information corroborates the charges, including the involvement of some names mentioned by Abdulrahman (for instance, see Spring-Summer 1998, After July 1994, December 26, 1998, and April 27, 2005).
A close-up of Al-Qaeda’s communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen. [Source: PBS / Nova]Al-Qaeda begins using an important communications hub and operations center in Yemen. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 2-3, 16, 188] The hub is set up because al-Qaeda is headquartered in Afghanistan, but requires another location that has access to regular telephone services and major air links. It is located in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, in the neighbourhood of Madbah. Ahmed al-Hada, an associate of Osama bin Laden’s who fought in Afghanistan, runs the hub and lives there with his family. [Bamford, 2008, pp. 7-8] Terrorism analyst Rohan Gunaratna will say that the hub is used as a switchboard to “divert and receive calls and messages from the [Middle East] region and beyond.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 2-3, 16, 188] FBI agent Mark Rossini will say, “That house was a focal point for operatives in the field to call in, that number would then contact bin Laden to pass along information and receive instruction back.” [PBS, 2/3/2009] Author James Bamford will add: “[T]he house in Yemen became the epicenter of bin Laden’s war against America, a logistics base to coordinate attacks, a switchboard to pass on orders, and a safe house where his field commanders could meet to discuss and carry out operations.” Bin Laden himself places many calls to the house, and it is used to coordinate the attacks on US embassies in East Africa in 1998 and the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. Future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar also lives at the house at some point in the late 1990s with his wife Hoda, al-Hada’s daughter. [Bamford, 2008, pp. 8]
The NSA discovers a communications hub al-Qaeda uses to coordinate its global operations. The hub was set up in May 1996 by Ahmed al-Hada, a close associate of Osama bin Laden (see May 1996), and is discovered at some time in the next six months. [Bamford, 2008, pp. 16] According to a PBS documentary, the NSA discovers the hub by monitoring bin Laden’s calls from his satellite phone in Afghanistan (see November 1996-Late August 1998): “Once he starts dialing from Afghanistan, NSA’s listening posts quickly tap into his conversations.… By tracking all calls in and out of Afghanistan, the NSA quickly determines bin Laden’s number: 873-682505331.” According to CIA manager Michael Scheuer, bin Laden’s satellite phone is a “godsend,” because “[i]t gave us an idea, not only of where he was in Afghanistan, but where al-Qaeda, as an organization, was established, because there were calls to various places in the world.” As bin Laden’s phone calls are not encrypted, there is no code for the NSA to break. Instead, NSA voice interceptors and linguists translate, transcribe, and write summaries of the calls. In addition, human analysts plot out which numbers are being called from bin Laden’s phone and how frequently. [PBS, 2/3/2009]
An Inmarsat Compact M satellite phone, the type used by bin Laden. [Source: Inmarsat]During this period, Osama bin Laden uses a satellite phone to direct al-Qaeda’s operations. The phone—a Compact M satellite phone, about the size of a laptop computer—was purchased by a student in Virginia named Ziyad Khaleel for $7,500 using the credit card of a British man named Saad al-Fagih. After purchasing the phone, Khaleel sent it to Khalid al-Fawwaz, al-Qaeda’s unofficial press secretary in London (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998). Al-Fawwaz then shipped it to bin Laden in Afghanistan. [CNN, 4/16/2001] It appears US intelligence actually tracks the purchase as it occurs (see November 1996-Late December 1999), probably because an older model satellite phone bin Laden has is already being monitored (see Early 1990s). Bin Laden’s phone (873682505331) is believed to be used by other top al-Qaeda leaders as well, including Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammad Atef. Al-Fawwaz also buys satellite phones for other top al-Qaeda leaders around the same time. Though the calls made on these phones are encrypted, the NSA is able to intercept and decrypt them. As one US official will put it in early 2001, “codes were broken.” [United Press International, 2/13/2001; Newsweek, 2/18/2002] The Los Angeles Times will report that the monitoring of these phones “produced tens of thousands of pages of transcripts over two years.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] Bin Laden’s satellite phone replaces an older model he used in Sudan that apparently was also monitored by the NSA (see Early 1990s). Billing records for his new phone are eventually released to the media in early 2002. Newsweek will note, “A country-by-country analysis of the bills provided US authorities with a virtual road map to important al-Qaeda cells around the world.” [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002] The countries called are:
Britain (238 or 260). Twenty-seven different phone numbers are called in Britain. Accounts differ on the exact number of calls. Khalid al-Fawwaz, who helps publish statements by bin Laden, receives 143 of the calls, including the very first one bin Laden makes with this phone. Apparently most of the remaining calls are made to pay phones near him or to his associates. He also frequently calls Ibrahim Eidarous, who works with al-Fawwaz and lives near him. [CNN, 4/16/2001; Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 111]
Yemen (221). Dozens of calls go to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, which is run by the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see Late August 1998). [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Bamford, 2008, pp. 8]
Sudan (131). Bin Laden lived in Sudan until 1996 (see May 18, 1996), and some important al-Qaeda operatives remained there after he left (see February 5, 1998). [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
Iran (106). Newsweek will later report: “US officials had little explanation for the calls to Iran. A Bush administration official said that US intelligence has believed for years that hard-line anti-American factions inside Iran helped bin Laden’s organization operate an ‘underground railroad’ smuggling Islamic militants to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.” [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
Azerbaijan (67). An important al-Qaeda operative appears to be based in Baku, Azerbaijan. [Washington Post, 5/2/2001] This is most likely Ahmad Salama Mabruk, who is very close to al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri and is said to be the head of the al-Qaeda cell there. He kidnapped by the CIA in Baku in late August 1998 (see Late August 1998).
Kenya (at least 56). In the embassy bombings trial, prosecutors introduce evidence showing 16 calls are made on this phone to some of the embassy bombers in Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), apparently all before a raid in August 1997 (see August 21, 1997). The defense introduces evidence showing at least 40 more calls are made after that time (see Late 1996-August 1998). [CNN, 4/16/2001]
Saudi Arabia (57).
A ship in the Indian Ocean (13).
The US (6).
Senegal (2). [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
Egypt (unknown). Newsweek reports that calls are made to Egypt but doesn’t say how many. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002]
Iraq (0). Press reports note that the records indicate zero calls were made to Iraq. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002] 1,100 total calls are made on this phone. Adding up the above numbers means that the destination of over 100 calls is still unaccounted for. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002] The use of this phone stops two months after the August 1998 embassy bombings in Africa. However, it appears bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders continue to use other satellite phones occasionally after this time. Shortly after 9/11, James Bamford, an expert authority on the agency, says “About a year or so ago the NSA lost all track of him.… He may still use [satellite phones] occasionally to talk about something mundane, but he discovered that the transmitters can be used for honing.” [CNN, 9/21/2001] According to a different account, bin Laden will attempt to use a different phone communication method, but US intelligence will soon discover it and continue monitoring his calls (see Late 1998 and After).
The CIA builds a ground station to intercept calls between Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and al-Qaeda’s operations centre in Yemen. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004; Antiwar, 10/22/2008; PBS, 2/3/2009] According to author James Bamford, the station is “in the Indian Ocean area, I think it was on Madagascar.” [Antiwar, 10/22/2008] The NSA is already intercepting the calls, but refuses to share the raw intelligence with the CIA (see February 1996-May 1998 and December 1996), which is why the agency has to build the station. However, the CIA is only able to get half the conversations, because its technology is not as good as the NSA’s. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004; Antiwar, 10/22/2008; PBS, 2/3/2009] Bamford will add, “they were only picking up half of the conversations, apparently it was downlink, they weren’t able to get the uplink, you need a satellite.” [Antiwar, 10/22/2008] Presumably, Bamford means the CIA is getting the half of the calls featuring the person talking to bin Laden, but cannot hear the Afghan end of the conversation. To get the other half of the Afghanistan-Yemen calls the CIA would need a satellite. [PBS, 2/3/2009]
According to a November 2001 Spanish government indictment, in August 1997, a Syrian Islamist militant named Abu Bashir is arrested in Yemen and accused of plotting to assassinate the Yemeni deputy prime minister. He is soon deported to Malaysia. London imam Abu Qatada then contacts Osama bin Laden and asks him for his help to get settled with a job and house in Malaysia. Then, in June 1998, Spanish al-Qaeda leader Barakat Yarkas and Qatada arrange for Bashir to move to London. The Observer will report in March 2004 that Bashir apparently is still living in public housing in London. [Observer, 3/21/2004] Presumably the Spanish government knows this because Spanish intelligence is heavily monitoring Yarkas at the time, and he is frequently meeting with Qatada in London (see 1995-February 2001). Qatada is working as a British government informant around this time (see June 1996-February 1997). The exact identity of Abu Bashir is not known as there are several al-Qaeda-linked figures with a similar name.
Sheikh Abdul Mejid al-Zindani. [Source: Al Jazeera]Saudi Arabian businessman Yassin al-Qadi pays US$1.25 million from an account in Geneva to a company called Maram, an Istanbul-based terrorism front founded by al-Qaeda chief financial officer Mamdouh Mahmud Salim (see November 1996-September 1998). The transfer is not direct, but is made through an unidentified person the US later says is an al-Qaeda operative. Writing in 2004, the Wall Street Journal will call this “the strongest documented link to date between the terror organization and Saudi financiers.” However, lawyers for al-Qadi, who the US will designate a terrorism financier after 9/11 (see October 12, 2001), will say that the money is not used to buy arms, but is spent on low-cost housing at a religious education facility. The final recipient is said to be the Al Imam University in Sana’a, Yemen, whose alumni include, for example, “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh. The university’s rector is Sheikh Abdul Mejid al-Zindani, who fought alongside Osama bin Laden in the anti-Soviet jihad, heads the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen, and, according to a memo obtained by the US Justice Department, discussed with bin Laden the use of charities in Pakistan as a front for terrorist attacks. [Wall Street Journal, 4/2/2004]
The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) begins issuing what authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will describe as “provocative political statements.” The IAA is headed by Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, who claims to have fought in Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden, and the organization will go on to have links with al-Qaeda (see Early 2000 and October 12, 2000). The Yemeni government had previously ignored the group, but is now irked by the statements and asks the elders of Almihdhar’s tribe to muzzle him. However, this strategy does not work, so the government offers a reward for his capture, dead or alive. Despite this, the IAA will plot a series of attacks later in the year (see Before December 23, 1998). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 163]
Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar. [Source: Associated Press]Ahmed Nasrallah, a veteran al-Qaeda operative who has been in Yemen for several years, decides to defect and turn himself in to the Yemeni government. He discloses the location of al-Qaeda strongholds in Yemen and even gives away the location of al-Qaeda’s deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a southern Yemeni town. He describes al-Qaeda’s weaponry, security, and violent plans for the future. He offers to spy on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan or on a militant Yemeni group led by Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, a relative of hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. (In 1999 Zein will be caught and executed in Yemen for kidnappings and killings.) However, two officials in the Political Security Organization (Yemen’s equivalent of the FBI) have radical militant ties and hand over Nasrallah to al-Qaeda operatives. These operatives plan to kill him for betraying their group, but he escapes to Egypt before they can do so. The Egyptian government then interrogates him for more than a year. However, it is not known what he told them before 9/11, or what they might have passed to the US. One of the two Yemeni officers helping al-Qaeda on this matter, Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, will be recorded by Italian intelligence in 2000 apparently mentioning the upcoming 9/11 attacks (see August 12, 2000). The other officer, Mohammed al-Surmi, is Deputy Chief of the PSO. [Wall Street Journal, 12/20/2002]
Yemeni security officer Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman travels to Switzerland to purchase passport forgery equipment for Islamist extremists. Abdulsalam is a section chief in Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO), the Yemeni equivalent of the FBI (see August 12, 2000). Abdulrahman purchases tools to forge Schengen visas, which allow their holder to travel without border controls in some European Union countries. Italian authorities investigating Abdulrahman and his associates will learn this by 2002. They will speculate that Abdulrahman is an expert forger and that he trains a militant named Mahmoud Es Sayed, a close associate of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000), in forgery. Es Sayed will travel to Italy in 2000 from Yemen, where he will begin forging documents (see Summer 2000). Abdulrahman has close ties to radical organizations and provides false documents and airline tickets to al-Qaeda members to facilitate their travels to Europe. [Vidino, 2006, pp. 223-4]
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).
Mohamed al-Owhali. [Source: CNN]Before and after the August 7, 1998 attack on the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), a bomber involved in that attack named Mohamed al-Owhali makes a series of calls to al-Qaeda associate Ahmed al-Hada, who runs an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen. Al-Owhali briefly stayed at the hub about three months before the bombings and made some calls from there. He then traveled to other locations, including Pakistan, and flew to Kenya on August 2. Beginning August 4, he makes a series of calls to al-Hada at the Yemen hub. The details of these calls have not been revealed, but they continue until about two hours before the embassy bombings take place. Al-Owhali is supposed to be martyred in the attack, but he runs away at the last minute and survives. Beginning on August 8, he repeatedly calls al-Hada, asking for help getting out of Kenya. He eventually receives $1,000 from him. Al-Hada is actually about to fly to Kenya to help al-Owhali get out when al-Owhali is arrested on August 12. Al-Hada also receives three calls from bin Laden’s satellite phone, which is being monitored by the NSA (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Following a raid by London police, the FBI allegedly trace a fax claiming responsibility for the attack through Baku, Azerbaijan, to bin Laden’s satellite phone, which leads them to the communications hub in Sana’a (however, it is likely that the NSA at least is already monitoring the hub phone number). Phone records for the hub direct them to al-Owhali in Nairobi. Al-Owhali has already been arrested based on a tip-off and, after the FBI interrogators realize he is lying to them, he confesses to calling the number. [United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14, 3/7/2001; United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 23, 3/27/2001; Observer, 8/5/2001] The translator during al-Owhali’s interviews is Mike Feghali, who will later be accused of serious improprieties after 9/11 by whistleblower Sibel Edmonds (see July-August 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/9/1998, pp. 1 ] Author Lawrence Wright will say, “This Yemeni telephone number would prove to be one of the most important pieces of information the FBI would ever discover, allowing investigators to map the links of the al-Qaeda network all across the globe.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 275-8] The NSA may well already have been aware of the number since bin Laden’s monitored phone called it many times, but the US intelligence community now begins a joint effort to exploit it (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). Other apparently inaccurate stories about how al-Owhali was captured have been reported in the press. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 48]
9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar makes a series of calls to an al-Qaeda communications hub run by his father-in-law, Ahmed al-Hada. A Yemeni police official will later tell Agence France-Presse that Almihdhar “made a number of overseas calls to Ahmed al-Hada, who was then in Sana’a, before, during, and after” the African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Al-Hada is involved in the embassy bombings and the US intelligence community begins joint surveillance of his phone after the bombings (see Late August 1998), although the NSA may already have been monitoring it (see Before August 7, 1998). The calls made by Almihdhar are from overseas and the FBI learns of this, presumably during the investigation into the embassy bombings (see August 4-25, 1998) [Agence France Presse, 2/15/2002] Around this time Almihdhar is also in contact with al-Hada’s son, Samir, who is his brother-in-law, and the Yemen Times will later report that these contacts are monitored. However, it is not clear whether this is just by local authorities in Yemen, or also by US intelligence. [Yemen Times, 2/18/2002] British Prime Minister Tony Blair will later say that one of the 9/11 hijackers, presumably Almihdhar, played a key role in the attacks on the US embassies in East Africa (see October 4, 2001).
Calls are made using Osama bin Laden’s satellite telephone to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, which is involved in the embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). According to MSNBC, two of the calls from bin Laden’s phone are made “days before” the bombings. The NSA is intercepting calls from bin Laden’s satellite phone at this time (see November 1996-Late August 1998) and his phone is used to make dozens of calls to the Yemen communications hub from 1996 to 1998, but it is unclear what is done with the intercepts, as the NSA is sometimes unwilling to share information with other US intelligence agencies (see Between 1996 and August 1998, December 1996, Between 1996 and September 11, 2001, and Before September 11, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 10/10/2001; MSNBC, 2/14/2002; Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] The communications hub is run by veteran mujaheddin Ahmed al-Hada, an associate of one of the embassy bombers, Mohamed al-Owhali. Al-Owhali stays at the hub in the months before the bombing and obtains a fake passport in Yemen (see August 4-25, 1998). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/9/1998 ] The NSA continues to intercept calls to and from the hub after the embassy bombings (see Late August 1998 and August 4-25, 1998).
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]
Samir al-Hada, who helped run an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen. [Source: CNN]Yemeni al-Qaeda operative Samir al-Hada is questioned over the embassy bombings in East Africa. A communications hub run by him and his father, Ahmed al-Hada, facilitated the attacks (see Late August 1998) and will also apparently facilitate the attack on the USS Cole and 9/11 (see Before October 12, 2000 and Early 2000-Summer 2001). Details of the questioning, such as the agency that performs it and what results are passed to US intelligence, are not known, but the communications hub the al-Hada family runs will subsequently be monitored and US intelligence will derive much useful information from it (see Late 1998-Early 2002) [New York Daily News, 2/14/2002] Samir al-Hada will die in an explosion in February 2002 (see February 13, 2002).
Mohamed al-Owhali is arrested and immediately begins confessing to FBI investigators his role in the recent al-Qaeda bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). In addition to revealing the existence of an al-Qaeda network in the US planning an attack there (August 12-25, 1998) and also revealing the phone number of a key al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late August 1998), it appears he also reveals al-Qaeda plans for an attack in Yemen. In October 2000, Al-Qaeda operatives bombed the USS Cole in a port in Yemen (see October 12, 2000). In January 2001, in coverage of al-Owhali’s trial for his role in the embassy bombings, a court document mentions that during his interrogation he mentioned “a possible attack in Yemen.” [CNN, 1/19/2001] However, one newspaper notes, “It could not be learned how the authorities followed up on the information or how detailed it was.” [New York Times, 1/18/2001] It will later be revealed that al-Owhali identified the two leaders of the Cole bombing as participants in the planning for the US embassy bombings. [CNN, 10/16/2001]
After the East African embassy bombings, al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri calls a number in Yemen to discuss attacking a US warship. Al-Nashiri will go on to have a prominent role in the attacks against the USS The Sullivans (see January 3, 2000) and USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) in Yemen. US authorities learn of this call no later than December 2000, although it is not clear how they do so. [CNN, 12/20/2000] The number called by al-Nashiri is not disclosed by the media, but some of al-Nashiri’s associates lived at an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, which began to be monitored by US authorities around this time (see Late 1998-Early 2002 and January 5-8, 2000).
Al-Qaeda operatives use a communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, to “put everything together” before the bombing of the USS Cole. The communications hub is run by Ahmed al-Hada, who US officials will later describe as “a prominent al-Qaeda member who is believed to have been involved in the Cole bombing.” The hub is monitored by US intelligence from 1998, at least, (see Late August 1998) and information gleaned from it is used to thwart a number of plots (see Late 1998-Early 2002). The US monitors the house through bugs planted inside and through spy satellites to monitor people leaving and entering it. The hub was also used before the 1998 embassy bombings and will be used to communicate with the 9/11 hijackers before 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). [MSNBC, 2/14/2002; Mirror, 6/9/2002; MSNBC, 5/2005] When the FBI arrives in Yemen to investigate the bombing, it finds that “telephone records show[…] that suspects in the Cole bombing had been in touch with suspects from the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 238] Calls between the hub and an al-Qaeda cell in Ireland that seems to have a connection to the Cole bombing are also intercepted during part of this period (see Late December 1999-October 12, 2000). It is unclear why the information does not allow the NSA to thwart the plot. Despite the scope of the monitoring, NSA Director Michael Hayden will later say there were no intercepts the NSA could have exploited to stop the bombing: “When the Cole disaster took place I had brought to my desk in, in this office, every stitch of NSA reporting on the—that could in any way be related to this. And I went thought it report by report and I sent a letter out to our entire work force, which was essentially, you performed well. Keep up the good work.” [CBS News, 6/19/2002]
After he is arrested for the Nairobi embassy bombing (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), Mohamed al-Owhali is questioned by local Kenyan law enforcement and the FBI, and discloses important information (see August 4-25, 1998). When he is shown photographs of al-Qaeda operatives, one of the people he identifies is Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (a.k.a. Bilal), a cousin of another Nairobi bomber. Al-Nashiri is an al-Qaeda leader who helped al-Owhali obtain a false passport in Yemen when al-Owhali stayed at an al-Qaeda safe house in April-May 1998. It is unclear where the FBI obtained the photo of al-Nashiri, although US intelligence was previously informed of al-Nashiri’s involvement in a plot to smuggle anti-tank missiles into Saudi Arabia (see 1997). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/9/1998, pp. 16 ; United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14, 3/7/2001; Burke, 2004, pp. 174; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3]
Al-Qaeda’s communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen. [Source: PBS NOVA]The investigation of the East Africa embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) led to the discovery of the phone number of an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see August 4-25, 1998). The hub is run by an al-Qaeda veteran named Ahmed al-Hada, who is helped by his son Samir and is related to many other al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen and elsewhere. He is also the father in law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, whose wife, Hoda al-Hada, lives at the hub with their children. [Newsweek, 6/2/2002; Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; MSNBC, 7/21/2004; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; Wright, 2006, pp. 277, 309, 343, 378] Several of Ahmed al-Hada’s relatives die fighting for al-Qaeda before 9/11, a fact known to US intelligence. [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Guardian, 2/15/2006] The NSA may already be aware of the phone number, as they have been intercepting Osama bin Laden’s communications for some time (see November 1996-Late August 1998) and, according to Newsweek, “some” of bin Laden’s 221 calls to Yemen are to this phone number. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002; Media Channel, 9/5/2006] The US intelligence community now begins a joint effort to monitor the number. The NSA and CIA jointly plant bugs inside the house, tap the phones, and monitor visitors with spy satellites. [Mirror, 6/9/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 343; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] US intelligence also learns that the communications hub is an al-Qaeda “logistics center,” used by agents around the world to communicate with each other and plan attacks. [Newsweek, 6/2/2002] The joint effort enables the FBI to map al-Qaeda’s global organization (see Late 1998-Early 2002) and at least three of the hijackers use the number, enabling the NSA to intercept their communications and find out about an important al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia (see December 29, 1999 and January 5-8, 2000 and Early 2000-Summer 2001). It appears al-Qaeda continues to use this phone line until Samir al-Hada dies resisting arrest in early 2002 (see February 13, 2002).
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]
The FBI asks the NSA to pass on all calls between an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen and the US. The hub, which is run by an operative named Ahmed al-Hada and was involved in the attacks on US embassies in East Africa (see Late August 1998), is a key al-Qaeda logistics center and intelligence gleaned from listening in on calls to and from it will help prevent some attacks (see August 4-25, 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). Dan Coleman, one of the FBI agents who places the request, will say, “anyone who called the Yemen number is white-hot, a top suspect.” However, the NSA will not inform the FBI of all calls between the hub and the US. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94] In particular, two 9/11 hijackers will call the hub while they are in the US (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). However, the information will be withheld from the FBI and various explanations will be offered for this failure (see (Spring 2000), Summer 2002-Summer 2004, and March 15, 2004 and After).
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]
Dan Coleman [Source: CNN]Beginning in the autumn of 1998, the FBI uses the phone records of an al-Qaeda communications hub run by operative Ahmed al-Hada and his son Samir to build a map of al-Qaeda’s global organization. A map showing all the places in the world that have communicated with the hub is posted on the wall of the interagency counterterrorism I-49 squad in New York. The hub’s telephone number was uncovered during the East African embassy bombings investigation (see August 4-25, 1998 and Late August 1998). [Al Ahram, 2/21/2002; MSNBC, 7/21/2004; Wright, 2006, pp. 343; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] According to FBI agent and I-49 squad member Dan Coleman, al-Hada is “uncle of half the violent jihadists we knew in the country.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94] Several of his sons and sons-in-law are al-Qaeda operatives and some die fighting and training with radical Islamists; this is known to US intelligence before 9/11. Hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is also a son-in-law of al-Hada. [MSNBC, 2/14/2002; Fox News, 2/14/2002; Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005] The number is monitored by the NSA and over the next three years it mines intelligence that helps authorities foil a series of plots, including planned attacks on the US Embassy in Paris and the US Consulate in Istanbul, along with an attempted airline hijacking in Africa. However, the hub also serves as a planning center for the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, which is successful (see October 12, 2000). [US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] The CIA, as the primary organization for gathering foreign intelligence, has jurisdiction over conversations on the al-Hada phone. Helped by the NSA, it stakes out the house—tapping the phone, planting bugs, and taking satellite photographs of its visitors. However, the CIA apparently does not provide the FBI with all the relevant information it is obtaining about al-Qaeda’s plans. [Mirror, 6/9/2002; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] For example, the FBI is not informed that hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi make calls to the communications hub from the US between spring 2000 and summer 2001 (see Spring-Summer 2000 and Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001). The FBI also asks the NSA to pass any calls between the communications hub and the US to the FBI, but the NSA does not do this either (see Late 1998). [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94]
The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), a local militant group linked to al-Qaeda (see Early 2000 and October 12, 2000), plots a series of strikes against Western-related targets in Aden, Yemen. According to the Yemeni authorities, the plot encompasses:
An attack on the Movenpick hotel, which is used by Western tourists and had already been bombed in 1992 (see December 29, 1992);
Firing rockets into a clinic in the grounds of Aden’s only Christian church;
Murdering British diplomats at the British consulate;
Attacks on the Al Shadhrawan nightclub;
Hitting the UN office in Aden; and
Attacking a hotel used by US troops.
However, the plot, headed by IAA leader Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, will be broken up on December 23, when six of the plotters linked to leading British imam Abu Hamza al-Masri are arrested by police in Aden (see December 23, 1998). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 159-160]
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]
According to Ahmed Abdullah al-Hasani, who will later head the Yemeni navy and be Yemen’s ambassador to Syria, men from the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) meet with Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, half-brother of Yemen’s president Ali Abdallah Saleh. Al-Ahmar helped recruit Islamist radicals to fight in Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan War (see 1980-1990) and allegedly later received a payment from Osama bin Laden to help settle Afghan Arabs in Yemen (see May 21-July 7, 1994). The meeting follows the breaking up of an IAA plot to attack targets in Aden (see Before December 23, 1998 and December 23, 1998), and comes two days before the IAA takes Western hostages in an attempt to obtain the release of six recently arrested IAA operatives (see December 28-29, 1998). Al-Hasani will say, “Two days before the killings, members of the terrorist group were in al-Ahmar’s house in Sana’a,” the capital of Yemen. “They were also in telephone contact with Sana’a just before the shootings.” [Sunday Times (London), 5/8/2005] Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will write that during the kidnapping, IAA leader Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar “bark[s] out his demands for a prisoner swap over the telephone to a half-brother of Yemen’s President Saleh, among others.” Presumably, this half-brother is al-Ahmar. In addition, on the last day of the kidnapping Almihdhar tells a local dignitary, “We have contacts at the highest level and we are expecting a response from them at noon.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 159-160] Exactly what al-Ahmar knows of the kidnapping in advance, if anything, is unclear.
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]
A group of 20 people, including 16 western tourists, are kidnapped in southern Yemen by the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), an al-Qaeda affiliate. In return for releasing the hostages, IAA leader Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar demands the release of six IAA operatives arrested a few days earlier (see December 23, 1998). Almihdhar also makes further demands, including the release of more prisoners, an end to the US-led bombing of Iraq, and a change of government in Yemen. Knowing that it will be unable to meet all these demands and worried Almihdhar will carry out his threat to start executing the hostages, the day after the kidnapping the Yemen government sends in the army to rescue them, but four hostages die during the fighting. [Quin, 2005, pp. 31-62, 83, 126-7, 155-6, 200-1] Three of the militants are killed, and seven, including Almihdhar, are captured. However, some escape. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 168]
Motive - Hostage Mary Quin, who will write a book about the kidnapping, will later conclude that fear for the hostages’ safety is not the only motive for the attack by the army and that it is also a product of the government’s policy of attacking the IAA where possible. Yemen’s deputy foreign minister will comment: “We are not tolerating these groups. What happened in Abyan [where the hostages were held] was a reaction to a crackdown on these people.”
Link to Abu Hamza - Before and during the kidnapping, Almihdhar is in contact with the IAA’s spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Masri, in London, using a satellite phone Abu Hamza provided him with. One of the six operatives Almihdhar wants the government to release is Abu Hamza’s stepson. Almihdhar will be sentenced to death for his role, and most of the other kidnappers are also caught and punished (see October 17, 1999). The Yemen government later asks for the extradition of Abu Hamza, who has a relationship with British intelligence (see Early 1997), but the British government refuses (see January 1999). [Quin, 2005, pp. 31-62, 83, 126-7, 155-6, 200-1]
Relative of 9/11 Hijacker? - It will later be suggested that Almihdhar is a distant relative of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. [New York Times, 12/7/2001]
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]
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).
After Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, the head of the Islamic Army of Aden, is captured in a failed hostage-taking operation (see December 28-29, 1998), one of his lieutenants, Hetam bin Farid, becomes its de-facto leader. However, bin Farid is arrested shortly after Almihdhar is executed (see October 17, 1999). At his trial, bin Farid will claim to be a police informer, although the judge will not accept this argument and will sentence him to seven years in prison. Bin Farid was involved in a plot to bomb targets in Yemen (see December 23, 1998), which was broken up by the police. Author Mary Quin, who will investigate the plot, will say that she does not believe the police’s account of the chance discovery of the plotters’ weapons, and speculate that bin Farid may have been telling the truth when he claimed to be an informer. [Quin, 2005, pp. 116, 127]
Ahmed al-Hada, an operative who runs a communications hub for al-Qaeda in Yemen, travels to Afghanistan and attends a banquet, where, US intelligence learns, he sits next to Osama bin Laden. The communications hub run by al-Hada, who fought in the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, helped coordinate the East African embassy bombings and has been under heavy surveillance by the NSA and other US agencies since at least late 1998 (see Late August 1998). [Newsweek, 2/18/2002]
Salem Alhazmi. [Source: FBI]As the NSA continues to monitor an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen run by hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s father-in-law (see Late August 1998), they find references to Almihdhar and the hijacker brothers, Salem and Nawaf Alhazmi. They also learn that Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi are long time friends. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] In early 1999, the NSA intercepts communications mentioning the full name “Nawaf Alhazmi.” However, this information is not disseminated to the intelligence community, as it apparently does not meet NSA reporting thresholds. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will say, “Those thresholds vary, depending on the judgement of the NSA analyst who is reviewing the intercept and the subject, location, and content of the intercept.” Another intelligence organisation intercepts the same or similar calls and reports this to the NSA. The Inquiry comments: “NSA’s practice was to review such reports and disseminate those responsive to US intelligence requirements. For an undetermined reason, NSA did not disseminate the […] report.” [Associated Press, 9/25/2002; US Congress, 10/17/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ] The NSA continues to intercept such calls and finds more information a few months later (see Summer 1999 and Late Summer 1999). Near the end of 1999, there will be additional intercepts that give Khalid Almihdhar’s full name and the first names of the other two (see Shortly Before December 29, 1999). But while the NSA will provide some information about these new intercepts to the CIA and other agencies, they will not go back to the earlier intercepts to figure out Nawaf’s full name and close connection to Almihdhar (see December 29, 1999).
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]
A group of eight Britons and two Algerians recently arrested in Yemen and accused of plotting a series of bombings (see December 23, 1998 and January 27, 1999) confesses to the plot. However, they will later claim the confessions were obtained by torture. Offered a deal in which they plead guilty to the charges and can then go home, they reject it and opt to be tried in Yemen. However, a condition of the deal was that they testify that leading British radical Abu Hamza al-Masri was behind the plot.
Shahid Butt, an associate of Abu Hamza, shouts as he arrives in court, “They are going to beat us and kill us for denying their ridiculous charges, so help us.” He also says they were starved of food, deprived of sleep, and given electric shocks with a cattle prod.
Mohsin Ghalain, Abu Hamza’s stepson, says that every time he tried to sleep on the concrete floor he was kicked awake to face more questioning. In addition, bottles were stuck into his rectum, he was given electric shocks, and a gun was held to his head. His legs, wrists and ankles are scarred.
Another defendant says he was sexually abused.
Malik Nasser points to bruises on his arms in court.
Some will describe “being trussed up like chickens” and suspended from a pole of wood for hours at a time.
At their trial, the Yemeni authorities will produce some evidence not obtained through torture, such as weapons they say were found on the plotters. In addition, they will find a video of Ghalain and Mostafa holding Kalashnikovs during a trip to Albania. Despite the apparent credibility of the allegations of torture, the British media and public will not show great interest in the case, thinking the defendants are actually guilty. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 177-182]
The trial of Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, leader of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic Army of Aden, begins. Almihdhar is on trial in connection with a bombing plot that some of his alleged operatives failed to carry off (see December 23, 1998) and a kidnapping he carried out in an attempt to get them freed (see December 28-29, 1998). The trial, which the authorities had predicted would last a mere 48 hours, drags on for months and Almihdhar turns it into a public relations exercise for himself. He is tried along with two other men; 11 more are tried in absentia.
Apparent Admissions - Upon arrival, Almihdhar breaks free from the guards and shouts an apparent admission: “I did everything in the name of God so I am sorry for nothing. I am very famous now, but let everyone know I only gave orders to kill the men not the women [during the kidnapping].” Upon entering the court, according to authors Daniel McGrory and Sean O’Neill, he “shrug[s] off his escort and swagger[s] into the wooden dock like a prize fighter entering the ring.” Asked if he feels remorse for one of the female victims being buried today, he says he does not, adding that neither is he concerned about her husband, who escaped: “If my pistol had not jammed he would be dead as well.” He also comments, “If I live I will kill some more.”
'More to Call On' - After the judge manages to persuade Almihdhar to listen to the charges he faces, he first denies knowing the operatives involved in the bombing plot, then turns to the public gallery and says he is angry they failed in their mission. He adds: “Don’t worry, others will come behind them. I have more to call on.”
Link to Abu Hamza - Much of the trial is focused on British radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who the Yemenis say is behind terror operations in Yemen. O’Neill and McGrory will write that Abu Hamza’s “spectre” hangs over the proceedings and that “[h]is name crop[s] up at every session, with prosecutors labouring the point that the real villain was not in the dock, only his footsoldiers.” Asked about his link to Abu Hamza, Almihdhar says: “He knows me, because I am very famous. Hamza takes orders from me. I don’t take them from him.”
Confession - He gives his profession as “a mujaheddin warrior working in the cause of God,” and then immediately launches into what McGrory and O’Neill call a 45-minute “harangue,” during which he reveals details of how he planned and carried out the kidnapping.
Sentenced to Death - Almihdhar will be sentenced to death at the end of the trial on May 5. The sentence will reportedly be carried out in October 1999, although some will suggest Almihdhar is not actually executed (see October 17, 1999). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 173-176, 183]
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]
Acting on a tip-off from a local sheikh, Yemeni security forces capture six men wanted on terrorism charges by Al Batan mountain, around 250 miles northeast of Aden. Four of the men are wanted in connection with a series of planned bombings in Yemen (see December 23, 1998). They are:
Mohammed Kamel Mostafa, son of Abu Hamza al-Masri, a British militant leader and informer for the security services there (see Early 1997). Abu Hamza’s stepson is already in custody;
Shazad Nabi, a British citizen;
Ayaz Hussein, another British citizen; and
Ali Meksen, an Algerian who apparently uses a number of false identities.
The other two are members of the Islamic Army of Aden, a local al-Qaeda affiliate. One is known as Abu Haraira, the other is Abdullah Salah al-Junaidi. Both had participated in a hostage-taking operation aimed at freeing six associates of the British men (see December 28-29, 1998). [Quin, 2005, pp. 107-108; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 177]
Ten alleged operatives of the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) go on trial in Aden, Yemen. Six of the men were arrested in December (see December 23, 1998), whereas four are arrested on the first day of the trial (see January 27, 1999).
Defendants - The men, eight Britons and two Algerians who previously lived in Britain, are linked to radical British imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997). For example, they include his son Mohammed Kamel Mostafa, his stepson Mohsin Ghalain, and Shahid Butt, an aide. The men initially confess, but later claim that the confessions were beaten out of them (see January 1999). Abu Hamza has numerous links to the IAA and spoke on the phone to its operational commander during a kidnapping organized to secure the release of the first six men captured (see (June 1998), October 1998, December 27, 1998, December 28-29, 1998, and December 28, 1998 and After).
British Links - The trial focuses on the men’s connections to Abu Hamza, as the Yemeni government places the blame for its domestic troubles on outside influences. The first sentence the prosecutor utters is, “This offence started in London in the offices of SoS [Supporters of Shariah] which is owned by Abu Hamza and who exports terrorism to other countries.”
Trial Descends into Chaos - The first day sets the pattern for the proceedings. The men’s translator mistakenly says the prosecutor is seeking the death sentence, and the court descends into uproar, leading to an adjournment after just 50 minutes. According to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, the trial is further marred by “constant interruptions, endless adjournments, inexplicable delays, and time-wasting.” However, a “drip-feed” of incriminating information from the men’s confessions and the evident links between Abu Hamza and the IAA turns the tide in favor of the prosecution.
Men Sentenced - All the men are found guilty. Ghalain and Malik Nasser are given the heaviest sentences of seven years. Butt gets five years for being a member of a terrorist gang, but Kamel only gets three. O’Niell and McGrory will comment: “Every few minutes the judgement was punctuated by mentions of Abu Hamza, who the court was satisfied was deserving of most of the blame. That day his name, and not those of his followers, dominated the local headlines.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 177-184]
Sarbarz Mohammed / Sam Malkandi. [Source: Public domain via Seattle Post-Intelligencer]Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash unsuccessfully applies for a US visa in Sana’a, Yemen. His application, which is made under the alias Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf, is denied because he fails to submit sufficient documentation in support of it. Three actual hijackers obtain US visas in Saudi Arabia on the same day and shortly after (see April 3-7, 1999). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 492]
Already Known to US Intelligence - Bin Attash is already known to the US intelligence community at this point (see Summer 1999), at least partly because he briefed Mohamed al-Owhali, one of the 1998 African embassy bombers who was captured after the attack, and helped him make a martyrdom video in Pakistan. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/9/1998 ] The US will begin to associate this alias with terrorist activity no later than early 2000, when bin Attash uses it to take a flight with Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, who are under US and allied surveillance at that point (see January 8, 2000). However, the alias will not be watchlisted by the US until August 2001 (see August 23, 2001). Apparently, when the US learns the alias is associated with terrorism there is no check of visa application records, and this application and the fact it was made by an al-Qaeda leader will not be discovered until after 9/11 (see After January 8, 2000, After December 16, 2000, and After August 23, 2001).
US Contact - On the application, bin Attash gives his reason for going to the US as getting a new prosthesis for his missing leg, and he says Bothell, Washington State, is his final destination. Bin Attash’s contact in Bothell is a man named Sarbarz Mohammed. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 155-6, 492] Mohammed contacts a clinic in the area and speaks to bin Attash once on the phone, but bin Attash says the new leg would cost too much and hangs up. Mohammed, who will later change his name to Sam Malkandi, will deny knowing bin Attash was a terrorist and say that he thought he was just helping a friend of a friend. However, he will later admit lying on his green card application and be arrested in 2005. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10/17/2005]
In early 1999, al-Qaeda operative Khallad bin Attash is sent to Yemen to help al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri obtain explosives to bomb a ship, and also to get a US visa so he can travel to the US to take part in an operation there. Three 9/11 hijackers get a US visa around this time (see April 3-7, 1999), but bin Attash has more trouble, apparently because he is Yemeni and the others are Saudi. While there, bin Attash is arrested by Yemeni authorities. Bin Laden finds out about the arrest and is concerned that bin Attash might reveal the ship bombing and US operations while under interrogation. Bin Laden contacts a Yemeni official and makes a deal, offering not to attack Yemen if the Yemeni government does not confront him and releases bin Attash in the summer of 1999. Both sides agree to the deal and bin Attash returns to Afghanistan without revealing either plot. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 155-156] There is other evidence Yemeni officials will help al-Nashiri, as his ship attack plot eventually targets the USS Cole while stationed in Yemen (see April 2000 and After October 12, 2000).
The NSA intercepts more calls (see Early 1999) involving Khalid Almihdhar, who is at an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, with his family (see Late August 1998). The identity of the person he is talking to and the content of the intercepts is so sensitive that the whole passage regarding these communications is redacted in the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s report. After the redacted passage, the Inquiry comments, “At about the same time, the name [of al-Qaeda leader] Khallad [bin Attash] came to the attention of the NSA for the first time,” so the calls may involve bin Attash in some way. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 155-6 ] Almihdhar is staying at the communications hub at this time and will stay there later as well (see (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000) and Late October 2000-July 4, 2001).
The NSA intercepts more calls involving an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see Early 1999 and Summer 1999). The names of Khaled, who turns out to be 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, and others are mentioned in the calls. However, the NSA reportedly does not think the intelligence gleaned from the calls is important and does not disseminate it. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 156 ] However, the FBI regarded the hub as a key element in al-Qaeda’s communications network and after 9/11 a senior US counterterrorism official will say, “The NSA was well aware of how hot the number was… and how it was a logistical hub for al-Qaeda.” Several plots are stopped based on information obtained from listening to calls to and from the hub (see Late 1998-Early 2002). [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005]
The government of Yemen says that it has executed Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, leader of the al-Qaeda affiliate group the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), for his part in a kidnapping and murder plot (see December 28-29, 1998). However, the execution is not public and his body is not returned to his family. This leads Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading supporter of the IAA, to speculate that Almihdhar is still alive in prison. Yemeni journalist Bashraheel Bashraheel will also comment: “The execution would have sparked a civil war.… The tribal leaders know [Almihdhar] is still alive and have been bribed to persuade their followers not to rebel.” [Quin, 2005, pp. 126, 157-8, 187] It will later be suggested that Almihdhar is a distant relative of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. [New York Times, 12/7/2001]
9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar tells another operative that al-Qaeda is planning a ship-bombing attack. The US will learn this from a detainee interviewed in December 2001. The detainee will say that Almihdhar informed him that al-Qaeda operative Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was the plot’s originator. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 491] Al-Nashiri discussed the ship bombing attack in a telephone call made in late 1998. The call may have been to the al-Qaeda communications hub at which Almihdhar lived and may also have been picked up by the US (see (Mid-August 1998)). Al-Qaeda soon attempts to attack the USS The Sullivans in Aden, Yemen, but the plan fails (see January 3, 2000). Almihdhar, who will be accused of participating in the plot to bomb the USS Cole in Yemen (see October 12, 2000, Early October 2001 and October 4, 2001), travels to Yemen shortly before the attack on the Sullivans (see November/December 1999) and apparently leaves one day after it (see January 2-5, 2000).
9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar returns from Afghanistan to Yemen, where he and his family live at an al-Qaeda communications hub that is being monitored by the US (see Late 1998-Early 2002). The NSA listens in on calls to his number and finds that he and several al-Qaeda leaders are to meet in Malaysia for a terrorism summit (see December 29, 1999). The reason for his departure to Yemen is unclear, as he has already been selected for the 9/11 operation and his fellow operatives are undergoing training in Afghanistan at this point (see Late 1999 and Early December 1999). Detainees give varying accounts of the reasons for his departure, as well as the exact timing. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 157, 493] According to author James Bamford, Almihdhar returns to Yemen to be with his wife when he learns she is pregnant with their first child. [Bamford, 2008, pp. 11] Whatever the reason for Almihdhar’s travel to Yemen, while he is there al-Qaeda mounts an abortive attack against the USS The Sullivans (see January 3, 2000).
The NSA has been monitoring a telephone in an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). According to Vanity Fair, “Amid the storm of pre-millennial ‘chatter,’ the [NSA] intercepted communications among three Arabic men, each of whom bore some connection to the East Africa bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) and to al-Qaeda.” The men are hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Apparently, the NSA listens in on a phone call between al-Qaeda figure Khallad bin Attash and hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, who is staying at the hub. Attash mentions Almihdhar’s full name, as well as the first names of hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Salem Alhazmi. He says he wants the three of them to come to an important al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). The NSA has already heard the names of the three hijackers mentioned repeatedly in 1999 while monitoring the Yemen hub (see Early 1999). Apparently, US intelligence does not yet know bin Attash’s full name or role in al-Qaeda and won’t figure it out until late 2000 (see Early December 2000). [Wright, 2006, pp. 310] At the same time, US officials in Pakistan intercept Nawaf Alhazmi in Karachi calling Almihdhar at the Yemen hub. They learn Nawaf is planning a trip to Malaysia on January 4, 2000. The NSA is also monitoring Nawaf calling his brother Salem (the location of Salem at this time has not been revealed). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 143-144 ; Asia Times, 3/19/2004] The NSA will share details of these calls with the CIA and other agencies on December 29, 1999 (see December 29, 1999) and the CIA will eventually track Almihdhar to the Malaysia summit (see January 2-5, 2000).
Following a raid on suspected al-Qaeda operatives in Dublin, Ireland, on December 21, 1999 (see December 21, 1999), FBI investigators begin monitoring the al-Qaeda cell there. The cell is believed to specialize in providing travel and identity documents for others committing violent acts. It will later be reported that “further investigation led to the tracing of telephone calls between Dublin and the Yemen in the period before al-Qaeda launched” its attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). [Irish Times, 7/31/2002] Additional details such as what was said in these calls have not been reported. The calls to Yemen may well have been to a Yemeni al-Qaeda communications hub that was under US surveillance since at least 1998 (see Late August 1998).
The USS The Sullivans. [Source: US Navy]An al-Qaeda attack on USS The Sullivans in Yemen’s Aden harbor fails when their boat filled with explosives sinks. This is one of a series of failed al-Qaeda attacks planned to take place around the turn of the millennium (see December 31, 1999-January 1, 2000). But the attack remains undiscovered, and a duplication of the attack by the same people will successfully hit the USS Cole in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] The US will first learn of the planned The Sullivans attack when interrogating a suspect in the Cole bombing in early November 2000. [New York Times, 11/10/200]
A series of calls by al-Qaeda operatives, some of whom are under surveillance by the CIA and the Malaysian Special Branch at this time, links three sites involved in the bombing of the USS Cole. Even though the CIA is aware of the calls, it will later say it is unable to find the hijackers in Bangkok, the location of one of the call sites. The calls made by the operatives are between the following three locations:
A payphone in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, near an apartment where about a dozen al-Qaeda operatives are holding a summit (see January 5-8, 2000);
The Washington Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. Al-Qaeda operatives Ibrahim al-Thawar and Fahad al-Quso are staying at the hotel around this time (see January 5-6, 2000). They will go on to be involved in the Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). They are later joined in the hotel by summit attendees Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Khallad bin Attash;
Al-Quso’s house in Yemen. The calls from the payphone to this location are made by bin Attash.
Although bin Attash and possibly others call the Washington Hotel while they are under surveillance, the CIA will be unable to locate them there during the week they spend in Bangkok, from January 8-15 (see January 13, 2000). Author Lawrence Wright will comment, “Although the CIA later denied that it knew anything about the phone, the number was recorded in the Malaysians’ surveillance log, which was given to the agency.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 156-160, 181-2; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] The FBI team investigating the Cole bombing will later learn some of this information before 9/11 and ask the CIA for details. However, the CIA will fail to disclose what it knows about the Malaysia summit or that it looks for the hijackers and associates in Thailand after January 8 (see July 2001).
While the 9/11 hijackers are in the US, the NSA intercepts several calls between them and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by Ahmed al-Hada, who is hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s father-in-law (see August 4-25, 1998).
Summary of Calls -
The first calls are made by Almihdhar and are intercepted during the spring and summer of 2000 (see Spring-Summer 2000).
More calls are made by hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi after the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000 (see Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001).
The final call from the US is intercepted just a few weeks before 9/11 (see (August 2001)).
The NSA intercepted the hijackers’ calls outside the US before this (see Early 1999 and December 29, 1999) and continues to do so in 2000 (see Summer 2000) after Almihdhar returns to Yemen (see June 10, 2000 and (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000)).
Calls' Content - Some of the calls may only contain non-operational information, as they are reportedly between Almihdhar and his wife. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; Wright, 2006, pp. 343] However, the calls are also used to relay messages to the 9/11 hijackers. [Embassy of Yemen (Washington), 2/13/2002; MSNBC, 2/14/2002; MSNBC, 5/2005]
Agencies' Roles - The CIA is the lead agency monitoring the communications hub. It has planted bugs inside it and is wiretapping all calls (see Late August 1998). Intercepts of calls to and from the hub are a major plank of the US intelligence community’s effort to fight al-Qaeda. Also involved is the FBI, which is using phone records to plot these calls on a map (see Late 1998-Early 2002). Some of the calls intercepted by US intelligence come from Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone in Afghanistan (see August 4-25, 1998 and Late August 1998). After 9/11, counterterrorism officials will say that the number was one of the hottest targets being monitored by the NSA and was an “intelligence bonanza.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Wright, 2006, pp. 343]
Importance of Failure - Also after 9/11, counterterrorism officials will agree that the failure to follow leads to the US from this number was a huge missed opportunity to stop the 9/11 plot. For instance, FBI agent Kenneth Maxwell will say: “Two al-Qaeda guys living in California—are you kidding me? We would have been on them like white on snow: physical surveillance, electronic surveillance, a special unit devoted entirely to them.” [MSNBC, 7/21/2004; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
Discussed after 9/11 - The failure to roll up the plot based on these communications intercepts will be discussed following 9/11 (see Summer 2002-Summer 2004 and March 15, 2004 and After).
Around eight calls made by hijacker Khalid Almihdhar from San Diego to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by his father-in-law Ahmed al-Hada are intercepted by the NSA. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 16-17, 157 ; Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Wright, 2006, pp. 343; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] At least one of the calls is made from a phone registered to hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi in their San Diego apartment. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 251 ] Other calls are made from a mobile phone registered to Alhazmi. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 296] Calls may also be made from the communications hub to the US. [MSNBC, 7/21/2004]
Dates of Calls - One of the calls takes place days after they move into their San Diego apartment in February (see January 15-February 2000). [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] Another is on March 20, 2000 and lasts 16 minutes. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 57 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 251 ]
Intercepted by NSA - Although NSA analysts pick up Almihdhar’s first name, “Khalid,” they do not connect it to his second name, even though the NSA has been intercepting communications to and from the hub involving him throughout 1999 (see Early 1999 and December 29, 1999) and he is on the NSA watch list at this point (see Mid-January 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 16, 157 ; US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] Some, or perhaps all, of these calls are between Almihdhar and his wife, who lives at the communications hub and reportedly gives birth to a daughter in early 2000 while Almihdhar is in the US. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; Wright, 2006, pp. 343; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] However, the NSA analysts suspect that Khalid is part of an “operational cadre.” [US News and World Report, 3/15/2004]
Dissemination and Content - According to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, the NSA disseminates some of this information to the FBI, CIA, and other agencies, but not all of it, as it apparently does not meet reporting thresholds. It is unclear why it does not meet such thresholds, although some sources will suggest Almihdhar was just talking to his wife. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ; US News and World Report, 3/15/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94] Another source suggests operational information was passed on during the calls (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). However, two FBI agents who worked on al-Qaeda cases relating to Yemen, Dan Coleman and Ali Soufan, will later claim that they and other senior counterterrorism officials only learn about these calls after 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
Significance - Author Lawrence Wright will comment: “You know, this is the key. The NSA is all over this phone. And everybody, you know, that has any connection with it is drawing links from that phone. Now imagine eight lines from Yemen to San Diego. How obvious would it be that al-Qaeda is in America[?]” [Federal News Service, 10/5/2006]
Other Calls - The NSA also intercepts various other communications between the hijackers and the communications hub (see Early 2000-Summer 2001).
Hussein Arab [Source: al-bab]Yemen’s interior minister, Hussein Arab, issues a letter to al-Qaeda commander Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri instructing Yemeni authorities to give safe passage to al-Nashiri and three bodyguards without being searched or intercepted. The letter states that, “All security forces are instructed to cooperate with him and facilitate his mission.” Al-Nashiri’s mission turns out to be the attack on the USS Cole in which seventeen US sailors are killed (see October 12, 2000). Arab will be removed from his position in April 2001, but the letter will not come to light until the Cole trial in Yemen in 2004, when it is read out in court by the defense. Jamal Amer, editor of the weekly Al-Wasat, will comment that the letter “proves that there is a link between the security authorities and these groups.” [Associated Press, 8/25/2004] In May 2001, UPI will report, “According to several US government sources, one of the reasons the attack on the Cole succeeded was involvement by the ‘highest levels’ of the Yemen government of President Ali Abdallah Saleh, although Saleh himself personally was not, one said.” [United Press International, 5/20/2001]
According to the 2008 charge sheet at his military tribunal, 9/11 facilitator Ali Abdul Aziz Ali speaks on the telephone to 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi, who is living in San Diego at this time. The call or calls are apparently made at the direction of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and are about a wire transfer from Ali to Alhazmi made in mid-April (see April 16-18, 2000). The source of the claim that the calls are made contained in the charge sheet is not specified, so it is unclear whether it is only based on statements made by detainees under interrogation, which may be unreliable (see June 16, 2004), or whether it is corroborated by other evidence, such as phone company records. [US Department of Defense, 2/11/2008 ] At least some calls between Alhazmi and his partner, hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen are being monitored by the NSA at this point (see Spring-Summer 2000). However, it is unclear whether the call or calls to Ali are picked up by the NSA, or a joint CIA-NSA program to support “black ops” in progress at this time (see After July 11, 1997).
A secret CIA report details al-Qaeda’s use of the honey trade to generate income and secretly move weapons, drugs, and operatives around the world. The CIA had been gathering information and monitoring some honey stores for almost two years before the study. Bin Laden is believed to control a number of retail honey shops in various countries, especially in Sudan, Yemen, and Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda leaders Abu Zubaida and Khalil Deek, an American citizen, are said to be particularly tied to the honey trade. One US official will later say, “The smell and consistency of the honey makes it easy to hide weapons and drugs in the shipments. Inspectors don’t want to inspect that product. It’s too messy.” But although a number of companies dealing in honey are tied to al-Qaeda (and sometimes to Islamic Jihad), the US will not make any move to freeze the assets of these companies until after 9/11. [New York Times, 10/11/2001] Counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson will later claim Deek was “running an underground railroad in the Middle East for terrorists, shuttling them to different countries,” which would fit with his alleged role in the honey network. [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005]
Kie Fallis, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) terrorism intelligence analyst, has been gathering evidence of an upcoming al-Qaeda attack or attacks. In 2002, he will describe to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry a research process similar to what Able Danger is using at the same time: “I began to notice there was a voluminous amount of information, as others have testified, regarding al-Qaeda. Most of it appeared to be unrelated to other pieces of information. It appeared to be almost chat. By using a piece of [commercial software called ‘Analyst’s Notebook’] I was able to put these small snippets of information into, and graphically represent them as well, I was able to, over a course of many months, to determine certain linkages between these items—linkages that would never be apparent without the use of this tool. It would be lost in the weeds. And there were a lot of weeds to look through.” [Washington Times, 8/26/2002; US Congress, 10/8/2002] In his research, he claims to find links between al-Qaeda and Iranian intelligence. By May 2000, he writes a classified report on his conclusion that “terrorists were planning two or three major attacks against the United States. The only gaps were where and when.” Apparently, he envisions at least one of these attacks will use a small boat to blow up a US warship. However, the DIA has already issued a report concluding that such a method of attack would be impossible to carry out successfully, and the agency sticks by this assessment. A video message put out by bin Laden in mid-September convinces Fallis that an al-Qaeda attack will happen in the next month or two.(see Mid-September 2000). Shortly after learning about this message, Fallis reaches “the ‘eureka point‘… in determining an impending terrorist attack.” This comes “from a still-classified intelligence report in September 2000, which he will not discuss.” [Washington Times, 8/26/2002] This may be a reference to a lead by the Able Danger team on increased al-Qaeda activity in Yemen at this time (see Late September 2000), and/or it may refer to other intelligence leads. Fallis goes to his supervisor and asks that at least a general warning of an attack in the Middle East be issued. He hopes such a warning will at least put US military forces in the region on a higher alert. His superior turns him down, and other superiors fail to even learn of his suggested warning. The USS Cole will be successfully attacked in the port of Aden, Yemen, by a small boat of terrorists on October 12, 2000 (see October 12, 2000) . [Washington Times, 8/26/2002] One day after the Cole attack, Fallis will resign in protest. According to Senator John Warner (R-VA),“What [Fallis] felt is that his assessment was not given that proper level of consideration by his superiors and, as such, was not incorporated in the final intelligence reports provided to military commanders in the [Middle East region].” [CNN, 10/25/2000]
When 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar leaves the US in June (see June 10, 2000), he flies to Frankfurt, Germany, and then to Oman in the Middle East. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ] From there he returns to his family’s home in Sana’a, Yemen. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 237] His wife and children live at an al-Qaeda communications hub that is run by his father in law, Ahmed al-Hada. The hub is being monitored by the NSA and CIA. Phone calls to and from the hub, including ones made by Almihdhar and other hijackers, are intercepted, rooms in the building are bugged, and spy satellites record visitors (see Late August 1998, Late 1998-Early 2002, and Early 2000-Summer 2001). Based on information gained from monitoring this house, the CIA and local intelligence services mounted a major operation against Almihdhar, other hijackers, and several more al-Qaeda operatives in December 1999 and January 2000, when they were followed around the Middle East and South Asia and monitored during an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see December 29, 1999, January 2-5, 2000, and January 5-8, 2000). So presumably US intelligence should have been aware of this visit to the hub and who Almihdhar was, but what exactly was known and who may have known it has not been made public. He will return to the hub in February 2001 and stay an unknown length of time (see February 2001).
After 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar returns to the Middle East (see June 10, 2000 and (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000)), the NSA continues to intercept his telephone calls to and from an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, where his wife and children live. US intelligence understands that this is one of the most important al-Qaeda hot spots, and has been closely monitoring it since at least late 1998 (see August 4-25, 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). It also intercepts calls between hijacker Salem Alhazmi and the hub, as well as conversations between his brother, hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi, in the US and the hub (see Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Wright, 2006, pp. 343] The NSA had previously intercepted calls made by the hijackers to and from the communications hub, both when they were in the US and outside it (see Early 2000-Summer 2001).
According to a post-9/11 confession obtained from 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), al-Qaeda operative Khallad bin Attash persuades hijacker Khalid Almihdhar to return to Afghanistan to meet with KSM. At the meeting, Almihdhar complains about life in the US but says he is confident he will be able to obtain another visa, as he left the US before his first one expired. He also tells Mohammed about the problems he and Nawaf Alhazmi have had enrolling in language schools and says they believe they were monitored when they flew from Bangkok to the US in January 2000 (see January 15, 2000) (it is not clear who may have monitored them). Supposedly, KSM is angry that Almihdhar left the US without permission and wishes to exclude Almihdhar from the mission, but bin Laden himself intervenes and keeps Almihdhar involved. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 237, 269; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, 7/31/2006, pp. 20-21 ] Doubts have been raised about the reliability of KSM’s confession, as it was obtained using torture (see June 16, 2004). According to author Ron Suskind, at one point interrogators even threaten to hurt KSM’s children, a seven-year-old boy and a nine-year-old girl, unless he provides more information. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 230]
The US intelligence community has been monitoring al-Qaeda telephone communications to and from a communications hub in Yemen since the late 1990s (see Late August 1998). The CIA intercepts an al-Qaeda operative say in a monitored phone call that bin Laden is planning a “Hiroshima-type event” against the US. Failed millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam, who is arrested in late 1999 (see December 14, 1999), confirms at the time that al-Qaeda is preparing such an attack. [New York Times, 10/14/2001; PBS, 10/3/2002] This sets off an immediate but unsuccessful search for further evidence. Shortly after 9/11, the New York Times will report that “intelligence officials now acknowledge that they never imagined that Mr. bin Laden’s organization had the ability to kill thousands of people in coordinated attacks on the American homeland. Looking back through the prism of Sept. 11, officials now say that the intercepted message was a telling sign of a drastic shift in the ambitions and global reach of al-Qaeda during the last three years.” [New York Times, 10/14/2001] There apparently is another intercepted message talking about a “Hiroshima” event in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001).
9/11 hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh spends four weeks in Yemen. The exact timing of his visit is unknown, except that he arrives in August 2000 and leaves in September. [Australian, 12/24/2002; US Department of Defense, 12/8/2006]
Planning Cole Bombing? - While in Yemen, it seems probable bin al-Shibh is involved in preparations for the USS Cole bombing. There are reports that he takes part in the bombing, and he flies back to Yemen to be there in time for the bombing in early October (see October 10-21, 2000).
Does He Visit Monitored Yemen Hub? - While there, it is also possible that he visits the highly monitored al-Qaeda Yemen communications hub, which is in Sana’a. It will not be confirmed or denied that he visits the hub at this time. However, bin al-Shibh is Yemeni, and he is a cousin of future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s wife, and she lives at the house where the hub is located. [Washington Post, 6/12/2002; Washington Post, 9/11/2002] (Note that he also has other family in Sana’a, as this is where he grew up, so it seems probable he would spend at least some of his visit in Sana’a.) [McDermott, 2005, pp. 41] Furthermore, at some point before the Cole bombing, bin al-Shibh meets with
al-Qaeda operatives Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Ahmed al-Hada in Yemen. It is not known where the meeting takes place, but al-Hada runs the Yemen hub (and he is also related to bin al-Shibh) (see Before October 12, 2000). Also, al-Qaeda operatives use the hub to “put everything together” for the Cole bombing, and bin al-Shibh is probably involved in preparations for the bombing at this time. The bombers also call the hub as part of their preparations (see Mid-August 1998-October 2000).
Could Bin Al-Shibh Be Tracked? - If bin al-Shibh does visit (or even just call) the Yemen hub at this time, and/or during his later visit right at the time of the Cole bombing, he would be monitored by US intelligence. The US not only listens in on the hub’s phone, but it monitors the house through bugs planted inside and through spy satellites to monitor people leaving and entering it (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). Although it is uncertain, US intelligence may already be aware of bin al-Shibh through his attendance at an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in early 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000).
The FBI and other US intelligence agencies have been monitoring an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, since the attacks on US embassies in East Africa, and have used it to map al-Qaeda’s global network (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). In the run-up to the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, the FBI notices that there is increased telephone activity to and from the Sana’a hub. One of the messages says that bin Laden is planning a “Hiroshima-type event” (see (August 2000)). [PBS, 10/3/2002]
According to PBS, an Egyptian informant warns US intelligence that al-Qaeda will attack an American warship. [PBS, 10/3/2002] The FBI also notices increased telephone activity by al-Qaeda in Yemen around the same time (see August-Early October 2000). The USS Cole is attacked in the autumn of this year (see October 12, 2000).
Osama Basnan and Ramzi bin al-Shibh are somehow linked this month, possibly through a female relative or friend of Basnan’s. Basnan is a suspected Saudi spy who helped future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in San Diego, and bin al-Shibh is a hijacker associate in Hamburg, Germany, linked to Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers there. In November 2003, an unnamed FBI agent who focuses on investigating Basnan after 9/11 will be interviewed by the 9/11 Commission. This agent will be paraphrased saying that “one interesting fact is that Osama Basnan’s”—then there is a redacted gap of two or more words—“was in phone and e-mail contact with Ramzi bin al-Shibh in September 2000.” This agent states that “they apparently met over the Internet, as bin al-Shibh was looking for an American wife.” The agent also notes that “bin al-Shibh has confirmed this fact in interrogations.” [9/11 Commission, 11/17/2003 ]
A videotape message featuring bin Laden calling for more attacks on the US is aired on Al Jazeera. The video ends with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri saying, “Enough of words, it is time to take action against this iniquitous and faithless force [the United States], which has spread troops through Egypt, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.” [CNN, 10/20/2000; Washington Times, 8/26/2002] Further, bin Laden is wearing a distinctive, curved Yemeni dagger. Lawrence Wright will later mention in the book The Looming Tower that this was a “teasing clue” similar to other clues he had left before other attacks. [Wright, 2006, pp. 318] DIA analyst Kie Fallis later recalls, “Every time he put out one of these videotapes, it was a signal that action was coming.” He claims that after hearing of the video, he “knew then it would be within a month or two.” But nonetheless, his suggestion to put out a general attack warning will go unheeded (see May 2000-Late September 2000). An al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole follows less than a month later (see October 12, 2000). [Washington Times, 8/26/2002]
Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer will later claim that Captain Scott Phillpott, leader of the Able Danger program, briefs General Peter Schoomaker, head of Special Operations Command (SOCOM), that Able Danger has uncovered information of increased al-Qaeda “activity” in Aden harbor, Yemen. Shaffer, plus two other officials familiar with Able Danger later tell the New York Post that this warning was gleaned through a search of bin Laden’s business ties. Shaffer later recalls, “Yemen was elevated by Able Danger to be one of the top three hot spots for al-Qaeda in the entire world.” This warning, plus another possibly connected warning from Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst Kie Fallis (see May 2000-Late September 2000), go unheeded and no official warning is issued. The USS Cole is attacked by al-Qaeda terrorists in Aden harbor in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). Shaffer later claims that Phillpott tells the 9/11 Commission about this warning in 2004 to show that Able Danger could have had a significant impact, but the Commission’s findings fail to mention the warning, or in fact anything else about Able Danger (see July 12, 2004). [New York Post, 9/17/2005; Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005] Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) will similarly tell Fox News: “[T]wo weeks before the attack on the Cole, in fact, two days before the attack on the Cole, [Able Danger] saw an increase of activity that led them to say to the senior leadership in the Pentagon at that time, in the Clinton administration, there’s something going to happen in Yemen and we better be on high alert, but it was discounted. That story has yet to be told to the American people.” [Fox News, 10/8/2005]
Yemeni national Abdul Rahman Muhammad Nasir Qasim al-Yaf’i is imprisoned in Egypt after arriving there to accompany his aunt and brother for medical treatment. He is detained for 13 hours at the airport after he admits going to Afghanistan 10 years ago, and his passport is confiscated.
Detained in Egypt - He later returns to the airport for his passport, but is handcuffed, blindfolded, and taken away by the police. He is placed in a tiny cell and told the authorities just want “some general information.” During the interrogation, he is called names and made to stand up and sit down over and over again. He is asked about what he did in Afghanistan, as well as about al-Qaeda-linked attacks over the last four years. The interrogators choke him, insulting his parents, wife, and religion. He is interrogated like this three times a day for four days. Interrogators ask him to work with them, and offer to put his aunt and brother in the “finest hospitals in Cairo.” He refuses, and they tell him he will now be turned over to the US.
Rendered to Jordan - He is returned to the airport, where he boards a waiting plane. According to al-Yaf’i, the plane is “full of military, you could feel the presence of military even if it was a civilian plane.” He is flown to Amman, Jordan, and handed over to the Jordanian authorities, who again torture him. He is handcuffed, blindfolded, and told to write down everything that happened in Egypt. After he finishes, the interrogators keep asking him “do you love Osama bin Laden?” They also beat him and force him to stand in his cell for more than 24 hours without sleep. The next evening, the soles of his feet are beaten with a stick until it breaks. The interrogators continually urge him to confess, although it is unclear what he is supposed to confess to. They also say, “We’re going to kill you and bury you here,” and threaten him with rape multiple times. This continues for four months, during which time his family and tribe have no idea where he is.
Freed through Tribal Pressure - In March 2001, al-Yaf’i is flown to Yemen and handed over to the local authorities there. Upon his return, he is held for two months at the Political Security prison, but is not beaten. When he asks why he is being held, the reply is “American pressure.” Over half a year after initially being taken prisoner, he is released. He will later ascribe this to intervention by elders in his tribe. [International, 4/5/2006]
A satellite photo of the port of Yemen. [Source: National Geographic]Special Operations Command official Christopher Chope will later claim that in early October 2000, “one of the intelligence analysts assigned to the Able Danger effort began to get what he calls gut feel that things were going awry in Yemen; he didn’t have any hard intelligence. He asked then Commander Scott Philpott if that could be briefed at a high level briefing.” The briefing takes place on this day during a VIP visit to Garland, Texas, where the Able Danger program is based in late 2000 (see Late September 2000). [US Congress, 2/15/2006] Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) will later describe the warning in more serious terms than Chope, saying, “They saw information that led them to unequivocally understand that something was going to happen in the port at Yemen involving an American entity. Two days before the attack, they were jumping up and down because they knew something was going to happen… at the port of Aden.” [Hearst Newspapers, 11/10/2005] Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer will also later describe the warning in serious terms, claiming that the Able Danger team he was on determined that Yemen was one of the three most dangerous locations for al-Qaeda activity in the world (see Late September 2000). According to Shaffer, General Pete Schoomaker, commander of Special Operations Command, attends the briefing. Shaffer says that “Philpott requested they do something with it, they take action on it,” but apparently the warning does not reach the military commanders in Yemen before the USS Cole is bombed in Yemen two days later. Weldon will later say that the commander of the Cole told him in an interview that he “had three options on that day. He could have refueled the ship at sea. He had two other harbors. If he would have had any indication that there was a problem with Aden in Yemen, he would not have gone there. He was never given that information.” [US Congress, 2/15/2006]
Before the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, Ramzi bin al-Shibh makes two trips to Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, and will later be said to play a role in the attack. Although bin al-Shibh is never named as a certain participant in the operation, he flies from Frankfurt, Germany, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), on October 10, 2000. The next day, he flies from Dubai to Sana’a, putting him there one day before the bombing (see October 12, 2000). He flies from Sana’a to Dubai on October 21, and where he goes from there is not certain. [Los Angeles Times, 10/24/2001; Khan, 8/11/2002 ; Australian, 12/24/2002; McDermott, 2005, pp. 209] Bin al-Shibh was also in Yemen for about four weeks up until a month before the bombing (see August-September 2000). Note also that the CIA is working with the Dubai airport to track all suspected militants passing through it, although it is not known if bin al-Shibh is suspected at this time (see 1999). He apparently attended an al-Qaeda summit with the other commanders of the ship-bombing operation in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000) and some media reports indicate an application for a US visa he makes after the attack is rejected due to concerns about his involvement in the bombing. For example, the Los Angeles Times, based on conversations with law enforcement officials, will report that bin al-Shibh is “linked to the terrorist attack in Yemen on the US Navy destroyer Cole.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/21/2001] Newsweek, the BBC, and Al Jazeera journalist Yosri Fouda will also report similar statements by law enforcement officials (see May 17, 2000-May 2001). [Newsweek, 11/26/2001; BBC, 9/14/2002; TBS Journal, 10/2002] One of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, may also be involved in the bombing (see Around October 12, 2000).
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, an al-Qaeda leader involved in the attack on the USS Cole, is said to meet two associates, Ahmed al-Hada and al-Hada’s nephew Ramzi bin al-Shibh, in Yemen. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; Newsweek, 12/2/2002] Al-Hada, an operative who runs a communications hub for Osama bin Laden, has been under surveillance since 1998, at least (see August 4-25, 1998). The surveillance of al-Hada is reportedly so important that his house is monitored by spy satellites, to visually identify everyone coming and going (see Late August 1998), although it is unclear where the meeting with al-Nashiri takes place. The exact timing of this meeting and that with bin al-Shibh is not known, although bin al-Shibh stays in Yemen for about four weeks up until a month before the bombing (see August-September 2000), and then arrives in Yemen again one day before the bombing (see October 10-21, 2000). [Newsweek, 12/2/2002] Bin al-Shibh is repeatedly denied a US visa. Although the earlier applications are denied on the grounds he may stay in the US, it will later be suggested that his presumed role in the Cole bombing may have influenced one or more later denials (see May 17, 2000-May 2001).
Fahad al-Quso. [Source: Khaled Fazaa/AFP/Getty Images]Al-Qaeda operative Fahad al-Quso is supposed to video the attack on the USS Cole that occurs on this day (see October 12, 2000). However, al-Quso sleeps through his alarm and is not able to set his camera up in time. The bombers call him repeatedly on his cell phone until seconds before the crash, but he is in a taxi when the explosion occurs. He immediately goes into hiding and the camera is later found at his sister’s house. Osama bin Laden had specifically asked that the attack be videoed and had allocated funds for this purpose. The CIA will later trace $5,000 sent by bin Laden to the bombers’ cell in Yemen. [Miniter, 2003, pp. 217, 229; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
The NSA issues a top-secret intelligence report warning that terrorists are planning an attack in the Middle East, but the warning is not distributed until several hours after the USS Cole is bombed in Yemen (see October 12, 2000). The warning says that terrorists are involved in the “operational planning” for an attack on US or Israeli targets in the Middle East. It says that members of a group have been tracked to planning activities in Dubai and Beirut, but the names of the operatives and the group remain classified. According to one official, the warning specifies an attack in Yemen, but other officials say it covers the Middle East in general. Typically, the NSA requires one to two days to gather and distribute such highly classified reports. The warning is not reported on the US intelligence community’s worldwide computer network called Intellink. NSA reports often are sent out to a smaller network due to their high classification. [Washington Times, 10/25/2000]
Damage to the USS Cole. [Source: Department of Defense]The USS Cole is bombed in the Aden, Yemen harbor by two al-Qaeda militants, Hassan al-Khamri and Ibrahim al-Thawar (a.k.a. Nibras). Seventeen US soldiers are killed and 30 are wounded. The CIA will later conclude that with just slightly more skilled execution, the attack would have killed 300 and sunk the ship. [ABC News, 10/13/2000; Coll, 2004, pp. 532; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 191] The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) immediately takes credit for the attack. This is a Yemen-based Muslim militant group widely believed to have close ties to al-Qaeda (see 1996-1997 and After). [Guardian, 10/14/2000] The IAA statement is released by its spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997, (June 1998), and December 28, 1998 and After). Abu Hamza says that the attack was timed to mark the anniversary of the execution of the IAA’s former commander (see October 17, 1999). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 184] The prime minister of Yemen at the time of the bombing will say shortly after 9/11, “The Islamic Army was part of al-Qaeda.” [Guardian, 10/13/2001] The US soon learns the names of some al-Qaeda operatives involved in the attack, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Tawfiq bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso (see Early December 2000), and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000). 9/11 hijackers Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see October 10-21, 2000) and Khalid Almihdhar (see Around October 12, 2000) may also have been involved. This is a repeat of a previously attempted attack, against the USS The Sullivans, which failed and was apparently undetected (see January 3, 2000). [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002] The 9/11 Commission will later say the Cole bombing “was a full-fledged al-Qaeda operation, supervised directly by bin Laden. He chose the target and location of the attack, selected the suicide operatives, and provided the money needed to purchase explosives and equipment.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 190]
Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Khallad bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Islamic Army of Aden, USS Cole, Osama bin Laden, Ibrahim al-Thawar, Khalid Almihdhar, Fahad al-Quso, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hassan al-Khamri, Al-Qaeda
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Damage to the USS Cole, shown in dry dock. [Source: US Navy]9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in Yemen when the USS Cole is attacked in Aden harbor there (see October 12, 2000), and is reported to have had a role in the bombing. Almihdhar leaves shortly after the attack, together with al-Qaeda operative Khallad bin Attash. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 209] Bin Attash is quickly identified as one of the masterminds of the operation (see Late October-Late November 2000). Almihdhar will subsequently be accused of participating in the operation by the prime ministers of Yemen and Britain (see Early October 2001 and October 4, 2001). The Yemeni militant group Islamic Army of Aden takes credit for the bombing, and a friend of Almihdhar in San Diego will later say that Almihdhar told him he was a member of that group (see Early 2000). The Cole attack was a repeat of a failed attempt to bomb the USS The Sullivans (see January 3, 2000), of which Almihdhar had foreknowledge (see Late 1999). Almihdhar, who trained with the Cole bombers (see Late 1999) and attended an apparent planning session for the operation (see January 5-8, 2000), may also be involved in a later ship-bombing operation in Singapore (see June 2001). Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a close associate of the hijackers, also leaves Yemen around this time and is also suspected of involvement in the bombing (see October 10-21, 2000).
Hours after the USS Cole bombing in Yemen (see October 12, 2000), President Clinton says regarding the bombing: “If, as it now appears, this was an act of terrorism, it was a despicable and cowardly act. We will find out who was responsible and hold them accountable.” [ABC News, 10/12/2000] But the US will not quickly retaliate against al-Qaeda, as it did with missile strikes after the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa (see August 20, 1998), despite convincing evidence that al-Qaeda was behind the Cole bombing (see Shortly After October 12, 2000, November 2000 or After, and November 7, 2000).
In the months after the USS Cole is bombed in autumn 2000 (see October 12, 2000), the NSA intercepts about half a dozen communications between hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s father in law, Ahmed al-Hada. [MSNBC, 7/21/2004; Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; US President, 12/26/2005 ] The hub and people associated with it are thought to have played a support role in the Cole bombing (see also October 14-Late November, 2000 and October 4, 2001). [CNN, 2/14/2002; MSNBC, 7/21/2004] It was also involved in the bombing of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya (see August 4-25, 1998). The NSA has been monitoring the number for at least two years (see Late August 1998) and the FBI has used it to map al-Qaeda’s global organisation (see Late 1998-Early 2002). The NSA had previously intercepted calls between hijacker Khalid Almihdhar in the US and the hub (see Spring-Summer 2000 and Early 2000-Summer 2001) and also intercepts a call between Alhazmi and the hub a few weeks before 9/11 (see (August 2001)).
Following the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen (see October 12, 2000), the Clinton administration discusses what standard of evidence it needs to launch a counter-strike against al-Qaeda, which it suspects of the bombing. Following the bombing of the US embassies in East Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the administration fired a number of cruise missiles at suspected al-Qaeda targets (see August 20, 1998). However, the administration decides it must have evidence that bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s leadership has authority, direction, and control of the attack before initiating a response. CIA Director George Tenet will comment: “This is a high threshold to cross.” Tenet will also say that this threshold was not set by the CIA, but by “policy makers.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 128] Although the bombing is tied to three known leading al-Qaeda operatives, Khallad bin Attash (see November 11, 2000), Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000), and Ahmed al-Hada (see November 2000 or After), early on in the investigation, no counterstrike is initiated (see Shortly After October 12, 2000 and Late October 2000). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will express his frustration with the inaction: “[I]n Washington neither CIA nor FBI would state the obvious: al-Qaeda did it. We knew there was a large al-Qaeda cell in Yemen There was also a large cell of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, but that group had now announced its complete merger into al-Qaeda, so what difference did it make which group did the attack? [Counterterrorism staff] had worked around the clock piecing together the evidence and had made a very credible case against al-Qaeda. CIA would agree only months later.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 223] The authors of the 2002 book The Cell will later write: “The links to bin Laden were everywhere. Each of the suspects being held in Yemen had admitted training in the Afghan camps run by bin Laden… neither the FBI nor the CIA was ever able to tell the president that they had direct proof that the Cole was a bin Laden-ordered job, though now, in retrospect, it seems terribly obvious. In any case, even if there had been compelling proof that bin Laden was behind the Cole bombing, there was little chance that the Clinton administration would have launched an attack on any Islamic country while he was trying to get the Israelis and Palestinians to the peace table.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 238]
Author Lawrence Wright will later write about the FBI’s investigation of the USS Cole bombing in Yemen (see October 12, 2000): “The FBI was convinced that the [Cole] bombers had been tipped off about the arrival of the Cole, and they wanted to expand the investigation to include a member of the president’s own family and a colonel in [the Yemeni equivalent of the FBI]. There was scant interest on the part of the Yemen authorities in pursuing such leads.” Wright will also point out: “Yemen was a particularly difficult place to start a terrorist investigation, as it was filled with active al-Qaeda cells and with sympathizers at very high levels of government. On television, Yemeni politicians called for jihad against America. Just getting permission from the Yemeni government to go to the crime scene—the wounded warship in the Aden harbor—required lengthy negotiations with hostile officials.” Cooperation from the Yemen government is erratic at best. For instance, the Yemenis eventually show the FBI a videotape taken by a harborside security camera, but it appears the moment of the explosion has been edited out. [Wright, 2006, pp. 325; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] Later, when the FBI is finally allowed to interview Fahad al-Quso, who the FBI believes is one of the main Cole plotters, a Yemeni colonel enters the room and kisses Quso on both cheeks. This is a recognized signal to everyone that al-Quso is protected. [Wright, 2006, pp. 330] Between Yemeni obstructions, infighting between US officials (see October 14-Late November, 2000), and security concerns hindering movement, there will never be the same kind of investigation and trial as there was with the 1998 embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998 and February-July 2001).
Barbara Bodine at a press conference days after the bombing of the USS Cole. [Source: Reuters]The first FBI agents enter Yemen two days after the bombing of the USS Cole in an attempt to discover who was responsible. However, the main part of the team initially gets stuck in Germany because they do not have permission to enter Yemen and they are then unable to accomplish much due to restrictions placed on them and tensions between lead investigator John O’Neill and US Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine. All but about 50 investigators are forced to leave by the end of October. O’Neill’s boss Barry Mawn visits to assess the situation. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 237; New Yorker, 1/14/2002; Sunday Times (London), 2/3/2002; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] Mawn will later comment, “It became clear [Bodine] simply hated his guts.” After a ten day investigation, he concludes O’Neill is doing a fine job, tells Bodine that she is O’Neill’s “only detractor,” and refuses her request to recall him. [Wright, 2006, pp. 32] But O’Neill and much of his team are pressured to leave by late November and Bodine will not give him permission to return any time after that. The investigation stalls without his personal relationships to top Yemeni officials. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 237; New Yorker, 1/14/2002; Sunday Times (London), 2/3/2002] Increased security threats force the reduced FBI team still in Yemen to withdraw altogether in June 2001. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] The prime minister of Yemen at the time later claims (see Early October 2001) that hijacker “Khalid Almihdhar was one of the Cole perpetrators, involved in preparations. He was in Yemen at the time and stayed after the Cole bombing for a while, then he left.” The Sunday Times later notes, “The failure in Yemen may have blocked off lines of investigation that could have led directly to the terrorists preparing for September 11.” [Sunday Times (London), 2/3/2002]
Pat Patterson. [Source: Publicity photo]Los Angeles FBI agent Pat Patterson is sent to Yemen to assist in the investigation of the USS Cole bombing (see October 14-Late November, 2000). While there, he spends several evenings with John O’Neill, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s national security division in New York, who is leading the investigation. O’Neill is the FBI’s top expert on al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. The two men speculate about what bin Laden’s next target might be, and end up considering the World Trade Center. Patterson will later recall: “I thought it was unlikely they would hit a target a second time, but John was convinced of it. He said, ‘No, they definitely want to bring that building down.’ He just had that sense and was insistent about it.” [New York Magazine, 12/17/2001; Weiss, 2003, pp. 291-292 and 321] After leaving the FBI, O’Neill will actually start work as director of security for the World Trade Center shortly before 9/11 (see August 23, 2001).
After leaving Yemen following the bombing of the USS Cole (see Around October 12, 2000), 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar travels to various countries in Asia.
He is reportedly in Malaysia in October (see October 2000);
From late 2000 to February 2001 he stays with his cousin in Mecca, Saudi Arabia (see Late 2000-February 2001);
He then returns to Yemen, to stay with his family at an al-Qaeda communications hub monitored by US intelligence (see February 2001, Late August 1998, and (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000));
Following this, he goes to Afghanistan;
There are some reports he travels to the United Arab Emirates in June (see June 2001);
He is also said to be in Malaysia again in June (see June 2001);
Finally, he goes to stay with his cousin in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for another month. Before flying to New York (see July 4, 2001), Almihdhar tells his cousin that Osama bin Laden is planning five attacks on the US and asks the cousin to watch over his family, because he has a job to do (see Between June 1 and July 4, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 237; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 137 ]
After 9/11, there will be speculation that during this period Almihdhar is coordinating the arrival of the other muscle hijackers. According to FBI Director Robert Mueller, this would his explain his stay in Saudi Arabia and his return only after all the other hijackers had arrived. [US Congress, 9/26/2002] However, there is some evidence suggesting that Almihdhar may have visited the US in this time frame, perhaps using a passport in a false name (see June 10, 2000).
In 2008, the Washington Post will report that shortly after the October 12, 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, US and Yemeni investigators are able to determine that the mastermind of the bombing was al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000). Yemeni authorities insisted that Nashiri had fled the country before the Cole bombing. But an anonymous senior Yemeni official will tell the Post that in fact al-Nashiri was still in the country and Yemeni investigators had located him in a town about 90 miles northwest of the Aden, where the bombing took place. Al-Nashiri spends several months in this town while receiving high-level protection from the government. “We knew where he was, but we could not arrest him,” this official will say. [Washington Post, 5/4/2008] It has separately been reported that several months before the bombing, al-Nashiri was given safe passage through Yemen without needing to be searched, at the orders Yemeni interior Minister Hussein Arab (see April 2000).
The FBI’s investigation of the USS Cole bombing in Aden, Yemen, connects the bombers to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, the country’s capital, which has been monitored by the US for at least two years (see Late August 1998 and Mid-August 1998-October 2000). It was also used in the East African embassy bombings (see August 4-25, 1998) and will be used by the 9/11 hijackers (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). It is not known when this connection is made. No apparent action is taken against Ahmed al-Hada, the operative who runs the communications hub, before 9/11. However, this may be due to the importance of intelligence generated from his phone (see Late 1998-Early 2002). In early 2001, al-Hada will be publicly identified as an al-Qaeda operative at the embassy bombings trial, when his phone number is disclosed openly in court and reported in the media (see February 2001 and After). Yet he still is not publicly indicted for either the embassy bombings or the Cole bombing, even though a number of other fugitives are publicly indicted. In 2002, US officials will describe al-Hada as a “prominent al-Qaeda member who is believed to have been involved in the Cole bombing,” and say his phone was used by the bombers to relay messages and “put everything together” before the attack. [MSNBC, 2/14/2002; MSNBC, 5/2005]
Rahim al-Nashiri [Source: AP]After several weeks of investigation, US authorities learn that al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was involved in the plot to attack the USS Cole. Investigators find a second safe house used by the bombing team, and learn it was registered to al-Nashiri under a name variant. Al-Nashiri’s name is dimly familiar to FBI agent Ali Soufan, who remembers that a source said al-Nashiri was planning a seaborne attack against a US vessel in Aden (see After August 7, 1998). The FBI then finds that al-Nashiri rented a car in Aden before the bombing. Author Lawrence Wright will comment, “It was another strong link between al-Qaeda and the Cole attack.” [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] In addition, one of the bombers detained by Yemeni authorities, Jamal al-Badawi, identifies al-Nashiri as a person who gave instructions for the attack. Al-Badawi also says he thought al-Nashiri was working for bin Laden, but al-Nashiri did not tell al-Badawi this directly. [CNN, 12/13/2000] Although al-Nashiri was the operational manager, he was actually in Afghanistan for a meeting with Osama bin Laden when the opportunity to attack arose and was not physically present at the bombing. Investigators are aware that he is the cousin of one of the bombers of the US embassy in Nairobi, which he facilitated, and a captured embassy bomber identified a photo of him for the FBI two years earlier (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998 and August 22-25 1998). Al-Nashiri has been known to various intelligence agencies since 1998, at least, and was monitored at the Malaysia summit of top al-Qaeda leaders at the start of the year (see January 5-8, 2000). [CNN, 12/11/2000; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3; Wright, 2006, pp. 318] US investigators also identify another leading suspect in the case, Khallad bin Attash, at around the same time (see January 4, 2001).
A local boy in Aden, Yemen, goes to the police and tells them he met the people who bombed the USS Cole before the attack, and the ensuing investigation reveals the vehicle and a safe house used by the bombers. The boy says that he was fishing when the bombers placed the boat in the water and that he was paid to watch the truck and the boat trailer, but the men never returned. The Yemeni police initially arrest him and his father, but the FBI obtains permission to talk to him and he takes them to the launch site. He says the bombers invited him and his family to ride in the boat before the attack, indicating the bombers were trying to find out how much weight the boat would carry. The truck and trailer are still at the launch site and the registration records lead investigators to a safe house that was used by the bombers. The FBI team finds that the bathroom sink in the house is full of body hair, as the bombers apparently shaved entirely before death. The FBI collects a razor and hair samples for future DNA identification. [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
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