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From left to right: Mokhtar Haouari, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, Abdel Ghani Meskini. The picture of Meskini is from an ATM camera. [Source: Public domain, public domain, and Seattle Times]In the wake of the arrest of Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), FBI investigators work frantically to uncover more millennium plots before the end of the year. US authorities also make a number of arrests.
A telephone number found in Ressam’s pocket leads to Abdel Ghani Meskini, an Algerian living in New York City who had gone to Seattle to meet Ressam. Meskini is monitored and arrested in New York on December 30.
One of Ressam’s credit cards leads to the arrest of Mokhtar Haouari, an Algerian living in Montreal, Canada. Meskini later cooperates with US investigators and is never charged, while Haouari will be sentenced to 24 years in prison. [Time, 2/7/2000; CNN, 1/16/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 298]
Another Algerian associate of Ressam’s, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, escapes to Afghanistan, but will eventually be caught by the Algerian government and convicted in Algeria. [PBS Frontline, 10/25/2001]
Investigators believe that Mohamedou Ould Slahi, an al-Qaeda operative whose cousin is a top al-Qaeda leader, went to Canada to give the go-ahead for Ressam’s attack. Slahi is arrested several times overseas, but never charged (see January-April 2000). [CNN, 3/6/2002]
Khalid Deek, a US citizen, is arrested around this time for masterminding another al-Qaeda millennnium plot (see December 11, 1999). But counterterrorism expert Rita Katz will later say Deek was a suspected mastermind of Ressam’s Los Angeles airport plot, too. [Orange County Register, 9/12/2005] Deek’s name and phone number is found in Ressam’s telephone book. Ressam knew Deek from bin Laden training camps in Afghanistan. Both of them, like most of Ressam’s group, have links to the GIA, an Algerian militant group associated with al-Qaeda. [Newsweek (International), 3/13/2000]
Others escape the US after hearing media reports of Ressam’s arrest. However, enough people are caught to stop additional millennium attacks. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later says, “I think a lot of the FBI leadership for the first time realized that… there probably were al-Qaeda people in the United States. They realized that only after they looked at the results of the investigation of the millennium bombing plot.” [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] Yet Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger later claims that the FBI will still repeatedly assure the Clinton White House until Clinton leaves office that al-Qaeda lacks the ability to launch a domestic strike (see 2000).
Some attendees of the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), arrive early. Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash had lost a leg while fighting in Afghanistan in 1997. In early December 1999, he was in Afghanistan with Abu Bara al-Taizi (a.k.a. Zohair Mohammed Said) and others, attending a hijacking training course (see Late 1999 and Early December 1999). Bin Attash and al-Taizi have been selected by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to be hijackers for a planned Asian portion of the 9/11 plot (which will later be cancelled).
Surgery for Bin Attash's Leg - Bin Attash goes early to an al-Qaeda summit where hijacking plans will be discussed, in order to have prosthetic surgery for his leg. Al-Taizi goes with him. Malaysian security is said to be lax for Islamist militants, and Malaysia does not require a visa for citizens of many Middle Eastern countries. There is a clinic in Kuala Lumpur called Endolite, and other wounded militants have said they successfully concealed the origins of their combat wounds when receiving treatment there. Bin Attash got a prosthetic leg in Malaysia not long after losing his leg in 1997, but he is coming back to get a better one. He apparently gets the money for the prosthesis from his father, Osama bin Laden, and another al-Qaeda figure.
Link with Hambali - When bin Attash and al-Taizi arrive in Kuala Lumpur, they contact Hambali, the top al-Qaeda leader in Southeast Asia. Hambali picks them up at the airport and takes them to his home. Then he takes them to the Endolite clinic. Bin Attash and al-Taizi stay at or near the clinic for about 10 to 14 days. Bin Attash then takes about four flights in Southeast Asia to learn about security for the hijacking plan (see December 31, 1999-January 2, 2000), while al-Taizi apparently stays in Kuala Lumpur. According to Hambali’s later Guantanamo prison file, bin Attash and al-Taizi also investigate the security of US aircraft carriers in the region.
Others Arrive - On January 3, with bin Attash back from his flights, the two of them move to Yazid Sufaat’s condominium where the al-Qaeda summit will be held. Future 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi arrives there the next day. 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar arrives the day after that, and other attendees are arriving as well, allowing the summit to begin (see January 5-8, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 158-159; US Department of Defense, 12/6/2006; US Department of Defense, 10/25/2008; US Department of Defense, 10/30/2008] Note that this information is based on prisoner interrogations, which can be highly unreliable. However, it should be noted that the accounts of bin Attash, Hambali, and al-Taizi appear to largely match.
With the passing of UN Resolution 1284, the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) is created to assist in the disarming of Iraq. The new body replaces the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM). UNMOVIC is deliberately designed to prevent infiltration by spies of the UN Security Council member states, specifically the US and Britain. This had been a problem with its predecessor, UNSCOM. The UN diminishes the role of Americans in the new commission by abolishing the powerful office of deputy chairman, which had always been held by an American, and by appointing non-Americans to important positions. In the new inspections body, “The highest-ranking American in the agency now has a relatively lowly job, in charge of the training division.” A Chinese official holds the senior “activity evaluation” position and a Russian official is in charge of “liaising with foreign governments and companies.” Another reform is that the inspectors will use commercial satellite companies, instead of US spy satellites, to monitor Iraq’s activities. [London Times, 9/18/2002]
The FBI misses a chance to learn about Zacarias Moussaoui after a raid in Dublin, Ireland. On December 14, 1999, Ahmed Ressam was arrested trying to smuggle explosives into the US (see December 14, 1999). On December 21, Irish police arrest Hamid Aich and several other North African immigrants living in Dublin. [New York Times, 1/22/2000] During the arrests, police seize a large amount of documents relating to citizenship applications, identities, credit cards, and airplane tickets. A diagram of an electrical switch that could be used for a bomb is found that is identical to a diagram found in Ressam’s apartment in Vancouver, Canada. [Irish Times, 7/31/2002] The suspects are released about a day later, but, “Within days, authorities in Ireland and the United States began to realize that they might have missed a chance to learn more about a terrorist network.” [New York Times, 1/22/2000] It is discovered that Aich lived with Ressam in Montreal, and then later lived with him in Vancouver. Investigators conclude there has been an al-Qaeda cell in Dublin since the early 1990s, when the charity Mercy International opened an office there (this charity has several known al-Qaeda connections by this time (see 1988-Spring 1995 and Late 1996-August 20, 1998) and also an alleged CIA connection (see 1989 and After)). The cell is mainly involved in providing travel and identity documents for other cells committing violent acts. Investigators also connect Aich to the Islamic Jihad. But the US and Canada do not seek Aich’s extradition, and instead have the Irish police keep him under surveillance. He will escape from Ireland shortly before 9/11 (see June 3, 2001-July 24, 2001). [New York Times, 1/22/2000; Irish Times, 7/31/2002] Apparently, many of the documents seized in the raid will only be closely examined after 9/11. Documents will show that in 1999 and 2000, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a top al-Qaeda financier, worked with the Dublin cell to finance Moussaoui’s international travel. Aich made travel arrangements and possibly provided fake identification for Moussaoui. [Fox News, 7/30/2002; Irish Times, 7/31/2002] Presumably, had these links been discovered after the 1999 raid instead of after 9/11, events could have gone very differently when Moussaoui was arrested in the US in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001).
Hijackers threaten the Indian Airlines plane, under Taliban supervision. [Source: Agence France-Presse/ Getty Images]Indian Airlines Flight 814 is hijacked and flown to Afghanistan where 155 passengers are held hostage for eight days. They are freed in return for the release of three militants held in Indian prisons. One of the hostages is killed. One of the men freed in the exchange is Saeed Sheikh, who will later allegedly wire money to the 9/11 hijackers (see Early August 2001). [BBC, 12/31/1999] Another freed militant is Maulana Masood Azhar. Azhar emerges in Pakistan a few days later, and tells a crowd of 10,000, “I have come here because this is my duty to tell you that Muslims should not rest in peace until we have destroyed America and India.” [Associated Press, 1/5/2000] He then tours Pakistan for weeks under the protection of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. [Vanity Fair, 8/2002] The ISI and Saeed help Azhar form a new Islamic militant group called Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Azhar is soon plotting attacks again. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002; Guardian, 7/16/2002; Washington Post, 2/8/2003] The hijacking plot is blamed on Harkat ul-Mujahedeen (also known as Harkat ul-Ansar), a Pakistani militant group originally formed and developed in large part due to Pervez Musharraf in the early 1990s, and led by Azhar and Sheikh before their arrests in India (see Early 1993). Musharraf has just taken power in Pakistan in a coup two months earlier (see October 12, 1999). The Indian government publicly blames the ISI for backing the hijacking. Such claims are not surprising given the longstanding animosity between Pakistan and India; however, US officials also privately say the ISI backed the hijacking and may even have helped carry it out. The US and Britain demand that Pakistan ban Harkat ul-Mujahedeen and other similar groups, but Pakistan takes no action. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 48] The five hijackers, all Pakistanis and members of Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, are released and return to Pakistan. They are never arrested. One of them will later be revealed to be Amjad Farooqi, a leader of both al-Qaeda and Pakistani militant groups who will be killed in mysterious circumstances in 2004 (see September 27, 2004). India is furious with the US for refusing to condemn Pakistan or pressure it to take action against the hijackers. According to some sources, al-Qaeda planned the hijacking in conjunction with Harkat ul-Mujahedeen. [Washington Post, 9/27/2004; Rashid, 2008, pp. 112-113] In 2001, the flight’s captain, Devi Sharan, will say that the hijackers of his plane used techniques similar to the 9/11 hijackers, suggesting a common modus operandi. The hijackers praised Osama bin Laden, had knives and slit the throat of a passenger, herded the passengers to the back of the plane where some of them used cell phones to call relatives, and one hijacker said he had trained on a simulator. [CNN, 9/26/2001]
Entity Tags: Indian Airlines Flight 814, Devi Sharan, Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, Central Intelligence Agency, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Al-Qaeda, Amjad Farooqi, Saeed Sheikh, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Maulana Masood Azhar
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
US intelligence learns about a likely al-Qaeda cell in California but fails to act on it. In early December 1999, US intelligence learned that a participant in an attempted al-Qaeda linked millennium plot in Jordan was a US citizen by the name of Khalil Deek. President Clinton was immediately notified because of the implication that al-Qaeda had a presence inside the US (see December 9, 1999). The FBI began interviewing Deek’s neighbors in Anaheim, California, but apparently learned little. However Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke tasked the Investigative Project on Terrorism, a private research team, to look into Deek’s US ties. On this day, the team goes to the White House and gives a report on their findings to Clarke and an assistant of his known only as Peter, and others on the National Security Council (NSC). Rita Katz has been leading the research effort and gives a presentation outlining the sleeper cell they believe they have discovered in Anaheim consisting of Deek, his brother Tawfiq Deek, Khalid Ashour, Hisham Diab, and a charity front known as Charity Without Borders (see December 14-25, 1999). According to a later account by Katz, Clarke, Peter, and the others are impressed at how much the team was able to learn looking only through public records. They express surprise that the FBI was not able to learn as much. The NSC gives the information to the FBI but apparently they do nothing with it. Katz will report in 2003 that Ashour is still living in California even though his request for asylum could have been easily denied. [Katz, 2003, pp. 156-174]
The NSA, monitoring a telephone in an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002), has listened in on phone calls revealing that hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi are to attend an important al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000 (see Shortly Before December 29, 1999). Almihdhar’s full name was mentioned, as well as the first names of hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Salem Alhazmi. On this day, the NSA shares this information with the CIA’s Alec Station bin Laden unit. Other US intelligence agencies, including FBI headquarters and the FBI’s New York field office, are told as well. Although Khalid Almihdhar’s full name was mentioned in one call, the NSA only passes on his first name. Also, the NSA has already learned from monitoring the Yemen hub that Nawaf’s last name is Alhazmi and that he is long-time friends with Almihdhar (see Early 1999). However, they either don’t look this up in their records or don’t pass it on to any other agency. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 239 ; Wright, 2006, pp. 310] An NSA analyst makes a comment that is shared between US intelligence agencies, “Salem may be Nawaf’s younger brother.” This turns out to be correct. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ] A CIA officer will later tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that information from the Africa embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) was reviewed in late 1999 during a worldwide effort to disrupt millennium attack plots (see December 15-31, 1999) and “a kind of tuning fork… buzzed when two [of the hijackers] reportedly planning a trip to [Malaysia] were linked indirectly to what appeared to be a support element… involved with the Africa bombers.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ] The fact that they are connected to the Yemen communication hub already indicates some importance within al-Qaeda. It is learned they are connected to the embassy bombings in some way (see October 4, 2001 and Late 1999). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ] The NSA report about them on this day is entitled, “Activities of Bin Laden Associates,” showing the clear knowledge of their ties to bin Laden. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] The CIA will track Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to the Malaysia summit (see January 2-5, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000).
Entity Tags: Salem Alhazmi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI New York Field Office, Khalid Almihdhar, FBI Headquarters, Al-Qaeda, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed al-Hada, National Security Agency, Nawaf Alhazmi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
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).
Ziyad Khaleel in Missouri in 1996. [Source: Evan Kohlmann]Police in Jordan detain Ziyad Khaleel, who the FBI calls a Florida-based “procurement agent” for Osama bin Laden. The FBI says Khaleel’s role is to “procure computers, satellite telephones, and covert surveillance equipment” for al-Qaeda leaders. [Newsweek, 2/7/2000] In 1995, Khaleel started studied at Columbia College in Kansas City. The following year, using money sent by others, the FBI monitored him as he helped bin Laden buy a satellite phone (see November 1996-Late December 1999 and November 1996-Late August 1998). He continued to buy new minutes and parts for the phone at least through 1998 (see July 29-August 7, 1998). [Knight Ridder, 9/20/2001] While living in the US, he also was helping Hamas, the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), and working as a regional director for the Islamic American Relief Agency (IARA), which was directly funding bin Laden (see November 1996-Late December 1999). US intelligence also linked him to the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in 1994, a charity front with ties to both bin Laden and the CIA (see 1986-1993). Once in custody, Khaleel cooperates with the FBI and is said to provide “crucial evidence about bin Laden’s US operations.” But he is quickly released. He will graduate from Columbia College later in 2000. [Newsweek, 2/7/2000; Knight Ridder, 9/20/2001] He will continue to raise money in the US for Palestinian groups the US government will later say are terrorist-related. He will leave the US around early 2001 and apparently dies in a car crash in Saudi Arabia in 2002. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/22/2003; Newsweek, 10/20/2004]
During the investigation of the Millennium plots to attack targets in Jordan (see November 30, 1999), the local intelligence service gives the chief of the CIA station in Amman a box of evidence to examine. However, the station chief, apparently called “Hendrik V.,” ignores the box; he dumps it in a corner of his office and fails to inform his FBI colleagues of it. A few days later, FBI agent Ali Souofan is in Hendrik V.‘s office and asks what is in the box. Hendrik V. replies that it is just “junk” the Jordanians gave him. Soufan starts to go through the box and finds key evidence, such as a map of the proposed bomb sites. The evidence is then returned to the Jordanians, so they can start following the leads. Author Lawrence Wright will comment, “Soufan’s success embarrassed the CIA.” [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ; Soufan, 2011, pp. 139-140] Hendrik V. will later be promoted to run the Sunni Extremist Group at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (see (Between Summer and Winter 2001)).
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).
Earlier in December, the CIA estimated that al-Qaeda would launch between five and 15 attacks against American targets around the world over the New Year’s weekend, and that several targets would likely be inside the US (see December 8, 1999). Since late 1999, there has been intelligence that targets in Washington and New York would be attacked at this time. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] There in fact are a number of planned attacks, including bomb attacks on the Boston and Los Angeles airports (see December 14, 1999 and December 15-31, 1999), a hotel in Jordan (see November 30, 1999), and a naval ship in Yemen (see January 3, 2000). However, all of the attacks are foiled, thanks to alerts and luck. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002]
After his released from an Indian prison at the end of 1999 (see December 24-31, 1999), Saeed Sheikh stays in Kandahar, Afghanistan, for several days and meets with Taliban leader Mullah Omar. He also meets with bin Laden, who is said to call Saeed “my special son.” [Vanity Fair, 8/2002] Saeed soon has a falling out with Pakistani militant leader Maulana Masood Azhar and draws closer to al-Qaeda. Based mostly in Karachi, Pakistan, he reports to al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. Saeed is said to “soon [become] a key figure, especially in terms of fund-raising.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 286] He regularly travels to Afghanistan and helps train new al-Qaeda recruits in training camps there. [New York Times, 2/25/2002; India Today, 2/25/2002; National Post, 2/26/2002; Guardian, 7/16/2002] Saeed helps train some of the 9/11 hijackers, presumably in Afghanistan as well. [Daily Telegraph, 9/30/2001] He also helps al-Qaeda develop a secure web-based communications system. His work is generally so impressive that there is talk he could one day succeed bin Laden. [Daily Telegraph, 7/16/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002] Saeed forged a relationship while in Indian prison with Aftab Ansari, a Pakistani gangster who has fled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) (see November 1994-December 1999). Thanks to this connection, Sheikh is able to establish an al-Qaeda base for himself in Dubai, UAE. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 286] Numerous 9/11 hijackers will later move through Dubai and some of the money sent to Mohamed Atta in 2001 will come from Sheikh and Ansari through Dubai (see Early August 2001). [Guardian, 2/9/2002] At the same time Saeed is strengthening his al-Qaeda ties, he is also openly working with the Pakistani ISI (see January 1, 2000-September 11, 2001).
Al-Qaeda operative Luai Sakra apparently begins working as an informant for the CIA, Syrian intelligence, and Turkish intelligence. Sakra, a young Syrian whose parents were Turkish, attended the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan in 1997. He developed a bond with Abu Zubaida, the al-Qaeda leader who was logistics manager for the camp. Zubaida will later be captured and interrogated by the CIA and will reportedly confirm a link with Sakra. Zubaida tasked Sakra with building up an al-Qaeda network in Turkey. In 1999, the Syrian government began hunting him for his role in a revolt in a Lebanon refugee camp. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005] The Turkish newspaper Zaman will report shortly after his capture in 2005, “Sakra has been sought by the secret services since 2000.” The CIA interrogated him twice in 2000. “Following the interrogation, the CIA offered him employment. He also received a large sum of money by the CIA. However the CIA eventually lost contact with him. Following this development, in 2000 the CIA passed intelligence about Sakra through a classified notice to Turkey, calling for the Turkish (intelligence) to capture him. [They] caught Sakra in Turkey and interrogated him.” [Zaman, 8/14/2005] Sakra was then apparently let go again. He will then move Germany and assist some of the 9/11 hijackers (see September 2000-July 24, 2001), then reveal details about the 9/11 attacks to Syrian intelligence the day before 9/11 (see September 10, 2001). He also will later claim to have trained some 9/11 hijackers in Turkey starting in late 1999 (see Late 1999-2000). In 2007, former CIA Director George Tenet will write in his book “At the Center of the Storm” that “a source we were jointly running with a Middle Eastern country went to see his foreign handler and basically told him something big was about to go down.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 160] This is very likely a reference to Sakra, since no one else comes close to matching the description of telling a Middle Eastern government about the 9/11 attacks one day in advance, not to mention working as an informant for the CIA at the same time. Tenet’s revelation strongly supports the notion that Sakra in fact accepted the CIA’s offers in 2000 and had been working with the CIA and other intelligence agencies at least through 9/11.
The BKA, the German counterpart to the FBI, prepares an extensive report on al-Qaeda’s connections in Germany. The BKA warns that “Unknown structures” are preparing to stage attacks abroad. However, the German federal prosecutor’s office rejects a proposed follow-up investigation. One of the persons named in the BKA report supposedly had contacts with the Hamburg terror cell. [Berliner Zeitung (Berlin), 9/24/2001]
Abdelkader Belliraj, a dual Belgian and Moroccan citizen, begins working for the Belgian government as an informant in this year, if not earlier (see February 29, 2008). It appears that the Belgian government has good reason to believe he is a murderer. When he is arrested in Morocco in 2008 (see February 18, 2008), he will confess to a series of unsolved murders in Belgium and Luxembourg between 1986 and 1989. Belgian detectives suspected that three of the murders, that of a Saudi imam in Brussels, his Tunisian librarian, and a driver at the Saudi embassy in Brussels, were connected. The same gun was used in each murder, and all three victims witnessed extensive fraud by Saudi embassy personnel. Belliraj was interrogated but let go. Abu Nidal’s terrorist group took credit for some of these murders, raising the possibility that Belliraj was a hit man for Nidal. Beginning in 1992, Belliraj formed a criminal network that committed a series of hold-ups in Belgium through 2001. [Het Laatste News, 3/2/2008; Terrorism Focus, 3/4/2008] In 2000, the same year Belliraj begins working for the Belgian internal security service, State Security, his close associate Abdellatif Bekhti is arrested shortly after robbing a warehouse owned by the Brinks security firm. $24 million is stolen in the robbery. It is believed Belliraj’s group gets $5 million of that, while the rest of the money goes to Mafia figures who also took part in the robbery. Bekhti is sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2003. But several months later, Belliraj breaks him out of prison, as a car crashes the prison wall where Bekhti is being held. Bekhti will be arrested in 2008 in Morrocco with Belliraj and confess to his role in the robbery and other crimes. [Los Angeles Times, 2/27/2008; Terrorism Focus, 3/4/2008; BBC, 3/16/2008] Also in 2000, Belliraj’s group begins working with Hezbollah, and then links with al-Qaeda one year later (see 2001). He also allegedly has links to the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is not known why Belgian State Security worked with such a criminal or how much they knew about his exploits. One article notes: “Belliraj was well-known in Belgium. He was monitored and even interrogated but always released.” [Terrorism Focus, 3/4/2008]
The CIA sends an officer from its Counterterrorist Center (CTC) to the NSA to review raw transcripts of intercepted communications between terrorists. However, the officer is only there for a “brief period” and is subsequently withdrawn and not replaced, damaging the CIA’s ability to exploit the information gleaned from the intercepts. The CIA only previously received summaries of intercepted calls, not the transcripts themselves, and had been arguing for years that it needed the actual transcripts to better understand the material (see February 1996-May 1998, December 1996, After December 1996, After December 1996, and Late August 1998). After the single officer leaves the NSA, which intercepts calls between the US-based 9/11 hijackers and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen around this time (see Early 2000-Summer 2001), the reason the CIA gives for not replacing him is “resource constraints.” In 2005, the CIA’s Office of Inspector General will regard this failure as so serious that it will recommend an accountability board be convened to review the performance of the CTC managers responsible, and will suggest that officers should have been detailed to the NSA “on a consistent, full-time basis.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xxiii ] The CIA and NSA are obtaining information about people in the US from phone companies to support “black ops” at this time (see After July 11, 1997).
Abderazek Mahdjoub. [Source: Associated Press]Abderazek Mahdjoub, an Algerian living in Hamburg, Germany, attends the Al-Quds mosque, and has ties to some of the 9/11 hijackers. According to a senior German intelligence official, Mahdjoub is under observation by German domestic intelligence since at least this year. However, he is also connected to the al-Qaeda cell in Milan and in fact is believed to be the head of that cell. There is considerable evidence that the Milan cell has foreknowledge of the 9/11 plot. The cell is under heavy surveillance by Italian intelligence before 9/11 (see August 12, 2000)
(see January 24, 2001). But apparently the connection between the Milan and Hamburg cells through Mahdjoub is not made. He is also tied to Mohamed Daki, another alleged member of the Milan cell periodically living in Hamburg before 9/11 (see December 1997-November 1998). He apparently will continue to be a major organizer after 9/11, and the Italian and German governments will fail to share information about him. He is suspected of leading European recruitment of those who want to fight the US in Iraq. In late 2003, he will finally be arrested trying to cross the border into Iraq. He is put in German custody. [New York Times, 11/29/2003; New York Times, 3/22/2004]
German investigators are monitoring Said Bahaji, a member of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell, for his ties to Mamoun Darkazanli. They had been monitoring a Marienstrasse address where Bahaji had been living. But Bahaji moved out after his 1999 wedding (see October 9, 1999) to live down the street with his new wife. A request to continue monitoring the Marienstrasse address is denied in 2000 for lack of evidence. Bahaji had lived at that address with Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi and other members of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. Although Bahaji, Atta, and Alshehhi all moved out by mid-2000, other associates like Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Zakariya Essabar, and Abdelghani Mzoudi moved in. Atta’s name stayed on the lease until early 2001. [New York Times, 6/20/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 495]
According to a French intelligence report, in the beginning of 2000 bin Laden meets with Taliban leaders, other al-Qaeda leaders, and armed groups from Chechnya to plan a hijacking, possibly of an airplane flying to the US. They create a list of seven possible airlines to hijack: American, Delta, Continental, United, Air France, Lufthansa, and a vague “US Aero.” The group considers hijacking a US airline flying out of Frankfurt and diverting it to Iran or Afghanistan or hijacking a French or German plane and diverting it to Tajikistan or Afghanistan. The goals are to increase international pressure to force a Russian withdrawal from Chechnya and to force the release of Islamists in US prisons. [Associated Press, 4/16/2007; Le Monde (Paris), 4/17/2007] This latter goal is a likely reference to the Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, as US intelligence repeatedly hears of al-Qaeda hijacking plots to free him (see 1998, March-April 2001, and May 23, 2001). The Chechens are likely connected to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab, who has a long history of collaboration with bin Laden (see 1986-March 19, 2002 and Before April 13, 2001). According to other news reports, in early 2000, the CIA observed Mohamed Atta as he bought large quantities of chemicals in Frankfurt, apparently to build explosives (see January-May 2000), and in February and March 2001, Atta and two associates will apply for a job with Lufthansa Airlines at the Frankfurt airport that would give them access to secure areas of the airport, but apparently none of them are able to get the job (see February 15, 2001). Bin Laden will apparently uphold the decision to go forward with this plot later in 2000 (see October 2000) and the French will continue to report on the plot in January 2001, apparently passing the information to the CIA (see January 5, 2001). But it is unclear what happens after that and if the plot morphs into the 9/11 attacks, is canceled, or was a ruse all along. Some of the 9/11 hijackers fought in Chechnya and therefore might also be linked to Ibn Khattab (see 1996-December 2000).
Treasury Department official Richard Newcomb has been to Saudi Arabia with other US officials in an attempt to pressure the Saudis to crack down on financing al-Qaeda, but no action has resulted (see June 1999). He had threatened to freeze the assets of certain individuals and groups funding al-Qaeda if not action is taken, and now he starts to act on that threat. As head of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, he submits names for sanctions. But imposing sanctions requires approval from an interagency committee, and the permission to go ahead is never given. CIA and FBI officials are “lukewarm to the idea, worried that sanctions would chill what little cooperation they had with their Saudi counterparts.” But the State Department puts up the most opposition. One official will later recall, “The State Department always thought we had much bigger fish to fry.” [US News and World Report, 12/15/2003]
National Security Adviser Sandy Berger will later say that in early 2000 the National Security Council (NSC), the US military, and the CIA develops a “new technique for detecting Bin Laden.” Berger calls it “very promising as a way of determining where he would be if we had one strand of human intelligence.” The Los Angeles Times will comment, “But whether the new technique was some sort of high-tech homing device or silent surveillance craft is a question left to future generations.” The next two and a half pages of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report discussing this technique are completely censored. [Los Angeles Times, 7/27/2003] Despite Berger’s implication that the US does not have human intelligence on bin Laden’s movements at this time, other accounts indicate that it does (see March-April 2001 and April 2001).
Antonio Nucera, deputy chief of the SISMI center in Viale Pasteur in Rome and one of Italy’s foremost experts on WMD, telephones Rocco Martino, an Italian information peddler and former SISMI agent. Nucera tells Martino of a SISMI intelligence asset working in the Niger Embassy in Rome who is in need of money and who can provide him with documents to sell. [Sunday Times (London), 8/1/2004; Financial Times, 8/2/2004; Il Giornale (Rome), 9/21/2004; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; Il Giornale (Rome), 11/6/2005] According to Martino, “SISMI wanted me to pass on the documents but they didn’t want anyone to know they had been involved.” [Sunday Times (London), 8/1/2004; Financial Times, 8/2/2004] Martino, who left the agency in 1999, has a long history of peddling information to other intelligence services in Europe, including France’s DGSE. He is weathering financial difficulties, and Nucera’s proposal may be a lucrative one. Nucera tells Martino about a longtime Italian “asset” in the Nigerien embassy in Rome, a woman of around 60 with a low-level position there. The woman will later be dubbed “La Signora” by the Italian press, and be identified as Laura Montini, the Nigerien ambassador’s assistant. Nucera suggests that Martino can possibly use her as SISMI had, paying her to pass on documents stolen or copied from the Nigerien embassy (see January 2, 2001) and March 2007). [London Times, 8/1/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 207]
9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed spends three weeks in Italy in early 2000. This is according to the BKA (German intelligence). It is unknown what he does there or who he meets. It also will not be made public when the BKA learns this. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 209, 299]
Sami Ben Khemais. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Telephone wiretaps and listening devices used against a Milan-based Tunisian operative named Sami Ben Khemais provide investigators with “a trove of fresh information” and help them uncover a European network of Islamist radicals. Ben Khemais fell under surveillance some time after arriving in Italy from Afghan training camps in 1998 and has dealings with other radicals in Germany, Spain, Britain, France, Belgium, and Switzerland. Shortly after 9/11, a German official will say the network of interlocking cells uncovered changes counterterrorist thinking in Europe: “In the past, we had seen some links to Afghanistan, but we saw them as more or less acting here without close connections to al-Qaeda. Now we are seeing more and more links between cells and to al-Qaeda. We are rethinking everything.” The European cells are organized under two umbrellas, Takfir wal Hijra and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), and its three leaders are Abu Doha, who will be arrested in London (see February 2001); Mohamed Bensakhria, based in Frankfurt, but arrested in Spain; and Tarek Maaroufi, who is arrested in Belgium. The Milan cell of which Ben Khemais is part and which he finances by drug-trafficking, counterfeiting money and documents, and money laundering, is connected to the “Hamburg cell” that provides three 9/11 hijackers in various ways (see December 1997-November 1998, October 2, 1998, and 2000). [Boston Globe, 10/23/2001]
NATO troops patrol the village of Bocinja Donja in 2001. [Source: NATO / Paul Hanson]In the wake of the failed al-Qaeda millennium bomb plots, US investigators will discover that a number of suspects in the plots have connections to an obscure village in Bosnia named Bocinja Donja. At the end of the Bosnian war in late 1995, Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic kicked out the Serbians living in this small village 60 miles north of the capital of Sarajevo and gave their houses to about 100 former mujaheddin who fought in Bosnia. Most of them married local women, allowing them to stay despite a treaty requiring all foreign fighters to leave Bosnia. In contrast to the rest of Bosnia, the village is governed by strict Islamic law. Suspects who lived in or visited the village include:
Karim Said Atmani. A former roommate of Ahmed Ressam, he is believed to be the document forger for Ressam’s group that attempted to bomb the Los Angeles airport (see December 14, 1999). He was a frequent visitor to Bosnia until late 1999. [Washington Post, 3/11/2000]
Khalil Deek. Suspected of masterminding the Los Angeles airport plot (see December 15-31, 1999) and a Jordanian millennium plot (see December 11, 1999), Deek was investigated by US intelligence since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s) but inexplicably never even watchlisted until 2004 (see Spring 2004). Deek’s brother says Khalil lived in Bosnia for a while, working for a “Muslim relief organization.” [Washington Post, 3/11/2000; Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] He worked for the IARA, which reportedly funneled weapons and recruits into Bosnia (see Early 1990s).
Hisham Diab. While he has not been explicitly connected to this village, he fought in Bosnia and was Deek’s next door neighbor and close al-Qaeda associate all through the 1990s (see March 1993-1996 and December 14-25, 1999), so presumably they spent time in Bosnia together. [New Yorker, 1/22/2007]
Hamid Aich. He lived in Canada and is connected to Ressam’s group (see December 21, 1999). He also will openly live in Ireland and apparently fund a wide variety of militant groups and plots there before escaping to Afghanistan just before 9/11 (see June 3, 2001-July 24, 2001).
Other mujaheddin connected to this village are wanted by authorities in other countries for other alleged crimes. A senior US official will say, “We have been concerned about this community for years. We flushed out a lot of them [after the end of the war].… [But] we find the whole group of them a threat, and we want them out of there.” [Washington Post, 3/11/2000] Others tied to the millennium plots have ties to Bosnian war generally because Ressam belonged to a group of armed robbers called the “Roubaix gang” that trained in Islamic camps in Bosnia. [Los Angeles Times, 1/13/2000] Izetbegovic will step down as leader of Muslim Bosnia in October 2000. [New York Times, 10/20/2003] In late 2000 and early 2001, the mujaheddin will gradually be moved out of the village and replaced by the original Serbian inhabitants.
In 2000 through early 2001, Italian intelligence monitoring an al-Qaeda cell in Milan, Italy (see Early 2000-2001 and 2000-April 2001), hears operative Sami Ben Khemais citing instructions from London imam Abu Qatada. His comments include the statement: “Abu Qatada can convert anyone because he knows all religions, sects and philosophies. Abu Qatada has ordered all Muslims to spend their money on the cause of Allah, no matter how much money they have, thousands, millions, it’s not important. He says that money for God’s cause should be given to the mujaheddin, and not to the mosques.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 3/16/2004] Abu Qatada had been working as an informant for British intelligence but it is unknown when the relationship ends (see June 1996-February 1997). Abu Qatada’s apartment is raided in February 2001, but it is unknown if that is before or after these comments are recorded (see February 2001). Ben Khemais is arrested in Italy in April 2001 (see 2000-April 2001).
Lamkaruna Putra. [Source: SBS Dateline]In late 1999, Abu Bakar Bashir, the alleged spiritual leader of the al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), called a meeting to improve cooperation between Islamist militant groups in Southeast Asia. The meeting is held in January 2000 at the International Islamic University in Selangor, Malaysia, and is chaired by Hambali, a leader in both JI and al-Qaeda. Militants from Burma, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines attend. They set up a forum called Rabitatul Mujahidin (RM). The Australian television news program SBS Dateline will later call the list of attendees “a who’s who of accused terrorists.”
Meeting Attendees - One attendee is Fauzi Hasbi, a JI militant who is also working as an Indonesian government mole (see 1979-February 22, 2003). Hasbi also has a private meeting in his hotel with Bashir and the representative from Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a militant group in the Philippines. Other attendees include Agus Dwikarna and Faiz abu Baker Bafana, who both assist al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia. Bafana will later help host Zacarias Moussaoui and 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar as they pass through Malaysia (see September-October 2000, October 2000 and June 2001).
Other Meetings - The group holds two more meetings later in 2000. Hasbi does not attend them, but his son Lamkaruna Putra does. The group discusses specific bombing plans in these later meetings. Hasbi also attends a meeting of Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI) in November 2000. This is considered a more public umbrella group for Islamist militants. That meeting is chaired by Bashir. [International Crisis Group, 12/11/2002; Conboy, 2003, pp. 210-211; SBS Dateline, 10/12/2005] Indonesian intelligence has another deep mole known by the alias Dadang, who has penetrated militant groups since about 1992. He also attends some key MMI meetings in 2000 and 2001, but other than that, little is known about him. [Conboy, 2003, pp. 212-213] It is not known whether the Indonesian government shares its intelligence about this meeting, or the other meetings, with US intelligence. If they do, it would help the US better understand Hambali’s importance, as he attends a monitored al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia that same month (see January 5-8, 2000).
Entity Tags: Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Lamkaruna Putra, Rabitatul Mujahidin, Jemaah Islamiyah, Fauzi Hasbi, Abu Bakar Bashir, Agus Dwikarna, Faiz abu Baker Bafana, Dadang, Hambali
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Karl Inderfurth. [Source: Harikrishna Katragadda Mint]Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth, accompanied by State Department counterterrorism expert Michael Sheehan, visits Pakistan, shortly after Pervez Musharraf took power in a coup (see October 12, 1999). Inderfurth meets with Musharraf, and is disappointed with Musharraf’s reluctance to take any action against al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is living openly in the Pakistani town of Peshawar, and the previous month was implicated in an attempted bomb plot in Jordan (see November 30, 1999). A number of intelligence agencies are monitoring Zubaida’s communications (see October 1998 and After), and one of his top aides, Khalil Deek, appears to be a Jordanian intelligence mole (see Shortly After December 11, 1999). There are allegations that the Pakistani ISI intelligence agency has been protecting Zubaida (see 1998-2001). Musharraf indicates to Inderfurth that he is unwilling to act on US intelligence about Zubaida. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 295] US ambassador to Pakistan William Milam will later say: “The Pakistanis told us they could not find him, even though everyone knew where he was. The ISI just turned a blind eye to his activities.” In fact, there is evidence Zubaida was working with the ISI, helping them vet and train militants to later fight in the disputed region of Kashmir (see 1998-2001). [Rashid, 2008, pp. 48] Musharraf also tells Inderfurth that he is unwilling to support any program to capture Osama bin Laden, as his predecessor, Nawaz Sharif, had been willing to do (see October 1999). And asked to pressure the Taliban, Musharraf sends ISI Director Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed to meet Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Mahmood is well known to be a supporter of the Taliban, so his visit is considered an empty gesture. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 295] Robert Einhorn, a specialist on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Clinton administration, does not go on the trip. Inderfurth will later say Einhorn’s absence showed a lack of interest by the administration in non-proliferation: “The fact that Mike [Sheehan] was included and Bob left out showed our priorities at that time. Our agenda was counterterrorism, al-Qaeda, and democracy. We had somehow divorced these from the nuclear threat and A. Q. Khan.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 292]
The US and Germany miss an opportunity to uncover the 9/11 plot through the arrest of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, an al-Qaeda operative tied to millennium attacks and the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. Slahi lived in Duisburg, Germany for most of the 1990s and apparently US and German intelligence began monitoring him there around the start of 1999 due to his communications with his cousin, al-Qaeda leader Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid. In 1999 he had repeated contact with members of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell and helped some of the 9/11 hijackers travel to Afghanistan. US investigators will later allege he also advised one militant to “travel to the United States to take part in the planned [9/11] attacks” (see 1999). In November 1999, Slahi moves to Canada and is seen with associates of Ahmed Ressam, who is planning to bomb the Los Angeles airport. US officials will later believe that Slahi went to Canada to activate Ressam’s cell. [Los Angeles Times, 4/24/2006] After Ressam is arrested in mid-December 1999 (see December 14, 1999), Slahi is monitored closely. He is arrested in Senegal after flying there in mid-January 2000. Transfered to his home country of Mauritania, he is interrogated by FBI officials. [New York Times, 1/29/2000; Agence France-Presse, 2/20/2000; Los Angeles Times, 4/24/2006] In early February 2000, Newsweek will report, “The key link in the chain connecting bin Laden to Ahmed Ressam—and an alleged New Year’s bomb plot in the United States—may be Mohamedou Ould Slahi.” [Newsweek, 2/7/2000] However, despite these suspicions, he is released later in February. He moves back to Germany, and is arrested and held there in April 2000 for three weeks, and then released again. He quickly returns to Mauritania. He will be arrested again shortly after 9/11. [Agence France-Presse, 2/20/2000; US Department of Defense, 4/20/2006, pp. 184-216] Despite all this interest in Slahi, his connections to the 9/11 plot and some of the 9/11 hijackers in Hamburg are apparently not made until after 9/11. He will later be sent to Guantanamo where he is reportedly subjected to harsh interrogation (see September 27, 2001).
US, Italian, and Belgian authorities learn more about extremist networks in Europe by monitoring operatives connected to a cell of radicals centered on the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, Italy, some members of which appear to have foreknowledge of 9/11 (see August 12, 2000 and March 2001). A man named Tarek Maaroufi, who is under surveillance in Belgium, arrives in Milan and calls another extremist known as Sami Ben Khemais, whose phone is being monitored by Italian authorities and who collects Maaroufi from the airport. Around the same time US intelligence notifies the Italians that Ben Khemais is to be joining three bin Laden-related individuals in Italy and that there are vague plans to attack US targets there. The warning signs of an attack mount, and the US embassy in Rome is even closed for a day. Ben Khemais travels to Spain, where he is monitored by the local authorities and links up with other Islamic extremists, but is arrested along with four others when he returns to Italy. Maaroufi is also arrested. According to the Italians, they had plotted an attack in Strasbourg around Christmas 2000, together with a German cell that is also arrested (see December 25-26, 2000). [Chicago Tribune, 10/22/2001]
Models of the biological weapons facility described by Curveball. [Source: CBS News]Two German intelligence (BND) case officers debrief Iraqi defector “Curveball” with help from a team of chemists, biologists, and other experts. Curveball claims to have knowledge of a clandestine Iraqi biological weapons program (see November 1999). He speaks to his BND debriefers in Arabic through a translator, and also in broken English and German. Curveball says that he worked for Iraq’s Military Industrial Commission after graduating first in his class from engineering school at Baghdad University in 1994. (He actually graduated last—see 1994.) A year later, he says, he was assigned to work for “Dr. Germ,” British-trained microbiologist Rihab Rashid Taha, to construct mobile biological weapons labs. But Curveball never says that he actually produced biological weapons or witnessed anyone else doing so and the BND is unable to verify his claims. Curveball’s statements are recorded in German, shared with a local Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) team, and sent to the US, where they are translated into English for analysis at the DIA’s directorate for human intelligence in Clarendon, Virginia, though CIA agents are not allowed to talk to Curveball themselves. “This was not substantial evidence,” one senior German intelligence official later recalls in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “We made clear we could not verify the things he said.” The reports are then sent to the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Center (WINPAC), whose experts analyze the data and share it with artists who use Curveball’s accounts to render sketches. The Clarendon office sends a total of 95 reports to WINPAC during this period. US spy satellites are directed to take pictures of sites named by Curveball as biological weapons facilities. According to a later investigation by the Los Angeles Times, “At the CIA, bio-warfare experts viewed [Curveball’s] reports as sophisticated and technically feasible. They also matched the analysts’ expectations.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] The Germans also share some of Curveball’s allegations with the British. However, according to Robin Butler, head of the British inquiry into prewar intelligence, what the Germans provided was “incomplete.” For instance, German intelligence misled them to believe that the alleged mobile weapon labs were capable of producing weapons-grade bio-agents such as anthrax spores, when Curveball’s actual statements only suggested they had the capability to produce a liquid slurry that would not be suitable for bombs or warheads. [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005]
In 2007, reporter Bob Drogin, author of Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, will write extensively of the tensions between the BND and the CIA that lead to the Germans’ reluctance to provide the CIA direct access to Curveball, and result in the CIA building a huge case for Iraqi bioweapons on Curveball’s unsubstantiated, unverified assertions. The Germans repeatedly state that Curveball speaks no English, and hates Americans; in fact, Curveball speaks better English than he does German, and likes Americans. The fault lies with both agencies, Drogin will write, saying the CIA routinely refuses to allow other agencies to meet with their sources, either. “The CIA won’t even let other US intelligence agencies interview a CIA source,” Drogin will note. “The fact is the US went to war after relying in part on information from a guy they had never met, so they’ve tried really hard to blame others.” [Alternet, 10/22/2007]
The Saudi Arabia Royal Consulate in Los Angeles. [Source: InfoUSA]According to Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), co-chair of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, during this time Omar al-Bayoumi has an “unusually large number of telephone calls with Saudi government officials in both Los Angeles and Washington.” Graham will note this increased communication corresponds with the arrival of hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar into al-Bayoumi’s life. He will see this as evidence of Saudi government involvement in the 9/11 plot. [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 168-169] An FBI report obtained by the Intelwire.com website in 2008 will specify that from January through May 2000, al-Bayoumi calls the Saudi embassy in Washington 32 times, the Saudi Cultral Mission in Washington 37 times, and the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles 24 times. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/15/2002 ] Al-Bayoumi is in contact with Fahad al Thumairy during this time, and the two call each other’s private phone numbers many times (see December 1998-December 2000). Al Thumairy is an official at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles and a known Islamic radical (see January 15-February 2000).
According to some reports, 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta is put under surveillance by the CIA while living in Germany during this time. [Agence France-Presse, 9/22/2001; Focus (Munchen), 9/24/2001; Berliner Zeitung (Berlin), 9/24/2001] He is “reportedly observed buying large quantities of chemicals in Frankfurt, apparently for the production of explosives [and/or] for biological warfare.” “The US agents reported to have trailed Atta are said to have failed to inform the German authorities about their investigation,” even as the Germans are investigating many of his associates. “The disclosure that Atta was being trailed by police long before 11 September raises the question why the attacks could not have been prevented with the man’s arrest.” [Observer, 9/30/2001] A German newspaper adds that Atta is able to get a visa into the US on May 18. According to some reports, the surveillance stops when he leaves for the US at the start of June. However, “experts believe that the suspect [remains] under surveillance in the United States.” [Berliner Zeitung (Berlin), 9/24/2001] A German intelligence official also states, “We can no longer exclude the possibility that the Americans wanted to keep an eye on Atta after his entry in the US.” [Focus (Munchen), 9/24/2001] This correlates with a Newsweek claim that US officials knew Atta was a “known [associate] of Islamic terrorists well before [9/11].” [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 ] However, a congressional inquiry later reports that the US “intelligence community possessed no intelligence or law enforcement information linking 16 of the 19 hijackers [including Atta] to terrorism or terrorist groups.” [US Congress, 9/20/2002] In 2005, after accounts of the Able Danger program learning Atta’s name become news, newspaper accounts will neglect to mention this prior report about Atta being known by US intelligence. For instance, the New York Times will report, “The account [about Able Danger] is the first assertion that Mr. Atta, an Egyptian who became the lead hijacker in the plot, was identified by any American government agency as a potential threat before the Sept. 11 attacks”(see August 9, 2005) . [New York Times, 8/9/2005]
A blurry photograph of a 2005 reconstruction of the pre-9/11 Able Danger chart showing Mohamed Atta and others. [Source: C-SPAN]A US Army intelligence program called Able Danger identifies five al-Qaeda terrorist cells; one of them has connections to Brooklyn, New York and will become informally known as the “Brooklyn” cell by the Able Danger team. This cell includes 9/11 hijacker leader Mohamed Atta, and three other 9/11 hijackers: Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Nawaf Alhazmi. According to a former intelligence officer who claims he worked closely with Able Danger, the link to Brooklyn is not based upon any firm evidence, but computer analysis that established patterns in links between the four men. “[T]he software put them all together in Brooklyn.” [New York Times, 8/9/2005; Washington Times, 8/22/2005; Fox News, 8/23/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005] However, that does not necessarily imply them being physically present in Brooklyn. A lawyer later representing members of Able Danger states, “At no time did Able Danger identify Mohamed Atta as being physically present in the United States.” Furthermore, “No information obtained at the time would have led anyone to believe criminal activity had taken place or that any specific terrorist activities were being planned.” [CNN, 9/21/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005] James D. Smith, a contractor working with the unit, discovers Mohamed Atta’s link to al-Qaeda. [WTOP Radio 103.5 (Washington), 9/1/2005] Smith has been using advanced computer software and analysing individuals who are going between mosques. He has made a link between Mohamed Atta and Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, ringleader of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. [Fox News, 8/28/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005] Atta is said to have some unspecified connection to the Al Farouq mosque in Brooklyn, a hotbed of anti-American sentiment once frequented by Abdul-Rahman, which also contained the notorious Al-Kifah Refugee Center. [Times Herald (Norristown), 9/22/2005] Smith obtained Atta’s name and photograph through a private researcher in California who was paid to gather the information from contacts in the Middle East. [New York Times, 8/22/2005] Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer claims the photo is not the well-known menacing Florida driver’s license photo of Atta. “This is an older, more grainy photo we had of him. It was not the best picture in the world.” It is said to contain several names or aliases for Atta underneath it. [Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005; Chicago Tribune, 9/28/2005] LIWA analysts supporting Able Danger make a chart, which Shaffer describes in a radio interview as, “A chart probably about a 2x3 which had essentially five clusters around the center point which was bin Laden and his leadership.” [Savage Nation, 9/16/2005] The 9/11 Commission later claims that Atta only enters the United States for the first time several months later, in June 2000 (see June 3, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 224] However, investigations in the months after 9/11 find that Mohamed Atta and another of the hijackers rented rooms in Brooklyn around this time (see Spring 2000). Other newspaper accounts have the CIA monitoring Atta starting in January 2000, while he is living in Germany (see January-May 2000). Atta, Alshehhi, Almihdhar, Alhazmi and other hijackers have connections to associates of Sheikh Abdul-Rahman (see Early 2000-September 10, 2001).
Entity Tags: Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Al-Qaeda, El Farouq, Khalid Almihdhar, Mohamed Atta, Able Danger, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Nawaf Alhazmi, Marwan Alshehhi, Al Farouq Mosque
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Zakariya Essabar. [Source: Associated Press]Al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Zakariya Essabar attends an al-Qaeda training camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan. He leaves for the camp in January 2000 and stays at the camp for an usually long time—nine months—until October. Hamburg cell member Mounir El Motassadeq is at the same camp from late May until August 2000 (see May 22 to August 2000). The two of them train separately but see each other often. Hamburg associate Abdelghani Mzoudi also attends the same camp around this time (see Summer 2000).
Attempt to Become a 9/11 Pilot? - When Essabar returns from the camp, he applies for a new passport, saying that he lost his previous one. When he gets a new one, he applies for a US visa. However, his application is rejected, probably because, as a Moroccan citizen, he is deemed an economic risk. Author Terry McDermott will later comment, “The timing suggests that [the Hamburg cell was] intent on finding a fourth pilot” for the 9/11 attacks. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 194, 201-202]
Two future 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, are given the contact of someone useful in the US, and they may utilize this contact when they move to the US a short time later. Dhiren Barot is a British citizen who was born in India, and by early 2000 he has been involved with Islamist militants for several years. For instance, he fought with militants in Kashmir and was an instructor at an Afghan training camp. According to a footnote in a 9/11 Commission report, Barot is sent to Malaysia with al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash on the orders of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). Bin Attash attends an al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur that is also attended by Amihdhar and Alhazmi (see January 5-8, 2000). Barot apparently does not attend the summit, but shortly afterwards he meets with al-Qaeda leader Hambali, who does attend the summit, and he gives him two addresses. According to the 9/11 Commission, one of the addresses is in the US, “possibly in California,” and the other address is in South Africa. He tells Hambali that he could “contact people in those locations” if he “needed help.” Hambali will later be captured and will deny to interrogators that he ever passed the addresses on to anyone else. But Newsweek will later report, “US officials are dubious about Hambali’s denials and suspect that the unspecified US address in California may well have been passed along to [Almihdhar and Alhazmi].” [Newsweek, 8/16/2004] These two hijackers fly to Los Angeles, California, only about a week after the summit, and begin living in San Diego (see January 15, 2000). Presumably, the US address would point to at least one conspirator in the 9/11 plot living in the US, but if the name of this person is known to investigators, it is not made public.
Iraqi informants cited in internal US intelligence reports dispute Curveball’s claims (see January 2000-September 2001) that Iraq has mobile biological weapons factories. Some of the informants suggest that Curveball is actually referring to trailers designed to produce hydrogen for artillery weather balloons. [Washington Post, 4/12/2006]
Mohammed Aziz Khan. [Source: US Defense Department]After being released from prison at the end of 1999 (see December 24-31, 1999), Saeed Sheikh travels to Pakistan and is given a house by the ISI. [Vanity Fair, 8/2002] He lives openly and opulently in Pakistan, even attending “swanky parties attended by senior Pakistani government officials.” US authorities conclude he is an asset of the ISI. [Newsweek, 3/13/2002] Amazingly, he is allowed to travel freely to Britain, and visits family there at least twice. [Vanity Fair, 8/2002] He works with Ijaz Shah, a former ISI official in charge of handling two militant groups; Lt. Gen. Mohammed Aziz Khan, former deputy chief of the ISI in charge of relations with Jaish-e-Mohammed; and Brigadier Abdullah, a former ISI officer. He is well known to other senior ISI officers. [New York Times, 2/25/2002; India Today, 2/25/2002; National Post, 2/26/2002; Guardian, 7/16/2002] At the same time that he is working closely and openly with the ISI, he is also strengthening his links with al-Qaeda (see 2000).
A phone bill of one of the 9/11 hijackers. More details are unknown. [Source: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation]While living in the US, the 9/11 hijackers make at least 206 international phone calls. In 2006, these calls will be mentioned in a German intelligence report based on telephone records obtained from the FBI. There are 66 calls to Syria, 32 calls to Saudi Arabia, and 29 calls to Germany. A majority of the call are made from a cell phone registered to hijacker Marwan Alshehhi. Additional details on who was called, who else made the calls, when the calls were made, what other countries were called, etc… have not been made public. The Chicago Tribune will later note that the calls to Germany are not surprising since Alshehhi and some others were living there, but “the hijackers’ connections to Saudi Arabia and Syria are far from fully explained.” [Chicago Tribune, 3/8/2006] It is unknown when these calls were discovered, but reports suggest at least some of the hijackers’ international calls were being monitored by US intelligence as they were made (see Summer 2001, September 10, 2001, and Early 2000-Summer 2001).
Jamal Zougam. [Source: El Mundo]By 2000, a Moroccan living in Spain named Jamal Zougam begins to attract the attention of Spanish intelligence. Barakat Yarkas frequently travels to London to meet with al-Qaeda-linked imam Abu Qatada, and Zougam accompanies Yarkas on at least one of these trips (see 1995-February 2001). Spanish intelligence is monitoring Yarkas and his cell, and they are aware that Zougam is introduced to Qatada as “a gifted young recruit.” [Agence France-Presse, 3/17/2004; Irujo, 2005, pp. 77-79] In June 2001, a French investigator warns that Zougam is an important militant with international links and advise the Spanish to arrest him (see June 2001). Around the same time, Spanish investigators learn that Zougam met with Mohammed Fazazi, a Moroccan imam who preached at the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg, Germany, that is attended by some of the 9/11 hijackers (see 1993-Late 2001). On August 14, 2001, Zougam is recorded telling Yarkas that he had offered Fazazi money for the jihad cause. Fazazi is also linked to Abu Qatada and had met him in London. After the May 2003 Casablanca bombings (see May 16, 2003), interest in Zougam increases as the Moroccan, Spanish, and French governments all suspect he was involved in those bombings. But he is still not arrested, and his surveillance in Spain is not increased, apparently due to lack of resources. [New York Times, 3/17/2004; Observer, 3/21/2004] In the days before the March 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), Zougam makes about a dozen phone calls to contacts in London. He is said to talk to four al-Qaeda suspects, as well as a “radical London-based preacher” - a possible reference to Abu Qatada. Zougam will later be sentenced to life in prison for playing a direct role in the Madrid bombings. [Daily Mail, 11/1/2007] After the Madrid bombings, British authorities will say that there was a “definite link” to Britain in the bomb plot. Zougam is believed to have made trips to London in search of funding, planning, and logistical help, and supplying equipment and false identification papers for the bombers. [Independent, 3/19/2004] One figure believed central to the bomb plot, Moutaz Almallah, will be arrested in London in 2005 and extradited to Spain in 2007 (see May 16, 2005).
US intelligence is aware from monitored phone calls that Nawaf Alhazmi is travelling to an important al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). Alhazmi is known to be in Karachi, Pakistan, with a ticket to Malaysia for January 2, 2000. CIA and Pakistani officials plan to have his passport scrutinized as he passes through the airport, but he changes his ticket departure date twice. Officials get confused and are not there when he leaves the country, so they still don’t learn his last name. [Stern, 8/13/2003] The 9/11 Commission later notes that “officials could have worked on logical flight itineraries and perhaps realized that Nawaf could and probably did keep to his original plan.” But not only is this not done at the time, apparently the flight manifests are not checked after the fact to see in anyone with the name Nawaf had boarded. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ] Even after being monitored for several days in Malaysia, US intelligence supposedly still will not learn his last name (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After).
A photocopy of Nawaf Alhazmi’s passport. No image of Khalid Almihdhar’s passport has been released, but it would have looked similar to this one. [Source: FBI]The CIA is aware that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is staying at a highly monitored al-Qaeda communication hub (see Late 1998-Early 2002) and is planning to travel to an al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia. He is closely watched as leaves the hub and flies from Sana’a, Yemen, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on his way to Malaysia. Agents from eight CIA offices and six friendly foreign intelligence services are all asked to help track him, in the hopes he will lead them to bigger al-Qaeda figures. [Stern, 8/13/2003; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ] The CIA and local authorities are running an operation to track militants transiting Dubai airport (see 1999), and United Arab Emirates officials secretly make copies of his passport as he is passing through it, immediately reporting this to the CIA. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224] Another account suggests CIA agents break into Almihdhar’s Dubai hotel room and photocopy the passport there. Either way, the information is immediately faxed to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. [Wright, 2006, pp. 311] The CIA not only learns his full name, but also discovers the vital fact that he has a multiple entry visa to the US that is valid from April 1999 to April 2000. But even though the CIA now knows about this US visa which indicates he plans to go to New York City, they do not place him on a terror watch list and they fail to tell the FBI about the visa. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ]
Mary Deborah Doran. [Source: Havecamerawilltravel.com]Al-Qaeda operative Khallad bin Attash possibly flies to the US around this time. In 2011, former FBI agent Ali Soufan will write in a book that in late 2003, he and some other FBI officials plus some CIA officials briefed the 9/11 Commission about al-Qaeda. In the course of that briefing, an FBI official named Mary Deborah Doran said, “[W]e found that Salah bin Saeed bin Yousef—this is the alias Khallad [bin Attash] traveled under—was listed as having traveled to LAX [Los Angeles Airport] during the millennium.” A CIA analyst present denies that bin Attash ever went to the US. Doran replied, “You may be right, but if he wasn’t there, why is his alias on the flight manifest?” Apparently, the CIA analyst has no response to this. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 303] This is all that is publicly known, since even though this information is presented to the 9/11 Commission, the Commission never even mentions bin Attash going to the US as a possibility in its final report.
When Exactly Could This Occur? - If bin Attash does go to Los Angeles, it is unclear exactly when this takes place. Bin Attash appears to be busy in Malaysia for most of late December 1999, recovering from surgery there (see Mid-December 1999). Then he makes a series of test flights from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok to Hong Kong and back from December 31, 1999 to January 2, 2000 (see December 31, 1999-January 2, 2000). One logical possibility is that he continues these test flights to the US and back from January 2 to 5, returning to Malaysia in time for the al-Qaeda summit he attends there from January 5 to 8 (see January 5-8, 2000). After the summit, it is known he goes to Bangkok, Thailand, and stays there until he flies to Karachi, Pakistan, on January 20 (see January 8, 2000 and January 20, 2000). But it is also possible he could fly to Los Angeles and back during his time in Thailand, since many of his days there are not accounted for. Future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khallad Almihdhar attend the Malaysia summit with bin Attash and then fly to Los Angeles on January 15 (see January 15, 2000) and start living in California, so it could be that bin Attash goes to Los Angeles to prepare the way for the two hijackers, or to help them start living there.
If He Goes to the US, Does the CIA Know? - Since the CIA knows bin Attash is using the Salah bin Saeed bin Yousef alias for all his plane flights around this time, and flies with Alhazmi and Almihdhar to Thailand using this alias on January 8, and Alhazmi and Almihdhar fly to Los Angeles one week later, it would be logical for the agency to check if bin Attash ever goes to the US under that name as well. But it is unknown if the CIA checks for this information before 9/11.
According to the 2008 Guantanamo file of al-Qaeda leader Hambali, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) spends a week with 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi in the condominium where the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit is held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). Hambali’s file states that “KU-10024 [KSM’s identification number at Guantanamo] spent a week at an apartment [Hambali] arranged for him the Song Gai Long district of Kuala Lumpur, MY. At this apartment, KU-10024 stayed with 11 September hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdar.” [US Department of Defense, 10/30/2008] Hambali’s file does not state when this occurs, but by far the most likely time is during the al-Qaeda summit in January 2000, since this is the only time Alhazmi is known to stay in Malaysia, and the only other times Almihdhar is known to visit Malaysia (see October 2000 and June 2001), Alhazmi is living in the US, since he never leaves the US from when he arrives in mid-January 2000 until 9/11 (see January 15, 2000). Furthermore, the summit meetings are held in Yazid Sufaat’s condominium, which is in a golf course-centered complex on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur called Bandar Sungai Long - Hambali’s mention of “Song Gai Long” is obviously a reference to this. [Asia Times, 9/11/2010] After 9/11, there will be some controversy as to whether KSM attended the Malaysian summit or not (see January 5-8, 2000), but Hambali’s account suggests KSM was staying at the condominium all four days of the summit, and a few more days as well. The 9/11 Commission will not mention KSM staying at Sufaat’s condominium, but they will mention that Alhazmi, Almihdhar, al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, and al-Qaeda operative Abu Bara al-Taizi (a.k.a. Zohair Mohammed Said) stay there during the summit. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 159]
Acting on the behalf of the CIA, Malaysian intelligence videotapes the attendees of an al-Qaeda summit. Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will later claim that the attendees were “videotaped by a Malaysian surveillance team on January 5, 2000.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 261] But this is only the first of four days of meetings, all held at the same location (see January 5-8, 2000), and the attendees are secretly photographed on the other days (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). The Los Angeles Times will similarly note that Malaysian intelligence made a single surveillance videotape “that shows men arriving at the meeting, according to a US intelligence official. The tape, he said, has no sound and [isn’t] viewed as very significant at the time.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] The contents of the videotape remain murky, but one account claims Ramzi bin al-Shibh was one of the attendees videotaped at the summit. [Newsweek, 11/26/2001] Further, a US Treasury press release in 2003 will state that “[Hambali] was videotaped in a January 2000 meeting in Malaysia with two of the September 11, 2001 hijackers of AA Flight 77 - Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi.” [US Department of the Treasury, 1/24/2003 ] Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, an Iraqi, is also videotaped at the meeting. [Newsweek, 11/5/2001; Washington Times, 11/6/2001] US intelligence officials consider the summit so important that CIA Director George Tenet, FBI Director Robert Mueller, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, and other high-ranking officials are given daily briefings about it while it is taking place (see January 6-9, 2000). So it is unclear why only the first day would be videotaped and why such video would not be considered more important. Malaysia will give the CIA a copy of the tape about one month after the summit ends (see February 2000). By 1999, the FBI had connected Hambali to the 1995 Bojinka plot and also obtained a photo of him (see May 23, 1999). Yet the CIA will not share this video footage with the FBI nor will they warn Malaysian intelligence about Hambali’s Bojinka plot connection (see Shortly After January 8, 2000).
Hazel Evergreen Park, located on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, is the condominium complex where the terror summit was held. [Source: FBI]After being alerted by the CIA that top al-Qaeda leaders plan to meet in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the local security service, Malaysia’s Special Branch, monitors the operatives there (see January 5-8, 2000). The surveillance begins with the arrival of Khalid Almihdhar from Dubai on January 5, when he is met at the airport by a militant named Hikmat Shakir Ahmad (see January 12, 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 144 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502] A video recording is made (see January 5, 2000), photographs are taken (see (January 5-8, 2000)), and, when the attendees visit an internet café, the hard drives of the computers they use are searched (see January 7, 2000 or Shortly After). All this information is passed to the CIA (see January 5-9, 2000). However, it will later be reported that, despite the heavy surveillance, no audio recordings are made of what the attendees actually talk about. [Ottawa Citizen, 9/17/2001; Observer, 10/7/2001; New Yorker, 1/14/2002; CNN, 3/14/2002; Newsweek, 6/2/2002; Stern, 8/13/2003; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/29/2003] Apparently, Malaysian officials are not informed what to look for, and focus more on monitoring the local Malaysian and Indonesian hosts who serve as drivers than the visitors attending the summit. [Associated Press, 9/20/2002]
The Malaysian Special Branch sends the CIA material it gathers about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). The information is sent progressively, so that Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit coordinating surveillance of the operatives at the summit, can brief CIA leaders and other top security officials in the US (see January 6, 2000 and January 6-9, 2000). The material includes reports on the attendees’ movements and actions (see (January 5-8, 2000)) and photographs (see (January 5-8, 2000)). A video recording made of the attendees on the first day will also be sent, but not until February (see January 5, 2000 and February 2000). However, no audio recording is made. [Ottawa Citizen, 9/17/2001; Observer, 10/7/2001; New Yorker, 1/14/2002; CNN, 3/14/2002; Newsweek, 6/2/2002; Stern, 8/13/2003; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/29/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181-2, 502-3] All the material except the video is passed to the CIA by January 9. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 ; Stern, 8/13/2003]
A CIA officer known only as “James,” who knows that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa, twice briefs FBI officials about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, but fails to mention the visa.
First Briefing - On the night of January 5, 2000, James, who has been assigned to the FBI’s Strategic Information Operations Center (SIOC) to deal with problems “in communicating between the CIA and the FBI,” briefs an FBI agent who works in the FBI’s bin Laden unit, which is part of the SIOC at that time, about a number of cables he has received regarding the al-Qaeda summit that is just starting in Malaysia and one of the people attending it, Almihdhar. The FBI agent will later say he does not know why James chooses to brief him, as he is not a designated contact point for the CIA.
Documented by E-mail - James will later write an e-mail to several other CIA officers and detail “exactly” what he briefed this person on. Although the CIA should inform the FBI of a terrorist like Almihdhar having a US visa, he does not mention discussing the visa with the FBI agent, even though he had just seen several CIA cables talking about it.
Second Briefing - Overnight, another CIA cable comes in to him providing new details about Almihdhar and the Malaysia summit. An FBI agent then asks another CIA officer detailed to the FBI for an update on Almihdhar. This second CIA officer asks James for the update, so he can pass it on. James’s response to this request is to brief a third FBI agent in the SIOC about the new information. Again, records will indicate he fails to mention anything about Almihdhar’s US visa. This FBI agent will also say he does not know why he was briefed on the matter, as he is not a designated contact point for the CIA. James then tells his CIA colleague he has already provided the FBI with an update, so this second officer does not have to do so.
Informing Other Agents - James also sends an e-mail to other CIA agents describing “exactly” what he told both of the FBI agents. One section of his e-mail reads: “Thus far, a lot of suspicious activity has been observed [in Malaysia] but nothing that would indicate evidence of an impending attack or criminal enterprise. [I told the first FBI agent] that as soon as something concrete is developed leading us to the criminal arena or to known FBI cases, we will immediately bring FBI into the loop. Like [the first FBI agent] yesterday, [the second FBI agent] stated that this was a fine approach and thanked me for keeping him in the loop.”
Refuses to Be Interviewed - After 9/11, James will refuse to talk to the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, but will tell the CIA’s inspector general that he has no recollection of these events. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 241-247 ; Tenet, 2007, pp. 195]
Although Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is coordinating surveillance of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), it fails to draft a full report on it to alert the rest of the intelligence community. Author James Bamford will comment, “Despite the importance of the operation, [Alec Station chief Richard Blee] had never bothered to write up and distribute an intelligence report on it—what is known as a TD, or Telegraphic Dissemination.” Blee must be aware of the operation’s importance because he repeatedly briefs the CIA’s leadership, and these briefings are passed on to top government officials such as National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and FBI Director Louis Freeh (see January 6-9, 2000). A senior intelligence officer will later say, “A TD would have gone to a lot of people, but we didn’t do that.” This is one of the reasons why three of the attendees at the meeting, including 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, are able to apparently disappear in Thailand on January 8 (see January 8, 2000). Bamford will call the failure to write the report “a serious blunder.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 227]
On January 5, 2000, al-Qaeda operatives Ibrahim al-Thawar and Fahad al-Quso arrive in Bangkok, Thailand. They were part of an attempt to sink the USS The Sullivans, which failed in Yemen just a couple of days ago (see January 3, 2000). Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash has been a part of the same plot, and has been in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the past two weeks or so (see Mid-December 1999). Al-Thawar and al-Quso are bringing thousands of dollars for bin Attash (different accounts will name different amounts, but it could be as much as $36,000), and they plan to meet in Singapore. However, all three of them are unable to get Singapore visas. Bin Attash is attending an important al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur from January 5 to 8 (see January 5-8, 2000), and Malaysia does not require visas at all for most Middle Eastern countries. However, for whatever reason, bin Attash flies to Bangkok on January 6, instead of having one or both of the others fly to Kuala Lumpur. Apparently, the money is handed over and bin Attash flies back to Kuala Lumpur the next day to continue with the summit (see January 6, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 159]
Important Consequences - These interactions will have important consequences, because al-Quso will be questioned by the FBI in Yemen later in 2000 (see Late October-Late November 2000), after taking part in the bombing of the USS Cole there (see October 12, 2000). Al-Quso will confess to giving a large sum of money to bin Attash (see Early December 2000), and FBI agents will discover phone calls between al-Quso’s Bangkok hotel and a phone booth in front of the condominium where the al-Qaeda summit was held (see (January 5-8, 2000)). But the FBI agents will be unable to find out about the summit, and the CIA will not share the information it has about it, ruining a chance for the FBI to discover the 9/11 plot that had been discussed at the summit (see for instance April 2001).
Attendees of the Malaysian summit. Top row, from left: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Middle row, from left: Khallad bin Attash, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hambali. Bottom row, from left: Yazid Sufaat, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abu Bara al-Taizi. [Source: FBI]About a dozen of Osama bin Laden’s trusted followers hold a secret, “top-level al-Qaeda summit” in the city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. [CNN, 8/30/2002; San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/27/2002] According to an unnamed senior CIA official, before the summit started, the CIA learned that “11 young guys” were going to attend, and “young guys” is slang for operatives traveling. [Bamford, 2008, pp. 18] Plans for the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the 9/11 attacks are discussed. [USA Today, 2/12/2002; CNN, 8/30/2002] At the request of the CIA, the Malaysian Secret Service monitors the summit and then passes the information on to the US (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). Attendees of the summit are said to include:
Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar - The CIA and FBI will later miss many opportunities to foil the 9/11 plot through Alhazmi and Almihdhar and the knowledge of their presence at this summit. The CIA already knows many details about these two by the time the summit begins (see January 2-4, 2000), and tracked Almihdhar as he traveled to it (see January 2-5, 2000).
Yazid Sufaat - Sufaat is a Malaysian who owns the condominium where the summit is held. He is also a trained biologist and is said to be a leading figure in al-Qaeda’s attempts to get a biological or chemical weapon. [New York Times, 1/31/2002; Newsweek, 6/2/2002] Malaysian officials also recognize Sufaat from summit surveillance photos, as he is a long-time Malaysian resident (see Shortly After January 8, 2000). [New Straits Times, 2/10/2002] A possibility to expose the 9/11 plot through Sufaat’s presence at this summit will later be missed in September 2000 (see September-October 2000). Sufaat will travel to Afghanistan in June 2001 and be arrested by Malaysian authorities when he returns to Malaysia in late 2001 (see December 19, 2001). [Australian, 12/24/2002] He will be released in 2008 (see December 4, 2008).
Hambali - An Indonesian militant known as Hambali, or Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin [BBC, 8/15/2003] , was heavily involved in the Bojinka plot, an early version of the 9/11 plot (see January 6, 1995 and June 1994). [CNN, 3/14/2002; CNN, 8/30/2002] The FBI was aware of who he was and his connections to the Bojinka plot at least by 1999 and identified a photograph of him by that time (see May 23, 1999). He will be arrested by Thai authorities in August 2003 (see August 12, 2003). [CNN, 8/14/2003; CBS News, 8/15/2003] Malaysian officials recognize Hambali from summit surveillance photos, as he is a long-time Malaysian resident. But the US does not tell them of his Bojinka connections, so they will not know to arrest him after the summit is over (see Shortly After January 8, 2000). [New Straits Times, 2/10/2002]
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed - Mohammed is sometimes referred to as “KSM,” an al-Qaeda leader and the alleged “mastermind” of the 9/11 attacks. The US has known KSM is an Islamic militant since the exposure of Operation Bojinka in January 1995 (see January 6, 1995), and knows what he looks like. US officials will state that they only realized the summit was important in 2001, but the presence of KSM should have proved its importance. [Los Angeles Times, 2/2/2002] Although the possible presence of KSM at this summit will be disputed by US officials, one counterterrorism expert will testify before the 9/11 Commission in 2003 that he has access to transcripts of KSM’s interrogations since his capture, and that KSM has admitted leading this summit and telling the attendees about a planes-as-weapons plot targeting the US (see July 9, 2003). [Newsweek, 7/9/2003; New York Post, 7/10/2003] Many other media reports will identify him as being there. [Independent, 6/6/2002; CNN, 8/30/2002; CNN, 11/7/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/29/2003] For instance, according to Newsweek: “Mohammed’s presence would make the intelligence failure of the CIA even greater. It would mean the agency literally watched as the 9/11 scheme was hatched—and had photographs of the attack’s mastermind… doing the plotting.” [Newsweek, 7/9/2003] In Hambali’s 2008 Guantanamo file, it will be mentioned that KSM stays a week at Sufaat’s condominium with Alhazmi and Almihdhar, which would seem to make clear that KSM is there for the entire duration of the summit (see Early January 2000). [US Department of Defense, 10/30/2008]
Khallad bin Attash - Khallad bin Attash, a “trusted member of bin Laden’s inner circle,” is in charge of bin Laden’s bodyguards, and serves as bin Laden’s personal intermediary at least for the USS Cole bombing. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 ] He is also thought to be a “mastermind” of that attack. Attash is reportedly planning to be one of the 9/11 hijackers, but will be unable to get a US visa. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004, pp. 8] US intelligence had been aware of his identity as early as 1995. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] A possibility to expose the 9/11 plot through bin Attash’s presence at this summit will be missed in January 2001 (see January 4, 2001). Bin Attash had been previously arrested in Yemen for suspected terror ties, but was let go (see Summer 1999). [Contemporary Southeast Asia, 12/1/2002] He will be captured in Pakistan by the US in April 2003 (see April 29, 2003). In 2008, Newsweek will report that bin Attash confessed during interrogation that, while staying at Sufaat’s condominium, he and Alhazmi talked “about the possibility of hijacking planes and crashing them or holding passengers as hostages.” [Newsweek, 12/16/2008]
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri - Al-Nashiri is one of al-Qaeda’s top field commanders and operates out of Malaysia while 9/11 is being prepared. [Los Angeles Times, 10/10/2001; Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 188; Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 59] He was involved in an arms smuggling plot (see 1997) and the East African embassy bombings (see August 22-25 1998), in which his cousin was martyred (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). He also organized the attack against the USS The Sullivans (see January 3, 2000), and will be involved in the attacks against the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the Limburg (see October 6, 2002). He will be arrested in the United Arab Emirates in November 2002 (see Early October 2002). An al-Qaeda operative identified a photo of al-Nashiri for the FBI in late 1998 (see August 22-25 1998). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3] (Note: in the sources, al-Nashiri is referred to by two of his aliases: Muhammad Omar al-Harazi and Al Safani.) [CNN, 12/11/2000; Central Intelligence Agency, 9/6/2006]
Ramzi bin al-Shibh - Investigators believe he wants to be the 20th 9/11 hijacker. His presence at the summit may not be realized until after 9/11, despite the fact that US intelligence has a picture of him next to bin Attash, and has video footage of him. [Newsweek, 11/26/2001; Washington Post, 7/14/2002; Time, 9/15/2002; Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; CNN, 11/7/2002] German police will have credit card receipts indicating bin al-Shibh is in Malaysia at this time. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Ulrich Kersten, director of Germany’s federal anticrime agency, the Bundeskriminalamt, will later say, “There are indications that Ramzi bin al-Shibh was in Kuala Lumpur for the meeting.” [New York Times, 8/24/2002] Another account noting he was photographed at the summit will further note that he enters and leaves Thailand three times in the first three weeks of January 2000. [Los Angeles Times, 10/17/2001] Anonymous Malaysian officials will later claim he is at the summit, but US officials will deny it. Two local militants who serve as drivers for the attendees will later be arrested in Malaysia. They will be shown photos of the attendees, and confirm that bin al-Shibh was at the summit. [Associated Press, 9/20/2002] One account will say he is recognized at the time of the summit, which makes it hard to understand why he is not tracked back to Germany and the Hamburg cell with Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] Another opportunity to expose the 9/11 plot through bin al-Shibh’s presence at this summit will be missed in June. It appears bin al-Shibh and Almihdhar are directly involved in the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000 (see October 10-21, 2000). [Guardian, 10/15/2001; Washington Post, 7/14/2002; Newsweek, 9/4/2002]
Salem Alhazmi - Alhazmi, a 9/11 hijacker and brother of Nawaf Alhazmi, is possibly at the summit, although very few accounts will mention it. [Australian, 12/24/2002] US intelligence intercepts from before the summit indicate that he at least had plans to attend. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 ]
Abu Bara al-Taizi (a.k.a. Zohair Mohammed Said) - A Yemeni al-Qaeda operative, al-Taizi is reportedly meant to be one of the 9/11 hijackers, but will be unable to enter the US due to greater scrutiny for Yemenis. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004, pp. 8] Al-Taizi will be captured in Pakistan in February 2002, and then sent to the US prison in Guantanamo a few months later (see February 7, 2002). According to his 2008 Guantanamo file, he traveled from Afghanistan to Malaysia with bin Attash about two weeks before the summit. Bin Attash was missing a leg, and he had a prosthetic leg fitted and then stayed in the hospital to recover from the surgery. Bin Attash and al-Taizi stay at Sufaat’s house for the duration of the summit. Al-Taizi then flies to Yemen to visit his family there. [US Department of Defense, 10/25/2008]
Others - Unnamed members of the Egyptian-based Islamic Jihad are also said to be at the summit. [Cox News Service, 10/21/2001] Islamic Jihad merged with al-Qaeda in February 1998. [ABC News, 11/17/2001] However, according to the Wall Street Journal, bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso are suspected of being Islamic Jihad members at one point, so this may just be a reference to them. [Wall Street Journal, 10/8/2001] Note that there are a total of 10 names mentioned above, and it will be reported that the CIA learned that 11 operatives were to attend, so either not all of them make it, or some names of attendees will remain unknown.
Summit Associates - The following individuals are probably not at the summit meetings, but are in the region and assisting or linked with the attendees at this time:
Fahad Al-Quso - Al-Quso is a top al-Qaeda operative who is involved in the bombing of the USS Cole. Some sources will indicate al-Quso is present in Malaysia, and a person who looks like him will later be seen in a photograph of the meeting (see June 11, 2001). [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 ] However, other sources will say al-Quso did not reach Kuala Lumpur, but met with bin Attash around this time in Bangkok, Thailand (see January 5-6, 2000 and January 8-15, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 159; Wright, 2006, pp. 330] Although al-Quso apparently is not at the summit, there are a series of phone calls during the time of the summit between his hotel in Bangkok, a phone booth near the condominium where the summit is held, and his family home in Yemen (see (January 5-8, 2000)). Al-Quso will be arrested by Yemeni authorities in the fall of 2000 (see Late October-Late November 2000), but the FBI will not be given a chance to fully interrogate him before 9/11. He will escape from prison in 2003. [CNN, 5/15/2003]
Ahmad Sajuli Abdul Rahman - An operative of Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate, Sajuli takes the visiting Arabs around Kuala Lumpur, but apparently does not attend the summit meetings. [US Congress, 10/17/2002] According to the later Guantanamo file of summit attendee al-Taizi, one of the attendees Sajuli escorts around town is future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. Sajuli also helps arrange al-Taizi’s transportation at the end of the summit. [US Department of Defense, 10/25/2008] Sajuli will be arrested in Malaysia in December 2001 (see December 29, 2001).
Ahmad Hikmat Shakir - A suspected al-Qaeda agent of Iraqi nationality, Shakir is a greeter at Kuala Lumpur airport. He meets Almihdhar there and travels with him to the apartment where the summit is held, but he probably does not attend the summit meetings. [Associated Press, 10/2/2002; Newsweek, 10/7/2002; Australian, 12/24/2002; Knight Ridder, 6/12/2004] After 9/11, he will be linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 Bojinka plot. Jordan will arrest him and let him go after the US says it doesn’t want to take custody of him (see September 17, 2001).
Dhiren Barot - Dhiren Barot (a.k.a. Abu Eissa al-Hindi) is a British citizen of Indian descent. According to a 2006 Observer article, Barot “is not believed to have been present” at the summit meetings. However, he does go to Kuala Lumpur during the time of the summit with summit attendee bin Attash. And shortly after the summit, Barot holds meetings with Hambali. It will later be reported that Barot is sent by KSM to New York City in early 2001 to case potential targets there, although whether this is part of the 9/11 plot or some other plot is unclear (see May 30, 2001). Barot will be arrested in 2004 in Britain for plotting attacks there, and sentenced to 30 years in prison (see August 3, 2004). [Observer, 12/12/2006]
Another Unnamed Local Militant - Malaysian officials will say that two local Jemaah Islamiyah act as drivers for the attendees. These drivers apparently have no idea who the attendees are or what they are doing; they are just tasked to drive them around. In a 2002 Associated Press article, officials will not name these drivers, but will say that they are among the dozens of alleged Jemaah Islamiyah militants arrested in December 2001 and January 2002. Since Sajuli mentioned above is arrested at that time, he presumably is one of these drivers. It is not known who the other driver is. (Sufaat will be arrested at that time as well, but the Associated Press article will make clear Sufaat is not one of the drivers.) [Associated Press, 9/20/2002]
Probably Not Involved: Mohamed al-Khatani - A Saudi, he allegedly will confess to attending the summit while being held in the US Guantanamo prison (see July 2002). He apparently will unsuccessfully attempt to enter the US in August 2001 to join the 9/11 plot (see August 4, 2001). However, al-Khatani will later recant his testimony and say he lied to avoid torture (see October 26, 2006). Furthermore, his 2008 Guantanamo file, leaked to the public in 2011, contains no hint of him even possibly attending the summit. The contents of the file must be treated with extreme caution, especially since he is repeatedly and brutally tortured (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and January 14, 2009). But according to the general narrative of the file, al-Khatani had no involvement with Islamist militancy in early 2000, only starts to get involved with militants in mid-2000, and first attends a militant training camp in Afghanistan in late 2000. [US Department of Defense, 10/30/2008]
Entity Tags: Hambali, Abu Bara al-Taizi, Dhiren Barot, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, Ahmad Sajuli Abdul Rahman, Al-Qaeda, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Islamic Jihad, Jemaah Islamiyah, Fahad al-Quso, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ulrich Kersten, Yazid Sufaat, Khalid Almihdhar, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Salem Alhazmi, Mohamed al-Khatani, Malaysian Secret Service, Khallad bin Attash, Nawaf Alhazmi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Although Malaysian authorities video the militants attending al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit on its first day (see January 5, 2000), photos of the meeting’s attendees are later circulated and must be taken during the meeting as well.
One account says that, in general: “As the terrorists left the [condominium where the summit was held], the Malaysian police clicked away with their cameras. There was enough material for a whole photo series.” [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] As of March 2008, none of the photos have been made public, and information about them is scanty. However, it is known that the photos include:
Three high-quality surveillance photos later shown to the FBI (see June 11, 2001). One is shot from a low angle and shows 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi standing by a tree. The two others in this set appear to show Almihdhar and Alhazmi individually, and will also later be shown to Yemeni authorities and an FBI asset in Pakistan (see Mid-Late December 2000, Early January 2001, January 3, 2001, and January 4, 2001). [Wright, 2006, pp. 341]
More photos of Almihdhar “meeting with other al-Qaeda operatives.” He is also “photographed in various locations meeting with several different people.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 234, 243 ] The photos of Almihdhar include ones taken at his hotel, which is discovered by the Malaysians, and more coming and going from the condominium where the meeting is held. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 ; Observer, 10/7/2001]
A picture of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, apparently standing by Alhazmi and Almihdhar. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 285 ; Wright, 2006, pp. 342]
Photos of USS Cole bomber Fahad al-Quso, or a person who looks like him, standing next to Almihdhar. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 ]
A picture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh next to bin Attash. [Los Angeles Times, 10/17/2001; Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002]
Hambali, head of an al-Qaeda affiliate in Southeast Asia, is in some photos, and is immediately recognized by Malaysian intelligence (see Shortly After January 8, 2000).
Yazid Sufaat, the summit’s host, is also in some photos, and also is recognized by Malaysian intelligence. [New Straits Times, 2/10/2002]
On January 8, the CIA will be told that an unnamed new person has just joined Almihdhar and the others, and that additional photographs have been taken. It is not mentioned who the new person is. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 247 ]
The total number of photos taken and then passed to the CIA is not known. It is also unclear why only two or three of the photos are circulated within the within some US intelligence agencies before 9/11 (see Early January 2001, January 3, 2001, Late May, 2001, and June 11, 2001).
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).
Victims’ family members Lorie Van Auken (right) and Kristen Breitweiser (left) are shocked to learn Tom Wilshire blocked a cable to the FBI about Khalid Almihdhar’s visa. [Source: Banded Artists]Doug Miller, an FBI agent assigned to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, reads CIA cables reporting that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa and drafts a cable to the FBI to inform it of this. The CIA obtained the information through a tap on Almihdhar’s phone in Yemen (see December 29, 1999) and by monitoring him as he passed through Dubai (see January 2-5, 2000) on his way to an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000).
Draft Cable - Miller writes that Almihdhar has a US visa (see April 3-7, 1999) and that the visa application states his destination is New York and he intends to stay for three months. The draft cable mentions the tap on Almihdhar’s phone, his planned travel to Malaysia, and the links between his phone and the 1998 East African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998 and October 4, 2001). It also says that the CIA has obtained photographs of Almihdhar and these will be sent separately. Miller asks the FBI for feedback resulting from an FBI investigation.
Blocked - Another CIA officer named Michael Anne Casey accesses Miller’s draft about an hour after he writes it. The cable is then blocked on the orders of the station’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire, as a few hours after Miller drafts the cable Casey attaches a message to it saying, “pls hold off on [cable] for now per [Tom Wilshire].” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 240 ] Miller is also told, “This is not a matter for the FBI.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 311]
'No Reason to Kill the Message' - Author James Bamford will later comment: “A potential terrorist and member of al-Qaeda was heading for the US, the FBI’s jurisdiction—its turf—and he [Miller] was putting the FBI on notice so it could take action. There was no reason to kill the message.” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 19] Miller will later say he has no “rational answer” as to why the cable was blocked, but will speculate that Alec Station officers were annoyed he had encroached on their territory. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008] Casey drafts a cable falsely saying that the information about Almihdhar’s visa has been shared with the FBI (see Around 7:00 p.m. January 5, 2000) and there will be a discussion the next day about whether the cable should be sent (see January 6, 2000). The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later call the failure to pass the information to the FBI a “significant failure” but will be unable to determine why the information was not passed on. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 250 ] The 9/11 Commission will know of the incident, but will relegate it to an endnote in its final report, omitting Wilshire’s role entirely. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502] The CIA inspector general will falsely claim that the cable is not sent, “[a]pparently because it was in the wrong format or needed editing.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xv ]
CIA officer Michael Anne Casey sends out a cable saying the information that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa has been sent to the FBI “for further investigation.” The cable does not state how the visa information was passed or by whom. Casey is with Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. The cable, which is lengthy and summarizes information about Almihdhar and three other operatives planning an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia, is sent to some overseas CIA stations, but not the FBI. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 243 ] The CIA, which will be criticized for its apparent failure to tell the FBI of Almihdhar’s visa after 9/11, will repeatedly tout this cable as evidence that it had actually informed the FBI of Almihdhar’s visa, or at least thought it had done so. [US Congress, 9/20/2002; New York Times, 10/17/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 146 ; Tenet, 2007, pp. 195] However, this appears not to be true, as after 9/11 the FBI will be unable to find any record of receiving such information and the CIA will be unable to find any record of having sent it. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 249-252 ] In addition, as Casey blocked the relevant notification to the FBI on this day (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000) and insists it not be passed the next day (see January 6, 2000), she must know the claim the information about Almihdhar’s visa had been passed is false. Casey will apparently lie about this cable to the Justice Department’s inspector general (see February 2004) and CIA Director George Tenet (see Before October 17, 2002 and Shortly Before April 30, 2007).
Two of the operatives attending al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit make short trips to neighboring countries, returning to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, within 24 hours. The two operatives are Nawaf Alhazmi and Khallad bin Attash and the two countries they visit are Thailand and Singapore, but it is not definitively known which operative goes to which country. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 4 ] However, an associate of bin Attash’s, Fahad al-Quso, arrives in Thailand around this day (see January 5-6, 2000). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 269 ] In addition, Alhazmi will later be said to have visited Singapore. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/4/2003] Presumably, therefore, it is bin Attash that travels to Thailand, whereas Alhazmi goes to Singapore. The 9/11 Commission will later say of these two trips, “After the fact, efforts were made to track them. US officials in Kuala Lumpur wondered if one of these Arabs was the still mysterious Nawaf. Both returned to Kuala Lumpur within the next 24 hours, though the authorities did not know it at the time.” [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 4 ] Khalid Almihdhar is also said to visit Singapore, and both he and Alhazmi are said to travel to Indonesia around this time as well, but the circumstances of these additional trips, if they are actually made, are not known. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/4/2003] Almihdhar’s passport was copied by intelligence services on the way to Malaysia (see January 2-5, 2000) and a similar operation to obtain Alhazmi’s passport details failed (see January 2-4, 2000). These two trips represent opportunities to obtain Alhazmi and bin Attash’s passport details, but this is apparently not done, even though the two are under surveillance at this point (see January 5-8, 2000).
Mark Rossini. [Source: Fox News]Mark Rossini, an FBI agent on loan to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, protests in vain against a decision to deliberately withhold information about one of the future 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, from the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). One of his colleagues, Doug Miller, had tried to inform the FBI that Almihdhar had a US visa the day before, but had been blocked by a 29-year-old female CIA officer named Michael Anne Casey and the unit’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire. According to author James Bamford, Rossini was “perplexed and outraged that the CIA would forbid the bureau’s notification on a matter so important.” Rossini will later say: “So the next day I went to her and said: ‘What’s with Doug’s cable? You’ve got to tell the bureau about this.’ She put her hand on her hip and said: ‘Look, the next attack is going to happen in Southeast Asia—it’s not the bureau’s jurisdiction. When we want the FBI to know about it, we’ll let them know. But the next bin Laden attack’s going to happen in Southeast Asia.’” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 19-20] Rossini protests, saying, “They’re here!” and, “It is FBI business,” but to no avail. Even though he is an FBI agent, he cannot pass on notification to the bureau without permission from his superiors at Alec Station. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008] Casey will be promoted after 9/11. [Mayer, 2008, pp. 16] In the run-up to the 9/11 attacks, Wilshire will write an e-mail expressing his fear of an al-Qaeda attack in Southeast Asia, specifically Malaysia (see July 5, 2001), and will give this as a reason he does not communicate information about Almihdhar and his partner Nawaf Alhazmi to the FBI in May 2001 (see May 15, 2001). It will be alleged after 9/11 that the notification may be withheld to stop the FBI interfering with an illegal CIA-linked operation to monitor the hijackers in the US (see 2006 and After).
FBI Director Louis Freeh and other top FBI officials are briefed about the ongoing al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) as part of their regular daily update. They are told the CIA is in the lead and that the CIA promises to let the FBI know if an FBI angle to the case develops. But they are not told that the CIA has just found out that one of the participants, Khalid Almihdhar, has a US visa. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] It is unclear who the other top FBI officials that are briefed are. However, Dale Watson, the assistant director of the counterterrorism division, and Thomas Pickard, the FBI’s deputy director at this time and its acting director in the summer of 2001, will also learn of the summit by July 2001, although it is unclear exactly when they are informed (see July 12, 2001). [Pickard, 6/24/2004] According to Vanity Fair, Richard Blee, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, “provided surveillance updates for [the CIA’s] top officers, the FBI, and the White House” while the summit is in progress. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] One FBI official familiar with the case will later complain: “[The CIA] purposely hid [Almihdhar] from the FBI, purposely refused to tell the bureau.… The thing was, they didn’t want John O’Neill and the FBI running over their case. And that’s why September 11 happened.… They have blood on their hands.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224] Jack Cloonan, an FBI agent in the I-49 squad that focuses on al-Qaeda, will later say: “If that information [got] disseminated, would it have had an impact on the events of 9/11? I’m telling you that it would have.” [ABC News, 5/10/2004]
On January 6, 2000, the CIA station in Malaysia begins passing details from the Malaysian government’s surveillance of the al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to the CIA Counterterrorist Center (CTC) (see January 5-8, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). Cofer Black, head of the CTC, orders that he be continually informed about the meeting. CIA Director George Tenet is frequently informed as well. They are given continual updates until the meeting ends on January 8. [Stern, 8/13/2003] National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, FBI Director Louis Freeh, and other top officials are briefed, but apparently President Clinton is not. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 225-26] However, it appears that the CIA deliberately and repeatedly fails to tell the FBI that one attendee, future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, has an active visa to visit the US (see Mid-July 2004, January 6, 2000, and January 5-6, 2000). No evidence will be presented suggesting anyone else outside the CIA is told this crucial fact either. The Malaysia summit ends on January 8. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 237] Officially, the CIA will later claim to have lost future hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar as they left the meeting (see January 8, 2000). However, Almihdhar will later report back to al-Qaeda that he thought he was followed to the US (see Mid-July 2000). It will not be reported whether any of the other attendees are monitored after leaving the meeting.
Although the CIA passes information to the FBI about the attendance of 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, it repeatedly fails to mention that Almihdhar has a US visa (see January 6, 2000, 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, January 5-6, 2000). It also fails to check that the FBI has received this information. The CIA’s inspector general will say it “found no indication that anyone in [the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center] checked to ensure FBI receipt of the information, which, a few [Osama bin Laden] Station officers said, should have been routine practice.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xv ]
The al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) ends and the participants leave. Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar fly to Bangkok, Thailand, with al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see January 8, 2000). Other attendees depart to other locales. There have been no media reports that any of the others were followed by intelligence agents. [Associated Press, 9/20/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 ] Before the summit started the CIA knew one attendee was named Khalid Almihdhar and that another had the first name Nawaf. At the end of the summit the CIA appears to have learned little more, and still does not know Nawaf’s last name is Alhazmi. Around this time, on January 7 and 10, the CIA searches for their names in their databases but get no hits. Yet they don’t ask for a search of the much larger NSA databases, which had vital information on them (see Early 1999). CIA headquarters asks the NSA to put Almihdhar on their watch list so they can pass on more information about him (see Mid-January 2000). However, neither Alhazmi nor Almihdhar are placed on the State Department’s watch list, which would actually prevent them from coming to the US. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] The CIA still fails to tell the FBI that Almihdhar has a valid US visa, and in fact seems to go out of their way not to tell the FBI about it (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, January 6, 2000, Mid-July 2004, and January 5-6, 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 ; Stern, 8/13/2003]
The al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) ends and the participants leave. Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar fly to Bangkok, Thailand, traveling under their real names. Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash also travels with them and the three sit side by side in the airplane, but bin Attash travels under the false name “Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf” (see After January 8, 2000). [Associated Press, 9/20/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248 ] Malaysian intelligence and the CIA are aware of this flight (see January 8, 2000).
The CIA’s station in Bangkok, Thailand, is informed that future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has departed Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where he was meeting other top al-Qaeda operatives, en route to Bangkok (see January 8, 2000). Almihdhar is known to be traveling with two companions, who turn out to be Nawaf Alhazmi and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 5 ] Some sources state that a message about this is passed from the Malaysian authorities monitoring the three men to the CIA station in Kuala Lumpur and then to the CIA station in Bangkok. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 226; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 5 ] It is not known exactly how promptly this message is sent, but it is sent five hours after another one about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit dispatched the same day. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 247 ] However, author Lawrence Wright will later say that the Malaysians notify the CIA station chief in Thailand, implying that the notification is direct and possibly faster. [Wright, 2006, pp. 311] The 9/11 Commission will say that this notification comes too late for the three to be picked up at the airport. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181] A flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok usually takes about two hours. [AirlineMeals (.net), 4/29/2008]
Bin Laden speaking at the podium in the top image. Ramzi bin al-Shibh is said to be the one wearing the red bandana on his head in the below image. [Source: London Times]Bin Laden is videotaped speaking to about 100 of his followers in Afghanistan. The video of the speech, which has no sound, will apparently be captured by US forces in late 2001 and leaked to the media in late 2006 (see September 30, 2006). The time stamp on the video footage reads “1/8/2000,” suggesting the speech took place in January 8, 2000 at the end of Ramadan, though it could also be from August 1, 2000, since some countries reverse the order of months and days. The speech takes place at Tarnak Farm, a complex of buildings near Kandahar where bin Laden sometimes lives. Bin Laden speaks in the open air at a podium while the audience sits on the ground. Ramzi bin al-Shibh is said to be in the audience, although photographs, video footage, and even credit card receipts place him at a meeting in Malaysia held from January 5-8 (see January 5-8, 2000). [London Times, 10/1/2006] The video footage focuses more on the audience than the crowd, leading at least one terrorism specialist to speculate that the video maybe have been made by an intelligence agency. [Associated Press, 10/3/2006] It appears US intelligence will later use the footage to identify bin Laden’s followers in the crowd (see September 30, 2006).
After learning that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has flown from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Bangkok, Thailand, with two companions (see January 8, 2000 and January 8, 2000), the CIA obtains more information about the two men. Based on the flight manifest, it learns that one of them was traveling under the name “Alhazmi,” a reference to 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi. The CIA knows that one of the people Almihdhar associated with in Kuala Lumpur was named Nawaf, but, apparently, does not connect the first name Nawaf to the second name Alhazmi. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 227; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 5 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 353, 502] The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will say that the CIA could have put the two names together and that this could have led to his watchlisting, but this does not happen (see January 8, 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 145 ] The 9/11 Commission will add that, if the State Department were asked about Nawaf Alhazmi, it would discover that he had been issued a US visa in Jeddah around the same time as Almihdhar (see April 3-7, 1999). The NSA has been intercepting Alhazmi’s calls to Almihdhar for at least a year (see Early 1999) and could promptly put Nawaf and Alhazmi together, but it is not asked (see January 9, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 353-4] The second companion is al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, who is initially reported to travel under the name “Salahsae.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181] The CIA will learn that this is part of the name Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf, one of bin Attash’s aliases, no later than March 2000. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248 ] Bin Attash previously used this alias to apply for a US visa in Yemen (see April 3, 1999), but the CIA does not realize this (see After January 8, 2000). Bin Attash will leave Thailand in mid-January (see January 20, 2000).
Some attendees at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, including 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, use an Internet café while on a shopping trip. They spend “many hours in front of the computers,” all the while under surveillance by the Malaysian Special Branch. After they leave the café, the Malaysians search the hard drives of the computers that were used. What information is learned and what use is made of this information is not known. However, information about the summit is passed to the CIA around this time (see January 5-9, 2000). [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; Australian, 12/24/2002; Stern, 8/13/2003]
The US knows that Hambali has ties to the 1995 Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995) but apparently fails to share this information with Malaysian authorities, who therefore miss a chance to arrest him. By 1999, the US determined that Hambali was one of the founders of Konsonjaya, a front company central to funding the Bojinka plot (see May 23, 1999). US investigators also found a photograph of him on Ramzi Yousef’s computer in 1995, further tying him to the Bojinka plot. [New Straits Times, 2/2/2002] In January 2000, Malaysian intelligence monitors an al-Qaeda summit meeting at the request of the CIA (see January 5-8, 2000). Malaysian intelligence recognize Hambali and Yazid Sufaat from photos of the meeting; both are long-time residents in Malaysia. However, because the US does not share the information about Hambali, the Malaysians decide not to arrest or question Hambali and Sufaat since they are not aware either man has any criminal ties. [New Straits Times, 2/10/2002] As a result, Malaysian authorities fail to learn more about this summit meeting, which was attended by two 9/11 hijackers. The US also fails to follow up with Hambali, despite their knowledge of him.
On January 8, 2000, hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar plus al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash fly from Malaysia to Thailand together, sitting next to each other. Malaysian intelligence soon informs the CIA that Almihdhar was on the flight, sitting next to someone with the last name of Alhazmi and someone with the name Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf (see January 8, 2000). This is an alias for bin Attash, and in fact is the same alias he used when applying for a US visa in 1999 (see April 3, 1999). Two months later, the CIA learns that several days later, Nawaf Alhazmi flew from Thailand to the US, which means he had to have had a US visa (see March 5, 2000 and March 6, 2000 and After). In fact, Almihdhar, Alhazmi, and bin Attash, using the “bin Yousaf” alias, all applied for US visas within days of each other (see April 3-7, 1999). Alhazmi and bin Attash even applied on the same day. However, apparently no check of visa application records is made that would reveal this. US intelligence also suspects that Alhazmi has a militant brother named Salem, which he does, and Salem Alhazmi also applied for and received a US visa from the same consulate on nearly the same day as his brother Nawaf, but this is not discovered either. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 155-6, 181-2, 492; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 9 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248 ] The US will miss other opportunities to learn more about this alias (see After December 16, 2000 and After August 23, 2001).
The CIA fails to ask the NSA for information about Nawaf Alhazmi. The CIA is monitoring a summit of al-Qaeda operatives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, along with local authorities there (see January 5-8, 2000), and is aware that one of the attendees is sometimes referred to by the first name Nawaf, and one is sometimes referred to by the last name Alhazmi. However, it apparently fails to put these two names together (see January 8-9, 2000). If asked, the NSA, which has been monitoring Alhazmi’s calls for at least a year (see Early 1999), could easily have realized “Nawaf” and “Alhazmi” were the same person. The 9/11 Commission will comment, “NSA’s analysts would promptly have discovered who Nawaf was, that his full name might be Nawaf Alhazmi, and that he was an old friend of Khalid [Almihdhar].” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 145 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 353-4] The CIA does actually tell the NSA about Almihdhar and ask for information about him (see January 10, 2000 and Mid-January 2000), but, according to author James Bamford, “inexplicably” does not do this for Alhazmi. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 156 ; Bamford, 2004, pp. 227] According to NSA director Michael Hayden, had the NSA been asked at this point, it may also have been able to identify Nawaf Alhazmi’s brother Salem, another of the hijackers. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 145 ]
Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, sends the CIA station in Bangkok, Thailand, a NIACT cable about 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and two associates, who turn out to be 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash. NIACT means the cable is a very high priority and has to be immediately acted on by the duty officer, even if it is received at night. Almihdhar and his two associates arrived in Bangkok the previous day, but the CIA in Thailand had apparently been unable to track them (see January 8, 2000 and January 8, 2000). Alec Station wants the Bangkok station to identify Almihdhar and his associates, although the precise contents of the cable and the response to it are unknown. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 227; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 5 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 247 ]
The CIA sends the NSA some information about 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, including information about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), which Almihdhar attended, as well as the name of a person who helped him in Kuala Lumpur, where the summit was held. The NSA is also told Almihdhar’s primary purpose for coming to Malaysia was to meet with other people. The CIA knows Almihdhar has a US visa (see January 2-5, 2000), but it is unclear whether the NSA is informed of this. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 156 ] At this time, the NSA has some information about Almihdhar, whose calls it has been intercepting for at least a year (see Early 1999, Summer 1999, Late Summer 1999, and Shortly Before December 29, 1999), that has not been disseminated. In particular, the NSA seems to have overheard something in early 1999 that should have been disseminated, but was not. This new information from the CIA does not cause the NSA to re-examine its material on Almihdhar or disseminate any important information to other US agencies. However, Almihdhar is subsequently put on the NSA watchlist (see Mid-January 2000) and the NSA intercepts calls between his home in Yemen and him in the US (see Spring-Summer 2000), but fails to alert the FBI to his presence in the US (see (Spring 2000)).
Richard Blee, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, gives an incorrect briefing to his CIA superiors about surveillance of al-Qaeda operatives in Southeast Asia. He claims that Malaysian authorities and the CIA are continuing to monitor al-Qaeda operatives who gathered for a summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). In actual fact, three of the summit’s attendees, 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, have already left Kuala Lumpur for Bangkok, Thailand, and have disappeared there (see January 8, 2000). The 9/11 Commission will say that Blee is “unaware at first even that the Arabs had left Kuala Lumpur, let alone that their trail had been lost in Thailand” and that he “may not have known that in fact Almihdhar and his companions had dispersed and the tracking was falling apart.” These statements will be sourced to an interview with Blee in December 2003 and contemporary CIA documents. However, Alec Station is well aware of the departure of the three men, as it was notified of this and sent a follow-up cable on January 9 telling the CIA station in Bangkok to find them there (see January 9, 2000). It is unclear why Blee gives such an inaccurate briefing, but he gives a similar one two days later (see January 14, 2000), after Alec Station is again reminded that the three radicals are in Thailand, not Malaysia (see January 13, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 354, 502]
Doug Miller, an FBI agent detailed to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, writes to Tom Wilshire, the unit’s deputy chief, about 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. Miller had drafted a cable eight days before to tell the FBI that Almihdhar has a US visa, but Wilshire and another CIA officer had blocked the cable (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000 and January 6, 2000). Miller asks Wilshire, “Is this a no go or should I remake it in some way?” However, Wilshire does not respond. This is apparently Miller’s last attempt to inform the FBI of Almihdhar’s visa. About a month later, Miller will have some draft cables in the CIA’s computer system deleted, but will ensure that this draft cable is saved. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 241 ] The Justice Department’s inspector general will criticize Miller for not following up more and ensuring the information is passed to the FBI. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 356 ] However, Miller will say that he has a relatively low rank at the CIA at this time, and that he could not have passed the information without CIA approval, as he would have been fired. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008]
Acting on a tipoff by the CIA, Thai intelligence puts 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi on its watch list. In addition, it puts an alias al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash is using (Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf) on the watch list (see January 20, 2000). The CIA is aware that the three men arrived in Bangkok on January 8 (see January 8, 2000), but seems to be unable to locate them in Thailand (see January 13, 2000). The Thai authorities will note their departure from Bangkok on January 15, but will not stop them and apparently will not inform the CIA of this for some time (see January 15, 2000 and March 5, 2000). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 230; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ] The CIA is apparently unaware of Alhazmi’s full name at this point (see January 8-9, 2000), but this does not prevent the watchlisting. The CIA will not add the three to the US watch list until late August 2001 (see August 23, 2001).
The CIA station in Bangkok, Thailand, sends a cable to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, saying that it is unable to locate 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and two companions, who turn out to be 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, in Bangkok. The three had been under surveillance in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), but the CIA’s Bangkok station had been unable to pick them up at the airport when they flew to Thailand on January 8 (see January 8, 2000 and January 8, 2000). According to an official, this was because “when they arrived we were unable to mobilize what we needed to mobilize.” Despite the high priority allocated to the search by CIA headquarters (see January 9, 2000) and the fact bin Attash was under surveillance in Malaysia when he called the hotel where the three are staying in Bangkok (see (January 5-8, 2000)), they cannot be found. The precise steps taken to locate them are unknown. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 502; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 247 ]
Following a request by the CIA, the NSA puts hijacker 9/11 Khalid Almihdhar on its watch list. This means that the NSA should pass details of any new monitored communications involving him to the CIA. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ] The CIA is looking for Almihdhar and knows he has a US visa (see January 13, 2000), but fails to add him to the State Department’s watch list until 19 months later (see August 23, 2001). The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later state: “In mid-January 2000, NSA queried its databases for information concerning Khaled [redacted]. These queries remained active until May 2000, but did not uncover any information.” In fact, the NSA intercepts eight of Almihdhar’s calls from San Diego to Yemen during this time and even gives some details about some of the calls to the FBI (see Spring-Summer 2000). However, they do not tell the CIA everything about them, despite the watch list requirement to provide the information. It is not clear why the NSA failed to share this with the CIA. It is also not known if or when Almihdhar was removed from the NSA watch list before 9/11. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ]
Richard Blee, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, again wrongly informs his CIA superiors about surveillance of al-Qaeda operatives in Southeast Asia. Repeating a claim made in a briefing two days previously (see January 12, 2000), he says that Malaysian authorities and the CIA are continuing to monitor al-Qaeda operatives who gathered for a summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). In actual fact, three of the summit’s attendees, 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, have already left Kuala Lumpur for Bangkok, Thailand (see January 8, 2000). Alec Station is well aware of the departure of the three men, as it was notified of their departure and sent a follow-up cable on January 9 telling the CIA station in Bangkok to find them there (see January 9, 2000). In addition, one day before this briefing the CIA station in Bangkok sent Alec Station a cable saying it was unable to locate the men in Thailand (see January 13, 2000). The 9/11 Commission will also point out that “there is no evidence of any tracking efforts actually being undertaken by anyone after the Arabs disappeared into Bangkok.” It is unclear why Blee gives such an inaccurate briefing. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 354]
Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, stops operations linked to the monitoring of al-Qaeda Malaysia’s summit. The summit had been attended by leaders of the organization and two or three 9/11 hijackers (see January 5-8, 2000), and had been monitored by the CIA, which briefed leading administration officials on it (see January 6-9, 2000). However, Alec Station appears to lose interest in it in mid-January, after three of the attendees apparently disappear in Thailand (see January 8, 2000). The 9/11 Commission will say that apart from watchlisting the three in Thailand: “No other effort was made to create other opportunities to spot these Arab travelers in case the screen in Bangkok failed. Just from the evidence in [Khalid] Almihdhar’s passport, one of the logical possible destinations and interdiction points would have been the United States. Yet no one alerted the INS or the FBI to look for these individuals.” Author James Bamford will call this “incredible” and compare Alec Station’s performance to “a train wreck in slow motion.” He will also comment that Alec Station chief Richard Blee “completely dropped the ball,” and say that once “al-Qaeda members dispersed and things began falling apart, he simply paid no attention.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 228-230; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 354]
Thai authorities note that 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi depart Bangkok, Thailand, for the US (see January 15, 2000). They had been put on a Thai watch list shortly before this at the CIA’s request (see January 13, 2000), but the watchlisting only means the Thais note their departure from Thailand—they are not stopped at the airport. The reason for the watchisting was that the CIA was unable to locate them in Thailand, and wanted to be notified of the two future 9/11 hijackers’ departure, so it could start tracking them again. However, it is unclear whether this information is passed to the CIA at this time. One possibility is that the Thais do not pass this information on and, according to author James Bamford, “[What’s] worse, the CIA didn’t bother to ask for it until months later.” When the CIA asks for the information in February, only one of the names, Alhazmi’s, is allegedly passed to CIA headquarters (see March 5, 2000). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 230; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ]
Fifty to sixty CIA officers read cables reporting on travel by 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. The cables are generated in connection with al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, which Almihdhar and Alhazmi attend and the CIA monitors (see January 5-8, 2000). Even though some of the cables state that Almihdhar has a US visa and Alhazmi has arrived in the US, the FBI is not informed of this (see, for example, January 6, 2000 and March 5, 2000), and the two men are not watchlisted until the summer of 2001 (see August 23, 2001). The cables are drafted at four field offices and at headquarters and are read by overseas officers, headquarters personnel, operations officers, analysts, managers, junior employees, CIA staff, and officers on attachment from the NSA and FBI. The CIA’s inspector general will comment: “Over an 18-month period, some of these officers had opportunities to review the information on multiple occasions, when they might have recognized its significance and shared it appropriately with other components and agencies.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xiv ]
The FBI’s most senior representative at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, develops cancer and is forced to resign, meaning no FBI agent assigned to Alec Station has the power to release information from the CIA for months. A key cable informing the FBI that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa will fail to be released to the FBI around this time (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). The representative, who is referred to in documents as “Eric”, is deputy chief of Alec Station. He has the power to release information to the FBI having acquired this power in a row with former Alec Station chief Michael Scheuer (see June 1999). The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will say Eric left the unit in mid-January, which would have given him over a week to give the FBI information about Almihdhar discovered during the surveillance of an al-Qaeda summit held from January 5-8 (see January 5-8, 2000). It is known Eric accessed a cable related to the Malaysia summit on January 5 and discussed surveillance photos taken of the summit with CIA officer Tom Wilshire (see (Mid-January 2000)). Author Lawrence Wright will comment: “None of the… FBI agents remaining in Alec had the seniority to release information, and consequently had to rely on the agency to give them permission for any transfer of classified cable traffic.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 241, 320 ; Wright, 2006, pp. 313]
Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is involved in a reorganization at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) and is merged into a larger group within the CTC. Precise details of the reorganization are not known. When FBI agent Charles Frahm is detailed to the CIA in July 2000 to replace an FBI agent who had previously been deputy manager of Alec Station (see Mid-January 2000), due to the reorganization Frahm is made deputy chief of the larger unit. Presumably therefore, Alec Station chief Richard Blee is now the head of the larger unit. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 229, 231-232, 320 ] The 9/11 Commission Report will refer to Blee as “head of the section that included the bin Laden unit,” and “a group chief with authority over the bin Laden unit,” indicating that his position is indeed upgraded. (Note: this first quote from the 9/11 Commission Report refers to an event in mid-1999. Presumably, there is an error in the timing here by the Commission, as at this time Blee was head of the bin Laden unit (see June 1999), not the larger group. His position appears not to be upgraded until around the spring of 2000.) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 142, 204] Journalist Ken Silverstein will say that at one point Blee holds the number four position at the CTC, chief of operations, which may be at this time. [Harper's, 1/28/2007]
Deputy Chief of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit Tom Wilshire discusses al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit with another deputy unit chief who is on loan from the FBI. Wilshire mentions that surveillance photos have been taken, but apparently fails to mention that one of the extremists attending the summit, 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, has a US visa. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 254 ] Wilshire blocks passage of the information about Almihdhar’s US visa to the FBI around this time (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000).
After getting to know San Diego resident Omar al-Bayoumi, future 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi allegedly begins to suspect that he is a Saudi spy. Alhazmi, fellow hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, and al-Bayoumi all live in the Parkwood Apartments in San Diego in early 2000 (see January 15-February 2, 2000 and January 15-February 2000). In discussing why the hijackers move from there, the 9/11 Commission will comment, “They may also have been reconsidering the wisdom of living so close to the video camera-wielding al-Bayoumi, who Alhazmi seemed to think was some sort of Saudi spy.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 219]
Alhazmi Warns Friend Al-Bayoumi Is a Spy - An FBI report from shortly after 9/11 obtained by the website Intelwire.com will similarly mention, “Alhazmi disclosed to _____ [that al-Bayoumi] was a spy for the Saudi government and directed ______ not to socialize too much with him.” (Several names mentioned are redacted, and al-Bayoumi’s name is inferred from other references to him.) [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/15/2002 ] It is unclear what the source for this information is, or when exactly Alhazmi may say this.
Alhazmi Also Tells FBI Informant Al-Bayoumi Is a Spy - From May until December 2000, Alhazmi lives at the house of Abdussattar Shaikh, an FBI informant. In a 2004 interview by the 9/11 Commission, Shaikh will say that Alhazmi told him that al-Bayoumi was an agent for the Saudi government. Alhazmi also told him that he didn’t like al-Bayoumi, and he complained that al-Bayoumi constantly videotaped people at the local mosque, and made comments on the video camera’s microphone as he recorded them. Shaikh already knew al-Bayoumi from the local mosque (the Islamic Center of San Diego) and al-Bayoumi also visited Alhazmi at his house. Shaikh pointed out that he’d noticed this too, and he says he told Alhazmi, “I have heard that al-Bayoumi is an agent (of the Saudis).” Later, Shaikh warned someone he knew not to help al-Bayoumi after being requested to do so, because he feared al-Bayoumi was an intelligence agent. [9/11 Commission, 4/23/2004]
Others Concur Al-Bayoumi Was a Spy - Many US investigators will later conclude that al-Bayoumi is in fact a Saudi spy (see August 1-3, 2003 and September 7, 2004). Furthermore, some FBI officials will allegedly conclude that Alhazmi and Almihdhar also are connected to Saudi intelligence (see 2006 and After and August 6, 2003).
Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash leaves Thailand and returns to Karachi, Pakistan. Bin Attash had come to Thailand with 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see January 8, 2000), who had departed for the US five days previously (see January 15, 2000). Bin Attash, Alhazmi, and Almihdhar had been under surveillance in Malaysia shortly before (see January 5-8, 2000) and were watchlisted around January 13 by the Thai authorities (see January 13, 2000), which are supposed to inform the US of the departure of the three men from Thailand. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 159, 181; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248 ] The CIA is informed of bin Attash’s departure in early March, but he is traveling under an alias and the CIA does not connect the alias to bin Attash. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ] Under interrogation after being captured by the US, bin Attash will say that after leaving Karachi he travels to Kandahar to meet Osama bin Laden. However, such statements are considered unreliable due to the methods used to extract them (see June 16, 2004). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 159, 494]
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).
Future 9/11 hijacker pilot Ziad Jarrah is briefly detained and questioned at the Dubai airport (see January 30-31, 2000), and some reports will suggest this is because he is already on a US watch list. It is not known when he may have been put on a watch list or why. The only information about this will come from conflicting accounts as to why Jarrah is stopped and questioned by immigration officials for several hours in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) on January 30.
Did the US Tell the UAE to Stop Jarrah? - According to one version, UAE officials claim Jarrah is stopped based on a tip-off from the US. A UAE source will tell author Jane Corbin: “It was at the request of the Americans and it was specifically because of Jarrah’s links with Islamic extremists, his contacts with terrorist organizations. That was the extent of what we were told.” [Corbin, 2003] In 2002, CNN will also report that Jarrah is stopped because he is on a US watch list. It claims this is sourced not only from UAE sources, but from other governments in the Middle East and Europe. However, US officials will claim no such tip-off was ever given. [CNN, 8/1/2002]
Passport and Religious Material Version - Other versions of the story will claim that Jarrah first raises suspicion because of an overlay of the Koran in his passport and because he is carrying religious tapes and books. This is what the 9/11 Commission will claim. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 496] Other accounts, such as one in Vanity Fair in late 2004, will support this version. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
UAE Has Existing Program to Track Militants for the CIA - There may be a middle version of sorts, that Jarrah may be stopped because the CIA wants people with a profile just like his to be stopped. According to CNN: “The questioning of Jarrah in Dubai fits the pattern of a CIA operation described to CNN by UAE and European sources. Those sources say that in 1999, the CIA began an operation to track suspected al-Qaeda operatives, as they transited there. One of those sources provided [a] drawing showing the airport layout and describes how people wanted for questioning were intercepted, most often at a transit desk. As was the case with Ziad Jarrah, CNN sources say UAE officials were, often, told in advance by American officials who was coming in and whom they wanted questioned.” [CNN, 8/1/2002] It will also be reported that in the summer of 1999, the CIA asked immigration officials all over the region to question anyone who may have been returning from training camps in Afghanistan, and Jarrah fits that profile (see Summer 1999). [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
Ziad Jarrah, in an undated family photo taken in Lebanon. [Source: Getty Images]The UAE wants to arrest future 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah, but US officials say they will track him instead, according to United Arab Emirates (UAE) officials. It is unknown if the US officials actually do so. On January 30, 2000, Jarrah is stopped and questioned as he is transiting through the airport in Dubai, UAE. Officials at the airport have agreed to help the CIA by monitoring or questioning suspicious militants passing through there (see 1999).
Conflicting Accounts - There will be some controversy about what happens next. According to a January 2002 FBI memo, “UAE authorities stopped Jarrah, apparently, because he had the Koran superimposed on part of his passport and he was carrying other religious materials.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/24/2004] But according to UAE officials, Jarrah is stopped because he is on a US watch list (see January 30, 2000).
Jarrah's Admissions - Regardless of why he is stopped, Jarrah is questioned and he all but admits he has just been to training camps in Afghanistan. A UAE official will later say, “When we questioned him, he said he spent two months and five days in Pakistan, some part of it in Afghanistan.” Furthermore, Jarrah says that he is going to the US to preach Islam and learn to fly airplanes.
UAE Officials Want to Arrest Him, but US Says No - While Jarrah is being held at the airport, UAE officials contact US officials and ask what they should do with him. (Note that there is some controversy about this as well, but FBI and German documents indicate the US is contacted while Jarrah is still being held (see January 30, 2000).) A UAE official will later say: “What happened was we called the Americans. We said: ‘We have this guy. What should we do with him?‘… [T]heir answer was, ‘Let him go, we’ll track him.’ We were going to make him stay. They told us to let him go. We weren’t feeling very happy in letting him go.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/24/2004; McDermott, 2005, pp. 186-187, 294-295] According to another account, UAE officials have a discussion with officials at the US embassy in Dubai on what to do with Jarrah. After some discussion, they conclude they do not actually have any charge to arrest him with, so it is decided to let him go. [Chicago Tribune, 9/28/2005]
UAE Officials Track Him to Hamburg; They Notify US Intelligence - After several hours of questioning, Jarrah is let go. He is allowed to board a flight for Amsterdam, Netherlands, but the flight does not leave until the next day, giving officials more time to prepare to track him if they want to. UAE officials are aware that after Jarrah arrives in Amsterdam, he changes planes for Hamburg, Germany. A UAE official will later say, “Where he went from there, we don’t know.” In fact, Jarrah lives in Hamburg and is part of the al-Qaeda cell there with fellow 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and others. According to the FBI memo, this information about Jarrah’s detention and questioning “was reported to the US government.” UAE officials are cautious about mentioning which part of the US government is informed, but the implication is that it is the CIA. [Associated Press, 12/14/2001; Chicago Tribune, 2/24/2004; McDermott, 2005, pp. 186-187] However, it is unknown if US intelligence does track Jarrah.
A US satellite photo of the Darunta camp. [Source: US military]By the start of 2000, US intelligence has had a particular focus on Darunta Camp, one of al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan. This simple camp near Jalalabad draws attention because of intelligence gathered during the last year indicating that al-Qaeda is experimenting with poisons and chemical weapons. The CIA has inserted a special device in the vicinity that can take high quality photographs of the camp from over ten miles away. Sometime in late January, the CIA learns that bin Laden has arrived in the camp. They pass this information on to Ahmed Shah Massoud and his Northern Alliance, who are fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Massoud dispatches a small team on mules to get near the camp and fire rockets at bin Laden. However, when Massoud tells the CIA about this, the CIA’s lawyers are alarmed. They don’t want the CIA legally complicit if the operation kills innocent civilians and they order Massoud to withdraw his team. But due to poor communications the team goes ahead anyway and apparently shells the camp. However, bin Laden is not hurt and the incident passes without notice. Some US intelligence officials are upset at the legal policy that led to the order for Massoud’s team to withdraw. A new policy is drawn up allowing the CIA to assist Massoud on an operation if the primary purpose of the operation is to kill bin Laden or one of his top assistants. Otherwise, the US officially remains neutral in the war between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. [Coll, 2004, pp. 487-490]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke leads a meeting of the interagency Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) devoted largely to the possibility of an airline hijacking by al-Qaeda. The meeting is said to come during a period of low threat, after the millennium alerts had ended (see December 15-31, 1999). Clarke later will recall that the possibility of a suicide hijacking would have been only one of many speculative possibilities considered. The apparent suicide hijacking of EgyptAir Flight 990 off the coast of Massachusetts in late 1999 appears to have been a concern of the CSG around this time (see October 31, 1999). Also, one month earlier, a militant group connected to al-Qaeda successfully hijacked an airplane in India, won their demands, and escaped (see December 24-31, 1999). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 345, 561]
The CIA and United Arab Emirates (UAE) officials apparently fail to warn German intelligence about future 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah. On January 30, 2000, Jarrah was questioned at Dubai airport in the UAE, and the CIA was involved in a decision to not arrest him (see January 30-31, 2000). But even though Jarrah’s flight from Dubai was tracked to Hamburg, Germany, apparently neither US nor UAE officials warn German intelligence about Jarrah. During Jarrah’s brief detention he confessed that he had just come from Pakistan and Afghanistan, and he had a large number of jihadist propaganda videos in his luggage, leading UAE officials to strongly suspect he had just been to a militant training camp in Afghanistan. He also revealed that he has plans to learn how to fly airplanes in the US. An unnamed top German intelligence official will later say: “If we had been given the information that Jarrah had been to Afghanistan and was planning to go to flight school, we might have asked the Americans whether they thought this was normal.… If they had asked us, ‘Who is this guy who is learning to fly?’ then perhaps there might have been a different outcome.” He will suggest German intelligence might have started monitoring Jarrah, and thus discovered the 9/11 plot. However, this official will complain: “But it was one-way traffic [with the CIA]. You gave information, and you got no response.” The CIA will later deny that it has any knowledge of Jarrah before 9/11. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Note that a UAE official claims that the CIA said it would secretly track Jarrah from Dubai airport (see January 30-31, 2000). If this is true, it could explain why neither the UAE nor CIA told Germany about Jarrah.
About a month after the Malaysia al-Qaeda summit (see January 5-8, 2000), “The CIA obtain[s] a surveillance videotape” from Malaysian intelligence “that shows men arriving at the meeting, according to a US intelligence official. The tape, he said, has no sound and [isn’t] viewed as very significant at the time.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] Apparently, only the first day of the summit was videotaped (see January 5, 2000). Contents of the tape, which might definitively prove who was at the meeting, have never been made public, but the US Treasury will later mention that al-Qaeda leader Hambali and 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar were on the tape. [US Department of the Treasury, 1/24/2003 ] There is no evidence the CIA shares the videotape with any other agency before 9/11, and it has never been made public.
The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later report, “[I]n February 2000, CIA rejected a request from foreign authorities to become involved [in the search for and/or monitoring of 9/11hijacker Khalid Almihdhar] because CIA was in the middle of an investigation ‘to determine what the subject is up to.’” However, the CIA will later say it has no idea where Almihdhar is at this point (see January 13, 2000). The identity of the “foreign authorities” and the nature of the proposed assistance is not known. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 147 ]
The condominium complex where the Malaysia summit was held. [Source: Fox News] (click image to enlarge)After the al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000), the CIA has Malaysian intelligence stop monitoring the condominium where the summit was held. The condominium is owned by al-Qaeda operative Yazid Sufaat, who plays a key role in al-Qaeda search for biological weapons (see December 19, 2001). According to a later Newsweek account, after the summit, “Malaysian intelligence continued to watch the condo at the CIA’s request, but after a while the agency lost interest.” It is unclear when the surveillance stops exactly, but it stops some time before al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui visits Malaysia in September 2000. Moussaoui stays in Sufaat’s condominium, but the CIA misses a chance to learn about this (see September-October 2000). The Malaysians will later say they were surprised by the CIA’s lack of interest. “We couldn’t fathom it, really,” Rais Yatim, Malaysia’s Legal Affairs minister, will tell Newsweek. “There was no show of concern.” [Newsweek, 6/2/2002]
Future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar attend a San Diego mosque whose imam is Anwar al-Awlaki, and they have closed-door meetings with him. Al-Awlaki preaches at the Al-Ribat Al-Islami (also known as Rabat) mosque in La Mesa, a town right next to San Diego. After 9/11, the FBI will question al-Awlaki, and he will admit to meeting with Alhazmi several times, but say he does not remember what they discussed. He will not claim to remember Almihdhar at all. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 221] However, other accounts will suggest there is a much closer relationship, and with both hijackers. It is uncertain when they first meet, but a series of phone calls on February 4, 2000 connects the two hijackers, al-Awlaki, and a suspected Saudi spy named Omar al-Bayoumi (see February 4, 2000). The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later report that Alhazmi and Almihdhar “were closely affiliated with [al-Awlaki] who reportedly served as their spiritual adviser during their time in San Diego.… Several persons informed the FBI after September 11 that this imam had closed-door meetings in San Diego with Almihdhar, Alhazmi, and another individual, whom al-Bayoumi had asked to help the hijackers.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
Abdullah in Closed-Door Meetings? - This other person may be Mohdar Abdullah. Interviewed after 9/11, Abdullah will claim that al-Bayoumi specifically asked him “to be the individual to acclimate the hijackers to the United States, particularly San Diego, California.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 513] Furthermore, one witness will later claim to have met Alhazmi through both al-Awlaki and Abdullah. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 513] Abdullah may be told of the 9/11 plot in the spring of 2000 (see Early 2000), so presumably he could be a participant in secret meetings.
Investigator Confirms Closed-Door Meetings - Ray Fournier, a State Department official who will investigate al-Awlaki after 9/11, will say: “He was meeting with al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar in the ante room off of the Rabat mosque. Just the three of them. It stands to reason that when three people get together and two of them end up being hijackers that end up in the Pentagon, they’re obviously discussing how they’re going to stay on track.… He’s absolving them of their sins. He’s making sure that their cover within Western culture is being maintained. He’s making sure they’re going to stay operational.” Fournier also claims that al-Awlaki was radicalized before the hijackers came to San Diego. [KPBS, 6/10/2010]
Hijackers and Al-Awlaki Reunite in Virginia - Around August 2000, al-Awlaki resigns as imam and travels to unknown “various countries.” In early 2001, he will be appointed the imam to a much larger mosque in Falls Church, Virginia. [Copley News, 10/1/2001] Alhazmi, Almihdhar, and fellow hijacker Hani Hanjour will move to Virginia and attend al-Awlaki’s mosque there (see March 2001 and After). By 2008, US intelligence will conclude that al-Awlaki is an al-Qaeda operative (see February 27, 2008).
CIA Director George Tenet tells a Senate committee in open session that bin Laden “wants to strike further blows against America.” He points out the close links between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad and says this is part of an “intricate web of alliances among Sunni extremists worldwide, including North Africans, radical Palestinians, Pakistanis, and Central Asians.” He points out ties between drug traffickers and the Taliban and says, “There is ample evidence that Islamic extremists such as Osama bin Laden use profits from the drug trade to support their terror campaign.” But there is no mention of Pakistan’s support for al-Qaeda and the Taliban, despite CIA knowledge of this (see Autumn 1998). Instead, he claims Iran is “the most active state sponsor” of terrorism. Additionally, he does not mention that bin Laden is capable of planning attacks inside the US, even though he told that to Congress in a closed session six months earlier (see June 24, 1999). [Senate, 2/2/2000]
Nawaf Alhazmi in the 2000-2001 San Diego phone book. [Source: Newsweek]Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar move to San Diego and live there openly. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ] They move into apartment 150 in the Parkwood Apartments. On their rental application, they indicate they have been staying in Omar al-Bayoumi’s apartment in the same complex since January 15, the day they arrived in the US (see January 15-February 2, 2000). Al-Bayoumi is suspected to be both an advance man and a Saudi spy (see January 15-February 2000). They will stay in that apartment until mid-May 2000, when they move to another place in San Diego (see May 10-Mid-December 2000). Hijacker Hani Hanjour joins them as a roommate in February 2000 but apparently does not stay long. [KGTV 10 (San Diego), 9/18/2001; San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/21/2001] The hijackers use their real names on their rental agreement [US Congress, 9/20/2002] , driver’s licenses, Social Security cards, credit cards [Newsweek, 6/2/2002] , car purchase, and bank account. Alhazmi is even listed in the 2000-2001 San Diego phone book. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 9/28/2001; Newsweek, 6/2/2002] Neighbors notice odd behavior: They have no furniture, they are constantly using cell phones on the balcony, constantly playing flight simulator games, keep to themselves, and strange cars and limousines pick them up for short rides in the middle of the night (see February 2000-Early September 2001). [Time, 9/24/2001; Time, 9/24/2001; Washington Post, 9/30/2001]
India’s largest Newsweekly reports that it appears a recent Mossad attempt to infiltrate al-Qaeda failed when undercover agents were stopped on their way to Bangladesh by Indian customs officials. These 11 men appeared to be from Afghanistan, but had Israeli passports. One expert states, “It is not unlikely for Mossad to recruit 11 Afghans in Iran and grant them Israeli citizenship to penetrate a network such as bin Laden’s. They would begin by infiltrating them into an Islamic radical group in an unlikely place like Bangladesh.” [Week, 2/6/2000]
The CIA station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, asks the CIA station in Bangkok, Thailand, what is happening with surveillance of future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash. The CIA station in Kuala Lumpur had monitored the three when they were in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and passed the surveillance over to Bangkok when they flew there in early January (see January 8, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 502; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 247 ] Although, according to the 9/11 Commission, Bangkok station probably already knows that Alhazmi has departed for the US, it fails to respond for two weeks, when it claims it does not know what has happened (see (February 25, 2000)).
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