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Two days after the US embassy bombings in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the FBI interview double agent Ali Mohamed over the telephone. Mohamed is living openly in California. He says al-Qaeda is behind the bombings and that he knows who the perpetrators are, but he won’t give their names to the FBI. He also tries to downplay his involvement in the bombings, saying that he lived in Kenya in 1994 and ran front companies for bin Laden there, but when he was shown a file containing a plan to attack the US embassy in Kenya, he “discouraged” the cell members from carrying out the attack. A week later, prosecutors subpoena Mohamed to testify before a grand jury hearing in New York to be held in September. Author Peter Lance will later comment, “Considering that Mohamed had told [US Attorney Patrick] Fitzgerald at their dinner meeting in the fall of 1997 (see October 1997) that he had fake passports and the means to leave the country quickly, it’s mind-boggling how long it took the Feds to search his home…” They do not arrive at his house until August 24 (see August 24, 1998). On August 27, he again tells the FBI on the phone that he knows who the bombers are but again refuses to name names. He will not be arrested until September 10 (see September 10, 1998). [New York Times, 1/13/2001; Lance, 2006, pp. 296]
Canadian intelligence has been monitoring Mahmoud Jaballah, an operative in Canada serving as a communications relay between high-ranking Islamic Jihad figures (see May 11, 1996-August 2001). He is monitored as he relays a series of phone calls between operatives in London and Baku, Azerbaijan, in the days and hours before the African embassy bombings on August 7, 1998 (see August 5-7, 1998 and 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). He is in communication with Thirwat Salah Shehata and Ahmad Salama Mabruk in Baku; both belong to Islamic Jihad’s nine member ruling council. On August 8, Mabruk again calls Jaballah and tells him to contact an operative in London to give him Mabruk’s latest phone number. He asks Jaballah to tell others not to contact him anymore, since he and Shehata will soon be leaving Azerbaijan and their phone numbers there will no longer work. Shehata does leave Azerbaijan shortly thereafter, but soon contacts Jaballah through an intermediary to tell him of his new location in Lebanon. However, he says he does not have a telephone there and falls out of contact with Jaballah after that. [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2/22/2008 ] Shehata and Mabruk have just been directly implicated in the embassy bombings, since they sent the fax taking credit for the bombings to bin Laden’s press office in London several hours before the bombings. Phone calls to them monitored by Canadian intelligence make their role clear (see August 5-7, 1998). However, there is no known attempt to apprehend the two of them in Baku, or Shehata later in Lebanon. Mabruk is captured in Baku later in the month, but this stems from a Mossad tip to arrest someone else, and Mabruk is unexpectedly at the scene of the capture and picked up as well (see Late August 1998). Shortly after 9/11, the US will include Shehata on a list of the 12 most wanted terrorist suspects. Since then his whereabouts are unknown, but there have been no reports that he has been captured or killed. He is considered to be involved in funding al-Qaeda. [Agence France-Presse, 5/22/2003] In 2005, MSNBC will suggest he is being held in a loose house arrest by the Iranian government with a number of al-Qaeda leaders (see Spring 2002).
Barakat Yarkas (a.k.a. Abu Dahdah). [Source: Associated Press]A German newspaper will later note, “For much of the 1990s, the Spanish ran an impressive operation against a Madrid al-Qaeda cell, led by Barakat Yarkas, also known as Abu Dahdah. Wiretaps on Yarkas’s phone had revealed that he was in regular contact with [Mohammed Haydar] Zammar and [Mamoun] Darkazanli.” Spanish intelligence began monitoring Yarkas’ cell in 1997, if not earlier (see 1995 and After). It shares this information with the CIA, but not with German intelligence. The CIA also fails to share the information with Germany. A top German intelligence official will later complain, “We simply don’t understand why they didn’t give it to us.” [Stern, 8/13/2003] Spanish intelligence monitors dozens of telephone calls between Darkazanli in Hamburg and suspected al-Qaeda operatives in Spain starting at least by August 1998. On at least four occasions, Darkazanli is monitored as he travels to Spain and visits Yarkas and Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi (who will be arrested in Spain in 2002 on charges of being a key al-Qaeda financier (see April 23, 2002)). [Chicago Tribune, 10/19/2003] For instance, at the end of January 2000, Darkazanli is monitored by Spanish intelligence as he meets with Yarkas and some other some suspected al-Qaeda figures. Because the CIA and Spanish intelligence fail to share any of this surveillance information with German intelligence, the Germans are unable to see clear links between Hamburg al-Qaeda operatives and the rest of the al-Qaeda network in Europe. [Chicago Tribune, 11/17/2002] The Spanish will continue to monitor Yarkas and those he communicates with until 9/11, and in fact, in late August 2001 one of his associates will apparently make an oblique reference to the 9/11 attacks (see August 27, 2001).
Mohamed al-Owhali is arrested and immediately begins confessing his role in the recent al-Qaeda bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. He reveals to the FBI what an FBI agent will later call “blue-chip” information. [CNN, 1/19/2001] He reveals to prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and others that when he was told by a handler in Afghanistan that he would take part in an operation in Kenya, he insisted “I want to attack inside the US” instead. But his handler tells him that the Kenya attack is important because it will keep the US distracted while the real attack is being prepared. Al-Owhali futher explains to his interrogators, “We have a plan to attack the US, but we’re not ready yet. We need to hit you outside the country in a couple of places so you won’t see what is going on inside. The big attack is coming. There’s nothing you can do to stop it.” [USA Today, 8/29/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 278-279] Presumably, al-Owhali is also the suspect at this time who “inform[s] the FBI that an extensive network of al-Qaeda ‘sleeper agents’ currently exists in the US.” It is known that counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke passes on this information to Condoleezza Rice when she begins her position as National Security Adviser in January 2001 (see January 25, 2001), but other details about this warning are not known. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 260] Al-Owhali also reveals the telephone number of a key al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late August 1998) and warns that an al-Qaeda attack is Yemen is being planned (see Mid-August 1998). [CNN, 1/19/2001]
James ‘Bo’ Gritz. [Source: Hyde Park Media]Militia leader and former Green Beret James “Bo” Gritz arrives in Andrews, North Carolina, from his camp in Idaho. Gritz, now a right-wing talk show host and vehement anti-abortion advocate, says that he and his fellow militia members have been asked by the FBI to help find fugitive Eric Rudolph, who is in hiding from the FBI (see July 1998) after bombing abortion clinics, a gay and lesbian nightclub, and the 1996 Olympics (see January 29, 1998 and October 14, 1998), and persuade him to surrender; Gritz tells reporters that the alternative for Rudolph is a “bullet in the neck” from the FBI or police officers. Gritz says he believes Rudolph may have a shortwave radio and is listening to his broadcasts. Gritz is a leader in the Christian Patriot movement and was the 1992 presidential candidate of the far-right Populist Party. In 1992, he helped the FBI negotiate an end to the armed standoff in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. Gritz and some 100 fellow militia members and area volunteers spend a week in Andrews. The plan, according to author Maryanne Vollyers, is for Gritz to solicit the help of Rudolph’s mother Patricia, persuade Rudolph to come out of hiding, and protect him with lawyers and bodyguards through his legal processing. In return, Gritz will claim the $1 million reward being offered for Rudolph’s capture by the FBI. However, Patricia Rudolph refuses to cooperate with Gritz. A week after their arrival, Gritz and his followers give up trying to find Rudolph. [CNN, 7/31/1998; CNN, 5/31/2003; Vollyers, 2006, pp. 166-167] Later, Gritz will tell Vollyers that his purpose in trying to find Rudolph was to turn him into a “Christian Patriot icon,” whom he could use to advocate against abortion and homosexuality. Gritz views Rudolph as a potential “champion” for their shared right-wing views. Gritz will say that he believes Rudolph could win an acquittal through “jury nullification,” and will tell Vollyers: “I thought, boy, what an impact if a jury was to turn Eric Rudolph loose. Every abortion doctor in this country would have to grab his anus and head for wherever he could hide.” [Vollyers, 2006, pp. 166-167]
Double agent Ali Mohamed is living openly in Sacramento, California. His computer and telephone are being monitored by the FBI (see October 1997-September 10, 1998). On August 9, two days after the African embassy bombings, he told the FBI on the telephone that he knows who the bombers are but he will not reveal their names (see August 9, 1998). On August 12, one of the bombers, Mohamed al-Owhali, is secretly arrested in Kenya and immediately begins confessing what he knows (see August 12-25, 1998). Somehow al-Qaeda operative Anas al-Liby learns about al-Owhali’s arrest, even though al-Liby is living in Britain, and later that month he calls Mohamed. The call is monitored and FBI agent Jack Cloonan will later recall, “Anas says to [Mohamed], ‘Do you know that brother [al-Owhali]? ‘Cause if you do, get the f_ck out of there.” Mohamed makes plans to escape the US, but strangely he decides to respond to a subpoena and testify in New York City before he goes. He will be arrested there on September 10, just after testifying (see September 10, 1998). [Lance, 2006, pp. 297-298] Remarkably, even though al-Liby worked with Mohamed and others on the embassy bomb plot in Kenya (see Late 1993-Late 1994), he is not arrested and continues to live in Britain. His residence there will not be raided until May 2000, and by that time he will be gone (see May 2000). It will later be alleged that al-Liby is protected because he worked with British intelligence on a plot to kill Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi (see 1996).
Within days of the US African embassy bombings, the US permanently stations two submarines, reportedly in the Indian Ocean, ready to hit al-Qaeda with cruise missiles on short notice. Missiles are fired from these subs later in the month in a failed attempt to assassinate bin Laden. Six to ten hours’ advance warning is now needed to review the decision, program the cruise missiles, and have them reach their target. However, in every rare opportunity when the possibility of attacking bin Laden occurs, CIA Director Tenet says the information is not reliable enough and the attack cannot go forward. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001; New York Times, 12/30/2001] At some point in 2000, the submarines are withdrawn, apparently because the Navy wants to use them for other purposes. Therefore, when the unmanned Predator spy plane flies over Afghanistan in late 2000 and identifies bin Laden, there is no way to capitalize on that opportunity. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 220-21] The Bush administration fails to resume the submarine patrol. Lacking any means to attack bin Laden, military plans to strike at him are no longer updated after March 2001. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
Mohamed al-Owhali is arrested and immediately begins confessing to FBI investigators his role in the recent al-Qaeda bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). In addition to revealing the existence of an al-Qaeda network in the US planning an attack there (August 12-25, 1998) and also revealing the phone number of a key al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late August 1998), it appears he also reveals al-Qaeda plans for an attack in Yemen. In October 2000, Al-Qaeda operatives bombed the USS Cole in a port in Yemen (see October 12, 2000). In January 2001, in coverage of al-Owhali’s trial for his role in the embassy bombings, a court document mentions that during his interrogation he mentioned “a possible attack in Yemen.” [CNN, 1/19/2001] However, one newspaper notes, “It could not be learned how the authorities followed up on the information or how detailed it was.” [New York Times, 1/18/2001] It will later be revealed that al-Owhali identified the two leaders of the Cole bombing as participants in the planning for the US embassy bombings. [CNN, 10/16/2001]
President Clinton is aware of the links between the Pakistani ISI, Taliban, and al-Qaeda. In his 2005 autobiography, he will explain why he did not warn the Pakistani government more than several minutes in advance that it was firing missiles over Pakistan in an attempt to hit Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan (see August 20, 1998). He will write: “Although we were trying to work with Pakistan to defuse tensions on the Indian subcontinent, and our two nations had been allies during the Cold War, Pakistan supported the Taliban and, by extension, al-Qaeda. The Pakistani intelligence service used some of the same camps that bin Laden and al-Qaeda did to train the Taliban and insurgents who fought in Kashmir. If Pakistan had found out about our planned attacks in advance, it was likely that Pakistani intelligence would warn the Taliban or even al-Qaeda.” [Clinton, 2005, pp. 799] Despite this precaution, it appears the ISI successfully warns bin Laden in advance anyway (see August 20, 1998). Clinton takes no firm against against Pakistan for its links to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, such as including Pakistan on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
After the East African embassy bombings, al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri calls a number in Yemen to discuss attacking a US warship. Al-Nashiri will go on to have a prominent role in the attacks against the USS The Sullivans (see January 3, 2000) and USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) in Yemen. US authorities learn of this call no later than December 2000, although it is not clear how they do so. [CNN, 12/20/2000] The number called by al-Nashiri is not disclosed by the media, but some of al-Nashiri’s associates lived at an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, which began to be monitored by US authorities around this time (see Late 1998-Early 2002 and January 5-8, 2000).
Al-Qaeda operatives use a communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, to “put everything together” before the bombing of the USS Cole. The communications hub is run by Ahmed al-Hada, who US officials will later describe as “a prominent al-Qaeda member who is believed to have been involved in the Cole bombing.” The hub is monitored by US intelligence from 1998, at least, (see Late August 1998) and information gleaned from it is used to thwart a number of plots (see Late 1998-Early 2002). The US monitors the house through bugs planted inside and through spy satellites to monitor people leaving and entering it. The hub was also used before the 1998 embassy bombings and will be used to communicate with the 9/11 hijackers before 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). [MSNBC, 2/14/2002; Mirror, 6/9/2002; MSNBC, 5/2005] When the FBI arrives in Yemen to investigate the bombing, it finds that “telephone records show[…] that suspects in the Cole bombing had been in touch with suspects from the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 238] Calls between the hub and an al-Qaeda cell in Ireland that seems to have a connection to the Cole bombing are also intercepted during part of this period (see Late December 1999-October 12, 2000). It is unclear why the information does not allow the NSA to thwart the plot. Despite the scope of the monitoring, NSA Director Michael Hayden will later say there were no intercepts the NSA could have exploited to stop the bombing: “When the Cole disaster took place I had brought to my desk in, in this office, every stitch of NSA reporting on the—that could in any way be related to this. And I went thought it report by report and I sent a letter out to our entire work force, which was essentially, you performed well. Keep up the good work.” [CBS News, 6/19/2002]
Through its own monitoring of Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone, the CIA determines that he intends to travel to a training camp in Khost, in eastern Afghanistan. The CIA has to use its own equipment to do this because of a dispute with the NSA, which refused to provide it with full details of its intercepts of bin Laden’s calls (see December 1996). Although the CIA can only get half of what the NSA gets, shortly after the attacks on US embassies in East Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), it determines that bin Laden will travel to Khost the next day. On that day, the US launches several missile strikes, one of which is against Khost (see August 20, 1998), but bin Laden does not travel there, evading the missiles. Some will later claim that bin Laden changes his mind on the way there for no particular reason, but there will also be allegations that the Pakistani ISI warned him of the upcoming attack (see July 1999). [Wright, 2006, pp. 283]
Around the time of a US missile strike against al-Qaeda leaders (see August 20, 1998), Ayman al-Zawahiri uses Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone to speak to Rahimullah Yusufzai, a leading Pakistani reporter for the BBC and the Karachi-based News. During the call, Al-Zawahiri denies al-Qaeda is responsible for attacks on two US embassies in East Africa, which killed over 200 people (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998): “Mr. bin Laden has a message. He says, ‘I have not bombed the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. I have declared jihad, but I was not involved.’” Although bin Laden’s trial for the embassy bombings in Afghanistan, arranged by the Taliban, collapses when the US fails to provide sufficient evidence of his involvement (see (October 25-November 20, 1998)), bin Laden is generally thought to have known of and authorized the two attacks. [Wright, 2006, pp. 279, 283]
Before the US fires missiles in an attempt to kill al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, it fails to launch aircraft to track the usage of satellite phones by al-Qaeda leaders (see August 19, 1998 and August 20, 1998). Al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri actually talks to a journalist on the phone around the time of the missile strike (see August 20, 1998) and, had the US had aircraft monitoring Afghanistan, his error in using the phone may have resulted in his death, although this is not certain. Author Lawrence Wright will later comment: “If surveillance aircraft had been positioned in the region, al-Zawahiri’s call to the reporter would have given agents his exact location. But the strike was delivered so quickly that there was little time to prepare. Still, American intelligence knew in general where bin Laden and al-Zawahiri were hiding, so the fact that the surveillance aircraft were not available prior to the strike is inexplicable. Had they pinpointed al-Zawahiri prior to launch there is little question that he would have been killed in the strike. On the other hand, it takes several hours to prepare a missile for firing, and the flight time from the warships in the Arabian sea across Pakistan to eastern Afghanistan was more than two hours. By the time al-Zawahiri picked up the phone the missiles were probably already on their way and it was already too late.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 283]
El Shifa Plant in Sudan. [Source: US government]The US fires 66 missiles at six al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and 13 missiles at a pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, Sudan, in retaliation for the US embassy bombings. [Washington Post, 10/3/2001] The US insists the attacks are aimed at terrorists “not supported by any state,” despite obvious evidence to the contrary. The Sudanese Al Shifa factory is hit in the middle of the night when it is unoccupied. Intelligence will later suggest that the factory had no links to bin Laden (see September 23, 1998). Between six and 30 people are killed in the Afghanistan attacks. But no important al-Qaeda figures die. [Observer, 8/23/1998; New Yorker, 1/24/2000; Wright, 2006, pp. 285] At least one of the missiles accidentally landed inside Pakistan and Pakistan may have been able to build their own cruise missile from examining the remains. There are additional reports that bin Laden was able to sell unexploded missiles to China for more than $10 million. [Wright, 2006, pp. 285] President Clinton is soon widely accused of using the missile strike to distract the US public from a personal sex scandal (see August 17-Late August 1998).
A US surface ship firing a missile. The date and time is unknown. [Source: PBS]Hours before the US missile strike meant to assassinate bin Laden, he is warned that his satellite phone is being used to track his location and he turns it off. A former CIA official later alleges the warning came from supporters working for Pakistani intelligence, the ISI. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 201-202] It has been claimed that a tracking beacon was placed in bin Laden’s phone when a replacement battery was brought to him in May 1998 (see May 28, 1998). The US military only gave Pakistan about ten minutes’ advance notice that cruise missiles were entering their air space on their way to Afghanistan. This was done to make sure the missiles wouldn’t be misidentified and shot down. [New Yorker, 1/24/2000] But Pakistan was apparently aware several hours earlier, as soon as the missiles were launched. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later claims he was promised by the Navy that it would fire their missiles from below the ocean surface. However, in fact, many destroyers fired their missiles from the surface. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 188-89] He adds, “not only did they use surface ships—they brought additional ones in, because every captain wants to be able to say he fired the cruise missile.” [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] As a result, the ISI had many hours to alert bin Laden. Furthermore, Clarke later says, “I have reason to believe that a retired head of the ISI was able to pass information along to al-Qaeda that an attack was coming.” This is a likely reference to Hamid Gul, director of the ISI in the early 1990’s. [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] In 1999 the US will intercept communications suggesting that Gul played a role in forewarning the Taliban about the missile strike which may even had predated the firing of the cruise missiles (see July 1999). Clarke says he believes that “if the [ISI] wanted to capture bin Laden or tell us where he was, they could have done so with little effort. They did not cooperate with us because ISI saw al-Qaeda as helpful in pressuring India, particularly in Kashmir.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 188-89] Furthermore, bin Laden cancels a meeting with other al-Qaeda leaders after finding out that 180 US diplomats were being immediately withdrawn from Pakistan on a chartered plane. Thanks to these warnings, he is hundreds of miles away from his training camps when the missiles hit some hours later (see August 20, 1998). [Reeve, 1999, pp. 202]
On August 20, 1998, President Clinton signs an Executive Order imposing sanctions against bin Laden and al-Qaeda. The order gives US officials the power to block accounts and impose sanctions on any government, organization, or person providing “material assistance” to al-Qaeda. Beginning in 1999, mid-level US officials travel to Saudi Arabia and a number of Persian Gulf countries seeking information about charities supporting al-Qaeda and attempting to put pressure of governments allowing such charities to operate (see June 1999). But these governments provide little to no assistance. The New York Times claims that by the end of 1999, “with the [US] embassy bombings receding into memory, the [Clinton] administration largely moved on. ‘These visits were not followed up by senior-level intervention by the State Department, or for that matter by Treasury, to those governments,’ [says] Stuart Eizenstadt, a Treasury official and a participant in the trips. ‘I think that was interpreted by those governments as meaning this was not the highest priority.’” William Wechsler, one US official involved in these efforts, will later claim, “We had only marginal successes.” He will cite the United Arab Emirates imposing money laundering laws for the first time in 1999 and efforts to ban flights by Ariana, the Afghan national airline (see November 14, 1999; January 19, 2001), as the main successes. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later notes that the Saudis promised information and support, but in the end gave little of either. He will claim that they “protested our focus on continuing contacts between Osama and his wealthy, influential family, who were supposed to have broken all ties with him years before. ‘How can we tell a mother not to call her son?’ they asked.” The New York Times concludes that by 9/11, “the assault on al-Qaeda’s finances had largely fallen by the wayside.” [New York Times, 9/20/2001; New York Times, 12/10/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 190-195]
Sayyid Nazir Abbass. This picture is from a poor photocopy of his passport found in Sudanese intelligence files. [Source: Public domain via Richard Miniter]On August 7, 1998, hours after the US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the Sudanese government arrested two suspicious Pakistani men. The men, Sayyid Nazir Abbass and Sayyid Iskandar Suliman, appear to have been involved in the embassy bombings. The Sudanese offered to hand the men over to the FBI (see August 4-19, 1998), but the US chose to bomb a factory in Sudan on August 20 instead, in retaliation for Sudan’s previous support for bin Laden (see August 20, 1998). It quickly emerges that the factory had no link to al-Qaeda and the Sudanese government had no link to the embassy bombings (see September 23, 1998). But despite the factory bombing, the Sudanese continue to hold the two men in hopes to make a deal with the US over them. [Randal, 2005, pp. 138-143] The Sudanese also remind the FBI of the extensive files on al-Qaeda they say they are still willing to share (see March 8, 1996-April 1996, April 5, 1997, and February 5, 1998). The FBI wants to set up a meeting to pursue the offers, but the State Department vetoes the idea. [Observer, 9/30/2001; Vanity Fair, 1/2002] Journalist Jonathan Randal will later note: “Quite apart from its antipathy to the [Sudanese] regime, [the US] was bogged down trying to sell the botched [factory] attack to querulous Americans. To have taken up the Sudanese offer after the attack risked prompting more embarrassing explaining about why it had not been accepted before.” Meanwhile, the Sudanese are interrogating the two men and learn more about their al-Qaeda connections. For instance, they had listed the manager of a business owned by bin Laden as a reference on their visa applications. Finally, on September 2, 1998, Sudan sends the two men back to Pakistan. They are turned over to the Pakistani ISI, but what happens next is unclear. An NBC Dateline reporter will later attempt to track them down in Pakistan, only to receive a threatening anonymous call to leave or face dire consequences. The reporter gives up the search. One rumor is the ISI immediately allows them to disappear into Afghanistan. Another rumor is that the Pakistani government later trades them to bin Laden to buy off radicals who could threaten the government. [Randal, 2005, pp. 138-143]
In the wake of the US missile strike on Afghanistan (see August 20, 1998), the Taliban is under intense pressure to turn over bin Laden or face further attacks. Several days later, top Taliban leader Mullah Omar announces that he does not know where bin Laden is, except that he is no longer in Afghanistan. Journalist Kathy Gannon will later claim that the Pakistan army secretly gave bin Laden sanctuary in Pakistan at this time to ease US pressure on the Taliban. Taliban fighters traveling with bin Laden will later tell Gannon about a convoy of around 20 vehicles that brought bin Laden to Chirat, a commando training base in northwest Pakistan. He stayed there with his bodyguards and some senior Taliban leaders for several weeks. Gannon will later comment, “Mullah Omar needed some breathing space and Pakistan provided it.” [Gannon, 2005, pp. 163-164]
State Department official Michael Malinowski. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]Two days after the US missile strikes on militant training camps in Afghanistan (see August 20, 1998), top Taliban leader Mullah Omar unexpectedly telephones the State Department in Washington. He talks to Michael Malinowski, office director for Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh in the Bureau of South Asian Affairs. Although Mullah Omar does not threaten the US, he suggests that the missile strikes could spark more terrorist attacks. He says the Taliban is open to the idea of establishing a secure communication channel with US officials, possibly through the US embassy in Pakistan (there is no embassy in Afghanistan). The State Department comments, “Omar’s contact with a US official is rather remarkable, given his reclusive nature and his past avoidance of contact with all things American.” [US Department of State, 8/23/1998 ; US Department of State, 1/14/2002] The US then sends the Taliban some evidence of bin Laden’s militant activities (see August 23, 1998), but it appears the secure communications channel never materializes.
When asked why militant Islamic groups based in London never attack in Britain, leading imam Omar Bakri Mohammed says that he has a deal with the British government: “I work here in accordance with the covenant of peace which I made with the British government when I got [political] asylum.… We respect the terms of this bond as Allah orders us to do.” [Terrorism Monitor, 7/7/2005] Bakri will confirm this in a later interview: “The British government knows who we are. MI5 has interrogated us many times. I think now we have something called public immunity.” [MEMRI, 10/24/2001] Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will point out that other London imams, such as Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997) and Abu Qatada (see June 1996-February 1997), had a similar arrangement: “The [imams] all claimed that Islamist radicals felt safe in London as they were protected by what they called the ‘covenant of security.’ This, they explained, was a deal whereby if extremist groups pledged not to stage attacks or cause disruption in [Britain], the police and intelligence agencies left them alone. British government ministers were appalled at the suggestion that they had entered into such a pact. But other countries were left to wonder aloud why [the British government] continued to ignore warnings that radical organizations were using London as a safe haven, and allowing these extremists to behave as if they were immune from prosecution.… To European eyes, these men seemed to do as they pleased.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 108]
After he is arrested for the Nairobi embassy bombing (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), Mohamed al-Owhali is questioned by local Kenyan law enforcement and the FBI, and discloses important information (see August 4-25, 1998). When he is shown photographs of al-Qaeda operatives, one of the people he identifies is Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (a.k.a. Bilal), a cousin of another Nairobi bomber. Al-Nashiri is an al-Qaeda leader who helped al-Owhali obtain a false passport in Yemen when al-Owhali stayed at an al-Qaeda safe house in April-May 1998. It is unclear where the FBI obtained the photo of al-Nashiri, although US intelligence was previously informed of al-Nashiri’s involvement in a plot to smuggle anti-tank missiles into Saudi Arabia (see 1997). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/9/1998, pp. 16 ; United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14, 3/7/2001; Burke, 2004, pp. 174; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3]
After being asked by Taliban leader Mullah Omar (see August 22, 1998), the US sends the Taliban a cable about bin Laden’s activities. The cable states, “We have detailed and solid evidence that Osama bin Laden has been engaged and is still engaged in planning, organizing, and funding acts of international terror.” However, the sections on the various plots in which bin Laden is supposed to have been involved are brief and do not include supporting evidence. For example, the Yemen bombing in 1992 (see December 29, 1992) is described in a single sentence: “Bin Laden and his network conspired to kill US servicemen in Yemen who were on their way to participate in the humanitarian mission ‘Operation Restore Hope’ in Somalia in 1992.” [US Department of State, 8/23/1998 ] Afghanistan’s supreme court will later acquit bin Laden of his involvement in the 1998 embassy bombings (see (October 25-November 20, 1998)) because of the US’s refusal to provide the court with the requested evidence.
A satellite image of the Zhawar Kili training camp in Afghanistan, taken shortly before it was hit by a US missile strike in August, 1998. [Source: Corbis] (click image to enlarge)The New York Times reports that the training camps recently attacked by the US in Afghanistan were built by the US and its allies, years before. The US and Saudi Arabia gave the Afghans between $6 billion and $40 billion to fight the Soviets in the 1980s (see December 8, 1979). Many of the people targeted by the missile attacks were trained and equipped by the CIA years before. [New York Times, 8/24/1998]
Two days after the US embassy bombings in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), double agent Ali Mohamed told the FBI over the telephone that he knows who the perpetrators are, but he won’t reveal their names (see August 9, 1998). Mohamed is living openly in Sacramento, California, but is not arrested. A week later, he received a subpoena ordering him to testify before a grand jury hearing in New York to be held in September. On August 24, a ten-person team of federal agents secretly search Mohamed’s apartment. They copy computer files and photograph documents. His computer has been bugged since October 1997, but agents nonetheless clone his hard drives. They also copy his CD-Roms and floppy disks and photocopy documents. Then they try to hide any trace that they have been in his apartment. They discover a false passport and a number of training documents. One file, created in May 1998, discusses security measures for terrorist cells and specifically mentions his links to al-Qaeda. They even find documents from the Nairobi al-Qaeda cell and training manuals. [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/21/2001; Raleigh News and Observer, 10/21/2001; Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2001; Lance, 2006, pp. 296] However, he will still not be arrested until September 10 (see September 10, 1998).
Al-Qaeda’s communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen. [Source: PBS NOVA]The investigation of the East Africa embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) led to the discovery of the phone number of an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see August 4-25, 1998). The hub is run by an al-Qaeda veteran named Ahmed al-Hada, who is helped by his son Samir and is related to many other al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen and elsewhere. He is also the father in law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, whose wife, Hoda al-Hada, lives at the hub with their children. [Newsweek, 6/2/2002; Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; MSNBC, 7/21/2004; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; Wright, 2006, pp. 277, 309, 343, 378] Several of Ahmed al-Hada’s relatives die fighting for al-Qaeda before 9/11, a fact known to US intelligence. [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Guardian, 2/15/2006] The NSA may already be aware of the phone number, as they have been intercepting Osama bin Laden’s communications for some time (see November 1996-Late August 1998) and, according to Newsweek, “some” of bin Laden’s 221 calls to Yemen are to this phone number. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002; Media Channel, 9/5/2006] The US intelligence community now begins a joint effort to monitor the number. The NSA and CIA jointly plant bugs inside the house, tap the phones, and monitor visitors with spy satellites. [Mirror, 6/9/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 343; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] US intelligence also learns that the communications hub is an al-Qaeda “logistics center,” used by agents around the world to communicate with each other and plan attacks. [Newsweek, 6/2/2002] The joint effort enables the FBI to map al-Qaeda’s global organization (see Late 1998-Early 2002) and at least three of the hijackers use the number, enabling the NSA to intercept their communications and find out about an important al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia (see December 29, 1999 and January 5-8, 2000 and Early 2000-Summer 2001). It appears al-Qaeda continues to use this phone line until Samir al-Hada dies resisting arrest in early 2002 (see February 13, 2002).
Mounir El Motassadeq. [Source: Associated Press]A German inquiry into Mounir El Motassadeq, a member of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell, begins by this date. Although Germany will not reveal details, documents show that by August 1998, El Motassadeq is under surveillance. “The trail soon [leads] to most of the main [Hamburg] participants” in 9/11. Surveillance records El Motassadeq and Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who had already been identified by police as a suspected extremist, as they meet at the Hamburg home of Said Bahaji on August 29, 1998. Files show that investigators are aware of who Bahaji is by this time.(Bahaji will soon move into an apartment with 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and other al-Qaeda members (see November 1, 1998-February 2001.) German police monitor several other meetings between El Motassadeq and Zammar in the following months. [New York Times, 1/18/2003] El Motassadeq will later be sentenced to 15 years in prison for membership in al-Qaeda (see August 19, 2005).
CIA operatives kidnap Ahmad Salama Mabruk and two other members of Islamic Jihad outside a restaurant in Baku, Azerbaijan (see Late August 1998). This is part of a covert CIA program to arrest Islamic Jihad operatives around the world and send them to Egypt (see Summer 1995). [Wall Street Journal, 7/2/2002] Mabruk is the closest ally of Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s number two leader. Mabruk’s laptop computer turns out to contain al-Qaeda organizational charts and vital information about Islamic Jihad members in Europe. FBI agent Dan Coleman later calls this “the Rosetta Stone of al-Qaeda.” However, the CIA will not turn this information over to the FBI. John O’Neill, head of the FBI’s New York office, tries to get around this by sending an agent to Azerbaijan to get copies of the computer files from the Azerbaijani government. When that fails, he persuades President Clinton to personally appeal to the president of Azerbaijan for the files. The FBI eventually gets the files, but the incident deepens the tensions between the CIA and FBI. [Wright, 2006, pp. 268-269] The US monitored 67 phone calls between bin Laden and Azerbaijan from 1996 to 1998 (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Presumably, many of these would have been to Mabruk. Mabruk is sent to Egypt and given a long prison sentence. [Wall Street Journal, 7/2/2002]
Essam Marzouk. [Source: Public domain]In mid-August 1998, the Mossad intercepts a phone call indicating that an Egyptian militant named Ihab Saqr is planning to meet an Iranian intelligence agent in a hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, in one week’s time. Saqr is believed to be Ayman al-Zawahiri’s chief of staff. The Mossad is very interested in the Iranian connection but they have no presence in Azerbaijan, so they contact the CIA. The CIA leads a capture operation, with one Mossad agent, Michael Ross, also in attendance. The CIA captures Saqr and two men he is meeting with, but neither of them turn out to be Iranian. The other men are Essam Marzouk and Ahmad Salama Mabruk. Marzouk is an al-Qaeda explosives expert who has just trained the men who bombed two US embassies in Africa earlier in the month. He had been living in Canada and Canadian intelligence has long been suspicious about his militant ties. Mabruk is a known member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council. The US quickly renditions Saqr, Marzouk, and Mabruk to Egypt. Marzouk is sentenced to 15 years in prison, Mabruk is sentenced to life in prison, and Saqr’s fate in Egypt is unknown. [National Post, 10/15/2005; Ross and Kay, 2007, pp. 214-224] The US discovers a treasure trove of information about al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad in Mabruk’s laptop (see Late August 1998). But it is unclear why the US was seemingly in the dark and only arresting these figures by chance, because US intelligence had long been monitoring calls between Osama bin Laden and Mabruk in Baku (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Furthermore, Canadian intelligence had also monitored many calls between Mabruk and an Islamic Jihad operative in Canada. (Note that some accounts place the timing of this capture in July 1998, but Canadian intelligence is monitoring Mabruk’s communications up through and after the embassy bombings in August (see August 5-7, 1998 and August 8, 1998 and Shortly After).)
KSM’s name is not included in this US wanted poster of embassy bombing suspects. The names included are: Mustafa Mohammed Fadhil, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, Fahid Mohammed Ally Msalam, and Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan. [Source: US State Department]According the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, shortly after the bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), a foreign government sends the CIA a list of individuals who flew into Nairobi before the attack. The CIA recognizes that one of the names is an alias for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). The report that identified this alias also describes KSM as being close to bin Laden. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] Yet the 9/11 Commission will fail to mention KSM’s role in the embassy bombings and instead will suggest that KSM is not yet a member of al-Qaeda at this time and only joined al-Qaeda after being impressed by the results of the embassy bombings. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 149-150]
Bin Laden’s satellite phone is being monitored by US intelligence at the time of the US embassy bombings in early August 1998 (see November 1996-Late August 1998 and 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).
Washington Times Article Falsely Blamed - On August 21, 1998, an article in the Washington Times says of bin Laden, “He keeps in touch with the world via computers and satellite phones…” The Washington Post will later note, “The information in the article does not appear to be based on any government leak and made no reference to government surveillance of bin Laden’s phone.” Other articles published on the same day make similar claims. However, it will become widely believed that this article causes bin Laden to stop using his satellite phone, which is being secretly monitored by the US (see November 1996-Late August 1998). [Washington Post, 12/20/2005] For instance, the 9/11 Commission will later blame this article and President Bush will repeat the story in late 2005. However, bin Laden’s use of a satellite phone was already widely publicized. For instance, in December 1996, Time magazine noted that bin Laden “uses satellite phones to contact fellow Islamic militants in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.” In 1997, bin Laden actually talked in a CNN interview about his use of satellite phones.
First Mention that US Was Monitoring His Calls in September - It is only on September 7, 1998, after bin Laden apparently stopped using his phone, that the Los Angeles Times is the first newspaper to mention that the US is monitoring his calls. The article says that US authorities “used their communications intercept capacity to pick up calls placed by bin Laden on his Inmarsat satellite phone, despite his apparent use of electronic ‘scramblers.’” [Washington Post, 12/22/2005]
Bin Laden Tipped Off by Missile Strike? - One possible explanation is that bin Laden stops using his phone after the August 1998 missile strike aimed at him (see August 20, 1998) for fear that the phone was used as a homing device for the missiles. The phone was in fact used as a homing device, and Defense Secretary William Cohen publicly acknowledged this by early 2001. The missile strike took place just one day before the Washington Times article. [United Press International, 2/21/2001] In 1998, a US man named Tarik Hamdi delivered a new battery for bin Laden’s phone. A former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center has stated that the battery was somehow bugged to improve US monitoring of bin Laden (see May 28, 1998).
Bin Laden Tipped Off before the Strike? - Another possibility is that bin Laden stopped using his phone just before the missile strike. Sunday Times reporter Simon Reeve claims the Pakistani ISI warned him about the strike hours before it happened, and told him that his phone use was being monitored by the US (see August 20, 1998). [Reeve, 1999, pp. 201-202]
Following the African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), CIA managers ask Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, what it most needs to improve the agency’s capabilities against al-Qaeda. Alec Station chief Michael Scheuer will later say that he raises “our dire need for verbatim reports derived from electronic collection.” This is a reference to his desire to get verbatim transcripts of calls to and from al-Qaeda’s operations hub in Yemen, in particular ones between it and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. The NSA has the transcripts, but is refusing to provide them to the CIA, and the two agencies have been at loggerheads over the issue for nearly two years. Alec Station needs the transcripts, not the summaries the NSA provides, because the operatives talk in code on the phone and this code cannot be cracked based on the summaries, only using the transcripts (see February 1996-May 1998, December 1996, After December 1996, and After December 1996). Other senior CIA officers have similar trouble getting transcripts from the NSA. Higher officials order the NSA to comply, and they do, but only for less than 12 requests. Then the system returns to the way it was, with NSA only sharing summaries. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004] The reason for the change back is unclear, although bin Laden stops using his satellite phone around this time (see Late August 1998).
In response to the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), an interagency US intelligence team is created to identify potential bombing targets in Afghanistan. The team continues to work steadily. By 2001, it will have a comprehensive list of potential bombing targets in the country. This list will be turned over the US military after 9/11 and used during the bombing campaign beginning in October 2001 (see October 7, 2001). [Risen, 2006, pp. 154]
Al Gore (close left) and Bill Clinton (close right), in a Small Group meeting. Sitting at the table between them, from left to right, are George Tenet, Henry Shelton, William Cohen, and Sandy Berger. [Source: CBC] (click image to enlarge)In the wake of the embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), top Clinton officials begin frequently meeting to discuss terrorism and continue to do so through the rest of Clinton’s term. What is called the “Small Group” of cabinet-ranked principals involved in national security meets almost every week on terrorism. The lower level interagency Counterterrorism Security Group led by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke regularly meets two or three times a week. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger will later say, “From August 1998, bin Laden was Enemy No. 1.” However, terrorism still has to compete with other issues. For instance, US diplomats are reluctant to press Pakistan to do more on terrorism because of other competing diplomatic issues with Pakistan. The Bush administration by contrast will only hold two cabinet-level meetings on terrorism during the nine-month period spanning from January 2001 to September 11 (see September 4, 2001). [New York Times, 12/30/2001]
By this time, US intelligence has documented many links between the Pakistani ISI, Taliban, and al-Qaeda. It is discovered that the ISI maintains about eight stations inside Afghanistan which are staffed by active or retired ISI officers. The CIA has learned that ISI officers at about the colonel level regularly meet with bin Laden or his associates to coordinate access to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. The CIA suspects that the ISI is giving money and/or equipment to bin Laden, but they find no evidence of direct ISI involvement in al-Qaeda’s overseas attacks. The ISI generally uses the training camps to train operatives to fight a guerrilla war in the disputed Indian province of Kashmir. But while these ISI officers are following Pakistani policy in a broad sense, the CIA believes the ISI has little direct control over them. One senior Clinton administration official will later state that it was “assumed that those ISI individuals were perhaps profiteering, engaged in the drug running, the arms running.” One US official aware of CIA reporting at this time later comments that Clinton’s senior policy team saw “an incredibly unholy alliance that was not only supporting all the terrorism that would be directed against us” but also threatening “to provoke a nuclear war in Kashmir.” [Coll, 2004, pp. 439-440]
US intelligence hears of a bin Laden plot involving aircraft in the New York and Washington areas. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; New York Times, 9/18/2002] In December it will learn that al-Qaeda plans to hijack US aircraft are proceeding well and that two individuals have successfully evaded checkpoints in a dry run at a New York airport. [US Congress, 7/24/2003]
A group of recruits at the radical Finsbury Park mosque in London, which is run by British intelligence informer and radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997), starts to be groomed as suicide bombers. The group includes shoe bomber Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001) and Saajid Badat, one of his accomplices (see (December 14, 2001)). Some of the suicide squad live in Brixton, south London, with Zacarias Moussaoui. Salam Abdullah, a radical who attends the mosque at this time, will later say, “You could tell from the way they were treated by Abu Hamza and his aides that they were marked for something special, but we didn’t know it was for suicide attacks.” Other mosque-goers do not discuss the group, and the men do not talk about their mission, but periodically disappear, presumably to go abroad for training. Some of them are foreigners, who are known only by their nicknames, and are sent to Finsbury Park from other militant centers around Britain and Europe. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later comment: “It was in north London that the suicide bombers were provided with money, documents, and the names of the contacts who would steer them to the intended targets in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir, and the cities of Europe.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 89-93] In addition to being an informer for the British, Abu Hamza is himself under surveillance by numerous intelligence services, including the same British ones he works for (see Summer 1996-August 1998, (November 11, 1998), and February 1999). What the British authorities know of this squad, and whether they attempt to do anything about it is unknown.
US intelligence authors a memorandum detailing al-Qaeda’s infrastructure in the US. This memo, which includes information regarding al-Qaeda’s use of fronts for terrorist activities [US Congress, 9/18/2002] , is provided to senior US officials. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 ]
The British domestic counterintelligence service MI5 meets with Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading British imam and informer (see Early 1997). They discuss “training camps” Abu Hamza’s mosque is organizing for Islamist radicals, although it is unclear if these camps are in Britain or overseas. One of his MI5 handlers informs him he is “walking a dangerous tightrope.” Another agent later notes, “I informed him that incitement even to commit terrorism and violence overseas was fraught with peril.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 146]
An emissary of the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), a Yemeni-based al-Qaeda affiliate, visits Finsbury Park mosque in London, according to an unnamed intelligence service. The mosque is run by Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical and informer for the British security services (see Early 1997). According to authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory, the emissary is “greeted like a hero” by Abu Hamza, addresses worshippers at the mosque, distributes leaflets, and collects money, presumably for jihad in Yemen. Abu Hamza and the IAA are co-operating closely at this time (see (June 1998)). The intelligence service, possibly the CIA or a local Yemeni service working with it, learns of this visit around the time it is made, and the visit is one reason it finds the London connection is “crucial” to the IAA (see After August 7, 1998). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 164]
Omar al-Bayoumi. [Source: Saudi Government via Al Arabiya]The FBI conducts a counterterrorism inquiry on Omar al-Bayoumi, suspected al-Qaeda advance man, and possible Saudi agent. The FBI discovers he has been in contact with several people also under investigation. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ] The FBI is given a tip that he was sent a suspicious package filled with wire from the Middle East, and that large numbers of Arab men routinely meet in his apartment. His landlord notices that he switches from driving a beat up old car to a new Mercedes. [Newsweek, 7/28/2003] According to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, the FBI notes that al-Bayoumi has “access to seemingly unlimited funding from Saudi Arabia.” For instance, an FBI source identifies him as a person who has delivered about $500,000 from Saudi Arabia to buy a mosque in June 1998 (see June 1998). However, the FBI closes the inquiry “for reasons that remain unclear .” [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ] Also in 1999, al-Bayoumi is working as an employee of the Saudi company Dallah Avco but apparently is doing no work. Someone in the company tries to fire him and sends a note to the Saudi government about this, since the company is so closely tied to the government. However, Mohammed Ahmed al-Salmi, the Director General of Civil Aviation, replies that it is “extremely urgent” his job is renewed “as quickly as possible,” and so he keeps his job. [Wall Street Journal, 8/11/2003]
9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) lived in the Philippines for much of 1994 and took part in the failed Bojinka plot to assassinate Pope John Paul II and crash a dozen airplanes (see January 6, 1995). In the years after this, he makes repeated visits to the Philippines, as well as neighboring Malaysia. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] KSM returns to the Philippines in September 1998 and stays to organize the assassination of Pope John Paul II, who is due to visit the country in January 1999. KSM is seen at a nightclub in Manila in early 1999. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. xxv] But the Pope’s visit is canceled; it isn’t known if the cancellation is due to security concerns or not. That same year, the FBI alerts Philippine intelligence that KSM has returned to that country to visit an old girlfriend. However, he disappears before agents arrive to arrest him. Further details on how he was traced there or how he got away have not been made public. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; London Times, 11/10/2002] KSM will continue to return to the Philippines occasionally. There are even “credible reports” that he is seen there in the summer of 2002. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Knight Ridder, 9/9/2002]
Afghan tribal allies of the US apparently make some failed attempts to capture Osama bin Laden around this time. The 9/11 Commission will later report that during these two months: “[T]he tribals claimed to have tried at least four times to ambush bin Laden. Senior CIA officials doubted whether any of these ambush attempts actually occurred. But the tribals did seem to have success in reporting where bin Laden was.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 127] Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit at the time, will later list a September 1998 attempt by the tribals to capture bin Laden north of Kandahar as one of the ten missed opportunities to capture him in 1998 and 1999. [Scheuer, 2008, pp. 284]
The US tries to get direct access to al-Qaeda financial chief Tayyib al-Madani, who is being held by the Saudi government, but the Saudis will not allow it. Tayyib turned himself in to the Saudi government in May 1997 (see May 1997). In August 1998, shortly after the US embassy bombings in East Africa, Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, said that the US learned “a lot of intelligence” from the Saudi information about Tayyib regarding how Osama bin Laden “keeps his money, how he transfers it from one bank to another, what are the front companies [he uses].” [USA Today, 8/21/1998] However, FBI agent Ali Soufan will later say the Saudis never give any information from Tayyib to the FBI, although Soufan acknowledges there are claims that they later do give some information to the CIA. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 50] The US presses the Saudi government for direct access to Tayyib to learn more, but the Saudis do not allow it. In September 1998, Vice President Al Gore raises the issue with Crown Prince Abdullah. In November 1998, a National Security Council working group on terrorist finances asks the CIA to push again to get access to Tayyib, and to see “if it is possible to elaborate further on the ties between Osama bin Laden and prominent individuals in Saudi Arabia, including especially the bin Laden family.” But the US does not gain direct access to Tayyib. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 14, 121; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 39 ; Risen, 2006, pp. 181]
A person or persons at the radical Finsbury Park mosque in London tells a recruit about to travel to Pakistan to beware of some radical groups there, because they are controlled by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI. The recruit, Salman Abdullah, is told not to hand over his identity documents to militants who may try to persuade him to leave the group he is being sent to and join a different group. The reason given is that these other groups are closely monitored and sometimes run by elements in the ISI. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 82]
After being recruited to fight for radical Muslim causes by British intelligence informer and radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997, August 1998, and August 1998 or Shortly After), Salman Abdullah leaves London and travels to Pakistan. One of Abu Hamza’s aides gives him an airline ticket, £700 in cash (about US$1,100), and a phone number in Islamabad to call when he arrives. He is taken by a contact for a month’s hard training, and then brought back to central Pakistan. Finally, he goes to the disputed region of Kashmir for three months and spends his time there “engaged in sporadic firefights” against Indian forces. Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “Abdullah’s tour of duty guaranteed him a hero’s welcome on his return to north London. His stature as a ‘jihadi’ meant that Abu Hamza could employ him in a new role, as a propagandist, inciting others to follow his path.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 81-82]
Patrick Fitzgerald [Source: Publicity photo]Ali Mohamed is finally arrested after testifying at a grand jury hearing. The arrest is officially kept secret, but the media will report it one month later. [New York Times, 10/30/1998] Patrick Fitzgerald is on the prosecutor team that subpoenaed Mohamed to appear, but apparently he and the other prosecutors know very little about Mohamed. Fitzgerald blames this on a legal “wall” between intelligence gathering and criminal prosecution. He later will relate what happened on the day Mohamed testified: “Ali Mohamed lied in that grand jury proceeding and left the courthouse to go to his hotel, followed by FBI agents, but not under arrest. He had imminent plans to fly to Egypt. It was believed [by the prosecutors] at the time that Mohamed lied and that he was involved with the al-Qaeda network but Mohamed had not by then been tied to the [embassy] bombings. The decision had to be made at that moment whether to charge Mohamed with false statements. If not, Mohamed would leave the country. That difficult decision had to be made without knowing or reviewing the intelligence information on the other side of the ‘wall.’ It was ultimately decided to arrest Mohamed that night in his hotel room [and he was arrested]. [The prosecution] team got lucky but we never should have had to rely on luck. The prosecution team later obtained access to the intelligence information, including documents obtained from an earlier search of Mohamed’s home by the intelligence team on the other side of ‘the wall.’ Those documents included direct written communications with al-Qaeda members and a library of al-Qaeda training materials that would have made the decision far less difficult. (We could only obtain that access after the arrest with the specific permission of the Attorney General of the United States, based upon the fact that we had obligations to provide the defendant with discovery materials and because the intelligence investigation of Mohamed had effectively ended.)… Mohamed [later] stated that had he not been arrested on that day in September 1998, he had intended to travel to Afghanistan to rejoin Osama bin Laden. Thus, while the right decision to arrest was made partly in the dark, the ‘wall’ could easily have caused a different decision that September evening that would have allowed a key player in the al-Qaeda network to escape justice for the embassy bombing in Kenya and rejoin Osama bin Laden in a cave in Afghanistan, instead of going to federal prison.” [US Congress, 10/21/2003] Mohamed’s associate Khaled Abu el-Dahab, now living in Egypt, wil hear of Mohamed’s arrest and attempt to leave the country, but will be arrested in October 1998. He will be put on trial there and sentenced to 15 years in prison (see 1999). [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/21/2001]
Wadih El Hage. [Source: FBI]On September 15, 1998, Wadih El-Hage is arrested in the US after appearing before a US grand jury. A US citizen, he had been bin Laden’s personal secretary. He will later be convicted for a role in the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). [New York Times, 9/18/1998]
In the wake of the US embassy bombings in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the US arrests Wadih El-Hage, who will later be convicted for his role in those bombings. Looking through his diaries, investigators discover a reference to a “joint venture” between al-Qaeda and the Holy Land Foundation, a charity based in Texas known for its support of Hamas. The name and phone number of a Texas man connected to Holy Land is also found in El-Hage’s address book (see September 16, 1998-September 5, 2001). The US had considered taking action against Holy Land in 1995 (see January 1995-April 1996) and again in 1997 (1997). Yet, as the Wall Street Journal will later note, “Even when [this] evidence surfaced in 1998 suggesting a tie between the foundation and Osama bin Laden, federal investigators didn’t act.” [Wall Street Journal, 2/27/2002]
According to Saudi intelligence minister Prince Turki al-Faisal, he participates in a second meeting with Taliban leader Mullah Omar at this time. Supposedly, earlier in the year Omar made a secret deal with Turki to hand bin Laden over to Saudi Arabia (see June 1998) and Turki is now ready to finalize the deal. ISI Director Gen. Naseem Rana is at the meeting as well. But in the wake of the US missile bombing of Afghanistan (August 20, 1998), Omar yells at Turki and denies ever having made a deal. Turki leaves empty handed. [Wright, 2006, pp. 244] However, other reports stand in complete contrast to this, suggesting that earlier in the year Turki colluded with the ISI to support bin Laden, not capture him (see May 1996 and July 1998).
Mamdouh Mahmud Salim. [Source: FBI]Mamdouh Mahmud Salim (a.k.a. Abu Hajer), an al-Qaeda operative from the United Arab Emirates connected to the 1998 East African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), is arrested at a used car dealership near Munich, Germany. He is arrested by a special commando unit of German police, with CIA agents directing them nearby. The German government has no idea who Salim is, and the US only notified Germany about the planned arrest five hours in advance. [PBS, 9/30/1998; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 12/12/2005] The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later say that Salim was Osama bin Laden’s “right hand man,” and “head of bin Laden’s computer operations and weapons procurement.” He is also “the most senior-level bin Laden operative arrested” up until this time. [New York Times, 9/29/2001; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 ] Author Lawrence Wright will later note that bin Laden and Salim worked together in Afghanistan in the 1980s, “forging such powerful bonds that no one could get between them.” Salim was also one of the founding members of al-Qaeda (see August 11-20, 1988) and bin Laden’s personal imam (i.e., preacher). [Wright, 2006, pp. 131, 170] Starting in 1995, Salim had been making frequent visits to Germany. Mamoun Darkazanli, who lives in Hamburg and associates with Mohamed Atta’s al-Qaeda cell, had signing powers over Salim’s bank account. Both men attended Al-Quds mosque, the same Hamburg mosque as future 9/11 hijackers Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi attend. [Vanity Fair, 1/2002] The FBI learns much from Salim about al-Qaeda, and this information could be useful to the US embassy bombings investigation. However, the FBI is unwilling to brief its German counterparts on what it knows about Salim and al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 9/29/2001]
On September 15, 1998, bin Laden’s former personal secretary Wadih El-Hage is arrested in the US (see September 15, 1998). His address book had been discovered in 1997 (see Shortly After August 21, 1997), but apparently after his arrest investigators pursue new leads from it. One name in the book is Ghassan Dahduli. Both El-Hage and Dahduli lived in Tucson, Arizona in the late 1980s. Dahduli ran an Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) office from the same Tucson mosque that El-Hage attended. Dahduli moved to Richardson, Texas, with the IAP office in 1990, around the time El-Hage moved to Arlington, Texas. Both towns are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. El-Hage lived in Africa for much of the 1990s, but by 1998 he was back in Texas and he was seen in a Texas restaurant with Dahduli. The IAP, InfoCom, and Holy Land Foundation all have offices next to each other, and all have been accused of being fronts for Hamas. Dahduli worked at both the IAP and InfoCom. [Dallas Morning News, 9/23/2001; Nation, 12/24/2001] Based on the connection between Dahduli and El-Hage and other information, the FBI opens up a criminal investigation into all three organizations in 1999. They determine that Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk invested $150,000 in InfoCom in 1992, and his wife Nadia Marzouk invested $250,000 in 1993. On September 25, 2000, federal agents confront Dahduli in a shopping center parking lot and threaten to deport him, but offer to not do so if he agrees to become an informant on these organizations. Dahduli refuses and publicizes the offer to turn informant, even putting information about it on the Internet. He applies for political asylum in the US. [Nation, 12/24/2001; Dallas Morning News, 12/20/2002] In early 2001, the Dallas Morning News begins publishing stories about InfoCom and its suspected ties to Hamas. Apparently, some combination of the Dahduli-El-Hage link, media pressure, and the investments of Marzouk and his wife prompts the FBI to raid InfoCom on September 5, 2001, one week before 9/11 (see September 5-8, 2001). It will be the only significant action the US government takes against a Muslim charity in the US before 9/11. [Columbia Journalism Review, 1/2002] Shortly after 9/11, Dahduli will be arrested and questioned. He will be deported to Jordan in December 2001. [Nation, 12/24/2001]
The arrest of al-Qaeda leader Mamdouh Mahmud Salim (a.k.a. Abu Hajer) points US and German investigators to Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, with a few of the future 9/11 hijackers. Salim is arrested on September 16, 1998, in Munich, Germany (see September 16, 1998). He is believed to be al-Qaeda’s financial chief, and is one of al-Qaeda’s founding members (see August 11-20, 1988). After Salim’s arrest, both German and US intelligence investigate his contacts in Germany and discover a link to Zammar. Zammar is already being investigated and monitored by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence service (see March 1997-Early 2000). [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 12/12/2005] Presumably, the link between Zammar and Salim should increase the urgency of the German investigation. It is unknown when US intelligence begins monitoring Zammar, but the US will discover important links between Zammar and al-Qaeda in the summer of 1999 (see Summer 1999). US and German investigators also discover a link between Salim and Mamoun Darkazanli, a Hamburg associate of Zammar’s, and they monitor him as well (see Late 1998).
Khalid al-Fawwaz, Osama bin Laden’s de facto press secretary, is arrested in London on September 23, 1998. He is arrested with six other suspects, presumably including Ibrahim Eidarous and Adel Abdel Bary. The three of them effectively run the Advice and Reformation Committee (ARC), a bin Laden front in London. Al-Fawwaz is arrested again on September 27 at the request of the US, which issues an extradition warrant for him the same day. On July 12, 1999, Eidarous and Bary are arrested again, as the US issues extradition warrants for them as well. All three are charged in the US for roles in the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Apparently, none of them are released before being arrested on the new charges (see July 12, 1999). Presumably, the other three who were originally arrested are released. [New York Times, 9/29/1998; New York Times, 7/13/1999] It is not clear why the three were not arrested earlier, or why they were not charged in Britain. They had been monitored in London for years. Bin Laden called them over 200 hundred times from 1996 to 1998, and they are alleged to have been involved in many plots (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998). For instance, the three received a fax from al-Qaeda operatives taking credit for the embassy bombings hours before the bombings actually took place and passed it on to media outlets (see July 29-August 7, 1998). In 1996, the US requested that Britain should arrest al-Fawwaz, Eidarous, and Bary, but the British decided there wasn’t enough evidence. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 98]
US and German intelligence apparently are concerned about an al-Qaeda related attack in Hamburg, Germany. The only public hint of this comes from an interrogation of Mamdouh Mahmud Salim (a.k.a. Abu Hajer), a high-ranking al-Qaeda leader who was arrested in Munich, Germany, on September 16, 1998 (see September 16, 1998). According to a court transcript, some time later in September, German investigators ask Salim, “Did you ever hear of an attack planned against the American Consulate in Hamburg?” Salim says he knows nothing about it. Investigators apparently think Salim may have a connection to Hamburg because he opened a bank account there in 1995 (see 1995-September 16, 1998). The transcript is a US court document, so US intelligence must be aware of this as well. [Boston Globe, 10/6/2001] It is unknown how concern about an attack in Hamburg affects surveillance of Islamist militants there, if intelligence officials are indeed concerned.
Essam al Ridi, an associate of Osama bin Laden and Wadih El-Hage, one of the al-Qaeda operatives responsible for the recent embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), is contacted by US government officials working on the case. They want to interview al Ridi, who had various dealings with bin Laden and El-Hage in the early 1990s (see Early 1993, Before October 1993, and (1994-1995)), to help them build a case. Al Ridi, who is outside the US, is not given any assurances that he will not be arrested on his return, but is told there are no charges against him and no plans to charge him. Al Ridi decides to return and does not even bother to bring a lawyer to his meeting with the government. He will testify about his dealings with bin Laden and El-Hage at the trial of the embassy bombers in 2001. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001] However, al Ridi will later complain about his treatment after the court case. He will be detained, kicked, and held incommunicado during a visit to Egypt in May 2001, and fired by an airline after 9/11 because the FBI again asks for his help. After being fired, he will find it hard to get work. FBI agent Robert Miranda will admit some problems: “I said, ‘Help us, and we’ll help you,’ and it didn’t work out.” [New York Times, 6/3/2002]
Supporters of Shariah, a radical organization run by leading British imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, issue a threat of attacks in Yemen. The threat, described by authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory as a “blustering communiqué,” is published in the group’s October 1998 newsletter. In language that is “juvenile and insulting,” the US military and other “unbelievers” are warned to leave Yemen or suffer the consequences. Abu Hamza, an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), has recently started working with the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA—see (June 1998)), a Yemen-based militant organization. The IAA will be near to implementing a massive plot in December involving close associates of Abu Hamza (see Before December 23, 1998 and December 23, 1998), but it is unclear if Abu Hamza is aware of this plot at the time the communiqué is published. Abu Hamza will follow up in the next month’s newsletter with more of the same, accusing a country he refers to as the “United Snakes of America” of plotting “a secret operation to target Muslim fundamentalists in the region.” He adds: “We see this as a powerful detonator for Muslims to explode in the faces of the Snakes of America. This will hopefully trigger a domino effect in the Peninsula. As observers have seen the more frequent explosions in the land of Yemen in the last four months, especially in the crude oil pipeline which is the blood for the American vampires.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 164]
Julie Sirrs. [Source: Julie Sirrs]Julie Sirrs, a military analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), travels to Afghanistan. Fluent in local languages and knowledgeable about the culture, she made a previous undercover trip there in October 1997. She is surprised that the CIA was not interested in sending in agents after the failed missile attack on Osama bin Laden in August 1998, so she returns at this time. Traveling undercover, she meets with Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. She sees a terrorist training center in Taliban-controlled territory. Sirrs will later claim: “The Taliban’s brutal regime was being kept in power significantly by bin Laden’s money, plus the narcotics trade, while [Massoud’s] resistance was surviving on a shoestring. With even a little aid to the Afghan resistance, we could have pushed the Taliban out of power. But there was great reluctance by the State Department and the CIA to undertake that.” She partly blames the interest of the US government and the oil company Unocal to see the Taliban achieve political stability to enable a trans-Afghanistan pipeline (see May 1996 and September 27, 1996). She claims, “Massoud told me he had proof that Unocal had provided money that helped the Taliban take Kabul.” She also states, “The State Department didn’t want to have anything to do with Afghan resistance, or even, politically, to reveal that there was any viable option to the Taliban.” After two weeks, Sirrs returns with a treasure trove of maps, photographs, and interviews. [ABC News, 2/18/2002; ABC News, 2/18/2002; New York Observer, 3/11/2004] By interviewing captured al-Qaeda operatives, she learns that the official Afghanistan airline, Ariana Airlines, is being used to ferry weapons and drugs, and learns that bin Laden goes hunting with “rich Saudis and top Taliban officials” (see Mid-1996-October 2001 and 1995-2001). [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] When Sirrs returns from Afghanistan, her material is confiscated and she is accused of being a spy. Says one senior colleague, “She had gotten the proper clearances to go, and she came back with valuable information,” but high level officials “were so intent on getting rid of her, the last thing they wanted to pay attention to was any information she had.” Sirrs is cleared of wrongdoing, but her security clearance is pulled. She eventually quits the DIA in frustration in 1999. [ABC News, 2/18/2002; New York Observer, 3/11/2004] Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) will claim that the main DIA official behind the punishment of Sirrs is Lieutenant General Patrick Hughes, who later becomes “one of the top officials running the Department of Homeland Security.” [Dana Rohrabacher, 6/21/2004]
Entity Tags: Taliban, Unocal, Osama bin Laden, US Department of State, Northern Alliance, Patrick Hughes, Defense Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Al-Qaeda, Julie Sirrs, Central Intelligence Agency, Dana Rohrabacher, Ariana Airlines
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
US intelligence learns al-Qaeda is trying to establish a cell within the US. There are indications that the organization might be trying to recruit US citizens. This apparently will be mentioned in President Bush’s August 6, 2001 briefing, which states, “A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks” (see August 6, 2001). In the next month, there is information that a terror cell in the United Arab Emirates is attempting to recruit a group of five to seven young men from the US to travel to the Middle East for training. This is part of a plan to strike a US domestic target. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003]
Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will later write that after the US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), surveillance of al-Qaeda is stepped up around the world. “One intelligence officer attached to the French embassy in Islamabad, [Pakistan], urged his counterparts in foreign missions in Pakistan to detail the recipients of phone calls made by… al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida, then living in Peshawar, to individuals in their various countries.” As a result, “several governments [launch] investigations of their own.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 245] A close associate of Zubaida in Peshawar at this time is Khalil Deek, who is actually a mole for the Jordanian government (see 1998-December 11, 1999). One such investigation is launched by the Philippine government on October 16, 1998, after being asked by French intelligence to gather intelligence on people in the Philippines in contact with Zubaida. Code named CoPlan Pink Poppy, the investigation reveals connections between al-Qaeda and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a Philippine militant group. On December 16, 1999, Abdesselem Boulanouar and Zoheir Djalili, two French Algerians belonging to the Algerian al-Qaeda affiliate the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), are arrested due to information learned from monitoring Zubaida’s calls to the Philippines. Boulanouar is arrested at an airport carrying a terrorist training manual he admitted writing for the MILF. Both men also are arrested carrying explosive devices. French intelligence says Boulanouar had ties to Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), and like Ressam, may have been planning to carry out attacks at the turn of the millennium. He will be deported to France and imprisoned on terrorism related charges. CoPlan Pink Poppy will be canceled in 2000 for lack of funds. [Gulf News, 3/14/2000; Ressa, 2003, pp. 132-133; Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 245] However, while details are murky, it appears other governments continue to monitor Zubaida’s calls. Around the same time as the Philippines arrests, one militant in Jordan is even arrested while still in the middle of a phone call to Zubaida (see November 30, 1999). US intelligence will remain intensely focused on Zubaida before 9/11 (see Late March-Early April 2001 and May 30, 2001), and just days before 9/11 the NSA will monitor calls Zubaida is making to the US (see Early September 2001). It appears his calls will continue to be monitored after 9/11 as well (see October 8, 2001).
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke advocates an aggressive approach to dealing with terrorists and countries that harbor them, and says terrorists are likely to go after America’s “Achilles’ heel,” which is “in Washington… in New York,” and “throughout the country.” He makes these comments during a two-day conference on countering chemical and biological warfare, held in Washington, DC. [New York Times, 10/8/1998; USIS Washington File, 10/8/1998]
Enemies Could Target Washington or New York - In his speech at the conference, Clarke says, “The United States can defeat in a conventional war any other military in the world.” Therefore: “Our enemies instead will use unconventional techniques, either exclusively or as a supplement to their attack. They will use terrorism. They will use cyber attack and information warfare. And they will use chem-bio attack.” He adds that America’s enemies “will go after our Achilles’ heel,” which is “in Washington. It is in New York. It is throughout the country. For no longer can we count as a nation on the two great oceans defending us from foreign attack here at home.”
US Willing to Take 'The First Step' - Clarke says that the US government has developed a strategy for dealing with chemical and biological weapons attacks, which includes an aggressive approach toward terrorist groups and rogue states. He says these groups and states “should know that those who engage in terrorist acts, including terrorist acts involving chemical and biological weapons, can be assured that they will pay a high price.” The government’s promise to them is “attack us and you will unleash a relentless and methodical machine against you.” Furthermore, Clarke says, the US is willing to act preemptively: “The United States reserves for itself the right of self-defense, and if that means our taking the first step, we will do so. We will not tolerate terrorist organizations acquiring or maintaining stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.” [USIS Washington File, 10/8/1998]
US Will Target Countries that Harbor Terrorists - In an interview after his speech, Clarke emphasizes that countries that harbor these terrorist groups also risk being targeted by the US. He points to the recent missile attacks against Sudan in retaliation for the US embassy bombings in Africa (see August 20, 1998), and says the US will “definitely do something” about such countries. “The something depends on what the circumstances are.” [New York Times, 10/8/1998] Clarke will repeat his claim that the nation’s “Achilles’ heel” terrorists will come after is “here in the United States” in an April 2000 interview with the Washington Post (see April 2, 2000). [Washington Post, 4/2/2000]
The FAA issues the first of three warnings this year to US airports and airlines urging a “high degree of vigilance” against threats to US civil aviation from al-Qaeda. It specifically warns against a possible terrorist hijacking “at a metropolitan airport in the Eastern United States.” The information is based on statements made by Osama bin Laden and other Islamic leaders, and intelligence obtained after the US cruise missile attacks in August. All three warnings come in late 1998, well before 9/11. [Boston Globe, 5/26/2002]
Matthew Shepard. [Source: BilEric Project]Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old college student, is murdered on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming. Shepard, who is openly gay, is found brutally beaten, burned, and tied to a fence, where he hung, comatose, for some 18 hours before being found. He is rushed to a local hospital, but dies five days later. Local residents Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson are quickly charged with Shepard’s death. Because of the extreme brutalization they inflicted on Shepard, prosecutors chararcterize the murder as a hate crime: according to the charges, the two killed Shepard because of their hatred of homosexuals. [New York Times, 10/10/1998; ABC News, 11/26/2004] The girlfriends of the two accused murderers are also arrested and charged as accomplices after the fact, but the charges are mitigated after they cooperate with the investigation. [New York Times, 10/10/1998] Investigators quickly learn that Shepard had been beaten twice in recent months by other Laramie residents who, he said, attacked him because of his homosexuality. [CNN, 10/12/1998] “He was very open about his sexuality,” says a friend, anthropology student Tina LaBrie. “I admired him for that because it is very courageous to be yourself even when others disagree.” [New York Times, 10/10/1998]
Fatal Truck Ride - Henderson and McKinney approach Shepard at a bar with the intention of robbing him. According to the two, Shepard, unaware of their plans, tells them he is too drunk to drive and asks for a ride. In some versions of the events, McKinney and Henderson represent themselves as gay in order to entice Shepard into the truck. The three climb into McKinney’s pickup; Henderson drives. McKinney will claim that at some point during the ride Shepard places his hand on McKinney’s leg. It is then that McKinney strikes Shepard with a .357 Magnum pistol. However, McKinney later says, “I was getting ready to pull it on him anyway.” (In 1999, Henderson will admit that McKinney lied about the sexual advance from Shepard, and say that Shepard never touched either man. And tapes of McKinney’s post-arrest confession bear out Henderson’s denial.) McKinney tells Shepard: “Guess what? I’m not gay—and you just got jacked.” McKinney forces Shepard to give him his wallet, which only has $30 in it. McKinney continues pistol-whipping Shepard; prosecutors will say that McKinney continues beating Shepard because of his hatred for gays, but McKinney will later claim he loses control of himself because he is high on methamphetamine, saying: “Sometimes when you have that kind of rage going through you, there’s no stopping it. I’ve attacked my best friends coming off of meth binges.” McKinney and Henderson drive to a secluded spot outside Laramie where they can dump Shepard and flee. They stop at a wooden fence, where Henderson ties Shepard to the fence with a length of rope while McKinney continues to beat Shepard. Henderson later claims McKinney strikes him in the face when he tries to stop McKinney from continuing to assault Shepard. After tying Shepard to the fence, Henderson returns to the truck, leaving McKinney alone with Shepard. McKinney later says he believes it is his final blows to Shepard that ultimately kill him. [New York Times, 10/18/1998; Salon, 11/6/1999; ABC News, 11/26/2004] Sergeant Rob DeBree, the chief investigator in the case, will later say, “That is one thousand percent torture, what occurred to that boy.” [Salon, 11/6/1999]
Altercation in Parking Lot Alerts Police to Murder - McKinney takes Shepard’s wallet and shoes, gets back in the truck, and tells Henderson to return to Laramie. McKinney later says his intention was to burglarize Shepard’s apartment. However, McKinney and Henderson meet up with two other young men whom police say are vandalizing cars; McKinney attacks the two men, attracting police attention. Police Sergeant Flint Waters runs down Henderson; after apprehending him, he sees several incriminating items in the bed of Henderson’s truck, including a bloodied large-frame revolver, a coat, a shoe, and a length of rope. Waters later says, “Seeing that the gun covered in blood, I assumed that there was a lot more going on than what we’d stumbled onto so far.” [ABC News, 11/26/2004] The two assailants’ girlfriends attempt to cover for them, inventing an alibi for them and throwing Henderson’s bloodied clothing into a trash bin. McKinney’s girlfriend, Kristen Price, says of Henderson after the murder: “He was crying, and he kept throwing up. He just came in and hugged me, and said, ‘I’ve done something horrible. I deserve to die.’” [New York Times, 10/16/1998]
Discovery - Aaron Kreifels, a fellow University of Wyoming student, finds Shepard by chance after struggling to get his mountain bike through the sandy, rugged terrain. He later tells a Denver Post reporter: “I got up and noticed something out of the corner of my eye. At first I thought it was a scarecrow, so I didn’t think much of it. Then I went around and noticed it was a real person. I checked to see if he was conscious or not, and when I found out he wasn’t, I ran and got help as fast as I could.” Kreifels reaches a house in the nearby Sherman Hills subdivision and calls police. As to Shepard’s condition, he will say, “I don’t really want to go into details about that.” Of the two assailants, Kreifels will say: “I can’t even grasp what these people were thinking, how they could do such a thing. There’s no excuse for it. Whatever their excuse is, it’s meaningless, because there’s just no excuse for taking another’s life.” [Denver Post, 10/15/1988] McKinney’s girlfriend briefly attempts to blame Shepard for the attack, claiming Shepard had made a pass at her boyfriend in recent days, and embarrassed him in front of his friends. [New York Times, 10/12/1998]
Father of Assailant: Gay Victim Caused Increased Media Coverage - The father of one of the assailants, Bill McKinney, condemns the attack, but also complains about the attention Shepard’s murder receives in the media. The national press “blew it totally out of proportion because it involved a homosexual,” McKinney tells a Denver reporter. “Had this been a heterosexual these two boys decided to take out and rob, this never would have made the national news.” [New York Times, 10/12/1998]
Funeral - Anti-gay protesters will picket Shepard’s funeral, displaying signs such as “God Hates Fags” and “Matt Shepard Rots in Hell” (see October 14, 1998).
Hate Crime - The question of whether Shepard’s murder qualifies as a “hate crime” is hotly debated in the weeks following the murder (see October 9, 1998 and After).
Multiple Life Sentences - McKinney and Henderson are found guilty of murder, kidnapping, and, in McKinney’s case, aggravated robbery. They accept double life sentences, in a plea deal agreed to by Shepard’s family, in order to escape the possibility of a death sentence. They waive their right to appeal as part of their plea deal. “Bottom line, Aaron was afraid he was going to die,” DeBree later says. [Salon, 11/5/1999; Salon, 11/6/1999; ABC News, 11/26/2004] Dennis Shepard, the father of the victim, speaks for the family in court. “I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney,” he says. “However, this is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy. To use this as the first step in my own closure about losing Matt.… Mr. McKinney, I give you life in the memory of one who no longer lives. May you have a long life and may you thank Matthew every day for it.” [Salon, 11/5/1999]
Triggers Legislation - Shepard’s death will be a catalyst for the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (see October 28, 2009). Shepard’s mother will create a foundation in her son’s name dedicated to promoting tolerance and diversity. And Shepard’s story will be retold in documentaries, television movies, and a play called “The Laramie Project,” which will often be performed in schools to address the issues of hate and prejudice. [ABC News, 11/26/2004]
Entity Tags: Dennis Shepard, Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, Matthew Shepard, Flint Waters, Bill McKinney, Aaron McKinney, Aaron Kreifels, Tina LaBrie, Russell Henderson, Rob DeBree
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
A training exercise, code-named Poised Response, is held at the FBI’s headquarter in Washington, DC, based around a possible terrorist attack in the nation’s capital. US Attorney General Janet Reno invites 200 policemen from the Washington metropolitan area to participate. They have to consider four scenarios: a car bombing, an explosive device in a federal building, an assassination attempt on Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and a chemical weapon attack on a Washington Redskins football game. As Time magazine later describes, while the exercise participants are “never told which terrorist might carry out such an audacious attack, Reno and other top Administration aides had one man in mind: Osama bin Laden, whose Afghan camp had been blasted by US cruise missiles two months earlier. His operatives might be coming to town soon.” Time will report there being evidence that bin Laden could be planning to strike Washington or New York (see December 21, 1998). Reportedly, Poised Response is unsuccessful, quickly degenerating into interagency squabbling, and Reno leaves it feeling uneasy. [Agence France-Presse, 12/15/1998; Time, 12/21/1998; Washington Times, 5/17/2002]
The Defense Intelligence Agency acquires a report on the connections between Osama bin Laden and Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab. The report states that Ibn Khattab fought with bin Laden in Afghanistan and established training camps in Chechnya at bin Laden’s request. It also says that bin Laden has met with Chechen leaders and agreed to help them with “financial supplies”, and that the Chechen camps will be used to train European militants to conduct kidnappings and terrorist acts against French, Israeli, US, and British citizens. A direct route from Afghanistan to Chechnya has been established through Turkey and Azerbaijan, and is being used for “volunteers”, as well as drug smuggling. [Defense Intelligence Agency, 10/16/1998 ] What US intelligence knows about the relationship between Ibn Khattab and bin Laden will play an important role in the handling of the Zacarias Moussaoui case just before 9/11 (see August 22, 2001 and August 24, 2001).
It is reported that some of the many thousands of Saudi royal family members are aiding bin Laden. Dick Gannon, who retired several months before as deputy director for operations of the State Department’s Office of Counterterrorism, says, “We’ve got information about who’s backing bin Laden, and in a lot of cases it goes back to the royal family… There are certain factions of the Saudi royal family who just don’t like us.” Paradoxically, this support comes despite bin Laden’s repeated calls to overthrow the Saudi royal family. [US News and World Report, 10/19/1998]
The Vail resort in flames. [Source: Mark Mobley / Colorado Independent]Earth Liberation Front (ELF—see 1997) activists set fire to a Vail, Colorado, ski resort, causing $12 million in damage. At the time, the Vail attack is the costliest ecoterrorist attack in US history. The attack consists of seven separate fires, which destroy three buildings, including the “spectacular” Two Elk restaurant, and damage four chairlifts. In a press release, the ELF says: “[P]utting profits ahead of Colorado’s wildlife will not be tolerated.… We will be back if this greedy corporation continues to trespass into wild and unroaded [sic] areas.” [Anti-Defamation League, 2005; Colorado Independent, 10/19/2008]
Resort Threatens Lynx Habitat - The ELF justifies the bombing by claiming that the resort encroaches on the natural habitat of Canada lynx in the area, an endangered species; an 885-acre planned expansion would, the group claims, virtually destroy the habitat. The resort and other construction have virtually eliminated all lynx from the area. [Outside, 9/2007; Colorado Independent, 10/19/2008; Rocky Mountain News, 11/20/2008]
Activist Says ELF Not a Terrorist Group - In a 2007 jailhouse interview, one of the activists, Chelsea Dawn Gerlach, will discuss her role in the bombing. An activist since her mid-teens, she began by getting involved with “above ground” protests with Earth First! (see 1980 and After), a less overtly militant environmental organization, and became disillusioned when she saw how little effect such protests had on corporate depredations. She will say that she and her colleagues were extremely careful about buying the materials for the firebombs, not wanting to raise suspicions. They built the actual devices in a Utah motel room, with group leader William C. Rodgers, whom Gerlach and the others call “Avalon,” doing the bulk of the work. After performing a final reconnaisance of the lodge, some of the ELF members decide the bombing cannot be done, and return to Oregon. Rodgers actually plants the devices and sets them off; Gerlach, who accompanies Rodgers and others to the resort, later emails the statements released under the ELF rubric. Gerlach will say: “We weren’t arsonists. Many of our actions didn’t involve fires at all, and none of us fit the profile of a pyromaniac. I guess ‘eco-saboteur’ works. To call us terrorists, as the federal government did, is stretching the bounds of credibility. I got involved at a time when a right-winger had just bombed the Oklahoma City federal building—killing 168 people—(see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) and anti-abortionists were murdering doctors (see March 10, 1993 and July 29, 1994). But the government characterized the ELF as a top domestic terrorism threat because we burned down unoccupied buildings in the middle of the night. It shows their priorities.” [Outside, 9/2007]
Apprehensions, Convictions - The Vail firebombing focuses national attention on the organization, as well as on other “ecoterror” groups that use vandalism, arson, and other destructive methods to further their agendas. In December 2006, Gerlach and Stanislas Gregory Meyerhoff will plead guilty to federal arson charges. Gerlach and Meyerhoff have already pled guilty to other arsons committed between 1996 and 2001 by a Eugene-based ELF cell known as the Family, which disbanded in 2001. (Gerlach will say that the Family took great pains to ensure that while property was destroyed, no one was injured; “In Eugene in the late nineties, more than a couple of timber company offices were saved by the proximity of neighboring homes.”) The FBI learned about them from an informant who enticed friends of the two to speak about the crimes in surreptitiously recorded conversations. Both are sentenced to lengthy jail terms and assessed multi-million dollar restitution fines. Two others indicted in the arson, Josephine Sunshine Overaker and Rebecca J. Rubin, who do not directly participate in the Vail firebombing, remain at large. Rodgers will commit suicide in an Arizona jail in December 2005 after being apprehended. Several others will later be arrested and convicted for their roles in the assault. [Associated Press, 12/14/2006; Outside, 9/2007; Colorado Independent, 10/19/2008; Rocky Mountain News, 11/20/2008]
Firebombing Detrimental to Local Activism - Gerlach will later say that the Vail firebombing was actually detrimental to local environmental activism. [Outside, 9/2007] In 2008, Ryan Bidwell, the executive director of Colorado Wild, will agree. He will say that the fires damaged the trust the community once had in the environmental activist movement, and will add that the federal government used the fires to demonize the entire environmental movement. “I don’t think it really changed the Bush administration agenda, but it probably made their job easier by lumping those actions onto the broad umbrella of terrorism over the last decade,” Bidwell will say. “I don’t think that’s been effective at all, but every time that someone lumps groups here in Colorado under the same umbrella as ELF it’s really disingenuous. In places like Vail that have a history it’s made it more important for the conservation community to communicate what its objectives are.” [Colorado Independent, 10/19/2008]
Entity Tags: Rebecca J. Rubin, Chelsea Dawn Gerlach, Earth First!, Josephine Sunshine Overaker, Earth Liberation Front, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Colorado Wild, Bush administration (43), Ryan Bidwell, William C. Rodgers, Stanislas Gregory Meyerhoff
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
President Clinton issues Presidential Decision Directive 67 (PDD-67), which updates the US Continuity of Government (COG) program in line with the emerging threat posed by terrorists. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 166-167 and 170; Washington Post, 6/4/2006] PDD-67, “Enduring Constitutional Government and Continuity of Government Operations,” requires agencies to plan for governmental continuity if the US is hit by a major terrorist attack. [Knight Ridder, 11/17/1999; Federation of American Scientists, 12/12/2000] The directive is classified and there is no White House fact sheet summarizing its contents. [Federation of American Scientists, 12/12/2000; US Congress. House. Committee on Government Reform, 4/22/2004] But according to Energy Department documents, the new COG plan “could be triggered by an event worse than what’s expected from the Y2K problem and comparable to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.” [Knight Ridder, 11/17/1999] According to the Washington Post, the result of PDD-67 will be that “every single government department and agency [is] directed to see to it that they could resume critical functions within 12 hours of a warning, and keep their operations running at emergency facilities for up to 30 days.” [Washington Post, 6/4/2006] The directive puts the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)—which is responsible for planning for and responding to disasters—in charge of the COG program. [US Congress. House. Committee on Government Reform, 4/28/2005, pp. 4 ] Within FEMA, the Office of National Security Affairs will specifically be responsible for COG activities. [Larson and Peters, 2001, pp. 103] FEMA’s responsibilities will include providing guidance for agencies to develop their continuity plans (see July 26, 1999), and the coordination of interagency exercises. [US Congress. House. Committee on Government Reform, 4/28/2005, pp. 4 ] Richard Clarke, who has now been appointed counterterrorism “tsar” (see May 22, 1998), drafted PDD-67 earlier in the year (see Early 1998). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 166-167] The COG plan will be activated for the first time on the morning of 9/11 (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 4/25/2004]
After the Taliban is warned that bin Laden has been accused of involvement in the recent 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), it initiates judicial proceedings against him. But when the US fails to provide Afghanistan’s supreme court with sufficient evidence, bin Laden is acquitted. [Associated Press, 11/20/1998] The Taliban has already received some claims regarding bin Laden’s involvement in terrorism from the US (see August 23, 1998), but these are insufficient and more evidence is requested. Originally, there is no cut-off date for supplying evidence, but when the US does nothing, the Taliban leaders become frustrated and announce a time limit on the inquiry: “If anyone has any evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in cases of terrorism, subversion, sabotage, or any other acts, they should get it to the court before November 20. If by then there is nothing, we will close the case and in our eyes he will be acquitted.” In a November 10 cable the US embassy in Pakistan, which also handles Afghan affairs, comments: “The Taliban appear to many observers not to be totally unreasonable in their demand that the US provide them evidence on bin Laden.” [US Embassy (Islamabad), 11/10/1998 ] The US then sends the Taliban a video of an interview bin Laden gave CNN in 1997, a transcript of his ABC 1998 interview, and a copy of his US indictment for the embassy bombings. [US Department of State, 11/11/1998 ] The inquiry is headed by the country’s chief justice, Noor Mohamed Saqib. After the evidence is found not to be enough and bin Laden is set free, Saqib comments: “It is their shame that they have been silent. America is wrong about bin Laden… Anything that happens now anywhere in the world they blame Osama, but the reality is in the proof and they have not given us any. It’s over and America has not presented any evidence. Without any evidence, bin Laden is a man without sin… he is a free man.” [Associated Press, 11/20/1998] However, the State Department says that it did not “endorse, support, or request” the sharia court trial, but simply wanted bin Laden extradited. A White House spokesperson says, “Without commenting on the rigor of the Taliban judicial system, it is clear that Mr. bin Laden is a proven threat to US national interests.” [US Department of State, 11/11/1998 ; Associated Press, 11/20/1998] The Taliban’s leadership is not satisfied with the outcome of the trial and will subsequently ask the US for help in getting rid of bin Laden (see November 28, 1998).
A group of moderate Muslim community leaders tries to serve a court order instructing radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri and his followers to vacate Finsbury Park mosque. The community leaders and Abu Hamza, an informer for British intelligence against other Islamist extremists (see Early 1997), have been battling over the mosque for some time. On the first attempt to serve the order, one of Abu Hamza’s sons snatches the court papers and throws them away.
Second Attempt - On a second attempt a day later, the community leaders are ambushed on the stairs inside the mosque by a mob of Abu Hamza’s supporters, and two of them are physically thrown down the stairs. One of the ambushed men runs to the police standing outside the mosque’s gates and, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory: “The officers heard the commotion, and could see these elderly men limping out of the door cut and bruised, but said that the court injunction gave them no power to arrest any of the mob inside.” The police, who had also refused to help earlier in the year, tell the startled community leaders that they have been aware for some time that Abu Hamza was the subject of previous injunctions from other mosques. They say the solution is to get an eviction order, although this will be costly and time-consuming, and they will do nothing against Abu Hamza in the meantime.
Trustees Give Up - The legal battles will continue for several months, after which Abu Hamza offers the community leaders a truce. However, he immediately breaks the truce and the leaders, exhausted, give up. Kadir Barkatullah, one of the management committee ousted by Abu Hamza, will say that he and others make a total of seven complaints to the police about Abu Hamza, but nothing is ever done. Although British Prime Minister Tony Blair will tell Muslim leaders to act against extremists in their local communities, according to Barkatullah, “When we did do precisely that with Abu Hamza, we were ignored.”
Incidents Continue - Despite the supposed truce, attacks on moderate Muslims associated with the mosque will continue; one of the community leaders is attacked in his shop with a baseball bat, and an imam is beaten unconscious inside the mosque. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 34-35, 46-47, 288]
According to the 1999 book The New Jackals by journalist Simon Reeve, bin Laden is nearly poisoned to death this month. The operation “involved American technology and know-how in concert with Saudi finance and manpower, thus avoiding any difficult questions in the US Congress about state-sponsored assassinations. The attack involved an assassin called Siddiq Ahmed who was paid $267,000 to poison bin Laden. It was only partially successful, causing acute kidney failure.” [Reeve, 1999, pp. 204] Apparently, different Saudi factions have vastly different attitudes towards bin Laden, because the same book claims that around this same time, Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi intelligence minister, may have met with senior Taliban leaders to extract guarantees of support for bin Laden, to ensure the Taliban would not hand bin Laden over to the US. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 191] No post-9/11 investigations will mention this alleged poisoning incident.
Radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri takes over a second mosque in London, at Stockwell in the city’s south. He already controls the large Finsbury Park mosque in north London (see March 1997) and is working with British intelligence at this time (see Early 1997). Abu Hamza also expands his operations by preaching in other towns and cities in Britain. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later comment: “Like a medieval monarch, Abu Hamza wasn’t satisfied with just Finsbury Park, and wanted to expand his fiefdom. His first step was to take his roadshow around the country, poisoning other mosques with his hateful creed then leaving it to hand-picked locals and some his Supporters of Shariah hard men to complete the takeover at mosques such as that in Stockwell, south London. He roamed the country with a convoy of cars, always with an entourage of minders in tow to whip up the crowd.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 48-49]
The Marienstrasse building. [Source: Associated Press]Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, al-Qaeda operatives Said Bahaji and Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, and others in the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell move into a four bedroom apartment at 54 Marienstrasse, in Hamburg, Germany, and some of them stay there until February 2001. Investigators will later believe this move marks the formation of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2002; New York Times, 9/10/2002] Up to six men at a time live at the apartment, including, at times, 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi and cell member Zakariya Essabar. Alshehhi moves out after the first month; it is unclear why. [New York Times, 9/15/2001] During the 28 months Atta’s name is on the apartment lease, 29 Middle Eastern or North African men register the apartment as their home address.
Surveillance of Bahaji - From the very beginning, the apartment is under surveillance by German intelligence, because of investigations into businessman Mamoun Darkazanli that connect to Bahaji. [Washington Post, 10/23/2001] The Germans also suspect connections between Bahaji and al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Haydar Zammar. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Bahaji is directly monitored for at least part of 1998, but German officials will not disclose when the probe began or ends. This investigation is dropped for lack of evidence (see (Late 1998)). [Associated Press, 6/22/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Bahaji moves out in July 1999 and gets married a few months later (see October 9, 1999). [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/29/2011]
Surveillance of El Motassadeq - German intelligence monitors the apartment off and on for months, and wiretaps Mounir El Motassadeq, an associate of the apartment-mates who will later be convicted for assisting the 9/11 plot, but apparently it does not find any indication of suspicious activity (see August 29, 1998). [Chicago Tribune, 9/5/2002]
Surveillance of Zammar - Zammar, a talkative man who has trouble keeping secrets, does not live at the apartment, but he is a frequent visitor to the many late night meetings there. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 259-60; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Chicago Tribune, 9/5/2002] He even lives in the apartment for a time in February 1999 (see February 1999). Zammar is the focus of an investigation that began in 1997 and continues until early 2000 (see March 1997-Early 2000). Interest in monitoring him increases in late 1998 (see October 2, 1998).
Surveillance of Atta - The CIA also allegedly starts monitoring Atta in early 2000 while he is living at the apartment, and does not tell Germany of the surveillance (see January-May 2000). Atta leaves Germany to live in the US in June 2000 (see June 3, 2000).
No Direct German Surveillance of the Apartment? - Yet, even though people like Zammar who frequently phone and visit the apartment are monitored, German officials will later claim that the apartment itself is never bugged. An unnamed senior German security official will later say that some surveillance of associated people gives “the impression that the people living there were fanatical believers. At the BfV [Germany’s domestic intelligence agency], we had to decide whether to ask permission to place a wiretap on the line at 54 Marienstrasse itself. We discussed this every day.” But he will claim that they ultimately decide they will not be able to get legal permission for a wiretap because there is no evidence that the apartment’s occupants are breaking any laws. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] This claim that the apartment was not directly monitored seems contradicted by reports that Bahaji was the target of a surveillance investigation when he was living in the Marienstrasse apartment in late 1998 (see (Late 1998)).
What Would More Surveillance Have Uncovered? - It will later be clear that investigators could have found evidence if they looked more thoroughly. For instance, one visitor will recall Atta and others discussing attacking the US. [Knight Ridder, 9/9/2002] 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is in Hamburg several times in 1999 and comes to the apartment. However, although there is a $2 million reward for Mohammed since 1998, the US apparently fails to tell Germany what it knows about him (see 1999). [Newsweek, 9/4/2002; New York Times, 11/4/2002] 9/11 Hijacker Waleed Alshehri also apparently stays at the apartment “at times.” [Washington Post, 9/14/2001; Washington Post, 9/16/2001] Remarkably, shortly after 9/11, the German government will claim it knew little about the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell before 9/11, and nothing directed it towards the Marienstrasse apartment. [Daily Telegraph, 11/24/2001]
Entity Tags: Mamoun Darkazanli, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Said Bahaji, Marwan Alshehhi, Central Intelligence Agency, Mohamed Atta, Mounir El Motassadeq, Al-Qaeda, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Zakariya Essabar, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announcing the indictment of Osama bin Laden. [Source: Henny Ray Abrams/ Agence France-Presse/ Getty Images]The US publicly indicts bin Laden, Mohammed Atef, and others for the US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Bin Laden had been secretly indicted on different charges earlier in the year in June (see June 8, 1998). Record $5 million rewards are announced for information leading to his arrest and the arrest of Mohammed Atef. [PBS Frontline, 2001] Shortly thereafter, bin Laden allocates $9 million in reward money for the assassinations of four US government officials in response to the reward on him. A year later, it is learned that the secretary of state, defense secretary, FBI director, and CIA director are the targets. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; MSNBC, 9/18/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
Satam Al Suqami. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]On August 11, 1998, 9/11 hijacker Satam Al Suqami is issued a Saudi Arabian passport. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 29 ] This passport will allegedly be discovered in the wreckage of the 9/11 attacks in New York (see After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), allowing investigators an unusually detailed glimpse into the movements of one of the hijackers. While a majority of the hijackers seem to have traveled little prior to coming to the US, Al Suqami travels widely:
November 5, 1998: He enters and departs Jordan, enters Syria.
November 11, 1998: departs Syria; enters and departs Jordan.
November 12, 1998: enters Saudi Arabia.
February 19, 1999: enters Saudi Arabia.
February 24, 1999: enters and departs Jordan; enters Syria.
February 25, 1999: departs Saudi Arabia.
March 7, 1999: departs Syria.
March 8, 1999: enters Jordan.
May 13, 1999: departs Bahrain.
May 15, 1999: enters Saudi Arabia.
January 18, 2000: enters United Arab Emirates (UAE).
April 4, 2000: enters UAE.
April 6, 2000: departs UAE.
April 7, 2000: enters Egypt.
April 18, 2000: departs Oman, enters UAE.
July 11, 2000: departs Egypt.
July 12, 2000: enters Malaysia. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 33, 37-39, 42, 59-62, 75 ]
On September 24, 2000, Al Suqami enters Turkey and stays there for most of the next six months (see September 24, 2000-April 1, 2001). Then he will travel to Malaysia again before finally flying to the US. The above records are obviously incomplete as there are sometimes records of him leaving a country without entering it or vice versa. His travels to Afghanistan and Pakistan are also not mentioned, as there was probably an effort to keep them out of his passport. In 2007, al-Qaeda leader Luai Sakra will claim that Al Suqami was not just another hijacker but led a group of the hijackers. The release of Al Suqami’s passport records in 2008 will help corroborate that claim. [London Times, 11/25/2007]
Convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998) asks a federal appeals court in Denver for a new trial, contending that Judge Richard P. Matsch, who presided over his trial, made a number of reversible errors in both the trial and sentencing. Nichols’s co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) has also asked for a new trial (see January 16, 1998), a request that was denied (see September 8, 1998). Nichols’s legal team, Michael Tigar, Susan L. Foreman, and Adam Thurschwell, argue that Matsch erred in the instructions he gave the jurors, in the testimony he permitted, and in his interpretation of federal sentencing guidelines. According to Nichols’s lawyers, Matsch erred when he told the jury that Nichols’s responsibility for the deaths of people killed as a result of the bombing conspiracy (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) did not depend on proof that Nichols intended to kill anyone. An intent to kill, Nichols’s lawyers contend, is a necessary element in the offense. The jurors who convicted Nichols of conspiracy acquitted him of blowing up the building and of first- or second-degree murder in the deaths of the officers. They also contend that Nichols should have been sentenced under federal guidelines for arson and property damage, not first-degree murder, and that the restitution order of $14.5 million is punitive. [New York Times, 11/22/1998]
Senior Taliban spokesman Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil meets diplomats from the US embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, to examine new ways of resolving the problem of Osama bin Laden’s presence in Afghanistan after judicial proceedings against him collapse there (see (October 25-November 20, 1998)). Ahmed expresses his opinion that Taliban leaders are caught between “a rock and a hard place” since, if they expel bin Laden without cause they will have internal problems and, if they do not, they will have external ones due to the US. Ahmed suggests that the Saudis have a key to the solution. Afghan and Saudi religious scholars could convene a joint meeting and issue a ruling that bin Laden had acted illegally, for example by holding a news conference when he was under a communication ban. He could then be expelled without this causing internal unrest in Afghanistan and the problem would be resolved “in minutes, not hours.” The US would be happy if bin Laden were expelled to Saudi Arabia or Egypt, but the Saudis apparently do not favor a joint meeting and the proposal is not acted upon. [US Department of State, 11/28/1998 ]
William Wechsler. [Source: CAP]Shortly after the US embassy bombings in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the US launches a new interagency effort to track bin Laden’s finances. There had been a previous interagency effort in 1995 but it had fizzled (see October 21, 1995). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke sets up a task force. He orders it to find out how much money bin Laden has, where it comes from, how it is distributed, and to stop it. Clarke appoints William Wechsler, a National Security Council staff member, to head the task force. The task force begins an investigation of bin Laden’s finances (see Late 1998). Clarke later writes that he and Wechsler “quickly [come] to the conclusion that the [US government] departments [are] generally doing a lousy job of tracking and disrupting international criminals’ financial networks and had done little or nothing against terrorist financing.” [New York Times, 9/20/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 190-191] Clarke will later claim there was only limited effort from within the US government to fight bin Laden’s financial network. He will assert that within weeks of setting up the interagency effort, it was determined that only one person in the US government, a lowly Treasury Department official, appeared to have any expertise about the hawala system, an informal and paperless money transfer system used by al-Qaeda that is popular with Muslim populations worldwide (see 1993-September 11, 2001). Clarke will later write that the “CIA knew little about the [hawala] system, but set about learning. FBI knew even less, and set about doing nothing.” The FBI claims there are no hawalas in the US, but Wechsler finds several in New York City using a simple Internet search. Clarke will say, “Despite our repeated requests over the following years, nobody from the FBI ever could answer even our most basic questions about the number, location, and activities of major hawalas in the US—much less taken action.” The efforts of other departments are not much better. The one Treasury official with some expertise about hawalas is eventually let go before 9/11. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 192-193] Efforts to pressure governments overseas also meet with little success (see August 20, 1998-1999).
In late 1998, a new US interagency task force is created to track bin Laden’s finances (see Late 1998). The task force asks for help from the CIA’s Illicit Transactions Group (ITG), a little known entity keeping track of criminals, militants, and money launderers. The task force and ITG scour US intelligence data on al-Qaeda’s finances and soon discover that the assumption that al-Qaeda gets most of its funds from bin Laden’s huge personal fortune and numerous businesses is wrong. While he does have a fortune, according to William Wechsler, the task force director, al-Qaeda is “a constant fundraising machine.” The evidence is indisputable that most of the money is coming from Saudi Arabia. [US News and World Report, 12/15/2003] However, what little pressure the US will put on Saudi Arabia before 9/11 to stop the funding of al-Qaeda will have no effect (see August 20, 1998-1999 and June 1999).
Journalist Simon Reeve will write in the 1999 book The New Jackals that shortly after the African embassy bombings, “With the help of one, possibly two, medium-level moles within [al-Qaeda], Americans arrested and questioned 20 of bin Laden’s closest associates and began inquiries in 28 countries.” Reeve does not say how he knows this, but his book is heavily sourced by interviews with US intelligence officials. The notion that the US had moles within al-Qaeda runs counter to the usual official US position after 9/11 that al-Qaeda was nearly impenetrable. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 204] Top bin Laden associates arrested during this time include:
Mamdouh Mahmud Salim (see September 16, 1998);
Khalid al-Fawwaz, Ibrahim Eidarous, and Adel Abdel Bary (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998);
Ihab Saqr, Essam Marzouk, and Ahmad Salama Mabruk (see Late August 1998);
Ali Mohamed (see September 10, 1998); and
Wadih El-Hage (see September 15, 1998).
Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, US intelligence, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, Simon Reeve, Ihab Saqr, Ahmad Salama Mabruk, Adel Abdel Bary, Ali Mohamed, Essam Marzouk, Ibrahim Eidarous, Al-Qaeda, Khalid al-Fawwaz
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Intelligence agents learn Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian), an important al-Qaeda leader, is staying in a particular hotel room in Khartoum, Sudan. White House officials ask that he be killed or captured and interrogated. International capture operations of wanted militants, a practice known as “rendition,” have become routine by the mid-1990s (see 1993). In fact, over a dozen al-Qaeda operatives are rendered between July 1998 and February 2000 (see July 1998-February 2000). But in this case, both the Defense Department and the CIA are against it, although Al-Walid does not even have bodyguards. The CIA puts the operation in the “too hard to do box,” according to one former official. The CIA says it is incapable of conducting such an operation in Sudan, but in the same year, it conducts another spy mission in the same city. [New York Times, 12/30/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 143-46] A plan is eventually made to seize Al-Walid, but by then he has left the country. [New York Times, 12/30/2001]
According to author Terry McDermott, by late 1998, German intelligence knows all the key names of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell led by 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh. This is mostly due to the on-going surveillance of Mohammed Haydar Zammar and Mamoun Darkazanli (see March 1997-Early 2000, Late 1998 and December 1999). It is not clear if the group is seen as an al-Qaeda cell, or just a bunch of radical Islamists. One unnamed senior German intelligence official will say in November 2001, “We only knew them as radical Muslims. This is not a crime.” This person will add, “They might have had contact with followers of Osama bin Laden. This also is not a crime.” [McDermott, 2005, pp. 73, 279] It is unknown if Germany shares this intelligence with the US.
German intelligence investigates al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Said Bahaji. The investigation stems from an investigation into cell member Mohammed Haydar Zammar, which started in 1997 (see March 1997-Early 2000). Many contacts are noticed between Zammar and Bahaji. According to the Los Angeles Times: “In part because of the acquaintance, German police in 1998 performed what they describe as limited surveillance on Bahaji. Bahaji at the time was living with [future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed] Atta and [hijacker associate Ramzi] bin al-Shibh. Nothing came of the surveillance and it was discontinued.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] However, German officials will not say when exactly the surveillance stops. [Associated Press, 6/22/2002] Bahaji lives with Atta and bin al-Shibh at the Marienstrasse apartment starting in November 1998 (see November 1, 1998-February 2001), so the surveillance of him probably starts in late 1998. However, it is likely that interest in and possibly surveillance of Bahaji continues after this time. Bahaji will be watchlisted in March 2000 (see March 2000). Author Terry McDermott will later comment about the difficulty of being put on a watch list: “In Germany, this was not a casual event. In order to be placed on such lists, intelligence agencies had to go to great lengths to demonstrate to the Bundestag, the German parliament, that the person under question was of potential danger to the state.” McDermott will further note that being placed on this list would be an indication the person has been under surveillance for a long time. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 73, 297]
Dan Coleman [Source: CNN]Beginning in the autumn of 1998, the FBI uses the phone records of an al-Qaeda communications hub run by operative Ahmed al-Hada and his son Samir to build a map of al-Qaeda’s global organization. A map showing all the places in the world that have communicated with the hub is posted on the wall of the interagency counterterrorism I-49 squad in New York. The hub’s telephone number was uncovered during the East African embassy bombings investigation (see August 4-25, 1998 and Late August 1998). [Al Ahram, 2/21/2002; MSNBC, 7/21/2004; Wright, 2006, pp. 343; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] According to FBI agent and I-49 squad member Dan Coleman, al-Hada is “uncle of half the violent jihadists we knew in the country.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94] Several of his sons and sons-in-law are al-Qaeda operatives and some die fighting and training with radical Islamists; this is known to US intelligence before 9/11. Hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is also a son-in-law of al-Hada. [MSNBC, 2/14/2002; Fox News, 2/14/2002; Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005] The number is monitored by the NSA and over the next three years it mines intelligence that helps authorities foil a series of plots, including planned attacks on the US Embassy in Paris and the US Consulate in Istanbul, along with an attempted airline hijacking in Africa. However, the hub also serves as a planning center for the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, which is successful (see October 12, 2000). [US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] The CIA, as the primary organization for gathering foreign intelligence, has jurisdiction over conversations on the al-Hada phone. Helped by the NSA, it stakes out the house—tapping the phone, planting bugs, and taking satellite photographs of its visitors. However, the CIA apparently does not provide the FBI with all the relevant information it is obtaining about al-Qaeda’s plans. [Mirror, 6/9/2002; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] For example, the FBI is not informed that hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi make calls to the communications hub from the US between spring 2000 and summer 2001 (see Spring-Summer 2000 and Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001). The FBI also asks the NSA to pass any calls between the communications hub and the US to the FBI, but the NSA does not do this either (see Late 1998). [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94]
Shortly after an August 1998 US missile strike on Afghanistan (see August 20, 1998), bin Laden stops using his satellite phone, correctly deciding that it was being monitored by US intelligence (see Late August 1998). According to counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, al-Qaeda quickly “developed a system to deceive those monitoring his calls. [But] Western security and intelligence agencies were soon able to monitor the new system, which was based on transferring international calls within safe houses in Pakistan to make them seem like domestic calls.” Other al-Qaeda leaders such as Abu Zubaida will be frequently monitored as they make calls using this new system (see October 1998 and After). Gunaratna later claims to have learned this from a confidential source in a “communications monitoring agency” in Western Europe. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 15-16, 3291] It is not known how long it took until al-Qaeda realized this new system was compromised, but there are accounts of bin Laden and Zubaida’s calls being monitored days before 9/11 (see Early September 2001, September 9, 2001, and Early September 2001).
In December 1998, German intelligence finds out that the head of Islamist militant fighters in Bosnia wants to smuggle explosives into southern Germany. On January 8, 1999, German immigration officials find 10 triggers for explosives in a bus. The triggers belong to a courier who is attempting to send them to an Algerian in Freiburg, a town in southern Germany very close to the French border. However, the quick arrest means that German intelligence is unable to follow the courier and find out who his contacts in Germany are. The CIA is very interested in this situation, and heavily investigates Islamist radicals in the Freiburg area. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 12/12/2005] This incident is significant because it runs contrary to the widespread post-9/11 excuse that German intelligence is not that interested in Islamist militants prior to 9/11 because they are not seen as a threat to attack within Germany. For instance, Der Spiegel will write in 2003: “Such missionary fanatics were not considered particularly dangerous at the time. The internal intelligence service relied on the theory that foreign extremists do not commit or prepare attacks in Germany. You don’t spit in the soup that you are eating, says an Arab proverb. The security services believed this also.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 2/3/2003]
After 9/11, the FBI will examine phone records and determine that hijacker associate Omar al-Bayoumi calls Saudi official Fahad al Thumairy many times between December 1998 and December 2000. Al-Bayoumi calls al Thumairy’s home number at least ten times, and al Thumairy calls al-Bayoumi much more often—at least 11 times in the month of December 2000 alone. At the time, al Thumairy is working at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles, and is a well-known Islamic radical. For part of 2000 at least, al-Bayoumi is living at the Parkwood Apartments in San Diego at the same time as hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. Al Thumairy will later deny knowing al-Bayoumi, but al-Bayoumi will admit knowing al Thumairy. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 514; Shenon, 2008, pp. 310-311]
According to a US intelligence assessment, “[bin Laden] is actively planning against US targets and already may have positioned operatives for at least one operation.… Multiple reports indicate [he] is keenly interested in striking the US on its own soil… Al-Qaeda is recruiting operatives for attacks in the US but has not yet identified potential targets.” Later in the month, a classified document prepared by the CIA and signed by President Clinton states: “The intelligence community has strong indications that bin Laden intends to conduct or sponsor attacks inside the US.” [US Congress, 9/18/2002; Washington Post, 9/19/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003 ; US Congress, 7/24/2003] This warning will be mentioned in the August 2001 memo given to President Bush entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001).
Nawaz Sharif meeting with US Defense Secretary William Cohen at the Pentagon on December 3, 1998. [Source: US Department of Defense]Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif comes to Washington to meet with President Clinton and other top Clinton administration officials. The number one issue for Clinton is Pakistan’s nuclear program, since Pakistan had recently illegally developed and exploded a nuclear weapon (see May 28, 1998). The second most important issue is Pakistan’s economy; the US wants Pakistan to support free trade agreements. The third most important issue is terrorism and Pakistan’s support for bin Laden. Author Steve Coll will later note, “When Clinton himself met with Pakistani leaders, his agenda list always had several items, and bin Laden never was at the top. Afghanistan’s war fell even further down.” Sharif proposes to Clinton that the CIA train a secret Pakistani commando team to capture bin Laden. The US and Pakistan go ahead with this plan, even though most US officials involved in the decision believe it has almost no chance for success. They figure there is also little risk or cost involved, and it can help build ties between American and Pakistani intelligence. The plan will later come to nothing (see October 1999). [Coll, 2004, pp. 441-444]
Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli. [Source: Public domain]On December 4, 1998, an item in President Clinton’s Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) is titled, “Bin Laden Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other Attacks.” The PDB says “Bin Laden and is allies are preparing for attacks in the US, including an aircraft hijacking to obtain the release of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, Ramzi Yousef, and Muhammad Sadiq ‘Awda. One source quoted a senior member of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (IG) saying that, as of late October, the IG had completed planning for an operation in the US on behalf of bin Laden, but that the operation was on hold. A senior bin Laden operative from Saudi Arabia was to visit IG counterparts in the US soon thereafter to discuss options-perhaps including an aircraft hijacking.” The same source says bin Laden may implement plans to hijack US aircraft before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on December 20 and that two members of the operational team had evaded security checks in a recent trial run at a New York airport. A possible different source says that in late September, Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli, brother of the assassin of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and described in the PDB as an IG leader, was planning to hijack a US airliner during the “next couple of weeks” to free Abdul-Rahman and other prisoners. The PDB also says that “some members of the bin Laden network have received hijack training, according to various sources, but no group directly tied to bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization has ever carried out an aircraft hijacking. Bin Laden could be weighing other types of operations against US aircraft.” The PDB mentions other bin Laden related threats, including recent reports that the IG has obtained surface-to-air missiles and intends to move them from Yemen to Saudi Arabia to shoot down aircraft. [Washington Post, 7/18/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 128-130] The private intelligence group Stratfor will later say that, in addition to his ties with IG, Islambouli worked with bin Laden in the Maktab al-Khidamat charity front in Pakistan and is believed to have lived in Afghanistan in the 1990s as “part of the group of key Egyptian advisers surrounding bin Laden.” Islambouli will formally join with al-Qaeda in 2006. [Stratfor, 8/10/2006] In early 1998, the CIA ignored information from a recently retired CIA agent that claimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was in a terrorist cell with Islambouli, both were experts on plane hijackings, and were planning to hijack planes (see Early 1998). Perhaps not coincidentally, on this same day, CIA Director George Tenet issues a “declaration of war” against al-Qaeda in a memo to the US intelligence community (see December 4, 1998). Also on this day, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke holds a meeting of his interagency Counterterrorism and Security Group (CSG) to discuss the threat. The group agrees that New York City airports should go on a maximum security alert that weekend and security should be boosted at other East Coast airports. The FBI, FAA, and New York City Police Department get versions of the PDB report. Later in December and again in January 1999 the source says the hijacking has been postponed because two operatives have been arrested in Washington or New York. But the FBI is unable to find any information to support the threat nor is it able to verify any arrests similar to what the source described, and the source remains mysterious. The high alert in New York airports is canceled by the end of January. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 128-130] This PDB will be mentioned in President Bush’s famous August 6, 2001 PDB, but mentions that US officials “have not been able to corroborate” the plot (see August 6, 2001).
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Federal Aviation Administration, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Richard A. Clarke, Counterterrorism and Security Group, Ramzi Yousef, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli, Muhammad Sadiq ‘Awda, Osama bin Laden, New York City Police Department, Maktab al-Khidamat
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
CIA Director George Tenet issues a “declaration of war” on al-Qaeda, in a memorandum circulated in the intelligence community. This is ten months after bin Laden’s fatwa on the US (see February 22, 1998), which is called a “de facto declaration of war” by a senior US official in 1999. Tenet says, “We must now enter a new phase in our effort against bin Laden.… each day we all acknowledge that retaliation is inevitable and that its scope may be far larger than we have previously experienced.… We are at war.… I want no resources or people spared in this efforts [sic], either inside CIA or the [larger intelligence] community.” Yet a Congressional joint committee later finds that few FBI agents ever hear of the declaration. Tenet’s fervor does not “reach the level in the field that is critical so [FBI agents] know what their priorities are.” In addition, even as the counterterrorism budget continues to grow generally, there is no massive shift in budget or personnel until after 9/11. For example, the number of CIA personnel assigned to the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) stays roughly constant until 9/11, then nearly doubles from approximately 400 to approximately 800 in the wake of 9/11. The number of CTC analysts focusing on al-Qaeda rises from three in 1999 to five by 9/11. [New York Times, 9/18/2002; US Congress, 9/18/2002] Perhaps not coincidentally, on the same day Tenet issues his declaration, President Clinton is given a briefing entitled “Bin Laden Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other Attacks” and US intelligence scrambles to respond to this threat (see December 4, 1998).
The governor’s mansion in Kandahar, Afghanistan. [Source: CBC]On December 18, 2000, CIA receives a tip that bin Laden will be staying overnight on December 20 at the governor’s mansion in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Missile strikes are readied against him. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 130-131] Gary Schroen, head of the CIA’s Pakistan office, e-mails CIA headquarters with the message, “Hit him tonight—we may not get another chance.” However, principal advisers to President Clinton agree not to recommend a strike because of doubts about the intelligence and worries about collateral damage. The military estimates the attacks will kill about 200 people, presumably most of them innocent bystanders. Schroen will later recall, “It struck me as rather insane, frankly. They decided not to attack bin Laden because he was in a building in fairly close proximity to a mosque. And they were afraid that some of the shrapnel was going to hit the mosque and somehow offend the Muslim world, and so they decided not to shoot on that occasion. That’s the kind of reason for not shooting that the policy maker, anyway, came up with endlessly.” [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; CBC, 9/12/2006] Later intelligence appears to show that bin Laden left before the strike could be readied, but some aware of the intelligence felt it was a chance that should have been taken anyway. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 130-131] In the wake of this incident, officials attempt to find alternatives to cruise missiles, such a precision strike aircraft. However, US Central Command Chief General Anthony Zinni is apparently opposed to deployment of these aircraft near Afghanistan, and they are not deployed. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), a local militant group linked to al-Qaeda (see Early 2000 and October 12, 2000), plots a series of strikes against Western-related targets in Aden, Yemen. According to the Yemeni authorities, the plot encompasses:
An attack on the Movenpick hotel, which is used by Western tourists and had already been bombed in 1992 (see December 29, 1992);
Firing rockets into a clinic in the grounds of Aden’s only Christian church;
Murdering British diplomats at the British consulate;
Attacks on the Al Shadhrawan nightclub;
Hitting the UN office in Aden; and
Attacking a hotel used by US troops.
However, the plot, headed by IAA leader Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, will be broken up on December 23, when six of the plotters linked to leading British imam Abu Hamza al-Masri are arrested by police in Aden (see December 23, 1998). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 159-160]
In an interview for Time magazine held on this date, Osama bin Laden is asked whether he was responsible for the August 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). He replies, “If the instigation for jihad against the Jews and the Americans in order to liberate [Islamic shrines in Mecca and Medina] is considered a crime, then let history be a witness that I am a criminal. Our job is to instigate and, by the grace of God, we did that—and certain people responded to this instigation.… I am confident that Muslims will be able to end the legend of the so-called superpower that is America.” He admits knowing certain people accused of being behind the bombing, such as Wadih El-Hage and Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, but denies they had any connection to the bombings. [Time, 1/11/1999; Globe and Mail, 10/5/2001]
A group of six young men are arrested in Yemen, where they are alleged to have been planning a series of bombings. Five of the men are British. They include Mohsin Ghalain, the stepson of Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical cleric in Britain and informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), and Shahid Butt, Abu Hamza’s “six-foot four-inch enforcer.” The men are members of the militant Supporters of Sharia organization run by Abu Hamza and are in Yemen to work with the Islamic Army of Aden, a local radical organization and al-Qaeda affiliate.
Arrest Merely a Coincidence - The Yemeni government will say that they are arrested purely by coincidence, after the police notice a group of them committing a minor traffic violation. When their vehicle is found and searched following a chase, a cache of weapons and explosives is found in it.
Skepticism about Yemeni Claim - However, author Mary Quin will later comment: “Several aspects of the story about how the Britons were apprehended did not ring true. Having spent a week on Yemeni roads myself, it seemed highly unlikely that a police officer would bother to pull over a vehicle at midnight for something as mundane as going the wrong way around a traffic island.… The fact that the car happened to be stashed with weapons and explosives seemed too much of a coincidence. I was also suspicious of the reported speed with which the police located the two hotels where the defendants were staying.”
Informant Tip? - Instead, Quin will speculate that the Yemeni authorities were tipped off by an informer, Hetam bin Farid, who will later go on to command the Islamic Army of Aden (see (December 30, 1998-October 31, 1999)). Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will also say that the timing of the arrests “suggest[s] that Yemeni intelligence services had prior warning of the bomb plot.” [Quin, 2005, pp. 103-4, 116; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 156-157, 176, 178-179]
An AC-130. [Source: US Air Force]In the immediate aftermath of a decision not to attack bin Laden with cruise missiles for fear of collateral damage (see December 18-20, 1998), the US military looks for other options than the inaccurate cruise missiles. On this day, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Henry Shelton formally directs Generals Anthony Zinni and Peter J. Schoomaker to develop plans for an AC-130 gunship attack against al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan. The AC-130 is an aircraft designed specifically for special forces missions. It can fly in fast or from a high altitude, undetected by radar. It is capable of rapidly firing precision-guided projectiles that are much less likely to cause collateral damage. The two generals do submit such a plan on January 12, 1999, but the plan will never be developed beyond this initial document. One reason is that Zinni is against the idea. Another obstacle is that due to technical reasons the AC-130s would need to be based in a nearby country (most likely Uzbekistan, which is the most supportive of US efforts to get bin Laden at this time (see 1998 and After)). Political agreements allowing for basing and overflight rights would have to be arranged, but there is never any attempt to do so. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 135, 486]
President Bill Clinton signs a memorandum of notification authorizing the CIA to kill Osama bin Laden. The memo is sent to Clinton by National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, apparently at the request of CIA Director George Tenet, who has discussed the memo with Berger and seems to have given it his blessing. The highly classified memo concerns operations by a group of CIA tribal assets in Afghanistan who are monitoring bin Laden. Their task had previously been to capture bin Laden and they had been banned from assassinating him, but these rules are now changed and a kill operation is authorized. The memo makes it very clear that “the president [is] telling the tribal leaders they could kill bin Laden.” 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow will later recall the memo tells the tribal leaders: “you may conduct an operation to kill him,” adding, “There were no euphemisms in the language.” Although the CIA is still legally prevented from assassinating people, Clinton administration lawyers now say that bin Laden is an imminent danger to the US, so he can be killed as a part of pre-emptive self-defense. Despite his role in drafting the memo, Tenet and his deputies will later claim to the 9/11 Commission that Clinton never issued such clear authorization (see Before January 14, 2004). However, the order to assassinate bin Laden is garbled within the CIA and the CIA’s bin Laden unit appears not to receive it (see December 26, 1998 and After). [Washington Post, 2/22/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 357-8]
According to Ahmed Abdullah al-Hasani, who will later head the Yemeni navy and be Yemen’s ambassador to Syria, men from the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) meet with Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, half-brother of Yemen’s president Ali Abdallah Saleh. Al-Ahmar helped recruit Islamist radicals to fight in Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan War (see 1980-1990) and allegedly later received a payment from Osama bin Laden to help settle Afghan Arabs in Yemen (see May 21-July 7, 1994). The meeting follows the breaking up of an IAA plot to attack targets in Aden (see Before December 23, 1998 and December 23, 1998), and comes two days before the IAA takes Western hostages in an attempt to obtain the release of six recently arrested IAA operatives (see December 28-29, 1998). Al-Hasani will say, “Two days before the killings, members of the terrorist group were in al-Ahmar’s house in Sana’a,” the capital of Yemen. “They were also in telephone contact with Sana’a just before the shootings.” [Sunday Times (London), 5/8/2005] Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will write that during the kidnapping, IAA leader Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar “bark[s] out his demands for a prisoner swap over the telephone to a half-brother of Yemen’s President Saleh, among others.” Presumably, this half-brother is al-Ahmar. In addition, on the last day of the kidnapping Almihdhar tells a local dignitary, “We have contacts at the highest level and we are expecting a response from them at noon.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 159-160] Exactly what al-Ahmar knows of the kidnapping in advance, if anything, is unclear.
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