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Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, leader of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic Army of Aden (see Early 2000 and October 12, 2000), telephones Abu Hamza al-Masri, a London-based imam and informer for the British security services (see Early 1997). Six operatives sent by Abu Hamza to Yemen for training had become involved in a bomb plot, but were arrested four days ago (see December 23, 1998). Almihdhar makes two calls to Abu Hamza, and tells him of the capture of the operatives, who include Abu Hamza’s stepson and former bodyguard. The two men apparently come up with a plan to capture some Western tourists, and Abu Hamza purchases more airtime worth £500 (about $800) for Almihdhar’s satellite phone. After the tourists are captured the next day (see December 28-29, 1998), Almihdhar will immediately telephone Abu Hamza and, according to one of the tourists’ drivers, say, “We’ve got the goods that were ordered, 16 cartons marked Britain and America.” This is not the only telephone contact between the two men, and authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will add, “What was apparent from the first hours of the hostage crisis was that the short-tempered [Almihdhar] needed the advice and reassurance of his spokesman in North London.” The calls are intercepted by the Government Communications Headquarters, Britain’s wiretapping agency, using a base in Cyprus. Although the communications cannot be used in court under British law, they are useful to the intelligence services in determining what is going on between Almihdhar and Abu Hamza. However, the intercepts are also shared with the FBI, which will later indicate it may use them in a US prosecution of Abu Hamza stemming from the fact that two of the kidnap victims are American nationals. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 156-157, 161, 180]
A group of 20 people, including 16 western tourists, are kidnapped in southern Yemen by the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), an al-Qaeda affiliate. In return for releasing the hostages, IAA leader Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar demands the release of six IAA operatives arrested a few days earlier (see December 23, 1998). Almihdhar also makes further demands, including the release of more prisoners, an end to the US-led bombing of Iraq, and a change of government in Yemen. Knowing that it will be unable to meet all these demands and worried Almihdhar will carry out his threat to start executing the hostages, the day after the kidnapping the Yemen government sends in the army to rescue them, but four hostages die during the fighting. [Quin, 2005, pp. 31-62, 83, 126-7, 155-6, 200-1] Three of the militants are killed, and seven, including Almihdhar, are captured. However, some escape. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 168]
Motive - Hostage Mary Quin, who will write a book about the kidnapping, will later conclude that fear for the hostages’ safety is not the only motive for the attack by the army and that it is also a product of the government’s policy of attacking the IAA where possible. Yemen’s deputy foreign minister will comment: “We are not tolerating these groups. What happened in Abyan [where the hostages were held] was a reaction to a crackdown on these people.”
Link to Abu Hamza - Before and during the kidnapping, Almihdhar is in contact with the IAA’s spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Masri, in London, using a satellite phone Abu Hamza provided him with. One of the six operatives Almihdhar wants the government to release is Abu Hamza’s stepson. Almihdhar will be sentenced to death for his role, and most of the other kidnappers are also caught and punished (see October 17, 1999). The Yemen government later asks for the extradition of Abu Hamza, who has a relationship with British intelligence (see Early 1997), but the British government refuses (see January 1999). [Quin, 2005, pp. 31-62, 83, 126-7, 155-6, 200-1]
Relative of 9/11 Hijacker? - It will later be suggested that Almihdhar is a distant relative of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. [New York Times, 12/7/2001]
Radical imam and British intelligence informer Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997) defends the kidnapping of Western hostages in Yemen by the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA—see December 28-29, 1998) in the British media. The IAA is an al-Qaeda affiliate (see Early 2000 and October 12, 2000) and Abu Hamza acts as its press officer. Although it is unusual for radical Islamists to appear on television in Britain at this time, Abu Hamza does not shy away from the publicity. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will even call him a “publicity junkie,” and comment on his television appearances: “[Abu Hamza] tried to defend the indefensible by appearing on television and supporting the gunmen holding innocent Western hostages in the desert. Much of what he had to say in his strangled English about ‘jihad’ and martyrdom baffled his armchair British audience, most of who at the time had never heard of al-Qaeda.… He would stab his hook at the camera lens as he issued his bloodcurdling threats against politicians who did not heed his advice. His language was provocative, his demeanour threatening, but he had achieved one ambition—people in Britain suddenly knew the name of Abu Hamza.” His appearances do not go down well with the media, and, in O’Neill and McGrory’s words, he is “vilified .. after he admitted that he was the press officer for the kidnappers from the pompously named Islamc Army of Aden and Abyan.” Abu Hamza will later admit that this is the biggest mistake he ever makes. According to O’Neill and McGrory: “He [loses] friends and credibility, and [becomes] a marked man by the security authorities in Britain. But his standing with young British extremists [is] boosted.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 158-159, 172-173]
Following the exposure of a bomb plot (see December 23, 1998) and a kidnapping and murder (see December 28-29, 1998) in Yemen, local officials place most of the blame for the problems on British-based radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri. According to authors Daniel McGrory and Sean O’Neill, local security official General Mohammed Turaik can “barely bring himself to mouth the name of Abu Hamza.” He is “almost incoherent with rage that the man he held responsible for the bloodshed was giving television interviews in London, and not standing in the dock of an Aden court to face his accusers.” Yemen compiles a large amount of evidence about Abu Hamza’s involvement, but also blames al-Qaeda-linked training camps in Afghanistan for altering the thinking of Yemenis who went there. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 170-171]
Yemeni officials initially agree to receive a team of British investigators who will look into a kidnapping and murder case in which Yemeni terrorists abducted Western tourists, including some from Britain (see December 28-29, 1998). Initially, leading security official General Mohammed Turaik says that there is no point in British investigators coming to Yemen, because his office managed to rapidly wrap up the inquiry. However, he adds that if the British want to visit the scene of the kidnap and talk to imprisoned kidnappers, then they can. However, when the investigators arrive, according to authors Daniel McGrory and Sean O’Neill, they “find themselves restricted to hanging around their hotels. Requests to travel to Abyan to see where the hostages died were left in an in-tray. Suggestions that the… detectives might question the six men the General claimed had been sent from Finsbury Park [a British mosque associated with radicalism], to blow up British targets in Aden were ignored.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 171] The reason for this change of opinion is unclear. It may be due to deteriorating diplomatic relations between Yemen and Britain (see January 1999). Another explanation would be that a prominent relative of Yemen’s president, General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, is said to have met with the kidnappers in advance (see December 26, 1998).
Charles Key. [Source: Oklahoma City Sentinel]An Oklahoma County grand jury investigating alternative theories about the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and June 30, 1997) wraps up without naming any new suspects aside from convicted bombing conspirators Timothy McVeigh (see June 11-13, 1997) and Terry Nichols (see June 4, 1998). After hearing 117 witnesses and weathering criticism that its work gave legitimacy to wild conspiracy theories surrounding the blast, the grand jury reports: “We cannot affirmatively state that absolutely no one else was involved in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. However, we have not been presented with or uncovered information sufficient to indict any additional conspirators.” [District Court of Oklahoma County, State of Oklahoma, 12/30/1998; New York Times, 12/31/1998; The Oklahoman, 4/2009]
Findings - The jury reviewed documentation of a number of “warning” telephone calls to federal and local law enforcement agencies, and determined that none of them warned of a bombing attack against the Murrah Building, or any other attack. One such call came a week before the blast, a 911 call from an Oklahoma City restaurant that warned the operator of an upcoming bombing. The caller gave no more details. Police quickly looked into the call and determined it came from a mental patient who lived in a nearby care facility. The jury also investigated the numerous claims of sightings of a possible third bomber, “John Doe No. 2,” and determined that the information given by the witnesses was so disparate and general that nothing useful could be concluded. The jury reports that the sightings were most likely of Todd Bunting, an Army private who had no connection to McVeigh or the bombing (see January 29, 1997). “The similarity of… Todd Bunting to the composite of John Doe No. 2 [is] remarkable, particularly when you take into account Bunting’s tattoo of a Playboy bunny on his upper left arm and the fact that he was wearing a black T-shirt and a Carolina Panthers ball cap when he was at Elliott’s Body Shop,” the report states. Witness statements of “John Doe No. 2” fleeing the scene of the bombing in a “brown pickup truck” were erroneous, the report finds. A brown pickup truck did leave the area shortly before the bombing, driven by an employee of the Journal Record Building near the Murrah Building. The driver left the building shortly before the bombing after being informed that her child was ill. The jury finds no evidence that the bombing was orchestrated by the federal government, or that any agency knew about the bombing in advance. [District Court of Oklahoma County, State of Oklahoma, 12/30/1998; Denver Post, 1/9/1999]
Journalist Indicted for Jury Tampering - The jury does bring an indictment against investigative journalist David Hoffman, who will plead guilty to jury tampering, admitting that he sent one of the alternate grand jurors a letter copy of a book on conspiracy theories about the bombing. In a sealed indictment, the jury cited Hoffman for “improper and perhaps illegal attempts to exert influence on the outcome of our investigation.” Hoffman will be given a suspended sentence and 200 hours of community service. Hoffman will later call the indictment “a sham charge by a corrupt government designed to silence me,” and will write a book, The Oklahoma City Bombing and the Politics of Terror, which says the government falsely accused McVeigh and Nichols of the crime, concealing the involvement of others, perhaps members of neo-Nazi groups with which McVeigh was involved (see October 12, 1993 - January 1994 and (April 1) - April 18, 1995). [New York Times, 12/31/1998; Vanity Fair, 9/2001; Lukeford (.net), 11/25/2002]
Report Denounced - Former Oklahoma State Representative Charles R. Key (R-Oklahoma City), who helped convene the grand jury, immediately denounces the findings. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001] Key has insisted that McVeigh and Nichols had unplumbed connections with Islamist terrorists (see Late 1992-Early 1993 and Late 1994, November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995, and 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After), and has insisted that what he calls “revisionist news reports” by the mainstream media have failed to show Islamist connections to the bombing. He has even implied that government officials were complicit in the bombing. [Charles Key, 3/12/1997] The grand jury reports, “We can state with assurance that we do not believe that the federal government had prior knowledge that this horrible terrorist attack was going to happen.” The jury findings are “a ditto of what the federal government presented in the McVeigh trial,” Key states. “It had huge, gaping holes.” Glenn Wilburn, who lost two grandchildren in the bombing, died in 1997 before the jury returned its findings. Key has set up a private non-profit group, the Oklahoma Bombing Investigation Committee, which also gathered information about possible witnesses and submitted their names to the grand jury and urged Congress not to let the federal investigation drop. Key says that group will issue a final report of its own that “will read quite differently than this report today.” [District Court of Oklahoma County, State of Oklahoma, 12/30/1998; New York Times, 12/31/1998]
After Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, the head of the Islamic Army of Aden, is captured in a failed hostage-taking operation (see December 28-29, 1998), one of his lieutenants, Hetam bin Farid, becomes its de-facto leader. However, bin Farid is arrested shortly after Almihdhar is executed (see October 17, 1999). At his trial, bin Farid will claim to be a police informer, although the judge will not accept this argument and will sentence him to seven years in prison. Bin Farid was involved in a plot to bomb targets in Yemen (see December 23, 1998), which was broken up by the police. Author Mary Quin, who will investigate the plot, will say that she does not believe the police’s account of the chance discovery of the plotters’ weapons, and speculate that bin Farid may have been telling the truth when he claimed to be an informer. [Quin, 2005, pp. 116, 127]
On top is El-HageÃ¢Â€Â™s business card for his fake charity, Help Africa People. Below is his card for his business Anhar Trading. On the lower left is a US address and on the lower right is DarkazanliÃ¢Â€Â™s address in Germany. [Source: CNN]The CIA first became interested in Mamoun Darkazanli in 1993 (see 1993). The FBI shows interest in Darkazanli after al-Qaeda operatives Wadih El Hage and Mamdouh Mahmud Salim (a.k.a. Abu Hajer) are arrested in late 1998 (see September 16, 1998-September 5, 2001 and September 16, 1998). According to FBI documents, Darkazanli’s fax and telephone numbers are discovered in El Hage’s address book. Darkazanli’s Deutsche Bank account number is found in the book as well. [CNN, 10/16/2001] El-Hage had created a number of shell companies as fronts for al-Qaeda activities, and one of these uses the address of Darkazanli’s apartment. [Chicago Tribune, 11/17/2002] Further, El-Hage’s business card shows Darkazanli’s Hamburg address. The FBI also discovers that Darkazanli has power of attorney over a bank account belonging to Salim, a high-ranking al-Qaeda member. El Hage will later be convicted for his role in the 1998 US embassy bombings, and Salim will remain in US custody. [New York Times, 6/20/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ] By this time, Darkazanli is associating with members of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell, and may be a member of the cell himself.
The Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, Italy. [Source: Public domain]By late 1998, US and Italian intelligence are already aware of the importance of a mosque in Milan, Italy, called the Islamic Cultural Institute. After 9/11, the Treasury Department will call the mosque “the main al-Qaeda station house in Europe. It is used to facilitate the movement of weapons, men and money across the world.” Additionally, they are aware that Ahmed Idris Nasreddin, a founder and director of Al Taqwa Bank, is also a founder and financier of the mosque. The mosque is also less than 50 miles away from Al Taqwa’s headquarters on the Swiss border.(see 1995-1997). [Newsweek, 3/18/2002] US officials will later say that al-Qaeda operatives involved in the 1998 US embassy bombings stayed at the Milan mosque. This causes US and Italian intelligence to watch the mosque more closely, and it also causes the US to look closer at Al Taqwa Bank (see 1997-September 11, 2001). [Newsweek, 3/18/2002] One member of the al-Qaeda cell in Milan lives in Hamburg with 9/11 plotter Ramzi bin al-Shibh for most of 1998 (see December 1997-November 1998). In 2000, Abderazek Mahdjoub, the head of the Milan cell, lives in Hamburg, attends the Al-Quds mosque that the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell attends, and has ties with some of the 9/11 hijackers (see 2000). Al-Qaeda operatives involved in the failed millennium bombing plot in Jordan also stay at the Milan mosque (see November 30, 1999). The Jordanian government later will claim that Al Taqwa helped fund these millennium bombers. [Newsweek, 3/18/2002; Newsweek, 4/12/2004] Starting in late 2000, Italian intelligence, wiretapping people associated with the Milan mosque and/or the Milan al-Qaeda cell, record conversations suggesting foreknowledge of the 9/11 plot (see August 12, 2000; January 24, 2001). This information is shared with the US in early 2001 (see March 2001). Additional evidence will come out after 9/11 suggesting some people in Milan had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks (see September 4, 2001; September 7, 2001). Given the closeness of the Al Taqwa Bank to the mosque, especially through Nasreddin, this raises the possibility of Al Taqwa involvement and knowledge of specific al-Qaeda plots, including the 9/11 attacks, though there is no known evidence of such direct ties except for the attempted millennium bombing mentioned above.
Henry Shelton. [Source: US Military]National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright repeatedly seek consideration of a “boots on the ground” option to kill bin Laden, using the elite Delta Force. Clinton also supports the idea, telling Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry Shelton, “You know, it would scare the sh_t out of al-Qaeda if suddenly a bunch of black ninjas rappelled out of helicopters into the middle of their camp.” However, Shelton says he wants “nothing to do” with such an idea. He calls it naive, and ridicules it as “going Hollywood.” He says he would need a large force, not just a small team. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke similiarly recalls Clinton saying to Shelton “in my earshot, ‘I think we ought to have US commandos go into Afghanistan, US military units, black ninjas jumping out of helicopters, and go after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.’ And Shelton said: ‘Whoa! I don’t think we can do that. I’ll talk to Central Command.’ And of course Central Command came back and said, ‘Oh no, that’s too difficult.’” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] US Central Command chief General Anthony Zinni is considered the chief opponent to the “boots on the ground” idea. [Washington Post, 10/2/2002] Clinton orders “formal planning for a mission to capture the al-Qaeda leadership.” Reports are contradictory, but some claim Clinton was told such plans were drawn up when in fact they were not. [Time, 8/12/2002; Washington Post, 10/2/2002] In any event, no such plans are implemented.
According to US intelligence sources, Farouk Hijazi, the Iraqi ambassador to Turkey, visits Afghanistan in late 1998 after US cruise missiles are fired on al-Qaeda training camps following the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Hijazi, who is also a longtime intelligence officer, meets Osama bin Laden in Kandahar and extends an offer from Baghdad to provide refuge for him and Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Bin Laden reportedly rejects the offer because he doesn’t want his organization dominated by Saddam Hussein. After the 9/11 attacks, proponents of invading Iraq will claim the visit makes Hijazi a key link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Hijazi will be captured by US troops in late April 2003 after the US/British invasion of Iraq begins. [Guardian, 2/16/1999; Associated Press, 9/27/2001; Knight Ridder, 10/7/2002; Associated Press, 4/25/2003; Associated Press, 7/13/2003] However, in 2006, a bipartisan Senate report will conclude that Hijazi did meet with bin Laden, but in 1995, not 1998 (see Early 1995).
A joint project team run by the CIA and NSA slips into Afghanistan and places listening devices within range of al-Qaeda’s tactical radios. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001]
CIA already has a network of local agents in Afghanistan by this time (see 1997). However, in this year there is a serious effort to increase the network throughout Afghanistan and other countries for the purpose of capturing bin Laden and his deputies. [United Press International, 10/17/2002] Many are put on the CIA’s payroll, including some Taliban military leaders. Many veterans of the Soviet war in the 1980s who worked with the CIA then are recruited again. All of these recuitments are kept secret from Pakistani intelligence because of their support of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. [Coll, 2004, pp. 491-492] CIA Director George Tenet will later state that by 9/11, “a map would show that these collection programs and human networks were in place in such numbers to nearly cover Afghanistan. This array means that, when the military campaign to topple the Taliban and destroy al-Qaeda [begins in October 2001], we [are] able to support it with an enormous body of information and a large stable of assets.” [US Congress, 10/17/2002] However, apparently none of these sources are close enough to bin Laden to know about his movements in advance. [Coll, 2004, pp. 491-492]
A group of Abu Sayyaf militants photographed on July 16, 2000. [Source: Associated Press]In the book “Dollars for Terror” published this year, investigative journalist Richard Labeviere claims that the Philippine drug trade is worth billions of dollars a year and that Muslim militants connected to al-Qaeda have a role in it. “Admittedly, the Islamists do not control all of these flows, but the Abu Sayyaf group plays a big part. Its mercenaries look after the protection of transport and the shipping of cargoes via jungle airports in the [southern Philippines.] By the same air channels, and also by sea, weapons are delivered for the group’s combat unit. This supply chain is managed by Pakistani intermediaries who are trained directly in the Afghan camps around Peshawar” in Pakistan. He does not give his source for this information. [Labeviere, 1999, pp. 365] Perhaps not coincidentally, a Pakistani believed to be connected to the drug trade is suspected of helping to fund the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), which was planned in the Philippines with the help of the Abu Sayyaf (see December 1994-April 1995). Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer, is said to use his network to ship weaponry to the Abu Sayyaf, though details have not been reported. Bout’s network also delivers weapons to the Taliban (see Mid-1996-October 2001). [New York Times, 2/27/2002; Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College, 9/1/2005 ] There are many reports on the Abu Sayyaf’s involvement with illegal drugs. For instance, in 2002 a Philippine newspaper will note that the region dominated by Abu Sayyaf has become such a notorious drug center that it is sometimes nicknamed “Little Colombia.” [Manila Times, 3/13/2002]
FBI Minneapolis agent Harry Samit learns that an unnamed man plans to travel from the US to Afghanistan to train militants there, and that one of his relatives has applied to join the Minnesota National Guard. Samit wants to run a check on him and notify the National Guard, as he is worried because guardsmen have access to local airports. However, he is blocked for several months by Michael Maltbie, an agent in the Radical Fundamentalist Unit at FBI headquarters, who becomes “extremely agitated” and says this is “just the sort of thing that would get the FBI into trouble.” [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 3/21/2006; Knight Ridder, 3/21/2006; Hearst Newspapers, 3/21/2006] Samit and Maltbie will later have another running disagreement over the Zacarias Moussaoui case (see August 15-September 10, 2001, August 20-September 11, 2001, August 27, 2001, and August 28, 2001).
Saeed Sheikh, imprisoned in India from 1994 to December 1999 for kidnapping Britons and Americans, meets with a British official and a lawyer nine times while in prison. Supposedly, the visits are to check on his living conditions, since he is a British citizen. [Los Angeles Times, 2/8/2002] However, the London Times will later claim that British intelligence secretly offers amnesty and the ability to “live in London a free man” if he will reveal his links to al-Qaeda. The Times claims that he refuses the offer. [Daily Mail, 7/16/2002; London Times, 7/16/2002] Yet after he is rescued in a hostage swap deal in December, the press reports that he, in fact, is freely able to return to Britain. [Press Trust of India, 1/3/2000] He visits his parents there in 2000 and again in early 2001 and is alleged to wire money to the 9/11 hijackers during this period (see Early August 2001). [BBC, 7/16/2002; Daily Telegraph, 7/16/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002] He is not charged with kidnapping until well after 9/11. Saeed’s kidnap victims call the government’s decision not to try him a “disgrace” and “scandalous.” [Press Trust of India, 1/3/2000] The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review later suggests that not only is Saeed closely tied to both the ISI and al-Qaeda, but may also have been working for the CIA: “There are many in [Pakistani President] Musharraf’s government who believe that Saeed Sheikh’s power comes not from the ISI, but from his connections with our own CIA. The theory is that… Saeed Sheikh was bought and paid for.” [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002]
The Vienna, Virginia, house where Waleed Alshehri and Ahmed Alghamdi lived. [Source: Paul Sperry]Diane and John Albritton later say they call the CIA and police several times this year to report suspicious activity at a neighbor’s home, but authorities fail to respond. [New York Daily News, 9/15/2001; MSNBC, 9/23/2001] A man named Waleed Alshehri, allegedly one of the 9/11 hijackers, is renting the house on Orrin Street in Vienna, Virginia, at the time (three blocks from a CIA facility). [Associated Press, 9/15/2001] He makes his neighbors nervous. “There were always people coming and going,” said Diane Albritton. “Arabic people. Some of them never uttered a word; I don’t know if they spoke English. But they looked very focused. We thought they might be dealing drugs, or illegal immigrants.” [New York Times, 9/15/2001] A man named Ahmed Alghamdi, allegedly another one of the hijackers, lived at the same address until July 2000. [WorldNetDaily, 9/14/2001; Fox News, 6/6/2002] Shortly after 9/11, it was reported that Waleed Alshehri lived with Ahmed Alghamdi in Florida for seven months in 1997. [Daily Telegraph, 9/20/2001] Albritton says they observed a van parked outside the home at all hours of the day and night. A Middle Eastern man appeared to be monitoring a scanner or radio inside the van. Another neighbor says, “We thought it was a drug house. All the cars parked on the street were new BMWs, new Mercedes. People were always walking around out front with cell phones.” There were frequent wild parties, numerous complaints to authorities, and even a police report about a woman shooting a gun into the air during a party. [WorldNetDaily, 9/14/2001] Other neighbors also called the police about the house. [Associated Press, 9/14/2001] “Critics say [the case] could have made a difference [in stopping 9/11] had it been handled differently.” Standard procedures require the CIA to notify the FBI of such domestic information. However, FBI officials have not been able to find any record that the CIA shared the information. [Fox News, 6/6/2002] FBI Director Mueller has said “the hijackers did all they could to stay below our radar.” [US Congress, 5/8/2002] Although Fox News, based on information from the CIA and FBI, will still be reporting that these two men are the hijackers of the same name in the summer of 2002, the 9/11 Commission will say that these two hijackers first entered the US in the spring of 2001 (see April 23-June 29, 2001). [Fox News, 6/6/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 527-8]
The FBI receives reports that a militant organization is planning to send students to the US for aviation training. The organization’s name remains classified, but apparently it is a different organization than one mentioned in a very similar warning the year before (see After May 15, 1998). The purpose of this training is unknown, but the organization viewed the plan as “particularly important” and it approved open-ended funding for it. The Counterterrorism Section at FBI headquarters issues a notice instructing 24 field offices to pay close attention to Islamic students from the target country engaged in aviation training. Ken Williams’s squad at the Phoenix FBI office receives this notice, although Williams does not recall reading it. Williams will later write his “Phoenix memo” on this very topic in July 2001 (see July 10, 2001). The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry later will conclude, “There is no indication that field offices conducted any investigation after receiving the communication.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003] However, an analyst at FBI headquarters conducts a study and determines that each year there are about 600 Middle Eastern students attending the slightly over 1,000 US flight schools. [New York Times, 5/4/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003] In November 2000, a notice will be issued to the field offices, stating that it has uncovered no indication that the militant group is recruiting students. Apparently, Williams will not see this notice either. [US Congress, 7/24/2003]
Journalist Seymour Hersh will write in the New Yorker in 2002, “In the late nineteen-nineties, the CIA obtained reliable information indicating that an al-Qaeda network based in northern Germany had penetrated airport security in Amsterdam and was planning to attack American passenger planes by planting bombs in the cargo, a former security official told me.” The CIA, working with German police, stage a series of successful preemptive raids and foil the plot. The former official says, “The Germans rousted a lot of people.” The CIA and FAA work closely together and “the incident was kept secret.” [New Yorker, 5/27/2002] Nothing has been revealed about this incident except for the short mention in the New Yorker, but it would seem probable that there would have been some connection to the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell involved in 9/11, since it seems to be the primary al-Qaeda cell in northern Germany. The cell had connections to other al-Qaeda cells in Germany and Europe, and some of the Hamburg hijackers even held a mysterious meeting in Amsterdam in 1999 (see Mid-June 1999). But what opportunities the CIA and German government may have had to learn about the Hamburg cell while foiling this plot is not known.
Now living in Saudi Arabia, bin Laden’s brother-in-law Mohammed Jamal Khalifa keeps in contact with charity fronts and militant groups he helped to organize. According to a Philippines police report, he maintains contact with:
Leaders of the Philippine militant groups Abu Sayyaf and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Abdul Salam Zubair, who was a key employee in the IRIC (International Relations and Information Center), a charity front used in the Bojinka plot (see Spring 1995). By this time, Zubair is working with Khalifa Trading Industries in Manila with other Khalifa associates.
The staff of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) in the Philippines. Many of its staffers, including its Philippines coordinator, are also believed to be Hamas operatives. The US will designate the chapter a terrorist financier in 2006 (see August 3, 2006).
Ibrahim Mata, the head of Islamic Studies, Call and Guidance (ISCAG), in the Philippines.
- - The Philippine chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 194]
The Benevolence International Foundation (BIF). In a post-9/11 trial in the US, US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald will allege that the Illinois office of BIF calls Khalifa in Saudi Arabia as recently as November 19, 1998. [USA v. Benevolence International Foundation and Enaam M. Arnaout, 4/29/2002, pp. 14, 21-22 ] The US will officially designate BIF a terrorism financier in 2002. Khalifa also still visits the Philippines periodically (see Late 1995-September 11, 2001).
Entity Tags: International Relations and Information Center, Benevolence International Foundation, Abu Sayyaf, Abdul Salam Zubair, Hamas, International Islamic Relief Organization, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Muslim Brotherhood, Khalifa Trading Industries, Islamic Studies, Call and Guidance, Ibrahim Mata
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Ahmed al-Hada, an operative who runs a communications hub for al-Qaeda in Yemen, travels to Afghanistan and attends a banquet, where, US intelligence learns, he sits next to Osama bin Laden. The communications hub run by al-Hada, who fought in the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, helped coordinate the East African embassy bombings and has been under heavy surveillance by the NSA and other US agencies since at least late 1998 (see Late August 1998). [Newsweek, 2/18/2002]
Rita Katz, a researcher at The Investigative Project on Terrorism, discovers a book called The Arab Volunteers in Afghanistan. Published in Arabic in 1991, the book is very obscure. The 9/11 Commission will later say the book contains “a particularly useful insight into the evolution of al-Qaeda—written by an early bin Laden associate, Adel Batterjee, under a pseudonym.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 467] Katz discovers that Batterjee was close acquaintances with Osama bin Laden and that the book describes bin Laden’s career and that of many others during the 1980s war in Afghanistan in great detail. She will later call the book “practically the ‘Who’s Who of al-Qaeda’” because so many people described in it went on to become important al-Qaeda figures. The book discusses:
Adel Batterjee, the author of the book and a Saudi millionaire. He helped found the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF). The US will declare him a terrorism financier in 2004.
Wael Hamza Julaidan, a Saudi multimillionaire. The US will designate him a terrorism financier in 2002 (see September 6, 2002).
Enaam Arnaout. He runs the US headquarters of BIF from 1993 until late 2001, when the US will shut BIF down.
Mohammed Loay Bayazid, a US citizen. He is a founding member of al-Qaeda and worked in the US for BIF until 1998.
Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law. He is tied to the Bojinka plot and numerous militant charity fronts.
Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi (the book mentions him by his alias, Abu Talha). Considered al-Qaeda’s main financier of cells in Europe, he will be arrested a few months after 9/11 (see April 23, 2002).
Wali Khan Amin Shah, one of the Bojinka plotters. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 468]
Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, an al-Qaeda leader involved in the 1998 African embassy bombings who will be arrested in Germany in 1998 (see September 16, 1998). [National Review, 10/28/2002]
Katz says that “many, many others” are mentioned. “Many others mentioned in the book decorate the FBI’s ‘most wanted’ lists.… There was nothing like [the] book to put everything in order, organize loose bits of information, and clear parts that were obscure to me (and to everyone else.)” Katz has connections in the US government, so she calls the White House and tries to convey the importance of the book’s information. She repeatedly sends them translations of important sections. However, she sees very little interest in the book. After 9/11, she will get a call from the Justice Department, finally expressing interest. Katz will later comment, “The government took interest in the book only after 9/11, two years after I’d first discovered it and offered it to them. No wonder that government agents told me I knew more about al-Qaeda than they did.”
Entity Tags: Wali Khan Amin Shah, White House, Rita Katz, Osama bin Laden, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Adel Abdul Jalil Batterjee, Al-Qaeda, Enaam Arnaout, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi, Mohammed Loay Bayazid, Wael Hamza Julaidan
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
MI6 headquarters in London. [Source: Cryptome]MI6, the British intelligence agency, gives a secret report to liaison staff at the US embassy in London. The reports states that al-Qaeda has plans to use “commercial aircraft” in “unconventional ways,”
“possibly as flying bombs.” [Sunday Times (London), 6/9/2002]
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. [Source: UAE Government]Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, United Arab Emirates (UAE) Defense Minister and Crown Prince for the emirate of Dubai, allegedly goes bird hunting with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Bin Laden is already widely considered to have approved the bombing of two US embassies in Africa the year before (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001; Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 120-121] In early February 1999, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke meets with Al Maktoum in the UAE and gets him to agree to work with the US to get bin Laden. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 486] Al Maktoum is known to love bird hunting, as do many other UAE royals (see 1995-2001). The US calls off an attack on bin Laden in 1999 because he is bird hunting with UAE royals at the time (see February 11, 1999). Al Maktoum hunts in Afghanistan several times in 1998 and 1999, but is only known to hunt with bin Laden once. He is so impressed by the Taliban that in 1999 he suspends all landing fees for Ariana Airlines, the Afghanistan national airline which has been effectively taken over by the Taliban and al-Qaeda by this time (see Mid-1996-October 2001). His father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, ruler of the UAE, also hunts in Afghanistan around this time, but there are no reports of him hunting with bin Laden. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001; Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 120-121] In 2006, Al Maktoum will become the Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE, and the ruler of the emirate of Dubai. In 2007, his wealth will be estimated at $16 billion. [Forbes, 8/30/2007] As ruler of Dubai, he and his family have 100% ownership and control of DP World, a UAE company that will be the subject of controversy when it attempts to purchase some US port facilities in 2006. [Newsweek International, 3/16/2006]
Mohamedou Ould Slahi. [Source: WDR.de]The 9/11 Commission will later call Mohamedou Ould Slahi “a significant al-Qaeda operative who, even [in late 1999], was well known to US and German intelligence, though neither government apparently knew he was operating in Germany.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 165]
Thinks He Was Monitored - However, while in US custody after 9/11, Slahi will allege that a phone call he received in January 1999 from his cousin Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid, a top al-Qaeda leader living in Afghanistan, was monitored. Slahi will say, “I later learned that my cousin was using Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone that was intercepted.” Another mutual cousin was arrested that month and Slahi says, “I wasn’t captured, but I am sure I was followed by the German police [and/or] German intelligence.” He claims the imam at his mosque told him that German officials had come to ask questions about him and was told Slahi had ties with terrorists. [US Department of Defense, 4/20/2006, pp. 184-216] In 2000, the New York Times will report that German authorities became interested in Slahi “shortly after the bombings of American Embassies in East Africa in 1998. The German authorities learned that [he] might have ties to Islamic extremists in Europe.” [New York Times, 1/29/2000]
Links to 9/11 Hijackers - After Hamburg al-Qaeda cell member Ramzi bin al-Shibh is captured in 2002, he will allegedly claim that Slahi was the one who originally recruited 9/11 hijackers Marwan Alshehhi and Ziad Jarrah. [Agence France-Presse, 10/26/2002] After 9/11, another prisoner in US custody will say that Slahi and bin al-Shibh met in Frankfurt in 1999 through an acquaintance. This acquaintance will go further and will claim Slahi knew bin al-Shibh and Jarrah since at least 1998 and that Slahi later lived with them in Hamburg. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 496] In October 1999, bin al-Shibh and Alshehhi call Slahi, and he invites them to come to where he lives in Duisburg, Germany. Bin al-Shibh, Alshehhi, and Ziad Jarrah soon go visit him there. Karim Mehdi, an apparent leader of the al-Qaeda Ruhr Valley cell who will later be sentenced to nine years in prison for a post-9/11 plot, is also at this meeting. Bin al-Shibh, Alsehhi, and Jarrah follow Slahi’s advice to go to Afghanistan instead of Chechnya, and he gives them instructions on how to meet up with al-Qaeda operatives there. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 165; Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg), 8/3/2005; Associated Press, 10/26/2006] US investigators later believe Slahi worked closely on al-Qaeda matters with bin al-Shibh and instructed another militant to go to the US and to take part in the 9/11 plot. Additionally, he is believed to have a key role in Ahmed Ressam’s millennium plot (see December 15-31, 1999). [Los Angeles Times, 4/24/2006]
No Action - German authorities are monitoring and wiretapping the phones at bin al-Shibh’s apartment throughout 1999 (see November 1, 1998-February 2001 and 2000), but they apparently do not connect Slahi to the Hamburg militants or do not act on that connection. The Germans will apparently miss another chance to learn of his ties to the Hamburg cell in April 2000, when Slahi is arrested for three weeks in Germany and then let go (see January-April 2000). [US Department of Defense, 4/20/2006, pp. 184-216] Note that the testimonies of detainees such as Slahi and bin al-Shibh are suspect due to widespread allegations that they were tortured into confessions (for instance, see September 27, 2001).
Dan Benjamin and Steve Simon, director and senior director of the National Security Council’s counterterrorism team, review some old intelligence files and learn that Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda’s number two leader, had done fundraising in the US a few years earlier (see Spring 1993)
(see Late 1994 or 1995). They call FBI agents Michael Rolince and Steve Jennings to a meeting at the White House. Benjamin will recall, “We said to them: ‘This is incredible. Al-Zawahiri was here. He must have been fundraising, he had to have handlers. What can you tell us?’ And [one of them] said, ‘We got it covered. Don’t worry about it.’ And it was a blow-off.” Only later do Benjamin and Simon learn that one of al-Zawahiri’s hosts had been Ali Mohamed, even though Mohamed is already in US custody and his arrest had been front page news by the time the White House meeting took place. The FBI still fails to pursue the connection and rejects an offer of new authority to monitor activity in radical mosques. [New York Times, 10/30/1998; CBS News, 10/2/2002; Washington Post, 10/2/2002; Benjamin and Simon, 2005, pp. 306-307, 465]
9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) “repeatedly” visits 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and others in the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. [Associated Press, 8/24/2002] US and German officials say a number of sources place KSM at Atta’s Hamburg apartment, although when he visits, or who he visits while he is there, is unclear. [Los Angeles Times, 6/6/2002; New York Times, 11/4/2002] However, it would be logical to conclude that he visits Atta’s housemate Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, since investigators believe he is the “key contact between the pilots” and KSM. [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2003] KSM is living elsewhere in Germany at the time. [New York Times, 9/22/2002] German intelligence monitors the apartment in 1999 but apparently does not notice KSM. US investigators have been searching for Mohammed since 1996, but apparently never tell the Germans what they know about him. [New York Times, 11/4/2002] Even after 9/11, German investigators will complain that US investigators do not tell them what they know about KSM living in Germany until they read it in the newspapers in June 2002. [New York Times, 6/11/2002]
Mohamed Atta with a beard. [Source: FBI]This year, future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta is regularly attending Islamic study group meetings led by a fellow Hamburg student named Mohammed bin Nasser Belfas. By this time, Atta and most of the rest of the group have replaced their Western jeans and clean-shaven faces with long beards and tunics. After one of these meetings, Atta asks to privately see Volker Harum Bruhn, an ethnic German who is also a member of the group. Bruhn says that Atta strongly warns him to stay away from Islamic extremists, to follow the Koran strictly, and live a careful life. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Knight Ridder, 9/9/2002]
German intelligence passes information about Mohammed Haydar Zammar to the CIA. Zammar is a member of al-Qaeda’s cell in Hamburg, Germany, which includes a few of the future 9/11 hijackers. According to a 2005 Der Spiegel article, the CIA has its own undercover agent in Hamburg, because it is “concerned that Hamburg could be developing into a launching pad for volunteers being sent to Afghanistan to support bin Laden in his cause.” Because of this German intelligence, Zammar makes it “onto the Americans’ internal most-wanted list.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 11/21/2005] It is not known exactly when in 1999 Germany gives this information to the CIA, but it gives information on one of the 9/11 hijackers in Hamburg to the CIA in March 1999 (see March 1999). Ironically, around the summer of 1999, the CIA learns that Zammar is in direct contact with a senior al-Qaeda operational coordinator, but it fails to tell German intelligence about this (see Summer 1999).
Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta tries, unsuccessfully, to sell artifacts from Afghanistan. At some time this year, Atta contacts an unidentified archaeologist at the University of Göttingen in Germany and offers to sell him Afghan artifacts. He says he needs to sell them to raise money for flying lessons in the United States. But the archaeologist declines his offer. The archeologist will later tell the German secret service about the incident. [Blouin Artinfo, 1/28/2010; Art Newspaper, 2/2010; National Geographic, 6/13/2014] Atta will spend time in Afghanistan in late 1999 and early 2000 (see Late November-Early December 1999 and January 18, 2000). [New York Times, 9/10/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 166-167] He will begin taking flying lessons in Florida in July 2000 (see July 6-December 19, 2000). [US Congress, 3/19/2002; St. Petersburg Times, 7/25/2004]
Radical British cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri sends an associate, James Ujaama, to the US to raise funds for his operations. Abu Hamza, an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), is linked to both Osama bin Laden (see March 1999 and Summer 2001) and the Islamic Army of Aden, a Yemeni al-Qaeda-affiliate (see December 23, 1998 and December 28-29, 1998). Ujaama, an American citizen, arrives in London in 1999 and soon becomes part of Abu Hamza’s inner circle. Between 1999 and 2002 Ujaama makes 11 trips back to the US. Allegedly, one of the trips is to raise money for Abu Hamza’s activities in Britain through a tour of US mosques. Another is an attempt to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon (see November 1999-Early 2000). Ujaama also travels to Afghanistan several times (see December 2000-December 2001), and may train at camps there. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 188]
Abdulaziz Alomari, from a video apparently made in spring 2001. [Source: As Sahab]Two of the alleged 9/11 hijackers, Abdulaziz Alomari and Ahmed Alnami, are apparently radicalized by the education system in Saudi Arabia. Abdulaziz Alomari is an Islamic law graduate (see Late 1990s) and serves as a prayer leader at his mosque. At university in Qassim Province, he studies under radical cleric Sulayman al-Alwan. The 9/11 Commission will say that al-Alwan’s mosque is “known among moderate clerics as a ‘terrorist factory.’ The Province is at the very heart of the strict Wahhabi movement in Saudi Arabia.” Al-Alwan is reportedly spiritual advisor to al-Qaeda logistics manager Abu Zubaida and is in telephone contact with Hamed al-Sulami, an associate of Hani Hanjour (see July 10, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 232-3, 521] Ahmed Alnami leads a carefree life until 1999, but then becomes more pious after returning from a Saudi-government sponsored training camp, growing a beard and shunning his old friends. He reportedly sings the call to prayer at the al-Basra mosque in the city of Abha and, occasionally, another mosque in Khamis Mushayt, a nearby town where some of the other hijackers live. [Arab News, 9/19/2001; Arab News, 9/20/2001; Boston Globe, 3/3/2002] He is also reported to be a prayer leader in Abha. [Washington Post, 9/25/2001; Independent, 9/27/2001; Saudi Information Agency, 9/11/2002] However, after 9/11 his father will say that he “practiced religion like most of us do.” [ABC News, 3/15/2002]
Ahmed Alghamdi. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]Under interrogation after 9/11, al-Qaeda manager Khallad bin Attash will indicate that some of the 9/11 hijackers try to get to the conflict in Chechnya from Turkey, but are not able to do so because the Turkey-Georgia border is closed. In Turkey, they stay in guesthouses in places such as Istanbul and Ankara. Turkish intelligence has been aware that militants often transit Turkey for some time, but there are no reports saying that the hijackers are monitored at this time (see 1996). The militants then decide to travel to Afghanistan and perhaps try to enter Chechnya again later. In this context bin Attash mentions the names of Saeed Alghamdi, Satam al Suqami, Waleed and Wail Alshehri, Abdulaziz Alomari, Ahmed Alnami, Hamza Alghamdi, Salem Alhazmi, and Majed Moqed. Ahmed Alghamdi and Saeed Alghamdi also have documentation suggesting travel to a Russian republic. However, the reliability of evidence obtained during the interrogations of figures like bin Attash is questionable due to the unreliable methods used to extract it (see June 16, 2004). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 233] Some of the lead hijackers transit Turkey (see Late November-Early December 1999). There are also reports that some of the hijackers tell family and friends in Saudi Arabia that they intend to fight in Chechnya, and it appears that some, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi, may actually see combat there (see 1996-December 2000).
Entity Tags: Waleed Alshehri, Khallad bin Attash, Turkish intelligence, Wail Alshehri, Satam Al Suqami, Saeed Alghamdi, Salem Alhazmi, Abdulaziz Alomari, Majed Moqed, Ahmed Alnami, Hamza Alghamdi, Ahmed Alghamdi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Feroz Abbasi, a Uganda-born British resident who has recently embraced Islam, begins to frequent the Finsbury Park mosque, which is headed by radical imam Abu Hamza. He joins Abu Hamza’s organization, the Supporters of Sharia, but is told he is not yet ready to go and fight in Chechnya. He is gradually given small tasks at the mosque, and, after proving himself loyal by performing these tasks, Abu Hamza arranges for him to travel to Afghanistan for training there. After the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Abbasi will nearly succeed in blowing himself up with two Northern Alliance soldiers (see December 2000-December 2001). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 203-208]
State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Michael Sheehan writes a memo calling for a new approach in containing bin Laden. He urges a series of actions the US could take toward Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen to persuade them to help isolate al-Qaeda. He calls Pakistan the key country and urges that terrorism be made the central issue with them. He advises the US to work with all these countries to curb money laundering. However, a former official says Sheehan’s plan lands “with a resounding thud.” Pakistan continues to “feign cooperation but [does] little” about its support for the Taliban. [New York Times, 10/29/2001]
Salem Alhazmi. [Source: FBI]As the NSA continues to monitor an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen run by hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s father-in-law (see Late August 1998), they find references to Almihdhar and the hijacker brothers, Salem and Nawaf Alhazmi. They also learn that Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi are long time friends. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] In early 1999, the NSA intercepts communications mentioning the full name “Nawaf Alhazmi.” However, this information is not disseminated to the intelligence community, as it apparently does not meet NSA reporting thresholds. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will say, “Those thresholds vary, depending on the judgement of the NSA analyst who is reviewing the intercept and the subject, location, and content of the intercept.” Another intelligence organisation intercepts the same or similar calls and reports this to the NSA. The Inquiry comments: “NSA’s practice was to review such reports and disseminate those responsive to US intelligence requirements. For an undetermined reason, NSA did not disseminate the […] report.” [Associated Press, 9/25/2002; US Congress, 10/17/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ] The NSA continues to intercept such calls and finds more information a few months later (see Summer 1999 and Late Summer 1999). Near the end of 1999, there will be additional intercepts that give Khalid Almihdhar’s full name and the first names of the other two (see Shortly Before December 29, 1999). But while the NSA will provide some information about these new intercepts to the CIA and other agencies, they will not go back to the earlier intercepts to figure out Nawaf’s full name and close connection to Almihdhar (see December 29, 1999).
Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will later claim that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) visits Hamburg at this time and meets with 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh. Together, they make plans to carry out the 9/11 attacks in the US. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. xxx] Other accounts claim KSM repeatedly visits Hamburg this year but do not definitively state who he meets (see 1999). The 9/11 Commission will later claim that the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell including Atta and bin al-Shibh will not be asked to join the 9/11 attacks until late 1999 in Afghanistan (see Between January and October 1999).
Gamal Abdel-Hafiz. [Source: Charles Ommanney]Gamal Abdel-Hafiz, one of only a few Muslim FBI agents in the years just prior to 9/11, becomes involved in FBI agent Robert Wright’s Vulgar Betrayal investigation in early 1999. An accountant working for BMI Inc., an investment firm with connections to many suspected terrorism financiers (see 1986-October 1999), tells Abdel-Hafiz that he is worried that BMI funds had helped fund the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). BMI president Soliman Biheiri hears that Abdel-Hafiz had been told about this, and wants to meet with him to discuss it (apparently without realizing that Abdel-Hafiz is an undercover FBI agent). Wrights asks Abdel-Hafiz to wear a wire to the meeting, but Abdel-Hafiz refuses to do so. This leads to infighting within the FBI. On July 6, 1999, Abdel-Hafiz files a religious discrimination complaint, accusing Wright of making derogatory comments to fellow agents. [Frontline, 10/16/2003] On March 21, 2000, Wright makes a formal internal complaint about Abdel-Hafiz. FBI agent Barry Carmody seconds Wright’s complaint. Wright and Carmody accuse Abdel-Hafiz of hindering investigations by openly refusing to record other Muslims. In an affidavit, Wright claims that Abdel-Hafiz refused to wear the wire “based on religious reasons saying, ‘A Muslim doesn’t record another Muslim.’” Abdel-Hafiz does not deny the quote, but claims it was taken out of context. [Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2002; ABC News, 12/19/2002; Frontline, 10/16/2003] Federal prosecutor Mark Flessner and other FBI agents back up the allegations against Abdel-Hafiz. [ABC News, 12/19/2002] Carmody will also claim that, in a different investigation, Abdel-Hafiz hindered an inquiry into the possible ties to Islamic militants of fired University of South Florida Professor Sami al-Arian by refusing to record a conversation with the professor in 1998. [Tampa Tribune, 3/4/2003] Complaints to superiors and headquarters about Abdel-Hafiz never get a response. [Fox News, 3/6/2003] “Far from being reprimanded, in February 2001 Abdel-Hafiz [is] promoted to one of the FBI’s most important anti-terrorism posts, the American Embassy in Saudi Arabia, to handle investigations for the FBI in that Muslim country.” [ABC News, 12/19/2002; Frontline, 10/16/2003] In 2003, FBI agent John Vincent will complain, “Five different FBI field divisions complained of this agent’s activities, and the FBI headquarters response was to promote him to a sensitive position in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.” [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003] Abdel-Hafiz will be suspended in February 2003 over charges that he faked a break-in of his own house in order to collect $25,000 in insurance benefits and then failed an FBI polygraph test when asked about it. In January 2004, the FBI’s Disciplinary Review Board will reinstate him after deciding there was insufficient evidence in the case. [Tampa Tribune, 3/4/2003; Frontline, 10/16/2003]
From left to right: Hashim Thaci, UCK leader; Bernard Kouchner, UN Administrator of Kosovo; Gen. Sir Michael Jackson, KFOR Commander; Agim Ceku, Commander of KLA; Gen. Wesley Clark, NATO Commander.
[Source: Vojin Joksimovich]General Agim Ceku retires his commission in the Croatian armed forces to take command of the KLA. Despite the fact that Ceku is an indicted war criminal (see 1993-1995), this move has the blessing of the US State Department. As head of the KLA, Ceku is viewed by NATO and presented in the mainstream media as a loyal and valuable NATO ally. He is a frequent participant in NATO briefings along with top generals such as Wesley Clark and Michael Jackson. [Taylor, 2002, pp. 164] Ceku will be elected prime minister of Kosovo in 2006 despite the still pending war crimes charges (see March 2006).
A group of eight Britons and two Algerians recently arrested in Yemen and accused of plotting a series of bombings (see December 23, 1998 and January 27, 1999) confesses to the plot. However, they will later claim the confessions were obtained by torture. Offered a deal in which they plead guilty to the charges and can then go home, they reject it and opt to be tried in Yemen. However, a condition of the deal was that they testify that leading British radical Abu Hamza al-Masri was behind the plot.
Shahid Butt, an associate of Abu Hamza, shouts as he arrives in court, “They are going to beat us and kill us for denying their ridiculous charges, so help us.” He also says they were starved of food, deprived of sleep, and given electric shocks with a cattle prod.
Mohsin Ghalain, Abu Hamza’s stepson, says that every time he tried to sleep on the concrete floor he was kicked awake to face more questioning. In addition, bottles were stuck into his rectum, he was given electric shocks, and a gun was held to his head. His legs, wrists and ankles are scarred.
Another defendant says he was sexually abused.
Malik Nasser points to bruises on his arms in court.
Some will describe “being trussed up like chickens” and suspended from a pole of wood for hours at a time.
At their trial, the Yemeni authorities will produce some evidence not obtained through torture, such as weapons they say were found on the plotters. In addition, they will find a video of Ghalain and Mostafa holding Kalashnikovs during a trip to Albania. Despite the apparent credibility of the allegations of torture, the British media and public will not show great interest in the case, thinking the defendants are actually guilty. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 177-182]
In the vicinity of Aracine, near the Macedonian capital, Skopje, National Liberation Army (NLA) guerrillas kill three Macedonian police. [Kola, 2003, pp. 377]
This unnamed Pakistani intelligence agent involved in the attempted weapons purchase was captured on undercover video in January 2001. [Source: Corbis]Dave Frasca, an FBI supervisor who will later play a key role in the FBI’s failure to get a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings before 9/11 (see August 21, 2001 and August 29, 2001), attempts to “derail” an investigation into radicals attempting to purchase weapons in the US, according to Randy Glass, a mole used in the operation. Glass, a former conman who poses as an arms dealer to help the FBI catch the radicals, will make the allegations in a May 2004 interview with the 9/11 Commission. According to Glass, Frasca, a supervisor at the FBI’s Miami office, hampers the operation in three ways. First, he rejects the idea of investigating the three men, Diaa Mohsen, Mohammed Malik, and RJ Abbas, the ISI intelligence agent, entirely. However, another FBI supervisor and an official from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) intervene to keep the case alive. Frasca also prevents two unnamed agents from tapping Mohsen’s telephone. According to a 9/11 Commission summary of Glass’s interview, “Mohsen was talking to everybody,” so presumably such electronic surveillance would have been very fruitful. Finally, Frasca attempts to “sabotage” the investigation by refusing to pay money promised to Glass so that he can buy a false passport from Mohsen. Glass will say that Frasca uses another, unnamed agent to “threaten” him over the passport purchase. The other agent tells Glass, “Frasca says that if you buy this passport, you will be charged with a crime.” However, an official apparently with another government agency tells Glass, “F_ck the FBI, go ahead and purchase the passport,” and Glass apparently does so. [9/11 Commission, 5/4/2004] Frasca will be promoted in 2001 (see Early 2001).
According to German investigations, by at least this time, the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell including Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Ziad Jarrah, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh has come up with the idea of attacking the US using airplanes. This theory is based on witness statements and the discovery by the German police of a flight simulator file on a computer used by the Hamburg cell that was downloaded between January and October 1999. [Washington Post, 9/11/2002; Burke, 2004, pp. 244] Both Atta and Alshehhi start taking lessons on ultralight aircraft this year (see April 1999, October 1999, and December 1999). Some suggest they first joined the 9/11 plot in early 1999 (see Early 1999). However, the 9/11 Commission claims that the 9/11 plot was hatched by al-Qaeda’s leadership and was communicated to the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell in Afghanistan in December 1999. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 165-169]
Members of the Laskar Jihad militia at a public rally. [Source: Associated Press]Beginning in January 1999, violence starts to rage in the Maluku islands (also known as the Spice Islands) in Indonesia. Christian and Muslim villages are intermingled all over the Malukus, and the different religions have largely coexisted peacefully in about equal numbers for hundreds of years. It is not clear who is behind the new violence, but long-time Indonesian dictator Suharto was deposed the year before, overturning the political order. In January 2000, a paramilitary organization called Laskar Jihad is founded on the Indonesian island of Java. [Conboy, 2003, pp. 236] The group grew out of a militia created a couple of years earlier by an Indonesian military general. [Asia Times, 11/7/2002]
Militants Not Stopped from Fighting - Its leader, Jafar Umar Thalib, had fought in Afghanistan in the late 1980s and met Osama bin Laden there. In early April 2000, Thalib meets with Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid and warns that his group will get active in the Malukus if Wahid does not do more to help Muslims there. Wahid angrily dismisses him as a dangerous fanatic. In May 2000, 3,000 members recruited in Java depart for the Malukus after weeks of training. Even though they had announced in advance that they were going to the Malukus to fight Christians, the government makes no attempt to stop them. In fact, Wahid had ordered a naval blockade of the Malukus to prevent their arrival but the navy makes no effort to stop them, and they are even sent on government-owned ships. Their arrival in the Malukus greatly increases the violence there. After arriving in the Malukus, they receive considerable support and training from al-Qaeda linked figures (see Late 2000-Mid-2001). [Christian Science Monitor, 11/20/2000; Conboy, 2003, pp. 236; Contemporary Southeast Asia, 4/1/2007]
Indonesian Military Complicity - Lieutenant General Agus Wirahadikusuma, a reformist and ally of Wahid, accuses unnamed hardline officers of creating the group to destabilize Indonesia. The Guardian will later comment, “While his claims were denied, they have since been proven correct.… [The military’s] connivance with radical Islamists appears to be encouraging increased public resentment about the civilian politicians’ inability to maintain law and order and stimulate economic recovery.” Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group, an international think tank, says, “If you scratch below the surface of any radical Islamic group in Indonesia you will find the hand of the military at work. And with many of them you don’t really have to go beneath the surface.” [Guardian, 10/15/2002] The International Crisis Group, an international think tank, reports in late 2001 that the “conclusion is unavoidable that [Laskar Jihad] received the backing of elements in the military and police. It was obviously military officers who provided them with military training and neither the military nor the police made any serious effort to carry out the president’s order preventing them from going to Maluku. And, once in Maluku, they often obtained standard military arms and on several occasions were openly backed by military personnel and indeed units.” [International Crisis Group, 10/10/2001] The US ambassador to Indonesia, Larry Gelbard, will later complain that the “only time an Army general acted firmly against an indigenous terrorist group, Laskar Jihad, it resulted in his removal from his command, a powerful lesson to others.” [Human Rights Watch, 12/2002]
Indonesian President Unable to Stop the Group - Wahid complains that elements of the armed forces are trying to foment instability to create an authoritarian backlash, but he seems unable to stop the violence. [Christian Science Monitor, 11/20/2000] About 10,000 people are killed and 500,000 are driven from their homes. The violence largely coincides with the time Wahid is president of Indonesia, from 1999 to 2001. Wahid is attempting to rein in the military and reduce its role in politics. There is a surge of violence there just before Wahid is impeached, on July 23, 2001. His successor, Megawati Sukarnoputri, is much less antagonistic towards the military, and the situation in the Malukus calms down considerably. The last major outbreak of violence there takes place in February 2002. UPI will later comment, “While the army as such is usually not present in overwhelming numbers in Ambon, it is quite easy for well-connected politicians and generals in Jakarta to set off violence there if they really want to.” [United Press International, 4/26/2004]
Group Continues to Fight Elsewhere - Laskar Jihad will officially disband one day before the 2002 Bali bombings, but in fact apparently continues to operate in remote regions in Indonesia (see October 11-14, 2002).
Saeed Alghamdi. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]The names of four hijackers are later discovered in Philippines immigration records. However, whether these are the hijackers or just other Saudis with the same names has not been confirmed.
Abdulaziz Alomari visits the Philippines once in 2000, then again in February 2001, leaving on February 12. [Associated Press, 9/19/2001; Philippines Inquirer, 9/19/2001; Daily Telegraph, 9/20/2001]
Ahmed Alghamdi visits Manila, Philippines, more than 13 times, starting in 1999. He leaves the Philippines the day before the attacks. [Daily Telegraph, 9/20/2001; Arizona Daily Star, 9/28/2001; Filipino Reporter, 10/11/2001]
Fayez Ahmed Banihammad visits the Philippines on October 17-19, 2000. [Daily Telegraph, 9/20/2001; Arizona Daily Star, 9/28/2001]
Saeed Alghamdi visits the Philippines on at least 15 occasions in 2001, entering as a tourist. The last visit ends on August 6, 2001. [Daily Telegraph, 9/20/2001]
Hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi were seen Philippines several times, the last time in December 1999 (see December 1999). 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed occasionally stays there as well (see September 1998-January 1999). Nothing more has been heard to confirm or deny the hijackers’ Philippines connections since these reports.
The trial of Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, leader of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic Army of Aden, begins. Almihdhar is on trial in connection with a bombing plot that some of his alleged operatives failed to carry off (see December 23, 1998) and a kidnapping he carried out in an attempt to get them freed (see December 28-29, 1998). The trial, which the authorities had predicted would last a mere 48 hours, drags on for months and Almihdhar turns it into a public relations exercise for himself. He is tried along with two other men; 11 more are tried in absentia.
Apparent Admissions - Upon arrival, Almihdhar breaks free from the guards and shouts an apparent admission: “I did everything in the name of God so I am sorry for nothing. I am very famous now, but let everyone know I only gave orders to kill the men not the women [during the kidnapping].” Upon entering the court, according to authors Daniel McGrory and Sean O’Neill, he “shrug[s] off his escort and swagger[s] into the wooden dock like a prize fighter entering the ring.” Asked if he feels remorse for one of the female victims being buried today, he says he does not, adding that neither is he concerned about her husband, who escaped: “If my pistol had not jammed he would be dead as well.” He also comments, “If I live I will kill some more.”
'More to Call On' - After the judge manages to persuade Almihdhar to listen to the charges he faces, he first denies knowing the operatives involved in the bombing plot, then turns to the public gallery and says he is angry they failed in their mission. He adds: “Don’t worry, others will come behind them. I have more to call on.”
Link to Abu Hamza - Much of the trial is focused on British radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who the Yemenis say is behind terror operations in Yemen. O’Neill and McGrory will write that Abu Hamza’s “spectre” hangs over the proceedings and that “[h]is name crop[s] up at every session, with prosecutors labouring the point that the real villain was not in the dock, only his footsoldiers.” Asked about his link to Abu Hamza, Almihdhar says: “He knows me, because I am very famous. Hamza takes orders from me. I don’t take them from him.”
Confession - He gives his profession as “a mujaheddin warrior working in the cause of God,” and then immediately launches into what McGrory and O’Neill call a 45-minute “harangue,” during which he reveals details of how he planned and carried out the kidnapping.
Sentenced to Death - Almihdhar will be sentenced to death at the end of the trial on May 5. The sentence will reportedly be carried out in October 1999, although some will suggest Almihdhar is not actually executed (see October 17, 1999). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 173-176, 183]
The Greek press reports that Afghan mujaheddin are entering Albania in large numbers. Osama bin Laden is named as one of those who have organized groups to fight in Kosovo to fight alongside the Albanians. According to the Arab-language news service Al-Hayat, an Albanian commander in Kosovo code named Monia is directly linked to bin Laden, and commands a force that includes at least 100 mujaheddin. An Interpol report released on October 23, 2001 also reveals that a senior bin Laden associate led an elite KLA fighting unit in Kosovo. According to the report, bin Laden also maintained extensive ties with the Albanian mafia. [Ottawa Citizen, 12/15/2001]
Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading London-based radical cleric and informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), calls for the overthrow of the government of Yemen, headed by President Ali Abdallah Saleh. This is part of a war of words after Yemen arrested Abu Hamza’s stepson and some other associates (see December 23, 1998) for allegedly planning attacks in Yemen. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 181]
Marwan Alshehhi. This picture is taken from his US visa. [Source: FBI]German intelligence is tapping the telephone of al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Haydar Zammar, and on this date, Zammar gets a call from a “Marwan.” This is later found to be future 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi. Marwan talks about mundane things, like his studies in Bonn, Germany, and promises to come to Hamburg in a few months. German investigators trace the telephone number and determine the call came from a mobile phone registered in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ; Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg), 8/13/2003; New York Times, 2/24/2004] Although the call is short and seemingly innocuous, according to Vanity Fair, some “parts of the conversation seemed redolent of some kind of conspiratorial code.” For instance, at one point, Alshehhi says, “I’ve heard your mother died.” Zammar replies: “Yes, she passed on. She left me alone.” Alshehhi then asks: “But your father didn’t travel with you? I’ve seen him here.” Zammar answers, “No, my father is here.” Regarding whether or not it actually is code, a senior German official will later say: “Our desk officer had a certain feeling about that call.… You can say it was his nose—not that there was any single statement, but he had a feeling that there could be more behind it.” The desk officer writes a report about the call. Then, about a month later, the BfV (German domestic intelligence) will contact the CIA and ask for more information about men from the UAE named Marwan, and for help in tracing the phone number (see March 1999). [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
Hashim Salamat. [Source: BBC]Western intelligence monitors a series of phone calls in which bin Laden asks the leader of a Philippine militant group to set up more training camps that al-Qaeda can use. Bin Laden is said to call Hashim Salamat, the leader of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). There are reports that al-Qaeda started funding and using MILF training camps in 1995. But apparently bin Laden successfully asks for more camps because the movement of militants into Afghanistan has grown increasingly difficult since the African embassy bombings in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). [CNS News, 9/19/2002; CNN, 10/28/2002; Asia Times, 10/30/2003] The same month, Salamat claims in a BBC interview that the MILF has received money from bin Laden, but says that it has only been for humanitarian purposes. [New York Times, 2/11/1999; Asia Times, 10/30/2003]
The US apparently misses an opportunity to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. In a 2008 book, Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit until mid-1999, will list a number of missed opportunities to get bin Laden (see May 1998-May 1999). He will briefly mention a “military attack opportunity” at the governor’s residence in the Afghan town of Herat during this month. This is separate from an opportunity to get bin Laden at a bird hunting camp in the same month, which he also lists (see February 11, 1999). But nothing more is known about this opportunity and the 9/11 Commission will not mention it. [Scheuer, 2008, pp. 284]
Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical imam who informs for the British authorities (see Early 1997), tells a rally of Islamist extremists in London that they should attack aircraft over London, and shows them a plan for doing so. The scheme is called the “MUSLIM ANTI-AIRCRAFT NET,” and Abu Hamza explains it to his audience with the aid of a diagram on a sheet that drops down behind him when he starts to speak. Abu Hamza sets aside his usual style of whipping his listeners up into a frenzy, instead choosing to speak “like a college professor.” He tells them that the purpose of the net “is to make the skies very high-risk for anybody who flies.” The equipment consists of a series of wire nets, held in the air by gas-filled balloons. When an aircraft is caught in the net, one of the mines attached to it explodes, destroying the aircraft. The diagram contains an image of a US fighter diving into one of the traps. Abu Hamza concludes: “This is not very clever, but it will work. Now invent your own idea and never give up.” The meeting is attended by an unnamed informer for the French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), who is amazed by the plan. Abu Hamza has an agreement with the British authorities that he can pursue terrorist activities abroad, but that there should be no violence in Britain (see October 1, 1997). This would appear to be a breach of the agreement, and the informer thinks that if a fellow informer for the British police is present, action must be taken against Abu Hamza. However, nothing is done against Abu Hamza over the plan, which seems not to be implemented. The meeting is also attended by Omar Bakri Mohamed, who has a deal similar to Abu Hamza’s with the British authorities (see August 22, 1998) and is head of the Al-Muhajiroun organization. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 103-105]
Monitored al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Mohammed Haydar Zammar temporarily lives with future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and 9/11 hijacker associates Said Bahaji and Ramzi bin al-Shibh. They live in a four bedroom apartment at 54 Marienstrasse, in Hamburg, Germany (see November 1, 1998-February 2001). This is according to a September 2001 memo from the BfV (Germany’s domestic intelligence agency), so it may come from surveillance conducted before 9/11. It is not known why Zammar lives here at this time, since he has his own wife and family in Hamburg; nor is it known how many days he stays at the apartment. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Zammar is under surveillance by the BfV at this time (see March 1997-Early 2000), and he is likely under surveillance by the CIA as well (see Shortly After September 16, 1998 and Summer 1999).
In February 1999, Nabil al-Marabh moves to Tampa, Florida. He gets a Florida driver’s license and begins driving taxis in Tampa, just as he did previously in Boston. According to an apartment complex manager, from February 1999 to February 2000 he lives in an apartment with another Arab man with a different last name. Investigators later will wonder if al-Marabh was an advance man for the Florida-based 9/11 hijackers. Tampa is about 50 miles north of Venice, where several 9/11 hijacker pilots will attend flight schools beginning in July 2000 (see July 1-3, 2000). While immigration records indicate Mohamed Atta will first arrive in the US in June 2000, there is some evidence of him being in the US before then (see Late April-Mid-May 2000; April 2000), and he may arrive in Florida by September 1999 (see September 1999). [New York Times, 9/18/2001; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] Most of the information on al-Marabh’s taxi license application is fraudulent, including where he lived and worked from 1994 to 1999. [ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] In May 1999, a potential al-Qaeda sleeper agent named Ihab Ali Nawawi is arrested in Orlando, Florida, about 80 miles from Tampa. Nawawi had been working as a taxi driver and was in contact with top al-Qaeda leaders. While the similarity between him and al-Marabh is intriguing, there is no known reported connection in Florida between the two men (see May 18, 1999). In the early 1990s, both worked for the Pakistani branch of the Muslim World League, a charity with suspected terrorism ties (see 1989-1994). [St. Petersburg Times, 10/28/2001] Al-Marabh also apparently goes to Afghanistan some time in 1999 or early 2000. [Canadian Press, 10/11/2001]
FBI Director Louis Freeh, speaking of the possibility of future violence from radical-right militia groups, says: “With the coming of the next millennium, some religious/apocalyptic groups or individuals may turn to violence as they seek to achieve dramatic effects to fulfill their prophecies.… Many white supremacist groups adhere to the Christian Identity belief system (see 1960s and After), which holds that the world is on the verge of a final apocalyptic struggle… and teaches that the white race is the chosen race of God.” Some of these Christian Identity members will commit crimes to prepare for their anticipated Apocalypse, Freeh warns, and says that the US government, Jews, and non-whites are likely targets. [Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 5/30/2006] Freeh’s statement anticipates the FBI’s “Project Megiddo” report, which will focus on the possibility of a wave of domestic terrorism coinciding with the “end of the millennium” (see October 20, 1999).
The FBI’s Chicago office opens a full field investigation into the Illinois based Benevolence International Foundation (BIF), after one of its agents stumbled across links between BIF and radical militants while attending a conference. The CIA and FBI already have extensive evidence linking BIF to al-Qaeda from a variety of sources but how much of that is shared with the Chicago office after they start their investigation is unclear (see 1998). Chicago FBI agents begin looking through BIF’s trash and learn much, since BIF officials throw out their phone records and detailed reports without shredding them. They also cultivate a source who gives them some useful information about BIF, but apparently no smoking guns. But they run into many difficulties:
In the summer of 1999, the FBI sends a request to the Saudi government asking for information about Adel Batterjee, the founder of BIF, but they get no reply before 9/11.
In April 2000, they apply for a FISA warrant so they can conduct electronic surveillance, but it is not approved until after 9/11. It has not been explained why there was such a long delay.
They discover the bank account numbers of the BIF’s overseas offices and ask for help from other US intelligence agencies to trace the money, but they never hear back about this before 9/11.
They submit a request to an allied European country for information about European intelligence reports linking BIF executive director Enaam Arnaout to the kidnapping and murders of Americans in Kashmir in 1995. But they never even receive an acknowledgment that the request was received (see July 4, 1995).
A European intelligence agency invites the Chicago agents to a meeting to share information about BIF, but the agents are not allowed to go as their superiors say they cannot afford to send them. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 96-98 ]
BIF will not be shut down until shortly after 9/11 (see December 14, 2001).
The failure to strike at bin Laden in February 1999, despite having unusually good intelligence about his location (see February 11, 1999), causes strong resentment in the US intelligence community. It is believed that the US held its fire because of the presence of royalty from the United Arab Emirates(UAE), but some felt those royals were legitimate targets as well since they were associating with bin Laden there. Further, intelligence at the time suggests the planes carrying these royals to Afghanistan were also bringing weapons to the Taliban in defiance of United Nations bans. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit at the time, is particularly upset. He reportedly sends a series of e-mails to others in the CIA that are, in the opinion of one person who read them, “angry, unusual, and widely circulated.” His anger at this decision not to strike at bin Laden will apparently contribute to him losing his position leading the bin Laden unit a few months later (see June 1999). Some resentment is directed at counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who voted against the missile strike. Clarke was known to be close to the UAE’s royal family. He’d negotiated many arms deals and other arrangements with them, including an $8 billion deal in May 1998 to buy F-16 fighters from the US (see Early February 1999). [Coll, 2004, pp. 447-450] In March 1999, Clarke calls Emirati royals and asks them to stop visiting bin Laden. However, he apparently did not have permission from the CIA to make this call. Within one week, the camp where the Emiratis and bin Laden met is abandoned. CIA officers are irate, feeling that this ruined a chance to strike at bin Laden if he made a return visit to the location. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 138]
A classified Philippine military report claims bin Laden is funding Muslim militants in the Philippines through known charity fronts. Some of the charities include World Alliance of Muslim Youth (WAMY), the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), and the Islamic Wisdom Worldwide Mission (IWWM). WAMY has been under investigation for ties militant groups in a number of countries, including the US (see February-September 11, 1996). The other two organizations are said to be connected to Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law. All the charities are accused of passing money on to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a militant group in the southern Philippines. [New Straits Times, 2/15/1999] Between this time and 9/11, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf militant group will say in an interview that “the primary purpose of the IIRO is to help groups like us.” [Newsweek International, 10/22/2001] Also in February 1999, the head of the MILF admits to getting funds from bin Laden, but says they are for humanitarian purposes only (see February 1999). The charities remain open after the report. In 2002, Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari, the head of the IWWM, will be arrested and deported. It will come out that he was arrested and then let go in 1995 after being strongly suspected of involvement in the Bojinka plot (see June 1994). He also had protectors in the police and military who are IWWM directors. In 2002, one of them will admit to having helped prevent his deportation (see October 8-November 8, 2002). The US will not officially accuse the IIRO’s Philippine branch of funding al-Qaeda until 2006 (see August 3, 2006).
Said Bahaji, computer expert for the Hamburg cell. [Source: German Bavarian Police]German intelligence monitors a phone call in which the names of key members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell are mentioned. Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta’s full name and telephone number are even mentioned. German domestic intelligence (BfV) has been monitoring al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Haydar Zammar’s telephone (see March 1997-Early 2000). On this day, Zammar is not home, but his parents speak to each other on the phone and are trying to figure out where he is. One of them suggests that Zammar is at a meeting with “Mohamed, Ramzi, and Said,” and can be reached at the phone number of the Marienstrasse apartment where all three of them live. This refers to cell members Atta, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, and Said Bahaji. “Mounir”—cell member Mounir El Motassadeq—is mentioned as well. However, apparently German intelligence fails to grasp the importance of these names, even though Bahaji and El Motassadeq are also under investigation at this time (see August 29, 1998). The Marienstrasse apartment is the center of the cell’s activity (see November 1, 1998-February 2001). [Associated Press, 6/22/2002; New York Times, 1/18/2003; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 2/3/2003] Atta’s first and last name are mentioned in the phone call between Zammar’s parents. Agents check the Marienstrasse phone number, which they find is registered to Bahaji. They also confirm the street address, but it is not known what they make of the information. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 2/3/2003]
Myron Fuller is an FBI official in charge of several hundred FBI employees in the Asian region, including Pakistan and Afghanistan, and his primary job is to fight terrorism. According to journalist Seymour Hersh, Fuller’s team “had unraveled a great deal about the threat from Islamic militants by the spring of 1999, but that no one in Washington seems to be listening.” For instance, Fuller learned information from the CIA that revealed who was behind the killing of four US businessmen in Pakistan in 1997. According to Fuller, this information revealed “much more” than just the names of the killers, including “a country that supported the act. It was possibly the trail to the planning of September 11th.” But Fuller discovered the CIA had asked that this information should not be revealed to any field agents. Few details about Fuller’s account are known, so what link there may have been to 9/11 is not known. [Hersh, 2004, pp. 95]
In his 1999 book The New Jackals, journalist Simon Reeve will write: “According to some intelligence reports, bin Laden and al-Qaeda benefit [from] drug money because bin Laden is understood to have helped the Taliban arrange money-laundering facilities through the Russian and Chechen Mafia. One American intelligence source claims that bin Laden’s involvement in the establishment of new financial networks for drug distribution and sales has been pivotal, and that by the spring of 1999 bin Laden was taking a cut of between 2 and 10 percent from all Afghan drug sales.” [Reeve, 1999, pp. 208] Other reports suggest bin Laden is taking a cut of up to 10 percent by this time (see Late 1996).
Randy Glass is a con artist turned government informant participating in a sting called Operation Diamondback. [Palm Beach Post, 9/29/2001] He discusses an illegal weapons deal with an Egyptian-American named Mohamed el Amir. In wiretapped conversations, Mohamed discusses the need to get false papers to disguise a shipment of illegal weapons. His brother, Dr. Magdy el Amir, has been a wealthy neurologist in Jersey City for the past twenty years. Two other weapons dealers later convicted in a sting operation involving Glass also lived in Jersey City, and both el Amirs admit knowing one of them, Diaa Mohsen. Mohsen has been paid at least once by Dr. el Amir. In 1998, Congressman Ben Gilman was given a foreign intelligence report suggesting that Dr. el Amir owns an HMO that is secretly funded by Osama bin Laden, and that money is being skimmed from the HMO to fund al-Qaeda activities. The state of New Jersey later buys the HMO and determines that $15 million were unaccounted for and much of that has been diverted into hard-to-trace offshore bank accounts. However, investigators working with Glass are never given the report about Dr. el Amir. Neither el Amir has been charged with any crime. Mohamed now lives in Egypt and Magdy continues to practice medicine in New Jersey. Glass’s sting, which began in late 1998, will uncover many interesting leads before ending in June 2001. [MSNBC, 8/2/2002] Remarkably, Dr. Magdy el Amir’s lawyer is none other than Michael Chertoff, a prominent criminal defense lawyer in New Jersey, who will later join the Bush administration’s Justice Department as assistant attorney general in charge of the Criminal Division and then become homeland defense secretary. [New York Times, 12/18/1998; Bergen Record, 6/19/2000] After 9/11, Chertoff will play a leading role in investigating and prosecuting terrorist crimes, including terrorism financing through money laundering. [New Yorker, 11/5/2001] It seems that the only subsequent media reference to Chertoff’s involvement in the el Amir case will appear in an opinion column by Sidney Blumenthal, a strong critic of the Bush administration. [Salon, 12/22/2005]
Witney Schneidman. [Source: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars]In 1999, State Department official Witney Schneidman is collecting information on the many civil wars and conflicts raging in Africa. He notices that the name of Victor Bout, a Russian arms dealer, keeps popping up in many conflicts. Sometimes Bout is even supplying both sides of a civil war. In early summer 1999, an NSA official gives Schneidman a “drop dead” briefing about Bout, based mostly on communications intercepts the NSA has on him. Photos show dozens of airplanes parked in an airport in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, all of them owned by Bout. Schneidman begins mobilizing other officials. By early 2000, he and National Security Council adviser Lee Wolosky create a team to apprehend Bout. While Bout remains little known to the general public, for many US officials he becomes the most wanted criminal in the world, aside from Osama bin Laden and his top aides. National Security Council official Gayle Smith will later comment, “You want to talk about transnational threats? We had [al-Qaeda’s bombing in] East Africa, global warming, and Victor Bout.” No other arms dealer has an operation anywhere near the size of Bout’s, and his links to the Taliban and al-Qaeda are a special concern (see 1998). But Bout is not doing any business in the US and is breaking no US laws, so the team cannot gather enough evidence to issue an arrest warrant for him. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke considers targeting Bout for rendition, which is a very rare practice before 9/11. But when the Bush administration takes power in early 2001, Bout is deemed a less important priority, and ultimately no effective action is taken against him prior to 9/11 (see Early 2001-September 11, 2001). [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 1-7]
Radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri sends money to bin Laden’s Darunta camp, which is part of al-Qaeda’s network of training camps in Afghanistan. Abu Hamza, who is under investigation by Scotland Yard at this time for his involvement in a kidnapping and murder scheme in Yemen, apparently diverts the money from a fund at London’s Finsbury Park Mosque, which he runs. The US will later say it has e-mail traffic that proves the transfer. Abu Hamza trained at the camp in the mid-1990s. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 74-5]
German intelligence gives the CIA the first name of 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi and his telephone number of a phone registered in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Germans learned the information from the surveillance of al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Mohammed Haydar Zammar (see March 1997-Early 2000). They tell the CIA that Alshehhi, who is living in Bonn, Germany, at the time, may be connected to al-Qaeda. He is described as a UAE student who has spent some time studying in Germany. The conversation is short, but a known alias of Mamoun Darkazanli is mentioned. The CIA is very interested in Darkazanli and will try to recruit him as an informant later in the year (see Late 1998 and December 1999). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ; Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg), 8/13/2003; New York Times, 2/24/2004; McDermott, 2005, pp. 73, 278-279]
No Response from CIA - The Germans consider this information “particularly valuable” and ask the CIA to track Alshehhi, but the CIA never responds until after the 9/11 attacks. The CIA decides at the time that this “Marwan” is probably an associate of bin Laden but never track him down. It is not clear why the CIA fails to act, or if they learn his last name before 9/11. [New York Times, 2/24/2004] The Germans monitor other calls between Alshehhi and Zammar, but it isn’t clear if the CIA is also told of these or not (see September 21, 1999).
Could the Number Be Traced? - CIA Director George Tenet will later dismiss the importance of this information in a statement to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry. He will say that all the CIA had to go on was a first name and an impossible to trace unlisted number. But author Terry McDermott will later comment, “At least a portion of that statement is preposterous. The UAE mobile telephone business was, until 2004, a state monopoly. The UAE number could have been traced in five minutes, according to senior security officials there. The United States never asked.” McDermott will add, “Further, the CIA told the [9/11 Congressional Inquiry] it had a long-standing interest in Zammar that pre-dated these recordings. In other words, the CIA appears to have been investigating the man who recruited the hijackers at the time he was recruiting them.” [McDermott, 2005, pp. 73, 278-279]
Leading British imam Abu Hamza al-Masri is arrested for his part in the kidnapping and murder of Western tourists in Yemen (see December 28-29, 1998). A demonstration outside the police station where Abu Hamza is held attracts sixty people. Abu Hamza tells the police he has just been repeating what is written in the Koran and is released. Evidence seized from his home includes 750 video and audio tapes of his sermons and an eleven-volume Encyclopedia of Afghani Jihad, which are later returned to him (see December 1999). Reda Hassaine, an informer for the British security services (see March 1997-April 2000), is disappointed and notes cynically that “the British might consider the arrest operation successful, believing that it would ward off the danger of Abu Hamza or his followers carrying out any operations too close to home.” Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment, “Hassaine’s assessment was not far off the mark.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 140-3]
9/11 Hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi receives a new passport in Saudi Arabia. According to the 9/11 Commission, the passport contains an “indicator of extremism” that is “associated with al-Qaeda.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 9 ] According to author James Bamford, this is a “secret coded indicator, placed there by the Saudi government, warning of a possible terrorist affiliation.” [Bamford, 2008] Presumably, this indicator is placed there because Alhazmi is on the Saudi government watch list at this point due to his radical ties (see Late 1999). The Saudi government will reportedly use this indicator to track Alhazmi and other Saudi hijackers before 9/11 “with precision” (see November 2, 2007).
Convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, December 23, 1997, and June 4, 1998) is charged with 160 counts of murder at the state level in Oklahoma. Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty. Nichols is serving a life sentence as a conspirator in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building, which killed 168 people. The 160 counts of murder represent the civilians, as opposed to federal agents, killed in the blast. Oklahoma District Attorney Robert Macy says of Nichols’s previous convictions: “I’m not satisfied with the outcome of the Nichols trial. I feel like he needs to be tried before an Oklahoma jury.” Nichols escaped murder convictions in the previous trial. Along with the 160 counts of murder, Nichols faces one count of first-degree manslaughter for the death of a fetus, one count of conspiracy to commit murder, and one count of aiding and counseling in the placing of a substance or bomb near a public building. Macy says he intends to try Nichols’s convicted co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) at a later date. [New York Times, 5/30/1999; The Oklahoman, 4/2009]
Mullah Mohammed Khaksar. [Source: Amir Shah / Associated Press]High-level Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Khaksar secretly meets with CIA officials to explore cooperating with them, but the CIA is not interested. Khaksar had been the Taliban’s intelligence minister, but he recently switched posts to deputy interior minister. He is friends with top Taliban leader Mullah Omar, has thousands of policemen under his command, and has solid links to intelligence sources within the Taliban. He secretly meets with US diplomats Gregory Marchese and Peter McIllwain in Peshawar, Pakistan. Marchese will later confirm the meeting took place. Khaksar says he fears the Taliban has been hijacked by the Pakistani ISI and al-Qaeda. He believes Mullar Omar has fallen under the influence of bin Laden and wants to oust him. Khaksar later claims he told them that he was worried about al-Qaeda because “one day they would do something in the world, but everything would be on the head of Afghanistan.” The diplomats pass his offer to Washington (though it is unknown if it was relayed to high-level officials or not). Khaksar soon receives a letter back rejecting his offer. The letter is later shown to the Associated Press, and states, in part, “We don’t want to make mistakes like we made in the holy war [in the 1980s]. We gave much help and it later went against us.” [Associated Press, 6/9/2002; Guardian, 6/11/2002] Khaksar later says he did provide the CIA with information on two or three other occasions before 9/11, but it is not known if this takes place before or after this meeting. Starting in 1997, he also keeps a regular secret dialogue with Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban. The Northern Alliance’s foreign minister will note after 9/11 that Khaksar was in “constant contact” with Massoud until 9/11, giving him a steady stream of valuable information. [Knight Ridder, 11/29/2001; Washington Post, 11/30/2001] After 9/11, the US will show no interest in Khaksar’s intelligence about the Taliban (see Between September 12 and Late November 2001 and February 25, 2002).
An unnamed European intelligence agency secretly reports that al-Qaeda has provided financial support for the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Documents found on a KLA militant further reveal that he has been smuggling combatants into Kosovo, mostly Saudis with Albanian passports. The report further notes that the KLA is largely financed by drug trafficking, bringing drugs from Afghanistan into Europe with the blessing of the Taliban. [Jacquard, 2002, pp. 71-72]
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry issues a report on the safety of the US’s chemical industry from terror attacks. The report finds that security of American chemical plants ranges from “fair” to “very poor.” Security for chemical shipments is “poor to non-existent.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 92-93]
The Woodland Park Resort. [Source: Woodland Park Resort]9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta takes flying lessons in the Philippines, and 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi is with him. They stay at the Woodland Park Resort Hotel near Angeles City, which is about 60 miles north of Manila and near the formerly US controlled Clark Air Base. Victoria Brocoy, a chambermaid at the hotel, will later claim that Atta stayed at the hotel for about a week while he learned to fly ultra-light planes at the nearby Angeles City Flying Club. [Gulf News, 9/29/2001; Gulf News, 10/2/2001] She also says, “He was not friendly. If you say hello to him, he doesn’t answer. If he asks for a towel, you do not enter his room. He takes it at the door.… Many times I saw him let a girl go at the gate in the morning. It was always a different girl.” [International Herald Tribune, 10/5/2001] Atta stays with some other men who call him Mohamed. She recalls that one of them is Marwan Alshehhi, who is treated like Atta’s sidekick. However, there are no recollections of Alshehhi going to the nearby flight school. [Manila Times, 10/2/2001; Gulf News, 10/2/2001] She says Atta was hosted by a Jordanian named Samir, who speaks Filipino and runs a travel agency in Manila. She adds that many Arab guests stayed at the hotel between 1997 and 1999, and Samir always accompanied them. Samir denies knowing any of the hijackers. [Gulf News, 9/29/2001; Manila Times, 10/2/2001; International Herald Tribune, 10/5/2001] The Philippine military will later confirm that Atta and Alshehhi were at the hotel after finding four other employees who claim to have seen them in 1999. Other locals, such as the manager of a nearby restaurant, also recall seeing them. [Philippine Star, 10/1/2001; Gulf News, 10/2/2001; International Herald Tribune, 10/5/2001; Asia Times, 10/11/2001] Atta and/or Alshehhi were seen at the same resort in 1997 (see 1997) and will return to it later in 1999 (see December 1999). A leader of a militant group connected to al-Qaeda later confesses to helping 9/11 hijacker pilots while they were in this area (see Shortly After October 5, 2005).
Radical London imam Abu Qatada is convicted in absentia on terrorism charges in Jordan. He is alleged to have masterminded a plot aimed at Western tourists. One bomb was discovered and defused outside the American School in Amman, the other, hidden in a car, exploded outside the Jerusalem Hotel, which is popular with US visitors. The prosecutor claimed that Abu Qatada, who was sentenced to life in prison, was the mastermind. [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 3/16/2004; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 107-108; Times (London), 4/15/2008] There were also to be bombs placed under the cars of a former intelligence chief and a former minister of the interior. [Associated Press, 4/15/2005] Abu Qatada will also be convicted in connection with the Millennium Plot in Jordan later this year (see November 30, 1999). However, he will deny the charges, saying: “Jordan discovers every year or two nothing but organizations claiming that they wanted to cause explosions and destruction. It was proven later that the explosions inside the cinema were unfortunately the work of some intelligence officers to cause confusion.” [CNN, 11/29/2001] Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law Mohamed Jamal Khalifa was deported from the US to Jordan in 1995 (see April 26-May 3, 1995), but Abu Qatada, who will be arrested in Britain in 2002 (see October 23, 2002), will still not have been deported to Jordan many years later, due to a drawn-out legal battle over his extradition.
Nabil al-Marabh will claim in a 2002 statement that in May 1999, the FBI approaches him in Boston, looking for Raed Hijazi. Al-Marabh will say he lied and said he did not know Hijazi, even though he knew him well. Hijazi apparently has not been involved in any violent crime yet, but will participate in a failed attempt to bomb a hotel in Jordan (see November 30, 1999) and will help plan the USS Cole bombing in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). [Washington Post, 9/4/2002] In August 1999 FBI agents again visit al-Marabh’s Boston apartment to ask him about another man. Al-Marabh’s wife will later recall that the first name of this man is Ahmed. [New York Times, 10/14/2001] He is from Jordan and had lived in their apartment for two months. [New York Times, 9/21/2001] Around the same time, the Boston FBI is looking for another associate of al-Marabh’s, Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi (see 1997 and 1999). They work at the same taxi company and fought together in Afghanistan.
Friends of Ziad Jarrah taken on April 1, 1999. Third from left in back row is Abdelghani Mzoudi; fifth is Mounir El Motassadeq; seventh is Ramzi bin al-Shibh; Mohamed Atta is on middle row far right; Atta rests his hands on Mohamed Rajih. [Source: DDP / AFP]9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah has an unofficial wedding with his girlfriend, Aysel Senguen, on or shortly before April 1, 1999. They have a wedding ceremony at the radical Al-Quds mosque, but they do not register the wedding with the German government, so it is not legally binding. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 78] A photo apparently taken by Jarrah at the wedding will be found by German intelligence in Senguen’s home several days after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). The photo will be studied to determine who was a member of or close to the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell in early 1999. German investigators are able to identify 18 out of 22 men in the photo. Those in the photo include 9/11 hijacker Atta, Abdelghani Mzoudi, Mounir El Motassadeq, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abderrasak Labied, and Mohammed Rajih. The LfV, the security service for the Hamburg region, will show such a surprising amount of knowledge of the people in the photo just days after 9/11 that it will later be suggested the LfV must have had an informant close to the Hamburg cell (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Frankfurt), 2/2/2003]
The US State Department temporarily suspends cooperation between the Bosnian army and the US private mercenary company MPRI. No official reason is given, but media reports indicate that the Bosnian Muslims being trained by MPRI were caught sending weapons to Muslim rebels in the regions of Kosovo and Sandzak in Serbia. Supposedly, millions of dollars of weapons were smuggled to the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in Kosovo. [BBC, 4/5/1999; Progressive, 8/1/1999; Center for Public Integrity, 10/28/2002]
Sarbarz Mohammed / Sam Malkandi. [Source: Public domain via Seattle Post-Intelligencer]Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash unsuccessfully applies for a US visa in Sana’a, Yemen. His application, which is made under the alias Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf, is denied because he fails to submit sufficient documentation in support of it. Three actual hijackers obtain US visas in Saudi Arabia on the same day and shortly after (see April 3-7, 1999). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 492]
Already Known to US Intelligence - Bin Attash is already known to the US intelligence community at this point (see Summer 1999), at least partly because he briefed Mohamed al-Owhali, one of the 1998 African embassy bombers who was captured after the attack, and helped him make a martyrdom video in Pakistan. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/9/1998 ] The US will begin to associate this alias with terrorist activity no later than early 2000, when bin Attash uses it to take a flight with Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, who are under US and allied surveillance at that point (see January 8, 2000). However, the alias will not be watchlisted by the US until August 2001 (see August 23, 2001). Apparently, when the US learns the alias is associated with terrorism there is no check of visa application records, and this application and the fact it was made by an al-Qaeda leader will not be discovered until after 9/11 (see After January 8, 2000, After December 16, 2000, and After August 23, 2001).
US Contact - On the application, bin Attash gives his reason for going to the US as getting a new prosthesis for his missing leg, and he says Bothell, Washington State, is his final destination. Bin Attash’s contact in Bothell is a man named Sarbarz Mohammed. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 155-6, 492] Mohammed contacts a clinic in the area and speaks to bin Attash once on the phone, but bin Attash says the new leg would cost too much and hangs up. Mohammed, who will later change his name to Sam Malkandi, will deny knowing bin Attash was a terrorist and say that he thought he was just helping a friend of a friend. However, he will later admit lying on his green card application and be arrested in 2005. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10/17/2005]
Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar’s US visas. [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Salem Alhazmi, and Khalid Almihdhar obtain US visas through the US Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi are already “al-Qaeda veterans” and battle-hardened killers. Almihdhar’s visa is issued on April 7, and he can thereafter leave and return to the US multiple times until April 6, 2000. [Stern, 8/13/2003] Nawaf Alhazmi gets the same kind of visa; details about Salem are unknown. All three men have indicators in their passports marking them as Islamist radicals (see March 21, 1999, April 4, 1999, and April 6, 1999). These indicators are used to track them by the Saudi authorities, but are apparently not noticed by US officials. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 9, 33 ] The CIA claims the hijackers then travel to Afghanistan to participate in “special training” with at least one other suicide bomber on a different mission. The training is led by Khallad bin Attash, who applies for a US visa on April 3 from Yemen, but fails to get one (see April 3, 1999). The CIA will learn about Almihdhar’s visa in January 2000 (see January 2-5, 2000). The Jeddah Consulate records the fact that Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi obtain US visas a couple of days before Almihdhar, but apparently these records are never searched before 9/11. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ]
9/11 hijacker Salem Alhazmi receives a new passport from Saudi Arabia. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 40 ] According to the 9/11 Commission, the passport contains an “indicator of extremism” that is “associated with al-Qaeda.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 9, 33 ] According to author James Bamford, this is a “secret coded indicator, placed there by the Saudi government, warning of a possible terrorist affiliation.” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 58-59] Alhazmi will use the passport to obtain a US visa the same day (see April 3-7, 1999). The Saudi government will reportedly use this indicator to track Alhazmi and other Saudi hijackers before 9/11 “with precision” (see November 2, 2007).
9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi leave Saudi Arabia after obtaining new passports and US visas there (see March 21, 1999, April 4, 1999, April 6, 1999, and April 3-7, 1999). According to the 9/11 Commission, their passports contain an “indicator of extremism” that is “associated with al-Qaeda.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 9, 33 ] According to author James Bamford, the indicator is a “secret coded indicator, placed there by the Saudi government, warning of a possible terrorist affiliation.” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 58-59] The Saudi government reportedly uses this indicator to track some of the Saudi hijackers before 9/11 “with precision” (see November 2, 2007). Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi apparently return to Afghanistan to discuss an attack on the US. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 155] Salem Alhazmi’s destination is unknown. He will be reported to be in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and Afghanistan (see Summer 2000) the next year. Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi are placed on the Saudi terrorist watch list later this year (see Late 1999).
9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar receives a new passport from Saudi Arabia. According to the 9/11 Commission, the passport contains an “indicator of extremism” that is “associated with al-Qaeda.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 9, 33 ] According to author James Bamford, this is a “secret coded indicator, placed there by the Saudi government, warning of a possible terrorist affiliation.” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 58-59] Presumably, this indicator is placed there because Almihdhar is on the Saudi government watch list at this point due to his radical ties (see Late 1999). The Saudi government will reportedly use this indicator to track Almihdhar and other Saudi hijackers before 9/11 “with precision” (see November 2, 2007).
A photocopy of Hani Hanjour’s 1999 pilot license. [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)When Hani Hanjour attended flight schools between 1996 and 1998 he was found to be a “weak student” who “was wasting our resources” (see October 1996-December 1997), and when he tried using a flight simulator, “He had only the barest understanding what the instruments were there to do.” (see 1998) Yet, on this day, he is certified as a multi-engine commercial pilot by Daryl Strong in Tempe, Arizona. Strong is one of many private examiners independently contracted with the FAA. A spokesperson for the FAA’s workers union will later complain that contractors like Strong “receive between $200 and $300 for each flight check. If they get a reputation for being tough, they won’t get any business.” Hanjour’s new license allows him to begin passenger jet training at other flight schools, despite having limited flying skills and an extremely poor grasp of English. [Federal Aviation Administration, 4/25/2002; Government Executive, 6/13/2002; Associated Press, 6/13/2002] At the next flight school Hanjour will attend in early 2001, the staff will be so appalled at his lack of skills that they will repeatedly contact the FAA and ask them to investigate how he got a pilot’s license (see January-February 2001). After 9/11, the FBI will appear to investigate how Hanjour got his license and question and polygraph the instructor who signed off on his flying skills. The Washington Post will note that, since Hanjour’s pilot skills were so bad, the issue of how he was able to get a license “remains a lingering question that FAA officials refuse to discuss.” [Washington Post, 10/15/2001; CBS News, 5/10/2002] After gaining the license, Hanjour apparently returns to the Middle East. He will arrive back in the US in December 2000 (see (Early 2000-November 2000) and December 8, 2000).
Michael E. Tigar, the lead defense attorney for convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998), says evidence given to the defense near the end of the federal trial provided enough information about another suspect to warrant a new trial (see March 31 - April 12, 1995, (April 1) - April 18, 1995, April 5, 1995, April 8, 1995, April 13, 1995, April 15, 1995, April 15, 1995, April 15, 1995, April 16-19, 1995, 3:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, 3:00 - 5:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, April 17-21, 1995, (6:00 p.m.) April 17, 1995, 9:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, 8:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, 7:00 p.m. April 18, 1995, April 18, 1995, and Early Morning, April 19, 1995). “Government counsel argued that Mr. Nichols mixed the bomb and that he was with [fellow conspirator Timothy] McVeigh for long periods on April 17 and 18,” Tigar states (see April 13, 1995, April 15, 1995, April 15-16, 1995, April 16-17, 1995, Late Evening, April 17, 1995, 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, 8:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995, and Early Afternoon, April 18, 1995). “The withheld evidence contradicts this key government theory.” Tigar called a number of witnesses who said they saw McVeigh with an unknown suspect known as “John Doe No. 2” (see April 15, 1995, 9:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, 3:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, April 18, 1995, April 20, 1995, April 21, 1995, April 29, 1995, and June 14, 1995) and/or other people during key periods in the days and weeks leading up to the bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Tigar will demand those documents for his new trial request. [New York Times, 7/8/1999; Mayhem (.net), 4/2009] Judge Richard P. Matsch, who presided over the first trial, will deny Nichols’s request. [New York Times, 9/14/1999] In December 2000, a federal appeals court will also deny the request. [New York Times, 12/19/2000]
The US-led NATO alliance begins bombing Serbia in March, pressuring it to withdraw from Kosovo, which is part of Serbia but ethnically dominated by Albanians (see March 24, 1999). During the war, the US publicly denies working with the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the dominant political group in Kosovo. However, it will later be revealed that the CIA works closely with the KLA, starting at least from late April 1999. At that time, the CIA and US Special Forces troops begin working with the KLA to defeat the Serbians. The KLA passes on useful information about Serbian positions, allowing NATO forces to bomb them. But since the KLA has a reputation for drug running, civilian atrocities, and links to al-Qaeda, the US military generally uses the Albanian army as an intermediary. KLA representatives meet daily with Albanian military officers in Albania, but CIA and US Army officers are usually present as well. In addition, there is a secret NATO operations center in the town of Kukes, Albania, near the border with Kosovo. Most of the KLA liaison work takes place there. US officials begin considering using the KLA as a light-infantry force if NATO needs to invade Kosovo with ground troops. But the war ends in June 1999 before that becomes necessary (see June 9, 1999). [Washington Post, 9/19/1999] The same month that the CIA begins working closely with the KLA, a European intelligence report indicates the KLA is being funded by al-Qaeda and drugs from Afghanistan (see April 1999).
A top al-Qaeda operative known as Abu Doha arrives in London to take up a leading role in operations there. French intelligence chief Pierre de Bousquet de Florian will describe Abu Doha, an Algerian better known as “the Doctor,” as al-Qaeda’s main recruiting sergeant in Europe, adding that “it is not possible to over-emphasize his importance” because he is the “principal catalyst” for the establishment of a network of North African radicals across Britain, Europe, and North America. Abu Doha, who has already established a special section for North African trainees at the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan, links up with Abu Hamza al-Masri, a local militant leader and radical imam who is an informer for the British authorities (see Early 1997). He bases himself at Abu Hamza’s mosque, Finsbury Park, where he unifies rival Algerian factions, increasing the flow of funds and recruits sent to the camps in Afghanistan. After he is captured (see February 2001), a British judge at an immigration appeals tribunal will say: “In Afghanistan he had held a senior position in the training camps organizing the passage of mujaheddin volunteers to and from those camps. He had a wide range of extremist Islamic contacts inside and outside [Britain] including links to individuals involved in terrorist operations. He was involved in a number of extremist agendas. By being in [Britain] he had brought cohesion to Algerian extremists based here and he had strengthened the existing links with individuals associated with the terrorist training facilities in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 116-117]
William Pierce, the founder of the neo-Nazi National Alliance (see 1970-1974) and the author of the inflammatory and highly influential white supremacist novel The Turner Diaries (see 1978), writes in the Alliance’s monthly Bulletin: “People who are living comfortably now will resist doing anything to jeopardize their situations. Cowards will remain cowards. But a growing minority of serious, moral people will admit finally, at least to themselves, that we have tolerated the Jews for far too long and that revolution is the correct course for patriots.” [Center for New Community, 8/2002 ]
US intelligence obtains detailed reporting on where bin Laden is located for five consecutive nights. CIA Director Tenet decides against acting three times, because of concerns about collateral damage and worries about the veracity of the single source of information. Frustration mounts. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit, writes to a colleague in the field, “having a chance to get [bin Laden] three times in 36 hours and foregoing the chance each time has made me a bit angry…” [Coll, 2004, pp. 450; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 140] An unnamed senior military officer later complains, “This was in our strike zone. It was a fat pitch, a home run.” However, that month, the US mistakenly bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, due to outdated intelligence. It is speculated Tenet was wary of making another mistake. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004] There is one more opportunity to strike bin Laden in July 1999, but after that there is apparently no intelligence good enough to justify considering a strike. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
Reda Hassaine, an Algerian informer working for the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch against Islamist extremists in London, is passed to MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence service. One of his tasks is to identify men who attend Finsbury Park mosque, a hotbed of radicalism, in photographs MI5 gives him. For the first six-month trial period, Hassaine is given £300 (equivalent of $450) per month plus £80 for expenses, but MI5 tells him to claim unemployment and housing benefit as well, “because, after all, we were dealing with the security of the country,” and “it would be a good cover story because everyone in Finsbury Park was foreign and on benefits.” In return for his work, Hassaine is promised he will obtain indefinite leave to remain in Britain, but in February 2000 he will only receive leave to remain for four years, which he will be unhappy about. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 138-9, 147-148]
Ihab Ali Nawawi. [Source: FBI]Ihab Ali Nawawi is arrested in Orlando, Florida. He is considered an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa. Nawawi’s family moved from Egypt to the US in the late 1970’s and he graduated from an Orlando high school. He fought in Afghanistan in the 1980’s and helped bin Laden move to Sudan in 1991. Nawawi received a commercial pilot’s license from Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1993. He crashed an airplane owned by bin Laden in 1995 on a runway in Khartoum, Sudan (see Early 1993). He lived in Sudan until 1996 when he moved back to Orlando. Nawawi’s role in al-Qaeda is revealed days after the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa when Ali Mohamed’s residence in California is raided. A letter from Nawawi is discovered asking Mohamed to give his “best regards to your friend Osama”(see August 24, 1998). Nawawi’s connection to the embassy bombings were possibly discovered months earlier, because there were a series of phone calls in 1997 between an Orlando telephone owned by Nawawi’s sister and an al-Qaeda safe house in Nairobi, Kenya. Many telephone numbers connected to that house were being monitored by US intelligence at the time. Given his obvious al-Qaeda ties, it is not clear why agents waited until May 1999 before arresting Nawawi. He is questioned in front of a grand jury, but prosecutors say he is lying and he refuses to talk anymore. FBI agents will visit the Airman Flight School in September 1999 to enquire about his attendance there (see September 1999). He will remain jailed and in September 2000 is finally charged for contempt and perjury. In October 2001, the St. Petersburg Times will report, “There are signs that Ali’s resolve might now be weakening. Court records indicate that Ali’s lawyers seemed to reach an understanding with the government in March . Since that time, all documents in the case have been filed under seal.” [St. Petersburg Times, 10/28/2001] In May 2002, three full years after his arrest, the New York Times will report that “Nawawi remains in federal custody even now, although he has not been charged with conspiring in the embassy bombing.” [New York Times, 5/18/2002] As of the end of 2005, there appears to be no further news on what has happened to Nawawi, and no sign of any trial. When Nawawi is arrested, he is working as a taxi driver. At this time Al-Qaeda operative Nabil al-Marabh is working as a taxi driver about 80 miles away in Tampa, Florida, and while the similarity is intriguing, there is no known reported connection between the two men (see February 1999-February 2000). [St. Petersburg Times, 10/28/2001]
The British intelligence service MI5 attempts to recruit an unnamed senior figure in the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), an Algerian terrorist organization many of whose operatives are based in London. An Algerian informer called Reda Hassaine helps with the attempted recruitment, and is instructed to befriend the GIA leader, and to find him an apartment in London so he no longer has to sleep in Finsbury Park mosque, a hotbed of extremism. It is unclear whether the recruitment is successful, but Hassaine obtains new information and passes it on to MI5. In August 1999, he finds that three operatives of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), another Algerian terrorist organization allied with al-Qaeda, have arrived in London and informs the British authorities of this. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 147]
It has been widely assumed in media reports that US intelligence did not connect al-Qaeda leader Hambali to the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995) before 9/11. However, the 9/11 Commission will mention in a footnote, “Hambali also was one of the founders of Konsonjaya, a Malaysian company run by close associate of Wali Khan [Amin Shah]. FBI report, Manila air investigation, May 23, 1999.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 489] The Christian Science Monitor will later note, “Konsonjaya was not just supplying money. It also coordinating the Bojinka plotters” (see June 1994). [Christian Science Monitor, 2/14/2002] In the spring of 1995, Philippine Colonel Rodolfo Mendoza gave the US a chart he made of the Bojinka plotters, and Konsonjaya was centrally featured in it (see Spring 1995). He later said, “It was sort of their nerve center.” [Christian Science Monitor, 2/14/2002] Shortly after Ramzi Yousef’s Manila apartment was broken into, documents found there connected Konsonjaya with the “Ladin International” company in Sudan, an obvious bin Laden front. An FBI memo at the time noted the connection. [Lance, 2003, pp. 303] Hambali’s photograph was also found on Yousef’s computer. [New Straits Times, 2/2/2002] In 1996, the company’s records were introduced as evidence in a public trial of some Bojinka plotters, and in 1998, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was nearly caught in Brazil while using Konsonjaya as his business cover (see June 1998). So it’s not clear why it took the FBI four years to learn about Hambali, but that still means they were aware of who he was prior to the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia attended by Hambali and two 9/11 hijackers (see January 5-8, 2000). But apparently the connection will not be made.
In early 1999, al-Qaeda operative Khallad bin Attash is sent to Yemen to help al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri obtain explosives to bomb a ship, and also to get a US visa so he can travel to the US to take part in an operation there. Three 9/11 hijackers get a US visa around this time (see April 3-7, 1999), but bin Attash has more trouble, apparently because he is Yemeni and the others are Saudi. While there, bin Attash is arrested by Yemeni authorities. Bin Laden finds out about the arrest and is concerned that bin Attash might reveal the ship bombing and US operations while under interrogation. Bin Laden contacts a Yemeni official and makes a deal, offering not to attack Yemen if the Yemeni government does not confront him and releases bin Attash in the summer of 1999. Both sides agree to the deal and bin Attash returns to Afghanistan without revealing either plot. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 155-156] There is other evidence Yemeni officials will help al-Nashiri, as his ship attack plot eventually targets the USS Cole while stationed in Yemen (see April 2000 and After October 12, 2000).
MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, reports, “Intelligence suggests that while [Osama bin Laden] is seeking to launch an attack inside the US, he is aware that the US will provide a tough operating environment for his organization.” [Daily Telegraph, 10/5/2009] It is unclear who this report is sent to, or what information it is based on. MI6, not MI5, is usually tasked with foreign intelligence.
Around this time, US intelligence notes that a man in Hamburg, Germany, named Mohammed Haydar Zammar is in direct contact with one of bin Laden’s senior operational coordinators. Zammar is an al-Qaeda recruiter with links to 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and the rest of the Hamburg terror cell. The US had noted Zammar’s terror links on “numerous occasions” before 9/11. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ] However, apparently the US does not share their information on Zammar with German intelligence. Instead, the Germans are given evidence from Turkey that Zammar is running a travel agency as a terror front in Hamburg. In 1998, they got information from Italy confirming he is an Islamic militant (see October 2, 1998). However, his behavior is so suspicious that they have already started monitoring him closely (see 1996). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ; Stern, 8/13/2003] Ironically, also in 1999, German intelligence gives its information on Zammar to the CIA (see 1999).
In the summer of 1999, the CIA asks border-control agencies in the Middle East to question anyone who may be returning from a training camp in Afghanistan, according to a 2004 Vanity Fair article. This is said to occur about six months before future 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah is stopped and questioned at the airport in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, either because he is on a US watch list or because he shows signs of having come from Afghanistan, or both (see January 30, 2000 and December 14, 2001-September 28, 2005). [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Also in 1999, the CIA specifically works out an arrangement with immigration officials at the Dubai airport to monitor or question suspected militants passing through (see 1999).
Richard Newcomb. [Source: Scott Ferrell/ Getty Images]The US has been pressuring the Saudi government to do more to stop Saudi financing for al-Qaeda and other militant groups, but so far little has been accomplished (see August 20, 1998-1999). Vice President Al Gore contacts the Saudis and arranges for some US officials to have a meeting with their top security and banking officials. William Wechsler from the National Security Council (NSC), Richard Newcomb from the Treasury Department, and others on an NSC al-Qaeda financing task force meet about six senior Saudi officials in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. One US official will later recall, “We laid everything out—what we knew, what we thought. We told them we’d just had two of our embassies blown up and that we needed to deal with them in a different way.” But the Saudis have virtually no oversight over their charities and do not seem interested in changing that. Newcomb threatens to freeze the assets of certain groups and individuals if the Saudis do not crack down. The Saudis promise action, but nothing happens. A second visit by a US delegation in January 2000 is ineffective as well. [US News and World Report, 12/15/2003]
In testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and in a briefing to House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence staffers one month later, the chief of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center describes reports that bin Laden and his associates are planning attacks in the US. [US Congress, 9/18/2002]
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