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In an attempt to find Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts, CIA intelligence analysts construct a composite profile of what an ideal courier for bin Laden would look like. Then they match this with what they know about bin Laden’s couriers. One US official will later say, “It was like doing the profile of a serial killer.” One courier, whose apparent real name is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, fits the profile very closely. However, at this time, US intelligence only knows him by his alias, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti (see Early 2002).
He is a Pakistani Pashtun, and speaks Pashto. Most Taliban leaders are Pashtun and speak Pashto.
He speaks fluent Arabic, since he grew up in the Persian Gulf. This enables him to speak to bin Laden supporters from many countries in the Muslim world.
He is a trusted aide of al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libbi.
He had been a part of al-Qaeda for many years prior to 9/11.
He is adept at the use of computers.
He is fiercely loyal to bin Laden. For instance, according to multiple prisoners at Guantanamo, he was last seen next to bin Laden when bin Laden fled the Tora Bora mountains in December 2001.
An unnamed US official will later say that Ahmed emerged as the most ideal courier for bin Laden, and thus, the best way to get to bin Laden. “He fit all the needs. He was high on the short list,” the official will say. As a result, the search for Ahmed is intensified. More prisoners in US custody are asked what they know about him. [MSNBC, 5/4/2011]
Qualid Benomrane’s 2001 tax driver license. [Source: FBI]The FBI interviews Qualid Benomrane, an Arabic-speaking taxi driver who had done chauffeur work for the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles. Benomrane is shown pictures of young Arab men and asked if he recognizes any of them. He quickly picks hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar out of the line-up. After realizing they were 9/11 hijackers, he denies knowing them. The FBI asks him about his ties to Fahad al Thumairy, an official at the Saudi consulate suspected of a link with those two hijackers. Benomrane says that al Thumairy introduced him to two young Saudi men who had just arrived in the US and needed help. Benomrane drove them to places in Los Angeles and San Diego, including Sea World, a theme park in San Diego. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 309] (Curiously, these two hijackers bought season passes to Sea World.) [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] 9/11 Commission staffers will later conclude it is highly likely that the two men were Alhazmi and Almihdhar, despite Benomrane’s later denial. This would mean al Thumairy knew the two hijackers. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 309] However, the 9/11 Commission will fail to mention anything about this in their final report.
Robert Grenier, head of the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, later says that the issue of fugitive Taliban leaders living in Pakistan was repeatedly raised with senior Pakistani intelligence officials in 2002. “The results were just not there. And it was quite clear to me that it wasn’t just bad luck.” [New York Times, 8/12/2007] For instance, in December 2001 the Guardian reported that many Taliban leaders are living openly in large villas in Pakistan (see December 24, 2001). But Grenier decides that Pakistan will not act on the Taliban and urges them to focus on arresting al-Qaeda operatives instead. “From our perspective at the time, the Taliban was a spent force. We were very much focused on al-Qaeda and didn’t want to distract the Pakistanis from that.” Zalmay Khalilzad, US ambassador to Afghanistan, US military officials, and some Bush administration officials periodically argue that the Taliban are crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan and killing US soldiers and aid workers (see August 18, 2005 and June 18, 2005). But it is not until some time in 2006 that President Bush strenuously presses Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf about acting on the Taliban leaders living in Pakistan. Even then, Bush reportedly tells his aides that he worries the ties between the Pakistani ISI and the Taliban continue and no serious action will be taken despite Musharraf’s assurances. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
Helaluddin Helal, Afghanistan’s deputy interior minister in 2002 and 2003, later claims that he becomes convinced at this time that Pakistani ISI officers are protecting bin Laden. He says that he passes intelligence reports on the location of Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, but nothing is done in response. “We would tell them we had information that al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders were living in specific areas. The Pakistanis would say no, you’re wrong, but we will go and check. And then they would come back and say those leaders are not living there. [The Pakistanis] were going to these places and moving the al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 9/9/2007] Some al-Qaeda leaders are captured during this time, but there are also reports that Taliban leaders are living openly in Pakistan (see December 24, 2001 and 2002-2006).
Three of the men convicted for the World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993)—Mohammed Salameh, Mahmud Abouhalima, and Nidal Ayyad—are allowed to write about 90 letters from inside the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, encouraging fellow extremists around the world. Some of the letters are sent to Morocco and some to a militant cell in Spain. In one, addressed to cell leader Mohamed Achraf, who will be arrested in late 2004 for attempting to blow up the National Justice Building in Madrid (see July-October 18, 2004), Salameh writes, “Oh, God, make us live with happiness. Make us die as martyrs. May we be united on the day of judgment.” Other recipients have links to the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). One of Salameh’s letters, in which he calls Osama bin Laden “the hero of my generation,” is published in a newspaper in July 2002, but this does not result in any new security attempts to stop other letters. The letters urge readers to “terminate the infidels” because “Muslims don’t have any option other than jihad.” Former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy wonders, “He was exhorting acts of terrorism and helping recruit would-be terrorists for the jihad from inside an American prison.” Terrorism specialist Hedieth Mirahmadi says the letters would have been especially useful for recruitment because the convicted bombers have “a power that the average person or the average imam in a mosque doesn’t have.” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will later comment, “I was surprised. Didn’t seem to make any sense to me and I’m sure the average American would have to wonder, ‘How could this happen?’” Staff at the prison noticed the letters were unmonitored and complained in 2003, but it apparently took management several months to impose a tighter regime. [MSNBC, 3/1/2005; MSNBC, 3/9/2005]
Hayatullah Khan. [Source: Public domain]In the wake of the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in January 2002 (see January 31, 2002), Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will write, “Some Pakistani journalists suspected that hard-line elements in one of the [Pakistani] intelligence agencies may have encouraged militants to carry out the kidnapping of a Western journalist in order to discourage reporters from delving to deeply into extremist groups.” Rashid frequently writes for the Far Eastern Economic Review and the Daily Telegraph and is considered a regional expert. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 153]
In November 2001, Daily Telegraph journalist Christina Lamb was expelled from Pakistan after investigating the links between the ISI and the Taliban (see November 10, 2001).
Suspicions that the ISI is intimidating inquisitive journalists are strengthened in December 2003 when two French journalists working for the magazine L’Express are arrested and put on trial for visa violations after visiting the border town of Quetta to investigate how the Taliban is regrouping in Pakistan. Their Pakistani fixer is charged with sedition and conspiracy. These arrests are seen as a blunt warning to journalists to avoid Quetta, where most Taliban leaders are living.
In May 2004, journalists working for Newsweek and the New Yorker are arrested and held for several weeks after entering North Waziristan, where al-Qaeda is regrouping. This is considered a similar warning to avoid Waziristan. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 426]
Two local journalists are killed by unknown assailants in Pakistan’s tribal region in 2005, causing many other journalists to avoid the region. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 275]
On December 1, 2005, the US kills al-Qaeda leader Abu Hamza Rabia in Waziristan with a missile fired from a Predator drone (see December 1, 2005). Pakistan does not want it to be known that they are allowing the US to launch such attacks in their territory, but a local journalist named Hayatullah Khan takes photographs of pieces of the missile, which are then shown all over the world. Several days later, Khan disappears. When his body is eventually discovered, it has military handcuffs, torture marks, and five bullet wounds in the head. His family accuses the ISI of torturing and then killing him. The government promises an investigation into his murder, but does not actually conduct one. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2006; Rashid, 2008, pp. 275]
In 2006, British and NATO forces take over from US forces in the southern regions of Afghanistan where Taliban resistance is the strongest. The British discover that between 2002 and 2005, the US had not monitored Taliban activity in the southern provinces or across the border in Quetta, Pakistan, where most of the Taliban leadership resides. NATO officers describe the intelligence about the Taliban in these regions as “appalling.” Most Predators were withdrawn from Afghanistan around April 2002 (see April 2002) and satellites and others communications interception equipment was moved to Iraq around the same time (see May 2002). One US general based in Afghanistan privately admits to a reporter that NATO will pay the price for the lack of surveillance in those regions. This general says the Iraq war has taken up resources and the US concentrated what resources they had left in the region on areas where they thought al-Qaeda leaders were, giving little attention to regions only occupied by the Taliban. As a result, at the end of 2005, NATO intelligence estimates that the Taliban have only 2,000 fighters. But Taliban offensives in 2006 show this number to be a dramatic underestimate. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 359]
Hasib Hussain. [Source: Metropolitan Police]Three of the suicide bombers in the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005) have families from Pakistan, and two of them, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, make multiple trips to Pakistan and attend militant training camps there (see July 2001, Late 2003, July-September 2003, and November 18, 2004-February 8, 2005). The third ethnically Pakistani bomber, Hasib Hussain, does go to Pakistan, but exactly when, how many times, and what for remains murky. It is undisputed that he travels there some time in 2002. According to some friends, he visits a madrassa (Islamic boarding school) there, but according to other friends, he only visits relatives. His 2002 trip also takes him to Saudi Arabia, where he goes on the religious haj to Mecca. When he comes back to Britain he is noticeably more religiously observant, growing a beard and starting to wear robes. Friends say he also starts openly supporting Islamist militancy. [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/17/2005; BBC, 5/11/2006] It will be widely reported just after the 7/7 bombings that he returns to Pakistan on July 15, 2004. However, it will later be determined that the passport record is of someone else with the same name who does go to Pakistan on that date. [BBC, 7/21/2005] But Hussain’s parents say that he is gone for about four months in the middle of 2004, so he could be in Pakistan after all, or in some other unknown destination. [Washington Post, 7/19/2005]
Lead 7/7 suicide bomber Mohammed Sidique Khan (see July 7, 2005) first attends the radical Finsbury Park mosque in London in 2002. The mosque is run by extremist imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for Britain’s security services (see Early 1997). Khan and fellow suicide bomber Shehzad Tanweer first heard Abu Hamza preach in Leeds, and when Khan arrives at the mosque he is carrying a letter of recommendation from Haroon Rashid Aswat, a top aide to Abu Hamza, an alleged mastermind of the 7/7 bombings, and a possible British informant (see Late June-July 7, 2005 and July 29, 2005). Reportedly, Khan makes several visits to the mosque, sometimes sleeping in the basement. Aswat recruited young men to join al-Qaeda at Finsbury Park, at least in the late 1990s (see Late 1990s). Khan also takes Tanweer to the mosque, where, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, they are “shown gory videos and DVDs portraying the suffering and slaughter of Muslims in hotspots around the world, and [are] urged to make common cause with the people of Chechnya, Iraq, and Afghanistan.” O’Neill and McGrory will later comment: “Instructors at Finsbury Park would have spotted that in Khan they had a small-time street boss who was an ideal candidate to organize his own cell.” Khan, Tanweer, and a third bomber, Jermaine Lindsay, will also attend gatherings led by Abu Hamza outside the mosque after it is closed by police (see January 24, 2003). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. xix-xx, 190, 269, 271-272]
Undated vacation photograph of Said Bahaji. From left to right: Bahaji’s sister Maryam, his German mother Annaliese, Bahaji, and his Moroccan father Abdullah. [Source: Public domain via the Wall Street Journal]Hamburg Al-Qaeda cell member Said Bahaji works with al-Qaeda and lives in the tribal region of Pakistan, but he maintains some contact with relatives in Germany. However, intelligence agencies are unable to arrest or kill him by tracing these contacts. Some captured militants later claim they saw Bahaji in training camps in Afghanistan in the months after 9/11 (see for instance September 10, 2001). They say that his leg was wounded in fighting with US forces there, and he now goes by the alias Abu Zuhair. In April 2002, Bahaji sends a letter to his mother Anneliese insisting on his innocence in the 9/11 attacks. German officials see this as a whitewash however, especially since he fled Germany to Pakistan a few days before the attacks (see September 3-5, 2001), showing foreknowledge by doing so. He continues to periodically contact family members in Germany with e-mails or phone calls. For instance, he sends his wife Neshe in Germany an e-mail in March 2004. Over time, the contacts between Bahaji and his wife grow contentious. He wants her and their young son to join him in the remote regions of Pakistan, but they are unable to work this out. In March 2006, they divorce via e-mail. Bahaji is later seen with a new wife from Spain, and new children. In 2009, Bahaji’s mother will say her last contact from her son came in a 2007 phone call (see 2007). Details of Bahaji’s other communications will not be made public until August 2011. According to Der Spiegel, Bahaji’s communications with people in Germany have been “agonizing for investigators who were chasing Bahaji, but never managed to localize him in time.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/29/2011]
Ali Abdallah Saleh. [Source: Helene C. Stikkel / Defense Department]In 2002, Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh is facing pressure from the US, who wants him to imprison Islamist militants, and many people in Yemen who are sympathetic to militant groups like al-Qaeda. Saleh comes up with a compromise program of “intellectual dialogue.” Hundreds of imprisoned militants are lectured by religious figures and discuss Islamic law and ethics. Those who sign a pledge not to carry out any attacks on Yemeni soil are let go, and are often helped with money and new jobs. Abu Jandal, bin Laden’s former chief bodyguard, goes through the program and later explains that it is basically a political bargain. Few militants actually change their views, but they understand that if they do not attack within Yemen they will be left alone. When interviewed in 2008, Jandal will say he still supports al-Qaeda, and urges other militants to avoid violence in Yemen. The New York Times will later comment, “American counterterrorism officials and even some Yemenis say the Yemeni government… is in effect striking a deal that helps stop attacks here while leaving jihadists largely free to plan them elsewhere.” For instance, Jandal claims to know some men who go through the program, only to later fight against US troops in Iraq. Another militant who went through the program admits to training militants to fight in Iraq, since that is not prohibited either. This program is officially canceled in Yemen in 2005, but it effectively continues. For instance, in 2007 the Yemeni government secretly frees Fahad al-Quso, a key figure in the 2000 USS Cole bombing (see May 2007). The program also is copied in Saudi Arabia and still in use there. [New York Times, 1/28/2008]
Most of Task Force 5’s members are called home from Afghanistan to prepare for operations in Iraq. In early 2002, there were roughly 150 Task Force 5 commandos in Afghanistan. After the massive transfer, Task Force 5’s numbers dip to as low as 30 men. Task Force 5 is a top-secret elite group that includes CIA paramilitary units and military “special mission units,” or SMUs. One of the SMUs is the former Delta Force. The name of the other unit, which specializes in human and technical intelligence operations, is not known. The Washington Post will later note, “These elite forces, along with the battlefield intelligence technology of Predator and Global Hawk drone aircraft, were the scarcest tools of the hunt for jihadists along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.” According to Flynt Leverett, a career CIA analyst assigned to the State Deparmtent, “There is a direct consequence for us having taken these guys out prematurely. There were people on the staff level raising questions about what that meant for getting al-Qaeda, for creating an Afghan security and intelligence service [to help combat jihadists]. Those questions didn’t get above staff level, because clearly there had been a strategic decision taken.” [Washington Post, 10/22/2004] In 2003, Task Force 5 will be disbanded and then merged into the new Task Force 121, which is to operate in both Iraq and Afghanistan. [New York Times, 11/7/2003]
When al-Qaeda operative Ramzi bin al-Shbih is captured in Karachi, Pakistan, in September 2002 (see September 11, 2002), a sign-in book is found with names and passport numbers. US investigators discover that one of Osama bin Laden’s wives and two of his sons had signed in, and their passports had been issued in their real bin Laden names by Sudan in early 2002, through the Sudanese Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. President Bush is briefed on this, and US intelligence figures suspect that high-ranking Sudanese leaders must have approved the passports and are playing a double game of supporting bin Laden and the US at the same time. The Sudanese government suggests that the officials involved may have been paid off. In a show of good faith, they provide vigorous assistance on several other CIA initiatives. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 165-166]
Bruce Riedel. [Source: Brookings Institute]Bruce Riedel, a South Asia expert at the CIA, will say in 2007 shortly after retiring, “There hasn’t been a serious lead on Osama bin Laden since early 2002. What we’re doing now is shooting in the dark in outer space. The chances of hitting anything are zero.” Other intelligence officials interviewed by Newsweek will agree that since that time US intelligence has never had a better than 50 percent certainty about his location. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007] An anonymous former CIA official will similarly tell the Los Angeles Times in 2007 that not only does the US have no idea where bin Laden is, but since 2002 the US has not even had information that “you could validate historically,” meaning a tip on a previous bin Laden location that could be subsequently verified (see May 20, 2007). [Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2007]
American al-Qaeda member Jose Padilla (see September-October 2000) and an unidentified associate approach an al-Qaeda operations chief to propose detonating a nuclear bomb in the US. The plan is considered too far-fetched, and the idea of a radioactive “dirty bomb” is floated instead. Al-Qaeda leaders consider Padilla an incompetent who has virtually no chance of pulling off such an attack (see Mid-April 2002). [Associated Press, 6/2004]
Ali Soufan, an experienced FBI interrogator with an extensive knowledge of both Arab culture and al-Qaeda (see Late December 1999, Late October-Late November 2000, November 11, 2000, Early December 2000, and Late March through Early June, 2002), goes to Guantanamo to conduct training on non-coercive interrogation methods for the interrogators stationed there. Soufan says that not only are these methods the most effective, but they are critical to maintaining the US image in the Middle East and elsewhere. “The whole world is watching what we do here,” Soufan says. “We’re going to win or lose this war depending on how we do this.” According to Robert McFadden, a US naval criminal investigator who worked with Soufan on the USS Cole investigation, the interrogators from law enforcement nod in agreement, while the military intelligence officers just sit and look at Soufan “with blank stares.” McFadden will later recall: “It’s like they were thinking, ‘This is bullcrap.’ Their attitude was, ‘You guys are cops; we don’t have time for this.’” [Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
The CIA first learns that Osama bin Laden has a trusted courier who uses the alias Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. CIA Director Leon Panetta will later state, “The first mention of the name Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, as well as a description of him as an important member of al-Qaeda, came from a detainee held in another country.” US intelligence won’t learn the courier’s real name is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed until years later. When they do, this will be the vital clue that leads them to bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan. [MSNBC, 5/4/2011; Washington Post, 5/12/2011; Associated Press, 6/1/2011]
Al-Qaeda forces have been driven out of Afghanistan but regroup in the tribal border region of Pakistan called South Waziristan (see December 2001-Spring 2002). However, the Pakistani government is strict about preventing US forces from crossing the border in pursuit of bin Laden or any other al-Qaeda figures. According to author James Risen, “Green Berets who served in southeastern Afghanistan say that there have been a series of tense confrontations—and even firefights—between American and Pakistani forces along the border. Both sides have largely covered up the incidents.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 181] There is no sign later of a significant change in policy, although minor skirmishes persist. For part of 2002 and into 2003, some US special forces are allowed into the region, but only by traveling with the Pakistani army, and this arrangement does not last for long (see 2002-Early 2003).
In late December 1999, Rita Katz, working with the Investigative Project on Terrorism, gave a presentation in the White House to members of the National Security Council (NSC) about a suspected al-Qaeda sleeper cell based in Anaheim, California (see December 25, 1999). The NSC forwarded the information her team gleaned from public sources to the FBI. Katz later repeatedly asked a contact she had with the NSC named Peter what happened to the lead she gave them. Peter replied that he assumed the FBI was just sitting on the material. [Katz, 2003, pp. 180] Around January 2002, Katz is contacted by an FBI agent in California who is looking for investigative leads on al-Qaeda in California. Katz forwards him all her information she gave in her White House presentation back in 1999. According to Katz, the agent looks over the material and says it is “very strong… I want to go all the way with this investigation.” Then the agent registers his investigation with the FBI so other agents with leads could contact him. A few days later, he calls Katz and says that he has been taken off the case because it falls into the jurisdiction of the FBI’s Anaheim office. Apparently that office does nothing with the lead. In 1999, Katz suggested the cell included Khalil Deek, arrested in late 1999 for involvement in a millennium bomb plot in Jordan (see December 11, 1999), his brother Tawfiq Deek, Hisham Diab, and Khalid Ashour. [Katz, 2003, pp. 186-187] ABC News will later report that Diab continued to live in Anaheim until June 2001, when he apparently moved to Afghanistan to stay with top al-Qaeda leaders. [ABC News, 12/23/2004] Khalil Deek is mysteriously released in Jordan around the same time (see May 2001); it will later be alleged that he was a mole for the Jordanian government (see Shortly After December 11, 1999). By late 1999, Ashour had requested asylum in the US. Katz will later note that he “could have been easily located, investigated, and if necessary, denied asylum and deported.” But as of 2003, Katz claims Ashour still lives in the US. [Katz, 2003, pp. 187] Tawfiq Deek apparently continues to live in Anaheim as well, where he works for the state’s Department of Toxic Substance Control as a chemical engineer. He denies all terrorism ties, though he confirms that he was an active member of the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), which the FBI has called a Hamas front group. [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005] Another associate of the above group, Adam Gadahn, will emerge in Afghanistan in 2004 as a prominent al-Qaeda spokesman (see Spring 2004).
In November 2001, US police called Nabil al-Marabh one of their top five suspects in the 9/11 attacks. [Toronto Sun, 11/23/2001] In mid-January 2002, Canadian police call him “the real thing.” [Toronto Sun, 11/23/2001] In late January 2002, it is reported that in Chicago, “Federal agents say criminal charges spelling out his role [in 9/11 and other plots] are likely within a few weeks.” [ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] Yet, shortly after this, there seems to be a dramatic change of opinion at Justice Department headquarters about al-Marabh. US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago drafts an indictment against Nabil al-Marabh, charging him with multiple counts of making false statements in his interviews with FBI agents. Fitzgerald already has several successful al-Qaeda prosecutions. However, the indictments are rejected by Justice Department headquarters in the name of protecting intelligence. In December 2002, Fitzgerald tracks down a Jordanian informant who had spent time with al-Marabh in a federal detention cell earlier in the year because of minor immigration problems. Fitzgerald has the man flown to Chicago and oversees his debriefing. The man reveals numerous criminal acts that al-Marabh confessed to him in prison, and the information fits with what is already known of al-Marabh’s history (see December 2002). However, Fitzgerald is still not allowed to indict al-Marabh. Another prosecutor in Detroit, trying some associates of al-Marabh in an ultimately unsuccessful case there, also expresses a desire to indict al-Marabh, but is not allowed to do so (see Early 2003). [Associated Press, 6/3/2004] Al-Marabh will ultimately be deported to Syria after serving a short sentence on minor charges (see January 2004).
More than 140 suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda members are transferred to an alleged US detention center in Kohat, Pakistan. According to one report, the Pakistani army is responsible for maintaining the external security of the prison, while US officials are responsible for security inside. As at Bagram, US officials interrogate prisoners in order to determine who should be transferred to Guantanamo Bay. According to Javed Ibrahim Paracha of the Pakistan Muslim League-N party, prisoners at Kohat are shackled and dressed only in shorts. Detainees are transferred in military planes only under the cover of night. [First, 6/2004 ]
The US had been frustrated in their efforts to cross the Pakistan border to search for al-Qaeda figures (see Early 2002 and After). However, the CIA is now permitted to establish a number of covert bases inside Pakistan to help in the hunt for bin Laden. But the ISI and Pakistani military place strict limits on the mobility of CIA officers in Pakistan. They have to travel in the tribal border regions where bin Laden is believed to reside with Pakistani security escorts, “making it virtually impossible for the Americans to conduct effective intelligence-gathering operations among the local tribes on Pakistan’s northwest frontier.” In 2006, author James Risen will claim this arrangement begins in late 2003. [Risen, 2006, pp. 181] But in a 2008 New York Times article that quotes high-ranking US figures, it seems the arrangement begins at some point in 2002 and ends in early 2003. According to this article, a small number of US special forces are allowed to accompany the Pakistani army on raids. But the arrangement does not work. Having to move with army greatly limits what the special forces and do and where it can go. Pakistani officials publicly deny that Americans are there, but locals see the Americans and protest, causing an increasingly awkward situation for Pakistan. Deputy Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage will later say he supported the Bush administration’s decision to cancel the arrangement. “We were pushing [the Pakistani government] almost to the breaking point.” [New York Times, 6/30/2008]
Two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, draft a paper on the use of harsh interrogations to break suspected al-Qaeda terrorists. Mitchell, a retired Air Force psychologist, and Jessen, the senior psychologist in charge of the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA)‘s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training program, will soon begin consulting for both the Pentagon and a variety of US intelligence agencies on the harsh methods—torture—they advocate. Jessen proposes an interrogation program similar to those later adopted by the CIA and Pentagon. His proposal recommends creating what he calls an “exploitation facility,” off-limits to outside observers including journalists and representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the agency detailed to ensure that captives in the custody of other nations are being treated properly in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. In the “exploitation facility,” interrogators would use such tactics as sleep deprivation, physical violence, and waterboarding to break the resistance of captured terrorism suspects. JPRA officials will later add their own suggestions to Jessen’s initial list, including sexually provocative acts by female interrogators and the use of military dogs. Most of these techniques are considered torture under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Mullah Obaidullah Akhund.
[Source: Public domain]Seven former Taliban leaders surrender to the Northern Alliance near Kandahar, Afghanistan, but are released. Two are on a US list of twelve most wanted Taliban leaders: Defense Minister Mullah Obaidullah Akhund and Justice Minister Mullah Nooruddin Turabi. Akhund “is considered by American intelligence officials to have been one of the Taliban leaders closest to Mr. bin Laden.” The US military denies reports of their release, but officials of the new Afghan government confirm the account and are unrepentant about it. They claim they are following through on an announced policy to grant amnesty to any Taliban leaders who surrender. CNN reports, “Though US forces expressed interest in the men,… they accepted the Afghan decision to let them go, and have given no indication they are pursuing them…” This follows other accounts of Taliban leaders being released in December 2001 (see December 24, 2001). A senior Pakistani official will later note, “Unbelievably, not one [Taliban cabinet minister] was killed, arrested, or defected to opposition forces during the two-month-long, nonstop bombing.” It appears that the highest ranking Taliban leader to have been killed or captured is the deputy foreign minister, who was killed in a bombing raid. [Washington Post, 12/17/2001; New York Times, 12/20/2001; Washington Post, 1/10/2002; CNN, 1/10/2002] Mullah Obaidullah Akhund will later become one of the most important leaders of the continued Taliban resistance. In 2004, it will be reported that Pakistan is allowing him and other Taliban leaders to freely come and go through Pakistan (see August 18, 2005). [Boston Globe, 7/11/2004]
Walid al-Qadasi, a 22-year-old Yemeni, is captured in Iran and transferred to US custody, where he is soon transferred to an Afghan prison. Like another captive, Wisam Ahmed (see December 2001 and After), al-Qadasi calls the site the “Dark Prison.” (Civil rights activist Andy Worthington later writes that he believes Ahmed and al-Qadasi were kept at different sites.) Al-Qadasi will later recall: “The Americans interrogated us on our first night which we coined as ‘the black night.’ They cut our clothes with scissors, left us naked, and took photos of us before they gave us Afghan clothes to wear. They then handcuffed our hands behind our backs, blindfolded us, and started interrogating us.… They threatened me with death, accusing me of belonging to al-Qaeda.” After the initial interrogation, he recalls: “They put us in an underground cell measuring approximately two meters by three meters. There were 10 of us in the cell. We spent three months in the cell. There was no room for us to sleep so we had to alternate.… It was too hot in the cell, despite the fact that outside the temperature was freezing (there was snow), because the cell was overcrowded.” He will recall being fed only once a day, tormented by ear-splittingly loud music, and will say that one of his fellow detainees “went insane.” According to his later statement, when Red Cross representatives come to visit, the most severely disturbed prisoners are secretly moved to another cell that is off limits. Al-Qadasi will be transferred to Guantanamo, and in 2004 will be remanded into Yemeni custody. [Future of Freedom Foundation, 4/27/2009]
Allekema Lamari, one of about three of the 2004 Madrid train bombing masterminds, is released from a Spanish prison in 2002. The Spanish government will later call him the “emir” of the bombings. Most of the alleged Madrid bombers have little formal connection to any Islamist militant group or training camp, but Lamari has an extensive background as an Algerian militant. He was imprisoned in Spain in 1997 for belonging to the GIA militant group. When he is released from prison in 2002, an informant named Safwan Sabagh closely follows him. Sabagh travels with him, and moves towns at the same time Lamari does. Sabagh has a special assignment from the Spanish intelligence agency, the CNI, to focus on Lamari, since Lamari is considered such a dangerous character. Sabagh is considered an excellent informant and gives a steady stream of information about Lamari. For instance, on March 8, just three days before the Madrid bombings, Lamari calls Sabagh and appears nervous and concerned about something that has to happen soon. Sabagh is with Lamari when Lamari meets other masterminds of the plot, such as Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet. Sabagh also introduces Lamari to Mohamed Afalah and vouches that he is a person Lamari can trust. [El Mundo (Madrid), 10/17/2005] Afalah becomes Lamari’s driver, bodyguard, and confidante, but Afalah also is an informant for the CNI. [El Mundo (Madrid), 1/15/2007] Furthermore, three other CNI informants, Abdelkader Farssaoui (alias Cartagena), Smail Latrech, and Rabia Gaya, also sometimes keep tabs on Lamari. Several weeks after the Madrid bombings, Sabagh will be arrested and held for one day, and then let go. It has not been explained how the CNI is unable to stop the Madrid bombings when possibly the most important mastermind of those bombings was surrounded by so many informants. [El Mundo (Madrid), 10/17/2005]
The US wants al-Qaeda leader Hassan Ghul arrested, but the Pakistani government will not do so, apparently because he is part of a Pakistani militant group supported by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Details and timing are vague, but US intelligence becomes increasingly interested in Ghul. He is believed to be part of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida’s secret network of moneymen and couriers. According to a 2011 article by the Associated Press, the CIA has been pressing the Pakistani government to arrest Ghul “for years.” After 9/11, Ghul hides in Lahore, Pakistan, in safe houses run by the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). This group helps many al-Qaeda operatives escape Afghanistan and hide in Pakistan after 9/11, and it even helps Zubaida escape and hide (see Late 2001-Early 2002). However, the ISI refuses to arrest Ghul. The Associated Press will report that “former CIA officers who targeted Ghul said he had ties to the Lashkar-e-Toiba terror group, which had the backing of the ISI.” Eventually, the CIA learns that Ghul plans to meet with al-Qaeda operatives fighting against US forces in Iraq. Ghul is captured in Iraq on January 23, 2004 (see January 23, 2004). However, the Pakistani government is said to be furious that Ghul has been captured, and the US is pressed to return him. The US transfers him to a secret CIA prison instead. [Associated Press, 6/15/2011]
Some of the weapons found aboard the ‘Karine A.’ [Source: Associated Press / BBC]Israeli commandos seize a freighter, the “Karine A” (or “Karin A”), in the Red Sea 300 miles off the coast of Israel, in an operation dubbed “Operation Noah’s Ark.” Eli Marum, an Israeli Navy operations chief, says the operation took less than eight minutes and did not require a single shot being fired. “The crew was fully surprised,” he says. “They did not anticipate that we would strike so far out into the Red Sea.” Israeli officials claim the freighter contains a large store of Iranian-supplied weapons—including Katyusha rockets capable of destroying tanks, mortars, grenades, Kalashnikov assault rifles, anti-tank missiles, high explosives, and two speedboats—for use by Palestinian fighters against Israeli targets. The Palestinian Authority is forbidden by treaty to own such weaponry. Israel also claims that the captain of the freighter, Omar Akawi, has direct ties to the Palestinian Authority and to its leader, Yasser Arafat. (According to Israeli sources, Akawi claims he is a member of Arafat’s organization Fatah.) Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer tells European Union (EU) authorities that the freighter “was purchased by the Palestinian Authority after September 11” and that “the whole operation was managed and funded by the Palestinian Authority in cooperation with Iran and other sources.” [BBC, 1/10/2002; Guardian, 1/21/2002; Jewish Virtual Library, 2009] “What Iran is trying to do is create another base, besides its base in Lebanon” to threaten Israel, says Major General Giora Eiland, the Israeli Army’s chief of planning. [New York Times, 1/12/2002]
Arafat's Denials - Initially, Arafat denies any connection whatsoever with the shipment, accusing Israel of fomenting a propaganda attack to thwart US-led efforts to implement a cease-fire agreement, and says Israel “fabricated” the whole affair. Ahmed Abdel Rahman, the secretary general of the Palestinian cabinet, calls the operation “an Israeli trap.” Later, Arafat continues to insist that he had no involvement in the affair, but admits that he cannot control “everyone” in the Palestinian Authority. American and Israeli intelligence officials note that the weaponry on board the “Karine A” is similar to that of a “wish list” allegedly drawn up by senior Palestinian officials under Arafat’s direction. [New York Times, 1/12/2002; Jewish Virtual Library, 2009]
Propaganda by Israel? - Some, such as Guardian reporter Brian Whitaker, believe that Israel is using the incident to persuade the EU to stop funding the Palestinian Authority. And, Whitaker notes, Israeli lawmakers and pundits such as former President Benjamin Netanyahu are using the incident to argue that the idea of Palestinian statehood be permanently scrapped. Whatever the truth of the matter, the attempts suffer setbacks when documents show that an Iraqi, Ali Mohamed Abbas, purchased the ship, and other records disprove the Israelis’ claims about the ship’s cargo, which Israel says it picked up in Yemen. It seems clear that the freighter was indeed carrying weapons, but little of Israel’s other claims—they were Iranian in origin and intended for Palestinian use against Israel—are borne out by ascertainable facts.
Hezbollah Connection? - American intelligence sources later speculate that the weapons may have been intended for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite militant organization with close ties to Iran, and not the Palestinians. Israel is initially resistant to the idea, but Israeli defense sources later tell Israeli reporters that it was “certainly possible that some of the arms were earmarked for Hizbullah,” though it is certain that most “were clearly bound for the Palestinian Authority.” Whitaker echoes skeptics’ disbelief about the Hezbollah claim, noting that there are easier and more secure methods of delivering arms to Lebanon than a risky sea voyage past Israeli patrol boats. [Guardian, 1/21/2002] Israel names reputed senior Hezbollah security officer Imad Mughniyeh as a key figure in the incident. Mughniyeh has not been heard from for years by Western intelligence, but is wanted by the FBI for his participation in kidnapping Americans in Beirut during the 1980s and the hijacking of a TWA passenger plane. The BBC reports, “Correspondents say the Israeli government has been going to great lengths to convince Washington that the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is linked to Tehran and the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, and hence to what it sees as international terrorism.” [BBC, 1/10/2002]
Iranian Connection Unlikely - And the Iranian connection is similarly hard to swallow. Though Israel insists that the arms prove a new and disturbing connection between Iran and Palestinian militants, Whitaker writes, “most non-Israeli observers of Iran ridicule the idea totally, for a variety of historical, political and religious reasons. It also conflicts with the foreign policies adopted by [Iranian] President [Mohamed] Khatami.” He goes on to add: “The trouble with Iran, though—as one Iranian exile remarked last week—is that it has two governments and 10,000 leaders. If you are going to pin blame, you have to determine which one is responsible.” Whitaker is referring to Iran’s religious and secular leaders, who are often at odds with one another, and to the propensity of Iranian leaders from both sides to conduct independent operations without “official” government sanction. [Guardian, 1/21/2002] The New York Times notes: “Iran’s government has dismissed the Israeli accusations. But Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have discretionary funds and access to weapons, and they often run operations independent of the elected government of… Khatami.” [New York Times, 1/12/2002] The “Karine A” incident helps prompt Bush officials to include Iran as a member of the so-called “axis of evil,” disrupting backchannel negotiations between Iranian and US officials (see January 29, 2002).
Entity Tags: Fatah al-Islam, Omar Akawi, Giora Eiland, Hezbollah, Eli Marum, Bush administration (43), Brian Whitaker, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, Yasser Arafat, Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Imad Mughniyeh, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ali Mohamed Abbas
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
Michael Edward Smith, a well-dressed young man wearing sunglasses and surgical gloves, sits in a parked car across from the Sherith Israel Congregation synagogue in Nashville, Tennessee. Smith has an AR-15 assault rifle, and plans on shooting someone either entering or exiting the building. A passing motorist sees Smith and his rifle and calls the police. When police confront Smith outside his apartment, he refuses to surrender, and manages to break away to his car, where he proceeds to flee down Interstate 65 while holding a gun to his own head. The chase ends in a parking lot outside a pharmacy, where the police find the AR-15, a handgun, ammunition, and surgical gloves in Smith’s car. After learning of the incident, Deborah Lauter of the Anti-Defamation League tells reporters: “The sight of a man pointing an assault rifle at a synagogue is chilling. We are thankful to the person who reported the incident and to law enforcement for their swift actions in apprehending the suspect.” Smith, a member of the violent, neo-Nazi National Alliance (see 1970-1974), has been influenced by two books, both published by Alliance founder William Pierce: The Turner Diaries, which tells of a genocidal race war in a near-future America (see 1978), and Hunter, a novel depicting a lone assassin gunning down Jews and African-Americans (see 1988). Three days later, he is charged with multiple felonies after divulging his ties to the National Alliance and the existence of a small arsenal in his apartment, in a storage facility, and buried on his parents’ land in the country. Authorities find, among other items: an anti-tank rocket; eight firearms, including a sniper rifle; 13 grenades; 13 pipe bombs; over 2,000 rounds of armor-piercing ammunition; smoke bombs; dynamite fuses; and two duffel bags filled with chemicals. They also find copies of both novels and other materials from the Alliance and the Ku Klux Klan, to which he also admits membership. The FBI classifies Smith as a “domestic terrorist.” James Cavanaugh of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) says: “Basically, we’ve got hand grenades, we’ve got assault rifles, and we’ve got a mind full of hate and a recipe for disaster.… Anybody who would stockpile that stuff is certainly on the precipice of using them.” Smith readily admits his admiration for the fictional main chacter of Hunter, Oscar Yeager, who in the first scene of the book assassinates an interracial couple from a vantage point inside his car. And, he says, the National Alliance and the KKK gave him training in “how to make and how to use explosives, [and gave him] sniper and combat training.” Smith tells questioners that he “dislike[s] Jews.” Local activists later tell the FBI that Smith took part in a November 2001 National Alliance rally outside the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC. Authorities later find an email from Smith stating Jews “perhaps” should be “stuffed head first into an oven.” [Center for New Community, 8/2002 ; Anti-Defamation League, 5/27/2003; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2005] Smith will later plead guilty to four weapons-related offenses. [Anti-Defamation League, 5/27/2003]
Entity Tags: National Alliance, James Cavanaugh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Deborah Lauter, Ku Klux Klan, Michael Edward Smith, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Sherith Israel Congregation, William Luther Pierce
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Mullah Mohammed Omar. [Source: CBC]The US allegedly locates former Taliban leader Mullah Omar and 1,500 of his soldiers in the remote village of Baghran, Afghanistan. After a six-day siege, and surrounded by US helicopters and troops, Omar and four bodyguards supposedly escape the dragnet in a daring chase on motorcycles over dirt roads. His soldiers are set free in return for giving up their weapons, in a deal brokered by local leaders. Yet it remains unclear if Omar was ever in the village in the first place. [Observer, 1/6/2002]
Ali Gilani. [Source: CNN]The Boston Globe reports that shoe bomber Richard Reid may have had ties with an obscure Pakistani group called Al-Fuqra. Reid apparently visited the Lahore, Pakistan, home of Ali Gilani, the leader of Al-Fuqra. [Boston Globe, 1/6/2002] Reporter Daniel Pearl reads the article and decides to investigate. [Vanity Fair, 8/2002] Pearl believes he is on his way to interview Gilani when he is kidnapped. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002] A 1995 State Department report said Al-Fuqra’s main goal is “purifying Islam through violence.” [Vanity Fair, 8/2002] Intelligence experts now say Al-Fuqra is a splinter group of Jaish-e-Mohammed, with ties to al-Qaeda. [United Press International, 1/29/2002] Al-Fuqra claims close ties with the Muslims of the Americas, a US tax-exempt group claiming about 3,000 members living in rural compounds in 19 states, the Caribbean, and Europe. Members of Al-Fuqra are suspected of at least 13 fire bombings and 17 murders, as well as theft and credit-card fraud. Gilani, who had links to people involved in the 1993 WTC bombing, fled the US after the bombing. He admitted he works with the ISI, and now lives freely in Pakistan. [Boston Globe, 1/6/2002; News (Islamabad), 2/15/2002; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002] Saeed Sheikh “has long had close contacts” with the group, and praises Gilani for his “unexplained services to Pakistan and Islam.” [News (Islamabad), 2/18/2002; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002]
Military spokesperson Navy Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem says, “We’re going to stop chasing… the shadows of where we thought [bin Laden and Mullah Omar were] and focus more on the entire picture of the country, where these pockets of resistance are, what do the anti-Taliban forces need, so that we can develop a better intelligence picture. The job is not complete and those leaders whom we wish to have from the al-Qaeda and Taliban chain of command, we are casting a wide net—a worldwide net, as well as regional, for where they are.” This announcement comes just two days after reports that Mullah Omar escaped an encirclement near Kandahar and fled into the nearby hills (see January 6, 2002). [Reuters, 1/8/2002]
Justice Department lawyer John Yoo sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo is about the Geneva Conventions. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
An aerial shot of Camp X-Ray. [Source: Public domain]The US prison camp at Guantanamo receives its first 20 prisoners from the Afghan battlefield. [Reuters, 1/11/2002] The prisoners are flown on a C-141 Starlifter cargo plane, escorted during the final leg of the journey by a Navy assault helicopter and a naval patrol boat. The prisoners, hooded, shackled, wearing blackout goggles and orange jumpsuits, and possibly drugged, are escorted one by one off the plane by scores of Marines in full battle gear. They are interred in what reporter Charlie Savage will later call “kennel-like outdoor cages” in the makeshift containment facility dubbed Camp X-Ray. [Guardian, 1/11/2002; Savage, 2007, pp. 142-143]
Leaked Photos of Transfer Cause International Outcry - Pictures of prisoners being transferred in conditions clearly in violation of international law are later leaked, prompting an outcry. But rather than investigating the inhumane transfer, the Pentagon will begin investigating how the pictures were leaked. [Associated Press, 11/9/2002]
Guantanamo Chosen to Keep Prisoners out of US Jurisdiction - The prisoners are sent to this base—leased by Cuba to the US—because it is on foreign territory and therefore beyond the jurisdiction of US law (see December 28, 2001). [Globe and Mail, 9/5/2002] It was once a coaling station used by the US Navy, and in recent years had been used by Coast Guard helicopters searching for drug runners and refugees trying to make it across the Florida Straits to US soil. In 1998, the Clinton administration had briefly considered and then rejected a plan to bring some prisoners from Kosovo to Guantanamo. Guantanamo was chosen as an interim prison for Afghanis who survived the uprising at Mazar-e Sharif prison (see 11:25 a.m. November 25, 2001) by an interagency working group (see Shortly Before September 23, 2001), who considered and rejected facilities in Germany and other European countries. Group leader Pierre-Richard Prosper will later recall: “We looked at our military bases in Europe and ruled that out because (a), we’d have to get approval from a European government, and (b), we’d have to deal with the European Court of Human Rights and we didn’t know how they’d react. We didn’t want to lose control over it and have it become a European process because it was on European soil. And so we kept looking around and around, and basically someone said, ‘What about Guantanamo?’” The base may well have not been the final choice of Prosper’s group; it was still researching a Clinton-era attempt to house Haitian and Cuban refugees there that had been challenged in court when Rumsfeld unilaterally made the decision to begin transferring prisoners to the naval base. [Savage, 2007, pp. 143-144]
No Geneva Convention Strictures Apply to 'Unlawful Combatants' - Rumsfeld, acting on the advice of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, publicly declares the detainees “unlawful combatants” and thereby not entitled to the rights of the Geneva Conventions. “Unlawful combatants do not have any rights under the Geneva Convention,” Rumsfeld says. Though, according to Rumsfeld, the government will “for the most part treat them in a manner that is reasonably consistent with the Geneva Conventions, to the extent they are appropriate.” [Reuters, 1/11/2002] There is no reason to feel sorry for these detainees, says Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He states, “These are people who would gnaw through hydraulic lines at the back of a C-17 to bring it down.” [New York Times, 6/21/2004]
British Officials: 'Scandalous' - Senior British officials privately call the treatment of prisoners “scandalous,” and one calls the refusal to follow the Geneva Convention “not benchmarks of a civilized society.” [Guardian, 6/13/2002]
Entity Tags: US Department of the Navy, United States, US Department of Defense, Pierre-Richard Prosper, Richard B. Myers, Clinton administration, Donald Rumsfeld, Charlie Savage, Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Geneva Conventions
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
On January 12, 2002, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf gives a speech denouncing violent Islamist militancy for the first time. He is essentially forced to give the speech after militants supported by Pakistan launched attacks in the disputed region of Kashmir, bringing India and Pakistan close to the brink of nuclear war. He also bans five militant groups (see January 12, 2002). [Rashid, 2008, pp. 116-118] Shortly after the speech, Pakistan arrests about 3,000 suspected militants. Musharraf is hailed in the Western media as redirecting the ISI to support the US agenda. But by the end of the month, at least 800 of the arrested are set free, including most of their leaders. Not a single one of the arrested militants is charged with any terrorist offense. [Washington Post, 3/28/2002; Time, 5/6/2002; Rashid, 2008, pp. 155] A US diplomat based in Pakistan will later say: “By March it was clear to us that Musharraf was not going to implement his promises [given in the speech]. All the arrested militants were freed, and the military had no intention of imposing any curbs on their activities.” The US State Department attempts to pressure Musharraf to keep the promises he made in the speech. However, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the US Defense Department is reluctant to pressure him, fearing that Pakistan will stop cooperating in capturing al-Qaeda leaders. Rumsfeld is apparently not concerned by the strong links between Pakistani militant groups and al-Qaeda. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 118] Within one year, “almost all” of those arrested have been quietly released. Even the most prominent leaders, such as Maulana Masood Azhar, have been released. Their banned militant organizations are running again, most under new names. [Washington Post, 2/8/2003]
Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Robert Delahunty send a classified memo to the chief legal adviser for the State Department, William Howard Taft IV. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo concerns the Justice Department’s interpretation of the War Crimes Act. According to Yoo and Delahunty, the War Crimes Act does not allow the prosecution of accused al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects. Yoo will cite this memo in a 2003 memo concerning the military interrogation of so-called enemy combatants (see March 14, 2003). [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
Saber Lahmar. [Source: US Defense Department]The US renditions six suspects to Guantanamo, even though their cases are under appeal in Bosnia. On October 8, 2001, Bosnian police arrested Bensayah Belkacem, an Algerian given Bosnian citizenship and living in Bosnia. US intelligence intercepted numerous phone calls between Abu Zubaida and other al-Qaeda leaders and Belkacem (see October 8, 2001). On October 16, a conversation was overheard in which US and British targets in Bosnia are mentioned, and a Bosnian associate of Belkacem’s named Saber Lahmar said to another associate, “Tomorrow we will start.” US and British embassies were shut down that night, and Lahmar and four associates - Al-Hajj Boudella, Lakhdar Boumediene, Mustafa Ait Idir, and Mohamed Nechle - were quickly arrested. Lahmar worked for the Saudi High Commission. In 1997 he was arrested and convicted of plotting to bomb the US embassy in Sarajevo, but then pardoned and released by the Bosnian government (see 1996 and After). Boudella was an elite al-Qaeda training camp trainer in Afghanistan and Bosnia, then worked at the Benevolence International Foundation, which the US declared a terrorism financier after 9/11 (see 1993). Belkacem’s other associates worked for other charities such as the Red Crescent society and Taibah International. [Time, 11/12/2001] On January 18, 2002, the Bosnian government determines they don’t have enough evidence to charge the six men since the US will not share details of its communications intercepts. A high court rules that the men are not allowed to be deported until their appeals are heard. [BBC, 1/22/2002] But the men are nonetheless released directly into the custody of US soldiers, who immediately fly them to the Guantanamo Bay prison. The handover is denounced as illegal by human rights groups. It is believed the US put intense pressure on Bosnia to hand them over. [BBC, 1/22/2002; New York Times, 1/23/2002] The Bosnian government, still not privy to the intercepts, will later clear them of all charges, but the US will continue to hold them in Guantanamo without revealing any of the evidence said to justify their detention. [Washington Post, 8/21/2006]
Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf says that he thinks Osama bin Laden is most likely dead because he has been unable to get treatment for his kidney disease. “I think now, frankly, he is dead for the reason he is a… kidney patient,” says Musharraf in an interview with CNN. According to Musharraf, Pakistan knows bin Laden took two dialysis machines into Afghanistan, and, “One was specifically for his own personal use.” Musharraf adds: “I don’t know if he has been getting all that treatment in Afghanistan now. And the photographs that have been shown of him on television show him extremely weak.… I would give the first priority that he is dead and the second priority that he is alive somewhere in Afghanistan.” However, some US officials are skeptical of this. One senior Bush administration official says Musharraf reached a “reasonable conclusion,” but warns it is only a guess. “We don’t have remains or evidence of his death. So it is a decent and reasonable conclusion—a good guess but it is a guess,” says the official. He adds that US intelligence indicates bin Laden needs dialysis every three days and, “it is fairly obvious that that could be an issue when you are running from place to place, and facing the idea of needing to generate electricity in a mountain hideout.” However, another US official contradicts the reports of bin Laden’s health problems, saying there is “no evidence” the suspected terrorist mastermind has ever suffered kidney failure or required kidney dialysis. The official calls such suggestions a “recurrent rumor.” [CNN, 1/18/2002]
In January 2002, the Observer reports that Anas al-Liby, one of al-Qaeda’s top leaders, has been recently captured in Afghanistan. Al-Liby is considered one of bin Laden’s computer experts, and a long-time member of al-Qaeda’s ruling council. [Observer, 1/20/2002] In early March 2002, the London Times mentions al-Liby’s capture as an established fact. [London Times, 3/11/2002] Then, in late March 2002, the London Times and the Washington Post report that al-Liby has been recently captured in Sudan. Anonymous CIA sources and anonymous “senior administration officials” claim that al-Liby has been captured, but the Sudanese and US governments officially deny the arrest. The London Times says the arrest “has been kept a closely guarded secret.” Some senior officials who told the Post al-Liby had been arrested later change their account and say it was someone with a similar name. [London Times, 3/17/2002; Washington Post, 3/19/2002; Washington Post, 3/20/2002] Al-Liby remains on the FBI’s most wanted list, with a $25 million reward on his name. It will later be lowered to $5 million. [London Times, 5/8/2005] Al-Liby appears to have collaborated with British intelligence to kill Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi in 1996 and was allowed to openly live in Britain until 2000 (see Late 1995-May 2000; 1996). In 2003, it will be reported that al-Liby was captured in Sudan and then secretly deported to Egypt, where he is wanted for an attempted assassination of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (see (Late 1995)). [Scotland on Sunday, 10/26/2003] In 2007, human rights groups will list al-Liby as a possible ghost prisoner still held by the US (see June 7, 2007).
A crowd of mostly unarmed Indian police near the US Information Service building in Calcutta, India, is attacked by gunmen; four policemen are killed and 21 people injured. The gunmen escape. India claims that Aftab Ansari immediately calls to take credit, and India charges that the gunmen belong to Ansari’s kidnapping ring are also connected to funding the 9/11 attacks in August 2001 (see Early August 2001). [Daily Telegraph, 1/24/2002; Associated Press, 2/10/2002] Saeed Sheikh and the ISI assist Ansari in the attack. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002] This is the fourth attack in which they have cooperated, including the 9/11 attacks, and attacks in October and December 2001.
Jay Bybee, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and OLC lawyer John Yoo send a memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Defense Department chief counsel William Haynes. Known as the “Treaties and Laws Memorandum,” the document addresses the treatment of detainees captured in Afghanistan, and their eventual incarceration at Guantanamo and possible trial by military commissions. The memo asserts that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to al-Qaeda detainees, and the president has the authority to deny Taliban members POW status. The document goes on to assert that the president is not bound by international laws such as the Geneva Conventions because they are neither treaties nor federal laws. [US Department of Justice, 1/22/2002 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
Ramzi bin al-Shibh attempts to obtain a false passport, but fails to do so as he cannot afford one and a group controlled by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi refuses to pay for him. Bin al-Shibh, already known as a key 9/11 plotter at this time, presumably desires the passport so he can make a trip outside Pakistan, where he will be interviewed in April (see April, June, or August 2002). He tries to obtain it from the terrorist organization Ansar al-Islam, which is associated with al-Zarqawi. In a conversation monitored by the police, Ansar operatives discuss using money from fake ID operations to pay for bin al-Shibh, but decide not to do so as, according to the Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Zarqawi… had allocated all the available profits to pay for passports for his own fighters,” and bin al-Shibh “isn’t part of the al Tawhid [another group associated with Ansar and al-Zarqawi] structure, and has no position in the hierarchy.” [Wall Street Journal, 4/14/2004]
Justice Department lawyer John Yoo sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents of the memo remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo regards the application of international law to the United States (see January 22, 2002). [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo is about the Geneva Conventions and is applicable to prisoners of war. Yoo’s boss, OLC head Jay Bybee, sends another secret memo about the Geneva Conventions to Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
It is reported that four charities operating in Bosnia are due to be shut down there within weeks. The four are Saudi High Relief Commission, Global Relief Foundation (GRF), Active Islamic Youth (AIO), and the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA). The Saudi High Commission is closely tied to the Saudi government and has given out hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Bosnia. At least three suspects recently arrested by the US worked for the Commission, and it had a long history of known militant links (see 1996 and After). In late 2001, GRF was shut down in the US and the UN shut its offices in nearby Kosovo (see December 14, 2001). In the early 1990s, TWRA funneled hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons to Bosnia in violation of a UN embargo (see Mid-1991-1996). A Bosnian police official says, “We have information that these groups are used to finance and support terrorism. There is also definitely money laundering here. And this laundering definitely shows evidence of sources in the narcotics and arms trades.” Bosnian Deputy Minister Rasim Kadic says, “A series of searches and other intelligence gathering proved activities and evidence that has no relationship to humanitarian work. Four groups have very suspicious financial dealings and other issues have made police very suspicious about these four groups.… We expect to make the hard decision to close some of these groups. We will say ‘Thank you for your help, but now you must go.’” Officials say have also discovered evidence of drug and weapons trafficking by the four charities. [United Press International, 1/25/2002] But in fact, the four charities are not shut down in Bosnia, except for GRF, which will have its offices there shut near the end of 2002. [BBC, 11/28/2002] In 2004, there will be reports that TWRA is operating in the Czech Republic. [BBC, 3/15/2004] And in 2005, counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will tell an Austrian newspaper that TWRA is still tied to radical militants and still active there. [BBC, 6/14/2005]
Vice President Cheney says, “And we want bin Laden, and I think we will get him, but I’m more concerned about disrupting all of these terrorist cells out there. Bin Laden by himself isn’t that big a threat. Bin Laden connected to this worldwide organization of terror is a threat. We’re going to go after him, but we’re also after the network.” [ABC News, 1/27/2002]
Three weeks after the “Karine A” is seized, allegedly filled with Iranian weapons destined to be used against Israel (see January 3, 2002 and After), President Bush names Iran as one of the world’s “axis of evil” nations (see January 29, 2002). State Department official Hillary Mann, who has been facilitating secret backchannel discussions with Iranian officials for over a year (see September 11, 2001 and Fall 2001), later confirms that the “Karine A” incident helped prompt Iran’s inclusion in Bush’s speech. The speech prompts the Iranians to skip the monthly meeting with Mann in Geneva. When they resume their meeting in March, the Iranians, according to Mann, are disturbed by Bush’s characterization. “They said they had put their necks out to talk to us and they were taking big risks with their careers and their families and their lives,” she will recall. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]
Reporter Daniel Pearl moments before he is killed. [Source: Associated Press]Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is murdered. He is reported dead on February 21; his mutilated body is found months later. Police investigators say “there were at least eight to ten people present on the [murder] scene” and at least 15 who participated in his kidnapping and murder. “Despite issuing a series of political demands shortly after Pearl’s abduction four weeks ago, it now seems clear that the kidnappers planned to kill Pearl all along.” [Washington Post, 2/23/2002] Some captured participants later claim 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is the one who cuts Pearl’s throat. [MSNBC, 9/17/2002; Time, 1/26/2003] The land on which Pearl was held and murdered reportedly belongs to either the Al Rashid Trust, or one of its supporters, Saud Memon. The Al Rashid Trust, an ostensibly charitable organization that US intelligence linked to the financing of al-Qeada, is closely linked to the jihadi organization Jaish-i-Mohammed and was one of the very first organizations to have its assets frozen after 9/11. It may have been used to funnel money to the 9/11 hijackers in the US (see Early August 2001 and September 24, 2001). [Time, 1/26/2003; Daily Telegraph, 5/9/2004; Tribune, 4/2/2006]
CNN broadcasts an interview of Osama bin Laden conducted by Al Jazeera reporter Tayseer Allouni. The interview was recorded in October 2001 (see October 20, 2001). [CNN, 2/5/2002; Miles, 2005, pp. 176-177] Al Jazeera had decided not to broadcast the interview because al-Qaeda operatives intimidated Allouni, he was not allowed to ask his own questions, and the station thought the resulting product was just propaganda for bin Laden. However, Western intelligence agencies obtained the tape (see Before November 11, 2001), and news of it leaked to the media. CNN then obtained a copy and now broadcasts it, thinking this a media coup. For example, CNN executive Eason Jordan says the video is “extremely newsworthy… it not only absolutely warrants being seen, it must be seen.” It is unclear where CNN got the tape from. Author Hugh Miles will suggest that the network acquired the tape with the blessing of the US government. He will point out that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice recently instructed news outlets not to air bin Laden messages, apparently for fear they may contain hidden signals. However, CNN is not rebuked for running excerpts from the tape. Miles will also point out that Al Jazeera’s refusal to broadcast the tape is used to attack the station in the US media, as it is “widely insinuated that the affair had been an attempt by Al Jazeera to cover up bin Laden’s confession of responsibility for 9/11.” However, in retrospect, Miles will say it is a “smear campaign by the coalition, bitter at Al Jazeera’s coverage of the war and desperate to have bin Laden’s near-confession on air, to prove their vengeful war was justified.” [Miles, 2005, pp. 177-182]
According to one former National Security Council official, Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith argues in a White House meeting that since counter-narcotics is not part of the war on terrorism, the Pentagon doesn’t want to get involved in it. The former official complains, “We couldn’t get [the US military] to do counter-narcotics in Afghanistan.” Author James Risen comments, “American troops were there to fight terrorists, not suppress the poppy crop, and Pentagon officials didn’t see a connection between the two. The Pentagon feared that counter-narcotics operations would force the military to turn on the very same warlords who were aiding the United States against the Taliban, and that would lead to another round of violent attacks on American troops.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 154] Immediately after 9/11, the US had decided not to bomb drug-related targets in Afghanistan and continued not to do so (see Shortly After September 11, 2001).
Flynt Leverett. [Source: Publicity photo]In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Iran is supportive of US efforts to defeat the Taliban, since the Taliban and Iran have opposed each other. In 2006, Flynt Leverett, the senior director for Middle East affairs on the National Security Council in 2002 and 2003, will recall this cooperation between Iran and the US in a heavily censored New York Times editorial. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a notorious Afghan warlord with close ties to bin Laden (see 1984), had been living in Iran since the Taliban came to power in the 1990s. Leverett claims that in December 2001 Iran agrees to prevent Hekmatyar from returning to Afghanistan to help lead resistance to US-allied forces there, as long as the Bush administration does not criticize Iran for harboring terrorists. “But, in his January 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush did just that in labeling Iran part of the ‘axis of evil’ (see January 29, 2002). Unsurprisingly, Mr. Hekmatyar managed to leave Iran in short order after the speech.” [New York Times, 12/22/2006] Hekmatyar apparently returns to Afghanistan around February 2002. He will go on to become one of the main leaders of the armed resistance to the US-supported Afghan government. Iranian cooperation with the US over Afghanistan will continue in a more limited manner, with Iran deporting hundreds of suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives who had fled Afghanistan, while apparently keeping others. But the US will end this cooperation in 2003. [BBC, 2/14/2002; USA Today, 5/21/2003; New York Times, 12/22/2006]
The Defense Intelligence Agency issues a four-page Defense Intelligence Terrorism Summary (DITSUM No. 044-02) stating that it is probable that prisoner Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi intentionally misled debriefers when he claimed Iraq was supporting al-Qaeda in working with illicit weapons. During interviews with al-Libi, the DIA noted the Libyan al-Qaeda operative could not name any Iraqis involved, any chemical or biological material used, or where the alleged training took place. “It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers,” the report says. “Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.” The DIA report is presumably circulated widely within the government, and is available to the CIA, the White House, the Pentagon, the National Security Council, and other agencies.
No Evidence of Connections between Iraq, al-Qaeda - On the general subject of Iraq’s alleged ties to al-Qaeda, the DIA report notes: “Saddam [Hussein]‘s regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements. Moreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control.” The report also questions the reliability of information provided by high-value al-Qaeda detainees being held in secret CIA facilities or who have been “rendered” to foreign countries where they are believed to undergo harsh interrogation tactics.
Using al-Libi's Information to Bolster Case for War - Information supplied by al-Libi will be the basis for a claim included in an October 2002 speech (see October 7, 2002) by President Bush, in which he states, “[W]e’ve learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases.” Intelligence provided by al-Libi will also be included in Colin Powell’s February speech (see February 5, 2003) to the UN. In that speech, Powell will cite “the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to al-Qaeda.” [New York Times, 11/6/2005; Washington Post, 11/6/2005; Los Angeles Times, 11/7/2005; Newsweek, 11/10/2005]
Report Released as Proof of Administration's Reliance on Poor Intelligence Sources - Declassified portions of the DIA report will be issued on November 6, 2005 by two senators, Carl Levin (D-MI) and John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). Rockefeller will tell CNN that al-Libi is “an entirely unreliable individual upon whom the White House was placing a substantial intelligence trust.” The situation was, Rockefeller will say, “a classic example of a lack of accountability to the American people.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/7/2005]
Entity Tags: Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, US Department of Defense, National Security Council, George W. Bush, Saddam Hussein, Colin Powell, Al-Qaeda, Defense Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John D. Rockefeller, Carl Levin, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
James Ho, an attorney-adviser to the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a classified memo to the OLC’s John Yoo. The memo, entitled “RE: Possible interpretation of Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War,” will remain secret, but according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), it is likely a legal interpretation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, the section addressing the treatment of prisoners of war. The ACLU believes the memo interprets the scope of prohibited conduct under Common Artlcle 3, and gives specificity to the phrases “outrages upon personal dignity” and “humiliating and degrading treatment.” It also believes that the memo determines that Geneva does not apply to conflicts with terrorist organizations. Yoo will cite this memo in his 2003 memo concerning the military interrogation of so-called enemy combatants (see March 14, 2003). [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ; ProPublica, 4/16/2009]
US Central Command watches as a Predator drone captures images of a very tall man being greeted by a small group of people in the Zawar Kili area of eastern Afghanistan. It is quickly agreed the man could be Osama bin Laden, who is known to be unusually tall. Within minutes, approval is given to launch a Hellfire missile from the drone. By this time, the tall man has broken off from the group with two others. The missile hones in on him and kills him and his two companions. Journalists will later report that the men were villagers who had been scavenging in the woods for scrap metal. [New Yorker, 12/16/2002; Reuters, 5/12/2011] But in trying to determine the identity of the target, US intelligence gets bin Laden family DNA (see Shortly After February 4, 2002).
Sheikh Sheikh photographed while in secret custody in February 2002. [Source: CNN]Pakistani police, with the help of the FBI, determine Saeed Sheikh is behind the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl, but are unable to find him. They round up about ten of his relatives and threaten to harm them unless he turns himself in. Saeed Sheikh does turn himself in, but to Ijaz Shah, his former ISI boss. [Boston Globe, 2/7/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002] The ISI holds Saeed for a week, but fails to tell Pakistani police or anyone else that they have him. This “missing week” is the cause of much speculation. The ISI never tells Pakistani police any details about this week. [Newsweek, 3/11/2002] Saeed also later refuses to discuss the week or his connection to the ISI, only saying, “I will not discuss this subject. I do not want my family to be killed.” He adds, “I know people in the government and they know me and my work.” [Newsweek, 3/13/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002] It is suggested Saeed is held for this week to make sure that Pearl would be killed. Saeed later says that during this week he got a coded message from the kidnappers that Pearl had been murdered. Also, the time might have been spent working out a deal with the ISI over what Saeed would tell police and the public. [Newsweek, 3/11/2002] Several others with both extensive ISI and al-Qaeda ties wanted for the kidnapping are arrested around this time. [Washington Post, 2/23/2002; London Times, 2/25/2002] One of these men, Khalid Khawaja, “has never hidden his links with Osama bin Laden. At one time he used to fly Osama’s personal plane.” [Pakistan News Service (Newark, CA), 2/11/2002]
Shortly after a US Predator drone strike on a target that might be Osama bin Laden (see February 4, 2002), US intelligence gets bin Laden family DNA with help from the Saudi government to help determine the identity of the target. The target turns out to be some innocent Afghan men instead. But now the US has DNA for any future bin Laden identity checks. [Reuters, 5/12/2011]
CIA Director George Tenet tells the Senate Intelligence Committee that one of the agency’s “highest concerns” is a terrorist attack on an American chemical facility (see Late September 2001). [Roberts, 2008, pp. 93]
In a memo concurrent with the presidential declaration that the Geneva Convention does not apply to Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters (see February 7, 2002), Jay Bybee, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, sends a memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. Bybee concludes that President Bush has the legal authority to conclude that Taliban fighters have no rights to prisoner of war status as defined under the Geneva Conventions, because the Taliban lack an organized command structure, do not wear uniforms, and do not consider themselves bound by Geneva. It also concludes that there is no need for the US to convene Article 5 tribunals under Geneva to determine the status of the Taliban, as Bush’s presidential determination of their status eliminates any doubt under domestic law. [US Department of Justice, 2/7/2002 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
Hassan Ali bin Attash. [Source: US Defense Department]Pakistani forces raid a safe house in Karachi, Pakistan, and arrest 17 suspected al-Qaeda operatives. All 17 will eventually be sent to the US-run Guantanamo prison in Cuba.
Abu Bara al-Taizi - One of them is Abu Bara al-Taizi (a.k.a. Zohair Mohammed Said), who attended the al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000) and was to be a hijacker for an Asian portion of the 9/11 attacks that never materialized. Al-Taizi will be handed to the US on February 27, and then transferred to Guantanamo a few months later.
Abdu Ali Sharqawi - The safe house is run by Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi, a Yemeni commonly known as Riyadh the Facilitator. He is arrested as well, but he will not be handed to the US and then sent to Guantanamo until September 2004. [US Department of Defense, 7/7/2008; US Department of Defense, 10/25/2008] Another Guantanamo prisoner, Hassan Ali bin Attash, will later say that he and al-Sharqawi were held in a Jordanian prison for over a year. That would explain most of the time between al-Sharqawi’s arrest and his transfer to Guantanamo. [US Department of Defense, 6/25/2008] The New York Times will later identify al-Sharqawi as one of the four most important al-Qaeda leaders captured in the first year after 9/11. [New York Times, 9/10/2002]
Al-Sharqawi's Al-Qaeda Activity - According to al-Sharqawi’s Guantanamo file, he joined al-Qaeda after fighting in Bosnia in 1995 and was closely linked to many al-Qaeda leaders. For a time, he even took part in weekly planning meetings with Osama bin Laden and others. In the summer of 2001, he began running the safe house in Karachi. His file says that he photo-identifies 11 of the 9/11 hijackers and provides varying amounts of information on each of them. He estimates that he helped over 100 al-Qaeda operatives leave Pakistan in the post-9/11 crackdown before his safe house was shut down. 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh passed through his safe house in January 2002, a few weeks before the safe house is raided. As of late 2008, al-Sharqawi, al-Taizi, and nine others captured in the raid remain imprisoned in Guantanamo, while six others have been transferred out. [US Department of Defense, 7/7/2008; US Department of Defense, 10/25/2008] Most of the above is based on Guantanamo files leaked to the public in 2011 by the non-profit whistleblower group WikiLeaks. There are many doubts about the reliability of the information in the files (see April 24, 2011).
Neighbor's Tip Led to Raid - The safe house was discovered because the Pakistani Army asked the public for leads on the movements of suspicious foreigners. Apparently one or more neighbors pointed out the safe house (see Late 2001).
Aftab Ansari in Indian custody shortly after being arrested. [Source: Rajeev Bhatt]Gangster Aftab Ansari is deported to India. He was arrested in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on February 5. [Independent, 2/10/2002] He admits funding attacks through kidnapping ransoms, and building a network of arms and drug smuggling. [Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg), 2/11/2002] He later also admits to close ties with the ISI and Saeed Sheikh, whom he befriended in prison. [Press Trust of India, 5/13/2002]
Sections of the Norman Transcript article (February 12, 2002). [Source: Norman Transcript]A former high-ranking CIA officer named David Edger says that the CIA had tracked “some of the people responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center” in Germany, but failed to stop them. Between 1997 and 2001, Edger was CIA station chief in Berlin, Germany, and thus directed CIA surveillance and infiltration attempts against the Hamburg cell of 9/11 hijackers, and other cells in Germany (see May 1997). In August 2001, Edger retired and moved to Oklahoma to teach (see August 2001), and on this day he makes some intriguing comments to the Norman Transcript, a newspaper in Norman, Oklahoma. According to the Norman Transcript: “Up until his appointment with [the University of Oklahoma] six months ago, Edger’s work with the CIA focused on terrorist groups in Germany. One of the three cells he was tracking included some of the people responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. He said although officers knew members of the cell and some of what they were doing, they had no idea that they would meet in London and go to different parts of the US, where they would learn to fly planes to crash into the World Trade Center. ‘In that case, we failed,’ Edger said.” [Norman Transcript (Oklahoma), 2/12/2002]
What Did the CIA Know? - While it is clear that the CIA was monitoring some members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell containing a few of the 9/11 hijackers (see December 1999 and Spring 2000), it is unclear just what it might have known of the hijackers in Hamburg before 9/11 (see January 31, 1999, March 1999, 2000, and September 2000-July 24, 2001). According to some reports, the CIA monitored 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta for six months in early 2000 (see January-May 2000).
Edger's Knowledge Remains a Mystery - Although Edger would seem to be in a prime position to know just what the CIA might have known about the hijackers and their Hamburg associates before 9/11, there are no signs he is interviewed by the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry or 9/11 Commission. He also will not make any similar comments to any newspaper except for the obscure Norman Transcript.
A safe house in Sana’a, Yemen, where Samir al-Hada was hiding. [Source: CNN]Samir al-Hada, an al-Qaeda operative who helped run a vital al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see Late 1998-Early 2002), dies while being pursued by Yemeni police. The Yemeni police were tipped off by Samir’s landlord that he was planning to flee the country when he failed to produce identity documents to renew his lease. The police stake out his hideout for a week but he escapes and, during the chase, a grenade explodes in his hand and kills him. He was the brother-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. [BBC, 2/13/2002; Guardian, 2/14/2002; CNN, 2/14/2002; Al Ahram, 2/21/2002] After the attack, the police search the house where al-Hada had been staying and seize weapons, documents, books, a mobile phone, and a piece of paper containing phone numbers. [CBS News, 2/13/2002; BBC, 2/15/2002] The al-Hada hub was used in planning the embassy bombings in 1998 (see August 4-25, 1998 and October 4, 2001), the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 (see October 14-Late November, 2000), and 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). It had been monitored by the NSA since the late 1990s (see Late August 1998 and Early 1999). Ahmed al-Hada is in Yemeni custody by 2006; it has not been stated when or how he was captured. [Wright, 2006, pp. 378] It appears that the communications hub is no longer functional after al-Hada’s death, as there are no more references to it operating, several of the al-Hada clan are rounded up, the hub is again discussed by the media (see February 2001 and After), and the clan’s patriarch, Ahmed al-Hada, is again named in the media. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 2/14/2002; CNN, 2/14/2002; Al Ahram, 2/21/2002]
Mullah Mohammed Khaksar. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Time magazine reports the CIA is still not interested in talking to Mullah Mohammed Khaksar, easily the highest ranking Taliban defector. Khaksar was the Taliban’s deputy interior minister, which put him in charge of vital security matters. He was secretly giving the Northern Alliance intelligence on the Taliban since 1997, and he had sporadic and mostly unsuccessful efforts trying to give information to the US while he still worked for the Taliban (see April 1999 and Between September 12 and Late November 2001). In late November 2001, he defected to the Northern Alliance and was given an amnesty due to his secret collaboration with them. He continues to live in his house in Kabul after the defeat of the Taliban, but is unable to get in contact with US intelligence. In February 2002, Time magazine informs US officials that Khaksar wants to talk, but two weeks later the magazine will report that he still has not been properly interviewed. [Time, 2/25/2002] The US may be reluctant to speak to him because much of what he has to say seems to be about al-Qaeda’s links with the Pakistani ISI, and the US is now closely working with Pakistan. Time magazine reports, “The little that Khaksar has divulged to an American general and his intelligence aide—is tantalizing.… He says that the ISI agents are still mixed up with the Taliban and al-Qaeda,” and that the three groups have formed a new political group to get the US out of Afghanistan. He also says that “the ISI recently assassinated an Afghan in the Paktika province who knew the full extent of ISI’s collaboration with al-Qaeda.” [Time, 2/19/2002] He will similarly comment to journalist Kathy Gannon that bin Laden’s foreign fighters in Afghanistan “were all protected by the Taliban leadership, but their money and instructions came direction from Pakistan’s ISI.” [Gannon, 2005, pp. 161] Khaksar will continue to live in Afghanistan until early 2006, when he is apparently assassinated by the Taliban. [Washington Post, 1/15/2006]
The house in Faisalabad where Abu Zubaida will be arrested. [Source: PBS]At some time around February 2002, intelligence leads to the location of Abu Zubaida. He will be captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in late March 2002 (see March 28, 2002). However, accounts on what intelligence leads to Zubaida’s location differ greatly:
Call to Yemen? - According to the Associated Press, “Pakistani intelligence officials have said quietly that a mobile phone call Abu Zubaida made to al-Qaeda leaders in Yemen led to his arrest.” [Associated Press, 4/20/2002] This could be a reference to the “Yemen hub,” an important al-Qaeda communication node in Yemen that has long been monitored by US intelligence. The hub is used until the middle of February 2002, when it is raided and shut down (see February 13, 2002).
Bribes Play Key Role? - According to books by Jane Mayer and Ron Suskind, Pakistani intelligence officers in Pakistan’s tribal region notice a caravan of vehicles carrying tall women wearing burqas who turn out to be male Islamist militants in disguise. According to Suskind’s version, the militants are arrested, but refuse to talk. According to Mayer’s version, the caravan is allowed to proceed. However, both authors agree that a bribe to the driver of one of the cars reveals that their destination is Faisalabad, Pakistan. Suskind adds that the driver gives up the name of a contact in Faisalabad, and that contact is found and reveals that Zubaida has arrived in town. US intelligence begins intensively monitoring Faisalabad. Afterwards, Mayer claims that the CIA buys the ISI’s help. A CIA source involved in the situation will later tell Mayer, “We paid $10 million for Abu Zubaida.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 84; Mayer, 2008] In 2006, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will write in a memoir, “Those who habitually accuse us of not doing enough in the war on terror should simply ask the CIA how much prize money it has paid to the Government of Pakistan.” [Musharraf, 2006, pp. 190]
CIA Tracks Zubaida's Calls? - According to a 2008 New York Times article, in February 2002, the CIA learns that Zubaida is in Lahore or Faisalabad, Pakistani cities about 80 miles apart and with a combined population of over 10 million. The Times does not say how the CIA learns this. The CIA knows Zubaida’s cell phone number, although it is not explained how this was discovered either. (However, it had been reported elsewhere that Zubaida’s number had been monitored since at least 1998 (see October 1998 and After) and was still being monitored after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001 and After) and October 8, 2001).) Specialists use an electronic scanner that can track any operating cell phone and give its approximate location. However, Zubaida only turns his phone on briefly to collect messages, so his location cannot be pinpointed. A talented CIA official named Deuce Martinez gets involved. He posts a large, blank piece of paper on a wall, and writes Zubaida’s phone number in the middle of it. Then he and others add linked phone numbers, using the monitoring capabilities of the NSA and Pakistani intelligence. A map of Zubaida’s contacts grows. Eventually, Martinez and others are able to narrow Zubaida’s location down to 14 addresses in Lahore and Faisalabad, and these places are put under surveillance. Rather than wait any longer for more intelligence, all 14 locations are raided at once in a joint Pakistani-CIA operation on March 28, 2002, and Zubaida is found in one of the Faisalabad addresses. [New York Times, 6/22/2008]
Key Call to Bin Laden or Al-Zawahiri? - Suskind’s book will also give the story of the CIA narrowing down the locations by monitoring local phone calls. He says that teams of CIA and FBI arrive in Faisalabad on March 17 for more intensive monitoring. Then, the key break comes near the end of the month, when two calls from a certain house in Faisalabad are made to phone numbers in Afghanistan that might be linked to Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. By this account, US intelligence already has a good idea which of the 14 locations Zubaida is in, because of those calls. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 87-89]
Explanations May Not Conflict - Note that these explanations do not necessarily conflict. For instance, bribes could have provided the lead that Zubaida was in Faisalabad, and then further CIA monitoring could have narrowed down his location there. Bribes also could have helped insure that Pakistani intelligence did not tip off Zubaida prior to the raid. The calls to Yemen and/or Afghanistan may have played a role along with other intelligence.
The CIA develops an innovative plan to gain intelligence about al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The CIA would spend $80 million to create a new Afghan intelligence service in the new Afghan government. It would be staffed by Afghans but in reality would be “a wholly owned subsidiary of the CIA” with the orders being given by CIA officers. It would be much easier for Afghan operatives to slip into Pakistan and gain information about al-Qaeda operations than it would be for Americans to do so. But the plan is disrupted by the Bush administration’s focus on Iraq. Funding for the new service is repeatedly delayed and key personnel are redeployed to Iraq. [Risen, 2006, pp. 169-170]
The Bush administration shifts its attention from Afghanistan and al-Qaeda to Iraq. White House counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later recalls: “They took one thing that people on the outside find hard to believe or appreciate. Management time. We’re a huge government, and we have hundreds of thousands of people involved in national security. Therefore you would think we could walk and chew gum at the same time. I’ve never found that to be true.… It just is not credible that the principals and the deputies paid as much attention to Afghanistan or the war against al-Qaeda as they should have.” [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004] Laurence Pope, an ambassador to Chad, will similarly recall that the change in focus that spring had a particularly damaging effect on operations in Afghanistan. “There was a moment of six months or so when we could have put much more pressure on the tribal areas [to get al-Qaeda], and on Pakistan, and done a better job of reconstruction in Afghanistan. In reality, the Beltway can only do one thing at a time, and because of the attention to Iraq, what should have happened in Afghanistan didn’t.” [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004] US Intelligence agencies are also affected by the shift in priorities. The CIA’s limited supply of Arabic-speakers and Middle East specialists are redeployed to help meet the increasing demand for intelligence on Iraq. Michael Scheuer, a career CIA officer who was working on capturing bin Laden in Afghanistan at the time, says, “With a finite number of people who have any kind of pertinent experience there [was] unquestionably a sucking away of resources from Afghanistan and al-Qaeda to Iraq, just because it was a much bigger effort.” [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004] Scheuer adds: “There really wasn’t any balance between the two threats, but clearly by 2002 in the springtime, it was almost taken for granted that we were going to go to war with Iraq… It was a nightmare. I know Tenet was briefed repeatedly by the head of the bin Laden department, that any invasion of Iraq would break the back of our counterterrorism program, and it was just ignored.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] In addition to a shift in focus, there is a considerable shift of specialized equipment and personnel (see Early 2002).
In mid-March 2002, Deputy CIA Director John E. McLaughlin informs senior members of the president’s national security team that the CIA is cutting back operations in Afghanistan. Presumably the CIA there are to be used in Iraq instead. [Washington Post, 10/22/2004] Newsweek will later report that around this time, “The most knowledgeable CIA case officers, the ones with tribal contacts, were rotated out.” The CIA station chief in Kabul, Afghanistan, a fluent Arabic speaker and intellectual, is replaced by a highly unpopular chief who admits to only having read one book on Afghanistan. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007] More CIA personnel will move from Afghanistan to Iraq in late 2002 and early 2003 (see Late 2002-Early 2003).
Saad bin Laden. [Source: NBC]In the spring on 2002, as the Taliban is collapsing in Afghanistan, many al-Qaeda operatives flee into neighboring Iran. About 20 to 25 operatives composing much of al-Qaeda’s management council are said to wind up in the custody of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Prior to this point, the Iranian government has been turning over most al-Qaeda captives to other countries, but after President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech criticizing Iran (see January 29, 2002), Iran decides to keep this group. [Washington Post, 7/9/2004] Iran does not officially admit to holding them, and their status is unclear, but they all seem to be living in a village near the Caspian Sea. One senior US intelligence official says, “They are under virtual house arrest,” and not able to do much. Those said to be in Iranian custody include:
Saif al-Adel, one of al-Qaeda’s top military commanders.
Suliman abu Ghaith, al-Qaeda spokesman.
Saad and Hamza bin Laden, two of Osama bin Laden’s young sons.
Abu Dahak, who served as al-Qaeda’s liaison to the rebels in Chechnya.
Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, a financial expert.
Two unnamed top aides to Ayman al-Zawahiri. [MSNBC, 6/24/205]
Thirwat Salah Shehata, a member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council, who is probably one of the al-Zawahiri aides mentioned above. [MSNBC, 5/2005]
Mustafa Hamza, head of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, an Egyptian militant group, and an al-Qaeda leader as well (see June 26, 1995). In late 2004, he will be extradited from Iran to stand trial in Egypt. [Reuters, 1/9/2005]
At first, these operatives appear to be capable of communicating with operatives outside of Iran. Saad bin Laden is said to play a major role planning the attack of a synagogue in Tunisia in April 2002 (see April 11, 2002). But the Saudi government will suspect that some of the operatives in Iran are involved in a 2003 attack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (see May 12, 2003), and they will successfully press Iran to tighten the house arrest of the operatives in Iran. Iran will propose an exchange of these prisoners around the time of the Riyadh bombing, but the US will reject the offer (see Mid-May 2003). Since that time, these leaders apparently remain in a state of limbo. CIA Director Porter Goss will say in 2005, “I think [the] understanding that there is a group of leadership of al-Qaeda under some type of detention—I don’t know exactly what type, necessarily—in Iran is probably accurate.” [MSNBC, 6/24/205] Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will later ask, “The question is, what does house arrest mean in the Iranian context?” He suggests that Iran could release the group or loosen their restrictions depending on how relations evolve between the US and Iran. “They’re a guarantee against bad behavior.” [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] In 2006, it will be reported that Saad bin Laden has been freed. [Reuters, 8/2/2006] Also in 2006, al-Yazid will emerge as a leader of al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan and may never have been in Iran. [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] In 2007, the still teenaged Hamza bin Laden will reportedly appear in Afghanistan. [Associated Press, 9/11/2007] In 2008, it will be reported that the US still knows little about the al-Qaeda figures detained in Iran, but US officials say they believe Iran has largely kept them under control since 2003, limiting their ability to travel and communicate. One US official will say, “It’s been a status quo that leaves these people, some of whom are quite important, essentially on ice.” [ABC News, 5/29/2008]
Entity Tags: Thirwat Salah Shehata, Saad bin Laden, Saif al-Adel, Mustafa Hamza, Porter J. Goss, Hamza bin Laden, Michael Scheuer, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Suliman abu Ghaith, Abu Dahak
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline
CIA official Michael Scheuer will later comment: “By the spring of 2002 the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) realized that the administration had decided to go to war with Iraq. There was no announcement to that effect, of course, but the intent was evident as the flow of officers sent to beef up the post-9/11 war against al-Qaeda ended and experienced Arabic-speaking officers were reassigned from CTC to Middle East posts (see Spring 2002) and to the task forces at CIA headquarters charged with preparing for the Iraq war.” [Scheuer, 2008, pp. 122] He will also say: “It was almost taken for granted that we were going to go to war with Iraq. It was a nightmare, and I know [CIA Director George] Tenet was briefed repeatedly by the head of the bin Laden department that any invasion of Iraq would break the back of our counterterrorism program.” [PBS Frontline, 3/24/2008]
Informants spot al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a medical clinic in Gardez, Afghanistan. Green Berets are located just five minutes away, but they are ordered to stand down so Navy SEAL Team Six can raid the clinic and capture or kill al-Zawahiri. But the SEAL team is apparently located much farther away and too much time elapses while they are preparing for the raid, allowing al-Zawahiri to escape. In 2004, the Washington Post will mention this as one of a series of incidents in which Green Berets units were passed over and opportunities to get important wanted men were lost. [Washington Post, 1/5/2004]
In March 2002, the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) office in Sarajevo, Bosnia, is raided by US and Bosnian agents and a “treasure trove” of documents are found. One document found is the “Golden Chain,” a list of early al-Qaeda funders (see 1988-1989). Enaam Arnaout is living in the US as head of BIF, but the Sarajevo investigators discover letters between him and bin Laden, including a handwritten note by bin Laden authorizing Arnaout to sign documents on his behalf. Arnaout prepares to flee the US, but is arrested. On November 19, 2002, the US declares BIF a terrorist financier and its Chicago office is closed down. In February 2003, Arnaout pleas guilty to working with al-Qaeda, but US prosecutors agree to drop the charges against him in return for information. [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 46-47]
ABC News will later report that the first CIA secret prison is established in Thailand at this time to house Abu Zubaida, the first important al-Qaeda target who is captured at this time (see March 28, 2002). President Bush had recently authorized the creation of CIA prisons (see After February 7, 2002). After being captured in Pakistan and treated for gunshot wounds, Zubaida is flown to Thailand around the middle of April 2002 and housed in a small warehouse inside a US military base. He is waterboarded and interrogated (Mid-May 2002 and After). Later other secret prisons will open in other countries, such as Poland and Romania. [ABC News, 12/5/2005] This prison in Thailand apparently will close some time in 2003. [Washington Post, 11/2/2005] Some reports place the secret prison at the Voice of America relay station near the north-eastern Thai city of Udon Thani close to the border of Laos, but this is unconfirmed. [Sydney Morning Herald, 11/5/2005]
Fifth Group Special Forces—an elite group whose members speak Arabic, Pashtun, and Dari—is pulled from its mission in Afghanistan and sent to Iraq where the group is assigned the task of locating Saddam Hussein. Members of Fifth Group, who spent six months developing a network of local sources and alliances and who believe they were close to finding Osama bin Laden, are upset with the orders. “We were going nuts on the ground about that decision,” one of them will later recall. [Guardian, 3/26/2004] They are replaced by the Seventh Group Special Forces, who are Spanish speakers experienced mostly in Latin America. They have no local rapport or knowledge. [Guardian, 3/26/2004; Newsweek, 8/28/2007] They are also replaced by the Third Group Special Forces, which is trained to operate in sub-Saharan Africa. They speak French and various African languages. [MSNBC, 7/29/2003] CIA official Gary Schroen will later comment, “Well, you could see changes being made in the US military staffing in Afghanistan, that the Green Beret units, the Fifth Special Forces group, for the most of it, were being pulled out to refit and get ready for Iraq. And it was clear that the kind of guys that I think a lot of us believed were essential US military personnel with special operations capabilities were being pulled away.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
An al-Qaeda operations leader gives American al-Qaeda member Jose Padilla (see September-October 2000) an assignment: target high-rise buildings in the US that use natural gas. Padilla and al-Qaeda leaders consider buildings in Florida, Washington, DC, and New York City as potential targets. Though al-Qaeda leaders consider Padilla an incompetent (see Mid-April 2002), they give him $15,000 to begin putting together a plan. [Associated Press, 6/2004] Instead, Padilla will be captured by FBI agents as he comes into Chicago (see May 8, 2002).
A sign on top of the Al Haramains Islamic Foundation’s four-story office building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in June 2004. [Source: Rafiqur Rahman / Reuters / Corbis]The Al Haramain Islamic Foundation was founded in 1988 as a branch of the Muslim World League charity, and just like the Muslim World League it is closely linked to the Saudi government. It develops branches in about 50 countries, including a US branch based in Oregon. It has an annual budget of $40 million to $60 million, paid by the Saudi government, and about 3,000 employees. It gives considerable aid to religious causes such as building mosques. But by the early 1990s evidence began to grow that it was funding Islamist militants in Somalia and Bosnia, and a 1996 CIA report detailed its Bosnian militant ties (see January 1996). In 1998, several links were discovered between the charity and the African embassy bombings that year (see Autumn 1997 and 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).
In March 2002, the US and Saudi governments jointly announce the closing of Al Haramain’s branches in Somalia and Bosnia, but Al Haramain defiantly keeps its Bosnian branch open and it is shut down again after police raids in December 2003. [Washington Post, 8/19/2004; Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 38-41] In December 2002, it is reported that the Somali branch is still open as well. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/18/2002]
In late 2002, Al Haramain is linked to the October 2002 Bali bombing and al-Qaeda operations in Southeast Asia in general (see September-October 2002).
In May 2003, Al Haramain announces the closing of its branches in Albania, Croatia, and Ethiopia, soon followed by branches in Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, and Indonesia. But this is because of pressure due to suspected militant links, and at least the Indonesian branch secretly changes locations and stays open. [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 38-41]
In late 2003, Al Haramain Director-General Aqeel al-Aqeel indiscreetly mentions that Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah recently donated money to his charity. Al-Aqeel, Deputy General Mansour al-Kadi, and two other senior officials are fired from the charity by the Saudi minister of religious affairs in January 2004. Interestingly, the Saudi minister is also the chairman of Al-Haramain’s board. In 1997, US intelligence found al-Kadi’s business card in the possession of Wadih el-Hage, Osama bin Laden’s former personal secretary (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). [Netherlands Interior Ministry, 1/6/2005 ; Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 38-41]
In February 2004, the US Treasury Department freezes the organization’s US financial assets pending an investigation.
In June 2004, The charity is disbanded by the Saudi Arabian government and folded into an “umbrella” private Saudi charitable organization, the Saudi National Commission for Relief and Charity Work Abroad.
In September 2004, the US designates Al-Haramain a terrorist organization, citing ties to al-Qaeda. [US Treasury Department, 9/9/2004; Washington Post, 3/2/2006] The United Nations also bans the organization, saying it has ties to the Taliban. [United Nations, 7/27/2007]
Entity Tags: United Nations, US Department of the Treasury, Saudi National Commission for Relief and Charity Work Abroad, Muslim World League, Al-Qaeda, Aqeel al-Aqeel, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (Oregon branch), Taliban, Mansour al-Kadi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
US troops investigate two dead bodies on March 17, 2002, as Operation Anaconda comes to a close. [Source: Joe Raedle/ Reuters]The US launches Operation Anaconda, a major offensive in Shah-i-Kot valley, near the town of Gardez, Afghanistan. About 2,000 US and allied soldiers attack a Taliban and al-Qaeda stronghold in the valley. The goal is to surround and cut off the Taliban and al-Qaeda from being able to retreat into Pakistan. Officially, the operation is hailed as an easy victory. For instance, Gen. Tommy Franks calls the operation “an unqualified and absolute success.” [Radio Free Europe, 3/20/2002] A Pentagon spokesperson calls the operation “a great success,” and says that of the hundreds or even thousands of enemy fighters trapped in the valley,“less than 100 escaped.” [New York Times, 3/14/2002] Up to 800 Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters are reported killed. [New York Times, 3/14/2002]
Unexpected Resistance - However, other accounts paint a different picture. The operation runs into unexpected resistance from the start, and eight US soldiers and a small number of allied Afghan fighters are killed in the first few days. The London Times later notes, “what was to have been a two-day operation stretched to 12.” Australian special forces troops who took part later say the operation was botched. “They blamed much of the problem on inadequate US air power, poor intelligence, and faulty technology.” [Radio Free Europe, 3/20/2002; London Times, 6/18/2002]
Militants Able to Escape - It appears that, as in Tora Bora, Afghan warlord armies supervised by a small number of US special forces, were given the key task of cutting off escape routes. At least one of the warlords involved had tricked the US military earlier in the war. “Although [Afghan] commanders insisted from the start of the campaign that the slopes were surrounded, [one Afghan commander] admitted that there had been at least one escape route” left open. The Guardian notes that “US troops spent weeks planning the attack on Shah-i-Kot, training and arming Afghan soldiers to prevent a repeat of the battle at Tora Bora,” but nonetheless, “nearly all the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters appeared to have fled the area.” [Washington Post, 3/4/2002; Guardian, 3/15/2002] Most flee across the border into Pakistan (see December 2001-Spring 2002). The New York Times even reported that “some participants… said the Taliban had more or less come and gone as they pleased, visiting villagers in nearby towns.” [New York Times, 3/14/2002] One captured Taliban soldier who fought in the battle later claims that bin Laden made a brief personal appearance to rally his troops. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002] Only about 20 prisoners are captured and fewer than 20 bodies are found. [New York Times, 3/14/2002; New York Times, 3/18/2002] After retreating, the Taliban and al-Qaeda will change strategies and no longer attempt to congregate in Afghanistan in large numbers.
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Joan Larsen and Gregory Jacob, an attorney-adviser to the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), send a classified memo to lawyers in the Justice Department’s civil division. The memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will learn that it regards the availability of habeas corpus protections to detainees captured in the US’s “war on terror.” [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ] The memo asserts that detainees have no habeas corpus protections, and therefore cannot challenge their detentions in US courts, despite multiple Supreme Court rulings to the contrary. [ProPublica, 4/16/2009]
The Pentagon “video.”Â These are the first two of five stills of the Pentagon impact. The first one is labeled “plane,” which appears to be the black object above the post on the far right. The second one is labeled ”Âœimpact.”Â The three other stills depict a growing fireball. [Source: Public domain] (click image to enlarge)A series of photos surface purporting to show a plane crashing into the Pentagon on 9/11. It is not clear who released the photos, but the Pentagon asserts that they are authentic, and were taken by a Pentagon security camera. The release of these pictures comes within days of the publication of the book l’Effroyable Imposture that disputes the claim that Flight 77 hit the Pentagon (see Early March 2002). “Officials could not immediately explain why the date typed near the bottom of each photograph is September 12 and the time is written as 5:37 p.m.,” the book notes. [US department of Defense, 9/11/2001; Associated Press, 3/8/2002; Fox News, 3/8/2002] The whole video, together with another also taken by a Pentagon security camera, will be released in 2006 (see May 16, 2006).
Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge admits that the FBI has failed to find a single al-Qaeda cell operating in the US. He suspects there are active cells, but cannot explain why none have been caught. [London Times, 3/11/2002] Seemingly obvious al-Qaeda cells, such as Nabil al-Marabh’s Boston cell (see June 27, 2004) and Ali Mohamed’s Santa Clara, California, cell (see Mid-1990s), appear to have escaped detection or public mention. The FBI will issue a report in 2005 that again will claim that no sleeper cells can be found in the US (see February 2005). On September 12, 2001, the New York Times reported, “Authorities said they had also identified accomplices in several cities who had helped plan and execute Tuesday’s attacks. Officials said they knew who these people were and important biographical details about many of them.” [New York Times, 9/13/2001]
Six months after 9/11, a Venice, Florida flight school attended by Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi belatedly receives visa approval forms for the alleged hijackers. The two had been required to apply for student visas before entering a professional flight training program. Their applications were sent from the school, Huffman Aviation, to the Immigration and Naturalization Service in August or September 2000 (see (August 29-September 15, 2000)). The forms show that the INS approved the visas in July and August 2001, clearing both men to stay in the US until October 1, 2001. Spokesman Russ Bergeron says the INS notified the two shortly afterwards. Despite Atta and Alshehhi’s alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks, an INS clerk issued their visas in October 2001. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) comments, “This shows once again the complete incompetence of the immigration service to enforce our laws and protect our borders.” [Charlotte Sun, 3/13/2002; St. Petersburg Times, 3/13/2002]
Jay Bybee, the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a classified memo to William Howard Taft IV, the chief counsel of the State Department, titled “The President’s Power as Commander in Chief to Transfer Captive Terrorists to the Control and Custody of Foreign Nations.” The memo, actually written by Bybee’s deputy John Yoo, says Congress has no authority to block the president’s power to unilaterally transfer detainees in US custody to other countries. In essence, the memo grants President Bush the power to “rendition” terror suspects to countries without regard to the law or to Congressional legislation, as long as there is no explicit agreement between the US and the other nations to torture the detainees. [US Department of Justice, 3/12/2002 ; Savage, 2007, pp. 148; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ; New York Times, 3/2/2009] The memo directly contradicts the 1988 Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994), which specifically forbids the transfer of prisoners in the custody of a signatory country to a nation which practices torture. Once the treaty was ratified by Congress in 1994, it became binding law. But Yoo and Bybee argue that the president has the authority as commander in chief to ignore treaties and laws that supposedly interfere with his power to conduct wartime activities. [Savage, 2007, pp. 148-149] In 2009, when the memos are made public (see March 2, 2009), Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch says she is shocked at the memo: “That is [the Office of Legal Counsel] telling people how to get away with sending someone to a nation to be tortured. The idea that the legal counsel’s office would be essentially telling the president how to violate the law is completely contrary to the purpose and the role of what a legal adviser is supposed to do.” [Washington Post, 3/3/2009]
Attorney General Ashcroft announces a second US criminal indictment of Saeed Sheikh, this time for his role in the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl. The amount of background information given about Saeed is very brief, with only scant reference to his involvement with Islamic militant groups after his release from prison in 1999. It only mentions is that he fought in Afghanistan with al-Qaeda in September and October 2001. The indictment and Ashcroft fail to mention Saeed’s financing of the 9/11 attacks, and no reporters ask Ashcroft about this either. [CNN, 3/14/2002; Los Angeles Times, 3/15/2002]
A Christian church in Islamabad, Pakistan is attacked, killing five people and wounding 41. The church is near the US embassy, and two of the dead are Americans related to a US diplomat. Most of the wounded are said to be Westerners. About six grenades are lobbed into the church during a Sunday service. The group Lashkar-e-Omar is blamed for the attack. This new group is named after Omar Saeed Sheikh, said to have been involved in the 9/11 attacks and the recent murder of reporter Daniel Pearl. It is made up of militants from other Pakistani militant groups. [CNN, 3/18/2002; New York Times, 6/15/2002; Rashid, 2008, pp. 56-60]
Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, CIA Director George Tenet says: “There is no doubt that there have been (Iraqi) contacts and linkages to the al-Qaeda organization. As to where we are on September 11, the jury is still out. As I said carefully in my statement, it would be a mistake to dismiss the possibility of state sponsorship whether Iranian or Iraqi and we’ll see where the evidence takes us…. There is nothing new in the last several months that changes our analysis in any way…. There’s no doubt there have been contacts or linkages to the al-Qaeda organization…. I want you to think about al-Qaeda as a front company that mixes and matches its capabilities…. The distinction between Sunni and Shia that have traditionally divided terrorists groups are not distinctions we should make any more, because there are common interests against the United States and its allies in this region, and they will seek capabilities wherever they can get it…. Their ties may be limited by divergent ideologies, but the two sides’ mutual antipathies toward the United States and the Saudi royal family suggests that tactical cooperation between them is possible.” [PBS, 3/19/2002; Agence France-Presse, 3/20/2002]
Ibn Khattab, a Chechen rebel leader with links to al-Qaeda, is assassinated by the Russian government. Other Chechen rebel leaders say that Khattab is killed by a poisoned letter given to him by Russia’s intelligence agency, the FSB. The Russians do not present another version of his death. Khattab is unique amongst Chechen leaders because he was actually a Jordanian from a Saudi tribe who moved to Chechnya in 1995 shortly after fighting began there and became one of the top leaders of the Chechen rebellion. He was the main link between the Chechens and Islamist militants like bin Laden (see 1986-March 19, 2002). [BBC, 4/26/2002; Independent, 5/1/2002; MSNBC, 6/22/2005]
US Customs Agents carry out boxes of evidence from SAAR network businesses on March 20, 2002. [Source: Mike Theiler/ Getty Images]Scores of federal agents raid 14 entities in a cluster of more than 100 homes, charities, think tanks, and businesses in Herndon, Virginia, a town just outside of Washington with a large Muslim population. No arrests are made and no organizations are shut down, but over 500 boxes of files and computer files are confiscated, filling seven trucks. This group of interlocking entities is widely known as the SAAR network (it is also sometimes called the Safa Group). SAAR stands for Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, a Saudi banker and billionaire who largely funded the group beginning in the early 1980s (see July 29, 1983). He is said to be close to the Saudi ruling family and is on the Golden Chain, a list of early al-Qaeda supporters (see 1988-1989). [New York Times, 3/21/2002; Farah, 2004, pp. 152; Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004] The name and address of Salah al-Rajhi, Suleiman’s brother, was discovered in 1998 in the telephone book of Wadih El-Hage (see September 15, 1998). El-Hage was bin Laden’s personal secretary and was convicted of a role in the 1998 US embassy bombings. [New York Times, 3/25/2002] The raids are said to be primarily led by David Kane, a Customs agent working with a Customs investigation started just after 9/11 code-named Operation Greenquest. Many of the organizations are located at an office building at 555 Grove Street in Herndon. Kane writes in an affidavit for the raid that many organizations based there are “paper organizations” which “dissolve and are replaced by other organizations under the control of the same group of individuals.” [New York Times, 3/21/2002; Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004] Investigators appear to be primarily interested in the connections between the SAAR network and the Al Taqwa Bank, a Swiss bank closed after 9/11 on suspicions of funding al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups (see November 7, 2001). They are also interested in connections between both SAAR and Al Taqwa and the Muslim Brotherhood (see December 1982). According to author Douglas Farah, “US officials [later say] they had tracked about $20 million from [SAAR] entities flowing through Nada’s Bank al Taqwa, but said the total could be much higher. The ties between Nada and [SAAR] leaders were many and long-standing, as were their ties to other [Muslim] Brotherhood leaders.… For a time, Suleiman Abdel Aziz al-Rajhi, the SAAR Foundation founder, worked for Nada” at Al Taqwa’s Liechtenstein branch. [New York Times, 3/25/2002; Farah, 2004, pp. 154-155] Organizations and individuals targeted by the raid include:
Yaqub Mirza. He is the director of virtually all of the organizations targeted in the raid. The Wall Street Journal claims, “US officials privately say Mr. Mirza and his associates also have connections to al-Qaeda and to other entities officially listed by the US as sponsors of terrorism.” [Wall Street Journal, 4/18/2002; Wall Street Journal, 12/6/2002]
The SAAR Foundation or the Safa Trust, an umbrella group for the SAAR network. The SAAR Foundation had recently disbanded and reformed as the Safa Trust. [New York Times, 3/21/2002; Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2002; Washington Post, 10/7/2002]
Hisham Al-Talib, who served as an officer of the SAAR Foundation and Safa Trust, had previously been an officer of firms run by Youssef Nada. Nada is one of the main owners of the Al Taqwa Bank. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2002]
Mar-Jac Poultry Inc., an Islamic chicken processor with operations in rural Georgia. [Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004]
Jamal Barzinji. An officer of Mar-Jac and other organizations targeted in the raid, he had previously been involved with Nada’s companies. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2002]
The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO). [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
The Muslim World League. It is considered to be a parent organization for the IIRO. [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIRT). The IIRT had been under investigation since at least 1998. [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
Tarik Hamdi, an employee at IIRT. His home is also raided. He carried a battery for a satellite phone to Afghanistan in early 1998, and the battery was used for Osama bin Laden’s phone (see May 28, 1998). [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
Abdurahman Alamoudi, a top Muslim lobbyist who formerly worked for one of the SAAR organizations. His nearby home is raided. The search yields a memo on large transactions involving Hamas, operations against the Israelis, and the notation “Met Mousa Abu Marzouk in Jordan.” Marzouk is a Hamas leader believed to be involved in fundraising for Hamas in the US for many years (see July 5, 1995-May 1997). Alamoudi is alleged to be a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. [Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004]
Samir Salah, an Egyptian-born president of the Piedmont Trading Corporation, which is part of the SAAR network. He is also a former director and treasurer of the Al Taqwa Bank’s important Bahamas branch. Additionally, he was a founder of a Bosnian charity reportedly connected to a plot to blow up the US embassy in Bosnia. [New York Times, 3/25/2002]
Ibrahim Hassabella. He is a shareholder of the SAAR Foundation and also a former secretary of the Al Taqwa Bank. [New York Times, 3/25/2002] Investigators will later find that much of SAAR’s money seemed to disappear into offshore bank accounts. For instance, in 1998, SAAR claimed to have moved $9 million to a charity based in the tax haven of the Isle of Man, but investigators will find no evidence the charity existed. One US official involved in the probe will say of SAAR, “Looking at their finances is like looking into a black hole.” [Washington Post, 10/7/2002] In 2003, it will be reported that US investigators are looking into reports that the director of the SAAR foundation for most of the 1990s stayed in the same hotel as three of the 9/11 hijackers the night before the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). Some US investigators had looked into the SAAR network in the mid-1990s, but the FBI blocked the investigation’s progress (see 1995-1998).
Entity Tags: Operation Greenquest, Muslim World League, Muslim Brotherhood, SAAR Foundation, Samir Salah, Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, Mousa Abu Marzouk, US Customs Service, Tarik Hamdi, Jamal Barzinji, International Institute for Islamic Thought, International Islamic Relief Organization, Abdurahman Alamoudi, Al Taqwa Bank, Mar-Jac Poultry Inc., David Kane, Hisham Al-Talib, Hamas, Yacub Mirza, Ibrahim Hassabella
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Oklahoma City mayor Kirk Humphreys visits the site of the World Trade Center, destroyed in the 9/11 attacks, and tells reporters that he cannot help but compare the scene to the damage done almost seven years ago in the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), which resulted in the destruction of a federal building and cost the lives of 168 people. Humphreys is on a personal visit with his wife and teenaged daughter. They journey down into the bottom of the pit that once housed the World Trade Center. Humphreys gives some advice for New Yorkers coping with the trauma of the attacks, noting that while the two events have profound differences, the suffering and trauma of the survivors, and of the families and friends of those lost in the attacks, are similar. “The area of Ground Zero, 12 blocks or so, is about the size of our entire downtown,” Humphreys tells reporters. “I tell people that what happened on 9/11 would have wiped out something the size of downtown. But the World Trade Center was an attack on America, and so was Oklahoma City.… Ours was tough, but ours was a piece of cake compared to this one.” In many ways, he says, dealing with the emotional trauma suffered by Oklahoma citizens was the most difficult: “The physical is the easiest part, and right when you think it is over, you realize that you need to address those other needs.… On the morning of April 19, 1995, there were some people who woke up with their lives spinning out of control—and then the bomb went off. You are going to have many people struggling for a long time. More substance abuse. More divorce. More emotional burnout. More suicides.” Oklahoma City plans on opening an exhibit, “Shared Experience,” on April 19, the seven-year anniversary of the bombing. The exhibit will include tributes to the seven New York firefighters and two police officers who died on 9/11 and who helped in the 1995 rescue efforts. Deputy Chief Ray Downey, the leader of the special operations command who died while leading a team of firefighters into the South Tower, is credited with saving dozens of lives in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. When Downey died, he was wearing a Catholic rosary that had been given to him by Governor Frank Keating (R-OK). The others who rendered assistance in the 1995 blast, and who died on 9/11, are: New York Battalion Chief John J. Fanning; Captain Terence S. Hatton; Lieutenants Kevin C. Dowdell, Michael A. Esposito, and Peter C. Martin; Firefighter William D. Lake; Police Sergeant Michael S. Curtin; and Officer Thomas Langone. Humphreys says of the nine: “They were good men. They helped us in our time of need.” Humphreys was not mayor at the time of the bombing, but is credited with leading the rebuilding effort in Oklahoma City as well as reinvigorating the tourist trade. [New York Times, 3/25/2002]
Entity Tags: Kirk Humphreys, World Trade Center, Frank Keating, Kevin C. Dowdell, Thomas Langone, William D. Lake, Ray Downey, Michael A. Esposito, Michael S. Curtin, Peter C. Martin, John J. Fanning, Terence S. Hatton
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, US Domestic Terrorism
When al-Qaeda logistics manager Abu Zubaida is arrested in late March 2002 (see March 28, 2002), his computer is searched. According to the Washington Post: “When agents found Zubaida’s laptop computer, a senior law enforcement source said, they discovered that the vast majority of people he had been communicating with were being monitored under FISA warrants or international spying efforts. ‘Finally, we got some comfort’ that surveillance efforts were working, said a government official familiar with Zubaida’s arrest.” The fact some of his contacts are monitored under FISA warrants indicates that they are in the US, as FISA warrants are only used for US targets (see 1978). The monitoring of Abu Zubaida’s communications began in the mid-1990s, at the latest (see (Mid-1996) and October 1998 and After), and continued after 9/11 (see October 8, 2001). [Washington Post, 2/9/2006] Some will later suggest that Zubaida may have had mental problems (see Shortly After March 28, 2002), but this apparently did not stop him from being a key al-Qaeda contact point. FBI agent Dan Coleman, an expert on al-Qaeda, will later say that the FBI “all knew he was crazy, and they knew he was always on the damn phone.” [Washington Post, 12/18/2007] Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, says of Zubaida shortly after Zubaida’s capture, “He was the guy that had the direct contact with prominent al-Qaeda cell leaders abroad, and he knew where they all were. He would have been the guy co-ordinating new attacks.” [Observer, 4/7/2002]
The house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, where Abu Zubaida is arrested. [Source: New York Times]Al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan. He is the first al-Qaeda leader considered highly important to be captured or killed after 9/11.
Zubaida Injured during Raid - A joint team from the FBI, the CIA, and the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, raids the house where Zubaida is staying. Around 3 a.m., the team breaks into the house. Zubaida and three others wake up and rush to the rooftop. Zubaida and the others jump to a neighbor’s roof where they are grabbed by local police who are providing back-up for the capture operation. One of Zubaida’s associates manages to grab a gun from one of the police and starts firing it. A shoot-out ensues. The associate is killed, several police are wounded, and Zubaida is shot three times, in the leg, stomach, and groin. He survives. About a dozen other suspected al-Qaeda operatives are captured in the house, and more are captured in other raids that take place nearby at the same time. [New York Times, 4/14/2002; Suskind, 2006, pp. 84-89] US intelligence had slowly been closing in on Zubaida’s location for weeks, but accounts differ as to exactly how he was found (see February-March 28, 2002). He had surgically altered his appearance and was using an alias, so it takes a few days to completely confirm his identity. [New York Times, 9/10/2006]
Link to Pakistani Militant Group - A later US State Department report will mention that the building Zubaida is captured in is actually a Lashkar-e-Toiba safehouse. Lashkar-e-Toiba is a Pakistani militant group with many links to al-Qaeda, and it appears to have played a key role in helping al-Qaeda operatives escape US forces in Afghanistan and find refuge in Pakistan (see Late 2001-Early 2002). [US Department of State, 4/30/2008]
Rendition - Not long after his arrest, Zubaida is interrogated by a CIA agent while he is recovering in a local hospital (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). He then is rendered to a secret CIA prison, where he is interrogated and tortured (see Mid-May 2002 and After). Throughout his detention, members of the National Security Council and other senior Bush administration officials are briefed about Zubaida’s captivity and treatment. [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 ]
Is Zubaida a High-Ranking Al-Qaeda Leader? - Shortly after the arrest, the New York Times reports that “Zubaida is believed by American intelligence to be the operations director for al-Qaeda and the highest-ranking figure of that group to be captured since the Sept. 11 attacks.” [New York Times, 4/14/2002] But it will later come out that while Zubaida was an important radical Islamist, his importance was probably overstated (see Shortly After March 28, 2002).
Tortured While in US Custody - Once Zubaida has sufficiently recovered from his injuries, he is taken to a secret CIA prison in Thailand for more interrogation. [Observer, 6/13/2004; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] One unnamed CIA official will later say: “He received the finest medical attention on the planet. We got him in very good health, so we could start to torture him.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100] Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld publicly vows that Zubaida will not be tortured, but it will later come out that he was (see Mid-May 2002 and After and April - June 2002). [New York Times, 4/14/2002]
Labed Ahmed (a.k.a. Ahmed Taleb). [Source: US Defense Department]Alleged al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Labed Ahmed (a.k.a. Ahmed Taleb) is arrested in Faisalabad, Pakistan, as part of a series of raids that also results in the arrest of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida and other suspected al-Qaeda operatives (see March 28, 2002). Apparently, he is in the same house as Zubaida when both of them are arrested. Ahmed is transferred to US custody two months later, and then sent to the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, on August 5, 2002.
History of Robbery and Drug Dealing - Ahmed is an Algerian in his late 40s. In the early 1980s, he served in the Algerian army for four years. He was found guilty several times of robbery. In the early 1990s, he lived in Italy and was found guilty several times of drug dealing and robbery. From 1994 onwards he lived in Hamburg, Germany, and spent a total of two years in prison for a variety of crimes, including robbery and credit card fraud. He continued to deal illegal drugs. Eventually, he became a radical Islamist and associated with members of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, although when and how this happened is unclear. (Note that in 1995, Hamburg cell member and future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta was investigated for petty drug crimes (see 1995).) [US Department of Defense, 9/16/2005]
Plane Flight with Hamburg Cell Members - On September 3, 2001, Ahmed flew to Pakistan with cell member Said Bahaji, another older Algerian named Ismail Bin Murabit (a.k.a. Ismail Ben Mrabete), and others suspected of links to the Hamburg cell. They stayed in the same hotel when they arrived in Karachi, Pakistan. Information on Ahmed’s travel was uncovered by German investigators (see September 3-5, 2001).
Training and Fighting in Afghanistan, Hiding in Pakistan - According to Ahmed’s 2008 Guantanamo file, Ahmed confesses that he, Bin Murabit, and Bahaji traveled together to the al-Faruq training camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan. There, they met Zakariya Essabar, another Hamburg cell member who had just left Germany (see Late August 2001). Ahmed and Bin Murabit stayed together and trained at a variety of locations in Afghanistan. Later in 2001, they fought against US forces near Bagram, Afghanistan. Ahmed then snuck across the Pakistan border with the help of the Lashkar-e-Toiba militant group, and lived in the same safe house as Zubaida and other militants for about a month before they are all captured. Apparently, Ahmed split up from Bin Murabit at some point, because Bin Murabit is not captured, and it is unclear what happens to him. [US Department of Defense, 4/23/2008] (Note that the contents of these Guantanamo files are often based on dubious sources, and sometimes on torture (see April 24, 2011).) Despite Ahmed’s links to the Hamburg cell and Zubaida, he will be transferred to Algeria on November 10, 2008. It is unknown if he is set free or imprisoned by the Algerian government. [New York Times, 4/25/2011]
Not long after alleged al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is captured in Pakistan (see March 28, 2002), he is interrogated by the CIA.
Zubaida Allegedly Building a Bomb - Zubaida was shot three times while being captured. When he awakes in a Lahore hospital, he is confronted by CIA agent John Kiriakou (a member of the capture team), who will later recall: “I asked him in Arabic what his name was. And he shook his head. And I asked him again in Arabic. And then he answered me in English. And he said that he would not speak to me in God’s language. And then I said: ‘That’s okay. We know who you are.’ And then he asked me to smother him with a pillow. And I said: ‘No, no. We have plans for you.’” Kiriakou will later call Zubaida “the biggest fish that we had caught,” and will say, “We knew he was full of information… and we wanted to get it.” Kiriakou will allege that Zubaida’s captors found evidence that he “and two other men were building a bomb. The soldering [iron] was still hot. And they had plans for a school on the table,” apparently the British school in Lahore.
Zubaida Has Current Threat Information - Zubaida, Kiriakou will say, is “very current. On top of the current threat information.” Kiriakou will report that while in the hospital, Zubaida “wanted to talk about current events. He told us a couple of times that he had nothing personal against the United States.… He said that 9/11 was necessary. That although he didn’t think that there would be such a massive loss of life, his view was that 9/11 was supposed to be a wake-up call to the United States.” But, Kiriakou will claim, Zubaida is “willing to talk about philosophy, [but] he was unwilling to give us any actionable intelligence.” Later CIA reports also indicate that CIA officials, presumably Kiriakou and others, believe that Zubaida has information pertaining to planned al-Qaeda attacks against US targets. [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 ] Apparently, Kiriakou is only with Zubaida a short time. Zubaida is quickly sent to a secret CIA prison in Thailand to be interrogated and eventually tortured, while Kiriakou stays in Pakistan (see Mid-May 2002 and After).
Abu Zubaida pictured shortly after he was captured in Pakistan. He appears to be bloodied and on some type of stretcher. [Source: ABC News]When al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is captured in Pakistan (see March 28, 2002), he is found to be carrying two bank cards, similar to US ATM cards. One is from a Kuwaiti bank and the other is from a Saudi bank. A US source involved in Zubaida’s capture believes this is the only time an al-Qaeda leader was ever captured with direct evidence of using Western-styled bank accounts. Author James Risen later notes that the “cards had the potential to help investigators understand the financial structure behind al-Qaeda, and perhaps even the 9/11 plot itself. The cards… could unlock some of al-Qaeda’s darkest secrets.” One US source later tells Risen that the cards “could give us entrée right into who was funding al-Qaeda… You could track money right from the financiers to a top al-Qaeda figure.” But Risen claims that two US sources familiar with the case believe no aggressive investigation into the cards is ever done and Zubaida is never even questioned about the cards. Risen says, “It is not clear whether an investigation of the cards simply fell through the cracks, or whether they were ignored because no one wanted to know the answers about connections between al-Qaeda and important figures in the Middle East—particularly in Saudi Arabia.” Nevertheless, some US investigators eventually pursue the trail of the cards on their own time. Over a year later, they will learn that around the time of Zubaida’s capture, Saudi intelligence officials seized all the financial records connected to the Saudi card and the records then disappeared. [Risen, 2006, pp. 173-177] In 2007, former CIA officer Robert Baer will similarly comment, “When Abu Zubaida was arrested in Pakistan in 2002, two ATM cards were found on him. One was issued by a bank in Saudi Arabia (a bank close to the Saudi royal family) and the other to a bank in Kuwait. As I understand it, neither Kuwait nor Saudi Arabia has been able to tell us who fed the accounts.… There’s nothing in the 9/11 Commission report about any of this, and I have no idea whether the leads were run down, the evidence lost or destroyed.” [Time, 12/7/2007] Zubaida otherwise proves resistant to interrogation until he is transferred to a secret CIA prison in Jordan and tortured there in May 2002 (see Mid-May 2002 and After).
FBI senior interrogator and al-Qaeda expert Ali Soufan, in conjunction with FBI agent Steve Gaudin, interrogate suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) using traditional non-coercive interrogation methods, while Zubaida is under guard in a secret CIA prison in Thailand. A CIA interrogation team is expected but has not yet arrived, so Soufan and Gaudin who have been nursing his wounds are initially leading his questioning using its typical rapport-building techniques. “We kept him alive,” Soufan will later recall. “It wasn’t easy, he couldn’t drink, he had a fever. I was holding ice to his lips.” At the beginning, Zubaida denies even his identity, calling himself “Daoud;” Soufan, who has pored over the FBI’s files on Zubaida, stuns him by calling him “Hani,” the nickname his mother called him. Soufan and Gaudin, with CIA officials present, elicit what he will later call “important actionable intelligence” from Zubaida. To help get him to talk, the agents bring in a box of audiotapes and claim they contain recordings of his phone conversations. He begins to confess.
Zubaida Reveals KSM Is 9/11 Mastermind - Zubaida tells Soufan that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and confirms that Mohammed’s alias is “Mukhtar,” a vital fact US intelligence discovered shortly before 9/11 (see August 28, 2001). Soufan shows Zubaida a sheaf of pictures of terror suspects; Zubaida points at Mohammed’s photo and says, “That’s Mukhtar… the one behind 9/11” (see April 2002). Zubaida also tells Soufan about American al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla (see March 2002 and Mid-April 2002). In 2009, Soufan will write of his interrogations of Zubaida (see April 22, 2009): “This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.” When the CIA begins subjecting Zubaida to “enhanced interrogation tactics” (see Mid-April 2002), Soufan will note that they learn nothing from using those tactics “that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions… The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.” [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007; Mayer, 2008, pp. 155; New York Times, 4/22/2009; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
Standing Up to the CIA - The CIA interrogation team members, which includes several private contractors, want to begin using “harsh interrogation tactics” on Zubaida almost as soon as they arrive. The techniques they have in mind include nakedness, exposure to freezing temperatures, and loud music. Soufan objects. He yells at one contractor (whom other sources will later identify as psychologist James Mitchell—see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002, January 2002 and After and Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002), telling him that what he is doing is wrong, ineffective, and an offense to American values. “I asked [the contractor] if he’d ever interrogated anyone, and he said no,” Soufan will later say. But, Mitchell retorts that his inexperience does not matter. “Science is science,” he says. “This is a behavioral issue.” Instead, Mitchell says, Soufan is the inexperienced one. As Soufan will later recall, “He told me he’s a psychologist and he knows how the human mind works.” During the interrogation process, Soufan finds a dark wooden “confinement box” that the contractor has built for Zubaida. Soufan will later recall that it looked “like a coffin.” (Other sources later say that Mitchell had the box constructed for a “mock burial.”) An enraged Soufan calls Pasquale D’Amuro, the FBI assistant director for counterterrorism. “I swear to God,” he shouts, “I’m going to arrest these guys!” Soufan challenges one CIA official over the agency’s legal authority to torture Zubaida, saying, “We’re the United States of America, and we don’t do that kind of thing.” But the official counters with the assertion that the agency has received approval from the “highest levels” in Washington to use such techniques. The official even shows Soufan a document that the official claims was approved by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. It is unclear what document the official is referring to.
Ordered Home - In Washington, D’Amuro is disturbed by Soufan’s reports, and tells FBI director Robert Mueller, “Someday, people are going to be sitting in front of green felt tables having to testify about all of this.” Mueller orders Soufan and then Gaudin to return to the US, and later forbids the FBI from taking part in CIA interrogations (see May 13, 2004). [New York Times, 9/10/2006; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
Disputed Claims of Effectiveness - The New York Times will later note that officials aligned with the FBI tend to think the FBI’s techniques were effective while officials aligned with the CIA tend to think the CIA’s techniques were more effective. [New York Times, 9/10/2006] In 2007, former CIA officer John Kiriakou will make the opposite claim, that FBI techniques were slow and ineffective and CIA techniques were immediately effective. However, Kiriakou led the team that captured Zubaida in Pakistan and does not appear to have traveled with him to Thailand (see December 10, 2007). [ABC News, 12/10/2007; ABC News, 12/10/2007 ]
Press Investigation Finds that FBI Interrogations Effective - In 2007, Vanity Fair will conclude a 10 month investigation comprising 70 interviews, and conclude that the FBI techniques were effective. The writers will later note, “America learned the truth of how 9/11 was organized because a detainee had come to trust his captors after they treated him humanely.” CIA Director George Tenet reportedly is infuriated that the FBI and not the CIA obtained the information and he demands that the CIA team get there immediately. But once the CIA team arrives, they immediately put a stop to the rapport building techniques and instead begin implementing a controversial “psychic demolition” using legally questionable interrogation techniques. Zubaida immediately stops cooperating (see Mid-April 2002). [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007]
Entity Tags: Steve Gaudin, Vanity Fair, Robert S. Mueller III, James Elmer Mitchell, Jose Padilla, Abu Zubaida, Ali Soufan, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, John Kiriakou, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pasquale D’Amuro
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
Ramzi bin al-Shibh. [Source: FBI]It is originally reported that Al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda interviews 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and 9/11 associate Ramzi Bin al-Shibh at a secret location in Karachi, Pakistan, in either June [London Times, 9/8/2002] or August. [Guardian, 9/9/2002] Details and audio footage of the interview come out between September 8 and 12, 2002. The video footage of the interview al-Qaeda promised to hand over is never given to Al Jazeera. [Associated Press, 9/8/2002] Both figures claim the 9/11 attacks were originally going to target nuclear reactors, but “decided against it for fear it would go out of control.” Interviewer Fouda is struck that KSM and bin al-Shibh remember only the hijackers’ code names, and have trouble remembering their real names. [Australian, 9/9/2002] KSM, who calls himself the head of al-Qaeda’s military committee and refers to bin al-Shibh as the coordinator of the “Holy Tuesday” operation, reportedly acknowledges “[a]nd, yes, we did it.” [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 38] These interviews “are the first full admission by senior figures from bin Laden’s network that they carried out the September 11 attacks.” [London Times, 9/8/2002] Some, however, call Fouda’s claims into doubt. For example, the Financial Times states: “Analysts cited the crude editing of [Fouda’s interview] tapes and the timing of the broadcasts as reasons to be suspicious about their authenticity. Dia Rashwan, an expert on Islamist movements at the Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies in Cairo, said: ‘I have very serious doubts [about the authenticity of this tape]. It could have been a script written by the FBI.’” [Financial Times, 9/11/2002] KSM is later variously reported to be arrested in June 2002, killed or arrested in September 2002, and then arrested in March 2003. After this last arrest report, for the first time Fouda claims this interview took place in April, placing it safely before the first reports of KSM’s capture. [Guardian, 3/4/2003; CTV Television, 3/6/2003] Bin al-Shibh also gets captured several days after Fouda’s interview is broadcast, and some reports say he is captured because this interview allows his voice to be identified. [Observer, 9/15/2002; CBS News, 10/9/2002] As a result, Fouda has been accused of betraying al-Qaeda, and now fears for his life. [Independent, 9/17/2002] As the Washington Post states, “Now Al Jazeera is also subject to rumors of a conspiracy.” [Washington Post, 9/15/2002] Yet after being so reviled by al-Qaeda supporters, Fouda is later given a cassette said to be a bin Laden speech. [MSNBC, 11/18/2002] US officials believe the voice on that cassette is “almost certainly” bin Laden, but one of the world’s leading voice-recognition institutes said it is 95 percent certain the tape is a forgery. [BBC, 11/18/2002; BBC, 11/29/2002] It will later be revealed that details of the interview were told to the CIA in mid-June 2002, which directly resulted in bin al-Shibh’s arrest a few months later (see June 14, 2002 and Shortly After).
In April 2002, German intelligence compile a report about militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi; it suggests that al-Zarqawi is not a part of al-Qaeda (see March 28, 2002). At the end of March 2002, al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida was captured and interrogated by US forces (see March 28, 2002). While few details of what Zubaida is said to say are known, some details must have been quickly passed to the Germans because this German intelligence report says, “Even in the interrogations of al-Qaeda leaders there are no indications of al-Zarqawi’s membership in al-Qaeda. Thus, Abu Zubaida (an al-Qaeda recruiter), in one of his interrogations, speaks instead about the ‘Group of al-Zarqawi.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 359, 422] (Note that information gained from such interrogations are of unknown reliability, especially when torture is used. Zubaida appears to be tortured around this time (see Mid-May 2002 and After)).
Shadi Abdellah. [Source: Associated Press]In April 2002, Shadi Abdellah, a militant connected to the al-Tawhid group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is arrested by German police. Abdellah also briefly worked as one of bin Laden’s bodyguards (see Early 2001). He begins cooperating with German authorities. He reveals that al-Zarqawi is not a part of al-Qaeda but is actually the founder of al-Tawhid, which he says works “in opposition” to al-Qaeda (see 1989-Late 1999). The aim of the group is to kill Jews and install an Islamic regime in Jordan. The group is not really interested in the US, and this is the key ideological difference between it and al-Qaeda. Abdallah recounts one instance where al-Zarqawi vetoed a proposal to share charity funds collected in Germany with al-Qaeda. According to Abdallah, al-Zarqawi’s organization had also “competed” with al-Qaeda for new recruits. He also reveals that al-Zarqawi’s religious mentor is Abu Qatada, an imam openly living in Britain. [Independent, 2/6/2003; Newsweek, 6/25/2003; Bergen, 2006, pp. 356-358] A German intelligence report compiled in April 2002 based on Abdellah’s confessions further states that “Al-Zarqawi mentioned to Abdellah that the possibility of a merger conflicted with the religious orientation of [Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian)] who was responsible within al-Qaeda for religious or Islamic matters, which contradicted the teachings practices by al-Zarqawi.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 359-422] Newsweek will later report that “several US officials” claim “they were aware all along of the German information about al-Zarqawi.” [Independent, 2/6/2003] Nonetheless, Bush will claim in a televised speech on October 7, 2002 (see October 7, 2002) that a “very senior al-Qaeda leader… received medical treatment in Baghdad this year,” a reference to al-Zarqawi. And Colin Powell will similarly state on February 5, 2003 (see February 5, 2003) that “Iraq is harboring the network of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda lieutenants.” Both statements are made even though “US intelligence already had concluded that al-Zarqawi was not an al-Qaeda member…” [BBC, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 6/22/2003 Sources: Unnamed US intelligence sources]
The assets of leading Islamist cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri are frozen by the Bank of England. This follows a designation by the United Nations that Abu Hamza is a person associated with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. However, the freeze has little practical effect on Abu Hamza, who has been an informer for the British security services for some time (see Early 1997). Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “This grandiose announcement meant that the Bank of England ordered a freeze on any bank accounts held in his name, and all welfare benefits he was entitled to receive were stopped. The sanctions sounded severe, but in practical terms they made little difference to Abu Hamza. The five-bedroom house in Shepherd’s Bush where he lived with his five youngest children was rented by Hammersmith and Fulham Council in the name of his wife Nagat, who obtained full British citizenship in 1997.” This means that Abu Hamza is able to keep his house, which will be renovated at the council’s expense in 2004. The British government also continues to meet his wife’s rent and council tax payments. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 73; Times (London), 10/12/2006]
The Charity Commission, which regulates the affairs of British charities, suspends leading radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri as an agent of the charity that runs London’s Finsbury Park mosque. The suspension results from a four-year inquiry into Abu Hamza’s mismanagement of the mosque (see 1998), and is apparently the first action the commission takes. However, it has no practical effect. Abu Hamza says he will appeal, but fails to file any documents for eight months. His lawyers then send a letter denouncing the commissioners for being Islamophobic. The commission will not succeed in removing Abu Hamza from his role with the charity until the next year, by which time the police have raided the mosque and closed it down (see January 20, 2003). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 286-287]
A small team of contractors from the private security firm Blackwater is deployed inside Afghanistan, as a result of a $5 million contract between Blackwater and the CIA (see 2002 and 2002). The contractors provide security for the CIA at the agency’s station in Kabul and at “The Alamo,” a mud fortress in Shkin, along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In May, Blackwater founder and owner Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL, will fly to Afghanistan to help expand operations. The Kabul and Shkin deployments are the first in a long, profitable relationship between the CIA and Blackwater. The relationship stems from a long friendship between Prince and Alvin “Buzzy” Krongard, the CIA’s executive director. Prince formed another part of the Blackwater group, Blackwater Security Consulting, in early 2002 along with former CIA operative Jamie Smith; Krongard provided the firm with one of its first government contracts. In 2006, Krongard will explain: “Blackwater got a contract because they were the first people that could get people on the ground. The only concern we had was getting the best security for our people. If we thought Martians could provide it, I guess we would have gone after them.” The relationship between Krongard and Blackwater will deepen after the first Afghanistan deployment, with Krongard making repeated visits to the Blackwater headquarters in North Carolina and even bringing his children along to use Blackwater’s firing range. Prince was denied a position with the CIA, but will maintain a close relationship with the agency, and will receive “green badge” access to most CIA stations around the world. Krongard will join Blackwater’s board of directors in 2007. [Nation, 8/20/2009]
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