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President Bush meets with his cabinet-level advisers to review progress with counterterrorism efforts. According to author James Risen, one participant in the meeting will later recall that “several senior officials, including [CIA Director] Tenet, [National Security Adviser] Rice, and [Deputy Defense Secretary] Wolfowitz, voiced concerns about the ability of al-Qaeda-style terrorists to recruit and gain support on a widespread basis in the Islamic world. Did the United States have a strategy to counter the growth potential of Islamic extremism? ‘The president dismissed them, saying that victory in Iraq would take care of that. After he said that, people just kind of sat down,’ the participant recalled.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 169-170]
The Associated Press reports that suicide squads are being trained in Pakistan by al-Qaeda operatives to hit targets in Afghanistan. The bombers’ families are being promised $50,000. The Pakistani government denies the presence of any such camps. “But privately, some officials in Pakistan’s intelligence community and Interior Ministry say they believe there is such bomb training and that it is protected by Pakistani militants and Taliban sympathizers in the Pakistan military.” [Associated Press, 12/12/2002] Al-Qaeda is mostly based in the tribal region of South Waziristan, launching border attacks form there with the assistance from Pakistan’s ISI and the Frontier Corps (see December 2002-February 2003). In February 2003, the Wall Street Journal claims, “Western diplomats in Islamabad and Kabul, Afghan officials, and US army officers [in Afghanistan] now strongly believe that elements of Pakistan’s intelligence services and its religious parties are allowing the Taliban to regroup on the Pakistani side of the border. US officers say 90 percent of attacks they face are coming from groups based in Pakistan. Simply put, Pakistan’s strategy appears to be to continue hunting down non-Afghan members of al-Qaeda hiding in Pakistan, so a level of cooperation with the US continues, while at the same time allowing the Pashtun Taliban and others to maintain their presence in Pakistan. The US has not raised this issue publicly, fearing that it would destabilize [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf’s government.… [W]hile promising support to [Afghan leader Hamid Karzai], Pakistan is undermining him and the effort to erase terrorism from Afghanistan. American silence is only encouraging Pakistan’s Islamic parties, who now govern the North West Frontier Province, to extend an even greater helping hand to Afghan and Pakistani extremists. The Pakistani army has willingly played into their hands, rigging last October’s general elections so that the Islamic parties were unprecedently successful, releasing from jail leaders of banned terrorist groups, and encouraging them to mount pro-Iraq demonstrations. All this is part of a larger power play where Gen. Musharraf can claim to the Americans that he needs greater US support because he is threatened by fundamentalists. This is a game that every Pakistani regime since the 1980s has played with Washington, and it has always worked.” [Wall Street Journal, 2/11/2003]
A federal judge in New York rules that Jose Padilla, a US citizen who has been accused of being an al-Qaeda “dirty bomber,” has the right to meet with a lawyer (see June 10, 2002; June 9, 2002). Judge Michael Mukasey agrees with the government that Padilla can be held indefinitely as an “enemy combatant” even though he is a US citizen. But he says such enemy combatants can meet with a lawyer to contest their status. However, the ruling makes it very difficult to overturn such a status. The government only need show that “some evidence” supports its claims. [Washington Post, 12/5/2002; Washington Post, 12/11/2002] In Padilla’s case, many of the allegations against him given to the judge, such as Padilla taking his orders from al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida, have been widely dismissed in the media. [Washington Post, 9/1/2002] As The Guardian puts it, Padilla “appears to be little more than a disoriented thug with grandiose ideas.” [Guardian, 10/10/2002] After the ruling, Vice President Cheney sends Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement to see Mukasey on what Justice Department lawyers call “a suicide mission.” Clement, speaking for Cheney, tells Mukasey that he has erred so grossly that he needs to immediately retract his decision. Mukasey rejects the government’s “pinched legalism” and adds that his order is “not a suggestion or request.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2007] The government continues to challenge this ruling, and Padilla will continue to be denied access to a lawyer (see March 11, 2003).
FBI agents raid Ptech offices. [Source: ABC News]Federal agents search the offices of Ptech, Inc., a Boston computer software company, looking for evidence of links to Osama bin Laden. A senior Ptech official confirms that Yassin al-Qadi, one of 12 Saudi businessmen on a secret CIA list suspected of funneling millions of dollars to al-Qaeda, was an investor in the company, beginning in 1994. Ptech appears to have connections to other potential terrorist financiers (see 1994). In particular, there seem to be many ties between Ptech and BMI Inc., a New Jersey-based company whose list of investors has been called a “who’s who of designated terrorists and Islamic extremists” (see 1986-October 1999). [Newsweek, 12/6/2002; WBZ 4 (Boston), 12/9/2002] A former FBI counterterrorism official states, “For someone like [al-Qadi] to be involved in a capacity, in an organization, a company that has access to classified information, that has access to government open or classified computer systems, would be of grave concern.” [WBZ 4 (Boston), 12/9/2002] On the day after the raid, US authorities will claim that Ptech’s software has been scrutinized and poses no danger. But security expert John Pike comments, “When you look at all of the different military security agencies that they have as customers, it’s very difficult to imagine how they would not be encountering sensitive information, classified information.” [National Public Radio, 12/8/2002] The search into Ptech is part of Operation Greenquest, which has served 114 search warrants in the past 14 months involving suspected terrorist financing. Fifty arrests have been made and $27.4 million seized. [Forbes, 12/6/2002] However, the raid appears to have been largely for show. Ptech was notified by US officials in November that they were being investigated, and they were told in advance exactly when the raid would take place (see May-December 5, 2002). Top officials in the US government appear to have made up their minds before the results of the raid can even be examined. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer comments on the Ptech raid only hours after it ends: “The one thing I can share with you is that the products that were supplied by this company to the government all fell in the nonclassified area. None of it involved any classified products used by the government. The material has been reviewed by the appropriate government agencies, and they have detected absolutely nothing in their reports to the White House that would lead to any concern about any of the products purchased from this company.” [White House, 12/6/2002] The fact that the raid takes place at all appears to be due to the persistence of Operation Greenquest investigators, who are engaged at this time in a bureaucratic battle with other investigators over who will control US government investigations into terrorist financing (see After March 20, 2002-Early 2003). Greenquest will lose this battle early in 2003 and get shut down (see May 13-June 30, 2003). In his 2003 book Black Ice, author Dan Verton will call Ptech an “innocent” casualty of Operation Greenquest’s “scorched-earth” tactics. [Verton, 2003, pp. 223] No charges will be brought against Ptech, and the company will continue fulfilling sensitive government contracts under a new name (see May 14, 2004).
US commanders have rejected as too risky many special operations missions to attack Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. After Army Green Beret A-Teams received good intelligence on the whereabouts of former Taliban leader Mullah Omar, commanders turned down the missions as too dangerous. Soldiers traced the timidity to an incident in June 2002 called Operation Full Throttle, which resulted in the death of 34 civilians. [Washington Times, 12/9/2002]
An Army memorandum released to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2006 (see January 12, 2006) will refer to the “SERE INTERROGATION SOP” (standard operating procedure) for Guantanamo. SERE refers to “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape,” a classified military program originally designed to teach US soldiers how to resist torture, and subsequently “reverse-engineered” for use in subjecting US prisoners to harsh interrogation and torture (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002). The memo, which is heavily redacted, shows that torture techniques used in SERE training may have been authorized in a memo to military personnel at Guantanamo. [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/12/2006]
Syafrie Syamsuddin. [Source: Kuantanutama.com]The International Crisis Group (ICG), an international think tank, publishes a report that identifies a “curious link” between the al-Qaeda affiliate group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and the Indonesian military, the TNI. [International Crisis Group, 12/11/2002] PBS Frontline will later say that Sidney Jones, the author of the report, “is widely considered to know more about terrorism in Indonesia than anyone.” [PBS Frontline, 4/2007] The ICG says the connection is “strong enough to raise the question of how much the TNI knew about Jemaah Islamiah” before the October 2002 Bali bombings. The report outs Fauzi Hasbi, a long-time JI leader, as an Indonesian government mole. It says that Hasbi has maintained links with Major-General Syafrie Syamsuddin since the late 1970s. “Hasbi maintains regular communication with Major-General Syafrie Syamsuddin to this day and is known to be close to the National Intelligence Agency head Hendropriyono.” Furthermore, an army intelligence officer interviewed by ICG had Hasbi’s number programmed into his cell phone, and actually called Hasbi and spoke to him while in the presence of the ICG investigator. And remarkably, Hasbi himself has claimed that he has treated Hambali, a top JI and al-Qaeda leader believed to have masterminded the 2002 Bali bombings, like a son. Hasbi and Hambali lived next door to each other in a small Malaysian village until late 2000 (see April 1991-Late 2000). [International Crisis Group, 12/11/2002; Age (Melbourne), 12/12/2002] Hasbi is killed in mysterious circumstances two months later (see 1979-February 22, 2003).
Barton Gellman. [Source: Publicity photo via Washington Post]On December 12, 2002, the Washington Post publishes a front-page story by reporter Barton Gellman entitled “US Suspects Al-Qaeda Got Nerve Agent From Iraqis.” It states: “The Bush administration has received a credible report that Islamic extremists affiliated with al-Qaeda took possession of a chemical weapon in Iraq last month or late in October, according to two officials with firsthand knowledge of the report and its source. They said government analysts suspect that the transaction involved the nerve agent VX and that a courier managed to smuggle it overland through Turkey.” [Washington Post, 12/12/2002] The story proves so controversial that the Post’s ombudsman Michael Getler writes a column about in on December 22. Getler notes that, “[B]eginning with the second paragraph, which started out, ‘If the report proves true…’ the story contains an extraordinary array of flashing yellow lights.” He asks, “[W]hat, after all, is the use of this story that practically begs you not to put much credence in it? Why was it so prominently displayed, and why not wait until there was more certainty about the intelligence?” However, he says the Post stands by publishing the story. [Washington Post, 12/12/2002] Slate will comment in 2004, “[T]he Gellman scoop withered on the vine.… nobody advanced or refuted the story—not even Gellman.” Gellman will later admit that he should have run a follow-up story, if only to point out that no confirming evidence had come out. [Slate, 4/28/2004] He will later admit the story was incorrect. But he will continue to defend the story, claiming that “it was news even though it was clear that it was possible this report would turn out to be false.” [Washington Post, 8/12/2004]
The top two dozen US government officials meet for a year-end review of counterterrorism efforts. Counterterrorism “tsar” Gen. John Gordon chairs the meeting. At one point, President Bush turns to Deputy Treasury Secretary Kenneth Dam and asks him, “Ken, where are we on terror finances?” Dam replies, “Mr. President, the majority of the funders for al-Qaeda are Saudis.” Dan gave all the meeting participants a one-page memo listing the fifteen or so top al-Qaeda funders, and almost all of them are Saudis. According to journalist Ron Suskind’s account, “Bush looked at Dam, perplexed, as though he either hadn’t read the handout in front of him, or was somehow surprised—though this was all but common knowledge.” Bush then asks how this is known and is told it is based on CIA intelligence. Bush then ends the meeting a few minutes later without any further comments or plan for action about terrorism financing. Apparently, he takes no significant action on the issue in the following months, either. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 184-186]
Maulana Masood Azhar. [Source: Agence France-Presse/ Getty Images]A Pakistani court frees Maulana Masood Azhar, a member of the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, from prison. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/16/2002] Two weeks later, he is freed from house arrest. He was held for exactly one year without charge, the maximum allowed in Pakistan. [Associated Press, 12/29/2002] He was arrested shortly after an attack on the Indian Parliament that was blamed on his organization. In December 1999, he and Saeed Sheikh were rescued by al-Qaeda from an Indian prison, and he has ties to al-Qaeda and possibly the 9/11 attacks. Pakistan frees several other high-level militant leaders in the same month. It is believed they are doing this so they can fight in a secret proxy war with India over Kashmir. US officials have remained silent about the release of Azhar and others Pakistani militant leaders. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/16/2002] The US froze the funds of Jaish-e-Mohammed in October 2001, but the group simply changed its name to al-Furqan, and the US has not frozen the funds of the “new” group. [Financial Times, 2/8/2003; Washington Post, 2/8/2003]
Mohammed Jawad, a teenaged Afghan citizen, is captured after allegedly throwing a hand grenade at a US military vehicle in Kabul. The explosion injures two US soldiers and their Afghan interpreter. Jawad insists that he is innocent. After a brief stint in the custody of the Afghan police, where he is tortured into signing a “confession” he cannot read (see November 22, 2008), he will quickly be transferred to Guantanamo, where he will be one of the youngest detainees kept there. [Human Rights First, 9/2008; Salon, 1/21/2009] Jawad’s precise age is unclear. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald will later write, “At the time of his due-process-less imprisonment in Guantanamo, he was an adolescent: between 15 and 17 years old (because he was born and lived his whole life in an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan, and is functionally illiterate, his exact date of birth is unknown).” [Salon, 1/21/2009]
When asked to comment on the current situation in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld replies, “It is encouraging. They have elected a government through the Loya Jirga process. The Taliban are gone. The al-Qaeda are gone.” [CNN, 12/18/2002] In May 2003, Rumsfeld will prematurely declare that the conflict in Afghanistan is over (see May 1, 2003).
Ghassan Elashi holds a press conference and denies any connection to terrorist funding. [Source: Associated Press]Mousa Abu Marzouk, his wife, and five brothers (Ghassan Elashi, Bayan Elashi, Hazim Elashi, Basman Elashi, and Ihsan Elashi) are charged with conspiracy, money laundering, dealing in the property of a designated terrorist, illegal export, and making false statements. The brothers are arrested in Texas, but Marzouk and his wife are living in Syria and remain free. Marzouk is considered a top leader of Hamas. FBI agent Robert Wright had been investigating Marzouk and the brothers since the late 1990s. Wright is set to appear on ABC News on December 19, 2002, to complain that the FBI had failed to prosecute Marzouk for years. As the New York Post notes, “That got results: A day before the show aired, Attorney General Ashcroft announced he would indict Marzouk.” [BBC, 12/18/2002; Associated Press, 12/18/2002; Washington Post, 12/19/2002; New York Post, 7/14/2004] FBI agent John Vincent, who worked closely with Wright, comments, “From within the FBI, [Wright] and I tried to get the FBI to use existing criminal laws to attack the infrastructure of terrorist organizations within the United States, but to no avail. It took an appearance [on television] by [Wright] and I to propel them into making arrests that they could have made as early as 1993.” [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003] ABC News similarly notes, “Marzouk was in US custody in 1997 and under criminal investigation then for much the same crimes cited today.” [ABC News, 12/18/2002] Ghassan Elashi was the vice president of InfoCom Corporation, which was raided on September 5, 2001 (see September 5-8, 2001). He was also chairman of Holy Land Foundation, which was shut down in December 2001. InfoCom and Holy Land were based in the same Texas office park and shared many of the same employees. [Guardian, 9/10/2001; CBS News, 12/18/2002; Associated Press, 12/23/2002] Holy Land raised $13 million in 2000 and claimed to be the largest Muslim charity in the US. The government charges that Hamas members met with Ghassan Elsashi and other Holy Land officials in 1993 to discuss raising money for the families of suicide bombers (see October 1993). Wright had begun an investigation into Holy Land that same year, but he faced obstacles from higher-ups and eventually his investigation was shut down. [CBS News, 12/18/2002; New York Times, 7/28/2004] In 2004, the five Elashi brothers will be convicted of selling computer equipment overseas in violation of anti-terrorism laws. In 2005, three of the brothers, Ghassan, Basman, and Bayan Elashi, will be found guilty of supporting Hamas by giving money to Mazouk through 2001. [BBC, 7/8/2004; Associated Press, 4/13/2005] In July 2004, Ghassan Elashi will be charged again, along with four other former Holy Land officials. Two other Holy Land officials will also charged but not arrested, since they had recently left the country. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) will state: “I wonder why this prosecution has taken so long. I think until recently we have not put the resources needed into tracking groups that finance terrorism, and the fact that they didn’t get 24-hour surveillance on these two who escaped is galling and perplexing.” [New York Times, 7/28/2004] In 2007, this court case will result in a mistrial, and be cast as a major setback for the Justice Department (see October 19, 2007).
The US military responds to recent media stories about the torture and abuse of suspected al-Qaeda detainees in Afghanistan by denying that any such treatment takes place. Recent articles in the Washington Post have claimed that detainees held at Bagram Air Force Base were subjected to “stress and duress” techniques (see December 26, 2002). These techniques include “stress positions,” where detainees are shackled or strapped into painful positions and kept there for hours, and sleep deprivation. US military spokesman Major Steve Clutter denies the allegations. “The article was false on several points, the first being that there is no CIA detention facility on Bagram; there is a facility run by the US Army,” he says (see October 2001). “However, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that persons under control of the US Army have been mistreated. The United States Army is treating enemy combatants under government control, humanely, and in conditions that are generally better than they were experiencing before we placed them under our control” (see December 2001 and After, Late 2002, January 2002, March 15, 2002, April-May 2002, April-May 2002, Late May 2002, June 4, 2002-early August 2002, June 5, 2002, July 2002, August 22, 2002, November 30-December 3, 2002, Late 2002-February 2004, Late 2002 - March 15, 2004, December 2002, December 2002, December 1, 2002, December 5-9, 2002, December 8, 2002-March 2003, and December 10, 2002). Clutter also denies that detainees have been subjected to “rendition”—being turned over to foreign governments who routinely torture prisoners. Instead, he says, most prisoners held at Bagram were released after being interrogated in a process overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross. “I would like to point out that persons under US government control who come to Bagram are not automatically deemed to be terrorists or enemy combatants,” Clutter says. “When they arrive, they go through an interview process to determine whether they are enemy combatants or have information that can help us prevent terrorist attacks against Americans or attacks against US forces. If they are deemed to be enemy combatants or pose a danger, they become detainees. If they are not, they are ultimately released.” [Agence France-Presse, 12/29/2002]
Joe Webber. [Source: US Customs]Joe Webber, running the Houston office of the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, starts investigating a man believed to be raising money for Islamic militants. The suspect is in direct contact with people who are known to be associated with Osama bin Laden. Webber has good cooperation with the local FBI office, federal prosecutors in Houston, and Justice Department officials in Washington. However, he claims that FBI headquarters officials tell him point blank that he will not be allowed to conduct his investigation. After many months of delays from the FBI, friends from within the bureau tell him that headquarters will not allow the investigation to proceed because it is being run by Customs and not by the FBI. Webber is so upset that he eventually becomes a whistleblower. Sen. Charles Grassley and other politicians support his case and say there are other instances where the FBI impedes investigations because of turf battles. Asked if the FBI would put a turf battle above national security, Webber says, “That’s absolutely my impression. You would think, in a post-9/11 environment, that an event like that wouldn’t occur. But it did.” [MSNBC, 6/3/2005]
Said Berraj will be considered closely involved in the Madrid train bombings plot (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), and frequently runs errands for Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of about three masterminds of the bombings. He was briefly arrested in Turkey in 2000 while meeting with several of the other bombers (see October 10, 2000). In 2003, he regularly meets with Spanish intelligence agents. It is not clear if or when he stops meeting with them. And up until the bombings he also works for a security company owned by a former policeman. He flees Spain two days before the bombing. He has yet to be found. [El Mundo (Madrid), 1/15/2007] A different informant named Abdelkader Farssaoui, a.k.a. Cartagena, will later testify under oath as a protected witness that he accidentally sees Fakhet and Berrai meeting with his handlers in 2003, suggesting that Fakhet is an informant as well (see Shortly After October 2003).
According to a later report by the BBC, Mohammad Sidique Khan, the lead bomber in the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), is “seen with [al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Junaid Babar] in Leeds in 2003.” The BBC will not name Babar for “legal reasons,” but the description they give (“he is a United States citizen from a Pakistani family from New York who traveled to Pakistan immediately after the 9/11 attacks”) matches Babar exactly. It is believed that US intelligence began monitoring Babar in late 2001 after he proclaimed his desire to kill Americans in several video interviews (see Early November 2001-April 10, 2004). The BBC will not clarify just who sees Babar and Khan together. In 2003, British intelligence is honing in on a fertilizer bomb plot that Babar is involved in, and Khan is connected to some of the plotters. For instance, sometime in early 2003 British intelligence discovers calls between one of the main alleged plotters and a “Siddique Khan” (see Shortly Before July 2003). [BBC, 10/25/2005]
The CIA makes a fake video of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, although the video is apparently never used. The video shows bin Laden and some associates of his sitting around a campfire, swigging bottles of liquor and talking about having had sex with boys, according to a former CIA official. The actors are drawn from “some of us darker-skinned employees,” the official will say. The timing of this effort is unclear, although it is apparently linked to discussions about making similar videos, including one of a fake Saddam Hussein having sex with a boy, prior to the 2003 Iraq invasion (see Before March 20, 2003). According to another former officer, the projects grind to a halt as nobody can come to an agreement on them. In particular, they are opposed by Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt and his deputy, Hugh Turner, who keeps “throwing darts at it.” The officer will say that the ideas are ridiculous and, “They came from people whose careers were spent in Latin America or East Asia,” and do not understand the cultural nuances of the region. “Saddam playing with boys would have no resonance in the Middle East—nobody cares,” a third former official will say. “Trying to mount such a campaign would show a total misunderstanding of the target. We always mistake our own taboos as universal when, in fact, they are just our taboos.” After the CIA abandons the projects, they are apparently revived by the military. “The military took them over,” one former official will say. “They had assets in psy-war down at Ft. Bragg,” at the Army’s Special Warfare Center. The projects will be revealed in the Washington Post in 2010. [Washington Post, 5/25/2010]
French special forces soldiers later interviewed for a documentary film will claim that they had Osama bin Laden in their sights once in 2003 and once in 2004 but were never given the go-ahead to fire from their US superiors. One French soldier says, “In 2003 and 2004 we had bin Laden in our sights. The sniper said ‘I have bin Laden’.” It then reportedly takes two hours for the request to shoot to reach US officers who could authorize it, but the French soldier says, “There was a hesitation in command,” and the authorization never came. Four French soldiers are interviewed who back up this claim, but a French military spokesperson denies it. France has roughly 200 elite troops operating under US command near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan at the time. [Reuters, 12/19/2006; CBC News, 12/22/2006]
According to NBC News, at some point in early 2003, the US learns about an al-Qaeda target in Yemen, and US officials want to strike the target with a Predator missile. However, due to the Iraq war there are no Predators available and the target gets away. [MSNBC, 7/29/2003]
According to the Sunday Herald, in early 2003, British officials believe that Haroon Rashid Aswat has been killed in Afghanistan, because his passport has been recovered from the body of a young man fighting for the Taliban there. The Herald will later claim that days later in the headquarters of the British intelligence agency MI5, officers there “were in no doubt that Aswat’s death had eliminated a major terrorist threat to [Britain]. Laid out before the group were highly classified photographs and papers from his file, revealing the activities, friends, and acquaintances of a young man who was increasingly becoming a headache for Britain’s security services. It was early in 2003, but in the previous few years, the file on Aswat had burgeoned.” [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/31/2005] Aswat apparently will be monitored in February 2004 meeting with suspected bomb plotters in London, but he will not be arrested (see February 2004). In June 2005, US intelligence will learn that Aswat is living in South Africa, but British authorities will prevent the US from renditioning him there (see Early June 2005). In July 2005, he will be implicated by many media outlets as the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (see Late June-July 7, 2005). Counterterrorism expert John Loftus will also claim that Aswat had been a long-time asset for the British intelligence agency MI6 and had been trying to prevent other parts of the British government (presumably including MI5) from arresting him (see July 29, 2005). [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/31/2005]
In early 2003, the Treasury Department draws up a list of 300 individuals, charities, and corporations in Southeast Asia believed to be funding al-Qaeda and its suspected Indonesian affiliate Jemaah Islamiya. “Due to inter-agency politics, the list [is] winnowed down to 18 individuals and 10 companies.” [Contemporary Southeast Asia, 8/1/2003] Later, the number of suspected financiers is narrowed down even further, and on September 5, 2003, only 10 individuals, all connected to Jemaah Islamiya, have their assets frozen. [Associated Press, 9/5/2003] The assets of Jemaah Islamiya itself were frozen shortly after the October 2002 Bali bombings was blamed on the group (see October 12, 2002), though ties between the group and al-Qaeda were first publicly reported in January 2002. [Associated Press, 1/18/2002; United Press International, 1/25/2003] Hambali, a notorious leader of both al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asia operations and Jemaah Islamiya, only had his assets frozen in January 2003, even though he was publicly mentioned as a major figure as far back as January 2001. [New Straits Times, 1/25/2001; Associated Press, 1/18/2002]
Six alleged members of the fertilizer bomb plot: Salahuddin Amin, Anthony Garcia, Waheed Mahmood, Momin Khawaja, Jawad Akbar, and Omar Khyam. [Source: Metropolitan Police/ CP Jonathan Hayward]In early 2003, the British intelligence agency MI5 is tracking a suspected al-Qaeda leader living in Britain known as Mohammed Quayyum Khan (a.k.a. “Q”) (see March 2003 and After), and they see him repeatedly meeting with a Pakistani-Briton named Omar Khyam. Quayyum is believed to be an aide to al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi. [BBC, 5/1/2007] By around March or April 2003, investigators begin monitoring Khyam, and soon discover he is a ringleader in a fertilizer bomb plot on unknown targets in Britain. [BBC, 4/30/2007]
Surveillance Intensifies - By the beginning of February 2004, surveillance intensifies. Thousands of hours of audio are recorded on dozens of suspects. The investigation soon focuses on a smaller group of Khyam’s close associates who are originally from Pakistan and had attended training camps in mountainous regions of Pakistan in recent years. Most of these men have links to Al-Muhajiroun, a banned Islamist group formed by radical London imam Omar Bakri Mohammed. The plotters are monitored discussing various targets, including nightclubs, pubs, and a network of underground high-pressure gas pipelines. In February 2004, MI5 intercepts a phone conversation between Khyam talking to his associate Salahuddin Amin, in Pakistan, about the quantities of different ingredients needed to construct a fertilizer bomb. An al-Qaeda operative in Pakistan had encouraged Amin to bomb targets in Britain.
Fertilizer Found and Replaced - Later in February, employees at a self storage depot in London call police after discovering a large amount of ammonium nitrate fertilizer being stored and suspecting it might be used for a bomb. Investigators discover the fertilizer belongs to Khyam and his group, and has been stored there since November 2003. The fertilizer is covertly replaced with an inert substance so a bomb cannot be successfully made from it.
Arrests Made - Investigators discover that Khyam is planning to fly to Pakistan on April 6, and the decision is made to arrest the suspects before he leaves the country. On March 29, a bomb plotter named Momin Khawaja is arrested where he is living in Canada. Weapons and a half-built detonator are found in his house. The next day, Khyam and seventeen others are arrested in England (see March 29, 2004 and After). Aluminum powder, a key bomb ingredient, is found in a shed owned by Khyam. Amin, still living in Pakistan, turns himself in to authorities there a few days later. Another key member of the group, Mohammed Junaid Babar, is not arrested and flies to the US on April 6. But he is arrested there four days later and quickly agrees to reveal all he knows and testify against the others (see April 10, 2004).
Five Convicted in Trial - The suspects will be put on trial in 2006 and Babar will be the star prosecution witness. Five people, including Khyam, will be sentenced to life in prison in 2007. Trials against Khawaja in Canada and Amin in Pakistan have yet to be decided. Curiously, Quayyum, who has been alleged to the mastermind of the plot and the key al-Qaeda link, is never arrested or even questioned, and continues to live openly in Britain (see March 2003 and After). [Guardian, 5/1/2007]
British police discover a ricin lab allegedly connected to a militant training camp in northern Iraq controlled by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Six suspects are arrested in London. The US has known about the camp and its ties to chemical weapons production for months, and twice the US military has drawn up plans for a strike upon it, and twice the White House has decided against taking action (see June 2002 and November 2002). Based on these new developments in London, the US military draws up a third attack plan against the camp, but again the White House rejects taking action. [MSNBC, 3/2/2004] Communications intercepts indicate that al-Zarqawi is still making calls on his satellite phone from within the camp. [Wall Street Journal, 10/25/2004] Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong, deputy commander to Gen. Tommy Franks at Central Command at the time, will later say that the training camp “was so troubling to us. We almost took them out three months before the Iraq war started. We almost took that thing, but we were so concerned that the chemical cloud from there could devastate the region that we chose to take them by land rather than by smart weapons.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] However, in March 2003 shortly after the Iraq war begins, the camp will actually be hit by air strikes and not the land attack indicated by DeLong (see March 20, 2003). NBC News will later comment, “Military officials insist their case for attacking al-Zarqawi’s operation was airtight, but the [Bush] administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam [Hussein].” [MSNBC, 3/2/2004] President Bush will secretly decide around early March 2003 not to attack the camp until the US invasion of Iraq is underway later that month (see Early March 2003).
US military commanders in Afghanistan request clarification and guidance from CENTCOM and the Joint Chiefs of Staff as to what interrogation techniques they can use against detainees in US custody. The commanders describe the techniques currently being employed and recommend that they be approved as official policy for Afghanistan operations. Some of the techniques had been approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for Guantanamo exclusively (see December 2, 2002); others had been rescinded altogether. Those officials ignore the request. After a time, the military commanders in Afghanistan will decide that “silence is consent,” and will adopt the techniques being used as “official policy.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 7/10/2006]
The FBI lures a Yemeni terrorism financier, Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad, to Germany as part of a sting operation. One of the assets involved in the operation is Mohamed Alanssi, who works as a mole for the bureau, where he is handled by an agent named Robert Fuller (see November 2001). Alanssi will later say that his role in the operation is to persuade al-Moayad to travel to Germany, where US agents manage to tape him boasting of his involvement in providing money, recruits, and supplies to al-Qaeda, Hamas, and other terrorist groups. Al-Moayad is then arrested together with one of his assistants, Mohammed Mohsen Yahya Zayed. They will later be extradited to the US for trial (see November 16, 2003), but Alanssi’s role in the operation will be revealed in the press and his relationship with the FBI will go sour (see November 15, 2004). [BBC, 11/16/2003; Washington Post, 11/16/2004]
According to US intelligence, insurgents in the Zabul province of Afghanistan receive a month of training in bomb-making, explosives, and assassination techniques from “three Pakistani military officers.” The training is said to be conducted in preparation for a spring campaign targeting Westerners. Ricardo Mungia, a Red Cross water engineer, will be killed by militants on March 27, 2003, in the adjacent Oruzgan province. The murder will greatly hinder development programs in many parts of Afghanistan. The intelligence on this is later mentioned in the Guantanamo file of a detainee named Abdul Kakal Hafiz, which will be leaked to the public in 2011. [Guardian, 4/25/2011]
Chak Shah Mohammad Khan. [Source: DPA] (click image to enlarge)From 2003 until late 2005, Osama bin Laden allegedly lives in a town near Abbottabad, Pakistan. Abbottabad is where he will be killed in 2011 (see May 2, 2011). This is according to Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah, one of bin Laden’s three wives, who will reportedly be with bin Laden when US Special Forces raid his Abbottabad compound and kill him. After the raid, Amal will talk to Pakistani investigators. She reportedly will tell them that bin Laden moves with his family to Chak Shah Mohammad Khan, a village about a mile from the town of Haripur. Haripur, in turn, is 22 miles south of Abbottabad and 40 miles north of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. They will move to the Abbottabad compound in late 2005 (see Late 2005-Early 2006) and stay there until the raid that kills bin Laden in 2011. [Dawn (Karachi), 5/7/2011] After bin Laden’s wife mentions bin Laden’s stay in Chak Shah Mohammad Khan in May 2011, the village will be visited by many journalists and officials. It is an extremely isolated and poor village, with no phone lines and no Internet (although some do use cell phones). Villagers say they have never seen bin Laden, and most say they have never even heard of him, and have no idea what he looks like. However, most villagers also do not rule out that he could have hidden nearby. There are a series of abandoned caves near the village, and bin Laden’s wife has said they lived in one of the caves. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 5/9/2011]
The wife of Mouhannad Almallah gives a statement against her husband to police. She says that he systematically beats her. She also accurately describes in detail his Islamist militant ties:
She says that militants regularly met at her apartment. She and her husband have just moved, and militant continue to meet at their new apartment on Virgen del Coro street in Madrid.
She says that her husband lived with Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet for a month in December 2002. Mustapha Maymouni, Fakhet’s brother-in-law, visited as well. They moved when they felt they were suspected by police.
She saw her husband open several boxes and noticed they contained books and videos about Osama bin Laden.
Her husband and his brother, Moutaz Almallah, strongly suspect their phones are being monitored. Moutaz lives in London but frequently visits Spain (see August 2002).
She describes four particularly important meetings held in her apartment beginning in November 2002. Moutaz and Mouhannad Almallah, Fakhet, and Mayoumi attended all the meetings. Basel Ghalyoun attended the fourth one. In these meetings, they always speak of attack and jihad. They talk about bin Laden, but refer to him as “Emir.”
Sometimes her husband Mouhannad and Fakhet discuss Amer el-Azizi, who fled a police raid in November 2001 (see Shortly After November 21, 2001). She finds out they helped him escape Spain dressed as a woman. El-Azizi is believed to be linked to the 9/11 attacks (see Before July 8, 2001).
Both Mouhannad and Fakhet remain in contact with el-Azizi by e-mail. Her husband’s brother Moutaz does as well.
She occasionally sees her husband with Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino.”
Police apparently take her warnings seriously because they begin monitoring her apartment in March 2003 (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). Most of these people—Fakhet, el-Azizi, Ghalyoun, and both Almallah brothers—are already under surveillance (see December 2001-June 2002). [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/28/2005] All of the people she mentions are believed to have important roles in the 2004 Madrid bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), except for Maymouni, who will be arrested and jailed later in 2003 for having a pivotal role in the May 2003 Casablanca bombings (see May 16, 2003).
Beginning around January 2003, Spanish authorities discover that a group of Islamist militants living in Madrid are committing a variety of crimes. Barakat Yarkas, the head of the al-Qaeda cell in Madrid, was arrested with some associates in November 2001 (see November 13, 2001) and this group is largely led by other associates who were not arrested then (see November 13, 2001). Police learn members of this group are creating false passports for other militants, and stealing cars and selling them in Morocco to raise money for their militant activities. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/10/2005] A number of them are drug dealers. For instance, Jamal Ahmidan, who begins associating with Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet and many of the other militants in 2003, leads a group of about six drug dealers. For example, in December 2003, Ahmidan shoots someone in the leg for failing to pay for the drugs he had given him. And mere days before the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), he flies to the Spanish island of Mallorca to organize a sale of hashish and Ecstasy. Three of the seven men who blow themselves up in April 2003 with Fakhet and Ahmidan are believed to be drug dealers as well (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). [Los Angeles Times, 5/23/2004; El Mundo (Madrid), 2/12/2006; New York Times Magazine, 11/25/2007] In fact, Spanish authorities have observed militants committing various crimes to fund their activities since 1995, but they continue to merely gather intelligence and none of them are ever arrested for these crimes (see Late 1995 and After). This pattern continues, and none of the militants will be arrested for obvious criminal activity until after they commit the Madrid bombings.
A Special Mission Unit (SMU) Task Force lawyer in Afghanistan (see Early 2002) writes in a classified legal review that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of harsh interrogation methods (see December 2, 2002) “provides us the most persuasive argument for use of ‘advanced techniques’ as we capture possible [high value targets]… the fact that SECDEF [Rumsfeld] approved the use of the… techniques at GTMO [Guantanamo], [which is] subject to the same laws, provides an analogy and basis for use of these techniques [in accordance with] international and US law.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
Beginning on January 17, 2003, Spanish police begin monitoring an apartment on Virgen de Coro street in Madrid owned by the brothers Moutaz and Mouhannad Almallah. Moutaz owns it but lives in London, so Mouhannad is the landlord and works there every day as well. Police were tipped off about the house earlier in the month by Mouhannad’s estranged wife. She revealed that a group of Islamist militants are regularly meeting there (see January 4, 2003). [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/10/2005] Both Almallah brothers ties to known al-Qaeda figures such as Barakat Yarkas and radical imam Abu Qatada, and Moutaz moved to London in August 2002 to live with Qatada (see August 2002). In 2007, an unnamed Spanish police officer testifying in the Madrid bombings trial will give details about the surveillance of the apartment. He will call it an important place for both meetings and recruitment. The police note that both brothers travel frequently to and from London and also regularly call London. These calls are usually followed by calls to the Middle East or North Africa. Police are aware that Moutaz has no job in London and is in the circle of people around Abu Qatada (although Abu Qatada himself was arrested in late 2002 see (see October 23, 2002)). Basel Ghalyoun and Fouad el Morabit live at the apartment and frequently meet there with Mouhannad Almallah and Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/21/2007] Ghalyoun will later admit that in early 2003, Fakhet began to “talk of carrying out an attack in Spain, making jihad…” He will say that others attending jihad meetings at the apartment in 2003 include Arish Rifaat and Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed. [El Mundo (Madrid), 10/15/2005] Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam is also frequently seen there. [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/28/2004] The surveillance intensifies in subsequent months, and soon the apartment is monitored with video as well (see Spring 2003 and After). Police will keep watching the apartment until arrests are made after the March 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Rifaat, Fakret, and others will allegedly blow themselves up shortly after the Madrid bombings (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). There are allegations Fakret was an informant (see Shortly After October 2003). Mouhannad Almallah, Ghalyoun, ben Sellam, and el Morabit will be convicted in 2007 and each sentenced to 12 years for roles in the bombings (see October 31, 2007). Ahmed will be convicted of different charges in Italy (see October 31, 2007). Curiously, when the apartment is raided shortly after the Madrid bombings, two documents belonging to police officer Ayman Maussili Kalaji will be found inside. Kalaji will admit to having a friendship with Moutaz Almallah dating back at least to 1995 (see May 16, 2005).
Entity Tags: Moutaz Almallah, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, Mouhannad Almallah, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam, Mouhannad Almallah’s wife, Basel Ghalyoun, Abu Qatada, Fouad el Morabit, Barakat Yarkas, Arish Rifaat
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri preaches for the first time outside Finsbury Park mosque, which was raided and closed by police at the start of the week (see January 20, 2003). His supporters have been alerted and come to listen to him at the Friday prayer ceremony, which is also attended by two dozen policemen and a number of journalists. Abu Hamza calls the police “agents of Satan,” while Muslim leaders who have refused to join him are “monkeys in three-piece suits, stupid people, they are just a joke.” Demonstrators hold up signs saying, “British government, you will pay,” and proclaiming that Prime Minister Tony Blair has declared “war” on British Muslims. These rallies continue every Friday for over a year, until Abu Hamza is finally arrested. The police ignore complaints from local residents, saying there are public order reasons for stewarding them and blocking off traffic. The cost to the police between January 2003 and November 2004 is £874,387 (about $1,500,000). Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens will defend this cost, although critics will say it is a waste of the taxpayers’ money and Abu Hamza should be in jail. After prayers, Abu Hamza’s minders bring out a chair, and the cleric then sits in it to hear requests from individual worshippers. The sessions are videotaped by the police, who also monitor the crowd. If a person tries to hide his identity, the police follow him and photograph him when he drops his guard. The loss of the mosque hampers Abu Hamza’s operations, depriving him of its privacy and security, as well as the flow of potential recruits. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 267-268, 278-279]
Al-Zarqawi’s injury report after his death in 2006. He has both legs but there is a recent fracture in one leg. [Source: Ali Haider / EPA / Corbis]On January 26, 2003, Newsweek reports that in 2002, Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi “supposedly went to Baghdad, where doctors amputated his leg (injured in Afghan fighting) and replaced it with a prosthesis.” Newsweek also claims that al-Zarqawi “is supposed to be one of al-Qaeda’s top experts on chemical and biological weapons” and that he also met with “Hezbollah militants” and “Iranian secret agents.” This new account builds on previous reports claiming that al-Zarqawi was in Baghdad for some unspecified medical treatment (see October 2, 2002). The article does note, “Not surprisingly, reports putting al-Zarqawi in Iraq piqued the interest of Pentagon hard-liners eager to find evidence to support their suspicion that Saddam [Hussein] and bin Laden are allied and may have plotted 9/11 together. But neither the CIA nor Britain’s legendary MI6 put much stock in al-Zarqawi’s alleged Iraqi visits, stressing such reports are ‘unconfirmed.’” [Newsweek, 1/26/2003] Despite these caveats, it soon will be widely reported that al-Zarqawi had a leg amputated in Baghdad, with at least the tacit knowledge of the Iraqi government. For instance, several days later, USA Today reports, “To those who operate with and against the shadowy al-Zarqawi, including the Kurds of northern Iraq, he is called ‘the man with the limp.’ That is a reference to a poorly fitting artificial limb that replaced a leg amputated in Baghdad last August.” [USA Today, 2/5/2003] And Secretary of State Colin Powell will claim in his February 5, 2003 presentation to the United Nations that al-Zarqawi went to Baghdad in May 2002 for medical treatment and stayed two months (see February 5, 2003). But in October 2004, Knight Ridder will report, based on a new CIA report (see October 4, 2004), “Al-Zarqawi originally was reported to have had a leg amputated, a claim that officials now acknowledge was incorrect.” [Knight Ridder, 10/4/2004] In early 2006, al-Zarqawi will be seen walking in a videotape, clearly in possession of both his legs. And when he is killed later that year, x-rays of his dead body will show a fracture of his right lower leg, but apparently that was caused by the blast that killed him. [Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006; Associated Press, 6/13/2006]
The 9/11 Commission, officially titled the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, holds its first meeting in Washington. The commission has $3 million and only a year and a half to explore the causes of the attacks. By comparison, a 1996 federal commission to study legalized gambling was given two years and $5 million. [Associated Press, 1/27/2003] Two months later the Bush administration grudgingly increases the funding to $12 million total (see March 26, 2003). [Associated Press, 1/27/2003] A few days later, Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton says, “The focus of the commission will be on the future. We want to make recommendations that will make the American people more secure.… We’re not interested in trying to assess blame, we do not consider that part of the commission’s responsibility.” [United Press International, 2/6/2003]
A secret CIA report on possible links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi government is finished and sent to top US officials. The report, entitled “Iraqi Support of Terrorism,” was substantially finished by December 2002, but was delayed while other US officials put pressure on the CIA to withdraw or revise the report, because it did not find as much evidence of a Hussein-al-Qaeda link as they would have liked. In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet will describe in detail what was in the report. “Our analysts believed that there was a solid basis for identifying three areas of concern with regard to Iraq and al-Qaeda: safe haven, contacts, and training. But they could not translate this data into a relationship where these two entities had ever moved beyond seeking ways to take advantage of each other.… Ansar al-Islam, a radical Kurdish Islamic group [based in northern Iraq areas out of Iraqi government control], was closely allied to al-Qaeda.… We believed that up to two hundred al-Qaeda fighters began to relocate [to Ansar al-Islam] camps after the Afghan campaign began in the fall of 2001.” He says that one of their camps near the town of Khurmal linked to militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi “engaged in production and training in the use of low-level poisons such as cyanide.” He says that nearly 100 operatives in Western Europe connected to this camp were arrested, but, “What was even more worrisome was that by the spring and summer of 2002, more than a dozen al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists converged on Baghdad, with apparently no harassment on the part of the Iraqi government. They had found a comfortable and secure environment in which they moved people and supplies to support al-Zarqawi’s operations in northeastern Iraq.” He mentions Thirwat Salah Shehata and Yussef Dardiri, considered to be among Islamic Jihad’s best operational planners, as those in Baghdad at the time, and that “Credible information told us that Shehata was willing to strike US, Israeli, and Egyptian targets sometime in the future.” He concludes, “Do we know just how aware Iraqi authorities were of these terrorists’ presence either in Baghdad or northeastern Iraq? No, but from an intelligence point of view it would have been difficult to conclude that the Iraqi intelligence service was not aware of their activities. Certainly, we believe that at least one senior [Ansar al-Islam] operative maintained some sort of liaison relationship with the Iraqis. But operational direction and control? No.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 349-351] It is not clear from Tenet’s book just how much of the above description is of what the CIA believed at the time and how much is what Tenet still believed to be true in 2007. Some of Tenet’s claims from his book appear overblown, such as the danger of poison production in the Khurmal camp (see March 31, 2003).
A new CIA report in 2005 (ignored in Tenet’s book) will conclude that Hussein’s government “did not have a relationship, harbor, or even turn a blind eye toward al-Zarqawi and his associates” (see October 2005). [New York Times, 9/8/2006] In 2006, a bipartisan US Senate report on “Pre-war Intelligence on Iraq” will note that “detainees that originally reported on [links between Ansar al-Islam and Iraqi intelligence] have recanted, and another detainee, in September 2003, was deemed to have insufficient access and level of detail to substantiate his claims.” The report will conclude, “Postwar information reveals that Baghdad viewed Ansar al-Islam as a threat to the regime and that [Iraqi intelligence] attempted to collect intelligence on the group.” [US Senate and Intelligence Committee, 9/8/2006 ]
The government reveals in a closed-door court hearing that recent interrogations of top al-Qaeda prisoners indicate that Zacarias Moussaoui may have been part of a plot to hijack a fifth plane on the day of 9/11, perhaps with the White House as its target. This is in contrast to the government’s original accusation that Moussaoui was to be the “20th hijacker” on Flight 93. Because Moussaoui does not have a security clearance, he cannot see the classified evidence against him, but he later learns of this “fifth-jet theory” while reading a transcript of the hearing that was not thoroughly redacted. [CNN, 8/8/2003; Time, 10/19/2003] At Moussaoui’s 2006 trial (see March 6-May 4, 2006), the prosecution will support the fifth jet theory—which Moussaoui both admits (see March 27, 2006) and denies (see April 22, 2005)—arguing that he engaged in parallel conduct with the hijackers (see February 23-August 16, 2001) and was supported by the same people (see July 29, 2001-August 3, 2001 and June 13-September 25, 2000). The theory is also supported by the hearsay of what one of the hijackers reportedly told a relative. In February 2001, Khalid Almihdhar told a cousin that Osama bin Laden was planning to launch five attacks against the US (see Late October 2000-July 4, 2001). But during interrogations, some captured al-Qaeda leaders will reportedly insist that Moussaoui was only a back-up (see November 20, 2002), while others will claim that he was part of a follow-up operation (see Before 2008).
Richard Reid is sentenced to 80 years in prison and fined over $2,000,000 for his attempt to blow up a transatlantic airliner with explosives hidden in his shoe (see December 22, 2001). During the sentencing, Reid plays to the gallery in the court, declaring himself a “soldier of Islam,” admitting allegiance to Osama bin Laden, and accusing the US of killing millions in Iraq. This leads to a confrontation with the judge and a row in the court, and Reid has to be wrestled out of the courtroom. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment, “it is not clear how the judge thought the penniless Reid would ever pay [the fine].” Reid had previously pleaded guilty, meaning that the sentencing was not preceded by a trial, and details of the plot remain unknown. [CNN, 1/31/2003; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 234]
Mohamed Atta has his hands on the shoulders of Mohammed Rajih in a portion of a 1999 group photo. [Source: DDP/ AFP]The Los Angeles Times reports that an al-Qaeda cell may still exist in Hamburg, Germany, and al-Qaeda sympathizers are threatening witnesses in a trial there. The CIA told the German government in late 2002 that it suspects an al-Qaeda cell is still present in Hamburg. It is known that a criminal investigation of at least eight suspected cell members is continuing in Germany. Mounir El Motassadeq is on trial for a role in the 9/11 plot. According to the Times, police have taped “telephone conversations of people—who never identify themselves—telling El Motassadeq’s wife that they would give her money if she needs it, implying that El Motassadeq will be assisted as long as he remains quiet.” One witness withdrew his statement to police after he was told he might need to testify publicly. Another witness named Shahid Nickels, who lived with hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh at one point, has told investigators that after 9/11, a man named Mohammed Rajih urged him to destroy any phone number or other contact information he might have for the Hamburg cell. Rajih soon moved to Morocco. He is suspected of being involved with the cell, and was under investigation even before 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 1/30/2003] In 2009, a group of ten men who regularly attend the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg—the same mosque attended by three of the 9/11 hijackers—will depart for militant training camps in Pakistan. One of the men, Naamen Meziche, will turn out to have been a member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell even before 9/11 (see March 5, 2009 and August 9, 2010).
Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, resigning his position as the White House cybersecurity chief, receives a handwritten note from President Bush that reads in part: “Dear Dick, you will be missed. You served our nation with distinction and honor. You have left a positive mark on our government.” Clarke will later note: “This is not the normal typewritten letter that everybody gets. This is the president’s handwriting” (see March 28, 2004). [MSNBC, 3/28/2004]
During a joint press conference with President George Bush and British Prime Minister Blair at the White House, the two leaders are asked by a reporter, “One question for you both. Do you believe that there is a link between Saddam Hussein, a direct link, and the men who attacked on September the 11th?” Bush answers succinctly, “I can’t make that claim.” [US President, 2/3/2003]
The Russian Supreme Court outlaws a number of Islamic organizations. The “black list” of groups, compiled by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), includes Asbat al-Ansar, a Sunni militant group based in Lebanon. [Interfax, 3/15/2007] In late 2006, the US will begin providing funds through the Lebanese government to this and other militant Sunni groups as part of an effort to rollback the influence of Iran and the Shiites in Iraq (see Late 2006).
A Special Mission Unit (SMU) Task Force designated to leave Afghanistan and deploy to Iraq receives a copy of the SMU interrogation policy from Afghanistan that includes torture methods for use against detainees (see January 11, 2003). The SMU Task Force changes the letterhead and adopts the policy verbatim. [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
Animal rights activist Christopher McIntosh sets fire to the roof of a McDonald’s restaurant in Seattle. The FBI will apprehend McIntosh after identifying his fingerprints from a spray-paint can he leaves behind. McIntosh claims that the arson is a joint effort of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF—see 1976) and Earth Liberation Front (ELF—see 1997). [Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
In a book published in 2006, 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice-Chairman Lee Hamilton will say that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is captured “in an early 2003 raid on a Karachi apartment orchestrated by the CIA, the FBI, and Pakistani security services.” [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 115] Pakistan and the US will announce the arrest at the beginning of March (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). In contrast to the version put forward later by Kean and Hamilton, the Pakistani government initially states he is captured in a house in Rawalpindi, solely by Pakistani security forces. The US agrees on the date and place, but says it was a joint operation. [CNN, 3/2/2003; Dawn (Karachi), 3/2/2003] However, the initial account is called into question due to various problems (see March 10, 2003). It is unclear whether Kean and Hamilton realize that the passing reference in their book is at variance with the initial account.
The Independent reports on February 3 that according to security sources in London, Colin Powell will attempt to link Iraq to al-Qaeda in his February 5 presentation to the UN. But the sources say that intelligence analysts in both Washington and London do not believe such links exist. [Independent, 2/3/2003 Sources: Unnamed British intelligence sources] This is followed by a report the next day in the London Telegraph, reporting that the Bush administration’s insistence of a link between al-Zarqawi, Ansar al-Islam, and Saddam Hussein “has infuriated many within the United States intelligence community.” The report cites one unnamed US intelligence source who says, “The intelligence is practically non-existent,” and explains that the claim is largely based on information provided by Kurdish groups, which are enemies of Ansar al-Islam. “It is impossible to support the bald conclusions being made by the White House and the Pentagon given the poor quantity and quality of the intelligence available. There is uproar within the intelligence community on all of these points, but the Bush White House has quashed dissent.” [Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003 Sources: Unnamed US and British intelligence sources] The Telegraph predicts that “if Mr. Powell tries to prove the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda, the whole thing could fall apart,” explaining that the veto-wielding Security Council members, “France, Russia, and China… all have powerful intelligence services and their own material on al-Qaeda and they will know better than to accept the flimsy evidence of a spurious link with Baghdad.” [Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003]
Major Jack Rives, a top Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer in the US Air Force, writes a memo challenging the legal opinion issued by Justice Department lawyer John Yoo justifying “harsh interrogation methods” (see January 9, 2002). Rives is representative of a large number of JAG officers who have sent fiercely worded memos calling torture and “harsh interrogation methods” illegal, regardless of what Yoo may have written. Rives writes, “[S]everal of the exceptional techniques, on their face, amount to violations of domestic criminal law,” and notes that US interrogators who use such techniques risk prosecution. And, telling soldiers it is permissable to brutalize prisoners could lead to a general breakdown in discipline and morale, Rives adds, “We need to consider the overall impact of approving extreme interrogation techniques as giving official approval and legal sanctions to the application of interrogation techniques that US forces have consistently trained [as being] unlawful.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 180]
Journalist Jason Burke writes in the Observer about recent interviews he has conducted with prisoners held by Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. One prisoner, Mohammed Mansour Shahab, claims to have been an Iraqi government agent who repeatedly met with Osama bin Laden over a several year period. The New Yorker published an article in March 2002 largely based on Shahab’s allegations and concluded, “the Kurds may have evidence of [Saddam Hussein’s] ties to Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network.” But Burke is able to find a number of inconsistencies and falsehoods in Shahab’s account, and after he points them out, Shahab does not deny that he was lying. Burke suggests that Shahab, like other prisoners being held by the Kurds, was lying in hopes of getting his prison sentence reduced since his Kurdish captors are looking to promote propaganda against their enemy, the Hussein government. Burke also interviews a number of prisoners belonging to the Ansar al-Islam militant group that is allegedly linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He does not see evidence of any link between that group and Hussein’s government and concludes, “Saddam may well have infiltrated the Ansar al-Islam with a view to monitoring the developments of the group (indeed it would be odd if he had not) but that appears to be about as far as his involvement with the group, and incidentally with al-Qaeda, goes.” [Observer, 2/9/2003]
Asked about the possible effectiveness of a French-German plan to send UN inspectors into Iraq with the accompaniment of UN enforcement personnel, Secretary of State Colin Powell asks derisively: “What are these blue-helmeted UN forces going to do? Shoot their way into Iraqi compounds? The issue is the resolution specifically called upon Iraq to cooperate fully, tell us what happened to all of this material, tell us what you are doing now, come clean, and not for inspectors to play detectives or Inspector Clouseau running all over Iraq looking for this material.” [ABC News, 2/9/2003]
Secretary of State Colin Powell obtains an advance transcript of a new audio tape thought to be from Osama bin Laden before it is broadcast on Al Jazeera, but misrepresents the contents to a US Senate panel, implying it shows a partnership between al-Qaeda and Iraq. [CNN, 2/12/2003] Following Powell’s initial claim the tape exists, Al Jazeera says that it has no such tape and dismisses Powell’s statement as a rumor. [Associated Press, 2/12/2003] However, later in the day Al Jazeera says that it does have the tape. [Reuters, 2/12/2003] It is unclear how Powell obtains the advance copy, and Counterpunch even jokes, “Maybe the CIA gave Powell the tape before they delivered it to Al Jazeera?” [CounterPunch, 2/13/2003] In his testimony to the Senate Budget Committee Powell says, “[Bin Laden] speaks to the people of Iraq and talks about their struggle and how he is in partnership with Iraq.” [CNN, 2/12/2003] Powell’s spokesperson, Richard Boucher, says that the recording proves “that bin Laden and Saddam Hussein seem to find common ground.” [Reuters, 2/11/2003; New York Times, 2/12/2003; Washington Post, 11/12/2003] However, although bin Laden tells his supporters in Iraq they may fight alongside the Saddam Hussein, if the country is invaded by the US (see November 12, 2002), he does not express any direct support for the current regime in Iraq, which he describes as “pagan.” [CNN, 2/12/2003] A senior editor for Al Jazeera says the tape offers no evidence of ties between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. “When you hear it, it doesn’t prove any relation between bin Laden or al-Qaeda group and the Iraqi regime,” he argues. [ABC News, 2/12/2003] Several news reports also challenge Powell and Boucher’s interpretation. For example, CNN reveals that the voice had criticized Saddam’s regime, declaring that “the socialists and the rulers [had] lost their legitimacy a long time ago, and the socialists are infidels regardless of where they are, whether in Baghdad or in Aden.” [CNN, 2/11/2003; New York Times, 11/12/2003] Similarly, a report published by Reuters notes that the voice “did not express support for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein—it said Muslims should support the Iraqi people rather than the country’s government.” [Reuters, 2/11/2003]
CIA Director George Tenet publicly states that “the numbers of societies and peoples excluded from the benefits of an expanding global economy, where the daily lot is hunger, disease, and displacement… produce large populations of disaffected youth who are prime recruits for our extremist foes.” However, in October 2004, the Washington Post will report that President Bush and most of his influential advisers do not see these factors, or US foreign policy, as the primary cause of terrorism. “Bush’s explanation, in private and public, is that terrorists hate America for its freedom.” Former CIA officer Marc Sageman will comment that the Bush administration’s analysis is “nonsense, complete nonsense. They obviously haven’t looked at any surveys.” He says that international polls show that large majorities in much of the world “view us as a hypocritical huge beast throwing our weight around in the Middle East.” Bush also believes that eliminating the top thirty or so al-Qaeda leaders can effectively destroy the group, while most analysts believe al-Qaeda is more of an ideology that will survive without its top leaders, and that root causes need to be addressed to make the ideology less appealing for potential new recruits. Wayne Downing, Bush’s counterterrorism “tsar” in late 2001 and 2002, will say: “This is not a war. What we’re faced with is an Islamic insurgency that is spreading throughout the world, not just the Islamic world.” Because it is “a political struggle, the military is not the key factor. The military has to be coordinated with the other elements of national power.” [Washington Post, 10/22/2004]
A new speech thought to be from Osama bin Laden is aired on Al Jazeera. On the 16-minute audiotape the speaker predicts the US will invade Iraq to “loot Muslim riches” and “install a stooge government to follow its masters in Washington and Tel Aviv… to pave the way for the establishment of a greater Israel.” He also advises Iraqis on defensive tactics al-Qaeda has tested in Afghanistan, recommending trenches against aerial bombardment and saying “what the enemy fears most is urban and street warfare, in which heavy and costly human losses can be expected.” He also stresses the capacity of “martyrdom operations” to inflict “unprecedented harm” on the enemy. He predicts the US will use an “enormous propaganda machine” and “intense air strikes” to “hide its most conspicuous weak points: fear, cowardice, and lack of fighting spirit among its troops,” who are fighting for “the criminal gang in the White House.” Bin Laden also attacks Arab leaders allied with the US, calling them hypocrites and apostates, but highlights only six Arab countries as being in need of liberation: Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Yemen. It is unclear why he omits Egypt and the Gulf sheikdoms, for example. He tells his supporters in Iraq that they may fight with Saddam Hussein’s “pagan” Ba’ath forces, as they are finished anyway. [Laden, 2005, pp. 179-185]
Swiss voice analysts at the Dalle Molle Institute for Perceptual Artificial Intelligence decline to examine a new recording issued by a man thought to be Osama bin Laden (see February 11 or 12, 2003 and February 12, 2003). The institute previously analyzed a speech made by a man thought to be bin Laden and concluded that the speaker was not actually him (see November 29, 2002). The institute says that the previous analysis was done at the request of a French TV channel and was “mainly motivated by pure scientific curiosity.” It also says that the poor quality of that recording coupled with the limited number of voice examples meant that it was unlikely the recording could ever be properly authenticated. [Swissinfo (.org), 2/12/2003] However, US officials tell CNN that “this tape was of much better quality than the previous one presumed to be from bin Laden, which Al Jazeera broadcast in November.” [CNN, 2/12/2003] The institute does not analyze any later tapes thought to be released by bin Laden.
The wife of Mouhannad Almallah gave Spanish police stunning details about a group of Islamist militants planning attacks in January 2003 (see January 4, 2003), and she returns to the police to give them a new lead. She previously said that her husband, his brother Moutaz Almallah, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, and Mustapha Maymouni have been holding meetings planning attacks. Now she says that her husband told her that “one day” he would like to attack the Torres Kio towers of the Plaza de Castilla, an important Madrid landmark, with a car bomb. That attack does not occur, but all the men she mentions will be killed or arrested for roles in the 2004 Madrid bombings, except for Maymouni, who will be arrested for a role in bombings in Casablanca several months later (see May 16, 2003). Police apparently take her warnings seriously because they begin monitoring her apartment one month later (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). The wife’s brother, who is also Mouhannad’s business partner, will testify in 2007 that Mouhannad also told him about a desire to destroy the Torres Kio towers. [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/28/2005; El Mundo (Madrid), 3/13/2007]
The Blind Sheikh’s sons Mohammad Omar Abdul-Rahman and Ahmad Abdul-Rahman in 1998. It is not clear which is which. [Source: CNN]Pakistani authorities raid an apartment in Quetta, Pakistan, and apparently arrest Mohammad Omar Abdul-Rahman, a son of the Blind Sheikh,’ Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. Supposedly, communications found at the apartment lead to the later arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). [New York Times, 3/4/2003] Government officials say he is a senior al-Qaeda operative who ran a training camp in Afghanistan before 9/11 attacks and also had a role in operational planning. Another son of the blind sheik, Ahmad Abdul-Rahman, was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001, but Ahmad was not considered to be high ranking. [Associated Press, 3/4/2003] But even though Mohammad Omar’s arrest is reported in the New York Times and elsewhere, there is no official announcement. In December 2005, his name will be on a list published by ABC News of high-detainees being held in a secret CIA prison (see November 2005). [ABC News, 12/5/2005] In 2006, the US will announce that it is emptying the CIA prisons and transferring all high-level prisoners to Guantanamo, but he will not be one of those transferred and it is unclear what happened to him (see September 2-3, 2006).
The FBI gathered a significant amount of evidence that showed links between convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997, June 11-13, 1997, and 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001) and white supremacists who had threatened to attack government buildings, according to investigative memos procured by the Associated Press. This evidence includes hotel receipts, a speeding ticket, prisoner interviews, informant reports, and phone records suggesting that McVeigh had contact with white supremacists connected to the Elohim City community (see 1983, January 23, 1993 - Early 1994, April 1993, October 12, 1993 - January 1994, August 1994 - March 1995, August - September 1994, September 12, 1994 and After, September 13, 1994 and After, November 1994, December 1994, February 1995, March 1995, (April 1) - April 18, 1995, April 5, 1995, April 8, 1995, and Before 9:00 A.M. April 19, 1995). “It is suspected that members of Elohim City are involved either directly or indirectly through conspiracy,” FBI agents wrote in a memo shortly after the bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). An FBI teletype shows that some of the supremacists who were present when McVeigh called Elohim City (see April 5, 1995) were familiar with explosives, and had made a videotape in February 1995 vowing to wage war against the federal government and promising a “courthouse massacre.” The AP notes that the Murrah Building, devastated by the blast, was directly across the street from the federal courthouse. The teletype also notes that two members of a violent Aryan Nation bank robbery gang who live in the Elohim City compound left the compound on April 16 for a location in Kansas a few hours away from where McVeigh completed the final assembly of the bomb (see 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995). Some of the evidence was not turned over to McVeigh’s lawyers for his trial. “They short-circuited the search for the truth,” says McVeigh’s original lead attorney, Stephen Jones. “I don’t doubt Tim’s role in the conspiracy. But I think he clearly aggrandized his role, enlarged it, to cover for others who were involved.” The FBI agent in charge of the investigation, Dan Defenbaugh, says he never saw the FBI teletype that linked McVeigh to the Elohim City community. He says he would not have considered the teletype a “smoking gun” that would have altered the outcome of the investigation, but his team “shouldn’t have been cut out. We should have been kept in on all the items of the robbery investigation until it was resolved as connected or not connected to Oklahoma City.” Defenbaugh adds that he knew nothing of a 1996 plea offer by prosecutors to one of the robbers, Peter Kevin Langan (identified by the AP as Kevin Peter Langan), who said he had information about the bombing. Langan made several demands the government was unwilling to meet, and the plea offer was rescinded. Langan’s lawyer later said Langan could disprove the April 19, 1995 alibis for two of the bank robbers, casting doubt on their denials of non-involvement with the bomb conspiracy. The FBI acknowledges its failure to turn over some documents, but says it found no evidence that McVeigh was involved with anyone in the conspiracy aside from his accomplice Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998). FBI spokesman Mike Kortan says: “We believe we conducted an exhaustive investigation that pursued every possible lead and ran it to ground. We are confident that those who committed the crime have been brought to justice and that there are no other accomplices out there.” Part of the problem, Defenbaugh says, was that white supremacist militia groups shared many of McVeigh’s far-right beliefs, and some had their own plans for carrying out bombings that had nothing to do with McVeigh’s tightly controlled conspiracy. “Even though we had our conspiracy theories, we still had to deal with facts and the fact is we couldn’t find anyone else who was involved,” Defenbaugh says. Jones says of the Elohim City connection: “I think Tim was there. I think he knew those people and I think some helped, if not in a specific way, in a general way.” Retired FBI agent Danny Coulson says: “I think you have too many coincidences here that raise questions about whether other people are involved. The close associations with Elohim City and the earlier plan to do the same Murrah building all suggest the complicity of other people.” [Associated Press, 2/13/2003]
The CIA produces a report entitled “A Reference Guide to Terrorist Passports.” The report discusses a suspicious indicator of terrorist affiliation that was contained in the passports of at least three of the 9/11 hijackers, possibly more. The indicator was placed there deliberately by the Saudi government, which used such indicators to track suspected radicals (see November 2, 2007). However, this report is classified and is not disseminated, meaning that if a radical were to arrive at a US port with a passport indicating he was a terrorist, an immigration official would be unable to recognize the indicator and would admit him. Over a year after this report is completed, the 9/11 Commission will show a passport bearing this indicator to one of the immigration officials who admitted 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar to the US, but she will still be unable to recognize the indicator. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 25, 27, 41 ]
In his 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, journalist Ron Suskind will claim that Mohammad Sidique Khan, the head suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings, was monitored as he attempted to fly to the US. According to Suskind, NSA surveillance discovers that Khan is coming to the US soon and has been in contact with suspect US citizens, including Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, an Islamist radical living in Virginia. E-mails between Khan, Ali, and others discuss plans for various violent activities, including a desire to “blow up synagogues on the East Coast.” FBI agent Dan Coleman, an expert on al-Qaeda, reads the intercepts and advocates either a very intensive surveillance of Khan when he is in the US, or not letting him in at all. Officials, including Joe Billy, head of the FBI’s New York office, worry about being held responsible if Khan is allowed into the country and then manages to commit some violent act. With Khan scheduled to come to the US in one day, “top bosses in Washington” quickly decide to put him on a no-fly list. Khan does fly to the US, and is stopped and sent back to Britain. As a result, he realizes the US is onto him and presumably takes greater precautions. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 200-203]
Confusion - However, when Suskind’s book is published in June 2006, a number of articles will dispute Suskind’s claim. For instance, Newsweek will report that “several US and [British] law-enforcement and counterterrorism officials” anonymously claim that Suskind is mistaken, and is confusing Sidique Khan with another British suspect named Mohammed Ajmal Khan. [Newsweek, 6/21/2006] The Telegraph reaches the same conclusion, and points out that Ajmal Khan pleaded guilty in a British trial in March on charges of providing weapons and funds to the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba. During that trial, it was revealed that he made several trips to the US and met with a group of suspected militants in Virginia, including one named Ahmed Omar Abu Ali.
Stands by Story - However, Suskind will resolutely stand by his story, saying, “In my investigation and in my book and in my conversations with people in the US government, there was no mistake or doubt that we are talking about Mohammad Sidique Khan, not Mohammed Ajmal Khan.” He says he was aware of the difference between the two and suggests British officials may have been trying to push Ajmal Khan instead to cover up their failures to stop the 7/7 bombings. The two officials mentioned by name in Suskind’s account, Coleman and Billy, apparently say nothing to the press to confirm or deny the story. [Daily Telegraph, 6/22/2006]
Visit to Israel - Curiously, it will be reported shortly after the 7/7 bombings that Khan visits Israel around this time, February 19-20, 2003, and the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv will claim he is suspected of helping two Pakistani-Britons plot a suicide bombing that kills three Israelis several months later (see February 19-20, 2003). [Guardian, 7/19/2005]
A surveillance photograph of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr. [Source: Central Intelligence Agency]The CIA kidnaps an Islamic extremist who previously informed for it in Milan, Italy. The man, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar), who was a member of the Egyptian terror group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and was close to al-Qaeda, provided information to the CIA in Albania (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After) and operated in Italy (see Summer 2000). [Chicago Tribune, 7/2/2005] While the kidnap is happening, one of the CIA officers involved in the operation, Robert Seldon Lady, is having a meeting on the other side of Milan with Bruno Megale, head of Milan’s antiterrorism police service, DIGOS. The meeting’s purpose is to allow Lady to keep an eye on Megale in case something goes wrong. [GQ, 3/2007 ] The US will say that Nasr is a dangerous terrorist and that he once plotted to assassinate the Egyptian foreign minister. However, Italian officials, who were monitoring him, will deny this and say his abduction damages an intelligence operation against al-Qaeda. A senior prosecutor will say, “When Nasr disappeared in February , our investigation came to a standstill.” Italian authorities are mystified by the kidnap, as they are sharing the results of their surveillance with the CIA. Nor can they understand why Egypt wants Nasr back. When Nasr reaches Cairo, he is taken to the Egyptian interior minister and told that if he agrees to inform again, he will be set free. However, he refuses and spends most of the next 14 months in prison, facing “terrible tortures.” The Chicago Tribune will ask, “Why would the US government go to elaborate lengths to seize a 39-year-old Egyptian who, according to former Albanian intelligence officials, was once the CIA’s most productive source of information within the tightly knit group of Islamic fundamentalists living in exile in Albania?” One possible answer is that he is kidnapped in an attempt to turn him back into the informer he once was. The kidnapping generates a substantial amount of publicity, leading to an investigation of the CIA’s practice of extraordinary rendition, and an Italian official will comment, “Instead of having an investigation against terrorists, we are investigating this CIA kidnapping.” [Chicago Tribune, 7/2/2005] Arrest warrants will later be issued for some US intelligence officers involved in the kidnapping (see June 23, 2005 and After).
Mohammad Sidique Khan, the lead suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), travels to Israel, staying there for only 24 hours. Israeli officials will confirm the visit in 2006. This is seven weeks before two British citizens, Omar Sharif and Asif Hanif, attack a cafe in Tel Aviv, Israel, with suicide bombs, killing three (see April 30, 2003). It is strongly suspected that Khan comes to Israel to help facilitate the bombing in some way, especially since Khan was seen in the company of Sharif and Hanif as far back as 2001 and was Sharif’s friend (see Summer 2001). However, Khan’s precise role, if any, in the cafe bombing is unknown, and apparently his connection to the two bombers will not be discovered by authorities until after the 7/7 bombings. [BBC, 7/9/2006]
Robert Seldon Lady, chief of the CIA’s substation in Milan, Italy, travels to Egypt for three weeks. A radical imam named Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar) was kidnapped by the CIA in Milan five days before and taken to Egypt, and Lady will later be accused of being a party to the abduction (see Noon February 17, 2003 and June 23, 2005 and After). According to the Washington Post, “many counterterrorism analysts take [Lady’s trip to Egypt] to mean he took part in the initial interrogation.” A search of Lady’s villa will later turn up computer disks showing a flight reservation from Zurich to Cairo and cell phone records will show that a phone associated with Lady was used to place calls from Cairo during the period Lady is thought to be there. Nasr will later say he is tortured when in Egypt (see April-May 2004). [Washington Post, 12/6/2005]
Dr. Stuart Wright, a professor of sociology who testified before Congress on the Branch Davidian siege (see April 19, 1993) in 1995 (see Late July 1995 and August 4, 1995), says government investigations of the Davidian siege and the final assault that took almost 80 lives became so politicized as to be almost useless. “The [National Rifle Association] got involved in it, allied with the Republicans, in Congressional subcommittee hearings,” Wright says. “And on the other side, the Democrats were defensive because the Republicans were going after [President] Clinton.” Wright concludes, “I’m not sure the evidence was ever looked at in an objective light.” [Waco Tribune-Herald, 2/23/2003]
Popular Science magazine carries a rare interview with Tom Owen, a voice analyst who has worked on identifying Osama bin Laden in recordings allegedly released by the al-Qaeda leader. Owen worked for US media on the identification of bin Laden’s voice in a November 2002 recording (see November 12, 2002), assisted by a captain of the Saudi Interior Ministry’s forensics department he had apparently been teaching at the time. Owen, one of only eight forensic voice analysts certified by the American Board of Recorded Evidence, and other US experts identified the voice as bin Laden’s, although a Swiss facility disagreed (see November 29, 2002). The interview describes Owen’s lab and how he works, pivoting off the November recording. Owen criticizes the Swiss analysis, saying that the advanced biometrics software the Swiss used cannot work with the noise on the tape, as it is “designed to work with perfect samples.” Cleaning up the tape would not help, as this would remove the high and low frequencies a biometric system needs to make its identification.
Voice Identification Methodology - To identify voices, Owen uses a spectrograph, which produces spectrograms—“a kind of graphic speech rendering that has changed little since the 1940s”—that are then compared. His favorite tool for analyses is a “piece of vintage equipment—a reel-to-reel Voice Identification 700 spectrograph built in 1973,” which “differs little from the analog machines US Army intelligence officers built to identify and track German radio operators during World War II.” When analyzing a new recording thought to be from bin Laden, Owen compares the spectrograms it produces with spectrograms from a known bin Laden interview, such as one he granted to ABC in 1998 (see May 28, 1998). According to the magazine, there are “only a half-dozen words in common between the November tape and the ABC interview,” although the standards of the American Board of Recorded Evidence demand 20 identical words, preferably spoken in the same order.
Listening for 'Quirky Mannerisms' - However, Owen also listens for “the multitude of quirky mannerisms and pronunciation foibles peculiar to each voice,” because a trained ear can detect “the subtle whistle caused by a missing tooth, a person’s tendency to swallow in the middle of a sentence, even the way someone sets his or her jaw when speaking.” Owen plays the reporter what he calls a short-term memory tape, apparently a crucial tool in aural voice identifications. The spliced tape toggles between 2.5-second segments of bin Laden’s ABC interview and the November tape; Owen uses the tape to listen for peculiarities in a voice, especially when vowels are spoken. According to Owen, who says bin Laden’s voice is what the magazine calls “plenty peculiar,” the tape proves it is the “same guy” on the November tape and in the 1998 interview. However, the reporter comments: “To my untrained ear, it could be Darth Vader behind the static.… This is the sort of gray area that tends to make legal observers worry about the state of forensic science.”
Comments on NSA - According to the magazine, Owen’s technology is similar to that which the NSA probably uses to analyze voices, although Owen thinks the NSA has samples of bin Laden’s voice he does not. However, he does not think it has made biometric breakthroughs in analysis despite its advanced technology, which is “mostly devoted to listening.” [Popular Science, 2/24/2003]
On PBS’s NOW with Bill Moyers, former ambassador Joseph Wilson explains why he does not believe the administration’s impending war with Iraq is necessary or warranted. Wilson, as he has said before (see February 13, 2003), is for aggressive, coercive inspections and what he calls “muscular disarmament.” But, Wilson says, President Bush does not want a disarmed Saddam Hussein: “I think he wants a dead Hussein. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.” Bush is giving Iraq no incentives to disarm because he is not interested in disarmament, he wants nothing less than to overthrow Hussein. “I think war is inevitable,” he says. “Essentially, the speech that the president gave at the American Enterprise Institute (see February 26, 2003) was so much on the overthrow of the regime and the liberation of the Iraqi people that I suspect that Saddam understands that this is not about disarmament.”
'Shock and Awe' - Moyers asks Wilson about the US tactic of “shock and awe” that he has heard is being considered for the opening strikes of the US invasion (see March 19, 2003). Wilson says: “From what I understand about shock and awe, it will be a several day air assault in which they will drop as much ordinance in four or five days as they did during the 39-day bombing campaign of the Gulf War.… Missiles, bombs, precision bombs. I believe the president and our military officials, when they say they will do everything to minimize casualties to the civilian population. But it was difficult to imagine dropping that much ordinance on a population of four million people without having a lot of casualties that are unanticipated. A lot of civilian casualties.” Wilson is pessimistic that even such a massive opening assault might, as Moyers asks, touch off a rebellion against Hussein or a mass retreat and exodus of Hussein’s ground forces. While “you might well have a bloody uprising in Baghdad in which pits essentially the Iraqi population against the Republican Guard in Saddam’s palace, I think far more likely, is that most Baghdadis will just simply go into hiding and try and avoid getting hit by this American ordinance and/or getting killed by the Republican Guard.”
Redrawing the Map of the Middle East - Wilson believes that one of the biggest reasons why Bush is invading Iraq instead of working to disarm the Iraqi regime is because Bush is committed to what he calls “re-growing the political map of the Middle East.” He explains: “[T]hat basically means trying to install regimes in the Middle East that are far more friendly to the United States—there are those in the administration that call them democracies. Somehow it’s hard for me to imagine that a democratic system will emerge out of the ashes of Iraq in the near term. And when and if it does, it’s hard for me to believe that it will be more pro-American and more pro-Israeli than what you’ve got now.” Wilson says that Bush is implementing plans drawn up in the 1990s by neoconservatives such as Richard Perle (see July 8, 1996), which provide “the underpinning of the—of the philosophical argument that calls for basically radically changing the political dynamics in the Middle East and… to favor American national security interests and Israeli national security interests which are tied.”
Recipe for Anti-American Demagoguery - Such a grand agenda will be far more difficult to implement than Perle, Bush, and others believe, Wilson says. “I’ve done democracy in Africa for 25 years,” he says. “And I can tell you that doing democracy in the most benign environments is really tough sledding. And the place like Iraq where politics is a blood sport and where you have these clan, tribal, ethnic and confessional cleavages, coming up with a democratic system that is pluralistic, functioning and, as we like to say about democracies, is not inclined to make war on other democracies, is going to be extraordinarily difficult.” Wilson provides the following scenario: “Assuming that you get the civic institutions and a thriving political culture in the first few iterations of presidential elections, you’re going to have Candidate A who is likely going to be a demagogue. And Candidate B who is likely going to be a populist. That’s what emerges from political discourse. Candidate A, Candidate B, the demagogue and the populist, are going to want to win elections of the presidency. And the way to win election is enflame the passions of your population. The easy way for a demagogue or a populist in the Middle East to enflame the passion of the population is to define himself or herself by their enemies. And the great enemy in the Middle East is Israel and its supplier, the United States. So it’s hard to believe, for me, that a thriving democracy certainly in the immediate and near-term and medium-term future is going to yield a successful presidential candidate who is going to be pro-Israel or pro-America.”
Losing Focus on al-Qaeda - Wilson believes that the US has lost its focus on pursuing Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. “The game has shifted to Iraq for reasons that are confused to everybody,” he says. “We have been sold a war on disarmament or terrorism or the nexus between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction or liberation. Any one of the four. And now with the president’s speeches, you clearly have the idea that we’re going to go in and take this preemptive action to overthrow a regime, occupy its country for the purposes, the explicit purposes of fostering the blossoming of democracy in a part of the world where we really have very little ground, truth or experience. And, certainly, I hope along with everybody that the president in his assessment is correct. And that I am so wrong that I’m never invited to another foreign policy debate again.… Because if I am right, this could be a real disaster.” [PBS, 2/28/2003; Wilson, 2004, pp. 320-321]
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed shortly after arrest. (Note: this picture is from a video presentation on prisoners the Pakistani government gave to BBC filmmakers. It has been adjusted to remove some blue tinge.) [Source: BBC's "The New Al-Qaeda."]9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is apparently captured by US and Pakistani forces with the help of an informant. One week after KSM’s capture, said to take place on February 29 or March 1, 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003), the Los Angeles Times will report, “Pakistani officials have… hinted that [KSM] was betrayed by someone inside the organization who wanted to collect a $25-million reward for his capture.” One Pakistani official says, “I am not going to tell you how we captured him, but Khalid knows who did him in.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/8/2003] In 2008, the New York Times will provide additional details. According to an intelligence officer, the informant slips into a bathroom in the house where KSM is staying, and writes a text message to his government contacts: “I am with KSM.” The capture team then waits a few hours before raiding the house, to blur the connection to the informant. Little more is known about the informant or what other information he provides. He apparently is later personally thanked by CIA Director George Tenet and then resettled with the $25 million reward money in the US. [New York Times, 6/22/2008]
There are several credible sightings by CIA and military informants of top Taliban leader Mullah Omar entering a mosque in Kandahar, Afghanistan. A Green Beret team located at a base just minutes away are ready to deploy to go after Omar, but each time US military commanders follow strict protocol and call in the Delta Force commando team instead. But this team is based hundreds of miles away near Kabul and it takes them several hours to arrive in Kandahar. By that time, Omar has disappeared. Apparently this is part of a pattern only allowing certain Special Forces units to go after important targets. The Washington Post will report in 2004 that any mission that takes Special Forces farther than two miles from a “firebase” requires as long as 72 hours to be approved. And on the rare occasions that such forces are authorized to act, they are required to travel in armed convoys, a practice that alerts the enemy. [Washington Post, 1/5/2004]
The Spanish inteligence agency Centro Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI) has a highly trusted informant named Abdelkader Farssaoui, a.k.a. Cartagena, placed within a group of suspected Islamist militants in Madrid (see September 2002-October 2003). Police have been monitoring this group for months and learning all about the group in part thanks to Farssaoui’s leads. Farssaoui is so trusted in the group that he is considered one of the group’s leaders, behind only Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet and Mustapha Maymouni. Farssaoui attends all the group’s secret meetings, and since he is an imam he usually leads them in prayer. As a result, some of the others suggest holding some of the group’s long weekly meetings at Farssaoui’s residence. Farssaoui reports this to his handlers and suggests it is an opportunity to easily record the meetings with audio and video. However, Farssaoui’s handlers reject the idea, saying it is not necessary. [El Mundo (Madrid), 2/13/2006]
Osama bin Laden allegedly attends a gathering of Islamist militants in Pakistan’s tribal region. In 2011, after bin Laden’s death, the New York Times will claim that an unnamed Pakistani militant leader alleges that he sees bin Laden in the spring of 2003. Accompanied by Arab and Chechen bodyguards, bin Laden arrives unexpectedly at a meeting of nearly 100 militants at a mountain village in North Waziristan. Apparently, bin Laden doesn’t make his presence known to the entire gathering. However, the militant leader meets him briefly inside a house, and he is sure it is bin Laden because he met him once, prior to the 9/11 attacks. This leader is an informant for the Pakistani military at this time, but he will not tell the Times if he passes this information on to his Pakistani handlers. He will also claim that from about 2002 to 2004, bin Laden moves from place to place in the tribal region. He speculates that after the US begins drone strikes in the tribal region in 2004, bin Laden moves to one of Pakistan’s towns outside of the tribal region where drone strikes don’t reach. [New York Times, 6/23/2011]
Spanish police have been monitoring an apartment on Virgen de Coro street in Madrid owned by the brothers Moutaz and Mouhannad Almallah since January 17, 2003 (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). Police are now aware that the Almallah brothers are part of a group of Islamist militants regularly meeting there. On March 3, police extend the surveillance to the apartment of Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, since he appears to be a leader of the group and the group holds meetings at his apartment as well (see March 3, 2003-March 2004). On March 14, police also start monitoring Mouhannad Almallah’s apartment (his brother Moutaz is mostly living in London) (see March 14, 2003). Over the next months, the surveillance of this group is intensified:
Police also keep a very close eye on the cars used by the militants. Police witness many of them taking evasive maneuvers while driving around town.
They notice the militants are taking evasive action such as frequently using pay phones and speaking in code, which are signs they are taking part in illegal activities.
They discover that Amer el-Azizi, a Spanish al-Qaeda operative wanted for a role in the 9/11 attacks, had probably escaped to Afghanistan in late 2001 using Mouhannad Almallah’s passport (see Shortly After November 21, 2001).
They find that Fakhet sometimes uses a car owned by relatives of Jamal Ahmidan (Ahmidan is the member of the group who will later lead the effort to buy the explosives for the Madrid bombings, see September 2003-February 2004).
One police report before the bombings says that all three apartments are “regarded as essential points of the logistical network to support the recruitment of ‘mujaheddin’” in Spain and that Moutaz Almallah makes the group an international threat, with links in Britain and the Netherlands. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/10/2005]
Antonio Toro. [Source: EFE]Rafa Zouhier, an informant for Spain’s Civil Guard, tells his handler that two of his associates, Emilio Suarez Trashorras and Trashorras’s brother-in-law Antonio Toro, are illegally selling explosives from a mine in the Asturias region of Spain. Toro had recently been released from prison. Zouhier’s handler, known only by the alias “Victor,” includes the information in a report in March 2003 and sends it to higher-ups. He mentions that the people Zouhier referred to have 150 kilograms of explosives ready to sell. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/9/2007] He reveals the two even asked him how to make bombs which could be set off by cell phone, and says they have been illegally selling explosives since 2001. In June 2003, police conduct a surprise inspection of the mine where Trashorras works, and they begin surveilling both of them, even though Trashorras, Toro, and Toro’s wife are all also government informants (see June 18, 2004 and September 2003-February 2004). [Expatica, 9/1/2004; Expatica, 11/22/2004] Later in the year, Trashorras, Toro, and others will sell large quantities of explosives to Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino,” which will be used in the March 2004 Madrid train bombings (see September 2003-February 2004). Those bombs will be timed to explode using cell phones (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). For some reason, this sale is not detected, even though Toro and Trashorras are being monitored. Victor will reveal what Zouhier told him in 2007 court testimony. He did not mention it in several earlier testimonies, and will claim he “forgot.” [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/9/2007] Zouhier will eventually be convicted and sentenced to more than ten years in prison, on the grounds that he knew about the deal between Ahmidan and Trashorras and did not tell his handler about that as well. Zouhier claims that he did, but is unable to provide any proof. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/9/2007; MSNBC, 10/31/2007]
Asif Hanif (left) and Omar Sharif (right) holding AK-47 rifles and a Koran. Apparently this is from a video filmed on February 8, 2003, in the Gaza Strip. [Source: Public domain]In March 2003, the British domestic intelligence agency MI5 arrests eight members of the Islamist militant group Al-Muhajiroun in the city of Derby. Two other Britons, Asif Hanif and Omar Sharif, are also identified as members of the group, but they are not arrested. MI5 is also aware that Sharif is connected to the Finsbury Park mosque where radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri preaches. [Daily Mail, 5/5/2003; ISN Security Watch, 7/21/2005] When police raided Abu Hamza’s mosque in January, they even found a letter from Sharif to Abu Hamza inquiring about the proper conduct of jihad. The letter contained Sharif’s address in Derby. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 90-91] MI5 does not monitor either Hanif or Sharif, and instead simply keeps their names on file, believing them to be harmless. Later that same month, Italian undercover journalist Claudio Franco, posing as a Muslim convert, visits the London office of Al-Muhajiroun and meets Hanif. Hanif, unaware that he is being formally interviewed, tells Franco that he is sorry the poison ricin was allegedly seized in a raid elsewhere in London (see January 7, 2003) before it could be used in an attack. The next month, Hanif and Sharif travel to Israel and are killed on a suicide bombing mission which kills three others (see April 30, 2003). After the bombing, Al-Muhajiroun’s official leader, Anjem Choudary, calls the two bombers martyrs. The group’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, admits he knew both men. But the group is not banned. [Daily Mail, 5/5/2003; ISN Security Watch, 7/21/2005] Other members of the group will attempt to build a large fertilizer bomb in early 2004 (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004), but the group will still not be banned, then or later. (It will disband on its own in late 2004 (see October 2004).) Investigators also fail to discover that Mohammad Sidique Khan, the lead bomber in the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), knew both men, was friends with Sharif and attended the same small mosque as he did (see Summer 2001), and traveled to Israel weeks before they did in a probable attempt to help with the bombing (see February 19-20, 2003).
In January and February of 2003, the wife of suspected Islamist militant Mouhannad Almallah gave stunning details on the activities and planned attacks of a group of militants including her husband Mouhannad (see January 4, 2003 and February 12, 2003). She apparently grows estranged from him and sees him less and less in subsequent months. However, Spanish investigators are impressed with her revelations, especially since they had most of the group already under surveillance (see December 2001-June 2002). At some point, she is given a phone and a special number to call at any time she learns more about the group. The group frequently watches violent videos promoting jihad. For instance, one video shows a person in Afghanistan being buried up to his head in sand. There are also videos of radical imam Abu Qatada preaching. She manages to sneak some of the videos to the authorities and return them without being noticed. But most details about what warnings she gave after February 2003 remain unknown. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/13/2007; El Mundo (Madrid), 3/13/2007]
Mohammed Quayyum Khan. [Source: BBC]In March 2003, the British intelligence agency MI5 begins monitoring Mohammed Quayyum Khan (a.k.a. “Q”), a part-time taxi driver living in Luton, England, and born in Pakistan. He is said to be an associate of the radical London imams Omar Bakri Mohammed and Abu Hamza al-Masri. It is not known how MI5 first gains an interest in Quayyum, but apparently during a trip to Pakistan in 2003, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, tracks him overtly to warn him that they are aware of his activities. During a later court trial, an al-Qaeda operative turned informant named Mohammed Junaid Babar will allege that Quayyum:
Takes his orders from al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi. He is said to be one of about three or four operatives working directly under this leader.
Arranges for Mohammad Sidique Khan, the head suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings, to travel to Pakistan and attend militant training camp in 2003.
Provides funds and equipment for militants fighting US troops in Afghanistan.
Is the leader of the 2004 British fertilizer bomb plot. Five of Quayyum’s associates will be sentenced to life in prison for roles in this plot.
In early February 2004, MI5 first discovers the existence of the fertilizer bomb plot while it monitors the various plotters meeting with Quayyum (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). For instance, Omar Khyam, one of those who will later be sentenced to life in prison, is secretly videotaped meeting with Quayyum. Khyam will later admit that just before he left for militant training in Pakistan, Quayyum gave him money and said: “It’s better for both of us if we don’t meet each other. Because the security services may be monitoring me.” Yet when all the other members of the plot are arrested in late March 2004, Quayyum stays free. The Guardian will later report, “Despite the number of serious allegations leveled against him [in court], police and MI5 say they have never found sufficient evidence to arrest or charge him.” Quayyum is never questioned about his links to the fertilizer bomb plotters. After the 7/7 suicide bombings in 2005, he is not questioned about his verified links with the suicide bombers either (such as the monitored calls between him and the head suicide bomber (see Shortly Before July 2003)). He continues to live in Luton and is seen by a Guardian journalist working as a chef in a small cafe there. “He is thought to have since disappeared.” [Guardian, 5/1/2007; Guardian, 5/1/2007] Author Loretta Napoleoni will later comment that the lack of action against Quayyum is especially strange given the British government’s power to detain suspects for years without charge. She will say, “The press has proffered the hypothesis—neither confirmed nor denied by the special services—that Quayyum was a ‘Deep Throat’” mole or informant. [Antiwar (.com, 5/8/2007]
The US military has drawn up plans three times between June 2002 and January 2003 to launch an air strike against a training camp in northern Iraq controlled by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that is said to be producing chemical weapons (see June 2002, November 2002, and January 2003), but months have passed and the White House has not given any formal reply to any of the attack plans. Finally, several weeks before the start of the US invasion of Iraq in late March 2003, the White House indicates that President Bush has rejected any strike on the camp until after the US invasion of Iraq begins. The camp will be attacked on March 20. Bush administration officials will later say the camp was not targeted for a number of reasons, including uncertain intelligence reports and the difficulties of hitting al-Zarqawi within a large camp area. But Gen. John Keane, the US Army’s vice chief of staff at the time, will later call the camp “one of the best targets we ever had.” He and other officials will claim the intelligence on al-Zarqawi’s location was sound and the risk of collateral damage was small due to the camp’s location in a remote mountain area. But Pentagon spokesperson Lawrence Di Rita will later claim that one reason for not taking action was “the president’s decision to engage the international community on Iraq.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/25/2004] And CIA official Michael Scheuer will later say, “The reasons the intelligence service got for not shooting al-Zarqawi was simply that the President and the National Security Council decided it was more important not to give the Europeans the impression we were gunslingers.… Mr. Bush had Mr. al-Zarqawi in his sights for almost every day for a year before the invasion of Iraq and he didn’t shoot because they were wining and dining the French in an effort to get them to assist us in the invasion of Iraq.” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 5/1/2006]
A photo taken during KSM’s alleged arrest in Pakistan. [Source: Associated Press]Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is reportedly arrested in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. [Associated Press, 3/1/2003] Officials claim that he is arrested in a late-night joint Pakistani and FBI raid, in which they also arrest Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, the purported main financer of the 9/11 attacks. [MSNBC, 3/3/2003] An insider informant allegedly tips off authorities to KSM’s location, and is given the $25 million reward money for his capture (see Shortly Before February 29 or March 1, 2003). However, some journalists immediately cast serious doubts about this arrest. For instance, MSNBC reports, “Some analysts questioned whether Mohammed was actually arrested Saturday, speculating that he may have been held for some time and that the news was made public when it was in the interests of the United States and Pakistan.” [MSNBC, 3/3/2003] There are numerous problems surrounding the US-alleged arrest of KSM:
Witnesses say KSM is not present when the raid occurs. [Associated Press, 3/2/2003; Associated Press, 3/2/2003; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 3/2/2003; Guardian, 3/3/2003; New York Times, 3/3/2003]
There are differing accounts about which house he is arrested in. [Associated Press, 3/1/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/2/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/3/2003]
There are differing accounts about where he was before the arrest and how authorities found him. [Time, 3/1/2003; Washington Post, 3/2/2003; Washington Post, 3/2/2003; New York Times, 3/3/2003; New York Times, 3/4/2003]
Some accounts have him sleeping when the arrest occurs and some don’t. [Los Angeles Times, 3/2/2003; Reuters, 3/2/2003; New York Times, 3/3/2003; Daily Telegraph, 3/4/2003]
Accounts differ on who arrests him—Pakistanis, Americans, or both. [CNN, 3/2/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/2/2003; New York Times, 3/2/2003; Daily Telegraph, 3/3/2003; London Times, 3/3/2003; Associated Press, 3/3/2003]
There are previously published accounts that KSM may have been killed in September 2002 (see September 11, 2002).
There are accounts that he was captured in June 2002 (see June 16, 2002).
These are just some of the difficulties with the arrest story. There are so many problems with it that one Guardian reporter says, “The story appears to be almost entirely fictional.” [Guardian, 3/6/2003]
Account by 9/11 Commissioners Conflicts - In addition, 9/11 Commission chairman Tom Kean and vice chairman Lee Hamilton will write in a 2006 book that the arrest is made in an apartment in Karachi and carried out by a joint CIA, FBI, and Pakistani team (see Early 2003).
Account by Musharraf Also Conflicts - Also in 2006, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will publish a memoir in which he claims that KSM was arrested on February 29, 2003 (instead of the widely cited March 1, 2003), and held by Pakistani forces for three days, “during which time we interrogated him fully. Once we were done with him and had all the information we wanted, we handed him over to the United States government.” [Musharraf, 2006, pp. 193]
US officials admit that imprisioned al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaida have said in interrogations that bin Laden vetoed a long term relationship with Saddam because he did not want to be in Hussein’s debt. [Newsweek, 6/25/2003]
Shortly after the arrest of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) (see February 29 or March 1, 2003), US investigators will allegedly find out that he had recently met with Osama bin Laden. Later in 2003, authors Nick Fielding and Yosri Fouda will claim that not long after KSM is transferred from Pakistani to US custody, he confesses that he had met with bin Laden within the past two months. Bin Laden is said to be in good health. KSM met him in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan after a journey involving a complicated network of phone calls and couriers. He also says that bin Laden has been concentrating his forces in South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region, and bin Laden has formed an alliance with Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Fielding and Fouda will note that this story seems confirmed by the fact that within days of KSM’s arrest, residents in the town of Chaman in Baluchistan said that US aircraft dropped millions of leaflets mentioning the $25 million reward for bin Laden’s arrest. KSM also allegedly claims to know that al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri recently returned to Quetta, Pakistan, after spending time in the Middle East. Also within days of KSM’s arrest, millions of leaflets about al-Zawahiri and his reward are dropped in that region. [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 184] It is likely that KSM is tortured during this time (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003). KSM will later say, “During the harshest period of my interrogation, I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop” (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003).
In February 2003, some radical militants are arrested in Bahrain. A joint US-Saudi raid of an apartment in Saudi Arabia owned by one of them reveals the designs for a bomb called a mubtakkar. This bomb is made of two widely available chemicals, sodium cyanide and hydrogen, which combine to create hydrogen cyanide. When turned to gas, it is lethal, and counterterrorism experts are highly alarmed at this technical breakthrough. CIA Director Tenet briefs President Bush about the mubtakkar bomb in early March. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 193-197; Time, 6/17/2006] Journalist Ron Suskind calls it a “nightmare delivery system—portable, easy to construct, deadly.” The CIA has a highly placed al-Qaeda informant codenamed Ali, and in late March they contact him to learn more about the bomb. He tells his CIA handlers that Yusef al-Ayeri, a Saudi in charge of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian peninsula, visited al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in January 2003. He told al-Zawahiri of an already advanced plot in the US. Operatives loosely linked to al-Qaeda had traveled to the US in the fall of 2002 and thoroughly cased locations in New York City. They would place the mubtakkar bomb in subway cars and remotely activate them. The group was ready to implement an attack in about 45 days. According to Suskind, several thousand people could be killed. But Ali learned that al-Zawahiri called off the attacks, though Ali does not know the reason why. The group did cancel the attack, and US intelligence never learns who exactly they were. President Bush and others puzzle why the attack was canceled and speculate that al-Qaeda put it aside in favor of an even bigger attack. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 216-220; Time, 6/17/2006] Suskind’s account will cause alarm when revealed in 2006. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) will say that authorities took the plot seriously but were never able to confirm its existence. Other officials will debate the effectiveness of the bomb and how many deaths it could have caused. [CNN, 6/18/2006] University of Maryland professor Milton Leitenberg later says of the bomb, “What you would get, in all probability, is a big bang, a big splash, but very little gas.” He also says that concentrations of key chemicals present in household materials are so low “you would get next to nothing” by using them, and one would have to get them from a chemical supplier or steal them from a laboratory. One counterterrorism official points out, “If this is such an amazing weapon, and the design for it is out there, why has no one ever used it?” [United Press International, 6/27/2006] An article by the private intelligence service Stratfor is also skeptical and suggests that al-Zawahiri called off the attack because it wouldn’t have been as deadly as if conventional bombs were used instead. [Stratfor, 6/21/2006] CIA Deputy Counter Terrorism Center Director Hank Crumpton will also later suggest that a team was recruited to stage the attack but apparently never was sent to the US. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007]
Beginning on March 3, 2003, Spanish police begin monitoring the apartment where Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet lives. He will later be considered one of around three masterminds of the 2004 Madrid bombings. Fakhet’s apartment is on Francisco Remiro street in Madrid. Police discovered his apartment after monitoring an apartment on Virgen de Coro street where Fakhet and other Islamist militants regularly meet (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). Police discover that the militants sometimes hold meetings at Fakhet’s apartment as well. They identify 16 militants who meet there. They notice that Mustapha Maymouni, Fakhet’s brother-in-law, frequently sleeps on the floor there. Maymouni is arrested in Morocco later in 2003 for a role in the Casablanca bombings (see May 16, 2003). Monitoring of his house apparently continues through the date of the Madrid bombings. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/10/2005]
Majid Khan. [Source: Defense Department]According to his father, al-Qaeda operative Majid Khan is arrested by Pakistani soldiers and police at his brother Mohammed Khan’s house in Karachi, Pakistan, on March 5, 2003. Both brothers are interrogated by Pakistani and US agents. Majid Khan is eventually transferred to a secret US prison and will remain there until 2006, when he will be sent to the Guantanamo prison as one of 14 “high-value” detainees (see September 2-3, 2006). [Reuters, 5/15/2007] The US apparently considers Khan of high value due to his involvement in plots targeting the US. Khan moved to the US from Pakistan as a teenager in 1996 and graduated from a high school in Baltimore in 1999. According to US charges against him, he became involved in a local Islamic organization and then returned to Pakistan in 2002. An uncle and cousin who were al-Qaeda operatives drafted Khan there, and he started working for al-Qaeda leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). KSM worked with Khan because of Khan’s knowledge of the US, fluency in English, and willingness to be a suicide bomber. His family owned a gas station, and he allegedly plotted to blow up gas stations and poison water supplies in the US. [Baltimore Sun, 9/9/2006]
Communications antenna at Stare Kiejkuty, the Polish “black site” where Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was held for a time after his capture. [Source: CBC]9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, after being detained and abused for three days in US custody in Afghanistan (see February 29 or March 1, 2003 and Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), is transferred to another CIA-run facility in Poland. [New Yorker, 8/6/2007; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] The facility is later identified as Stare Kiejkuty, a secret prison near the Szymany military airbase. Mohammed is flown in on a Gulfstream N379P jet known to prison officials as “the torture taxi.” The plane is probably piloted by “Jerry M,” a 56-year-old pilot for Aero Contractors, a company that transfers prisoners around the world for US intelligence agencies. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 4/27/2009] He is dressed in a tracksuit, blindfolded, hooded, has sound-blocking headphones placed over his ears, and is flown “sitting, leaning back, with my hands and ankles shackled in a high chair,” as he will later tell officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC—see October 6 - December 14, 2006). He later says he manages to sleep a few hours, for the first time in days. Upon arrival, Mohammed is stripped naked and placed in a small cell “with cameras where I was later informed by an interrogator that I was monitored 24 hours a day by a doctor, psychologist, and interrogator.” The walls are wooden and the cell measures some 10 by 13 feet. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 4/27/2009]
'I Would Be Brought to the Verge of Death and Back Again' - As he will later recall, it was in this detention camp that “the most intense interrogation occurred, led by three experienced CIA interrogators, all over 65 years old and all strong and well trained.” The interrogators tell him that they have received the “green light from Washington” to give him “a hard time” (see Late September 2001 and September 25, 2002). As he will later recall: “They never used the word ‘torture’ and never referred to ‘physical pressure,’ only to ‘a hard time.’ I was never threatened with death, in fact I was told that they would not allow me to die, but that I would be brought to the ‘verge of death and back again.‘… I was kept for one month in the cell in a standing position with my hands cuffed and shackled above my head and my feet cuffed and shackled to a point in the floor.” When he falls asleep, “all my weight [is] applied to the handcuffs around my wrist resulting in open and bleeding wounds.” The ICRC will later confirm that Mohammed bears scars consistent with his allegations on both wrists and both ankles. “Both my feet became very swollen after one month of almost continual standing.”
Interrogations - He is interrogated in a different room, in sessions lasting anywhere from four to eight hours, and with a wide variety of participants. Sometimes women take part in the interrogations. A doctor is usually present. “If I was perceived not to be cooperating I would be put against a wall and punched and slapped in the body, head, and face. A thick flexible plastic collar would also be placed around my neck so that it could then be held at the two ends by a guard who would use it to slam me repeatedly against the wall. The beatings were combined with the use of cold water, which was poured over me using a hose-pipe. The beatings and use of cold water occurred on a daily basis during the first month.”
'Alternative Procedures' - The CIA interrogators use what they will later call “alternative procedures” on Mohammed, including waterboarding (see After March 7, 2003) and other techniques. He is sprayed with cold water from a hose-pipe in his cell and the “worst day” is when he is beaten for about half an hour by one of the interrogators. “My head was banged against the wall so hard that it started to bleed. Cold water was poured over my head. This was then repeated with other interrogators.” He is then waterboarded until a doctor intervenes. He gets an hours’s sleep and is then “put back in my cell standing with my hands shackled above my head.” He sleeps for a “few minutes” on the floor of cell after the torture sessions, but does not sleep well, “due to shackles on my ankles and wrists.” The toilet consists of a bucket in the cell, which he can use on request, but “I was not allowed to clean myself after toilet during the first month.” In the first month he is only fed on two occasions, “as a reward for perceived cooperation.” He gets Ensure [a liquid nutritional supplement] to drink every four hours. If he refuses it, “then my mouth was forced open by the guard and it was poured down my throat by force.” He loses 18 kg in the first month, after which he gets some clothes. In addition, “Artificial light was on 24 hours a day, but I never saw sunlight.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Deliberately False Information - As he will later tell ICRC officials, he often lies to his interrogators: “During the harshest period of my interrogation, I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop.… I’m sure that the false information I was forced to invent… wasted a lot of their time and led to several false red-alerts being placed in the US.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] It will later be reported that up to 90 percent of Mohammed’s confessions may be unreliable. Furthermore, he will recant many of his statements (see August 6, 2007).
An ill Saud Memon shortly before his death. [Source: Daily Times]Saud Memon, a Pakistani businessman who owns the land where Wall Street Journal report Daniel Pearl is killed in late January 2002 (see January 31, 2002), apparently flees Pakistan for fear of being arrested for Pearl’s death. According to later newspaper accounts in Pakistan and India, Memon is arrested by the FBI in South Africa on March 7, 2003. He is kept at Guantanamo prison for more than two years and then handed over to Pakistani authorities. On April 28, 2007, some unknown men drop Memon in front of his house in Pakistan. He is deathly ill and unable to speak or recognize people. He dies less than one month later on May 18, 2007. Memon has been the top name on the list of Pakistan’s most wanted. In addition to having a suspected role in Pearl’s death, he helped fund the Al Rashid Trust, which has been banned for being an al-Qaeda front. While some suspect a US and/or Pakistan government role in Memon’s disappearance, it is not known for sure what happened to him for those four years. [Associated Press, 5/18/2007; Daily Times (Lahore), 5/19/2007; Indo-Asian News Service, 5/19/2007]
Brent Scowcroft, still a member of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board even though he is virtually frozen out of any administration dialogue concerning Iraq (see October 16, 2001 and March 2002), tells the National Journal: “During the campaign, [President Bush] made some strong statements about putting more stock in [coalitions]. Clearly, that hasn’t happened.” Ultimately, Scowcroft says: “such a ‘go it alone’ doctrine is fundamentally, fatally flawed.… [I]t’s already given us an image of arrogance and unilateralism, and we’re paying a very high price for that image. If we get to the point where everyone secretly hopes the United States gets a black eye because we’re so obnoxious, then we’ll be totally hamstrung in the war on terror. We’ll be like Gulliver with the Lilliputians.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 292]
After being transferred from Afghanistan to Poland (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003), alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is repeatedly waterboarded by the CIA, a technique simulating drowning that international law classifies as torture. He is only one of about four high-ranking detainees waterboarded, according to media reports (see May 2002-2003). [New Yorker, 8/6/2007; MSNBC, 9/13/2007; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] He will recall: “I would be strapped to a special bed, which could be rotated into a vertical position. A cloth would be placed over my face. Cold water from a bottle that had been kept in a fridge was then poured onto the cloth by one of the guards so that I could not breathe.… The cloth was then removed and the bed was put into a vertical position. The whole process was then repeated during about one hour. Injuries to my ankles and wrists also occurred during the waterboarding as I struggled in the panic of not being able to breathe. Female interrogators were also present… and a doctor was always present, standing out of sight behind the head of [the] bed, but I saw him when he came to fix a clip to my finger which was connected to a machine. I think it was to measure my pulse and oxygen content in my blood. So they could take me to [the] breaking point.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] Accounts about the use of waterboarding on KSM differ. He says he is waterboarded five times. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] However, contradictory reports will later appear:
NBC News will claim that, according to multiple unnamed officials, KSM underwent at least two sessions of waterboarding and other extreme measures before talking. One former senior intelligence official will say, “KSM required, shall we say, re-dipping.” [MSNBC, 9/13/2007]
In 2005, former and current intelligence officers and supervisors will tell ABC News that KSM “won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.” [ABC News, 11/18/2005] In 2007, a former CIA official familiar with KSM’s case will tell ABC News a sligntly different version of events: “KSM lasted the longest under waterboarding, about a minute and a half, but once he broke, it never had to be used again.” A senior CIA official will claim that KSM later admitted he only confessed because of the waterboarding. [ABC News, 9/14/2007] In November 2005, John Sifton of Human Rights Watch will say of waterboarding, “The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law.” [ABC News, 11/18/2005]
The New York Times will claim that “KSM was subjected to intense and repeated torture techniques that, at the time, were specifically designated as illegal under US law.” Some claim that KSM gives useful information. “However, many of the officials interviewed say KSM provided a raft of false and exaggerated statements that did not bear close scrutiny—the usual result, experts say, of torture.” CIA officials stopped the “extreme interrogation” sessions after about two weeks, worrying that they might have exceeded their legal bounds. Apparently pressure to stop comes from Jack Goldsmith, head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, who is troubled about updates from KSM’s interrogations and raises legal questions. He is angrily opposed by the White House, particularly David Addington, a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
The New Yorker will report that officials who have seen a classified Red Cross report say that KSM claims he was waterboarded five times. Further, he says he was waterboarded even after he started cooperating. But two former CIA officers will insist that he was waterboarded only once. One of them says that KSM “didn’t resist. He sang right away. He cracked real quick. A lot of them want to talk. Their egos are unimaginable. KSM was just a little doughboy.” [New Yorker, 8/6/2007]
A different ABC News account will claim that KSM was al-Qaeda’s toughest prisoner. CIA officers who subject themselves to waterboarding last only about 14 seconds, but KSM was able to last over two minutes. [ABC News, 11/18/2005]
In 2009, evidence will surface that indicates KSM was waterboarded up to 183 times (see April 16, 2009 and April 18, 2009).
On March 14, 2003, Spanish police begin intensively monitoring Islamist militant Mouhannad Almallah. They locate his house on Quimicos street in Madrid and begin monitoring it too. They notice that his brother Moutaz is frequently traveling back and forth between Madrid and London. Police also apparently begin videotaping the house, although details on that are unclear. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/10/2005] Mouhannad had been a suspect since 1998, and Moutaz since 1995, and both had already been monitored to some degree (see November 1995). Both were linked to the al-Qaeda cell originally run by Barakat Yarkas. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/2/2005] Surveillance on Mouhannad increased after police linked him to a group of militants meeting at the Virgen de Coro apartment owned and frequented by him and his brother (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). The police will continue to monitor him until the Madrid bombings. He will later get 12 years for his role in those bombings (see October 31, 2007).
51 percent of the respondents to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll believe that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11 attacks. 32 percent of those supporting an attack say that Saddam’s alleged support of terrorists is the “main reason” for endorsing invasion. Another 43 percent indicate that it is “one reason.” [Editor & Publisher, 3/26/2003]
A Moroccan named Yassir al-Jazeeri is captured in Lahore, Pakistan, by Pakistani police and the FBI. Al-Jazeeri is not on any wanted list and there is virtually no known public information about him before his arrest, but a Pakistani official will call him one of the seven top leaders of al-Qaeda. He is said to be linked to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in some way, who was arrested in Pakistan not long before (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). He is soon transferred into US custody. Witnesses see him at a CIA operated portion of the Bagram prison in Afghanistan in late 2003 through early 2004. One fellow detainee will later claim that al-Jazeeri told him he had been tortured and permanently injured, and forced to listen to loud music for four months straight. In 2007, Human Rights Watch will list him as a likely “ghost detainee” still being held by the US (see June 7, 2007). [Human Rights Watch, 6/7/2007]
Iyman Faris. [Source: Justice Department]Shortly after al-Qaeda leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is captured in Pakistan in early March 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003), US investigators discover an e-mail sent to KSM from an associate in the US. They learn the e-mail is from Iyman Faris, a truck driver living in Columbus, Ohio, who is a naturalized US citizen from Kashmir, Pakistan. Faris had been working on a plot to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge by cutting its suspension cables, but in the e-mail he complained to KSM that such a plot would be impossible to carry out. Faris is secretly arrested around the middle of March, and taken to a government safe house in Virginia. FBI agents threaten to have him declared an enemy combatant unless he cooperates, and also offer to move his extended family from Pakistan to the US if he does cooperate. He agrees, and begins phoning and sending e-mail messages to other al-Qaeda operatives while the FBI watches. A senior US official will later say: “He was sitting in the safe house making calls for us. It was a huge triumph for law enforcement.” Faris pleads guilty in early May to providing material support to al-Qaeda. [Time, 6/30/2003] In late June, Newsweek reveals Faris’s links to al-Qaeda and KSM, presumably ending his effectiveness as an informant. Interestingly, Newsweek notes that Faris got a speeding ticket in Ohio in May, suggesting he was being allowed to travel. [Newsweek, 6/15/2003] The charges against him are made public days after the Newsweek article. He later withdraws his guilty plea, but is subsequently convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. [CBS News, 6/14/2004]
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) raises the national threat level to orange, or “high.” DHS director Tom Ridge tells Americans, not for the first time (see February 7-13, 2003), to stock up on duct tape and plastic sheeting as protection against biological and/or radiological attacks. [Unger, 2007, pp. 293] The duct tape and plastic sheeting recommendations have become something of a national joke by this point, with Saturday Night Live comedians riffing on the topic and a Tom Ridge impersonator performing while wrapped in plastic sheeting for Ridge and President Bush at a recent Gridiron dinner. Late-night talk show host Jay Leno recently said after having Ridge on his show: “When problems seem overwhelming, simplistic solutions always seem funny. Duct tape and plastic sheeting? When the threat level goes down, it’ll be downgraded to Scotch tape and two Ziploc bags.” On a more serious note, David Ropeik of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis says: “Ridge and the department need to come up with a better way of saying, ‘Be afraid.’ They say, ‘Be alert,’ and then out of the other side of their mouth they say, ‘Go about your normal lives.’ To most of us, those messages don’t mesh. They also need to be more specific. When the threat level goes from yellow to orange, tell us what we can do besides being more alert.” Gary Hart, the former Democratic senator who helped compile the report that eventually led to the creation of the department (see January 31, 2001), says: “The idea of using duct tape to protect yourself would resonate only if people could see the government taking action to protect you. But because the government has done so little against terrorism at home, it sounded as if they were saying, ‘You’re on your own.’” Ridge may have gotten the last laugh on Leno’s show, when Leno asked sardonically: “I’m sitting at home in my underpants watching the game and, boop, we’re in yellow. What do I do now?” Ridge replied, “Change shorts.” [New York Times, 3/17/2003]
Craig Rosebraugh, the former publicist for the Earth Liberation Front (ELF—see 1997 and 2000 and After), issues a proclamation opposing the Iraq invasion (see March 19, 2003) that is posted on a number of left-wing Web sites. Rosebraugh, who remains influential in the environmental movement, says that “the only possibility of stopping this current military action is to engage in strategies and tactics which severely disrupt the war machine, the US economy, and the overall functioning of US society.” He recommends large scale urban riots and attacks on financial and media centers, as well as US military establishments. Eleven days later, five cars and a van at the Navy recruiting headquarters in Montgomery, Alabama, are spray-painted with anti-war slogans, and a large truck is set afire. The graffiti is signed “ELF.” The organization claims responsibility for the incident, saying, “This is the first specifically anti-war action carried out by the ELF in North America.” [Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
Neoconservative Michael Ledeen, in an op-ed entitled “One Battle in a Wider War,” echoes the thinking of other neoconservatives when he writes that other Middle Eastern countries, specifically Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, must also be invaded by the US. “Once upon a time, it might have been possible to deal with Iraq alone, without having to face the murderous forces of the other terror masters in Tehran, Damascus, and [Riyadh], but that time has passed,” he writes. “Iraq is a battle, not a war. We have to win the war, and the only way to do that is to bring down the terror masters, and spread freedom throughout the region.” [New York Sun, 3/19/2003]
Rand Beers, the National Security Council’s senior director for counterterrorism, resigns from his post. Administration sources say Beers is resigning for personal reasons, but intelligence sources say Beers’s resignation is triggered by his concern that the administration’s looming war with Iraq is drawing critically needed resources away from the war on terror (see February 2003). “Hardly a surprise,” says one former intelligence official. “We have sacrificed a war on terror for a war with Iraq. I don’t blame Randy at all. This just reflects the widespread thought that the war on terror is being set aside for the war with Iraq at the expense of our military and intel resources and the relationships with our allies.” A Senate Intelligence Committee staffer adds, “Randy said that he was ‘just tired’ and did not have an interest in adding the stress that would come with a war with Iraq.” Beers’s supervisor, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, asked Beers twice during his exit interview if his resignation was a protest against the war with Iraq. Beers told her that it was not. Author and intelligence expert James Bamford says, “This is a very intriguing decision” for Beers to resign. “There is a predominant belief in the intelligence community that an invasion of Iraq will cause more terrorism than it will prevent. There is also a tremendous amount of embarrassment by intelligence professionals that there have been so many lies out of the administration—by the president, [Vice President Dick] Cheney and [Secretary of State Colin] Powell—over Iraq” (see January 24, 2008). One administration official says: “If it was your job to prevent terror attacks, would you be happy about an action that many see as unnecessary, that is almost guaranteed to cause more terror in the short-term? I know I’m not [happy].” [United Press International, 3/19/2003] Beers, who will soon join the presidential campaign of Democrat John Kerry as a foreign policy adviser, will tell an interviewer in late 2006 that “I’m sorry to say that the reason that I resigned from the National Security Council staff and the government has turned out to be true, and that is that I was concerned then, and we see now, that our entry into Iraq, the way in which we entered with a small, rather than a large, coalition, without UN approval, without Arab support, has ended up making Iraq a recruiting poster for al-Qaeda. It has made our job more difficult around the world.” [Democracy Now!, 10/4/2006]
The militant Sunni group, Asbat al-Ansar, begins sending fighters to Iraq. The group is based in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. A deputy commander of the group later tells the New York Times, “The US is oppressing a lot of people. They are killing a lot of innocents, but one day they are getting paid back.” [New York Times, 3/16/2007] The Bush administration, which has repeatedly called Iraq the new front in the war on terrorism, will reportedly begin funneling funds through the Lebanese government to Asbat al-Ansar and other militant Sunni groups in late 2006 and early 2007 in an effort to rollback the influence of Iran and the Shiites in Iraq (see Late 2006).
On the second day of a US invasion of Iraq, the US military conducts an airstrike against the training camp in Northern Iraq controlled by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The camp is territory controlled by Kurdish rebels and it is believed that a chemical weapons lab is there. Prior to the start of the war, the US drew up three separate plans to attack the camp with air strikes, but each time the plans were rejected by the White House. [MSNBC, 3/2/2004] More than 40 cruise missiles hit the camp near the town of Khurmal, destroying what Gen. Tommy Franks calls a “massive terrorist facility.” But Saddam Hussein had been given an ultimatum before the start of the war, which meant the timing of the start of the war had been announced several days in advance. Not surprisingly, by the time the camp is hit, al-Zarqawi and many of his followers had already left it. One of al-Zarqawi’s top lieutenants, Abdul Hadi Daghlas, a.k.a. Abu Taisir, is killed. Al-Zarqawi will release an audio message several months later lamenting his death. [Wall Street Journal, 2/10/2004] Former National Security Council member Roger Cressey will later claim, “Here’s a case where they waited, they waited too long and now we’re suffering as a result inside Iraq.” [MSNBC, 3/2/2004]
The FBI issues a reward of $5 million for information on Adnan Shukrijumah, starting a world-wide manhunt that will last for years. Shukrijumah lived in the same area as most of the 9/11 hijackers and was reportedly seen with Mohamed Atta in the spring of 2001 (see May 2, 2001), when he was being investigated by the FBI over two terrorist plots (see April-May 2001 and (Spring 2001)). Information gleaned from detainees suggests that Shukrijumah is a top al-Qaeda operative who was trained in Afghanistan and is associated with 9/11 architect Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002). In May 2004 Attorney General John Ashcroft will even single out Shukrijumah as the most dangerous al-Qaeda operative planning to attack the US. However, despite reported sightings in Central America, he is still on the run in 2006 and believed to be hiding in the tribal areas of Pakistan. [US News and World Report, 4/7/2003; USA Today, 6/15/2003; FrontPage Magazine, 10/27/2003; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 40-41 ; Los Angeles Times, 9/3/2006]
Flight Training - US authorities claim he is a pilot and has been receiving flight training outside the US for several years, though they do not release any evidence to substantiate this. His family insists that he is neither a qualified pilot nor an al-Qaeda operative. [USA Today, 6/15/2003; CNN, 9/5/2003] A senior Bush administration official says the government has evidence Shukrijumah had attended the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma, but does not say when. Other Islamist militants, including Zacarias Moussaoui, attended that school before 9/11 (see February 23-June 2001, May 18, 1999 and May 15, 1998). The director of the school claims there is no evidence of a student with any of Shukrijumah’s publicly revealed aliases. [New York Times, 3/21/2003]
The CIA drafts a report containing statements reportedly made by alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) under interrogation at a black site. According to the report, KSM says that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar did not receive specialized training at a course for al-Qaeda operatives scheduled for inclusion in the 9/11 operation in late 1999 because he had already received the training from KSM. In later statements, KSM will deny this and say he gave Almihdhar no such training, adding that he assumed Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda military commander Mohammed Atef had excused Almihdhar from the training (see Early December 1999). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 157, 493] The report also states that KSM says he sent Zacarias Moussaoui to Malaysia (see September-October 2000), that Jemaah Islamiyah leader Hambali helped Moussaoui when he was in Malaysia, and that KSM recalled Moussaoui from Malaysia when he discovered he was behaving badly there. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 490, 520] The US is already aware that Moussaoui had been to Malaysia, that Hambali and KSM were linked, and that Moussaoui behaved badly in Malaysia. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/8/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/8/2006] Details of the report will apparently be leaked to the media four days later (see March 28, 2003).
The Los Angeles Times reports that, ironically, the man in charge of security for the nation where the US bases its headquarters for the Iraq war is a supporter of al-Qaeda. Sheik Abdullah bin Khalid al-Thani is the Interior Minister of Qatar. US Central Command and thousands of US troops are stationed in that country. In 1996, al-Thani was Religious Minister and he apparently let 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) live on his farm (see January-May 1996). Mohammed was tipped off that the US was after him. Some US officials believe al-Thani was the one who helped KSM escape, just as he had assisted other al-Qaeda leaders on other occasions. [Los Angeles Times, 3/28/2003] Another royal family member has sheltered al-Qaeda leaders and given over $1 million to al-Qaeda. KSM was even sheltered by Qatari royalty for two weeks after 9/11 (see Late 2001). [New York Times, 2/6/2003] Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, who has ties to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993), the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), and also attended the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), was sheltered by al-Thani’s religious ministry in 2000. [Newsweek, 9/30/2002] Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says al-Thani “had great sympathy for Osama bin Laden, great sympathy for terrorist groups, was using his personal money and ministry money to transfer to al-Qaeda front groups that were allegedly charities.” However, the US has not attempted to apprehend al-Thani or take any other action against him. [Los Angeles Times, 3/28/2003]
Aafia Siddiqui. [Source: FBI]Alleged al-Qaeda member Aafia Siddiqui vanishes in Karachi, Pakistan, with her three children. Although she and her family are Pakistani, she had been a long-time US resident until late 2002, and had even graduated with a biology degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The day after her disappearance, local newspapers will report that an unnamed woman has been taken into custody on terrorism charges, which is unusual since nearly all terrorism suspects have been men. A Pakistan interior ministry spokesman confirms that Siddiqui is the woman who has been arrested. But several days later, both the Pakistan government and the FBI publicly deny that she is being held. Later in 2003, her mother will claim that two days after her disappearance, “a man wearing a motor-bike helmet” arrives at the Siddiqui home in Karachi, and without taking off his helmet, says that she should keep quiet if she ever wants to see her daughter and grandchildren again. Beginning with a Newsweek article in June 2003, Siddiqui and her husband will be accused of having helped al-Qaeda as possible US sleeper agents. Siddiqui’s sister will claim that in 2004 she is told by Pakistan’s interior minister that Siddiqui has been released and will return home shortly. Also in 2004, FBI Director Robert Mueller will announce at a press conference that Siddiqui is wanted for questioning. Siddiqui divorced her long-time husband in 2002. The BBC will later report that, shortly before her disappearance, she married Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, a nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and alleged participant in the 9/11 plot. “Although her family denies this, the BBC has been able to confirm it from security sources and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s family.” In July 2008, she will reappear in mysterious circumstances in Afghanistan, and then be transferred to the US to stand trial for murder (see July 17, 2008). Allegations continue that she was secretly held by the US or Pakistan some or all of the five years between 2003 and 2008. Her three children will not be seen following their disappearance. [BBC, 8/6/2008]
A Kurdish soldier allied with US forces stands on the site where the Sargat training camp used to be. He holds a piece of a US cruise missile that hit the camp. [Source: Scott Peterson / Getty Images]US Special Forces working with local Kurdish forces overrun the small border region of Iraq controlled by the militant group Ansar al-Islam. This is where Secretary of State Colin Powell alleged militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had a ‘poison factory’ near the town of Khurmal where chemical weapons of mass destruction capable of killing thousands were made. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers says, “We think that’s probably where the ricin that was found in London probably came; at least the operatives and maybe some of the formulas came from this site.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld comments, “We’re not certain what we’ll find but we should know more in the next three days - three or four days.” [New York Daily News, 3/31/2003] In a 2007 book, CIA Director George Tenet will claim, “Shortly after the invasion of Iraq, al-Zarqawi’s camp in Khurmal was bombed by the US military. We obtained reliable human intelligence reporting and forensic samples confirming that poisons and toxins had been produced at the camp.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 277-278] He will further claim that the camp “engaged in production and training in the use of low-level poisons such as cyanide. We had intelligence telling us that al-Zarqawi’s men had tested these poisons on animals and, in at least one case, on one of their own associates. They laughed about how well it worked.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 350] But Tenet’s claims seem wildly overblown compared to other subsequent news reports about what was found at the camp. In late April 2003, the Los Angeles Times will report that, “Documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times, along with interviews with US and Kurdish intelligence operatives, indicate [Ansar al-Islam] was partly funded and armed from abroad; was experimenting with chemicals, including toxic agents and a cyanide-based body lotion; and had international aspirations. But the documents, statements by imprisoned Ansar guerrillas, and visits to the group’s strongholds before and after the war produced no strong evidence of connections to Baghdad and indicated that Ansar was not a sophisticated terrorist organization. The group was a dedicated, but fledgling, al-Qaeda surrogate lacking the capability to muster a serious threat beyond its mountain borders.” A crude chemical laboratory is found in the village of Sargat, but no evidence of any sophisticated equipment is found. “Tests have revealed the presence of hydrogen cyanide and potassium cyanide, poisons normally used to kill rodents and other pests. The group, according to Kurdish officials, had been experimenting on animals with a cyanide-laced cream. Several jars of peach body lotion lay at the site beside chemicals and a few empty wooden birdcages.” While a lot of documentation is found showing intention to create chemical weapons, the actual capability appears to have been quite low. [Los Angeles Times, 4/27/2003] As the Christian Science Monitor will later conclude, the “‘poison factory’ proved primitive; nothing but substances commonly used to kill rodents were found there.” [Christian Science Monitor, 10/16/2003] Journalist Jason Burke will also later comment, “As one of the first journalists to enter the [al-Qaeda] research facilities at the Darunta camp in eastern Afghanistan in 2001, I was struck by how crude they were. The Ansar al-Islam terrorist group’s alleged chemical weapons factory in northern Iraq, which I inspected the day after its capture in 2003, was even more rudimentary.” [Foreign Policy, 5/2004]
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