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In December 2003, Norwegian intelligence discovers an al-Qaeda treatise on the Internet called “Jihadi Iraq, Hopes and Dangers.” Completed in September 2003, it is dedicated to Yusef al-Ayeri, head of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian peninsula until he was killed in May 2003 (see May 31, 2003), and parts of it may have been written by al-Ayeri. The treatise has a series of recommendations on how to undercut US efforts in Iraq. One major idea is to separate the US from its allies in the Iraq war such as Britain, Spain, and Poland by bombing them. It suggests the political utility of an attack in Spain before 2004 elections there, which is what later occurs (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). It will later be determined that Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of the leaders of the Madrid bombings, downloaded the treatise and was presumably influenced by it (it will also be alleged that Fakhet really was a government informant (see Shortly After October 2003). [New York Times Magazine, 11/25/2007] Interestingly, the treatise focuses on new attacks in Saudi Arabia and Europe, but not in the US. This dovetails with a growing consensus within the US intelligence community that al-Qaeda may not have been trying to attack the US since 9/11. One senior CIA official will later say, “Clearly, they had the capability to attack us in about a hundred different ways. They didn’t. The question was, why?” Journalist Ron Suskind will later comment that the idea “al-Qaeda might not, at this point, actually want to attack America” was “a conclusion that was the last thing anyone in the White House wanted publicized…” Suskind will later note that President Bush’s “central assertion that he should be reelected [in 2004] because he had kept [the US] from being attacked again” would have been severely undercut if the US public was aware of this US intelligence consensus. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 302-204]
Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Jawad, who has been in custody since he was 16 years old (see December 17, 2002 and January 13, 2009), attempts to commit suicide. Shortly thereafter, Guantanamo guards begin subjecting Jawad to what is known as the “frequent flier” program, in which the detainee is moved from cell to cell every few hours for days or weeks on end, in order to deny him sleep. Jawad is moved 122 times in 14 days, an average of less than 3 hours per move (see June 19, 2008). [Salon, 1/21/2009]
The US Army investigates the report of a colonel who documented potential abuses of Iraqi detainees by a joint Special Operations and CIA task force looking for weapons of mass destruction. The report will be made public by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) almost four years later (see August 15, 2007). The ACLU believes the colonel, whose name is redacted from the report, is Colonel Stuart Herrington (see December 12, 2003). The colonel reports that in late November someone called him with details of prisoner abuse that had occurred in June or July 2003 in the vicinity of Baghdad International Airport. The colonel’s source had previously reported the abuse to Major General Keith Dayton, commander of the Iraq Survey Group in charge of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, and to officials in the Defense Intelligence Agency. The colonel meets with Major General Barbara Fast, the top intelligence officer in Baghdad, to brief her on his investigation into the matter, and gives her a copy of the report. The colonel is subsequently informed that the Judge Advocate General’s office attached to the US command in Iraq found “no evidence to support the allegations that detainees were mistreated.” The colonel believes this conclusion is a “cover-up,” and, in later testimony, will refer to his “blunt dismay” at the finding. He will testify that he cannot understand how his own report could have been taken so lightly given that he had provided names of the witnesses and “already had two people who admitted it.” Fast will later say to the colonel that she never saw his report until mid-2004, a statement that the colonel has trouble believing. Fast will be cleared of all allegations of misconduct by the Army inspector general, who will conclude that she took prompt action to alert the proper authorities once she was informed of the alleged abuse. [American Civil Liberties Union, 8/15/2007]
Bags of hashish, below, found on the fishing boat, above, in the Arabian Sea in December 2003. [Source: Michael Sandburg / US Navy]In December 2003, a US naval vessel stops a small fishing boat in the Arabian Sea. According to a Western anti-narcotics official, a search turns up “several al-Qaeda guys sitting on a bale of drugs.” Later that month, a raid on a drug runner’s house in Kabul, Afghanistan, leads to the discovery of a number of satellite phones. The CIA determines the phones had been used to call numbers linked to suspected al-Qaeda-linked operatives in Turkey, the Balkans, and Western Europe. One official describes this as part of “an incredibly sophisticated network.” In March 2004, US troops raiding a suspected al-Qaeda hideout in remote Afghanistan discover opium with a street value of $15 million. [Time, 8/2/2004]
President Musharraf’s car damaged in one of the assassination attempts. [Source: Mian Khursheed / Reuters]On December 14, 2003, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf survives an assassination attempt when a powerful bomb goes off 30 seconds after his highly-guarded convoy crosses a bridge in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. The heavily guarded bridge is just a mile from Musharraf’s house, yet militants were able to spend severals days tying explosives to the pylons below it. His life is saved by a jamming device in his car given to him by the FBI, which temporarily jams all telephone signals and thus delays the explosion. On December 25, 2003, two suicide bombers launch another attempt to assassinate Musharraf, driving car bombs into his convoy a short distance from the location of the previous attack. Their car bombs fail to kill him and he escapes with only a cracked windscreen on his car, but 16 others nearby are killed.
Investigation - The identities of the two suicide bombers are soon discovered. One is Mohammed Jamil, a member of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) militant group who fought with the Taliban. The other is Hazir Sultan, who also fought with the Taliban. The memory chip from Jamil’s phone is found in the debris, and it is discovered he talked to a policeman who told him the timing of Musharraf’s convoy. Only a handful of military officers knew the route and timing of Musharraf’s travels and which of several identical cars he would be using at any given time, suggesting that elements within the military were involved in the attacks. Investigators also discover that the explosives used in the attacks came from an al-Qaeda camp in the Pakistani tribal area of South Waziristan. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 230-232]
Militant Leaders against Musharraf - Osama bin Laden apparently called for Musharraf’s overthrow in October 2002 (see October 9, 2002), and Ayman al-Zawahiri apparently did the same in September 2003 (see September 28, 2003). In the months prior to the assassination attempts, Maulana Masood Azhar, head of JEM, gave a speech at a prominent mosque calling for Musharraf’s assassination. [BBC, 7/27/2007]
Limited Crackdown - Musharraf responds by reshuffling positions in the military high command. More than 150 military and security personnel will eventually be arrested and interrogated. Twelve suspects are eventually found guilty and sentenced to death for roles in the attacks; at least six are military officers. It is believed the suicide bombers and these officers were recruited and trained by Amjad Farooqi, a JEM leader also closely linked to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi, said to be Farooqi’s superior, is also allegedly involved. A massive manhunt for Farooqi and al-Libbi will ensue. Farooqi will eventually be killed in September 2004 (see September 27, 2004) and al-Libbi captured in May 2005 and taken into US custody (see May 2, 2005). However, Musharraf’s response is relatively restrained. He avoids calls to launch a crackdown on the entire Islamist militant movement in Pakistan. He does not ban any militant groups, nor does he arrest militant leaders, not even Azhar, the head of JEM who had publicly called for his assassination. (JEM had been banned in Pakistan for a second time the month before (see November 2003).) He does allow the Pakistani Army to attack the safe haven of South Waziristan several months later, but only after the US gives him an ultimatum, essentially forcing him to do so (see March 18- April 24, 2004). [BBC, 9/27/2004; Rashid, 2008, pp. 230-232]
A United Nations report criticizes Switzerland for failing to prevent support from reaching al-Qaeda and the Taliban. UN observers claim there is weapons smuggling passing through Switzerland to Afghanistan. The report further claims that the leaders of the banned Al Taqwa Bank (see November 7, 2001) are continuing to do business with new and renamed financial entities. They continue to maintain commercial interests and properties in Italy and Switzerland, despite being on US and UN blacklists. Switzerland is also failing to enforce travel bans. For instance, Al Taqwa leader Youssef Nada was able to travel through Switzerland to Liechtenstein and back in January 2003. [Swissinfo, 12/16/2003] Salon noted in 2002 that, for many years, Al Taqwa has benefited from political connections in Switzerland. Al Taqwa directors have ties to some European far right wing politicians such as French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, and even neo-Nazi groups (see 1988). [San Francisco Chronicle, 3/12/2002; Salon, 3/15/2002] Newsweek will later report that in 2004, the UN will not convince its members to plug loopholes in the sanctions against Al Taqwa related entities. Instead, the UN Security Council will abolish its own monitoring group. [Newsweek, 3/3/2004; Newsweek, 12/24/2004] In late 2004, the Washington Post will report that although Al Taqwa “was supposedly shut down, US and European officials say they still find Nada moving funds under new corporate names.” [Washington Post, 9/11/2004] Additional reports of entities connected to Al Taqwa directors continuing to do business will appear in 2005 (see June-October 2005).
Conflicting stories surround the capture of former Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein (see December 14, 2003). Several different military sources say that Hussein was captured through the auspices of an informant, later identified as Mohammed Ibrahim Omar al-Muslit, but stories differ as to how the information was garnered from that informant. “This guy was in interrogation. He wasn’t willingly giving stuff up,” says an officer involved in the capture, leading to speculation that the informant may have been put through harsh interrogation methods to give up Hussein’s location. Religion professor and columnist Ira Chernus writes, “It is hard to avoid thinking about the the dirty word that everyone is too polite to mention, the ‘T-word’: torture.” But the commander of the capture operation, Colonel James Hickey, tells a different version of events, saying: “Once in our custody the informant was cooperative, and he did provide the crucial information. But will he receive the $25 million [bounty for Hussein’s capture offered by the US]? I seriously doubt it.” According to CNN, “It is unclear whether anyone will receive the $25 million bounty because the information leading to his capture came under duress.” Another “senior administration official” says the informant “didn’t provide any information willingly.” Hickey says the informant first gave false information, and “there was three or four hours of questioning before he blurted Saddam’s location.” US officials insist that the informant was not tortured, but merely “interrogated.” News reports also note that weeks before Hussein’s capture, “US forces decided to identify anyone who might have current knowledge of where Hussein was, including former bodyguards, and then to go after them with a vengeance, rounding up their families and friends—women, children, grandparents, everyone. Many of the key clues came in involuntary interrogations of informants.” A US official tells a reporter: “Some people were impossible to find, but we’d find their relatives. One interrogation led to another raid, which led to another interrogation.” And another official says: “You’d squeeze them: ‘Where is Saddam?’ They’d say, ‘I don’t know, but my cousin knows somebody who knows somebody else who might know.’” [CommonDreams, 12/17/2003; Asia Times, 4/17/2004]
A three-judge panel of the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York votes two to one that the military must either charge alleged al-Qaeda terrorist Jose Padilla with a crime, or release him within 30 days. “The government,” the court says, “can transfer Padilla to appropriate civilian authorities who can bring criminal charges against him.” Until now, no court in the US has ruled against the government’s contention that even American citizens arrested on US soil can be held indefinitely based on wartime government prerogatives. Neither the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (see September 14-18, 2001) nor the president’s “inherent power” as commander in chief is enough to hold Padilla without a trial, the court finds: “The president, acting alone, possesses no inherent constitutional authority to detain American citizens seized within the United States, away from a zone of combat, as enemy combatants.” The two judges in the majority are a 1998 Clinton appointee and a 2001 Bush appointee; the dissenter, who advocates granting the president new and sweeping powers, is a 2003 Bush appointee. “So far,” Office of Legal Counsel lawyer John Yoo comments, “the Second Circuit is the only court that has rejected the idea that the war on terrorism is, in fact, a war.” Because this ruling conflicts with the Fourth Circuit’s ruling in favor of the Bush administration, the Supreme Court will be forced to resolve the issue (see June 28, 2004); in light of the appeal, the court later agrees to suspend its 30-day ruling. [Knight Ridder, 12/29/2003; Savage, 2007, pp. 153]
Libya announces that it is giving up its unconventional weapons and ballistic missile programs in response to recent negotiations with the US and Britain. Thousands of nuclear reactor components are taken from a site in Tripoli and shipped to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Later examination shows that the Libyans had made little progress towards developing any sort of nuclear program. Nevertheless, it is a significant breakthrough in the Bush administration’s relations with Muslim nations considered to be inimical to Western interests.
'Scared Straight'? - Bush administration officials declare that the Libyan government “caved” under American pressure and because of the US-led invasion of Iraq; because Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi had approached the US shortly before the invasion of Iraq, it is plain that al-Qadhafi had been “scared straight” by the belligerent US approach to Middle Eastern affairs. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will call that characterization “useful, if wishful.” The threat of a Libyan WMD program was sketchy at best, regardless of Bush officials’ insistence that the US had forced the disarmament of a dangerous foe. But, Scoblic will write, the Libyan agreement serves as “a retroactive justification of an invasion whose original rationale had become increasingly dubious.” The Libyan agreement also “seemed to prove that conservatives could solve rogue state problems in a morally pure but nonmilitary way—that they did not have to settle for containment or the distasteful quid pro quo that had characterized deals like Clinton’s 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea (see October 21, 1994). They could simply demand disarmament.”
Negotiating Disarmament Since 1999 - The reality of the Libyan agreement is far different from the Bush interpretation. Al-Qadhafi’s government has for years wanted to get out from under UN sanctions imposed after Libyan hijackers bombed a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. Since 1999, the US and Britain have been negotiating with Libya, with the ultimate aim of lifting sanctions and normalizing relations. President Clinton’s chief negotiator, Martin Indyk, said that “Libya’s representatives were ready to put everything on the table” during that time. Bush officials, after an initial reluctance to resume negotiations, were reassured by Libya’s offer of support and assistance after the 9/11 attacks, and resumed discussions in October 2001. Al-Qadhafi himself offered to discuss disarmamement with the British in August 2002. Negotiations opened in October 2002. With the Iraq invasion looming, the Libyans held up further negotiations until March 2003; meanwhile, Vice President Cheney warned against striking any deals with the Libyans, saying that the US did not “want to reward bad behavior.” The negotiations resumed in March, with efforts made to deliberately keep State Department and Pentagon neoconservatives such as John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz in the dark “so that,” Scoblic will write, “administration conservatives could not sabotage a potential deal.” The negotiations were led by the CIA and MI6. (Bolton attempted to intervene in the negotiations, insisting that “regime change” in Libya was the US’s only negotiating plank, but high-level British officials had Bolton removed from the process and gave al-Qadhafi reassurances that Bolton’s stance was not reflective of either the US or Britain’s negotiating position.)
Pretending that Libya 'Surrendered' - After the deal is struck, administration conservatives attempt to put a brave face on the deal, with Cheney saying: “President Bush does not deal in empty threats and half measures, and his determination has sent a clear message. Just five days after Saddam [Hussein] was captured (see December 14, 2003), the government of Libya agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons program and turn the materials over to the United States.” Administration officials insist that there had been no negotiations whatsoever, and Libya had merely capitulated before the American display of military puissance. “It’s ‘engagement’ like we engaged the Japanese on the deck of the Missouri in Tokyo Bay in 1945,” one administration official boasts. “The only engagement with Libya was the terms of its surrender.” And Bush officials claim that the Libyans gave up their weapons with no terms whatsoever being granted them except for a promise “only that Libya’s good faith, if shown, would be reciprocated.” That is not true. Bush officials indeed made significant offers—that the US would not foment regime change in Libya, and that other “quid pro quo” terms would be observed.
Thwarting Conservative Ideology - Scoblic will conclude: “Left unchecked, the administration’s ideological impulses would have scuttled the negotiations. In other words, for its Libya policy to bear fruit, the administration had to give up its notion that dealing with an evil regime was anathema; it had to accept coexistence even though al-Qadhafi continued to violate human rights. Libya is thus the exception that proves the rule.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 251-255]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, John R. Bolton, J. Peter Scoblic, Clinton administration, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Martin Indyk, US Department of State, Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo says: “This country has become a battlefield, and [terrorists] will kill us anywhere they can. All you have to do is go to lower Manhattan and see the hole in the ground.” [Knight Ridder, 12/29/2003]
Assistant Secretary of State Bobby Charles asks the CIA to analyze where the drug profits in Afghanistan are going. The CIA concludes that it is probable some of the drugs are going to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al-Qaeda-related group just north of Afghanistan; the Taliban; the anti-US warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar; and possibly al-Qaeda. Charles says, “The linkages were there.” Author James Risen later comments, “The connections between drug trafficking and terrorism that the Pentagon didn’t want to acknowledge were real and growing, and were clearly helping to fuel a revival of guerrilla activity in Afghanistan.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 152-162] An article in the Independent this year will come to similar conclusions (see August 14, 2004). Based on this report and other evidence, Charles will push for a tough counter-narcotics policy but will end up losing his job instead (see November 2004).
Germaine Lindsay. [Source: Public domain]Shortly after the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), Newsweek will report that the name of one of the suicide bombers, Germaine Lindsay, “turned up in US government antiterror databases.” Lindsay’s name apparently comes up tangentially during the British investigation, known as Operation Crevice, of the 2004 fertilizer bomb plot (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). A British intelligence agency monitored two other 7/7 suicide bombers repeatedly interacting with the fertilizer bomb plotters, but allegedly never learned their exact names (see February 2-March 23, 2004). They gave US intelligence a database of suspects who interacted with the fertilizer bomb plotters, and presumably Lindsay was in this database (see Between April 10, 2004 and July 7, 2005). [Newsweek, 7/20/2005] The US then puts Lindsay on a terror watch list, which presumably is shared with British intelligence, but the British fail to monitor him. [Associated Press, 7/19/2005] Lindsay was apparently monitored by the FBI when he was visiting family in the US in late 2001, and may have already been put on a watch list at that time (see December 2001).
The CIA and ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence agency) conduct a joint raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, attempting to find Abu Faraj al-Libbi. He is al-Qaeda’s operational head since Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was captured in 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). Al-Libbi is not captured in the raid. However, he will be captured a year later in Mardan, near Abbottabad (see May 2, 2005). [Washington Post, 5/11/2011] Abbottabad is the town where Osama bin Laden will eventually be killed in 2011 (see May 2, 2011). Pakistani forces conduct a raid in April 2004 attempting to get al-Libbi in Abbottabad (see April 2004) and another raid in 2004 where they unwittingly almost capture al-Libbi (see After April 2004). It is not known the US raid is the same as either of these. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will describe both raids in a 2006 book and will not mention US participation, even though he does with other raids in the book. [Musharraf, 2006, pp. 210-211]
Up until 2004, suicide bombings were almost unheard of in Afghanistan. But beginning that year, the Taliban launches six suicide attacks. In 2005, the number increases to 21. In 2006, the number skyrockets to 141, causing 1,166 casualties. In 2007, the number remains steady at 137, but the number of casualties increases 50 percent to 1,730. On September 8, 2006, a suicide bomber hits a US convoy just outside the US embassy in Kabul, killing two US soldiers and 16 Afghans. The resulting investigation uncovers a suicide bomb support network in Kabul that links to militants in the tribal regions of Pakistan. Amrullah Saleh, the head of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, says: “Every single bomber we arrest is linked to Pakistan in some way. The training, provisions, explosives, technical equipment, are all being manufactured in Pakistan, and the CIA knows this.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 366-367]
Al-Tajdeed Radio, a station run by London-based Saudi Islamist Mohammed al-Massari, broadcasts in Iraq and Saudi Arabia calls for attacks on British troops. The station carries songs calling for jihad against the coalition forces and addresses by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head of an Iraqi group of militants reported to be affiliated with al-Qaeda. In addition, al-Massari also posts videos of attacks on British troops on his website. For example, in August 2006 the Council of Holy Warriors posts a declaration praising a bombing in Iraq that results in 55 people killed and wounded. MP Patrick Mercer calls the broadcasts “desperately demoralizing” for British troops in Iraq. Al-Massari says that the broadcasts were not in Britain, but abroad, so they are legal. No action is taken against al-Massari over the radio station and website, even after Britain passes a new Terrorism Act in 2006 making glorifying or encouraging political violence a crime (see March 30, 2006). [BBC, 8/18/2005; New York Times, 8/21/2006]
In 2005, Hutaifa Azzam, son of Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin Laden’s mentor and a longtime acquaintance of militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, says al-Zarqawi had “no relations with Osama until he left to Iraq. His relation with Osama started [in 2004] through the Internet.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 363-364] The Atlantic Monthly will later report that negotiations between al-Zarqawi and bin Laden about an alliance between them begin in early 2004. Al-Zarqawi will pledge loyalty to bin Laden in October, “but only after eight months of often stormy negotiations” (see October 17, 2004). [Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006]
In early 2004, the head of the CIA station in Kabul, Afghanistan, known only as “Peter,” reports a revival of al-Qaeda and Taliban forces near the border of Pakistan. He proposes a spring intelligence push in the Pakistani tribal regions of South Waziristan and Kunar. Since 2002, al-Qaeda has mainly been regrouping in Waziristan, and many speculate that Osama bin Laden may be hiding there (see August 2002). Peter estimates that 24 field officers and five station officers would be needed for the new push. However, CIA headquarters replies that it does not have the resources to make the surge, presumably due to commitments in Iraq. Peter is rotated out of his post a short time later. [Washington Post, 10/22/2004]
Nabil al-Marabh. [Source: Associated Press]After Nabil al-Marabh’s eight-month prison sentence was completed in 2003, he remained in a Chicago prison awaiting deportation. However, deportation proceedings were put on hold because federal prosecutors lodged a material witness warrant against him. When the warrant is dropped, al-Marabh is cleared to be deported to Syria. [Associated Press, 1/29/2003; Associated Press, 6/3/2004] In late 2002, the US government argued that there was no evidence al-Marabh had ever been involved in any terrorist activity or connected to any terrorist organization (see September 3, 2002). However, in al-Marabh’s deportation hearing, the judge rules that he “does present a danger to national security,” is “credibly linked to elements of terrorism,” and has a “propensity to lie.” A footnote in his 2003 deportation ruling states, “The FBI has been unable to rule out the possibility that al-Marabh has engaged in terrorist activity or will do so if he is not removed from the United States.” He is deported nonetheless, and prosecutors from two US cities are not allowed to indict him. Both Democratic and Republican Senators will later express bafflement and complain about this deportation (see June 30, 2004). [Associated Press, 6/3/2004]
Hy Rothstein. [Source: Center on Terrorism and Irregular Warfare]In late 2002, the Defense Department asks retired Army Colonel Hy Rothstein, a leading military expert in unconventional warfare, to examine the planning and execution of the war in Afghanistan. Rothstein travels to Afghanistan and interviews dozens of military personnel at all levels. The New Yorker calls his report, completed this month, “a devastating critique of the [Bush] administration’s strategy.” While Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has described the US military to be mostly reliant upon unconventional forces, Rothstein sees a reliance on heavy aerial bombing that results in large numbers of civilian casualties. He sees a poor effort at winning the hearts and minds of Afghans, and many mistakes such as allying with corrupt, drug-dealing warlords who oppress the population. One military expert calls the US strategy “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” When Rothstein presents his conclusions to Rumsfeld, he is told to dampen his criticisms before the report can be published. He refuses to do so, and so the report is left sitting in bureaucratic limbo. Many other officials privately agree with the report’s conclusions. One former senior intelligence officer says, “The reason they’re petrified is that it’s true, and they didn’t want to see it in writing.” [New Yorker, 4/5/2004]
A British special forces team in Afghanistan calls in a US air strike on a drug lab. The damage leads to a 15 percent spike in heroin prices. It is unclear if US commanders knew that the proposed target was a drug lab. However, this seems to be nearly the only such strike on drug-related targets since 9/11. Shortly after 9/11, the US military decided to avoid such targets (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). The US continued to gain new intelligence on the location of drug facilities and continued not to act. Assistant Secretary of State Bobby Charles later will complain, “We had regular reports of where the labs were. There were not large numbers of them. We could have destroyed all the labs and warehouses in the three primary provinces involved in drug trafficking… in a week. I told flag officers, you have to see this is eating you alive, that if you don’t do anything by 2006 you are going to need a lot more troops in Afghanistan.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 152-162]
In 2004, Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill) visits Pakistan to find out why the US Rewards for Justice program has generated so little information regarding al-Qaeda’s leadership. In the early 1990s, the program was effective in helping to catch al-Qaeda bomber Ramzi Yousef after a $2 million reward was announced for him and a huge number of matchboxes with his picture and the reward information on it were distributed in countries where he was likely to be (see April 2, 1993). The program has $25 million rewards for al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and lesser rewards for other al-Qaeda leaders. Kirk discovers that the US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan has effectively shut down the reward program. There is no radio or television advertising. A bin Laden matchbook campaign had begun in 2000 (see February 16, 2000), but the embassy has stopped giving away matchbooks with photos of bin Laden and other leaders. Kirk will later say: “We were at zero. I couldn’t believe it.” Embassy officials tell Kirk they are busy with other issues, such as assisting US troops in Afghanistan. Kirk proposes a congressional bill that would increase funding for the rewards program to advertise, extend the program to target drug kingpins (especially those who fund al-Qaeda and the Taliban), and make other reforms and improvements. But apparently the bill does not pass and the problem is not fixed. In 2008, Kirk will complain, “[T]he key thing about the Rewards for Justice program is that no one in a rural area—anywhere—knows about it.” Former CIA officer Arthur Keller will also say in 2008 that there are people in Pakistan and elsewhere with information who would be open to informing. “They’d love to have a $25 million bounty, and they aren’t supportive of Osama. But they don’t necessarily trust the US. Who do you report it to? The local police chief?… They’re not sure who to turn to or who to trust.” [US Congress, House, 2/12/2004; Washington Post, 5/17/2008] In 2006, the program will conduct a large advertising blitz in the US, seemingly one of the most unlikely places to figure leaders such as bin Laden (see December 2006).
The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory logo. [Source: Armed Forces Institure of Pathology]The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) publishes a report on the examination of DNA of the presumed hijackers of Flight 77, which hit the Pentagon on 9/11, and Flight 93, which went down near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The hijackers’ DNA is identified by a process of elimination, i.e. it is presumed to be that which does not match the samples provided by the passengers’ relatives. Samples are not requested from the hijackers’ families (see After September 11, 2001), but it is determined that the DNA may have come from Middle Eastern men, although in two cases current but not very comprehensive databases indicate they are more likely to come from Europeans. Also, the DNA samples from the Pentagon indicate that two of the presumed hijackers may well have been brothers. Presumably this refers to Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi. [Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, 1/2004, pp. 82-84 ]
After 15 months of brutal torture in Morocco (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004), British terror suspect Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001) is flown to Afghanistan by the CIA.
Shock at Brutal Treatment - Even the hardened CIA agents in Afghanistan are shocked by the treatment meted out by the Moroccans, who, among other treatments, had repeatedly slashed and lacerated Mohamed’s genitals with scalpels and knives. Mohamed will later recall: “When I got to Kabul a female agent started taking close-up pictures of my genitals. She was shocked. When they removed my diaper she could see blood was still oozing from the cuts on my penis. For the first two weeks they had me on antibiotics and they took pictures of my genitals every day. They told me, ‘This is not for us. It’s for Washington.’ They wanted to be sure it was healing.”
'The Dark Prison' - But the initial shock gives way to a new session of brutality at the hands of his American captors. Mohamed will later call his Afghani detention facility “the dark prison,” and recall it as one of the lowest points of his life. In Morocco, Mohamed confessed to anything he was asked—being part of a plot to build a radioactive “dirty bomb,” being a confidant of 9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, having met Osama bin Laden dozens of times—in order to, he says, avoid further torture. Now the Americans want him to be a prosecution witness against high-ranking al-Qaeda already in US custody. But Mohammed knows nothing of these people or their crimes, he will later say. The tortures with scalpels are not repeated, but Mohamed will recall seemingly endless ordeals of being shackled by the wrists to his door frame, often in complete darkness, and in one memorable instance, being subjected to a rap CD being played in his cell at ear-shatteringly loud volumes for an entire month without stop. “It’s a miracle my brain is still intact,” he will later say. In September, he is transferred to Guantanamo (see September 2004 and After). [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
A male Iraqi dies while being interrogated by American officials, probably from the CIA. According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union (see October 24, 2005), the male, detained in the city of Al Asad, is “standing, shackled to the top of a door frame with a gag in his mouth at the time he died.” The cause of death is asphyxia and blunt force injuries—in essence, being beaten to death while choking on a gag. The ACLU believes the Iraqi’s name was Abdul Jaleel. [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/24/2005]
Satellite imagery of Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in 2004 and 2011. [Source: U.S. Defense Department]Osama bin Laden’s trusted courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed moves to Abbottabad, Pakistan, and buys up land there that will be used for a hideout for bin Laden. Ahmed, who is using a variety of aliases, moves to the town with his brother Abrar, who is also assisting bin Laden. A Pakistani government official will later say that a plot of land in Abbottabad is bought by a man named Mohammad Arshad on January 22, 2004. A forged national identity card and incorrect address is used. In fact, “Mohammad Arshad” is one of the aliases used by Ahmed. That, along with the related name “Arshad Khan,” is the name Abbottabad neighbors will know him by in future years. [Dawn (Karachi), 5/7/2011] Property records obtained by the Associated Press show that “Arshad” buys two more plots of land in November 2004. The seller will later say that he does not meet Arshad in person, but deals with him through a middle man. A doctor sells another plot of land to “Arshad” in 2005. This doctor will later say that he does meet “Arshad” in person during the transaction. The plots are combined so a walled compound can be built that is much larger than other homes in the neighborhood. The doctor will occasionally see “Arshad” after that, and at one point the doctor will be cryptically told by him that the land he sold is now very valuable. [Associated Press, 5/4/2011] Locals will later say that construction on the compound begins in 2005. By late 2005 or the start of 2006, the construction is done and bin Laden will move into the compound with some of his family (see Late 2005-Early 2006). The courier Ahmed (who uses the named “Arshad”), his brother, and their families will live there too. [New York Times, 5/3/2011; Associated Press, 5/4/2011] In March 2011, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
Technology Review, a magazine published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, runs an article by Professor Richard Muller arguing that audio messages apparently released by Osama bin Laden may be fakes. According to Muller, the US’s counterterrorism efforts are still going strong, making it hard for al-Qaeda to operate. Therefore, “its sympathizers desperately need encouragement from their charismatic leader,” which is why the organization is making fake audio tapes. Video tapes would be more convincing proof of bin Laden’s continued existence, but are harder to fake and therefore not forthcoming. Bin Laden is either dead or injured, and unable to make recordings, Muller argues, and adds that although voice recognition, a technique used by the US government to identify the voice on the audio tapes, is a “rapidly developing technology,” it can have problems with the poor quality tapes the man thought to be bin Laden is releasing. Therefore, the tapes may be cut and pasted excerpts of past recordings, or, more likely, made by one of bin Laden’s children, such as his son Saad, reportedly an al-Qaeda member. [Technology Review, 1/23/2004]
Al-Qaeda leader Hassan Ghul is caught at the Iraq-Iran border. Details are sketchy, both about the arrest and Ghul himself, who has never been publicly mentioned before. Several days later, President Bush will say: “[L]ast week we made further progress in making America more secure when a fellow named Hassan Ghul was captured in Iraq. [He] reported directly to [9/11 mastermind] Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.… He was captured in Iraq, where he was helping al-Qaeda to put pressure on our troops.” [Washington Post, 1/27/2004] Ghul had been living in Pakistan, but the Pakistani government refused to arrest him, apparently because he was linked to a Pakistani military group supported by Pakistani intelligence (see (2002-January 23, 2004)). Pakistan is reportedly furious when it is told he has been arrested in Iraq. [Associated Press, 6/15/2011] US officials point to his arrest as proof that al-Qaeda is heavily involved in the resistance in Iraq. One official says that Ghul was “definitely in Iraq to promote an al-Qaeda, Islamic extremist agenda.” [Fox News, 1/24/2004] The 9/11 Commission will later claim: “Hassan Ghul was an important al-Qaeda travel facilitator who worked with [al-Qaeda leader] Abu Zubaida assisting Arab fighters traveling to Afghanistan. In 1999, Ghul and Zubaida opened a safe house under the cover of an import/export business in Islamabad [Pakistan]. In addition, at Zubaida’s request, Ghul also successfully raised money in Saudi Arabia.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 64 ] But despite acknowledgment from Bush that Ghul is in US custody, Ghul subsequently completely disappears, becoming a “ghost detainee.” Apparently, he will provide vital intelligence during US interrogation (see Shortly After January 23, 2004). The US will eventually transfer Ghul to Pakistani custody (see (Mid-2006)), and Pakistan will release him, allowing him to rejoin al-Qaeda (see (Mid-2007)).
The FBI’s on-scene commander in Baghdad sends an e-mail to senior FBI officials at FBI headquarters in Washington, discussing the allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. The e-mail advises the senior officials not to investigate the allegations. “We need to maintain good will and relations with those operating the prison,” it reads. “Our involvement in the investigation of the alleged abuse might harm our liaison.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 2/23/2006]
Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil. [Source: Public domain]The Los Angeles Times reports that Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, leader of the Pakistani militant group Harkat ul-Mujahedeen (HUM), is living and operating openly in Pakistan. He lives with his family in the city of Rawalpindi and urges his followers to fight the US. Khalil was a signatory to Osama bin Laden’s February 1998 fatwa [religious edict] that encouraged attacks on Americans and Jews anywhere in the world (see February 22, 1998). In late 1998, Khalil said, “We will hit back at [the Americans] everywhere in the world, wherever we find them. We have started a holy war against the US and they will hardly find a tree to take shelter beneath it.” The Pakistani government banned HUM in January 2002 (see Shortly After January 12-March 2002), but the group simply changed its name to Jamiat ul-Ansar and continued to operate. Then it was banned again in November 2003 (see November 2003). The Times reports that HUM is openly defying the most recent ban. HUM publishes a monthly magazine that urges volunteers to fight the US in Afghanistan and Iraq. In a recent issue published since the most recent ban, Khalil calls on followers to “sacrifice our life, property and heart” in order to help create one Muslim nation that will control the whole world. The magazine continues to appear on newsstands in Pakistan and gives announcements for upcoming HUM meetings and events, despite the group supposedly being banned.
Government Takes No Action - The Pakistani government claims not to know where Khalil is, even though his magazine publishes his contact information (Times reporters attempting to find him for an interview were detained and roughed up by his supporters.) Government officials also claim that Khalil and HUM are doing nothing illegal, even though HUM’s magazine makes clear fund-raising appeals in each issue, and Pakistani law clearly specifies that banned groups are not allowed to fund-raise. Officials also say that they don’t know where the leaders of other banned militant groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Toiba are, but these leaders make frequent public appearances and documents obtain by the Times show the ISI intelligence agency is closely monitoring them. Militant leader Maulana Masood Azhar has not been arrested even though his group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, was recently implicated in the attempted assassination of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (see December 14 and 25, 2003). [Los Angeles Times, 1/25/2004]
Link to California Suspect - In 2005, a Pakistani immigrant to the US named Umer Hayat will be arrested in California on terrorism charges. He will allegedly confess to having toured training camps in Pakistan run by Khalil, who is a family friend. He will only serve a short time for making false statements to the FBI, but his son Hamid Hayat will be sentenced to 24 years in prison on similar charges (see June 3, 2005). [Los Angeles Times, 6/9/2005]
A surveillance photo of Momin Khawaja (in grey sweater) and unidentified man on February 20, 2004. [Source: Public domain via the Globe and Mail]According to a joint Canadian and British report sent to Pakistani authorities in September 2005, Mohammed Junaid Babar, Momin Khawaja, and Haroon Rashid Aswat meet in London in February 2004. Babar and Khawaja are both members of a British fertilizer bomb plot (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004), but Khawaja is living in Canada and making occasional trips to Britain to meet the other plotters there, and Babar is based in Pakistan and also occasionally coming to Britain. By this time, the British intelligence agency MI5 has learned of the plot and is intensely monitoring all the major plotters, including Khawaja. US intelligence has apparently been monitoring Babar since late 2001 (see Early November 2001-April 10, 2004), and Newsweek will state he is definitely being monitored by February 2004 (see March 2004). [Daily Times (Lahore), 9/7/2005; Globe and Mail, 7/4/2008] Newsweek will later confirm, “Aswat is believed to have had connections to some of the suspects in the fertilizer plot,” and his name is given to the US as part of a list of people suspected of involvement in the plot. [Newsweek, 7/20/2005; Newsweek, 7/25/2005] He is the most interesting figure in this meeting. The US has wanted him since at least 2002 for his role in attempting to set up a militant training camp in Oregon (see November 1999-Early 2000). It will later be widely reported that he is the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005) and may even simultaneously be an informant for British intelligence. Babar, Khawaja, and other major figures in the fertilizer plot will be arrested at the end of March 2004 (see March 29, 2004 and After and April 10, 2004), but Aswat curiously is not arrested, even though British intelligence had compiled a large dossier on him and considered him a “major terrorist threat” by 2003 (see Early 2003).
An Army dog handler at Abu Ghraib tells military investigators that, as per the directive from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld (see December 2, 2002), “[S]omeone from [military intelligence] gave me a list of cells, for me to go see, and pretty much have my dog bark at them.… Having the dogs bark at detainees was psychologically breaking them down for interrogation purposes.” Using attack dogs to threaten or harm prisoners is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
Hassan Ghul, an al-Qaeda leader captured in Iraq in January 2004 (see January 23, 2004), tells interrogators that Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti is a trusted courier who is close to Osama bin Laden. Abu Ahmed is an alias; his real name apparently is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, but at this point US intelligence only knows him by his alias.
Ghul's Mysterious Captivity and Interrogation - Ghul apparently is held in a secret CIA prison for the first couple of years of his imprisonment. The conditions of his interrogation during this time are unknown, but presumably they are very harsh and many may call them torture, based on how other prominent prisoners are treated in secret CIA prisons around this time. Officials will later claim that Ghul is “quite cooperative” and the use of any harsh techniques on him would have been brief. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011] However, a prisoner who is kept in a cell next to Ghul’s will later testify in Britain that Ghul told him the CIA transferred him to Morocco at some point. It is not known if this is true, or what may have happened to Ghul in Morocco, but some prisoners are transferred to countries like Morocco so that harsh torture techniques that the CIA is not approved to use can be used on them by other intelligence agencies. [Associated Press, 6/15/2011]
Ghul's Apparently Honest Account - Ghul reportedly tells his interrogators that Ahmed is a trusted courier who is close to bin Laden. He also says that Ahmed has been close to al-Qaeda top operational heads Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and Abu Faraj al-Libbi. This is in contrast to the claims of other prisoners, including KSM, who have already said that Ahmed is either dead or unimportant. As a result, US intelligence analysts grow increasingly convinced that Ahmed is an important figure who could lead to bin Laden. Ghul adds that Ahmed has not been seen in a while. Analysts take this as another clue that Ahmed could be with bin Laden. Ghul either does not know Ahmed’s real name or does not tell it to his interrogators. In the wake of Ghul’s comments, KSM is asked again about Ahmed, and KSM sticks to his story that Ahmed is not important. [New York Times, 5/3/2011]
'Linchpin' in Search - Tracking Ahmed will eventually lead US intelligence to bin Laden (see Summer 2009 and July 2010). An unnamed US official will later say, “Hassan Ghul was the linchpin” in the hunt for bin Laden. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011]
Democratic members of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security release a report entitled “America at Risk.” The report finds that, since the anthrax scare of 2001-2002, not a single drug or vaccine for pathogens rated as most dangerous by the Centers for Disease Control has been developed. A concurrent Pentagon report finds that “almost every aspect of US biopreparedness and response” is unsatisfactory, and says, “The fall 2001 anthrax attacks may turn out to be the easiest of bioterrorist strikes to confront.” The Pentagon will attempt to suppress the report when it becomes apparent how unflattering it is for the current administration, but part of it is leaked to the media. The report is later released in full. [Carter, 2004, pp. 20; House Select Committee on Homeland Security, Democratic Office, 2/1/2004]
A surveillance photo of Shehzad Tanweer (second to the left), Mohammad Sidique Khan (far right), and Omar Khyam (center), taken in the parking lot of a McDonald’s restaurant on February 28, 2004. [Source: Metropolitan Police]By the beginning of February 2003, the British intelligence agency MI5 has learned about an al-Qaeda linked fertilizer bomb plot meant for an unknown target or targets in Britain, and has begun closely monitoring all of the main suspects. The head bomber in the plot, Omar Khyam, is seen on several occasions with two of the 7/7 London suicide bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer:
On February 2, Khyam is seen in a car with Khan and Tanweer. Khyam is dropped off at his residence in the town of Crawley. The other two are still monitored as Khan drives away. They are covertly photographed when they stop at a gas station in Toddington. Khan is also photographed at a Burger King. They arrive at West Yorkshire and the car is parked outside Khan’s family house. His precise address is written down. A check reveals the car is registered to Khan’s wife. In June 2004, MI5 will check the car’s registration again and find out it has been re-registered in the name of “Siddeque Khan.” [BBC, 4/30/2007]
On February 21, Khan is not seen directly, but his same car that was trailed on February 2 is seen parked outside a house in Crawley where a key four-and-a-half hour meeting is held preparing the fertilizer bomb plot. Khan and Tanweer probably attend the meeting, but there are technical problems with the surveillance so the meeting is not recorded.
At some point also on February 21, Khan and Khyam are recorded while Khyam is driving his car. Khan asks Khyam, “Are you really a terrorist?” Khyam replies, “They are working with us.” Khan then asks, “You are serious, you are basically…?” And Khyam replies, “I am not a terrorist, they are working through us.” Finally, Khan tells Khyam: “Who are? There is no one higher than you.” Later in the conversation, Khan says he is debating whether or not to say goodbye to his baby before going to Pakistan again. Khyam tells him: “I do not even live in Crawley any more. I moved out because in the next month they are going to be raiding big time all over the UK.” This is curious, because the next month there will be police raids, which result in the arrest of the group of bomb plotters based in the town of Crawley, including Khyam (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). [Independent, 4/30/2007; Daily Telegraph, 5/1/2007; London Times, 5/1/2007] Khan and Khyam discuss attending training camps in Pakistan. Khan asks, “How long to the training camp?” Khyam replies, “You’ll be going to the tribal areas, stay with families, you’ll be with Arab brothers, Chechen brothers, you’ll be told our operation later.” [Channel 4 News (London), 5/1/2007]
On February 28, 2004, Khyam, Khan, and Tanweer are monitored as Khan drives them around builders’ merchants as part of a fraud scheme the three of them are working on together. At one point, Khan says, “I’m going to tap HSBC [the British bank], if not I’ll just go with a balaclava and a shotgun.” Khan then drives them to another secret meeting, this one held at a shop in Wellingborough. The meeting is attended by the three of them and about seven others; it is unknown if it is recorded. As the three drive back from the meeting, Khan appears to be trying to lose a tail since he doubles back and takes other evasive maneuvers.
On March 21, Khan and Khyam are seen driving together. This time they are in a different car loaned to Khan by an auto shop, since the one used earlier was wrecked in a crash.
On March 23, 2004, Khyam, Khan, and Tanweer meet again. They drive to an Islamic bookshop and spend the afternoon there. They also go to the the apartment of another key suspect in the fertilizer bomb plot. Returning to Khyam’s residence, they discuss passports and raising funds from banks using fraudulent methods. Khan again discusses going to Pakistan with Tanweer. Khyam by this time has plans to flee Britain in early April. Although they do not say so explicitly, an informant named Mohammed Junaid Babar will later reveal that Khyam was planning to attend training camps in Pakistan with Khan and others. Several times, Khyam, Khan, and Tanweer are seen talking outside, which would suggest discussions about particularly sensitive matters. But only the inside of Khyam’s house is bugged and these outside talks are not recorded. Khan and Tanweer leave shortly before midnight.
Khyam’s phone is also being monitored, and Khan is in regular phone contact with him. But is it unknown how many calls are made or what is said. British intelligence will claim that that no overt references about bombings are made. [Independent, 4/30/2007; Daily Telegraph, 5/1/2007; London Times, 5/1/2007] But the Sunday Times will claim this is untrue, and that Khan was recorded discussing the building of a bomb and then his desire to leave Britain because there would be a lot of police activity after the bomb went off. He also is involved in “late-stage discussions” of the fertilizer bomb plot (see May 13-14, 2006). [Sunday Times (London), 5/14/2006] Furthermore, he is heard to pledge to carry out violence against non-Muslims. A tracking device is also placed on Khan’s car, although what becomes of this is unclear. [Associated Press, 4/30/2007] Photographs are sometimes taken of Khan and/or Tanweer. For instance, at some point Khan is photographed coming out of an Internet cafe. But despite all this evidence, investigators apparently conclude that Khan and Tanweer are “concerned with the fraudulent raising of funds rather than acts of terrorism.” They are not properly monitored (see March 29, 2004 and After). Khan and Tanweer apparently attend militant training camps in Pakistan later that year before blowing themselves up in 2005. Khyam is arrested on March 30, and is later sentenced to life in prison (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). [Independent, 4/30/2007; Daily Telegraph, 5/1/2007; London Times, 5/1/2007] In early 2005, investigators will finally look into details about the car Khan drove and the loaner car given to him by the auto shop, and they will learn his full name and address (if they don’t know it already). But apparently this will not result in any more surveillance of him (see January 27-February 3, 2005).
Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon renews permission to wiretap the phones of Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, considered to be one of about three masterminds of the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) that will occur one month later. Interestingly, in the application for renewal, Fakhet is linked to the Casablanca bombings of May 2003 (see May 16, 2003). His brother-in-law Mustapha Maymouni was arrested in Morocco and is being imprisoned there for a role in the bombings at this time (see Late May-June 19, 2003). Fakhet is also linked in the application to Zouhaier ben Mohamed Nagaaoui, a Tunisian believed to be on the Spanish island of Ibiza and preparing for a suicide attack on a ship, following instructions from al-Qaeda. Nagaaoui is also said to be linked to the Casablanca bombings. Further, he has links to a number of Islamist militant groups and had undergone weapons and explosives training. [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/30/2005] Around the same time, Garzon also renews the wiretapping of some other Madrid bombers such as Jamal Zougam. [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/28/2004] It is not known what later becomes of Nagaaoui.
Dexter Filkins. [Source: New York Times]The New York Times publishes a front page story blaming Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the supposed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, for many troubles in the Iraq war. However, it will later be revealed that the contents in the article were a hoax or exaggeration by a US military propaganda operation. The article, written by Dexter Filkins, claims that in January 2004, US forces in Iraq intercepted a letter written by al-Zarqawi to the “inner circle” of al-Qaeda, claiming that the best way to defeat the US in Iraq is to, in essence, begin a “sectarian war” in that country. The letter reportedly states that al-Qaeda, a Sunni network, should attack the Shi’a population of Iraq: “It is the only way to prolong the duration of the fight between the infidels and us. If we succeed in dragging them into a sectarian war, this will awaken the sleepy Sunnis.” In the letter, al-Zarqawi boasts of his role in many suicide bombings in Iraq. The article also notes that this letter would “constitute the strongest evidence to date of contacts between extremists in Iraq and al-Qaeda.” [New York Times, 2/9/2004; Independent, 2/11/2008] US General Mark Kimmitt says later the same day: “We believe the report and the document is credible, and we take the report seriously.… It is clearly a plan on the part of outsiders to come in to this country and spark civil war, create sectarian violence, try to expose fissures in this society.” The story is quickly published around the world. [Independent, 2/11/2008]
Reporter Skeptical; Article Does Not Reflect Doubts - Filkins will later say he was skeptical about the document’s authenticity when he wrote the story and remains skeptical of it. [Washington Post, 4/10/2006] However, the article and follow up articles in the New York Times cast no doubt on the letter’s authenticity, except for one sentence in the original article mentioning the possibility the letter could have been “written by some other insurgent.”
Skepticism from Other News Outlets - However, some scattered accounts elsewhere at the time are more critical. For instance, a few days later, Newsweek writes: “Given the Bush administration’s record peddling bad intelligence and worse innuendo, you’ve got to wonder if this letter is a total fake. How do we know the text is genuine? How was it obtained? By whom? And when? And how do we know it’s from al-Zarqawi? We don’t.” [Editor & Publisher, 4/10/2006] In the letter, al-Zarqawi says that if success does not come soon: “We can pack up and leave and look for another land, just like what has happened in so many lands of jihad. Our enemy is growing stronger day after day, and its intelligence information increases. By god, this is suffocation!” Counterpunch notes this and skeptically comments, “If you were Karl Rove, you couldn’t design a better scenario to validate the administration’s slant on the war than this.” It is also noted that this article follows a dubious pattern of New York Times reporting on Iraq: “cultivate a ‘highly placed inside source,’ take whatever this person says and report it verbatim on the front page above the fold.” [CounterPunch, 2/26/2004]
Systematic Propaganda Campaign - Later in 2004, the Telegraph will report, “Senior diplomats in Baghdad claim that the letter was almost certainly a hoax” and that the US is systematically buying extremely dubious intelligence that exaggerates al-Zarqawi’s role in Iraq (see October 4, 2004). [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] In 2006, a number of classified documents will be leaked to the Washington Post, showing the US military has a propaganda campaign to exaggerate the role of al-Zarqawi in Iraq (see April 10, 2006). One document mentions the “selective leak” of this letter to Filkins as part of this campaign. [Washington Post, 4/10/2006]
Media Unquestioning in its Acceptance - Editor and Publisher will later examine the media coverage of this letter, and note that most publications reported on it unquestioningly, “So clearly, the leak to Filkins worked.” Ironically, Reuters at the time quotes an “amazed” US official who says, “We couldn’t make this up if we tried.” [Editor & Publisher, 4/10/2006]
An Army memorandum records an interview of a US interrogator stationed at the Orgun-E Military Intelligence Detention Facility in Afghanistan. According to the interrogator, “standard operating procedure” with detainees includes extended sleep deprivation, stress positions, and withholding food. The interrogator also refers to standard practices of “OGA” officials (OGA means “other goverment agency” and is a reference to the CIA), who drug prisoners and subject them to lengthy sensory deprivation. Another memo records the use of what interrogators call “fear up harsh” techniques, which include “disrespect for the Koran,” insults, subjecting prisoners to blinding lights, and exposing them to extremely loud music for prolonged periods. The memoranda will be released to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2006 (see January 12, 2006). [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/12/2006]
Rich Levernier, a specialist with the Department of Energy (DOE) for 22 years who spent over six years before the 9/11 attacks running nuclear war games for the US government, says that the Bush administration has done little more than talk about securing the nation’s nuclear facilities from terrorist attacks. If Levernier and his team of experts (see February 15, 2004) are correct in their assessments, the administration is actually doing virtually nothing to protect the US’s nuclear weapons facilities, which certainly top any terrorist’s wish list of targets. Instead of addressing the enormous security problems at these facilities, it is persecuting whistleblowers like Levernier. Indeed, the administration denies a danger even exists. “Any implication that there is a 50 percent failure rate on security tests at our nuclear weapons sites is not true,” says Anson Franklin, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a DOE agency that oversees the US’s nuclear weapons complex. “Our facilities are not vulnerable.”
Too Strict Grading? - James Ford, who is retired, was Levernier’s direct DOE supervisor in the late 1990s. He says that while Levernier was a talented and committed employee, the results he claims from his mock terror attacks are skewed because of what Ford calls Levernier’s too-strict approach to grading the performance of the nuclear facilities’ security personnel. Ford says that Levernier liked to focus on one particular area, the Technical Area-18 facility, at the Los Alamos nuclear facility in New Mexico, though the site is essentially indefensible, located at the bottom of a canyon and surrounded on three sides by steep, wooded ridges that afforded potential attackers excellent cover and the advantage of high ground.
Complaints of 'Strict Grading' Baseless, Squad Commander Says - “My guys were licking their chops when they saw that terrain,” says Ronald Timms, who commanded mock terrorist squads under Levernier’s supervision. Timms, now the head of RETA Security, which participated in many DOE war games and designed the National Park Service’s security plans for Mount Rushmore, says Ford’s complaint is groundless: “To say it’s unfair to go after the weak link is so perverse, it’s ridiculous. Of course the bad guys are going to go after the weakest link. That’s why [DOE] isn’t supposed to have weak links at those facilities.” In one such attack Timms recalls, Levernier’s forces added insult to injury by hauling away the stolen weapons-grade nuclear material in a Home Depot garden cart. The then-Secretary of Energy, Bill Richardson, ordered the weapons-grade material at TA-18 to be removed to the Nevada Test Site by 2003. That has not happened yet, and is not expected to happen until 2006 at the earliest.
Rules of Engagement - The failure rates are even harder to understand considering the fact that the rules of engagement are heavily slanted in favor of the defense. A real terrorist attack would certainly be a surprise, but the dates of the war games were announced months in advance, within an eight-hour window. Attackers were not allowed to use grenades, body armor, or helicopters. They were not allowed to use publicly available radio jamming devices. “DOE wouldn’t let me use that stuff, because it doesn’t have a defense against it,” Levernier says. His teams were required, for safety reasons, to obey 25 MPH speed limits. Perhaps the biggest flaw in the DOE’s war games, Levernier says, is that they don’t allow for suicide bombers. The games required Levernier’s teams to steal weapons-grade nuclear material and escape. It is likely, though, that attackers would enter the facility, secure the materials, and detonate their own explosives. DOE did not order nuclear facilities to prepare for such attacks until May 2003, and the policy change does not take effect until 2009. Levernier notes that three of the nation’s nuclear weapons facilities did relatively well against mock attacks: the Argonne National Laboratory-West in Idaho, the Pantex plant in Texas, and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
Bureaucratic, Political Resistance - So why, asks Vanity Fair journalist Mark Hertsgaard, doesn’t the Bush administration insist on similar vigilance throughout the entire nuclear complex? They “just don’t think [a catastrophic attack] will happen,” Levernier replies. “And nobody wants to say we can’t protect these nuclear weapons, because the political fallout would be so great that there would be no chance to keep the system running.” The DOE bureaucracy is more interested in the appearance of proper oversight than the reality, says Tom Devine, the lawyer who represents both Levernier and other whistleblowers. “Partly that’s about saving face. To admit that a whistleblower’s charges are right would reflect poorly on the bureaucracy’s competence. And fixing the problems that whistleblowers identify would often mean diverting funds that bureaucrats would rather use for other purposes, like empire building. But the main reason bureaucrats have no tolerance for dissent is that taking whistleblowers’ charges seriously would require them to stand up to the regulated industry, and that’s not in most bureaucrats’ nature, whether the industry is the nuclear weapons complex or the airlines.”
Stiff Resistance from Bush Administration - Devine acknowledges that both of his clients’ troubles began under the Clinton administration and continued under Bush, but, Devine says, the Bush administration is particularly unsympathetic to whistleblowers because it is ideologically disposed against government regulation in general. “I don’t think President Bush or other senior officials in this administration want another September 11th,” says Devine, “but their anti-government ideology gets in the way of fixing the problems Levenier and [others] are talking about. The security failures in the nuclear weapons complex and the civil aviation system are failures of government regulation. The Bush people don’t believe in government regulation in the first place, so they’re not inclined to expend the time and energy needed to take these problems seriously. And then they go around boasting that they’re winning the war on terrorism. The hypocrisy is pretty outrageous.” [Carter, 2004, pp. 17-18; Vanity Fair, 2/15/2004]
Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Rich Levernier, RETA Security, National Nuclear Security Administration, James Ford, Bill Richardson, Anson Franklin, National Park Service, Ronald Timms, Mark Hertsgaard, Tom Devine, Vanity Fair, US Department of Energy, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
The prosecutors in the trial of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see May 13, 2003) turn down a plea deal offered by Nichols’s lawyers. Nichols reportedly offered to plead no contest to 161 charges of first-degree murder if prosecutors drop their attempt to seek the death penalty. [New York Times, 2/18/2004; The Oklahoman, 4/2009]
Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) tells US interrogators that Abdul Hakim Murad, along with KSM a key conspirator in the Bojinka plot, only had a small role in the operation, according to the 9/11 Commission. The Commission will cite four intelligence reports, drafted on February 19 (two), February 24, and April 2, 2004, as the source of this claim. According to KSM, Murad’s only role in the plot was to courier $3,000 from Dubai to Manila. However, other evidence indicates Murad was much more significantly involved in the plot (see Before January 6, 1995 and January 6, 1995). The Commission will comment, “This aspect of KSM’s account is not credible, as it conflicts not just with Murad’s own confession [note: this may be unreliable as Murad was tortured (see After January 6, 1995)] but also with physical evidence tying Murad to the very core of the plot, and with KSM’s own statements elsewhere that Murad was involved in planning and executing the operation.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 489]
A cardboard box delivered to the Scottsdale, Arizona, Office of Diversity and Dialogue explodes when the office director, Donald Logan, opens it. He suffers severe burns and lacerations from the blast. His assistant, Renita Linyard, is also severely injured, and office staffer Jacque Bell suffers lesser injuries. Scottsdale police quickly call for help from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATF), and veteran BATF special agent Tristan Moreland heads the investigation. Moreland believes that Logan, an African-American federal employee, was targeted for his job and his race. Moreland begins looking at white supremacist groups in the area. He learns that a national gathering of supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members took place a few months earlier in a park outside Scottsdale, an event called Aryanfest 2004. Two supremacists in attendance, Dennis Mahon (see 1973 and After, August 1994 - March 1995, November 1994, and February 9, 1996 and After) and Tom Metzger (see 1981 and After), attract Moreland’s particular attention. Mahon bragged at Aryanfest about his connection to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), and Metzger is well known for his advocacy of “lone wolf” style attacks such as McVeigh’s, where individuals launch attacks without the overt backing or involvement of actual organizations. Metzger heads a white supremacist organization called White Aryan Resistance (WAR) and Mahon is a member of that organization. (WAR will later change its name to The Insurgent.) Metzger and Mahon have been friends for decades. Moreover, Mahon had left a voice message at the Scottsdale diversity office months before about the city’s upcoming Hispanic heritage week, a message virulent enough in its hatred and implied threat of violence to attract the attention of law enforcement authorities (see October 2003). Moreland decides to investigate Mahon and Metzger further, and the BATF learns that Mahon and his twin brother Daniel had been living in a trailer park in Tempe, Arizona, before the bombing. They left the area shortly after, moving to a trailer park in Catoosa, Oklahoma. Unwilling to allow the investigation to stall, Moreland decides to find a willing confidential informant to go to Catoosa and get close to Mahon. The subsequent investigation elicits evidence that Mahon and Metzger were involved in the Scottsdale bombing and other attacks as well (see January 26, 2005 and After). [TPM Muckraker, 1/10/2012]
Entity Tags: Renita Linyard, Dennis Mahon, Daniel Mahon, Donald Logan, Office of Diversity and Dialogue, Timothy James McVeigh, Tom Metzger, White Aryan Resistance, Tristan Moreland, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Jacque Bell
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Firefighters around the Superferry 14. [Source: Philippine Air Force]The 10,000 ton “Superferry 14” catches fire while transporting about 900 people between islands in the central Philippines. About 116 people are killed as the ship runs aground and partially submerges. Abu Sayyaf, a militant group frequently linked to al-Qaeda, takes credit for the disaster. The Philippine government initially claims it was an accident, but an investigation of the wreckage concludes several months later that the boat sank because of an explosion. Six members of Abu Sayyaf are charged with murder, including Khaddafy Janjalani and Abu Sulaiman, said to be the top leaders of the group. Investigators believe Abu Sayyaf targeted the ship because the company that owned it refused to pay protection money. [BBC, 10/11/2004] Time magazine entitles an article about the incident “The Return of Abu Sayyaf” and notes that the bombing shows the group has reconstituted itself under the leadership of Janjalani after nearly being destroyed by arrests and internal divisions. [Time, 8/23/2004]
The FBI orders an internal review of its files to determine whether documents related to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing case were improperly withheld from investigators or defense lawyers. Bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, already convicted on federal charges related to the case and serving a life sentence (see June 4, 1998), faces 161 counts of first-degree murder in an upcoming trial in McAlester, Oklahoma (see May 13, 2003). Recent press reports have raised new questions as to whether Nichols’s co-conspirator, bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001), had more accomplices than just Nichols. An Associated Press report says that documents not introduced at McVeigh’s trial (see June 2, 1997) indicated that FBI agents had destroyed evidence and failed to share other information that indicated McVeigh was part of a larger group of white supremacists who may have helped him carry out the bombing (see (April 1) - April 18, 1995). McVeigh had murky ties with a group called the Aryan Republican Army (ARA—see 1992 - 1995 and November 1994) and perhaps took part in bank robberies the group carried out. Moreover, ARA members possessed explosive blasting caps similar to those McVeigh used in the bomb; additionally, a driver’s license in the name of an alias used by Roger Moore, a man robbed by Nichols as part of an attempt to finance the bombing (see November 5, 1994), was later found in the possession of ARA member Richard Guthrie. Law enforcement officials continue to insist that no evidence exists of any larger conspiracy involving anyone other than Nichols and McVeigh, and the FBI’s internal review is motivated by nothing more than “an abundance of caution.” A government official says: “If there’s information out there, that needs to be looked at. This will be a document review to ascertain whether there are documents that were relative to the investigation and that should have been reviewed during the investigation or the prosecution.” If additional records are identified, the Justice Department will determine whether records were improperly withheld from defense lawyers in the case, the official says. The FBI had to conduct a similar document review just days before McVeigh’s 2001 execution after the Justice Department disclosed that the bureau had not turned over thousands of pages of interview reports and other material to McVeigh’s lawyers (see May 10-11, 2001). [New York Times, 2/27/2004; New York Times, 3/16/2004] Also, former television reporter Jayna Davis says she has unearthed ties between McVeigh, Nichols, and Iraqi soldiers operating undercover in the US; Davis has said the FBI refused to act on her information, and has accused the agency of a cover-up (see March 20, 2001). Retired FBI agent David Cid, who worked on the original case, calls Davis’s allegations absurd. “What possible motive would we have to conceal a Middle Eastern link?” he asks. “That was our immediate first assumption anyway” (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After). The presiding judge in the case, District Court Judge Steven Taylor, will conduct a hearing after the FBI’s announcement, but Nichols’s trial will not be delayed. [New York Times, 2/29/2004]
Jamal Ahmidan is a member of the Islamist militant cell who has arranged to buy the explosives for the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). He is also a drug dealer, and is purchasing the explosives from Emilio Suarez Trashorras and some others who are generally both drug dealers and government informants. His phone is being monitored by Spanish intelligence. On February 28, he calls Othman El Gnaoui, another member of the militant cell, and says that he will need a van to transport something. The next day, Ahmidan is in the Spanish region of Asturias to help pick up the over 100 kilograms of explosives used in the bombings. He drives a stolen white Toyota Corolla and travels with a Renault Kangoo van and a Volkswagen Golf. Trashorras and Mohammed Oulad Akcha (another member of the militant cell) drive the other vehicles. The three vehicles drive the explosives to Madrid in what will later be popularly dubbed the “caravan of death.” Ahmidan makes about 15 calls on his monitored phone during the several hour journey, many of them to El Gnaoui. While he does not explicitly talk on the phone about moving explosives, he does make clear to El Gnaoui that he and two other vehicles are moving something to Madrid. He is stopped for speeding along the way by police, but the trunk of his car is not checked. He gives the police officer a false identification. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/23/2004]
Al-Qaeda has released a series of video messages featuring Adam Gadahn. This one is from September 2, 2006. [Source: Public domain / Wikipedia]The Washington Post will report in May 2004, “US officials have continued investigating [Khalil] Deek’s whereabouts, a fact that is made clear since [his name has recently] appeared on US terrorist lookout lists.” Deek is a naturalized US citizen whom authorities believe was a member of an al-Qaeda cell in Anaheim, California for most of the 1990s. He was arrested in Jordan for masterminding an al-Qaeda millennium bomb plot there (see December 11, 1999). Then he was let go, apparently with US approval (see May 2001). US intelligence has a record dating back to the late 1980s of investigating Deek for a variety of criminal activities but taking no action against him (see Late 1980s, March 1993-1996, December 14-25, 1999, November 30, 1999, May 2000, December 15-31, 1999). It is not known why Deek is finally watchlisted at this time, though it is likely connected to wide publicity about Adam Gadahn. Gadahn, a Caucasian American also known as “Azzam the American,” was a member of Deek’s Anaheim cell in the mid-1990s. He moved to Afghanistan where he has since become well-known as a top al-Qaeda media spokesman. [New Yorker, 1/22/2007] Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz, who investigated Deek for the US government in the late 1990s, says it’s “a mystery” law enforcement officials have not arrested or even charged Deek as a terrorist. [Orange County Weekly, 6/17/2004] A US newspaper reporter who closely followed Deek’s career will comment that Deek seemingly “couldn’t get arrested to save his life.” [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] Deek has not been hard from since. There will be unconfirmed reports that he was killed somewhere in Pakistan in early 2005, but his body has not been found. [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006]
A senior UN official reports that conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated significantly in nearly every respect. According to Lakhdar Brahima, UN special envoy to Afghanistan, the situation “is reminiscent to what was witnessed after the establishment of the mujaheddin government in 1992.” Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a member of the Wahhabi sect of Islam who opposed the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, along with several other warlords accused of atrocities in the mid-1990s, have returned to power and are effectively ruling the country, Brahima says. Several hold key positions within the government. They “continue to maintain their own private armies and… are reaping vast amounts of money from Afghanistan’s illegal opium trade…” The US, while claming to support Afghan President Karzai, is relying on these warlords to “help” hunt down Taliban and al-Qaeda factions, although the success rate is abysmal, and much of the intelligence provided by the warlords is faulty. The Taliban has begun to regroup, and now essentially controls much of the southern and eastern regions of the country. [Foreign Affairs, 5/2004]
Daniel Hopsicker. [Source: Daniel Hopsicker]A book examining the life of Mohamed Atta while he lived in Florida in 2000 is published. Welcome to Terrorland: Mohamed Atta and the 9-11 Cover-Up in Florida, is by Daniel Hopsicker, an author, documentary maker, and former business news producer. Hopsicker spent two years in Venice, Florida, where several of the 9/11 hijackers went to flight school, and spoke to hundreds of people who knew them. His account portrays Atta as a drinking, drug-taking, party animal, strongly contradicting the conventional view of Atta having been a devout Muslim. He interviewed Amanda Keller, a former stripper who claims to have briefly been Atta’s girlfriend in Florida. Keller describes trawls through local bars with Atta, and how he once cut up her pet kittens in a fit of anger. The book also alleges that the CIA organized an influx of Arab students into Florida flight schools in the period prior to 9/11, and that a major drug smuggling operation was centered around the Venice airfield while Atta was there. [Deutsche Welle (Bonn), 4/30/2004; Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 7/11/2005] It also implicates retired businessman Wally Hilliard, the owner of Huffman Aviation, as the owner of a Lear jet that in July 2000 was seized by federal agents after they found 43 pounds of heroin onboard. [Long Island Press, 2/26/2004; Green Bay Press-Gazette, 3/22/2004] The book is a top ten bestseller in Germany. [Hopsicker, 2004; Deutsche Welle (Bonn), 4/30/2004]
In late 2001, a Pakistani named Abdullah Mahsud was arrested in northern Afghanistan and transferred to the US-run Guantanamo prison. He apparently concealed his true identity while there, and is released in March 2004. He returns to Waziristan, the Pakistani tribal region where he was born, and quickly becomes an important Taliban leader. The US Defense Department belatedly realizes he has been associated with the Taliban since he was a teenager, and calls him an “al-Qaeda-linked facilitator.” He earns a fearsome reputation by orchestrating attacks and kidnappings, starting later in 2004. His forces will sign a peace deal with the Pakistani government in early 2005 that effectively gives them control over South Waziristan (see February 7, 2005). Mahsud will be killed on July 24, 2007, just days after a peace deal between the Pakistani government and Waziristan militants collapses (see July 11-Late July, 2007). He reportedly blows himself up with a grenade while surrounded by Pakistani security forces in a town in Baluchistan province about 30 miles from the Afghan border that is also near Waziristan. A Pakistani official will say: “This is a big blow to the Pakistani Taliban. He was one of the most important commanders that the Taliban had in Waziristan.” [Washington Post, 7/25/2007]
In March 2004, al-Qaeda apparently holds what Time magazine calls a “terrorist summit” in the Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan. Time says the meeting is a “gathering of terrorism’s elite” who come from all over the world to attend. Attendees include:
Dhiren Barot, an al-Qaeda leader living in Britain.
Adnan Shukrijumah, an Arab Guyanese bombmaker and commercial pilot who apparently met 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and has been on public wanted lists since 2003.
Mohammed Junaid Babar, a Pakistani-American living in Britain. He arrives with money and supplies.
Abu Faraj al-Libbi, al-Qaeda leader living somewhere in Pakistan.
Two other unnamed attendees are believed to have surveilled targets in New York City and elsewhere with Barot in 2001 (see May 30, 2001). [Time, 8/8/2004; ISN Security Watch, 7/21/2005]
Other attendees have not been named. The meeting is said to be a “subject of obsession for authorities” in the US and Pakistan. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf says, “The personalities involved, the operations, the fact that a major explosives expert came here and went back, all this was extremely significant.” Officials worry that it may have been a planning meeting for a major attack in the West. [Time, 8/8/2004] Babar is arrested one month later in the US and immediately agrees to become an informant and reveal all he knows (see April 10, 2004). But US intelligence had been monitoring Babar since late 2001 (see Early November 2001-April 10, 2004), and Newsweek will later claim that “Babar was tracked flying off [in early 2004] to South Waziristan in Pakistan, where he attended [the] terror summit…” It is unknown if the summit itself is monitored, however. [Newsweek, 1/24/2005] Regardless on when the US learned about it, no known additional pressure on Pakistan to do something about al-Qaeda in Waziristan results. In fact, in late April the Pakistani government ends one month of fighting with militants in Waziristan and signs a peace treaty with them (see April 24-June 18, 2004).
A new interrogation policy is approved for US personnel regarding prisoners detained in Iraqi facilities such as Abu Ghraib. The policy will remain classified as late as mid-2009, but the Senate Armed Services Committee (see April 21, 2009) will release excerpts from it. The policy warns that interrogators “should consider the fact that some interrogation techniques are viewed as inhumane or otherwise inconsistent with international law before applying each technique. These techniques are labeled with a [CAUTION].” Among the techniques labeled as such are a technique involving power tools, stress positions, and the presence of military working dogs, all potential violations of the Geneva Conventions. [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
Gouled Hassan Dourad. [Source: US Defense Department]Alleged “high value” al-Qaeda leader Gouled Hassan Dourad is captured. Dourad is captured by Djibouti government forces in his house in Djibouti. He is turned over to US custody at an unknown date and held as a ghost prisoner in the CIA’s secret prison system. On September 4, 2006, he will be transferred to the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, and will be officially declared a “high value” prisoner (see September 2-3, 2006).
Who Is Dourad? - Very little is publicly known about Dourad or why he is deemed an important militant leader. Virtually nothing has appeared about him in the media either before or after his capture. But his 2008 Guantanamo file will detail his history. According to that file, Dourad is a Somali who is an admitted member of both al-Qaeda’s East Africa branch and Al-Ittihad al-Islamiya (AIAI), an Islamist militant group based in Somalia that was blacklisted by the US shortly after 9/11. In 1993, he was granted asylum in Sweden, and lived there for nearly three years. In 1996, he trained in al-Qaeda linked training camps in Afghanistan. Returning to East Africa, he fought against Ethiopian forces for several years. Dourad grew more involved with al-Qaeda and took part in various plots. When he is caught, he allegedly is in the final stages of planning an operation against US military bases and various embassies in Djibouti. He does not seem to have been in frequent contact with many top al-Qaeda leaders, but it is claimed he worked closely with Abu Talha al-Sudani, a leader of al-Qaeda operations in East Africa. [US Department of Defense, 9/19/2008] Note that the Guantanamo files of prisoners often contain dubious information, and in some cases information that was extracted by torture (see April 24, 2011).
The trial of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see May 13, 2003) begins in McAlester, Oklahoma, with the trial judge, Steven Taylor, ruling that the trial will not be delayed because of allegations that the prosecution withheld documents from the defense (see February 27, 2004). Nichols faces 161 counts of first-degree murder, and could receive the death penalty if convicted. Taylor warns prosecutors that any withholding of evidence by prosecutors or the Justice Department would void the case entirely, saying: “There will not be a mistrial. There will be a dismissal, period.” Taylor says, “It would be irresponsible for this court to shut down this trial today based on speculation and guesswork what the FBI can come up with.” The defense intends to argue that Nichols was just one small cog in a much larger conspiracy involving convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001) and an undetermined number of unnamed accomplices, perhaps American white supremacists or Middle Eastern radicals; defense lawyer Barbara Bergman tries and fails for a delay, telling Taylor: “Everywhere we turn we are being stymied by the federal government, your honor. It’s outrageous. Why is the federal government so afraid?” Taylor says he will allow the defense considerable leeway in questioning government witnesses: “Some call a trial a search for truth. If the FBI thinks it important to search for truth while we’re conducting this trial, then they should cooperate with the search for truth in this courtroom.” The jury has not yet been seated, and lawyers will not give their opening arguments for at least a week. Brian T. Hermanson is Nichols’s lead lawyer; Lou Keel leads the prosecution. [New York Times, 3/2/2004; New York Times, 3/9/2004]
On the night of March 4, 2004, members of Spain’s Civil Guard go to an unnamed witness in Madrid and ask him about Emilio Suarez Trashorras and Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino.” The Madrid bombings conducted seven days later are said to involve two groups. One group is made up of Islamist radicals under heavy surveillance and the other group is made up of criminals and drug dealers who sell the explosives to this group. Ahmidan from the first group and Trashorras for the second are the main intermediaries. This witness is asked extensively about his car, a white Toyota Corolla. In late February, Ahmidan used a stolen white Toyota Corolla with a similar registration to help move the explosives from the region of Asturias to Madrid. He was briefly stopped for speeding by police on his way to Madrid and gave an alias instead of his real name (see February 28-29, 2004). The Toyota was also used by Trashorras in Asturias and he was fined while driving it three times. This suggests police had some knowledge about the explosives deal before the bombings. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/24/2005] Trashorras is a government informant, but it will later be claimed that he did not inform his handlers about the explosives deal before the bombings, and he will be sentenced to life in prison (see October 31, 2007). Ahmidan will reportedly blow himself up with other key bombers about a month after the bombings (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004).
Jamal Zougam, an Islamist militant living in Spain, calls Barakat Yarkas, the head of the al-Qaeda cell in Madrid. Yarkas is in prison at the time, and has been there since November 2001 for an alleged role in the 9/11 attacks (see November 13, 2001). Zougam’s call is monitored, and in fact he has been monitored since 2000 for his links to Yarkas and others (see 2000-Early March 2004). Zougam will later say that he was aware he was being monitored, especially since he knew his house was raided in 2001. The Madrid newspaper El Mundo will later comment that the call makes no sense, especially since it takes place just six days before the Madrid train bombings (see October 31, 2007): “It’s like lighting a luminous sign.” It also has not been explained why the imprisoned Yarkas was even allowed to speak to Zougam on the phone. It is not known what they discuss. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/23/2004] Zougam will later be sentenced to life in prison for a role in the Madrid bombings (see October 31, 2007).
Near midnight on March 5, 2004, Othman El Gnaoui spends some time in a Madrid police station. He is considered one of the key Madrid bombers and will later be sentenced to life in prison for his role in the bombings. What he is doing in the station is not clear as police will not discuss it later. But his phone is being monitored at the time, and transcripts of calls will later reveal him calling family from inside the station who are wondering where he is at such a late hour. He tells his wife that he had some trouble with identification papers while riding his motorcycle. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/24/2005] But there are some curious coincidences. Just the day before, an unnamed witness was asked about Jamal Ahmidan and Emilio Suarez Trashorras (see Evening, March 4, 2004). In late February 2004, El Gnaoui bought explosives from Trashorras and others. On February 29, Ahmidan called him at least five times as he helped drive the explosives from the region of Asturias to Madrid. Both Ahmidan and El Gnaoui’s phones were being monitored at the time. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/24/2005] Also curiously, one day after the bombings, police will stop monitoring the phones of Ahmidan and El Gnaoui (see March 12, 2004).
Amer el-Azizi, a leading al-Qaeda operative, is thought to re-enter Spain to activate a cell that carries out train bombings in Madrid in 2004 (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), as he is seen by witnesses in Madrid after the attacks. [Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2004] A senior Spanish investigator will say in 2004, “There are people who have seen el-Azizi here in Spain after the attacks. It looks like he came back and may have directed the others. If he was here, his background would make it likely that he was the top guy. We have reliable witness accounts that he was here in significant places connected to the plot. The idea of el-Azizi as a leader has become more solid.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2004] His fingerprints are found in a safe house first used by the bombers in 2002. A Spanish investigator will comment, “El-Azizi was the brains, he was the link between the [bombers and the rest of al-Qaeda.” [Irujo, 2005, pp. 218; Vidino, 2006, pp. 320-321] El-Azizi was arrested in Turkey in 2000 with several of the 2004 Madrid bombers, but they were released for an unspecified reason (see October 10, 2000). Spanish intelligence also frustrated his arrest after 9/11 (see Shortly After November 21, 2001).
In 2006, the Madrid newspaper El Mundo will report that, according to their analysis, 34 out of the 40 people allegedly involved in the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004) were under surveillance before the bombings. It reports 24 out of the 29 people arrested after the bombing, the seven who blew themselves up just after the bombing, and three of the four who fled Spain were under surveillance. Additionally, some of them are actually government informants before the bombing, though exactly how many remains murky. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/24/2006]
Said Berraj is considered closely involved in the plot, and runs errands for Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of about three masterminds of the bombing. He was briefly arrested in Turkey in 2000 while meeting with several of the other bombers (see October 10, 2000). Berraj flees Spain two days before the bombing. He has yet to be found. But in 2003, he regularly meets with Spanish intelligence agents (see 2003). And up until the bombings he also works for a security company owned by a former policeman. [El Mundo (Madrid), 1/15/2007]
Fakhet may also be an informant. A different informant named Abdelkader Farssaoui, a.k.a. Cartagena, who is not part of the plot but informed on many of the plotters for two years (see September 2002-October 2003), will later claim under oath as a protected witness that he saw Fakhet and Berraj meeting with the same handlers who handled him, and at the same meeting place he used. Fakhet will be killed about one month after the bombing (see Shortly After October 2003).
Mohamed Afalah also is an informant for Spanish intelligence. He is the driver, bodyguard, and confidante of Allekema Lamari, who the Spanish government calls the “emir” of the bombings. Afalah flees Spain on April 3 and also has not been found. [El Mundo (Madrid), 1/15/2007] Curiously, some reports will later claim that he blows himself up in a suicide bombing in Iraq in May 2005. [Guardian, 6/16/2005]
There are allegations that Amer el-Azizi, who appears to be the bombers’ main al-Qaeda link (see Before March 11, 2004), is an informant. He appears to have been tipped off to a police raid by Spanish intelligence in late 2001 (see Shortly After November 21, 2001).
Mohamed Haddad, who eyewitnesses say may have been bringing one of the bombs to the train, may be an informant. He reportedly lives openly in Morocco after the bombings under curious conditions (for instance, he is not allowed to speak to reporters), but is not wanted by the Spanish authorities despite considerable evidence against him (see Shortly After March 18, 2004).
Emilio Suarez Trashorras, a miner with access to explosives, buys the explosives for the bombings. He is an informant, but nonetheless will be sentenced to life in prison for his role in the bombings (see June 18, 2004).
Carmen Toro, wife of Trashorras. She allegedly helps sell the explosives used in the bombings, even though she is a police informant at the time (see September 2003-February 2004). She will be arrested but acquitted.
Antonio Toro, brother of Carmen Toro. He also allegedly helps sell the explosives despite being an informant (see March 2003 and September 2003-February 2004). He also will be arrested but acquitted.
Rafa Zouhier also is an informant. He works with Trashorras to get the explosives. He will be sentenced to a lengthy prison term for his role in the bombings (see June 18, 2004).
Additionally, other informants who will not be arrested for being part of the plot follow the plotters. These include Safwan Sabagh, who constantly trails plot leader Allekema Lamari, Abdelkader Farssaoui, Smail Latrech, and Rabia Gaya (see 2002-March 10, 2004).
In some cases different government departments have their own investigations and informants and are not always sharing information with other departments. Some suspects are being followed by two or more departments, such as the Spanish police, Civil Guard, and the Spanish intelligence agency, the CNI. The El Mundo article will conclude, “Undoubtedly, the lack of coordination was a real factor and critical in allowing the terrorists to carry out their plans. However, that does not explain everything.” [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/24/2006] In November 2003, Spanish intelligence actually warns in a report that Lamari and Fakhet are leading a new attack in Spain on a significant target, but no apparent action is taken in response (see November 6, 2003).
Entity Tags: Rabia Gaya, Rafa Zouhier, Said Berraj, Mohamed Haddad, Safwan Sabagh, Mohamed Afalah, Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, Smail Latrech, Abdelkader Farssaoui, Allekema Lamari, Amer el-Azizi, Antonio Toro, Carmen Toro, Emilio Suarez Trashorras, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Many of the Madrid train bombers have their phones tapped for months before the March 2004 train bombing (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Some of them have been monitored for years (one, Moutaz Almallah, was under surveillance for nine years (see November 1995). While snippets from some phone calls will be made public after the bombings (see February 28-29, 2004), the content of the vast majority of these calls remain unknown. One example hints at what some of these calls might contain. Rosa Ahmidan, the wife of bomber Jamal Ahmidan, begins fully cooperating with the authorities after being interviewed for the first time on March 25, 2004 (see March 27-30, 2004). She will later say that in April she gets a phone bill from one land line used by her husband. The bill is for around 1,000 euros. It shows Jamal Ahmidan made many calls to Afghanistan, London, and the Netherlands. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/25/2008]
Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, leader of the Britain-based Al-Muhajiroun militant group, is interviewed. He says, “I believe Britain is harboring most of the Islamic opposition leaders of the Muslim world.… Because the British elites are very clever, they are not stupid like the Americans. Remember these people used to rule half of the world.… The British are not like the French and the Germans, they don’t slap you in the face, they stab you in the back. They want to buy some of these Islamic groups.” Asked if there ever has been “a secret deal between some Islamists and British security whereby radical Muslims would be left alone as long as they did not threaten British national security,” Bakri replies: “I believe all the people referred to as ‘moderate’ Muslims have at one time or another struck deals with the British government. But the British have been unable to corrupt radical groups” like Bakri’s group. He then defines moderate Muslims as “The Muslim Brotherhood in [Britain], UK Islamic Mission, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Iranian opposition groups, [and] the so-called [Iranian] Ahlul Bait groups.” Bakri also says, “I think everything I say and do is monitored.” He admits to being questioned by British intelligence “on at least 16 occasions,” but denies helping them. He says that the authorities have attempted to penetrate his organization, “as the British are desperate to buy intelligence.” Speaking about British intelligence agencies, he says: “their understanding of Islam is poor. But I believe the really clever people are the elites in this country, as they know how to divide Muslims.” [Spotlight on Terror, 3/23/2004] Bakri’s comments will take on new meaning when it is later revealed that he was an active informant for British intelligence (see Spring 2005-Early 2007).
Some of the materials confiscated from Myron Tereshchuk’s home by the FBI. [Source: FBI]The FBI arrests Maryland resident Myron Tereshchuk for attempting to produce ricin, a deadly biological toxin, and other possible weapons of mass destruction. A search of Tereshchuk’s house secures castor beans, laboratory glassware, numerous chemical reagents, unidentified liquids, crystalline solids, electrical components, incendiary explosives, and inert hand grenades; Tereshchuk is found to be carrying a copy of the US patent for ricin production. Laboratory analysis identifies some of the unidentified liquids in the house to contain ricin. Investigators find a postcard in the house with the message, “Here is your poison—enjoy.” Tereschuk, who is believed to have concocted the material in order to either attack a firm called MicroPatent or extort millions from that firm, will be convicted and sentenced to prison. [Washington Post, 9/30/2004; New York Times, 8/7/2005; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2009]
At around 7:00 a.m., Luis Garrudo Fernandez, a doorman for an apartment building in the town of Alcala de Henares, near Madrid, see three men behaving strangely near a white Renault Kangoo van parked near the local train station. The next day, he will tell the press, “When I saw them I thought they might be armed robbers or something like that… They were all covered up around their heads and necks, and it wasn’t even cold.” He gets close to one of them who is hurrying off towards the station. “All I could see was that he was wearing a white scarf around his neck and something covering the top of his head. You could only really see his eyes.” The others go to the back of the van and take out three big black rucksacks. Fernandez is unable to determine their ethnicity since he cannot see their faces clearly, but he suspects they are foreigners. Forty minutes later, bombs explode on four trains; the trains had started their journeys at the Alcala station (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Fernandez soon tells a neighbor about the strange men. At 10:50 a.m., the neighbor calls the police. What the police find in the van will be the first lead in determining who is behind the train bombings. Fernandez claims the police soon come and inspect the van.
Immediately Told - He says they immediately tell him that they found bomb detonators and a cassette inside. The cassette contains exhortations from the Koran, but Fernandez will not remember them telling him anything about the cassette having an Arabic link. He is then driven to the police station, and on the way there a policeman tells him that he does not believe ETA, the Basque separatist group, is responsible. That evening at about 7:00 p.m., he is asked to look at a series of photographs of Arab suspects.
Contradictory Claim - However, this claim is later contradicted by a police report. While it is not denied that Fernandez gave the initial tip, the report says the van is not searched until about 3:30 p.m., after it has been moved to a different part of town. Eduardo Blanco, the police chief in Alcala de Henares, will later testify in support of the police report and will say that he is not told until that evening that detonators and an Arab cassette have been found in the vehicle. [Guardian, 3/13/2004; Daily Telegraph, 3/15/2004; Expatica, 7/6/2004; London Times, 7/7/2004] The discrepancy is important in determining just how quickly investigators begin to suspect Islamist militants and not ETA are behind the bombing.
Multiple bombs destroyed this train in Madrid, Spain. [Source: Rafa Roa/ Cover/ Corbis] (click image to enlarge)At about 7:40 a.m., four trains are bombed in Madrid, Spain, killing 191 people and injuring about 1,800 more. These are not suicide bombings, but were set by cell phone timers. Basque separatists are initially blamed, but evidence later points to people loosely associated with al-Qaeda. It will later be reported that 34 out of the 40 main people suspected or arrested for involvement in the bombings were under surveillance in Spain prior to the bombings (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004). Most of the bombers had never been to any training camps. In 2006, Spanish investigators will announce that the bombings were inspired by al-Qaeda, but not ordered or funded by al-Qaeda’s leadership. Specifically, the bombers are said to have been inspired by a speech allegedly given by Osama bin Laden in October 2003 (see October 19, 2003). [New Yorker, 7/26/2004; Associated Press, 3/9/2006] However, there will also be evidence against this that will not be refuted. For instance, the investigators will claim that all the key participants are either dead or in jail, but a number of them remain free overseas. For example, Amer el-Azizi is implicated in the Madrid bombings (see Before March 11, 2004), and he has links to well-known al-Qaeda figures such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see (November 2001)), Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see Before July 8, 2001), and Zacarias Moussaoui (see Before August 16, 2001). In late 2002 or early 2003, el-Azizi is said to have met with Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of the key bombers, to discuss a bombing. He reportedly gave Fakhet permission to stage a bombing in the name of al-Qaeda, but it is unclear if he gave any funding or other assistance. [Associated Press, 4/10/2004; New Yorker, 7/26/2004] There are suggestions that el-Azizi was protected by Spanish intelligence (see Shortly After November 21, 2001), so the government may not be eager to highlight his involvement. Fakhet, considered one of the three masterminds of the bombings, may have been a government informant (see Shortly After October 2003). Many of the other plotters also appear to have been informants, and almost all the plotters were under surveillance before the bombings (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004). Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will say later in the month: “If we catch [bin Laden] this summer, which I expect, it’s two years too late. Because during those two years when forces were diverted to Iraq… al-Qaeda has metamorphosized into a hydra-headed organization with cells that are operating autonomously like the cells that operated in Madrid recently.” [USA Today, 3/28/2004] It will be noted that the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US and the Madrid train bombings are separated by a total of 911 days. [MSNBC, 3/19/2004; Bloomberg, 4/22/2005]
The white van, impounded in a police parking lot. [Source: Libertad Digital]At 10:50 a.m. on March 11, 2004, Madrid police receive an eyewitness tip pointing them to a white van (see 7:00 a.m., March 11, 2004) left at one of the train stations that had been bombed about three hours earlier (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). One investigator will later say: “At the beginning, we didn’t pay too much attention to it. Then we saw that the license plate didn’t correspond to the van.” [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] Police determine that the van was stolen several days before. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/23/2004] At about 2:00 p.m., police take the van away. Accounts conflict as to whether the van is searched that morning before it is moved or that afternoon after the move (see 7:00 a.m., March 11, 2004). [Guardian, 3/13/2004] Regardless, when it is searched investigators find a plastic bag containing bomb detonators. They also find a cassette tape containing recitations of the Koran. Investigators had immediately suspected ETA, a Basque separatist group, was behind the bombings, and in fact at 1:30 p.m. Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes publicly blames ETA for the bombings. But based on the evidence in the van they begin to suspect Islamist militants were behind it instead. [New Yorker, 7/26/2004; Vidino, 2006, pp. 294] That evening, traces of the explosive Goma-2 are also found in the van. This will further point the investigation away from the ETA, since that group has never been known to use that type of explosive (see (8:00 a.m.-Evening) March 11, 2004). [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/23/2004]
In the evening of March 11, 2004, a group claims responsibility for the Madrid train bombings that took place that morning. The London-based Arabic Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper claims to have been sent a letter from a group called the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades. Abu Hafs is an common alias for al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2001 (see November 15, 2001). The newspaper received similar letters claiming responsibility for previous incidents. However, some of the group’s claims have been patently false. For instance, the group took credit for the August 14, 2003 blackout in the northeastern US that was caused by technical failure. The Guardian comments, “The authenticity of such letters is difficult to establish, and might anyway be an attempt to spread fear and confusion.” [Sydney Morning Herald, 11/18/2003; Guardian, 3/12/2004] The group will soon stop making claims for attacks and slowly fade away. It is unknown if it ever had any real link to al-Qaeda. But in the crucial first hours after the Madrid bombings, the letter begins to shift public opinion to the possibility that al-Qaeda might be responsible.
On March 12, 2004, just one day after the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), Spanish police ask for the monitoring of two likely suspects in the bombings to stop. Police ask that wiretaps on the phones of Jamal Ahmidan (alias “El Chino”) and Othman El Gnaoui be halted. The reason for this request is unknown. Police have been monitored Ahmidan since at least 2002, and have linked him to a group of suspect Islamist militants (see July 2003 and January 4, 2003). Most of the key Madrid bombers will be linked to this group. Police had asked a witness about Ahmidan less than a week before the bombings (see Evening, March 4, 2004). It is not known how long El Gnaoui has been under surveillance, but he was questioned at a police station five days before the bombings, and Ahmidan had frequently called him in late February when both their phones were tapped (see Evening, March 5, 2004). In the early morning hours of March 12, investigators discovered a phone card belonging to Jamal Zougam that was connected to an unexploded bomb (see March 12, 2004). By 10:00 a.m. investigators begin tracing who Zougam called using that phone card. Several hours later, it is discovered that Zougam called Ahmidan and many of his associates. It is not known which comes first, the discovery of a link between Zougam and Ahmidan, or the request to stop monitoring Ahmidan and El Gnaoui’s phones. But it appears the tapping of their phone does come to a stop and is not restarted for some days after that. Interestingly, the police also request to begin monitoring the phones of Rafa Zouhier. He is an informant who had a role in selling the explosives used in the bombings to Ahmidan (see September 2003-February 2004). [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/24/2005] Ahmidan will reportedly blow himself up a month after the bombings (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004), while El Gnaoui will eventually be arrested and sentenced to life in prison for a role in the bombings (see October 31, 2007). Curiously, someone from within a police station will call El Gnaoui four times several weeks after the bombings and then try to hide this from investigators (see March 27-30, 2004).
President Bush meets privately with acting Attorney General James Comey to discuss the Justice Department’s refusal to reauthorize the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Late September, 2001). (Comey will later refuse to discuss the conversation during testimony before Congress.) After the meeting, Bush meets privately with FBI Director Robert Mueller, Comey’s partner in opposing the program (see March 10-12, 2004). After his meeting, Mueller tells Comey, “[W]e have the president’s direction to do what we believed, what the Justice Department believed was necessary to put this matter on a footing where we could certify its legality.” Author and reporter Charlie Savage will later write, “Comey, [Office of Legal Counsel chief Jack] Goldsmith, and their colleagues spent the next several weeks making a series of undisclosed changes to the warrantless surveillance program—during which time the original program continued to operate, even though the president had been told it was illegal.” Outside experts will later speculate that Comey and Goldsmith had constrained the program’s scope by imposing stricter controls on who can be monitored without a warrant. Some will decide that the program now monitors only communications specifically suspected to have a connection to al-Qaeda, not the more general “suspected terrorism” communications. They will also speculate that the authorization for the program now relies on Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF—see September 14-18, 2001), not the president’s inherent authority as commander in chief. But, Savage will write, the program still allows wiretapping without a judge’s approval, and therefore is still illegal. [Savage, 2007, pp. 188]
Youssef Belhadj. [Source: Public domain]At 7:30 p.m., on March 13, 2004, the night before national elections in Spain, an anonymous phone caller tells a Madrid television station that there is a videotape related to the Madrid train bombings two days earlier (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) in a nearby trash can. The video is quickly found. It is not broadcast, but the government releases portions of its text to the media that evening. [Associated Press, 3/13/2004] A man on the tape identifies himself as Abu Dujan al-Afghani, and says he is the military spokesman for the “military wing of Ansar al-Qaeda” (ansar means partisan). [New York Times, 4/12/2004] Dressed in white burial robes and holding a submachine gun, he says: “We declare our responsibility for what happened in Madrid exactly two-and-a-half years after the attacks on New York and Washington. It is a response to your collaboration with the criminals Bush and his allies. This is a response to the crimes that you have caused in the world, and specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there will be more, if God wills it.” [BBC, 3/14/2004; Irujo, 2005, pp. 327-342] Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes has been repeatedly blaming ETA, a Basque separatist group, for the bombings (see 10:50 a.m.-Afternoon, March 11, 2004 and March 12, 2004). He holds a press conference shortly after the videotape text is made public and encourages the public to be skeptical about the tape’s authenticity. [Observer, 3/14/2004] But more and more Spaniards doubt the official story. El Mundo, the largest newspaper in Madrid, criticizes “the more than dubious attitude of the government in relation to the lines of investigation.” The BBC publishes a story hours before the election is to begin and notes: “If ETA is to blame it would justify the [ruling Populist Party’s] hard line against the group and separatism in Spain. But if al-Qaeda is to blame, however, it would bring into question Spain’s decision to join the United States and Britain in the war on Iraq, something 90 percent of Spaniards opposed.” [BBC, 3/14/2004] The video actually was made by the bombers. A banner shown in the video is found in a safe house used by the bombers about a month later (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004), suggesting the video was shot there. [New York Times, 4/12/2004] The spokesman will later be revealed to be Youssef Belhadj. Belhadj will be arrested in Belgium in 2005, extradited to Spain, and sentenced to prison for a role in the Madrid bombings. [Irujo, 2005, pp. 327-342; MSNBC, 10/31/2007]
It was disclosed in 2003 that the NSA had intercepted several calls between hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see Early 2000-Summer 2001 and Summer 2002-Summer 2004). But in 2004, after revelations that the NSA has been wiretapping inside the US, some media begin to re-examine the circumstances of the hijackers’ calls from the US, as the Bush administration uses the example of these calls as a justification for the NSA’s domestic wiretapping program. [New York Times, 12/16/2005; Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; US President, 12/26/2005 ] The calls are thought to be a key aspect of the alleged intelligence failures before 9/11. In late 1998, the FBI had started plotting intercepts of al-Qaeda calls to and from the communications hub on a map (see Late 1998-Early 2002). According to author Lawrence Wright, “[h]ad a line been drawn from the [communications hub] in Yemen to Alhazmi and Almihdhar’s San Diego apartment, al-Qaeda’s presence in America would have been glaringly obvious.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 343-344] In 2006, former NSA Director Michael Hayden will tell the Senate that if the NSA’s domestic wiretapping program had been active before 9/11, the NSA would have raised the alarm over the presence of hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi in San Diego. [CNN, 5/19/2006] However, reports in the press suggest otherwise. For example, in one newspaper a senior intelligence official will say that it was not technically possible for the NSA, which had a budget of around $3.6 billion in 2000, to trace the calls. “Neither the contents of the calls nor the physics of the intercepts allowed us to determine that one end of the calls was in the United States,” says the official. [Bamford, 2002, pp. 482; US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] But another report flatly contradicts this. “NSA had the technical ability to pick up the actual phone number in the US that the switchboard was calling but didn’t deploy that equipment, fearing they would be accused of domestic spying.” [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] It is unclear why concerns about domestic spying allegations would prevent the NSA from passing the information on to the FBI. Almihdhar and Alhazmi were not US citizens, but foreign nationals who had entered the US illegally claiming to be tourists. In addition, there was a wealth of evidence connecting them to al-Qaeda (see Early 1999, January 5-8, 2000, and Early 2000-Summer 2001). In any event, the NSA did reportedly disseminate dispatches about some of these US calls (see Spring-Summer 2000). Some FBI officials will later profess not to know what went wrong and why they were not notified of the hijackers’ presence in the US by other agencies. A senior counterterrorism official will say: “I don’t know if they got half the conversation or none of it or hung up or whatever. All I can tell you is we didn’t get anything from it—we being the people at the FBI who could have done something about it. So were they sitting on it? I don’t know.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005] The US intelligence community, through the CIA, also had access to the phone company’s records for the Yemeni communications hub, which would have shown what numbers were being called in the US (see Late 1998-Early 2002).
Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency, Ahmed al-Hada, Bush administration (43), US intelligence, Salem Alhazmi, Nawaf Alhazmi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties
Guy Philippe orders 30-year-old anti-Aristide paramilitary leader, “Ti Gary,” to “go into the La Savanne neighborhood and kill Lavalas supporters.” When Ti Gary refuses, Philippe’s deputy shoots him with a shotgun in the leg. [Griffin, 4/11/2004 Sources: Ti Gary]
The estranged wife of Mouhannad Almallah goes to the judge in charge of the Madrid train bombings investigation and tells him that her husband had been planning attacks in Madrid. So far Jamal Zougam is the main suspect known to the public, as his arrest was announced three days before (see 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). She says that her husband knew Zougam and talked about doing business with him in Morocco. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/13/2007] A police officer confirms to the judge that she had already discussed many of these connections with police in January and February 2003. At that time, she named her husband, his brother Moutaz Almallah, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Basel Ghalyoun, Amer el-Azizi, Jamal Ahmidan, and others (see February 12, 2003 and January 4, 2003). These men will turn out to be most of the key players in the train bombings. All of them have been under surveillance for over a year at her apartment and elsewhere (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). She tells the judge additional details about the Almallah brothers’ links to Abu Qatada, an imam linked to al-Qaeda (see August 2002). [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/28/2005; El Mundo (Madrid), 7/28/2005] Seemingly, her account, plus all the data collected from monitoring these suspects prior to the bombing, should be enough evidence to arrest the suspects. Strangely, many of the suspects continue to live where they lived before the bombing, and continue to use the same phones as before. For instance, Ahmidan, whom she named, lives at the same residence as before until March 18 (see March 27-30, 2004). But there seems to be no urgent effort to arrest or monitor them, nor are their names or pictures published until March 30. In fact, the apartment where Mouhannad Almallah and his wife lived that was monitored for over a year is not raided until March 24 (see March 24-30, 2004). [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/5/2005]
Lead defense lawyer Brian Hermanson. [Source: Corbis / TruTV]Michael E. Tigar, the former lead attorney for convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see June 4, 1998) who now faces a state trial on 161 counts of first-degree murder (see March 1, 2004), joins Nichols’s current defense team in speculating that the bombing may have been carried out by a larger group of white supremacists, of which Nichols was only a minor member and perhaps little more than a scapegoat. While prosecutors say they have “an avalanche of evidence” showing Nichols’s heavy involvement, defense lawyers led by Brian T. Hermanson say that Nichols and his cohort, convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997), were part of the purported larger conspiracy. McVeigh, Hermanson argues, “conspired with others whose identities are still unknown” and “orchestrated various events and evidence so as to make it appear that Mr. Nichols was involved and, thereby, direct attention away from others.” Some evidence exists of McVeigh’s involvement with the violent white supremacist group Aryan Republican Army (ARA—see 1992 - 1995 and November 1994) and it is possible that McVeigh took part in bank robberies the group carried out. Tigar says, “Is it too bad they killed Tim?” referring to McVeigh’s execution (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001). “If they really wanted to find out what happened, maybe some of the revelations, now that the cover is blown, maybe he would have talked. Who knows?” Tigar seems to be implying that the government executed McVeigh to ensure his silence, a conclusion prosecutors dispute. Prosecutors say they have given the defense all exculpatory evidence, and that they can indisputably prove Nichols’s guilt. Assistant Oklahoma County District Attorney Sandra H. Elliott says, “Whether or not anybody else is involved, we can prove Mr. Nichols is.” Mark S. Hamm, a criminology professor who has written about the ARA, says: “The preponderance of evidence points to the fact that McVeigh had some sort of ongoing relationship with members of the ARA. [But t]here’s no smoking gun here.” Stephen Jones, who represented McVeigh during his trial (see May 8, 1995), says: “Where the Nichols defense clearly wants to go is to try for an acquittal or hung jury using material the government withheld.” If successful, the Nichols lawyers will try to get Nichols’s federal conviction (see December 23, 1997) reversed. However, “it has to succeed in [these proceedings] first.” [New York Times, 3/16/2004]
Rafa Zouhier is an informant working for Spain’s Civil Guard. On March 16 and 17, 2004, he speaks to his handler, known by the alias Victor, and gives him vital leads that help break open the investigation into the Madrid train bombings on March 11 (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). He mentions that Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino,” was a key member of the bomb plot. [Irujo, 2005, pp. 343-348] Then, according to phone transcripts, on March 17, 2004, he calls Victor again and correctly tells him the exact street where Ahmidan lives. Zouhier gives further details about what Ahmidan looks like, his car, his family, and so on. Seemingly, the police have enough information to find Ahmidan, but they do not attempt to go to his house. Nine days later, they will talk to Ahmidan’s wife and find out that he was there on March 17 and all the next day. Then, on the March 19, Ahmidan goes to the farm house he is renting where the bombs were built, which the police have yet to search (see March 18-26, 2004). After that, he goes to an apartment in the nearby town of Leganes, where most of the rest of the suspects are staying. So if police would have pursued the lead and then trailed Ahmidan, they would have been led to nearly all the main suspects. [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/3/2006] Police will arrest Zouhier on March 19 for not telling them more about the plot, and sooner. [El Mundo (Madrid), 4/9/2007] He will eventually be convicted and sentenced to more than 10 years in prison. [MSNBC, 10/31/2007]
Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, advises White House counsel Alberto Gonzales in a classified memo that several “classes” of people are not given “protected” status if captured as hostiles in Iraq. Those people include: US citizens, citizens of a state not bound by the Geneva Conventions, citizens of a “belligerent State,” and members of al-Qaeda who are not Iraqi citizens or permanent Iraqi residents. The memo will be made public on January 9, 2009. [US Department of Justice, 3/18/2004 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
Emilio Suarez Trashorras, a police informant, is questioned about the Madrid train bombings that took place one week before (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). The previous day, another informant named Rafa Zouhier spoke to police and named Trashorras, Jamal Ahmidan, and others as key figures in the purchase of the explosives used in the bombings (see March 17, 2004). Trashorras and Zouhier allegedly did not tell their handlers about the explosives purchase before the bombings, so they are both arrested and eventually convicted for roles in the bombings (see October 31, 2007). Trashorras confesses much information to the police, including the role of Ahmidan and the fact that the bombs were built in a farm house Ahmidan is renting in the nearby town of Morata. Police already are aware of the house because some of the Madrid bombings suspects were monitored meeting there in 2002 and 2003 (see October 2002-June 2003), but it has not been searched since the bombings. By chance, on March 19, Ahmidan returns to the Morata house and has dinner there with his family. However, police still have not acted on Trashorras’s tip and gone to the house, so they miss Ahmidan. Also on March 19, police publicly announce the arrest of Trashorras, causing Ahmidan to finally go into hiding (see March 19, 2004). He goes to the bombers’ hideout in the town of Leganes, which could have led police to most of the other bombers. Hamid Ahmidan, Jamal Ahmidan’s cousin, answers questions about the house to police on March 21 and reveals that many of the bombers were there just before the bombing. But remarkably, police do not search the house until March 26. By that time, Ahmidan and the other bombers who lived there are no longer there. [El Mundo (Madrid), 2/12/2006; El Mundo (Madrid), 9/18/2006; El Mundo (Madrid), 3/25/2008] Ahmidan and many of the other key bomb suspects allegedly blow themselves up in Leganes in early April (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004).
Tahir Yuldashev. [Source: Corbis Reuters]In mid-March 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Pakistan. He reportedly gives Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf an ultimatum: either Pakistan attacks the al-Qaeda safe haven in the South Waziristan tribal region, or the US will. On March 16, hundreds of Frontier Corps soldiers surround a compound in the village of Kalosha, a few miles from the capital of South Waziristan. Apparently, they are looking for Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al-Qaeda-linked militant group based in nearby Uzbekistan. But the poorly trained Frontier Corps local militia have walked into a trap, and are badly defeated by about 2,000 al-Qaeda, Taliban, and IMU militants who greatly outnumber them. Yuldashev escapes.
Escalation - Ali Jan Orakzai, the regional commander of the Pakistani army, immediately rushes in eight thousand regular troops in an effort to save the situation. For the next two weeks, heavy fighting rages in South Waziristan. Helicopter gunships, fighter bombers, and heavy artillery are brought in to help defeat the militants, but the militants have heavy weapons as well and command the heights in extremely difficult mountainous terrain. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 270-271]
Al-Zawahiri Supposedly Surrounded - On March 18, Musharraf boasts on CNN that a “high-value target” has been surrounded, and suggests that it could be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. He claims that 200 well-armed al-Qaeda fighters are protecting him. [CNN, 3/18/2004; FOX News, 3/18/2004] On March 19, Pakistani officials say that al-Zawahiri has escaped the South Waziristan village where he was supposedly surrounded. [Interactive Investor, 3/19/2004] In all likelihood, al-Zawahiri was never there, but was used as an excuse to justify the debacle.
Al-Qaeda Victorious - Heavy fighting continues for the next several weeks. Musharraf eventually orders local commanders to strike a deal with the militants to end the fighting. The fighting finally ends on April 24, when the Pakistani government signs an agreement with the militants, pardoning their leaders. The government claims that 46 of its soldiers were killed, while 63 militants were killed and another 166 were captured. But privately, army officers admit that their losses were close to 200 soldiers killed. US officials monitoring the fighting will later admit that the army attack was a disaster, resulting from poor planning and a near total lack of coordination. Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid will later comment: “But there were deeper suspicions. The ISI had held meetings with the militants and possessed detailed information about the enemy’s numbers and armaments, but this intelligence did not seem to have been conveyed to the Frontier Corps. Western officers in [Afghanistan and Pakistan] wondered if the failed attack was due to a lack of coordination or was deliberate.” Orakzai, the army commander in charge of the offensive, reportedly intensely hates the US and has sympathy for the Taliban (see Late 2002-Late 2003). But there is no internal inquiry, even though many soldiers deserted or refused to fire on the militants. Nek Mohammed, a native local militant leader, emerges as a hero (see April 24-June 18, 2004). [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2006; Rashid, 2008, pp. 270-271]
Entity Tags: Pervez Musharraf, Pakistani Army, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Tahir Yuldashev, Taliban, George W. Bush, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Al-Qaeda, Ali Jan Orakzai, Nek Mohammed, Colin Powell, Frontier Corps, Ayman al-Zawahiri
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Mohamed Haddad. [Source: Public domain]Days after the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), multiple witnesses identify a Moroccan named Mohamed Haddad as one of the bombers. For instance, two witnesses claim to have seen him carrying a backpack on the day of the bombing near one of the bomb sites while in the company of two of the other bombers. Further, Haddad has many links to the other arrested bombers. For instance, he was arrested with two of the other bombers in Turkey in 2000 and then let go (see October 10, 2000). Haddad is arrested in Morocco on March 18, but then is soon released. Strangely, the Moroccan government allows him to continue to live in the Moroccan town of Tetouan, but do not allow him to travel or speak to any journalists. Also, Spanish authorities are not allowed to question him. The Madrid newspaper El Mundo will report on this unusual arrangement in September 2004. In August 2005, El Mundo will report that the situation is essentially unchanged. They will comment, “It has not been explained how the Moroccan police, who had arrested thousands of people for militant ties after the 2003 Casablanca bombings (see May 16, 2003), sometimes on scant evidence, leave a suspect at large who could not even prove where he was on the day of the train bombings.” The newspaper will also note that the Spanish government has not indicted Haddad. The article will conclude by asking, “How can it be a man like Haddad has not yet been charged?” [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/14/2004; El Mundo (Madrid), 8/1/2005] El Mundo will conclude that this “would mean that Haddad was an informer of [Moroccan intelligence] in Spain or that he knows things that the Moroccans do not want the Spaniards to know.” [El Mundo (Madrid), 1/19/2005]
After the Madrid train bombings on March 11, 2004 (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), many of the suspected bombers remain in Spain and do not attempt to go into hiding, even though it was publicly announced that one of their associates, Jamal Zougam, was arrested on March 13 (see 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). For instance, Jamal Ahmidan, a figure linked to the two main groups involved in the bombings - the Islamist militants and the drug dealers who helped procure the explosives - remains with his wife and family. Sometimes he goes to a farm house he is renting in the town of Morata near Madrid, where investigators later determine the bombers built the bombs. Beginning on March 17, Spanish police are given evidence tying Ahmidan to the bombings and details about where he lived (see March 17, 2004). On March 18, a police informant named Emilio Suarez Trashorras is questioned and gives the exact location of Ahmidan’s farm house (see March 18-26, 2004). But rather than go to the house, police decide Trashorras is part of the bombings plot since he did not tell his handlers about selling explosives to Ahmidan. They arrest him and publicly announce his arrest the next day, March 19. Ahmidan’s wife Rosa will later explain that she is watching television with Jamal at the farm house when Trashorras’s arrest is announced. Hours earlier, Jamal had actually gone to the Civil Guard near the farm and reported that some goats he owns had been stolen. He immediately goes into hiding at an apartment in the nearby town of Leganes. Other bombers also find out about the arrest of Trashorras and go into hiding at the Leganes apartment as well. Police will not raid Ahmidan’s farm in Morata until March 26 (see March 18-26, 2004). [El Pais (Spain), 3/8/2007]
Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a classified memo to a number of general counsels: the State Department’s William Howard Taft IV, the Defense Department’s William Haynes, the White House’s chief counsel for national security John Bellinger, the CIA’s Scott Muller, and the White House’s Alberto Gonzales. The memo is a draft opinion that concludes the US government can withdraw “protected persons” (a classification of the Geneva Conventions) who are illegal aliens from Iraq to other countries to facilitate interrogation—in other words, the US can subject them to rendition. Goldsmith says the US can also rendition so-called “protective persons” who have not been accused of a crime and who are not illegal aliens in Iraq, as long as the custody is for a brief period. [US Department of Justice, 3/19/2004 ; Cross, 2005; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ] The memo correlates with another Justice Department memo rejecting “protected person” status for some who are detained by US forces in Iraq (see March 18, 2004).
As the US Defense Department launches Operation Mountain Storm (OMS—see March 13, 2004 and March 15, 2004), a major planner for the Afghan resistance reveals the insurgency’s counter-strategy in an “exclusive meeting” with Asia Times Online.
Coalition Vs. Resistance Plan - In his article, “Afghan offensive: Grand plans hits rugged reality,” Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times Online, describes the plan behind OMS: “US-led coalition forces would drive from inside Afghanistan into the last real sanctuary of the insurgents, and meet the Pakistani military driving from the opposite direction.” If the widely publicized operation were to go according to plan, Shahzad writes, “There would then be no safe place left to hide for the Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants, or, presumably, for Osama bin Laden himself.” However, according to the unnamed insurgent, the resistance has a plan of its own: to waylay US-led forces with a series of small-scale, local skirmishes and to divert Pakistani allies from joining the coalition’s new surge.
Afghan Resistance Leverages Tribal Loyalty and Harsh Landscape - The insurgent claims that tribes people, familiar with the increasingly forbidding territory, can exhaust their much stronger opposition through “a classic guerrilla strategy” designed by “foreign resistance fighters of Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Arab origin.” Hidden in a dizzying array of seemingly endless mountains, they can “regroup,” then emerge to carry out “hit and run” battles against coalition forces while under the protection of villagers loyal to their cause. In turn, according to Asia Times, these local tribes “are now the protectors of the Taliban and al-Quaeda fighters” ranged along and across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Pakistani Army De-Railed - Meanwhile, Pakistani troops are occupied in South Waziristan with Wazir tribes and their neighbors. And Asia Times reports that “the South Waziristan fighting has spread to other areas,” flaring up in North Waziristan, for instance, where recently an attack on the Pakistani army resulted in the death of an officer and his soldiers. Effectively, the insurgency has stopped Pakistan from helping the US clean out “remnants” of its opposition, while more guerrilla fighters join in. This, in only the first week of the official launch of OMS.
Based on his interview with the opposition strategist, Shahzad concludes that, thus far, “the operation that began as a hunt for Osama bin Laden has already degenerated into sideshows against rebel Pakistani tribes people.” [Asia Times Online, 3/20/2004]
Critics Point Finger at US Defense Secretary for Poor Planning - Later, critics of the US military strategy in Afghanistan will cite numerous problems in the design and conception of OMS. Some will blame the high-profile death of Pat Tillman while on patrol for OMS, or on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s flawed strategy, one designed to boast quick results so as to help re-elect President George Bush in the upcoming November 2004 elections (see March 15, 2004).
Philip Zelikow. [Source: Miller Center]The 9/11 Family Steering Committee and 9/11 Citizens Watch demand the resignation of Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission. The demand comes shortly after former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke told the New York Times that Zelikow was present when he gave briefings on the threat posed by al-Qaeda to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from December 2000 to January 2001. The Family Steering Committee, a group of 9/11 victims’ relatives, writes: “It is clear that [Zelikow] should never have been permitted to be a member of the Commission, since it is the mandate of the Commission to identify the source of failures. It is now apparent why there has been so little effort to assign individual culpability. We now can see that trail would lead directly to the staff director himself.” Zelikow has been interviewed by his own Commission because of his role during the transition period. But a spokesman for the Commission claims that having Zelikow recluse himself from certain topics is enough to avoid any conflicts of interest. [New York Times, 3/20/2004; United Press International, 3/23/2004] 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean defends Zelikow on NBC’s Meet the Press, calling him “one of the best experts on terrorism in the whole area of intelligence in the entire country” and “the best possible person we could have found for the job.” [NBC, 4/4/2004] Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton adds, “I found no evidence of a conflict of interest of any kind.” Author Philip Shenon will comment: “If there had been any lingering doubt that Zelikow would survive as executive director until the end of the investigation, Kean and Hamilton had put it to rest with their statements of support… on national television. Zelikow would remain in charge.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 263] However, Salon points out that the “long list” of Zelikow’s writings “includes only one article focused on terrorism,” and he appears to have written nothing about al-Qaeda. [Salon, 4/6/2004]
Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, Thomas Kean, Philip Shenon, Richard A. Clarke, Lee Hamilton, Al-Qaeda, 9/11 Commission, 9/11 Citizens Watch, Condoleezza Rice, 9/11 Family Steering Committee
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Lawyers make their opening statements in the trial of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see March 1, 2004), charged with 161 counts of first-degree murder in the bombing. Nichols is already serving a life sentence from a conviction in federal court (see December 23, 1997). Assistant District Attorney Lou Keel calls Nichols and executed Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001) “partners in terror,” and tells of a plethora of evidence joining the two in the conspiracy to destroy the Murrah Federal Building (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Lead defense lawyer Brian T. Hermanson says that Nichols was the victim of “manipulation” and “betrayal” by his friend McVeigh. The prosecution seems to be following a similar path as that taken in Nichols’s federal trial, but Nichols’s defense is trying to raise new doubts about others possibly involved in the conspiracy (see March 16, 2004), including questioning the existence and identity of the infamous “John Doe No. 2,” a purported fellow conspirator who was never caught and whom the FBI has said never existed (see April 20, 1995, April 21, 1995, April 29, 1995, and June 14, 1995).
Judge Lashes Prosecution for 'Inexcusable Conduct' - Judge Steven Taylor excoriates the prosecution for its “inexcusable conduct” in withholding an impropriety in jury selection, saying that the impropriety might cause a mistrial later in the case. Taylor says the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office failed to inform the court until the jury was already chosen that among the 12 jurors and six alternates were three relatives of a prosecutor with local roots who had worked on jury selection. “The court cannot imagine why the prosecutors affirmatively chose not to reveal this information during the jury selection,” Taylor says, blaming prosecutor George Burnett for the lapse. Burnett, Taylor says, knew in early March that he was related to three or four people in the 357-member jury pool, but continued to participate in the process of jury selection that included three of his relatives. At that point, Burnett told his fellow prosecutors, but no one told Taylor until March 12, the day after the jury was selected and the process closed. The jurors bear no blame in the matter, Taylor says. He dismissed the three jurors in question, leaving only three alternates. If the jurors should fall below the requisite dozen, he warns, “the trial will not end in a mistrial, it will end in a dismissal with prejudice,” meaning Nichols cannot be retried on the charges. Prosecutors do not respond in court to Taylor’s admonishment, and say nothing to reporters, as Taylor has barred both sides from speaking to reporters about the case. [New York Times, 3/23/2004]
A video still of Nick Berg being tormented by his captors in Iraq. [Source: Reuters]A video of US citizen Nick Berg being beheaded in Iraq is made public and causes widespread horror and outrage around the world. Berg had been working in Iraq with private companies installing communications towers. On March 24, 2004, he is taken into custody. Berg’s family is sent e-mails confirming that he is in US custody (however, US officials will later claim they were erroneously notified and he was in Iraqi government custody instead). The official reasons for his arrest are “lack of documentation” and “suspicious activities.” Regardless of who is holding him, it is not disputed that he is visited three times by the FBI while being held. On April 5, the Berg family launches an action against the US military for false imprisonment, and the next day Berg is released. Berg stays in a hotel in Baghdad for the next few days, and tells a hotel guest that he had been held in a jail with US soldiers as guards. His family last hears of him on April 9, when he tells them he is going to try to leave Iraq. Then, nearly a month later on May 8, his headless body is found dumped on a Baghdad roadside. Three days after that, on May 11, the video of his beheading is broadcast. [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004; National Public Radio, 8/14/2004] The video shows five masked men taunting and then beheading Berg, and one of them claims to be Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Two days later, a CIA official says, “After the intelligence community conducted a technical analysis of the… video, the CIA assesses with high probability that the speaker on the tape is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and that person is shown decapitating American citizen Nicholas Berg.” [BBC, 5/13/2004] However, many doubts about the video and the identity of al-Zarqawi surface:
Berg is seen wearing an orange jumpsuit typically worn by detainees in US custody. At the start of the video, he speaks directly to the camera in a relaxed way. The Sydney Morning Herald will later comment, “It is highly likely that this segment is edited from the interrogation of Berg during his 13 days of custody.”
Then the video cuts to scenes including the five masked men. But their Arabic is heavily accented in Russian, Jordanian, and Egyptian. One says “do it quickly” in Russian. A voice also seems to ask in English, “How will it be done?” Glimpses of their skin look white. [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
The masked man identified as al-Zarqawi does not speak with a Jordanian accent even though al-Zarqawi is Jordanian. CNN staff familiar with al-Zarqawi’s voice claim the voice does not sound like his. [CNN, 5/12/2004; Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
Berg is then decapitated, but there is very little blood. Dr John Simpson, executive director for surgical affairs at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, says, “I would have thought that all the people in the vicinity would have been covered in blood, in a matter of seconds… if it [the video] was genuine.” Forensic death expert Jon Nordby of the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators suggests that the beheading was staged and Berg was already dead. He also suggests that Berg appears to be heavily drugged in earlier parts of the video. [Asia Times, 5/22/2004] The Herald comments, “The scream is wildly out of sync, sounds female, and is obviously dubbed.” [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
Al-Zarqawi is the one shown cutting Berg’s throat with a knife, and uses his right hand to do so. But people who spent time in prison with al-Zarqawi and knew him well claim that he was left handed. [New York Times, 7/13/2004]
The timing of the video also raises suspicions, as it is broadcast just two weeks after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal is exposed, and the shock of the beheadings cause some to claim a moral relativism to justify the US military’s abusive behavior towards detainees. [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
Strangely, Al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui somehow used Berg’s e-mail account years before in Oklahoma (see Autumn 1999). US officials call this “a total coincidence.”
The London Times comments that “The CIA’s insistence that al-Zarqawi was responsible appears based on the scantiest of evidence.… Sound experts have speculated that the voice might have been dubbed on.” Further, “There are discrepancies in the times on the video frames.” [London Times, 5/23/2004]
No autopsy is performed on Berg’s body, nor is there any determination of the time of his death. [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
No proper investigation of the circumstances surrounding his death is ever conducted. For instance, the US military will tell Berg’s family that they could find no evidence of Berg’s last days in a Baghdad hotel and that no Westerner stayed in that hotel for weeks. But the Washington Post was able to get a copy of the hotel register with Berg’s name on it, along with the date of his checkout, a list of the things he left in his room, and the exact words he said as he left the hotel. [National Public Radio, 8/14/2004]
It will later be reported that the US military was conducting a propaganda campaign to inflate the importance of al-Zarqawi (see April 10, 2006), but it is unknown if Berg’s death was somehow related to this campaign.
Spanish police raid the apartment of Mouhannad Almallah, an Islamist militant suspected of involvement in the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). The apartment is owned by his brother, Moutaz Almallah. Mouhannad is arrested, but Moutaz is not, since he has been living in Britain since 2002 (see August 2002). Police also raid another apartment on Virgen del Coro street in Madrid owned by Moutaz, where several other bombing suspects, Basel Ghalyoun and Fouad el Morabit, have lived.
Years of Surveillance - It is surprising police took so long to raid either apartment, since the Almallah brothers have been suspected militants for many years. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/2/2005] Moutaz was considered the closest assistant to Barakas Yarkas, long-time head of an al-Qaeda cell in Madrid, and it appears he was monitored since 1995 because of his ties to Yarkas (see November 13, 2001). He also is known to have lived with the al-Qaeda-linked imam Abu Qatada in London in 2002 (see August 2002). Curiously, a police officer later suspected of a role in the Madrid bombings sold Moutaz an apartment in 1995 and then remained friends with him (see November 1995). [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/2/2005; BBC, 3/24/2005]
Wife's Tips Do Not Lead to Arrests - Mouhannad had been a suspect since 1998, when it was discovered that another member of Yarkas’s cell had filed a false document using Mouhannad’s name. Furthermore, in January 2003 Mouhannad’s estranged wife began informing against him and his militant associates (see February 12, 2003 and January 4, 2003). She exposed the brothers’ connections to many suspect militants, including Jamal Zougam, who was arrested just two days after the Madrid bombings (see 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). As a result of her tips, police had monitored the Virgen del Coro apartment for a year and were still monitoring it when the Madrid bombings took place (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004). Mouhannad’s wife spoke to police five days after the bombings, reminding them of the link between Mouhannad and Zougam, so it is unclear why police waited 13 days to raid the Virgen del Coro apartment. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/2/2005]
Let Go Despite Confessing Knowledge of Attack Plans - Mouhannad is finally arrested because two witnesses saw Ghalyoun, one of the two militants living in the Virgen del Coro apartment, near the Madrid trains when they were bombed. Mouhannad admits knowing Zougam, the main suspect. He says he had gone to Zougam’s shop to buy a charger for his phone. He says he knows Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, another prime suspect in the Madrid bombings, and that in the summer of 2003 Fakhet had proposed several times to “rob banks and jewelers” to finance an attack in Spain. Fakhet even told him that he wanted to go into police stations and kill as many people as possible. The police are also aware that Mouhannad’s brother Moutaz and Fakhet were in telephone contact until at least a few days before the bombings. Yet incredibly, on March 30, Mouhannad is “provisionally released,” while still be accused of having a link to the bombings. He continues to live openly in Madrid and is not rearrested. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/2/2005; El Mundo (Madrid), 8/5/2005]
Possible Involvement in Planned New York Attack - In the apartment where Mouhannad had been living, police find a sketch of the Grand Central Station in New York with precise annotations, leading to suspicions that some militants in Spain were planning a New York attack. However, it will take investigators several months to analyze and understand the sketch, as it is on a computer disc and accompanied by highly specialized technical data. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/2/2005] He will be rearrested in Madrid on March 18, 2005, two weeks after it is widely reported that possible plans for a New York attack were found in his apartment. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/5/2005] In 2006, a Spanish police report will conclude that the Almallah brothers had such important roles in the Madrid bombings that the bombings “possibly would not have occurred” without them. [Reuters, 3/8/2007] Mouhannad will eventually be sentenced to 12 years in prison (see March 18-19, 2005).
National Security Council spokesman Jim Wilkinson engages in rather unusual tactics against former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, in response to Clarke’s recent criticisms of the Bush administration’s lack of preparation for the 9/11 attacks (see March 22, 2004 and March 24, 2004). Wilkinson is abetted by CNN news anchor Wolf Blitzer.
'X-Files Stuff' - In the CNN studio, Wilkinson twists a passage from Clarke’s book Against All Enemies, saying: “He’s talking about how he sits back and visualizes chanting by bin Laden and how bin Laden has some sort of mind control over US officials. This is sort of ‘X-Files’ stuff.” [CNN, 3/30/2004] (The precise quote, as reported by the New York Times’s Paul Krugman, is: “Bush handed that enemy precisely what it wanted and needed.… It was as if Osama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush.” Krugman writes: “That’s not ‘X-Files stuff’: it’s a literary device, meant to emphasize just how ill conceived our policy is. Mr. Blitzer should be telling Mr. Wilkinson to apologize, not rerunning those comments in his own defense.”) [New York Times, 4/2/2004]
'Weird Aspects in His Life' - For his part, Blitzer later says in a question to CNN’s John King: “What administration officials have been saying since the weekend, basically that Richard Clarke from their vantage point was a disgruntled former government official, angry because he didn’t get a certain promotion. He’s got a hot new book out now that he wants to promote. He wants to make a few bucks, and that his own personal life, they’re also suggesting that there are some weird aspects in his life as well, that they don’t know what made this guy come forward and make these accusations against the president.”
CNN Clarification - Blitzer’s use of innuendo (“weird aspects in his life”) from unnamed administration sources causes enough of a backlash that Blitzer issues a “clarification” of his remarks: “I was not referring to anything charged by so-called unnamed White House officials.… I was simply seeking to flesh out what Bush National Security Council spokesman Jim Wilkinson had said on this program two days earlier.… Other than that… White House officials were not talking about Clarke’s personal life in any way.” As author and media critic Frank Rich will point out, Blitzer’s clarification is disingenuous in his implicit denial that his administration sources were anonymous, when in fact they were not. [CNN, 3/30/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119] (Krugman, who blasted Blitzer in his column, responds to Blitzer’s clarification by writing, “Silly me: I ‘alleged’ that Mr. Blitzer said something because he actually said it, and described ‘so-called unnamed’ officials as unnamed because he didn’t name them.”) [New York Times, 4/2/2004] Blitzer eventually admits that his source was not multiple administration officials, but a single official (whom he refuses to name), and that the “weird aspects” of Clarke’s life were nothing more than his tendency to obsess over terrorist attack scenarios. [CNN, 3/30/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]
An unnamed senior Pentagon official tells Washington Times reporter Rowan Scarborough, “I hate to say this and would never say this in public, but 9/11 had its benefits. We never would have gone into Afghanistan and started this war [on terror] without it. There just was not the national will.” [Scarborough, 2004, pp. iii] Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has repeatedly referred to the Sultan of Oman similarly telling him that 9/11 was a “blessing in disguise” (see February 14, 2003-June 4, 2004). As early as the evening of 9/11, President Bush had referred to the political situation due to the attacks as a “great opportunity” (see (Between 9:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001).
Police have concluded that Jamal Ahmidan, alias “El Chino,” is one of the main suspects in the March 11, 2004, Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). On March 25, Ahmidan’s wife Rosa begins fully cooperating with police. Two days later, someone calls her from the the telephone number 629247179. That same day, someone calls a man named Othman El Gnaoui from the same number. El Gnaoui is a close associate of Ahmidan. The same phone number is used to call the mobile phone number of a man named Abdelkader Kounjaa four times three days later. He is the brother of Abdennabi Kounjaa, one of the bombers hiding out with many of the other bombers in an apartment in the town of Leganes by this date (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). The police will later tell the judge in the Madrid bombings trial that the person using this phone to make all these calls was Ahmidan. But in fact, in 2005 the judge will learn from the phone company that the phone number actually belongs to the national police. Ahmidan’s wife Rosa will later say she does not remember who called her, and phone records show the call to her lasted less than a minute. These calls have never been explained, but they suggest the police knew where some of the suspects were hiding, took no action against them, and then tried to cover this up. [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/23/2007] Curiously, one day after the bombings, police stopped tapping the phones of Ahmidan and El Gnaoui even though evidence linked Ahmidan to the main suspect in the bombings that same day (see March 12, 2004). El Gnaoui will be arrested on March 30 and sentenced to life in prison for a role in the bombings (see March 30-31, 2004). [MSNBC, 10/31/2007]
Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, lambasted by Bush administration supporters (see March 24, 2004) for his criticism of the administration’s foreign policies (see March 21, 2004 and March 24, 2004), counters some of that criticism by noting that when he resigned from the administration a year earlier, he was highly praised by President Bush (see January 31, 2003).
Differing Characterizations from Administration - On Meet the Press, Clarke reads aloud the handwritten note from Bush that lauds his service, telling host Tim Russert: “This is his writing. This is the president of the United States’ writing. And when they’re engaged in character assassination of me, let’s just remember that on January 31, 2003: ‘Dear Dick, you will be missed. You served our nation with distinction and honor. You have left a positive mark on our government.’ This is not the normal typewritten letter that everybody gets. This is the president’s handwriting. He thinks I served with distinction and honor. The rest of his staff is out there trying to destroy my professional life, trying to destroy my reputation, because I had the temerity to suggest that a policy issue should be discussed. What is the role of the war on terror vis-a-vis the war in Iraq? Did the war in Iraq really hurt the war on terror? Because I suggest we should have a debate on that, I am now being the victim of a taxpayer-paid—because all these people work for the government—character assassination campaign.”
Never Briefed Bush on Terrorism - Clarke also notes that the letter proves he never briefed Bush on terrorism because he was not allowed to provide such a briefing (see Early January 2001). He tells Russert: “You know, they’re saying now that when I was afforded the opportunity to talk to him about cybersecurity, it was my choice. I could have talked about terrorism or cybersecurity. That’s not true. I asked in January to brief him, the president, on terrorism, to give him the same briefing I had given Vice President Cheney, Colin Powell, and [Condoleezza] Rice. And I was told, ‘You can’t do that briefing, Dick, until after the policy development process.’” [MSNBC, 3/28/2004; Salon, 3/29/2004]
Administration Should Declassifiy August 2002 Briefing - Clarke also calls on the administration to declassify “all six hours” of the briefing he gave to top officials in August 2002 about the impending threat of a terrorist attack (see August 22, 2002). The administration has selectively declassified material from that briefing to impugn Clarke’s honesty and integrity. “I would welcome it being declassified,” Clarke says. “But not just a little line here and there—let’s declassify all six hours of my testimony.” He also asks that the administration declassify the strategy reports from 2001 that he authored, and all of his e-mails between January 2001 and September 2001, to prove that the charges laid against him by the administration are false. He calls on the White House to end what he calls the “vicious personal attacks” and “character assassination,” and focus on issues. “The issue is not about me,” he tells a CNN reporter. “The issue is about the president’s performance in the war on terrorism.” [MSNBC, 3/28/2004; CNN, 3/28/2004]
A report by the inspector general of the US Army’s Combined/Joint Task Force 180 in Bagram, Afghanistan, finds numerous problems with detainee treatment at Bagram and other facilities. The problems include a lack of training and oversight on acceptable interrogation techniques (see July 2002). According to the report, “Army doctrine simply does not exist” at the base, and detainees are not afforded “with the privileges associated with enemy or prisoner of war status” or the Geneva Conventions. The memoranda will be released to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2006 (see January 12, 2006). [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/12/2006]
Shehzad Tanweer (left) and Mohammad Sidique Khan (right) monitored at the Toddington Services gas station on February 2, 2004. [Source: Metropolitan Police]On March 29, 2004, 18 men suspected of involvement in an al-Qaeda linked fertilizer bomb plot are arrested in raids across Britain. Five of them, including head bomber Omar Khyam, will later be convicted and sentenced to life in prison for roles in the plot (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). Dozens more have been monitored in recent months as part of Operation Crevice, the effort by the British intelligence agency MI5 to foil the plot. Of those not arrested, 15 are classified as “essential targets” deserving heavy surveillance. An additional 40 are classified as “desirables,” with a lower level of surveillance. Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, future suicide bombers in the 7/7 London bombings, are both placed in the “desirables” group. Khan and Tanweer had been monitored repeatedly meeting and talking on the phone with head bomber Khyam. Khan was overheard saying incriminating things, like how he might hold up a British bank with a shotgun (see February 2-March 23, 2004). Incredibly, he was even recorded discussing how to build a bomb, his desire to leave Britain after the bomb went off, plans to wage jihad (holy war), and plans to attend al-Qaeda training camps in Pakistan (see May 13-14, 2006). But within weeks of the arrests of Khyam and the others, MI5 is distracted by another big surveillance operation focusing on Dhiren Barot, who is considered an important al-Qaeda leader living in Britain. As a result, the remaining Operation Crevice suspects are given lower priority and in fact Khan and Tanweer allegedly are not monitored at all. Additionally, even though MI5 knows the exact address where Khan lives, local police forces (which are not distracted by the Barot case) are not told that there are potential terrorism suspects who should be monitored. [London Times, 5/1/2007] Investigators will gather information about Khan’s car registration briefly in early 2005 and will learn his full name if they do not know it already, but it seems this will not lead to any more surveillance (see January 27-February 3, 2005). Apparently, Khan is also linked to Barot in some way, yet he is not arrested at the same time Barot and others are in August 2004, and he and the other 7/7 bombers still are not monitored after that (see August 3, 2004). As of 2007, only one of the 15 “essential targets” will be jailed for terrorism-related activity. [Associated Press, 4/30/2007]
On March 30, 2004, Madrid train bombings suspect Othman El Gnaoui is arrested in Spain (he will later be sentenced to life in prison, see October 31, 2007). The next day, the Spanish government finally issues the first international arrest warrants for the bombings. It also publicly names six of the top suspects and releases photographs of them. The named suspects are: Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, Said Berraj, Jamal Ahmidan (alias “El Chino”), Abdennabi Kounjaa, and the brothers Rachid Oulad Akcha and Mohammed Oulad Akcha. [CNN, 4/1/2004; CNN, 4/2/2004] Jamal Zougam was arrested on March 13 (see 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). Over the next weeks, more arrests were made. By the end of March, almost 20 suspects have been arrested. But strangely, there appears to be no effort to arrest the main suspects like the six mentioned above, who generally continued to live openly in Spain after the bombings. However, they were aware of the arrest of their associates and by the end of March most of them have gone into hiding, renting an apartment together in the town of Leganes. [Irujo, 2005; Vidino, 2006, pp. 302] Even by the end of the month, authorities appear uncertain about whom to arrest. For instance, on March 30, Fouad El Morabit is arrested, then released, then arrested again. Then he is released again the next day, only to be arrested yet again later. He will eventually be sentenced to 12 years for a role in the bombings (see October 31, 2007). [CNN, 4/1/2004; CNN, 4/2/2004] Other likely suspects such as Allekema Lamari and Abdelmajid Boucher have not been charged or questioned at all by the end of March. All of this is strange, because Spanish intelligence has been monitoring all of the above mentioned people and their associates for at least a year before the bombings, sometimes more, and their phone numbers and addresses are known. When Zougam was arrested on March 13, investigators found he had called many of those mentioned above in the days before the bombings, which seemingly would have been grounds for their arrest or questioning. Adding to the strange situation, most of these suspects continued to live normal lives for many days after the bombings, which would have made their arrests easy. For instance, Ahmidan continued to live with his wife and children until March 19 (see March 17, 2004). He even continued to use his monitored cell phone, visited bars, and talked to neighbors. [El Mundo (Madrid), 2/12/2006] On April 2, the Madrid bombers apparently will try to bomb another train (see 11:00 a.m., April 2, 2004). One day after that, seven of the bombers, including Fakhet, Ahmidan, Kounjaa, and the Akcha brothers, apparently blow themselves up after a shootout with police (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). Berraj is a government informant despite being listed as a wanted man (see 2003), and will never be charged in the bombings.
Future 7/7 London bomber Shehzad Tanweer is questioned by police over a murder in Leeds, but no charges are brought against him. The victim, a mixed-race 16-year-old named Tyrone Clarke, was apparently involved in gang warfare. He was cornered by a group of up to 20 Asian youths, who beat him with baseball bats and metal poles, as well as stabbing him three times. Tanweer was seen with the attackers that evening, but there is no proof he was involved in the actual murder. Four of the youths are later identified and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 273]
An attempted raid is made on al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi in Abbottabad, Pakistan, as Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will describe in a 2006 memoir. Pakistani forces have arrested one of al-Libbi’s couriers, and found out from him that al-Libbi has just rented a house in Abbottabad. Pakistani forces raid the house, but al-Libbi is not there. They will later determine he was using three houses in Abbottabad and they raided the wrong one. [Musharraf, 2006, pp. 210-211] Al-Libbi will be captured in Pakistan a year later (see May 2, 2005). Osama bin Laden begins living in Abbottabad around late 2005 (see Late 2005-Early 2006). His trusted courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed already lives there in 2004 (see January 22, 2004-2005). (Note that US forces also attempt to catch al-Libbi in Abbottabad in 2004, but it is unclear if that raid is this one or a different one (see 2004).)
US Marines patrolling a Fallujah neighborhood. [Source: Stars and Stripes]The Christian Science Monitor examines the reasons why the Iraqi town of Fallujah is such an intransigent area of resistance to the US occupation (see April 28, 2003 and March 31, 2004). Some Americans, such as Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, blame the recalcitrance on the largely Sunni population of Fallujah and its environs, saying that they long for the return of Saddam Hussein to power. “This was a city that profited immeasurably… under the former regime,” Kimmitt says. “They have a view that somehow the harder they fight, the better chance they have of achieving some sort of restorationist movement.”
Simplistic Explanations Inaccurate - However, Iraqi experts on the region say the truth is far more complex. The area is inhabited by a deeply clannish network of tribes and groups, as is much of the so-called “Sunni Triangle.” To many of these inhabitants, personal honor and vengeance is more important than any possible return of the Hussein regime. The problem began in the days after the initial occupation of the area by the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, where, according to some experts knowledgeable about the situation, the residents felt dishonored and disrespected by their occupiers. “You can never forget that in this area retaliation is almost the fundamental element of the tribal system, its focal point,” says Sadoun al-Dulame, a Baghdad-based political scientist who grew up in the area as a member of the Dulame tribe. “This is a revenge culture where insults to people’s honor will always be repaid with violence.” The recent upsurge in violence in the area may also have something to do with the 82nd turning control of the region over to the Marines; area insurgents may be testing the new troops. Experts such as al-Dulame say that if Fallujah residents feel that their interests will be protected by a new government (likely to be dominated by the Sunnis’ ancient rivals, the Shi’a), then violence will lessen. But even the most optimistic estimates say that peace in the region is a year or more away.
Confluence of Factors - According to an analysis by Iraq expert Amatzia Baram, Fallujah has a large population of members of Hussein’s Albu Nasser tribe, and large numbers of ex-Iraqi Army and Iraqi intelligence personnel. Most of the Sunnis in the area are devoutly, rigidly religious, strongly influenced by the Salafy traditions of neighboring Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. Other hotbeds of violence such as Tikrit are influenced by Turkey and are less fundamentalist in their religious outlooks. “It’s gone beyond ‘you killed my cousin so I have to kill you,’” says Baram. “It’s about religion.” Worse for the Americans, there is a fundamental difference in the way the two cultures approach war. “If I kill someone from your tribe, I know another member of my tribe will definitely be killed,” Baram says. “But people in Fallujah have learned that when they kill Americans nothing much happens. They learned that the Americans have different values, and this makes killing an American less dangerous than killing someone from another tribe.” Experts such as Nadhim Jissour, another political scientist, say that even after US forces leave the region, Fallujah could still be an axis of resistance to a new Iraqi government. As for current US plans to escalate its presence in the region, these are likely to be less than effective. “If you hit the whole city, you will simply be expanding the circle of your opponents,” says al-Dulame. “There’s not much the Americans should do now but withdraw.” [Christian Science Monitor, 4/2/2004]
The Army issues a classified “Information Paper” entitled “Allegations of Detainee Abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan” that details the status of 62 investigations into prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and other sites in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cases documented in the paper include allegations of assaults, physical assaults, mock executions, sexual assaults, threatening to kill an Iraqi child to “send a message to other Iraqis,” stripping detainees, beating them and shocking them with a blasting device, throwing rocks at handcuffed Iraqi children, choking detainees with knots of their scarves, and interrogations at gunpoint. The document will be released to the public by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2006 (see May 2, 2006). Of the 62 cases, 26 involve detainee deaths. Some have already gone through courts-martial proceedings. The cases involve allegations from Abu Ghraib, Camp Cropper, Camp Bucca, and other sites in Mosul, Samarra, Baghdad, and Tikrit, and the Orgun-E facility in Afghanistan. [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/2/2006]
At 11:00 a.m. on April 2, 2004, a security guard notices a plastic bag next to train tracks forty miles south of Madrid. The bag contains 26 pounds of the same type of explosives used in the March 11 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). The explosives are connected to a detonator by 450 feet of cable, but they lack a triggering mechanism. The tracks are for a high-speed rail line, and if the bomb had derailed a train, it could have killed more people than the March 11 bombings did. Three days earlier, workers surprised a group of men digging a hole on a nearby section of the same rail line. It is suggested that the bombers fled prematurely both times. The next day, at 6:05 p.m., the Madrid newspaper receives a fax from Abu Dujan al-Afghani taking credit for the failed bomb. This same person (whose real name is Youssef Belhadj) took credit for the Madrid bombings and was linked to the actual bombers (see 7:30 p.m., March 13, 2004). He says the bomb is meant to show that the group can attack at any time, and demands that Spain withdraw all its troops from Iraq and Afghanistan immediately (the new prime minster has already pledged to withdraw Spain’s troops from Iraq (see March 14, 2004)). Curiously, the fax is sent right when the key Madrid bombers are in the middle of a gun battle with Spanish police. They are killed several hours later (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). [BBC, 3/4/2004; Irujo, 2005, pp. 349-260; Vidino, 2006, pp. 302-303]
Abdelkader Farssaoui, a.k.a. Cartagena, served as a government informant from late 2001 to June 2003, informing on a group of the Madrid train bombers, including mastermind Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet (see September 2002-October 2003). At 7:00 a.m. on April 3, 2004, about three weeks after the Madrid train bombing (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), Farssaoui is picked up by a police car where he is living in Almeria, Spain, and driven about 350 miles to Madrid. Around noon, he is taken to a meeting of police officers, some of whom he knows from his time as an informant.
Holed Up - He is told that Fakhet and many of the other bombers are holed up in an apartment in the nearby town of Leganes. A police chief named Guillermo Moreno asks him to visit them and find out exactly who is there. But Farssaoui is scared and refuses to go. He points out that he has not seen any of the bombers for almost a year, and if he suddenly shows up without explaining how he knew where they were hiding they will realize he is an informant and probably kill him. He overhears an agent of UCI, the Spanish intelligence agency, speaking about him on the phone, saying, “If this Moor talks, we are f_cked.” Farssaoui, a Moroccan, will reveal this under oath as a protected witness during the trial of the Madrid bombers in 2007. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/7/2007]
Contradiction - This testimony will directly contradict earlier testimony by police inspector Mariano Rayon (one of Farssaoui’s handlers), who will claim the police only learn that the bombers are holed up in the Leganes apartment between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m. that day. The police will surround and attack the apartment that evening, killing seven of the bombers inside (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). Farssaoui will say he is very glad he did not go into the apartment, because if he did, “there would be eight dead people,” not just seven. [Libertad Digital, 3/7/2007]
The March 2004 Madrid train bombings were not suicide bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), and most of the key bombers remain in Spain, holed up in an apartment in the town of Leganes, near Madrid. By April 3, 2004, Spanish police are tipped off about the general location of the apartment from monitoring cell phone calls. Agents from the Spanish intelligence agency, the UCI, arrive near the apartment around 2:00 p.m. The head of the UCI unit on the scene will later say that he is told around this time that the specific floor where the suspects are has been pinpointed through phone intercepts, but he will not recall who tells him this. At about 5:00 p.m., one of the suspected bombers, Abdelmajid Boucher, goes outside to throw away the trash. He spots the plainclothes agents surrounding the house and runs away. The agents pursue him but he gets away. Presumably, he soon calls the other men in the apartment to let them know the police are outside. A gunfight breaks out between the police and the men in the apartment. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/21/2007; El Mundo (Madrid), 3/21/2007] During the several hours of shooting, the bombers make a series of phone calls to relatives, telling them good-bye. They also allegedly somehow call radical imam Abu Qatada three times, even though he is being held in a maximum security prison in Britain, and get religious approval for their planned suicides (see Between 6:00 and 9:00 p.m., April 3, 2004). When police assault the apartment shortly after 9:00 p.m. that evening, the seven bombers still there are reportedly huddled together and blow themselves up (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). [New Yorker, 7/26/2004; Irujo, 2005, pp. 360-361] In late 2005, Boucher will be arrested while traveling through Serbia by train. He will be extradited to Spain and sentenced to 18 years in prison (see October 31, 2007). [Washington Post, 12/1/2005]
By about 6:00 p.m. on April 3, 2004, a group of seven suspects in the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) are trapped in an apartment in the town of Leganes near Madrid and are engaged in a shootout with the police force surrounding them (see 2:00-9:00 p.m., April 3, 2004). This group of Islamist militants is said to be inspired by radical imam Abu Qatada, who has been held in the Belmarsh high security prison in Britain since 2002 (see October 23, 2002). Spanish police will later claim that these suspects call Qatada three times during the shootout, seeking religious authorization to commit suicide since they have been cornered by police. UPI will comment, “Madrid police could not explain how the terrorists could telephone somebody supposedly in a British prison.” They also call people in Indonesia and Tunisia who are said to be linked to suspected terrorists. They receive the permission from Qatada. Then they purify themselves with holy water from Mecca and dress in white funeral shrouds made from the apartment’s curtains. [United Press International, 5/14/2004] The seven suspects allegedly blow themselves up when police start to raid their apartment shortly after 9:00 p.m. (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004).
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