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Context of 'January 1990: Al-Qaeda Operative El-Hage Linked to Murder of Liberal Imam in Arizona'

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Makhtab al-Khidamat offices in the US in the late 1980s. Some of the offices in fact were represented by single individuals.Makhtab al-Khidamat offices in the US in the late 1980s. Some of the offices in fact were represented by single individuals. [Source: National Geographic] (click image to enlarge)Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden’s mentor, makes repeated trips to the US and other countries, building up his Pakistan-based organization, Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK), or “Services Office” in English. It is also known as Al-Kifah, which means “struggle.” Azzam founded the Al-Kifah/MAK in 1984 (see Late 1984). Branches open in over 30 US cities, as Muslim-Americans donate millions of dollars to support the Afghan war against the Soviet Union. The most important branch, called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, opens in Brooklyn, New York (see 1986-1993). Azzam is assassinated in a car bomb attack in late 1989 (see November 24, 1989). Bin Laden soon takes over the organization, which effectively morphs into al-Qaeda. His followers take over the US offices and they become financial conduits for al-Qaeda operations. [Lance, 2003, pp. 40-41]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Maktab al-Khidamat, Al-Qaeda, Abdullah Azzam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Islamic Center of Tucson.Islamic Center of Tucson. [Source: Jacob Rader]In 1986, Maktab al-Khidamat (a.k.a. Al-Kifah), the precursor organization to al-Qaeda, opens its first branch in the US at the Islamic Center of Tucson, in Tucson, Arizona. Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz will later call the Islamic Center, “basically, the first cell of al-Qaeda in the United States; that is where it all started.” The organization’s journal, Al Jihad (Holy War), is initially distributed in the US from there. Other branches around the US soon follow (see 1985-1989). [New York Times, 6/19/2002]
bullet A number of important future al-Qaeda figures are connected to the Tucson branch in the 1980s and into the early 1990s, including:
bullet Mohammed Loay Bayazid, one of the founders of al-Qaeda two years later.
bullet Wael Hamza Julaidan, another founder of al-Qaeda, and a Saudi multimillionaire. He was president of the Islamic Center starting in 1983 and leaves the US around 1986.
bullet Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s future personal secretary, who will later be convicted for a role in the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). El-Hage is connected to the murder of a liberal imam at the rival mosque to the Islamic Center in 1990 (see January 1990).
bullet Mubarak al Duri, al-Qaeda’s chief agent attempting to purchase weapons of mass destruction. [Washington Post, 9/10/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 521]
Throughout the 1980s, the mosque provides money, support, and fighters to the mujaheddin fighting in Afghanistan. Around 1991, future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour will move to Arizona for the first time (see October 3, 1991-February 1992) and he will spend much of the rest of the decade in the state. He will briefly live in Tucson, but his ties to earlier al-Qaeda connections there remain elusive. [Washington Post, 9/10/2002]

Entity Tags: Rita Katz, Wadih El-Hage, Mohammed Loay Bayazid, Maktab al-Khidamat, Mubarak al Duri, Al-Qaeda, Hani Hanjour, Wael Hamza Julaidan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Dr. Rashad Khalifa in 1989.Dr. Rashad Khalifa in 1989. [Source: Public domain]Al-Qaeda operative Wadih el-Hage is linked to the killing of a liberal imam in Tucson, Arizona. Dr. Rashad Khalifa preaches at the Masjid Tucson. There is another mosque in Tucson, the Islamic Center, that is favored by radical Islamists, including al-Qaeda figures like el-Hage (see 1986). Many at the Islamic Center complain about Khalifa and his liberal views, such as allowing men and women to pray together. At some unknown later time, el-Hage will tell US investigators that in January 1990, he is visited by an unnamed, tall, bearded, Egyptian man who says that he has come from New York. This man says he has come to Tucson to investigate Khalifa. El-Hage serves the man lunch at his house while the man continues to angrily complain about Khalifa. El-Hage will tell investigators the man then leaves and he never sees him again. Later this month, on January 31, Khalifa is found murdered in the kitchen of his mosque. Investigators suspect the unnamed man was sent from New York by radical Islamists there. Osama bin Laden has a base of support at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in New York, and another base of support in Tucson. El-Hage will later tell investigators that he thought Khalifa’s murder was justified. Starting in 1991, the FBI will begin investigating El-Hage, and he will be implicated in the murder of Khalifa, but there is not enough evidence to charge him. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 45-46] However, he will be indicted for lying about his knowledge of the murder. He also says that the murder is a “good thing.” [CBS News, 10/21/2001] Later, seven people will be indicted in Colorado on charges of conspiracy to kill Khalifa. All seven are believed to be members of al-Fuqra, a Muslim extremist group based in Pakistan that has been tied to terrorist activities. Six will be convicted and the seventh will flee the country. However, none of the seven are thought to have committed the murder. In 2009, the prime suspect, Glen Cusford Francis, a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, will be arrested in Canada and charged with the murder. [Tucson Citizen, 4/29/2009]

Entity Tags: Al-Fuqra, Wadih El-Hage, Rashad Khalifa, Glen Cusford Francis

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Meir Kahane.Meir Kahane. [Source: Publicity photo]Egyptian-American El Sayyid Nosair assassinates controversial right-wing Zionist leader Rabbi Meir Kahane. Kahane’s organization, the Jewish Defense League, was linked to dozens of bombings and is ranked by the FBI as the most lethal domestic militant group in the US at the time. Nosair is captured after a police shoot-out. [Village Voice, 3/30/1993] Within hours, overwhelming evidence suggests that the assassination was a wide conspiracy but the US government will immediately declare that Nosair was a lone gunman and ignore the evidence suggesting otherwise (see November 5, 1990 and After). Nosair will later be acquitted of Kahane’s murder (though he will be convicted of lesser charges) as investigators continue to ignore most of the evidence in his case which links to a wider conspiracy (see December 7, 1991). Nosair is connected to al-Qaeda through his job at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, an al-Qaeda front (see 1986-1993). A portion of Nosair’s defense fund will be paid for by bin Laden, although this will not be discovered until some time later. [ABC News, 8/16/2002; Lance, 2003, pp. 34-37]

Entity Tags: Meir Kahane, Al-Qaeda, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, El Sayyid Nosair

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Around February 28, 1991, Mustafa Shalabi, head of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center’s main US office in Brooklyn, is murdered. Al-Kifah is a charity front with ties to both the CIA and al-Qaeda (see 1986-1993). Shalabi’s body is found in his house on March 1. He had been shot and stabbed multiple times and $100,000 was stolen. Shalabi is found with two red hairs in his hand, and the FBI soon suspects Mahmud Abouhalima, who is red-headed, for the murder. Abouhalima identified Shalabi’s body for the police, falsely claiming to be Shalabi’s brother. He will later be one of the 1993 WTC bombers. Shalabi had been having a growing public dispute with the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, over where to send the roughly one million dollars Al-Kifah was raising annually. Abdul-Rahman wanted some of the money to be used to overthrow the Egyptian government while Shalabi wanted to send all of it to Afghanistan. Shalabi had given up the fight and had already booked a flight to leave the US when he was killed. The murder is never solved. [Lance, 2003, pp. 49-52; Lance, 2006, pp. 65-66] Abdul Wali Zindani takes over as head of Al-Kifah and apparently will run the office until it closes shortly after the 1993 WTC bombing. He is nephew of Sheikh Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, a radical imam in Yemen with ties to bin Laden. Abdul-Rahman, also linked to bin Laden, increases his effective control over Al-Kifah and its money. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 82] Al-Kifah’s links to al-Qaeda were already strong before Shalabi’s death. But author Peter Lance will later comment that after his death, “Osama bin Laden had an effective al-Qaeda cell right in the middle of Brooklyn, New York. A tough look at the Shalabi murder might have ripped the lid off al-Qaeda years before the FBI ever heard of the network.” [Lance, 2003, pp. 52]

Entity Tags: Mahmud Abouhalima, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Abdul Wali Zindani, Mustafa Shalabi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Wadih El-Hage’s US passport. His face is overly dark due to a poor photocopy.Wadih El-Hage’s US passport. His face is overly dark due to a poor photocopy. [Source: US Justice Department] (click image to enlarge)The FBI begins to investigate Wadih El-Hage, who will soon work as bin Laden’s personal secretary. The FBI is investigating the February 1991 murder of Mustafa Shalabi (see (February 28, 1991)), the head of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, a charity with ties to both bin Laden and the CIA. El-Hage, a US citizen living in Texas, came to New York to briefly run Al-Kifah so Shalabi could take a trip overseas, and happened to arrive the same day that Shalabi was murdered. Investigators find a message from El-Hage on Shalabi’s answer machine. They learn El-Hage had been connected to the 1990 murder of a liberal imam in Tucson, Arizona (see January 1990). [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 148-149; Lance, 2006, pp. 67-68] Further, he visited El Sayyid Nosair, who assassinated Meir Kahane the year before (see November 5, 1990), in prison, and left his name in the visitor’s log. [Lance, 2003, pp. 50-51] However, the FBI decides there is not enough evidence to charge El-Hage with any crime. They lose track of him in early 1992, when he moves to Sudan and begins working there as bin Laden’s primary personal secretary. He will help bin Laden run many of his businesses, and will frequently take international trips on bin Laden’s behalf. [PBS Frontline, 4/1999; New York Times, 1/22/2000]

Entity Tags: El Sayyid Nosair, Mustafa Shalabi, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Wadih El-Hage

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A young Hani Hanjour.
A young Hani Hanjour. [Source: FBI]Future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour first arrives in the US on October 3, 1991. [US Congress, 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 520] Some media accounts have him entering the country in 1990. He apparently is the first hijacker to enter the US. [Time, 9/24/2001; Cox News Service, 10/15/2001; New York Times, 6/19/2002] He takes an English course in Tucson, Arizona until early 1992. There are some important al-Qaeda operatives currently living in Tucson. However, it is not known if Hanjour has contact with them at this time, or even when he first develops his radical militant beliefs. According to Hanjour’s eldest brother Abulrahman, Hani stays in Arizona for three months then returns to Saudi Arabia, where he spends the next five years managing his family’s lemon and date farm. [Washington Post, 10/15/2001] FBI Director Robert Mueller also reports his stay as lasting three months. [US Congress, 9/26/2002] However, the FBI tells one person that Hanjour may have stayed in the US for as long as 15 months. [Washington Post, 9/10/2002]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Hani Hanjour, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In January 1992, Wadih El-Hage is briefly arrested and detained by police in Arlington, Texas, for a traffic violation. Police records show the driver of the car is Marwan Salama. From late 1992 until about a month before the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993 (see February 26, 1993), more than two dozen calls were placed from phones used by the bombers to an Arlington number used by Salama. Salama is never charged with any crime and continues to live in the US at least through late 1998. [Dallas Morning News, 10/28/1998] Several months later, El-Hage moves to Sudan to work as bin Laden’s personal secretary. He registers his presence there with the US consulate. [Jacquard, 2002, pp. 80] US intelligence began investigating El-Hage in 1991 for links to both a murder and an assassination in the US (see March 1991), and in the summer of 1993 one of the WTC bombers reveals his links to El-Hage (see Summer 1993). Presumably, links can be drawn between the bombers and El-Hage working for bin Laden in Sudan, but it is unknown if that link is made.

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Marwan Salama

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The airplane that will be bought for bin Laden.The airplane that will be bought for bin Laden. [Source: Fox News]High-ranking al-Qaeda operative Wadih El-Hage contacts Essam al Ridi, a militant who had previously helped the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan (see Early 1983-Late 1984), to discuss buying a jet plane for Osama bin Laden. El Hage is at bin Laden’s base in Sudan, and al Ridi is in Texas, where he works as a flight instructor. The two men know each other from the 1980s, when they shipped equipment from the US to the mujaheddin in Afghanistan (see 1987 or 1988). The FBI has been aware of El-Hage’s terrorist connections for some time (see March 1991), and the CIA is monitoring bin Laden in Sudan (see February 1991- July 1992). There are “quite a few” communications, in which the two men discuss the price of the aircraft, the fact that the plane is for bin Laden, and the plane’s range. El-Hage says that the plane has to be able to fly 2,000 miles, as he and bin Laden want to use it to ship Stinger missiles from Peshawar, Pakistan, to Khartoum, Sudan, and al Ridi and El-Hage discuss the technicalities of shipping the missiles. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001] Bin Laden sends money for the plane to al Ridi in the US (see Between August 1992 and 1993), and al Ridi then buys the plane and flies it to Sudan (see Early 1993). It is unclear if these calls are monitored, although bin Laden is under surveillance by the US at this time (see Early 1990s and Early 1990s).

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Essam al Ridi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

By 1990, Arizona became one of the main centers in the US for radical Muslims, and it remains so through 9/11. A number of future al-Qaeda leaders live in Tucson, Arizona, in the early 1990s (see 1986). Around 1991, future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour moved to Arizona for the first time (see October 3, 1991-February 1992) and he will spend much of the rest of the decade in the state. The FBI apparently remains largely oblivious of Hanjour, though one FBI informant claims that by 1998 they “knew everything about the guy.” [New York Times, 6/19/2002; Washington Post, 9/10/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 521] In 1994, the Phoenix FBI office uncovers startling evidence connecting Arizona to radical Muslim militants. According to FBI agent James Hauswirth, they are told that a group of “heavy duty associates” of al-Qaeda leader Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman have arrived in the area, fleeing New York in the wake of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. They are in the area to train a recruit as a suicide bomber. The recruit apparently is an FBI informant. FBI agent Ken Williams, who will later author the July 2001 “Phoenix memo,” orders surveilance of the training. The informant is driven to a remote stretch of desert and instructed in how to use explosives. A device is thrown at a car, but it fails to explode. The FBI secretly videotapes the entire incident. One of the two men is later positively linked to Abdul-Rahman. But apparently the investigation into the people involved fails to make progress. Hauswirth later blames this on a lack of support from higher-ups in the Phoenix office, recalling, “The drug war was the big thing back then, and terrorism was way on the back burner.” Additionally, also in 1994, a key FBI informant will begin monitoring local radical militants (see October 1996). However, terrorism will remain a low priority for the Phoenix, Arizona, FBI office (see April 2000-June 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 5/26/2002; New York Times, 6/19/2002; Lance, 2003, pp. 209-210]

Entity Tags: James Hauswirth, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Hani Hanjour, Ken Williams

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In 1995, the FBI is given the CIA’s files on bin Laden, and they discover that the CIA has been conducting a vigorous investigation on Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s personal secretary and a US citizen (see October 1995). The FBI had already started investigating El-Hage in 1991 (see March 1991), and in 1993 they found out he had bought weapons for one of the 1993 WTC bombers (see Summer 1993). Thanks to the CIA files, the FBI learns that in early 1992 El-Hage moved to Sudan and worked there as bin Laden’s personal secretary. [PBS Frontline, 4/1999; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 148-149] Then, in 1994, he moved to Nairobi, Kenya, and officially started running a bogus charity there called “Help Africa People.” [PBS Frontline, 4/1999; CNN, 10/16/2001] In fact, El-Hage is running an al-Qaeda cell that will later carry out the 1998 African embassy bombings. He stays in close contact with top al-Qaeda leaders. [PBS Frontline, 4/1999] Apparently El-Hage is under US surveillance in Kenya, or at least people he is calling are under surveillance. For instance, a phone call between El-Hage in Kenya and Ali Mohamed in California is recorded in late 1994 (see Late 1994).and there are many calls recorded between El-Hage and bin Laden in Sudan. FBI agent Dan Coleman will analyze all this information about El-Hage and eventually supervise a raid on his Kenya house in 1997 (see August 21, 1997). [Wright, 2006, pp. 242-244]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Help Africa People, Dan Coleman, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Wadih El-Hage

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bombings of the Nairobi, Kenya, US embassy (left), and the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, US embassy (right).Bombings of the Nairobi, Kenya, US embassy (left), and the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, US embassy (right). [Source: Associated Press] (click image to enlarge)Two US embassies in Africa are bombed within minutes of each other. At 10:35, local time, a suicide car bomb attack in Nairobi, Kenya, kills 213 people, including 12 US nationals, and injures more than 4,500. Mohamed al-Owhali and someone known only as Azzam are the suicide bombers, but al-Owhali runs away at the last minute and survives. Four minutes later, a suicide car bomb attack in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, kills 11 and injures 85. The attacks are blamed on al-Qaeda. Hamden Khalif Allah Awad is the suicide bomber there. [PBS Frontline, 2001; United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38, 5/2/2001] The Tanzania death toll is low because, remarkably, the attack takes place on a national holiday so the US embassy there is closed. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 195] The attack shows al-Qaeda has a capability for simultaneous attacks. The Tanzania bombing appears to have been a late addition, as one of the arrested bombers allegedly told US agents that it was added to the plot only about 10 days in advance. [United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14, 3/7/2001] A third attack against the US embassy in Uganda does not take place due to a last minute delay (see August 7, 1998). [Associated Press, 9/25/1998] August 7, 1998, is the eighth anniversary of the arrival of US troops in Saudi Arabia, and some speculate that is the reason for the date of the bombings. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 46] In the 2002 book The Cell, reporters John Miller, Michael Stone, and Chris Miller will write, “What has become clear with time is that facets of the East Africa plot had been known beforehand to the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, and to Israeli and Kenyan intelligence services.… [N]o one can seriously argue that the horrors of August 7, 1998, couldn’t have been prevented.” They will also comment, “Inexplicable as the intelligence failure was, more baffling still was that al-Qaeda correctly presumed that a major attack could be carried out by a cell that US agents had already uncovered.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 195, 206] After 9/11, it will come to light that three of the alleged hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi, had some involvement in the bombings (see October 4, 2001, Late 1999, and 1993-1999) and that the US intelligence community was aware of this involvement by late 1999 (see December 15-31, 1999), if not before.

Entity Tags: Hamden Khalif Allah Awad, Mohamed al-Owhali, Salem Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Azzam, Al-Qaeda, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

FBI agent Jack Cloonan arrives in Sudan with several other FBI agents and is given permission by the Sudanese government to interview some al-Qaeda operatives living there. The interviews were conducted at safe houses arranged by Sudanese intelligence. Cloonan interviews Mubarak al Duri, an Iraqi. He lived in Tuscon, Arizona, in the late 1980s and early 1990s and was al-Qaeda’s chief agent attempting to purchase weapons of mass destruction (see 1986). Cloonan will later claim that al Duri and a second Iraqi al-Qaeda operative laughed when asked about possible bin Laden ties to Saddam Hussein’s government. “They said bin Laden hated Saddam.” Bin Laden considered Hussein “a Scotch-drinking, woman-chasing apostate.” Cloonan also interviews Mohammed Loay Bayazid, an American citizen and founding member of al-Qaeda (see August 11-20, 1988), who ran an al-Qaeda charity front in the US (see December 16, 1994). [Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2005] The CIA will interview them in 2002, but they apparently remain free in Sudan (see Mid-2002).

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, Mukhabarat (Sudan), Mohammed Loay Bayazid, Mubarak al Duri, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Jack Cloonan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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