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Context of 'March 2000-September 22, 2001: British Authorities Investigate Terrorist Fundraising Ring, Britain Used as Financial Base by Militants'

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Reda Hassaine, an informer for the Algerian (see Early 1995), French (see Early 1997), and British (see (November 11, 1998)) security services in London, witnesses a “multitude of illegal activities” at the radical Finsbury Park mosque. However, at this time the British authorities take no action against the mosque, which is run by Abu Hamza al-Masri, himself an informer for British intelligence (see Early 1997).
Skimming, Credit Cards - Hassaine will later say of illegal activities at the mosque: “It was going on all around you in the evenings and the afternoons. People were selling passports, stolen credit cards, and cloned credit cards. There were black boxes of the kind they used for skimming the numbers. They would recruit people who were working in petrol stations, hotels, restaurants, and give them the black boxes to collect the details from customers’ cards. Then they would use these cloned cards to buy trainers [running shoes], Levi’s 501s, [and] designer clothes which would be sold inside the mosque for cash.… If you wanted, you could buy a credit card for your own use, but it was always a gamble.… even if they were caught they were usually carrying a false identity. The police were never too bothered.”
Identity Fraud - The identity documents on sale were key: “The passport was useful because they could use it as proof of identity and then they could set up electricity, gas, or telephone accounts using a temporary address. British Telecom bills were the most useful. Then they would have proof of identity and proof of address, all that was needed to open a bank account. Using several identities they would open several bank accounts, manage them carefully for six months, keep maybe £1,000 in there, and the bank would offer them a credit card. So they would take the legitimate credit card and use it carefully for six months and the bank would offer them a loan. That’s when they strike.… [The banks] must have lost millions to people who were operating scams like that out of Finsbury Park.”
Benefit Fraud - Hassaine will add: “Those same people were all claiming income support and sub-letting rooms for which they were receiving housing benefit while living for free in the mosque itself. They had also lodged asylum claims; there were guys who set themselves up as translators and would sit in the mosque coaching people in stories of how they had been persecuted in Algeria or faced torture if they returned home. Once they got their story right they would be taken along to a friendly solicitor who would take on their asylum claim.”
'One Foot in the Mafia' - However: “And don’t believe for one minute that all this money went to the jihad. There are men who were into all these rackets at the mosque during the 1990s, who claimed to be mujaheddin but are now living happily back in Algiers in big houses and driving around in brand new Mercedes cars. The truth is that a lot of them had one foot in the mujaheddin and one foot in the mafia.”
Abu Hamza Confessed to Intelligence Handlers - Abu Hamza is never questioned about the the illegal activities, even after some of the people directly involved in it are later jailed. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment, “The British authorities were clearly aware that he was involved in fundraising for terrorism—not least because he confessed it to his contacts in the intelligence services.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 71-73, 290]
Britain a Fundraising Base - O’Neill and McGrory will also later highlight the importance of the funds raised in Britain for the global Islamist struggle (see March 2000-September 22, 2001): “The mujaheddin groups and terrorist cells around the world that allied themselves to the al-Qaeda ideology were largely autonomous and self-financing. Britain was a key source of that finance.”

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri, Reda Hassaine, Finsbury Park Mosque

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Police in Leicester, England, investigate a terrorist fundraising ring based in that city and eventually wrap it up eleven days after 9/11. The men are connected to groups of Islamists in France (see March 15, 2005) and Spain (see September 26, 2001), as well as Finsbury Park mosque in London and leading radical Djamel Beghal, who has attended the mosque and whose arrest in the summer of 2001 (see July 24 or 28, 2001) apparently spurs the arrests in Britain.
The Cell - The two cell leaders live frugal lives in Leicester, claiming social security benefits under their real names, but work under false French documents. When police search a car belonging to one of the men, they find skimming machines used to steal details from credit cards, as well as boxes of unembossed cards from Visa and Mastercard. The cards are used to purchase goods in southern Spain, and the group is estimated to raise at least £800,000 (about US$1,200,000). The group is also involved in arranging forged visas for those traveling to training camps in Afghanistan. Eighteen arrests are made in total, and the two ringleaders are sentenced to eleven years each.
Extremists Raise Millions in Britain - Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later write that this was part of a larger pattern (see 1995-April 21, 2000): “British counterterrorist agencies now accept that in the years preceding the post-9/11 crackdown on militant Islamist networks in [Britain], millions of pounds were raised to finance violent groups operating in Afghanistan, Algeria, Chechnya, Kashmir, Yemen, and other jihad battlefields. Most of that money was raised through organized crime, ranging from sophisticated international credit card counterfeiting to benefit fraud and shoplifting gangs.” They add that “[r]acketeering was vital to the jihad” as Osama bin Laden lost most of his money in the early-to-mid 1990s: “The mujaheddin groups and terrorist cells around the world that allied themselves to the al-Qaeda ideology were largely autonomous and self-financing. Britain was a key source of that finance.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 68-69]

Entity Tags: Daniel McGrory, Sean O’Neill

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Djamel Beghal.
Djamel Beghal. [Source: Public domain]High-level al-Qaeda operative Djamel Beghal is arrested in Dubai on his way back from Afghanistan. Earlier in the month the CIA sent friendly intelligence agencies a list of al-Qaeda agents they wanted to be immediately apprehended, and Beghal was on the list (see July 3, 2001).
Information Obtained - Beghal quickly starts to talk, and tells French investigators about a plot to attack the American embassy in Paris. Crucially, he provides new details about the international-operations role of top al-Qaeda deputy Abu Zubaida, whom he had been with a short time before. [New York Times, 12/28/2001; Time, 8/12/2002] One European official says Beghal talks about “very important figures in the al-Qaeda structure, right up to bin Laden’s inner circle. [He] mention[s] names, responsibilities and functions—people we weren’t even aware of before. This is important stuff.” [Time, 11/12/2001] One French official says of Beghal’s interrogations, “We shared everything we knew with the Americans.” [Time, 5/19/2002]
Link to 9/11 - The New York Times later will report, “Enough time and work could have led investigators from Mr. Beghal to an address in Hamburg where Mohamed Atta and his cohorts had developed and planned the Sept. 11 attacks.” Beghal had frequently associated with Zacarias Moussaoui. However, although Moussaoui is arrested (see August 16, 2001) around the same time that Beghal is revealing the names and details of all his fellow operatives, Beghal is apparently not asked about Moussaoui. [New York Times, 12/28/2001; Time, 8/12/2002]
Timing of Arrest - Most media accounts place the arrest on July 28. However, in a 2007 book CIA Director George Tenet will say he received a briefing about the arrest on July 24. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 156-157]

Entity Tags: Djamel Beghal, Al-Qaeda, Mohamed Atta, George J. Tenet, Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

British authorities learn of the arrest of top Islamist militant Djamel Beghal in Dubai (see July 24 or 28, 2001), and the CIA tells them that an operative behind a plot Beghal is helping organize, a bombing of the US embassy in Paris, has arrived in Britain. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 157] It is unknown who the operative behind the plot is and what action British authorities take on the matter, but arrests of people linked to Beghal and his associates are made around Europe in the next few months (see September 13, 2001, September 26, 2001 and March 2000-September 22, 2001). Beghal has been active in Britain for some time, in particular at London’s radical Finsbury Park mosque, which is under surveillance by the British (see 1997), and a group of his associates are arrested in Britain one day after his capture is made public (see March 2000-September 22, 2001). However, no action is taken against one of his key associates, Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is an informer for the British (see Early 1997). Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “Despite Beghal’s clear links to operations in London and Leicester, however, there was no search of the [mosque] building and no attempt to arrest the chief recruiter [Abu Hamza] who had led the prayers there. The mosque continued to be at the centre of jihad recruitment.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 94]

Entity Tags: Djamel Beghal, Daniel McGrory, Sean O’Niell, Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Six radical Algerians are arrested in Spain based on evidence uncovered in a Belgian investigation. The men are Mohamed Boualem Khnouni, who is identified as the cell leader, Hakim Zezour, Hocine Khouni, Yasin Seddiki, Madjid Sahouane, and Mohamed Belaziz. The Belgian investigation included the arrest of al-Qaeda operative Nizar Trabelsi (see September 13, 2001), said to be involved in several terrorist plots. Spanish Interior Minister Mariano Rajoy says that Trabelsi’s detention is “directly related” to the arrest of the six Algerians, said to be members of Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). The six have been under police surveillance for some time. The Spanish say that the cell sent optical, communications, computer, and electronic equipment to GSPC members in Algeria as well as making shipments to Chechnya. It also forged official documents and credit cards. In addition, the police seize false papers from several countries, as well as computer equipment used to forge airline tickets between Spain, France, and Algeria. [New York Times, 9/27/2001; Washington Post, 9/28/2001]

Entity Tags: Mohamed Belaziz, Hakim Zezour, Hocine Khouni, Mariano Rajoy, Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, Madjid Sahouane, Yasin Seddiki, Mohamed Boualem Khnouni

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Six Algerians are convicted in France of trying to blow up the US embassy in Paris. The ringleader is a top Islamist militant named Djamel Beghal, who was arrested in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) based on a US tip-off in 2001 (see July 24 or 28, 2001). Beghal is sentenced to ten years in prison, his associate Kamel Daoudi gets nine years, and the four others get between one and six. The sentences are for criminal association relating to a terrorist enterprise, although the alleged would-be suicide bomber, Nizar Trabelsi, is not charged or tried in France, and few details of the plot are offered in court. Trabelsi was arrested in Belgium shortly after 9/11 (see September 13, 2001), and is in prison there on other charges (see September 30, 2003). Beghal and the others say they are innocent, and Beghal alleges that the confession based on which the arrests were made was tortured out of him in the UAE. [Washington Post, 3/16/2005]

Entity Tags: Djamel Beghal, Kamel Daoudi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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