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Context of 'March 2001: Source Claims Al-Qaeda to Attack Inside the US in April'

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An intelligence source claims that a group of al-Qaeda operatives is planning to conduct an unspecified attack inside the US in April. One of the operatives allegedly resides in the US. There are also reports of planned attacks in California and New York State for the same month, though whether this is reference to the same plot is unclear. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The CIA issues repeated warnings that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida may be planning an attack for the near future. One report cites a source indicating an attack on Israel, Saudi Arabia, or India. At this time, the CIA believes Zubaida was a major figure in the Millennium plots (see May 30, 2001). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke relays these reports to National Security Adviser Rice. She is also briefed on Zubaida’s activities and the CIA’s efforts to locate him. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 255; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 1 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Central Intelligence Agency, Condoleezza Rice, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A source with al-Qaeda connections speculates to US intelligence that Osama “bin Laden would be interested in commercial pilots as potential terrorists.” The source warns that the US should not focus only on embassy bombings, because al-Qaeda is seeking “spectacular and traumatic” attacks along the lines of the WTC bombing in 1993. Because the source is offering personal speculation and not hard information, the information is not disseminated widely. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; New York Times, 9/18/2002]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, World Trade Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Saad bin Laden.Saad bin Laden. [Source: NBC]In the spring on 2002, as the Taliban is collapsing in Afghanistan, many al-Qaeda operatives flee into neighboring Iran. About 20 to 25 operatives composing much of al-Qaeda’s management council are said to wind up in the custody of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Prior to this point, the Iranian government has been turning over most al-Qaeda captives to other countries, but after President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech criticizing Iran (see January 29, 2002), Iran decides to keep this group. [Washington Post, 7/9/2004] Iran does not officially admit to holding them, and their status is unclear, but they all seem to be living in a village near the Caspian Sea. One senior US intelligence official says, “They are under virtual house arrest,” and not able to do much. Those said to be in Iranian custody include:
bullet Saif al-Adel, one of al-Qaeda’s top military commanders.
bullet Suliman abu Ghaith, al-Qaeda spokesman.
bullet Saad and Hamza bin Laden, two of Osama bin Laden’s young sons.
bullet Abu Dahak, who served as al-Qaeda’s liaison to the rebels in Chechnya.
bullet Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, a financial expert.
bullet Two unnamed top aides to Ayman al-Zawahiri. [MSNBC, 6/24/205]
bullet Thirwat Salah Shehata, a member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council, who is probably one of the al-Zawahiri aides mentioned above. [MSNBC, 5/2005]
bullet Mustafa Hamza, head of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, an Egyptian militant group, and an al-Qaeda leader as well (see June 26, 1995). In late 2004, he will be extradited from Iran to stand trial in Egypt. [Reuters, 1/9/2005]
At first, these operatives appear to be capable of communicating with operatives outside of Iran. Saad bin Laden is said to play a major role planning the attack of a synagogue in Tunisia in April 2002 (see April 11, 2002). But the Saudi government will suspect that some of the operatives in Iran are involved in a 2003 attack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (see May 12, 2003), and they will successfully press Iran to tighten the house arrest of the operatives in Iran. Iran will propose an exchange of these prisoners around the time of the Riyadh bombing, but the US will reject the offer (see Mid-May 2003). Since that time, these leaders apparently remain in a state of limbo. CIA Director Porter Goss will say in 2005, “I think [the] understanding that there is a group of leadership of al-Qaeda under some type of detention—I don’t know exactly what type, necessarily—in Iran is probably accurate.” [MSNBC, 6/24/205] Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will later ask, “The question is, what does house arrest mean in the Iranian context?” He suggests that Iran could release the group or loosen their restrictions depending on how relations evolve between the US and Iran. “They’re a guarantee against bad behavior.” [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] In 2006, it will be reported that Saad bin Laden has been freed. [Reuters, 8/2/2006] Also in 2006, al-Yazid will emerge as a leader of al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan and may never have been in Iran. [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] In 2007, the still teenaged Hamza bin Laden will reportedly appear in Afghanistan. [Associated Press, 9/11/2007] In 2008, it will be reported that the US still knows little about the al-Qaeda figures detained in Iran, but US officials say they believe Iran has largely kept them under control since 2003, limiting their ability to travel and communicate. One US official will say, “It’s been a status quo that leaves these people, some of whom are quite important, essentially on ice.” [ABC News, 5/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Thirwat Salah Shehata, Saad bin Laden, Saif al-Adel, Mustafa Hamza, Porter J. Goss, Hamza bin Laden, Michael Scheuer, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Suliman abu Ghaith, Abu Dahak

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline

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