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Chief Justice Fred Vinson.Chief Justice Fred Vinson. [Source: Kansas State Historical Society]The US Supreme Court upholds the power of the federal government’s executive branch to withhold documents from a civil suit on the basis of executive privilege and national security (see October 25, 1952). The case, US v Reynolds, overturns an appellate court decision that found against the government (see December 11, 1951). Originally split 5-4 on the decision, the Court goes to 6-3 when Justice William O. Douglas joins the majority. The three dissenters, Justices Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, and Robert Jackson, refuse to write a dissenting opinion, instead adopting the decision of the appellate court as their dissent.
'State Secrets' a Valid Reason for Keeping Documents out of Judicial, Public Eye - Chief Justice Fred Vinson writes the majority opinion. Vinson refuses to grant the executive branch the near-unlimited power to withhold documents from judicial review, as the government’s arguments before the court implied (see October 21, 1952), but instead finds what he calls a “narrower ground for defense” in the Tort Claims Act, which compels the production of documents before a court only if they are designated “not privileged.” The government’s claim of privilege in the Reynolds case was valid, Vinson writes. But the ruling goes farther; Vinson upholds the claim of “state secrets” as a reason for withholding documents from judicial review or public scrutiny. In 2008, author Barry Siegel will write: “In truth, only now was the Supreme Court formally recognizing the privilege, giving the government the precedent it sought, a precedent binding on all courts throughout the nation. Most important, the Court was also—for the first time—spelling out how the privilege should be applied.” Siegel will call the Reynolds ruling “an effort to weigh competing legitimate interests,” but the ruling does not allow judges to see the documents in order to make a decision about their applicability in a court case: “By instructing judges not to insist upon examining documents if the government can satisfy that ‘a reasonable danger’ to national security exists, Vinson was asking jurists to fly blind.” Siegel will mark the decision as “an act of faith. We must believe the government,” he will write, “when it claims [the accident] would reveal state secrets. We must trust that the government is telling the truth.”
Time of Heightened Tensions Drives Need for Secrecy - Vinson goes on to note, “[W]e cannot escape judicial notice that this is a time of vigorous preparation for the national defense.” Locked in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and fighting a war in Korea, the US is, Vinson writes, in a time of crisis, and one where military secrets must be kept and even encouraged. (U. S. v. Reynolds 3/9/1953; Siegel 2008, pp. 171-176)
Future Ramifications - Reflecting on the decision in 2008, Siegel will write that while the case will not become as well known as many other Court decisions, it will wield significant influence. The ruling “formally recognized and established the framework for the government’s ‘state secrets’ privilege—a privilege that for decades had enabled federal agencies to conceal conduct, withhold documents, and block civil litigation, all in the name of national secrecy.… By encouraging judicial deference when the government claimed national security secrets, Reynolds had empowered the Executive Branch in myriad ways. Among other things, it had provided a fundamental legal argument for much of the Bush administration’s response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Enemy combatants such as Yaser Esam Hamdi (see December 2001) and Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002), for many months confined without access to lawyers, had felt the breath of Reynolds. So had the accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui when federal prosecutors defied a court order allowing him access to other accused terrorists (see March 22, 2005). So had the Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar (see September 26, 2002), like dozens of others the subject of a CIA extraordinary rendition to a secret foreign prison (see After September 11, 2001). So had hundreds of detainees at the US Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, held without charges or judicial review (see September 27, 2001). So had millions of American citizens, when President Bush, without judicial knowledge or approval, authorized domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency (see Early 2002). US v. Reynolds made all this possible. The bedrock of national security law, it had provided a way for the Executive Branch to formalize an unprecedented power and immunity, to pull a veil of secrecy over its actions.” (Siegel 2008, pp. ix-x)

Zaini Zakaria, a Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and al-Qaeda operative who has been assigned to a 9/11-style operation, is instructed to take flight training by al-Qaeda commander Mohammed Atef and travels to Malaysia to obtain a pilot’s license. He meets fellow JI operative Faiz abu Baker Bafana in Kuala Lumpur and visits the Royal Selangor Flying Club at a nearby Malaysian Air Force base. Zaini had earlier traveled to Afghanistan with JI leader Hambali, Bafana, and another operative called Zamzulri in 1999 to receive military training, and had met Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Karachi, Pakistan. Zaini obtains a pilot’s license and makes inquiries in Australia about learning to fly jets, but eventually drops out of the plot in 2001. (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004, pp. 17; Freeman 2/10/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/8/2006) The school may have been recommended by Yazid Sufaat. An important al-Qaeda summit was held at Sufaat’s Kuala Lumpur condominium in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). Sufaat will later claim that some of the summit attendees (including two future 9/11 hijackers) asked him about flying schools in Malaysia, and he recommended the one in the region where the Royal Selangor Flying Club is. (Elegant 2/5/2002) Zacarias Moussaoui will later visit the same flying school while staying with Sufaat (see Early September 2000). The CIA stopped the surveillance of Sufaat’s condominium some point in 2000 (see Between February and September 2000); it is not known if this happened before or after Zakaria was in Malaysia.

The Lackawanna Six. Top row, from left: Faysal Galab, Mukhtar al-Bakri, and Sahim Alwan. Bottom row, from left: Yahya Goba, Shafel Mosed, and Yaseinn Taher.The Lackawanna Six. Top row, from left: Faysal Galab, Mukhtar al-Bakri, and Sahim Alwan. Bottom row, from left: Yahya Goba, Shafel Mosed, and Yaseinn Taher. [Source: Associated Press]A group of seven men in Lackawanna, near Buffalo, New York, are influenced by religious discussions with two al-Qaeda operatives, Kamal Derwish and Juma al-Dosari. The seven US citizens—Yaseinn Taher, Yahya Goba, Shafel Mosed, Mukhtar al-Bakri, Sahim Alwan, Faysal Galab, and Jaber Elbaneh—leave for jihad training in Afghanistan. They tell friends they are merely going to Pakistan for religious instruction. Escorted by Derwish, the men travel separately and attend a six-week long weapons course at the Al Farooq camp. Some of them meet Osama bin Laden in Kandahar and they all hear him give a speech (see (June 2001)). However, most of them apparently think they are in over their heads and find excuses to cut their basic training course short and return home. The six who return show little to no evidence of any al-Qaeda plotting in the following months. Jaber Elbaneh, however, becomes committed and stays overseas with al-Qaeda. The six who return will later be arrested and dubbed an al-Qaeda cell known as the “Lackawanna Six” (see September 13, 2002). (PBS Frontline 10/16/2003)

John Walker Lindh.
John Walker Lindh. [Source: Alexandria, Virginia, Sheriff's Department]John Walker Lindh, a young Caucasian man from California who has converted to Islam, travels to Peshawar, Pakistan, in an attempt to fight for Islamic causes. He had been studying the Koran for about six months elsewhere in Pakistan, but otherwise had no particularly special training, qualifications, or connections. Within days, he is accepted into al-Qaeda and sent to the Al Farooq training camp in Afghanistan. Seven other US citizens are already training there (see April-August 2001). He inadvertently learns details of the 9/11 attacks. In June, he is told by an instructor that “bin Laden had sent forth some fifty people to carry out twenty suicide terrorist operations against the United States and Israel.” He learns that the 9/11 plot is to consist of five attacks, not the four that actually occur. The other fifteen operations are to take place later. He is asked if he wants to participate in a suicide mission, but declines. (Mahoney 2003, pp. 162, 216; Bamford 2004, pp. 234-36)
News of Upcoming Attacks Are Widespread in Camps - Although Lindh does not tell this information to any US officials, the fact that he learns this much so quickly is indicative of how widely news of the upcoming attacks are spreading in the al-Qaeda training camps. For instance, early 2001, bin Laden gave a speech at one of the camps talking about an attack on the US that would kill thousands (see Early 2001). In the summer, bin Laden specifically urges trainees to pray for the success of an upcoming attack involving 20 martyrs (see Summer 2001). By July, a source will tell the CIA that (see July 2001)
What Could an Informant in the Camps Learn? - Author James Bamford comments, “The decision to keep CIA employees at arm’s length from [al-Qaeda] was a serious mistake. At the same moment the CIA was convinced al-Qaeda was impenetrable, a number of American citizens were secretly joining al-Qaeda in Afghanistan—and being welcomed with open arms.” (Bamford 2004, pp. 161)

A group of seven Yemeni-Americans from Lackawanna, New York, go to train in Afghanistan (see April-August 2001). Just two days after some of them have arrived, two of the seven—Sahim Alwan and Jaber Elbaneh, plus their mentor Kamal Derwish, briefly meet Osama bin Laden in a small group setting. One of the men asks bin Laden about a rumor that something big is about to happen. Bin Laden responds: “They’re threatening us. And we’re threatening them. But there are brothers willing to carry their souls in their hands.” (Temple-Raston 2007, pp. 107-108) A couple of weeks later, the seven Lackawanna men and Derwish begin training at the Al Farooq training camp near Kandahar. One day, bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri come to their camp and bin Laden gives a speech in Arabic to the hundreds of trainees there. The crowd is told the speech is being videotaped. In his 20-minute speech, he discusses the merger between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad. At the end, he calls on the gathering to pray for the 40 operatives who are en route for a very important mission. He drops hints about suicide operations against the US and Israel. One of the seven men, Yaseinn Taher, speaks Arabic well enough to understand the speech, and explains the gist of it to the other six. The Lackawanna men also sense a mood in the camp that something big is going to happen soon. For instance, the camp is regularly conducting evacuation drills in anticipation of the US bombing it. (Temple-Raston 2007, pp. 117-120) One by one, all the members of the group except for Jaber Elbaneh drop out and go home before their basic training course is done. They will later be known as the “Lackawanna Six.” But none of the six tell any US authorities what they learned when they get back to the US before 9/11. Some of the six, such as Taher and Alwan, will later say that on the morning of 9/11 they realize the attack they are watching on television is what bin Laden was talking about when he discussed the 40 men on a suicide mission. (Temple-Raston 2007, pp. 136-138)

The Library Tower in Los Angeles. It is later renamed the US Bank Tower.The Library Tower in Los Angeles. It is later renamed the US Bank Tower. [Source: Kim D. Johnson / Associated Press]9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) attempts to organize a follow up attack to the 9/11 attacks. Beginning in October 2001, KSM and Hambali, a top al-Qaeda leader in Southeast Asia, recruit four operatives for the new plot, all of them Malaysian:
bullet Mohamad Farik Amin (a.k.a. Zubair).
bullet Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep (a.k.a. Lillie).
bullet Zaini Zakaria.
bullet Masran bin Arshad.
The plan is for these operatives to blow up the doors to airplane cockpits using shoe bombs, take over flying the aircraft, and then crash them into US buildings—essentially the same technique as was used in the 9/11 attacks, except with the addition of the shoe bomb and the use of East Asians instead of Middle Easterners. Apparently several buildings are initially targeted. KSM will later name them as the Library Tower in Los Angeles (later renamed the US Bank tower), the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Empire State Building in New York, and a tall building in Washington State. But the plot soon focuses on just the Library Tower, the tallest building on the West Coast of the US, due to a lack of pilots. The members of the plot go to Afghanistan and swear an oath of loyalty to Osama bin Laden, and then continue to train with Hambali in Asia. However, the plot does not go far because Zakaria, the only trained pilot of the group (see (Spring 2000)), drops out in late 2001, saying he has small children to consider. In February 2002, bin Arshad, the leader of the four operatives, is arrested and other other members decide the plot has been canceled. Zakaria turns himself in to Malaysian authorities in 2002, and apparently remains in detention in Malaysia without being charged. Amin and Bin Lep will be arrested in 2003 with Hambali and taken into US custody (see August 12, 2003). Amin, Bin Lep, and Hambali will all be transferred to Guantanamo prison as high-value detainees in 2006 (see September 2-3, 2006). It is unknown who arrests bin Arshad or what becomes of him. (Elegant 10/5/2003; Elegant and Perrin 10/6/2003; White House 2/9/2006; Associated Press 2/10/2006; US Department of Defense 3/10/2007 pdf file)

Juma al-Dosari.Juma al-Dosari. [Source: PBS]In November 2001, al-Qaeda operative Juma al-Dosari is captured in Afghanistan. He is soon transferred to the Guantanamo prison. During interrogation in the spring of 2002, he reveals several aliases and that he was trying to recruit a group of US citizens in New York state known as the “Lackawanna Six.” Based on the aliases, US intelligence realizes they have already intercepted communications between him and Osama bin Laden’s son Saad bin Laden, and also him and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash. They learn he has a long history with al-Qaeda, having fought in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya. He was arrested in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia on different occasions for involvement in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombings (see June 25, 1996). He first went to the US in 1999, staying several months in Indiana. Then he got a job at a mosque in Bloomington, Indiana, in the autumn of 2000. He began traveling around the US as a visiting imam, but investigators believe this was just his cover while he worked to recruit for al-Qaeda. In April 2001, he visited Buffalo, New York, and helped convince the “Lackawanna Six” to go to Afghanistan (see April-August 2001). He left the US for Afghanistan in late September 2001. The FBI gets this information in May 2002 and begins monitoring the “Lackawanna Six,” as they are all back in the US. Investigators suspect al-Dosari recruited others in other cities, but they do not know who. (PBS Frontline 10/16/2003; PBS Frontline 10/16/2003) In 2007, al-Dosari will be released from Guantanamo without explanation and set free in Saudi Arabia (see July 16, 2007).

Not long after being captured, al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida identifies Jose Padilla as an al-Qaeda operative to his FBI interrogators (see Late March through Early June, 2002). Padilla is a US citizen, and US intelligence has been monitoring him and some of his associates in Florida for nearly a decade already (see (October 1993-November 2001)). However, the New York Times will allege in 2006: “But Mr. Zubaida dismissed Mr. Padilla as a maladroit extremist whose hope to construct a dirty bomb, using conventional explosives to disperse radioactive materials, was far-fetched. He told his questioners that Mr. Padilla was ignorant on the subject of nuclear physics and believed he could separate plutonium from nuclear material by rapidly swinging over his head a bucket filled with fissionable material” (see Early 2002). (Johnston 9/10/2006) The US arrests Padilla a short time later, when he returns to the US from an overseas trip on May 8 (see May 8, 2002). One month later, Attorney General John Ashcroft will reveal Padilla’s arrest in a widely publicized announcement, and will further allege that Padilla was actively plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” inside the US (see June 10, 2002). However, it appears Zubaida may have been correct that Padilla was wildly overhyped. The US will later drop charges that Padilla was making a “dirty bomb,” planning any attack in the US, and was a member of al-Qaeda. (McCaffrey 11/23/2005) Journalist Ron Suskind will comment in 2006, “Padilla turned out to not be nearly as valuable as advertised at the start, though, and I think that’s been shown in the ensuing years.” (Suskind 9/7/2006)

In a successful attempt to “steal” some media coverage from FBI agent Coleen Rowley’s testimony and concurrent media blitz (see June 6, 2002), the Bush administration counters with a public relations event of its own. The same day that Rowley testifies, President Bush announces the proposed creation of the new, Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—an agency proposed by Democrats and, up till now, one that Bush has vehemently opposed, preferring instead to make any such agency a subsidiary office within the White House. It will be the largest reorganization of the government since the implementation of the 1947 National Security Act, when the Defense Department, National Security Council (NSC), and CIA were created. To ensure that Rowley’s testimony does not dominate the headlines, Bush also gives an evening speech on prime-time television, again announcing the new department. In that speech, Bush calls the DHS the latest effort in the US’s “titanic struggle against terror.” In 2006, author and media critic Frank Rich will write that the announcement and speech “assur[e] that Rowley’s whistle-blowing would be knocked out of the lead position on the next day’s morning shows and newspapers.” DHS will not be officially activated for almost six months (see November 25, 2002), but the announcement and subsequent speech succeeds in driving Rowley’s testimony off the front pages and the television broadcasts. Rich will write that the announcement of the capture of alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002) four days later, even though Padilla had been in custody since May 8 (see May 8, 2002), further drives any mention or analysis of Rowley’s testimony out of the news. (Bush 6/6/2002; CNN 6/7/2002; Rich 2006, pp. 49-50)

Jose Padilla.
Jose Padilla. [Source: Florida Department of Motor Vehicles]Attorney General John Ashcroft announces the arrest of Abdullah al-Mujahir, a.k.a. Jose Padilla. He claims that Padilla was part of an al-Qaeda plot to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a US city, and supposedly Padilla was scouting bomb targets when arrested. Padilla, a US citizen, is being held as an “enemy combatant,” allowing him to be held indefinitely. (Borger 6/11/2002; PBS 6/11/2002) But almost immediately, doubts grow about this story. The London Times says that it is “beyond dispute” that the timing of the announcement of his arrest was “politically inspired.” Padilla was actually arrested a month earlier, on May 8. (Maddox 6/13/2002) It is widely believed that Ashcroft made the arrest announcement “only to divert attention from Intelligence Committee inquiries into the FBI and CIA handling of 9/11.” (Ridgeway 6/12/2002; Sengupta and Buncombe 6/12/2002; van Wel 6/13/2002; Pincus 6/13/2003) Four days earlier, Coleen Rowley testified before Congress. The FBI whistleblower stated her belief that the attacks of Sept. 11 could have been prevented had the FBI flight-school warnings been made available to the agents investigating Zacharias Moussaoui. (Dreyfuss 9/21/2006 pdf file) Bush soon privately chastises Ashcroft for overstating claims about Padilla. (Burkeman 8/15/2002) The government attorneys apparently could not get an indictment out of a New York grand jury and, rather than let him go, made Padilla an enemy combatant. (Ridgeway 6/12/2002) It later comes out that the FBI found no evidence that he was preparing a dirty bomb attack and little evidence to suggest he had any support from al-Qaeda, or any ties to al-Qaeda cells in the US. Yet the Justice Department maintains that its view of Padilla “remains unchanged,” and that he is a “serious and continuing threat.” (Burkeman 8/15/2002) Because Padilla is a US citizen, he cannot be tried in a military court. So apparently he will simply be held indefinitely. It is pointed out that any American could be declared an enemy combatant and never tried or have that status questioned. (Epstein 6/11/2002; Washington Post 6/11/2002) The Washington Post says, “If that’s the case, nobody’s constitutional rights are safe.” (Washington Post 6/11/2002) Despite the evidence that Padilla’s case is grossly overstated, the government won’t allow him access to a lawyer (see December 4, 2002; March 11, 2003).

Donna R. Newman, attorney for “enemy combatant” Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002), files a habeas corpus petition in the District Court for the Southern District of New York. Newman informs the court that she has been told by the government that she is not permitted to visit Padilla or to speak with him. She may write, but he might not receive the correspondence, she says. (Jose Padilla v. George W. Bush et al. 12/4/2002 pdf file)

Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002)‘s public prosecutors file a document with the District Court for the Southern District in Lower Manhattan, which says Padilla had been declared an “enemy combatant” on grounds that “Citizens who associate themselves with the enemy and with its aid, guidance, and direction, enter this country bent on hostile acts, are enemy belligerents.” (CNN 6/27/2002)

In early September 2002, a group of senior Bush administration officials gathers for a secret videoconference to decide what to do with the “Lackawanna Six,” the six Yemeni-Americans living in Lackawanna, New York, who had attended an al-Qaeda training camp before 9/11. Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argue that the men should be locked up indefinitely as “enemy combatants,” and thrown into a military brig with no right to trial or even to see a lawyer. The US has already done this with two other US citizens, Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla. According to a participant in the meeting, Cheney argues, “They are the enemy, and they’re right here in the country.” However, all six men left their basic training course early and there is no evidence any of them had carried out or even planned any terrorist acts (see April-August 2001). Attorney General John Ashcroft insists he can bring a tough criminal case against them for providing “material support” to al-Qaeda. Ashcroft wins the argument and the six men are formally charged several days later (see September 13, 2002). (Isikoff and Klaidman 10/10/2007) The six men will all eventually strike plea bargains and plead guilty, saying they were essentially forced to because the government made clear that if they fought the charges they would be declared enemy combatants (see May 19, 2003).

The FBI arrests six US citizens with a Yemeni background, on information provided by the CIA: Sahim Alwan, Mukhtar al-Bakri, Faysal Galab, Yahya Goba, Shafel Mosed and Yaseinn Taher. Five are arrested in their hometown Lackawanna, a suburb of Buffalo, New York. The sixth, who is connected to the other five, is arrested in Bahrain and then transferred to the US. (CBS News 11/9/2002) They are hereafter nicknamed “the Lackawanna Six.” They reportedly traveled to Afghanistan in April and May 2001 to join in Islamic jihad and receive military training at the Al Farooq training camp run by al-Qaeda (see April-August 2001). They also allegedly met with Osama bin Laden (see (June 2001)). They are believed to have been encouraged to go to Afghanistan by two American veteran mujaheddin, Juma al-Dosari and Kamal Derwish, who fought in the war in Bosnia and who visited Lackawanna in early 2001. (Powell 7/29/2003) One month later, a federal jury indicts the Lackawanna Six on two counts of providing material support to terrorism. They are charged with supporting terrorism. If found guilty, they could face up to 15 years in prison. All of them plead not guilty. (CBS News 10/22/2002)

A federal judge in New York rules that Jose Padilla, a US citizen who has been accused of being an al-Qaeda “dirty bomber,” has the right to meet with a lawyer (see June 10, 2002; June 9, 2002). Judge Michael Mukasey agrees with the government that Padilla can be held indefinitely as an “enemy combatant” even though he is a US citizen. But he says such enemy combatants can meet with a lawyer to contest their status. However, the ruling makes it very difficult to overturn such a status. The government only need show that “some evidence” supports its claims. (Fainaru and Eggen 12/5/2002; Washington Post 12/11/2002) In Padilla’s case, many of the allegations against him given to the judge, such as Padilla taking his orders from al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida, have been widely dismissed in the media. (Washington Post 9/1/2002) As The Guardian puts it, Padilla “appears to be little more than a disoriented thug with grandiose ideas.” (Borger 10/10/2002) After the ruling, Vice President Cheney sends Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement to see Mukasey on what Justice Department lawyers call “a suicide mission.” Clement, speaking for Cheney, tells Mukasey that he has erred so grossly that he needs to immediately retract his decision. Mukasey rejects the government’s “pinched legalism” and adds that his order is “not a suggestion or request.” (Gellman and Becker 6/25/2007) The government continues to challenge this ruling, and Padilla will continue to be denied access to a lawyer (see March 11, 2003).

Wanted poster for John Doe #2, left, and Jose Padilla, right.
Wanted poster for John Doe #2, left, and Jose Padilla, right. [Source: Public domain, via Village Voice]A judge reaffirms the right of Jose Padilla, a US citizen being held as an “enemy combatant,” to meet with a lawyer (see June 10, 2002; December 4, 2002). The same judge ruled that he could meet with a lawyer in December 2002, but the government continues to challenge the ruling and continues to block his access to a lawyer. (Neumeister 3/11/2003) Later in the month, the government tells the judge it is planning to ignore his order and will appeal the case. (Associated Press 3/26/2003) While it may be completely coincidental, the Village Voice has noticed that Padilla is a “dead ringer” for the never found “John Doe #2” of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and other evidence could tie him to it. (Ridgeway 3/27/2002; Ridgeway 6/13/2002)

The FBI issues a reward of $5 million for information on Adnan Shukrijumah, starting a world-wide manhunt that will last for years. Shukrijumah lived in the same area as most of the 9/11 hijackers and was reportedly seen with Mohamed Atta in the spring of 2001 (see May 2, 2001), when he was being investigated by the FBI over two terrorist plots (see April-May 2001 and (Spring 2001)). Information gleaned from detainees suggests that Shukrijumah is a top al-Qaeda operative who was trained in Afghanistan and is associated with 9/11 architect Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002). In May 2004 Attorney General John Ashcroft will even single out Shukrijumah as the most dangerous al-Qaeda operative planning to attack the US. However, despite reported sightings in Central America, he is still on the run in 2006 and believed to be hiding in the tribal areas of Pakistan. (Ragavan 4/7/2003; Willing 6/15/2003; Kaufman and Rabinowitz 10/27/2003; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 40-41 pdf file; Meyer 9/3/2006)
Flight Training - US authorities claim he is a pilot and has been receiving flight training outside the US for several years, though they do not release any evidence to substantiate this. His family insists that he is neither a qualified pilot nor an al-Qaeda operative. (Willing 6/15/2003; CNN 9/5/2003) A senior Bush administration official says the government has evidence Shukrijumah had attended the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma, but does not say when. Other Islamist militants, including Zacarias Moussaoui, attended that school before 9/11 (see February 23-June 2001, May 18, 1999 and May 15, 1998). The director of the school claims there is no evidence of a student with any of Shukrijumah’s publicly revealed aliases. (Shenon and Lichtblau 3/21/2003)

Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep (a.k.a. Lillie).Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep (a.k.a. Lillie). [Source: Defense Department]Hambali (a.k.a. Riduan Isamuddin) is arrested in Thailand in a joint US-Thai operation. He has been considered the operational leader of al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia. He was involved in the Bojinka plot in 1995, attended the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), and was said to be involved in the 2002 bombing of two nightclubs in Bali, Indonesia (see October 12, 2002), the 2003 bombing of a Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia (see August 5, 2003), and other similar acts. He is taken into US custody and is said to quickly and fully cooperate with his captors. (Simpson 12/7/2003) According to the Washington Post, at some point he will be transferred to the US naval base at the British island colony of Diego Garcia, where the CIA is believed to have a secret interrogation center. (Priest and Higham 12/17/2004; Priest 1/2/2005, pp. A01) Two of Hambali’s associates - Mohamad Farik Amin (a.k.a. Zubair), and Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep (a.k.a. Lillie) - are arrested with him. Both are Malaysians and are said to be al-Qaeda operatives. Supposedly they were members of a four person suicide squad working for Hambali and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to hijack an airplane (see October 2001-February 2002). (Elegant and Perrin 10/6/2003) The US will later classify both of them, and Hambali, as about a dozen of the top al-Qaeda operatives in US custody (see September 2-3, 2006).

Jose Padilla being escorted by federal agents in January 2006.Jose Padilla being escorted by federal agents in January 2006. [Source: Alan Diaz / Associated Press]Jose Padilla, a US citizen and “enemy combatant” alleged to be an al-Qaeda terrorist (see May 8, 2002) and held without charges for over three years (see October 9, 2005), is charged with being part of a North American terrorist cell that sent money and recruits overseas to, as the indictment reads, “murder, maim, and kidnap.” The indictment contains none of the sensational allegations that the US government has made against Padilla (see June 10, 2002), including his supposed plan to detonate a “dirty bomb” inside the US (see Early 2002) and his plans to blow up US hotel and apartment buildings (see March 2002). Nor does the indictment accuse Padilla of being a member of al-Qaeda. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says, “The indictment alleges that Padilla traveled overseas to train as a terrorist (see September-October 2000) with the intention of fighting a violent jihad.” He refuses to say why the more serious charges were not filed. Some provisions of the Patriot Act helped the investigation, Gonzales adds: “By tearing down the artificial wall that would have prevented this kind of investigation in the past, we’re able to bring these terrorists to justice,” he says. The Padilla case has become a central part of the dispute over holding prisoners such as Padilla without charge; by charging Padilla with lesser crimes, the Bush administration avoids the possibility of the Supreme Court ruling that he and other “enemy combatants,” particularly American citizens, must either be tried or released. Law professor Eric Freedman says the Padilla indictment is an effort by the administration “to avoid an adverse decision of the Supreme Court.” Law professor Jenny Martinez, who represents Padilla, says: “There’s no guarantee the government won’t do this again to Mr. Padilla or others. The Supreme Court needs to review this case on the merits so the lower court decision is not left lying like a loaded gun for the government to use whenever it wants.” Padilla’s lawyers say the government’s case against their client is based on little more than “double and triple hearsay from secret witnesses, along with information allegedly obtained from Padilla himself during his two years of incommunicado interrogation.” Padilla will be transferred from military custody to the Justice Department, where he will await trial in a federal prison in Miami. He faces life in prison if convicted of conspiracy to murder, maim, and kidnap overseas. The lesser charges—providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy—carry maximum prison terms of 15 years each. (Associated Press 11/22/2005; Fox News 11/23/2005)
'Dirty Bomb' Allegations 'Not Credible,' Says Former FBI Agent - Retired FBI agent Jack Cloonan, an expert on al-Qaeda, later says: “The dirty bomb plot was simply not credible. The government would never have given up that case if there was any hint of credibility to it. Padilla didn’t stand trial for it, because there was no evidence to support it.” (Rose 12/16/2008)
Issue with CIA Videotapes - In 2002, captured al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida identified Padilla as an al-Qaeda operative (see Mid-April 2002) and the government cited Zubaida as a source of information about Padilla after Padilla’s arrest. Yet, sometime this same month, the CIA destroys the videotapes of Zubaida’s interrogations from the time period where he allegedly identified Padilla (see November 2005). The Nation’s Aziz Huq will later comment: “Given the [Bush] administration’s reliance on Zubaida’s statements as evidence of Padilla’s guilt, tapes of Zubaida’s interrogation were clearly relevant to the Padilla trial.… A federal criminal statute prevents the destruction of any record for a foreseeable proceeding, even if the evidence is not admissible.… [I]t seems almost certain that preservation of the tapes was legally required by the Jose Padilla prosecution.” (Huq 12/11/2007)

Jaber Elbaneh.Jaber Elbaneh. [Source: Yahya Arhab / EPA / Corbi]Twenty-three suspected al-Qaeda operatives break out of a high-security prison in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a. Escapees include Jamal al-Badawi, wanted for a role in the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), and Jaber Elbaneh, a US citizen believed to be linked to the alleged al-Qaeda sleeper cell in Lackawanna, New York (see April-August 2001). The men allegedly tunnel their way from the prison to the bathroom of a neighboring mosque. However, the New York Times will later comment: “[T]hat account is viewed with great skepticism, both in the United States and in Yemen. Many in Yemen say the escape could not have taken place without assistance, whether from corrupt guards or through a higher-level plan.” (Worth 3/1/2008) The prison is located in the basement of the Political Security Organization (PSO), Yemen’s equivalent of the FBI. Several days later, a cable sent from the US embassy in Yemen notes “the lack of obvious security measures on the streets,” and concludes, “One thing is certain: PSO insiders must have been involved.” Newsweek comments: “[P]rivately, US officials say the plotters must have had serious—possibly high-level—help at the Political [Security Organization].…. [T]he head of the PSO, Ali Mutahar al-Qamish, is said to be under suspicion, according to two US officials.” (Hirsh, Hosenball, and Nordland 2/13/2006) Al-Badawi and nine others escaped a Yemeni prison in 2003 and then were recaptured one year later (see April 11, 2003-March 2004). Al-Badawi and Elbaneh turn themselves in to the Yemeni government in 2007 and then are freed (see October 17-29, 2007 and February 23, 2008).

During a speech defending his campaign against al-Qaeda, President Bush describes a previously obscure al-Qaeda plot to crash an airplane into the Library Tower (since renamed the US Bank tower) in Los Angeles in 2002 (see October 2001-February 2002). It is the tallest building on the West Coast of the US. The plot was first briefly mentioned in a Bush speech in October 2005 (see October 6, 2005), but Bush and his aides now provide new details. The plot was allegedly masterminded by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, but was foiled when the four Asians recruited for the plot were arrested in Asia. Bush’s speech on the plot comes on the same day as a Senate hearing into the NSA’s illegal domestic wiretapping program. The Washington Post comments, “several US intelligence officials played down the relative importance of the alleged plot and attributed the timing of Bush’s speech to politics. The officials… said there is deep disagreement within the intelligence community over the seriousness of the Library Tower scheme and whether it was ever much more than talk.” One intelligence official “attributed the [speech on the plot] to the administration’s desire to justify its efforts in the face of criticism of the domestic surveillance program, which has no connection to the incident.” (Baker and Eggen 2/10/2006) The New York Times will similarly comment, “Bush’s speech came as Republicans are intent on establishing their record on national security as the pre-eminent issue in the 2006 midterm elections, and when the president is facing questions from members of both parties about a secret eavesdropping program that he describes as pivotal to fighting terrorism.” (Bumiller and Johnston 2/10/2006)

The Miami Seven. Group leader Narseal Batiste is on the bottom right.The Miami Seven. Group leader Narseal Batiste is on the bottom right. [Source: BBC]Police arrest seven people during a raid on a warehouse in the Miami area. The men are alleged to be a “home-grown” terrorist cell plotting to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago and the FBI building in Miami, as well as possible other unspecified targets. They had allegedly conducted video surveillance of their targets. (CNN 6/23/2006) The men are identified in the federal indictment as Narseal Batiste, Patrick Abraham, Stanley Grant Phanor, Naudimar Herrera, Burson Augustin, Lyglenson Lemorin, and Rotschild Augustine. (FindLaw 6/22/2006) Two are Haitians, five are US citizens, and two are US immigrants. (Democracy Now! 6/26/2006) Vice President Dick Cheney describes them as a “a very real threat.” (Thompson and Baxter 6/25/2006) Bruce Hoffman, a counterterrorism expert who heads the Washington office of the Rand Corp., says that “amateur terrorists can kill as effectively as the professional kind.” (Whoriskey and Eggen 6/24/2006) However, officials concede that the group never had any contact with any other terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda. (BBC 6/23/2006) Officials also admit that the men had not acquired any explosives or weapons. Chicago Police Superintendent Philip Cline says “there was never any danger to the Sears Tower or Chicago.” Deputy FBI Director John Pistole says that the plot had not progressed beyond early planning stages and “was aspirational rather than operational.” Hoffman says that it is “not clear is whether they had any real capabilities to pull [the plot] off.” (Whoriskey and Eggen 6/24/2006) An FBI informant posing as an al-Qaeda operative had infiltrated the group for nearly six months and many conversations were recorded. (Pincus 9/2/2006) Batiste, the leader of the group, allegedly stated that he and his “soldiers” wanted to receive terrorist training in order to wage a “full ground war” against the US and to “kill all the devils we can.” (BBC 6/23/2006) He requested boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios, vehicles, and $50,000 in cash from the informant. However, the men were only able to acquire military boots and a video camera. The indictment indicates that the men lacked any real resources; these organizational problems caused the plot to peter out by May. (Whoriskey and Eggen 6/24/2006) Critics accuse the FBI of running a border-line entrapment operation in which a plot that was virtually a pipe-dream was kept alive by the involvement of the informant. Max Rameau of Miami CopWatch points out that the military gear and cameras had been supplied to the men by the government, via the informant. (Democracy Now! 6/26/2006) Court records would later show that not only did the government provide materiel to the group, but the informant also suggested the Miami FBI office as the first target. The records show that the informant, known as CW2, played a key role in the advancement of the plot, such as administering the “al-Qaeda oaths” taken by the men. At a detention hearing, judge Ted E. Bandstra says that the allegations are “disturbing,” but adds that “the plans appear to be beyond the present ability of these defendants.” (Pincus 9/2/2006)

Mohamad Farik Amin.Mohamad Farik Amin. [Source: FBI]The US temporarily closes a network of secret CIA prisons around the world and transfers the most valuable prisoners to the US prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, for eventual military tribunals. The prison network will be reopened a short time later (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007). There were reportedly fewer than 100 suspects in the CIA prisons; most of them are apparently sent back to their home countries while fourteen are sent to Guantanamo. All fourteen have some connection to al-Qaeda. Seven of them reportedly had some connection to the 9/11 attacks. Here are their names, nationalities, and the allegations against them.
bullet Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) (Pakistani, raised in Kuwait). He is the suspected mastermind of 9/11 attacks and many other al-Qaeda attacks. A CIA biography of KSM calls him “one of history’s most infamous terrorists.”
bullet Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (Saudi). He allegedly helped finance the 9/11 attacks.
bullet Hambali (Indonesian). He attended a key planning meeting for the 9/11 attacks in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and is accused of involvement in many other plots, including the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002).
bullet Khallad bin Attash (a.k.a. Tawfiq bin Attash) (Yemeni). He also attended a key planning meeting for the 9/11 attacks in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and had a role in other plots such as the 2000 USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000).
bullet Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (Pakistani, raised in Kuwait). He allegedly helped finance the 9/11 attacks and arranged transportation for some hijackers. His uncle is KSM.
bullet Ramzi bin al-Shibh (Yemeni). A member of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell with Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers. The CIA calls him the “primary communications intermediary” between the hijackers and KSM. He also attended a key planning meeting for the 9/11 attacks in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000).
bullet Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (Saudi). He is said to have been one of the masterminds of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). He also attended a key planning meeting for the 9/11 attacks in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000).
The remaining seven suspects are alleged to have been involved in other al-Qaeda plots:
bullet Abu Zubaida (Palestinian, raised in Saudi Arabia). He is said to be a facilitator who helped make travel arrangements for al-Qaeda operatives. He is also alleged to have organized a series of planned millennium attacks.
bullet Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (Tanzanian). He was indicted for a role in the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). He is also said to be an expert document forger.
bullet Majid Khan (Pakistani). He lived in the US since 1996 and is said to have worked with KSM on some US bomb plots (see March 5, 2003).
bullet Abu Faraj al-Libbi (a.k.a. Mustafa al-‘Uzayti) (Libyan). He allegedly became al-Qaeda’s top operations officer after KSM was captured.
bullet Mohamad Farik Amin (a.k.a. Zubair) (Malaysian). He is a key Hambali associate and was allegedly tapped for a suicide mission targeting Los Angeles.
bullet Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep (a.k.a. Lillie) (Malaysian). He is a key Hambali associate. He is accused of providing funds for the 2003 bombing of the Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia (see August 5, 2003). He was allegedly tapped for a suicide mission targeting Los Angeles.
bullet Gouled Hassan Dourad (Somali). He allegedly scouted a US military base in Djibouti for a planned terrorist attack.
The fourteen are expected to go on trial in 2007. (Hutcheson and Talev 9/6/2006; Central Intelligence Agency 9/6/2006; Willing 9/7/2006)

A photo of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed allegedly taken during his capture in 2003 (there are controversies about the capture).A photo of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed allegedly taken during his capture in 2003 (there are controversies about the capture). [Source: FBI]Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) attends his combat status review tribunal at Guantanamo Bay (see March 9-April 28, 2007), where he admits participating in the 9/11 attacks and numerous other plots, and offers a defense of his actions. He claims responsibility or co-responsibility for a list of 31 plots, including:
bullet The 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993);
bullet The 9/11 operation: “I was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z”;
bullet The murder of Daniel Pearl (see January 31, 2002): “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl”;
bullet The late 2001 shoe bombing operation (see December 22, 2001);
bullet The 2002 Bali nightclub bombings (see October 12, 2002);
bullet A series of ship-bombing operations (see Mid-1996-September 11, 2001 and June 2001);
bullet Failed plots to assassinate several former US presidents;
bullet Planned attacks on bridges in New York;
bullet Various other failed attacks in the US, UK, Israel, Indonesia, Australia, Japan, Azerbaijan, the Philippines, India, South Korea, and Turkey;
bullet The planned destruction of an El-Al flight in Bangkok;
bullet The Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), and assassination plans for President Clinton (see September 18-November 14, 1994) and the Pope (see September 1998-January 1999); and
bullet Planned attacks on the Library Tower in California, the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Empire State Building in New York, and the “Plaza Bank” in Washington State (see October 2001-February 2002). (US Department of Defense 3/10/2007 pdf file) However, the Plaza Bank was not founded until 2006, three years after KSM was captured. The bank’s president comments: “We’re confused as to how we got on that list. We’ve had a little bit of fun with it over here.” (Pulkkinen 3/15/2007)
On the other hand, KSM denies receiving funds from Kuwait or ever heading al-Qaeda’s military committee; he says this was a reporting error by Yosri Fouda, who interviewed him in 2002 (see April, June, or August 2002). In addition, he claims he was tortured, his children were abused in detention, and that he lied to his interrogators (see June 16, 2004). He also complains that the tribunal system is unfair and that many people who are not “enemy combatants” are being held in Guantanamo Bay. For example, a team sent by a Sunni government to assassinate bin Laden was captured by the Taliban, then by the US, and is being held in Guantanamo Bay. He says that his membership of al-Qaeda is related to the Bojinka operation, but that even after he became involved with al-Qaeda he continued to work with another organization, which he calls the “Mujaheddin,” was based in Pakistan, and for which he says he killed Daniel Pearl. (US Department of Defense 3/10/2007 pdf file) (Note: KSM’s cousin Ramzi Yousef was involved with the militant Pakistani organization Sipah-e-Sahaba.) (Reeve 1999, pp. 50, 54, 67) Mohammed says he was waterboarded by his interrogators. He is asked: “Were any statements you made as the result of any of the treatment that you received during that time frame from 2003 to 2006? Did you make those statements because of the treatment you receive from these people?” He responds, “CIA peoples. Yes. At the beginning, when they transferred me.” (Greenburg, Rosenberg, and de Vogue 4/11/2008) He goes on to compare radical Islamists fighting to free the Middle East from US influence to George Washington, hero of the American War of Independence, and says the US is oppressing Muslims in the same way the British are alleged by some to have oppressed Americans. Regarding the fatalities on 9/11, he says: “I’m not happy that three thousand been killed in America. I feel sorry even. I don’t like to kill children and the kids.” Although Islam prohibits killing, KSM argues that there is an exception because “you are killing people in Iraq.… Same language you use, I use.… The language of war is victims.” (US Department of Defense 3/10/2007 pdf file) The hearing is watched from an adjoining room on closed circuit television by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) and former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL). (US Congress 3/10/2007) KSM’s confession arouses a great deal of interest in the media, which is skeptical of it (see March 15-23, 2007 and Shortly After).

The trial of suspected al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla begins in a Miami criminal court. Padilla is charged with conspiring to “murder, kidnap, and maim” people overseas. The charges include no allegations of a “dirty bomb” plot or other plans for US attacks, as have been alleged by Bush administration officials (see June 10, 2002). Two co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun (see 1993) and Kifah Wael Jayyousi (see (October 1993-November 2001)), also face charges of supporting terrorist organizations. “The defendants were members of a secret organization, a terrorism support cell, based right here in South Florida,” says prosecutor Brian Frazier in his opening statement. “The defendants took concrete steps to support and promote this violence.” Defense attorneys argue that Padilla, Hassoun, and Jayyousi are peaceful Muslims interested in studying their religion and helping their fellow Muslims in war-ravaged areas of the world. Padilla’s attorney, Anthony Natale, calls the case against his client the product of “the politics of fear” in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. “Political crises can cause parts of our government to overreach. This is one of those times,” he says. “He’s a young man who has been wrongly accused.” Hassoun’s attorney, Jeanne Baker, says: “The government really is trying to put al-Qaeda on trial in this case, and it doesn’t belong in this courtroom. There’s a lot of rhetoric, but there’s no evidence.” Much of the evidence against the three consists of FBI wiretaps, documents, and witness statements. One of the strongest pieces of evidence against Padilla is his application to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in July 2000 (see September-October 2000). Prosecutors say Hassoun recruited Padilla when they met in a Florida mosque. “Jose Padilla was an al-Qaeda terrorist trainee providing the ultimate form of material support—himself,” says Frazier. “Padilla was serious, he was focused, he was secretive. Padilla had cut himself off from most things in his life that did not concern his radical view of the Islamic religion.” (Associated Press 5/14/2007)

The trial of the “Miami Seven” results in a deadlocked federal jury after nine days of deliberations, with one man, Lyglenson Lemorin, acquitted and a mistrial declared for the other six. The men each faced four terrorism-related conspiracy charges that carry a combined maximum of 70 years in prison. The charges relate to an alleged terrorist cell formed by the men, who hoped to forge an alliance with al-Qaeda to carry out bombings against the Sears Tower in Chicago, the FBI’s Miami office and other federal buildings (see June 23, 2006). The group operated out of a warehouse in the Liberty City section of Miami. (Anderson 12/13/2007) The arrests of the men in 2006 were heralded as a major victory for the Bush administration’s “War on Terror.” Then-US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales warned that, if “left unchecked, these homegrown terrorists may prove to be as dangerous as groups like al-Qaeda.” The alleged plot was used as an example of the government’s post-9/11 improvements to counter-terrorism methods. The men were members of the Moorish Science Temple, a sect that blends Islam, Christianity and Judaism and does not recognize the legitimacy of the US government. The majority of the evidence in the case came from an FBI Middle Eastern informant, Elie Assad, posing as an al-Qaeda operative named “Brother Mohammad.” He had worked for the FBI for years before he approached Narseal Batiste, the alleged ringleader. Among the evidence he obtained was a recording from March 16, 2006 in which the men vowed to act as “Islamic soldiers” for al-Qaeda. Other evidence included a further 12,000 recorded conversations, including one in which Batiste spoke of waging a “ground war.” The prosecution also presented surveillance photos some defendants took of federal buildings in Miami, wish lists of weapons, and a request for $50,000 made to the informant. Batiste claimed during the trial that he was conning the informant, just as the informant was conning him. He says he was desperate for money to aid his failing construction business, so he went along with the informant in hopes of tricking him into giving him $50,000. (Ripley 12/13/2007) The mistrial and acquittal is considered a major loss for the government and its strategy of pre-emptive prosecution of suspected terrorists. The jury of six men and six women twice sent notes to the presiding judge indicating they could not reach verdicts but were told to keep trying. The mistrial came after their third vote. (Anderson 12/13/2007) The jury foreman, Jeffrey Agron, says, “It was a very difficult case with a lot of evidence… people see evidence in different ways. There were different takes that people had.” A large part of the defense was based on the extensive FBI involvement in the plot: the warehouse was paid for by the FBI and the defendants moved their operations there at the suggestion of the FBI informant. The vows to al-Qaeda were instigated by the informant, who even suggested the bombing of the Miami FBI office. Defense attorney Albert Levin says, “The case was written, produced and directed by the FBI.” Attorney Joshua Dratel, who has defended several suspects in terrorism cases, says: “[A]re we interested in finding terrorists or creating them? Even in cases where people are found guilty, I’m not sure that [this strategy] is necessarily finding people who are a genuine danger. What it’s really doing is finding people who—with enough inducement and encouragement—may do something. But whether they would ever do anything on their own, we’ll never know.” A new trial is scheduled for next year. (Ripley 12/13/2007)

Convicted terrorism conspirator Jose Padilla (see January 22, 2008) sues former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo. Padilla claims Yoo’s legal arguments led to his mistreatment and illegal detention at a US Navy brig. Padilla’s lawsuit says that Yoo’s memos led President Bush to designate Padilla as an “enemy combatant” (see June 10, 2002) and subject him to indefinite detention without being charged or having access to a lawyer. The lawsuit asks for only $1 in damages, and seeks a legal judgment declaring that the policies violated the US Constitution. “This is ultimately about right and wrong, not money,” says Padilla’s attorney Jonathan Freiman, a law professor at Yale University. Freiman says Yoo is being sued because “he gave the green light” to how to deal with Padilla. The lawsuit reiterates claims that Padilla was subjected to harsh interrogation techiques and mistreatment that amounted to torture, claims Justice Department and Pentagon officials deny. (Anderson 1/4/2008)

Jose Padilla (see May 14, 2007), convicted in August 2007 of conspiring to assist terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda, is sentenced for his crimes. Padilla was not charged with plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb,” as Bush administration officials have long alleged (see June 10, 2002). He is sentenced to over 17 years in prison, but is not sentenced to life in prison, as Judge Marcia Cooke could have given him. Cooke gives Padilla some credit for his detention in a US naval brig, and agrees that he was subjected to what she calls “harsh conditions” and “extreme environmental stresses” while there. “I do find that the conditions were so harsh for Mr. Padilla… they warrant consideration in the sentencing in this case,” she rules. Padilla does not get credit for time served. Two co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun (see 1993) and Kifah Wael Jayyousi (see (October 1993-November 2001)), are also convicted; Hassoun receives over 15 years in prison and Jayyousi is sentenced to over 12 years. Cooke says that the prosecution failed to prove that either defendant was responsible for any specific acts of terrorism. “There is no evidence that these defendants personally maimed, kidnapped, or killed anyone in the United States or elsewhere,” she rules. The reactions from the defendants’ lawyers and family members are mixed. “I feel good about everything. This is amazing,” says Padilla’s mother, Estela Lebron. Hassoun’s lawyer, Jeanne Baker, calls the verdict “a defeat for the government.” And Jayyousi’s lawyer, William Swor, says: “The government has not made America any safer. It has just made America less free.” (Associated Press 1/22/2008) Padilla will serve his prison sentence at a so-called “supermax” prison facility in Colorado. Domestic terrorists such as Terry Nichols, convicted of conspiring to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City (see Late 1992-Early 1993 and Late 1994), “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski (see April 3, 1996), and al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui (see April 22, 2005) are also held at this facility. (Lewandowski 4/19/2008)

Jaber Elbaneh’s appearance in court.Jaber Elbaneh’s appearance in court. [Source: Associated Press / Mohammed al-Qadhi.]Jaber Elbaneh, an Islamist militant wanted by the US, comes out of hiding to appear in court in Yemen, but is not arrested. Elbaneh, a US citizen and whose family came from Yemen, had lived in Lackawanna, New York, before the 9/11 attacks. He went to Afghanistan to train at an al-Qaeda training camp along with about six other men from Lackawanna, but while the others dropped out and returned to the US, Elbaneh never returned (see April-August 2001). He moved to Yemen. The Yemeni government says he also helped plan the 2002 attack on the oil tanker Limburg off Yemen’s coast (see October 6, 2002). He was arrested there in 2004 after being charged in the US for attending the training camp. He was sentenced to ten years in prison, but in February 2006, he and 22 other suspected al-Qaeda operatives escaped from a high-security Yemeni prison (see February 3, 2006). The US offered $5 million for information leading to his arrest. Elbaneh was then implicated in a September 2006 bombing in Yemen that took place several days before national elections (see September 15, 2006). Some suggest the bombers may have colluded with the government to use the bombing to successfully help Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh win reelection. Elbaneh was convicted, but allowed to stay at home under a loose form of house arrest. Given the outstanding $5 million reward for him, Elbaneh appears to surprise everyone by appearing in court where his conviction in the 2006 bombing was being appealed. Furthermore, he gives a speech proclaiming his innocence. He says that after his prison escape, he surrendered directly to President Saleh in May 2007, who absolved him of any jail time. The New York Times comments: “Perhaps the greatest mystery surrounding [Elbaneh] is his decision to appear in court… The Yemeni government has generally instructed the jihadists with whom it arranges amnesty to avoid the news media and keep low profiles. But Mr. Elbaneh deliberately spoke out in a public setting, with journalists present, and named the president in his brief tirade.” (Ghobari 2/27/2008; Worth 3/1/2008)

Milt Bearden, a retired 30-year CIA veteran who served as senior manager for clandestine operations, writes: “The [Bush] administration’s claims of having ‘saved thousands of Americans’ can be dismissed out of hand because credible evidence has never been offered—not even an authoritative leak of any major terrorist operation interdicted based on information gathered from these interrogations in the past seven years. All the public gets is repeated references to Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002), the Lackawanna Six (see April-August 2001), the Liberty Seven (see June 23, 2006), and the Library Tower operation in Los Angeles (see October 2001-February 2002). If those slapstick episodes are the true character of the threat, then maybe we’ll be okay after all. When challenged on the lack of a game-changing example of a derailed operation, administration officials usually say that the need to protect sources and methods prevents revealing just how enhanced interrogation techniques have saved so many thousands of Americans. But it is irresponsible for any administration not to tell a credible story that would convince critics at home and abroad that this torture has served some useful purpose.” Bearden suggests that the CIA might have been permanently “broken” by its use of torture, and that some US officials will likely face the threat of being arrested overseas on torture charges for years to come. (Bearden 7/1/2008)

A newly released government threat analysis shows that slain trust-fund millionaire James G. Cummings, an American Nazi sympathizer from Maine who was killed by his wife Amber in December 2008, possessed the radioactive components necessary to build a so-called “dirty bomb.” Cummings, infuriated by the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, purchased depleted uranium over the Internet from an American company.
FBI Confiscates Radioactive Materials - The Bangor Daily News reports, “According to an FBI field intelligence report from the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center posted online by WikiLeaks, an organization that posts leaked documents, an investigation into the case revealed that radioactive materials were removed from Cummings’s home after his shooting death on December 9.” According to the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center: “Amber [Cummings] indicated James was very upset with Barack Obama being elected president. She indicated James had been in contact with ‘white supremacist group(s).’ Amber also indicated James mixed chemicals in the kitchen sink at their residence and had mentioned ‘dirty bombs.’” An FBI search of the Cummings home found four jars of depleted uranium-238 labeled “uranium metal” and the name of an unidentified US corporation, another jar labeled “thorium” and containing that material, and a second, unlabeled jar which also contained thorium-232. Other materials found in Cummings’s home were consistent with the manufacture of an explosive device, which if detonated could have spread radioactive debris throughout a relatively large local area. The FBI also found information on how to build “dirty bombs,” and information about cesium-137, strontium-90, cobalt-60, and other radioactive materials. FBI evidence shows Cummings had numerous ties to a variety of right-wing white supremacist groups. Cummings also owned a collection of Nazi memorabilia which, according to local tradesmen, he proudly displayed throughout his home. Police reports show that Cummings has a long history of violence. Amber Cummings contends she is innocent of her husband’s murder by reason of insanity, and claims she suffered years of mental, physical, and sexual abuse at his hands. The Department of Homeland Security has refused to comment on the incident. (Bangor Daily News 2/10/2009; Webster 3/9/2009) Local law enforcement officials downplay the threat Cummings posed, and the national media virtually ignores the story. (Gellman 9/30/2010)
Later Information Shows Depth of Threat Posed by Cummings - Additional information gleaned by Time reporter Barton Gellman from Cummings’s notes and records later shows that the threat posed by Cummings was even more serious than initially reported. Cummings had applied to join the National Socialist Party (the American Nazi organization), and had detailed plans on how to assassinate President-elect Obama. Gellman will call Cummings “a viciously angry and resourceful man who had procured most of the supplies for a crude radiological dispersal device and made some progress in sketching a workable design.” Gellman says that in his attempt to construct a nuclear weapon, Cummings “was far ahead of Jose Padilla, the accused al-Qaeda dirty-bomb plotter (see June 10, 2002), and more advanced in his efforts than any previously known domestic threat involving a dirty bomb.” The materials were later confirmed to be the radioactive materials they were labeled as being; Amber Cummings will say that her husband bought them under the pretense of conducting legal research for a university. Although the materials Cummings had would not, themselves, succeed in unleashing large amounts of radiation over a large area, he was actively searching for three ingredients that would serve such a purpose: cobalt-60, cesium-137, and strontium-90. He had succeeded in manufacturing large amounts of TATP, an explosive favored by Islamist suicide bombers and brought on board an aircraft by “shoe bomber” Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001). “His intentions were to construct a dirty bomb and take it to Washington to kill President Obama,” Amber Cummings says. “He was planning to hide it in the undercarriage of our motor home.” She says her husband had practiced crossing checkpoints with dangerous materials aboard, taking her and their daughter along for an image of innocence. Maine state police detective Michael McFadden, who participated in the investigation throughout, says he came to believe that James Cummings posed “a legitimate threat” of a major terrorist attack. “When you’re cooking thorium and uranium under your kitchen sink, when you have a couple million dollars sitting in the bank and you’re hell-bent on doing something, I think at that point you become someone we want to sit up and pay attention to,” he says. “If she didn’t do what she did, maybe we would know Mr. Cummings a lot better than we do right now.” (Gellman 9/30/2010)


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