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Context of 'September 9, 2001: Northern Alliance Leader Massoud Is Assassinated in Anticipation of 9/11 Attack'

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CIA managers Gary Schroen, of the Near East division, and Richard Blee, responsible for Alec Station, the agency’s bin Laden unit, meet Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massoud in Paris, France. [Coll, 2004, pp. 560] Massoud, who is in Europe to address the European Parliament (see April 6, 2001), tells Schroen and Blee “that his own intelligence had learned of al-Qaeda’s intention to perform a terrorist act against the United States that would be vastly greater than the bombings of the American embassies in East Africa.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 337] Declassified Defense Intelligence Agency documents from November 2001 will say that Massoud has gained “limited knowledge… regarding the intentions of [al-Qaeda] to perform a terrorist act against the US on a scale larger than the 1998 bombing of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.” They will further point out he may have been assassinated two days before 9/11 (see September 9, 2001) because he “began to warn the West.” [PakTribune (Islamabad), 9/13/2003; Agence France-Presse, 9/14/2003] Blee hands Massoud a briefcase full of cash. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Schroen and Blee assure Massoud that, although he has been visited less by the CIA recently, they are still interested in working with him, and they will continue to make regular payments of several hundred thousand dollars each month. Commenting on the military situation in Afghanistan, Massoud says his defenses will hold for now, but the Northern Alliance is doing badly and no longer has the strength to counterattack. [Coll, 2004, pp. 561-2]

Entity Tags: Lawrence Wright, Gary C. Schroen, Defense Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Massoud’s two assassins pictured just before their assassination attempt. One holds the rigged video camera.Massoud’s two assassins pictured just before their assassination attempt. One holds the rigged video camera. [Source: CNN]General Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, is assassinated by two al-Qaeda agents posing as Moroccan journalists. [Time, 8/12/2002] A legendary mujaheddin commander and a brilliant tactician, Massoud had pledged to bring freedom and democracy to Afghanistan. The BBC says the next day, “General Massoud’s death might well have meant the end of the [Northern] alliance” because there clearly was no figure with his skills and popularity to replace him. [BBC, 9/10/2001; BBC, 9/10/2001] “With Massoud out of the way, the Taliban and al-Qaeda would be rid of their most effective opponent and be in a stronger position to resist the American onslaught.” [St. Petersburg Times, 9/9/2002] It appears the assassination was supposed to happen earlier: the “journalists” waited for three weeks in Northern Alliance territory to meet Massoud. Finally on September 8, an aide says they “were so worried and excitable they were begging us.” They were granted an interview after threatening to leave if the interview did not happen in the next 24 hours. Meanwhile, the Taliban army (together with elements of the Pakistani army) had massed for an offensive against the Northern Alliance in the previous weeks, but the offensive began only hours after the assassination. Massoud was killed that day but Northern Alliance leaders pretend for several days that Massoud was only injured in order to keep the Northern Alliance army’s morale up, and they are able to stave off total defeat. The timing of the assassination and the actions of the Taliban army suggest that the 9/11 attacks were known to the Taliban leadership. [Time, 8/12/2002] Though it is not widely reported, the Northern Alliance releases a statement the next day: “Ahmed Shah Massoud was the target of an assassination attempt organized by the Pakistani [intelligence service] ISI and Osama bin Laden” (see September 10, 2001). [Radio Free Europe, 9/10/2001; Newsday, 9/15/2001; Reuters, 10/4/2001] This suggests that the ISI may also have had prior knowledge of the attack plans.

Entity Tags: Ahmed Shah Massoud, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Northern Alliance

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At least two messages in Arabic are intercepted by the NSA. One states, “The match is about to begin” and the other states, “Tomorrow is zero hour.” Later reports translate the first message as, “The match begins tomorrow.” [Reuters, 9/9/2002] The messages were sent between someone in Saudi Arabia and someone in Afghanistan. The NSA will claim that they are not translated until September 12, and that even if they had been translated in time, “they gave no clues that authorities could have acted on.” [ABC News, 6/7/2002; Reuters, 6/19/2002] Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Bob Graham will later confirm that the messages were from al-Qaeda sources—a location or phone number—that made them a high priority, but that they were not from bin Laden or one of his top commanders. [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 139] On the morning of September 12, 2001, the CIA will tell President Bush that a recently intercepted message from al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida referred to the 9/11 attacks as “zero hour,” but it is not clear if this is the same message or a different message (see September 12, 2001). These messages turn out to be only two of about 30 pre-9/11 communications from suspected al-Qaeda operatives or other militants referring to an imminent event. An anonymous official will say of these messages, including the “Tomorrow is zero hour” message: “You can’t dismiss any of them, but it does not tell you tomorrow is the day.” [Reuters, 9/9/2002] There will be a later attempt to explain the messages away by suggesting they referred to the killing of Afghan opposition leader Ahmed Shah Massoud the day before (see September 9, 2001). [Reuters, 10/17/2002]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Shah Massoud, Al-Qaeda, National Security Agency, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Shay Sullivan.Shay Sullivan. [Source: Longboat Observer]A group of Middle Eastern men pulls up at the resort on Longboat Key, Florida, where President Bush is staying and falsely claims to have an interview scheduled with the president, but the men are turned away from the premises, according to a local fire marshal who later hears about the incident. [Longboat Observer, 9/26/2001] Bush arrived at the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort on Longboat Key at 6:30 p.m. on September 10 and then spent the night there (see September 10, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 13; Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 9/10/2002] Sometime before 6:00 a.m. on September 11, or possibly on the evening of September 10, a van occupied by some Middle Eastern men pulls up at the resort. The men claim to be reporters and say they are there for a “poolside” interview with Bush. They then ask for a particular Secret Service agent by name. Security guards phone the receptionist at the resort and relay the men’s request. The receptionist has not heard of the Secret Service agent named by the men or anything about a planned interview with Bush. She passes the phone to a Secret Service agent, who similarly tells the security guards that no one knows of the agent the men referred to or is aware of any scheduled interview with the president. The Secret Service agent says the men should contact the president’s public relations office in Washington, DC, and has them turned away from the premises. [Longboat Observer, 9/26/2001; Longboat Observer, 9/7/2011]
Incident Resembles Recent Assassination Method - Some people will later note the similarity of this alleged incident to the method used to assassinate General Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, on September 9. [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004] Massoud was killed by a bomb hidden in the video camera of two Arab men who said they were journalists who wanted to interview him (see September 9, 2001). [Time, 8/12/2002; St. Petersburg Times, 9/9/2002] “Were the men on Longboat Key planning to kill Bush in similar fashion?” the St. Petersburg Times will ask. [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004]
Fire Marshal Learns about Incident - The alleged incident on Longboat Key will come to light after reporter Shay Sullivan hears local Fire Marshal Carroll Mooneyhan describing it to a colleague during a lull in a firefighters’ union meeting and then writes an article about it for the Longboat Observer. Mooneyhan does not witness the incident firsthand, but will learn about it when he is at the front desk at the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort at around 6:00 a.m. on September 11. At that time, he will overhear the receptionist and a security guard discussing what happened. It is unclear when exactly the incident they discuss is meant to have occurred. [Longboat Observer, 9/26/2001; Longboat Observer, 9/7/2011] The Secret Service will question Mooneyhan about what he hears. [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004] Two weeks after 9/11, the FBI will reportedly be looking into the alleged incident. [Longboat Observer, 9/26/2001]
Incident Is Later Denied - The day after the incident is first reported in the Longboat Observer, Mooneyhan “went silent” about it, Sullivan will say. [Longboat Observer, 9/7/2011] In 2004, Mooneyhan will deny telling anyone at the Longboat Observer about the incident. “How did they get that information from me if I didn’t know it?” he will say. [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004] However, Sullivan will suggest that Mooneyhan may have been “ordered to stop talking about it.” He will note that Secret Service agents visited his newspaper and “suggested we back off the story.” [Longboat Observer, 9/7/2011] Longboat Key Police Chief John Kintz will say in 2011 that he has been unable to find any evidence of the incident. “[T]here wasn’t a single person who could confirm that it happened,” he will say, adding, “We never found anyone who worked at the gate who could tell us that that happened.” [Longboat Observer, 9/7/2011]
Other Suspicious Incidents Occur - Other suspicious incidents occur in the Longboat Key area around this time. Shortly after 4:00 a.m. on September 11, a Sudanese man contacts police in Sarasota and says he is concerned that a friend of his might pose a threat to the president while he is visiting the area (see 4:07 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Summers and Swan, 2011, pp. 457] And at 8:50 a.m. on September 11, a local man will see a van in Sarasota with two Middle Eastern men screaming out the windows, “Down with Bush” (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Longboat Observer, 9/26/2001] Whether these two incidents are related to the alleged incident at the Longboat Key resort is unclear.

Entity Tags: Carroll Mooneyhan, George W. Bush, John Kintz, US Secret Service, Shay Sullivan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, wonders if the recent assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, was carried out as part of the preparations for today’s terrorist attacks on the United States and Cheney agrees when he suggests this possibility. [Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 41-42] Libby is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center below the White House with Cheney and other senior government officials. [White House, 11/14/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 18] While thinking about today’s attacks on the US, his mind turns to Massoud. [Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 41-42] Massoud was the commander of the Northern Alliance, the resistance group fighting Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban and the al-Qaeda terrorist network they shelter. He was killed on September 9 by a bomb hidden in a video camera carried by two men who claimed they were journalists who wanted to interview him (see September 9, 2001). [Time, 8/12/2002; St. Petersburg Times, 9/9/2002] In light of this, it occurs to Libby that the “strongest fighting force battling al-Qaeda and the Taliban had lost its most important leader” just two days before America was attacked. “The United States had been deprived of an ally who could have been counted on to join in any military operation against [Osama] bin Laden and his cohort,” journalist and author Kurt Eichenwald will later note. Libby wonders if Massoud’s murder was an “unlikely coincidence or perhaps more proof that bin Laden’s hand was behind the hijackings,” according to Eichenwald. He puts his thoughts down on a piece of paper, writing, “Did Massoud’s assassination pave the way for the attack in the United States?” and passes the note to Cheney. Cheney reads it, turns to Libby, and nods his head. [Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 41-42] The St. Petersburg Times will similarly observe that the assassination meant, “With Massoud out of the way, the Taliban and al-Qaeda would be rid of their most effective opponent, and be in a stronger position to resist the American onslaught” that was likely to follow the 9/11 attacks. “As head of the Northern Alliance and an avowed enemy of the Taliban, Massoud would have been a key figure in any attempt by America to oust the regime and the terrorists it harbored,” the St. Petersburg Times will note. [St. Petersburg Times, 9/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Shah Massoud, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Alan Cullison, a Wall Street Journal reporter in Afghanistan, obtains two computers looted from an al-Qaeda house in Kabul. One computer apparently belonged to al-Qaeda military commander Mohammed Atef but contained few files. The other had been used mostly by al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman Al-Zawahiri and had about 1,000 files dating back to 1997. The reporter later gives the computers to the CIA which confirms the authenticity of the files. The computer files reveal how al-Qaeda operates on a day-to-day basis. The files include correspondence, budgets, attack plans, and training manuals. Messages between various al-Qaeda’s offices reveal a fractious, contentious community of terror plotters. There are disputes about theology, strategy, and even expense reports. A montage of 9/11 television reports set to rousing victory reports shows that the computer was used after the attacks. While some of the new information is surprising, for the most part it confirms the claims made about al-Qaeda by Western governments. A letter drafted on the computer in May 2001 confirms that al-Qaeda was behind the assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud (see September 9, 2001). Other messages shows that the organization orchestrated the 1998 embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). However, there is no material relating specifically to the plotting of the 9/11 attacks. [Wall Street Journal, 12/31/2001; Atlantic Monthly, 9/2004]

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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