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Context of 'September 23, 1998-July 12, 1999: Bin Laden’s London Office Is Shut Down, Three Operatives Are Released'

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Dollis Hill, the London street where Khalid al-Fawwaz runs bin Laden’s de facto press office.Dollis Hill, the London street where Khalid al-Fawwaz runs bin Laden’s de facto press office. [Source: Telegraph]Khalid al-Fawwaz moves to London and becomes bin Laden’s de facto press secretary there. Al-Fawwaz, a Saudi, had fought with bin Laden in Afghanistan and lived with him in Sudan. (Reeve 1999, pp. 180, 192) He headed the al-Qaeda cell in Kenya for about a year until early 1994 when he was arrested there. He went to London shortly after bribing his way out of Kenyan custody. (O'Neill 9/19/2001; Huband 11/29/2001) He opens a London office of the Advice and Reformation Committee (ARC), a bin Laden front. (Reeve 1999, pp. 180, 192) Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later call this bin Laden’s “European headquarters.” (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 110) Al-Fawwaz also allegedly opens an account at Barclays Bank. US officials believe he uses the account to channel funds to al-Qaeda operatives around the world. He will be heavily monitored by Western intelligence agencies for most of this time. (Reeve 1999, pp. 180, 192) For instance, the NSA will record bin Laden phoning him over 200 times from 1996 to 1998 (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Bin Laden also frequently calls al-Fawwaz’s work phone, and Ibrahim Eidarous and Adel Abdel Bary, who work with al-Fawwaz at the London ARC office. (Fielding and Gadhery 3/24/2002) He works directly with some al-Qaeda cells during this time. For instance, a letter found on Wadih El-Hage’s computer in a late 1997 raid (see August 21, 1997) will repeatedly mention al-Fawwaz by his real first name. One part of the letter says that al-Fawwaz “asked me also to write periodically about the entire situation of the [al-Qaeda Nairobi] cell and the whole group here in east Africa.” (Reeve 1999, pp. 180, 192) Al-Fawwaz publishes a total of 17 fatwas issued by bin Laden between 1996 and 1998 and also arranges media interviews with him (see August 1996 and February 22, 1998). (O'Neill 9/19/2001; O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 111) But al-Fawwaz, along with Eidarous and Abdel Bary, will not be arrested until shortly after the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998 and September 23, 1998-July 12, 1999). Many years after their arrests, the three of them will remain in a British prison without being tried while fighting extradition to the US (see December 12, 2001 and After). (O'Neill 9/19/2001; Huband 11/29/2001)

Khalid al-Fawwaz.Khalid al-Fawwaz. [Source: CNN]The NSA is monitoring phone calls between bin Laden in Afghanistan and Khalid al-Fawwaz in London, yet no action is taken after al-Fawwaz is given advanced notice of the African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Al-Fawwaz, together with Ibrahim Eidarous and Adel Abdel Bary, are operating as bin Laden’s de facto international media office in London, and the NSA has listened in for two years as bin Laden called them over 200 times (see November 1996-Late August 1998). On July 29, 1998, al-Fawwaz is called from Afghanistan and told that more satellite minutes are needed because many calls are expected in the next few days. Al-Fawwaz calls a contact in the US and rush orders 400 more minutes for bin Laden’s phone. A flurry of calls on bin Laden’s phone ensues, though what is said has not been publicly revealed. (Morris 9/20/2001) On August 7 at around 4:45 a.m., about three hours before the bombings take place, a fax taking credit for the bombings is sent to a shop near al-Fawwaz’s office. The fingerprints of his associates Eidarous and Abdel Bary are later found on the fax. They fax a copy of this to the media from a post office shortly after the bombings and their fingerprints are found on that fax as well. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer 7/13/1999; O'Neill 9/19/2001) Canadian intelligence is monitoring an operative named Mahmoud Jaballah who is serving as a communication relay between operatives in Baku and London. He is monitored talking to people both in Baku and London just before the fax is sent from Baku to London (see August 5-7, 1998). The NSA has also been monitoring the operatives in Baku (see November 1996-Late August 1998). It is not clear why the Canadians or the NSA fail to warn about the bombings based on these monitored phone calls. Before 9/11, bin Laden’s phone calls were regularly translated and analyzed in less an hour or so. It has not been explained why this surge of phone calls before the embassy bombings did not result in any new attack warnings. The three men will be arrested shortly after the embassy bombings (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998).

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

Khalid al-Fawwaz, Osama bin Laden’s de facto press secretary, is arrested in London on September 23, 1998. He is arrested with six other suspects, presumably including Ibrahim Eidarous and Adel Abdel Bary. The three of them effectively run the Advice and Reformation Committee (ARC), a bin Laden front in London. Al-Fawwaz is arrested again on September 27 at the request of the US, which issues an extradition warrant for him the same day. On July 12, 1999, Eidarous and Bary are arrested again, as the US issues extradition warrants for them as well. All three are charged in the US for roles in the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Apparently, none of them are released before being arrested on the new charges (see July 12, 1999). Presumably, the other three who were originally arrested are released. (Weiser 9/29/1998; Rohde 7/13/1999) It is not clear why the three were not arrested earlier, or why they were not charged in Britain. They had been monitored in London for years. Bin Laden called them over 200 hundred times from 1996 to 1998, and they are alleged to have been involved in many plots (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998). For instance, the three received a fax from al-Qaeda operatives taking credit for the embassy bombings hours before the bombings actually took place and passed it on to media outlets (see July 29-August 7, 1998). In 1996, the US requested that Britain should arrest al-Fawwaz, Eidarous, and Bary, but the British decided there wasn’t enough evidence. (Soufan 2011, pp. 98)

The FBI is told that three arrested Islamist militants working for Osama bin Laden are about to be released from prison in the UK. But the FBI works quickly and prevents their release. Khalid al-Fawwaz, Ibrahim Eidarous, and Adel Abdel Bary had been arrested in London on September 23, 1998, not long after the US embassy bombings in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Al-Fawwaz is an al-Qaeda operative while Eidarous and Bary are Islamic Jihad operatives, but all three of them ran the Advice and Reformation Committee (ARC), a bin Laden front in London (see September 23, 1998-July 12, 1999). The three of them had been arrested for a role in the embassy bombings, but in July 1999, a British judge says there is not enough evidence to keep them imprisoned. FBI agents Ali Soufan, Dan Coleman, Jack Cloonan, and US attorneys Patrick Fitzgerald and Ken Karas work quickly and put together a request to have the three men extradited to the US to stand trial there. (The US already had requested al-Fawwaz’s extradition shortly after his arrest in September (see September 23, 1998-July 12, 1999).) As a result, the three men are rearrested on July 12, 1999, apparently without ever being released, and a long battle to extradite them begins. (Rohde 7/13/1999; Soufan 2011, pp. 97-104)

Britain’s highest court rules that three alleged al-Qaeda operatives can be extradited to the US to face charges of involvement in the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). The three, Khalid al-Fawwaz, Ibrahim Eidarous, and Adel Abdel Bary, were arrested in London in late 1998 and early 1999 (see September 23, 1998-July 12, 1999). But the Washington Post reports that the three “can bring still more appeals in Europe that could delay any US trial for months or even years.” (Reid 12/18/2001) In 2002, Eidarous is sent to a mental hospital after psychiatrists say he is mentally ill. In July 2004, he is set free in Britain because he has been diagnosed with leukemia. An insider at his hospital says: “Doctors know that his cancer is well advanced and he probably does not have that long to live. Many here were shocked he has been released though. He is wanted by the FBI for one of the worst terrorist atrocities in history.” (Mirror 7/22/2004) There have been no reports of him dying since. In 2005, the Times of London will report that al-Fawwaz may be extradited to the US soon. His lawyers are said to be making “last ditch” appeals to delay his extradition. (O'Neill 8/31/2005) But as of 2008, neither he nor Abdel Bary have been extradited to the US or charged in Britain.

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