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Context of 'November 13, 1995: Al-Qaeda Bombing in Saudi Arabia, US Realizes Bin Laden Is More than Financier'

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A UN vehicle burning in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 3, 1993.A UN vehicle burning in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 3, 1993. [Source: CNN]Eighteen US soldiers are killed in Mogadishu, Somalia, in a spontaneous gun battle following an attempt by US Army Rangers and Delta Force to snatch two assistants of a local warlord; the event later becomes the subject of the movie Black Hawk Down. A 1998 US indictment will charge Osama bin Laden and his followers with training the attackers. (PBS Frontline 10/3/2002)
Rocket Propelled Grenades - While rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) are not usually effective against helicopters, the fuses on the RPGs fired by the Somalis against US helicopters are modified so that they explode in midair. During the Soviet-Afghan War, bin Laden associates had learned from the US and British that, although it is hard to score a direct hit on a helicopter’s weak point—its tail rotor—a grenade on an adjusted fuse exploding in midair can spray a tail rotor with shrapnel, causing a helicopter to crash. (Watson and Barua 2/25/2002)
Possibly Trained by Al-Qaeda - For months, many al-Qaeda operatives had been traveling to Somalia and training militants in an effort to oppose the presence of US soldiers there. Even high-ranking al-Qaeda leaders like Mohammed Atef were directly involved (see Late 1992-October 1993).
Comment by Bin Laden - In a March 1997 interview, bin Laden will say of the Somalia attack, “With Allah’s grace, Muslims over there cooperated with some Arab mujaheddin who were in Afghanistan… against the American occupation troops and killed large numbers of them.” (Hirschkorn 4/20/2001)
Some Al-Qaeda Operatives Leave Somalia after Battle - Al-Qaeda operative L’Houssaine Kherchtou, who supports the organization’s operations in Somalia, will later say that he was told this event also led at least some al-Qaeda members to flee Somalia. “They told me that they were in a house in Mogadishu and one of the nights one of the helicopters were shot, they heard some shooting in the next house where they were living, and they were scared, and the next day they left because they were afraid that they will be caught by the Americans.” (Bergen 2006, pp. 141)

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)

On February 4, 1994, a Libyan named Mohammed Abdullah al-Khulayfi attempts to assassinate Osama bin Laden in Sudan. He and two associates steal automatic weapons from two police stations in Sudan, killing two policemen in the process. Then they fire on worshippers at the mosque bin Laden usually attends, killing 16 and wounding 20 others, but bin Laden is not there. The next day, they shoot at police and one of bin Laden’s offices. That afternoon, the three men go to bin Laden’s house and fire on it. Bin Laden is there, but not in his usual spot which the attackers are targeting. Some of bin Laden’s guests and guards are shot, but none of them dies. Al-Khulayfi is shot and captured by Sudanese police, while his two associates are killed. The three men belonged to a rival Islamist group who apparently believed bin Laden was not fanatical enough. Bin Laden later tells a friend that he believes Egyptian intelligence was behind the attack. The CIA suspect Saudi intelligence was responsible. Within days of the attack, double agent Ali Mohamed flies from California to Sudan and begins training bin Laden’s bodyguards to better protect him. Mohamed also leads an investigation into al-Khulayfi’s past and learns that he had fought with bin Laden and the mujaheddin in Afghanistan in the 1980s. (Gunaratna 2003, pp. 45-46; Wright 2006, pp. 192-193)

Bin Laden writes an open letter to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. He calls for a campaign of guerrilla attacks to drive US forces out of the kingdom. (PBS Frontline 9/13/2001) Bin Laden rails against Saudi government mismanagement and corruption. “Do we not have the right to ask you, O King, where has all the money gone? Never mind answering-one knows how many bribes and commissions ended up in your pocket.” He also decries the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia. He concludes, “Our best advice to you now is to submit your resignation.” But bin Laden does not call for revolution or the overthrow of the Saudi royal family, and pointedly makes no mention of Crown Prince Abdullah, the next in line to be king. (Wright 2006, pp. 209-210) In November 1995, al-Qaeda will bomb a US-operated training center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (see November 13, 1995).

Around the time of an al-Qaeda attack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (see November 13, 1995), four Yemeni mercenaries attempt to assassinate Osama bin Laden. The mercenaries jump off a pickup truck in front of bin Laden’s house in Khartoum, Sudan, and engage in a firefight with security guards. Three of the assassins and two of the guards are killed, but bin Laden emerges unscathed. The assassins were apparently employed by Saudi intelligence. There was an assassination attempt on bin Laden in 1994 as well (see February 4-5, 1994 and Shortly Afterwards). Double agent Ali Mohamed trained bin Laden’s bodyguards after that attempt. Now, working with Sudan’s intelligence agency, Mohamed increases bin Laden’s security. It is unknown if the attempt takes place before or after the Riyadh bombing. (MSNBC 6/22/2005)

Destruction at the Saudi National Guard training center, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.Destruction at the Saudi National Guard training center, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. [Source: CNN]Two truck bombs kill five Americans and two Indians in the US-operated Saudi National Guard training center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Al-Qaeda is blamed for the attacks. (Kugler 8/19/2002) The attack changes US investigators’ views of the role of bin Laden, from al-Qaeda financier to its leader. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 150) The Vinnell Corporation, thought by some experts to be a CIA front, owns the facility that has been attacked. (Cobain 5/14/2003)

Bin Laden arrives in Afghanistan on May 18, 1996 after being expelled from Sudan (see May 18, 1996). Initially, bin Laden stays in an area not controlled by the Taliban, who are fighting for control of the country. But by the end of September 1996, the Taliban conquer the capital of Kabul and gain control over most of the the country (see September 27, 1996). Bin Laden then becomes the guest of the Taliban. The Taliban, bin Laden, and their mutual ally Gulbuddin Hekmatyar then call for a jihad against Ahmed Shah Massoud, who retains control over a small area along Afghanistan’s northern border. As bin Laden establishes a new safe base and political ties, he issues a public fatwa, or religious decree, authorizing attacks on Western military targets in the Arabian Peninsula (see August 1996). (Coll 2004, pp. 326-328)

Jamal al-Fadl testifying in a courtroom. Because his identity has been kept secret, his face has been blocked out.Jamal al-Fadl testifying in a courtroom. Because his identity has been kept secret, his face has been blocked out. [Source: CNN]Jamal al-Fadl, an al-Qaeda operative from al-Qaeda’s first meeting in the late 1980s until 1995, tells the US everything he knows about al-Qaeda. Before al-Fadl’s debriefings, US intelligence had amassed thick files on bin Laden and his associates and contacts. However, they had had no idea how the many pieces fit together. But an official says. “After al-Fadl, everything fell into place.” (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 154-65) The New Yorker will later call al-Fadl “arguably the United States’ most valuable informant on al-Qaeda.” FBI agent Dan Coleman will later say on al-Fadl, “He’s been very, very important to us. When it comes to understanding al-Qaeda, he’s the Rosetta Stone.” FBI agent Mike Anticev will similarly say, “He spoke to us in great detail, and everything that he told us panned out.” CIA officials debrief al-Fadl for a month and a half. Then the CIA hands him, and transcripts of all their interviews with him, over to the FBI. (Mayer 9/11/2006) Coleman and US prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald interrogate al-Fadl at a US military base in Germany for months. (Lance 2006, pp. 261) Roughly between November 1996 and April 1997, al-Fadl tells the FBI about:
bullet The historical background of al-Qaeda. Al-Fadl was one of al-Qaeda’s founding members (see August 11-20, 1988).
bullet The structure of al-Qaeda and its leadership composition.
bullet Al-Qaeda’s objectives and direction.
bullet Its financial infrastructure and networks. Al-Fadl has extensive knowledge of this because he worked as an al-Qaeda financial officer (see December 1996-January 1997).
bullet Its connections and collaboration with other terrorist groups and supporters.
bullet Its activities against US soldiers in Somalia (see October 3-4, 1993).
bullet Its activities in Bosnia. Al-Fadl was sent there on several missions (see Autumn 1992 and Autumn 1992).
bullet The Al-Kifah Refugee Center, al-Qaeda’s most important charity front in the US. Al-Fadl worked there in the 1980s (see 1986-1993).
bullet Bin Laden’s efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Al-Fadl was personally involved in an effort to buy uranium for al-Qaeda (see Late 1993). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 479)
bullet Bin Laden’s plans to attack either inside the US or US embassies (see Late 1996).
Al-Fadl continues to help US intelligence until current day. For instance, in 2000, he will help US officials capture his brother-in-law, Mohammed Suliman al-Nalfi, who is said to be close to Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Nalfi will eventually be sentenced to ten years in prison in the US. Al-Fadl will have no knowledge of the 9/11 plot, but he will continue to identify captured al-Qaeda operatives after 9/11. (Mayer 9/11/2006) Interestingly, al-Fadl, a Sudanese citizen, will later claim that he worked with the Sudanese intelligence agency with the direct approval of bin Laden. (Day 2. United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al. 2/6/2001)

Bin Laden issuing his 1996 fatwa.Bin Laden issuing his 1996 fatwa. [Source: PBS]Secure in his new base in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden issues a public fatwa, or religious decree, authorizing attacks on Western military targets in the Arabian Peninsula. This eliminates any doubts that bin Laden is merely a financier of attacks, rather than an active militant. (US Congress 9/18/2002) He made a similar call to attack US troops in Saudi Arabia in an open letter to the Saudi king the year before (see August 1995), which was followed by an actual attack (see November 13, 1995). The fatwa is published by Khalid al-Fawwaz, who runs bin Laden’s European headquarters in London. However, British authorities do not appear concerned. (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 111) He will issue a new fatwa in 1998 authorizing attacks against the US and its allies all over the world (see February 22, 1998).

In January 1998, the FBI and a New York US Attorney begins preparing charges against him for murdering US citizens in Somalia in 1993 (see October 3-4, 1993), Saudi Arabia in 1995 (see November 13, 1995), and other attacks. A grand jury will approve a secret and sealed indictment charging him with involvement in these attacks in June 1998 (see June 8, 1998). (Risen 9/6/1998; Miniter 2003, pp. 168-169) It is not known why an indictment was not prepared earlier. The indictment is based on information from al-Qaeda informant Jamal al-Fadl, who defected to the US in mid-1996 (see June 1996-April 1997).

Osama bin Laden (right), Mohammed Atef (center), and an unidentified militant at the press conference publicizing the expanded fatwa in May 1998. Ayman al-Zawahiri is out of the picture, sitting on the other side of bin Laden.Osama bin Laden (right), Mohammed Atef (center), and an unidentified militant at the press conference publicizing the expanded fatwa in May 1998. Ayman al-Zawahiri is out of the picture, sitting on the other side of bin Laden. [Source: BBC]Osama bin Laden issues a fatwa (religious edict), declaring it the religious duty of all Muslims “to kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military… in any country in which it is possible.” (Al-Quds al-Arabi (London) 2/23/1998; PBS Frontline 2001; Mackay 9/16/2001) This is an expansion of an earlier fatwa issued in August 1996, which called for attacks in the Arabian Peninsula only (see August 1996). Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of the Egyptian militant group Islamic Jihad, is one of many militant leaders who sign the fatwa. This reveals to the public an alliance between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad that has long been in effect. According to journalist Lawrence Wright, the fatwa was actually mostly written by al-Zawahiri the month before, even though it is released in bin Laden’s name only. (Some members of Islamic Jihad are upset by it and quit the group.) (Wright 2006, pp. 259-261) Also signing the fatwa are representatives from militant groups in Afghanistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen, Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya, Pakistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, the Philippines, Tajikistan, Chechnya, Bangladesh, Kashmir, Azerbaijan, and Palestine. All these representatives call themselves allied to the “International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders” (the name al-Qaeda has not been widely popularized yet). New York magazine will note, “The [fatwa gives] the West its first glimpse of the worldwide conspiracy that [is] beginning to form.” (Wright 9/9/2002) The fatwa is published by Khalid al-Fawwaz, who runs bin Laden’s European headquarters in London, and its publication is preceded by what authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory term a “barrage of calls” from bin Laden’s monitored satellite phone to al-Fawwaz. However, this does not motivate British authorities to take any action against al-Fawwaz. (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 111) In March 1998, 40 Afghan clerics issue a fatwa calling for a jihad against the US. A group of Pakistani clerics issues a similar fatwa in April. These fatwas give much more religious authority to bin Laden’s fatwa. It is suspected that bin Laden “discreetly prompted these two bodies to issue the ordinances.” (Gunaratna 2003, pp. 62-63) Bin Laden then will hold a press conference in May 1998 to publicize the fatwa (see May 26, 1998).

A US grand jury issues a sealed indictment, charging bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders with conspiracy to attack the United States. (PBS Frontline 10/3/2002) The grand jury began preparing the indictment in January 1998 (see January 1998). It is largely based on information from Jamal al-Fadl, a former al-Qaeda operative (see June 1996-April 1997). (PBS Frontline 2001; Risen 9/30/2001; US Congress 7/24/2003) This secret indictment will be superseded by a public one issued in November 1998 (see November 4, 1998). (PBS Frontline 10/3/2002)

US troops in Saudi Arabia at some point before 9/11.US troops in Saudi Arabia at some point before 9/11. [Source: PBS]On April 30, 2003, the US announces that it is withdrawing most of its troops from Saudi Arabia. About 10,000 US soldiers have been stationed there since the first Gulf War (see August 5, 1990 and After and March 1991). The withdrawal is completed by the end of August 2003. About several hundred US military personnel remain in the country to train Saudi forces and tend to military sales. The US moves the rest of its troops to new bases in Qatar and other Persian Gulf countries, as well as building new bases in Iraq, conquered just a month before the announcement. (Mannion 8/26/2003) The withdrawal of US troops from Saudi Arabia has been bin Laden’s most persistent demand since the troops entered the country in 1990. For instance, in his 1996 fatwa (see August 1996), he said, “The latest and greatest of these aggressions incurred by Muslims since the death of the Prophet… is the occupation of the land of the two Holy Places… by the armies of the American Crusaders and their allies.” (O'Neill 4/30/2003) One senior US military official says the decision to leave was made partly to help relieve internal political pressure on the royal family: “The Saudis will be happy when we leave. But they’re concerned that it not look as if it’s precipitous, because it will look like bin Laden won.” (Loeb 4/30/2003) One unnamed senior Saudi prince who participated in high-level debates about the withdrawal says, “We are fighting for our lives, and we are going to do what is necessary to save our behinds.” (Tyler 4/30/2003)


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