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Context of 'January 18, 2002: Acquitted Prisoners Turned over to US Shortly Before Release in Bosnia'

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Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz.Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz. [Source: Public domain]By 1994, if not earlier, the NSA is collecting electronic intercepts of conversations between Saudi Arabian royal family members. Journalist Seymour Hersh will later write, “according to an official with knowledge of their contents, the intercepts show that the Saudi government, working through Prince Salman [bin Abdul Aziz], contributed millions to charities that, in turn, relayed the money to fundamentalists. ‘We knew that Salman was supporting all of the causes,’ the official told me.” By July 1996 or soon after, US intelligence “had more than enough raw intelligence to conclude… bin Laden [was] receiving money from prominent Saudis.” (Hersh 2004, pp. 324, 329-330) One such alleged charity front linked to Salman is the Saudi High Commission in Bosnia (see 1996 and After). Prince Salman has long been the governor of Riyadh province. At the time, he is considered to be about fourth in line to be king of Saudi Arabia. His son Prince Ahmed bin Salman will later be accused of having connections with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see Early April 2002). (PBS 10/4/2004) It appears this surveillance of Saudi royals will come to an end in early 2001 (see (February-March 2001)).

Saber Lahmar.Saber Lahmar. [Source: Public domain]Author Roland Jacquard will later claim that in 1996, al-Qaeda revives its militant network in Bosnia in the wake of the Bosnian war and uses the Saudi High Commission (SHC) as its main charity front to do so. (Jacquard 2002, pp. 69) This charity was founded in 1993 by Saudi Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz and is so closely linked to and funded by the Saudi government that a US judge will later render it immune to a 9/11-related lawsuit after concluding that it is an organ of the Saudi government. (Hamblett 9/28/2005)
bullet In 1994, British aid worker Paul Goodall is killed in Bosnia execution-style by multiple shots to the back of the head. A SHC employee, Abdul Hadi al-Gahtani, is arrested for the murder and admits the gun used was his, but the Bosnian government lets him go without a trial. Al-Gahtani will later be killed fighting with al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. (Schindler 2007, pp. 143-144)
bullet In 1995, the Bosnian Ministry of Finance raids SHC’s offices and discovers documents that show SHC is “clearly a front for radical and terrorism-related activities.” (Burr and Collins 2006, pp. 145)
bullet In 1995, US aid worker William Jefferson is killed in Bosnia. One of the likely suspects, Ahmed Zuhair Handala, is linked to the SHC. He also is let go, despite evidence linking him to massacres of civilians in Bosnia. (Schindler 2007, pp. 263-264)
bullet In 1997, a Croatian apartment building is bombed, and Handala and two other SHC employees are suspected of the bombing. They escape, but Handala will be captured after 9/11 and sent to Guantanamo prison. (Schindler 2007, pp. 266)
bullet In 1997, SHC employee Saber Lahmar is arrested for plotting to blow up the US embassy in Saravejo. He is convicted, but pardoned and released by the Bosnian government two years later. He will be arrested again in 2002 for involvement in an al-Qaeda plot in Bosnia and sent to Guantanamo prison (see January 18, 2002).
bullet By 1996, NSA wiretaps reveal that Prince Salman is funding Islamic militants using charity fronts (Between 1994 and July 1996).
bullet A 1996 CIA report mentions, “We continue to have evidence that even high ranking members of the collecting or monitoring agencies in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Pakistan - such as the Saudi High Commission - are involved in illicit activities, including support for terrorists” (see January 1996).
bullet Jacquard claims that most of the leadership of the SHC supports bin Laden. The SHC, while participating in some legitimate charitable functions, uses its cover to ship illicit goods, drugs, and weapons in and out of Bosnia. In May 1997, a French military report concludes: ”(T)he Saudi High Commission, under cover of humanitarian aid, is helping to foster the lasting Islamization of Bosnia by acting on the youth of the country. The successful conclusion of this plan would provide Islamic fundamentalism with a perfectly positioned platform in Europe and would provide cover for members of the bin Laden organization.” (Jacquard 2002, pp. 69-71)
However, the US will take no action until shortly after 9/11, when it will lead a raid on the SHC’s Bosnia offices. Incriminating documents will be found, including information on how to counterfeit US State Department ID badges, and handwritten notes about meetings with bin Laden. Evidence of a planned attack using crop duster planes is found as well. (Schindler 2007, pp. 129, 284) Yet even after all this, the Bosnian government will still refuse to shut down SHC’s offices and they apparently remain open (see January 25, 2002).

After three months, none of the allegations that the US made against the six men arrested in Bosnia in October 2001 (see January 18, 2002) have been proven, and the Supreme Court of the Muslim-Croat Federation orders their release. The US refused to provide evidence in court that the men were tied to al-Qaeda, as alleged. After the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) says that four of the six men cannot be expelled from the country until it has ruled on their appeal against the retraction of their citizenship. A hearing is scheduled for February 11. (Kroeger 1/22/2002; CNN 1/18/2004; Priest and Stephens 5/11/2004) At least some of the six figures do seem to have ties to al-Qaeda. For instance, Saber Lahmar was convicted in Bosnia of attempting to blow up the US embassy there in 1997 (see 1996 and After). But the evidence against them is based on communications intercepts, and the US is unwilling to release any details about that information. The hearing never takes place, because the US takes custody of the men as they are released and renditions them to the Guantanamo prison (see January 18, 2002).

Bosnian police turn five Algerians and a Yemeni over to US authorities, hours before they are to be released. The men were acquitted by Bosnia’s Human Rights Chamber after the United States had refused to provide evidence in court that the men were tied to al-Qaeda (see January 17, 2002). US soldiers whisk the men off from their Sarajevo prison cells and fly them to Guantanamo Bay. According to Karen Williams, a spokeswoman for the US embassy in Sarajevo, the whole operation was lawful. “The Bosnian government opted to deport some of its citizens,” she says, “and the US said it would accept them.” (Kroeger 1/22/2002; CNN 1/18/2004; Priest and Stephens 5/11/2004) However, according to Rasim Kadic, a former head of Bosnia’s antiterrorist task force, his government had no choice. “We had to practically sign them away. The presence of US soldiers here is a guarantee for Bosnia for a long time to come, and we have to pay a price.” (Wood 10/22/2004) Others are less understanding. The representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bosnia, Madeleine Rees, is highly critical of the American and Bosnian governments, saying: “This was an extrajudicial removal from sovereign territory.” An official says the Human Rights Chamber was “outraged.” “It was a scandal. The Americans invented the chamber, they came up with the goals—such as the rule of law and human rights—and then they tell the [Bosnian] government not to care. This undermines everything the Americans do, and everything they financed.” (Kroeger 1/22/2002)

It is reported that four charities operating in Bosnia are due to be shut down there within weeks. The four are Saudi High Relief Commission, Global Relief Foundation (GRF), Active Islamic Youth (AIO), and the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA). The Saudi High Commission is closely tied to the Saudi government and has given out hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Bosnia. At least three suspects recently arrested by the US worked for the Commission, and it had a long history of known militant links (see 1996 and After). In late 2001, GRF was shut down in the US and the UN shut its offices in nearby Kosovo (see December 14, 2001). In the early 1990s, TWRA funneled hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons to Bosnia in violation of a UN embargo (see Mid-1991-1996). A Bosnian police official says, “We have information that these groups are used to finance and support terrorism. There is also definitely money laundering here. And this laundering definitely shows evidence of sources in the narcotics and arms trades.” Bosnian Deputy Minister Rasim Kadic says, “A series of searches and other intelligence gathering proved activities and evidence that has no relationship to humanitarian work. Four groups have very suspicious financial dealings and other issues have made police very suspicious about these four groups.… We expect to make the hard decision to close some of these groups. We will say ‘Thank you for your help, but now you must go.’” Officials say have also discovered evidence of drug and weapons trafficking by the four charities. (Prothero 1/25/2002) But in fact, the four charities are not shut down in Bosnia, except for GRF, which will have its offices there shut near the end of 2002. (BBC 11/28/2002) In 2004, there will be reports that TWRA is operating in the Czech Republic. (BBC 3/15/2004) And in 2005, counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will tell an Austrian newspaper that TWRA is still tied to radical militants and still active there. (BBC 6/14/2005)

The Human Rights Chamber of Bosnia-Herzegovina rules that Bosnian government has violated human rights conventions in transferring six terrorist suspects into US custody in January (see January 18, 2002). Furthermore, Bosnia should have sought assurances from the US that it would not seek the death penalty against the detainees, the court says. (Amnesty International 8/19/2003)

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