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a.k.a. Al-Qaida, Al-Qa'ida
Al-Qaeda was a participant or observer in the following events:
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Richard Newcomb. [Source: Scott Ferrell/ Getty Images]The US has been pressuring the Saudi government to do more to stop Saudi financing for al-Qaeda and other militant groups, but so far little has been accomplished (see August 20, 1998-1999). Vice President Al Gore contacts the Saudis and arranges for some US officials to have a meeting with their top security and banking officials. William Wechsler from the National Security Council (NSC), Richard Newcomb from the Treasury Department, and others on an NSC al-Qaeda financing task force meet about six senior Saudi officials in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. One US official will later recall, “We laid everything out—what we knew, what we thought. We told them we’d just had two of our embassies blown up and that we needed to deal with them in a different way.” But the Saudis have virtually no oversight over their charities and do not seem interested in changing that. Newcomb threatens to freeze the assets of certain groups and individuals if the Saudis do not crack down. The Saudis promise action, but nothing happens. A second visit by a US delegation in January 2000 is ineffective as well. [US News and World Report, 12/15/2003]
The FBI begins an investigation of an unnamed person for ties to important al-Qaeda figures and several organizations linked to al-Qaeda. The FBI is concerned that this person is in contact with several experts in nuclear sciences. After 9/11, the FBI determines that hijacker Marwan Alshehhi had contact with this person on the East Coast of the US. This person also may have ties to Mohamed Atta’s sister. Most additional details about this person, including his/her name, when and how often Alshehhi had contact, and if the investigation was ever closed, remain classified. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
Resurrection Day by Glenn Meade. [Source: Coronet Books]Glenn Meade, an Irish thriller writer, writes a novel based around an al-Qaeda attack on Washington, DC. In the novel, called Resurrection Day, a terrorist gang parks a van containing a tank of poisonous gas in a lock-up garage, wired to explode by remote control. The US president is given five days to comply with a list of demands, before the van is to be blown up. In his research for the book—which is completed just days before 9/11, at the end of August 2001—Meade is helped by numerous US counterterrorism experts. One of these is John O’Neill, the FBI’s counterterrorism chief and top expert on Osama bin Laden. (O’Neill will die in the 9/11 attacks, after leaving the FBI to become the head of security at the World Trade Center (see August 23, 2001).) Meade later says the feeling he got from O’Neill was that the threat posed by Islamic extremists “is a bigger danger than a lot of people in the FBI are prepared to admit; some are sticking their heads in the sand.” The Irish Independent later highlights the similarities between Resurrection Day and the 9/11 attacks, saying, “In Meade’s book it is Washington, not New York, that takes the brunt of the attack. The weapon is nerve gas, not hijacked airliners. But the terrorist network is al-Qaeda. Its head is Osama bin Laden (renamed for the sake of post-September 11 sensitivities) and his operatives, like Mohamed Atta, favor the porous borders of New England as the best way to slip undetected into the US.” Another person who helps Meade in his research for the book is a former member of the US Secret Service. In the days after 9/11, this person will ring Meade and tell him, “What kept running through my mind was ‘I’ve spent the past six weeks helping this author with this book that has such a similar scenario.’” [Irish Independent, 7/6/2002; Glenn Meade, 2003; Irish Independent, 1/26/2003]
[Source: Public domain]The US gains information that former ISI head Hamid Gul contacts Taliban leaders at this time and advises them that the US is not planning to attack Afghanistan to get bin Laden. He assures them that he will provide them three or four hours warning of any future US missile launch, as he did “last time.” Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later suggests Gul gave al-Qaeda warning about the missile strike in August 1998 (see August 20, 1998). [New Yorker, 7/28/2003]
The FAA’s Office of Civil Aviation Security Intelligence sends an internal memo summarizing the al-Qaeda hijacking threat. After reciting information available on the topic, a few principal scenarios are presented. One of them is a “suicide hijacking operation.” The 9/11 Commission will comment on this and another memo the previous year, “In 1998 and 1999, the FAA intelligence unit produced reports about the hijacking threat posed by bin Ladin and al-Qaeda, including the possibility that the terrorist group might try to hijack a commercial jet and slam it into a US landmark.” However, FAA analysts consider this an option of last resort, because “it does not offer an opportunity for dialogue to achieve the key goal of obtaining [Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman] and other key captive extremists.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 345, 561; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 53]
Gen. Pete Schoomaker. [Source: US Defense Department]A data mining program called Able Danger was set up by US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in late 1998. It had been collecting data mostly on Bosnia and China (see Late December 1998). But at this time, it begins collecting data on al-Qaeda. [Government Security News, 9/2005] At least some of the data is collected on behalf of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert, the J3 at US Special Operations Command. [US Congress. Senate. Committee on Judiciary, 9/21/2005] Eleven intelligence employees are directly involved in Able Danger’s work. Six are with SOCOM’s Able Danger unit. Four more, including Dr. Eileen Preisser and Maj. Eric Kleinsmith, are with the US Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA), which joins the effort in December 1999. LIWA had been conducing data mining already on a wide variety of topics, including international drug cartels, corruption in Russia and Serbia, terrorist linkages in the Far East, and the proliferation of sensitive military technology to China (see April 2000). [Norristown Times Herald, 6/19/2005; Government Security News, 8/2005; New York Times, 8/9/2005; St. Petersburg Times, 8/10/2005; Bergen Record, 8/14/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005; US Congress. Senate. Committee on Judiciary, 9/21/2005] Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, running a military unit called Stratus Ivy in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), will also take part in the effort. According to Shaffer, Stratus Ivy is tasked “to take on ‘out of the box’ ideas, and develop them into real intelligence operations.” So the goal is to use the information gathered by Able Danger to conduct real operations against al-Qaeda targets. [US Congress, 2/15/2006 ] Using computers, the unit collects huge amounts of data in a technique called “data mining.” They get information from such sources as al-Qaeda Internet chat rooms, news accounts, web sites, and financial records. Using sophisticated software, they compare this with government records such as visa applications by foreign tourists, to find any correlations and depict these visually. [Bergen Record, 8/14/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005] The program will be shut down early in 2001 (see January-March 2001).
Entity Tags: Geoffrey Lambert, Anthony Shaffer, Eric Kleinsmith, Russia, Special Operations Command, Hugh Shelton, Al-Qaeda, Curt Weldon, Peter J. Schoomaker, Bosnia, China, Able Danger, Eileen Preisser
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
’The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism.’ [Source: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress]A report prepared for US intelligence titled the “Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why” is completed. It states: “Al-Qaeda’s expected retaliation for the US cruise missile attack… could take several forms of terrorist attack in the nation’s capital. Al-Qaeda could detonate a Chechen-type building-buster bomb at a federal building. Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al-Qaeda’s Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives (C-4 and Semtex) into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the White House. Whatever form an attack may take, bin Laden will most likely retaliate in a spectacular way.” [Associated Press, 4/18/2002] The report discusses the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and includes a picture of the WTC towers. [Hudson, 1999, pp. 4 ; Los Angeles Times, 5/17/2002] It was prepared by the Federal Research Division, an arm of the Library of Congress, for the National Intelligence Council, which advises the president and US intelligence on emerging threats. Its author is Rex A. Hudson. [Associated Press, 4/18/2002; Hudson, 2005] The Bush administration will later claim to have never heard of this report until May 2002, despite the fact that it had been publicly posted on the Internet since 1999, and “widely shared within the government,” according to the New York Times. [CNN, 5/18/2002; New York Times, 5/18/2002]
Ahmed Shah Massoud.
[Source: French Ministry of Foreign Affairs]Worried about intercepts showing a growing likelihood of al-Qaeda attacks around the millennium, the CIA steps up ties with Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban. The CIA sends a team of agents, led by bin Laden unit chief Richard Blee, to Massoud’s headquarters in a remote part of northern Afghanistan, seeking his help to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. The CIA team and Massoud meet twice, and Blee tells him, “We have a common enemy.” Massoud complains that the US is too focused on bin Laden, and is not interested in the root problems of Taliban, Saudi, and Pakistani support for terrorism that is propping him up. He agrees to help nonetheless, and the CIA gives him more aid in return. However, the US is officially neutral in the Afghan civil war and the agents are prohibited from giving any aid that would “fundamentally alter the Afghan battlefield.” The CIA team will later be reported to admire Massoud greatly. They see him as “a Che Guevara figure, a great actor on history’s stage,” and “a poet, a military genius, a religious man, and a leader of enormous courage who defied death and accepted its inevitability.” Author Steve Coll will write: “The CIA team had gone into the Panjshir [Valley, where Massoud’s headquarters is located] as unabashed admirers of Massoud. Now their convictions deepened even as they recognized that the agency’s new partnership with the Northern Alliance would be awkward, limited, and perhaps unlikely to succeed.” Perhaps because of this, the team members agree with Massoud’s criticism of US policy and agree to lobby for a policy change in his favor in Washington. [Coll, 2004, pp. 469-472; Washington Post, 2/23/2004] DIA agent Julie Sirrs, newly retired, is at Massoud’s headquarters at the same time as the CIA team (see October 1998). She gathers valuable intelligence from captured al-Qaeda soldiers while the CIA agents stay in their guesthouse. She will publish much of what she learns on this trip and other trips in the summer of 2001. [Washington Post, 2/28/2004]
Yassir al-Sirri speaking to the media in London in 2003. [Source: Hossam el-Hamalawy]The Egyptian government posts a list of its 14 most wanted terrorists; half of them are believed to be living in Britain. The list is published on an Egyptian government website and Al-Sharq al-Awsat, a popular Arabic international newspaper based in London. It includes many members of Islamic Jihad, the Egyptian militant group that has essentially merged with al-Qaeda by this time. Names on the list include:
Ayman al-Zawahiri. He is the top leader of Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda’s number two leader. He was sentenced to death in absentia in Egypt, and the US has a $5 million bounty on him by this time.
Thirwat Salah Shehata. He is another high-ranking Islamic Jihad leader. He was sentenced to death twice in Egypt.
Adel Abdel Bary. He was granted asylum in Britain despite being sentenced to death in Egypt, and ran the Islamic Jihad office in London. But he was arrested there in 1998 and is fighting deportation to the US on charges of involvement in the al-Qaeda African embassy bombings.
Adel Abdel-Quddus, an Islamic Jihad leader. He received a death sentence in connection with an assassination attempt in 1993. He was granted asylum in Austria.
Ayub Usama Saddiq Ali, another Islamic Jihad leader. He was sentenced to death on murder charges in Egypt. He moved to Germany and is granted asylum there in October 1999. 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah will call him twice, once in November 1999 and once in August 2001 (see November 7, 1999 and August 4, 2001).
Ahmed Refai Taha, head of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the Egyptian militant group formerly led by the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. In September 2000, al-Qaeda will publish a video of Osama bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and Taha threatening revenge if the Blind Sheikh is not released (see September 21, 2000). Taha was sentenced to death in Egypt.
Mustafa Hamza, leader of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and an al-Qaeda leader as well. He was sentenced to death three times in Egypt. He is believed to have led an assassination attempt of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 1995 (see June 26, 1995).
Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli, brother of the assassin of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and an Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya leader. He also was sentenced to death in Egypt, and is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan with bin Laden.
Ahmed Hussein Ugayzah, sentenced to life imprisonment in Egypt. He was an aide to al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan, but he had a falling out with him and joined the Vanguards of Conquest, an Islamic Jihad splinter group.
Yassir al-Sirri. He was sentenced to death in Egypt in 1994 for a role in an attempted assassination attempt in 1993. But he moved to Britain and was granted asylum. [Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 10/2/1999; Al-Ahram Weekly, 10/18/2001] Shortly after 9/11, the Guardian will report that seven of the men on the list live in London, but it is not mentioned which of the seven live there. [Guardian, 9/28/2001] There appear to have been no arrests of any of the above figures in Britain after the publication of the list.
Entity Tags: Ahmed Hussein Ugayzah, Ahmed Refai Taha, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Al-Qaeda, Ayub Usama Saddiq Ali, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Egypt, Adel Abdel-Quddus, Yassir al-Sirri, Islamic Jihad, Mustafa Hamza, Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli, Vanguards of Conquest, Thirwat Salah Shehata
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
The State Department legally declares al-Qaeda a foreign terrorist organization that is threatening to the US. Previously, it had been illegal in the US to support bin Laden as an individual; now it is illegal to support any part of his organization. [US Congress, 7/24/2003; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The State Department had announced its first list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in autumn 1997. Surprisingly, neither bin Laden nor al-Qaeda were included (see Autumn 1997). [Coll, 2004]
United Nations sanctions against Afghanistan take effect. The sanctions freeze Taliban assets and impose an air embargo on Ariana Airlines in an effort to force the Taliban to hand over bin Laden. [BBC, 2/6/2000] It had been widely reported that Ariana had become a transportation arm for al-Qaeda (see Mid-1996-October 2001). However, Ariana will keep its illegal trade network flying, until stricter sanctions will ground it in 2001 (see January 19, 2001).
On December 5, 1999, a Jordanian raid discovers 71 vats of bomb making chemicals in this residence. [Source: Judith Miller]Jordanian officials successfully uncover an al-Qaeda plot to blow up the Radisson Hotel in Amman, Jordan, and other sites on January 1, 2000. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] The Jordanian government intercepts a call between al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida and a suspected Jordanian terrorist named Abu Hoshar. Zubaida says, “The training is over.” [New York Times, 1/15/2001] Zubaida also says, “The grooms are ready for the big wedding.” [Seattle Times, 6/23/2002] This call reflects an extremely poor code system, because the FBI had already determined in the wake of the 1998 US embassy bombings that “wedding” was the al-Qaeda code word for bomb. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 214] Furthermore, it appears al-Qaeda fails to later change the system, because the code-name for the 9/11 attack is also “The Big Wedding.” [Chicago Tribune, 9/5/2002] Jordan arrests Hoshar while he’s still on the phone talking to Zubaida. In the next few days, 27 other suspects are charged. A Jordanian military court will initially convict 22 of them for participating in planned attacks, sentencing six of them to death, although there will be numerous appeals (see April 2000 and After). In addition to bombing the Radisson Hotel around the start of the millennium, the plan calls for suicide bombings on two border crossings with Israel and a Christian baptism site. Further attacks in Jordan are planned for later. The plotters had already stockpiled the equivalent of 16 tons of TNT, enough to flatten “entire neighborhoods.” [New York Times, 1/15/2001] Key alleged plotters include:
Raed Hijazi, a US citizen who is part of a Boston al-Qaeda cell (see June 1995-Early 1999). He will be arrested and convicted in late 2000 (see September 2000 and October 2000). [New York Times, 1/15/2001]
Khalid Deek, who is also a US citizen and part of an Anaheim, California al-Qaeda cell. He will be arrested in Pakistan and deported to Jordan, but strangely he will released without going to trial.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He will later be a notorious figure in the Iraq war starting in 2003. [Washington Post, 10/3/2004]
Luai Sakra. The Washington Post will later say he “played a role” in the plot, though he is never charged for it. Sakra apparently is a CIA informant before 9/11, perhaps starting in 2000 (see 2000). [Washington Post, 2/20/2006]
The Jordanian government will also later claim that the Al Taqwa Bank in Switzerland helped finance the network of operatives who planned the attack. The bank will be shut down shortly after 9/11 (see November 7, 2001). [Newsweek, 4/12/2004]
Entity Tags: Raed Hijazi, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, Al Taqwa Bank, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Khalil Deek, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Abu Hoshar, Jordan, Luai Sakra
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
In the winter of 1999, a covert four-man CIA and NSA team arrives in the part of Afghanistan controlled by the Northern Alliance. They set up a listening post within range of al-Qaeda’s tactical radios. The Northern Alliance is shown how to run it, and then the team leaves. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001; Miniter, 2003, pp. 197-198] In March 2000, CIA agent Gary Berntsen leads a small CIA team into Northern Alliance territory (see March 2000). While there, they improve the existing listening post and set up a new one closer to Taliban-controlled territory. [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 57-61] The US makes little use of the intelligence gained from these intercepts, leading Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud to conclude that the US is “not serious” about getting bin Laden. [Miniter, 2003, pp. 197-198]
The new Able Danger team begins collecting data on al-Qaeda. The aim is to gain intelligence that will allow Special Operations forces to conduct strikes against al-Qaeda around the world. Erik Kleinsmith will later claim that he is visited by Special Operations officials and he gives them a demonstration of what the data mining techniques they’ve developed can do. He claims that within 90 minutes, his analysts finds evidence that al-Qaeda has a “worldwide footprint” including “a surprising presence in the US. That’s when we started losing sleep.” [National Journal, 12/3/2005] Using computers, the unit collects huge amounts of data in a technique called “data mining.” They get information from such sources as al-Qaeda Internet chat rooms, news accounts, web sites, and financial records. Using sophisticated software, they compare this with government records such as visa applications by foreign tourists, to find any correlations and depict these visually. [Bergen Record, 8/14/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005] The data harvest is far too huge to be useful, so the analysts try to pare it down by looking at links between known terrorists and finding who they associate with. By the spring of 2000, they are able to isolate about 20 people whom Special Operations wants further analysis. The Able Danger team creates massive charts, measuring up to 20 feet in length and covered in small type, to show all the links between suspects that have been discovered. [National Journal, 12/3/2005]
Ahmed Ressam. [Source: Public domain]The CIA learns from the Jordanian government about an al-Qaeda millennium bombing plot in that country (see November 30, 1999). Further, the CIA concludes more attacks are likely soon, including some inside the US (see December 8, 1999). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is told of this, and he implements a plan to neutralize the threat. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 205, 211] The plan, approved by President Clinton, focuses on harassing and disrupting al-Qaeda members throughout the world. The FBI is put on heightened alert, counterterrorism teams are dispatched overseas, a formal ultimatum is given to the Taliban to keep al-Qaeda under control, and friendly intelligence agencies are asked to help. There are Cabinet-level meetings nearly every day dealing with terrorism [Washington Post, 4/2/2000; Associated Press, 6/28/2002] All US embassies, military bases, police departments, and other agencies are given a warning to be on the lookout for signs of an al-Qaeda millennium attack. One alert border agent responds by arresting terrorist Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), which leads to the unraveling of several bombing plots (see December 15-31, 1999). No terror attacks occur. However, Clarke claims the FBI generally remains unhelpful. For example, around this time the FBI says there are no websites in the US soliciting volunteers for training in Afghanistan or money for terrorist front groups. Clarke has a private citizen check to see if this is true, and within days, he is given a long list of such websites. The FBI and Justice Department apparently fail to do anything with the information. [Newsweek, 3/31/2004]
Khalil Deek. [Source: Tawfiq Deek]Khalil Deek is arrested by police in Peshawar, Pakistan, and immediately extradited to Jordan. The Jordanian government requested the arrest after tying Deek to a millennium plot to blow up hotels in Jordan that had been broken up a few days ago (see November 30, 1999). [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] Deek is a naturalized US citizen who has been part of a California al-Qaeda sleeper cell for most of the 1990s. He had been investigated by US authorities since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s, March 1993-1996, and December 14-25, 1999) but was never arrested. Deek’s computer is confiscated when he is arrested, and computer files reveal the targets of the Jordanian plot. [Cooley, 2002, pp. 33] According to contemporary press accounts, Deek, who was running a computer repair shop in Peshawar, Pakistan, had helped encrypt al-Qaeda’s Internet communications and smuggled recruits to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. Some reports identify him as a former mujaheddin fighter, a US Army veteran, and a close associate of Osama bin Laden. Articles also claim he worked closely with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida on the Jordanian plot and other things (see May 2000, Late 1980s, and 1998-December 11, 1999). [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] CNN says Deek “is believed to be the mastermind” of the Jordanian plot. [CNN, 12/17/1999] But, unlike the rest of the defendants in the Jordanian case, Deek is transferred from a maximum-security prison to a minimum-security one. He alone is not charged. He will be released in May 2001 (see May 2001). [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] It will later be alleged that Deek was a Jordanian intelligence mole (see Shortly After December 11, 1999).
Khalil Deek, a US citizen accused of helping to plot an al-Qaeda linked millennium attack in Jordan, reportedly cooperates against al-Qaeda shortly after being deported to Jordan (see December 11, 1999). Journalist Jonathan Randal will later assert that “a highly placed American in [Jordan] did claim that early on Deek had sung,” meaning he revealed all that he knew. [Randal, 2005, pp. 6] The Los Angeles Times reports in March 2000 that Deek “reportedly has cooperated with US investigators in deciphering [al-Qaeda] computer disks.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/29/2000] The London Times will later report the same thing. [London Times, 11/4/2001] Deek will be mysteriously released from Jordanian prison in mid-2001, fueling speculation about his cooperation (see May 2001). In 2003, journalist Jason Burke will claim in a book that Deek “was, in fact, an agent for the Jordanian secret services.” Burke mentions this in passing and does not explain how he would know this. [Burke, 2004, pp. 317] In 2005, Randal will echo Burke’s claim in a book, saying, “If [Deek] indeed did sing, one possible explanation is that Deek may have been a Jordanian intelligence mole all along and had tipped his masters off to the impending millennium plot and perhaps much more about al-Qaeda. That would elucidate why he was jailed, but never charged or tried.” [Randal, 2005, pp. 6] If true, it would suggest that Jordan had great insight into al-Qaeda for many years. Deek has been considered an important al-Qaeda leader with knowledge about many other al-Qaeda operatives. For instance, one US official calls him a “concierge” or “travel agent” for al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 2/4/2000] He is also considered a close associate of high ranking al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. If Deek is a Jordanian mole, this might explain why it will later be reported that US intelligence has been investigating Zubaida and Deek since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s). It also might explain why US intelligence was seemingly uninterested in intelligence that Deek was running militant training camps in California in the early 1990s (see Early 1990s), running an al-Qaeda sleeper cell in California for most of the 1990s (see March 1993-1996 and December 25, 1999), and why the US never officially charged Deek with any crimes (see Spring 2004). But it would be harder to explain why Deek’s associates have yet to be been arrested or deported from the US (see January 2002) or why Deek apparently moved to remote areas of Pakistan dominated by al-Qaeda after it was reported he helped decipher al-Qaeda’s computer codes (see Spring 2004).
Diana Dean. [Source: Seattle Times]Al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam is arrested in Port Angeles, Washington, attempting to enter the US with components of explosive devices. One hundred and thirty pounds of bomb-making chemicals and detonator components are found inside his rental car. He subsequently admits he planned to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on December 31, 1999. [New York Times, 12/30/2001] Alert border patrol agent Diana Dean stops him; she and other agents nationwide had been warned recently to look for suspicious activity. Ressam’s bombing would have been part of a wave of attacks against US targets over the New Year’s weekend (see December 15-31, 1999). He is later connected to al-Qaeda and convicted. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002]
From left to right: Mokhtar Haouari, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, Abdel Ghani Meskini. The picture of Meskini is from an ATM camera. [Source: Public domain, public domain, and Seattle Times]In the wake of the arrest of Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), FBI investigators work frantically to uncover more millennium plots before the end of the year. US authorities also make a number of arrests.
A telephone number found in Ressam’s pocket leads to Abdel Ghani Meskini, an Algerian living in New York City who had gone to Seattle to meet Ressam. Meskini is monitored and arrested in New York on December 30.
One of Ressam’s credit cards leads to the arrest of Mokhtar Haouari, an Algerian living in Montreal, Canada. Meskini later cooperates with US investigators and is never charged, while Haouari will be sentenced to 24 years in prison. [Time, 2/7/2000; CNN, 1/16/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 298]
Another Algerian associate of Ressam’s, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, escapes to Afghanistan, but will eventually be caught by the Algerian government and convicted in Algeria. [PBS Frontline, 10/25/2001]
Investigators believe that Mohamedou Ould Slahi, an al-Qaeda operative whose cousin is a top al-Qaeda leader, went to Canada to give the go-ahead for Ressam’s attack. Slahi is arrested several times overseas, but never charged (see January-April 2000). [CNN, 3/6/2002]
Khalid Deek, a US citizen, is arrested around this time for masterminding another al-Qaeda millennnium plot (see December 11, 1999). But counterterrorism expert Rita Katz will later say Deek was a suspected mastermind of Ressam’s Los Angeles airport plot, too. [Orange County Register, 9/12/2005] Deek’s name and phone number is found in Ressam’s telephone book. Ressam knew Deek from bin Laden training camps in Afghanistan. Both of them, like most of Ressam’s group, have links to the GIA, an Algerian militant group associated with al-Qaeda. [Newsweek (International), 3/13/2000]
Others escape the US after hearing media reports of Ressam’s arrest. However, enough people are caught to stop additional millennium attacks. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later says, “I think a lot of the FBI leadership for the first time realized that… there probably were al-Qaeda people in the United States. They realized that only after they looked at the results of the investigation of the millennium bombing plot.” [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] Yet Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger later claims that the FBI will still repeatedly assure the Clinton White House until Clinton leaves office that al-Qaeda lacks the ability to launch a domestic strike (see 2000).
The FBI misses a chance to learn about Zacarias Moussaoui after a raid in Dublin, Ireland. On December 14, 1999, Ahmed Ressam was arrested trying to smuggle explosives into the US (see December 14, 1999). On December 21, Irish police arrest Hamid Aich and several other North African immigrants living in Dublin. [New York Times, 1/22/2000] During the arrests, police seize a large amount of documents relating to citizenship applications, identities, credit cards, and airplane tickets. A diagram of an electrical switch that could be used for a bomb is found that is identical to a diagram found in Ressam’s apartment in Vancouver, Canada. [Irish Times, 7/31/2002] The suspects are released about a day later, but, “Within days, authorities in Ireland and the United States began to realize that they might have missed a chance to learn more about a terrorist network.” [New York Times, 1/22/2000] It is discovered that Aich lived with Ressam in Montreal, and then later lived with him in Vancouver. Investigators conclude there has been an al-Qaeda cell in Dublin since the early 1990s, when the charity Mercy International opened an office there (this charity has several known al-Qaeda connections by this time (see 1988-Spring 1995 and Late 1996-August 20, 1998) and also an alleged CIA connection (see 1989 and After)). The cell is mainly involved in providing travel and identity documents for other cells committing violent acts. Investigators also connect Aich to the Islamic Jihad. But the US and Canada do not seek Aich’s extradition, and instead have the Irish police keep him under surveillance. He will escape from Ireland shortly before 9/11 (see June 3, 2001-July 24, 2001). [New York Times, 1/22/2000; Irish Times, 7/31/2002] Apparently, many of the documents seized in the raid will only be closely examined after 9/11. Documents will show that in 1999 and 2000, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a top al-Qaeda financier, worked with the Dublin cell to finance Moussaoui’s international travel. Aich made travel arrangements and possibly provided fake identification for Moussaoui. [Fox News, 7/30/2002; Irish Times, 7/31/2002] Presumably, had these links been discovered after the 1999 raid instead of after 9/11, events could have gone very differently when Moussaoui was arrested in the US in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001).
Hijackers threaten the Indian Airlines plane, under Taliban supervision. [Source: Agence France-Presse/ Getty Images]Indian Airlines Flight 814 is hijacked and flown to Afghanistan where 155 passengers are held hostage for eight days. They are freed in return for the release of three militants held in Indian prisons. One of the hostages is killed. One of the men freed in the exchange is Saeed Sheikh, who will later allegedly wire money to the 9/11 hijackers (see Early August 2001). [BBC, 12/31/1999] Another freed militant is Maulana Masood Azhar. Azhar emerges in Pakistan a few days later, and tells a crowd of 10,000, “I have come here because this is my duty to tell you that Muslims should not rest in peace until we have destroyed America and India.” [Associated Press, 1/5/2000] He then tours Pakistan for weeks under the protection of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. [Vanity Fair, 8/2002] The ISI and Saeed help Azhar form a new Islamic militant group called Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Azhar is soon plotting attacks again. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002; Guardian, 7/16/2002; Washington Post, 2/8/2003] The hijacking plot is blamed on Harkat ul-Mujahedeen (also known as Harkat ul-Ansar), a Pakistani militant group originally formed and developed in large part due to Pervez Musharraf in the early 1990s, and led by Azhar and Sheikh before their arrests in India (see Early 1993). Musharraf has just taken power in Pakistan in a coup two months earlier (see October 12, 1999). The Indian government publicly blames the ISI for backing the hijacking. Such claims are not surprising given the longstanding animosity between Pakistan and India; however, US officials also privately say the ISI backed the hijacking and may even have helped carry it out. The US and Britain demand that Pakistan ban Harkat ul-Mujahedeen and other similar groups, but Pakistan takes no action. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 48] The five hijackers, all Pakistanis and members of Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, are released and return to Pakistan. They are never arrested. One of them will later be revealed to be Amjad Farooqi, a leader of both al-Qaeda and Pakistani militant groups who will be killed in mysterious circumstances in 2004 (see September 27, 2004). India is furious with the US for refusing to condemn Pakistan or pressure it to take action against the hijackers. According to some sources, al-Qaeda planned the hijacking in conjunction with Harkat ul-Mujahedeen. [Washington Post, 9/27/2004; Rashid, 2008, pp. 112-113] In 2001, the flight’s captain, Devi Sharan, will say that the hijackers of his plane used techniques similar to the 9/11 hijackers, suggesting a common modus operandi. The hijackers praised Osama bin Laden, had knives and slit the throat of a passenger, herded the passengers to the back of the plane where some of them used cell phones to call relatives, and one hijacker said he had trained on a simulator. [CNN, 9/26/2001]
Entity Tags: Indian Airlines Flight 814, Devi Sharan, Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, Central Intelligence Agency, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Al-Qaeda, Amjad Farooqi, Saeed Sheikh, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Maulana Masood Azhar
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The NSA, monitoring a telephone in an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002), has listened in on phone calls revealing that hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi are to attend an important al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000 (see Shortly Before December 29, 1999). Almihdhar’s full name was mentioned, as well as the first names of hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Salem Alhazmi. On this day, the NSA shares this information with the CIA’s Alec Station bin Laden unit. Other US intelligence agencies, including FBI headquarters and the FBI’s New York field office, are told as well. Although Khalid Almihdhar’s full name was mentioned in one call, the NSA only passes on his first name. Also, the NSA has already learned from monitoring the Yemen hub that Nawaf’s last name is Alhazmi and that he is long-time friends with Almihdhar (see Early 1999). However, they either don’t look this up in their records or don’t pass it on to any other agency. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 239 ; Wright, 2006, pp. 310] An NSA analyst makes a comment that is shared between US intelligence agencies, “Salem may be Nawaf’s younger brother.” This turns out to be correct. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ] A CIA officer will later tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that information from the Africa embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) was reviewed in late 1999 during a worldwide effort to disrupt millennium attack plots (see December 15-31, 1999) and “a kind of tuning fork… buzzed when two [of the hijackers] reportedly planning a trip to [Malaysia] were linked indirectly to what appeared to be a support element… involved with the Africa bombers.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ] The fact that they are connected to the Yemen communication hub already indicates some importance within al-Qaeda. It is learned they are connected to the embassy bombings in some way (see October 4, 2001 and Late 1999). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ] The NSA report about them on this day is entitled, “Activities of Bin Laden Associates,” showing the clear knowledge of their ties to bin Laden. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] The CIA will track Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to the Malaysia summit (see January 2-5, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000).
Entity Tags: Salem Alhazmi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI New York Field Office, Khalid Almihdhar, FBI Headquarters, Al-Qaeda, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed al-Hada, National Security Agency, Nawaf Alhazmi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The NSA has been monitoring a telephone in an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). According to Vanity Fair, “Amid the storm of pre-millennial ‘chatter,’ the [NSA] intercepted communications among three Arabic men, each of whom bore some connection to the East Africa bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) and to al-Qaeda.” The men are hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Apparently, the NSA listens in on a phone call between al-Qaeda figure Khallad bin Attash and hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, who is staying at the hub. Attash mentions Almihdhar’s full name, as well as the first names of hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Salem Alhazmi. He says he wants the three of them to come to an important al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). The NSA has already heard the names of the three hijackers mentioned repeatedly in 1999 while monitoring the Yemen hub (see Early 1999). Apparently, US intelligence does not yet know bin Attash’s full name or role in al-Qaeda and won’t figure it out until late 2000 (see Early December 2000). [Wright, 2006, pp. 310] At the same time, US officials in Pakistan intercept Nawaf Alhazmi in Karachi calling Almihdhar at the Yemen hub. They learn Nawaf is planning a trip to Malaysia on January 4, 2000. The NSA is also monitoring Nawaf calling his brother Salem (the location of Salem at this time has not been revealed). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 143-144 ; Asia Times, 3/19/2004] The NSA will share details of these calls with the CIA and other agencies on December 29, 1999 (see December 29, 1999) and the CIA will eventually track Almihdhar to the Malaysia summit (see January 2-5, 2000).
Following a raid on suspected al-Qaeda operatives in Dublin, Ireland, on December 21, 1999 (see December 21, 1999), FBI investigators begin monitoring the al-Qaeda cell there. The cell is believed to specialize in providing travel and identity documents for others committing violent acts. It will later be reported that “further investigation led to the tracing of telephone calls between Dublin and the Yemen in the period before al-Qaeda launched” its attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). [Irish Times, 7/31/2002] Additional details such as what was said in these calls have not been reported. The calls to Yemen may well have been to a Yemeni al-Qaeda communications hub that was under US surveillance since at least 1998 (see Late August 1998).
Earlier in December, the CIA estimated that al-Qaeda would launch between five and 15 attacks against American targets around the world over the New Year’s weekend, and that several targets would likely be inside the US (see December 8, 1999). Since late 1999, there has been intelligence that targets in Washington and New York would be attacked at this time. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] There in fact are a number of planned attacks, including bomb attacks on the Boston and Los Angeles airports (see December 14, 1999 and December 15-31, 1999), a hotel in Jordan (see November 30, 1999), and a naval ship in Yemen (see January 3, 2000). However, all of the attacks are foiled, thanks to alerts and luck. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002]
In the wake of disrupting Ahmed Ressam’s millennium bomb plot at the end of 1999 and arresting his cohorts (see December 14, 1999)
(see December 15-31, 1999), US intelligence remains concerned that al-Qaeda sleeper cells remain in the US (see March 10, 2000). However, Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger later claims that the FBI still repeatedly assures the Clinton White House that al-Qaeda lacks the ability to launch a domestic strike. [New York Times, 9/22/2002] He says, “Until the very end of our time in office, the view we received from the [FBI] was that al-Qaeda had limited capacity to operate in the US and any presence here was under surveillance.” No analysis is done before 9/11 to investigate just how big that presence might be. [Washington Post, 9/20/2002]
After his released from an Indian prison at the end of 1999 (see December 24-31, 1999), Saeed Sheikh stays in Kandahar, Afghanistan, for several days and meets with Taliban leader Mullah Omar. He also meets with bin Laden, who is said to call Saeed “my special son.” [Vanity Fair, 8/2002] Saeed soon has a falling out with Pakistani militant leader Maulana Masood Azhar and draws closer to al-Qaeda. Based mostly in Karachi, Pakistan, he reports to al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. Saeed is said to “soon [become] a key figure, especially in terms of fund-raising.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 286] He regularly travels to Afghanistan and helps train new al-Qaeda recruits in training camps there. [New York Times, 2/25/2002; India Today, 2/25/2002; National Post, 2/26/2002; Guardian, 7/16/2002] Saeed helps train some of the 9/11 hijackers, presumably in Afghanistan as well. [Daily Telegraph, 9/30/2001] He also helps al-Qaeda develop a secure web-based communications system. His work is generally so impressive that there is talk he could one day succeed bin Laden. [Daily Telegraph, 7/16/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002] Saeed forged a relationship while in Indian prison with Aftab Ansari, a Pakistani gangster who has fled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) (see November 1994-December 1999). Thanks to this connection, Sheikh is able to establish an al-Qaeda base for himself in Dubai, UAE. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 286] Numerous 9/11 hijackers will later move through Dubai and some of the money sent to Mohamed Atta in 2001 will come from Sheikh and Ansari through Dubai (see Early August 2001). [Guardian, 2/9/2002] At the same time Saeed is strengthening his al-Qaeda ties, he is also openly working with the Pakistani ISI (see January 1, 2000-September 11, 2001).
The BKA, the German counterpart to the FBI, prepares an extensive report on al-Qaeda’s connections in Germany. The BKA warns that “Unknown structures” are preparing to stage attacks abroad. However, the German federal prosecutor’s office rejects a proposed follow-up investigation. One of the persons named in the BKA report supposedly had contacts with the Hamburg terror cell. [Berliner Zeitung (Berlin), 9/24/2001]
German investigators are monitoring Said Bahaji, a member of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell, for his ties to Mamoun Darkazanli. They had been monitoring a Marienstrasse address where Bahaji had been living. But Bahaji moved out after his 1999 wedding (see October 9, 1999) to live down the street with his new wife. A request to continue monitoring the Marienstrasse address is denied in 2000 for lack of evidence. Bahaji had lived at that address with Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi and other members of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. Although Bahaji, Atta, and Alshehhi all moved out by mid-2000, other associates like Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Zakariya Essabar, and Abdelghani Mzoudi moved in. Atta’s name stayed on the lease until early 2001. [New York Times, 6/20/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 495]
According to a New York Times report, al-Qaeda documents found in Kabul in 2001 will include a list of Florida flight schools taken out of an aviation magazine (see November 2001). The list includes Walkawitz Aviation of Titusville and Phoenix East Aviation of Daytona Beach. The Times reports: “Greg Nardi, the manager of Walkawitz Aviation, said that several Arab students had approached the school in the last year and that the FBI had visited the school on more than five occasions since the Sept. 11 attacks, taking away the records of a number of these Arabs.… He recalled one conversation with an Arab visitor a year ago that seemed particularly strange. The Arab man, with a thick accent, asked him whether it was possible to jump safely out of a jet using a parachute. He also asked how far the parachute would carry him. ‘At the time you just pass it off,’ Mr. Nardi said of the questions. His staff told the prospective student that it would be difficult to open the door of a pressurized jet and that the plane would have to be reconfigured for such an endeavor.” [New York Times, 11/17/2001]
According to a French intelligence report, in the beginning of 2000 bin Laden meets with Taliban leaders, other al-Qaeda leaders, and armed groups from Chechnya to plan a hijacking, possibly of an airplane flying to the US. They create a list of seven possible airlines to hijack: American, Delta, Continental, United, Air France, Lufthansa, and a vague “US Aero.” The group considers hijacking a US airline flying out of Frankfurt and diverting it to Iran or Afghanistan or hijacking a French or German plane and diverting it to Tajikistan or Afghanistan. The goals are to increase international pressure to force a Russian withdrawal from Chechnya and to force the release of Islamists in US prisons. [Associated Press, 4/16/2007; Le Monde (Paris), 4/17/2007] This latter goal is a likely reference to the Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, as US intelligence repeatedly hears of al-Qaeda hijacking plots to free him (see 1998, March-April 2001, and May 23, 2001). The Chechens are likely connected to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab, who has a long history of collaboration with bin Laden (see 1986-March 19, 2002 and Before April 13, 2001). According to other news reports, in early 2000, the CIA observed Mohamed Atta as he bought large quantities of chemicals in Frankfurt, apparently to build explosives (see January-May 2000), and in February and March 2001, Atta and two associates will apply for a job with Lufthansa Airlines at the Frankfurt airport that would give them access to secure areas of the airport, but apparently none of them are able to get the job (see February 15, 2001). Bin Laden will apparently uphold the decision to go forward with this plot later in 2000 (see October 2000) and the French will continue to report on the plot in January 2001, apparently passing the information to the CIA (see January 5, 2001). But it is unclear what happens after that and if the plot morphs into the 9/11 attacks, is canceled, or was a ruse all along. Some of the 9/11 hijackers fought in Chechnya and therefore might also be linked to Ibn Khattab (see 1996-December 2000).
Treasury Department official Richard Newcomb has been to Saudi Arabia with other US officials in an attempt to pressure the Saudis to crack down on financing al-Qaeda, but no action has resulted (see June 1999). He had threatened to freeze the assets of certain individuals and groups funding al-Qaeda if not action is taken, and now he starts to act on that threat. As head of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, he submits names for sanctions. But imposing sanctions requires approval from an interagency committee, and the permission to go ahead is never given. CIA and FBI officials are “lukewarm to the idea, worried that sanctions would chill what little cooperation they had with their Saudi counterparts.” But the State Department puts up the most opposition. One official will later recall, “The State Department always thought we had much bigger fish to fry.” [US News and World Report, 12/15/2003]
A blurry photograph of a 2005 reconstruction of the pre-9/11 Able Danger chart showing Mohamed Atta and others. [Source: C-SPAN]A US Army intelligence program called Able Danger identifies five al-Qaeda terrorist cells; one of them has connections to Brooklyn, New York and will become informally known as the “Brooklyn” cell by the Able Danger team. This cell includes 9/11 hijacker leader Mohamed Atta, and three other 9/11 hijackers: Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Nawaf Alhazmi. According to a former intelligence officer who claims he worked closely with Able Danger, the link to Brooklyn is not based upon any firm evidence, but computer analysis that established patterns in links between the four men. “[T]he software put them all together in Brooklyn.” [New York Times, 8/9/2005; Washington Times, 8/22/2005; Fox News, 8/23/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005] However, that does not necessarily imply them being physically present in Brooklyn. A lawyer later representing members of Able Danger states, “At no time did Able Danger identify Mohamed Atta as being physically present in the United States.” Furthermore, “No information obtained at the time would have led anyone to believe criminal activity had taken place or that any specific terrorist activities were being planned.” [CNN, 9/21/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005] James D. Smith, a contractor working with the unit, discovers Mohamed Atta’s link to al-Qaeda. [WTOP Radio 103.5 (Washington), 9/1/2005] Smith has been using advanced computer software and analysing individuals who are going between mosques. He has made a link between Mohamed Atta and Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, ringleader of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. [Fox News, 8/28/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005] Atta is said to have some unspecified connection to the Al Farouq mosque in Brooklyn, a hotbed of anti-American sentiment once frequented by Abdul-Rahman, which also contained the notorious Al-Kifah Refugee Center. [Times Herald (Norristown), 9/22/2005] Smith obtained Atta’s name and photograph through a private researcher in California who was paid to gather the information from contacts in the Middle East. [New York Times, 8/22/2005] Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer claims the photo is not the well-known menacing Florida driver’s license photo of Atta. “This is an older, more grainy photo we had of him. It was not the best picture in the world.” It is said to contain several names or aliases for Atta underneath it. [Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005; Chicago Tribune, 9/28/2005] LIWA analysts supporting Able Danger make a chart, which Shaffer describes in a radio interview as, “A chart probably about a 2x3 which had essentially five clusters around the center point which was bin Laden and his leadership.” [Savage Nation, 9/16/2005] The 9/11 Commission later claims that Atta only enters the United States for the first time several months later, in June 2000 (see June 3, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 224] However, investigations in the months after 9/11 find that Mohamed Atta and another of the hijackers rented rooms in Brooklyn around this time (see Spring 2000). Other newspaper accounts have the CIA monitoring Atta starting in January 2000, while he is living in Germany (see January-May 2000). Atta, Alshehhi, Almihdhar, Alhazmi and other hijackers have connections to associates of Sheikh Abdul-Rahman (see Early 2000-September 10, 2001).
Entity Tags: Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Al-Qaeda, El Farouq, Khalid Almihdhar, Mohamed Atta, Able Danger, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Nawaf Alhazmi, Marwan Alshehhi, Al Farouq Mosque
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Zakariya Essabar. [Source: Associated Press]Al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Zakariya Essabar attends an al-Qaeda training camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan. He leaves for the camp in January 2000 and stays at the camp for an usually long time—nine months—until October. Hamburg cell member Mounir El Motassadeq is at the same camp from late May until August 2000 (see May 22 to August 2000). The two of them train separately but see each other often. Hamburg associate Abdelghani Mzoudi also attends the same camp around this time (see Summer 2000).
Attempt to Become a 9/11 Pilot? - When Essabar returns from the camp, he applies for a new passport, saying that he lost his previous one. When he gets a new one, he applies for a US visa. However, his application is rejected, probably because, as a Moroccan citizen, he is deemed an economic risk. Author Terry McDermott will later comment, “The timing suggests that [the Hamburg cell was] intent on finding a fourth pilot” for the 9/11 attacks. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 194, 201-202]
Mohammed Aziz Khan. [Source: US Defense Department]After being released from prison at the end of 1999 (see December 24-31, 1999), Saeed Sheikh travels to Pakistan and is given a house by the ISI. [Vanity Fair, 8/2002] He lives openly and opulently in Pakistan, even attending “swanky parties attended by senior Pakistani government officials.” US authorities conclude he is an asset of the ISI. [Newsweek, 3/13/2002] Amazingly, he is allowed to travel freely to Britain, and visits family there at least twice. [Vanity Fair, 8/2002] He works with Ijaz Shah, a former ISI official in charge of handling two militant groups; Lt. Gen. Mohammed Aziz Khan, former deputy chief of the ISI in charge of relations with Jaish-e-Mohammed; and Brigadier Abdullah, a former ISI officer. He is well known to other senior ISI officers. [New York Times, 2/25/2002; India Today, 2/25/2002; National Post, 2/26/2002; Guardian, 7/16/2002] At the same time that he is working closely and openly with the ISI, he is also strengthening his links with al-Qaeda (see 2000).
US intelligence is aware from monitored phone calls that Nawaf Alhazmi is travelling to an important al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). Alhazmi is known to be in Karachi, Pakistan, with a ticket to Malaysia for January 2, 2000. CIA and Pakistani officials plan to have his passport scrutinized as he passes through the airport, but he changes his ticket departure date twice. Officials get confused and are not there when he leaves the country, so they still don’t learn his last name. [Stern, 8/13/2003] The 9/11 Commission later notes that “officials could have worked on logical flight itineraries and perhaps realized that Nawaf could and probably did keep to his original plan.” But not only is this not done at the time, apparently the flight manifests are not checked after the fact to see in anyone with the name Nawaf had boarded. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ] Even after being monitored for several days in Malaysia, US intelligence supposedly still will not learn his last name (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After).
A photocopy of Nawaf Alhazmi’s passport. No image of Khalid Almihdhar’s passport has been released, but it would have looked similar to this one. [Source: FBI]The CIA is aware that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is staying at a highly monitored al-Qaeda communication hub (see Late 1998-Early 2002) and is planning to travel to an al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia. He is closely watched as leaves the hub and flies from Sana’a, Yemen, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on his way to Malaysia. Agents from eight CIA offices and six friendly foreign intelligence services are all asked to help track him, in the hopes he will lead them to bigger al-Qaeda figures. [Stern, 8/13/2003; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ] The CIA and local authorities are running an operation to track militants transiting Dubai airport (see 1999), and United Arab Emirates officials secretly make copies of his passport as he is passing through it, immediately reporting this to the CIA. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224] Another account suggests CIA agents break into Almihdhar’s Dubai hotel room and photocopy the passport there. Either way, the information is immediately faxed to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. [Wright, 2006, pp. 311] The CIA not only learns his full name, but also discovers the vital fact that he has a multiple entry visa to the US that is valid from April 1999 to April 2000. But even though the CIA now knows about this US visa which indicates he plans to go to New York City, they do not place him on a terror watch list and they fail to tell the FBI about the visa. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ]
The USS The Sullivans. [Source: US Navy]An al-Qaeda attack on USS The Sullivans in Yemen’s Aden harbor fails when their boat filled with explosives sinks. This is one of a series of failed al-Qaeda attacks planned to take place around the turn of the millennium (see December 31, 1999-January 1, 2000). But the attack remains undiscovered, and a duplication of the attack by the same people will successfully hit the USS Cole in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] The US will first learn of the planned The Sullivans attack when interrogating a suspect in the Cole bombing in early November 2000. [New York Times, 11/10/200]
Acting on the behalf of the CIA, Malaysian intelligence videotapes the attendees of an al-Qaeda summit. Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will later claim that the attendees were “videotaped by a Malaysian surveillance team on January 5, 2000.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 261] But this is only the first of four days of meetings, all held at the same location (see January 5-8, 2000), and the attendees are secretly photographed on the other days (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). The Los Angeles Times will similarly note that Malaysian intelligence made a single surveillance videotape “that shows men arriving at the meeting, according to a US intelligence official. The tape, he said, has no sound and [isn’t] viewed as very significant at the time.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] The contents of the videotape remain murky, but one account claims Ramzi bin al-Shibh was one of the attendees videotaped at the summit. [Newsweek, 11/26/2001] Further, a US Treasury press release in 2003 will state that “[Hambali] was videotaped in a January 2000 meeting in Malaysia with two of the September 11, 2001 hijackers of AA Flight 77 - Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi.” [US Department of the Treasury, 1/24/2003 ] Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, an Iraqi, is also videotaped at the meeting. [Newsweek, 11/5/2001; Washington Times, 11/6/2001] US intelligence officials consider the summit so important that CIA Director George Tenet, FBI Director Robert Mueller, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, and other high-ranking officials are given daily briefings about it while it is taking place (see January 6-9, 2000). So it is unclear why only the first day would be videotaped and why such video would not be considered more important. Malaysia will give the CIA a copy of the tape about one month after the summit ends (see February 2000). By 1999, the FBI had connected Hambali to the 1995 Bojinka plot and also obtained a photo of him (see May 23, 1999). Yet the CIA will not share this video footage with the FBI nor will they warn Malaysian intelligence about Hambali’s Bojinka plot connection (see Shortly After January 8, 2000).
Attendees of the Malaysian summit. Top row, from left: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Middle row, from left: Khallad bin Attash, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hambali. Bottom row, from left: Yazid Sufaat, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abu Bara al-Taizi. [Source: FBI]About a dozen of Osama bin Laden’s trusted followers hold a secret, “top-level al-Qaeda summit” in the city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. [CNN, 8/30/2002; San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/27/2002] According to an unnamed senior CIA official, before the summit started, the CIA learned that “11 young guys” were going to attend, and “young guys” is slang for operatives traveling. [Bamford, 2008, pp. 18] Plans for the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the 9/11 attacks are discussed. [USA Today, 2/12/2002; CNN, 8/30/2002] At the request of the CIA, the Malaysian Secret Service monitors the summit and then passes the information on to the US (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). Attendees of the summit are said to include:
Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar - The CIA and FBI will later miss many opportunities to foil the 9/11 plot through Alhazmi and Almihdhar and the knowledge of their presence at this summit. The CIA already knows many details about these two by the time the summit begins (see January 2-4, 2000), and tracked Almihdhar as he traveled to it (see January 2-5, 2000).
Yazid Sufaat - Sufaat is a Malaysian who owns the condominium where the summit is held. He is also a trained biologist and is said to be a leading figure in al-Qaeda’s attempts to get a biological or chemical weapon. [New York Times, 1/31/2002; Newsweek, 6/2/2002] Malaysian officials also recognize Sufaat from summit surveillance photos, as he is a long-time Malaysian resident (see Shortly After January 8, 2000). [New Straits Times, 2/10/2002] A possibility to expose the 9/11 plot through Sufaat’s presence at this summit will later be missed in September 2000 (see September-October 2000). Sufaat will travel to Afghanistan in June 2001 and be arrested by Malaysian authorities when he returns to Malaysia in late 2001 (see December 19, 2001). [Australian, 12/24/2002] He will be released in 2008 (see December 4, 2008).
Hambali - An Indonesian militant known as Hambali, or Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin [BBC, 8/15/2003] , was heavily involved in the Bojinka plot, an early version of the 9/11 plot (see January 6, 1995 and June 1994). [CNN, 3/14/2002; CNN, 8/30/2002] The FBI was aware of who he was and his connections to the Bojinka plot at least by 1999 and identified a photograph of him by that time (see May 23, 1999). He will be arrested by Thai authorities in August 2003 (see August 12, 2003). [CNN, 8/14/2003; CBS News, 8/15/2003] Malaysian officials recognize Hambali from summit surveillance photos, as he is a long-time Malaysian resident. But the US does not tell them of his Bojinka connections, so they will not know to arrest him after the summit is over (see Shortly After January 8, 2000). [New Straits Times, 2/10/2002]
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed - Mohammed is sometimes referred to as “KSM,” an al-Qaeda leader and the alleged “mastermind” of the 9/11 attacks. The US has known KSM is an Islamic militant since the exposure of Operation Bojinka in January 1995 (see January 6, 1995), and knows what he looks like. US officials will state that they only realized the summit was important in 2001, but the presence of KSM should have proved its importance. [Los Angeles Times, 2/2/2002] Although the possible presence of KSM at this summit will be disputed by US officials, one counterterrorism expert will testify before the 9/11 Commission in 2003 that he has access to transcripts of KSM’s interrogations since his capture, and that KSM has admitted leading this summit and telling the attendees about a planes-as-weapons plot targeting the US (see July 9, 2003). [Newsweek, 7/9/2003; New York Post, 7/10/2003] Many other media reports will identify him as being there. [Independent, 6/6/2002; CNN, 8/30/2002; CNN, 11/7/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/29/2003] For instance, according to Newsweek: “Mohammed’s presence would make the intelligence failure of the CIA even greater. It would mean the agency literally watched as the 9/11 scheme was hatched—and had photographs of the attack’s mastermind… doing the plotting.” [Newsweek, 7/9/2003] In Hambali’s 2008 Guantanamo file, it will be mentioned that KSM stays a week at Sufaat’s condominium with Alhazmi and Almihdhar, which would seem to make clear that KSM is there for the entire duration of the summit (see Early January 2000). [US Department of Defense, 10/30/2008]
Khallad bin Attash - Khallad bin Attash, a “trusted member of bin Laden’s inner circle,” is in charge of bin Laden’s bodyguards, and serves as bin Laden’s personal intermediary at least for the USS Cole bombing. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 ] He is also thought to be a “mastermind” of that attack. Attash is reportedly planning to be one of the 9/11 hijackers, but will be unable to get a US visa. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004, pp. 8] US intelligence had been aware of his identity as early as 1995. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] A possibility to expose the 9/11 plot through bin Attash’s presence at this summit will be missed in January 2001 (see January 4, 2001). Bin Attash had been previously arrested in Yemen for suspected terror ties, but was let go (see Summer 1999). [Contemporary Southeast Asia, 12/1/2002] He will be captured in Pakistan by the US in April 2003 (see April 29, 2003). In 2008, Newsweek will report that bin Attash confessed during interrogation that, while staying at Sufaat’s condominium, he and Alhazmi talked “about the possibility of hijacking planes and crashing them or holding passengers as hostages.” [Newsweek, 12/16/2008]
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri - Al-Nashiri is one of al-Qaeda’s top field commanders and operates out of Malaysia while 9/11 is being prepared. [Los Angeles Times, 10/10/2001; Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 188; Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 59] He was involved in an arms smuggling plot (see 1997) and the East African embassy bombings (see August 22-25 1998), in which his cousin was martyred (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). He also organized the attack against the USS The Sullivans (see January 3, 2000), and will be involved in the attacks against the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the Limburg (see October 6, 2002). He will be arrested in the United Arab Emirates in November 2002 (see Early October 2002). An al-Qaeda operative identified a photo of al-Nashiri for the FBI in late 1998 (see August 22-25 1998). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3] (Note: in the sources, al-Nashiri is referred to by two of his aliases: Muhammad Omar al-Harazi and Al Safani.) [CNN, 12/11/2000; Central Intelligence Agency, 9/6/2006]
Ramzi bin al-Shibh - Investigators believe he wants to be the 20th 9/11 hijacker. His presence at the summit may not be realized until after 9/11, despite the fact that US intelligence has a picture of him next to bin Attash, and has video footage of him. [Newsweek, 11/26/2001; Washington Post, 7/14/2002; Time, 9/15/2002; Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; CNN, 11/7/2002] German police will have credit card receipts indicating bin al-Shibh is in Malaysia at this time. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Ulrich Kersten, director of Germany’s federal anticrime agency, the Bundeskriminalamt, will later say, “There are indications that Ramzi bin al-Shibh was in Kuala Lumpur for the meeting.” [New York Times, 8/24/2002] Another account noting he was photographed at the summit will further note that he enters and leaves Thailand three times in the first three weeks of January 2000. [Los Angeles Times, 10/17/2001] Anonymous Malaysian officials will later claim he is at the summit, but US officials will deny it. Two local militants who serve as drivers for the attendees will later be arrested in Malaysia. They will be shown photos of the attendees, and confirm that bin al-Shibh was at the summit. [Associated Press, 9/20/2002] One account will say he is recognized at the time of the summit, which makes it hard to understand why he is not tracked back to Germany and the Hamburg cell with Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] Another opportunity to expose the 9/11 plot through bin al-Shibh’s presence at this summit will be missed in June. It appears bin al-Shibh and Almihdhar are directly involved in the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000 (see October 10-21, 2000). [Guardian, 10/15/2001; Washington Post, 7/14/2002; Newsweek, 9/4/2002]
Salem Alhazmi - Alhazmi, a 9/11 hijacker and brother of Nawaf Alhazmi, is possibly at the summit, although very few accounts will mention it. [Australian, 12/24/2002] US intelligence intercepts from before the summit indicate that he at least had plans to attend. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 ]
Abu Bara al-Taizi (a.k.a. Zohair Mohammed Said) - A Yemeni al-Qaeda operative, al-Taizi is reportedly meant to be one of the 9/11 hijackers, but will be unable to enter the US due to greater scrutiny for Yemenis. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004, pp. 8] Al-Taizi will be captured in Pakistan in February 2002, and then sent to the US prison in Guantanamo a few months later (see February 7, 2002). According to his 2008 Guantanamo file, he traveled from Afghanistan to Malaysia with bin Attash about two weeks before the summit. Bin Attash was missing a leg, and he had a prosthetic leg fitted and then stayed in the hospital to recover from the surgery. Bin Attash and al-Taizi stay at Sufaat’s house for the duration of the summit. Al-Taizi then flies to Yemen to visit his family there. [US Department of Defense, 10/25/2008]
Others - Unnamed members of the Egyptian-based Islamic Jihad are also said to be at the summit. [Cox News Service, 10/21/2001] Islamic Jihad merged with al-Qaeda in February 1998. [ABC News, 11/17/2001] However, according to the Wall Street Journal, bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso are suspected of being Islamic Jihad members at one point, so this may just be a reference to them. [Wall Street Journal, 10/8/2001] Note that there are a total of 10 names mentioned above, and it will be reported that the CIA learned that 11 operatives were to attend, so either not all of them make it, or some names of attendees will remain unknown.
Summit Associates - The following individuals are probably not at the summit meetings, but are in the region and assisting or linked with the attendees at this time:
Fahad Al-Quso - Al-Quso is a top al-Qaeda operative who is involved in the bombing of the USS Cole. Some sources will indicate al-Quso is present in Malaysia, and a person who looks like him will later be seen in a photograph of the meeting (see June 11, 2001). [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 ] However, other sources will say al-Quso did not reach Kuala Lumpur, but met with bin Attash around this time in Bangkok, Thailand (see January 5-6, 2000 and January 8-15, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 159; Wright, 2006, pp. 330] Although al-Quso apparently is not at the summit, there are a series of phone calls during the time of the summit between his hotel in Bangkok, a phone booth near the condominium where the summit is held, and his family home in Yemen (see (January 5-8, 2000)). Al-Quso will be arrested by Yemeni authorities in the fall of 2000 (see Late October-Late November 2000), but the FBI will not be given a chance to fully interrogate him before 9/11. He will escape from prison in 2003. [CNN, 5/15/2003]
Ahmad Sajuli Abdul Rahman - An operative of Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate, Sajuli takes the visiting Arabs around Kuala Lumpur, but apparently does not attend the summit meetings. [US Congress, 10/17/2002] According to the later Guantanamo file of summit attendee al-Taizi, one of the attendees Sajuli escorts around town is future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. Sajuli also helps arrange al-Taizi’s transportation at the end of the summit. [US Department of Defense, 10/25/2008] Sajuli will be arrested in Malaysia in December 2001 (see December 29, 2001).
Ahmad Hikmat Shakir - A suspected al-Qaeda agent of Iraqi nationality, Shakir is a greeter at Kuala Lumpur airport. He meets Almihdhar there and travels with him to the apartment where the summit is held, but he probably does not attend the summit meetings. [Associated Press, 10/2/2002; Newsweek, 10/7/2002; Australian, 12/24/2002; Knight Ridder, 6/12/2004] After 9/11, he will be linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 Bojinka plot. Jordan will arrest him and let him go after the US says it doesn’t want to take custody of him (see September 17, 2001).
Dhiren Barot - Dhiren Barot (a.k.a. Abu Eissa al-Hindi) is a British citizen of Indian descent. According to a 2006 Observer article, Barot “is not believed to have been present” at the summit meetings. However, he does go to Kuala Lumpur during the time of the summit with summit attendee bin Attash. And shortly after the summit, Barot holds meetings with Hambali. It will later be reported that Barot is sent by KSM to New York City in early 2001 to case potential targets there, although whether this is part of the 9/11 plot or some other plot is unclear (see May 30, 2001). Barot will be arrested in 2004 in Britain for plotting attacks there, and sentenced to 30 years in prison (see August 3, 2004). [Observer, 12/12/2006]
Another Unnamed Local Militant - Malaysian officials will say that two local Jemaah Islamiyah act as drivers for the attendees. These drivers apparently have no idea who the attendees are or what they are doing; they are just tasked to drive them around. In a 2002 Associated Press article, officials will not name these drivers, but will say that they are among the dozens of alleged Jemaah Islamiyah militants arrested in December 2001 and January 2002. Since Sajuli mentioned above is arrested at that time, he presumably is one of these drivers. It is not known who the other driver is. (Sufaat will be arrested at that time as well, but the Associated Press article will make clear Sufaat is not one of the drivers.) [Associated Press, 9/20/2002]
Probably Not Involved: Mohamed al-Khatani - A Saudi, he allegedly will confess to attending the summit while being held in the US Guantanamo prison (see July 2002). He apparently will unsuccessfully attempt to enter the US in August 2001 to join the 9/11 plot (see August 4, 2001). However, al-Khatani will later recant his testimony and say he lied to avoid torture (see October 26, 2006). Furthermore, his 2008 Guantanamo file, leaked to the public in 2011, contains no hint of him even possibly attending the summit. The contents of the file must be treated with extreme caution, especially since he is repeatedly and brutally tortured (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and January 14, 2009). But according to the general narrative of the file, al-Khatani had no involvement with Islamist militancy in early 2000, only starts to get involved with militants in mid-2000, and first attends a militant training camp in Afghanistan in late 2000. [US Department of Defense, 10/30/2008]
Entity Tags: Hambali, Abu Bara al-Taizi, Dhiren Barot, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, Ahmad Sajuli Abdul Rahman, Al-Qaeda, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Islamic Jihad, Jemaah Islamiyah, Fahad al-Quso, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ulrich Kersten, Yazid Sufaat, Khalid Almihdhar, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Salem Alhazmi, Mohamed al-Khatani, Malaysian Secret Service, Khallad bin Attash, Nawaf Alhazmi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) ends and the participants leave. Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar fly to Bangkok, Thailand, with al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see January 8, 2000). Other attendees depart to other locales. There have been no media reports that any of the others were followed by intelligence agents. [Associated Press, 9/20/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 ] Before the summit started the CIA knew one attendee was named Khalid Almihdhar and that another had the first name Nawaf. At the end of the summit the CIA appears to have learned little more, and still does not know Nawaf’s last name is Alhazmi. Around this time, on January 7 and 10, the CIA searches for their names in their databases but get no hits. Yet they don’t ask for a search of the much larger NSA databases, which had vital information on them (see Early 1999). CIA headquarters asks the NSA to put Almihdhar on their watch list so they can pass on more information about him (see Mid-January 2000). However, neither Alhazmi nor Almihdhar are placed on the State Department’s watch list, which would actually prevent them from coming to the US. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] The CIA still fails to tell the FBI that Almihdhar has a valid US visa, and in fact seems to go out of their way not to tell the FBI about it (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, January 6, 2000, Mid-July 2004, and January 5-6, 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 ; Stern, 8/13/2003]
Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, an Iraqi who met 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, around the time of an al-Qaeda summit there, leaves the country (see January 5-8, 2000). The connection between Shakir and Almihdhar is unclear, as Shakir met Almihdhar while working as a greeter of Arab visitors at the airport, but then accompanied Almihdhar to the place he was staying and was videotaped with him there by the Malaysian authorities (see January 5, 2000). Shakir is said to have got the job at the airport with the help of an Iraqi intelligence officer, raising concerns of Iraqi involvement in 9/11. However, although Shakir is watchlisted before 9/11 (see August 23, 2001) and arrested and released twice afterwards (see September 17, 2001), his connection to Saddam Hussein’s regime is found to be not as strong as alleged (see Before June 21, 2004). [Knight Ridder, 6/12/2004; Washington Post, 6/22/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502]
A US satellite photo of the Darunta camp. [Source: US military]By the start of 2000, US intelligence has had a particular focus on Darunta Camp, one of al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan. This simple camp near Jalalabad draws attention because of intelligence gathered during the last year indicating that al-Qaeda is experimenting with poisons and chemical weapons. The CIA has inserted a special device in the vicinity that can take high quality photographs of the camp from over ten miles away. Sometime in late January, the CIA learns that bin Laden has arrived in the camp. They pass this information on to Ahmed Shah Massoud and his Northern Alliance, who are fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Massoud dispatches a small team on mules to get near the camp and fire rockets at bin Laden. However, when Massoud tells the CIA about this, the CIA’s lawyers are alarmed. They don’t want the CIA legally complicit if the operation kills innocent civilians and they order Massoud to withdraw his team. But due to poor communications the team goes ahead anyway and apparently shells the camp. However, bin Laden is not hurt and the incident passes without notice. Some US intelligence officials are upset at the legal policy that led to the order for Massoud’s team to withdraw. A new policy is drawn up allowing the CIA to assist Massoud on an operation if the primary purpose of the operation is to kill bin Laden or one of his top assistants. Otherwise, the US officially remains neutral in the war between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. [Coll, 2004, pp. 487-490]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke leads a meeting of the interagency Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) devoted largely to the possibility of an airline hijacking by al-Qaeda. The meeting is said to come during a period of low threat, after the millennium alerts had ended (see December 15-31, 1999). Clarke later will recall that the possibility of a suicide hijacking would have been only one of many speculative possibilities considered. The apparent suicide hijacking of EgyptAir Flight 990 off the coast of Massachusetts in late 1999 appears to have been a concern of the CSG around this time (see October 31, 1999). Also, one month earlier, a militant group connected to al-Qaeda successfully hijacked an airplane in India, won their demands, and escaped (see December 24-31, 1999). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 345, 561]
About a month after the Malaysia al-Qaeda summit (see January 5-8, 2000), “The CIA obtain[s] a surveillance videotape” from Malaysian intelligence “that shows men arriving at the meeting, according to a US intelligence official. The tape, he said, has no sound and [isn’t] viewed as very significant at the time.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] Apparently, only the first day of the summit was videotaped (see January 5, 2000). Contents of the tape, which might definitively prove who was at the meeting, have never been made public, but the US Treasury will later mention that al-Qaeda leader Hambali and 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar were on the tape. [US Department of the Treasury, 1/24/2003 ] There is no evidence the CIA shares the videotape with any other agency before 9/11, and it has never been made public.
The condominium complex where the Malaysia summit was held. [Source: Fox News] (click image to enlarge)After the al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000), the CIA has Malaysian intelligence stop monitoring the condominium where the summit was held. The condominium is owned by al-Qaeda operative Yazid Sufaat, who plays a key role in al-Qaeda search for biological weapons (see December 19, 2001). According to a later Newsweek account, after the summit, “Malaysian intelligence continued to watch the condo at the CIA’s request, but after a while the agency lost interest.” It is unclear when the surveillance stops exactly, but it stops some time before al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui visits Malaysia in September 2000. Moussaoui stays in Sufaat’s condominium, but the CIA misses a chance to learn about this (see September-October 2000). The Malaysians will later say they were surprised by the CIA’s lack of interest. “We couldn’t fathom it, really,” Rais Yatim, Malaysia’s Legal Affairs minister, will tell Newsweek. “There was no show of concern.” [Newsweek, 6/2/2002]
CIA Director George Tenet tells a Senate committee in open session that bin Laden “wants to strike further blows against America.” He points out the close links between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad and says this is part of an “intricate web of alliances among Sunni extremists worldwide, including North Africans, radical Palestinians, Pakistanis, and Central Asians.” He points out ties between drug traffickers and the Taliban and says, “There is ample evidence that Islamic extremists such as Osama bin Laden use profits from the drug trade to support their terror campaign.” But there is no mention of Pakistan’s support for al-Qaeda and the Taliban, despite CIA knowledge of this (see Autumn 1998). Instead, he claims Iran is “the most active state sponsor” of terrorism. Additionally, he does not mention that bin Laden is capable of planning attacks inside the US, even though he told that to Congress in a closed session six months earlier (see June 24, 1999). [Senate, 2/2/2000]
India’s largest Newsweekly reports that it appears a recent Mossad attempt to infiltrate al-Qaeda failed when undercover agents were stopped on their way to Bangladesh by Indian customs officials. These 11 men appeared to be from Afghanistan, but had Israeli passports. One expert states, “It is not unlikely for Mossad to recruit 11 Afghans in Iran and grant them Israeli citizenship to penetrate a network such as bin Laden’s. They would begin by infiltrating them into an Islamic radical group in an unlikely place like Bangladesh.” [Week, 2/6/2000]
Kie Fallis, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) terrorism intelligence analyst, later claims that around this time he uncovers an intelligence report about the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). Public details of his exact knowledge about this summit have been scant, but it suggests at least some information on the summit spreads beyond the CIA and FBI not long after it takes place. But apparently, Fallis, who had been researching terror links between al-Qaeda and Iranian intelligence, learns that US intelligence discovered at the time that Malaysian security officials traced some attendees of the summit to the Iranian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, where they spent the night. Fallis will use this lead along with other leads to suggest a terror warning in late September 2000 (see May 2000-Late September 2000) that he believes might have stopped the USS Cole attack in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000) . [Washington Times, 8/26/2002]
Mohamed Atta and another of the 9/11 hijackers (presumably Marwan Alshehhi) rent rooms in New York City, according to a federal investigator. These rooms are in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Following 9/11, Atta is traced back to Brooklyn by a parking ticket issued to a rental car he was driving. However, immigration records have Mohamed Atta entering the US for the first time on June 3, 2000 (see June 3, 2000). The Associated Press article on this subject does not specify if Atta first stayed in New York before or after that date. [Associated Press, 12/8/2001] According to a brief mention in the 9/11 Commission’s final report, in the month of June, “As [Atta and Marwan Alshehhi] looked at flight schools on the East Coast, [they] stayed in a series of short-term rentals in New York City.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 224; Washington Post, 8/13/2005] Earlier in 2000, a US Army intelligence program called Able Danger identified an al-Qaeda terrorist cell based in Brooklyn, of which Atta is a member (see January-February 2000). Also, a number of eyewitnesses later report seeing Atta in Maine and Florida before this official arrival date (see April 2000; Late April-Mid-May 2000).
Around eight calls made by hijacker Khalid Almihdhar from San Diego to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by his father-in-law Ahmed al-Hada are intercepted by the NSA. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 16-17, 157 ; Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Wright, 2006, pp. 343; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] At least one of the calls is made from a phone registered to hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi in their San Diego apartment. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 251 ] Other calls are made from a mobile phone registered to Alhazmi. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 296] Calls may also be made from the communications hub to the US. [MSNBC, 7/21/2004]
Dates of Calls - One of the calls takes place days after they move into their San Diego apartment in February (see January 15-February 2000). [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] Another is on March 20, 2000 and lasts 16 minutes. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 57 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 251 ]
Intercepted by NSA - Although NSA analysts pick up Almihdhar’s first name, “Khalid,” they do not connect it to his second name, even though the NSA has been intercepting communications to and from the hub involving him throughout 1999 (see Early 1999 and December 29, 1999) and he is on the NSA watch list at this point (see Mid-January 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 16, 157 ; US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] Some, or perhaps all, of these calls are between Almihdhar and his wife, who lives at the communications hub and reportedly gives birth to a daughter in early 2000 while Almihdhar is in the US. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; Wright, 2006, pp. 343; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] However, the NSA analysts suspect that Khalid is part of an “operational cadre.” [US News and World Report, 3/15/2004]
Dissemination and Content - According to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, the NSA disseminates some of this information to the FBI, CIA, and other agencies, but not all of it, as it apparently does not meet reporting thresholds. It is unclear why it does not meet such thresholds, although some sources will suggest Almihdhar was just talking to his wife. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ; US News and World Report, 3/15/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94] Another source suggests operational information was passed on during the calls (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). However, two FBI agents who worked on al-Qaeda cases relating to Yemen, Dan Coleman and Ali Soufan, will later claim that they and other senior counterterrorism officials only learn about these calls after 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
Significance - Author Lawrence Wright will comment: “You know, this is the key. The NSA is all over this phone. And everybody, you know, that has any connection with it is drawing links from that phone. Now imagine eight lines from Yemen to San Diego. How obvious would it be that al-Qaeda is in America[?]” [Federal News Service, 10/5/2006]
Other Calls - The NSA also intercepts various other communications between the hijackers and the communications hub (see Early 2000-Summer 2001).
The US intelligence community obtains information suggesting al-Qaeda is planning attacks in specific West Coast areas, possibly involving the assassination of several public officials. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] While these attacks do not materialize, this is the same month the CIA learns that two known al-Qaeda operatives have just flown to Los Angeles (see March 5, 2000).
US intelligence obtains information about the types of targets that bin Laden’s network might strike. The Statue of Liberty is specially mentioned, as are skyscrapers, ports, airports, and nuclear power plants. [US Congress, 9/18/2002]
The FBI obtains a wiretap warrant to seize al-Qaeda-related e-mails under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), but experimental software malfunctions and an angry FBI agent is said to destroy all the e-mails collected. The Carnivore software, which was installed in Denver, collects e-mails not only from the target, but also from other people. The FBI technician is reportedly so upset when he discovers e-mails from people whose communications the FBI has no authorization to collect that he apparently deletes everything the FBI has gathered, including the e-mails from the target. However, the article that first reports this deletion also says the opposite: “A Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday night that the e-mails were not destroyed.” In either case, the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) at FBI headquarters, which deals with FISA warrants, is then informed and expresses its surprise it was not told the software was experimental before the warrant was issued. An FBI official will comment: “To state that [an OIPR official] is unhappy with [the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section] and the [Usama bin Laden] Unit would be an understatement of incredible proportions.” As the target’s e-mails have been destroyed in the FBI system, the FBI then wants a physical search warrant under FISA to go and collect the e-mails from the carrier. However, the OIPR insists on an explanation for the error before this can happen, and also demands an explanation for the problem, so the special FISA court can be notified. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/5/2000; Associated Press, 5/28/2002] It is not known who was being monitored, though there are potential al-Qaeda Denver connections: in 1994, a bin Laden front began routing communications through Denver (see 1994), and a passport was stolen there in 1995 from a man who was later confused with one of the 9/11 hijackers (see 1995).
FBI agents in Chicago are already investigating the Illinois-based Global Relief Foundation (GRF) for linked to al-Qaeda and other radical militant groups (see 1997-Late Spring 2001), when they discover a connection to Detroit. They find that GRF executive director Mohammad Chehade, a suspected al-Qaeda operative, is calling two people in the Detroit area, GRF’s unnamed spiritual leader and Rabih Haddad, a major GRF fund raiser. Based on this lead, in March 2000, the FBI’s Detroit office opens a full field investigation on these two subjects. A Detroit agent also applies for a FISA warrant on the two subjects to conduct electronic surveillance on them. But the FISA applications are not approved until just after 9/11 because FBI headquarters does not formally submit the request until then. The Detroit agent is never given a reason for the delay. In fact, FBI headquarters agents tell him the application looks good and repeatedly say that they are working on it. The agent will later tell the 9/11 Commission he “believes [the delay] caused him to miss a great opportunity to gather critical intelligence and substantially limited the Detroit investigation of GRF before 9/11.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 93-94 ] The GRF’s offices in the US and overseas will be shut down shortly after 9/11 (see December 14, 2001). Haddad will be imprisoned for 19 months for an immigration violation and then deported. [Metro Times, 3/17/2004]
Intelligence Newsletter reports that a number of Osama bin Laden-owed businesses in Sudan are still operating and still controlled by bin Laden. The report specifically mentions Wadi al-Aqiq, El-Hijra Construction and Development, Taba Investment Company, and the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank. Bin Laden’s control of all these businesses were revealed in detail to US intelligence by al-Qaeda informant Jamal al-Fadl several years earlier (see December 1996-January 1997). The report notes that both Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid and his cousin-in-law Mohamedou Ould Slahi, both known al-Qaeda leaders, were reportedly employed in recent years by the El-Hijra company. The report further notes that money for bin Laden “pours into accounts at branch offices of Al Taqwa [Bank] in Malta,” Switzerland, and the Bahamas. Businesses and charities supporting bin Laden “are thriving around the world without any real curb on their operations” because “some US and European agencies hunting him seem to lack zeal” in stopping him. “To be sure, if journalists can track down bin Laden’s friends without too much trouble it can be imagined that law enforcement and intelligence agencies have long found the same connections. Recent anti-terrorism history has shown that when the authorities really want to crack down on an organization they cut off its financial and logistic roots. So why are bin Laden’s backers prospering when the world’s most powerful anti-terrorist organizations are chasing him?” [Intelligence Newsletter, 3/16/2000]
President Clinton visits Pakistan. It is later revealed that the US Secret Service believes that the ISI was so deeply infiltrated by Islamic militant organizations, that it begs Clinton to cancel his visit. Specifically, the US government determined that the ISI had long-standing ties with al-Qaeda. When Clinton decides to go over the Secret Service’s protestations, his security takes extraordinary and unprecedented precautions. For instance, an empty Air Force One is flown into the country, and then Clinton arrives in a small, unmarked plane. [New York Times, 10/29/2001] In an effort not to be seen endorsing Musharraf, he stays in Pakistan for only five hours after visiting India for five days, and he is not photographed shaking hands with Musharraf. Clinton gives a brief speech televised nationally in Pakistan, warning that Pakistan cannot use jihad as foreign policy. “This era does not reward people who struggle in vain to redraw borders with blood,” he says. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 49-50] Clinton meets privately with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Clinton will later recall that he told Musharraf, “If he chose to pursue a peaceful, progressive path, I thought he had a fair chance to succeed, but I told him I thought terrorism would eventually destroy Pakistan from within if he didn’t move against it.” Musharraf is non-committal on most issues Clinton tries to discuss with him. [Clinton, 2005, pp. 902-903]
Niaz Khan. [Source: NBC News]Niaz Khan, a British citizen originally from Pakistan, is recruited into an al-Qaeda plot.
Khan's Story - In early 2000 he is flown to Lahore, Pakistan, and then trains in a compound there for a week with others on how to hijack passenger airplanes. He trains in a mock cockpit of a 767 aircraft (an airplane type used on 9/11). He is taught hijacking techniques, including how to smuggle guns and other weapons through airport security and how to get into a cockpit. In April 2000 he flies to the US and is told to meet with a contact. He will later recall, “They said I would live there for a while and meet some other people and we would hijack a plane from JFK and fly it into a building.” [London Times, 5/9/2004] His al-Qaeda contact in the US is only known by the alias “Babu Khan.” It is unknown who this really is (assuming Khan’s story is completely correct). [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] After 9/11, he will have “no doubt” this is the 9/11 plot. However, Khan slips away and gambles away the money given to him by al-Qaeda. Afraid he will be killed for betraying al-Qaeda, he turns himself in to the FBI.
The FBI Checks Out Khan - For three weeks, FBI counterterrorism agents in Newark, New Jersey, will interview Khan. [MSNBC, 6/3/2004; Observer, 6/6/2004] One FBI agent will later recall: “We were incredulous. Flying a plane into a building sounded crazy but we polygraphed him and he passed.” [London Times, 5/9/2004] Later in 2004, Khan will say he was only involved in a plot to hijack an airplane, not crash it into a building. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] However, he had earlier clearly talked to the media about flying a plane into a building, and FBI officials had also referred to his case as flying a plane into a building.
FBI Agents Told to Forget about Khan's Case - A former FBI official will say the FBI agents believe Khan and aggressively try to follow every lead in the case, but word comes from FBI headquarters saying, “Return him to London and forget about it.” He is returned to Britain and handed over to British authorities. However, the British only interview him for about two hours, and then release him (see (May 2000)). He is surprised that authorities never ask for his help in identifying where he was trained in Pakistan, even after 9/11. [MSNBC, 6/3/2004] Khan’s case will be mentioned in the 2002 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report. It describes a “walk-in” who told the FBI he “was to meet five or six persons,” some of them pilots, who would take over a plane and fly it to Afghanistan, or blow the plane up. The report will add that the he passed a lie-detector test. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; MSNBC, 6/3/2004]
According to the 2008 charge sheet at his military tribunal, 9/11 facilitator Ali Abdul Aziz Ali speaks on the telephone to 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi, who is living in San Diego at this time. The call or calls are apparently made at the direction of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and are about a wire transfer from Ali to Alhazmi made in mid-April (see April 16-18, 2000). The source of the claim that the calls are made contained in the charge sheet is not specified, so it is unclear whether it is only based on statements made by detainees under interrogation, which may be unreliable (see June 16, 2004), or whether it is corroborated by other evidence, such as phone company records. [US Department of Defense, 2/11/2008 ] At least some calls between Alhazmi and his partner, hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen are being monitored by the NSA at this point (see Spring-Summer 2000). However, it is unclear whether the call or calls to Ali are picked up by the NSA, or a joint CIA-NSA program to support “black ops” in progress at this time (see After July 11, 1997).
United Nations police raid a house in Pristina, Kosovo, rented by the Saudi Joint Relief Committee (SJRC). The house was rented by Wael Hamza Julaidan, one of the founders of al-Qaeda, and is discovered to be an al-Qaeda safe house. Shortly after the raid, the BBC reports that the US sent UN police a secret document asking them to monitor those connected to the house. It states that Julaidan is an associate of Osama bin Laden, and helped him “move money and men to and from the Balkans.” The SJRC is an umbrella body for several other Saudi charities and is partly financed by the Saudi government. [BBC, 4/3/2000] In a 1999 interview broadcast on the Al Jazeera television network, bin Laden referred to the origins of al-Qaeda and said, “We were all in one boat, as is known to you, including our brother, Wael Julaidan.” [Kohlmann, 2004] However, despite this openly shown interest in Julaidan, the US will not freeze his assets until late 2002 (see September 6, 2002). Julaidan has just been made director general of the Rabita Trust, a charity with many prominent Pakistanis on its board of directors, including Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (see Mid-September-October 12, 2001).
ISI Director and “leading Taliban supporter” Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed visits Washington. He meets officials at the CIA and the White House. In a message meant for both Pakistan and the Taliban, US officials tell him that al-Qaeda has killed Americans and “people who support those people will be treated as our enemies.” [Washington Post, 12/19/2001; Coll, 2004, pp. 508-510] US Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering bluntly tells Mahmood, “You are in bed with those who threaten us.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 409] The US threatens to support the Northern Alliance, who are still engaged in a civil war with the Taliban. A short time later, Mahmood goes to Afghanistan and delivers this message to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. However, no actual US action, military or otherwise, is taken against either the Taliban or Pakistan. Author Steve Coll will later note that these US threats were just bluffs since the Clinton administration was not seriously considering a change of policy. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001; Coll, 2004, pp. 508-510]
TIPOFF is a US no-fly list of individuals who should be detained if they attempt to leave or enter the US. There are about 60,000 names on this list by 9/11 (see December 11, 1999). Apparently there had been no prohibition of travel inside the US, but on this day an FAA security directive puts six names on a newly created domestic no-fly list. All six are said to be associates of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, including his uncle, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). On August 28, 2001, six more names will be added to this list. Apparently all 12 names are associated with al-Qaeda or other Islamic extremist groups. 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey will later note the discrepancy of the 60,000-name list with the 12-name list and comment, “seems to me, particularly with what was going on at the time, that some effort would have been made to make—to produce a larger list than [only 12 names].” [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] The FAA’s chief of security in 2001, Cathal Flynn, will later say that he was “unaware of the TIPOFF list” until after the September 11 attacks. 9/11 Commissioner Slade Gorton will say that this admission is “stunning, just unbeleivable,” and an “example of absolute incompetence” at the FAA. Other FAA officials will say they are aware of the larger list, but do not make much use of it. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 115] On the day of 9/11, two of the 9/11 hijackers will be on the 60,000-name TIPOFF list but not the 12-name domestic list, so airport security does not know to stop them from boarding the planes they hijack that day (see August 23, 2001).
Johnelle Bryant. [Source: ABC News]9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta reportedly has a very strange meeting with Johnelle Bryant of the US Department of Agriculture. Incidentally, this meeting takes place one month before the official story claims he arrived in the US for the first time. According to Bryant, in the meeting Atta does all of the following:
He initially refuses to speak with one who is “but a female.”
He asks her for a loan of $650,000 to buy and modify a crop-dusting plane.
He mentions that he wants to “build a chemical tank that would fit inside the aircraft and take up every available square inch of the aircraft except for where the pilot would be sitting.”
He uses his real name even as she takes notes, and makes sure she spells it correctly.
He says he has just arrived from Afghanistan.
He tells about his travel plans to Spain and Germany.
He expresses an interest in visiting New York.
He asks her about security at the WTC and other US landmarks.
He discusses al-Qaeda and its need for American membership.
He tells her bin Laden “would someday be known as the world’s greatest leader.”
He asks to buy the aerial photograph of Washington hanging on her Florida office wall, throwing increasingly large “wads of cash” at her when she refuses to sell it. [ABC News, 6/6/2002]
After Bryant points out one of the buildings in the Washington photograph as her former place of employment, he asks her, “How would you like it if somebody flew an airplane into your friends’ building?”
He asks her, “What would prevent [me] from going behind [your] desk and cutting [your] throat and making off with the millions of dollars” in the safe behind her.
He asks, “How would America like it if another country destroyed [Washington] and some of the monuments in it like the cities in [my] country had been destroyed?”
He gets “very agitated” when he isn’t given the money in cash on the spot.
Atta later tries to get the loan again from the same woman, this time “slightly disguised” by wearing glasses. Three other terrorists also attempt to get the same loan from Bryant, but all of them fail. Bryant turns them down because they do not meet the loan requirements, and fails to notify anyone about these strange encounters until after 9/11. Government officials not only confirm the account and say that Bryant passed a lie detector test, but also elaborate that the account is consistent with other information they have received from interrogating prisoners. Supposedly, failing to get the loan, the terrorists switched plans from using crop dusters to hijacking aircraft. Other department employees also remember the encounter, again said to take place in April 2000. The 9/11 Commission has failed to mention any aspect of Johnelle Bryant’s account. [Washington Post, 9/25/2001; ABC News, 6/6/2002; London Times, 6/8/2002] Compare Atta’s meeting with FBI Director Mueller’s later testimony about the hijackers: “There were no slip-ups. Discipline never broke down. They gave no hint to those around them what they were about.” [CNN, 9/28/2002]
A secret CIA report details al-Qaeda’s use of the honey trade to generate income and secretly move weapons, drugs, and operatives around the world. The CIA had been gathering information and monitoring some honey stores for almost two years before the study. Bin Laden is believed to control a number of retail honey shops in various countries, especially in Sudan, Yemen, and Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda leaders Abu Zubaida and Khalil Deek, an American citizen, are said to be particularly tied to the honey trade. One US official will later say, “The smell and consistency of the honey makes it easy to hide weapons and drugs in the shipments. Inspectors don’t want to inspect that product. It’s too messy.” But although a number of companies dealing in honey are tied to al-Qaeda (and sometimes to Islamic Jihad), the US will not make any move to freeze the assets of these companies until after 9/11. [New York Times, 10/11/2001] Counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson will later claim Deek was “running an underground railroad in the Middle East for terrorists, shuttling them to different countries,” which would fit with his alleged role in the honey network. [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005]
The inside cover of the training manual found in Manchester, depicting a knife plunging through the Earth. [Source: FBI]British authorities raid the Manchester home of Anas al-Liby. Remarkably, al-Liby was a top al-Qaeda leader who nonetheless had been allowed to live in Britain (see Late 1995-May 2000); some speculate his treatment was connected to a joint al-Qaeda-British plot to assassinate Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi in 1996 (see 1996). [Observer, 9/22/2001] The raid may have been conducted as part of an investigation into al-Liby’s role in the 1998 embassy bombings. [Associated Press, 9/21/2001] Al-Liby is arrested and then let go for lack of evidence (see May 2000). But shortly after he is let go, investigators searching through his possessions find “Military Studies in the Jihad Against the Tyrants,” a 180-page al-Qaeda training manual written in Arabic. FBI agent Ali Soufan, who speaks Arabic, is the first to discover the manual. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 113-114] The manual appears to have been written in the late 1980’s by double agent Ali Mohamed. He wrote the manual, and many others, by cobbling together information from his personal experiences and stolen US training guides (see November 5, 1990). Others have since updated it as different versions spread widely. “The FBI does not know if any of the Sept. 11 hijackers used the manual… However, many of their tactics come straight from Mohamed’s lessons, such as how to blend in as law-abiding citizens in a Western society.” [Chicago Tribune, 12/11/2001] George Andrew, deputy head of anti-terrorism for the FBI’s New York City office, later will claim that after studying the manual, the FBI suspect that al-Qaeda operatives are attempting to infiltrate US society. But the FBI think they are not yet ready to strike. [Associated Press, 9/21/2001] The existence of the manual is made public in a US trial in April 2001. [New York Times, 4/5/2001]
Drawings made by FBI sketch artists of Niaz Khan’s al-Qaeda contact in the US (left), and one of the people he trained with in Pakistan (right). [Source: NBC News]British intelligence fails to take advantage of an informant who may help penetrate al-Qaeda in the US, and even possibly the 9/11 plot. Niaz Khan, a British citizen originally from Pakistan, was recruited into an al-Qaeda plot to hijack an airplane in the US and possibly fly it into a building. It is unknown if this was the 9/11 plot or something else, because Khan became scared and never met his al-Qaeda contact in the US, and instead turned himself in to the FBI in April 2000. Khan said he trained in Pakistan for the hijacking. FBI agents checked out Khan’s story and gave him two lie detector tests, and after three weeks, they concluded he was telling the truth. But FBI headquarters was not interested and told the agents to get rid of him (see April 2000). Khan told the FBI he was ready to become an informant. His idea was to create a story to explain his failure to meet with his contact and then work undercover with Islamic radicals. Since the FBI wanted to get rid of him, it made arrangements with MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, so MI5 could handle him as an informant. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Khan is a British citizen and he had been recruited into the hijacking plot after he joined a radical Islamist mosque in London, so the hope is he will be able to identify and inform on the people who brought him into the plot. [MSNBC, 6/3/2004] Khan is put on a plane and flown with an FBI agent to London, where he is met by two MI5 agents. But according to an FBI agent who handles Khan, in 2004, Khan will explain that he only has a short meeting with MI5. “And then they let me go. I got on to the tube [subway] back home here to Manor Park. Even after 9/11 happened, I never saw anyone. I got no phone calls, no letters, nothing.” The FBI agent will later say: “I just assumed that when Niaz was turned over the British authorities would have conducted a full investigation. What I would have done is re-inserted him into the community and worked him.… We know that didn’t happen. It’s a real shame.” [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
Erik Kleinsmith. [Source: C-SPAN]Maj. Eric Kleinsmith, chief of intelligence for the Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) unit, is ordered to destroy data and documents related to a military intelligence program set up to gather information about al-Qaeda. The program, called Able Danger, has identified Mohamed Atta and three other future hijackers as potential threats (see January-February 2000). According to Kleinsmith, by April 2000 it has collected “an immense amount of data for analysis that allowed us to map al-Qaeda as a worldwide threat with a surprisingly significant presence within the United States.”(see January-February 2000) [Fox News, 9/21/2005; New York Times, 9/22/2005] The data is being collected on behalf of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert, the J3 at US Special Operations Command, who is said to be extremely upset when he learns that the data had been destroyed without his knowledge or consent. [US Congress. Senate. Committee on Judiciary, 9/21/2005] Around this time, a separate LIWA effort showing links between prominent US citizens and the Chinese military has been causing controversy, and apparently this data faces destruction as well (see April 2000). The data and documents have to be destroyed in accordance with Army regulations prohibiting the retention of data about US persons for longer than 90 days, unless it falls under one of several restrictive categories. However, during a Senate Judiciary Committee public hearing in September 2005, a Defense Department representative admits that Mohamed Atta was not considered a US person. The representative also acknowledges that regulations would have probably allowed the Able Danger information to be shared with law enforcement agencies before its destruction. Asked why this was not done, he responds, “I can’t tell you.” [CNET News, 9/21/2005] The order to destroy the data and documents is given to Kleinsmith by Army Intelligence and Security Command General Counsel Tony Gentry, who jokingly tells him, “Remember to delete the data—or you’ll go to jail.” [Government Executive, 9/21/2005] The quantity of information destroyed is later described as “2.5 terabytes,” about as much as one-fourth of all the printed materials in the Library of Congress. [Associated Press, 9/16/2005] Other records associated with the unit are allegedly destroyed in March 2001 and spring 2004 (see Spring 2004). [Associated Press, 9/21/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005; Fox News, 9/24/2005]
Al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Mounir El Motassadeq attends an al-Qaeda training camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan. He leaves on May 22, 2000, flying from Hamburg, Germany, to Istanbul, Turkey, and then on to Pakistan. He is there at the same time as another Hamburg cell member, Zakariya Essabar (see January-October 2000). Although they train separately, they are at the same camp and see each other frequently. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 194, 201-202] Hamburg associate Abdelghani Mzoudi also attends the same camp around this time, and El Motassadeq will later testify in court that he meets with him at the camp. (see Summer 2000). El Motassadeq leaves Afghanistan in August 2000. [Los Angeles Times, 8/30/2002] El Motassadeq’s trip to the camp is likely noticed by the Turkish government, because he is on a watch list and he uses a known route to the camps (see May 22, 2000).
Kie Fallis, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) terrorism intelligence analyst, has been gathering evidence of an upcoming al-Qaeda attack or attacks. In 2002, he will describe to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry a research process similar to what Able Danger is using at the same time: “I began to notice there was a voluminous amount of information, as others have testified, regarding al-Qaeda. Most of it appeared to be unrelated to other pieces of information. It appeared to be almost chat. By using a piece of [commercial software called ‘Analyst’s Notebook’] I was able to put these small snippets of information into, and graphically represent them as well, I was able to, over a course of many months, to determine certain linkages between these items—linkages that would never be apparent without the use of this tool. It would be lost in the weeds. And there were a lot of weeds to look through.” [Washington Times, 8/26/2002; US Congress, 10/8/2002] In his research, he claims to find links between al-Qaeda and Iranian intelligence. By May 2000, he writes a classified report on his conclusion that “terrorists were planning two or three major attacks against the United States. The only gaps were where and when.” Apparently, he envisions at least one of these attacks will use a small boat to blow up a US warship. However, the DIA has already issued a report concluding that such a method of attack would be impossible to carry out successfully, and the agency sticks by this assessment. A video message put out by bin Laden in mid-September convinces Fallis that an al-Qaeda attack will happen in the next month or two.(see Mid-September 2000). Shortly after learning about this message, Fallis reaches “the ‘eureka point‘… in determining an impending terrorist attack.” This comes “from a still-classified intelligence report in September 2000, which he will not discuss.” [Washington Times, 8/26/2002] This may be a reference to a lead by the Able Danger team on increased al-Qaeda activity in Yemen at this time (see Late September 2000), and/or it may refer to other intelligence leads. Fallis goes to his supervisor and asks that at least a general warning of an attack in the Middle East be issued. He hopes such a warning will at least put US military forces in the region on a higher alert. His superior turns him down, and other superiors fail to even learn of his suggested warning. The USS Cole will be successfully attacked in the port of Aden, Yemen, by a small boat of terrorists on October 12, 2000 (see October 12, 2000) . [Washington Times, 8/26/2002] One day after the Cole attack, Fallis will resign in protest. According to Senator John Warner (R-VA),“What [Fallis] felt is that his assessment was not given that proper level of consideration by his superiors and, as such, was not incorporated in the final intelligence reports provided to military commanders in the [Middle East region].” [CNN, 10/25/2000]
The FBI extracts a full confession from L’Houssaine Kherchtou, also known as “Joe the Moroccan,” a member of the cell that bombed the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya (see Late 1993-Late 1994 and 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). However, in contrast with methods used on al-Qaeda operatives after 9/11, he is not tortured and the FBI is at pains to treat him well.
Relaxing Surroundings, Respectful Treatment - FBI agent Jack Cloonan will later say of the initial interrogation, which took place in Morocco, “The setting was beautiful, it was this grand house with stables out back, gazelles bouncing in the background, palm trees, three-course meals.” Kherchtou had a relationship with the British intelligence service MI6 (see Mid-Summer 1998 and Shortly After August 7, 1998), but had broken off contact with it and has to be lured to Morocco, where his debriefing is headed by Patrick Fitzgerald. Cloonan will later describe the questioning: “We advised [Kherchtou] of his rights. We told him he could have a lawyer anytime, and that he could pray at any time he wanted. We were letting the Moroccans sit in on this, and they were dumbfounded.… The Moroccans said he’d never talk. He never shut up for 10 days.” Fitzgerald denies Kherchtou a plea bargaining agreement, and says he must plead guilty to conspiracy to murder, for which he may receive a life sentence, though Fitzgerald promises to ask the judge for leniency. However, Cloonan will later say, “His wife needed money for medical treatment in Khartoum, and al-Qaeda had failed to provide it.” It is Cloonan’s “in” with Kherchtou, who is also sure that the US will not torture him. When Kherchtou wavers, Cloonan steps in. As he recalls: “I said, ‘Joe, you understand English, so I’d like you to go out and pray on this with your two Moroccan brothers.’ I thought Fitzy was going to give birth. Joe went out and prayed and came back and said yes.” He provides the FBI with details of the plot and becoming a star witness at the trial (see September 2000). [American Prospect, 6/19/2005; Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Invaluable Information - Kherchtou’s information, provided at a time when the US knows comparatively little about al-Qaeda, is, in Cloonan’s assessment, invaluable. “He told us about a lot of things,” Cloonan later says. “We learned how they recruited people, their front organizations, how they used NGOs [non-governmental organizations], false passports, what they thought about kidnapping, how they developed targets, did their surveillance, a day in the life of Osama bin Laden, what weapons they used, what vehicles they drove, who was the principal liaison with the Sudanese government, that there was a relationship between al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, how they did their training exercises, their finances, and their membership.” After the trial, he enters the witness protection program in the US. Four of his onetime associates will receive life sentences as a direct result of his information. [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
FBI Use Kherchtou as Example of Successful Interrogation Tacticss - FBI officials will later compare this outcome favorably to procedures used by other US agencies after 9/11. For example, following the detainee abuse scandals after 9/11, FBI manager Tom Harrington will write that the FBI has “been successful for many years obtaining confessions via non-confrontational interviewing techniques.” Cloonan will later contrast Kherchtou’s treatment with that of al-Qaeda training manager Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi in December 2001, when the US sent al-Libi to Egypt to be tortured and interrogated, but some of the information he provided there turned out to be false (see December 19, 2001 and January 2002 and After). [American Prospect, 6/19/2005]
CIA Director George Tenet makes a secret trip to Pakistan to complain about funds being moved through Islamic charities to al-Qaeda. This is part of an effort coordinated by the National Security Council to cut off the vast sums of money that intelligence officials believe flow to bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist network through Islamic charities and wealthy donors from across the Middle East. The US campaign prompts the Pakistani government in early 2001 to make some efforts to ban raising funds explicitly designated for holy war. Former US officials will later claim the trip is part of a larger effort to disrupt bin Laden’s financial network following the 1998 US embassy bombings. [Wall Street Journal, 10/1/2001]
FISA court judge Royce Lamberth was angry with the FBI over misleading statements made in FISA wiretap applications. [Source: Public domain]While monitoring foreign terrorists in the US, the FBI listens to calls made by suspects as a part of an operation called Catcher’s Mitt, which is curtailed at this time due to misleading statements by FBI agents. It is never revealed who the targets of the FBI’s surveillance are under this operation, but below are some of the terrorism suspects under investigation in the US at the time:
Imran Mandhai, Shuyeb Mossa Jokhan and Adnan El Shukrijumah in Florida. They are plotting a series of attacks there, but Mandhai and Jokhan are brought in for questioning by the FBI and surveillance of them stops in late spring (see November 2000-Spring 2002 and May 2, 2001);
Another Florida cell connected to Blind Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. The FBI has been investigating it since 1993 (see (October 1993-November 2001));
Al-Qaeda operatives in Denver (see March 2000);
A Boston-based al-Qaeda cell involving Nabil al-Marabh and Raed Hijazi. Cell members provide funding to terrorists, fight abroad, and are involved in document forging (see January 2001, Spring 2001, and Early September 2001);
Fourteen of the hijackers’ associates the FBI investigates before 9/11. The FBI is still investigating four of these people while the hijackers associate with them; [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 169 ]
Hamas operatives such as Mohammed Salah in Chicago. Salah invests money in the US and sends it to the occupied territories to fund attacks (see June 9, 1998).
When problems are found with the applications for the wiretap warrants, an investigation is launched (see Summer-October 2000), and new requirements for warrant applications are put in place (see October 2000). From this time well into 2001, the FBI is forced to shut down wiretaps of al-Qaeda-related suspects connected to the 1998 US embassy bombings and Hamas (see March 2001 and April 2001). One source familiar with the case says that about 10 to 20 al-Qaeda related wiretaps have to be shut down and it becomes more difficult to get permission for new FISA wiretaps. Newsweek notes, “The effect [is] to stymie terror surveillance at exactly the moment it was needed most: requests from both Phoenix [with the Ken Williams memo (see July 10, 2001)] and Minneapolis [with Zacarias Moussaoui’s arrest] for wiretaps [will be] turned down [by FBI superiors],” (see August 21, 2001 and August 28, 2001). [Newsweek, 5/27/2002] Robert Wright is an FBI agent who led the Vulgar Betrayal investigation looking into allegations that Saudi businessman Yassin al-Qadi helped finance the embassy bombings, and other matters. In late 2002, he will claim to discover evidence that some of the FBI intelligence agents who stalled and obstructed his investigation were the same FBI agents who misrepresented the FISA petitions. [Judicial Watch, 9/11/2002]
Entity Tags: Royce Lamberth, Shuyeb Mossa Jokhan, Catcher’s Mitt, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Zacarias Moussaoui, Raed Hijazi, Mohammad Salah, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Adnan Shukrijumah, Central Intelligence Agency, Nabil al-Marabh, Ken Williams, Imran Mandhai, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Ali Abdul Aziz Ali. [Source: FBI]Hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi receive a series of five money transfers from the United Arab Emirates:
On June 29, $5,000 is wired by a person using the alias “Isam Mansur” to a Western Union facility in New York, where Alshehhi picks it up;
On July 18, $10,000 is wired to Atta and Alshehhi’s joint account at SunTrust from the UAE Exchange Centre in Bur Dubai by a person using the alias “Isam Mansur”;
On August 5, $9,500 is wired to the joint account from the UAE Exchange Centre by a person using the alias “Isam Mansour”;
On August 29, $20,000 is wired to the joint account from the UAE Exchange Centre by a person using the alias “Mr. Ali”;
On September 17 $70,000 is wired to the joint account from the UAE Exchange Centre by a person using the alias “Hani (Fawar Trading).” Some sources suggest a suspicious activity report was generated about this transaction (see (Late September 2000)). [Financial Times, 11/29/2001; Newsweek, 12/2/2001; New York Times, 12/10/2001; MSNBC, 12/11/2001; US Congress, 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 134-5 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia; Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ] Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar previously received a transfer from the United Arab Emirates from a “Mr. Ali” (see April 16-18, 2000). The 9/11 Commission say this money was sent by Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (a.k.a. Ammar al-Baluchi), a nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 133-5 ] Although he denies making the $5,000 transfer to Nawaf Alhazmi, Ali will admit sending Alshehhi these amounts and say that the money was Alshehhi’s (see March 30, 2007). He also admits receiving 16 phone calls from Alshehhi around this time (see June 4, 2000-September 11, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 4/12/2007 ] The hijackers may also receive another $100,000 around this time (see (July-August 2000)). It is suggested that Saeed Sheikh, who wires the hijackers money in the summer of 2001 (see Early August 2001), may be involved in one or both of these transfers. For example, French author Bernard-Henri Levy later claims to have evidence from sources inside both Indian and US governments of phone calls between Sheikh and Mahmood Ahmed, head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, during this same time period, and he sees a connection between the timing of the calls and the money transfers (see Summer 2000). [Frontline, 10/13/2001; Daily Excelsior (Jammu), 10/18/2001; Levy, 2003, pp. 320-324]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Mahmood Ahmed, Fawaz Trdng, Isam Mansour, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Saeed Sheikh, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Al-Qaeda, United Arab Emirates, Marwan Alshehhi, Mohamed Atta
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Jack Roche. [Source: Agence France-Presse/ Getty Images]Jack Roche, an Australian Caucasian Muslim, tries to inform on al-Qaeda for Australia or the US, but is ignored. In April, Roche returned from a trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Malaysia, where he took an explosives training course and met with bin Laden, Mohammed Atef, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and other top al-Qaeda leaders. In Pakistan, Mohammed discussed attacking US jets in Australia and gave Roche money to start an al-Qaeda cell in Australia. Roche also met Hambali in Malaysia and was given more money there. Early this month, he tries to call the US embassy in Australia, but they ignore him. He then tries to contact The Australian intelligence agency several times, but they too ignore him. In September 2000, his housemate also tries to contact Australian intelligence about what he has learned from Roche but his call is ignored as well. Australian Prime Minister John Howard later acknowledges that authorities made a “very serious mistake” in ignoring Roche, though he also downplays the importance of Roche’s information. Roche is later sentenced to nine years in prison for conspiring with al-Qaeda to blow up an Israeli embassy. [BBC, 6/1/2004; Los Angeles Times, 6/7/2004]
Between July 20 and November 18, 2000, future 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi receives 16 phone calls from someone living overseas named Ashraf Suboh. At the time, Alhazmi is living in San Diego, California, at the house of an FBI informant named Abdussattar Shaikh (see May 10-Mid-December 2000). Alhazmi apparently does not make any important calls using the phone in the house, and these are the only important calls he receives. It is unknown if Suboh is someone’s real name or an alias. The name will be discovered in a raid on an al-Qaeda safe house in Pakistan in May 2002. Suboh’s name and address will be discovered as part of a printout of an e-mail dated January 9, 2001. The 9/11 Commission will mention this in its 2004 final report, but it will not mention where Suboh’s address was or any other information about him. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 535] The May 2002 raid is likely the same one where other information about the 9/11 hijackers is found, including passport photographs and other passport pages of hijackers Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Abdulaziz Alomari (see May 16, 2002).
[Source: FBI]Freeh’s FBI Deputy Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Terry Turchie, testifying before a classified meeting of a House of Representatives committee, says, “FBI investigation and analysis indicates that the threat of terrorism in the United States is low.” Summarizing the terrorist threat, he fails to mention al-Qaeda or Islamic militants of any kind, and instead considers the “serious terrorist threat” to be coming from “animal-rights and environmental extremists” and “right-wing groups.” In December 2000, the FBI will tell Congress that the threat of terrorists targeting US aviation is low (see December 2000). In contradiction to this, Louis Freeh, FBI Director from 1993 to early 2001, will testify after 9/11 that “Before the end of 1999, the FBI and the intelligence community clearly understood the foreign-based al-Qaeda threat regarding targets within the United States. Congress and the Executive were fully briefed as to this threat analysis…” [US Congress, 7/26/2000; US Congress, 10/8/2002]
The US intelligence community has been monitoring al-Qaeda telephone communications to and from a communications hub in Yemen since the late 1990s (see Late August 1998). The CIA intercepts an al-Qaeda operative say in a monitored phone call that bin Laden is planning a “Hiroshima-type event” against the US. Failed millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam, who is arrested in late 1999 (see December 14, 1999), confirms at the time that al-Qaeda is preparing such an attack. [New York Times, 10/14/2001; PBS, 10/3/2002] This sets off an immediate but unsuccessful search for further evidence. Shortly after 9/11, the New York Times will report that “intelligence officials now acknowledge that they never imagined that Mr. bin Laden’s organization had the ability to kill thousands of people in coordinated attacks on the American homeland. Looking back through the prism of Sept. 11, officials now say that the intercepted message was a telling sign of a drastic shift in the ambitions and global reach of al-Qaeda during the last three years.” [New York Times, 10/14/2001] There apparently is another intercepted message talking about a “Hiroshima” event in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001).
Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman. [Source: US Defense Department]Italian intelligence successfully wiretaps an al-Qaeda cell in Milan, Italy, starting in late 1999. [Boston Globe, 8/4/2002] In a wiretapped conversation from this day, Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, a section chief in Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO - roughly the equivalent to the FBI in the US) traveling on a diplomatic passport (see Spring-Summer 1998), talks about a massive strike against the enemies of Islam involving aircraft and the sky. The conversation takes place in a car on the way to a terrorist summit near Bologna (see August 12, 2000 and Shortly After), and the person Abdulrahman talks to is Mahmoud Es Sayed, a close associate of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000). There are several significant aspects to the conversation:
Abdulrahman makes comments indicating he has foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. He says that he is “studying airlines,” comments, “Our focus is only on the air,” and tells Es Sayed to remember the words “above the head.” He also says that next time they meet he hopes to bring Es Sayed “a window or piece of the airplane,” and that the security on Alitalia and at Rome airport is poor. The name of the operation is given as “Jihadia,” and Abdulrahman says, “the big blow will come from the other country: one of those blows no one can ever forget.” He adds: “[It is] moving from south to north, from east to west: whoever created this plan is crazy, but he’s also a genius. It will leave them speechless.” He also says: “We can fight any power using candles and airplanes: they will not be able to stop us with even their most powerful weapons. We must hit them. And keep your head up.… Remember, the danger in the airports.… If it happens the newspapers from all over the world will write about it.”
Es Sayed remarks, “I know brothers who went to America with the trick of the wedding publications.” The phrase “Big wedding” is sometimes used by al-Qaeda as code for a bombing or attack, including 9/11 (see November 30, 1999 and Late Summer 2001), so, taken together with Abdulrahman’s remarks, this indicates an unconventional attack in the US using aircraft;
The two discuss training camps in Yemen, which are “proceeding on a world scale.” They also mention youth in Italy, and presumably the youth are training;
Es Sayed says, “my dream is building an Islamic state,” and Abdulrahman replies that this is possible because the Yemeni government is weak and “sooner or later we will dominate it;”
Es Sayed asks after a person named Ayman, evidently al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri;
Abdulrahman twice mentions the name of Abdul Mejid, apparently a reference to Abdul Mejid al-Zindani, a radical leader in Yemen and associate of Osama bin Laden (see January-August 1998);
Es Sayed makes the cryptic comment, “One must be cautious, like in Iran; not a single photo.”
Beginning in October 2000, FBI experts will help Italian police analyze the intercepts and warnings. Related conversations are overheard early the next year (see January 24, 2001 and February 2001). Neither Italy nor the FBI will fully understand their meaning until after 9/11, but apparently the Italians will understand enough to give the US an attack warning in March 2001 (see March 2001). After 9/11, this conversation and others like it will cause US intelligence to think there may be a link between the 9/11 plot and Yemen’s PSO. [Los Angeles Times, 5/29/2002; Guardian, 5/30/2002; Washington Post, 5/31/2002; Wall Street Journal, 12/20/2002; Vidino, 2006, pp. 224-5] Author Lorenzo Vidino will later comment: “The chilling conversation alarmed officials before 9/11, but it took on a completely different resonance after the attacks had taken place. [Abdulrahman], who had close connections to the highest ranks of al-Qaeda, likely knew about the plan in advance and had told Es Sayed about it.” [Vidino, 2006, pp. 226]
The FBI and other US intelligence agencies have been monitoring an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, since the attacks on US embassies in East Africa, and have used it to map al-Qaeda’s global network (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). In the run-up to the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, the FBI notices that there is increased telephone activity to and from the Sana’a hub. One of the messages says that bin Laden is planning a “Hiroshima-type event” (see (August 2000)). [PBS, 10/3/2002]
According to an anonymous Able Danger official speaking to the Bergen Record, a US Army intelligence unit tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda networks worldwide discovers that several of the 9/11 hijackers are taking rooms at motels in New Jersey and meeting together there. The intelligence unit, called Able Danger, which uses high-speed computers to analyze vast amounts of data, notices that Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi take a room at the Wayne Inn (see (Before September 2000-12 Months Later)). After the existence of the Able Danger unit comes to light in 2005, Bergen Record columnist and reporter Mike Kelly says, “The connect-the-dots tracking by the team was so good that it even knew Atta conducted meetings with the three future hijackers. One of those meetings took place at the Wayne Inn. That’s how close all this was—to us and to being solved, if only the information had been passed up the line to FBI agents or even to local cops. This new piece of 9/11 history, revealed only last week by a Pennsylvania congressman and confirmed by two former members of the intelligence team, could turn out to be one of the most explosive revelations since the publication last summer of the 9/11 commission report.”
[Bergen Record, 8/14/2005] The other two hijackers said to be present at the meetings, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, periodically live in the town of Paterson, only one mile away from Wayne (see March 2001-September 1, 2001). However, contradicting this account, a lawyer representing members of Able Danger later testifies, “At no time did Able Danger identify Mohamed Atta as being physically present in the United States.”
[CNN, 9/21/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005] Some media accounts have stated that the Able Danger program determined Atta was in the US before 9/11. For instance, Fox News reported in August 2005, “[Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer] is standing by his claim that he told them that the lead hijacker in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks had been identified in the summer of 2000 as an al-Qaeda operative living in the United States.”
[Fox News, 8/17/2005]
The French intelligence agency, DGSE, publishes nine intelligence reports between these dates on the subject of al-Qaeda threats against the US. Over three hundred pages of classified DGSE reports on al-Qaeda from July 2000 to October 2001 will be leaked to a French reporter in 2007. One of the nine reports on attacks against the US, dated January 5, 2001, will be detailed in a 2007 French newspaper article (see January 5, 2001), but the contents of the other eight remain unknown. DGSE officials will later claim that such reports would have certainly been passed on to the CIA. None of the contents of any of these French reports will be mentioned in the 2004 9/11 Commission report. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007]
Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert.
[Source: Special Forces Command]Members of a US Army intelligence unit tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda have prepared a chart that includes the names and photographs of four future hijackers, who they have identified as members of an al-Qaeda cell based in Brooklyn, New York. The four hijackers in the cell are Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Nawaf Alhazmi. The members of the intelligence unit, called Able Danger, present their chart at the headquarters of the US military’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in Tampa, Florida, with the recommendation that the FBI should be called in to take out the al-Qaeda cell. Lawyers working for SOCOM argue that anyone with a green card has to be granted the same legal protections as any US citizen, so the information about the al-Qaeda cell cannot be shared with the FBI. The legal team directs them to put yellow stickers over the photographs of Mohamed Atta and the other cell members, to symbolize that they are off limits. [Norristown Times Herald, 6/19/2005; Government Security News, 8/2005; New York Times, 8/9/2005; St. Petersburg Times, 8/10/2005; New York Times, 8/17/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005] Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer later says that an unnamed two-star general above him is “very adamant” about not looking further at Atta. “I was directed several times [to ignore Atta], to the point where he had to remind me he was a general and I was not… [and] I would essentially be fired.” [Fox News, 8/19/2005] Military leaders at the meeting take the side of the lawyers and prohibit any sharing of information about the al-Qaeda cell. Shaffer believes that the decision to side with the lawyers is made by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert (who had previously expressed distress when Able Danger data was destroyed without his prior notification (see May-June 2000)). He also believes that Gen. Peter Schoomaker, head of SOCOM, is not aware of the decision. [Government Security News, 9/2005]
Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Special Operations Command, Marwan Alshehhi, Al-Qaeda, Nawaf Alhazmi, Peter J. Schoomaker, Khalid Almihdhar, Anthony Shaffer, Able Danger, Geoffrey Lambert
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Courtroom drawing of L’Houssaine Kherchtou. [Source: C. Cornell/ CNN]Al-Qaeda defector L’Houssaine Kherchtou (see Summer 2000) tells the FBI that between 1992 and 1995 he trained in Nairobi, Kenya, to be a pilot for al-Qaeda. His training ended when he began to drift away from al-Qaeda in 1995. Kherchtou, who began working with MI6 before the African embassy bombings (see Mid-Summer 1998), is a key prosecution witness at the bombing trial in early 2001, where he repeats the information in public. He will later go into the witness protection program. [Washington File, 2/22/2001; American Prospect, 6/19/2005]
The Taliban take the Northern Alliance stronghold of Taloqan after a month-long seige. The battle is unusual, because, for the first time, a large portion of the Taliban’s force—about one-third of the 15,000 force besieging Taloqan—is made up of non-Afghans loosely allied to al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda had been organizing a special unit known as the 055 Brigade, and this is one of the unit’s first battles. Furthermore, the Pakistani ISI provides more than 100 Pakistani military officials to manage artillery and communications, and the ISI generally directs the Taliban offensive. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid writes at the time about the role of foreigners and the ISI in the Taliban offensive, after interviewing Western intelligence figures, UN diplomats, and Afghans. He will later write that this battle marked “the first time people in the United States and Europe began to take notice” of these ISI and al-Qaeda roles in the Taliban offensives. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 17, 409]
Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, with a few of the future 9/11 hijackers, travels to Afghanistan and meets Osama bin Laden. German intelligence soon learns of the trip, and even gets wiretapped recordings of some of his conversations there. Zammar has been an Islamist militant for a long time, and went to training camps in Afghanistan in 1991 and 1994. Living in Hamburg, he was able to collect about 12,000 Deutsche Marks (approximately $6,000 at the time) for al-Qaeda. In September 2000, he takes the money to Afghanistan. He is able to get a face-to-face meeting with bin Laden, in a training camp near Kandahar. Zammar is still at the training camp in early October, when al-Qaeda bombs the USS Cole in Yemen (see October 12, 2000). He and the others in the camp have a celebration this night. This account is based on a confession Zammar will give to visiting German officials while he is secretly imprisoned in Syria in 2002 (see November 20-22, 2002). It is almost certain Zammar is frequently tortured there. However, Der Spiegel will later claim that German intelligence is able to verify many of the details of this trip on its own, because it receives wiretapped recordings of Zammar’s conversations in Afghanistan from at least one foreign intelligence agency. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 11/21/2005]
Jose Padilla, an American Muslim who has recently become interested in becoming an al-Qaeda fighter, attends an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. He goes under the name Abdullah al-Espani. [Associated Press, 6/2004]
Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer will later claim that Captain Scott Phillpott, leader of the Able Danger program, briefs General Peter Schoomaker, head of Special Operations Command (SOCOM), that Able Danger has uncovered information of increased al-Qaeda “activity” in Aden harbor, Yemen. Shaffer, plus two other officials familiar with Able Danger later tell the New York Post that this warning was gleaned through a search of bin Laden’s business ties. Shaffer later recalls, “Yemen was elevated by Able Danger to be one of the top three hot spots for al-Qaeda in the entire world.” This warning, plus another possibly connected warning from Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst Kie Fallis (see May 2000-Late September 2000), go unheeded and no official warning is issued. The USS Cole is attacked by al-Qaeda terrorists in Aden harbor in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). Shaffer later claims that Phillpott tells the 9/11 Commission about this warning in 2004 to show that Able Danger could have had a significant impact, but the Commission’s findings fail to mention the warning, or in fact anything else about Able Danger (see July 12, 2004). [New York Post, 9/17/2005; Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005] Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) will similarly tell Fox News: “[T]wo weeks before the attack on the Cole, in fact, two days before the attack on the Cole, [Able Danger] saw an increase of activity that led them to say to the senior leadership in the Pentagon at that time, in the Clinton administration, there’s something going to happen in Yemen and we better be on high alert, but it was discounted. That story has yet to be told to the American people.” [Fox News, 10/8/2005]
In a January 2002 letter to Swiss authorities, a senior Treasury Department official will claim that the Al Taqwa Bank in Switzerland had set up a highly secretive line of credit for al-Qaeda, and that it is still in use in October 2000. (Apparently its status is unknown after this time.) It states that Al Taqwa “appeared to be providing a clandestine line of credit for a close associate of bin Laden.… This bin Laden lieutenant had a line of credit with a Middle East financial institution that drew on an identical account number at Bank Al Taqwa. Unlike other accounts—even accounts of private banking customers—this account was blocked by the computer system and special privileges were required to access it.” The letter calls the circumstances surrounding the account “highly unusual” and suggests that they were created “to conceal the association of the bin Laden organization with Bank Al Taqwa.” Another document reveals that the account was originally set up for Mamdouh Mahmoud Salim, an al-Qaeda leader who was arrested in Germany in late 1998 (see September 16, 1998). It is believed that other al-Qaeda figures continued to access the account after Salim’s arrest. [US Department of the Treasury, 8/29/2002; Newsweek, 4/12/2004] The US will declare Al Taqwa Bank a terrorist financier in November 2001 (see November 7, 2001).
Bin Laden has personally approves an al-Qaeda plan to hijack a US airplane. A French intelligence report in January 2001 will describe an al-Qaeda plot to hijack aircraft, possibly one flying from Frankfurt to the US (see January 5, 2001). The report notes that, “In October 2000 bin Laden attended a meeting in Afghanistan at which the decision to mount this action was upheld.” [Le Monde (Paris), 4/17/2007] At the meeting, bin Laden also decides that his next action against the US will involve a hijacking. However, there is still disagreement among al-Qaeda leaders over how the plot would work. [Agence France-Presse, 4/16/2007] The French report also claims that in early 2000, bin Laden met with Chechen rebels, the Taliban, and other al-Qaeda leaders to begin planning this hijacking (see Early 2000). The Chechens are likely connected to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab, who has a long history of collaboration with bin Laden (see 1986-March 19, 2002) and is said to be planning an attack against the US with him around this time (see Before April 13, 2001). The French will apparently pass all this information to the CIA in early 2001 (see January 5, 2001).
Able Danger member Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer meets with the DIA deputy director and offers him a computer disc with information about al-Qaeda (including 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta), but the DIA official declines to accept the disc. [Sacramento Bee, 11/24/2005]
Parlindungan Siregar. [Source: El Pais]Parlindungan Siregar, an Indonesian, has been studying in Spain since 1987, and has begun working with Barakat Yarkas, head of the al-Qaeda cell in Madrid. In October 2000, he returns to Indonesia, but remains in constant phone contact with Yarkas. Spanish intelligence has been monitoring Yarkas’s phone calls for years (see 1995 and After). Linking with Indonesian militants, Siregar begins organizing an al-Qaeda training camp near the town of Poso, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. [Conboy, 2003, pp. 224-225] Soon thereafter, Madrid cell member Yusuf Galan is monitored as he receives e-mails from Siregar assessing the situation in Indonesia. For instance, one e-mail says, “You can do many things here. With only five million pesetas ($50,000 dollars), we can buy an island of 200 hectares that would be very useful. But our main need now is the weapons. Remember that everything we do should approach toward jihad.” [El Pais, 7/15/2007] In May 2001, Yarkas travels to Indonesia to assess the new camp, called Camp Mujahidin. By the time he arrives, there already are some recruits being trained, including an Australian citizen. Impressed, Yarkas returns to Spain and makes arrangements for al-Qaeda to properly fund the camp. Galan brings the money to Siregar at the camp in July 2001. However, the Spanish government does not share any of what it learned with the Indonesian government until November 2001, when the allegations are made public as part of some Spanish indictments (see November 13, 2001). But the camp is shut down shortly after the 9/11 attacks, and by November, Siregar and other operatives cannot be found. [Conboy, 2003, pp. 224-225] Siregar will later be linked to the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002). In 2007, it will be reported that he is one of the most wanted al-Qaeda figures world-wide and on many wanted lists. [El Pais, 7/15/2007]
Damage to the USS Cole. [Source: Department of Defense]The USS Cole is bombed in the Aden, Yemen harbor by two al-Qaeda militants, Hassan al-Khamri and Ibrahim al-Thawar (a.k.a. Nibras). Seventeen US soldiers are killed and 30 are wounded. The CIA will later conclude that with just slightly more skilled execution, the attack would have killed 300 and sunk the ship. [ABC News, 10/13/2000; Coll, 2004, pp. 532; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 191] The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) immediately takes credit for the attack. This is a Yemen-based Muslim militant group widely believed to have close ties to al-Qaeda (see 1996-1997 and After). [Guardian, 10/14/2000] The IAA statement is released by its spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997, (June 1998), and December 28, 1998 and After). Abu Hamza says that the attack was timed to mark the anniversary of the execution of the IAA’s former commander (see October 17, 1999). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 184] The prime minister of Yemen at the time of the bombing will say shortly after 9/11, “The Islamic Army was part of al-Qaeda.” [Guardian, 10/13/2001] The US soon learns the names of some al-Qaeda operatives involved in the attack, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Tawfiq bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso (see Early December 2000), and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000). 9/11 hijackers Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see October 10-21, 2000) and Khalid Almihdhar (see Around October 12, 2000) may also have been involved. This is a repeat of a previously attempted attack, against the USS The Sullivans, which failed and was apparently undetected (see January 3, 2000). [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002] The 9/11 Commission will later say the Cole bombing “was a full-fledged al-Qaeda operation, supervised directly by bin Laden. He chose the target and location of the attack, selected the suicide operatives, and provided the money needed to purchase explosives and equipment.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 190]
Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Khallad bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Islamic Army of Aden, USS Cole, Osama bin Laden, Ibrahim al-Thawar, Khalid Almihdhar, Fahad al-Quso, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hassan al-Khamri, Al-Qaeda
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Under interrogation following his capture, al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash will say that after the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), Iran makes a concerted effort to strengthen relations with al-Qaeda. However, Iran is rebuffed because Osama bin Laden does not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia, which has poor relations with Iran. Nevertheless, Iranian officials are apparently willing to assist travel by al-Qaeda members through Iran, on their way to and from Afghanistan, by not placing telltale immigration stamps in their passports. Such arrangements are particularly beneficial to Saudi members of al-Qaeda. However, information such as this obtained from detainees under interrogation is thought to be unreliable due to the questionable methods used to extract it (see June 16, 2004). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 240]
Michael Sheehan. [Source: Center on Law and Security]In the wake of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000), Clinton administration officials hold a high level meeting to discuss what the US response should be. The meeting attendees include: Counterterrorism “Tsar” Richard Clarke, Defense Secretary William Cohen, CIA Director George Tenet, Attorney General Janet Reno, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Deputy National Security Adviser Jim Steinberg, and State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Michael Sheehan.
Clarke suggests that al-Qaeda was behind the attacks. There is no hard evidence of this yet but he argues that the attack matches their profile and capabilities. He presents a detailed plan, which he’d been working on before the bombing, to level all the al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan as well as key Taliban buildings in such towns as Kandahar and Kabul.
Reno argues there’s no clear evidence yet who was behind the bombing. If there is such evidence, any US actions should not be for retaliation but only for self-protection against future attacks.
Tenet says that he suspects al-Qaeda is behind the bombing but also wants to wait until an investigation determines that before acting.
Cohen is against any counterattack. Clarke will later recall Cohen saying at the meeting that the Cole bombing “was not sufficient provocation.” Sheehan will later say that the “entire Pentagon” was generally against a counterattack.
Albright is against a counterattack for diplomatic reasons. The Clinton administration is involved in trying to create a peace settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians and bombing Afghanistan could ruin such talks.
Many also argue that if Afghanistan is attacked and bin Laden is not killed, he could emerge a greater hero in the Muslim world, just as he did after a 1998 US missile strike (see Late 1998). Clarke argues that the continual creation of new trained militants in Afghanistan needs to stop, and if bin Laden is killed, that would merely be a “bonus.” At the end of the meeting, the highest-ranking officials cast votes, and seven vote against Clarke’s counterstrike plan, while only Clarke votes in favor of it. After the meeting, Sheehan will meet with Clarke and express frustration with the outcome, saying, “What’s it going to take to get them to hit al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? Does al-Qaeda have to hit the Pentagon?” [Miniter, 2003, pp. 222-227]
In the wake of the USS Cole bombing, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger meets with Defense Secretary William Cohen to discuss a new approach to targeting Osama bin Laden. Berger says: “We’ve been hit many times, and we’ll be hit again. Yet we have no option beyond cruise missiles.” He once again brings up the idea of a “boots on the ground” option—a Delta Force special operation to get bin Laden. A plan is drawn up but the order to execute it is never given. Cohen and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry Shelton oppose the plan. By December 21, the CIA reports that it strongly suspects that al-Qaeda was behind the bombing, but fails to definitively make that conclusion. That makes such an attack politically difficult. Says a former senior Clinton aide, “If we had done anything, say, two weeks before the election, we’d be accused of helping [presidential candidate] Al Gore.” [Time, 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
The US intelligence community considers creating a strategic analysis about terrorism, but none is done before 9/11. The last National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on terrorism was released in 1997 (see 1997). The 9/11 Commission will later say that assessments such as NIEs can “provoke widespread thought and debate [and ] have a major impact on their recipients, often in a wider circle of decision makers.” By late 2000, CIA Director George Tenet recognizes the lack of any recent strategic analysis about al-Qaeda or Islamic militancy in general. He appoints a senior manager, who briefs him in March 2001 about “creating a strategic assessment capability.” The CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) establishes a new strategic assessments branch in July 2001 and about ten analysts are slated to work for it. But it takes time to hire the new staff and the first head of this branch reports for work just one day before 9/11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 342-343] Not only is there no NIE or any other sweeping strategic assessment on al-Qaeda between 1997 and 9/11, but one still will not be completed five years after 9/11. Apparently the US military opposes such an assessment for fear it would reduce the military’s role in counterterrorism efforts (see September 12, 2006).
CIA Director Tenet and other top CIA officials brief President-elect Bush, Vice President-elect Cheney, future National Security Adviser Rice, and other incoming national security officials on al-Qaeda and covert action programs in Afghanistan. Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt recalls conveying that bin Laden is one of the gravest threats to the country. Bush asks whether killing bin Laden would end the problem. Pavitt says he answers that killing bin Laden would have an impact but not stop the threat. The CIA recommends the most important action to combat al-Qaeda is to arm the Predator drone and use it over Afghanistan. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Reuters, 3/24/2004] However, while the drone is soon armed, Bush never gives the order to use it in Afghanistan until after 9/11 (see September 4, 2001).
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke submits a plan to “roll back” al-Qaeda over a period of three to five years until it is ineffectual. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The main component is a dramatic increase in covert aid to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan to first tie down the terrorists and then “eliminate the sanctuary” for bin Laden. Financial support for terrorist activities will be systematically attacked, nations fighting al-Qaeda will be given aid to defeat them, and the US will plan for direct military and covert action in Afghanistan. The plan will cost several hundred million dollars. However, since there are only a few weeks left before the Bush administration takes over, it is decided to defer the decision until the new administration is in place. One senior Clinton official later says, “We would be handing [the Bush administration] a war when they took office on January 20. That wasn’t going to happen.” However, the plan is rejected by the Bush administration and no action is taken (see January 25, 2001). According to one senior Bush administration official, the proposal amounts to “everything we’ve done since 9/11.” [Time, 8/12/2002]
German police foil an al-Qaeda plot to bomb the central square in Strasbourg, France. The plot is foiled when German police arrest two Iraqis, a Frenchman, and an Algerian in Frankfurt on December 25 and 26. The men are discovered with a map of Strasbourg and a video showing the market. The plot was to bomb the busy square in front of the city’s main cathedral on New Year’s Eve, just days after the arrests. A French prosecutor will later say the bombing “was avoided by a hair.” The four men will be convicted in Germany in 2003 to prison terms of ten to 12 years for their roles in the plot. France will later sentence ten Islamic militants to prison terms of one to ten years. One of those convicted to a ten year sentence in France is Mohamed Bensakria, who is considered to be a key figure in al-Qaeda’s European network. [Chicago Tribune, 10/22/2001; Associated Press, 12/16/2004]
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