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a.k.a. Ahmed Hijazi
Nabil al-Marabh returned to Canada from Afghanistan in February 1994 using a fraudulent Saudi Arabian passport. But his request for asylum was eventually denied. He then enters the US in June 1995 and applies for asylum there. That too is denied, and he is ordered deported in 1997. But the order is not enforced and he continues to live in the US and Canada illegally until 9/11. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 10/22/2001; Ashenfelter 5/23/2003) Al-Marabh moves to Boston and gets a job as a taxi driver. He had known al-Qaeda operatives Bassam Kanj, Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, and Raed Hijazi in training camps in Afghanistan (see Late 1980s; 1989-1994), and this group of four regathers in Boston. Kanj has been there since 1995, driving taxis at the same company that hires al-Marabh. Elzahabi moves to Boston from New York City in 1997 and also gets a job at this same taxi company. There are conflicting accounts as to who brings Raed Hijazi to Boston and why he goes there, but by the beginning of 1998 he is also working for this taxi company. (Kurkjian and Rakowsky 2/5/2001; Golden and Miller 9/18/2001; Risen and Engelberg 10/14/2001; Fainaru 9/4/2002) Al-Marabh and Hijazi are roommates for at least two months. While they work together driving taxis, Hijazi is saving his earnings to spend on bomb plots and is working on an al-Qaeda plot to attack a US warship. That plot will develop into the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. (ABC News 7 (Chicago) 1/31/2002; Fainaru 9/4/2002) Around the end of 1998, Kanj and Hijazi leave Boston to work on al-Qaeda plots overseas while Elzahabi leaves in 1999 to fight as a sniper in Chechnya. Al-Marabh will also leave, moving to Florida in early 1999 (see February 1999-February 2000), but he periodically returns to his Boston residence for some time, as his wife and son continue to live there. These four men will continue to help each other in various al-Qaeda plots. (Kurkjian and Rakowsky 2/5/2001; Murphy 6/26/2004) Apparently, al-Qaeda recruiter Kamal Derwish also works at the same Boston taxi company, though the timing is not clear. He trained in Afghanistan in 1992, a time when al-Marabh was also there. He will be killed by a US missile strike in November 2002 (see November 3, 2002). (McLaughlin 5/23/2003) Even though the Boston FBI is aware long before 9/11 that at least four of the men are connected to al-Qaeda (see January 2001), the FBI will officially deny the possibility of any al-Qaeda cell in Boston until 2004 (see June 27, 2004).
A group of seven men in Lackawanna, near Buffalo, New York, are influenced by religious discussions with two al-Qaeda operatives, Kamal Derwish and Juma al-Dosari. The seven US citizens—Yaseinn Taher, Yahya Goba, Shafel Mosed, Mukhtar al-Bakri, Sahim Alwan, Faysal Galab, and Jaber Elbaneh—leave for jihad training in Afghanistan. They tell friends they are merely going to Pakistan for religious instruction. Escorted by Derwish, the men travel separately and attend a six-week long weapons course at the Al Farooq camp. Some of them meet Osama bin Laden in Kandahar and they all hear him give a speech (see (June 2001)). However, most of them apparently think they are in over their heads and find excuses to cut their basic training course short and return home. The six who return show little to no evidence of any al-Qaeda plotting in the following months. Jaber Elbaneh, however, becomes committed and stays overseas with al-Qaeda. The six who return will later be arrested and dubbed an al-Qaeda cell known as the “Lackawanna Six” (see September 13, 2002). (PBS Frontline 10/16/2003)
A group of seven Yemeni-Americans from Lackawanna, New York, go to train in Afghanistan (see April-August 2001). Just two days after some of them have arrived, two of the seven—Sahim Alwan and Jaber Elbaneh, plus their mentor Kamal Derwish, briefly meet Osama bin Laden in a small group setting. One of the men asks bin Laden about a rumor that something big is about to happen. Bin Laden responds: “They’re threatening us. And we’re threatening them. But there are brothers willing to carry their souls in their hands.” (Temple-Raston 2007, pp. 107-108) A couple of weeks later, the seven Lackawanna men and Derwish begin training at the Al Farooq training camp near Kandahar. One day, bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri come to their camp and bin Laden gives a speech in Arabic to the hundreds of trainees there. The crowd is told the speech is being videotaped. In his 20-minute speech, he discusses the merger between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad. At the end, he calls on the gathering to pray for the 40 operatives who are en route for a very important mission. He drops hints about suicide operations against the US and Israel. One of the seven men, Yaseinn Taher, speaks Arabic well enough to understand the speech, and explains the gist of it to the other six. The Lackawanna men also sense a mood in the camp that something big is going to happen soon. For instance, the camp is regularly conducting evacuation drills in anticipation of the US bombing it. (Temple-Raston 2007, pp. 117-120) One by one, all the members of the group except for Jaber Elbaneh drop out and go home before their basic training course is done. They will later be known as the “Lackawanna Six.” But none of the six tell any US authorities what they learned when they get back to the US before 9/11. Some of the six, such as Taher and Alwan, will later say that on the morning of 9/11 they realize the attack they are watching on television is what bin Laden was talking about when he discussed the 40 men on a suicide mission. (Temple-Raston 2007, pp. 136-138)
The FBI’s Buffalo, New York, field office receives an anonymous, handwritten letter from someone in the Yemeni community of Lackawanna, near Buffalo. The letter says that a group has traveled to “meet bin Laden and stay in his camp for training.” The person who wrote it adds, “I can not give you my name because I fear for my life.” It says that “two terrorists” have been recruiting in Lackawanna, and that eight men have gone to train in Afghanistan, and four more are planning to go later. It gives the names of the men. In fact, all eight of the men named are currently in an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. This group will later be dubbed the “Lackawanna Six,” for the six of them that eventually return to the US (see September 13, 2002). The letter is assigned to FBI agent Edward Needham, the only Buffalo agent at this time working on counterterrorism. He runs the names through criminal databases and finds that many of them have criminal records for drug dealing and cigarette smuggling. He is skeptical that drug dealers would fight for al-Qaeda, but he sends the letter up the chain of command and formally opens an investigation on June 15. Three of them—Faysal Galab, Shafel Mosed, and Yaseinn Taher—are stopped on June 27 when they arrive in New York on a flight back from Pakistan, because Needham put their names on an FBI watch list. But they are merely questioned for two hours and released. He keeps occasional tabs on the men as they return from Afghanistan over the next months, but does not learn they actually were in an al-Qaeda training camp until after 9/11. (PBS Frontline 10/16/2003; Temple-Raston 2007, pp. 124-125, 129)
The FBI arrests six US citizens with a Yemeni background, on information provided by the CIA: Sahim Alwan, Mukhtar al-Bakri, Faysal Galab, Yahya Goba, Shafel Mosed and Yaseinn Taher. Five are arrested in their hometown Lackawanna, a suburb of Buffalo, New York. The sixth, who is connected to the other five, is arrested in Bahrain and then transferred to the US. (CBS News 11/9/2002) They are hereafter nicknamed “the Lackawanna Six.” They reportedly traveled to Afghanistan in April and May 2001 to join in Islamic jihad and receive military training at the Al Farooq training camp run by al-Qaeda (see April-August 2001). They also allegedly met with Osama bin Laden (see (June 2001)). They are believed to have been encouraged to go to Afghanistan by two American veteran mujaheddin, Juma al-Dosari and Kamal Derwish, who fought in the war in Bosnia and who visited Lackawanna in early 2001. (Powell 7/29/2003) One month later, a federal jury indicts the Lackawanna Six on two counts of providing material support to terrorism. They are charged with supporting terrorism. If found guilty, they could face up to 15 years in prison. All of them plead not guilty. (CBS News 10/22/2002)
A CIA-operated Predator drone fires a missile that destroys a truck of suspected al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen. The target of the attack is Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, a top al-Qaeda operative, but five others are also killed, including American citizen Kamal Derwish. (Pincus 11/4/2002; Lumpkin 12/3/2002) Al-Harethi is said to have been involved in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. Bush administration officials say Derwish was the ringleader of a sleeper cell in Lackawanna, New York (see September 13, 2002). (Powell and Priest 11/9/2002; Thomas and Hosenball 11/11/2002) A former high-level intelligence officer complains that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants “to take guys out for political effect.” Al-Harethi was being tracked for weeks through his cell phone. (Hersh 12/16/2002) The attack happens one day before mid-term elections in the US. Newsweek will note that timing of the strike “was, at the very least, fortuitous” for the Bush administration. (Thomas and Hosenball 11/11/2002) New Yorker magazine will later report, “The Yemeni government had planned to delay an announcement of the attack until it could issue a joint statement with Washington. When American officials released the story unilaterally, in time for Election Day, the Yemenis were angry and dismayed.” (Hersh 12/16/2002) Initial reports suggest the truck was destroyed by a car bomb. But on November 5, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz will brag about the strike on CNN, thus ruining the cover story and revealing that the truck was destroyed by a US missile (see November 5, 2002). (Thomas and Hosenball 11/11/2002) US intelligence appears to have learned of al-Harethi’s whereabouts after interrogating Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, captured the month before (see Early October 2002).
The revelation that the US killed Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi in Yemen with a Predator missile strike (see November 3, 2002 and November 5, 2002) sparks a debate about the morality and legality of remote attacks outside of war zones. The Bush administration had previously criticized Israel’s policy of “targeted killings” of Palestinian militants. Newsweek comments, “A State Department spokesman bobbed and weaved and tried to draw distinctions. But, privately, administration officials say the difference is really one of scale and frequency.” (Thomas and Hosenball 11/11/2002) Many international lawyers and some foreign governments question the legality of the assassination. (Whitaker and Burkeman 11/6/2002) For decades, the US government has been prohibited from conducting assassinations. The Bush administration says it still adheres to that policy but makes an exception for “enemy combatants” such as al-Qaeda leaders. In December 2002, it will be revealed that President Bush approved a secret “high-value target list” of about two dozen terrorist leaders, giving the CIA basic executive and legal authority to either kill or capture those in the list. The CIA is also empowered to capture or kill terrorists not mentioned in the list (see September 17, 2001). (Risen and Johnston 12/15/2002) Additional controversy is generated when it is discovered that US citizen Kamal Derwish was one of those killed in the strike. Derwish is alleged to have been connected to an al-Qaeda cell in Buffalo, New York. US officials say the CIA has the legal authority to target and kill US citizens it believes are working for al-Qaeda (see July 22, 2002). (Lumpkin 12/3/2002) The New Yorker reveals that there were two planned Predator strikes in Yemen called off at the last minute that turned out to be aimed at innocent people instead of al-Harethi. One recently retired Special Forces operative who served on high-level planning staffs at the Pentagon warns that the civilians running the military are no longer trying to “avoid the gray area.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is reportedly behind the effort to use the CIA and special forces for more remote killings (see July 22, 2002). One former high-level intelligence officer complains, “They want to turn these guys into assassins. They want to go on rumors—not facts—and go for political effect, and that’s what the Special Forces Command is really afraid of.” (Hersh 12/16/2002) Noting that in its battle against al-Qaeda, the US has effectively deemed the entire planet a combat zone, Scott Silliman, director of Duke University’s Center on Law, Ethics and National Security says, “Could you put a Hellfire missile into a car in Washington, DC?…The answer is yes, you could.” But National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says, “No constitutional questions are raised here.” (Witt 11/24/2002; Lumpkin 12/3/2002)
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