!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Mohamed al-Owhali
a.k.a. Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-Owhali, Khalid Salim, Moath al-Balucci, Khalid Saleem bin Rasheed
Mohamed al-Owhali was a participant or observer in the following events:
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), one of the key bombers in the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), works for the charity Mercy International for a time in Kenya. He then joins Help Africa People, a charity front created by Wadih El-Hage, another key embassy bomber. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 20, 3/20/2001] In 2008, the Kenyan newspaper the Daily Nation will post some articles about the African embassy bombings based on declassified documents. One article will reveal that in early 1997, Fazul brought three more al-Qaeda operatives, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, Abdallah Nacha, and Mohamed al-Owhali, into Kenya. All three were also working with Mercy International, but were on temporary loan to Help Africa People. All of them will go on to play important roles in the embassy bombings. [Daily Nation, 8/2/2008; Daily Nation, 8/2/2008] From late 1996 until the embassy bombings, minus a few months near the start of 1998, US intelligence is monitoring two phone numbers at Mercy International’s Kenya office (see Late 1996-August 20, 1998), so it seems probable that the US would be aware of these men. In 1999, it will be alleged that the US-based Mercy International is actually a CIA front (see 1989 and After).
During Osama bin Laden’s one and only press conference, which takes place in Khost, Afghanistan (see May 26, 1998), Mohamed al-Owhali is photographed. Presumably his picture is taken by one of the journalists in attendance there. Al-Owhali will go on to be directly involved in the African embassy bombings several months later (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), and will be convicted in the US for a role in those bombings (see October 21, 2001). It is not known who takes al-Owhali’s picture or if US intelligence has access to the picture before the embassy bombings. [Jacquard, 2002, pp. 283]
An unnamed security guard claims that he sees three people filming the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, four days before the al-Qaeda bombing there (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). He makes this claim immediately after the bombing. [Associated Press, 8/10/1998] It is reported later that month that three of the arrested bombers, Mohamed al-Owhali, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, and Abdallah Nacha, confessed to surveilling the embassy on that day. [Associated Press, 8/23/1998] An FBI agent will confirm in a 2001 trial that al-Owhali went to the embassy that day with others to surveil it. [United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14, 3/7/2001] It is unknown if the security guard shares this information with others at the embassy before the bombings.
Mohamed al-Owhali. [Source: CNN]Before and after the August 7, 1998 attack on the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), a bomber involved in that attack named Mohamed al-Owhali makes a series of calls to al-Qaeda associate Ahmed al-Hada, who runs an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen. Al-Owhali briefly stayed at the hub about three months before the bombings and made some calls from there. He then traveled to other locations, including Pakistan, and flew to Kenya on August 2. Beginning August 4, he makes a series of calls to al-Hada at the Yemen hub. The details of these calls have not been revealed, but they continue until about two hours before the embassy bombings take place. Al-Owhali is supposed to be martyred in the attack, but he runs away at the last minute and survives. Beginning on August 8, he repeatedly calls al-Hada, asking for help getting out of Kenya. He eventually receives $1,000 from him. Al-Hada is actually about to fly to Kenya to help al-Owhali get out when al-Owhali is arrested on August 12. Al-Hada also receives three calls from bin Laden’s satellite phone, which is being monitored by the NSA (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Following a raid by London police, the FBI allegedly trace a fax claiming responsibility for the attack through Baku, Azerbaijan, to bin Laden’s satellite phone, which leads them to the communications hub in Sana’a (however, it is likely that the NSA at least is already monitoring the hub phone number). Phone records for the hub direct them to al-Owhali in Nairobi. Al-Owhali has already been arrested based on a tip-off and, after the FBI interrogators realize he is lying to them, he confesses to calling the number. [United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14, 3/7/2001; United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 23, 3/27/2001; Observer, 8/5/2001] The translator during al-Owhali’s interviews is Mike Feghali, who will later be accused of serious improprieties after 9/11 by whistleblower Sibel Edmonds (see July-August 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/9/1998, pp. 1 ] Author Lawrence Wright will say, “This Yemeni telephone number would prove to be one of the most important pieces of information the FBI would ever discover, allowing investigators to map the links of the al-Qaeda network all across the globe.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 275-8] The NSA may well already have been aware of the number since bin Laden’s monitored phone called it many times, but the US intelligence community now begins a joint effort to exploit it (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). Other apparently inaccurate stories about how al-Owhali was captured have been reported in the press. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 48]
Usama al-Kini, a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam. [Source: FBI]Most of the al-Qaeda operatives involved in the African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) leave the country the night before the bombings. Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah and Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani fly from Nairobi to Karachi, Pakistan, on one flight. Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam), Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, and five unnamed bombers fly from Nairobi to Karachi with a stopover in Dubai on another flight. Some use false passports, but others, such as Abdullah, travel in their real name. Two others, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan and Mustafa Fadhil, flew to Pakistan on August 2. Odeh is arrested at 5:30 a.m., Kenya time, while going through customs in Karachi, but the others on his flight are not (see 5:30 a.m., August 7, 1998). Two suicide bombers are killed in the bombings. The only operatives who remain in East Africa after the bombings are Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), who volunteered to clean up the evidence in Kenya, and Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, who volunteered to do the same in Tanzania, plus Mohamed al-Owhali, one of the suicide bombers in Kenya who unexpectedly ran away at the last minute and survived with only minor injuries. [United Press International, 1/2/2001; United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38, 5/2/2001] Given the extent to which US intelligence was monitoring the members of the Kenyan cell (see April 1996 and May 1998), and even reportedly had multiple informants in the cell (see Before August 7, 1998), it is unclear how the US missed the departure of nearly every suspect from Kenya.
At approximately 5:30 in the morning, Kenya time, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh is arrested at the airport in Karachi, Pakistan. Odeh is one of the bombers in the embassy bombings which take place four hours later in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38, 5/2/2001]
Odeh Stopped Because of Alert Inspector or CIA? - He had flown out of Nairobi, Kenya, the night before, with his plane stopping in Dubai on the way to Pakistan (see August 6-7, 1998). According to some accounts, an inspector notices that Odeh’s passport picture has a beard, while Odeh does not have a beard and looks different. Furthermore, Odeh is unable to look the inspector in the eyes. But according to UPI, he is stopped because he had been identified by the CIA. In any case, over the next hours, he is handed over to intelligence officers and makes a full confession. He admits that he is a member of al-Qaeda, led by bin Laden, and that he is the head of the al-Qaeda cell in Kenya. He even gives the address of the villa where the bomb was built and the names of the other bombers. [Bergen, 2001, pp. 116; United Press International, 1/2/2001; Associated Press, 4/3/2001; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 213]
False or Mistaken Account by CIA Officer - CIA officer Gary Berntsen heads the CIA’s emergency deployment team to Tanzania in the immediate wake of the bombings. He will improbably claim in a 2005 book that the US at first primarily suspects Hezbollah. According to him, it is only on August 15 when a CIA officer in Karachi happens to notice an article saying that an Arab traveling on a false passport was arrested in Karachi near the time of the bombings. This is discovered to be Odeh, who is transferred to US custody. Only then does al-Qaeda’s involvement become clear. Perhaps to support this timeline, Berntsen also falsely claims that another bomber, Mohamed al-Owhali, is arrested on August 15 when in fact he is arrested three days earlier. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38, 5/2/2001; Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005]
Odeh's Confession and Other Al-Qaeda Evidence Kept Secret for Days - Publicly, the US does not link any evidence from the bombing to al-Qaeda until August 17, when Odeh’s confession is finally mentioned in front page news stories. Even then, the story is based on accounts from Pakistani officials and US officials say they cannot confirm it. [Washington Post, 8/17/1998] In fact, there is a wealth of information immediately tying al-Qaeda to the bombings that is kept secret, including wiretaps of many of the bombers (see April 1996 and May 1998), informants in the cell (see Before August 7, 1998), and even a statement of responsibility that was intercepted hours before the bombings had occurred (see August 5-7, 1998).
Bombings of the Nairobi, Kenya, US embassy (left), and the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, US embassy (right). [Source: Associated Press]Two US embassies in Africa are bombed within minutes of each other. At 10:35 a.m., local time, a suicide car bomb attack in Nairobi, Kenya, kills 213 people, including 12 US nationals, and injures more than 4,500. Mohamed al-Owhali and someone known only as Azzam are the suicide bombers, but al-Owhali runs away at the last minute and survives. Four minutes later, a suicide car bomb attack in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, kills 11 and injures 85. Hamden Khalif Allah Awad is the suicide bomber there. The attacks will be blamed on al-Qaeda. [PBS Frontline, 2001; United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38, 5/2/2001] The Tanzania death toll is low because, remarkably, the attack takes place on a national holiday so the US embassy there is closed. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 195] The attack shows al-Qaeda has a capability for simultaneous attacks. The Tanzania bombing appears to have been a late addition, as one of the arrested bombers will allegedly tell US agents that it was added to the plot only about 10 days in advance. [United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14, 3/7/2001] A third attack against the US embassy in Uganda does not take place due to a last-minute delay (see August 7, 1998). [Associated Press, 9/25/1998] August 7, 1998, is the eighth anniversary of the arrival of US troops in Saudi Arabia and some people will speculate that this is the reason for the date of the bombings. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 46] In the 2002 book The Cell, reporters John Miller, Michael Stone, and Chris Mitchell will write: “What has become clear with time is that facets of the East Africa plot had been known beforehand to the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, and to Israeli and Kenyan intelligence services.… [N]o one can seriously argue that the horrors of August 7, 1998, couldn’t have been prevented.” They will also comment, “Inexplicable as the intelligence failure was, more baffling still was that al-Qaeda correctly presumed that a major attack could be carried out by a cell that US agents had already uncovered.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 195, 206] After 9/11, it will come to light that three of the alleged hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi, had some involvement in the bombings (see October 4, 2001, Late 1999, and 1993-1999) and that the US intelligence community was aware of this involvement by late 1999 (see December 15-31, 1999), if not before.
Mohamed al-Owhali is arrested and immediately begins confessing his role in the recent al-Qaeda bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. He reveals to the FBI what an FBI agent will later call “blue-chip” information. [CNN, 1/19/2001] He reveals to prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and others that when he was told by a handler in Afghanistan that he would take part in an operation in Kenya, he insisted “I want to attack inside the US” instead. But his handler tells him that the Kenya attack is important because it will keep the US distracted while the real attack is being prepared. Al-Owhali futher explains to his interrogators, “We have a plan to attack the US, but we’re not ready yet. We need to hit you outside the country in a couple of places so you won’t see what is going on inside. The big attack is coming. There’s nothing you can do to stop it.” [USA Today, 8/29/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 278-279] Presumably, al-Owhali is also the suspect at this time who “inform[s] the FBI that an extensive network of al-Qaeda ‘sleeper agents’ currently exists in the US.” It is known that counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke passes on this information to Condoleezza Rice when she begins her position as National Security Adviser in January 2001 (see January 25, 2001), but other details about this warning are not known. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 260] Al-Owhali also reveals the telephone number of a key al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late August 1998) and warns that an al-Qaeda attack is Yemen is being planned (see Mid-August 1998). [CNN, 1/19/2001]
Mohamed al-Owhali is arrested and immediately begins confessing to FBI investigators his role in the recent al-Qaeda bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). In addition to revealing the existence of an al-Qaeda network in the US planning an attack there (August 12-25, 1998) and also revealing the phone number of a key al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late August 1998), it appears he also reveals al-Qaeda plans for an attack in Yemen. In October 2000, Al-Qaeda operatives bombed the USS Cole in a port in Yemen (see October 12, 2000). In January 2001, in coverage of al-Owhali’s trial for his role in the embassy bombings, a court document mentions that during his interrogation he mentioned “a possible attack in Yemen.” [CNN, 1/19/2001] However, one newspaper notes, “It could not be learned how the authorities followed up on the information or how detailed it was.” [New York Times, 1/18/2001] It will later be revealed that al-Owhali identified the two leaders of the Cole bombing as participants in the planning for the US embassy bombings. [CNN, 10/16/2001]
After he is arrested for the Nairobi embassy bombing (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), Mohamed al-Owhali is questioned by local Kenyan law enforcement and the FBI, and discloses important information (see August 4-25, 1998). When he is shown photographs of al-Qaeda operatives, one of the people he identifies is Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (a.k.a. Bilal), a cousin of another Nairobi bomber. Al-Nashiri is an al-Qaeda leader who helped al-Owhali obtain a false passport in Yemen when al-Owhali stayed at an al-Qaeda safe house in April-May 1998. It is unclear where the FBI obtained the photo of al-Nashiri, although US intelligence was previously informed of al-Nashiri’s involvement in a plot to smuggle anti-tank missiles into Saudi Arabia (see 1997). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/9/1998, pp. 16 ; United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14, 3/7/2001; Burke, 2004, pp. 174; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3]
Mohamed al-Owhali, one of the bombers of the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), is rendered from Kenya to the US. Al-Owhali was arrested in Nairobi after the bombing and gave up information to local authorities and the FBI about it (see August 4-25, 1998 and August 22-25 1998). He will be tried in the US and sentenced to life in prison (see October 21, 2001). [Grey, 2007, pp. 129, 246]
During the trial of men accused of the 1998 East African embassy bombings, an FBI witness mentions that one of the defendants, Mohamed al-Owhali, told investigators that he had stayed in a Yemen-based al-Qaeda communications hub run by Ahmed al-Hada. He also revealed that he had called the hub before and after the Nairobi bombing. (Note: al-Hada’s surname is transliterated as “al-Hazza” during the trial.) The existence of the communications hub in Yemen is then reported by the US State Department, CNN, the Guardian, and UPI over the next few months. [United Press International, 2/13/2001; US Department of State, 3/7/2001; United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14, 3/7/2001; CNN, 5/2/2001; Observer, 8/5/2001] The hub was also previously mentioned at a big trial of Islamic Jihad operatives in Cairo (see 1999). The 9/11 hijackers have been calling the communications hub by phone since early 1999, at least (see, e.g., Early 1999). The calls are being intercepted by the NSA and some of them have originated from within the US (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). Perhaps unaware that the hub’s existence has been disclosed, they will make at least one more call to the hub (see (August 2001)).
In a key speech about al-Qaeda’s responsibility for the 9/11 attacks, British Prime Minister Tony Blair says that one of the hijackers played a “key role” in the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Though he doesn’t specify which one, he does say the individual was one of the three hijackers who were quickly identified after 9/11 as known al-Qaeda associates (see 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001) and someone who had also played an important role in the USS Cole attacks (see October 14-Late November, 2000). [UK Prime Minister, 10/4/2001] Blair’s description of this hijacker as being involved in the USS Cole and African Embassy attacks strongly suggests the person he is referring to is Khalid Almihdhar. Almihdhar allegedly had a hand in the Cole attack (see Early October 2001) and had links to one of the captured embassy bombers, Mohamed al-Owhali. Before the Cole attacks, al-Owhali stayed at an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen run by Almihdhar’s father-in-law (see February 2001 and After). Additionally, al-Owhali met an al-Qaeda operative in Pakistan by the name of Khalid, although this may have been Khallad (aka Tawfiq bin Attash), or even Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. [United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14, 3/7/2001; Guardian, 10/5/2001; CNN, 10/16/2001; Burke, 2004, pp. 174; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Wright, 2006, pp. 309] It is also possible that the person alluded to in Blair’s speech is Nawaf Alhazmi, who also had connections to the embassy bombings (see 1993-1999).
Khalfan Khamis Mohamed. [Source: FBI]Four men are sentenced to life in prison for their roles in the African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). The four are:
Khalfan Khamis Mohamed.
Mohammed Saddiq Odeh. [CNN, 10/21/2001]
Another man in custody for the embassy bombings, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, attempted to stab a prison guard and was removed from the trail and eventually given 32 years in prison for the stabbing instead. [CNN, 5/4/2004] Double agent Ali Mohamed is also in custody and pleads guilty for a role in the bombings, but he is never sentenced and his fate remains murky (see July 2001-December 2001). A New York jury considered the death penalty for some of them, but deadlocked on that and opted for life in prison without parole instead. Over a dozen people remain wanted for their alleged roles in the embassy bombings, including all of the suspected masterminds. [CNN, 10/21/2001]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.