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a.k.a. Khalid al-Shanqiti, Abu Hafs al Mauritani, Abu Hafs the Mauritanian
In 2006, a bipartisan Senate report will conclude that al-Qaeda leader Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian) travels to Iraq this year in an attempt to meet with Saddam Hussein. This is according to debriefings and documentation found after the 2003 Iraq war. But Hussein refuses to meet him and directs that he should leave Iraq because he could cause a problem for the country. Different documents suggest Al-Walid travels in March or June, or makes two trips. He will make a similar attempt to meet with Hussein in 2002, and will be similarly rebuffed (see 2002). The Senate report will conclude that, despite many alleged meetings, these two attempted meetings by Al-Walid and an actual meeting between bin Laden and an Iraqi agent in 1995 (see Early 1995) were the only attempted contacts between the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda before the Iraq war. (US Senate and Intelligence Committee 9/8/2006, pp. 73-75 )
Intelligence agents learn Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian), an important al-Qaeda leader, is staying in a particular hotel room in Khartoum, Sudan. White House officials ask that he be killed or captured and interrogated. International capture operations of wanted militants, a practice known as “rendition,” have become routine by the mid-1990s (see 1993). In fact, over a dozen al-Qaeda operatives are rendered between July 1998 and February 2000 (see July 1998-February 2000). But in this case, both the Defense Department and the CIA are against it, although Al-Walid does not even have bodyguards. The CIA puts the operation in the “too hard to do box,” according to one former official. The CIA says it is incapable of conducting such an operation in Sudan, but in the same year, it conducts another spy mission in the same city. (Miller, Gerth, and van Natta 12/30/2001; Clarke 2004, pp. 143-46) A plan is eventually made to seize Al-Walid, but by then he has left the country. (Miller, Gerth, and van Natta 12/30/2001)
The 9/11 Commission will later call Mohamedou Ould Slahi “a significant al-Qaeda operative who, even [in late 1999], was well known to US and German intelligence, though neither government apparently knew he was operating in Germany.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 165)
Thinks He Was Monitored - However, while in US custody after 9/11, Slahi will allege that a phone call he received in January 1999 from his cousin Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid, a top al-Qaeda leader living in Afghanistan, was monitored. Slahi will say, “I later learned that my cousin was using Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone that was intercepted.” Another mutual cousin was arrested that month and Slahi says, “I wasn’t captured, but I am sure I was followed by the German police [and/or] German intelligence.” He claims the imam at his mosque told him that German officials had come to ask questions about him and was told Slahi had ties with terrorists. (US Department of Defense 4/20/2006, pp. 184-216) In 2000, the New York Times will report that German authorities became interested in Slahi “shortly after the bombings of American Embassies in East Africa in 1998. The German authorities learned that [he] might have ties to Islamic extremists in Europe.” (Johnston 1/29/2000)
Links to 9/11 Hijackers - After Hamburg al-Qaeda cell member Ramzi bin al-Shibh is captured in 2002, he will allegedly claim that Slahi was the one who originally recruited 9/11 hijackers Marwan Alshehhi and Ziad Jarrah. (Agence France-Presse 10/26/2002) After 9/11, another prisoner in US custody will say that Slahi and bin al-Shibh met in Frankfurt in 1999 through an acquaintance. This acquaintance will go further and will claim Slahi knew bin al-Shibh and Jarrah since at least 1998 and that Slahi later lived with them in Hamburg. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 496) In October 1999, bin al-Shibh and Alshehhi call Slahi, and he invites them to come to where he lives in Duisburg, Germany. Bin al-Shibh, Alshehhi, and Ziad Jarrah soon go visit him there. Karim Mehdi, an apparent leader of the al-Qaeda Ruhr Valley cell who will later be sentenced to nine years in prison for a post-9/11 plot, is also at this meeting. Bin al-Shibh, Alsehhi, and Jarrah follow Slahi’s advice to go to Afghanistan instead of Chechnya, and he gives them instructions on how to meet up with al-Qaeda operatives there. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 165; Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg) 8/3/2005; Souchard 10/26/2006) US investigators later believe Slahi worked closely on al-Qaeda matters with bin al-Shibh and instructed another militant to go to the US and to take part in the 9/11 plot. Additionally, he is believed to have a key role in Ahmed Ressam’s millennium plot (see December 15-31, 1999). (Meyer 4/24/2006)
No Action - German authorities are monitoring and wiretapping the phones at bin al-Shibh’s apartment throughout 1999 (see November 1, 1998-February 2001 and 2000), but they apparently do not connect Slahi to the Hamburg militants or do not act on that connection. The Germans will apparently miss another chance to learn of his ties to the Hamburg cell in April 2000, when Slahi is arrested for three weeks in Germany and then let go (see January-April 2000). (US Department of Defense 4/20/2006, pp. 184-216) Note that the testimonies of detainees such as Slahi and bin al-Shibh are suspect due to widespread allegations that they were tortured into confessions (for instance, see September 27, 2001).
The US and Germany miss an opportunity to uncover the 9/11 plot through the arrest of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, an al-Qaeda operative tied to millennium attacks and the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. Slahi lived in Duisburg, Germany for most of the 1990s and apparently US and German intelligence began monitoring him there around the start of 1999 due to his communications with his cousin, al-Qaeda leader Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid. In 1999 he had repeated contact with members of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell and helped some of the 9/11 hijackers travel to Afghanistan. US investigators will later allege he also advised one militant to “travel to the United States to take part in the planned [9/11] attacks” (see 1999). In November 1999, Slahi moves to Canada and is seen with associates of Ahmed Ressam, who is planning to bomb the Los Angeles airport. US officials will later believe that Slahi went to Canada to activate Ressam’s cell. (Meyer 4/24/2006) After Ressam is arrested in mid-December 1999 (see December 14, 1999), Slahi is monitored closely. He is arrested in Senegal after flying there in mid-January 2000. Transfered to his home country of Mauritania, he is interrogated by FBI officials. (Johnston 1/29/2000; Agence France-Presse 2/20/2000; Meyer 4/24/2006) In early February 2000, Newsweek will report, “The key link in the chain connecting bin Laden to Ahmed Ressam—and an alleged New Year’s bomb plot in the United States—may be Mohamedou Ould Slahi.” (Newsweek 2/7/2000) However, despite these suspicions, he is released later in February. He moves back to Germany, and is arrested and held there in April 2000 for three weeks, and then released again. He quickly returns to Mauritania. He will be arrested again shortly after 9/11. (Agence France-Presse 2/20/2000; US Department of Defense 4/20/2006, pp. 184-216) Despite all this interest in Slahi, his connections to the 9/11 plot and some of the 9/11 hijackers in Hamburg are apparently not made until after 9/11. He will later be sent to Guantanamo where he is reportedly subjected to harsh interrogation (see September 27, 2001).
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)
Al-Qaeda leader Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian) gives the only media interview by any al-Qaeda leader besides bin Laden in the months after the 9/11 attacks. Speaking to an Al Jazeera reporter in Kandahar, Afghanistan, he says, “We are not responsible for [the 9/11 attacks] and therefore we are not responsible for religious explanations for it. That’s on the one hand. However, many clerics have issued clear religious rulings [in this matter]… and have proved that if this act was carried out by mujaheddin Muslims, then it was an unblemished act of jihad.” He also adds, “In the US there are [agencies] legally responsible for safeguarding the security of America and the Americans. It is they who should be held accountable.… Where were these apparatuses when these things occurred? These apparatuses have satellites, ground stations, millions of spies, and huge budgets. It is said that they know what is happening in the bedrooms, that they know the shoe sizes of the wanted [men]. How did a group of people manage to stay for years, to train inside the US, and to plan this operation?” (Al Jazeera 11/30/2001)
In 2006, a bipartisan Senate report will conclude that al-Qaeda leader Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian) traveled to Iraq this year in an attempt to meet with Saddam Hussein. This is according to debriefings after the 2003 Iraq war. But Hussein refused to meet him and directed that he should leave Iraq because he could cause a problem for the country. Al-Walid made a similar attempt to meet with Hussein in 1998, and was similarly rebuffed (see March-June 1998). The Senate report will conclude that, despite many alleged meetings, these two attempted meetings by Al-Walid and an actual meeting between bin Laden and an Iraqi agent in 1995 (see Early 1995) were the only attempted contacts between the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda before the Iraq war. (US Senate and Intelligence Committee 9/8/2006 )
In April 2002, Shadi Abdellah, a militant connected to the al-Tawhid group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is arrested by German police. Abdellah also briefly worked as one of bin Laden’s bodyguards (see Early 2001). He begins cooperating with German authorities. He reveals that al-Zarqawi is not a part of al-Qaeda but is actually the founder of al-Tawhid, which he says works “in opposition” to al-Qaeda (see 1989-Late 1999). The aim of the group is to kill Jews and install an Islamic regime in Jordan. The group is not really interested in the US, and this is the key ideological difference between it and al-Qaeda. Abdallah recounts one instance where al-Zarqawi vetoed a proposal to share charity funds collected in Germany with al-Qaeda. According to Abdallah, al-Zarqawi’s organization had also “competed” with al-Qaeda for new recruits. He also reveals that al-Zarqawi’s religious mentor is Abu Qatada, an imam openly living in Britain. (Buncombe and Milmo 2/6/2003; Isikoff 6/25/2003; Bergen 2006, pp. 356-358) A German intelligence report compiled in April 2002 based on Abdellah’s confessions further states that “Al-Zarqawi mentioned to Abdellah that the possibility of a merger conflicted with the religious orientation of [Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian)] who was responsible within al-Qaeda for religious or Islamic matters, which contradicted the teachings practices by al-Zarqawi.” (Bergen 2006, pp. 359-422) Newsweek will later report that “several US officials” claim “they were aware all along of the German information about al-Zarqawi.” (Buncombe and Milmo 2/6/2003) Nonetheless, Bush will claim in a televised speech on October 7, 2002 (see October 7, 2002) that a “very senior al-Qaeda leader… received medical treatment in Baghdad this year,” a reference to al-Zarqawi. And Colin Powell will similarly state on February 5, 2003 (see February 5, 2003) that “Iraq is harboring the network of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda lieutenants.” Both statements are made even though “US intelligence already had concluded that al-Zarqawi was not an al-Qaeda member…” (BBC 2/5/2003; Powell 2/5/2003; Pincus 6/22/2003 Sources: Unnamed US intelligence sources)
The New York Times reports that 10 out of the 24 al-Qaeda leaders considered most important by the CIA before 9/11 have been killed or captured. (Risen and Filkins 9/10/2002) The four most important figures considered still at large are:
Osama bin Laden (Saudi). He will be killed in 2011 (see May 2, 2011).
Ayman al-Zawahiri (Egyptian).
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (Kuwaiti/Pakistani). He will be captured in 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003).
Saif al-Adel (Egyptian).
Other figures considered still at large are:
Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (Egyptian).
Mustafa Muhammad Fadhil (Egyptian).
Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah (Egyptian). He will be killed in 2006 (see April 12, 2006).
Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam) (Kenyan). He will be killed in 2009 (see January 1, 2009).
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul) (Comoros Islander). He will be killed in 2011 (see June 10, 2011).
Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian) (Mauritanian).
Amin ul-Haq (Afghan).
Midhat Mursi (Egyptian). He will be killed in 2008 (see July 28, 2008).
Anas al-Liby (Libyan). He may have been secretly captured already (see January 20, 2002- March 20, 2002).
Suliman abu Ghaith (Kuwaiti).
Saad bin Laden (Saudi). He apparently will be killed in 2009 (see July 22, 2009).
Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (Saudi). He will be captured in 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). (New York Times 9/10/2002)
The four leaders captured are:
Abu Zubaida (Palestinian) (see March 28, 2002).
Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi (Yemeni) (see Late 2001 and February 7, 2002).
Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (Libyan) (see December 19, 2001).
Abu Zubair al-Haili (Saudi) (see June 8, 2002 and After). (New York Times 9/10/2002)
Five of the six leaders believed killed are:
Mohammed Atef (Egyptian) (see November 15, 2001).
Abu Jaffa (a.k.a. Abu Jafar al-Jaziri) (Algerian).
Abu Salah al-Yemeni (Yemeni).
Tariq Anwar al-Sayyid Ahmad (Egyptian).
Muhammad Salah (a.k.a. Nasr Fahmi Nasr Hasanayn) (Egyptian). (New York Times 9/10/2002)
The sixth leader believed killed is not named. One year after 9/11, US intelligence identifies 20 current high-ranking al-Qaeda leaders, though it is not mentioned who the six new leaders are who replaced some of the killed or captured leaders. (Risen and Filkins 9/10/2002) This list of leaders, while instructive, is curiously incomplete because it fails to mention al-Qaeda leaders known as important to US intelligence before 9/11, such as Hambali, Khallad bin Attash, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Thirwat Salah Shehata, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, and Mohammed Jamal Khalifa.
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