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Profile: Rita Katz
Rita Katz was a participant or observer in the following events:
Islamic Center of Tucson. [Source: Jacob Rader]In 1986, Maktab al-Khidamat (a.k.a. Al-Kifah), the precursor organization to al-Qaeda, opens its first branch in the US at the Islamic Center of Tucson, in Tucson, Arizona. Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz will later call the Islamic Center, “basically, the first cell of al-Qaeda in the United States; that is where it all started.” The organization’s journal, Al Jihad (Holy War), is initially distributed in the US from there. Other branches around the US soon follow (see 1985-1989). [New York Times, 6/19/2002]
A number of important future al-Qaeda figures are connected to the Tucson branch in the 1980s and into the early 1990s, including:
Mohammed Loay Bayazid, one of the founders of al-Qaeda two years later.
Wael Hamza Julaidan, another founder of al-Qaeda, and a Saudi multimillionaire. He was president of the Islamic Center starting in 1983 and leaves the US around 1986.
Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s future personal secretary, who will later be convicted for a role in the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). El-Hage is connected to the murder of a liberal imam at the rival mosque to the Islamic Center in 1990 (see January 1990).
Mubarak al Duri, al-Qaeda’s chief agent attempting to purchase weapons of mass destruction. [Washington Post, 9/10/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 521]
Throughout the 1980s, the mosque provides money, support, and fighters to the mujaheddin fighting in Afghanistan. Around 1991, future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour will move to Arizona for the first time (see October 3, 1991-February 1992) and he will spend much of the rest of the decade in the state. He will briefly live in Tucson, but his ties to earlier al-Qaeda connections there remain elusive. [Washington Post, 9/10/2002]
Khalil Deek. [Source: Ali Jarekji / Reuters]In 2007, the New Yorker magazine will note, “American intelligence officials had been investigating [Khalil] Deek and [Abu] Zubaida’s activities since at least the late eighties,” but it will not explain why. Deek is a Palestinian and naturalized US citizen living in California for most of the 1990s who will later reportedly mastermind several al-Qaeda bomb plots. [New Yorker, 1/22/2007] Abu Zubaida, the nom de guerre of Saudi-born Palestinian Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein (also spelled Zein al-Abideen Muhammad Hassan) [Washington Post, 4/22/2009] , joins the Palestinian uprising in 1987, when he is only sixteen years old. He then goes to Afghanistan, presumably joins with bin Laden, and fights there before the war ends in 1989. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 95] Between 1988 and 1996, Deek is apparently involved with the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), a US-based charity which the US government will later call a “front group” for the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The IAP is closely tied to the Holy Land Foundation, established near Dallas, Texas, in 1989 (see 1989), and it appears the foundation was investigated from very early on. Deek is living in Dallas that year. [Orange County Weekly, 5/31/2001] Palestinian militant activity through organizations like the IAP may explain why these two are investigated at this time, and/or the two may have engaged in other activities. Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz will later claim that the Jordanian government “knew about Deek since the early 1990s. They had a lot of interest in him. They really considered him a major terrorist figure.” [Orange County Weekly, 6/17/2004] Deek and Zubaida will later work together on a number of operations, for instance using the honey trade to ship drugs and weapons (see May 2000), and masterminding a millennium bomb plot in Jordan. [New Yorker, 1/22/2007]
In 1991, there is a surge in the number of US soldiers adhering to Islam, due to a conversion program sponsored by the Saudi government (see March-September 1991). Islamic activist Abdurahman Alamoudi approaches the US military and suggests they create a program for Muslim chaplains, similar to a longstanding program for Christian chaplains. His proposal is accepted and in 1991 he creates the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council (AMAFVAC) with the stated purpose to “certify Muslim chaplains hired by the military.” In 1993, the Defense Department certifies it as one of two organizations to select and endorse Muslim chaplains. The other is the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences (GSISS). [US Congress, Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, 10/14/2003; Wall Street Journal, 12/3/2003] That group is run by prominent Islamic scholar Taha Jabir Al-Alwani. Most of the roughly one dozen Muslim chaplains in the US military are educated there. In 2002, the US government searches the school and Al-Alwani’s home as part of a raid on the SAAR network (see March 20, 2002). He appears to also be named as an unindicted coconspirator in the Sami al-Arian trial. Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz says Al-Alwani is a “person who supports and funnels money to terrorist organizations,” but Al-Alwani denies all terrorism ties and has not been charged with any crime. [St. Petersburg Times, 3/27/2003] Most Muslim chaplains trained at GSISS then receive an official endorsement from Alamoudi’s AMAFVAC organization. US intelligence will learn in early 1994 that Alamoudi has ties to bin Laden (see Shortly After March 1994). [US Congress, Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, 10/14/2003] In 1996, counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson will warn in a Wall Street Journal editorial that Alamoudi openly supports Hamas, even after the US government officially designated it a terrorist organization (see March 13, 1996). [Wall Street Journal, 3/13/1996] But Alamoudi will work for the Defense Department until 1998 on an unpaid basis to nominate and to vet Muslim chaplain candidates. After that, he will give the task to others in his AMAFVAC organization. [US Congress, Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, 10/14/2003] Furthermore, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) will later allege the US the military allowed Muslim chaplains to travel to the Middle East on funds provided by the Muslim World League, which has been linked to al-Qaeda (see October 12, 2001). Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) will later comment, “It is remarkable that people who have known connections to terrorism are the only people to approve these chaplains.” [US News and World Report, 10/27/2003] In late 2003, Alamoudi will be arrested and later sentenced to 23 years in prison for terrorism-related crimes. The US military will announce around the same time that it is reviewing and overhauling its Muslim chaplain program. [US News and World Report, 10/27/2003]
Al-Qaeda operative Khalil Deek runs military training camps in Southern California in the early 1990s. Those trained in the camps include followers of the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, and some of the people involved in the 1993 “Landmarks” plot (see June 24, 1993). Deek is a member of an al-Qaeda sleeper cell based in Orange County and has reportedly been under investigation by US intelligence since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s). Rita Katz, a private counterterrorism expert who sometimes works with US officials, will learn of these camps when speaking to an FBI agent in early 2002. According to Katz, she is told that the FBI had known about the camps for “years” but had not acted because of the “wall” between criminal and intelligence investigations. The FBI agent will tell Katz that the information about the camps was “Intel information. Unusable.” [Katz, 2003, pp. 186-187] Deek also attracts attention for his suspected involvement with Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the militant group led by Abdul-Rahman, because of the group’s plans “to bomb a Masonic temple in Los Angeles.” [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005] Katz will conclude that “the FBI had learned that Deek was running military training camps for al-Qaeda in California and was planning to blow up various American targets. And the agency let these people go about their business undisturbed.” [Katz, 2003, pp. 186-187] Around the same time, Deek also works in Bosnia for a charity suspected of funneling weapons and new recruits to the mujaheddin fighting there (see Early 1990s). In late 1999, Deek will be captured overseas for participation in a planned millennium bombing (see December 11, 1999). It will later be alleged that he was a mole for the Jordanian government (see Shortly After December 11, 1999).
Rita Katz, a researcher at The Investigative Project on Terrorism, discovers a book called The Arab Volunteers in Afghanistan. Published in Arabic in 1991, the book is very obscure. The 9/11 Commission will later say the book contains “a particularly useful insight into the evolution of al-Qaeda—written by an early bin Laden associate, Adel Batterjee, under a pseudonym.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 467] Katz discovers that Batterjee was close acquaintances with Osama bin Laden and that the book describes bin Laden’s career and that of many others during the 1980s war in Afghanistan in great detail. She will later call the book “practically the ‘Who’s Who of al-Qaeda’” because so many people described in it went on to become important al-Qaeda figures. The book discusses:
Adel Batterjee, the author of the book and a Saudi millionaire. He helped found the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF). The US will declare him a terrorism financier in 2004.
Wael Hamza Julaidan, a Saudi multimillionaire. The US will designate him a terrorism financier in 2002 (see September 6, 2002).
Enaam Arnaout. He runs the US headquarters of BIF from 1993 until late 2001, when the US will shut BIF down.
Mohammed Loay Bayazid, a US citizen. He is a founding member of al-Qaeda and worked in the US for BIF until 1998.
Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law. He is tied to the Bojinka plot and numerous militant charity fronts.
Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi (the book mentions him by his alias, Abu Talha). Considered al-Qaeda’s main financier of cells in Europe, he will be arrested a few months after 9/11 (see April 23, 2002).
Wali Khan Amin Shah, one of the Bojinka plotters. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 468]
Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, an al-Qaeda leader involved in the 1998 African embassy bombings who will be arrested in Germany in 1998 (see September 16, 1998). [National Review, 10/28/2002]
Katz says that “many, many others” are mentioned. “Many others mentioned in the book decorate the FBI’s ‘most wanted’ lists.… There was nothing like [the] book to put everything in order, organize loose bits of information, and clear parts that were obscure to me (and to everyone else.)” Katz has connections in the US government, so she calls the White House and tries to convey the importance of the book’s information. She repeatedly sends them translations of important sections. However, she sees very little interest in the book. After 9/11, she will get a call from the Justice Department, finally expressing interest. Katz will later comment, “The government took interest in the book only after 9/11, two years after I’d first discovered it and offered it to them. No wonder that government agents told me I knew more about al-Qaeda than they did.”
Entity Tags: Wali Khan Amin Shah, White House, Rita Katz, Osama bin Laden, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Adel Abdul Jalil Batterjee, Al-Qaeda, Enaam Arnaout, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi, Mohammed Loay Bayazid, Wael Hamza Julaidan
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Rita Katz. [Source: Publicity photo /]Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, hearing about Ahmed Ressam’s arrest earlier in the day (see December 14, 1999), hires a team of private terrorism analysts to complete a report on militant Islamic cells in North America. The Investigative Project on Terrorism, led by Steven Emerson, finishes the report just prior to the end of the year, hoping to help stop any millennium plots. [New Yorker, 5/29/2006] Investigator Rita Katz discovers that a man named Khalil Deek who has just been arrested in Jordan for a role in a millennium plot is a US citizen (see December 11, 1999). Using only public records, she begins looking into Deek’s activities in the US. She believes that she discovers a sleeper cell consisting of: [Katz, 2003, pp. 161-162]
Khalil Deek. He is an al-Qaeda operative who has lived in Anaheim, California, for most of the 1990s. A former senior CIA official will later claim that Deek’s extremist connections were already “well established in the classified intelligence” by this time, and in fact, it will later be reported that Deek’s connections with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida had been investigated since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s). Katz learns from intelligence reports that Deek has connections to a militant cell based in Montreal, Canada that includes Ressam. She suspects that Deek is coordinating al-Qaeda groups in North America. [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005; New Yorker, 1/22/2007] Deek regularly wires tens of thousands of dollars to overseas destinations. Business records show Deek was still in Anaheim as late as August 1998. The research team discovers Deek may have been visiting the US as late as September 1999. [US Congress, 1/25/2000; Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006]
Hisham Diab. Katz learns that Diab is Deek’s next door neighbor in Anaheim and she suspects the two of them have been operating a sleeper cell there (in fact, Diab’s wife had already repeatedly tried to warn the FBI about her husband, to no avail (see March 1993-1996). [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005]
She discovers that Deek and Diab have formed a charity front called Charity Without Borders (this group received a $75,000 state grant in 1997 to distribute fliers encouraging the recycling of used motor oil). [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005; Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006]
Tawfiq Deek, Khalil Deek’s brother. Katz discovers that Tawfiq has presented himself as the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) spokesman in California. Katz calls the IAP the “Hamas front in America.” [Katz, 2003, pp. 167] Khalid Ashour, a Palestinian. He had lived in the same apartment building as the Deek brothers and Diab, and also worked with the IAP. But what most interests Katz is that he had been heavily involved in the Islamic Center of Tuscon in the early 1990s. The Islamic Center is important for the IAP but is also believed to be the focal point for al-Qaeda’s first base in the US (see 1994). Katz discovers that he had been arrested in 1991 trying to enter the US with a fake ID and border guards found handbooks of explosives and bombs in his car. In 1999, he had moved nearly half a million dollars out of the US despite holding a job that only paid $600 a week. [Katz, 2003, pp. 167-168]
Although Katz does not discover it at the time, another associate of the Deeks and Diab in Anaheim named Adam Gadahn will later emerge as a prominent al-Qaeda spokesman in Afghanistan (see Spring 2004).
Katz, Emerson, and other members of the Investigative Project on Terrorism will brief members of the National Security Council about what they learned on December 25, 1999, but no action will be taken against the suspects they have uncovered (see December 25, 1999).
US intelligence learns about a likely al-Qaeda cell in California but fails to act on it. In early December 1999, US intelligence learned that a participant in an attempted al-Qaeda linked millennium plot in Jordan was a US citizen by the name of Khalil Deek. President Clinton was immediately notified because of the implication that al-Qaeda had a presence inside the US (see December 9, 1999). The FBI began interviewing Deek’s neighbors in Anaheim, California, but apparently learned little. However Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke tasked the Investigative Project on Terrorism, a private research team, to look into Deek’s US ties. On this day, the team goes to the White House and gives a report on their findings to Clarke and an assistant of his known only as Peter, and others on the National Security Council (NSC). Rita Katz has been leading the research effort and gives a presentation outlining the sleeper cell they believe they have discovered in Anaheim consisting of Deek, his brother Tawfiq Deek, Khalid Ashour, Hisham Diab, and a charity front known as Charity Without Borders (see December 14-25, 1999). According to a later account by Katz, Clarke, Peter, and the others are impressed at how much the team was able to learn looking only through public records. They express surprise that the FBI was not able to learn as much. The NSC gives the information to the FBI but apparently they do nothing with it. Katz will report in 2003 that Ashour is still living in California even though his request for asylum could have been easily denied. [Katz, 2003, pp. 156-174]
In late December 1999, Rita Katz, working with the Investigative Project on Terrorism, gave a presentation in the White House to members of the National Security Council (NSC) about a suspected al-Qaeda sleeper cell based in Anaheim, California (see December 25, 1999). The NSC forwarded the information her team gleaned from public sources to the FBI. Katz later repeatedly asked a contact she had with the NSC named Peter what happened to the lead she gave them. Peter replied that he assumed the FBI was just sitting on the material. [Katz, 2003, pp. 180] Around January 2002, Katz is contacted by an FBI agent in California who is looking for investigative leads on al-Qaeda in California. Katz forwards him all her information she gave in her White House presentation back in 1999. According to Katz, the agent looks over the material and says it is “very strong… I want to go all the way with this investigation.” Then the agent registers his investigation with the FBI so other agents with leads could contact him. A few days later, he calls Katz and says that he has been taken off the case because it falls into the jurisdiction of the FBI’s Anaheim office. Apparently that office does nothing with the lead. In 1999, Katz suggested the cell included Khalil Deek, arrested in late 1999 for involvement in a millennium bomb plot in Jordan (see December 11, 1999), his brother Tawfiq Deek, Hisham Diab, and Khalid Ashour. [Katz, 2003, pp. 186-187] ABC News will later report that Diab continued to live in Anaheim until June 2001, when he apparently moved to Afghanistan to stay with top al-Qaeda leaders. [ABC News, 12/23/2004] Khalil Deek is mysteriously released in Jordan around the same time (see May 2001); it will later be alleged that he was a mole for the Jordanian government (see Shortly After December 11, 1999). By late 1999, Ashour had requested asylum in the US. Katz will later note that he “could have been easily located, investigated, and if necessary, denied asylum and deported.” But as of 2003, Katz claims Ashour still lives in the US. [Katz, 2003, pp. 187] Tawfiq Deek apparently continues to live in Anaheim as well, where he works for the state’s Department of Toxic Substance Control as a chemical engineer. He denies all terrorism ties, though he confirms that he was an active member of the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), which the FBI has called a Hamas front group. [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005] Another associate of the above group, Adam Gadahn, will emerge in Afghanistan in 2004 as a prominent al-Qaeda spokesman (see Spring 2004).
Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz is said to have given the Operation Greenquest investigators some of the information that led to the March 2002 SAAR network raid (see March 20, 2002). She will later write that in the months after that raid, “The CIA was investigating me and the SAAR investigators from Greenquest and Customs. The CIA and the FBI investigated everyone who had anything to do with the SAAR investigation. White vans and SUV’s with dark windows appeared near all the homes of the SAAR investigators. All agents, some of whom were very experienced with surveillance, knew they were being followed. So was I. I felt that I was being followed everywhere and watched at home, in the supermarket, on the way to work… and for what?… The Customs agents were questioned. So were their supervisors. So was the US attorney on the SAAR case.… Risking criticism for being unfoundedly paranoid, I must convey my theory about the investigation and CIA’s involvement in it, I don’t know for certain what’s the deal with the CIA investigating the SAAR investigators, but it sure feels as if someone up in that agency doesn’t like the idea that the Saudi Arabian boat is rocked. The [SAAR raid] had taken place already—the CIA couldn’t change that—but investigating and giving the people behind the raids a hard time is a most efficient way of making sure the SAAR investigation stops there.” [Katz, 2003, pp. 42] The internal governmental battle against Greenquest will continue until Greenquest will be shut down in 2003 (see After March 20, 2002-Early 2003).
The US Treasury Department and UN designate Adel Batterjee a global terrorist. Batterjee is connected to the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF). The Treasury Department says that Batterjee “has ranked as one of the world’s foremost terrorist financiers” by helping to fund al-Qaeda. It is not explained why the US waited until this time to list him, but counterterrorism expert Rita Katz suggests that the Saudi government may have changed their stance due to increased al-Qaeda activity in Saudi Arabia. “I think they needed Saudi support, and now it seems to be in place.” However, there is no report of Batterjee being arrested or having his funds frozen in Saudi Arabia. [US Department of the Treasury, 12/21/2004; Chicago Tribune, 12/22/2004]
Omar al-Faruq in an al-Qaeda propaganda video filmed not long before his death. [Source: Public domain]An al-Qaeda leader who escaped from a US prison the year before is killed in Iraq. Omar al-Faruq is killed in a pre-dawn raid by British soldiers in the city of Basra. About 250 soldiers wearing night vision goggles attempted to take al-Faruq alive, but he is killed in a shoot-out. Al-Faruq was born to Iraqi parents and grew up in neighboring Kuwait. Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz comments: “It’s surprising for someone like him to be able to make it to Iraq, where everyone knows how he looks. The guy has long al-Qaeda records.” Experts are especially surprised to find he was in Basra, a heavily Shiite area not friendly to Sunni militants like al-Faruq. A neighbor says that al-Faruq arrived about a month earlier and had relatives in a nearby Sunni enclave. Al-Faruq escaped from the US-run Bagram prison in Afghanistan in July 2005 (see July 11, 2005). [New York Times, 9/26/2006]
The US administration leaks the news that it has obtained an advance copy of a new video from a man thought to be Osama bin Laden, damaging an intelligence operation by the SITE Institute. SITE, a private organization involved in the fight against international terrorism, obtains an advance copy of the video through an intelligence operation that had been ongoing for years (see September 7 and 11, 2007) and provides the copy to the White House.
SITE founder Rita Katz sends White House representatives Fred Fielding and Joel Bagnal an e-mail saying that there is a need for secrecy and the video should not be distributed, but within twenty minutes of this government defense and intelligence agencies begin downloading the video from SITE. The video leaks from the administration to the news media within a few hours, tipping al-Qaeda off to the security breach. SITE’s activities are described as “tremendously helpful” by some intelligence officials, but Katz says that due to the leak, “Techniques that took years to develop are now ineffective and worthless.” However, officials say that US agencies do not rely solely on outside contractors for such information, and Ross Feinstein, spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, comments, “We have individuals in the right places dealing with all these issues, across all 16 intelligence agencies.” [Washington Post, 10/9/2007] The Office of the Director of National Intelligence announces an inquiry into the leak, but Feinstein says, “we don’t think there was a leak from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence or the National Counterterrorism Center,” which also received a copy of the video from SITE. [Washington Post, 10/10/2007]
A frame from Osama bin Laden’s 2007 video. [Source: Intelcenter]US analysts obtain two new videos of a man thought to be Osama bin Laden (see September 7, 2007 and September 11, 2007) before al-Qaeda makes them available on the internet. A video released on September 7 is obtained by the US-based SITE Institute, which provides it “to government agencies and news organizations at a time when many well-known jihadist Web sites had been shut down in a powerful cyberattack by unknown hackers.” The next tape is obtained by a web designer known as “Laura Mansfield,” who manages “to scoop al-Qaeda by publicly unveiling its new video, a feat she has accomplished numerous times since 2002.” Although SITE’s founder Rita Katz declines to comment on how it obtained the video, the Washington Post says that SITE, Mansfield, and others like them obtained the videos, whose release was publicly announced in advance, “using a combination of computer tricks, personal connections and ingenuity to find and download password-protected content.” [Washington Post, 9/12/2007] The fact that the SITE Institute obtained the tape in advance was apparently leaked to the press by the White House, and SITE will complain about this, as it damages an intelligence operation aimed at al-Qaeda (see September 7, 2007).
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