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Profile: Saad bin Laden
Saad bin Laden was a participant or observer in the following events:
Hamza Bin Laden in 2001. [Source: Getty Images]Several members of Osama bin Laden’s family cross into Iran on foot shortly before the 9/11 attacks. The exact number of family members that cross at this time is unknown, although 19 of bin Laden’s relatives will soon be present in Iran: one wife, seven children, and 11 grandchildren. The children are Saad, who is 20; Ossman, 17; Mohammed, 15; Fatma, 14; Hamza, 12; Iman, 9; and Bakr, 7. They are placed under virtual house arrest in a high-security compound near Tehran, “for their own safety.” The Iranian authorities will publicly deny their presence in the country, and will attempt to cut off their communications with the outside world. Al-Qaeda operatives will also be held in Iran after 9/11 (see Spring 2002). The whereabouts of the detained family members will remain unknown until November 2009, when they will contact another son of bin Laden, Omar Ossama, who is currently living in Qatar with his wife. The family will tell Omar they live as normal a life as possible, cooking meals, watching television, and reading. They will be allowed out only rarely for shopping trips. As a number of families are being held in the compound, some of the older siblings will be able to marry and have their own children. “The Iranian government did not know what to do with this large group of people that nobody else wanted, so they just kept them safe,” Omar Ossama will later say. [Times (London), 12/23/2009]
Juma al-Dosari. [Source: PBS]In November 2001, al-Qaeda operative Juma al-Dosari is captured in Afghanistan. He is soon transferred to the Guantanamo prison. During interrogation in the spring of 2002, he reveals several aliases and that he was trying to recruit a group of US citizens in New York state known as the “Lackawanna Six.” Based on the aliases, US intelligence realizes they have already intercepted communications between him and Osama bin Laden’s son Saad bin Laden, and also him and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash. They learn he has a long history with al-Qaeda, having fought in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya. He was arrested in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia on different occasions for involvement in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombings (see June 25, 1996). He first went to the US in 1999, staying several months in Indiana. Then he got a job at a mosque in Bloomington, Indiana, in the autumn of 2000. He began traveling around the US as a visiting imam, but investigators believe this was just his cover while he worked to recruit for al-Qaeda. In April 2001, he visited Buffalo, New York, and helped convince the “Lackawanna Six” to go to Afghanistan (see April-August 2001). He left the US for Afghanistan in late September 2001. The FBI gets this information in May 2002 and begins monitoring the “Lackawanna Six,” as they are all back in the US. Investigators suspect al-Dosari recruited others in other cities, but they do not know who. [PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003; PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003] In 2007, al-Dosari will be released from Guantanamo without explanation and set free in Saudi Arabia (see July 16, 2007).
Saad bin Laden. [Source: NBC]In the spring on 2002, as the Taliban is collapsing in Afghanistan, many al-Qaeda operatives flee into neighboring Iran. About 20 to 25 operatives composing much of al-Qaeda’s management council are said to wind up in the custody of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Prior to this point, the Iranian government has been turning over most al-Qaeda captives to other countries, but after President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech criticizing Iran (see January 29, 2002), Iran decides to keep this group. [Washington Post, 7/9/2004] Iran does not officially admit to holding them, and their status is unclear, but they all seem to be living in a village near the Caspian Sea. One senior US intelligence official says, “They are under virtual house arrest,” and not able to do much. Those said to be in Iranian custody include:
Saif al-Adel, one of al-Qaeda’s top military commanders.
Suliman abu Ghaith, al-Qaeda spokesman.
Saad and Hamza bin Laden, two of Osama bin Laden’s young sons.
Abu Dahak, who served as al-Qaeda’s liaison to the rebels in Chechnya.
Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, a financial expert.
Two unnamed top aides to Ayman al-Zawahiri. [MSNBC, 6/24/205]
Thirwat Salah Shehata, a member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council, who is probably one of the al-Zawahiri aides mentioned above. [MSNBC, 5/2005]
Mustafa Hamza, head of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, an Egyptian militant group, and an al-Qaeda leader as well (see June 26, 1995). In late 2004, he will be extradited from Iran to stand trial in Egypt. [Reuters, 1/9/2005]
At first, these operatives appear to be capable of communicating with operatives outside of Iran. Saad bin Laden is said to play a major role planning the attack of a synagogue in Tunisia in April 2002 (see April 11, 2002). But the Saudi government will suspect that some of the operatives in Iran are involved in a 2003 attack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (see May 12, 2003), and they will successfully press Iran to tighten the house arrest of the operatives in Iran. Iran will propose an exchange of these prisoners around the time of the Riyadh bombing, but the US will reject the offer (see Mid-May 2003). Since that time, these leaders apparently remain in a state of limbo. CIA Director Porter Goss will say in 2005, “I think [the] understanding that there is a group of leadership of al-Qaeda under some type of detention—I don’t know exactly what type, necessarily—in Iran is probably accurate.” [MSNBC, 6/24/205] Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will later ask, “The question is, what does house arrest mean in the Iranian context?” He suggests that Iran could release the group or loosen their restrictions depending on how relations evolve between the US and Iran. “They’re a guarantee against bad behavior.” [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] In 2006, it will be reported that Saad bin Laden has been freed. [Reuters, 8/2/2006] Also in 2006, al-Yazid will emerge as a leader of al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan and may never have been in Iran. [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] In 2007, the still teenaged Hamza bin Laden will reportedly appear in Afghanistan. [Associated Press, 9/11/2007] In 2008, it will be reported that the US still knows little about the al-Qaeda figures detained in Iran, but US officials say they believe Iran has largely kept them under control since 2003, limiting their ability to travel and communicate. One US official will say, “It’s been a status quo that leaves these people, some of whom are quite important, essentially on ice.” [ABC News, 5/29/2008]
Entity Tags: Thirwat Salah Shehata, Saad bin Laden, Saif al-Adel, Mustafa Hamza, Porter J. Goss, Hamza bin Laden, Michael Scheuer, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Suliman abu Ghaith, Abu Dahak
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline
Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam). [Source: FBI]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. [New York Times, 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. [New York Times, 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.
Entity Tags: Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah, Muhammad Salah, Mohammed Atef, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Suliman abu Ghaith, Saif al-Adel, Saad bin Laden, Usama al-Kini, Midhat Mursi, Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid, Osama bin Laden, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Abu Jaffa, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi, Abu Salah al-Yemeni, Abu Zubaida, Abu Zubair al-Haili, Anas al-Liby, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Amin ul-Haq, Al-Qaeda
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani. [Source: US Defense Department]A suspected al-Qaeda operative named Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani is arrested in a safe house in Karachi, Pakistan, on September 10, 2002. He is a Saudi who later became a Pakistani citizen. Starting in 2000, he began running an al-Qaeda safe house in Karachi. He will be held in Pakistani custody until he is transferred to a US prison in Afghanistan in May 2004. He will be sent to the US-run Guantanamo prison in Cuba in September 2004. His driver, Muhammad Madni, is arrested too, and Madni reportedly quickly reveals the location of other safe houses in Karachi. [US Department of Defense, 5/26/2008]
Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani, Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani’s brother, is arrested at one of the safe houses this same day. According to Abdul Rahim’s 2008 Guantanamo file, he is an important al-Qaeda figure because he began running up to six Karachi safe houses, on behalf of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), from early 2000 until his capture. According to his file, many important al-Qaeda leaders stayed at his safe houses and interacted with him or his brother while they were passing through Karachi, including: Saif al-Adel, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Khallad bin Attash, Saad bin Laden, KSM, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Musaad Aruchi, and Hassan Ghul (who is said to be his brother-in-law). Furthermore, 17 of the 19 9/11 hijackers stayed at his safe houses while coming or going through Pakistan, including Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Hani Hanjour, and Ahmed Alghamdi (the others are not mentioned in his Guantanamo file by name). Abdul Rahim does not admit knowing their mission, but says he picked them up at airports, kept them at safe houses, and transported some of them to their next destinations. He apparently is working on a plot to bomb Karachi hotels used by Westerners, but it is scuttled by the arrests. He is held by Pakistan for two months, then he will be handed to US forces and held in various prisons in Afghanistan until September 2004, when he is transferred to Guantanamo. [US Department of Defense, 6/9/2008]
The next day, these other safe houses are raided by the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence agency). 9/11 hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh is arrested at one of the safe houses (see September 11, 2002). However, in contrast to the claim that the arrest of Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani led to the arrest of bin al-Shibh and others, there is a claim that an Al Jazeera reporter, Yosri Fouda, interviewed bin al-Shibh and KSM in a Karachi safe house in the middle of 2002 (see April, June, or August 2002), then told the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, where the interview took place, and the emir told the CIA. The CIA then began intensely monitoring Karachi for safe houses, which finally led to these raids (see June 14, 2002 and Shortly After).
Hassan Ali bin Attash, brother of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, is arrested at the same safe house as bin al-Shibh. Hassan will later be named by many other Guantanamo prisoners as an al-Qaeda operative, but not nearly as important a one as his brother. He will later say that he was held by the Pakistani government for a few days, then taken to Kabul, Afghanistan, by US forces for a few days, and then sent to Jordan and kept in Jordanian custody for over a year. He will be transferred to Guantanamo in January 2004, and where he subsequently remains. [US Department of Defense, 6/25/2008]
One other suspected al-Qaeda operative is arrested at the safe house with bin al-Shibh and bin Attash (located on Tariq Road). The three of them allegedly hold knives to their throats and threaten to kill themselves rather than be captured. But they are overwhelmed after a four-hour stand-off. [US Department of Defense, 12/8/2006]
At another safe house, there is a gun battle when it is raided. Two suspected al-Qaeda operatives are killed. One of those killed, Hamza al-Zubayr, is considered an al-Qaeda leader and the leader of the group in the house. The remaining six are arrested. All six will later be transferred to Guantanamo. [US Department of Defense, 6/25/2008] All of the above is based on Guantanamo files leaked to the public in 2011 by the non-profit whistleblower group WikiLeaks. There are many doubts about the reliability of the information in the files (see April 24, 2011).
Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Muhammad Madni, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Yosri Fouda, Saif al-Adel, Marwan Alshehhi, Saad bin Laden, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Khallad bin Attash, Hassan Ali bin Attash, Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani, Ahmed Alghamdi, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani, Al-Qaeda, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Hassan Ghul, Hamza al-Zubayr, Hani Hanjour
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Technology Review, a magazine published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, runs an article by Professor Richard Muller arguing that audio messages apparently released by Osama bin Laden may be fakes. According to Muller, the US’s counterterrorism efforts are still going strong, making it hard for al-Qaeda to operate. Therefore, “its sympathizers desperately need encouragement from their charismatic leader,” which is why the organization is making fake audio tapes. Video tapes would be more convincing proof of bin Laden’s continued existence, but are harder to fake and therefore not forthcoming. Bin Laden is either dead or injured, and unable to make recordings, Muller argues, and adds that although voice recognition, a technique used by the US government to identify the voice on the audio tapes, is a “rapidly developing technology,” it can have problems with the poor quality tapes the man thought to be bin Laden is releasing. Therefore, the tapes may be cut and pasted excerpts of past recordings, or, more likely, made by one of bin Laden’s children, such as his son Saad, reportedly an al-Qaeda member. [Technology Review, 1/23/2004]
Saad bin Laden. [Source: Asharqal Awsat]Saad bin Laden, son of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, escapes from virtual house arrest in Iran. He and several other bin Laden family members had been held there since 2001 (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001), along with some al-Qaeda members (see Spring 2002). The exact date of the escape, apparently in or shortly after late 2008, is unclear. [Times (London), 12/23/2009] However, the US will learn of it no later than mid-January 2009, when Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell will say Saad “has left Iran.… He’s probably in Pakistan.” Some US sources will suggest that Saad is linked to some terror attacks and that he has been a go-between for al-Qaeda and the Iranians. [Wall Street Journal, 1/16/2009] However, his relatives with whom he was detained in Iran will claim he has no involvement in terrorism due to his house arrest, and that he escaped in order to find his mother. [Times (London), 12/23/2009] Saad will reportedly be assassinated by the CIA at some time in 2009 (July 22, 2009).
National Public Radio reports that Saad bin Laden, son of Osama bin Laden, has probably been assassinated by the US in Pakistan. The assassination was performed by a Predator drone, using Hellfire missiles. Saad was not the intended target of the missiles and was not a missile target at all, but was just “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” according to a counterterrorism official. [National Public Radio, 7/22/2009] US drones are operated by the CIA in Pakistan. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
Uncertainty about Death and Role - The exact date of Saad’s death is unclear, and it is reported only as “sometime this year.” The death is also not completely certain, as the US does not obtain a body to conduct tests on. However, a senior US counterterrorism official will say the US is “80 to 85 percent” certain that Saad is dead. Saad had escaped from house arrest in Iran around December 2008 or January 2009 (see (Between December 2008 and January 2009)). [National Public Radio, 7/22/2009] The relatives with whom he was imprisoned in Iran will indicate he had no involvement with terrorism during the seven years he was held in Iran. [Times (London), 12/23/2009] However, the counterterrorism official says Saad was active in al-Qaeda, but was not a major player. “We make a big deal out of him because of his last name,” he adds. [National Public Radio, 7/22/2009]
Missed Intelligence Opportunity - Others point out that Saad might have been much more valuable if he’d been captured alive, if only because of what he knew about his father. Hillary Mann Leverett, a former adviser to the National Security Council, claims that the US had several opportunities to interrogate Saad during the years he was in Iran (see Spring 2002 and Mid-May 2003). She says, “The Iranians offered to work out an international framework for transferring terror suspects, but the Bush administration refused.” She adds: “We absolutely did not get the most we could. Saad bin Laden would have been very, very valuable in terms of what he knew. He probably would have been a gold mine.” [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
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