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The Guardian reports in May 1993 that the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) (then known as Lajnat al-Birr al-Islamiyya) has been closed in Saudi Arabia and “its head, Adel Batterjee, a known political activist, has been detained by the police.” The Guardian hints that the shut down is related to pressure from the Egyptian government. This is possibly the only instance of the Saudis shutting down a charity before 9/11. (Evans 5/5/1993) Al-Qaeda will determine later in the year that the shut down was because the Saudis had found a link between BIF and al-Qaeda, but an operative will report that the problem has been fixed. (USA v. Enaam M. Arnaout 10/6/2003 ) Batterjee is also mentioned in a 1992 New York Times article as the chairman of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), flying wounded Saudis fighting in the Bosnian war and giving them free medical treatment. (Hedges 12/5/1992) BIF stops operating in Saudi Arabia but expands its operations in the US (see 1992-1993). (USA v. Enaam M. Arnaout 10/6/2003 ) The FBI will not begin to seriously investigate it until 1998 (see 1998). US agents will raid WAMY offices in 2004 for suspected ties to radical militants (see June 1, 2004).
The FBI begin an investigation into two relatives of bin Laden in February 1996, then close it on September 11, 1996. The FBI wanted to learn more about Abdullah Awad bin Laden, “because of his relationship with the World Assembly of Muslim Youth [WAMY]—a suspected terrorist organization.” (Palast and Pallister 11/7/2001) Abdullah Awad was the US director of WAMY and lived with his brother Omar in Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of Washington. They are believed to be nephews of Osama bin Laden. The coding on a leaked FBI document about the case, marked secret, indicates the case related to national security. WAMY’s office address is 5613 Leesburg Pike. It will later be determined that at least two of the 9/11 hijackers lived at 5913 Leesburg Pike for much of 2001 at the same time the two bin Laden brothers were working only three blocks away (see March 2001 and After). WAMY has been banned in Pakistan by this time. (BBC 11/6/2001; Palast and Pallister 11/7/2001) The Indian and Philippine governments also will cite WAMY for funding Islamic militancy. The 9/11 Commission later will hear testimony that WAMY “has openly supported Islamic terrorism. There are ties between WAMY and 9/11 hijackers. It is a group that has openly endorsed the notion that Jews must be killed.… [It] has consistently portrayed the United States, Jews, Christians, and other infidels as enemies who have to be defeated or killed. And there is no doubt, according to US intelligence, that WAMY has been tied directly to terrorist attacks.” (9/11 Commission 7/9/2003, pp. 66) A security official who will later serve under President Bush will say, “WAMY was involved in terrorist-support activity. There’s no doubt about it.” (Unger 10/2003) Before 9/11, FBI investigators had determined that Abdullah Awad had invested about $500,000 in BMI Inc., a company suspected of financing groups officially designated as terrorist organizations (see 1986-October 1999). (Simpson 9/15/2003) The Bosnian government will say in September 2002 that a charity with Abdullah Awad bin Laden on its board had channeled money to Chechen guerrillas, something that reporter Greg Palast will claim “is only possible because the Clinton CIA gave the wink and nod to WAMY and other groups who were aiding Bosnian guerrillas when they were fighting Serbia, a US-approved enemy.” The investigation into WAMY will be restarted a few days after 9/11, around the same time these two bin Ladens will leave the US (see September 14-19, 2001). (Palast 2002, pp. 96-99) (Note that Abdullah Awad bin Laden is Osama bin Laden’s nephew, and is not the same person as the Abdullah bin Laden who is Osama’s brother and serves as the bin Laden family spokesperson.) (Palast 2002, pp. 98-99; Simpson 9/15/2003) WAMY’s Virginia offices will be raided by US agents in 2004 (see June 1, 2004).
A classified Philippine military report claims bin Laden is funding Muslim militants in the Philippines through known charity fronts. Some of the charities include World Alliance of Muslim Youth (WAMY), the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), and the Islamic Wisdom Worldwide Mission (IWWM). WAMY has been under investigation for ties militant groups in a number of countries, including the US (see February-September 11, 1996). The other two organizations are said to be connected to Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law. All the charities are accused of passing money on to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a militant group in the southern Philippines. (New Straits Times 2/15/1999) Between this time and 9/11, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf militant group will say in an interview that “the primary purpose of the IIRO is to help groups like us.” (Vitug 10/22/2001) Also in February 1999, the head of the MILF admits to getting funds from bin Laden, but says they are for humanitarian purposes only (see February 1999). The charities remain open after the report. In 2002, Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari, the head of the IWWM, will be arrested and deported. It will come out that he was arrested and then let go in 1995 after being strongly suspected of involvement in the Bojinka plot (see June 1994). He also had protectors in the police and military who are IWWM directors. In 2002, one of them will admit to having helped prevent his deportation (see October 8-November 8, 2002). The US will not officially accuse the IIRO’s Philippine branch of funding al-Qaeda until 2006 (see August 3, 2006).
Three hijackers, Hani Hanjour, Khalid Almihdhar, and Nawaf Alhazmi, check into the same hotel as a prominent Saudi government official, Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen. (Schmidt 10/2/2003) Hussayen originally stayed at a different nearby hotel, but moved to this hotel on the same day the hijackers checked in. (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 45) Investigators have not found any evidence that the hijackers met with Hussayen, and stress it could be a coincidence. (Rennie 3/10/2003) However, one prosecutor working on a related case will assert, “I continue to believe it can’t be a coincidence.” (Barrett and Simpson 10/2/2003) An FBI agent will later say that Hussayen “may have had some connection to the attacks and is likely to have met with those funding the hijackers if not the hijackers themselves.” (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 45) Hussayen is interviewed by the FBI shortly after 9/11, but according to testimony from an FBI agent, the interview is cut short when Hussayen “feign[s] a seizure, prompting the agents to take him to a hospital, where the attending physicians [find] nothing wrong with him.” The agent recommends that Hussayen “should not be allowed to leave until a follow-up interview could occur.” (Schmidt 10/2/2003) The agent returns to the hotel the next day, but finds Hussayen unhelpful. After she leaves, Hussayen calls the Saudi embassy, which contacts the FBI. Another, less aggressive agent is sent to talk to Hussayen and finds no additional information, so the FBI says he can leave the US. The first agent does not want him to go without answering her questions, but, according to authors Joe and Susan Trento, “Because of pressure from [Saudi ambassador to the US] Prince Bandar on the Bush administration… the agent’s superiors overruled her.” The superiors are not named. (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 45) For most of the 1990s, Hussayen was director of the SAAR Foundation, a Saudi charity that is being investigated for terrorism ties and will be raided in early 2002 (see March 20, 2002). A few months after 9/11 he is named a minister of the Saudi government and put in charge of its two holy mosques. Hussayen had arrived in the US in late August 2001 planning to visit some Saudi-sponsored charities. Many of the charities on his itinerary, including the Global Relief Foundation, Muslim World League, IIRO (International Islamic Relief Organization), IANA (Islamic Assembly of North America), and World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), have since been shut down or investigated for alleged ties to Islamic militant groups. (Schmidt 10/2/2003) His nephew, Sami Omar Hussayen, will be indicted in early 2004 for using his computer expertise to assist militant groups, and will be charged with administering a website associated with IANA, an organization which expressly advocated suicide attacks and using airliners as weapons in the months before 9/11. Investigators also will claim the nephew was in contact with important al-Qaeda figures. (Schmidt 10/2/2003; Seattle Post-Intelligencer 1/10/2004) The nephew will be acquitted later in 2004 of the terrorism-related charges. The defense will not dispute that he posted messages advocating suicide bombings, but will argue that he had the Constitutional right to do so. The jury will deadlock on most of the counts. (Schmidt 6/11/2004) IANA apparently will remain under investigation, as well as the flow of money from the uncle to nephew. (Rennie 3/10/2003) The uncle is not charged with any crime. (Barrett and Simpson 10/2/2003)
Extremists order “operatives in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Yemen” to use accounts at the Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp, according to a 2003 CIA report. The Al-Rajhi Bank is one of the biggest Saudi banks, with billions in assets. Who gives this order and when will not be made public. However, some examples of militants using the bank will later be alleged:
When al-Qaeda leader Mamdouh Mahmud Salim is arrested in late 1998 (see September 16, 1998), he is carrying records of an Al-Rajhi account.
When Wadih El-Hage’s house in Kenya is raided in 1997, investigators find contact information in his address book for Salah Al-Rajhi, one of the billionaire co-owners of the bank (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). (Simpson 7/26/2007)
Some of the 9/11 hijackers use the bank. For instance, Hani Hanjour is sent wire transfers from Al-Rajhi bank in Saudi Arabia at least six times in 1998 and 1999. In September 2000, Nawaf Alhazmi uses $2,000 in Al-Rajhi traveler’s checks paid for by an unnamed person in Saudi Arabia. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 19, 31, 33, 34, 41, 87 ) And Abdulaziz Alomari has an account at the bank (see September 7, 2001).
The bank is used by a number of charities suspected of militant links, including the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), the Muslim World League, the Saudi branch of Red Crescent, Global Relief Foundation, and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). (Mowbray 10/13/2003)
An al-Qaeda affiliate in Spain holds accounts at the bank. According to a fax later recovered by Spanish police, the group’s chief financier tells a business partner to use the bank for their transactions. (Mowbray 10/13/2003)
In 2000, Al-Rajhi Bank couriers deliver money to insurgents in Indonesia to buy weapons and bomb-making materials.
According to a 2003 German report, bank co-founder Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi contributes to a charity front buying weapons for Islamic militants in Bosnia in the early 1990s. He is also on the “Golden Chain,” a list of early al-Qaeda funders (see 1988-1989).
A US intelligence memo from shortly after 9/11 will say that a money courier for al-Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, travels on a visa obtained by the bank.
The 2003 CIA report will state: “Islamic extremists have used Al-Rajhi Banking and Investment Corporation since at least the mid-1990s as a conduit for terrorist transactions.… Senior al-Rajhi family members have long supported Islamic extremists and probably know that terrorists use their bank.” (Simpson 7/26/2007)
Following a secret flight inside the US that is in violation of a national private airplane flight ban, members of the bin Laden family and Saudi royalty quietly depart the US. The flights are only publicly acknowledged after all the Saudis have left. (Cullen and Estes 9/21/2001; Tyler 9/30/2001) About 140 Saudis, including around 24 members of the bin Laden family, are passengers in these flights. The identities of most of these passengers are not known. However, some of the passengers include:
The son of the Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan. Sultan is sued in August 2002 for alleged complicity in the 9/11 plot. (Steele 10/5/2001) He is alleged to have contributed at least $6 million since 1994 to four charities that finance al-Qaeda. (Unger 10/2003)
Khalil bin Laden. He has been investigated by the Brazilian government for possible terrorist connections. (Unger 10/2003)
Abdullah bin Laden and Omar bin Laden, cousins of bin Laden. Abdullah was the US director of the Muslim charity World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). The governments of India, Pakistan, Philippines, and Bosnia have all accused WAMY of funding terrorism. These two relatives were investigated by the FBI in 1996 (see February-September 11, 1996) in a case involving espionage, murder, and national security. Their case is reopened on September 19, right after they leave the country. (Unger 10/2003) Remarkably, four of the 9/11 hijackers briefly lived in the town of Falls Church, Virginia, three blocks from the WAMY office headed by Abdullah bin Laden. (BBC 11/6/2001)
Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen. He is a prominent Saudi official who was in the same hotel as three of the hijackers the night before 9/11. He leaves on one of the first flights to Saudi Arabia before the FBI can properly interview him about this. (Schmidt 10/2/2003)
Akberali Moawalla. A Pakistani and business partner of Osama’s brother Yeslam bin Laden. In 2000, a transfer of over $250 million was made from a bank account belonging jointly to Moawalla and Osama bin Laden (see 2000). (Harris and Schmidt 7/22/2004)
There is a later dispute regarding how thoroughly the Saudis are interviewed before they leave and who approves the flights. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says he agrees to the flights after the FBI assures him none of those on board has connections to terrorism and that it is “a conscious decision with complete review at the highest levels of the State Department and the FBI and the White House.” (US Congress 9/3/2003) Clarke says the decision to approve the flights “didn’t get any higher than me.” (Bolton 5/18/2004) According to Vanity Fair, both the FBI and the State Department “deny playing any role whatsoever in the episode.” However, Dale Watson, the head of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, says the Saudis on the planes “[are] identified, but they [are] not subject to serious interviews or interrogations” before they leave. (Unger 10/2003) An FBI spokesperson says the bin Laden relatives are only interviewed by the FBI “at the airport, as they [are] about to leave.” (York 9/11/2002) There are claims that some passengers are not interviewed by the FBI at all. (Unger 10/2003) Abdullah bin Laden, who stays in the US, says that even a month after 9/11, his only contact with the FBI is a brief phone call. (Cullen and Estes 9/21/2001; Mayer and Szechenyi 11/5/2001) The FBI official responsible for coordinating with Clarke is Assistant Director Michael Rolince, who is in charge of the Bureau’s International Terrorism Operations Section and assumes responsibility for the Saudi flights. Rolince decides that the Saudis can leave after their faces are matched to their passport photos and their names are run through various databases, including some watch lists, to check the FBI has no derogatory information about them.” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 196-197, 209 ) Numerous experts are surprised that the bin Ladens are not interviewed more extensively before leaving, pointing out that interviewing the relatives of suspects is standard investigative procedure. (York 9/11/2002; Unger 10/2003) MSNBC claims that “members of the Saudi royal family met frequently with bin Laden—both before and after 9/11” (Mitchell 9/5/2003) , and many Saudi royals and bin Laden relatives are being sued for their alleged role in 9/11. The Boston Globe opines that the flights occur “too soon after 9/11 for the FBI even to know what questions to ask, much less to decide conclusively that each Saudi [royal] and bin Laden relative [deserve] an ‘all clear,’ never to be available for questions again.” (Connaughton 9/30/2003) Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says of the secret flights: “This is just another example of our country coddling the Saudis and giving them special privileges that others would never get. It’s almost as if we didn’t want to find out what links existed.” (Lichtblau 9/4/2003) Judicial Watch will disclose FBI documents that say, “Osama bin Laden may have chartered one of the Saudi flights.” (Judicial Watch 6/20/2007)
More than 600 relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks file a 15-count, $1 trillion lawsuit against various parties they accuse of financing al-Qaeda and Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime. The number of plaintiffs will quickly increase to 2,500 after the suit is widely publicized. Up to 10,000 were eligible to join this suit. The lawsuit does not allege that Saudi defendants directly participated in the 9/11 attacks, or approved them. Instead, it is alleged they helped fund and sustain al-Qaeda, which enabled the attacks to occur. (Schmidt 8/16/2002; Missing 9/13/2002) Defendants named include:
The Saudi Binladin Group, the conglomerate owned by the bin Laden family. (CNN 8/15/2002)
The National Commercial Bank, one of the largest banks in Saudi Arabia. (Kellman 8/15/2002)
The government of Sudan, for letting bin Laden live in that country until 1996. (Schmidt 8/16/2002)
The World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). (Schmidt 8/16/2002)
The SAAR Foundation. (Schmidt 8/16/2002)
Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp., which the plaintiffs contend is the primary bank for a number of charities that funnel money to terrorists. (This bank will later be dismissed from the suit (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) (Schmidt 8/16/2002)
The Benevolence International Foundation. (Schmidt 8/16/2002)
The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and its parent organization, the Muslim World League (MWL). The suit claims that the IIRO gave more than $60 million to the Taliban. (Schmidt 8/16/2002)
Khalid bin Mahfouz, one-time prominent investor in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) who had to pay a $225 million fine following the collapse of that bank. It is claimed he later operated a bank that funneled millions of dollars to charities controlled by al-Qaeda. (Mahfouz denies supporting terrorism and has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint.) (Schmidt 8/16/2002)
Mohammed al Faisal al Saud, a Saudi prince. (His name will later be dismissed from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) (Schmidt 8/16/2002)
Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan. (His name will later be dismissed from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) (Schmidt 8/16/2002)
Prince Turki al-Faisal, former chief of Saudi intelligence. (His name will later be dismissed from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) (Schmidt 8/16/2002) “The attorneys and investigators were able to obtain, through French intelligence, the translation of a secretly recorded meeting between representatives of bin Laden and three Saudi princes in which they sought to pay him hush money to keep him from attacking their enterprises in Saudi Arabia.” (CNN 8/15/2002) The plaintiffs also accuse the US government of failing to pursue such institutions thoroughly enough because of lucrative oil interests. (News 8/15/2002) Ron Motley, the lead lawyer in the suit, says the case is being aided by intelligence services from France and four other foreign governments, but no help has come from the Justice Department. (Gordon 8/16/2002) The plaintiffs acknowledge the chance of ever winning any money is slim, but hope the lawsuit will help bring to light the role of Saudi Arabia in the 9/11 attacks. (News 8/15/2002) A number of rich Saudis respond by threatening to withdraw hundreds of billions of dollars in US investments if the lawsuit goes forward (see August 20, 2002). More defendants will be added to the suit later in the year (see November 22, 2002). (English 8/20/2002)
US agents raid the US branch of World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), a large Saudi charity. The branch was founded in 1992 by Abdullah Awad bin Laden, a nephew of Osama, and he was still listed as president of the branch in a 2002 business listing. (Schwartz 4/8/2002; Markon 6/2/2004) In 1996, an FBI investigation into WAMY, Abdullah Awad, and his brother Omar, was closed down, apparently for political reasons (see February-September 11, 1996). At least two of the 9/11 hijackers lived about three blocks from WAMY’s office for much of 2001 (see March 2001 and After). A new investigation of WAMY was launched one week after 9/11 (see September 14-19, 2001). All of WAMY’s files and computer files are seized; one person is arrested on immigration charges. The raid appears to have taken place because WAMY came up in a terrorism investigation of the SAAR network (see March 20, 2002), located outside Washington and relatively close to the WAMY office. A federal affidavit alleges that WAMY has ties to Hamas. (Markon 6/2/2004)
It had been widely reported that the Saudi government began to crack down seriously on al-Qaeda and other radical militants after a 2003 al-Qaeda attack in Saudi Arabia (see May 12, 2003). However, the Los Angeles Times reports that US officials now claim that is not true. While Saudis have been very aggressive and cooperative in cracking down on militants within Saudi Arabia since that attack, they have done little outside the country. Millions of dollars continue to flow from wealthy Saudis through charity fronts to al-Qaeda and other suspected groups, and the Saudi government is doing next to nothing about it. In 2004, the Saudis promised to set up a government commission to police such groups, but they have yet to do so. The Saudi government has also done little to rein in influential radical religious leaders who openly encourage their followers to attack US interests in Iraq and elsewhere in the world. US officials claim that at least five organizations, including the Muslim World League (MWL), the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WML), “are headquartered in Saudi Arabia but continue to engage in highly suspect activity overseas.” A senior US counterterrorism official says that some known terrorist financiers continue to “operate and live comfortably in Saudi Arabia” despite US objections. (Meyer 1/15/2006)
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