Archive for July, 2004

Holy Land Foundation & Leaders Indicted

28 July 2004: Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Executive Assistant Director John Pistole, Homeland Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement Michael J. Garcia, and IRS Commissioner Mark Everson announced today that the Holy Land Foundation and seven of its leaders were indicted on Monday by a federal grand jury in Dallas, Texas on charges of providing material support to HAMAS, a designated foreign terrorist organization.The indictment, which was unsealed earlier today, alleges the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (“HLF”), of Dallas, Texas, was an organization created by, among others, defendants Shukri Abu-Baker, Mohammed El-Mezain, and Ghassan Elashi to provide financial and material support to the HAMAS movement. It is also alleged that, since 1995, HLF and its members have illegally sent $12.4 million to support HAMAS and its goal of creating an Islamic Palestinian state by eliminating the State of Israel through violent jihad. In addition to the charges of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, the 42-count indictment also charges the defendants with engaging in prohibited financial transactions with a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, money laundering, conspiracy and filing false tax returns. The indictment also seeks the forfeiture of $12.4 million in HAMAS assets.

“To those who exploit good hearts to secretly fund violence and murder, this prosecution sends a clear message: There is no distinction between those who carry out terrorist attacks and those who knowingly finance terrorist attacks,” said Attorney General John Ashcroft. “The United States will ensure that both terrorists and their financiers meet the same, certain justice.”

As the U.S. Government began to scrutinize individuals and entities in the United States who were raising funds for terrorist groups in the mid-1990s, the indictment alleges that the Holy Land Foundation intentionally cloaked their financial support for HAMAS behind the mantle of charitable exercise. The indictment alleges that the Foundation and the defendants provided financial support to the families of HAMAS martyrs, detainees, and activists knowing and intending that such assistance would support HAMAS’ terrorist infrastructure. In screening potential aid recipients and in providing funds, the defendants allegedly distinguished between needy Palestinian families generally, and those Palestinian families who had a relative “martyred” or jailed as a result of terror activities. In some cases, the defendants allegedly targeted financial aid specifically for families related to well-known HAMAS terrorists who had been killed or jailed by the Israelis. In this manner, the defendants effectively rewarded past, and encouraged future, suicide bombings and terrorist activities on behalf of HAMAS. Since 1995, when it first became illegal to provide financial support to HAMAS, the Holy Land has allegedly provided over $12,400,000 in funding to HAMAS through various HAMAS affiliated committees and organizations located in Palestinian-controlled areas and elsewhere.

The defendants are charged with violating the prohibition against providing “material support and resources” to a foreign terrorist organization. The “material support statute,” as it is commonly referred to, was enacted in 1996 as part of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, and has become one of our most effective weapons in the government’s war on terrorist financing. The defendants are also charged with violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (“IIEPA”), which prohibits transactions that the Executive Branch has determined to be inimical to the national security of the United States, including transactions with HAMAS; as well as with money laundering and tax evasion.

HLF is alleged to have been so concerned about investigators uncovering the group’s intentions that the defendants followed a manual entitled “The Foundations Policies and Procedures.” The HLF followed security procedures outlined in the manual to include, as referenced in the indictment: hiring a security company to search the HLF for listening devices; ordering defendant Haitham Maghawri to take training on advanced methods in the detection of wiretaps; shredding documents after board meetings; and maintaining incriminating documents in off-site locations.

Besides the organization itself, the other defendants charged are: Shukri Abu Baker, the Secretary and Chief Executive Officer; Mohammed El-Mezain, the Director of Endowments; Ghassan Elashi, the Chairman of the Board; Haitham Maghawri, the Executive Director; Akram Mishal, the projects and grants director; Mufid Abdulqater, one of the HLF’s top fundraisers; and Abdulraham Odeh, the HLF’s New Jersey representative. Shurkri Abu Baker, Mohammed El-Mezain, Ghassan Elashi, Mufid Abdulqater and Abdulraham Odeh were arrested this morning. Haitham Maghawri and Akram Mishal are not in the United States and are considered to be fugitives from justice.

Today’s charges are the result of a three-year investigation by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, involving agents from federal, state, and local agencies including: the FBI, IRS, BICE, Department of State, Secret Service, U.S. Army CID, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the police departments of Dallas, Plano, Garland, and Richardson, Texas. The case is being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office in Dallas, Texas, along with the Counterterrorism Section of the United States Department of Justice.

The details contained in the indictment are accusations and the defendants are presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

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Top Mexican drug cartels join forces

24 July 2004: Two of Mexico’s top cartels have joined forces to fight for control of drug smuggling into the United States in a pact forged by their leaders in prison, the government says.

Mexico’s top organized crime prosecutor, Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, said the cartels based in Tijuana and along the Gulf coast were now working together to rebuild a network of gunmen and defend their territories.

“For us, it is dangerous. We don’t see it as something at all good,” he told reporters on Thursday, although he said both cartels had been seriously weakened in recent years and his agents were continuing to strike against them.

The Tijuana-based cartel, which smuggles drugs across the western end of the U.S. border, is led by the notorious Arellano Felix family but it has been ravaged by a series of arrests over the last three years.

The Gulf Cartel is run out of the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, across the border from Texas, and its leader Osiel Cardenas was arrested last year.

Santiago Vasconcelos said a group of ruthless gunmen known as the “Zetas”, led by former army commanders and linked to the Gulf Cartel, recently sent representatives to Tijuana to help the Arellano Felix cartel rebuild its network of hitmen.

The alliance was forged in prison last year by Cardenas and Benjamin Arellano Felix, the mastermind of his family’s cartel who was arrested two years ago.

Experts had warned the two gangs might be working together but this is the first time the government has confirmed it.

Apart from training new groups of “sicarios”, as hired gunmen are known in Mexico, the two cartels have apparently agreed to do business together.

Mexico’s cartels move massive amounts of cocaine, heroin and marijuana across the U.S. border. They are ruthless in wiping out rivals or police informants and have traditionally bought the protection of officials in Mexico’s police forces, the army and all levels of government.

President Vicente Fox pledged to crack down on the cartels when he took office in 2000 and has had some success.

Analysts often compare the war on drugs to squeezing a balloon — press down in one point, and it expands somewhere else — and the flow of drugs has continued with smaller outfits emerging as big cartels come under pressure.

But Santiago Vasconcelos said the new cooperation between the Tijuana and Gulf cartels was a reflection of their weakness and that even the Zetas, feared because of their army training and discipline, were losing their clout.

“No single organisation can now sustain its territories by itself,” he said.

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Terror suspect underwent bomb training in Pakistan

23 July 2004: The 17-year-old boy accused of preparing terrorist attacks in the Netherlands reportedly underwent paramilitary training in Pakistan and has been under surveillance by the Dutch secret service AIVD for 18 months.

The Moroccan youth - whose arrest at the end of June reportedly was a major factor leading to the Dutch terror alert issued earlier this month - is suspected of having undergone training in the making of bombs and the use of heavy calibre weapons at a terrorist camp in Pakistan, newspaper De Telegraaf reported on Friday.

He was arrested for alleged involvement in a robbery at an Edah supermarket in Rotterdam, possibly in April, in which heavy calibre weapons, reportedly a Uzi submachine gun and a Kalashnikov assault rifle, were used. Such weapons are primarily used by terrorists and professional criminals.

Conflicting newspaper reports have indicated that the teen - identified in one report only as A. - was physically involved in the robbery or supplied the weapons to two robbers.

Both reports appear to corroborate that authorities seized plans of important buildings and installations in a raid of the boy’s house.

The AIVD suspect him of preparing a terrorist attack and the youth has allegedly had contact with a top terrorist attached to a network that was allegedly linked with the attacks in Madrid and Casablanca. The teen was arrested on 30 June in Rotterdam.

Various sources also claim the suspect is the same person who tried to make it into Chechnya in January 2003 with a friend to help their “Muslim brothers” in the war against Russia. The youths turned back though after being stranded in freezing cold just short of the rebel republic.

The 17-year-old was then arrested in October 2003 with four other radical Muslims on suspicion they were planning a terrorist attack, newspaper Algemeen Dagblad reported. But due to a lack of evidence, the five suspects were later released.

The AIVD is said to be convinced that the men wanted to carry out a terrorist attack and investigations against the five suspects continue. The public prosecution has refused to confirm whether the arrested youth is the same one as that detained last year, but various other sources have confirmed it.

The youth is well known at the Schiedam telecom shop Internet Phone Centre, which was raided in October 2003 on allegations it was a breeding ground of terrorism.

A worker also said the teen is the same one that traveled to Chechnya, but said he was eventually banned from coming to see a friend at the shop because he brought too many problems.

Another source said the youth is not involved in Jihad because he really wants to be, but is instead is doing it for money because he likes nice clothes and going out. It is claimed he went underground several months ago after he was put under AIVD surveillance. “It has become really scary,” the friend said.

The Netherlands issued a terror alert on 9 July after the AIVD warned that Islamic extremists were possibly preparing a terrorist attack. Security was then tightened around key installations such as the Dutch Parliament in The Hague and Schiphol Airport. The alert has not been rescinded.

A US research agency said the terror alert was partly issued due to information gained from a phone tap of one of the main suspects in the Madrid attacks. Egyptian Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, 33, was arrested in Italy in early June, Radio Netherlands reported.

Several anonymous intelligence agency sources also believe there is an increased risk of terrorism in the Netherlands, the agency said.
Contributory factors are reportedly the presence of Dutch troops in Iraq, the Dutch Presidency of the European Union and the fact that Rotterdam is a major world port.

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Key bin Laden aides met in Tucson in the late ’80s

23 July 2004: Two key al-Qaeda operatives apparently became acquainted in Tucson in the late 1980s, when the Islamic Center of Tucson admits it was a magnet for extremists.

Osama bin Laden’s top agent for procuring weapons of mass destruction lived in Tucson during that time, according to the 9/11 commission’s final report, released yesterday. In Tucson he became acquainted with Wadi al Hage, the report said. Al Hage is in federal prison for al-Qaeda bombings of U.S.
embassies in Africa.

The highly anticipated, 567-page report also refers to more than a dozen other people who lived in Arizona from the 1990s through Sept. 11, 2001, and who were targeted in terrorism investigations after hijackers smashed jetliners into the Pentagon and World Trade Center. A footnote alludes to “a number of important al-Qaeda figures” who “attended the University of Arizona in Tucson or lived in Tucson in the 1980s and early 1990s.”

Some of the links to Tucson were already public. New references in the report direct readers to footnotes that say the information is based on intelligence reports, including 2002’s “Arizona: Long- Term Nexus for Islamic Extremists,” done jointly by the CIA and the FBI.

That report and other intelligence sources used to elaborate on the Tucson connection have not been made public.

Congressional findings and public testimony previously disclosed that Hani Hanjour, a Saudi who piloted a hijacked airliner into the Pentagon on Sept.
11, 2001, trained at Arizona flight schools starting as early as 1996.

He lived mostly in the eastern part of the Phoenix area, including at one point in 2001 with fellow hijacker Nawaf al-Hazmi.

Hanjour studied English in 1991 at the University of Arizona’s Center for English as a Second Language.

Some of the Arizona activity predates the federal government’s declaration of al-Qaeda as an official “enemy of the state” in the mid-1990s.

In the report’s new references to Tucson and Arizona links, specific time frames are not always mentioned.

The operatives mentioned as having lived in Tucson during the 1980s or
1990s:

Hani Hanjour.

Mubarak al Duri (who is referred to as Mubarak Douri in the report’s text and Mubarak al Duri in a footnote), reportedly bin Laden’s principal procurement agent for weapons of mass destruction. Though he is referred to as such, no details on what he did for bin Laden or when he lived here were revealed.

Muhammad Bayazid, described as an al-Qaeda arms procurer and trainer who reportedly tried to obtain material for nuclear weapons 10 years ago in Sudan. That reference is in a footnote.

Wadi al Hage (spelled Wadih el-Hage in earlier Tucson Citizen reports).
Federal prosecutors in 1998 suggested al Hage may have played a role in the stabbing death of Tucsonan Rashad Khalifa in January 1990.

Wail Julaidan, described in the report only as a Saudi extremist with ties to al-Qaeda.

Tucson was first linked to bin Laden’s network in the embassy-bombing trial.

Essam Al-Ridi, an Egyptian-born U.S. citizen, told prosecutors he was approached by al Hage about buying an aircraft for bin Laden capable of flying between Pakistan and Sudan without refueling, according to the Citizen archive.

Al-Ridi said al Hage identified himself as one of bin Laden’s personal secretaries.

He testified he was paid $200,000 for finding a mothballed T-39 jet in Tucson, making it flightworthy and flying it to Khartoum, Egypt.

The jet crashed during a test flight in Khartoum, he told authorities.

Al Hage and other bin Laden operatives were in Arizona at a time when bin Laden was considered a U.S. intelligence asset in Afghanistan, helping insurgents fight the Soviets. Most or all of them left the state before al-Qaeda emerged as a terrorist threat to the United States, but they had established a foothold.

By the mid-1990s, the report notes, investigators believe Hanjour and others were being directed by al-Qaeda leaders to Arizona to enroll in aviation training, some “without being told why.”

When they got to Arizona, they were not alone.

“It is clear that when Hanjour lived in Arizona in the 1990s, he associated with several individuals holding extremist beliefs who have been the subject of counterterrorism investigations,” the report states. “Some of them trained with Hanjour to be pilots.”

“Others had apparent connections to al-Qaeda, including training in Afghanistan,” the report adds.

The commission report also addresses the so-called “Phoenix Memo,” a July 10, 2001, e-mail warning FBI headquarters about numerous Middle Eastern men training at Arizona flight schools.

The detailed message from a Phoenix-based agent, Ken Williams, was ignored by higher-ups at the bureau.

Even if the FBI had acted on the recommendations, including a request for intelligence checks on all foreign students attending civil aviation schools around the country, the commission report concludes, “we do not believe it would have uncovered the (Sept. 11) plot.”

However, the commission added, a better handling of the memo may have “sensitized” the FBI to clues during the next few months, including an investigation of a key lead, Minnesota flight-training student Zacarias Moussaoui.

Besides filling in more history of al-Qaeda’s early history in Arizona, the
9/11 report adds detail to Hanjour’s activities and his web of Arizona associates.

Most of those figures have been targets of media research, and most have come up in FBI interrogations since the Sept. 11 investigation began.

Islamic leaders in the state told the Tucson Citizen yesterday that the report is old news.

“These are the same names that we have been asked about since 9/11,” said Mohammed As’ad, director of the Islamic Center of Tucson.

He said the bin Laden associates filtered in and out of the mosque because it was the only mosque in town.

“They kept to themselves in their own little group,” As’ad said. “They were not involved in anything going on in the general (Muslim) community.”

Deedra Abboud, executive director of the Center for Islamic American Relations in Phoenix, told the Citizen, “People on the board of that mosque at that time were either fanatical or had that kind of mind-set. They might have attracted like-minded people.

“Since the 1990s, those people filtered out.”

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“At 8:46 am on 11 September the US became a nation transformed”

23 July 2004: “At 8.46 on the morning of 11 September 2001, the US became a nation transformed. An airliner travelling at hundreds of miles an hour and carrying 10,000 gallons of jet fuel ploughed into the north tower of the World Trade Centre in Lower Manhattan. At 9.03, a second airliner hit the south tower. Fire and smoke billowed upward. Steel, glass, ash, and bodies fell below. The twin towers, where up to 50,000 people worked, both collapsed less than 90 minutes later.”

With these dramatic images the independent commission investigating the circumstances of the al-Qa’ida attacks on New York and Washington yesterday issued its report into the worst terrorism attack against America in its history.

The report listed a series of recommendations designed to prevent a repeat of that day’s events, when four passenger jets were hijacked by Islamic extremists and turned into weapons that killed more Americans than the attack at Pearl Harbour more than half a century earlier. It also detailed a series of missed opportunities that, had law enforcement agencies acted differently, may have provided a chance to prevent the attack. But while the report talked of an institutional failure, a failure of the intelligence community to communicate internally and said that both the administrations of George Bush and his predecessor, Bill Clinton, could have done more to stand up to Osama bin Laden, there was a distinct lack of criticism directed at any individual.

Among the recommendations made by the bi-partisan commission were the creation of a new intelligence centre and a high-level intelligence director to oversee and improve the nation’s ability to disrupt future terrorist attacks. These were the positive aspects to the report, the elements that the current and future governments will be able to draw from as the nation collectively continues to deal with the visceral shock inflicted by the 19 attackers who struck at the soft underbelly of a country more used to its position of military superiority.

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

But for all its recommendations for the future, the 567-page report is overwhelmingly a narrative of missed opportunities over many years to spot and stop al-Qa’ida and what it called a “failure of imagination” to conceive what the extremists were plotting. “The 9-11 attacks were a shock, but they should not have come as a surprise,” it said.

“Islamic extremists had given plenty of warning that they meant to kill Americans indiscriminately and in large numbers. Although Osama bin Laden himself would not emerge as a signal threat until the late 1990s, the threat of Islamic terrorism grew over the decade.” The journey that led to the events of 11 September, 2001 - destined to be forever remembered simply by the shorthand of 9-11 - began in the early 1990s, said the report, with the 1993 attack on the World Trade Centre, which was carried out by Ramzi Yousef, probably the first attack by Islamic extremists on US soil.

BLACK HAWK DOWN

The report continued to list other examples of extremist attacks, including the Black Hawk Down incident in Somalia in 1993, when 18 Americans were killed by extremists supported by al-Qa’ida, and the 1995 plot uncovered by authorities in the Philippines to blow up US airliners crossing the Pacific.

At this stage, said the report, the US intelligence community judged Bin Laden as a financer of terrorism rather than a terrorist leader. In February 1998 this view somewhat shifted, initially with the issuing of Bin Laden’s fatwa that declared it was every Muslim’s duty to kill any American. In the months after this, two US embassies in Africa were destroyed and hundreds of people were killed by al-Qa’ida bombs. Then, in 2000, al-Qa’ida struck again, this time attacking the US Cole as it was docked in Aden.

CLEAR WARNING

By 11 September 2001, the report said that al-Qa’ida possessed leaders able to evaluate, approve and supervise the planning and direction of a major operation; a personnel system that could recruit and indoctrinate candidates; communications sufficient to enable the planning and direction of operatives; an intelligence effort to gather information it required; the ability move people great distances and the ability to raise the money needed to fund an attack.”

The report’s executive summary concluded: “The 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon were more elaborate, precise and destructive than any of these earlier assaults. But by 11 September 2001, the executive branch of the US government, the Congress, the news media and the American public had received clear warning that Islamic terrorists meant to kill Americans in high numbers.”

Much of the commission’s report relies on evidence provided by the interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), an alleged senior al-Qa’ida operative now in US custody, who is generally considered the mastermind of the attacks.

SPECTACLE OF DESTRUCTION

KSM said he would personally pilot the 10th plane and land it at a US airport in a dramatic gesture. Having killed all of the male passengers on board, he would have contacted the media, released all the women and children and made a speech denouncing the US. The report said that for KSM “this was theatre, a spectacle of destruction with [him] as the self-cast star - the super-terrorist”.

Bin Laden and others opposed the scale of the plan, the report said, saying it would be too complicated. “Bin Laden was receiving numerous ideas for potential operations. KSM’s proposal to attack US targets with commercial airplanes was only one of many.” The report, the culmination of a 20-month investigation into the plot that killed almost 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, described the meticulous planning of the team of hijackers, led by the student Mohammed Atta.

A surveillance video that surfaced last Wednesday showed four of the hijackers passing through security gates at Washington Dulles international airport shortly before boarding the plane they would crash into the Pentagon. In the video, the hijackers could be seen undergoing additional scrutiny after setting off metal detectors, then being permitted to continue to their gate.

PENETRATING THE SYSTEM

The report added: “[11 September] began with the 19 hijackers getting through a security checkpoint system that they had analysed and knew how to defeat. Their success rate was 19 out of 19. They took over the four flights, taking advantage of air crews and cockpits that were not prepared for the contingency of a suicide hijacking.” But the report said that the security slip at Dulles was simply one of several missed opportunities to have stopped the al-Qa’ida plot. “We write with the benefit and handicap of hindsight,” the commissioners wrote.

OPERATIONAL FAILURES

“Nonetheless, there were specific points of vulnerability in the plot and opportunities to disrupt it.” In bullet-point form the report listed nine “operational failures” that allowed the hijackers to proceed seamlessly with their plot, which had been in the planning stages for years and which cost as little as $500,000 (£270,000). “To date we have not been able to determine the origin of the money used for the 9-11 attacks,” the report added elsewhere. “Al-Qa’ida had many sources of funding and a pre-9-11 annual budget estimated at $30m. These specific failures were:

* Not watch-listing two of the future hijackers - both known al-Qa’ida suspects - Nawaf al-Hamzi and Khalid al-Mihdhar - who had been spotted at a meeting of suspects in south-east Asia and not informing the FBI of their travel to the US;

* Not sharing information linking al-Qa’ida operatives involved in the attack on the USS Cole with Mihdhar;

* Not taking adequate steps in time to find Mihdhar and Hamzi once they entered the US and were living in California;

* Not linking the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui - the so-called “20th hijacker” - who was arrested in the mid-West in August 2001 after he aroused suspicions at a flight school, to the heightened indications and intelligence “chatter” than an attack was imminent;

* Not discovering false statements made on visa applications by the hijackers;

* Not expanding the no-fly lists to include names from terrorist watch-lists;

* Not searching airline passengers identified by a computer-based screening system;

* Not hardening aircraft cockpit doors or taking other measures to prepare for the possibility of suicide hijackings.

INTELLIGENCE FAILURE

In addition to these specific instances, the report also highlighted a general failure of the intelligence community to appreciate the growing threat presented by terrorists groups such as al-Qa’ida.

“The intelligence community struggled throughout the 1990s and up to 9-11 to collect intelligence on and analyse the phenomenon of transnational terrorism,” it said. “Many dedicated officers worked day and night for years to piece together the growing body of evidence on al-Qa’ida and to understand the threats. Yet, while there were many reports on Bin Laden and his organisation, there was no comprehensive review of what the intelligence community knew and what that meant.”

Of the CIA, whose director at the time of the attacks, George Tenet, recently resigned, it added: “Before 9-11 no agency did more to attack al-Qa’ida than the CIA. But there were limits to what the CIA was able to achieve by disrupting terrorist activities abroad by using proxies to try and capture Bin Laden and his lieutenants in Afghanistan.

“CIA officers were aware of those limitations.” The executive summary of the report also addressed the question of whether America was more or less safe since 9-11. It conclusion was not encouraging.

WE ARE NOT SAFE

“Since [the attacks] the US and its allies have killed or captured a majority of al-Qa’ida’s leadership, toppled the Taliban and severely damaged the organisation” it said. “But terrorist attacks continue. The problem is that al-Qa’ida represents an ideological movement, not a finite group of people. It initiates and inspires even if it no longer directs. In this sense it has transformed itself into a decentralised force.

“Because of offensive actions against al-Qa’ida since 9-11 and defensive actions to improve homeland security we believe we are safer today.” Turning to the future, the report recommended the creation of a new intelligence centre and high-level intelligence director to improve the nation’s ability to disrupt future terrorist attacks.

Running and overseeing the centre would be a new Senate-confirmed national intelligence director, reporting directly to the president at just below full cabinet rank, with control over intelligence budgets and the ability to hire and fire deputies, including the CIA director and top intelligence officials at the FBI, Homeland Security Department and Defence Department.

ENEMY IS NOT ISLAM

But the report added: “The enemy is not just “terrorism”. It is the threat posed specifically by Islamist terrorism, by Bin Laden and others who draw on a long tradition of extremeintolerance within a minority strain of Islam that does not distinguish politics from religion, and distorts both.

“The enemy is not Islam, the great world faith, but a perversion of Islam. The enemy goes beyond al-Qa’ida to include the radical ideological movement, inspired in part by al-Qa’ida, that has spawned other terrorist groups and violence. Thus our strategy must match our means to two ends: dismantling the al-Qa’ida network and, in the long term, prevailing over the ideology that contributes to Islamist terrorism.” In addition to the specifics it listed, the report also called for what it called a “global strategy” for dealing with the problem at a ground level. “The first phase of our post-9/11 efforts rightly included military action to topple the Taliban and pursue al-Qa’ida. This work continues,” it said.

“But long-term success demands the use of all elements of national power: diplomacy, intelligence, covert action, law enforcement, economic policy, foreign aid, public diplomacy, and homeland defence. If we favour one tool while neglecting others, we leave ourselves vulnerable and weaken our national effort.” Calling for a three-dimensional approach that would attack terrorists, prevent the continued growth of Islamic terrorism and protect and prepare for more attacks, the report listed a series of measures the commissioners believe could be effective.

RECOMMENDATIONS

* Root out sanctuaries. The US government should identify potential terrorist sanctuaries and have realistic country or regional strategies for each;

* Strengthen long-term US and international commitments to the future of Pakistan and Afghanistan;

* Stand as an example of moral leadership in the world. To Muslim parents, terrorists like Bin Laden have nothing to offer their children but visions of violence and death;

* Where Muslim governments, even those who are friends, do not offer opportunity, respect the rule of law, or tolerate differences, then the US needs to stand for a better future;

* Communicate and defend American ideals in the Islamic world, through much stronger public diplomacy to reach more people, including students and leaders outside of government;

* Devote a maximum effort to the parallel task of countering the proliferation of WMD. Expect less from trying to dry up terrorist money and more from following money for intelligence.

The report outlined other measures with which the US could prevent further attacks:

* Target terrorist travel, an intelligence and security strategy that the 9-11 story showed could be at least as powerful as the effort devoted to terrorist finance. Address problems of screening people with biometric identifiers across agencies and governments;

* Set standards for the issuing of birth certificates and sources of identification. Develop strategies for neglected parts of our transportation security system. Since 9/11, 90 per cent of the nation’s $5bn annual investment in transportation security has gone to aviation, to fight the last war;

* Prevent arguments about a new computerised profiling system from delaying vital improvements in the “no-fly” and “automatic selectee” lists. Also, give priority to the improvement of checkpoint screening.

CONCLUSIONS

The commissioners’ report is the most exhaustive and thorough to look at the circumstances surrounding the events of 11 September 2001. There was an appeal to the American public to remember that day as a way of trying to ensure it was not repeated.

“We call on the American people to remember how we all felt on 9-11, to remember not only the unspeakable horror but how we all came together as a nation. Unity of purpose and unity of effort are the way we will defeat this enemy and make America safer for our children and grandchildren.”

THE ENEMY ACTION

Osama bin Laden began exploring an alliance with Iraq in the early 1990s. An Iraqi delegation travelled to Afghanistan in 1998 to meet the Taliban and Bin Laden. Iraq may have offered Bin Laden a safe haven, but he chose to stay in Afghanistan. Efforts to make Pakistan apply pressure on the Taliban failed.

The US failed to share intelligence with Saudi Arabia or develop a joint effort to disrupt al-Qa’ida. Between 1997 and 2001, the US government tried but failed to persuade the Taliban to expel Bin Laden. Military strikes against Bin Laden were considered but rejected on the grounds of insufficient actionable intelligence.

The attacks cost between $400,000 (£217,000) and $500,000. Al-Qa’ida had an overall estimated budget of $30m. Bin Laden adopted Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s idea of a “plane operation” involving 10 aircraft attacking targets on both the east and west coasts of America (the plan was later modified).

Training for the attacks began in autumn 1999. Mohammed Atta became tactical commander of the operation in the US.

Two operatives were identified as part of the US’s “Millennium alert” Having been spotted in Kuala Lumpur in early 2000, they were lost in Bangkok and were later able to live in
San Diego.

After the attack in October 2000 on the USS Cole, evidence against al-Qa’ida mounted. But the Clinton administration decided against military action.

The following spring, US intelligence agencies warned of “something very, very, very big”­ “The system was blinking red,” the CIA director George Tenet said. But the information pointed to an attack outside the US.

Zacarias Moussaoui, the “19th hijacker”, was arrested on 16 August for immigration offences. Officials realised the operatives spotted earlier were in the US. This was not linked with the high level
of threat.

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Iran’s Growing Threat

By Rachel Ehrenfeld
FrontPageMagazine.com | July 23, 2004

23 July 2004: Recent events have made it clear that the threat posed by Iran should be dealt with sooner rather than later. Today’s 9/11 Commission report documents extensive ties between Iran and terrorism, and the mullahs’ drive to create a nuclear weapon is well known. In recent days, Iranian officials and clerics have increased the incitement for violence against American and Coalition forces in Iraq. However, ending the real threat this fundamentalist Islamic theocracy poses to the United States and the West may be impossible, thanks to the Left’s and the pro-Islamists non-stop assault on the president’s credibility.

The case against Iran should be air-tight. The Bush administration is now armed with:

[1] The 9/11 Commission’s report, documenting the logistical, operational and material support from Iran and Hezbollah (Iran’s international terrorist arm) to al-Qaeda;

[2] Iran’s own admission of its intention to develop nuclear weapons;

[3] Iran’s increasing anti-American rhetoric; and

[4] Iran’s growing support of terrorism in Iraq.

According to the just-released 9/11 Commission Report, Iran’s support of al-Qaeda dates back to 1991, when operatives from both sides met in Sudan and agreed “to cooperate in providing support-even if only training-for actions carried out primarily against Israel and the United States.”

By 1993, “al-Qaeda received advice and training from Hezbollah” in intelligence, security and explosives, especially in “how to use truck bombs.” The training took place in the Bekaa Valley, Hezbollah’s stronghold in Lebanon.

The commission further reports that “at least 8 to 10 of the 14 Saudi ‘muscle’ operatives traveled into and out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001,” and that Iran facilitated “the travel of al-Qaeda members through Iran on their way to and from Afghanistan.” Yet in an ostrich-like move, the commission refrained from accusing Iran of supporting al-Qaeda.

This is how the commission phrased it: “There is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9-11 hijackers.however, we cannot rule out the possibility of a remarkable coincidence…[and] we found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack.”

Indeed, the commission recommends that further investigations should be carried out, but looking at the body of evidence about Iran’s leadership role in worldwide terrorism and the war against the U.S., one can only hope that we can act in time to restrain it.

“Iran is closer to nuclear capability that it was two years ago,” said Dr.
Ephraim Kam, deputy director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, earlier this week. And U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, R-KS, also added that Iran is clearly developing nuclear weapons. Pakistan, as we found out earlier this year, provided Iran with information on how to build an atomic bomb.

Iran’s admission that they are working on developing nuclear capabilities was made in November 2003 by a member of the Iranian Parliament, Ahmad Shirzad. He made reference to the existence of a then-unknown essential nuclear facility, at a time when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iranian opposition had identified at least 8 different nuclear facilities in Iran. Despite all the evidence, it is unlikely that the international community will take steps to disarm Iran any time soon - indeed, the IAEA and EU overtures have been disastrous. And undoubtedly, China and Russia will block any real disarmament efforts.

Iran denies that it is developing nuclear weapons; however on July 6, 2004, the Iranian daily, Kayhan’s editorial warned that, “The entire Islamic Middle East is now a volatile and tangled trap, and will be set off by the smallest bit of silliness - and will reap many victims of the sinful adventurers.Indeed, the White House’s 80 years of exclusive rule are likely to become 80 seconds of Hell that will burn to ashes everything that has been built.” Earlier, according to reports in the Kuwaiti, Al-Siyassah, Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of the Expediency Council stated, “The present situation in Iraq represents a threat as well as an opportunity… It is a threat because the wounded American beast can take enraged actions, but it is also an opportunity to teach this beast a lesson so it won’t attack another country.” He ended his speech calling for “Death to America, Death to Israel.”

Iran’s support of the growing terrorist activities in Iraq and its attempts to destabilize the interim government resulted in warnings issued this week by the Defense and Interior Ministers of Iraq in an interview for the London based Arabic-daily, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat. The Defense Minister, Hazem Al-Sha’lan, after accusing Iran of supporting terrorism on Iraqi soil, warned, “We have the capability to move the assault into their country[ies].”

If you think that Iran has its hands full with terrorist activities already, think again. Last month, according to Reuters, the Islamic Republic of Iran, through the proxy known as the Committee for the Commemoration of Martyrs of the Global Islamic Campaign - launched a new campaign calling for volunteers to carry out suicide attacks against U.S and Coalition forces inside Iraq, as well as missions targeting Israel and author Salman Rushdie.

Since the 10,000 volunteers already registered are not enough, they distributed a “Preliminary Registration for Martyrdom Operations” application for the position of “martyr.” Announcing this new campaign, the cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati urged the public that “It is the duty of every Muslim to threaten U.S. and British interests anywhere.”

So, what are we waiting for? The president’s impaired credibility, a dividend of the perpetual partisan assaults of the political Left, most elements of the Democratic Party in general, and the pro-Islamists anti-American elements in Europe and elsewhere now poses a grave danger to our security at home and abroad. Since the Democratic Party has embraced its activist core, its politicians have denounced the war in Iraq as unjustified and immoral, each American and Iraq death the intended by-product of President Bush’s wilful lies. Ted Kennedy claimed the war was “cooked up in Texas” months or years before it was launched; Al Gore screeches that President Bush “betrayed us!”; and the Left at large has claimed the president massaged intelligence to manipulate the public into attacking the benign despot of Iraq. The 9/11 Commission’s and Lord Butler’s report debunked the Left’s and the pro- Islamists’ allegations, but the damage was already done. Having tarnished the president’s veracity specifically on the War on Terror for political advantage, the Democrats hope is to render us impotent to respond to the genuine threat posed by Tehran. If the damage they have caused cannot be reversed, their self-seeking rhetoric may prove to have mortal consequences.

*Rachel Ehrenfeld is the author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It and is the Director of the American Center for Democracy.

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Al-Qaeda planned Eilat plane attack

23 July 2004: In the summer of 2001, shortly before the September 11 attacks, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the terrorist plot against the US, suggested to Osama bin Laden that al-Qaida recruit a Saudi pilot “to commandeer a Saudi fighter jet and attack the Israeli city of Eilat,” the final report of the national commission investigating the attacks says.

Bin Laden, the 567-page report released in Washington on Thursday says, reportedly “liked this proposal” but urged Mohammed to focus on the 9/11 operation first.

Earlier in 2001, at Bin Laden’s direction, Mohammed had also dispatched an al-Qaida operative “to case potential economic and ‘Jewish targets’ in New York City.” Scattered through the report are references to al-Qaida’s desire to strike at Israeli and Jewish targets as well as American ones. Bin Laden, as has been reported, had urged Mohammed to advance the date of the attacks so they could coincide with the controversy over Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000.

Bin Laden, so eager to get the plot going, told Mohammed it would be “enough for the hijackers simply to down planes rather than crash them into specific targets.” Mohammed, who was captured in 2003, says he “resisted the pressure.”

Bin Laden was keeping a close eye on the intifada. “One senior al-Qaida operative claims to recall Bin Laden arguing that attacks against the United States needed to be carried out immediately to support insurgency in the Israeli-occupied territories and protest the presence of US forces in Saudi Arabia,” the report says.

The report also says that Mullah Omar, the ousted and now fugitive Taliban leader, pressed al-Qaida to attack Jews, “not necessarily the United States,” perhaps out of fear of retaliation.

The report speculates that Daniel Lewin, a former IDF officer who was aboard American Airlines Flight 11, the first to be hijacked and subsequently piloted into the World Trade Center, may have been the first to try to rebel against the hijackers.

As Mohamed Atta, the lead hijacker, and Abdul Aziz al Omari moved toward the cockpit, “passenger Daniel Lewin, who was seated in the row just behind Atta and Omari, was stabbed by one of the hijackers - probably Satam al Suqami, who was seated directly behind Lewin,” the report says. “Lewin had served four years as an officer in the Israeli military. He may have made an attempt to stop the hijackers in front of him, not realizing that another was sitting behind him,” it adds. Lewin, 31, had served in the elite General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, and was a hi-tech entrepreneur.

Dov Shefi of Or Yehuda, whose son, Hagay, 34, was among the victims of the September 11 attack, said he was not comforted by the report’s release. “I lost my son and nothing will return him, no report whatsoever will bring him back,” he said. Shefi watched its release on television Thursday, but said he did not want to comment on it.

Hagai Shefi had moved to New Jersey in 1992 along with his wife Sigal. He was director-general of the GoldTier Technologies Inc, which he set up along with another colleague.

“I do not want to enter into accusations,” said Shefi. “The murder of these 3,000 people is not reversible. Even if [the report] establishes facts that there were failures, our genius son will not be returned. Future recommendations are not going to help me.”

He said that while he thinks of his son every day, events regarding
September 11 “raise all the thoughts and emotions that come with it. Losing a son is like losing part of your body, you never live as you used to live.”

The three other Israeli victims who died in the crash were Leon Lebor, 51, Alona Abraham, 30, and Shay Levinhar, 29.

The Bush administration had early on resisted publication of the commission’s findings before the November election. But, while commission chairman Thomas Kean, in presenting the report said “the government failed to protect the American people,” the commission blamed institutional failures and “a failure of imagination” rather than individuals.

“[On] that September day, we were unprepared. We did not grasp the magnitude of a threat that had been gathering over a considerable period of time. As we detail in our report, this was a failure of policy, management, capability, and above all, a failure of imagination,” Kean, told reporters. “[Since] the plotters were flexible and resourceful, we cannot know whether any single step or series of steps would have defeated them.

What we can say with a good deal of confidence is that none of the measures adopted by the United States government before 9/11 disturbed or even delayed the progress of the al-Qaida plot. There were several unexploited opportunities,” he added. Among them, Kean said, was the government’s failure to watch-list some of the future hijackers before they arrived in the US, “or take adequate steps to find them once they were here.” It did not link the arrest of Zacarias Moussaui, “described as interested in flight training for the purpose of using an airplane as a terrorist act, to the heightened indications of attack.”

“No-fly lists did not include names from terrorist watch lists, and airline passenger screening was lax. And, more broadly, the United States government was simply not active enough in combatting the terrorist threat before 9/11,” Kean said.

Later in the day Kean noted that September 11 was a “massive failure at all sorts of levels,” but that the commission did not think it was right for particular individuals to be blamed, or to “walk the plank.”

The report noted, in its indictment of the lack of bureaucratic imagination, that because al-Qaida previously used vehicles to deliver explosives, “the leap to the use of other vehicles such as boats… or planes is not far-fetched.”

And it said that neither President George W. Bush nor former president Bill Clinton fully understood “just how many people al-Qaida might kill, and how soon it might do it.”

Bush said Thursday that he looks forward “to working with responsible parties within my administration to move forward on those recommendations. As well, we look forward to working with the Congress on the implementation of ways to do our duty. And the most important duty we have is the security of our fellow countrymen.”

Among the report’s key recommendations is a call for the creation of a national intelligence chief to coordinate all intelligence gathering, and that a joint congressional committee be created to oversee homeland security. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry, said reform of US intelligence gathering was “long overdue,” and suggested that internal disputes in the Bush administration had left Americans less safe than they could be.

In New York, the state’s senior senator, Charles Schumer, told NY1 that the report’s recommendations may be difficult to implement.

“Washington is a turf-conscious town, and to make all of this intelligence gathering work, people are going to have to give up turf, both in the executive branch and in Congress,” he said. A former counter-terrorism chief who has been critical of the Bush administration’s handling of the war on terror, Richard Clarke, criticized the report on ABC’s Good Morning America.

“To get unanimity they didn’t talk about a number of things, like what effect is the war in Iraq having on our battle against terrorism,” he said.

“What they didn’t do is say that the country is actually not safer now than it was then because of the rise in terrorism after our invasion in Iraq.” The report, meanwhile, became an instant bestseller, landing at the top of Barnes and Noble’s on-line bestseller list and in the top 10 at Amazon. A paperback edition of the 567-page report retails for $10.

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Iran and al-Qaeda

23 July 2004: The 9/11 Commission pinpoints a continuing safe haven for terrorists in general and al-Qaeda in particular Friday, July 23, 2004 “We believe this topic requires further investigation by the U.S. government.” They’re bland words tucked away in a long government document, but those bland words in Thursday’s 567-page report by 9/11 Commission couldn’t have more significance.

The words came at the end of the section headed, “Assistance from Hezbollah and Iran to al-Qaida.” The flashiest information in the section made its way into news accounts earlier this week: The commission found evidence that eight to 10 of the 14 “muscle” operatives from Saudi Arabia traveled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001. This allowed them, according to two of the al-Qaida detainees behind 9/11, to avoid having their Saudi passports stamped as they went in and out of Afghanistan.

The commission found no evidence that Iran knew of the planning for the 9/11 attack. It’s probable that the al-Qaeda operatives themselves didn’t know the specifics of their operation at the time they traveled through Iran. But a government that facilitates terrorists in their global travels is a problem, though not the biggest one Iran presents on the international terror front. Here’s what the commission reports on Page 240:

“As we mentioned in chapter 2, while in Sudan, senior managers in al-Qaida maintained contacts with Iran and the Iranian-supported worldwide terrorist organization Hezbollah . . . al-Qaida members received advice and training from Hezbollah. Intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al-Qaida figures after bin Ladin’s return to Afghanistan. Khallad [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, 9/11 mastermind] has said that Iran made a concerted effort to strengthen relations with al-Qaida after the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, but was rebuffed because bin Ladin did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia.”

In short, before 9/11, Iran wanted to work with al-Qaida after it saw what damage al-Qaeda could do. And after 9/11? “Iran and Hezbollah,” the commission says, “wished to conceal any past evidence of cooperation with Sunni terrorists associated with al-Qaida.”

Yes, Iran’s ties to terrorism require further investigation. The connection may one day require something more.

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Report: Bin Laden secured ally’s release

22 July 2004: Osama bin Laden personally intervened with a Yemeni government official in 1999 to secure the release of one of his followers, a man who later assisted in both the Sept. 11 attacks and the bombing of the USS Cole, the Sept. 11 commission reported.

The al-Qaida operative was Tawfiq bin Attash, also known as Khallad. He was arrested in early 1999 because he was driving the car of another militant who was wanted by the Yemeni government.

But in 1999, Khallad’s ties to al-Qaida apparently were not known, although he was working on the plot that would eventually lead to the bombing of the USS Cole in the port of Aden, Yemen. The Sept. 11 report called Yemen’s arrest of him a case of mistaken identity.

In summer 1999, bin Laden himself - by then a wanted man for the August 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa - contacted a Yemeni government official to secure Khallad’s release. Khallad’s father, a Yemeni associate of bin Laden who was expelled from the country for his militant views, also contacted the Yemeni government.

Bin Laden’s tone was threatening when he spoke to a Yemeni official. He suggested he “would not confront the Yemenis if they did not confront him.”
The Yemeni is not identified in the Sept. 11 report.

Khallad was freed.

The authors of the report, which the commission released Thursday, suggest bin Laden was worried Khallad would reveal information on the USS Cole plot.

Interrogations of Khallad, who was arrested by Pakistan’s paramilitary Rangers force in Karachi in April 2003, are cited as the primary source of this information, but the report’s authors said the account was confirmed by other sources. Khallad is now at an undisclosed location.

The report underscores the influence bin Laden had in parts of the Arab world, even when he was one of the U.S. government’s most-wanted men. Still, a U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Khallad’s release was more a matter of bin Laden taking advantage of personal relationships than it was his ability to bully an Arab government.

Yemen’s cooperation with the U.S. government in opposing al-Qaida has improved since 1999. After the Cole bombing in October 2000, Yemeni authorities refused to provide U.S. officials access to some suspects. But since the Sept. 11 attacks, the two countries appear to be working much more closely together. In November 2002, a CIA drone aircraft launched missiles that killed a senior al-Qaida operative on Yemeni soil.

Khallad, meanwhile, went on to some notoriety in al-Qaida. He worked with the organization’s Persian Gulf operations chief in an attempt to bomb a U.S. destroyer at the harbor in Aden in January 2000.

The bomb did not go off because the suicide boat sank under the weight of the explosives, but the bombers were not detected. They salvaged the boat and used it to bomb the Cole the following autumn. Seventeen U.S. sailors were killed.

Khallad was initially part of the Sept. 11 plot, but could not get a visa to enter the United States. He attended a January 2000 meeting in Malaysia with two eventual Sept. 11 hijackers.

It was his presence at the meeting, discovered some time later, that some suggested was a key missed clue as U.S. authorities tried to track those two hijackers once they were in the United States.

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Dynamite found in Allentown, PA, under bridge

22 July 2004: Dynamite found in Allentown, PA, under bridge, closing streets, snarling traffic. The discovery of a case of dynamite Wednesday, July 21, in a scrap yard next to the Seventh Street bridge in Allentown, PA, paralyzed rush?hour traffic, forced the evacuation of about 70 residents and, with heightened terrorism awareness, immediately led local authorities to alert federal agents.

Residents were allowed back into their homes and traffic patterns were restored less than six hours after the initial call. The Allentown Fire Department’s bomb squad doused at least 60 sticks of dynamite with diesel fuel to neutralize them, then burned them to avoid an explosion. The investigation is ongoing and includes officials from the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

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