1973-2002: Saudi Billions Lay Groundwork for Radical Militancy
In 1973, the price of oil skyrockets, bringing a huge amount of wealth to Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Middle Eastern countries. The Center for Security Policy (CSP), a Washington think tank, will calculate in 2003 that, between 1975 and 2002, the Saudi government spends over $70 billion on international aid. More than two thirds of the money goes to Islamic related purposes such as building mosques and religious schools. This money usually supports Wahhabism, a fundamentalist version of Islam dominant in Saudi Arabia but far less popular in most other Islamic nations. CSP scholar Alex Alexiev calls this “the largest worldwide propaganda campaign ever mounted” in the history of the world. In addition, private Saudi citizens donate many billions more for Wahhabi projects overseas through private charities. Some of the biggest charities, such as the Muslim World League and its affiliate, the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), are headed by Saudi government officials and closely tied to the government. The IIRO takes credit for funding 575 new mosques in Indonesia alone. Most of this money is spent on benign purposes with charitable intentions. But US News and World Report will assert in 2003: “Accompanying the money, invariably, was a blizzard of Wahhabist literature.… Critics argue that Wahhabism’s more extreme preachings—mistrust of infidels, branding of rival sects as apostates, and emphasis on violent jihad—laid the groundwork for terrorist groups around the world.” [US News and World Report, 12/7/2003; US News and World Report, 12/15/2003]
Entity Tags: Saudi Arabia, International Islamic Relief Organization, Center for Security Policy, Muslim World League, Alex Alexiev
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
1986-October 1999: New Jersey Firm Investors List Is ‘Who’s Who of Designated Terrorists’
Soliman Biheiri. [Source: US Immigrations and Customs]BMI Inc., a real estate investment firm based in Secaucus, New Jersey, is formed in 1986. Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will state in 2003, “While BMI [has] held itself out publicly as a financial services provider for Muslims in the United States, its investor list suggests the possibility this facade was just a cover to conceal terrorist support. BMI’s investor list reads like a who’s who of designated terrorists and Islamic extremists.” Investors in BMI include: [US Congress, 10/22/2003]
Soliman Biheiri. He is the head of BMI for the duration of the company’s existence. US prosecutors will later call him the US banker for the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned Egyptian militant group. Biheiri’s computer will eventually be searched and found to have contact information for Ghaleb Himmat and Youssef Nada, leaders of the Al Taqwa Bank, which is founded two years after BMI (see 1988). After 9/11, the US and UN will designate both Himmat and Nada and the Al Taqwa Bank as terrorist financiers, and the bank will be shut down (see November 7, 2001). US prosecutors say there are other ties between BMI and Al Taqwa, including financial transactions. Biheiri also has close ties with Yousuf Abdullah Al-Qaradawi. Qaradawi is said to be a high-ranking member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a shareholder in Al Taqwa, and has made statements supporting suicide bombings against Israel. In 2003, US investigators will accuse Biheiri of ties to terrorist financing. He will be convicted of immigration violations and lying to a federal agent (see June 15, 2003). [Wall Street Journal, 9/15/2003; Forward, 10/17/2003] Biheiri will be convicted of immigration fraud in 2003 and then convicted of lying to federal investigators in 2004 (see June 15, 2003).
Abdullah Awad bin Laden, a nephew of Osama bin Laden. He invests about a half-million dollars in BMI real estate ventures, earning a profit of $70,000. For most of the 1990s he runs the US branch of a Saudi charity called World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). He is investigated by the FBI in 1996 (see February-September 11, 1996), and WAMY will be raided by US agents in 2004 (see June 1, 2004). The raid is apparently part of a larger investigation into terrorism financing. In 2001, at least two of the 9/11 hijackers will live three blocks away from the WAMY office (see March 2001 and After). [Wall Street Journal, 9/15/2003; Washington Post, 4/19/2004]
Nur and Iman bin Laden, two female relatives of Osama bin Laden. Abdullah Awad bin Laden will invest some of their money in a BMI real estate project. While their bin Laden family ties are intriguing, neither have been accused of any knowing connections to terrorist financing. [Washington Post, 4/19/2004]
Mousa Abu Marzouk. He has identified himself as a top leader of Hamas. The US declares him a terrorist in 1995 (see July 5, 1995-May 1997). BMI makes at least two transactions with Marzouk after he is declared a terrorist. [Wall Street Journal, 9/15/2003]
Yassin al-Qadi, a Saudi multimillionaire. His lawyers will later claim he has no terrorism ties and had only a passing involvement with BMI and liquidated his investment in it in 1996. However, another company operating from the same office as BMI is called Kadi International Inc. and lists its president as al-Qadi. Al-Qadi is also a major investor in the suspect computer company Ptech (see 1994; 1999-After October 12, 2001). Al-Qadi and BMI head Biheiri have financial dealings with Yaqub Mirza, a Pakistani who manages a group of Islamic charities in Virginia known as the SAAR network (see July 29, 1983). These charities will be raided in March 2002 on suspicions of terrorism ties (see March 20, 2002). Shortly after 9/11, the US will officially declare al-Qadi a terrorist financier (see October 12, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 9/15/2003]
Saleh Kamel. BMI allegedly receives a $500,000 investment from the Dallah Al-Baraka banking conglomerate, which is headed by Kamel. For many years before 9/11, Omar al-Bayoumi, an associate of 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, will receive a salary from Dallah, despite apparently doing no work. Some will accuse al-Bayoumi of involvement in funding the 9/11 plot, but that remains to been proven (see August 1994-July 2001). Kamel reportedly founded a Sudanese Islamic bank which housed accounts for senior al-Qaeda operatives. He is a multi-billionaire heavily involved in promoting Islam, and his name appears on the Golden Chain, a list of early al-Qaeda supporters (see 1988-1989). He denies supporting terrorism. [US Congress, 10/22/2003; Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004]
The Kuwait Finance House. According to Clarke, this organization is alleged to be a BMI investor and the “financial arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Kuwait. Several al-Qaeda operatives have allegedly been associated with the Kuwaiti Muslim Brotherhood, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Suliman abu Ghaith, Wadih El-Hage, and Ramzi Yousef.” In 2003, an apparent successor entity to the Kuwait Finance House will be designated as a terrorist entity by the US. A lawyer for the Kuwait Finance House will later say the bank has never let its accounts be used for terrorism. [Wall Street Journal, 9/15/2003; US Congress, 10/22/2003; Wall Street Journal, 4/20/2005]
Tarek Swaidan. He is a Kuwaiti, an associate of al-Qadi, and a leading member of the Kuwaiti branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is unknown if he has made any denials about his alleged associations. [Wall Street Journal, 9/15/2003]
Abdurahman Alamoudi. For many years he runs the American Muslim Council, a lobby group founded by a top Muslim Brotherhood figure. US prosecutors say he also is in the Brotherhood, and has alleged ties to Hamas. In 2004, the US will sentence him to 23 years in prison for illegal dealings with Libya (see October 15, 2004). [Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004; Washington Post, 10/16/2004]
The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and the Muslim World League, closely connected Saudi charities suspected of financing terrorism. They give BMI $3.7 million out of a $10 million endowment from unknown Saudi donors. The Financial Times will later note, “While it is not clear whether that money came from the Saudi government, [a 2003] affidavit quotes a CIA report that says the Muslim World League ‘is largely financed by the government of Saudi Arabia.’” Both organizations consistently deny any support of terrorism financing, but in early 2006 it will be reported that US officials continue to suspect them of such support (see January 15, 2006). [Financial Times, 8/21/2003] In 1992, a branch of the IIRO gives $2.1 million to BMI Inc. to invest in real estate. The money disappears from BMI’s books. In October 1999, BMI goes defunct after it is unable to repay this money to the IIRO branch. The IIRO branch gives BMI the rest of the $3.7 million between 1992 and 1998. BMI will use the money to buy real estate (see 1992). Eventually, some of this money will be given to Hamas operatives in the West Bank and spent on violent actions against Israel. This will eventually lead to legal action in the US and a seizure of some of the money. [Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2002; Washington Post, 8/20/2003; Washington Times, 3/26/2004; Washington Post, 4/19/2004] By 1992, BMI has projected revenues in excess of $25 million, based largely on their real estate investments in the US. [US Congress, 10/22/2003] In early 1999, months before BMI goes defunct, the FBI hears evidence potentially tying BMI to the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), but an investigation into this will not be pursued (see Early 1999). It should be noted that BMI had many investors, and presumably most BMI investors would have had no suspicions that their money might be used to fund terrorism or other types of violence.
Entity Tags: Iman bin Laden, International Islamic Relief Organization, Muslim World League, Kuwait Finance House, Nur bin Laden, Mousa Abu Marzouk, Abdurahman Alamoudi, Richard A. Clarke, Soliman Biheiri, Abdullah Awad bin Laden, Yousuf Abdullah Al-Qaradawi, Tarek Swaidan, Yassin al-Qadi, Saleh Abdullah Kamel
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
1987-1991: Bin Laden’s Brother-in-Law Khalifa Sets Up Al-Qaeda Fronts in Philippines
Mohammed Jamal Khalifa. Apparently this photo was taken in the Philippines. [Source: Asharq al-Awsat]Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, moves to the Philippines and sets up numerous financial fronts to benefit al-Qaeda. Khalifa is not only one of bin Laden’s brothers-in-law, but he also says that during the 1980s, “Osama was my best friend. More than a brother….” [Australian, 1/16/2003; CNN, 11/25/2004] In the mid-1980s, Khalifa was already a very senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Lebanon and ran the Peshawar, Pakistan, office of the Muslim World League, where he was active in sending recruits to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan (see Late 1980s). Sent to the Philippines by bin Laden in 1987 or 1988, he soon marries two Filipino women. He sets up more than a dozen businesses and charities, all of which appear to be fronts to fund the Abu Sayyaf and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) militant groups:
The Islamic Wisdom Worldwide Mission (IWWM), which will later be blamed for funneling bin Laden money to militants (see February 15, 1999 and October 8-November 8, 2002).
The International Relations and Information Center (IRIC), which is later seen as the main funding vehicle for the Bojinka plot (see Spring 1995).
The Philippine branch of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), founded in September 1991. The IIRO does some charity work, but a Philippine cabinet official will later note that it “built up the good will of the community through charity and then turned segments of the population into agents.” The IIRO is a charity suspected of funding militant activities in numerous places around the world, but the US has been reluctant to prosecute it due to its direct links to the Saudi government (see January 1996 and October 12, 2001). Khalifa is not only the first head of the IIRO’s Philippine branch, but also the IIRO’s regional director for all of Southeast Asia. The IIRO’s offices are often staffed by members of the Abu Sayyaf and MILF. For instance, one IIRO branch office director is also the Abu Sayyaf’s intelligence chief until he is killed in June 1994. [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 8/9/2000; CNN, 1/27/2002; Contemporary Southeast Asia, 8/1/2003; Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College, 9/1/2005 ]
It is estimated that as much as 70 percent of the money from these fronts are spent on militant groups. In one case, a charity that Khalifa claimed had built 30 orphanages had only built one. [Newsweek International, 10/22/2001] The Philippines will investigate Khalifa and expel him from the country by late 1994 (see December 15, 1994 and December 1, 1994). He apparently never returns. He will no longer be directly connected to these charities, but they will all continue operating despite widely reported terrorist ties (see 1995 and After, February 15, 1999, August 9, 2000), and they will usually continue to be run by Khalifa’s close associates (see October 8-November 8, 2002 and September 25, 2003). The US will finally officially declare the Philippine branch of the IIRO a terrorism financier in 2006 (see August 3, 2006).
Entity Tags: International Relations and Information Center, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Muslim World League, Islamic Wisdom Worldwide Mission, International Islamic Relief Organization, Muslim Brotherhood
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Mid-1991-1996: Bin Laden-Linked Charity Front Funnels Billions of Dollars to Bosnia for Weapons
Elfatih Hassanein (center). [Source: Magyar Iszlam]In 1987, a Sudanese man named Elfatih Hassanein found the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA). By mid-1991, Bosnian President Izetbegovic contacts Hassanein, who he has known since the 1970s. The two men agree to turn TWRA from an obscure charity into what the Washington Post will later call “the chief broker of black-market weapons deals by Bosnia’s Muslim-led government and the agent of money and influence in Bosnia for Islamic movements and governments around the world.” A banker in Vienna will later call Hassanein the “bagman” for Izetbegovic. “If the Bosnian government said we need flour, he ran after flour. If they said we need weapons, he ran after weapons.” [Washington Post, 9/22/1996; Schindler, 2007, pp. 148] The TWRA is controlled by a committee composed of Hassanein and:
Hasan Cengic. He is in charge of arming a Bosnian militia run by the SDA party (see June 1991).
All of them are important members of Izetbegovic’s SDA party, and all but Ljevakovic were codefendants with Izetbegovic in a 1983 trial. Most payments require the approval of three of the five, except for amounts greater than $500,000, in which case Izetbegovic has to give approval. The corruption from these higher-ups is said to be incredible, with up to half of all money passing through the TWRA going into their pockets. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 148-152] The TWRA is based in Vienna, Austria, and Izetbegovic personally guarantees Hassanein’s credentials with banks there. Soon, machine guns, missiles and other weapons are being shipped into Bosnia in containers marked as humanitarian aid. Hassanein is a member of Sudan’s government party and a follower of top Sudanese leader Hassan al-Turabi. Just like al-Turabi, he works with bin Laden and the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. He becomes the main agent in Europe for marketing and selling video and audio tapes of Abdul-Rahman’s sermons. In March 1992, the Sudanese government gives him a diplomatic passport and he uses it to illegally transport large amounts of cash from Austria into Bosnia without being searched. [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 140-141] The Saudi Arabian government is the biggest contributor to TWRA, but many other governments give money to it too, such as Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Brunei, Turkey, and Malaysia. Bin Laden is also a major contributor. [Washington Post, 9/22/1996] Author John Schindler will later note, “Relations between bin Laden and TWRA were close, not least because during the Bosnian war the al-Qaeda leadership was based in Khartoum, Sudan, under the protection of the Sudanese Islamist regime that was the ultimate backer of Hassanein and his firm.” TWRA also works closely with the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and most other charity fronts in Bosnia. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 151-152] A later study by the Bosnian government with help from Western intelligence agencies will determine that at least $2.5 billion passed through the TWRA to Bosnia between 1992 and 1995. The study will call the TWRA “a group of Bosnian Muslim wartime leaders who formed an illegal, isolated ruling oligarchy, comprising three to four hundred ‘reliable’ people in the military commands, the diplomatic service, and a number of religious dignitaries.… It was this organization, not the Government [of Bosnia], that controlled all aid that Islamic countries donated to the Bosnian Muslims throughout the war.” [Schindler, 2007, pp. 149-150]
Entity Tags: Omar Abdul-Rahman, Osama bin Laden, Dervis Djurdjevic, Alija Izetbegovic, Elfatih Hassanein, Hassan al-Turabi, Third World Relief Agency, Irfan Ljevakovic, Husein Zivalj, Hasan Cengic, International Islamic Relief Organization
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
1992: Militant Financial Front Said to Fund Terrorism Through Real Estate Investments in US
The Barnaby Knolls housing development, another Washington, DC, suburb funded by BMI Inc. [Source: Susan Biddle/ Washington Post]BMI Inc., is a New Jersey-based Muslim investment firm. Some of the lead investors have been suspected of supporting terrorism and other types of violence in the Middle East (see 1986-October 1999). In 1992, a branch of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), a Saudi charity gives $2.1 million to BMI to invest in real estate. The money disappears from BMI’s books. By 1996, the CIA will secretly report that the IIRO supports terrorism financing in many locations around the world (see January 1996). In October 1999, BMI will go defunct after it is unable to repay this money to the IIRO branch. Additionally, the IIRO branch will give BMI over a million dollars between 1992 and 1998. BMI uses some money from the IIRO and other investors to build houses in Oxon Hill, a Washington, D.C., suburb. Many well to do Muslims invest in the housing development because BMI advertises itself as investing according to Islamic principles. Most of the small investors as well as the middle class Americans who buy the Oxon Hill houses do not realize that the profits from the property sales go to Mousa Abu Marzouk, a known leader of Hamas. Marzouk is said to make $250,000 in profits from BMI real estate deals in the early 1990s. In 2004, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement court declaration will assert that significant amounts of cash obtained from BMI by Marzouk is eventually used “in furtherance of Hamas terrorist operations.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2002; Washington Post, 8/20/2003; Washington Times, 3/26/2004; Washington Post, 4/19/2004] By the end of 1992, BMI will have projected revenues in excess of $25 million based largely on their real estate investments in the US. [US Congress, 10/22/2003]
Entity Tags: Mousa Abu Marzouk, International Islamic Relief Organization, BMI Inc., Hamas
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
1993: Al-Zawahiri’s Brother Help Manage Mujaheddin in Bosnia Using Charity Cover
Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of Islamic Jihad and Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, sends his brother Mohammed al-Zawahiri to the Balkans to help run the mujaheddin fighters in Bosnia. He is known as a logistics expert and is said to be the military commander of Islamic Jihad. Mohammed works in Bosnia, Croatia, and Albania under the cover of being an International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) official. He is said to make an extended stay in central Bosnia, where most of the mujaheddin are based, in 1993. He sets up an Islamic Jihad cell in Albania with over a dozen members to support the mujaheddin in Bosnia. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002; Schindler, 2007, pp. 123] Ayman also frequently visits Bosnia (see September 1992 and After) and by 1994 will move to Bulgaria to presumably work with Mohammed to manage operations in the Balkans region (see September 1994-1996).
Entity Tags: Mohammed al-Zawahiri, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Islamic Jihad, International Islamic Relief Organization
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
December 15, 1994: Bin Laden’s Brother-in-Law Funding Militants Worldwide Using Philippine Charity Fronts
A secret report about al-Qaeda’s support for Islamic militant groups in the Philippines is released to Philippine President Fidel Ramos and other top national leaders. Contents of the report are leaked to the media in April 1995. [Japan Economic Newswire, 4/16/1995; Philippine Daily Inquirer, 8/12/2000; Ressa, 2003] Starting sometime in 1994, Philippine investigator Colonel Rodolfo Mendoza began looking into foreign support for Islamic militant groups in the Philippines. Mendoza combines “hundreds of wiretaps and countless man-hours of surveillance into a 175-page report…” which is titled “Radical Islamic Fundamentalism in the Philippines and its Links to International Terrorism.” It includes a watch list of more than 100 names of Arab nationals. Mendoza is the handler for Edwin Angeles, second in command of the militant group Abu Sayyaf and secretly an undercover government operative (see 1991-Early February 1995). The report is said to be based on information from many sources and corroborated by Angeles. [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 8/12/2000; Ressa, 2003] The investigation has a special focus on Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, who has been under surveillance for months. The report states Khalifa has founded at least eight organizations to fund terrorism: “Although most of them are seemingly legitimate charitable institutions or NGOs, it has been uncovered that Khalifa has been using them as cover for his terroristic activities in the Philippines as well as abroad.” In the Philippines, this money mainly goes to the Abu Sayyaf and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). [Japan Economic Newswire, 4/24/1995; Philippine Daily Inquirer, 8/12/2000; CNN, 11/24/2004] The report also says Khalifa’s activities in the Philippines strongly link with Muslim extremist movements in Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Russia, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, Romania, Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan, Albania, the Netherlands and Morocco. [Japan Economic Newswire, 4/16/1995] The Philippine branch of the Saudi charity the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) was founded by Khalifa in 1991. The report states, “The IIRO which claims to be a relief institution is being utilized by foreign extremists as a pipeline through which funding for the local extremists is being coursed.” [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 8/9/2000] It is not clear when US intelligence gets a copy of this report. However, Khalifa is arrested in the US one day after the report is released, then eventually let go (see December 16, 1994-May 1995). Remarkably, he will never be officially designated a terrorism funder before his death in 2007 (see January 30, 2007) and the Philippines branch of IIRO will only be so designated in 2006 (see August 3, 2006).
Entity Tags: Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, International Islamic Relief Organization, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Fidel Ramos, Rodolfo Mendoza, Osama bin Laden, Abu Sayyaf
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
1995 and After: Charities Connected to Bojinka Plot Remain Operating in the Philippines
In early 1995, the Bojinka plot, an early version of the 9/11 plot that would have killed thousands, is foiled in the Philippines (see January 6, 1995). It is quickly learned that Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, helped fund the plot while living in the Philippines as regional director of the Saudi-based charity, the Islamic International Relief Organization (IIRO). Wali Khan Amin Shah, a known bin Laden associate and Bojinka plotter, also was an employee of the IIRO in the Philippines. Yet the Philippine branch of the IIRO will remain open until 2000, apparently because of political pressure from Saudi Arabia. Even then, the IIRO is allowed to continue funding projects in the Philippines through a branch office in a neighboring country. One Philippine senior intelligence official will later complain, “We could not touch the IIRO.” [Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 ] Counterterrorism expert Zachary Abuza will note that the IIRO is a “very well connected charity, whose supporters include the Saudi royal family and the top echelon of Filipino society.” One board member of “the IIRO Philippine office was, not coincidentally, the Saudi Ambassador.” [Contemporary Southeast Asia, 8/1/2003] In 1996, a secret CIA report will conclude that the IIRO is funding radical militant groups in many countries, including the Philippines, but the US will not move against it either (see January 1996). Another Philippines-based Islamic charity, the International Relations and Information Center (IRIC), is also connected to the Bojinka plot. The IRIC’s director is Ahmad al-Hamwi (better known by his alias Omar Abu Omar), who is the brother of Khalifa’s Philippine wife. Investigators determine that most of the funding for the Bojinka plot went through a bank account controlled by al-Hamwi. As a result, the IRIC is shut down in 1995 and al-Hamwi leaves the country. However, its operations and staff is taken over by another Islamic charity headed by Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari. Al-Ghafari is also a close associate of Khalifa and is believed to have been involved in the Bojinka plot as well (see June 1994). Al-Ghafari will finally be deported in 2002 after years of police protection (see October 8-November 8, 2002). [Washington Post, 12/30/2001; Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 ; Australian, 4/8/2006] Al-Hamwi will be granted asylum in Australia in 1996 and will continue to live there even after media reports expose his presence there and his ties to Islamic militancy (see July 6, 1995-June 26, 1996). [Australian, 4/8/2006] US will finally officially declare the IIRO’s Philippine branch a terrorism funder in late 2006 (see August 3, 2006).
Entity Tags: Zachary Abuza, Operation Bojinka, Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari, International Relations and Information Center, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Ahmad al-Hamwi, International Islamic Relief Organization, Wali Khan Amin Shah
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
January 1996: CIA Report Exposes Militant Charity Fronts in Bosnia; Ties to Saudi Arabia and Other Governments Discovered
International Islamic Relief Organization logo.
[Source: International Islamic Relief Organization]The CIA creates a report for the State Department detailing support for terrorism from prominent Islamic charities. The report, completed just as the Bosnian war is winding down, focuses on charity fronts that have helped the mujaheddin in Bosnia. It concludes that of more than 50 Islamic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in existence, “available information indicates that approximately one-third… support terrorist groups or employ individuals who are suspected of having terrorist connections.” The report notes that most of the offices of NGOs active in Bosnia are located in Zagreb, Sarajevo, Zenica, and Tuzla. There are coordination councils there organizing the work of the charity fronts. The report notes that some charities may be “backed by powerful interest groups,” including governments. “We continue to have evidence that even high ranking members of the collecting or monitoring agencies in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Pakistan - such as the Saudi High Commission - are involved in illicit activities, including support for terrorists.” The Wall Street Journal will later comment, “Disclosure of the report may raise new questions about whether enough was done to cut off support for terrorism before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001… and about possible involvement in terrorism by Saudi Arabian officials.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 1/1996; Wall Street Journal, 5/9/2003] The below list of organizations paraphrases or quotes the report, except for informational asides in parentheses.
The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO). “The IIRO is affiliated with the Muslim World League, a major international organization largely financed by the government of Saudi Arabia.” The IIRO has funded Hamas, Algerian radicals, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (a.k.a. the Islamic Group, an Egyptian radical militant group led by Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman), Ramzi Yousef, and six militant training camps in Afghanistan. “The former head of the IIRO office in the Philippines, Mohammad Jamal Khalifa, has been linked to Manila-based plots to target the Pope and US airlines; his brother-in-law is Osama bin Laden.”
Al Haramain Islamic Foundation. It has connections to Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and helps support the mujaheddin battalion in Zenica. Their offices have been connected to smuggling, drug running, and prostitution.
Human Concern International, headquartered in Canada. Its Swedish branch is said to be smuggling weapons to Bosnia. It is claimed “the entire Peshawar office is made up of [Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya] members.” The head of its Pakistan office (Ahmed Said Khadr) was arrested recently for a role in the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan (see November 19, 1995). (It will later be discovered that Khadr is a founder and major leader of al-Qaeda (see Summer 2001 and January 1996-September 10, 2001).)
Third World Relief Agency (TWRA). Headquartered in Sudan, it has ties to Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. “The regional director of the organization, Elfatih Hassanein, is the most influential [charity] official in Bosnia. He is a major arms supplier to the government, according to clandestine and press reporting, and was forced to relocate his office from Zagreb in 1994 after his weapons smuggling operations were exposed. According to a foreign government service, Hassanein supports US Muslim extremists in Bosnia.” One TWRA employee alleged to also be a member of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya carried out a suicide car bombing in Rijeka, Croatia (see October 20, 1995).
The Islamic African Relief Agency (IARA). Based in Sudan, it has offices in 30 countries. It is said to be controlled by Sudan’s ruling party and gives weapons to the Bosnian military in concert with the TWRA. (The US government will give the IARA $4 million in aid in 1998 (see February 19, 2000).)
Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) (the report refers to it by an alternate name, Lajnat al-Birr al-Islamiyya (LBI)). It supports mujaheddin in Bosnia. It mentions “one Zagreb employee, identified as Syrian-born US citizen Abu Mahmud,” as involved in a kidnapping in Pakistan (see July 4, 1995). [Central Intelligence Agency, 1/1996] (This is a known alias (Abu Mahmoud al Suri) for Enaam Arnaout, the head of BIF’s US office.) [USA v. Enaam M. Arnaout, 10/6/2003, pp. 37 ] This person “matches the description… of a man who was allegedly involved in the kidnapping of six Westerners in Kashmir in July 1995, and who left Pakistan in early October for Bosnia via the United States.”
Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK), a.k.a. Al-Kifah. This group has ties to Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and possibly Hezbollah. Both the former director of its Zagreb office [Kamer Eddine Kherbane] and his deputy [Hassan Hakim] were senior members of Algerian extremist groups. Its main office in Peshawar, Pakistan, funds at least nine training camps in Afghanistan. “The press has reported that some employees of MAK’s New York branch were involved in the World Trade Center bombing [in 1993].” (Indeed, the New York branch, known as the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, is closely linked to the WTC bombing and the CIA used it as a conduit to send money to Afghanistan (see January 24, 1994).
Muwafaq Foundation. Registered in Britain but based in Sudan, it has many offices in Bosnia. It has ties to Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and “helps fund the Egyptian Mujahedin Battalion in Bosnia” and “at least one training camp in Afghanistan” (see 1991-1995).
Qatar Charitable Society, based in Qatar. It has possible ties to Hamas and Algerian militants. A staff member in Qatar is known to be a Hamas operative who has been monitored discussing militant operations. (An al-Qaeda defector will later reveal that in 1993 he was told this was one of al-Qaeda’s three most important charity fronts (see 1993)).
Red Crescent (Iran branch). Linked to the Iranian government, it is “Often used by the Iranian [intelligence agency] as cover for intelligence officers, agents, and arms shipments.”
Saudi High Commission. “The official Saudi government organization for collecting and disbursing humanitarian aid.” Some members possibly have ties to Hamas and Algerian militants (see 1996 and After).
Other organizations mentioned are the Foundation for Human Rights, Liberties, and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) (a.k.a. the International Humanitarian Relief Organization), Kuwait Joint Relief Committee (KJRC), the Islamic World Committee, and Human Appeal International. [Central Intelligence Agency, 1/1996]
After 9/11, former National Security Council official Daniel Benjamin will say that the NSC repeatedly questioned the CIA with inquiries about charity fronts.
“We knew there was a big problem between [charities] and militants. The CIA report “suggests they were on the job, and, frankly, they were on the job.” [Wall Street Journal, 5/9/2003] However, very little action is taken on the information before 9/11. None of the groups mentioned will be shut down or have their assets seized.
Entity Tags: Muwafaq Foundation, Muslim World League, National Security Council, Saudi High Commission, Red Crescent (Iran branch), Qatar Charitable Society, US Department of State, Third World Relief Agency, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Islamic World Committee, Islamic African Relief Agency, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, Ahmed Said Khadr, Benevolence International Foundation, Central Intelligence Agency, Daniel Benjamin, Elfatih Hassanein, International Islamic Relief Organization, Kuwait Joint Relief Committee, Human Appeal International, Foundation for Human Rights, Hamas, Saudi Arabia
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
1996-Early 1997: Probe of Suspicious Company with Saudi Ties Is Stalled
A 1996 CIA report shows that US intelligence believes that the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), a Saudi charity with strong ties to the Saudi government, is funding a variety of radical militant groups (see January 1996). However, no action is taken against it. Also in 1996, Valerie Donahue, a Chicago FBI agent who is presumably part of Robert Wright’s Vulgar Betrayal investigation, begins looking into Global Chemical Corp., a chemical company that appears to be an investment fraud scheme. The company is jointly owned by the IIRO and Abrar Investments Inc. Suspected terrorism financier Yassin al-Qadi has investments in Abrar Investments and he is also director of its Malaysian corporate parent. Donahue finds that Abrar Investments gave Global Chemical more than half a million dollars, and the IIRO gave it over $1 million. Further, the Saudi embassy has recently sent $400,000 to the IIRO. The president of Global Chemical is Mohammed Mabrook, a Libyan immigrant and suspected Hamas operative. Mabrook had previously worked for a pro-Palestinian group led by Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk. (Marzouk is in US detention from 1995 to May 1997, but he is apparently merely held for deportation and not questioned about matters like Global Chemical (see July 5, 1995-May 1997).) Donahue discovers that Global Chemical is keeping a warehouse full of highly toxic chemicals, but they do not seem to be selling them. In late 1996, a chemical weapons expert examines the chemicals and opines that they appear to be meant for a laboratory performing biochemistry or manufacturing explosives. While no direct evidence of bomb making is found, investigators know that a Hamas associate of Marzouk, Mohammad Salah, had previously trained US recruits to work with “basic chemical materials for the preparation of bombs and explosives.”(see 1989-January 1993) In January 1997, the FBI raids Global Chemical and confiscates the chemicals stockpiled in the warehouse. Mabrook is questioned, then let go. He moves to Saudi Arabia. Abrar Investments vacate their offices and cease operations. In June 1999, Mabrook will return to the US and will be prosecuted. He will be tried on fraud charges for illegal dealings with the IIRO and given a four year sentence. Meanwhile, the IIRO ignores an FBI demand for accounting records to explain how it spent several million dollars that seem to have gone to the IIRO and disappeared. In January 1997, Donahue requests a search warrant to find and confiscate the records, saying that she suspect IIRO officials are engaged in “possible mail and wire fraud… and money laundering.” Apparently, the probe stalls and the financial records are never maintained. Some investigators believe the probe is dropped for diplomatic reasons. [Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2002; Wall Street Journal, 12/16/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/29/2003] Investigators will later be prohibited from investigating a possible link between al-Qadi and the 1998 US embassy bombings (see October 1998). After 9/11, the US will apparently have ample evidence to officially label the IIRO a funder of terrorism, but will refrain from doing so for fear of embarrassing the Saudi government (see October 12, 2001).
Entity Tags: Valerie Donahue, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohammed Mabrook, Global Chemical Corp., International Islamic Relief Organization, Yassin al-Qadi, Vulgar Betrayal, Abrar Investments
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
July 31, 1996: Saudi Charity Said to Be Funding Hamas
The New York Daily News reports, “At least $20 million a year flows out of Saudi Arabia to Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that claimed responsibility for the recent slew of suicide bombings in Israel. Intelligence officials are convinced that the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) is a major funnel for this Saudi support.… Western intelligence services have traced IIRO money transfers to bank accounts in London and Amman, Jordan, and from there to front organizations that transferred the money to Hamas-backed groups in the West Bank and Gaza.” But the article suggests that little is being done to stop this flow of money. [New York Daily News, 7/31/1996] Earlier in the year, a secret CIA report claimed the IIRO is funding Hamas, bin Laden, and other militant groups (see January 1996).
Entity Tags: International Islamic Relief Organization, Hamas
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Shortly After August 21, 1997: Important Al-Qaeda Contacts Discovered through Seized Address Book
Al Haramain Islamic Foundation’s main office in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. [Source: Bilal Qabalan / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]Wadih El-Hage has been bin Laden’s personal secretary since the early 1990s. When US agents raid his house in Nairobi, Kenya, they seize his address book (see August 21, 1997), which contains the names and phone numbers for many other al-Qaeda operatives. [CNN, 5/25/2001] The names discovered in the book include:
Ali Mohamed, the al-Qaeda double agent living in California. US investigators are already tapping his California phone and have been tapping calls between him and El-Hage since at least 1996 (see April 1996).
Mamoun Darkazanli. He is a Syrian-born businessman living in Hamburg, Germany, who has contacts with Mohamed Atta’s al-Qaeda cell in the same city. Darkazanli’s name and phone number are listed, and El-Hage even has a business card listing El-Hage’s address in Texas and Darkazanli’s address in Hamburg (see Late 1998).
Ghassan Dahduli. He works at two US non-profit organizations, the Islamic Association for Palestine and InfoCom. Both organizations will be shut down for supporting terrorist networks (see September 16, 1998-September 5, 2001).
Salah al-Rajhi (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). He and his brother of Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, are billionaires and jointly own the Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp. Sulaiman started a network of organizations in Herndon, Virginia known as the SAAR network (named for the four initials in his name). This network will be raided by US officials in 2002 for suspected terrorist funding ties (see March 20, 2002). [Newsweek, 12/9/2002]
Ihab Ali Nawawi, an al-Qaeda operative living in Florida. He is referred to as “Ihab Ali” and his location in Tampa, Florida, is mentioned. He will not be arrested until May 1999 (see May 18, 1999). [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 39, 5/3/2001]
Essam Marzouk. He is linked to both al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad and is living in Vancouver, Canada at the time. He will later train the 1998 embassy bombers. It is unclear if the link to Marzouk is shared with Canadian intelligence (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). [National Post, 3/19/2002]
Essam al Ridi. He is a US citizen and a pilot who helped bin Laden buy an airplane in the US in the early 1990s (see Early 1993). He appears to have no militant ties after that. In late 1999, US prosecutors will contact al Ridi where he is living in Bahrain and convince him to testify against El-Hage and others involved in the 1998 embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). [CNN, 7/2/2002]
Farid Adlouni. He is a civil engineer living in Lake Oswego, Oregon. In 1996 and 1997, El-Hage calls Adlouni in Oregon 72 times, sometimes just before or after meeting with bin Laden. Adlouni’s home phone and fax numbers are be found in two personal phone directories and one notebook kept by El-Hage (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). Earlier in 1997, El-Hage also sent him a fax written by al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef (see Febuary 25, 1997). Records show that El-Hage has extensive dealings with Adlouni, mostly by selling gems El-Hage bought in Africa for a better price in the US. The FBI interviews Adlouni twice in late 1997, but he is not arrested. As of 2002, it will be reported that he continues to live in Oregon and remains a “person of interest” and subject of investigation by the FBI. [Oregonian, 9/13/2002]
Khalid al-Fawwaz. He is al-Qaeda’s de facto press secretary in London. El-Hage gives al-Fawwaz’s correct name, London phone number, and street address, but lists him as living in Texas. Presumably this is a slight attempt at subterfuge. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38, 5/2/2001]
A business card in the name Mamdouh M. Salim is found. This is a reference to Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, a known al-Qaeda leader. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 37, 5/1/2001]
A business card belonging to Mansour al-Kadi is found. [New Yorker, 4/21/2008] Al-Kadi is the Deputy General of the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, a suspect Saudi charity closely linked to the Saudi government. Al-Kadi will be fired in early 2004 and the entire foundation will be shut down several months later (see March 2002-September 2004). The Treasury Department will later say that Al Haramain has a role in the 1998 African embassy bombings (see Autumn 1997). [US Treasury Department, 9/9/2004]
Several business cards relating to the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO). A 1996 CIA report connected the IIRO to terrorist funding, but the IIRO will not be prosecuted due to its close ties to the Saudi government (see January 1996 and October 12, 2001). [Newsweek, 12/9/2002]
According to author Douglas Farah, the address book is “full of the names of diamond dealers and jewelers, often including the purchaser’s home phone number.” This suggests al-Qaeda could be profiting from the diamond trade in Africa. [Farah, 2004, pp. 64-65]
But Farah also will note in 2004 that many of the leads from El-Hage’s address book and other documents discovered around the same time are not fully explored. In fact, he says that “Most of El-Hage’s notebooks, written in Arabic, have still not been translated into English.” [Farah, 2004, pp. 64-65]
Entity Tags: Ihab Ali Nawawi, International Islamic Relief Organization, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, Khalid al-Fawwaz, Mamoun Darkazanli, Ghassan Dahduli, Farid Adlouni, Ali Mohamed, Essam Marzouk, Essam al Ridi, Wadih El-Hage, Salah al-Rajhi, Mansour al-Kadi, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Late 1990s: Bin Laden’s Brother-in-Law Khalifa Still in Contact with Militants
Now living in Saudi Arabia, bin Laden’s brother-in-law Mohammed Jamal Khalifa keeps in contact with charity fronts and militant groups he helped to organize. According to a Philippines police report, he maintains contact with:
Leaders of the Philippine militant groups Abu Sayyaf and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Abdul Salam Zubair, who was a key employee in the IRIC (International Relations and Information Center), a charity front used in the Bojinka plot (see Spring 1995). By this time, Zubair is working with Khalifa Trading Industries in Manila with other Khalifa associates.
The staff of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) in the Philippines. Many of its staffers, including its Philippines coordinator, are also believed to be Hamas operatives. The US will designate the chapter a terrorist financier in 2006 (see August 3, 2006).
Ibrahim Mata, the head of Islamic Studies, Call and Guidance (ISCAG), in the Philippines.
- - The Philippine chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 194]
The Benevolence International Foundation (BIF). In a post-9/11 trial in the US, US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald will allege that the Illinois office of BIF calls Khalifa in Saudi Arabia as recently as November 19, 1998. [USA v. Benevolence International Foundation and Enaam M. Arnaout, 4/29/2002, pp. 14, 21-22 ] The US will officially designate BIF a terrorism financier in 2002. Khalifa also still visits the Philippines periodically (see Late 1995-September 11, 2001).
Entity Tags: International Relations and Information Center, Benevolence International Foundation, Abu Sayyaf, Abdul Salam Zubair, Hamas, International Islamic Relief Organization, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Muslim Brotherhood, Khalifa Trading Industries, Islamic Studies, Call and Guidance, Ibrahim Mata
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
February 15, 1999: Philippine Charities Exposed for Passing Money from Bin Laden to Militant Group, But Remain in Operation
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.” [Newsweek International, 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).
Entity Tags: World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Osama bin Laden, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Abu Sayyaf, International Islamic Relief Organization, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari, Islamic Wisdom Worldwide Mission
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
November 2, 1999: Testimony Indicates IIRO and Muslim World League Are Part of Saudi Government
In a court case in Canada, Arafat El-Asahi, the Canadian director of both the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and the Muslim World League, says in sworn testimony: “The Muslim World League, which is the mother of IIRO, is a fully government funded organization. In other words, I work for the Government of Saudi Arabia. I am an employee of that government. Second, the IIRO is the relief branch of that organization which means that we are controlled in all our activities and plans by the Government of Saudi Arabia. Keep that in mind, please… I am paid by my organization which is funded by the [Saudi] government.… The [IIRO] office, like any other office in the world, here or in the Muslim World League, has to abide by the policy of the Government of Saudi Arabia. If anybody deviates from that, he would be fired.” [US Congress, Senate, Committee on Governmental Affairs, 7/31/2003; US News and World Report, 12/15/2003] There is considerable evidence that both the IIRO and the Muslim World League have repeatedly helped fund al-Qaeda. For instance, in 1993 Osama bin Laden told an associate that the Muslim World League was one of his three most important charity fronts (see 1993), and it will later be reported that just after 9/11 the US decides not to list both the Muslim World League as terrorist charity fronts in order not to embarrass the Saudi government (see October 12, 2001).
Entity Tags: International Islamic Relief Organization, Arafat El-Asahi, Muslim World League
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
July 24, 2000: French Detail Bin Laden Network, Including His Ties to Bin Laden Family and Saudi Government Charity
The French intelligence agency, the DGSE, publishes a 13-page classified report entitled “The Networks of Osama bin Laden.” According to a 2007 article, the report describes the “context, the anecdotal details, and all the strategic aspects relative to al-Qaeda” in “black and white” terms. It mentions a payment of $4.5 million from the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) to in Laden. The US will not go after the IIRO even years after 9/11 because of the organization’s close ties to the Saudi government (see October 12, 2001 and August 3, 2006). The report also doubts Osama bin Laden’s purported estrangement from the bin Laden family: “It seems more and more likely that bin Laden has maintained contacts with certain members of his family, although the family, which directs one of the largest groups of public works in the world, has officially renounced him. One of his brothers apparently plays a role as intermediary in its professional contacts or the monitoring of its business.” French officials will later claim they regularly passed on their intelligence on al-Qaeda to the CIA.