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News, documents and analysis on violent extremism

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Feds Moved Mohammed Jamal Khalifa To High-Security Jail Within Hours Of OKC Bombing

By J.M. Berger

UPDATE: Jamal Khalifa Killed: His Life-and-Death Secrets

Within hours of the Oklahoma City bombing, the federal government quietly moved Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law out of a California county jail and into administrative detention, a classification often used for "extremely dangerous" inmates.

Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, an accused al Qaeda financier, was arrested near San Francisco in December 1994 on visa-related charges. He had been detained for four months at the Santa Rita jail, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

At 7:05 p.m., Khalifa was transferred into the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons FCI Dublin, in Dublin, Calif. The facility is a low-security prison for women with a special wing for male administrative detainees.

The prison transfer was documented in a Bureau of Prisons record obtained by INTELWIRE via the Freedom of Information Act.

According to a Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman, INS detainees are often held at county jails such as Santa Rita. According to the Chronicle, Khalifa was kept in solitary confinement in a maximum security cell.

Khalifa appeared in court on April 17, where he proclaimed his innocence of terrorist activity. At that time, Khalifa filed a motion opposing an INS attempt to deport him to Jordan, where he faced indictment on charges of assisting terrorists.

"There's no evidence against our client other than baseless charges from Jordan," his attorney said at that hearing, according to the San Francisco Examiner.

Around 9 a.m. on April 19, Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb in front of the Alfred E. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. (INTELWIRE special section: al Qaeda and the Oklahoma City Bombing)

Later that morning, an al Qaeda-linked terrorist told federal authorities that his terrorist cell had a role in the Oklahoma City bombing.

After hearing a radio report on the Oklahoma bombing, Abdul Hakim Murad confessed to a prison guard at a BOP facility in New York City, according to testimony presented at Murad's trial.

At 7:05 p.m., Khalifa was transferred to FCI Dublin, in Dublin, Calif. The time zone of the log entry was not clear from the record. FCI Dublin is a low-security federal prison for women with a special administrative facility for male detainees.

According to a report available on the Prison Bureau's Web site, "Administrative facilities are institutions with special missions, such as the detention of noncitizen or pretrial offenders, the treatment of inmates with serious or chronic medical problems, or the containment of extremely dangerous, violent, or escape prone inmates."

At the time of the Oklahoma attack, the FBI already believed Murad and Khalifa were connected.

When Khalifa was arrested, the FBI searched his belongings, which included an electronic organizer and phone book, according to a search warrant obtained by INTELWIRE.

Khalifa's organizer contained a phone number used by a Philippines-based terrorist cell which included Murad and Ramzi Yousef, the convicted bomber of the World Trade Center, according to an affadavit filed in April 2002 by FBI agent Robert Walker.

The U.S. and Philippines governments have repeatedly charged that Khalifa, who is married to one of bin Laden's sisters, was a major financier for al Qaeda during the 1990s. Khalifa allegedly ran several business and charity front operations which funneled money to al Qaeda, according to both governments and various media reports.

Khalifa currently lives in Saudi Arabia, where he runs a seafood restaurant. He denies all charges of terrorist activity. (related story)

Within days of the Oklahoma City bombing, Khalifa managed cut a deal with the INS in which he agreed to be deported to Jordan, and the INS agreed to strike the charges of terrorism from his immigration record.

The deportation deal was sanctioned before the end of April, and Khalifa was deported in early May, barely two weeks after the Oklahoma City attack.

In a separate deal approved weeks earlier, the U.S. attorney agreed to return the evidence it had seized from Khalifa at the time of his arrest, according to a letter from the U.S. Attorney's office obtained by INTELWIRE.

The returned property included documents and phone book entries which were relevant to ongoing trials for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and a 1995 plot to bomb U.S. airliners over the Pacific, according to the 2002 FBI affadavit.

Khalifa's swift deportation is baffling in light of the situation at the time. Khalifa was, at the least, a material witness in two impending trials involving Yousef and other conspirators. (related story)

Furthermore, at the time the deportation deal was struck, Khalifa was -- by any measure -- a person of interest to the Oklahoma City bombing.

Khalifa, Yousef and Murad all had ties to Cebu City, where Terry Nichols had spent several months in late 1994. At the time of the deal, the investigation of Nichols had barely begun.

Nichols' ties to the Philippines were known to the public as early as April 23, when the Chicago Tribune printed a story on the connection. Khalifa's deal to be deported was cleared in open court on April 26, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Later investigation revealed that Yousef and Nichols were both on the campus of Southwestern University in Cebu during November 1994. (related story)

Murad also made phone calls to a college student in Cebu during the same period, a fact which was known to Philippines authorities months before Khalifa's deportation.

Khalifa was later tied to al Qaeda efforts to recruit Christians as converts to Islam and as potential terrorists. This recruitment effort took place in several Philippines locations including Cebu. (related story)


Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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