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Tuesday, September 7, 2004
U.S. Secretly Held Mohammed Jamal Khalifa For Four Months After Purported May 1995 Deportation
Prior To Detention, Controversial 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick Signed January Order Sending Mohammed Jamal Khalifa To Face Death Sentence In Jordan; Major Intelligence On al Qaeda Was Obtained Soon After
This story is being extensively updated and expanded and will be re-published at the earliest opportunity with significant new disclosures.
The U.S. government secretly detained Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law for four months in 1995, after the INS announced he had already been deported to Jordan, according to documents obtained by INTELWIRE using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The Jordan deportation was authorized by then-Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, at the request of Secretary of State Warren Christopher. A member of the independent commission investigating the September 11 attacks, Gorelick came under fire earlier in 2004 for possible conflicts arising from her role in the Clinton administration's war on terrorism.
Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, an alleged terrorist financier married to a sister of bin Laden, was arrested in San Francisco, Calif., in December 1994. U.S. and Philippines authorities describe Khalifa as a top al Qaeda lieutenant of the 1990s and an intimate of bin Laden. A Saudi national, Khalifa reportedly funneled money from bin Laden to help form the Abu Sayyaf Group and other Islamic separatist movements in the Philippines starting in the late 1980s.
Within a month of his arrest, the Justice Department instituted extradition proceedings to deport Khalifa to Jordan, where he had been convicted in absentia for his alleged involvement in a terrorist plot to bomb movie theaters.
According to a public statement by the INS, that deportation was completed on May 3, 1995. The deportation has been widely criticized as a failure of vision in the War on Terrorism. But newly revealed documents obtained by INTELWIRE show the case is much more complex than it seemed. (To view all the documents cited in this story, click here.)
Behind The Scenes Of The ArrestKhalifa was in the Philippines in November 1994. According to a 2002 FBI affidavit, he was in contact with a terrorist cell in Manila during that time (link to document). Led by Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the cell was plotting to bomb a dozen U.S.-bound airliners in mid-January 1995, according to trial records.
Authorities now claim that Khalifa helped fund the plot, known as Bojinka, through a network of charities and businesses he had founded in the Philippines. Khalifa has denied all these charges and says he has never been connected to terrorist activity.
Khalifa traveled to the U.S. on Dec. 1, 1994. He was arrested by the FBI and the INS on Dec. 16, shortly before his scheduled return to the Philippines. According to INS records obtained by INTELWIRE, his visa was revoked because he was wanted by Jordanian authorities for funding a series of movie theater bombings earlier that year.
According to the 2002 affidavit, a founding member of al Qaeda was arrested while traveling with Khalifa. Mohamed Loay Bayazid allegedly tried to purchase uranium for al Qaeda in the early 1990s, according to the affidavit and other court records.
Although he was arrested with Khalifa, INTELWIRE has been unable to ascertain the existence of public records which indicate what happened to Bayazid after his arrest. According to the 2002 affidavit, Bayazid was released under unclear circumstances and later fled the country.
After his arrest, Khalifa was held at the Santa Rita County Jail for several months in a high-security cell, according to the San Francisco Examiner. The detention in a local facility was consistent with INS practice at the time.
On Dec. 20, a search warrant was executed for Khalifa's baggage, according to court records obtained by INTELWIRE. An electronic organizer in his luggage contained a phone number linked to Bojinka, according to the 2002 affidavit.
That phone number was for a unit in the Dona Josefa apartment building in Manila, where a member of Yousef's terrorist cell was living. Yousef was living and building bombs in another unit at the same building. Despite the date of this discovery, U.S. and Philippines authorities maintain they had no knowledge of the Manila cell prior to January 1995.
On December 21, 1994, Khalifa was convicted and sentenced to death in absentia by the Jordanian government on charges of aiding terrorist activity. The next day, the ambassador of Jordan requested that Khalifa be extradited, according to an official copy of his letter, obtained by INTELWIRE.
On January 5, 1995, Secretary of State Warren Christopher sent a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, formally requesting that Khalifa be deported specifically to Jordan. The letter came nearly three weeks after deportation proceedings had already begun.
The next day, Gorelick sent a letter to the Office of the Immigration Judge which stated that she was aware deportation proceedings were underway and stipulates that Khalifa should not be deported to any country except Jordan. The letter was obtained by INTELWIRE under FOIA (link to document).
Bojinka Busted; Khalifa Cuts A DealThe very same day that Gorelick signed the order to deport Khalifa to Jordan, a virtual death sentence for the detainee, Philippines police raided Ramzi Yousef's apartment at the Dona Josefa.
Police and trial records indicate the raid came on Jan. 6, 1995, after an accidental fire in the apartment sent smoke billowing out the window of the unit. However, the documents uncovered by INTELWIRE indicate that U.S. authorities were in possession of information linking Khalifa to the Dona Josefa by late December 1994.
During the Bojinka trial, Yousef (who represented himself) claimed there had been no fire, and he explicitly argued during his closing remarks that the police had planned the raid in advance.
"You have two more witnesses from the Philippine National Police, who their testimonies both combined would show that all the events of January 6, 1995, are all made up by the Philippine National Police, and would prove, would certainly prove that the Philippine National Police prepared well in advance for the alleged events in room number 603," Yousef said. (It should be noted that Yousef made several claims during the trial and closing remarks, some of which were demonstrably false and all of which were self-serving.)
As Khalifa's deportation moved forward slowly, the Philippines government sent intelligence reports to U.S. law enforcement officials tying Khalifa to Yousef's Bojinka cell. These reports, obtained by INTELWIRE, include extensive information on Khalifa's alleged activities in the Philippines.
While Khalifa was still in custody, two suspects were arrested in the Bojinka case, Yousef and Abdul Hakim Murad. Yousef was also wanted for his role in bombing the World Trade Center in 1993.
Both men were questioned about their ties to Khalifa within hours of being taken into U.S. custody, according to documents obtained by investigative journalist Peter Lance for his book, "1000 Years for Revenge."
During the spring of 1995, the U.S. developed its first direct intelligence on Osama bin Laden. A joint congressional inquiry into the 9/11 attack said that some time between March and May "[ redacted ] provides most significant reporting on UBL to date."
Based on the 2002 affidavit and numerous other sources, both Khalifa and Bayazid would have been able to provide significant intelligence on bin Laden, although there were several other suspects in the U.S. with similar information. INTELWIRE has found no documentation that indicates the source of the reporting.
However, on March 27, the Justice Department agreed without objection to return the belongings seized from Khalifa's luggage, closing out a civil lawsuit filed by Khalifa, according to court records obtained by INTELWIRE.
In early April, Jordan overturned Khalifa's in absentia conviction. (There is some ambiguity about the date this occurred, but it had been accomplished by April.)
On April 18, 1995, Khalifa appeared in immigration court and argued against deportation, according to reports in the San Francisco Chronicle. His attorney promised "long term litigation" to prevent the deportation from proceeding.
Long-Term Turns Into Short-TermOne day after this court appearance, the Alfred E. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City was destroyed by a terrorist truck bomb attack. The method of attack was extremely similar to that used by Yousef in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Hours after the explosion took place, Murad informed a prison guard that Yousef's terrorist cell was responsible for the attack, according to court records and FBI interrogation reports obtained by Peter Lance.
A few hours after Murad's claim of responsibility, Khalifa was moved from a county jail to a high-security federal prison in California (FCI Dublin), according to a Bureau of Prisons inmate data record obtained by INTELWIRE under FOIA. (link to document)
Timothy McVeigh was picked up the same day on a traffic violation. On April 21, Terry Nichols surrendered to police. His Philippines ties were immediately discovered, as detailed in an FBI "302" interrogation record dated April 21.
Khalifa, Yousef and Murad all had documented contacts in the town where Nichols stayed during a visit to the Philippines from November 22, 1994, to January 16, 1995 (related story, related story).
Not all of these details may have been clear to U.S. authorities at the time, but the FBI possessed a substantial amount of evidence that would have made Khalifa an important witness (at the least) in the Bojinka case, the second World Trade Center trial and possibly the Oklahoma City bombing as well.
Although subsequent investigations have yet to demonstrate a concrete link between the Manila cell and the Oklahoma City bombing, the investigation had barely begun by the time Khalifa returned to immigration court -- and at least two investigative leads linking back to Khalifa were already on the table.
On April 26, 1995, Khalifa appeared in court again, reversing his previous position and requesting that he be immediately deported to Jordan. In exchange for his cooperation, the INS agreed to strike any allegations of terrorism from his U.S. record, according to newspaper accounts of the proceedings.
On May 5, 1995, UPI published the following report:
The Immigration and Naturalization Service has deported a Saudi Arabian national to Jordan, where he has been convicted in absentia of bankrolling terrorist attacks on public theaters, officials confirmed Friday.
In Reality, Khalifa Remained In U.S. Custody Until AugustThe Bureau of Prisons document obtained by INTELWIRE appears to refute the INS statement that Khalifa had been turned over to Jordan. (The exact wording of the INS statement was not available at the time of this posting.)
The BOP document contains an entry for May 3, 1995, indicating that Khalifa had been transferred to an "in-transit facility." According to a BOP document obtained from the agency's Web site, " 'IN TRANSIT' means the inmate has been moved from a BOP facility, and may or may not be returned."
The facility to which Khalifa was transferred was designated "4-I." When contacted, two BOP spokespersons confirmed that the designation indicates Khalifa was being held in custody by another agency of the U.S. government, but neither source would disclose the identity of that agency. Both spokespersons said the meaning of the 4-I designation was "not public information." There is no indication of whether the detention was voluntary or involuntary.
Khalifa was detained with "4-I" status until August 31, 1995, at which point his status was changed to "P95" after an action designated "release." Both BOP spokespersons refused to disclose the meaning of the P95 designation, but one of them indicated that the final two entries on the inmate data record appear to indicate Khalifa's transfer to the custody of a foreign government.
Both spokespersons concurred that the form indicates Khalifa remained in U.S. custody until Aug. 31, 1995. A followup FOIA request for the meaning of the 4-I and P95 facility codes had not received a response at the time of this posting.
9/11 Commission QuestionsAfter his return to Jordan, Khalifa was cleared of all charges after a witness in the movie theater bombings recanted his previous testimony. Khalifa was freed and lives freely in Saudi Arabia today, where he runs a seafood restaurant in Jeddah, according to media reports. In media reports and civil court filings as recent as 2004, Khalifa has denied ever having any ties to terrorist activity.
The new documents obtained by INTELWIRE raise several question about exactly what happened in the Khalifa case, including why he was deported instead of being prosecuted in the U.S., why the evidence seized from his belongings was returned to him, which government agency detained him between May and August 1995, and why he was detained.
The quick deportation agreement (struck only a week after the Oklahoma City bombing) is also noteworthy, given that the federal investigation into Terry Nichols' Philippines ties had barely begun and that a suspected accomplice of Khalifa had already professed to having a role in the bombing.
Furthermore, Khalifa's alleged links to Yousef (who had two major trials ahead of him) were no secret at the time he was deported. Newspaper reports from 1995 about Khalifa's extradition proceedings cited suspicions about such ties, in addition to the links cited above.
The revelation that Khalifa was secretly held in U.S. custody for four more months further elevates the importance of the case. The handling of Khalifa's deportation is one of the most prominent issues in the early 1990s investigation into Osama bin Laden, Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
Gorelick's role in signing the Jordan deportation letter may have been a routine administrative task, but it raises questions that cannot be answered until the full facts of the case are known. The document does not suggest that Gorelick was responsible for initiating Khalifa's deportation proceedings. The deportation was formally requested by Secretary of State Warren Christopher one day earlier, in a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno obtained by INTELWIRE.
Gorelick came under fire in 2004 for potential conflicts of interest in her role as a independent commissioner investigating the 9/11 attacks, when Attorney General John Ashcroft declassified a terrorism policy memo she had authored.
Gorelick was not the only figure on the 9/11 commission tied to the case.
Deitrich Snell, the commission's senior counsel, prosecuted Yousef and Murad in 1996 for the Bojinka plot. Khalifa's links to Yousef were kept obscure during the Bojinka trial. Phone calls between Khalifa's mobile phone and the Bojinka conspirators were mentioned during the trial, but attributed to a "Mr. Jamal." Khalifa's full name was never mentioned, unless in sections of the transcript which were sealed under a court order.
The trial also deleted virtually every mention of September 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was deeply involved in the Bojinka plot. The only citation of KSM during the trial came when a letter on Yousef's laptop was read aloud. No context for the name was provided during the trial, with the possible exception of sealed deliberations. Partly as a result of that omission, KSM remained virtually unknown in the West until after the September 11 attack, which he reportedly devised and supervised.
Civil court records cited in the report include Khalifah vs. USA (CV-95-15 MISC. MHP), Northern District of California.
Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.
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