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Saturday, January 15, 2011
 

Embassy Bombing Documents Offer Window Into Al Qaeda Operations

A flood of new details concerning Al Qaeda's operations in Afghanistan and Somalia during the 1990s were revealed Friday, when prosecutors unveiled a series of previously secret documents in the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Guantanamo detainee convicted of conspiracy in Al Qaeda's bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The documents, meant to support the maximum sentence for Ghailani, contain detailed transcripts of three interrogations:

  • A 1999 Justice Department interrogation of Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, in South Africa, where he had been detained by immigration officials. Mohamed was later convicted for his role in the embassy bombings. Interrogation of Khalfan Mohamed, Oct. 9, 1999 (PDF)
  • A 1998 Justice Department interrogation of Mohamed Sadiq Odeh, another convicted operative in the embassy bombings. Interrogation of Mohammed Odeh, Aug. 31, 1998 (PDF)
  • A summary of a Justice Department interrogation of Ghailani after he was captured and imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. The summary is dated December 2008. Interrogation of Ahmed Ghailani, Dec. 12, 2008 (PDF)

    Some of the more interesting details found in these interrogations include substantial information about Al Qaeda's operations in Somalia, more broadly in Africa and in Afghanistan. Some of the material below has been previously reported. These items only scratch the surface of the information contained in these documents, which includes a great deal of data on the logistics of the embassy bombings. Readers are encouraged to review the documents and discuss them with me on Twitter.

  • Odeh was ordered to Somalia by Saif Al Adel, one of the most senior surviving members of Al Qaeda still active in the organization and one of the most important figures in Al Qaeda's Somalia operations. The orders originated with Osama bin Laden. Al Qaeda focused on one tribe, the Um Rehan, which was most ideologically compatible. (Much of this information came out during the first embassy bombings trial.)
  • Khalfan Mohamed went to Somalia twice in 1997 on behalf of Al Qaeda. He helped train members of Al Ittihad, a Somali Islamic group led by Hassan Dahir Aweys, who later helped found the Islamic Courts Union and is now a member of Al Shabab. Odeh also reported interacting with Al Ittihad.
  • According to Odeh, "Sheikh Hassan" (possibly Aweys) asked Al Qaeda's military commander, Mohammed Atef, aka Abu Hafs, for help. Atef brought five Al Qaeda trainers to Somalia and temporarily took over the operation from Saif Al Adel. Odeh reported that his group exchanged fire with UN officials during this period.
  • In June or July of 1998, a few months after bin Laden issued a fatwa declaring war on America, Sheikh Hassan from Somalia requested a meeting with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. It was not clear if the meeting ever took place, given the close proximity of the request to the embassy bombings.
  • A number of Al Qaeda members questioned the fatwa against America, worrying that Al Qaeda had become isolated from its former allies by 1998, but their loyalty to bin Laden outweighed their objections.
  • Odeh explained that Al Qaeda's core membership was small (he put the number at 150), but that the "friends of Al Qaeda" worked in close tandem with the organization without being sworn members.
  • During interrogation, Ghailani described meeting or interacting with a number of key players in the September 11 attacks, including several hijackers, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ramzi Binalshibh and Zacarias Moussoui. The information here is mostly incidental, interesting but not necessarily significant.

    New information about American Al Qaeda members also emerged in the transcripts.

  • A previously undocumented American jihadist, "Sulieman America [sic]," described by Khalfan Mohamed as a being tall and thin with curly brown hair and a medium complexion. The name is probably correctly transcribed as Suleiman Al Amriki. Suleiman attended basic training at Al Qaeda's Markaz Fath training camp in Afghanistan, then later received advanced training in the assembly of improvised explosives. Suleiman left the camp in 1995.
  • Abu Suleiman is one alias used by Ihab Ali, an Egyptian and naturalized U.S. citizen who lived in Florida and worked with Wadih El Hage and Ali Mohamed, two of the most American U.S. Al Qaeda members. It's not clear if this Abu Suleiman was Ihab Ali. Ali is in U.S. custody under unclear circumstances, much like Ali Mohamed, who pleaded guilty under a plea deal but was never sentenced.
  • Odeh reported that American citizen Al Qaeda member Wadih El Hage was visited by an Egyptian named "Nawi" who also lived in America. That person is almost certainly Ihab Ali, who also used the alias Nawawi. Odeh said Nawi was responsible for facilitating travel for Al Qaeda members. In an intriguing aside, Odeh said Nawi "was once jailed in Peshawar but was taken out of jail by an American."
  • Odeh also mentioned two American Al Qaeda trainers, "Abu Osama" and "Abdul Malek." From the aliases and descriptions, it's clear he is referring to known Al Qaeda members Ali Mohamed and Christopher Paul.

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