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Thursday, April 7, 2011
State Department Put 'Political Pressure' On FBI To Deport Brother-in-Law Of Osama Bin Laden In 1995
"Pressure from the political portion of the State Department" contributed to the end of a 1995 FBI investigation into Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, who the FBI believed was a terrorist financier, according to a newly released document.
Read the document
The FBI teletype was written on May 11, 1995, just days after Khalifa was deported to Jordan after five months in U.S. custody.
Khalifa, a brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden, was arrested in December 1994 by the INS after his visa was revoked. The revocation was predicated on terrorism charges filed against Khalifa in Jordan.
Khalifa was subsequently acquitted of those charges. He steadfastly denied any connection to terrorism until his murder in Madagascar in 2007.
Shortly after Khalifa's arrest during a business trip to San Francisco in December 1994, authorities in Manila broke up a terrorist cell led by World Trade Center bombing mastermind Ramzi Yousef, who had been planning to simultaneously bomb 11 U.S.-bound airliners over the Pacific. Assisting him in this plot was Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, future mastermind of the September 11 attacks.
Wali Khan Amin Shah, an associate of Yousef implicated in the airliner plot, was in contact with Khalifa during his U.S. trip. The FBI and CIA believed Khalifa also had direct contact with Ramzi Yousef, according to sources and documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The FBI also believed Khalifa was connected to Omar Abdel Rahman, the radical sheikh whose followers in New York had helped carry out the World Trade Center bombing.
After spending some months fighting deportation to Jordan, where he was expected to stand trial for an alleged role in a series of cinema bombings, Khalifa agreed to be deported at the end of April 1995, shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing.
According to the FBI teletype, Khalifa was thought to have agreed to the deportation "his retrial in Jordan will result in his quick acquittal."
"Khalifah's deportation to Jordan, although conforming to the express intent of the U.S. Secretary of State, likely will not result in Khalifah receiving any punishment for his criminal and terrorist activities, and will more likely lead to his quick acquittal and departure from Jordan," the teletype stated.
The FBI had petitioned the State Department to delay the deportation in order to allow more time for investigation.
At the same time, the CIA had informed State that deporting Khalifa would likely result in him being freed, according to CIA analyst Michael Scheuer, who worked on the Khalifa investigation at the time and afterward.
"When it got to the State Department, all the State Department wanted to do was get it off our plate," Scheuer said.
Even the State Department's own embassy in Amman warned that deporting Khalifa would likely result in his release, according to cables obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
"Embassy continues to believe that Khalifah will be acquitted if tried in Jordan," read the last of these warnings, sent the same day that Khalifa was extradited.
In addition to information from the embassy, the FBI has sent a team to Jordan to liase with officials there. Jordanian officials expressed "indifference" about prosecuting Khalifa there and suggested the U.S. should consider its options for criminal charges, the May 11, FBI teletype states.
"[Prosecutors in] the Southern District of New York and the New York [FBI] office attempted, in every way, to have visa fraud charges presented against Khalifah in the Northern District of California," the teletype stated. "The pressure from the political portion of the State Department, as well as the problems that were evident in the case, assured that DOJ did not insist on a prosecution in California." The teletype does not state what the "evident" problems were, nor do other documents obtained by INTELWIRE make those problems clear.
"It is unfortunate that the time needed to possibly tie Khalifah to [name redacted, likely Ramzi Yousef] and to develop more serious terrorism charges on Khalifa could not be accomplished while Khalifah was in U.S. custody," the telegraph concludes, noting that a grand jury investigation against Khalifa had nevertheless been initiated.
The ongoing FBI investigation was later closed due to the unlikelihood of Khalifa ever returning to the U.S., according to other records.
Previously on INTELWIRE:
U.S., Interpol Tracked Khalifa In Days Before Madagascar Murder
Mohammed Jamal Khalifa: Life and Death Secrets
Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.
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ISIS: THE STATE
Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger co-author the forthcoming book, "ISIS: The State of Terror," from Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins. The book, which will debut in early 2015, will examine the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, its potential fall, how it is transforming the nature of extremist movements, and how we should evaluate the threat it presents. Jessica Stern is a Harvard lecturer on terrorism and the author of the seminal text Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. J.M. Berger is author of the definitive book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy, and editor of Intelwire.com.