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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Declassified State Department Cables On Al Qaeda-Linked Cell in California

State Department cables obtained by INTELWIRE describe Ayman Al Zawahiri's trip to California in 1995 and the activities of an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist cell in Northern California.

The general outline of the cell's activities has been previously reported in newspapers and in Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam.

The documents, obtained from the State Department under the Freedom of Information Act, detail the trial of a group of Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operatives captured in Egypt and Albania, with the latter being deported to Egypt. Because of this, the trial became known as the "Returnees from Albania" case. One of those tried in the case was Khaled Abu El Dahab, a naturalized U.S. citizen who lived in California with the notorious Al Qaeda infiltrator Ali Mohamed. Dahab was arrested in Egypt.

Click here to read the full documents

According to the cables:
Zawahiri [who was at the time emir of Egyptian Islamic Jihad] visited the U.S. in early 1995 using a forged passport, primarily to collect contributions from Islamist circles. Abu ad-Dahhab placed Zawahiri at the Al-Nur mosque in Santa Clara, California. Three American citizens of Egyptian extraction who, per Abu ad-Dahhab, helped Zawahiri' s 1995 visit were Ali Abu al-Sa'ud Mustafa [Ali Mohamed] and two brothers, Ali and Hassan Zaki, all living in the San Franscisco area. Mustafa had served in the U.S. army for several years. [Egyptian newspaper] Al-Hayat of February 11 adds that Egyptian authorities may ask the U.S. to render Mustafa for trial in the "returnees" case, primarily for his EIJ fundraising. Mustafa apparently told Abu ad-Dahhab that the money that Mustafa had raised was used to plan the 1995 bomb attack on the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan. Mustafa is also wanted for helping to train EIJ operatives in bomb-making techniques, per Al-Hayat.
Mohamed and Zawahiri were convicted in absentia during the trial, however Mohamed was by this point under indictment in New York for his role in the 1998 East African Embassy bombings. Dahab was convicted and sentenced to prison. His current status is unknown, although according to some accounts he died in prison.

Although the cell was initially organized under the banner of EIJ, testimony from both Mohamed and Dahab, as well as other witnesses, indicated that both men took orders directly from Osama bin Laden at times, and both took part in highly sensitive Al Qaeda activities, including communications, security and the planning of terrorist attacks. For most meaningful purposes, the cell is considered an Al Qaeda operation.

Also convicted in absentia during the "Returnees" trial was Mohammed Al Islambouli, the brother of Sadat assassin Khaled Al Islambouli, who recently returned to Egypt after the fall of Mubarak and was promptly arrested. The cables state that "some observers [in Cairo] believe Muhammad Islambouli is connected with the EIJ defendants through setting up terrorist training camps in the Balkans."

If you see any interesting tidbits in this material not covered here, feel free to discuss them with me on Twitter.

For more about American jihadists, check out J.M. Berger's new book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, on sale everywhere.

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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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