NOTE: There are a variety of spellings on his name. Here are some examples:
1. Ayman Zawahri
2. Ayman el-Zawahri
3. Ayman al-Zawahri
6. Ayman Zawahiri
7. Ayman el-Zawahiri
8. Ayman al-Zawahiri
There are more, but you get the idea. Pain in the butt.
The Infiltrator: Ali Mohamed Served In The U.S. Army And Bin Laden's Circle
The Wall Street Journal
By Peter Waldman
November 27, 2001
The first clue came back in 1989, in a field outside New York City.
There, within view of a secret Federal Bureau of Investigation surveillance camera, stood five Arab men taking target practice at a rifle range. At the time, the FBI wrote them off as harmless zealots, fired up to help the mujahedeen fighting the Soviet puppet government in Afghanistan.
What the FBI didn't know was that the young Arabs had a special coach: a United States Army sergeant from Fort Bragg, N.C., named Ali Mohamed, who had been giving them paramilitary training in a nearby New Jersey apartment. And one other thing the agents didn't know, until much later: Mr. Mohamed was a longtime member of a radical Islamic militant group banned in Egypt for assassinating President Anwar Sadat.
In retrospect, it is now clear that the FBI had stumbled onto a deadly serious terrorist organization on U.S. soil, one that would eventually be absorbed by Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network. All five of the target shooters were later convicted on conspiracy charges related to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and its aftermath. And the mysterious Mr. Mohamed would appear over and over again, Zelig-like, as al Qaeda grew into a genuine threat to American national security.
The sergeant's saga, like the evolution of the broader terrorist threat to America, is the story of intermittent successes, missed clues and bungled opportunities. The FBI used Mr. Mohamed as an informant at times, extracting from him its first known comprehensive briefing on al Qaeda all the way back in 1993. Yet United States authorities never were sure how much to trust him and were nearly always a step behind Mr. bin Laden. They spent too much time looking for a state sponsor for terrorism when the network had become stateless. They fixated on threats to United States installations overseas. And they treated investigations as criminal matters, with all the attendant legal restraints, rather than national-security issues. The enormity of these lapses would only become clear in tragic hindsight, after Sept. 11.
An FBI spokesman in Washington declines to comment on Mr. Mohamed. Some investigators say privately that their hands were tied by Justice Department rules that forced them to restrict surveillance to a limited list of known terrorist or radical groups. Constitutional protections of religious activity made the bureau especially careful not to target any religious organizations without compelling evidence of wrongdoing.
"Remember, this was long before Sept. 11. We couldn't investigate groups not on the label list, especially groups with religious ties," says a former FBI agent. "We had to steer clear of the mosques."
Mr. Mohamed's attorney also declines to comment. Much of what is known about the former Egyptian military man comes from legal filings at the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where Mr. Mohamed pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to blow up United States embassies and other installations in East Africa.
Ali Abdelsoud Mohamed, also known within al Qaeda as Abu Mohamed al Amriki, is Egyptian by birth and, it now seems clear, an adventurer at heart. Born in Alexandria in 1952, Mr. Mohamed followed his father's lead into the Egyptian military, rising to the rank of major in Egypt's special forces. A skilled linguist, he often protected Egyptian diplomats overseas, and participated in joint training with American forces in Egypt and the U.S.
While still in the army, Mr. Mohamed secretly joined Egypt's Islamic Jihad extremist movement, the group that assassinated President Sadat in 1981, according to his guilty plea in the embassy bombing case. He was cashiered from Egypt's military in 1984, on suspicion that he had become too religious, says Nabil Sharef, a former Egyptian intelligence officer and now a university professor.
The next year, Mr. Mohamed obtained a visa to visit the United States On a trans-Atlantic flight, he met an American woman, married her, became a United States citizen and settled for a time in California's Silicon Valley.
In 1986, Mr. Mohamed parlayed his old United States Army ties into a spot as an Army supply sergeant and occasional lecturer on Mideast culture at the United States Army's special-warfare school in Fort Bragg, a place where he'd studied earlier as an Egyptian officer. His role there came at a time when the United States military was eager to learn more about the Islamic world. Little is publicly known about his stint there, which lasted until 1989. An Army spokesman declined to comment and people who knew him there weren't given permission to speak.
His new friends back home in California took for granted that Mr. Mohamed was helping the Central Intelligence Agency in its proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. At the time, the anti-Soviet jihad was a worldwide cause among Muslims. "Everyone in the community knew he was working as a liaison between the CIA and the Afghan cause, and everyone was sympathetic," says Ali Zaki, a San Jose, Calif., obstetrician who was close to Mr. Mohamed and his American wife, a medical technician named Linda Sanchez. The CIA declines to comment.
Nor were Muslims in California surprised when Mr. Mohamed showed up there with Egyptian Islamic Jihad leader Ayman Zawahri on a fund-raising tour in the early 1990s, says Dr. Zaki, who co-hosted Dr. Zawahri on the trip. Dr. Zawahri, an Egyptian surgeon and now al Qaeda's No. 2 leader, has been known for years as one of secular Egypt's most-wanted foes.
Dr. Zaki says he didn't know Dr. Zawahri's real identity when he visited California. Mr. Mohamed had described him as "a physician who was taking care of over one million people in Afghanistan," Dr. Zaki says. "I was asked to escort him while he did fund raising for the Kuwaiti Red Crescent. Was that a crime?"
In 1990, clues emerged that Mr. Mohamed had a secret life. That year, Rabbi Meir Kahane, an extremist who preached hatred of Arabs, was assassinated in a New York City hotel. After the murder, police arrested El Sayyid Nosair, another Egyptian immigrant, and charged him with the killing. They also seized several boxes of personal notes, pamphlets, books and audio and video cassettes from Mr. Nosair's apartment.
Those boxes contained early inklings of the network that was taking shape. There were speeches by a fiery blind imam in Egypt, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, glorifying attacks on the "enemies" of Islam. There were notes on destroying "the pillars of their civilization such as ... their tall buildings." There were tape-recorded phone conversations of Mr. Nosair reporting to Sheik Omar about the group's paramilitary training, even bomb-making manuals.
And there, among the materials, were training manuals and classified Army documents from Fort Bragg, some of them in Arabic translation, that had come from Mr. Mohamed, the FBI would later learn.
But the materials in Mr. Nosair's boxes weren't fully processed and translated. Instead, New York prosecutors presented their case against Mr. Nosair with forensic evidence and some 20 eyewitnesses to the Kahane murder. The political dimensions of the case lodged in the Nosair boxes carted off by the FBI were largely ignored.
Had officials looked more closely, they would have found an early and startling chain of relationships: Mr. Nosair was part of a local group inspired by Sheik Omar and determined to wage jihad against the United States. The group was closely connected to the al Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn, an office that originally was set up to help the anti-Soviet mujahedeen but was turning into an al Qaeda front.
And they would have found that Mr. Mohamed was part of the group. Instead, Mr. Mohamed was free to begin his odyssey into the heart of al Qaeda. In 1991, he told a New York federal court years later, a request came into the Brooklyn al Kifah office: Could he travel to Sudan to help Mr. bin Laden set up his base of operations there? He went. A year later, he was off to Afghanistan to help train al Qaeda operatives in intelligence, military and explosives methods.
Then, a new and much more frightening terror strike finally prompted investigators to dive back into Mr. Nosair's boxes of information. At 12:17 p.m. on Feb. 26, 1993, a truck bomb exploded on the B-2 level of the World Trade Center parking garage. New York's tallest buildings had been hit for the first time. Six people died.
A handful of men were arrested and ultimately convicted in the bombing. Along the way, investigators discovered that some of the plotters had a relationship with Mr. Nosair, and they went back to look at his personal possessions. There, they finally saw the link to Mr. Mohamed. And they began to see they were dealing with a network of would-be terrorists, all seemingly inspired by Sheik Omar, not a couple of stray car bombers.
And as federal investigators were about to discover, they were terrorists intent on striking again. In May 1993, three months after the bombing, Sheik Omar was speaking with one of his disciples at his Jersey City, N.J., apartment when the man asked whether it would be acceptable in Islam to bomb the FBI's Manhattan headquarters.
"Slow down; slow down a little bit," the sheik cautioned, whispering for fear the FBI was bugging his apartment which it was. "The one who killed Kennedy was trained for three years." It was never made clear in later court testimony which assassination the sheik was talking about.
The plotters didn't listen, and instead pushed ahead with plans to bomb the FBI, the United Nations and other New York-area landmarks. Their "conspiracy to wage a war of urban terrorism," as prosecutors called the plot, was broken weeks later by an FBI informant and led to long prison sentences. Ultimately, 16 men were convicted in the World Trade Center bombing and the related conspiracy cases, including Sheik Omar and the five Arabs observed during their 1989 target practice.
But the full lesson of that first Trade Center attack didn't really sink in. The profile of the terrorists that emerged from the conspiracy case shaped a misleading stereotype for years to come: conspicuous hotheads, young immigrant men from the poorest and most radicalized Arab countries, clustered around a fire-breathing preacher at an established mosque.
Partly because of their effort to find the elusive "state sponsor" of terrorism, and partly because they treated the investigation as a relatively straightforward criminal matter, investigators overlooked the fact that a much more sophisticated network was taking shape. The bombers' paramilitary trainer, Mr. Mohamed, was highly educated, having earned two bachelor's degrees and a master's degree at the University of Alexandria in Egypt. Ramzi Yousef, the calculating mastermind of the bombing, was found in Pakistan in a house paid for by the bin Laden network. It turned out that he was closely associated with a Saudi Arabian businessman named Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, who happens to be Mr. bin Laden's brother-in-law.
At about the same time, the elusive Mr. Mohamed popped up again on the FBI radar screen with information that underscored the emerging bin Laden threat. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police questioned Mr. Mohamed in the spring of 1993 after his identification was discovered on another Arab man trying to enter the United States from Vancouver a man Mr. Mohamed identified as someone who had helped him move Mr. bin Laden to Sudan. The FBI located Mr. Mohamed near San Francisco in 1993, where he volunteered the earliest insider description of al Qaeda that is publicly known.
In his chat with the FBI, court documents in the embassy bombings case show, Mr. Mohamed said Mr. bin Laden was running a group called al Qaeda "and was building an army" that might be used to overthrow the government of Saudi Arabia. He also told the bureau he had trained terrorists at Mr. bin Laden's military camps in Sudan and Afghanistan.
Yet even though that interview occurred after the World Trade Center blast, and after Mr. Mohamed's United States training manuals already had been found in Mr. Nosair's possession, Mr. Mohamed was let go without further investigation. Investigators on the case say the FBI was flummoxed by its first al Qaeda insider. For one thing, Mr. Mohamed once flunked a lie-detector test administered by the United States government, says one investigator. Details of that test couldn't be learned. Later, Mr. Mohamed told the FBI things that turned out to be incomplete and untrue, adds the investigator.
"We always took him seriously," this investigator says. "It's just he only gave us 25 percent of what was out there."
Soon enough, Mr. Mohamed skipped off to Africa, on what turned out to be a deadly bin Laden mission. As he later admitted in court documents, Mr. bin Laden asked him in 1993 to go to Africa to conduct surveillance of American, British, French and Israeli targets in Nairobi.
"I took pictures, drew diagrams and wrote a report," he testified. He took his research to Sudan, where Mr. bin Laden then had his headquarters. The terrorist leader "looked at the picture of the American embassy and pointed to where a truck could go as a suicide bomber," Mr. Mohamed said.
A plot to blow up American embassies in Africa, which would mark a turn by al Qaeda to far more sophisticated operations, was well under way. By 1993, al Qaeda had established a cell of operations in Kenya. Much as the Sept. 11 hijackers moved in and out of the United States for a couple of years, the embassy bombers moved in and out in waves, some conducting surveillance of the embassy, others making preliminary targeting decisions, and still others bringing in supplies to prepare for the attack. The same African cell planned the attack on the U.S. embassy in Tanzania.
Even as those plots were falling into place, the FBI was continuing to talk to Mr. Mohamed never, apparently, getting a full picture. When prosecutors in the Trade Center conspiracy trial wanted to speak with him, agents, working through an intermediary, tracked him to a safe house in Nairobi. He told authorities he had taken a job in the scuba-diving business failing to mention his involvement in the surveillance of al Qaeda targets.
Two years later, at an interview in October 1997, he gave agents a detailed account of how he trained Mr. bin Laden's bodyguards and how al Qaeda operatives in Somalia helped attack United States troops in the early 1990s, causing American deaths, according to court papers.
He said he had trained people in "war zones, and ... war zones can be anywhere." He also told the FBI that one did not need a fatwa, or a ruling from an Islamic religious leader, "to go against the U.S, since it was `obvious' that the U.S. was the enemy," court papers say.
Still, the United States investigators didn't get wind of the African embassy plot, despite Mr. Mohamed's role in it. Finally, in nearly simultaneous attacks on Aug. 7, 1998, the terrorists exploded truck bombs at the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Following those bombings eight years after Mr. Mohamed's United States Army documents were discovered with Mr. Nosair and five years after he told FBI agents about his involvement with al Queda the United States moved to pull him in.
For the first time, federal agents searched Mr. Mohamed's home, then in Sacramento, Calif. They did so with a warrant from a special judge under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, issued after the embassy bombings.
In a telephone interview with the FBI the day after those bombings, Mr. Mohamed said he knew the perpetrators but wouldn't disclose them to the FBI. Among the documents seized by the FBI at Mr. Mohamed's home were training manuals for terrorists, describing surveillance and assassination techniques and methods for structuring terror groups into cells.
Also found were instructions on where to plant bombs to blow up buildings and how to encode messages for secrecy. A week later, prosecutors subpoenaed Mr. Mohamed to testify before a federal grand jury investigating al Queda in New York. Afterward, he was taken into custody.
"For five years he was moving back and forth between the U.S. and Afghanistan. It's impossible the CIA thought he was going there as a tourist," says Egypt's Mr. Sharef. "If the CIA hadn't caught on to him, it should be dissolved and its budget used for something worthwhile."
By 2001, the United States had an intense focus on Mr. bin Laden and a growing pile of intelligence on him and his operatives. But some officials were laboring under a misimpression of what his strategy was, while his operations had become more sophisticated and his agents more seasoned. Because the most spectacular bin Laden attacks had come overseas, many law-enforcement officials argued that the next big attack would be there, against a "soft" American target easier to reach than those on United States soil.
It also appears now that an active al Qaeda program of disinformation may have been launched to throw the U.S. off the track of the next terror attack. For the past two years, officials say, two or three false tips of coming terror attacks have come in most months, most of them predicting attacks on overseas targets. All had to be checked out; all kept United States officials rushing down false trails. Some United States officials now think it was no coincidence.
Perhaps as important, the United States hadn't fully absorbed the deeper lesson of Mr. Mohamed: that it was possible for bin Laden associates to roam about the United States for years at a time, fooling even the FBI when its agents encountered them.
Finally, early last August, a secret memorandum began circulating at CIA headquarters just outside Washington. Its warning was simple: Mr. bin Laden appears determined to launch a terrorist attack not abroad but inside the United States. But the warning wasn't detailed enough to stop the terrorism it predicted.
Meanwhile, Ali Mohamed, the first and probably best-placed al Qaeda informant the United States ever had, was sitting in a federal prison cell, awaiting word of his sentence and no longer a potential source of information on what lurked up Mr. bin Laden's sleeve.
FBIs All Points Bulletins
Al-Zawahiri solicited funds under the guise of refugee relief
According to accounts of the confession, Dahab said that in 1995, he and Mohamed had brought al-Zawahiri into the United States. The terrorist leader traveled under the alias of Abd-al-Mu'izz, using a forged passport that Mohamed had obtained.
Dahab and Mohamed introduced al-Mu'izz to leaders of the An-Noor mosque in Santa Clara. Duran, the terrorism expert, has written that parishioners there were cool to the fund-raising pitch. Omar Ahmad, spokesman for the mosque, said that he couldn't find anyone there who remembered al-Zawahiri's visit and that Dahab's account had come as a surprise to mosque members.
The terrorist spent weeks in the country, Dahab said, and raised far more money at other mosques in Northern California, Texas and New York: hundreds of thousands, Dahab told authorities.
According to accounts of his confession, Dahab said al-Zawahiri had used money raised on the tour to pay for the bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad.
Discrepancies exist regarding the timing and number of al-Zawahiri's U.S. visits. According to Arab press accounts and terrorism experts familiar with the case, Dahab's confession describes a single U.S. visit in 1995. Sources who were interviewed by the FBI say the agents were convinced the visit occurred that year. In court, Mohamed said he twice had brought al-Zawahiri here in the 1990s, but didn't specify dates.
But the 1995 visit was heatedly denied by another person Dahab identified as facilitating al-Zawahiri's visit -- Zaki, the South Bay physician and civic leader.
In accounts of the confession, Dahab said that Zaki and his brother, a New York pharmacist, had accompanied al-Zawahiri on his 1995 fund-raising tour. Dahab also said Zaki had paid for shipping the hang-glider to Afghanistan.
In an interview, Zaki said he knew of only one U.S. visit by al-Zawahiri -- in 1989 or 1990, at a time when the Afghan struggle against the Soviets was either still under way or only recently over. The United States had strongly backed the Afghan freedom fighters, he pointed out.
Zaki said he had been introduced to "Dr. Mu'izz," al-Zawahiri's fake name, by Mohamed and Dahab, whom Zaki said he knew because both worshipped at the same mosque. He provided limited help for what he believed was a charitable cause, he said.
"I have been investigated by the FBI, and I testified before the grand jury for the bin Laden case, and I explained to them, (al-Zawahiri) might have been (here) in the mid-'90s, but the only time I met Mr. Zawahiri was in 1989 or 1990, and he came with a different name as a representative of the Red Crescent, which is equivalent to the Red Cross," he said.
Zaki said he had learned the terrorist connections of Mohamed and Dahab -- and the true name of "Dr. Mu'izz" -- only after the Santa Clara men were arrested."
The tenets of terror
"Zawahiri, according to press reports, shaved his beard, dyed his hair, and went to California and Texas for a few weeks in 1991. He visited mosques and community centers under an assumed name, raising money for "Afghan widows and orphans."
Al Qaeda terrorist worked with FBI
"Ali Mohamed, an Egyptian-born U.S. citizen and longtime Silicon Valley resident who pleaded guilty last year to terrorism charges, approached the Central Intelligence Agency more than 15 years ago and offered to inform on Middle Eastern terrorist groups, a U.S. government official said.
Later, according to the sources, Mohamed spent years as an FBI informant while concealing his own deep involvement in the al Qaeda terrorist band: training bin Laden's bodyguards and Islamic guerrillas in camps in Afghanistan and the Sudan; bringing Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is bin Laden's chief deputy, to the Bay Area on a covert fund-raising mission; and planning the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, in which more than 200 people died."
...In this country, he helped al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's top aide, enter the country with a fake passport and tour U.S. mosques, raising money later funneled to al Qaeda."
Bin Laden had US terror cell for a decade
"A TERRORIST network funded by Osama Bin Laden was established in New York and California more than 10 years ago with operatives dispatched to America for training in aviation, urban warfare and sending booby-trapped letters.
Confessions by Islamic fundamentalists under the command of Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden's deputy, have revealed how - years before the September 11 attacks - the terrorists established sleeper cells across the western world and were plotting sophisticated attacks.
...Compiled by the Egyptian defence ministry, the documents provide the most authoritative account yet of the Islamic Jihad organisation and of Al-Zawahiri, whom many suspect was the inspiration behind the September 11 attacks. One of the most important hijackers, Mohammed Atta, was an Egyptian from Cairo. He, too, is suspected of being a member of Al- Zawahiri's organisation.
...* A base in Santa Clara, California, was used from 1990 to co- ordinate communications with terrorists' cells around the world, including Bin Laden's Sudanese base. Other operatives were based in New York.
* American army manuals and topographical maps were translated into Arabic for terrorist training.
...The most detailed account of Islamic Jihad's activities in the West is provided by Khaled Abu el-Dahab, a naturalised American, codenamed Adam. His confessions are detailed in a state security document from Egypt's defence ministry dated October 28, 1998.
Born in 1963 and a student of medicine at Alexandria, in Egypt, he had the same profile as many of the September 11 hijackers: a middle-class background, a good education and a willingness to adopt western habits.
El-Dahab was met on arrival at San Jose airport in California by his friend Ali Abu Seoud, a former special forces officer in the Egyptian army. Seoud is now known to have been an Islamic Jihad agent as well and later became a close Bin Laden associate. According to the confession, it was Seoud who convinced el-Dahab to become more closely involved in the holy war. El-Dahab was trained to make booby-trapped letters to send to "important people" and was also instructed to enrol in American aviation schools to learn how to fly gliders and helicopters.
With an American wife and a job at a computer company, he blended into suburban life. Yet his home in Santa Clara was an important communications hub. He also distributed forged documents and made money transfers."
"Mohammed moved to the United States in 1985, settling in northern California and becoming a US citizen. He married Linda Lee Sanchez of Santa Clara, California, that year at The Chapel of the Bells in Reno, Nevada. Sanchez, on advice from her attorney, has declined to comment on Mohammed.
In 1986, at age 34, Mohammed joined the US Army in Oakland, California. Army officials said they did not know to what extent his background was checked.
...Returning to California in the mid-1990s, Mohammed helped a top aide to bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, raise money for the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. He also monitored the trial of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman - the blind Egyptian cleric convicted in the 1995 New York terrorism trials - for bin Laden."
'The Doctor' as bad as his cohort, Osama bin Laden
"Zawahiri visited the United States at least twice in the mid 90s to raise funds. Conspirators who pled guilty in the embassy bombing cases stated that Zawahiri went on a coast-to-coast fundraising trip, including stops at mosques in several California cities. Some contributors were apparently told that the money was going to Islamic refugees of the Afghanistan-Soviet war. One California doctor testified that Zawahiri presented himself as a representative of the Red Crescent, an Islamic aid organization."
Money Trail Of Terror
"Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's second-in-command and likely successor, appears on the Bush administration's list of people and groups with possible ties to terrorism. CBS News has learned al-Zawahiri, under an assumed name, visited the United States at least twice in the last decade on fund-raising tours of California mosques. On one trip, his men trained at a flight school near San Jose."
Just something to chew on. God bless.
I wonder why it's so hard to pin down the date of Zawahiri's visit(s).