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1986: Al-Qaeda Figures Establish First US Base in Arizona[]

Islamic Center of Tucson. [Source: Jacob Rader] In 1986, Maktab al-Khidamat (a.k.a. Al-Kifah), the precursor organization to al-Qaeda, opens its first branch in the US at the Islamic Center of Tucson, in Tucson, Arizona. Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz will later call the Islamic Center, “basically, the first cell of al-Qaeda in the United States; that is where it all started.” The organization’s journal, Al Jihad (Holy War), is initially distributed in the US from there. Other branches around the US soon follow (see 1985-1989). [NEW YORK TIMES, 6/19/2002]

A number of important future al-Qaeda figures are connected to the Tucson branch in the 1980s and into the early 1990s, including: 
Mohammed Loay Bayazid, one of the founders of al-Qaeda two years later. 
Wael Hamza Julaidan, another founder of al-Qaeda, and a Saudi multimillionaire. He was president of the Islamic Center starting in 1983 and leaves the US around 1986. 
Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s future personal secretary, who will later be convicted for a role in the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). 
Mubarak al Duri, al-Qaeda’s chief agent attempting to purchase weapons of mass destruction. [WASHINGTON POST, 9/10/2002; 9/11 COMMISSION, 7/24/2004, PP. 521] 

Throughout the 1980s, the mosque provides money, support, and fighters to the mujaheddin fighting in Afghanistan. Around 1991, future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour will move to Arizona for the first time (see October 3, 1991-February 1992) and he will spend much of the rest of the decade in the state. He will briefly live in Tucson, but his ties to earlier al-Qaeda connections there remain elusive. [WASHINGTON POST, 9/10/2002] Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Hani Hanjour, Maktab al-Khidamat, Mohammed Loay Bayazid, Wadih El-Hage, Wael Hamza Julaidan, Mubarak al Duri, Rita Katz Category Tags: Terrorism Financing, Al-Kifah/MAK

1986: ’Blind Sheikh’ Secretly Meets with Al Taqwa Bank Leader and Others Ahmed Ben Bella, a former president of Algeria, reportedly holds a secret meeting at his Switzerland home attended by “major figures in some of the world’s most violent groups.” People attending the meeting include the Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (known as the “Blind Sheikh”); Youssef Nada, head of the Al Taqwa Bank and a major Muslim Brotherhood figure; and Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, a leading Lebanese Shi’ite Muslim scholar. US government sources believe Ben Bella, who is allegedly linked to violent Sudanese and Libyan groups, called the meeting to discuss ways to spread Muslim fundamentalism into the West. [BUFFALO NEWS, 7/6/1993] Shortly after 9/11, a document called “The Project” written in 1982 will be found in Nada’s house. It outlines a secret Muslim Brotherhood plan to infiltrate and defeat Western countries (see December 1982). Entity Tags: Youssef Nada, Muslim Brotherhood, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Ahmed Ben Bella, Al Taqwa Bank, Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah Category Tags: 1993 WTC Bombing, Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, Terrorism Financing, Al Taqwa Bank

1986: Bin Laden Works Indirectly with CIA Osama bin Laden and Pakistan’s ISI, helped by the CIA, build the Khost tunnel complex in Afghanistan. This will be a major target of bombing and fighting when the US attacks the Taliban in 2001. [GUARDIAN, 11/13/2000; PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 9/23/2001; HINDU, 9/27/2001] In June 2001, one article mentions that “bin Laden worked closely with Saudi, Pakistani, and US intelligence services to recruit mujaheddin from many Muslim countries.” This information has not often been reported since 9/11. [UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL, 6/14/2001] It has been claimed that the CIA also funds Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) (also known as Al-Kifah), bin Laden’s main charity front in the 1980s (see 1984 and After). A CIA spokesperson will later state, “For the record, you should know that the CIA never employed, paid, or maintained any relationship whatsoever with bin Laden.” [ANANOVA, 10/31/2001] Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban, Osama bin Laden, Maktab al-Khidamat Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline Category Tags: Soviet-Afghan War, Saudi Arabia, US Intel Links to Islamic Militancy

1986: Ali Mohamed Joins US Military and Teaches about Middle East; Supervisors Include Prominent Neoconservative Ideologue

Ali Mohamed, in one of the US military videos he helped create. In the lower picture, he is in the center, chairing a discussion on the Middle East with other US army officers. [Source: US Army via CNN] Ali Mohamed enlists in the US Army and is posted to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. (He had taken part in a special program for foreign officers at Fort Bragg when he was a major in the Egyptian army in 1981 (see 1984)). He works first as a supply sergeant for a Green Beret unit, and then as an instructor at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School. Fort Bragg is no ordinary military base—one newspaper calls it the “US military’s top warfare planning center.” Mohamed will steal numerous top secret documents and pass them to al-Qaeda (see November 5, 1990). [SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, 11/4/2001; RALEIGH NEWS AND OBSERVER, 11/13/2001] Mohamed trains and lectures soldiers being deployed to the Middle East on the region’s culture and politics. He also produces and appears in training videotapes about the Middle East. In one tape, he asserts that devout Muslims are widely misunderstood. “The term of fundamentalism scares people in the West. Everybody when he hears fundamentalist, he thinks about armed struggle. He thinks about radicals. He thinks about groups that are carrying weapons. The word fundamentalism does not mean extremism. It means just that ordinary Muslims accept everything—that this is my way.” One of his supervisors is Col. Norvell De Atkine, who later will say of Mohamed, “I don’t think he was anti-American. He was what I would call a Muslim fundamentalist, which isn’t a bomb thrower. I would not put him in that category.” [NEW YORK TIMES, 10/30/1998] De Atkine is an expert on the Middle East and on the political aspects of military operations. In one of his articles he will praise the propaganda preparation for the Gulf War. [AMERICAN DIPLOMACY, 1999] De Atkine will also contribute articles to Middle East Forum, an aggressively neoconservative and pro-Israeli journal edited by Daniel Pipes. One of these, a denunciation of leftist and Arab influences in academia, will be written together with Pipes. [ACADEMIC QUESTIONS, 1995] Entity Tags: Norvell De Atkine, Ali Mohamed Category Tags: Ali Mohamed

(1986): Pentagon Official Asks Afghan Commanders about Diverting Resources to Arab Fighters[]

Assistant Undersecretary of Defence Michael Pillsbury flies to the Afghan frontier to review training facilities used by two Afghan warlords, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. Although Pillsbury is not involved in the day-to-day running of the Soviet-Afghan War, he chairs an interagency White House group that sets US policy on its support for anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan. During the meetings, Pillsbury asks the two rebel commanders, both noted for their close relationship with Arab volunteers fighting in the war, about how effective the Arabs are and whether the US should allocate resources to them directly. However, both commanders reply that they do not want aid or supplies to be diverted to the Arabs, they want everything they can get for themselves. [COLL, 2008, PP. 286-287] Despite this, CIA Director William Casey comes to an agreement with the Pakistani ISI to boost Arab participation in the war (see 1985-1986), and a group of Arabs led by Osama bin Laden will establish a camp independent of the Afghan leaders later in the year (see Late 1986).

Early 1986: CIA Aware of Bin Laden’s Activities in Pakistan; Knows He Is ‘Tapping into’ CIA-Backed Operation[]

The CIA is aware of Osama bin Laden’s operations in Afghanistan by this point, at the latest. The CIA learns that bin Laden has stepped up his support for the anti-Soviet mujaheddin by helping to establish a network of guesthouses along the Afghan frontier, not for local fighters, but for Arabs arriving to help out the Afghans. The network is centered in the border city of Peshawar, where bin Laden is “spreading large sums of money around.” According to author Steve Coll, the CIA also knows that bin Laden is “tapping into” camps run by Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency and funded by the CIA to train anti-Soviet fighters. Reports of this activity are passed to the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. Stanley Bedington, a senior analyst at the center, will later say, “When a man starts throwing around money like that, he comes to your notice.” He will also say that at this time bin Laden was “not a warrior,” and that he was “not engaged in any fighting.” [COLL, 2004, PP. 146]


(Early-Mid 1986): Salem Bin Laden Asks Pentagon to Supply Missiles to Arab Afghans, Receives No Reply[]

Bin Laden family head Salem bin Laden asks the Pentagon to supply anti-aircraft missiles to Arab volunteers fighting in the Soviet-Afghan War. The request is made on behalf of Salem’s brother Osama, who is establishing a semi-autonomous group of Arab volunteers outside the direct control of local Afghan commanders and will set up a camp just for Arabs later this year (see Late 1986). The Pentagon is asked because the US is already supplying anti-aircraft Stinger missiles to the Afghans. However, it does not reply to Salem, and the reason for the failure to reply is not known. According to a business partner involved in Salem’s efforts to secure the missiles, he makes several attempts to contact the Pentagon, but is unable to locate the right person in the defense bureaucracy. Later research will indicate that there is no formal decision by the Reagan administration not to supply the missiles or other equipment to the Arab volunteers. Pentagon official Michael Pillsbury will later say he was not aware of any such decision, but if such a decision had been taken, he would have been aware of it. [COLL, 2008, PP. 287] Entity Tags: Michael Pillsbury, Salem bin Laden, US Department of Defense Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan Category Tags: Soviet-Afghan War, US Intel Links to Islamic Militancy, Bin Laden Family

(After April 1986): Bin Laden Brothers Negotiate with South Africans to Buy Weapons for Arab Afghans[]

Salem and Osama bin Laden hold a series of meetings with South African arms dealers to discuss supplies for the anti-Soviet mujaheddin in Afghanistan. One meeting is held at the Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar, Pakistan, and a person who attends this meeting will later discuss it with a lawyer acting for victims of the 9/11 attacks. The person’s name is not known. The meeting is attended by Osama bin Laden, Afghan commander Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, and two South African officers. The attendees discuss weapons and training. There are other meetings in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, between South African suppliers and Salem bin Laden, Osama’s older brother. Arms purchases are also discussed there. Reportedly, some of the financing for the weapons comes from the Saudi government. [COLL, 2008, PP. 287]

After Mid-April 1986: CIA Allegedly Sets Up Fake Bomb Plot to Influence European Opinion[]

The La Belle disco in Berlin after it was bombed. [Source: AFP] European public opinion begins to turn after the US launches a deadly strike against Libya, in retaliation for the bombing of a Berlin disco in which two American servicemen died (see April 5, 1986 and After). The CIA therefore works to spread the idea that the Libyans intend to plant another bomb in Berlin, a propaganda operation designed to reshape European public opinion. According to a CIA officer involved in the operation, the first step is “to convince German intelligence and police there was a terrorist cell.” To achieve this, a Lebanese CIA asset named Jamal Hamdan, who helps the US in various ways around this time, makes a series of phone calls from an apartment in Cyprus to suspected terrorists in Germany. Hamdan also tells a relative living in West Berlin that his brother Ali and a friend will enter the city carrying a package, which, it is implied, is a bomb. Ali Hamdan and the friend then enter West Berlin illegally from the east and are arrested by German police, who wrongly believe that they actually have a bomb and the plot is real. Word of the plot is leaked to the US press, enabling the Reagan administration to quell criticism of the attack on Libya. The CIA then steps in and has the two men held in Germany released. [TRENTO AND TRENTO, 2006, PP. 89-90]

April 29, 1986: Future Radical Imam Improperly Obtains British Citizenship[]

Abu Hamza al-Masri, a future leader of the Islamist movement in Britain (see March 1997) who will have a long relationship with Britain’s security services (see Early 1997) and will be convicted on terrorism charges (see January 11-February 7, 2006), fraudulently obtains British citizenship and swears allegiance to the Queen. However, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, “he could have been deported from Britain as an illegal immigrant and a fraudster long before he caused the trouble that he went on to stir up.” For example:

When he first arrived in Britain in July 1979, he found a job in contravention of his one-month visitor’s visa. He also breached the terms of subsequent visas by working; 
He stopped renewing his visa and became an illegal immigrant, doing casual work for cash-in-hand; 
When he married Valerie Traverso, a pregnant single mother of three, in May 1980, she was still married to her first husband and the marriage to Abu Hamza was therefore bigamous; 
When Traverso gave birth to a child fathered by her real, but estranged, husband four months later, Abu Hamza falsely registered himself as the father. 

Abu Hamza was able to obtain leave to stay in Britain based on the illegal marriage and fraudulent birth certificate, even though he was arrested in a raid on the porn cinema where he worked as a bouncer and identified as an illegal immigrant. The leave to stay is later made indefinite, and he obtains citizenship seven years after arriving in Britain. [O'NEILL AND MCGRORY, 2006, PP. 4-13] Entity Tags: Sean O’Neill, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Daniel McGrory Category Tags: Abu Hamza Al-Masri, Londonistan - UK Counterterrorism

May 1986: Bin Laden Leads Arab Fighters into Afghanistan, but Mission Ends in Failure Osama bin Laden leads a small force of Arab anti-Soviet fighters into Afghanistan to join local forces near the village of Jaji, a few miles from the Pakistan border. The territory where the group sets up is controlled by Afghan warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, an associate of bin Laden’s. One night, the Arabs’ tents are pelted by what appears to be debris from a distant explosion, and in the morning the men find that they are surrounded by mines. As they are withdrawing, they are hit by a missile, which lands a few meters from bin Laden, and there is a huge explosion on a nearby mountain. Three men are wounded and one dies. Finally, the local Afghan forces ask them to withdraw, because, in the words of author Lawrence Wright, “they were so useless.” This appears to be the first time bin Laden fires a weapon or is fired upon during the war. [WRIGHT, 2006, PP. 111] Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Lawrence Wright, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan Category Tags: Soviet-Afghan War, Osama Bin Laden

(Mid-1986): Report Rates Vulnerability of Public Areas of WTC to Terrorist Attack as ‘Very High’[]

Following the release of the Office of Special Planning’s (OSP) report, which called the WTC a “most attractive terrorist target” (see November 1985), the New York Port Authority, which owns the center, seeks a second opinion on the OSP’s recommendations. At a cost of approximately $100,000, it hires the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) to review the general security of the WTC. SAIC states in its report that the attractiveness of the WTC’s public areas to terrorists is “very high.” Like the OSP, SAIC pays particular attention to the underground levels of the center and describes a possible attack scenario much like what occurs in the 1993 bombing. [CARAM, 2001, PP. 105-106; NEW YORK COUNTY SUPREME COURT, 1/20/2004] Entity Tags: World Trade Center, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), New York Port Authority Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline Category Tags: 1993 WTC Bombing

Mid-1986: Osama and Salem Bin Laden Purchase Anti-Aircraft Missiles in London Osama and Salem bin Laden purchase anti-aircraft missiles for Arab volunteers fighting in Afghanistan in a deal concluded at the Dorchester Hotel in London. The transaction results from a request by Osama that Salem help him with two purchases, of the anti-aircraft missiles and of equipment to refill ammunition shells for AK-47 assault rifles. Middleman - Salem attempted to obtain the missiles from the Pentagon, but was rebuffed (see (Early-Mid 1986)), and brought a German acquaintance named Thomas Dietrich in to help him complete the deal. It is difficult to arrange as, even though the bin Ladens are backed by the Saudi government, they do not have clearance to buy the missiles from Western authorities. Dietrich has contacts at the arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch and also gets an arms salesman to meet Salem and Osama in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. However, the salesman tells Osama that refilling the ammunition makes no sense and it would be simpler to just purchase it on the international market. For the missiles, Osama, Salem, Dietrich and Dietrich’s contacts meet two or three times at the Dorchester Hotel over a period of six to eight weeks. Dietrich will later learn that his contacts help arrange the purchase of Soviet SA-7 missiles in South America, as well as the ammunition. Paid in Oil - However, there is a problem with the deal because the bin Ladens want to pay for the weapons not with cash, but with oil, “just a tanker offshore,” according to Dietrich. This causes trouble as “a company like Heckler & Koch, they don’t want oil, they want money.” Dietrich is not aware of the source of funding for the purchases, but author Steve Coll will note, “The best available evidence suggests it probably came at least in part from the Saudi government,” because the bin Ladens are “working in concert with official Saudi policy” and “seem to fit inside a larger pattern.” This is a reference to the Al Yamamah arms deal (see Late 1985). [COLL, 2008, PP. 284-288] Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Heckler & Koch, Salem bin Laden, Steve Coll, Thomas Dietrich Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan Category Tags: Soviet-Afghan War, Osama Bin Laden, Saudi Arabia, Bin Laden Family

September 1986: CIA Provides Afghan Rebels Stinger Missiles[]

Mujaheddin preparing to fire a stinger missile. [Source: National Geographic] Worried that the Soviets are winning the war in Afghanistan, the US decides to train and arm the mujaheddin with Stinger missiles. The Soviets are forced to stop using the attack helicopters that were being used to devastating effect. Some claim the Stingers turn the tide of the war and lead directly to Soviet withdrawal. Now the mujaheddin are better trained and armed than ever before. [COLL, 2004, PP. 11, 149-51; CLARKE, 2004, PP. 48-50] The British Special Air Service (SAS) train the mujaheddin in how to use the Stingers (see 1980-1989). Entity Tags: Special Air Service Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan Category Tags: Soviet-Afghan War

(Shortly After September 26, 1986): Bin Laden Associate Obtains Photos for CIA[]

Essam al Ridi, a US-based Muslim who supports the mujaheddin in the Soviet-Afghan War, helps the CIA obtain photographs of a downed Russian helicopter, according to a statement al Ridi will later make to the New York Times. Al Ridi is an associate of leading Islamists Abdullah Azzam (see Early 1983-Late 1984 and Early 1989) and Osama bin Laden (see 1984 and Early 1993), and helps them purchase weapons. Al Ridi will help the FBI after the 1998 African embassy bombings (see October 1998). [NEW YORK TIMES, 6/3/2002] The CIA introduced stinger missiles into the war in late September 1986 to great effect against Soviet helicopters (see September 1986). [COLL, 2004, PP. 149-151] Presumably therefore, the CIA is asking al Ridi to get photos of a helicopter downed by a stinger shortly after they were introduced. Entity Tags: Essam al Ridi, Central Intelligence Agency Category Tags: Soviet-Afghan War, US Intel Links to Islamic Militancy

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