November 11 2001 TERRORISM
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STN110906
Conspirator: Atta, ringed, may have belonged
to Islamic Jihad

INSIGHT: 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.

The plot that succeeded: a terror base was set up in America 10 years before the twin towers attack
STN110905

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.

In more than 10,000 pages of Egyptian state security documents, Britain is named as one of the key bases of Al-Zawahiri's Islamic Jihad organisation. Three leading members of its ruling council were based in London and it was also an important fundraising centre, making money through farming and even renovating houses in London.

Among the terrorist leader's agents living in America in the early 1990s were a communications specialist, a special forces officer, two wealthy doctors and a chain of fundraisers.

One operative with American citizenship, codenamed Adam, was planted in the United States in 1987 and then helped to co-ordinate communications, dispatch forged documentation and finance terrorists. Adam, the son of an Egypt Air pilot, was also instructed to get flight training.

Another agent, a former Egyptian special forces officer, worked with the American army before providing personal security advice to Bin Laden in Sudan in 1992.

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.

The documents reveal how:

  • Islamic Jihad, now considered part of Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network, was being funded in Egypt from Bin Laden's personal fortune from the early 1990s.

  • 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.

  • Sources of funds of the terrorist network included the sugar trade and sheep rearing in Albania as well as the renovation of old houses in London.

    According to one confession, the ruling shura (council) of Islamic Jihad in the mid-1990s had 14 members, including three in London. Two of those three, Adel Abdel Bary and Ibrahim Eidarous, are now in Belmarsh prison fighting extradition to the United States for alleged involvement in the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

    But Hani al-Sibai, a third alleged member of the shura at that time, lives with his wife and five children in Hammersmith, west London. Sources say he has split with Al-Zawahiri, at least since 1999.

    Al-Sibai, a lawyer, denies any link with Islamic Jihad. Last week he said he had known Al-Zawahiri in the past but was himself a "quiet man" who had never committed a crime. Al-Sibai said he been visited by Scotland Yard detectives since September 11 and had been warned against making inflammatory statements. He has not been arrested or charged.

    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.

    Ahmed al-Naggar, another Islamic Jihad member who was also captured by the Egyptian authorities in 1998, revealed how Bin Laden came to be a key fundraiser for the organisation at an early stage.

    "The funding of the organisation came [primarily] through financial support from the Saudi Osama Bin Laden," he told Egyptian state security interrogators. "As well as members of the organisation donating 10% of their salaries, funds were also raised through trade projects such as sugar, raising sheep in Albania, trade in southeast Asia and the project of working on and renovating old houses in London."

    El-Dahab received a 15-year sentence and al-Naggar 25 years. Seoud was sentenced to death and al-Sibai to life imprisonment, both in their absence. Seoud, however, is believed to be still in America where he is understood to have co-operated with the FBI.

  • Three men and a woman with alleged links to Bin Laden have been detained in the French city of Strasbourg. The four, thought to be Algerians, are suspected of organising the escape to Spain of Mohamed Bensakhria, 34, an Algerian said to be one of Bin Laden's chief lieutenants in Europe.

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