terrorist duped FBI, Army
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Date: Wed, 24 Oct 2001 00:31:40 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: Direct Action >> Terrorism - Al-Qaeda
terrorist duped FBI
Sunday, October 21, 2001 6:39 a.m. EDT
terrorist duped FBI, Army
For Fairly Use:
JOSEPH NEFFAND & JOHN SULLIVAN, Staff Writers
FORT BRAGG - Ali Mohamed lived a double life that seemed
more fiction than fact. He served in the heart of the
U.S. military at Fort Bragg and in the inner circle
of Osama bin Laden's Islamic fundamentalist terrorists'
before he was arrested in connection with the 1998 car-bombing
attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania,
there were questions about Ali Mohamed, a retired U.S.
Army sergeant. He had puzzled fellow soldiers with his
haughty attitude toward America and avowed Islamic fundamentalist
as the United States wages war on terrorism, the case
of Mohamed shows what the CIA and FBI are up against:
terrorist operatives who weave themselves into the fabric
al-Qaeda's car-bombings of the American embassies in
Kenya and Tanzania, it became clear where his allegiance
lay. Investigators linked Mohamed to the attacks, which
killed 224 people and injured more than 4,500. He was
arrested 34 days later and has since pleaded guilty
and described his central role in the attack.
more than the hijackers of Sept. 11, Mohamed lived and
trained in the United States. He had training as a Green
Beret officer and turned those skills against the United
States. Although law enforcement and intelligence agencies
collected information on Mohamed, they assembled the
pieces of the puzzle too late -- after the embassies
had been bombed.
such terrorists resembles police work more than traditional
warfare, experts say. Law enforcement and intelligence
agencies need to cooperate and not compete over turf,
if they are to apprehend terrorists like Mohamed.
was an active source for the FBI, a double agent,"
said Larry Johnson, a former CIA agent and director
of counterterrorism at the State Department during the
elder Bush's administration.
FBI "did a lousy job of managing him," Johnson
said. "He was holding out on them. He had critical
information years ago and didn't give it up."
The FBI declined to be interviewed for this article.
just who is this educated soldier, fluent in at least
four languages, who trained on the drill grounds and
red-clay firing ranges of Fort Bragg and taught Green
Berets about the Middle East and Islamic fundamentalism?
And how did he move back and forth between an outwardly
normal immigrant's existence and the hidden world of
relationship with the FBI and intelligence services
remains wrapped in secrecy. His plea agreement is sealed,
as are many of the court documents and much of the testimony.
Mohamed was expected to testify -- but did not -- at
the trial where the four others were convicted. Mohamed
and his lawyer have declined all interview requests.
a picture emerges from court documents, interviews,
trial transcripts and published accounts.
since the attacks Sept. 11, Jason T. Fogg has found
himself thinking about Ali Mohamed. He remembers a tall,
serious former Egyptian Army major with a haughty attitude
who knew nothing about Mohamed's role in al-Qaeda until
a reporter told him, said he and Mohamed had spent three
months together in Army training. Mohamed constantly
compared the U.S. military with his own, and the former
officer always found the American military wanting.
be in the [enlisted ranks] and have so much training
was weird," said Fogg, now a supervisor with a
freight company in Spring Hill, Tenn. "And to be
in the U.S. military and have so much hate toward the
U.S. was odd. He never referred to America as his country."
was quiet but with a ferocious temper and very religious,
Fogg said. This echoes court testimony by admitted al-Qaeda
members earlier this year about the man they called
"Abu Mohamed al Amriki" -- Mohamed the American.
al-Qaeda members, however, found spiritual shortcomings
in the salty-tongued Mohamed.
is not a good practitioner of Islam," testified
L'Houssaine Khertchou, a witness in the embassy bombings
trial. "You can hear from him some bad words."
Egyptian army experience
in Alexandria in 1952, Mohamed joined the Egyptian army
in 1971. With a bachelor's in psychology and two years
of training at Egypt's military academy, he rose to
major in the Egyptian special forces.
in the early 1980s, after Egyptian President Anwar Sadat
made peace with Israel in the Camp David accords, Mohamed
joined the fundamentalist group Egyptian Islamic Jihad.
this time, the Egyptian army sent Mohamed to Fort Bragg
for special forces training -- common for officers from
countries the United States regards as friendly. Training
beside U.S. Green Berets, he learned how to command
elite soldiers on difficult missions such as special
reconnaissance, unconventional warfare and counterinsurgency
operations. After four months, he received a diploma
with a green beret on it.
home, he served in the Egyptian army for three more
years. In 1984, he left to work as a security expert
for Egypt Air -- and started to make contact with the
individual approached the CIA to offer information,"
a U.S. official told The News & Observer, speaking
on condition that no further identification be provided.
"Some time later, we found out he was talking to
known terrorists and had identified himself as a CIA
agent. We felt him to be untrustworthy, and we put him
on the State Department watch list."
CIA also warned other U.S. government agencies about
Mohamed and urged them to detain him if possible, the
next year, in 1985, Mohamed managed to get a visa to
enter the United States. One year later, he enlisted
as a regular soldier in the U.S. Army at the age of
34, unusually old for a recruit. He was assigned to
the U.S. Special Operations Command in Fort Bragg, the
home of the Green Berets and the Delta Force, the elite
in Arabic, Hebrew, French and English, Mohamed brought
extensive knowledge of the Arab world. Though officially
a supply sergeant, he spent much of his time teaching
soldiers about the Mideast.
Anderson, a retired lieutenant colonel, remembers him
vividly. Anderson said Mohamed made no secret of his
had identified himself as a fundamentalist, but after
I interviewed him I identified him as a fanatic,"
said Anderson, who lives in Fay-etteville. "So
after the interview I said, 'Well, there's one thing
I would like to say: Anwar Sadat was a hero to Egypt
and to the United States.' He looked at me with these
steely eyes and said, 'Sadat was a traitor, and he had
to die.' "
beliefs were not just talk.
1988, he told Anderson and others that he was using
his leave to join the war in Afghanistan against Soviet
occupation. The United States was then secretly supporting
the Afghan rebels and supplying them with weapons; but
it was highly irregular, if not illegal, for an active-duty
U.S. soldier to fight in a foreign war. If the Soviets
captured him and learned his identity, it would embarrass
the United States and further aggravate international
and another of Mohamed's superiors speculated that Mohamed
would end up in a military prison if he went. Anderson
said he submitted an intelligence report to his superiors
two weeks before Mohamed departed, but it was ignored.
returned about a month later, Anderson said. He had
clearly lost weight, suggesting that the trip had been
comes back and brings me a belt from a Russian special
forces soldier that he said he killed," Anderson
wrote up a second report and again heard no response.
Questions about Mohamed
soldiers who served with Mohamed said they had unanswered
questions about him.
A. Wood, who worked in the motor pool attached to the
5th Special Forces Group, recalled a time when Mohamed
was shipped back to the United States in 1988 during
the annual Egypt-U.S. desert war games known as Operation
had to come back to the states only after three days
or so," Wood said. "There was some trouble
the end of his tour at Bragg, Mohamed apparently got
busier in his work with terrorist groups. Documents
from court cases show that he traveled on weekends to
New Jersey, where he trained other Islamic fundamentalists
in surveillance, weapons and explosives.
continued this training after he was honorably discharged
in 1989 with commendations in his file, including one
for "patriotism, valor, fidelity and professional
spent the next five years in the Army Reserves. For
nine years after he left active duty, until his arrest
in 1998, Mohamed shuttled between California, Afghanistan,
Kenya, Somalia and at least a dozen other countries,
the court records show.
was through his contacts with the Egyptian Islamic Jihad
that he met bin Laden, but the date is not clear. It
may have been in 1991, when Mohamed again went to Afghanistan
to fight. That year, Mohamed helped move bin Laden from
Afghanistan to Sudan.
was soon handling some of bin Laden's most sensitive
security matters, details of which he made public during
his guilty plea. After a failed 1994 assassination attempt
on bin Laden, Mohamed trained the inner circle of bodyguards
for the Saudi exile.
handled security when bin Laden moved his al-Qaeda entourage
from Sudan back to Afghanistan in 1996, as well as when
bin Laden met the Hezbollah chief who had directed the
1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut.
also shared his extensive military knowledge. He gave
basic explosives training for al-Qaeda soldiers in Afghanistan
in 1992 and translated training manuals from English
to Arabic. In 1993, he trained Somali clansmen in the
months leading up to a furious gun battle that took
the lives of 18 U.S. soldiers.
taught the terrorists how to create cell structures
that preserved secrecy and how to move undercover in
Western countries. He taught surveillance techniques:
how to case targets, photograph them and write attack
he played a central role in the 1998 bombing of the
U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. In the early 1990s,
he set up a cell in the Kenyan capital to support al-Qaeda's
operations in Somalia, using a car business and a charity
used various code names to conceal our identities,"
Mohamed said in his guilty plea. "I used the name
'Jeff.' " In late 1993, al-Qaeda ordered Mohamed
to scour Nairobi for targets that would avenge the U.S.
involvement in Somalia.
conducted surveillance of the U.S. Embassy, the U.S.
Agency for International Development and two French
facilities. He drew maps and diagrams and rigged a darkroom
in a colleague's apartment to avoid dealing with a commercial
developer. He later showed the photos to bin Laden in
the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.
Laden looked at the picture of the American Embassy
and pointed to where a truck could go as a suicide bomber,"
Mohamed told the court last year.
Bombings planned patiently
planning the embassy attacks, Mohamed and his al-Qaeda
associates showed the kind of patience that would later
characterize the 2001 attacks in America. It was not
until August 1998 -- four years later -- that Mohamed's
partners parked a truck full of plastic explosives in
the very spot bin Laden had chosen. The suicide bomb
crumpled buildings, twisted and incinerated buses and
shattered windows as far as five blocks away. The blast
killed 224 people and injured more than 4,500.
two weeks, FBI agents led a squad of 10 into Mohamed's
apartment in Sacramento, Calif., using a key provided
by his apartment manager, according to testimony at
the trial. They copied computer files and photographed
evidence they found of Mohamed's terrorist activities
included documents from his cell in Kenya and materials
on how to run terrorist cells and penetrate security
cordons. Mohamed was subpoenaed to appear before a grand
jury on Sept. 10, 1998. He was arrested as he left the
grand jury room.
the request of the U.S. Attorney, federal judges kept
the arrest secret for almost a year, filing his case
as "United States v. John Doe" and clearing
the courtroom whenever it came up. Much of the case
would have come first to the attention of the FBI in
late 1990 after the murder of the Rabbi Meier Kahane,
a radical Jewish leader. When authorities searched the
home of El Sayyid Nosair, who was charged with Kahane's
murder, they found U.S. Army training manuals, videotaped
talks that Mohamed delivered at the Kennedy Special
Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, an operation plan for
Operation Bright Star and other materials marked "Classified"
or "Top Secret."
who often stayed in New Jersey with Nosair, was the
source of these documents. The documents didn't surface
during Nosair's 1991 trial when he was acquitted of
killing Kahane, but they did in 1995 when Nosair was
convicted of conspiring to blow up the World Trade Center
and other New York landmarks in 1993.
Stavis, Nosair's attorney, argued to the jury that the
U.S. Army sent Mohamed to New Jersey to do the training.
One witness, Khalid Ibrahim, testified that he was trained
by Mohamed in New Jersey and then saw him later in Afghanistan.
on active duty, helping Muslims train to help Muslims
in Afghanistan, as part of a U.S. government effort,"
Stavis said in an interview.
FBI has acknowledged in court filings that its agents
interviewed Mohamed several times after he left active
duty. In 1993, he told the FBI that bin Laden "ran
an organization called al-Qaeda and was building an
army which may be used to overthrow the Saudi Government."
In 1994, he told the FBI that he had moved bin Laden
out of Afghanistan in 1991.
a 1997 interview, Mohamed admitted to a much deeper
involvement in al-Qaeda. An FBI agent wrote that Mohamed
said that "he loved Bin Laden and believed in him"
and that "one did not need a fatwah [religious
ruling] to go against the United States since it was
'obvious' that the United States was the enemy."
not all of Bin Laden's people trusted Mohamed. In 1994,
Mohamed Atef, the al-Qaeda commander credited with engineering
the attack Sept. 11 on New York and Washington, refused
to let Mohamed know what name and passport he was traveling
"doesn't want Abu Mohamed al Amriki to see his
name, because he was afraid that maybe he is working
with United States or other governments," L'Houssaine
Khertchou testified at the embassy bombing trial in
lawyers and many other observers believe that Mohamed,
who has not yet been sentenced, is now cooperating with
the United States, though the government has never confirmed
this. When he is finally sentenced, Mohamed could receive
as little as 25 years under his plea agreement, which
would allow him to be free at 73.
Ruhnke, attorney for one of the four embassy bombing
defendants, said that Mohamed's deal with the government
might strike the jury as unfair, because the the government
was seeking the death penalty for two defendants.
of the things [Mohamed] admitted were so serious,"
Ruhnke said. "The government worried it would impact
Larry Johnson, the former State Department counterterrorism
chief, has a more skeptical interpretation: Putting
Mohamed on trial would unearth material extremely embarrassing
for the government.
reason he didn't testify was so they wouldn't have to
face uncomfortable statements on the FBI," Johnson
said. "They are more interested in covering their
are lessons to be learned, Johnson said. The FBI should
have polygraphed Mohamed and used counterintelligence
techniques to see if he was forthcoming. The CIA and
the FBI should have worked together on Mohamed.
has not spoken in public since his guilty plea, but
his prior statements carry warnings to the country in
whose military he served.
knows, for example, that there are hundreds of 'sleepers'
or 'submarines' in place who don't fit neatly into the
terrorist profile," a 1997 FBI report said. "These
individuals don't wear the traditional beards and don't
pray at the mosques."
Staff writer Joseph Neff can be reached at 829-4516
News researchers Becky Ogburn, Brooke
Cain, Susan Ebbs, Toby Lyles and Lucy Reid contributed
to this report.