1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Africa

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On August 7, 1998, large bombs were set off at the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. They were delivered by suicide drivers. Casualties, both U.S. and civilian, were especially heavy in Kenya, with 75 dead and over 1,600 missing. Seven people died in Tanzania. The bombings were carried out by al-Qaeda.

The Plan

Not all the participants considered themselves members of al-Qaeda, but had been recruited for the mission. Others, however, had been been in "sleeper cells" for years, after training in Afghanistan, waiting for a mission. [1] Others worked with al-Khifa organization in the U.S., a branch of the Services Office, directed by Abdullah Azzam, that eventually merged into al-Qaeda.

Wadih el Hage, for example, had been bin Laden's secretary, and moved to Kenya in 1994 to create the attack cell. El-Hage had been a prison visitor to El Sayyid Nosair, who had been involved in the 1990 shooting of Rabbi Meir Kahane in prison. El-Hage also provided weapons acquired some weapons for Mahmoud Abouhalima, a confederate of Nosair. Both Nosair and Ahouhalima were associated with al-Khifa and the Jersey City, New Jersey, mosque of Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman after the Kahane murder.

Ali Mohamed, (sometimes called "al-Amriki", the American), was involved, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, in planning the operation. [2] A former Egyptian officer, who may have been affiliated with Egyptian Islamic Jihad,[3] and then U.S. Army sergeant, he worked with al-Khifa. He reportedly began scouting the locations in 1993. [4] While the entire United States intelligence community participated in the investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was the lead agency in interviewing suspects, including informants Jamal al-Fadl and L'Houssaine Kherchtou, both of whom had left al-Qaeda.

Investigation

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Jack Cloonan spoke of the methods used with L'Houssaine Kherchtou, nicknamed "Joe the Moroccan", a member of the cell that attacked the embassies, providing the safehouse apartment used to develop their targeting photographs. [5]

There is little question that there are differences between interrogating a hostile prisoner and, as in the case of Kherchtou, an individual who had his freedom and was less and less tied to al-Qaeda. The FBI, who learned of Kherchtou through the British Secret Intelligence Service and the Moroccan intelligence service, was extremely close to his family. Al-Qaeda refused his request for money for a family medical emergency, and he moved to Morocco, away from bin Ladin in Sudan. Back in Khartoum, Cloonan arranged for the Moroccans to tell Kherchtou there were immigration problems with his family. He returned to Morocco, where he was met by a U.S. team, including Cloonan and Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. They spent days talking in a luxurious safehouse. After advising him of his rights, Cloonan said "we told him he could have a lawyer anytime, and that he could pray at any time he wanted. We were letting the Moroccans sit in on this, and they were dumbfounded."

Eventually, Fitzgerald made an offer that Cloonan thought would end the discussion: "Here's the deal: You will come to the U.S. voluntarily; you will plead guilty to conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals abroad; your exposure is anywhere from zero to life, no promises." Cloonan broke the seeming impasse by saying, "‘Before you answer, I think you should go pray. After 10 days with us, I think you have a sense of who we are and what we're about -- you know you would not be treated this way by other folks. You may go to prison, but you have the chance to start your life over again, to get rid of this anxiety, to stop running. And I think you should do this for your wife and children.'

According to Cloonan, Kherchtou came back and agreed. He provided information that led to the conviction of four persons involved in the bombing, and produced information including al-Qaeda's interest in the use of aircraft deliberately crashed into buildings.[6] The possibility of suicide attacks was discussed in a report prepared for the National Intelligence Council by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress.[7]

Arrests and convictions

Ali Mohamed pled guilty to doing reconnaissance for the attacks, although he did not testify in the trial.

Osama bin Laden was indicted. Four others were convicted in a U.S. District Court in 2001, and sentenced to life imprisonment, as was Ahmed Ghailani in 2011.[8]

References

  1. Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Afghan Invasion to September 10, 2001, Penguin, 2004, pp. 403-404
  2. Williams, Lance & Erin McCormick (November 4, 2001), "Al Qaeda terrorist worked with FBI: Ex-Silicon Valley resident plotted embassy attacks", San Francisco Chronicle
  3. Susan Sachs (November 21, 2001), "A Nation Challenged: Bin Laden's Allies; An Investigation in Egypt Illustrates Al Qaeda's Web", New York Times
  4. Chitra Ragavan (February 16, 2003), "Tracing terror's roots How the first World Trade Center plot sowed the seeds for 9/11", U.S. News and World Report
  5. Jason Vest (June 19, 2005), "Pray and Tell: Jack Cloonan has done his share of terrorism interrogations. Instead of torture, he recommends prayer rugs and figs. Yes, figs.", The American Prospect
  6. "Report Warned Of Suicide Hijackings", CBS.com, May 17, 2002
  7. Rex A. Hudson (September 1999), The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why?, Federal Research Division, Library of Congress
  8. Larry Neumeister and Tom Hays (25 January 2011), Gitmo detainee Ghailani gets life sentence in embassy plot, Associated Press