L'Houssaine Kherchtou (1964-) is a former al-Qaeda member, who testified in the U.S. trial for the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Africa, and is in the U.S. Witness Protection Program. He had been Osama bin Laden's personal pilot, but broke with al-Qaeda because he could not get enough money for a family emergency. The U.S. interrogator, Jack Cloonan of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said he was devoted to his family, which was the key to gaining his cooperation.
Called "Joe the Moroccan" by the U.S., he was also known as Abu Zaid al Maghrebi, Abu Zaid Maghrebi, Abu Talal and LHoussaine Kherchtou.
Kherchtou had been in Sudan with bin Laden. Al-Qaeda refused his request for money for a family medical emergency, and he moved to Morocco, away from bin Laden in Sudan.
The FBI learned of him through the British Secret Intelligence Service and the Moroccan intelligence service. 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. 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.
- 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
- "Report Warned Of Suicide Hijackings", CBS.com, May 17, 2002
- Rex A. Hudson (September 1999), The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why?, Federal Research Division, Library of Congress