Skip to comments.Forces of Evil Learned From Their Mistakes - Terrorists became smarter, deadlier
Posted on 09/23/2001 7:48:14 AM PDT by sarcasm
he frigid morning of Feb. 26, 1993, a dark sedan filled with four agitated Arabic men idled behind a panel truck inside the garage of the World Trade Center.
Despite months of planning, the bomb they had planted was about to go off while they were stuck a few yards away.
|Osama Bin Laden, the exiled son of one of Saudi Arabia's richest families, founded the terror group Al Qaeda.|
"It was like a movie," the bomb's architect, Ramzi Yousef, told the FBI later, after escaping moments before the blast, which killed six and injured more than 1,000.
In retrospect, that bombing seems quaint compared to the precision of the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In the years since America first realized Middle Eastern terrorism can strike here, terrorists have learned a lot.
Al Qaeda, the group likely responsible for the worst sneak attack in American history, has become smarter, sneakier and sophisticated, according to court transcripts and FBI documents from recent Al Qaeda investigations obtained by the Daily News.
In recent years, Afghanistan camps have turned out hundreds of men trained in explosives, weaponry, surveillance and assassination. The Taliban government supplies them with guns, rockets and ammo, according to FBI intelligence.
Terrorist cells in the U.S., Canada and Europe steal identity documents by the hundreds and supply Al Qaeda operatives with fraudulent passports, visas, credit cards and checks. Fake credentials routinely enable Al Qaeda to cross borders and steal working cash as it goes. Cell phones, bought with fake IDs, have become a terror telecommunications network. Supporters speak in code and vanish on demand.
Relying on Discreet Groups
Some of the FBI's best intelligence on these evolving tactics came from Jamal Ahmed Mohamed al Fadl, an Osama Bin Laden-trained operative who began talking following the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
|Scenes of Bin Laden's recruits...|
Al Fadl explained how graduates never dress or act like Muslims and he outlined Al Qaeda's four-tier strategy.
Terror projects rely on discreet groups. A first group surveys potential targets power plants, bridges, airports or government buildings then prepares reports.
"You collect the information about this certain targets, and whenever you finish your work ... we send our reports to our bosses and we leave," al Fadl testified.
"Our bosses are number two," he said. "They decide how or if to attack each target, then they send another group who supply everything so as to attack that target."
A fourth group does the deed.
The FBI has learned that attending terror camp is held out as a reward for militant Islamic wanna-bes who function for years as helpers to those trained in jihad. Afghanistan is like a supermilitant Outward Bound program.
One recent recruit was Ahmed Ressam, 34, an Algerian who emigrated to Montreal using a fake French passport and fake story on an asylum application.
Ressam would become the millennium bomber the Al Qaeda operative caught with nitrate chemicals trying to cross the Canadian border just before New Year's 2000. He then became a star FBI informant.
In Montreal, Ressam met Muslims at the YMCA and made a living stealing luggage in hotels when tourists weren't looking. He wanted their passports and "identity papers with credit cards."
A good credit card fetched $60. A passport, $110. The buyer was Mokhtar Haouari, who was convicted this year for his role as Al Qaeda's dispatcher in the millennium plot.
Haouari, the FBI learned, could order up passports on demand from contacts in Great Britain. He had credit card imprinting gear and the means to counterfeit checks.
From Montreal, Haouri would issue stolen identities by the dozens to Muslim helpers here and in Europe. Members of the group could access the United States via the Vermont border. If immigration papers couldn't be fabricated, taxis to hidden border crossings could be arranged.
Montreal, Ressam testified, was home to many Al Qaeda-trained agents, one of whom got Ressam admitted to jihad camp. His speciality became explosive chemicals. "To blow up things," Ressam explained.
|...from an undated training video.|
When orders came to blow up airports for the millennium, Ressam chose Los Angeles over JFK and Dulles, two other targets being considered. Why LAX? "Because I have landed in it in the past ... upon my return from Afghanistan in February 1999," Ressam explained.
As Ressam headed for Seattle, another new face of Al Qaeda's terror network was waiting for him: Abdelghani Meskini an Algerian Army misfit who'd emigrated to Boston, then Montreal.
Meskini, 33, who'd spent years in Brooklyn raising money for Al Qaeda, was arrested Dec. 30, 1999 as the FBI unraveled the plot. He revealed intimate details of money-raising and communications tactics, according to FBI documents.
Like Ressam, Meskini reported to Haouari in Montreal. Meskini would collect stolen IDs like baseball cards, open bank accounts, deposit fraudulent business checks, then drain away thousands by hopping from ATM to ATM.
For the millennium bombing, Meskini was to provide cash to Ressam and be his translator, though he never knew his fellow Algerian or even that their mission was to blow up LAX. Haouari would only tell him that "the fire is on and it's coming" and "my friend says you'll have a great blessing."
Meskini learned his basic technique from Bay Bank in Boston, now part of Fleet Bank. After arriving in the United States, he accidentally overdrew his legit account by $500 after depositing a commercial check that bounced.
A bank employee "then explained that the bank credits the account before the check clears through the issuing financial institution," according to FBI documents.
At times, Meskini would use a stolen passport to gain more credentials, then empty a bank account. One set of papers enabled him to drain $26,000 from Fleet Bank in Boston.
Meskini's Muslim friends would help by stealing IDs, sometimes from neighbors, sometimes with mailbox keys from apartments where they once lived. One Meskini friend provided credit card records from a dozen customers at a Bally's Fitness Center in Boston.
Critical to cheating banks was a supply of business checks real and fake. Meskini would acquire legitimate checks from Haouari, who could produce them with an assumed name, but encoded to draw on an account known to have cash.
At one point, Meskini acquired a 900 telephone number, which collects a dollar from each caller. Meskini phoned himself, got a check for $1 and a week later had counterfeit checks back from Montreal.
That scam netted Meskini $11,000.
Some Yemeni friends who lived with Meskini in New York operated an Associated Supermarket. They gave him a bakery's check. Meskini made deposits at ATMs all over Manhattan using 10 separate accounts with stolen IDs.
That scam netted tens of thousands and before escaping for awhile to Boston, Meskini turned on his Yemeni friends, stealing their business checks and selling them for $3,000 to an associate who, in turn, used them to steal $16,000.
The Al Qaeda fund-raiser's proudest moment came outsmarting one bank's ATM system. After hours, he deposited a $1 bill, but entered $25,000 into the ATM. He was able to withdraw $5,000 in cash, according to FBI documents.
He collected another $10,000 depositing checks off the same fake deposit.
From Meskini, the FBI learned how Al Qaeda's communications techniques can cover a terrorist's tracks. He'd use his chameleon persona to buy cell phone after cell phone. At one point, he had eight separate telephone lines, each with a different ring, to two phones in his Brooklyn apartment.
To maintain anonymity between operatives when making calls, Al Qaeda members enter a feature code offered by Verizon and other cell phone providers. It blocks a caller's ID an added layer of cover. "We do verify customers," said Peter Thonis, a Verizon vice president. "We ask for a Social Security number."
But Thonis acknowledged that Verizon has no defense against someone who possesses stolen ID.
"We're not the FBI and the CIA, we're a telephone company," Thonis said. "It's not possible for us to do a full investigation on someone who wants to be customer."
A fellow was arrested in Canada this week with four Yemini passports all carrying his photo and different names.
For only a few hundred or thousand dollars, false passports can be purchased in virtually any Third World country (not to mention that countries such as Nigeria run huge forgery and false documentation industries).
It is my very strong sense that NONE of the WTC attackers has been accruately identified. ALL OF THE ATTACKERS had assumed false identities. Conversely, a huge evidence trail pointing directly back to Osama bin Laden was left in their wake.
Am I the only person who finds this a bit odd?
Fact is, I suspect this was an Iraqui operation with an intentional aftereffect of implicating bin Laden. After all, bin Laden wants the entire Middle East to become Taliban Central, and what good does that do for Saddam?
If this thesis is correct, Saddam has successfully:
Obtained revenge against the USA.
Diverted significant attention from himself as the plotter.
Put bin Laden (who may even have helped in this operation) on the run and neutralized his future ability to implement a Taliban-like Middle East.
And the longer we wait to destroy them, the smarter and deadlier they'll be.
Let's hope the banks have tightened up their act.
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