Bin Laden Operative Is Linked To Suspects

by Tim Golden with Judith Miller
The New York Times
September 18, 2001


Federal investigators are examining a possible link between the hijackers who crashed into the World Trade Center and operatives for Osama bin Laden who plotted to kill hundreds of Americans and other tourists in Jordan on Jan. 1, 2000, officials said yesterday.

Two of the suspected hijackers, Ahmed Alghamdi and Satam al-Suqami, have been identified by federal agents as being tied to a former Boston cab driver who is now on trial as a suspected ringleader of the millennium bomb plot, which was foiled by the Jordanian authorities. President Bush and other officials have described Mr. bin Laden as the prime suspect in last week's attacks, but the link between the hijackers and the former cab driver, Raed M. Hijazi, is among the first specific pieces of evidence that connect the hijackers to important associates of Mr. bin Laden.

It is also one of the first indications that the hijackers might have been linked to operatives of Mr. bin Laden who were previously known by the authorities to be living in the United States.

Federal officials would not discuss the nature of the ties between the hijackers and Mr. Hijazi, other than to say that all three of them shared a relationship with a suspected operative for Mr. bin Laden who also lived for a time in the Boston area.

That man, Nabil al Marabh, 34, had been linked to Mr. Alghamdi and Mr. al-Suqami as part of an earlier investigation by the United States Customs Service, one official said. A Customs Service spokesman, Dennis Murphy, said he could neither confirm nor deny the existence of the inquiry.

The two hijackers were on separate flights that left Boston for Los Angeles last Tuesday.

Mr. al-Suqami, who was said by an official to have entered the United States on May 26, was one of the hijackers on American Airlines Flight 11, the first one that crashed into the trade center complex. Mr. Alghamdi, who neighbors said lived in Pensacola, Fla., until last August, was on United Airlines Flight 175, which hit the South Tower of the trade center.

Two other suspected hijackers who have also been linked to Mr. bin Laden's network, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaq Alhamzi, had been sought by the federal authorities before last week's attacks.

Officials said the two men, who flew into the United States through Los Angeles on June 29, had been detected by the Central Intelligence Agency at a meeting of operatives for Mr. bin Laden in Malaysia in January 2000. Mr. al-Midhar's name had also emerged as part of an investigation by American intelligence officials into the bombing of the destroyer Cole in Yemen in October 2000, an official said.

American officials said law enforcement officials had developed evidence linking other suspects in the Sept. 11 plot to people involved in previous attacks that the United States government has blamed on Mr. bin Laden, including the 1998 bombings of two American Embassies in East Africa.

The plot in Jordan was one of a series of actions that American officials said were planned around the world by members of Mr. bin Laden's network to coincide with celebrations of the millenium. According to the Jordanian authorities, who foiled the plan, associates of Mr. bin Laden had planned to blow up holy sites, a major tourist hotel and other targets in Jordan, hoping to kill Americans, Israelis and others.

In September of last year, Mr. Hijazi was convicted in absentia of being one of the two men who planned the attacks. He was arrested in Syria one month later and was subsequently sent to Jordan, where he is now being tried on the same charges by a military court. His lawyer, Jalal Darwish, has said he is not guilty.

American officials said that after Mr. Hijazi was imprisoned in Jordan, he began to cooperate with investigators there and identified Mr. al Marabh as an operative in the United States of Al Qaeda, the group that Mr. bin Laden, a Saudi-born multimillionaire, founded in Afghanistan 13 years ago to wage holy war throughout the world.

Officials said they knew relatively little about Mr. al Marabh, who has sometimes used the alias Abu Adnan.

Some officials said they believed that he and Mr. Hijazi had been together in Afghanistan in 1994. It also appears that Mr. Hijazi went to Boston from California because Mr. al Marabh was already living there, officials said.

Public records indicate that a Social Security number was issued for Mr. al Marabh in Massachusetts between 1989 and 1990. A former landlord of Mr. al Marabh's in Boston said he moved into an apartment there five or six years ago with his wife, a Vietnamese woman, but had left more than a year ago. The woman subsequently moved out last fall with the couple's young son, but did not leave a forwarding address, the landlord said.

Records also show that Mr. al Marabh obtained a Florida driver's license in February 1999, giving his address as an apartment complex north of Tampa. The manager of the apartment complex said two Arab men with different names had lived in the apartment from February 1999 to February 2000.

Efforts in recent days to locate both Mr. al Marabh and his wife in Boston and Florida were unsuccessful.

Mr. Hijazi, 32, was born in California to a family of Palestinian origin and grew up primarily in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. He told the Jordanian authorities that he had been studying business at California State University at Sacramento when he was converted to radical Islam by a Fijian Muslim who persuaded him to go to Afghanistan.

In 1997, Mr. Hijazi moved to Boston, where he met and lived with another veteran of the Afghanistan war, Bassam A. Kanj, who was killed in Lebanon in January 2000 after leading a militant rebel group in an attack against the Lebanese army. Former friends of Mr. Kanj's in Boston said he helped Mr. Hijazi lease a taxi from the Boston Cab Company, which Jordanian officials said he drove to raise money for his conspiracy in Jordan.

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

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