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"I fear that all I have done is awakened a sleeping giant and
filled him with a terrible resolve." — Admiral Yamamoto
following the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941


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INVESTIGATING AL-QAEDA

ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, commercial airline planes were used as weapons of mass destruction in an unprecedented terrorist attack upon the United States, precipating a global search for the perpetrators and launching America's "War Against Terrorism."

Following is a chronology of events that have occured to date during the investigation of Al-Qaeda, the terrorist group credited for the attack:
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On the trail of terror: An Investigative Overview (BBC News)
2001:september . october . november . december
2002:january . february . march . april . may . june . july . august . september
october . november . december
2003:january . february . march . april . may . june . july . august
september . october . november . december
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

2001

Ground Zero, 11 September 2001September 11, 2001: The United States suffers its worst terrorist attack. Thousands die as planes are flown into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

President George W Bush vows to avenge the "thousands of lives" ended by "evil, despicable acts of terror".

Bin Laden, America's most wanted9-14-01: The FBI reveals the identities of the 19 alleged hijackers and launches the biggest investigation in its history. US Attorney-General John Ashcroft says that all roads in the investigation lead to Saudi-born dissident Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organisation. In the initial days after the attacks, the FBI says it is following up 50,000 leads. More than 4,000 people are put on the case.

Congress approves the use of force in response to the attacks and releases $40 billion emergency spending.

9-24-01: The US authorities freeze the assets of 27 groups and individuals, many of them Islamic charities, alleged to be funding terrorist organizations.

9-27-01: FBI director Robert Mueller, for the first time in public, says that at least one of the hijackers was connected to al-Qaeda. The FBI releases photographs of the 19 alleged hijackers, listing their names and aliases. Officials admit that the identities of some of the attackers remain unknown.

9-29-01: Police in Weisbaden, Germany, arrest three men suspected of plotting terrorist attacks. The men are charged with possession of weapons and forging documents. The e-mail mailing list of one of the detained men contains the name of a fugitive believed to have lived in Hamburg with three of the 11 September attackers.

October 01, 2001: US investigators report that they have established strong financial links between al-Qaeda and the 19 hijackers. They say there is evidence showing money transfers from an account held in the United Arab Emirates by an alleged leading al-Qaeda operative, Mostafa Mohammed Ahmad, and an account in the name of Mohammed Atta, the alleged leader of the hijackers, at a bank in Florida. These are said to have taken place on 8 and 9 September 2001. Atta is also alleged to have returned unused funds to the same bank account in the UAE.

Al-Qaeda and Iraq were suspected of the anthrax attacks, then discounted10-5-01: A man dies in the US after contracting the rarest form of anthrax. Robert Stevens, 63, died in Palm Beach, Florida, after contracting pulmonary anthrax.

The anthrax attacks eventually kill five people and leave 17 seriously ill. The weapons-grade anthrax was posted in letters to a number of people and institutions, including US broadcasters and Senate buildings.

Al-Qaeda is initially suspected of being behind the anthrax attacks. Iraq is also suspected. These are later discounted.

10-7-01: US and British forces begin air strikes against targets in Afghanistan in an attempt to overthrow the Taleban and to shut down al-Qaeda.

Osama Bin Laden warns the US that it will never enjoy security until the Palestinians also feel secure, and not until "the infidel's armies leave the land of Mohammed" — an apparent reference to US bases in the Middle East. The statement by Bin Laden is broadcast on al-Jazeera television in Qatar two hours after the US and Britain launch attacks on Afghanistan. Bin Laden does not claim responsibility for the 11 September attacks.

10-08-01: Former governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, takes over as director of the Office of Homeland Security. He is responsible for co-ordinating federal, state and local security activities to combat terrorism. He is responsible for gathering information on and issuing warnings on terror attacks.

Al-Zawahri is believed to be al-Qaeda's main ideologue10-10-01: President Bush releases a list of America's 22 "most wanted". The list is topped by Osama Bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri and associate Mohammed Atef.

10-11-01: The Egyptian authorities announce that they have been holding two men alleged to have connections with al-Qaeda since May. Both men are said to have had training in civil aviation.

The US widens the list of individuals and institutions whose assets it is freezing in an attempt to stop what it believes are sources of funding for terrorists. Another 37 people and groups are affected, including Saad al-Sharif, related by marriage to Bin Laden, and several Islamic charities.

10-18-01: The German authorities issue an arrest warrant for Zakariya Essabar, a Moroccan student alleged to have lived with three of the 11 September hijackers in Hamburg, and who worshipped at the same mosque as Mohammed Atta.

10-19-01: A Muslim cleric, who lives in London, denies having any links to international terrorism after his assets are frozen and his passport confiscated by the British authorities. An investigation into his alleged terrorist links revealed that Abu Qatada had more than $270,000 in his bank account. He is alleged by US and Spanish investigators to be Bin Laden's ambassador in Europe and faces a death sentence in Jordan. Abu Qatada disappears in mid-December. He was found and arrested in October 2002.

The CIA's ban on assassinations may be lifted to deal with the threat of al-Qaeda10-21-01: It emerges that the CIA is given leave to do whatever is necessary to destroy al-Qaeda. This is widely interpreted as meaning the agency is being allowed to carry out assassinations, 25 years after President Gerald Ford decreed that that "no person employed by or acting on behalf of the US Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination."

It emerges at the end of October that surveillance by European and US investigators reveals continuing terrorist networks and plots related to al-Qaeda. A cell based in Milan, but with alleged links all over Europe, is alleged by the authorities to have been run by Tunisian Essid Sami Ben Khemais.

10-24-01: US Congress approves anti-terrorism legislation that gives law enforcement agencies sweeping new powers to monitor and detain suspected terrorists. The bill comes in for heavy criticism from civil liberties groups.

On the same day a 55-year-old Pakistani man detained by the FBI as part of its investigation is found dead in his cell. Officials say he died of a heart attack.

More than 900 people across the US are detained without charge or trial.

November 1, 2001: A letter purportedly from Osama Bin Laden calls on Muslims in Pakistan to stand up for Islam as the country supports the US-led campaign against Afghanistan.

11-7-01: The US Government takes further steps to freeze the assets of financial networks alleged to be linked to Bin Laden. The names of 62 groups and people have been added to a list of suspected terrorist associates signed by President Bush. They include Islamic money changers with offices in the US, which investigators say have funnelled tens of millions of dollars around the world to fund terrorist activities. The premises of some of these organisations in the US are raided.

11-13-01: Northern Alliance troops take control of Kabul amid scenes of chaos and jubilation after months of a US-led military campaign aimed at overthrowing the Taleban and destroying al-Qaeda.

11-14-01: Police in Spain arrest eight men suspected of planning terrorist attacks. The Spanish interior ministry says the men have links with al-Qaeda.

11-18-01: A Spanish judge orders the detention of eight terror suspects believed to have links to the 11 September suicide attacks. The suspects are alleged to have recruited people to attend training camps. All deny being linked to any terrorist group.

11-19-01: The FBI begins processing detained members of the Taleban in Kandahar, Afghanistan, ahead of interrogation.

11-24-01: A Taleban prisoner held by the Northern Alliance in Qala-e-Jhangi fort near Mazar-e-Sharif kills himself and an alliance police chief by setting off a hidden grenade. The next day, several hundred Taleban prisoners launched a revolt in the fortress. There are conflicting reports about what triggered the three-day battle, but 400 Taleban prisoners are believed to have been killed in the operation to crush the revolt. An American, John Walker Lindh, is discovered among the Taleban fighters and survives the battle.

11-27-01: US Attorney-General John Ashcroft says that 600 people are in federal custody in connection with investigations into the 11 September attacks. Most of the detainees are held on immigration violations. None of those detained since the attacks have been charged in connection with the attacks. Senator Russell Feingold is critical of what he sees as an over aggressive investigation, says that he is "deeply troubled by [Mr Ashcroft's] refusal to provide a full accounting of everyone who has been arrested and why".

Moussaoui is the first to be charged in connection with the attacksDecember 12, 2001: A man is charged with conspiring with Osama Bin Laden and other suspects to kill thousands of Americans in the 11 September attacks. Zacarias Moussaoui, 33, was detained on immigration charges in August after he aroused suspicion at a Minnesota flight school where he sought training. In court Moussaoui declares himself a member of al-Qaeda and enters a guilty plea. This is subsequently withdrawn. At times Moussaoui appears not to understand what is happening around him or the gravity of the situation. He dismisses his lawyers, who he accuses of conspiring to kill him, and says he will represent himself. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

12-14-01: The US Government releases a video which it says proves that Osama Bin Laden masterminded the 11 September attacks. In the West, the tape is widely seen as strengthening the case against Bin Laden. In the Islamic world there is widespread scepticism and some claims that it is a fake.

Authorities in Indonesia acknowledge for the first time the ties between local Islamic groups and Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network. Laskar Jihad, a Muslim militant group, is alleged to have received help from al-Qaeda members in waging jihad against Christians in eastern Indonesia, in the Moluccan Islands and in central Sulawesi. The group insists it is not linked to al-Qaeda. US officials discovered in August that al-Qaeda had obtained detailed plans of the US diplomatic compound in Jakarta.

12-18-01: President Bush signs legislation declaring 11 September a public holiday called Patriot Day.

12-19-01: Yemeni forces attack a village east of the capital Sana'a where suspected members of Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network may be hiding. They meet heavy resistance in al-Husoun in Marib province. More than 15 government soldiers were killed in the incident. Washington sends hundreds of troops to Yemen to train up the Yemeni security forces. US officials fear that al-Qaeda is in hiding and regrouping in the tribal regions of Yemen, where sympathisers are offering them refuge.

Reid is believed to have converted to Islam in prison12-23-01: Briton Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber, is arrested on a flight from Paris to Miami. He allegedly had explosives hidden in his shoes. The incident raises fears that there were "sleeper terrorists" sympathetic to Bin Laden ready to attack all over the world.

12-27-01: Qatar-based television station, al-Jazeera, releases a five-minute video of Bin Laden in which he refers to the 11 September attacks. The dating of the video seems to suggest that Bin Laden was alive in early December 2001.

At the end of December, US press reports say that the FBI is conducting more that 150 separate investigations into al-Qaeda related activities in the US. In some cases, the investigation may only be surveillance of people believed to be sympathetic to al-Qaeda, and few leads are expected to result in arrests or charges.
2002 >>
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[Timeline Sources: BBC News, CNN]


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