What we learned from the report of the 911 Commission XII

On 12 October 2000, an al Qaeda team staged a suicide bombing against the American warship, the USS Cole while it was at anchor in the Yemen port of Aden. The attack killed 17 American sailors.

Although the CIA “described initial Yemeni support after the Cole [bombing] as ‘slow and inadequate,’…the Yemenis provided strong evidence connecting the Cole attack to al Qaeda during the second half of November, identifying individual operatives whom the United States knew were part of al Qaeda. During December the United States was able to corroborate this evidence. But the United States did not have evidence about Bin Laden’s personal involvement in the attacks until Nashiri[1] and Khallad[2] were captured in 2002 and 2003.” (p. 278.)

The Yemenis arrested two of the surviving members of the Cole team; extracted from them the names and descriptions of Nashiri, their immediate commander, and Khallad, the liaison who came from Afghanistan; and suggested to the Americans (correctly) that Khallad was actually Tawfiq bin Attash. (p. 277.) Both Nashiri and Khallad were known to the Americans to have been involved in the 1998 embassy bombings, for which al Qaeda had claimed credit, and to be linked to al Qaeda. (p. 278.) An FBI special agent participating in the investigation recognized the name Khallad as someone described by an al Qaeda source as Bin Laden’s “run boy.” In mid-December 2000 the Americans’ al Qaeda source identified a photograph of Khallad obtained from the Yemenis as Bin Laden’s agent. (pp. 277-278.)

Moreover, the 12 October 2000 “attack on the USS Cole galvanized al Qaeda’s recruitment efforts.” [OBL ordered production of a propaganda video that highlighted the attack on the Cole.] “Al Qaeda’s image was very important to Bin Laden, and the video was widely disseminated… and caused many extremists to travel to Afghanistan for training and jihad. Al Qaeda members considered the video an effective tool in their struggle for pre-eminence among other Islamist and jihadist movements.” (p. 276.) [NB: Al Qaeda appeared to be claiming responsibility for the attack. How could the CIA still waver over identifying OBL as the originator of the attack on the Cole?]

In mid-November 2000 Sandy Berger asked Hugh Shelton to review plans for military action against Bin Laden. On 25 November 2000 Berger and Clarke wrote to President Clinton to inform him that the investigation would soon show that the Cole attack had been launched by a terrorist cell whose leaders belonged to al Qaeda and whose members had trained in al Qaeda facilities; the memo also sketched out a “final ultimatum” to the Taliban being pushed by Clarke. (pp. 280-281.)




[1] Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (1965- ). Saudi Arabian. One of the “Arab Afghans” who fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Eventually aligned with Osama bin Laden. Captured by the CIA in 2002. Reportedly “waterboarded” during interrogation. Currently being held at Guantanamo.

[2] Walid Muhammad Salih bin Roshayed bin Attash (1979- ).  Yemeni immigrant to Saudi Arabia.  Another “Arab Afghan.”  Became very close to Osam bin Laden.  Captured in 2003.

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