September 3, 2010

11-5:

First Blood: Was Meir Kahane’s murder al-Qaida’s earliest attack on U.S. soil? (Peter Lance, Sep 1, 2010, Tablet)

Last fall I received a cryptic email from Emad Salem, the ex-Egyptian Army major who was the FBI’s first undercover asset in what would become known as the war on terror. I’d told Salem’s remarkable story in my last three books, which were critical of the bureau’s counterterrorism record. Because I had treated him fairly, Salem reached out to me after years in the Federal Witness Protection Program.

We made plans to meet in early November, after a lecture I was giving at New York University. But Salem didn’t show. I went back to my hotel that night and had chalked it up as a lost opportunity. The phone rang at 2 in the morning. It was Salem, summoning me to a meeting outside 26 Federal Plaza, the building that houses the FBI’s New York office. Very cloak and dagger, but that’s how this man rolls. You don’t infiltrate the cell responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing without practicing a little tradecraft. Anyway, when my cab pulled in to Foley Square a few minutes later, Salem was standing in the shadows.

That was the start of a series of interviews that led to some astonishing revelations about two of the most infamous al-Qaida murders since Osama Bin Laden formed his terror network. The first one—in fact, arguably the first blood spilled by al-Qaida on U.S. soil—occurred on the night of November 5, 1990, just after Rabbi Meir Kahane, the founder of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Defense League, finished a speech at the Marriott East Side in New York.

Kahane, a volatile figure who had been expelled from the Israeli Knesset in the mid-1980s and returned to the United States to warn American Jews about what he believed to be a “second holocaust” at the hands of radical Islam, was gunned down by El Sayyid Nosair, an Egyptian émigré. The New York Police Department initially labeled him a lone gunman. I have argued that it was much more than that: an unsolved murder with dire implications for the war on terror.

Now, as a result of new intelligence I’ve learned from Salem, it’s clear for the first time that the rabbi’s death was directly linked to Osama Bin Laden. More surprising, there was a second gunman on the night of Kahane’s murder: a young Jordanian cab driver named Bilal Alkaisi. Alkaisi was also identified in FBI files I’ve obtained as the “emir” of a hit team in a second grisly al-Qaida-related homicide months after the assassination—the 1991 murder of Egyptian immigrant Mustafa Shalabi. The identities of the alleged killers in that second slaying have now become known as a result of information from Salem that prompted the New York Police Department to reopen the Shalabi case.

But the real news is that Alkaisi, originally indicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was cut loose by the feds in 1994 and presumably remains at large. This new intelligence, about a pair of historic terror-related homicides in New York City, lay buried for years in the files of the Joint Terrorism Task Force—until I obtained them from a government source.

As I tell it in “The Spy Who Came in for the Heat,” an investigative piece I wrote for Playboy’s September issue, Emad Salem was arguably the most important asset in the U.S. war with al-Qaida. But my interviews with him and the intel they have kicked loose provide shocking new insights into the ongoing failure of the FBI to reform its counterterrorism capabilities almost a decade after the Sept. 11 attacks. [...]

It’s now clear that Bilal Alkaisi was a linchpin connecting the Kahane assassination with the World Trade Center bombing, effectively recasting Kahane’s significance, if not in life, then in the manner of his death. In my books, I prove a direct connection between Ramzi Yousef’s first Trade Center attack in 1993 and the “planes as missiles” plot executed on Sept. 11, which was designed by Yousef in Manila in 1994 and executed by his uncle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in 2001. What more could other U.S. intelligence agencies like the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency have learned, in the years leading up to the Sept. 11 plot, if the full truth behind the rabbi’s murder and its place in Bin Laden’s decades-long plot to attack the United States had been known?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at September 3, 2010 2:34 PM
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