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March 14, 2006
AQ #2 Seen In Lodi Before 9/11

An informant for the prosecution in the case of the alleged Lodi al-Qaeda cell says that AQ's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, visited in the Lodi area in the late 1990s as the local mosque established itself as a center for radical Islamists. Naseem Khan, the prosecution witness that has testified to the activity inside the mosque, picked out the Egyptian doctor-turned-terrorist leader from a photo during his initial interrogation:

In a surprising twist, the FBI informant in the terrorism case against a Lodi man and his father said in federal court Monday that he encountered Al Qaeda's No. 2 leader in the small Central Valley farm town a few years before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Defense attorneys for Hamid Hayat and his father, Umer, said outside court that the statement by the government's key witness raised serious questions about the informant's credibility. And a former president of the Lodi mosque said terrorist leader Ayman Zawahiri was never there.

Naseem Khan, a convenience store manager turned government informant, said he told the FBI in late 2001 that he spotted Zawahiri at a Lodi mosque in 1998 and 1999.

"Every time I would go to the mosque, [Zawahiri] would be coming or going," Khan said, according to the Sacramento Bee on Monday on its website. Khan, who said he lived in Lodi at the time, testified that he spoke to Zawahiri, but never had a conversation with him. ...

Recounting Khan's testimony in court Monday, Griffin said that Khan said in an early interview with FBI agents that he was asked if he knew Osama bin Laden. Khan told them he did not know the Al Qaeda leader, but had seen a photo of him on the news with Zawahiri, who he recognized from Lodi.

Does this sound a bit fantastic? I thought so as well, but a similar report from Fox News carried this bit of information:

Al-Zawahiri is known to have traveled to the United States in the years before the terrorist attacks, as did members of the Taliban. Federal officials and news accounts say he passed through northern California on fundraising missions during the late 1980s and early 1990s, travels that included visits to mosques in the San Francisco Bay area, Stockton and Sacramento.

He may have lived in the Sacramento area for an undetermined period in or around 1995 while visiting area mosques, according to an FBI agent in Washington, D.C., who spoke Monday on condition he not be named.

Quite frankly, I found this surprising. One would have expected this information to have received much wider attention than it has apparently gotten. At the very least, the 9/11 Commission should have investigated Zawahiri's travels through the US, but the final report carries not a single mention of the AQ leader ever having been inside the US. The Commission had been tasked with investigating and reporting all of the ways in which American defenses failed in the run-up to the 9/11 attacks, and having the terrorist leader raising funds and proselytizing inside the US should have been a highlight of the report, if the panel claims any competence at all.

The defense has gone on the attack in this case to undermine the testimony, complaining that the judge blocked them from questioning Khan's credibility. They claimed that the Pakistani ex-pat community in Lodi would have noticed an Egyptian like Zawahiri had he started attending the mosque, and the mosque president and other officials do not have any recollection of Zawahiri attending their services. It seems a bit far-fetched to me that the people at the mosque would have required attendees to state their ethnicity prior to entry, and that assumes that the mosque officials are being sincere in their remarks. If that's the best defense that Hayat's attorneys can muster, no wonder the judge ruled their objections out of order.

Michelle Malkin has more on this story, and AJ Strata wonders if this may have been the big secret that the Pentagon wants to keep from being revealed in the Able Danger story. Perhaps -- but I think that a revelation of Zawahiri traveling through the US as late as 1999 wouldn't be as embarrassing as having identified Mohammed Atta in 2000 as a potential Islamist terrorist.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 14, 2006 5:45 AM

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» Was Zawahiri, AQ Number 2, In the US? from The Strata-Sphere
The AP is reporting an FBI informant has claimed that Zawahiri, Bin Laden’s number two in Al Qaeda was in the US prior to 9-11: An FBI informant testified today that Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man lived in the Central Valley town of Lodi... [Read More]

Tracked on March 14, 2006 8:08 AM

» Could Be Mistaken Identity from Yippee-Ki-Yay!

Ayman al-Zawahiri isn't the most distinguished-looking gent, after all. An FBI informant testified Monday in Sacramento federal court that al-Qaida’s second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, lived in Lodi during parts ...

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Tracked on March 14, 2006 8:18 AM


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