U.S. links Yemen clan to Sept. 11 and East Africa attacks
February 14, 2002 
NEW YORK,  The family phone of an al-Qaida suspect who killed himself Wednesday to avoid capture by Yemen’s security police had been used to relay orders to the Sept. 11 hijackers and the terrorist cells responsible for the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa and the USS Cole, U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News on Thursday.

SSAMEER AL-HADA, a Yemeni student and suspected al-Qaida courier, blew himself up with a hand grenade Wednesday outside the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, as security forces tried to pull him in for questioning. 

U.S. intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that intercepts of al-Qaida communications indicate that the al-Hada family phone was used to relay messages to the embassy bombers, the USS Cole bombers and the Sept. 11 hijackers. 

The information tends to corroborate the belief that the al-Hada clan served as a “super cell” for al-Qaida in Yemen, providing key communications support and personnel for its jihad against the United States. 

“Yemen has been a trading house, a conduit for al-Qaida,” said a U.S. investigator. 
U.S. officials say they can link the clan to the Sept. 11 attacks, the August 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the October 2000 bombing attack on the destroyer USS Cole in Aden harbor. The United States previously has accused the al-Qaida network, led by exiled Saudi Osama bin Laden, of all three attacks.

The phone in question was listed to Ahmad Mohammad ali al-Hada, the patriarch of the clan and a man described by U.S. officials as “a prominent al-Qaida member who is believed to have been involved in the Cole bombing.” He remains at large and is being sought by U.S. and Yemeni authorities. 

These officials added that they believe other family members are intimately involved in the al-Qaida war against America. Another of Ahmed’s sons, Najeeb, is thought to have died in Afghanistan during explosives training at an al-Qaida camp in 1999. 

A son-in-law is named as one of the Sept. 11 hijackers: Khalid al-Midhar, allegedly the ringleader of the al-Qaida cell that flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon. Another son-in-law, Mustafa Abdulkader, is among the 16 men listed as wanted by the FBI in its terror alert earlier this week. He, too, remains at large.

The central position the al-Hada family allegedly occupied in al-Qaida’s Yemen network came to light Wednesday after 25-year-old Sameer al-Hada, 25, killed himself while being chased by Yemeni security forces. He had been stopped for questioning as he was trying to flee from Yemen. The Yemen Observer, a local newspaper, reported Thursday that a gunfight ensued before Sameer was surrounded by police. He then threatened police with a hand grenade.

The grenade exploded in his hand, killing him instantly. No police were injured in the incident, which happened in a Sana’a suburb during the early evening. 

U.S. officials speculate that Sameer likely committed suicide to avoid revealing more about his family’s role in al-Qaida communications. For several years, U.S. investigators and prosecutors involved with the investigation of the East Africa embassy bombings have referred to a “Yemen switchboard” for al-Qaida, something U.S. officials now confirm was actually the phone of Ahmad al-Hada. 

Transcripts from the New York trial of four men eventually convicted of bombing the two U.S. embassies in Africa showed that al-Hada’s number — 011-967-1-200-578 — figured prominently in al-Qaida operations. The transcript indicates that bin Laden, or at least someone using his satellite phone, as well as bin Laden deputy Mohammed Atef and several of the embassy bombers, called Ahmad al-Hada’s number in Yemen to relay information. 

As far as the Cole bombing, a U.S. investigator said the phone was used by the bombers to “put everything together.”

And in the Sept. 11 hijacking, U.S. officials told NBC News that the hijackers left messages on the Yemen phone for others to pick up.

There are numerous references in the trial record regarding the use of Yemen as a terrorist switchboard:
 In the days before the August 1998 embassy bombings, 12 phone calls were placed by the bombing co-conspirators — including two calls using bin Laden’s own satellite phone — to a phone number in Yemen. Two of the calls, the prosecutors say, were placed by one of the bombers in the minutes before he and others left a safe house in suburban Nairobi to blow up the embassy in the Kenyan capital. The information was available in late 1998.

Other entries in the trial record show that an August 1998 Scotland Yard search of a London apartment used by bin Laden lieutenant Khalid al-Fawwaz turned up mobile phone records from Kenya showing numerous calls from al-Fawwaz to the same numbers in Yemen during 1995-96.

The embassy bombing trial led to the convictions of four men on murder charges in the two bombings on Aug. 7, 1998, which killed 224 people — 213 in Nairobi, including 12 Americans, and 11 people in Tanzania. More than 4,500 people suffered injuries in the attacks.