As the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 looms, Yediot Aharonot reveals an almost-anniversary of an attack thwarted at the last minute.
According to a former FBI agent, Al Qaeda was in the advanced stages of planning an attack on Tel Aviv in 2002 when the FBI inadvertently stumbled upon information that enabled them to intervene and save hundreds of lives. Until recently, the story was under a CIA gag order.
Ali Soufan, a counterterrorism expert with the FBI, had been appointed to oversee the monitoring of Al Qaeda. An Al Qaeda operative from the Palestinian Authority named Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn had been captured in Afghanistan, and Soufan was tasked with interrogating him.
“When I began interrogating Abu Zubaydah [the fighter’s nom de guerre] the first thing I said to him was: ‘You’re such a professional, so careful. What mistake do you think you made that enabled us to capture you?’
“Abu Zubaydah thought for a moment and responded, ‘The answer is obvious … The Israelis got hold of our contacts for our upcoming operation.’
“That’s how he revealed to us something that we had no idea about – that they were planning a multi-site terror attack in Israel, in several nightclubs, which according to their estimation, would kill about 200 people at once,” Soufan related.
An Al Queda commander was coordinating the operation from Europe and was due to travel to Israel to coordinate the multi-site attack. The CIA immediately notified Israeli and European intelligence organizations and the commander was arrested.
“Luckily, we managed to stop them at the last moment,” Soufan said.