n FBI mole who provided valuable intelligence on al Qaeda and met with Osama bin Laden was lured away from the FBI to work for the CIA, but was killed by al Qaeda operatives in Bosnia who suspected he was an informant, NBC News has learned exclusively.
The informant, a Sudan-born driver and confidante to “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman, the radical Muslim cleric who allegedly masterminded the first attempt to take down the World Trade Center, had been the sole human asset providing first-person information about al Qaeda in the mid-1990s as the terror group gained strength around the globe.
According to sources familiar with the management of the mole, the FBI recruited him in 1993 because he was a known associate of the Blind Sheikh.
The Egyptian-born Sheikh had been an FBI target since at least Nov. 5, 1990, when one of his followers, El Sayyid Nosair, shot and killed radical Rabbi Meir Kahane in a Manhattan hotel. After the shooting, boxes of information were found in Nosair’s apartment that hinted at a larger conspiracy.
Under pressure, the Sheikh moved some of his operations from the New York area to Los Angeles, where the future mole was living. The mole became the Sheikh’s driver. That’s when the FBI first noticed him, and started the process that would turn him into an informant.
In early 1993, the Immigration and Naturalization Service tipped the FBI to the driver’s identity, and the FBI found that he was on a terrorism watch list. The INS then tried to deport the driver, only to discover that the driver’s status as a possible Islamic militant made it hard to find a country that would accept him.
Jordan agreed to take him, but then threw him in jail for three months. The driver wound up in Yemen, where the FBI began to reel him in.
Though the chronology is unclear, by around this time terrorists had mounted their first attack on New York’s World Trade Center. On Feb. 26, 1993, a truck filled with 1,500 pounds of explosive detonated in an underground garage, killing six people but failing to take down the twin towers.
The FBI increased its focus on the Sheikh and his associates, who were suspected of involvement. In Yemen, the FBI agent who would later become the driver’s handler – Bassem Youssef, the bureau’s highest ranking Arabic speaker – made his first approach. According to sources, he introduced himself to the driver not as an agent, but as a friend who could help reunite the driver with his family in California, via personal connections with an important L.A. judge.
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