Ahmed Ajaj

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Ahmed Mohammad Ajaj (Arabic: أحمد محمد عجاج‎; also transliterated Ahmad Mohammad Ajaj; born 1966) was convicted of participating in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. He is currently serving a 115-year sentence at ADX Florence in Florence, Colorado for his role in the bombing.[1]

Early life[edit]

Ajaj was born in the West Bank and immigrated to Houston, Texas, where he worked as a pizza delivery driver.

Training for Terrorist Attacks[edit]

April 24, 1992, abandoning his first asylum claim, Ajaj flew from New York to Peshawar, Pakistan, using the alias Ibraham Salameh, from there to Camp Khalden on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Lacking necessary credentials, Ajaj was sent to Saudi Arabia to obtain a letter of recommendation.

May 16, 1992, he flew to Saudi Arabia via United Arab Emirates where he procured a letter of introduction requesting the leader of Camp Khalden provide the bearer with training in the use of weapons and explosives. Ajaj returned to Pakistan via UAE, arriving June 14, 1992, and began the bomb building course.

Return to U.S.[edit]

August 31, 1992, using services of a Pakistani travel agent, Ahmad Ajaj and Ramzi Yousef boarded Pakistan International Airlines flight 703 in Peshawar and flew to Karachi, Pakistan, then on to Kennedy Airport in New York City, flying first class during both legs of the trip, believing they would receive less scrutiny.

Ajaj and Yousef together had five passports and numerous documents supporting their aliases: a Saudi passport showing signs of alteration, an Iraqi passport bought from a Pakistani official, a photo-substituted Swedish passport, a photo-substituted British passport, a Jordanian passport, identification cards, bank records, education records, and medical records, and carried WAMY published manuals. (911 Commission)

On September 1, 1992, at Kennedy airport Ajaj was sent to secondary immigration inspection, where he claimed he was a member of the Swedish press, travelling as Khurram Khan with International Student Identification card and a falsified Swedish passport. It is unknown whether Ajaj was meant to cause a scene as a distraction to let Yousef slip through, or legitimately lost his temper, but he shouted to the inspector: "My mother was Swedish! If you don't believe me check your computer." The passport was legitimate, belonging to a Swedish citizen who had attended a training camp in Pakistan and surrendered his identity cards to those who ran the camp, but Ajaj had used simple school paste to plaster his own photograph over the legitimate owner.[1]

In Ajaj's luggage INS inspector Mark Cozine and Robert Malafronte found a Saudi passport, altered Jordanian passport, with supporting documents for both; a plane ticket and British passport in the name of Mohammed Azan, bomb-making manuals, videos and other materials on assemble weapons and explosives assembly, letters referencing his attendance at terrorist training camps; anti-American and anti-Israeli materials, instructions on document forgery, and two rubber stamp devices to alter the seal on passports issued from Saudi Arabia. One of the manuals, written in 1982, seven years before the group was founded, was entitled al-Qaeda (The Basics) and was more widely reported after the group came to prominence.[2] An INS supervisor informed the FBI Terrorist Task Force which declined to get involved but requested copies of the file. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was notified but was "not interested."

Yousef was also sent to secondary immigration inspection for lacking a passport or a visa that would allow him to enter U.S. He presented an Iraqi passport he said he bought from a Pakistani official for $100 or more (up to $2700 in one report), adding that the passport was fraudulent. Yousef claimed he was fleeing Saddam Hussein and needed asylum, that he had been recently beaten by Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait because they thought he was a member of a Kuwaiti guerilla organization. INS inspector Martha Morales also found in his possession a boarding pass in the name of Mohammed Azan, and an identity card, from Al-Bunyan Islamic Center in Arizona, with Yousef's photo and the name Khurram Khan, under which Ajaj had traveled into the U.S. Yousef had signed the back of the card as Ramzi Ahmed Yousef.

Yousef had checks from Lloyds Bank of London and an address book listing what Morales later called "unusual places [in America] for someone to visit whom had just come from halfway around the world." Fingerprinted and photographed, his passport was confiscated. Morales said Yousef spoke excellent English with a British accent, admitted his real name Ramzi Yousef and said he was born in UAE in 1967, and was a citizen of Pakistan. Her Supervisor overruled Morales's recommendation to detain Yousef on grounds the INS detention center was full - even though Yousef had committed acts of immigration fraud (travelling under three different identities and lying to an INS official), and also given inspectors evidence linking him to Ahmad Ajaj. With intermingled documents and both men in secondary inspection, still Yousef was not linked to Ajaj. He made a claim for political asylum and was released in the United States pending a hearing.

Ajaj's terrorist kit, counterfeit entry stamp, and outburst were all decoys intended to deflect INS attention away from Yousef and facilitate Yousef's processing - a premeditated plan intended to exploit routine activities of busy INS inspectors. After more than 8 hours of questioning, at 5:00 a.m. September 2, 1992, INS handed Ajaj to Wackenhut Correctional Corporation for incarceration in a converted warehouse in Queens.

Ajaj's passport revealed his June 15, 1992 Pakistani entry stamp was counterfeit. Ajaj told authorities he had a political asylum claim from a prior entry in February 1992, and was detained pending a hearing. Ajaj later pleaded guilty to use of an altered passport and served six months in prison. Yousef never appeared for his hearing.

Participation from prison[edit]

Incarcerated from September 2, 1992, Ajaj remained in contact with Yousef and other co-conspirators and continued to be involved in the World Trade Center bombing plot. Ajaj never contacted Yousef directly. Calls were patched through "Big 5 Hamburgers" in Dallas, rendering law enforcement detection more difficult. The calls were not translated until long after the WTC bombing.[3]

Beginning on December 4, 1992 (and later on December 29, 1992), Yousef placed a series of calls to Ajaj's lawyer in New York and to Ajaj's friend in Texas. Later that same day, a call from Ajaj was transferred to Yousef, permitting the two to speak directly. In the conversation, Ajaj immediately brought up the terrorist kit informing Yousef that the Court had ordered the government to return Ajaj's belongings. When Yousef asked if he could take possession of Ajaj's things, Ajaj readily agreed at first, but then said that it was not a good idea for Yousef personally to obtain the materials from the government because it might jeopardize Yousef's "business", which, Ajaj said, would be "a pity!"

Ajaj was released from prison March 1, 1993 – three days after the WTC bombing. He was rearrested in connection with the attack March 9, 1993, and his asylum request was denied on April 24, 1993. In jail at the time of the WTC bombing, Ajaj was convicted of having played a role "in the early stages of the conspiracy" and convicted of nine counts, sentenced to 115 years, fined $250,000, and ordered to pay 250 million dollars in restitution.[4]

Ajaj did not give up on his political asylum claim. He petitioned for a new attorney and an exclusion hearing – held to determine whether someone is admissible in the U.S. – in Houston, where he had filed his original political asylum claim. Ajaj's request was denied April 24, 1993, on grounds that a passport holder from a visa waiver country who uses a fraudulent passport (Ajaj had used a bogus Swedish passport) is not entitled to such a hearing. Not satisfied with that outcome, Ajaj asked to file a new political asylum claim and was given ten days by an immigration judge to do so. Thus, Ajaj was able to file a political asylum claim after his arrest for involvement in the WTC bombing.

A 2011 NPR report claimed he was imprisoned in a highly restrictive Communication Management Unit.[5]

Lung Cancer[edit]

In the late 1990s Ajaj was diagnosed with lung cancer. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons moved him to a medical facility, where he had surgery to remove the cancerous lung and received radiation treatment. He has filed scores of grievances and several lawsuits against the U.S. prison system, alleging everything from interference with his mail to denial of access to lawyers, and violations of his Eighth Amendment rights. (Abbott, Rocky Mountain News 3/26/2005)

Ajaj was the only remaining plaintiff in a lawsuit by federal prisoners alleging harm from secondhand smoke seeping through the air filtration system at SuperMax.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Katz, Samuel M. "Relentless Pursuit: The DSS and the manhunt for the al-Qaeda terrorists", 2002
  2. ^ Benjamin, Daniel & Steven Simon. "The Age of Sacred Terror", 2002
  3. ^ LA Times 11/14/2001
  4. ^ Terrorism Knowledge Base
  5. ^ DATA & GRAPHICS: Population Of The Communications Management Units, Margot Williams and Alyson Hurt, NPR, 3-3-11, retrieved 2011 03 04 from npr.org

External links[edit]