Why the FBI Sweats Through Ramadan

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Al Qaeda's 'Night of Power'?

The FBI has decided to stop sending out threat warnings to put the nation on the alert — "How could we be on higher alert than we are?" says one agent. But privately, the agency remains intensely worried about Al Qaeda schemes poised to erupt like fireworks around the sacred moment of Al-Qadr, the Night of Power, when Mohammed received the first words of the Koran from Allah. The precise date of the Night of Power, or Night of Destiny, changes from year to year, but it is celebrated during the last ten days of the Muslim holy month or Ramadan, which is due to end around Dec. 14. Analysts have concluded that Al Qaeda followers plotted at least three acts of terror around the Night of Power in the 1999-2000 season. All were interdicted. This year, says a federal official "we're kind of sweating it out through the end of Ramadan."

The Case Against Moussaoui

When Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested in Minnesota last August on immigration violations, sources say, he had in his possession the telephone number and address of Ramzi Binalshibh, a Yemeni student in Hamburg. Those meager notes and a money transfer are at the center of the terrorism conspiracy case federal investigators are building against the mysterious French-Moroccan.

FBI agents believe that Binalshibh, a.k.a. Ramzi Omar, is a dedicated terrorist who planned to join his Hamburg roommates Mohammed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi and their frequent companion Ziad Al Jarrah as the 20th hijacker in the September 11 terror attacks. Binalshibh had registered at the Florida Flight Training Center, attended by Jarrah but was denied a visa because the State Department feared a poor Yemeni would remain in the U.S. illegally. (Atta, a middle class Egyptian with a good command of English, had no problem obtaining visas, nor did the other hijackers — 15 Saudis, two UAE citizens and one Lebanese.)

According to sources familiar with the FBI investigation, Binalshibh, left behind in Hamburg, sent money to Moussaoui in Norman, Okla., where the French-Moroccan was attending flight school. Curiously, though, agents have found no trace of contacts between Moussaoui and Atta or any of the other 18 hijackers. If Moussaoui was a member of another Al Qaeda cell, as investigators suspect, where's the rest of it? Most urgently, is a plot still afoot? These are the questions the FBI and its European allies are scrambling to answer.

Moussaoui, in custody in New York, may soon be indicted, but he isn't talking. The FBI hasn't found evidence of suspected collaborators in the U.S., nor any reservations to travel abroad. Binalshibh, agents believe, knows all about Moussaoui as well as Atta's group, but he vanished from Hamburg just before September 11. The Germans have charged him with terrorism conspiracy, along with two other Atta-Binalshibh buddies, both Moroccans, who have also disappeared. The FBI has quietly positioned agents within a short flight of Afghanistan, hoping Binalshibh and his pals will turn up alive and tractable in a POW round-up.