From Afghanistan To Boston, The Al Qaeda Sleeper Cell Awakens

Adam Fitzgerald
17 min readMay 9, 2020

“Things are possible with God’s help. Their fortifications will not impede the faithful mujahidin’s resolve, God willing. We were surprised by the US soldier’s psychological level in the Somali war. There was nothing for him to fight for. It was just a media show. There is no comparison between him and the Russian fighters, against whom we fought in Afghanistan. The Russian soldier is more courageous and patient than the US soldier. I took up arms against the Soviets in Afghanistan for 10 years, and we believe that our battle with the United States is easy compared with the battles in which we engaged in Afghanistan. And we are now more determined to continue until we meet God [meaning until death].”

(Osama Bin Laden, interview with Al-Quds-Al-Arabi, 11–27–1996)

The desert landscape is absent of lush green foliage, however it serves a purpose, the rugged landscape is unequaled for guerrilla warfare training. The Khalden training camp located in the mountainous Patkia Province in Eastern Afghanistan. The camp is regarded as the most well known, and also the oldest outside of Al Masada. Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi a Libyan national, was a close associate of Abu Zubaydah, a suspected Al Qaeda recruiter, was the lead instructor at the camp. Zubaydah ran operations out of Pakistan, and had no physical involvement with the camp unlike al-Libi. The camp was ideologically at odds with Al Qaeda, and most of the trainees were screened to refuse acceptance of “fanatics” for which Zubaydah was in charge.

Mohamad Elzahabi, born in Lebanon, was given permanent resident status in the United States in 1986. He had become infatuated with the Afghan-Soviet conflict, and flew to Pakistan. There he was recommended to train at Khalden. He began with small arms training, become so good, he took sniper training and then began training others on small arms tactics. According to Elzahabi to FBI investigators it was here he would meet there other individuals in his small arms training classes, Nabil al-Marabh, Raed Hijazi, and Bassam Kanj. Elzahabi would also claim to have met future notable terrorist figures, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (ISIS Founder), Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Muhammad. These accounts are debatable, as Zubaydah claims to have never met with Elzahabi in future testimony.

By 1993, Elzahabi would travel to Chechnya, and begin participating in the conflict with the Soviets there. al-Marabh would try and enter Canada by 1994, while using a fraudulent Saudi passport. However his request for asylum was denied by the Canadian Foreign Office. He tries to enter the United States in 1995, but his application for asylum is also denied. al-Marabh was not deterred, he would continue living inside both the U.S and Canada illegally. Staying in Boston and while here he meets with Hijazi, where they would both drive taxi’s for Boston Cab Co. Hijazi had lived in Boston for 2 years, while Kanj for 15, all three men would work for the same cab company.

Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi

According to a report from the Daily Globe:

“Kanj, who came to Boston in 1985 after fleeing his native Lebanon, worked as a taxi driver starting in the mid-1990s and helped secure Hijazi a job leasing and driving cabs for Boston Cab Co. Fellow drivers recall the two men as hard-working, with Kanj being the more outgoing. ‘’They were never any problem,’’ said Edward Tutunjian, president of Boston Cab Co.”

Al-Marabh and Hijazi are roommates for at least two months. They would begin talking about furthering the jihad against the West, operations which they would later claim would be in response to the United States further military action against the Muslims in Somalia and Chechnya. Hijazi is saving his earnings to spend on bomb plots and is working on an al-Qaeda plot to attack a US warship. By 1997, Elzahabi had begun residency in Everett and begin working as his 3 compatriots, at Boston Cab Co. Elzahabi had the good fortune to run into a neighbor from the town of Everett, Mashour Masoud, whom was a cab driver for the same company. Masoud would tell investigators later that he met Elzahabi and al-Marabh while working as a driver out of Logan International Airport in 1997.

“I know he [Elzahabi] was friends with Nabil. Both were in Afghanistan fighting the Russians in the 1980s,”

According to Masoud, Elzhabi would ask him when he wasn’t driving if he could use his cab to get some extra cash. To which Masoud agreed. Elzahabi was quiet and had a “good nature” about him. For six months Elzahabi drove Masoud’s cab during the day, handing it back to him at night. They also lived together for five or six months, sharing an apartment above Angelina’s Submarine Sandwich shop in Everett until Elzahabi left the area.

Meanwhile Hijazi is accosted by FBI agents from the Boston field office, it is suspected that Hijazi is involved in the drug trafficking trade. The heroin drug trafficking from Afghanistan to the Boston area had not involved Hijazi, but because they knew he had visited Afghanistan (but unaware of his training at Khalden) asked him if he would be a “willing informant”. To which Hijazi agreed. Based on an anonymous source from the Boston FBI office, Hijazi also provided information about “Arab terrorists and terrorist sympathizers,” but the agents were more interested in the heroin trade. The FBI would later be asked about the validity of Hijazi an an “intelligence source” to which they would question Hijazi’s statements.

al-Marabh would begin saving most of his earnings as well as making several cash deposits, as well as wire transfers overseas, to which some of the funding went to Hijazi, who at this point is in Yemen. According to U.S Customs and George Tenet (CIA Director) some of this funding went to future 9/11 hijacker, Satam al-Susqami who had a SunTrust account in Boston. The primary source of al-Marabh’s funding is not exactly known according to FBI investigators. By 1998, Elzahabi would travel to participate in Hajj, and was asked by Abu Zubaydah to come and support the Khalden camp, to which Elzahabi refused. Elzhabi instead he travels to Chechnya, and begins activities with the Ibn Khattab forces there against the Soviets.

With FBI investigators now monitoring al-Marabh and Kanj here in Boston, they become unsettled with the suspicions. They begin asking al-Marabh about Hijazi, and his contacts with Al Qaeda operatives to which al-Marabh denies anything to do with Hijazi or even knowing him.

Raed Hijazi

Meanwhile Jordanian officials would intercept a call between Abu Zubaydah and a known Jordanian terrorist, Abu Hoffar on November 30, 1999. Intelligence picked up a statement made by Zubaydah, as meaning an imminent attack would be taking place soon.

“The time for training is over. The grooms are ready for the big wedding.”

On December 12, 1999 Jordanian investigators along with its military begin a nighttime raid on safe-houses used by Hoffar. They would arrest 15 including Hoffar. During interrogations they learned that the plot was part of an Al Qaeda operation that would include not just Jordan but also the United States, India as well as Syria and Lebanon. This would become known as the Millennium Bombing Plot, it involved multiple attacks including:

The bombing of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
The hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814
Bombing of the USS Sullivan
Attacks by Takfir wal-Hijra in Syria and Lebanon
Bombing of the Radisson Hotel in Jordan
Suicide bombing on border crossings in Israel

Jordanian officials would later link known terrorist operatives Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Luai Sakra and charge them in absentia for their part in 2002. The plotters had already stockpiled the equivalent of 16 tons of TNT, enough to flatten “entire neighborhoods.” The key plotters would include not just al-Zarqawi and Sakra but also to Khalid Deek a native of California and Raed Hijazi.

Hijazi would begin operations in Syria in 2000, undeterred, however he would be shortly arrested by Syrian intelligence while there. He is then relocated and imprisoned in Jordan. He quickly begins to cooperate with investigators, identifies himself as an al-Qaeda operative, and also identifies al-Marabh as an al-Qaeda operative still living in the US. al-Marabh meanwhile has been living in Tampa since February 1999, and just as he did in Boston begins driving a cab there. One of the participants involved in the Millennium Plot, Ahmed Ressam, who was apprehended by British Columbia Customs agents for running away from his car when they found large amounts of bombing components. Ressam while interrogated had told that some of his funding for the operation had come from Nabl al-Marabh in previous months.

Nabl al-Marabhi

Ressam’s interview with Canadian authorities and later to the FBI illuminate the horrifying notion that Al Qaeda had numerous sleeper cells inside the United States. This would later become objectively placated by the CIA’s own Alec Station and the DIA’s Able Danger operation, to which they would uncover two cells operating inside the United States.

The The Aden-Abyan Islamic Army located in Aden,Yemen composed of former Yemen military and Islamic radicals had been participating in reprisals against its government since 1997, but were not very formidable until they joined up with Al Qaeda at request to Osama Bin Laden from its founder, Zein al-Abideen al-Mehdar. In December 1998, to show the group were responsible in their terrorist activities, al-Mehdar along with the Islamic Army helped to kidnap 16 Western tourists, Yemen authorities conducted a secret operation to save the rest of the tourists who were being used in ransom operations, to which they killed 4 of their detainees when payment was not received. In the dawn raid of the safe-house, Yemen authorities managed to save 13 hostages, with 2 members of the Islamic Army killed in the ambush. al-Mehdar was sentenced to death along with 3 others for the roles in the kidnapping. However Yemen took notice of the group’s capabilities, which were beginning to grow now that they were under the fold of Al Qaeda.

At this point the NSA and CIA had begun monitoring the home of Ahmed al-Hada in Yemen. The NSA had tapped the phone lines of the house, while the CIA had placed a bug inside the home. They managed to obtain data which included a name, Khalid al-Mihdhar, as well as another, Nawaf al-Hazmi. These two would later be part of a large scale operation, the September 11th 2001 attacks. The pair would travel to Chechnya and also to Aden, Yemen. Both men would have some participation in the USS Cole attack. The FBI had their own internal operations against suspected terrorist cells, the operation was called, Catcher’s Mitt. The FBI had intercepted phone calls made by suspects to which the FBI continues to maintain silence about how the operation started, however it involved in the monitoring of:

Imran Mandhai, Shuyeb Mossa Jokhan and Adnan El Shukrijumah in Florida. They are plotting a series of attacks there, but Mandhai and Jokhan are brought in for questioning by the FBI and surveillance of them stops in late spring.

Another Florida cell connected to Blind Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. The FBI has been investigating it since 1993.

Hamas operatives such as Mohammed Salah in Chicago. Salah invests money in the US and sends it to the occupied territories to fund attacks.

Al-Qaeda operatives in Denver. It is not known who was being monitored, though there are potential al-Qaeda Denver connections: in 1994, a bin Laden front began routing communications through Denver and a passport was stolen there in 1995 from a man who was later confused with one of the 9/11 hijackers.

Boston-based al-Qaeda cell involving Nabil al-Marabh and Raed Hijazi. Cell members provide funding to terrorists, fight abroad, and are involved in document forging.

The FBI had long suspected that al-Marabh and Hijazi were Al Qaeda operatives and sending large amounts of “untraceable” cash to areas like Yemen, Pakistan and Jordan. A plot however was beginning to take place in the port of Aden, a plot that was once hatched by al-Marabh and Hijazi back in 1995 in Boston. For which they wanted to attack U.S warships broad. These ideas would now begin to take in effect within Yemen. al-Marabh continues to move around the United States, as he relocates to Dearborn, Michigan. According to the testimony of an “unnamed informant”, later known as Ahmed Y. Ashwas, at around this time, al-Marabh is taking instructions from a mystery figure in Chicago known only as “al Mosul”, which means “boss” or “person in charge” in Arabic. Al Mosul asks al-Marabh to attend the driving school to get a commercial truck driver’s license. Also according to this informant, al-Marabh and Raed Hijazi have plans to steal a fuel truck from a rest stop in New York or New Jersey and detonate it in the heavily traveled Lincoln or Holland tunnels leading into New York City, but the plan is foiled when Hijazi is arrested in October 2000.

This story was later refuted by al-Marabh in 2002, but he would also refuse to say whether he knew Hijazi and Elzahabi as well. Hijazi is awaiting in his prison cell back in Jordan after giving investigator a cache of valuable information regarding numerous operatives living inside the United States and Jordan. The Washington Post would report in the summer of 2000:

“An FBI document circulated among law enforcement agencies [just after 9/11] noted that Hijazi, who is in a Jordanian jail, had shared a telephone number with 9/11 hijacker, Hamza Alghamdi.”

Hijazi is later tried and convicted in Jordan for his role in planned millennium bombings. October 12, 2000….a bombing on the port of Aden which impacts the lower hull of the USS Cole, killing 15 and injuring 39. Intelligence would later show that numerous calls were made to the Ahmed al-Hada Yemen Hub days prior to the attacks. Commander of the USS Cole, Kirk Lippold, had been warned about possible attacks on the ship from known Al Qaeda cells inside Yemen, but decided to dock at the port to refuel. A small fiberglass boat carrying C4 explosives and two suicide bombers approached the port side and exploded upon impact. Almost immediately upon the investigation from the FBI’s I-49 unit led by John O’Neill, who traveled with FBi agent Ali Soufan, they began asking known militants imprisoned by Yemen authorities. One name came up, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Nashiri was part of the Millenium plot trying to bomb the USS Sullivan, which was foiled when the boat carrying the explosives sank due to the sheer volume it was over loaded with.

USS Cole

Nashiri allegedly had directed his plan to bomb a U.S warship to Bin Laden, who approved and funded the operation. Nashiri was later captured by authorities in the United Arab Emirates in 2002 and tried for his role in the USS Cole. Jamal Mohammed al-Bedawi and Fahd al-Quso, also affiliated with Al Qaeda were arrested and tried for their participation in the bombing as well. Just months later, January 2001, Bassam Kanj who was a close associate to al-Marabh, Elzahabi and Hijazi, was killed in a rebellion against the Lebanese government, part of a 5 day battle which saw 21 operatives killed. The FBI from the Boston office would hear of the news, Kanj was a resident in Boston, and thus a renewed interest would begin. Michael Rolnice head of the FBI’s terrorism operations would later tell the Boston Globe:

“The FBI is continuing to look at Kanj’s and Hijazi’s activities in the Boston area in hopes of learning more about their contacts inside bin Laden’s far-flung organization.”

The Boston FBI office begins opening an investigation, once again, into Nabil al-Marabh. al-Marabh had begun relocating back and forth from Toronto and Michigan by 2001. While illegally entering both countries without a valid visa or passport. al-Marabh had begin tentatively residing at 130 Jameson Ave, an apartment complex in Toronto that was also shared by future 9/11 hijackers, Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi. According to an independent investigation from ABC I-Unit Chicago the apartment residents recognized al-Marabh and Atta previous to the 9/11 attacks.

“That’s the one I saw in here. Here’s the way he was when he was here. He was in jeans, in a jean jacket,” said Cindy Therriem.

The I-Team showed pictures of the skyjackers to some of Al-Marabh’s former neighbors — such as Therriem — in a Canadian apartment house where he stayed last year, prior to moving to Chicago.

You know your people. I know my tenants inside and out,” said Donna Dunphy, building manager. “And he was standing there with his arms folded leaning back against the cement, The landlady and several tenants say they recognize 23-year-old skyjacker Al-Shehhi as a visitor to the building when Al-Marabh lived here.”

Just a few short months later, Nabil al-Marabh would try and enter the United States, this time hiding in the back of a tractor-trailer, carrying a forged Canadian passport and a bogus social insurance card. Reports of his arrest would become known to major news outlets including the New York Times where they would report his detention in the following headline:

“American officials had plenty of reason to believe that he was up to no good. Nine months earlier, he had been identified to American intelligence agents as one of Osama bin Laden’s operatives in the United States. American customs agents knew about money he had transferred to an associate of Osama bin Laden in the Middle East. And the Boston police had issued a warrant for his arrest after he violated probation for stabbing a friend with a knife. But [US officials] simply let him go.”

The United States would deport al-Marabh immediately back to Canada. Under his two week detention there, al-Marabh would tell other detainees that he remained in contact with the FBI, and would tell them it was because “he was special”. al-Marabh will fail to show up for a Canadian deportation hearing in August, and enters back into the United States. According to Canadian authorities, had they begun looking deeper into al-Marabh they most likely would have imprisoned him longer with his known close contacts with future 9/11 hijackers. By August 2001, Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi moves to Minneapolis, Minnesota. His “name was known to the FBI well before the Sept. 11 attacks, according to law enforcement officials who declined to be identified. He also was on a list of possible or suspected terrorists”.

By September 2001, Canadian authorities would begin conducting an investigation into al-Marabh. In a early September report by the Toronto Sun:

“Canadian and U.S police probing Nabil al-Marabh have learned he had a flurry of phone calls and financial transactions with Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi days before the attacks.”

In the months prior to the September 11th attacks, al-Marabh had begun wire transfers and deposits which included, 15 monetary transactions, mostly sending money transfers to the US from Toronto. They also intercepted phone calls days after the attacks, where al-Marabh had praised the terrorist operation against New York and Washington. FBI and Canadian authorities had enough information at their disposal to apprehend al-Marabh. In a 2002 FBI memo:

“The FBI has been unable to rule out the possibility that al-Marabh has engaged in terrorist activity or will do so if he is not removed from the United States.”

The terror ties to numerous Al Qaeda cells in the United States and Canada began to pile up against al-Marabh. From a HistoryCommons report:

“Hassan Almrei, a Syrian national and an associate of Nabil al-Marabh, is arrested in Canada. He was al-Marabh’s Toronto apartment roommate in early 2001. Canadian authorities say Almrei’s honey and perfume business in the Middle East helped finance al-Qaeda. Following a raid on his apartment, police say they confiscated computers and disks that hold information about Osama bin Laden, numerous images of bin Laden and other al-Qaeda members, a hijacking planner, diagrams of plane cockpits and military weapons, and copies of passports and official IDs. Within a week of his arrest, the Canadian government declares Almrei a “threat to national security” and announces its intention to deport him to Syria.”

The FBI’s largest investigation in history PENTTBOM had in total detained a total of 830 people. In which only 4 had likely ties to Al Qaeda, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ayub Ali Khan, Mohammed Azmath, and Nabil al-Marabh. Moussaoui was already being tried by Minneapolis for his role as the “20th hijacker”, Khan and Azmath were detained in Texas and were taken into custody while riding on an Amtrak train carrying $5,000 in cash, hair dye and box cutter knives. Leaving al-Marabh who was not arrested or detained by investigators, as they continued trying to find him.

On September 3, 2002 Nabil al-Marabh is finally arrested by the FBI, on charges of entering the country illegally. His sentence is 8 months in prison. Federal prosecutors claim that “at this time” there is no evidence “of any involvement by al-Marabh in any terrorist organization,” even though he has admitted to getting weapons training in Afghan training camps. To the shock of Canadian authorities he was deported back to Canada. Before his deportation, during court proceedings regarding al-Marabh’s case, District Judge Richard J. Arcara had begun “abashedly” stating he was dismayed at how the prosecution had simply ignored al-Marabh’s connections to known Al Qaeda cells in the U.S and Canada and not to charge him accordingly.

“Something about this case makes me feel uncomfortable. I just don’t have a lot of information.” He has a number of unanswered questions, such as how al-Marabh had $22,000 in cash and $25,000 worth of amber jewels on his possession when he was arrested, despite holding only a sporadic series of low-paying jobs. “These are the things that kind of bother me. It’s kind of unusual, isn’t it?”

Nevertheless al-Marabh continued to deny he was supporting terrorism or part of Al Qaeda, even thou there were many instances he was part of both. Nabil al-Marabh would be freed after serving his 8 month sentence, and was being held in detention in Chicago. Prosecutors tried desperately to begin a case lodging a material witness warrant against him. When the warrant is dropped, al-Marabh is cleared to be deported to Syria. U.S Authorities in the fall of 2002 had exclaimed that they was no evidence, whatsoever, that Nabil al-Marabh was involved with any terrorism related activity. Elzahabi meanwhile was arrested in 2007, convicted of immigration fraud, sentenced to time served and deported back to Lebanon.

According to detention officers when asked about how Elzahabi could remain to deny connections to known Al Qaeda suspects in Boston and Texas, Elzahabi responded…

“That’s my problem, I show up in the wrong places at the wrong time.”

The mystery surrounding Nabil al-Marabh continues to wrought U.S Investigators from Chicago, at how federal prosecutors completely dismissed al-Marabh’s connections to known Al Qaeda subjects here in the states. This included the one “anonymous informant” who was jailed alongside al-Marabh while in Syria. In which al-Marabh would confide to him the following:

“Admitted he sent money to a former roommate, Raed Hijazi, who is later convicted of trying to blow up a hotel in Jordan, and that he aided Hijazi’s flight from authorities.”

“Planned to die a martyr by stealing a gasoline truck, driving it into either the Lincoln or Holland tunnels in New York City, turning it sideways, opening its fuel valves and having an al-Qaeda operative shoot a flare to ignite a massive explosion. The plan was cancelled when Hijazi was arrested in Jordan in October 2000.”

“Trained on rifles and rocket-propelled grenades at militant camps in Afghanistan.”

“Boasted about getting drunk with two 9/11 hijackers.”

“Asked his uncle to hide an important data CD from Canadian police.”

“Claimed he took instructions from a mysterious figure in Chicago known as “al Mosul” which means “boss” in Arabic.”

“Acknowledged he distributed as much as $200,000 a month to training camps in Afghanistan in the early 1990's.”

His deportation back to Syria was met with condemnation from even Congressional elects that included Sen. Charles Grassley, Sen. Charles Schumer and Sen, Patrick Leahy. With Leahy even writing an open letter to U.S Attorney General John Ashcroft…

“The odd handling of this case raises questions that deserve answers from the Justice Department.… Why was a suspected terrorist returned to a country that sponsors terrorism? We need to know that the safety of the American people and our strategic goals in countering terrorism are paramount factors when decisions like this are made.”

According to Sen. Chuck Schumer..

“It seems that pursuing a military tribunal, a classified criminal trial, or continued immigration proceedings would have made more sense than merely deporting a suspected terrorist.”

To the present moment, Nabil al-Marabh lives somewhere in Syria and unknown to most, he continues to live on in total mystery as he once did while living in the United States and Canada. Moving freely without notice and without fail, all under the watchful eyes of U.S Intelligence.



Adam Fitzgerald

Geo-political scientist/researcher into the events of September 11th 2001.