Since September 11, federal authorities have locked up more than 700 people, mostly Middle Eastern men, on immigration charges. Only a few dozen are considered to have strong ties to terrorism, and just one of those serious suspects was arrested in metro Chicago, Nabil Al-Marabh, a native of Syria.
The ABC7 I-Team has finished tracing Al-Marabh's 15-years in North America.
Our investigation has found that Al-Marabh's movements frequently intersected with bin Laden's top operatives...and we now know that his circle even overlapped with some of the September 11 skyjackers.
Almost five months ago, when terrorists plowed jetliners into New York's Twin Towers, Nabil Al-Marabh had just started living and working in suburban Chicago. But the I-Team has found that Al-Marabh had connections to suicide-skyjackers on both of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center.
First, terrorist Marwan Al-Shehhi, the lead air pirate aboard United Airlines flight 175 when it crashed into the World Trade Center's south tower.
"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.
"There was something about his eyes," said Therriem.
"When I saw a picture of him I recognized him immediately. I know he was in this building," said tenant Michelle Pierce.
At the controls of the other World Trade Center plane was Al-Shehhi's cousin, Mohammed Atta. The two men are said to have been inseparable during the years planning the attack. Atta reportedly was also seen in and around Al-Marabh's Toronto hangouts.
Al-Marabh also had connections to two other skyjackers; Ahmed Alghamdi and Satam Al-Suqami. A year ago, well before 9-11, U.S. Customs investigators looking into Al-Qaeda funding, found evidence that Al-Marabh had funneled money to the two terrorists.
And since 9-11, investigators have come to Canadia's Scotiabank, where Al-Marabh had accounts before moving to Chicago; accounts from which he made more than a dozen money transfers in the days preceding 9-11.
But in Toronto, Al-Marabh's uncle claims the money wasn't transferred to terrorists.
"The money that they say about, went to his widowed mother, went to his widowed mother who is taking care of his orphaned niece," said Ahmad Shehab.
Ahmad Shehab posted Al-Marabh's bail money last summer after Al-Marabh was arrested at the U.S. border hiding in a truck. At the bail hearing, a Canadian judge said Al-Marabh was "involved in a smuggling operation" and "fraudulent documents to elude" the authorities.
Shehab, a Muslim leader in Toronto, owns a downtown printing shop, one of four locations recently raided during the Al-Marabh investigation. Authorities say they are looking into whether Al-Marabh produced fake immigration papers here for himself and the skyjackers.
"We have received many pieces of information in those searches. Right now we're going through all the information that's been received. We are analyzing everything we've seized at this time. Some of that information has been passed on to U.S. authorities," said Constable Howard Adams, Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Now, in Chicago, U.S. investigators tell the I-Team they suspect Al-Marabh laundered money for Al-Qaeda fighters plotting the next American attack. Federal agents say criminal charges spelling out his role are likely within a few weeks.
The past 15-years, Al-Marabh has lived in at least five cities, most of them in areas where federal authorities have also put several of bin Laden's top lieutenants over the years, including some of the 9-11 skyjackers.
To investigators, the most puzzling place Al-Marabh lived is Tampa, Florida.
The FBI is investigating whether Al-Marabh took flying lessons at small southwest Florida airports or whether he may have scouted flight schools for Marwan Al-Shehhi. Al-Shehhi and his cousin Mohammed Atta were flight school students at Venice Airport south of Tampa, where both obtained their pilots licenses. The only license we found in Al-Marabh's name was to drive a Tampa taxicab.
"Everything he put in there (application) was totally common," said Greg Cox, Public Transportation Commission.
The cab application may have looked normal. Al-Marabh grinned for the license photo. He signed it as he always signed official documents, with his first name only: Nabil. But the I-Team has found that almost everything else on Al-Marabh's paperwork was false.
He claimed to have lived in a ramshackle house from 1994 to 1997. But the owner says that he's never seen Al-Marabh.
Al-Marabh claimed to have lived in another apartment from 1997 to 1999, and worked as a mechanic in a service station. Those claims were also lies according to workers who say he was never there and they don't know him.
Why did Al-Marabh make it all up? Authorities are still uncertain exactly what was he doing in southwest Florida, but his uncle Ahmad Shehab contends, he's no terrorist.
"The first three weeks I kept asking, 'Why Nabil, why Nabil, why Nabil? Well,' I kept saying, 'maybe because he is Muslim, maybe because he is an Arab'."
Al-Marabh's association with Al-Qaeda terrorists didn't die with the skyjackers on September 11. Friday night at 10pm, the I-Team discovers links between Al-Marabh and three prominent bin Laden operatives who are still alive.
And we'll tell you why before moving to Chicago, Al-Marabh slashed his roommate during a sword fight.
"When the police came, Nabil was still in the bathroom and the samurai sword was down on the table and Nabil was arrested," said Al-Marab's lawyer Bob Menton.
Ties to Terrorism: Part II
The ABC7 I-Team investigates a Syrian national who was arrested in suburban Chicago after the World Trade Center attack. Why was he here? ABC7 investigative reporter Chuck Goudie shares what the I-Team has learned.
The man arrested in Chicago's southwest suburbs, Nabil Al-Marabh, had ties to terrorists that stretched across borders from the Middle East to Toronto, from Boston to Detroit and, finally, to Chicago.
Our investigation already found links between Al-Marabh and several of the suicide skyjackers who died September 11. In Part II, the I-Team reveals Al-Marabh's close connections to several top Al Qaeda operatives-- men who are still alive.
Three men are among the world's most dangerous terrorists, according to American and Canadian investigators. They also have something else in common; the I-Team has learned they have all lived with Chicago terror suspect Nabil Al-Marabh at different times and in various cities.
Hassan Almrei, 28, is a Syrian national like Al-Marabh.
Almrei has been declared a "threat to national security" by Canada's National Intelligence Service and is being deported. Authorities say Almrei's honey and perfume business in the Middle East, helped finance Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.
Last year, the two men lived in an apartment in a Toronto high rise where Almrei's name is still on the directory.
"This is one of the addresses that did come up in our investigation and we thought that there might be some evidence in one of those residences that might assist us in our investigation," said Constable Howard Adams, Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Following 9-11, Canadian investigators raided the apartment. Authorities say they confiscated computers and disks that held information about bin Laden, diagrams of plane cockpits and military weapons, and copies of passports and official ID's.
Yousef Hmimssa, a Moroccan national and former Chicago cab driver, was another roommate of Al-Marabh.
A year and a half ago, Hmimssa lived in a $400 a month flat in Michigan that Al-Marabh had rented.
After 9/11, when the FBI raided the Detroit apartment, they found what agents said were fake immigration papers linking Hmimssa and Al-Marabh, plans for an attack on a Jordanian airport and evidence of a murder plot against a former U.S. defense secretary.
Hmimssa is now in custody on false document charges while prosecutors say they are building a terrorism case against him.
Raed Hijazi, a California native and a convicted and admitted terrorist, was Al-Marabh's third roommate.
The I-Team has determined through a paper trail and from witnesses that Hijazi and Al-Marabh lived together in Boston, where Al-Marabh spent many of the last 15-years.
Both men drove taxi cabs during a time that federal agents say Hijazi was also working on an Al Qaeda plan to attack a U.S. warship. That plot, authorities say, resulted in the assault on the USS Cole that killed 17 sailors in the year 2000.
A U.S. Customs investigation has found that Al-Marabh repeatedly transferred money to Hijazi after Hijazi moved overseas.
Hijazi has admitted plotting a millennium bomb attack on American and Israel revelers at the Radisson Hotel in Amman, Jordan. During his confession, authorities say he identified Chicago arrestee Nabil Al-Marabh as a bin Laden operative.
Chuck Goudie, reporter: "Did he speak out against America?"
Marion Sklodowski, Al-Marabh's former landlord: "Always."
Goudie: "Do you think Nabil Al-Marabh was a terrorist?"
Sklodowski: "He was too stupid, number one, to be a terrorist. Because terrorists today are very intelligent people. But he might be used by some smarter or intelligent sources, who use people like that."
When he was living in Boston two years ago, Al-Marabh and his roommate at that time got into a sword and knife fight, leaving the roommate wounded. Al-Marabh pleaded guilty to assault and received probation.
According to the Boston police report, Al-Marabh told the roommate "..if this wasn't America, I'd kill you."
"He didn't seem to be the brightest bulb around but I wouldn't call him dumb or anything like that," said Bob Menton, Al-Marabh's lawyer. "All I can see is that he somehow crossed paths with some guys and left some fingerprints around, so to speak."
Federal sources say the heat from that Boston swordfight prompted Al-Marabh to move to Chicago, arriving with little notice at the suburban home of an uncle.
The relative enlisted Al-Marabh to help install security cameras in a nearby convenience store where he later worked as a cashier. The storeowner says Al-Marabh told him he really wanted to make more money driving a tractor-trailer, and that Al-Marabh even had a hazardous waste hauling permit from Michigan and applied for a job at a southwest suburban trucking company.
He was arrested before completing the process, and has spent the last five months at the Federal Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York. For now he's charged with immigration violations.
"You are the first person ever in the media that I have told that I received a letter from him," said Ahmad Shehab, Al-Marabh's uncle. "In his letter he even says that there is tons of Muslims from all nationalities arrested, all right... He said they are treating him good. The only bad thing is they separate in jail, what do you call it?"
Goudie: "Solitary, segregation?"
Uncle: "Something like that, but he's alone."
Federal sources say they suspect Al-Marabh wanted to plant roots in Chicago, just as the 9/11 skyjackers had in Florida, blending into the landscape to disguise his real intent. But with the skyjackers are dead and Al-Marabh and his cohorts locked up, you may ask, "Where's the threat?"
Well if Al-Marabh was a sleeper agent as authorities believe, they fear that he wasn't sleeping alone. Tonight the unknown is: Where are the rest of them? And when will they awaken?
Last Updated: Feb 1, 2002
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