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7

 

Millennium Plot

 

After 1996, when he was back in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden focused on remodeling al-Qaeda. In Sudan, the group had primarily acted as a sponsor of terrorism through bin Laden’s business enterprises. Now bin Laden worked specifically and in detail on building al-Qaeda into an international terrorist organization that launched attacks under its own name. He built a network of safe houses and training camps across Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the group acquired a more intricate structure and became better organized.

At the same time, bin Laden still tried to use non–al-Qaeda groups to further his aims. He recognized that al-Qaeda’s stated goal of expelling infidels from the Arabian Peninsula had limited appeal to many of the would-be terrorists who were flocking to Afghanistan for training. Many of the Islamic groups that sent their fighters to the country—such as those from Libya, Morocco, and Algeria—didn’t care about America. Their focus was on the immediate enemy: their governments back home, which they accused of being insufficiently Islamic. These groups utilized non–al-Qaeda training camps like Khaldan and focused their efforts on overthrowing their home governments. Mostly takfiris in their outlook, they knew bin Laden’s record of using non–al-Qaeda operatives and resented his use of their operatives to further his aims.

Khaldan predated al-Qaeda, having been established during the Afghan jihad against the Soviets. Neither its external emir, Abu Zubaydah, nor its internal emir, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Liby, was a member of al-Qaeda, and these emirs prized their independence. Khaldan was known to be an independent camp. Ibn al-Shaykh al-Liby’s responsibility was running it, while Abu Zubaydah—who had built a reputation as a top terrorist facilitator in Afghanistan—helped recruits and camp graduates with travel documents, funds, and safe houses.

While bin Laden understood why other groups, wary of al-Qaeda poaching their members, distanced themselves from him, he still wanted to have a connection with them. He thought that in the future they could perhaps work together and, more importantly, that their aims of hitting their domestic governments could mesh with his aims—especially if those countries had American or Western targets in them. Therefore, while he avoided getting directly involved with the members of other groups, he decided to support these operatives and the camps they attended indirectly. He funneled funds to non–al-Qaeda camps—including Khaldan—and delegated people who were associated with him to build relationships with Khaldan-trained operatives. One such operative was Khalil Said al-Deek.

An American Palestinian of Jordanian descent, born in Jenin, on the West Bank, Deek got a diploma in computer science in the United States and operated under the alias Abu Ayed al-Phalastini (“the Palestinian”). He had close connections to the Blind Sheikh, Omar Abdul Rahman, and was involved in a group that in 1992 planned to strike at targets in Los Angeles; the plot fell apart because Deek left the group to fight in Bosnia. He later fought in Afghanistan, where he fell in with bin Laden and senior al-Qaeda members.

Because of his U.S. citizenship, Deek was able to travel freely in the West and most of the world. He formed links with al-Qaeda cells and Islamic groups in Gaza, Turkey, Pakistan, the UK, and elsewhere. In Britain he liaised with the al-Qaeda cell led by Khalid al-Fawwaz and worked with the British Pakistani operative Mozzam Begg to collect funds for Afghanistan.

Using his computer skills, Deek put together an electronic version of the Encyclopedia of Jihad—a multivolume manual created by Afghani-based mujahideen in the 1980s—and gave copies of the CD to operatives who were planning attacks. In Afghanistan he maneuvered among other groups and independent camps to see who could be of use to al-Qaeda. He formed a close relationship with Abu Zubaydah. It was a natural friendship: the two had similar backgrounds (they were both Jordanian Palestinians) and similar ideas about Islamic extremism. Through this relationship, al-Qaeda money and ideas flowed easily into the Khaldan camp.

Among other close connections was one that Deek formed with veteran fighter Khadr Abu Hoshar. Abu Hoshar had joined the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the late 1980s and fought against the Soviet Union. When he returned to Jordan he got involved in a terrorist group, the Army of Mohammad, that planned to launch operations to overthrow the Jordanian government—which the group viewed as being insufficiently Islamic.

After a stint in prison for plotting against the government, Abu Hoshar traveled between Yemen and Syria and established a cell with like-minded takfiris. They espoused the teachings of Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi, a radical cleric based in Jordan who advocated, among other takfiri principles, that Sharia law was the only valid law, and that any who failed to uphold it were infidels. Abu Hoshar’s main partner in this cell was a fellow Palestinian Jordanian named Raed Hijazi, whom he had met in May 1996 in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria.

Hijazi, born in California to Palestinian Jordanian parents but raised in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, immersed himself in Islam and became radicalized with help from a local mosque in California. The mosque helped him travel to Afghanistan and gain admission to Khaldan, where he took classes in weapons and explosives. He learned quickly and became a skilled operative, acquiring the aliases Abu Ahmed al-Amriki (for the country of his birth) and Abu Ahmed al-Howitzer—because of his proficiency in operating the artillery device. Hijazi also developed relationships with Deek and Abu Zubaydah, and together the four men began plotting attacks within Jordan.

The idea was to bomb Christian, Israeli, and American targets in Jordan in the year 2000. They settled on attacking the Christian holy sites of Mount Nebo and the site along the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized; the border crossing with Israel; and the Radisson SAS Hotel in Amman—all of which they calculated would be packed with visiting tourists for the millennium. If successful, they would then launch a second wave of attacks.

Most of the coordination for the plot took place in Pakistan and was led by Deek and Abu Zubaydah. The planners met in the al-Iman Media Center in Peshawar, which was run by Deek. He was assisted by a convert to Islam from California, Adam Yahiye Gadahn, who operated under the alias Azzam the American and later became a spokesman for al-Qaeda.

Abu Hoshar and Hijazi recruited members for their cell in Jordan, Turkey, and Syria; more operatives came via Deek’s center. Some were al-Qaeda members; others were not. Most were Jordanians or Palestinian Jordanians, and what united them was a desire to carry out an operation in Jordan. As Western targets were going to be attacked, al-Qaeda sent operatives to help, and Deek indirectly funneled money from bin Laden to the group. The non–al-Qaeda members didn’t know that al-Qaeda money was supporting the operation; they believed, instead, that Deek’s funding came from independent donors.

Abu Hoshar and Hijazi’s planning got delayed when Abu Hoshar was arrested upon his return to Jordan from Syria and put in jail for eighteen months for plotting against the regime. During his imprisonment, Hijazi returned to the United States and started driving a cab in Boston, apparently to raise additional money for the plot.

After Abu Hoshar was freed in 1998, the two began gathering supplies and training operatives. The group also raised money through robberies and the sale of fraudulent documents in Jordan. Hijazi traveled back and forth between Jordan, London, and Boston to help gather supplies and bring in money. In London he was supported by another Palestinian radical, Abu Qutadah, a self-described cleric whose takfiri fatwas had already resulted in the slaughter and murder of many Muslims around the world, especially during the 1990s Algerian civil war.

Using his U.S. passport, Hijazi traveled to the UK, where he met al-Qaeda operatives and purchased walkie-talkies that would be used as remote-control detonators for the bombs, along with other materials for the plot. While in London, Hijazi also stopped in at the American Embassy to renew his U.S. passport.

After getting everything he needed from London, he left England and went to Israel, and from there he traveled by bus to Jordan. He entered at the northern border crossing that the group was planning to attack, in order to case the route, and took notes on a map of the area.

To gather explosives without attracting attention, Hijazi got a license to work as a jeweler—so that he could legally purchase nitric acid and other chemicals needed for bomb making. (The bombs were to be similar in structure to the one built by Ramzi Yousef in 1993.) Deek gave them a CD copy of the Encyclopedia of Jihad, which offered instruction in building bombs.

They rented a house in Marka, Amman, a poor neighborhood, and dug a hole to hide the chemicals they were accumulating. It took them two months to get it deep enough—they told neighbors they were building an extra bathroom. They collected weapons and detonators, along with fraudulent documents to use in the attacks. Hijazi also owned a farm that they used as a location to test explosives without people hearing and getting suspicious. A year of acquisition and hoarding—they bought only small quantities at a time in order to avoid attracting attention—finally produced the necessary cache of matériel.

The operatives who were to be used in the attack were sent to Abu Zubaydah’s Khaldan camp for training. Operatives who couldn’t travel to Afghanistan were taken to Syria and then to Lebanon; from there they were transported to training grounds by a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), using IDs belonging to Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

In June 1999, Abu Hoshar sent Hijazi and three others to Abu Zubaydah for advanced explosives training. After the training was completed, Hijazi traveled to Syria. He planned to wait there until December 6, at which point he’d enter Jordan. The operation would take place during Ramadan: Muslims who are martyred during that time, according to radical Islamist lore, are promised a special place in heaven.

October 1999. The waiter had just put my steak down in front of me when my pager went off. The page was from FBI special agent and vetveteran al-Qaeda expert Dan Coleman, at the JTTF. I told Heather, my girlfriend (later, my wife), that I’d be right back—we were in the middle of a Saturday night dinner in Union Square, in downtown Manhattan—and I went into a phone booth at the back of the restaurant to call Dan.

“Ali, there’s something going on in Jordan. You have to fly there tomorrow,” he said quickly, in his usual direct-with-no-small-talk manner, and wished me good luck. He couldn’t give me any details about the operation; the line at the restaurant was not secure. I returned to Heather and told her we’d need to finish up dinner, as I had to go abroad in less than twelve hours.

At JFK Airport the next morning I met Pat D’Amuro, who would be leading the mission for the first few days. We flew to Amman and were met at the airport by Scott Jessee, the FBI representative in Tel Aviv. (The FBI back then did not have a representative in Jordan, so all matters were covered operationally by the Tel Aviv office.) I knew Scott well from my time in Pakistan, where we’d crossed paths, and I was glad to have him as part of the team; he is a very effective operative.

After checking in with the embassy and getting briefed [3 words redacted], we all went to the headquarters of the Jordanian intelligence agency, Dairat al-Mukhabarat al-Ammah—the General Intelligence Directorate (GID). The GID headquarters is marked by a black flag and an inscription, in Arabic, of their motto: “Justice has come.” It was not our first time meeting Saad al-Khair, the famed GID chief (then deputy chief), and his team. We had worked with them before and had been much impressed by their knowledge and operational skills. We had confidence that our investigation would be a success.

Saad was known to be a savvy and straightforward operative, as well as someone you didn’t want to be on the wrong side of. Just mentioning his name put fear into the hearts of would-be offenders and others who had made the mistake of crossing him. Tall, handsome, always immaculately dressed, courteous and a real gentleman—and with a cigar almost always in his hand—Saad reminded me of the good foreign intelligence official you’d see helping James Bond in a movie. He was sharp and could read people well, and he had no time for people who played games with him or lied to him. His distinctive smile seemed to say: you can’t fool me.

Saad understood the human mind and human nature, and he used his intelligence to outwit his enemies. He told me how he personally went undercover to disrupt threats, apprehend killers, and serve justice to those who threatened his beloved Jordan. Saad passed away in December 2009 after suffering a heart attack, and his stories still resonate. He will always be dear to my heart. One story—made famous by the journalist and novelist David Ignatius and in the movie Body of Lies—has Saad handing a phone to a jihadist whom he is trying to persuade to cooperate. On the line is the jihadist’s mother. When she hears her son’s voice, she starts thanking him and praising him, which confuses him. Finally, she says: “Thank you so much for the television and money you sent me. You’re such a good boy.” In a moment he understands that Saad has sent his mother these gifts, telling her that they are from her son, and he begins to cry. He realizes that he can cooperate with Saad and reveal the identity of his accomplices and have his mother continue to think he’s been helping her, or he can refuse to cooperate and break her heart—as she’ll find out he hasn’t really sent her money and a television. He decides to cooperate.

Saad and the Jordanians briefed us on the plot, which they were in the early throes of uncovering: a Jordanian cell was planning to attack Western targets in Amman at the stroke of the new millennium. One of the key suspects was Khadr Abu Hoshar. The FBI was being brought in because the targets were also U.S. interests and because U.S. citizens were involved: Khalil Deek and Raed Hijazi.

Working nonstop with the Jordanians on uncovering the plot, we were quickly impressed with the caliber of their agents. They were expert at monitoring suspects in Jordan and had developed leads tracking the operatives involved from Afghanistan and across the Middle East. We told them what we had learned about al-Qaeda from operations in the UK, Albania, and elsewhere, and they, in turn, taught us a lot about al-Qaeda’s worldwide operations. The Jordanians left no stone unturned in protecting their country from potentially devastating attacks.

I was the only FBI agent continuously working in Amman on the millennium threat, as the other agents rotated in and out of the country—usually for two weeks at a time. We worked from the U.S. Embassy and shared space with the [1 word redacted]. Before I arrived I had been warned about the [4 words redacted], whom I will call Fred. He had been a translator at the FBI New York office and had applied to be an agent but had been rejected, after which he had joined the CIA. He was said to have held a grudge against all FBI agents after that.

My problems with him started within the first couple of days, after Pat D’Amuro received a phone call from FBI headquarters saying that my reporting of intelligence and Fred’s reporting of the same events didn’t match up. This meant that Washington didn’t know whose information to trust. The further problem was that American citizens were involved, and if intelligence didn’t match, we would have difficulty prosecuting the case.

An investigation was done and the Jordanians were consulted, and all concerned were advised that my reporting was correct and Fred’s was faulty. Fred’s basic failure was that he had a tendency to jump to conclusions without facts. For example, in one memo he reported that the group that had been identified within Jordan was training with the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, which he also took to mean that the Jordanian group was linked to Iran as well, as Iran is Hezbollah’s main sponsor. In my reporting I made no mention of Hezbollah and said only that the Jordanians were linked to Palestinian terrorist groups. Fred drew this faulty conclusion because the Jordanian group had trained in the Bekaa Valley: he knew that Hezbollah operated in the Bekaa Valley, so that was his “proof” of Hezbollah’s involvement. Because of his flawed analysis, a total of twelve [2 words redacted]—intelligence reports—had to be withdrawn. If portions of a cable are shown to be inaccurate, the entire cable is viewed as unreliable and suspect. The presumption is that one can’t trust the accuracy of the person writing it; therefore, it’s rendered useless. Happily, the problems with the [1 word redacted] did not impair our working relationship with the GID, which carried over into the personal. Our partners regularly took us to dinner and even family events. We enjoyed each other’s company and appreciated being able to share skills and impart different insights.

Months after we had left Jordan, Saad and his team came to visit us in New York. John O’Neill and Pat D’Amuro rolled out the red carpet. The operatives who had worked with us in the field honored me by having dinner at my place, a small one-bedroom apartment. It was the evening of the NFL Super Bowl, and it was snowing. My partner Steve Bongardt; Mark Rossini, the FBI agent detailed to the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center; Fred; and assistant U.S. attorney Pat Fitzgerald all attended. We ate and joked for hours, and it was a night to remember.

During the Jordanian investigation, the GID gave the [2 words redacted] chief of operations, Alvin—later the CTC’s Sunni extremists chief—a box of evidence to go through. Alvin took it into his office, dumped it in the corner, and never looked through it. Nor did he tell me or my FBI colleagues about it. The division of labor in this instance was that Saad had delegated the task to Alvin, trusting him to go through the box carefully.

A few days later I was chatting with Alvin in his office and noticed the box in the corner. “What’s in there?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” he said. “The Jordanians gave us junk to look through.” His view was that if it was important, the Jordanians wouldn’t have just passed it along to us.

“Let me take a look,” I said, and started going through it. It was far from being junk. “Alvin, this is important stuff here,” I told him, pulling out one piece as an example. It was a map, with a few locations marked on a route from Israel to Jordan.

Alvin and I returned the evidence to Saad so that his officers could start following the leads. It was winter in Amman, and when we walked into Saad’s office he was sitting behind his desk at GID headquarters smoking Mu‘assel out of a hookah, the picture of an Ottoman overlord. “You really look like a pasha,” I said.

“Ali, come here, come here and give me a hug,” he said, beaming.

The CIA became uncomfortable with the relationship we had built with the Jordanians. One day Saad took Pat D’Amuro to a family celebration. The next day, the [1 word redacted] voiced his disapproval to Pat. He was furious that Saad had invited Pat without him. Another evening, two GID officers invited us to an iftar, a breaking of the fast during Ramadan; [7 words redacted]. Apparently Fred complained to Alvin, who, without checking with us first on the circumstances, and believing whatever Fred had told him, passed a complaint to one of Saad’s deputies: “Your guys”—he named the two GID officers—“are dealing with the FBI without authorization.” The deputy reported the complaint to Saad.

Saad called the two officers in. “What are they referring to?” he asked them.

“We invited Ali and the other FBI agent to an iftar with us,” the senior officer replied. “Apparently the [1 word redacted] thought we should have asked their permission first.”

Saad laughed. “Those guys,” he said, waving his hand dismissively, “when will they grow up?”

On November 30, 1999, the [1 word redacted] intercepted a phone call between Abu Hoshar and Abu Zubaydah during which Abu Zubaydah said, “The time for training is over.” There was no context. The Jordanians, understandably, didn’t want to take chances. They rounded up all the individuals we had been monitoring; sixteen were taken in, including Abu Hoshar. Deek and Abu Zubaydah were in Pakistan, and Hijazi was in Syria, so they were not among those detained.

The Jordanians interrogated the operatives and quickly gained confessions and some additional details of the plot. Hijazi’s younger brother and co-conspirator revealed the motto for the millennium attacks: “The season is coming, and bodies will pile up in sacks.” The information the operatives gave included the location of hideouts. The [1 word redacted] raided several, recovering detonators (including the walkie-talkies Hijazi had purchased in London), weapons, forged passports, and the CD version of Deek’s Encyclopedia of Jihad.

Initially we couldn’t find any chemicals. The operatives were questioned further, and one explained where a trapdoor for the makeshift basement could be found. His directions led [1 word redacted] officers to the spot. When the hatch was opened, a terrible stench drifted up. A ladder was in place, and one of my [1 word redacted] friends was sent down it. He rushed back up a few seconds later and said that the basement was full of urns of chemicals. The acids were leaking and the floor was covered. The [1 word redacted] official started coughing and shouted, “I’ve been poisoned. I can’t breathe.”

He had indeed inhaled dangerous chemicals. Someone quickly brought him some milk and instructed him to drink it, telling him it would clear the poison from his system. After drinking the milk, and to the amusement of those present, he said he felt better.

After the arrest of the operatives in Jordan, and after the detainees had detailed Deek’s role in the plot, the Pakistani authorities agreed to arrest him. They raided his center and took him into custody. There he was blindfolded—with blackout goggles put over his eyes and duct tape wrapped around the goggles—making it impossible for him to see. The Pakistanis did not tell him what they would do with him.They contacted the [1 word redacted], which sent a military plane to Pakistan to pick him up. Once in Jordan, still with no one saying a word to him, and still blindfolded, he was taken to a [1 word redacted] jail and placed before a picture of King Abdullah II, who had assumed power ten months earlier, after the death of his father, King Hussein.

Only then were the goggles and duct tape removed. It took a few seconds for Deek’s eyes to adjust to the light. He focused on the picture in front of him. His face dropped. He knew that the game was up and that the plot had failed.

Another graduate of Abu Zubaydah’s Khaldan camp was Ahmed Ressam. A wily Algerian, he falsely claimed political asylum in Canada in 1994, using a fake passport and a story about persecution. He supported himself in Canada through crime and dealing in fake passports. While there he met a veteran of Khaldan who recommended that he head there for training.

Before he left for Khaldan in 1998, Ressam acquired a legitimate Canadian passport through a fixer who had stolen a blank baptism certificate from a church. Using the passport, he traveled easily to Pakistan and then to Afghanistan, where he went to Khaldan. There he received basic terrorism training and learned how to build explosives. He got to know Abu Zubaydah, who was impressed with Ressam’s ability to procure passports and quickly put him to work. Eventually Ressam returned to Canada, with the intention of planning an attack in the United States with other Algerians he had met at Khaldan. They spent time discussing and planning attacks, with Abu Zubaydah offering advice on launching them. Ressam returned to Canada fully expecting his fellow Algerians to follow him. When they couldn’t get the documents to enter the country, he decided to strike without them. He rented a Chrysler sedan, hid explosives in the spare tire, and drove to the car ferry at Victoria, Canada, which was to sail to Port Angeles, Washington. He intended his final destination to be Los Angeles International Airport, which he would bomb on the millennium.

On December 14, I was called into a secure room in the U.S. Embassy in Amman to receive a call from FBI headquarters. They told me that an Algerian named Ahmed Ressam had been arrested trying to bring explosives into the United States from Canada. They didn’t yet know exactly what he intended to do, but they suspected a millennium attack.

While Ressam had cleared the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) preinspection station in Victoria—his passport was a legitimate Canadian one, so there were no red flags—it was his suspicious activity on the other end that prompted the attention of an astute customs official. Rather than getting off the ferry with his Chrysler when it was his turn, Ressam waited for every one of the other drivers to get their vehicles off first. Apparently he thought that the last car off would receive less attention. The customs officer noticed not only this but the fact that Ressam seemed nervous, and he referred him to an official for a secondary inspection.

When the agent at the secondary inspection began to pat Ressam down—a standard procedure—he panicked and tried to run away. He was quickly stopped, and his car was searched. At first, the customs staff thought that he was connected to drug smuggling, but once the timing devices were found they realized that there was a bigger issue, and the FBI was called in to take over.

I shared this information with the Jordanians. It seemed, from our inquiries, that Ressam might possibly be connected to the other millennium bombers—all or most had trained at Khaldan. Ressam’s apprehension underscored the importance of Abu Zubaydah’s camp and provided a warning that terrorists were plotting to strike not only Jordan but elsewhere.

Having learned that Deek and Abu Zubaydah worked closely with the UK-based operative Mozzam Begg to raise funds, we passed this information on to our friends in SO13 and MI5. The British authorities were already aware of Begg’s activities and his connections to suspected terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

I worked in both Jordan and the UK during this period. One morning in 2000, while I was in England working with SO13 on a separate investigation, a clearly surprised Alan Fry and John Bunn told me that MI5 and SO12 (the intelligence counterpart to SO13) had raided al-Ansar, a bookstore operated by Begg, and Begg’s home in Birmingham. They had arrested him. Because SO13 hadn’t spent time building a case against him, however, after a preliminary interview he was released—and, like Liby in Manchester, escaped the country. We only caught Begg years later in Pakistan, after 9/11.

Bassam Kanj was born in Lebanon in 1965. In 1984 he moved to the United States and married an American woman, becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen. He then followed a path that was becoming familiar to us: fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, he returned to the United States when the war ended and in subsequent years regularly traveled back to Afghanistan to train at Khaldan.

It was under Abu Zubaydah that he picked up the alias Abu A’isha and met Raed Hijazi, Khalil Deek, and others with U.S. citizenship who frequented the master terrorist facilitator’s camp. In 1995 Kanj moved to Boston and started driving a cab for the same company as Hijazi. The two were good friends. They had roomed together before Kanj was married and continued to share quarters when Kanj’s wife was away. In 1998 Kanj left the United States and went to Lebanon, where he joined a radical group that called itself Takfir wal-Hijra.

On New Year’s Eve 1999, Kanj led a group of around 150 Sunni terrorists to the Dinnieh mountain region in northern Lebanon. The group was predominantly Palestinians and Syrians; Kanj had met many of them in training camps in Afghanistan. Their stated aim was to impose Sharia law in Lebanon.

They first ambushed an army unit in the village of Assoun, killing a few soldiers and kidnapping a commanding officer. When the Lebanese army sent in troops, the terrorists went on a rampage and for four days battled the troops, killing anyone who got in their way. The slaughter did nothing to further the terrorists’ singleminded devotion to their goal of imposing Sharia law. Another in the millennium series of plots was disrupted.

With Abu Hoshar, Deek, and the others in custody in Amman—and the group’s explosive materials confiscated—we had successfully thwarted the plot in Jordan. Those who were jailed provided significant information about the terrorist network. The only loose ends we knew about were Hijazi, who was still on the run—when we rounded up the suspects, he had been traveling back from Pakistan, and was somewhere in Syria, and so he never returned to Jordan—and Abu Zubaydah, who was somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Until the millennium dawned, however, we obviously wouldn’t know for certain whether we had apprehended everyone. I stayed in Jordan, and on New Year’s Eve I went with Stephen Gaudin (then rotating in the country) to Abdin Circle, the main square in Amman: the Jordanian equivalent of Times Square. We told the New York FBI office we’d update them on what did or didn’t occur.

As the clock struck midnight, we heard small explosions and saw people running in every direction. We ran behind a parked car to take cover. What had we missed?

I asked people in Arabic what was happening. It turned out that a stage holding fireworks had collapsed, sending them shooting into the crowd. Stephen and I looked at each other with relief and started laughing.

I called the New York FBI office from my phone and was put through to John O’Neill in the JTTF command center in New York. “Jordan’s okay. Everything is good,” I told him.

“Happy New Year,” he said. “You guys did a great job.”

I put my cell phone back in my jacket and turned around to speak to Stephen, who had been standing next to me, but he wasn’t there. Then I saw him in the distance at an ATM. Like everyone, he had been reading stories of accounts getting messed up at the millennium—switching from 1999 to 2000 was said to be hard for bank computers—so he wanted to check that his money was safe.

He withdrew some cash, saw that his account was untouched, and walked back to me smiling and waving his Jordanian banknotes.

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