The San Francisco Chronicle said Thursday that two jailed members of a Silicon Valley terrorist cell arranged the visit by al-Zawahiri to drum up donations from members of the Bay Area's Afghan and Muslim communities.
The money that the donors though would be used to aid refugees from the Afghan-Soviet war of the 1980s actually was sent to the coffers of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, an extremist group implicated in the 1998 terrorist bombings of two U.S. embassies in African and the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
Al-Zawahiri was seen in a videotape released Sunday seated next to bin Laden as the terrorist leader railed against the West as Afghanistan was relentlessly peppered with bombs and cruise missiles by U.S. and British ships and planes.
"He is bin Laden's right-hand man, and in a way even more," terrorism author Khalid Duran told the Chronicle. "He is like his teacher, his mentor."
The Egyptian-born former surgeon has been a leader of Islamic Jihad and an associate of bin Laden since the mid-1980s. He is considered to be staunchly anti-American and a leading planner of terrorist missions planned by bin Laden, including the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
"The very fact that someone like al-Zawahiri came to the U.S. should be quite stunning to many Americans," Duran declared.
According to the Chronicle, U.S. authorities learned of al-Zawahiri's fund-raising trip from Ali Mohamed and Khalid Abu-al-Dahab, two Egyptian-born U.S. citizens who have confessed that they spent more than a decade in the Silicon Valley area as undercover operatives for the terrorist organization Islamic Jihad.
The money raised by al-Zawahiri apparently helped to finance the 1995 bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Pakistan and also a plot to break a number of terrorists out of an Egyptian prison that was never carried off.
Al-Zawahiri visited mosques in Santa Clara, Stockton and Sacramento while using a false name and carrying a forged passport, the sources said.
One donor, who has testified before a federal grand jury investigating bin Laden, told the newspaper that al-Zawahiri presented himself as a representative of the Red Crescent, the Islamic equivalent of the Red Cross.
Terrorism experts have warned that Islamic extremists solicit funds from American Muslims, usually under the false pretense of a charitable cause as the beneficiary, and also use such fund-raising events to scout for potential recruits among immigrants.
Dahab and Mohamed both joined Islamic Jihad while living in Egypt. They immigrated separately to the United States, gaining U.S. citizenship through short-lived marriages to American women.