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Context of 'January-March 2000: 9/11 Hijacker Atta Begins E-Mailing US Flight Schools, Seeking Pilot Training'

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An FBI pilot sends his supervisor in the Oklahoma City FBI office a memo warning that he has observed “large numbers of Middle Eastern males receiving flight training at Oklahoma airports in recent months.” The memo, titled “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” further states this “may be related to planned terrorist activity” and “light planes would be an ideal means of spreading chemicals or biological agents.” The memo does not call for an investigation, and none occurs. [NewsOK (Oklahoma City), 5/29/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003] The memo is “sent to the bureau’s Weapons of Mass Destruction unit and forgotten.” [New York Daily News, 9/25/2002] In 1999, it will be learned that an al-Qaeda agent has studied flight training in Norman, Oklahoma (see May 18, 1999). Hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi will briefly visit the same school in 2000; Zacarias Moussaoui will train at the school in 2001 (see February 23-June 2001).

Entity Tags: Marwan Alshehhi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohamed Atta, Zacarias Moussaoui, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Agents from Oklahoma City FBI office visit the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma to investigate Ihab Ali Nawawi, who has been identified as bin Laden’s former personal pilot in a recent trial. The agents learned that Nawawi received his commercial pilot’s license at the school 1993, then traveled to another school in Oklahoma City to qualify for a rating to fly small business aircraft. He is later named as an unindicted coconspirator in the 1998 US Embassy bombing in Kenya. The trial witness who gave this information, Essam al Ridi, also attended flight school in the US, then bought a plane and flew it to Afghanistan for bin Laden to use (see Early 1993). [Boston Globe, 9/18/2001; CNN, 10/16/2001; Washington Post, 5/19/2002; US Congress, 10/17/2002] When Nawawi was arrested in May 1999, he was working as a taxi driver in Orlando, Florida (see May 18, 1999). Investigators discover recent ties between him and high-ranking al-Qaeda leaders, and suspect he was a “sleeper” agent. [St. Petersburg Times, 10/28/2001] However, the FBI agent visiting the school is not given most background details about him. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] It is not known if these investigators are aware of a terrorist flight school warning given by the Oklahoma City FBI office in 1998. Hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi later visit the Airman school in July 2000 but ultimately will decide to train in Florida instead. [Boston Globe, 9/18/2001] Al-Qaeda agent Zacarias Moussaoui will take flight lessons at Airman in February 2001 (see February 23-June 2001). One of the FBI agents sent to visit the school at this time visits it again in August 2001 asking about Moussaoui, but he will fail to make a connection between the two visits (see August 23, 2001).

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Essam al Ridi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ihab Ali Nawawi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, who is under CIA surveillance at this time, begins sending e-mails to US flight schools, inquiring about their pilot training programs. One e-mail states, “We are a small group (2-3) of young men from different Arab [sic] countries.” “Now we are living in Germany since a while for study purposes. We would like to start training for the career of airline professional pilots. In this field we haven’t yet any knowledge, but we are ready to undergo an intensive training program.” Apparently, multiple e-mails are sent from the same Hotmail account. Some e-mails are signed “M. Atta,” while others are signed “Mahmoud Ben Hamad.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/25/2003] According to the 9/11 Commission, Atta e-mails 31 different US flight schools, and requests details on the cost of training, sources of financing, and accommodation. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 168] On March 23, he e-mails the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma and requests information about their flight training. One recently arrested al-Qaeda operative had trained at this school (see February 23-June 2001), and Zacarias Moussaoui will train there one year later (see February 23-June 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 57 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Brenda Keene.Brenda Keene. [Source: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation]9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi, who are looking for a flight school to attend, visit the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma, to evaluate its training program. Atta had e-mailed the school in April 2000, requesting information. On June 4, 2000, the day after he arrived in the US, he’d received a prepaid cellular telephone from Voicestream Wireless, which he’d purchased actually listing Airman Flight School as his address. The pair stay the night of July 2 at the school’s dormitory in the nearby Sooner Inn, as is shown by documents, including the hotel’s guest list. The next day they take a tour of the school, reportedly lasting “maybe an hour,” before deciding not to attend. [Boston Globe, 9/18/2001; Washington Post, 9/19/2001; US Congress, 9/26/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 3/16/2004; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/7/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/7/2006] Several months later, al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui will attend Airman, and other Islamic extremists have previously attended the school (see February 23-June 2001). Shohaib Nazir Kassam, a student at the time of Atta and Alshehhi’s visit, will recall bumping into them when they are being given their tour. Kassam subsequently becomes a flight instructor and is Zacarias Moussaoui’s primary instructor at Airman. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/7/2006] Brenda Keene, Airman’s admissions director who gives Atta and Alshehhi their tour, says during the 2006 Moussaoui trial that she does not recall doing so. But, she adds, “After 9/11 and [Atta’s] picture was everywhere, he’s got a very distinctive face, and then I do remember seeing him at the school. I don’t recall anything in specific about… the tour, but just remembered his face.” [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/8/2006] Atta and Alshehhi subsequently start lessons at Huffman Aviation in Venice, Florida (see July 1-3, 2000). In August 2001, they will allegedly be witnessed at an Oklahoma City hotel together with Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 1, 2001).

Entity Tags: Airman Flight School, Brenda Keene, Shohaib Nazir Kassam, Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

While in Malaysia (see September-October 2000), Zacarias Moussaoui visits the Royal Selangor Flying Club at a Malaysian Air Force base near Kuala Lumpur to inquire about learning to fly there, but decides not to pursue lessons after learning the cost. Moussaoui is driven to the club by Jemaah Islamiyah operative Faiz abu Baker Bafana, who had previously taken another al-Qaeda trainee pilot, Zaini Zakaria, to the same flying club (see (Spring 2000)). Moussaoui will eventually begin his training in the US (see February 23-June 2001). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/8/2006]

Entity Tags: Faiz abu Baker Bafana, Zacarias Moussaoui, Royal Selangor Flying Club

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Future 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Waleed Alshehri are seen flying small aircraft at an airport in Oklahoma, and Zacarias Moussaoui is there at the same time. This is according to a 2002 FBI document about the 9/11 attacks. The document notes that “several employees” at Million Air, located at Wiley Post Airport in Bethany, Oklahoma, see Atta, Alshehhi, and Alshehri on the same Beechcraft Duchess aircraft at the same time. Furthermore, Moussaoui is seen there in the same timeframe, although the FBI report will not mention if Moussaoui is ever seen with the other three. The employees cannot give exact dates when these people are seen, but all the visits are in the six months leading up to 9/11 and two visits are said to take place after August 4, 2001. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/19/2002]
Other Local Connections - Moussaoui takes flying lessons in Norman, Oklahoma, which is about 30 miles away from Bethany, from February to June 2001. Apparently he stays there most of the time until early August (see February 23-June 2001). Atta and Alshehhi visited the flight school in Norman in July 2000 (see July 2-3, 2000). A motel owner will later claim that around August 1, 2001, he saw Moussaoui, Atta, and Alshehhi together at his motel. The location of the motel is not specified, except that it is about 28 miles from Norman and off Highway 40, which runs about five miles south of Bethany (see August 1, 2001). [LA Weekly, 8/2/2002]
Why No Mention in Moussaoui Trial? - Several years after 9/11, US officials will charge Moussaoui with a role in the 9/11 attacks. Strangely, these sightings in Oklahoma will never be mentioned in the trial, even though almost no evidence is put forward in the trial physically linking Moussaoui to any of the 9/11 hijackers in the US (see May 3, 2006).

Entity Tags: Marwan Alshehhi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohamed Atta, Waleed Alshehri, Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Airman Flight School.Airman Flight School. [Source: FBI]Al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui flies to the US. Three days later, he starts flight training at the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma. (Other Islamic extremists had previously trained at the same flight school or other schools in the area (see September 1999)). He trains there until May, but does not do well and drops out before getting a pilot’s license. His visa expires on May 22, but he does not attempt to renew it or get another one. He stays in Norman, arranging to change flight schools, and frequently exercising in a gym. [MSNBC, 12/11/2001; US Congress, 10/17/2002] According to US investigators, would-be hijacker Ramzi Bin al-Shibh later says he meets Moussaoui in Karachi, Pakistan, in June 2001 (see June 2001). [Washington Post, 11/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Airman Flight School, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ramzi bin al-Shibh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh allegedly meets with Zacarias Moussaoui in Karachi, Pakistan. This information comes from bin al-Shibh’s interrogations after he is captured in late 2002 (see September 11, 2002). If they meet, it will not be revealed what they discuss. However, around this time, bin al-Shibh reportedly gives Moussaoui the e-mail address of an unnamed contact in the US. [Washington Post, 11/20/2002] Moussaoui has been taking flying lessons in the US from February until June 2001 (see February 23-June 2001). His visa expired in May 2001 and he did not renew it or get a new one, so if he did leave the US, it is unclear how he manages to get back in by the time he resumes flight training there in August. [MSNBC, 12/11/2001; US Congress, 10/17/2002] In late June, bin al-Shibh travels to Malaysia (see Late June 2001). It is uncertain how reliable any of the information from bin al-Shibh’s interrogations is, especially since bin al-Shibh may be tortured (see Late 2002).

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Ramzi bin al-Shibh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A hotel owner in Oklahoma City will later say that he sees Zacarias Moussaoui, Mohamed Atta, and Marwan Alshehhi together on or around this day. He will claim they come to his hotel late at night and ask for a room, but end up staying elsewhere. At the time, Moussaoui is living 28 miles away in Norman, Oklahoma (see February 23-June 2001). However, even though the US government will later struggle to find evidence directly connecting Moussaoui to any of the 9/11 hijackers, this account will not be cited by any US government officials or prosecutors. An article will later suggest this may be because of numerous reports and eyewitnesses claiming Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols stayed at the same hotel with a group of Middle Easterners in the weeks before the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). By highlighting this encounter, it might draw renewed attention to controversial Oklahoma City bombing theories. Atta and Alshehhi briefly visited an Oklahoma flight school in July 2000 (see July 2-3, 2000), before Moussaoui arrived in the US. On April 1, 2001, 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi received a speeding ticket in Oklahoma (see April 1, 2001), but there have been no sightings of him with Moussaoui. [LA Weekly, 8/2/2002]
Link to Oklahoma City Bombing? - Former CIA analyst Larry Johnson will say of this meeting: “One of the things that’s evident right now in connection with this investigation, the motel in Oklahoma City where the April bombing against the Murrah building was planned and executed from, that same hotel figures in two of the 9/11 hijackers and Zacarias Moussaoui, who’s currently in jail. Those three guys tried to check into that motel. And there is another fellow in Oklahoma City that links them to the April bombing against the Murrah building.… I have spoken to the owner of the motel. After the 9/11 attack, he called the FBI. The FBI came out and interviewed him, as he identified Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Zacarias Moussaoui. They came in. They said, ‘We’re looking for a room.’ He said: ‘I don’t have any room. What do you need it for?’ They said, ‘We’re going for flight training.’” [O'Reilly Factor, 5/7/2002]
Intriguingly Similar Sightings Nearby - Years later, a 2002 FBI document will be made public that reveals several employees at a flight school in Bethany, Oklahoma, saw Atta, Alshehhi, and hijacker Waleed Alshehri flying small aircraft several times from early 2001 until August 2001. Additionally, Moussaoui was said to use the same airport, although there will be no mentioned sightings of him with the others. Bethany is about five miles from Highway 40, which is where the hotel mentioned above is near. Additionally, the hotel is about 28 miles from Norman, Oklahoma (where Moussaoui is living) and Bethany is about 33 miles from Norman (see Early 2001-August 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/19/2002]

Entity Tags: Marwan Alshehhi, Larry C. Johnson, Mohamed Atta, Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Dr. Eileen Preisser testifies before a congressional briefing. Dr. Preisser was one of four analysts in the US Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) supporting Able Danger in late 1999 and 2000 (see Fall 1999). While her testimony remains classified, the next day, Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT) gives a brief summary: “In a briefing we had yesterday, we had Eileen [Preisser], who argues that we don’t have the data we need because we don’t take all the public data that is available and mix it with the security data. And just taking public data, using, you know, computer systems that are high-speed and able to digest, you know, literally floors’ worth of material, she can take relationships that are seven times removed, seven units removed, and when she does that, she ends up with relationships to the bin Laden group where she sees the purchase of chemicals, the sending of students to universities. You wouldn’t see it if you isolated it there, but if that unit is connected to that unit, which is connected to that unit, which is connected to that unit, you then see the relationship. So we don’t know ultimately the authenticity of how she does it, but when she does it, she comes up with the kind of answer that you have just asked, which is a little unsettling.” [US Congress. House. Committee on Government Reform. Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs and International Relations, 10/12/2001] Note that according to some media accounts, the CIA monitored Mohamed Atta purchasing large quantities of chemicals in Germany in the spring of 2000 (see January-May 2000). Atta also sends a series of e-mails to the US in the spring of 2000, inquiring about flight school opportunities for himself and a “small group” of his associates (see January-March 2000). Dr. Preisser is apparently willing to testify about her role in how Able Danger uncovered Atta’s name, but in September 2005 she is prohibited from publicly testifying before Congress (see September 21, 2005).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Christopher Shays, Eileen Preisser

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI issues a reward of $5 million for information on Adnan Shukrijumah, starting a world-wide manhunt that will last for years. Shukrijumah lived in the same area as most of the 9/11 hijackers and was reportedly seen with Mohamed Atta in the spring of 2001 (see May 2, 2001), when he was being investigated by the FBI over two terrorist plots (see April-May 2001 and (Spring 2001)). Information gleaned from detainees suggests that Shukrijumah is a top al-Qaeda operative who was trained in Afghanistan and is associated with 9/11 architect Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002). In May 2004 Attorney General John Ashcroft will even single out Shukrijumah as the most dangerous al-Qaeda operative planning to attack the US. However, despite reported sightings in Central America, he is still on the run in 2006 and believed to be hiding in the tribal areas of Pakistan. [US News and World Report, 4/7/2003; USA Today, 6/15/2003; FrontPage Magazine, 10/27/2003; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 40-41 pdf file; Los Angeles Times, 9/3/2006]
Flight Training - US authorities claim he is a pilot and has been receiving flight training outside the US for several years, though they do not release any evidence to substantiate this. His family insists that he is neither a qualified pilot nor an al-Qaeda operative. [USA Today, 6/15/2003; CNN, 9/5/2003] A senior Bush administration official says the government has evidence Shukrijumah had attended the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma, but does not say when. Other Islamist militants, including Zacarias Moussaoui, attended that school before 9/11 (see February 23-June 2001, May 18, 1999 and May 15, 1998). The director of the school claims there is no evidence of a student with any of Shukrijumah’s publicly revealed aliases. [New York Times, 3/21/2003]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Adnan Shukrijumah, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Sen. Arlen Specter.
Sen. Arlen Specter. [Source: C-SPAN]The Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), holds a public hearing to investigate an intelligence program called Able Danger, to explore allegations that it identified Mohamed Atta and three other hijackers more than a year before 9/11, and to learn why the Pentagon disbanded it and destroyed the information it had gathered. [Government Computer News, 9/21/2005; New York Times, 9/21/2005; United Press International, 9/21/2005] The committee is seeking testimony from several former Able Danger members. Among these are Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer, Navy Captain Scott Phillpott, Dr. Eileen Preisser, and civilian analyst James D. Smith; all but Preisser have recently come forward with allegations about the unit (see August 17, 2005; August 22-September 1, 2005). However, the day before the hearing, Defense Department lawyers ordered them and other former Able Danger members not to testify. [Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005; United Press International, 9/21/2005] Shaffer says in an interview, “I was told by two [Defense Department] officials today directly that it is their understanding that [Defense Secretary Rumsfeld] directed that we not testify…” [Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005] The Defense Department’s only reason for doing so, offered by a spokesman, is that they have “expressed [their] security concerns and believe it is simply not possible to discuss Able Danger in any great detail in an open public forum open testimony of these witnesses.” [New York Times, 9/21/2005] Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter says, “That looks to me like it may be obstruction of the committee’s activities, something we will have to determine.” He complains that the Pentagon only delivered hundreds of pages of documents related to Able Danger late on the eve of the hearing, leaving no time for committee staff to review the material. [Reuters, 9/21/2005] Furthermore, the Pentagon’s representative at the hearing, William Dugan, admits that he has very limited knowledge of Able Danger. Specter tells him, “You were sent over—perhaps with the calculation you wouldn’t have the information.” [Associated Press, 9/21/2005; Government Computer News, 9/21/2005]

Entity Tags: Scott Phillpott, Mohamed Atta, US Department of Defense, William Dugan, James D. Smith, Eileen Preisser, Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, Able Danger, Donald Rumsfeld, Anthony Shaffer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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