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Context of 'January 11-18, 2001: 9/11 Hijacker Alshehhi Takes Unexplained Trip to Morocco'

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Following the revelations of the Church Committee’s investigation into the excesses of the CIA (see April, 1976), and the equally revealing New York Times article documenting the CIA’s history of domestic surveillance against US citizens for political purposes (see December 21, 1974), Congress passes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In essence, FISA prohibits physical and electronic surveillance against US citizens except in certain circumstances affecting national security, under certain guidelines and restrictions, with court warrants issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), operating within the Department of Justice as well as with criminal warrants. FISA restricts any surveillance of US citizens (including US corporations and permanent foreign residents) to those suspected of having contact with “foreign powers” and terrorist organizations. FISA gives a certain amount of leeway for such surveillance operations, requiring that the administration submit its evidence for warrantless surveillance to FISC within 24 hours of its onset and keeping the procedures and decisions of FISC secret from the public. [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 9/27/2001; Legal Information Institute, 11/30/2004] On September 14, 2001, Congress will pass a revision of FISA that extends the time period for warrantless surveillance to 72 hours. The revision, part of the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2002, will also lower the standard for the issuance of wiretap warrants and make legal “John Doe,” or generic, warrants that can be used without naming a particular target. FISA revisions will also expand the bounds of the technologies available to the government for electronic and physical surveillance, and broaden the definitions of who can legally be monitored. [US Senate, 9/14/2001; Senator Jane Harman, 2/1/2006]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, New York Times, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, US Department of Justice, Church Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Damage to the USS Cole, shown in dry dock.Damage to the USS Cole, shown in dry dock. [Source: US Navy]9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in Yemen when the USS Cole is attacked in Aden harbor there (see October 12, 2000), and is reported to have had a role in the bombing. Almihdhar leaves shortly after the attack, together with al-Qaeda operative Khallad bin Attash. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 209] Bin Attash is quickly identified as one of the masterminds of the operation (see Late October-Late November 2000). Almihdhar will subsequently be accused of participating in the operation by the prime ministers of Yemen and Britain (see Early October 2001 and October 4, 2001). The Yemeni militant group Islamic Army of Aden takes credit for the bombing, and a friend of Almihdhar in San Diego will later say that Almihdhar told him he was a member of that group (see Early 2000). The Cole attack was a repeat of a failed attempt to bomb the USS The Sullivans (see January 3, 2000), of which Almihdhar had foreknowledge (see Late 1999). Almihdhar, who trained with the Cole bombers (see Late 1999) and attended an apparent planning session for the operation (see January 5-8, 2000), may also be involved in a later ship-bombing operation in Singapore (see June 2001). Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a close associate of the hijackers, also leaves Yemen around this time and is also suspected of involvement in the bombing (see October 10-21, 2000).

Entity Tags: Islamic Army of Aden, Khalid Almihdhar, Khallad bin Attash

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Atta’s immigration record for his arrival on January 10, 2001, after alteration in early May.Atta’s immigration record for his arrival on January 10, 2001, after alteration in early May. [Source: 9/11 Commission]The Miami Herald will report: “INS documents, matched against an FBI alert given to German police, show two men named Mohamed Atta [arrive] in Miami on January 10, each offering different destination addresses to INS agents, one in Nokomis, near Venice, the other at a Coral Springs condo. He (they?) is admitted, despite having overstayed his previous visa by a month. The double entry could be a paperwork error, or confusion over a visa extension. It could be Atta arrived in Miami, flew to another country like the Bahamas, and returned the same day. Or it could be that two men somehow cleared immigration with the same name using the same passport number.” [Miami Herald, 9/22/2001] Officials will later call this a bureaucratic snafu, and insist that only one Atta entered the US on this date. [Associated Press, 10/28/2001] In addition, while Atta arrives on a tourist visa, he tells immigration inspectors that he is taking flying lessons in the US, which requires an M-1 student visa. [Washington Post, 10/28/2001] The fact that he had overstayed his visa by over a month on a previous visit also does not cause a problem. [Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001] The INS will later defend its decision, but “immigration experts outside the agency dispute the INS position vigorously.” For instance, Stephen Yale-Loehr, co-author of a 20-volume treatise on immigration law, will assert: “They just don’t want to tell you they blew it. They should just admit they made a mistake.” [Washington Post, 10/28/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohamed Atta, Stephen Yale-Loehr

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Future 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi flies from the US to Casablanca, Morocco, and back, for reasons unknown. He is able to reenter the US without trouble, despite having overstayed his previous visa by about five weeks (see January 18, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001; US Department of Justice, 5/20/2002] Mohamed Atta’s cell phone is used on January 2 to call the Moroccan embassy in Washington, DC. Abdelghani Mzoudi, a Hamburg associate, is also in Morocco at the same time as Alshehhi, but there is no documentation of them meeting there. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 17]

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Abdelghani Mzoudi, Marwan Alshehhi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Marwan Alshehhi.Marwan Alshehhi. [Source: FBI]Future 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi is able to reenter the US without trouble, after a brief, mysterious trip to Morocco (see January 11-18, 2001), despite having overstayed his previous visa by about five weeks. [Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001; US Department of Justice, 5/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Marwan Alshehhi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

This Ahmed Al-Haznawi picture is a photocopy of his 2001 US visa application.This Ahmed Al-Haznawi picture is a photocopy of his 2001 US visa application. [Source: 9/11 Commission]The 13 hijackers commonly known as the “muscle” allegedly first arrive in the US. The muscle provides the brute force meant to control the hijacked passengers and protect the pilots. [Washington Post, 9/30/2001] Yet, according to the 9/11 Commission, these men “were not physically imposing,” with the majority of them between 5 feet 5 and 5 feet 7 tall, “and slender in build.” [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004, pp. 8] According to FBI Director Mueller, they all pass through Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and their travel was probably coordinated from abroad by Khalid Almihdhar. [US Congress, 9/26/2002] However, some information contradicts their official arrival dates:
bullet April 23: Waleed Alshehri and Satam Al Suqami arrive in Orlando, Florida. Suqami in fact arrived before February 2001. A man named Waleed Alshehri lived with a man named Ahmed Alghamdi in Virginia and Florida between 1997 and 2000. However, it is not clear whether they were the hijackers or just people with the same name (see 1999). [Daily Telegraph, 9/20/2001] Alshehri appears quite Americanized in the summer of 2001, frequently talking with an apartment mate about football and baseball, even identifying himself a fan of the Florida Marlins baseball team. [Associated Press, 9/21/2001]
bullet May 2: Majed Moqed and Ahmed Alghamdi arrive in Washington. Both actually arrived by mid-March 2001. A man named Ahmed Alghamdi lived with a man named Waleed Alshehri in Florida and Virginia between 1997 and 2000. However, it is not clear whether they were the hijackers or just people with the same name (see 1999). [Daily Telegraph, 9/20/2001] Alghamdi apparently praises Osama bin Laden to Customs officials while entering the country and Moqed uses an alias (see May 2, 2001).
bullet May 28: Mohand Alshehri, Hamza Alghamdi, and Ahmed Alnami allegedly arrive in Miami, Florida. Alnami may have a suspicious indicator of terrorist affiliation in his passport (see April 21, 2001), but this is apparently not noticed by US authorities. The precise state of US knowledge about the indicator at this time is not known (see Around February 1993). The CIA will learn of it no later than 2003, but will still not inform immigration officials then (see February 14, 2003). According to other reports, however, both Mohand Alshehri and Hamza Alghamdi may have arrived by January 2001 (see January or July 28, 2001).
bullet June 8: Ahmed Alhaznawi and Wail Alshehri arrive in Miami, Florida. Alhaznawi may have a suspicious indicator of terrorist affiliation in his passport (see Before November 12, 2000), but this is apparently not noticed by US authorities.
bullet June 27: Fayez Banihammad and Saeed Alghamdi arrive in Orlando, Florida.
bullet June 29: Salem Alhazmi and Abdulaziz Alomari allegedly arrive in New York. According to other reports, however, Alhazmi arrived before February 2001. Alhazmi has a suspicious indicator of terrorist affiliation in his passport (see June 16, 2001), but this is apparently not noticed by US authorities.
After entering the US (or, perhaps, reentering), the hijackers arriving at Miami and Orlando airports settle in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, area along with Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Ziad Jarrah. The hijackers, arriving in New York and Virginia, settle in the Paterson, New Jersey, area along with Nawaf Alhazmi and Hani Hanjour. [US Congress, 9/26/2002] Note the FBI’s early conclusion that 11 of these muscle men “did not know they were on a suicide mission.” [Observer, 10/14/2001] CIA Director Tenet’s later claim that they “probably were told little more than that they were headed for a suicide mission inside the United States” [US Congress, 6/18/2002] and reports that they did not know the exact details of the 9/11 plot until shortly before the attack [CBS News, 10/9/2002] are contradicted by video confessions made by all of them in March 2001 (see (December 2000-March 2001)).

Entity Tags: Marwan Alshehhi, Mohand Alshehri, Majed Moqed, Mohamed Atta, Ziad Jarrah, Saeed Alghamdi, Khalid Almihdhar, Waleed Alshehri, Wail Alshehri, Satam Al Suqami, Nawaf Alhazmi, Hani Hanjour, Salem Alhazmi, George J. Tenet, Hamza Alghamdi, Abdulaziz Alomari, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Ahmed Alghamdi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ahmed Alnami

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Waleed Alshehri.Waleed Alshehri. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]9/11 hijackers Satam Al Suqami and Waleed Alshehri attempt to enter the Bahamas, but are refused entry because they do not have visas. They fly from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Freeport, Bahamas, where they have a hotel reservation for three nights, but are turned away by the local authorities and have to return to the US. The 9/11 Commission will speculate that the trip is an unsuccessful attempt to extend Al Suqami’s visa, which is due to expire within days (see May 20, 2001). However, as they are refused entry to the Bahamas, they are regarded as never having left the US and Al Suqami is not given an extension to his permitted length of stay when he returns to Florida. Alshehri is stopped by US customs during pre-clearance in the Bahamas, but he is not searched and his luggage is not X-rayed; the inspection lasts one minute. There is an error regarding Alshehri’s port of departure on his INS record which indicates that he leaves from Fall River, Massachusetts, not Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The two hand over their departure records when they leave, but, since they do not enter the Bahamas, they do not receive new arrival records when they return to the US. This causes INS records to incorrectly indicate that the two are outside the country from this date until 9/11. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 23, 41 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Satam Al Suqami, Waleed Alshehri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 hijacker Satam Al Suqami becomes an illegal overstay on this day. He entered the US on April 23 (see April 23-June 29, 2001) and was allowed to stay for 30 days, so, according to the 9/11 Commission, his permission to remain in the US expires on this day. He remains in illegal status until 9/11. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 8, 21, 23 pdf file] Hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi also overstayed their visas at times (see January 10, 2001 and January 18, 2001). At least one more of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, lied on his visa application form, meaning he was in the US illegally (see August 29, 2001).

Entity Tags: Satam Al Suqami

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A warrant is issued for the arrest of Mohamed Atta in the state of Florida. On April 26, Atta had been stopped in a random inspection near Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and given a citation for having no driver’s license (see April 26, 2001). He failed to show up for his May 28 court hearing, resulting in the arrest warrant. After this, Atta will fly all over the US using his real name, and even flies to Spain and back in July (see July 8-19, 2001), but is never stopped or questioned. The police apparently never try to find him. [Wall Street Journal, 10/16/2001; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 11/12/2001] Atta will be stopped for speeding in July, but apparently his arrest warrant will not have been added to the police database by then (see July 5, 2001). Three other future 9/11 hijackers are also stopped for speeding in the US (see April 1, 2001, August 1, 2001, and September 9, 2001). Curiously, on the day of 9/11, a woman claiming to be Atta’s wife will go to a Florida courthouse and attempt to clear this from Atta’s record, but Atta does not have a wife (see September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Although the FBI is aware that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar lied in an application for a visa on which he entered the US the previous month (see July 4, 2001), it does not fully realize that this means his entry into the US was illegal. If the FBI realized this, it would be able to open a criminal investigation to locate Almihdhar, instead of an intelligence investigation. The New York office, which conducts the search for him, would have preferred a criminal investigation, as more agents could have worked on it, possibly allowing the office to locate Almihdhar before and stop 9/11. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will remark after 9/11: “Thus, there was a clear basis to charge Almihdhar criminally with false statements or visa fraud. Significantly, this information had been provided to the FBI without the restrictive caveats placed on NSA reports and other intelligence information. As a result, if Almihdhar had been found, he could have been arrested and charged with a criminal violation based on the false statements on his visa application. However, the FBI did not seem to notice this when deciding whether to use criminal or intelligence resources to locate Almihdhar.” Almihdhar’s passport also lacks an expiry date and he is a terrorist posing as a tourist (see July 4, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 351 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Usama bin Laden Unit (FBI), Khalid Almihdhar, Dina Corsi, Steve Bongardt, FBI New York Field Office, FBI Headquarters

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell says that the 9/11 hijackers could not be monitored in the US because they did not commit any crimes. He says in a speech: “[I]f Mohamed Atta had been in Pakistan and we were tracking him, some way to track him—he went to Turkey, went to Europe, got over to Canada, we’d track him as foreign intelligence target, and he crosses into the United States, he’s now a US person; he gets all of the rights and privileges that you get. He’s invisible to your intelligence community. As long as he doesn’t break the law, law enforcement can’t conduct surveillance because they don’t have a probable cause. Al-Qaeda recognized that and that is why 9/11 happened in my view.” [Director of National Intelligence, 1/17/2008 pdf file] The 9/11 hijackers committed various offenses for which they could have been arrested in the US, such as lying on visa application forms (see August 29, 2001), overstaying their visas (see January 18, 2001, May 20, 2001 and January 10, 2001), driving without a license (note: a warrant for Mohamed Atta’s arrest was even issued in the summer of 2001—see June 4, 2001), and having a known role in blowing up the USS Cole, thereby murdering 17 US servicemen (see Around October 12, 2000). The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was also specifically designed so that the FBI and other agencies could monitor agents of foreign powers in the US even if they did not commit a crime (see 1978).

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mike McConnell, Mohamed Atta, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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