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Context of 'March 17, 2006: Congressman Claims Bin Laden Has Died in Iran'

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Customs agent Jose Melendez-Perez.
Customs agent Jose Melendez-Perez. [Source: US Senate]A Saudi named Mohamed al-Khatani is stopped at the Orlando, Florida, airport and denied entry to the US. Jose Melendez-Perez, the customs official who stops him, later says he was suspicious of al-Khatani because he had arrived with no return ticket, no hotel reservations, spoke little English, behaved menacingly, and offered conflicting information on the purpose of his travel. At one point, al-Khatani said that someone was waiting for him elsewhere at the airport. After 9/11, surveillance cameras show that Mohamed Atta was at the Orlando airport that day. 9/11 Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste says: “It is extremely possible and perhaps probable that [al-Khatani] was to be the 20th hijacker.” Al-Khatani boards a return flight to Saudi Arabia. He is later captured in Afghanistan and sent to a US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (see December 2001). Melendez-Perez says that before 9/11, customs officials were discouraged by their superiors from hassling Saudi travelers, who were seen as big spenders. [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2004; Time, 6/12/2005] Al-Khatani will later confess to being sent to the US by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) (see July 2002), and in June 2001 US intelligence was warned that KSM was sending operatives to the US to meet up with those already there (see June 12, 2001).

Entity Tags: Richard Ben-Veniste, Mohamed Atta, Jose Melendez-Perez, Mohamed al-Khatani, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Zacarias Moussaoui’s roommate, Hussein al-Attas, makes thirteen phone calls from jail to El Hadj Ndiaye, the imam of his local mosque in Norman, Oklahoma looking for assistance in raising money for his bond. Al-Attas was arrested and jailed shortly after Moussaoui was detained (see August 16, 2001 and August 16, 2001). Ndiaye reportedly becomes “very upset” when he hears that Moussoaui is going to be deported. According to an FBI translation of one of these conversations, Ndiaye says, “I heard you guys wanted to go on jihad.” Al-Attas responds, “Don’t talk about that now.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 134, 167-8, 201 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file] The Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters learns of the translated conversation on August 29 (see August 29, 2001), but the RFU chief downplays the significance of the reference to jihad. Two other people involved in posting the bond for al-Attas were the subject of counterterrorism investigations (see August 20, 2001 and August 23, 2001).

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Hussein al-Attas, El Hadj Ndiaye

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI takes over interrogations of Saudi Guantanamo detainee Mohamed al-Khatani. He had been captured and taken into US custody months before (see December 2001) but his real identity was only recently discovered. In the months before, military intelligence, using harsh tactics, was unsuccessful in gaining information from him, but the FBI allegedly uses subtle persuasion with an experienced interrogator and succeeds. Khatani discloses:
bullet He is an al-Qaeda member and received terrorist training at two al-Qaeda camps.
bullet He attended an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia attended by two 9/11 hijackers (see January 5-8, 2000).
bullet He attempted unsuccessfully to be one of the hijackers himself, failing to enter the US in August 2001 (see August 4, 2001).
bullet He had been sent to the US by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
bullet He had met bin Laden on several occasions and had been in contact with many other senior al-Qaeda leaders.
bullet He is related to Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, an apparent al-Qaeda sleeper agent already arrested in the US (see September 10, 2001).
bullet He informs on about thirty other prisoners being held at Guantanamo.
But he is also believed to have little knowledge of other al-Qaeda plots. [New York Times, 6/21/2004; Time, 3/3/2006] He will later recant his confession (see October 26, 2006).

Entity Tags: Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Mohamed al-Khatani, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The government reveals in a closed-door court hearing that recent interrogations of top al-Qaeda prisoners indicate that Zacarias Moussaoui may have been part of a plot to hijack a fifth plane on the day of 9/11, perhaps with the White House as its target. This is in contrast to the government’s original accusation that Moussaoui was to be the “20th hijacker” on Flight 93. Because Moussaoui does not have a security clearance, he cannot see the classified evidence against him, but he later learns of this “fifth-jet theory” while reading a transcript of the hearing that was not thoroughly redacted. [CNN, 8/8/2003; Time, 10/19/2003] At Moussaoui’s 2006 trial (see March 6-May 4, 2006), the prosecution will support the fifth jet theory—which Moussaoui both admits (see March 27, 2006) and denies (see April 22, 2005)—arguing that he engaged in parallel conduct with the hijackers (see February 23-August 16, 2001) and was supported by the same people (see July 29, 2001-August 3, 2001 and June 13-September 25, 2000). The theory is also supported by the hearsay of what one of the hijackers reportedly told a relative. In February 2001, Khalid Almihdhar told a cousin that Osama bin Laden was planning to launch five attacks against the US (see Late October 2000-July 4, 2001). But during interrogations, some captured al-Qaeda leaders will reportedly insist that Moussaoui was only a back-up (see November 20, 2002), while others will claim that he was part of a follow-up operation (see Before 2008).

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA) says that Osama bin Laden has died in Iran. According to Weldon, the information comes from a high-level Iranian exile source, who claims that bin Laden had been in hiding in Iran. Weldon, who last spoke to the source three weeks ago, says: “[The source has] told me that Osama bin Laden is dead. He died in Iran.” Weldon has long alleged that bin Laden has been using Iran for sanctuary. For example, last June he said: “I’m confident that I know for sure that [bin Laden] has been in and out of Iran.… Two years ago, he was in the southern town of Ladis, 10 kilometers inside the Pakistan border. I also know that earlier this year, he had a meeting with [Iraqi insurgent leader Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi in Tehran.” [NewsMax, 3/17/2003] Despite this, a man thought to be bin Laden will continue to release statements to the media (see, for example, May 23, 2006).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Curt Weldon, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A new 5-minute audiotape is released by a person said to be Osama bin Laden. The voice on the tape says that Zacarias Moussaoui and the vast majority of prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay had nothing to do with 9/11. The speaker says that Moussaoui “has no connection whatsoever with the events of September 11th” and “his confession that he was assigned to participate in those raids is a false confession which no intelligent person doubts is a result of the pressure put upon him for the past four and a half years.” The voice also says that, as Moussaoui has not named a support team, he cannot have been slated to pilot a hijacked airliner, and that, as he was learning to fly, he cannot have been intended to be the 20th hijacker. Further, if Moussaoui had known the 9/11 group, he would have called lead hijacker Mohamed Atta and told him to flee the country (note: jail house calls can be recorded, so this may not have been wise (see August 17, 2001)). There are various theories about Moussaoui’s closeness to the 9/11 plot, but he was supported by some of the people who supported the hijackers (see January 30, 2003). The speaker also says that the detainees in Guantanamo Bay “have no connection whatsoever to the events of September 11th, and even stranger is that many of them have no connection with al-Qaeda in the first place, and even more amazing is that some of them oppose al-Qaeda’s methodology of calling for war with America.” The apparent reason so many detainees are being held: ”(I)t is necessary to create justifications for the massive spending of hundreds of billions on the Defense Department and other agencies in their war against the Mujaheddin.” [MSNBC, 5/23/2006] One Guantanamo detainee, Mohamed al-Khatani, was allegedly supposed to meet lead hijacker Mohamed Atta in the US, but was refused entry to the country, indicating that he was scheduled to be involved in 9/11 (see August 4, 2001 and July 2002).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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