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Context of 'April 3, 1999: Candidate Hijacker Denied US Visa in Yemen'

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Sarbarz Mohammed / Sam Malkandi.Sarbarz Mohammed / Sam Malkandi. [Source: Public domain via Seattle Post-Intelligencer]Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash unsuccessfully applies for a US visa in Sana’a, Yemen. His application, which is made under the alias Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf, is denied because he fails to submit sufficient documentation in support of it. Three actual hijackers obtain US visas in Saudi Arabia on the same day and shortly after (see April 3-7, 1999). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 492]
Already Known to US Intelligence - Bin Attash is already known to the US intelligence community at this point (see Summer 1999), at least partly because he briefed Mohamed al-Owhali, one of the 1998 African embassy bombers who was captured after the attack, and helped him make a martyrdom video in Pakistan. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/9/1998 pdf file] The US will begin to associate this alias with terrorist activity no later than early 2000, when bin Attash uses it to take a flight with Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, who are under US and allied surveillance at that point (see January 8, 2000). However, the alias will not be watchlisted by the US until August 2001 (see August 23, 2001). Apparently, when the US learns the alias is associated with terrorism there is no check of visa application records, and this application and the fact it was made by an al-Qaeda leader will not be discovered until after 9/11 (see After January 8, 2000, After December 16, 2000, and After August 23, 2001).
US Contact - On the application, bin Attash gives his reason for going to the US as getting a new prosthesis for his missing leg, and he says Bothell, Washington State, is his final destination. Bin Attash’s contact in Bothell is a man named Sarbarz Mohammed. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 155-6, 492] Mohammed contacts a clinic in the area and speaks to bin Attash once on the phone, but bin Attash says the new leg would cost too much and hangs up. Mohammed, who will later change his name to Sam Malkandi, will deny knowing bin Attash was a terrorist and say that he thought he was just helping a friend of a friend. However, he will later admit lying on his green card application and be arrested in 2005. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10/17/2005]

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Sarbarz Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The NSA intercepts more calls (see Early 1999) involving Khalid Almihdhar, who is at an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, with his family (see Late August 1998). The identity of the person he is talking to and the content of the intercepts is so sensitive that the whole passage regarding these communications is redacted in the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s report. After the redacted passage, the Inquiry comments, “At about the same time, the name [of al-Qaeda leader] Khallad [bin Attash] came to the attention of the NSA for the first time,” so the calls may involve bin Attash in some way. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 155-6 pdf file] Almihdhar is staying at the communications hub at this time and will stay there later as well (see (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000) and Late October 2000-July 4, 2001).

Entity Tags: Khalid Almihdhar, National Security Agency, Khallad bin Attash

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) ends and the participants leave. Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar fly to Bangkok, Thailand, traveling under their real names. Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash also travels with them and the three sit side by side in the airplane, but bin Attash travels under the false name “Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf” (see After January 8, 2000). [Associated Press, 9/20/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248 pdf file] Malaysian intelligence and the CIA are aware of this flight (see January 8, 2000).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khallad bin Attash, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

On January 8, 2000, hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar plus al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash fly from Malaysia to Thailand together, sitting next to each other. Malaysian intelligence soon informs the CIA that Almihdhar was on the flight, sitting next to someone with the last name of Alhazmi and someone with the name Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf (see January 8, 2000). This is an alias for bin Attash, and in fact is the same alias he used when applying for a US visa in 1999 (see April 3, 1999). Two months later, the CIA learns that several days later, Nawaf Alhazmi flew from Thailand to the US, which means he had to have had a US visa (see March 5, 2000 and March 6, 2000 and After). In fact, Almihdhar, Alhazmi, and bin Attash, using the “bin Yousaf” alias, all applied for US visas within days of each other (see April 3-7, 1999). Alhazmi and bin Attash even applied on the same day. However, apparently no check of visa application records is made that would reveal this. US intelligence also suspects that Alhazmi has a militant brother named Salem, which he does, and Salem Alhazmi also applied for and received a US visa from the same consulate on nearly the same day as his brother Nawaf, but this is not discovered either. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 155-6, 181-2, 492; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 9 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248 pdf file] The US will miss other opportunities to learn more about this alias (see After December 16, 2000 and After August 23, 2001).

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After the FBI and CIA obtain a passport photo of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see November 22-December 16, 2000), they are unable to connect him to one of his aliases, Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf, even though he had submitted an application for a US visa using this alias the year before (see April 3, 1999). Presumably, a search of visa applications would have turned up a photograph similar to the one the US now has of him, allowing the US to connect bin Attash to the alias. However, no such search is made, even though the CIA knows the alias is connected to 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see January 8, 2000), who obtained US visas at the same time bin Attash’s application was denied (see April 3-7, 1999). No such search is made even after the CIA connects bin Attash to Alhazmi and Almihdhar under bin Attash’s real name as well in early 2001 (see January 4, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 192-3, 538; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248, 267-278 pdf file] The US misses other opportunities to learn more about this alias (see After January 8, 2000 and After August 23, 2001).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khallad bin Attash

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The CIA cable watchlisting Alhazmi, Almihdhar, and two others (the sections mentioning Shakir and bin Attash are blacked out).The CIA cable watchlisting Alhazmi, Almihdhar, and two others (the sections mentioning Shakir and bin Attash are blacked out). [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)Thanks to the request of Margaret Gillespie, an FBI analyst assigned to the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, the CIA sends a cable to the State Department, INS, Customs Service, and FBI requesting that “bin Laden-related individuals” Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, and Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf (an alias for Khallad bin Attash) be put on the terrorism watch list. All four individuals had attended the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). The cable mostly focuses on Almihdhar, briefly outlining his attendance at the Malaysia summit and his subsequent travel to the US in January 2000 and July 2001. Since March 2000, if not earlier, the CIA has had good reason to believe Alhazmi and Almihdhar were al-Qaeda operatives living in the US, but apparently did nothing and told no other agency about it until now. The hijackers are not located in time, and both die in the 9/11 attacks. FBI agents later state that if they been told about Alhazmi and Almihdhar sooner, “There’s no question we could have tied all 19 hijackers together” given the frequent contact between these two and the other hijackers. [Newsweek, 6/2/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 538; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 32-36, 302] However, in what the Washington Post calls a “critical omission,” the FAA, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and the FBI’s Financial Review Group are not notified. The two latter organizations have the power to tap into private credit card and bank data, and claim they could have readily found Alhazmi and Almihdhar, given the frequency the two used credit cards. [Washington Post, 7/25/2003] Furthermore, counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke and his Counterterrorism Security Group are not told about these two operatives before 9/11 either. [Newsweek, 3/24/2004] The CIA later claims the request was labeled “immediate,” the second most urgent category (the highest is reserved for things like declarations of war). [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001] The FBI denies that it was marked “immediate” and other agencies treated the request as a routine matter. [Los Angeles Times, 10/18/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002] The State Department places all four men on the watch list the next day. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file] However, this watch list, named TIPOFF, checks their names only if they use international flights. There is another watch list barring suspected terrorists from flying domestically. On 9/11, it contains only 12 names, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other al-Qaeda figures, and some names are added as late as August 28, 2001. But none of these four men are added to this domestic list before 9/11.(see April 24, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Margaret Gillespie, Khallad bin Attash, TIPOFF, Richard A. Clarke, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, US Department of State, US Customs Service, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Aviation Administration, Counterterrorism and Security Group

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

When the US intelligence community watchlists the alias Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf, which is used by al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see August 23, 2001), it fails to realize that “bin Yousaf” is really bin Attash, who is known to be one of the masterminds of the USS Cole bombing (see Late October-Late November 2000 and November 22-December 16, 2000). The CIA knows that both bin Attash and “Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf” were in Malaysia with 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000, January 8, 2000, and January 4, 2001). Furthermore, the CIA has a photo of bin Attash provided by the Yemeni government, and surveillance photos and video of bin Attash with Alhazmi and Almihdhar at an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After and January 5, 2000). And when bin Attash applied for a US visa, he used the “bin Yousaf” alias (see April 3, 1999), so presumably a comparison of his photo from that application with other photos would reveal that “bin Yousaf” and bin Attash are one and the same person. However, apparently no check is made for any US visa of “bin Yousaf,” even after he is watchlisted to prevent him from coming into the US, which would require a visa. Had a check been made, it would have been discovered that he applied for a visa at the same time as both Almihdhar and Alhazmi (see April 3-7, 1999), the very people who have been watchlisted together with him. Presumably, discovering that Alhazmi and Almihdhar had applied for US visas with one of the Cole masterminds would have greatly increased the urgency of finding them. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 538; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248, 300-3 pdf file] The US missed other opportunities to learn more about this alias (see After January 8, 2000 and After December 16, 2000).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khallad bin Attash

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An Associated Press (AP) report provides details of what alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) has apparently told his CIA interrogators. The article, based on “interrogation reports” reviewed by the AP, makes the following claims:
bullet KSM worked on the Bojinka plot in 1994 and 1995 in the Philippines with Ramzi Yousef, Abdul Hakim Murad, and Wali Khan Amin Shah;
bullet After Yousef and Murad were captured (see January 6, 1995 and February 7, 1995), KSM began to devise a new plot that focused on hijackings on US soil;
bullet KSM first pitched the 9/11 plot to Osama bin Laden in 1996. He wanted bin Laden “to give him money and operatives so he could hijack 10 planes in the United States and fly them into targets”;
bullet After bin Laden agreed in principle, the original plan, which called for hijacking five commercial jets on each US coast, was modified several times. Some versions even had the planes being blown up in mid-air, possibly with the aid of shoe bombs. Bin Laden scrapped various parts of the plan, including attacks on both coasts and hijacking or bombing some planes in East Asia as well;
bullet The original four al-Qaeda operatives bin Laden offered KSM for the plot were eventual hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, as well as Khallad bin Attash and Abu Bara al-Yemeni. “All four operatives only knew that they had volunteered for a martyrdom operation involving planes,” one interrogation report apparently states;
bullet The first major change to the plans occurred in 1999 when the two Yemeni operatives could not get US visas (see April 3, 1999). [Associated Press, 9/21/2003] (According to the 9/11 Commission Report, KSM actually says Abu Bara al-Yemeni never applied for a US visa); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 492]
bullet Bin Laden then offered KSM additional operatives, including a member of his personal security detail;
bullet At that time the plot was to hijack a small number of planes in the United States and East Asia and either have them explode or crash into targets simultaneously;
bullet In 1999, the four original operatives picked for the plot traveled to Afghanistan to train at one of bin Laden’s camps, where they received specialized commando training (see Late 1999);
bullet Al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000) was, according to the report, a “key event in the plot,” although it does not say whether KSM was physically present. On the other hand, it confirms the presence of Jemaah Islamiyah leader Hambali;
bullet KSM communicated with Alhazmi and Almihdhar while they were in the US using Internet chat software;
bullet KSM has never heard of Omar al-Bayoumi, an apparent Saudi intelligence agent who provided some assistance to future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi when they arrived in California. Neither did he arrange for anyone else in the US to assist Almihdhar and Alhazmi when they arrived in California. Despite this, Almihdhar and Alhazmi soon made contact with a network of people linked to Saudi intelligence services (see January 15-February 2000 and June 23-July 2001);
bullet Bin Laden canceled the East Asian portion of the attacks in the spring of 2000, because, according to a quote from KSM contained in a report, “it would be too difficult to synchronize” attacks in the United States and Asia;
bullet Around that time, KSM reached out to Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Southeast Asia. He began “recruiting JI operatives for inclusion in the hijacking plot as part of his second wave of hijacking attacks to occur after Sept. 11,” one summary reportedly says;
bullet Zacarias Moussaoui also went to Malaysia in the run-up to 9/11 (see September-October 2000);
bullet In its final stages, the plan called for as many as 22 terrorists and four planes in a first wave, followed by a second wave of suicide hijackings that were to be aided possibly by al-Qaeda allies in Southeast Asia;
bullet The hijacking teams were originally made up of members from different countries where al-Qaeda had recruited, but in the final stages bin Laden chose instead to use a large group of young Saudi men to populate the hijacking teams;
bullet KSM told interrogators about other terror plots that were in various stages of planning or had been temporarily disrupted when he was captured, including one planned for Singapore (see June 2001 and November 15-Late December 2001);
bullet KSM and al-Qaeda were still actively looking to strike US, Western, and Israeli targets across the world as of this year. [Associated Press, 9/21/2003]
These statements attributed to KSM are similar to later statements attributed to him by the 9/11 Commission Report. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004] The Associated Press article cautions that US authorities are still investigating what KSM is telling them, “to eliminate deliberate misinformation.” [Associated Press, 9/21/2003] KSM made some or all these statements under torture, leading some to question their reliability (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003, After March 7, 2003, June 16, 2004, and August 6, 2007).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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