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Context of 'April 2003: 9/11 Commission’s Zelikow Refuses to Approve Half of Interview Requests for ‘Saudi Connection’ Investigators'

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Prince Bandar (pictures of his wife are not available).
Prince Bandar (pictures of his wife are not available). [Source: Publicity photo]Princess Haifa bint Faisal, the wife of Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the US, begins sending monthly cashier’s checks of between $2,000 and $3,500 (accounts differ) to Majeda Dweikat, the Jordanian wife of Osama Basnan, a Saudi living in San Diego. Accounts also differ over when the checks are first sent (between November 1999 and about March 2000; a Saudi government representative will state December 4, 1999). [Fox News, 11/23/2002] Basnan’s wife signs many of the checks over to her friend Manal Bajadr, the wife of Omar al-Bayoumi. The payments are made through Riggs Bank, a bank which appears to have turned a blind eye to Saudi embassy transaction and also has longstanding ties to covert CIA operations (see July 2003). [Newsweek, 11/22/2002; Newsweek, 11/24/2002; Guardian, 11/25/2002; Washington Times, 11/26/2002]
Did the Money Go to the Hijackers? - Some will later suggest that the money from the wife of the Saudi ambassador passes through the al-Bayoumi and Basnan families as intermediaries and ends up in the hands of future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. The payments from Princess Haifa continue until May 2002 and may total $51,000, or as much as $73,000. [Newsweek, 11/22/2002; MSNBC, 11/27/2002] While living in the San Diego area, al-Bayoumi and Basnan are heavily involved in helping with the relocation of, and offering financial support to, Saudi immigrants in the community. [Los Angeles Times, 11/24/2002] In late 2002, al-Bayoumi will claim he does not pass any money along to the hijackers. [Washington Times, 12/4/2002]
Basnan and Al-Bayoumi Are Close Friends - Basnan will variously claim to know al-Bayoumi, not to know him at all, or to know him only vaguely. [ABC News, 11/25/2002; Arab News, 11/26/2002; ABC News, 11/26/2002; MSNBC, 11/27/2002] However, early reports will say Basnan and his wife are “very good friends” of al-Bayoumi and his wife. Both couples live at the Parkwood Apartments at the same time as the two hijackers; prior to that, the couples lived together in a different apartment complex. In addition, the two wives will be arrested together in April 2001 for shoplifting. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/22/2002] According to an FBI agent who investigates Basnan after 9/11, Basnan and al-Bayoumi are close friends. For instance, phone call records will show that there are about 700 calls from various phone numbers between Basnan and al-Bayoumi in a one year period. The agent will add that even if one discounted some of the calls given that their wives are friends, the calls between the cell phones are most likely between Basnan and al-Bayoumi. [9/11 Commission, 11/17/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Haifa bint Faisal, Majeda Dweikat, Osama Basnan, Omar al-Bayoumi, Manal Bajadr

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Omar al-Bayoumi.Omar al-Bayoumi. [Source: Fox News]Omar al-Bayoumi, a suspected Saudi spy, goes to great lengths to help future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar settle in San Diego. Supposedly, al-Bayoumi meets them by chance in a Los Angeles restaurant and encourages them to move to San Diego, but the accounts of the meeting are highly doubtful (see February 1, 2000). The FBI’s “best source” in San Diego will later say that al-Bayoumi “must be an intelligence officer for Saudi Arabia or another foreign power.” A former top FBI official working on the al-Bayoumi investigation claims, “We firmly believed that he had knowledge [of the 9/11 plot], and that his meeting with them that day was more than coincidence.” [Newsweek, 7/28/2003]
bullet When Alhazmi and Almihdhar move into apartment 150 in the Parkwood Apartments in San Diego in early February, they indicate on their rental application that they have been staying at al-Bayoumi’s apartment in the same apartment complex since January 15, the day they arrived in the US (see January 15-February 2, 2000). (This would suggest the alleged accidental restaurant meeting never took place.) [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/3/2001 pdf file]
bullet He is the co-signer and guarantor for their rental application, because they do not have established credit. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/3/2001 pdf file]
bullet He pays $1,500 cash for their first month’s rent and security deposit. Some FBI officials claim the hijackers immediately pay him back, others claim they do not. [Newsweek, 11/24/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file]
bullet The apartment manager will later claim al-Bayoumi occasionally paid rent for Alhazmi and Almihdhar on other occasions. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/3/2001 pdf file]
bullet Shortly after they arrive in San Diego, al-Bayoumi throws a welcoming party to introduce them to the local Muslim community. [Washington Post, 12/29/2001] One attendee will later say an al-Bayoumi party “was a big deal… it meant that everyone accepted them without question.” [San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/25/2001]
bullet He also introduces hijacker Hani Hanjour to the community a short time later, and Hanjour is seen in his apartment later in the year (see Early 2000). [San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/14/2002]
bullet Cayson Bin Don, a friend of al-Bayoumi, will later say al-Bayoumi “spent a lot of time at Alhazmi and Almihdhar’s apartment.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/8/2001 pdf file]
bullet Al-Bayoumi apparently loans the hijackers his cell phone until they can get phone service in their own apartment. On February 15, 2000, someone trying to call al-Bayoumi on his phone has the call answered by Alhazmi instead. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 516]
bullet He tasks an acquaintance, Mohdar Abdullah, to serve as their translator and help them get driver’s licenses, Social Security cards, information on flight schools, and more. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/14/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Hani Hanjour, Omar al-Bayoumi, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohdar Abdullah, Cayson Bin Don

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The King Fahd Mosque in Culver City.The King Fahd Mosque in Culver City. [Source: Damian Dovarganes]Hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi travel to Los Angeles with an associate, Mohdar Abdullah, before Almihdhar leaves the US the next day (see June 10, 2000). When they visit the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, Abdullah is surprised that Alhazmi and Almihdhar already know several people at the mosque. Abdullah will later say, “I was surprised that anybody at the mosque knew them, because as far as I knew Alhazmi and Almihdhar hadn’t visited Los Angeles since they arrived in the US.” They meet one of the hijackers’ Los Angeles acquaintances, known as Khallam, again later that night at their motel. According to the 9/11 Commission, Khallam asks Abdullah to leave the motel room, so he can talk to Alhazmi and Almihdhar in private. However, Abdullah will later dispute this, saying he is not asked leave the room, but that Alhazmi leaves to make an international phone call from a pay phone. The identity of the person he calls is unknown, but it is possible that he talks to Ahmed al-Hada, an al-Qaeda operative whose safe house is monitored by the US and who Alhazmi sometimes calls from the US (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). Khallam will apparently never be found after 9/11. The FBI will consider the possibility that he is Khallad bin Attash, as there are some reports that bin Attash is in the US at this time and met the mosque’s imam, Fahad al Thumairy. However, this theory will never be confirmed. [Los Angeles Times, 7/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 216, 514] The next day, Alhazmi, Abdullah and an unknown man make a casing video at Los Angeles Airport (see June 10, 2000). It is possible that the third man is Khallam.

Entity Tags: Mohdar Abdullah, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khallam, Khalid Almihdhar, 9/11 Commission, Fahad al Thumairy, Khallad bin Attash, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Newly hired Defense Department public relations chief Victoria Clarke (see May 2001) begins a series of regular meetings with a number of Washington’s top private PR specialists and lobbyists. The group is tasked with developing a marketing plan for the upcoming war in Iraq. It is remarkably successful in securing press cooperation to spread its message (see August 13, 2003 and After May 31, 2001).
Bipartisan Makeup - Reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will later write, “The group was filled with heavy-hitters and was strikingly bipartisan in composition.” The group, later informally dubbed “the Rumsfeld Group,” is made up of, among others, PR executives John Rendon and Sheila Tate, Republican political consultant Rich Galen, and Democratic operative Tommy Boggs (brother of NPR’s Cokie Roberts and a PR consultant for the Saudi royal family; St. Clair believes Boggs may have had a hand in the decision to redact 20+ pages concerning the Saudis from Congress’s report on the intelligence failures leading to the 9/11 attacks—see April 2003 and August 1-3, 2003). The direct involvement, if any, of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is unclear.
Rendon's Involvement - John Rendon, the head of the Rendon Group, is a noteworthy veteran of the 1990-91 PR efforts to market the Gulf War (see August 11, 1990), has worked for both Democratic and Republican politicians and lobbying groups, and was instrumental in creating Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (see May 1991). Rendon, already under contract with the Pentagon to help market the US bombing of Afghanistan, is one of the key players in marketing the upcoming Iraq invasion. Though Rendon refuses to discuss his work for the Pentagon, St. Clair believes he will be partially or completely responsible for some of the invasion’s signature events, including the toppling of the statue of Hussein in Firdos Square by US troops and Chalabi associates (see April 9, 2003), and video-friendly Iraqi crowds waving American flags as US Army vehicles roll by. Rendon explains his role like this: “I am not a national security strategist or a military tactician. I am a politician, and a person who uses communication to meet public policy or corporate policy objectives. In fact, I am an information warrior and a perception manager.” The Pentagon defines “perception management” as “actions to convey and/or deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning.” St. Clair adds, “In other words, lying about the intentions of the US government.” One of the biggest instances of Pentagon “perception management” is the Office of Strategic Influence (see Shortly after September 11, 2001), also developed by Rendon. [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Tommy Boggs, Iraqi National Congress, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), “The Rumsfeld Group”, Jeffrey St. Clair, Sheila Tate, John Rendon, US Department of Defense, Rich Galen, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, Office of Strategic Influence

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Qualid Benomrane’s 2001 tax driver license.Qualid Benomrane’s 2001 tax driver license. [Source: FBI]The FBI interviews Qualid Benomrane, an Arabic-speaking taxi driver who had done chauffeur work for the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles. Benomrane is shown pictures of young Arab men and asked if he recognizes any of them. He quickly picks hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar out of the line-up. After realizing they were 9/11 hijackers, he denies knowing them. The FBI asks him about his ties to Fahad al Thumairy, an official at the Saudi consulate suspected of a link with those two hijackers. Benomrane says that al Thumairy introduced him to two young Saudi men who had just arrived in the US and needed help. Benomrane drove them to places in Los Angeles and San Diego, including Sea World, a theme park in San Diego. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 309] (Curiously, these two hijackers bought season passes to Sea World.) [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] 9/11 Commission staffers will later conclude it is highly likely that the two men were Alhazmi and Almihdhar, despite Benomrane’s later denial. This would mean al Thumairy knew the two hijackers. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 309] However, the 9/11 Commission will fail to mention anything about this in their final report.

Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, Fahad al Thumairy, Qualid Benomrane, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Two investigators on the 9/11 Commission, Mike Jacobson and Dana Leseman, compile a list of interviews they want to do to investigate leads indicating that two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, were linked to elements of the Saudi government. The list is submitted to Philip Zelikow, the commission’s executive director, for approval. However, a few days later Zelikow replies that the twenty interviews requested is too much, and they can only do half the interviews. Leseman, a former Justice Department lawyer, is unhappy with this, as it is traditional to demand the widest range of documents and interviews early on, so that reductions can be made later in negotiations if need be.
'We Need the Interviews' - Leseman tells Zelikow that his decision is “very arbitrary” and “crazy,” adding: “Philip, this is ridiculous. We need the interviews. We need these documents. Why are you trying to limit our investigation?” Zelikow says that he does not want to overwhelm federal agencies with document and interview requests at an early stage of the investigation, but, according to author Philip Shenon, after this, “Zelikow was done explaining. He was not in the business of negotiating with staff who worked for him.”
More Conflicts - This is the first of several conflicts between Zelikow and Leseman, who, together with Jacobson, had been on the staff of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry and had researched this issue there. Shenon will write: “Leseman was that rare thing on the commission: She was not afraid of Zelikow; she would not be intimidated by him. In fact, from the moment she arrived at the commission’s offices on K Street, she seemed to almost relish the daily combat with Zelikow, even if she wondered aloud to her colleagues why there had to be any combat at all.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 109-111]
Later Fired, Evidence Deleted from Final Report - Zelikow will later fire Leseman from the commission for mishandling classified information (see April 2003 and (April 2003)) and will have the evidence of the Saudi connection gathered by Jacobson and Leseman’s successor, Raj De, deleted from the main text of the commission’s report (see June 2004).

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Dana Leseman, Michael Jacobson, Philip Zelikow

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow prevents two investigators, Mike Jacobson and Dana Leseman, from viewing a key document they need for their work. Jacobson and Leseman are working on the ‘Saudi Connection’ section of the commission’s investigation, researching leads that there may have been a link between two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and elements of the government of Saudi Arabia. Zelikow is also involved in another, related dispute with Leseman at this time (see April 2003).
28 Pages - The classified document in question is part of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 28 pages that were redacted in the final report and concerned possible Saudi government support for two of the 9/11 hijackers (see August 1-3, 2003). The 28 pages were actually written by Jacobson and are obviously relevant to his and Leseman’s work at the 9/11 Commission, but Jacobson cannot remember every detail of what he wrote.
Stalled - Leseman therefore asks Zelikow to get her a copy, but Zelikow fails to do so for weeks, instead concluding a deal with the Justice Department that bans even 9/11 commissioners from some access to the Congressional Inquiry’s files (see Before April 24, 2003). Leseman confronts Zelikow, demanding: “Philip, how are we supposed to do our work if you won’t provide us with basic research material?” Zelikow apparently does not answer, but storms away. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 110-112]
Leseman Later Fired - Leseman later obtains the document through a channel other than Zelikow, and will be fired for this (see (April 2003)).

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, 9/11 Commission, Dana Leseman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow fires one of the commission’s investigators, Dana Leseman, with whom he has had a number of conflicts (see April 2003). Leseman and a colleague were researching a possible link between two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and elements of the government of Saudi Arabia.
Blocked - The firing stems from a dispute over the handling of classified information. Leseman asked Zelikow to provide her with a document she needed for her work, 28 redacted pages from the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report she had helped research herself, but Zelikow had failed to do so for some time (see April 2003 and August 1-3, 2003). Leseman then obtained a copy of the report through a channel other than Zelikow, which is a breach of the commission’s rules on handling classified information. Some colleagues will later say that this is just a minor infraction of the rules, as the document is relevant to Leseman’s work, she has the security clearance to see it, and she keeps it in a safe in the commission’s offices. However, she does not actually have authorisation to have the document at this point.
'Zero-Tolerance Policy' - Zelikow will later say she violated the commission’s “zero-tolerance policy on the handling of classified information,” and that she “committed a set of very serious violations in the handling of the most highly classified information.” Zelikow is supported by the commission’s lawyer Daniel Marcus, as they are both worried that a scandal about the mishandling of classified information could seriously damage the commission’s ability to obtain more classified information, and will be used as a stick to beat the commission by its opponents.
Fired, Kept Secret - Zelikow is informed that Leseman has the document by a staffer on one of the commission’s other teams who has also had a conflict with Leseman, and fires her “only hours” after learning this. Luckily for the commission and Leseman, no word of the firing reaches the investigation’s critics in Congress. Author Philip Shenon will comment, “The fact that the news did not leak was proof of how tightly Zelikow was able to control the flow of information on the commission.”
'Do Not Cross Me' - Shenon will add: “To Leseman’s friends, it seemed that Zelikow had accomplished all of his goals with her departure. He had gotten rid of the one staff member who had emerged early on as his nemesis; he had managed to eject her without attracting the attention of the press corps or the White House. And he had found a way to send a message to the staff: ‘Do not cross me’.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 110-113] Zelikow will later be investigated for mishandling classified information himself, but will apparently be exonerated (see Summer 2004).

Entity Tags: Daniel Marcus, Dana Leseman, Philip Shenon, 9/11 Commission, Philip Zelikow

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Tim Roemer.Tim Roemer. [Source: US Congress]9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow strikes a deal with the Justice Department to cut the 9/11 Commission’s access to files compiled by the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry (see July 24, 2003) until the White House is able to review them. However, he keeps the agreement secret from the commissioners and, when Commissioner Tim Roemer, who had actually sat on the Congressional Inquiry and already seen the material, goes to Capitol Hill to read the files on April 24, he is turned away. Roemer is furious and asks: “Why is our executive director making secret deals with the Justice Department and the White House? He is supposed to be working for us.” [Associated Press, 4/26/2003; Shenon, 2008, pp. 90] He adds, “No entity, individual, or organization should sift through or filter our access to material.” [Associated Press, 4/30/2003] Author Philip Shenon will comment, “Roemer believed, correctly, that it was a sign of much larger struggles to come with Zelikow.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 90]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, 9/11 Commission, Tim Roemer, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Philip Shenon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In the wake of the release of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s full report, anonymous officials leak some details from a controversial, completely censored 28-page section that focuses on possible Saudi support for 9/11. According to leaks given to the New York Times, the section says that Omar al-Bayoumi and/or Osama Basnan “had at least indirect links with two hijackers [who] were probably Saudi intelligence agents and may have reported to Saudi government officials.” It also says that Anwar al-Awlaki “was a central figure in a support network that aided the same two hijackers.” Most connections drawn in the report between the men, Saudi intelligence, and 9/11 is said to be circumstantial. [New York Times, 8/2/2003] One key section is said to read, “On the one hand, it is possible that these kinds of connections could suggest, as indicated in a CIA memorandum, ‘incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists… On the other hand, it is also possible that further investigation of these allegations could reveal legitimate, and innocent, explanations for these associations.’”(see August 2, 2002) Some of the most sensitive information involves what US agencies are doing currently to investigate Saudi business figures and organizations. [Associated Press, 8/2/2003] According to the New Republic, the section outlines “connections between the hijacking plot and the very top levels of the Saudi royal family.” An anonymous official is quoted as saying, “There’s a lot more in the 28 pages than money. Everyone’s chasing the charities. They should be chasing direct links to high levels of the Saudi government. We’re not talking about rogue elements. We’re talking about a coordinated network that reaches right from the hijackers to multiple places in the Saudi government.… If the people in the administration trying to link Iraq to al-Qaeda had one-one-thousandth of the stuff that the 28 pages has linking a foreign government to al-Qaeda, they would have been in good shape.… If the 28 pages were to be made public, I have no question that the entire relationship with Saudi Arabia would change overnight.” [New Republic, 8/1/2003] The section also is critical that the issue of foreign government support remains unresolved. One section reads, “In their testimony, neither CIA or FBI officials were able to address definitely the extent of such support for the hijackers, globally or within the United States, or the extent to which such support, if it exists, is knowing or inadvertent in nature. This gap in intelligence community coverage is unacceptable.” [Boston Globe, 8/3/2003]

Entity Tags: Osama Basnan, Omar al-Bayoumi, Anwar al-Awlaki, Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In a late-night editing session, 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow and Dieter Snell, head of the Commission team investigating the 9/11 plot, delete sections of the 9/11 Commission Report linking two of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, to suspected Saudi government operatives.
Evidence of Saudi Link - The sections were drafted by two of Snell’s team members, Mike Jacobson and Raj De, and deal with Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi who had helped the two hijackers (see January 15-February 2000); Fahad al-Thumairy, another of their associates (see June 9, 2000); cash transfers from the wife of the Saudi ambassador in Washington to an associate of al-Bayoumi (see December 4, 1999); and a taxi driver who said he had seen the two hijackers in Los Angeles (see 2002).
Disagreement - However, Snell, a former prosecutor, is opposed to these sections, as he thinks the hijackers’ links to Saudi intelligence are not 100 percent proven, so it is better to leave them out. Jacobson is notified of the editing session just before midnight; he calls De and they both go into the Commission’s offices to discuss the material. Snell says that the final report should not contain allegations that cannot be backed up conclusively, but Jacobson and De say demanding this level of proof would exonerate the guilty.
Saudi Ties Moved to Endnotes - Zelikow appears sympathetic to Jacobson and De, and had also entertained suspicions of the Saudis at one point. However, he apparently sees his role at this late stage as that of a mediator and allows Snell to delete the sections from the main body of the report, although Jacobson and De are then permitted to write endnotes covering them. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 398-399] Material unfavorable to Pakistan is also omitted from the report (see July 22, 2004).

Entity Tags: Raj De, 9/11 Commission, Philip Zelikow, Dietrich Snell, Michael Jacobson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Despite previous leaks to the media showing the 9/11 Commission was given information showing Pakistani officials were “up to their eyeballs” in collaboration with the Taliban and al-Qaeda before 9/11 (see June 20, 2004) [Los Angeles Times, 6/14/2004] , and even reports of a document given to the commission claiming the “ISI was fully involved in devising and helping the entire [9/11 plot]” (see July 22, 2004) [United Press International, 7/22/2004] , the 9/11 Commission’s Final Report released on this day rarely mentions the ISI at all. The only significant mention is a brief comment that the ISI was the Taliban’s “primary patron.” ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed is mentioned only twice, both in the context of post-9/11 diplomacy. Saeed Sheikh is not mentioned at all. The report notes that details of the 9/11 plot were widely known by the Taliban leadership, but fails to consider if the Taliban shared that knowledge or involvement with their “primary patron.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004] Indeed, far from criticizing Pakistan, the commission praises the country for its support in the war on terrorism, and suggests that the US should greatly increase its foreign aid there. [Associated Press, 7/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Mahmood Ahmed, 9/11 Commission, Saeed Sheikh, Al-Qaeda, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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