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Context of 'April 15, 1999: Hanjour Gets Pilot’s License despite Dubious Skills'

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In late 1996, hijacker Hani Hanjour attends CRM Airline Training Center in Scottsdale, Arizona for three months. This is normally adequate time to earn a private pilot’s certificate, but Hanjour fails to accomplish this. [Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001] Duncan Hastie, the school’s owner, finds Hanjour a “weak student” who is “wasting our resources.” According to Hastie, “He was not able to fly solo in a small plane, which is equivalent to getting out of a parking space [in a car] and stopping.” Hanjour returns to CRM in December 1997 with two friends: Bandar Al Hazmi, a Saudi like Hanjour, and Rayed Abdullah of Qatar. (There apparently is no family relationship between Bandar Al Hazmi and the two Alhazmi 9/11 hijackers.) Hanjour takes about three lessons, but still fails to complete the coursework necessary for a license to fly a single-engine aircraft. Subsequently, he phones the school about twice per year requesting more lessons, but, according to Hastie, “We didn’t want him back at our school because he was not serious about becoming a good pilot.” The final time Hanjour calls, in 2000, he requests training on a Boeing 757: the kind of plane he is alleged to have flown into the Pentagon on 9/11. [Newsday, 9/23/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001; Chicago Tribune, 10/2/2001; Cape Cod Times, 10/21/2001; Aviation International News, 11/2001; Washington Post, 9/10/2002]

Entity Tags: Rayed Abdullah, Bandar Al Hazmi, Duncan Hastie, Hani Hanjour, Scottsdale Flight School

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Sawyer Aviation logo.Sawyer Aviation logo. [Source: Sawyer Aviation]In January 1998, future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour and his friend Bandar Al Hazmi, who are now renting an apartment together in Phoenix, Arizona, train together at Arizona Aviation flight school. Hanjour supposedly receives his commercial pilot rating while there. [US Congress, 9/26/2002] Later in 1998, Hanjour joins the simulator club at Sawyer School of Aviation in Phoenix. According to the Washington Post, Sawyer is “known locally as a flight school of last resort.” Wes Fults, the manager of the flight simulator, says Hanjour has “only the barest understanding what the instruments were there to do.” After using the simulator four or five times, Hanjour disappears from the school. [Washington Post, 10/15/2001]

Entity Tags: Wes Fults, Sawyer School of Aviation, Bandar Al Hazmi, Arizona Aviation flight school, Hani Hanjour

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A photocopy of Hani Hanjour’s 1999 pilot license.A photocopy of Hani Hanjour’s 1999 pilot license. [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)When Hani Hanjour attended flight schools between 1996 and 1998 he was found to be a “weak student” who “was wasting our resources” (see October 1996-December 1997), and when he tried using a flight simulator, “He had only the barest understanding what the instruments were there to do.” (see 1998) Yet, on this day, he is certified as a multi-engine commercial pilot by Daryl Strong in Tempe, Arizona. Strong is one of many private examiners independently contracted with the FAA. A spokesperson for the FAA’s workers union will later complain that contractors like Strong “receive between $200 and $300 for each flight check. If they get a reputation for being tough, they won’t get any business.” Hanjour’s new license allows him to begin passenger jet training at other flight schools, despite having limited flying skills and an extremely poor grasp of English. [Federal Aviation Administration, 4/25/2002; Government Executive, 6/13/2002; Associated Press, 6/13/2002] At the next flight school Hanjour will attend in early 2001, the staff will be so appalled at his lack of skills that they will repeatedly contact the FAA and ask them to investigate how he got a pilot’s license (see January-February 2001). After 9/11, the FBI will appear to investigate how Hanjour got his license and question and polygraph the instructor who signed off on his flying skills. The Washington Post will note that, since Hanjour’s pilot skills were so bad, the issue of how he was able to get a license “remains a lingering question that FAA officials refuse to discuss.” [Washington Post, 10/15/2001; CBS News, 5/10/2002] After gaining the license, Hanjour apparently returns to the Middle East. He will arrive back in the US in December 2000 (see (Early 2000-November 2000) and December 8, 2000).

Entity Tags: Daryl Strong, Hani Hanjour

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Officially, in 2000, 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour is said to enter the US on December 8, and briefly visit San Diego (see December 8, 2000). However, some reports suggest he may spend a significant amount of time in San Diego earlier in the year. [Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001; San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/14/2002]
bullet For example, in the two weeks following 9/11, the FBI will identify him as having lived in San Diego during 2000. [Associated Press, 9/14/2001; NBC (San Diego), 9/15/2001; San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/21/2001]
bullet In 2004, court records relating to a local terror probe will include authorities stating that Hanjour, along with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, had regularly dined and prayed with Mohdar Abdullah, a Yemeni university student in San Diego. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 6/2/2004]
bullet When Alhazmi and Almihdhar attend a San Diego flying school in May 2000 (see May 5 and 10, 2000), they are accompanied by one or even two men called Hani. [KGTV 10 (San Diego), 9/18/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001; South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 9/28/2001]
bullet A neighbor of Abdussattar Shaikh, a Muslim leader and also undercover FBI asset living in San Diego, later remembers Shaikh having introduced him to a friend called Hani, who he assumes to have been Hanjour. [Chicago Tribune, 9/30/2001] (Alhazmi and Almihdhar stay with Shaikh during 2000 (see Mid-May-December 2000).) For a short period beginning August 10, another resident at Shaikh’s San Diego house is a Saudi called Yazeed al-Salmi. After 9/11, Al-Salmi will reportedly confide to having known Hanjour and, according to the 9/11 Commission, has “childhood ties” to him. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222 and 518]
bullet Witnesses see Hanjour in San Diego with suspected Saudi agent Omar al-Bayoumi at least twice in early 2000 (see Early 2000).
Little else is written about Hanjour’s movements during 2000, but the Washington Post notes that for at least part of the year, he “appears to have been in Saudi Arabia, because it was there that he obtained a student visa to take another English course. He applied in September 2000.” [Washington Post, 10/15/2001] The 9/11 Commission will claim that Hanjour goes to Afghanistan in spring 2000, where he spends time in al-Qaeda’s Al Farooq training camp. He is then sent to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) in Karachi, for training in using code words, before returning to Saudi Arabia on June 20, 2000. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 226] However, this account will come mainly from written reports of the interrogation of KSM, with whom the commission has no direct contact. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 146 and 521] Partly because of the highly coercive interrogation methods used, there will be questions about the reliability of KSM’s information. [New York Times, 6/17/2004] According to the 9/11 Commission, the only time Hanjour is in San Diego this year is from December 8-12, before he moves to Arizona. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223]

Entity Tags: Mohdar Abdullah, Khalid Almihdhar, Abdussattar Shaikh, Yazeed al-Salmi, Omar al-Bayoumi, Al Farooq training camp, Nawaf Alhazmi, Hani Hanjour, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Hani Hanjour’s US visa issued September 25, 2000.Hani Hanjour’s US visa issued September 25, 2000. [Source: FBI]Future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour re-enters the US, flying from Dubai, via Paris to Cincinnati, then on to San Diego, where he joins fellow hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223] Three months earlier, Hanjour had applied for a four-week course in English at the ELS Language Center in Oakland, where he had studied in 1996 (see April 30-Early September 1996). Using his conditional acceptance letter from ELS, he applied in Saudi Arabia for a student visa to enter the US, which was granted by the US consulate in Jeddah (see September 10, 2000 and September 25, 2000). However, he never turns up for his course. [Associated Press, 10/11/2001; Washington Post, 10/15/2001; Washington Post, 9/10/2002] Hanjour applied for a student visa in Jeddah, but, for some reason, appears to have been granted a tourist visa. However, upon entry the visa is changed to a student visa. The 9/11 Commission will attempt to interview the primary inspector who makes this change. However, it will be unable to do so. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 14, 38 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Hani Hanjour, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Hani Hanjour, from a 2000 US visa application.
Hani Hanjour, from a 2000 US visa application. [Source: 9/11 Commission]In January 2001, the Arizona flight school JetTech alerts the FAA about hijacker Hani Hanjour. No one at the school suspects Hanjour of terrorist intent, but they tell the FAA he lacks both the English and flying skills necessary for the commercial pilot’s license he has already obtained. For instance, he had taken classes at the University of Arizona but failed his English classes with a 0.26 grade point average. A JetTech flight school manager “couldn’t believe he had a commercial license of any kind with the skills that he had.” A former employee says, “I’m still to this day amazed that he could have flown into the Pentagon. He could not fly at all.” They also note he is an exceptionally poor student who does not seem to care about passing his courses. [New York Times, 5/4/2002; CBS News, 5/10/2002] An FAA official named John Anthony actually sits next to Hanjour in class and observes his skills. He suggests the use of a translator to help Hanjour pass, but the flight school points out that goes “against the rules that require a pilot to be able to write and speak English fluently before they even get their license.” [Associated Press, 5/10/2002] The FAA verifies that Hanjour’s 1999 pilot’s license is legitimate (see April 15, 1999), but takes no other action. However, his license should have been rejected because it had already expired in late 1999 when he failed to take a manadatory medical test. [Associated Press, 9/15/2001; CBS News, 5/10/2002] An Arizona FAA inspector later says, “There should have been a stop right then and there.” He will claim that federal law would have required Hanjour to be re-examined. [Associated Press, 6/13/2002] In February, Hanjour begins advanced simulator training, “a far more complicated task than he had faced in earning a commercial license.” [New York Times, 6/19/2002] The flight school again alerts the FAA about this and gives a total of five alerts about Hanjour, but no further action on him is taken. The FBI is not told about Hanjour. [CBS News, 5/10/2002] Ironically, in July 2001, Arizona FBI agent Ken Williams will recommend in a memo that the FBI liaison with local flight schools and keep track of suspicious activity by Middle Eastern students (see July 10, 2001).

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Anthony, Pentagon, Hani Hanjour, JetTech

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Hani Hanjour.Hani Hanjour. [Source: FBI]9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour goes to the Freeway Airport in Bowie, Maryland, about 20 miles west of Washington. He wants to rent a single engine Cessna airplane. However, when two instructors take him on three test runs, they find he has trouble controlling and landing the plane. One instructor has to help him land. Due to his poor skills, therefore, he is not allowed to rent one of their planes without more lessons. Further, while Hanjour appears to have logged over 600 hours of flying experience and possesses a valid pilot’s license (though it has in fact expired), he refuses to provide contact information: He gives no phone number and only gives his address as being a hotel in Laurel. In spite of Hanjour’s lack of flying skills, chief instructor Marcel Bernard later claims, “There’s no doubt in my mind that once [Flight 77] got going, he could have pointed that plane at a building and hit it.” [Capital News, 9/19/2001; Gazette (Greenbelt), 9/21/2001; Newsday, 9/23/2001; Washington Post, 10/15/2001] However, on 9/11, in piloting Flight 77 into the Pentagon, Hanjour would have needed to do much more than simply point the plane at a target. Because Flight 77 at first seemed to overshoot its target, the Washington Post will note that “the unidentified pilot executed a pivot so tight that it reminded observers of a fighter jet maneuver. The plane circled 270 degrees to the right to approach the Pentagon from the west, whereupon Flight 77 fell below radar level.… Aviation sources said the plane was flown with extraordinary skill, making it highly likely that a trained pilot was at the helm.” [Washington Post, 9/12/2001] One Washington air traffic controller will later comment, “The speed, the maneuverability, the way that he turned, we all thought in the radar room, all of us experienced air traffic controllers, that that was a military plane.” [ABC News, 10/24/2001] One law enforcement official who will study Flight 77’s descent after 9/11 will call it the work of “a great talent… virtually a textbook turn and landing.” [Washington Post, 9/10/2002] Remarkably, the 9/11 Commission will overlook the numerous accounts of Hanjour’s terrible piloting skills (see April 15, 1999 and January-February 2001) and state that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed assigned the Pentagon target specifically to Hanjour because he was “the operation’s most experienced pilot.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 530]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Hani Hanjour, 9/11 Commission, Marcel Bernard

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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