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Context of 'May 24-August 14, 2001: 9/11 Hijackers Make Several Unexplained Trips to Vegas'

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Several of the 9/11 hijackers make trips to Las Vegas and the west coast over the summer:
bullet May 24-27: Marwan Alshehhi flies to Vegas (see May 24-27, 2001);
bullet June 7-10: Ziad Jarrah takes a trip to Vegas (see June 7-10, 2001);
bullet June 28-July 1: Mohamed Atta takes his first trip to Vegas, flying from Fort Lauderdale to Boston and then, the next day, to Las Vegas via San Francisco with United Airlines. He stays there three nights, then returns to Boston via Denver, and flies to New York the next day;
bullet July 31-August 1: Waleed Alshehri flies from Fort Lauderdale to Boston and then takes American Airlines flight 195 to San Francisco the next day. After spending a night at the La Quinta Inn, he returns to Miami via Las Vegas; [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 1-2, 16, 18 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 55-7 pdf file]
bullet August 1: Actor James Woods sees four people he will later suspect are hijackers, including individuals he believes to be Khalid Almihdhar and Hamza Alghamdi, on a transcontinental flight (see August 1, 2001). Abdulaziz Alomari is reported to try to get into the cockpit on a different flight from Vegas on the same day (see August 1, 2001);
bullet August 13-14: Atta, Hani Hanjour, and Nawaf Alhazmi all fly to Vegas, possibly meeting some other hijackers there (see August 13-14, 2001).
Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar also made frequent car trips to Las Vegas from San Diego, where they lived in 2000. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; McDermott, 2005, pp. 192] The reason for these trips is never definitively determined, although there will be speculation the hijackers are casing aircraft similar to those they will hijack on 9/11. The 9/11 Commission will comment, “Beyond Las Vegas’s reputation for welcoming tourists, we have seen no credible evidence explaining why… the operatives flew to or met in Law Vegas.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 242, 248] After 9/11, it will be reported that the hijackers may use these cross-country flights to take pictures of airline cockpits and check out security at boarding gates. During the flights, the hijackers apparently take notes, watch the crews, and even videotape them. There are some reports that two, or perhaps more, of the hijackers sit in “jumpseats” in the pilot’s cabin, a courtesy extended by airlines to other pilots, during the surveillance flights (see Summer 2001) and on the day of 9/11 itself (see November 23, 2001). [Boston Globe, 11/23/2001; Associated Press, 5/29/2002] There are reports that the hijackers drink alcohol, gamble, and frequent strip clubs while they are in Las Vegas. For example, according to a dancer named “Samantha,” Marwan Alshehhi stares up at her blankly while she “undulate[s] her hips inches from his face” and only gives her $20, although he is a “light drinker.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/4/2001; Newsweek, 10/15/2001]

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Waleed Alshehri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to a later article by the Boston Globe, during various cross-country test run flights in the summer of 2001, “Some of the hijackers were seen videotaping crews on their flights. Other times, they asked for cockpit tours. Two also rode in the cockpit of the planes of one national airline, said a pilot who requested anonymity. The practice, known as ‘jumpseating,’ allows certified airline pilots to use a spare seat in the cockpit when none is available in the passenger cabin. Airlines reciprocate to help pilots get home or to the city of their originating flight.” [Boston Globe, 11/23/2001] Abdulaziz Alomari fails in an effort to sit in a jumpseat in August 2001 (see August 1, 2001).

Entity Tags: Abdulaziz Alomari

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ziad Jarrah.Ziad Jarrah. [Source: National Geographic]9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah takes a trip to Las Vegas, and will reportedly later say he was followed on the trip. One of the hijackers’ associates, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, will later say that Jarrah felt he was followed on a flight from New York to California by “security officers.” Bin al-Shibh will also say that fellow hijacker Marwan Alshehhi was followed on a similar flight (see May 24-27, 2001). Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar also thought they were followed on a flight to the US (see January 15, 2000 and Mid-July 2000). [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 135] Jarrah flies first class from Baltimore to Los Angeles on a United Airlines Boeing 757, the same type of plane he will apparently fly on 9/11, and then continues to Las Vegas. Three days later he returns his rental car, having driven 350 miles, and flies back to Baltimore, where he boards a plane back to Fort Lauderdale. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 23 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 55 pdf file] His uncle will describe the trip as a “gambling junket.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/23/2001] Several other hijackers also travel to Vegas (see May 24-August 14, 2001).

Entity Tags: Ziad Jarrah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

James Woods.
James Woods. [Source: Disney Enterprises/ Publicity photo]Actor James Woods, flying first class on an airplane, notices four Arabic-looking men, the only other people in the first class section. He concludes they are Islamic militants intent on hijacking the plane, acting very strangely (for instance, only talking in whispers). [Boston Globe, 11/23/2001] He tells a flight attendant, “I think this plane is going to be hijacked,” adding, “I know how serious it is to say this.” He conveys his worries to the pilots, and they assure him that the cockpit would be locked. [New Yorker, 5/27/2002] The flight staff later notifies the FAA about these suspicious individuals. Though the government will not discuss this event, it is highly unlikely that any action is taken regarding the flight staff’s worries [New Yorker, 5/27/2002] Woods will not be interviewed by the FBI until after 9/11. Woods will say the FBI believes that all four men took part in the 9/11 attacks, and the flight he was on was a practice flight for them. [O'Reilly Factor, 2/14/2002] Woods believes one was Khalid Almihdhar and another was Hamza Alghamdi. [New Yorker, 5/27/2002] The FBI later will report that this may have been one of a dozen test run flights starting as early as January (see May 24-August 14, 2001). Flight attendants and passengers on other flights later recall men looking like the hijackers who took pictures of the cockpit aboard flights and/or took notes. [Associated Press, 5/29/2002] The FBI has not been able to find any evidence of hijackers on the flight manifest for Woods’ flight. [New Yorker, 5/27/2002]

Entity Tags: James Woods, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Hamza Alghamdi, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mohamed Atta stayed at the Las Vegas Econolodge.Mohamed Atta stayed at the Las Vegas Econolodge. [Source: Chris Farina/Corbis]The lead hijackers meet in Las Vegas for a summit a few weeks before 9/11. Investigators will believe that this is the “most crucial planning in the United States,” but will not understand why the hijackers choose Vegas, since they are all living on the East Coast at this time (see March 2001-September 1, 2001 and August 6-September 9, 2001). One senior official will speculate, “Perhaps they figured it would be easy to blend in.” [New York Times, 11/4/2001] At least three of the plot leaders are in Las Vegas at this time. Hani Hanjour and Nawaf Alhazmi fly from Dulles Airport to Los Angeles on an American Airlines Boeing 757, the same sort of plane they hijack on 9/11, and then continue to Las Vegas. Mohamed Atta also flies to Las Vegas from Washington National Airport. This is his second trip to Vegas, which was also previously visited by some of the other hijackers (see May 24-August 14, 2001). A few weeks earlier, Atta had traveled to Spain, possibly with some of the other hijackers, to finalize the plans for the attack with their associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see July 8-19, 2001). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 1, 17, 21 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 57-8 pdf file] Alhazmi will later be recalled by a hotel employee, who will say she ran into him at the Days Inn. According to her later account, he is “cold and abrupt,” in Vegas on “important business,” and will soon be traveling to Los Angeles. He asks for a list of Days Inns in Los Angeles, but does not want a reservation to be made. He also claims to be from Florida, although he is only thought to have spent a week there (see June 19-25, 2001). [Las Vegas Review-Journal, 10/26/2001] A close associate of the hijackers, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, will later say in a 2002 interview that Ziad Jarrah, Marwan Alshehhi, and Khalid Almihdhar are also present in Vegas at this time. [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 137] Newsweek calls Vegas an “odd location” and comments: “They stayed in cheap hotels on a dreary stretch of the Strip frequented by dope dealers and $10 street hookers. Perhaps they wished to be fortified for their mission by visiting a shrine to American decadence. Or maybe they just wanted a city that was easy to reach by air from their various cells in Florida, New Jersey and San Diego.” [Newsweek, 10/15/2001]

Entity Tags: Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Almihdhar, Hani Hanjour, Ziad Jarrah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Mohamed Atta, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Boston Globe reports information strongly suggesting that at least one hijacker was inside each of the cockpits when the hijackings began. An airplane captain theorizes how they took control: “The most likely scenarios are something that was swift, where the pilots couldn’t have changed their transponder code and called the controllers. You think four times in one morning one of those crews would have done that. That means they had to be upon them before they could react.” On practice flights before 9/11, the hijackers repeatedly obtained access to cockpits by various methods. Perhaps the most important method was jumpseating, which allows certified airline pilots to use a spare seat in the cockpit when none is available in the passenger cabin. Airlines reciprocate to help pilots get home or to the city of their originating flight. Officials say they do not believe any of the hijackers were jumpseating on 9/11 despite media reports to the contrary. However, since 9/11 the FAA has banned the practice unless a pilot works for the airline in whose cockpit that person wants to ride. [Boston Globe, 11/23/2001] The 9/11 Commission later concludes that the hijackers didn’t use jumpseating because they couldn’t find any paperwork relating to jumpseat requests.

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The man in the picture on the left is supposed to be bin Laden in October 2001. The picture on the right is undisputendly bin Laden in DecemberThe man in the picture on the left is supposed to be bin Laden in October 2001. The picture on the right is undisputendly bin Laden in December [Source: Reuters]Following the release of a home video in which Osama bin Laden apparently confesses to involvement in 9/11 (see Mid-November 2001), some commentators question its authenticity, as a number of strange facts about the video soon emerge. For example, all previous videos had been made with the consent of bin Laden, and usually released to the Arabic television channel Al Jazeera. This video was supposedly recorded without his knowledge, found in a house in Afghanistan, and then passed to the CIA by an unknown person or group. Experts point out that it would be possible to fake such a video. So many people doubt the video’s authenticity that President Bush soon makes a statement, saying it was “preposterous for anybody to think this tape was doctored. Those who contend it’s a farce or a fake are hoping for the best about an evil man.” [Guardian, 12/15/2001] Some commentators will suggest that the person thought to be bin Laden is not actually the al-Qaeda leader. For example, arabist Kevin Barrett will say that the person in the video is “at least 40 or 50 pounds heavier, and his facial features [are] obviously different.” [Capital Times (Madison), 2/14/2006] The man said to be bin Laden also makes some questionable statements in the video:
bullet “I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building…” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 pdf file] The jet fuel spilled from the planes burned up about 10 minutes after impact (see 8:57 a.m. September 11, 2001), the towers’ structure did not melt (see September 12, 2001-February 2002), and the towers were not made of iron, but steel. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 6] Bin Laden had studied civil engineering at university and had experience as a construction contractor. [Burke, 2004, pp. 47; Laden, 2005, pp. xii-xiii] It is unclear why he would think the towers were made of iron.
bullet “We did not reveal the operation to [the brothers who conducted the operation] until they are there and just before they boarded the planes.” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 pdf file] All the hijackers purchased tickets for the 9/11 flights about two weeks in advance (see August 25-September 5, 2001). The six plot leaders had flight training (see July 6-December 19, 2000, (June 28-December 2000), January-February 2001, and May 5 and 10, 2000), and some of the other 13 are thought to have assisted with target surveillance and casing flights (see May 24-August 14, 2001, August 1, 2001, June 2001 and August 2001).
bullet “Those who were trained to fly didn’t know the others. One group of people did not know the other group.” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 pdf file] The opposite is true: the pilots intermingled with the muscle and the teams for the various planes mixed (see April 23-June 29, 2001, April 12-September 7, 2001, and June 27-August 23, 2001).
There are reports that bin Laden had from four to ten look-alike doubles at the time. [Agence France-Presse, 10/7/2001; London Times, 11/19/2001]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Kevin Barrett, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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