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Context of 'July 10-September 11, 2001: Phoenix Flight Schools Are Not Checked Despite FBI’s Phoenix Memo Recommending Checks'

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On several occasion between 1996 and 1999, future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour attends flight schools in Arizona (see October 1996-December 1997 and 1998). The 9/11 Commission will later note, “It is clear that when Hanjour lived in Arizona in the 1990s, he associated with several individuals who have been the subject of counterterrorism investigations.” Some of the time, he is accompanied by two friends, Bandar Al Hazmi and Rayed Abdullah. Al Hazmi and Abdullah have been friends with each other in high school in Saudi Arabia, but it is not known if either knew Hanjour before moving to the US. Al Hazmi and Hanjour are roommates for a time. Al Hazmi will finish his training and leave the US for the last time in January 2000 (he apparently will be interviewed overseas in 2004). Abdullah becomes a leader of a Phoenix mosque where he reportedly gives extremist speeches. He will continue to train with Hanjour occasionally through the summer of 2001. The FBI apparently will investigate him in May 2001. He will repeatedly be questioned by authorities after 9/11, then move to Qatar. In 2004, the 9/11 Commission will report that the FBI remains suspicious of Al Hazmi and Abdullah, but neither man is charged with any crime. The 9/11 Commission will also imply that another of Hanjour’s Arizona associates is al-Qaeda operative Ghassan al Sharbi. Al Sharbi will be arrested in Pakistan in March 2002 with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). He apparently is a target of Ken Williams’s “Phoenix memo”(see July 10, 2001). Another associate of Hanjour’s, Hamed al Sulami, is in telephone contact with a radical Saudi imam who is said to be the spiritual advisor to al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. This imam may have a role in recruiting some of the 9/11 hijackers. Abdulaziz Alomari, for instance, was a student of this imam. It seems that al Sulami is also a target of Williams’s memo. [Washington Post, 9/10/2002; US Congress, 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 233, 520-521, 529]

Entity Tags: Rayed Abdullah, Hani Hanjour, Bandar Al Hazmi, Ghassan al Sharbi, Hamed al Sulamis

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

Hani Hanjour.Hani Hanjour. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]While most evidence places future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour on the East Coast in the summer of 2001, Hanjour may undergo some flight training in Phoenix, Arizona, as well. Hanjour trained at the Sawyer School of Aviation previously (see 1998), and there is some evidence he returns there. One school document records Hanjour’s name for use of a flight simulator on June 23, 2001, though his name does not appear on payment records. Faisal al-Salmi, Rayed Abdullah, and Lotfi Raissi also use the flight simulator this day. Al-Salmi will later be convicted of lying about his associations with Hanjour (see February 15, 2002). Abdullah had moved with Hanjour from Florida in 1997, and is known for giving extremist speeches at a Phoenix mosque (see October 1996-Late April 1999). Raissi will later be suspected of involvement in the 9/11 plot, then cleared (see September 21, 2001). There are also indications that Hanjour signs up to use a flight simulator in August with three other Muslim men, including al-Salmi. One Sawyer employee is fairly certain she sees Hanjour during the summer. Another witness sees Hanjour with al-Salmi elsewhere in Phoenix. The 9/11 Commission will note that the evidence of Hanjour training in Phoenix during the summer is not definitive, but “the FBI’s Phoenix office believes it is plausible that Hanjour return[s] to Arizona for additional training.” [New York Times, 5/24/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 529] On July 10, 2001, Phoenix FBI agent Ken Williams sends a memorandum to FBI headquarters urging a nationwide check on Middle Eastern students at flight schools (see July 10, 2001), but apparently neither Williams nor anyone else actually conducts any kind of check on Phoenix flight schools at this time (see July 10-September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Sawyer School of Aviation, Rayed Abdullah, Lotfi Raissi, Faisal al-Salmi, Hani Hanjour, 9/11 Commission, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ken Williams

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

On July 10, 2001, Phoenix FBI agent Ken Williams sends a memorandum to FBI headquarters urging a nationwide check on Middle Eastern students at flight schools (see July 10, 2001), but apparently neither Williams nor anyone else actually conducts any kind of check on Phoenix flight schools at this time. Phoenix flight school managers will later claim that the FBI does not ask them for tips on suspicious students before 9/11. A Sawyer School manager apparently had suspicions about some of his students (though he does not mention alleged Flight 77 pilot Hani Hanjour specifically). He later will say that had he known the FBI was concerned that some students might be Islamic militants, “I would have called someone.” Another flight school manager claims he has a good relationship with the FBI and is surprised he is not asked about Williams’s concerns. He will complain, “Should flight schools be clairvoyant?” [New York Times, 5/24/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 529] In fact, although Hanjour left Arizona in March 2001 and lived on the East Coast after that time, there is evidence he comes back for some flight training in the Phoenix area in June and August 2001, including at the Sawyer School (see Summer 2001). The 9/11 Commission will later note that the evidence of Hanjour training in Phoenix during the summer is not definitive, but “the FBI’s Phoenix office believes it is plausible that Hanjour return[s] to Arizona for additional training.” [New York Times, 5/24/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 529] It does not appear that Williams or any other FBI official checks flight schools anywhere else in Arizona before 9/11.

Entity Tags: Ken Williams, 9/11 Commission, Hani Hanjour, Sawyer School of Aviation, Lotfi Raissi, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Lofti Raissi.Lofti Raissi. [Source: Amnesty International]Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian pilot living in Britain, is arrested and accused of helping to train four of the hijackers. An FBI source says, “We believe he is by far the biggest find we have had so far. He is of crucial importance to us.” [Las Vegas Review-Journal, 9/29/2001] However, in April 2002, a judge dismisses all charges against him, calling the charges “tenuous.” US officials originally said, “They had video of him with Hani Hanjour, who allegedly piloted the plane that crashed into the Pentagon; records of phone conversations between the two men; evidence that they had flown a training plane together; and evidence that Raissi had met several of the hijackers in Las Vegas. It turned out, the British court found, that the video showed Raissi with his cousin, not Mr. Hanjour, that Raissi had mistakenly filled in his air training logbook and had never flown with Hanjour, and that Raissi and the hijackers were not in Las Vegas at the same time. The US authorities never presented any phone records showing conversations between Raissi and Hanjour. It appears that in this case the US authorities handed over all the information they had…” [Christian Science Monitor, 3/27/2002; Guardian, 9/26/2005] Raissi later says he will sue the British and American governments unless he is given a “widely publicized apology” for his months in prison and the assumption of “guilty until proven innocent.” [Reuters, 8/14/2002] In September 2003, he does sue both governments for $20 million. He also wins a undisclosed sum from the British tabloid Mail on Sunday for printing false charges against him. [Guardian, 9/16/2003; BBC, 10/7/2003; Arizona Republic, 10/14/2003] Declassified documents will later reveal that the British arrested Raissi only days after the FBI requested that the British discretely monitor and investigate him, not arrest him. [Guardian, 9/26/2005] Raissi perfectly matches the description of an individual mentioned in FBI agent Ken Williams’ “Phoenix memo” (see July 10, 2001), whom the FBI had attempted to investigate in May 2001 (see 1997-July 2001).

Entity Tags: Lotfi Raissi, Hani Hanjour, United Kingdom, Pentagon, Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Faisal al-Salmi, a Saudi man who knew 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour, is convicted of making false statements to the FBI. Al-Salmi, 34, trained at the same Arizona flight school as Hanjour where they both used the flight simulator (see Summer 2001). Al-Salmi denied knowing Hanjour but, according to investigators, they spoke several times and were seen together in the summer of 2001. He is not accused of being involved in the 9/11 plot. Al-Salmi will later receive a six-month sentence. [Associated Press, 10/13/2001; Time, 10/28/2001; Arizona Daily Wildcat, 2/14/2002; New York Times, 2/16/2002; CNN, 4/20/2002; Arizona Daily Star, 7/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Faisal al-Salmi, Hani Hanjour, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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