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Context of 'August 16, 2001: Roommate Interview Strengthens Case against Moussaoui'

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Zacarias Moussaoui.Zacarias Moussaoui. [Source: US Justice Department]Zacarias Moussaoui moves from Oklahoma to Minnesota, in order to attend flight school training there. Moussaoui drives there with Hussein al-Attas, a friend who will stay with him in Minnesota. Curiously, on August 11, someone breaks into the Norman, Oklahoma, apartment that remained unoccupied since Moussaoui moved out of it at the end of May 2001. A neighbor’s bicycle is used to break through the door of the vacant apartment and a bloodstain is left on the wall. A neighbor “[tells] reporters that furniture was overturned as if someone was looking for something.” [MSNBC, 12/11/2001; St. Paul Pioneer Press, 9/10/2002; US Congress, 10/17/2002]

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Hussein al-Attas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Immediately after learning of Zacarias Moussaoui’s suspicious behavior, Minneapolis FBI agent Harry Samit, one of the agents who arrests Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), suspects he is preparing to hijack an airliner. He writes to a colleague, “That’s pretty ominous and obviously suggests some sort of hijacking plan.” [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 4/4/2006] Interviews with Moussaoui after his arrest will reinforce the Minneapolis FBI’s suspicions that he is involved in a wider terrorist plot against airliners (see August 16-17, 2001). And after interviewing Moussaoui’s associate Hussein al-Attas as well (see August 16, 2001), Samit is unequivocally “convinced… a hundred percent that Moussaoui [is] a bad actor, [is] probably a professional mujaheddin and this [is] not a joyride, that he [is] completely bent on the use of this aircraft for destructive purposes.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 114-5, 120-2 pdf file] In the main initial memo from Samit to other FBI units, Samit describes Moussaoui as “extremely evasive” and “extremely agitated.” Samit also writes that Moussaoui appeared to by lying when he denied he had weapons training. Samit says, “Minneapolis believes that Moussaoui is an Islamic extremist preparing for some future act in furtherance of radical fundamentalist goals.” Samit expresses his belief Moussaoui is planning something with a 747-400. He is aware Moussaoui’s plan probably involves co-conspirators and writes “Moussaoui, al-Attas, and others yet unknown are conspiring to commit violations of [Federal anti-terrorism statutes],” and “there is reason to believe that Moussaoui and al-Attas are part of a larger international radical fundamentalist group.” Samit even suspects Moussaoui of two of the offenses he will eventually be charged with and plead guilty to (see April 22, 2005). The e-mail accompanying the main memo concludes, “[p]lease let me know a soon as [the Department] gives the go-ahead. We’re all counting on you!” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 120-2 pdf file; Minneapolis Star Tribune, 6/4/2006]

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, FBI Headquarters, Harry Samit, Hussein al-Attas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Hussein al-Attas.Hussein al-Attas. [Source: Public domain]Hours after Zacarias Moussaoui is taken into custody in Minnesota, his friend and roommate Hussein al-Attas is interviewed by the FBI. The two men had recently driven together to Minnesota from Oklahoma (see August 10-11, 2001).
bullet According to a summary of the interview written at the time, “Al-Attas indicated that Moussaoui believes that it is acceptable to kill civilians who harm Muslims and that he approves of martyrs.”
bullet Al-Attas says Moussaoui talked about holy war every day when they roomed together.
bullet When asked if he had ever heard Moussaoui make a plan to kill those who harm Muslims, “Al-Attas admit[s] that he may have heard him do so, but that because it is not in [al-Attas’] own heart to carry out acts of this nature, he claimed that he kept himself from actually hearing and understanding.”
bullet Al-Attas says Moussaoui holds strong anti-American views and might be willing to act on his beliefs.
bullet Al-Attas describes Moussaoui as so secretive that he refuses to give his full name, identifying himself only as “Shaqil.”
bullet He also says that Moussaoui told him “true” Muslims must prepare themselves to fight and they should understand the suffering of Muslims in places like Palestine and Kosovo.
bullet He mentions that he and Moussaoui are carrying fighting gloves and shin guards to practice martial arts as part of Moussaoui’s philosophy that Muslims should be ready to fight nonbelievers.
bullet He has not heard Moussaoui mention any specific terrorist plot, but says that Moussaoui “is suspicious to me, too.”
FBI agents interview al-Attas again the following day, then charge him with violating the terms of his student visa by working at a mosque in Oklahoma, and arrest him. During the second interview, al-Attas says that Moussaoui follows the teachings of a sheikh whose name he would not disclose to him (see August 17, 2001). The agents contact FBI supervisors in Washington to seek approval to get a warrant to search Moussaoui’s computer. The supervisors are aware of what al-Attas said in the interview, but nevertheless they tell the Minnesota FBI agents that they do not want to attempt to get the warrant because it has not been shown that Moussaoui is an agent of a foreign power. The New York Times will note that the content of al-Attas’ interview “raise[s] new questions about whether top [FBI] officials… were aggressive enough in responding to that information.” [Washington Post, 1/31/2002; New York Times, 5/24/2002; Associated Press, 3/21/2006] Al-Attas will be arrested shortly after 9/11 and held as a material witness. He will later plead guilty to lying about Moussaoui. He lied in claiming that he did not know Moussaoui’s real name, lied about plans to go with Moussaoui to New York City in late August 2001, lied about Moussaoui’s desire to participate in holy war, and lied about a planned trip to speak to religious scholars who would encourage al-Attas to participate in holy war. He will be sentenced to time served, but will be kept imprisoned until the conclusion of Moussaoui’s trial in 2006 (see March 6-May 4, 2006). [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 7/22/2002; Associated Press, 10/22/2002] It is also later revealed that Moussaoui had recently convinced al-Attas to fight in Chechnya in order to prepare for holy war. [Wall Street Journal, 2/4/2002] Furthermore, the person who attempts to post bond for al-Attas had been the subject of a full-field FBI international terrorism investigation in Oklahoma. This unnamed person was a recruiter for a radical Palestinian group and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] In post-9/11 media accounts, al-Attas is generally portrayed as someone who had been innocently and accidentally caught up with Moussaoui. But it appears that in the weeks before 9/11, US intelligence will consider the possibility that al-Attas may have been plotting with Moussaoui. For instance, a CIA cable that will be sent on August 24 is titled “Subjects Involved in Suspicious 747 Flight Training,” (see August 24, 2001) one that will be sent on August 28 has Moussaoui and al-Attas’ names as the title. [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 7/22/2002; Associated Press, 10/22/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 540]

Entity Tags: Hussein al-Attas, Zacarias Moussaoui, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Zacarias Moussaoui’s roommate, Hussein Al-Attas, reports to the Immigration and Naturalization Service and is arrested when he admits he has worked despite only having a student visa. Al-Attas was with Moussaoui when he was arrested and was questioned the previous day (see August 10-11, 2001, August 16, 2001, and August 16, 2001). Al-Attas also says that Moussaoui follows the teachings of a sheikh, but that Moussaoui has not told him which sheikh because he does not think al-Attas would approve. When asked if the sheikh is Osama bin Laden, al-Attas says he does not think so and only remembers Moussaoui making one reference to bin Laden, when he appeared on television. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 77-9 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Hussein al-Attas, US Immigration and Naturalization Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

M. A. Menepta (Melvin Lattimore).M. A. Menepta (Melvin Lattimore). [Source: Public domain]Hussein al-Attas, an associate of Zacarias Moussaoui, is released from an immigration detention center on bail. Al-Attas was questioned and detained shortly after Moussaoui’s arrest (see August 16, 2001 and August 16, 2001). His bail is paid by Mujahid Abdulqadir Menepta (a.k.a. Melvin Lattimore), who was investigated by the FBI over terrorism suspicions. When agents from the Minneapolis field office investigate Menepta, they find that he knows Moussaoui and attended the same mosque as him in Norman, Oklahoma. They also discover that he has an extensive criminal history and was the subject of a New York criminal-terrorism related investigation. Minneapolis agent Harry Samit writes in a memo to FBI headquarters that he thinks Menepta may be involved in whatever Moussaoui is plotting. Samit explains that he told immigration officers that he traveled to Pakistan in 1989 as part of a missionary effort. Samit says the international Islamic organization that sponsored the trip has been linked by the FBI to the recruitment of militants. Samit also reports that Menepta wasn’t entirely truthful with the INS. Samit says Pakistan apparently issued him a visa in April 1990, something he failed to disclose to the INS. Additionally, Menepta told immigration officers that he is al-Attas’ roommate, but al-Attas has been living with Moussaoui and another man for one month at an address different than the one indicated by Menepta. Samit says that the the explanation that he flew to Minneapolis to post al-Attas’ bond so that al-Attas can return to teach children at the Oklahoma mosque seems “farfetched.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 135-6 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Mujahid Abdulqadir Menepta, Hussein al-Attas, Harry Samit, FBI Minnesota field office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Two agents from the Oklahoma City FBI office visit Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma, to learn about Zacarias Moussaoui’s training there earlier in the year. One of these agents had visited the same school in September 1999 to learn more about Ihab Ali Nawawi, an al-Qaeda agent who trained there in 1993. Apparently, this agent forgets the connection when he visits the school to look into Moussaoui. He later admits he should have connected the two cases. [Boston Globe, 9/18/2001; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 322] The staff director of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry later states, “No one will ever know whether a greater focus on the connection between these events would have led to the unraveling of the September 11 plot.” [New York Daily News, 9/25/2002] The Oklahoma City office also does not connect Moussaoui to a memo that had come from its office in May 1998 warning that “large numbers of Middle Eastern males” were receiving flight training in Oklahoma and could be planning terrorist attacks (see May 15, 1998). Furthermore, Moussaoui’s Oklahoma roommate Hussein al-Attas is also under suspicion at this time (see August 16, 2001). One of the people who attempted to post bond for al-Attas, William Webb, had previously been the subject of an extensive investigation by the same Oklahoma City FBI office. Webb is a member of the extremist group the Muslim Brotherhood and is also Vice President of Overseas Operations and Recruiting for the Palestinian group Fatah. Further, Webb is connected to Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam who has frequent ties with some of the 9/11 hijackers and is suspected of involvement in the 9/11 plot (see March 2001 and After). Al-Awlaki was the subject of an FBI counterterrorism inquiry the year before (see June 1999-March 2000). These connections are also not noticed. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 322; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 134-5 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: William Webb, Hussein al-Attas, Anwar al-Awlaki, FBI Minnesota field office, FBI Oklahoma City field office, Airman Flight School, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ihab Ali Nawawi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Frustrated with the lack of response from FBI headquarters about Zacarias Moussaoui, the Minnesota FBI contacts an FBI agent working with the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, and asks for help. [US Congress, 10/17/2002] On this day, the CIA sends a cable to stations and bases overseas requesting information about Moussaoui. The cable is titled, “Subjects Involved in Suspicious 747 Flight Training.” The cable says that the FBI is investigating Moussaoui for possible involvement in the planning of a terrorist attack and mentions his efforts to obtain flight training. It also suggests he might be “involved in a larger plot to target airlines traveling from Europe to the US.” [US Congress, 9/18/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 540] It calls him a “suspect 747 airline attacker” and a “suspect airline suicide hijacker”—showing that the form of the 9/11 attack is not a surprise, at least to the CIA. [US Congress, 10/17/2002] FBI headquarters responds by chastising the Minnesota FBI for notifying the CIA without approval. [Time, 5/21/2002]

Entity Tags: FBI Minnesota field office, Zacarias Moussaoui, Counterterrorist Center, FBI Headquarters, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Zacarias Moussaoui.Zacarias Moussaoui. [Source: WNBC / Jonathan Deinst]Zacarias Moussaoui becomes the first and only person charged in direct connection with the 9/11 attacks to stand trial in the US. [Associated Press, 3/17/2006] He was preparing to hijack an aircraft and fly it into a target when he was arrested 26 days before 9/11 (see August 16, 2001 and April 22, 2005). Although there has been disagreement whether Moussaoui was to take part in the actual attack of 9/11 or a follow-up plot (see January 30, 2003), the prosecution alleges that Moussaoui had information related to the attacks (see August 16, 2001) and facilitated them by lying and not disclosing everything he knew to the FBI. He is charged with six counts, including conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism and conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 12/11/2001 pdf file] The trial receives much media coverage and the highlights include the playing of United 93’s cockpit recorder (see April 12, 2006), a row over a government lawyer coaching witnesses (see March 13, 2006), and testimony by FBI agent Harry Samit (see March 9 and 20, 2006), former FBI assistant director Michael Rolince (see March 21, 2006), and Moussaoui himself (see March 27, 2006). Moussaoui is forced to wear a stun belt, controlled by one of the marshalls, under his jumpsuit. The belt is to be used if Moussaoui lunges at a trial participant. [New York Times, 4/17/2006] He has already pleaded guilty (see April 22, 2005) and the trial is divided into two phases; in the first phase the jury decides that Moussaoui is eligible for the death penalty, but in the second phase it fails to achieve unanimity on whether Moussaoui should be executed (see May 3, 2006). [Associated Press, 4/3/2006; New York Times, 4/17/2006]

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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