!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of 'August 23, 2001: FBI Agents Visit Moussaoui’s Former Flight School; Fail to Make Connections'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event August 23, 2001: FBI Agents Visit Moussaoui’s Former Flight School; Fail to Make Connections. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

An FBI pilot sends his supervisor in the Oklahoma City FBI office a memo warning that he has observed “large numbers of Middle Eastern males receiving flight training at Oklahoma airports in recent months.” The memo, titled “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” further states this “may be related to planned terrorist activity” and “light planes would be an ideal means of spreading chemicals or biological agents.” The memo does not call for an investigation, and none occurs. [NewsOK (Oklahoma City), 5/29/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003] The memo is “sent to the bureau’s Weapons of Mass Destruction unit and forgotten.” [New York Daily News, 9/25/2002] In 1999, it will be learned that an al-Qaeda agent has studied flight training in Norman, Oklahoma (see May 18, 1999). Hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi will briefly visit the same school in 2000; Zacarias Moussaoui will train at the school in 2001 (see February 23-June 2001).

Entity Tags: Marwan Alshehhi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohamed Atta, Zacarias Moussaoui, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Anwar al-Awlaki.Anwar al-Awlaki. [Source: Public domain]The FBI conducts a counterterrorism inquiry into Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam who will later be suspected of involvement in the 9/11 plot. He serves as the “spiritual leader” to several of the hijackers (see March 2001 and After), and by 2008 US intelligence will determine he is linked to al-Qaeda (see February 27, 2008).
bullet The investigation is opened when it is learned he had probably been visited by a “procurement agent” for bin Laden, Ziyad Khaleel. Khaleel had helped buy a satellite phone for bin Laden; when he is arrested in December 1999 he reportedly tells the FBI crucial details about al-Qaeda operations in the US (see December 29, 1999).
bullet In early 2000 the FBI is aware when al-Awlaki is visited by an unnamed close associate of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 pdf file; Washington Post, 2/27/2008]
bullet He also serves as vice president of the Charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW), the US branch of a Yemeni charity founded by Sheikh Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, a Yemeni imam who the US will officially designate a terrorist in 2004. CSSW also has ties to the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, Italy, considered one of the centers of al-Qaeda activity in Europe. The FBI begins investigating CSSW in 1999 after a Yemeni politician visits the US to solicit donations for the charity, and then visits Mahmoud Es Sayed, a known al-Qaeda figure at the Islamic Cultural Institute, on the same trip. [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 243; Washington Post, 2/27/2008]
bullet The FBI learns that al-Awlaki knows individuals from the suspect Holy Land Foundation and others involved in raising money for Hamas. Sources allege that al-Awlaki has even more extremist connections.
But none of these links are considered strong enough for criminal charges, and the investigation is closed. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 517] Al-Awlaki is beginning to associate with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar shortly before the investigation ends. For instance, on February 4, one month before the FBI investigation is closed, al-Awlaki talks on the telephone four times with hijacker associate Omar al-Bayoumi. The 9/11 Commission will later speculate that these calls are related to Alhazmi and Almihdhar, since al-Bayoumi is helping them that day, and that Alhazmi or Almihdhar may even have been using al-Bayoumi’s phone at the time (see February 4, 2000). Al-Bayoumi had also been the subject of an FBI counterterrorism investigation in 1999 (see September 1998-July 1999).

Entity Tags: Omar al-Bayoumi, Ziyad Khaleel, Nawaf Alhazmi, Osama bin Laden, Mahmoud Es Sayed, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Islamic Cultural Institute, Abdul Mejid al-Zindani, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Anwar al-Awlaki, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Charitable Society for Social Welfare

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Agents from Oklahoma City FBI office visit the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma to investigate Ihab Ali Nawawi, who has been identified as bin Laden’s former personal pilot in a recent trial. The agents learned that Nawawi received his commercial pilot’s license at the school 1993, then traveled to another school in Oklahoma City to qualify for a rating to fly small business aircraft. He is later named as an unindicted coconspirator in the 1998 US Embassy bombing in Kenya. The trial witness who gave this information, Essam al Ridi, also attended flight school in the US, then bought a plane and flew it to Afghanistan for bin Laden to use (see Early 1993). [Boston Globe, 9/18/2001; CNN, 10/16/2001; Washington Post, 5/19/2002; US Congress, 10/17/2002] When Nawawi was arrested in May 1999, he was working as a taxi driver in Orlando, Florida (see May 18, 1999). Investigators discover recent ties between him and high-ranking al-Qaeda leaders, and suspect he was a “sleeper” agent. [St. Petersburg Times, 10/28/2001] However, the FBI agent visiting the school is not given most background details about him. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] It is not known if these investigators are aware of a terrorist flight school warning given by the Oklahoma City FBI office in 1998. Hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi later visit the Airman school in July 2000 but ultimately will decide to train in Florida instead. [Boston Globe, 9/18/2001] Al-Qaeda agent Zacarias Moussaoui will take flight lessons at Airman in February 2001 (see February 23-June 2001). One of the FBI agents sent to visit the school at this time visits it again in August 2001 asking about Moussaoui, but he will fail to make a connection between the two visits (see August 23, 2001).

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Essam al Ridi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ihab Ali Nawawi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Dar al Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Virginia.The Dar al Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Virginia. [Source: Fox News]After living together in Phoenix since December 2000, 9/11 hijackers Hani Hanjour and Nawaf Alhazmi move to Falls Church, Virginia, where imam Anwar al-Awlaki preaches. [Washington Post, 9/10/2002; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] They live only a few blocks from where two nephews of Osama bin Laden with ties to terrorism go to work (see February-September 11, 1996 and June 1, 2004). They continue to live there off and on until around August. They begin attending the Dar al Hijrah mosque. [Washington Post, 9/10/2002] When they and hijacker Khalid Almihdhar lived in San Diego in early 2000, they attended a mosque there led by al-Awlaki. This imam moved to Falls Church in January 2001, and now the hijackers attend his sermons at the Dar al Hijrah mosque. Some later suspect that al-Awlaki is part of the 9/11 plot because of their similar moves, and other reasons:
bullet The FBI says al-Awlaki had closed door meetings with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in 2000 while all three of them were living in San Diego (see February-August 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file]
bullet Police later find the phone number of al-Awlaki’s mosque when they search “would-be twentieth hijacker” Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s apartment in Germany. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file]
bullet The FBI was investigating al-Awlaki for ties to Islamic militant groups in early 2000 (see June 1999-March 2000).
bullet A neighbor of al-Awlaki later claims that, in the first week of August 2001, al-Awlaki knocked on his door and told him he is leaving for Kuwait: “He came over before he left and told me that something very big was going to happen, and that he had to be out of the country when it happened” (see Early August 2001). [Newsweek, 7/28/2003]
US officials will allow al-Awlaki to leave the US twice in 2002, but by 2008 they will conclude that he is linked to al-Qaeda attacks (see Early September 2006-December 2007 and February 27, 2008).

Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Hani Hanjour, Germany, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, 9/11 Commission, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Anwar al-Awlaki, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ramzi bin al-Shibh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After Zacarias Moussaoui is arrested (see August 16, 2001), the FBI’s Minneapolis field office becomes very concerned that he may be part of a larger operation involving hijacked aircraft and that he represents a real threat to US national security. One of the agents, Harry Samit, will later say that he and his colleagues are “obsessed” with Moussaoui. Samit sends over 70 communications warning about Moussaoui to the following:
bullet The Hezbollah, bin Laden, and Radical Fundamentalist Units at FBI headquarters (see August 20-September 11, 2001);
bullet Another FBI field office (see August 23, 2001);
bullet The CIA (see August 24, 2001);
bullet The FBI’s offices in Paris and London;
bullet The FAA;
bullet The Secret Service;
bullet The Immigration and Naturalization Service; and
bullet Another intelligence agency (possibly the National Security Agency).
While some of these bodies are responsive (see August 22, 2001 and August 24, 2001), Samit and his colleagues in Minnesota are forced to engage in a running battle with the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters, which obstructs their attempts to obtain a warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings. Samit will later accuse the RFU of “criminal negligence” because they were trying to “run out the clock” to deport Moussaoui, instead of prosecuting him. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 101-221 pdf file; USA Today, 3/9/2006; Washington Post, 3/21/2006]

Entity Tags: FBI Minnesota field office, Radical Fundamentalist Unit, FBI Headquarters, Harry Samit, Zacarias Moussaoui

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, makes thirteen phone calls from jail to El Hadj Ndiaye, the imam of his local mosque in Norman, Oklahoma looking for assistance in raising money for his bond. Al-Attas was arrested and jailed shortly after Moussaoui was detained (see August 16, 2001 and August 16, 2001). Ndiaye reportedly becomes “very upset” when he hears that Moussoaui is going to be deported. According to an FBI translation of one of these conversations, Ndiaye says, “I heard you guys wanted to go on jihad.” Al-Attas responds, “Don’t talk about that now.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 134, 167-8, 201 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] The Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters learns of the translated conversation on August 29 (see August 29, 2001), but the RFU chief downplays the significance of the reference to jihad. Two other people involved in posting the bond for al-Attas were the subject of counterterrorism investigations (see August 20, 2001 and August 23, 2001).

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Hussein al-Attas, El Hadj Ndiaye

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

The FBI’s Oklahoma City field office again fails to provide help with the Moussaoui investigation. They had been asked by colleagues in Minneapolis to investigate El Hadj Ndiaye, an associate of Moussaoui who knew Moussaoui wanted to go on jihad (see August 17, 2001). However, instead of interviewing the list of people Minneapolis wanted them to talk to, they just speak to one person. On September 6, Minneapolis agent Harry Samit notes that the interviewee seems to be close to Ndaiye and that he would “be willing to throw the Bureau off the trail” because of this closeness. The same field office had previously failed to make connections related to another lead in the investigation (see August 23, 2001). Samit also expresses his disappointment at their performance: “Oklahoma City continues to fall short of expectations… Anyway, we know for future reference how weak they are.” [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, El Hadj Ndiaye, FBI Oklahoma City field office, Harry Samit, FBI Minnesota field office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike