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(Between 8:00 p.m. and 8:45 p.m.) September 10, 2001: Two of the 9/11 Hijackers Allegedly Attempt to Enter a Secure Area at Dulles Airport

A group of five Middle Eastern men, which includes two men who will later be identified as alleged 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Marwan Alshehhi, get into a confrontation with Eric Gill, an employee at Washington’s Dulles International Airport, from where Flight 77 will take off on September 11, after they try to get to a secure area of the airport. Gill, who works for Argenbright Security, which handles the passenger security checkpoints at Dulles Airport, notices the men while supervising the west checkpoint on the upper level of the airport’s main terminal. He initially sees just two of them as they try to go through a side door next to the checkpoint that only a few people are permitted to use. People can use this door to bypass the checkpoint, but they need to swipe a card and enter a code on a keypad to pass through it. Going through the door enables a person to reach the airport’s secure, employee-only areas, including the area where planes are parked.
Men Try to Go through a Door Used by Security Personnel - One of the men trying to go through the door is wearing a green ID badge with a red “A” on it, of the kind typically worn by the airport’s baggage, ramp, and services personnel. However, use of the door is restricted to police, security personnel, and government officials. Gill then notices the other three Middle Eastern men following the first two. Two of these men are also wearing green ID badges with red As on them. Gill will describe one of the five men as Arabic or Palestinian and the other four as Middle Eastern. He will say the men appear to be aged between 30 and 35, and between 5 feet 7 and 5 feet 9 in height. The three men with ID badges are wearing dull grey striped shirts and blue pants, like the uniform worn by United Airlines ramp workers. None of the men are carrying anything and Gill does not recognize any of them.
Men Appear to Be Examining Security Procedures - As the men are approaching the side door, they stop and look around for a few moments, as if they are examining security procedures at the checkpoint. Gill finds this unusual. “Normally, people who had legitimate business would just keep walking because they knew where they were going and what they were doing,” he will comment. One of the men swipes his ID card and enters a code into a keypad in order to open the side door and allow the group to go through it. But Gill is suspicious and goes up to the men. After asking if he can help, he refuses to let them proceed through the door. The men who have ID cards show them to him. But he then notices that the other two men are not wearing uniforms and have no airport identification, and so he tells these men they cannot enter the secure area unless they have their own IDs with them.
Men Don't Say Who They Are - Gill asks the men who they are and why they are trying to go through the side door, but they give no answer. He tells the two men without IDs that they have to come back through the door, but they say they have IDs and are going to continue on their way. Around this time, Gill is joined by his colleague Nicholas DeSilva, who subsequently witnesses the rest of the incident. Gill then notices that the uniforms worn by three of the men are very dirty, which strikes him as odd, since United Airlines managers would not usually tolerate this. He refuses to let the men in uniforms escort the other two men through the side door and says the men without IDs will have to go through the main security checkpoint.
Men Become Abusive - At this point, the men get angry and become abusive. One of them tells Gill to “f_ck off” and says they are important people he doesn’t know. Next, however, instead of the men without IDs simply passing through the security checkpoint as requested, all of the men retreat, which surprises Gill. They then head off and go down the stairs that lead to the lower level of the main terminal. Gill will never see them again. However, Ed Nelson, his supervisor, will note that if they’d wanted to access a plane at the airport, perhaps to plant weapons on it, they could have returned after 10:00 p.m., when Gill’s shift ended, and used their ID cards to activate the electronic lock and pass through the side door next to the west checkpoint.
Incident Will Be Reported the Next Day - The exact time when Gill’s confrontation with the five men occurs is unclear. Gill will tell the FBI that it occurs “[d]uring the approximate time period of 8:10 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.” But he will tell the 9/11 Commission that it occurs at around 8:00 p.m. And he will tell investigative journalists Joseph Trento and Susan Trento that it occurs at 8:15 p.m. The incident is not unusual enough to necessitate a report and so Gill will take no further action this evening. But he will report it after he comes into work at 1:00 p.m. the following day and hears about the hijacking of Flight 77.
Two of the Men Will Be Identified as Hijackers - Gill will subsequently identify two of the men he confronted as 9/11 hijackers. A week or two after 9/11, his wife will show him a story in the National Enquirer magazine that includes photos of the alleged hijackers and he will recognize two of the hijackers as having been among the group he encountered. And, at some point after this, he will be shown the photos of the alleged hijackers that are published on the FBI website by Steve Wragg, the district manager in charge of Dulles Airport for Argenbright Security. From looking at these, he will identify two of the men he confronted as Flight 77 hijacker Alhazmi and Flight 175 hijacker Alshehhi. He will say these two hijackers were among the men wearing uniforms and ID badges. He will also recognize Alshehhi as the first man to have shown him his ID and Alhazmi as the man who verbally abused him. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/14/2002; 9/11 Commission, 1/19/2004 pdf file; Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 1-6, 43-44; Priska Neely, 10/21/2010] However, in 2004, when the 9/11 Commission shows Gill photos of numerous individuals, including Alshehhi, Alhazmi, and other 9/11 hijackers, he will say he does not recognize any of these individuals as having been among the men he confronted at Dulles Airport. [9/11 Commission, 2/10/2004 pdf file] The FBI will not take Gill’s account seriously because it has difficulty understanding how and why one of the Flight 175 hijackers would have been at Dulles Airport on the evening before he took an early morning flight from Boston, according to a source with the bureau. [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 44] Khalid Almihdhar and “possibly” Salem Alhazmi—two of the alleged hijackers of Flight 77—are recorded on video at Dulles Airport at an unspecified time this evening (see September 10, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 9/29/2003 pdf file; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 11/14/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, Eric Gill, Ed Nelson, Marwan Alshehhi, Nicholas DeSilva

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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