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Context of 'October 1996-December 1997: Hani Hanjour Twice Attends Scottsdale Flight School'

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In late 1996, hijacker Hani Hanjour attends CRM Airline Training Center in Scottsdale, Arizona for three months. This is normally adequate time to earn a private pilot’s certificate, but Hanjour fails to accomplish this. [Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001] Duncan Hastie, the school’s owner, finds Hanjour a “weak student” who is “wasting our resources.” According to Hastie, “He was not able to fly solo in a small plane, which is equivalent to getting out of a parking space [in a car] and stopping.” Hanjour returns to CRM in December 1997 with two friends: Bandar Al Hazmi, a Saudi like Hanjour, and Rayed Abdullah of Qatar. (There apparently is no family relationship between Bandar Al Hazmi and the two Alhazmi 9/11 hijackers.) Hanjour takes about three lessons, but still fails to complete the coursework necessary for a license to fly a single-engine aircraft. Subsequently, he phones the school about twice per year requesting more lessons, but, according to Hastie, “We didn’t want him back at our school because he was not serious about becoming a good pilot.” The final time Hanjour calls, in 2000, he requests training on a Boeing 757: the kind of plane he is alleged to have flown into the Pentagon on 9/11. [Newsday, 9/23/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001; Chicago Tribune, 10/2/2001; Cape Cod Times, 10/21/2001; Aviation International News, 11/2001; Washington Post, 9/10/2002]

Entity Tags: Rayed Abdullah, Bandar Al Hazmi, Duncan Hastie, Hani Hanjour, Scottsdale Flight School

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

Future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour begins associating with an unnamed individual who is later mentioned in FBI agent Ken Williams’s famous “Phoenix memo” (see July 10, 2001). Hanjour and this individual train at flight schools in Arizona (see October 1996-December 1997 and 1998). Several flight instructors will later note that the two were associates and may have carpooled together. They are known to share the same airplane on one occasion in 1999, and are at the school together on other occasions. The unnamed individual leaves the US in April 2000. In May 2001, the FBI attempts to investigate this person, but after finding out that he has left the US, it declines to open a formal investigation. The person’s name is not placed on a watch list, so the FBI is unaware that he returns in June and stays in the US for another month. By this time, he is an experienced flight instructor who is certified to fly Boeing 737s. The FBI speculates he may return to evaluate Hanjour’s flying skills or provide final training before 9/11. There is considerable circumstantial evidence placing this person near Hanjour in July 2001. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file] This unnamed individual may be Lofti Raissi, as several details match him perfectly. For instance, Raissi is a flight instructor who left the US in April 2000, is later accused of having shared an airplane with Hanjour in 1999, and is accused of being with Hanjour in July 2001. [Guardian, 1/31/2002] In addition, according to FBI investigators, Raissi engages in a number of suspicious activities during this period that will justify scrutiny after 9/11. For example, in June 2000, while training at a British flight school, he reportedly asks, “if a plane flies into a building, whether it is the responsibility of the airline or the pilot,” and warns that “America will get theirs.” [9/11 Commission, 1/5/2004] Raissi will be arrested in Britain after 9/11 and accused of training Hanjour and other hijackers how to fly, but the case against him will collapse in April 2002. He will be released, and many of the allegations against him will be withdrawn (see September 21, 2001). No media accounts will report that Raissi was mentioned in the Phoenix memo or wanted for an FBI investigation before 9/11.

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Hani Hanjour, Lotfi Raissi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A photocopy of Hani Hanjour’s 1999 pilot license.A photocopy of Hani Hanjour’s 1999 pilot license. [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)When Hani Hanjour attended flight schools between 1996 and 1998 he was found to be a “weak student” who “was wasting our resources” (see October 1996-December 1997), and when he tried using a flight simulator, “He had only the barest understanding what the instruments were there to do.” (see 1998) Yet, on this day, he is certified as a multi-engine commercial pilot by Daryl Strong in Tempe, Arizona. Strong is one of many private examiners independently contracted with the FAA. A spokesperson for the FAA’s workers union will later complain that contractors like Strong “receive between $200 and $300 for each flight check. If they get a reputation for being tough, they won’t get any business.” Hanjour’s new license allows him to begin passenger jet training at other flight schools, despite having limited flying skills and an extremely poor grasp of English. [Federal Aviation Administration, 4/25/2002; Government Executive, 6/13/2002; Associated Press, 6/13/2002] At the next flight school Hanjour will attend in early 2001, the staff will be so appalled at his lack of skills that they will repeatedly contact the FAA and ask them to investigate how he got a pilot’s license (see January-February 2001). After 9/11, the FBI will appear to investigate how Hanjour got his license and question and polygraph the instructor who signed off on his flying skills. The Washington Post will note that, since Hanjour’s pilot skills were so bad, the issue of how he was able to get a license “remains a lingering question that FAA officials refuse to discuss.” [Washington Post, 10/15/2001; CBS News, 5/10/2002] After gaining the license, Hanjour apparently returns to the Middle East. He will arrive back in the US in December 2000 (see (Early 2000-November 2000) and December 8, 2000).

Entity Tags: Daryl Strong, Hani Hanjour

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Hani Hanjour’s September 10 US visa application, which was rejected. The fact he requested permission to stay in the US for three years is highlighted on the right.Hani Hanjour’s September 10 US visa application, which was rejected. The fact he requested permission to stay in the US for three years is highlighted on the right. [Source: National Review] (click image to enlarge)Future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour applies for a US tourist/business visa at the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Hanjour, who has already spent a good deal of time in the US (see October 3, 1991-February 1992, Spring 1996, October 1996-December 1997, and 1998), uses a passport issued on July 24, 2000. His application is incomplete, as he says he is a student, but fails to give his school’s name and address. After his application is screened, he is referred to a consular officer for an interview. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 13, 174-5 pdf file] This consular officer is Shayna Steinger, who issues a total of 12 visas to the 9/11 hijackers (see July 1, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003] Hanjour’s application is denied as he says he wants to stay in the US for three years, raising concerns he might become an immigrant. Hanjour also says he wants to attend flight school in the US, changing his status to “student” from “tourist” after arrival. However, this is another reason Steinger denies the visa application, “because he has been in the States long enough to decide what he wanted.” Hanjour will return to the consulate two weeks later and successfully obtain a visa from Steinger using a different application (see September 25, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 13, 174-5 pdf file] Steinger will later give a series of conflicting explanations about why she reversed her decision and issued the visa (see August 1, 2002, January 20, 2003, and December 30, 2003). After 9/11, a former consular official named Michael Springmann will say that while serving in Jeddah during the Soviet-Afghan War he was sometimes pressured to reverse denials of visa applications by the CIA for apparent mujaheddin (see September 1987-March 1989).

Entity Tags: Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office, Hani Hanjour, Michael Springmann

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Todd Lewis.Todd Lewis. [Source: NBC]After air traffic controllers at Washington Dulles International Airport notice an unidentified aircraft, later determined to be Flight 77, approaching Washington on their radar screens (see (Between 9:25 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:32 a.m. September 11, 2001), they initially think it is a military fighter plane, due to its high speed and the way it is being flown. [ABC News, 10/24/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9] Yet the alleged hijacker pilot of Flight 77 has been known for his poor flying skills. [Washington Post, 9/30/2001; New York Times, 5/4/2002]
Aircraft Performs Elaborate Maneuver - The Dulles controllers are unable to identify the plane because its transponder—which transmits identifying information about an aircraft to radar screens—has been turned off (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/11/2001; Washington Post, 9/12/2001] It is flying at almost 500 miles per hour while approaching Washington, and then performs a rapid downward spiral, “dropping the last 7,000 feet in two and a half minutes,” before hitting the Pentagon (see 9:34 a.m.- 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [CBS News, 9/21/2001; USA Today, 8/13/2002]
Moving 'Like a Military Aircraft' - Controller Danielle O’Brien will later recall: “The speed, the maneuverability, the way that he turned, we all thought in the radar room, all of us experienced air traffic controllers, that that was a military plane. You don’t fly a 757 in that manner. It’s unsafe.” [ABC News, 10/24/2001] Another controller, Todd Lewis, will recall: “[N]obody knew that was a commercial flight at the time. Nobody knew that was American 77.… I thought it was a military flight. I thought that Langley [Air Force Base] had scrambled some fighters and maybe one of them got up there.… It was moving very fast, like a military aircraft might move at a low altitude.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
Alleged Pilot 'Could Not Fly at All' - Yet many people who have met Hani Hanjour, the hijacker allegedly at the controls of Flight 77, considered him to be a very poor pilot (see October 1996-December 1997, 1998, February 8-March 12, 2001, and (April-July 2001)). Just a month previously, an airport refused to rent him a single-engine Cessna plane because instructors there found his flying skills so weak (see Mid-August 2001). [Gazette (Greenbelt), 9/21/2001; Newsday, 9/23/2001] And an employee at a flight school Hanjour attended earlier in the year will later comment: “I’m still to this day amazed that he could have flown into the Pentagon. He could not fly at all” (see January-February 2001). [New York Times, 5/4/2002]

Entity Tags: Hani Hanjour, Todd Lewis, Danielle O’Brien, Washington Dulles International Airport

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Before crashing into the Pentagon, Flight 77 performs a rapid downward spiral, flying almost a complete circle and descending 7,000 feet in two and a half minutes. [CBS News, 9/21/2001]
330-Degree Turn - At 9:34 a.m., Flight 77 is about 3.5 miles west-southwest of the Pentagon. But, at an altitude of around 7,000 feet, it is flying too high to hit its target. [CBS News, 9/21/2001; New York Times, 10/16/2001; National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file] Based on an analysis of radar data and information from the plane’s flight data recorder, a 2002 National Transportation Safety Board report will describe the maneuver the aircraft then performs: “[Flight 77] started a right 330-degree descending turn to the right. At the end of the turn, the aircraft was at about 2,000 feet altitude and four miles southwest of the Pentagon. Over the next 30 seconds, power was increased to near maximum and the nose was pitched down in response to control column movements.” The aircraft accelerates to about 530 miles per hour as it closes in on the Pentagon. [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file]
Controllers Watch on Radar - Air Traffic Controllers at Washington Dulles International Airport follow Flight 77 on their radar screens as it performs this maneuver. Danielle O’Brien will later recall: “John, our supervisor, relayed verbatim, ‘OK, he’s 12 miles west, he’s moving very fast eastbound.… Eleven miles west.’ And it was just a countdown. Ten miles west, nine miles west.… And it went six, five, four, and I had it in my mouth to say three, and all of a sudden the plane turned away. In the room it was almost a sense of relief.” [ABC, 10/24/2001; ABC News, 10/24/2001] Todd Lewis will recall that the aircraft “was heading right towards a prohibited area in downtown Washington.… Then it turned south and away from the prohibited area, which seemed like a momentary sigh of relief, and it disappeared. But it was going away from Washington, which seemed to be the right thing.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] However, O’Brien will continue: “[T]he plane turned back. He continued in the right-hand turn, made a 360-degree maneuver.… We lost radar contact with that aircraft. And we waited. And we waited.” [ABC, 10/24/2001; ABC News, 10/24/2001]
Maneuver Indicates Advanced Flying Skills - According to CBS News, “The steep turn” made by Flight 77 “was so smooth… sources say, it’s clear there was no fight for control going on.” The “complex maneuver suggests the hijackers had better flying skills than many investigators first believed.” [CBS News, 9/21/2001] Aviation experts will conclude that this maneuver was the work of “a great talent… virtually a textbook turn and landing.” [Washington Post, 9/10/2002] Due to the aircraft’s high speed and the way it is being flown, Dulles Airport controllers mistake it for a military fighter jet (see (9:25 a.m.-9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; ABC News, 10/24/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002] Yet the hijacker allegedly at the controls, Hani Hanjour, was considered to be a very poor pilot at numerous flight schools he attended (see October 1996-December 1997, 1998, January-February 2001, February 8-March 12, 2001, (April-July 2001), and Mid-August 2001). [Washington Post, 9/10/2002]

Entity Tags: Todd Lewis, RobertMoomo, Danielle O’Brien, John Hendershot, Washington Dulles International Airport

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Rayed Abdullah.Rayed Abdullah. [Source: Scoop]Rayed Abdullah, an associate of hijacker pilot Hani Hanjour (see October 1996-December 1997 and October 1996-Late April 1999), enters New Zealand despite being on the watch list there and takes further pilot training. The New Zealand government claims it only ascertains his real identity after he has been in the country several months. Abdullah is then arrested and deported to Saudi Arabia, even though he was traveling on a Yemeni passport. [Associated Press, 6/9/2006; New Zealand Herald, 6/10/2006] However, FBI agents and CIA officers later say that the US released Abdullah after 9/11 in an attempt to use him to spy on al-Qaeda for Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency. The CIA ensures he is allowed into New Zealand as a part of a joint operation. However, the New Zealanders get cold feet when Abdullah starts flight training again. A CIA official will say: “[W]e know if Rayed was part of the [9/11] plot, someone in al-Qaeda will reach out for him, and we have a chance of making that connection.” An FBI official will comment: “The amazing thing is the CIA convinced itself that by getting [Abdullah] tossed out of New Zealand, he would then be trusted and acceptable to Saudi intelligence and useful in al-Qaeda operations. For this tiny chance of success they put passengers at risk to enter into a partnership with Saudi intelligence.” [Stories that Matter, 10/9/2006]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Rayed Abdullah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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