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Context of 'October 1999: Alshehhi Takes First Flying Lessons in Germany'

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Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in a 1998 FBI wanted poster.Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in a 1998 FBI wanted poster. [Source: FBI]9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) lives in the Philippines for a year, planning Operation Bojinka until the plot is exposed in January 1995 and he has to flee (see January 6, 1995). Police later say he lives a very expensive and non-religious lifestyle. He goes to karaoke bars and go-go clubs, dates go-go dancers, stays in four-star hotels, and takes scuba diving lessons. Once he rents a helicopter just to fly it past the window of a girlfriend’s office in an attempt to impress her. This appears to be a pattern; for instance, he has a big drinking party in 1998. [Los Angeles Times, 6/24/2002] Officials believe his obvious access to large sums of money indicate that some larger network is backing him by this time. [Los Angeles Times, 6/6/2002] One of the participants in Bojinka is a Pakistani businessman with alleged ties to the ISI and the drug trade. This Pakistani is said to use counterfeit US currency to help fund the Bojinka plot (see September 18-November 14, 1994). It has been suggested that KSM, a Pakistani, is able “to operate as he please[s] in Pakistan” during the 1990s [Los Angeles Times, 6/24/2002] , and he is linked to the Pakistani ISI by 1993 (see Spring 1993). His hedonistic time in the Philippines resembles reports of hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi in the Philippines in 1998-2000 (see December 1999). KSM returns to the Philippines occasionally, and he is even spotted there after 9/11 (see September 1998-January 1999).

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Operation Bojinka

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

1997: Alshehhi Visits Philippines

9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi visits the Philippines several times this year. He stays at the Woodland Park Resort Hotel near Angeles City, about 60 miles north of Manila and near the former US controlled Clark Air Base. Security guard Antonio Sersoza later claims, “I am sure Alshehhi had been a Woodland guest several times in 1997. I remember him well because I flagged his speeding car at least three times at the gate of Woodland.” He adds that Alshehhi used different cars, knew how to speak some Filipino, and stayed at the hotel on several Saturdays. He is not sure if Mohamed Atta was with him. [Philippine Star, 10/1/2001; Gulf News, 10/2/2001; Asia Times, 10/11/2001] Other eyewitnesses will later recall seeing Alshehhi and Atta at the Woodland hotel in 1999 (see December 1999), and the Philippine military will confirm their presence there. A leader of a militant group connected to al-Qaeda will later confess to helping 9/11 hijacker pilots while they were in this area (see Shortly After October 5, 2005).

Entity Tags: Antonio Sersoza, Woodland Park Resort Hotel, Marwan Alshehhi, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mohamed Atta.Mohamed Atta. [Source: Der Spiegel]Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta leaves Hamburg for some time in late 1997 and early 1998, and he may go to militant training camps in Afghanistan, possibly with hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh. When Atta returns in the spring of 1998 he tells his roommate that he has been on another pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca, although author Terry McDermott will later note, “He had been on hajj just 18 months earlier, and it would be unlikely for a student—even one so devout—to go twice so quickly or stay so long.” This is Atta’s longest absence since arriving in Hamburg, and there is no record of him spending any substantial portion of it at home in Cairo. According to McDermott, he leaves Hamburg “as he usually did over the winter holiday.” [McDermott, 2005, pp. 57] But according to the 9/11 Commission, the gap is in February-March 1998, “a period for which there is no evidence of his presence in Germany.” Atta’s friends hold a party for him on his return, which is unusual for a student who has just returned from home. After returning to Germany, Atta applies for a new passport, something he will also do after returning from Afghanistan in early 2000 (see Late 1999). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 167] There are other unexplained absences from Hamburg by members of the same cell around this time (see Summer-Winter 1998). Although the 9/11 Commission, based on information obtained from detainees during interrogation, will say that Atta and his associates do not travel to Afghanistan and join al-Qaeda until late 1999, some commentators will disagree and say that this happens earlier. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 57] For example, McDermott will say of the cell members’ various disappearances in 1997-8, “Practically, there is only one place they likely would have gone—Afghanistan.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 166] Jane Corbin will say that “[t]he time that Mohamed Atta spent in Afghanistan in 1998 was a period of ambitious reach for Osama bin Laden.” [Corbin, 2003, pp. 142] Jason Burke will say that “[i]n early 1998, [Atta] is thought to have traveled to Afghanistan, probably to Khaldan camp.” [Burke, 2004, pp. 243] In mid-2002, Al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda will allegedly interview bin al-Shibh and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Pakistan (see April, June, or August 2002). In a book he co-writes in 2003, he will claim that an al-Qaeda operative known only by a nickname Fouda gave him so he could call him something—Abu Bakr—helped set up the interview. At one point, Bakr allegedly told Fouda that he met Atta and bin al-Shibh at a training camp around this time, saying: “They came together. I did not know who they were.… Brother Ramzi was very active and very much into media, and brother Atta was very kind.” Bin al-Shibh disappears in Germany for several months in late 1997, and re-enters Germany on a new visa in December 1997. [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 124]

Entity Tags: Terry McDermott, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Mohamed Atta, Yosri Fouda, Jane Corbin, Jason Burke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to German investigations, by at least this time, the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell including Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Ziad Jarrah, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh has come up with the idea of attacking the US using airplanes. This theory is based on witness statements and the discovery by the German police of a flight simulator file on a computer used by the Hamburg cell that was downloaded between January and October 1999. [Washington Post, 9/11/2002; Burke, 2004, pp. 244] Both Atta and Alshehhi start taking lessons on ultralight aircraft this year (see April 1999, October 1999, and December 1999). Some suggest they first joined the 9/11 plot in early 1999 (see Early 1999). However, the 9/11 Commission claims that the 9/11 plot was hatched by al-Qaeda’s leadership and was communicated to the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell in Afghanistan in December 1999. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 165-169]

Entity Tags: Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Marwan Alshehhi, Ziad Jarrah, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Woodland Park Resort.The Woodland Park Resort. [Source: Woodland Park Resort]9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta takes flying lessons in the Philippines, and 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi is with him. They stay at the Woodland Park Resort Hotel near Angeles City, which is about 60 miles north of Manila and near the formerly US controlled Clark Air Base. Victoria Brocoy, a chambermaid at the hotel, will later claim that Atta stayed at the hotel for about a week while he learned to fly ultra-light planes at the nearby Angeles City Flying Club. [Gulf News, 9/29/2001; Gulf News, 10/2/2001] She also says, “He was not friendly. If you say hello to him, he doesn’t answer. If he asks for a towel, you do not enter his room. He takes it at the door.… Many times I saw him let a girl go at the gate in the morning. It was always a different girl.” [International Herald Tribune, 10/5/2001] Atta stays with some other men who call him Mohamed. She recalls that one of them is Marwan Alshehhi, who is treated like Atta’s sidekick. However, there are no recollections of Alshehhi going to the nearby flight school. [Manila Times, 10/2/2001; Gulf News, 10/2/2001] She says Atta was hosted by a Jordanian named Samir, who speaks Filipino and runs a travel agency in Manila. She adds that many Arab guests stayed at the hotel between 1997 and 1999, and Samir always accompanied them. Samir denies knowing any of the hijackers. [Gulf News, 9/29/2001; Manila Times, 10/2/2001; International Herald Tribune, 10/5/2001] The Philippine military will later confirm that Atta and Alshehhi were at the hotel after finding four other employees who claim to have seen them in 1999. Other locals, such as the manager of a nearby restaurant, also recall seeing them. [Philippine Star, 10/1/2001; Gulf News, 10/2/2001; International Herald Tribune, 10/5/2001; Asia Times, 10/11/2001] Atta and/or Alshehhi were seen at the same resort in 1997 (see 1997) and will return to it later in 1999 (see December 1999). A leader of a militant group connected to al-Qaeda later confesses to helping 9/11 hijacker pilots while they were in this area (see Shortly After October 5, 2005).

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Woodland Park Resort Hotel, Victoria Brocoy, Samir, Marwan Alshehhi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi takes flying lessons in Bonn, Germany. He takes a lesson in an ultralight two-seater and then returns ten days later for a second lesson. His former flying teacher will later recall, “The young man was highly attentive and especially talented.” [Agence France-Presse, 10/9/2001] There are reports that Mohamed Atta also takes lessons on ultralight aircraft in the Philippines in 1999 (see April 1999 and December 1999).

Entity Tags: Marwan Alshehhi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta enters a lottery for permanent resident status in the US. The application is submitted over the Internet to the National Visa Service, a company that, for a $50 fee, helps individuals enter green card lotteries for permanent resident status in the US. Atta submits another lottery application in November, but both applications are unsuccessful. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 19-20 pdf file] This may indicate that Atta is already involved in the 9/11 plot in some way prior to December 1999, when the 9/11 Commission suggests he joins the plot (see Late November-Early December 1999). He appears to have traveled to Afghanistan (see Late 1997-Early 1998) and has discussed studying in the US with his parents (see October 1999). In addition, he and fellow Hamburg cell member Marwan Alshehhi may have already started taking flying lessons (see April 1999 and October 1999).

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, 9/11 Commission, National Visa Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mohamed Atta filmed in Afghanistan in January 2000.Mohamed Atta filmed in Afghanistan in January 2000. [Source: London Times]Hamburg cell members Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Ziad Jarrah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and possibly Said Bahaji travel to Afghanistan via Turkey and Karachi, Pakistan. They travel along a route often used by one of their associates, al-Qaeda recruiter Mohammed Haydar Zammar, to send potential operatives to Afghanistan for training. Turkish intelligence is aware of the route and informed German intelligence of it in 1996, leading to an investigation of Zammar (see 1996). However, it is unclear whether German or Turkish intelligence register the Hamburg cell members’ travel and how and whether they disseminate and act on this information. Jarrah is reportedly noticed by an intelligence service in the United Arab Emirates on his return journey from Afghanistan (see January 30, 2000). [New York Times, 9/10/2002; CBS News, 10/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 167; McDermott, 2005, pp. 89]

Entity Tags: Ziad Jarrah, Turkish intelligence, Said Bahaji, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Marwan Alshehhi, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

One of the ultralights used at the Angeles City Flying Club.One of the ultralights used at the Angeles City Flying Club. [Source: Woodland Park Resort]9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi are seen again in the Philippines, partying and taking flying lessons. They stay at the Woodland Park Resort Hotel about sixty miles north of Manila, as they did in 1997 and earlier in 1999. Gina Marcelo, a waitress at the hotel, will later recall that Marwan Alshehhi threw a party there. “There were about seven people. They rented the open area by the swimming pool… They drank Johnnie Walker Black Label whiskey and mineral water. They barbecued shrimp and onions. They came in big vehicles, and they had a lot of money. They all had girlfriends.” [International Herald Tribune, 10/5/2001] 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is also known to be in the Philippines for much of 1999, plotting again to assassinate the Pope (see 1999-September 10, 2001). There are no eyewitness accounts of him being seen with Atta or Alshehhi at this time, but when he lived in the Philippines in 1994 he was known to party and have local girlfriends (see Early 1994-January 1995). Security guard Ferdinand Abad later recalls Mohamed Atta registered under his own name at the hotel this month. Atta went to the nearby Angeles City Flying Club about two of three times a week to train on ultralight aircraft. Abad recalls seeing the flying club van pick up Atta at least five times. Just as when Atta and Alshehhi were at the resort earlier in the year, no one recalls Alshehhi taking flying lessons, only Atta. [Philippine Star, 10/1/2001; Gulf News, 10/2/2001; International Herald Tribune, 10/5/2001] The Philippine military will later confirm that Atta and Alshehhi were at the hotel after finding a number of employees who claim to have seen them. [Philippine Star, 10/1/2001; Gulf News, 10/2/2001] A leader of a militant group connected to al-Qaeda will later confess to helping 9/11 hijacker pilots while they were in this area (see Shortly After October 5, 2005). The 9/11 Commission will not mention the possibility of Atta and Alshehhi staying in the Philippines. They will note that the two of them left Germany in the last week of November 1999 with the intention of going to Afghanistan, but there is no mention of when they arrived in Afghanistan. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 166-167]

Entity Tags: Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ferdinand Abad, Mohamed Atta, Angeles City Flying Club, Gina Marcelo, Woodland Park Resort Hotel

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ahmed Santos.Ahmed Santos. [Source: Rolex de la Pena / EPA]Ahmed Santos, the alleged leader of the Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM) militant group is arrested and supposedly confesses that his group assisted some of the 9/11 hijackers in the Philippines. [Zamboanga Sun Star, 10/30/2005] The “RSM was built upon Mohammed Jamal Khalifa’s NGO network, left unscathed by the Philippine authorities after 1995.” Like Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, the RSM has ties to the Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiyah, and al-Qaeda. [Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College, 9/1/2005 pdf file] Santos is interrogated immediately after his arrest and according to a Philippine investigator who was one of his interrogators, Santos says that his group helped train and give shelter to the hijackers (he does not specifically mention which ones or how many). This investigator says that Santos told him, “These Arabs, after their flight training in Angeles, Pampanga, went back to their shelter in the home-base of Santos’ RSM in Pangasinan.” Both Angeles City and RSM’s base are north of Manila near Clark Air Base, which was a major US airbase in the northern Philippines until 1991. [Zamboanga Sun Star, 10/30/2005] Shortly after 9/11, many eyewitnesses were quoted in media reports claiming to recognize 9/11 pilots Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi taking flight training in the Angeles City area in the late 1990s (see December 1999). This fits with Santos’ alleged account.

Entity Tags: Ahmed Santos, Rajah Solaiman Movement

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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