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Context of 'November 21, 2000: 9/11 Hijacker Receives US Visa, Consular Officer Apparently Later Has False Memory of Interview'

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Radical Muslim leader Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman obtains his first US visa via the CIA. A State Department official will later discover this was the first of six US visas given to him between 1986 and 1990. All are approved by CIA agents acting as consular officers at US embassies in Sudan and Egypt. “The CIA officers claimed they didn’t know the sheikh was one of the most notorious political figures in the Middle East and a militant on the State Department’s list of undesirables.” But one top New York investigator will later say, “Left with the choice between pleading stupidity or else admitting deceit, the CIA went with stupidity.” [Boston Globe, 2/3/1995; New York Magazine, 3/17/1995] Abdul-Rahman uses the visas to attend conferences of Islamic students in the US. Then he visits Pakistan, where he preaches at Peshawar, visits the Saudi embassy in Islamabad, and is “lionized at receptions heavily attended by Americans.” He plays a prominent role in recruiting mujaheddin fighters to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. [Kepel, 2002, pp. 300] In 1989, Abdul-Rahman is arrested in Egypt and held under very closely guarded house arrest, but he manages to escape one year later, possibly by being smuggled out of his house in a washing machine. The CIA gives him another US visa and he moves to the US (see July 1990). [New York Times, 1/8/1995] Journalist Simon Reeve will claim in his 1999 book The New Jackals that, “The CIA, it is now clear, arranged the visa[s] to try and befriend the Sheikh in advance of a possible armed fundamentalist revolution in Egypt.” According to a retired CIA official, the CIA recalled mistakes made with the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran and were trying to win Abdul-Rahman’s trust. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 60]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Simon Reeve

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman.Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. [Source: FBI]Despite being on a US terrorist watch list for three years, radical Muslim leader Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman enters the US on a “much-disputed” tourist visa issued by an undercover CIA agent. [Village Voice, 3/30/1993; Atlantic Monthly, 5/1996; Lance, 2003, pp. 42] Abdul-Rahman was heavily involved with the CIA and Pakistani ISI efforts to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan, and became famous traveling all over the world for five years recruiting new fighters for the Afghan war. The CIA gave him visas to come to the US starting in 1986 (see December 15, 1986-1989) . However, he never hid his prime goals to overthrow the governments of the US and Egypt. [Atlantic Monthly, 5/1996] FBI agent Tommy Corrigan will later say that prior to Abdul-Rahman’s arrival, “terrorism for all intents and purposes didn’t exist in the United States. But [his] arrival in 1990 really stoke the flames of terrorism in this country. This was a major-league ballplayer in what at the time was a minor-league ballpark. He was… looked up to worldwide. A mentor to bin Laden, he was involved with the MAK over in Pakistan.” The charity front Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) is also known as Al-Kifah, and it has a branch in Brooklyn known as the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. The head of that branch, Mustafa Shalabi, picks up Abdul-Rahman at the airport when he first arrives and finds an apartment for him. Abdul-Rahman soon begins preaching at Al Farouq mosque, which is in the same building as the Al-Kifah office, plus two other locals mosques, Abu Bakr and Al Salaam. [Lance, 2006, pp. 53] He quickly turns Al-Kifah into his “de facto headquarters.” [Atlantic Monthly, 5/1996] He is “infamous throughout the Arab world for his alleged role in the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.” Abdul-Rahman immediately begins setting up a militant Islamic network in the US. [Village Voice, 3/30/1993] He is believed to have befriended bin Laden while in Afghanistan, and bin Laden secretly pays Abdul-Rahman’s US living expenses. [Atlantic Monthly, 5/1996; ABC News, 8/16/2002] For the next two years, Abdul-Rahman will continue to exit and reenter the US without being stopped or deported, even though he is still on the watch list (see Late October 1990-October 1992).

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Osama bin Laden, Meir Kahane, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, US Department of State, Abu Bakr Mosque, Al Farouq Mosque, Al Salaam Mosque, Anwar Sadat, World Trade Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Satam Al Suqami.Satam Al Suqami. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]On August 11, 1998, 9/11 hijacker Satam Al Suqami is issued a Saudi Arabian passport. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 29 pdf file] This passport will allegedly be discovered in the wreckage of the 9/11 attacks in New York (see After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), allowing investigators an unusually detailed glimpse into the movements of one of the hijackers. While a majority of the hijackers seem to have traveled little prior to coming to the US, Al Suqami travels widely:
bullet November 5, 1998: He enters and departs Jordan, enters Syria.
bullet November 11, 1998: departs Syria; enters and departs Jordan.
bullet November 12, 1998: enters Saudi Arabia.
bullet February 19, 1999: enters Saudi Arabia.
bullet February 24, 1999: enters and departs Jordan; enters Syria.
bullet February 25, 1999: departs Saudi Arabia.
bullet March 7, 1999: departs Syria.
bullet March 8, 1999: enters Jordan.
bullet May 13, 1999: departs Bahrain.
bullet May 15, 1999: enters Saudi Arabia.
bullet January 18, 2000: enters United Arab Emirates (UAE).
bullet April 4, 2000: enters UAE.
bullet April 6, 2000: departs UAE.
bullet April 7, 2000: enters Egypt.
bullet April 18, 2000: departs Oman, enters UAE.
bullet July 11, 2000: departs Egypt.
bullet July 12, 2000: enters Malaysia. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 33, 37-39, 42, 59-62, 75 pdf file]
On September 24, 2000, Al Suqami enters Turkey and stays there for most of the next six months (see September 24, 2000-April 1, 2001). Then he will travel to Malaysia again before finally flying to the US. The above records are obviously incomplete as there are sometimes records of him leaving a country without entering it or vice versa. His travels to Afghanistan and Pakistan are also not mentioned, as there was probably an effort to keep them out of his passport. In 2007, al-Qaeda leader Luai Sakra will claim that Al Suqami was not just another hijacker but led a group of the hijackers. The release of Al Suqami’s passport records in 2008 will help corroborate that claim. [London Times, 11/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Luai Sakra, Satam Al Suqami

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to his passport records, on September 24, 2000, hijacker Satam Al Suqami enters Turkey, via Istanbul. He leaves on November 2, 2000, stopping by Qatar, Bahrain, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, and then returns to Istanbul, Turkey, on November 26. He leaves Turkey again on April 1, 2001, traveling to Malaysia. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 91, 100, 104 pdf file; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 106-107, 131 pdf file] Al-Qaeda leader Luai Sakra will later allege that Al Suqami received extensive al-Qaeda training in Turkey, near Istanbul, around this time with five other hijackers. He will say Al Suqami and hijacker Majed Moqed arrive later than another four of the hijackers, but overlap with them (see Late 1999-2000). An FBI document detailing Al Suqami’s travels will be released in 2008, several months after Sakra makes his claims, thus helping to corroborate them. [London Times, 11/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Majed Moqed, Satam Al Suqami, Luai Sakra

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Elizabeth Colton (left) may have issued Satam al Suqami’s US visa.Elizabeth Colton (left) may have issued Satam al Suqami’s US visa. [Source: US Department of State/FBI]Future 9/11 hijacker Satam al Suqami obtains a US visa from the American embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Al Suqami has traveled extensively around Asia in recent years (see November 5, 1998-September 24, 2000) and uses a passport that has fraudulent travel stamps that will later be associated with al-Qaeda, but this is apparently not noticed. The application is incomplete, as al Suqami does not give the name and address of his current employer. The consular officer who issues the visa will later tell the House Committee on Government Reform that al Suqami was interviewed and will recall details of the interview: The reason for the interview is because al Suqami gives his occupation as “dealer,” which Saudis often use to mean businessman, and several questions are asked, including who is paying for his trip. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 16, 38 pdf file] The officer will repeat this claim to the State Department’s inspector general, adding that she specifically remembers the interview, has a photographic memory, and recalls al Suqami’s photo. [Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 2/6/2003] However, the officer will say that notes are always taken during interviews and there are no such notes on al Suqami’s application. The 9/11 Commission will say that this raises “the possibility that the officer’s memory of having conducted the interview was false.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 16 pdf file] The officer’s identity is unknown, although she may well be Elizabeth Colton. The 9/11 Commission’s Terrorist Travel monograph will say that, before joining the State Department, the officer had interviwed the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 49, 62 pdf file] Colton has previously been chief of Newsweek’s bureau in Cairo, Egypt, where the Blind Sheikh lived before immigrating to the US (see December 15, 1986-1989). [Consulate General of the United States, Dubai, UAE, 8/2007] She has also met other notable personalities in the Middle East, such as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. [State Magazine, 11/2000] A State Department inspector general memo of an interview of the officer will say that she helped develop the Visa Express program introduced in Saudi Arabia in May and June of 2001 (see May 2001). [Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 2/6/2003] The Visa Express manual will list Colton as the program’s Riyadh contact. [Embassy of the United States, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 6/2001]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Satam Al Suqami, Elizabeth O. Colton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A portion of Salem Alhazmi’s New Jersey identification card. 
A portion of Salem Alhazmi’s New Jersey identification card. [Source: 9/11 Commission] (click image to enlarge)The US introduces the “Visa Express” program in Saudi Arabia, which allows any Saudi Arabian to obtain a visa through his or her travel agent instead of appearing at a consulate in person. An official later states, “The issuing officer has no idea whether the person applying for the visa is actually the person in the documents and application.” [US News and World Report, 12/12/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002] At the time, warnings of an attack against the US led by the Saudi Osama bin Laden are higher than they had ever been before— “off the charts” as one senator later puts it. [Los Angeles Times, 5/18/2002; US Congress, 9/18/2002] A terrorism conference had recently concluded that Saudi Arabia was one of four top nationalities in al-Qaeda. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 5/19/2002]
Suspect Travel Agency - Ten Saudi travel agency companies are allowed to issue US visas as part of the program. One company, Fursan Travel and Tourism, is a subsidiary of Al Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp., a multibillion Saudi banking conglomerate. Fursan is also the only one out of the ten deputized to handle the collection and initial processing of US visas. After 9/11, the CIA will suggest taking action against Al Rajhi for its suspected support of Islamist militancy, but the Bush Administration will decide not to do anything (see Mid-2003 and Mid-2003). It is believed that al-Qaeda and other militant groups advised their operatives to use Al Rajhi for their banking needs (see Before September 11, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003]
Used by 9/11 Plotters - Five hijackers—Khalid Almihdhar, Abdulaziz Alomari, Salem Alhazmi, Saeed Alghamdi, and Fayez Ahmed Banihammad—use Visa Express over the next month to enter the US. [US Congress, 9/20/2002] Alomari has a bank account with Al Rajhi, but it is unknown if he or any of the other hijackers use Fursan, the Al Rajhi subsidiary, since the names of travel agencies do not appear on copies of the hijackers’ visa applications that are later made public. [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003] Even 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will successfully get a US Visa through the “Visa Express” program in July (using a false name but real photograph), despite a posted $2 million reward for his capture. [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2004]
Saudi Visas Almost Never Rejected - Only three percent of Saudi visa applicants are turned down by US consular officers in fiscal 2000 and 2001. In contrast, about 25 percent of US visa seekers worldwide are rejected. Acceptance is even more difficult for applicants from countries alleged to have ties to terrorism such as Iraq or Iran. [Washington Post, 10/31/2001] The widely criticized program is finally canceled in July 2002, after a public outcry. [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Khalid Almihdhar, Fursan Travel and Tourism, Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz Alomari, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Salem Alhazmi, Saeed Alghamdi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Margaret Gillespie.Margaret Gillespie. [Source: Doug Dreyer / Associated Press]The FBI and the CIA hold a meeting to discuss the investigation into the USS Cole bombing and a possible connection between it and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). However, the CIA and FBI headquarters refuse to share all they know, and agents investigating the Cole bombing become angry over this.
Attendees - The meeting, which lasts between two and four hours, is attended by CIA officer Clark Shannon, FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, an FBI agent loaned to the CIA named Margaret Gillespie, FBI agent Steve Bongardt, FBI agent Russell Fincher, and Assistant US Attorney David Kelley.
Purpose - Although there is no agenda for the meeting and Corsi will later say it is a brainstorming session, author Lawrence Wright will say that one of the reasons for the meeting is that CIA officer Tom Wilshire, an associate of Shannon’s, “want[ed] to know… what the FBI knew” about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. [ABC News, 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-294 pdf file; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] FBI agent Ali Soufan will also say that he later learned that Wilshire “was fishing to see if the FBI knew anything about the men in the photos.” [Soufan, 2011, pp. 243]
Photos Shown - Initially, Bongardt and Fincher brief Shannon on progress in the Cole investigation. Corsi then shows the two Cole investigators three photographs taken at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000), showing future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and another man, and Shannon asks if the agents recognize Fahad al-Quso, who is thought to have attended the Malaysia summit and has been interviewed by the FBI. However, one of the photos shows Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and a tree, and the CIA has already recognized Almihdhar and Alhazmi, so it is unclear how the Cole investigators are supposed to recognize al-Quso in the photo. Corsi received the photographs from Wilshire, but Wilshire did not provide her with all the relevant information about them (see Late May, 2001).
Questions Asked - Bongardt and Fincher ask who is in the pictures, why were taken, and whether there are other photos of the meeting. Shannon refuses to say, but Corsi eventually admits one of the men is named Khalid Almihdhar. As a name alone is not sufficient reason to start an investigation, Bongardt asks for a date of birth or other details that will allow him to know which Khalid Almihdhar in the world is being discussed, but Shannon refuses to provide them. Shannon admits that Almihdhar was traveling on a Saudi passport and then leaves the meeting. Lawrence Wright will say that providing a date of birth is “standard procedure—the first thing most investigators would do.” Realizing that the photos pertain to the Cole investigation, Bongardt and Fincher become angry at the lack of information being provided and the meeting descends into a “shouting match.” [ABC News, 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-294 pdf file; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file]
What Shannon Knew - Shannon will later admit that at this time he knew Almihdhar had a US visa, that Alhazmi had traveled to the US in 2000, that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash had been recognized in one of the photos, and that Alhazmi was known to be an experienced operative. However, he does not tell any of this to any FBI agents, as he apparently thinks he does not have the authority. He does not let them keep copies of the photos either and will give conflicting accounts of the meeting after 9/11 (see Between September 12, 2001 and October 17, 2002). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-292 pdf file]
Corsi Withholds Information - Corsi has NSA information saying Almihdhar and Alhazmi attended the Malaysia meeting, but apparently believes that the Cole agents cannot be told more because of restrictions on sharing intelligence with criminal agents (see July 19, 1995). However, one of the Cole agents present is an intelligence agent, so the information can be communicated to him immediately without Corsi obtaining permission from the NSA and/or Justice Department. In addition, the NSA sent the information to the FBI’s New York field office, where the Cole investigators are based, in 1999 (see December 1999-January 2000). Furthermore, when she asks the NSA’s permission to share the information 10 weeks later, the NSA approves the request on the same day (see August 27-28, 2001). She does not share the information at this time, but promises Bongardt and Fincher to try to do so later. The Cole agents will not receive more information for months. [US Congress, 9/20/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 269, 537]
Almihdhar Gets New Visa - Two days after this meeting, Almihdhar has no trouble getting a new, multiple reentry US visa (see May 2001 and June 13, 2001). [US News and World Report, 12/12/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Dina Corsi, Khalid Almihdhar, David Kelley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Clark Shannon, Margaret Gillespie, Ali Soufan, Steve Bongardt, Central Intelligence Agency, Russell Fincher, Khallad bin Attash, Nawaf Alhazmi, Lawrence Wright

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Saeed Algahdmi, in a video apparently made in December 2000.Saeed Algahdmi, in a video apparently made in December 2000. [Source: As-Sahab]Future 9/11 hijacker Saeed Alghamdi obtains a US visa from the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The application is made through the Visa Express program (see May 2001), using a passport issued two days earlier. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24 pdf file] The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003]
Lies on Application - Alghamdi lies on his application form, claiming that he has never before applied for a US visa, when in fact he obtained one the previous year, also from Steinger (see September 4, 2000). Fellow hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Ahmed Alnami make similar false statements on their visa applications around this time (see April 23, 2001 and June 13, 2001), although Alnami corrects his application. The information about his previous visa is available at the consulate, but is not accessed, as consular workers do not usually examine previous visa issunces, only refusals. The 9/11 Commission will speculate that he lied on purpose to conceal the previous application. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24 pdf file]
Fraudulent Features - The Commission will also suggest that one or more of Alghamdi’s passports may contain fraudulent features, but will claim that this is not certain, as Alghamdi’s passport was not recovered after 9/11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 563-4; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 42 pdf file] This is an error by the Commission, as Alghamdi’s passport will actually be found after 9/11 and the Commission will be aware of this (see Shortly After September 11, 2001).
KSM's Travel Agent - The travel agency used for the Visa Express application is Minhal Travel, which will also later be used by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to obtain a US visa (see July 23, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24, 29 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office, Minhal Travel, Saeed Alghamdi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar obtains a second US visa from the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24-25 pdf file] The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the future 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003] Almihdhar’s passport, which was issued two weeks previously (see June 1, 2001), lacks an expiry date, but contains an indicator of possible terrorist affiliation used by the Saudi authorities to track suspected radicals (see November 2, 2007). His application form is incomplete, as it lists his occupation as “businessman,” but does not give his employer’s name and address.
Lies on Application Form - The form, which is submitted through the Visa Express program (see May 2001), meaning Almihdhar is not interviewed, contains two lies: Almihdhar says he has never received an American visa or traveled to the US, whereas he received a visa in 1999 (see April 3-7, 1999) and traveled to the US on it in 2000 (see January 15, 2000). As Almihdhar’s first visa was also issued by the Jeddah consulate, through which the CIA sent radical Arabs to the US for training during the Soviet-Afghan war (see September 1987-March 1989), consular officials could discover he is lying, but information about prior visas issuances is not automatically displayed to them.
Known Terrorist - By this time, several intelligence agencies are aware that Almihdhar is an al-Qaeda operative; for example, the CIA (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000), NSA (see December 29, 1999), FBI (see January 5-6, 2000), a US Army intelligence program (see January-February 2000), the Saudi General Intelligence Presidency (see 1997), Malaysian Special Branch (see January 5-8, 2000), and an intelligence service in the United Arab Emirates (see January 2-5, 2000)).
Parallels to Case of Blind Sheikh - Almihdhar will re-enter the US on the visa three weeks later (see July 4, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will find that the series of missteps preceding the issuance of visas to Almihdhar and the other future 9/11 hijackers has some “eerie parallels” to the “series of exceptional failures” that led to US visas being issued to the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see December 15, 1986-1989 and July 1990). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24-27, 33, 49 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Khalid Almihdhar, Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Future 9/11 hijacker Abdulaziz Alomari obtains a US visa from the American consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 525] The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003] Alomari’s application is incomplete, as he lists his home address as the Alqudos Hotel in Jeddah. He is not interviewed and the application is submitted by Attar Travel as a part of the Visa Express program (see May 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 25 pdf file] Further, Alomari leaves blank the fields for his sex, his wife’s name, and his school’s address, although he says he is a student. He claims to be a tourist, that he wants to stay two months from June 25, and that he will first stay at the JKK Whyndam Hotel. [US Department of State, 6/18/2001] The 9/11 Commission will say Alomari’s passport contains fraudulent travel stamps whose use will subsequently be associated with al-Qaeda. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 563-4; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 25 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Abdulaziz Alomari, Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Future 9/11 hijacker Salem Alhazmi obtains a US visa from the American consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. There are some problems with his visa application, which is submitted through the Visa Express program (see May 2001):
bullet The application is incomplete;
bullet Alhazmi gives his occupation as “unemployed” (this does not concern consular staff because Saudi Arabia is a rich country);
bullet His passport is only four days old;
bullet The passport contains a suspicious indicator of Islamic extremism placed their by Saudi intelligence in order to track him (see June 16, 2001 and November 2, 2007). Some of the radicals who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 also had Saudi passports with the same indicator (see Around February 1993); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 563-4; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 25-6 pdf file]
bullet Some of the other future hijackers who apply for visas around this time lie on their applications, claiming never to have received a US visa before, although the opposite is true (see April 23, 2001, June 12, 2001, and June 13, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will not discuss whether Alhazmi claims on this application to have received a US visa before or not, as the Commission will appear to be unaware of any such previous application by him. However, according to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Alhazmi did previously obtain a US visa, in 1999 (see April 3-7, 1999); [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004 pdf file]
bullet The NSA has been intercepting calls between Alhazmi and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen for at least two years (see Early 1999, Shortly Before December 29, 1999, and Summer 2000);
bullet The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the future 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003]

Entity Tags: Salem Alhazmi, Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The photograph of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed on his 2001 US visa application.The photograph of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed on his 2001 US visa application. [Source: 9/11 Commission]Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is granted a visa to enter the US, despite being under a federal terrorism indictment, having a $2 million reward on his head, and being one of only a dozen people in the world on a US domestic no-fly list (see April 24, 2000). There is no evidence that he actually uses his visa to travel to the US. Investigators speculate that he may have considered a trip to shepherd some aspect of the 9/11 plot. He applied for the visa using a Saudi passport and an alias (Abdulrahman al Ghamdi), but the photo he submitted is really of him. He uses the new, controversial Visa Express program that allows Saudis to apply for US visas without having to appear in person at any point during the application process (see May 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2004] Just a month earlier, the CIA passed a warning to all US intelligence agencies, certain military commanders, and parts of the Justice and Treasury Departments saying that Mohammed may be attempting to enter the US (see June 12, 2001). However, either this warning isn’t given to immigration officials or else they fail to notice his application. [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, US Department of the Treasury, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Al-Rajhi Bank logo.Al-Rajhi Bank logo. [Source: Al-Rajhi Bank.]Extremists order “operatives in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Yemen” to use accounts at the Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp, according to a 2003 CIA report. The Al-Rajhi Bank is one of the biggest Saudi banks, with billions in assets. Who gives this order and when will not be made public. However, some examples of militants using the bank will later be alleged:
bullet When al-Qaeda leader Mamdouh Mahmud Salim is arrested in late 1998 (see September 16, 1998), he is carrying records of an Al-Rajhi account.
bullet When Wadih El-Hage’s house in Kenya is raided in 1997, investigators find contact information in his address book for Salah Al-Rajhi, one of the billionaire co-owners of the bank (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007]
bullet Some of the 9/11 hijackers use the bank. For instance, Hani Hanjour is sent wire transfers from Al-Rajhi bank in Saudi Arabia at least six times in 1998 and 1999. In September 2000, Nawaf Alhazmi uses $2,000 in Al-Rajhi traveler’s checks paid for by an unnamed person in Saudi Arabia. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 19, 31, 33, 34, 41, 87 pdf file] And Abdulaziz Alomari has an account at the bank (see September 7, 2001).
bullet The bank is used by a number of charities suspected of militant links, including the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), the Muslim World League, the Saudi branch of Red Crescent, Global Relief Foundation, and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003]
bullet An al-Qaeda affiliate in Spain holds accounts at the bank. According to a fax later recovered by Spanish police, the group’s chief financier tells a business partner to use the bank for their transactions. [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003]
bullet In 2000, Al-Rajhi Bank couriers deliver money to insurgents in Indonesia to buy weapons and bomb-making materials.
bullet According to a 2003 German report, bank co-founder Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi contributes to a charity front buying weapons for Islamic militants in Bosnia in the early 1990s. He is also on the “Golden Chain,” a list of early al-Qaeda funders (see 1988-1989).
bullet A US intelligence memo from shortly after 9/11 will say that a money courier for al-Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, travels on a visa obtained by the bank.
The 2003 CIA report will state: “Islamic extremists have used Al-Rajhi Banking and Investment Corporation since at least the mid-1990s as a conduit for terrorist transactions.… Senior al-Rajhi family members have long supported Islamic extremists and probably know that terrorists use their bank.” [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007]

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, Salah al-Rajhi, Red Crescent (Saudi branch), World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Muslim World League, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Global Relief Foundation, Hani Hanjour, International Islamic Relief Organization, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, Abdulaziz Alomari, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Satam Al Suqami’s remarkably undamaged passport, marked and wrapped in plastic. It is shown as evidence in the 2006 Zacarias Moussaoui trial.Satam Al Suqami’s remarkably undamaged passport, marked and wrapped in plastic. It is shown as evidence in the 2006 Zacarias Moussaoui trial. [Source: FBI]The passport of 9/11 hijacker Satam Al Suqami is reportedly found a few blocks from the World Trade Center. [ABC News, 9/12/2001; Associated Press, 9/16/2001; ABC News, 9/16/2001] Barry Mawn, the director of the FBI’s New York office, will say that police and the FBI found it during a “grid search” of the area. [CNN, 9/18/2001] However, according to the 9/11 Commission, the passport is actually discovered by a male passer-by who is about 30 years old and wearing a business suit. The man gives it to New York City Police Department Detective Yuk H. Chin shortly before 9:59 a.m., when the South Tower of the WTC collapses. The man leaves before he is identified. Chin, according to the 9/11 Commission, will give the passport to the FBI later in the day. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 40 pdf file] An FBI timeline concerned with the 9/11 hijackers will state that the passport is found by a civilian “on the street near [the] World Trade Center,” and is “soaked in jet fuel.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 291 pdf file] According to FBI agent Dan Coleman, Al Suqami’s passport is handed to a New York City detective who is “down there, trying to talk to people as they were coming out of the buildings.” By the time the detective looks up again after receiving the passport, the man who handed it to him has run off, “which doesn’t make sense,” Coleman will say. The passport is then given to a detective on the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Coleman will say that by this evening, “we realized… that this was the passport of one of the people that headquarters had identified as one of the 19 probable hijackers.” [France 5, 3/14/2010] Investigative journalist Nick Davies will later write that he talked to “senior British sources who said they believed that the discovery of a terrorist’s passport in the rubble of the Twin Towers in September 2001 had been ‘a throwdown,’ i.e. it was placed there by somebody official.” [Davies, 2009, pp. 248] The Guardian will comment, “The idea that Mohamed Atta’s passport had escaped from that inferno unsinged [tests] the credulity of the staunchest supporter of the FBI’s crackdown on terrorism.” (Note that, as in this Guardian account, the passport will frequently be mistakenly referred to as belonging to Atta, not Al Suqami.) [Guardian, 3/19/2002]

Entity Tags: Dan Coleman, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Satam Al Suqami, New York City Police Department, Barry Mawn, Yuk H. Chin

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Shayna Steinger, a consular officer who issued 12 visas to the 9/11 hijackers (see July 1, 2000), gives incorrect testimony about one of the visa issuances to the House Committee on Government Reform. The incorrect testimony concerns the issue of a visa to Hani Hanjour, the alleged pilot of Flight 77, which hit the Pentagon. Steinger initially refused to grant Hanjour a visa (see September 10, 2000), but then reversed her decision two weeks later (see September 25, 2000). Steinger claims that she initially denied Hanjour a visa because he applied under the Visa Express program. However, the visa was denied in September 2000 and the Visa Express program did not begin until May 2001 (see May 2001). Steinger claims to have a memory of the event which cannot be correct. “I remember that I had refused him for interview, because he had applied for a tourist visa and he said that his reason for going to the United States was to study,” she tells the committee. The denial was “for administrative reasons,” she adds. It meant: “No. Come in. I want to talk to you.” The 9/11 Commission will point out that this cannot have been the case, stating, “In fact, the date Hanjour applied (as shown on his written application) and the date he was denied (as shown both on the application and on [the State Department’s] electronic records) are the same: September 10, 2000.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 37-38 pdf file] This is apparently the first time Steinger has been interviewed by anyone about the 12 visa issuances. [Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003] Steinger will be interviewed twice more about the visas, changing her story about Hanjour. One interview is by the State Department’s inspector general (see January 20, 2003), the other by the 9/11 Commission (see December 30, 2003).

Entity Tags: Shayna Steinger, 9/11 Commission, House Committee on Government Reform

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi.Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi. [Source: Nadec]A CIA report strongly suggests that the Al-Rajhi Bank is being used to finance militants. The bank is one of the biggest in Saudi Arabia, with an estimated $26 billion in assets in 2006. The report states, “Islamic extremists have used Al-Rajhi Banking and Investment Corporation since at least the mid-1990s as a conduit for terrorist transactions… Senior al-Rajhi family members have long supported Islamic extremists and probably know that terrorists use their bank. Reporting indicates that senior al-Rajhi family members control the bank’s most important decisions and that [their] principal managers answer directly to Sulaiman [Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi]. The al-Rajhis know they are under scrutiny and have moved to conceal their activities from financial regulatory authorities.” It adds that in 2002, Sulaiman ordered the bank’s board “to explore financial instruments that would allow the bank’s charitable contributions to avoid official Saudi scrutiny.” US intelligence have extensive circumstantial evidence but no direct proof that bank managers knowingly support terrorism. For instance, the report says that in December 1998, Sulaiman and his brother Salah sent $4 million to Germany and Pakistan using “a unique computer code to send funds at regular intervals to unspecified recipients, suggesting they were trying to conceal the transactions and that the money may have been intended for illegitimate ends.” Islamist operatives in many countries have used the bank, including at least some al-Qaeda leaders and 9/11 hijackers (see Before September 11, 2001). In 1997, US investigators recovered the address book of al-Qaeda financier Wadih El-Hage, and discovered Salah al-Rajhi’s phone number in it (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). Salah is Sulaiman’s brother and co-owner of the bank. In 2002, the US will raid the SAAR Network, a collection of linked financial entities in the US suspected of funding militants. SAAR stands for Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, and the network was founded and funded by him (see March 20, 2002). [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007; Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007] The US government will subsequently consider taking overt action against the bank, but will ultimately decide against it (see Mid-2003). The bank continues to deny any links to Islamic militancy.

Entity Tags: Salah al-Rajhi, Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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