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Context of 'November 25, 2000: Two 9/11 Hijackers Fly to Iran'

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Majed Moqed.Majed Moqed. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]In 2007, the London Times will report that imprisoned al-Qaeda leader Luai Sakra claims that he trained six of the 9/11 hijackers in Turkey. Sakra allegedly had links to the CIA and Syrian intelligence before 9/11 (see 2000 and September 10, 2001) and also allegedly was in contact with 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta before 9/11 (see September 2000-July 24, 2001). According to Sakra’s account, Sakra established a training and support network for radical militants in Turkey in the mid-1990s. In the Yalova mountain resort area between the cities of Bursa and Istanbul, he trained many militants heading to fight in Chechnya and elsewhere. Sakra worked with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida to provide forged documents enabling trainees to travel to Afghanistan and elsewhere after their training was over. According to Sakra’s lawyer, in late 1999, 9/11 hijackers Ahmed Alghamdi, Hamza Alghamdi, Saeed Alghamdi, and Nawaf Alhazmi undertook Sakra’s training program. They had been planning to go to fight in Chechnya, but Sakra recommended them to Zubaida and they went to Zubaida’s training camp in Afghanistan instead. Hijackers Majed Moqed and Satam Al Suqami also later trained with Sakra in Turkey. Sakra alleges Moqed and Al Suqami were hand-picked by al-Qaeda leaders for the 9/11 plot. Sakra claims that at one point the entire group were arrested by police in Yalova, Turkey, after their presence raised suspicions. They were interrogated for a day but released because no evidence of wrongdoing could be shown. [London Times, 11/25/2007] In early 2006, Sakra made the claim that he had helped some of the 9/11 hijackers near Bursa, but he did not give specifics. [Washington Post, 2/20/2006] While Sakra’s account cannot be corroborated, it does fit with details given in the 9/11 Commission’s final report. According to that report, after 9/11, captured al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash claimed that a number of militants trying to go to Chechnya in 1999 were unable to get there and stayed at al-Qaeda guesthouses in Turkey instead, where they were to wait to make another attempt to enter Chechnya in the summer of 2000, but they ended up going to Afghanistan instead. Bin Attash mentions nine hijackers who may have been trying to get to Chechnya in this fashion, including all the ones mentioned by Sakra. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 233] The 9/11 Commission report also mentions that most of the “muscle” hijackers trained at the Al Farooq camp, except for Al Suqami and Moqed, who trained at the Khaldan camp. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 234] Also, in early 2008, an FBI document will be released that shows Al Suqami spent almost six months in Turkey, helping to corroborate Sakra’s claims (see Late 1999-2000).

Entity Tags: Saeed Alghamdi, Satam Al Suqami, Khallad bin Attash, Luai Sakra, Majed Moqed, Abu Zubaida, Nawaf Alhazmi, Ahmed Alghamdi, Hamza Alghamdi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ahmed Alnami.Ahmed Alnami. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alnami receives a new passport in Saudi Arabia. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 43 pdf file] According to the 9/11 Commission, the passport may contain an “indicator of extremism” that is “associated with al-Qaeda.” However, although it is certain some of the other hijackers have such indicators in their passports, it is not certain that Alnami does. The commission will merely say that there “is reason to believe” his passport may contain such indicator and note that it was “issued in the same Saudi passport office” that issued passports with the indicator to some of the other hijackers. In addition, Alnami obtains two passports before 9/11 (see also April 21, 2001), and it is not clear whether the commission thinks both of the passports have the indicator, or just one of them. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 564; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 9, 33 pdf file] According to author James Bamford, the indicator is a “secret coded indicator, placed there by the Saudi government, warning of a possible terrorist affiliation.” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 58-59] The Saudi government reportedly uses this indicator to track some of the Saudi hijackers before 9/11 “with precision” (see November 2, 2007).

Entity Tags: Ahmed Alnami

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Al-Qaeda operative Luai Sakra apparently begins working as an informant for the CIA, Syrian intelligence, and Turkish intelligence. Sakra, a young Syrian whose parents were Turkish, attended the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan in 1997. He developed a bond with Abu Zubaida, the al-Qaeda leader who was logistics manager for the camp. Zubaida will later be captured and interrogated by the CIA and will reportedly confirm a link with Sakra. Zubaida tasked Sakra with building up an al-Qaeda network in Turkey. In 1999, the Syrian government began hunting him for his role in a revolt in a Lebanon refugee camp. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005] The Turkish newspaper Zaman will report shortly after his capture in 2005, “Sakra has been sought by the secret services since 2000.” The CIA interrogated him twice in 2000. “Following the interrogation, the CIA offered him employment. He also received a large sum of money by the CIA. However the CIA eventually lost contact with him. Following this development, in 2000 the CIA passed intelligence about Sakra through a classified notice to Turkey, calling for the Turkish (intelligence) to capture him. [They] caught Sakra in Turkey and interrogated him.” [Zaman, 8/14/2005] Sakra was then apparently let go again. He will then move Germany and assist some of the 9/11 hijackers (see September 2000-July 24, 2001), then reveal details about the 9/11 attacks to Syrian intelligence the day before 9/11 (see September 10, 2001). He also will later claim to have trained some 9/11 hijackers in Turkey starting in late 1999 (see Late 1999-2000). In 2007, former CIA Director George Tenet will write in his book “At the Center of the Storm” that “a source we were jointly running with a Middle Eastern country went to see his foreign handler and basically told him something big was about to go down.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 160] This is very likely a reference to Sakra, since no one else comes close to matching the description of telling a Middle Eastern government about the 9/11 attacks one day in advance, not to mention working as an informant for the CIA at the same time. Tenet’s revelation strongly supports the notion that Sakra in fact accepted the CIA’s offers in 2000 and had been working with the CIA and other intelligence agencies at least through 9/11.

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Luai Sakra, Abu Zubaida, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Under interrogation after 9/11, al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash will claim he met some of the 9/11 hijackers at Kandahar airport in Afghanistan in the summer of 2000. Although he will not be able to recall all of them, he will say the group includes Satam Al Suqami, Waleed and Wail Alshehri, Abdulaziz Alomari, Hamza Alghamdi, Salem Alhazmi, and Majed Moqed. He will say he was closest to Saeed Alghamdi, whom he convinced to become a martyr and whom he asked to recruit a friend, Ahmed Alghamdi, to the same cause. However, doubts will later be expressed about the reliability of such statements from prisoners like bin Attash, due to the methods used to obtain them (see June 16, 2004) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 233-4] Al-Qaeda’s division of passports and host country issues is based at the airport and it alters passports, visas and identification cards. Some people involved in the plot will later be reported to have altered travel documents (see July 23, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 56 pdf file] 9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alnami and would-be hijacker Mushabib al-Hamlan are also said to be at the same Kandahar camp, Al Farooq, and are assigned to guard the airport. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 526] By the late 1990s, the Kandahar airport will become the main logistics lifeline for al-Qaeda and the Taliban to the outside world. One Ariana pilot will later recall, “I would see Arabs with [satellite] phones walking around the terminal, in touch with the Taliban at the highest levels.” On one occasion, he sees Taliban ruler Mullah Omar meeting in the middle of the airport with a rebel leader from Tajikistan, surrounded by aides. “There they were, cross-legged on their mats, chattering into cell phones.” [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 140] At this time, the Kandahar airport is being mainly used by Ariana Airlines, which has been completely co-opted by al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and aircraft companies controlled by international arms dealer Victor Bout (see 1998).

Entity Tags: Wail Alshehri, Waleed Alshehri, Mullah Omar, Khallad bin Attash, Ariana Airlines, Salem Alhazmi, Satam Al Suqami, Ahmed Alnami, Ahmed Alghamdi, Abdulaziz Alomari, Saeed Alghamdi, Majed Moqed, Mushabib al-Hamlan, Hamza Alghamdi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In September 2000, Luai Sakra enters Germany seeking asylum, using the name “Louia Sakka” (one of several ways his name is transliterated). He moves with his wife and two children to a government asylum dormitory in a small town in central Germany while waiting for a verdict. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/15/2005; Agence France-Presse, 10/27/2005] After his 2005 arrest in Turkey, Sakra will confess to helping some of the 9/11 hijackers. He will claim to have helped some of the 9/11 hijackers while in Bursa, a city in Turkey 60 miles south of Istanbul (see Late 1999-2000). [Washington Post, 2/20/2006] But he will also say that he knew hijacker Mohamed Atta, which presumably would take place during Sakra’s time in Germany (see Early August 2005). He will warn the Syrian government about the 9/11 attacks one day before they happen (see September 10, 2001) and evidence will suggest he was an informant working for the CIA and other governments (see 2000). He will later admit meeting Assef Shawkat, head of Syrian intelligence, in Germany, but it is not known when this meeting took place. [BBC, 11/10/2005] Apparently while still living in Germany, Sakra is indicted in Jordan for allegedly supporting planned attacks around the turn of the millennium (see November 30, 1999). His 2001 Jordanian indictment reads, “Current residence: Germany, on the run.” It is not clear if Jordan communicated with the German government about his whereabouts at this time. He will be convicted in absentia in Jordan in early 2002 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Meanwhile, in Germany he loses his asylum appeal and leaves the country on July 24, 2001. His family flies to Syria around the same time. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/15/2005]

Entity Tags: Assef Shawkat, Central Intelligence Agency, Luai Sakra, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Hamza Alghamdi.Hamza Alghamdi. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]Future 9/11 hijacker Hamza Alghamdi flies from Iran to Kuwait on October 8, travels to Qatar the next day, and enters Saudi Arabia on October 13. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 32-33 pdf file] According to the 9/11 Commission, he is accompanied on the flight from Iran to Kuwait by fellow hijacker Mohand Alshehri. The 9/11 Commission will mention this flight in a section of its final report suggesting co-operation on travel between Iran, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda—Iran may have helped al-Qaeda by allowing operatives to transit Iran on their way to and from Afghanistan without stamping their passports (see After October 12, 2000). According to a detainee who may have been tortured, Alghamdi was in Afghanistan in the summer of 2000 (see Summer 2000); according to militant leader Luai Sakra, he was in Turkey at around this time (see Late 1999-2000), so it is unclear where Alghamdi and Alshehri are coming from. In any case, there are no direct links between this flight and actions by Iranian operatives, although the commission will note in this context that a senior Hezbollah operative visited Saudi Arabia around this time, and planned to help people in Saudi Arabia travel to Iran. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 240] The 9/11 Commission’s statement that the hijackers took this flight will be based on intelligence reports from the NSA, mostly drafted shortly after 9/11. Another source for the paragraph that mentions this flight will be “operative’s claimed identification of photos of two Sept. 11 hijackers,” dated August 2002, although it will not be clear if this applies to this trip by Alghamdi and Alshehri. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 529; Shenon, 2008, pp. 370-3]

Entity Tags: Hamza Alghamdi, Mohand Alshehri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

October 12, 2000: USS Cole Bombed by Al-Qaeda

Damage to the USS Cole.Damage to the USS Cole. [Source: Department of Defense]The USS Cole is bombed in the Aden, Yemen harbor by two al-Qaeda militants, Hassan al-Khamri and Ibrahim al-Thawar (a.k.a. Nibras). Seventeen US soldiers are killed and 30 are wounded. The CIA will later conclude that with just slightly more skilled execution, the attack would have killed 300 and sunk the ship. [ABC News, 10/13/2000; Coll, 2004, pp. 532; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 191] The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) immediately takes credit for the attack. This is a Yemen-based Muslim militant group widely believed to have close ties to al-Qaeda (see 1996-1997 and After). [Guardian, 10/14/2000] The IAA statement is released by its spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997, (June 1998), and December 28, 1998 and After). Abu Hamza says that the attack was timed to mark the anniversary of the execution of the IAA’s former commander (see October 17, 1999). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 184] The prime minister of Yemen at the time of the bombing will say shortly after 9/11, “The Islamic Army was part of al-Qaeda.” [Guardian, 10/13/2001] The US soon learns the names of some al-Qaeda operatives involved in the attack, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Tawfiq bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso (see Early December 2000), and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000). 9/11 hijackers Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see October 10-21, 2000) and Khalid Almihdhar (see Around October 12, 2000) may also have been involved. This is a repeat of a previously attempted attack, against the USS The Sullivans, which failed and was apparently undetected (see January 3, 2000). [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002] The 9/11 Commission will later say the Cole bombing “was a full-fledged al-Qaeda operation, supervised directly by bin Laden. He chose the target and location of the attack, selected the suicide operatives, and provided the money needed to purchase explosives and equipment.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 190]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Khallad bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Islamic Army of Aden, USS Cole, Osama bin Laden, Ibrahim al-Thawar, Khalid Almihdhar, Fahad al-Quso, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hassan al-Khamri, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Under interrogation following his capture, al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash will say that after the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), Iran makes a concerted effort to strengthen relations with al-Qaeda. However, Iran is rebuffed because Osama bin Laden does not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia, which has poor relations with Iran. Nevertheless, Iranian officials are apparently willing to assist travel by al-Qaeda members through Iran, on their way to and from Afghanistan, by not placing telltale immigration stamps in their passports. Such arrangements are particularly beneficial to Saudi members of al-Qaeda. However, information such as this obtained from detainees under interrogation is thought to be unreliable due to the questionable methods used to extract it (see June 16, 2004). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 240]

Entity Tags: Iran, Khallad bin Attash, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Future 9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alnami and candidate hijacker Mushabib al-Hamlan obtain US visas from the American consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 14-15 pdf file] Alnami’s visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000) and will issue Alnami with a second visa next year (see April 23, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003] Alnami’s application is incomplete, as he lists his occupation as “student,” but does not provide a complete address for his school. He also gives his US address as “in Los Angeles” and writes that “my friend Moshibab” will be traveling with him. The 9/11 Commission will later suggest that Alnami’s passport may contain fraudulent travel stamps associated with al-Qaeda, although this is not certain and is apparently not noticed at this time. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 14-15 pdf file] The 9/11 Commission will also suggest that one or more of Alnami’s passports may contain a suspicious indicator of Islamist extremism, but this is not certain (see November 6, 1999 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. 14-15 pdf file] Before obtaining the visa, Alnami and al-Hamlan followed instructions given them by al-Qaeda leaders Mohammed Atef and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and contacted future 9/11 hijacker Waleed Alshehri in Jeddah. They briefly share an apartment with Alshehri, who provides them with directions to the consulate and shows them how to fill out visa applications. Al-Hamlan will soon drop out of the plot after contacting his family. Alnami will later be said to fly to Beirut with the Alshehris (see Mid-November, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 526]

Entity Tags: Shayna Steinger, Mushabib al-Hamlan, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office, 9/11 Commission, Waleed Alshehri, Ahmed Alnami

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Salem Alhazmi.Salem Alhazmi. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]9/11 hijacker Salem Alhazmi flies from Saudi Arabia to Beirut.
Tracked by Saudis - According to the 9/11 Commission, Alhazmi’s passport has an indicator of Islamic extremism (see April 4, 1999). Such indicators are used by the Saudi authorities to track some of the hijackers before 9/11 (see November 2, 2007), so the Saudi authorities presumably register his departure.
Alleged Iran Link - The 9/11 Commission will mention this flight in a section of its report dealing with possible co-operation between Iran, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda on travel issues (see October 8-13, 2000, After October 12, 2000, and Mid-November, 2000), but there are no direct links between this flight and Iranian operatives. The co-operation consisted of Iran allowing al-Qaeda operatives to transit Iran without stamping their passports on the way to and from Afghanistan (see After October 12, 2000), so the Commission suggests this flight may be the first step on a journey to Afghanistan. The 9/11 Commission’s statement that Alhazmi took this flight is based on intelligence reports from the NSA, mostly drafted shortly after 9/11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 240-1, 529; Shenon, 2008, pp. 370-3]
Reason for Presence in Saudi Arabia Unclear - Although several of the hijackers are in Saudi Arabia at this time to obtain visas, it is unclear why Alhazmi would be in the country, as there is no mention of him obtaining a US visa around this time. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 13-16 pdf file]
Returns, Leaves Again - Alhazmi leaves Saudi Arabia again on January 1, 2001, traveling to Yemen. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 116 pdf file] He is presumably tracked by Saudi authorities as he enters Saudi Arabia after returning from Beirut and also as he leaves Saudi Arabia for Yemen.

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Salem Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Waleed Alshehri.Waleed Alshehri. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]Based on intelligence reports, the 9/11 Commission will later say that 9/11 hijackers Wail Alshehri, Waleed Alshehri, and Ahmed Alnami travel in a group from Saudi Arabia to Beirut and then onward to Iran in mid-November 2000. An associate of a senior Hezbollah operative is also on the flight from Beirut to Iran. According to US intelligence, Hezbollah officials in Beirut and Iran are expecting the arrival of a group at around this time and this group is important enough to merit the attention of senior figures in Hezbollah. The commission will say that this flight may be part of Iranian assistance to al-Qaeda consisting of allowing operatives to transit Iran without stamping their passports on the way to and from Afghanistan (see After October 12, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 240, 529]
Contradicted by Families' Claims - However, two to three years before the 9/11 Commission publishes these claims, the families of both Ahmed Alnami and the Alshehri brothers will deny they travel anywhere at this time, and say they leave home in December, not the middle of November. After 9/11, Alnami’s father will initially say Alnami has been missing since December 2000 and will later repeat that he left home in December 2000 in an interview with the Daily Telegraph. [Washington Post, 9/25/2001; Daily Telegraph, 9/15/2002] The Alshehri brothers’ family will also claim they do not leave until after mid-November 2000. Initially, the father will say that they left “last Ramadan.” [Arab News, 9/17/2001] The month of Ramadan begins on November 27 in 2000. [Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 11/26/2000] Based on a 2002 interview with one of their brothers, the Boston Globe will also later say that they leave in December. [Boston Globe, 3/3/2002] If this is true, the story of their travel with a Hezbollah operative would probably be incorrect.
9/11 Commission's Sourcing - The 9/11 Commission cites intelligence reports, mostly drafted between October and December 2001, as its sources. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 240, 529] These reports come from the NSA. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 370-373]
Alnami Possibly Tracked by Saudi Intelligence - According to the 9/11 Commission, Alnami may have had a passport with an indicator of Islamic extremism (see November 6, 1999). Such indicators were used by the Saudi authorities to track some of the hijackers before 9/11 (see November 2, 2007).

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Wail Alshehri, Ahmed Alnami, Waleed Alshehri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 hijackers Satam Al Suqami and Majed Moqed fly from Bahrain to Tehran, Iran. Shortly before, they had entered Bahrain from Saudi Arabia, after obtaining US visas there. Suqami continues to Istanbul, Turkey. Moqed’s final destination is not known definitely, but al-Qaeda operative Luai Sakra will say that Moqed arrives with Al Suqami in Turkey for training (see Late 1999-2000), so presumably he takes the same flight as Al Suqami. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 107 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 34 pdf file] The 9/11 Commission will mention this flight in a section dealing with possible co-operation between Iran, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda on travel issues—Iran was allegedly allowing al-Qaeda operatives to pass through Iran on their way to and from Afghanistan without stamping their passports (see October 8-13, 2000, After October 12, 2000, and Mid-November, 2000)—but no there are no direct links between this flight and Iranian operatives. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 240-1]

Entity Tags: Satam Al Suqami, Majed Moqed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to the 9/11 Commission, Khalid Almihdhar may take a flight from Syria to Iran and continue from there to a point near the Afghan border. The 9/11 Commission will mention this flight in a section dealing with possible co-operation between Iran, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda on travel issues—Iran was allegedly allowing al-Qaeda operatives to pass through it on their way to and from Afghanistan without stamping their passports (see October 8-13, 2000, After October 12, 2000, and Mid-November, 2000)—but there are no direct links between this flight and Iranian operatives. The 9/11 Commission’s statement that Almihdhar entered Iran at this time will be based on intelligence reports from the NSA, mostly drafted shortly after 9/11. The NSA has been intercepting Almihdhar’s calls for some time, so it may have obtained this information from these intercepts (see and Late August 1998 and Early 2000-Summer 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 241, 529; Shenon, 2008, pp. 370-3] Almihdhar was at the Yemen hub earlier in February, which is closely monitored by US intelligence at the time, so the NSA would have had a good opportunity to track his movements from there (see February 2001).

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Luai Sakra.Luai Sakra. [Source: Associated Press]In his 2007 book At the Center of the Storm, former CIA Director George Tenet will write that on September 10, 2001, “a source we were jointly running with a Middle Eastern country went to see his foreign handler and basically told him that something big was about to go down. The handler dismissed him.” Tenet claims the warning was “frightening but without specificity.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 160] While Tenet will not mention the name of the source, his description perfectly matches a Syrian-born militant named Luai Sakra. Sakra will be arrested in Turkey in 2005 (see July 30, 2005) and reportedly will tell interrogators after his arrest, “I was one of the people who knew the 9/11 perpetrators, and I knew the plans and times beforehand.” He claims to have provided the pilots with passports and money (see September 2000-July 24, 2001). Der Spiegel will report, “Western investigators accept Sakra’s claims, by and large, since they coincide with known facts. On September 10, 2001, he tipped off the Syrian secret service… that terrorist attacks were about to occur in the United States. The evidently well-informed al-Qaeda insider even named buildings as targets, and airplanes as weapons. The Syrians passed on this information to the CIA—but only after the attacks.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005] In 2007, Sakra will also claim to have trained some of the 9/11 hijackers in Turkey starting in late 1999 (see Late 1999-2000). If Tenet is referring to Sakra, then it appears Sakra did develop a relationship with the CIA that continued at least through 9/11 (see 2000).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Luai Sakra, Syria

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 Commission staffer Lorry Fenner.9/11 Commission staffer Lorry Fenner. [Source: Public domain]9/11 Commission staffer Lorry Fenner, who is reading through NSA material related to al-Qaeda on her own initiative (see January 2004), finds material possibly linking Iran and Hezbollah to al-Qaeda. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 157, 370-1] The material indicates that between eight and ten of the future hijackers traveled between Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and other destinations via Iran. For example, in November 2000, one of the hijackers, Ahmed Alghamdi, took the same flight as a senior Hezbollah official (see November 2000), although the 9/11 Commission report will say this may be a “coincidence.” An associate of a senior Hezbollah operative took the same flight as another three of the hijackers in November 2000, and Hezbollah officials were expecting an undefined group to arrive at the same time. However, the hijackers’ families will say they were in Saudi Arabia at this time (see Mid-November, 2000). Based on information such as this, the commission will conclude that Iran helped al-Qaeda operatives transit Iran by not stamping their passports, but that neither it nor Hezbollah had any knowledge of the 9/11 plot. Under interrogation, detainees Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh say that some of the hijackers did transit Iran, but that they had no assistance from the Iranian authorities. However, such statements were apparently made after they were tortured, bringing their reliability into question (see June 16, 2004 and August 6, 2007). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 240-1] The NSA intelligence reports the information about Iranian and Hezbollah is based on were mostly drafted between October and December 2001, so it is possible that the NSA was monitoring Hezbollah in 2000 and then matched up travel by that organization’s operatives with the 9/11 hijackers’ travel, ascertained from airlines, for example, after 9/11. One of the reports, entitled “operative’s claimed identification of photos of two Sept. 11 hijackers,” is dated August 9, 2002. It is unclear who the operative is or how he allegedly came into contact with the alleged 9/11 hijackers. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 529]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Lorry Fenner, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Hezbollah, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Iran, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission releases a new report on how the 9/11 plot developed. Most of their information appears to come from interrogations of prisoners Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), the 9/11 mastermind, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a key member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell. In this account, the idea for the attacks appears to have originated with KSM. In mid-1996, he met bin Laden and al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef in Afghanistan. He presented several ideas for attacking the US, including a version of the 9/11 plot using ten planes (presumably an update of Operation Bojinka’s second phase plot (see February-Early May 1995)). Bin Laden does not commit himself. In 1999, bin Laden approves a scaled-back version of the idea, and provides four operatives to carry it out: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Khallad bin Attash, and Abu Bara al Taizi. Attash and al Taizi drop out when they fail to get US visas. Alhazmi and Almihdhar prove to be incompetent pilots, but the recruitment of Mohamed Atta and the others in the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell solves that problem. Bin Laden wants the attacks to take place between May and July 2001, but the attacks are ultimately delayed until September. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] However, information such as these accounts resulting from prisoner interrogations is seriously doubted by some experts, because it appears they only began cooperating after being coerced or tortured. For instance, it is said that KSM was “waterboarded,” a technique in which his head is pushed under water until he nearly drowns. Information gained under such duress often is unreliable. Additionally, there is a serious risk that the prisoners might try to intentionally deceive. [New York Times, 6/17/2004] For instance, one CIA report of his interrogations is called, “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s Threat Reporting—Precious Truths, Surrounded by a Bodyguard of Lies.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2004] The Commission itself expresses worry that KSM could be trying to exaggerate the role of bin Laden in the plot to boost bin Laden’s reputation in the Muslim world. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] Most of what these prisoners have said is uncorroborated from other sources. [New York Times, 6/17/2004] In 2007, it will be alleged that as much as 90 percent of KSM’s interrogation could be inaccurate, and that he has recanted some of his confessions (see August 6, 2007).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, 9/11 Commission, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Luai Sakra shouting to passers-by while imprisoned in Turkey.Luai Sakra shouting to passers-by while imprisoned in Turkey. [Source: Reuters]Al-Qaeda operative Luai Sakra, recently arrested in Turkey (see July 30, 2005), is interrogated for four days by police in Istanbul. He apparently freely confesses to involvement in a number of attacks and even shouts out confessions to reporters and passers-by from the window of his prison cell. [BBC, 8/13/2005]
bullet He says, “I was one of the people who knew the perpetrators of September 11, and knew the time and plan before the attacks. I also participated in the preparations for the attacks to WTC and Pentagon. I provided money and passports.” He claims to know 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta. Sakra lived in Germany for about a year before the 9/11 attacks (see September 2000-July 24, 2001). [Zaman, 8/14/2005; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005] He also makes the claim that he helped some of the 9/11 hijackers near Bursa, Turkey, and will provide further details on this in 2007 (see Late 1999-2000). [Washington Post, 2/20/2006]
bullet Sakra claims to have co-masterminded a series of suicide bombings in Istanbul in 2003 that killed 58 people (see November 15-20, 2003). “I gave the orders, but as far as the targets, Habib Aktas made the decisions.” [Journal of Turkish Weekly, 8/13/2005]
bullet He claims to have fought for militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. In 1999, Sakra worked with al-Zarqawi to start a new Afghan training camp for Syrians and Jordanians and the two of them became friends. Sakra boasts of participating in the execution of a kidnapped Turkish truck driver in August 2004. The driver was abducted from the laundry facility on a US base in Iraq and at one point Sakra worked in the laundry service there. [Journal of Turkish Weekly, 8/13/2005; BBC, 8/13/2005; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005] A US official says “We are taking very seriously reports that he was in Fallujah, and is linked with al-Zarqawi.” [United Press International, 8/17/2005] A captured aide to al-Zarqawi later confirms that Sakra was a key aide to al-Zarqawi in Fallujah beginning in March 2004 and that Sakra “provided coordinates for mortar attacks on US bases in Mosul, Samarra, Baghdad, and Anbar province.” [Washington Post, 2/20/2006]
bullet Sakra’s lawyer also claims Sakra was a member of a gang that held Kenneth Bigley, a British contractor in Iraq, for three weeks and then murdered him in October 2004. [Guardian, 4/20/2006]
bullet He claims to have had foreknowledge of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005). He says he sent details about the attacks and who exactly took part in it to bin Laden via messenger some weeks afterwards. He also claims that he frequently communicated with bin Laden in person and by messenger. [Zaman, 8/15/2005]
bullet He claims to have sent many operatives to the US, Britain, Egypt, Syria, and Algeria to take part in various operations. [Zaman, 8/15/2005]
bullet He claims that the CIA, Syrian intelligence, and Turkish intelligence all wanted to employ him as an informant. The Turkish newspaper Zaman will conclude that Sakra likely did work for all three governments. “Sakra eventually became a triple agent for the secret services. Turkish security officials, interrogating a senior al-Qaeda figure for the first time, were thoroughly confused about what they discovered about al-Qaeda.” [Zaman, 8/14/2005] A Turkish security official will comment, “If during his trial, Sakra tells half of the information we heard from him, al-Qaeda’s real face will emerge. But what he has said so far has more to do about a formation permeated by secret services rather than the terror organization of al-Qaeda.” [Zaman, 8/15/2005]
bullet When offered a chance to pray, he surprisingly replies, “I don’t pray and I like alcohol. Especially whiskey and wine.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005]
Der Spiegel reports, “Western investigators accept Sakra’s claims, by and large, since they coincide with known facts.” After talking to Sakra, Turkish officials suggest he may be one of the top five most important members of al-Qaeda. One security official says, “He had an intellect of a genius.” However, he also was found with medicine to treat manic-depression and exhibits manic-depressive behavior. [Zaman, 8/14/2005; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005] Sakra will later be sentenced to life in prison (see March 21, 2006-February 16, 2007) for his self-confessed role in the 2003 Istanbul bombings (see November 15-20, 2003).

Entity Tags: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Habib Aktas, Mohamed Atta, Luai Sakra

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Saudi Arabia’s national security adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan says that before 9/11 the Saudi government was “actively following” most of the 19 hijackers “with precision.” Prince Bandar, formerly Saudi ambassador to the US, also says that the information Saudi Arabia had may have been sufficient to prevent 9/11: “If US security authorities had engaged their Saudi counterparts in a serious and credible manner, in my opinion, we would have avoided what happened.” A US official says that the statement made by Prince Bandar should be taken with a grain of salt. [CNN, 11/2/2007] Saudi officials had previously said that they watchlisted two of the Saudi hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, in the late 1990s (see 1997 and Late 1999) and their interest in Nawaf Alhazmi may have led them to his brother, Salem. All three of these hijackers were also tracked by the US before 9/11 (see Early 1999, January 5-8, 2000, Early 2000-Summer 2001 and 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001).
Saudi Tracking - Almost a year after Prince Bandar makes this claim, author James Bamford will offer information corroborating it. Bamford will write that Saudi officials placed an indicator in some of the hijackers’ passports and then used the indicator to track them. The Saudis did this because they thought the hijackers were Islamist radicals and wanted to keep an eye on their movements. [Bamford, 2008, pp. 58-59] Details of the tracking by the Saudis are sketchy and there is no full list of the hijackers tracked in this manner. According to the 9/11 Commission, Almihdhar and the Alhazmi brothers had indicators of Islamist extremism in their passports. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 33 pdf file] Two other hijackers may also have had the same indicator. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 564]
The three who had the indicator are: -
bullet Nawaf Alhazmi, who obtained a passport containing an indicator in the spring of 1999 (see March 21, 1999), and then left Saudi Arabia (see After Early April 1999).
bullet Khalid Almihdhar, who obtained passports containing an indicator in the spring of 1999 and June 2001 (see April 6, 1999 and June 1, 2001), and then repeatedly entered and left Saudi Arabia (see After Early April 1999, Late 2000-February 2001, May 26, 2001, and July 4, 2001).
bullet Salem Alhazmi, who obtained passports containing an indicator in the spring of 1999 and June 2001 (see April 4, 1999 and June 16, 2001), and then repeatedly entered and left Saudi Arabia (see After Early April 1999, November 2000, June 13, 2001, and (Between June 20 and June 29, 2001)).
The two who may also have had the indicator are: -
bullet Ahmed Alhaznawi, who obtained a passport possibly containing an indicator before mid-November 2000 (see Before November 12, 2000) and then repeatedly entered and left Saudi Arabia (see After November 12, 2000, (Between May 7 and June 1, 2001), and June 1, 2001).
bullet Ahmed Alnami, who obtained passports possibly containing an indicator in late 2000 and spring 2001 (see November 6, 1999 and April 21, 2001) and then repeatedly entered and left Saudi Arabia (see Mid-November, 2000 and May 13, 2001).
What the indicator actually looks like in the passports is not known.

Entity Tags: Bandar bin Sultan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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