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Context of '1998: 9/11 Hijacker Atta Possibly Trains at Base Conducting Pilotless Aircraft Exercises'

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After 9/11, there will be media accounts suggesting some of the 9/11 hijackers trained at US military bases (see September 15-17, 2001). According to these accounts, four of the hijackers trained at Pensacola Naval Air Station, a base that trains many foreign nationals. One neighbor will claim that Ahmed Alghamdi lived in Pensacola until about August 2000. This neighbor will claim that Alghamdi appeared to be part of a group of Arab men who often gathered at the Fountains apartment complex near the University of West Florida. She will recount, “People would come and knock on the doors. We might see three or four, and they were always men. It was always in the evening. The traffic in and out, although it was sporadic, was constant every evening. They would go and knock, and then it would be a little while and someone would look out the window to see who it was, like they were being very cautious. Not your normal coming to the door and opening it.” [New York Times, 9/15/2001] It is not known when Alghamdi is first seen in Pensacola. However, he uses the address of a housing facility for foreign military trainees located inside the base on drivers’ licenses issued in 1996 and 1998. Saeed Alghamdi and Ahmed Alnami also list the same address as Ahmed Alghamdi on their drivers license and car registrations between 1996 and 1998. Other records connect Hamza Alghamdi to that same address. However, the Pensacola News Journal reports that “The news articles caution that there are slight discrepancies between the FBI list of suspected hijackers and the military training records, either in the spellings of their names or in their birth dates. They also raise the possibility that the hijackers stole the identities of military trainees.” [Washington Post, 9/16/2001; Pensacola News Journal, 9/17/2001] It is unclear if these people were the 9/11 hijackers or just others with similar names. The US military has never definitively denied that they were the hijackers, and the media lost interest in the story a couple of weeks after 9/11.

Entity Tags: Hamza Alghamdi, Saeed Alghamdi, Ahmed Alghamdi, Ahmed Alnami

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A military report released this year describes the “Joint Vision 2010” program, a series of “analyses, war games, studies, experiments, and exercises” which are “investigating new operational concepts, doctrines, and organizational approaches that will enable US forces to maintain full spectrum dominance of the battlespace well into the 21st century.” “The Air Force has begun a series of war games entitled Global Engagement at the Air War College, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.” The same report mentions that the military is working on a “variety of new imaging and signals intelligence sensors, currently in advanced stages of development, deployed aboard the Global Hawk, DarkStar, and Predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)…” [US Department of Defense, 1998] Global Hawk is a technology that enables pilotless flight and has been functioning since at least early 1997. [US Department of Defense, 2/20/1997] While it may be mere coincidence, “Air Force spokesman Colonel Ken McClellan said a man named Mohamed Atta—which the FBI has identified as one of the five hijackers of American Airlines Flight 11—had once attended the International Officer’s School at Maxwell/Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala.” But he adds that “there [was] discrepancies in the biographical data” (mainly the birth date) and that “it may just be a case of mistaken identity” (see also 1996-August 2000 and September 15-17, 2001) [Gannett News Service, 9/17/2001; Gannett News Service, 9/20/2001]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Air Force, Ken McClellan, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A view inside Atta’s Marienstrasse flat.A view inside Atta’s Marienstrasse flat. [Source: DPA]Hijacker Marwan Alshehhi moved to Bonn, Germany in 1996, and studied German there. He then lived in Hamburg for several months in 1998, and returned to Bonn after failing a language exam. Just as he leaves town, a Pakistani student named Atif bin Mansour arrives in Hamburg, and begins living and studying together with Mohamed Atta. Early in 1999, Mansour applies with Atta for a room to hold a new Islamic study group. Mansour is a pilot on leave from the Pakistani Air Force. As the Los Angeles Times puts it, “This in itself is intriguing—a Pakistani pilot? Investigators acknowledge they haven’t figured out Mansour’s role in the plot, if any.” On this day, Mansour’s brother, also in the Pakistani armed forces, is killed (along with 15 other officers) when his surveillance plane is shot down by India. Mansour returns home and was detained and stopped from returning to Germany. Soon afterwards, Alshehhi returns to Hamburg. According to Mansoor’s father, “Atif was detained because he had not sought permission from the authorities before returning home to attend his younger brother’s funeral.” Then he is set free with assistance from a relative and works on Pakistani air force base. Contacted on his mobile phone by a reporter, Mansour says, “I won’t be able to speak further on such a sensitive issue.” [Rediff, 7/17/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Washington Post, 9/11/2002] In March 2001, Mohamed Atta applies together with a Pakistani Air Force pilot for a security job with Lufthansa Airlines (see February 15, 2001). This pilot is a member of the same Islamic study group as Mansour, but it’s not clear if this is Mansour and he did come back to or stay in Germany, or if Atta was associating with a second Pakistani Air Force pilot. [Roth, 2001, pp. 9f; Newsday, 1/24/2002] The FBI later notes that Alshehhi arrived “almost as a replacement” for Mansour. After 9/11, the FBI asks Pakistan if the flight lieutenant and squad leader Mansour can be found and questioned about any possible role he may have had in the 9/11 plot, but there’s no indication Pakistan as to whether has ever agreed to this request. [Rediff, 7/17/2002] In late 2002, the German Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigations will say that Mansour remains “a very interesting figure.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, German Federal Bureau, Marwan Alshehhi, Pakistani Air Force, Atif bin Mansour, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and an unknown third person are seen in the ground-floor workshops of the architecture department at this time, according to at least two witnesses from the Hamburg university where Atta had studied. They are seen on at least two occasions with a white, three-foot scale model of the Pentagon. Between 60 and 80 slides of the Sears building in Chicago and the WTC are found to be missing from the technical library after 9/11. [Sunday Times (London), 2/3/2002] A Hamburg friend of Atta’s, Margritte Schroeder, will confirm that Atta is in Hamburg around this time, saying later in 2001, “I saw him here in early July and he was as nice as ever.” Other eyewitnesses see Atta and Alshehhi in Hamburg as well. But there is no record of Alshehhi leaving the US around this time, which suggests that he travels on a false passport for this trip. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 251, 290]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, Mohamed Atta, Pentagon, Marwan Alshehhi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A series of articles suggests that at least six of the 9/11 hijackers trained at US military bases. [New York Times, 9/15/2001; Newsweek, 9/15/2001; Washington Post, 9/16/2001]
bullet Three of the alleged hijackers—Ahmed Alnami, Ahmed Alghamdi, and Saeed Alghamdi—are revealed as having listed the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, as their permanent address on their driver’s licenses and car registrations, between 1996 and 1998. According to military records, the three used 10 Radford Boulevard as their address. This is a base roadway where residences for foreign-military flight trainees are located. Hamza Alghamdi was also connected to the Pensacola base (see 1996-August 2000). [Newsweek, 9/15/2001; Washington Post, 9/16/2001; Pensacola News Journal, 9/17/2001]
bullet Air Force spokesman Colonel Ken McClellan states that Saeed Alghamdi also attended the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. The Washington Post and Time magazine say he graduated from the Defense Language Institute at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. (It is unclear whether Alghamdi therefore attended both Defense Language Institutes, or if this is simply a reporting error.) [Washington Post, 9/16/2001; Gannett News Service, 9/17/2001; Time, 9/24/2001]
bullet According to a high-ranking Pentagon official, another alleged hijacker was a former Saudi Air Force pilot who may have received training in strategy and tactics at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. [Los Angeles Times, 9/15/2001; Newsweek, 9/15/2001]
bullet A further hijacker—also said to be a former Saudi Air Force pilot—may have been given language instruction at Lackland Air Force Base. [Los Angeles Times, 9/15/2001; Newsweek, 9/15/2001]
bullet A man called Abdulaziz Alomari (the same name as one of the suspected Flight 11 hijackers) attended Brooks Air Force Base Aerospace Medical School in San Antonio, Texas. [Washington Post, 9/16/2001; Gannett News Service, 9/17/2001]
bullet Ken McClellan says a man with the name Mohamed Atta once attended the US International Officers School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama (see 1998). [Washington Post, 9/16/2001; Gannett News Service, 9/17/2001]
According to Newsweek, it is not unusual for foreign nationals to train at US military facilities. A former Navy pilot tells the magazine that during his years at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, “we always, always, always trained other countries’ pilots. When I was there two decades ago, it was Iranians. The shah was in power. Whoever the country du jour is, that’s whose pilots we train.” Newsweek adds that the “US has a long-standing agreement with Saudi Arabia… to train pilots for its National Guard.” [Newsweek, 9/15/2001] The media stops looking into the hijackers’ possible US military connections after the Air Force makes a less than definitive statement, saying, “Some of the FBI suspects had names similar to those used by foreign alumni of US military courses. However discrepancies in their biographical data, such as birth dates 20 years off, indicate we are probably not talking about the same people.” [Washington Post, 9/16/2001]

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Hamza Alghamdi, Ken McClellan, Ahmed Alnami, Abdulaziz Alomari, Saeed Alghamdi, Ahmed Alghamdi, US Department of the Air Force

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow.9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow. [Source: Jurist]Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, along with two members of the commission’s staff and an unnamed “representative of the executive branch,” meets at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan with three individuals doing intelligence work for the US Defense Department. [CNN, 8/17/2005; Sacramento Bee, 11/24/2005] Among these is Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, an Army intelligence officer who worked closely with a military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which between fall 1999 and spring 2001 was tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda networks around the world (see Fall 1999 and January-March 2001). According to Shaffer’s own later account, he gives the commission staff a detailed account of what Able Danger was, and tells them, “We found two of the three cells which conducted 9/11, to include [Mohamed] Atta.” At the end of the meeting, Philip Zelikow approaches him and says, “This is important. We need to continue this dialogue when we get back to the states.” [Government Security News, 9/2005] Following the meeting, Zelikow calls back to the 9/11 Commission’s headquarters in Washington to request that staff draft a document request, seeking information on Able Danger from the Department of Defense. [Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, 8/12/2005 pdf file] According to Anthony Shaffer, “My understanding from talking to another member of the press is that [Zelikow’s] call came into America at four o clock in the morning. He got people out of bed over this.” [Government Security News, 9/2005] Shaffer subsequently tries contacting Philip Zelikow in January 2004 (see Early January 2004). After it is revealed in the press that the commission, which includes no mention of Able Danger in its final report, had been briefed on the unit, spokesmen for commission members will insist that while they were informed of Able Danger at this time, they were not informed that it had identified Mohamed Atta or any other hijackers as threats. [New York Times, 8/10/2005] Head commissioners Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton will later say in an official statement that a memorandum prepared by the commission staff after the meeting “does not record any mention of Mohamed Atta or any of the other future hijackers, or any suggestion that their identities were known to anyone at [Defense Department] before 9/11. Nor do any of the three Commission staffers who participated in the interview, or the executive branch lawyer, recall hearing any such allegation.” [Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, 8/12/2005 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, Mohamed Atta, US Department of Defense, Anthony Shaffer, 9/11 Commission, Able Danger

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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