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Context of 'After December 16, 2000: US Misses Opportunity to Connect Alias to Al-Qaeda Leader'

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Sarbarz Mohammed / Sam Malkandi.Sarbarz Mohammed / Sam Malkandi. [Source: Public domain via Seattle Post-Intelligencer]Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash unsuccessfully applies for a US visa in Sana’a, Yemen. His application, which is made under the alias Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf, is denied because he fails to submit sufficient documentation in support of it. Three actual hijackers obtain US visas in Saudi Arabia on the same day and shortly after (see April 3-7, 1999). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 492]
Already Known to US Intelligence - Bin Attash is already known to the US intelligence community at this point (see Summer 1999), at least partly because he briefed Mohamed al-Owhali, one of the 1998 African embassy bombers who was captured after the attack, and helped him make a martyrdom video in Pakistan. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/9/1998 pdf file] The US will begin to associate this alias with terrorist activity no later than early 2000, when bin Attash uses it to take a flight with Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, who are under US and allied surveillance at that point (see January 8, 2000). However, the alias will not be watchlisted by the US until August 2001 (see August 23, 2001). Apparently, when the US learns the alias is associated with terrorism there is no check of visa application records, and this application and the fact it was made by an al-Qaeda leader will not be discovered until after 9/11 (see After January 8, 2000, After December 16, 2000, and After August 23, 2001).
US Contact - On the application, bin Attash gives his reason for going to the US as getting a new prosthesis for his missing leg, and he says Bothell, Washington State, is his final destination. Bin Attash’s contact in Bothell is a man named Sarbarz Mohammed. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 155-6, 492] Mohammed contacts a clinic in the area and speaks to bin Attash once on the phone, but bin Attash says the new leg would cost too much and hangs up. Mohammed, who will later change his name to Sam Malkandi, will deny knowing bin Attash was a terrorist and say that he thought he was just helping a friend of a friend. However, he will later admit lying on his green card application and be arrested in 2005. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10/17/2005]

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Sarbarz Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) ends and the participants leave. Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar fly to Bangkok, Thailand, traveling under their real names. Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash also travels with them and the three sit side by side in the airplane, but bin Attash travels under the false name “Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf” (see After January 8, 2000). [Associated Press, 9/20/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248 pdf file] Malaysian intelligence and the CIA are aware of this flight (see January 8, 2000).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khallad bin Attash, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

On January 8, 2000, hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar plus al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash fly from Malaysia to Thailand together, sitting next to each other. Malaysian intelligence soon informs the CIA that Almihdhar was on the flight, sitting next to someone with the last name of Alhazmi and someone with the name Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf (see January 8, 2000). This is an alias for bin Attash, and in fact is the same alias he used when applying for a US visa in 1999 (see April 3, 1999). Two months later, the CIA learns that several days later, Nawaf Alhazmi flew from Thailand to the US, which means he had to have had a US visa (see March 5, 2000 and March 6, 2000 and After). In fact, Almihdhar, Alhazmi, and bin Attash, using the “bin Yousaf” alias, all applied for US visas within days of each other (see April 3-7, 1999). Alhazmi and bin Attash even applied on the same day. However, apparently no check of visa application records is made that would reveal this. US intelligence also suspects that Alhazmi has a militant brother named Salem, which he does, and Salem Alhazmi also applied for and received a US visa from the same consulate on nearly the same day as his brother Nawaf, but this is not discovered either. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 155-6, 181-2, 492; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 9 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248 pdf file] The US will miss other opportunities to learn more about this alias (see After December 16, 2000 and After August 23, 2001).

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Khallad bin Attash.Khallad bin Attash. [Source: FBI]After talks that last some time, Yemeni authorities agree to provide the FBI team investigating the USS Cole bombing with passport photos of suspects in the attack, including al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash. The photos are provided to lead investigators John O’Neill and Ali Soufan, and Soufan immediately sends bin Attash’s photo to the CIA and to an FBI colleague in Islamabad, Pakistan. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 192; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] The FBI colleague is Michael Dorris. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 117] The CIA agent is known only as “Chris.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 537] Chris shows the photo to a source, and the source, known only as “Omar,” confirms that the man in the photo is bin Attash. Author Lawrence Wright will comment, “This suggested strongly that al-Qaeda was behind the Cole attack.” However, this does not motivate the US to retaliate against al-Qaeda (see Shortly After October 12, 2000). Around this time, the FBI also learns that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, another al-Qaeda operative involved in the embassy bombings, had a hand in the Cole attack as well (see November-December 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 192; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, John O’Neill, Ali Soufan, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Chris”, “Omar”, Michael Dorris

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After the FBI and CIA obtain a passport photo of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see November 22-December 16, 2000), they are unable to connect him to one of his aliases, Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf, even though he had submitted an application for a US visa using this alias the year before (see April 3, 1999). Presumably, a search of visa applications would have turned up a photograph similar to the one the US now has of him, allowing the US to connect bin Attash to the alias. However, no such search is made, even though the CIA knows the alias is connected to 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see January 8, 2000), who obtained US visas at the same time bin Attash’s application was denied (see April 3-7, 1999). No such search is made even after the CIA connects bin Attash to Alhazmi and Almihdhar under bin Attash’s real name as well in early 2001 (see January 4, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 192-3, 538; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248, 267-278 pdf file] The US misses other opportunities to learn more about this alias (see After January 8, 2000 and After August 23, 2001).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khallad bin Attash

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Nawaf Alhazmi (left) and Khallad bin Attash (right) are said to have been confused by an informer.
Nawaf Alhazmi (left) and Khallad bin Attash (right) are said to have been confused by an informer. [Source: FBI]A CIA officer in Islamabad, Pakistan, known only as “Chris” shows a source known as “Omar,” who provides information on al-Qaeda, photographs of future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi taken at the al-Qaeda Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 537; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 268-271 pdf file] Omar has previously identified a photo of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see November 22-December 16, 2000) and Chris has been told that bin Attash and Almihdhar might be the same person (see Mid-Late December 2000). Omar says that the photo of Alhazmi, who the CIA apparently does not recognize at this time, actually shows bin Attash. As Omar cannot identify Almihdhar, but says he can identify bin Attash, this indicates Almihdhar and bin Attash are not the same person. The identification causes the CIA to believe that bin Attash attended al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. Although this belief is based on a mistaken identification, it is actually correct, as bin Attash was present at the summit—the CIA has photos of bin Attash there, but fails to show them to Omar. This identification is important because bin Attash is a known bin Laden operative connected to the USS Cole attack and East African embassy bombings. The CIA also knows that Almihdhar and Alhazmi were at the summit, so this could connect them to the Cole attack. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 268-271 pdf file] An FBI official named Michael Dorris is also at the meeting. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 272 pdf file; Soufan, 2011] However, Dorris does not learn of the identification of bin Attash by “Omar.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 270-274 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Michael Dorris, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khallad bin Attash, Central Intelligence Agency, CIA Islamabad Station, Khalid Almihdhar, “Chris”, “Omar”, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

When the US intelligence community watchlists the alias Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf, which is used by al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see August 23, 2001), it fails to realize that “bin Yousaf” is really bin Attash, who is known to be one of the masterminds of the USS Cole bombing (see Late October-Late November 2000 and November 22-December 16, 2000). The CIA knows that both bin Attash and “Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf” were in Malaysia with 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000, January 8, 2000, and January 4, 2001). Furthermore, the CIA has a photo of bin Attash provided by the Yemeni government, and surveillance photos and video of bin Attash with Alhazmi and Almihdhar at an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After and January 5, 2000). And when bin Attash applied for a US visa, he used the “bin Yousaf” alias (see April 3, 1999), so presumably a comparison of his photo from that application with other photos would reveal that “bin Yousaf” and bin Attash are one and the same person. However, apparently no check is made for any US visa of “bin Yousaf,” even after he is watchlisted to prevent him from coming into the US, which would require a visa. Had a check been made, it would have been discovered that he applied for a visa at the same time as both Almihdhar and Alhazmi (see April 3-7, 1999), the very people who have been watchlisted together with him. Presumably, discovering that Alhazmi and Almihdhar had applied for US visas with one of the Cole masterminds would have greatly increased the urgency of finding them. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 538; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248, 300-3 pdf file] The US missed other opportunities to learn more about this alias (see After January 8, 2000 and After December 16, 2000).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khallad bin Attash

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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