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Context of 'Late 1997-Early 1998: 9/11 Hijacker Atta Disappears from Germany for Months; He Possibly Trains in Afghanistan with Bin Al-Shibh'

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Ramzi bin al-Shibh (front center) at the Al Quds mosque in Hamburg.Ramzi bin al-Shibh (front center) at the Al Quds mosque in Hamburg. [Source: History Channel]A roommate of future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta will later say that he remembers that Atta was already associating with Ramzi bin al-Shibh in 1995 and that he saw bin al-Shibh at Atta’s residence then. At this time Atta is a graduate student at a technical university in Hamburg, whereas bin al-Shibh, who will allegedly play a co-ordinating role in 9/11, arrives in Germany in August 1995 and lives in a refugee camp near Hamburg under a false name. [Los Angeles Times, 9/15/2002; McDermott, 2005, pp. 38]

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Ramzi bin al-Shibh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Lead hijacker Mohamed Atta uses the name variant Mahmoud Elsayed to wire $1,500 to Ramzi bin al-Shibh in Germany. The money is wired from a Western Union office in Temple Terrace, near Tampa on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The 9/11 Commission will comment, “There is no known explanation for this transaction, which seems especially odd because bin al-Shibh had access to [hijacker Marwan] Alshehhi’s German account at the time.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 143 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/3/2006 pdf file]

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In a later interview, would-be hijacker Ramzi bin al-Shibh claims that on this day 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta calls him (he is in Germany at the time) from the US (see April, June, or August 2002). Atta asks him what is “two sticks, a dash and a cake with a stick down?” The answer, which bin al-Shibh figures out, is “11-9” —the European and Arabic way of writing 9/11. [Knight Ridder, 9/9/2002; CBS News, 10/9/2002] Now knowing the date of the attack, bin al-Shibh later claims that he orders active cells in Europe, the US, and elsewhere to evacuate.

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Ramzi bin al-Shibh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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