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Context of 'Summer 2000: Some 9/11 Hijackers Allegedly Work as Airport Security Staff in Afghanistan'

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In 1996, al-Qaeda assumes control of Ariana Airlines, Afghanistan’s national airline, for use in its illegal trade network. Passenger flights become few and erratic, as planes are used to fly drugs, weapons, gold, and personnel, primarily between Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Pakistan. The Emirate of Sharjah, in the UAE, becomes a hub for al-Qaeda drug and arms smuggling. Typically, “large quantities of drugs” are flown from Kandahar, Afghanistan, to Sharjah, and large quantities of weapons are flown back to Afghanistan. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] About three to four flights run the route each day. Many weapons come from Victor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer based in Sharjah. [Los Angeles Times, 1/20/2002] Afghan taxes on opium production are paid in gold, and then the gold bullion is flown to Dubai, UAE, and laundered into cash. [Washington Post, 2/17/2002] Taliban officials regularly provide militants with false papers identifying them as Ariana Airlines employees so they can move freely around the world. For instance, one flight on a Ariana small plane in 2000 lists 33 crew members. A former National Security Council official later claims the US is well aware at the time that al-Qaeda agents regularly fly on Ariana Airlines. (However, US intelligence will not learn of the widespread use of forged Ariana IDs until after 9/11.) The CIA learns of Bout’s connection to Ariana and the Taliban in 1998, but takes no action (see 1998). The US presses the UAE for tighter banking controls, but moves “delicately, not wanting to offend an ally in an already complicated relationship,” and little changes by 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001; Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 139] Much of the money for the 9/11 hijackers flows though these Sharjah, UAE, channels. There also are reports suggesting that Ariana Airlines might have been used to train Islamic militants as pilots. The illegal use of Ariana Airlines helps convince the United Nations to impose sanctions against Afghanistan in 1999, but the sanctions lack teeth and do not stop the airline. A second round of sanctions finally stops foreign Ariana Airlines flights, but its charter flights and other charter services keep the illegal network running. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] About nine of the 9/11 hijackers work at the Kandahar airport in 2000, which is Ariana’s main hub (see Summer 2000).

Entity Tags: Taliban, United Arab Emirates, United Nations, Al-Qaeda, Ariana Airlines, Victor Bout

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In 1998, CIA analysts realize that ground crews for illegal arms dealer Victor Bout are performing maintenance chores for Ariana Airlines planes flying to and from Afghanistan. Bout’s air fleet is based in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE), at the time, and in fact Bout has been working with the Taliban since about 1996 (see October 1996-Late 2001). The CIA has also been gathering intelligence that al-Qaeda operatives are frequently moving between Afghanistan and the UAE. Ariana, Afghanistan’s official airline, is the only airline making flights between the Middle East and Afghanistan. Therefore, Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, concludes that Ariana is being used as a “terrorist taxi service.” Scheuer concludes that Bout is assisting al-Qaeda. He will later comment that when al-Qaeda operatives would travel through the UAE, “it was almost always through Ariana flights. Since Bout’s operation was working with Ariana, they were part of the same set of concerns.” The CIA also notices an increasing number of Bout’s own planes flying to and from Afghanistan. Scheuer will later say, “Our human intelligence said it was mostly small arms and ammunition, going to Kandahar and occasionally to Kabul.” [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 138-140] However, while intelligence reports on Bout’s ties to the Taliban continue, interest in his activities in Afghanistan fades by the end of 1998. Scheuer will later claim that he tried to raise concern about the Bout flights with National Security Council officials, but saw little interest. “I never got a sense that he was important. He was part of the problem we had with the terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan, but there were so many parts we were dealing with.… [N]o one was going to fall on their sword to get Victor Bout.” [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 143] After 9/11, evidence will emerge that about nine of the 9/11 hijackers worked in the Kandahar airport heavily used by Bout’s airplanes (see Summer 2000).

Entity Tags: Taliban, Alec Station, Al-Qaeda, Ariana Airlines, Michael Scheuer, Victor Bout, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi leave Saudi Arabia after obtaining new passports and US visas there (see March 21, 1999, April 4, 1999, April 6, 1999, and April 3-7, 1999). According to the 9/11 Commission, their passports contain an “indicator of extremism” that is “associated with al-Qaeda.” [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). Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi apparently return to Afghanistan to discuss an attack on the US. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 155] Salem Alhazmi’s destination is unknown. He will be reported to be in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and Afghanistan (see Summer 2000) the next year. Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi are placed on the Saudi terrorist watch list later this year (see Late 1999).

Entity Tags: Khalid Almihdhar, Salem Alhazmi, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 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

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

Abdulaziz Alomari in a video released in 2002.Abdulaziz Alomari in a video released in 2002. [Source: Al Jazeera]9/11 hijacker Abdulaziz Alomari is reported to leave home in Saudi Arabia for Afghanistan at this time. [Saudi Information Agency, 9/11/2002] However, he appears to have already been to Afghanistan, as he obtained a new passport on June 5, made an ATM withdrawal in Karachi, Pakistan, on July 8, and is said to have been seen near Kandahar, Afghanistan, in the summer (see Summer 2000). [US Department of State, 6/18/2001; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 50 pdf file] Several of the other hijackers were in Afghanistan in the summer of 2000 and return to Saudi Arabia briefly at this time to obtain US visas (see, for example, September 4, 2000 and October 24, 2000). However, there is no record of Alomari receiving a visa at this time, so it is unclear why he would return to Saudi Arabia. Salem Alhazmi, with whom Alomari will later travel to the US (see April 23-June 29, 2001), also apparently returns to Saudi Arabia at this time, but does not obtain a visa (see November 2000). Alomari finally obtains a US visa in the summer of 2001 (see June 18, 2001).

Entity Tags: Abdulaziz Alomari

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

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

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