This page can be viewed at http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=mohamed_atta
a.k.a. Mahmoud Ben Hamad, Abu Abdul-Rahman, Abu Abdul Rahman al-Masri, Mohamed el-Amir, Mohamed el-Sayed, Mohamed Mohamed el-Amir Awad el-Sayed Atta
In 1990, after finishing his studies in architecture in Egypt, future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta joins what is called an “engineering syndicate,” a professional or trade group. Like the school that trained many of its engineers, the syndicate serves as an unofficial base for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, where the organization recruits new operatives and spreads its ideology. Other members of the 9/11 plot will also have connections to the Muslim Brotherhood at various points in their lives. (Finn 9/22/2001; Hooper 9/23/2001; Newsweek 12/31/2001)
Most of the future 9/11 hijackers are middle class and have relatively comfortable upbringings, even though, after 9/11, some people in Western countries will say one of the root causes of the attacks was poverty and assume that the hijackers must have been poor. The editor of Al Watan, a Saudi Arabian daily, will call the hijackers “middle class adventurers” rather than Islamist fundamentalist ideologues. (Sennott 3/3/2002)
Mohamed Atta grows up in Cairo, Egypt. His father is an attorney, and both Atta and his two sisters attend university. (McDermott 2005, pp. 10-11)
Marwan Alshehhi is from Ras al-Khaimah Emirate in the United Arab Emirates. His family is not particularly wealthy, but his father is a muezzin and one of his half-brothers a policeman. He attends university in Germany on a UAE army scholarship (see Spring 1996-December 23, 2000). (McDermott 2005, pp. 55)
Ziad Jarrah is from Beirut, Lebanon. His father is a mid-level bureaucrat and his mother, from a well-off family, is a teacher. The family drives a Mercedes and Jarrah attends private Christian schools before going to study in Germany. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 4/19/2002; McDermott 2005, pp. 49-50)
Hani Hanjour is from Taif, near Mecca in Saudi Arabia. His family has a car exporting business and a farm, which he manages for five years in the mid-1990s. (Goldstein, Sun, and Lardner 10/15/2001)
Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi are from Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Their father owns a shop and the family is wealthy. (Khashoggi 9/20/2001; Wright 2006, pp. 378)
Abdulaziz Alomari is from southwestern Saudi Arabia. He is a university graduate (see Late 1990s). He apparently marries and has a child, a daughter, before 9/11. (Sunday Times (London) 1/27/2002; Saudi Information Agency 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 232)
Mohand Alshehri is from Tanooma in Asir Province, Saudi Arabia. He attends university (see Late 1990s). (Saudi Information Agency 9/11/2002)
Hamza Alghamdi is from Baha Province, Saudi Arabia. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 231) He works as a stockboy in a housewares shop. (Sennott 3/3/2002)
Fayez Ahmed Banihammad is from the United Arab Emirates. He gives his home address as being in Khor Fakkan, a port and enclave of Sharjah Emirate on the country’s east coast. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006) The 9/11 Commission will say he works as an immigration officer at one point. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 20 )
Maqed Mojed is from Annakhil, near Medina in western Saudi Arabia. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 232) He attends university (see Late 1990s).
Ahmed Alhaznawi is from Hera, Baha Province. His father is an imam at the local mosque and he is reported to attend university (see Late 1990s).
Ahmed Alnami is from Abha, Asir Province. His family is one of government officials and scientists, and his father works for the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. He attends university (see Late 1990s). (Lamb 9/15/2002)
Wail Alshehi and Waleed Alshehri are from Khamis Mushayt in Asir Province, southwestern Saudi Arabia. Their father is a businessman and builds a mosque as a gift to the town. They both go to college (see Late 1990s). The Alshehris are from a military family and have three older brothers who hold high rank at the nearby airbase. Their uncle, Major General Faez Alshehri, is the logistical director of Saudi Arabia’s armed forces. (Sennott 3/3/2002) Dr. Ali al-Mosa, a Saudi academic, will later comment: “Most of them were from very rich, top-class Saudi families. The father of the Alshehri boys is one of the richest people in the area and the other families are not far behind him.” (McGeough 10/5/2002)
The social situation of the families of Satam al Suqami, Ahmed Alghamdi, Saeed Alghamdi, and Khaled Almihdhar is unknown. However, Almihdhar is from a distinguished family that traces its lineage back to the Prophet Muhammad. (Wright 2006, pp. 379)
Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta enrolls in the planning program of the Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg, where he studies for a master’s degree. Atta chose Hamburg after meeting two German schoolteachers from there in the fall of 1991. The teachers were in Cairo because they organize student exchanges between Germany and Egypt. After being introduced by mutual friends, they offered Atta a rent-free room in their home, where he stays for about six months, before moving into student housing. (Swanson 3/7/2003) At the university, Atta is lucky that the department’s chairman, Dittmar Machule, is a specialist on the Middle East. Machule feels that Atta shares his passion and says that Atta is “tender, sensitive… he had deep, dark eyes. His eyes would speak. You could see the intelligence, the knowledge, the alertness.” Those who know Atta at the university will say he sits and listens, without making hasty comments, he is careful about what he says, and he is very respectful of well-prepared teachers. Fellow student Martin Ebert will say, “I don’t think it was possible to have a fight with him.” Another fellow student, Harmut Kaiser, will say that it is hard to draw Atta into political discussions in class, even if politics is relevant to the topic under discussion: “He wasn’t a guy who acted like he wanted to change the world—unlike a lot of other students in the group.” (McDermott 2005, pp. 24-25)
Radical Moroccan imam Mohammed Fazazi gives weekly sermons at the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg, Germany, which is attended by key members of the 9/11 plot, including Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Ziad Jarrah, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see Early 1996 and (April 1, 1999)). The mosque first opens in 1993. Fazazi, who also makes videotapes that are watched by Islamist radicals throughout Europe, strongly believes that democracy and Western values must be rejected by Muslims living in the West, who should respect only their own Koranic laws. He often preaches that European countries are conducting a war against Islam and that “smiting the head of the infidels” is the duty of all Muslims, mandated by God. (Vidino 2006, pp. 225-6) In one videotaped sermon, he says, “The Jews and crusaders must have their throats slit.” (Finn 9/11/2002) In another sermon in early 2001, he will suggest that all non-Muslims in the world should be killed (see Early 2001). In the late 1990s, Fazazi, a Moroccan citizen, also starts preaching at a mosque in Morocco near where his family lives. But he will continue to preach at Al-Quds until late 2001 (see Mid-September-Late 2001). He is believed to be the spiritual leader of the Moroccan violent militant group Salafia Jihadia, and he will later be convicted in Morocco for his part in bombings in Casablanca (see May 16, 2003). (Vidino 2006, pp. 225-6)
Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta receives financial support from the Carl Duisberg Society, a German foundation that promotes international cultural exchange, primarily between Germany and the US. During this period, Atta receives some support for research and travel. He also tutors students at seminars on North African affairs. (Jansen 10/16/2001; Brook 9/10/2009) The Carl Duisberg Society was founded in 1949 and is named after a German industrialist. It is best known for administering the Congress-Bundestag program, a bi-national, publicly-funded student exchange program between Germany and the US. (CDS International 2009)
In a three-month trip to his hometown of Cairo, Egypt, 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta demonstrates that he is still a member of an engineering syndicate linked to the Muslim Brotherhood (see 1990). He takes the two Germans students he is traveling with, Volker Hauth and Ralph Bodenstein, to the syndicate’s eating club. According to Hauth, Atta does nothing during the trip he knows about that suggests he is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but the group’s influence on the club is obvious. (Finn 9/22/2001; Bodenstein 10/15/2001) A former CIA officer who served undercover in Damascus, Syria, will later say, “At every stage in Atta’s journey is the Muslim Brotherhood.” (Hersh 7/18/2003)
According to a book (citing federal law enforcement sources) by Jurgen Roth, described by Newsday as “one of Germany’s top investigative reporters,” in this year the BKA (the German Federal Office for criminal investigations) investigates future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta for petty drug crimes and falsifying phone cards whilst he is a student at the Technical University at Hamburg-Harburg. While he isn’t charged, a record of the investigation will prevent him from getting a security job with Lufthansa Airlines in early 2001 (see February 15, 2001). (Roth 2001, pp. 9f; Moore 1/24/2002)
A Saudi company called the Twaik Group deposits more than $250,000 in bank accounts controlled by Mamoun Darkazanli, a Syrian-born businessman suspected of belonging to the Hamburg, Germany, al-Qaeda cell that Mohamed Atta is also a part of. In 2004, the Chicago Tribune will reveal evidence that German intelligence has concluded that Twaik, a $100 million-a-year conglomerate, serves as a front for the Saudi Arabian intelligence agency. It has ties to that agency’s longtime chief, Prince Turki al-Faisal. Before 9/11, at least two of Twaik’s managers are suspected by various countries’ intelligence agencies of working for al-Qaeda. One Egyptian employee at Twaik, Reda Seyam, who is later accused of helping to finance the financing of the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002), repeatedly flies on aircraft operated by Saudi intelligence. In roughly the same time period, hundreds of thousands of additional dollars are deposited into Darkazanli’s accounts from a variety of suspicious entities, including a Swiss bank owned by Middle Eastern interests with links to terrorism and a radical Berlin imam. Darkazanli is later accused not just of financially helping the Hamburg 9/11 hijackers, but also of helping to choose them for al-Qaeda. (Crewdson 10/12/2003; Crewdson and Gienger 3/31/2004)
Although lead hijacker Mohamed Atta is Egyptian and is known to some German acquaintances as such, he registers as a UAE national in Hamburg. This will be confirmed after 9/11 by Hamburg’s interior minister, Olaf Scholz, who will say that his UAE nationality was recorded in the Ausländerzentralregister, a federal data base with personal data of foreign residents and asylum seekers. (BBC 9/13/2001; Erlanger 9/17/2001; Hamburg Interior Ministry 9/23/2001) Commenting on this after 9/11, the Observer will say, “In many respects, though, he led not one life, but two. He repeatedly switched names, nationalities and personalities. If… in the US, he was Mohamed Atta, then at the Technical University of Harburg, he was Mohamed el-Amir. For the university authorities, he was an Egyptian, yet for his landlord, as for the US authorities, he was from the United Arab Emirates. And while it is not hard to see Atta, whose face gazes out from the passport photograph released by the FBI, as that of the mass murderer of Manhattan, el-Amir was a shy, considerate man who endeared himself to Western acquaintances.” (Hooper 9/23/2001) It is unclear how or why Atta registered as a UAE national. In addition, throughout most of his time in Germany Atta is registered under a name variant, Mohamed el-Amir, and only registers using his full name after obtaining a new passport (see Late 1999), three weeks before leaving Germany for the US (see June 3, 2000). (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006)
Al-Qaeda leader Mamdouh Mahmud Salim (a.k.a. Abu Hajer) makes frequent visits to Hamburg, Germany, and sometimes attends the Hamburg mosque that is attended by a few of the future 9/11 hijackers. (Rose 1/2002) The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later say that Salim was Osama bin Laden’s “right hand man.” (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 51 ) Starting in 1995, Salim makes frequent visits to Germany. Some of these trips are to Hamburg. Salim has links to Mamoun Darkazanli, who lives in Hamburg and has signing powers over Salim’s bank account. (Rose 1/2002) Salim first opens a bank account in Hamburg with Darkazanli in 1995. (Neuffer 10/6/2001) Darkazanli is also friends with Mohammed Haydar Zammar. Salim has links to Zammar as well. The nature of these links is unclear, but US and German intelligence will later investigate Zammar due to his links with Salim (see Shortly After September 16, 1998). (Cziesche et al. 12/12/2005) Zammar and Darkazanli both regularly attend the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg. When Salim visits Hamburg, he attends the Al-Quds mosque as well. (Rose 1/2002) Beginning in early 1996, future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and other members of his future al-Qaeda Hamburg cell begin regularly attending the Al-Quds mosque, with different members joining at different times (see Early 1996). The mosque holds about 150 people for Friday prayers. (McDermott 2005, pp. 1-5) It is not known if Salim ever meets with Atta or any other members of the Hamburg cell. But Zammar, at least, is considered part of the cell, and he or Darkazanli could have introduced Salim to some of the others. One key member of the cell, Said Bahaji, is frequently seen at the Al-Quds mosque with Zammar and Darkazanli. (McDermott 2005, pp. 72) On September 16, 1998, Salim is arrested in Munich, Germany, ending any link he might have had to the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell (see September 16, 1998). It is not known if US or German investigators ever learn of the link between Salim and the Al-Quds mosque before 9/11.
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. (McDermott and Laabs 9/15/2002; McDermott 2005, pp. 38)
9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and some of his associates appear to participate in financial fraud in Germany. The Chicago Tribune in 2004 claims that in 1995 Atta gives a Muslim baker named Muharrem Acar living in Hamburg, Germany, roughly $25,000 to help him open his own bakery. The newspaper calls this “noteworthy act of generosity to someone he barely knew.” However, the Wall Street Journal in 2003 presents a completely different story. Acar was sued and ordered to pay $6,500 in 1996. Atta and Acar worked together to backdate documents and manage a bank account to make it appear that Atta had loaned Acar over $20,000. This allowed Acar to claim he had no money and a large debt to Atta, and thus couldn’t pay the money he owed as part of the lawsuit against him. The Wall Street Journal notes Atta’s behavior conflicts with his media representation as “an ideologically pure Islamic extremist” and concludes, “It is increasingly evident that Mr. Atta and the other young men in Hamburg were typical of Islamist extremists in Europe, engaging in petty crime and fraud to make ends meet…” (Crawford 9/9/2003; Chicago Tribune 9/11/2004)
At least 11 of the 9/11 hijackers travel or attempt to travel to Chechnya between 1996 and 2000 (see 1999-2000):
Nawaf Alhazmi fights in Chechnya, Bosnia, and Afghanistan for several years, starting around 1995. (Observer 9/23/2001; ABC News 1/9/2002; US Congress 6/18/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003 )
Khalid Almihdhar fights in Chechnya, Bosnia, and Afghanistan for several years, usually with Nawaf Alhazmi. (US Congress 6/18/2002; McDermott 9/1/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003 )
Salem Alhazmi spends time in Chechnya with his brother Nawaf Alhazmi. (ABC News 1/9/2002) He also possibly fights with his brother in Afghanistan. (US Congress 7/24/2003 )
Ahmed Alhaznawi leaves for Chechnya in 1999 (ABC News 1/9/2002) , and his family loses contact with him in late 2000. (Khashoggi and Al-Nayyef 9/22/2001)
Hamza Alghamdi leaves for Chechnya in early 2000 (Murphy and Ottaway 9/25/2001; Fisk 9/27/2001) or sometime around January 2001. He calls home several times until about June 2001, saying he is in Chechnya. (Ba-Isa and Al-Towaim 9/18/2001)
Mohand Alshehri leaves to fight in Chechnya in early 2000. (Khashoggi and Al-Nayyef 9/22/2001)
Ahmed Alnami leaves home in June 2000, and calls home once in June 2001 from an unnamed location. (Ba-Isa 9/19/2001; Murphy and Ottaway 9/25/2001)
Fayez Ahmed Banihammad leaves home in July 2000 saying he wants to participate in a holy war or do relief work. (Murphy and Ottaway 9/25/2001; Freedberg 9/27/2001) He calls his parents one time since. (Ba-Isa and Al-Towaim 9/18/2001)
Ahmed Alghamdi leaves his studies to fight in Chechnya in 2000, and is last seen by his family in December 2000. He calls his parents for the last time in July 2001, but does not mention being in the US. (Ba-Isa and Al-Towaim 9/18/2001; Khashoggi 9/20/2001)
Waleed M. Alshehri disappears with Wail Alshehri in December 2000, after speaking of fighting in Chechnya. (Ba-Isa and Al-Towaim 9/18/2001; Murphy and Ottaway 9/25/2001)
Wail Alshehri, who had psychological problems, went with his brother to Mecca to seek help. Both disappear, after speaking of fighting in Chechnya. (Murphy and Ottaway 9/25/2001)
Majed Moqed is last seen by a friend in 2000 in Saudi Arabia, after communicating a “plan to visit the United States to learn English.” (Khashoggi and Al-Nayyef 9/22/2001)
Clearly, there is a pattern: eleven hijackers appear likely to have fought in Chechnya, and two others are known to have gone missing. It is possible that others have similar histories, but this is hard to confirm because “almost nothing [is] known about some.” (MacFarquhar 9/21/2001) Indeed, a colleague later claims that hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Ziad Jarrah, and would-be hijacker Ramzi Bin al-Shibh wanted to fight in Chechnya but were told in early 2000 that they were needed elsewhere. (Finn 10/23/2002; Blenkinsop 10/29/2002) Reuters later reports, “Western diplomats play down any Chechen involvement by al-Qaeda.” (Sayenko 10/24/2002)
Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and other members of the Hamburg cell begin regularly attending the Al-Quds mosque. Atta becomes a well-known figure both there and at other mosques in the city. He grows a beard at this time, which some commentators interpret as a sign of greater religious devotion. The mosque is home to numerous radicals. For example, the imam, Mohammed Fazazi, advocates killing non-believers and encourages his followers to embrace martyrdom (see 1993-Late 2001 and Early 2001).
Atta Teaches Classes at Al-Quds - After a time, Atta begins to teach classes at the mosque. He is stern with his students and criticizes them for wearing their hair in ponytails and gold chains around their necks, as well as for listening to music, which he says is a product of the devil. If a woman shows up, her father is informed she is not welcome. This is one of the reasons that, of the 80 students that start the classes, only a handful are left at the end.
Other Hijackers and Cell Members Attend Al-Quds - One of Atta’s associates, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, also teaches classes at the mosque. 9/11 hijackers Marwan Alshehhi and Ziad Jarrah start attending the mosque at different times and possibly first meet Atta there. Other mosque attendees who interact with the future hijackers at the mosque include Said Bahaji, and al-Qaeda operatives Mamoun Darkazanli and Mohammed Haydar Zammar.
Is the Mosque Monitored? - According to author Terry McDermott, German investigators notice Bahaji meeting frequently with Darkazanli and Zammar at the mosque, so they presumably have a source inside it. (PBS Frontline 1/2002; Burke 2004, pp. 242; McDermott 2005, pp. 1-5, 34-37, 72) The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung will later report that there probably is an informer working for the LfV, the Hamburg state intelligence agency, inside the mosque by 1999. Somehow, the LfV is very knowledgeable about Atta and some his associates, and their behavior inside the mosque (see (April 1, 1999)). (Schrom and Laabs 2/2/2003) Radical imam Fazazi will continue to preach at the mosque until late 2001 (see Mid-September-Late 2001).
Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta makes his will in Germany. It is not clear that the text of the will is actually written by Atta. For example, author Lawrence Wright will say that Atta merely signs a “standardized will” he gets from the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg, and journalists Yosri Fouda and Nick Fielding will say that the will is a “printed-out form devised by the mosque.” Atta apparently makes it as he is angered by new reports of an Israeli operation against Lebanon, which begins on this day. (Fouda and Fielding 2003, pp. 81-2; Wright 2006, pp. 307) Although the act of making a will is not that unusual for a 27-year old Muslim, the content of the will is unusual, perhaps reflecting the radical environment of the mosque (see Early 1996). For example, it says: “…  I don’t want a pregnant woman or a person who is not clean to come and say good bye to me because I don’t approve it…  The person who will wash my body near my genitals must wear gloves on his hands so he won’t touch my genitals…  I don’t want any women to go to my grave at all during my funeral or on any occasion thereafter.” The will is witnessed by Abdelghani Mouzdi and Mounir El Motassadeq, who also make wills around the same time. (Atta 4/11/1996; Burke 2004, pp. 242; McDermott 2005, pp. 49, 245-7, 274)
9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi visits the Philippines several times this year. He stays at the Woodland Park Resort Hotel near Angeles City, about 60 miles north of Manila and near the former US controlled Clark Air Base. Security guard Antonio Sersoza later claims, “I am sure Alshehhi had been a Woodland guest several times in 1997. I remember him well because I flagged his speeding car at least three times at the gate of Woodland.” He adds that Alshehhi used different cars, knew how to speak some Filipino, and stayed at the hotel on several Saturdays. He is not sure if Mohamed Atta was with him. (Cervantes 10/1/2001; Gulf News 10/2/2001; Lerner 10/11/2001) Other eyewitnesses will later recall seeing Alshehhi and Atta at the Woodland hotel in 1999 (see December 1999), and the Philippine military will confirm their presence there. A leader of a militant group connected to al-Qaeda will later confess to helping 9/11 hijacker pilots while they were in this area (see Shortly After October 5, 2005).
Spanish newspaper El Mundo later reports, “According to several professors at the Valencia School of Medicine, some of whom are forensic experts, [9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta] was a student there in 1997 or 1998. Although he used another name then, they remember his face among the students that attended anatomy classes.” It is also suggested that “years before, as a student he went to Tarragona. That would explain his last visit to Salou [from July 8-19, 2001], where he could have made contact with dormant cells…”(see July 8-19, 2001) (Olmedo 9/30/2001) If this is true, it would contradict reports concerning Atta’s presence as a student in Hamburg, Germany, during this entire period. There is also a later report that in 1999 Atta will meet an al-Qaeda operative in Alicante, less than 100 miles from Valencia (see 1999).
Al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Haydar Zammar is frequently seen with future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta starting this year. According to Time magazine: “Beginning in 1997, neighbors of Atta’s would often see Zammar carrying boxes up to the Egyptian student’s second-story walk-up. US investigators believe he may have persuaded Atta’s Islamic study group to offer its services to al-Qaeda around 1998.” (Frank et al. 7/1/2002) German intelligence begins heavily monitoring Zammar in early 1997 (see March 1997-Early 2000), but it is unclear when it first takes notice of Atta.
9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, fellow plotter Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and two of their associates, Mohammed Haydar Zammar and Mohammed Belfas, find employment at a small Hamburg-area computer company called Hay Computing Service GmbH. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 1/11/2002, pp. 30; Federal Bureau of Investigation 4/19/2002) Hijacker Marwan Alshehhi also reportedly works there. (Sullivan 12/30/2001) Atta and Belfas got their jobs through Agus Budiman, an Indonesian associate of theirs, who was already employed at the company. (9/11 Commission 1/28/2004 ) Another unnamed individual, who will be investigated after 9/11, also works there with bin al-Shibh. (9/11 Commission 11/6/2003) The cell members work in the company’s warehouse, packing computers for shipment. (Rhoads and Boudette 10/9/2001; Fouda and Fielding 2003, pp. 123; Der Spiegel (Hamburg) 9/8/2003)
An investigation of al-Qaeda contacts in Hamburg by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence service, begins at least by this time (Germany refuses to disclose additional details). The investigation is called Operation Zartheit (Operation Tenderness), and it was started by a tip about Mohammed Haydar Zammar from Turkish intelligence (see 1996). (New York Times 1/18/2003)
Zammar Linked to Hamburg 9/11 Cell and Bin Laden - It is later believed that Zammar, a German of Syrian origin, is a part of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. (Rotella 1/14/2003) Zammar will later claim that he recruited 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and others into the cell. (Washington Post 6/12/2002) German intelligence is aware that he was personally invited to Afghanistan by bin Laden. (Schrom and Laabs 2/2/2003) The investigation into Zammar allegedly stops in early 2000, after investigators conclude they don’t have enough evidence to convict him of any crime. (Stark 11/21/2005)
CIA Involved with Zammar Operation - Vanity Fair will later claim that “A lone CIA agent, the Germans disclose, attempted to work alongside them” in Operation Zartheit, but German “requests for greater information and cooperation from the CIA, they claim, came to naught.” (Zeman et al. 11/2004) This CIA agent is probably Thomas Volz, who is the CIA’s undercover agent in Hamburg at the time (see December 1999).
The 19 hijackers apply and receive a total of 23 visas at five different posts from November 1997 through June 2001. Hani Hanjour, Khalid Almihdhar, Saeed Alghamdi and Ahmed Alnami, Saudi citizens, apply twice at Jeddah. Only Hanjour applies for a student visa, others for tourist/business visa. (United States General Accounting Office 10/21/2002 ; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 7-45 )
The fifteen Saudi hijackers apply for their visas in their home country. Four at the embassy in Riyadh: Hamza Alghamdi (10/17/2000), Mohand Alshehri (10/23/2000), Majed Moqed (11/20/2000) and Satam Al Suqami (11/21/2000). Eleven at the US consulate in Jeddah: Hani Hanjour (11/2/1997 and 9/25/2000), Khalid Almihdhar (4/7/1999 and 6/13/2001), Saeed Alghamdi (9/4/2000 and 6/12/2001), and Ahmed Alnami (10/28/2000 and 4/28/2001), Nawaf Alhazmi (4/3/1999), Ahmed Alghamdi (9/3/2000), Wail Alshehri (10/24/2000), Waleed M. Alshehri (10/24/2000), Abdulaziz Alomari (6/18/2001), Salem Alhazmi (6/20/2001), and Ahmed Alhaznawi (11/12/2000).
Fayez Ahmed Banihammad and Marwan Alshehhi apply in their home country, the United Arab Emirates, respectively at the US embassy in Abu Dhabi on 6/18/2001 and at consulate in Dubai on 1/18/2000.
Mohamed Atta (Egyptian) and Ziad Jarrah (Lebanese) apply, as third-country national applicants, at the US embassy in Berlin, respectively, on May 18 and 25, 2000.
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)
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) (Radelat 9/17/2001; Radelat and Madden 9/20/2001)
Police raid the apartment of Cabdullah Ciise, an extremist based in Germany who is linked to hijacker Mohamed Atta and some of his associates in the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. The police find forged Italian documents in the apartment, proving a link between Ciise in Germany and Italian cells that specialize in document forgery, especially one in Milan that is under investigation (see 1998 and October 2, 1998). Ciise lives in Germany from 1991 until October 1999, during which time he becomes friendly with Mohamed Atta as well as cell member Ramzi bin al-Shibh, with whom he often watches videos about the war in Chechyna and talks about religion. Ciise is also linked to other cell members such as Mohamed Daki and his associates Said Bahaji and Mounir El Motassadeq, as well as a Yemeni named Mohammed Rajih whom German authorities will investigate for terrorist ties at some point before 2005. It is unclear what impact the link to the important Milan cell has on surveillance of the cell in Hamburg. Ciise will allegedly be involved in a bombing in Mombasa, Kenya (see November 28, 2002), will help send fighters to Iraq, and will be arrested in Milan in 2003. (Vidino 2006, pp. 256)
Al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Haydar Zammar probably recruits future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed and other key members of the Hamburg cell into al-Qaeda this year. According to Time magazine, “US investigators believe [Zammar] may have persuaded Atta’s Islamic study group to offer its services to al-Qaeda around 1998.” Zammar was frequently seen by neighbors with Atta starting in 1997 (see 1997). (Frank et al. 7/1/2002)
Zammar Being Monitored by US and German Intelligence - German intelligence began heavily monitoring Zammar in early 1997 and this continues until at least early 2000 (see March 1997-Early 2000). The CIA also appears to be monitoring Zammar by this time. Author Terry McDermott will later comment: “[T]he CIA told the [9/11 Congressional Inquiry] it had a long-standing interest in Zammar that pre-dated [a wiretap done in March 1999 (see March 1999)]. In other words, the CIA appears to have been investigating the man who recruited the hijackers at the time he was recruiting them.” (McDermott 2005, pp. 73, 278-279)
An FBI pilot sends his supervisor in the Oklahoma City FBI office a memo warning that he has observed “large numbers of Middle Eastern males receiving flight training at Oklahoma airports in recent months.” The memo, titled “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” further states this “may be related to planned terrorist activity” and “light planes would be an ideal means of spreading chemicals or biological agents.” The memo does not call for an investigation, and none occurs. (Clay 5/29/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003) The memo is “sent to the bureau’s Weapons of Mass Destruction unit and forgotten.” (Smith 9/25/2002) In 1999, it will be learned that an al-Qaeda agent has studied flight training in Norman, Oklahoma (see May 18, 1999). Hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi will briefly visit the same school in 2000; Zacarias Moussaoui will train at the school in 2001 (see February 23-June 2001).
Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and a group of his radical Islamist friends move into an apartment in Wilhelmsburg, an island on the Elbe River in the middle of Hamburg, Germany. The area is a run-down industrial zone. It is unclear who all the members of the group living in the apartment are, but Marwan Alshehhi and Ramzi bin al-Shibh live there. For the first time, this group becomes very closely tied together. They live an extremely simple life, with nothing but mattresses for furniture and no electrical devices except for lights. Neighbors will later say the men in the apartment talk long into the night nearly every night, with the blinds on the windows permanently closed. The group moves to a nicer apartment on November 1, 1998 (see November 1, 1998-February 2001). (McDermott 2005, pp. 58-60)
Thieves snatch a passport from a car driven by a US tourist in Barcelona, Spain, which later finds its way into the hands of would-be hijacker Ramzi Bin al-Shibh. Bin al-Shibh allegedly uses the name on the passport in the summer of 2001 as he wires money to pay flight school tuition for Zacarias Moussaoui in Oklahoma (see July 29, 2001-August 3, 2001). After 9/11, investigators will believe the movement of this passport shows connections between the 9/11 plotters in Germany and a support network in Spain, made up mostly by ethnic Syrians. “Investigators believe that the Syrians served as deep-cover mentors, recruiters, financiers and logistics providers for the hijackers—elite backup for an elite attack team.” (Rotella 1/14/2003) Mohamed Atta travels to Spain twice or three times in 2001 (see January 4-10, 2001, July 8-19, 2001, and September 5, 2001), perhaps to make contact with members of this Spanish support team.
A German inquiry into Mounir El Motassadeq, a member of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell, begins by this date. Although Germany will not reveal details, documents show that by August 1998, El Motassadeq is under surveillance. “The trail soon [leads] to most of the main [Hamburg] participants” in 9/11. Surveillance records El Motassadeq and Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who had already been identified by police as a suspected extremist, as they meet at the Hamburg home of Said Bahaji on August 29, 1998. Files show that investigators are aware of who Bahaji is by this time.(Bahaji will soon move into an apartment with 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and other al-Qaeda members (see November 1, 1998-February 2001.) German police monitor several other meetings between El Motassadeq and Zammar in the following months. (New York Times 1/18/2003) El Motassadeq will later be sentenced to 15 years in prison for membership in al-Qaeda (see August 19, 2005).
Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, al-Qaeda operatives Said Bahaji and Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, and others in the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell move into a four bedroom apartment at 54 Marienstrasse, in Hamburg, Germany, and some of them stay there until February 2001. Investigators will later believe this move marks the formation of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. (McDermott 1/27/2002; Bernstein et al. 9/10/2002) Up to six men at a time live at the apartment, including, at times, 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi and cell member Zakariya Essabar. Alshehhi moves out after the first month; it is unclear why. (Erlanger 9/15/2001) During the 28 months Atta’s name is on the apartment lease, 29 Middle Eastern or North African men register the apartment as their home address.
Surveillance of Bahaji - From the very beginning, the apartment is under surveillance by German intelligence, because of investigations into businessman Mamoun Darkazanli that connect to Bahaji. (Eggen 10/23/2001) The Germans also suspect connections between Bahaji and al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Haydar Zammar. (McDermott 9/1/2002) Bahaji is directly monitored for at least part of 1998, but German officials will not disclose when the probe began or ends. This investigation is dropped for lack of evidence (see (Late 1998)). (Associated Press 6/22/2002; McDermott 9/1/2002) Bahaji moves out in July 1999 and gets married a few months later (see October 9, 1999). (Stark 8/29/2011)
Surveillance of El Motassadeq - German intelligence monitors the apartment off and on for months, and wiretaps Mounir El Motassadeq, an associate of the apartment-mates who will later be convicted for assisting the 9/11 plot, but apparently it does not find any indication of suspicious activity (see August 29, 1998). (Crewdson and Simpson 9/5/2002)
Surveillance of Zammar - Zammar, a talkative man who has trouble keeping secrets, does not live at the apartment, but he is a frequent visitor to the many late night meetings there. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 259-60; McDermott 9/1/2002; Crewdson and Simpson 9/5/2002) He even lives in the apartment for a time in February 1999 (see February 1999). Zammar is the focus of an investigation that began in 1997 and continues until early 2000 (see March 1997-Early 2000). Interest in monitoring him increases in late 1998 (see October 2, 1998).
Surveillance of Atta - The CIA also allegedly starts monitoring Atta in early 2000 while he is living at the apartment, and does not tell Germany of the surveillance (see January-May 2000). Atta leaves Germany to live in the US in June 2000 (see June 3, 2000).
No Direct German Surveillance of the Apartment? - Yet, even though people like Zammar who frequently phone and visit the apartment are monitored, German officials will later claim that the apartment itself is never bugged. An unnamed senior German security official will later say that some surveillance of associated people gives “the impression that the people living there were fanatical believers. At the BfV [Germany’s domestic intelligence agency], we had to decide whether to ask permission to place a wiretap on the line at 54 Marienstrasse itself. We discussed this every day.” But he will claim that they ultimately decide they will not be able to get legal permission for a wiretap because there is no evidence that the apartment’s occupants are breaking any laws. (Zeman et al. 11/2004) This claim that the apartment was not directly monitored seems contradicted by reports that Bahaji was the target of a surveillance investigation when he was living in the Marienstrasse apartment in late 1998 (see (Late 1998)).
What Would More Surveillance Have Uncovered? - It will later be clear that investigators could have found evidence if they looked more thoroughly. For instance, one visitor will recall Atta and others discussing attacking the US. (Rubin and Dorgan 9/9/2002) 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is in Hamburg several times in 1999 and comes to the apartment. However, although there is a $2 million reward for Mohammed since 1998, the US apparently fails to tell Germany what it knows about him (see 1999). (Hosenball 9/4/2002; Butler 11/4/2002) 9/11 Hijacker Waleed Alshehri also apparently stays at the apartment “at times.” (Stafford 9/14/2001; Washington Post 9/16/2001) Remarkably, shortly after 9/11, the German government will claim it knew little about the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell before 9/11, and nothing directed it towards the Marienstrasse apartment. (Helm 11/24/2001)
According to author Terry McDermott, by late 1998, German intelligence knows all the key names of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell led by 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh. This is mostly due to the on-going surveillance of Mohammed Haydar Zammar and Mamoun Darkazanli (see March 1997-Early 2000, Late 1998 and December 1999). It is not clear if the group is seen as an al-Qaeda cell, or just a bunch of radical Islamists. One unnamed senior German intelligence official will say in November 2001, “We only knew them as radical Muslims. This is not a crime.” This person will add, “They might have had contact with followers of Osama bin Laden. This also is not a crime.” (McDermott 2005, pp. 73, 279) It is unknown if Germany shares this intelligence with the US.
German intelligence investigates al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Said Bahaji. The investigation stems from an investigation into cell member Mohammed Haydar Zammar, which started in 1997 (see March 1997-Early 2000). Many contacts are noticed between Zammar and Bahaji. According to the Los Angeles Times: “In part because of the acquaintance, German police in 1998 performed what they describe as limited surveillance on Bahaji. Bahaji at the time was living with [future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed] Atta and [hijacker associate Ramzi] bin al-Shibh. Nothing came of the surveillance and it was discontinued.” (McDermott 9/1/2002) However, German officials will not say when exactly the surveillance stops. (Associated Press 6/22/2002) Bahaji lives with Atta and bin al-Shibh at the Marienstrasse apartment starting in November 1998 (see November 1, 1998-February 2001), so the surveillance of him probably starts in late 1998. However, it is likely that interest in and possibly surveillance of Bahaji continues after this time. Bahaji will be watchlisted in March 2000 (see March 2000). Author Terry McDermott will later comment about the difficulty of being put on a watch list: “In Germany, this was not a casual event. In order to be placed on such lists, intelligence agencies had to go to great lengths to demonstrate to the Bundestag, the German parliament, that the person under question was of potential danger to the state.” McDermott will further note that being placed on this list would be an indication the person has been under surveillance for a long time. (McDermott 2005, pp. 73, 297)
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.” (Mir 7/17/2002; McDermott 9/1/2002; Finn 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; Moore 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. (Mir 7/17/2002) In late 2002, the German Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigations will say that Mansour remains “a very interesting figure.” (McDermott 9/1/2002)
A Spanish newspaper later will claim that Ahmed Ressam, the al-Qaeda operative who attempted to bomb the Los Angeles airport at the turn of the millennium (see December 14, 1999), meets Mohamed Atta in the Alicante region of Spain in this year. It is unclear whether the men trained at the same camp while they were in Afghanistan. (Reuters 11/26/2001; Passchier 9/14/2002) According to other Spanish reports, in 1997 or 1998 Atta was a student in Valencia under an assumed name (see 1997 or 1998). Valenica is less than 100 miles from Alicante. After his arrest, Ressam began cooperating with US investigators in the summer of 2001 (see May 30, 2001), leading to the possibility that he could have confirmed Atta’s identity as an al-Qaeda operative before 9/11, if he had been asked.
9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) “repeatedly” visits 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and others in the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. (Czuczka 8/24/2002) US and German officials say a number of sources place KSM at Atta’s Hamburg apartment, although when he visits, or who he visits while he is there, is unclear. (Drogin and Meyer 6/6/2002; Butler 11/4/2002) However, it would be logical to conclude that he visits Atta’s housemate Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, since investigators believe he is the “key contact between the pilots” and KSM. (Laabs and McDermott 1/27/2003) KSM is living elsewhere in Germany at the time. (Risen 9/22/2002) German intelligence monitors the apartment in 1999 but apparently does not notice KSM. US investigators have been searching for Mohammed since 1996, but apparently never tell the Germans what they know about him. (Butler 11/4/2002) Even after 9/11, German investigators will complain that US investigators do not tell them what they know about KSM living in Germany until they read it in the newspapers in June 2002. (Erlanger 6/11/2002)
This year, future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta is regularly attending Islamic study group meetings led by a fellow Hamburg student named Mohammed bin Nasser Belfas. By this time, Atta and most of the rest of the group have replaced their Western jeans and clean-shaven faces with long beards and tunics. After one of these meetings, Atta asks to privately see Volker Harum Bruhn, an ethnic German who is also a member of the group. Bruhn says that Atta strongly warns him to stay away from Islamic extremists, to follow the Koran strictly, and live a careful life. (McDermott 9/1/2002; Rubin and Dorgan 9/9/2002)
Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta tries, unsuccessfully, to sell artifacts from Afghanistan. At some time this year, Atta contacts an unidentified archaeologist at the University of Göttingen in Germany and offers to sell him Afghan artifacts. He says he needs to sell them to raise money for flying lessons in the United States. But the archaeologist declines his offer. The archeologist will later tell the German secret service about the incident. (Blouin Artinfo 1/28/2010; Ruiz 2/2010; Pringle 6/13/2014) Atta will spend time in Afghanistan in late 1999 and early 2000 (see Late November-Early December 1999 and January 18, 2000). (Bernstein et al. 9/10/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 166-167) He will begin taking flying lessons in Florida in July 2000 (see July 6-December 19, 2000). (US Congress 3/19/2002; Martin 7/25/2004)
Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will later claim that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) visits Hamburg at this time and meets with 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh. Together, they make plans to carry out the 9/11 attacks in the US. (Gunaratna 2003, pp. xxx) Other accounts claim KSM repeatedly visits Hamburg this year but do not definitively state who he meets (see 1999). The 9/11 Commission will later claim that the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell including Atta and bin al-Shibh will not be asked to join the 9/11 attacks until late 1999 in Afghanistan (see Between January and October 1999).
According to German investigations, by at least this time, the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell including Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Ziad Jarrah, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh has come up with the idea of attacking the US using airplanes. This theory is based on witness statements and the discovery by the German police of a flight simulator file on a computer used by the Hamburg cell that was downloaded between January and October 1999. (Finn 9/11/2002; Burke 2004, pp. 244) Both Atta and Alshehhi start taking lessons on ultralight aircraft this year (see April 1999, October 1999, and December 1999). Some suggest they first joined the 9/11 plot in early 1999 (see Early 1999). However, the 9/11 Commission claims that the 9/11 plot was hatched by al-Qaeda’s leadership and was communicated to the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell in Afghanistan in December 1999. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 165-169)
The names of four hijackers are later discovered in Philippines immigration records. However, whether these are the hijackers or just other Saudis with the same names has not been confirmed.
Abdulaziz Alomari visits the Philippines once in 2000, then again in February 2001, leaving on February 12. (Gomez 9/19/2001; Lacuarta 9/19/2001; Telegraph 9/20/2001)
Ahmed Alghamdi visits Manila, Philippines, more than 13 times, starting in 1999. He leaves the Philippines the day before the attacks. (Telegraph 9/20/2001; Arizona Daily Star 9/28/2001; Europa 10/11/2001)
Fayez Ahmed Banihammad visits the Philippines on October 17-19, 2000. (Telegraph 9/20/2001; Arizona Daily Star 9/28/2001)
Saeed Alghamdi visits the Philippines on at least 15 occasions in 2001, entering as a tourist. The last visit ends on August 6, 2001. (Telegraph 9/20/2001)
Hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi were seen Philippines several times, the last time in December 1999 (see December 1999). 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed occasionally stays there as well (see September 1998-January 1999). Nothing more has been heard to confirm or deny the hijackers’ Philippines connections since these reports.
Monitored al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Mohammed Haydar Zammar temporarily lives with future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and 9/11 hijacker associates Said Bahaji and Ramzi bin al-Shibh. They live in a four bedroom apartment at 54 Marienstrasse, in Hamburg, Germany (see November 1, 1998-February 2001). This is according to a September 2001 memo from the BfV (Germany’s domestic intelligence agency), so it may come from surveillance conducted before 9/11. It is not known why Zammar lives here at this time, since he has his own wife and family in Hamburg; nor is it known how many days he stays at the apartment. (Zeman et al. 11/2004) Zammar is under surveillance by the BfV at this time (see March 1997-Early 2000), and he is likely under surveillance by the CIA as well (see Shortly After September 16, 1998 and Summer 1999).
German intelligence monitors a phone call in which the names of key members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell are mentioned. Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta’s full name and telephone number are even mentioned. German domestic intelligence (BfV) has been monitoring al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Haydar Zammar’s telephone (see March 1997-Early 2000). On this day, Zammar is not home, but his parents speak to each other on the phone and are trying to figure out where he is. One of them suggests that Zammar is at a meeting with “Mohamed, Ramzi, and Said,” and can be reached at the phone number of the Marienstrasse apartment where all three of them live. This refers to cell members Atta, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, and Said Bahaji. “Mounir”—cell member Mounir El Motassadeq—is mentioned as well. However, apparently German intelligence fails to grasp the importance of these names, even though Bahaji and El Motassadeq are also under investigation at this time (see August 29, 1998). The Marienstrasse apartment is the center of the cell’s activity (see November 1, 1998-February 2001). (Associated Press 6/22/2002; New York Times 1/18/2003; Cziesche, Mascolo, and Stark 2/3/2003) Atta’s first and last name are mentioned in the phone call between Zammar’s parents. Agents check the Marienstrasse phone number, which they find is registered to Bahaji. They also confirm the street address, but it is not known what they make of the information. (Cziesche, Mascolo, and Stark 2/3/2003)
9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta takes flying lessons in the Philippines, and 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi is with him. They stay at the Woodland Park Resort Hotel near Angeles City, which is about 60 miles north of Manila and near the formerly US controlled Clark Air Base. Victoria Brocoy, a chambermaid at the hotel, will later claim that Atta stayed at the hotel for about a week while he learned to fly ultra-light planes at the nearby Angeles City Flying Club. (Dacanay 9/29/2001; Gulf News 10/2/2001) She also says, “He was not friendly. If you say hello to him, he doesn’t answer. If he asks for a towel, you do not enter his room. He takes it at the door.… Many times I saw him let a girl go at the gate in the morning. It was always a different girl.” (Kirk 10/5/2001) Atta stays with some other men who call him Mohamed. She recalls that one of them is Marwan Alshehhi, who is treated like Atta’s sidekick. However, there are no recollections of Alshehhi going to the nearby flight school. (Bigornia 10/2/2001; Gulf News 10/2/2001) She says Atta was hosted by a Jordanian named Samir, who speaks Filipino and runs a travel agency in Manila. She adds that many Arab guests stayed at the hotel between 1997 and 1999, and Samir always accompanied them. Samir denies knowing any of the hijackers. (Dacanay 9/29/2001; Bigornia 10/2/2001; Kirk 10/5/2001) The Philippine military will later confirm that Atta and Alshehhi were at the hotel after finding four other employees who claim to have seen them in 1999. Other locals, such as the manager of a nearby restaurant, also recall seeing them. (Cervantes 10/1/2001; Gulf News 10/2/2001; Kirk 10/5/2001; Lerner 10/11/2001) Atta and/or Alshehhi were seen at the same resort in 1997 (see 1997) and will return to it later in 1999 (see December 1999). A leader of a militant group connected to al-Qaeda later confesses to helping 9/11 hijacker pilots while they were in this area (see Shortly After October 5, 2005).
9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah has an unofficial wedding with his girlfriend, Aysel Senguen, on or shortly before April 1, 1999. They have a wedding ceremony at the radical Al-Quds mosque, but they do not register the wedding with the German government, so it is not legally binding. (McDermott 2005, pp. 78) A photo apparently taken by Jarrah at the wedding will be found by German intelligence in Senguen’s home several days after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). The photo will be studied to determine who was a member of or close to the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell in early 1999. German investigators are able to identify 18 out of 22 men in the photo. Those in the photo include 9/11 hijacker Atta, Abdelghani Mzoudi, Mounir El Motassadeq, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abderrasak Labied, and Mohammed Rajih. The LfV, the security service for the Hamburg region, will show such a surprising amount of knowledge of the people in the photo just days after 9/11 that it will later be suggested the LfV must have had an informant close to the Hamburg cell (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). (Schrom and Laabs 2/2/2003)
Around this time, US intelligence notes that a man in Hamburg, Germany, named Mohammed Haydar Zammar is in direct contact with one of bin Laden’s senior operational coordinators. Zammar is an al-Qaeda recruiter with links to 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and the rest of the Hamburg terror cell. The US had noted Zammar’s terror links on “numerous occasions” before 9/11. (US Congress 7/24/2003 ) However, apparently the US does not share their information on Zammar with German intelligence. Instead, the Germans are given evidence from Turkey that Zammar is running a travel agency as a terror front in Hamburg. In 1998, they got information from Italy confirming he is an Islamic militant (see October 2, 1998). However, his behavior is so suspicious that they have already started monitoring him closely (see 1996). (US Congress 7/24/2003 ; Laabs 8/13/2003) Ironically, also in 1999, German intelligence gives its information on Zammar to the CIA (see 1999).
9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi, plus would-be hijacker Ramzi Bin al-Shibh and associate Mounir El Motassadeq, hold a meeting in Amsterdam, Netherlands. All are living in Hamburg at the time, so it is not clear why they go to meet there, though some speculate that they are meeting someone else. El Motassadeq also goes to the town of Eindhoven, Netherlands, on three occasions, in early 1999, late 1999, and 2001. (Associated Press 9/13/2002) On at least one occasion, Motassadeq receives cash provided by unnamed “Saudi financiers” that is meant to fund a new Eindhoven mosque. Investigators believe he uses the money to help pay for some 9/11 hijacker flying lessons. (Baltimore Sun 9/2/2002)
The FBI begins an investigation of an unnamed person for ties to important al-Qaeda figures and several organizations linked to al-Qaeda. The FBI is concerned that this person is in contact with several experts in nuclear sciences. After 9/11, the FBI determines that hijacker Marwan Alshehhi had contact with this person on the East Coast of the US. This person also may have ties to Mohamed Atta’s sister. Most additional details about this person, including his/her name, when and how often Alshehhi had contact, and if the investigation was ever closed, remain classified. (US Congress 7/24/2003 )
BJ’s Wholesale Club, a store in Hollywood, Florida, later tells the FBI that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta may have held a BJ’s membership card since at least this time (“more than two years” before 9/11). Several cashiers at the store vaguely remember seeing Atta there. (Babson, Lebowitz, and Viglucci 9/18/2001) According to the official story, Atta does not arrive in the US until June 3, 2000 (see June 3, 2000). (Morgan, Kidwell, and Corral 9/22/2001)
Agents from Oklahoma City FBI office visit the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma to investigate Ihab Ali Nawawi, who has been identified as bin Laden’s former personal pilot in a recent trial. The agents learned that Nawawi received his commercial pilot’s license at the school 1993, then traveled to another school in Oklahoma City to qualify for a rating to fly small business aircraft. He is later named as an unindicted coconspirator in the 1998 US Embassy bombing in Kenya. The trial witness who gave this information, Essam al Ridi, also attended flight school in the US, then bought a plane and flew it to Afghanistan for bin Laden to use (see Early 1993). (Cullen and Ranalli 9/18/2001; Hirschkorn 10/16/2001; Fainaru 5/19/2002; US Congress 10/17/2002) When Nawawi was arrested in May 1999, he was working as a taxi driver in Orlando, Florida (see May 18, 1999). Investigators discover recent ties between him and high-ranking al-Qaeda leaders, and suspect he was a “sleeper” agent. (Murphy 10/28/2001) However, the FBI agent visiting the school is not given most background details about him. (US Congress 7/24/2003) It is not known if these investigators are aware of a terrorist flight school warning given by the Oklahoma City FBI office in 1998. Hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi later visit the Airman school in July 2000 but ultimately will decide to train in Florida instead. (Cullen and Ranalli 9/18/2001) Al-Qaeda agent Zacarias Moussaoui will take flight lessons at Airman in February 2001 (see February 23-June 2001). One of the FBI agents sent to visit the school at this time visits it again in August 2001 asking about Moussaoui, but he will fail to make a connection between the two visits (see August 23, 2001).
German intelligence is periodically tapping suspected al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Haydar Zammar’s telephone, and on this day investigators hear Zammar call 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi. Officials initially claim that the call also mentions hijacker Mohamed Atta, but only his first name. (Helm 11/24/2001; New York Times 1/18/2003) However, his full name, “Mohamed Atta Al Amir,” is mentioned in this call and in another recorded call. (Schrom and Laabs 2/2/2003) Alshehhi makes veiled references to plans to travel to Afghanistan. He also hands the phone over to Said Bahaji (another member of the Hamburg cell under investigation at the time), so he can talk to Zammar. (Laabs 8/13/2003) German investigators still do not know Alshehhi’s full name, but they recognize this “Marwan” also called Zammar in January, and they told the CIA about that call. Alshehhi, living in the United Arab Emirates at the time, calls Zammar frequently. German intelligence asks the United Arab Emirates to identify the number and the caller, but the request is not answered. (Cziesche, Mascolo, and Stark 2/3/2003)
After future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta completes his master’s degree in Hamburg, Germany, he goes home to Cairo, Egypt, one last time. By this time, his parents are estranged from each other. His father tells Atta they should find him a wife, and has a potential bride lined up. According to his father, they visit a family, Mohamed meets the daughter and they like each other. The woman’s parents also likes Atta, but their only condition to the marriage is that their daughter doesn’t have to leave Cairo. Mohamed gets engaged to her, and then goes back to Germany. According to Mohamed’s aunt, Mohamed asks his mother, who is ill, whether he can remain in Egypt permanently, to begin a career and care for her. However, she insists he continue his education and go on to a doctoral program in the US. (McDermott 1/27/2002; McDermott 9/1/2002) There have been no reports that Atta ever gets married.
9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta enters a lottery for permanent resident status in the US. The application is submitted over the Internet to the National Visa Service, a company that, for a $50 fee, helps individuals enter green card lotteries for permanent resident status in the US. Atta submits another lottery application in November, but both applications are unsuccessful. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 19-20 ) This may indicate that Atta is already involved in the 9/11 plot in some way prior to December 1999, when the 9/11 Commission suggests he joins the plot (see Late November-Early December 1999). He appears to have traveled to Afghanistan (see Late 1997-Early 1998) and has discussed studying in the US with his parents (see October 1999). In addition, he and fellow Hamburg cell member Marwan Alshehhi may have already started taking flying lessons (see April 1999 and October 1999).
Hamburg cell members Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Ziad Jarrah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and possibly Said Bahaji travel to Afghanistan via Turkey and Karachi, Pakistan. They travel along a route often used by one of their associates, al-Qaeda recruiter Mohammed Haydar Zammar, to send potential operatives to Afghanistan for training. Turkish intelligence is aware of the route and informed German intelligence of it in 1996, leading to an investigation of Zammar (see 1996). However, it is unclear whether German or Turkish intelligence register the Hamburg cell members’ travel and how and whether they disseminate and act on this information. Jarrah is reportedly noticed by an intelligence service in the United Arab Emirates on his return journey from Afghanistan (see January 30, 2000). (Bernstein et al. 9/10/2002; CBS News 10/9/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 167; McDermott 2005, pp. 89)
9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi are seen again in the Philippines, partying and taking flying lessons. They stay at the Woodland Park Resort Hotel about sixty miles north of Manila, as they did in 1997 and earlier in 1999. Gina Marcelo, a waitress at the hotel, will later recall that Marwan Alshehhi threw a party there. “There were about seven people. They rented the open area by the swimming pool… They drank Johnnie Walker Black Label whiskey and mineral water. They barbecued shrimp and onions. They came in big vehicles, and they had a lot of money. They all had girlfriends.” (Kirk 10/5/2001) 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is also known to be in the Philippines for much of 1999, plotting again to assassinate the Pope (see 1999-September 10, 2001). There are no eyewitness accounts of him being seen with Atta or Alshehhi at this time, but when he lived in the Philippines in 1994 he was known to party and have local girlfriends (see Early 1994-January 1995). Security guard Ferdinand Abad later recalls Mohamed Atta registered under his own name at the hotel this month. Atta went to the nearby Angeles City Flying Club about two of three times a week to train on ultralight aircraft. Abad recalls seeing the flying club van pick up Atta at least five times. Just as when Atta and Alshehhi were at the resort earlier in the year, no one recalls Alshehhi taking flying lessons, only Atta. (Cervantes 10/1/2001; Gulf News 10/2/2001; Kirk 10/5/2001) The Philippine military will later confirm that Atta and Alshehhi were at the hotel after finding a number of employees who claim to have seen them. (Cervantes 10/1/2001; Gulf News 10/2/2001) A leader of a militant group connected to al-Qaeda will later confess to helping 9/11 hijacker pilots while they were in this area (see Shortly After October 5, 2005). The 9/11 Commission will not mention the possibility of Atta and Alshehhi staying in the Philippines. They will note that the two of them left Germany in the last week of November 1999 with the intention of going to Afghanistan, but there is no mention of when they arrived in Afghanistan. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 166-167)
The CIA begins “persistent” efforts to recruit German businessman Mamoun Darkazanli as an informant. Darkazanli knows 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and the other members of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. US and German intelligence had previously opened investigations into Darkazanli in September 1998. Agents occasionally followed him, but Darkazanli obviously noticed the tail on him at least once. More costly and time-consuming electronic surveillance is not done however, and by the end of 1999, the investigation has produced little of value. German law does not allow foreign governments to have informants in Germany. So this month, Thomas Volz appears at the headquarters of the Hamburg state domestic intelligence agency, the LfV, responsible for tracking terrorists and domestic extremists. (Crewdson 11/17/2002; Laabs 8/13/2003) Volz’s business card identifies him as “consul of the United States of America” at the US consulate general in Hamburg, but he actually is an undercover CIA agent. (Cziesche et al. 12/12/2005) Volz tells them the CIA believes Darkazanli has knowledge of an unspecified terrorist plot and encourages that he be “turned” against his al-Qaeda comrades. A source later recalls he says, “Darkazanli knows a lot.” Efforts to recruit him will continue in the spring next year. The CIA has not admitted this interest in Darkazanli. (Crewdson 11/17/2002; Laabs 8/13/2003)
9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Ziad Jarrah, Marwan Alshehhi, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and Nawaf Alhazmi meet to discuss the 9/11 operation at a building known as the “House of Alghamdi” in Kandahar, Afghanistan, according to a statement made by bin al-Shibh in an interview prior to his capture in 2002 (see September 8-11, 2002 and September 11, 2002). Bin al-Shibh will say, “We had a meeting attended by all four pilots including Nawaf Alhazmi, Atta’s right-hand man,” which the Guardian will interpret to mean Alhazmi, and not Hani Hanjour, flew Flight 77, which hit the Pentagon (see (December 2000-January 2001)). (Tremlett 9/9/2002) The 9/11 Commission, based on information obtained from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) under interrogation, will place Hanjour in Afghanistan in spring 2000, indicating he will arrive some months after this meeting is held, and could not therefore attend it. Please note: information from detainee interrogations is thought to be unreliable due to the methods used to extract it (see June 16, 2004). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 226) In a substitution for testimony introduced as evidence at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, KSM will place Hanjour’s arrival at the training camps in Afghanistan in “September or October” of 2000. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia 7/31/2006, pp. 23 )
Hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi report their passports missing; Ziad Jarrah reports his missing in February 2000. (Lipka 9/28/2001; Der Spiegel 2002, pp. 257-58) Alshehhi receives a replacement passport on December 26, 1999. (Kennedy 9/20/2001)
German investigators are monitoring Said Bahaji, a member of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell, for his ties to Mamoun Darkazanli. They had been monitoring a Marienstrasse address where Bahaji had been living. But Bahaji moved out after his 1999 wedding (see October 9, 1999) to live down the street with his new wife. A request to continue monitoring the Marienstrasse address is denied in 2000 for lack of evidence. Bahaji had lived at that address with Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi and other members of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. Although Bahaji, Atta, and Alshehhi all moved out by mid-2000, other associates like Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Zakariya Essabar, and Abdelghani Mzoudi moved in. Atta’s name stayed on the lease until early 2001. (Erlanger 6/20/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 495)
The Congressional Joint Inquiry will later find that several of the hijackers, including Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi, attend mosques in the US and that at least one of the mosques is in Florida. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 169 ) The Florida mosque attended by Atta and Alshehhi is the Al Hijrah mosque run by Gulshair Shukrijumah in Miramar, Broward County, Florida. Mohamed Atta and several other hijackers live near the mosque (see April 11, 2001) and train at nearby Opa-Locka airport (see December 29-31, 2000). After 9/11, the FBI will visit the mosque and ask Shukrijumah and his wife if they recognize the hijackers and if their son, Adnan, knew Atta or had mentioned trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan. (Strouse 4/3/2003; Meyer 9/3/2006) Atta is seen with Adnan Shukrijumah, a suspected al-Qaeda operative, in 2001 (see May 2, 2001). His father previously served as an imam at the Al Farouq mosque in Brooklyn. In addition to working as a translator for Sheikh Abdul-Rahman, he also testified as a character witness at the WTC bombing trial for one of the defendants, Clement Rodney Hampton-El, who attended Al Farouq. (Kaufman and Rabinowitz 10/27/2003; Meyer 9/3/2006) Gulshair Shukrijumah is receiving money from the Saudi embassy in Washington at this time. (Isikoff and Hosenball 4/7/2003) In 2009, an FBI informant will claim that he tried to get close to both Atta and Adnan Shukrijumah at the Al Hijrah mosque in early 2001, but the FBI had him work on easier cases instead, because both of them were secretive and wary (see Early 2001). (Ross and Walter 9/10/2009) The army’s Able Danger data mining program identifies Atta as a member of an al-Qaeda cell centered on Brooklyn. Exactly how it does this is never disclosed, although Atta’s apparent association with Gulshair and Adnan Shukrijumah is one possibile explanation (see January-February 2000).
According to a French intelligence report, in the beginning of 2000 bin Laden meets with Taliban leaders, other al-Qaeda leaders, and armed groups from Chechnya to plan a hijacking, possibly of an airplane flying to the US. They create a list of seven possible airlines to hijack: American, Delta, Continental, United, Air France, Lufthansa, and a vague “US Aero.” The group considers hijacking a US airline flying out of Frankfurt and diverting it to Iran or Afghanistan or hijacking a French or German plane and diverting it to Tajikistan or Afghanistan. The goals are to increase international pressure to force a Russian withdrawal from Chechnya and to force the release of Islamists in US prisons. (Doland 4/16/2007; Le Monde (Paris) 4/17/2007) This latter goal is a likely reference to the Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, as US intelligence repeatedly hears of al-Qaeda hijacking plots to free him (see 1998, March-April 2001, and May 23, 2001). The Chechens are likely connected to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab, who has a long history of collaboration with bin Laden (see 1986-March 19, 2002 and Before April 13, 2001). According to other news reports, in early 2000, the CIA observed Mohamed Atta as he bought large quantities of chemicals in Frankfurt, apparently to build explosives (see January-May 2000), and in February and March 2001, Atta and two associates will apply for a job with Lufthansa Airlines at the Frankfurt airport that would give them access to secure areas of the airport, but apparently none of them are able to get the job (see February 15, 2001). Bin Laden will apparently uphold the decision to go forward with this plot later in 2000 (see October 2000) and the French will continue to report on the plot in January 2001, apparently passing the information to the CIA (see January 5, 2001). But it is unclear what happens after that and if the plot morphs into the 9/11 attacks, is canceled, or was a ruse all along. Some of the 9/11 hijackers fought in Chechnya and therefore might also be linked to Ibn Khattab (see 1996-December 2000).
According to some reports, 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta is put under surveillance by the CIA while living in Germany during this time. (Agence France-Presse 9/22/2001; Elflein et al. 9/24/2001; Forster 9/24/2001) He is “reportedly observed buying large quantities of chemicals in Frankfurt, apparently for the production of explosives [and/or] for biological warfare.” “The US agents reported to have trailed Atta are said to have failed to inform the German authorities about their investigation,” even as the Germans are investigating many of his associates. “The disclosure that Atta was being trailed by police long before 11 September raises the question why the attacks could not have been prevented with the man’s arrest.” (Bright et al. 9/30/2001) A German newspaper adds that Atta is able to get a visa into the US on May 18. According to some reports, the surveillance stops when he leaves for the US at the start of June. However, “experts believe that the suspect [remains] under surveillance in the United States.” (Forster 9/24/2001) A German intelligence official also states, “We can no longer exclude the possibility that the Americans wanted to keep an eye on Atta after his entry in the US.” (Elflein et al. 9/24/2001) This correlates with a Newsweek claim that US officials knew Atta was a “known [associate] of Islamic terrorists well before [9/11].” (Klaidman, Isikoff, and Hosenball 9/20/2001 ) However, a congressional inquiry later reports that the US “intelligence community possessed no intelligence or law enforcement information linking 16 of the 19 hijackers [including Atta] to terrorism or terrorist groups.” (US Congress 9/20/2002) In 2005, after accounts of the Able Danger program learning Atta’s name become news, newspaper accounts will neglect to mention this prior report about Atta being known by US intelligence. For instance, the New York Times will report, “The account [about Able Danger] is the first assertion that Mr. Atta, an Egyptian who became the lead hijacker in the plot, was identified by any American government agency as a potential threat before the Sept. 11 attacks”(see August 9, 2005) . (Jehl 8/9/2005)
A US Army intelligence program called Able Danger identifies five al-Qaeda terrorist cells; one of them has connections to Brooklyn, New York and will become informally known as the “Brooklyn” cell by the Able Danger team. This cell includes 9/11 hijacker leader Mohamed Atta, and three other 9/11 hijackers: Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Nawaf Alhazmi. According to a former intelligence officer who claims he worked closely with Able Danger, the link to Brooklyn is not based upon any firm evidence, but computer analysis that established patterns in links between the four men. “[T]he software put them all together in Brooklyn.” (Jehl 8/9/2005; Washington Times 8/22/2005; Fox News 8/23/2005; Goodwin 9/2005) However, that does not necessarily imply them being physically present in Brooklyn. A lawyer later representing members of Able Danger states, “At no time did Able Danger identify Mohamed Atta as being physically present in the United States.” Furthermore, “No information obtained at the time would have led anyone to believe criminal activity had taken place or that any specific terrorist activities were being planned.” (CNN 9/21/2005; US Congress 9/21/2005) James D. Smith, a contractor working with the unit, discovers Mohamed Atta’s link to al-Qaeda. (Green 9/1/2005) Smith has been using advanced computer software and analysing individuals who are going between mosques. He has made a link between Mohamed Atta and Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, ringleader of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. (Fox News 8/28/2005; Goodwin 9/2005) Atta is said to have some unspecified connection to the Al Farouq mosque in Brooklyn, a hotbed of anti-American sentiment once frequented by Abdul-Rahman, which also contained the notorious Al-Kifah Refugee Center. (Phucas 9/22/2005) Smith obtained Atta’s name and photograph through a private researcher in California who was paid to gather the information from contacts in the Middle East. (Shenon 8/22/2005) Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer claims the photo is not the well-known menacing Florida driver’s license photo of Atta. “This is an older, more grainy photo we had of him. It was not the best picture in the world.” It is said to contain several names or aliases for Atta underneath it. (Shaffer 9/20/2005; Crewdson and Zajac 9/28/2005) LIWA analysts supporting Able Danger make a chart, which Shaffer describes in a radio interview as, “A chart probably about a 2x3 which had essentially five clusters around the center point which was bin Laden and his leadership.” (Shaffer 9/16/2005) The 9/11 Commission later claims that Atta only enters the United States for the first time several months later, in June 2000 (see June 3, 2000). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 224) However, investigations in the months after 9/11 find that Mohamed Atta and another of the hijackers rented rooms in Brooklyn around this time (see Spring 2000). Other newspaper accounts have the CIA monitoring Atta starting in January 2000, while he is living in Germany (see January-May 2000). Atta, Alshehhi, Almihdhar, Alhazmi and other hijackers have connections to associates of Sheikh Abdul-Rahman (see Early 2000-September 10, 2001).
9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, who is under CIA surveillance at this time, begins sending e-mails to US flight schools, inquiring about their pilot training programs. One e-mail states, “We are a small group (2-3) of young men from different Arab [sic] countries.” “Now we are living in Germany since a while for study purposes. We would like to start training for the career of airline professional pilots. In this field we haven’t yet any knowledge, but we are ready to undergo an intensive training program.” Apparently, multiple e-mails are sent from the same Hotmail account. Some e-mails are signed “M. Atta,” while others are signed “Mahmoud Ben Hamad.” (Crewdson, Swanson, and Simpson 2/25/2003) According to the 9/11 Commission, Atta e-mails 31 different US flight schools, and requests details on the cost of training, sources of financing, and accommodation. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 168) On March 23, he e-mails the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma and requests information about their flight training. One recently arrested al-Qaeda operative had trained at this school (see February 23-June 2001), and Zacarias Moussaoui will train there one year later (see February 23-June 2001). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 57 )
Mohamed Atta, along with others of the alleged 9/11 hijackers, is believed by some to have resided in Punta Gorda, Florida before July 2000 (see Before July 2000), prior to his attending flight school in Venice, about 30 miles north of there (see July 6-December 19, 2000). He is also witnessed in Punta Gorda around July-August 2001 (see Mid-July-Mid-August 2001), well after the time he leaves Venice. Additionally, Atta and some other hijackers are reportedly witnessed at the Charlotte County Airport in Punta Gorda. Cathy Mohr, the owner of a cafe there, later says, “The picture [of Atta] in the paper looked really familiar and people from the airport said, ‘Hey you know they were here.’” (Oshier 4/24/2002) After seeing photos of them after 9/11, Frank Cvelbar, whose Aero Precision flight school is based at the airport, believes he has seen four of the alleged hijackers “very occasionally” visiting the airport, shopping in his school’s pilot supplies shop, or hanging around the airport’s lobby. Cvelbar will say he is “very sure” about having seen Atta, and “pretty sure” about seeing Marwan Alshehhi, Saeed Alghamdi, and Ahmed Alnami. (Arnold and Martin 10/3/2001) A salesperson at Eastern Avionics, a vendor at the airport, later recalls Marwan Alshehhi having bought a pilot’s headset from them. After the sale, he starts receiving e-mails, apparently sent by Mohamed Atta (see Before September 11, 2001). After 9/11, the Punta Gorda Police Department will confirm handing over half a dozen pieces of information to the FBI. (Arnold 10/2/2001; Oshier 4/24/2002) Yet according to official accounts, Atta and Alshehhi were only in this area when attending flight school in Venice. (US Congress 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 223-253) When asked to corroborate or refute reports of the hijackers having been in Charlotte County, FBI spokeswoman Sara Oates will only respond, “The FBI has information but the FBI cannot disclose the information because the investigation is pending.” (Arnold and Martin 10/3/2001)
The 9/11 hijackers have links to several people associated with “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdul-Rahman, the spiritual head of the group that bombed the World Trade Center in 1993. Abdul-Rahman has been in prison since the mid-1990s.
9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi attend a mosque in San Diego that is visited by an unnamed associate of Abdul-Rahman who is under investigation by the Los Angeles FBI (see June 1999-March 2000);
The mosque is also attended by Osama Basnan, who threw a party for Abdul-Rahman in 1992 (see Spring 2000);
9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta is seen with Adnan Shukrijumah, son of Abdul-Rahman’s former translator (see May 2, 2001) and Atta and hijacker Marwan Alshehhi may attend a mosque run by his father (see 2000-2001);
Hijacker Mohand Alshehri is seen near the Minnesota clinic where Abdul-Rahman is being held (see August 2001);
Some hijackers have the same mailing address as Abdul-Rahman and at least one of his associates (see Before September 11, 2001);
Khalid Almihdhar and other hijackers obtain false ID cards from Mohamed el-Atriss, an associate of an unindicted co-conspirator at Abdul-Rahman’s trial (see (July-August 2001)); (Lance 2006, pp. 373)
In addition, people attending a Bronx mosque are warned to stay away from lower Manhattan on 9/11 (see Early September 2001).
In early 2000, the Able Danger data-mining program apparently identifies Atta, Alshehhi, Alhazmi, and Almihdhar as members of al-Qaeda through their associations with people linked to Abdul-Rahman (see January-February 2000).
9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Ziad Jarrah are filmed together recording their martyrdom wills in Afghanistan. The video footage will later be captured by US forces in late 2001 and leaked to the media in late 2006 (see September 30, 2006). The footage is significant because it is the only hard evidence that Atta and Jarrah were ever in the same place at the same time. Although the two men were frequently in close proximity to each other, for instance both attended Florida flight schools just a couple of miles apart at around the same time, their paths often just miss each other. However, they appear friendly to each other in this footage, frequently laughing and smiling. Atta reads his will and then Jarrah reads his, but their exact words are unknown since the sound was not recorded and lip-syncing experts apparently failed to understand what they said. (Fouda 10/1/2006)
9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta returns to Germany from Pakistan using the same monitored route as he traveled on the outward journey (see Late November-Early December 1999). He flies from Karachi to Istanbul, Turkey, where he changes planes for Hamburg. Turkish intelligence discovered that militants use this route to travel between Europe and training camps in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s and alerted Germany to it at that time, causing Germany to launch an investigation into one of Atta’s associates (see 1996). However, it is not known whether the intelligence agencies register Atta’s travel at this time. (Laabs 8/13/2003) Fellow alleged 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah appears to be noticed on his way back to Germany from Afghanistan (see January 30, 2000) and another member of the cell, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, may be monitored in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at this time (see January 5-8, 2000).
Mohamed Atta and another of the 9/11 hijackers (presumably Marwan Alshehhi) rent rooms in New York City, according to a federal investigator. These rooms are in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Following 9/11, Atta is traced back to Brooklyn by a parking ticket issued to a rental car he was driving. However, immigration records have Mohamed Atta entering the US for the first time on June 3, 2000 (see June 3, 2000). The Associated Press article on this subject does not specify if Atta first stayed in New York before or after that date. (Milton 12/8/2001) According to a brief mention in the 9/11 Commission’s final report, in the month of June, “As [Atta and Marwan Alshehhi] looked at flight schools on the East Coast, [they] stayed in a series of short-term rentals in New York City.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 224; Eggen 8/13/2005) Earlier in 2000, a US Army intelligence program called Able Danger identified an al-Qaeda terrorist cell based in Brooklyn, of which Atta is a member (see January-February 2000). Also, a number of eyewitnesses later report seeing Atta in Maine and Florida before this official arrival date (see April 2000; Late April-Mid-May 2000).
German intelligence places two members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell, Mounir El Motassadeq and Said Bahaji, on a German watch list. The two men, associates of future 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Ziad Jarrah, had come to the Germans’ attention because of their association with al-Qaeda recruiter Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who they meet regularly. The watchlisting means that their arrivals and departures to and from Germany will be reported immediately. (Cziesche, Mascolo, and Stark 2/3/2003; US Congress 7/24/2003 ) Hamburg cell member Mohammed Haydar Zammar is also placed on a watch list at some point before 9/11 (see Before September 11, 2001). El Motassadeq was first investigated by German authorities in 1998 (see August 29, 1998). Bahaji was the target of a surveillance investigation starting in 1998 as well (see (Late 1998)). Bahaji may have recently traveled to Afghanistan with some associates using a route monitored by European intelligence agencies (see Late November-Early December 1999).
El Motassadeq's Travels Will Be Noticed Three Times - Because he is watchlisted, German intelligence will keep track when El Motassadeq goes to Denmark twice, and when he flies to Istanbul on his way to a training camp in Afghanistan (see May 22, 2000). (New York Times 1/18/2003)
Importance of Watchlisting - Author Terry McDermott will later comment about the watchlisting of El Motassadeq: “In Germany, this was not a casual event. In order to be placed on such lists, intelligence agencies had to go to great lengths to demonstrate to the Bundestag, the German parliament, that the person under question was of potential danger to the state. Being placed on the list indicated that El Motassadeq had been under investigation for some time. In that he was an integral part of the group that included [Atta], [Ramzi bin al-Shibh], and Alshehhi, this at the least implies that they were being watched too.” (McDermott 2005, pp. 73, 297)
James D. Smith is working for the private company Orion Scientific Systems on a contract that assists the Able Danger project. Smith will later claim that around March or April 2000, armed federal agents come into Orion and confiscate much of the data that Orion had compiled for Able Danger. Orion’s contract stops at this time and Smith has no further involvement with Able Danger. However, Smith happens to have some unclassified charts made for Able Danger in the trunk of his car when the agents raid his office. The chart with Mohamed Atta’s picture on it will thus survive and be remembered well by Smith, though it will be destroyed in the summer of 2004 (see August 22-September 1, 2005). Smith will later state, “All information that we have ever produced, which was all unclassified, was confiscated and to this day we don’t know who by.” (US Congress 9/21/2005; US Congress 2/15/2006)
Spruce Whited, director of security for the Portland, Maine Public Library, later says 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and possibly a second hijacker are regulars at the library and frequently use public Internet terminals at this time. He says four other employees recognize Atta as a library patron. “I remember seeing [Atta] in the spring of 2000,” he says. “I have a vague Memory of a second one who turned out to be [Atta’s] cousin.” Whited also says federal authorities have not inquired about the library sightings. Even a year later, he says the FBI does finally speak to librarians, but not in relation to their 9/11 investigation. (Wedge and Farmer 10/5/2001; Portland Press Herald 10/5/2001; Nasrawi 9/9/2002) The library’s executive director says that three other employees came to her saying they had seen Atta about half a dozen times in the spring and summer 2000. (Walsh 9/30/2001) According to the official story, Atta does not arrive in the US until June 3, 2000. (Morgan, Kidwell, and Corral 9/22/2001; Australian Broadcasting Corporation 11/12/2001)
9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta reportedly has a very strange meeting with Johnelle Bryant of the US Department of Agriculture. Incidentally, this meeting takes place one month before the official story claims he arrived in the US for the first time. According to Bryant, in the meeting Atta does all of the following:
He initially refuses to speak with one who is “but a female.”
He asks her for a loan of $650,000 to buy and modify a crop-dusting plane.
He mentions that he wants to “build a chemical tank that would fit inside the aircraft and take up every available square inch of the aircraft except for where the pilot would be sitting.”
He uses his real name even as she takes notes, and makes sure she spells it correctly.
He says he has just arrived from Afghanistan.
He tells about his travel plans to Spain and Germany.
He expresses an interest in visiting New York.
He asks her about security at the WTC and other US landmarks.
He discusses al-Qaeda and its need for American membership.
He tells her bin Laden “would someday be known as the world’s greatest leader.”
He asks to buy the aerial photograph of Washington hanging on her Florida office wall, throwing increasingly large “wads of cash” at her when she refuses to sell it. (Ross 6/6/2002)
After Bryant points out one of the buildings in the Washington photograph as her former place of employment, he asks her, “How would you like it if somebody flew an airplane into your friends’ building?”
He asks her, “What would prevent [me] from going behind [your] desk and cutting [your] throat and making off with the millions of dollars” in the safe behind her.
He asks, “How would America like it if another country destroyed [Washington] and some of the monuments in it like the cities in [my] country had been destroyed?”
He gets “very agitated” when he isn’t given the money in cash on the spot.
Atta later tries to get the loan again from the same woman, this time “slightly disguised” by wearing glasses. Three other terrorists also attempt to get the same loan from Bryant, but all of them fail. Bryant turns them down because they do not meet the loan requirements, and fails to notify anyone about these strange encounters until after 9/11. Government officials not only confirm the account and say that Bryant passed a lie detector test, but also elaborate that the account is consistent with other information they have received from interrogating prisoners. Supposedly, failing to get the loan, the terrorists switched plans from using crop dusters to hijacking aircraft. Other department employees also remember the encounter, again said to take place in April 2000. The 9/11 Commission has failed to mention any aspect of Johnelle Bryant’s account. (Weiss and Blum 9/25/2001; Ross 6/6/2002; Doran 6/8/2002) Compare Atta’s meeting with FBI Director Mueller’s later testimony about the hijackers: “There were no slip-ups. Discipline never broke down. They gave no hint to those around them what they were about.” (CNN 9/28/2002)
Maj. Eric Kleinsmith, chief of intelligence for the Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) unit, is ordered to destroy data and documents related to a military intelligence program set up to gather information about al-Qaeda. The program, called Able Danger, has identified Mohamed Atta and three other future hijackers as potential threats (see January-February 2000). According to Kleinsmith, by April 2000 it has collected “an immense amount of data for analysis that allowed us to map al-Qaeda as a worldwide threat with a surprisingly significant presence within the United States.”(see January-February 2000) (Fox News 9/21/2005; New York Times 9/22/2005) The data is being collected on behalf of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert, the J3 at US Special Operations Command, who is said to be extremely upset when he learns that the data had been destroyed without his knowledge or consent. (US Congress. Senate. Committee on Judiciary 9/21/2005) Around this time, a separate LIWA effort showing links between prominent US citizens and the Chinese military has been causing controversy, and apparently this data faces destruction as well (see April 2000). The data and documents have to be destroyed in accordance with Army regulations prohibiting the retention of data about US persons for longer than 90 days, unless it falls under one of several restrictive categories. However, during a Senate Judiciary Committee public hearing in September 2005, a Defense Department representative admits that Mohamed Atta was not considered a US person. The representative also acknowledges that regulations would have probably allowed the Able Danger information to be shared with law enforcement agencies before its destruction. Asked why this was not done, he responds, “I can’t tell you.” (Broache 9/21/2005) The order to destroy the data and documents is given to Kleinsmith by Army Intelligence and Security Command General Counsel Tony Gentry, who jokingly tells him, “Remember to delete the data—or you’ll go to jail.” (Stirland 9/21/2005) The quantity of information destroyed is later described as “2.5 terabytes,” about as much as one-fourth of all the printed materials in the Library of Congress. (De 9/16/2005) Other records associated with the unit are allegedly destroyed in March 2001 and spring 2004 (see Spring 2004). (Associated Press 9/21/2005; US Congress 9/21/2005; Fox News 9/24/2005)
While 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi are living with FBI informer Abdussattar Shaikh in San Diego (see May 10-Mid-December 2000), they are apparently visited frequently by hijacker Mohamed Atta, as well as hijacker Hani Hanjour, according to neighbors interviewed after 9/11. (KGTV 10 (San Diego) 9/27/2001; Hettena 9/29/2001; Brandon 9/30/2001; KGTV 10 (San Diego) 10/11/2001; Puit and Kalil 10/26/2001) However, Shaikh will deny Atta’s visits and the FBI will not mention them. (Hettena 9/29/2001) Shaikh will also deny having met Hanjour, but the 9/11 Commission will say that it has “little doubt” Shaikh met Hanjour at least once. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 518) The two San Diego-based hijackers also receive a series of mysterious late night visits at this time (see Mid-May-December 2000).
A Pakistani businessman called Mohammed Atta (spelt with three ‘m’s) arrives in Prague aboard a Lufthansa flight from Saudi Arabia via Frankfurt. As he does not have a Czech visa, he is sent back, although he remains in the transit area at Prague Ruzyne airport for six hours. Unfortunately, he spends most of his time at the airport out of range of the security cameras. In the confusion immediately after 9/11, Czech counterintelligence will believe he may be the real lead hijacker Mohamed Atta (spelled with two ‘m’s)—he paid cash for his ticket and names are often spelled wrong—and that he had a meeting that could not wait, although this theory is eventually discounted. The real Mohamed Atta has a Czech visa, but it will not come into effect until the next day. Atta arrives in Prague on June 2 (see June 2-3, 2000). (Epstein 11/19/2003; Crewdson 8/29/2004; Kenety 9/3/2004)
Anonymous government sources later claim that Mohamed Atta visits fellow hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Omar al-Bayoumi. These same sources claim al-Bayoumi is identified after September 11 as an “advance man” for al-Qaeda. (Seper 11/26/2002) Other reports have suggested Atta visited Alhazmi and Almihdhar in San Diego, but the FBI has not confirmed this. (US Congress 7/24/2003 )
In 2002, French author Bernard-Henri Levy is presented evidence by government officials in New Delhi, India, that Saeed Sheikh makes repeated calls to ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed during the summer of 2000. Later, Levy gets unofficial confirmation from sources in Washington regarding these calls that the information he was given in India is correct. He notes that someone in the United Arab Emirates using a variety of aliases sends Mohamed Atta slightly over $100,000 between June and September of this year (see June 29, 2000-September 18, 2000 and (July-August 2000)), and the timing of these phone calls and the money transfers may have been the source of news reports that Mahmood Ahmed ordered Saeed Sheikh to send $100,000 to Mohamed Atta (see October 7, 2001). However, he also notes that there is evidence of Sheikh sending Atta $100,000 in August 2001 (see Early August 2001), so the reports could refer to that, or both $100,000 transfers could involve Mahmood Ahmed, Saeed Sheikh, and Mohamed Atta. (Levy 2003, pp. 320-324)
9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta arrives in the early morning in Prague, Czech Republic, by bus from Cologne, Germany. He plays on slot machines at the Happy Day Casino, then disappears. It will never be discovered where he sleeps in Prague. He takes the midday flight to New York the next day (see June 3, 2000). (Kenety 9/3/2004) After 9/11, this trip will fuel the controversy over whether Atta meets an Iraqi agent in Prague in 2001 (see April 8, 2001 and September 18, 2001-April 2007). It is not entirely clear why Atta chooses to fly to the US from the Czech Republic, although 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will be reported to have lived in Prague in the late 1990s (see Mid-1996-September 11, 2001).
9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta supposedly arrives in the US for the first time, flying from Prague to Newark on a tourist visa issued May 18 in Berlin. (Morgan, Kidwell, and Corral 9/22/2001; Australian Broadcasting Corporation 11/12/2001) Official investigations will late assume that this is the first time Atta was in the US. However, there are reports that he was in the US before this (see September 1999, April 2000, and Late April-Mid-May 2000).
After arriving in the US on May 29 and June 3, 2000, 9/11 hijackers Marwan Alshehhi and Mohamed Atta meet up and reportedly spend all of June in the New York area. The 9/11 Commission later reports them spending the month staying in a series of short-term rentals in New York City while searching for a flight school to attend, e-mailing a New Hampshire school on June 5 and inquiring with a New Jersey school on June 22. A day after arriving in the US, Atta receives a mobile phone he bought listing his address as an Oklahoma flight school he subsequently visits (see July 2-3, 2000). According to the FBI, Alshehhi enrolls at an English language school, and the pair remains in the area until July 2. (US Congress 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 519) However, some accounts suggest they leave before this. According to the owner of the Venice, Florida flight school subsequently attended by Atta and Alshehhi, the pair first visits his school on July 1. (US Congress 3/19/2002) And according to the later statement of a local sheriff, some of the hijackers, including Atta, may live and take flight training in Punta Gorda, Florida, prior to moving to Venice (see Before July 2000). After 9/11, a federal investigator will reveal that Atta and Alshehhi rented rooms in the Bronx and Brooklyn in spring 2000. Whether this included the period prior to when Atta officially first entered the US, in June, is unstated (see Spring 2000). (Milton 12/8/2001)
While in the US, future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta generally makes phone calls using pay phones with a variety of prepaid calling cards. One day after arriving in New York City on June 3, 2000 (see June 3, 2000), Atta buys a cell phone and calling card at a store in Manhattan. Later in the month, he uses the phone to make more than a dozen calls to al-Qaeda facilitator Ali Abdul Aziz Ali in the Middle East (see June 28-30, 2000). But after about a month, he stops using that phone, and uses pay phones and more difficult to trace prepaid calling cards for his overseas calls. For instance, from February 10 to 12, 2001, he makes a series of calls to his relatives in Egypt (mother, father, sister, and grandfather) from a pay phone in Georgia. At the same time, he generally uses a cell phone to make calls within the US. For instance, he leases a cell phone from January 2001 to the end of May 2001, and he uses others. Other hijackers, like Marwan Alshehhi and Hani Hanjour, also have their own cell phones for calls inside the US. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 69 ; Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 119, 124, 147 ; Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001 ) But the hijackers use pay phones with prepaid calling cards often. Investigators will later determine that the hijackers used at least 133 different prepaid calling cards, making them hard to track. (Bamford 2008, pp. 53)
From June 28 to 30, 2000, there are over a dozen calls from future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta’s cell phone in New York to the home phone of 9/11 facilitator Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (a.k.a. Ammar al-Baluchi) in the United Arab Emirates. Ali is the nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. On June 29, Ali sends $5,000 to 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi in the US, and more money from Ali to the hijackers follows over the next few months (see June 29, 2000-September 18, 2000). Ali will later be imprisoned by the US. In a 2007 tribunal hearing, in proclaiming his innocence, he will admit the calls and money transfers took place, but say that he spoke to Alshehhi, and he thought Alshehhi was just a businessman (see March 30, 2007). Atta and Alshsehhi are traveling together at the time. (US Department of Defense 4/12/2007 ) It seems probable that US investigators will later learn of these calls because they are one of the rare times Atta’s cell phone is used for overseas calls (instead of using pay phones), and thus they show up on phone records (see June 4, 2000-September 11, 2001).
Some 9/11 hijackers open bank accounts in Florida around the time they start flight training there (see July 6-December 19, 2000). Ziad Jarrah opens an account at the First Florida National Bank with a $2,000 deposit and, nine days later, hijacker pilots Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi open a joint account at SunTrust Bank in Venice, Florida. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 139 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia; Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 ) It is unclear whether more accounts are opened at this time, although the New York Times will also say that an account is opened with the Century Bank and that money is paid into this account from abroad (see (July-August 2000)). (van Natta, and Zernike 11/4/2001) It will initially be claimed that the hijackers provide fake and randomly made up social security numbers. (Risen 7/10/2002) However, the 9/11 Commission will say that they did not present or give false numbers, but that in some cases bank employees completed the social security number field with a hijacker’s date of birth or visa control number. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 140 ) Reports of the number of accounts the hijackers open in the US vary over time (see Late-September 2001-August 2004), although the hijackers are known to have had several other bank accounts (see February 4, 2000, Early September 2000, May 1-July 18, 2001 and June 27-August 23, 2001).
Hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi receive a series of five money transfers from the United Arab Emirates:
On June 29, $5,000 is wired by a person using the alias “Isam Mansur” to a Western Union facility in New York, where Alshehhi picks it up;
On July 18, $10,000 is wired to Atta and Alshehhi’s joint account at SunTrust from the UAE Exchange Centre in Bur Dubai by a person using the alias “Isam Mansur”;
On August 5, $9,500 is wired to the joint account from the UAE Exchange Centre by a person using the alias “Isam Mansour”;
On August 29, $20,000 is wired to the joint account from the UAE Exchange Centre by a person using the alias “Mr. Ali”;
On September 17 $70,000 is wired to the joint account from the UAE Exchange Centre by a person using the alias “Hani (Fawar Trading).” Some sources suggest a suspicious activity report was generated about this transaction (see (Late September 2000)). (Willman 11/29/2001; Beith 12/2/2001; Eichenwald 12/10/2001; MSNBC 12/11/2001; US Congress 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 134-5 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia; Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 ) Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar previously received a transfer from the United Arab Emirates from a “Mr. Ali” (see April 16-18, 2000). The 9/11 Commission say this money was sent by Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (a.k.a. Ammar al-Baluchi), a nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 133-5 ) Although he denies making the $5,000 transfer to Nawaf Alhazmi, Ali will admit sending Alshehhi these amounts and say that the money was Alshehhi’s (see March 30, 2007). He also admits receiving 16 phone calls from Alshehhi around this time (see June 4, 2000-September 11, 2001). (US Department of Defense 4/12/2007 ) The hijackers may also receive another $100,000 around this time (see (July-August 2000)). It is suggested that Saeed Sheikh, who wires the hijackers money in the summer of 2001 (see Early August 2001), may be involved in one or both of these transfers. For example, French author Bernard-Henri Levy later claims to have evidence from sources inside both Indian and US governments of phone calls between Sheikh and Mahmood Ahmed, head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, during this same time period, and he sees a connection between the timing of the calls and the money transfers (see Summer 2000). (Swami 10/13/2001; Kak 10/18/2001; Levy 2003, pp. 320-324)
In the weeks after 9/11, Sheriff William E. Clement will say he believes some of the 9/11 hijackers, including Mohamed Atta, resided in the area of Punta Gorda, Florida, and attended a flight school at Charlotte County Airport. Clement will say that some local businesses recognize Atta from pictures shown after 9/11, and say he may have used an alias. According to Clement, “It looks like some of these terrorists were here and then went to Venice.” (Arnold 9/21/2001) Along with hijacker Marwan Alshehhi, Atta moves to Venice, about 30 miles north of Punta Gorda, at the beginning of July (see July 1-3, 2000). Yet, according to official accounts, Atta first enters the US on June 3, 2000, and, along with Alshehhi, remains in the New York area until the start of July (see June 2000).
According to some media reports, 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta receives around $100,000 in wire transfers from abroad around this time, as does Marwan Alshehhi. The New York Times will write: “The money for the operation began arriving… in the summer of 2000. Mr. Atta received slightly more than $100,000, Mr. Shehhi just less than that amount.” (van Natta, and Zernike 11/4/2001; Eichenwald 12/10/2001) The Financial Times will say Atta “received $109,440 in four wire transfers from the United Arab Emirates,” and Marwan Alshehhi “also received wire transfers totaling $100,000 over several months.” (Griffith, Speigel, and Williamson 11/29/2001) PBS comments, “The FBI now says Atta and Alshehhi were being fed streams of money from abroad, eventually more than $100,000 each.” (PBS 1/17/2002) However, the 9/11 Commission will only mention an amount of approximately $100,000 that is paid into a joint account of which Alshehhi is the main holder (see June 29, 2000-September 18, 2000). Some other transfers to the hijackers are also reported, but not confirmed on-the-record by US authorities (see June 2000-August 2001).
9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi move from New York to Venice, Florida. (Chicago Sun-Times 9/16/2001) They arrive at Huffman Aviation, a flying school at Venice Municipal Airport, on July 1, according to the school’s owner Rudi Dekkers, inquiring about taking lessons there. They are reported to also check out a flight school in Oklahoma at the beginning of this month (see July 2-3, 2000). They then return to Huffman—on July 3 according the Dekkers—and begin flight instruction, subsequently enrolling in the school’s Accelerated Pilot Program. When they register at the school, Atta and Alshehhi use their real names. Dekkers later states that they say they are unhappy with a flying school they attended up north, though he gives no details about the identity of this school. It will later be claimed that Atta and Alshehhi attended a flight school in Punta Gorda before moving to Venice (see Before July 2000). However, Punta Gorda is south, not north, of Venice. Paying by check, Atta will give $18,703.50 in total for his lessons, while Alshehhi gives $20,917.63. The money necessary to cover their training is sent to them in a series of transfers from Dubai (see June 29, 2000-September 18, 2000). (Fainaru and Whoriskey 9/19/2001; Goldstein 9/30/2001; US Congress 3/19/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 224; Martin 7/25/2004) Huffman’s owner Rudi Dekkers has what the St. Petersburg Times will describe as “a long history of troubled businesses, run-ins with the Federal Aviation Administration and numerous lawsuits.” (Martin 7/25/2004) After 9/11 he will face even more lawsuits (see August 23, 2001-April 2004).
9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi, who are looking for a flight school to attend, visit the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma, to evaluate its training program. Atta had e-mailed the school in April 2000, requesting information. On June 4, 2000, the day after he arrived in the US, he’d received a prepaid cellular telephone from Voicestream Wireless, which he’d purchased actually listing Airman Flight School as his address. The pair stay the night of July 2 at the school’s dormitory in the nearby Sooner Inn, as is shown by documents, including the hotel’s guest list. The next day they take a tour of the school, reportedly lasting “maybe an hour,” before deciding not to attend. (Cullen and Ranalli 9/18/2001; Fainaru and Whoriskey 9/19/2001; US Congress 9/26/2002; McKenna 3/16/2004; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/7/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/7/2006) Several months later, al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui will attend Airman, and other Islamic extremists have previously attended the school (see February 23-June 2001). Shohaib Nazir Kassam, a student at the time of Atta and Alshehhi’s visit, will recall bumping into them when they are being given their tour. Kassam subsequently becomes a flight instructor and is Zacarias Moussaoui’s primary instructor at Airman. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/7/2006) Brenda Keene, Airman’s admissions director who gives Atta and Alshehhi their tour, says during the 2006 Moussaoui trial that she does not recall doing so. But, she adds, “After 9/11 and [Atta’s] picture was everywhere, he’s got a very distinctive face, and then I do remember seeing him at the school. I don’t recall anything in specific about… the tour, but just remembered his face.” (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/8/2006) Atta and Alshehhi subsequently start lessons at Huffman Aviation in Venice, Florida (see July 1-3, 2000). In August 2001, they will allegedly be witnessed at an Oklahoma City hotel together with Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 1, 2001).
Having arrived in Venice, Florida, to take flying lessons, 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi rent a room in the south Venice home of Charles Voss, a bookkeeper at Huffman Aviation, and his wife Drucilla. They arrive in a rental car, but later in the week buy a red 1989 Pontiac, which they register to the Voss’s address. They are found to be unpleasant and messy guests, and after a week are asked to leave. Drucilla Voss later says, “We never talked. They ate all their meals out and really spent all their time in their room.” She describes them as “very sarcastic,” and says, “They gave me the impression they didn’t care much for women.” (Arnold 9/13/2001; Arnold 9/13/2001; Chicago Sun-Times 9/16/2001; Freedberg 9/27/2001; Wall Street Journal 10/16/2001)
9/11 hijackers Marwan Alshehhi and Mohamed Atta attend Huffman Aviation, a flight school in Venice, Florida and enroll in its Accelerated Pilot Program, aiming to get commercial pilot licenses. According to the school’s owner Rudi Dekkers, Atta already has a private pilot’s license—though where and how he gained this is unstated—and wants to obtain a commercial license. Alshehhi wants to obtain both licenses. They begin their training in a Cessna 172 with instructor Thierry Leklou. According to the 9/11 Commission, by the end of July both are already taking solo flights. However, in August Leklou complains to Chief Flight Instructor Daniel Pursell that the two are failing to follow instructions and have bad attitudes. Pursell considers expelling them, but, according to Dekkers, after a warning they improve their behavior and continue without further problems. (US Congress 3/19/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 224, 227; Martin 7/25/2004) Yet Pursell later testifies that the school’s instructors breathed “a collective sigh of relief” when the two left Huffman. (Associated Press 3/23/2006) Furthermore, reportedly, “Atta and al-Shehhi would rent a plane from Huffman and be gone for days at a time, Pursell said. They could fly to 20 airports across the state and never be noticed.” (Martin 7/25/2004) Mark Mikarts, another of the school’s instructors, says Atta has “big problems with authority,” and doesn’t take instructions well. (Mollenkamp et al. 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 17 ) Susan Hall, Huffman’s office manager, refers to Atta as “the little terrorist” while he is at the school, because, she later says, “I just didn’t like the aura he gave off.” (Reuters 3/22/2006) In the middle of their training, in late September, Atta and Alshehhi enroll at another flight school, in nearby Sarasota. However, they are soon asked to leave it, and return to Huffman in October (see Late September-Early October 2000). While Atta and Alshehhi attend Huffman Aviation, another of the alleged hijackers, Ziad Jarrah, is taking lessons at a flight school just down the road from them (see (June 28-December 2000)). Yet no reports describe the three ever meeting up while they are all in Venice. According to official accounts, Atta and Alshehhi complete their schooling at Huffman on December 19, 2000, when they take their commercial pilot license tests. Rudi Dekkers says that after returning to the school to settle their bills, they leave and are never seen there again. (US Congress 3/19/2002; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 17 ) Yet Daniel Pursell will later allege that early in 2001 the two are still connected with Huffman, being reported to the school for practicing nighttime landings in one of its planes at another Florida airport (see Between January and February 2001).
While attending flight school in Venice, Florida (see July 6-December 19, 2000), Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi regularly visit a couple of local bars. Most nights, after flying classes, they drink beer at the Outlook. They are observed there as being well dressed and well spoken. Atta comes across as cold and unfriendly, and is disapproving of the presence of women servers behind the bar. Bartender Lizsa Lehman will later say that, after the 9/11 attacks, “I remember thinking that [Atta] was capable of everything they had said was done.” In contrast, Alshehhi is “friendly and jovial and… always eager to interact with bartenders and patrons.” Lehman later says, “I, to this day, have trouble seeing [Alshehhi] doing it [i.e., participating in 9/11].” (Whittle, Laroe, and Allen 9/10/2006; Allen 9/10/2006) Atta and several friends are also regulars at the 44th Aero Squadron bar. The group drinks Bud Light, talks quietly, and stays sober. The bar’s owner, Ken Schortzmann, says Atta has “a fanny pack with a big roll of cash in it,” and comments, “I never had any problems with them.… They… didn’t drink heavily or flirt with the waitresses, like some of the other flight students.” While he regularly goes to these bars during this period, Atta never visits any of the three mosques in Southwest Florida, and avoids contact with local Muslims. (Thomas and Hosenball 9/24/2001; Davis 9/28/2001) Interestingly, other witnesses later describe Atta as possibly doing drugs as well. The owner of a unit of apartments where Atta reportedly lived with some other Middle Eastern men in late 2000 (see (Mid-July 2000 - Early January 2001)) says these men smoked a strange tobacco, which smelled like marijuana. (Arnold and Overbey 9/14/2001) Atta may also be a heavy smoker, as he is reported to spend his time “chain smoking,” when later living in Coral Springs. (Sunday Times (London) 2/3/2002)
While attending Huffman Aviation flight school in Venice, Florida, alleged 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi move into a small, furnished two-bedroom house in Nokomis, about ten miles north of Venice, which they rent for $550 per month. Noting that Atta and Alshehhi also drive a ten-year-old car, Steve Kona, who owns the house, later says, “This house is nothing extravagant at all… It’s not like they were living in a $3,000-a-month rental home and driving a Mercedes.” (Markon et al. 9/20/2001; Freedberg 9/27/2001) Kona says, “Atta I never met.” But he talks to Alshehhi “two or three times because I’d go to mow the grass. He was very friendly.” The pair refuses Kona’s offer of free cable TV, don’t use the house’s air conditioning, even in the middle of summer, and leave the place in spotless condition. Although they rent the house for as long as six months, Jeff Duignan, who lives next door, later says, “I never saw them, and when you don’t see them you don’t worry about them.” (Wexler et al. 9/14/2001; Morgan and Brinkley-Rogers 9/15/2001; Davis 9/16/2001; Whittle 9/10/2006) This apparent absence could be explained by the fact that, according to several witnesses, over about this same duration they live in an apartment in Venice (see (Mid-July 2000 - Early January 2001)). Atta and Alshehhi were evicted from their previous address, in Venice (see Early July 2000). When Rudi Dekkers, the owner of Huffman Aviation, testifies before Congress in 2002, he will claim, “After their eviction there was no mention of where they were staying.” (US Congress 3/19/2002) No explanation is ever given as to why they have two separate residences at the same time. However, a private consumer database will later reveal that Atta had 12 addresses, including two places where he lived and ten safe houses, so the Nokomis address could possibly be one of these safe houses (see Mid-September 2001). Interestingly, another hijacker, Ziad Jarrah, also has a second residence he never stays at while he attends flight school in Venice (see (June 28-December 2000)).
While attending Huffman Aviation flight school in Venice, Florida, 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi share a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with four other Middle Eastern flight school students in unit 26 of the Sandpiper Apartments, near the Venice airport. The apartment they are in is rented by the flight school, and then sublet to its students at a profit. After 9/11, Paula Grapentine, who along with her husband manages the apartments, will remember Atta being her former next-door neighbor. She recalls him being “very unfriendly,” and that he “treated women like they were under him.” She also recalls “a lot of visitors” at the apartment. As a consequence of the students’ unruly behavior, the Grapentines will subsequently stop renting to Huffman Aviation. Vicky Kyser, who owns the apartment complex, says the students smoke a strange tobacco, which smells like marijuana. Postal carrier Neil Patton also later recalls Atta and Alshehhi living in the apartment, and says Atta may have gone by the name Youseff. Patton stops delivering mail to them at the apartment on January 18, 2001, which he says suggests they moved out seven to ten days earlier. After 9/11, the Charlotte Sun will obtain a written list of names of individuals the FBI is pursuing: Gamil, Rami, Mukadam, Ibrahim and Mogadem. Patton confirms all these having been used by the students at the apartment. (Arnold 9/14/2001; Arnold and Overbey 9/14/2001) No mention is made of this residence in official accounts, such as the 9/11 Commission Report. (US Congress 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 224-227) Over about the same period as they reportedly live in the Sandpiper Apartments, Atta and Alshehhi rent a house in nearby Nokomis, although their next-door neighbor there never sees them at the house (see (Mid-July - December 2000)).
At Huffman Aviation flying school, 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi pass various pilots’ tests. On August 14, 2000, according to the 9/11 Commission, they pass their private pilot airplane tests, with Atta scoring 97 out of 100 and Alshehhi scoring 83. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 12 ) However, Huffman’s owner Rudi Dekkers will later testify before Congress that Atta already had a private pilot’s license when he first arrived at the school, six weeks previously (see July 1-3, 2000). (US Congress 3/19/2002) Despite having failed their Stage I exam for instruments rating at nearby Jones Aviation a month earlier (see Late September-Early October 2000), on November 6 Atta and Alshehhi pass their instrument rating airplane tests at Huffman, scoring 90 and 75 respectively. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 15 ) On December 19 they pass their commercial pilot license tests, thus completing their training, with Atta scoring 93 and Alshehhi scoring 73. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 17 ) (According to a 2005 Federal Aviation Administration factsheet, the passing score for all the pilot tests Atta and Alshehhi take is 70. Presumably this is also the case in 2000. (Administration 3/2005 ) ) Yet one fellow student who witnesses the pair at Huffman on an almost daily basis later states that, while he always accompanied Atta during his flying lessons, she never saw Alshehhi at the controls of the training aircraft. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation 10/18/2001) Rudi Dekkers will state, “I have heard from the instructors that they were average students, the examiner told me the same.” (Australian Broadcasting Corporation 10/21/2001) The local FAA designated examiner Dave Whitman is responsible for testing Atta and Alshehhi. He issues them temporary 120-day licenses allowing them to fly small, twin-engine planes. He will later say he assumes the FAA made their licenses permanent, as he was not notified otherwise. He says, “I don’t even remember them, specifically. They were foreign students, and foreign students often tend to keep to themselves.” (USA Today 9/13/2001; Chicago Sun-Times 9/16/2001; US Congress 3/19/2002)
In order to enter a professional flight training program, 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi are required to apply for student visas. They are currently in the US on tourist visas, attending Huffman Aviation flight school in Venice, Florida (see July 6-December 19, 2000). On August 29, 2000, according to the school’s owner Rudi Dekkers, Huffman’s student coordinator Nicole Antini sends I-20M forms demonstrating Atta and Alshehhi’s enrollment at the school to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. She also sends copies of their passports. Their forms state, “The student is expected to report to the school not later than Sept. 1, 2000, and complete studies not later than Sept. 1, 2001.” (McIntyre 3/13/2002; US Congress 3/19/2002) However, the 9/11 Commission claims that the forms are filled out later, on September 15. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 224; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 13 ) Interestingly, considering these contradictory dates, Antini later tells the FBI that on “one occasion, Atta was very upset with the date of his visa and wanted it changed,” though he did not say what upset him about the date or why he wanted it changed. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 38 ) Huffman only receives notification that the INS has approved the visa applications 18 months later, well after 9/11 (see March 11, 2002). Atta and Alshehhi will be cleared to stay in the US until October 1, 2001. (McIntyre 3/13/2002)
According to an anonymous Able Danger official speaking to the Bergen Record, a US Army intelligence unit tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda networks worldwide discovers that several of the 9/11 hijackers are taking rooms at motels in New Jersey and meeting together there. The intelligence unit, called Able Danger, which uses high-speed computers to analyze vast amounts of data, notices that Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi take a room at the Wayne Inn (see (Before September 2000-12 Months Later)). After the existence of the Able Danger unit comes to light in 2005, Bergen Record columnist and reporter Mike Kelly says, “The connect-the-dots tracking by the team was so good that it even knew Atta conducted meetings with the three future hijackers. One of those meetings took place at the Wayne Inn. That’s how close all this was—to us and to being solved, if only the information had been passed up the line to FBI agents or even to local cops. This new piece of 9/11 history, revealed only last week by a Pennsylvania congressman and confirmed by two former members of the intelligence team, could turn out to be one of the most explosive revelations since the publication last summer of the 9/11 commission report.” (Kelly 8/14/2005) The other two hijackers said to be present at the meetings, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, periodically live in the town of Paterson, only one mile away from Wayne (see March 2001-September 1, 2001). However, contradicting this account, a lawyer representing members of Able Danger later testifies, “At no time did Able Danger identify Mohamed Atta as being physically present in the United States.” (CNN 9/21/2005; US Congress 9/21/2005) Some media accounts have stated that the Able Danger program determined Atta was in the US before 9/11. For instance, Fox News reported in August 2005, “[Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer] is standing by his claim that he told them that the lead hijacker in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks had been identified in the summer of 2000 as an al-Qaeda operative living in the United States.” (Fox News 8/17/2005)
In 2003, New Jersey state police officials say 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta lived in the Wayne Inn, in Wayne, New Jersey, for an unspecified 12-month period prior to 9/11. He lives with one other hijacker who is presumably his usual partner hijacker Marwan Alshehhi. (Alshehhi is seen eating in nearby restaurants with Atta.) (Diamond 6/20/2003) In 2004, an unnamed whistleblower involved in the Able Danger program will claim that prior to 9/11, Able Danger discovered that Atta and Alshehhi were renting a room at the Wayne Inn, and occasionally meeting with Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar at the inn or near it (see (Before September 2000)). From March 2001 onwards, other hijackers, including Alhazmi and Almihdhar, live in Paterson, New Jersey, only one mile away from Wayne (see March 2001-September 1, 2001). Nawaf Alhazmi and Salem Alhazmi rent mailboxes in Wayne at some unknown point before 9/11. Nawaf Alhazmi and Hani Hanjour rent cars from a Wayne car dealership between June and August 2001. There is also evidence Nawaf Alhazmi and Marwan Alshehhi shop in Wayne. (Feyerick and Hirschkorn 9/26/2001; Weiner and Weiser 9/27/2001) The 9/11 Commission does not mention any hijacker connection to Wayne. This long-term stay in Wayne is surprising because Atta and Alshehhi have generally been placed in Florida most of the time from July 2000 until shortly before 9/11. However, this discrepancy may be explained by one account which states Atta had “two places he lived and 10 safe houses” in the US (see Mid-September 2001).
Writing in 2004, veteran British intelligence officer Colonel John Hughes-Wilson will note that, at the same time as hijacker pilots Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi are learning to fly at Huffmann Aviation in Venice, Florida (see July 6-December 19, 2000), “A CIA front company called Air Caribe was also operating out of the very same hangar at Venice airport.” He will go on to comment that “this highly curious coincidence must inevitably raise some suspicions of just how much the CIA really did know before 9/11. Was the CIA trying to infiltrate and ‘double’ the US-based al-Qaeda cell, in the hope of using it against Osama bin Laden’s organization in the future?” (Hughes-Wilson 2004, pp. 391) The Air Caribe story is originally broken by investigative reporter Daniel Hopsicker, who will publish a book about Atta’s time in Florida in 2004 (see March 2004).
Members of a US Army intelligence unit tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda have prepared a chart that includes the names and photographs of four future hijackers, who they have identified as members of an al-Qaeda cell based in Brooklyn, New York. The four hijackers in the cell are Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Nawaf Alhazmi. The members of the intelligence unit, called Able Danger, present their chart at the headquarters of the US military’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in Tampa, Florida, with the recommendation that the FBI should be called in to take out the al-Qaeda cell. Lawyers working for SOCOM argue that anyone with a green card has to be granted the same legal protections as any US citizen, so the information about the al-Qaeda cell cannot be shared with the FBI. The legal team directs them to put yellow stickers over the photographs of Mohamed Atta and the other cell members, to symbolize that they are off limits. (Phucas 6/19/2005; Goodwin 8/2005; Jehl 8/9/2005; Garza 8/10/2005; Shenon 8/17/2005; Goodwin 9/2005) Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer later says that an unnamed two-star general above him is “very adamant” about not looking further at Atta. “I was directed several times [to ignore Atta], to the point where he had to remind me he was a general and I was not… [and] I would essentially be fired.” (Fox News 8/19/2005) Military leaders at the meeting take the side of the lawyers and prohibit any sharing of information about the al-Qaeda cell. Shaffer believes that the decision to side with the lawyers is made by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert (who had previously expressed distress when Able Danger data was destroyed without his prior notification (see May-June 2000)). He also believes that Gen. Peter Schoomaker, head of SOCOM, is not aware of the decision. (Goodwin 9/2005)
On three occasions, military lawyers force members of Able Danger to cancel scheduled meetings with the FBI at the last minute. Able Danger officials want to share information about the Brooklyn al-Qaeda cell they believe they’ve discovered which includes Mohamed Atta and other hijackers (see January-February 2000). The exact timing of these meetings remains unclear, but they appear to happen around the time military lawyers tell Able Danger they are not allowed to pursue Mohamed Atta and other figures (see September 2000) . (Goodwin 9/2005) In 2005, it will be reported that Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer contacted FBI agent Xanthig Magnum in attempts to set up these meetings. Magnum is willing to testify about her communications with Shaffer, but apparently she has not yet been able to do so. (Fox News 8/28/2005) Shaffer will later elaborate that the meetings were set up around early summer. Col. Worthington, then head of Able Danger, is one of the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) officials scheduled to meet with FBI Counterterrorism agents. Shaffer ater claims the meetings were cancelled because “SOCOM lawyers would not permit the sharing of the US person information regarding terrorists located domestically due to ‘fear of potential blowback’ should the FBI do something with the information and something should go wrong. The lawyers were worried about another ‘Waco’ situation (see April 19, 1993). The critical counterterrorism information is never passed from SOCOM to the FBI before 9-11; this information did include the original data regarding Atta and the terrorist cells in New York and the DC area.” (US Congress 2/15/2006 ) Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA), who in 2005 helps bring to light the existence of the program, says, “Obviously, if we had taken out that cell, 9/11 would not have occurred and, certainly, taking out those three principal players in that cell would have severely crippled, if not totally stopped, the operation that killed 3,000 people in America.” (Goodwin 8/2005)