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Profile: Mohammed Azmath
Mohammed Azmath was a participant or observer in the following events:
The FBI claims on this day that there were six hijacking teams on the morning of 9/11. [New York Times, 9/19/2001; Guardian, 10/13/2001] A different report claims investigators are privately saying eight. [Independent, 9/25/2001] However, the reports below suggest there may have been as many as nine aborted flights, leading to a potential total of 13 hijackings:
Knives of the same type used in the successful hijackings were found taped to the backs of fold-down trays on a Continental Airlines flight from Newark. [Guardian, 9/19/2001]
The FBI is investigating American Airlines Flight 43, which was scheduled to leave Boston about 8:10 a.m. bound for Los Angeles but was canceled minutes before takeoff due to a mechanical problem. [BBC, 9/18/2001; Chicago Tribune, 9/18/2001; Guardian, 9/19/2001] Another version claims the flight left from Newark and made it as far as Cincinnati before being grounded in the nationwide air ban. [New York Times, 9/19/2001]
Knives and box cutters were found on two separate canceled Delta Airlines planes later that day, one leaving Atlanta for Brussels and the other leaving from Boston. [Time, 9/22/2001; Independent, 9/25/2001]
On September 14, two knives were found on an Air Canada flight that would have flown to New York on 9/11 if not for the air ban. [CNN, 10/15/2001]
Two men arrested on 9/11 may have lost their nerve on American Airlines Flight 1729 from Newark to San Antonio via Dallas that was scheduled to depart at 8:50 a.m., and was later forced to land in St. Louis. Alternately, they may have been planning an attack for September 15, 2001. Their names are Mohammed Azmath and Ayub Ali Khan, whose real name according to later reports is Syed Gul Mohammad Shah. [New York Times, 9/19/2001]
There may have been an attempt to hijack United Airlines Flight 23 flying from JFK Airport, New York to Los Angeles around 9:00 a.m. Shortly after 9:00 a.m., United Airlines flight dispatcher Ed Ballinger sent out a warning about the first WTC crash to the flights he was handling (see 9:19 a.m. September 11, 2001). Because of this warning, the crew of Flight 23 told the passengers it had a mechanical problem and immediately returned to the gate. Ballinger was later told by authorities that six men initially wouldn’t get off the plane. When the men finally disembarked, they disappeared into the crowd and never returned. Later, authorities checked their luggage and found copies of the Koran and al-Qaeda instruction sheets. [Associated Press, 9/14/2001; Chicago Daily Herald, 4/14/2004] In mid-2002, a NORAD deputy commander says “we don’t know for sure” if Flight 23 was to have been hijacked. [Globe and Mail, 6/13/2002]
According to anonymous FAA officials, a plane bound for Chicago, home of the Sears Tower, could have been another target for hijacking. The plane landed unexpectedly at the Cleveland airport after the FAA initiated a national ground stop. Four Middle Eastern men had deplaned and left the airport before officials could detain them for questioning. [Freni, 2003, pp. 81]
A box cutter knife was found under a seat cushion on American Airlines Flight 160, a 767 that would have flown from San Diego to New York on the morning of 9/11 but for the air ban. [Chicago Tribune, 9/23/2001]
The FBI is said to be seeking a number of passengers who failed to board the same, rescheduled flights when the grounding order on commercial planes in the US was lifted. [BBC, 9/18/2001] The Independent points out suspicions have been fueled “that staff at US airports may have played an active role in the conspiracy and helped the hijackers to circumvent airport security.” They also note, “It is possible that at least some of the flights that have come under scrutiny were used as decoys, or as fallback targets.” [Independent, 9/25/2001]
The contents of the anthrax letter to the New York Post. [Source: FBI]The New York Times suggests there could be a link between the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) and the 9/11 hijackers. The Times reports that investigators “say they suspect that the rash of contaminated letters is related to the Sept. 11 attacks and are investigating the possibility that al-Qaeda confederates of the hijackers are behind the incidents.… Senior government officials said investigators were focusing on the ability of the hijackers or their accomplices to obtain highly refined anthrax from a foreign or domestic supplier. While they have not ruled out the possibility that another criminal could be behind the anthrax attacks, investigators are looking intensely at evidentiary threads linking the letters to the hijackers.”
Little to No Evidence behind this Theory - FBI agents are said to have recently searched the Jersey City home of three men arrested on suspicion of links to the 9/11 attacks after learning they kept some magazines and newspaper articles about biological warfare there. These men include Ayub Ali Khan and Mohammed Azmath. Both men will later be cleared of having any al-Qaeda ties (see October 20, 2001). The hijackers did show some interest in crop dusters, which could be used in a biological attack, but a senior government official says no actual evidence has appeared linking any of the hijackers to the anthrax attacks in any way.
Domestic Loner Theory - The article notes that the FBI is also pursuing a competing theory, “that a disgruntled employee of a domestic laboratory that uses anthrax carried out the attacks.” However, no evidence has emerged yet to support this.
Iraq Not Likely - The article is dismissive of theories that Iraq or another foreign government was behind the attacks. It notes that the anthrax letters used the Ames strain of anthrax, and experts say the Iraqi government never obtained that strain. For instance, former UN weapons inspector Richard Spertzel says, “The Iraqis tried to get it but didn’t succeed.” [New York Times, 10/19/2001]
Mohammed Azmath, left, and Syed Gul Mohammad Shah/ Ayub Ali Khan, right. [Source: Associated Press]The New York Times reports that, although 830 people have been arrested in the 9/11 terrorism investigation (a number that eventually exceeds between 1,200 and 2,000 (see November 5, 2001), there is no evidence that anyone now in custody was a conspirator in the 9/11 attacks. Furthermore, “none of the nearly 100 people still being sought by the [FBI] is seen as a major suspect.” Of all the people arrested, only four, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ayub Ali Khan, Mohammed Azmath, and Nabil al-Marabh, are likely connected to al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 10/21/2001] Three of those are later cleared of ties to al-Qaeda. After being kept in solitary confinement for more than eight months without seeing a judge or being assigned a lawyer, al-Marabh pleads guilty to the minor charge of entering the United States illegally (see September 3, 2002) and is deported to Syria (see January 2004). There is considerable evidence al-Marabh did have ties to al-Qaeda and even the 9/11 plot (see September 2000; January 2001-Summer 2001; January 2001-Summer 2001; Spring 2001; Early September 2001). [Washington Post, 6/12/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 8/27/2002] On September 12, 2002, after a year in solitary confinement and four months before he was able to contact a lawyer, Mohammed Azmath pleads guilty to one count of credit card fraud, and is released with time served. Ayub Ali Khan, whose real name is apparently Syed Gul Mohammad Shah, is given a longer sentence for credit card fraud, but is released and deported by the end of 2002. [Village Voice, 9/25/2002; New York Times, 12/31/2002] By December 2002, only 6 are known to still be in custody, and none have been charged with any terrorist acts (see December 11, 2002). On September 24, 2001, Newsweek reported that “the FBI has privately estimated that more than 1,000 individuals—most of them foreign nationals—with suspected terrorist ties are currently living in the United States.” [Newsweek, 10/1/2001]
A Washington Post article hints at the US government’s use rendition and torture. It refers to four suspects out of the hundreds arrested in the US—Zacarias Moussaoui, Nabil al-Marabh, Ayub Ali Khan, and Mohammed Azmath—who may actually have links to al-Qaeda (see October 20, 2001). The article quotes an “experienced FBI agent involved in the investigation,” who says: “We are known for humanitarian treatment, so basically we are stuck.… Usually there is some incentive, some angle to play, what you can do for them. But it could get to that spot where we could go to pressure… where we won’t have a choice, and we are probably getting there.” The article goes on to mention: “Among the alternative strategies under discussion are using drugs or pressure tactics, such as those employed occasionally by Israeli interrogators, to extract information. Another idea is extraditing the suspects to allied countries where security services sometimes employ threats to family members or resort to torture.” [Washington Post, 10/21/2001] Although it is little known in the US at the time, the CIA has already been renditioning suspects to countries known for practicing torture (see September 23, 2001), and has made arrangements with NATO countries to increase the number of such renditions (see October 4, 2001). Azmath and Khan will later be cleared of al-Qaeda ties and released (see October 20, 2001). Al-Marabh will be deported to Syria under mysterious circumstances and rearrested by the Syrian government (see Spring 2004). Moussaoui will be sentenced to life in prison in the US (see May 3, 2006).
Subash Gurung. [Source: CNN/Courtesy WLS-TV]A young Nepalese man named Subash Gurung is arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare airport trying to board a United Airlines flight to Omaha with numerous knives, a can of mace, and a stun gun. He is in the US on an expired student visa. He is unemployed at the time of his arrest. Gurung claims that he was in a hurry and was unaware of the knives and other items in his luggage. But CNN reports that Gurung gave as his address an apartment building in Chicago that was also used by one of two terror suspects arrested on September 12, 2001 (see September 19, 2001 and After and October 20, 2001). This individual, Ayub Ali Khan (whose real name is apparently Syed Gul Mohammad Shah), lived in New Jersey but also used a Chicago address. A CNN government source says “many phone calls were made to and from that apartment, and credit card bills were paid from that address.” After being released by local police on bond, Gurung will be re-arrested the following day by the FBI for a weapons violation. Despite the apparent link to Ayub Ali Khan, the FBI denies any terror connection: “There is no allegation that this incident involves any suspected terrorist activity.” [CNN, 11/5/2001; CNN, 11/6/2001] Gurung will be convicted of a weapons charge in October 2002, and then deported. [New York Times, 10/9/2002]
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