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Profile: Zacarias Moussaoui
Zacarias Moussaoui was a participant or observer in the following events:
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Chief Justice Fred Vinson. [Source: Kansas State Historical Society]The US Supreme Court upholds the power of the federal government’s executive branch to withhold documents from a civil suit on the basis of executive privilege and national security (see October 25, 1952). The case, US v Reynolds, overturns an appellate court decision that found against the government (see December 11, 1951). Originally split 5-4 on the decision, the Court goes to 6-3 when Justice William O. Douglas joins the majority. The three dissenters, Justices Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, and Robert Jackson, refuse to write a dissenting opinion, instead adopting the decision of the appellate court as their dissent.
'State Secrets' a Valid Reason for Keeping Documents out of Judicial, Public Eye - Chief Justice Fred Vinson writes the majority opinion. Vinson refuses to grant the executive branch the near-unlimited power to withhold documents from judicial review, as the government’s arguments before the court implied (see October 21, 1952), but instead finds what he calls a “narrower ground for defense” in the Tort Claims Act, which compels the production of documents before a court only if they are designated “not privileged.” The government’s claim of privilege in the Reynolds case was valid, Vinson writes. But the ruling goes farther; Vinson upholds the claim of “state secrets” as a reason for withholding documents from judicial review or public scrutiny. In 2008, author Barry Siegel will write: “In truth, only now was the Supreme Court formally recognizing the privilege, giving the government the precedent it sought, a precedent binding on all courts throughout the nation. Most important, the Court was also—for the first time—spelling out how the privilege should be applied.” Siegel will call the Reynolds ruling “an effort to weigh competing legitimate interests,” but the ruling does not allow judges to see the documents in order to make a decision about their applicability in a court case: “By instructing judges not to insist upon examining documents if the government can satisfy that ‘a reasonable danger’ to national security exists, Vinson was asking jurists to fly blind.” Siegel will mark the decision as “an act of faith. We must believe the government,” he will write, “when it claims [the accident] would reveal state secrets. We must trust that the government is telling the truth.”
Time of Heightened Tensions Drives Need for Secrecy - Vinson goes on to note, “[W]e cannot escape judicial notice that this is a time of vigorous preparation for the national defense.” Locked in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and fighting a war in Korea, the US is, Vinson writes, in a time of crisis, and one where military secrets must be kept and even encouraged. [U. S. v. Reynolds, 3/9/1953; Siegel, 2008, pp. 171-176]
Future Ramifications - Reflecting on the decision in 2008, Siegel will write that while the case will not become as well known as many other Court decisions, it will wield significant influence. The ruling “formally recognized and established the framework for the government’s ‘state secrets’ privilege—a privilege that for decades had enabled federal agencies to conceal conduct, withhold documents, and block civil litigation, all in the name of national secrecy.… By encouraging judicial deference when the government claimed national security secrets, Reynolds had empowered the Executive Branch in myriad ways. Among other things, it had provided a fundamental legal argument for much of the Bush administration’s response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Enemy combatants such as Yaser Esam Hamdi (see December 2001) and Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002), for many months confined without access to lawyers, had felt the breath of Reynolds. So had the accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui when federal prosecutors defied a court order allowing him access to other accused terrorists (see March 22, 2005). So had the Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar (see September 26, 2002), like dozens of others the subject of a CIA extraordinary rendition to a secret foreign prison (see After September 11, 2001). So had hundreds of detainees at the US Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, held without charges or judicial review (see September 27, 2001). So had millions of American citizens, when President Bush, without judicial knowledge or approval, authorized domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency (see Early 2002). US v. Reynolds made all this possible. The bedrock of national security law, it had provided a way for the Executive Branch to formalize an unprecedented power and immunity, to pull a veil of secrecy over its actions.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. ix-x]
Entity Tags: William O. Douglas, Zacarias Moussaoui, US Supreme Court, Yaser Esam Hamdi, Robert Jackson, Jose Padilla, Felix Frankfurter, Bush administration (43), Fred Vinson, Barry Siegel, George W. Bush, Hugo Black, Maher Arar
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Zacarias Moussaoui obtained a master’s degree in international business from South Bank University in London in the mid-1990s. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Three French consular officials in Algeria are assassinated. A French magistrate travels to London to investigate the case. The magistrate has information that a “Zacarias” living in London was a paymaster for the assassination. Zacarias Moussaoui, born in France and of North African ancestry, had moved to London in 1992 and become involved in radical Islam after being influenced by Abu Qatada (who has been called one of the leaders of al-Qaeda in Europe). The magistrate asks British authorities for permission to interview Moussaoui and search his apartment in Brixton. The British refuse to give permission, saying the French don’t have enough evidence on Moussaoui. But the French continue to develop more information on Moussaoui from this time on. [Independent, 12/11/2001; CNN, 12/11/2001; Los Angeles Times, 12/13/2001]
Zacarias Moussoui’s French national identification card. [Source: FBI]French agents believe Zacarias Moussaoui makes a trip to an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in 1995. After this, he goes to Chechnya and joins Muslims radicals fighting Russian troops there. French intelligence learns of this, though when they learn it is not clear. He then attends the Khaldan al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan around April 1998. French intelligence will apparently learn of this second trip to Afghanistan in 1999 (see 1999). [MSNBC, 12/11/2001; Independent, 12/11/2001; CBS News, 5/8/2002] The French additionally come to believe that Moussaoui had been in contact with Farid Melouk, an Algerian suspected of belonging to the GIA, an Algerian militant group. Melouk is arrested in 1998 after a shootout with police in Brussels, Belgium, and later sentenced to nine years of prison. [Guardian, 9/18/2001]
In 1996, Zacarias Moussaoui begins recruiting other young Muslims to fight for Islamic militant causes in Chechnya and Kosovo. [Time, 9/24/2001] He recruits for Chechen warlord Ibn Khattab, the Chechen leader most closely linked to al-Qaeda (see August 24, 2001). Details on his Kosovo links are still unknown. For most of this time, he is living in London and is often seen at the Finsbury Park mosque run by Abu Hamza al-Masri. For a time, Moussaoui has two French Caucasian roommates, Jerome and David Courtailler. The family of these brothers later believes that Moussaoui recruits them to become radical militants. The brothers will later be arrested for suspected roles in plotting attacks on the US embassy in Paris and NATO’s headquarters in Brussels. [Scotsman, 10/1/2001] David Courtailler will later confess that at the Finsbury Park mosque he was given cash, a fake passport, and the number of a contact in Pakistan who would take him to an al-Qaeda camp. [London Times, 1/5/2002] French intelligence later learns that one friend he recruits, Masooud Al-Benin, dies in Chechnya in 2000 (see Late 1999-Late 2000). Shortly before 9/11, Moussaoui will try to recruit his US roommate at the time, Hussein al-Attas, to fight in Chechnya. Al-Attas will also see Moussaoui frequently looking at websites about the Chechnya conflict. [Daily Oklahoman, 3/22/2006] Moussaoui also goes to Chechnya himself in 1996-1997 (see 1996-Early 1997).
According to British intelligence, Zacarias Moussaoui fights in Chechnya with Islamist militants there. Using previously gained computer skills, he mostly works as an information specialist. He helps militants forge computer links and post combat pictures on radical Muslim websites. It is not known when British intelligence learns this. [USA Today, 6/14/2002] Moussaoui also helps recruit militants to go fight in Chechnya (see 1996-2001). He likely assists Chechen warlord Ibn Khattab, the Chechen leader most closely linked to al-Qaeda (see August 24, 2001).
Zacarias Moussaoui meets future shoe bomber Richard Reid at a south London mosque. Moussaoui, who will be arrested in the US shortly before 9/11 for raising suspicions at flight school, is the leader of the radical faction at the mosque and, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, Reid “hero-worship[s]” him. Moussaoui also “dominate[s] discussion groups…, shouting down those who dare[…] to criticize his stand that violent jihad [is] the only way to support Islamic communities around the world.” When the moderates at the mosque get together to criticize him, he moves to a more radical mosque, Finsbury Park, where he falls under surveillance by the British authorities (see March 1997-April 2000). Reid goes with him, and by this time he is “mouthing the same radical expressions and insults about America and Tony Blair as his shaven-headed hero.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 219]
A young Zacarias Moussaoui. [Source: Corbis]Zacarias Moussaoui travels to Baku, Azerbaijan. It is not known why he is there, but Baku is often a staging area for people attempting to go to nearby Chechnya, and there is an important al-Qaeda/Islamic Jihad cell there at the time (see Late August 1998). He meets a CIA informer there, but the informer does not learn Moussaoui’s real name, and does not report on Moussaoui to the CIA until April 2001 (see April 2001). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 201]
Reda Hassaine. [Source: CBC]Reda Hassaine, an Algerian journalist who informs for a number of intelligence services, including an Algerian service, the French Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), and the British Special Branch and MI5, helps intelligence agencies track Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe-bomber Richard Reid. One place Hassaine sees Moussaoui and Reid is the Four Feathers club, where leading Islamist cleric Abu Qatada preaches. [Evening Standard, 1/28/2005; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 133] Hassaine also sees Moussaoui, Reid, and Spanish al-Qaeda leader Barakat Yarkas at the Finsbury Park mosque in London. The mosque, a hotbed of Islamic extremism headed by Abu Hamza al-Masri, is the center of attention for many intelligence agencies. Hassaine does not realize how important these people will later become at this time, but recognizes their faces when they become famous after 9/11. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 133] British intelligence also monitor phone calls between Moussaoui and Reid in 2000 (see Mid-2000-December 9, 2000).
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. [NewsOK (Oklahoma City), 5/29/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003] The memo is “sent to the bureau’s Weapons of Mass Destruction unit and forgotten.”
[New York Daily News, 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).
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.” [Los Angeles Times, 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.
Zacarias Moussaoui’s flat in Brixton, London, is raided after the bombing of two US embassies in East Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), according to a statement made by Moussaoui in a pre-trial motion. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/2/2002 ] There are no other reports of this and it is unclear why his flat would be raided, although there were raids in London following the embassy bombings, as bin Laden faxed a claim of responsibility to associates in the British capital (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998 and July 29-August 7, 1998). In addition, Moussaoui may be linked to a man named David Courtailler, who trained at radical camps in Afghanistan and is questioned in France in the wake of the embassy bombings. Courtailler lived in London and frequented the same mosques as Moussaoui, and intelligence agencies believe Courtailler lived with Moussaoui at one point. However, Courtailler will deny ever having met him. French authorities requested a raid of Moussaoui’s previous flat in 1994, but the raid was not carried out at that time (see 1994). [Los Angeles Times, 10/20/2001] Note: the actual text of the handwritten motion by Moussaoui is, “It is not the case that my address 23 A Lambert Road was raided after the Embassy bombing in Africa.” However, this appears to be a frequent grammatical error by Moussaoui, who is not a native speaker of English. For example, he may have been intending to ask a rhetorical question, but got the words “it” and “is” in the wrong places. Moussaoui uses the same formulation—“it is not the case that”—for events which did occur and which he seems to believe occurred, for example, “It is not the case that Mohammad Atta flew out of Miami to Madrid Spain for a week,” and, “It is not the case that Coleen Rowley, an FBI Agent in Minneapolis, sent a letter to the Congress,” so presumably he also alleges his flat was raided after the embassy bombings. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/2/2002 ]
A group of recruits at the radical Finsbury Park mosque in London, which is run by British intelligence informer and radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997), starts to be groomed as suicide bombers. The group includes shoe bomber Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001) and Saajid Badat, one of his accomplices (see (December 14, 2001)). Some of the suicide squad live in Brixton, south London, with Zacarias Moussaoui. Salam Abdullah, a radical who attends the mosque at this time, will later say, “You could tell from the way they were treated by Abu Hamza and his aides that they were marked for something special, but we didn’t know it was for suicide attacks.” Other mosque-goers do not discuss the group, and the men do not talk about their mission, but periodically disappear, presumably to go abroad for training. Some of them are foreigners, who are known only by their nicknames, and are sent to Finsbury Park from other militant centers around Britain and Europe. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later comment: “It was in north London that the suicide bombers were provided with money, documents, and the names of the contacts who would steer them to the intended targets in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir, and the cities of Europe.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 89-93] In addition to being an informer for the British, Abu Hamza is himself under surveillance by numerous intelligence services, including the same British ones he works for (see Summer 1996-August 1998, (November 11, 1998), and February 1999). What the British authorities know of this squad, and whether they attempt to do anything about it is unknown.
French intelligence learns Zacarias Moussaoui went to an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in 1998 (see 1995-1998).
[Independent, 12/11/2001] The Associated Press will report that he was placed on the watch list for alleged links to the GIA, an Algerian militant group. [Associated Press, 5/19/2002] The French also warn the British about Moussaoui’s training camp connections. [Los Angeles Times, 12/13/2001] French investigators ask MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, to place Moussaoui under surveillance. In early December 2001, the Independent will report that “The request appears to have been ignored” and that the British “appear to have done nothing with the information.”
[Independent, 12/11/2001] However, later in the same month, the Observer will report that MI5 did in fact place Moussaoui under surveillance, as MI5 was monitoring his telephone calls in 2000 (see Mid-2000-December 9, 2000).
Nick Berg. [Source: Associated Press]Nick Berg is an American who will become known for being beheaded on video in Iraq in 2004 (see March 24-May 11, 2004). It will later come out that he had a curious connection to Zacarias Moussaoui. In the autumn of 1999, Berg is a university student in Norman, Oklahoma, where Moussaoui will attend flight school in early 2001. According to Berg’s father, one day Nick Berg is riding a bus to his classes and he meets Moussaoui on the bus. Moussaoui asks him for his password so he can use Berg’s laptop to check the Internet. Berg gives him his password. FBI investigators later will discover Moussaoui’s use of this password, and will interview Berg about it in 2002. Berg will be cleared of any criminal connection with Moussaoui. Jayna Davis, a former NBC reporter known for her controversial investigation of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, calls the explanation as to why Moussaoui had Berg’s password “totally nonsensical.” She will note the low odds of anyone being able to log onto the Internet on a bus in 1999 and will say, “You’re sitting on a bus. It’s a five- to ten-minute ride. How in the world would a stranger sitting next to you say, ‘Hey, can I borrow your laptop computer because I want to log on to your e-mail?’” She also notes that the FBI insists Berg gave his password to an acquaintance of Moussaoui, while Berg’s family insists it was Moussaoui himself on the bus. [NewsMax, 5/18/2004; CBS News, 5/21/2004] The London Times will note that this acquaintance “is believed to have been Hussein al-Attas,” Moussaoui’s roommate when he will be arrested in Minnesota in August 2001. The Times will note that Berg’s “past links to an al-Qaeda terrorist have raised questions in some quarters as to whether he might even have been working for the intelligence services.” [London Times, 5/23/2004]
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). [Boston Globe, 9/18/2001; CNN, 10/16/2001; Washington Post, 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. [St. Petersburg Times, 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. [Boston Globe, 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).
Masooud Al-Benin. [Source: Public domain]After the French put Zacarias Moussaoui on a watch list some time in 1999 (see 1999), they continue to discover more of his ties to militant groups. In late 1999, Moussaoui’s mother says a French intelligence officer contacts her and says her son’s name was in the address book of a man named Yannick who had died fighting for the Muslim cause in Bosnia. [Los Angeles Times, 12/13/2001] In April 2000, French investigators increase their interest in Moussaoui when they learn his best friend Masooud Al-Benin was killed while fighting in Chechnya. Investigators conclude al-Benin and Moussaoui traveled and fought together in Chechnya. Moussaoui’s mother is contacted by French authorities and asked about her son’s whereabouts and his connections to Al-Benin. [CNN, 12/11/2001] At some time in 2000, French intelligence follows Moussaoui to Pakistan. They believe he goes to see an al-Qaeda leader named Abu Jaffa. [CBS News, 5/8/2002] (Abu Jaffa, also known by the names Abu Jafar al-Jaziri and Omar Chaabani, is an Algerian in charge of al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan. It appears he will be killed in Afghanistan in late 2001.) [Knight Ridder, 1/9/2002] By 2001, French intelligence will be said to have a “thick file on Moussaoui.” [CBS News, 5/8/2002] When Moussaoui is arrested in the US, the French will send this information to Washington at the FBI’s request (see August 22, 2001 and August 30, 2001).
The FBI misses a chance to learn about Zacarias Moussaoui after a raid in Dublin, Ireland. On December 14, 1999, Ahmed Ressam was arrested trying to smuggle explosives into the US (see December 14, 1999). On December 21, Irish police arrest Hamid Aich and several other North African immigrants living in Dublin. [New York Times, 1/22/2000] During the arrests, police seize a large amount of documents relating to citizenship applications, identities, credit cards, and airplane tickets. A diagram of an electrical switch that could be used for a bomb is found that is identical to a diagram found in Ressam’s apartment in Vancouver, Canada. [Irish Times, 7/31/2002] The suspects are released about a day later, but, “Within days, authorities in Ireland and the United States began to realize that they might have missed a chance to learn more about a terrorist network.” [New York Times, 1/22/2000] It is discovered that Aich lived with Ressam in Montreal, and then later lived with him in Vancouver. Investigators conclude there has been an al-Qaeda cell in Dublin since the early 1990s, when the charity Mercy International opened an office there (this charity has several known al-Qaeda connections by this time (see 1988-Spring 1995 and Late 1996-August 20, 1998) and also an alleged CIA connection (see 1989 and After)). The cell is mainly involved in providing travel and identity documents for other cells committing violent acts. Investigators also connect Aich to the Islamic Jihad. But the US and Canada do not seek Aich’s extradition, and instead have the Irish police keep him under surveillance. He will escape from Ireland shortly before 9/11 (see June 3, 2001-July 24, 2001). [New York Times, 1/22/2000; Irish Times, 7/31/2002] Apparently, many of the documents seized in the raid will only be closely examined after 9/11. Documents will show that in 1999 and 2000, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a top al-Qaeda financier, worked with the Dublin cell to finance Moussaoui’s international travel. Aich made travel arrangements and possibly provided fake identification for Moussaoui. [Fox News, 7/30/2002; Irish Times, 7/31/2002] Presumably, had these links been discovered after the 1999 raid instead of after 9/11, events could have gone very differently when Moussaoui was arrested in the US in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001).
The condominium complex where the Malaysia summit was held. [Source: Fox News] (click image to enlarge)After the al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000), the CIA has Malaysian intelligence stop monitoring the condominium where the summit was held. The condominium is owned by al-Qaeda operative Yazid Sufaat, who plays a key role in al-Qaeda search for biological weapons (see December 19, 2001). According to a later Newsweek account, after the summit, “Malaysian intelligence continued to watch the condo at the CIA’s request, but after a while the agency lost interest.” It is unclear when the surveillance stops exactly, but it stops some time before al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui visits Malaysia in September 2000. Moussaoui stays in Sufaat’s condominium, but the CIA misses a chance to learn about this (see September-October 2000). The Malaysians will later say they were surprised by the CIA’s lack of interest. “We couldn’t fathom it, really,” Rais Yatim, Malaysia’s Legal Affairs minister, will tell Newsweek. “There was no show of concern.” [Newsweek, 6/2/2002]
Ramzi bin al-Shibh. [Source: FBI]During these months, Hamburg al-Qaeda cell member Ramzi bin al-Shibh tries several times to get a US visa, but all his attempts fail, some possibly due to a link to the USS Cole bombing. In 2000, he tries to a get a visa three times from Germany, and once from Yemen, but all these attempts fail. He may also make a fifth attempt in May 2001, although the 9/11 Commission will not include that in their final report. One of the applications says he will be visiting Agus Budiman, a Hamburg associate, in Washington (see October-November 2000). [Los Angeles Times, 10/24/2001; Australian, 12/24/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 11-15 ; McDermott, 2005, pp. 209] Most accounts claim that bin al-Shibh is refused a visa on economic grounds based on fears that he will overstay his visa and work in the US. One official later suggests it was “only by luck” that he was turned down. [CBS News, 6/6/2002; Washington Post, 7/14/2002] However, Bin al-Shibh is in Yemen during the two months before the bombing of the Cole in that country, and investigators later conclude that he may have been involved in that attack (see October 10-21, 2000 and October 12, 2000). Possibly for this reason other accounts note that, as the London Times will put it, he was “turned down on security grounds.” [London Times, 9/9/2002] Newsweek will later report, “One senior law-enforcement official told Newsweek that bin al-Shibh’s efforts to obtain a US visa were rebuffed because of suspicions that he was tied to the bombing of the USS Cole.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/21/2001; Newsweek, 11/26/2001; BBC, 9/14/2002] In addition, Al Jazeera journalist Yosri Fouda will say that according to his US intelligence sources, bin al-Shibh’s visas were “turned down because he was implicated in the USS Cole attack.” [TBS Journal, 10/2002] But no journalist will ever question why this information didn’t lead to the unraveling of the 9/11 plot. Not only is there the obvious visa connection to Ziad Jarrah while he is training at a US flight school, but also during this same time period bin al-Shibh wires money to Marwan Alshehhi, Zacarias Moussaoui, and others, sometimes using his own name. [CBS News, 6/6/2002] It is unclear how the US would know about his ties to the bombing at this time, though it’s possible that the consular official who reviews his fourth attempt in Berlin in October/November 2000 sees that al-Shibh entered Yemen one day before the attack and leaves shortly after it (see October 10-21, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 15 ]
FISA court judge Royce Lamberth was angry with the FBI over misleading statements made in FISA wiretap applications. [Source: Public domain]While monitoring foreign terrorists in the US, the FBI listens to calls made by suspects as a part of an operation called Catcher’s Mitt, which is curtailed at this time due to misleading statements by FBI agents. It is never revealed who the targets of the FBI’s surveillance are under this operation, but below are some of the terrorism suspects under investigation in the US at the time:
Imran Mandhai, Shuyeb Mossa Jokhan and Adnan El Shukrijumah in Florida. They are plotting a series of attacks there, but Mandhai and Jokhan are brought in for questioning by the FBI and surveillance of them stops in late spring (see November 2000-Spring 2002 and May 2, 2001);
Another Florida cell connected to Blind Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. The FBI has been investigating it since 1993 (see (October 1993-November 2001));
Al-Qaeda operatives in Denver (see March 2000);
A Boston-based al-Qaeda cell involving Nabil al-Marabh and Raed Hijazi. Cell members provide funding to terrorists, fight abroad, and are involved in document forging (see January 2001, Spring 2001, and Early September 2001);
Fourteen of the hijackers’ associates the FBI investigates before 9/11. The FBI is still investigating four of these people while the hijackers associate with them; [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 169 ]
Hamas operatives such as Mohammed Salah in Chicago. Salah invests money in the US and sends it to the occupied territories to fund attacks (see June 9, 1998).
When problems are found with the applications for the wiretap warrants, an investigation is launched (see Summer-October 2000), and new requirements for warrant applications are put in place (see October 2000). From this time well into 2001, the FBI is forced to shut down wiretaps of al-Qaeda-related suspects connected to the 1998 US embassy bombings and Hamas (see March 2001 and April 2001). One source familiar with the case says that about 10 to 20 al-Qaeda related wiretaps have to be shut down and it becomes more difficult to get permission for new FISA wiretaps. Newsweek notes, “The effect [is] to stymie terror surveillance at exactly the moment it was needed most: requests from both Phoenix [with the Ken Williams memo (see July 10, 2001)] and Minneapolis [with Zacarias Moussaoui’s arrest] for wiretaps [will be] turned down [by FBI superiors],” (see August 21, 2001 and August 28, 2001). [Newsweek, 5/27/2002] Robert Wright is an FBI agent who led the Vulgar Betrayal investigation looking into allegations that Saudi businessman Yassin al-Qadi helped finance the embassy bombings, and other matters. In late 2002, he will claim to discover evidence that some of the FBI intelligence agents who stalled and obstructed his investigation were the same FBI agents who misrepresented the FISA petitions. [Judicial Watch, 9/11/2002]
Entity Tags: Royce Lamberth, Shuyeb Mossa Jokhan, Catcher’s Mitt, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Zacarias Moussaoui, Raed Hijazi, Mohammad Salah, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Adnan Shukrijumah, Central Intelligence Agency, Nabil al-Marabh, Ken Williams, Imran Mandhai, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Richard Reid. [Source: Plymouth County Jail]MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, has Zacarias Moussaoui under surveillance. The French government had asked MI5 to monitor him in 1999 (see 1999), but it has not been confirmed if this is in response to that request. It is not clear when the surveillance begins, but the Observer reports that it lasts for “months” and ends when Moussaoui leaves Britain on December 9, 2000, to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. The extent of Moussaoui’s surveillance is not publicly known; the only reported detail is that some phone calls between Moussaoui and Richard Reid are intercepted. Reid will later be convicted for attempting to blow up a passenger airliner with a bomb in his shoe (see December 22, 2001). MI5 records the conversations between them made inside Britain. Opposition politicians in Britain will later criticize MI5 for not realizing Reid’s al-Qaeda ties between 9/11 and Reid’s shoe bomb plot over two months later. [Observer, 12/30/2001; Wall Street Journal, 12/31/2001] Moussaoui appears to be in contact with other al-Qaeda figures during this time. For instance, he travels to Yazid Sufaat’s house in Malaysia in September 2000 and again in October 2000 (see September-October 2000), and Ramzi bin al-Shibh stays in London for a week in early December 2000 and meets with Moussaoui (see October 2000-February 2001). [Independent, 12/11/2001] However, it is not known if such contacts are monitored as well.
Yazid Sufaat (left), and his wife, Sejarahtul Dursina (right). [Source: Associated Press]Zacarias Moussaoui visits Malaysia twice, and stays at the very same condominium where the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit (see January 5-8, 2000) was held. [Los Angeles Times, 2/2/2002; Washington Post, 2/3/2002; CNN, 8/30/2002] After that summit, Malaysian intelligence kept watch on the condominium at the request of the CIA. However, the CIA stopped the surveillance before Moussaoui arrived, spoiling a chance to expose the 9/11 plot by monitoring Moussaoui’s later travels (see Between February and September 2000). [Newsweek, 6/2/2002] During his stay in Malaysia, Moussaoui tells Jemaah Islamiyah operative Faiz abu Baker Bafana, at whose apartment he stays for one night, that he had had a dream about flying an airplane into the White House, and that when he told bin Laden about this, bin Laden told him to go ahead. They also discuss purchasing ammonium nitrate, and Moussaoui says that Malaysia and Indonesia should be used as a base for financing jihad, but that attacks should be focused against the US. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/8/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/8/2006] While Moussaoui is in Malaysia, Yazid Sufaat, the owner of the condominium, signs letters falsely identifying Moussaoui as a representative of his wife’s company. [Washington Post, 2/3/2002; Reuters, 9/20/2002] When Moussaoui is later arrested in the US about one month before the 9/11 attacks, this letter in his possession could have led investigators back to the condominium and the connections with the January 2000 meeting attended by two of the hijackers. [USA Today, 1/30/2002] Moussaoui’s belongings also contained phone numbers that could have linked him to Ramzi bin al-Shibh (and his roommate, Mohamed Atta), another participant in the Malaysian meeting (see August 16, 2001). [Associated Press, 12/12/2001]
Zacarias Moussaoui had been staying in Malaysia so that he could take flight training classes at the Malaysian Flying Academy in Malacca. However, he is unhappy with the quality of training there. He takes the $35,000 given to him by his hosts, Yazid Sufaat and Hambali, and spends it to buy fertilizer to construct bombs. Then he gives up and travels to London in early December (see Mid-2000-December 9, 2000), where he meets with Ramzi bin al-Shibh (who stays in London from December 2 to 9). Hambali sends a messenger to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Afghanistan to complain about Moussaoui’s attitude. On December 9, Moussaoui leaves London. He makes his way to Afghanistan and meets with Mohammed. Mohammed decides to send him to take flight training classes in the US instead. He is given $35,000 in cash to pay for flying lessons by someone in Pakistan. After he enters the US in February, bin al-Shibh wires him another $14,000 from Germany. [Knight Ridder, 9/9/2002; Washington Post, 3/28/2003; US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
Zacarias Moussaoui and two of the 9/11 hijackers purchase flight training equipment from Sporty’s Pilot Shop in Batavia, Ohio.
November 5, 2000: Mohamed Atta purchases flight deck videos for a Boeing 747-200 and a Boeing 757-200, as well as other items;
December 11, 2000: Atta purchases flight deck videos for a Boeing 767-300ER and an Airbus A320-200;
March 19, 2001: Nawaf Alhazmi purchases flight deck videos for a Boeing 747-400, a Boeing 747-200, and a Boeing 777-200, as well as another video. Alhazmi also purchases maps around this time from another shop (see March 23, 2001);
June 20, 2001: Zacarias Moussaoui purchases flight deck videos for a Boeing 747-400 and a Boeing 747-200. [Sporty's, 6/20/2001; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 12/11/2001 ] However, it is not clear whether Moussaoui was to take part in 9/11 or some other operation (see January 30, 2003).
Future 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Waleed Alshehri are seen flying small aircraft at an airport in Oklahoma, and Zacarias Moussaoui is there at the same time. This is according to a 2002 FBI document about the 9/11 attacks. The document notes that “several employees” at Million Air, located at Wiley Post Airport in Bethany, Oklahoma, see Atta, Alshehhi, and Alshehri on the same Beechcraft Duchess aircraft at the same time. Furthermore, Moussaoui is seen there in the same timeframe, although the FBI report will not mention if Moussaoui is ever seen with the other three. The employees cannot give exact dates when these people are seen, but all the visits are in the six months leading up to 9/11 and two visits are said to take place after August 4, 2001. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/19/2002]
Other Local Connections - Moussaoui takes flying lessons in Norman, Oklahoma, which is about 30 miles away from Bethany, from February to June 2001. Apparently he stays there most of the time until early August (see February 23-June 2001). Atta and Alshehhi visited the flight school in Norman in July 2000 (see July 2-3, 2000). A motel owner will later claim that around August 1, 2001, he saw Moussaoui, Atta, and Alshehhi together at his motel. The location of the motel is not specified, except that it is about 28 miles from Norman and off Highway 40, which runs about five miles south of Bethany (see August 1, 2001). [LA Weekly, 8/2/2002]
Why No Mention in Moussaoui Trial? - Several years after 9/11, US officials will charge Moussaoui with a role in the 9/11 attacks. Strangely, these sightings in Oklahoma will never be mentioned in the trial, even though almost no evidence is put forward in the trial physically linking Moussaoui to any of the 9/11 hijackers in the US (see May 3, 2006).
The US Embassy in London grants a US student visa to Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen. The Los Angeles Times will later note this is granted “even though he was on a special French immigration watch list of suspected Islamic extremists.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001]
While Zacarias Moussaoui is living in Norman, Oklahoma, and getting flight training there, he makes a phone call to Germany that is monitored by German intelligence. The call is to Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who is intimately involved in the 9/11 plot and has been a roommate of hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi. [New York Times, 9/29/2001] Bin al-Shibh stayed in London for a week in early December 2000 and met with Moussaoui there (see October 2000-February 2001). Phone records further indicate that there was at least one phone call between Moussaoui and the landlord of the Hamburg apartment where Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers lived. But the timing of the call has not been revealed, nor is it known if that call was monitored as well or not. [Independent, 12/11/2001]
After entering the US, Zacarias Moussaoui engages in activities that appear to mirror those of the 9/11 hijackers. Both Moussaoui and the hijackers do the following:
Take flight training (see February 23-June 2001 and July 6-December 19, 2000);
Physically import large amounts of cash (see October 2000-February 2001 and January 15, 2000-August 2001);
Purchase knives with short blades that can be carried onto airliners (see August 16, 2001 and July 8-August 30, 2001);
Take fitness training (see August 16, 2001 and May 6-September 6, 2001);
Obtain several identification documents (see April 12-September 7, 2001 and August 1-2, 2001); and
Purchase flight deck videos from the same shop (see November 5, 2000-June 20, 2001).
In addition, Moussaoui is supported by some of the same al-Qaeda operatives as the 9/11 hijackers: Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see July 29, 2001-August 3, 2001 and June 13-September 25, 2000) and Yazid Sufaat (see September-October 2000 and January 5-8, 2000). At Moussaoui’s trial, the prosecution will cite these parallel activities in its argument that Moussaoui was connected to 9/11, rather than some follow-up plot. There is also one reported meeting between Moussaoui and two of the lead hijackers before 9/11 (see August 1, 2001), but this will not be mentioned at the trial (see March 6-May 4, 2006). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006]
Airman Flight School. [Source: FBI]Al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui flies to the US. Three days later, he starts flight training at the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma. (Other Islamic extremists had previously trained at the same flight school or other schools in the area (see September 1999)). He trains there until May, but does not do well and drops out before getting a pilot’s license. His visa expires on May 22, but he does not attempt to renew it or get another one. He stays in Norman, arranging to change flight schools, and frequently exercising in a gym. [MSNBC, 12/11/2001; US Congress, 10/17/2002] According to US investigators, would-be hijacker Ramzi Bin al-Shibh later says he meets Moussaoui in Karachi, Pakistan, in June 2001 (see June 2001). [Washington Post, 11/20/2002]
A page of Zacarias Moussaoui’s notebook with a phone number for the security contractor Blackwater. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]Zacarias Moussaoui writes the phone number for the private security contractor Blackwater in his notebook. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria District, 7/31/2006 ] It is unclear why he writes the phone number down or whether he has any actual contact with Blackwater, but terrorism analyst J. M. Berger will later comment: “The discovery may best be taken with the proverbial grain of salt, and a large one at that. The phone number is publicly available and connects to a Blackwater training center in North Carolina. Moussaoui was researching physical and combat training options while he was in the United States. The simplest and most innocent explanation is quite possibly the correct one. Nevertheless, a glimpse of the controversial company’s contact information nestled among Moussaoui’s handwritten notes inspires the jaw to drop in a not-entirely unreasonable manner.” [Intelwire(.com), 8/1/2006]
A CIA informer who is aware of Zacarias Moussaoui’s connection to terrorism and met him in Azerbaijan in 1997 (see 1997) shares some information on him with the CIA. However, the informer is not aware of Moussaoui’s real name and knows him under an alias, “Abu Khalid al-Francia.” An intelligence official will indicate in 2002 that the source reports on Moussaoui under this name. However, CIA director George Tenet, writing in 2007, will say that the informer only reports on Moussaoui as “al Francia.” One of Moussaoui’s known aliases in 2001 is Abu Khalid al-Sahrawi, similar to the name the source knows him under, but when Moussaoui is arrested in the US (see August 16, 2001) the CIA apparently does not realize that Abu Khalid al-Francia is Moussaoui. [MSNBC, 12/11/2001; Associated Press, 6/4/2002; Tenet, 2007, pp. 201]
Abderraouf Jdey. [Source: FBI]A candidate 9/11 hijacker named Abderraouf Jdey is possibly arrested and then released in the US around this time, although details remain very murky.
CIA Officer's Curious Report - In 2010, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen will write a public report for the Harvard Kennedy School entitled, “Al Qaeda Weapons of Mass Destruction Threat: Hype or Reality?” Mowatt-Larssen was a CIA official from 1982 to 2005, and was head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC) for a time. Around the time of 9/11, he was the head of the CTC’s weapons of mass destruction branch (see 1982, Early October-December 2001, and November 2005). In a timeline in Mowatt-Larssen’s report, there is this entry for Summer 2001: “Detention of Abderraouf Yousef Jdey, a biology major with possible interest in biological and nuclear weapons, who traveled with Zacharias Moussaoui from Canada into the United States. Moussaoui is detained with crop duster manuals in his possession; Jdey had biology textbooks. Earlier, they attended McMaster University in Canada, along with Adnan Shukrijumah.” This entry is very curious, because although the report is said to be based entirely on publicly sourced material, there has been no public information about Jdey’s arrest or link with Moussaoui, and the footnotes to the entry do not mention these things either. [Mowatt-Larson, 1/2010 ]
Jdey's 9/11 Connection - In late 1999, Jdey may have attended an advanced training course in Afghanistan also attended by 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see Late 1999). He may also have been instructed by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed at the same time as hijacker Mohamed Atta and Ramzi bin-al-Shibh. A letter recovered from a safe house in Afghanistan in late 2001, apparently written by al-Qaeda leader Saif al-Adel, says that Jdey was originally meant to be one of the 9/11 hijackers. A videotape of Jdey pledging to be a martyr was also discovered in mid-November 2001 in Afghanistan, in the wreckage of al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef’s house (see November 15-Late December 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 527]
Jdey Is Highly Wanted After 9/11 - Jdey was born in Tunisia, but became a Canadian citizen in the mid-1990s. After 9/11, it is known that he leaves Canada in November 2001. In January 2002, the US government will announce they are seeking him. In 2005, the FBI will announce a $5 million reward for him. [Los Angeles Times, 1/26/2002; CBC News, 5/27/2004; Rewards for Justice, 4/2005]
Mystery Is Unresolved - If Mowatt-Larssen is correct and Jdey was arrested before 9/11, this would have been a vital opportunity to stop the 9/11 plot, and if he was connected with Moussaoui, that would dramatically change the circumstances of Moussaoui’s arrest. It would also mean there would had to have been a cover-up of Jdey’s arrest in the years since 9/11.
Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Saif al-Adel, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mohamed Atta, Abderraouf Jdey, Adnan Shukrijumah, Khalid Almihdhar, Mohammed Atef, Ramzi bin al-Shibh
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
9/11 hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh allegedly meets with Zacarias Moussaoui in Karachi, Pakistan. This information comes from bin al-Shibh’s interrogations after he is captured in late 2002 (see September 11, 2002). If they meet, it will not be revealed what they discuss. However, around this time, bin al-Shibh reportedly gives Moussaoui the e-mail address of an unnamed contact in the US. [Washington Post, 11/20/2002] Moussaoui has been taking flying lessons in the US from February until June 2001 (see February 23-June 2001). His visa expired in May 2001 and he did not renew it or get a new one, so if he did leave the US, it is unclear how he manages to get back in by the time he resumes flight training there in August. [MSNBC, 12/11/2001; US Congress, 10/17/2002] In late June, bin al-Shibh travels to Malaysia (see Late June 2001). It is uncertain how reliable any of the information from bin al-Shibh’s interrogations is, especially since bin al-Shibh may be tortured (see Late 2002).
On June 3, 2001, a British newspaper reveals that Hamid Aich, who is on the FBI’s international wanted list, is living in Dublin where he is applying for asylum. [Mirror, 2/18/2001; News of the World, 6/3/2001] Irish intelligence has been monitoring Aich’s movements since 1997, when authorities tied him to the mass murder of 77 tourists in Luxor, Egypt (see November 18, 1997). [Mirror, 10/17/2001; Daily Telegraph, 11/8/2001] He has since been linked to a number of militant groups (see, e.g., December 14, 1999). It is believed that between 1999 and 2001, Aich assisted 22 Islamic terrorist organizations, and even funded non-Islamic groups, for instance giving $200,000 to the ETA, a separatist group in the Basque region of Spain. Aich was also the director of Mercy International’s Ireland branch. (This charity has several known al-Qaeda connections by this time (see 1988-Spring 1995 and Late 1996-August 20, 1998).) Despite these connections, he will continue to live openly in Dublin after the newspaper discloses his location. [Mirror, 9/17/2001] Irish authorities only publicly say, “Aich’s case is at a very delicate stage.” [News of the World, 6/3/2001] Then, on July 24, he leaves Ireland using a false passport. The FBI, which took no action against him while he was living in Dublin, is reportedly “furious” with Irish police for allowing him to escape. He has not been heard of since, and he has not been included in any known lists of wanted al-Qaeda leaders. It is believed that Aich eventually ends up in Afghanistan. After 9/11, Aich will be described as “one of the FBI’s chief targets” and “one of bin Laden’s most trusted men” who ranks seventh in al-Qaeda’s hierarchy. [Mirror, 9/17/2001]
On July 5, 2001, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gave a dramatic briefing to representatives from several domestic agencies on the urgent al-Qaeda threat (see July 5, 2001). However, the warnings given generally are not passed on by the attendees back to their respective agencies. The domestic agencies were not questioned about how they planned to address the threat and were not told what was expected of them. According to the 9/11 Commission, attendees later “report that they were told not to disseminate the threat information they received at the meeting. They interpreted this direction to mean that although they could brief their superiors, they could not send out advisories to the field.” One National Security Council official has a different recollection of what happened, recalling that attendees were asked to take the information back to their agencies and “do what you can” with it, subject to classification and distribution restrictions. But, for whatever reason, none of the involved agencies post internal warnings based on the meeting, except for Customs which puts out a general warning based entirely on publicly known historical facts. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 258, 264] The FAA issues general and routine threat advisories that don’t reflect the level of urgency expressed by Clarke and others (see January-August 2001). FAA Administrator Jane Garvey later claims she was unaware of a heightened threat level, but in 2005 it will be revealed that about half of the FAA’s daily briefings during this time period referred to bin Laden or al-Qaeda (see April 1, 2001-September 10, 2001). [New York Times, 4/18/2004] Clarke said rhetorically in the meeting that he wants to know if a sparrow has fallen from a tree. A senior FBI official attended the meeting and promised a redoubling of the FBI’s efforts. However, just five days after Clarke’s meeting, FBI agent Ken Williams sends off his memo speculating that al-Qaeda may be training operatives as pilots in the US (see July 10, 2001), yet the FBI fails to share this information with Clarke or any other agency. [Washington Post, 5/17/2002; Clarke, 2004, pp. 236-37] The FBI will also fail to tell Clarke about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), or what they know about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see August 23, 2001).
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Aviation Administration, Zacarias Moussaoui, US Customs Service, Nawaf Alhazmi, Al-Qaeda, Counterterrorism and Security Group, George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Andrew Card, Ken Williams, Richard A. Clarke, Khalid Almihdhar, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
An unknown intelligence agency intercepts a telephone call between alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and his associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh. [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/18/2004] In the call, KSM and bin al-Shibh discuss the state of the 9/11 plot, in particular the fact that Ziad Jarrah, one of the proposed pilots, may drop out. They speak in a code, substituting unexceptional words for what they really mean. [9/11 Commission, 3/18/2004] KSM instructs bin al-Shibh to send the “skirts,” meaning money forwarded to bin al-Shibh by an associate of KSM, to “Sally,” meaning Moussaoui. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 246] The reason for this is that “Teresa,” meaning Jarrah, is “late,” i.e. he is wavering and may drop out of the plot, due to possible conflicts with lead hijacker Mohamed Atta about Jarrah’s isolation from the conspiracy. It therefore appears that KSM is thinking of Moussaoui as a replacement for Jarrah. According to a 9/11 Commission memo, KSM says something like, “if there is a divorce, it will cost a lot of money.” Bin al-Shibh then tries to reassure him, saying it will be okay. The conversation also mentions “Danish leather,” an apparent reference to failed “20th hijacker” Mohamed al-Khatani (see August 4, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/18/2004] The agency which intercepts this call is never identified to the public, although the NSA is reportedly intercepting such calls to and from KSM at this time (see Summer 2001). The 9/11 Commission will mention the call in a staff statement and its final report, but will not mention that it was intercepted, merely citing detainee interrogations as the source of information about it. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004, pp. 16-17; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 246, 530]
[Source: Public domain]High-level al-Qaeda operative Djamel Beghal is arrested in Dubai on his way back from Afghanistan. Earlier in the month the CIA sent friendly intelligence agencies a list of al-Qaeda agents they wanted to be immediately apprehended, and Beghal was on the list (see July 3, 2001).
Information Obtained - Beghal quickly starts to talk, and tells French investigators about a plot to attack the American embassy in Paris. Crucially, he provides new details about the international-operations role of top al-Qaeda deputy Abu Zubaida, whom he had been with a short time before. [New York Times, 12/28/2001; Time, 8/12/2002] One European official says Beghal talks about “very important figures in the al-Qaeda structure, right up to bin Laden’s inner circle. [He] mention[s] names, responsibilities and functions—people we weren’t even aware of before. This is important stuff.” [Time, 11/12/2001] One French official says of Beghal’s interrogations, “We shared everything we knew with the Americans.” [Time, 5/19/2002]
Link to 9/11 - The New York Times later will report, “Enough time and work could have led investigators from Mr. Beghal to an address in Hamburg where Mohamed Atta and his cohorts had developed and planned the Sept. 11 attacks.” Beghal had frequently associated with Zacarias Moussaoui. However, although Moussaoui is arrested (see August 16, 2001) around the same time that Beghal is revealing the names and details of all his fellow operatives, Beghal is apparently not asked about Moussaoui. [New York Times, 12/28/2001; Time, 8/12/2002]
Timing of Arrest - Most media accounts place the arrest on July 28. However, in a 2007 book CIA Director George Tenet will say he received a briefing about the arrest on July 24. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 156-157]
A Western Union money transfer between Ahad Sabet (Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s alias) and Moussaoui in Norman, Oklahoma. [Source: FBI]According to the Justice Department indictment against Zacarias Moussaoui, Moussaoui and 9/11 hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh are in communication for several days. Moussaoui makes several calls from Norman, Oklahoma, to Dusseldorf, Germany. Then, around July 31 someone using the name “Hashim Abdulrahman” in the United Arab Emirates sends two wire transfers totaling about $15,000 to an “Ahad Sabet” in Hamburg, Germany. Sabet is claimed to be an alias for bin al-Shibh. Then bin al-Shibh, again using the Sabet name, wires about $14,000 to Moussaoui in Oklahoma. [MSNBC, 12/11/2001] Moussaoui immediately moves to Minnesota and begins studying at a flight school there (see August 10-11, 2001). The passport with the name Ahad Sabet that bin al-Shibh used appears to belong to an innocent US doctor who had his passport stolen in Spain several years earlier (see July 7, 1998). [CNN, 8/7/2002]
At some time in August 2001, Zacarias Moussaoui calls Naamen Meziche, who is an apparent member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, with a few of the future 9/11 hijackers. Moussaoui is in the US and will be arrested and imprisoned on August 16 (see August 16, 2001). Although it is not specified in news reports, presumably Moussaoui makes the call before his arrest, while he still is able to make calls. Meziche’s phone number is written on a piece of paper among Moussaoui’s belongings. FBI officials will not be allowed to search Moussaoui’s possessions until after 9/11. Presumably, if they had been able to, the call and phone number could have helped point investigators to the Hamburg cell and hijackers. Meziche is the son-in-law of Mohammed Fazazi, the radical imam of the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg, Germany, regularly attended by three of the 9/11 hijackers (see 1993-Late 2001). He is also said to be a friend of hijacker Mohamed Atta. Meziche’s role in the Hamburg cell will only emerge after he is killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2010 (see October 5, 2010). [Wall Street Journal, 10/16/2010] Before 9/11, German investigators are monitoring some members of the Hamburg cell (see for instance November 1, 1998-February 2001). Had that investigation widened to include Meziche, the call from Moussaoui could have been detected and changed the investigation of Moussaoui in the US.
A hotel owner in Oklahoma City will later say that he sees Zacarias Moussaoui, Mohamed Atta, and Marwan Alshehhi together on or around this day. He will claim they come to his hotel late at night and ask for a room, but end up staying elsewhere. At the time, Moussaoui is living 28 miles away in Norman, Oklahoma (see February 23-June 2001). However, even though the US government will later struggle to find evidence directly connecting Moussaoui to any of the 9/11 hijackers, this account will not be cited by any US government officials or prosecutors. An article will later suggest this may be because of numerous reports and eyewitnesses claiming Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols stayed at the same hotel with a group of Middle Easterners in the weeks before the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). By highlighting this encounter, it might draw renewed attention to controversial Oklahoma City bombing theories. Atta and Alshehhi briefly visited an Oklahoma flight school in July 2000 (see July 2-3, 2000), before Moussaoui arrived in the US. On April 1, 2001, 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi received a speeding ticket in Oklahoma (see April 1, 2001), but there have been no sightings of him with Moussaoui. [LA Weekly, 8/2/2002]
Link to Oklahoma City Bombing? - Former CIA analyst Larry Johnson will say of this meeting: “One of the things that’s evident right now in connection with this investigation, the motel in Oklahoma City where the April bombing against the Murrah building was planned and executed from, that same hotel figures in two of the 9/11 hijackers and Zacarias Moussaoui, who’s currently in jail. Those three guys tried to check into that motel. And there is another fellow in Oklahoma City that links them to the April bombing against the Murrah building.… I have spoken to the owner of the motel. After the 9/11 attack, he called the FBI. The FBI came out and interviewed him, as he identified Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Zacarias Moussaoui. They came in. They said, ‘We’re looking for a room.’ He said: ‘I don’t have any room. What do you need it for?’ They said, ‘We’re going for flight training.’” [O'Reilly Factor, 5/7/2002]
Intriguingly Similar Sightings Nearby - Years later, a 2002 FBI document will be made public that reveals several employees at a flight school in Bethany, Oklahoma, saw Atta, Alshehhi, and hijacker Waleed Alshehri flying small aircraft several times from early 2001 until August 2001. Additionally, Moussaoui was said to use the same airport, although there will be no mentioned sightings of him with the others. Bethany is about five miles from Highway 40, which is where the hotel mentioned above is near. Additionally, the hotel is about 28 miles from Norman, Oklahoma (where Moussaoui is living) and Bethany is about 33 miles from Norman (see Early 2001-August 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/19/2002]
Zacarias Moussaoui. [Source: US Justice Department]Zacarias Moussaoui moves from Oklahoma to Minnesota, in order to attend flight school training there. Moussaoui drives there with Hussein al-Attas, a friend who will stay with him in Minnesota. Curiously, on August 11, someone breaks into the Norman, Oklahoma, apartment that remained unoccupied since Moussaoui moved out of it at the end of May 2001. A neighbor’s bicycle is used to break through the door of the vacant apartment and a bloodstain is left on the wall. A neighbor “[tells] reporters that furniture was overturned as if someone was looking for something.” [MSNBC, 12/11/2001; St. Paul Pioneer Press, 9/10/2002; US Congress, 10/17/2002]
Hugh Sims (left) and Tim Nelson (right). [Source: Flysouth and Andy King / Associated Press]Flight engineer Tim Nelson and pilot Hugh Sims, who work at the Pan Am International Flight School where Zacarias Moussaoui trains to fly a Boeing 747-400, are immediately suspicious of Moussaoui, and their suspicions continue to grow after his arrival because:
He sends unusual emails that are signed “zuluman tangotango” and laced with grammatical errors, even though he says he is a British businessman; [CNN, 3/2/2006] His e-mails also include abnormal comments such as, “E[mail] is not secure;” [Newsweek, 10/1/2001]
He pays most of his $8,300 fee in hundred dollar bills. This makes Nelson suspicious, because he thinks cash is hard to track; [New York Times, 2/8/2002; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 4/24/2005; CNN, 3/2/2006]
He is alone, whereas most trainees arrive in groups; [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 4/24/2005]
He says he wants to fly a 747 not because he plans to be a pilot, but as an “ego boosting thing.” However, within hours of his arrival, it is clear he is “not some affluent joyrider,” as he is shabbily dressed; [New York Times, 2/8/2002; New York Times, 10/18/2002; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 4/24/2005]
In addition, it is unusual that he has no aviation background, very little experience, and no pilot’s license. All other pilots at the center, even “vanity pilots”—wealthy individuals who just want the thrill of flying a large jet—have many times more flying hours than Moussaoui and are all licensed; [US Congress, 10/17/2002; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 4/24/2005; Rake, 5/2005]
He has flown for 57 hours at flight school in Oklahoma, but not yet flown solo, which is unusual. The school’s manager of pilot training, Alan McHale, will later comment, “My worst student was a grandma, and I got her to solo after 21 hours;” [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 4/24/2005]
He is not just buying a one-period joyride, but a whole course; [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 4/24/2005]
He seems determined to pack a large amount of training in a short period for no apparent reason; [New York Times, 2/8/2002]
He is “extremely” interested in the operation of the plane’s doors and control panel. [US Congress, 10/17/2002] He also is very keen to learn the protocol for communicating with the flight tower, despite claiming to have no plans to become an actual pilot; [New York Times, 2/8/2002]
He talks to some Syrian airline pilots training at the facility, and the pilots tell Nelson that Moussaoui is fluent in Arabic. Nelson, who is already worried Moussaoui might be up to no good, thinks, “One more red flag;” [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 4/24/2005; CNN, 3/2/2006]
The school’s accountant complains that Moussaoui’s payment is a couple of hundred dollars short, but that he does not have a credit card with him, even though he says he is an international businessman; [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 4/24/2005] and
Nelson thinks back to an incident in Japan when the captain was stabbed to death and the killer then flew the plane for 45 minutes before the co-captain regained control. He is concerned Moussaoui might perform a suicide hijacking, “Here’s the problem: You’ve got an aircraft that weighs upwards of 900,000 pounds fully loaded and carries between 50,000 and 57,000 gallons of jet fuel. If you fly it at 350 knots [about 400 miles per hour] into a heavily populated area, you’re going to kill a boatload of people.” After talking to instructor Clancy Prevost, who is also suspicious of Moussaoui (see August 13-15, 2001), both Sims and Nelson independently decide to call the FBI and Moussaoui is arrested soon after the calls are made (see August 16, 2001). [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 4/24/2005]
Pan Am International Flight School. [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)Although some staff at the Pan Am International Flight School became a little suspicious of Zacarias Moussaoui before he arrived (see August 11-15, 2001), within two days of his arrival at the school, Moussaoui’s behaviour makes his assigned instructor Clancy Prevost highly suspicious. This is because:
Moussaoui has only flown for under 60 hours, whereas the second least experienced student Prevost ever had had 10 times as many hours. This lack of experience means Moussaoui does not really understand the instruction; [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006]
When Moussaoui is asked what his goal is, he tells Prevost he wants to fly a 747 from London to New York, the same goal he gave in his original e-mail to the flight school. [Rake, 5/2005] This raises fears he has plans to hijack such a flight; [US Congress, 10/17/2002]
When Prevost relates a story about a charter flight in the Middle East where getting the doors open was a problem, the story causes Prevost to ask Moussaoui whether he is a Muslim and Moussaoui replies in a strange tone, “I am nothing.” This makes Prevost worry so much that he ends the session, goes back to his motel, and calls the flight school to express his reservations about Moussaoui. He talks to his manager in the morning and says, “We’ll care [about having trained Moussaoui] when there’s a hijacking and he knows how to throw the switches and put them in the right position and all the lawsuits start coming in when they figure out we taught him how to do this”;
Prevost then goes into a supervisors’ meeting and recommends calling the FBI, but becomes even more upset when he is told Moussaoui paid for his training in $100 bills.
As Moussaoui does not learn much during the day, Prevost invites him to observe a simulator session that evening, which Moussaoui does with interest. The following day Prevost meets the FBI, which has now been alerted by the school, and shares his feeling it would be a good idea to do a background check on Moussaoui. The FBI subsequently arrests Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006] Some claims later made about Moussaoui in the media may be inaccurate:
He is said to mostly practice flying in the air, not taking off or landing. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 12/21/2001; New York Times, 2/8/2002; Slate, 5/21/2002; New York Times, 5/22/2002] However, he is arrested after ground instruction and never flies the simulator, so it is unclear how this could happen. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006] 9/11 Congressional Inquiry staff director Eleanor Hill will also later say that the reports saying he only wanted to pilot a plane in the air are untrue. [US Congress, 9/24/2002] In addition, the 9/11 Commission will comment, “Contrary to popular belief, Moussaoui did not say he was not interested in learning how to take off or land”; [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]
It will be reported that he appears not to understand French, despite being from France, and does not specify the Middle Eastern country he says he comes from. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 12/21/2001; Washington Post, 1/2/2002] However, at the trial Prevost will recall that Moussaoui spoke good French and that Moussaoui told him he had both French and Moroccan passports. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006]
Prevost will later receive a controversial $5 million reward from the US Department of State’s Reward for Justice program. [Newsweek, 1/30/2008]
The FBI’s Minneapolis field office tells the CIA that Zacarias Moussaoui will be arrested the next day (see August 16, 2001). The information is communicated to a CIA field office, which then informs the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) at CIA headquarters. The CTC searches for information on Moussaoui, but does not find anything. The CIA has information on Moussaoui at this point, but the information is related to one of Moussaoui’s aliases and the CIA apparently does not understand that the alias is used by Moussaoui (see April 2001). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 200-201]
Zacarias Moussaoui writes the phone number of Amer el-Azizi in his notebook. El-Azizi is a Spain-based militant who is linked to 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see (November 2001)) and is thought to have helped set up a meeting between Mohamed Atta and Ramzi bin al-Shibh in Spain in July 2001 (see Before July 8, 2001
and July 8-19, 2001). It is unclear when the number is written in Moussaoui’s notebook or what type of contact there is between Moussaoui and el-Azizi, if any. [Wall Street Journal, 4/7/2004] However, the connection to el-Azizi does not appear to be mentioned at Moussaoui’s trial (see March 6-May 4, 2006), even though it would be one of very few pieces of evidence potentially tying Moussaoui to the 9/11 plot. The reason for this is unclear. El-Azizi’s arrest shortly after 9/11 will be frustrated by Spanish intelligence (see October 2001 and Shortly After November 21, 2001) and he will go on to be involved in the 2004 Madrid bombings (see Before March 11, 2004 and 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004).
After Zacarias Moussaoui is arrested (see August 16, 2001), the FBI’s Minneapolis field office becomes very concerned that he may be part of a larger operation involving hijacked aircraft and that he represents a real threat to US national security. One of the agents, Harry Samit, will later say that he and his colleagues are “obsessed” with Moussaoui. Samit sends over 70 communications warning about Moussaoui to the following:
The Hezbollah, bin Laden, and Radical Fundamentalist Units at FBI headquarters (see August 20-September 11, 2001);
Another FBI field office (see August 23, 2001);
The CIA (see August 24, 2001);
The FBI’s offices in Paris and London;
The Secret Service;
The Immigration and Naturalization Service; and
Another intelligence agency (possibly the National Security Agency).
While some of these bodies are responsive (see August 22, 2001 and August 24, 2001), Samit and his colleagues in Minnesota are forced to engage in a running battle with the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters, which obstructs their attempts to obtain a warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings. Samit will later accuse the RFU of “criminal negligence” because they were trying to “run out the clock” to deport Moussaoui, instead of prosecuting him. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 101-221 ; USA Today, 3/9/2006; Washington Post, 3/21/2006]
Immediately after learning of Zacarias Moussaoui’s suspicious behavior, Minneapolis FBI agent Harry Samit, one of the agents who arrests Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), suspects he is preparing to hijack an airliner. He writes to a colleague, “That’s pretty ominous and obviously suggests some sort of hijacking plan.” [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 4/4/2006] Interviews with Moussaoui after his arrest will reinforce the Minneapolis FBI’s suspicions that he is involved in a wider terrorist plot against airliners (see August 16-17, 2001). And after interviewing Moussaoui’s associate Hussein al-Attas as well (see August 16, 2001), Samit is unequivocally “convinced… a hundred percent that Moussaoui [is] a bad actor, [is] probably a professional mujaheddin and this [is] not a joyride, that he [is] completely bent on the use of this aircraft for destructive purposes.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 114-5, 120-2 ] In the main initial memo from Samit to other FBI units, Samit describes Moussaoui as “extremely evasive” and “extremely agitated.” Samit also writes that Moussaoui appeared to by lying when he denied he had weapons training. Samit says, “Minneapolis believes that Moussaoui is an Islamic extremist preparing for some future act in furtherance of radical fundamentalist goals.” Samit expresses his belief Moussaoui is planning something with a 747-400. He is aware Moussaoui’s plan probably involves co-conspirators and writes “Moussaoui, al-Attas, and others yet unknown are conspiring to commit violations of [Federal anti-terrorism statutes],” and “there is reason to believe that Moussaoui and al-Attas are part of a larger international radical fundamentalist group.” Samit even suspects Moussaoui of two of the offenses he will eventually be charged with and plead guilty to (see April 22, 2005). The e-mail accompanying the main memo concludes, “[p]lease let me know a soon as [the Department] gives the go-ahead. We’re all counting on you!” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 120-2 ; Minneapolis Star Tribune, 6/4/2006]
Hussein al-Attas. [Source: Public domain]Hours after Zacarias Moussaoui is taken into custody in Minnesota, his friend and roommate Hussein al-Attas is interviewed by the FBI. The two men had recently driven together to Minnesota from Oklahoma (see August 10-11, 2001).
According to a summary of the interview written at the time, “Al-Attas indicated that Moussaoui believes that it is acceptable to kill civilians who harm Muslims and that he approves of martyrs.”
Al-Attas says Moussaoui talked about holy war every day when they roomed together.
When asked if he had ever heard Moussaoui make a plan to kill those who harm Muslims, “Al-Attas admit[s] that he may have heard him do so, but that because it is not in [al-Attas’] own heart to carry out acts of this nature, he claimed that he kept himself from actually hearing and understanding.”
Al-Attas says Moussaoui holds strong anti-American views and might be willing to act on his beliefs.
Al-Attas describes Moussaoui as so secretive that he refuses to give his full name, identifying himself only as “Shaqil.”
He also says that Moussaoui told him “true” Muslims must prepare themselves to fight and they should understand the suffering of Muslims in places like Palestine and Kosovo.
He mentions that he and Moussaoui are carrying fighting gloves and shin guards to practice martial arts as part of Moussaoui’s philosophy that Muslims should be ready to fight nonbelievers.
He has not heard Moussaoui mention any specific terrorist plot, but says that Moussaoui “is suspicious to me, too.”
FBI agents interview al-Attas again the following day, then charge him with violating the terms of his student visa by working at a mosque in Oklahoma, and arrest him. During the second interview, al-Attas says that Moussaoui follows the teachings of a sheikh whose name he would not disclose to him (see August 17, 2001). The agents contact FBI supervisors in Washington to seek approval to get a warrant to search Moussaoui’s computer. The supervisors are aware of what al-Attas said in the interview, but nevertheless they tell the Minnesota FBI agents that they do not want to attempt to get the warrant because it has not been shown that Moussaoui is an agent of a foreign power. The New York Times will note that the content of al-Attas’ interview “raise[s] new questions about whether top [FBI] officials… were aggressive enough in responding to that information.” [Washington Post, 1/31/2002; New York Times, 5/24/2002; Associated Press, 3/21/2006] Al-Attas will be arrested shortly after 9/11 and held as a material witness. He will later plead guilty to lying about Moussaoui. He lied in claiming that he did not know Moussaoui’s real name, lied about plans to go with Moussaoui to New York City in late August 2001, lied about Moussaoui’s desire to participate in holy war, and lied about a planned trip to speak to religious scholars who would encourage al-Attas to participate in holy war. He will be sentenced to time served, but will be kept imprisoned until the conclusion of Moussaoui’s trial in 2006 (see March 6-May 4, 2006). [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 7/22/2002; Associated Press, 10/22/2002] It is also later revealed that Moussaoui had recently convinced al-Attas to fight in Chechnya in order to prepare for holy war. [Wall Street Journal, 2/4/2002] Furthermore, the person who attempts to post bond for al-Attas had been the subject of a full-field FBI international terrorism investigation in Oklahoma. This unnamed person was a recruiter for a radical Palestinian group and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] In post-9/11 media accounts, al-Attas is generally portrayed as someone who had been innocently and accidentally caught up with Moussaoui. But it appears that in the weeks before 9/11, US intelligence will consider the possibility that al-Attas may have been plotting with Moussaoui. For instance, a CIA cable that will be sent on August 24 is titled “Subjects Involved in Suspicious 747 Flight Training,” (see August 24, 2001) one that will be sent on August 28 has Moussaoui and al-Attas’ names as the title. [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 7/22/2002; Associated Press, 10/22/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 540]
Zacarias Moussaoui after his arrest. [Source: FBI]After being warned that Zacarias Moussaoui has raised suspicions at flight school (see August 11-15, 2001 and August 13-15, 2001), the FBI learns they can arrest him because he is in the US illegally. Four agents, Harry Samit, John Weess, Dave Rapp (all FBI) and Steve Nordmann (INS), drive to the Residence Inn, where Moussaoui and his associate Hussein al-Attas are staying. At the hotel Samit speaks on the phone to Joe Manarang from FBI headquarters; Manarang appeals for them to take the “cautious route” and not arrest Moussaoui. However, Samit refuses, as he has already notified the hotel clerk of their interest. Moussaoui is arrested around 4:00 p.m. on an immigration violation. At first Moussaoui shows the agents some documents, but then he becomes upset at missing his flight training. The FBI confiscates his belongings, including a computer laptop, but Moussaoui refuses permission for the belongings to be searched. A search of Moussaoui’s person yields a dagger with a two-inch blade, and another knife with a three-inch blade belonging to Moussoaui is found in the car. He also has boxing gloves and shin guards, and the arresting agents note he has prepared “through physical training for violent confrontation.” Al-Attas allows the agents to search his belongings and they believe al-Attas is in the US legally, so he is not arrested. However, al-Attas tells the FBI that Moussaoui is a radical religious Muslim and later makes several statements indicating Moussaoui may be a terrorist (see August 16, 2001). [MSNBC, 12/11/2001; US Congress, 10/17/2002; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006; Minneapolis Star Tribune, 6/4/2006] Al-Attas is arrested the next day (see August 17, 2001).
A letter that Zacarias Moussaoui had in his possession when he was arrested. It is signed by Yazid Sufaat, whose apartment was used for a 9/11 planning meeting in January 2000 that was monitored by the authorities. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division] (click image to enlarge)After Zacarias Moussaoui is arrested, the FBI wishes to search his possessions (see August 16, 2001 and August 23-27, 2001). According to a presentation made by FBI agent Aaron Zebley at Moussaoui’s trial, the belongings are sufficient to potentially connect Moussaoui to eleven of the 9/11 hijackers: Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Ziad Jarrah, Hani Hanjour, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, Fayez Banihammad, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Hamza Alghamdi, Satam Al Suqami, and Waleed Alshehri. The connections would be made, for example, through Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who spoke with Moussaoui on the telephone and wired him money (see July 29, 2001-August 3, 2001), and who was linked to three of the hijacker pilots from their time in Germany together (see November 1, 1998-February 2001). Bin al-Shibh also received money from Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, who was connected to hijacker Fayez Ahmed Banihammad (see June 25, 2001). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006] Moussaoui’s notebook contained two recognizable control numbers for the Western Union wire transfers from bin al-Shibh and, according to McClatchy newspapers, a check on these numbers “would probably have uncovered other wires in the preceding days” to bin al-Shibh from al-Hawsawi. [McClatchy Newspapers, 9/11/2007] The discovery of the eleven hijackers could potentially have led to the discovery of some or all of the remaining eight plot members, as they were brothers (Wail and Waleed Alshehri, Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi), opened bank accounts together (see May 1-July 18, 2001 and June 27-August 23, 2001), lived together (see March 2001-September 1, 2001), obtained identity documents together (see April 12-September 7, 2001 and August 1-2, 2001), arrived in the US together (see April 23-June 29, 2001), and booked tickets on the same four flights on 9/11 (see August 25-September 5, 2001).
Entity Tags: Saeed Alghamdi, Salem Alhazmi, Satam Al Suqami, Waleed Alshehri, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ziad Jarrah, Wail Alshehri, Mohand Alshehri, Nawaf Alhazmi, Marwan Alshehhi, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Ahmed Alghamdi, Mohamed Atta, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Abdulaziz Alomari, Hani Hanjour, Hamza Alghamdi, Ahmed Alnami, Majed Moqed, Khalid Almihdhar
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The FBI fails to inform its own head of the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui. It is unclear how this failure occurs. The highest FBI official to be informed of Moussaoui’s arrest is apparently Michael Rolince, head of the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section (see Late August 2001), but it seems he fails to pass the information on. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 275] Thomas Pickard, who is acting FBI director at this time, will later blame CIA director George Tenet, who was briefed repeatedly on the case (see August 23, 2001), for not informing him of Moussaoui’s arrest, but Tenet will comment: “I was stunned to hear [Pickard’s comments] suggesting that I had somehow failed to notify him about Moussaoui. Failed to tell him? Hell, it was the FBI’s case, their arrest. I had no idea that the Bureau wasn’t aware of what its own people were doing.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 200-201]
Following the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, the FBI fails to brief the Counterterrorism and Security Group (CSG) chaired by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke at the National Security Council (NSC) on the case. CIA director George Tenet will later say that briefing the CSG on such an arrest is “standard practice.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 200] In July 2001, Clarke had told the FBI he wanted to be informed of anything unusual, even if a sparrow fell from a tree (see Shortly After July 5, 2001).
After Zacarias Moussaoui is arrested, he consents to be interviewed on the day of the arrest and the next day by FBI agent Harry Samit. However, the interviews only alarm the FBI more, as Moussaoui makes a number of suspicious statements and his answers are extremely evasive: [CNN, 9/28/2002; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006]
Moussaoui says he does not want the French consul to be informed of his arrest, which makes the FBI think he is a criminal or an Islamic militant;
Although Moussaoui says he works for a British company called NOP, he cannot remember what the letters stand for, neither can he recall his salary, job description, or any details of the business; [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006]
He says he works as a “marketing consultant” for Infocus Tech, a Southeast Asian technology company, but also fails to provide information about that company; [MSNBC, 12/11/2001; US Congress, 10/17/2002; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006]
When asked about his $32,000 bank balance, he initially says it is his savings, but then admits it was given to him by friends and associates, most of whose names he cannot remember (see August 17, 2001);
Moussaoui’s passport, which indicates he spent two months in Pakistan shortly before arriving in the US, is new and he tells the FBI his old one was destroyed in the washing machine, which the agents know is a common lie for international criminals.
When Samit asks Moussaoui about his trips to Pakistan and tells Moussaoui his story does not add up and they are suspicious, Moussaoui requests an attorney and the interview ends. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006] Moussaoui’s associate Hussein al-Attas is also interviewed around this time and makes several statements indicating Moussaoui may be linked with a militant group (see August 16, 2001).
INS agent Steve Nordmann. [Source: INS]Immigration and Naturalization Service agent Steve Nordmann, one of the officers who arrested Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), presses for a warrant so that law enforcement bodies can search Moussaoui’s computer files. He will later write of his regret that they were not allowed to access Moussaoui’s laptop. More details are not known as Nordmann will die in a motorcycle accident in 2003 and will not testify at Moussaoui’s trial. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 6/28/2003; St. Cloud Times, 9/7/2003] FBI agents also press for a warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 21, 2001 and August 23-27, 2001), which contain potentially enough information to prevent 9/11 (see August 16, 2001). However, the warrant is blocked by the Radical Fundamentalist Unit at FBI headquarters (see August 20-September 11, 2001).
Zacarias Moussaoui’s roommate, Hussein al-Attas, makes thirteen phone calls from jail to El Hadj Ndiaye, the imam of his local mosque in Norman, Oklahoma looking for assistance in raising money for his bond. Al-Attas was arrested and jailed shortly after Moussaoui was detained (see August 16, 2001 and August 16, 2001). Ndiaye reportedly becomes “very upset” when he hears that Moussoaui is going to be deported. According to an FBI translation of one of these conversations, Ndiaye says, “I heard you guys wanted to go on jihad.” Al-Attas responds, “Don’t talk about that now.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 134, 167-8, 201 ; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ] The Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters learns of the translated conversation on August 29 (see August 29, 2001), but the RFU chief downplays the significance of the reference to jihad. Two other people involved in posting the bond for al-Attas were the subject of counterterrorism investigations (see August 20, 2001 and August 23, 2001).
Towards the end of an interview with the FBI (see August 16-17, 2001), Zacarias Moussaoui discloses the name of one of his associates, Atif Ahmed. Moussaoui tells the FBI that Ahmed provided him with some money and that he associated with Ahmed’s brother in Pakistan. However, he cannot remember any details, such as Ahmed’s address or employment. The FBI’s Minneapolis field office immediately sends a lead to its legal attaché in London, asking him to follow up. However, information about Ahmed does not arrive in the US until “months later,” possibly November 2001, when Ahmed is arrested in Britain (see Mid-November 2001). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006] Moussaoui will later say that Ahmed is a spy working for the British, but the FBI and British authorities will deny this (see July 25, 2002).
CIA records show that CIA Director George Tenet briefed President Bush twice in August—once in Crawford, Texas, on August 17, and once in Washington, on August 31. [Washington Post, 4/15/2004] In Tenet’s 2007 book, he will briefly mention that “A few weeks after the August 6 PDB [titled ‘Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US’ (see August 6, 2001)] was delivered, I followed it to Crawford to make sure the president stayed current on events. That was my first visit to the ranch.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 145] Later asked about what he told Bush at this meeting, Tenet will only say, “I held nothing back from the president. He understood our concerns about threats. He understood what we were doing around the world at the time.” [MSNBC, 5/7/2007] By the time of the second briefing, Tenet has been briefed about Zacarias Moussaoui’s arrest (see August 23, 2001), but, apparently, he fails to tell Bush about it. [Washington Post, 4/15/2004] In April 2004, Tenet will testify under oath before the 9/11 Commission that he had no direct communication with President Bush during the month of August. [New York Times, 4/15/2004] This is quickly discovered to be untrue. A CIA spokesperson will then claim, “He momentarily forgot [about the briefings]” (see April 14, 2004). [Washington Post, 4/15/2004] Tenet will personally brief Bush six more times before 9/11 and will still apparently fail to mention Moussaoui to him (see September 1-8, 2001).
When Zacarias Moussaoui is arrested (see August 16, 2001), he has a receipt on him for a Kinko’s store where he used a computer on August 12. The FBI does not go to this Kinko’s store to collect information about Moussaoui immediately after the arrest, but only on September 19, after the rest of Moussaoui’s belongings have been searched (see September 11, 2001). The FBI is told that the computers have been wiped and no information about Moussaoui’s use can be obtained. Due to the frequency with which Kinko’s computers are wiped, if the FBI visited the Kinko’s store immediately after the arrest, it is possible information about Moussaoui could have been recovered. Although the FBI is initially aware of some of Moussaoui’s e-mail addresses, in summer 2002 Moussaoui will reveal additional addresses he used and say he used them from this Kinko’s outlet. Although the Kinko’s computers have been wiped by 9/11, Microsoft, which operates the Hotmail service Moussaoui uses, can recover information up to 90 days after an account is last used, so the FBI could get the information it seeks from Microsoft until Mid-November 2001 (see (Late July-Early August, 2002)). However, the FBI does not know about the additional accounts at this point, partly because it was prevented from interviewing Moussaoui after 9/11 (see September 11-12, 2001). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 1/1/2003]
Minneapolis FBI agent Harry Samit contacts Charles Frahm, an FBI agent who is working with the CIA’s bin Laden unit as a deputy chief, to discuss the Moussaoui case. Frahm passes on information to other CIA officers. Frahm will also be contacted by FBI headquarters about the case (see (August 20, 2001)) and will provide information linking the Chechen rebels, to which Moussaoui is connected, to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda (see August 24, 2001). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 201]
M. A. Menepta (Melvin Lattimore). [Source: Public domain]Hussein al-Attas, an associate of Zacarias Moussaoui, is released from an immigration detention center on bail. Al-Attas was questioned and detained shortly after Moussaoui’s arrest (see August 16, 2001 and August 16, 2001). His bail is paid by Mujahid Abdulqadir Menepta (a.k.a. Melvin Lattimore), who was investigated by the FBI over terrorism suspicions. When agents from the Minneapolis field office investigate Menepta, they find that he knows Moussaoui and attended the same mosque as him in Norman, Oklahoma. They also discover that he has an extensive criminal history and was the subject of a New York criminal-terrorism related investigation. Minneapolis agent Harry Samit writes in a memo to FBI headquarters that he thinks Menepta may be involved in whatever Moussaoui is plotting. Samit explains that he told immigration officers that he traveled to Pakistan in 1989 as part of a missionary effort. Samit says the international Islamic organization that sponsored the trip has been linked by the FBI to the recruitment of militants. Samit also reports that Menepta wasn’t entirely truthful with the INS. Samit says Pakistan apparently issued him a visa in April 1990, something he failed to disclose to the INS. Additionally, Menepta told immigration officers that he is al-Attas’ roommate, but al-Attas has been living with Moussaoui and another man for one month at an address different than the one indicated by Menepta. Samit says that the the explanation that he flew to Minneapolis to post al-Attas’ bond so that al-Attas can return to teach children at the Oklahoma mosque seems “farfetched.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 135-6 ; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ]
Mike Maltbie, a supervisory agent with the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters, tells Minneapolis agent Harry Samit, who has arrested Zacarias Moussaoui and wants to search his belongings, that getting an intelligence warrant can be bad for an agent’s career if it gets fouled up. Maltbie comments that he wants to “preserve the existence of his advancement potential.” The Minneapolis field office is in dispute with the RFU over whether a warrant should be granted to search Moussaoui’s belongings, which contain enough information to potentially prevent 9/11 (see August 16, 2001 and August 20-September 11, 2001). At a key meeting with an attorney about whether to go forward with the warrant request, Maltbie is adamant that the warrant should not be granted (see August 28, 2001). [Newsday, 3/21/2006]
A memo from Attorney General John Ashcroft about the FISA process, obtained by the Center for Grassroots Oversight by FOIA request. [Source: Office of the Attorney General] (click image to enlarge)A key Justice Department unit, the Office of Intelligence and Policy Review (OIPR), is not consulted about a request to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings. Although it is this office that would submit an application for a search warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the legal aspects of the application are discussed only with the National Security Law Unit, which is beneath the OIPR (see August 22-28, 2001). FBI officials discuss what they think the OIPR will want in a warrant application, but do not ask it directly. Sherry Sabol, an attorney in the lower National Security Law Unit, will later say that she would have contacted the OIPR to discuss a possible warrant application, if FBI headquarters agents had not withheld information from her (see August 22-28, 2001). When shown the relevant documentation for the Moussaoui case after 9/11, the OIPR’s general counsel will say he would have considered the application and, if submitted, he “would have tied bells and whistles” to a comment by Moussaoui’s imam that Moussaoui and an associate wanted to “go on jihad” (see August 17, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 132-166, 182-4, 201 ] However, a memo from Attorney General John Ashcroft issued in May to improve the efficiency of the FISA process recommended communications between field offices, FBI headquarters, and the OIPR. In addition, the OIPR and the FBI should hold regular monthly meetings to discuss FISA warrants. It is unclear if such a meeting is held in the three weeks between Moussaoui’s arrest and 9/11. However, one of the people supposed to attend such meetings is Spike Bowman, chief of the National Security Law Unit, who is involved in the Moussaoui case (see August 28, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 5/18/2001 ]
The Minnesota FBI office e-mails FBI headquarters on this day, saying it is “imperative” that the Secret Service be warned of the danger that a plot involving Zacarias Moussaoui might pose to the president’s safety. However, no such warning is ever sent. [US Congress, 10/17/2002; New York Times, 10/18/2002]
Dave Frasca of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) denies a request from the Minneapolis FBI field office to seek a criminal warrant to search the belongings of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was arrested on August 15 as part of an intelligence investigation (see August 16, 2001 and August 16, 2001). Minneapolis agents believe they had uncovered sufficient evidence that Moussaoui is involved in a criminal conspiracy, and want to obtain a criminal search warrant instead of a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). But because they originally opened an intelligence investigation, they cannot go directly to the local US attorney’s office for the warrant. In order to begin a parallel criminal investigation, they must first obtain permission from the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) so they can pass the information over the “wall.” [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006] Harry Samit, a Minneapolis FBI agent on the Moussaoui case, calls Dave Frasca, the head of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters, to discuss the request. Samit tells Frasca that they have already completed the paperwork for a criminal investigation, but, according to Samit, Frasca says, “You will not open it, you will not open a criminal case.” Frasca says that argument for probable cause in seeking a criminal warrant is “shaky” and notes that if they fail to obtain a criminal warrant, they will be unable to obtain a warrant under FISA. Samit, who has only been with the FBI since 1999, defers to his superior, and writes on the paperwork, “Not opened per instructions of Dave Frasca.” Samit then tells his Chief Division Counsel, Coleen Rowley, about the conversation, and she also advises him that it would be better to apply for a warrant under FISA. When the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) interviews Frasca after 9/11, he will claim he never spoke to Samit about this matter, and that the conversation was with Chris Briese, one of Samit’s superiors. However, Briese will deny this and the OIG will conclude that the conversation was between Samit and Frasca. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 128-132 ; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 ] To get a FISA search warrant for Moussaoui’s belongings the FBI must now show there is probable cause to believe Moussaoui is an agent of a foreign power. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006] A criminal warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings will be granted only after the 9/11 attacks (see September 11, 2001).
On August 21, the FBI’s legal attache in London hand-delivers a request for information about Zacarias Moussaoui to British officials. On August 24, the CIA tells the British that Moussaoui is a possible “suicide hijacker” who is involved in “suspicious 747 flight training.” The CIA asks for information on him on August 28. The FBI raises the matter with the British again on September 3 and again on September 5. Although the British do not respond to these requests until just after 9/11, French intelligence, which has been sharing information about Moussaoui with the British (see 1999), sends the FBI some information about Moussaoui’s activities and history in England (see August 22, 2001). Then, on September 13, 2001, the British supposedly learn new information that Moussaoui attended an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan (see 1995-1998). The 9/11 Commission will conclude, “Had this information been available in late August 2001, the Moussaoui case would almost certainly have received intense and much higher-level attention.” A British official will complain, “We passed on all the relevant information [about Moussaoui] as soon as we obtained it.” [Guardian, 4/14/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 274-75] However, the British had Moussaoui under surveillance in 2000 (see Mid-2000-December 9, 2000), and appear to have failed to pass on any information about this surveillance or what it uncovered.
Margaret Gillespie, an FBI agent detailed to the CIA who has just found out that future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in the US (see August 21-22, 2001), suggests asking failed Millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam whether he recognizes Almihdhar, but the proposal is not acted on. Ressam was arrested on his way to bomb Los Angeles airport (see December 14, 1999), but has been co-operating with the US government against al-Qaeda (see May 30, 2001). Gillespie makes the suggestion in an e-mail to Tom Wilshire, a CIA representative to the FBI. It is unclear what Wilshire does with the suggestion, but Ressam is not interviewed. When shown photos of Almihdhar after 9/11, Ressam will not recognize him. The FBI also fails to ask Ressam about Zacarias Moussaoui before 9/11, but shortly after 9/11 Ressam will identity Moussaoui as a person that attended al-Qaeda’s camps in Afghanistan (see Late August-Early September 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 275-6, 541]
Jean-Louis Bruguiere, who assisted the FBI with the Moussaoui case. [Source: Michel Lipchitz / Associated Press]After arresting Zacarias Moussaoui, the FBI’s Minneapolis field office asks French authorities if they have any information on him. The French then provide the US with intelligence indicating that Moussaoui is associated with a radical militant who died fighting for the Chechen rebels in 2000 (see Late 1999-Late 2000). The French interviewed one of this militant’s associates who said he had been recruited by Moussaoui to fight in Chechnya and described Moussaoui as “the dangerous one.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 140-1 ] French authorities attempt to gather additional information by talking to Moussaoui’s mother. Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, France’s lead investigating magistrate in charge of counterterrorism affairs, also provides information. “Let’s just say that Zacarias Moussaoui was well-known by the French security service…,” Bruguiere later recalls in a 2004 interview with CBC. “When the names come from abroad, we usually have a file, and it was the same with him. He was a well-known personality. He lived in France and then left here to go to England.” Bruguiere will also say that the French provided US authorities with information on Moussaoui’s activities in both France and England (see 1999 and August 21, 2001-September 13, 2001). [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 3/16/2004] Upon reviewing this information, Mike Maltbie of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit at FBI headquarters will inform Minneapolis that it is not enough for a search warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, because, even though the French sent information about Moussaoui, Maltbie objects that the Moussaoui the French are talking about may not be the same one Minneapolis has in custody. The result of this is that FBI staff are sent on what Minneapolis agent Harry Samit will later call a “wild goose chase”—they are asked to spend days poring through French phone books to make sure they have the right Moussaoui. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 8/27/2001 ; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 8/28/2001 ; Newsday, 3/21/2006; Los Angeles Times, 3/21/2006] For a search warrant to be granted there must be probable cause to believe Moussaoui is an agent of a foreign power. Maltbie claims that the Chechen rebels, who have never been treated as a foreign power before for a FISA warrant, cannot be treated as such, because they are not a “recognized” foreign power, only dissidents engaged in a civil war, and are not hostile to the US. In fact, the FBI has already received information indicating a close relationships between Chechen rebels and bin Laden (see, e.g., 1986-March 19, 2002 , August 24, 2001, and (October 1993-November 2001)) and that the two groups are working together on a strike against US interests (see Before April 13, 2001). Maltbie says that even if the Chechen rebels are a foreign power, then it will take some time to develop this information to the point where a FISA application can be submitted. Previous to this, Maltbie had only once advised a field office it was not going to get a FISA warrant. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 141-4 ] The French provide more information on Moussaoui a few days later (see August 30, 2001).
Staff at the FBI’s Minneapolis field office form the opinion that there is a “reasonable indication” Zacarias Moussaoui wants to commit a “significant federal crime,” meaning that, under the amended 1995 “wall” procedures (see July 19, 1995 and August 6, 2001), they must inform an attorney at the Justice Department’s Criminal Division about the case. However, Mike Maltbie, an agent with the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit, blocks the notification. Minneapolis agents Chris Briese and Greg Jones believe that if the Criminal Division were notified, it would then order Minneapolis to seek a criminal warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings, overcoming opposition to the search being put up by Maltbie and his colleagues (see August 20-September 11, 2001 and August 21, 2001). However, Maltbie prevents the notification from being sent, saying that he does not see any evidence of a federal crime, and that asking for a criminal warrant could unfavorably affect the chances of getting a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), if the criminal application were unsuccessful. He also says that getting a FISA warrant is easier, although two days later he says obtaining a FISA warrant will “take a few months” (see August 24, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 127-8, 143-4 ]
John O’Neill (left) with Dan Coleman at O’Neill’s retirement party on August 22, 2001. [Source: Dan Coleman]Counterterrorism expert John O’Neill retires from the FBI. He says it is partly because of the recent power play against him, but also because of repeated obstruction of his investigations into al-Qaeda. [New Yorker, 1/14/2002] In his last act, he signs papers ordering FBI investigators back to Yemen to resume the USS Cole investigation, now that Barbara Bodine is leaving as ambassador (they arrive a couple days before 9/11). He never hears the CIA warning about hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar sent out just one day later. He also apparently is not told about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui on August 15, 2001 [PBS, 10/3/2002] ; nor does he attend a June meeting when the CIA reveals some of what it knows about Alhazmi and Almihdhar. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] ABC News reporter Chris Isham will later say, “John had heard the alarm bells, too, and we used to talk about it. And he knew that there was a lot of noise out there and that there were a lot of warnings, a lot of red flags, and that it was at a similar level that they were hearing before the millennium, which was an indication that there was something going on. And yet he felt that he was frozen out, that he was not in a capacity to really do anything about it anymore because of his relationship with the FBI. So it was a source of real anguish for him.” [PBS, 10/3/2002]
Entity Tags: USS Cole, Walid Arkeh, Nawaf Alhazmi, Zacarias Moussaoui, Khalid Almihdhar, Ken Williams, John O’Neill, Al-Qaeda, Barbara Bodine, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Chris Isham
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
CIA Director George Tenet and senior CIA senior staff are briefed repeatedly about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui. When news of the case first reaches the CIA, Tenet is absent and his deputy John McLaughlin is briefed, probably around August 20, 2001. [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 541]
Series of Briefings - Tenet is informed of Moussaoui on August 23 in a briefing entitled “Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly.” The briefing states that Moussaoui paid for his training in cash, was interested to learn a plane’s doors do not open in flight, and wanted training on London to New York City flights. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria District, 7/31/2006 ] At the same time Tenet is briefed on a number of other items, including the arrest of one of Moussaoui’s associates, Djamel Beghal (see July 24 or 28, 2001), and a group of Pakistanis arrested in Bolivia during preparations for a hijacking. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 200] Tenet and other CIA officials are then kept up to date with developments in the case in a series of at least five briefings. [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 ; 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 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ]
No Discussion with Other Agencies - However, others such as President Bush and the White House Counterterrorism Support Group (CSG) are not told about Moussaoui until after the 9/11 attacks begin (see August 16-September 10, 2001). Even the acting director of the FBI is not told (see August 16-September 10, 2001), despite the fact that lower level FBI officials who made the arrest tried to pass on the information. Tenet later maintains that there was no reason to alert President Bush or to share information about Moussaoui during an early September 2001 Cabinet-level meeting on terrorism, saying, “All I can tell you is, it wasn’t the appropriate place. I just can’t take you any farther than that.” [Washington Post, 4/17/2004; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 6 ]
'Lousy Explanation' - 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer will later come to the conclusion that this is, in author Philip Shenon’s words, a “lousy explanation,” and that Tenet should have called Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard to talk about the case, because Tenet was well aware that the FBI was “dysfunctional” at terrorism investigations and that it did not have a permanent director at that time. Roemer will ask, “The report about Moussaoui shoots up the chain of command at the CIA like the lit fuse on a bomb, but Director Tenet never picks up the phone to call the FBI about it?” Roemer will conclude that a call from Tenet to Pickard might have prevented 9/11, and will be amazed Tenet does not mention it at the September terrorism meeting, “If the system is blinking red, why don’t you bring it up?” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 361]
Two agents from the Oklahoma City FBI office visit Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma, to learn about Zacarias Moussaoui’s training there earlier in the year. One of these agents had visited the same school in September 1999 to learn more about Ihab Ali Nawawi, an al-Qaeda agent who trained there in 1993. Apparently, this agent forgets the connection when he visits the school to look into Moussaoui. He later admits he should have connected the two cases. [Boston Globe, 9/18/2001; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 322] The staff director of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry later states, “No one will ever know whether a greater focus on the connection between these events would have led to the unraveling of the September 11 plot.” [New York Daily News, 9/25/2002] The Oklahoma City office also does not connect Moussaoui to a memo that had come from its office in May 1998 warning that “large numbers of Middle Eastern males” were receiving flight training in Oklahoma and could be planning terrorist attacks (see May 15, 1998). Furthermore, Moussaoui’s Oklahoma roommate Hussein al-Attas is also under suspicion at this time (see August 16, 2001). One of the people who attempted to post bond for al-Attas, William Webb, had previously been the subject of an extensive investigation by the same Oklahoma City FBI office. Webb is a member of the extremist group the Muslim Brotherhood and is also Vice President of Overseas Operations and Recruiting for the Palestinian group Fatah. Further, Webb is connected to Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam who has frequent ties with some of the 9/11 hijackers and is suspected of involvement in the 9/11 plot (see March 2001 and After). Al-Awlaki was the subject of an FBI counterterrorism inquiry the year before (see June 1999-March 2000). These connections are also not noticed. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 322; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 134-5 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ]
Zacarias Moussaoui’Â™s laptop, not opened until after 9/11. [Source: FBI]In the wake of the French intelligence report (see August 22, 2001) on Zacarias Moussaoui, FBI agents in Minneapolis, Minnesota, are “in a frenzy” and “absolutely convinced he [is] planning to do something with a plane.” Agent Greg Jones tells FBI headquarters that Moussaoui might “fly something into the World Trade Center.” [Newsweek, 5/20/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 153 ] Minneapolis FBI agents become “desperate to search the computer lap top” and “conduct a more thorough search of his personal effects,” especially since Moussaoui acted as if he was hiding something important in the laptop when arrested. [Time, 5/21/2002; Time, 5/27/2002] As the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters has already blocked an application for a criminal warrant (see August 21, 2001), the FBI’s Minneapolis field office must apply for one under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Minneapolis agent Harry Samit completes an application for a warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings on August 25. To obtain the warrant, he has to show there is probable cause to believe Moussaoui is an agent of a foreign power. The memo states that Moussaoui recruited a fighter for a particular Chechen rebel group connected to al-Qaeda, so he is connected to al-Qaeda through the Chechens. However, the RFU at FBI headquarters believes that the Chechen rebels should not be described as a foreign power and that the link between the Chechens and bin Laden is not strong enough. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 128-132 ; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 ] However, earlier in 2001 the FBI had received information indicating that this Chechen group and bin Laden were planning to attack US interests (see Before April 13, 2001). Minneapolis FBI agent Coleen Rowley later sums up how the Minneapolis agents feel at this point, when she says FBI headquarters “almost inexplicably, throw up roadblocks” and undermine their efforts. Headquarters personnel bring up “almost ridiculous questions in their apparent efforts to undermine the probable cause.” One of Jones’ e-mails to FBI headquarters says they are “setting this up for failure.” That turns out to be correct. [Time, 5/21/2002; Time, 5/27/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 161 ]
Tom Wilshire, a CIA manager detailed to the FBI (see May 2001), writes to Dave Frasca, head of the FBI’s radical fundamentalist unit, to obtain information about the progress of the case of Zacarias Moussaoui. Moussaoui was arrested by the FBI’s Minneapolis field office, which Wilshire refers to as the “Minneapolis Airplane IV crowd.” Presumably, this is a reference to the films Airplane and Airplane II, which were parodies of disaster and sci-fi movies. He asks whether leads have been sent out to obtain additional biographical information and whether the FBI has photographs it can provide the CIA. He receives a reply from one of Frasca’s subordinates telling him there are no indications Moussaoui has plans for nefarious activity (see August 24, 2001). [BBC, 3/13/2001; BBC, 3/13/2001; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 151 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ]
Frustrated with the lack of response from FBI headquarters about Zacarias Moussaoui, the Minnesota FBI contacts an FBI agent working with the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, and asks for help. [US Congress, 10/17/2002] On this day, the CIA sends a cable to stations and bases overseas requesting information about Moussaoui. The cable is titled, “Subjects Involved in Suspicious 747 Flight Training.” The cable says that the FBI is investigating Moussaoui for possible involvement in the planning of a terrorist attack and mentions his efforts to obtain flight training. It also suggests he might be “involved in a larger plot to target airlines traveling from Europe to the US.” [US Congress, 9/18/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 540] It calls him a “suspect 747 airline attacker” and a “suspect airline suicide hijacker”—showing that the form of the 9/11 attack is not a surprise, at least to the CIA. [US Congress, 10/17/2002] FBI headquarters responds by chastising the Minnesota FBI for notifying the CIA without approval. [Time, 5/21/2002]
After the CIA sends the FBI information it thinks is sufficient for a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 24, 2001), the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) sends the same information to a CIA representative to the FBI and asks him to help arrange a search warrant. The representative is not named, but it may be Tom Wilshire (see May 2001), a CIA officer assigned to the FBI who requests information about Moussaoui on this day (see August 24, 2001). The CTC officer writes: “No one in the FBI seems to have latched on to this. Perhaps you can educate them on Moussaoui. This may be all they need to open a FISA on Moussaoui.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 202]
Mike Maltbie, a supervisory special agent with the Radical Fundamentalist Unit at FBI headquarters, writes to Tom Wilshire, a CIA manager stationed with the FBI, about the case of Zacarias Moussaoui and Hussein al-Attas (see August 24, 2001). He tells Wilshire what actions the FBI has taken on the case and concludes by saying, “Please bear in mind that there is no indication that either of these two had plans for nefarious activity as was apparently indicated in an earlier communication.” The word “no” is underlined. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 151 ] However, the FBI’s field office in Minneapolis suspects Moussaoui is part of a wider plot to hijack airliners and Maltbie is aware of their concerns (see August 15-20, 2001).
The FBI fails to ask Ahmed Ressam, an al-Qaeda operative arrested during the Millennium alert (see December 14, 1999), whether he can identify Zacarias Moussaoui. Agents in Seattle holding Ressam receive a general notification about the Moussaoui case, but it lacks urgency and they do not follow up on it with Ressam (see September 4, 2001). When asked shortly after 9/11, Ressam will say he recognizes Moussaoui from al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan. The 9/11 Commission will conclude that had Ressam been shown photos of Moussaoui and identified him before 9/11, the FBI would have been able to search his belongings. The belongings contain enough information to potentially prevent 9/11 (see August 16, 2001). The FBI also fails to ask Ressam whether he recognizes Khalid Almihdhar at this time, although Ressam has never met Almihdhar and will not identify him after 9/11 (see August 21, 2001). [Sunday Times (London), 2/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 275-6, 541]
In April 2001, the CIA analyzed some “intriguing information associated with a person known as ‘Mukhtar.’” The CIA didn’t know who this was at the time, only that he was associated with top al-Qaeda deputy Abu Zubaida and that he seemed to be involved in planning al-Qaeda activities. On August 28, 2001, the CIA receives a cable reporting that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) has the nickname of Mukhtar (which means “brain” in Arabic). However, apparently no one at the CIA’s bin Laden unit makes the connection between this new information and the April 2001 information. The 9/11 Commission writes, “Only after 9/11 would it be discovered that Muhktar/KSM had communicated with a phone that was used by [Ramzi] bin al-Shibh, and that bin al-Shibh had used the same phone to communicate with [Zacarias] Moussaoui [who is in US custody by this time.]” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 322; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 277]
The Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters learns of a translated conversation (see August 17, 2001) between Zacarias Moussaoui’s roommate, Hussein al-Attas, and an imam from a mosque in Norman, Oklahoma, in which the imam had said, “I heard you guys wanted to go on jihad.” On this day, the FBI also learns about al-Attas’s will, which states that “death is near” and that “those who participate in jihad can expect to see God.” After receiving the information, RFU chief Dave Frasca replies in an e-mail, “The will is interesting. The jihad comment doesn’t concern me by itself in that this word can mean many things in various [M]uslim cultures and is frequently taken out of context.” However, a top Justice Department attorney who submits applications for warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), will later say that “he would have tied bells and whistles” to the jihad comment in a FISA application. A later investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will conclude that the comment was “significant” and “should have been given greater weight in considering whether there was probable cause to believe Moussaoui was connected to a terrorist group.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 134, 167-8, 201 ; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 ]
After the FBI decides not to seek a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (see August 28, 2001), it fails to reconsider the possibility of applying for a criminal warrant. A criminal warrant was not sought initially, partially because if the warrant application were unsuccessful, it would adversely affect the chances of getting a FISA warrant (see August 21, 2001). Now that a FISA warrant is not to be sought, this potential consequence is irrelevant. Dave Frasca, head of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters, will later say that he does not know why he, his subordinate Mike Maltbie, and the FBI’s Minneapolis field office do not bring this possibility up at this time, but will suggest that everybody probably forgot to raise the matter. Maltbie will say he does not think there is enough evidence for a warrant. Minneapolis personnel will say they do not bring the issue up because they do not think of it, are not in charge of the case, and the RFU has previously blocked this route. The Justice Department’s inspector general will say that the failure to reconsider obtaining a criminal search warrant is “puzzling” and “even more troubling” than the previous errors in the case’s handling, adding that it “also shows a troubling lack of initiative and acceptance of responsibility by FBI headquarters.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 168-9, 191-2 ]
Harry Samit, an agent at the FBI’s Minneapolis field office, drafts a memo to the FAA summarizing the facts of the Zacarias Moussaoui case. In it, he writes, “Minneapolis believes that Moussaoui, [his roommate Hussein] al-Attas, and others not yet known were engaged in preparing to seize a Boeing 747-400 in commission of a terrorist act. As Moussaoui denied requests for consent to search his belongings and was arrested before sufficient evidence of criminal activity was revealed, it is not known how far advanced were his plans to do so.” He also mentions Moussaoui’s physical and marital arts training and expresses concern that France, where Moussaoui will soon be deported, may not be able to hold him or his property for long. But Mike Maltbie of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) instructs the Minneapolis field office not to send the memo because he is also drafting a memo on the Moussaoui case that will be sent to the FAA and other agencies. However Maltbie’s memo lacks a threat assessment and does not mention Minneapolis’ suspicions that Moussaoui might be planning a terrorist act involving a hijacked airplane. The memo does not result in any FAA action. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 174-7 ; Los Angeles Times, 3/20/2006] A meeting between Samit and a Minneapolis FAA officer will also fail to produce any FAA action (see September 4, 2001).
The information sent by the French included a photocopy of this page of Moussaoui’s French passport. [Source: FBI]French authorities provide the FBI’s representative in Paris with additional information about Zacarias Moussaoui, and he forwards this information to the FBI’s Minneapolis field office and headquarters (see August 22, 2001 and Late 1999-Late 2000). The French say that according to an acquaintance of the suspected militant, Moussaoui is a radical Islamic fundamentalist who is potentially very dangerous. They warn that Moussaoui, who was radicalized at London’s Finsbury Park mosque, is devoted to Wahabbism, the Saudi Arabian sect of Islam that is adhered to by bin Laden (see 1994), and has traveled to Kuwait, Turkey, and Afghanistan (see 1995-1998). According to the French, the acquaintance also revealed that Moussaoui is a “strategist” and described him as “a cold stubborn man, capable of nurturing a plan over several months, or even years and of committing himself to this task in all elements of his life.” The French also tell the FBI that they would be willing to have Moussaoui deported back to France. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 169-170 ; Associated Press, 3/20/2006] Describing the French report to the FBI, a French justice official later says that France “gave the FBI ‘everything we had’” on Moussaoui, “enough to make you want to check this guy out every way you can. Anyone paying attention would have seen he was not only operational in the militant Islamist world but had some autonomy and authority as well.” [Time, 5/27/2002] And the French interior minister will similarly state, “We did not hold back any information.” [ABC News, 9/5/2002] “Even a neophyte working in some remote corner of Florida, would have understood the threat based on what was sent,” one senior French investigator later explains. [Time, 8/12/2002] The FBI decides (see (August 30-September 10, 2001)) to deport Moussaoui back to France. At a meeting in Paris several days later (see September 5-6, 2001), French authorities will again warn their US counterparts about Moussaoui and his connections.
A CIA officer involved in the Moussaoui case contacts a fellow CIA officer assigned to the FBI and complains about the FBI’s inability to obtain a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings, which contain enough information to potentially prevent 9/11 (see August 16, 2001). The officer writes: “Please excuse my obvious frustration in this case. I am highly concerned that this is not paid the amount of attention it deserves. I do not want to be responsible when [Moussaoui and his associate Hussein al-Attas] surface again as members of a suicide terrorist op… I want an answer from a named FBI group chief [note: presumably Dave Frasca, head of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit] for the record on these questions… several of which I have been asking since a week and a half ago. It is critical that the paper trail is established and clear. If this guy is let go, two years from now he will be talking to a control tower while aiming a 747 at the White House.” One of these two CIA officers may be Tom Wilshire, who is involved in the Moussaoui case (see August 24, 2001). CIA director George Tenet will write, “This comment was particularly prescient because we later learned after 9/11 that Moussaoui had in fact asked Osama bin Laden for permission to be able to attack the White House.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 203] Greg Jones, an FBI agent involved in the case, makes a similar prediction, but guesses that the target will be the World Trade Center, not the White House (see August 27, 2001).
Following the collapse of the FBI’s attempts to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 28, 2001), the FBI begins working on a plan to deport him to France so his belongings can be searched there. The French ask that a law enforcement officer from the US accompany Moussaoui. The FBI’s Minneapolis field office and the FBI’s assistant legal attache in Paris ask that Minneapolis agent Harry Samit and an INS agent go to France with Moussaoui to brief the French and await the results of the search of his belongings. Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) chief Dave Frasca opposes this plan. Michael Rolince, head of the bureau’s International Terrorism Operations Section, opposes it as well, later claiming that he thought Samit might try to obtain information from Moussaoui on the journey. For several days, Frasca and one of his subordinates, Mike Maltbie, continue to haggle with Minneapolis over whether Samit can accompany Moussaoui. But when the French and the assistant legal attache insist, they drop their objections. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 171-3 ] Minneapolis is highly unsatisfied with this solution and would have preferred to obtain a warrant to search his belongings. Samit writes before 9/11 that deporting Moussaoui “was a distant third in my list of desired outcomes, but at this point I am so desperate to get into his computer I’ll take anything.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/10/2001 ] Samit will later accuse the RFU of “criminal negligence” because they were trying to “run out the clock” and deport Moussaoui, instead of prosecuting him. [Washington Post, 3/21/2006] The 9/11 attacks occur before the deportation can take place (see September 11, 2001).
After failing to obtain a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 28, 2001), the FBI’s Minneapolis field office considers inserting an Arabic speaking undercover officer into Moussaoui’s cell “in an attempt to learn the name or description of the recognized foreign power with whom Moussaoui is aligned.” Minneapolis sees no problem with the idea and contacts the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters about it. RFU chief Dave Frasca replies, “Let us look into this asap. Do NOT go forward with the [undercover officer] until we weigh in…” Frasca then discusses the idea with an expert at the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section, who says the proposal is “ridiculous” and should not be implemented. Frasca also tells Minneapolis the idea is problematic because in the event of criminal proceedings the undercover officer will not be in a position to testify. The plan is abandoned and the FBI continues with preparations to deport Moussaoui (see (August 30-September 10, 2001)). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 166-7 ]
With President Bush back in Washington after a long vacation, CIA Director George Tenet resumes personally delivering the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) to him. Tenet has one meeting with Bush on August 31, 2001, after Bush’s return (see August 17 and 31, 2001), and then briefs him six more times in the first eight days of September. Bush is out of town the next few days, so he is briefed by other CIA personnel. [Agence France-Presse, 4/15/2004] By this time, Tenet has been told about the arrest of suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 23, 2001). But there is no evidence he mentions this to Bush before 9/11. Further, on August 23, 2001, the CIA watchlisted 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and began looking for them in the US (see August 23, 2001), but there’s no evidence Tenet or anyone else briefed Bush about this, either.
FBI headquarters dispatches a memo to the entire US intelligence community summarizing what has been learned about Zacarias Moussaoui. The memo, written by Mike Maltbie, an agent in the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU), reports that the FBI has become suspicious of Moussaoui because he took flight simulation training for a 747 jet, a course normally taken by airline pilots. Moussaoui, who has no flying experience, paid cash for the training, the memo also notes. It also says that Moussaoui has radical Islamic fundamentalist beliefs and has been linked to Chechen militants. However, the memo does not include a threat assessment or indicate that some FBI investigators believe Moussaoui is part of a yet unknown plot to hijack an airplane and use it in a terrorist attack. As a later congressional inquiry will report, the memo fails to “recommend that the addressees take any action or look for any additional indicators of a terrorist attack, nor [does] it provide any analysis of a possible hijacking threat or provide any specific warnings.” [US Congress, 9/24/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 175-6 ] Several days earlier, Maltbie blocked the release of a memo from the FBI’s Minneapolis field office that was addressed to the FAA and did contain a threat assessment (see August 29-September 4, 2001). When the FAA receives the FBI memo, it decides not to issue a security alert to the nation’s airports in response. An FAA representative later explains to the New York Post, “[Moussaoui] was in jail and there was no evidence he was connected to other people.” [New York Post, 5/21/2002] The FBI memo contrasts sharply with an internal CIA warning sent out on August 24. That memo, which was based on less information, warned that Moussaoui might be “involved in a larger plot to target airlines traveling from Europe to the US” (see August 24, 2001). [US Congress, 9/18/2002] It turns out that prior to this time, al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam had started cooperating with investigators. He had trained with Moussaoui in Afghanistan and will willingly share this information after 9/11. The FBI dispatch, with its notable lack of urgency and details, fails to prompt the agents in Seattle holding Ressam to question him about Moussaoui. Had the connection between these two men been learned before 9/11, presumably the search warrant for Moussaoui would have been approved and the 9/11 plot might have unraveled (see Late August-Early September 2001). [Sunday Times (London), 2/3/2002]
French and US intelligence officials hold meetings in Paris on combating terrorism. The French newspaper Le Monde claims that the French try again to warn their US counterparts about Zacarias Moussaoui, “but the American delegation… paid no attention… basically concluding that they were going to take no one’s advice, and that an attack on American soil was inconceivable.” The US participants also say Moussaoui’s case is in the hands of the immigration authorities and is not a matter for the FBI. [Independent, 12/11/2001; Village Voice, 5/28/2002] The FBI arranges to deport Moussaoui to France on September 17, so the French can search his belongings and tell the FBI the results. Due to the 9/11 attacks, the deportation never happens. [US Congress, 10/17/2002]
David Boren. [Source: University of Oklahoma]CIA Director George Tenet is told of the first WTC crash while he is eating breakfast with his mentor, former Senator David Boren (D-OK), at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, DC. They are interrupted when CIA bodyguards converge on the table to hand Tenet a cell phone. Tenet is told that the WTC has been attacked by an airplane. Boren later says, “I was struck by the fact that [the messenger] used the word ‘attacked.’” Tenet then hands the cell phone back to an aide and says to Boren, “You know, this has bin Laden’s fingerprints all over it.” “‘He was very collected,’ Boren recalls. ‘He said he would be at the CIA in 15 minutes, what people he needed in the room and what he needed to talk about.’” [USA Today, 9/24/2001; ABC News, 9/14/2002] According to other accounts, Tenet responds to the caller, “They steered the plane directly into the building?” Tenet then says to Boren, “That looks like bin Laden.” Tenet muses aloud, “I wonder if this has something to do with the guy [Zacarias Moussaoui] who trained for a pilot’s license.” (Moussaoui had been arrested several weeks earlier.) [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 5/29/2002; Stern, 8/13/2003] According to another account, Tenet pauses while on the phone to tell Boren, “The World Trade Center has been hit. We’re pretty sure it wasn’t an accident. It looks like a terrorist act,” then returns to the phone to identify who should be summoned to the CIA situation room. [Time, 9/14/2001] Tenet later tells author Ronald Kessler, “There was no doubt that al-Qaeda was going to come here eventually, and that something spectacular was planned. I knew immediately who it was [behind the attack].” [Kessler, 2003, pp. 196] In his own 2007 book, Tenet will largely confirm the above accounts. He will add, “Most people, I understand, assumed that the first crash was a tragic accident. It took the second plane hitting the second tower to show them that something far worse was going on. That wasn’t the case for me. We had been living too intimately with the possibility of a terrorist attack on the United States. I instantly thought that this had to be al-Qaeda.” He also mentions thinking aloud about Moussaoui. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 161] Tenet will subsequently hurry back to CIA headquarters in his car (see (8:55 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Zacarias Moussaoui cheers as he watches the 9/11 attacks on television inside a prison, where he is being held on immigration charges. At his trial in 2006 (see March 6-May 4, 2006) he will recall watching television and seeing “the blue sky and the World Trade Center in flames.” [BBC, 12/12/2001; New York Times, 3/27/2006]
Two pages from Moussaoui’s notebooks mentioning Ahad Sabet (Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s alias), plus phone number and mention of his residence in Germany. [Source: FBI]Within an hour of the 9/11 attacks, the Minnesota FBI uses a memo written to FBI headquarters shortly after Zacarias Moussaoui’s arrest to ask permission from a judge for the search warrant they have been desperately seeking. After the World Trade Center is hit for the first time at 8:46 a.m., Mike Maltbie of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters calls the Minneapolis field office and talks to FBI agent Coleen Rowley. When Rowley says it is essential they get a warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings, Maltbie instructs her to take no action, because it could have an impact on matters of which she is not aware. Rowley replies that it would have to be the “hugest coincidence” if Moussaoui were not related to the attack. She will recall that Maltbie replies that coincidence is the right word. Maltbie will later say he does not recall using the word “coincidence” in the conversation. Maltbie then consults Tom Ainora, an attorney at the FBI’s national security law unit, who says Minneapolis should seek the warrant. While Rowley is waiting for Maltbie to call back, one of her colleagues, Chris Briese, talks to RFU chief Dave Frasca. According to Briese, Frasca initially says there is not enough evidence for a criminal warrant, but when they find out the Pentagon has been hit Frasca consents. Frasca will say that he consents immediately. [Time, 5/21/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 178-9 ] Briese later tells Samit that Frasca also initially claims it is just “a coincidence.” [Minneapolis Star Tribune, 6/4/2006] A federal judge approves a criminal search warrant this afternoon. [New Yorker, 9/30/2002; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006] The Radical Fundamentalist Unit at FBI headquarters had previously blocked requests for criminal and intelligence search warrants (see August 21, 2001 and August 28, 2001). Rowley will note that this very memo was previously deemed insufficient by FBI headquarters to get a search warrant, and the fact that they are immediately granted one when finally allowed to ask shows “the missing piece of probable cause was only the [FBI headquarters’] failure to appreciate that such an event could occur.” [Time, 5/21/2002] After the warrant is granted, Moussaoui’s belongings are then rushed to an evidence response team, which discovers documents linking Moussaoui to 11 of the hijackers (see August 16, 2001). Rowley later suggests that if they had received the search warrant sooner, “There is at least some chance that… may have limited the September 11th attacks and resulting loss of life.” [Time, 5/27/2002]
Entity Tags: Michael Maltbie, Tom Ainora, Radical Fundamentalist Unit, Zacarias Moussaoui, Harry Samit, FBI Minnesota field office, National Security Law Unit, David Frasca, Chris Briese, FBI Headquarters, Coleen Rowley
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The FBI’s Minneapolis office asks for permission to interview Zacarias Moussaoui a few hours after the end of the 9/11 attacks, but permission is denied, apparently on the grounds that there is no emergency. On 9/11, the office’s counsel, Coleen Rowley, seeks permission from the Acting US Attorney to question Moussaoui about whether al-Qaeda has any further plans to hijack airliners or otherwise attack the US. The next day she asks again; this time the request is sent to the Justice Department. Such questioning would not usually be permitted, but Rowley argues that it should be allowed under a public safety exception. However, permission is denied and Rowley is told that the emergency is over so the public safety exception does not apply. Rowley will later comment: “We were so flabbergasted about the fact we were told no public safety emergency existed just hours after the attacks that my boss advised me to document it in a memo which became the first document in the legal subfile of the FBI’s ‘Penttbom’ case.” [Huffington Post, 5/2/2007] Some sources will suggest that Moussaoui was to be part of a second wave of attacks (see September 5, 2002). He is also an associate of shoe bomber Richard Reid, who will attempt to blow up an airliner later this year (see Mid-2000-December 9, 2000 and December 22, 2001).
British police raid a flat previously used by Zacarias Moussaoui in Brixton, London. [CNN, 12/11/2001] The flat was also used by Moussaoui’s North-African girlfriend, but little is known about her. She is said to be wanted for questioning in connection with “terror-related activities,” but it is unclear if she is ever found or why the police would think she was involved in “terror-related activities.” [Guardian, 10/6/2001; Los Angeles Times, 12/13/2001] The Independent will report that the police are still looking for her three months later. [Independent, 12/11/2001] Some accounts say the girlfriend was one of his cousins. [Los Angeles Times, 12/13/2001] There has been no word or public interview of the girlfriend since.
Naamen Meziche. [Source: Public domain]Shortly after 9/11, US officials are finally able to investigate the possessions of prisoner Zacarias Moussaoui, and they discover the phone number of Naamen Meziche on a piece of paper. Meziche is an apparent member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg with a few of the 9/11 hijackers, although his involvement in the cell will only be made public after he is killed by a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2010 (see October 5, 2010). He is a French citizen of Algerian descent, and a longtime resident of Hamburg, Germany. Investigators also learn that Moussaoui called Meziche’s number at some time in August 2001 (presumably before Moussaoui’s arrest on August 16 (see Early August 2001)). German intelligence begins investigating Meziche and discovers more phone and e-mail communications with suspected al-Qaeda operatives. Few details are publicly released, but one detail is known: on September 5, 2001, hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh called Meziche from the airport as he was leaving Germany for Pakistan in anticipation of the 9/11 attacks (see September 5, 2001). Police ask dozens of witnesses for evidence against Meziche. In 2002, Meziche is questioned by police and denies getting the calls from bin al-Shibh or Moussaoui. [Wall Street Journal, 10/16/2010] In 2003, the German government secretly classifies Meziche as a threat. An investigation is launched in 2004 with the hope of charging him with forming a terrorist organization, but it is later suspended. On March 5, 2009, Meziche flies to Pakistan with a group of radical Islamists from Pakistan and attends training camps (see March 5, 2009). [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 10/11/2010] After Meziche’s death in the 2010 drone strike, German investigators will express their frustration at being unable to arrest him. On several occasions, suspects have been pulled off of airplanes just before takeoff, only to be released a few hours later. One unnamed intelligence official will say: “You can’t charge them with a crime until they show up in a terrorist camp. And then we can only hope they don’t return.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/16/2010]
Shortly after 9/11, US investigators are finally able to access prisoner Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings. A German cell phone number is found in his address book. In Germany, cell phone buyers must present a passport or other official identification, so German police quickly discover that the number belongs to Karl Herweg of Dusseldorf, Germany. Looking at phone records, it is discovered that in the weeks before 9/11, Herweg called Mounir El Motassadeq, Zakariya Essabar, and Mohammed Haydar Zammar, all believed to be members of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, along with a few of the 9/11 hijackers. Additionally, Herweg called “Mohammed R.,” who remains publicly unknown but is believed to be a key 9/11 suspect. [Chicago Tribune, 2/25/2003] (Note that if this is the correct first name and initial, it could be a reference to Mohammed Rajih, a Yemeni whom German authorities will investigate for terrorist ties at some point before 2005, and who has links to some Hamburg cell figures—see 1998.) [Vidino, 2006, pp. 256] Herweg also called a satellite phone probably used by al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan. However, police learn that no one in Dusseldorf has the name “Karl Herweg.” There is a couple living next door to the bogus address with the last name of Herweg, but they have no children and have never heard of any Karl Herweg. Police begin tapping Herweg’s phone. But when no new calls are made or received by early November 2001, the surveillance is discontinued. However, phone records show that at least one call is made with the phone afterwards. Herweg’s actual identity and his relationship to Moussaoui and the Hamburg cell will remain a mystery. In 2003, the Chicago Tribune will call Herweg “one of the most important figures in the continuing mystery that is Sept. 11.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/25/2003]
The CIA is informed that the possessions of Zacarias Moussaoui, which were searched after 9/11, contain a letter from a company called In Focus Tech (see August 16, 2001). The CIA finds that the company’s manager is Yazid Sufaat, who hosted an al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that was attended by hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. Various al-Qaeda leaders were also present at the meeting, which was monitored by the CIA (see January 5-8, 2000). CIA director George Tenet will later comment: “and with that the circle closed and things started to come together in a hurry… [T]his was the same Yazid Sufaat whose condo in Kuala Lumpur had been the venue for what turned out to be the first operational meeting in the planning for 9/11—the meeting… that was attended by Almihdhar and Alhazmi.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 204]
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).
Atif Ahmed, an alleged co-conspirator of Zacarias Moussaoui, is arrested in London, but is released soon after. Ahmed was named as an associate by Moussaoui in August (see August 17, 2001) and the arrest follows a search of his flat, which produces enough evidence for an arrest warrant. The FBI works closely on the case with the New York Police Department and London police, and evidence about Ahmed comes from various parts of the FBI’s 9/11 investigation. Investigators also find a phone call that suggests Ahmed and Moussaoui were working together. [ABC News, 11/14/2001] However, Ahmed is released a few days later and British security sources will later describe Ahmed as a minor figure in the London Islamist underground. [Financial Times, 9/19/2002] Moussaoui will later claim that Ahmed is a British agent and had foreknowledge of 9/11 (see July 25, 2002).
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