What we learned from the Report of the 911 Commission XVIII.

The 9/11 Commission believes that UBL had arranged for someone in the United States to receive Hazmi and Midhar, the first two al Qaeda agents to arrive in the United States. Who were the contacts?

One likely candidate was Fahad al Thumairy, a Saudi consul in Los Angeles and an imam at the King Fahd mosque there who is believed to have been an extremist. However, there is no concrete proof. (pp. 313-314.)

The most likely candidate was Mohdar Abdullah, a Yemeni whom jailhouse snitches subsequently claimed had boasted about having foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. (p. 316.) Abdullah drove the two men from Los Angeles to San Diego, served as a translator, helped them get California driver’s licenses, helped them sign up for languages classes and flying lessons, and introduced them to his circle of friends. (pp. 318-319.) Abdullah seems to have helped Hazmi get a job at a gas station where Abdullah worked. (p. 322.)

A third possibility is Yazeed al Salmi, who only came to the United States in July or August 2000. On 5 September 2000 Hazmi deposited $1,900 of al Salmi’s travelers cheques in his own bank account and withdrew the same amount of cash; al Salmi then lived in the same apartment with Hazmi until about October, when he moved in with Abdullah. (p. 322.)

Hazmi and Midhar arrived in Los Angeles on 15 January 2000; by the end of May 2000 they had abandoned the effort to learn to fly. They could not learn English, so they could not take flying lessons. Indeed, Midhar had become homesick and flew back to Yemen to visit his family in early June 2000. Hamzi hung around the mosque, then got a part-time job in a gas station.

The plot did not seem to be going forward. Nevertheless, KSM and OBL were not easily deterred.

A group of Muslim students living in Hamburg, Germany, had become radicalized by some means that still is not clear. In late 1999, fired by a desire to join in “jihad,” four of the group had left Germany for Afghanistan. Here they were recruited by al Qaeda. The intent was to use them for the “planes operation,” but they were not told exactly what their mission would be at this time. By late January 2000 they were back in Hamburg trying to get visas for the United States; in March 2000 Mohammed Atta, the alpha dog in the group, began contacting US flight schools. (pp. 231-245.) The first three of these pilot-candidates arrived in Newark between 29 May and 27 June 2000. They soon settled in Florida, where they signed up for flying lessons. By December 2000 all three had obtained pilot’s licenses and had begun simulator training for flying very large jets. (p. 328.)

Ramzi Binalshibh, the fourth pilot, could not obtain a visa for the US in May and June 2000, so al Qaeda hunted around for a replacement.

One obvious candidate turned out to be Hani Hanjour, a Saudi with an FAA pilot’s license who was discovered to be training in one of the al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in Spring 2000. Between June and 8 December 2000 Hanjour was prepped for his mission, then sent to the United States by way of San Diego. (pp. 326-327.)

For a time, they thought that Zacarias Moussaoui also might serve. He was sent to the United States by KSM in October 2000. (pp. 325-326.) From February to late May 2001 Moussaoui took flying lessons in Norman, Oklahoma, then stopped. (p. 355.)

Between January and October 2000, al Qaeda sent seven candidate-pilots for the “planes operation” to the United States. All entered the country without hindrance.

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