year later, the 19 hijackers are still a tangle of
mystery and contradiction
25,10:13 PM ET
By DAFNA LINZER, Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK - They traveled the world, often in
pairs, studying and working in Europe and the
United States. Mostly in their 20s, they came from
secular, middle-class Arab families and blended
well into Western society - hardly the profile of
Islamic zealots plotting the worst terrorist
attack in history.
While many details surrounding their daily lives
have been discovered, these 19 Arab men remain an
enigma. While they are assumed to have been driven
by hatred for America, there is scant concrete,
publicly known evidence of their mindset, the
means by which they were recruited and the point
at which they were told about the mission.
Although 15 of the hijackers were from Saudi
Arabia, federal prosecutors have alleged in court
documents that it was Mohamed Atta of Egypt, Ziad
Jarrah of Lebanon and Marwan Al-Shehhi of the
United Arab Emirates who "formed and
maintained an al-Qaida terrorist cell in
Germany" in the late 1990s.
The three Sept. 11 pilots lived in Hamburg where
they studied at universities and worked at a
computer-packing company. They socialized with the
local Muslim community, attending mosques and
community celebrations. Jarrah even had a
girlfriend. A day before he hijacked United
Airlines Flight 93, he wrote her a farewell
letter, telling her he wouldn't be back.
In the days after Sept. 11, Jarrah and Atta's
families refused to believe what they were
hearing. But as their sons have failed to
materialize, they have had little choice but to
accept the truth.
Mohamed Alshehri's two sons, Waleed and Wail, were
with Atta aboard American Airlines Flight 11,
which crashed into the north tower of the World
Trade Center. "If that turns out to be the
truth, then I'll never, never accept it from them.
I'll never forgive them for that," the Saudi
has said of his sons.
U.S. officials believe the brothers trained in
Afghan camps before heading for Florida. A drug
store owner in Delray Beach remembered them buying
soda and candy bars days before the attacks.
Sticking close together, the Alshehri brothers
stayed with each other in Florida; Atta and
Al-Shehhi, who were cousins, traveled together
across the United States; Khalid Almidhar and
Nawaf Alhazmi held a meeting in Malaysia with a
suspect in the USS Cole ( news - web sites)
bombing. When the meeting was over, the two flew
together to San Diego.
According to federal court papers, 13 of the
hijackers entered the United States between April
23 and June 29, 2001. Once in America, they
crisscrossed the country living on-and-off in
suburban towns with friendly names - Lemon Grove,
California, Laurel, Maryland, Deerfield Beach,
Over the next 18 months, they spent time in a
dozen states including Nevada, New York, New
Jersey, Oklahoma, Arizona, Virginia, Maine and
Massachusetts. Seven were pilots and several
others studied or visited flight schools around
Most entered the United States legally but aroused
suspicions wherever they went.
Atta abandoned a plane on a Miami tarmac instead
of parking it properly; Hani Hanjour said he had
600 hours of flight experience and a valid pilot's
license, but flew so poorly that instructors at a
Maryland flight school wouldn't let him go solo.
One month later, Hanjour was with four other
hijackers aboard American Airlines Flight 77, when
it crashed into the Pentagon ( news - web sites).
The hijackers bribed motor vehicle employees to
obtain state driver's licenses. They rented
apartments, opened bank accounts, took out gym
memberships, bought airline tickets online and
walked around with wads of cash. They took flight
training by day, went to bars at night, even got
Overseas, several of them spent time in Pakistan,
Afghanistan ( news - web sites), Germany, Spain,
Malaysia and the Czech Republic where authorities
maintain that Atta met with an Iraqi spy.
Nothing has publicly tied the hijackers to the
anthrax attacks although they were in close
proximity to the American Media Inc. office, site
of the nation's first fatal anthrax infection in
October. A Florida pharmacist also said he treated
Atta for a burning sensation on his hands.
What little doubt U.S. investigators had that
33-year-old Atta was the ringleader was all but
removed by a videotape that captured Osama bin
Laden ( news - web sites) saying that Mohamed
"was in charge of the group."
As for the men who carried out the attacks, bin
Laden said, "we did not reveal" the plan
until "just before they boarded the
planes." The videotape is the strongest
publicly known evidence linking the hijackers
directly to the al-Qaida chief.
There is no evidence that any of the hijackers
knew Zacarias Moussaoui. But Moussaoui, the only
man charged in the United States in connection
with Sept. 11, seemed to know some of the same
people as the hijackers, replicated some of their
movements and attended a couple of flight schools.
U.S. officials believe Moussaoui could have been
training for Sept. 11 or a similar mission. But
the missing 20th hijacker was likely Ramzi
Binalshibh, a Yemeni who lived in Hamburg with
Atta and who failed four times to get a U.S. entry
permit. Binalshibh wired money to Moussaoui, a
Florida flight school where Jarrah was training
and to at least one hijacker. Authorities believe
Binalshibh fled Germany for Pakistan around Sept.
Much is known about the movements of the Hamburg
cell. Less is known, even a year later, about some
of the younger Saudi hijackers such as 26-year-old
Satam Suqami who was on Flight 11 from Boston with
Atta and the Alshehri brothers. Mohald al-Shehri,
who was on Flight 175 from Boston, was apparently
unrelated to the other two Al-Shehris.
The FBI ( news - web sites) has determined that
Nawaf Alhazmi and Salem Alhazmi, both on Flight
77, weren't related, a U.S. law enforcement
official said. And three hijackers with the last
name Alghamdi were also unrelated. An independent
Arabic translator, a native Saudi, has said bin
Laden uttered the name Alghamdi several times on
Back to the Stories &