9/11 Report: Al-Qaeda in the U.S.

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As it shut down formal operations on Saturday, the September 11 Commission released a pair of staff monograph reports that reveal tantalizing and important new nuggets about the 9/11 plot — including the possibility that 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta and another hijacker visited an INS office in Miami together in May 2001 with Adnan Shukrijumah, a trained pilot who today remains one of the most wanted al-Qaeda terrorists with a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head. The commission also revealed new but ambiguous evidence of a financial connection between one of the hijackers and a Saudi national in San Diego, and declares that this is the only known instance of a hijacker potentially receiving a noteworthy sum of money from someone inside the U.S.

Atta visited the INS in May 2001 looking for a visa extension for one of his companions, but ended up with the INS discovering Atta himself had improperly received an eight-month visa, until Sept. 8, 2001, that was then rolled back to July 9. INS personnel who dealt with the Atta group then could not identify one of the men with him. But the “Terrorist Travel” staff monograph released yesterday said that, based on other evidence, the commission believes that fellow hijacker Ziad Jarrah “may have been” with Atta.

More significant is that an INS officer who dealt with the group said she was “75 percent sure” that one of Atta’s companions — “a great looking kid,” as she described him — was Shukrijumah, based on the photos released along with his “wanted” notice after September 11. The APB for Shukrijumah has been renewed this year, with Attorney General John Ashcroft calling attention to him in a press conference in May and officials sounding the alarm again in connection with the recent "Orange Alert" for sites in New york, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. There is a particular alert for Shukrijumah along the U.S.’s southwest border, and officials in Mexico and Central America are on the lookout for him — especially after he was reportedly sighted earlier this year in a Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Internet café.

The travel monograph reveals numerous mistakes by State Department and INS officials that made it easier for the hijackers to repeatedly gain access to the U.S. It also includes a chilling appendix with graphic reproductions of available travel documents for the hijackers — including Jarrah’s partly burned U.S. visa, recovered from the Pennsylvania field where he perished in the crash of United Flight 93.

The other monograph, on terrorist financing, reveals a financial connection between hijacker Nawaf al-Hazmi and Saudi national Yazeed al-Salmi, who was among the hundreds of foreign nationals detained in the United States in the aftermath of the attacks. Although he underwent extensive questioning by the FBI, Salmi never disclosed that he gave future hijacker Hazmi $1,900 in travelers checks in September 2000, according to the commission. The report says investigators learned of the connection later, after Salmi had been deported, when a check of Hazmi's back records showed that in September 2000 he deposited a $1,900 travelers check from Salmi. The same day Hamzi made a $1,900 withdrawal, for him an unusually large amount, from his account.

The commission notes that it is unclear whether the money was meant to be given to Hazmi for the 9/11 plot or any other purpose. Since the Saudi didn't have a U.S. bank account, Hamzi may have simply cashed the travelers check for him, and passed on the money. The commission said it "appears likely" that Hazmi was merely helping Salmi out by cashing the check for him. Still, there the report notes that, when interviewed in Saudi Arabia June of this year Salmi "claimed not to recall” the transaction.

Based in large part on massive investigation by the FBI, CIA, Treasury and other U.S. and foreign agencies, the commission estimated that the devastating plot that would spark the war on terrorism cost around $400,000 to $500,000, “the vast majority of which was provided by al-Qaeda.”

In addition to the yet-unclassified report on aviation security, the commission may later release a report by an outside consultant on the history of terrorist attacks for a period of time up to Sept. 10, 2001.