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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

New 9/11 Suspects In California, New Questions About Awlaki's Role

New questions about the role of Yemeni-American cleric Anwar Awlaki in the September 11 attacks have emerged in the wake of a Wikileaks cable naming previously unknown Al Qaeda operatives who may have been intended as a fifth team of hijackers.

According to the cable, first reported by The Telegraph newspaper, Meshal Alhajri, Fahad Abdulla and Ali Alfehaid were Qatari citizens who flew into New York on Aug. 15, 2001. According to the cable, "They visited the World Trade Centre, the Statue of Liberty, the White House and various areas in Virginia."

The men flew to Los Angeles, where their behavior aroused suspicions. On Sept. 10, 2001, they booked seats on American Airlines Flight 144, bound for Washington. The plane used in that flight was designated American Flight 77 the next day, when it was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon. But instead of boarding the flight, they booked another trip to Doha, Qatar, leaving the country before the attack.

Two of the hijackers on Flight 77, Nawaf Al-Hazmi and Khalid Al-Mihdhar had a close relationship with Anwar Awlaki, a Yemeni-American cleric who is today affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. As many as two other hijackers may have met with Awalki in Virginia.

Awlaki has long been suspected of playing a role in the September 11 hijacking. Several of his disciples in San Diego and Virginia assisted the hijackers with rides, lodging and in obtaining IDs, as detailed in my forthcoming book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go To War In The Name Of Islam. An FBI agent interviewed by the 9/11 Commission said "if anyone had knowledge of the plot, it was Awlaki."

Although suspicion has long focused on Omar Al-Bayoumi, a Saudi government facilitator who initially met Al-Hazmi and Al-Mihdhar in Los Angeles, virtually everyone who helped the hijackers -- including Bayoumi himself -- was also linked to Awlaki. And at least one disciple of Awlaki's on the East Coast, who did not know Bayoumi, also assisted some of the hijackers.

According to the Wikileaks cable, the Qatari suspects were assisted by Mohamed Ali Mohamed Mansoori, "who is [as of February 2010] under investigation by the FBI for his possible involvement in the 11 September 2001 attacks. He is suspected of aiding people who entered the US before the attacks to conduct surveillance of possible targets and providing other support to the hijackers."

Mansoori was a resident of Los Angeles and Irvine, California, through at least 2001.

Awlaki was in Virginia around the time the Qataris visited the state, and he was in Southern California when the Qataris were there, just prior to September 11.

Awlaki told a reporter for the Copley News Service in 2001 that he had attended an event in Irvine, California, just days before September 11. Irvine is about 40 miles from Los Angeles, where the Qataris were staying, but more than 80 miles from San Diego, where Awlaki caught his flight to Washington.

The event Awlaki attended was a September 9, 2001, benefit dinner for Jamil Al-Amin, at the Muslim Students Union of the University of California, Irvine. Also attending the event were Muzammil Siddiqi, then-President of ISNA, who worked for the Muslim World League during the 1970s. Both Siddiqui and Awlaki had lectured in separate panels at ISNA's national convention near Chicago just days earlier (click for video).

Also attending the benefit was Maher Hathout, founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Jamil Al-Amin is an American Muslim activist convicted in 2002 of killing a police officer.

Just after the Qataris left the country, Awlaki flew from San Diego to Washington, arriving at Reagan International Airport on the morning of September 11, shortly after the hijackers he had assisted departed from Dulles on their suicide mission. [Joe Cantlupe and Dana Wilkie, "Former San Diego Islamic spiritual leader defends mosque," Copley News Service, Sept. 28, 2001]

Awlaki was also reportedly in Yemen during the summer of 2000, around the same time as hijacker Khalid Al-Mihdhar and Al Qaeda facilitator Ramzi Al Binalshibh, who assisted a group of hijackers not believed to be connected to Awlaki.

More INTELWIRE Exclusive Documents On Awlaki

The Commission was informed about the Qatari suspects, but former commission director Philip Zelikow told the New York Daily News that the lead "had not panned out." Families of the 9/11 victims expressed outrage to the Daily News today about the withholding of this information from the public.

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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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