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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

INTELWIRE releases Awlaki FOIA Files; Hijacker Travel Questions

INTELWIRE has obtained almost 2,000 pages of files related to Anwar Awlaki under the Freedom of Information Act.

Awlaki FOIA (256MB PDF, right click on link and save locally, do not open in browser)

The files released are heavily redacted and light on new information regarding Awlaki's ties to terrorism, although they provide minute entries from the FBI's surveillance of Awlaki after 9/11 and lavish details of his encounters with prostitutes.

The focus of the released documents is disappointing at best. Among the many omissions, perhaps the most notable is the transcript of the FBI's September 2007 interview with Awlaki when he was being held in a Yemeni prison. Documents relating to the interview are included, but the results of the interview remain a mystery.

The documents also provide no new information regarding Awlaki's post-9/11 terrorist career, although they do make small but significant additions to the chronology of his interactions with the 9/11 hijackers.

If you find something noteworthy, feel free to discuss it with me on Twitter at @intelwire.


Some interesting data points emerge relating to travel by Awlaki and the hijackers, but the documents raise many more questions than they answer.

According to the documents, Awlaki and someone named "Dr." Mohamed Atta flew out of the Frankfurt airport on the same United Airlines schedule, two days and two rows apart, in October 2000.

One possible explanation for this is that someone with the same name as Atta could have traveled on that date. There is no record in the 9/11 Commission report of a trip to Germany in this time frame, and an FBI chronology places Atta in the United States during the same period.

There is no record of Awlaki flying to Frankfurt, but he had traveled to Yemen in summer of 2000. The documents provide no further insight into the travel. The flight data only covers United Airlines, so it could have omitted a connecting flight for Awlaki from Yemen or elsewhere.

Hijacker Khalid al Mihdhar had traveled to Yemen some weeks prior to Awlaki, and Al Qaeda coordinator Ramzi Binalshibh was in Yemen at the same time. On September 15 in Yemen, Binalshibh applied for a visa to visit the United States, which was refused.

On October 23, Awlaki flew to the United States out of Frankfurt. On October 25, Binalshibh -- now in Germany -- again applied for a visa to travel to the U.S., which was again refused.

Given the conflicting information about Atta's location, the correlations to Binalshibh's movements are likely to be a more fruitful line of inquiry.

On August 23, 2001, Awlaki and Saeed Al Ghamdi, another hijacker, flew out of Dulles airport on the same day to different destinations.

As has been previously reported, Awlaki was on a plane from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. on the morning of September 11, 2001.

Buy J.M. Berger's book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam


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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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