Growing evidence that key players -- and our worst enemies -- got away.
Ten years later, there is still much we don’t know about 9/11. There is shocking evidence that Iran and Hezbollah had a role, and the FBI is still looking for three Qataris who escaped the country. Questions remain surrounding a likely Iraqi intelligence operative and a Saudi family who fled the country shortly before the attacks.
Speculation about Iranian and Hezbollah responsibility for 9/11 began to heat up after the 9/11 Commission Report was released in 2004. According to the report, 8 to 10 of the hijackers transited Iran between October 2000 and February 2001 and the Iranian border guards did not stamp their passports. Senior Hezbollah operatives, including the late Imad Mughniyah, were on some of the flights taken by the hijackers during this preparatory stage for the attacks.
Iran and Hezbollah are being sued by a team of eight law firms for their involvement in the attacks. Much of the case rests upon the sworn testimonies of two intelligence defectors. The first is a former Iranian intelligence officer named Abdolghassem Mesbahi who defected in 1996 and whose information proved Iran’s role in a 1994 bombing in Argentina. He says he had first-hand knowledge of a plan drafted by the regime to use proxies to crash hijacked airliners into targets in the U.S., including the World Trade Center and Pentagon. According to Mesbahi, Iran bought a flight simulator for Boeing 757s, 767s and 777s about 18 months before 9/11, even though it owns no such aircraft.
The second eyewitness is an intelligence defector named Hamid Reza Zakeri, who claims to have worked for a top-secret intelligence office set up under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s authority. He says that he was in charge of security arrangements for meetings between top Al-Qaeda and Iranian officials in the months leading up to 9/11, including Ayman al-Zawahiri. He defected in the summer of 2001 and brought with him alleged intelligence documents that discuss an upcoming joint attack on the U.S. by Iran and Al-Qaeda.
Former Florida Senator Bob Graham, a co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission, is making accusations of a cover-up regarding the involvement of certain Saudis in the attacks. It has been revealed that a Saudi family in Sarasota, FL, made a speedy getaway only two weeks before the 9/11 attacks, leaving behind their belongings and a stocked refrigerator. A follow-up investigation by the FBI found that the Saudis at the home, Abdulazzi and Anoud al-Hiijjii, had been in communication with three of the hijackers who lived nearby, including Mohammed Atta. The FBI also connected them to at least 11 other suspected terrorists. They fled the U.S. for Riyadh, where Aboud al-Hiijjii’s father, Essam Ghazzawi, lives. Both Ghazzawi and Abdulazzi’s names were known to the FBI before the attacks for their possible involvement in terrorism financing. The FBI says the case is closed and the couple was exonerated.
Senator Graham says that his commission was never informed of the finding by the FBI. He says that the FBI also did not tell the 9/11 Commission about how an employee of a Saudi government contractor, Omar al-Bayoumi, sponsored the stay of two of the hijackers in the U.S. He moved to San Diego shortly after two of the hijackers arrived. He received a raise and then paid for their apartment, introduced them to other Saudis and even set up their flight lessons. Al-Bayoumi reportedly sponsored them partly from an account connected to the wife of the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.
Documents released by Wikileaks indicate that a group of Qataris were involved in plans for a fifth attack on 9/11. On August 15, three Qataris arrived in Newark and then began visiting landmarks including the World Trade Center, White House and Statue of Liberty. On August 24, they flew to Los Angeles. The maids tending to their room found a large number of suspicious items, such as a laptop connected to a cell phone by a wire, boxes to be shipped to the Middle East, uniforms like those that pilots wear, and data about specific flights including the names of pilots. They asked that the maids not come into their room for the rest of their stay.
In California, the three Qataris traveled with a fourth individual from the United Arab Emirates who is suspected of having a part to play in 9/11. They reserved the room until September 10, and booked a flight on the exact same airliner that crashed into the Pentagon. The Qataris escaped back to their home country.
Lastly, questions still surround Ahmad Hikmat Shakir Azzawi, an Iraqi who worked for his country’s embassy in Malaysia. His supervisor at the Iraqi embassy arranged for him to work as a “facilitator” for VIPs at an airport. He met one of the hijackers at the airport and drove him to an important 9/11-related meeting attended by other Al-Qaeda operatives, including another hijacker. Azzawi took part in the meetings. After the meetings ended on January 8, 2000, Azzawi worked for two days more at the airport and stopped showing up. This strongly suggests that the purpose of having him work at the airport was for these meetings.
On September 17, 2001, he was arrested in Qatar and found with contact information for Al-Qaeda members including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He was released and arrested in Jordan on his way to Iraq. The CIA interviewed him and concluded he had been trained in counter-interrogation techniques. The Saddam Hussein regime pressured Jordan to let him go and they did. It is unclear what happened after that.
The 9/11 attacks and intelligence failures in Iraq showed the U.S. intelligence community to be broken, so it shouldn’t be a shock that the same broken system might have made some mistakes in the investigation into the attacks. Diligent reporters are given good reasons to second-guess some of the conclusions about who was responsible for those attacks and they should be commended for it. We should never take a break from our duty to find out how our country is being targeted and how to stop it.
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