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August 16, 2001: Zacarias Moussaoui Arrested
After being warned that Zacarias Moussaoui has raised suspicions at flight school [see 1], the FBI learns they can arrest him because he is in the US illegally. Four agents, Harry Samit, John Weess, Dave Rapp (all FBI) and Steve Nordmann (INS), drive to the Residence Inn, where Moussaoui and his associate Hussein al-Attas are staying. At the hotel Samit speaks on the phone to Joe Manarang from FBI headquarters; Manarang appeals for them to take the “cautious route” and not arrest Moussaoui. However, Samit refuses, as he has already notified the hotel clerk of their interest. Moussaoui is arrested around 4:00 p.m. on an immigration violation. At first Moussaoui shows the agents some documents, but then he becomes upset at missing his flight training. The FBI confiscates his belongings, including a computer laptop, but Moussaoui refuses permission for the belongings to be searched. A search of Moussaoui’s person yields a dagger with a two-inch blade, and another knife with a three-inch blade belonging to Moussoaui is found in the car. He also has boxing gloves and shin guards, and the arresting agents note he has prepared “through physical training for violent confrontation.” Al-Attas allows the agents to search his belongings and they believe al-Attas is in the US legally, so he is not arrested. However, al-Attas tells the FBI that Moussaoui is a radical religious Muslim and later makes several statements indicating Moussaoui may be a terrorist [see 2]..  Al-Attas is arrested the next day [see 3].
August 16, 2001: Roommate Interview Strengthens Case against Moussaoui
Hussein al-Attas. [Source: Public domain] Hours after Zacarias Moussaoui is taken into custody in Minnesota, his friend and roommate Hussein al-Attas is interviewed by the FBI. The two men had recently driven together to Minnesota from Oklahoma (see August 10-11, 2001).
According to a summary of the interview written at the time, “Al-Attas indicated that Moussaoui believes that it is acceptable to kill civilians who harm Muslims and that he approves of martyrs.” Al-Attas says Moussaoui talked about holy war every day when they roomed together. When asked if he had ever heard Moussaoui make a plan to kill those who harm Muslims, “Al-Attas admit[s] that he may have heard him do so, but that because it is not in [al-Attas’] own heart to carry out acts of this nature, he claimed that he kept himself from actually hearing and understanding.” Al-Attas says Moussaoui holds strong anti-American views and might be willing to act on his beliefs. Al-Attas describes Moussaoui as so secretive that he refuses to give his full name, identifying himself only as “Shaqil.” He also says that Moussaoui told him “true” Muslims must prepare themselves to fight and they should understand the suffering of Muslims in places like Palestine and Kosovo. He mentions that he and Moussaoui are carrying fighting gloves and shin guards to practice martial arts as part of Moussaoui’s philosophy that Muslims should be ready to fight nonbelievers. He has not heard Moussaoui mention any specific terrorist plot, but says that Moussaoui “is suspicious to me, too.”
FBI agents interview al-Attas again the following day, then charge him with violating the terms of his student visa by working at a mosque in Oklahoma, and arrest him. During the second interview, al-Attas says that Moussaoui follows the teachings of a sheikh whose name he would not disclose to him (see August 17, 2001). The agents contact FBI supervisors in Washington to seek approval to get a warrant to search Moussaoui’s computer. The supervisors are aware of what al-Attas said in the interview, but nevertheless they tell the Minnesota FBI agents that they do not want to attempt to get the warrant because it has not been shown that Moussaoui is an agent of a foreign power. The New York Times will note that the content of al-Attas’ interview “raise[s] new questions about whether top [FBI] officials… were aggressive enough in responding to that information.” [WASHINGTON POST, 1/31/2002; NEW YORK TIMES, 5/24/2002; ASSOCIATED PRESS, 3/21/2006] Al-Attas will be arrested shortly after 9/11 and held as a material witness. He will later plead guilty to lying about Moussaoui. He lied in claiming that he did not know Moussaoui’s real name, lied about plans to go with Moussaoui to New York City in late August 2001, lied about Moussaoui’s desire to participate in holy war, and lied about a planned trip to speak to religious scholars who would encourage al-Attas to participate in holy war. He will be sentenced to time served, but will be kept imprisoned until the conclusion of Moussaoui’s trial in 2006 (see March 6-May 4, 2006). [CANADIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION, 7/22/2002; ASSOCIATED PRESS, 10/22/2002] It is also later revealed that Moussaoui had recently convinced al-Attas to fight in Chechnya in order to prepare for holy war. [WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/4/2002] Furthermore, the person who attempts to post bond for al-Attas had been the subject of a full-field FBI international terrorism investigation in Oklahoma. This unnamed person was a recruiter for a radical Palestinian group and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. [US CONGRESS, 7/24/2003] In post-9/11 media accounts, al-Attas is generally portrayed as someone who had been innocently and accidentally caught up with Moussaoui. But it appears that in the weeks before 9/11, US intelligence will consider the possibility that al-Attas may have been plotting with Moussaoui. For instance, a CIA cable that will be sent on August 24 is titled “Subjects Involved in Suspicious 747 Flight Training,” (see August 24, 2001) one that will be sent on August 28 has Moussaoui and al-Attas’ names as the title. [CANADIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION, 7/22/2002; ASSOCIATED PRESS, 10/22/2002; 9/11 COMMISSION, 7/24/2004, PP. 540] Entity Tags: Hussein al-Attas, Zacarias Moussaoui, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline Category Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui
August 16, 2001: FAA Issues Warning; Airlines Say Warning Not Received The FAA issues a warning to airlines concerning disguised weapons. According to later testimony by National Security Adviser Rice, the FAA is concerned about reports that the terrorists have made breakthroughs in disguising weapons as cell phones, key chains, and pens. [CNN, 3/2002; REUTERS, 5/16/2002 SOURCES: CONDOLEEZZA RICE] However, the major airlines later deny receiving such notification. For instance, a Delta spokesperson states: “We were not aware of any warnings or notifications of any specific threats.” [FOX NEWS, 5/16/2002] Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration Category Tags: US Air Security
August 16, 2001: Moussaoui’s Belongings Possess Information Sufficient to Roll Up 9/11 Plot
A letter that Zacarias Moussaoui had in his possession when he was arrested. It is signed by Yazid Sufaat, whose apartment was used for a 9/11 planning meeting in January 2000 that was monitored by the authorities. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division] (click image to enlarge) After Zacarias Moussaoui is arrested, the FBI wishes to search his possessions (see August 16, 2001 and August 23-27, 2001). According to a presentation made by FBI agent Aaron Zebley at Moussaoui’s trial, the belongings are sufficient to potentially connect Moussaoui to eleven of the 9/11 hijackers: Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Ziad Jarrah, Hani Hanjour, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, Fayez Banihammad, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Hamza Alghamdi, Satam Al Suqami, and Waleed Alshehri. The connections would be made, for example, through Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who spoke with Moussaoui on the telephone and wired him money (see July 29, 2001-August 3, 2001), and who was linked to three of the hijacker pilots from their time in Germany together (see November 1, 1998-February 2001). Bin al-Shibh also received money from Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, who was connected to hijacker Fayez Ahmed Banihammad (see June 25, 2001). [US DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA, ALEXANDRIA DIVISION, 7/31/2006] Moussaoui’s notebook contained two recognizable control numbers for the Western Union wire transfers from bin al-Shibh and, according to McClatchy newspapers, a check on these numbers “would probably have uncovered other wires in the preceding days” to bin al-Shibh from al-Hawsawi. [MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS, 9/11/2007] The discovery of the eleven hijackers could potentially have led to the discovery of some or all of the remaining eight plot members, as they were brothers (Wail and Waleed Alshehri, Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi), opened bank accounts together (see May 1-July 18, 2001 and June 27-August 23, 2001), lived together (see March 2001-September 1, 2001), obtained identity documents together (see April 12-September 7, 2001 and August 1-2, 2001), arrived in the US together (see April 23-June 29, 2001), and booked tickets on the same four flights on 9/11 (see August 25-September 5, 2001). Entity Tags: Saeed Alghamdi, Salem Alhazmi, Satam Al Suqami, Waleed M. Alshehri, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ziad Jarrah, Wail Alshehri, Mohand Alshehri, Nawaf Alhazmi, Marwan Alshehhi, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Ahmed Alghamdi, Mohamed Atta, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Abdulaziz Alomari, Hani Hanjour, Hamza Alghamdi, Ahmed Alnami, Majed Moqed, Khalid Almihdhar Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline Category Tags: Key Hijacker Events, Alhazmi and Almihdhar, Marwan Alshehhi, Mohamed Atta, Hani Hanjour, Ziad Jarrah, Other 9/11 Hijackers, Zacarias Moussaoui
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- [MSNBC, 12/11/2001; US CONGRESS, 10/17/2002; US DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA, ALEXANDRIA DIVISION, 3/9/2006; MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE, 6/4/2006]