Outline of the 9/11 Plot
By: National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
Date: July 22, 2004
Source: The 9/11 Commission Report: "Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States."
About the Author: The 9/11 Commission, formally known as The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, was an independent, bipartisan commission created to prepare a full account of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The commission examined the roots of the attacks, American preparation for terrorist attacks, and the specific events of September 11. As mandated by Congress and President George W. Bush, the commission provided recommendations designed to guard against future attacks. On July 22, 2004, the commission released its public report before disbanding on August 21, 2004.
In the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil, more than 3,000 people died on the morning of September 11, 2001, when U.S. civilian airliners crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Nineteen members of Osama Bin Laden's (Usama Bin Ladin) al-Qaeda terrorist organization launched the attack. The al-Qaeda members had hijacked four planes and flown three of them into the buildings. The fourth plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. The dead included Americans as well as citizens from sixty other nations.
Al-Qaeda (literally translated "the Base"), led by Saudi Arabia's Osama Bin Laden operating from the then Islamist-controlled nation of Afghanistan, aimed to rid the Middle East of Western influence. Also known as the International Front for Jihad Against Jews, Islamic Salvation Foundation, and the Islamic Army for the Liberation of the Holy Places, al-Qaeda first came to public notice when it killed six people by bombing the World Trade Center on February 26, 1993. Like other Islamist extremists, al-Qaeda members resent the spread of Western goods, culture, and values into the Muslim world and blame the U.S. for its support of Israel. The organization is global, recruiting terrorists from Islamist ranks throughout the world.
According to KSM, [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, called the mastermind of the attacks by the 9/11 Commission and captured in March 2003] the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings demonstrated to him that Bin Ladin was willing to attack the United States. In early 1999, Bin Ladin summoned KSM to Kandahar to tell him that his proposal to use aircraft as weapons now had al Qaeda's full support. KSM met again with Bin Ladin and Atef at Kandahar in the spring of 1999 to develop an initial list of targets. The list included the White House and the Pentagon, which Bin Ladin wanted; the U.S. Capitol; and the World Trade Center, a target favored by KSM.
Bin Ladin quickly provided KSM with four potential suicide operatives: Nawaf al Hazmi, Khalid al Mihdhar, Walid Muhammad Salih bin Attash, also known as Khallad, and Abu Bara al Taizi. Hazmi and Mihdhar were both Saudi nationalslthough Mihdhar was actually of Yemeni originnd experienced mujahidin, having fought in Bosnia together. They were so eager to participate in attacks against the United States that they already held U.S. visas. Khallad and Abu Bara, being Yemeni nationals, would have trouble getting U.S. visas compared to Saudis. Therefore, KSM decided to split the operation into two parts. Hazmi and Mihdhar would go to the United States, and the Yemeni operatives would go to Southeast Asia to carry out a smaller version of the Bojinka plot.
In the fall of 1999, training for the attacks began. Hazmi, Mihdhar, Khallad, and Abu Bara participated in an elite training course at the Mes Aynak camp in Afghanistan. Afterward, KSM taught three of these operatives basic English words and phrases and showed them how to read a phone book, make travel reservations, use the Internet, and encode communications. They also used flight simulator computer games and analyzed airline schedules to figure out flights that would be in the air at the same time. . .
While KSM was deploying his initial operatives for the 9/11 attacks to Kuala Lumpur, a group of four Western-educated men who would prove ideal for the attacks were making their way to the al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. The four were Mohamed Atta, Marwan al Shehhi, Ziad Jarrah, and Ramzi Binalshibh. Atta, Shehhi, and Jarrah would become pilots for the 9/11 attacks, while Binalshibh would act as a key coordinator for the plot. Atta, the oldest of the group, was born in Egypt in 1968 and moved to Germany to study in 1992 after graduating from Cairo University. Shehhi was from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and entered Germany in 1996 through a UAE military scholarship program. Jarrah was from a wealthy family in Lebanon and went to Germany after high school to study at the University of Greifswald. Finally, Binalshibh, a Yemeni, arrived in Germany in 1995. . .
When Binalshibh reached the camps in Kandahar, he found that Atta and Jarrah had already pledged bayat, or allegiance, to Bin Ladin, and that Shehhi had already left for the UAE to prepare for the anti-U.S. mission the group had been assigned. Binalshibh followed suit, pledging bayat to Bin Ladin in a private meeting. Binalshibh, Atta, and Jarrah met with Bin Ladin's deputy, Mohamed Atef, who directed them to return to Germany and enroll in flight training. Atta was chosen as the emir, or leader, of the mission. He met with Bin Ladin to discuss the targets: the World Trade Center, which represented the U.S. economy; the Pentagon, a symbol of the U.S. military; and the U.S. Capitol, the perceived source of U.S. policy in support of Israel. The White House was also on the list, as Bin Ladin considered it a political symbol and wanted to attack it as well. KSM and Binalshibh have both stated that, in early 2000, Shehhi, Atta, and Binalshibh met with KSM in Karachi for training that included learning about life in the United States and how to read airline schedules. . .
While the pilots trained in the United States, Bin Ladin and al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan started selecting the muscle hijackershose operatives who would storm the cockpit and control the passengers on the four hijacked planes. (The term "muscle" hijacker appears in the interrogation reports of 9/11 conspirators KSM and Binalshibh, and has been widely used to refer to the non-pilot hijackers.) The so-called muscle hijackers actually were not physically imposing, as the majority of them were between 5'5" and 5' 7" in height and slender in build. In addition to Hazmi and Mihdhar, the first pair to enter the United States, there were 13 other muscle hijackers, all but one from Saudi Arabia. They were Satam al Suqami, Wail and Waleed al Shehri (two brothers), Abdul Aziz al Omari, Fayez Banihammad (from the UAE), Ahmed al Ghamdi, Hamza al Ghamdi, Mohand al Shehri, Saeed al Ghamdi, Ahmad al Haznawi, Ahmed al Nami, Majed Moqed, and Salem al Hazmi (the brother of Nawaf al Hazmi).
The muscle hijackers were between 20 and 28 years of age and had differing backgrounds. Many were unemployed and lacked higher education, while a few had begun university studies. Although some were known to attend prayer services regularly, others reportedly even consumed alcohol and abused drugs. It has not been determined exactly how each of them was recruited into al Qaeda, but most of them apparently were swayed to join the jihad in Chechnya by contacts at local universities and mosques in Saudi Arabia.
By late 1999 and early 2000, the young men who would become the muscle hijackers began to break off contact with their families and pursue jihad. They made their way to the camps in Afghanistan, where they volunteered to be suicide operatives for al Qaeda. After being picked by Bin Ladin himself for what would become the 9/11 operation, most of them returned to Saudi Arabia to obtain U.S. visas. They then returned to Afghanistan for special training on how to conduct hijackings, disarm air marshals, and handle explosives and knives . . .
In late April 2001, the muscle hijackers started arriving in the United States, specifically in Florida, Washington, DC, and New York. They traveled mostly in pairs and were assisted upon arrival by Atta and Shehhi in Florida or Hazmi and Hanjour in DC and New York. The final pair, Salem al Hazmi and Abdulaziz al Omari, arrived New York on June 29 and likely were picked up the following day by Salem's brother, Nawaf, as evidenced by Nawaf's minor traffic accident while heading east on the George Washington Bridge. Finally, on July 4, Khalid al Mihdhar, who had abandoned Nawaf al Hazmi back in San Diego 13 months earlier, reentered the United States. Mihdhar promptly joined the group in Paterson, New Jersey.
In addition to assisting the newly-arrived muscle hijackers, the pilots busied themselves during the summer of 2001 with cross-country surveillance flights and additional flight training. Shehhi took the first cross-country flight, from New York to San Francisco and on to Las Vegas on May 24. Jarrah was next, traveling from Baltimore to Los Angeles and on to Las Vegas on June 7. Then, on June 28, Atta flew from Boston to San Francisco and on to Las Vegas. Each flew first class, in the same type of aircraft he would pilot on September 11....
The next step for Atta was a mid-July status meeting with Binalshibh at a small resort town in Spain. According to Binalshibh, the two discussed the progress of the plot, and Atta disclosed that he would still need about five or six weeks before he would be able to provide the date for the attacks. Atta also reported that he, Shehhi, and Jarrah had been able to carry box cutters on
Just over two weeks before the attacks, the conspirators purchased their flight tickets. Between August 26 and September 5, they bought tickets on the Internet, by phone, and in person. Once the ticket purchases were made, the conspirators returned excess funds to al Qaeda. During the first week in September, they made a series of wire transfers to Mustafa al Hawsawi in the UAE, totaling about $26,000. Nawaf al Hazmi attempted to send Hawsawi the debit card for Mihdhar's bank account, which still contained approximately $10,000. (The package containing the card would be intercepted after the FBI found the Express Mail receipt for it in Hazmi's car at Dulles Airport on 9/11.) The last step was to travel to the departure points for the attacks. The operatives for American Airlines Flight 77, which would depart from Dulles and crash into the Pentagon, gathered in Laurel, Maryland, about 20 miles from Washington, DC. The Flight 77 team stayed at a motel in Laurel during the first week of September and spent time working out at a nearby gym. On the final night before the attacks, they stayed at a hotel in Herndon, Virginia, close to Dulles Airport. Further north, the operatives for United Airlines Flight 93, which would depart from Newark and crash in Stony Creek Township, Pennsylvania, gathered in Newark. Just after midnight on September 9, Jarrah received this speeding ticket as he headed north through Maryland along Interstate 95, towards his team's staging point in New Jersey.
Atta continued to coordinate the teams until the very end. On September 7, he flew from Fort Lauderdale to Baltimore, presumably to meet with the Flight 77 team in Laurel, Maryland. On September 9, he flew from Baltimore to Boston. By this time, Marwan al Shehhi and his team for Flight 175 had arrived in Boston, and Atta was seen with Shehhi at his hotel. The next day, Atta picked up Abdul Aziz al Omari, one of the Flight 11 muscle hijackers, from his Boston hotel and drove to Portland, Maine. For reasons that remain unknown, Atta and Omari took a commuter flight to Boston during the early hours of September 11 to connect to Flight 11. As shown here, they cleared security at the airport in Portland and boarded the flight that would allow them to join the rest of their team at Logan Airport.
In the wake of the September 11 attacks, President George W. Bush sought a global alliance against terrorism, garnering at least verbal support from many nations. On October 11, the United States and Great Britain began bombing Afghanistan. By December, Afghanistan's Islamist Taliban government had collapsed, but Bin Laden could not be found. Some al-Qaeda forces remain in hiding around the globe. As of 2005, American forces remain in Afghanistan. The U.S. government continues to pursue Bin Laden and al-Qaeda cells around the world through both overt and covert actions.
In the United States, the USA Patriot Act, approved by Congress by large margins in October 2001, gave the federal government new powers to monitor suspected terrorists and their associates, including the ability to obtain personal information from libraries, universities, and businesses. When theshock of September 11 faded, both conservatives and liberals called for reform of the legislation in light of Constitutional guarantees of free speech, free assembly, right to counsel, and proper search, seizure, and detainment procedures. Privacy and civil liberties advocates argued that the Patriot Act violated basic Constitutional principles and overextended government powers while offering little protection from terrorist activity. Proponents of the legislation asserted that national security issues outweighed civil liberties concerns and that Patriot Act reforms would significantly aid counterterrorism operations.
The 9/11 Commission made 41 specific recommendations to protect the U.S. from another terrorist attack resulting in mass casualties. Many of the key recommendations have not yet been put in place as of 2005, particularly recommendations relating to the prevention of nuclear terrorism, the allotment of funds at the state and local levels for anti-terrorism measures, and the creation of a reliable radio system for first responders. The commission considered a nuclear attack at the hands of terrorists as not likely to occur. Yet the human toll and the quality of living consequences of such an attack would be extremely high. Accordingly, the commission called for a maximum effort to prevent nuclear terrorism by securing the world's limited supply of weapons-grade nuclear material.
Commissioners also recommended allocating homeland security grants solely on the basis of risks and vulnerabilities, not as political pork. Since 9/11, the federal government allocated more than $6 billion in federal funding for terrorism preparedness.
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Pillar, Paul R. Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy. New York: Brookings Institution Press, 2001.
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. "The 9/11 Commission Report." (accessed July 5, 2005).