The hijackers in the September 11 attacks were 19 men affiliated with Islamist jihadist organization al-Qaeda. They hailed from four countries; 15 of them were citizens of Saudi Arabia, two were from the United Arab Emirates, one was from Egypt, and one from Lebanon. To carry out the attacks, the hijackers were organized into four teams each led by a pilot-trained hijacker who would commandeer the flight with three or four "muscle hijackers" who were trained to help subdue the pilots, passengers, and crew. Each team was assigned to a different flight and given a unique target to crash their respective planes into.
The first hijackers to arrive in the United States were Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, who settled in San Diego County, California, in January 2000. They were followed by three hijacker-pilots, Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah in mid-2000 to undertake flight training in South Florida. The fourth hijacker-pilot, Hani Hanjour, arrived in San Diego in December 2000. The rest of the "muscle hijackers" arrived in early- and mid-2001.
As for the pilots who would go on to participate in the attacks, three of them were original members of the Hamburg cell (Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah). Following their training at al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, they were chosen by Bin Laden and al-Qaeda's military wing due to their extensive knowledge of western culture and language skills, increasing the mission's operational security and its chances for success. Mohamed Atta himself was immediately given command over the planning and execution of the attack upon his arrival in Afghanistan in January 2000. The fourth intended pilot, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a member of the Hamburg cell, was also chosen to participate in the attacks, but he was unable to obtain a visa for entry into the United States. He was later replaced by Hani Hanjour, a Saudi national.
Al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi were also potential pilot hijackers but did not do well in their initial pilot lessons in San Diego. Both were kept on as "muscle" hijackers, who would help overpower the passengers and crew and allow the pilot hijackers to take control of the flights. In addition to al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi, 13 other muscle hijackers were selected in late 2000 or early 2001. All were from Saudi Arabia, with the exception of Fayez Banihammad, who was from the United Arab Emirates.
Shortly after the attacks the FBI concluded that the majority of the "muscle" hijackers did not know that they were on a suicide mission, as unlike the pilots they had not prepared last wills and testaments or given other indications that they expected their lives to end. According to an audio recording of Osama Bin Laden from 2001, the "muscle" hijackers were not in contact with the pilot hijackers and were not told the true nature of their mission until the day of the attacks.
Names in bold indicate the hijacker-pilot of the flight.
|American Airlines Flight 11||Mohamed Atta||33||Egypt|
|Abdulaziz al-Omari||22||Saudi Arabia|
|United Airlines Flight 175||Marwan al-Shehhi||23||UAE|
|Mohand al-Shehri||22||Saudi Arabia|
|American Airlines Flight 77||Hani Hanjour||29|
|United Airlines Flight 93||Ziad Jarrah||26||Lebanon|
|Ahmed al-Haznawi||20||Saudi Arabia|
|United Arab Emirates|
American Airlines Flight 11: One World Trade Center, North Tower
- N.B.: Bold text notes the hijackers who piloted the planes.
Two flight attendants called the American Airlines reservation desk during the hijacking. Betty Ong reported that "the five hijackers had come from first-class seats: 2A, 2B, 9A, 9C and 9B." Flight attendant Amy Sweeney called a flight services manager at Logan Airport in Boston and described them as Middle Eastern. She gave the staff the seat numbers and they pulled up the ticket and credit card information of the hijackers, identifying Mohamed Atta.
"We have some planes. Just stay quiet and you'll be okay. We are returning to the airport."
"Nobody move. Everything will be okay. If you try to make any moves, you'll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet."
"Nobody move please. We are going back to the airport. Don't try to make any stupid moves."
United Airlines Flight 175: Two World Trade Center, South Tower
A United Airlines mechanic was called by a flight attendant who stated the crew had been murdered and the plane hijacked.
American Airlines Flight 77: Pentagon
Two hijackers, Hani Hanjour and Majed Moqed were identified by clerks as having bought single, first-class tickets for Flight 77 from Advance Travel Service in Totowa, New Jersey with $1,842.25 in cash.
Renee May, a flight attendant on Flight 77, used a cell phone to call her mother in Las Vegas. She said her flight was being hijacked by six individuals who had moved them to the rear of the plane. Unlike the other flights, there was no report of stabbings or bomb threats. According to the 9/11 Commission Report, it is possible that pilots were not stabbed to death and were sent to the rear of the plane. One of the hijackers, most likely Hanjour, announced on the intercom that the flight had been hijacked. Passenger Barbara Olson called her husband, Theodore Olson, the Solicitor General of the United States, stating the flight had been hijacked and the hijackers had knives and box cutters.
Two of the hijackers had been on the FBI's terrorist-alert list: Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi. Al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi flew to Los Angeles in January 2000 and later took flying lessons in San Diego, during which time they were allegedly assisted by Omar al-Bayoumi and Saudi diplomats Fahad al-Thumairy and Mussaed Ahmed al-Jarrah.
United Airlines Flight 93: Shanksville, Pennsylvania
Spoken messages (from Jarrah) intended for passengers were mistakenly broadcast over the air traffic control system.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain. Please sit down. Keep remaining sitting [sic]. We have a bomb on board. So sit."
"Uh, this is the captain. Would like you all to remain seated. There is a bomb on board and are going back to the airport and to have our demands met. Please remain quiet."
Before the attacks
'[W]e've got to tell the Bureau about this. These guys clearly are bad. One of them, at least, has a multiple-entry visa to the U.S. We've got to tell the FBI.' And then [the CIA officer] said to me, 'No, it's not the FBI's case, not the FBI's jurisdiction.'
Before the attacks, FBI agent Robert Wright, Jr. had written vigorous criticisms of FBI's alleged incompetence in investigating terrorists residing within the United States. Wright was part of the Bureau's Chicago counter-terrorism task force and involved in project Vulgar Betrayal, which was linked to Yasin al-Qadi.
According to James Bamford, the NSA had picked up communications of al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi back in 1999, but had been hampered by internal bureaucratic conflicts between itself and the CIA, and did not do a full analysis of the information it passed on to the agency. For example, it only passed on the first names, Nawaf and Khalid.
Bamford also claims that the CIA's Alec Station (a unit assigned to bin Laden) knew that al-Mihdhar was planning to come to New York as far back as January 2000. Doug Miller, one of three FBI agents working inside the CIA station, tried to send a message (a CIR) to the FBI to alert them about this, so they could put al-Mihdhar on a watch list. His CIA boss, Tom Wilshire, deputy station chief, allegedly denied permission to Miller. Miller asked his associate Mark Rossini for advice; Rossini pressed Wilshire's deputy but was rebuffed also.
Bamford also claims that al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi wound up living with Abdussattar Shaikh for a time to save money. Shaikh was, coincidentally, an FBI informant, but since they never acted suspiciously around him, he never reported them. The CIA Bangkok station told Alec Station that al-Hazmi had gone to Los Angeles. None of this information made it back to the FBI headquarters.
Within minutes of the attacks, the Federal Bureau of Investigation opened the largest FBI investigation in United States history, operation PENTTBOM. The suspects were identified within 72 hours because few made any attempt to disguise their names on flight and credit card records. They were also among the few non-US citizens and nearly the only passengers with Arabic names on their flights, enabling the FBI to identify them using such details as dates of birth, known or possible residences, visa status, and specific identification of the suspected pilots. On September 14, three days after the attacks, the FBI announced the names of 19 hijackers, and on September 27, they released photos of the hijackers, along with information about their possible nationalities and aliases. The suspected hijackers were from Saudi Arabia (15 hijackers), United Arab Emirates (two hijackers), Lebanon (one hijacker) and Egypt (one hijacker).
The passport of Satam al-Suqami was reportedly recovered "a few blocks from where the World Trade Center's twin towers once stood"; a passerby picked it up and gave it to an NYPD detective shortly before the towers collapsed. The passports of two other hijackers, Ziad Jarrah and Saeed al-Ghamdi, were recovered from the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, and a fourth passport, that of Abdulaziz al-Omari was recovered from luggage that did not make it onto American Airlines Flight 11.
According to the 9/11 Commission Report, 26 al-Qaeda terrorist conspirators sought to enter the United States to carry out a suicide mission. In the end, the FBI reported that there were 19 hijackers in all: five on three of the flights, and four on the fourth. After a controversy about an earlier remark, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stated in May 2009 that the 9/11 Commission found that none of the hijackers entered the United States through Canada.
Nawaf al-Hazmi and Hani Hanjour, attended the Dar al-Hijrah Falls Church, Virginia, Islamic Center where the Imam Anwar al-Awlaki preached, in early April 2001. Through interviews with the FBI, it was discovered that Awlaki had previously met Nawaf al-Hazmi several times while the two lived in San Diego. At the time, al-Hazmi was living with Khalid al-Mihdhar, another 9/11 hijacker. The hijackers of the same plane often had very strong ties as many of them attended school together or lived together prior to the attacks.
Possible cases of mistaken identity
Soon after the attacks and before the FBI had released the pictures of all the hijackers, several reports claimed some of the men named as hijackers on 9/11 were alive and had their identities stolen.
Notes and references
- "The Hamburg connection". BBC News. August 19, 2005. Archived from the original on May 30, 2013. Retrieved June 13, 2013.
- "The 9/11 Commission Report" (PDF). www.9-11commission.gov. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2018-12-21. Retrieved 2013-06-13.
- "Attackers did not know they were to die". The Guardian. October 14, 2001. Archived from the original on August 6, 2021. Retrieved August 17, 2021.
- "Transcript of Usama Bin Laden Video Tape" (PDF). www.defenselink.mil. December 13, 2001. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 14, 2001.
UBL: The brothers, who conducted the operation, all they knew was that they have a martyrdom operation and we asked each of them to go to America but they didn't know anything about the operation, not even one letter. But they were trained and we did not reveal the operation to them until they are there and just before they boarded the planes.
- "DCI Testimony Before the Joint Inquiry into Terrorist Attacks Against the United States" Archived 2010-03-24 at the Wayback Machine, June 18, 2002.
- Glen Johnson (2001-09-23). "Probe reconstructs horror, calculated attacks on planes". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on 2019-01-06. Retrieved 2019-01-05.
- "Calm Before the Crash". ABC News. 2002-07-18. Archived from the original on 2002-09-21.
- Sherwell, Philip (2011-09-10). "9/11: Voices from the doomed planes". The Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 2019-12-20. Retrieved 2011-09-24.
- "Fighting Terrorism". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on August 16, 2015.
- "Investigating 9-11 – The doomed flights". San Francisco Chronicle. 2004-07-23. Archived from the original on May 23, 2012.
- "Transcript: America's New War: Recovering From Tragedy". CNN. 2001-09-14. Archived from the original on 2006-09-03. Retrieved 2006-09-30.
- "Remains Of 9 Sept. 11 Hijackers Held". CBS News. 2002-08-17. Archived from the original on 2008-09-30. Retrieved 2007-05-07.
- Bennet, Brian (October 1, 2016). "Hijackers' time in Southern California at center of allegations of Saudi government involvement in 9/11 attacks". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on September 16, 2020. Retrieved May 14, 2020.
- Isikoff, Michael (May 12, 2020). "In court filing, FBI accidentally reveals name of Saudi official suspected of directing support for 9/11 hijackers". news.yahoo.com. Archived from the original on 2020-07-18. Retrieved 2020-07-18.
- "Flight 93: Forty lives, one destiny". Post-gazette.com. 2001-10-28. Archived from the original on 2018-12-25. Retrieved 2011-09-11.
- "Context of '(9:37 a.m.) 11 September 2001: Flight 93 Passenger Jeremy Glick Describes Hijackers, Bomb'". Cooperativeresearch.org. Archived from the original on 12 October 2013. Retrieved 2011-09-11.
- The 9/11 Commission Report, pp. 12 Archived 2011-07-17 at the Wayback Machine, 29 Archived 2011-07-17 at the Wayback Machine
- "Cockpit Voice Recorder transcript" (PDF). FindLaw. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2007-05-23. Retrieved 2007-05-07.
- "How The FBI Identified The 19 Hijackers's Identities" (PDF). 911 Myths. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2011-09-18. Retrieved 2009-06-03.
- Bamford, James; Willis, Scott (February 3, 2009). "The Spy Factory". PBS. Archived from the original on April 11, 2014. Retrieved July 2, 2013.
- C-SPAN video Archived 2011-09-01 at the Wayback Machine, address to the National Press Club on May 30, 2002, with Judicial Watch, via rationalveracity.com
- Shadow Factory, James Bamford, Doubleday, 2008, Chapter 1: Intercept
- Bamford, Chapter 1
- Spy Factory Archived 2014-04-11 at the Wayback Machine, Nova, interview with Mark Rossini 2.3.2009
- Bamford, Chapter 2: San Diego
- FBI Announces List of 19 Hijackers, FBI, national Press Release September 14, 2001 Archived February 21, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
- The FBI releases 19 photographs of individuals believed to be the hijackers of the four airliners that crashed on 11 September 2001 FBI, national Press Release 27 September 2001 Archived May 23, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
- Las Vegas Review Journal Archived 2011-08-31 at the Wayback Machine, September 16, 2001.
- Giuliani holds on to hope Archived 2007-07-11 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 16 September 2001
- "National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States". 9-11commission.gov. Archived from the original on 2008-04-07. Retrieved 2011-09-11.
- "Alleged shooter tied to mosque of 9/11 hijackers". Associated Press. November 8, 2009. Archived from the original on July 18, 2020. Retrieved July 18, 2020.
- Krebs, Valdis (2002). "Uncloaking Terrorist Networks". First Monday. 7 (4). doi:10.5210/fm.v7i4.941. Archived from the original on 2014-11-02. Retrieved 2013-05-24.
- "Panoply of the Absurd". Der Spiegel. 2001-09-11. Archived from the original on 2006-10-04. Retrieved 2011-09-11.
- Steve Herrmann (2006-10-27). "9/11 conspiracy theory". BBC News. Archived from the original on 2011-09-04. Retrieved 2011-09-11.
- "Hijack 'suspects' alive and well". BBC News. 2001-09-23. Archived from the original on 2011-09-05. Retrieved 2011-09-11.
- "Islam Online – Saudi Suspects in U.S. Attacks Were Not in the U.S." Archived from the original on 2006-06-19. Retrieved 2006-06-05.
- "LA Times – FBI Chief Raises New Doubts Over Hijackers' Identities" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2014-02-22. Retrieved 2014-02-08.
- Aust, Stefan; Der Spiegel Magazine (2002). Inside 9-11: What Really Happened. Schnibben, Cordt. MacMillan. ISBN 0-312-98748-X.
- Bamford, James (2008). Shadow Factory. Doubleday. ISBN 978-0385521321.
- Burke, Jason (2004). Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam. I.B. Tauris. ISBN 1-85043-666-5.
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (2008-02-04). "Hijackers' Timeline" (PDF). NEFA Foundation. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-10-12. Retrieved 2008-10-06.
- Fouda, Yosri; Fielding, Nick (2003). Masterminds of Terror: The Truth Behind the Most Devastating Terrorist Attack the World Has Ever Seen. Arcade. ISBN 1-55970-708-9.
- McDermott, Terry (2005). Perfect Soldiers: The Hijackers: Who They Were, Why They Did It. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-058469-6.
- "9/11 Commission Report" (PDF). National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. 2004. Retrieved 2008-09-30.
- "Appendix" (PDF). 9/11 and Terror Travel. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. 2004. Retrieved 2008-09-30.
- Smith, Paul J. (2005). Terrorism and Violence in Southeast Asia: Transnational Challenges to States and Regional Stability. M. E. Sharpe. ISBN 0-7656-1433-2.
- Wright, Lawrence (2006). The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-375-41486-X.