New Details of the al Qaeda Plot
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"While the pilots trained in the United States," the report says, "bin Ladin and al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan started selecting the 'muscle hijackers'; those operatives who would storm the cockpit and control the passengers on the four hijacked planes."
"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 … all but one from Saudi Arabia."
"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 had even consumed alcohol and abused drugs."
These recruits got special training in Afghanistan on how to conduct hijackings, disarm marshals, and handle explosives and knives. Of these men, 14 got tourist visas and got into the United States, but the commission learned that a 15th man was stopped at the border.
Its investigation brought to light a startling story.
A month before the September 11 attacks, a customs inspector in Orlando, Florida refused admission to a Saudi man. The inspector was Jose Melendez-Perez. He told the commission that Saudis come through Orlando often. They're on their way to Disneyworld, but this traveler was different.
|Jose Melendez-Perez, Inspector, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, testifying in front of the 9/11 Commission on January 26, 2004. From government video of 9/11 commission hearings.|
"My first impression of the subject was that he was a young male, well groomed with short hair, thin mustache, black long sleeved shirt, black trousers and black shoes," said Melendez-Perez. "He was about 5'6" and in impeccable shape. He had a military appearance. I had the impression of the subject that he had knowledge of interview techniques and had military training."
"I noticed that he did not have a return airline ticket or hotel reservation. My first question to the subject through the interpreter, why he was not in possession of a return airline ticket. The subject became visibly upset and in an arrogant and threatening manner, which include pointing his finger at my face, stated that he did not know where he was going when he departed the United States. What first came to mind at this point was the subject was a hit man. A hit man doesn't know where he's going because if he's caught, that way he doesn't have anything or any information to bargain with. My wife said that I was watching too much movies." [laughter]
Continued: part 4