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New Details of the al Qaeda Plot

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Melendez-Perez continued, "Subject then continued stating that a friend of his was to arrive in United States at a later date and that his friend knew where he was going."

"I then told him that without knowledge of the English language or a hotel reservation," said Melendez-Perez, "he would have difficulty getting around Orlando. He answered that there was someone waiting for him upstairs. When asked the person's name he changed story and said no one was meeting him. The subject was very hostile throughout the entire interview that took approximately one and a half hours."

"At this point I gave my supervisor a synopsis of the case. I further explained that when the subject looked at me I felt bone-chilling cold effect. The bottom line, he gave me the chills."

Melendez-Perez found a technical reason to deny the man entry: he had refused to answer questions under oath. Customs agents put the man on a plane to Dubai. At the gate, this man who had claimed he didn't speak English said, in English, that he would be back.

Melendez-Perez testified that when he learned of the attacks on September 11, he thought immediately of the man he turned away at the border. He asked immigration agents to tell the FBI, and he believes they did, but he testified that the FBI never contacted him. He said outside of the INS, the first people to ask for his story were members of the commission staff.

The commission found that the day of this incident, Mohammed Atta was at the Orlando airport. Commissioner Richard Ben Veniste told Melendez Perez that the man he stopped, Muhammed Kahtani, was probably meant to be the 20th hijacker:

"Taking into account that the only plane commandeered by four hijackers, rather than five, crashed before reaching its target," Ben Veniste said, "it is entirely plausible to suggest that your actions ... may well have contributed to saving the Capitol or the White House, and all the people who were in those buildings ... from being included in the catastrophe of 9/11, and for that we all owe you a debt of thanks and gratitude."

The investigation revealed that some of the other men initially chosen as highjackers never got in to the United States because they were unable to get visas. They were refused because consular officials thought they might be planning to work in the United States.

Continued: part 5