Remains Of 9/11 Killers Found
By Stuart Winter
Sunday January 11,2009
FORENSIC investigators have recovered the charred remains of most of the 9/11 hijackers - to honour a pledge that they would never be buried with the victims.
The £30million CSI-style probe has taken seven years.
Flesh or bone from 13 of the 19 Al Qaeda terrorists who flew passenger jets into the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington have now been identified.
In the most intense crime scene investigation in history, scientists sifted through a mountain of concrete dust, buckled iron and shattered glass to find what was left of the terrorists.
The final tally was 24lb of burnt flesh and shattered bone.
A combination of dedicated FBI detective work and the brilliant skills of forensic scientists eventually put names to the fragments by matching them with DNA traces discovered at the terrorists’ hideouts.
The high temperatures generated as the jet fuel exploded meant many of the 2,974 victims and some of their killers were all but atomised in the attacks.
Only 300 whole bodies were ever recovered. When rescue workers first entered the ruins of the 110-storey World Trade Center in New York they were confronted with two million tons of rubble that had been incinerated by 11,000 gallons of aviation fuel blazing at 2,00C.
The debris was taken to a special clearing site on Staten Island for forensic examination.
Somewhere deep in an FBI complex in Virginia, a locked steel freezer carries all that is left of nine of the hijackers who carried out the attack on the Pentagon and brought down Flight 93 in Pennsylvannia.
Another secret building in New York holds the charred bone fragments of four of the fanatics who attacked the World Trade Center.
The glass containers are under 24-hour armed guard as America still tries to come to terms with the enormity of the 2001 atrocities and the ramifications of keeping hold of the body parts of killers hailed across the Middle East as martyrs.
The FBI and coroner’s office staff are holding on to the remains while the 9/11 inquiry stays open, but eventually it may be left to the President-elect Barack Obama to decide their fate.
Although neither the terrorists’ families nor their countries of origin have asked for the body parts to be repatriated, America is split over what to do.
Some believe the remains should be treated with respect. But many of the families of the victims say the killers should be left for eternity under lock and key.
Although the FBI has been able to name and release photographs of all the terrorists, the agency is refusing to reveal which of the men’s remains it has recovered.
Of the 10 who took part in the attack on New York, ringleader Mohammed Atta is the most recognisable but it is not known whether he is one of those whose body parts were recovered.
The fact that any remains were identified from the carnage of Ground Zero is testament to the skill and dedication of Robert Shaler, who was head of New York’s Department of Forensic Biology at the time.
In the days after 9/11 he promised the victims’ families that he would try to separate what was left of the hijackers from the people they had killed.
Initially, Professor Shaler, 66, thought his 100-strong team would only be able to identify remains larger than a thumb.
The team eventually analysed 21,743 fragments, some no bigger than a fingernail, and were able to put a person’s name to 12,595 parts.
The families of more than 1,622 of the dead have been reassured that at least some of their loved ones’ remains can be given a funeral.
The authorities were able to confirm who died using DNA provided by relatives.
Professor Shaler said: “They did not want the terrorists mixed in with their loved ones. These people were criminals and they did not deserve to be with the innocent victims. No one knows what will happen, but I don’t think they should be buried on American soil.”
Kurt Horning, whose 26-year-old son Matthew died in the New York attacks, said: “It would be sadly ironic if the hijackers ended up being properly buried or sent to a Muslim country when many of the remains of the victims are buried in a garbage dump.”
Additional reporting by Paul Thompson