FBI Informant Knew 9/11 Hijacker Worked Illegally, Failed to Tell Handler

An FBI informant knew that one of the 9/11 hijackers breached the terms of his visa by working illegally, according to a 9/11 Commission document released by the National Archives at the start of the year. The document, a memo on the interview of the informer, Abdussattar Shaikh, was found in the archives by History Commons contributor paxvector and posted to the History Commons site at Scribd.

The memo shows that:

* Shaikh knew that one of the hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi, worked illegally in the US. According to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, the job was at a gas station run by people who the FBI had investigated over terrorism links.
* He knew Alhazmi was interested in news about the war in Chechnya, and became angry when the Russians did well.
* Instead of using the apartment phone, Alhazmi and Almihdhar would drive to another neighbourhood to use a pay phone, apparently a vain attempt to avoid NSA surveillance.
* Alhazmi correctly figured out that one of their acquaintances, Omar al-Bayoumi, was a Saudi spy who kept tabs on the local community.

Despite this, the information Shaikh provided to the FBI about Alhazmi and his partner Khalid Almihdhar before 9/11 was cursory, not even stretching to their last names. This new information raises questions over whether he should have suspected more and told his handler more about them.

Shaikh rented a room to Alhazmi and Almihdhar in San Diego from late April or early May 2000 until 10 June. Almihdhar left at that time to go back to Yemen, where he may have played a role in the bombing of the USS Cole, but Alhazmi remained in California at Shaikh’s house until December.

Shaikh’s role was discussed by the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report, the Justice Department inspector general’s report, and the 9/11 Commission report. None of them used his real name, although he was named in numerous media reports beginning in September 2001.

Visa Violation

According to the Congressional Inquiry report, when Shaikh was interviewed by the FBI after the attacks, he told them that he “observed no signs that they [Alhazmi and Almihdhar] were involved in terrorist activity,” and that they “did not act in a peculiar manner and did nothing to arouse the informant’s suspicions.”

Shaikh’s control agent, Steve Butler, told the inquiry, “[D]uring…a debriefing in the summer of 2000 the informant told me that the informant met two individuals the informant described as good Muslim Saudi youths who were legally in the United States to visit and attend school. According to the informant, they were religious and not involved in criminal or political activities.”

This may have been true at the time Shaikh said it to Butler, but the 9/11 Commission memo makes it clear Shaikh later learned Alhazmi had breached the terms of his visa.

After Alhazmi got a job at the Texaco gas station Sam’s Star Mart in the autumn of 2000, according to the memo, Shaikh became “disturbed” because he knew Alhazmi did not have a work permit. He was worried that the INS would find out, and that this would “reflect negatively” on him. Shaikh therefore warned Alhazmi, but he was unconcerned because several illegal workers were already employed at the gas station. In the end, Shaikh simply told Alhazmi not to discuss his employment at the gas station with him.

This invalidated Shaikh’s original reason for not telling the FBI more about Alhazmi--that Alhazmi was in the US legally--but there is no record of it spurring him to tell Butler more.

The gas station was owned by Osama Mustafa and run by Ed Salamah, both of whom were investigated by the FBI over suspected terrorism links, although it is unclear what Shaikh knew of this at the time. Shaikh also later told the bureau that Alhazmi and Almihdhar associated with other persons of interest for counterterrorism reasons, including Saudi spy al-Bayoumi, Saudi religious leader Fahad al-Thumairy, and an imam named Anwar Aulaqi. The Congressional Inquiry report points out that, “Four of the persons had been the subject of FBI investigations; three of them had been under active FBI investigation during the time that the future hijackers were in San Diego.”

Continued here