FLASHBACK: November 5, 2001Suburban Washington’s Terror Trail
By Timothy P. Carney and Terence P. Jeffrey
(Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on the cover of the November 5, 2001, issue of HUMAN EVENTS.)
The frontline in the war against Osama bin Laden does not run through Afghanistan. It runs through the parking lot of the Bush family’s favorite restaurant in suburban Virginia.
From there it moves across a narrow side street, through the parking lot of a 7-Eleven, then down through a warren of old, low-rent, red-brick apartment buildings frequented by aliens from El Salvador.
Past these buildings, it slices several hundred yards down a broad suburban boulevard, then turns left up another boulevard. There it cruises northeast for a few miles, until it takes a brief detour south.
That’s where the line makes its way through the bumper-to-bumper traffic in the congested parking lot of the Arlington office of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Beyond the DMV, the line moves north again, back to the boulevard, which is called Columbia Pike, where it veers northeast–straight into the charred, gaping hole on the southwest face of the Pentagon.
Avenue of Attack
Drive this line–suburban Washington’s terror trail–and a chill runs down your spine. There is an eerie and ominous truth that emerges from affidavits that special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)_have filed in federal district court: The path that suspected al Qaeda terrorists followed through suburban Washington in the weeks before September 11 parallels the last moments of American Airlines Flight 77.
When these alleged lieutenants of Osama bin Laden flew that plane into the Pentagon, they knew exactly where they were going, and exactly how to get there. They knew because they had followed that route before–on the surface roads of Northern Virginia. For at least several weeks before September 11–and perhaps even longer than that–they had frequented the streets and neighborhoods that lie almost in the shadow of the Pentagon.
They had converted a large local community of Latino illegal aliens into a form of human camouflage. That camouflage gave them an avenue of attack fully as stealthy as a billion-dollar B-2 bomber. With easy arrogance, they made their way through a criminal underground that was created to profit from the illicit needs of these illegal aliens. In the dog days of August, the alleged al Qaeda terrorists acted no differently than they would have had they been young men from El Salvador looking for day jobs in construction or gardening. Come September, they consummated their plot to kill thousands of Americans.
The almost criminal neglect of U.S. immigration laws that allowed these alleged terrorists to do this was fostered by Democratic politicians hoping to turn today’s illegal aliens into tomorrow’s voters and by Republican politicians fearful that, if they insisted on enforcing the immigration laws, they would be falsely accused of racism and lose forever their chance of winning support from the burgeoning bloc of Latino voters.
The path through Northern Virginia that led to the Pentagon attack began in a meeting between an illegal Salvadoran immigrant and suspected hijackers Hani Hanjour and Khalid Almihdhar.
Luis Alonso Martinez-Flores is a 28-year-old Salvadoran who, according to an FBI affidavit, “has been living unlawfully in the United States since 1994.”
On August 1, he went to the parking lot of the 7-Eleven store on Glen Carlyn Road, just off Leesburg Pike, in Falls Church, Va. His purpose, he later told FBI Special Agent Jesus H. Gomez, was to look “for day labor.”
People in the neighborhood knew Martinez. He often hung out, some local businessmen say, near the entrance of a First Union Bank branch at the corner of the Culmore Shopping Center. This center–a strip mall on Leesburg Pike–sits just across a narrow side street from the 7-Eleven. In the middle of the strip, a bit nearer to the bank than to the 7-Eleven, is the Peking Gourmet Inn. This restaurant was such a favorite of the senior President Bush that he reportedly ate there some 50 times during his presidency and vice presidency. President-elect George W. Bush took his brother Marvin there for a birthday dinner in December.
But also last December the restaurant was named in a Washington Post story that did not mention good food or politicians. “Fairfax County police have identified the man who was shot to death in the Culmore Shopping Center last weekend as Thomas X. Duong, 42, of Falls Church,” said the Post. “Duong, a cook at the Peking Gourmet Inn, was found dead in his car behind the restaurant. . . . Police said yesterday that he was shot several times in the upper body.”
Some local businessmen say that over the last two decades the neighborhood has increasingly become a gathering spot for illegal aliens.
The police can’t do anything about it, said one, because they can’t arrest someone merely for being an illegal alien. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) doesn’t do anything either, he added, presumably because they lack the resources. Another local merchant noted that in the mornings, when the largest number of illegal aliens congregate in local parking lots, Fairfax County police cars park nearby to keep a watchful eye on the crowd.
But it wasn’t a squad car that approached Martinez in the 7-Eleven parking lot on August 1. It was a van carrying two Arab men.
Martinez told Special Agent Gomez that two prospective day laborers approached the two men in the van “but refused to assist Hanjour and Almihdhar when they learned the Arab men wanted help with DMV forms.”
Martinez did not share their qualms.
He jumped into the van and directed the two Arabs to drive several miles south to the Springfield Mall. In the mall, they made their way to the “DMV Express,” a Virginia state office set up in a storefront.
At that time, to get an official photo identification card from the state of Virginia, a foreign national needed three documents: two to prove his identity, and one to prove his legal residence in the state. A person lacking ordinary documentation of their identity and residence–such as an out-of-state driver’s license, a passport, a paycheck, a utility bill–could present the DMV with a pair of certified forms instead. The first form, a so-called DL6, was to establish the applicant’s identity. To be legal, a DL6 needed to be signed by a witness who knew the applicant and certified by an attorney in the presence of a notary public. The second, the DL51, which was supposed to establish the applicant’s legal residence, needed to be signed–in the presence of a notary public or a clerk at the DMV–by a witness who knew where the applicant lived.
When Hanjour and Almihdhar showed up at DMV Express, they apparently already had two forms of ID–a passport and a legal visa would have been accepted—because they did not submit DL6s to establish their identity. But they did submit DL51s, to “prove” their Virginia residence. Martinez allegedly certified the forms for both of them.
On the forms, the men claimed to live in an apartment complex on the 5900 block of Leesburg Pike–one block down from the strip mall. “This address did not belong to either Hanjour or Almihdhar,” Gomez wrote in his affidavit, “but was rather the address that appeared on Martinez’s Virginia identification card. Martinez no longer lived at the address, but had in the past.”
With their newly minted photo IDs, the two suspected terrorists drove back with Martinez to Culmore. “At the 7-Eleven they all got out of the van,” wrote Gomez. “Hanjour and Almihdhar went inside the store and appeared to use the ATM machine. They then came out, paid Martinez $100 in cash for his efforts, and left in the van. Martinez did not see them again.”
But the Virginia DMV had not seen the last of these two. Hanjour and Almihdhar were now qualified to certify the legal residency of other terrorists.
That is exactly what they did the next day–at a DMV about three miles from the Pentagon on South Four Mile Run in Arlington.
Wrote Special Agent Gomez: “DMV records also show that Hanjour and Almihdhar used the address Martinez gave them on August 1, 2001, to complete DL51 forms for Majed Moqed (Moqed) and Salem Alhazmi (Alhazmi) on August 2, 2001. Moqed and Alhazmi are believed to be two more of the hijackers who flew Flight 77 into the Pentagon. . . . Hanjour certified Moqed’s Virginia residence, Almihdhar certified Alhazmi’s Virginia residence. Moqed and Alhazmi submitted these DL51 forms in support of applications for Virginia identifications cards. . . . Both applications were approved.”
Al Qaeda had the system down cold.
Three other suspected hijackers showed up at the Arlington DMV that very same day. They, too, needed witnesses to help them secure Virginia IDs. But unlike Hanjour and Almihdhar, they needed not only DL51s, to establish a residence, but also DL6s, to establish their identities. That meant they had to have the help of a witness, a notary, and a lawyer.
They got them all in minutes.
Victor M. Lopez-Flores is allegedly one of those who helped. The “INS deported Lopez-Flores to El Salvador on November 19, 1993, following a felony conviction,” Special Agent Gomez wrote in an affidavit. “He then returned to the United States unlawfully.”
On the day in question, Lopez-Flores later told Special Agent Gomez, “he was standing in a parking lot near the Arlington DMV office with several other Hispanic males.
“There,” Gomez writes, “three Arab males approached him in a van with out-of-state plates and sought his assistance in obtaining Virginia identification cards for two of the three of them.”
A second Hispanic man, who went by the name of “Herbert,” but who carried an ID card in the name of “Oscar Diaz,” joined them. “Herbert is in fact Herbert Villalobos,” FBI Special Agent Brian G. Weidner said in an affidavit.
Herbert and Lopez-Flores got into Herbert’s car and drove to an attorney’s office on Columbia Pike in Falls Church. The three Arab men followed in their van.
“According to Lopez-Flores,” wrote Gomez, “when they arrived at the attorney’s office, he and ‘Herbert’ took the men into a waiting room where they were all greeted by a female secretary.”
The secretary remembered not three, but four, Arab men in her office that day.
“I interviewed Kenys Galicia, the secretary who worked at the attorney’s office in Falls Church,” wrote Gomez. “Galicia stated that she worked at the attorney’s office as a secretary and that she notarized documents for the attorney as well. Galicia stated that a man she knew as ‘Victor’ and a second Hispanic male brought in four Arab males to her office on our about August 2, 2001.”
“Victor” allegedly was a regular customer. “She stated that she has known Lopez-Flores approximately one year,” wrote Gomez. “During that time, he brought several people into her office and helped them complete DL6 and DL51 forms.”
One of the Arab men in the office that day was Ahmed Alghamdi, one of the suspected hijackers of United Airlines Flight 175, which flew into the World Trade Center towers. Lopez-Flores vouched for his DL51 form, on which Alghamdi falsely claimed to live on Edison Street in Alexandria.
Abdul Alomari was another one of the Arab men in the law office that day. He is a suspected hijacker of American Airlines Flight 11, which also crashed into the World Trade Center towers. Alomari claimed to live on Buchanan Street in Arlington. “Oscar Armando Diaz,” whom the FBI believes to be Villalobos, certified Alomari’s residency on the DL51. (The actual resident at this location was Villalobos’ cousin.)
Villalobos, who told the FBI he believed the men to be Pakistani or Iraqi, added an interesting note. “Villalobos said the attorney then came out of his office and signed the forms as well,” wrote Special Agent Weidner. “Here, Villalobos noted that the attorney conversed with the ‘Pakistanis’ in ‘their language.’ After this conversation, each ‘Pakistani’ man paid the secretary $35, and then all returned to the Arlington DMV office. Once back at the DMV office, the ‘Pakistani’ men paid Villalobos $50 for his assistance and then went into the DMV to get identification cards.”
When the FBI later showed Villalobos photos of the suspected September 11 hijackers, he identified five of them–Hani Hanjour, Salem Alhazmi, Majed Moqed, Khalid Alghamdi and Abdul Alomari–as being at the Arlington DMV that day. “These identifications,” Special Agent Weidner wrote, “were later confirmed by Virginia DMV records which show that all five men did in fact conduct various transactions relating to Virginia identifications cards at the Arlington DMV on August 2, 2001.”
But that did not end the connection between the Virginia DMV and the suspected September 11 hijackers. The agency also has a tie to one of the suspected hijackers of United Airlines Flight 93–the plane that crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after the hijackers were apparently overwhelmed by a group of courageous passengers.
This takes us back down I-395–the main highway heading south from the Pentagon into Virginia–to the Springfield Mall and its “DMV Express.”
“DMV records further show that Hanjour used the address Martinez gave him on August 1, 2001, to complete a DL51 form for Ziad Jarrah (Jarrah) on August 29, 2001,” wrote Gomez. “Jarrah is believed to be one of the hijackers who commandeered United Airlines Flight 93. Jarrah’s DL51 was certified by Hanjour. . . . Jarrah submitted the completed DL51 form in support of an application for a Virginia identification card . . . at the DMV office in Springfield, Va. The application was approved.”
As far as the government of Virginia was concerned, five of the September 11 hijackers were just peaceful aliens sharing a small apartment a block from the President’s favorite restaurant.
Two more of the suspected hijackers, as far as the state of Virginia was concerned, were peaceful aliens living in Arlington and Alexandria, in neighborhoods close to the Pentagon and Reagan National Airport.
The attorney for whom Galicia worked later provided the FBI with photocopies of Alomari’s and Alghamdi’s Saudi passports, which he had taken when they received their documents in his office.
Not long after she allegedly helped the September 11 hijackers get Virginia IDs, Galicia became the target of a sting. “On or about August 16, 2001, CW-2 [Confidential Witness-2], acting at the direction of agents of the Virginia DMV, contacted Galicia and made arrangements to purchase additional DL51 forms,” wrote Special Agent Weidner. “CW-2 called Galicia and told her that he needed more blank DL51 forms because he was bringing in a group of people from New York to get Virginia identification cards. She agreed and said she would call CW-2 back when the forms were prepared. Later that day, Galicia called CW-2 and told him that the forms were ready. CW-2 then drove to her office, met Galicia in the office, and bought 30 DL51 forms from her for $90. These forms were blank but for Galicia’s signature and notary stamp.”
How many blank, pre-notarized forms such as these may have floated around Virginia in the months before September 11? It’s anyone’s guess.
On a previous occasion, according to Weidner’s affidavit: “CW-2 met Galicia in the parking lot outside her office and bought 100 DL51 forms from her for $300. These forms were incomplete except that Galicia had signed and stamped the notary portion.”
While the suspected hijackers are presumed dead, some of their facilitators face criminal prosecution. Luis A. Martinez-Flores was indicted on October 25 for “unlawful production of identification documents.” Victor M. Lopez-Flores, according to the Washington Post, has been “charged with falsely signing an affidavit.” Herbert Villalobos has pleaded innocent to “unlawful production of identification documents.” And Kenys Galicia has been charged with “conspiracy to commit identification document fraud,” “unlawful production of identification documents,” and “aiding and abetting.”
The lawyer that Galicia worked for has not been charged with any crime.
Since September 11, the Virginia DMV has changed its rules. You can no longer get a photo ID using a DL6 or a DL51.
What does that mean for prospective terrorists? Well, a DMV spokesman conceded to us that a man with a valid passport and visa could still get a Virginia photo ID if he could produce any document from a long list including a paycheck stub, a bank statement or an auto insurance policy to prove he is a Virginia resident.
The bombs are dropping today on Afghanistan, and an intensive search is underway for the anthrax killer. But on the frontline in the war against terrorism that runs through the parking lots at Culmore then down Columbia Pike to the Pentagon, the enemy has hardly been engaged.