Terrorists Moved Freely in U.S.

A disturbing report released last week by the special commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is must reading for anyone who still questions the urgency of renewing the Patriot Act and aggressively enforcing–and tightening–our immigration laws.

Entitled “Outline of the 9/11 Plot,” the report reveals that two uneducated al Qaeda operatives, Nawaf al Hazmi and Kahlid al Mihdhar, had the run of America for almost two years prior to the attacks. (For full text of the report, click here.)

Unversed in English, they moved freely around our country as they planned and trained for an act of mass murder.

They secured California drivers’ licenses. They took flying lessons but showed no interest in learning how to take off or land. They quickly discovered friendly aliens–including an illegal immigrant in San Diego–who helped them blend into the local scene on both coasts.

Coast to Coast

According to information provided to investigators by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al Qaeda leader who conceived the September 11 attacks, the two terrorists were chosen for the 9/11 plot because they had experience as jihadists in Bosnia, they passionately hated America–and the United States had already granted them visas.

Mohammed himself worried–needlessly, it turned out–about how these terrorists would make their way around the U.S.

“Hazmi and Mihdhar were particularly ill-prepared to stage an operation in the United States,” says the report. “Neither had any significant exposure to Western culture; Hazmi barely spoke English, and Mihdhar spoke none. Given this background, KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] had real concerns about whether they would be able to fulfill their mission.”

“Unlike the other 9/11 hijackers–who were instructed to avoid associating with others in the local Muslim community–Hazmi and Mihdhar received specific permission from KSM to seek assistance at mosques when they first arrived in the United States,” says the report. “According to KSM, he also directed them to enroll in English language classes as soon as possible so that they could begin flight training right away.”

The two arrived in Los Angeles in January 2000 and soon settled in San Diego with the help of a Saudi national they had met.

“Hazmi and Mihdhar also received assistance from various other individuals in the Muslim community in San Diego,” says the report. “Several of their new friends were foreign students in their early 20s who worshipped at the Rabat Mosque in La Mesa. One of them, an illegal alien named Mohdar Abdullah, became particularly close to Hazmi and Mihdhar and helped them obtain driver’s licenses and enroll in schools. When interviewed by the FBI after 9/11, Abdullah denied knowing about the operatives’ terrorist plans. Before his recent deportation to Yemen, however, Abdullah allegedly made various claims to individuals incarcerated with him about having advance knowledge of the operatives’ 9/11 mission, going so far as to tell one inmate that he had received instructions to pick up the operatives at Los Angeles International Airport, and he had driven them from Los Angeles to San Diego. Abdullah and others in his circle appear to have held extremist sympathies.

“While in San Diego, Hazmi and Mihdhar also established a relationship with Anwar Aulaqi, an imam at the Rabat Mosque,” says the report. “Aulaqi reappears in our story later.”

Hazmi then linked up with Hani Hanjour, who would become one of the hijacking pilots. They moved to Arizona, where Hanjour had attended flight school, and where his “friends included individuals with ties to Islamic extremism.” In April 2001, they drove to Northern Virginia.

“At the Dar al Hijra mosque in Falls Church, they met a Jordanian man named Eyad al Rababah, possibly through Anwar Aulaqi, the imam whom they had known in San Diego and who, in the interim, also had moved East in early 2001. With Rababah’s help, Hanjour and Hazmi were able to find a room in an apartment in Alexandria, Va.”

Later, Rababah helped them and two other 9/11 terrorists move to Paterson, N.J.

“At this time, we have insufficient basis to conclude that Rababah knew the operatives were terrorists when he assisted them,” says the report. “As for Aulaqi, there is reporting that he has extremist ties, and the circumstances surrounding his relationship with the hijackers remain suspicious. However, we have not uncovered evidence that he associated with the hijackers knowing that they were terrorists.”

Hazmi and Mihdhar never did learn to fly. So they participated in the 9/11 hijackings as “muscle” men.

No Landings

“According to their flight instructors, Hazmi and Mihdhar said they wanted to learn how to control an aircraft in flight, but took no interest in take-offs or landing,” says the report. “One Arabic-speaking flight instructor has recalled that the two were keen on learning to fly large jets, particularly Boeing aircraft. When the instructor informed them that, like all students, they would have to begin training on single engine aircraft before learning to fly jets, they expressed such disappointment that the instructor thought they were either joking or dreaming.”

On 9/11, we discovered it wasn’t a joke or a dream they had in mind. It was a nightmare.

Politicians who oppose the Patriot Act, which (within constitutional limits) increases the tools the government can use to investigate suspected terrorists inside the United States, or who refuse to support enforcement and tightening of our immigration laws, need to answer one question: Are they helping or hurting our efforts to track down the Hazmis and al Mihdhars who may be running free in America today?