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9/11 Hijackers Visited Strip Clubs, Smoked Hashish

http://www.newsweek.com/id/75613 - link to full original article

Note: As this article has disappeared at times from the Newsweek website, we include it here, though it may still be available at the link above. 9/11 summary statements are highlighted in bold.


A letter allegedly written by suspected ring leader, Mohammed Atta, may provide clues about the Sept. 11 attack

Cracking the Terror Code

From go-go clubs to Vegas, the plotters brought modern twists to an ancient mission. Now the Feds are following the money, wondering about Iraq–and worrying about what's next

By Evan Thomas
NEWSWEEK

Oct. 15 issue – On the night before they went out on a suicide mission to kill someone, the Assassins, the 12th-century cult of holy-warrior hit men, were given a taste of the Paradise that awaited. They smoked hashish (the word assassin derives from hashashin, users of hashish) and read in the Quran about the sensual rewards of martyrdom:

Spend eternity in gardens of tranquillity.

Youths of never-ending bloom will pass around to them decanters,

beakers full of sparkling wine ...

And suck fruits as they fancy.

Bird meats as they relish.

And companions with big beautiful eyes

Like pearls within their shells ...

Maybe that's what Majed Moqed was dreaming about late last summer

when he wandered into the Adult Lingerie Center, a grim cinder-block

building next to an auto-parts store in Beltsville, Md., sometime around

midnight. In addition to red thongs and crotchless panties, the Adult

Lingerie Center offers pornographic videos and books. But Moqed didn't

seem to be having much fun. He flipped through some magazines, looked at

the titles of some videos. Then, after about 10 minutes, he left. The

night manager figured him for a cop.

LOOKING FOR PATTERNS

It's hard to imagine that the dirty movie Moqed paid $3 to watch on

another night inspired him to give his life for Allah. But investigators

are having a hard time figuring out exactly what did. In a large room at

FBI headquarters in Washington, about a hundred analysts known as the

Links Unit are feeding raw data–phone bills, ATM receipts, fake IDs, odd

bits of Islamic verse, the testimony of Vegas strippers, the investigative

tidbits from a global manhunt–into banks of computers. They are looking

for patterns, examining the ties that bound Moqed and the 18 other suicide

hijackers to one another and to their shadowy masters. The G-men are not

just trying to solve a crime but hoping to avert another, bigger

catastrophe. Yet despite an impressive sense of urgency and an unusual

degree of cooperation between the historically wary CIA and FBI, the

investigators are making slow progress. In part they are having difficulty

following a well-concealed trail that weaves all over the world and far

back in time. And they are just plain stumped by the hellish nature of

their adversary.

Consider the puzzle nagging at Charles Prouty, the chief of the

FBI's Boston office. Why, he wonders, did Mohamed Atta, the suspected

ringleader of the attack, and Abdulaziz Alomari make a quick side trip to

Portland, Maine, on the eve of the attack? Were they meeting with someone?

Were they trying to duck security at Logan airport? The two hijackers

nearly missed the connecting flight from Portland to Boston on the morning

of Sept. 11. (Their bags did miss the plane, giving investigators some

early clues.) They could have thrown off a plan that had been so carefully

plotted. An ex-Navy SEAL, Prouty told colleagues that it didn't make sense

for the hijackers to violate the standard rules of "op sec," military

lingo for "operational security."

But then again, Al Qaeda isn't the Navy SEALs. Americans were

chilled last week by the publication of a set of instructions, written by

hand in Arabic, found in Atta's luggage: "The Last Night," the document

reads. "1) Make an oath to die and renew your intentions. Shave excess

hair from the body and wear cologne. Shower..." On goes the assassins'

manual, a weird mix of hygiene for homicide and exhortation to stay

prayerful and focused, because the coming day will be "the day, God

willing, you spend with the women of Paradise."

A NEW BREED OF SUICIDE ATTACKER

Suicide squads are as old as the medieval Assassins and as modern

as the Japanese kamikaze pilots of World War II. What makes Al Qaeda

killers seem especially menacing is their apparent normalcy and

independence. Most of the Black Tuesday hijackers were not like the

Palestinian suicide bombers, poor losers brainwashed and bribed to strap

on a bomb and take a one-way bus ride to Allah. The half-dozen leaders

were educated and middle class. As pilots, several never did get the hang

of takeoffs and landings, but their navigation skills were perfect. They

depended more on the anonymity of American life than on their social

skills. Still, an examination of the plotters' path, as it has emerged

over the past month, reveals a mix of professionalism and fanaticism that

will make the next attack hard to stop.

The top plotters met last August in an odd location: Las Vegas.

They stayed in cheap hotels on a dreary stretch of the Strip frequented by

dope dealers and $10 street hookers. Perhaps they wished to be fortified

for their mission by visiting a shrine to American decadence. Or maybe

they just wanted a city that was easy to reach by air from their various

cells in Florida, New Jersey and San Diego. In the past, Al Qaeda has sent

a top lieutenant to trigger an attack and then slip away. FBI agents are

searching records for any Middle Eastern-looking man who visited Vegas in

August. The bureau is sure that six of the hijackers were present: the

four presumed pilots and two others, Nawaf Alhazmi, 25, and Khalid

Almihdhar, 26. These last two appear to have been an advance guard,

arriving in San Diego in the fall of 1999.

"They were nice." recalled their

– LANDLORD

The duo was remarkable for being unremarkable. They bought a car,

worked at odd jobs, obtained credit cards and insurance. "They were nice,"

recalled their landlord, Abdussattar Shaikh, though he did observe that

his tenants "went out to make their phone calls." The two men visited

strip clubs (Dancers and Cheetah's). Alhazmi apparently advertised,

unsuccessfully, for a Mexican bride. Shaikh remembers that Alhazmi was

"very caring" and even confiding: "He told me once that his father had

tried to kill him when he was a child. He never told me why, but he had a

long knife scar on his forearm." Almihdhar seems to have been a bit dimmer

and more standoffish. According to a flight instructor, Rick Garza,

Almihdhar drew the airplane wings backward in class. Garza, who described

the two as "Dumb and Dumber," said that Almihdhar and Alhazmi were

impatient students: "They wanted to bypass primary training and go right

to flying Boeings."

A QAEDA CONNECTION

The two terrorists may have been poor pilots, but they were well

connected: in January 2000 they were videotaped by Malaysian secret police

in Kuala Lumpur, meeting with a Qaeda operative who later emerged as a key

suspect in the bombing of the USS Cole. And to make up for their deficient

flying skills, Al Qaeda was able to provide reinforcements. In San Diego

the two were joined by Hani Hanjour, the man who, investigators believe,

eventually steered American Flight 77 into the Pentagon. The shy, devout

son of a well-to-do Saudi, Hanjour appears to have been the one true

"sleeper," living in the United States on and off for a decade and

starting flight school in the mid-'90s. He, too, was a poor flight

student, but he may have had a helping hand from his Qaeda bosses. It

appears that, in June, an Algerian pilot, Lotfi Raissi, came to the United

States to help train Hanjour on a jet simulator. (Raissi, now being held

in England, denies that he was in on the plot.)

No plotter moved around the world with more ease or frequency than

Mohamed Atta. In the months before the hijacking, he traveled to Zurich

(where he bought a couple of Swiss knives in the duty-free shop), Madrid

and Prague. In Spain last July he seems to have touched base with a ring

of Algerian terrorists. His meetings in Prague are more intriguing.

NEWSWEEK has learned that Atta met not once but twice with Iraqi

intelligence operatives, in June 2000 and again last April. The second

meeting was with Farouk Hijazi, Iraq's ambassador to Turkey, who was

called back to Baghdad before Sept. 11. One intelligence source called the

two meetings interesting but still far from proof of Iraqi involvement in

the plot.

While polite when necessary, Atta had a seething temper and an

almost pathological aversion to women. "I don't want any women to go to my

grave at all during the funeral or any occasion thereafter," Atta wrote in

a 1996 will. "I don't want a pregnant woman or a person who is not clean

to come and say goodbye to me," Atta wrote, adding, "the person who will

wash my body near the genitals must wear gloves on his hand so he won't

touch my genitals."

A SECOND WAVE?

This summer a second wave of hijackers slipped into the United

States. These men were the muscle: their job would be to slit the throats

of passengers and stab flight attendants (shouting "Allahu Akbar"–God is

great!–as they "slaughtered the animals," as their instructions put it).

Most stayed aloof. "You never heard them say a word," said Jamie Diaz, a

neighbor of some of the men in Paterson, N.J. The apartment shared by

hijacker brain as well as brawn in Paterson had no TV, no stereo, no

furniture, except for three smallish mattresses on the floor for as many

as six men. "Nobody ever saw them at mosques," said the city's mayor,

Marty Barnes. "But they liked the go-go clubs."

The Qaeda men living in New Jersey apparently did not use

electricity at times. A cost saver? Or Islamic asceticism? Investigators

following the money believe there was plenty of it–at least $500,000 to

finance the operation. But the money trail is well concealed. It leads

from well-known commercial banks to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, a

financial fog bank. Investigators are looking for a paymaster named

Mustafa Ahmed, who appears to have at least 10 aliases, three dates of

birth, three Social Security numbers and four addresses in the United

States. He was last seen boarding a plane from Dubai to Kara-chi,

Pakistan, on Sept. 11. NEWSWEEK has learned that U.S. intelligence is

especially interested in bin Laden's possible dealings with a company once

known as Al Taqwa Management ("Al Taqwa" is Arabic for "the wrath of

God"). But the Swiss authorities have cleared Al Taqwa, which recently

changed its name to Nada Management. Already privacy-minded European

governments and banks are grousing about a "fishing expedition" and

balking at checking bank records against a list of more than 350 names

supplied by U.S. investigators.

The Sept. 11 plot was apparently planned abroad–but where? And by

whom? Investigators have ransacked the "terror apartment" in Hamburg,

Germany, that Atta shared with Ziad Samir Jarrah, one of the presumed

Sept. 11 suicide pilots, along with at least two other possible

conspirators now on the lam. One roommate, Said Bahaji, is believed to be

the hijackers' logistics man, providing passports, IDs, apartments. The

other, Ramzi bin al-Shib, tried and failed to get a visa for pilot

training in the United States; significantly, he received a phone call

sometime last summer from Zacarias Moussaoui, who was turned in to the

Feds by a suspicious flight instructor in Minnesota last August. Had the

FBI moved a little faster on Moussaoui, it's possible the Sept. 11 attack

might have been averted. FBI officials are still sorting out why a request

from the FBI's field office for permission to examine Moussaoui's computer

hard drive–just two weeks before the attack–was turned down by

headquarters, as reported by NEWSWEEK last week. The FBI knew from French

intelligence that Moussaoui was an Islamic extremist, but he wasn't

connected to any terror group–a prerequisite to getting a

national-security warrant. The FBI agents in Minneapolis then sought a

criminal warrant to search Moussaoui's computer. But they were again

turned down because current federal law prohibits the bureau from sharing

information in criminal probes with intelligence investigators. This

bureaucratic stumbling block is being cited by federal law-enforcement

officials as justification for easing the rules. After Sept. 11, gumshoes

found incriminating evidence on the hard drive, including instructions on

flying crop- dusters. Was Moussaoui planning some kind of chemical-weapon

attack? Now in jail, the French Moroccan isn't talking. His mother, Aicha,

interviewed over the phone by NEWSWEEK from her home in Narbonne, France,

lamented that her son had been "brainwashed" into becoming an Islamic

extremist. As a child, "he never cried or made a fuss," she said. "He

didn't wake me up at night, and he was always laughing." But when teachers

at his school told Moussaoui that he would be better off going to trade

school, "he began to rebel." He started smoking hash and watching porn

movies. "I'm glad that he didn't participate in the attacks," she said.

"Maybe I'll write him a letter." She paused. "I don't know where to send

it. I don't know anything now," she said. The FBI and CIA are going to

have to know a whole lot more to stop the next attack.

With Pat Wingert, Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman in Washington,

Andrew Murr in Los Angeles, Jamie Reno in San Diego, Ana Figueroa in Las

Vegas, Sarah Downey in Minnesota, Kevin Peraino and Babak Dehghanpisheh in

Paterson, Tara Pepper in London, Scott Johnson in Paris and Mark

Hosenball, Christian Caryl and Stefan Theil in Germany

Cracking the Terror Code

1 of 2

1. Cracking the Terror Code

2. Next: The Battle Plan

© 2003 Newsweek, Inc.


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