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Context of 'Between January and October 1999: Hamburg Cell Downloads Flight Training Software'

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Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in a 1998 FBI wanted poster.Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in a 1998 FBI wanted poster. [Source: FBI]9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) lives in the Philippines for a year, planning Operation Bojinka until the plot is exposed in January 1995 and he has to flee (see January 6, 1995). Police later say he lives a very expensive and non-religious lifestyle. He goes to karaoke bars and go-go clubs, dates go-go dancers, stays in four-star hotels, and takes scuba diving lessons. Once he rents a helicopter just to fly it past the window of a girlfriend’s office in an attempt to impress her. This appears to be a pattern; for instance, he has a big drinking party in 1998. (McDermott 6/24/2002) Officials believe his obvious access to large sums of money indicate that some larger network is backing him by this time. (Drogin and Meyer 6/6/2002) One of the participants in Bojinka is a Pakistani businessman with alleged ties to the ISI and the drug trade. This Pakistani is said to use counterfeit US currency to help fund the Bojinka plot (see September 18-November 14, 1994). It has been suggested that KSM, a Pakistani, is able “to operate as he please[s] in Pakistan” during the 1990s (McDermott 6/24/2002) , and he is linked to the Pakistani ISI by 1993 (see Spring 1993). His hedonistic time in the Philippines resembles reports of hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi in the Philippines in 1998-2000 (see December 1999). KSM returns to the Philippines occasionally, and he is even spotted there after 9/11 (see September 1998-January 1999).

9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi visits the Philippines several times this year. He stays at the Woodland Park Resort Hotel near Angeles City, about 60 miles north of Manila and near the former US controlled Clark Air Base. Security guard Antonio Sersoza later claims, “I am sure Alshehhi had been a Woodland guest several times in 1997. I remember him well because I flagged his speeding car at least three times at the gate of Woodland.” He adds that Alshehhi used different cars, knew how to speak some Filipino, and stayed at the hotel on several Saturdays. He is not sure if Mohamed Atta was with him. (Cervantes 10/1/2001; Gulf News 10/2/2001; Lerner 10/11/2001) Other eyewitnesses will later recall seeing Alshehhi and Atta at the Woodland hotel in 1999 (see December 1999), and the Philippine military will confirm their presence there. A leader of a militant group connected to al-Qaeda will later confess to helping 9/11 hijacker pilots while they were in this area (see Shortly After October 5, 2005).

According to German investigations, by at least this time, the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell including Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Ziad Jarrah, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh has come up with the idea of attacking the US using airplanes. This theory is based on witness statements and the discovery by the German police of a flight simulator file on a computer used by the Hamburg cell that was downloaded between January and October 1999. (Finn 9/11/2002; Burke 2004, pp. 244) Both Atta and Alshehhi start taking lessons on ultralight aircraft this year (see April 1999, October 1999, and December 1999). Some suggest they first joined the 9/11 plot in early 1999 (see Early 1999). However, the 9/11 Commission claims that the 9/11 plot was hatched by al-Qaeda’s leadership and was communicated to the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell in Afghanistan in December 1999. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 165-169)

The Woodland Park Resort.The Woodland Park Resort. [Source: Woodland Park Resort]9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta takes flying lessons in the Philippines, and 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi is with him. They stay at the Woodland Park Resort Hotel near Angeles City, which is about 60 miles north of Manila and near the formerly US controlled Clark Air Base. Victoria Brocoy, a chambermaid at the hotel, will later claim that Atta stayed at the hotel for about a week while he learned to fly ultra-light planes at the nearby Angeles City Flying Club. (Dacanay 9/29/2001; Gulf News 10/2/2001) She also says, “He was not friendly. If you say hello to him, he doesn’t answer. If he asks for a towel, you do not enter his room. He takes it at the door.… Many times I saw him let a girl go at the gate in the morning. It was always a different girl.” (Kirk 10/5/2001) Atta stays with some other men who call him Mohamed. She recalls that one of them is Marwan Alshehhi, who is treated like Atta’s sidekick. However, there are no recollections of Alshehhi going to the nearby flight school. (Bigornia 10/2/2001; Gulf News 10/2/2001) She says Atta was hosted by a Jordanian named Samir, who speaks Filipino and runs a travel agency in Manila. She adds that many Arab guests stayed at the hotel between 1997 and 1999, and Samir always accompanied them. Samir denies knowing any of the hijackers. (Dacanay 9/29/2001; Bigornia 10/2/2001; Kirk 10/5/2001) The Philippine military will later confirm that Atta and Alshehhi were at the hotel after finding four other employees who claim to have seen them in 1999. Other locals, such as the manager of a nearby restaurant, also recall seeing them. (Cervantes 10/1/2001; Gulf News 10/2/2001; Kirk 10/5/2001; Lerner 10/11/2001) Atta and/or Alshehhi were seen at the same resort in 1997 (see 1997) and will return to it later in 1999 (see December 1999). A leader of a militant group connected to al-Qaeda later confesses to helping 9/11 hijacker pilots while they were in this area (see Shortly After October 5, 2005).

9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi takes flying lessons in Bonn, Germany. He takes a lesson in an ultralight two-seater and then returns ten days later for a second lesson. His former flying teacher will later recall, “The young man was highly attentive and especially talented.” (Agence France-Presse 10/9/2001) There are reports that Mohamed Atta also takes lessons on ultralight aircraft in the Philippines in 1999 (see April 1999 and December 1999).

9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta enters a lottery for permanent resident status in the US. The application is submitted over the Internet to the National Visa Service, a company that, for a $50 fee, helps individuals enter green card lotteries for permanent resident status in the US. Atta submits another lottery application in November, but both applications are unsuccessful. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 19-20 pdf file) This may indicate that Atta is already involved in the 9/11 plot in some way prior to December 1999, when the 9/11 Commission suggests he joins the plot (see Late November-Early December 1999). He appears to have traveled to Afghanistan (see Late 1997-Early 1998) and has discussed studying in the US with his parents (see October 1999). In addition, he and fellow Hamburg cell member Marwan Alshehhi may have already started taking flying lessons (see April 1999 and October 1999).

One of the ultralights used at the Angeles City Flying Club.One of the ultralights used at the Angeles City Flying Club. [Source: Woodland Park Resort]9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi are seen again in the Philippines, partying and taking flying lessons. They stay at the Woodland Park Resort Hotel about sixty miles north of Manila, as they did in 1997 and earlier in 1999. Gina Marcelo, a waitress at the hotel, will later recall that Marwan Alshehhi threw a party there. “There were about seven people. They rented the open area by the swimming pool… They drank Johnnie Walker Black Label whiskey and mineral water. They barbecued shrimp and onions. They came in big vehicles, and they had a lot of money. They all had girlfriends.” (Kirk 10/5/2001) 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is also known to be in the Philippines for much of 1999, plotting again to assassinate the Pope (see 1999-September 10, 2001). There are no eyewitness accounts of him being seen with Atta or Alshehhi at this time, but when he lived in the Philippines in 1994 he was known to party and have local girlfriends (see Early 1994-January 1995). Security guard Ferdinand Abad later recalls Mohamed Atta registered under his own name at the hotel this month. Atta went to the nearby Angeles City Flying Club about two of three times a week to train on ultralight aircraft. Abad recalls seeing the flying club van pick up Atta at least five times. Just as when Atta and Alshehhi were at the resort earlier in the year, no one recalls Alshehhi taking flying lessons, only Atta. (Cervantes 10/1/2001; Gulf News 10/2/2001; Kirk 10/5/2001) The Philippine military will later confirm that Atta and Alshehhi were at the hotel after finding a number of employees who claim to have seen them. (Cervantes 10/1/2001; Gulf News 10/2/2001) A leader of a militant group connected to al-Qaeda will later confess to helping 9/11 hijacker pilots while they were in this area (see Shortly After October 5, 2005). The 9/11 Commission will not mention the possibility of Atta and Alshehhi staying in the Philippines. They will note that the two of them left Germany in the last week of November 1999 with the intention of going to Afghanistan, but there is no mention of when they arrived in Afghanistan. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 166-167)

Ahmed Santos.Ahmed Santos. [Source: Rolex de la Pena / EPA]Ahmed Santos, the alleged leader of the Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM) militant group is arrested and supposedly confesses that his group assisted some of the 9/11 hijackers in the Philippines. (Zamboanga Sun Star 10/30/2005) The “RSM was built upon Mohammed Jamal Khalifa’s NGO network, left unscathed by the Philippine authorities after 1995.” Like Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, the RSM has ties to the Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiyah, and al-Qaeda. (Abuza 9/1/2005 pdf file) Santos is interrogated immediately after his arrest and according to a Philippine investigator who was one of his interrogators, Santos says that his group helped train and give shelter to the hijackers (he does not specifically mention which ones or how many). This investigator says that Santos told him, “These Arabs, after their flight training in Angeles, Pampanga, went back to their shelter in the home-base of Santos’ RSM in Pangasinan.” Both Angeles City and RSM’s base are north of Manila near Clark Air Base, which was a major US airbase in the northern Philippines until 1991. (Zamboanga Sun Star 10/30/2005) Shortly after 9/11, many eyewitnesses were quoted in media reports claiming to recognize 9/11 pilots Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi taking flight training in the Angeles City area in the late 1990s (see December 1999). This fits with Santos’ alleged account.


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