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In 2000, the 9/11 hijackers receive money from a man using “Mustafa Ahmed al-Hisawi” and other aliases. On September 8-11, 2001, the hijackers send money to a man in the United Arab Emirates who uses the aliases “Mustafa Ahmed,”
“Mustafa Ahmad,” and “Ahamad Mustafa.” Soon the media begins reporting on who this 9/11 “paymaster” is, but his reported names and identities will continually change. The media has sometimes made the obvious connection that the paymaster is Saeed Sheikh—a British financial expert who studied at the London School of Economics, undisputedly sent hijacker Mohamed Atta money the month before the attacks, made frequent trips to Dubai (where the money is sent), and is known to have trained the hijackers. However, the FBI consistently deflects attention to other possible explanations, with a highly confusing series of names vaguely similar to Mustafa Ahmed or Saeed Sheikh:
September 24, 2001: Newsweek reports that the paymaster for the 9/11 attacks is someone named “Mustafa Ahmed.” (Hosenball 10/1/2001) This refers to Mustafa Mahmoud Said Ahmed, an Egyptian al-Qaeda banker who was captured in Tanzania in 1998 then later released. (Riley 9/28/2001; Riley and Brune 10/3/2001)
October 1, 2001: The Guardian reports that the real name of “Mustafa Mohamed Ahmad” is “Sheikh Saeed.” (Whitaker 10/1/2001) A few days later, CNN confirms from a “senior-level US government source” that this “Sheik Syed” is the British man Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh rescued from an Indian prison in 1999. (CNN 10/6/2001; Ressa 10/8/2001) However, starting on October 8, the story that ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed ordered Saeed to give Mohamed Atta $100,000 begins to break. References to the 9/11 paymaster being the British Saeed Sheikh (and the connections to the ISI Director) suddenly disappear from the Western media (with one exception (CNN 10/28/2001) ).
October 2001: Other articles continue to use “Mustafa Mohammed Ahmad” or “Shaykh Saiid” with no details of his identity, except for suggestions that he is Egyptian. There are numerous spelling variations and conflicting accounts over which name is the alias. There is an Egyptian al-Qaeda financier leader named Mustafa Abu al-Yazid who uses some variant of Saeed Sheikh as an alias. (Mcgowan 10/1/2001; BBC 10/1/2001; Riley and Brune 10/3/2001; Solomon 10/6/2001; Eggen and Day 10/7/2001; Sunday Times (London) 10/7/2001; Fazlollah 10/9/2001; Hoge 10/15/2001; Miller and Mcdonnell 10/20/2001)
October 16, 2001: CNN reports that the 9/11 paymaster “Sheik Sayid” is mentioned in a May 2001 trial of al-Qaeda members. However, this turns out to be a Kenyan named Sheik Sayyid el Masry. (Day 7. United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al. 2/20/2001; United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 8 2/21/2001; Hirschkorn 10/16/2001)
November 11, 2001: The identity of 9/11 paymaster “Mustafa Ahmed” is suddenly no longer Egyptian, but is now a Saudi named Sa’d Al-Sharif, who is said to be bin Laden’s brother-in-law. (United Nations 3/8/2001; Klaidman and Hosenball 11/11/2001; Associated Press 12/18/2001)
December 11, 2001: The federal indictment of Zacarias Moussaoui calls the 9/11 paymaster “Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi a/k/a ‘Mustafa Ahmed,’” and gives him Sa’d’s nationality and birth date. (MSNBC 12/11/2001) Many articles begin adding “al-Hawsawi” to the Mustafa Ahmed name. (Eggen 12/13/2001; Eggen and Day 1/7/2002; Pasternak and Braun 1/20/2002)
January 23, 2002: As new information is reported in India, the media returns to the British Saeed Sheikh as the 9/11 paymaster. (Watson 1/23/2002; Bedi 1/24/2002; Popham 1/24/2002; Syal and Hastings 1/27/2002) While his role in the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl is revealed on February 6, many articles connect him to 9/11, but many more do not. Coverage of Saeed’s 9/11 connections generally dies out by the time of his trial in July 2002.
June 4, 2002: Without explanation, the name “Shaikh Saiid al-Sharif” begins to be used for the 9/11 paymaster, presumably a combination of Saeed Sheikh and S’ad al-Sharif. (Lumpkin 6/5/2002; Buncombe 9/15/2002; Lumpkin 9/26/2002; Terzieff 11/15/2002) Many of the old names continue to be used, however. (Risen 7/10/2002; Time 8/4/2002; McDermott 9/1/2002; Crewdson and Simpson 9/5/2002; Knight Ridder 9/8/2002; Rubin and Dorgan 9/9/2002; Finn 9/11/2002; Meyer 12/24/2002)
June 18, 2002: FBI Director Mueller testifies that the money sent in 2000 is sent by someone named “Ali Abdul Aziz Ali” but the money in 2001 is sent by “Shaikh Saiid al-Sharif.” The 9/11 Commission will later identify Aziz Ali as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s nephew and agree with Mueller that he sent the money in 2000. (US Congress 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 1)
September 4, 2002: Newsweek says “Mustafa Ahmad Adin al-Husawi,” presumably Saudi, is a deputy to the Egyptian “Sayyid Shaikh Al-Sharif.” However, it adds he “remains almost a total mystery,” and they are unsure of his name. (Hosenball 9/4/2002)
December 26, 2002: US officials now say there is no such person as Shaikh Saiid al-Sharif. Instead, he is probably a composite of three different people: “[Mustafa Ahmed] Al-Hisawi, Shaikh Saiid al-Masri, al-Qaeda’s finance chief, and Saad al-Sharif, bin Laden’s brother-in-law and a midlevel al-Qaeda financier.” (Associated Press 12/27/2002) Shaikh Saiid al-Masri is likely a reference the Kenyan Sheik Sayyid el Masry. Note that, now, al-Hisawi is the assistant to Shaikh Saiid, a flip from a few months before. Saiid and/or al-Hisawi still haven’t been added to the FBI’s official most wanted lists. (McGrory 12/1/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation 2002; Miniter 6/17/2002) Despite the confusion, the FBI isn’t even seeking information about them. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 2/14/2002) Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi is said to be arrested with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Pakistan in 2003, but no photos of him are released, and witnesses of the supposed arrest did not see al-Hawsawi or Mohammed there (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). (Zakaria 3/3/2003) A few weeks later, it will be reported that “the man US intelligence officials suspected of being al-Qaeda’s financial mastermind, Sheik Said al-Masri, remains at large.” (McNamee, Woellert, and Matlack 3/17/2003)
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