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Saturday, September 12, 2009

FBI undercover operative spotted Atta before 9/11

From ABC News:

On the eve of the eight year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, an FBI informant who infiltrated alleged terrorist cells in the U.S. tells ABC News the FBI missed a chance to stop the al Qaeda plot because they focused more on undercover stings than on the man who would later become known as 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta.

In an exclusive interview to be broadcast tonight on ABC World News with Charles Gibson and Nightline, former undercover operative Elie Assaad says he spotted and became suspicious of Atta in early 2001, when he was sent by the FBI to infiltrate a small mosque outside Miami. Atta was there with Adnan Shukrujuman, an al Qaeda fugitive who now has a $5 million U.S. reward on his head.

"There was something wrong with these guys," Assaad, a 36-year-old Catholic native of Lebanon who pretended to be an Islamic extremist, says.

The FBI initially declined to comment but released a statement following the ABC News report, saying: "The 9/11 investigation, the most extensive ever conducted by the FBI, has been reviewed in its totality by the 9/11 Commission, Congress and others. The claims made in the news report and the factual conclusions contained in the story are not supported by the evidence."

The FBI did not specify which claims or conclusions it referred to.

Kevin Fenton at History Commons makes the link to Able Danger:

Atta’s connection to Gulshair Skukrijumah and his son Adnan may be important to one of the most interesting 9/11 scandals: Able Danger. After the attacks, members of an army data mining programme came forward and claimed that, as a part of a project aimed against al-Qaeda, they had identified Atta and three other hijackers, Alshehhi, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, as members of an al-Qaeda cell they called “Brooklyn.” The cell got its name because the members all had some connection to the NYC borough, not because they were physically present there. Atta and the others were apparently found to be linked to the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. However, an explanation as to how this might have happened has been lacking until now.

The elder Shuhrijumah was a close associate of the Blind Sheikh, and had been an imam at the Al Farooq mosque in Brooklyn where Abdul-Rahman preached. In addition, he acted as the Blind Sheikh’s translator and testified for the defence at the WTC bombing trial, as a character witness for Clement Hampton-El. Confirmation of Atta’s attendance at the mosque therefore establishes a clear link between him and an associate of Abdul-Rahman. As we know Alshehhi attended a Florida mosque and that he was close to Atta throughout their time in the US, it is likely Alshehhi attended the same mosque.

However, the FBI informant saw Atta at the mosque in early 2001, whereas Able Danger linked him to the Brooklyn cell in January 2000. It is unclear how Able Danger could have made the link before Atta officially entered the US, although Atta used a bewildering array of aliases—the 19 hijackers together racked up a total of 364 aliases and name variants—and it is impossible to rule him entering the US under another name out.

One possibility is that there was a prior link between Atta and the Shukrijumahs—how likely is it that Atta and the other hijackers just happened to move in on the doorstep of a known associate of the Blind Sheikh and his son, one of al-Qaeda’s top US-based operatives? There may well have been prior links between Atta and the Shukrijumahs, which Able Danger learned of. For example, Atta made two Green Card lottery applications in late 1999 and it is possible he gave the Shukrijumahs’ address in this context.