Did Khalid Almihdhar fly Flight 77?
"For the two would-be suicide hijackers, the flying lessons didn’t get off to a great start.
With their limited English, they seemed unable to follow instructions. Their knowledge of aviation was so sketchy that when asked to draw a plane, one man got the wings backward. And when one student attempted a landing in a single-engine Cessna, the other became frightened and began loudly praying to Allah.
Their instructor at a San Diego flight school flunked them, and later described the men as "Dumb and Dumber."
Then again, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi never needed to develop any skill in landing planes. They just needed to learn how to crash them into buildings – a goal they achieved Sept. 11 when American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon.
In fact, the FBI was looking for Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, who appeared to have spent most of the past two years together in the United States.
Investigators aren’t even entirely sure that Almihdhar and Alhazmi are the men’s real names – or that several people weren’t using those names as aliases. They have used several spellings for both Almihdhar and Alhazmi since the attacks, and some newspapers and television stations briefly mixed up Almihdhar with Khalid al-Mihmadi, a Saudi exchange student who lived in Daytona Beach until last May.
Occasionally their paths crossed with Hanjour, who later joined them on Flight 77.
Almihdhar and Alhazmi also paid $3,000 cash for a 1988 Toyota Corolla, registering it under a false address but scrupulously following the law on emissions testing.
A day after the Sept. 11 attacks, the FBI towed a car matching the same description from Dulles International Airport in Washington. The car, registered to Nawaf Alhazmi, contained a list of instructions for the hijackers, telling them to "strike as the heroes would strike … and then you will know all the heavens are decorated in the best way to meet you."
In Washington: The five Flight 77 suspects bought weeklong gym memberships in the Beltway area in August – much like their compatriots in south Palm Beach County. They got driver’s licenses in Virginia using fake addresses, taking advantage of that state’s lax laws on what proof of identity is required.
On Sept. 11, either Almihdhar or Hanjour may have piloted the hijacked jetliner into the Pentagon, according to investigators quoted in conflicting news accounts. Some accounts say Almihdhar was the one who gave the passengers a chilling message around 9:30 a.m.: Phone home, because you are all about to die.
The FBI has given no age for Almihdhar and Alhazmi but says they may be Saudi nationals. Alhazmi may have trained at camps Afghan camps tied to al-Qaeda, according to investigators quoted in news reports. The reports don’t say when the training occurred.
The FBI began looking for both Almihdhar and Alhazmi Aug. 23. But the FBI office in San Diego, where the two had spent so much time the year before, didn’t get the word until two days after the bombing.
Investigators say Almihdhar and Alhazmi first entered the United States through Los Angeles International Airport in late 1999 or early 2000. On immigration papers, they listed their intended address as a Sheraton hotel in LA.
Shaikh said he and the pair prayed together five times a day, but they shared little conversation because of the men’s difficulties with English. They paid rent, although he offered to let them stay for free, and didn’t express any hatred of the United States.
"They were nice, but not what you call extroverted people," Shaikh told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The pair took a half-dozen flight classes at Sorbi’s Flying Club nearby, but chief flight instructor Rick Garza has said their poor English skills disqualified them. Garza said Almihdhar and Alhazmi started out wanting to fly Boeing jet aircraft, but he steered them to Cessnas instead.
"I told the FBI they seemed like ‘Dumb and Dumber,’ " Garza told the Union-Tribune.
In August, the pair got state identification cards from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles in Springfield, southwest of Washington, D.C. So did the rest of the Flight 77 suspects, along with Abdulaziz Alomari and Ahmed Alghamdi, who rode separate planes that struck the World Trade Center, as well as Ziad Jarrah, whose hijacked flight crashed in Pennsylvania.
Federal investigators say Almihdhar and another Flight 77 suspect, Hanjour, drove to a northern Virginia convenience store and paid $100 to Luis Martinez-Flores, an illegal alien from El Salvador, to sign a document falsely certifying the men’s address. They in turn signed documents allowing some of the other terrorists to get their licenses.
On Sept. 5, Almihdhar and Moqed bought their airline tickets with cash at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. They had booked the tickets on the American Airlines web site. Almihdhar used a Daytona Beach address and a frequent-flier number he had established the day before. Almihdhar had seat 12 B, Moqed the window seat beside him.
Despite their presence on the terrorist watch list, Almihdhar and Alhazmi raised no alarms when they arrived at Dulles before the scheduled 8:10 a.m. departure Sept. 11. They and their three cohorts entered through Gate D26.
Eight days after the planes went down, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. distributed a "special alert" to its member banks asking for information about 21 "alleged suspects" in the attacks. The list said "Al-Midhar, Khalid Alive," raising the possibility that the real Almihdhar never died on the plane. But one Justice Department official called the listing a "typo." -Cox News (10/21/01) [Reprinted at: billstclair.com]