On June 11, Americans were finally turning the page on the deadliest act
of domestic terrorism in U.S. history. That morning, Oklahoma City bomber
Timothy McVeigh was executed. Only hours later, Florida real-estate agent
Gloria Irish was helping Marwan al-Shehhi and Hamza Alghamdi scout
Mr. al-Shehhi told Mrs. Irish he was visiting the U.S. for pilot
training. He and his friend were looking for three-month rentals. She soon
found a two-bedroom unit near a local gym, just as Mr. Alghamdi wanted. But
to her embarrassment, the owner refused to rent it to him.
"I figured it was because of his first and last name," Mrs. Irish
recalls. "I thought, this isn't any way to show people what Americans are
The embarrassment proved only temporary. Within a couple of days, she
had found the two visitors apartments in separate Delray Beach country-club
communities. The men secured the properties with $6,000 in cash and even
walked Mrs. Irish to the bank to deposit it.
Those were just two of the countless transactions by which 19 men would
turn the commonplace features of 21st century America into instruments of
murder on a scale that would dwarf Mr. McVeigh's savagery. The hijackers
preyed precisely on "what Americans are like": their welcoming borders,
their ubiquitous technology, their thriving commerce, their culture of
mobility. The hijackers came tantalizingly close on a few occasions to
drawing the attention of law-enforcement agencies. But then they slipped
through cracks in the system that seemed less obvious before Sept. 11.
They often displayed a conspicuous clumsiness. As student pilots, some
of them struck instructors as hopelessly incompetent and obstinate. But in
the face of obstacles, the plotters showed uncanny persistence. They moved
on to other flight schools. They learned what they needed to know.
The hijackers often operated in complementary pairs: the jarring
brusqueness of one canceled out by the affability of his partner. While
apartment hunting, a glowering Mr. Alghamdi never spoke to Mrs. Irish, who
concluded he was "a creep." The genial Mr. al-Shehhi apologized that his
friend didn't speak English. "He was just the friendliest guy," Mrs. Irish
says of Mr. al-Shehhi, who is believed to have piloted the plane that
crashed into the World Trade Center's south tower. He would greet her, she
remembers, with a big smile and a warm, "Good morning, Gloria."
ONE HIJACKER'S BEGINNINGS
BOY, Mohamed Atta had a flair for English and chess. The frail,
quiet son of a domineering Cairo lawyer traded letters with a pen pal in
the U.S., a classmate recalls. Friends called him "Mr. Polite."
Professional achievement, not religion, was a defining theme in the
relatively modern Atta family. Mohamed's father pushed him to match the
attainments of his two older sisters, a physician and a professor of
immunology. It wasn't enough that Mohamed earned an architecture degree
from Cairo University and landed a job with a local engineering firm, the
father, also named Mohamed, says today. He wanted his son to learn German
-- "the language of engineers," as the elder Mr. Atta puts it -- and earn a
In 1992, the son arrived in the cold, rainy northern German port of
Hamburg, where his father had decided he should study. He passed the
entrance exam for the School of Applied Sciences but was told there wasn't
room for him. This, he and his father concluded, was racism. The father
wired money to cover the cost of a discrimination lawsuit. According to
court records in Hamburg, the suit was eventually dropped, and Mr. Atta was
admitted. But by that time, the embittered young man had enrolled instead
at Hamburg-Harburg Technical University.
See a chronology detailing the movement and actions of some of the
hijackers culminating in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and
There, a former classmate, Volker Hauth, recalls Mr. Atta criticizing
Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. More vehemently, he railed against
the Egyptian government's oppression of fundamentalist Muslims. His
country's "fat cats" were getting rich at the expense of the poor, he told
his classmate. "This hurt Mohamed's sense of justice," recalls Mr. Hauth.
Even opportunities for the educated Egyptian middle class were drying up in
a gasping economy.
In contrast to his self-confident, often-angry views about politics, he
was awkward around women, former classmates say. In 1994, he fell in love
with a Palestinian woman, but his father says he discouraged his son's talk
of marriage. It would be a distraction from his studies, the elder Mr. Atta
told his son. The relationship collapsed, leaving the young man distraught,
his father recalls. Later, Mohamed told friends the woman had been too
modern for his taste.
In the mid-1990s, his involvement with Islam deepened, former classmates
and his father remember. He grew a traditional beard. He interrupted his
graduate studies in 1995 to make a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in
In 1996, at the age of 27, he made out a will, requesting a strict
Muslim funeral. Women, especially pregnant women, and "unclean people" were
to be excluded. Mourners were instructed not to cry. Five years later, the
document would be found in luggage that never made it onto American
Airlines Flight 11, which Mr. Atta is thought to have steered into the
World Trade Center's north tower.
Classmates and his father agree that 1996 was a turning point for Mr.
Atta. His grievances about his homeland, his heavy-handed father and his
romantic failure may have reinforced the appeal of a militant strain of
Islam that ascribed much of what was wrong in the Middle East to corrupt,
authoritarian governments backed by the U.S.
Signaling his deepening devotion, Mr. Atta early in the year sought
another pilgrimage to Mecca, this one to the Omrah shrine. Omrah has a
reputation for drawing not only pious Muslims but also many militant
extremists. On short notice, Mr. Atta implored his father for help with
money and arrangements for the trip. By tapping an old client at the Saudi
Embassy in Cairo, the elder Mr. Atta obtained travel documents permitting
his son to visit in February, for the last 10 days of Ramadan. (The father
says he doesn't believe his son participated in the Sept. 11 attack.)
The younger Mr. Atta didn't return to Hamburg for 15 months. At some
point, a federal law-enforcement official says, he is thought to have
visited Afghanistan to train at a bin Laden camp for terrorists. The FBI
isn't saying what evidence it has of this visit. When Mr. Atta returned to
Hamburg in 1998, two other suspected members of the Sept. 11 conspiracy --
Mr. al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah -- were also there.
Each of that pair had entered Germany two years earlier, ostensibly to
attend college. Mr. al-Shehhi, then 20, was the son of a Muslim prayer
leader in the United Arab Emirates. Mr. Jarrah was a 23-year-old born in
Lebanon, who grew up dreaming of becoming a pilot.
Whatever brought them together, the three Middle Easterners began
attending the same Hamburg mosque. So, too, did a Syrian-born trader,
Mamoun Darkazanli, who was a business associate of a man indicted by the
U.S. in 1998 because of his alleged role as Mr. bin Laden's finance boss.
German police began watching Mr. Darkazanli and another of his friends, who
was Mr. Atta's roommate in a Hamburg apartment where Mr. al-Shehhi would
also come to live and Mr. Jarrah was often a visitor.
The probe, however, went nowhere. Police saw nothing suspicious in the
students' behavior, nor in Mr. Darkazanli's. "We didn't know what we were
looking at," says one German police investigator. He adds that police were
hindered by German laws that allow surveillance of only those suspected
terrorists planning an attack in Germany. Otherwise, wiretapping and other
aggressive investigative action are off-limits.
In 1999, Messrs. Atta, al-Shehhi and Jarrah were joined many nights at
the Hamburg apartment by four or five other men, neighbors say. Most of
those in attendance wore beards and Middle Eastern robes. They left their
shoes neatly lined up outside the door. On bank-transfer slips he used to
pay rent, Mr. Atta each month wrote, "dar el anser," Arabic for "house of
Mr. Jarrah, for one, maintained at least one secular, personal interest
outside the Hamburg circle. He spent time in Bochum, Germany, two hours
away, where, according to his uncle, Jamal Jarrah, he shared an apartment
with a Turkish girlfriend, Aysel Sengun. She didn't appear to be a strict
Muslim, her former neighbors say. A medical student, Ms. Sengun had long
dark hair and favored jeans and heels. She is now in a German
In late 1999, Messrs. Atta, Jarrah and al-Shehhi prepared to move.
Within a span of two months, each man separately reported his passport as
lost and obtained a new one, German intelligence officials say. That would
have allowed them to apply for U.S. visas without revealing past trips to
countries that would raise suspicions, such as Iraq, Iran or
In December, Mr. Jarrah told a friend he was leaving to fulfill a dream
of studying in the U.S. "He thought America was great," recalls the friend,
Michael Gotzman. Mr. Jarrah promised to keep in touch. But when his friend
asked for a U.S. postal or e-mail address, Mr. Jarrah brushed him off.
ROOTS IN THE SOUTHWEST
CLEAR yet whether the Hamburg trio came to the U.S. with a
fully-formed plot or devised the hijacking scheme later. Some German
federal investigators theorize that key members of the 19 knew the broad
outline of the plan. These investigators point out that Mr. al-Shehhi took
flight lessons in Bonn in 1999, perhaps in preparation for a hijacking. And
at least one other eventual member of the suspected Sept. 11 team had been
in the U.S. years earlier, eager to learn to fly airplanes.
Beginning in the mid-1980s, a wealthy young businessman named Abdul
Hanjour began shuttling between Saudi Arabia and Arizona, where he exported
luxury cars and cultivated a wide circle of friends. In 1990, his teenage
brother came to visit.
Hani Hanjour, then 18, signed up for an eight-week course at the
University of Arizona's Center for English as a Second Language. "He was
very, very quiet, very shy and very religious," says Susan Khalil, a friend
of Abdul Hanjour. "Hani seemed awkward socially ... a very meek, timid type
He soon returned to the Middle East but in 1996 resurfaced in Ms.
Khalil's life. Abdul Hanjour called from Saudi Arabia and asked Mrs. Khalil
and her husband if Hani could come stay with them in Miramar, Fla., where
they had relocated. "We said what any friend would say: 'Of course,' " Ms.
Hani had a goal now: to learn to fly. Ms. Khalil helped him fill out
applications to flight schools. After a brief stop at a California pilot
academy, he soon returned to Arizona to attend CRM Airline Training in the
Phoenix area, according to CRM's president, Duncan K. M. Hastie.
He was reclusive, his English poor. As the months wore on, he didn't
display much aptitude in the cockpit, Mr. Hastie says. But Mr. Hanjour
didn't give up. By 1998, he had approached another Phoenix flight center,
the Sawyer School of Aviation, former employees recall. Mr. Hanjour paid
$300 to join the "Sim Club," providing him open access to Sawyer's flight
The following year, the Sim Club had another member: Lotfi Raissi.
British prosecutors late last month accused Mr. Raissi, an Algerian, of
having provided pilot training to four of the 19 hijackers. In addition to
Mr. Hanjour, Ziad Jarrah also trained on Sawyer's simulator, says the
school's former chief flight instructor Sylvia Stinson. She and the
simulator's manager at the time, Wes Fults, say they recall Mr. Raissi
teaching others, but they don't remember him with any of the 19.
At some point after his simulator work, Mr. Hanjour is believed to have
spent time in San Diego, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Although the FBI hasn't been specific as to when he may have been in the
area, investigators have linked his movements to those of two others who
lived in the city and who would eventually join Mr. Hanjour on the flight
that crashed into the Pentagon: Khalid al Midhar and Nawaf Alhazmi.
In December 1999, Mr. al Midhar, a Yemeni citizen, had been videotaped
by Malaysian intelligence officials at a meeting with members of Mr. bin
Laden's al Qaeda network in Kuala Lumpur, according to a senior U.S.
official. Malaysia shared the surveillance tape with the U.S.
But it wasn't until after the October 2000 suicide-bombing of the
destroyer USS Cole in Yemen that U.S. intelligence officials began to focus
on the videotape, according to Vincent Cannistraro, a private-security
consultant who headed counterterrorism efforts for the Central Intelligence
Agency in the 1980s and maintains contacts throughout the Middle East.
Besides Mr. al Midhar, U.S. intelligence officials also were interested in
Mr. Alhazmi, who may have been in Kuala Lumpur with Mr. al Midhar and was
known to have traveled with him on at least one other occasion, Mr.
Ten months after the Cole attack, on Aug. 21, 2001, Messrs. al Midhar
and Alhazmi were finally placed on a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization
Service "watch list" designed to bar the entry of terrorists and criminals.
By the time they were put on the watch list in August, both men had come to
the U.S., arriving aboard the same flight into Los Angeles International
Airport from Hong Kong on Jan. 15, 2000, according to a federal
law-enforcement official. Mr. al Midhar later left and re-entered the U.S.
in New York in July 2001.
The INS watch list has traditionally been used primarily at the U.S.
border to block, detain or place under surveillance suspected terrorists or
criminals. It typically hasn't been used to spark efforts to round up
suspects who are already in the U.S.
Late last summer, when the INS determined from immigration records that
Messrs. al Midhar and Alhazmi were already in the country, their names were
disseminated to other U.S. agencies. But Jeff Thurman, an agent in the
FBI's San Diego branch, says his office wasn't even informed of those
watch-list names until after the Sept. 11 attacks.
An FBI official in Washington says the notice about Messrs. al Midhar
and Alhazmi was sent to the FBI field offices in Los Angeles and New York.
Messrs. Alhazmi and al Midhar, respectively, had indicated upon entering
the country they would be staying separately in hotels in those cities, the
FBI official says. Agents checked registries of every hotel in New York and
Los Angeles, looking for the pair in the weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks,
the FBI official says. This official stresses that the bureau didn't
realize at the time that it was looking for participants in an imminent
Had investigators started looking earlier and more broadly across the
country, tracking down the two suspects might well have been possible. Mr.
al Midhar was using a credit card in his own name. Mr. Alhazmi, a Saudi
native, was listed in the 2000-01 San Diego phone book. They attended the
city's largest mosque, the Islamic Center, in the middle-class Clairemont
Like Mr. Hanjour, they sought flight training. And they, too, were weak
pilots. At Sorbi's Flying Club, they told employees they aimed to pilot
Boeings. But they made it into the air only twice, in small single-engine
planes, before instructor Richard Garza told them to give up.
They struck him, Mr. Garza recalls, as "two guys who had probably never
opened up the hood of a car." At one point, when Mr. Alhazmi was
practicing, Mr. Garza looked back in the plane to find Mr. al Midhar with
his eyes shut, praying softly.
BANK ACCOUNTS, FLYING LESSONS
HAMBURG TRIO arrived in the U.S. within a month of each other,
a federal law-enforcement official says. Mr. al-Shehhi flew into Newark on
May 29, 2000. Mr. Atta followed on June 3. On his way over from Germany, he
stopped off briefly in Prague and met with at least one Iraqi intelligence
agent, says a Czech official familiar with intelligence matters. More isn't
publicly known about that encounter. Mr. Jarrah arrived in Atlanta on a
June 27 flight from Munich.
Ramzi Binalshibh, a Yemeni citizen and one of Mr. Atta's Hamburg
roommates, had wired $2,200 to a Florida flight-training school and tried
to come as well. But in an illustration that immigration procedures can
thwart suspected terrorists, Mr. Binalshibh was denied a U.S. visa,
according to German federal investigators. The reason for the visa denial
couldn't be determined, but German investigators had previously linked Mr.
Binalshibh to the bin Laden network. In the days before Sept. 11, he left
Germany for Pakistan, the investigators say.
During the 14 months after they arrived in the U.S., Messrs. Atta, al
Shehhi and Jarrah lay the logistical foundation for an intricate
conspiracy. Mr. Atta is believed to have held the most responsibility.
He oversaw arrangements for bank accounts and credit cards, cellphones,
identification documents and frequent-flier memberships, according to U.S.
investigators and various records. In the spring of 2000, Mr. Atta received
$100,000 in wire transfers from a man in the United Arab Emirates who is
believed to use the alias "Mustafa Ahmad" and to have arranged the
financing for the conspiracy, according to people familiar with the
Transfers of that size don't necessarily have to be reported to the
government by banks and, in and of themselves, wouldn't be considered
suspicious by bankers or regulators, according to U.S. banking and
regulatory officials. Additional transfers were made to the plotters from
Middle Eastern banks during this period, according to people in the U.S.
The hijackers, while adroit at times, also had moments of friction with
Americans they met. While they tried to learn flying in Florida, Messrs.
Atta and al-Shehhi rented a room with two twin beds and a bath at a modest
home in the town of Venice. The two student pilots barely acknowledged
their landlords, Drucilla Voss and her husband, Charles, a bookkeeper at
the Huffman Aviation school, the Vosses say.
The pair were sloppy, leaving unmade beds and a lot of water on the
bathroom floor. "We're not a bed-and-breakfast," Mr. Voss says. "My wife
didn't appreciate it, and I didn't appreciate it." After one week, Mr. Voss
told his renters to find another place to live.
In July, Messrs. Atta and al-Shehhi began a series of 200 lessons at
Huffman Aviation that would cost some $20,000. Each time, they paid with a
check drawn from a local SunTrust Bank branch, says Huffman owner Rudi
Neither man received high marks. That summer, they violated pilot
guidelines by abandoning a small Piper Warrior airplane on a runway after
it had stalled, Mr. Dekkers says. An instructor at another Florida flight
school they attended, Jones Aviation, in Sarasota, asked them to leave
after just three weeks, because of their poor attitude, says owner Gary
Flight-school operators generally say there wasn't anything in the
behavior of the eventual hijackers that warranted reporting to authorities.
Flight schools cater to a wide range of students, from those aspiring to
careers as pilots to weekend fun-seekers. Foreign students are quite
common, instructors say.
Messrs. Atta and al-Shehhi "were average students -- not bad, not good,
just average," says Mr. Dekkers. "But they improved after the first month."
Once they had completed their courses at his flight school, the pair took a
standard oral and in-flight test from a Federal Aviation
Administration-certified examiner on Dec. 21, 2000. They passed and
obtained licenses. Mr. Dekkers adds: "If you come up to my store, and you
pay for training, I'll train you. What can I do?"
Messrs. Hanjour and Jarrah also qualified for FAA licenses, according to
Landings.com (www.landings.com), a Web site that gets data from the FAA and is considered
In early 2001, Messrs. Atta and al-Shehhi separately traveled
internationally. They returned to Germany in March and cleared out their
old Hamburg apartment, German police say. In April, Mr. Atta met three
Arabic-speaking men in Hamburg. Karl-Heinz Horst, a German taxi driver who
recognized Mr. Atta's face from television reports after Sept. 11, says he
had driven the three passengers about 400 miles, from Furth, in southern
Germany, to Hamburg in the north. During the long ride, one of the
passengers said in English that he was a war veteran from Afghanistan. Mr.
Atta met the taxi in Hamburg and paid the $500 bill in cash, says Mr.
What Messrs. Atta and al-Shehhi were up to in Europe isn't publicly
known. But by spring, the travelers were back in the U.S. to receive a wave
Several of these additional members of the 19-man team arrived on U.S.
visas obtained in Saudi Arabia. They came on flights originating from such
cities as Zurich and London. All of them needed spending money, places to
stay and forms of identification. Florida was the most common
In April and May, at least nine bank accounts associated with the
hijackers were opened with cash and travelers checks at SunTrust branches,
according to people familiar with the situation. The amounts involved were
relatively small and didn't cause bankers or regulators to raise any red
flags. In July and August, Mr. Atta repeatedly visited the Shipping Post, a
mom-and-pop mailing business in Punta Gorda, Fla., to obtain money orders
in amounts of $100 to $200, according to the owner.
Mr. Atta, usually neat in pressed khakis and shirt, wasn't a people
person. He sometimes scowled at motel and rental-car clerks. He often
traveled with Mr. al-Shehhi and left the public-relations role to his
chubby, sociable sidekick. Investigators speculate that the plotters moved
around frequently to avoid attracting attention in any one spot.
Through the spring and summer, Mr. al-Shehhi made scores of cellphone
calls to rental agents, motels, apartments, car-rental desks and the Palm
Beach driver's-license office. On May 25 and 26, for instance, nearly 20
calls were placed from his phone to various real-estate owners and agents
in and around Hollywood, Fla.
For all the mayhem they would later inflict, some of the men who came to
the U.S. for the Sept. 11 plot were hardly robust or physically imposing.
In Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Ahmed Alhaznawi joined Ziad Jarrah in the
$200-a-week apartment Mr. Jarrah had rented from local resident Charles
Lisa. Skinny and frail, Mr. Alhaznawi arrived with an infected gash on his
left leg. Mr. Lisa recalls he directed the two men to nearby Holy Cross
Hospital for treatment.
Many who encountered them now mourn their failure to discern hints of
the crime-in-progress. Mr. Lisa says he checked himself into a hospital for
several days in September after suffering loss of sleep and high blood
pressure. "I still blame myself for not catching at least something that
was suspicious," he says.
Like their counterparts in Germany and U.S. federal law enforcement,
police in Florida had at least one fleeting opportunity to pick up a member
of the Sept. 11 conspiracy. On April 26, in Tamarac, near Fort Lauderdale,
Mr. Atta was stopped on the road by Broward County sheriff's deputies, who
were randomly inspecting drivers' licenses and registration. At the wheel
of a red 1986 Pontiac, he had no license and received a citation.
Mr. Atta obtained a Florida license a week later but failed to show up
for a May 28 court appearance to resolve the citation. As is routine in
such instances, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. But as is also
routine in most jurisdictions, there isn't any indication that police tried
to find him to enforce the minor charge.
Groups of hijackers rendezvoused in several places, including Las Vegas
last spring and summer, for what federal law-enforcement officials believe
were planning sessions. They also met in cyberspace. Mr. al-Shehhi used a
computer in the Delray Beach public library to go online, according to
library employees. A senior FBI official says investigators have obtained
hundreds of e-mails in English and Arabic, reflecting discussions of the
planned Sept. 11 hijackings.
Some of the hijackers showed an appetite for Americana. During months
spent in Paterson, N.J., Ahmed Alghamdi visited a small grocery store
several times a day. Each time, says the grocer, Alfonso Then, the young
man bought a half-dozen individually wrapped glazed doughnuts for 25 cents
For much of last summer, a group of four of the hijackers rented
scooters by the hour from AAA Car Rental in Ft. Lauderdale. They killed
time tooling up and down the city's famous beaches, much as countless
college students do during Spring Break, according to the company's owners,
who ask not to be identified. "For guys that hated America, they sure
looked like they were having a great time here," says one owner. "They
didn't seem to have a care in the world."
The men assumed to have steered the planes on Sept. 11 continued
practicing their flying. In August, Messrs. Atta, al-Shehhi, Hanjour and
Jarrah flew aircraft in Maryland, Florida and Georgia. On Aug. 19, an
instructor at Palm Beach County Airport in Lantana heard Mr. Atta speaking
in Arabic over the airplane's radio. The instructor, who speaks Arabic
himself and asks to remain anonymous, believes Mr. Atta intended to turn on
the craft's intercom to talk to his passenger. Instead, Mr. Atta keyed the
plane's radio. He exclaimed, "God is Great!"
IDENTITIES AND PLANE TICKETS
DREW to a close, the conspirators moved toward their points of
attack. Some who were bound for American Airlines Flight 77 shifted from
California or New Jersey to within easy driving distance of the flight's
point of origin, Washington's Dulles Airport.
One priority was obtaining local government-issued identification, which
is least likely to draw attention from airlines. In the Washington area,
the plotters tapped into the thriving false-documents market that serves
conventional illegal immigrants.
On Aug. 1, according to the FBI, Messrs. Hanjour and al Midhar pulled a
van into a 7-Eleven parking lot in suburban Falls Church, Va. There, they
met Luis Martinez-Flores, himself an illegal immigrant from El
In return for $100 in cash, withdrawn from an ATM by Mr. al Midhar, Mr.
Martinez-Flores rode with the Middle Easterners to a nearby
state-government office and signed forms attesting to their permanent
residence in Virginia, according to the FBI. That is all that Virginia then
required to obtain a state identification card.
Messrs. Hanjour and al Midhar were then able the very next day to sign
attestation forms for fellow suspected hijackers Majed Moqed and Salem
Alhazmi at another government office in Arlington, according to the FBI.
Hijackers slated for other flights used the same method. Mr.
Martinez-Flores faces federal charges of fraudulently helping several
suspected hijackers obtain identification documents. An attorney
representing Mr. Martinez-Flores notes that the government hasn't linked
his client to the hijacking plot but otherwise declines to comment.
Next, there was a flurry of ticket purchasing, some by means of
frequent-flier accounts Mr. Atta and other hijackers set up in late August.
Messrs. al Midhar and Alhazmi, the two men who had shown up on the U.S.
immigration watch list, signed onto Travelocity.com
(www.travelocity.com), an Internet travel site, to order tickets for United Flight 77
from Dulles to Los Angeles, a Travelocity official says. Placing those
orders, the pair would have viewed a screen showing a seating diagram of
the Boeing jet they would eventually hijack.
In Paterson, N.J., Messrs. Moqed and Hanjour went to the ATS travel
agency to purchase a seat for Mr. Hanjour on American Airlines Flight 77.
But Visa declined to approve the transaction, says an ATS agent who
requests anonymity. The pair left, returning later with an envelope stuffed
with $1,842 in cash -- and got the ticket, says the travel agent. Mr.
Moqed, who did the talking for the duo, asked that Mr. Hanjour be seated as
far forward as possible. Mr. Hanjour was assigned seat 1B, near the
That large cash ticket transaction wasn't the only clue near the end of
something peculiar going on. But no one put them together. On Sept. 9, Mr.
al-Shehhi and Mohand Al Shehri became the last of at least seven of the
hijackers to leave the Panther Motel in Deerfield Beach, Fla. Curious about
what the pair had left behind, the proprietor, Richard Surma, dug into his
motel's Dumpster and found a black tote bag containing aeronautical maps of
the eastern U.S., a protractor, a German-English dictionary and three
Mr. Surma says he found these items interesting enough to hold onto, but
they didn't seem particularly ominous. Only after Sept. 11 did he realize
their potential significance. He called the FBI.
Other hijackers displayed a fastidious efficiency as they wrapped up
their business. In the last week before the attacks, the FBI says Messrs.
Atta, al-Shehhi and Waleed al-Shehri wired some $15,000 in unused funds
back to Mustafa Ahmad, the alleged bin Laden paymaster in the United Arab
Emirates. Mr. Alhaznawi's final bank statement, opened after Sept. 11 by
his former landlord, showed that he left behind just $14.
DAYS before Sept. 11, some of the 10 hijackers who would
destroy the World Trade Center began casing Logan Airport in Boston. Garage
surveillance records obtained by investigators show that a white Mitsubishi
sedan rented by one of them moved in and out of the airport's parking
garage at least four times between Sept. 5 and Sept. 11. After the
hijackings, the car would be found in a Logan garage.
As they prepared to strike, the hijackers split up and stayed in
moderately priced hotels in Boston. At around 8 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 8,
Fayez Banihammad, who would join Mr. al-Shehhi on United Flight 175, showed
up at the Milner Hotel on the edge of Boston's downtown theater district.
Accompanied by another man, Mr. Banihammad asked a hotel employee to fill
out a registration card for him, explaining that his English was poor, the
The next day, Messrs. Atta and al-Shehhi rented the room next to Mr.
Banihammad's. They made a call from their rooms to Western Union, which
authorities believe was one final attempt to refund unneeded cash to their
contact in the United Arab Emirates.
On Monday, Sept. 10, a man resembling the FBI-released photo of United
Flight 175 hijacker Hamza Alghamdi checked into the Days Hotel in Boston's
Brighton neighborhood, according to front-desk employee Joe Williams. Mr.
Williams signed the guest in as "Ghamdi."
During their stay in the U.S., some of the hijackers had shunned images
of American sexuality. Mr. Surma, the Deerfield Beach, Fla., motel owner,
says his former guests used towels to cover pictures of women in bathing
suits that decorated their rooms. On this night, though, the Days Hotel
guest watched a pornographic movie on the in-house video system, according
to a law-enforcement official.
In New Jersey, meanwhile, a person familiar with the investigation says
at least one of the men preparing to hijack United Flight 93 from Newark
indulged himself on his final weekend by visiting an exotic-dance club in
Despite the occasional last-minute splurge, the FBI says the hijackers
operated on a tight budget in their final days. Receipts investigators
found in garbage bins near the conspirators' Boston hotels showed they
often ate pizza or canned food from supermarkets. Cab drivers and waiters
remember them as stingy tippers.
Mr. Atta left the Milner on Sept. 10 and, with his partner on American
Flight 11, Abdulaziz Alomari, headed two hours north to Portland, Maine.
They drove a blue Nissan Altima rental car to a Comfort Inn within sight of
Portland International Jetport. Surveillance cameras picked them up as they
visited a Wal-Mart and a bank's automated teller machine. As he used the
ATM, Mr. Alomari was smiling broadly.
Investigators say they don't know why two of the 10 Boston hijackers
drove to Portland a day before the attack, risking a missed connection.
Some investigators theorize that the hijackers thought they would attract
less suspicion if they originated from separate cities. Others believe Mr.
Atta viewed the Portland flight as a final test run for the plan to carry
small knives onto planes.
The Portland airport's security checkpoint, which the two men passed
through at 5:45 the next morning, was one of the last opportunities for law
enforcement to thwart the attack. A security camera snapped their photo,
but no one tried to stop the two neatly dressed men with computer bags
slung over their shoulders. As the sun rose on a cloudless day in Portland
and throughout the Northeast, the pair sat by themselves in the waiting
area by Gate 11, leaning forward in their seats and talking quietly, other
Walking to his seat on the plane, passenger Vincent Meisner remembers
accidentally bumping Mr. Atta with his bag and saying, "Excuse me." Mr.
Atta silently hunched his shoulders and looked away. "I thought he just
hadn't had his morning coffee yet," Mr. Meisner says.
All 10 Boston-departing hijackers reached Logan airport in time.
American Flight 11 and United Flight 175 were scheduled to leave for Los
Angeles from different terminals, within minutes of each other. Just before
passengers boarded the flights, a single cellphone call was placed between
the hijack teams, according to investigators. It lasted only a few minutes
-- long enough, authorities believe, to declare that the operation was
Mr. Atta's luggage, which failed to make it onto American Flight 11, was
later found to contain a hand-held electronic flight computer, a
simulator-procedure manual for Boeing 757 and 767 aircraft and a copy of
the Quran. It also held a letter of exhortation for the hijacking. The
unidentified author directed readers to sharpen their knife blades for the
attacks and to frighten their victims by calling out in Arabic, "God is
Mr. Jarrah, preparing for his own mission in Newark airport, made a
final personal gesture that morning. He telephoned his girlfriend in
Germany, Aysel Sengul. Mr. Jarrah sounded perfectly normal and said he
loved her, Ms. Sengul later told Jamal Jarrah, Ziad's uncle.
When she saw news reports later that day that hijacked planes in America
had crashed into the twin towers, the Pentagon and a rural Pennsylvania
field, killing thousands, Ms. Sengul became worried, she told Jamal Jarrah.
She called her boyfriend's cellphone. There was no answer.
The following Wall Street Journal staff reporters contributed to this
MIDDLE EAST: Christopher Cooper in
Cairo; James M. Dorsey in Beirut; Yaroslav Trofimov in Dubai.
EUROPE: William Boston in Bochum,
Germany; Neal E. Boudette in Frankfurt, Germany; Mahmoud Kassem and Marcus
Walker in Hamburg.
U.S.: David Armstrong in Delray
Beach, Fla.; James Bandler in Elizabeth, N.J.; Douglas A. Blackmon and Rick
Brooks in Atlanta; Andrew Caffrey in Portland, Maine; David S. Cloud and
Gary Fields in Washington; Daniel Golden in Boston; Tom Hamburger in
Laurel, Md.; Laura Johannes in Newton, Mass.; Kathryn Kranhold in Paterson,
N.J.; Nicholas Kulish in Falls Church, Va.; Carrick Mollenkamp in Venice,
Fla.; Evan Perez in Miami; Will Pinkston in Tampa, Fla.; Chad Terhune in
West Palm Beach, Fla.; Maureen Tkacik and Rick Wartzman in San Diego.