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Hijackers were from wealthy Saudi families

g and compass

The Sunday Times

Hijackers were from wealthy Saudi families

October 28, 2001

MOST of the hijackers in the terrorist attacks on America were recruited from wealthy Saudi families and were bound by family ties, the first detailed account of their background has revealed.

Rather than being hired "muscle" or terrorists posing as Saudis with false identities, as previously thought, an investigation has revealed a close-knit group that had links stretching back many years.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers are now known to be Saudis, including the brother of a police commander, the son of a tribal chief, two teachers and three law graduates.

Blood brothers: Nawaf al-Hamzi, Majed Moqed, Wail al-Shehri and Satam al-Suqami

Well-educated, intelligent and in their mid-twenties, most were joined in the attack by at least one close male relative. Many of them had a history of making trips both to America and Afghanistan.

As the focus of the worldwide inquiry shifts to Saudi Arabia, with security sweeps across the country launched in collaboration with the FBI, the discovery of the hijackers' backgrounds is causing consternation in the kingdom.

More than 80 people have been detained by the Saudi security police for alleged links to Osama Bin Laden and hundreds more have been questioned.

Until now the world's understanding of the hijackers and their motives has been based on information released publicly about three hijackers who lived in Hamburg, and led by Mohammed Atta, an Egyptian.

But information obtained from within Saudi Arabia has provided a detailed profile of the fundamentalist Muslims prepared to die to inflict massive casualties on the United States.

Predominantly from the western provinces of the kingdom, they were also all adherents to the Salafist school of Islam, which believes in following literally the doctrines and practices of the earliest disciples of the Prophet Mohammed.

"The recruits, whatever you may think of what they did, were talented people," said Saad al-Fagih, a leading moderate Saudi dissident in London last week. "They were not only credible, but had good communication skills."

Al-Fagih, the leader of the London-based Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, said contact with dozens of local sources confirmed visits by at least 11 of the hijackers to training camps of Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda.

One hijacker now identified as a ringleader on September 11 is Nawaf al-Hamzi, who sat in seat 5F of American Airlines flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon. Al-Hamzi, according to local sources, is the brother of a police chief from the coastal town of Jizan, in southwest Saudi Arabia.

He was the earliest hijacker to make an appearance in the United States when he turned up on records of an apartment complex in San Diego, California, in November 1999.

Al-Hamzi had already aroused the suspicion of the CIA before September 11 when he was spotted with Khalid al-Midhar, another Saudi, at a meeting with suspected Al-Qaeda members in Malaysia in January 2000. Shortly afterwards, al-Hamzi and al-Midhar began flying lessons together in San Diego. Al-Midhar was in seat 12B on the flight. Another al-Hamzi brother, Salem, was on the same plane, in seat 5E.

Hani Hanjour, a trained commercial airline pilot and the son of a wealthy businessman from Ti'af, 50 miles east of Mecca, was also on the flight, as was Majed Moqed, a law student at the King Saud University in Riyadh. He is the son of ahead of the Baniauf tribe and from Annakhil, a village near Medina.

Friends have said that he was known for his desire to join a jihad and was a relative of an extremist leader who took part in the 1979 storming of Mecca's Grand Mosque, Islam's most holy shrine.

A former college room-mate of Moqed was Satam al-Suqami, a hijacker on American Airlines flight 11, which crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. Also a law student at the King Saud University, he was from a northern Saudi province.

Brothers Waleed and Wail al-Shehri, also on the same flight, came from Khamis Mushayt, east of Abha. Described by friends as "peaceful and devout", Wail had graduated from an institute of teachers.

Last week, the brothers' father, Muhammad Ali al-Shehri, said Wail had started working as a teacher but left his job because of mental illness and never returned. Waleed, who was still a student teacher, left with his brother nine months ago to consult a Muslim holy man about Wail's illness. Their whereabouts were unknown to their family until the hijackings.

Ahmed al-Nami, a hijacker on board United Airlines flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, was identified last week as another law student, trained at the King Khaled University Islamic law school in Abha.

The Saudi ruling family has been so disturbed at the scale of the involvement of some of its citizens that it has given a team of FBI agents unprecedented access to interviews with suspected detainees and they have been allowed to collect statements from relatives and acquaintances of the hijackers.

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