More people may have participated in the 9/11 terrorist attacks than previously disclosed, according to a confidential US diplomatic cable obtained and published this week by antisecrecy group WikiLeaks.
The year-old cable described three Qatari men who were under investigation for activities in the months prior to the attacks. According to the cable, which is viewable at WikiLeaks.ch, the men entered the US on Aug. 15, 2001, and visited "the World Trade Center, the Statue of Liberty, the White House, and various areas in Virginia" before flying on to Los Angeles.
The cable was first published by British newspaper The Telegraph, which on Monday published a report under the headline: "The FBI has launched a manhunt for a previously unknown team of men suspected to be part of the 9/11 attacks, the Daily Telegraph can disclose."
But US officials were quick to throw cold water on that report. An unnamed US official told The Washington Post that investigators already concluded that the men could not be charged. "There is no manhunt," said the official. "There is no active case. They were looked at, but it washed out."
At the same time, the Post adds: "The existence of a surveillance team supporting the 19 hijackers led by Mohammed Atta appears to add a new element to the narrative of the plot's execution."
This appeared to be the first time that The Telegraph has been the first to claim an "exclusive" story from WikiLeaks, which has been gradually releasing a cache of some 250,000 secret US diplomatic cables since November. It was unclear why The Telegraph received this "exclusive."
WikiLeaks initially coordinated all its leaks with The New York Times, the Guardian, and others. But group founder Julian Assange appeared to have a falling out with those newspapers over their coverage of recent sexual allegations brought against the Australian. In the recent Times article "Dealing with Assange and the WikiLeaks Secrets," executive editor Bill Keller says "Assange was transformed by his outlaw celebrity."
Neither the Guardian nor the Times had articles today about the newly leaked cable.
Dated to Feb. 11, 2010, the cable identifies three men – Meshal Alhajri, Fahad Abdulla, and Ali Alfehaid – who were booked on an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Washington scheduled to leave the day before the 9/11 attacks, but instead took a British Airways flight to London. The Washington flight employed the same Boeing 757 aircraft that crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11.
According to the cable, "[h]otel cleaning staff grew suspicious of the men because they noticed pilot type uniforms, several laptops and several cardboard boxes addressed to Syria, Jerusalem, Afghanistan and Jordan in the room.” The hotel room “also contained pin feed computer paper print outs with headers listing pilot names, airlines, flight numbers, and flight times.”
A fourth man, Mohamed Al Mansoori, is mentioned in the cable as supporting the three Qataris. Mr. Mansoori previously lived in Long Beach, California, but his whereabouts, along with those of the other three men, are unknown.
The cable recommended that Mansoori be added to the TSA’s “no-fly” list. The involvement of the four men in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which killed almost 3,000 people, had previously not been disclosed. To date, the sole person tried and convicted for the 9/11 attacks, Zacarias Moussaoui, was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
The 9/11 Commission, which was created to give an account of what happened leading up to the terrorist attacks, did not mention the men in their reports. The Commission also noted that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the terrorism attacks, claimed that he had no operatives in California. Yet, that does not mean the commission was unaware of the their possible involvement, a member of the commission told The Washington Post.
“Not everything is in the report, and my memory of the details has dulled with time so I can't say if we had some trace of this group," Philip Zelikow said. "They might have been seen by us as a group that was part of a second wave, and if that was the case, we wouldn't have named them for obvious reasons."
Qatar has seen little domestic terrorism, but has been described by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as “the worst in the region” when it comes to working with the United States on counterterrorism initiatives.
In a cable released by WikiLeaks in November (read full cable), Ms. Clinton writes, “Although Qatar's security services have the capability to deal with direct threats and occasionally have put that capability to use, they have been hesitant to act against known terrorists out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the US and provoking reprisals.”