Archive for Sunday, June 30, 2002

Newspaper reports Atta met with other key hijacker in Spain just weeks before Sept. 11 attacks

June 30, 2002


— Spanish police believe suspected Sept. 11 suicide pilot Mohamed Atta met in Spain with other key leaders of the attack on the World Trade Center eight weeks before the hijackers flew U.S. airliners into the buildings, a newspaper said Sunday.

Atta met in or near the northeastern city of Tarragona on July 10 with Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, a Yemeni who's now the subject of a worldwide manhunt, and Marwan al-Shehhi, a cousin of Atta with whom he took flight lessons in Florida, El Pais said.

U.S. authorities believe Atta, an Egyptian, was aboard American Airlines Flight 11, which struck the north tower of the World Trade Center, and that Al-Shehhi, of the United Arab Emirates, was aboard United Airlines Flight 175, which struck the south tower 17 minutes later.

In the United States, the only person charged in the attack and the so-called 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, is said to have received a $14,000 wire transfer from Bin al-Shibh in August.

Attorney General John Ashcroft has said that Atta, Al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah, a third key hijacker, were part of a terrorist cell in Hamburg.

El Pais said it had gained access to a confidential 700-page report in which Spanish police detailed their probe of Sept. 11 preparations in Spain and reconstructed the movements of Atta and other suspects in the terrorist attacks.

European officials who have investigated the presence of al-Qaida members on the continent have concluded that Spain and Germany were used as staging grounds.

The Spanish report has been turned over to the FBI, the newspaper said. National Police and Interior Ministry officials were not available for comment on Sunday.

Atta is known to have visited Spain twice last year, in January and July. During the July 8-17 stay he rented a car and logged nearly 1,000 miles.

Until now police have said they believed Atta met with unidentified Islamic extremists during the visit. El Pais said they have now concluded Atta met with Bin al-Shibh, al-Shehhi and three other men whose names were not given.

U.S. officials have named Bin al-Shibh in court papers as an unindicted hijacking co-conspirator. They say he intended to join the hijackers on their mission but shifted to providing logistical support when he could not get a U.S. visa.

Bin al-Shibh visited Spain again just days before the attacks, arriving Sept. 5 from Deusseldorf. Spanish officials say he had a return ticket for Sept. 19 but did not use it.

As for al-Shehhi, Spanish officials have been unable to find hotel records of his July stay in the Tarragona region south of Barcelona. Employees of the Port Aventura amusement park in the resort town of Salou, however, have identified him in photographs.

A man matching his description visited the park on July 17 and went to the visitors' desk for advice about which amusement rides to go on, El Pais said. "He said he only had four hours to spend at the park and was seeking to experience strong sensations," the paper said, quoting a report by the Civil Guard chief in Tarragona.

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