Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Khalid al-Mihdhar (Arabic: خالد المحضار, also transliterated Almihdhar) was one of five terrorists named by the FBI as hijackers of American Airlines flight 77 in the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack. He was one of the six participants known as the organizers of the attacks, and was likely involved in the USS Cole bombing as well. He has used the aliases Sannan al-Makki, Khalid bin Muhammad, Addallah al-Mihdhar, and Khalid Mohammad al-Saqaf. Like many of the hijackers, there are persistent reports that he is still alive, although this has not been confirmed.
Al-Mihdhar was the first hijacker shown to have some connection to Osama bin Laden, when it was discovered that he had attended a meeting with a suspect in the USS Cole bombing who had been identified by the FBI as one of bin Laden's top security officials.
An al-Qaida veteran
Khalid al-Mihdhar has been called an "al-Qaida veteran" by the CIA, and has fought in several major conflicts throughout his life. He was born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and in 1995 he went with Nawaf al-Hazmi (another alleged 9/11 hijacker) to Bosnia to join the fight between Muslims and Serbs. Afterwards, both men returned to Afghanistan along with Nawaf's brother Salem, joined al-Qaida, and fought against the Northern Alliance. According to al-Mihdhar's family, he fought with Chechnyan Muslims 1998.  
On April 7, 1999, al-Mihdhar obtained a US visa through the US Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The 9/11 Commission Report says that al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar were two of the first four terrorists hand-picked by Osama bin Laden to participate in a United States terrorist operation using hijacked planes. (They were originally slated to be pilots, but since both proved to be poor students, other pilots were eventually found.) In the fall of 1999, these four went to an elite training camp in Afghanistan, a sort of al-Qaida boot camp called Mes Aynak .
Former Saudi Intelligence Minister Prince Turki al Faisal has revealed that al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi were put on a Saudi terror watch list in late 1999. He also said that he revealed this to the CIA, saying "What we told them was these people were on our watch list from previous activities of al-Qaeda, in both the embassy bombings and attempts to smuggle arms into the kingdom in 1997." The CIA strongly denies having received any such warning.
In the U.S.
The FBI and the 9/11 Commission report say that al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar first entered the United States in 2000, but the Washington Post and the LA Times report that the two first came in 1999. Either way, the two definitely attended the 2000 Al Qaeda Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was there that the details of the 9/11 attacks were decided upon. He was secretly videotaped at this meeting by Malaysian authorities.
A week afterwards, on January 15, 2000, al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar flew to Los Angeles, California from Bangkok, Thailand. They were identified by the CIA, but were not put on the terrorist watch list that is shared with other agencies, despite the fact that the CIA's counter-terrorism center had sent out a cable just a month before, reminding agents how important it was to put suspicious people on this shared list when they enter the United States. Several further times in the next year and a half, when analysis of the al-Qaida Summit was performed and when information on the USS Cole bombing was discovered, it would have been standard procedure for the CIA to have reported al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar to the FBI, but the information was not shared.
After entering the country, al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar went from the airport to a restaurant, and there met the Saudi national Omar al-Bayoumi, who has been suspected of being a Saudi agent (although Saudi Arabia denies this.) Al-Bayoumi invited the two to move to San Diego with him, and they did. He found them an apartment, co-signed their lease, and gave them $1500 to help pay for their rent.
Al-Hazmi and al-Mihdar's neighbors later reported that the two struck them as quite odd. They had no furniture, they constantly played flight simulator games, they paid for everything in cash, and limousines picked them up for short rides in the middle of the night.  They later moved into the house of Abdussattar Shaikh , who was secretly acting as an FBI informant at the time, although he did not report the two to the FBI. 
In June of 2000, al-Mihdhar returned to Yemen, his birthplace, leaving al-Hazmi to take care of himself. This move was not authorized by al-Qaida. According to the 9/11 Commission Report, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was so angered by this that he decided to remove al-Mihdhar from the 9/11 plot, but he was overruled by Osama bin Laden.
On October 12, The USS Cole was bombed by al-Qaeda terrorists. The Prime Minister of Yemen stated "Khalid al-Mihdhar was one of the Cole perpetrators, involved in preparations. He was in Yemen at the time and stayed after the Cole bombing for a while, then he left." This has not been confirmed by U.S. authorities.
Al-Mihdhar returned to the U.S. on July 4, 2001. He used the Visa Express program to gain entry into the country. (This program, introduced in May of 2001 when terror alerts in the U.S. were very high, allowed Saudi Arabians to obtain visas without verifying their identity. Five hijackers used this method to get into the U.S. The program was finally cancelled in July of 2002.)
Al-Mihdhar, along with at least five other future hijackers, traveled to Las Vegas at least six times in the Summer of 2001. They reportedly drank alcohol, gambled, and paid strippers to perform lap dances for them.
The INS finally put al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar on a watchlist to prevent entry into the U.S. in August of 2001, but they had been in the country for over a year. The FBI was subsequently contacted, and began to search for them on August 21, 2001, but did not determine their whereabouts in time. An internal review after 9/11 found that "everything was done [to find them] that could have been done." But the search does not appear to have been particularly aggressive. A national motor vehicle index was reportedly checked, but al-Hazmi's speeding ticket was not detected for some reason. California's drivers license records were not searched, although both were known to have entered the US through Los Angeles. The FBI did not search credit card databases, bank account databases, or car registration, all of which would had positive results. Al-Hazmi was even listed in the 2000-2001 San Diego phone book, but this too was not seached until after the attacks.
The New York office of the FBI requested a criminal case be opened "to determine if al-Mihdhar is still in the United States." The request was refused. One FBI agent sent an e-mail saying, "Whatever has happened to this, someday someone will die, and. . . the public will not understand why we were not more effective and throwing every resource we had at certain 'problems.'"
Al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar purchased their 9/11 plane tickets on-line using a credit card with their real names. This raised no red flags, since the FAA had not been informed that the two were on a terrorist watchlist.
On September 10, 2001, Hani Hanjour, al-Mihdhar, and Nawaf al-Hazmi checked into a hotel. Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen, a prominent Saudi government official, was staying at the same hotel. There is no evidence Hussayen met with them, but he has been linked to terrorism many times since then.
On September 11, al-Mihdhar and four other hijackers boarded American Airlines flight 77. Al-Mihdhar was randomly selected for extra screening, but nothing suspicious was found in his bags. Some time after takeoff, the plane was hijacked, and was flown into the Pentagon at 9:37 am, killing 189 people.
After the attacks, reports began emerging saying that al-Mihdhar was still alive. On September 19, the FDIC distributed an official document clearly stating that al-Mihdhar is alive. The Justice Department says that this was a typo. The BBC and the Guardian have since reported that there was evidence al-Mihdhar was still alive. This al-Midhar may have been a man with the same name.
External links and references
- The Final 9/11 Commission Report
- NY Times--THE INVESTIGATION: 2 Suspected Hijackers Were Sought by F.B.I. at Time of the Attacks
- LA Times--Search for Suspects Was on for Weeks
- Newsweek--FBI Links USS Cole Bombing and World Trade Center Attack
- BBC story (questions raised as to whether he is in fact alive)
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