U.S. given name


U.S. given name, number of hijacker in ’99

German tipsters never heard back until after attacks on Sept. 11


Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Washington — U.S. investigators were given the first name and telephone number of one of the Sept. 11 hijackers 2 1/2 years before the attacks on New York and Washington, but the United States appears to have failed to pursue the lead aggressively, according to U.S. and German officials.

The information, the earliest known signal that the United States received about any of the hijackers, has now become an important element of an independent commission’s investigation into the events of Sept. 11, 2001, officials said Monday.

It is considered particularly significant because it might have represented a missed opportunity for U.S. officials to penetrate the German terror cell that was at the heart of the plot. And it came roughly 16 months before the hijacker showed up at flight schools in the U.S.

In March 1999, German intelligence officials gave the CIA the first name and telephone number of Marwan al-Shehhi and asked the Americans to track him. The name and phone number in the United Arab Emirates had been obtained by the Germans by monitoring the telephone of Mohamed Heidar Zammar, an Islamic extremist in Hamburg who was closely linked to the important plotters behind the Sept. 11 attacks, German officials said.

After the Germans passed the information to the CIA, they never heard back from the Americans about the matter until after Sept. 11, a senior German intelligence official said.

“There was no response” at the time, the official said. After receiving the tip, the CIA decided that “Marwan” was probably an associate of Osama bin Laden but never tracked him down, U.S. officials say.

The information concerning Shehhi, the man who took over the controls of United Airlines Flight 175, which flew into the south tower of the World Trade Center, came months earlier than well- documented tips about other hijackers, including two others who were discovered to have attended a meeting of extremists in Malaysia in January 2000.

The independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks has received information concerning the 1999 Shehhi tip and is actively investigating the issue, said Philip Zelikow, executive director of the commission.

The incident is of particular importance because Shehhi was an important member of the Qaida cell in Hamburg at the heart of the Sept. 11 plot. Close surveillance of Shehhi in 1999 might have led investigators to other plot leaders, including Mohammed Atta, who was Shehhi’s roommate.

A native of the United Arab Emirates, Shehhi moved to Germany in 1996 and was almost inseparable from Atta in their time there.

The joint congressional inquiry that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks was told about the matter by the CIA, but only a small part of the information was declassified and made public in the panel’s final report in December 2002, several officials said. The public report mentioned only that the CIA had received Shehhi’s first name but made no mention that the agency also had obtained his telephone number.

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