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9/28/2008: Pentagon on 9/11, Shoe Bombing, Bin Laden in the Soviet-Afghan War and More – Additions as of September 28, 2008
This week, a massive amount of new entries have been added to the timeline, dealing with a whole range of different issues. We will start with the day of 9/11, in particular the Pentagon, which a fire chief warned could be a target nearly 20 minutes before it was hit. The attack itself created confusion by setting off 300 fire alarms, although some medical workers thought the ensuing evacuation was a drill. After wandering about outside the building, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld refused to follow the established emergency plan and evacuate, instead sending deputy Paul Wolfowitz to an alternate military command center, where the computers and communication systems did not work.
The first fighter was seen arriving over the Pentagon at around 10:40 a.m., the FAA sent the White House incorrect details of the hijacked planes in the early afternoon, and astronauts viewed the devastation in New York from space. Meanwhile, the FBI established a command post near the Pentagon and limited the evidence that needed to be photographed there.
The day after the attacks, the FBI set up a joint operations center for its Pentagon response and, together with the NTSB, limited evidence recovery efforts there. There was a false alarm over an inbound plane that day and a sudden fire the next that disrupted recovery efforts. An apparently fake military official helped with the recovery for a couple of days, then vanished.
There is also a group of entries about Congressional leaders’ actions on 9/11. It was clear the Capitol was a possible target from around 9:00, but it was not evacuated until later. After the evacuation, some members of Congress established a Central Command Center, but others went home. Some were flown to a secure bunker outside the capital, from which Vice President Dick Cheney instructed them not to return to Washington. They finally summoned up the courage to do so anyway in the early evening, after agreeing to reconvene the next day.
Another topic that has received more coverage is the 2001 attempted shoe bombing. Zacarias Moussaoui, one of the many “20th hijackers,” met one of the bombers, Richard Reid, at a London mosque in 1996. Reid also met an al-Qaeda recruiter at London’s Finsbury Park mosque, which was run by British intelligence informer Abu Hamza al-Masri and also attended by Nizar Trabelsi, another operative who went on to be involved in the shoe bombing. A few months before the attempting bombing, Reid cased targets in Israel.
The US was monitoring calls between an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen and a top associate of the shoe bombers, leading to his arrest. That, in turn, led to Trabelsi’s arrest, and that led to the arrest of a group of Algerians in Spain. All the plots Trabelsi was involved in were halted—except the shoe bombing, which was not cancelled even after his arrest was revealed in the international press.
In the event, Reid missed his flight because of extensive security checks and a repeat attempt was prevented by passengers and crew. Reid was sentenced to 80 years and Trabelsi also went to prison, as did some people linked to him.
There are also a several new entries about Osama bin Laden’s actions during the Soviet-Afghan War. He met with mysterious Europeans in Pakistan in 1984 and his brother Salem said he was the liaison between the US, the Afghan rebels and the Saudi government in 1985, when President Ronald Reagan possibly viewed a video the bin Laden brothers made about the war. The brothers also concluded a series of arms deals to help the war effort, lubricated by slush funds resulting from the Al Yamamah arms deal between Saudi Arabia and Britian. For example, the bin Ladens negotiated with South Africans in 1986.
One of the translators at some of these meetings was Essam al Ridi, who had a relationship with the CIA and helped the Arab Afghans purchase night-vision goggles in the US in the late 1980s. He also discussed shipping stinger missiles to Africa with a close associate of bin Laden and flew some al-Qaeda leaders on the first leg of a journey to Somalia before the Black Hawk Down incident. A leading Pakistani militant also made a similar trip. Al Ridi later agreed to testify for the prosecution at the embassy bombings trial.
There are also a few more entries about the Bojinka plot. One of the plotters, Abdul Hakim Murad, was allegedly tortured by Philippine police after his arrest and was then rendered to the US, as was lead plotter Ramzi Yousef. Another of the bombers, Wali Khan Amin Shah, mysteriously escaped from a Philippine jail, but was recaptured a few months later and also rendered to the US.
The recent seventh anniversary of the attacks was the occasion for the expression of some skepticism about what has come to be known as the “official account” of 9/11. A member of the European Parliament called for an international tribunal to reassess the attacks, a former Syrian minister said the US may have committed them itself, and a controversial documentary was shown on Russian television.
Regarding the hijackers’ DNA, the coroner handling the Flight 93 investigation received a call from a person who represented himself as one of the hijackers’ relatives in 2002, but the remains of 13 hijackers are still in US custody. Remains of the other six alleged hijackers have not been found.
There are only a few miscellaneous entries. A Lebanese hijacker was one of the first people to be rendered to the US in 1987, and a man who shot CIA officers was also rendered to the US from Pakistan ten years later. Finally, 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow deleted a passage unfavorable to President George Bush from the commission’s final report.