Sunday, December 08, 2002

'Waleed Alshehri' is the name used by one of the September 11 hijackers (here is an earlier posting on him). His name and photo were published all over the world. Almost immediately, a Saudi man named Waleed Alshehri, who was a pilot with Saudi Arabian Airlines, complained that it was his name and photograph that were published, but that he had nothing to do with the hijackings (he had a brother named Wail, and the head of the Saudi embassy's information center in Washington said, in September 2001, that he personally talked to both Wail and the father of both Wail and Waleed). The father of this Waleed and Wail is a Saudi diplomat named Ahmed Alshehri who had been posted to India (with two daughters besides his son Waleed - note there is no mention of Wail) and had confirmed that the details of the hijacker matched those of his son Waleed. It has now generally been acknowledged that the Saudi pilot Waleed Alshehri was identified in error. His identity was presumably stolen and used by the hijacker (here are copies of the visa applications for 'Wail Alshehri', date of birth July 31, 1973, and 'Waleed Alshehri', date of birth December 20, 1978, presumably documents used by the actual hijackers and not the Saudi pilot; it is interesting that both applications appear to have been filled out by the same hand). Waleed Alshehri had been a flying student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. His identity was probably stolen while he was in the United States (a man calling himself Waleed Alshehri shared an apartment with Mohammed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi in Hamburg, an issue which may raise some of our typical bilocation problems - see also here and here). Waleed Alshehri claimed he would sue CNN for publishing his photo as that of the hijacker. This all seems relatively simple. The problem arises in that the press has identified another family in Saudi Arabia, the father of which, Mohammed Alshehri, a real estate developer from the province of Asir, claims to be the father of Waleed and Wail Alshehri, both of whom have disappeared. The father hoped that his sons were not involved in September 11, but seemed resigned to the fact that they probably were. They had left home and had not been heard from, and he only claimed to have become aware of the fact that they were alleged to be hijackers when he saw their pictures in the newspaper (i. e., presumably the same picture that the pilot for Saudi Arabian Airlines claims to be of him! - the photos provided by the Mohammed Alshehri family resembled the photos of the hijackers which were printed in Saudi newspapers!). To give credence to the fact that it is these Alshehri's who were involved in September 11 is the fact that they had as boyhood friends Ahmed Alnami and Saeed Alghamdi, the names used by another two of the hijackers (all four of them are said to have sworn an oath committing themselves to jihad and gone to Afghanistan, and Wail was one of the first to have been said to have trained in Afghanistan), and the area is said to be a hotbed of al-Qaeda supporters. So now we have two parallel families in Saudi Arabia, both having a Waleed Alshehri and a Wail Alshehri, and both identified as being the 9-11 hijackers. This is positively bizarre (does Saudi culture have the concept of the doppelganger?). The pilot Waleed was the man originally identified as the hijacker, he had been in the United States at a flight training school in Florida where his identity may have been stolen, and it was his picture that was circulated by the FBI. The Waleed who has disappeared apparently had as friends two boys whose names was used by another two of the hijackers, and his father seems resigned to the fact that he and his brother Wail may have been involved in the hijackings (especially as they haven't been heard from since). So what is going on here?:

  1. Somehow the FBI made a mistake and pulled from government files information on a man named 'Waleed Alshehri' (the U. S. government would have had such a file as he was studying in the U. S. on a student visa) who was in a flying school, and used the picture in this file to identify the hijacker. This would be the most likely explanation except for the fact that it does not explain how the Saudi pilot just happens to have a brother named Wail. Since they had determined that the pilot of the plane that Waleed was on, Flight 11, was Atta, why would the FBI be looking for the names of the hijackers in flight schools? Why would they have been so sure that the photograph they found was that of the hijacker? What did the pictures in the visa files for Waleed and Wail look like?

  2. By extreme coincidence, there were two parallel families in Saudi Arabia each with two sons named Waleed and Wail, and the two families got mixed up. The Waleed in one family just happens to look like the Waleed in the other family. This isn't completely impossible, but is extremely unlikely.

  3. The story of the second family (sons of Mohammed) has been made up to provide a patsy family of the two brothers who have conveniently disappeared, brothers who were needed to provide two Saudi hijackers when the original Waleed made it clear that one of them wasn't him. It is not impossible that Wail (son of Ahmed) was involved in the hijackings, supplied the name of his brother, and the whole story of the second family (sons of Mohammed) has been created to protect the reputation of Wail and the family of Ahmed (all this could be answered if the original Wail were to make an appearence). The story of the sons of Mohammed family is a little odd, as it made its original appearance as the story of a Saudi middle-class family of strict religious beliefs, with an uncle, Major General Faez Alshehri, who is the logistical director of the Saudi Arabia's armed forces (you have to wonder about the importance of the fact that this family was connected both to the Saudi army and, by construction business dealings, to the bin Laden family). The father Mohammed is described as being uncooperative and unwilling to talk to a reporter. When the story reappears, the father is very cooperative and as much as admits that it was probably his sons who were involved. Just to show how weird this has gotten, contrast that to this quote from the Boston Globe of September 15, 2001:

    "And a Saudi newspaper editor yesterday said two of the hijackers, brothers Waleed and Wail al Shehri, were the sons of a Saudi diplomat, Ahmed al-Shehri.

    Reached by the Globe in New Delhi, where he is third secretary of the Saudi embassy, Ahmed al-Shehri equivocated when asked if the two hijackers were his sons.

    'I have no idea. Maybe,' said al-Shehri, who worked as an attache at the Saudi embassy in Washington until 1996. 'How do I know? We have a half-million Shehris in Saudi Arabia.'"

    Or a good quote from a Washington Post article:

    "In India, Saudi diplomat Ahmed Alshehri, based in Bombay, denied he was the father of hijacker Waleed M. Alshehri or that he had ever served in the United States. Diplomatic lists, however, show an Ahmed Alshehri as second secretary at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, and property records, law enforcement sources and witnesses have linked him with Waleed. Reports from a Saudi newspaper editor said Saturday that both Waleed and Wail Alshehri, another hijacker, were Ahmed's sons."

    Another time he is quoted as complaining of an "obvious American haphazardness in throwing accusations at innocent people" and said "many of those mentioned as suspects appeared to be still around and there was no truth in what was spread about them." For a diplomat, this guy is not very diplomatic. Yet another time, he stated that the boy was still alive and well and was not involved. So the diplomat father confirms the details of the hijacker match those of one of his sons, then equivocates, or not, while the son himself claims that his identity was stolen and threatens to sue CNN for publishing his picture as a hijacker, and a whole new family appears to take credit for the terrorism. We end up with the statement: "Previous reports that Waleed Alshehri was the son of a Saudi diplomat have been denied." The story comes full circle when the Saudi embassy claims the photos of Waleed and Wail are not those of the diplomat's sons (note that it says 'sons'). So I wonder what Waleed was so mad at CNN about?.

  4. It is possible that the first pilot who identified himself as being misidentified as the hijacker was a fraud established to protect the second family, but this seems very unlikely given that the father of the Saudi pilot is a Saudi diplomat, and even more unlikely as the father of the second family has identified himself. Some articles note that the diplomat admits to having one son, Waleed, who is innocent, but the businessman father admits to having two missing sons, Waleed and Wail. This of course doesn't explain how the head of the Saudi embassy's information center in Washington personally talked to both Wail (particularly difficult if Wail is dead) and the father of both Wail and Waleed, or how the Saudi newspaper editor confirmed that both Waleed and Wail Alshehri were the diplomat's sons.

I suppose the most likely scenario is that:

  • the FBI determined, based solely on the name and lists of students in American flight schools, that the hijacker was the same guy as the Saudi pilot who studied in Florida, and published a photograph of the Saudi pilot in error; and

  • the head of the Saudi embassy's information center in Washington made a mistake when he said he personally talked to both Wail and the father of both Wail and Waleed; and

  • the Saudi newspaper which said both Waleed and Wail were the diplomat's sons was also mistaken.

The cumulative total of all these mistakes, especially if we ignore the various things said by the Saudi diplomat father of Saudi pilot Waleed Alshehri and don't assume that his various stories mean he is trying to cover something up, leads me to conclude that it is possible that Waleed the pilot need not have had his identity stolen. It may have been simply a coincidence that there was a hijacker with the same name as the Saudi pilot who had studied in Florida, and the two men could have been completely unaware of each other. The FBI somehow found the picture of the Saudi pilot when searching U. S. government files for the name 'Waleed Alshehri', saw he was a pilot and assumed he was the hijacker, and published this photo as the photo of the hijacker (I wonder if the photograph in the visa application file of Waleed Alshehri matches the published photograph of the hijacker). This would explain why the Saudi pilot was able to recognize his photo so quickly and complain about it, but does not explain how the Saudi businessman father recognized his son from the photo published in a Saudi newspaper and does not explain the fact that the Saudi embassy claimed the photos of Waleed and Wail are not those of the diplomat's sons, for at least the one of Waleed probably was (and we still don't know whether the diplomat even had a son named Wail). Given the number of identities that were stolen as part of this operation, and given the fact that Waleed the Saudi pilot was a flight student in Florida, exactly where other identities had been stolen, and with all the confusion, it is not unlikely that Waleed's identity was stolen. In fact, the hijacker who called himself 'Waleed Alshehri' might even have been using the pilot's stolen identity. But why would you use a stolen identity of someone with exactly the same name as you? It is senseless, as, just as happened here, the authorities will eventually be able to track the identity back to you (which will cause some confusion, as they will also be able to track the identity back to the guy whose identity was stolen). Therefore, if a stolen identity was used, it is likely that the person using it wasn't either of the Waleed's, but a third person who planned to benefit from the utter confusion caused by this giant mess of identities (twist your mind around how someone knew that he could obtain the identity of Waleed the pilot studying in the United States when there was a Waleed who was a religious extremist who could be confused with the pilot).
The hijacker Waleed Alshehri is one of the more suspicious characters in the story of September 11, and is one of the two (along with the equally suspicious Ahmed Alghamdi) who lived in a house in Vienna, Virginia that had such activities around it that the neighbors thought its residents were involved in drug selling, and reported it to the FBI and the CIA. The neighbors "observed a van parked outside the home at all hours of the day and night. A Middle-Eastern man appeared to be monitoring a scanner or radio inside the van . . . ." Do you think he was listening to Rush Limbaugh? Or perhaps radio traffic from Dulles? Or maybe he was listening to some instructions from someone in the neighborhood. It's odd that of all the places they could pick to live in, these terrorists would pick Vienna, Virginia.