FBI Denies Claims It Suspected Radical Cleric al Awlaki of Purchasing Pre 9/11 Plane Tickets for Hijackers

Yemeni-American al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki

Update: The FBI is refuting claims it suspected Anwar al-Awlaki of purchasing plane tickets for 9/11 hijackers prior to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

From Fox News:

The FBI is refuting claims it suspected, less than a month after the 9/11 attack, that the American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki had purchased airline tickets for the 9/11 hijackers.

FBI spokeswoman Kathleen Wright cited a redacted FBI 2003 chronology titled “working draft chronology of events for hijackers and associates” to reinforce that the hijackers purchased their own tickets for cross-country surveillance flights in August 2001 and for another Florida flight in July of 2001. It included four references citing bank/and or credit card transactions linked to the hijackers.

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“The FBI and investigating bodies have not found evidence connecting Anwar Al-Awlaki and the attack on 9/11/2001. The document referenced does not link Anwar Al-Awlaki with any purchase of airline tickets for the hijackers,” Wright said.

Prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, American Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki may have personally purchased plane tickets for several of the hijackers, including lead hijacker Mohammad Atta, according to recently released FBI documents.

The purpose of the Awlaki-purchased flights leading up to deadly attacks is still unclear, but the 9/11 Commission report claims the terrorists used flights leading up to the attacks to test security and surveillance.

FoxNews.com has more details:

The heavily redacted records – obtained by Judicial Watch through a Freedom of information Act request – show the FBI holding evidence tying the American-born cleric to the hijackers just 16 days after the attack that killed nearly 3,000 Americans.

“We have FBI documents showing that the FBI knew that al-Awlaki had bought three tickets for three of the hijackers to fly into Florida and into Las Vegas, including the lead hijacker, Mohammad Atta,” Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, told Fox News.

He added that the records show the cleric, killed in September 2011 by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen, “was a central focus of the FBI’s investigation of 9/11. They show he wasn’t cooperative. And they show that he was under surveillance.”

According to Judicial Watch, documents show al-Awlaki purchased the following plane tickets for some of the 9/11 hijackers:

  • Mohammed Atta, America West Airlines, 08/13/2001, for a flight from Washington, DC, to Las Vegas, Nevada, to Miami, Florida.
  • S. Suqami, Southwest Airlines, 07/10/2001, for a flight from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to Orlando, Florida.
  • Al-Sheri, National Airlines, 08/01/2001, for a flight from San Francisco, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada, to Miami, Florida.

If the FBI documents are solid, it could raise some serious questions for both the Bush and Obama administrations. Al-Awlaki was reportedly invited to a Pentagon luncheon in February 2002, where he rubbed shoulders with high-ranking military personnel just months after 9/11, Fox News, among others reported in October 2010 [emphasis added]:

Documents exclusively obtained by Fox News, including an FBI interview conducted after the Fort Hood shooting in November 2009, state that Awlaki was taken to the Pentagon as part of the military’s outreach to the Muslim community in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

The recent documents obtained by Judicial Watch indicate the FBI had information tying al-Awlaki to the attacks just 16 days after Sept. 11, 2001. If the American-born cleric still received an invite to an official Pentagon function after being flagged by the FBI, that would represent a significant intelligence and security failure on behalf of the federal government.

Fox News also previously reported that al-Awlaki was held at New York City’s JFK airport on Oct. 10, 2002, under a warrant for felony passport fraud. But FBI agent Wade Ammerman ordered the release of the cleric despite the active warrant for his arrest.

“Fox News’ reporting, which has not been publicly disputed by the bureau, suggests that after the 9/11 attacks the FBI tried to work with al-Awlaki or track him for intelligence purposes. Fitton says the newly released documents raise hard questions for two administrations,” Fox News reports.

“If he was working for us, to then kill him, that’s an extraordinary decision. And we need more information from the administration,” Judicial Watch’s Fitton added. “And remember this is not just about the Obama administration. A lot of what we are talking about goes back to the Bush administration. So the Bush administration and the Obama administration need to answer about how Awlaki was handled.”

Al-Awlaki was killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen in September 2011. Because he was an American, his death sparked some controversy as critics argued that the president should not authorize drone strikes against U.S. citizens.