The US is conducting a manhunt for a previously unknown cell believed to be involved in the planning of the 9-11 attacks, according to a US cable released by WikiLeaks. In the cable, Mirembe Nantongo, the deputy chief of mission in Doha, told the Homeland Security Department in Washington that three Qatari men were under suspicion of conducting surveillance operations on the attack sites.
The team, who flew from the US to London a day before the attacks, aroused suspicion after refusing to allow cleaning staff into their Los Angeles hotel room—which staff earlier noted contained several “pilot type uniforms.” The men apparently “visited the World Trade Centre, the Statue of Liberty, the White House and various areas in Virginia” weeks before the attacks.
The group had tickets to fly on an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Washington DC on Sept. 10 but failed to board, and flew to London instead. A day later, the Boeing 757 they failed to board was flown into the Pentagon, killing 184 people. A subsequent FBI investigation found that the men’s flight tickets and hotel were paid for by a “convicted terrorist,” according to the memo.
The three men, named as Meshal Alhajri, Fahad Abdulla and Ali Alfehaid, were helped in the US by a fourth man, Mohamed al-Mansoori. Mansoori, who has never been publicly named in connection with the 9-11 attacks, is suspected of “aiding people who entered the US before the attacks to conduct surveillance…and providing other support to the hijackers.”
Mansoori’s visa revoked after the information came to the attention of the FBI but “his name was not watchlisted in the class system,” implying he may have left the US. The three Qatari suspects were mentioned in a leaked list of 300 people that the FBI wanted to question over the attacks. The 9-11 Commission report, released in 2004, confirmed that at least two of the hijackers had a “brief stay in Los Angeles about which we know little.” (Middle East Online, Feb. 2)