Revealed: the men with stolen identities
By David Harrison
THEIR names were flashed around the world as suicide hijackers
who carried out the attacks on America. But yesterday four innocent men
told how their identities had been stolen by Osama bin Laden's teams to
cover their tracks.
men - all from Saudi Arabia - spoke of their shock at being mistakenly
named by the FBI as suicide terrorists. None of the four was in the
United States on September 11 and all are alive in their home country.
Telegraph obtained the first interviews with the men since they learnt
that they were on the FBI's list of hijackers who died in the crashes
in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
said that they were "outraged" to be identified as terrorists. One has
never been to America and another is a Saudi Airlines pilot who was on
a training course in Tunisia at the time of the attacks.
Airlines said it was considering legal action against the FBI for
seriously damaging its reputation and that of its pilots. The FBI released the list of 19 suicide terrorists three days after the attacks.
statement said that the 19 "have been identified as hijackers aboard
the four airliners". Photographs and personal details were published
around the world with an appeal for "information about these
individuals, even though they are presumed dead".
Saudi Airlines pilot, Saeed Al-Ghamdi, 25, and Abdulaziz Al-Omari, an
engineer from Riyadh, are furious that the hijackers' "personal
details" - including name, place, date of birth and occupation -
matched their own.
Mr Al-Ghamdi was named as a
terrorist on the United Airlines flight that crashed in Pennsylvania -
a plane said by some experts to have been heading for the White House.
first knew that he was on the FBI's list when he was told by a
colleague. Speaking from Tunisia, he said: "I was completely shocked.
For the past 10 months I have been based in Tunis with 22 other pilots
learning to fly an Airbus 320. The FBI provided no evidence of my
presumed involvement in the attacks.
imagine what it is like to be described as a terrorist - and a dead man
- when you are innocent and alive." The airline was angry too.
Officials brought Mr Al-Ghamdi back to Saudi Arabia last week for a
10-day holiday to avoid arrest or interrogation.
An official said: "We are consulting lawyers about what action to take
to protect the reputation of our pilots." Mr Al-Ghamdi faced further
embarrassment when CNN, the American television network, flashed a
photograph of him around the world, naming him as a hijack suspect.
The FBI had published his personal details but with a photograph of
somebody else, presumably a hijacker who had "stolen" his identity.
CNN, however, showed a picture of the real Mr Al-Ghamdi.
said that CNN had probably got the picture from the Flight Safety
flying school he attended in Florida. CNN has since broadcast a
clarification saying that the photograph may not be that of the accused.
Al-Omari, who was accused of hijacking the American Airlines plane that
smashed into the the World Trade Centre's north tower, said that he was
at his desk at the Saudi telecommunications authority in Riyadh when
the attacks took place.
He said: "I couldn't
believe it when the FBI put me on their list. They gave my name and my
date of birth, but I am not a suicide bomber. I am here. I am alive. I
have no idea how to fly a plane. I had nothing to do with this."
Al-Omari said his passport was stolen when his apartment in Denver,
Colorado, was burgled in 1995. He had been studying engineering at
Denver University since 1993. He was given a new passport in Riyadh on
December 31, 1995 and returned to America to resume his studies in
January 1996. After graduating last year he returned to Riyadh to join
the electricity authority and later moved to the telecommunications
The other two men accused of being
terrorists are Salem Al-Hamzi and Ahmed Al-Nami. Mr Al-Hamzi is 26 and
had just returned to work at a petrochemical complex in the industrial
eastern city of Yanbou after a holiday in Saudi Arabia when the
hijackers struck. He was accused of hijacking the American Airlines
Flight 77 that hit the Pentagon.
He said: "I have
never been to the United States and have not been out of Saudi Arabia
in the past two years." The FBI described him as 21 and said that his
possible residences were Fort Lee or Wayne, both in New Jersey.
Al-Nami, 33, from Riyadh, an administrative supervisor with Saudi
Arabian Airlines, said that he was in Riyadh when the terrorists struck.
said: "I'm still alive, as you can see. I was shocked to see my name
mentioned by the American Justice Department. I had never even heard of
Pennsylvania where the plane I was supposed to have hijacked."
had never lost his passport and found it "very worrying" that his
identity appeared to have been "stolen" and published by the FBI
without any checks. The FBI had said his "possible residence" was
Delray Beach in Florida.
Last night the FBI
admitted that there was some doubt about the identities of some of the
suspects. A spokesman said: "The identification process has been
complicated by the fact that many Arabic family names are similar. It
is also possible that the hijackers used false identities."
spokesman declined to say whether the FBI would apologise but added:
"If we have made mistakes then obviously that would be regrettable but
this is a big and complicated investigation."
the list was published Robert Mueller, the FBI director, said that it
was "fairly confident" that the names were not aliases.