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The story...

Mohammed Atta, and other hijackers are said to have drank alcohol, gambled, visited strip joints and so on. Surely that means they weren’t the fanatically religious Islamists that we’ve been told?

Our take...

There are certainly many such reports, however not all of them are entirely as they seem. Take a look at these reports about the Pink Pony, for instance:

A young man with money to burn, Mohammed Atta enjoyed very Un-Islamic lap dances in the Pink Pony Strip Club in Florida...
http://www.madcowprod.com/issue09.html

Some of the hijackers also used the Pink Pony strip joint in Florida.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2001/10/06/wbin106.xml

More specific to Tuesday's acts is the behaviour of some of the alleged hijackers, who visited a bar, consumed alcohol, paid for sexually promiscuous acts known as 'lap dances' and then left a copy of the Holy Qur'an on the bar. John Kap, owner of the Pink Pony Nude Theatre in Daytona Florida, turned over credit receipts belonging to some of the alleged hijackers, as well as a copy of the Holy Qur'an, which he claimed was left behind at the bar. Supposedly, three of the men alleged to have participated in the hijackings patronised his bar the night before, drank Stolichnaya vodka and rum, and paid for and indulged in lap dancing, then, rather inexplicably, left a copy of the Holy Qur'an in this establishment catering to alcohol and illicit sex, two things that are categorically forbidden in Islam.
http://www.freearabvoice.org/NabilaOnAttacks.htm

In Florida, several of the hijackers - including reputed ringleader Mohamed Atta - spent $200 to $300 each on lap dances in the Pink Pony strip club.

The group ran up drink tabs, spewed anti-American sentiments and talked of impending bloodshed a few days before the attacks, according to published reports. The group left behind a copy of the Koran - the Muslim holy book - at the Florida bar.
http://s3.amazonaws.com/911timeline/2001/bostonherald101001.html

Nothing too ambiguous here, right? Mainstream news reports, as well as conspiracy sites, all appearing to tell a consistent story: Atta and other hijackers drank, and paid for lapdancers, at the Pink Pony. But now let’s look at the original report:

Manager: Men spewed anti-American sentiments

MIAMI (AP) — The night before terrorists struck New York and Washington, three men spewed anti-American sentiments in a bar and talked of impending bloodshed, according to a strip club manager interviewed by the FBI. John Kap, manager of the Pink Pony and Red Eyed Jack's Sports Bar in Daytona Beach, said the men made the claims to a bartender and a patron. "They were talking about what a bad place America is. They said 'Wait 'til tomorrow. America is going to see bloodshed,"' Kap said.

He said he told FBI investigators the men in his bar spent $200 to $300 apiece on lap dances and drinks, paying with credit cards. Kap said he gave the FBI credit card receipts and a business card left by one man and a copy of the Quran that was left at the bar.
http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2001/09/14/miami-club.htm

What we have here is a second-hand account, that doesn’t actually offer any evidence at all that a single one of the alleged hijackers were involved. Which would be difficult, anyway, as this was the night before the attacks and they’d left Florida. (Some sites then use the story to claim this means others may have been trying to be noticed, to frame the alleged hijackers. But then why do this when, according to the official story, they were somewhere else? Others like to believe stories like this are proof of the alleged hijackers having “doubles”. But as there’s no confirmation of this story, or who the three men were, then that approach seems equally flimsy.)

None of this means the story isn’t interesting and worth investigating, of course. If it’s true then perhaps it does indicate someone who had foreknowledge of the attacks. However, it doesn’t confirm what the later versions suggest is a fact, that Atta or any of the other alleged hijackers visited the Pink Pony on that night.

This example can’t be used to show every such claim is false, of course. There are others that are better documented, like this one:

Mohammed Atta, 33, who almost certainly was the Florida-trained pilot who rammed American Airlines Flight 11 into the north tower of the World Trade Centre, his cousin Marwan al-Shehhi, 23, and an Arab believed to be a brother of al-Shehhi, appeared to have been in a bibulous celebratory mood last week.

Tony Amos, the manager of Shuckums Oyster Bar and Restaurant in Hollywood, just north of Miami, was interviewed by the FBI and he and his barman and a waitress all identified Atta and his cousin as some hard drinkers who propped up the bar last Friday.

Atta's bill for three hours of vodka drinking came to $48 (33). When he drunkenly disputed the charge, Mr Amos intervened. "Of course I can pay the bill," Atta told him. "I'm an airline pilot."
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2001/09/14/whunt114.xml

Three witnesses, specifically identifying two of the hijackers and suggesting the identity of a third, is a more significant story. Of course we still don’t know for sure that it’s true, and you have to be careful about the specifics. Does it prove that Atta is a “hard drinker”, for example? It seems so, unless you read this version:

Last Friday night, Atta, Shehhi and an unidentified man spent 3 1/2 hours at a sports bar, Shuckums, in Hollywood, Fla. While Atta played video games, the other two had about five drinks each and appeared resistant to paying the $48 tab. The manager, Tony Amos, recalled yesterday that he inquired whether they could not afford the bill. Shehhi "looked at me with an arrogant look," Amos said. "He pulled out a wad of cash and put it on the bar table and said, 'There is no money issue. I am an airline pilot.' "
http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A28194-2001Sep13&notFound=true

The man identified as Atta is a “hard drinker” in the first story, appears to just play video games in the second. Which one is true, if either? We’ve no idea.

And there’s another, more serious issue with the Shuckums story. The accounts talk of Atta and the others spending three and a half hours there on Friday night, but the official chronology has him flying to Baltimore that afternoon, at around 3:15pm. This is taken as more support for the hijacker “doubles” theory on some web sites, just as confirmation that the official story is a lie by others, but of course it could also mean that the Shuckums story is incorrect. Without further information there’s no way to tell for sure, but this is another pointer suggesting that reports of the hijackers “un-Islamic” behaviour may not always be reliable.

You might have seen the other stories, though, especially about Atta: he supposedly had a girlfriend, drank heavily, loved pork chops and had a cocaine habit (see, for example, “Mohamed Atta loved pork chops, and 49 other things you may not know”). Big claims, but it turns out that most are based on the word of Amanda Keller, with whom Atta is supposed to have lived for two or three months in 2001. And there are a few problems with her account.

Tony and Vonnie LaConca, the couple who owned the house rented by Keller and Mohamed, for instance, said this about him:

While talking to Keller and Mohamed, the couple learned he had a pilot's license to charter small planes of four to six people and was going to school at Huffman Aviation in Venice to train for a commercial pilot's license. Huffman was the school that enrolled Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi, both identified as suspects in the hijacked jet assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
http://www.sun-herald.com/NewsArchive2/091401/tp4ch14.htm

Sounds like a match, yes? But perhaps not. This is early 2001, and Atta the hijacker obtained his licence weeks earlier:

...three pilots in Florida continued with their training. Atta and Shehhi finished up at Huffman and earned their instrument certificates from the FAA in November. In mid-December 2000, they passed their commercial pilot tests and received their licenses.
http://www.faqs.org/docs/911/911Report-244.html

You could argue that Keller misunderstood or misremembered this detail, or perhaps Atta lied to her for reasons of his own. But then there’s also Tony and Vonnie LaConca’s description of the man:

An FDLE agent working in conjunction with the FBI arrived at the LaConca home around 10:30 a.m. Thursday and questioned the couple for two hours concerning a man they knew only as "Mohamed."

The couple told the agent the man was about 25, 5 feet 10 inches, 160 pounds, had "dark, perfect" skin, and was clean cut and "very polite."

"He was a very handsome guy," Vonnie LaConca said in an interview. "He had beautiful, unblemished skin."
http://www.sun-herald.com/NewsArchive2/091401/tp4ch14.htm

Is this the 32-year-old, 5 feet 8 inch Atta? Not a major difference, it’s true -- they hadn’t seen him for months, after all-- but what about the identification issue?

The couple said the FDLE agent showed them four photographs of possible suspects in the terrorist attack.

"The first photo they showed us was the pilot who crashed into the first building," Vonnie LaConca said. "It was not Mohamed or his friend. But the last picture they showed us was very close, but I could not say 100 percent that it was him."
http://www.sun-herald.com/NewsArchive2/091401/tp4ch14.htm

The first photo, then, was Atta -- and this wasn’t the “Mohamed” they knew. They’re close to an identification on another man, but then we don’t know who that might be.

It could be the FBI do, though, because a later story said this man had been identified:

Investigators have identified a fifth man of Middle Eastern descent who trained to fly in Venice, but they don't know if he was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks because they can't find him...

One investigator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the man is among "hundreds" of flight students of foreign descent now under scrutiny by federal authorities.

They aren't sure whether he was among the 19 men who hijacked the jets that crashed into the Pentagon, the World Trade Center towers and in rural Pennsylvania.
http://www.madcowprod.com/fifthpilot.htm

And now Keller says she wasn’t staying with Atta:

Keller said comments attributed to her in the Herald-Tribune on Saturday, saying that Atta lived in her apartment, were wrong. She said that it was this unidentified fifth man, also named Mohammed, that stayed in her home.
http://www.madcowprod.com/fifthpilot.htm

This led to the suggestion that she’d been “persuaded” to change her story, despite the inconsistences in the LaConca accounts. And one of them is repeated here:

The fifth man being eyed by investigators was tall, lanky and quiet, according to Keller's mother and sister.
http://www.madcowprod.com/fifthpilot.htm

We found a survey which said the average height of men in the US between 1999 and 2002 was 5’ 9.2”: Atta’s driving licence puts him at 5’8”. Why would he be described as “tall and lanky”?

Daniel Hopsicker says Keller later reversed her denial, though, and says other witnesses put Atta in the area (and Keller’s apartment) at the right time (see http://www.madcowprod.com/). And stories conflicting with this are part of a “low-level disinformation operation apparently directed against Daniel Hopsicker’s investigations into the milieu of Mohamed Atta and the mysterious flight schools in the Venice, Florida area” (source).

You don’t have to be spreading “disinformation” to find problems with Hopsicker’s work, though. Consider this earlier example, for instance:

Sometime in the middle of March of the year 2000 Amanda Keller rented an apartment at the Sandpiper Apartments across the street from the Venice Airport, according to credible eyewitnesses.

Two weeks later terrorist ringleader Mohamed Atta moved in with her, beginning a bumpy relationship which came to a stormy end six weeks later with Amanda dumping his two suitcases and one gym bag from her second floor balcony down onto the building's asphalt parking lot, say eyewitnesses, where Atta stood waiting for a cab to take him away. (see 'Key Witness 'Disappears' in Venice FL')

This squalid little domestic spat would be of no more importance than a bad episode of "Cops" except for this: 

As the MadCowMorningNews has been reporting exclusively (see 'One Year Later, the Cover-Up Continues') this brief romance or assignation between 'terrorist ringleader' Atta and 'out-call lingerie model' Keller took place a full three months before the FBI says Atta first arrived in the U.S.
http://www.madcowprod.com/issue29.html

Yes, that’s right -- while the current Hopsicker story is that Atta started living with Keller in early 2001, and was significant because of his behaviour, a previous version placed this one year earlier, and then it mattered because of the way it contradicted the FBI timeline. So why the change?

In another recent article, Hopsicker claimed to have found official evidence to prove that Atta was staying in the same area as Keller, at the same time, again contrary to FBI timelines:

...the Moussaoui records yield one further document which conclusively proves the FBI is lying, a fax sent by Atta to a flight school in Miami.

The fax is dated March 11, 2001. It was sent from a Postal Express store barely a mile from the house Atta and Marwan rented while attending Huffman Aviation at the Venice Airport, the home they were supposed to have left for good three months earlier.
http://www.madcowprod.com/

The fax he’s referring to is this one:

attafax
Source [currently broken for some reason]

As you can see, the date at the top is 03/11/2014, not “2001”, indicating it’s not been set up correctly.

Further, read the fax and you can see Atta had originally said he wanted to start training in December 2000, elsewhere noted December/ January -- seems odd if he’s not faxing this until March.

Atta’s dates are crossed out, but he does say he wants to train “simultaneously with Alshehhi”. So when did he apply? Here’s his fax:

shehhifax
Source

He was applying to start on the 22nd of December 2000, which obviously suggests the fax was sent before then, and so it’s hardly the conclusive proof of the FBI’s “lying” that Hopsicker claims. And as anyone could spot this by simply looking at the document and doing 60 seconds of research, then why did Hopsicker not notice these issues himself?

Problems for Hopsicker continued in September 2006, when Keller once again said her initial story was untrue:

For five years, Amanda Keller has been portrayed by conspiracy theorists as Mohamed Atta's lover.

But the former Venice stripper now says her boyfriend was another flight student not connected to 9/11. And, for the first time, federal investigators say she's right.

"There's nothing there to corroborate the relationship between the two," a New York-based FBI counterterrorism agent said recently after reviewing 9/11 case files.

The agent got clearance to talk from the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI, but only agreed if his named was not used.

Among other things, the government checked Atta's phone records and found the two had never called each other.

In 2002, Keller granted an interview with Daniel Hopsicker, a Venice self-published writer who maintains the government has covered up facts about 9/11.

In a taped interview that has circled the Internet, Keller casually discusses intimate details about her relationship with "Mohamed." She claimed it was Atta, but changed her story soon after.

"It was my bad for lying," Keller said. "I really didn't think about it until after I did it."

Keller, 24, is engaged and is studying to become a nurse. She moved to Ohio in early 2002 and said she hoped that by getting married and changing her name, she could finally leave the rumors behind.
http://www.heraldtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060910/NEWS/609100466/1007/BUSINESS

There are reasons to at least question the hard-drinking, cocaine-using Atta of Amanda Keller’s account, then, but we can’t dismiss is completely. So let’s assume that some of the alleged hijackers really did drink, use drugs, visit strip clubs, exactly as claimed. This certainly isn’t what you would expect from an Islamist, but there may be possible explanations:

Atta has been associated with a sect called Al Takfir wal Hijra, run by al Quaeda second-in-command Ayman Al-Zawahiri. This is an extreme fundamentalist sect, however...

"A major element of Takfir religious practice is subterfuge. The threat of Takfir is that its cold, heartless killers could easily be the boy or girl next door. Takfir Wal Hijra members are permitted to disregard the injunctions of Islamic law in order to blend into infidel societies.

In other words, Takfirs can have sex with loose women, drink alcohol, eat pork and do whatever else they feel is appropriate to advance their mission...

Mohammed Atta, although puritanical in his behavior, was believed to be Takfiri. He's not the only al Qaeda operative you could point the finger at. Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed went to discos, drank alcohol and dated call girls. Yousef in particular is renowned for being generally unIslamic and non-observant of prayers and fasting. Although no one has suggested openly that Yousef and KSM were Takfiri, it's hardly a stretch".
http://www.rotten.com/library/history/terrorist-organizations/al-takfir-wal-hijra

The group's warriors should blend in with Western society and are allowed to disobey all rules of the Islam for the goal of destroying Western civilisation from within. According to this ideology the warriors will be martyrs in Paradise after death.
http://www.answers.com/topic/takfir-wal-hijra

Today, the archaic, sectlike movement to which the suspects in Europe belonged sees violence as a sacred duty and regards even moderate Muslims as legitimate targets. But it also permits disciples to engage in "impure" Western conduct in order to infiltrate infidel societies.

"They don't have to go to mosques; they can even drink and use drugs to maintain their cover," said a French law enforcement official. "They can commit crime to finance their activities. It is like an intelligence service."
http://www.norwalkadvocate.com/news/nationworld/sns-worldtrade-embassyplot-lat,0,3646484.story?page=1&coll=sns-newsnation-headlines

Roland Jacquard, one of the world's leading scholars on Islamic terrorism, says flatly, "Atta was Takfiri"...

French officials think that Takfiri beliefs have bred a distinct form of terrorism. "The goal of Takfir," says one, "is to blend into corrupt societies in order to plot attacks against them better. Members live together, will drink alcohol, eat during Ramadan, become smart dressers and ladies' men to show just how integrated they are."
http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,182746,00.html

Could one or more of the hijackers have been Takfiri? Jacquard appears to think Atta was. Others say no, pointing to claims like this:

Takfir wal-Hijra's ideology is so extreme that in 1996 the group plotted to assassinate Osama bin Laden, supposedly for being insufficiently radical.
http://www.answers.com/topic/takfir-wal-hijra

However, the same page lists under Takfir "Alleged members and supporters":

Ayman al-Zawahiri, second-in-command of Al-Qaeda
http://www.answers.com/topic/takfir-wal-hijra

...which, if true, suggests that it is possible to work with bin Ladin, and be a Takfiri. Even if we take the Tafir out of this altogether, there’s evidence that al Qaeda followed a similar policy:

...In th mountain of documents left behind in al-Qaedas’ training camps in Afghanistan, one Yemeni, Khalid, wrote to his brother describing the people he had just joined:

I am in a whirlpool of contradictions. You cannot trust anyone here. Imagine that I might have to hide the copy of the Koran you gave me for fear it might get stolen like my watch. They train us here on how to mix with the Christians and how to emulate their life style. We have to learn how to drink alcohol and to shave off our beards.
Al-Majallh issue no. 1188, 23 November 2002, p. 24
cited page 20, Masterminds of Terror, Yousri Fouda and Nick Fielding

It seems that Muslim extremists don’t necessarily behave in a way we’d expect. This has been confirmed elsewhere, in this report of someone apparently involved in the Madrid bombings.

Despite his reputation for fanaticism at the Madrid mosque he attended, Ahmidan also frequented discotheques and bars. He struck his Spanish neighbors as friendly and flashy. They remember him zooming by on a motorcycle with his long-haired girlfriend, a Spanish woman with a taste for revealing outfits
http://www.cannabis.net/articles/assass.html

Even the Muslim world can find possible explanations for such behaviour. S. Abdallah Schleifer, the publisher and senior editor of TBS Journal (www.tbsjournal.com), and al Jazeeras Yosri Fouda give their thoughts here:

SAS: My own instinct is that just as they inhabited a psychic or psychological state that convinced them they were reliving the Prophet's experiences at the very moment they were about to violate both the very strict shari'a ("Islamic law") rules governing war and the Prophet's canonic sayings condemning the killing of civilians, so they must have assumed that the purifying nature of their approaching martyrdom gave them some sort of cosmic dispensation.

YF: Speaking of dispensation and states of mind, when I was in Karachi waiting to meet up with Ramzi and Khalid, my contact called me at the hotel I was staying at to arrange a meeting time. Since it was Friday I suggested we meet in the mosque either before or after the prayer and he said to me "No, no, no! Don't leave the hotel." And I said, "But it's Friday and there are the prayers," and he said, "No, no, no! God will forgive you." But I think their sense of dispensation was derived directly from the idea that they were engaged in jihad ("holy struggle"). Now you know, in jihad there are certain liberties allowed.

SAS: You mean like not having to pray in a congregational manner if that puts the believers in danger, or being allowed to say one's prayers on horseback if on guard or patrol and not having to dismount and pray, as one usually does, on the ground.

YF: Right. Well, I believe they took the liberty of making their own interpretation of these dispensations or liberties granted to the one making jihad.
http://www.tbsjournal.com/Archives/Fall02/Fouda.html

Obviously nothing can ever prove exactly why Atta and others behaved as they did (assuming all the reports are true, which is far from proven). However, the argument that “if you drink alcohol (and so on) then you can’t be a fundamentalist Muslim” isn’t necessarily true -- there are precedents, and other possible explanations, if you bother to look for them.

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