Waleed Alshehri is still alive, according to a report on the BBC.
Saudi Arabian pilot Waleed Alshehri was one of five men that the FBI said had deliberately crashed American Airlines flight 11 into the World Trade Centre on 11 September...
His photograph was released, and has since appeared in newspapers and on television around the world. Now he is protesting his innocence from Casablanca, Morocco.
The first list of suspects released by the FBI on September 14th stated that Waleed Alshehri was believed to be a pilot:
2) Waleed M. Alshehri - Dates of birth used: September 13, 1974/January 1, 1976/ March 3, 1976/ July 8, 1977/ December 20, 1978/ May 11, 1979/ November 5, 1979; Possible residence (s) : Hollywood, Florida/ Orlando, Florida/ Daytona Beach, Florida; Believed to be a pilot.
The media soon produced additional reports, presumably based on checking databases for pilots of that name:
WALEED AL SHEHRI
Role: Waleed and Wail Alshehri sat in seats 2A and 2B of American Airlines Flight 11.
Pilot license: Yes.
Florida connection: Obtained Florida driver's license in October 1994. Lived in Daytona Beach through 1998 and later moved to Vienna, Va. Alshehri graduated from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in 1997 with a bachelor's degree in aeronautical science, the university's commercial pilot training degree, and is listed as having a commercial pilot's license.
Place of birth: Pilot's license lists home as Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
However there are several indications that the pilot Alshehri was not the same as the alleged hijacker.
The first is his name. The FBI uses Waleed M. Alshehri, while the pilot referred to by the BBC is Waleed A. Alshehri.
Embry-Riddle officials have learned that Waleed Al-Shehri talked to U.S. government officials in Morocco earlier this week. An individual with a similar name was identified by the FBI in its September 14 announcement as being aboard American Airlines flight 11, the first plane to strike the World Trade Center.
Embry-Riddle records show that a student with the name Waleed A. Alshehri graduated with a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical science...
This isn’t just a question of a single letter: in Arab names it can be very important:
For those familiar with the European tradition of using just a forename, optional middle name and surname, names in the Arab world can seem perplexing, not least because they can run to enormous length.
However, there is a logical structure to the Arab naming convention that, once seen, makes it simple to decipher a person's recent ancestry.
A man's name is Ali bin Ahmed bin Saleh Al-Fulani.
He is called Ali by his friends and family.
His family name is Al-Fulani
What does bin Ahmed bin Saleh mean? This simply means that he is the son of Ahmed who is in turn the son of Saleh.
Bin means son of.
So we have the man's given name, his father's name and his grandfather's name, plus the family name.
So the second name may well come from the named persons’ father. Some reports spelled out what the “A” stood for:
Waleed Ahmed Alshehri is in Morocco in pilot training, Saudi Arabian Airlines says.
Wall Street Journal, September 20th, reproduced at
And sure enough, the Boston Globe found an Ahmed Alshehri who apparently was his father. Who also appears puzzlingly unsure about whether they were involved::
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.''
Other reports about the alleged hijacker said his father was Mohammed Ali Asgley Al Shehri. So we have Waleed A Alshehri, with a father Ahmed; Waleed M Alshehri, with a father Mohammed. Different names, different people.
The second difference could be his age. The FBI provide several possible birth dates for their hijacker Alshehri, but Arab News account say he was 21 years old at the time of the attack, while his driving licence said he was 22. And this would make him only 15 at the time the pilot Waleed Alshehri reportedly began his flying studies in 1993.
In 1993, Waleed Alshehri, one of the terrorists on American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston that hit the north tower of the World Trade Center, enrolled at Embry-Riddle University, where he received a bachelor's degree in aviation science four years later, according to school spokesman Robert Ross. During that time, records show Alshehri lived in apartment in Daytona Beach.
"Attack on America"
Hijackers had long, broad ties to Florida
September 16, 2001
The third problem comes in the immediate family of the BBCs Alshehri. He appears not to have a brother called Wail, unlike the hijacker:
The piece appeared in the ASAA of September 22:
The Saudi pilot Waleed As-Shahri (or in the FBI release Waleed M. Alshehri) is under suspicion of involvement in September 11. He informed the ASAA that he is alive and well and was in the Moroccan city of Casablanca when the attack on the World Trade Center occurred. He found out that he was a suspect in the September 11 attack through the media. As-Shahri has been living in Morocco for the last nine months. He is undergoing flight training for Saudi and Moroccan airlines that want to set up a link between the two countries.
He is under suspicion because his name appeared and apparently that of his brother as well on American Airlines flight #11 that crashed into the north tower of the WTC. Waleed was supposedly occupying seat #23 and his supposed brother seat #A2.
The ASAA interview was conducted in Casablanca.
ASAA: How did you find out that you were a suspect and accused of being an accomplice in the attacks on the World Trade Center
Waleed: I was in Marrakesh Morocco for four days after several flights between Morocco, France and Italy. A Saudi friend of mine here in Marrakesh contacted me and said that the ASAA printed my name and information about me.
At first I thought there was some mix-up of names and that somebody else had the same name as mine. But in the morning of Sunday last my friend called me to say that CNN had shown a picture of me. I was dumbfounded. I decided then to go back to Casablanca and get in contact with the Saudi embassy.
The ambassador Dr. Abd-ul-Azeez Khoja received me on Tuesday last and showed great concern about what was happening. He said that the foreign minister Prince Sa'ud al-Faisal was personally investigating the situation.
Then I went to the American embassy in Rabat and told the people there what my situation was. I told them I was quite alive though I was reported as dead. I was supposed to have died in the suicide attack against the World Trade Center. They apologized to me for the confusion that had occurred. They were interested in flight schools in Florida that trained pilots.
ASAA: Why didn't they put you in contact with the FBI?
Waleed: They did. Last Sunday evening the FBI told me I should contact the American embassy on Monday morning to say I was alive.
ASAA: What sort of questions did the FBI ask of you?
Waleed: They asked me ordinary questions about me, my studies while in the USA and what I was doing now.
ASAA: Given that your name appeared among the list of suspects did you know any of the others on the list?
Waleed: I had no relations with any of them."
ASAA: Do you know anyone else in a situation similar to yours?
Waleed: I don't know of anybody.
ASAA: Where were you on 911?
Waleed: I was in Casablanca. I had the day off before I was supposed to do the flight from Casablanca to Paris on Monday.
ASAA: When was the last time you were in the USA?
Waleed: The last time I was there was in July 2000. I was getting flight training for two months in a school called 'Flight CFT' near Daytona Beach. I returned to Saudi Arabia in September of the same year.
ASAA: How long have you been flying?
Waleed: I've been working for Saudi Airlines for about a year and a half. And now I've been undergoing training here jointly for Saudi Airlines and Royal Moroccan Airlines.
ASAA: What is your relationship with Wa'il As-Shahri or do you know anybody by that name?
Waleed: I know of nobody by that name and there is no one in my family who has such a name.
ASAA: What are your thoughts about your photograph in the FBI list?
Waleed: I said before that I was astonished when I saw my picture on the CNN channel. I believe the photo was taken from the "Flight Safety" (= Flight CFT?) school when I was being trained there for two months. The photo looks like one taken at that time.
ASAA: Have you ever lost a passport?
Waleed: I have never lost a passport, not inside or outside the USA, nor even the attached pages.
The fourth difference comes in the fact that there are Saudi reports of a Waleed who matches the hijacker, not the pilot: he’s a “college dropout”, he’s 21, he has a brother called Wail, both match their photos as issued by the FBI, both went missing before the attacks, neither have been seen since::
Waleed Alshehri: 21, he is the younger brother of Wael. He is from the southern city of Khamis Mushayet. He was the least religious of the two brothers, but joined his older brother in their travel to Afghanistan and USA. He is a college dropout from the teachers college in Abha, where his brother attended. He also frequented Al-Seqley mosque. Several of his brothers work in the Saudi military including one who is a military pilot. His uncle Major General Faez Alshehri is the director of logistics for Saudi Armed forces. He was on American Airlines #11 that crashed into North Tower of World Trade Center
Arab News source
The brothers' pictures matched those released by the FBI, the Arab News reported. Their father, Mohammed Ali Asgley Alshehri, a businessman, told Al Watan that his son Wael, 25, had psychological problems and had gone to Medina in December with his brother Waleed, 21, to seek help from religious officials for this problem. He said that they did not return from the trip and that he had not heard from them since...
The paper cited sources close to the family as saying that both men had become very religious before disappearing and had spoken of joining Muslim fighters in Chechnya. The sources said the brothers spoke limited English.
Previous reports that Waleed Alshehri was the son of a Saudi diplomat have been denied.
Washington Post source
Further confirmation of the identification comes from an interview that an Alshehri family member did with NBC. There’s some potential for conflict here, as Saleh says Waleed and his brother Wail weren’t religious “in the way one might imagine” and he doesn’t believe they were involved, but he also seems to accept that they’re missing and could be dead.
Prince KHALID: They didn't actually think that their sons were able to do such terrible action. But they also believe that they have been deceived. I mean, their children have been deceived.
HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Khalid al-Faisal is governor of Asir Province. A third of the Saudi hijackers grew up here...
...in Khamais Mushait, Saudi Arabia, where it is believed five of the hijackers grew up and were recruited, we finally met Saleh, a brother of Wail and Waleed Alshehri, both on Flight 11.
HOCKENBERRY: Do you think that Waleed and Wail, your brothers, were capable of being a part of this operation?
SALEH: (Through translator) In my judgment, impossible. I know them; I know their behavior.
HOCKENBERRY: What if it is true? What would you say?
SALEH: (Through translator) If that is true we have to be realistic and accept the tragedy...
HOCKENBERRY: It appears that your brother found something else to do, be part
SALEH: (Through translator) I don't know. It is very difficult to imagine that. It is difficult because the time was very short. There was not enough time for him to be trained to fly a plane. Furthermore, he didn't know English...
HOCKENBERRY: Do you believe they're dead in your heart?
SALEH: For me? Yes...
HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Saleh's truth bears no resemblance to the official line from the Saudi royals, that the hijackers were religious zealots seeking revenge for the Palestinians.
(Saleh talking to reporter; Palestinians mourning victims)
HOCKENBERRY: Were your two brothers religious?
SALEH: (Through translator) No. Not in the way one might imagine.
HOCKENBERRY: But your brothers didn't march in the streets and work day and night to free the Palestinians did they?
HOCKENBERRY: No. Did they talk about getting US military troops out of the kingdom? No? So it looks like your two brothers were brainwashed.
HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) There is this famous video of Osama bin Laden talking about how some people on the airplanes in New York and Washington did not even know that they were going to die...
(Video of bin Laden)
HOCKENBERRY: ...had no idea that this was a suicide mission. Is it possible that Waleed and Wail were on a plane not knowing what was to happen?
SALEH: (Through translator) It is possible. They were still immature.
HOCKENBERRY: It is possible.
A report from a cousin is even more incriminating:
"They [the Alshehri brothers] were ordinary guys, then they changed," said one of their cousins. "It's not unusual here for a man to change overnight from being carefree to being religious. It was a kind of Islamic awakening. They heard sermons from people who came back from jihad in Afghanistan."
The brothers disappeared for two or three months in 1999, travelling to Medina. "When they came back they were different," said their cousin. "They had grown beards and were deeply religious. They had their own group of people and had become very secretive."
In December 2000 they disappeared again, this time to Afghanistan with Al-Nami and Al-Ghamdi. The next the family heard of them was reading their names among the hijackers.
"When we read their names we were very proud because the black hand of Americans are in everything," said their cousin. "I don't think my cousins were exploited. I think they did it out of their own convictions."
And the Boston Globe ran an article that was something of a mix, with similar commentary on how they had changed in 2000, but another brother saying that he couldn’t believe Wail and Waleed would be involved. Note, however, that once again there’s no mention of them still being alive:
HAMIS MUSHAYT, Saudi Arabia - At dusk in this nondescript town of modern strip malls and newly built housing blocks, the Seqeley mosque was bathed in a warm, inviting green neon light as worshipers gathered for prayers on a recent evening.
The Seqeley mosque was built as a gift to the town by a branch of the prominent and respected Alshehri tribe known as the Seqeley family, construction firm owners who worked closely with the late building magnate Mohammed bin Laden on the winding highway that cuts through the middle of Hamis Mushayt.
It was in this mosque that four young Saudi men - two brothers from the Seqeley family known as Wael and Walid Alshehri and their friends Ahmed Alnami and Saeed Alghamdi from nearby Abha - are believed by several friends and a local cleric to have taken a solemn oath to go and carry out ''jihad.''
Friends who knew them say they gathered in the mosque in the spring of 2000 to pray and meditate in an informal ceremony that bound them to jihad and, if necessary, to die in the defense of Islam. In the months that lay ahead, they began secretly slipping away from their families.
Eventually, they were swept into Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network, and US investigators say they were among the Saudis who hijacked four jetliners on Sept. 11.
Mohammed Seqeley Alshehri, the father of Wael and Walid, is a tough and uncompromising man who refused to speak to a Globe reporter. But his son Abdel Rahman, 40, one of Wael and Walid's 15 brothers by Mohammed's four different wives, invited the reporter into the family home, which sits across from the mosque. The father and son were returning from evening prayer, and the father was thundering against the Western media in a room inside the home. But Abdel Rahman served tea in a ''majlis,'' or reception room, at the front of the sprawling house.
''You have to understand my brothers were not Islamic purists'' began Abdel Rahman, who lived with his brothers in the family compound. ''They were young, they were bored, and we have no idea what happened to them.''
''To be very honest, neither one of them was very smart, nor very motivated to do anything,'' said Abdel Rahman. ''All of this is impossible for us to believe.''
He explained that his father had built the local mosque and was a devout Muslim who refused his sons any link to modernity, for within the strict puritanism of the Wahabi school of Islam these things are strictly forbidden: No satellite TV. No Internet. No music. And definitely no girls until they were old enough for an arranged marriage.
The Alshehris are a military family with three older brothers who hold high rank at the nearby airbase. Their uncle, Major General Faez Alshehri is the logistical director of the kingdom's armed forces. The base - from which the United States staged some of its airstrikes on Iraq during the Gulf War - was attacked in August 2000 by a lone gunman believed to be a follower of bin Laden. The gunman killed a Saudi guard and wounded several British workers there.
Wael and Walid did not serve in the military but were steeped in the family lore of service to the Saudi Air Force, and Wael was a physical education teacher at the sprawling airbase. US investigators have said they believe Wael may have had flight-simulator experience.
The two brothers' personalities were a complex Saudi mosaic. They were devout, but they also smoked Marlboros, cruised Web sites at a local Internet cafe, and liked pop music.
A turning point came late in 1999 when Wael, 25, fell into a deep depression, Abdel Rahman said. His friends say it was not just depression, but perhaps even a suicidal tendency, and he was forced to take a leave of absence from his work as a gym teacher. He went to see a faith healer in Mecca accompanied by Walid, 21, who was ''just drifting in life,'' his brother said. It was at this point that the two apparently fell under the sway of a militant Islamic cleric who counseled both to read the Koran, to fast, and to take up jihad.
Sometime in the late spring of 2000, they disappeared and their family did not know where they went, Abdel Rahman said. Friends said they believed the two went to Pakistan and then on to Afghanistan where they were given hand-to-hand combat and light weapons instruction at the Al Farouk training camp. They returned to Saudi Arabia in December 2000 and boasted to friends about their experience.
Through the family mosque and perhaps through militant circles, the two men befriended Ahmed Alnami from the nearby town of Abha.
Alnami, 23, was distinctly middle class. His late father had been an employee of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, and he was the youngest of six siblings.
Alnami played the oud, a traditional Arabic guitar, and had a good singing voice. He would gather with high school friends for bonfires in the wind-swept park atop Souda, the highest point in Saudi Arabia, and make them laugh mimicking the Saudi pop star Mohammed Abdou. He was fond of smoking apple tobacco in a ''nargilla,'' a traditional waterpipe. The music, the singing, the smoking all would have been frowned upon as un-Islamic by the men in his family.
Then in the summer and fall of 1999, Alnami began a rapid change, becoming obsessively pious after returning home from a Saudi-government sponsored religious summer camp. One friend said that his family feared that the sharp turn in his behavior was a ''bipolar disorder.'' He grew a beard, he shunned his old friends, he stopped playing music. His sweet voice now was used to call the faithful to prayer at the Al Basra mosque in Abha, and occasionally at the mosque in Khamis Mushayt, where he is presumed to have met up with the Alshehri brothers.
When Alnami saw his old friends in Abha, he tried to steer them away from ''those practices that are evil,'' as he put it, and toward ''the right and true path of Islam.'' He entered King Khalid University's School of Islamic Law, long regarded as a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism, and it was there, his friends believe, that he delved deeper into militant circles. Apparently he befriended another young Saudi named Saeed Alghamdi, who was also from Abha.
''He just drifted away from us and it was like we had lost him,'' said a high school classmate who works at a publishing company as he stared at old snapshots of Alnami.
When the Alshehri brothers, Alnami and Alghamdi gathered at the Seqeley mosque in the spring of 2000 and made their oath to commit to jihad, friends say the informal ceremony was led by Wael Alshehri, who had assumed a nom de guerre of ''Abu Mossaeb al-Janubi.'' Abu Mossaeb was the name of a close friend of the Prophet Mohammed who gave up everything to follow his teaching. ''Al-Janubi,'' means ''of the south.''
This meeting was talked about among the groups of men in their 20s who have little to do but gossip on the streets of Khamis Mushayt and Abha. There were also boasts of the involvement of ''sons of Asir'' and references to the ceremony at an online chatroom at www.alsaha.com, a popular Web site, according to two Saudi academics who closely monitor the site.
Amid all the conflicting accounts and sketchy information about the hijackers, what is certain, according to US investigators, is that the two Alshehri brothers were on board American Airlines Flight 11 when it left Boston and crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. And their friends Alnami and Alghamdi were both on board United Airlines Flight 93 when it left Newark and, apparently after a struggle inside the plane, plummeted into Stony Creek Township, Pa.
Boston Globe source
There is repeated evidence from family members, then, that Wail and Waleed al-Shehri are two real individuals, who disappeared prior to 9/11 and have not been seen since.
We still have the question of the photo, of course. The BBC report told us:
His photograph was released, and has since appeared in newspapers and on television around the world.
And this is often pointed to as proof that their Alshehri is talking about the photo released by the FBI. However, when we read the ASAA interview above this seems much more like supposition, because all the pilot Alshehri says is that a friend saw his picture on CNN. He doesn’t mention seeing it himself.
Still, let’s consider the photo in question.
What’s being suggested here is that this is a photo of the pilot Alshehri. But the problem with that idea is that we know where it came from. A prosecution exhibit at the Moussaoui trial shows a black and white copy of a driving licence application for Waleed Alshehri, dated May 2001, which while low quality does appear to be the same image later used by the FBI. They also provided other pictures of the same individual, along with another black and white copy placing his photo on a US Visa for Waleed M Alshehri:
In the ASAA interview above, the pilot Waleed says he hasn’t been in the US since July 2000, yet this Waleed M Alshehri has a visa dated October 2000, and a driving licence application made in May 2001. More indications that they’re two different people.
In addition, we have for example this witness report, placing Waleed Alshehri together with Wail and Marwan al-Shehhi in a Florida library:
Florida reference librarian Kathleen Hensmen remembers Wail and Waleed Alshehri's summer 2001 visit to the Delray Beach Public Library. Ms. Hensmen tells me she found them "very courteous, very friendly," though "they just sat at one computer, and they were staring at me, and I didn't understand why."
Marwan al-Shehhi arrived later that evening, Ms. Hensmen says. "He didn't ask for a computer," but wondered: "Can you recommend a good restaurant?" Ms. Hensmen, a newcomer, couldn't help. But "a group of 'we nice Americans' who were sitting around said, 'Oh, I can recommend restaurants to you.' "
"When their pictures were published in the Miami Herald, that's when I broke down and cried," Ms. Hensmen says. "I lost it, knowing what they had done, and how we were so friendly toward them."
Note that she identified the alleged hijackers based on the press photos, suggesting these were not of other, uninvolved individuals.
Another witness also saw the brothers:
A man believed to be one of the hijackers in the terrorist attacks visited a drug store in late August for medication to treat a burning sensation in his hands, a pharmacist says.
Gregg Chatterton, co-owner of Huber Discount Drugs, said Friday the man he identified as Mohamed Atta was evasive about the cause and the pharmacist asked if he'd been exposed to cleaning fluids or gardening chemicals.
"He snickered and said, 'No, I wasn't in a garden,'" said Chatterton, who described him as "cocky."
Chatterton said Atta was accompanied by a man the pharmacist later identified from photos as suspected hijacker Marwan al-Shehhi. The pharmacist said the second man tapped himself on the chest and said he needed cough medication. Chatterton gave him the name of a walk-in clinic in case his cold got worse.
The two men, along with suspected hijackers Wail Alshehri and Waleed Alshehri had been in the drugstore before to buy soda and candy bars, Chatterton said.
It’s also worth noting that the driving licence Alshehri picture appeared in the Al Qaeda video of “The 19 Martyrs”:
And The Usual Suspects includes a video clip of him with other alleged hijackers, which we believe is taken from the same Al Qaeda tape (the Usual Suspects creator has superimposed the driving licence shot, that’s not there in the original footage). Once we get our own copy of the 19 Martyrs we’ll be able to tell you for sure:
There is substantial evidence for the FBI image relating to someone other than the pilot Alshehri, then. But if that’s the case, how is it that the pilot’s friend could recognise his image on CNN and call him about it, as discussed in the ASAA interview above? Perhaps the CNN clip itself would offer a clue. And after some considerable effort, we finally tracked it down. Click the image to see the clip (XviD AVI, 1.5 MB):
The first observation is that CNN were using the FBI image of Waleed Alshehri, even as early as the 16th of September. That surprised us, as previously we’d speculated they used the wrong photo (hands up, we were wrong), and alone will be taken by some as proof that this is a picture of the pilot.
However, we would also note that CNN definitely use the wrong pictures of Abdulaziz Alomari and Saeed Alghamdi in this clip. And does the CNN Wail Alshehri really look like his FBI photo image? The resolution above is poor, but we resized it, mirrored the image so it faced the same direction as the FBI shot, and came up with this (FBI shot left, CNN image right):
These don’t look like the same guy to us: the head shape, eyes and chin all look different, maybe the ears too, the CNN photo has more of a receding hairline, and just looks older. While there is a claim that Wail Alshehri is also still alive, we’ve seen no reports that he’s come forward, or anyone has complained that CNN used his image. So could the right-hand picture, above, be that of the pilot Waleed A Alshehri?
There’s certainly a sign of confusion when the CNN newsreader lists the names for their four hijacker photos, describing them as “Mohammed Atta, Waleed Alshehri, Abdulaziz Alomari and Waleed M Ali Shehri [sic]”. Imagine you’re a friend of the pilot Waleed A Alshehri, and you see his photo on CNN in a list of Flight 11 hijackers, and you hear the newsreader read the name “Waleed Alshehri” for the photo: are you really going to care that the caption is “Wail Alshehri”? We’d say not. For you, the photo trumps everything else. So you’d call your friend, tell him he’s been named on CNN as a hijacker, and his photograph shown as well. He would then make a fuss, but realise the mistake in a few days time, and the story would disappear.
When we wrote this originally it was just speculation, a theory. But a recent discovery indicates we were right: a picture attached to the above ASAA interview:
Google translation (poor, but better than nothing)
(We’re told the caption reads “Walid al-Shihri with photo of him in airline uniform; exclusive to Asharq Alawasat).
This looks to us like it could well be the guy in the CNN photo:
But it’s not the alleged hijacker:
This new photo provides the final piece of the puzzle that completes this story. The Saudi pilot, Waleed A Alshehri is not the same person as the individual named by the FBI, and the BBC and other reports do not show that Waleed M Alshehri is still alive.