Forgetting Saeed Sheikh

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The 9/11 truth movement has been criticised by many for focusing on poking holes in the "official story", rather than developing any coherent narrative of what they believed happened on that day. Even details like motive are unclear for many claimed actions. Why would anyone want to demolish WTC7, for instance? There's no real agreement.

There is, however, one notable exception in the case of Saeed Sheikh, the man who it's claimed wired $100,000 to Mohamed Atta on the orders of ISI chief General Mahmud Ahmad. Many significant researchers believe his story to be of great importance (Paul Thompson describes him as September 11's "smoking gun"). And for once it's not just about finding anomalies within the "official story" - there's an actual theory about what it all means, and how it may support a 9/11 coverup.

The theory

The background to this story is lengthy and complex, and if you're unfamiliar with it then you really should do a little research before continuing. Read "Sept. 11's Smoking Gun: The Many Faces of Saeed Sheikh" and Chaim Kupferberg's Daniel Pearl and the Paymaster of 9/11: 9/11 and The Smoking Gun that Turned On its Trackerbefore you continue. If you've read them already, though, you'll already be familiar with the core theory, which runs something like this.

Soon after 9/11 the US began to identify sources of cash that appear to have been used to prepare the attacks. Paul Thompson describes this:

So the US moved gradually towards identifying Saeed Sheikh. What is the significance? Kuperberg tells us it made it much easier to connect bin Laden to 9/11:

But then there was a problem. The transfer was reportedly connected to the head of Pakistan's ISI. Thompson tells us:

The ISI chief had been in Washington talking with very high level officials immediately before the attacks, and on 9/11 itself. If General Ahmad were to be exposed then this might also implicate the US government, explains Kupferberg:

So the plan changed, and now many other names were introduced. In the resulting confusion just about everyone forgot that Saeed Sheikh was ever implicated. Here's Thompson:

In summary, then, the claim is that Saeed Sheikh was initially identifed by the US as a financier of the attacks, but after being linked to General Mahmud Ahmad the FBI and others put forward a series of other names in an effort to obscure his involvement (claimed or real). A number of sources are used to support this, but as is so often the case in 9/11 stories, everything is not quite as it seems.

Immediate problems

You don't need an in-depth knowledge of 9/11 to realise that this theory has some very obvious problems.

No-one's yet made a definitive case to show that that Sheikh transferred any money to Atta, for instance.

Even if he did, there's vanishingly little evidence to show that Ahmad had anything to do with it. Read more about the realities behind these claims on the ISI funding of the attacks page.

And even if General Mahmud Ahmad could be implemented in the funding, why should this lead anyone to suspect US involvement? It's hardly a surprise to hear that someone in the pro-Taliban ISI, even the chief, might want to support a radical Islamist. And on the other hand there is no evidence whatsoever to show that he did so because American conspirators requested it. The idea is bizarre: why would Ahmad help frame al Qaeda in the first place? Go check Thompson's and Kupferberg's essays and you'll find they have little light to shed on this part of their theory.

The bulk of the story relies on the initial US reports, then, supposedly first naming Sheikh, then moving to others after the ISI story became public. But these, too, are far weaker than Thompson and Kupferberg reveal.

Initial identifications

Paul Thompson described the initial reports here, as we read earlier:

The first story referring to Saeed Sheikh was this one:

As we can see, there's no mention of US involvement here.

The second story, appearing in the Guardian, is more helpful:

Thompson told us that "it wasn’t immediately clear who this person was", but that's a little disingenuous. We can be reasonably sure who they're talking about here: and it's not Saeed Sheikh.

The first clue is in the name, Sheikh Saeed. A few articles after this suggested Saeed Sheikh used this as an alias, but we've seen no evidence of that. In any event, why would an article use an alias rather than his real name?

But the major revelation is that he "worked as a financial manager for Bin Laden when the Saudi exile was based in Sudan". Bin Laden was in Sudan from 1991 to 1996; Paul Thompson's own essay doesn't connect Saeed Sheikh with al Qaeda until 1994, and although he says Sheikh "developed close ties with al Qaeda" at this time, he would also in languishing in a prison later that same year. Thompson provides no evidence that Saeed Sheikh was ever in Sudan, and the timetable makes it very unlikely that he could have played any major part in bin Laden's financing there.

And it doesn't stop there. Search a little further and you find there is a Sheik Saeed al-Masri, sometimes known only as Sheikh Sayyid, who was in Sudan with bin Laden and has been described as handling al Qaeda finances:

(See the full court transcript here).

The Guardian report is a clear match for this Sheikh Saeed, then - and it doesn't fit with Saeed Sheikh at all. Further, the article really only provides the same information that appeared in an Economist article of September 21st, 2001:

This story appeared before the first report mentioned by Thompson, and about two weeks before the ISI link was first proposed, and that illustrates a very important point: the media were not initially pointing the finger at Saeed Sheikh. And when, after the ISI story broke, other accounts also said the financier may have been Sheik Saeed al-Masri, they need not have been trying to "cover something up". They were simply repeating stories that appeared within 10 days of the attacks.

Other accounts

The early Economist story wasn't the only one to name Sheikh Saeed, rather than Saeed Sheikh, as a plot financier. Others repeated the Sudan connection.

Bush froze the assets of Shaykh Sai'id (aka, Mustafa Muhammad Ahmad) on September 24th 2001.

Another version of the above article:

This does lead on to another question, of course. Why did CNN say that Saeed Sheikh was suspected of providing the funds?

The CNN story

Here's the full text of the CNN story:

This seems compelling at first, until you notice a problem or two.

The story never uses the name Saeed Sheikh, for instance, only referring to a "Sheik Syed". Again, is there any evidence that Saeed Sheikh used such an alias prior to 9/11? And why would an article use an alias rather than his real name?

Further, we've never seen anyone outside of this story say that Saeed Sheikh "transfers money between various operatives" or is "a node between al Qaeda and foot soldiers on the ground." But as we read previously, that's an excellent description of the function performed by Sheik Saeed al-Masri.

What's going on? It seems to us at least possible that CNN were told that the suspect was a "Sheik Syed", but something went wrong in the process of verifying who this was. As a result they mixed Magnus Ranstorp's comment about the real suspect with their own details about Saeed Sheikh, creating a story that really made very little sense at all.

This is just conjecture, of course, but it may explain something else. Kupferberg tells us:

His theory is that the story wasn't mentioned again because it was intentionally buried, as the ISI link might expose US involvement in 9/11. Our theory is that the story wasn't mentioned again because it was incorrect. Which is more plausible? You decide.


Part of the supposed case for a cover up is that, as Paul Thompson says:

But was this really true? Not in any meaningful way. Although he wasn't mentioned in the next few days (entirely understandably if the CNN report were incorrect), in early 2002 and after being connected to the murder of Daniel Pearl his claimed 9/11 connections made frequent appearance in the press. Thompson himself tells us this a little further down the page:

Now "all mention of him ceased (with one exception)" is transformed into "at least 12 US or British" articles mentioning his "financing of 9/11" alone, and the complaint changes to an inability to mention all the points Thompson names. Whatever the merit of that claim, it's plain that Sheikh's claimed connection to 9/11 was not ignored by the media.


9/11 researchers have produced little evidence to show that Saeed Sheikh transferred any money to Mohamed Atta.

9/11 researchers have produced even less to demonstrate that General Mahmud Ahmed was involved.

Even if these two claims were to be proved, there's nothing to show US involvement, and in our view the idea that the story would have to be covered up to hide this is implausible in the extreme.

What's more, in this case there is no evidence of a coverup to conceal Saeed Sheikh's name. Those alleging this pretend that the media named him first, and only introduced others after the ISI claims broke, but that simply isn't true. As we've seen, the very first descriptions of the financier were more likely talking about Sheik Saeed al-Masri, not Saeed Sheikh, and this seems to have been the view of everyone until the flawed CNN report. And if the media did not consistently name Saeed Sheikh prior to the ISI story, then there's no reason to read anything into them not naming him afterwards. Although it turns out that claim is wrong, too - he was mentioned frequently. The supposed "smoking gun" turns out to be based on a false premise, then, and without more evidence we see no reason to believe there's anything here at all.

Further reading: