Waleed al-Shehri still alive?
The FBI released their first list of 9/11 suspects on September 14th. There were no attached photos, and many of the names were distinctly short of biographical details. But Waleed M al-Shehri was something of an exception. The list gave him no less than seven birth dates, and three possible residences, as well as saying he was believed to be a pilot:
Why a pilot? The authorities would have realised there was no way commercial pilots would ever fly their planes into buildings, therefore the hijackers must have developed the relevant skills for themselves. And so in the three days between the attack and the release of the first list, we would assume the FBI would be checking public records for pilots of potential interest. If someone had the same or a similar name to someone on the flights, for instance, had trained in an area immediately associated with the plot, like Florida, and wasn't there any more, for instance, it wouldn't be surprising if they were flagged for further investigation.
And of course the FBI weren't alone. The media soon produced additional reports with more details about the pilot Waleed al-Shehri:
But there was a problem with this identification, most famously spelled out in a BBC story:
This seems compelling enough: his photograph was released; he attended flight training school at Daytona Beach in the United States; he is indeed the same Waleed Al Shehri to whom the FBI has been referring. Therefore the FBI must have got it wrong. And yet, look closer at the story and you'll find multiple indications that this is not the same Waleed al-Shehri at all.
The first clue comes in the name. The FBI named the alleged hijacker as Waleed M al-Shehri from the beginning, with documentation later showing the M stood for Mohammad.
Meanwhile the "still alive" pilot was referred to as Waleed A or Waleed Ahmed al-Shehri:
An FAA document also named the initial suspect as Waleed Ahmed Al-Shehri, and pointed out that his medical certificate had been renewed in 2003. More here.
The hijacker and pilot have different names, then.
Of course Arabic names can be lengthy by Western standards, so it might be possible to argue this still relates to a single individual called something like Waleed Ahmed Mohammed al-Shehri, and the press reports have simply quoted different parts of his name. But there's also a significance to their second name that gives us another way to check this information.
The second name should relate to al-Shehri's father, then, if their family followed this convention. And sure enough, the "still alive" Waleed Ahmed al-Shehri seemed to have a diplomat father called Ahmed al-Shehri (although he seems puzzlingly vague in this quote):
Meanwhile other stories appeared about a real Wail and Waleed M al-Shehri, who were missing, and did match the photos released by the FBI, and had a father called Mohammed:
Writer Neil Doyle posted a video (originally at www.neildoyle.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=326&mode=thread&order=0&thold=0 , link now dead) where the al-Shehri's father was interviewed.
He says they showed no signs of extremist views, however at no point claims his sons are still alive. Read more here.
And references to the immediate family of the BBCs Alshehri reveal another problem. He appears not to have a brother called Wail, unlike the hijacker:
An Indian Express report talks about other members in the al-Shehri family, but again fails to mention any Wail:
It seems increasingly clear that Waleed A al-Shehri and Waleed M al-Shehri are very different people. And there's more confirmation of this in other accounts of a real Waleed M al-Shehri, with a brother called Wail, who disappeared before the attacks, and hasn't been seen since.
Similarly, here’s part of the transcript from “Sand storm”, a Dateline NBC programme aired on September 25th 2002, where the reporter John Hockenberry interviewed a surviving Al Shehri brother.
Based on this, it might be possible to make a case that they weren’t “the right sort of people to be involved”. It’s also noticeable that the earlier story says they were “very religious”, while this interview that they weren’t religious “in the way one might imagine”. Perhaps there’s a story in that, although it could also just be family denial. Not least because another report based on the comments of a “cousin” seems very different:
What is plain, though, is that the brothers aren’t alive (at least, as far as the family know).
The hijacker and pilot have different names and families, then.
Another indicator that we're talking about two separate individuals comes in their ages. 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 14 or 15 at the time the pilot Waleed Alshehri reportedly began his flying studies in 1993.
However this isn't an issue for the pilot al-Shehri. We ran a background check on him and uncovered the following:
Ahmed B al-Shehri is Waleed's diplomat father. The pilot al-Shehri here has a birth date of January 1974, which would probably make him 19 when he enrolled at Embry-Riddle.
The hijacker and pilot have different names, families and ages, then.
Read some 9/11 truth pages and you might think the hijacker identifications were an implausible invention of the FBI. What they rarely admit is that in 2002 even Saudi Arabia finally accepted that the named suspects were actually involved.
The hijacker and pilot have different names, families and ages, then, and even the Saudi's have known they were different people for years.
We believe this shows there's now no real case for arguing that Waleed Mohammad al-Shehri is still alive, or has been incorrectly identified by the FBI, or even had his "identity stolen" as is occasionally argued by some. But there is still one mystery remaining.
The BBC said of Waleed Ahmed al-Shehri that "his photograph was released, and has since appeared in newspapers and on television around the world". How can the pilot al-Shehri have recognised someone else's photograph?
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:
Note that she identified the alleged hijackers based on the press photos, suggesting these were not of other, uninvolved individuals.
It’s also worth noting that the driving licence Alshehri picture appeared in the al Qaeda video of “The 19 Martyrs”:
The video The Usual Suspects also shows a clip of him with other hijackers in Afghanistan, which we believe is also taken from an al Qaeda video:
And al-Shehri's video will appeared in September 2007, in a video introduced by Osama bin Laden.
The FBI photo of Waleed Mohamed al-Shehri is backed up by other images and witnesses, then, strongly suggesting that it is of an individual who was in the US on the run up to the 9/11 attacks, and not someone entirely innocent from another country altogether. But if that’s the case, how is it that the Waleed Ahmed al-Shehri’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.
We were surprised to see that CNN were using the FBI image of Waleed Alshehri, even as early as the 16th of September.
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 of the pilot Waleed Ahmed al-Shehri attached to the above ASAA interview:
(We’re told the caption reads “Walid al-Shihri with photo of him in airline uniform; exclusive to Asharq Alawasat).
The interview can be found here, and a Google translation (poor quality, but better than nothing) is here.
The photo looks to us like it could well be the mystery man in the CNN clip:
But is it the alleged hijacker? We don't think so.
The hijacker and pilot have different names, families and ages, then. Photographs show they're different people, even the Saudis have admitted this for years, and the hijacker has appeared in more than one al Qaeda video.
Putting this all together, then, we believe that Waleed Ahmed al-Shehri or his friends most likely read the reports that spoke of someone else with a similar name, who also trained at Embry-Riddle in Florida. This would have raised an eyebrow, but they knew it wasn't an uncommon name. And Waleed Ahmed al-Shehri was alive and clearly had nothing to do with the attacks, so the stories were obviously referring to someone else. The only problem is that they weren't. The FBI and the media really were looking through public databases to identify which of the suspects were pilots, and Waleed Ahmed al-Shehri, who had a similar name to one of the suspects, and had finished training in Florida just as Atta and al-Shehhi arrived there, really was of interest.
The FBI had plenty of leads by the 16th of September, then, but still weren't sure about identities. And that's probably why they didn't release their official list, with photos, for another eleven days. CNN, however, either found some images themselves, or used a photo leaked to them from an FBI or Justice Department source, then ran with a shot of Waleed Ahmed al-Shehri, captioning it Wail al-Shehri.
The CNN photo was then spotted and recognised by one of Waleed Ahmed al-Shehri's friends, who gave him a call by way of warning. The pilot now realised that when the papers had written about a Waleed al-Shehri who learned to fly at Embry-Riddle, they really were talking about him, not anyone else. He came forward to say he was alive and had nothing to do with the plot.
The FBI then questioned al-Shehri, as he stated, and were able to cross him off the list. Over time they realised that the individual they were after was Waleed Mohammed al-Shehri, something that was confirmed through US documentation, Saudi press reports, and eventually the Saudi government themselves.
Speculation? To a degree, but we believe this is a theory that best fits all the facts. In any event, we know that the hijacker and pilot al-Shehri have different names, faces, ages, professions and families, so what we can say with near 100% certainty is that they are different people, and the press reports about Waleed Ahmed al-Shehri do not show that Waleed Mohammed al-Shehri is still alive.