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Report: CIA Knew Two Sept. 11 Hijackers Were in U.S. Report: CIA Knew Two Sept. 11 Hijackers Were in U.S.
Sun Jun 2,12:11 PM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Months before the Sept. 11 attacks, the CIA (news - web sites) knew two of the hijackers were in the United States and that they were connected to the al Qaeda organization, Newsweek reported on Sunday.

According to the report that will hit newsstands on Monday, the intelligence was never passed along to the FBI (news - web sites), which now asserts that if it had known, agents could have uncovered the terrorist plot.

Newsweek said the CIA became aware of one of the terrorists, Nawaf Alhazmi, a few days after he attended a secret planning meeting of Osama bin Laden (news - web sites)'s al Qaeda in Malaysia in January 2000.

Agents also discovered that another of the men, Khalid Almihdhar, had already obtained a multiple-entry visa that allowed him to enter and leave the United States at will.

The magazine said the CIA did nothing with the information, neither notifying the FBI, which could have tracked the two men, or the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which could have turned them away at the border.

Instead, Newsweek said that for a year and nine months after the CIA identified them as terrorists, Alhazmi and Almihdhar lived openly in the United States, using their real names, obtaining driver's licenses, opening bank accounts and enrolling in flight schools. On the morning of Sept. 11, they boarded one of the four hijacked airliners, American Airlines (news - web sites) Flight 77, and crashed it into the Pentagon (news - web sites).

Some 3,000 people died in the attacks outside Washington and in New York and rural Pennsylvania.

Appearing on the "Fox News Sunday" program, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (news - web sites) said he had been given the Newsweek report but had not "had a chance to digest this story ... to read it thoroughly and get the details."

Nonetheless, Ashcroft added, "We are at war. We need to seize on every possibility for preventing additional attacks. That is our strategy. That is our responsibility, and we need to coordinate the activities between our agencies."

Newsweek said the information was held at the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, the base camp for the agency's war on bin Laden. The magazine said that when Almihdhar's visa expired, the State Department, not knowing any better, issued him a new one in July 2001, even though the CIA had linked him to one of the suspected bombers of the USS Cole (news - web sites) in Yemen in October 2000.

The FBI now is asserting that the two terrorists' frequent meetings with the other Sept. 11 hijackers could have provided federal agents with a road map to the entire cast, the magazine said. But the FBI didn't know it was supposed to be looking for them until three weeks before the strikes, when CIA Director George Tenet, worried an attack was imminent, ordered a review.

An all-points bulletin was sent on Aug. 23, 2001, launching law enforcement agents on an urgent and futile search for the two men.

Newsweek said FBI officials have prepared a detailed chart showing how agents could have uncovered the terrorist plot if they had learned about Almihdhar and Alhazmi sooner, given their contacts with at least five of the other hijackers.

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Prev. Story: Hijacker's Roommate Was Undetected
Wed Jun 5, 5:09 PM ET - (AP)
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