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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 18:12 GMT
Bush 'displeased' over hijackers' visas
Flight 175 approaches south tower
Atta and al-Shehhi were on two of the hijacked planes
The White House has said that US President George W Bush is "very displeased" that two of the 11 September hijackers had their visa applications approved by the country's Immigration and Naturalisation Service.

Mohammed Atta
Atta was believed to be the terrorists' ringleader

"He [Bush] wants to know how and why this happened, and he wants it fixed," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

Mr McClellan added that Mr Bush had ordered US Director for Homeland Security Tom Ridge to work with US Attorney General John Ashcroft in order to prevent this from happening again.

The US flight school where two of the 11 September hijackers trained received letters saying their visa applications have been approved - six months after the World Trade Center attacks.

The INS admitted on Tuesday that the two hijackers, Mohammed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, had had their visas changed from visitor to student.

Approvals

The INS approved the men's application to stay in the country on 17 July.

Marwan al-Shehhi
Al-Shehhi: Suspected of flying the second plane into the towers

The INS said the Huffman International Flying School was informed about the decision last summer and the latest documents were "back-up notification" which had been delayed in being sent out.

Atta, who came from Egypt, and al-Shehhi, of the United Arab Emirates, trained at the flying school in July, last year.

They had entered the United States on visitors' visas and applied for M-1 visas, given to students on technical courses.

The INS then gave its approval for Atta and al-Shehhi to remain in the US until 1 October, 2001, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Backlog of paperwork

A spokesman for the INS blamed a backlog of paperwork at a processing centre in Kentucky for the delay in dispatching the letters.

"The important thing to recognise is the decisions to change their status were made... before 11 September, and at the time there was no information made available to INS regarding these people," said Russ Bergeron.

The owner of the flight school, Rudi Dekkers, said Atta and al-Shehhi had applied for the visas on 29 August, 2000, before they began their six-month training course.

US authorities believe Atta, who was 33, was the ringleader of the group which hijacked four planes on 11 September.

He was one of four hijackers who seized American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles and flew it into the north tower of the World Trade Center.

Al-Shehhi is believed to have piloted United Airlines Flight 75, also from Boston to Los Angeles, which ploughed into the south tower 17 minutes later.

See also:

12 Mar 02 | Americas
Light gives hope to New Yorkers
09 Jan 02 | Americas
Hijacker 'pulled over by police'
02 Jan 02 | Americas
US terror suspect defies court
12 Dec 01 | Americas
US lays first 11 September charges
16 Nov 01 | Americas
Recording reveals hijack struggle
13 Sep 01 | Americas
Evidence trails lead to Florida
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