9/11 hijackers funding: names and numbersSeptember 11, 2014
If you follow the money, the men in the middle of the disbursing of funds to the 9/11 hijackers were United Airlines Flight 175 hijacker-pilot Marwan al-Shehhi and a UAE-based computer specialist Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (Ali), who ultimately received the money from his uncle, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad (KSM).
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Al Qaeda was able to raise about $30 million a year, mostly from zakat and sadaqa from wealthy Arab donors and other supportive Muslims around the world. The money was funneled through Islamic charities—often charitable foundations backed directly by the Saudi government—and through hawala, the traditional Islamic system of transferring money without physically having to transfer cash. The same methods continue being used to fund Al Qaeda and its offshoots today.
Of that $30 million, $10-$20 million was estimated by the 9/11 Commission to have been given annually to the Taliban. The remaining money was used for wages, training, planning, and operations like 9/11, which is estimated to have cost $400,000 to half a million dollars to carry out.
KSM gave about $300,000 of that sum to the hijackers for their travel to and inside the U.S., living expenses, and flight lessons. He sometimes handed out cash to operatives during face-to-face meetings but he relied on intermediaries—most significantly Ali—for international transactions once the U.S. sleeper cells had been established. In addition to being KSM’s nephew, Ali is the cousin of 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, and the husband of terror maven Aafia Siddiqui. He currently resides in Guantanamo Bay.
In what amounted to the largest series of transactions in the entire run-up to 9/11, Ali sent at least $110,000 to al-Shehhi for use by him, Muhammad Atta, and presumably for the expenses of the other Florida-based hijackers—several of whose leaders had been a part of Atta’s prior Al Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany. Members of this group were the ones who hijacked the planes that hit the World Trade Center and crashed in Pennsylvania. Former Hamburg cell Ramzi Bin al Shiib also sent $10,000 to al-Shehhi and to “twentieth hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui. The hijackers also had money with them when they entered the U.S.—usually $10,000 apiece originating from KSM—often carrying the money in the form of travelers checks issued in the U.A.E. Several hijackers also accessed their old foreign bank accounts for money too.
Meanwhile, in Southern California, Ali appears to have provided a much paltrier amount of only $5,000 Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, the first of the 9/11 hijackers to arrive in the U.S. They lived mostly in San Diego. According to the KSM himself, he gave al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar $16,000 to facilitate their travel from Malaysia into the U.S. (which is less than the $10,000 he typically gave per hijacker), most of which they subsequently used to establish a bank account at a Bank of America branch in San Diego with $9,900. Apparently, al-Hazmi and al-Midhar had only cash, so Omar al-Bayoumi, a probable Saudi spy who helped the two settle into San Diego, bought them a $9,900 cashier’s check and was reimbursed on the spot.
Even though al-Bayoumi may not have given al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar any additional funds, it is perplexing that, even though they had fewer cell members, they would have received so much less financial support than their East Coast counterparts. The Pentagon attack cell represented 25 percent of the hijackers, 25 percent of the missions, but only received 4 percent of the money that Ali distributed. Logic would dictate that al-Hazmi, al-Mihdhar, and hijacker Hani Hanjour, with whom they joined up in Phoenix and later relocated to Virginia then New Jersey, plus two “muscle” hijackers, would have required more money for living and travel expenses than solely what KSM and Ali provided them.
Congress’s 2002 report, “Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001,” included a 28-page redaction that reportedly addressed Saudi support for some of the 9/11 hijackers. It is possible that al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar did not need additional funds from KSM and Ali if their funds were being supplemented by Saudi officials. But we won’t know until the report is declassified and a fuller investigation takes place.