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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

How the Hijackers Lived Among Us

Aired October 22, 2001 - 06:32   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Now it is a little disconcerting to know that some of the people believed to be responsible for all of this lived in America and did so for years. They were students, neighbors and accomplices.

CNN's Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena takes an in-depth look at just how these men flew under America's radar.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We have their last images and the lasting images they left us. But how could the 19 suspected hijackers and whoever may have helped them hide in plain sight in the weeks and months before September 11th fooling everyone to such deadly effect.

(CROSSTALK)

DIANE SURMA, MOTEL OWNER: Very nice, very quiet. No problem. I didn't have to be suspicious because they are nice people.

ARENA: A clue to the hijacker's success may come from these pages. They're al Qaeda manuals -- blueprints for terror, used to train members in the art and science of undercover operations. Everything from working in cells, to blending into their community is covered in these pages.

The manuals were introduced into evidence earlier this year at the trial of al Qaeda members in New York City charged in connection with the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

ANNOUNCER: "All documents of the undercover brother such as identity cards and passports should be falsified."

ARENA: Even before the men arrived in the United States, investigators believe some of them got their Visas based on false identities.

PAUL VIRTUE, FORMER INS GENERAL COUNSEL: There is a problem with people adopting the identities of others. Sometimes they use photo substitutes on their passports or they've acquired a passport of somebody they look like.

ARENA: With 30 million visas issued every year, no one seemed to notice as the men arrived in the United States. But not all the suspected terrorists play by the book. Some like Ziad Jarrah use their real names. Investigators say Jarrah had no fear of being caught because there was simply no reason to look for him.

BEN VENZKE, TERRORISM EXPERT: They would want people that could get into the country, preferably legally, preferably people that we weren't aware of. They don't have a history.

ANNOUNCER: "After receiving information about the target, the operational plan is created. The commander makes the tactical plan."

ARENA: It is not clear when the targets were chosen or even who the commander was. In past al Qaeda operations, such as the embassy bombings, the commander left before the actual attack took place. Like the previous attacks, investigators say this one seems to have been on the drawing board for years.

One example, this man, Lofi Raisi entered the U.S. to begin flight training in 1996. He became a flight instructor. He's now being held in Britain. U.S. and British officials say Raisi made several trips between the U.S. and the U.K., even flew with suspected hijacker pilot Huni Hanjor from Las Vegas to Phoenix on June 23rd to oversee the flight simulator training of Hanjor and three other alleged hijack pilots.

ANNOUNCER: "A special operation must have stages. The stages are integrated and inseparable. One, research stage; two, planning stage; three, execution stage."

ARENA: The suspected hijackers apparently carried out their research and their planning at the same time. One came to Bowie, Maryland just some 30 miles from Washington, D.C. to rent a plane. Huni Hanjor was not deemed proficient enough to fly on his own, but one flight instructor says he had enough training to ultimately perform the task of flying American Flight 77 into the Pentagon.

MARCEL BERNARD, FLIGHT INSTRUCTOR: We believe that even though he didn't necessarily have experience in jets, that once the airplane was airborne, that he could have easily pointed it in any direction he wanted to and crash it into a building or whatever would be a real possibility -- real possibility.

ANNOUNCER: "Avoid seclusion and isolation from the population. Use a non-Muslim appearance."

ARENA: The suspects cut their hair, trimmed or shaved their beards, and used ATMs, ate at restaurants, went shopping, and traveled around the country, staying in apartments and hotels from south Florida to southern California, Maryland to Arizona.

JIM COLLINS, LAUREL, MARYLAND POLICE: These people blend in so well, you could have been with them shopping. You could have passed them on the street. You would never know it.

ANNOUNCER: "Do not raise suspicions of the security people or even the normal people. Each group does not know anything about the other group."

ARENA: Blending in is just part of the challenge. The manuals urge the men using false documents to carry only one at a time and memorize their cover stories. And information is to be compartmentalized to work in cells just in case one person should be picked up by police.

MAGNUS RANSTORP, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Here, we're dealing with at least 19 individuals and should one of them have been arrested for engaging in any criminal activity, that could have blown the cover for at least part of the operations and would have given law enforcement officials the clue to what was about to transpire.

ANNOUNCER: "The operation should be appropriate to the participant's physical and mental abilities."

ARENA: Some of the men made an effort to stay in shape, working out in gyms in Florida and Georgia -- not only to stay fit, but to learn defensive skills investigators believe were later used to keep passengers at bay.

Bert Rodriguez says he trained one of the alleged hijackers at a gym in Florida.

BERT RODRIGUEZ, PERSONAL TRAINER: I'm sure now that that's why he took the training. They knew that they were going to be able to confront any attack much better.

ANNOUNCER: "Communication is the mainstay of the movement. However, it can be to our advantage if we use it well and it can be a knife dug into our back if we do not consider and take the necessary security measures."

ARENA: Places such as public libraries like this one in Del Ray Beach, Florida were part of their secure communications. Using computers, investigators say the hijackers sent messages, even booked airline tickets.

ANNOUNCER: "Secrecy should be used even with the closest people, for deceiving the enemies is not easy."

ARENA: As the 19 suspects went through their final hours, investigators say it's still not clear whether all of them knew their full mission -- not only to hijack the planes, but crash them into buildings in New York and Washington.

RANSTORP: I do not believe that all of the hijackers knew that they would meet their destiny in that fashion.

ARENA: But for those who did know, there was one final order from the manual, a quote from the Koran.

ANNOUNCER: "Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war to strike terror into the hearts of the enemies of Allah and your enemies."

ARENA: Kelli Arena, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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