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The 9/11 Connection


The Sooner State’s ties to the twin towers are tight, despite the distance.

Clifton Adcock September 7th, 2011

On Sept. 11, 2001, citizens across the country watched in horror as hijacked commercial jetliners slammed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field near Shanksville, Pa.

As with previous generation-defining tragedies, many can recite where they were or what they were doing when they heard our country was under attack. The carnage, heroism and sadness of that day still linger in the collective memory of America — an event that defined the beginning of a new stratum in the layers of U.S. history.

The past may be prologue to what came next in the American story, and what may come in the future; the events leading to that day can be seen as pieces of a puzzle that, when joined, form the nationwide calamity known as 9/11.

Although an untold number of Oklahomans were affected or connected in some way to the tragedy, this is a story about a few of those loose pieces and connections to history that drift like falling leaves onto the Oklahoma prairie, that fateful late-summer morning 10 years ago.

THE PLOTTERS’ VISIT
On July 2, 2000, a flight arrived from New York to Oklahoma City carrying two men who were part of the “planes operation”: Mohamed Atta (pictured), the ringleader of the terrorists and the man who piloted the jet into the World Trade Center’s north tower, and Marwan al Shehhi, the man who flew a 767 jetliner into the south tower of the World Trade Center.

Records show the two men went from OKC to Norman and stayed at Sooner Hotel & Suites, paid for by the Airman Flight School, which they visited the following day.

Both went on to attend different flight schools, but it would not be the last time a suspected terrorist visited Airman at Max Westheimer Airport.

One of the other men who carried out the plot, Nawaf al-Hazmi, drove through Washita County during his journey to his eventual destination in Virginia, where he met some other associates, according to an FBI timeline of events.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper C.L. Parkins ticketed al-Hazmi on Interstate 40 for a speeding violation and failure to wear a seat belt.

Parkins said he remembers the stop, but nothing about al-Hazmi alerted him to the fact he had a terrorist sitting next to him in the patrol car. All checks on al-Hazmi’s license came back clean, and the future hijacker of American Airlines Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon was compliant with Parkins’ requests.

“I remember stopping him, but there wasn’t nothing unusual on the stop. I just wrote him a speeding ticket and seat-belt ticket,” Parkins said. “You really don’t know who you have sitting over there. You don’t know what they’re going to do or have done.”


right 9/11 hijackers Mohammed Atta and Marwan al Shehhi stayed at the Sooner Hotel Inn & Suites in Norman, as did convicted conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui


PILOTZ123 ARRIVES

On Oct. 16, 2000, a worker with Airman Flight School in Norman sent an email to a foreigner who had shown interest in attending it, explaining issues such as job placement, details about attendance, nearby apartment rates and a little about the city.

The response email ended with thanking the man, going by the handle of Zuluman Tangotango for “thinking of us about the bombing,” an apparent reference to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

After a few more exchanges, Zuluman, emailing from pilotz123@ hotmail.com, stated on Feb. 22 that he was headed to America.

With the subject as “‘URGENT’ flying to you tomorrow,” the man wrote, “So I know that I give you short notice but it will be nice if somebody will be receiving me.”

The person then revealed his actual first name to be Zacarias.

Zacarias Moussaoui, known as the 20th hijacker in the 9/11 plot, arrived in Norman on Feb. 23, 2001, and stayed at the Residence Inn, according to trial records. Moussaoui stayed there until Feb. 26, when he began staying at the Sooner Hotel & Suites until Feb. 28, when he was able to get an apartment in Norman. Moussaoui, a French citizen, stayed in Norman and had a roommate named Hussein al-Attas. Moussaoui struggled in flight school, and after more than 50 hours of flight training for single-engine aircraft at Airman, he dropped out and went to Minnesota to go through 747 simulator training.

While in Oklahoma, Moussaoui purchased small knives from Academy Sports + Outdoors in OKC. He also signed up at the Huston Huffman Physical Fitness Center on the University of Oklahoma campus. Witnesses there reported seeing him work out on the cardio and weight machines.

right Moussaoui's temporary membership card for the Huston Huffman Physical Fitness Center.

Later, al-Attas, who met Moussaoui at the Islamic Society of Norman mosque, would testify that Moussaoui was often secretive and paranoid, according to CNN. Moussaoui, who received money wired from Germany, had purchased a 1989 Ford Tempo while in Norman, and was driven to Minnesota by al-Attas in early August of 2001.

Al-Attas told the court Moussaoui had said, “For me, I think jihad is the only way to get to paradise.”

According to the 9/11  Commission, Moussaoui  raised suspicions of his instructor in Minnesota when he told him he wasn’t interested in obtaining a pilot’s license, and the instructor reported him to the authorities. Moussaoui, who was arrested on Aug. 16 on immigration violations, was convicted of conspiring to kill Americans as part of the 9/11 attacks and is serving a life sentence.

left Moussaoui's 'Oklahoma Sooners 2000 National Champions' keychain.

Although the attack’s planner, Kalid Sheikh Mohammad, said Moussaoui, who had undergone train- ing at an al-Qaida training camp, was to be part of a second wave, the 9/11 Commission concluded he likely was going to be part of the first wave, since a second wave had not been planned. As the FBI tried to piece together the puzzle, attempts to search Moussaoui’s computer were rebuffed by higher-ups in the agency, and on Sept. 10, 2001, two agents exchanged emails about what Moussaoui may have been planning.

“God Help us all if the next terrorist incident involves the same type of plane,” one agent wrote to the lead investigator.

THE ATTACK

David Harlow Rice (pictured) was born on Dec. 22, 1969, and on Sept. 11, 2001, he died.

But it was the time between those two dates that his younger brother, Sen. Andrew Rice of Oklahoma City, said truly defined the man.

A 1988 graduate of Bishop McGuinness High School, David Rice graduated with a master’s degree from the London School of Economics before moving to Chicago and then being transferred to New York.

He worked as a bond trader on the 104th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center, and had expressed interest in retiring early and returning to Oklahoma to coach football, Andrew Rice said.

“Even though he was this big Wall Street guy, he missed his Oklahoma roots and the easier life here,” the senator said.

After seeing the images on television of the carnage and devastation, Andrew Rice said hope for his brother’s well-being began to fade.

During the memorial services that followed in Oklahoma, Chicago and New York, Rice said those attending shared stories about David.

“One of the things that was remarkable was finding out things about David that we never knew because he didn’t voluntary tell us. Ways he had done good deeds and helped people that we never knew about,” he said.

Rice said he has not been back to the New York City site of the attacks for several years, but this year he plans to go, along with his wife and two young boys who never got a chance to meet their uncle.

“It will be emotional. We’re all going to go,” Rice said. “The first anniversary, it was just an empty hole. It will be meaningful to mark this turning point. With any death people have, anniversaries are difficult. This is a larger one that has historical significance for everybody, whether you lost someone or not.”

WALTERS’ TRY WITH THE TALIBAN

In the years leading up to 9/11, the CIA, FBI and National Security agency already were interested in Osama bin Laden.

In September 1998, barely a month after the East Africa U.S. Embassy bombings were carried out by al-Qaida, a cellphone company had signed an agreement with the Taliban to set up service in Afghanistan, according to an article in this month’s Vanity Fair. Still, the company’s principals had agreed to work with U.S. intelligence to relay every call and email to NSA headquarters. However, an executive order signed by President Bill Clinton in July 1999 prohibited U.S. citizens from doing business with the Taliban and imposing trade sanctions, the Vanity Fair piece states.

To try to circumvent the ban, a secretive diplomatic back channel was set up, with the point man former Oklahoma Gov. David Walters (pictured), who knew both the majority shareholder in the cellphone company and national security advisor, Sandy Berger, the article states. In July 1999, a conference call was scheduled between Walters, the company’s owner and Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, the Taliban’s foreign minister.

Walters told Oklahoma Gazette the U.S.-imposed sanctions were devastating to the Taliban, and they wanted bin Laden gone, which was a prerequisite to removing the sanctions.

Walters said Muttawakil told him the Taliban was interested in having Muslim clerics assess the evidence against bin Laden and decide whether to have him extradited to a country governed by Shariah law, where he would likely be executed.

“They seemed to be really trying to work their own internal politics. at one point they said, ‘We have our ideological radicals just like you do,’” he said. “It was a surprisingly serious effort on their part (that) for whatever reason didn’t go forward. It’s tragic that it didn’t.”

Diplomatic and internal intelligence issues delayed the project, and by the time the system was operative, al-Qaida’s “planes operation” was already in motion.—Clifton Adcock

 
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