Marwan al Shehhi

Marwan al Shehhi was the hijacker-pilot of United Airlines Flight 175, flown into the World Trade Center’s south tower as the second of the four 9/11 plane hijackings.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 4; 435, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf. After committing to carrying out a suicide operation, Shehhi underwent flight training in the United States in order to prepare for the attack.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 227, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf. He also helped Mohammed Atta, the operational leader of al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks, coordinate logistics and living arrangements for the other hijackers in the United States.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 528, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf.

The 9/11 Commission Report summarizes Shehhi’s upbringing and some details regarding his path to radicalization. According to the report, Shehhi was born in Ras al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates, where Shehhi’s father was a prayer leader at the local mosque. After completing high school in 1995, Shehhi joined the Emirati military, obtaining a military scholarship that would fund his study in Germany. He entered Germany in April of 1996, first enrolling at a technical, mathematic, and scientific course of study at the University of Bonn, but was reportedly not a very serious student and relocated to Hamburg in early 1998 to complete his studies at the Hamburg-Harburg Technical University there. During this time, Shehhi was reportedly very religiously observant, praying five times a day. However, acquaintances note that he also wore Western clothes and appeared to be a “regular guy.”National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 162, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf;
National Security Archive, “The Plot and the Plotters,” Central Intelligence Agency Intelligence Report, June 1, 2003, 6-7, https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/368989/2003-06-01-11-september-the-plot-and-the.pdf.

While in Germany, Shehhi linked up with a group of Islamists who would later comprise the Hamburg contingent of the 9/11 plot, although the exact details of how they met remain unclear.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 162, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf. The group included hijacker-pilots Mohamed Atta (American Airlines Flight 11) and Ziad Jarrah (United Airlines Flight 93), as well as German-based Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who would later serve as the go-between for Atta and al-Qaeda’s headquarters in Afghanistan. Also belonging to the plotters’ social circle in Hamburg were fellow extremists Said Bahaji, Zakaria Essabar, Mounir el Motassadeq, and Abdelghani Mzoudi, some of whom were later found to have helped the cell as they planned and coordinated the attacks.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 164-165, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf.

Shehhi lived in an apartment with Atta and bin al-Shibh beginning in April 1998, but was required by his scholarship program to transfer back to the university in Bonn for a short time. He returned to the Technical University in Hamburg by July 1999, however, and moved into an apartment at 54 Marienstrasse with Atta and bin al-Shibh.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 162, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf. In their shared apartment, the group hosted discussions with the rest of their extremist social circle three to four times per week, sharing opinions later characterized by the 9/11 Commission as “extremely anti-American.”National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 164, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf. At this time, the group became increasingly secretive,National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 165, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf. and according to friends, Shehhi began to live frugally and make clear his Islamic fundamentalist beliefs.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 162, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf;
“The Plot and the Plotters,” National Security Archive, June 1, 2003, 6-7, https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/368989/2003-06-01-11-september-the-plot-and-the.pdf.

In 1999, four members of the Hamburg group—Shehhi, Atta, bin al-Shibh, and Jarrah—became committed to participating in violent jihad. The four decided to leave Germany to fight in Chechnya against the Russians, but were encouraged to travel to Afghanistan after a chance encounter with fellow extremist Khalid al Masri.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 165, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf. According to bin al-Shibh, Masri connected the cell to an al-Qaeda contact in Duisburg, Germany—Mohamedou Ould Slahi—who recommended that the group travel to Afghanistan for training before traveling to Chechnya. Upon agreeing to Slahi’s suggestion, the group was instructed to obtain Pakistani visas and travel through Karachi to the Taliban’s office in Quetta.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 165-166, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf.

Shehhi, Atta, bin al-Shibh, and Jarrah left Germany for Afghanistan in November 1999. When the group arrived at the Taliban office in Quetta, they were shuttled to Kandahar and introduced to then-al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. According to findings from the 9/11 Commission, after meeting privately with bin Laden, each of the four swore an oath of loyalty to bin Laden and volunteered to participate in a martyrdom mission. The group then met with al-Qaeda military commander Mohammed Atef, who told them that they had been assigned to a highly secretive mission. As the first part of the assignment, Atef instructed the group to return to Germany and enroll in flight training school. They were told that they would eventually be joined in their operation by fellow al-Qaeda operative Nawaf al Hazmi, who would help hijack Flight 77 and serve as Atta’s second-in-command.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 166; 242, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf.

In early 2000, Shehhi returned to the United Arab Emirates, where he obtained a new passport on January 2, claiming that his old one had been lost, and a U.S. visa on January 18.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 167-8, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf;
“9/11 Chronology Part 01 of 02,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, accessed July 7, 2017, 51, https://vault.fbi.gov/9-11%20Commission%20Report/9-11-chronology-part-01-of-02/.
Before he left Afghanistan, Shehhi met with with 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who had first conceived of the plot—approved bin Laden in late 1998 or early 1999—to weaponize airplanes and crash them into buildings in the United States.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 149; 167, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf. KSM gave instructions on how to evade government detection as well as more basic instructions on how live in the United States. While in the United Arab Emirates in January, Shehhi also celebrated his wedding, having officially gotten married the previous year. Shehhi also traveled to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, returning to Germany in March of 2000. At this time, the hijackers made an effort to appear more assimilated in terms of their dress and behavior. According to the 9/11 Commission, a friend noted that Shehhi had shaved his beard and was “acting like his old self again.”National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 167, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf.

The four al-Qaeda members began researching flight schools in Europe but ultimately decided to receive flight training in the United States, where flight schools were less expensive and required fewer training hours.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 167-168, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf. The other members of the group also received new passports and visas, although bin al-Shibh’s visa request was denied, and he was unable to travel to the United States with the other three.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 168, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf.

Shehhi was the first of the group to enter the United States, flying from Brussels to Newark on May 29, 2000, and waited in New York City for Atta to join him. They searched for a flight school to attend, at one point traveling to Oklahoma to tour a flight school there, but finally decided to enroll at Huffman Aviation in Venice, Florida. In mid-September, after attending flight school for several weeks, Shehhi and Atta to change their immigration statuses from tourist to student, saying that they planned to continue studying at Huffman until September 1, 2001. In late September of 2000, the two briefly enrolled at the Jones Aviation center in Sarasota, but returned to Huffman after failing their exams in October. They each earned certificates from the Federal Aviation Administration that November and received their licenses in December.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 227, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf.

On January 20, 2001, Shehhi called his family and told them he was still studying in Hamburg. Not having heard from him in a while, his family had reported him missing to the United Arab Emirates government, and an Emirates representative, in coordination with German police, was searching for him in Hamburg. After Shehhi’s call, the search for him was called off.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 227, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf.


In January of 2001, Shehhi also took a trip to Morocco.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 227, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf. After returning to the United States, Shehhi traveled with Atta to Georgia and Virginia.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 229, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf. The 9/11 Commission could not determine the purpose of these travels.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 229-30, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf. On April 18, Shehhi also took a trip to Egypt.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 230, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf. In Cairo, Shehhi met with Atta’s father, who later reported that Shehhi had traveled there to retrieve Atta’s international drivers’ license and some money. However, as records show that Atta already had his license with him and Shehhi spent two full weeks in Egypt, the 9/11 Commission concludes that this story is not credible.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 231, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf.

On April 11, before his trip to Egypt, Shehhi and Atta moved into an apartment in Coral Springs, Florida, where they would await the arrival of the “muscle hijackers,” who would help al-Qaeda’s pilots—Atta, Jarrah, Shehhi, and Saudi-born Hani Hanjour—take over the 9/11 planes.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 230, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf. In the months that ensued, these hijackers began arriving in the United States, with most living near Shehhi and Atta in Florida.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 241, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf. While in Florida, Shehhi opened a joint bank account with Atta,National Security Archive, “The Plot and the Plotters,” Central Intelligence Agency Intelligence Report, June 1, 2003, 39, https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/368989/2003-06-01-11-september-the-plot-and-the.pdf. obtained a Florida state driver’s licenseNational Security Archive, “The Plot and the Plotters,” Central Intelligence Agency Intelligence Report, June 1, 2003, 39, https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/368989/2003-06-01-11-september-the-plot-and-the.pdf. and even joined a gym.“9/11 Chronology Part 02 of 02,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, accessed July 7, 2017, 150, https://vault.fbi.gov/9-11%20Commission%20Report/9-11-chronology-part-02-of-02/. Shehhi helped Atta to manage the logistics and finances of the hijackers.National Security Archive, “The Plot and the Plotters,” Central Intelligence Agency Intelligence Report, June 1, 2003, 39, https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/368989/2003-06-01-11-september-the-plot-and-the.pdf. He helped some hijackers to find apartments,National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 528, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf. and even contributed part of the salary he received through the end of 2000 from the Emirates military to finance the plot.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 497, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf. The hijackers did reconnaissance flights in the early summer of 2001, traveling in first class to case their aircraft-types and determine the feasibility of bringing and using box cutters to hijack the plane. In late May, Shehhi flew from New York to Las Vegas via San Francisco on a Boeing 767.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 242, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf.

On August 28, 2001, Shehhi purchased his ticket for United Airlines Flight 175, bound from Boston to San Francisco, in person at the ticket counter at Miami International Airport.“9/11 Chronology Part 02 of 02,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, accessed July 7, 2017, 240, https://vault.fbi.gov/9-11%20Commission%20Report/9-11-chronology-part-02-of-02/. On September 9, Shehhi flew from Ft. Lauderdale to Boston,“9/11 Chronology Part 02 of 02,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, accessed July 7, 2017, 273, https://vault.fbi.gov/9-11%20Commission%20Report/9-11-chronology-part-02-of-02/. renting a room at a hotel in Boston,“9/11 Chronology Part 02 of 02,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, accessed July 7, 2017, 275, https://vault.fbi.gov/9-11%20Commission%20Report/9-11-chronology-part-02-of-02/. where he would stay until the morning of September 11, 2001.

On the morning of September 11, Marwan al Shehhi checked in at Boston Logan International Airport for United Airlines Flight 175, scheduled to depart at 8:00 a.m., with his team of four muscle hijackers: Fayez Banihammad, Mohand al Shehri, Ahmed al Ghamdi, and Hamza al Ghamdi. Some of the hijackers could not understand the standard security questions asked by the ticket agent and had to go over them slowly until they were able to give what the 9/11 Commission called the “routine, reassuring answers.” They ultimately passed through airport security and are believed to have boarded the flight sometime between 7:23 and 7:28 a.m. without issue. Marwan al Shehhi sat in seat 6C.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 2, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf. United Airlines Flight 175, bound for San Francisco, departed from the ground at 8:14 a.m., just as the hijackers began their assault on American Airlines Flight 11.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 4, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf.

The plane hijacking on United Airlines Flight 175 began sometime between 8:42 and 8:46 a.m. According to reports from passengers and flight attendants who made calls before the plane crashed, the hijackers used pepper spray, knives, and the threat of a bomb to carry out the hijacking. They killed the plane’s two pilots, stabbed members of the flight crew, and forced the passengers to move to the back of the plane so that Shehhi could enter the cockpit and take control of the aircraft.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 7, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf. At 9:03 a.m., Shehhi crashed United Airlines Flight 175 into the south tower of the World Trade Center, instantly killing everyone on board and an unknown number of people in the tower.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 8, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf. The 9/11 attacks—including attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the thwarted attack headed for the White House or Capitol—left nearly 3,000 people dead in the single deadliest attack in U.S. history.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Thomas H. Kean, and Lee Hamilton. 2004. The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. (Washington, D.C.): 7, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf.

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