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The Terrorist Motel: The I-40 connection between Moussaoui and Atta
LA Weekly ^ | JULY 26 - AUGUST 1, 2002 | Jim Crogan

Posted on 07/25/2002 5:08:14 PM PDT by aculeus

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE NONDESCRIPT ROADSIDE motel outside Oklahoma City was just a fleeting encounter during the twisted cross-country odyssey of the terrorists who would carry out the September 11 attacks. Mohamed Atta, alleged leader of the plot, and two companions wanted to rent a room, but couldn't get the deal they wanted, so they left.

It was an incident of no particular importance, except for one thing. The owner of the motel remembers Atta being in the company of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called "20th hijacker," who was arrested prior to September 11 and now faces conspiracy charges in connection with the terror assaults.

If this recollection is correct, the entire incident, and its absence from the public record, raises new questions about the FBI investigation of Moussaoui and even the 1995 destruction of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Already the FBI has endured a withering political and media critique for failing to aggressively investigate Moussaoui and his contacts during his four weeks in custody prior to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Some FBI officials have responded by characterizing Moussaoui as only a minor player. But the report from the motel owner, if proven, could change that. And it also could force the FBI to reopen its investigation of Middle Eastern connections to the 1995 Oklahoma City blast, because convicted bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols reportedly stayed at the same motel, interacting with a group of Iraqis during the weeks before the bombing.

AT PRESS TIME, THE ERRATIC MOUSSAOUI, WHO IS representing himself, was attempting to plead guilty and bring his trial to a close. The 34-year-old French citizen of Moroccan descent had previously filed some 94 hand-scrawled, rambling motions attacking the government's case and its right to prosecute him.

But that circus obscures a conundrum of a different sort. The government's case, as outlined in its new six-count conspiracy indictment, is largely circumstantial, lacking any definitive link between Moussaoui and the 19 hijackers identified by federal authorities. All of which makes the apparent shelving of the Moussaoui-Atta sighting all the stranger. In fact, even though multiple sources contend that the FBI interviewed the motel owner, there's no indication that prosecutors were told. It's possible that the FBI found the motel owner's identifications wrong or his story unreliable. But it's still odd that, in interviews with the Weekly, Justice Department prosecutors seemed to know nothing about the motel encounter, especially because agents reportedly told the motel owner they would pass the information on to Moussaoui's defense team.

The motel co-owner, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the incident occurred around August 1, 2001, just six weeks before 9/11.

"They came in around 10 or 11 a.m. and started talking to my desk clerk," he said. Even though he was working about 10 feet away from the trio, the owner didn't really pay any attention at first. "They were asking my clerk, who no longer works here, about a weekly rate for our rooms." (The former clerk could not be reached for comment.)

The motel, explained the owner, sets aside some rooms with small kitchenettes to rent on a weekly basis. "But they were all taken." He said the clerk explained the situation, but the visitors were persistent. "Finally, my clerk asked me to talk to them."

The motel owner said that Moussaoui and a man who appeared to be Marwan al-Shehhi -- who helped crash a jetliner into the south tower of the World Trade Center -- were friendly and said a few things, but Atta was clearly the leader. "He did most of the talking and seemed very serious," said the owner, adding, "I was standing face to face, about two feet away from Atta, and talked to the three of them for about 10 minutes. Atta asked if he could rent one of the other rooms at a weekly rate, and I told him no.

"I asked him what they were doing here in the area. And Atta told me they were going to flight school. I thought he meant [Federal Aviation Administration] training in Oklahoma City. But Atta told me no, they were taking flight training in Norman.

"I said I didn't understand why they wanted to rent one of my rooms, since we were about 28 miles from Norman and there are a lot of reasonably priced motels a lot closer. But he said they had heard good things about my place and wanted to stay there. I told them I was sorry, but we couldn't accommodate them. Atta finally said okay. Then they all thanked me for my time and left."

After the attacks, said the motel owner, he recognized his visitors in photos from television reports. "I was really stunned," he said. Then he decided to call the FBI hot line. The motel owner said he didn't hear right back from the FBI. In the interim, he also spoke to a former law-enforcement officer who was investigating reported sightings of Mujahid Abdulquaadir Menepta at the same motel during the mid-1990s. Menepta, reportedly a friend of Moussaoui's, was arrested 30 years ago in Colorado for aggravated robbery and served more than three years in prison.

After September 11, Menepta publicly defended Moussaoui, calling him a "scapegoat." The FBI arrested him as a material witness and subsequently charged Menepta with a federal gun violation. He pleaded guilty and in April 2002 was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison. He was never charged with any terrorism-related crime. But during the preliminary hearing on the gun charge, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Agent Jeffrey Whitney testified that a confidential source placed Menepta at a meeting of a radical Islamic group in St. Louis where he allegedly threatened to shoot any police officer who entered the mosque. Menepta's attorney challenged the credibility of this report in court.

A former desk clerk at the motel -- a different clerk from the one who purportedly dealt with Atta and Moussaoui -- told the Weekly that he remembered Menepta because in 1994 and 1995 -- prior to the Oklahoma City attack -- Menepta frequently visited the motel office. There, he bought coffee and talked for hours to this clerk.

The clerk and his wife, who both formerly worked at the motel, said they picked Menepta's picture out of a photo lineup prepared by a law-enforcement officer who had interviewed the motel owner.

This officer, who also spoke to the Weekly on condition of anonymity, said that after the motel owner told him about the Moussaoui sighting, he contacted a member of Oklahoma's Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes the FBI.

The FBI finally acted on the tip. The motel owner said that on December 19, 2001, he went to FBI offices in

Oklahoma City for a formal interview, where he was debriefed by an FBI agent and by Oklahoma City Police Sergeant Jerry Flowers. "We talked for several hours, and I told them everything I knew." The motel owner said he would have taken a polygraph exam but was not asked to do so. The Weekly's law-enforcement source corroborates the December 19 interview.

The motel owner never heard from prosecutors in Moussaoui's case but got one more call from the FBI several weeks later. "The agent told me they had passed on a copy of my statement to Moussaoui's defense team, and I might be getting a call from them. But I was under no obligation to talk to them. However, I don't know if that was the truth. Since then, I have never heard from anyone connected to Moussaoui's case."

ONE REASON FOR THE FBI'S APPARent lack of interest might be this motel's alleged connection to Timothy McVeigh and a group of Iraqis who worked in Oklahoma City. According to the motel owner and other witnesses and investigators interviewed by the Weekly, McVeigh and several of these Iraqis were motel guests in the months preceding the 1995 bombing. Witnesses also claimed they saw several of the Iraqis moving barrels of material around on the bed of a truck. The motel owner said the material smelled of diesel fuel and he had to clean up a spill. Diesel fuel was a key component of the truck bomb that blew up the Federal Building.

The motel owner said he and his staff reported this information to the FBI in 1995. "We did have an ATF agent come out and collect the originals of the room registrations for that period, but we never heard back from them. And I never could get the registrations returned." He added that his previous experience with the FBI made him reluctant to contact them about Moussaoui. "But I decided it was my duty to tell them what had happened. So I did."

Former Oklahoma City TV reporter Jayna Davis also interviewed motel staff and former guests. In the process, she collected signed affidavits about their contacts with McVeigh and the Iraqis. She tried twice to give the Bureau this information, but the FBI refused to accept her materials. (The Weekly first reported on her investigation in an article published in September 2001.)

The Weekly's law-enforcement source said he has reviewed Davis' material and considers it credible. "Last December I personally took the documents to the Joint Terrorism Task Force," he said. "I told them they should do their own investigation." The response was not encouraging. He said he was later informed that the Bureau brought in an analyst, "but I was told it would probably go nowhere. They were afraid the whole Oklahoma City bombing can of worms would be opened up and the FBI would have to explain why they didn't investigate this material before."

The Weekly contacted numerous local and federal investigators and agencies, including the Oklahoma task force, the U.S. Attorney's Office, the FBI and the Justice Department. All declined to comment. Prosecutors on the Moussaoui case also declined official comment, but their reactions suggested they knew nothing of the motel encounter.

After being told about the motel owner's interview and allegations, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Spencer responded with a one-word question about the sighting: "When?" Spencer then declined further comment. Another Moussaoui prosecutor, David Novak, also declined comment. But Novak wanted to know the name of the motel owner.

Other substantial connections already tie the Sooner state to Moussaoui and, separately, several 9/11 hijackers.

According to the Moussaoui indictment, on September 29, 2000, Moussaoui made e-mail contact with Airman Flight School in Norman. Then, on February 23, 2001, he flew from London to Chicago and then to Oklahoma City. What he did in the next few days is unknown or at least not accounted for in the indictment. But on February 26, Moussaoui opened a bank account in Norman, depositing $32,000. From February 26 to May 29, he attended flight school in Norman. Then he suddenly quit the school. Between July 29 and August 4, Moussaoui made calls from public pay phones in Norman to Germany. On August 1 and 3, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh wired Moussaoui a total of about $14,000 from two train stops in Germany to somewhere in Oklahoma. This wire transfer does imply a connection to terrorist plotters because al-Shibh, an alleged al Qaeda member, wired money to other hijackers. On August 3, Moussaoui purchased two knives in Oklahoma City. And on August 10 or 11, an acquaintance drove Moussaoui from Oklahoma to Minnesota for enrollment in a new flight school. Authorities arrested Moussaoui in Minnesota on August 17 on an immigration violation. As has been widely reported, Moussaoui attracted attention because he said he was interested in flying a plane but not learning how to take off or land. He was in federal custody when the 9/11 attacks occurred.

As for the terrorists who took part in 9/11, Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi visited the Airman Flight School in Norman in July 2000, according to the Moussaoui indictment. (The motel owner identifies al-Shehhi as the third person with Atta and Moussaoui when they allegedly inquired about a room.) And on April 1, 2001, Nawaf al-Hazmi, who helped hijack American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon, was stopped for speeding in Oklahoma and given two tickets. The Oklahoma state trooper found no outstanding warrants and turned al-Hazmi loose. The media has since reported that the CIA had been tracking al-Hazmi, but never told the immigration service or the FBI that he was a suspected terrorist during his 21-month U.S. stay. Authorities have never publicly accounted for Atta and al-Shehhi's whereabouts during the time of the alleged motel encounter.

The Moussaoui indictment lays out a tantalizing possible association between Atta and Moussaoui, but never puts the two in the same place at the same time. The link could exist, however, along a dusty Oklahoma roadside, off Interstate 40, at a small motel that is indistinguishable from hundreds of others, except for its possible connection to terrorists.

TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Front Page News; Government; US: Missouri; US: Oklahoma
KEYWORDS: alhazmi; alhussaini; atta; fredthompson; menepta; moussaoui; okc; okcbombing
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To: honway


Employees and guests at a motel near downtown Oklahoma City reported seeing McVeigh with several Middle Eastern men in the months before the bombing. One of those men was identified from KFOR's surveillance photos of Samara Properties as possibly being Al-Hussaini. The others were identified as fellow employees of Al-Hussaini.

McVeigh reportedly stayed at the motel, under the name of Bob Kling, an alias he had used before, according to the FBI. The witnesses said they had often seen several of the men moving large barrels around in the back of an old white truck that frequently broke down on the lot. The barrels smelled of diesel, they said, an ingredient in the bomb that destroyed the federal building. According to an FBI report, an Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent confiscated the motel's registration records and logs.

51 posted on 07/26/2002 6:58:16 PM PDT by honway
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To: honway
Larry Johnson, the former deputy director of the State Department's office on counterterrorism, told Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly Tuesday that the paths of 9-11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Al-Shehhi and Zacarias Moussaoui crossed on more than one occasion with that of John Doe No. 2, the name given to the man witnesses say helped Timothy McVeigh carry out the Oklahoma City bombing.

Johnson, along with a growing contingent of independent probers, believes that John Doe No. 2 is actually Hussain Hashim Alhussaini, a former member of Iraq's elite Republican Guard.

"The thing that really concerns me relative to 9-11 [is that] when he left Oklahoma around 1996 and 1997, he went to work at Logan Airport in Boston," Johnson told O'Reilly. "We don't know where he is now."

As bizarre as the Logan Airport tie-in may seem, the coincidences don't end there, according to Johnson. "The motel in Oklahoma City where the April [1995] bombing was planned and executed - that same motel figures in [the travel of] two of the 9-11 hijackers and Zacarias Moussaoui," he told O'Reilly.

The al-Qaeda trio stayed at the 1995 bombers' motel just five weeks before the 9-11 attacks, Johnson said. "I've spoken to the owner of the motel," the anti-terror prober said. "After the 9-11 attacks he called the FBI, the FBI came out and interviewed him - and he identified Mohamed Atta, Marwan Al-Shehhi and Zacarias Moussauoi." Atta, Al-Shehhi and Moussauoi said they were planning on enrolling in a local flight school, the motel owner told the one-time State Department prober.

52 posted on 07/26/2002 7:28:02 PM PDT by honway
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To: thinden
Mansoor Ijaz, now a New York City-based investment banker who traveled to Sudan more than a half dozen times in the mid-1990s, says he repeatedly relayed offers from the Sudanese government to the Clinton White House to share intelligence on bin Laden. In one case, the president of Sudan offered to arrest and extradite bin Laden and turn over information about global terrorist networks, Ijaz says.

The Clinton administration declined to take him up on the offer, Ijaz has argued in a Los Angeles Times commentary, in the pages of the January issue of the magazine Vanity Fair, and on national television shows.


I know this is unrelated to this thread but I ran across this old story and a light bulb came on. In 1997, the President of Sudan offers to arrest bin Laden and hand him over. Clinton refuses. In August of 1998, Clinton shows his appreciation by ordering U.S. service men and women to attack Sudan with cruise missiles, killing innocent civilians.

53 posted on 07/26/2002 8:13:49 PM PDT by honway
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To: honway; aristeides; rdavis84; thinden; Nita Nupress
Tulsa World
April 30, 2002 Tuesday
Lawmakers skirt report on McVeigh
World Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- Members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation kept their distance Monday from a report that a House committee chairman is looking into allegations that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh had ties to Islamic terrorists.
Most declined to comment, and those who did indicated House Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., should let the proper agencies take the lead.

On allegations like this, with thousands of false leads outnumbering the good leads, it's best to check with the original investigators before Congress starts anything on our own," U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., said. Burton's office did not return repeated phone calls.

According to U.S. News and World Report, Burton is looking into allegations that McVeigh, a veteran of the Persian Gulf war, met with Iraqi agents in an Oklahoma City motel prior to the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The bombing killed 168 people, the deadliest act of terrorism in the United States until the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the East Coast.

After the meeting, according to the unsubstantiated reports" cited by the magazine, two of the Sept. 11 hijackers used the same motel to meet with Zacarias Moussaoui.

Dubbed the 20th suspected hijacker, Moussaoui lived in Norman while he attended a flight school. He left that school abruptly and was arrested in Minnesota about a month before the hijackings. A man who became his friend has been sentenced to 15 months on an unrelated weapons charge.

Burton, according to the magazine's sources, has dispatched investigators to Oklahoma City and has assigned three members of his panel's staff to work on the matter.

Little else is known about the claims; Burton has not shared his concerns with his colleagues from Oklahoma.

A source told the Tulsa World the FBI field office in Oklahoma City received an urgent" request to make available any documents concerning allegations that McVeigh had connections to foreign actors. That request, the source said, was for a congressional committee.

The federal government has maintained for years that there was no foreign involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Other members of Congress sound satisfied with that explanation.

You would think that in the course of the exhaustive federal investigation into the Oklahoma City bombing that this meeting would have come to light," said Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., whose congressional district included the Murrah building, the target of McVeigh's truck bomb.

An aide for Rep. Wes Watkins, R-Okla., said the congressman is not aware of specific information Burton may have about a possible connection between McVeigh and Islamic terrorists.

If credible evidence exists, the aide said, Watkins believes an investigation should move forward.
Burton's investigation does not represent the first time foreign involvement has been alleged in the Oklahoma City bombing. McVeigh's former attorney, Stephen Jones, claimed in his book that the bombing was the work of more than McVeigh and his co-conspirator Terry Nichols.

Jones said Nichols, who was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the bombing, met with the Iraqi intelligence operatives who were responsible for the first World Trade Center bombing.

Both Nichols' attorney and the federal prosecutor have dismissed Jones' claim.
54 posted on 07/28/2002 12:53:19 AM PDT by Wallaby
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To: Wallaby
Great find. Michael Isikof is getting in on the shilling action now...

The Case Against Moussaoui: Internal Doubts
Newsweek/MSNBC | 7/28/02 | Michael Isikoff

55 posted on 07/28/2002 12:46:47 PM PDT by Nita Nupress
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To: All
Fox News is about to start talking about this article in a few minutes, for anyone interested.
56 posted on 07/29/2002 5:51:43 AM PDT by Nita Nupress
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To: Nita Nupress
Look at today's internet issue of WorldNet Daily - they have loads of articles on OKC bombing -- this mess is finally seeing the light of day.
57 posted on 07/29/2002 5:59:33 AM PDT by Elkiejg
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To: Elkiejg

As for the Fox News coverage, Steve Doocy must have misunderstood. When they came back from the break, someone from Court TV was there to talk about Moussaoui's blundering legal defense.
58 posted on 07/29/2002 6:51:05 AM PDT by Nita Nupress
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To: aculeus
Bump! Just stumbled across this.
59 posted on 07/29/2002 9:40:49 AM PDT by dead
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To: dead
Thanks for the bump.

I suspect more than a few journos lurk at FR. Digging out these stories helps to get the attention they deserve.
60 posted on 07/29/2002 9:59:18 AM PDT by aculeus
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To: aculeus
Maybe, with enough open coverage, the truth will finally come out about OKC. I remember telling someone late in 1995 that I had read interesting investigative reports in The New American and a couple of other places that pointed to a Mid East connection to OKC, and I was laughed at. Easy for Bubba the Snowball to blame the "right-wing conspiracy" and the "militia". Maybe finally the lid will come off and the truth of a Mid East connection will be proven.
61 posted on 07/29/2002 12:07:33 PM PDT by SEA
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To: aculeus
OKC has to be a serious contender for the most botched and/or covered up investigation in US history. There were so many things that were just swept under the rug or carelessly dismissed by both the media and the public. If you can find it on the net, try to find videos of the local TV coverage in OKC during the morning of the attack. There were several reports that rescue efforts were being delayed because several other un-exploded bombs were found in the wreckage and that the bomb squads were defusing them. The next day, any and all mention of those devices vanished from the reports. This is important because if there were other bombs planted in the building, then the plot would almost have to involve more people than just McVeigh and Nichols. There were also more than one security camera that reportedly got pictures of McVeigh and John Doe#2 running from the building both before and after the blast. These tapes seem to have vanished much like the tapes from the traffic cameras that caught the airliner that crashed into Long Island just after take-off.

Let's see how long it takes before this latest rash of reports linking OKC and WTC (both attacks in 1993 and 2001) to get spiked by the media. My guess is that after tomorrow, nary a word will be mentioned of it on any of the networks.
62 posted on 07/29/2002 12:18:03 PM PDT by Orangedog
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To: aculeus
We need to keep drumming up Padilla (John Doe #2). I tried but unsuccessfully tried to e-mail this to Geraldo's new show on Fox on the weekend, since he is suppose to be on the prowl for terrorist. If someone can, e-mail the info regarding Padilla to Geraldo.
63 posted on 07/29/2002 9:46:19 PM PDT by TexKat
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To: *OKCbombing
64 posted on 08/01/2002 2:15:21 PM PDT by honway
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To: billhilly
Here's an article you might want to read in the Wall Street Journal
65 posted on 08/02/2002 6:18:07 AM PDT by TigersEye
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To: belmont_mark; lavaroise; bat-boy; EditorTFP; Noswad; swarthyguy; JanL
66 posted on 08/28/2002 10:58:57 PM PDT by GOP_1900AD
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To: OKCSubmariner
The OKC 95 - Iraq - Pak ISI - 9/11 connection finally made it to the mainstream media yesterday... persistence pays!
67 posted on 09/06/2002 7:37:28 PM PDT by GOP_1900AD
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To: aculeus


68 posted on 02/15/2006 6:25:16 AM PST by Just mythoughts
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To: Just mythoughts

Thanks for the timely bump.

69 posted on 02/15/2006 6:37:53 AM PST by aculeus
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To: aculeus


70 posted on 02/15/2006 6:41:34 AM PST by small voice in the wilderness (Democrats: Striving daily to wrong the rights that have been done.)
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To: aculeus
Old news...

Nothing here...

Just move along....

71 posted on 02/15/2006 6:54:44 AM PST by Gritty (We might as well fight in the first ditch as the last! - John O'Sullivan)
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To: Gritty


72 posted on 02/15/2006 7:12:34 AM PST by aculeus
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To: aculeus

Bump to read later

73 posted on 02/15/2006 7:16:41 AM PST by Darnright (Remember that a lone amateur built the Ark. A large group of professionals built the Titanic.)
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To: TheOtherOne


74 posted on 02/15/2006 9:34:45 AM PST by aculeus
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To: aculeus

You are welcome, as there are many who are following this story.

75 posted on 02/15/2006 10:34:01 AM PST by Just mythoughts
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