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DIGGING DEEPER: Examining Tucson’s ties to 9/11 terrorists

TUCSON – It has now been 18 years since the September 11 terror attacks, and many people might not realize the Tucson connections to that fateful day.

As the city and the world were coming to grips with the tragedy, we soon began to uncover how deep the terrorist’s ties were to our community.

Many of those connections were spelled out in the 9/11 Commission Report detailing the facts and circumstances surrounding the attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives.

Hani Hanjour is the hijacker who flew one of the planes that killed all 64 passengers and then an additional 125 people.

He attended the University of Arizona in 1991.

Now-retired Tucson Police Detective Benjamin Jimenez interviewed Hanjour as a possible lead.

“There was a murder that occurred in 1990 in Tucson at one of the local Mosques in town by the university where Iman Rashad Kalifa was murdered,” Jimenez said.

On September 11, 2001, the FBI interviewed Jimenez and Detective Karen Wright, who had worked the Kahlifa murder 11 years prior.

“We found out that it was Hanjour who flew the plane in the Pentagon. Bells kind of rang, oh yes we did speak to him. He was young. He was 18 maybe back in 1990, and said he was a student,” Jimenez said.

They were in disbelief.

“We were all shocked in a lot of ways that this happened and that we had a suspect that was actually was here in town,” Jimenez told News 4 Tucson.

Hanjour also lived in Mesa, and took flight training in Scottsdale.

He was killed in the attack.

According to the 9/11 Commission Report, Hanjour wasn’t the only Tucson tie to the 9/11 attacks.

Mubarak Al Duri was a native of Iraq. He lived in Tucson in the late 1980s.

According to investigators, he obtained weapons of mass destruction for Osama Bin Laden.

He is now reported to be in hiding in the Middle East.

Mohammad Bayazid was born in Syria. He lived in Tucson and studied at the U of A in 1982.

According to federal investigators, he was an arms dealer and co-founder, and trainer for Al-Qaida.

The FBI interviewed him following the attacks, but he was never charged.

Wadi El-Hage was believed to be Osama Bin Laden’s top aide and personal assistant.

Investigators said evidence showed he helped a man who was conducting surveillance on Rashad Khalifa, the case Jimenez and Wright worked on.

Khalifa was assassinated in Tucson in 1990 at a Mosque near the University of Arizona campus.

El-Hage worked for the City of Tucson Parks and Recreation Department for six months in 1988.

In 1993, he reportedly bought a T-39 aircraft from a businessman who purchased a fleet of them from the boneyard at Davis-Monthan.

Investigators say El-Hage retrofitted that plane in a Tucson hangar, flew it to Sudan, and handed the keys to Osama Bin Laden.

“It would seem very unusual that Osama Bin Laden had ties to Tucson through somebody that worked here,” Jimenez said.

In 1998, El Hage was convicted in the bombings of American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

He is now back in Arizona serving a life prison sentence in Florence.

Eighteen years after the 9/11 attacks the question remains: are we really safer?

“I believe in a lot of ways we are but I believe in a lot of ways we don’t know.  And there are things the government can’t reveal to us when it comes to terrorism they have to do their job.” Jimenez said.

Paul Birmingham

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