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Top 911 suspect was granted visa { January 27 2004 }

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Top 9/11 suspect 'was granted US visa'
By Demetri Sevastopulo and Edward Alden in Washington
Published: January 27 2004 1:01 | Last Updated: January 27 2004 1:01

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged mastermind behind the September 11 plot, was granted a visa to enter the US just six weeks before the terrorist attacks in Washington and New York, according to new revelations from the federal commission studying the attacks.

Mr Mohammed, who had previously been indicted in the US for his alleged role in an earlier terrorist plot, was granted a visa through a US consulate in Saudi Arabia after applying under a false Saudi passport using the alias Abdulrahman al Ghamdi, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States said on Monday.

Mr Mohammed, who was captured in Pakistan last April, did not appear to have used the visa to enter the US, the commission said.

The revelations will raise new questions about lapses in US border controls that may have contributed to the September 11 attacks. While the US has taken numerous steps to tighten its scrutiny of travellers, the administration is still facing criticism from Democrats that border security remains too lax.

In its most pointed conclusions to date, the commission, headed by Thomas Kean, a former New Jersey governor, said its investigation had revealed that many of the hijackers had violated US immigration laws, lied on visa applications and showed other suspicious behaviours that could have been detected.

Three of the 19 hijackers, for instance, made false statements in their visa applications that could have been detected, according to the commission, which is preparing to submit a final report to President George W. Bush and Congress in late May.

Two of four hijackers' passports recovered from the crashes had been doctored in a way that hinted at their association with al-Qaeda. Two others had "suspicious indicators" on their passports.

"These circumstances offered opportunities to intelligence and law enforcement officials," said the commission, "but our government did not fully exploit al-Qaeda's travel vulnerabilities."

The conclusions may re-open the question of whether intelligence and law enforcement officials could have done more to stop the plot, in spite of previous claims that most of the hijackers had no record of association with terrorists and thus were unlikely to be identified.

"The director of Central Intelligence described 17 of the 19 hijackers as 'clean'. We believe the information we have provided today gives the commission the opportunity to re-evaluate those statements," the commission's staff said.

At a hearing on Capitol Hill on Monday, the commission also heard testimony from Josť Melendez-Perez, an immigration official who refused US entry to Mohamed al-Kahtani, an al-Qaeda operative that the commission suspects was supposed to be the 20th hijacker.

Mr al-Kahtani, a Saudi, was refused entry at Orlando airport on August 4 2001, at the exact time that Mohammed Atta, the plot's ringleader, is known to have been at that airport.

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