Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Amerithrax 2001

Hijacker Connection?

The FBI has been criticized in this investigation for making exclusionary decisions too early in the investigation. At some point, not long after the attacks, the FBI decided that the anthrax attacks were the work of a domestic terrorist and not a foreigner connected with Osama bin Laden.   Apparently, the FBI put blinders on with regard to Islamic terrorists because they did they did not fit the FBI profile that indicated the anthrax terrorist was domestic. Consequently, any evidence or issues raised that were inconsistent with domestic terrorists were either ignored or aggressively discredited. 

The first issue is very obvious: the FBI has had quite a long time and very significant resources available, but the case is still unsolved. To have a high-profile case remain unsolved for this period of time suggests a very carefully planned operation, not one that was opportunistically thrown together to ride on the coattails of the Muslim extremists.

Mohammed Atta
Mohammed Atta
There were some interesting things going on in Florida that have never been satisfactorily answered: It is documented that Mohammed Atta and other hijackers were investigating crop dusting aircraft.  If al Qaeda did not have any biochemical weapons available to disperse, why were Atta and his Middle Eastern colleagues seriously looking into crop dusters? These hijackers were operations guys and would not have wasted their time on crop dusters unless terrorists had something to "dust."

There was a connection between the wife of a person who worked for American Media Inc. and the hijackers. The wife was a real estate agent and found an apartment for the Floridahijackers. While it was almost certainly an innocent commercial transaction, it made the hijackers aware of this company, whose employees were some of the first targeted by the anthrax letters. The proximity of AMI is too much of a coincidence to ignore.

Perhaps the most interesting evidence that was swept under the rug was the black lesion on the leg of hijacker Ahmed Al Haznawi. In January, 2002, an FBI agent informally requested that two biodefense experts at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore assist him. The Washington Post reported that the Hopkins experts, Tara O'Toole and Thomas V. Inglesby give their opinion on the findings of Florida emergency room physician, Christos Tsonas.

Shortly after Al Haznawi's entrance into the U.S., he went to Dr. Tsonas to be treated for a one-inch black lesion on his leg. After the 9/11 and anthrax attacks, Tsonas recognized Haznawi and believed that the lesions were caused by cutaneous anthrax. Biodefense experts O'Toole and Inglesby agreed. The FBI found an expert to publicly rebut the diagnosis and put the episode on the shelf. O'Toole did what she could to educate the agents "that almost nothing causes a black lesion in an otherwise healthy young man. Apparently they didn't know that and that's upsetting."

Newsweek reported another interesting incident in 2002:

    "Last week the White House was calling the FBI every two hours one night after a report that the two skyjackers had asked a Delray Beach pharmacist for an antibiotic to fight anthrax.   Rather than antibiotics, in fact, Atta asked for something to soothe an inflammation of his hands. The redness resembled the irritation caused by detergent or bleach. The pharmacist gave him a cream called acid mantle. The incident raised fears that Atta had been using caustic chemicals in a bioterror experiment: detergent effectively breaks up clumps of anthrax spores into smaller, deadlier particles." 

    Another very interesting connection has surfaced between the anthrax letters and Mohammed Atta. The 9/11 Commission Report issued in July, 2004, describes a message delivered by the hijacker pilot of American Airlines Flight 11, Mohammed Atta, which included the phrase, "We have some planes." One cannot help recalling the same odd phrasing in the anthrax letters: "We have this anthrax." An American would not use this type of sentence construction, but would write something like "We have anthrax."

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