The man in the photo behind terrorist leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in his latest message is Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the 9/11 attacks. One of the enduring questions facing the FBI is whether Atta and his accomplices had any help while in the United States. Did investigators miss anyone?
An old face from that investigation has resurfaced, and he's raising a lot of eyebrows at the FBI.
His name is Rayed Abdullah. In the summer of 2001 he studied flying in the United States and was roommates with Hani Hanjour, the terrorist who piloted the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.
While the two lived in Phoenix, Abdullah reportedly gave "extremist speeches" at a local mosque. That caught the attention of FBI agent Ken Williams, who listed Abdullah when he wrote the infamous "Phoenix Memo" two months before 9/11, warning that al Qaeda terrorists might be taking flying lessons in this country. However, no one at FBI headquarters, as it turned out, ever acted on that memo.
That is, until last February — when he showed up in Auckland, New Zealand, with a passport. But the passport isn't from Saudi Arabia: It's from Yemen — and Abdullah was using a different surname: "Ali." Rayed Abdullah was on an international terrorist watch list; Abdullah Ali was not.
"One was Abdullah," says David Cunliffe, New Zealand's Immigration Minister. "The other was Ali. And they are different enough to fool the computer."
Visa records show Abdullah claimed he came to New Zealand to study English, even though he already spoke perfect English. Within days of arriving, he instead began applying to several New Zealand flight schools seeking a commercial pilot's license. At the Manawatu Aero Club, instructor Ravindra Siggh immediately noted Abdullah's flight time in the United States. Suspicious, he asked Abdullah if he knew the 9/11 hijackers.
"He says, 'Look, captain, let me tell you very honestly, I didn't know any one of them although they were training in the USA.'" Siggh says. "And, in fact, I am quite angry with them because they ruined my chances of becoming a commercial pilot."
By then, New Zealand authorities had caught on. Two months ago, they deported him as a national security threat.
"Three basic reasons for that: his close association with some of the 9/11 bombers, his activities within the U.S., and his activities in New Zealand," a police official says.
Abdullah was sent back to Saudi Arabia and held in custody there for several weeks. But he was recently released — and now, CBS News is told, he's dropped out of sight. The FBI doesn't know what he's up to, says Stewart, but no one is comfortable that he's trying to fly airplanes again.