Al Qaeda’s failed 2000 hijacking: Recent analysis by Judicial Watch has important lessons for today


Al Qaeda’s failed 2000 hijacking:  Recent analysis by Judicial Watch has important lessons for today

In 2002, the government watchdog agency Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request as part of their research into AQ and U.S. investigations prior to the 9/11 hijackings.  Eleven years later, that request was answered.  On August 29th, Judicial watch received a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) declassified Intelligence Information Report (IIR), dated September 27, 2001, entitled, “Letters Detailing Usama Bin Laden and Terrorist’s Plans to Hijack an Aircraft Flying out of Frankfurt, Germany in 2000.”

Two weeks after the 9/11 attacks, an unidentified person approached U.S. intelligence with eight letters written in Arabic, sent by a “friend.”  The letters described a plan to hijack an aircraft in Frankfurt.  The DIA report states that this information had been conveyed to U.S. intelligence previously, but it had been disregarded, “because nobody believed that Usama bin Laden’s organization or the Taliban could carry out such an operation.”  The accusation that U.S. officials had disregarded critical intelligence is not new.  This story made headlines in 2007, when former French intelligence officials revealed that they had conveyed their suspicions to the United States of a major hijacking plot by AQ in early 2001.

According to Christopher J. Farrell, Director of Investigations and Research at Judicial Watch, the significance of the 2000 plot is that it provides a bridge between the Bojinka Plot and the 9/11 attack, and as such, it provides valuable insights into tactics, operations, and intentions.  In 1995, AQ associatesRamziYousef and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed planned to bomb eleven U.S.-bound flights midair and to fly another aircraft into the CIA.  It was only by virtue of an apartment fire that the plot was foiled.  In the investigation that followed, it was also discovered that there had been another plot to fly planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol ,and the White House.  Clearly this was the foundation for the successful and deadly 9/11 attack, andthe planned Frankfurt hijacking of 2000 was an important steeping stone between these two events.

The hijack team was to consist of an Arab, a Pakistani and a Chechen.  Two hijackers were to pick up pistols smuggled into the secure Transit Area of the Frankfurt International Airport, and then with those weapons board their connecting flights, preferably on U.S. airlines, and to commandeer the planes to Iran.   Once the planes had landed in Iran the hijackers would demand money and the release of prisoners being held in the U.S.  The hijacking would take place sometime between March 1 and September 1, 2000.  The Taliban were involved in the planning; and an employee of the Germany Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, was working to get visas for the three plotters who would be carrying false Pakistani passports.  A Saudi citizen, Sheikh Dzabir, is identified as responsible for the operation.

In the end the plot did not succeed.  Two reasons for this are suggested.  First, the Chechen member of the team withdrew. Secondly, the team may have been unable to place an operative inside the Frankfurt Airport.  Elsewhere it is noted that Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers, and two associates had applied for jobs with Lufthansa, which would have given them secure access to the airport.  Had their applications been is support of the 2000 hijacking?

The IIR raises a number of key points for unraveling past terrorist operations and preventing future attacks:

It highlights the role of Chechens as both instigators and innovators in acts of terrorism, and also the importance of the route through Chechnya for terrorist activity; that the Saudis had a key operational role; and that this plot, coupled with the Bojinka plot, provided substantial evidence that Al Qaeda and/or the Taliban could indeed plan and carry out a sophisticated hijacking operation, which raises serious questions about the judgment and professionalism of those who dismissed the notion.

Read the full Judicial Watch report here: