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Wednesday, November 05, 2003

FBI has new suspect in 9/11 terrorist attack

USA TODAY - WASHINGTON — The FBI has identified an al-Qaeda operative who agents believe tried as late as August 2001 to join the 9/11 terrorist plot as the "20th hijacker," a top federal law enforcement official said Tuesday.

"We are fairly confident we know who No. 20 is," said the official, who is involved in the 9/11 probe and asked not to be identified. The official said the unidentified al-Qaeda operative got into the USA but "had to leave" the country shortly before 19 hijackers carried out the attacks that killed more than 3,000 people. The official would not say why the operative left, whether he is alive or whether he is in U.S. custody.

A top Justice Department official confirmed that FBI agents believe they have identified the 20th hijacker. Both officials said the FBI does not believe the would-be terrorist was accused al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui or Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, an alleged 9/11 paymaster who tried to get into the USA at least four times before the attacks.

If the FBI's theory is correct, one of the enduring mysteries of the 9/11 attacks would be solved: why United Flight 93 had four hijackers on board when it crashed in Pennsylvania, and the three other hijacked jets each carried five terrorists. Examinations of immigration records and the movements of the 19 hijackers have led the FBI to zero in on the man it believes was supposed to have been the fifth hijacker on Flight 93, the law enforcement official said.