INS Stumped on How Some Hijackers Entered the U.S.
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 12, 2001; Page A17
At least nine hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks were in the United States on valid visas, and three more had entered legally but stayed beyond their visas' expirations, a top U.S. immigration official said yesterday. He said that authorities are still mystified about how others got in.
The statement by James W. Ziglar, commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, was the first official announcement of how the alleged hijackers positioned themselves in the United States to carry out the suicide attacks that killed more than 5,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
"Six we can find no record of, period," Ziglar told the House subcommittee on immigration. "We don't know if those were their names or not."
Ziglar's comments came as the immigration and visa-issuing systems are under intense scrutiny, with legislators calling for stricter controls to keep out potential terrorists.
A subcommittee member, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.), said Ziglar's information pointed to the "mounting problem [of] the issuance of visas in an appropriate manner."
Visas are granted by the State Department through its consulates abroad. The visas are then checked by INS inspectors at airports, seaports and border crossings where foreigners enter the United States.
In a letter to the subcommittee released yesterday, Ziglar said at least nine of the alleged hijackers had visitors' visas, which are given to foreigners coming to the United States for short business or pleasure trips.
He identified them as Khalid Almihdhar, Majed Moqed, Nawaf Alhazmi, Salem Alhazmi, Mohamed Atta, Abdulaziz Alomari, Marwan Al-Shehhi, Ahmed Ibrahim A. Al Haznawi and Ahmed Alnami.
Of those, Nawaf Alhazmi was identified as having stayed beyond his visa's expiration. He arrived in the United States in January 2000, the letter said. The others had entered the United States since May 2001.
In addition, Ahmed Alghamdi and Hani Hanjour were admitted on student visas. Alghamdi had stayed beyond the limit on his visa, the letter said, adding it was unclear whether Hanjour's visa was still valid.
Two other men, Waleed M. Alshehri and Ziad Samir Jarrah, were identified simply as nonimmigrants, with no information on their visa category. Alshehri arrived in June 2000 and stayed beyond his visa limit, the letter said, while Jarrah arrived in July and held a valid visa.
The Post previously quoted a U.S. official as saying all 19 hijackers had been issued business or tourist visas. Officials said yesterday that some men may have received visitors' visas abroad, then changed them to student visas.
Justice Department officials said they had found no records on how two of the hijackers had arrived. On four more, they found men with similar names but couldn't confirm they were the same people. Officials speculated that some of the men could have used false or stolen identities or sneaked across the border. It is also possible that some men's names were accidentally not entered in the immigration system's computers when they arrived.