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WASHINGTON – A Muslim cleric who had closed-door
meetings with two of the 9-11 hijackers was detained
last October at a New York airport after federal
authorities identified him as the subject of a
post-9-11 terror money-laundering investigation,
according to a U.S. Customs incident report obtained
exclusively by WorldNetDaily.
But the cleric, Anwar Nasser al-Awlaki, was released soon
after being taken into custody, the report shows, and
allowed to catch a connecting flight here, where he’d
headed a large suburban mosque attended by two of the
hijackers who helped crash an American Airlines
jetliner into the Pentagon. He has since returned to
Yemen, where he was born.
Al-Awlaki, along with his family, arrived Oct. 10 at JFK
International Airport on Saudi Arabian Airlines.
After Customs agents identified him as a match in
their anti-terrorist lookout database, they searched
his bags and escorted him to a detention area. They
notified the FBI, and were later informed that
“the warrant issued by the State Department had been
pulled back” on the previous day, Oct. 9, according to
the incident log.
Al-Awlaki and his family were then released after more
than three hours in custody.
“Passengers released with thanks for their patience,
and given the comment card,” the log states. They were
handed off to a Saudi Arabian Airlines representative
“in order to continue with their flight to Washington,
It’s not immediately clear why the warrant had been
removed. Phone calls to the FBI and State were not
As of June 2002, al-Awlaki was the subject of a
terrorism-related money-laundering probe called
Operation Green Quest, WorldNetDaily has learned.
That operation, started when Customs was part of the
Treasury Department, has been credited with seizing
some $11 million from suspected terrorism-financing
As of Nov. 25, 2002, more than a month after the
warrant was pulled, al-Awlaki was still “the subject of
current investigation,” according to Customs records.
Before the 9-11 attacks, when he was imam of a San
Diego mosque attended by three of the Pentagon
hijackers, all of whom were Saudi nationals, al-Awlaki
was the subject of a separate FBI counterterrorism
investigation. The imam allegedly had ties to
suspected terrorism groups, and contacts with other
terrorist suspects. The case was closed before the
9-11 attacks, however.
“There’s a lot of smoke there” regarding the imam’s
connections to the Saudi hijackers, an FBI agent on
the 9-11 case was quoted as saying in the recently
declassified 9-11 congressional report.
Al-Awlaki, 32, listed the address of his former employer,
Dar al-Hijrah Islamic
Center in Falls Church, Va., as his residence,
according to the incident report.
The hard-line, pro-Hamas mosque, the largest in the
Washington area, if not the country, figures
prominently in the 9-11 plot. Two of the American
Airlines Flight 77 hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Hani
Hanjour, the suspected pilot, followed al-Awlaki there
from San Diego. A member of the mosque helped them get
fake IDs. A third Flight 77 hijacker, Khalid
al-Midhar, had attended at least al-Awlaki’s San Diego
mosque. And German authorities found the phone number
to his Dar al-Hijrah mosque in the flat of a 9-11
plotter, Ramzi Binalshibh, who roomed with hijacking
ringleader Mohamed Atta.
Al-Awlaki is described in the Customs report as standing
6-1 and weighing 160 pounds. He has black hair and
black eyes. Though born in Aden, Yemen, as
WorldNetDaily first reported, his race is
described variably as “white” and “Hispanic.”
The official, Johari Malik, says al-Awlaki left the U.S.
last year to escape what he felt was a growing
anti-Muslim climate. He insists his friend, who
originally came to the U.S. in 1990 on a J-1 visa to
attend college, did not leave the country to
escape federal investigators.
Malik says al-Awlaki returned briefly in October to take
care of personal business, such as liquidating assets.