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9/11: U.S. Senator seeks answers on hijackers training at Pensacola N.A.S.

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Pensacola News Journal


Pensacola NAS link faces more scrutiny

Senator seeks answers on hijackers ties to Navy base

Larry Wheeler
New Journal Washington Bureau

Scott Streater

Ginny Graybiel

U.S. Sen. Bob Graham is requesting information on published reports of a possible Pensacola Naval Air Station tie-in to last week's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.

As many as four of 19 suspected hijackers may have participated during the 1990s in the base's flight training program for foreign military trainees, according to reports in The Washington Post and Newsweek magazine.

In addition, The New York Times reported that one of the four also may have lived at the Fountains apartment complex near the University of West Florida, leaving about a year ago.

Graham, D-Miami Lakes, who is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was briefed early Sunday on the latest intelligence information, but there was no mention of suspected hijackers having been enrolled as pilot trainees in Pensacola, said his spokesman, Paul Anderson.

Since then, Anderson said, Graham has requested more information on the possible Pensacola tie-in as well as updates on suspected hijackers who may have been receiving civilian flying lessons at commercial training academies elsewhere in Florida.

Graham and a number of state lawmakers returned to Florida aboard a Florida Air National Guard flight Saturday. He could receive the requested information today, Anderson said.

It's not unusual for foreign nationals to train at Pensacola-area bases.

Pensacola NAS and Whiting Field train many of the more than 6,000 foreign military students who receive flight training each year at U.S. military institutions.

The students are instructed in everything from warfare specialty training to air navigation meteorology and land/water survival, according to the NaPentagon and local military officials refused to comment on the media reports on Sunday. They referred calls on the subject to the FBI, which also refused comment.

The news articles caution that there are slight discrepancies between the FBI list of suspected highjackers and the military training records, either in the spellings of their names or in their birth dates. They also raise the possibility that the hijackers stole the identities of military trainees.

Tracking names

The Newsweek article says U.S. military officials gave the FBI information suggesting that five of the alleged hijackers received training in the 1990s at secure U.S. military installations.

It says three of them listed their address on driver licenses and car registrations as 10 Radford Blvd. on Pensacola NAS, a base road on which residences for foreign- military flight trainees are located.

Those suspects are:

Saeed Alghamdi, believed to have helped hijack United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in rural Pennsylvania.

Ahmad Alnami, who also was aboard Flight 93.

Ahmed Alghamdi, who is suspected of helping commandeer United Airlines Flight 75, which hit the south tower of the World Trade Center.

Saeed Alghamdi listed the address in March 1997 to register a 1998 Oldsmobile; five months later, he used the same address to register a late-model Buick.

The other two used the address on driver licenses issued in 1996 and 1998.

The Newsweek article cites two other suspects with possible U.S. military training: One may have been trained in strategy and tactics at the Air War College in Montgomery, Ala., and one may have received language training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

A Washington Post article adds a fourth suspect who may have trained in Pensacola:

Hamza Alghamdi, who also is believed to have been aboard Flight 75.

A New York Times article, using an alternative spelling, says that Ahmed A. al-Ghamdi lived in the Fountains near UWF. The article says he moved out about August 2000 and does not specify how long he may have lived there.

The Fountains, off University Parkway, caters to UWF students and also has a number of military personnel, according to several residents. The apartment manager could not be reached on Sunday.

The FBI's official list of suspected hijackers gives the most recent addresses of the four with possible Pensacola links as possibly Delray Beach.

Complicating the effort to learn if the suspects ever trained in Pensacola is the fact that Alghamdi is an extremely common name. Scores of people with that name live throughout Florida.

Foreign trainees

Naval Education and Training Security Assistance Field Activity, which administers training of foreign aviation students for the Navy, is headquartered in Pensacola.

Robert Pemberton, the technical director, declined to comment Sunday. But the group has estimated that 15 percent of aviation students on any given day are foreign nationals.

They come from as far away as Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Norway.

Locally, foreign pilots contribute to the Pensacola-area economy, spending an estimated $10 million a year in local malls, restaurants and shops, the Security Assistance group has estimated.

A consulting firm that conducted an international business opportunities study for the Pensacola Area Chamber of Commerce four years ago said the local economy would receive a boost by increasing the number of foreign flight and aircraft maintenance students training at area bases.

News Journal reporter Amie Streater contributed to this story.

Further Reading:

F.·.W.·. Magazine || 9/11: The Archive - The 'Lighter' Side of the New World Order?