“They [the 9/11 hijackers] put their families on airplanes a couple of days before, sent them back to Saudi Arabia, for the most part. Those wives knew exactly what was going to happen. And those wives went home to watch their husbands knock down the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and wherever the third plane was going, except we had some very, very brave passengers, wherever that third plane was going. Those wives knew exactly what was happening.”
— businessman Donald Trump, remarks during an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Dec. 6, 2015
Real estate mogul and GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump previously falsely claimed that “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the fall of World Trade Center during the 9/11 attacks.
In the wake of the shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., involving a Muslim couple, Trump has emerged with a new claim: The 9/11 hijackers sent their wives home before the attacks — and those wives knew “exactly what was going to happen.” He made this claim not only on CBS’s “Face the Nation” but on two Fox News programs and during a rally in Raleigh, N.C., on Dec. 4: “When the World Trade Center was knocked down, the people, the animals that did that, they sent their wives and their families back to Saudi Arabia. Most of them went back to Saudi Arabia. Those wives knew what their husbands were going to do.”
Is there any evidence to support this?
The most exhaustive report on the 19 hijackers and their actions prior to the attack is the 9/11 Commission report. There is no support for Trump’s claims, as the report states that virtually all of the hijackers were unmarried.
“None of the 9/11 terrorists could have ‘sent their wives home’ before the attacks because, as you suggest, none of them brought female companions to the United States,” said Philip D. Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission (and who is not affiliated with any campaign). “All, or nearly all, of the hijackers were unmarried, as far as we know. We did elaborate a bit about the story of one Lebanese hijacker, Ziad Jarrah [who was on United 93], and his German girlfriend.”
The report makes a distinction between the “muscle hijackers,” who were to restrain or overcome crew members or others, and hijackers who trained to pilot the aircraft. Regarding the muscle hijackers, the report says: “The muscle hijackers came from a variety of educational and societal backgrounds. All were between 20 and 28 years old; most were unemployed with no more than a high school education and were unmarried.” (Page 231 of the report.)
Only one of the muscle hijackers — Abdul Aziz al-Omari — is listed as being married: “Omari had graduated with honors from high school, had attained a degree from the Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University [in Saudi Arabia], was married, and had a daughter.” But there is no indication the wife ever traveled to the United States. (Page 232.)
Among the pilot hijackers, Marwan al-Shehhi (who piloted United Flight 175) was married: “When Shehhi, while still in the UAE in January 2000, held a belated wedding celebration (he actually had been married in 1999), a friend of his was surprised to see that he had shaved off his beard and was acting like his old self again.” But again, there is no indication that his wife ever traveled to the United States.
Finally, Jarrah did have a girlfriend of Turkish descent who lived in Germany and with whom he kept in close contact while he was in flight training in the United States. “In October , he flew back to Germany to visit his girlfriend, Aysel Senguen. The two traveled to Paris before Jarrah returned to Florida on October 29. His relationship with her remained close throughout his time in the United States. In addition to his trips, Jarrah made hundreds of phone calls to her and communicated frequently by email.” (Page 224.)
Many months before the attacks, Senguen briefly visited Jarrah in the United States, but she was in the dark about the plot. She testified at a trial of a person who assisted the plot, and she described a tumultuous relationship, according to a 2002 account in the Los Angeles Times:
Jarrah visited her several times in Germany, the last time in January 2001. He told her repeatedly he had to return for more training.
Senguen said that she visited Jarrah in the U.S. and he flew her to Key West in a small plane. She was also with him when he rented a Boeing flight simulator in Miami in early 2001. Jarrah had urged her not to tell anyone he was in the U.S.
“But I did,” she said. “I often didn’t do what he told me.”
Senguen saw Jarrah for the last time in July 2001 in Germany. He told her again he would return soon and they could marry and start their family. He e-mailed and telephoned her almost every day.
On Sept. 11, about noon, German time, Jarrah made his last call. They didn’t talk long.
“He said three times, ‘I love you.’ When I asked, ‘What’s up?’ he just answered, ‘I love you.’ Then he hung up,” Senguen said.
She didn’t know it, but minutes later Jarrah boarded Flight 93, ending whatever dreams they had together.
Jarrah also mailed her a final letter, which she received after the attacks. He wrote: “The very first thing I want you to believe and always believe, [is] that I deeply love you…. It’s my mistake, to make you hope that we [would] marry one day and have children…. I did not run away from you, I did what I had to do, you should be proud.”
What could account for Trump’s strange notion that the hijackers were married and shipped their wives home just before the attacks? Perhaps he is conflating reports of Saudi nationals leaving the United States after the attacks. But even so, it would have made little sense for such a carefully planned plot to have such poor operational security.
Indeed, the commission found evidence that Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the plot in the United States, was upset about Jarrah’s continuing contact with his girlfriend, and Atta nearly replaced him at the last minute because of his concerns.
The report includes a number of references to the hijackers cutting off communication with their families: “The other operatives had broken off regular contact with their families.” (Page 227.) “The majority of these Saudi recruits began to break with their families in late 1999 and early 2000.” (Page 233.) “Atta complained that some of the hijackers wanted to contact their families to say goodbye, something he had forbidden.” (Page 245.)
The Pinocchio Test
Trump once again is trying to reinvent the well-established history of the 9/11 attacks to serve his political needs. There is no evidence that the hijackers had wives in the United States, shipped them home or even told them of the plot in advance. In fact, virtually all of the hijackers were unmarried. So there is no way the alleged wives could have known what was going to happen. He earns Four Pinocchios.
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