WASHINGTON -- A Saudi man who was prevented from entering the United States a few weeks before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks might have been the plot's intended 20th hijacker, federal officials say.
The man, identified only as al-Qahtani, was turned away by a US immigration agent at Orlando International Airport in late August 2001, according to two senior law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity yesterday.
The agent became suspicious when Qahtani provided only vague answers to questions about what he was doing in the United States and could not provide names of people meeting him at the airport or describe where he was staying, one official said.
Qahtani was stopped and questioned at about the same time that Mohamed Atta, a ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks, was using a payphone at the Orlando airport, according to surveillance camera tapes. Atta had called a number in the Middle East, the officials said.
So far, investigators have not proven a link between Atta and Qahtani. But the FBI has long suspected that one of the planes -- Flight 93, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field after a passenger uprising -- was supposed to have a team of five instead of only four hijackers. The other three planes taken over that day had five hijackers.