Two Sept. 11 jet hijackers first scouted San Diego targets

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

SAN DIEGO -- Investigators believe the San Diego-based Sept. 11 hijackers who helped crash an airliner into the Pentagon initially were sent to California to pinpoint targets in the Navy's largest West Coast port, a federal law enforcement source told The Associated Press.

Investigators believe al-Qaida operatives Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, who arrived in California in January 2000, most likely were assigned to identify San Diego-based Navy ships to attack, said the federal official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In October 2000, al-Qaida attacked the Navy warship USS Cole in Yemen.

Alhazmi and Almihdhar were aboard American Airlines Flight 77 when it crashed into the Pentagon, but concern about a plot to target warships in San Diego did not die with them.

In May, the FBI began checking with dive shops in the city and around the country to see if al-Qaida operatives had been taking scuba training. Special operations Navy divers and San Diego Harbor police started training in July to spot potential terrorist threats in the port, and the U.S. Coast Guard has asked recreational boaters to look for and report any suspicious activity.

San Diego is home to two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and five nuclear-powered submarines, as well as the headquarters of the SEALs, the Navy's special operations force.

A signature feature of the region is the two-mile bridge that links San Diego to Coronado.

The city served as a base for a "high number of hijackers and associates who lived, worked and studied" in the area, James Nagel, a special agent with the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, has said in court documents.

John Iannarelli, an FBI spokesman in San Diego, said his agency is investigating the extent of the hijackers' support network in or near the city. He would provide no further details.

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