Hijackers Entered U.S. Legally

All 19 Sept. 11 hijackers entered the United States with valid visas but three had lost their legal status by the time of the attacks, the Justice Department said Thursday. 

The majority of the attackers, 15, were from Saudi Arabia while two came from the United Arab Emirates, one was an Egyptian and another was Lebanese.

Only two of the hijackers entered the United States last year, in January and December. The majority, 14, were admitted in May and June this year.

Their visas were granted for either pleasure trips, business or education.

Satam M.A. Al Suqami came in May this year as a temporary visitor for business but his visa had expired by Sept. 11.

Nawaf M.S. Alhazmi was the first of the 19 admitted, entering on a visitor's visa in January 2000. His visa also had expired.

Hani S.H. Hanjour arrived in December 2000 on a visa for academic studies, but became illegal when he failed to attend school.

The hijackers' legal entries contrasted to actions of other suspected terrorists, who may have created false visas and identity documents, according to law enforcement officials.

Once in the country, the 19 crisscrossed the country from San Diego to Maine before their attacks.

Federal authorities have conceded that none of the hijackers would have been kept out of the country with their valid visas.

The State Department this month decided to slow down the visa process for young men from Arab and Muslim nations so it can search for evidence of terrorist activities. Investigators also hope to interview 5,000 people already in the country from such nations.

The FBI will check the names of visa applicants from more than 20 Arab and Muslim countries and advise the State Department.

Once in the country, several of the hijackers used drivers' licenses to open bank accounts and rent cars and apartments.

As a result, several states are changing the rules for drivers' licenses, particularly for foreign nationals.

Florida, North Carolina, Michigan and others are tightening regulations, and some states are considering new licenses that would include biometrics data such as fingerprints or retinal patterns.

Some also are considering linking the states' computer networks, elevating the licenses into de facto national ID cards.