Detentions following the September 11 attacks

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Soon after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States Government began detaining people who fit the profile of the suspected hijackers: mostly male, Arabic or Muslim noncitizens. According to Justice Berman they had arrested 1,182 people as of November 5th, 2001.[1] By late November 2001, more than 1,200 people had been detained and held incommunicado (Without the means or right to communicate).[2] A document made and published by the US Department of Justice contained information about the detainees. On Chapter 2 Part II, the specifics for tallies of the detainees can be found[3]

The office of the Inspector general released a report in June of 2003 that stated: "The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) detained 762 aliens as a result of the PENTTBOM investigation". Of those 762 people 24 had an immigration violation prior to the September 11th attacks. They also reported "the remaining 738 aliens were arrested between September 11, 2001, and August 6, 2002, as a direct result of the FBI's PENTTBOM investigation."[4]

Those opposed of the detentions labeled these detentions "secret", as such detentions are contrary to American democratic principles of openness and freedom. The government was also criticized for singling out Arabs, Muslims and foreigners, implying that this was "racial profiling" at its worst.

At that time, the government announced that it suspected 10 to 15 of the detainees as being al Qaeda sympathizers, but said that no evidence links them directly to the attacks. Most of these people are being held in New York on material witness warrants. Opponents of the detentions claimed that the government had no valid grounds for such a massive number of detentions, especially those held without any evidence.

About 1000 detainees were in federal custody without charges.[5]

Nearly anybody could have been detained, even Southern Asians. In fact, “In the 11 months after the attacks, authorities detained 762 aliens - mostly Arab and South Asian men” (Crouse, Douglass). This proves that there wasn’t a specific behavioral characteristic that was used to pick the suspect rather they were selected based on racial stereotypes. The idea behind the incarceration was that the government does something to prevent future attacks, but besides being mostly ineffective it distorted the image of the immigrant groups. A large number of Arabic immigrants were denied refugee status: “over 13,000 were placed in removal proceedings by the government and denied public appropriation because of the association with terrorism.” [1]

About 70 Israelis have been detained, but were later released.

On March 1, 2003, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was dissolved by the Homeland Security Act of 2002. In the recently created Department of Homeland Security (DHS), 3 new federal agencies were created, with the help of former parts of the Homeland Security Act: [2]

  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

“CBP prevents drugs, weapons, and terrorists and other inadmissible persons from entering the country. ICE enforces criminal and civil laws governing border control, customs, trade, and immigration. USCIS oversees lawful immigration to the United States and naturalization of new American citizens. Although now separate, these agencies continue to cooperate, benefitting from and building upon the legacy of INS.” [3]


Osama Awadallah wrote about one of the hijackers in a college exam book.[clarification needed]

Mohdar Abdallah's name was found on a slip of paper in a rental car one of the hijackers parked at Dulles International Airport.

Hady Hassan Omar, an Egyptian antiques dealer from Arkansas, made plane reservations on a computer at Kinko's about the same time one of the hijackers did so at the same place.

Osama Elfar (November 9, 1971- ), an Egyptian from Alexandria, Egypt, went to the United States in 1996 to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, FL. He worked as a flight mechanic for Trans States Airlines at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport for several years. On September 24, he was arrested by FBI agents, who also seized his address book, phone bills and computer. On October 5, he was administered a lie detector test. He has been detained at Mississippi County Correctional Facility in Charleston, Missouri since. In early November, he received a "voluntary departure", which forces one to leave the country but does not forbid a later return. On November 23, he was scheduled to depart, but he was not released. He began a hunger strike that day; as he was already fasting during the day for Ramadan, he only drank a single glass of water at sunset. He was being represented by Dorothy Harper.

Ali al-Maqtari, 26, was born in Yemen, studied in France and went to the United States on a tourist visa in 2000 hoping to become a French teacher. In June 2001, he married Tiffany Hughes, a native of North Carolina who converted to Islam, whom he met through an online chat room. They moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where he planned to study at Southern Connecticut State University that fall. Hughes, a member of the United States National Guard, wanted to enlist in the U.S. Army. On September 13, while wearing a head scarf, she picked up her military orders in Massachusetts to go to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. While Al-Maqtari drove her there, her photograph was posted at the Fort Campbell guardhouse. Upon their arrival on September 15, he was taken to Memphis, Tennessee for questioning. Two box cutters and postcards of New York City were found in the car. They were both administered polygraph tests; Hughes was informed that the tests showed that she and her husband had lied, and that the results were being sent to the Pentagon.

Guards followed Hughes around the base, while other soldiers openly asked her if she was a spy. On October 28, she took an honorable discharge, as encouraged by base officers.

Al-Maqtari's detention began on September 17 at the West Tennessee Detention Center in Mason, Tennessee. He was allowed to speak on telephone with his wife once a week. On October 1, an immigration judge agreed to release him on US$50,000 bond, but the Immigration and Naturalization Service appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, claiming he was a danger to the community. The board said the service could continue to hold Mr. Maqtari, but asked for additional proof.

On October 11, Michael E. Rolince, the FBI's international terrorism section chief, submitted an affidavit which asserted, "What may seem trivial to some may appear of great moment to those within the F.B.I. or the intelligence community." The affidavit also asserted that the bureau was unable to rule out the possibility al-Maqtari was linked to the September 11 attack, and that he might be part of a terrorist "mosaic". No further evidence was submitted. In mid-November, the board said he could be released.

In June 2002, they were told to appear before court to prove that their marriage is for real, and not for a Green Card.

He was being represented by Michael J. Boyle of New Haven.

Ahmed Abou el-Kheir, 28, of Egypt, went to the United States on a tourist visa on September 7, staying at a hotel in suburban Maryland. Mr. Kheir was arrested the week of the attack and charged with trespassing in the hotel. He was detained in the Passaic County jail in New Jersey, shown photographs of the hijackers, and was administered a lie detector test. In late September, while still in custody, Mr. Kheir was charged in sealed documents as a material witness. On October 11, investigators dismissed the material witness order.

Within twenty-four hours, before he was released. He was served with an arrest warrant charging that he had failed to pay a US$250 fine for a 1998 disorderly conduct charge in the Bronx. On October 12, he appeared before a judge in the Bronx. The warrant was vacated, and he was given a conditional discharge.

Later, the Immigration and Naturalization Service requested to detain him, charging that he had held jobs (he had worked as a dishwasher) while on a tourist visa on his two previous visits to the United States. His deportation was ordered, but the officials would not deport him without his passport, which is in the FBI's custody.

He was being represented by Martin R. Stolar.

Yael Antebi, 21, a red-headed woman from Haifa, Israel, went to the United States in late September to visit her boyfriend, also Israeli, on a tourist visa. Both worked selling toys in shopping mall kiosks, a violation of the visa. While leaving a message on the telephone for her father, she was arrested by the FBI agents at 2:30 AM CST on November 1 from her apartment in Columbia, Missouri. She was detained until November 19.

Hady Hassan Omar was held without a trial and placed in solitary confinement for 73 days. For a long period after his arrest, he was not allowed access to an attorney. One of the prison guards told him, "The attorney general just signed a new law today. We can keep you here as long as we like." He was subjected to repeated interrogations. He threatened hunger strikes, but was told by prison officials that they would just strap him to a gurney and force-feed him through a tube up his nose. After 73 days, he threatened suicide, and finally officials decided that he was innocent and released him.

Ali K. Steitiye, 41, was arrested October 24, 2001 while driving in Portland, Oregon on charges related to being part of an alleged terror cell. This followed an episode on September 29, when a sheriff's deputy happened upon Steitiye and five others firing guns at a gravel pit near Washougal, Washington. He was convicted in June, 2002 for weapons and fraud charges, and sentenced to two and a half years in prison. He was also listed in an indictment against the Portland Seven as an unindicted co-conspirator.

Although his sentence was finished in December 2003, Steitiye was being held pending his deportation to Lebanon, where he planned to join his family. In March 2004, a secret indictment hand up new charges against Steitiye, stating that he illegally possessed a machine gun, and being an ex-convict in possession of a weapon.

Earnest James Ujaama was arrested on 22 July 2002 on a material witness charge, and later indicted for providing material resources to al-Qaeda. He later pleaded guilty and received a two-year sentence, and in return provided information on terrorist activities.

Brandon Mayfield was arrested on 6 May 2004 on a material witness charge, on the basis of a fingerprint found after the 11 March 2004 Madrid attacks. Although Spanish authorities were doubtful that the identification was correct, he was held for two weeks until they conclusively identified the fingerprint as belonging to another man.

Khalid Shaikh Muhammed sometimes called KSM, is a terrorist who had been detained for being connected to the 9/11 attacks. An editorial research on CNN World says that he "has been called a mastermind of the September 11th attacks."[6]

Muhammed is currently being detained at Guantanamo. A document published by New York Times says "As of March 18, 2020, he has been held at Guantanamo for 13 years ."[7]

Muhammed Haydar Zammar is a suspected recruiter for the 9/11 attack. A news article by Middle East Eye claims that “He was an influential cleric in Germany who helped arrange travel for Mohammed Atta - the head hijacker of the 9/11 attacks - to Afghanistan for al-Qaeda training, according to the Washington Post."[8]

According to an online article from NBC[9], Zammar had been detained in late 2001 in Morocco when CIA found and handed him over to the Syrian government, which was reported by Germany's Der Spiegel.[10] In 2013, Zammar had been released from prison after being sentenced for 12 years in 2007 because the country was experiencing a civil war.

Alleged abuses as a result of detentions[edit]

  • Holding some detainees for prolonged periods without charges
  • Impeding their access to counsel
  • Coercive interrogations
  • Overriding judicial orders to release them on bond during immigration proceedings.
  • Some detainees were physically and verbally abused because of their national origin or religion.
  • Violating the IV Amendment of the Bill Of Rights.

White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales in a January 2002 memorandum to president Bush recommended that the Bush administration not apply the Geneva Conventions to al-Qaida and Taliban detainees. In this way, the president and other U.S. officials could also avoid potential prosecution under the War Crimes Act of 1996, a federal law that makes it a crime, in some cases punishable by death, to mistreat detainees in violation of the Geneva Conventions.[11]


After 9/11 happened, many Muslims were targeted by government officials and many were falsely labeled terrorists. According to Irum Shiekh, author of Detained Without a Cause,[12] immigration officials began categorizing certain Muslims as "Special Interest Cases" in which they were deemed as potential terrorists for one reason or another. An example of this targeting that may not have been fair would be to look at how 33% of people targeted were from Pakistan when none of the hijackers of the planes were from Pakistan. A majority of the arrests were also from the New York area, rather than other predominately Muslim areas. If a person were to commit an immigration violation, such as overstaying a visa, then they had a chance of being targeted by government officials of being potential terrorists. Instead of using statistics and looking towards Muslim communities for information, these officials often used racial profiling in order to figure out if a person was a suspect and these biases caused mayhem for these people accused.

According to the George W. Bush Presidential papers, the government recognized that their actions against immigrants were not perfect, but they explained their actions the following way, “We did not criticize the decision to hold and investigate those aliens present in the United States who had violated immigration laws and who the DOJ believed had connections with or possessed information pertaining to terrorist activities. Rather, we criticized the haphazard and indiscriminate manner in which the FBI labeled many detainees as "of interest" because they potentially had connections to or information about terrorism.” [4] In addition to the acknowledgement, President George H.W. Bush also presented a speech.[13] The contents of the speech include clarification upon the blame and heat people of racial relation to the 9/11 terrorists, along with admitting that it was uncalled for. This also contained reconciliation efforts in hopes to start and preserve a new friendship with them.


  1. ^ “Naming the Detainees.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 5 Aug. 2002,
  2. ^ "Digital History". Retrieved 2019-09-26.
  3. ^ "The September 11 Detainees: A Review of the Treatment of Aliens Held on Immigration Charges in Connection with the Investigation of the September 11 Attacks" (PDF).
  4. ^ “The September 11 Detainees: A Review of the Treatment of Aliens Held on Immigration Charges in Connection with the Investigation of the September 11 Attacks.” Special Report, 2003,
  5. ^ "Digital History". Retrieved 2019-09-26.
  6. ^ "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Fast Facts".
  7. ^ "Khalid Shaikh Mohammed".
  8. ^ "Syrian-German linked to 9/11 'captured by Syrian Kurdish forces".
  9. ^ "Suspected 9/11 recruiter Mohammed Haydar Zammar captured in Syria".
  10. ^ "A Tale of Extraordinary Renditions and Double-Standards".
  11. ^ "Free archived version". Chicago Sun-Times. September 23, 2006. Archived from the original on 2006-09-28. Retrieved 2006-08-25.
  12. ^ Detained Without a Cause
  13. ^ ""Islam is Peace" Says President".

External links[edit]