Wail al-Shehri still alive?
Wail al-Shehri was included in the September 14th list of suspects in the 9/11 attacks, however just one week later that identification was being questioned.
This sounds at first like it might be a convincing case. One individual coming forward saying "I'm Wail al-Shehri" might be a coincidence, but one also with a brother called Waleed makes that much less likely.
Still, we also have to bear in mind that these stories came out immediately after 9/11, as the world held its breath waiting to see what America might do. There was considerable incentive for Saudi Arabia to find reasons to say no, this wasn't Saudi citizens, it's all a terrible mistake. And in fact, as a report pointed out later, these stories changed a lot over the next few days and weeks.
There are several interesting clues here.
The first comes in the quotes about diplomat Ahmed Alshehri, who seems only to be talking about having a son called Waleed. Why does he not mention Wail, who is also on the suspect list? Could it be that he doesn't have a son called Wail at all?
Another pointer to the truth comes in his name, Ahmed, as this piece explains:
If the al-Shehri family followed this custom, then, and the father was Ahmed al-Shehri, we'd expect the sons to be called Waleed Ahmed al-Shehri and Wail Ahmed al-Shehri. But they're not. Waleed was, from the very first FBI list published on September 14th, called Waleed M al-Shehri. By the 27th Wail was also referred to as Wail M al-Shehri. And we now know the "M" stands for Mohammad, as shown for example in Wail's visa application.
Meanwhile other reports point out that the "still alive" Waleed al-Shehri is actually called Ahmed, suggesting that he is indeed the son of the diplomat, but not the same person as Waleed Mohammad Alshehri.
And an interview with the "still alive" Waleed al-Shehri apparently includes the denial that he has a brother called Wail (although this should be taken with a little care, as it's a translation that we have not verified):
An Indian Express report talks about other members in the al-Shehri family, but again fails to mention any Wail:
It appears most likely that the Saudi diplomat has a son called Waleed Ahmed al-Shehri, then. He is alive and unconnected to the attacks, however does not have a brother called Wail, and if that's true then the case for Wail al-Shehri still being alive disappears.
Just to emphasise the point, there are several other accounts of a real Wail M al-Shehri, with a brother called Waleed, who disappeared before the attacks, and hasn't been seen since.
Similarly, here’s part of the transcript from “Sand storm”, a Dateline NBC programme aired on September 25th 2002, where the reporter John Hockenberry interviewed a surviving Al Shehri brother.
Writer Neil Doyle posted a video (originally at www.neildoyle.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=326&mode=thread&order=0&thold=0, link now dead) where al-Shehri's father was interviewed.
He says they showed no signs of extremist views, however at no point claims his sons are still alive. Read more here.
Based on this, it might be possible to make a case that they weren’t “the right sort of people to be involved”. It’s also noticeable that the earlier story says they were “very religious”, while another interview that they weren’t religious “in the way one might imagine”. Perhaps there’s a story in that, although it could also just be family denial. Not least because another report based on the comments of a “cousin” seems very different:
What is plain, though, is that the brothers aren’t alive (at least, as far as the family know). Further confirmation of this occurred when when Saudi Arabia finally accepted that the named suspects were actually involved.
And the final clue appeared in late 2006 with the release of the Al Qaeda video “Knowledge is for Acting Upon - The Manhattan Raid”, which included footage of “Wail al-Shihri” talking about the importance of Jihad, and captioned him as “One of the Martrys of the Manhattan Raid”. This does indeed appear to be the same individual who appeared in the FBI photo, yet another indication that their identification is correct.