A decade after the 9/11 terror attacks, in 2011, U.S. State Department consular officers in Saudi Arabia expeditiously granted local citizen Naif Abdulaziz Alfallaj an F-2 student spouse visa, permitting him to enter the United States. Alfallaj settled with his wife, an F-1 student visa holder, in the Oklahoma City suburb of Weatherford where she was attending the local university.
But State Department security screeners in Saudi Arabia somehow missed the discoverable red-alert fact that in 2000 Alfallaj joined al-Qaeda and trained in the group’s notorious al Faruq camp outside Kandahar, Afghanistan. It was the same terrorist camp — in the same time frame — where al-Qaeda leadership selected, organized, and trained the 9/11 hijackers for the attacks on America. They likely would have been campmates.
Those State Department screeners, who might still have felt a weight of responsibility since Osama bin Laden and 15 of his 9/11 hijackers were born and radicalized in the kingdom, would almost certainly have denied Alfallaj’s visa had they learned of his common past with them. After all, the history of terrorist visa abuse was well known by 2011, including that 9/11 hijackers entered the United States after they submitted 23 visa applications during the course of the plot, 22 of which a less-schooled generation of U.S. adjudicators approved.
But ostensibly more-schooled immigration vetters of the post-9/11 generation did not know — but easily could have with a certain check — that Alfallaj very likely trained among the hijackers as a contemporary.
Instead, this visa security screening lapse allowed an al Faruq camp veteran to fly into America just as did his deceased campmates 10 years earlier — legally, with a visa based on fraud and lies. Alfallaj remained free in the American heartland, his alarming history and intentions unknown for another five years. Who he really was only came to light in October 2016, in a darkly ironic way.
It did when he applied to a pilot school near Oklahoma City, just minutes from the flight school in Norman where, infamously, two of the 9/11 terrorists from Afghanistan camps received pilot training for the airliners they hijacked.
In late 2016, the school provided his fingerprints to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA, formed as a result of the attacks), which ran them and got the hit, prosecution court records later showed. Alfallaj’s prints matched 15 found on a 2000 “Mujahedeen Data Form” application, which al Qaeda bureaucracy in those days required aspiring terrorist camp trainees to submit. The prints had been awaiting a match in U.S. databases since December 1, 2001, when American soldiers recovered them in a raid on an al-Qaeda safe house in Afghanistan.
During the lengthy counterterrorism investigation that followed, FBI agents found that Allfallaj had remained true to violent jihad while in the United States even if the public record reveals no sign that he was going to attack the homeland. Two years after moving to Oklahoma in 2013, he joined an online extremist forum and, using his old al-Faruq camp nickname, expressed desire to join armed jihad in Afghanistan or Chechnya. He didn’t get the chance to kill there or here.
On February 5, 2018, the FBI arrested the 34-year-old Alfallaj on charges that he lied on the visa application and to the FBI about his terrorist past. In 2019, a federal judge sentenced Alfallaj to 12 years in prison, after which he will be deported to Saudi Arabia.