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Published: Sunday, 9/11/2011

What has become of 9/11 hijackers' remains?

BY SEAN D. HAMILL
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE
This image made from surveillance video from Washington's Dulles Airport shows two of the five hijackers on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, man in blue shirt, left, and white shirt, second from left, leaving a security checkpoint before boarding American Airlines flight 77 that later crashed into the Pentagon. This image made from surveillance video from Washington's Dulles Airport shows two of the five hijackers on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, man in blue shirt, left, and white shirt, second from left, leaving a security checkpoint before boarding American Airlines flight 77 that later crashed into the Pentagon.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

PITTSBURGH — From the earliest days of the investigations after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, one of the most important issues for families of the victims in New York, Washington, and Shanksville, Pa., was to exclude the recovered remains of their loved ones from any remains of the terrorists.

"Family groups asked us once we told them we had remains of the terrorists identified that we remove them from the population of remains of the victims and not hold them in the same place," said Ellen Borakove, spokesman for the New York City medical examiner's office, which oversaw collection and identification of the remains there. Remains of 13 of the 19 hijackers have been identified.

But unlike the identified remains of the thousands of victims that were all claimed immediately by their families, the remains of the terrorists are still being held in undisclosed locations by the FBI and the New York City medical examiner's office.

"We've had no inquiries for the hijackers remains in the 10 years. Not one," Ms. Borakove said.

FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said the FBI still holds the remains of all nine of the terrorists that were aboard the planes that crashed into the Pentagon and near Shanksville, but he would not say whether the U.S. government has received requests for them.

The only acknowledged inquiry about terrorists' remains occurred in the summer of 2002 when Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller, who helped oversee the identification of remains at the Flight 93 crash site, got a call from Beirut at 4 a.m. one day.

The caller — whose name Mr. Miller can't recall — said he was an uncle of one of the terrorists on Flight 93 and he wanted to know how to go about recovering his remains. Mr. Miller told him he could send a DNA sample to verify his relationship to the man, but he never heard from the caller again.

There are no prohibitions within the terrorists' Islamic faith that would prevent their families from claiming the remains, said Yvonne Haddad, professor of history of Islam at Georgetown University in Washington.

"Culturally, they should" claim them, Ms.Haddad said. "But socially, they don't want to.

"They probably aren't claiming them because they don't want to be identified with them," she said. "Remember, some relatives of the terrorists in Saudi Arabia [where most of the hijackers were from] have denied it's their relative

who was involved. But some are embarrassed about it, too."

Exactly what the FBI or the New York City medical examiner's office would do if a request did come in is not clear.

Both Ms. Borakove and Mr. Bresson said they did not have a formal policy in place on how they would respond to a request for terrorists' remains.

Ms. Borakove said while it would be complicated, her office would probably follow the same procedure it does with anyone's remains, first verifying the person's relationship to the deceased and then making sure the remains are truly that person.

Even if someone could prove a relationship to a terrorist, Mr. Bresson said whether the FBI would release them is not clear.

"It wouldn't be an FBI decision, it would be a U.S. government decision," he said.

What do the families of the 9/11 victims' think about the situation?

"I try to think as little about the terrorists as possible," said Gordon Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93 and brother of Edward Felt, who was on the plane when it crashed. "I focus my energy on my brother."

Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Sean D. Hamill is a staff writer for the Post-Gazette; contact him at: shamill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2579.



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