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'Accidents of history' likely saved Capitol on 9/11

Author spent a decade researching book
Capitol Hill Capitol Building Capitol Dome
Posted at 11:18 AM, Sep 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-10 15:49:10-04

WASHINGTON, DC — Author James Reston, Jr. has spent the past decade researching and writing a new historical fiction novel based on the September 11th attacks and recently spoke with ABC Action News I-Team investigator Adam Walser about the surprising turn of events he uncovered that likely saved one of our nation’s best-known symbols.

Accidents of History

Reston’s new novel “The 19thHijacker” takes a deep dive into the 9/11 attacks and uncovers twists and turns that may have changed history.

The 19th Hijacker

“This whole story is just full of the accidents of history,” Reston said.

It started with a Florida connection.

Reston said in early August of 2001, Mohammed Al-Qahtani, a Saudi citizen who was supposed to serve as the 20th hijacker on 9/11, flew into Florida on a one-way ticket, where mastermind Mohamed Atta awaited his arrival. But Al-Qahtani never made it out of the airport.

“He couldn’t explain why he had all this money. He couldn’t explain where he was going. And he was obviously a very suspicious character, so the INS turned him back,” Reston said.

Reston believes if it wasn’t for that circumstance, then one of the intended targets of the September 11th attacks, the U.S. Capitol, might not be standing today.

Mohammed Al-Qahtani was supposed to be the 20th hijacker, but was detained at a Florida airport and deported after exhibiting suspicious behavior.

“There’s no question that the Capitol was the target for obvious aviation reasons. Some say it might have been the White House. You can imagine from the standpoint of an aviator, the White House was infinitely more difficult to hit,” Reston said.

Only Four Hijackers Boarded Flight 93

The original plans for the 9/11 attacks called for five hijackers in every plane.

But on that morning, only four hijackers boarded United Airlines flight 93 in Newark.

“There were only four hijackers on that plane as opposed to five. And that meant there were only two of the so-called muscle men on the back of the plane to control the passengers,” Reston said.

And the flight also happened to be delayed.

“Flight 93 left like 25 or 30 minutes late. All four of the flights were supposed to take off at about the same time and hit their targets at about the same time,” he said.

Because of the delay, passengers and crew started getting word about the other attacks before the hijackers targeted them.

“And it was only just at about that time, within a few minutes, that the plane was actually hijacked over Ohio,” Reston said.

Another Florida Connection

Ziad Jarrah, who trained with Mohamed Atta and Marwann Al-Shehhi at Huffman Aviation in Venice, FL, was the hijacker who piloted Flight 93.

Passengers fought back, causing the plane to crash in a Shanksville, Pennsylvania field.

“I would say 97 percent of Americans know only one thing about that flight and that’s the heroic revolt of the passengers,” he said.

That 20th hijacker, Momammed Al-Qahtani, was captured three months later in Afghanistan and remains a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay.

Reston is best known for preparing an 80-page briefing book for David Frost when he interviewed President Richard Nixon, preparing Frost for the famous interview when Nixon finally apologized for hiding the truth about the Watergate scandal. Reston said his new novel would have been a work on non-fiction, except for the fact that he wasn’t able to fill in all the blanks since parts of the investigation remain classified.

James Reston, Jr.
James Reston, Jr.

He said 20 years out, that shouldn’t be the case.

“The fact that anything about this event remains classified only encourages conspiracy theories,” he said.

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