WASHINGTON — The man suspected of masterminding the Sept. 11 terror attacks is believed to have once attended college in North Carolina and, in 1999, visited the German city where chief hijacker Mohammed Atta lived, U.S. officials said Thursday.
Officials suspect Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a Kuwaiti-born lieutenant of Osama bin Laden, met with Atta or members of his cell in Hamburg, but they have not received direct evidence of any contacts between them, one U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Since Sept. 11, evidence has mounted that Mohammed was chief among the bin Laden lieutenants organizing the attacks, counterterrorism officials said. He provided some of the money used in the attacks, and Abu Zubaydah — another of the alleged organizers now in U.S. custody — has identified Mohammed as the organizer, they said.
Mohammed is believed to have attended Chowan College in northeastern North Carolina before transferring to another U.S. university, where he obtained an engineering degree, a second U.S. official said Thursday, declining to provide further details.
A spokeswoman at Chowan said a Khaled Al-Shaikh Mohammad attended the school in spring 1984, when it was a two-year institution.
Mohammed — who is 37, according to Interpol — would have been of college age in the mid-1980s.
Spokeswoman Melanie Edwards declined to provide further information about the student, including whether he transferred to another school in the state.
Chowan College, which became a four-year college in 1992, is in Murfreesboro, N.C., near the Virginia border and about 100 miles northeast of Raleigh.
Spokesmen at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro and UNC-Charlotte said they had no records of a student by that name — or any of the aliases listed for Mohammed on the FBI’s Web site — attending in the 1980s.
Officials at North Carolina State University in Raleigh were unable to say immediately Thursday whether they had had a student by any of those names.
U.S. counterterrorism officials believe Mohammed went to Afghanistan to join the mujahedeen fighters opposing the Soviet occupation in the late 1980s. He now has Pakistani citizenship, according to Kuwaiti officials and Interpol. The independent Al-Qabas newspaper in Kuwait reported that Mohammed worked for Abdul-Rab Rasool Sayyaf, an anti-American Afghan warlord who goes by “Professor.”