By Phantoms Duped

“By Phantoms Duped” (Copyright 2009) is a novel based on the true story of Christina Scott, a leggy wildflower of a girl living a simple life in rural Oregon in 1992. Blond, blue-eyed, headstrong, and bored, she runs away from home at age 17. In Portland, Christina meets and marries the charismatic Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, an apparently wealthy, sophisticated 21-year old student whom she knows by the name of Obaid. The world will later know him as one of the 9/11 hijackers. Scott is the only American, as far as can be ascertained, to have wed one of the 9/11 terrorists.

After the terrifying discovery in 2001 that she had shared her bed with a mass murderer, a hundred questions flood her mind: What is her culpability, if any? Was she really that naïve at the time? She agonizes over whether she could have been instrumental in preventing the tragedy. Should she go into hiding? How did she get caught up in all this? Above all, as she realizes the impact of her discovery and the events leading up to it, she wonders: is the US government telling us all we know about the attack and the reasons behind it?
Christina’s bizarre life with Al-Ghamdi and ‘friends’ begins in March 1992, continues with their sudden marriage in February,1993, the same month the World Trade Center garage is bombed; their equally sudden divorce in October, 1994, and their final mysteriously cryptic communication in 1995, three weeks before the Oklahoma City federal building bombing.

Her second nightmare starts in 2001 when the U.S. Department of Justice names Al-Ghamdi as one of the hijackers on United Airlines Flight 175 that flew into the south tower of the World Trade Center. After Christina and her family members identify him as their former in-law they realize their lives will never be the same again as it appears they are plunged into the middle of the September 11 plot.

During the paranoiac post-9/11 period from 2001-2003, Christina works with a frantic FBI, emptying her memory of the 1992-1995 era with her former husband. She becomes a confidential, paid informant, fearful for her life and the lives of her family. Her fears appear to be well-founded. In December, 2005, she suffers a fatal, controversial car crash while working with the author. The coroner’s, sheriff’s, and other official reports, conflict. Witnesses refuse to talk. Was it an unavoidable accident, a planned suicide, or was she deliberately forced off the road?

In the context of the years leading up to 9/11 the creation of the Internet in 1992 signals the dawn of the electronic decade, giving Bin Laden global access through the World Wide Web to his murderous Al Qaeda network. While a slumbering America embraces Feng Shui and Planet Hollywood, Christina provides personal insights into the now-frightening dynamics of her years with Middle Easterners who not only live next door but in her homes at port cities on the West Coast, Portland and San Diego.

She offers a rare, chilling glimpse, under the radar, into the fabric of the cell members’ layered, duplicitous lives; their strange habits and travels abroad; the odd activities they, arrogantly, never try to hide from her, and the clash of cultures she observes. We learn how Christina, her mother, and sister, attempt without success to tell U.S. intelligence agencies of their suspicions. The Scott family’s wake-up call in the mid-1990s is ignored at a critical time for intervention. Yet in 2004 the 9/11 Commission Report admits that terrorists were indeed operating in several US cities in the early 1990s.

While America is late to acknowledge that dozens, perhaps hundreds, of terrorists are living among us, many posing as students like Christina’s husband, setting up sleeper cells and blending in so easily (and continue to do so, according to reports such as Egyptians arriving in August 2006 on student visas and disappearing), she provides a dramatic, first-hand account of her life with the radical jihadists and the effects of their fanatical philosophy that continue to resound.

Surrounded by Saudis, Yemenis, and Persian Gulf Arabs from 1992-1995, as America continues to celebrate its 1991 Gulf War victory, the unsophisticated teenager is unwittingly privy to blatant terrorist recruiting on the West Coast, not-so-secret cell gatherings, day and night reconnaissance operations, and raucous target planning sessions as they sit around her coffee table. Christina later tells the FBI she accompanies the men as they take flying lessons in San Diego and frequently cross the Mexican border to bring in ‘relatives.’
She is present when new recruits appear disorganized and directionless yet share an unusual unity. She is there when Al-Ghamdi and his cohorts engage in measuring bridge abutments, the width of train tracks, and calculate the height of landmark buildings. Strange activities? Not to the guileless 17-year old. She accepts the men as foreign architectural and engineering students fond of grabbing a couple of triple-cheese pizzas on their way to photograph (terrorist) homework assignments. Christina, who never traveled more than 20 miles from home before running away, accepts without question Al-Ghamdi’s six different passports and two Social Security cards. He’s so well traveled, she marvels, I guess he needs lots of passports.

There is no hint of the mission the men might be on; she recognizes no red flags. Raised in a sheltered, deeply religious family of Jehovah’s Witnesses in one of the most sparsely populated states in the Union, the young girl is quickly dazzled by Al-Ghamdi’s exotic culture, worldliness, and even mystery, dreaming only of the ivory satin wedding gown she’ll wear when he proposes. In 1992 the couple watch Bill Clinton being nominated as the Democratic presidential candidate, cheer when the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team become the first Canadian team to win the World Series, and take Whitney Houston’s hit song, “I Will Always Love You,” as their own.

By Phantoms Duped details how Arab recruits are divided into class-ranked groups, which cars they are assigned to buy, and the location of safe houses. In 2001 and 2002, as Christina reluctantly, painfully re-lives those years for the Bureau, providing Special Agents with a ringside seat, she realizes that Al-Ghamdi’s words and actions held deadly meaning. The ‘friends’ were Al-Qaeda cell members. Kind ‘uncle’ Abdullah from the U.A.E. was a murderous terrorist who handled the finances. What an impressionable fool she’d been, and vulnerable, she realizes bitterly. Why hadn’t she tried harder to warn authorities in 1995?

The drama and intrigue of Christina’s story is further heightened by the FBI’s skepticism and ambivalence in confirming her former husband’s identity (several books reveal the FBI’s confusion about the hijackers’ identities, which continues to this day. Several men share the Ahmed Al-Ghamdi name; it is as common in the East as Smith or Jones in the West and the hijackers were known to often exchange identities), while at the same time wringing her memory dry, insisting on her cooperation for almost two years after 9/11.
A female agent phones Christina’s mother in Oregon and Heather in Texas to confirm that their former in-law is Hijacker #13, then two days later calls both of them again to deny she ever made the statement, leaving the Scott family to ask why they continue to be questioned for many more months and why Christina is later asked to become an informant for “Penttbom,” the name given to the FBI’s 9/11 investigation. A similar FBI denial occurs in Florida, where, in his book, The Big Wedding: 9/11, The Whistle-Blowers, and The Cover-Up, author Sander Hicks quotes Amanda Keller as saying that the FBI told her that her definite identification of her sometime boyfriend as 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, was “mistaken,” that she must accept “the official version” and that there was another Mohammed Atta. Is the FBI lying? If so, what would be their reason?

In 2005, Christina, now living quietly in Northern California, vacillates over whether or not to go public with a book about her experiences. Is her life still in danger, four years after 9/11? Her decision to tell her story is motivated by a need to alert America to how easily terrorists live among us, never more timely than now; by the belief that the victims’ families are entitled to know about the hijackers’ lives that they didn’t read in the newspapers, and in part to encourage others to come forward in similar circumstances. “If you can save one person by what you tell,” her brother tells her, “then you must come forward.”

By late November 2005, the book project is well in hand. Documentation for By Phantoms Duped proves substantial and includes Christina’s and Ahmed Al-Ghamdi’s marriage certificate and divorce decree, newspaper clippings, excerpts from her secret journals detailing FBI debriefings, photographs, and taped interviews with the author. But as she re-lives those years and grasps the broader significance of her experiences Scott has bouts of depression and enters counseling. More fearful than ever that her life could be in danger now that she has decided to tell her story, she makes a new will giving the author exclusive rights, through her mother Joan, to her story in case of her death.

On December 3, 2005, Christina heads to snow country to check out a Christmas vacation cabin at Diamond Lake, in the Cascade mountains. She plans to enjoy the holiday with all three of her children. In the car are additional secret journals and notes of meetings with FBI officials that she plans to give Jill Amadio during her visit on December 6. Along Copeland Creek Road, off Highway 138, high above the creek that tumbles down a gorge into the North Umpqua River, eight men claim that they witnessed Christina deliberately drive her 1998 Honda Accord over the steep embankment and into the turbulent waters 170 feet below.

Is the shame Christina experiences after Al-Ghamdi’s deception and betrayal too much of a bitter burden to bear? What is the true story behind her death? Why have some of the witnesses disappeared? Why is there no autopsy? And, one of the most bewildering aspects of the case as far as the family is concerned: why won’t the FBI answer our questions about the true identity of Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, their in-law? After her death in 2005, a local law enforcement officer tells Christina’s mother that the FBI privately confirmed to him that Ahmed is definitely identified as Christina’s former husband and hijacker #13. On the day she died Christina Scott was 31 years old.

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