Visions Of Life
9/11 Panel Finds No Collaboration Between Iraq, Al Qaeda
There goes the argument for the pro-war bastards..
Al Qaeda Originally Envisioned Plot With 10 Jets
9/11 Panel Finds No Collaboration Between Iraq, Al Qaeda
By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 16, 2004; 1:40 PM
The terrorist attacks carried out on Sept. 11, 2001, were
originally envisioned as an even more spectacular assault
involving 10 jetliners on the east and west coasts, but
the plan was scaled back and was nearly derailed on
several occasions by setbacks and squabbling among senior
al Qaeda officials, according to a new report released
The date for the attacks was uncertain until weeks before
they were carried out, and there is evidence as late as
Sept. 9, 2001, that ringleader Mohamed Atta had not
decided whether the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania
would target the U.S. Capitol or the White House,
according to the report, which was issued by the
independent commission probing the Sept. 11 attacks. One
of the hijacking pilots apparently came close to
abandoning the plot altogether, the panel found.
In an overview of al Qaeda released in a separate report
earlier this morning, the commission also found "no
credible evidence" that al Qaeda collaborated with Saddam
Hussein's government in Iraq on the Sept. 11 strikes or
any other attacks on the United States.
The commission's astonishingly detailed report on the
planning for Sept. 11 -- which relies heavily on the
previously classified interrogations of senior al Qaeda
operatives in U.S. custody -- portrays al Qaeda leader
Osama bin Laden as deeply involved in planning the
strikes, choosing the hijackers himself and consistently
pushing to have the attacks carried out earlier than they
Bin Laden's fervor persisted despite heated opposition
from many of his closest aides, who urged him to abandon
the plot as it neared its completion in the summer of
2001, the report says.
Bin Laden "thought that an attack against the United
States would reap al Qaeda a recruiting and fundraising
bonanza," the report says. "In his thinking, the more al
Qaeda did, the more support it would gain. Although he
faced opposition from many of his most senior
advisers . . . bin Laden effectively overruled their
objections, and the attacks went forward."
The commission's report represents by far the most
detailed and authoritative public account of the Sept. 11
attacks since the 19 al Qaeda hijackers commandeered four
jetliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center,
the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside that day. It
also comes as one of the last documents to be issued by
the 10-member bipartisan panel before the release next
month of its final report, which is likely to span some
Most of the report centers on the planning and
deliberations for the Sept. 11 plot, which began with a
proposal in 1996 to bin Laden by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,
who would eventually oversee the plot and whose statements
to his U.S. interrogators form a crucial part of the
commission's report. Another U.S. detainee, Sept. 11
financier and would-be hijacker Ramzi Binalshibh, also
figures prominently in the account.
The report traces the emergence of the hijackers,
beginning with longtime jihad fighters Nawaf Alhazmi and
Khalid Almihdhar and including the formation of a
hijacking cell in Hamburg, Germany. Bin Laden approved a
plan in 1999 that called for hijacking airliners in both
the United States and Southeast Asia, but the latter part
was soon dropped for logistical reasons.
In addition to the targets that were hit on Sept. 11,
Mohammed initially proposed crashing hijacked planes into
the CIA and FBI headquarters, unidentified nuclear power
plants and the tallest buildings in California and
Washington state," the report says.
"The centerpiece of his original proposal was the tenth
plane, which he would have piloted himself," it says.
Instead of crashing it in a suicide attack, Mohammed would
have killed every adult male passenger on the plane,
contacted the media from the air and landed the aircraft
at a U.S. airport. Then he would have made a speech
denouncing U.S. policies in the Middle East before
releasing all the women and children, the report says.
When bin Laden finally approved the operation, he
personally scrapped the idea of using one of the hijacked
planes to make a public statement, the report says.
Commission staff also identify at least nine, and as many
as 10, potential hijackers who were at one point drafted
for inclusion in the attacks but either backed out or were
removed by senior al Qaeda officials. Al Qaeda had
envisioned 25 or 26 hijackers total, for as many as seven
hijackers on each plane, according to Mohammed.
Contrary to the popular depiction of the plotters as
disciplined and unerring, the commission's investigators
indicate that the plan was beset with problems.
"Given the catastrophic results of the 9/11 attacks, it is
tempting to depict the plot as a set plan executed to near
perfection," the report says. "This would be a mistake.
The 9/11 conspirators confronted operational difficulties,
internal disagreements, and even dissenting opinions
within the leadership of al Qaeda. In the end, the plot
proved sufficiently flexible to adapt and evolve as
The commission staff found that "internal disagreement
among the 9/11 plotters may have posed the greatest
potential vulnerability for the plot." The clearest
example is a serious rift that developed between Atta,
whom bin Laden had designated as the "emir" of the plot,
and Ziad Jarrah, one of the other trained pilots.
Jarrah was more gregarious and seemingly westernized than
his compatriots, and he pined for his girlfriend. He had
married her in an Islamic ceremony not recognized by
German law, and he called her on an almost daily basis.
The breaking point appears to have come in July 2001, when
Jarrah was taken to the Miami airport by Atta and issued a
one-way ticket to Germany.
Although Jarrah would rejoin the plot in the next month,
the panel concludes that Mohammed "may have been preparing
another al Qaeda operative, Zacarias Moussaoui, to take
Jarrah's place" and that he was intended "as a potential
substitute pilot." Moussaoui, who was arrested in
Minnesota in August 2001, is charged as a conspirator in
the Sept. 11 plot.
The panel, formally known as the National Commission on
Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, also portrays an
ongoing high-level debate among bin Laden, Mohammed, Atta
and others over the scope and timing of the attacks.
Bin Laden, the report says, "had been pressuring KSM
[Mohammed] for months to advance the attack date," even
asking that the attacks occur as early as mid-2000 after
Ariel Sharon caused an outcry by visiting a contested holy
site in Jerusalem. According to Mohammed, bin Laden later
pushed for dates of May 12, 2001 -- the seven-month
anniversary of the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen -- and
then for June or July, to coincide with a visit by Sharon
"In both instances," the report said, Mohammed "insisted
that the hijacker teams were not yet ready. Other al Qaeda
detainees also confirm that the 9/11 attacks were delayed
during the summer of 2001, despite bin Laden's wishes."
The final date was likely influenced in part by the
targets chosen, investigators also found. An electronic
communication between Atta and Binalshibh showed that Atta
finally selected a date after the first week in
September "so that the United States Congress would be in
Bin Laden strongly favored targeting the White House, and
Binalshibh urged Atta to agree. But Atta was concerned
that the presidential mansion was too difficult to hit,
and backed the U.S. Capitol instead. The matter appears to
have been unresolved as late as two days before the attack.
The panel's report appears to generally side with FBI
investigators on the question of knowing accomplices
within the United States, ruling out, for example, any
terrorist connections to a Saudi national who helped two
of the hijackers in San Diego. The panel also found no
evidence that the Saudi royal family or government aided
the plot. But the commission raises questions about a
handful of other individuals and says its investigation is
The public hearings being held today feature testimony
from FBI investigators, a Justice Department prosecutor
and a CIA officer about the history of al Qaeda and the
makings of the Sept. 11 plot.
In a staff report and testimony tomorrow, the commission
will examine the nation's poorly prepared air defenses on
A 12-page report issued earlier today offered a broad
examination of the history of al Qaeda and bin Laden, who
for years went unnoticed or underestimated by U.S.
That report says that bin Laden was intent on carrying out
attacks on the United States as early as 1992, viewing
America as "the head of the snake" because of its support
for Israel and Arab regimes he considered corrupt. But
U.S. officials were not aware of these plans, or
knowledgeable about any details of his organization, until
four years later, the report says.
Although al Qaeda evidently never built a relationship
with Iraq, the terrorist group may have become involved
with Iran, and may have participated in the June 1996
bombing of the Khobar Towers apartment complex in Dhahran,
Saudi Arabia, that killed 19 Americans and injured 372
others, the panel found.
Investigators concluded that the Khobar Towers attack was
carried out by a Saudi Shiite Hezbollah group with
assistance from Iran. Initially, because of the historical
hostility between bin Laden's extremist brand of Sunni
Islam and Shiites, analysts had discounted cooperation
between the two.
"Later intelligence, however, showed far greater potential
for collaboration between Hezbollah and al Qaeda than many
had previously thought," the report says. It describes
contacts between al Qaeda and Iran, including a visit to
Iran and Lebanon by a small group of al Qaeda operatives
for training in explosives, intelligence and security.
"We have seen strong but indirect evidence that [bin
Laden's] organization did in fact play some as yet unknown
role in the Khobar attack," the report says.
As al Qaeda developed, its terrorist training camps in
Afghanistan provided fertile ground for its operatives "to
think creatively about ways to commit mass murder," it
says. Among the ideas that were raised: taking over a
nuclear missile launcher in Russia and forcing Russian
scientists to fire a nuclear missile at the United States,
carrying out mustard gas or cyanide attacks against Jewish
areas in Iran, spreading poison gas through the air
conditioning system of a targeted building and hijacking
an aircraft and crashing it into an airport terminal or
In 1998, the suicide truck bombings of the U.S. embassies
in Kenya and Tanzania -- which killed 224 people and
injured more than 5,000 combined -- marked a new departure
in that "they were planned, directed and executed by al
Qaeda, under the direct supervision of bin Laden and his
chief aides," the report says.
But a January 2000 attempt to attack a U.S. warship, the
USS The Sullivans, failed because the boat to be used in
the suicide attack was overloaded with explosives and
sank, the report says. Ten months later, a similar attack
was executed successfully against the USS Cole in Yemen.
"Contrary to popular understanding," the report says, "bin
Laden did not fund al Qaeda through a personal fortune and
a network of businesses," and he never received a $300
million inheritance. He actually received about $1 million
a year over about 24 years as an inheritance, a
significant sum but not enough to fund a global terrorist
"Instead, al Qaeda relied primarily on a fundraising
network developed over time," the report says. It says the
CIA estimates that al Qaeda spent $30 million a year, with
the largest outlays ($10 million to $20 million annually)
going to fund the Taliban.
"Actual terrorist operations were relatively cheap," it
Since the Sept. 11 attacks and the defeat of the Taliban
in Afghanistan, "al Qaeda's funding has decreased
significantly," the report says. But the group's
expenditures have decreased as well, and "it remains
relatively easy for al Qaeda to find the relatively small
sums required to fund terrorist operations," the report
Now, the organization is far more decentralized, with
operational commanders and cell leaders making the
decisions that were previously made by bin Laden, the
Yet, al Qaeda remains interested in carrying out chemical,
biological, radiological or nuclear attacks against the
United States, the report says. Although an attempt to
purchase uranium in 1994 failed -- the material proved to
be fake -- "al Qaeda continues to pursue its strategic
objective of obtaining a nuclear weapon," according to the
By any means possible, it warns, "al Qaeda is actively
striving to attack the United States and inflict mass
In testimony before the commission today, federal
officials said they agreed that al Qaeda remains a threat
to the United States.
U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said that despite
losing much of its leadership in the U.S. war on
terrorism, al Qaeda is still dangerous and may now be more
John Pistole, the FBI's executive assistant director for
counter-terrorism, said the FBI views the war against
terrorism as a "generational" one that may not be won
until future generations in the Muslim world are weaned
away from radical anti-American views.
"It may be tantamount to a hundred-year war," he said.
Staff writer William Branigin contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company