Lamb, Christina

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Al-Qaeda Chief reveals full 9/11 plan

news.com.au ^ | 3/29/04 | Christina Lamb

Posted on Tuesday, March 30, 2004 2:25:37 PM by BurbankKarl

Al-Qaeda chief reveals full 9/11 plan By Christina Lamb 29Mar04

IT makes a chilling picture. The mastermind behind the September 11 attacks has told interrogators that he and his terrorist nephew leafed through almanacs of US skyscrapers when planning the operation.

Sears Tower in Chicago and Library Tower in Los Angeles - which was "blown up" in the film Independence Day - were both potential targets, according to transcripts of interrogations of al-Qaeda operations chief Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. "We were looking for symbols of economic might," he told his captors. He recounted sitting looking at the books with Ramzi Yusuf, his nephew by marriage, who was the man behind the first World Trade Centre bombing in 1993. In that attack Yusuf succeeded only in ripping a crater into the foundations with a van bomb.

"We knew from that experience that explosives could be problematic," Khalid said, "so we started thinking about using planes."

When he was captured last March in the house of a microbiologist in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, the paunchy 37-year-old was unshaven and wearing a baggy vest. He looked more like a down-and-out than one of the most dangerous men in the world.

The interrogation reports make clear, however, that he was not only the chief planner for September 11 but also introduced Osama bin Laden to Hambali, the Indonesian militant accused of orchestrating the Bali bombing 13 months later.

To date, Khalid is the most senior al-Qaeda member to have been caught. Until now there has been no word of where he is being held or what, if anything, he is saying.

Although the interrogation transcripts are prefaced with the warning that "the detainee has been known to withhold information or deliberately mislead", it is clear that he is talking - and that the September 11 conspiracy was much more extensive than has previously been revealed.

The confessions reveal planning for the atrocity started much earlier than anyone had realised and was intended to be even more devastating.

"The original plan was for a two-pronged attack with five targets on the east coast of America and five on the west coast," he told interrogators.

"We talked about hitting California as it was America's richest state and bin Laden had talked about economic targets."

Bin Laden, who like Khalid had studied engineering, vetoed simultaneous coast-to-coast attacks, arguing that "it would be too difficult to synchronise".

Khalid switched to two waves: hitting the east coast first and following up with a second attack. "Osama had said the second wave should focus on the west coast," he said.

Zacarias Moussaoui, a French-Moroccan who had lived in London, was sent to the Pan Am international flight school in Minnesota to train for the west coast attack, according to Khalid. His instructor alerted the FBI, however, after the Moroccan showed no interest in landing planes - only in steering them. He was arrested in August 2001.

Until now it had been widely believed that Moussaoui was meant to have been the 20th hijacker on September 11. The revelation by Khalid that he was part of a "second wave" is lent weight by the FBI's recent arrest of two other men who were allegedly part of the west coast conspiracy.

Despite the setbacks, Khalid described the September 11 attack as "far more successful than we had ever imagined".

Khalid, whose family came from Pakistan, was born in 1965 in Kuwait City, where his father was a preacher. He joined the Muslim Brotherhood as a teenager and went to the US to study engineering in North Carolina.

At that time the Afghan jihad against the Russians was in full flow. After graduating, Khalid headed for one of bin Laden's guesthouses in the Pakistani frontier town of Peshawar. He has told interrogators it was there that he first met Hambali.

In 1992 Khalid moved south to Karachi. Posing as a businessman importing holy water from Mecca, he acted as a fundraiser and intermediary between young militants and wealthy sponsors in the Gulf.

Yusuf's attempt to blow up the World Trade Centre inspired him to conceive his own operations. The first was a plot to blow up 12 American airliners over the Pacific. Both Yusuf and Hambali were involved. It failed after their Manila bomb factory caught fire. The men fled to Pakistan where Yusuf was arrested.

Undeterred, Khalid decided to start working on something "far more spectacular" for which he "hoped to persuade bin Laden to give him money and operatives". He also decided to introduce Hambali to bin Laden. -Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker, was believed to have been plotting a wider wave of attacks on the US west coast before he was arrested / AP

Hambali headed Jemaah Islamiah, which wanted to unite Southeast Asia under an Islamic banner.

Khalid told interrogators: "I was impressed by JI's ability to operate regionally and by Hambali's connections with the Malaysian government. He told me that his group had a training camp in The Philippines and a madrasah (religious teaching) program in Malaysia on the border with Singapore.

"In 1996 I invited Hambali to Afghanistan to meet Osama. He spent three or four days with him and it was agreed that al-Qaeda and Hambali's organisation would work together on 'targets of mutual interest'."

Hambali, who had been operating on a shoestring, was provided with a new car, mobile phones and computers.

Bin Laden was apparently impressed by Khalid's networking and ideas and made him head of al-Qaeda's military committee. From then on he was a key planner in almost every attack, including the simultaneous bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1988. Bin Laden dubbed him The Brain.

The big challenge was to attack Americans on their own soil. Initially Khalid proposed leasing a charter plane, filling it with explosives and crashing it into the CIA headquarters. But the plan expanded.

Bin Laden pointed out that on a visit to the US in 1982 he had been to the Empire State Building in New York and was astonished by how unprotected such key landmarks were.

A committee, known as the shura, was formed comprising bin Laden, Khalid and four others. It met at what was known as the war room in bin Laden's camp outside Jalalabad in Afghanistan. The plan for a two-pronged attack was formed. "We had scores of volunteers to die for Allah but the problem was finding those familiar with the West who could blend in as well as get US visas," Khalid told his interrogators.

Two Yemenis and two Saudi pilots, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar, were selected and given commando training in Afghanistan. "All four operatives only knew that they had volunteered for a martyrdom operation involving planes," Khalid said.

In 1999 the two Yemenis were refused US visas; but a few months later four jihad recruits from Hamburg arrived in Quetta, Pakistan. Led by Mohammed Atta, an Egyptian, they had originally planned to go to Chechnya to fight the Russians, but a former mujaheddin in Germany had given them an introduction to bin Laden.

After meeting the al-Qaeda leader in Kandahar, they delivered the baia, the oath of allegiance required to gain access to his inner circle, and were invited to his Ramadan feast. He told them that they had been selected for a top-secret mission and promised that they would enter paradise as martyrs. They were instructed to go home and destroy their passports so their trip to Pakistan would be undetected. They were then to shave off their beards, go to the US and obtain pilot's licences.

Khalid told interrogators he had provided them with a special training manual which included information on how to find flight schools and study timetables.

Three of the four were granted US visas and travelled to the US. The fourth, Ramzi Binalshibh, failed and returned to Afghanistan, where he communicated with them through internet chat rooms.

In the spring of 2000, after a planning meeting in Kuala Lumpur, bin Laden scaled back the plan from two-prong to two-wave because they had been unable to get enough potential pilots into the US. Moussaoui succeeded in entering the US, but the order went out for potential recruits who were not Arab, Khalid told his captors.

A date was set for the first-wave attack, codenamed Porsche 911, and a message went around the world for followers to return to Afghanistan by September 10.

The messages were intercepted by several Western intelligence agencies but none apparently realised their significance.

When the suicide planes struck on September 11, al-Qaeda seems to have been taken by surprise - both by the success of the attacks and by the US reaction.

"Afterwards we never got time to catch our breath, we were immediately on the run," Khalid said.

"Osama declared Tony Blair our principal enemy and London a target." Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, to US interrogators He said the war on terrorism and the US bombing of Afghanistan completely disrupted their communications network. Operatives could no longer use satellite phones and had to rely on couriers, although they still used internet chat rooms.

"Before September 11 we could dispatch operatives with the expectation of follow-up contact but after October 7 (when the bombing started) that changed 180 degrees. There was no longer a war room or shura and operatives had more autonomy."

He told interrogators that he remained in Pakistan for 10 days after September 11, then went to Afghanistan to find bin Laden: "I went to Jalalabad, Tora Bora, looking for him and then eventually met him in Kabul."

The al-Qaeda leader instructed him to continue operations - with Britain as the next target.

"It was at this time we discussed the Heathrow operation," Khalid said. "Osama declared (British Prime Minister Tony) Blair our principal enemy and London a target."

He arranged for operatives to be sent from Pakistan and Afghanistan to London, where surveillance of Heathrow airport and the surrounding areas began. However, he claimed, the operation never got beyond the planning stages. "There was a lot of confusion," he said. "I would say my performance at that time was sloppy."

One priority was to get Hambali out of Afghanistan. In November 2001, Khalid arranged for him to go to Karachi. There he gave him $US20,000 and a false Indonesian passport with which he could travel to Sri Lanka and on to Thailand, from where he would help to organise the Bali nightclub bombing the following year. They kept in touch through Hambali's younger brother, who was in Karachi.

The net was closing in around Khalid. Another shura member, Abu Zubayda, was arrested in Faisalabad in March 2002. Six months later Binalshibh was seized in a Karachi apartment he shared with Khalid.

Khalid escaped, but his flight came to an end in the early hours of March 2 last year in Rawalpindi.

Questioned for two days by Pakistan's military intelligence, who say he did nothing but pray repeatedly, he was flown blindfolded to Bagram, the US base in the mountains above Kabul.

It is not clear how long he was held there, nor what methods were used to make him talk. Afghans freed from Bagram claim to have been subjected to sleep deprivation and extremes of hot and cold. There have also been reports of truth drugs.

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I was one of the Taliban's torturers: I crucified people

In an astonishing interview with Christina Lamb, the Afghan leader's former bodyguard reveals the full brutality of the fundamentalist regime sheltering Osama bin Laden
12:01AM BST 30 Sep 2001
"YOU must become so notorious for bad things that when you come into an area people will tremble in their sandals. Anyone can do beatings and starve people. I want your unit to find new ways of torture so terrible that the screams will frighten even crows from their nests and if the person survives he will never again have a night's sleep."

These were the instructions of the commandant of the Afghan secret police to his new recruits. For more than three years one of those recruits, Hafiz Sadiqulla Hassani, ruthlessly carried out his orders. But sickened by the atrocities that he was forced to commit, last week he defected to Pakistan, joining a growing number of Taliban officials who are escaping across the border.

In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph, he reveals for the first time the full horror of what has been happening in the name of religion in Afghanistan. Mr Hassani has the pinched face and restless hands of a man whose night hours are as haunted as any of his victims. Now aged 30, he does not, however, fit the militant Islamic stereotype usually associated with the Taliban.

Married with a wife and one-year-old daughter, he holds a degree in business studies, having been educated in Pakistan, where he grew up as a refugee while his father and elder brothers fought in the jihad against the Russians. His family was well off, owning land and property in Kandahar to which they returned after the war.

"Like many people, I did not become a Talib by choice," he explained. "In early 1998 I was working as an accountant here in Quetta when I heard that my grandfather - who was 85 - had been arrested by the Taliban in Kandahar and was being badly beaten. They would only release him if he provided a member of his family as a conscript, so I had to go."

Mr Hassani at first was impressed by the Taliban. "It had been a crazy situation after the Russians left, the country was divided by warring groups all fighting each other. In Kandahar warlords were selling everything, kidnapping young girls and boys, robbing people, and the Taliban seemed like good people who brought law and order."

So he became a Taliban "volunteer", assigned to the secret police. Many of his friends also joined up as land owners in Kandahar were threatened that they must either ally themselves with the Taliban or lose their property. Others were bribed to join with money given to the Taliban by drug smugglers, as Afghanistan became the world's largest producer of heroin.

At first, Mr Hassani's job was to patrol the streets at night looking for thieves and signs of subversion. However, as the Taliban leadership began issuing more and more extreme edicts, his duties changed.

Instead of just searching for criminals, the night patrols were instructed to seek out people watching videos, playing cards or, bizarrely, keeping caged birds. Men without long enough beards were to be arrested, as was any woman who dared venture outside her house. Even owning a kite became a criminal offence.

The state of terror spread by the Taliban was so pervasive that it began to seem as if the whole country was spying on each other. "As we drove around at night with our guns, local people would come to us and say there's someone watching a video in this house or some men playing cards in that house," he said.

"Basically any form of pleasure was outlawed," Mr Hassani said, "and if we found people doing any of these things we would beat them with staves soaked in water - like a knife cutting through meat - until the room ran with their blood or their spines snapped. Then we would leave them with no food or water in rooms filled with insects until they died.

"We always tried to do different things: we would put some of them standing on their heads to sleep, hang others upside down with their legs tied together. We would stretch the arms out of others and nail them to posts like crucifixions.

"Sometimes we would throw bread to them to make them crawl. Then I would write the report to our commanding officer so he could see how innovative we had been."

Here, sitting in the stillness of an orchard in Quetta sipping tea as the sun goes down, he finds it hard to explain how he could have done such things. "We Afghans have grown too used to violence," is all he can offer. "We have lost 1.5 million people. All of us have brothers and fathers up there."

After Kandahar, he was put in charge of secret police cells in the towns of Ghazni and then Herat, a beautiful Persian city in western Afghanistan that had suffered greatly during the Soviet occupation and had been one of the last places to fall to the Taliban.

Herat had always been a relatively liberal place where women would dance at weddings and many girls went to school - but the Taliban were determined to put an end to all that. Mr Hassani and his men were told to be particularly cruel to Heratis.

It was his experience of that cruelty that made Mr Hassani determined to let the world know what was happening in Afghanistan. "Maybe the worst thing I saw," he said, "was a man beaten so much, such a pulp of skin and blood, that it was impossible to tell whether he had clothes on or not. Every time he fell unconscious, we rubbed salt into his wounds to make him scream.

"Nowhere else in the world has such barbarity and cruelty as in Afghanistan. At that time I swore an oath that I will devote myself to the Afghan people and telling the world what is happening."

Before he could escape, however, because he comes from the same tribe, he spent time as a bodyguard for Mullah Omar, the reclusive spiritual leader of the Taliban.

"He's medium height, slightly fat, with an artificial green eye which doesn't move, and he would sit on a bed issuing instructions and giving people dollars from a tin trunk," said Mr Hassani. "He doesn't say much, which is just as well as he's a very stupid man. He knows only how to write his name `Omar' and sign it.

"It is the first time in Afghanistan's history that the lower classes are governing and by force. There are no educated people in this administration - they are all totally backward and illiterate.

"They have no idea of the history of the country and although they call themselves mullahs they have no idea of Islam. Nowhere does it say men must have beards or women cannot be educated; in fact, the Koran says people must seek education."

He became convinced that the Taliban were not really in control. "We laughed when we heard the Americans asking Mullah Omar to hand over Osama bin Laden," he said. "The Americans are crazy. It is Osama bin Laden who can hand over Mullah Omar - not the other way round."

While stationed in Kandahar, he often saw bin Laden in a convoy of Toyota Land Cruisers all with darkened windows and festooned with radio antennae. "They would whizz through the town, seven or eight cars at a time. His guards were all Arabs and very tall people, or Sudanese with curly hair."

He was also on guard once when bin Laden joined Mullah Omar for a bird shoot on his estate. "They seemed to get on well," he said. "They would go fishing together, too - with hand grenades."

The Arabs, according to Mr Hassani, have taken de facto control of his country. "All the important places of Kandahar are now under Arab control - the airport, the military courts, the tank command."

Twice he attended Taliban training camps and on both occasions they were run by Arabs as well as Pakistanis. "The first one I went to lasted 10 days in the Yellow Desert in Helmand province, a place where the Saudi princes used to hunt, so it has its own airport.

It was incredibly well guarded and there were many Pakistanis there, both students from religious schools and military instructors. The Taliban is full of Pakistanis."

He was told that if he died while fighting under the white flag of the Taliban, he and his family would go to paradise. The soldiers were given blank marriage certificates signed by a mullah and were encouraged to "take wives" during battle, basically a licence to rape.

When Mr Hassani was sent to the front line in Bagram, north of Kabul, a few months ago, he saw a chance to escape. "Our line was attacked by the Northern Alliance and they almost defeated us. Many of my friends were killed and we didn't know who was fighting who; there was killing from behind and in front. Our commanders fled in cars leaving us behind.

"We left, running all night but then came to a line of Arabs who arrested us and took us back to the front line. One night last month I was on watch and saw a truck full of sheep and goats, so I jumped in and escaped.

"I got back to Kandahar but Taliban spies saw me and I was arrested and interrogated. Luckily I have relatives who are high ranking Taliban members so they helped me get out and eventually I escaped to Quetta to my wife and daughter.

"I think many in the Taliban would like to escape. The country is starving and joining is the only way to get food and keep your land. Otherwise there is a lot of hatred. I hate both what it does and what it turned me into."