Mon, Apr 03, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Success of 9/11 attacks surprised terror mastermind

AFP , ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the brains behind the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, was surprised by the scale of destruction wrought by the tragedy, which scuppered his plans to unleash a second wave of strikes.

Declassified summaries of interrogations of the former top al-Qaeda planner, now incarcerated at an undisclosed location by the US, revealed fascinating details of the 2001 attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people.

Sheikh Mohammed's testimony, aired in the death penalty trial of would-be suicide pilot Zacarias Moussaoui, contained data on the terror group's tactics.

Neither prosecution nor defense lawyers were allowed to interview Sheikh Mohammed before the trial, so his testimony is contained in a "substitution" written up by US intelligence operatives.

It was introduced in the trial by the defense, in a bid to undercut claims by Moussaoui, the only man charged in the US in connection with the attacks, that he was to have been a key player in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Jurors will resume deliberations today over whether Moussaoui is eligible for the death penalty sought by the government which claims his "lies" while in jail in August 2001 allowed the world's worst terror attack to go ahead.

The plan for the Sept. 11 strikes originated in 1996, when Sheikh Mohammed travelled to Afghanistan to meet al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and to ask him for money and operatives so he could hijack 10 planes in the US and fly them on suicide missions, five on the East Coast and five on the West Coast.

At first, bin Laden was unsure the plan could work, the testimony said, but in April 1999 summoned Sheikh Mohammed, or "KSM," as he has been referred to in the Moussaoui trial, back to Afghanistan, to tell him to go ahead.

Sheikh Mohammed changed the plan in 1999 when he realized that two candidates for the operation put forward by bin Laden, Walid Bin Attah, also known as "Khallad," and Abu Bara were Yemenis who would find it hard to get US visas.

Therefore, he decided to plan for simultaneous attacks on US airliners in Asia and the US -- but by spring 2000, bin Laden cancelled the Asian portion, believing it was too difficult to synchronize with US attacks.

Sheikh Mohammed, captured in March 2003, said he targeted the World Trade Center in New York "to wake the American people up."

He admits in the document that he "never really counted on the real impact of the September 11 attacks."

"Sheikh Mohammed said that because he did not expect the 9/11 attacks to be as large as they were, he also did not plan for the level of scrutiny that the US government would place on foreign-born citizens," summaries of Mohammed's interrogations said.

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