LONDON Khalid Shaikh Mohammed,
al Qaeda's purported operations chief, has told U.S. interrogators
that the group had been planning attacks on the Library Tower
in Los Angeles and the Sears Tower in Chicago on the heels of
the September 11, 2001, terror strikes.
Those plans were aborted mainly because
of the decisive U.S. response to the New York and Washington
attacks, which disrupted the terrorist organization's plans so
thoroughly that it could not proceed, according to transcripts
of his conversations with interrogators.
Mohammed told interrogators that he and Ramzi Yousuf, his nephew
who was behind an earlier attack on the World Trade Center in
1993, had leafed through almanacs of American skyscrapers when
planning the first operation.
"We were looking for symbols of economic might," he
told his captors.
He specifically mentioned as potential targets the Library Tower
in Los Angeles, which was "blown up" in the film "Independence
Day," and the Sears (now Willis) Tower in Chicago.
A British newspaper over the weekend published a detailed account
that it said was taken from transcripts of the interrogation
of Mohammed, who was captured last year in Pakistan.
The transcripts are prefaced with a warning that Mohammed, the
most senior al Qaeda member yet to be caught, "has been
known to withhold information or deliberately mislead."
According to the transcript, Mohammed has maintained that Zacarias
Moussaoui, the French-Moroccan facing trial in the United States
as the "20th hijacker," had been sent to a flight school
in Minnesota to train for a West Coast attack.
That would buttress Moussaoui's contention that he is improperly
charged with participation in the attacks on the World Trade
Center and the Pentagon, because he was preparing for a different
al Qaeda operation.
The new transcripts confirm an earlier report by the Associated
Press that al Qaeda originally had planned to crash hijacked
airliners into targets on both coasts.
The London Sunday Times said the transcripts covered interrogations
conducted during a period of four months after a bleary-eyed
Mohammed was captured in a pre-dawn raid a little more than a
The confessions reveal that planning for the September 11 attacks
started much earlier and was more elaborate than previously thought.
"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, according to the transcript.
"We talked about hitting California as it was America's
richest state, and [al Qaeda leader Osama] bin Laden had talked
about economic targets."
He is reported to have said that bin Laden, who like Mohammed
had studied engineering, vetoed simultaneous coast-to-coast attacks,
arguing that "it would be too difficult to synchronize."
Mohammed then decided to conduct two waves of attacks, hitting
the East Coast first and following up with a second series of
"Osama had said the second wave should focus on the West
Coast," he reportedly said.
But the terrorists seem to have been surprised by the strength
of the American reaction to the September 11 attacks.
"Afterwards, we never got time to catch our breath, we were
immediately on the run," Mohammed is quoted as saying.
Al Qaeda's communications network was severely disrupted, he
said. Operatives could no longer use satellite phones and had
to rely on couriers, although they continued to use Internet
"Before September 11, we could dispatch operatives with
the expectation of follow-up contact, but after October 7 [when
U.S. bombing started in Afghanistan], that changed 180 degrees.
There was no longer a war room ... and operatives had more autonomy."
Mohammed told interrogators that he remained in Pakistan for
10 days after September 11, 2001, then went to Afghanistan to
find bin Laden.
When he was captured in March last year in the home of a microbiologist
in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, the 37-year-old was unshaven and wearing
a baggy vest.
The interrogation reports also indicate that Mohammed had introduced
bin Laden to Hambali, the Indonesian militant accused in the
terror attack that killed more than 200 people in Bali, Indonesia,
in October 2002.
Mohammed was running a hostel filtering al Qaeda recruits in
Peshawar, Pakistan, when he scouted Hambali, whose real name
is Riduan Ismuddin and who ran the Islamist group Jemaah Islamiyah
Later, Mohammed moved to Karachi, Pakistan. There, posing as
a businessman importing holy water from Mecca, Saudi Arabia,
he acted as a fund-raiser and intermediary between militants
and sponsors in the Gulf.
His first planned anti-American attack was Operation Bojinka
(Serbo-Croatian for "big bang") a plot to blow
up 12 U.S. airliners over the Pacific.
Yousuf and Hambali were involved in the scheme, which failed
when the conspirators' Manila bomb factory caught fire. The men
fled to Pakistan, where Yousuf was arrested.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed,
the alleged Sept. 11 mastermind, is seen shortly after his capture.
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