Bin Laden aides confirm he planned Sept attacks, says reporter

11.45am

DUBAI - Two key al Qaeda network members have affirmed that Osama bin Laden was personally involved in planning the September 11 attacks on the United States, says a journalist who interviewed the two men.

Yosri Fouda, an investigative journalist with al-Jazeera Arabic satellite television, said the interviews did not give evidence of whether the Saudi-born militant was dead or alive.

"You can say that Yosri Fouda, the journalist who carried out the interviews, said that the interviews will prove that he (bin Laden) had an integral role in planning the attacks," Fouda told Reuters by telephone from London.

Fouda was referring to interviews he had in June in or near the Pakistani port city of Karachi with Yemeni Ramzi bin al-Shaibah (also known in Germany as Ramzi Binalshibh), and Kuwaiti-born Khaled al-Sheikh Mohammad, whom he described as the chief of al Qaeda's military operations.

Shaibah is a former room-mate of Egyptian Mohamed Atta, the apparent leader of the 19 hijackers of the airliners that were flown into US landmarks last September 11, killing more than 3000 people.

Qatar-based Jazeera television broadcast the first part of Fouda's documentary, titled Top Secret, last Thursday. It will air the second part, including the interview, this coming Thursday.

Washington has accused bin Laden and al Qaeda of being responsible for the attacks in which the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York were destroyed and US military headquarters at the Pentagon damaged.

Sheikh Mohammad appears on a US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) website list of most-wanted "terrorists". Shaibah is wanted in Germany for suspected links to al Qaeda and is thought to have wanted to take part in the hijackings, but was denied a US visa.

"Sheikh Mohammad said he headed the military committee that planned the (US) attacks and Shaibah said he was the co-ordinator," Fouda told Reuters in his account of remarks by the two men.

The group had praised the deadly attacks but had previously fallen short of admitting responsibility for them.

Fouda said the two admitted that the Muslim militant group had considered targeting US nuclear facilities in the attacks, but it then abandoned the idea, "at least temporarily".

"Sheikh Mohammad told me that they then decided against the idea 'for the time being' because they thought it might get out of their control," said Fouda.

"He (Mohammad) said when the (military operations) committee met we decided to carry out a martyrdom (suicide) operation in the United States, and then we discussed the targets. At first we wanted to target nuclear reactors," he said, noting that the fourth airliner that crashed in Pennsylvania was heading towards the US Congress at Capitol Hill in Washington.

"Shaibah said that Atta called him on August 29 and told him a riddle to set the date of the attacks," he said.

"He was imitating Atta's Egyptian accent who asked his help to solve a riddle that a friend told him: 'what do you make of two sticks (eleven) a slash and a round (donut-shaped) cookie with a stick hanging from it (a nine)?'," he said.

Fouda said the television interviews were carried out using al Qaeda equipment.

"They never allow anyone to bring in their own equipment and I had to rely on their cameras," he said.

- REUTERS

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