WASHINGTON - A commission investigating the September 11, 2001, attacks holds its last public hearings this week, examining Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and how it pulled off such spectacular attacks against United States targets.

The 10-member bipartisan commission on Wednesday will question FBI and CIA experts who specialised in the militant Muslim network to probe the funding, planning and execution of the suicide airplane attacks on New York and Washington.

On Thursday, the commission will turn to crisis management on the day of the attack, receiving testimony from military and civilian aviation officials. The commission is due to present its findings on July 26.

Democratic commissioner Timothy Roemer told Reuters that this week it would look at "two critically important issues: understanding al Qaeda and why the intelligence for so long simply defined bin Laden as a financier and not an organiser or a mastermind".

"We will also be looking at the day of 9/11 and crisis management. Did we manage the crisis or were there considerable communications and other types of problems in communicating policy and decisions?" he said.

Commission Chairman Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, said the panel would examine "the roots and growth of al Qaeda, its previous attacks on the United States, its financing and international support, and how it plotted such detailed and intricate attacks on our soil."

This week's public hearings will cap a year and a half of work by the commission, which has interviewed more than a thousand people in 10 countries to find out why the United States failed to prevent September 11 and what steps are needed to provide better security now.

The panel, formally known as The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, has heard from a broad range of officials, including President George W Bush and the heads of the FBI, CIA, Justice Department and other key decision-makers, some of them in closed sessions.

"At this, the commission's final public hearing, we will attempt to close the circle," Kean said in a statement.

Media reports say the commission is still deep in debate about the final report, and some have said the commissioners were so divided they might fail to reach a unanimous conclusion.

But Democratic commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste said such talk was premature and rejected critics who said the report might be watered down -- and hence less helpful -- in a bid to achieve unanimity.

Roemer also scoffed at talk of discord, saying: "In my opinion, the 10 commissioners are getting along exceedingly well and cooperating with the eyes of history looking over our shoulder. I am hopeful that we will have a unanimous report, and that's our goal."


Herald Feature: September 11

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