Early al Qaeda plans targeted 10 US sites

11.00am - By DEBORAH CHARLES

WASHINGTON - Al Qaeda originally planned to crash hijacked planes into 10 targets in the United States and carry out simultaneous attacks in southeast Asia, says the panel investigating the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The commission today issued a report saying that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, believed to be the main planner of the Sept. 11 attacks which killed nearly 3000 people, had originally drawn up a more-extensive scheme in which he would also pilot a hijacked airplane.

Al Qaeda had drawn up a list of targets that originally included the sites hit on Sept. 11 (the World Trade Centre twin towers and the Pentagon) plus the White House, the US Capitol, CIA and FBI headquarters, nuclear power plants and the tallest buildings in California and Washington state.

The commission gathered its information in part from written reports of interrogation of al Qaeda captives, including Mohammed and Ramzi bin al Shaibah, another suspected Sept. 11 plotter.

According to the commission report, the plot was launched in 1999 when al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden approved a proposal by Mohammed -- who is referred to in the report as KSM -- to use aircraft as weapons.

Mohammed had originally hoped to pilot one of 10 airplanes to be involved in the attacks. But instead of crashing the plane, he would have killed every adult male on board then landed at a US airport to make a speech denouncing US policies in the Middle East.

The al Qaeda leadership rejected the proposal as too ambitious. When bin Laden approved the plan it was split into two parts -- one in which hijackers would commandeer flights and crash them into US targets, and another in which operatives would hijack US airplanes in Southeast Asia and explode them in mid-air.

By mid-2000, bin Laden decided to cancel the southeast Asia part of the hijack plot because he believed it would be too difficult to synchronise operations on opposite sides of the globe.

Al Qaeda had also intended to use up to 26 hijackers for the Sept. 11 plot, as opposed to the 19 who actually participated in hijacking the four commercial aircraft.

"Even as late as the summer of 2001, KSM wanted to send as many operatives as possible to the United States in order to increase the chances for successful attacks," the report said.

It gave details of 10 candidate hijackers who were slated to be part of the attacks but were pulled out because they failed to get US visas, faced pressure from their family or had trouble with immigration or security officials.

- REUTERS

September 11 Commission:

Staff Statement 16: Outline of the 9/11 Plot [PDF]

Herald Feature: September 11

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