Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The Ten-Plane Plan 

The Washington Post reports on new revelations from the 9/11 panel:
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were originally envisioned as an even more audacious assault involving 10 hijacked jetliners on the East and West coasts, but the plan was scaled back and later plagued by conflicts among al Qaeda's leaders and some of the hijackers themselves, according to a report issued yesterday by the panel investigating the attacks.

The date for the attacks was uncertain until about three weeks before they were carried out, and there is evidence that as late as Sept. 9 ringleader Mohamed Atta had not decided whether one aircraft would target the U.S. Capitol or the White House, according to the report. Atta finally chose a date after the first week of September, the report says, "so that the United States Congress would be in session" . . . .

The narrative portrays bin Laden as a micromanager deeply involved in planning the strikes. He chose all 19 hijackers himself and constantly pushed to move up the attacks, seeking to carry them out as early as the middle of 2000.

Mohammed, the document shows, was the overeager lieutenant who first proposed using airplanes as missiles, but whose grandiose plans were curtailed several times in the face of logistical obstacles. The entire plot, from start to finish, cost al Qaeda only $400,000 to $500,000, the investigation found . . . .

Bin Laden approved and then abandoned a plan for simultaneous jetliner hijackings in the United States and Southeast Asia, and he and Mohammed would later curtail the plan again, eliminating the West Coast component. Bin Laden also discarded Mohammed's wish to personally commandeer one aircraft and use it as a platform to denounce U.S. policies on the Middle East.

"The centerpiece of his original proposal was the tenth plane, which [Mohammed] would have piloted himself," the report noted. Instead of crashing it in a suicide attack, Mohammed would have killed every adult male passenger on the plane, contacted the media while airborne and landed at a U.S. airport. There he wanted to deliver his speech before releasing all the women and children, the report says.

Planning for the assaults began in earnest in 1999. The targets considered over the next two years included not only those hit on Sept. 11, but also the headquarters of the CIA and FBI; nuclear power plants; and the "tallest buildings in California and Washington State," according to the report. Bin Laden was intent on striking the White House, while Atta and Mohammed argued that the Capitol was an easier target . . . .

Bin Laden also had to wrestle with demands by Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who provided al Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan, to avoid direct attacks on the United States. Many of bin Laden's own advisers sided with Omar and urged him to call off the plot, the report shows . . . .

As al Qaeda developed, its terrorist training camps in Afghanistan provided fertile ground for its operatives "to think creatively about ways to commit mass murder," the report says. The ideas included "taking over a launcher and forcing Russian scientists to fire a nuclear missile at the United States; mounting mustard gas or cyanide attacks against Jewish areas in Iran; dispensing poison gas into the air conditioning system of a targeted building; and last, but not least, hijacking an aircraft and crashing it into an airport terminal or nearby city."
On the premise that it's always good to have a firm denial of an accusation that has not been made, a separate Post article reports that the Saudi government did not bankroll the 9/11 attacks directly. However, the accusation that has been made -- that the Saudis 'turned a blind eye' to charities that funded al Qaeda -- may well be on the money. So to speak.

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