Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Investigators have found no evidence Iraq aided al Qaeda attempts to strike the United States, a commission investigating the September 11, 2001, attacks said in a report that undermines the Bush administration's arguments for war.

The report by commission staff said al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had met with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in 1994 and had explored the possibility of cooperation, but the plans apparently never came to fruition.

According to the report, plot mastermind Khalid
Shaikh Mohammed originally envisioned an attack involving 10 hijacked planes with himself as the pilot of one in which all male passengers would be killed and he would deliver an anti-American harangue upon landing.

The assertion was among new details about the plot revealed in a report by the staff of the independent commission investigating the attacks.

Based on interviews with government officials and documents they reviewed, they said Mohammed initially proposed hitting CIA and FBI headquarters, unidentified nuclear plants and tall buildings in California and Washington state, in addition to the World Trade
Centre, Pentagon and White House or Capitol.

Mohammed, who is in US custody at an undisclosed overseas location, told interrogators that rather than crashing his hijacked plane into a target, he wanted to land and make a political statement.

Mohammed proposed killing every male passenger aboard, landing at a US airport and making a "speech denouncing US policies in the Middle East before releasing all the women and children."

That plan was rejected by Osama bin Laden, who ultimately approved a scaled-back mission involving four planes. Training for it began in 1999.

The report said Mohammed wanted more hijackers - up to 26, instead of the 19 who actually participated.

The commission also identified at least 10 al-Qaeda operatives who were to participate but could not take part for various reasons including visa problems and suspicion by officials at airports in the United States and

Far from a seamless operation, the report portrays a plot riven by internal dissent, including disagreement over whether to target the White House or the Capitol - a conflict that apparently never was resolved before the attacks.

Bin Laden also had to overcome opposition to attacking the United States from Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, who was under pressure from
Pakistan to keep al-Qaeda confined.

The pilot of the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, Ziad
Jarrah, nearly quit the plot, leading Mohammed to consider replacing him with Zacarias Moussaoui, who was taking flight training in Minnesota, according to the report.

Mohammed, however, has told his interrogators that Moussaoui actually was being considered for a second wave of attacks still in the early planning stages.

Moussaoui is awaiting trial on conspiracy charges. He is the only person charged in the United States in connection with the September 11 plot.

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