Video: 9/11 plotters seen in video

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updated 10/2/2006 7:00:41 PM ET 2006-10-02T23:00:41

Key parts of this tape were shot in Afghanistan in Jan. 2000, 20 months before the 9/11 attacks. That underscores just how far in advance Osama bin Laden set his deadly plan in motion.

The most chilling scene: 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta and pilot Ziad Jarrah laughing and joking around, as they prepare to record their so-called martyrdom videos in preparation for the suicide attacks.

"The lasting image is of the jovial happy nature of two men who would ultimately commit mass murder," says NBC News terrorism analyst Steve Emerson. 

In fact, were it not for the AK-47 by Atta's side, the two men could pass for over-achieving middle class students comfortable in the West, which is exactly what they did in Germany and in the U.S.

Also on the tape, video of a previously unknown terror summit in Jan. 2000. Bin Laden addresses roughly 100 terrorists, including the two hijackers and al-Qaida's senior commanders. Children are mixed in the crowd, some may be Bin Laden's.

"I think retrospectively what is very clear is that al-Qaida has gone to great lengths to document its involvement in planning and coordinating the 9/11 terrorist attacks, partially for historical reasons, partially for propaganda reasons," says Evan Kohlmann, an NBC News terrorism analyst.

The summit was held at Bin Laden's Tarnak Farms compound in Afghanistan. Video of the same compound — obtained by NBC New — was shot by a CIA predator drone a few months later. The man in flowing white robes is believed to be Bin Laden.

The video released Sunday was found when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001. NBC News has obtained an analysis of the tape by U.S. intelligence, which scrutinized every frame. 

Intelligence officials isolated close-ups of Atta and Jarrah in the crowd at the summit. Also in the crowd that day, a rogue's gallery of terror:

  • 9/11 planner Ramzi bin Al-Shibh, now in U.S. custody;
  • Two senior al-Qaida commanders;
  • And a Kenyan wanted for his role in the deadly East African bombings in 1998.

"We have a collection of some of the most senior al-Qaida leaders on earth," says Kohlmann. "This tape is a gold mine of information."

Whether by accident or by design, there is no audio on any of the tape, so we will never know exactly what was said. FBI and Pentagon officials tell NBC News that they used Arabic linguists to try to lip-read the tape, but to no avail.

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