Video: 9/11 terrorists' plan

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 6/16/2004 7:32:02 PM ET 2004-06-16T23:32:02

The Sept. 11 terrorist plot initially was designed to wreak even more destruction on the United States, with 10 planes simultaneously attacking targets on both the East and West coasts, the independent panel investigating the attacks reported Wednesday.

Providing new details on the planning of the plot, the commission staff said that al-Qaida planner Khalid Shaihk Mohammed initially proposed a Sept. 11 attack involving 10 planes that would be used to attack CIA and FBI headquarters, unidentified nuclear plants and tall buildings in California and Washington state.

Mohammed, who is in U.S. custody at an undisclosed overseas location, also told interrogators that he planned to lead the hijacking of one aircraft himself. He intended to kill every adult male passenger aboard, then land at a U.S. airport and make a “speech denouncing U.S. policies in the Middle East before releasing all the women and children,” according to the report.

The second of two reports released at the outset of the commission’s final public hearing said the ambitious plan was rejected by al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who later approved a scaled-back mission involving four planes.

The report, the 16th released by the commission staff, also said “there is good reason to believe” that Zacarias Moussaoui, who is charged as a conspirator in the plot, was under consideration as a possible replacement for one of the Sept. 11 pilots at the time of his arrest.

Dissent in final days of plot
The report portrays the plot as being far from a seamless operation and riven by internal dissent, including disagreement over whether to target the White House or the Capitol, discord that was apparently never resolved before the attacks.

Two of the pilots assigned to the operation — ringleader Mohammed Atta and Ziad Jarrah — were involved in a dispute in the months leading up to the attack that apparently prompted Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to consider replacing Jarrah with Moussaoui, the report said.

Jarrah nearly quit the plot, but was ultimately persuaded to go through with it by Ramzi Binalshibh, who helped plan and finance the attacks from Germany.

He also is in U.S. custody overseas. Jarrah was believed to be at the controls of the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania after a revolt by passengers prevented it from reaching its target.

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

The United States toppled the regime in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, but Omar has eluded capture, as has bin Laden.

Further details
Other details of the plot included in the report:

  • The plot also originally called for two other hijackers to take over Pacific-route flights in Southeast Asia and explode them in midair on Sept. 11. This phase of the plot was later canceled by bin Laden out of concern that it would be too difficult coordinating the simultaneous hijackings on two continents.
  • Al-Qaida intended to use 25 or 26 hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks, but at least nine operatives were either removed from the plot by al-Qaida leadership or were unable to enter the United States, forcing the use of a smaller contingent of attackers.
  • The hijackers spent between $400,000 and $500,000 on the Sept. 11 plot, much of which has been traced to plot mastermind Mohammed. No credible evidence has emerged that anyone in the United States provided financial support. There also is no evidence that Saudi Princess Haifa al Faisal, wife of that country’s U.S. ambassador, Prince Bandar, provided any money to the conspiracy, directly or indirectly.
  • Atta, the pilot of one of the planes that struck the World Trade Center and leader of the 19 hijackers, never met with Iraqi agents in Prague, Czech Republic. That purported meeting was cited as evidence of a possible al-Qaida connection to Iraq. “We do not believe that such a meeting occurred,” the report said.
  • Atta said the hijackers planned to crash their planes to the ground if problems arose during the flights. Atta himself planned to crash his into the streets of New York if he couldn’t strike the World Trade Center.
  • Mohdar Abdullah, an illegal immigrant living in San Diego, provided assistance to two of the hijackers and later made jailhouse claims that he had advance knowledge of the attacks. Abdullah last month was deported to Yemen.
  • Bin Laden originally wanted the attacks to occur on May 12, 2001, seven months after the al-Qaida attack on the USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 sailors. Later, bin Laden sought to have the attacks occur in June or July 2001 because Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was scheduled to visit the White House. In both cases, Mohammed insisted the teams were not ready. Ultimately, Atta picked Sept. 11 because Congress would be in session.
  • Bin Laden wanted the fourth plane to strike the White House, but Atta believed the White House was too difficult to hit. Eventually, Atta agreed to the White House but kept the Capitol in reserve. However, based on other exchanges between the hijackers, it remains unclear exactly which was the target on Sept 11.

Moussaoui's role in dispute
The report said that Moussaoui’s role remains the subject of disagreement between two of the main sources for the report — Mohammed and Binalshibh.

It said that Binalshibh has told investigators that he was instructed to wire $14,000 to Moussaoui in July 2001 and understood that the payment was part of the Sept. 11 plot.

But Mohammed maintains that Moussaoui was intended to take part in a “second wave” of attacks on the West Coast after Sept. 11 along with at least two other al-Qaida operatives who had received flight training — Abderraouf Jdey and Zaini Zakaria. But Mohammed said the planning of the Sept. 11 attacks forced him to put the second round of attacks on hold.

Moussaoui was arrested before the Sept. 11 attacks after arousing suspicions while taking classes at a Minnesota flying school. He is awaiting trial on conspiracy charges. He is the only person charged in the United States in connection with the Sept. 11 plot.

MSNBC.com's Mike Brunker and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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