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New Plot Details Emerge

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed lacked the resources, so he took his plan to Bin Laden.

July 23, 2004|Terry McDermott | Times Staff Writer

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the man who conceived and directed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was motivated by his strong disagreement with American support for Israel, according to the final report of the Sept. 11 commission.

Mohammed conceived the initial outline of the attack six years before its execution and brought the plan to Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden because he thought he did not have the resources to carry it out on his own.

The Sept. 11 report, released Thursday, largely reaffirms what has been known about the basic overview of the attacks -- much of it first revealed by the commission's interim reports -- and contains no revelations about the plot to attack the World Trade Center and government buildings in and around Washington. But it adds fresh details about the people who conceived and executed it.

The report contains the fullest accounting of Mohammed's overarching role from original conception to supervision of details. Bin Laden, too, was fully involved, selecting all or most of the participants, ordering the substance and the location of their training, and contributing to the timing of the attacks and the selection of targets, the report says.

The report makes a strong case that Al Qaeda accomplished the attacks without any hint of state sponsorship.

The report also appears to lay to rest the notion -- long alluded to by administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney -- that hijacker Mohamed Atta traveled to the Czech Republic to meet an Iraqi intelligence operative in the spring of 2001. In addition to repeating evidence that Atta was in the United States at the time, the report reveals that the Iraqi agent also was not in Prague when the meeting was alleged to have occurred.

Much of the report's detail comes from interrogations of Al Qaeda operatives in U.S. custody, including Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh. Some of that information is contradictory; much of it is difficult to corroborate. One CIA analysis cited in the report, for example, is titled "Khalid Shaykh Muhammed's Threat Reporting -- Precious Truths, Surrounded by a Bodyguard of Lies."

The report -- in particular, its depiction of Mohammed's role -- argues against the view that Al Qaeda was a huge, sophisticated organization with boundless resources and skills.

The report instead depicts it as a relatively small core of men, headed by Bin Laden, at the center of a large web of sometimes competing and sometimes cooperative smaller organizations and individuals throughout the world. This reinforces an early view of Al Qaeda by a former State Department analyst, Stephen P. Cohen, who characterized it as the Ford Foundation of terrorism -- an organization that, at least in its formative period, sat back and listened to proposals for terrorist attacks from individuals and organizations.

One organization with which Al Qaeda came to work closely was Jemaah Islamiah, a terrorist group in Southeast Asia. Al Qaeda provided funding and training for the group and in return was given access to its membership and logistical bases. Among the results of that cooperation was an unsuccessful research program into the development of anthrax weapons conducted by Bin Laden's second in command, Ayman Zawahiri, and an American-educated Jemaah Islamiah chemical engineer.

Initially, Mohammed was among those freelance petitioners.

Mohammed was born in Kuwait to parents who had emigrated from Baluchistan, a sprawling, rugged region that lies across the intersection of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. He came to the United States for college, earning an engineering degree from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in 1986. After he was captured in Pakistan in early 2003, he told his interrogators that although he had developed no special complaint about America in his years here, he felt strongly that U.S. support of Israel was wrong and could be corrected by attacking the United States.

Soon after graduating, Mohammed joined the Afghan fight against the Soviet Union, working first with Afghan warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and then with Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian intellectual who was Bin Laden's mentor. Mohammed first met Bin Laden during the Afghan war but did not have a special relationship with him, the report says.

After the war, Mohammed was inspired by the first attack on the World Trade Center, in 1993. That mission was led by Mohammed's nephew, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, with whom Mohammed later allied in a plan to blow up as many as a dozen American airliners over the Pacific Ocean.

The failure of that plan led Mohammed, who had been working as a mechanical engineer in a government ministry of the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, to take refuge in Afghanistan in 1996. It was then that he sought to interest Bin Laden in an operation to attack the United States from the air.

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