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CIA Interrogators Have Found Alleged Plots Here, Abroad

September 13, 2006|Josh Meyer | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush said in his Sept. 11 speech that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other suspected Al Qaeda terrorist leaders now in custody had provided valuable information to the CIA "that has helped stop attacks in America and across the world."

But he didn't specify which attacks had been stopped, or how. Here are questions and answers about terrorist plots discovered by CIA interrogators.

Question: Which foiled attacks was the president referring to?

Answer: Bush did not offer details, but administration officials have said one was an alleged plot by Al Qaeda operatives to hijack an airliner and crash it into the Library Tower (now known as the U.S. Bank Tower) in downtown Los Angeles. And a White House fact sheet issued last week said that a captured terrorism suspect nicknamed Abu Zubeida told authorities that Al Qaeda was planning to launch an attack inside the United States and that "the operatives were detained, one while traveling to the U.S." The fact sheet also said Mohammed told interrogators of planned attacks on buildings in the United States.

Q: Who is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed?

A: Mohammed is the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, a Kuwaiti-born militant of Pakistani descent. He claims to have brought the idea for the multi-plane suicide hijacking plot to Al Qaeda in the mid-1990s after a similar plot was thwarted by Philippine authorities. After Sept. 11, Mohammed became Al Qaeda's operational commander, overseeing attacks on several continents before his capture in Pakistan in March 2003.

Q: Which Al Qaeda members were involved in the foiled attacks mentioned by Bush?

A: Again, the president was not specific. But U.S. counter-terrorism officials said the references apparently involved an alleged plot by suspected Al Qaeda member Jose Padilla to launch an attack in the United States; Padilla was arrested in May 2002 as he stepped off a plane in Chicago. Suspects in the Library Tower plot include the leader of an Al Qaeda affiliate organization in Southeast Asia nicknamed Hambali and two Malaysian men nicknamed Lillie and Zubair.

Q: How far along were those planned attacks?

A: U.S. counter-terrorism authorities have said none of the alleged plots had reached the point where attacks were imminent, and that most if not all were in the "aspirational" stages, rather than operational. They said that Padilla was allegedly scouting locations, and that the men suspected of plotting the attack in Los Angeles were believed to be in the planning stages when apprehended.

Q: Which other suspected terrorists have been captured and interrogated by the CIA?

A: Several of Mohammed's alleged lieutenants in the Sept. 11 plot, including Ramzi Binalshibh and Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and several suspected leaders of the deadly Al Qaeda attacks on two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998 and on the U.S. destroyer Cole in Yemen in 2000.

Q: What other "terrorist cells in our midst" were broken up, as mentioned by Bush?

A: Two other men, Iyman Faris and Nuradin M. Abdi, were charged in federal court with plotting to blow up a shopping mall in Columbus, Ohio. Faris also was accused of plotting to sever the cables of the Brooklyn Bridge and attack a train bound for Washington. And several Al Qaeda operatives overseas are accused of conducting surveillance against U.S. financial targets in Washington, New York and New Jersey before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Q: Do all the plots involve targets in the United States?

A: No, some of them allegedly targeted U.S. interests overseas, including planned strikes on U.S. Marines at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti and the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, using car bombs and motorcycle bombs.

Q: Were the foiled attacks uncovered as a result of the post-Sept. 11 counter-terrorism programs implemented by the administration, as Bush claimed?

A: Neither the president nor administration officials would disclose which sources and methods were used to disrupt the alleged terrorist plots or to capture suspected Al Qaeda leaders. But Bush credited part of the success to the fact that "we have created new programs to monitor enemy bank records and phone calls."


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