Original Plan for 9/11 Attacks Involved 10 Planes, Panel Says

By DAVID STOUT

The New York Times

Published: June 16, 2004

WASHINGTON, June 16 - As horrendous as they were, the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were only a small part of terrorist visions that foresaw using 10 hijacked airplanes to attack targets on both the East and West Coasts, including the United States Capitol and the White House, the staff of the independent commission investigating 9/11 reported today.

The staff also said in a companion report that it had found "no credible evidence" that Iraq and Al Qaeda terrorists cooperated in the attacks, a conclusion likely to fuel the debate over President Bush's decision to go to war to topple Saddam Hussein. Indeed, the commission staff said, Iraq apparently rejected Osama bin Laden's requests to provide space for training camps and help Al Qaeda acquire weapons.

Some of the 9/11 terrorist plans, the commission staff said, called for the hijacked jets to be crashed into the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency, various nuclear power plants, and skyscrapers in California and Washington State, a captured leader of Al Qaeda, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has told interrogators.

Mr. Mohammed, who is believed to have originated the idea for the Sept. 11 attacks and whose nephew, Ramzi Yousef, was the mastermind of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, was seized in Pakistan in March 2003 and is being held at an undisclosed location.

Mr. Mohammed has told his questioners that he planned to fly the 10th jet himself. But rather than crashing it into a target, he would have killed every male passenger on board, then contacted American news organizations and landed the craft at a United States airport. Then he would have made a speech denouncing Washington's Middle East policies and released all of the women and children on the plane.

Mr. bin Laden vetoed that element of the operation.

The reports, the 15th and 16th by the panel staff, were issued as the commission, meeting in Washington, began its last two days of public hearings. A final report is to be issued by July 26.

Today's interim report on the outline of the 9/11 plot offers new details and far more context than has previously been known. It says, for instance, that Zacarias Moussaoui, who has often been dubbed "the 20th hijacker" out of speculation that he was to have joined the 19 actual hijackers, was instead meant to participate in a "second wave" of attacks, an idea thwarted when he was arrested in August 2001 after his behavior at a Minnesota flying school aroused suspicion. Mr. Moussaoui is awaiting trial on charges connected to the 9/11 plotting.

Mr. Mohammed has told his questioners that he initially wanted to have 25 or 26 hijackers in place in the United States. Some candidates for the suicide missions withdrew under pressure from their families, while others could not get visas to enter the United States or encountered other obstacles, the report said.

The 9/11 conspirators and their leaders, while joined in their hatred of the United States, often argued among themselves over what targets to attack, and when, the staff of the bipartisan commission said. "Given the catastrophic results of the 9/11 attacks, it is tempting to depict the plot as a set plan executed to near perfection," the report said. "This would be a mistake."

For instance, Mr. bin Laden, Al Qaeda's top leader, initially pushed for a date of May 12, 2001, exactly seven months after terrorists attacked the American destroyer Cole in Yemen. Then, when he learned that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel would visit the White House in June or July, Mr. bin Laden pressed to amend the timetable.

"In both instances," the report notes, Mr. Mohammed "insisted that the hijacker teams were not yet ready."

In the fall of 2000, it appeared that the attacks might have to be scaled back because some of the would-be pilots were slow to master the complexities of flying, the report recounts, but "a young Saudi with special credentials" helped keep the plot on track.

He was Hani Hanjour, who had studied in the United States off and on since 1991 and had undergone enough flight training in Arizona to get his commercial pilot certificate in April 1999. After training at a terrorist camp in Afghanistan in 2000, he arrived in the United States late that same year. It was he who piloted the jet that crashed into the Pentagon.