Edward Helmore and Ed Vulliamy New York

Sunday October 7, 2001

The Observer

US investigators have identified a Saudi as the man Tony Blair referred to

as a key link connecting Osama bin Laden to the Pentagon attack and the

bombings of the USS Cole last year and the two US embassies in East Africa

in 1998.

American and British intelligence officials now believe Khalid al-Mihdhar,

who died in the Pentagon attack, may have played a role in planning the

events of 11 September equal to or exceeding that of Mohamed Atta, the

33-year old Egyptian named as the principal organiser.

Al-Mihdhar has taken on a ‘more prominent’ role in the investigation, senior

US administration officials said yesterday, confirming theories developed by

British intelligence.

He now appears to have the strongest connection to bin Laden’s al-Qaeda

network, because he is the only one known to have ties to the group’s

previous attacks against US targets.

Since late last year, the CIA had been aware of a man called Tawifiq bin

Atash, known throughout bin Laden’s network by his alias ‘Khallad’. Khallad

was born in Yemen and had fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union,

going on to become bin Laden’s bodyguard and a crucial lieutenant in the

al-Qaeda structure: deemed too precious to die.

According to US intelligence and federal investigators on bin Laden’s trail,

‘Khallad’ was the pivotal figure behind the attack on the Cole. Late in

January 2000, he was captured on a video shot in an hotel in Malaysia, along

with a group of men known to be part of the al-Qaeda network. One was Fahad

al-Quso, who was assigned to shoot a film of the suicide attack on the Cole.

Two others were Nawaf al-Hazami, travelling under surveillance by US

intelligence, and Khalid al-Mihdhar. Both these names would resonate on 11

September, as being among the 19 hijackers. When one investigator saw their

names he uttered an expletive.

As soon as it was determined that he had been at the Malaysian meeting, the

appearance of al-Mihdhar there suddenly elevated his importance. But he

proved an extraordinarily difficult figure to track. Not only did he use

three or four different aliases, but US intelligence agencies spelt each in

different ways and are not even certain that his name is really Khalid

al-Mihdhar.

Still, it is believed that al-Mihdhar took Seat 12B on the American Airlines

flight that crashed into the Pentagon, and eyewitness reports and

surveillance tapes have placed him at Dulles airport where the flight

originated.

Once he had entered the US in January on a Saudi passport, the FBI picked up

his trail in San Diego where he took flying lessons at Sorbi’s Flying Club

in May 2000. Rick Garza, al-Mihdhar and al-Hazami’s flight instructor at the

school, has said that al-Mihdhar spoke little English but was able say that

he wanted to obtain a private pilot licence.

They were impatient students, Garza said, saying they wanted to learn to fly

jets, specifically Boeings. ‘They had zero training before they got here, so

I told them they had to learn a lot of other things first,’ he told the New

York Times. ‘It was like Dumb and Dumber. I mean, they were clueless. It was

clear to me they weren’t going to make it as pilots.’

Al-Mihdhar appears to have left the United States in June 2000 and the trail

goes dead for a year. Then, in July 2001, he flew from Saudi Arabia to New

York on a different Saudi passport, officials say. This time, he listed his

address as a hotel in New York but instead travelled to Virginia where he

obtained a driving licence at the same time as Hani Hanjour, another of the

suspected hijackers on the Pentagon plane.

By then, the CIA had already placed him at the Malaysia meeting and moved to

put him on their watch list of potential terrorists. Realising he was

already in the country, they alerted the FBI he was wanted in connection

with the attack on the Cole.

The FBI has determined that some of the terrorists bought life-size training

posters of the inside of Boeing cockpits from a flying shop in Ohio. The

posters – priced at $39.95 – show the exact locations of controls and detail

the view the pilots would have from the Boeing 767s. Pilots use the posters

for training.

-=-=-=-

07 Oct 2001 20:10

U.S. on alert for al Qaeda plot after strikes

By Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON, Oct 7 (Reuters) – U.S. strikes on Afghanistan may prompt the al Qaeda network to activate some long-planned plot against American targets and U.S. intelligence agencies were on high alert, officials said on Sunday.

“There will be more strikes by terrorists against U.S. interests, whether it’s here or abroad or both remains to be seen,” one official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

“There are lots of potential threats out there and there is little doubt that they are going to do something,” the official added. “They have been killing Americans for a number of years and were going to continue doing it whether we did this or not.”

U.S. and British forces launched air strikes on targets across Afghanistan that included military positions of the country’s ruling Taliban and training camps of militant Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network.

The United States has said bin Laden and his group backed the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington that left nearly 5,600 people dead or missing.

Al Qaeda’s method has been to have a plot planned long in advance with the network more likely to activate such a plan rather than formulate a new one to respond to Sunday’s strikes on Afghanistan, U.S. officials said.

“Most of the kinds of attacks that we’ve seen tend to have been planned months and months and months, in some cases years in advance,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said.

Other U.S. officials said Al Qaeda was likely to decide to go to such a plan.

“Their MO (modus operandi) is to have plans in place long in advance, so they’re not going to come up with a new plan as a result of this,” the U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said.

“They might time their next response in light of this, it’s hard to say. Now that this has happened they can say ‘OK, the next thing in our playbook let’s go to it now,’ but they were going to go to it anyway,” the official said.

U.S. WARNS CITIZENS

The U.S. government warned its citizens overseas to be on heightened alert because the strikes may lead to strong anti-American sentiment, and the Federal Aviation Administration said it was working closely with air carriers to ensure maximum safety at the nation’s airports.

U.S. President George W. Bush said, “Our government is taking strong precautions. All law enforcement and intelligence agencies are working aggressively around America, around the world and around the clock.”

He said at his request many governors had activated the National Guard to strengthen airport security.

“We have called up reserves to reinforce our military capability and strengthen the protection of our homeland,” the president said.

The State Department advised Americans to leave Afghanistan and Americans elsewhere to maintain contact with the embassy.

“This action may result in strong anti-American sentiment and retaliatory actions against U.S. citizens and interests throughout the world by terrorists and those who are sympathetic to or otherwise support terrorism,” a State Department announcement said.

Rumsfeld said the strikes on Afghanistan had not targeted bin Laden, but were aimed at terrorist networks.

“This is not about a single individual, it’s about an entire terrorist network and multiple terrorist networks across the globe,” he said.

“The only way to deal with these terrorist threats is to go at them where they exist. You cannot defend at every place, at every time, against every conceivable, imaginable, even unimaginable terrorist attack,” Rumsfeld said.

The U.S. official said the “entire national security establishment from intelligence to law enforcement to the Pentagon is all engaged in a way that I’ve never seen before.”

There were “lots of threats, rumors, reports, we take them all seriously,” the official said, adding that the intelligence cooperation from different countries has been “unprecedented in its nature.”

“We have received more assistance than we’ve ever received before, but we need much more,” the official said. ((Washington newsroom 202 898-8300, fax 202 898 8383, email Washington.bureau.newsroom@reuters.com))