Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, told U.S. officials the plot was five years in the making and that a wave of suicide attacks was supposed to follow, say interrogation reports reviewed by The Associated Press.
Mohammed said the plan, first developed in 1996, called for hijacking five planes on each American coast, but was changed several times as al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden sought to improve the chances that the attacks could be pulled off simultaneously.
Mohammed, a key captive in the U.S. war on terrorism, also addressed one of the questions raised by congressional investigators in their Sept. 11 review. He said he never heard of a Saudi man named Omar al-Bayoumi who provided rent money and assistance to two airliner hijackers when they arrived in California.
Congressional investigators have suggested Bayoumi could have aided the hijackers or been a Saudi intelligence agent, charges the Saudi government vehemently deny. The FBI also has cast doubt on that theory after extensive investigation.
In fact, Mohammed claims he did not arrange for anyone on U.S. soil to assist hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi when they arrived in California. Mohammed said there “were no al-Qaida operatives or facilitators in the United States to help al-Mihdhar or al-Hazmi settle in the United States,” one report says.
Al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi were on the plane that was flown into the Pentagon.
Mohammed portrays those two as central to the plot, and even more important than Mohammed Atta, initially identified as the likely hijacking ringleader. Mohammed said he communicated with al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar while they were in the United States by using Internet chat software, the reports say.
Mohammed said al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar were among the four original operatives bin Laden assigned to him for the plot, a significant revelation because they were the only two whom U.S. authorities were seeking for terrorist ties just before Sept. 11.
U.S. authorities continue to investigate the many statements that Mohammed has made in interrogations, seeking to eliminate deliberate misinformation. But they have been able to corroborate with other captives and evidence much of his account of the Sept. 11 planning.
Mohammed told his interrogators the hijacking teams were originally made up of members from different countries where al-Qaida had recruited, but that in the final stages bin Laden chose instead to use a large group of young Saudi men.