Bin Laden proposed Sept. 11 targets, al-Qaida suspect says

Thursday, March 20th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks has told interrogators that Osama bin Laden himself proposed the targets to chief hijacker Mohamed Atta, U.S. counterterrorism officials said Thursday.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they don't know if Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is telling the truth. Mohammed also said bin Laden proposed several other targets to Atta: the U.S. Capitol, the White House, the Israeli Embassy in Washington and the Sears Tower in Chicago, the officials said.

Al-Qaida operatives, including some prisoners, have previously said that either the Capitol or the White House was the target of the fourth hijacked plane on Sept. 11. It crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers attacked the hijackers.

Mohammed also said senior al-Qaida operatives proposed other attacks to bin Laden in early 2001, including strikes at bridges, gas stations and nuclear power plants inside the United States. Bin Laden did not approve those operations because they would take too long to prepare, officials said.

The information from his interrogation was first reported in Thursday's New York Times. Previously, officials had little evidence bin Laden played a personal role in planning the attacks.

The planning began in late 1999, if not earlier. In testimony to a joint congressional committee, CIA Director George J. Tenet said al-Qaida's military chief, Mohammed Atef, chose the eventual Sept. 11 hijackers from young Arab men with no previous ties to terrorism.

Another bin Laden lieutenant arranged for them to get pilot training.

Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah -- all pilot-hijackers -- traveled to Afghanistan from Germany, officials have said.

At one point, bin Laden and Atta were at the same Afghan training camp, and are believed to have met, officials said.