Report: 9/11 Probe Eyes Possible Fifth Hijacking
N E W Y O R K, Oct. 11 — Authorities interviewing an al Qaeda member in custody overseas are probing a new theory of the Sept. 11 plot: that suspect Ramzi Muhammad Abdullah bin al-Shibh was planning to pilot a fifth hijacked plane to strike the White House, The New York Times reported today.
The plan was disrupted when bin al-Shibh, who was captured last month in Pakistan, failed to obtain permission to enter the United States, where he had planned to attend flight school in Florida, senior government officials said, the Times reported.
Evidence that there were plans for a fifth hijacking team has also come from the debriefing of John Walker Lindh, but the possibility that bin al-Shibh was to be the leader of the fifth group has not been previously disclosed, the Times reported.
This theory has gained momentum in recent weeks as investigators have assembled new details about bin al-Shibh's movements around Europe in the months before the attacks, the Times reported. Investigators have also compiled a fuller picture of his relationship with Mohamed Atta, whom officials call the ringleader of the plot, and uncovered fresh information about the breadth of al Qaeda's original plan for the attacks, according to the Times.
More specific information about bin al-Shibh's role in the plot could emerge as a result of the arrest today in Germany of a Moroccan, Abdelghani Mzoudi, who the local authorities say shared an apartment in Hamburg with bin al-Shibh, Atta and at least one other hijacker, the Times reported.
The officials said bin al-Shibh has provided only fragmentary information about the hijackings and al Qaeda's activities since the war in Afghanistan, the Times reported. The officials said bin al-Shibh had not said he planned to lead another hijacking group, according to the Times.
State Department Warns Americans Abroad of Terror Threat
W A S H I N G T O N, Oct. 11 — Americans overseas should remain vigilant because of "the continuing threat of terrorist actions" against U.S. interests worldwide, including possible suicide attacks aimed at U.S. civilians, the State Department says.
The government "continues to receive credible indications that extremist groups and individuals are planning additional terrorist actions against U.S. interests," the department said Thursday in a global alert.
"American citizens may be targeted for kidnapping or assassination," warned the department.
The alert comes a day after the FBI issued a similar alert to state and local authorities across the country.
Both alerts cited as a reason for concern a recently released taped statement attributed to Osama bin Laden and separate information obtained from al Qaeda detainees indicating possible attacks against U.S. targets.
Still, the official color-coded national terrorist alert level remains at code yellow — "significant risk" — because officials do not have any specific information detailing where and when an attack might occur. Yellow is the third-highest of five threat levels.
Meanwhile, authorities in New York increased security Thursday at the city's landmark buildings, bridges, financial centers and tourist attractions in response to the FBI warning.
Harbor patrols kept a closer watch on bridges linking Manhattan to the city's other boroughs, police said. Tunnels were also under closer scrutiny, and police presence was increased throughout lower Manhattan where the World Trade Center once stood.
In an audio taped message that aired Sunday on the Arab satellite TV station al-Jazeera, a voice believed to be that of bin Laden refers to al Qaeda "targeting key sectors of the U.S. economy." On Tuesday, another audio tape, purported to be the voice of bin Laden's senior deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, repeated the threat.
The State Department alert issued late Thursday said, "We remind American citizens to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution." It said that U.S. government facilities worldwide also remained at a heightened state of alert.
The alert said targets "may include facilities where Americans are generally known to congregate or visit," including clubs, restaurants, houses of worship and outdoor recreational events.
The alert was aimed at Americans worldwide and not limited to any specific country or region.
—The Associated Press
Jihad Manual Helped Crack Alleged Ore. Terror Cell
P O R TL A N D, Ore., Oct. 11 — A holy war manual endorsed by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden helped prosecutors crack an alleged Oregon "terrorist cell" that had also been penetrated by an undercover mole, according to court documents released Thursday.
Prosecutors claimed they found a book titled Join the Caravan, described as a call-to-arms to jihad and with a jacket endorsement by bin Laden, inside the car of a couple charged in a six-person indictment last Friday.
And after neighbors of the couple, October Martinique Lewis, 25, and her ex-husband, Jeffrey Battle, 32, reported their allegedly violent anti-American views, federal agents planted a mole, or "corroborating witness," close to the suspects, court filings show.
Of the six people in the indictment, four were arrested last week for conspiring after the Sept. 11 attacks last year to join al Qaeda and Taliban forces fighting against the United States in Afghanistan. Another suspected member has been deported from Malaysia to the United States and the sixth suspect remains at large.
Authorities have said some of the suspects also attracted attention in the small, quiet town of Washougal, Wash., on the Oregon border, by target shooting in a gravel pit.
Lewis allegedly wired $2,800 overseas to Battle as he tried in vain to reach Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 hijack attacks in America that killed more than 3,000 people.
The United States blames bin Laden and al Qaeda for the attacks.
Lewis, Battle and alleged co-conspirator Patrice Ford, 31, have all pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiring to fight against the United States and to provide support and services to al Qaeda and the Taliban. If convicted they could face up to 45 years in prison.
Thursday in federal court in Portland, another suspect, Muhammad Bilal, 22, an American citizen of Saudi Arabian descent, who was arrested near Detroit last week, pleaded not guilty.
A fifth suspect, his brother, Ahmed Bilal, 24, had unsuccessfully fought extradition from Malaysia and was now en route to the United States.
The only non-American citizen indicted, Jordanian Abdulla Al Saoub, 36, was still at large.
The government's 14-page indictment paints a picture of Battle, a former U.S. Army Reservist, completing physical and firearms training to prepare for a jihad, or holy war.
In the aftermath of the arrests last Friday, many neighbors of Battle and Lewis said they had been deeply suspicious of the couple. But Thursday, several people who knew the accused expressed surprise at the charges.
"He was a very average part-time, on-call officer," said David Foglio, president of First Response Inc., which employed Battle as a security guard.
9/11 Commission Advocates Blame White House for Agreement Collapse
W A S H I N G T O N, Oct. 11 — Advocates of an independent commission to investigate the Sept. 11 attacks are blaming the White House after the collapse of an announced agreement to create the panel.
"They are doing everything they can to try to block this and that's what they've been doing since day one," said Stephen Push of Families of Sept. 11, a group of relatives of victims of the attacks.
Lawmakers announced Thursday that an agreement had been reached among the four leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees to form a commission. The commission would have a broader scope and more time to do its work than the joint inquiry that the two committees are conducting.
But after the White House and House Republican leadership raised concerns about the plan, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., said more details had to be worked out. He denied that a full agreement had been reached, saying only four particular issues had been resolved.
The leading House advocate for the commission, Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ind., blamed the Bush administration for blocking the agreement.
"I worry that the White House is trying to pull the carpet over the independent commission and do the slow roll and kill it," he said.
Both the House and Senate have voted for an independent commission, though the two versions differ. The administration initially opposed a commission, but announced last month it would support it. Lawmakers have been meeting with White House officials to work out the commission's structure and scope.
Lawmakers said Thursday morning that talks with the White House had broken down. Hours later, they said intelligence committee leaders had worked out an agreement among themselves, which they would try to add to a bill authorizing 2003 intelligence programs.
But the White House said no agreement had been reached with them, though they repeated their support for a commission.
"We are pleased with the progress being made and believe we are close to reaching a consensus on the best way to proceed," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
Under the plan announced Thursday, the commission would have consisted of 10 members with two co-chairmen, one appointed by the president, the other by the Democratic leader of the Senate, and have a two-year mandate. The commission would look into issues such as intelligence, commercial aviation and immigration.
The joint inquiry of the intelligence committees began in February and has a one-year mandate. Its scope is limited to intelligence issues related to the attacks.
Many lawmakers complain the committees' work has been hampered by difficulty in receiving information from intelligence agencies.
On Thursday, the committees met with CIA Director George Tenet and FBI Director Robert Mueller, discussing the case of an FBI informant who was the landlord of two Sept. 11 hijackers. Lawmakers have been bothered both by the handling of the matter and their difficulties in obtaining information about it.
Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., declined to discuss details of Thursday's meeting with Mueller and Tenet, but said he believed it helped ease lawmakers' doubts.
"There have been some communications problems, but I don't detect a systematic effort to deceive," he said.
The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., said concerns about communications problems were aired at the hearing. Asked if he was satisfied with the cooperation, he said, "I think it is allowing us to get our job done."
The Senate committee's top Republican, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, said cooperation from intelligence agencies "has been spotty at best. We have to extract bit by bit, piece by piece any information, it seems."
—The Associated Press