Dec. 13, 2001 -- Osama bin Laden rejoiced over the Sept. 11 hijack attacks on a translated videotape released today, saying he was surprised at the amount of damage caused and that the attacks had benefited Islam.
Bin Laden describes how he and his associates knew about the timing of the attacks days in advance and made estimates about the number of deaths that would result.
"[inaudible] We calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy, who would be killed based on the position of the tower," bin Laden said, according to a translation released by the Pentagon along with the amateur videotape.
"We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic of them all," the Saudi-born militant is quoted as saying in apparent reference to the two hijacked jets that slammed into the World Trade Center.
"Due to my experience in this field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is all we had hoped for," the translation reads.
"We had notification since the previous Thursday that the event would take place that day," bin Laden says, according to the translation.
Bin Laden, at times smiling and laughing, says the Sept. 11 attacks benefited Islam. "This event made people think [about true Islam] which benefited Islam greatly," he said.
The Bush administration has called the tape, which officials said was found in a house in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, the "smoking gun" that proves bin Laden's direct responsibility for the attacks that killed more than 3,000 people. At the Pentagon this morning, a technician played the videotape for all major U.S. television networks, which carried major portions of the tape live, as did the Arabic language television station Al Jazeera.
At a briefing today, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the tape, which shows bin Laden's calm yet chilling description of the Sept. 11 attacks, justifies the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism.
"It should be clear from the very matter-of-fact way that he refers to the attacks that killed thousands of innocent people, from several dozen different countries, why terrorists and terrorism must be defeated before they get their hands on weapons of mass destruction," Rumsfeld said.
Bin Laden: Some Hijackers Kept in Dark
The amateur video, which starts and stops, is hard to hear, and is taped over some unrelated material, shows the alleged terrorist mastermind describing a dinner meeting he held with his top associates on Sept. 11. The White House said the tape is believed to have been shot Nov. 9 in the southern Afghanistan city of Kandahar, which was the Taliban's spiritual capital.
On the video, bin Laden says he and his friends turned on the radio on Sept. 11 at 5:30 p.m. local time — about 9 a.m. in New York City. Immediately, he says, they heard about the first plane hitting one of the trade towers, and his associates were "overjoyed," bin Laden is translated as saying. "So I said to them: be patient."
Bin Laden says he and his friends continued listening to the radio, and soon, "they announced that another plane had hit the World Trade Center. The brothers who heard the news were overjoyed by it."
According to the tape, bin Laden also told associates that some of the Sept. 11 hijackers did not know about the details of their mission until just before they boarded the planes.
"The brothers, who conducted the operation, all they knew was that they have a martyrdom operation and we asked each of them to go to America but they didn't know anything about the operation, not even one letter," he said, according to the translation of bin Laden's remarks. "But they were trained and we did not reveal the operation to them until they are there and just before they boarded the planes."
On the tape, bin Laden also confirms what U.S. officials have believed about Mohamed Atta, who is thought to have piloted American Airlines Flight 11 when it hit the World Trade Center — that he was the ringleader of the 19 hijackers. "Mohamed [Atta] from the Egyptian family was in charge of the group," bin Laden is quoted as saying.
Sheik Claims 'Clear Victory'
The conversation takes place between bin Laden and an unidentified sheik, who assures bin Laden that imams in the mosques of Saudi Arabia are praising his actions. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor who is bin Laden's closest adviser, was also present, as was al Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith.
The sheik praised bin Laden for "a great job" and may have suggested other attacks were planned. "No doubt it is a clear victory … and he [Allah] will give us blessing and more victory during this holy month of Ramadan," he said. Most American Muslims will celebrate the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Sunday.
U.S. officials say the tape proves conclusively that bin Laden is responsible for the planning and execution of the attacks. They also believe the tape eliminates the notion that he was above planning details such as choosing targets, and that bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network is composed entirely of autonomous cells.
Rather, officials say the tape shows clear evidence of bin Laden's command and direct control of al Qaeda operatives.
At the White House today, spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush "has known all along that Osama bin Laden was behind this. It came as no surprise to the president," he said.
As the U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan continues, bin Laden is still on the run. A $25 million reward has been posted for information leading to his capture. "We think he's in Afghanistan. We are chasing him. He is hiding. He does not want us to know where he is," Rumsfeld said.
Atta's Father Claims Forgery
The release of the tape is part of an administration effort to support America's pursuit of bin Laden and the U.S.-led bombing in Afghanistan that began Oct. 7, and convince bin Laden's supporters of the righteousness of the case against him.Although, administration sources said the tape may have never been released had news of its existence not been leaked to the Washington Post last weekend, forcing the hand of the White House.
Senior White House officials say the real target audience for the tape was in Muslim nations around the world, where the Bush administration has been conducting intense market research on attitudes toward the United States. The former advertising executive who spearheads that effort said the tape could do some good.
"I think that there will be some people who just refuse any intake at all on that subject because their whole lives are vested in not believing it," said Charlotte Beers, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, "but we've learned that there are a very large group of people out there who will be very susceptible to such a moment of proof personally."
Early reactions to the tape and its impact on skeptics of the U.S. campaign were mixed.
Some analysts said it is important that the video shows bin Laden acknowledging a direct role in the Sept. 11 attacks, since many of the world's Muslims do not believe the United States proved its case that he was the plot's mastermind.
"This particular piece of information puts this particular criticism to rest," said Fawaz Gerges of Sarah Lawrence College. "It will shatter Osama bin Laden's image and reputation throughout the Arab and Muslim world."
But Ghida Fakhry, a journalist with Al Jazeera, said the ultimate impact of the tape on Arab and Muslim public opinion is questionable, although it could sway some skeptics.
"Had it come at an earlier stage of the military campaign, it might have had a much stronger impact," Fakhry said. Many in the Arab world are thinking, she said, "The military campaign [in Afghanistan] is at such an advanced stage, that what difference does it make."
Experts have said a culturally and linguistically sensitive translation of the tape was important in order to convince people, especially in the Muslim world, of its authenticity and bin Laden's responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks. Some officials were also concerned about possible charges that the tape was a fake, so the Pentagon used voice-authentication technology to match bin Laden's vocal "fingerprint" to the voice on the tape.
The tape was released with English subtitles. According to the Pentagon, the translation was prepared independently by George Michael, a translator from the Diplomatic Language Services, and Kassem M. Wahba, the Arabic language program coordinator from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
They collaborated on their translation and compared it with translations done by the U.S. government for consistency, the Pentagon said.
In Egypt, the father of Mohamed Atta dismissed the tape as a "forgery." Mohamed al-Amir al-Sayed Awad Atta, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that he had not seen the tape, but declared it a "farce. All this is a forgery, a fabrication!"
"The whole world has been saying this name [Mohamed Atta]. Where did bin Laden get the name from? Bin Laden got it from America," Atta said.
It is unclear why bin Laden's comments were videotaped. One theory is that bin Laden's associates wanted a record of an important day in his quest to create an Islamic world. Another theory holds that the tape could have been intended as a model for future actions.