Just before the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Al Qaeda terrorist network on Monday released video footage claiming responsibility for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, saying the U.S. Capitol was also a target and hinting at future strikes against nuclear facilities.
The videotapes, delivered Monday to the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television network which then immediately broadcast them, included comments attributed to one of the Sept. 11 hijackers and Osama bin Laden himself.
The satellite network also publicized what it said was a recent series of interviews between its investigative reporter and two top Al Qaeda fugitives who confessed to having played central roles in the Sept. 11 attacks and other plots. Al Jazeera has long been used by Al Qaeda as a means of communicating its message to the outside world.
Meanwhile, in a day of fast-moving terrorism-related developments:
* The FBI confirmed Monday that it has issued warnings to local police, electrical companies and transportation agencies in recent days of potential terrorist attacks within U.S. borders on or near Sept. 11. FBI officials said they and U.S. intelligence agencies have received a steady stream of threats that mention New York and Washington. “The FBI possesses no information indicating a specific threat to any of these [Sept. 11] commemorative events,” said the advisory issued by the FBI’s National Infrastructure Protection Center. “However, a large volume of threats of undetermined reliability continues to be received and investigated by the FBI.” An FBI official said the warning was issued out of “an abundance of caution.”
* The Pentagon deployed jet fighters and surface-to-air missiles at several military installations around Washington for an air defense exercise that begins today. Air Force Lt. Col. Ken McClellan said the exercise, which could last up to four days, had been planned for several weeks. No live weapons will be used, McClellan said, adding that the exercise is designed to test systems to defend against attacks from the air.
* Authorities in the Philippines announced that they have uncovered evidence of an Al Qaeda plot to attack the U.S. and Israeli embassies in Manila.
* The State Department said it had closed the U.S. Embassy in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta and a consulate in Surabaya “until further notice” because of threats of attack.
In Washington, FBI and Justice Department officials said they wanted to scrutinize the Al Jazeera tapes to glean whatever they could from them about the Sept. 11 attacks and any future terrorist plots that Al Qaeda has planned.
“We are trying to get” the tapes, said an FBI official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Obviously, they are of great interest to us.”
Al Jazeera officials would not say how, where or from whom they received the tapes. That has been the case in the past with several videos with statements by Bin Laden and top aides that were later authenticated by U.S. and other authorities.
The current footage, the network said, “seems to be a tape prepared by Al Qaeda on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.” It was aired beginning about 2 p.m. EDT, and picked up by CNN, which had its own Arabic experts provide translations. Other news outlets reported slightly different interpretations.
On one tape, at least four men identified as some of the 19 hijackers were shown chatting and reviewing flight manuals in Afghanistan. In one close-up, a hand is placed on a map of Washington that has the Pentagon highlighted. The men were not cleanshaven and dressed in European clothing as they were on Sept. 11, but rather were bearded and wearing Afghan garb. Al Jazeera identified them as hijackers Ahmed Alnami, Hamza Alghamdi, Ahmed Alghamdi and Wail Alshehri.
In another segment, a man appears before a large, apparently superimposed photograph of a smoldering Pentagon. “We will get you. We will humiliate you. We will never stop following you,” said the man who also demanded that the United States “take your fat hands off the land of Arabs,” according to the CNN translation.
Al Jazeera identified that speaker as Abdulaziz Alomari, one of the hijackers aboard American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
“God praise everybody who trained and helped me, namely, the leader Sheikh Osama bin Laden,” Alomari said. “May God bless him. May God accept our deeds.”
In yet another segment, a voice identified by Al Jazeera as that of Bin Laden himself is heard over images of Afghanistan and the 19 hijackers, praising the hijackers for changing “the face of history.”
“There aren’t enough words to describe how great these men were and how great their deeds were,” said the CNN translation. “When you talk about the invasion of New York and Washington, you talk about men who changed the face of history and went against the traitors. These men have consolidated faith in the hearts of believers and undermined the plans of the crusaders and their agents in the region.”
The man identified as Bin Laden names all four of the men believed to be pilots of the four hijacked planes. Mohamed Atta, he said, “carried the pains of the nation,” and Hani Hanjour, whose plane crashed into the Pentagon was “a great man,” according to CNN’s translation.
Al Jazeera said the tape of the hijackers was filmed several months before the Sept. 11 attacks in the eastern Afghan town of Kandahar.
U.S. officials said Monday they had no idea when the tapes were made but that they should put to rest claims in the Arab world that Al Qaeda was being unfairly accused of launching the attacks.
Of even more interest to U.S. authorities, they said Monday, was the series of interviews that an Al Jazeera reporter said he conducted with two top Al Qaeda operatives in June.
The two men, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, are both senior figures in Al Qaeda and are the subjects of intensive international manhunts for their alleged roles in the Sept. 11 attacks. U.S. authorities say Mohammed in particular is one of the highest-ranking Al Qaeda leaders still at large, and that he is helping the network regroup and plan new attacks.
The Justice Department considers Mohammed a mastermind of the Sept. 11 plot, and authorities believe he may have brought the idea to Al Qaeda.
Binalshibh, authorities say, was a roommate of plot leader Mohamed Atta in Germany and was meant to be the 20th hijacker. When he could not gain entry into the United States, authorities say, he later provided funds to some hijackers, as well as to accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui.
Al Jazeera said it planned to release tape-recorded portions of those videotaped interviews on Thursday as part of a documentary marking the first anniversary of the attacks.
In an interview with London’s Sunday Times, the Al Jazeera reporter, Youri Fouda, described being blindfolded and driven to a house in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, where he interviewed the two men over a 48-hour period. Al Jazeera said the two fugitives then seized all the footage and later released audiotapes.
Fouda said Mohammed, 38, introduced himself as head of Al Qaeda’s military committee, and that he and Binalshibh said the U.S. Capitol had been Al Qaeda’s fourth Sept. 11 target had the plane not crashed in a Pennsylvania field. U.S. officials have suspected that the Capitol or the White House was the target.
Mohammed also said Binalshibh “is the coordinator of the ‘Holy Tuesday’ operation,’ ” in reference to the attacks, which fell on a Tuesday, according to Fouda.
Mohammed also said that when the attacks were first planned 2 1/2 years before Sept. 11, “the first targets considered were nuclear facilities.”
The plot leaders “decided against it for fear it would go out of control,” Fouda quoted Mohammed as saying. “You do not need to know more than that at this stage, and anyway it was eventually decided to leave out nuclear targets. For now.”