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Al Qaeda trained the hijackers in hijacking trains

(The following article by Josh Meyer was posted on the Los Angeles Times website on March 29.)

WASHINGTON -- Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has told interrogators that at least 34 individuals were "participants" in the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, including a mysterious Jordanian who supposedly prepared 10 of the hijackers for their grisly task by training them to butcher camels and sheep with Swiss Army knives.

Mohammed's statements were read aloud in court this week during the sentencing trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States as a co-conspirator in the terrorist attacks.

His disclosures, made public more than four years after the attacks, open a window into the inner workings of the Sept. 11 plot, both in terms of who allegedly participated in it and how it was carried out so successfully.

The government refused to allow Mohammed to testify in person. But questions from the prosecution and defense were put to him during interrogations at undisclosed locations overseas. At least some of the material was made available to members of the independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks, although the specifics of what the panel was provided were not immediately known.

According to a 58-page summary read in court Monday, Mohammed broke the Sept. 11 participants into six groups, each having a different level of involvement in the plot or prior knowledge of it.

In the top tier were Osama bin Laden, his loyal aide and military commander Mohammed Atef and Mohammed himself, along with his designated liaison to the hijackers, Ramzi Binalshibh, the summary stated.

The only other member of the top tier was Abu Turab al-Urduni - a Jordanian who, according to Mohammed's statement, had "full knowledge" of the plot as trainer of 10 of the "muscle" hijackers; their job was to commandeer the planes, subdue the pilots and keep the passengers at bay.

Abu Turab, as he was referred to in the summary, had years of experience with Al Qaeda and was working at the terrorist network's Al Matar complex in Afghanistan in late 2000 and early 2001 when 10 would-be hijackers were given to him for training, Mohammed's interrogation summary said.

Abu Turab trained the men to hijack a plane, disarm air marshals and put together and use explosives, the summary said. He allegedly showed them how to gain strength through bodybuilding, and taught them basic English words and phrases.

And at a second Al Qaeda camp, Al Faruq, "Abu Turab also had each hijacker butcher a sheep and camel with a Swiss knife to prepare them for using their knives during the hijackings," the summary stated.

In consultation with Mohammed, the summary said, Abu Turab instructed the "muscle" hijackers to focus on seizing the cockpit first "and then worry about seizing control over the rest of the plane."

As part of his successful effort to maintain operational security, the summary continued, Abu Turab trained the hijackers in making truck bombs, blowing up buildings and hijacking trains so they would not know for sure what their assignment would be once they reached the United States.

The disclosures, if true, are significant in that one of the more senior co-conspirators of the Sept. 11 attacks - Abu Turab - has never been identified publicly until now despite years of investigations, public hearings and commission reports.

Mohammed also named two Al Qaeda officials, whose identities were known, as having played previously undisclosed but lesser roles in the attacks.

One is Ammar al-Baluchi, a nephew of Mohammed who rose to become one of Al Qaeda's top operatives before being captured in Pakistan in May 2003.

Mohammed identified Baluchi as a key travel and financial facilitator for the hijackers, along with Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, whose role as a United Arab Emirates-based paymaster for the attacks has been acknowledged by U.S. officials since he was captured with Mohammed in raids in Pakistan in March 2003.

The other operative whose role Mohammed detailed was Abd Al-Rahim Ghulam Rabbani, also known as Abu Ramah. Mohammed said Abu Ramah helped several of the hijackers go through Pakistan on their way in and out of Afghanistan.

The interrogation summary also alludes to seven lower-level participants who have not been publicly identified, but it did not include their names.

"They knew that they were involved in a martyrdom operation and that it involved traveling to the U.S., but they never learned the real purpose of the operation until after the 9/11 attacks," the summary said.

Several U.S. authorities said in interviews Tuesday that they viewed at least some of Mohammed's claims with skepticism because he had been proved a calculated expert at providing his interrogators with disinformation to send his pursuers down blind alleys and protect ongoing Al Qaeda plots.

But a U.S. intelligence official familiar with the continuing investigation into Sept. 11 confirmed the basic outlines of Mohammed's claims, particularly about Abu Turab. He said the Jordanian was killed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in late 2001, around the time Atef was killed by a U.S. airstrike.

That official and others, however, said the true role that Abu Turab, Baluchi and others played in the attacks might never be fully known to U.S. authorities, unless key figures such as Bin Laden and his second in command, Ayman Zawahiri, were captured and could corroborate or deny Mohammed's claims.

"A whole lot of guys boiled to the surface after 9/11" and their roles are still being investigated, said one former federal law enforcement official who has spent years tracking Al Qaeda's leaders.

The current and former U.S. officials interviewed Tuesday all spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss such matters.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

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