* Bin Laden had advance knowledge of subway, bus attacks
* Al Qaeda leader also knew of later failed plots
* Hide-out evidence circumstantial, no smoking gun
By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Osama bin Laden was aware
of the plot in which al Qaeda militants bombed London transport
facilities on July 7, 2005, but it was the last successful
operation he played a role in, U.S. government experts have
Circumstantial evidence, including information gathered
from the Abbotabad, Pakistan, hide-out where U.S. Navy SEALs
killed bin Laden on May 2, also suggests that bin Laden had
advance knowledge of an unsuccessful London-based 2006 plot to
simultaneously bomb U.S.-bound transatlantic flights, several
U.S. national security officials said.
"Bin Laden was absolutely a detail guy. We have every
reason to believe that he was aware of al Qaeda's major plots
during the planning phase, including the airline plot in 2006
and the London '7-7' attacks," one of the U.S. officials told
Reuters. This official and others spoke on condition of
anonymity to discuss counter-terrorism matters.
Some of the confidence U.S. officials expressed about bin
Laden's involvement in the London attacks is based on
analytical judgment rather than ironclad proof. Two of the
officials said that there was no "smoking gun" evidence proving
that he orchestrated the plots.
However, they and other U.S. officials said there is strong
evidence, including material collected from bin Laden's lair,
indicating that, as the London-based plots unfolded, bin Laden
was in close contact with other al Qaeda militants. One
official said bin Laden was "immersed in operational details"
of the group's activities.
"We believe he was aware of these plots ahead of time," one
of the officials said.
Fifty-two civilians, and four suicide bombers, died in the
July 7, 2005, attacks on three London underground trains and a
double-decker bus. Hundreds were injured. It was "the last
successful operation Osama bin Laden oversaw," a second
The latest assessments from U.S. and other Western
officials support assertions by the Obama administration that,
despite years of apparent isolation in Abbotabad, bin Laden
still managed to keep in touch with activities -- sometimes in
considerable detail -- of his followers around the world.
NO EVIDENCE OF NEW PLOTS
By the same token, the cache of evidence found in bin
Laden's lair does not offer new indications about any specific
current plots he was involved in directed at U.S. or other
Investigations by British authorities, with support from
the United States and other allies, established some time ago
that elements of al Qaeda's core leadership had played a role
in the 2005 London transport attacks.
Investigators found evidence that Mohammad Sidique Khan,
leader of the four-man militant cell who carried out the
bombings, and another cell member had traveled to Pakistan for
paramilitary training before the attacks.
Until recently, however, investigators had not linked bin
Laden personally to the July 7, 2005, attacks. Two weeks after
those bombings, a cell of militants attempted a second round of
attacks on London transport facilities but their bombs failed
to go off.
A Western official said there was also reason to believe
that al Qaeda's core leadership was involved in orchestrating
subsequent failed plots against European and U.S. targets.
One of the plots that U.S. officials believe bin Laden was
at least aware of was a 2006 plot to bomb multiple U.S.-bound
transatlantic airline flights using home-made liquid
The plot was disrupted when British authorities launched a
major roundup of suspects. Flights to and from Britain were
severely disrupted and tight new restrictions were placed on
passenger carry-on items such as liquids and gels.
U.S. and European officials also believe that al Qaeda
"senior leadership" supervised a 2009 plot, led by an Afghan
immigrant, to bomb New York's subway system. That plot was
disrupted when U.S. authorities arrested the alleged
mastermind, Najibullah Zazi, and a handful of associates.
Since bin Laden was killed, evidence has emerged that he
was personally involved in plots against European targets last
year, one U.S. official said. Intelligence about these plots
led to the issuing of public travel warnings by European and
U.S. government agencies beginning late September.
Counter-terrorism officials warned at the time that
militants might be targeting cities in European countries,
including Germany, France and Britain, for strikes similar to
the commando attacks in Mumbai, India, which a group of
Pakistan-based militants carried out in November 2008.
(Editing by Warren Strobel and Mohammad Zargham)
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