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Bin Laden Leads Short List of Suspects

Wednesday, 12 September 2001 12:00 AM

Last night, in a televised interview, Sen. Orrin Hatch intimated that intelligence forces had intercepted communications from suspected bin Laden associates who were relaying the fact that "they had hit two of their targets."

Anti-terrorist experts told United Press International that the attack's so-called "operational characteristics" point to a group as organized and resource-rich as bin Laden's. According to one former State Dept. expert, those features include the enormous amount of preparation and the of simultaneous, orchestrated attacks, which the United States saw in the minutes-apart bombing of its two embassies in East Africa in 1998,.

Bin Laden is believed behind those bombings as well as the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the attack on the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen last year. He is believed to be currently in Afghanistan, where he has been sheltered by the Taliban regime for at least 18 months.

A U.S. security official told United Press International, "Bin Laden would clearly be the obvious suspect. There is going to be a coordinated U.S. government investigation, a number of agencies will be involved, it will be a massive undertaking."

He added, "I don't know there is hard evidence out there yet, but (bin Laden) has the ability to finance operations in all corners of the world.

"It would be foolish to think his people are not in the United States and I'm not certain there are other groups out there who could coordinate something like this. Hijacking four planes in a matter of an hour is kind of mind boggling."

There is another possibility, however. A number of separate groups may have been able to pull off the strike if backed and organized in concert by one government.

James Woolsey, who served as President Clinton's CIA director from 1993 to late 1994, told UPI in an interview Tuesday: "There is a chance that this was a single terrorist group ... but there is a reasonable chance this was planned by a state and the terrorist groups were subcontractors. ... We have to look to see not only who was involved, but who was behind the curtain... There was a possibility this was Iran; perhaps it was Iraq; and it may have been neither."

Wakil Ahmed Mutawakel, the Taliban's foreign minister, himself declared the attacks were the work of a government or an anti-U.S. regime. He said Tuesday in a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan that bin Laden was not responsible, a denial echoed by other Taliban officials throughout the day.

Denials aside, a former senior CIA official told UPI that "this would appear to be a highly professional and compartmentalized operation."

Given past trends in terrorism, the participants in the attack on the Pentagon probably had no idea that there were other participants active in the attacks in New York, he said. Planning was begun "far in advance" of the attacks and involved "very careful study of the U.S. system of air transportation, airport security, air routing. Whoever did this went to a great deal of pain," he said.

Another U.S. government counter terrorism expert said: "I'm convinced this would have been run by separate networks. You would have one network of experts and supervisors, another of the martyrs to be. You would ensure security by making sure that one network had no contact with the other."

Such a system was used in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania which killed 228 people, he said.

Secondary explosions are very much a technique of bin Laden bombing attacks, say CIA officials, something learned from Iranian explosive experts. Often the secondary explosion followed the primary blast to further damage structures and take human life, these sources said.

"The airliners hit and exploded, weakening the structure of the towers, and then exploding fuel acted to destroy them entirely," the official posed to UPI. "It's a new application of an old idea."

In the past, bin Laden operatives have used explosive charges shaped to enhance the blast effect. Bin Laden's operatives have also been trained to pay great attention "to where the blast would impact," using nearby structures to reflect and intensify the destructive effect, according to one U.S. government official who spoke - like all those interviewed for this article - on condition of anonymity.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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Last night, in a televised interview, Sen. Orrin Hatch intimated that intelligence forces had intercepted communications from suspected bin Laden associates who were relaying the fact that they had hit two of their targets. Anti-terrorist experts told United Press...
Wednesday, 12 September 2001 12:00 AM
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