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911 suspect related wtc93 plotter { June 5 2002 }

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   http://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/05/national/05TERR.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/05/national/05TERR.html

June 5, 2002
Sept. 11 Suspect May Be Relative of '93 Plot Leader
By JAMES RISEN


WASHINGTON, June 4 United States intelligence and law enforcement officials said today that they had concluded that a possible relative of Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who coordinated the first bombing of the World Trade Center, in 1993, and a later unsuccessful plot to bomb American airliners over the Pacific, played a pivotal role in planning the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

The man described as a possible relative, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, 37, a Kuwaiti, is now believed to have been a leading figure in Osama bin Laden's Qaeda network who helped plan the attacks, officials said.

The assessment that Mr. Mohammed played a significant role in the attacks provides a new and direct link between the hijackings last year and the failed airline plot by Mr. Yousef's group in 1995. The estimate also suggests a connection between the first attack on the World Trade Center and its destruction.

Mr. Mohammed has been indicted in the United States on charges that he was involved in the January 1995 plot, led by Mr. Yousef, to bomb planes flying between Southeast Asia and the United States. The F.B.I. has placed him on its list of most wanted terrorists. Officials said he was believed to be in Pakistan.

American officials said they had identified Mr. Mohammed as an operative of Al Qaeda before Sept. 11 and had begun to suspect soon after the attacks that he had some role in the hijackings. But in the next months, a detailed financial investigation of the money trail from the plot led officials to believe that he had a more prominent role than previously suspected. In December, the United States increased the reward for his capture, to $25 million.

More recently, intelligence officials said, Abu Zubaydah, Mr. bin Laden's top lieutenant now in American custody, had helped confirm that Mr. Mohammed had been a pivotal figure in planning Sept. 11.

Since Sept. 11, many American experts have pointed out the parallels between the attacks on the trade center and the Pentagon and the "Manila plot," Mr. Yousef's plan to bomb up to 12 planes. An alternative plot considered by Mr. Yousef's group in 1995 was to hijack the planes, instead of bombing them, and crash them into prominent American buildings, including the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Va.

Officials said the plan to bomb the airliners called for five terrorists to smuggle explosives aboard a succession of American passenger planes flying from cities around East Asia. The terrorists would leave the planes at the first stop, leaving bombs timed to explode in midair as the airliners flew on to other Asian cities. The plan was to blow up as many as 12 jets within a few days in January 1995, potentially killing thousands of people. The plot was foiled after Philippine authorities arrested accomplices and found a laptop computer that had information about the group's plans.

Mr. Yousef was tracked down and arrested in Pakistan in February 1995 and returned to the United States, where he was tried and convicted in the Manila plot and the first attack on the trade center. After Mr. Yousef's conviction in federal district court in Manhattan in 1996, the State Department issued an advisory warning that "the potential exists for retaliation by Yousef's sympathizers against American interests."

Federal prosecutors have previously identified Mr. Mohammed as someone who helped Mr. Yousef finance and develop the Manila plot. By 1998, they had announced a $2 million reward for his capture.

Officials did not say how close a relative they believe Mr. Mohammed is to Mr. Yousef, who is in the federal penitentiary in Florence, Colo.

For many years, however, the C.I.A. and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were not certain that there was a direct connection between Mr. Yousef and Al Qaeda. Although they had a shared radical Islamic ideology and used similar terrorist tactics, the trade center bombing in 1993 occurred before American investigators began to see signs that Al Qaeda was emerging as a major threat. The Manila conspiracy was also not believed to be an operation of Al Qaeda.

United States intelligence officials said today that Mr. Mohammed seemed to have been a crucial operational planner for Sept. 11, perhaps just below Mr. bin Laden and his three top lieutenants. But officials did not provide details about his involvement in planning Sept. 11.

The new evidence of Mr. Mohammed's role in the attacks is certain to prompt a reassessment of the connections between Mr. Yousef and Mr. bin Laden. The evidence could also help explain why Al Qaeda decided to attack the trade center again, to try to finish the job that Mr. Yousef started nearly nine years earlier.

In recent months, American counterintelligence officials have identified a small group of other Al Qaeda lieutenants as the crucial figures behind the Sept. 11 attacks. They include Mohammed Atef, the military chief of Al Qaeda, who died in November in an American bombing raid in Afghanistan; Mr. Zubaydah, 30, a Palestinian held by the United States; and Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian radical and Mr. bin Laden's top deputy.

The report that Mr. Zubaydah provided American authorities information about Mr. Mohammed indicates that Mr. bin Laden's former lieutenant is cooperating more fully with the United States than has been widely believed. Many experts have previously speculated that he has used his debriefings to mislead American investigators.

In 1995, American authorities first accused Mr. Mohammed of working with Mr. Yousef in the 1993 bombing. In 1998, Mr. Mohammed was indicted by a federal grand jury in Manhattan in connection with the Manila plot.

Mr. Mohammed has been described by the authorities as often wearing a beard and glasses, as well as being slightly overweight.

The authorities have said he took part in a test run of the Pacific plot on a flight from the Philippines to Tokyo. An explosion on that flight killed a Japanese executive.



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