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9/11: 4th plane was headed for the Capitol

By LAURA E. CHATFIELD

WASHINGTON, Sept. 12 (UPI) -- The men who planned and carried out the Sept. 11 suicide hijackings staked out the White House before deciding that their targets should be the Pentagon, the World Trade Center and the U.S. Capitol -- where the fourth plane was headed when it crashed into a field in Pennsylvania -- according to interviews with two al Qaida leaders broadcast Thursday by the Arabic news channel al Jazeera.

In the second of a two-part investigative program, "Top Secret," monitored by United Press International in Washington, Ramzi Binalshibh said that on the fateful day the planners were monitoring the operation from television news broadcasts, and urging, "Aim, aim, aim," as they watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center.

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He said the three targets were referred to in coded communications between the hijackers and their al Qaida contacts as "The Faculty of Fine Arts," "The Faculty of Town Planning," and "The Faculty of Law."

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The interviews are the first time that any al Qaida leader has directly acknowledged the organization's role as the planners and financiers of the attacks, which killed more than 3,000 people.

"You are going into a battle. ... You are facing them on their land," Binalshibh said al Qaida planners told the suicide operatives. They were to "cut off the head of the snake," according to al Jazeera.

In audio tapes of interviews conducted by al Jazeera's Yosri Fouda over two days in Karachi, Pakistan, Binalshibh told of the intricate planning for the attacks that even included special reconnaissance units staking out the White House.

Fouda also interviewed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Kuwaiti citizen, who is on the FBI's most-wanted list and has a $25 million bounty on his head, said he undertook a central planning role in the attacks.

Binalshibh was part of a Hamburg-based cell preparing the attacks. The United States sent out a worldwide alert for him after they unearthed a videotape of him that U.S. officials said was found in an al Qaida leader's house in Afghanistan. He purportedly delivered a martyrdom message on that tape, but he was refused a visa to the United States and therefore was unable to join the other hijackers.

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The well-oiled operation, conducted by cells, according to the interviews, was so secretive that even Osama bin Laden did not know the exact date set for the attacks until Sept. 6.

The interconnecting cells were established with lines of contact between them and the general command in Afghanistan, according to Binalshibh.

At one point, the hijackers were under surveillance, but "God was with them," Binalshibh said.

Mohammed Atta was in charge of all the "brothers," who carefully studied security at airports.

In one coded e-mail, instructions were sent from Binalshibh to the hijackers in German from an Internet chat room. "Jenny" wrote:

"The first semester (the attacks themselves) commences in three weeks. There are no changes. All is well. There are good signs and encouraging ideas ... Everything is going according to plan. This summer will surely be hot. I want to talk with you about some details."

"The enemy is stupid ... (but) of course, you need to be alert and wise," Binalshibh told al Jazeera, referring to the attacks "heroic operations."

He said seats on the planes were chosen to allow for mobility.

"Their first weapon was chanting 'God is great!'" Binalshibh said, but added it was vital that they gain control of the planes in the first 15 minutes -- "the golden moments" of the flights.

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Binalshibh said on the tape broadcast that al Qaida never doubted the hijackers' loyalty. "They were never influenced by corrupt America ... or temptations."

Binalshibh said that it was unfortunate that Muslims in the United States later prayed in churches and mosques for those who died in the attacks.

According to Fouda, the interviews also confirm the authenticity of the videotape released by the U.S. government in which Osama bin Laden bragged about the attacks. The al Qaida leaders said it was genuine.

In the program, Fouda says that Israeli intelligence, the Mossad, knew of the attacks before they were carried out, although he offered no evidence or sources for this allegation.

He also said that Binalshibh told him the fourth plane -- headed for the Capitol -- was shot down by the U.S. military, rather than crashing because of the heroic attempt by passengers on board to wrest control of it from the hijackers. He did not offer any evidence, however.

The report also attempted to give an insight into the hijackers motives.

"They kill our innocents and women. ... We kill their innocents and women," Osama bin Laden says in a videotape broadcast Thursday on the program.

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