Why 9/11 was not a ‘big surprise’

Al-Qaeda struck at the heart of the nation’s financial center, the Twin Towers in New York, in what remains the deadliest terror attack on US soil. (Reuters)
Updated 11 September 2018
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Why 9/11 was not a ‘big surprise’

  • Osama bin Laden threatened terror attacks on US soil 3 months before 9/11, in an interview with Baker Atyani, Arab News' South Asia bureau chief
  • In the coming weeks, there will be a big surprise; we are going to hit American and Israeli interests,” Bin Laden said in the i nterview

ISLAMABAD: While Al-Qaeda’s terror attacks on the US came as a shock to the world, its leader made the threat almost three months before, in an interview with Baker Atyani, our South Asia bureau chief

It was around 7 a.m. in Islamabad, on September 12, 2001, when I received a phone call from a familiar voice: The man wanted me to deliver a message.

I immediately realized that the caller was Al-Qaeda’s messenger.

I picked him up from one of the busiest local markets in Islamabad. His message was: There is a comment by “Sheikh Abu Abdullah,” another name for bin Laden, for the media if I wished to carry it.

“Osama bin Laden is thankful to Allah for what happened yesterday. Al-Qaeda wants the world to know that they are ready for any type of war and have nuclear capability.”

Interestingly, the messenger was sent a few days before the attacks, waiting for it to happen, so he could deliver bin Laden’s comments on them firsthand.

That was not the “news” I was looking for, especially after the tragic attacks in the United States. It was propaganda by Al-Qaeda, and I decided not to use it.

I had an interview with bin Laden almost three months before the attacks took place, which was broadcast on MBC on June 23, 2001. The threat was: “In the coming weeks, there will be a big surprise; we are going to hit American and Israeli interests.” Chillingly, he added: “The coffin business will increase in the United States.”

The Taliban kept insisting that no attack on US installations would be made by Al-Qaeda, while the US kept its forces in the Middle East on a heightened state of alert.  

Mustafa Hamid, a well-known historian on Arab Afghans, wrote in his book “A Crusade in the Sky of Kandahar” that it was no secret Al-Qaeda was up to something soon. “Days before 9/11, if you spoke to a shopkeeper or stopped a man (in Kandahar) on the street, he would tell you there are rumors of a big attack that Al-Qaeda plans to launch soon,” Hamid said.

The news of the 9/11 attacks did not come as a surprise to those who were following the news from Afghanistan. Some Arab, British and US intelligence agencies were receiving reports of a potential attack to hit soon. They all failed to stop it. While they were in the process of identifying the type and nature of the threat, the attacks happened.

The surprise was the nature of the attacks, and that they happened on US soil.

Although Israel had also been threatened, it was only the US that was targeted. Israel was perhaps thrown into the mix by bin Laden to exhibit his loyalty to the supreme leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar, who had asked him not to plan strikes against any country other than Israel while bin Laden was in Afghanistan.

According to Hamid’s book, “Mullah Omar told bin Laden not to use the Afghan territory to plan or launch any attacks against any country other than Israel.” This permission was given to bin Laden in 2000 during what is known as the Al-Aqsa Uprising in Jerusalem, according to Hamid.

This had sparked a debate, and bin Laden was blamed by some of his close aides for working against the loyalty pledge that he gave to Mullah Omar. Even his exclusive interview with me was against the arrangement with the Taliban.

Bin Laden was asked clearly not to meet the media, according to Hamid’s book. Recalling his last meeting with bin Laden in Kandahar in August 2001, Hamid said Bin Laden asked him: “Have you heard about the latest statements on MBC?” 

Hamid replied: “It’s not statements; it’s a declaration of war ... you have breached the loyalty pledge you gave to Mullah Omar by speaking to MBC. Mullah Omar gave you permission to only attack Israel from Afghanistan and not any other country.” 

Bin Laden replied: “But I didn’t speak directly. It was indirect, and it was the journalist’s words. It was just a threat, not a declaration of war.” 

Hamid replied: “Are you fooling us? The journalist reported accurately what he had heard from you, and I know from the people who were present in the interview that the reporter didn’t misquote what he heard and saw. You also provided him with the footage from the media section. It is then a proper media engagement, even if you didn’t speak directly to the camera. Mullah Omar isn’t that naive and simple a person to this extent, (to believe) that you say you didn’t meet the media.”

In that interview, back in June 2001, bin Laden told me that he would provide me with footage that would help my story. It was from a film produced by Al-Qaeda, titled “The Destruction of the Destroyer,” referring to the USS Cole, which was attacked on the coast of Yemen on October 12, 2000. Al-Qaeda claimed credit for the attack, now considered a precursor to 9/11.


Wife of former Malaysian PM Najib to be questioned by anti-corruption agency

Updated 14 min 46 sec ago
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Wife of former Malaysian PM Najib to be questioned by anti-corruption agency

  • Rosmah was first questioned in June in connection with the investigation
  • A source familiar with the investigation said Rosmah would be questioned in connection with the 1MDB probe

KUALA LUMPUR: Rosmah Mansor, the wife of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, was summoned on Tuesday for questioning by the anti-graft agency in its multi-billion dollar corruption probe at state fund 1MDB.
It was the second time Rosmah, 66, has been called in by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) since the shock defeat of Najib in the May general election.
Rosmah was first questioned in June in connection with the investigation, which is looking into allegations of corruption and misappropriation in state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). Her husband has pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering, abuse of power and criminal breach of trust.
The former first lady was served with a notice on Tuesday afternoon to appear before MACC the next day, her lawyer K.Kumaraendran said, adding that she was asked to assist with investigations under the anti-money laundering act.
A source familiar with the investigation said Rosmah would be questioned in connection with the 1MDB probe.
After filing fresh charges against Najib last week, Azam Baki, the deputy commissioner of the anti-graft agency, said more charges could be brought against individuals over 1MDB.
When asked if Rosmah could face charges, he said: “I’m not denying that.”
Rosmah’s penchant for designer handbags, watches and jewelry raised eyebrows in Malaysia, with opponents asking how she was able to afford the luxury items on her husband’s government salary.
She has drawn comparisons to Imelda Marcos, who left behind more than 1,200 pairs of shoes when her husband Ferdinand Marcos was ousted as president of the Philippines in 1986.
Najib and Rosmah have both been barred from leaving the country since the former’s election defeat, and their home and other properties linked to them have been searched by the police as part of the 1MDB investigations.
The haul seized from the properties included 567 handbags, 423 watches and 12,000 pieces of jewelry.
Najib has said most of the seized items were gifts given to his wife and daughter and had nothing to do with 1MDB.
The US Department of Justice has alleged more than $4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB and that about $680 million ended up in Najib’s personal bank account. Najib has denied any wrongdoing.