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Context of 'Late July, 2003: Mock Terrorist Attack on Nuclear Plant Called Unrealistic, Inadequate'

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Some al-Qaeda operatives hold a meeting in northern Spain to finalize plans for the 9/11 attacks. Those allegedly present are listed below. The first two operatives listed are definitely present; it is less certain that the others are there:
bullet Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta. [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/30/2001]
bullet Ramzi bin al-Shibh, an associate of Atta from Hamburg, arrives in Spain on July 9, and stays until July 16. Spanish authorities are notified of his arrival in the country by German intelligence (see (Around July 9, 2001)). [New York Times, 5/1/2002]
bullet Some reports say that 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi attends, although if he does, he may use a false identity, as US immigration has no records of his departure or return. [El Mundo (Madrid), 9/30/2001; US Department of Justice, 5/20/2002]
bullet The Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia will later report that 9/11 hijackers Waleed and Wail Alshehri meet Atta on July 16. [Associated Press, 9/27/2001] However, there will be no mention of them attending the meeting in some other accounts. For example, their attendance will not be mentioned in the relevant section of the 9/11 Commission Report. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 243-5]
bullet Amer el-Azizi. [Wall Street Journal, 4/7/2004; Associated Press, 1/23/2005] El-Azizi, who seems to have made preparations for the meeting, is under surveillance at this time, as Spanish authorities are listening in on his phone calls. [Wall Street Journal, 3/19/2004] Calls possibly related to the meeting’s organization were overheard (see Before July 8, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2004; Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2004] Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon will later indict el-Azizi for helping plan 9/11 and say that he assisted the plotters by arranging accommodation for them and acting as a courier. However, US officials will be less certain of his involvement. [Associated Press, 1/23/2005] His arrest shortly after 9/11 will be frustrated by Spanish intelligence (see October 2001 and Shortly After November 21, 2001) and he will go on to be involved in the 2004 Madrid bombings (see Before March 11, 2004 and 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004).
bullet Barakat Yarkas, head of an al-Qaeda-linked cell in Spain. [New York Times, 11/20/2001; Los Angeles Times, 1/14/2003]
bullet Mohammed Belfatmi. Belfatmi is an associate of Yarkas, and lives near the hotels where Atta and bin al-Shibh stay. He will flee Europe just before 9/11 with Said Bahaji, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg (see September 3-5, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 1/14/2003; BBC Worldwide Monitoring, 12/2/2004]
bullet Mamoun Darkazanli and Mohammed Haydar Zammar, associates of Atta’s from Germany.
bullet Al Jazeera reporter Tayseer Allouni.
bullet Said Bahaji, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg. According to Spanish investigators, Bahaji is with Atta the entire time, and they both stay at the Monica Hotel. [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 137]
bullet 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). In 2002, Al Jazeera journalist Yosri Fouda will allegedly interview bin al-Shibh and KSM together before either of them are arrested (see April, June, or August 2002). Neither bin al-Shibh nor KSM will discuss any details of the meeting with Fouda, including who attended. KSM will neither confirm nor deny he was there. However, in a 2003 book, Fouda will claim that, according to Spanish investigators, the initial attendees are Atta, bin al-Shibh, Bahaji, and a fourth man who might be KSM. They are later joined by Alshehhi and two unnamed others. [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 137]
However, there is a parallel meeting in Granada, in the south of Spain, at this time, and Yarkas, Darkazanli, Zammar, and Allouni may only be at that meeting, and may not meet Atta and bin al-Shibh in person (see July 6, 2001 and Shortly After). [New York Times, 11/20/2001; Los Angeles Times, 1/14/2003] After being captured, bin al-Shibh will deny meeting anyone other than Atta while in Spain. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 243-5] However, questions will be raised about the quality of information obtained from detainees due to the methods—including torture—used to extract it (see June 16, 2004). The movements of Atta and his associates in Spain are apparently mirrored by those of FBI agents John O’Neill and Mark Rossini (see July 5-16, 2001).

Entity Tags: Mamoun Darkazanli, Wail Alshehri, Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mohamed Atta, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Amer el-Azizi, Yosri Fouda, Mohammed Belfatmi, Tayseer Allouni, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Said Bahaji, Barakat Yarkas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Indian Point nuclear power plant.Indian Point nuclear power plant. [Source: New York Power Authority]According to the 9/11 Commission, during their meeting in Spain where they discuss the looming attacks (see July 8-19, 2001), 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta tells would-be hijacker Ramzi Bin al-Shibh he has considered targeting a nuclear facility he saw during familiarization flights near New York. This is presumably Indian Point, which is about 30 miles north of NYC. [New York Times, 4/4/2002] Flight 11, which Atta pilots on 9/11, passes directly over Indian Point minutes before hitting the WTC (see 8:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, “the other pilots did not like the idea. They thought a nuclear target would be difficult because the airspace around it was restricted, making reconnaissance flights impossible and increasing the likelihood that any plane would be shot down before impact.… Nor would a nuclear facility have particular symbolic value.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 245] Also, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the 9/11 “mastermind,” supposedly later tells his US interrogators he originally planned ten hijackings, with the additional targets including nuclear power plants. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 154] In 2002, Mohammed will reportedly tell an Al Jazeera reporter he’d thought of hitting a couple of nuclear facilities on 9/11, but decided not to, “for fear it would go out of control.”(see April, June, or August 2002) Although the 9/11 hijackers had dismissed the idea, in January 2002 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will send a memo to power plants around the US, based upon information from the FBI, warning that al-Qaeda has planned a second airline attack, which would involve flying a commercial aircraft into a nuclear plant. [CNN, 1/31/2002] Also that month, in his State of the Union speech, President Bush will say US soldiers in Afghanistan have discovered diagrams of American nuclear power plants there. [US President, 2/4/2002]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

While flying south along the Hudson River, Flight 11 passes almost directly over the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan, NY, about 30 miles north of New York City. [New York Times, 4/4/2002; Bergen Record, 4/7/2002] The New Yorker will later comment, “An attack on a nuclear power plant would seem to fulfill, almost perfectly, al-Qaeda’s objective of using America’s technology against it,” and the New York Times will report, “Everyone within at least a 50-mile radius would be in danger if something terrible happened at Indian Point. That 50-mile radius contains more than 7 percent of the entire population of the United States—20 million people.” [New York Times, 4/4/2002; New Yorker, 2/24/2003] Mohamed Atta supposedly earlier considered targeting a nuclear facility on 9/11, but the other suicide pilots did not like the idea (see Between July 9 and July 16, 2001).

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ramzi bin al-Shibh.Ramzi bin al-Shibh. [Source: FBI]It is originally reported that Al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda interviews 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and 9/11 associate Ramzi Bin al-Shibh at a secret location in Karachi, Pakistan, in either June [London Times, 9/8/2002] or August. [Guardian, 9/9/2002] Details and audio footage of the interview come out between September 8 and 12, 2002. The video footage of the interview al-Qaeda promised to hand over is never given to Al Jazeera. [Associated Press, 9/8/2002] Both figures claim the 9/11 attacks were originally going to target nuclear reactors, but “decided against it for fear it would go out of control.” Interviewer Fouda is struck that KSM and bin al-Shibh remember only the hijackers’ code names, and have trouble remembering their real names. [Australian, 9/9/2002] KSM, who calls himself the head of al-Qaeda’s military committee and refers to bin al-Shibh as the coordinator of the “Holy Tuesday” operation, reportedly acknowledges “[a]nd, yes, we did it.” [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 38] These interviews “are the first full admission by senior figures from bin Laden’s network that they carried out the September 11 attacks.” [London Times, 9/8/2002] Some, however, call Fouda’s claims into doubt. For example, the Financial Times states: “Analysts cited the crude editing of [Fouda’s interview] tapes and the timing of the broadcasts as reasons to be suspicious about their authenticity. Dia Rashwan, an expert on Islamist movements at the Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies in Cairo, said: ‘I have very serious doubts [about the authenticity of this tape]. It could have been a script written by the FBI.’” [Financial Times, 9/11/2002] KSM is later variously reported to be arrested in June 2002, killed or arrested in September 2002, and then arrested in March 2003. After this last arrest report, for the first time Fouda claims this interview took place in April, placing it safely before the first reports of KSM’s capture. [Guardian, 3/4/2003; CTV Television, 3/6/2003] Bin al-Shibh also gets captured several days after Fouda’s interview is broadcast, and some reports say he is captured because this interview allows his voice to be identified. [Observer, 9/15/2002; CBS News, 10/9/2002] As a result, Fouda has been accused of betraying al-Qaeda, and now fears for his life. [Independent, 9/17/2002] As the Washington Post states, “Now Al Jazeera is also subject to rumors of a conspiracy.” [Washington Post, 9/15/2002] Yet after being so reviled by al-Qaeda supporters, Fouda is later given a cassette said to be a bin Laden speech. [MSNBC, 11/18/2002] US officials believe the voice on that cassette is “almost certainly” bin Laden, but one of the world’s leading voice-recognition institutes said it is 95 percent certain the tape is a forgery. [BBC, 11/18/2002; BBC, 11/29/2002] It will later be revealed that details of the interview were told to the CIA in mid-June 2002, which directly resulted in bin al-Shibh’s arrest a few months later (see June 14, 2002 and Shortly After).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Osama bin Laden, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Al-Qaeda, Yosri Fouda, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announces that security forces at the Indian Point nuclear plant, in upstate New York, have thwarted a mock terrorist attack. The mock attack was held under quite different circumstances from a possible real strike by terrorists: the guards were told exactly what date the mock attack would be held on, the mock terrorists were required to attack during daylight hours, and the number of attackers was limited to three. [Carter, 2004, pp. 18-19] Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) calls the drill inadequate. Lowey asks: “Were guards required to defend against airborne and water-based threats, two of Indian Point’s greatest vulnerabilities? Why does poor performance in these drills carry no penalties? Our nuclear facilities must be protected by top-notch security forces that undergo regular, rigorous exercises that reflect the real-world terrorist threats we face today” (see Between July 9 and July 16, 2001). Alex Matthiessen, the director of the environmental organization Riverkeeper, agrees with Lowey: “When the NRC conducts a drill that tests post-9/11 terrorist scenarios and when they allow truly independent observers and experts to observe the drill, only then will I begin to believe that Indian Point’s security is robust or adequate. At this point the NRC has no credibility with the public, having just rubber-stamped a patently flawed emergency plan.” A spokesman for Entergy, the corporation that owns and operates the plant, calls the mock attack “rigorous and realistic.” [New York Times, 8/12/2003]

Entity Tags: Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Alex Matthiessen, Entergy, Nita Lowey, Riverkeeper

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announces that it will no longer inform the public as to which nuclear energy plants have passed, or failed, security tests. The NRC claims the new restrictions are to keep potentially harmful information out of terrorist hands (see Between July 9 and July 16, 2001); critics argue the policy prevents the public from pressuring corporate executives to keep their plants safe (see Late July, 2003). Soon afterward, the NRC will move to withdraw large amounts of unclassified information, previously available to the public, from public view. Agency spokeswoman Sue Gagner will say that the move is to ensure that “information that could be helpful to a terrorist” is not available, but the upshot of both decisions is that only officials employed by the nuclear industry can discuss regulatory and security changes—public citizens and watchdog organizations no longer have the information required to pursue such issues. [Savage, 2007, pp. 103]

Entity Tags: Sue Gagner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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