Tuesday September 11 11:18 AM ET
Expert: Bin Laden Warned of ‘Unprecedented’ Attack
By Karen Matusic
LONDON (Reuters) – Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden warned three weeks ago that he and his followers would carry out an unprecedented attack on U.S. interests for its support of Israel, an Arab journalist with access to him said Tuesday.
Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi, an Arabic-language weekly news magazine, said Islamic fundamentalists led by bin Laden were “almost certainly” behind the attack of the World Trade Center in New York.
“It is most likely the work of Islamic fundamentalists. Osama bin Laden warned three weeks ago that he would attack American interests in an unprecedented attack, a very big one,” Atwan told Reuters.
“Personally, we received information that he planned very, very big attacks against American interests. We received several warnings like this. We did not take it so seriously, preferring to see what would happen before reporting it.”
Atwan has interviewed bin Laden and maintains close contacts with his followers.
Bin Laden is wanted in the United States for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 people and injured more than 4,000.
Two planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center Tuesday morning as office workers began work, setting them on fire and causing both to collapse, live television coverage showed.
Another plane crashed next to the Pentagon in Washington, a U.S. official said. Eyewitnesses said the building was being evacuated. The White House and State Department were also evacuated.
An anonymous caller told Abu Dhabi television in the Gulf that the radical Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine was responsible for the two New York crashes, but a senior DFLP official in the Palestinian territories denied any involvement.
“I emphasize that the story released on Abu Dhabi TV by an anonymous person is totally incorrect,” Tayseer Khaled, a senior official of the DFLP politburo in the Palestinian territories, told Reuters.
“The DFLP is against hijacking planes and against endangering the lives of civilians who are not connected with the struggle of this region,” he said.
President Bush called the crashes an “apparent terrorist attack,” and pledged the U.S. government would “hunt down” those responsible.
Atwan said anti-American sentiment in the Middle East was at its peak and moderate Arab governments had been ”embarrassed” by what they saw as Bush’s reluctance to lead peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
“The more moderate Arab governments were pleading with the American administration to intervene and to resume its sponsorship to the peace talks and put an end to the Israeli aggression. The Bush administration let them down,” Atwan said.
He said the United States, if convinced that bin Laden was behind the attacks, would probably retaliate in Afghanistan where bin Laden is thought to be in hiding.
“I will not surprised that the Americans will send their cruise missiles to Afghanistan. There is no other country because bin Laden is in Afghanistan.”