Bin Laden tape: describing planning for attacks, celebrating success beyond ‘most optimistic’ expectations
WASHINGTON (AP) — In a chilling glimpse of terrorist planning, Osama bin Laden said in a videotape released by the Pentagon Thursday that the deaths and destruction achieved by the Sept. 11 attacks exceeded his “most optimistic” expectations.
Bin Laden appeared calm and at times amused as he talked about the attacks on the hour-long tape the Bush administration said was found in Afghanistan. U.S. warplanes pressed the hunt for him and his supporters there Thursday.
“We calculated in advance the number of … enemy who would be killed,” at the World Trade Center, bin Laden said on the tape. “We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic.”
Gesturing with his hands, he said he had figured that fuel from the planes flown into the twin towers “would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit” and take down only the floors above it.
“This is all that we had hoped for,” he said, holding one hand up vertically and striking it with the other as though it were a plane hitting a building.
Some Americans who saw the tape on television reacted with anger, some disgust.
“I changed the channel,” said Anthony Gambale, whose daughter, Giovanna, was killed at the World Trade Center.
Television networks broke into regular programming to show at least part of the tape released by the administration as evidence bin Laden was the mastermind of the attacks.
In New York City, scores of people gathered on the sidewalk in Times Square to watch the tape on a giant screen.
In the Mideast, where Arab satellite channels aired the tape, some were unconvinced of bin Laden’s involvement in the attacks.
It was unknown who made the tape, an amateurish recording edited with English subtitles by U.S. government and private translators. It showed a meeting officials said was between bin Laden, an unidentified Saudi sheik and other men somewhere in southern Afghanistan last month.
“Everybody praises what you did, the great action you did, which was first and foremost by the grace of Allah,” the sheik said. “This is the guidance of Allah and the blessed fruit of Jihad.”
“Thanks to Allah,” replied bin Laden.
Bin Laden discussed some of the planning that led to the attacks, and recalled tuning in to the radio to hear American news broadcasts of the event.
“They were overjoyed when the first plane hit the building,” he said of others listening with him that day. “So I said to them: Be patient.”
President Bush “has known all along that Osama bin Laden was behind this,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, referring to the terrorist attacks. “It came as no surprise to the president.”
“It is frightening and shocking to sit there and listen to him invoke the name of the almighty to defend murder, to defend evil,” said Secretary of State Colin Powell.
A Pentagon statement said officials released the tape after balancing “concerns about any additional pain that could be caused by its release against the value of having the world fully appreciate what we are up against in the war against terrorism.”
When told by the AP that bin Laden was shown on the tape identifying his son as the leader of the cell that carried out the attacks, 65-year-old Mohammed al-Amir al-Sayed Awad Atta was angry and skeptical.
“All this is a forgery, a fabrication,” said the senior Atta, who maintained Mohamed Atta’s identification papers might have been stolen to implicate him in the attacks.
The hijackings were a martyrdom operation, bin Laden said, sitting on a flowered floor mat in a sparely furnished room and talking and eating with two aides and the sheik.
The sheik, identified by a U.S. official as Saudi cleric Sheik Sulayman, praised bin Laden for “a great job.” “No doubt it is a clear victory … and he (Allah) will give us blessing and more victory during this holy month of Ramadan,” he said.
Most American Muslims will mark the ending of Ramadan on Sunday.
In the Mideast, where public opinion has been against the United States, several TV stations showed the tape with English subtitles.
“I can’t believe bin Laden did it. The translation is wrong and we hardly heard his voice. America just wants to implicate Muslims,” said Nadia Saqr, an Egyptian mother of two.
Bin Laden’s whereabouts are unknown — a $25 million reward has been posted for information leading to his capture. “We think he’s in Afghanistan. We are chasing him. He is hiding. He does not want us to know where he is,” said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
The tape had a homemade quality to it, punctuated by background noises, coughing and a shot or two of the cameraman’s shoes as he shakily panned the camera from one spot to another.
At times bin Laden and the others continued speaking but the subtitles didn’t change, making it difficult to tell what words corresponded to what gestures. The Pentagon said it couldn’t get a “verbatim transcript of every word spoken” because of the bad quality of the tape’s sound.
Earlier in the fall, administration officials had appealed to American, TV networks not to air videotapes made by bin Laden, saying they might contain coded messages to his followers to carry out additional attacks.
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