- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2001

The United States has collected a large amount of circumstantial evidence pointing to Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network as the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, administration sources say.

The sources said that much of the material involves intelligence reports of communications between known bin Laden or al Qaeda associates in which they talked of an attack before and after Sept. 11.

One official said the FBI has established links between some of the airline hijackers and money from bank accounts controlled by al Qaeda.

Another source described the evidence as "bits and pieces" that, when put together, become compelling proof that bin Laden ordered and orchestrated the attacks. The communications, this source said, are similar to intelligence reports collected after the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, which killed 224 persons, including 12 Americans.

The Pentagon's National Security Agency (NSA) has been sifting through reams of raw intelligence to find links to bin Laden.

According to a senior administration official, that search turned up information about conversations between bin Laden lieutenants the day before terrorists hijacked the four airliners. One conversation had an associate speaking of an impending "big attack."

The delay in locating critical intelligence information is not unusual. The United States collects massive amounts of information each day, and it can take days for computers to process the collections for pertinent information.

U.S. intelligence agencies also collected evidence that bin Laden operatives congratulated each other on the day the terrorists struck, and described some of the specifics of the attack and those involved.

The investigation, according to federal law-enforcement authorities and others, centers on information that al Qaeda is one of the few terrorist organizations in the world to have the resources and manpower to carry out such a highly coordinated attack.

FBI agents, after hundreds of interviews and a review of thousands of documents, also have established that several of the 19 hijackers aboard the four commandeered jets had significant ties to bin Laden or al Qaeda.

The Bush administration once planned to release a "white paper" detailing its evidence against bin Laden. But after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell promised to release evidence, the administration changed course and decided to share the information only with allies.

The administration is said to fear that such public disclosures would reveal sources and methods useful to the terrorists. While not sharing evidence with the public, the administration has briefed British Prime Minister Tony Blair, NATO allies and some other friendly nations.

A senior U.S. counterterrorism official shared the classified evidence yesterday with NATO's 18 ambassadors. Later, a presentation was also given to "partner" countries, such as Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic on the Afghan border that has agreed to let U.S. troops make strikes from its soil.

But one key U.S. ally, Pakistan, remained unconvinced yesterday. U.S. Ambassador Wendy Chamberlain briefed the Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, on the investigation. Afterward, Foreign Ministry spokesman Riaz Mohammed Khan said Islamabad still has not seen convincing evidence of bin Laden's involvement.

A U.S. official in Washington said NATO ministers received a more-thorough briefing than did Gen. Musharraf.

Pakistan has told the Taliban it faces a fierce U.S. strike if it does not surrender bin Laden. Gen. Musharraf has granted permission for U.S. combat planes to use its airspace to bomb Afghanistan.

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson emerged from the American briefing and declared: "The facts are clear and compelling. The information presented points conclusively to an al Qaeda role in the Sept. 11 attacks."

"We know that the individuals who carried out these attacks were part of the worldwide terrorist network of al Qaeda, headed by Osama bin Laden."

In a speech to a Labor Party conference in Brighton, England, Mr. Blair said, "Be in no doubt, bin Laden and his people organized this atrocity."

NATO, which conducted its first war in 1999 in the bombing of Serbia, has invoked Article 5 of its charter declaring that the Sept. 11 assault was an attack on all alliance members. Yesterday, NATO ministers reaffirmed that decision, meaning NATO forces may now be available should Washington ask.

At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer said the administration still has not found a way to disclose evidence publicly without tipping off bin Laden.

He said, "If there was a way to share that information with the American people and with the press in this room without it being conveyed outside to terrorist organizations that would benefit from knowledge of how we acquired the information we have, we'd like to find a way to do that, but that's not immediately possible."

U.S. officials say the evidence in the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks resembled what was found in the wake of the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. That indictment outlined an extensive network of terrorists involved in the attack, including 16 of bin Laden's closest associates all members of al Qaeda.

In February 1998, bin Laden and his second-in-command, Ayman al Zawahiri, endorsed a fatwa under the banner of the "International Islamic Front for Jihad on the Jews and Crusaders." This fatwa, published in the newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi on Feb. 23, 1998, said Muslims should kill Americans including civilians anywhere in the world.

In May 1998, bin Laden issued a statement titled "The Nuclear Bomb of Islam," under the banner of the "International Islamic Front for Fighting the Jews and Crusaders," in which he said "it is the duty of Muslims to prepare as much force as possible to terrorize the enemies of God."

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