- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2001

A smiling and serene Osama bin Laden, aware that he was being videotaped, bragged that he "calculated in advance the number of casualties" that would result from the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The Pentagon yesterday released the much-anticipated videotape just as U.S. forces pummeled the last remaining Taliban and al Qaeda strongholds in Afghanistan, where bin Laden is believed to be hiding.
Bearing a time stamp of Nov. 9, the tape shows bin Laden making repeated references to his advance knowledge of the attacks, which toppled the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and tore a hole in the Pentagon.
"We calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy, who would be killed based on the position of the tower," bin Laden told supporters in a rather spartan room in Kandahar. "We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors."
"I was the most optimistic of them all," said the terrorist leader who made his fortune in the construction industry.
"Due to my experience in this field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only," he added. "This is all we had hoped for."
To illustrate the attacks, he gestured with his hands. He used his right hand to represent the airplane that crashed into the World Trade Center, while the trade center was signified by his upraised left hand, with the fingers falling on impact.
Throughout the grainy, amateur tape, bin Laden appears to relish his role as raconteur.
Speaking primarily to an unnamed Saudi sheik whose apparently crippled legs are covered with a blanket, bin Laden assumes the demeanor of a shy man who nonetheless cannot stop grinning while recounting his exploits.
For example, he chortled while describing a dream one of his followers had told him about a year ago.
"I saw in a dream, we were playing a soccer game against the Americans," he quoted the man as saying. "When our team showed up in the field, they were all pilots."
The friend went on to say that the pilots defeated the Americans, which bin Laden said "was a good omen for us."
At various points in the hourlong recording, which was found in a Jalalabad house by advancing anti-Taliban forces, bin Laden made clear that the planned attacks against America were a closely guarded secret. He said he fretted when one follower seemed to presage the assault on the World Trade Center.
"He came close and told me that he saw, in a dream, a tall building in America," said bin Laden, dressed in military fatigues and a white turban. "At that point, I was worried that maybe the secret would be revealed if everyone starts seeing it in their dream.
"So I closed the subject," he added with a chuckle. "I told him if he sees another dream, not to tell anybody, because people will be upset with him."
Bin Laden confirmed that the hijackers were led by Mohamed Atta of the al Qaeda's Egyptian branch. But he confided with an air of satisfaction that some of the men under Atta's command did not know they were on a suicide mission until the last moment.
"Mohamed from the Egyptian family was in charge of the group," explained bin Laden, sitting cross-legged on flowered cushions as he regaled several followers. "The brothers who conducted the operation, all they knew was that they have a martyrdom operation.
"And we asked each of them to go to America, but they didn't know anything about the operation, not even one letter," he said. "But they were trained, and we did not reveal the operation to them until they are there and just before they boarded the planes."
In keeping with al Qaeda's practice of segregating "cells" of terrorists for security reasons, the hijackers were given very little information about each other.
"Those who were trained to fly didn't know the others," bin Laden said with a laugh. "One group of people did not know the other group."
Although bin Laden portrayed himself as the mastermind of the attacks, he suggested the September 11 date was chosen by others, possibly the hijackers themselves.
"We had notification since the previous Thursday that the event would take place that day," he said. "We had finished our work that day and had the radio on it was 5:30 p.m. our time."
Bin Laden said he and his followers eagerly listened to "the news from Washington."
"At the end of the newscast, they reported that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center," he recalled, covering his mouth with his hand to contain his laughter. "They were overjoyed when the first plane hit the building, so I said to them: Be patient.
"After a little while, they announced that another plane had hit the World Trade Center. The brothers who heard the news were overjoyed by it."
Bin Laden said he and his followers sat rapt as reports of the mounting carnage streamed in.
"We stayed until four o'clock, listening to the news every time a little bit different," he enthused. "Everyone was very joyous and saying: 'Allah is great.'"
He added: "I was happy for the happiness of my brothers. That day the congratulations were coming on the phone nonstop."
Bin Laden said the devastation wrought by the hijackers "benefited Islam greatly" by increasing the number of religious converts.
"In the Netherlands, at one of the centers, the number of people who accepted Islam during the days that followed the operations were more than the people who accepted Islam in the last 11 years," he marveled.
"I heard someone on Islamic radio who owns a school in America say: 'We don't have time to keep up with the demands of those who are asking about Islamic books to learn about Islam.' This event made people think."
At one point, bin Laden rests an AK-47 on a floor cushion. At other points, he sips water from a glass tumbler and joins several men in a communal meal.
The tape was found by Afghan ground forces who were fighting the Taliban as the United States continued its air strikes. It was turned over to the CIA, which provided it to President Bush on Nov. 29.
Mr. Bush began viewing the tape the next day, but the administration had no plans for an immediate public release.
"Someone leaked the fact that it existed," explained Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "And then there became a groundswell, an appetite for it to be made available. And as that groundswell built, somebody decided to make it available."
But first the administration took pains to ensure it would not be accused of distorting the tape's translation. Earlier this week, three private translators were brought to the Pentagon to review the tape and come up with a consensus on bin Laden's words.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said the tape should obliterate any lingering doubts about whether bin Laden was responsible for the attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, which killed more than 3,000 people.
"How could there be a doubt in anyone's mind any longer about what we have said from the very, very beginning, that he was the mastermind, he is the head of an organization that participates in this kind of evil activity?" Mr. Powell said.
"It is frightening and shocking to sit there and listen to him invoke the name of an almighty to defend murder, to defend evil," he added. "I don't know what other judgment one can make about it."

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