Bin Laden spoke of 'major attack'
© St. Petersburg Times,
LONDON -- Osama bin Laden spoke of a "major attack on America" in the days before the strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and warned associates to return to Afghanistan by Sept. 10, according to a dossier released by the British government on Thursday.
The report is the first attempt by a government to lay out evidence -- albeit circumstantial -- connecting bin Laden to the attacks. The Bush administration said later it had "no reservations" about the British dossier.
Details, including the names and sources behind the evidence, were excised for security reasons, but Prime Minister Tony Blair said authorities know much more than they can say publicly.
The report assembles the growing mountain of evidence against bin Laden, including direct ties to "at least three" of the 19 suspected hijackers.
The summary asserts that one of those three hijackers played key roles in both the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa, which killed 219 people, including 12 Americans, and the deadly attack on the warship USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000.
Blair said government ministers and the leaders of the British opposition had seen the full evidence and "have absolutely no doubt that bin Laden and his network are responsible" for the Sept. 11 attacks.
Bush administration officials presented similar evidence to NATO allies in Brussels on Tuesday and to Pakistan, which neighbors Afghanistan and has relations with that country's ruling Taliban militia. Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Riaz Khan said Thursday the evidence against bin Laden was sufficient to indict him for the Sept. 11 attacks.
In Paris, French President Jacques Chirac said that "everything points to Osama bin Laden and his networks as the authors of these attacks."
According to the dossier, investigators have established that "bin Laden himself asserted shortly before 11 September that he was preparing a major attack on America."
"Immediately prior to 11 September some known associates of Bin Laden were naming the date for action as on or around 11 September," the report notes.
"In August and early September close associates of bin Laden were warned to return to Afghanistan from other parts of the world by 10 September," it adds.
It also says the detailed planning for the attacks was carried out by one of bin Laden's "closest and most senior associates," who is not named.
The document says investigators have obtained "evidence of a very specific nature relating to the guilt of bin Laden and his associates that is too sensitive to release."
"It is not possible without compromising people or security to release precise details and fresh information is daily coming in," Blair told lawmakers in the House of Commons.
In his speech, the prime minister indicated military action was likely, but gave no hint as to when it would happen.
"We are now approaching the difficult time when action is taken. It will be difficult, there are no easy options," he said.
In Paris, French Defense Minister Alain Richard said U.S. military retaliation isn't likely for several weeks.
"The decisions to take action haven't been made," Richard said.
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