Bin Laden Aide Linked To Two Of 9/11 Hijackers

Malaysian intelligence photographs show meeting in January 2000, U.S. officials say

by Jack Kelley
USA Today
February 12, 2002


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A top lieutenant of Osama bin Laden and key suspect in the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen met with two of the Sept. 11 hijackers here in January 2000, U.S. officials say.

The alleged activities of the bin Laden aide, a fugitive identified as Tawfiq bin Atash, represent the "strongest proof yet" that bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorism network masterminded the attacks on New York City and Washington, the U.S. officials say.

U.S. authorities have long linked bin Laden to the bombing on Oct. 12, 2000, of the Cole, which killed 17 American sailors. Atash, a Yemeni also known as "Khallad," is believed to have been the intermediary between bin Laden and the suicide bombers who attacked the Cole, U.S. Officials say.

Before the Cole bombing, Atash was among several al-Qaeda operatives who met here with hijackers Khalid Al-Midhar and Nawaq Alhamzi, according to U.S. investigators who have seen surveillance photos taken that Malaysian officials took.

Soon after, Al-Midhar and Alhamzi entered the USA on business visas, the FBI says. They enrolled in a San Diego flight school, and on Sept. 11, they were aboard the airliner that hit the Pentagon.

U.S. agents are interested in the meeting on Jan. 5, 2000, because it sheds light on al-Qaeda's links to the Sept. 11 attacks and on its presence in Malaysia. An FBI report calls this mostly Muslim nation "one of the primary launch pads" for the attacks.

Information about the meeting may also be used as evidence at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, a Frenchman who is the only person facing terrorism charges in the United States in the Sept. 11 probe. Moussaoui received money for flight training from an al-Qaeda operative who hosted the meeting.

Surveillance photos of the meeting show Fahad al Quso, another bin Laden operative who was supposed to have videotaped the Cole bombing but apparently overslept that day, U.S. Officials say.

Atash once was in charge of bin Laden's bodyguards. His name surfaced in news reports in connection with the al-Qaeda meeting here, but officials now are acknowledging his significance in their efforts to determine al-Qaeda's reach.

Officials say they have "no doubt" that Atash discussed the Sept. 11 attacks with the two hijackers. The officials would not elaborate, but law enforcement sources say they have received some details from suspected al-Qaeda operatives detained here.


Copyright 2002 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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