September 11 plan was to hijack ten planes, says mastermind

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The original plan for the September 11 attacks involved up to 10 planes and targets on the American west coast, the al-Qa'ida mastermind of the atrocities, has told interrogators.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who was seized in Pakistan in March and is being held by the CIA at a secret location, said he first broached the hijack plot with Osama bin Laden in 1996.

Interrogation records obtained by the Associated Press show the plan was to hijack five commercial jets on both US coasts but that was considered impractical by bin Laden.

An early version of the plot also envisaged blowing up 12 western aircraft simultaneously over Asia in a second wave of attacks which would be done by groups allied to al-Qa'ida in South-East Asia. Mohammed's statements also indicate Al-Qa'ida is planning fresh attacks on western targets.

Until the confessions, investigators had assumed the ringleader of the 19 men who committed the 11 September attacks was the Egyptian, Mohammed Atta. But two of the hijackers on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon were more pivotal to the plot, the interrogation records suggest.

Mohammed said Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi were among the four original operatives bin Laden assigned to him. Yemenis Walid Muhammed bin Attash and Abu Bara al-Yemeni were the others named.

Mohammed's statements claim he communicated with the ringleaders in internet chat rooms while they lived in the US preparing for the atrocities.

Originally, hijackers were to be picked from different countries on the al-Qa'ida recruiting list, Mohammed's answers reveal. But as the plan advanced, bin Laden decreed the hijackers would be composed of a large group of young Saudis.