As details begin to unfold on how intelligence organizations were slow to decode growing indications of an al-Qaeda plot ahead of the September 11 attacks, the Egyptian President Sunday said his country had warned the US a few days before the assault that bin Laden’s group was planning to execute an attack.
Egyptian intelligence warned American officials about a week prior to the September 11 attacks on US cities that Al Qaeda was in the “advance stages” of carrying out a “significant operation” against an American target, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said in an interview to The New York Times.
Mubarak said that using a secret agent the Egyptians had recruited, who was in close ties with al Qaeda, his intelligence chiefs tried unsuccessfully to halt the fatal operation. Mubarak added his intelligence officials had no indication what the target would be and had no idea of the extent of the upcoming attack.
"We didn't know that such a thing could take place," he said, referring to the September 11 attacks. "We thought it was an embassy, an airplane, something, the usual thing."
However, he added, to discover after the event that the terrorists were going to take airplanes and destroy buildings, "that is unbelievable."
The Egyptian president’s disclosure represents the first time a foreign leader has said that an intelligence service had penetrated Osama bin Laden's network, Al Qaeda, to the extent that talks regarding specific operations, and whether they could be halted or postponed, were under way.
Mubarak did not say whether he knew how American counter-terrorism officials had reacted to the Egyptian warning, which a top United States intelligence official denied was received, according to the Times.
The official stated that the CIA hadn’t received any warning from Cairo with regards to a possible attack in the days before September 11. However, Mubarak said he believed that security at the United States Embassy in Cairo was tightened in early September as a result of that warning.
"We informed them about everything," he said, referring to American intelligence officials.
The senior US intelligence official conveyed, "The Egyptians gave us some threat information, earlier in 2001, of possible attacks against U.S. or Egyptian interests," however added, "There was nothing about hijackings, nothing about an attack inside the U.S. It did not come in the days before 9/11."
"We knew that something was going to happen," Mubarak made clear. "We had good contact" with shadowy figures who had information about the bin Laden group's activities. "We started to use them, to tell them, `You can stop this,' " using any pretext, the president added, to try "to give ourselves time to realize what may take place."
"I think this man, this agent, phoned the group of bin Laden, I don't remember who it was," Mubarak said. The agent was told, "No, no, no, it's difficult to stop it."
By this time, the president added, "it was one week before" September 11. "Because the wheels were going on, we couldn't stop it. One week or four days, a very short time." (Albawaba.com)
© 2002 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )