In an interim staff report released last week, the presidential commission investigating the September 11, 2001, attacks shed new light on the role of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Al Qaeda’s worldview.
The disclosures seem to weaken Israeli claims that the issue was only a secondary priority for Osama bin Laden, and they could rekindle the debate about whether U.S. support for Israel is hindering national security.
In a 20-page report titled “Outline of the 9-11 Plot,” the commission, which is to issue a final report at the end of July, describes bin Laden’s willingness to time the attacks against America with two visits by Prime Minister Sharon, one in Jerusalem and one in Washington.
The report claims that Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, or KSM, the alleged mastermind of the attacks who was arrested in March 2003 in Pakistan, told his U.S. captors that bin Laden “wanted to punish the United States for supporting Israel.”
This is why, according to KSM, bin Laden asked him to conduct the attacks “as early as mid-2000” in response to the outcry prompted by the visit of then-opposition leader Sharon to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the report states. Even though the Al Qaeda hijackers had barely arrived in the United States to take flight lessons, the Saudi renegade allegedly argued that it would be enough if they smashed planes to the ground without hitting specific targets. The report claims that KSM talked him out of the plan.
Bin Laden, however, reportedly asked him again a year later to hasten the preparations of the plot when he learned that Sharon, now prime minister, would visit the White House in June or July 2001, according to the report.
Once again KSM convinced him to wait, and the group eventually settled on September 11 after further debates about targets and timing, debunking the assumption that the details of the operation were planned long in advance.
In addition to bin Laden’s reported interest in linking the attacks to Israel, the report also sheds light on the worldview of Al Qaeda operatives and its sympathizers.
It noted that Mohammed Atta, the Egyptian ringleader of the plot, chose the second week of September to ensure that Congress, “the perceived source of U.S. policy in support of Israel” would be in session. Atta, who lived in Germany with several other hijackers, “denounced what he described as a global Jewish movement centered in New York City which, he claimed, controlled the financial world and the media.”
In a chilling detail, the report also mentions that KSM indicated that Mullah Omar, the former Taliban leader in Afghanistan, “opposed [Al Qaeda’s plan to attack] the United States for ideological reasons but permitted attacks against Jewish targets.”
“Bin Laden, on the other hand, reportedly argued that attacks against the United States needed to be carried out immediately to support the insurgency in the Israeli-occupied territories and to protest the presence of U.S. military forces in Saudi Arabia,” according to the report.