home
search

 

Printable version
print this article

Send to a friend
send to a friend

Send to a friend
give us your opinion

in this section

Bordering on war
Eyewitness: They're nervous on Afghanistan's border ... they know it's only a matter of time. By our Foreign Editor David Pratt in Peshawar

What they said ...
The world's columnists and commentators summarised

Afghanis are sick of fighting ... they just want peace
By Nick Meo

Flight From the Taliban
A refugee's story: Mohammed Shafiq left his family behind and fled Afghanistan and now lives in Glasgow. By Stephen Naysmith

On The Front Line
America At War: How can Bush retaliate and unify the coalition? By Trevor Royle Diplomatic Editor

The cycle of violence
The Future: America's most prominent political dissident Noam Chomsky gives his views on the terrorist attacks to Radio B 92

A week of waiting ...
How the events happenned over the last seven days

FBI prepare to deflect the finger of blame as unease grows over string of security lapses
Blunders At The Top: By Marion McKeone in New York

This war, more than any other, must be a battle of electronic spies in the shadows
The Intelligence War: By Paul Harris

The Net Tightens
The Investigation: The FBI continues to trawl America and the world for leads. By Louise Branson in Washington

United Nations faces daunting task in coping with US wrath
By Douglas Fraser Political Editor

The darkest days
New York: Relatives of the British victims arrive to find a city devastated by sadness. By Anna Burnside in Manhattan

Words Of War
By Trevor Royle

The Best Of Friends
Blair's Global Odyssey: The Prime Minister's 7000 mile diplomatic mission. By Torcuil Crichton Westminster Editor

War ... what is it good for? America's youth aren't sure
By Janelle Brown

Fundamental Mistakes
Islam: Why Christians and Muslims must learn to accept and understand.
By Yasir Suleiman

Pakistan: Stuck In The Middle
Will Musharraf survive?: By Trevor Royle Diplomatic Editor

Islam isn't the only religion with its extremes
By Ros Davidson in Los Angeles

Giving Peace A Chance
The Middle East: Will the ceasefire prevail as talks falter? By Virginia Quirke in Jerusalem

CHAPTER ONE: The Terror Trail

 


 
THE evening had gone superbly well. Osama bin Laden bade farewell to his guests and retired to his room. February 22 1998 was a crisp, silent evening in Kandahar, and the desert surrounding the bombed-out town in southern Afghanistan was patrolled by small squads of Taliban fighters and a cadre of bin Laden's personal bodyguard.

The Saudi millionaire, then aged 41, sat at his desk, picked up his pen and began to draft the most important announcement of his life. The handful of paragraphs he wrote that night -- for dissemination among his own supporters and Islamic terrorist leaders sympathetic to his particular brand of militancy -- set in motion the train of events which were to climax with suicide dive bombers in America.

The four men bin Laden had earlier entertained -- with a meal of mutton stew, rice and nan bread, accompanied by black and green tea -- were no ordinary guests. They had travelled a long way to see him and spent days thrashing out the text now lying in front of him. Those men were Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of Islamic Jihad; Adbul Salam Mohamed from Bangladesh; Abou Yassir Ahmed Taha from Egypt's Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiya, representing all Islamist groups in north Africa, and Fadhi Errahmane Khalil, leader of the Pakistani movement, Ansar.

Between them they were responsible for some of the worst atrocities of the 1990s, including the 1997 massacre of 57 foreign tourists at Luxor. That night, they founded a new pan-Arab terrorist organisation with the clumsy but sinister name, the International Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders. The document which ushered it into existence was in essence a fatwa from its de facto leader, bin Laden. In it he railed against the presence of the US and its allies in the Middle East. It read: 'The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies, civilians and military, is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible ... This is in accordance with the words of Almighty God.' On February 24, when the CIA passed a classified memo on this meeting to Senator Jon Kyl, then chairing Senate hearings into foreign terrorism, they were clear that this was a declaration of war. The touch-paper which would finally ignite in New York, had been lit.

Bringing the war to mainland America wasn't a new plan, but now, thanks to the Kandahar meeting, it had fresh impetus. Bin Laden had attempted to take out New York's twin towers in 1993, when his protŽgŽ Ramzi Yousef, the British-educated and Kuwaiti-born career terrorist, tried to topple the World Trade Centre with a massive car bomb.

He failed, but within a year he had infiltrated America with new teams of sleeper agents ready for one more big push. One of the members of Tuesday's four suicide teams, Walid Al Shehri, had been living in Daytona Beach in Florida since 1995. This suggests some sort of renewed attack on symbolic American buildings had been planned for at least six years.

But bin Laden had probably been training his men for Tuesday's atrocities for even longer. He bought a commercial jet and began recruiting his first pilots in the US in 1993. The plane had a range of around 1500 miles -- not far off the distance between Boston and Los Angeles -- and it was purchased in Arizona. One of bin Laden's main men in America then was Essan Al-Ridi, who worked as a flight instructor in Texas. He was contacted that year by Wadih El-Hage -- who was later jailed for his part in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Africa which killed 244 people -- and asked to help buy jets.

The deal went through for about $250,000, and bin Laden offered Al-Ridi a job as a pilot. The plane was later flown out of the US to bin Laden's former base in Khartoum in Sudan. America aided bin Laden both by funding his Mujahidin forces that fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and also by unwittingly giving flight training to the suicide pilots who attacked the Pentagon and the twin towers. This aircraft was used to transport the missiles from Pakistan which killed American special forces in Somalia. The plane was also bought at the 'bone yard' in Tucson, Arizona -- the local name for the storage unit at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Centre at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base where retired aircraft are kept. The US military, therefore, sold the plane to bin Laden -- and it was the Pentagon which gave permission for the aircraft to leave the base.

Such slipshod intelligence by the US itself has plagued the American authorities in the wake of the attacks. Intelligence chiefs admit they just don't have enough 'humint' -- human intelligence, gathered by double agents -- on bin Laden's terrorist network, Al Qaida. They knew he was planning something, but they didn't know what. The CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA) were overly reliant on satellite tracking and high-tech surveillance rather than concentrating on getting agents inside bin Laden's group.

As Frank Cilluffo, a senior analyst at the US Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says: 'It's not easy to knock on bin Laden's cave and say we'd like to join. These are hard targets for Americans to infiltrate.' Instead of getting inside Al Qaida, the best the US did was store a voice-recording of bin Laden in the NSA vaults and trawl every communi cation by phone that was intercepted in Afghanistan for a match. Bin Laden knew exactly what the US was up to and simply got his underlings to do the ringing for him.

Electronic surveillance in the hours after the attack did, however, apparently pick up communications between terrorists linked to bin Laden claiming that 'targets had been hit'. But by then it was all too late. The head of the NSA, General Mike Hayden, has admitted that bin Laden 'has better technology' than the US. The Saudi terrorist is now using some of the most sophisticated encryption codes on earth to relay orders over the internet.

America's intelligence failures also ran straight up against the new enemy that is extreme fundamentalism. While it might be possible to slip a Muslim intelligence officer into the ranks of Al Qaida, it is almost impossible to 'turn' an active Islamic terrorist. They are, after all, fighting for their faith, something most people are unlikely to betray easily. To add further to American woes, the US badly dropped the ball over a tip-off from the French intelligence service, the DST, which passed information to the FBI prior to last week's suicide attacks about a 31-year-old French-Algerian arrested in Boston a month ago carrying a false passport. The French told the Americans that the man, who was taking flying lessons in the US, had made frequent trips to Afghanistan and was linked to bin Laden. The FBI made no request for more information until 24 hours after the World Trade Centre tumbled to the ground. Even worse, an Iranian, know as Ali S, phoned the American authorities from a deportation cell in Germany to warn of an attack 'which would change the world'. The Justice Ministry has confirmed that the man called 'several times' but was ignored. A ministry spokesman, Frank Woesthoff, said the US secret service did not tell the ministry about the calls from Langenhagen jail until after the attacks. The 29-year-old was apparently dismissed as mentally unstable. Similar warnings also came from a Moroccan in a Brazilian jail.

By 1998, Florida-based Walid Al Shehri had graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach with a bachelor's degree in aeronautical science, the university's commercial pilot training degree. He also had a pilot's licence. Bin Laden's plan to train his men in America, where they would learn the tools of their trade, was by now well under way.

Around the same time, two men who would go on to be key co-conspirators with Al Shehri, Mohammad Atta and his cousin Marawan Alshehhi, were in Hamburg in Germany studying construction and electronics at the city's Technical University.

Atta, who was born in United Arab Emirates but carried a Saudi Arabian passport, was implicated in a 1986 bus bombing in Israel. The men's trip to Germany was the beginning of their education in terrorism. According to the German equivalent of MI5, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, there are more than 800 members of the fundamentalist Islamic group Hezbollah in the country, and at least 1000 Islamic extremists in Hamburg alone.

It is still unclear, says Robert Mueller, the director of the FBI, whether the suicide teams were directly under the control of Al Qaida or were members of another Islamic terror group that was working to fulfil the aims of bin Laden. Atta and Marawan lived in a quiet cobbled street called Marienstrasse. They were peaceable, spoke fluent German with scarcely a hint of an accent, and set up their own Islamic student society. It is a pattern, intelligence sources say, that has been repeated time and again across the world: extremists enter a Western country, usually on the pretext of seeking an education, and lay the foundations of a terrorist sleeper cell which can wait, sometimes almost indefinitely, to be activated.

In Germany more than 60,000 federal detectives have investigated if it is the European nerve-centre of bin Laden's network. The country's federal prosecutor, Kay Nehm, believes a terrorist group was quickly established in Hamburg to 'attack the United States in a spectacular way through the destruction of symbolic buildings'.

Last week's attacks on the US involved at least 50 terrorists, including 19 hijackers, most of whom have distinctive tribal names from Saudi Arabia. A few others appear to be Yemeni. Among them were seven pilots, most of whom trained in Florida. At least another 50 people are wanted for questioning. Two of the hijackers were in the US on visas, and the United Arab Emirates was the last known address of another. Speculation about the nationalities of these 'soldiers without frontiers' has ranged across the Middle East, from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Afghanistan. A few have been connected to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. It is this, the FBI says, which connects the hijackers directly to bin Laden.

Three of the hijacked planes were taken over by cells of five terrorists and one by a cell of four. There was a support and logistics cell in Florida, where at least a dozen of the suspects lived, looking after details such as the acquisition of false documents, hiring cars, misappropriating the identities of innocent Arabs living in the US and preparing credible cover stories for the assassins. Other cells were strung out across the country, including one in New York which was apparently filming the attack on the World Trade Centre, and ones in Boston, Newark in New Jersey, and Washington. There are also thought to be cells operating in Arizona, California and Rhode Island. None of the cells knew precisely what the others were doing, but one command cell headed by the mission leader, thought to be part of Al Qaida's 055 brigade, was in full control of the plot. There may also have been a plan to hijack a fifth plane in either Texas, Atlanta or Richmond, according to FBI investigators who interviewed people linked to the suicide teams on the day of the attacks as the huge emergency response operation swung into action. In a coast to coast operation, the FBI detained two men -- Mohammed Azmath and Ayub Khan -- in Fort Worth, Texas. They had tried, on the day of the attacks, to fly from the east coast to Texas, but eventually travelled by train. During the journey they were found with box cutters similar to those used by the hijackers. A man, who tried to board a plane at Kennedy airport after showing a pilot's licence issued to his brother, was also arrested in New York by the Joint Terrorist Task Force.

At least two of the men named as hijackers were on an FBI 'watch list'. Information about them was received two weeks ago and the CIA asked the Immigration Service to stop them from entering the US. They were, however, already in America. When the FBI alerted its German equivalent, the BKA, to the fact that at least two of the World Trade Centre terrorists -- Atta and Alshehhi -- lived in Hamburg, eight flats were raided and two people detained -- a black-veiled Egyptian woman, who police say is not a suspect, and an airport worker, who was close to Atta and who was later released. But there was nothing, not a shred of evidence, to be gleaned from Atta and Marawan's former home. When they left Germany in May, they made sure the flat was stripped eradicating all clues. All that can be proved is Atta was a master of hiding the truth about himself. He is remembered as a student who wanted to promote 'harmony among the religions'.

Ironically, for a man who flattened Manhattan, he also studied urban renewal. His professor, Dittmar Machule, said Atta -- who claimed at that time to be from the UAE and shared a flat with a Yemeni and another man from UAE -- frequently returned to Syria and Egypt, and often changed his appearance by growing a beard and then shaving it off. A third hijacker has also been identified as having a former base in Bochum in Germany. The home of Ziad Jarrah, who went down on the flight which crash-landed in a field near Pittsburgh, was searched by police and a suitcase with airline papers was removed.

After Germany, Atta and Alshehhi's trail was soon picked up on the other side of the Atlantic. Atta, says the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, made his way into America from Nova Scotia by catching a tourist ferry to Portland in Maine, as did another suspect, Ahmed Al Haznawi, who took part in the hijack of the fourth plane which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Certainly, Atta was in Florida by July, moving to the town of Venice, which bills itself as a beach paradise on the Gulf of Mexico. He and Alshehhi enrolled in the Huffman Aviation School, paying for the courses with $10,000 cheques apiece, training on small Cessna aircrafts and sharing a room together once again. This time it was one owned by the school's book-keeper, Charles Voss. His wife, Dru, said the pair kept themselves to themselves but became increasingly insulting to her when her husband was out, saying things such as: 'It must be nice to sleep all day.'

She threw them out and they moved to Coral Springs. After completing the basic Huffman course, they needed to learn how to fly bigger jets. Coral Springs, close to Palm Beach Airport, was just the place to hone their skills. Marian Smith, who owns Palm Beach Flight Training, said: 'I remember [they said they] wanted to get in 100 hours.' The hijack team also trained on computer flight simulators which had the topography of New York -- including the twin towers -- stored in their memory banks. Atta took two three-hour courses at SimCentre Inc in Florida, where he trained on a Boeing 727 full-motion flight simulator. Two weeks ago, the FBI detained an Arab man in Minnesota, on immigration reasons. At the time he was trying to find a simulator for large airliners.

Chuck Clapper, who owns the Lantana Air charter in Florida, said several Florida flight schools had contracts with Saudi Arabian airlines and some had exemptions from visa checks. Some Arab nationalities have to satisfy the State Department of their suitability to obtain flight instruction in the US, but Clapper explained: 'Saudis don't. Iranians do. Libyans do. But the Saudis are allies, so they don't.' Marawan Alshehhi lived in Saudi before going to Florida, as did another hijacker called Wail Alsheri, aka Waleed Alshehri, who held a commercial pilot's licence for Saudi Arabian Airlines in Jeddah. Wail may have been schooled in the Yemeni border town of Khamis, attending teacher training college there. He then spent several years in bin Laden's terrorist training camp at al-Farouk in Afghanistan. Another Florida-based hijacker, Aabdul Alomari, lived for nearly a year in Vero Beach with his wife and three children, but was last seen at his home on September 3. By then his family had already left, claiming they were returning home. He and Amer Kamfar also took flying lessons in the state with Flight Safety International. Both said they were Saudis working for Saudi airlines. Kamfar, according to the FBI, is on the loose, armed with an AK-47. It is thought he was a member of one of the ground cells. An all-points bulletin has been posted for his arrest. He also lived in Vero Beach, telling neighbours he was a flight engineer, but abruptly left the home he shared with his wife and four children two weeks ago. Neighbour Debbie Habora says they threw everything out in the trash -- clothes, dishes, furniture, pots and pans.

Last Friday Atta, the most prominent face of the hijack teams and the man who linked them together, and two other Middle Eastern men were spotted at a bar in Holly-wood in Florida called Shuckums. They ran up a bill and started rowing with waitress Patricia Idrissi over the cost of their vodkas and rums. Atta shouted at the manager: 'You think I can't pay? I'm a pilot for American Airlines. I can pay my f***ing bill.' He pulled out a wad of $100 and $50 bills and threw money at Idrissi, leaving her an insultingly small tip. The day before the attack they may also have been in the lapdancing bar, The Pink Pony, in Daytona Beach. One man matching the description of Atta and two other Arabs were overheard voicing anti-American sentiments, and speaking of 'coming bloodshed'.

On the eve of the attack, Atta and Marawan stayed at the Panther Motel in Deerfield Beach, New Jersey. They rented a Mitsubishi sedan and made their way to Logan Airport in Boston. It was later found abandoned containing flight manuals written in Arabic and suicide notes to the men's parents. In the parking lot they argued with another driver over spaces. Even the seats they sat on in the departure lounge have been taken away and scoured for possible DNA clues from hair they might have left behind.

Atta, Marawan, Waleed Alsheri, Aabdul Alomari and Walid Al Shehri all bought one-way tickets at Logan Airport. Waleed and Walid are believed to be brothers who fought together in Afghanistan. Many of the other hijackers also appear to be related. Two had employee passes, thought to come from a robbery in Italy where American Airlines staff had a pilot's uniform, passes and badges stolen. Another cell of Islamic fundamentalists is suspected of operating in the country.

Beyond America, the trail leads around the world. Just like the regime it proclaims to hate, Al Qaida -- which translates as 'the Base' -- operates along the principles of globalisation. Bin Laden, in an irony not lost on the FBI, runs a network that is effectively baseless, with units in 34 countries, including Britain, whose members are now in hiding, according to Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist squad. Although the FBI appears to have got to grips with the number of hijackers and support terrorists involved, the logistics of the plot are colossal. Arrests, detentions and raids are gathering pace, indicating that the back-up and planning of these atrocities spanned the globe. London, Rotterdam, Brussels, Mexico, Manila and the Azores have all been areas of intense police activity.

On the day of the dive-bombings, there were also plans by Muslim extremists in the Philippines to hijack a commercial jet in Manila which was destined for the US. The general manager of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Edgardo Manda, said the target was Philippine Airlines. An Omani who was on board one of the hijacked American jets, had been questioned in Manila three days before the terrorist attacks for filming the US embassy in the Philippines. Raids on hotel rooms in Manila revealed residue of bomb-making equipment. The three Omanis who stayed there are now in Thailand. A pilot for Saudi airlines in Manila was also taken in for questioning. He is apparently the brother of one of the US hijackers.

Money, knowledge and manpower from every corner of the world were now, obviously, being channelled to the shores of the US for bin Laden's final attempt to destroy the twin towers.

Last Tuesday, American Airlines Flight 11 from Logan Airport in Boston showed just how slick, controlled, ruthless and professional his followers really were. Flight 11 was bin Laden's blueprint hijacking. It worked like a dream. On board were Mohammad Atta, Walid Al Shehri, Aabdul Alomari, Satam Sugami and Waleed Alsheri. Piloted by John Ogonowski and Tom McGuinness, the aircraft received clearance for take-off to Los Angeles at 7.45am on Tuesday. Among the 92 passengers on board were Berry Berenson, the actress and widow of actor Anthony Perkins, and David Angell, executive producer of Frasier and former writer of Cheers. The hijackers struck at 8.10am at 10,000ft, seizing three air stewardesses and dragging one, screaming, to the end of the plane.

Atta and his team tried to break into the cockpit but the pilots had barricaded themselves in. The hijackers threatened to start killing passengers and crew unless the controls were handed over to them. It was then that calls started to come from the plane as passengers used their mobile phones. Some said two stewardesses were dead ; another was intercepted by the emergency services as a passenger screamed: 'Oh God, they are killing us ... help us ... help us ... we will die up here.' The pilot and co-pilot left their cabin after keying their mic so everything could be heard on the ground by horrified air traffic control teams. One of the hijackers, believed to be Atta, told passengers over the PA system in perfect, almost accentless English: 'Don't be afraid, you're not going to get hurt.' The plane was tracked turning left to fly over the Hudson River to New York City, and the ground crew heard the hijacker tell Ogonowski: 'Don't do anything foolish. You're not going to get hurt. We have more planes, we have other planes.'

The plane's transponder, which allowed it to be tracked and to communicate with air traffic control, was switched off as it began to make its descent over New York. The hijackers ordered anyone with a phone to contact their loved ones. It was time to say their goodbyes.

Peter Hanson, a Massachusetts architect, was in economy class with his wife, Susan, and his 11-year-old daughter, Christine. His father, Lee, said he called twice. The first time he said an air stewardess was stabbed to death, but he was then cut off. The second time he said the plane was going down and that he loved his mother and father. The plane hurtled along the line of the Hudson and at 3000ft and travelling at 400 mph, circled Manhattan and New York harbour. At 8.45am it smashed into the north tower of the World Trade Centre.

Next into the air was United Airlines Flight 175. It left Logan just seconds after Flight 11 was hijacked in the air. On board were Ruth Clifford McCourt and her four-year-old daughter Juliana. Ruth's brother, Ronnie Clifford, an Irish businessman, escaped from the rubble of the north tower minutes before the plane his sister was on crashed into the south tower. Along with the innocent passengers was another five-man hijack crew -- Marawan Alshehhi, Fayez Ahmed, Mohald Alshehri, Hamza Al Ghamdi and Ahmed Al Ghamdi.

The pattern was the same -- the hijackers jumped the air crew, stabbed flight attendants, broke into the cockpit and told passengers they would be all right. This time, however, the passengers fought back. One, Charles Falkenberg, rang his neighbour saying: 'We've been taken hostage, but they've promised not to harm us. We've tried to fight them off but they have weapons.' He was then cut off. At 9.03am the aircraft slammed into the second tower, killing all 56 passengers and nine crew. One American Airlines captain said he believed the hijack teams were 'the equivalent of crack commandos'. He also said pilots and co-pilots were extremely vulnerable to an attack. Sitting in the cockpit with their backs to anyone entering, they would be dead in seconds if a hijacker was planning murder. 'These guys obviously acted very quickly, snapping necks and slitting throats,' he said. 'There was nothing the crew could have done.'

As the second plane crashed into the side of the south tower, vice-president Dick Cheney was staring in disbelief at the television screen in his office in the White House. When the first jet crashed, many believed it had been a terrible accident, but a second smash, on the same target, meant there were kamikaze attackers dive-bombing America.

Cheney's secret service officer knew exactly that, and grabbed his boss unceremoniously by the jacket, dragging him down to the basement to the President's Emergency Operations Centre. This underground facility is able to withstand a nuclear blast.

Cheney was told that another plane was heading for the White House and got straight on the phone to President George W Bush, who had just boarded Air Force One in Florida, telling him not to return to Washington under any circumstances. Cheney was joined by Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser, and transportation secretary Norman Mineta. Then more terrifying news came in: four international jets were headed across the Atlantic for Washington and another from Korea. Nobody had any idea whether they were hostile or not. US fighters were scrambled. Claims came in that seven domestic flights had been hijacked. None of these developments turned out to be true. The next communication, however, is truly frightening, especially for the US secret service. Codes known only to the most senior security and defence officials were, according to intelligence sources, used by 'terrorists to make a credible threat'. That threat was simple: 'Air Force One is next.' At that point the President was in the air. Seemingly overcome with the drama of the day, Bush became a little bullish. His senior adviser, Karl Rove, said the president got 'pretty antsy' and told him: 'I don't want some tinhorn (sic) terrorist keeping me out of Washington.'

Rove went on: 'The Secret Service informed him that the threat contained language that was evidence that the terrorists had knowledge of his procedures and whereabouts. In light of the specific and credible threat, it was decided to get airborne with a fighter escort.' Rove did not say it, but there is only one implication from the story he related: that somewhere, maybe in the White House, the NSA or the CIA, there is a mole who is selling information to terrorists.

At 8.10am, American Airlines flight 77 took off from Dulles International Airport near Washington on its way to Los Angeles. Among the 64 passengers on board was Barbara Olson, the CNN anchorwoman and wife of the US solicitor-general, Ted Olson. She should have been on an earlier flight but held off, wanting to have breakfast with her husband on his birthday.

These hijackers added an extra dimension to the horror their captives were facing. Unlike Atta's team and those Alshehhi led on board UA flight 175, this group did not lull their victims into a false sense of security with promises that everything would be all right. When they took over the controls, they told the passengers to phone their families as they were 'all going to die'. Once again it was another five-man team at the controls: Khalid Almihdhar, Majed Moqued, Nawaf Al Hazmi, Salem Al Hazmi and pilot Hani Hanjour. After telling the people on board that they were going to die, they then gave away exactly how their deaths were planned. The plane, they said, would hit the White House in a few minutes. It did not. At 9.43am, it crashed into the south-west side of the Pentagon, killing at least 800 government staff on the ground. The crash effectively wiped the voice recorder in the plane's black box, irreparably damaging the subsequent investigation, now named Penttbom.

As New York and Washington burned, chaos was breaking out in the US executive as well. Bush was now at an air force base in Louisiana, and boiling with rage that he had to make a tape for broadcast rather than go live on air in the capital and be seen to be leading his people at the centre of command. He ranted and raved at Cheney about getting to Washington, but the secret service said no. In times such as these, even the president can be over-ruled for his own safety by his security advisers. Cheney delayed going on air himself, afraid that Bush might interpret this as an attempt to usurp his authority.

United Airlines Flight 93 took off from Newark at 8.01am, heading west to San Francisco. The exact fate of the 45 people on board is shrouded in mystery. It was destined, the FBI believe, for either the presidential retreat at Camp David, an FBI facility or the CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia. What is known is that it was taken over by probably the most inexperienced team, this time a four-man unit. They were Ahmed Al Haznawi, Ahmed Alnami, Ziaad Jarrah and Saeed Alghamdi. Perhaps the most upsetting phonecall of all came from one of Flight 93's passengers, Thomas Burnett, who is now being hailed as an all-American hero. He called his wife, Deena, shortly after the hijackers struck. 'I know we are all going to die,' he said, 'but there are three of us who are going to do something about it.' The last words his wife heard him say were: 'I love you, honey.' At 10.10am, the plane crashed in a field in Somerset County in rural Pennsylvania, some 80 miles south of Pittsburgh. Like the other planes it was carrying around 200,000 lbs of fuel for its six-hour flight to the west coast. Unlike the Pentagon plane, the voice recorder in its black-box remained in- tact. The US authorities are now investigating whether this amount of fuel legally categorises the suicide planes as weapons of mass destruction.

At first it seemed Burnett and some of the other passengers really had fought the hijackers to a standstill and somehow the plane had ditched before reaching its target. But last Thursday federal investigators said the UA jetliner may have been shot down. FBI agent Bill Crowley said: 'We have not ruled that out. We haven't ruled out anything.' Last Tuesday, the US Defence Department vigorously denied claims that Flight 93 had been downed by the military.

However, it is now clear that fighter jets were scrambled and in the air. The Boeing 757 was also found in two large pieces six miles apart. A plane hitting the ground would have most of its wreckage confined to one crash site. Only an aircraft that broke up in the air before impact would have its fuselage scattered over such a wide area. There are also claims one of the passengers made a phonecall saying the hijackers had a bomb.

Apart from the final cataclysmic seconds of each flight, there is only one thing we can be sure of, one thing that was inevitable with the four missions. As with all the suicide-bombers who have killed hundreds of civilians in Israel, the Islamic pilots, destined for martyrdom and a place by Allah's side, would have strengthened their resolve and uttered just three last words before driving their guided missiles filled with human beings into the two towers, the Pentagon and rural Pennsylvania: 'Allah O Akbar', or 'God is great'.

www.interpol.int

www.whitehouse.gov

www.washingtondc.gov

www.fbi.gov

www.nyc.gov

www.fema.gov

www.nytimes.com

www.washingtonpost.com

   

  �2001 smg sunday newspapers ltd. no.176088. all rights reserved. contact website