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Tape shows bin Laden saying damage at WTC greater than expected
Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- Osama bin Laden contentedly recalled the Sept. 11 suicide attacks against America on a videotape released Thursday by the Pentagon, saying the destruction exceeded his estimates and the event "benefitted Islam greatly."
The hijackings were "a martyrdom operation," Bin Laden said in a conversation with two aides and a Saudi sheik, but those who carried them out didn't know the precise details until just before they boarded the planes.
The tape, amateurish in quality but chilling nonetheless, was released as part of an administration effort to support claims that bin Laden was the mastermind behind the attacks that killed thousands in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. The translation of the Arabic conversation was provided by the administration.
In it, bin Laden discussed some of the planning that led to the attacks, and recalled tuning in to the radio to hear American news broadcasts of the attack.
"They were overjoyed when the first plane hit the building," he said of others listening with him that day. "So I said to them: Be patient."
He said, "At the end of the newscast, they reported that a plane just hit the World Trade Center."
"Allah be praised," replied one of the other men in the videotape.
"After a little while, they announced that another plane had hit the World Trade Center," bin Laden recalled. "The brothers who heard the news were overjoyed by it."
Administration officials have said the tape was found in a house in Jalalabad after anti-Taliban forces moved in.
On the tape, bin Laden is sitting on the floor of a spare room, talking with several other men, including two aides and an unidentified Saudi sheik.
Entering the room, bin Laden bends over to greet the sheik, then smilingly takes his place next to him, sitting cross-legged on the floor.
The sheik promptly thanks bin Laden, saying, "You have given us weapons, you have given us hope and we thank Allah for you."
"Everybody praises what you did, the great action you did, which was first and foremost by the grace of Allah," the sheik continued. "This is the guidance of Allah and the blessed fruit of Jihad."
"Thanks to Allah," replied bin Laden.
The sheik informed bin Laden that another cleric had delivered a sermon in Saudi Arabia Sept. 11. "He said this was jihad and those people were not innocent victims," the sheik said, apparently referring to the victims of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.
References to jihad, or holy war, and Allah run throughout the videotape, and at one point bin Laden recites a portion of verse: "I was ordered to fight the people until they say there is no god but Allah, and his prophet Muhammad."
Moments later, he says, "This event made people think (about true Islam) which benefitted Islam greatly," he said.
Bin Laden also goes into some detail in discussing some of the events leading up to the suicide hijackings.
"We calculated in advance the number of casualties who would be killed based on the position of the tower," he said.
"We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic of them all. ... Due to my experience in this field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit, and all the floors above it only. This is all that we had hoped for," he said, gesturing with one hand horizontal striking his other hand, held vertically, as if a plane hitting a building.
He then recalls tuning in the radio Sept. 11 to hear reports of the attacks.
As for the men who carried out the attacks, he said, "we did not reveal" the plan until "just before they boarded the planes."
"The brothers who conducted the operation, all they knew was that they have a martyrdom operation and we asked each of them to go to America, but they didn't know anything about the operation, not even one letter," bin Laden said, according to the U.S. translation.
"But they were trained and we did not reveal the operation to them until they are there and just before the boarded the plane," he added.
U.S. intelligence officers found the bin Laden tape in a residence in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. It bears a date stamp that says it was made Nov. 9. That was the day the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif fell to the rebel northern alliance.
Several members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees had urged the Bush administration to release the tape, although Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said she was "concerned that the bin Laden tape is damaging to American security."
Harman has said the tape may have been planted and could contain covert messages from bin Laden to his followers, and broadcasting it may play into his hands.
"I would have preferred that its distribution be limited to those with a need to know," Harman said.
Officials had voiced similar concerns about other tapes bin Laden produced, but those were clearly meant for public release. Officials had asked U.S. broadcasters not to air those tapes in their entirety.