HEATHROW, Canary Wharf and British embassies overseas were on a hitlist of terrorist targets drawn up by the architect of the 9/11 atrocities, according to intelligence gathered in secret American prisons and made public yesterday.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, al-Qaeda?s operational planner, was plotting suicide attacks on the world?s busiest international airport, the iconic London skyscraper at 1, Canada Square and the British Embassy in Cambodia before he was captured and taken to a CIA interrogation centre.
Under intensive questioning, which the US denies included torture, Mohammed revealed that the planned attack on Heathrow was at an advanced stage. Al-Qaeda leaders had spent months devising a plan to hijack several aircraft bound for London and crash them into crowded terminals and fuel depots.
The process of recruiting suicide hijackers began in 2002 and US documents state that at least four Saudis, thought to be still at large, had volunteered.
The disclosures came as a previously unseen video was released, four days ahead of the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, that showed for the first time Osama bin Laden meeting some of the hijackers.
The al-Qaeda leader is also seen planning the operation with a number of his key lieutentants, including Ramzi Binalshibh, the al-Qaeda commander who the CIA claim masterminded the planned suicide attacks on Heathrow.
The footage broadcast on the al-Jazeera Arabic television channel last night also showed two of the hijackers reading their wills: Wael al-Shehri, who was on the American Airlines flight which was the first to strike the World Trade Center, and Hamza al-Ghamdi, who was on the jet which crashed in the Pennyslvania countryside as passengers tried to storm the cockpit.
Details of the planned attack on Heathrow were revealed in reports by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in the US, released to support President Bush?s claims about successes in the War on Terror. Mr Bush personally identified Canary Wharf, in Docklands, as a target for a 9/11-style attack.
The US authorities revealed the identities of 14 men, who they said were some of the world?s most dangerous terrorists. All have been interrogated at CIA jails in undisclosed locations around the world. Eight were said to have been involved in planning attacks on British interests and four allegedly had roles in the Heathrow plot. The men, including Mohammed, 42, known to the CIA as KSM, and his fellow 9/11 plotter Binalshibh, 34, have now been transferred to the US internment camp in Guantan-amo Bay, Cuba. British counter-terrorism sources refused to say yesterday if the Heathrow plan was connected to the deployment of tanks at the airport on February 11, 2003.
However, the decision to send in armoured vehicles followed the arrest of Binalshibh in Pakistan in 2002. The US documents stated: ?In late 2001, he [Binalshibh] fled Afghanistan after the collapse of the Taleban and began working with KSM in Karachi on follow-on plots against the West, particularly the Heathrow plot. He was tasked by KSM to recruit operatives in Saudi Arabia for an attack on Heathrow and, as of his capture, Binalshibh had identified four operatives.?
After the capture of Binalshibh it is believed that the plotters decided to try to recruit nonArabs as hijackers.
But planning was again disrupted in February 2003 when Pakistani agents raided a house in Rawalpindi and seized Mohammed. He was briefly interrogated and then handed over to the CIA.
The US papers allege that Ammar al-Baluchi, a nephew of Mohammed, took over the planning for attacking Heathrow. But he was already concentrating on simultaneous attacks on multiple targets in Karachi and delayed the London operation.
The documents add: ?He was within days of completing preparations for the Karachi plot when he was captured.?
Under interrogation, Ammar revealed his role as ?communications intermediary? between the al-Qaeda leadership and the British shoe bombers Richard Reid, from London, and Saajid Badat, from Gloucester.
British police sources said last night that they were not convinced that al-Qaeda?s plans to attack Heathrow had reached an advanced stage.
One said: ?Our understanding is that this was aspirational rather than a definitive plot. Heathrow and Canary Wharf have always been potential targets. This information is not something that has been shared in any great detail with us.?
But John Negroponte, the US Director of National Intelligence, claimed that the ?high-value? detainees provided investigators with the names of 86 further individuals, many of whom they had never heard of previously.
Mr Negroponte said that the secret detentions had helped to foil a dozen major attacks since 2002 that would have cost tens of thousands of lives. They included a series of attacks in British cities on high-profile buildings, as well as attacks on British shipping in the Arabian Gulf and the British Embassy in Phonm Penh in early 2002.
Other targets included US government buildings and ?tourist sites? in America in 2003 and 2004, the Brooklyn Bridge in New York in 2003, and attacks on shipping in Gibraltar and the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf.