Hindi sent to NY in early 2001 by 9/11 architect: US
WASHINGTON: An Al Qaeda terror suspect recently detained in Britain had been sent to the United States in early 2001 by the principal architect of the Sept. 11 attacks to conduct surveillance on economic targets in New York, according to US officials and government interviews with other captured terror suspects.
They said the suspect claimed he has associates in America, possibly in California. Abu Eisa al-Hindi was arrested in a roundup last week in Britain along with 11 others.
The disclosure that al-Hindi also was known as Issa al-Britani provides tantalizing details that further link al-Hindi to recent warnings by President George W. Bush’s administration about possible terror attacks against financial buildings in New York, Washington and Newark, New Jersey. It also has spurred a furious investigation in New York and elsewhere to trace al-Hindi’s travels in the United States and to try to identify his associates during the American period.
“They’re looking pretty hard to find anyone in the United States who might be part of this network, but they haven’t found anyone so far who’s still here,” Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA counter-terror chief, said Saturday.
The FBI believes al-Hindi may have had two collaborators helping perform the reconnaissance, said a high-ranking law enforcement official familiar with the investigation.
US counter-terror officials have said previously that they believe al-Hindi, known by dozens of aliases, was the author of documents describing surveillance at US financial buildings during 2000 and 2001. The documents, written in fluent English, were found among a trove of papers, computer files, sketches and photographs recovered during mid-July raids in Pakistan.
The FBI and city detectives on a federal terrorism task force are looking for witnesses with information about al-Hindi’s time in New York, the law enforcement official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation. Police efforts include trying to identify people in surveillance photographs. The official described those people as New Yorkers unintentionally captured in the photographs who may remember information about people conducting the surveillance.
“One of the things to do is try to identify the individual,” the official said. Detectives are seeking, the official said, “any possible link between the reconnaissance material, whether it’s photographic or written, that might link to somebody, whether involved or not. It’s an intense effort. Under interrogation by US investigators, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, has described al-Hindi as a trusted senior Al Qaeda operative.
The government commission that investigated the 2001 attacks included in its final report accounts of Mohammed’s interviews after his arrest in Pakistan in 2003. Throughout the report, al-Hindi is referred to as al-Britani. Mohammed told interrogators he sent al-Hindi in early 2001 to do surveillance on possible economic and “Jewish” targets in New York. The mission was ordered by Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, Mohammed said. ap