Bush: Al Qaeda Planned 2002 Los Angeles Attack

President Bush says that in early 2002 the United States and its allies foiled an al Qaeda plot to hijack a commercial airplane using shoe bombs and fly it into the Library Tower in Los Angeles.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

President Bush is offering details of what's described as a terrorist plot in early 2002. The President said today, the United States and its allies foiled on al-Qaida plot to fly a commercial airplane into a Los Angeles skyscraper.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We now know that our, in October, 2001, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the September the 11th attacks, had already set in motion a plan to have terrorist operatives hijack an airplane using shoe bombs to breach the cockpit door, and fly the plane into the tallest building on the west coast.

INSKEEP: The plot was allegedly in 2001, and the U.S. says it was foiled in 2002. That's President Bush speaking here in Washington today. NPR's White House correspondent Don Gonyea was listening in. And what new details have been offered today about this plot, which has been mentioned by the president before?

DON GONYEA reporting:

Right. We have only had mentioned as one of 10 plots, none of them identified with any specificity, that have happened since 9-11, or that have been laid out since 9-11 and foiled on both coasts. That's the only way the president has ever described them before. So, this time, we got a building listed, you know, the Library Tower, though the president referred to it as the Liberty Tower in Los Angeles. It's the tallest building in Los Angeles. We see that is was shoe bombs, he mentions the link to al-Qaida, and the name of this Asian terrorist, Hambali, who was really the ringleader, and was working on behalf of al-Qaida. So, we got those kinds of details. The president's never given us that kind of detail in talking about one of these alleged plots before.

INSKEEP: Well, how was this plot foiled, according to the president?

GONYEA: On that, we don't have as many details. He said that it was derailed in early 2002, when, what he described only as a southeast Asian nation arrested a key al-Qaida operative. And then, during debriefings with that operative, the details of this plot came out. Other nations were then, again, unnamed, were then able to find the other leaders and key players in this alleged plot, and were able to round them up, and thus foiling the plot. So, the president ultimately says it was international cooperation that foiled it.

INSKEEP: And why would the president talk about this four-year-old event now?

GONYEA: Well, this is an interesting thing. He did not talk in this speech at all about this controversy that is ongoing about the National Security Agency's domestic spying, spying on the U.S. and international phone calls. But, by talking about this plot, what he's trying to do, clearly, is put people back in that 9-11 mindset, to remind them that the terrorists are still out there, that they do have active plots, that it wasn't just 9-11, that there are ongoing plots. And it does help the White House, I think is their belief, by talking about this, and then allowing them to justify doing whatever they need to do to foil future plots.

INSKEEP: Also, as an implied message, I suppose, of the White House saying, look, we're competent. We're on top of things, we stopped this.

GONYEA: That is absolutely part of the message as well, right.

INSKEEP: Don, thanks very much.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea, and again, President Bush today describe an al-Qaida plot to fly an airplane into the tallest building in Los Angeles. He said the U.S. and its allies thwarted that attack in early 2002.

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