A Threat of 'Hiroshima' on America 

Hugh Dougherty in New York 
15 Oct 01

THE US Central Intelligence Agency intercepted a message from an Al-Qaeda member boasting of plans to carry out a "Hiroshima" on America.

The message, last year, said Osama bin Laden, the terror suspect in September 11 attacks on the US, was planning to carry out an attack like Hiroshima, a reference to the 1945 atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese port which killed more than 200,000 people. 

But in spite of a frenzied search for evidence of what the message meant, American spies drew a blank and had no idea of the plans being laid for the September 11 attacks, The New York Times newspaper reported yesterday. 

In another development in the investigation into the terror strikes, American officials are now examining whether hijack ringleader Mohammed Atta not only led the attacks but also came up with the daring plot. 

Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda organisation works by giving training and cash to fanatical Muslim groups and letting them pursue their own plans. The insight into how the group works has given investigators a new theory of how the attacks were planned. 

American officials told the New York Times it was possible Atta took his plan for co-ordinated suicide hijackings to bin Laden, who approved the plot. 

Bin Laden then provided cash and logistical support, while messages between Al-Qaeda commanders and Atta were passed through intermediaries. 

But investigators are struggling to confirm their theory, whereas in the 1998 twin bombings of the American embassies in Kenyan capital Nairobi and Tanzanian capital Dar-es-Salaam, informers and witnesses were found. 

"Part of what is so hard is that so many of the key players are dead," a US official said. 

"With the embassy bombings, there were key arrests. 

"They made confessions, named names. We don't have anything like that." 

There has also been no evidence found that any of bin Laden's key henchmen travelled to the US or Europe to co-ordinate the attacks. 

Investigators believe the September 11 strikes were overseen by bin Laden's three lieutenants. 

They are Muhammed Atef, believed to be bin Laden's hand-picked successor and the man with responsibility for terrorist and military training within Al-Qaeda. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and the man thought to be in charge of military operations inside Al-Qaeda is one of the other three. The final lieutenant is Abu Zubaydah, head of "external affairs", responsible for Al-Qaeda's propaganda and finance wings. 

Meanwhile, girding for a US ground attack, Afghanistan's Taliban fighters are arming supporters along both sides of the border and ordering people to evacuate towns and villages in the area, residents and Pakistani officials said yesterday. 

Villagers who live along Pakistan's border said the Taliban have dug trenches and fortified positions along the Afghan side of the frontier. 

Pakistan's Frontier Corps also was digging its own trenches on the low, drab hills that overlook the road to the border.