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Suspect: Hijacking airliners was bin Laden's idea

Original plan was to use private planes, interrogators told

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed shortly after his capture in March.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed shortly after his capture in March.

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Khalid Shaikh Mohammed told investigators Osama bin Laden honed the 9/11 hijackings. CNN's David Ensor (September 22)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, has told his American interrogators that it was Osama bin Laden who suggested hijacking commercial airliners to carry out the attacks, government sources said Monday.

According to those sources, Mohammed told U.S. officials that his original idea was to use private planes.

Mohammed has said that the original plan he discussed with bin Laden in 1996 called for hijacking five planes on each U.S. seaboard.

In the early stages of the plot, the plan involved attacking the tallest structure in California, formerly the Library Tower and now known as the U.S. Bank Tower, in Los Angeles, the sources told CNN.

He has also told his interrogators that in its final stages, the plot called for up to 22 terrorists in four planes, followed by a second wave of attacks that was to have received help from al Qaeda allies in Southeast Asia, the sources said Monday.

The Associated Press first reported details about Mohammed's statements from a leaked report.

Government officials, who expressed anger over the leak, said the report was incorrect in one respect: It said Mohammed had said two of the hijackers were more important to the plot than Mohamed Atta.

Government sources told CNN that is not correct and that U.S. investigators still believe Atta was the ringleader.

Atta "gave the 'go' signal," one source said.

Government officials confirmed that Mohammed claimed he has never heard of Omar Bayoumi, a Saudi who provided rent money and other assistance to two of the hijackers in California, said the source.

However, according to the source, that does not mean Bayoumi was not involved in the plot because Mohammed would not necessarily have known the names of members of support cells.

Government sources also told CNN that another senior al Qaeda figure, Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, has detailed for his interrogators a plot to attack major hotels in Thailand.

Hambali, the alleged operations chief of Jemaah Islamiyah, has been in U.S. custody since shortly after his arrest by Thai authorities in central Thailand on August 8.

-- CNN Producer Henry Schuster in Atlanta contributed to this report.


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