Pentagon releases tape of bin Laden discussing terror attacks

On a translated tape released by the Pentagon today, Osama bin Laden says "we calculated in advance" the number of casualties in the Sept. 11 attacks. He also said "we did not reveal" the attack plan to the hijackers until "just before they boarded the planes."

According to the U.S. translation, bin Laden said: "The brothers who conducted the operation, all they knew was that they have a martyrdom operation and we asked each of them to go to America, but they did not know anything about the operation, not even one letter. But they were trained and we did not reveal the operation to them until they are there and just before they boarded the plane."

Bin Laden also said he told his followers there would be more destruction after the first commercial airliner hit the World Trade Center towers.

Before releasing the tape, the Pentagon brought in four non-government Arabic-speaking translators to listen to bin Laden's remarks and agree on a uniform translation. After a section of the tape that the Pentagon called inaudible, bin Laden said: "Due to my experience in this field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This was all that we had hoped for."

Bin Laden also appeared to confirm U.S. officials' suspicions when he said Mohamed Atta "was in charge of the group."

Several House and Senate Intelligence committee members had urged the Bush administration to release the tape, although Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said she was "concerned that the bin Laden tape is damaging to American security." Harman has said the tape may have been planted, could contain covert messages from bin Laden to his followers, and broadcasting it may play into his hands.

Meanwhile, U.S. airstrikes intensified sharply today and Afghan tribal fighters launched a new ground assault against trapped al-Qaida forces following reports that key terrorist leaders have fled bin Laden's besieged mountain base for neighboring Pakistan. The whereabouts of bin Laden remained unknown.

Front-line tribal commanders of the U.S.-backed Eastern Alliance said they had abandoned a plan for al-Qaida fighters to disarm and surrender at midday today. It was the second ceasefire to fail in less than 48 hours.

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