FBI investigators have officially concluded that 11 of the 19 terrorists who hijacked the planes on 11 September did not know they were on a suicide mission. Unlike the eight lead attackers, who were all trained pilots, they did not leave messages for friends and family indicating they knew their lives were over. None of them had copies of the instructions for prayer and contemplation on the eve of the attacks and for ?opening your chest to God? at the moment of impact, which FBI agents discovered in the luggage of Mohamed Atta, the man believed to be their leader, who flew the first plane to hit the World Trade Towers in New York.
The FBI has found evidence suggesting the 11 men expected to take part in conventional hijackings, with the planes flown to distant airports and the passengers and crew taken hostage while the hijackers presented demands. They had arrived in the U.S. only recently and had no pilot training. Items found among the 11 men?s possessions suggest they had been preparing to go to jail for their crimes. One source says, ?It looks as if they expected they might be going to prison, not paradise.? The FBI concludes the 11 may have believed the purpose of the hijackings was to free the prisoners who were being sentenced for the previous terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.
Finding terrorists willing to end their lives in such a horrible way would not have been easy. By keeping a majority of the hijackers in the dark about what was really going to happen, these problems were avoided. This helps explain why, despite strong indications that Osama bin Laden?s al-Qaida network was planning some kind of action, the West remained ignorant about its scale, location and detail.
?Of course it is inescapable that this was a terrible intelligence failure,? says one British intelligence source. ?But the FBI analysis at least puts it into context. The terrorists? security was extraordinarily tight. They were employing intelligence organizations? most basic principle: the need to know.?
Because of this, it is believed that another suicide hijacking of a passenger aircraft would hard to pull off. It would be difficult to find terrorists willing to do it and, assuming they were doomed to die, the passengers would probably not allow it to happen. But fear still remains, since al-Qaida has up to 50 trained pilots who could mount attacks of this kind.
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