CAIRO, Egypt – Osama bin Laden purportedly said in an audio tape Tuesday that neither Zacarias Moussaoui – the only person convicted in the United States for the Sept. 11 attacks – nor anyone held at Guantanamo had anything to do with the al-Qaida operation.
“He had no connection at all with Sept. 11,” the speaker claiming to be bin Laden said in the tape posted on the Internet.
“I am the one in charge of the 19 brothers, and I never assigned brother Zacarias to be with them in that mission,” he said, referring to the 19 hijackers.
Two counterterrorism officials in Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said U.S. intelligence is aware of the bin Laden message. One of the officials said there is no reason to doubt its authenticity.
Bin Laden also said that none of the hundreds of terror suspects held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was involved and most had no ties to al-Qaida.
“Our brothers in Guantanamo … have no connection whatsoever to the events of Sept. 11,” he said.
Bin Laden called all the detainees innocent, claiming they were jailed to justify the cost of the war on terror.
“There must be some justification for the tremendous spending of hundreds of billions of dollars on the (U.S.) defense department and other agencies,” he said.
The terror mastermind did indicate that two suspects had links to the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon: “All the prisoners to date have no connection to the Sept. 11 events or knew anything about them, except for two of the brothers,” bin Laden said. But he did not provide names or elaborate further, and it wasn’t possible to determine if or where they were held.
Moussaoui, a 37-year-old Frenchman and admitted al-Qaida member, was sentenced to life in prison this month after a jury ruled that he was responsible for at least one death on Sept. 11.
The al-Qaida chief said the Sept. 11 hijackers were divided into two groups, “pilots and assistants.”
“Since Zacarias Moussaoui was still learning how to fly, he wasn’t No. 20 in the group, as your government has claimed,” bin Laden said.
He continued that Moussaoui was not a security risk for al-Qaida, because he did not have knowledge of the plot.
“Brother Moussaoui was arrested two weeks before the events, and if he had known something – even very little – about the Sept. 11 group, we would have informed the leader of the operation, Mohammad Atta, and the others … to leave America before being discovered,” bin Laden said.
Bin Laden said Moussaoui’s confession – that he helped plan the attacks – was “void,” calling it the result of pressures during imprisonment.