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Bin Laden tape: 'We calculated in advance the number of casualties'

Osama bin Laden, as seen in videotape released Thursday.
Osama bin Laden, as seen in videotape released Thursday.  

(CNN) - A videotape released Thursday by the Pentagon shows Osama bin Laden boasting of his involvement in the September 11 attacks and seeming amused that some of the hijackers did not know that they were on a suicide mission until "just before they boarded the planes."

Bin Laden and the other three men seated with him made numerous references to various al Qaeda members having dreams of planes hitting tall buildings at least a year before the attacks and how he took that as a good omen.

He said the men who carried out the operation did not know the details of the terrorist attacks until just before they happened.

"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 didn't know anything about the operation, not even one letter," bin Laden said. "But they were trained, and we did not reveal the operation to them until they are there and just before they boarded the planes.

Watch the excerpt of the video of Osama bin Laden obtained by the Bush administration (December 13)

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Chronology: Bin Laden on tape 
Gallery: Images of bin Laden from videotape 

"Those who were trained to fly didn't know the others. One group of people did not know the other group," he said.

He said said the results of the attacks on the World Trade Center went beyond what the terrorists had hoped, although he said he "was the most optimistic of them all."

"We calculated in advance the number of casualities from the enemy, who would be killed based on the position of the tower. We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic of them all.

"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. That is all that we had hoped for."

An elder congratulated bin Laden on the attacks, stating: "The elderly...everybody praises what you did, the great action you did, which was first and foremost by the grace of Allah. This is the guidance of Allah and the blessed fruit of jihad."

One of the men in the room compares the terrorist attacks with winning a ball game. Sulayman Abu Guaith says, "The TV broadcast the big event. The scene was showing an Egyptian family sitting in their living room, they exploded with joy. Do you know when there is a soccer game and your team wins, it was the same expression of joy."

The Arabic-language tape runs about one hour. Officials said it was not shot in chronological order, that the later part of the meeting is seen first, followed by unrelated shots of a downed U.S. helicopter and then the first part of the meeting that bin Laden had with associates.

Officials said they found the videotape in a private residence in Jalalabad. During the 40-minute recording, bin Laden indicates he knew for several days that September 11 would be the date of the attacks. He also said that he had turned on his radio in advance to listen to coverage of the attacks and that he had underestimated the damage that would be inflicted on the World Trade Center.

Release of the tape, dated November 9 and made in Kandahar, Afghanistan, was hotly debated within the White House as officials weighed concerns about protecting U.S. intelligence sources with building the public case against bin Laden.

U.S. officials said that bin Laden claims the hijackers trained to fly the planes didn't know some of their colleagues on board -- and that some of the 19 hijackers didn't learn they were on a suicide mission until they boarded the planes.

The tape's release is central to informing people in the outside world who don't believe bin Laden was involved in the September 11 attacks, said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "I don't know how they can be in denial after they see this tape," he said.

On Wednesday, the day many predicted would be the government's release date for the video, the Bush administration said its viewing would be delayed because of audio and translation difficulties.

Four nongovernmental translators worked on the tape Wednesday to try to provide a "thorough" and "accurate" translation despite the tape's poor audio quality and instances of more than one person speaking at once, officials said.

A senior White House official said outside translation is also necessary to counter speculation that the government had somehow doctored the tape or had twisted bin Laden's words to match the administration's claims that he is responsible for the terrorist attacks.

"And what's sad about it is that he's in this meeting and he's gloating, he's laughing, he's having fun about the death and destruction that occurred in the United States of America," the official said.


• The White House
• U.S. Department of Defense

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