February 09, 2006
"There's an ongoing and effective international cooperation that is working to undermine al-Qaida's attempts to attack us," said Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counter-Terrorism Frances Fragos Townsend in a telephone briefing with reporters following President Bush's speech about security issues earlier in the day.
Townsend said that the thwarted "West Coast" plot is a reminder of the need to gather as much information as possible from all sources, especially detainee debriefings and intelligence operations, to uncover evolving terrorist networks and plots.
Al-Qaida's original intent was to attack the east and west coasts of the United States simultaneously on September 11, 2001, but it was unable to find enough operatives to do so, Townsend said. Al-Qaida implemented only the east coast element of its September 11 plot, destroying the World Trade Center in New York and damaging the Pentagon outside Washington with commandeered airliners.
In October 2001, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, began planning the attack against the U.S. Bank Tower, formerly known as the Library Tower, which is located in Los Angeles and is the tallest building on the U.S. West Coast.
Working with the alleged Indonesian terrorist Hambali, who is believed to have been the operations chief of the shadowy Jemaah Islamiah, al-Qaida recruited a four-member cell that traveled to Afghanistan for a meeting with Osama bin Laden and swore their allegiance to him, according to Townsend.
The head of the West Coast plotters received instructions on the use of shoe bombs by Richard Reid, who was arrested in December 2001 and charged with trying to blow up an airliner with explosives planted in his shoes. As a result of cooperation with two countries in South Asia and two in Southeast Asia, the West Coast plot was uncovered and the cell leader was arrested in February 2002. The other members later were taken into custody, Townsend said.
In addition, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad was captured in March 2003 followed by Hambali in August 2003, Townsend said.
"The case, I think more than anything, underscores the importance of real-time information sharing," Townsend said.