9/11 panel makes secret visits



Staff from the independent commission set up to investigate the September 11 terrorist attacks have made secret visits to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in their hunt for clues about the origin of the plot.

The countries were among seven visited in recent weeks by commission officials in a series of trips not disclosed until now.

The commission's staff director, Philip Zelikow, told United Press International that he and two other staff members interviewed "scores" of people, including officials from the countries and U.S. government personnel serving there.

"We wanted to get information about and their perspective on the events that led to the [September 11] attacks, and on the prosecution of the ongoing war on terror," said Mr. Zelikow, a former National Security Council official.

During their travels, which ended Friday, Mr. Zelikow and his colleagues visited Britain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and Afghanistan, he said.

He said the trip was successful and useful in terms of building a narrative of the run-up to the attacks, adding that the commission members learned much that had not been made public.

Mr. Zelikow would not disclose any further details about the visits or say whom the commission staff had interviewed, but UPI was able to learn about their itinerary from other sources.

The three met with Cabinet ministers in Afghanistan and senior officials of Pakistan's intelligence service, ISI, and other diplomatic and law-enforcement officials.

An official of the Kabul government -- who spoke on condition of anonymity -- said the team met with Defense Minister Muhammad Fahim, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and President Hamid Karzai, among others.

The official said that Gen. Fahim and Mr. Abdullah -- leaders of the largest anti-Taliban faction, the Northern Alliance -- had "a very deep knowledge of al Qaeda and what it was capable of, having dealt with them for many years on the battlefield."

During the final years of Afghanistan's civil war, brought to an end by U.S. intervention in late 2001, al Qaeda militants fought alongside Taliban troops.

But the official said the clearest warnings had come from Ahmed Shah Masood, the military chief of the Northern Alliance. "During his visit to Europe in April 2001," the official said, "Masood said very publicly that the United States was not paying enough attention to Afghanistan and had no policy toward it.

"He warned that the consequences could include terrorist attacks against the United States."

Two days before the September 11 attacks, Mr. Masood was assassinated by two al Qaeda members posing as journalists who had explosives hidden inside their camera.

In Pakistan, the commission staff visited Karachi and the capital, Islamabad, where they met with senior officials from the Foreign and Interior ministries, a Pakistani official told UPI on condition of anonymity.

They also interviewed two senior officials of the ISI and the director of the Federal Investigation Agency, the Pakistani FBI.

The official said they were "looking for anyone who might have information about [the September 11 attacks], or who might be able to cast any light on it."