French warned CIA of Al Qaeda hijacking plot before 9/11, report says

April 16, 2007

PARIS - A French intelligence service learned as early as January 2001 that Al Qaeda was working on a plot to hijack U.S. airliners, and it passed the information on to the CIA, a news report said today.

France's Le Monde newspaper said it had obtained 328 pages of classified documents on Osama bin Laden's terrorism network that the French foreign intelligence service, the DGSE, had drawn up between July 2000 and October 2001.

The Defense Ministry didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.

Le Monde reported that the documents included a note dated Jan. 5, 2001, which said that Al Qaeda had been working on a hijacking plot for months. The note reported that bin Laden had attended a meeting in Afghanistan in October 2000, where a final decision to carry out the plot was taken, the newspaper said.

The newspaper said the agency's report was passed on to the CIA chief in Paris, as was all information about possible threats to American interests.

French intelligence officials apparently had no idea that Al Qaeda was plotting to crash hijacked planes into buildings, as happened on Sept. 11, 2001.

Le Monde quoted Pierre-Antoine Lorenzi, a former chief of staff for the intelligence agency's director, as saying, "You have to remember that up until 2001, hijacking an airplane did not have the same meaning as after Sept. 11. At the time, that meant forcing an airplane to land in an airport to carry out negotiations. We were used to handling that."