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June 09, 2002
MI6 warned US of Al-Qaeda attacks
MI6 warned the American intelligence services about a plot to hijack aircraft and crash them into buildings two years before the September 11 attacks.
Liaison staff at the American embassy in Grosvenor Square in London were passed a secret report by MI6 in 1999 after the intelligence service picked up indications from human intelligence sources (Humint) that Osama Bin Laden's followers were planning attacks in which civilian aircraft could be used in "unconventional ways".
Information did not specify targets and would not necessarily have enabled US agencies to prevent attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, intelligence sources said.
Details of the MI6 warning, expected to emerge during secret Congressional hearings this week in Washington into alleged intelligence failings, will increase pressure on the Bush administration for a radical shake-up of America's counterterrorism efforts.
President George W Bush has already announced plans for a new "homeland defence department" with a £25 billion annual budget to combat terrorism. "We need to know when warnings were missed or signs unheeded – not to point the finger of blame, but to make sure we correct any problems," he said last week.
MI6 had information as early as 1998 that Al-Qaeda was plotting fresh attacks. A series of warnings was passed to Washington, some concerning threats to American interests in Europe, including the US embassy in Paris. One message detailed heightened activity by suspected Al-Qaeda terror cells.
"The Americans knew of plans to use commercial aircraft in unconventional ways, possibly as flying bombs," said a senior Foreign Office source.
A US government spokesman declined to comment. Police in London last week deployed for the first time on the British mainland new anti-suicide attack steps after Scotland Yard sent a delegation to meet security experts in Israel.
Israeli-style barriers consisting of articulated lorries loaded with concrete were placed across Waterloo bridge to prevent a would-be terrorist from driving into the state coach as the Queen travelled to a jubilee service at St Paul's cathedral.
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