FBI knew about global reach of bin Laden from '96 wiretaps

Terrorist jailed in N.Y. also spoke to informant

January 22, 2002|By NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

NEW YORK - Around Christmas 1996 - long before most Americans knew the name Osama bin Laden - the FBI listened in on a warning about the terror chief.

Using wiretaps and a jailhouse informant, the FBI monitored the conversations of terror mastermind Ramzi Yousef, who bragged about bin Laden's power and global reach.

"The government would never go after bin Laden because the government knows that within one week of capturing bin Laden, 12 U.S. airplanes would be blown up," Yousef was heard to say.

Yousef - convicted in an unsuccessful plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners flying over the Pacific - made the comment at jail in Manhattan. He was awaiting a second trial in which he was later convicted and received a life sentence for masterminding the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

From April 1996 through March 1997, the FBI let Yousef make patch-through calls to overseas conspirators from prison. Agents had help from an inmate on Yousef's cellblock, a Mafia member named Gregory Scarpa Jr.

Perhaps the most alarming discussion involves Yousef's effort in 1996 to find passports to get co-conspirators into America, summaries of the wiretaps reveal.

Agents also recorded vague discussions about imminent attacks on U.S. passenger jets. The FBI became concerned that Yousef knew something about the bombing June 25, 1996, of the Khobar military barracks in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans.

Yousef told Scarpa on June 29 that he originally "was sent on the mission to check out the security measures [at the barracks] and that a tanker truck was discussed at that time," a transcript summary said.

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