WASHINGTON -- Accused Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui met with the suspected mastermind of the attacks in late 2000 or early 2001 in Afghanistan, a top al-Qaida operative has told his interrogators, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
Ramzi Binalshibh, a former aide to top al-Qaida operative Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, said Mohammed provided Moussaoui with contacts in the United States, said officials speaking on the condition of anonymity.
But Binalshibh and Mohammed were not confident in Moussaoui's ability to keep a secret, and decided to use him as a backup for the hijacking plot, Binalshibh told the officials, who have never detailed what they believe Moussaoui's precise role was to be in the attacks.
Binalshibh was an associate of Mohammed, Moussaoui, chief hijacker Mohamed Atta and others in the Hamburg, Germany-based cell that led the attacks. He was captured by U.S. and Pakistani authorities during a raid in Karachi on Sept. 11, 2002, and has since been held in U.S. custody at a secret location.
The Moussaoui-Mohammed contacts were first reported Wednesday by the Washington Post.
Moussaoui was arrested in August 2001 after acting suspiciously at a Minnesota flight school. He has acknowledged in court that he is an al-Qaida member but said he had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 plot. He has attempted to call Binalshibh as a defense witness in his conspiracy trial.
Moussaoui traveled from Europe to an al-Qaida training camp Afghanistan in 1998, according to prosecutors. He also went from London to Pakistan in December 2000 and returned in February 2001. It was during this time that U.S. officials believe he met with Mohammed in Afghanistan.
Binalshibh, a Yemeni, lived with Atta and two other hijackers in Germany in the years before the attacks. In 2000, he tried four times to obtain a visa to enter the United States. Authorities claim he wanted to be one of the hijackers.
After his efforts to enter the country failed, he began sending money and other logistical support to the hijackers. He boasted of his role in the attacks during an interview he and Mohammed gave the Arabic television network al-Jazeera earlier in 2002.
Counterterrorism officials say several al-Qaida captives have told them that Mohammed, a Kuwaiti who holds Pakistani citizenship, was the operational mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.