Compere: Tony Jones
Reporter: Tony Jones
His face is well known throughout the Arab world as the investigative reporter on al-Jazeera TV’s ‘Top Secret’ program.
He’s in our London studio.
TONY JONES: Welcome to you, Yosri Fouda.
Can you sketch out for us, if you can, briefly the role that each of these men played in the September 11 attacks?
YOSRI FOUDA, AL-JAZEERA CORRESPONDENT: Well, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed himself, as he would introduce himself, he is head of the so-called Al Qaeda military committee.
Ramzi Binalshibh would introduce himself as the ‘coordinator’ of 9/11.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed being head of Al Qaeda military committee, would be in charge of studying possible targets, selecting suitable recruits, defining the time scale of certain operation and indeed following up all the details until reaching the moment of execution.
Ramzi Binalshibh would be the coordinator and, by the way, Ramzi Binalshibh came to be the coordinator of 9/11 by default because he initially wanted to join the 19 hijackers when he failed, I think he turned into being the coordinator and focused on that role, when he was in Germany.
TONY JONES: These men have been the target of an immense man hunt, as we know, Binalshibh was recently arrested and seems to now blame you partly for that, or at least some of his supporters do.
But considering how hard it is to get to people like that, how were you able to interview them?
YOSRI FOUDA: Well, I mean Tony, this is not the sort of people that you would track down.
As a journalist, you could only dream of it, fantasise about it.
This is the sort of people who would track you down.
Whenever they wanted a message out.
But let me correct a little thing that you said in your introduction.
Um, actually Al Qaeda people do not blame me for the arrest of Ramzi Binalshibh or anyone else who happened to be with him.
Indeed, they just issued the statement a few days ago, clearing my name and al-Jazeera’s from any possible link between the arrest and the broadcast of my documentary as you are well aware the interviews were conducted?
TONY JONES: That must be an immense relief for you, I would have thought, considering how ruthless they are.
YOSRI FOUDA: Absolutely.
TONY JONES: How did you get to see them.
YOSRI FOUDA: Well, I mean, one of their mediators gave me a call.
He called me when I was in London wondering if I would be preparing anything to go with the first anniversary.
Of course, I checked the credibility of the caller and I took a decision.
I knew that I was putting my life on the line.
But I thought that there might be something behind it.
And I took a chance and I met them.
I had no clue who I was being led to.
I had no clue what is it that I would be possibly coming back with.
But there I went and I met the people who introduced themselves as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh.
TONY JONES: As we’ve heard, they made some extraordinary admissions, almost confessions to you, I suppose since it was unclear for a long time the degree to which those links existed.
I mean, Osama bin Laden had been targeted but they were in no bones about this, were they?
They clearly were saying they did this.
Osama bin Laden knew about it.
Indeed, Binalshibh actually went to Osama bin Laden prior to September 11 to tell him that the date had been chosen.
YOSRI FOUDA: Absolutely.
If I was offered to meet either Bin Laden or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, I think I would go for those two.
And yes, they admitted – they not only admitted, they are proud of it, they would do it again.
They called for 1,000 operations like this.
Ramzi Binalshibh when he knew because, as you are aware, the final details and the final few weeks were all left up to Mohammed Atta in the field to decide upon, including the zero hour.
When Mohammed Atta decided with his people in America on the zero hour, he called Ramzi Binalshibh and five days before September 11, Ramzi Binalshibh went to Pakistan.
And from there, he actually sent a messenger to Bin Laden to bring it to his attention that the zero hour was defined.
And thus Bin Laden knew about it.
But he knew all the way through, Bin Laden, of all the details of the targets, of the budget and the rest of it.
TONY JONES: Ramzi Binalshibh was Mohammed Atta’s roommate, I think, in Hamburg.
What did he tell you about Mohammed Atta?
What made him the sort of man who would become the most notorious terrorist in history, I suppose?
YOSRI FOUDA: Ramzi would speak very emotionally of Mohammed Atta.
He was in his words like a brother to him, like a son, like a father.
He would say that?and I confirmed this from other sources?the people who knew Atta, whether in Egypt, whether in Germany or indeed in America, that he was such an intelligent man, such a very well-organised, a perfectionist, to put it in short.
He was the ideal and the perfect soldier.
Some people would speak of some special background to Mohammed Atta, family-wise and also what he felt about the situation in the Middle East and more particularly in Palestine and in Egypt and the rest of it.
But for the sort of operation, I think he was the perfect soldier.
And Ramzi Binalshibh would speak highly of him, would speak emotionally of him.
He tells about a little story of Mohammed Atta, that he called him once and said to him, "Brother, never be saddened.
We will meet some day in paradise."
And Ramzi Binalshibh would say to him, "When you are in paradise, please extend our regards to the prophet, Mohammed," and the rest of it.
But that’s a different story.
In short, what I get as a journalist from my research, is the fact that Mohammed Atta was the perfect soldier for such a mission.
TONY JONES: Did you ask these two men whether they watched the results of their handy work on the day that it happened, on September 11?
Did they watch it as so many other people did on satellite TV?
And how they were feeling as they saw these things happen?
YOSRI FOUDA: Yes, indeed.
Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as well, would describe this in detail that they were watching the rest of us.
And Ramzi tells me he was not actually present with Bin Laden because as you are aware Bin Laden and his immediate group dispersed into the mountains and they were following this actually through listening to radio.
Binalshibh was watching TV.
And they would say that they were very proud of it, praying for the rest of the flights to do what was planned for them to do.
They would scream and chant and feel like they were part of the operation themselves.
I mean, in short, of course, he has his own religious rhetoric, but the thing that I would really like to underline here – it’s not anything of Islam.
It’s?they have their own justification for killing the civilians and certainly Binalshibh saw it on my face that I was not quite convinced, although I didn’t go there to argue or to judge those people, but when it came to the killing the civilian bits, he didn’t like the fact that I was not totally convinced of that, especially it included Muslim civilians.
But this is the way they think – killing the civilians is, you know, hated but they had to do it.
TONY JONES: You say you didn’t go there to argue or challenge their ideas.
Were you simply listening or were you able to put direct questions to them?
I mean, for example, did you ask them directly whether Osama bin Laden was alive or dead?
YOSRI FOUDA: Well, I did indeed.
But before I answer the Bin Laden bit.
When they called me first, we had some sort, an unwritten contract.
They know what kind of journalist I am.
They know what my show’s all about.
They know that it’s not about a debate or a discussion or rhetoric, it’s about information basically.
It’s an investigative program.
So, I think they appreciated that and they prepared a few facts and details for me to tell the world through me.
I did of course ask them directly about Bin Laden.
When they told me, after I had asked them, why me, why not someone else who might have some more sympathy with them?
And they said that it was Bin Laden who picked my name and that I was more of, you know, some sort of a secular journalist in the professional sense of it.
But they would reiterate that Bin Laden is still indeed alive and well and that the whole world would listen or hear from him on his time.
They would refer to him always in the present tense and they would say, "God protect him ", rather than "God have mercy on his soul."
I did however detect at one occasion a slip of the tongue by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and I thought at the moment that it might be significant, I might be wrong, I might be right or right but the fact of the matter is that we remain with no hard evidence to tell us whether Bin Laden is still alive or indeed dead.
TONY JONES: Let me move on, briefly, if I can.
At the time that you spoke to them, it was pretty clear that George W. Bush was moving the war on terrorism into a wider plane, indeed that he was going to target Iraq and Saddam Hussein.
Did you ask them whether they had any connections at all with Saddam Hussein?
YOSRI FOUDA: They don’t have any connection whatsoever.
I did ask the question and they would – the only thing that they would mention the name of Iraq within the context of the injustices in the Middle East and the targeting of the Iraqi children.
But that was as far as it went.
I can sense some sort of trying to establish or figure out whether or not there is any connection.
I certainly did not come across anything that would suggest any link between Al Qaeda and Iraq.
They certainly say that they have nothing to do with Iraq.
Actually, ideologically speaking, they are at odds with the regime in Iraq.
They believe in something completely different from what the Iraqi regime would believe in.
I think some circles are trying to force some kind of a link between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi regime.
I certainly never came across anything like this.
TONY JONES: Yosri Fouda, we’ll have to leave that part of the discussion for a little later.
Thanks for joining us, though, tonight on Lateline.