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Britain Releases Summary of Evidence Against Bin Laden

In the document, British officials say the exiled Saudi millionaire spoke of an upcoming “major attack on America” in the days before the attacks and told associates to return to Afghanistan by Sept. 10.

One of bin Laden’s “closest and most senior associates” was behind “the detailed planning of the attacks,” the report says. It also alleges the British government has “evidence of a very specific nature relating to the guilt of bin Laden and his associates that is too sensitive to release.”

But the report does allege al Qaeda has “sought to acquire nuclear and chemical materials for use as terrorist weapons,” and says the U.S. and its closest allies remain targets for potential terrorist attacks.

The report is the first attempt by a government to lay out evidence linking bin Laden to the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, the U.S. military headquarters located outside Washington.

Among the document’s assertions is that bin Laden has direct ties to “at least three” of the 19 suspected hijackers. The report says at least one of those three played integral roles in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 219 people, and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole.

The report describes the step-by-step planning that went into those attacks and tied them to a 1996 declaration of jihad, or holy war, against “the enemy, the Americans and the Israelis,” as well as a 1998 fatwa, or legal decision, containing a decree imploring Muslims to “kill Americans and plunder their money whenever and wherever they find it.”

U.S. State Dept. spokesman Richard Boucher said, “I don’t have any reservations about the British paper. But I’m not able to offer U.S. information or endorsement of specific facts.”

U.S. officials presented similar compilations of evidence to NATO leaders in Brussels and to officials in Pakistan — the one country retaining diplomatic ties to its neighbor, Afghanistan.

The British report describes a symbiotic relationship between bin Laden and the Taliban.

“Osama bin Laden has provided the Taliban regime with troops, arms and money to fight the Northern Alliance [a rebel group operating in Afghanistan’s northern region]. He is closely involved with Taliban military training, planning and operations,” the report says.

In fact, the document quotes a former Afghan official as describing bin Laden and the Taliban as “two sides of the same coin: Osama cannot exist in Afghanistan without the Taliban and the Taliban cannot exist without Osama.”

As for the Sept. 11 attacks, Britain says bin Laden and al Qaeda are the only organization with “both the motivation and the capability” to carry out such a mission.

The U.S. has yet to release its evidence against bin Laden to the public, but Secretary of State Colin Powell told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sept. 23 such a document was in the works.