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U.S.: Expert Says Aim Of Attacks Was To Disrupt And Spread Fear

Hala Jaber is a Lebanese expert on the Middle East and a former Reuters bureau chief in the late 1970s and 80s. She has met with top leaders of various Middle Eastern terrorist organizations, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas and the Iranian-supported Hezbollah, to research a book published in the United States and Britain. She spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Askold Krushelnycky about yesterday's attacks in New York and Washington.

Prague, 12 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Hala Jaber says the terrorists' principal aim was to demonstrate the vulnerability of a target country and cause fear and chaos. She says that as fear of an unknown adversary is greater than one who is known, she does not expect anyone to claim responsibility for yesterday's terror attacks.

"They will stay back, there won't be a claim [of responsibility], nobody is going to raise their head or voices and say 'we did this.' They will probably be watching with great joy. I'm sure that they have succeeded in paralyzing the biggest country in the world, the biggest power in the world. They will watch whatever reaction comes out of it, and there will be some reaction, obviously, and they will take it from there. There will be more such attacks in the future."

Jaber said yesterday's attacks were sophisticated and well-planned. She said the mastermind behind the attacks spent a long period gathering detailed information about every aspect of the operation. Jaber said terror organizations use agents called "sleepers" who are apparently ordinary residents of a country -- in this case the United States -- who keep a low profile and do not draw attention to themselves by demonstrating strong political or religious beliefs. Such agents gather information in the preparatory stages of an operation but may not take part in the operation itself.

"Mainly the sleepers would have been people who over the year, or however long this has taken to put together, these would have been the people who collected material, helped [the mastermind] in logistics, in getting information that he might not have been able to get from his bases."

She said the sleepers could be people working in jobs connected to the target of the operation. Even people in lowly jobs -- such as airport cleaners -- can garner valuable information about not only the flights that are to be hijacked or bombed but how to circumvent security measures.

"You know these air flights are available probably every week and every month of the year from whatever airport to whatever airport. So this is background information that [the mastermind] has accumulated. He's planted his people and then it is a matter of selecting the moment when he puts [the operation] together."

Jaber said that today's terrorist groups have members who are experts in various technological fields and in yesterday's attacks. She is certain that the group responsible used skilled pilots of its own.

"It's very clear [the hijacked planes] would not have been flown by the pilots themselves, that is, the American pilots themselves."

Even under duress, Jaber thinks it is inconceivable that American pilots could have been forced to take action that not only meant the destruction of their own planes but thousands of people on the ground.

"It's most likely that the hijackers of the planes would have probably shot the pilots and flew the planes themselves. So you're talking about people who can fly planes. Just from looking at the way the planes flew into the buildings and trying to think about the thoughts of an American pilot, even if he's under a gun, even if he had a gun pointed to his head, it would be very difficult for him to do something like this, even under a threat to his life. [The terrorist pilots] are not sleepers, they are perhaps people flown in or arrived in the country for a specific operation."

Jaber said that although the preparations for such an attack had been laid months or more before, many factors contributed to the plans, including perceived American support for Israel.

Whoever carried out the attack decided, she said, that yesterday was the appropriate time to execute them.

"So there's a lot of things that have been sort of mounting up if you want, for it to happen now, and if not now, in the next weeks. Personally, I see it as somebody saying 'enough is enough' to the Americans and if you want to carry on with the Israelis then you will pay for it."

Like many other terrorist experts, Jaber believes the likeliest mastermind for yesterday's eruption of terrorism in the United States is the Saudi millionaire terrorist leader, Osama bin Laden, who is hiding in Afghanistan and is blamed for previous attacks against U.S. targets.

Jaber said the attacks were sophisticated and well-planned, and the only person known to have the resources to carry out such an attack was Bin Laden.

"You're talking four simultaneous attacks, give or take 10-15 minutes in between each and every one, on the same day, on very big American targets. Every other group, if you look back into the history of these groups, they've never been able to pull anything like this -- he's the only person who has. So the hallmarks are therefore his."

She believes that the attacks will harm the cause of legitimate Palestinian bodies involved in trying to win a peace settlement with Israel.

"I think it will have a negative effect because at the moment this is only going to play into the hands of the Israelis. It highlights the suicide attacks that have been going on in Israel itself, it brings it back to the forefront that this kind of operation can happen against anyone, not just the Israelis."