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Big Ben 'was September 11 target'

big ben
The attack was thwarted when planes were grounded, Gunaratna says  

LONDON, England -- Suicide hijackers intended to target London's Big Ben on September 11, according to a British terrorism expert.

A group of al Qaeda operatives were at Heathrow Airport waiting to take over a jet and crash it into the Houses of Parliament, according to author Rohan Gunaratna.

Gunaratna, a research fellow at the Centre for Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St Andrews University in Scotland, told CNN the attack was thwarted when flights out of London were grounded following the U.S. attacks.

The plan was intended to show the international reach of al Qaeda, he said.

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"The attack was thwarted as a result of the attacks in New York and Washington," he said.

"Planes were grounded at Heathrow Airport and the al Qaeda attack team that went to Heathrow could not get into a plane in order to mount this attack," he said.

"Fortunately because of the level of alertness, the attack against UK targets was prevented."

He said the alleged attacker, who was arrested in India, had attended flying schools in Britain, Australia and the U.S., and received money from al Qaeda-connected sources.

"In terms of who recruited him, how he was recruited, where he was sent for training, it very clearly demonstrates that he was an al Qaeda member and this was his intention."

Gunaratna, author of "Inside al Qaeda," said he studied intelligence documents and had access to serving and former members of Osama bin Laden's terror network when writing the book.

He said his study revealed that al Qaeda had a "lose and learn" doctrine.

The terror group was prepared to lose operatives like Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the 1993 World Trade Center bomber, in order to learn how to carry out such an attack successfully the next time, he said.




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