MILAN, Italy – Wiretapped conversations between a sheik from Yemen and the leader of a Milan mosque reveal what police say are predictions of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, including a boast of a "terrifying" operation by "a madman," according to a newspaper report.
Excerpts of the conversations, which took place in 2000 and early 2001, ran in Tuesday's editions of Milan daily Corriere della Sera.
The conversations were between Abdulsalam Abdulrahman, the sheik, who had traveled to Italy, and Abdelkader Mahmoud Es Sayed, who fled Italy two months before the attacks.
U.S. officials consider Es Sayed to be the organizer of a Milan cell of Al Qaeda, the terrorist network of Usama bin Laden. An Egyptian national, he was convicted of the 1997 massacre at Luxor in which 58 foreign tourists were killed.
The chief of the Milan office of DIGOS, Italy's anti-terrorism police, confirmed the newspaper's transcripts. Massimo Mazza told The Associated Press that his office turned the transcripts over a few days ago to prosecutor Stefano Dambruoso, who is leading Italy's probe into Italian-based Al Qaeda operatives.
In one conversation, in the summer of 2000, the sheik tells the mosque leader, or imam: "In the future, listen to the news and remember these words: 'above the head."'
The sheik says the action will be "one of those strikes that you never forget." He added that it will be a "terrifying thing, it will move from south to north, from east to west. He who made this plan is a madman, but a genius. It will turn you to ice."
The sheik also says: "Ah, yes, there are big clouds in the sky, there in that country, the fire is already lit and it's just waiting for the wing ... All the newspapers in the world will write about it."
Before Sept. 11, investigators had few clues about what the men might be discussing, Mazza told the AP. "After what happened, it's now easy to draw conclusions ... but before, it was difficult to understand."
Authorities eavesdropped on the two by bugging places where they were, not by tapping telephone lines; it took a long time to remove extraneous noise from the recordings and translate them, he said.
Corriere della Sera reported that the FBI helped Italian experts to decipher the bugged conversations.
According to a transcript of a January 2001 conversation between the imam and a Tunisian who was later arrested in Milan by Italy's anti-terrorist police, there is discussion of false documents.
The Tunisian asks: "Are they needed for our brothers who will go in the United States?"
"Don't ever repeat these words!" the imam warns.