WASHINGTON – Usama bin Laden names some of the Sept. 11 hijackers and commends them to Allah, according to a more thorough translation by one of the experts hired by the government to review a videotape of the suspected terrorist.
A more leisurely review of the tape, which was released by the government last week, came up with "a whole bunch of names," translator George Michael said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press. He would identify only three: Nawaq Alhamzi, Salem Alhamzi and Wail Alshehri.
"You'll have to talk to the Pentagon about the rest," Michael said.
An independent translator, who is a native Saudi, told the AP that bin Laden also utters the name Alghamdi several times in reference to suspected hijackers Ahmed Alghamdi, Hamza Alghamdi and Saeed Alghamdi.
Alshehri was on American Airlines flight 11, the first plane to hit the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in New York; Alhamzi and Alhamzi were on American Airlines flight 77, which hit the Pentagon.
Federal investigators believe Ahmed and Hamza Alghamdi were aboard United Flight 175, the second plane to crash into the World Trade Center. Saeed Alghamdi died aboard United Flight 93, which crashed 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
Michael, one of two translators hired by the government, said he handed his more detailed transcript to the Pentagon Wednesday at 1 p.m.
Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke said Thursday night that she was unaware of a new translation, but added it was not surprising to find more information with a more in-depth study of the conversation, considering the poor quality of the sound on the tape.
White House officials declined to comment on the reports.
The Pentagon released the first transcript last week, offering a chilling glimpse of terrorist planning as bin Laden told his aides and clerics that the deaths and destruction achieved by the Sept. 11 attacks exceeded his "most optimistic" expectations.
Bin Laden appeared calm and at times amused as he talked about the attacks on the hour-long tape, dated Nov. 9, that the Bush administration said was found in Afghanistan.
Bin Laden's voice was difficult to hear on the videotape, and government-hired translators at several points wrote "inaudible" when they didn't agree on an interpretation or when they couldn't make out the words. None of the hijackers' names that Michael included in his new translation were in the first transcript.
The first government translation disclosed that bin Laden mentioned Mohamed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the terrorists.
"Not everybody knew (...inaudible...). Mohammad (Atta) from the Egyptian family (meaning the Al Qaeda Egyptian group), was in charge of the group," bin Laden said on the tape, according to the government.
In the more thorough version, Michael said, bin Laden names several other hijackers and says: "may God accept their action," according to the English translation. Bin Laden used "Allah," the Arabic word for God.
References bin Laden made in the original transcription of the tape released last week already tied him to the attacks — but naming and blessing several hijackers suggests an intimacy that would reinforce U.S. claims of his deep involvement in the planning.
The names only emerged now, Michael said, because the first translation was rushed in 12 hours, in a room in the Pentagon. It took four days to complete the fuller transcript in the comfort of his own office, Michael said.
"We did the first translation under a tight time frame," he said.
Michael, who is originally Lebanese, translated the tape with Kassem Wahba, an Egyptian. Both men had difficulties with the Saudi dialect bin Laden and his guest use in the tape, Michael said.
Attempts to reach Wahba were unsuccessful.
Some passages remain a mystery, Michael said: Bin Laden's Saudi guest names the person who smuggled him from Saudi Arabia into Afghanistan.
Michael and Wahba were unable to make out the name, and Michael said that if anyone was able to identify the name, it would be a Saudi.
Ali al-Ahmed, a Saudi who listened to the tape, told the AP that the visitor attaches the words "jalad alhayaa" — a phrase that some use to describe the Saudi religious police — to the smuggler's name.
Al-Ahmed's translation also claims that bin Ladens' guest delight in the support that several prominent Saudi clerics are giving to terrorists.
"Right at the time of the strike on America, he gave a very moving speech, Sheikh Abdulah al-Baraak," bin Laden said on the tape. "And he deserves thanks for that."
Al-Baraak teaches at a university in Saudi Arabia and acts as a religious advisor to government officials.
Any connection between bin Laden and a Saudi official would probably embarrass the Saudi government, which has given its support to the United States.
"I would think that all of this should have been obvious to the translators working for the government," al-Ahmed said. "This might be an attempt to cover up what might hurt the United States politically."
Al-Ahmed, who directs a Washington think tank, said the government has asked him for his own completed translation.
The guests discussing the Sept. 11 attacks with bin Laden have been variously identified as Sheik Ali bin Said al-Ghandi, a Saudi Arabian Islamic cleric known for anti-Western views and Khaled al-Harbi, a legless Saudi veteran of battles in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya.
In the first, rushed translation the Pentagon published last week, bin Laden tells his guest that 15 of the hijackers knew they were on a "martyrdom operation," but only learned of the details shortly before boarding their planes. Bin Laden also said the casualties were greater than his original estimates.