Updated below: Villaraigosa feels blindsided by Bush's remarks
In a speech in Washington this morning, President Bush offered more evidence that an Al Qaeda plot to take down the U.S. Bank tower downtown—formerly Library Tower—was foiled by intelligence gathering in 2002. From the LAT story:
Bush said that only a month after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, top Al Qaeda operative Khalid Sheik Mohammad, the 9/11 mastermind, had "set in motion a plan to have terrorist operatives hijack an airplane using shoe bombs to breach the cockpit door and fly the plane into the tallest building on the West Coast."
Mohammad assigned the job of planning the attack on Los Angeles to a terrorist named Hambali, also known as Riduan Isamuddin, a leader of an Al Qaeda affiliate in Southeast Asia called Jemaah Islamiyah. J.I. already had carried out a series of deadly attacks in that region, Bush said.
The plan called for Hambali to recruit Asians for the attack because they would be less likely to arouse suspicion than people of Middle Eastern descent, he said.
"Hambali recruited several key operatives who had been training in Afghanistan. Once the operatives were recruited, they met with Osama bin Laden, and then began preparations for the West Coast attack," the president added.
According to counterterrorism officials, Hambali is believed to have chosen several men to launch the attacks, including a pilot, and had set aside funds to pay them.
Bush said the plot was "derailed" in early 2002, when a Southeast Asian nation he did not name arrested a key Al Qaeda operative with some knowledge of the plot, which began to unravel.
"Subsequent debriefings and other intelligence operations made clear the intended target and how Al Qaeda hoped to execute it. This critical intelligence helped other allies capture the ringleaders and other known operatives who'd been recruited for this plot. The West Coast plot had been thwarted. Our efforts did not end there," Bush said.
Homeland Security Adviser Frances Townsend was scheduled to provide additional details later in the day.
* Villaraigosa: "I'm amazed that the president would make this (announcement) on national TV and not inform us of these details through the appropriate channels," the mayor said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I don't expect a call from the president - but somebody."
From October: Threat to Library Tower redux