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G8 summit may have been Bin Laden target

Rory Car­roll in Rome, Jon Hen­ley in Paris and Bri­an Whitak­er
THE GUARDIAN [1]

Two months before the attacks on New York and Wash­ing­ton, Osama bin Laden may have been con­tem­plat­ing an aer­i­al attack against world lead­ers assem­bled in Genoa for a G8 sum­mit.

Rumours that the ter­ror­ist sus­pect planned to pack an air­craft with explo­sives and launch it at the Ducal palace con­tain­ing George Bush have been giv­en weight by the pres­i­dent of Egypt, Hos­ni Mubarak.

He said Islamist sui­cide pilots were orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed to launch an attack on the Ital­ian riv­iera.

“On June 13 of this year, we learned of a com­mu­nique from Bin Laden say­ing he want­ed to assas­si­nate Mr Bush and oth­er G8 heads of state dur­ing their sum­mit in Italy. It was a well-known piece of in for­ma­tion,” said Pres­i­dent Mubarak.

On a state vis­it to Paris, the pres­i­dent told French media that Egyp­t’s intel­li­gence ser­vices had inter­cept­ed plans for “an aero­plane stuffed with explo­sives” to plunge into Genoa. A warn­ing was passed to the US, he said.

When they installed a mis­sile defence sys­tem at Genoa’s air­port in July and enforced a no-fly zone, the Ital­ian author­i­ties were derid­ed, but now they feel vin­di­cat­ed.

After Pres­i­dent Mubarak went pub­lic, Italy’s deputy prime min­is­ter, Gian­fran­co Fini, con­firmed that his own intel­li­gence ser­vices had briefed him about the threat. They were expect­ing a small civil­ian air­craft with the range to fly from dozens of Euro­pean air­ports, not a pas­sen­ger jet.

“Many peo­ple joked about the Ital­ian intel­li­gence force. But actu­al­ly, they had infor­ma­tion that in Genoa there was the hypoth­e­sis of an attack on the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent with the use of an aero­plane. That is why we closed the air­space above Genoa and installed anti-air­craft mis­siles. Those who joked should now reflect,” Mr Fini said.

In addi­tion to Pres­i­dent Bush and Vladimir Putin, the July 20–22 sum­mit of the sev­en most indus­tri­alised coun­tries plus Rus­sia gath­ered the lead­ers of Britain, France, Ger­many, Italy, Cana­da and Japan.

Days before the sum­mit the head of Mr Putin’s per­son­al pro­tec­tion force, Gen­er­al Yev­geni Murov, told the Russ­ian news agency Itar-Tass that the US and Russ­ian pres­i­dents were at risk. “Bin Laden utters threats to the US pres­i­dent,” he was quot­ed as say­ing.

Ital­ian media at the time also report­ed that Ger­many’s intel­li­gence ser­vice had relayed to Rome notice of a Bin Laden plot. That prompt­ed the for­mer CIA chief, Vin­cent Can­nis­tra­no, to hypoth­e­sise about an attack at the time deemed fan­ci­ful: “It would be sim­ple to put explo­sives in a toy plane and fly it into a room full of dig­ni­taries.”

The Egypt­ian pres­i­dent told Le Figaro that his knowl­edge was based on a video made by Bin Laden on June 13. “It spoke of assas­si­nat­ing Pres­i­dent Bush and oth­er heads of state in Genoa. It was a ques­tion of an aero­plane stuffed with explo­sives. These pre­cau­tions then had been tak­en.”

How­ev­er, in a twist which casts doubt on Pres­i­dent Mubarak, the New York Times report­ed that peo­ple who have viewed the tape said there was no ref­er­ence to stuff­ing an air­craft with explo­sives or killing Mr Bush.

The British gov­ern­ment was unable to con­firm that there had been a threat to attack the Genoa sum­mit.