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A priest who has worked in charities in Muslim countries had openly warned about a possible terrorist attack on population centres in the United States and England, four days before the horrific raids on New York and Washington.
On September 7, when he officiated at a wedding in Todi, Italy, French-born Father Jean-Marie Benjamin, 55, explained informally to a judge and several politicians that he had been told that a terrorist commando was preparing an attack, with hijacked passenger planes, on US and British population centres.
Father Benjamin is regarded as one of the West's most knowledgeable experts on the Muslim world. He was a UN employee from 1983 to 1988, and then decided to consecrate his life to God, being ordained a priest in 1991. Since 1997, he has been working with the people of Iraq, many of whom suffer hunger because of the embargo and Saddam Hussein's regime.
On September 11, a quarter-hour after the first attack on the World Trade Centre, a former European parliamentarian called the priest in great distress, realising his prediction came true. The priest would not name the official out of respect for his privacy.
Last Thursday, the priest held a 70-minute meeting with Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero.
The priest said he had no idea where the attacks would take place specifically. The individuals he met -- whose identity and country he did not reveal to the press -- only mentioned the United States and England, and the use of suicide planes.
According to what the priest has learned, the attack on Great Britain failed at the last minute.
Father Benjamin told Zenit that in recent months the organization of Muslim terrorist groups has changed.
"In the past, these organisations had autonomous activity, without any links to other bodies," he explained. "But now they have developed a very different apparatus."
"(Osama) bin Laden alone is linked to 70 of his organisations in some 30 countries," he added. "In turn, these groups are in touch with some 900 Muslim organisations, located in all the continents, and they have thousands of militants, some of whom are Westerners, who do not have an Arab surname and who don't even believe in Islam."
The priest also said bin Laden is not the only point of reference of these organizations. If he should be killed or arrested, the organisation -- with thousands of volunteers and activists in 30 countries -- would continue to operate.
This situation makes it extremely difficult to respond to the attacks. The priest recalled: "They told me, 'We do not need atomic bombs or laser-guided missiles. We have enough volunteers and organisation to react and put an end to the West in three days.'"
The priest said he believed they were exaggerating the last point.
"Although I am friendly with many Muslims, I wondered why they were telling me, specifically," he added. "I felt it my duty to inform the Italian government."
The priest lives most of the time in Assisi.
In April 2000, Father Benjamin was the first person to violate the United Nations embargo imposed on Iraq, when he took medicines to Baghdad to people whose lives were in danger.
Courtesy: Zenit News Service
The Attack on America: The Complete Coverage
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