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Priest reveals prior knowledge of terrorist attack plans

A priest who has worked in charities in Muslim countries had openly warned about a possible terrorist attack on population centres in the US and Britain, four days before last week's strikes on New York and Washington.

Officiating at a wedding in Italy the previous Friday, French-born Fr Jean-Marie Benjamin, 55, told a judge and several politicians that he had been learned that a terrorist commando was preparing an attack, with hijacked passenger planes, on US and British population centres.

Fr Benjamin, an expert on Islam who was ordained in 1991 and has worked in Iraq since 1997, is a former UN employee. He was contacted by a former European parliamentarian immediately after the strike on the first World Trade Centre tower, and took part in a 70-minute meeting with Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero last Thursday.

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 Britain failed at the last minute.

Fr Benjamin told Zenit that in recent months the organisation 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."

"Bin Laden alone is linked to 70 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 that Bin Laden is not the only point of reference of these organizations. If he should be killed or arrested, the organization -- with thousands of volunteers and activists in 30 countries -- would continue to operate.

"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, he was the first to violate the embargo imposed on Iraq, when he took medicines to Baghdad to people whose lives were in danger.