By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated September 13, 2001 11:03 AM
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Citing “real and credible information,” White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said on Wednesday that the hijacked plane that slammed into the Pentagon was originally intended to hit the White House. In all likelihood, several government officials have told news agencies, the plane that went down in Pennsylvania was headed toward the Executive Mansion in Washington. Air Force One, which was with President Bush in Florida at the time of the attacks, also was in the terrorists’ sights, according to Fleischer. “That also is one of the reasons why Air Force One did not come back to Andrews (Air Force Base, Md.) where some people may have thought it would,” the Associated Press quoted Fleischer as saying. Asked if evidence pointed to an assassination plot that went awry, Fleischer said he would tell reporters only what he knew about the prospective targets, “and I think you can draw your own conclusions.” Fleischer said national security officials learned that both the White House and Air Force One were targets just as Bush’s Boeing 747 lifted off Tuesday morning in Sarasota, Fla., where the president was to make an education speech. He already had announced on national TV that he was rushing back to Washington. That plan was scrambled in mid-flight, and all who were aboard Air Force One — for a destination then unknown — were ordered to turn off their cell phones lest signals from the phones disclose the plane’s location. At that time, there still were reports of unidentified planes in the air despite a Federal Aviation Administration order instructing all planes in U.S. airspace to land at the nearest airport, Fleischer said. Under a tight wrap of secrecy, Bush first flew to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and then to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, home of the U.S. Strategic Command and an underground bunker. Via video teleconference, Bush met with his national security team at the White House. He joined them there at dusk, traveling by helicopter from Andrews to the South Lawn under cover of three decoy Marine choppers.