ClandesTime 109 – An Alternative History of Al Qaeda: The Bojinka Plot

Published May 14th 2017 | Tags: , , , , ,

The Bojinka plot was one of the most imaginative and potentially devastating terrorist plans ever. Conceived by Ramzi Yousef it centred around a scheme to blow up 10-12 airliners simultaneously, killing thousands of people, but it also included an assassination attempt on the Pope and crashing a plane into CIA headquarters. This week we take a closer look at Bojinka, its origins and genesis, and the theory that it was a prototype for the 9/11 attacks. We also examine Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, the brother in law of Osama Bin Laden and why he was never prosecuted for his role as the probable financier of the plot.

Transcript

Last week we took a broad look at Ramzi Yousef, the World Trade Center bomber. The plot that has come to define Yousef’s terrorist career was codenamed ‘Oplan Bojinka’, and came to light after the capture of Yousef’s friend and conspirator Hakim Murad, who gave up the full details during interrogations with the PNP (the Philippines National Police). During the same raid where Murad was arrested, Ramzi’s laptop was seized. Precisely what happened in the run up to the raid, what Ramzi’s laptop contained, and what Murad told the PNP are matters of some controversy.


Undetectable bombs

The conventional account has Ramzi Yousef developing the Bojinka plot in the Philippines in the autumn and winter of 1994. While staying in both Manila and Cebu City he came up with a design for a bomb that would be virtually undetectable by existing airport security. The ingenious device used batteries hidden in the soles of shoes to power light bulb filaments, causing a spark that would ignite a mixture of gun cotton, disguised as ordinary cotton wool, and liquid nitro-glycerine, concealed in a contact lens cleaner bottle. The bomb would be controlled by the alarm timer on a cheap Casio watch so it could be set to go off hours, days or even weeks in advance. By putting the assembled device over the fuel tank of a passenger airliner while it was in flight, the small bomb could act as a detonator, blowing up the plane in mid-air. The design was perfected by Yousef and Murad in the summer of 1994 in a warehouse in Lahore. During his interrogation by the PNP Murad referred to an accident during this testing phase where Yousef ‘carelessly mixed several kinds of chemicals inside a container’ that nearly exploded.

Yousef tested the design on two different occasions before trying it out for real. In one test he broke into the generator room of a shopping mall in Cebu City, planted a small version of his device and ran off. It blew up several hours later and though it didn’t cause much damage it showed that the design was functional. Then on the night of December 1st 1994 he arranged for a Bojinka co-conspirator, Wali Khan Amin Shah, to place a bomb in a Manila movie theatre. Shah was a veteran of the Afghan war, nicknamed ‘the lion’. The backs of his legs are scarred from shrapnel from Soviet land mines, and he is missing three fingers on one hand. Late in the evening, Shah went to the Greenbelt cinema on Taft Avenue and planted one of the small bombs under a seat in the fourth row. It exploded shortly afterwards, inflicting minor injuries on a handful of cinema customers.

Throughout the second half of 1994, Yousef was seen out and about in Manila with other conspirators, particularly his friend Hakim Murad and his uncle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, known as KSM. However they did not behave like devout Islamic fundamentalists. They went out to bars and stripclubs and had local girlfriends. In one episode of flirtatious bravado, KSM rented a helicopter to try to impress a dentist that he was courting. He flew the craft to the area near her office window, called her on the phone telling her to look outside and waved at her as they went past.

The final test of the undetectable bomb was a dress rehearsal for the Bojinka plot. On December 11th 1994, Yousef himself planted a bomb on Philippines Airlines flight 434, which went from Ninoy Aquino International Airport, just south of Manila, to Narita International Airport near Tokyo, Japan. Travelling under the name Armaldo Forlani, a misspelling of the name of a former Italian Prime Minister, Ramzi boarded the flight at Ninoy Aquino. Using batteries hidden in the heels of his shoes, the gun cotton and nitro-glycerine hidden in a shaving kit, and the Casio watch on his wrist, he constructed the bomb. The flight stopped off in Cebu City on its way to Japan, allowing Yousef to assemble the bomb on board, set the timer hours in advance, plant it in the lifejacket under his seat and get off the plane long before it detonated. This was critical, as the plane bombing aspect of Oplan Bojinka was never intended to be a suicide mission.

At 11:43 a.m., while the plane was between Cebu City and Tokyo, the bomb went off, killing 24 year old Japanese businessman Haruki Ikegami and injuring several other passengers. Though the explosion blasted a hole in the cabin floor and damaged the plane’s hydraulics, the fuselage remained intact. The plane survived and made an emergency landing, apparently because Yousef and Murad had calculated the placement of the bomb based on a different model of the Boeing 747, and so it was two seats too far forward to rupture the fuel tank and detonate the fuel.

The Fire

Shortly before bombing flight 434 Yousef had moved into room 603 of the Dona Josefa Apartments in Manila under the guise of a Moroccan mechanical engineer by the name of Naji Owaidah Haddad. Room 603 became the operational hub for the Bojinka plot, and the factory for the production of the undetectable Casio bombs. KSM lived there for several weeks under the name Abdul Majid, pretending he was a Saudi or Qatari plywood exporter. Just after Christmas 1994 KSM moved out and Hakim Murad moved in, having arrived from Dubai to help Yousef with the plan to bomb airliners. Yousef and Murad began gathering materials for a series of terrorist attacks, including an attempt at assassinating Pope John Paul II during his scheduled visit to Manila. They discussed trying to drop bombs on him from a hang glider, setting off chemical poison devices in the street and, more conventionally, shooting him with a sniper rifle. Despite these ambitions Ramzi and KSM still took time out on New Year’s Eve 1994 to go scuba-diving in Puerto Galera.

A week later, on January 6th 1995, a fire broke out in room 603 which enabled not only the capture of Murad by the PNP, but also the interdiction of the Bojinka plot and therefore the saving of potentially thousands of lives. However, the cause of the fire is disputed and none of the options plays particularly well into the narrative of Ramzi Yousef as a terrorist extraordinaire or a ‘new Carlos the Jackal’.

According to the FBI’s interrogations of Murad and Yousef the fire started because Ramzi Yousef was being careless, burning chemicals in the apartment’s small kitchen and accidentally producing a large cloud of thick smoke.vii After opening the window failed to clear the smoke the two men ran half-naked out of the room, and tried to waft away the cloud in the corridor with their hands and a coat. Another resident saw the smoke and alerted the Dona Josefa security guard Roman Mariano. Mariano ran up the stairs and found Yousef and Murad trying to wave the smoke away. The accounts of Reeve and Lance differ on what happened next. Reeve claims that both Yousef and Murad fled while firefighters dealt with the flames in the kitchen of room 603, before local police examined the room and called in more senior investigators.

By contrast, Lance’s version has the smoke dissipating by the time the firefighters arrived, and Yousef and Murad staying in the room until a single policeman arrived around an hour later. The young cop was then fooled by Yousef into thinking it was just an accident with firecrackers. It wasn’t until the officer returned to the police station and told his superior Aida Fariscal that the fire raised suspicions. Both versions then have Murad and Yousef meeting up at a nearby 7-eleven, and Yousef sending Murad back to the room to grab his laptop. Once again the versions diverge, Reeve’s has Murad arrested in room 603 in the middle of packing up the latop, Lance having him arrested because he tripped over a tree root having bolted after Fariscal confronted him in the lobby. Bill Gertz’s telling of the story in the book Breakdown contains a mixture of the details provided by Reeve and Lance.

Regardless of the precise details this tale is in keeping with other incidents where Yousef appeared careless and prone to accidents, and more generally with the farcical nature of a lot of stories about terrorists. Murad described several such incidents to the PNP during his interrogation, including one where Yousef had mistakenly drunk sulphuric acid, which he’d mistook for a soft drink he’d poured into the same kind of bottle. However, there is another version of events that makes the contradictions between Reeve’s and Lance’s seem trivial.

According to local Filipino reports published some years later the PNP actually had the Bojinka plotters and room 603 under close surveillance. An undercover agent named Rolando San Juan had penetrated the group and was passing what he learnt on to his brother Erick, who worked in intelligence. Similarly, the LA Times reported a year after 9/11 that due to concerns about the Pope’s imminent arrival in Manila that police, ‘started the fire that set off the alarm at the Josefa. When it sounded, the occupants ran out, the cops walked in and looked around. They then left and hunted down a search warrant.’

If this is true then the fire was part of an undercover operation called Blue Marlin, being run by the PNP and other agencies. They had sought to penetrate both the domestic groups the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). The ASG were set up in 1991 after the Soviet-Afghan War and were named after a veteran of that conflict, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. One of his protégés, Abdurajak Janjalani helped found the group and it is widely suspected that they drew funds from Jamal Khalifa’s charity fronts in the Philippines.

As part of the Blue Marlin operation, the number two in the Abu Sayyaf was an undercover agent, Edwin Angeles. Angeles was initially reported in 1996 to have surrendered shortly after Bojinka was ‘discovered’ and begun co-operating, and that, ‘he worked alongside Mr. Yousef as he planned the details of the plot.’ The Filipino Daily Inquirer later reported how at his trial on over 50 counts of kidnapping and murder he was acquitted because he successfully showed that, ‘all the crimes that were attributed to him were all done as part of his job’ as a military spy.

Angeles’ handler was Colonel Rodolfo Mendoza of the PNP, who was reportedly also a key interrogator of Ramzi’s friend Hakim Murad. However, Mendoza said later, after Angeles had been killed, ‘I had the impression he was also being handled by somebody higher.’ Confirming Angeles’ role as a double agent his third wife, Elmina Abdul, gave an extensive deathbed confession to the Manila Times. ‘Angeles was “what they call a ‘deep-penetration agent’” who was working for “some very powerful men in the DND,” the Philippine national defense intelligence agency, Elmina said.’

The DND is the Philippine Department of National Defense, similar to the US Defense Intelligence Agency, as opposed to the PNP which is more like the FBI, a policing agency. This links not only the ASG, but also Yousef and the entire Bojinka plot, to Philippines military intelligence, who work closely with the Pentagon. Angeles’ role appears to have been much more than just a PNP informant, and something closer to that of a provocateur. Like Ali Mohamed and others, he was never punished for his role in these very serious crimes, except perhaps when he was gunned to death by unknown assailants in 1999.

Hakim Murad’s interrogation

After the fire at the Dona Josefa, Hakim Murad was held for over 60 days without charge by the PNP, before he was eventually extradited to America in April 1995. His testimony was used to help convict Ramzi Yousef for his role in the Flight 434 bombing, and for the World Trade Center bombing. Murad claims that during his interrogation he was tortured, though appeals on this basis against his own conviction for involvement in Bojinka proved unsuccessful. The handful of pages of transcript of the PNP’s interrogation of Murad that are available indicate that he was force-fed liquids and a tape of his first interrogation suggests he was choked with water. Other accounts describe much more brutal treatment including rape, cigarette burns and electric shocks. Professor Stephanie Athey detailed these variances in her paper The Terrorist We Torture, concluding that establishing exactly what happened to Murad ‘is by now impossible,’ and that many writers on the subject, ‘misuse sources, ignore conflicting information, and borrow the anecdotes of others without a second glance.’ So I don’t know if Murad was tortured, and if he was, how badly. It is, of course, entirely possible that he was horribly tortured and that he is guilty of the crimes he confessed to, the one does not preclude the other.

One of the few relative certainties in this story is that PNP debriefing reports detail how Murad told investigators about three different attacks being planned by Yousef, Mohammed, Shah, Murad and the others. The first plot was to try to assassinate the Pope while he was visiting the Philippines using remote-controlled pipe bombs; the second was to explode up to a dozen airliners simultaneously using the virtually undetectable bomb Yousef had developed; and the third involved Murad flying a plane into the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. This third aspect of Bojinka in particular has drawn attention as an example of Al Qaeda planning suicide hijackings years before 9/11, though the details of this plot have proved as controversial and disputed as Murad’s treatment by the PNP.

According to Peter Lance in 1000 Years for Revenge – and his later books Cover Up and Triple Cross – Murad expanded on the plane-into-CIA idea to provide a ‘virtual blueprint for 9/11’. The story Lance tells, based on an interview with Colonel Rudolfo Mendoza of the PNP, says that Mendoza took over the interrogation after others ‘had pretty much given up on Murad’. Through a combination of bribery with food and threats to call the Mossad, Mendoza manipulated Murad so he, ‘loosened up’ and ‘revealed intimate details of the Bojinka and pope plots’. Eventually Murad also disclosed a plan to ‘use passenger aircraft as bombs’ and ‘little by little’ gave up details of Middle Eastern men training at US flight schools for this purpose. Lance’s argument also hits on the letter Yousef dictated after the WTC bombing where he spoke of 150 suicide soldiers and that they would try again to destroy the WTC. He also refers to a conversation Yousef had on his return to the US after being captured, with the two FBI agents who had been interrogating him. As they flew into New York via helicopter they passed the twin towers and one of the agents said, ‘see, you didn’t get them after all’ to which Ramzi responded, ‘not yet’. Lance also cites a 302 of the FBI’s interrogation of Murad, which referred to Yousef’s intention to ‘return to the United States to bomb the World Trade Center a second time.’ Though the 302 makes no mention of any plane-as-missile scheme, not even the plane-into-CIA idea, Lance concludes that a full-blown 9/11 plot was in the works back in 1994-5 and that Ramzi Yousef was the mastermind. Lance considers this a major ‘intelligence failure’ that was covered up by the 9/11 Commission.

However, almost everything about this account appears to be untrue. I obtained copies of a series of debriefing reports and memos from the PNP’s interrogation of Murad, and found other documents in books, and there is no mention of a multiple simultaneous suicide hijacking plan. In the month Mendoza claims Murad gave up the design, February 1995, the documents show extensive discussion of Murad’s pilot training in the US, and discussion of other Middle Eastern men who were or had been students in the Philippines. Murad also talked about a few Middle Eastern men who were instructors at the US flight school that he attended. There is no mention of suicide hijackers training in the US, and according to the FBI the earliest that any of the alleged 9/11 hijackers travelled to the US was Hani Hanjour in 1996, well over a year after both Murad and Yousef were in custody.

In contrast to the story Mendoza told to Lance the interrogation reports show no substantial difference in the quality of information the PNP got from Murad from the beginning of his interrogation until the end. Within two weeks of being arrested a memo states that the ‘subject was observed to be very co-operative’ and shows that Murad (referred to by his alias Saeed Akman) had given up significant information on Ramzi Yousef (referred to as Abdul Basit), including his involvement in the World Trade Center bombing. As Professor Athey’s essay points out, this also refutes the claim that torture was necessary and effective in the Murad case. Portions of a PNP report based on both analysis of the laptop and interrogations of Murad, cited in Breakdown, show that within days of being arrested he had given up Yousef as the Flight 434 bomber. The report, dated 9th January, is one of only two mentions of the CIA-suicide attack idea, citing a document on the laptop:

A future bombing target to be executed by SAEED AKMAN is principally directed on the CIA headquarters in Langley, VIRGINIA. The document specifically cited the charter service of a commercial type aircraft loaded with powerful bombs to be dive-crashed by SAEED AKMAN. This is apparently intended to demonstrate to the whole world that a Muslim martyr is readying and determined to die for the glorification of Islam. There are no other details on this specific suicide plan.

The only other mention in the documents comes in a debriefing report dated 20th January, which says:

With respect to their plan to dive-crash a commercial aircraft at the CIA Headquarters in Virginia, subject alleged that the idea of doing same came out during his casual conversation with ABDUL BASIT and there is no specific plan yet for its execution. What the subject have in his mind is that he will board any American commercial aircraft and pretending to be an ordinary passenger. Then he will hijack said aircraft, control its cockpit and dive it at the CIA Headquarters. There will be no bomb or any explosive that he will use in its execution. It is simply a suicidal mission that he is very much willing to execute. That all he need is to be able to board the aircraft with a pistol so that he could execute the hijacking.

It is possible that in looking back several years later that Mendoza conflated the details of simultaneous bombings of airliners, Murad’s own flight training and idea of a suicide mission aimed at the CIA building, Middle Eastern instructors at the US flight schools and Middle Eastern students in the Philippines. With a little confusion he could believe that the PNP had uncovered a plan for simultaneous hijackings targeted at US buildings, and of Middle Eastern men training for this terrorist mission in US flight schools. However, the plan to crash a plane into the CIA building, which was widely reported even back in 1995, appears to be based on nothing more than a conversation between Murad and Yousef, probably in room 603. The first of the reports quoted above indicates Murad’s intention to charter a commercial aircraft and load it with explosives, whereas the second invokes the hijacking of a normal passenger aircraft, which shows there was no detailed plan in place in 1995.

The problem for Peter Lance is that he also has copies of these same documents – he mentions Mendoza giving copies to him before he left Manila after their interview for Lance’s first book. So Lance knew that the records of Murad’s interrogation did not match up with the tale Mendoza was telling him about uncovering the 9/11 plot way back in early 1995. Bizarrely, he doesn’t reference or reproduce these reports in any of his books, only his interview with Mendoza and a diagram of the Liberation Army – the same Liberation Army that Murad said was a fictitious organisation. So I think that Lance realised Mendoza was bullshitting but ran with it because it made for a better story. In any case, it’s a good example of Lance’s judgement not being trustworthy. I’ve read a lot of his work and he’s an excellent investigative journalist, but a terrible analyst and quite probably a dishonest man. Keep that in mind for when we look at his book on Ali Mohamed.

The Bojinka Laptop

Also seized in the raid on room 603 was Yousef’s Toshiba laptop, which contained documents detailing not only the plane-into-CIA idea but also the simultaneous airliner bombings plan. The New Jackals describes how the FBI sent their computer expert to the Philippines to make copies of the laptop’s hard drive. The expert had problems with the computer, and rumours were circulating that the CIA had deleted files from it ‘that implicated their agents in Yousef’s campaign’. These rumours became the basis for a defence effort at the Bojinka trial in 1996 to stop the laptop being entered as evidence. They also chime with the allegation that Yousef was in fact recruited by the CIA in the early 1990s, a claim made in Richard Labeviere’s seminal book Dollars for Terror. Labeviere cites a classified FBI file saying that Yousef was recruited by the Agency prior to the WTC bombing, though I’ve obviously never seen that file.

The case against Yousef, Murad and Shah was largely based on the laptop, as both Murad and Yousef had withdrawn their confessions. Filipino investigators testifying as defence witnesses admitted that they had fabricated evidence and reports concerning an attaché case supposedly full of bomb making ingredients. Orlando Ramilo, a bomb disposal expert, ‘testified that the police themselves filled the attache case with items found in the apartment to secure a search warrant.’ Nonetheless, there was no explicit evidence that the computer had been tampered with and so the judge allowed it to be presented to the jury, who subsequently found the trio guilty on September 5th 1996.

Some of the other files discovered on the laptop once again show a lighter side to Yousef’s character. Among the various fake ID’s that Yousef had made for himself was one for Dr Adel Sabah, supposedly a chemical specialist working out of London. The address on the identity card, 93 Sloane Gardens, does not exist, and the date of issue for the card is ‘Feb 26 1993’ – the date of the World Trade Center bombing.

Investigators also found a business card identifying Yousef as an ‘International Terrorist’. One US investigator told Simon Reeve, ‘I almost fell over laughing.’ Yousef even designed a fake wanted poster for Hakim Murad, supposedly put out by the government of Qatar. Murad was pictured wearing an eye patch, identified as ‘Allah Baskhsh Balouch Khan’, an ‘Int. Terrorist and Fugitive’ born on April Fool’s day 1910. The bounty offered was $100 billion.

Bojinka in Context

After Murad’s capture Yousef once again flew to Pakistan, staying in the Su Casa guesthouse in Islamabad. Tying Yousef to the Maktab Al Khidimat (MAK), this was one of several guesthouses owned by Osama Bin Laden that provided a stopping off point for mujahideen on their way to fight in the Afghan war. He checked in under the name ‘Ali Mohammad’, which may or may not be a reference to the real Ali Mohamed. It was at the Su Casa that Yousef was arrested on February 7th by officials of the US Diplomatic Security Service, aided by Pakistani agents. In a bizarre twist, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was also staying at the Su Casa at the time and gave an interview to a journalist for Time magazine describing the takedown.

Also connecting Yousef to the MAK is Mohammed Jamal Khalifa. Khalifa married one of Bin Laden’s sisters, and sat on the board of the International Islamic Relief Organisation (IIRO), one of the various organisations that helped form the MAK. He also founded the Benevolence International Corporation in the Philippines to help recruit soldiers for the Afghan war, and the International Relations and Information Centre (IRIC) which investigators believe was the principal sponsor of Oplan Bojinka. Indeed, the PNP chart reproduced in 1000 Years for Revenge has the IRIC centrally involved in the ‘Liberation Army’. That organisation was fictitious so it remains somewhat unclear just how involved the charities and Khalifa really were in Bojinka.

While Yousef, Murad and Shah were all arrested over their part in the plot, and eventually prosecuted and convicted, once again the institutional network that we woulc come to call ‘Al Qaeda’ was allowed to keep running. A lengthy paper published by the Institute for Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore found that it took the Philippines authorities until six years after the discovery of the Bojinka plot to shut down the IIRO’s office in the country. A ‘senior intelligence official’ complained that, ‘We could not touch the IIRO.’ It wasn’t until 2006, over a decade after the Bojinka plot was foiled, that the US Treasury accused the Philippines and Indonesian offices of the IIRO of ‘bankrolling Al Qaeda’.

Khalifa was targeted by the Blue Marlin intelligence operation and was under surveillance, including phone-taps, for several months in 1994. This put the Philippines authorities onto a Malaysian front company called Konsojaya apparently trading palm oil and honey. The company was founded by the leader of the Indonesian terror gang Jemaah Islamiya, Riduan Isamuddin, also know as Hambali, and Wali Khan Amin Shah was on the board of directors. Hambali was eventually arrested after the August 2003 bombing of the Marriot Hotel in Jakarta, though he is also suspected in the bombings of two nightclubs in Bali the previous October.

Khalifa endured a different fate. He left the Philippines at the end of November 1994, about five weeks before the fire in room 603, and arrived in the US on December 1st. According to Labeviere’s Dollars For Terror this is because the Philippines authorities ‘expedited an expulsion order’ against Khalifa and so he traveled to America ‘with a visa that was delivered with help from the CIA’. Khalifa obtained the visa through the US consulate in Jeddah, the same consulate used by the CIA during the Soviet-Afghan War to grant visas to militants so they could be trained within the United States.

On December 15th 1994 the Philippine intelligence agents working on Blue Marlin issued a report focusing on Khalifa and the charitable organizations and NGOs he was involved with. The report went to national leaders, which presumably included the US as the following day Khalifa was arrested in a hotel in Northern California, not far from where Ali Mohamed was living. The US authorities had plenty to ask him as his business card had turned up in a raid on the Blind Sheikh’s residence in 1993, and Khalifa’s card also turned up in room 603 a few weeks after his arrest. His name was on the list of unindicted co-conspirators in the New York Landmarks plot, and he was arrested with Mohammed Loay Bayazid, the US citizen who wrote the founding Al Qaeda memo in 1988. Khalifa had also been indicted in Jordan for a series of bombings there. A US State Department memo sent to the embassy in Khartoum notifying them of Khalifa’s arrest and apparent terrorist connections says, ‘The USG is seeking to deport Khalifah, possibly to Jordan, but the issue is complicated and remains to be worked out.’

That was in December and by early January 1995 a decision was made to deport Khalifa. This appears to be largely based on his conviction in absentia by a court in Jordan on December 21st but Khalifa was not actually deported until May. For four months he was housed in the San Rita jail, where he contested his deportation and even won a motion to have his seized possessions returned to him. These included phone numbers connecting him to Wali Khan Amin Shah and Ramzi Yousef, as well as manuals in Arabic detailing how to set up a ‘terrorist curriculum’ in the Philippines, including lessons in ‘bomb making and assassination’. During this time he was not interrogated by either the FBI or the CIA, at least not officially, and so whatever he knew about the charities and NGOs of the MAK, or about Ramzi Yousef or Bin Laden, was not obtained by US intelligence agents.

In April a Jordanian appeals court overturned his conviction because a key witness recanted his statement. Khalifa then relented and agreed to be deported to Jordan, which apparently took place in late April-early May. In mid-May the US News and World Report says he was put on, ‘a plane to the Middle East, where he was taken into custody by Jordanian security guards.’ He was then found not guilty at his retrial in July 1995 and left Jordan a free man. The chance to interrogate Khalifa and find out what he knew had gone. Former CIA chief Vincent Cannistraro said at the time, ‘He should never have been allowed to leave US custody’.

However, US Prison records available via Intelwire indicate that he did not leave US custody on May 3rd, but in fact was moved to an unnamed ‘in transit facility’ where he remained until the 31st of August. Whether this is a mistake or whether Khalifa in fact remained in US custody, possibly as an informant, is not clear. The truth may never be known as he, like Edwin Angeles, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen. On January 26th 2007 Interpol issued a bulletin about Khalifa to the FBI, NSA and Department of Homeland Security. A heavily redacted version is available on Intelwire and concerns a, ‘project initiated to proactively target terrorism from captured terrorists.’ Four days later Khalifa was shot dead by a group of 20 to 30 men at a mine he owned in Madagascar, leading to speculation he had been taken out by the US military.

Spies, Lies and Operation Bojinka

So you get the idea – in the Philippines at this time there were real Islamist militant organisations, partly funded by fake charities and front companies. The Bojinka plot was a real plan and attempt to blow up loads of airliners. But the number 2 in the main militant organisation was a spy for Philippines military intelligence, and the guy running the charities and fronts appears to have been an asset of American intelligence. Both ended up being shot dead by mystery gunmen. There may have been other informants within this nexus between Al Qaeda, the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Bojinka plotters, and there are multiple mutually exclusive accounts of the fire that led to the Bojinka plot being busted.

A few more recent events add weight to these suspicions and questions. In July 2000 Senator Aquilino Pimentel, President of the Philippine Senate, gave a speech in which he accused the government of colluding with the Abu Sayyaf Group. Pimentel described the ASG as developing out of the Afghan war, and laid blame not only on members of the Philippines police and military, but also on the CIA.

My information is that the Abu Sayyaf partisans were given military intelligence services IDs, safe-houses, safe-conduct passes, firearms, cell phones and various sorts of financial support…The evidence is now overwhelming – unassailable in my mind – that the CIA was the procreator of the Abu Sayyaf and that some of our own military officers acted as midwives at its delivery.

This speech was followed in the summer of 2003 when a renegade group of Philippines soldiers staged a mutiny. The group of around 300 men, including officers, rigged a hotel and a large shopping mall with explosives, evacuated both buildings and demanded that President Gloria Arroyo resign. Among their grievances was the allegation that officials of the military and the government had carried out an attack in March 2003 on an airport in Davao, as well as other bombings that in total killed 38 people.

A Guardian article, one of very few to pick up on this extraordinary story, states that the ‘suspicions stem from a bizarre incident on May 16 2002 in Davao.’ A US citizen named Michael Meiring was staying in the city when there was an explosion in his hotel room. Meiring was seriously wounded, losing both of his legs in the incident. He claimed that a grenade had been thrown into his room, but an investigation by Philippines authorities found the explosion originated from a bomb in a metal box belonging to Meiring. Hotel employees reportedly said that Meiring had told them not to touch the box, and an ID was found in his room showing him as a member of the Moro National Liberation Front, a rebel group in the Philippines.

Within days of the explosion he was taken from the hospital by men identifying themselves as FBI agents and quickly flown back to the US. Allegations flew about that Meiring was a CIA agent trying to exacerbate tensions in the region to justify the US stationing troops there. In 2004 KHOU TV discovered that Meiring was living in Houston, Texas. When one of their reporters managed to get Meiring on the phone he denied the accusations and refused to comment, though he did say ‘If this harms me in any way, you will find my power then, and you’ll find out who I am. But I will come for you. You harm me I will not let you off the hook.’ To this day there is no report of Meiring being extradited to the Philippines to face criminal charges.

Regarding Lance’s claims that the 9/11 plot was underway back in 1994-95, I can find no substantiation of this. The suicide hijacking part of Bojinka seems to be little more than a conversation between Murad and Ramzi in room 603, there were no Middle Eastern men training at American pilot schools or any of that. The FBI investigated this angle and found nothing and for once I think that’s because there was nothing to find.

However, a number of incidents in the 1970s, 80s and 90s did foreshadow the 9/11 attacks so next week we’re going to take a look at these events, largely ignored by all of the literature on 9/11. While none of them have any simple or direct connection to the 9/11 plot, they are an important part of the background to the military’s apparent failure to stop the planes on the morning of 9/11.

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