Tuesday, March 05, 2002|
U.S. law-enforcement authorities knew as
early as 1995 that Middle Eastern men were training at
American flight schools and had discussed crashing planes into
federal buildings, but did not follow up on the information,
according to documents and interviews with American and
The information came to light during
Filipino police questioning of Ramzi Yousef and Abdul Hakin
Murad, the two men arrested in 1995 after a chemical fire at a
Manila apartment accidentally revealed a major terror plot
with ties to Usama bin Laden.
Murad and Yousef, who also had ties to the
New Jersey-based group of terrorists who bombed the World
Trade Center in 1993, are serving life sentences in the United
States for an elaborate plot to blow up a dozen U.S.
trans-Pacific airliners in one day.
But secret Filipino records, as well as
police and intelligence personnel in that country who spoke to
the Associated Press, indicate that Murad's intentions were
"Murad's idea is that he will board any
American commercial aircraft pretending to be an ordinary
passenger, then he will hijack said aircraft, control its
cockpit and dive it at the CIA headquarters," one Filipino
police report from 1995 said.
"There will be no bomb or any explosive
that he will use in its execution. It is a suicidal mission
that he is very much willing to execute," it
The Filipino authorities said that they
gave the information immediately to the FBI office in Manila,
but that the Americans disregarded the hijacking plans to
focus on the better-developed and more immediately threatening
"We shared that with the FBI," said Robert
Delfin, chief of intelligence command for the Philippine
National Police. "They may have mislooked (sic) and didn't
appreciate the info coming from the Philippine
FBI and other American law-enforcement
officials, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said that
they considered Murad's suicide hijacking idea was half-baked,
and in any case involved taking control of only a small
single-engine plane that could not do much damage.
Murad, who later claimed he was tortured
during his interrogations, also told Filipino authorities how
he and a Pakistani friend had crisscrossed the United States,
attending flight schools in New York, Texas, California and
North Carolina on his way to earning a commercial pilot's
He identified to Filipino police
approximately 10 other Middle Eastern men who met him at the
flight schools or were getting similar training.
One was a Middle Eastern flight instructor
who came to the United States for more training; another a
former soldier in the United Arab Emirates. Others came from
Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
None of the pilots match the names of the
19 hijackers from Sept. 11.
The U.S. officials said the FBI interviewed
people at the flight schools named by Filipino police, but did
not find evidence that any Middle Easterners other than Murad
were plotting anything. With no other evidence to go on, they
took no further action, the officials said.
FBI agents descended upon the flying
schools in 1995, and returned to some of those locations
immediately after Sept. 11.
"There were several of them [Middle Eastern
pilot students] here. At one point three or four were here,"
said Laura Flynn, an assistant manager at Richmore Flight
School in Schenectady, N.Y., where Murad and a friend attended
in the mid-1990s.
"Supposedly they didn't know each other
before, they just happened to show up here at the same time.
But they all obviously knew each other," she said.
Flynn said FBI agents mentioned Murad was
suspected in a bombing plot but did not say anything about a
suicide hijacking. She said agents returned to the school
after Sept. 11 "and asked about any of the foreign people,
pulled some records."
The Filipino police investigation also
uncovered links between Murad and Yousef and a Muslim cleric
from Malaysia who has emerged in the past few months as a key
figure in the investigation of last year's suicide
Authorities in Malaysia have said they
believe the cleric, who goes by the name Hambali, met with two
of the Sept. 11 hijackers in 2000 and may be a central figure
in terrorist groups with links to bin Laden that have emerged
in southeast Asia. Authorities are seeking Hambali's
Delfin, the Filipino police intelligence
officer, said when he saw the Sept. 11 attacks on television,
Murad's disclosures immediately came to mind.
"This is it, this was what Murad was
saying," Delfin said he remarked to other intelligence
Rodolfo Mendoza, the former police
intelligence official who oversaw Murad's interrogations, had
the same reaction.
"It's exactly as what Murad said before, 'I
will hijack a commercial plane and dive crash it,'" he
Murad told authorities he discussed the
suicide hijacking idea with Yousef just a few months before
their arrest and had not yet developed a specific plan,
although they discussed targets like the CIA building and the
Pentagon in the Virginia suburbs of Washington. The Pentagon
was struck Sept. 11.
"I am telling you that I told Basit
[Yousef] that there is a planning, what about we dive to CIA
building," Murad is quoted in one transcript as telling police
interrogators. "He told me OK, we will think about
Filipino police questioned his willingness
to die. "You are willing to die for Allah or for Islamic
[sic]?," one asked.
"Yes," Murad replied.
"Really?" the interrogator asked.
Later Murad offered some insight. "All my
thinking was," he said, "that I should fight the Americans. I
should do something to show them that we are, we could stay in
The Associated Press contributed to