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Thursday, July 22, 2004

KSM Confession Contradicts Previous Intel On Abdul Hakim Murad Role In Bojinka Conspiracy

By J.M. Berger

The interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has produced intelligence that appears to contradict previous U.S. government claims regarding a thwarted plot to bomb U.S. airliners over the Pacific Ocean.

The new intelligence relates to Abdul Hakim Murad, who was convicted of conspiring with Ramzi Yousef to bomb U.S. airliners over the Pacific Ocean in the plot, known as "Operation Bojinka."

A predecessor to the September 11 attacks, the Bojinka plot was constructed from November 1994 through January 1995, the exact period that convicted Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols took an unusual trip to Philippines.

Trial testimony and witness accounts have raised the possibility that Nichols may have been booked on one of the specific flights targeted by the Bojinka conspiracy.

According to a footnote in the final report of the 9/11 Commission, released Thursday, Khalid Shaikh told interrogators that Murad was not one of the operatives scheduled to take part in the Bojinka plot.

According to the 9/11 Commisison, "KSM has said that Murad's role was limited to carrying (a) $3,000 (payment to Yousef) from Dubai to Manila."

Murad was convicted for his role in the Bojinka conspiracy after a 1996 trial. Part of the evidence used against him in trial was a confession Murad made while in the custody of Philippines authorities. Murad argued in trial and on appeal that the confession was coerced by torture, and therefore inadmissable.

His attorneys argued that Murad was so psychologically scarred by the torture that he would confess to whatever his captors wanted, while in the custody of Filipino authorities and subsequently while in the custody of the FBI.

As an example of Murad's willingness to confess to anything, defense attorneys cited the defendant's confession that he and Yousef had been involved in the Oklahoma City bombing. That confession was made to the FBI shortly after the bombing, which occurred while Murad and Yousef were already in custody.

The appeals court ruled that there was no evidence to support the torture claim, and ruled that other evidence presented at trial was sufficient to convict even in the absence of the Philippines confession.

The new intelligence, which Khalid Shaikh provided under interrogation by U.S. authorities, contradicts the contents of the Philippines confession.

After the Manila plot was exposed, Murad was arrested, in January 1995. According to the 9/11 Commission:

Yousef managed to escape to Pakistan, but his accomplice, Murad -- whom KSM claims to have sent to Yousef with $3,000 to help fund the operation -- was arrested and disclosed details of the plot while under interrogation.

Contrary to Murad's confession, in which he described his intended role as one of the five operatives who would plant bombs on board the targeted aircraft, KSM has said that Murad's role was limited to carrying the $3,000 from Dubai to Manila.
There is no immediately apparent reason for Khalid to misrepresent this issue, since Murad is already serving a life sentence for the crime. The 9/11 Commission simply discounted KSM's confession in its report.

This aspect of KSM's account is not credible, as it conflicts not just with Murad's confession but also with physical evidence tying Murad to the very core of the plot, and with KSM's own statements elsewhere that Murad was involved in planning and executing the operation.
While the evidence does indeed strongly suggest that Murad was a central player in the Bojinka plot, the specific question of whether he was scheduled as one of the five bomber operatives is not merely academic.

For one thing, the information could form the basis for a new appeal of Murad's conviction, since the intelligence directly pertains to a key defense claim and appears to be exculpatory in nature.

The information is also important to efforts to reconstruct the Bojinka plot. Such efforts are important to the prevention of future terrorist attacks. In addition, the specifics of Bojinka may have a bearing on the investigation of possible al Qaeda links to the Oklahoma City bombing.

According to records found on Yousef's laptop computer, five terrorist operatives were scheduled to plant timer-controlled bombs on 11 different flights, disembarking from the flights before detonation during scheduled layovers.

The operatives were identified by code names on the computer, and there are conflicting accounts about which name was intended applied to which operative. Authorities have never conclusively identified all the operatives, even assuming Murad was scheduled to be one of them.

Murad's confession did not tally to the flights listed on Yousef's computer. Murad told the FBI that he had been scheduled to be on at least one flight with the final destination of San Francisco, which potentially corresponded with the operative code name Zyed or another code named Mirqas.

Zyed was scheduled to bomb Northwest Flight 30 from Manila to Los Angeles, with a layover in Seoul. Zyed was scheduled to disembark in Seoul, then bomb two more flights.

According to trial testimony, Terry Nichols left the U.S. for the Philippines on Nov. 22, 1994, on a standard 60-day visa which would have expired on Jan. 21, 1995, the same day Project Bojinka was scheduled to launch.

In November 1994, when boarding his flight for the Philippines, Nichols was almost stopped at the gate when U.S. airport security discovered he was carrying two stun guns on his person, according to an account by his ex-wife Lana Padilla.

In late 1994, Yousef and Khalid Shaikh flew several test runs in which they measured airline security by smuggling various Bojinka components onto plane, according to previously leaked accounts of Khalid's interrogations.

Nichols flew back to the U.S. on Northwest Airlines. INTELWIRE has not been able to confirm his flight number, but the flight arrived in the U.S. in Los Angeles, Calif., consistent with Bojinka's Flight 30, according to court testimony.

Nichols then took a connecting flight to Las Vegas, his final destination.

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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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