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News, documents and analysis on violent extremism


Saturday, December 23, 2006
 

Latest OKC Bombing Probe Finds New Ramzi Yousef Leads, But No Smoking Gun

By J.M. Berger
INTELWIRE.com


A new Congressional report outlines additional -- but still circumstantial -- links between Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols and World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef.

NEW STORY

Document: McVeigh called Strassmeir weeks before
A new FBI document reveals a tipoff further linking Timothy McVeigh to a German member of a white separatist group. The FBI record says a member of the Aryan Republican Army bank robbery gang volunteered the information in June 1996.

Titled "The Oklahoma City Bombing: Was There A Foreign Connection?," the investigation was conducted by the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee, at the request of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. The report is scheduled for its formal release next week. (Click here for full text.)

Update 1/05/07: According to a disclaimer posted on the Web page of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, who led the investigation, "this report reflects the views of (the subcommittee chairman) and its investigators, and has not been approved by a vote of the subcommittee or the full International Relations Committee." End update.

The report was provided to INTELWIRE by attorney Jesse Trentadue, who has been pursuing new information on the case through Freedom of Information Act requests and other means (link). Trentadue said he seriously questioned the report's focus on possible connections to Islamic extremists, but said it clearly illustrates the Justice Department's unwillingness to cooperate with investigations of the Oklahoma City bombing.

Trentadue's investigation has focused on connections between Timothy McVeigh, Nichols and domestic extremists, including a German national tied to McVeigh by phone records. The report broke little new ground on this front, and neglected some existing reports based on court records, but it did identify several areas in which the FBI's investigation was found to be lacking.

The report yielded a number of new fragments of information, many of which are suggestive of a broader conspiracy in the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred E. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, but none of which are entirely conclusive.

According to the report, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating told investigators that President Bill Clinton's first comment to him after the bombing was, "God, I hope there's no Middle Eastern connection to this."

The report focused on three main issues:

  • Whether Terry Nichols met Ramzi Yousef during the period both men were in Cebu City, the Philippines.
  • Whether Nichols and McVeigh were connected to a German national named Andreas Strassmeir who was linked to domestic white supremacist organizations.
  • Whether the FBI made an adequate investigation of eyewitness reports linking McVeigh to other individuals around the time of the bombing. Some of those reports generated a composite sketch of a suspect known as "John Doe #2."

In large part, the report reiterates the findings of previous investigations and media reports (see INTELWIRE reports OKBOMB.com, Al Qaeda and OKC and Did Yousef and Nichols Meet?).

The report did find significant new clues that suggest a link between Terry Nichols and Ramzi Yousef, including material gleaned from a review of Yousef's phone records. But it stopped short of saying a connection can be proven.


YOUSEF AND NICHOLS

It has long been known that Terry Nichols and Ramzi Yousef were both in the Philippines in late 1994 and early 1995. Nichols married a Filipina in 1991. They were in the same town, Cebu City, on at least one occasion and visited some of the same locations.

INTELWIRE previously reported that Nichols was scheduled to fly back to the United States on the same day that Yousef planned to bomb a dozen U.S.-bound airliners. An examination of court records and eyewitness accounts strongly suggests that Nichols would have been traveling on one of the same air routes Yousef had targeted.

As part of the plot, a team of terrorist bombers were to board flights with connections, plant small liquid bombs on the planes, then disembark at the connection. The bombs were to be detonated with timers after the bombers had disembarked (link).

The Rohrabacher investigation did not address these points, but did uncover some new information about where and when the travels of Yousef and Nichols appear to have overlapped, as well as more specific information regarding previous reports.

For instance, although previous reports had indicated that Nichols brought a book on explosives to the Philippines during one of his frequent visits to the family of his Filipina wife, the committee investigation reported that title of the book was The Chemistry of Powder and Explosives.

What the report does not mention is that handwritten notes taken from Ramzi Yousef's apartment in the Philippines, dated around the period Nichols was in the country, appear to have used the same book as a reference source.

A spiral notebook found in Yousef's apartment in January 1995 contained notes in Arabic concerning the melting temperature of chemicals used in improvised explosives.

During Yousef's 1995 trial for a plot to bomb U.S. airliners, defense attorneys cited that passage from the notebook and argued that it had been lifted from The Chemistry of Powder and Explosives, a fairly well-known text in the field of explosives composition.

The Subcommittee report also found that Ramzi Yousef called the number of an apartment in New York City, whose inhabitant was a friend and neighbor to relatives of Terry Nichols' wife.

According to the report:

...Ramzi Yousef's phone records, from the months before he detonated the first World Trade Center bomb in early 1993, show calls placed to the Filipina neighbor and close friend of Terry Nichols' in-laws in Queens, New York. The opportunity for interaction between American terrorist, Nichols, and al-Qaeda terrorist, Yousef, is evident. The actual proven link, however, is elusive.

The report further stated:

Ramzi Yousef was in the United States for about five months prior to his attack on the World Trade Center in February 1993. His cell phone records from that time period show that he placed three phone calls to the residence of a Filipina in Queens, New York named Mila Densing, with one call lasting approximately 30 minutes. At the time of the phone calls, Densing was living in the same row-house apartment building as Adora and Ernesto Malaluan, close friends and neighbors, who were also from Cebu City. Ernesto Malaluan is the cousin of Marife Nichols and owned the boarding house in Cebu City where Terry and Marife lived during their last trip to the Philippines.

The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee interviewed Ernesto and Adora Malaluan, who said they knew nothing about Ramzi Yousef or any of the aliases he used while in the United States. Mila Densing denied speaking to Yousef according to a source of the subcommittee, but she was unresponsive to official efforts to reach her, including certified mail sent by the subcommittee and numerous phone calls.

As Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee in October 2005, I (Rohrabacher) provided the FBI with the evidence showing Yousef's phone calls to the close friends and neighbors of Terry Nichols' in-laws in Queens, but have not received a response that addressed these facts. To date, the FBI has not responded to my request for their assessment. Additionally, I asked the FBI for information from their Yousef investigation concerning Mila Densing. Inexplicably, they do not seem to have interviewed her.

What the report omits is that Nichols made several phone calls to the Malaluan boarding house after he returned to the United States.

Court records indicated that Terry and Marife Nichols had stayed in an apartment connected to a Cebu lumberyard during Terry Nichols' final visit to the Philippines. The report does not address the conflict between those records and the claim cited above that the couple lived in the Malaluan boarding house during this period.

Phone records indicate that Nichols made numerous calls to both the lumberyard and the boarding house after returning to the United States in January 1995. (Marife Nichols remained in the Philippines for several weeks after Terry Nichols returned.)

The report adds a new possible connection. According to the report, Yousef may have stayed at the Sundowner Hotel in Cebu between December 1994 and January 1995, a period during which Nichols was also in Cebu.

The Sundowner Hotel was the same location where Nichols met his wife years earlier, according to the report. The hotel was the location of Shelton Paradise Tours (also known as Paradise Shelton Tours), a "mail order bride" company used by Nichols to meet his wife.

JOHN DOE #2

The report reviews previously published information about a never-apprehended suspect in the bombing known as John Doe No. 2, from the designation on an FBI composite sketch. The FBI subsequently ruled that the suspect had never existed.

Without offering specific new details, the report says the FBI failed to investigate eyewitness accounts of the John Doe 2 sightings, including accounts claimed by reporter Jayna Davis and reports specifically pertaining to an Iraqi national, Hussain Al-Hussaini, identified by Davis as a match to the police sketch.

The report said the link between Hussaini and John Doe #2 was inconclusive (as was virtually all the information cited in the report), but it stated that the FBI had not sufficiently investigated the situation. According to the report:

...Hussain Al-Hussaini was one of a group of Iraqis hired to do odd jobs for a Palestinian landlord, Samir Khalil, who owned properties throughout the area. Khalil hired the Iraqi newcomers, supposedly refugees from the first Gulf War, to maintain his rental properties. Khalil, an Oklahoma City businessman, himself served time for insurance fraud in the early 1990s. Hussaini resembles John Doe Two and was identified by witnesses on the scene. Adding to the suspicion, Hussain al Hussani was less than forthcoming about his whereabouts the morning of the bombing. His alibi, brought out in civil court depositions, is contradictory and unconvincing. One more disturbing revelation of this investigation is that Hussain Al-Hussaini was never interviewed by federal law enforcement.

More alarming is the discovery of a published list of un-indicted coconspirators from the first World Trade Center bombing that includes the name Samir Khalil. This subcommittee asked the Department of Justice to determine if the man's name on the un-indicted coconspirators World Trade Center bombing list is the same man in Oklahoma City. A letter responding to this request stated that such a task would be too "burdensome." This unwillingness on the part of the Justice Department to look into a possible solid link between the Oklahoma City bombing and the first World Trade Center attack is extremely disappointing, bordering on dereliction of duty.


To this day, federal law enforcement cannot explain what, if anything was done to examine these possible links or scrutinize Khalil's activity related to terrorism in his hometown. Justice officials should at least show some curiosity about the subcommittee's request as to whether there is circumstantial evidence linking two major domestic terrorist attacks. As a result, our investigation into this matter is incomplete.

ANDREAS STRASSMEIR AND DOMESTIC LINKS

The report looked into a possible link between Timothy McVeigh and Andreas Strassmeir, a German national with ties to white supremacist organizations around the country. This portion of the report largely reiterated previously published material (link)

A few new details emerged, however. "Nichols suggested that McVeigh often talked of his good friend 'Andy the German,'" the report said, without further elaboration. The report glossed over court records concerning ATF informant Carol Howe (link) who told her handler before the Oklahoma City bombing that Strassmeir was planning to bomb federal buildings.

The report also contained errors regarding Strassmeir. For instance, the report cited the German's membership in the Texas Light Infantry Brigade, which it referred to as "a Civil War reenactment group." In fact, FBI documents (link) reveal the group was a white supremacist militia organization with a number of possible connections to other suspected Oklahoma City plotters.

The report did offer a possible new verification of the association between McVeigh and Strassmeir:

...Kathy Sanders, the grandmother of two young Oklahoma City bombing victims and author of the book After Oklahoma City, notified the Subcommittee of two witnesses who placed Timothy McVeigh and Andreas Strassmeir together. Catina Lawson told the Subcommittee that she had gone to a party with Timothy McVeigh and that they ran into Andreas Strassmeir and it was clear McVeigh knew him. Lawson's mother told the Subcommittee that Strassmeir and McVeigh together visited her home. According to Sanders, the older Lawson, without prompting, picked Strassmeir's picture out of a batch of photos shown to her. Catina Lawson says she does not remember McVeigh and Strassmeir being at her house together. While Lawson and her mother are credible witnesses, neither daughter nor mother corroborate each other's eyewitness account.

The report concluded that the investigation of Strassmeir was insufficient.

For nearly a year after the bombing, the FBI did not interview Strassmeir. Only when he had fled the country was he queried briefly on the phone by the FBI. The agents apparently accepted his denial of any relationship with McVeigh, and there is no evidence of any further investigation into this possible link.

The report also addressed previously published information which suggests McVeigh was connected to a group of white supremacist bank robbers known as the Midwest Bank Robbers or the Aryan Republican Army.

According to the report, all surviving members of the group who could be found for interviews "denied knowing Timothy McVeigh or having any part of the Oklahoma City bombing, though their stories have been questionable and murky through the last decade. They also denied any knowledge of a relationship between Strassmeir and McVeigh."

Richard Guthrie, an ARA member, committed suicide in prison shortly after his arrest, even as he claimed that he would reveal information about the Oklahoma City bombing. According to the report:

Richard Guthrie had claimed that he would soon be revealing information that would blow the lid off the Oklahoma City bombing case. The next day, he was found dead, hanging in his cell, purportedly a suicide. This suspicious "suicide" mirrored the similar death of (Kenneth) Trentadue, another prisoner, who may have been tangentially and incorrectly linked to the Oklahoma City bombing. The death of these two prisoners, who happened to be very similar in appearance, is more than disturbing.

Kenneth Trentadue was the brother of Jesse Trentadue. For more on that case, click here.

One surviving member of the ARA could not be located, the report said. Investigators found that Kevin McCarthy was a participant in the witness protection program.

The subcommittee's unsuccessful yet repeated attempts to reach Kevin McCarthy created more unanswered questions. Law enforcement officials told subcommittee staff that, after serving 5 years in federal prison for his role in the robberies, McCarthy was released on probation and returned to his native Philadelphia. However, a federal probation officer in Philadelphia could find no record of McCarthy in the federal probation system. A confidential law enforcement source informed the subcommittee that McCarthy was in some type of federal witness protection program and even located him living in Newtown, Pennsylvania. When pressed for details a week later, this same source told staff that he could no longer help with this matter and that it was "above his pay grade."

To further attempt to locate McCarthy, the subcommittee chairman contacted the head of the Department of Justice's federal witness protection program. The official confirmed that McCarthy had, in the past, been in the system but that he no longer was. The subcommittee also discovered, through a private source, that McCarthy is no longer attached to the Social Security Number he had at the time of entry into the federal prison system. These facts raise questions about whether McCarthy is, in fact, still under some sort of federal protection as well as why the Department of Justice was unable or unwilling to help find him.

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT FAILINGS

The most definitive conclusion of the Subcommittee investigation was that the FBI and Justice Department seemed unwilling or unable to cooperate with investigators.

Federal law enforcement has been accused of an institutional mind-set that congressional oversight is a nuisance to be avoided or blocked. That mind-set was painfully obvious during this Subcommittee's inquiry into the Oklahoma City bombing. If the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee was successful, it should have resulted in a positive affirmation of federal law enforcement's willingness to find and share vital information. Instead, Justice Department officials (and perhaps, the CIA) were less than responsive in crucial stages of this investigation, exemplifying needless defensiveness. Most of the official narrative of the OKBOMB investigation survives close scrutiny. However, this inquiry would have been significantly more complete with greater cooperation from federal law enforcement. Congressional investigators should not face such resistance in doing their job, which is to find the facts and determine the truth.

The report cited specific failings in the initial investigation as well:

  • The FBI was not justified in calling off any further investigation into John Doe Two.
  • The FBI did not thoroughly investigate the potential involvement of Andreas Strassmeir and Hussain al-Hussaini, et. al. despite evidence showing they may have played a role.
  • Authorities erred in allowing Timothy McVeigh to move forward the time of his execution while major questions remained about whether others were involved in the crime.
  • The DoJ has not seriously examined new information uncovered by this subcommittee. Specifically: phone records from Ramzi Yousef to a friend of Nichols' in-laws as well as the name Samir Khalil appearing on an unindicted coconspirators World Trade Center bombing list.

The report concluded:

We have found no conclusive evidence of a foreign connection, but there remain questions that need to be answered before this final chapter can justifiably be closed. This investigation determined that many pieces of so-called evidence backing various theories of a foreign involvement were not based in fact. In some instances, our own research is inconclusive. Specifically, Hussaini and Strassmeir, as well as the Yousef phone calls, needed more investigatory attention. The Subcommittee is dismayed that there remains a lack of willingness to examine legitimate issues. The overall assessment is inconclusive on the varied theories.

The full text of the report follows:

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Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.


     



     

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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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