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Context of 'Before January 6, 1995: Bojinka Plotters under Surveillance, But Most Will Evade Arrest'

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Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, is monitored while living in the Philippines. The former head of Philippine military intelligence chief will later say that Khalifa was monitored starting in the late 1980s. (Zamora 9/20/2001) The surveillance intensifies when investigator Rodolfo Mendoza begins an invetigation into foreign terrorist connections in the Philippines in 1994. He will later say that the report is based on “hundreds of wiretaps and countless man-hours of surveillance… In 1994 up to 1995, my unit [tracked] Khalifa [with] tight investigation and surveillance.” Mendoza believes Khalifa is running a front to fund the training of fighters for the Abu Sayyaf and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and submits a secret report about this on December 15, 1994 (see December 15, 1994). (CNN 11/24/2004) Philippine and US officials will later assert that there is evidence of contact in the mid-1990s between Khalifa and WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef. (Weaver 5/1996) Phone taps from Khalifa’s offices will lead to Konsonjaya, a front company financing the Bojinka plot, which could kill thousands (see June 1994). By December, Tariq Javed Rana, another apparent Bojinka plotter, is also being monitored (see December 1994-April 1995), as are other Bojinka plotters such as Yousef (see Before January 6, 1995). The Bojinka plot will be foiled days before it is to be implemented, apparently after police deliberately set a fire in Ramzi Yousef’s apartment to provide an excuse to look around (see January 6, 1995).

A suspected terrorism financier enters the US with apparent CIA help. Philippines investigators had begun monitoring and investigating Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, earlier in 1994 (see 1994). (Ressa 2003) According to a 1999 book by Richard Labeviere, near the conclusion of this investigation, the Philippine government expedites an order expelling Khalifa from the country. Khalifa gets a visa to the US through the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with the help of the CIA. The CIA had a history of using that consulate to give US visas to radical Muslim militants dating back to the 1980s (see September 1987-March 1989). (Labeviere 1999, pp. 365; Elegant 10/27/2003) Another account claims his visa “was issued, despite his notoriety, because of a computer error.” When he applied for the visa in August 1994, the address he gave was that of the bin Laden family company. (Lief 5/15/1995) He enters the US on December 1. The report detailing his terrorist connections is released on December 15 (see December 15, 1994). The next day, Khalifa is arrested in the US (see December 16, 1994-May 1995). (Lief 5/15/1995)

News reports will later reveal that a Philippine government undercover operative working with the Philippine militant group Abu Sayyaf was deeply involved in the Bojinka plot, an early version of the 9/11 plot. Edwin Angeles, an uncover operative so deeply imbedded in Abu Sayyaf that he was actually the group’s second in command, gave up his cover in February 1995 (see Early February 1995), weeks after the Bojinka plot was foiled (see January 6, 1995). In 1996, the New York Times will report that according to US investigators, “Angeles said he worked alongside [Ramzi] Yousef as he planned the details of the [Bojinka] plot.” (Kocieniewski 8/30/1996) The Advertiser, an Australian newspaper, reports that after giving up his cover, Angeles reveals that Abdurajak Janjalani, the leader of Abu Sayyaf, and Abu Sayyaf generally, had a “far greater role in the plot to assassinate the Pope and blow up the US airliners than foreign intelligence agencies had previously thought. He said he had met Yousef several times in the Manila flat…” Unlike the New York Times, which only reported that Angeles switched sides in February 1995, the Advertiser notes that “many people believe” Angeles “was a military-planted spy” all along. (Murdoch 6/3/1995) This will be confirmed in later news reports, and in fact Angeles secretly had worked for Philippine intelligence since the formation of Abu Sayyaf in 1991 (see 1991-Early February 1995). It is not clear what Angeles may have told his government handlers while the Bojinka plot was in motion, if anything.

The Josefa apartment, where the fire that foiled the Bojinka plot took place.The Josefa apartment, where the fire that foiled the Bojinka plot took place. [Source: CBC]It has widely been reported that the Bojinka plot was stopped by pure accident, days before plots to kill the Pope and thousands of airline passengers were to go forward (see January 6, 1995). Philippine policewoman Aida Fariscal is said to have made the first arrest by responding to a routine report of a fire in the Manila apartment where some of the plotters were staying. She chases Bojinka plotter Abdul Hakim Murad down the street and arrests him when he trips on a tree stump. (Brzezinski 12/30/2001) However, shortly after 9/11, the Philippine press will report that while the initial arrest may have been coincidental, Philippine intelligence was already monitoring Ramzi Yousef and the apartment where the fire took place. Rolando San Juan was reportedly an undercover agent monitoring Yousef and his apartment mate Murad. He was passing what he learned to his brother Erick San Juan, a special intelligence officer. One article concludes, “The role of the San Juan brothers is not known publicly and it is time the Philippine and US governments give them due credit for the unmasking of the activities of Murad and Yousef leading to their capture.” (Europa 10/11/2001) In 2002, the Los Angeles Times will discount the widely reported accidental fire story and say, “The truth about that night and the fire, officials say now, is a bit more complicated.… Government officials now say police, worried about the pope’s imminent arrival, 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.” (McDermott 9/1/2002) It will also be later revealed that an undercover operative named Edwin Angeles actually worked with Yousef on the Bojinka plot while reporting to the Philippine government (see Late 1994-January 1995)), and other key Bojinka plotters such as Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, and Tariq Javid Rana were under intensive surveillance before the fire as well (see December 1, 1994 and December 1994-April 1995). It is not known what US intelligence may have been told about this surveillance, if anything. Despite all this surveillance, all the Bojinka plotters except Murad manage to escape, although many, such as Yousef, are arrested later (see February 7, 1995).

Ramzi Yousef apprehended.Ramzi Yousef apprehended. [Source: Public domain]Ramzi Yousef is arrested in Pakistan, in a safe house owned by Osama bin Laden (see February 1992-February 7, 1995). At the time, Yousef’s uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is staying in the same building and brazenly gives an interview to Time magazine as “Khalid Sheikh,” describing Yousef’s capture. (Lance 2003, pp. 328) Yousef had recruited Istaique Parker to implement a limited version of Operation Bojinka, but Parker got cold feet and instead turned in Yousef (see February 3-7, 1995). (Lance 2003, pp. 284-85) Robert I. Friedman, writing for New York magazine, will later report that at this time the CIA “fought with the FBI over arresting Yousef in Pakistan—the CIA reportedly wanted to continue tracking him—and President Clinton was forced to intervene.” (Friedman 3/17/1995) Yousef is rendered to the US the next day and makes a partial confession while flying there (see February 8, 1995).

Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) tells US interrogators that Abdul Hakim Murad, along with KSM a key conspirator in the Bojinka plot, only had a small role in the operation, according to the 9/11 Commission. The Commission will cite four intelligence reports, drafted on February 19 (two), February 24, and April 2, 2004, as the source of this claim. According to KSM, Murad’s only role in the plot was to courier $3,000 from Dubai to Manila. However, other evidence indicates Murad was much more significantly involved in the plot (see Before January 6, 1995 and January 6, 1995). The Commission will comment, “This aspect of KSM’s account is not credible, as it conflicts not just with Murad’s own confession [note: this may be unreliable as Murad was tortured (see After January 6, 1995)] 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.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 489)


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