A plan to use suicide pilots against US targets was uncovered as early as six years ago during the investigation that led to the arrest of the alleged mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, a Philippine police official said yesterday.
Chief Superintendent Avelino Razon also said it was "too much coincidence" that Tuesday's attacks using commercial jets as flying bombs was close to the anniversary of the Sept. 5, 1996, conviction of Ramzi Yousef, Abdul Hakim Murad and Wali Khan Amin Shah for a plot to bomb US airliners in 1995.
Murad was arrested in Manila in January 1995 after fire broke out in an apartment he shared with fellow Pakistani Yousef, the alleged mastermind of the 1993 bombing that killed six people and injured 1,000 others. Shah says he is Saudi Arabian with links to Afghanistan.
Razon, then commander for special operations of the Presidential Security Group providing security for the visit of Pope John Paul II that began days after Murad's arrest, said he was captured after he returned to his apartment to dispose of bomb-making materials. Yousef was captured in Pakistan.
"When we interrogated Murad, he mentioned that he was a skilled pilot, trained in the US, in Afghanistan and also here in the Philippines, who was recruited to undertake a suicide mission," Razon said.
"He was committed to ... fly a plane and ram it into some targets," Razon said, adding that information from a laptop computer seized from Murad indicated one target was CIA headquarters. "There was mention of about a dozen" trained pilots to be recruited for such attacks.
"I didn't imagine that they would ram a 757 aircraft into the World Trade Center. I thought the suicide mission [would involve] a Cessna light aircraft loaded with several kilos of explosives, like a Japanese Kamikaze World War II pilot diving into a target," he said.
He said the investigation started with reports on threats to the pope that led to Murad and the discovery of an international terrorist cell in the Philippines that also "had plans to bomb US aircraft and the US CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.''
Yousef and his group allegedly planned to bomb 11 US commercial aircraft under "Project Bojinka." But Murad's arrest foiled the plan, Razon said.
Prosecutors in the US trial of Yousef, Murad and Shah said the bombings would have killed 4,000 people in planes flying to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu and New York, and were aimed at forcing the US to pull out of the Middle East and stop supporting Israel.
The three men were convicted of all charges. Yousef also was found guilty of killing a man with a bomb on a Philippines Airlines jet in 1994 that prosecutors said was a test run for the plot.
Prosecutors said the plot was hatched in the Philippines, where Yousef had turned his Manila apartment into a bomb factory.
"I believe there are still remnants [of the terrorist cell] and we should be vigilant," Razon said.
"My concern is we should as a nation draw lessons from this ... we cannot say that this can only happen to the US ... "
In other developments, a for-mer pilot with Afghanistan's national carrier was quoted as saying yesterday that he had helped train 14 Islamic militants to fly civilian aircraft.
The London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper quoted the pilot as saying from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan that the trainees had left the country nearly one year ago to undisclosed locations after completing their training.
The paper did not say if the trainees were among the hijackers who slammed commercial aircraft into the Pentagon in Washington and the World Trade Center in New York on Tuesday.
It said the young trainees were Pakistanis, Afghans and Arab nationals. Some carried European passports and spoke fluent English.
VITAL INDUSTRY: A war in the Strait would be a catastrophe, as Taiwan ‘lies at the heart’ of the world’s semiconductor industry, the magazine’s report said The government yesterday welcomed international attention on Taiwan’s security, saying that China is to blame for threatening regional stability, after a report by The Economist called Taiwan “the most dangerous place on Earth.” The report is featured on the cover of the magazine’s latest issue, which depicts the nation as the epicenter of a US-China rivalry. The cover shows Taiwan in a radar display with dots crossing the Taiwan Strait accompanied by a Chinese flag and dots nearing the east coast with a US flag. The US maintains a “one China” policy, while maintaining relations with Taiwan, but such “strategic ambiguity is breaking
HIGH-RISK GROUP: After the latest outbreak, family members of workers exposed to infection would from tomorrow be eligible for government-funded vaccines The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday reported four local COVID-19 cases: three family members of an infected worker at a quarantine hotel and a family member of an infected pilot. The new cases bring the number of infections involving China Airlines Ltd (中華航空) pilots and the Novotel Taipei Taoyuan International Airport hotel, where many of the airline’s crew members quarantined, to 24. Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, said three of them are the husband, son and daughter of case No. 1,129, a woman in her 60s, who works at the hotel. The son is in
NEXT STEP? The contract chipmaker said it would decide whether to add more plants based on operation efficiency, cost economics and demand Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC, 台積電) is planning to build several more chipmaking fabs in the US state of Arizona beyond the one already planned, three people familiar with the matter said. TSMC, the world’s largest contract chipmaker, announced in May last year that it would build a US$12 billion fab in Arizona. The 12-inch wafer fab in Phoenix is expected to start mass production in 2024, the Investment Commission said in December, when it approved the plan. Three sources familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media, said that up
VIRUS CURBS: Visiting people staying at healthcare and long-term care facilities in Taipei, New Taipei City and Taoyuan is banned until May 17, the CECC announced The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday banned visits to patients or residents at healthcare and long-term care facilities in three cities until May 17. It also reported six imported cases of COVID-19 and two cases with unclear infection sources. As the number of locally transmitted cases rises, some of whom have visited many places in Taipei, New Taipei City and Taoyuan, enhanced disease prevention measures have to be implemented in the three cities, said Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center. “Visiting people staying at healthcare and long-term care facilities in Taipei, New Taipei City and