Philippines: U.S. missed 9/11 clues years ago
Allegation follows congressional report faulting spy agencies
From Maria Ressa
MANILA, Philippines (CNN) – CNN has obtained documents showing a Philippine police report about the terrorist plot of September 11, 2001 that was given to the FBI in 1995 and the U.S. agency's summary document of the report, which left out any mention of the plot.
Philippine authorities said the United States did not take their information seriously. The documents come on the heels of a congressional report that indicates the U.S. intelligence community missed several clues that could have added up to the terrorist plot before the attacks. (Full story)
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of those attacks and the highest-ranking al Qaeda operative in custody, told his U.S. interrogators that planning for the attacks on New York and Washington began in 1994 in the Philippine capital.
In the mid-1990s, Mohammed, who had become al Qaeda's third-highest-ranking leader by the time he was arrested in 2003, lived in an apartment in Manila. (Mohammed profile)
Mohammed told his U.S. interrogators that he and his nephew, Ramzi Yousef -- who is serving a life sentence for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing -- began plotting what would become the September 11 attacks seven years earlier.
Test runs in the Philippines
In 1994, the two tested airport security -- Mohammed on a flight from Manila to Seoul, South Korea; Yousef on a flight from Hong Kong to Taipei, Taiwan.
Mohammed told authorities that the two men converted 14 bottles of contact lens solution into bombs by replacing their contents with an inexpensive liquid explosive readily available in the Philippines.
In place of a detonator, Mohammed said, he taped a metal bolt to the arch of his foot. He then wore jewelry and clothing with metal to confuse airport security.
He said he and Yousef placed condoms in their bags to support their cover story that they were traveling to meet women.
Later that same year, Yousef would plant and explode a bomb on a Philippine Airlines flight during another test run. He had boarded a jet in Manila under an assumed name, planted the device under a seat and left the aircraft during a layover. The bomb exploded during the next leg of the flight, killing one passenger and injuring 10 others, but the plane remained intact and made an emergency landing in Japan.
The two were set to carry out a plot to bomb 11 U.S.-bound airliners over the Pacific in a 48 hour span -- attacks that the FBI estimates would have killed 4,000 people.
Those attacks were prevented when an accidental fire in their safe house apartment led to their cell being broken up.
Authorities searching Yousef's laptop computer found detailed plans to blow up the airliners -- including flight numbers and schedules, and bombmaking formulas.
Mohammed was indicted in the United States in 1996 for his alleged involvement in that conspiracy. That indictment landed him on the FBI's list of 22 Most-Wanted Terrorists, issued in October 2001.
Only one member of the cell was arrested in the raid: Abdul Hakim Murad, Yousef's classmate, who had trained as a commercial pilot at four aviation schools in the United States.
Col. Rodolfo Mendoza, a counterterroism expert with the Philippines police, interrogated Murad and discovered what he believes is the blueprint for September 11.
In addition, the plots uncovered in Manila included one to assassinate the U.S. president and plans to attack nuclear power plants.
"They had a plan to crash the airplane -- the commercial jetliner -- into the specific target," Mendoza said. "They have done it after seven years. So I believe all these plans, old plans, are supposed to be executed."
The 1995 report listed the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as targets.
Philippine authorities say all the information they discovered was handed over to the FBI.
Top al Qaeda figure
Mohammed told interrogators that the 1995 operation was his first for al Qaeda.
Born in Kuwait in either March 1964 or April 1965, Mohammed's al Qaeda roots run deep and wide
Through the years, he passed along the lessons he learned to agents he controlled, including so-called millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam and shoe bomber Richard Reid.
Ressam, 34, has been convicted of conspiracy to detonate a suitcase bomb at Los Angeles International Airport on New Year's Eve of 1999. He is awaiting sentencing. Reid pleaded guilty to trying to blow up an airliner with explosives concealed in his shoes, and in February was sentenced to life in prison.
The United States accuses Mohammed of being involved in planning large-scale al Qaeda operations, from the bombing of the USS Cole in a Yemeni harbor in 2000 to the bombing of the bar frequented by westerners in Bali, Indonesia, last year.
Al Qaeda expert Rohan Gunaratna said Mohammed ordered the killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped in Pakistan in 2002 while researching an article and later found dead.
Al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah, who is in U.S. custody, has named Mohammed as a key financial figure in the September 11 attacks.