(STAR) - PHILLIPINES -- The use of hijacked commercial planes to attack key structures in the US was hatched in the Philippines by the men of Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden in 1994.
Sources in the local intelligence community disclosed this yesterday as the government announced it is stepping up efforts to hunt down Mohammad Jafal Khalifa, a brother-in-law of Bin Laden, the prime suspect in TuesdayŐs terrorist attacks on the US. The Armed Forces Southern Command has also tightened security measures over the countryŐs so-called "backdoor," which leads to Malaysia and Indonesia, in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the US.
The plane attack, code named Project Bojinka, was hatched by Bin Laden's men Ramzie Yousef, Abdul Hakim Murad and Wali Khan, who were convicted in the US for the first bombing of the World Trade Center in New York in 1993.
Under Project Bojinka, Bin LadenŐs group would hijack US-bound commercial aircraft from the Philippines, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore and crash them into key structures in the US.
The authorities learned of Project Bojinka from diskettes that were seized along with bomb paraphernalia from suspected terrorists during a raid on their hideout on Jan. 7, 1995.
The suspects were holed up at Room 603 Josefa Apartment on Quirino Avenue in Malate, Manila and were awaiting the scheduled arrival of Pope John Paul II, whom they were supposed to assassinate.
Murad, among the suspects arrested by local law enforcers, admitted during questioning that they had been frequenting the Philippines to establish a cell for their group. He also told US and Philippine authorities that he had been taking flying lessons in the country in preparation for the attacks they were planning on the headquarters of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters and Central Intelligence Agency. Murad was subsequently extradited to the US along with Yousef, who was caught in Pakistan, and Khan, who was arrested in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The three terrorists were convicted by a New York district court for the February 1993 World Trade Center bombing which killed six people and wounded 1,000 others. Among the witnesses who testified against them was Superintendent Alex Monteagudo of the Philippine National Police Intelligence Group (PNP-IG).
Hunt on for Bin LadenŐs in-law
Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao said yesterday security forces have stepped up efforts to find Khalifa since Abu Sayyaf bandits swooped down on a Palawan resort and kidnapped 21 people on May 27.
"They have been under surveillance. There are attempts to really monitor their movements the past two to three months. There have been reports (of terrorist plots) because the brother-in-law of Bin Laden set up a foundation in Cotabato City but itŐs been operating in Basilan," Tiglao said.
Khalifa, through his foundation, has allegedly been supplying arms and other logistics to Abu Sayyaf bandits, some of whom also claim to have been trained in Bin LadenŐs terrorist camps in Afghanistan.
Khalifa supposedly runs the International Islamic Relief Organization which was organized in the country in 1991 as the "social arm" of the Muslim World League, which is based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Khalifa registered the IIRO with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Sept. 20, 1998 with its principal office allegedly located in Marawi City.
The IIRO is supposed to undertake relief and financial assistance to Filipino Muslims in terms of scholarships, construction of mosques, hospitals and orphanages. But authorities suspect that the organization has also been involved in sending Filipino rebels, along with fundamentalist rebels from Malaysia and Indonesia, to Bin LadenŐs terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.
Marine Col. Frank Gudani, deputy commander of the Armed Forces Southern Command, said Abu Sayyaf founder Abduradjak Janjalani himself confirmed they had trained abroad with Bin LadenŐs financial support. "They (the Abu Sayyaf) think of themselves as being under the umbrella of Bin Laden," Gudani said.
But Eid Kabalu, spokesman for the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), told radio station dzMM yesterday morning that Bin Laden could not have been responsible for the World Trade Center bombing because the Saudi billionaire was already allegedly bankrupt.
According to a Pakistan newspaper, Bin Laden himself denied involvement in the plane attacks on Tuesday. "I have nothing to do with it," the Pakistani newspaper quoted the terrorist as saying.
Bin Laden, long wanted by authorities for international terrorism, is also known to have visited Mindanao through the backdoor, Gudani said. Gudani said the Southcom is tightening its watch over the backdoor even as Southcom chief Lt. Gen. Gregorio Camiling ordered the strengthening of the security in all strategic facilities, especially airports, in Western Mindanao.
Đ With Marichu Villanueva, Roel Pare–o
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
© Copyright, 2001Ę by PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE
All rights reserved.