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April 8, 2004

FBI Informant Tipped Authorities About Airplane Crash Plot In 1993

INTELWIRE Exclusive: Report Of Planned Embassy Attack, Though Never Attempted, Was One More Warning Missed Before 9/11

By J.M. Berger

In spring 1993, an FBI informant uncovered an al Qaeda-linked plan to crash an airplane into the U.S. embassy in Cairo.

In testimony little noted during a 1995 court case, FBI informant Emad Salem testified that a Sudanese national, Siddig Ibrahim Siddig Ali, asked him to assist a plot in which a Sudanese Air Force pilot would first bomb the home of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarek from his airplane then crash the plane into the American Embassy.

While it appears the plot never advanced past the discussion stage, the incident is yet another case in which the U.S. government had specific information that terrorists were planning to use an airplane as a missile.

According to Salem, an informant integral to FBI efforts to crack a New York terror cell in 1993, Siddig Ali asked Salem to help the alleged pilot find "gaps in the air defense in Egypt so he can drive to bomb the presidential house, and then turn around, crash the plane into the American embassy after he eject himself out of the plane (...) ."

Salem was also asked to assist the pilot in escaping. Salem testified that he informed his contacts in the Egyptian government of the threat.

Abdo Haggag, an Egyptian spy testifying on behalf of the U.S. government, told the court the alleged pilot received a fatwa from radical Egyptian Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman approving the operation as early as 1992.

The alleged pilot was not arrested or charged when the rest of Rahman-linked New York City cell was apprehended in June 1993, and it's not clear whether the plot had any credible basis. The NYC cell had numerous links to al Qaeda and is now believed to have been an al Qaeda operation.

It's not clear where the alleged pilot lives now, and it's also unclear if the allegations made in court had any basis in fact. Defense lawyers during the trial claimed the supposed pilot was a U.S. cab driver and that the plot was fanciful.

Ramzi Yousef, who was extensively linked to the NYC cell, also planned to crash an airplance into CIA headquarters, as part of Project Bojinka, a plot he was preparing to executive in the Philippines in 1994 and 1995 before his hideout was exposed to the authorities.

The case is US v Omar Abdel Rahman, et al, S5 93 Cr. 181 (MBM), testimony of Emad Salem, March 21, 1995.

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