Posted: December 2004
The Unfinished Investigation
An INTELWIRE exclusive analysis of possible al Qaeda links to the Oklahoma City bombing
Within hours of the Oklahoma City bombing, many observers of terrorist activity speculated that the attack may have been sponsored by Islamic extremists or other Middle Eastern interests.
When Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were arrested in the case, the media pendulum swung to the other extreme, dismissing such early speculation as the result of ethnic and religious bigotry. The U.S. government flatly stated that the attack had been carried out by domestic, right-wing American terrorists. The case, it seemed, was closed.
But new information continued to trickle out during the intervening years, and that trickle increased to a flood in the wake of the September 11 attack on America, which brought intense scrutiny of Islamic extremist "sleeper cells" operating on U.S. soil.
Based on this new information, there is good reason to re-examine our national assumptions about Oklahoma City. What follows is an all-new look at how the activities of the known Oklahoma City conspirators McVeigh and Nichols fit within a socially dense but geographically sprawling network of al Qaeda operatives known to be active in the U.S. during the early 1990s.
New information, reported for the first time by INTELWIRE, provides a fully documented record of al Qaeda's efforts to recruit U.S. veterans as terrorist operatives at critical moments in the Oklahoma City timeline. Previously undisclosed documents obtained exclusively by INTELWIRE also reveal that a top al Qaeda operative was secretly detained by the U.S. even as investigators dismissed the possibility of foreign involvement in the terrorist attack that killed 168 people on April 19, 1995.
Everything you are about to read is documented in the public record, including court transcripts, FOIA documents, published accounts by credible authors and mainstream media reporting. There are no anonymous sources cited and no "secret files" referenced.
There are also no smoking guns... yet. Although years have passed since the OKC bombing, the real investigation has only just begun. This story provides the context to truly understand the historical setting of the OKC bombing, as we know it today. It is only the first step in uncovering the real story.
External links include mainstream media articles, Rotten Library articles by J.M. Berger and INTELWIRE.com articles detailing the attribution of the claims made in this story.
Al Qaeda infiltration of the U.S.Starting in the late 1980s, terrorists connected to al Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad began to emigrate to America. Some became citizens, some were illegal aliens, and some were American citizens who were recruited into al Qaeda by sleeper operatives.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, several suspects who would later be tied to al Qaeda came to the U.S. to attend college. These included Wadih El-Hage, who lived in Arizona and Texas and married a U.S. woman to gain citizenship. During the mid-1980s, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) attended college in North Carolina.
al Qaeda set up operations in New York City, Tucson and South Florida. Key members of these cells included Ali Mohammed, an Egyptian who joined the U.S. Army and served at Fort Bragg from 1986 to 1989. While an active duty U.S. soldier, Mohammed trained terrorists in impromptu camps on U.S. soil, including a group of NYC-based terrorist trained in Calverton, N.J.
Other key al Qaeda operatives moved in and out of the country. From late 1991 through mid-1992, Abdul Hakim Murad traveled to the United States to train as a commercial airline pilot. The reasons for this training would become apparent later. Murad trained in New York state, Texas and Arizona, locations where al Qaeda had infrastructure already in place. He may also have trained in Norman, OK, at the same school later attended by Zacarias Moussaoui.
In September 1992, Ramzi Yousef came to the United States at the request of the NYC terrorist cell. Yousef traveled using a falsified Iraqi passport. He traveled with Ahmed Ajaj, who was arrested when a search of his luggage revealed bomb-making manuals and other evidence of terrorist connections.
Yousef was detained by the INS, but claimed political asylum and was released on his own recognizance due to overcrowding at the detention center. The bomb-making manuals brought into the country by Yousef and Ajaj included instructions on how to build ammonium nitrate fueled bombs. The manuals also contained instructions on the use and handling of virtually every other component of the bomb used in Oklahoma City.
One of the manuals had the name Abu Barra written inside the cover. Abu Barra was an alias used by a figure who would loom large in a number of terrorist investigations over the years to come.
Yousef joined up with the NYC cell members and began planning a truck bombing of the World Trade Center. The bombing was executed in February 1993, with funding assistance from KSM. Yousef fled the country immediately afterward.
al Qaeda Specifically Recruited U.S. SoldiersOne of the NYC cell terrorists was Clement Rodney Hampton-El, a U.S. citizen and Army veteran. An African-American, Hampton-El was reportedly connected to an extremist black Muslim sect in the U.S. called al Fuqra. Hampton-El, who used the alias Dr. Rashid, had trained and fought in Afghanistan, at camps connected to Osama bin Laden (OBL). Hampton-El was among the terrorists trained by Ali Mohammed in New Jersey.
In 1991, the Saudi government sponsored a program designed to convert U.S. soldiers to Islam, according to the Washington Post. The program targeted soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. Timothy McVeigh was stationed in Saudi Arabia during this period.
The Saudi government cleric in charge of the proselytization program collected contact information from soldiers, then instructed affiliates to follow up with the soldiers in the U.S. One of the affiliates who carried out follow-up recruiting was Hampton-El, who was instructed to recruit U.S. Army veterans as terrorist trainers and fighters. Hampton-El received such instructions to recruit from a list of U.S. Army veterans during a meeting held at the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C. in December 1992. He was given a budget of $150,000 for the project.
Shortly after the December 1992 meeting, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols both moved to key locations where al Qaeda ran recruiting operations.
McVeigh had tried out for Special Forces at Fort Bragg, immediately following his Gulf War tour of duty. He did not pass the entrance exam, and subsequently dropped out of the Army. He moved to Buffalo and worked as a security guard, but incurred substantial gambling debts.
Shortly after the December 1992 meeting, McVeigh suddenly paid off all his debts, quit his job and traveled to Florida, where al Qaeda-linked operatives were recruiting U.S. citizens as terrorists. U.S. citizens were considered valuable operatives because of their passports and appearance, which allowed them to travel freely around the world. The al Qaeda recruiting operation in Florida was tied to the Benevolence International Foundation, which had an office just 15 minutes away from the house where McVeigh was staying with his sister.
Terry Nichols, on the other hand, traveled to the Philippines. A few years earlier, Nichols had married a woman from Cebu City. In Cebu, al Qaeda was targeting Christians as terrorist recruits. Nichols stayed with his wife's family in the Philippines for several weeks.
Underground in the U.S.A.After their respective travels, McVeigh and Nichols met up in Michigan, where Terry Nichols had been staying with his brother, James. McVeigh had been working on the gun show circuit for some time.
al Qaeda operatives, including Wadih El-Hage and Hampton-El, were also connected to the American black market in weapons. One member of the NYC cell, Mahmud Abouhalima, sported an NRA cap while training in firearms use with Ali Mohammed. Hampton-El trafficked in weapons for a number of parties in NYC and beyond. One deal funded by Hampton-El took place at a gun show in Virginia.
During many of these transactions, al Qaeda-linked operatives traded in manuals about military techniques, survivalism and bomb-building. FBI searches revealed huge stockpiles of such literature, including survivalist books and magazines and paramilitary manuals, as well as official U.S. military training manuals stolen from Fort Bragg, where Ali Mohammed had been stationed.
Hampton-El also claimed he could buy bomb components, although he apparently never produced a set of detonators he had promised to obtain.
Terrorists connected with Hezbollah and the Irish Republican Army also frequented U.S. gun shows during the same period, and in some of the exact locations where Nichols and McVeigh sold weapons.
While traveling the country, McVeigh and Nichols also encountered members of survivalist groups and radical right-wing factions generally oriented around anti-federal sentiment and white separatist beliefs. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that McVeigh and Nichols made contacts at Elohim City, a white separatist compound in Oklahoma.
Other Elohim City affiliates included a bank-robbery gang that would later be credibly linked to the Oklahoma City bombing, the Aryan Republican Army.
Meanwhile, the al Qaeda-linked cell in NYC was still actively planning terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Several operatives had been arrested after the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993, but others remained free.
In June, the FBI thwarted an attempt by some of the cell's remaining members to bomb New York City landmarks using truck and car bombs powered by improvised ammonium nitrate explosives. Among those arrested were Hampton-El and the cell's leader, blind Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman.
Undetected, despite its ties to the NYC cell, the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) had set up an office in Chicago. The president of that office was a man named Mohammed Loay Bayazid, aka Abu Rida al-Suri. Bayazid was a naturalized U.S. citizen who had been living in Kansas City.
In September 1994, according to federal indictments, McVeigh and Nichols formally began their conspiracy to bomb the Alfred E. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City. On the very same day, according to another federal indictment, BIF began a conspiracy to fund terrorist attacks around the world on behalf of al Qaeda.
Around this time, Bayazid received a cash payout of more than $4,000 from BIF accounts for an unknown purpose. Shortly thereafter, McVeigh and Nichols began buying ammonium nitrate as the primary ingredient for their bomb.
The Return of Ramzi YousefIn September 1994, Ramzi Yousef arrived in the Philippines to launch a new series of plots designed to attack U.S. interests on behalf of al Qaeda. Yousef had been in Pakistan since the WTC bombing.
The Manila cell consisted of Yousef, Murad, KSM and Wali Khan Amin Shah, a close associate of OBL. The cell was funded by Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, OBL's best friend and former roommate in Afghanistan, who subsquently married bin Laden's sister. An alias used by Khalifa, Abu Barra, was written inside the cover of one of Ahmed Ajaj's bomb manuals.
According to the U.S. and Philippines governments, Khalifa traveled to the Philippines starting in the late 1980s to create al Qaeda's first operational network in that country. He allegedly did this by setting up a series of charities and businesses which acted as fronts for al Qaeda financial transactions. (Khalifa denies any connection to terrorist activity whatsoever.)
One of Khalifa's fronts was a precursor group to BIF. Another, the Islamic Da'wa Council, sponsored Clement Rodney Hampton-El on a trip to Manila in early 1993. Hampton-El said he visited training camps while in the Philippines, and he had made plans to move there, which were thwarted by his arrest in June 1993.
Some of Khalifa's business concerns were import-export businesses in the lumber industry, dealing with rattan specficially. KSM also posed as a plywood exporter while in the country, possibly for one of Khalifa's concerns.
Yousef's cell undertook several proposed attacks on U.S. and Western interests, but the only one that became well developed was a plot that became known as "Bojinka." Crafted as no later than September 1994, the Bojinka plot was an ambitious plan to bomb nearly a dozen U.S.-bound airliners within a 48-hour period.
In addition, Yousef and Murad discussed hijacking a plane and crashing it into a U.S. target. Possible targets included the Pentagon, or CIA headquarters.
Plotters Paths Intersected In November 1994By November 1994, Bojinka and the OKC bombing were both well underway. In late November, Terry Nichols broke off from OKC bomb preparations to fly to the Philippines, where his wife was attending college at Southwestern University in Cebu City. The stayed with her family, whose apartment was attached to a Cebu lumberyard.
Nichols left a note with his ex-wife to be opened in the event of his death. The note directed her to a large store of cash and valuables, and specified how the money should be distributed "if for any reason my life insurance doesn't pay." There are three primary reasons why any given life insurance policy might fail to pay its beneficiary — if the insured commits suicide, if the insured dies in the course of commiting a crime, or if the insured is murdered by the policy's beneficiary.
Nichols flew to Cebu and showed up unannounced at his wife's school. During the very same period, Ramzi Yousef traveled to Southwestern University, where there was a significant Muslim fundamentalist community. Both men were on the campus in the winter of 1994.
Nichols left on Nov. 22, 1994, on a 60-day visa. He had an open-ended return flight. According to his wife, she understood his plan was to stay the entire length of the visa, which would have made his planned departure Jan. 21, 1995 the exact day Bojinka was scheduled to take place.
Nichols had flown to the Philippines on a Northwestern Airlines flight out of Los Angeles, one of the routes targeted by Bojinka, according to documents retrieved from Yousef's computer. Nichols was carrying stun guns in a carry-on bag, according to his ex-wife.
Although the documentation still lacks a smoking gun, the circumstances and exact correspondences of timing and route for Nichols' trip to the Philippines strongly suggest he was slated to participate in Bojinka. The fact that he was carrying stun guns suggests he could have been intended as a "muscle hijacker" of the sort seen in the September 11 attacks, possibly with Murad as the intended pilot.
We do not know whether this was the case, however, because the Bojinka attack did not occur, due to a startling chain of events that took place in January 1995.
A Convenient 'Accident' Exposes YousefAccording to the official account, Bojinka was thwarted when Yousef and Murad accidentally caused a fire while mixing bomb chemicals in their apartment. The fire department was summoned, and police arrived some time later.
They entered the apartment and quickly deduced they had found a bomb factory. Murad was arrested on the scene, Wali Khan was arrested shortly thereafter. KSM and Yousef both escaped, but Yousef was captured in Pakistan the next month.
Philippines police repeatedly characterized the fire as a lucky break that dropped in their laps. The story of the "accidental" fire can be viewed through a different lens, however, in light of events unfolding back the in U.S.
The financier of the Manila cell, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, had been arrested by the FBI and the INS during a visit to San Francisco in December 1994. A Saudi citizen, Khalifa was designated a deportable alien on suspicion of terrorism. He luggage was searched, and authorities found extremist literature and an electronic organizer full of phone numbers. One of those phone numbers went to the apartment building where Yousef, Murad and Wali Khan were working.
Khalifa was arrested while traveling with Mohammed Loay Bayazid, the BIF president and senior al Qaeda member. It's unclear how (or whether) Bayazid was processed, and the Justice Department has refused to honor several FOIA requests by INTELWIRE seeking any arrest record for Bayazid.
Just days after Khalifa was arrested, the government of Jordan convicted him in absentia of funding a series of movie theater bombings there. Khalifa was sentenced to death. The ambassador to Jordan wrote to the state department the very next day formally requesting Khalifa be extradited there.
With this key al Qaeda leader in solitary confinement at the Santa Rosa County Jail and now facing a death sentence, the State and Justice Departments acted quickly and in tandem to ratchet up the pressure.
On January 5, Secretary of State Warren Christopher wrote a three-page letter to Janet Reno requesting that the INS immediately begin proceedings to deport Khalifa to Jordan. The letter, obtained by INTELWIRE, cited "potentially adverse foreign policy consequences" if Khalifa was allowed to remain in the U.S.
The commissioner of the INS signed off on an interagency memo reiterating the request and Khalifa's imminent deportation hearing. The memo, obtained by INTELWIRE, requests that deputy attorney general Jamie Gorelick (later a member of the 9/11 Commission) draft a letter to the immigration judge demanding that Khalifa not be deported to any country except Jordan.
Gorelick wrote and sent the letter on January 6, starting the legal wheels in motion to ensure that Khalifa would be sent to face execution in Jordan.
Within hours of this development, Philippines police entered Yousef's apartment after the "accidental" fire supposedly drew their attention to the building. According to an FBI affadavit, Khalifa had called Wali Khan's unit on a lower floor of the building several times during November.
During the Bojinka trial, Yousef (who represented himself) claimed there had been no fire, and he explicitly argued during his closing remarks that the police had planned the raid in advance. (It should be noted that Yousef made a number of self-serving statements during his trial, many of which were demonstrably false.)
As it stands, there are many unanswered questions that remain about the circumstances leading up to the raid on the apartment, the arrest of Murad and the subsequent handling of Khalifa by the U.S. government.
The State and Justice Departments have refused to fully disclose their files on Khalifa's deportation in response to numerous FOIA requests by INTELWIRE. The Justice Department also refused in whole INTELWIRE's FOIA request for documents relating to Mohammed Loay Bayazid.
U.S. Intelligence Develops AQ Intel SourceIn January 1995, the U.S. began to collect its first solid intelligence on bin Laden, al Qaeda and Islamic extremist terrorism.
Investigative reporter John Solomon of the Associated Press has reported that in early 1995 that U.S. intelligence received warnings that "Islamic extremists are determined to 'strike inside the U.S. against objects symbolizing the American government in the near future.'" The reports included a specific warning that federal buildings would be among the targets.
A published congressional report on 9/11 and al Qaeda contained the following timeline entry for Spring 1995: "[ redacted ] provides most significant reporting on UBL to date."
By February 1995, the U.S. had rolled up some of the most dangerous al Qaeda-linked operatives in the world at that time. Among those in U.S. custody were Ramzi Yousef, Abdul Hakim Murad and Mohammed Jamal Khalifa. It is not known if Mohammed Loay Bayazid was in custody at this time, but he was known to U.S. authorities. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed eluded arrest after the Bojinka cell was exposed.
Khalifa, however, was working to change his situation. He hired a San Francisco law firm specializing in immigration issues and began challenging his deportation. He also filed a civil suit to force the U.S. to return the contents of his luggage.
In March, the Justice Department agreed to return Khalifa's belongings, despite the fact that they were clearly material to the upcoming prosecution of Yousef and Murad. The U.S. wasn't the only government suddenly feeling more benevolent toward the suspected terrorist. In early April, Jordan vacated the death sentence against Khalifa, although a new trial was ordered on the same charges.
On April 18, 1995, Khalifa appeared in immigration court in San Francisco, where his lawyer argued vigorously against the continuing U.S. effort to deport the suspected terrorist to Jordan.
But the very next day, a shocking new series of reversals would dramatically change the complexion of Khalifa's case.
A Bomb Detonates in OklahomaOn April 19, Timothy McVeigh detonated a bomb in parking garage of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 and wounding hundreds more. McVeigh was picked up on a traffic violation shortly after the bombing, and authorities realized only later that he was their top suspect.
Later that morning, Abdul Hakim Murad saw news of the bombing on TV from his jail cell. He informed a prison guard that "we did that," meaning Yousef's terror cell was responsible for the bombing.
Early on the evening of April 19, federal authorities moved Mohammed Jamal Khalifa from the county jail to a maximum security federal facility in Dublin, Calif., according to a document obtained by INTELWIRE under FOIA. Neither Yousef nor Murad had change in their detention status that day, according to inmate data records obtained using FOIA.
Several witnesses told the FBI that they had seen McVeigh with a dark-complexioned, heavyset man who appeared to be Hispanic. Later reports would distort the description to suggest the suspect, designated John Doe No. 2 by the FBI, was Middle Eastern.
The FBI prepared a composite sketch of the suspect. The question of whether John Doe 2 existed, and who he was, became a point of great contention in the days, weeks and years following the bombing. Some suggested that the description matched one or more white separatists associated with Elohim City. Others claimed, less credulously, that he was an Iraqi intelligence agent.
(Although hard evidence is lacking, the sketch and description closely match those of Jose Padilla, a Hispanic American recruited as an al Qaeda operative in early 1993, at approximately the same time McVeigh was staying only a few miles away.)
The Saudis Suggest Iraq Was ResponsibleTwo Saudi Arabian intelligence officials called former CIA officers on the day of April 19 and suggested that the attack had been sponsored by Iraqi intelligence. The phone calls are recounted in "Others Unknown," a book published by McVeigh's defense attorney. These calls appear to be the origin of what would eventually become an elaborate conspiracy theory purporting that the OKC bombing was sponsored by Iraq.
The phone calls, documented in various government filings, must be viewed as highly suspect considering the context namely, the fact that the Saudi government was itself linked to several known and suspected terrorists in the United States, including some who had means, motive and opportunity to interact with McVeigh and Nichols.
No Roads Lead To The Phillipines?On April 21, Terry Nichols surrendered to the police near his home in Herington, Kansas. By April 23, national news media were reporting that Nichols had traveled to the Philippines, where Yousef and Khalifa had been operating only a few months before.
Khalifa had on his way to catch a flight to the Philippines when he was arrested. Although the Philippines police had given U.S. officials a detailed description of Khalifa's suspected activities in their country, the U.S. Justice Department had determined (for the official record) that there was not enough evidence to try Khalifa in the U.S.
Within days, FBI had dispatched agents to the Philippines, who began investigating Nichols' activities there.
As this investigation was just beginning, Khalifa attended a scheduled court date regarding his deportation. The date was April 26, barely a week after the OKC attack. FBI agents would be actively investigating Nichols' ties to the Philippines for weeks to come.
During this appearance, Khalifa completely reversed his legal position and asked that his deportation be expedited. His lawyers claimed Khalifa felt he could not get a fair hearing in the U.S. in light of the OKC bombing, despite the fact he had not been charged with a crime under American jurisdiction and despite the fact that he still faced a potential death sentence in Jordan.
In exchange for Khalifa's "cooperation" with the deportation, the INS agreed to strike all accusations of terrorism from Khalifa's U.S. record and from the deportation proceedings. The Justice Department had already agreed to return his belongings.
On May 5, the INS announced that Khalifa had been transferred to Jordan two days earlier. It seemed that the story had ended, except for one detail Khalifa had not been transferred out of U.S. custody.
The Khalifa DeportationA Bureau of Prisons record obtained by INTELWIRE through FOIA reveals that Khalifa was administratively handled by the Bureau on Aug. 31, 1995, nearly four months after the INS claimed he had been returned to Jordan.
The document contains an entry for May 3, 1995, indicating that Khalifa had been transferred to an "in-transit facility." According to a BOP document obtained from the agency's Web site, " 'IN TRANSIT' means the inmate has been moved from a BOP facility, and may or may not be returned."
The facility to which Khalifa was transferred was designated "4-I." When contacted, two BOP spokespersons confirmed that the designation indicates Khalifa was being held in custody by another agency of the U.S. government, but neither source would to disclose the identity of that agency. Both spokespersons said the meaning of the 4-I designation was "not public information." There is no indication of whether the detention was voluntary or involuntary.
Khalifa was detained with "4-I" status until August 31, 1995, at which point his status was changed to "P95" after an action designated "release." Both BOP spokespersons refused to disclose the meaning of the P95 designation, but one of them indicated that the final two entries on the inmate data record appear to indicate Khalifa's transfer to the custody of a foreign government.
Both spokespersons concurred that the form indicates Khalifa remained in U.S. custody until Aug. 31, 1995, at which point he was apparently transferred to the custody of a foreign government. A followup FOIA request for the meaning of the 4-I and P95 facility codes has not received a response.
After his return to Jordan, Khalifa was cleared of all charges after a witness in the movie theater bombings recanted his previous testimony. Khalifa was freed, and lives in Saudi Arabia today, where he runs a seafood restaurant in Jeddah, according to media reports. In media reports and civil court filings as recent as 2004, Khalifa has denied ever having any ties to terrorist activity.
A Deeply Flawed InvestigationIn the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, the FBI officially determined that McVeigh and Nichols acted alone to accomplish the terrorist attack. But virtually every aspect of the FBI's investigation has been significantly tarnished by flaws that range from incompetence to outright deception, all of which have been documented by mainstream media and, in some cases, by the Justice Department itself.
Numerous reports by John Solomon of the Associated Press and J.D. Cash of the McCurtain (Okla.) Daily Gazette have proven that the FBI suppressed and even destroyed documents relating to white separatists suspected of a link to the bombing plot. Solomon recovered some of those documents for a 2004 report.
The FBI denied that these documents existed when attorneys for McVeigh and Nichols demanded their production. Prosecutors (and by extension the law enforcement agencies supporting them) are required by law to disclose any potentially exculpatory material in its possession.
The FBI again denied that the documents existed when, just before McVeigh was to be executed, the agency produced more than 3,000 improperly withheld documents related to the case.
The forensic analysis of the bomb and its construction faced new scrutiny after an internal investigation by the Justice Department found that proper procedures had not been followed by the FBI laboratory, including evidence and testimony that substantially discredited the government's work on the OKC case.
The U.S. government made several statements regarding the domestic nature of the OKC plot well before all investigative avenues had been thoroughly explored. Evidence about Murad's confession of responsibility was not allowed to be presented at any of the OKC trials. Evidence about suspected white separatist accomplices was similarly disallowed. Evidence regarding the suppression of documents by the FBI was disallowed at Terry Nichols' state trial.
The OKC blast took place in middle of the trial of Clement Rodney Hampton-El and his accomplices in the NYC cell. The judge instructed the jury on April 24: "I think we already know enough about that matter to be able to say that that bombing not only had absolutely nothing to do legally with this case, but also in fact cannot possibly be connected in any way with any defendant in this case."
The statement "cannot possibly be connected" was patently false based on information already in the possession of the Justice Department. Regardless of whether the cases were in fact connected, the evidence more than sufficiently supported the possibility.
al Qaeda's Modus Operandi Fits The CaseDuring the 1990s, al Qaeda frequently sponsored terrorist attacks by individuals who seemed to be lone actors or small semi-independent groups. The WTC attacks and the thwarted June 1993 truck bomb plot both fit that profile.
In another example, al Qaeda provided funding and training to the Abu Sayyaf Group in the Philippines, including in operations overseen by Yousef and Khalifa personally. ASG then proceeded to stage terrorist attacks in its own name.
In at least one documented incident, Yousef credited ASG with a bombing he planned and executed in its entirety. Yousef claimed credit for other attacks, including the WTC bombing, in the name of the "Fifth Liberation Army," which apparently referred primarily to himself. During two separate trials for the 1993 WTC attack, now known to be an al Qaeda-linked operation, the names al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were never mentioned once.
When Murad claimed credit for the OKC bombing in prison, he did so in the name of the Liberation Army.
In the case of Oklahoma City, McVeigh and Nichols could have received funds, bomb-making manuals or specific training. They had means, motive and opportunity to seek all three. Based on context and known factors that influenced the two, it is very likely that they devised the plan to bomb the Murrah building on their own. If there were contacts with al Qaeda, they likely took the form of assistance for a plan whose rough outlines had already been designed by McVeigh.
The background of any possible involvement of Terry Nichols in the Bojinka plot is significantly less clear. While the timeline is extremely suggestive, such an extraordinary claim would require extraordinary proof and some sort of framework to explain why Nichols would undertake such a risky mission at someone else's behest.
Although there is a popular perception of McVeigh and Nichols as racists and white supremacists, there is no particular obstacle to the idea that they would collaborate with non-whites and non-Christians in order to accomplish their goals.
After leaving the Army, McVeigh maintained at least casual friendships with non-white Army buddies. Nichols married a Filipina. Although that relationship had obvious overtones of racial bias, Nichols did consider moving permanently to the Philippines hardly the action of someone incapable of coexisting with people of color.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, there have been several documented contacts between leaders of U.S. white power movements and similarly oriented black separatist movements, including al Fuqra, whose armed rural camps were in many ways the black Muslim analogue of Elohim City.
Neo-Nazis (and the original Nazis) have also had documented contacts with Muslim extremists, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a pan-Islamist network that is the parent organization of al Qaeda.
In a 2001 article, Bob Woodward and Dan Eggen of the Washington Post reported that such links had only deepened over the years.
The anti-Israel message in the anthrax letters and (Osama) bin Laden's statements are echoed by U.S. extremist groups, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.McVeigh did have one extremely well-documented relationship with an al Qaeda operative in the Florence, CO, Supermax prison where he and Ramzi Yousef were incarcerated on the same cell block after their respective attacks.
The two bombers were fast friends during their time together in prison. Yousef wrote to a correspondent that he had never met anyone so much like himself as McVeigh. While in prison, McVeigh also wrote letters to the media in which he advocated sympathy for Iraqis killed during the Gulf War. While McVeigh clearly had racist tendencies, he was also very clearly capable of putting them aside when it suited him.
Prior to the bombing, neither McVeigh nor Nichols ever showed any interest in Christianity, or religion of any kind. Nichols underwent a jailhouse conversion after his arrest that represented his first documented interest in Christianity.
Iraq Focus Derails Mainstream InterestIn the days after the bombing, a small group of investigators began pursuing highly questionable theories regarding the bombing.
The initial efforts to investigate foreign influences on the bombing were strongly influenced by the aforementioned tipoffs from Saudi intelligence, as well as the now largely discredited theories of Laurie Mylroie, an academic specializing in the Middle East.
Despite ample evidence available at the time concerning Saudi sponsorship of Islamic extremists, including Yousef and the NYC cell, these independent investigations (as well as McVeigh's defense lawyer Stephen Jones) instead pursued a convoluted effort to depict Yousef as an Iraqi agent.
In reality, virtually every piece of credible evidence then and now indicates that Yousef was funded and supported by al Qaeda and EIJ.
Because of the misguided focus on Iraq, and bin Laden's relative obscurity at the time, virtually no one paid attention the Khalifa case quietly unfolding and unraveling in San Francisco one week after the OKC attack.
The case for Iraq was pursued vocally by enemies of the Clinton Administration. This theory received a great deal of publicity and air time, despite its weak logical basis, conspiratorial overtones and the lack of verifiable evidence.
The champions of the Iraq theory also prominently cited testimony from a Filipino double-agent who claimed to have witnessed a meeting between Yousef and Nichols in the Philippines. The agent, Edwin Angeles, presented a story full of holes and contradictions. He was assassinated soon after giving his account to Philippines authorities.
Subsequent iterations of the story such as a dubious "deathbed confession" by Angeles' widow published in a Manila newspaper became even more unreliable and contradictory. While the original report may well have contained a grain of truth, it was depicted as a "smoking gun" by advocates of the Iraq theory, despite copious credibility problems.
As a result of all these factors, and in the wake of convictions for Nichols and McVeigh, the idea that unknown conspirators contributed to the Oklahoma City bombing became widely discredited. Public opinion (and professional media outlets) became increasingly and reflexively dismissive of even modest efforts to pursue the story.
Within the mainstream media, only the Associated Press and the McCurtain Gazette continue to show interest in the story, despite substantial amounts of new and relevant information emerging within the last two years.
It's time for a fresh look at the case by the mainstream media. Unless the major news outlets put their clout behind this story, the smoking guns may never be found.
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American JihadistsAmericanJihadists.com is a new Web site in the INTELWIRE.com family. This site will start as a blog connecting to resources and documents on the subject of American citizens who take part in military jihad activities. The blog will give way in 2010 to a broader and more ambitious Web site that provides detailed source material from J.M. Berger's forthcoming book, "American Jihadists." I hope to have an update soon with details about the book release.