ARCHIVES: September 5, 2002
OKLAHOMA CITY -- With the Sept. 11
anniversary upon us and President Bush talking about a "regime
change" in Iraq, it's an apt time to look at two investigators
who connect Baghdad to two notorious incidents of domestic terrorism.
Jayna Davis, a former television reporter in Oklahoma City, believes
an Iraqi cell was involved in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah
Federal Building here. Middle East expert Laurie Mylroie links Iraq to
the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, and has published
a book on the subject.
Both cases are closed, of course -- in
the public mind if not quite officially. Timothy McVeigh was convicted
of murder in the Oklahoma City bombing and executed in June 2001;
Terry Nichols was sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy and
manslaughter, and faces a further trial on murder charges. In the
World Trade Center bombing, prosecutors convicted six men of Middle
Eastern origin on the theory that they operated in a "loose
network." One suspect remains at large, but the apparent
ringleader, known as Ramzi Yousef, was captured in Pakistan and is now
in federal prison in the U.S.
The prosecutors in both episodes
believe they got their men, and of course conspiracy theories have
shadowed many prominent cases. Still, the long investigative work by
Ms. Davis and Ms. Mylroie, coming to parallel conclusions though
working largely independently of each other, has gained some prominent
supporters. Former CIA Director James Woolsey, for example, recently
told the Journal that "when the full stories of these two
incidents are finally told, those who permitted the investigations to
stop short will owe big explanations to these two brave women. And the
nation will owe them a debt of gratitude."
The Vanishing John Doe No. 2
Ms. Davis, for example, has a copy of
a bulletin put out by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol immediately after
the Murrah bombing. It specifies a blue car occupied by "Middle
Eastern male subject or subjects." According to police radio
traffic at the time, also obtained by Ms. Davis, a search was on as
well for a brown Chevrolet pickup "occupied by Middle Eastern
subjects." When an officer radioed in asking if "this is
good information or do we really not know," a dispatcher
responded "authorization FBI." Law-enforcement sources tell
Ms. Davis that the FBI bulletin was quickly and mysteriously
The next day, the federal government
issued arrest warrants and sketches of two men seen together, John Doe
No. 1 and No. 2. John Doe 1 turned out to be McVeigh, who was quickly
picked up on an unrelated charge. Following the arrest of McVeigh and
Nichols, the Justice Department changed course, saying the witnesses
were confused and there was no John Doe 2 with McVeigh.
But Ms. Davis, who was covering the
case at the time for KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City, says in fact there was
a John Doe No. 2, and that she has identified him. The original
warrant for John Doe No. 2 described a man about 5 feet 10 inches,
average weight, with brown hair and a tattoo on his left arm. She says
the man matching this description is an Iraqi political refugee named
Hussain al-Hussaini, an itinerant restaurant worker who entered the
country in 1994 from a Saudi Arabian refugee camp and soon found his
way to Oklahoma City. She says she has more than 20 witnesses who can
place him near the Murrah Building on the day of the bombing or finger
him in parts of the conspiracy.
Seven weeks after the bombing, Ms.
Davis's KFOR television station began broadcasting a series of reports
on a possible Middle East connection. It did not name Mr. al-Hussaini,
but did include photographs of him that digitally obscured his face.
Mr. al-Hussaini sued for libel and defamation, denying any association
with the bombing. In November 1999, U.S. District Court Judge Tim
Leonard dismissed the lawsuit.
Citing defense contentions Mr. al-Hussaini's
counsel failed to dispute, the judge ruled that Ms. Davis had proved
that Mr. al-Hussaini "bears a strong resemblance to the composite
sketch of John Doe #2," including a tattoo on his left arm, that
he was born and raised in Iraq, that he had served in the Iraqi army,
and that his Oklahoma City employer had once been suspected by the
federal government of having "connections with the Palestine
Mr. al-Hussaini appealed Judge
Leonard's decision to the 10th Circuit Court, where a ruling is
pending. He is represented by Gary Richardson, a well-known Oklahoma
lawyer who currently is an independent candidate for governor. In an
interview, Mr. Richardson denounced the treatment of Mr. al-Hussaini
as anathema to American values, saying he had been singled out because
he was an Arab. "There is no evidence that Hussain al-Hussaini is
John Doe No. 2," Mr. Richardson said. "He was grossly
mistreated by the media in Oklahoma."
In 1996, Mr. al-Hussaini returned to
Boston, where he had first entered the U.S. He found work as a cook at
Logan Airport. According to his medical records, he was haunted by the
Oklahoma City episode and the publicity surrounding his libel suit. He
began drinking heavily and in 1997 was admitted to a psychiatric
clinic for a depressive disorder and suicidal thoughts. Mr. al-Hussaini's
lawyer says his client has since moved to another part of the country
and is "trying to put his life back together."
According to notes taken by a nurse at
the psychiatric clinic, Mr. al-Hussaini quit his job at Logan Airport
in November 1997, nearly four years before planes from there were
hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Her notes say he stated, "If anything
happens there, I'll be a suspect."
Evidence supporting Ms. Davis's
suspicions surfaced during discovery for the McVeigh trial. An FBI
report, for example, records a call a few hours after the bombing from
Vincent Cannistraro, a retired CIA official who had once been chief of
operations for the agency's counter-terrorism center. He told Kevin
Foust, a FBI counter-terror investigator, that he'd been called by a
top counter-terror adviser to the Saudi royal family. Mr. Foust
reported that the Saudi told Mr. Cannistraro about "information
that there was a 'squad' of people currently in the United States,
very possibly Iraqis, who have been tasked with carrying out terrorist
attacks against the United States. The Saudi claimed that he had seen
a list of 'targets,' and that the first on the list was the federal
building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma."
Stephen Jones, McVeigh's lead lawyer,
discusses the FBI report in his book, "Others Unknown: Timothy
McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing Conspiracy." Mr.
Cannistraro later told Mr. Jones that he didn't know if the caller
"was credible or not." But Mr. Foust's memo says Mr.
Cannistraro described the Saudi official as "responsible for
developing intelligence to help prevent the royal family from becoming
victims of terrorist attacks," and someone he'd known "for
the past 10 or 15 years."
Ms. Davis's evidence was examined by
Patrick Lang, a Middle East expert and former director of the Defense
Intelligence Agency's human intelligence collection section. In a memo
to Ms. Davis, Mr. Lang concluded that Mr. al-Hussaini likely is a
member of Unit 999 of the Iraqi Military Intelligence Service, or
Estikhabarat. He wrote that this unit is headquartered at Salman Pak
southeast of Baghdad, and "deals with clandestine operations at
home and abroad."
Larry Johnson, a former deputy
director of the State Department's Office of Counter Terrorism, also
has examined Ms. Davis's voluminous research. "Looking at the
Jayna Davis material," Mr. Johnson says, "what's clear is
that more than Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols were involved. Without a
doubt, there's a Middle Eastern tie to the Oklahoma City
Mr. al-Hussaini and other former Iraqi
soldiers colluded with McVeigh and Nichols in the attack, Ms. Davis
charges. "There is a Middle Eastern terrorist cell operating in
Oklahoma City. They were operating prior to the Oklahoma City bombing
and they are still operating today."
The popular stereotype of McVeigh is
of a twisted "patriot" out to avenge government actions at
Waco and Ruby Ridge. But in March 1998 he penned a prison-cell
"Essay on Hypocrisy" obsessed with Iraq. "We've all
seen pictures that show a Kurdish woman and child frozen in death from
the use of chemical weapons. But have you ever seen these pictures
juxtaposed next to pictures from Hiroshima or Nagasaki?" With
calls for war crimes trials of Saddam Hussein, "why do we not
hear the same cry for blood directed at those responsible for even
greater amounts of 'mass destruction?'"
In dismissing the al-Hussaini libel
suit, Judge Leonard pointedly noted the indictment of McVeigh and
Nichols included a charge of conspiracy "with others
unknown." In sentencing Nichols, U.S. District Judge Richard
Matsch remarked, "It would be disappointing to me if the law
enforcement agencies of the United States government have quit looking
World Trade Center
The Sept. 11 airline crashes were not
the first attempt to topple the World Trade Center towers. In February
1993, a bomb blast in a public parking garage below the North Tower of
the World Trade Center killed six people and left a crater six stories
deep. It could have been much worse. In her book, "The War
Against America: Saddam Hussein and the World Trade Center
Attacks," Laurie Mylroie says that the bomb was designed to
topple the North Tower into the South Tower and envelop the scene in a
cloud of cyanide gas. Hearing the case, Judge Kevin Duffy agreed,
saying that if the plan had worked, "we would have been dealing
with tens of thousands of deaths." After the bombing, the FBI
rounded up four Muslims who moved in extremist circles in the New York
area. Three others escaped overseas: a Palestinian, an Iraqi named
Abdul Yasin, and Ramzi Yousef.
Ms. Mylroie's book argues that Iraq
was complicit in this attack. At the very least, she notes, Saddam
Hussein is harboring a wanted terrorist: Abdul Yasin. He came to the
U.S. six months before the Trade Center attack and is charged with
helping mix chemicals for the bomb. Picked up in an early sweep after
the bombing, he talked his way out of an FBI interrogation and turned
up back in Baghdad.
Beyond this, Ms. Mylroie contends that
the bombing was "an Iraqi intelligence operation with the Moslem
extremists as dupes." She says that the original lead FBI
official on the case, Jim Fox, concluded that "Iraq was behind
the World Trade Center bombing." In late 1993, shortly before his
retirement, Mr. Fox was suspended by FBI Director Louis Freeh for
speaking to the media about the case; he died in 1997. Ms. Mylroie
says that Mr. Fox indicated to her that he did not continue to pursue
the Iraq connection because Justice Department officials "did not
want state sponsorship addressed."
According to phone records analyzed by
Ms. Mylroie, Abdul Yasin appeared in the orbit of one of U.S.
conspirators, Muhammed Salameh, some weeks after Mr. Salameh made a
series of phone calls to relatives in Iraq, including to his uncle,
Kadri Abu Bakr. Mr. Bakr is a senior figure in the PLO's "Western
Sector" terrorist unit; at the very least, his phone calls would
be monitored by Iraqi intelligence.
Ramzi Yousef also showed up after the
calls to Mr. Bakr, according to Ms. Mylroie's analysis. His arrival
"transformed the conspiracy from a pipe bombing plot to an
audacious attack on the World Trade Center." Yousef was "the
individual most responsible for building the World Trade Center
bomb" -- 1,200 pounds of urea nitrate with a nitroglycerine
trigger, booster chemicals, sulfuric acid and sodium cyanide.
After the bombing, Yousef vanished; he
had entered with an Iraqi passport, and exited with a Pakistani
passport. Yousef's Pakistani passport was in the name of Abdul Basit.
He obtained it from the Pakistani consulate in New York shortly before
the bombing, saying he had lost his passport and presenting
photocopied pages from Abdul Basit's 1984 and 1988 passports.
Ms. Mylroie says her evidence suggests
that Abdul Basit and his family were among two dozen Pakistani
nationals working in Kuwait who vanished at the time of the Iraqi
invasion. Law enforcement authorities believe she overplays this
possibility, that Yousef is indeed Basit, and that the original Iraqi
passport is the only firm link to Iraq.
After fleeing in the wake of the 1993
bombing, Yousef/Basit made his way to the Philippines, where he
planted a bomb that killed the passenger taking his seat after he
disembarked from a plane on the island of Cebu. Police investigating a
fire in a Manila apartment he occupied found a laptop computer with
plans to bomb 12 U.S. jets simultaneously. Yousef escaped but was
later apprehended in Pakistan and turned over to U.S. authorities. He
was convicted in both the Trade Center attack and the plane-bombing
One of Yousef's confederates, Abdul
Hakin Murad, was arrested at the Manila apartment and later convicted
in the U.S. in the plane plot. While in custody in the Philippines, he
told investigators that he and Yousef had discussed hijacking a jet
and crashing it into CIA headquarters. According to a January 1995
Manila police report, Murad said "he will board any American
commercial aircraft pretending to be an ordinary passenger. Then he
will hijack said aircraft, control its cockpit and dive it at the CIA
headquarters. There will be no bomb or any explosive that he will use
in its execution. It is simply a suicidal mission that he is very much
willing to execute."
The Philippine Connection
Astonishingly, the Murrah bombing and
the first WTC attack share a connection. Yousef and Terry Nichols were
in the Philippines simultaneously. Nichols's trips there are
undisputed; his wife's relatives lived in Cebu City. Cebu is also the
territory of the Islamic terrorist group Abu Sayyaf. McVeigh lawyers
sought to substantiate an "others unknown" defense theory,
and made extensive filings concerning Nichols's activities there.
These filings show that he was often
in Cebu without his wife, and that he was in frequent contact with
Ernesto Malaluan, a relative of his wife who had once lived in Saudi
Arabia and owned a boarding house in Cebu City. The filing asserted
that his boarding house "shelters students from a university well
known for its Islamic militancy."
A defense examination of phone records
found that Nichols had repeatedly called the Cebu boarding house in
the weeks preceding the bombing. Some of the calls were billed to a
prepaid phone card to which McVeigh also had access. The calls were
often made from pay phones at truck stops and the like, and sometimes
followed mysterious patterns. In one instance, for example, the same
number was dialed nine times in nine minutes before someone answered
and spoke for 14 minutes.
The McVeigh defense also produced two
witnesses, Nichols's father-in-law and a resort worker, who said that
while in the Philippines, Nichols had asked them if they knew anyone
who knew "how to make bombs."
The defense team also obtained a
statement from Philippines law-enforcement officials about a meeting
of Nichols and Yousef. The statement was given by a putative Abu
Sayyaf leader, Edward Angeles. Angeles is a murky figure. Born Ibrahim
Yakub and said to be one of the founders of Abu Sayyaf, he surrendered
to the Philippine Army in 1995, claiming he had been all the time a
deep penetration agent for the government. Angeles was assassinated in
1999 by unknown gunmen.
The McVeigh defense filings portray
the Nichols link to the Cebu City boarding house, Ramzi Yousef and Abu
Sayyaf as grounds for believing that bomb-making expertise may have
been passed to Nichols through "Iraqi intelligence based in the
Philippines." McVeigh attorney Stephen Jones told Insight
magazine recently that six months before the Oklahoma City bombing,
"Tim couldn't blow up a rock. Then Terry goes to the
Philippines," and their bomb-making skills take a great leap
forward. The court did not grant Mr. Jones's request to comb through
U.S. intelligence files in search of an Iraq connection to the
Oklahoma City bombing.
Sept. 11 Footnotes
The principal reason for suspecting an
Iraqi role in the Sept. 11 attacks is of course the much-discussed
report of a meeting in Prague on April 8, 2001, between apparent
hijacking leader Mohamed Atta and Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani,
an Iraqi diplomat expelled as a spy shortly thereafter. Press reports
have repeatedly cast doubt on these reports, apparently because the
FBI located Atta in Virginia and Florida shortly before and after the
meeting and found no record of his leaving the U.S. But the latest
report, in the Aug. 2 edition of the Los Angeles Times, quotes a high
Bush administration official as saying evidence of the meeting
"holds up." In the face of doubts and denials, Czech
officials have repeatedly maintained that they're sure the meeting
took place. Atta also passed through Prague on his way to the U.S. in
June of 2000, returning a second time after being refused entry for
lack of a visa.
There are also reports of various
contacts between Iraqis and the al Qaeda terrorist network, notably a
1998 visit to Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan by Saddam Hussein's
deputy head of military intelligence at the time, Faruq al-Hijazi. In
congressional testimony in March, CIA Director George Tenet noted that
Iraq has "had contacts with al Qaeda," adding that "the
two sides mutual antipathy toward the United States and the Saudi
royal family suggest that tactical cooperation between them is
Espionage writer Edward Jay Epstein
has pointed out that of the eight pilots and co-pilots of hijacked
planes on Sept. 11, none got off a distress call. What we know of the
incidents came from stewardesses and flyers with cell phones.
Commercial satellite photos show the body of an airliner at Salman
Pak, where the Iraqis are thought to maintain terrorist training
camps. One Iraqi defector, Sabah Khalifa Alami, has stated that Iraqi
intelligence trained groups at Salman Pak on how to hijack planes
without weapons. Mr. Epstein details these connections at his Web
None of this is "hard
evidence," let alone "conclusive evidence," that Saddam
Hussein was complicit in Sept. 11 or any of the other domestic
terrorist attacks. But there is quite a bit of smoke curling up from
various routes to Baghdad, and it's not clear that anyone except Jayna
Davis and Laurie Mylroie has looked very hard for fire. We do know
that Saddam Hussein plotted to assassinate former President George
Bush during a visit to Kuwait in April 1993. Could he have been waging
a terror offensive against the U.S. ever since the end of the Gulf
War? This remains a speculative possibility, but a possibility that
needs to be put on the table in a serious way.
Mr. Morrison is a senior editorial page writer
at the Journal.
Updated September 5, 2002