The Megamall blast, a one-million-dollar 'secret' ploy, and anambassador's recall
- Matt Wolf, Max V. Soliven () - May 22, 2000 - 12:00am

not_entWho did it? There were no fingerprints on the fragments of the bomb planted in the toilet of Megamall's Cinema 6 yesterday (which killed one and injured several others), but it bears signs of being the possible handiwork of one or more of the "terrorist pupils" of the World Trade Center bomber, the "Bojinka" Plotter Ramzi Yousef.

You'll remember the name Ramzi Yousef when you recall that one of the first demands of the Abu Sayyaf when they abducted 51 persons in Basilan, school teachers, children, civilians -- including the priest they subsequently tortured and murdered -- was that Ramzi Yousef be released from his maximum security Colorado prison in the United States.

The Americans, of course, refused. After all, when the Kuwaiti-born "bomb expert" Yousef had been tried by Judge Kevin Duffy for the New York World Trade Center bombing of Feb. 26, 1993, which killed six, plus his bombing of a Philippine Airlines (PAL) flight to Japan which killed a Japanese passenger and almost caused the PAL Boeing 747-200 to crash with its 272 passengers and 20-member crew on December 11, 1994, he had been sentenced to 240 years in prison. (The death penalty for federal terrorist cases had unfortunately not been introduced until 1994).

At the sentencing on February 12, 1997, Yousef had cried out: "Yes, I am a terrorist and proud of it." To which Judge Duffy had replied: "Your God is death. Your God is not Allah. You worship death and destruction. What you do you do not for Allah; you do it only to satisfy your own twisted sense of ego." He condemned Yousef for his "sneak attacks which sought to kill and maim totally innocent people."

The angry judge prohibited the convicted terrorist from ever having visitors during his life-sentence except his lawyers. "The restrictions I am imposing are undoubtedly harsh. They amount to solitary confinement for life," the jurist declared, because, he noted, the evil Yousef espouses had to be "quarantined" and that he was a person "with a virus which, if loosed, could cause plague and pestilence throughout the world."

Those harsh words are the background against which we must view the escalating "bombing" campaign of the urban terrorists, including those blasts in Jolo, Basilan, Zamboanga -- and, who knows, where next?

This is what I mean when I continue to assert that the government (and those nosey foreign governments) cannot hope to negotiate "peace" with the fanatical Abu Sayyaf. The Abu Sayyaf are Ramzi Yousef's and Yemeni-Saudi-born terrorist financier Osama bin Laden's henchmen and operators.

In his book, The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden and the Future of Terrorism (Northeastern University Press, Boston, 1999) which was published only late last year, investigative writer Simon Reeve of the Sunday Times of London reveals that bin Laden had sent Yousef to Basilan in 1994 (after the World Trade Center bombing in New York) "to help Abu Sayyaf, a vicious local Muslim terrorist group already patronized by bin Laden . . ." This is a direct quote from that explosive volume.

* * *

It's known that Ramzi Yousef spent several weeks in Basilan to teach "his extraordinary bomb-making skills to more than 20 Abu Sayyaf terrorists in safehouses in and around Isabela, the provincial capital," Reeve says.

He then went to Manila to assemble a cell of terrorists, bringing them in from Pakistan and several Arab countries to establish respectable businesses as their "cover."

One of the first to arrive to help Yousef was his own brother "Adel Annon" who had fought with the mujahideen in Afghanistan during the anti-Soviet war. In Manila, Yousef and 23 of his militants trained Filipino Muslim terrorists in different places, including safehouses in beach resorts and "fronts" in Ermita. His master plan, dubbed "Bojinka", was to blow up passenger planes using a new type of "tiny, undetectable bombs -- the terrorist's Holy Grail: a weapon that could be smuggled past airport security machines and on to jumbo jets."

Yousef's research was aimed to enable him and his terrorist recruits to manufacture a stable, liquid form of nitroglycerine, "the explosive component of TNT." He rigged Casio digital watches into electronic "triggers", and found that two small batteries, smuggled in the heels of a pair of shoes, could avoid detection by X-ray machines and thus provide a ready fuse.

He first experimented in a shopping mall in Cebu. In November 1994, he planted a small nitroglycerine device in a generator room. It exploded several hours later but caused only slight damage. Yousef, however, was content. His first try had demonstrated that the device worked.

Then he sent an agent, a Pakistani terrorist called Wali Khan Shah (probably not too successful an explosives man since he already had two fingers missing) to plant one of his first "Mark II" bombs. Shah left the bomb under the seat of a theater in Makati's Greenbelt. When it detonated at 10:30 p.m. that evening (December 1, 1994), it luckily inflicted only mild injuries to an "amorous couple" seated nearby. Yousef, nonetheless, was also pleased. The bomb had exploded precisely on time -- and the next step was to increase the destructive force of succeeding explosives.

* * *

On December 8, 1994, Yousef rented room 603 of the Doña Josefa Apartment building, a six-story edifice overlooking President Quirino boulevard through which Pope John Paul II was expected to pass when he visited Manila in mid-January 1995.

That's when he experimented again by planting the bomb on PAL Flight 434, which he boarded a few days afterwards as a passenger bound for Cebu. The explosive he planted, though, was timed to detonate several hours later when the same Boeing 747-200 was enroute to Tokyo's Narita airport from Mactan. When it went off over Minami Daito island in Okinawa, an ill-starred 24-year-old Japanese engineer named Haruki Ikegami, returning to Japan from Cebu, was in the death seat. He died when the blast mutilated the bottom half of his body, but -- while the explosion severed the aileron cables of the plane -- PAL Captain Ed Reyes courageously managed to wrestle the crippled plane into an emergency landing at Naha airport in Okinawa.

The master plan, however, was to kill the Pope. Yousef had brought in his childhood friend Abdul Hakim Murad, a fellow Kuwaiti but based in Pakistan. Among Murad's skills was his ability to fly a plane (he had trained as a flyer at flight schools in San Antonio and Schenectady, New York, and finally in North Carolina).

The initial wild plan was to fly over the "Popemobile" and lob bombs on the Holy Father's head, but this was abandoned.

On January 6, 1995, fate intervened. The raw chemicals the two had assembled in their Doña Josefa apartment ignited at 10:40 p.m. The two men got away, but Yousef suddenly remembered he had left his vital laptop computer in the smoke-filled room -- foolishly containing records of all his vital plans and operations. Craftily, he got Murad to go back to retrieve the computer from the scorched apartment room. That's when senior Philippine National Police agents, arriving in the wake of the fireman, nabbed Murad -- and captured the computer.

The PNP turned the computer over to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for the deciphering of its encrypted hard disk. After some difficulty, the FBI technicians retrieved what was contained in the hard disk.

The horrifying information uncovered by the PNP's confiscation of the laptop enabled the Philippine police, the FBI, Interpol and other intelligence agencies to foil Ramzi Yousef's amazingly detailed plans -- and shortly afterwards track down Yousef and arrest him in his bolthole in Pakistan.

"Bojinka" entailed having five terrorist agents plant bombs timed to explode simultaneously on 11 American airliners over the Pacific. The aim was to kill up to 4,000 passengers in one blow.

The agents' revealed code-names were "Mirqas" (to plant a bomb on a United Airlines flight from Manila to Seoul); "Markoa" to plant a bomb on a Northwest Airlines flight from Manila to Tokyo; "Obaid" to plant a bomb on the UA flight from Singapore to Hong Kong; "Majbos" to put a bomb on a UA flight from Taipei to Tokyo and Los Angeles; "Zyed" to fly Northwest to Seoul, hide a bomb under his seat then get off, with the bomb timed to go off on the Los Angeles leg of the flight. "Zyed" was surmised to have been Yousef himself.

Since Yousef trained many Abu Sayyaf and other Moro terrorists during his stint in the Philippines, we can only brace ourselves for more "trouble" in the days and weeks to come.

But the PNP foiled Yousef before. Even though his laptop was "taken" by accident, the resulting follow-up and arrests were the result of patient sleuthing. There's no reason why our police, while often stumble-bum, can't repeat this performance.

We're not the only country in which bombs have been going off.

In Paris, when President Jacques Chirac was Mayor, Arab terrorists and their German and Japanese Red Army brethren were exploding bombs in the French Metro and around tourist spots like the Champs Elysee. Chirac and the tough French security services cracked down ruthlessly (there were protests about violations of "human rights," but what the heck, anybody looking like an Arab or North African was stopped, identity checked, and thoroughly searched, hands on the wall by machine-gun toting gendarmes and defense du terretoire special troopers).

I was there during those harrowing days, so I know from first-hand experience that those "merciless" tactics worked.

Do you know what my fear was in those weeks of paranoia? That I might be mistaken for a Japanese terrorist. You know Les Flics. Sometimes they beat you up first, or shoot first, then apologize later. That's perhaps why they call their constables, who aren't generals by the way, "brigadiers."

* * *

Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is poised to recall the Malaysian Ambassador Mohammad Arshad Hussein who rashly broke protocol and went to Sulu to try to make a separate deal with the Abu Sayyaf for the release of its nine Malaysian hostages.

When the three envoys with hostages in the bandit gang's hands, the French, German and Finnish Ambassadors furiously confronted Ambassador Hussein about his breaking ranks and attempting to parley personally with the Abu Sayyaf, he reportedly claimed he had received "permission" from our Foreign Affairs Secretary Domingo Siazon, Jr. The Malaysian diplomat showed them a document purportedly signed by Siazon. Jun Siazon must speak up and tell the public whether this is true or not. If that meddling Malaysian envoy had his "okay," what's Siazon trying to pull?

Already Siazon got into a controversy with the President's official Negotiator, Flagship Projects Secretary Robert N. Aventajado when he was quoted in the press as having said the kidnappers had been offered $2 million for the release of the ailing German woman, Mrs. Renate Wallert. When Aventajado, in a blue funk over Siazon's supposed statement, rang up President Estrada in Beijing to protest Siazon's "interference" which he fumed had endangered the negotiations, Siazon denied having publicized that figure. The President might have been skeptical of this denial, since he handed the telephone to Siazon and told him: "Here, you talk to Aventajado and convince him!"

Then that incident about the Malaysian envoy claiming Siazon had given him the "okay" to stick his nose into the Sulu hostage situation: Is Siazon the victim of lies, or is he trying to upstage Aventajado? This kind of game is perilous, no matter how one looks at it.

Another meddler is former Libyan Ambassador Rajab Azzarouq whose intercession is UNWANTED by Aventajado. The former envoy of the Libyans here (for nine years) should be sent home to Tripoli. He wasn't invited here, but my sources say it was the Germans (who continue to deny it) who requested his being sent to "mediate" with the Abu Sayyaf. Azzarouq has been whispering around that he's got one million dollars for the Abu Sayyaf if they release the sick German hostage. (Who put up that money, if it exists: the Germans? Not the French and not the Finns, I'll wager).

The truth is that Aventajado, without forking over any ransom (what about "board and lodging"?) is on the verge of securing the release of the ailing German lady.

On the other hand, why should the Abu Sayyaf be in a rush to release the rest of their 21 hostages, including the seven Europeans (over which the European Union seems to be in a dither)? As long as they have their captives, they may feel, they'll be "safe" from an Army offensive or an assault by the PNP Swat teams.

You can't tell, though, what will happen next. The military and police are getting restive. Their own lives are on the line -- and they don't want to leave behind widows and orphans.

Let's see. Abangan.

Among the worrisome factors is the need for the Abu Sayyaf to recover their investment. With the help of a Muslim-Chinese financier, they bought the swift four-engine motorboat they utilized to raid the Malaysian Semporna Resort on Sipadan island (Sabah) and abduct their victims, for P20 million. Somehow, they'll have to recover that P20 million from somebody -- plus a profit.

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