Thursday, December 7, 2006


But there was more to Operation Bojinka: a second phase, barely mentioned if at all at the time. In all the evidence and arguments in the 6,000-page transcript of the 1996 trial, there is not a single mention of this second phase, even though one of the defendants was to be the perpetrator. [1] When Philippine interrogators pressed Abdul Murad about his pilot's license, they found out that his years training at multiple American flight schools had been in preparation for one final mission. A 2002 article from the Washington Post explained. “he was to buy, rent, or steal a small plane, fill it with explosives and crash it into CIA headquarters.” [2] Murad was ready to do this, knew how to fly, had plenty of bombs in the works, and only needed a plane.

But had hoped for more, and provided his interrogators with a broader phase two plan complete with a wish list of secondary targets for simultaneous suicide plane attacks. The possible targets mentioned included the U.S. Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and “possibly some skyscrapers,” like, for example, the ones he and Yousef had failed to bring down the first time. The only problem with carrying out this more ambitious version, Murad complained, was that “they needed more trained pilots to carry out the plot,” and of course more planes – Cessnas, Learjets, crop-dusters, anything small. [3]

Bojinaka was a famous case at the time, and had a grand scale to it that captured imaginations and the attention of writers like Tom Clancy and “John Gilnitz.” If largely forgotten as a real-world threat by 9-11, it was quickly recalled and widely commented on afterwards. But the mainstream accounts of Bojinka are universally dominated by the nightmare image of eleven airliners blowing up, flaming wreckage and thousands of corpses plunging down into the middle of the ocean. People seemed to forget or ignore phase two, since it wasn’t about to happen at the time and was so much more… lame.

It was just an idea - but what an idea. A suicidal mindset and pilot training on the part of a hijacker can turn a 767 full of innocents from a bargaining chip to a guided missile. When Aida Fariscal, the first officer on the scene the night Murad was caught, saw the footage of 9-11 years later, she gasped “oh my God, it’s Bojinka.” The following day, General Avelino “Sonny” Razon flew to Manila to issue the public statement “we told the Americans about the plans to turn planes into flying bombs as far back as 1995. Why didn't they pay attention?” [4]

Their reaction to 9-11, connecting it with Bojinka, meant they had learned the lessons of Murad’s plot and understood its wider implications. All they needed was more trained pilots, as Murad said, and different thinking about the relation between planes and bombs. This was already evident to some in 1995. Gen. Renato De Villa, who served as Philippines Defense Minister at the time, said valuable clues were discovered during Murad’s “tactical interrogation.” An article summed these up:

“First, the extremists saw the 1993 World Trade Center bombing as a failure and still considered the twin towers a viable target. And more importantly, the cell seemed to be growing frustrated with explosives. They were too expensive, unstable and could give them away.”[5]

Even in Yousef’s new type of liquid bomb was an example of their shift to easier, less traceable methods. They’d already thought about cashing planes into buildings with bombs on board. Is there an easier way to get explosive things in the air and under your control? Explosions… car crashes… gasoline… jet fuel… Ah! The only thing needed to gain access to ready-made flying bombs, with no labs or chemical shipments to discover, was a few guys with box cutters and a guy who can fly - all willing to die. The government would now have us believe that they did not predict this fairly obvious evolution in thought.

[1] Terror Timeline. Page 18.
[2] Brzezinski, Matthew. “Bust and Boom: Six years before the September 11 attacks, Philippine police took down an al Qaeda cell that had been plotting, among other things, to fly explosives-laden planes into the Pentagon.” Washington Post. December 30 2001. Page W09
[3], [4], [5], See [2].

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