Intelligence from Afghanistan breaks Singapore plot
By Barbara Starr
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Singapore has broken an al Qaeda plot targeting the U.S. Navy presence there as the direct result of intelligence gathered in Afghanistan, U.S. officials told CNN on Friday.
The plot, these sources say, included plans to attack U.S. Navy ships, sailors and the nightspots they frequent. The 17,000 Americans living in Singapore and other expatriates were also among the targets.
This is the first acknowledged instance of the operation in Afghanistan leading to the breakup of a terrorist plot in another country. U.S. officials tell CNN they believe that some of those arrested, as well as additional suspects, had access to large amounts of stored explosives; bomb-making information; photographs of key sites used by the United States; and fake travel documents.
American warships have continued to make port calls in Singapore over the last several weeks with extra security measures. U.S. Navy sources say they were confident that Singapore's government had taken steps to control security at the port and key areas frequented by U.S. sailors.
Such security is in contrast to circumstances surrounding the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole during a port-of-call in Yemen that killed 17 U.S. soldiers. After the attack, the Pentagon concluded the Yemeni government was not in control of the security situation and ended port calls, officials say.
Authorities in Singapore said they arrested 15 suspected terrorists in December. On January 6, 13 of those suspects were ordered detained for two years under the country's Internal Security Act.
Authorities said all 13 belong to Jemaah Islamiya, a clandestine organization that has cells in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Eight of them had gone to al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan for training that included use of AK-47s and mortars and study of military tactics, they said, and the group's leader in Singapore, Ibrahim Maidin, underwent military training in Afghanistan in 1993.
Maidin, 51, managed a condominium and taught religion classes, where he recruited J.I. members, who maintained tight operational security, using code words and code names in their communications, investigators said in a statement released Friday.
Two of the 15 people who were arrested were released, but ordered not to contact any terrorist organization for the next two years. They had donated money to religious organizations involved with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines, where they had visited a training camp, but were not members of Jemaah Islamiya.
Until Friday, details of the arrests had been closely held. Now that the Singapore government has begun releasing details, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other military officials are expected to acknowledge the matter officially.
Sources tell CNN the situation remains sensitive: U.S. officials say the ring was broken up because of intelligence the U.S. military gained inside Afghanistan while searching al-Qaeda hideouts. Singapore says it had a handle on the problem from the beginning -- without U.S. assistance.
Authorities said three cells were involved in planning attacks: One was to target a shuttle bus service used by U.S. personnel in Singapore, and Singapore official said a videotape made by its leader, Mohamed Khalim bin Jaffar, was found in the rubble of an al-Qaeda leader's house in Afghanistan.
For unknown reasons, the plan was not carried out.
Under a second plan, U.S. Navy vessels northeast of Singapore between Changi and Pulau Tekong may have been targeted for bombing. Khalim's possessions included a map that showed observation posts in Singapore and Johor and a "kill zone" in the channel between Changi and Pulau Tekong.
Authorities said he had a list of more than 200 U.S. companies in Singapore, two tampered Singapore passports, 15 forged Malaysian and Philippines immigration stamps, night-vision binoculars and papers describing how to make bombs.
The second cell obtained photographs in April 2000 of Paya Lebar Air Base and the U.S. planes there as a potential target. The pictures were found among bin Jaffar's possessions.
The group also carried out surveillance of the U.S. Embassy, the Australian High Commission, the Israeli Embassy and commercial buildings housing U.S. companies in conjunction with a group from outside Singapore, two members of which told the cell they had stockpiled four tons of ammonium nitrate in Malaysia and needed 17 more.
Mohamed Elias, a 29-year-old manager, tried to make the purchase but was arrested by Singapore authorities before he could do so.
Authorities said a third cell formed after last September's terror attacks in the United States. They observed targets that included U.S. companies, but stopped when they heard other suspects had been arrested by Singapore authorities.
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