September 11: The Asian blueprint
(CNN) -- Hundreds of top secret documents from the Philippines outline a clear plan to recruit Islamic extremists and train them as pilots in flight schools in the United States. Their goal: a suicide mission.
As part of a bundle of material obtained by CNN, one police report in particular stands out: "What the subject has in his mind is that he will board any American commercial aircraft pretending to be an ordinary passenger. Then he will hijack [the] said aircraft, control its cockpit and dive it at the CIA headquarters."
Other buildings targeted: the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
It may sound like September 11, but it's not. That report was dated January 20, 1995. Philippine police say that document and others outlining three terrorist plots were given to the FBI in 1995 after investigators here busted a terrorist cell.
Two attacks -- to assassinate the Pope and to bomb U.S. planes -- were foiled, but parts of the last and most ambitious plan, Philippine police say, became reality six years later.
Police investigators working on the case say that if officials in the United States and the region had paid attention to that information, September 11 might have been averted.
Brig. Gen Robert Delfin, head of the Philippine Police Intelligence Unit, says, "I believe there was a lapse."
A senior U.S. official acknowledges America got the information. The FBI checked four flight schools named in the documents, U.S. law enforcement officials say, but found no evidence of any terrorist attacks.
Still, from that 1995 Philippine cell, three men were convicted in America for plotting to blow up a number of U.S. airliners in Asia: Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; Abdul Hakim Murad, the pilot, who trained in four U.S. schools, and Wali Khan Amin Shah, who fought with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.
Philippine police tell CNN they believe the terrorist cell was funded by a Malaysian company, Konsojaya.
Wali Khan Amin Shah is on its board of directors, according to another document given to CNN.
Riduan Isamuddin, an Indonesian cleric and Afghan war veteran, better known as Hambali, was listed two names below him.
According to intelligence officials in Southeast Asia, Hambali is now the al Qaeda terrorist network's main operator in the region.
Terrorist cells in Singapore and Indonesia report to Hambali, officials from both countries say.
In a January 11 statement, the Singapore government said, "The Singapore network reports to a Malaysian-based leadership structure. This is essentially headed by Hambali."
As in 1995, Philippine investigators point out that Hambali's network has its leadership base in Malaysia and training camps in the Philippines.
"It's the same network, but it was expanded," says police investigator Col. Rodolfo Mendoza, who interrogated Murad in 1995.
"It was modernized. It became sophisticated, and it attracted a lot of membership. So organizationally, it expanded," adds Mendoza.
Police in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines have arrested dozens of terrorist suspects in the past few months.
They believe Hambali was behind a series of bombings in the region in 2000, and that he was directing another ambitious terrorist plot -- the bombing of the U.S. Embassy and U.S. commercial and military targets in Singapore.
A surveillance tape planning that attack was found in an al Qaeda safehouse in Afghanistan.
Singapore authorities say another surveillance tape, of the U.S. Embassy, was shot by the Singapore cell on the orders of an Indonesian man arrested January in the Philippines: Fathur Roman Al-Ghozi.
'Mike the bomb-maker'
Filipino authorities recovered one ton of explosives based on the information he gave them. They believe that was the initial shipment slated for targets in Singapore.
In an affidavit, Al-Ghozi, known by members of the Singapore cell as 'Mike the bomb-maker', admitted he was working with Hambali.
It was Hambali who funded and oversaw the December 2000 bombing of the light rail transit station in Manila that killed at least 12 people, according to Al-Ghozi.
"He did tell us that Hambali was here before December 2000, but now he's out of the country," says Immigration Commissioner Andrea Domingo, "we're watching out that he does not come back."
Last Friday, the Philippine government placed Hambali on an immigration blacklist. He is wanted for arrest in three countries: in Singapore, for plotting to bomb the U.S. embassy; in Indonesia, for bomb attacks; and in Malaysia, for subversion.
But there is evidence, officials here say, Hambali had a far wider reach than Southeast Asia.
Intelligence officials in the region say they believe Hambali helped plan September 11, perhaps using the 1995 plot as a blueprint.
In January 2000, intelligence sources say Hambali was videotaped meeting with two of the September 11 hijackers in Malaysia: Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf Alhazmi.
That same year, Hambali also met with one of the suspects in the bombing of the USS Cole.
Intelligence officials tell CNN Hambali left Malaysia February 23 for Indonesia. Two days later, he left Indonesia for an unknown location.
No one knows exactly where Hambali is now, but finding him is key, say officials here, to help prevent further attacks in the future.
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