BUSH:"Since September the 11th, the United States and our coalition partners have disrupted a number of serious al Qaeda terrorist plots -- including plots to attack targets inside the United States. Let me give you an example. In the weeks after September the 11th, while Americans were still recovering from an unprecedented strike on our homeland, al Qaeda was already busy planning its next attack. We now know that in October 2001, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad -- the mastermind of the September the 11th attacks -- had already set in motion a plan to have terrorist operatives hijack an airplane using shoe bombs to breach the cockpit door, and fly the plane into the tallest building on the West Coast. We believe the intended target was Liberty [sic] Tower in Los Angeles, California.*
"Rather than use Arab hijackers as he had on September the 11th, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad sought out young men from Southeast Asia -- whom he believed would not arouse as much suspicion. To help carry out this plan, he tapped a terrorist named Hambali, one of the leaders of an al Qaeda affiliated group in Southeast Asia called "J-I." JI terrorists were responsible for a series of deadly attacks in Southeast Asia, and members of the group had trained with al Qaeda. Hambali recruited several key operatives who had been training in Afghanistan. Once the operatives were recruited, they met with Osama bin Laden, and then began preparations for the West Coast attack.
"Their plot was derailed in early 2002 when a Southeast Asian nation arrested a key al Qaeda operative. Subsequent debriefings and other intelligence operations made clear the intended target, and how al Qaeda hoped to execute it. This critical intelligence helped other allies capture the ringleaders and other known operatives who had been recruited for this plot. The West Coast plot had been thwarted. Our efforts did not end there. In the summer of 2003, our partners in Southeast Asia conducted another successful manhunt that led to the capture of the terrorist Hambali"
WHICH COUNTRY, WHICH OPERATIVE? President Bush could be referring to the Southeast Asian country of Thailand because it was the Thai police working closely with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that together captured the aforementioned Hambali, also known as the Osama bin Laden of Southeast Asia and a key figure that has made Jemaah Islamiyah such a deadly force, and every bit a peer of Al Qaeda itself. But his arrest occurred in August, 2003, not early "2002". Perhaps the "operative" was someone associated with Hambali. Incidentally Hambali (Riduan Ismuddin) had a lot going on in another Southeast Asian country--the Philippines -- and his associates in this sad archipelago are among the most lethal terrorists of our time. Perhaps Bush was referring to the Philippines, which had a hand in all this. Here is Hambali in the Philippines --
Hambali's links to al Qaeda are clearly illustrated by one of the first plots that Konsojaya funded. One man serving on the company's board of directors was named Wali Khan Amin Shah, a figure with a critical link to al Qaeda's operations in the Philippines and the plot which would eventually become the September 11 attack .Follow the links in the above post for more on these shadowy figures in a whole series of interconnected links from Rotten Dot Com. Many countries have of course contributed to the long struggle against terrorism in the region, including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. I'm not sure if Pres. Bush was indeed referring to Thailand as the Southeast Asian nation that derailed a possibly catastrophic attack on Los Angeles in 2002. But perhaps Thailand has especial pride of place for capturing Hambali and number of other important terrorists from this region. Nearby is a picture of President Bush with Thai Premier Thaksin Shinawatra in 2003 after that capture and the decision to begin negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement. Thailand could gain a big economic edge over its neighbors in Southeast Asia, when the US-Thailand Free Trade Agreement is finalized. Only Singapore has an existing Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. Thailand has a much greater potential to become a significant US trading partner than Singapore. (I think Thailand's Philippine-derived lanzones, sampaloc, and durian fruit products are superb, and ready for boutique delis and Safeway Supermarkets chains of America.) Thailand and Philippines have been considered the most alike among ASEAN's members in many respects. Although a largely Buddhist country, they also have a major problem with a large Muslim minority in their south land. But Thailand's economy has been booming, and the Free Trade Agreement can only boost it further. While the Philippines complains about stains on its sovereignty... or something...
A veteran mujahideen, Wali Khan went to the Philippines in late 1994, where he joined a terrorist cell which nominally operated under the umbrella of the local Muslim separatist group, Abu Sayyaf.
The launch of Abu Sayyaf was funded and largely directed by Osama bin Laden. The founder of the group was a mujahideen with close ties to bin Laden, and the money to get things rolling allegedly came to the Philippines via bin Laden's brother-in-law, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa , who set up his own "import-export" company (known as the Benevolence International Corp.) and several Islamic charities, from which funds were diverted for terrorist attacks.
Under the close supervision of Khalifa, a team of expert Arab terrorists was sent to Manilla in 1994, under direct orders from Osama bin Laden to craft attacks on U.S. interests. Among the cell's members were uberterrorist Ramzi Yousef , al Qaeda's strategic mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Wali Khan.
Konsojaya provided funding and operational assistance to the Manila cell, according to Philippines investigators, various intelligence agencies and testimony presented at the U.S. trial of Wali Khan.
The Manila cell was charged with several tasks, among them the assassinations of President Bill Clinton and Pope John Paul II. The first was nixed by Yousef as too difficult; the second was prevented only by an accidental fire at the plotters' apartment, which exposed the cell to local police in January 1995.
When police swarmed over the apartment, they discovered documents, supplies and computer files which outlined a massive terrorist attack on U.S. interests. The "Bojinka" plot would have detonated bombs on 11 U.S.-bound airliners virtually simultaneously, and it included a second phase in which a suicide pilot would hijack a commercial jet and crash it into the Pentagon. Sound familiar?
Philippines authorities nabbed a couple of foot-soldiers, but let Yousef and Khalid Shaikh escape the country. Wali Khan was actually arrested by Philippines police but escaped in short order. He was arrested in Malaysia in December 1995, and extradited to the U.S., where he was sentenced to life in prison for the Bojinka plot, alongside Ramzi Yousef and another operative.
Hambali's sponsorship somehow escaped notice at the time the plot was exposed, but the close call was enough to slow the JI leader's ambitions. He began consolidating his power base, focusing on preaching (his religious authority is largely self-appointed), fund-raising and recruiting.