Operative Details al Qaeda Plans to Hit Planes in Wake of 9/11

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By Paul Cruickshank, CNN Terrorism Analyst

Within weeks of the September 11, 2001, attacks, Osama bin Laden was planning follow-up operations to bring down airliners in the United States and Southeast Asia, according to a convicted al Qaeda operative testifying in a terror trial in New York.

Saajid Badat was speaking via a video deposition from the United Kingdom, where he is serving a jail sentence for his role in plotting to blow up a U.S.-bound aircraft in December 2001.

It’s the first time that an al Qaeda operative has publicly provided such detail about plans to bring down airliners in the wake of 9/11.

Badat testified that a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, he met with Abu Hafs al Masri, then bin Laden’s right-hand man, in the Jalalabad-Kabul area in Afghanistan.

“Abu Hafs asked me to take an explosive device onboard an airplane, a domestic airline (in the United States) and then detonate it,” Badat testified. He was then called to meet bin Laden himself.

“It was just the two of us in the room and he explained to me his justification for the mission,” Badat said.

“He said that the American economy is like a chain. If you break one link of the chain, the whole economy will be brought down. So after September 11th attacks, this operation will ruin the aviation industry and in turn the whole economy will come down,” he added.

Badat was then told to pick up two explosive shoes from an al Qaeda bomb-maker named Fathi. The explosives, he said, were concealed in the soles.

The idea was for him and Richard Reid, a British operative who came to be known as “the shoe bomber,” to blow up different planes simultaneously.

Reid tried to blow up an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami on December 22, 2001.

Before leaving Afghanistan in late November, Badat said he and Reid met with 9/11 orchestrator Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

“It was as if he was giving me final orders,” Badat testified.

“He just gave us advice on how to interact with each other, how to contact each other,” he said, adding that the communication between him and Reid was to be via e-mail.

When Badat arrived in the United Kingdom in December, he said, he got cold feet, fearing going through with the operation and the possible implications for his family. He described how he dismantled the shoe bomb he had brought with him and stored it in his parents’ house.

On December 14, 2001, he e-mailed his Pakistani handler to tell him he was backing out.

Badat now feels he and others were manipulated by al Qaeda’s top leadership.

During his video deposition he stated he was ready to testify against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other top leaders to expose the hollowness of what he called their “bulls**t cause.”

Badat, who joined al Qaeda in Afghanistan in 2000, was testifying at the trial in New York of Adis Medunjanin, an American of Bosnian descent charged with involvement in a plot to explode bombs on the subway in September 2009. Though the two never met, Badat met at least one al Qaeda member Medunjanin is alleged to have encountered.

Badat also revealed that he and Reid left Afghanistan for Pakistan with a group of Malaysians militants.

“I learned that they had a group ready to perform a similar hijacking to 9/11,” Badat testified.

According to a 9/11 Commission report, al Qaeda initially planned to hijack a dozen airliners in Southeast Asia at the same time as in the United States, but bin Laden scrapped the Southeast Asian portion of the plan.

The new revelations suggest that al Qaeda’s Southeast Asian plan was revived after 9/11.

A senior U.S. counterterrorism official told CNN al Qaeda planned to hijack aircraft in Southeast Asia using militants who had begun training in flight schools in the region, but the plan was never carried through.

The official said Khalid Sheikh Mohammed orchestrated the post-9/11 Southeast Asia hijacking plot and was assisted by Walid bin Attash, a Yemeni al Qaeda terrorist also now being held in Guantanamo Bay.

Two Jemaah Islamiya operatives responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings — Hambali (real name: Riduan Isamuddin) and Ali Ghufron (real name: Huda bin Abdul Haq) — are also suspected of having had a role in the plot, according to the official.

Badat recalled how a few months before the 9/11 attacks, he was instructed to “collect intelligence on various Jewish locations in South Africa to be viewed as potential targets.”

Badat said he researched potential targets on the Internet and put together a report. But despite being tasked to travel to South Africa, he never took the trip.

Days before 9/11, Badat was dispatched to Belgium to meet with Nizar Trabelsi, a Tunisian then planning a terrorist operation who also met bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Trabelsi was arrested two days after the terrorist attacks on the United States and later admitted to plotting an attack on the Klein Brogel NATO base in Belgium.

He is currently in prison in Belgium and fighting an extradition request to face terrorism charges in the United States.

Badat described meeting several times in Afghanistan with Adnan Shukrijumah, an American al Qaeda operative. At the time he knew the American as “Jaffar.” Shukrijumah, he stated, never had any knowledge of the shoe bombing plot.

U.S. authorities allege that Shukrijumah helped orchestrate the 2009 plot to attack New York subways and met Medunjanin in a camp in South Waziristan in September 2008. They say Shukrijumah has emerged as a senior operational planner for the network and is still believed to be at large in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

Badat also shed light on how his motivations for traveling to Afghanistan to fight jihad in 1999 when he was just 19. He testified that he became involved in a militant circle in London and became the friend of a man called Babar Ahmad.

“He introduced me to a different dimension to Islam that hadn’t been explained to me or shown to me. … We’re talking about actually taking up arms in the name of Islam,” Badat testified.

Ahmad is set to be extradited to the United States after a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights earlier this month. He is to face charges, including materially supporting terrorists, related to a militant website that he ran.

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