Thwarted Terrorist Airliner Attack Reminiscent of Bojinka Plot
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Based on yesterday’s news reports and the statements of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the British-thwarted planned terrorist attacks on U.S. airliners is very reminiscent of the “Bojinka” airline bombing plot to destroy 11 U.S. airliners over the Pacific Ocean on January 21 and 22, 1995. The Bojinka plot was developed by Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed while they were in Manila Phillipines in 1994 and early 1995. According to reporting in March 2002, by Maria Ressa of CNN, Yousef and Mohammed used contact lense solution bottles to hide nitroglycerin as a bomb component.
On December 11, 1994, Yousef built a small “test” bomb, in the lavatory of Phillipines Airlines Flight 434 enroute from Manila to Narita, Japan. Yousef placed the bomb inside the life jacket under his seat, setting the timer for detonation four hours later. He got off the plane in Cebu, The Phillipines. The bomb exploded while the aircraft was near Okinawa, Japan. A Japanese businessman was killed by the bomb. The 747 airliner made an emergency landing in Okiniawa with no other loss of life. Ten other passengers were injured by the explosion.
The January bombing plot targeted U.S. flights from Asia that involved two legs of travel. At least five al Qaeda bombers would have boarded flights and planted explosives similar – but far larger – to the December “test” bomb in life jackets of U.S. airliners. The simple bombs were to be constructed with cheap digital watches, 9-volt batteries, light bulb filaments and various fluids that lend themselves to explosive or incendiary uses. Each of the components could easily have been taken aboard the aircraft as regular carry-on personal items.
Targeted U.S. aircraft would have reportedly departed from Asian airports including: Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Manila, Taipei, Singapore, and Bangkok; with scheduled service to San Francisco, Honolulu, New York, Los Angeles and Portland.
The Bojinka plot was abandoned after a fire occurred in Yousef’s Manila apartment on Friday,January 6, 1995. The fire started when Yousef and an accomplice, Abdul Hakim Murad, were mixing chemicals in the kitchen of the apartment. The arrival of police, fire and emergency services to the apartment unraveled the Bojinka plot and additional terror plans to assasinate Pope John Paul II.
(Chris Farrell is JW’s Director of Investigations and Research and a former Army Intelligence Officer.)