Just days after the Oklahoma City bombing, the INS deported Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, even though the FBI had evidence that linked the Saudi businessman to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1995 Bojinka plot and Oklahoma City.
Not only was Khalifa deported to Jordan, where he was subsequently freed, but the U.S. government let him leave with potentially incriminating evidence and cleared his record of terrorism charges.
Evidence in the FBI's possession at the time potentially implicated the Saudi businessman in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the airliner bombing plot and the Oklahoma City bombing. Khalifa was formally named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the World Trade Center case and the FBI has d connected him to bomb-making documents that included information on every component of the Oklahoma City bomb.
Arrested in San Francisco on an immigration violation in December 1994, Khalifa was a figure of primary interest to the FBI, which suspected him of assisting al Qaeda operatives Ramzi Yousef and Abdul Hakim Murad in a plot to bomb a dozen U.S. airliners from their base in the Philippines earlier that year, according to Peter Lance, author of "1000 Years for Revenge," a new book covering the FBI's investigation of Yousef.
By April 1995, both Yousef and Murad were already in U.S. custody, according to Lance. Interrogation reports obtained by Lance show that both Yousef and Murad were questioned about their links to Khalifa within hours of entering U.S. custody, and that the decision to deport Khalifa came just days after Murad had confessed responsibility for the Oklahoma City blast.
OK, this is the new information I've been promising from the John Doe 2 investigation. There's a lot of all-new stuff in this article, and I think there may be enough here to get the ball rolling on a new investigation, from the angle of how the FBI dropped the ball in 1995. So consider passing this article around to interested parties...
How could the FBI properly investigate this, they were too busy funding Hammas and running international operations!
The One We Gave Away
INS Deported al Qaeda-Linked Suspect Just Days After Oklahoma Bombing
Gov't Returned Evidence, Erased Charges, Despite Ties to OKC Bombing Confession
By J.M. BERGER
For more about this story, see the top right column of this page.
Seven days after the Oklahoma City bombing, the INS agreed to deport a brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden who had been implicated as a possible accessory to the attack by a jailhouse confession and documents relating to bomb construction.
At the same time, the government agreed to remove allegations of terrorism from Mohammed Jamal Khalifa's INS records and to return evidence seized from his luggage.
Arrested in San Francisco on an immigration violation in December 1994, Khalifa was a figure of primary interest to the FBI, which suspected him of assisting al Qaeda operatives Ramzi Yousef and Abdul Hakim Murad in a plot to bomb a dozen U.S. airliners from their base in the Philippines earlier that year, according to Peter Lance (http://www.peterlance.com),
author of "1000 Years for Revenge," a new book covering the FBI's investigation of Yousef.
Evidence in the FBI's possession at the time potentially implicated the Saudi businessman in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the airliner bombing plot and the Oklahoma City bombing. Khalifa was formally named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the World Trade Center case.
LINKS WERE SUSPECTED EARLY
Khalifa's deportation was ordered after direct intervention in the case by then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher in January 1995, but the Saudi businessman fought the action in immigration court through April, according to court documents and newspaper accounts.
By April 1995, both Yousef and Murad were already in U.S. custody, according to Lance. Interrogation reports obtained by Lance also show that both Yousef and Murad were questioned about their links to Khalifa within hours of entering U.S. custody.
On the basis of evidence in the FBI's hands at the time a deal was finally approved in April, Khalifa was at minimum a material witness in the three biggest criminal cases in the history of the United States.
On the day of the Oklahoma bombing, Murad told a prison guard that the "Liberation Army" was responsible for the attack, an allegation he repeated to the FBI the following day, according to documents obtained by Lance, who contributed to this article.
Convicted World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef had claimed responsibility for the 1993 WTC attack on behalf of the Liberation Army. Items seized from his Manila apartment and at the time of his arrest also contained references to the group.
According to Lance, Philippines investigators had forwarded a complete report on the Manila airline-bombing plot, known as Project Bojinka, to U.S. authorities by April 1995. Khalifa's deportation wasn't completed until May 1995, according to a contemporaneous UPI report.
Just one day before the Oklahoma City bombing, on April 18, Khalifa had made an immigration court appearance in which his attorney continued a monthlong fight against INS efforts to deport the Saudi businessman to Jordan, according to contemporaneous newspaper accounts in the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner.
On April 19, Timothy McVeigh used a truck bomb to blow up the Alfred E. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. On April 21, his accomplice, Terry Nichols, surrendered to police.
By April 23, the Chicago Tribune printed one of the first news stories about Nichols' longstanding connection to Cebu, a city in the south of the Philippines. In 1990, Nichols married a Filipina he met through a "mail-order bride" service and visited her family the country several times subsequently.
His last trip to the Philippines took place from November 1994 to January 1995, the same period that Yousef and his coconspirators had been working out of Manila.
Khalifa had lived in the Philippines for several years prior to the U.S. visit, according to dozens of sources. Contemporaneous news accounts of his INS proceedings detailed Khalifa's Philippines history as well as his alleged ties to Yousef, which were well-known.
While in Manila, Khalifa founded a series of businesses and charities that federal investigators now claim transferred money and resources on behalf of al Qaeda. Philippines investigators charged that Khalifa funded the Bojinka plot through a charity front in Manila, according to Lance.
But the FBI was in possession of even more evidence suggesting Khalifa could be linked to the 1993 WTC attack, Bojinka and Oklahoma City.
RECIPES CONSISTENT WITH OKC
An indictment of the Benevolence International Foundation in 2002 claims that Khalifa was in possession of a phone number connected to the Bojinka plot when detained by the INS in December. According to that indictment and Bojinka trial records, the Manila terror cell was in frequent contact with Khalifa during November 1994.
The 2002 indictment alleged that an alias used by Khalifa was found on one of several bomb-making manuals brought into the U.S. in 1992 by an accomplice of Ramzi Yousef.
Those manuals included detailed instructions about how to build improvised explosives, including recipes for urea nitrate (used in the World Trade Center attack) and ammonium nitrate (used in Oklahoma City), according to trial records.
The manuals included instructions on the use and handling of every major component currently believed to have been part of the Oklahoma City bomb, including ammonium nitrate, nitromethane, PETN, blasting caps and instructions on creating shaped charges for use in destroying buildings.
The manuals also contained entries on using hydrogen peroxide and aluminum powder. Ammonium nitrate, hydrogen peroxide, aluminum powder, diesel fuel and blasting caps were found at the Michigan farm of James Nichols, brother of Terry, during an FBI search around April 21, according to a criminal complaint filed in April 1995 but subsequently dropped.
The Bojinka airline-bombing plot had been exposed by an accidental fire in Yousef's apartment in early January 1995, which resulted in the arrest of Abdul Hakim Murad (the prisoner who had claimed responsibility in the Oklahoma bombing). In that apartment and in related phone records, Philippines police also discovered information related to Khalifa, according to court filings. When Yousef was arrested in February 1995 in Pakistan, he was carrying one of Khalifa's business cards.
A spiral-bound notebook seized when Murad was arrested contained a page of instructions on the properties of nitromethane, one of the Oklahoma City bomb components, according to evidence presented at Murad's trial. Murad had used the notebook to record instructions on bomb-making provided by Yousef, who is universally considered an explosives genius.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF NITROMETHANE
The notation on nitromethane is located in a section of the notebook that can be dated to late December 1994, at which time Terry Nichols was staying in the Philippines, according to trial testimony.
The entry on nitromethane appears to differ from other content in the notebook, which consisted largely of shopping lists for the Bojinka plot and notes on the manufacture of chemicals specifically used in that plan, as described at length during Murad's trial.
Nitromethane was not visibly used in the Bojinka plan, according to trial testimony, but it was a significant component of the OKC bomb.
The basic idea for that bomb is believed to have been inspired by the racist novel "The Turner Diaries," which describes white supremacists using an ammonium nitrate-fuel oil bomb to blow up FBI headquarters.
According to author Lance, Ramzi Yousef employed a similar ammonium nitrate-diesel fuel oil bomb in a thwarted attempt to destroy the Israeli embassy in Bangkok just a few months earlier, in March 1994.
McVeigh and Nichols followed the "Turner" blueprint closely, but the choice to replace fuel oil with nitromethane was a deviation that made the bomb more powerful. The specific recipe appears to have been first used in Oklahoma City.
Subsequent to the Oklahoma City bombing, ammonium nitrate bombs became a favorite weapon of al Qaeda, and have frequently been used in attacks connected with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, one of the Manila plotters.
Yousef had arrived in Manila in November 1994, shortly before Terry Nichols, to begin planning several ambitious terror attacks against U.S. and Western interests.
The al Qaeda cell in Manila consisted of Yousef, Murad, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (now believed to be the mastermind of the September 11 attacks) and Wali Khan Amin Shah, a Malaysian al Qaeda operative who called Khalifa's cell phone several times during November, according to FBI affidavits and other trial testimony.
INS RECORD PURGED, EVIDENCE RETURNED
Prior to the Oklahoma City bombing, Khalifa had been fighting the extradition to Jordan, where he faced a death sentence related to a terror-bombing plot. In court on April 18, he continued fighting the deportation even after his in absentia conviction in Jordan had been overturned and a new trial ordered, as reported at the time in the San Francisco Chronicle.
A key witness in Jordan recanted a confession implicating Khalifa, according to court documents. Khalifa maintained his innocence throughout, saying he knew the Jordan plotters but disavowed them when he learned they were violent.
On April 26, 1995, Khalifa abruptly changed strategy and requested the deportation proceed. His lawyer blamed an "anti-alien climate" generated by the OKC attack for his change of heart.
The U.S. government not only agreed to Khalifa's request for deportation to Jordan, but in exchange for his cooperation it expunged terror-related charges from his INS record, according to contemporaneous newspaper accounts of his INS hearing in the Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner.
According to author Peter Lance, the Justice Department had wanted to hold Khalifa and investigate his alleged ties to terrorism as early as December. But Secretary of State Warren Christopher wrote a three-page letter to Attorney General Janet Reno in January urging that the deportation proceed.
The letter, a copy of which was obtained in the course of this investigation, argued that refusing to deport Khalifa could put the U.S. at a disadvantage when seeking the extradition of suspects from abroad, as well as putting pressure on American relations with Jordan.
As he fought the deportation in immigration court, Khalifa filed a separate civil court suit in March 1995 seeking the return of items seized from his luggage, including literature related to training terrorists in the Philippines, an address book and an electronic organizer listing Wali Khan Amin Shah's phone number in Manila, and immigration papers relating to his return to the Philippines. The documents are described in exhibits related to the civil suit and in a 2002 indictment related to the Benevolence International Foundation.
According to evidence presented during one of Yousef's trials, Shah called a mobile phone number for a "Mr. Jamal" on several occasions in November 1994, while Shah was in Manila making early preparation for the airline-bombing plot. Khalifa's full name was never mentioned in open court during the trial.
Despite the fact that Shah was the subject of an ongoing international manhunt at the time, and Yousef was already under indictment in America, the U.S. attorney's office wrote in late March that it had "no objection" to returning the material seized from Khalifa's luggage. The civil case was amicably closed a short time after Khalifa's deportation was completed in early May.
KHALIFA MAINTAINS INNOCENCE
Khalifa claims to be a philanthropist and businessman, and he has repeatedly and vehemently denied any involvement in terrorist activities, most recently in a September 2003 interview with Arab News.
"I spend all my life helping people," Khalifa tearfully told his immigration judge in April 1995.
While in the Philippines, he founded or directed various charitable operations, including the International Islamic Relief Organization, which has been accused by the FBI of helping fund terrorist activities. According to most accounts, IIRO did take part in some legitimate charitable activities, including funding orphanages and Islamic schools in the Philippines.
"My assessment at the time (1995) was that this was guilt by association in the basest form," Khalifa's attorney Marc Van der Hout told the Christian Science Monitor in early 2003. (Van der Hout did not return an e-mail seeking information related to this story.)
Nevertheless, Khalifa has been repeatedly charged with laundering and moving money on behalf of al Qaeda, particularly in the Philippines. The charges stem from the U.S. government as well as testimony and published accounts from leading terrorism researchers, including Peter Lance, Simon Reeve and Steve Emerson.
The FBI alleges that Khalifa is linked to Yousef, Benevolence International, the Abu Sayyaf Group in the Philippines, and al Qaeda proper. Khalifa is currently living in Saudi Arabia. According to some reports, he is living freely; others suggest he is under house arrest.
Khalifa was detained by the Saudi government after September 11, according to the New York Times, but was subsequently released.
In several media interviews given during 2003, Khalifa vociferously denied any link to his brother-in-law's terrorist activities, most recently in a Sept. 21, 2003 interview with Arab News, a English-language daily newspaper. Khalifa also claimed in 2003 to have been financially ruined by the allegations of terrorist activity.
"Why do they point at me for every terrorist operation?" he asked in September. "Osama has 29 in-laws and I am just one of them."
Contact J.M. Berger
I always though those two bone-heads could never have pulled it off by themselves. How do you think they were recruited?
Well, Nichols spent some time in the Philipines, didn't he? Would've been a perfect place to recruit him.
Yup. You'd think that kind of practice would put a dent in their recruiting, wouldn't you? But I guess there's a bottomless well of these murderous idiots out there.
Very interesting. A number of things about McVeigh trial and execution appeared weird and left unanswered questions.
As I understand it, Janet Reno not only made this guy a couple of sandwiches for the trip, she actually gave him a hug goodbye as he got on the plane. He was grateful for the sandwiches.