On February 11, 2002, the FBI added Furqan’s name, along with those of sixteen others connected to the car thefts, to the Seeking Information list. Those of us involved in the Cole investigation pointed out that several of those terrorists were still locked up in Yemen, so on February 14, six of the names were removed.
The others were considered dangerous threats, and there were indications that a major operation was planned for Yemen, the site of al-Qaeda’s big attack prior to 9/11, the October 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole. A fusion team comprised of U.S. officials from many different agencies (except the CIA, which didn’t want to take part) was put together and sent to Yemen, under the leadership of Marine colonel Scott Duke. Stephen Gaudin was the FBI’s permanent representative on the fusion team and he was joined by a Washington field office agent, who was working on other, related investigations. Bob McFadden and I reconnected with General Qamish, the head of Yemeni intelligence, with whom I had developed a good relationship during the Cole investigation. Colonel Yassir and Major Mahmoud, the two Yemeni intelligence officers who had sat in on our interrogation of Abu Jandal, were to work alongside us.
19. Black Magic
December 14, 2001. Singapore’s famed domestic intelligence service, the Internal Security Department, better known by its initials, ISD, briefed an American security liaison officer on a plot by the pan-Asian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah to attack the U.S., Israeli, British, and Australian embassies in Singapore. The ISD was just then thwarting the operation, and the liaison officer told the ISD about the casing and martyrdom videos found in the rubble of Abu Hafs’s home and sifted through during the DocEx investigation. It had been determined that the Singapore sites being cased in the video were locations usually frequented by U.S. military personnel. The ISD asked for a copy of the videotape, which it received on December 28.
On December 15 the ISD arrested a Singaporean JI member, Khalim Jaffar, and subsequently found, in a search of his home, the master copy of the same tape. He had made and produced it with the help of another Singaporean JI member, Hashim Abas. Khalim Jaffar told ISD investigators that he had screened a videotape of sites around Singapore’s Yishun Mass Rapid Transit station in Abu Hafs’s home. He said that he had made notes and had drawn diagrams of the station to explain his plan. While al-Qaeda had given the attack its support, operational defects had prevented its being carried out.
The tape provided concrete proof of the connection between JI and al-Qaeda.
September 2001. The phone rang twice in the ISD duty office in Phoenix Park, Singapore, before an inspector, Charlie, answered it. The muted television in the office showed search and rescue efforts at ground zero, where the World Trade Center towers had once stood. The caller, whose distinctive accent Charlie’s trained ear recognized as being that of a Singaporean Malay, told him about a man named Mohammad Aslam bin Yar Ali Khan who said he knew Osama bin Laden, had fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and intended to return there soon to rejoin the mujahideen.
Pranksters knew better than to call an ISD office, but Charlie still had to verify the information. An investigation showed that Mohammad Aslam bin Yar Ali Khan was serious, and uncovered associates of his who had been part of Darul Islam (DI), an Indonesian group that had fought for independence against the Dutch and then, after independence, had fought to turn the country into an Islamic state. DI emir Abdullah Sungkar would go on to form Jemaah Islamiah, a DI splinter group.
Jemaah Islamiah was very security conscious and used a system of codes to arrange meetings. When they gathered for what were supposed to be prayer sessions in private homes, they all brought their shoes into the house instead of leaving them outside, as Singaporeans usually do. The members also stayed away from mainstream religious activities, and dressed in modern fashions, abandoning the usual Middle Eastern–style robes that DI members wore for T-shirts, jeans, and the like. They also shared with each other a subscription to Playboy magazine (banned in Singapore). The deliberate attempts to blend in seemed reminiscent of the pre-9/11 preparations of Mohammed Atta and Ramzi Binalshibh’s Hamburg cell.
On October 4, Mohammad Aslam bin Yar Ali Khan made a move to leave Singapore on a flight to Pakistan, and, after weighing the situation, the ISD decided to let him go. There was little to hold him on, but, more importantly, his arrest would alert the rest of the group that they were being watched. Two weeks after Aslam left, an Asian who called himself Mike arrived in Singapore and met with group members. Many knew him from a bomb-making class he had given in Malaysia in 2000. Mike told the group that an al-Qaeda operative with the alias Sammy would be arriving shortly to plan a terrorist attack, and that they should help him.
When Sammy arrived from Kuala Lumpur on October 13, members of the group met him in a hotel just outside Singapore’s Orchard Road shopping district and drove him to a car park in Marina South, a quiet area on the outskirts of the business quarter. There Sammy briefed the Singaporeans on his plan to use truck bombs to attack the U.S. Embassy, the Israeli Embassy, and U.S. naval bases in Singapore.
He asked the group members if they had other suggestions, and they proposed the Australian and British diplomatic missions as possible targets—because they were located close to the U.S. Embassy. The group also explored attacking “soft targets” such as commercial buildings housing U.S. companies.
Using a video camera, Sammy and group members cased the selected targets, creating a tape that they labeled “Visiting Singapore Sightseeing” to disguise its contents: the soundtrack to the video was the theme music from the Hollywood hit movie Armageddon. Mike had other operatives purchase seventeen tons of ammonium nitrate, case the U.S. naval bases, and find suitable warehouses where they could prepare the truck bombs. They were given five thousand dollars to cover expenses.
Through data mining and investigative footwork, the ISD later identified Mike as an Indonesian named Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, who was based in southern Mindanao and traveled on a Philippines passport under the name Alih Randy. Sammy was identified as the Canadian who had been arrested in Oman, Mohammed Mansour Jabarah. When I interrogated Jabarah with fellow FBI agent George Crouch, he told us that he had tried to get a Yemeni al-Qaeda member to be a suicide bomber in Singapore, as none of the Singaporeans wanted to martyr themselves.
Jabarah’s path to al-Qaeda began with his training in camps in Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001, after which he pledged bayat to bin Laden, who assigned him to an operation in Southeast Asia under KSM. In mid-August 2001, Jabarah stayed with KSM for three weeks in Karachi and was trained by the 9/11 mastermind in surveillance and stealth travel techniques. He was also taken to meet Riduan Isamuddin, a JI commander more commonly known as Hambali, who had responsibility for Singapore and Malaysia, and who was a close associate of KSM’s: through him, Hambali had joined al-Qaeda and had pledged bayat to bin Laden.
Jabarah was first sent to Malaysia to aid JI members seeking to attack the U.S. and Israeli embassies in the Philippines, and KSM gave him explicit instructions to leave Pakistan before Tuesday, September 11, 2001. He met with JI operatives about a week after his arrival in Malaysia—in mid-September—and surveyed the U.S. Embassy in Manila before traveling to Singapore to plan an operation there.