Will Malaysia be the next target? NY Times: Suspect Calls Malaysia a Staging Area for Terror Attacks
New York Times, Jan 31, 2002
Suspect Calls Malaysia a Staging Area for Terror Attacks
By PHILIP SHENON and DAVID JOHNSTON
WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 An operative of Al Qaeda arrested in Malaysia has
begun cooperating with investigators and provided new evidence to show that
the Southeast Asian nation was a major staging area for the Sept. 11 terror
attacks in the United States, Bush administration officials said today.
The operative, a former Malaysian Army captain, has acknowledged meeting in
Malaysia with at least two of the Sept. 11 hijackers, as well as with
Zacarias Moussaoui, a 33- year-old French citizen who is now in a Virginia
jail cell and is the only person charged so far with involvement in the
Sept. 11 attacks, the officials said.
They said the United States was negotiating with the Malaysian government
in hopes that the retired Malaysian soldier, Yazid Sufaat, 37, could be
extradited here to face charges.
The negotiations have been difficult, officials said, because of repeated
public statements by the Malaysian government insisting that the
predominantly Muslim nation could not have been a staging ground for the
Sept. 11 attacks.
American and Malaysian officials say they believe that Mr. Sufaat was a
crucial organizer of a gang of Muslim extremists known as the Malaysian
Militant Group, or Jemaah Islamiah, that is part of Osama bin Laden's
terrorist network, Al Qaeda. Mr. Sufaat was one of 23 people believed to be
extremists detained by the Malaysia police in the last two months.
Officials said Mr. Sufaat appeared to have operated as a paymaster for Mr.
Moussaoui, who was arrested in the United States last August after he
raised suspicions among his instructors at a Minneapolis flight school and
to have provided him with bogus business credentials from a Malaysian
Officials said they had found evidence that Mr. Sufaat provided Mr.
Moussaoui with at least $35,000 in meetings near Kuala Lumpur, the
Malaysian capital, in September and October of 2000. American investigators
say Mr. Moussaoui deposited about $32,000 a few months later in a bank
account in Norman, Okla., where he first attended flight school in the
Lawyers for Mr. Moussaoui, who is of Moroccan descent and who has been
linked by French intelligence agencies to Al Qaeda, have entered a plea of
not guilty on his behalf on charges that he conspired in the Sept. 11
attacks. One of the defense lawyers, Edward B. MacMahon, had no comment
tonight when asked about Mr. Sufaat.
American officials said the evidence showed that Mr. Sufaat had met in
January 2000 with two of the Sept. 11 hijackers, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaq
Alhazmi, at his condominium outside Kuala Lumpur.
Mr. Midhar and Mr. Alhazmi subsequently traveled to the United States for
flight training, and they were among the suicidal hijackers who
commandeered the American Airlines jet that crashed into the Pentagon on
Officials had previously acknowledged that Mr. Midhar and Mr. Alhazmi were
under surveillance on their trip to Malaysia, and that as a result of their
meetings in Kuala Lumpur with Al Qaeda operatives, they were placed on an
immigration watchlist in the United States. By the time their names were
added to the list, however, the two men had already entered the United States.
Investigators say that Muslim extremists in Malaysia appear to have
organized "sleeper cells" of Islamic militants throughout Southeast Asia,
and that they may have given direction to a network based in neighboring
Singapore, which had planned to blow up the embassies there of the United
States, Israel, Australia and Britain.
The plot was apparently foiled when 13 terror suspects were arrested in the
tiny, tightly policed city- state in recent weeks. During questioning,
officials there said, the suspects described a well-organized terror
network stretching across several nations in Southeast Asia, including the
Philippines, which has a large Muslim population, and Indonesia, the
world's most populous Muslim nation.
Investigators say they believe they have established a link between Mr.
Sufaat and Fathur Rahman al-Ghozi, a 30-year-old Indonesian living in the
Philippines who is suspected of organizing the embassy attacks in Singapore.
Mr. Ghozi was arrested this month in the Philippines, where the authorities
said they seized a cache of rifles, explosives and bomb-making equipment
believed to have been part of the plot. Officials said the evidence
suggested that Mr. Ghozi had separately ordered Mr. Sufaat to purchase tons
of explosives for use in the attacks.
The arrest in Malaysian of Mr. Sufaat and the others accused of being
Islamic extremists had created a problem for the government of Prime
Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has rejected the suggestion that his country
could have been used as a staging area for the Sept. 11 attacks.
"As far as we know, there is no Malaysian connection in the attacks in the
U.S.," Mr. Mohamad said earlier this week.
Asked specifically about the possible role of Mr. Sufaat in the terrorist
strikes, the prime minister replied, "Let's see the evidence it's very
easy to say." He continued: "Did he plan everything? I doubt it. It is too
sophisticated an operation."
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