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InsightMag.com
Iraqi Connection to Oklahoma Bombing

Posted March 25, 2002

Saudi Crown Prince Abdallah reportedly rejected a direct request from Vice President Dick Cheney during a March 16 meeting in Jeddah that Saudi Arabia support a U.S.-led attack on Iraq. Other Arab countries have followed suit. But new information linking Iraq to terrorist attacks against the U.S. mainland could at least change the equation ? or at least the U.S. resolve to move against Iraq unilaterally if necessary.

President George W. Bush and top administration officials have expanded the war on terror to include regimes, such as Iraq's, that are developing weapons of mass destruction. In testimony March 19 before the Senate Armed Services Committee, CIA Director George Tenet made clear that Iraq's ongoing nuclear-weapons program constitutes a clear and present danger to the United States. The president repeatedly has said the same. But until now the United States has taken no steps to deploy the forces most observers believe would be necessary to support military action to depose Saddam Hussein.

That was before an Oklahoma City lawyer named Mike Johnston, aided by Larry Klayman of Judicial Watch, filed a federal lawsuit against Iraq on behalf of victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. The lawsuit alleges that "the entire plot to blow up the Murrah Building on April 19, 1995, in whole or in part, was orchestrated, assisted technically and/ or financially and directly aided by agents of the Republic of Iraq."

The facts Johnston and his team of investigators uncovered could blow the lid off the U.S. government cover-up of the "others unknown" who conspired with Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols to murder 168 Americans. If proven, says Richard Perle, chairman of the Bush administration's advisory Defense Policy Board, "it would add a lot to the justification of what we do." However, Perle cautioned INSIGHT in an interview, "The case against Saddam is so powerful it would be unnecessary and unwise to pin our case on one single act, however heinous. We're looking at the aggregate of the indictment of Iraq: their weapons of mass destruction, their refusal to allow U.N. arms inspectors into the weapons facilities, their support for terrorism. If we clutched at one single act, some people might see it as an excuse."

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. district court in Washington on March 14, alleges that convicted Oklahoma City conspirator Nichols met repeatedly in the Philippines with World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Youssef, and that Youssef was an Iraqi intelligence agent. If these allegations are confirmed in court, they constitute a stunning indictment of Iraqi state complicity in murderous attacks on the United States well before Sept. 11.

As if anticipating new developments on the terrorism front, CIA Director Tenet told the Senate Armed Services Committee in unusually frank testimony on March 19 that the United States now is actively examining potential Iraqi and Iranian involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks.

"As to where we are in [investigating] Sept. 11, the jury's out," Tenet told senators. "And it would be a mistake to dismiss the possibility of state sponsorship, whether Iranian or Iraqi, and we'll see where the evidence takes us."

The evidence could take the CIA and the White House to both Middle Eastern states, as Tenet made clear. "The distinctions between Sunni and Shia [Islam] that have traditionally divided terrorist groups are not distinctions you should make anymore because there is a common interest against the United States and its allies in this region, and they will seek capability wherever they can get it," he said. Saddam Hussein and his governing Baathist elite are predominantly Sunni, while neighboring Iran is majority Shiite. Both have helped Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, U.S. counterterrorism officials now believe.

Some of the evidence cited in the complaint was developed by Stephen Jones, the McVeigh defense attorney who first aired allegations of Iraqi involvement in his book Others Unknown: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing Conspiracy. But other facts will surprise even veteran Oklahoma City watchers, who long have known the government was withholding evidence, as Department of Justice Inspector General Glenn A. Fine admitted in an official report released on March 18.

Jones tells INSIGHT that the new allegations, combined with evidence he had uncovered earlier, bear the weight of prima facie evidence of a broader conspiracy involving Iraq.

"We went to the Philippines four times to investigate Terry Nichols' meetings with Ramzi Youssef and other known terrorists," Jones tells INSIGHT. That evidence, now being expanded by Johnston and his investigators, includes testimony from Edwin Angeles, a Philippine-government intelligence operative who was infiltrated into the top echelon of the radical Islamic terrorist group known as Abu Sayyaf.

Angeles "turned himself in" to Philippine authorities in December 1994 and provided videotaped testimony to an American private investigator working for Jones who interviewed him in the Basilan provincial jail. On the tape, never admitted into evidence at the Oklahoma City trial, Angeles says he met on several occasions with Youssef, coconspirators Abdul Hakim Murad, Wali Khan Amin Shah and a visiting American known as "The Farmer."

At one meeting in late 1994 in Davao on the island of Mindanao, a hotbed of Muslim extremism, the group discussed specific terrorist targets in the United States, including the federal building in Oklahoma City, as INSIGHT reported last November (see "Iraq Connection to U.S. Extremists," Nov. 19, 2001). Angeles then made a sketch of The Farmer that he gave to the investigators. Says Jones: "The man it depicted was a dead ringer for Terry Nichols."

According to Jones, as well as new witnesses uncovered by Johnston and his investigators working on the ground in the Philippines, Nichols went to the Philippines to learn bomb-making techniques in late 1994 after he and McVeigh had attempted unsuccessfully to build an explosive device. "In October," Jones says, "Tim couldn't blow up a rock. Then Terry goes to the Philippines, and Tim says he builds the bomb." Despite repeated demands from his lawyers for the truth, McVeigh "never accounted for how he learned to build the bomb," Jones says. Jones and Johnston believe it was Nichols who brought back that expertise from the Philippines after extensive meetings with bomb expert Youssef.

Nichols' father-in-law, a Filipino policeman named Torres, told Philippine-government investigators that he had found bomb-making manuals in Nichols' luggage in late 1994 when Nichols stayed at the family's home in Cebu City, at precisely the same time Angeles placed Nichols in meetings there with Youssef. The FBI claims Torres retracted these statements, but Jones says he reaffirmed them in subsequent depositions with Philippine authorities. "To me, that increased his credibility," Jones tells INSIGHT.

And then there's the strange package Nichols left with his ex-wife in the United States before making the last of his many previously tranquil trips to the Philippines. In the package, which he instructed her to open only if he didn't return to the United States within 90 days, Nichols included a letter to McVeigh ("You're on your own," he wrote). He also left what amounted to a will, instructing his ex-wife in the event of his death to reclaim gold bars, $20,000 in cash and other monetary instruments from a hidden cache.

"We have reason to believe that Terry Nichols was planning to take part in Project Bojinka [the plot to attack U.S. airliners]," Johnston tells INSIGHT. "He only returned to the United States after Ramzi Youssef's plans were foiled and Youssef fled the Philippines for Pakistan." Youssef was arrested by Pakistani authorities in February 1995 and promptly extradited to the United States to stand trial for the 1993 bomb attacks on the World Trade Center.

Youssef's past has proved elusive. When he was brought to trial for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, he was presented as a Palestinian refugee who grew up in Kuwait and traveled to Afghanistan in the late 1980s to join forces with bin Laden.

But new evidence uncovered by Johnston and his investigators suggests that Youssef may have had direct ties to Iraqi intelligence all along. "We have sworn witness statements and affidavits from court cases that predate the Oklahoma City bombing that directly tie Ramzi Youssef to Dr. Ihsan Barbouti," Johnston tells INSIGHT. "The witnesses say Barbouti introduced Ramzi Youssef as an 'explosives expert for the Iraqi National Oil Company,' and that Youssef was working in Kuwait for Barbouti prior to the Iraqi invasion." Johnston says that he believes Barbouti was married to a member of Saddam Hussein's al-Tikriti clan. In tribal Iraq, such ties create bonds of absolute loyalty.

In January 1995, the record shows Youssef was mixing explosives in a Manila apartment with Abdul Hakim Murad when his deadly brew caught fire, billowing smoke into the hallway and the street. The pair fled, but Murad went back after the fire to retrieve a computer hard drive containing evidence of their terrorist plans and was arrested. Once Youssef was extradited to the United States, the FBI decrypted the files and found detailed plans, code-named Project Bojinka, to blow up 11 U.S. airliners over the Pacific.

On the day of the Oklahoma City bombing, Murad summoned his prison guards in a New York jail and told them he had important information about the attack. In a signed statement, he said it had been carried out by the Liberation Army of the Philippines. Questioned about that allegation in jail, Angeles was quick to correct him, Jones says. "It had nothing to do with the Philippines, Angeles told our investigator. It was the Palestine Liberation Army [PLA] that Abdul Hakim was referring to, working with Islamic Jihad."

The PLA was established in 1979 after the Camp David Peace Accord by Saddam Hussein, who was then chairman of a radical Arab coalition known as the Front of Refusal. The PLA trained in Iraq and had units that this reporter encountered in Lebanon in the early 1980s. No one besides Jones has until now picked up on Angeles' claim of their involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing.

The new legal complaint by Oklahoma City victims argues the attack "was an illegal continuation of the Persian Gulf War" and that Iraq had the "means, opportunity and motive" to carry it out. It contends Youssef was the main vehicle of the conspiracy working through Nichols, who became "a willing convert" to Youssef's anti-American agenda during his frequent meetings in the Philippines.

But troubling new evidence directly tying McVeigh to Iraq also is beginning to emerge. In McVeigh's lengthy March 1998 "Essay on Hypocrisy," in which he explained his motives for the bombing, he repeatedly compared his actions in taking the lives of U.S. government workers to U.S. air strikes on Iraq. "The people of the nation approve the bombing of government employees because they are 'guilty' by association ? they are Iraqi government employees," McVeigh wrote. "In regard to the bombing in Oklahoma City, however, such logic is condemned."

Last October, U.S. News & World Report revealed in its "Washington Whispers" column that McVeigh was carrying Iraqi telephone numbers when he was arrested on the day of the bombing. Sources tell INSIGHT that the phone numbers apparently were contained in a sealed manila envelope that was turned over to the FBI unopened by the Oklahoma state troopers who arrested McVeigh. The FBI logged in the evidence as "manila envelope with content," but never disclosed what was inside.

Yet another potential Iraqi connection to the Oklahoma City bombing is being promoted by a former Oklahoma City TV reporter named Jayna Davis, who claims to have discovered an Iraqi terrorist network embedded within the Arab immigrant community in the city.

According to Davis, she found a "perfect match" when she compared the sketch of John Doe No. 2 to video surveillance photos of an Iraqi refugee named Hussein al-Hosseini. Davis ran several TV news reports on al-Hosseini and a mysterious brown pickup truck spotted by eyewitnesses at the scene of the bombing in the weeks following the attack. She alleged that a similar pickup was seen before the attack at the house where al-Hosseini was staying. Davis tells INSIGHT she didn't know how many brown pickups were registered in Oklahoma, but that the truck at al-Hosseini's house disappeared after the bombing.

Davis was sued by al-Hosseini for libel after airing her allegations on KFOR-TV. But she insists that he never provided a convincing alibi for his whereabouts at key moments in the Oklahoma City conspiracy. After extensive civil-court proceedings, al-Hosseini dropped the lawsuit and has dropped out of view.

Davis admits she never successfully penetrated al-Hosseini's past, nor investigated his contradictory claims to have been a member of Iraq's elite Republican Guard or just an ordinary military conscript who subsequently requested and received political asylum in the United States. While Davis has presented the information she gathered on al-Hosseini and his friends to congressional staffers and to former counterterrorism officials ? who told INSIGHT they were "intrigued" by her findings ? her allegations of an Iraqi connection to the Oklahoma City bombing, while promising, remain tenuous.

But one thing is clear: Bill Clinton and Janet Reno exulted when they found a domestic conspiracy behind the Oklahoma City bombing, say administration insiders, and immediately ordered the FBI to call off its investigation of any international connection. Details of that connection finally are beginning to emerge.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight magazine and author of the best-seller Shakedown.