TRAIL OF TERROR
An Oklahoma Mystery
New hints of links between Timothy McVeigh and Middle Eastern terrorists

By Jim Crogan July 24, 2002
LA Weekly

EITHER CONVICTED OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBERS Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were part of a conspiracy, possibly involving Middle Eastern and Filipino connections, or they were not. Seven years later, the authorities have still not fully examined this question.

But taking on this issue would seem to fit the mission of the House and Senate Intelligence committees, which are jointly investigating intelligence failures by the FBI and CIA before 9/11. Chaired by two Floridians -- Republican Representative Porter Goss and Democratic Senator Bob Graham -- the Committees' began their closed-door work by focusing on two areas: U.S. investigations of terrorism since the CIA established a counterterrorism unit in 1986 and Osama bin Laden's role in sponsoring international terrorism since the mid-1990s.

Back in 1995, several Congressional Committees did search for international ties to the Oklahoma City attack, but came up empty, explained former Representative Bill McCollum in an interview. Still, the reports issued by the House Republican Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, which McCollum chaired until 1995, were quite prescient.

"The task force was on the mark when it came to their warnings about the emerging threat of Middle Eastern terrorism," McCollum said. "I can tell you that we were very concerned about the possibility of a Middle East connection to Oklahoma City. But we never found any evidence there was one."

McCollum, however, said he never heard of the reporting done by TV journalist Jayna Davis, which connected McVeigh and Nichols with Middle Eastern figures in Oklahoma City and the Philippines. Nor did he know of Davis' ongoing communications with Yossef Bodansky, executive director of the Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare. "Seffy [Bodansky] never told me anything about that," he said. "This is all news to me."

After the bombing, Bodansky marshaled his intelligence sources and began an investigation. He found some of the same Middle Eastern connections uncovered by reporter Davis. "The stories you are telling fit very closely with the stories I have," he told Davis, in a taped conversation on April 24, 1996.

In the tape, Davis asks if the names are tied to the bombing. And Bodansky responds, "I didn't get them because I am trying to run a private, one-man census of the Oklahoma City area."

The government also turned up experts who believed they found possible evidence of a Middle Eastern signature on the bombing. In 1997, Stephen Jones, lead attorney for McVeigh, filed a motion claiming the defense team had acquired a one-page summary of a government report by two unnamed Israeli experts who examined the Murrah Building. "Their conclusion was the Oklahoma City bombing bore the indisputable earmark of Middle Eastern terrorists," said Jones in an interview.

The men were eventually identified as Dorom Bergerbest-Eliom, chief of security for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., and Yakov (or Yaskov) Yerushalmi, a civil engineer and Israeli government consultant. Attorney Jones filed a court motion complaining to federal Judge Richard Matsch that the government had wrongly denied the document to McVeigh's defense team.

"We never did get the full report," Jones continued. "Judge Matsch reminded the prosecutors they had a legal obligation to turn over any exculpatory material to the defense. However, the judge left it to the Justice Department to decide what was exculpatory."

DAVIS, THE FORMER TV REPORTER FOR KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City, began investigating the bombing the day after the attack. In seven years, she's accumulated 26 affidavits and more than 100 hours of taped interviews. In particular, she zeroed in on a group of Iraqis who worked for Samir Khalil, a Palestinian-born businessman and owner of a property-management company in Oklahoma City. Davis also did pieces on John Doe No. 2, the mysterious figure identified in initial police bulletins as having been seen fleeing the federal building after the bombing. The FBI later announced that John Doe No. 2 never existed.

One of the Iraqis, Hussain Alhussaini, later came forward and identified himself as the person being fingered in Davis' television reports as John Doe No. 2. He sued the reporter for defamation. A federal judge dismissed the suit; Alhussaini has appealed. (See: Heartland Conspiracy, published in the L.A. Weekly, Sept. 28-Oct. 4, 2001.)

The TV reporter, who has since quit the station, also interviewed Lana Padilla, Nichols' first wife. She told Davis that McVeigh had given her ex-husband thousands of dollars and paid for his first trip to the Philippines. Nichols, who is now awaiting trial in Oklahoma City on state murder charges, traveled extensively to the islands and eventually married a Filipino woman. Padilla has now been subpoenaed as a prosecution witness in Nichols' state case.

Davis also turned up material that appeared to connect Nichols to Ramzi Yousef and Abdul Hakim Murad. Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, is now serving a life sentence in federal prison. He also had hatched unrealized plans to blow up 12 airliners and to assassinate Pope John Paul II.

Murad, a confederate of Yousef, is also in federal custody. He told Philippine police about a plot to hijack an airliner and crash it into CIA headquarters. Murad also claimed in 1996 that a large number of Middle Eastern men were being trained at U.S. flight schools in connection with these plots. This information was passed on to the FBI. What the agency did with it is unknown.

Court documents, related to this alleged Filipino connection, were attached to a motion filed by McVeigh's defense team in 1996. One is an FBI memo detailing a conversation between Murad and a U.S. prison guard after the Oklahoma City bombing. Murad told his jailer that the Filipino Liberation Army was responsible for that attack. The memo also cites a note Murad gave his guard, reiterating this claim.

Another exhibit from the defense motion is an affidavit filed by Edwin Angeles, a founder of Abu Sayyaf, a Filipino terrorist group. Angeles, who was assassinated by former comrades, wrote in 1996 that he was at a 1991 meeting in Davao City, attended by Yousef, Murad and Nichols, at which, they discussed "bombing activities, providing firearms and ammo" to terrorists and "training in bomb making and handling" of explosives. Nichols, he claimed, was introduced to him as "the farmer."

In February 1995 -- months before the Oklahoma City blast -- the House Task Force on Terrorism issued a warning that Middle Eastern Islamists, under the leadership of Iran, were preparing a series of terrorist attacks against the U.S. An update, issued in March 1995 -- just a month before the bombing -- stated the target list had shifted from Washington, D.C., to government installations and buildings in America's heartland. The task force distributed these alerts to federal intelligence and law-enforcement agencies. In 1996, terrorism-task-force director Bodansky gave a copy of the original warning and update to Davis. Reportedly Bodansky, recently passed on Davis' affidavits and taped interviews to the U.S. House Government Reform Committee, about which he refuses to comment. "I work for the government, and I can't talk about Oklahoma City," he said.


IN THE NINE MONTHS SINCE THE Weekly first published details of Davis' story, new information has emerged that raises more questions about the FBI's investigation into the bombing:

  • On April 19, 1995 -- immediately after the bombing -- the FBI sent an urgent request to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency requesting 10 Arabic linguists to help in its Oklahoma City bombing investigation. Linguists, serving on a 30-day loan, would not be permitted to monitor electronic surveillance.

     

  • After McVeigh's arrest, the FBI was contacted by the Defense Department to see if they still needed the linguists. According to an April 22, 1995 memo from the Department of the Army, an FBI agent said the linguists were being used to "monitor wiretaps of radical fundamentalist Islamists to protect the President from possible attack" during his upcoming appearance at an Oklahoma City memorial service.

     

  • On August 2, 1995, Federal Protective Services special agent Thomas Williams sent a memo to his branch chief, John Crowe, detailing his communication with terrorism task-force director Yossef Bodansky. In it, he states Bodansky told him that a lot of names that came up in NBC reports (by TV journalist Jayna Davis) overlapped with the names of suspects Bodansky had compiled.

     

  • In a taped conversation between Bodansky and Davis on May 18, 1996, Bodansky tells the reporter that by mid-April, intelligence information suggested that government buildings had been specifically targeted. He said the intelligence had been accumulated over 18 months. He also said he had gotten another warning from Israeli intelligence, a week before the bombing, that an attack would be launched in America's heartland.
     
  • Also on May 18, Bodansky faxed two notes to Davis in which he provides more details about the task force's intelligence analysis. Bodansky writes that after the bombing, it was determined that Oklahoma City had been "on the list of potential targets." The second note states that "The initial forensic investigation of the explosion in Oklahoma suggested strong similarities to bombing techniques used by Iran-sponsored Islamist terrorists, including the car bomb that destroyed [a] building in Buenos Aires on 18 July 1994."
     
  • An undated intelligence report by Bodansky discusses alleged terrorist training inside the U.S. that included some "Lilly Whites," people whose background would not tie them to terrorism. Bodansky states the training was ordered by Iran and conducted by Hamas operatives. His intelligence sources told him that the training occurred at a camp near Chicago. The first camp was allegedly held in 1990 and included about 25 trainees, who used code names. One group, he states, was reportedly given instructions on building car bombs from available materials. The second training occurred in 1993. It was specifically for Lilly Whites. They also used code names and were given state-of-the-art car-bomb training. Bodansky's sources also report that at least two of the 1993 participants came from Oklahoma City.
     
  • During a legal dispute with her former employer Bodansky wrote Davis a letter of support stating, "Having studied the material provided by Ms. Davis very closely, I consider it most sensitive, reliable and important evidence for the Task Force investigation." Bodansky also wrote, "Having carefully studied these tapes, as well as other work of Ms. Davis, I'm convinced that the witnesses she had interviewed provide credible testimony."

     

  • During a civil suit for defamation against Davis and KFOR-TV, Hussain Alhussaini, a former Iraqi soldier, submitted psychiatric reports from 1997, in which he states that he worked for a while at Boston's Logan Airport (where two of the planes were hijacked on September 11). Alhussaini first told his psychiatrist that he quit his airport job because "If anything happens there, I will be a suspect." Then he later contradicts himself, saying that he wants to look for another job "because he feels unsafe in the environment he works in, in the airport, given the recent events involving his being previously suspected of involvement in the Oklahoma bombing." In a 1998 deposition, Alhussaini states he is still working at the airport and has fears of losing his job. Alhussaini's specific job was never identified. Alhussaini still appears to be living in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Port Authority, which oversees Logan's operations, declined comment on Alhussaini's current work status or his airport duties.
  • An analysis of raw news footage and reports in the immediate aftermath of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City, Okla., shows local television reporters stating repeatedly that two additional, sophisticated, undetonated explosive devices were found by investigators on the scene.

    The television reports raise questions about the official government version of events that an "extremist" and his friend acted alone, using a Ryder rental truck and a 1,200-pound ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, or ANFO, bomb to destroy the face of the building.

    For example, initial news broadcasts by KWTV-9, KFOR TV-5 and Channel 4 News all feature reports confirmed by state, local and federal officials that a total of three bombs had been placed inside the Murrah building.

    TV news footage showed Oklahoma County Sheriff's Department bomb squad vehicles being brought to the scene within a half-hour of the explosion, "amid reports" that "more bombs have been found" by rescuers.

    Also, reporters at the scene confirmed that the two other bombs were larger than the first one, and that the bomb that had exploded blew up inside -- not outside -- the building.

    Reports said the other two bombs were found on the east and west sides of the building; the explosion occurred at the front, or north side, of the building.

    In one clip, the medical director for St. Anthony's Hospital told reporters that local OKC police had informed him that rescue efforts had been called off temporarily "because of the other bombs found in the building. "

    And, TV-9 reported that "the U.S. Justice Department has confirmed" that other bombs were found in the structure.

    In subsequent reports, within the first few hours of the explosion, news crews were reporting that federal and local authorities had confirmed that the two other explosives had been "defused" and "moved off site."

    The 'lone' suspects

    Timothy McVeigh, now 32, was convicted in 1997 for his role in the April 19, 1995, bombing, and is scheduled to be executed by the government May 16 at a federal prison facility in Terre Haute, Ind.

    The Justice Department said Friday that bombing survivors and victims' families would be able to view the execution via closed-circuit television. He will be the first federal prisoner executed in 36 years. In 1997, he was convicted in the bombing deaths of 168 people, including 19 children.

    McVeigh has said he bombed the Murrah building in retaliation for the FBI's raid on a Branch Davidian religious facility April 19, 1993, in Waco, Texas, which led to a fire that killed 80 men, women and children.

    McVeigh said he did it to give the federal government "dirty for dirty."

    Meanwhile, Terry Nichols, also convicted in 1997 as an accomplice in the OKC attack, is currently serving a life sentence in federal prison. But he also faces Oklahoma state charges of capital murder pressed by prosecutors who have pledged to seek the death penalty.

    Early news reports indicated government sources were saying that "bombs were brought into" the Murrah building, and that because they were able to find undetonated devices, authorities would be able to "find out who is responsible" for the bombing.

    In one clip, Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating also confirmed the presence of other explosives.

    "The reports I have are that one device was deactivated [and] apparently, there was another device. Whatever did the damage to the Murrah building was a tremendous a very sophisticated explosive device. " Keating was heard saying.

    One TV news report then said that then-President Bill Clinton "has called Gov. Keating and said three FBI anti-terrorist teams" were being sent from Washington, D.C., to OKC, ostensibly to investigate the incident. The report further stated that "the White House and Justice Department have said [the bombing] was the work of a sophisticated group and would have to have been carried out by an explosives expert."

    McVeigh and Nichols were not explosives experts, critics of the government's official version of events point out.

    Later in the day and into the next day, details of the official explanations and information that had been witnessed or confirmed early on by news organizations, reporters and authorities handling the rescue efforts began to change.

    Within 24 hours, federal officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were saying that the explosion had not occurred within the building itself but instead the damage had been caused by a "car" parked in front of the building, loaded with the ANFO bomb. Soon afterward, the "car" became a Ryder rental truck and the explosives grew in size, to about 4,500 pounds.

    Also, officials began to discount the second- and third bomb story, instead focusing only on the outside, north-face explosion as the one and only explosive source at the entire complex.

    At one point, news reports began to suggest that officials believed the outside explosion was intended to set off the other explosions inside, but witness statements began to be reported that would refute the single-bomb claim.

    Witnesses interviewed by local TV affiliates said they felt the Murrah building "shake and shift" for several seconds before "glass blew in" on top of them. One witness said he saw the ceiling collapse as he dove under his desk, "several seconds before the glass came in at me."

    Experts began to theorize that the ANFO bomb in the Ryder truck was indeed integral to what happened, but not as Washington said. Rather, they theorized that the ANFO explosion -- which came after the internal explosion -- was intended to mask that first explosion and gave the government plausibility for its single-bomb-outside-the-structure version of events; the version that eventually became widely accepted.

    Backup evidence

    In the years following the bombing, independent investigators, journalists and bomb experts have studied the available evidence and found new evidence to suggest the earliest reports of what happened just over six years ago were probably the most accurate.

    For instance, one particular website has published official government documents and statements that substantiate the 3-bomb reports first aired by local television news.

    A Department of Defense Atlantic Command memo, issued one day after the bombing, says " a second bomb was disarmed; a third bomb was evacuated. "

    A Federal Emergency Management Agency "SitRep" (situational report), dated April 20, 1995, also confirms the presence of three bombs inside the building. And a U.S. Forces Command daily log report from the same day said: "Two more explosive devices were located vicinity the explosion site. Evidently intended for the rescuers."

    Finally, an Oklahoma Highway Patrol radio log said, "OC Fire Dept. confirms they did find a second device in the bldg/OK. "

    Also, independent engineers, explosives experts and military analysts conducted studies of the available evidence, many concluding that the government's "single truck-single bomb" explanation was technically impossible.

    Perhaps one of the most dominant of these was conducted by Brig. Gen. Ben K. Partin, a retired Air Force officer with decades of military experience in the design of explosives and warheads.

    His exhaustive study, completed July 30, 1995 -- less than three months after the bombing -- also concluded that explosive charges, or "demolitions," were most likely placed inside the structure at key points designed to "bring the building down. "

    Coming to closure

    Despite those early reports and later studies that appear to substantiate the information contained in them, federal prosecutors and the FBI were resolute in discounting much of it when the case went to trial. Instead, the Justice Department's cases were entirely built on McVeigh, Nichols, and the Ryder truck bomb theory.

    Even though McVeigh is scheduled to be executed in just a few short weeks, and even if Nichols ends up with a similar fate, there will always be questions from some who remain convinced -- as those early reporters were -- that something other than Washington's official version really happened that fateful day in 1995.

    Many questions will probably never be answered, however. The Murrah building was demolished two weeks after the attack; the site was covered with dirt and the building materials were trucked to an off-site dump manned by armed guards and buried.

    Further independent analysis of the materials was not, and has not, been permitted.

    Other questions still nag critics of the government case:

  • Two weeks after the bombing, Time and Newsweek magazines both ran "artist's conceptions" of the "immense 30-foot crater" allegedly left by the Ryder truck bomb. But news footage in the aftermath of the bombing showed no such crater.
     
  • Domestic anti-terrorist bills were stalled in Congress before the bombing, but sailed through to become law shortly afterward.
     
  • Witnesses reported seeing three men in the parking garage of the Murrah building (it had nine stories above ground and had a four-floor parking garage underneath) working with "electrical equipment and pointing at various parts of the garage in the days before the attack. Many survivors reported that some of these men were dressed in Government Services Administration uniforms but had never seen them before or since.
     
  • An independent aerial photo was taken of a Ryder truck the size used in the attack parked at an Army facility near Camp Gruber-Braggs, Okla., outside of OKC, in the days leading up to the attack.
     
  • One London journalist, Ambrose Evans Pritchard, uncovered evidence that suggested the entire OKC bombing was a government sting operation gone awry. BATF and FBI officials were working on a case involving a "Christian Identity" group prone to violence and plotting the OKC attack, operating out of Elohim City, Okla., but failed to arrest them before the bombing occurred.

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