Evidence of a plot by Malaysian terrorists to hijack a passenger jet in a 9/11-style attack is being investigated in connection with the disappearance of Flight MH370 An al-Qaeda informant told a court last week that four to five Malaysian men had been planning to take control of a plane, using a bomb hidden in a shoe to blow open the cockpit door.
Saajid Muhammad Badat
UK Telegraph Security experts said the evidence from a convicted British terrorist was “credible”. The informant said that he had met the Malaysian jihadists – one of whom was a pilot – in Afghanistan and given them a shoe bomb to use to take control of an aircraft.
In evidence in a court case last Tuesday, Saajid Badat, a British-born Muslim from Gloucester, said that he had been instructed at a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan to give a shoe bomb to the Malaysians . Giving evidence at the trial in New York of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Badat said: “I gave one of my shoes to the Malaysians. I think it was to access the cockpit.”
Badat, who spoke via video link and is in hiding in the UK, said the Malaysian plot was being masterminded by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the principal architect of 9/11.
According to Badat, Mohammed kept a list of the world’s tallest buildings and crossed out New York’s Twin Towers after the September 11, 2001 attacks with hijacked airliners as “a joke to make us laugh” Badat told the court last week that he believed the Malaysians, including the pilot, were “ready to perform an act.”
During the meeting, the possibility was raised that the cockpit door might be locked. Badat told the court: “So I said, ‘How about I give you one of my bombs to open a cockpit door?’ ”
The disclosure that Malaysians were plotting a 9/11-style attack raises the prospect that both pilots were overpowered and the plane intended for use as a fuel-filled bomb. One possible target, if the scenario is correct, will have been the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, a symbol of Malaysia’s modernity and the world’s tallest buildings from 1998 until 2004.
Badat, who was jailed for 13 years in 2005 for his part in a conspiracy with the “shoe bomber” Richard Reid to blow up a transatlantic jet, had given similar evidence in 2012. In other words, his claims were first made long before the disappearance of Flight MH370.
In the earlier case, during the trial of Adis Medunjanin, an American who was later convicted of conspiring to blow up New York subways, Badat told prosecutors of the Malaysian shoe bomb plot. Asked what he knew of the Malaysian group, he replied: “I learnt that they had a group, uh, ready to perform a similar hijacking to 9/11.” Asked if he helped them, he said: “I provided them with one of my shoes because both had been, uh, both had explosives inserted into them.”
Prof Anthony Glees, director of the University of Buckingham’s Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies, said the prospect of an Islamist plot offered one explanation for why the Malaysian authorities “have not been telling us the whole truth”.
Prof Glees said: “I believed this was a hijacking as soon as we were told that the plane had altered its flight path. “Evidence that it turned back to Malaysia means that this could easily have been a Malaysian Islamist plot to turn the plane into a 9/11-style bomb to fly it into a building in Kuala Lumpur.
“Now we know there is evidence of a Malaysian terror cell with ambitions to carry out such an attack and so this makes it even more credible.”
Prof Glees added: “Islamist terrorists in Malaysia present the country with a really serious political problem. The global repercussions of another 9/11 attack, including grounded aircraft and stock markets crashes, is something no government would want to face.”
James Healy-Pratt, head of aviation at Stuarts Law solicitors, said the lack of information suggested Malaysian authorities may have something to hide.
Last May, two Malaysian men were arrested for links to al-Qaeda and charged with joining the Tanzim al-Qaeda Malaysia group. In a separate incident two other men from Malaysia were held in Lebanon as they allegedly tried to cross into Syria to join Islamist extremists fighting the Assad regime.
In 2001 Yazid Sufaat, a biochemist and former army captain, was imprisoned for seven years under internal security laws on suspicion of being part of the Jemaah Islamiah network, the terrorist organisation behind a series of bombings in south east Asia including the Bali nightclub massacre in which 202 people were killed in 2002.
Yazid, who was released in 2008, was also suspected of providing lodging for two of the 9/11 hijackers. Malaysian sources, however, insisted Islamic terrorism carried out by Malaysian jihadists is unlikely since the country has only a tiny number of Muslim fundamentalists.
But after a week of wildly fluctuating theories, the admission by Malaysia’s prime minister yesterday that the plane had been deliberately re-routed and flown for hours with communication systems switched off to disguise its flight path provided the most significant clues yet as to what might have happened. Mr Najib stopped short of confirming Flight MH370 had been hijacked.
The new information appears to rule out previous theories that the plane suffered a sudden mid-air explosion, catastrophic equipment or structural failure, or a crash into the South China Sea.
Prior to the press conference, a senior Malaysian military official told one news agency that investigators now believed the plane was commandeered by a “skilled, competent and current pilot” who knew how to avoid radar.
The pilot and co-pilot because are regarded as the most likely to have the specialist aviation expertise to locate and switch off radar, satellite and other transponders to remove the aircraft from the ‘grid’ before changing its direction. But investigators said there was no evidence against members of the crew and it was possible that some of its passengers also had the knowledge required.