|Deaths 0||Non-fatal injuries 0|
|Location Makati, Philippines (Phase I)
Airspace (Phase II)
Langley, Virginia, U.S. (Phase III)|
Date Planned to be executed 15–22 January 1995; foiled on 6–7 January 1995
Target Pope John Paul II (Phase I) American airliners (Phase II) CIA Headquarters (Phase III)
Attack type Suicide attack, bombing, aircraft hijacking
The Bojinka plot (Arabic: بجنكة; Tagalog: Oplan Bojinka) was a large-scale, three-phase attack planned by Islamists Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for January 1995. They planned to assassinate Pope John Paul II, blow up 11 airliners in flight from Asia to the United States with the goal of killing approximately 4,000 passengers and shut down air travel around the world, and crash a plane into the headquarters of the CIA in Fairfax County, Virginia.
- Terminology and etymology
- Planning of Oplan Bojinka
- Test bombs: mall, theater, 747 airliner
- Phase I: Pope assassination plot
- Phase II: Airline bombing plot
- United States
- Targeted flights
- Phase III: CIA plane crash plot
- Discovery and termination of Oplan Bojinka
- Evidence in Room 603
- Yousef's computer
- Murad's confession
- End result
Despite careful planning, the Bojinka plot was disrupted after a chemical fire drew the Philippine National Police's (PNP) attention on January 6–7, 1995. Yousef and Mohammed were unable to stage any of the three attacks. The only fatality resulted from a test bomb planted by Yousef on Philippine Airlines Flight 434 which killed one person and injured 10 others. They also planted two other bombs in a Filipino shopping mall and theater.
Terminology and etymology
The plot is also known as Oplan Bojinka, Operation Bojinka, Project Bojinka, and Bojinga. FBI officials described Operation Bojinka as "48 hours of terror". Several news media outlets, including Time Asia, incorrectly stated that the word Bojinka means "loud bang" or "explosion" in the Serbo-Croatian language. Bojinka is similar to the Russian word "боженька" (bozhinka, sometimes transcribed as "божинька"), which is the diminutive form of the Russian word God, "бог".
Funding for the Bojinka Plot came from Osama bin Laden and Hambali, and from front organizations operated by Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden's brother-in-law.
Wali Khan Amin Shah, an Afghan, was the financier of the plot. He funded the plot by laundering money through his girlfriend and other Manila women, several of whom were bar hostesses and one of whom was an employee at a KFC restaurant. They were bribed with gifts and holiday trips so that they would open bank accounts to stash funds.
The transfers were small, equivalent to about 12,000 to 24,000 Philippine pesos ($500 to $1,000 US), and would be handed over each night at a Wendy's or a karaoke bar. The funds went to "Adam Sali", an alias used by Ramzi Yousef. The money came through a Filipino bank account owned by Jordanian Omar Abu Omar, who worked at International Relations and Information Centre, an Islamic organization run by Mohammed Jamal Khalifa.
A company called Konsojaya also provided financial assistance to the Manila cell by laundering money to it. Konsojaya was a front company that was started by the head of the group Jemaah Islamiyah, an Indonesian named Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali. Wali Khan Amin Shah was on the board of directors of the company.
Planning of Oplan Bojinka
As soon as Yousef arrived in Manila along with other "Arab Afghans" who were making cells in Manila, he started to work on making bombs. Yousef had shown up in Singapore with Shah earlier in the fall of 1994. The two got their Philippine visas in Singapore.
He left Manila for several days, but was met by Islamist emissaries upon his return to Metro Manila. They asked him to attack United States President Bill Clinton, who was due to arrive in the Philippines on November 12, 1994 as part of a five-day tour of Asia. Yousef thought of several ways to kill the president, including placing nuclear bombs on Clinton's motorcade route, firing a Stinger missile at Air Force One or the presidential limousine, launching theater ballistic missiles at Manila and or killing him with phosgene, a chemical weapon. He abandoned the idea, as it would be too difficult to kill the President. However, he incorporated his plan to kill the Pope into the Bojinka plot.
In 1994, Yousef and Khalid Sheik Mohammed started testing airport security. Yousef booked a flight between Kai Tak International Airport in Hong Kong and Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport near Taipei. Mohammed booked a flight between Ninoy Aquino International Airport near Manila and Kimpo International Airport near Seoul. The two had already converted fourteen bottles of contact lens solution into bottles containing nitroglycerin, which was readily available in the Philippines. Yousef had taped a metal rod to the arch of his foot, which would serve as a detonator. The two wore jewelry and clothing with metal to confuse airport security. To support their claim that they were meeting women, they packed condoms in their bags.
On December 8, Yousef moved into the Doña Josefa Apartments under the alias "Najy Awaita Haddad" and purported himself to be a Moroccan. Edith Guerrera, the manager, laughed with the receptionist after the two men asked for new registration forms. "Perhaps they have forgotten their names", she said as the first ones were torn up. Yousef had accidentally put his "real name" on the first form. He did not want to get discovered too early.
Yousef had booked Room 603 in advance. He had made an Php 80,000 (Philippine peso) deposit, and added Php 40,000 more up front before taking the elevator to Room 603.
A conspirator named Abdul Hakim Murad came to Manila with Yousef and stayed at the same apartment.
The apartments are located in the Malate district, 200 meters away from the embassy of the Holy See in the Philippines, and 500 meters down the street from Manila Police Station No. 9 on Quirino Avenue. One of the windows of Room 603 looks down on the path that the Papal motorcade was to take.
People were suspicious of the men in Room 603. The men renting the apartment were very secretive. According to Guerrera, "They gave me the impression that they were here to study", said Mrs. Guerrera. "They looked like students. They double locked the door when they were inside or out. They didn't ask the room boy to clear up the room." The men, who had chemical burns on their hands, were carrying boxes and never hired other people to carry them up. The boxes contained chemicals bought from suppliers in Manila and Quezon City in Metro Manila. Yousef would use these to make his bombs.
Mohammed purported himself to be a Saudi or Qatari plywood exporter named "Abdul Majid." Yousef and Mohammed had already started planning Operation Bojinka.
According to Abdul Hakim Murad, Yousef got an idea for crashing a plane into the CIA from Murad while at the apartments. According to Murad, Yousef replied, "OK, we will think about it", before heading off with Mohammed to Puerto Galera for scuba diving.
Test bombs: mall, theater, 747 airliner
Yousef's first operational test of his bomb was inside a mall in Cebu City. The bomb detonated several hours after he put it in a generator room. It caused minor damage, but it proved to Yousef that his bomb was workable.
On December 1, Shah placed a bomb under a seat in the Greenbelt Theatre in Manila to test what would happen if a bomb exploded under an airline seat. The bomb went off, injuring several patrons.
On December 11, 1994, Yousef built another bomb, which had one tenth of the power that his final bombs were planned to have, in the lavatory of an aircraft. He left it inside the life jacket under his seat (26 K) and got off the plane when it arrived in Cebu. Yousef had boarded the flight under the assumed name of Arnaldo Forlani, using a false Italian passport. The aircraft was Philippine Airlines Flight 434 on a Manila to Narita route, stopping partway at Cebu. Yousef had set the timer for four hours after he got off the aircraft.
The bomb exploded while the aircraft was over Japan's Minamidaitō Island, part of Okinawa Prefecture. A Japanese businessman named Haruki Ikegami occupying the seat was killed and an additional 10 passengers were injured. The flight was carrying 273 passengers in total. The blast blew a hole in the floor and the cabin's rapid expansion severed several control cables in the ceiling, cutting off control of the plane's right aileron, as well as both the pilot and first officer's steering controls. Usually, 26K, the seat that Yousef chose to plant the bomb, would be positioned directly over the centre fuel tank, and the detonation of the bomb would have caused a crippling explosion, but on this particular airframe, a former Scandinavian Airlines example, the seat was two rows forward from normal. The flight crew kept control of the Boeing 747-200 and brought it into an emergency landing at Okinawa's Naha Airport. Satisfied with the deadly results of the attack, Yousef then planned which flights to attack for "Phase II" of the plot.
Phase I: Pope assassination plot
The first plan was to assassinate Pope John Paul II when he visited the Philippines during the World Youth Day 1995 celebrations. On January 15, 1995, a suicide bomber would dress up as a priest, while John Paul II passed in his motorcade on his way to the San Carlos Seminary in Makati City. The assassin planned to get close to the Pope, and detonate the bomb. The planned assassination of the Pope was intended to divert attention from the next phase of the operation. About 20 men had been trained by Yousef to carry out this act prior to January 1995.
Phase II: Airline bombing plot
The details of Phase I were found in the evidence discovered in the investigation into Room 603 in the Doña Josefa.
The next plan would have involved at least five terrorists, including Yousef, Shah, Murad and two more unknown operatives. Beginning on January 21, 1995, and ending on January 22, 1995, they would have placed bombs on 11 United States-bound airliners which had stopovers scattered throughout East Asia and Southeast Asia. All of the flights had two legs. The bombs would be planted inside life jackets under seats on the first leg, and each bomber would then disembark. He would then board one or two more flights and repeat. After all of the bombers had planted bombs on all of the flights, each man would then catch flights to Lahore, Pakistan. The men never needed U.S. visas, as they only would have been on the planes for their first legs in Asia.
United States airlines had been chosen instead of Asian airlines so as to maximize the shock toward Americans. The flights targeted were listed under operatives with codenames: "Zyed", "Majbos", "Markoa", "Mirqas" and "Obaid". Obaid, who was really Abdul Hakim Murad, was to hit United Flight 80, and then he was to go back to Singapore on another United flight which he would bomb.
Zyed, probably Ramzi Yousef, was to target Northwest Flight 30, a United Flight going from Taipei to Honolulu, and a United Flight going from Bangkok to Taipei to San Francisco.
The explosions were to be timed by the operatives before they disembarked from the plane. The aircraft would have exploded over the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea almost simultaneously. If this plan worked, several thousand passengers would have perished, and air travel would likely have been shut down worldwide. The U.S. government estimated the prospective death toll to be about 4,000 if the plot had been executed. (For comparison, about 3,000 were killed during the September 11 attacks in the United States.)
If Phase II of the plot had been successful, it would have been, in terms of casualties, the most devastating terrorist attack in recent history.
The "Mark II" "microbombs" had Casio digital watches as the timers, stabilizers that looked like cotton wool balls, and an undetectable quantity of nitroglycerin as the explosive. Other ingredients included glycerin, nitrate, sulfuric acid, and minute concentrations of nitrobenzene, silver azide (silver trinitride), and liquid acetone. Two 9-volt batteries in each bomb were used as a power source. The batteries would be connected to light bulb filaments that would detonate the bomb. Murad and Yousef wired an SCR (silicon controlled rectifier) as the switch to trigger the filaments to detonate the bomb. There was an external socket hidden when the wires were pushed under the watch base as the bomber would wear it. The alteration was so small that the watch could still be worn in a normal manner.
Yousef got batteries past airport security during his December 11 test bombing of Philippine Airlines Flight 434 by hiding them in hollowed-out heels of his shoes. Yousef smuggled the nitroglycerin on board by putting it inside a small container, reputedly containing contact lens cleaning solution.
Phase III: CIA plane crash plot
Abdul Hakim Murad's confession detailed Phase III in his interrogation by the Manila police after his capture.
Phase three would have involved Murad either renting, buying, or hijacking a small airplane, preferably a Cessna. The airplane would be filled with explosives. He would then crash it into the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in the Langley area in Fairfax County, Virginia. Murad had been trained as a pilot in North Carolina, and was slated to be a suicide pilot.
There were alternate plans to hijack a 12th commercial airliner and use that instead of the small aircraft, probably due to the Manila cell's growing frustration with explosives. Testing explosives in a house or apartment is dangerous, and it can easily give away a terrorist plot. Khalid Sheik Mohammed probably made the alternate plan.
A report from the Philippines to the United States on January 20, 1995 stated, "What the subject has in his mind is that he will board any American commercial aircraft pretending to be an ordinary passenger. Then he will hijack said aircraft, control its cockpit and dive it at the CIA headquarters."
Another plot that was considered would have involved the hijacking of more airplanes. The World Trade Center (New York City, New York), The Pentagon (Arlington, Virginia), the United States Capitol (Washington, D.C.), the White House (Washington, D.C.), the Sears Tower (Chicago, Illinois), and the U.S Bank Tower (Los Angeles, California), would have been the likely targets. In his confession to Filipino investigators, prior to the foiling of Operation Bojinka, Abdul Hakim Murad said that this part of the plot was dropped since the Manila cell could not recruit enough people to implement other hijackings. This plot would eventually be the base plot for the September 11 attacks which involved hijacking commercial airliners, as opposed to small aircraft loaded with explosives, and crashing them into their intended targets. However, only the World Trade Center (which was destroyed) and The Pentagon (which suffered partial damage) were hit.
Discovery and termination of Oplan Bojinka
The plot was abandoned after an apartment fire at the six-story Doña Josefa apartments occurred in Manila, Philippines, on the evening of Friday, January 6, 1995. The fire occurred before Pope John Paul II was scheduled to visit the Philippines on January 12.
According to the initial accounts of the Philippine authorities, Abdul Hakim Murad started a chemical fire in the kitchen sink in Room 603 in the 6th floor of the Doña Josefa apartment by pouring water on a substance. The fire was spotted at about 11 pm after residents complained about a strange odour. Edith Guerrera, the owner of the apartments, called the fire brigade, but the fire went out unassisted. Yousef and Murad had told the firefighters to stay away before they fled. Police, including 55-year-old female watch commander Aida D. Fariscal, decided to investigate the situation and saw four hot plates in their packing crates, what looked like cotton batting soaked in a beige solution, and loops of green, red, blue, and yellow electrical wiring. The telephone rang, and the police ran downstairs, thinking that it was a trap. Fariscal had been suspicious of the men in Room 603 due to the recent wave of bombings (committed by Yousef) that hit Metro Manila and Philippine Airlines Flight 434. Seeking a search warrant, they left and asked 11 judges before finding one that would grant a warrant.
A 2002 Los Angeles Times article stated that the police deliberately set a fire to rouse the men out of their apartment.
After police discovered the evidence, they arrested a man who called himself "Ahmed Saeed." "Saeed", who later proved to be Murad, claimed that he was a commercial pilot who was on his way to the precinct house to explain that what he claimed to be firecrackers had gone off. Murad initially tried to run away, but he was arrested after he tripped over a tree root. The arresting officer, having lost his handcuffs, improvised a solution by tying Murad's hands with the elastic cord taken from the officer's raincoat. Murad was hauled to the precinct in a taxi van with the help of two other people. He offered 110,740 Philippine pesos (US$2,000) to the policemen if they would agree to let him go, but the officers refused. At the precinct, Murad signed a statement saying that he was innocent and that he was a tourist visiting his friend in his chemical import/export business. He then mumbled about "two Satans that must be destroyed: the Pope and America."
Fariscal was later depicted (although by a much younger actress) in the 2006 docudrama The Path to 9/11, in which US agencies in the script gave her much credit. An actress portrays her in the Mayday episode "Bomb on Board." The widow of a slain police officer, she had spent seventeen years as a homemaker before enrolling in the police department in 1977. She became well known in her home nation, which awarded her the equivalent of 33,222 pesos ($700) and a trip to Taiwan. The CIA awarded her a certificate reading "in recognition of your personal outstanding efforts and co-operation." Her decision to investigate the fire was key to disrupting the plot and forcing Yousef to flee.
Evidence in Room 603
When the officers returned to Suite 603 at 2:30 am on January 7, they found: street maps of Manila with routes plotting the papal motorcade, a rosary, a photograph of the pontiff, bibles, crucifixes, papal confessions, and priest clothing, including robes and collars. This collection of objects, and a phone message from a tailor reminding the occupant that "the cassock was ready to be tried on", along with the fact of the Pope's impending visit, was enough for the chief inspector to infer that an assassination plot had been interrupted. A search warrant was granted by 4 am on January 7.
More chemicals, such as gallons of sulfuric acid, picric acid, nitric acid, pure glycerin, acetone, sodium trichlorate (sic), nitrobenzoyl (sic), ammonia, silver nitrate, methanamine, and ANFO were found. Several cans of gasoline and two large Welch's grape juice bottles containing nitroglycerin were found. Equipment such as thermometers, graduated cylinders, large cooking kettles, funnels, fuses, filters, soldering irons, beakers, mortars, pestles, different electronic fusing systems, timers, switches, and circuit breakers were found. Also discovered in the search was a finished remote-controlled brass pipe bomb, as well as another pipe bomb that was about to be packed. The apartment also contained a chemistry textbook and chemical dictionary, a TIME magazine with the cover story on international terrorism, as well as a pharmacy receipt and bottle of contact lens solution. In a cupboard under the sink a finished time bomb and other Casio watches were found.
The most conclusive piece of evidence found was a manual written in Arabic on how to build a liquid bomb.
Stacks of 12 false passports, including Norwegian, Afghan, Saudi, and Pakistani were also found in the apartment. Investigators found a business card from Mohammed Jamal Khalifa; Saeed apparently possessed five telephone numbers from Khalifa. Investigators also found phone numbers for Rose Masquera, Mohammed's girlfriend.
Yousef's project was discovered on four floppy disks and an off-white Toshiba laptop inside his apartment, two weeks before the plot would have been implemented. Several encrypted files on the hard drive contained flight schedules, calculations of detonation times, and other items. The first string of text in one of the files states, "All people who support the U.S. government are our targets in our future plans and that is because all those people are responsible for their government's actions and they support the U.S. foreign policy and are satisfied with it. We will hit all U.S. nuclear targets. If the U.S. government keeps supporting Israel, then we will continue to carry out operations inside and outside the United States to include..." and the text ends.
A file named "Bojinka" lists the 11 flights between Asia and the United States, which were grouped under five codenames. Strings were found, such as "SETTING: 9:30 pm to 10:30 pm TIMER: 23HR. BOJINKA: 20:30-21:30 NRT Date 5" (for United flight 80), and "SETTING: 8:30-9:00. TIMER: 10HR. BOJINKA: 19:30-20:00 NRT Date 4" (for Northwest Flight 30).
The laptop had names of dozens of associates, including some photographs of a few of them and including contact information for Mohammed Jamal Khalifa. They contained records of information about five-star hotels, dealings with a London trading corporation, a meat market owner in Malaysia, and an Islamic center in Tucson, Arizona. Information about how money moved through an Abu Dhabi banking firm was found.
A communication signed "Khalid Shaikh + Bojinka" was also found on Yousef's computer that threatened to attack targets "in response to the financial, political and military assistance given to the Jewish state in the occupied land of Palestine by the United States Government." The letter also said that the bombers claimed to have "ability to make and use chemicals and poisonous gas... for use against vital institutions and populations and the sources of drinking water."
The letter also threatened to assassinate Fidel V. Ramos, the President of the Philippines at the time, as well as attack aircraft if the United States did not meet the group's demands. The letter said that the group claiming responsibility was the "Fifth Division of the Liberation Army".
The evidence found at the Doña Josefa filled three police vans.
Sometime after police arrested Saeed, he had called Ramzi Yousef's cellular phone.
Saeed turned out to be Abdul Hakim Murad, who was sent to the apartment to retrieve the computer after the fire. Murad was sent to Camp Crame, the headquarters of the Philippine National Police. Murad at first taunted investigators. For sixty-seven days, he endured "tactical interrogation" by Filipino investigators.
According to journalists Marites Vitug and Glenda Gloria, authors of the book Under the Crescent Moon, agents hit Murad with a chair and club of wood when he did not talk. They forced water into his mouth, and crushed out lit cigarettes on his genitals. Murad's ribs were completely cracked. Agents were surprised that he survived. According to an investigator, he finally confessed out of fear of Jews after an agent masquerading as a member of the Mossad told him that he was being sent to Israel.
Murad admitted in his interrogations, "This is my — the best thing. I enjoy it", and "because the United States is the first country in this world making trouble for us, for Muslims and for our people."
He talked about the bombs. "Nobody can think that it's... explosive", he said, referring to the watches Ramzi Yousef planned to put on the airliners. He said that the nitroglycerin "which even if you'll put in the X-ray, you will never, nobody can" detect it.
Murad confessed that he was on a quest to be a martyr. He confessed to being the hijacker as part of Phase II of his plan. Murad was extradited to the United States on April 12, 1995. His testimony helped convict Yousef.
Wali Khan Amin Shah was arrested at an apartment complex on January 11 after police saw that a pager called by Yousef was registered in the name of Shah's girlfriend. Shah escaped from custody about 77 hours later. Shah was found to be a conspirator after authorities saw photos of him scanned on the laptop that contained information about the plot, as well as cell phone numbers that led investigators to the apartment. Yousef and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were able to escape from the Philippines to Pakistan. On January 31, 1995, Yousef flew from Pakistan to Thailand in an attempt to place suitcase bombs on a Delta Airlines and United Airlines aircraft. When that failed, he flew back to Pakistan.
After receiving Murad's phone call, Yousef made plans to leave and flew to Singapore about five hours after Murad's arrest. One day after Bojinka was discovered, Yousef made his way to Pakistan. Mohammed went to Pakistan days or weeks afterwards.
The Philippines forwarded details on the Bojinka plot to the United States in April 1995. Konsojaya was heard via wiretaps to be frequently in contact with Mohammed Jamal Khalifa's charitable organization until the plot was discovered.
Yousef was arrested in the Su-Casa guest house in Islamabad, Pakistan on February 7, 1995 after a 23-day manhunt. Yousef later boasted to Secret Service agent Brian Parr about his plan. Wali Khan Amin Shah, the financier, was picked up in Malaysia in December 1995. His identity was revealed after he was fingerprinted. Shah was also extradited to the United States.
All three conspirators got life sentences for participating in the plot. Yousef also got 240 years along with his life sentence for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Yousef was sentenced on January 8, 1998, and Murad was sentenced on May 16, 1998. Shah has been cooperating with the government since August 1998.
Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, a Saudi businessman from Jeddah who was married to one of Osama bin Laden's sisters, was in the Philippines earlier in 1994. He was arrested in 1994 in Mountain View, California, for conspiring in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. He was financing the Bojinka plot, according to the content that the Filipino investigators forwarded to the United States. The United States Immigration and Naturalization Service deported Khalifa to Jordan in May 1995. He was acquitted by the Jordanian court and moved to Saudi Arabia. He was murdered in his hotel room in January 2007 in Madagascar.
U.S. investigators did not find the connection with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to al-Qaeda until several years later.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed decided that explosives were too risky to use in his next plot, and chose instead to use airplanes. The plot was later revised and executed during the September 11 attacks. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was arrested in Rawalpindi, Pakistan in 2003.
Yousef filed a motion for a new trial in 2001. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit heard the case on May 3, 2002, and announced on April 3, 2003 the decision that Yousef and his partners were to remain incarcerated.
Bojinka was included in a number of 9/11 documentaries and mini-series, including The Path to 9/11, and The Secret History of 9/11.