The Bojinka plot (Arabic: بجنكة; Tagalog: Oplan Bojinka) was a planned large-scale terrorist attack by Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to blow up twelve airliners and their approximately 4,000 passengers as they flew from Asia to the United States. The term can also refer to a combination of plots by Yousef and Mohammed to take place in January 1995, including a plot to assassinate Pope John Paul II and crash a plane into the CIA headquarters in Fairfax County, Virginia, as well as the airline bombing plot.
Despite careful planning and the skill of Ramzi Yousef, the Bojinka plot was disrupted after a chemical fire drew Filipino police attention on January 6 and January 7, 1995. One person was killed in the course of the plot — a passenger seated near a nitroglycerin bomb on Philippine Airlines Flight 434.
Some lessons learned by the organisers of this plot were apparently used by the planners of the September 11 attacks. The money handed down to the plotters originated from Al-Qaeda, the international Islamic jihadi organization then based in Sudan.
The plot is also known as Oplan Bojinka, Operation Bojinka, Project Bojinka, and Bojinga. FBI officials dub it "48 hours of terror".
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 Kentucky Fried Chicken 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 U.S. dollars), 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 Syrian 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.
As soon as Yousef arrived in Manila along with other "Arab Afghans" that were making cells in Manila, he started to work on making bombs. Yousef had shown up in Singapore with Khan earlier in fall 1994. The two got their Philippine visas in Singapore.
His first operational test of his bomb was inside a mall in Cebu City. The bomb detonated several hours after Yousef put it in a generator room. It caused minor damage, but it proved to Yousef that his bomb was workable.
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, which all of the plots are unlikely to happen to say the least wishful thinking. 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 to the arch of his foot a metal rod, 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.
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 at Suite 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.
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 Khalid Shaikh to Puerto Galera for scuba diving.
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 Armaldo 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 Minami Daito Island, near Okinawa, Japan. A Japanese businessman named Haruki Ikegami was killed after the bomb detonated. The Boeing 747-200 safely made an emergency landing in Naha, Okinawa. None of the aircraft's other 272 passengers or any members of the crew were killed, although 10 passengers in front of Ikegami were injured. Yousef then planned which flights to attack for Phase I.
The details of Phase I were found in the evidence discovered in the investigation into Room 603 in the Doña Josefa.
If Phase I of the plot had been pulled off, it would have been, in terms of casualties, the most devastating Islamist terrorist attack in recent history.
The first plan was to kill 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.
The next plan would have involved at least five terrorists, including Yousef, Khan, Shah and two more unknown operatives. Starting on January 21, 1995 and ending on January 22, 1995, they would set the bombs on 11 United States-bound airliners that had stopovers all around 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, when each bomber would disembark. He would then board one or two more flights and repeat. After all of the bombers 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 under another United flight which he would bomb.
The bombs would have been timed before the operatives stepped off the planes. The aircraft would have blown up over the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea almost simultaneously. If this plan worked, several thousand would have perished, and air travel would have been shut down worldwide for days, if not weeks. The U.S. government estimated the prospective death toll to be about 4,000 if the plot had been executed.
The "Mark II" "microbombs" had Casio digital watches as the timers, stabilizers that looked like cotton wool balls, and an undetectable 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 two 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 the men were cooking up would have involved hijacking of more airplanes. The Sears Tower (Chicago, Illinois), The Pentagon (Arlington County, Virginia), the United States Capitol (Washington, D.C.), the White House (Washington, DC), the Transamerica Pyramid (San Francisco, California), and the World Trade Center (New York, New York) would be the likely targets. This plot eventually would be the base plot for the September 11, 2001 attacks, but the real attacks only ended up using the World Trade Center and The Pentagon.
In his confession with Filipino investigators, Abdul Hakim Murad said that the Manila cell could not recruit enough people to implement other hijackings prior to the foiling of Oplan Bojinka.
The plot was abandoned after an apartment fire 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. The incident took place at the six-story Doña Josefa apartments.
Initially, the story told by Philippine authorities was that the fire was started when Abdul Hakim Murad started a chemical fire in the kitchen sink in Suite 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 watch commander Aida D. Fariscal, who decided to investigate the situation, first found 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. They left the apartment to seek a search warrant. Fariscal had been suspicious of the men in room 603 due to a chain of bombings that happened in the Philippines prior to January 6.
After police discovered the evidence, they arrested a man who called himself Ahmed Saeed. Saeed said that he was a commercial pilot who was on his way to the precinct house to explain what he claimed to be firecrackers that had gone off. Saeed tried to run away, but he was arrested after he tripped over a tree root. He was hauled to the precinct in a taxi van with the help of two other people. Saeed offered 110,740 Philippine pesos ($2,000 U.S. dollars) to the policemen if they would agree to let him go, but the officers refused. At the precinct, Saeed signed a statement saying that he was innocent and that he was a tourist visiting his friend in his chemical import/export business. Saeed then mumbled about "two Satans that must be destroyed: the Pope and America."
When the officers returned to Suite 603 at 2:30 a.m. 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, picric, and nitric acid, pure glycerin, acetone, sodium trichlorate, nitrobenzoyl, ammonia, silver nitrates, 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 control 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.
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 eleven flights between Asia and the United States, which were grouped under five codenames. Strings were found, such as "SETTING: 9:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. 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.
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 him with a chair and long piece of wood when Murad 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 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 our, 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 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 Shaikh Mohammed were able to escape from the Philippines 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 a hotel room in Islamabad, Pakistan on February 7, 1995 after a 23-day manhunt. Yousef later boasted to FBI 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. Khan 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 would apparently not find the connection with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to Al Qaeda until several years later.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed decided that explosives were too risky to use in his next plot. He decided instead to use airplanes. The plot would become known as the September 11, 2001 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.