Let me start with a confession. After five years of research, I still do not know for sure who fired the missiles that resulted in the destruction of TWA Flight 800 off the cost of Long Island July 17, 1996. Whatever the exact scenario, I do believe, however, that there was terrorist involvement. And the more evidence I see, the more I believe that Iraq was among those involved.
An eye-opening article in the October American Spectator by Harvard Ph.D. and former Clinton adviser on Iraq Laurie Mylroie sheds some new light on the issue. Although she does not talk about TWA Flight 800 in this article, Mylroie has in the past. In this article, she focuses on the extraordinary KSM “family,” the most likely operatives behind the plane’s destruction.
KSM is government shorthand for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the acknowledged mastermind behind the 9-11 plot. KSM comes from the land of the Baluch, a stateless Sunni Muslim people who inhabit the Pakistani-Iranian border. KSM’s “nephew” Ramzi Yousef is now serving a life term in a federal prison for his role as mastermind of the first WTC bombing in 1993 as well as for his role in the Bojinka plot, a plan to blow up a dozen planes over the Pacific and also to use planes as bombs to attack American targets. Authorities have also identified four other KSM “nephews” as terrorists, at least one of whom, Ammar al-Baluchi, served a key middleman role in 9-11.
As Mylroie convincingly argues, Saddam used the Baluch, his fellow Sunnis, extensively during his war with Iran in the 1980s. Before the news became politicized, mainstream journalists routinely reported how Iraq had armed and financed at least 4,000 Baluch to run operations into Iran. Mylroie makes the case that the KSM “family” is most likely an elite hard core of Baluch operatives who serve as international mercenaries. KSM alone had some 60 aliases. Arrested in 2003, this John Belushi look-alike does not appear to be appreciably older than “nephew” Ramzi Yousef.
In 1995, upon Yousef’s arrest in the Bojinka plot, the New York Times commented on his role as a Baluch operative. Said the Times, this “could explain how Mr. Yousef came into possession of the Iraqi passport that he used when he arrived in New York in September 1992, six months before the World Trade Center bombing.” Yousef’s co-conspirator in the WTC bombing, Abdul Rahman Yasin, also traveled on an Iraqi passport, which made sense in that he was an Iraqi native. Yasin returned to Baghdad after the bombing, where he lived under Saddam’s protection until Iraq’s liberation in 2003.
Yousef and Yasin, neither of them suicidal, bombed the World Trade Center Feb. 26, 1993. Although the blast killed only six people, Yousef’s goal was much more ambitious. He had planned to topple one tower into the other and kill 250,000 people. In the way of motive, on Feb. 26, 1991, Saddam had acknowledged defeat in the Gulf War and began pulling his troops out of Kuwait. No one has ever accused al-Qaida or Osama bin Laden of involvement in that first bombing. As a people, the Baluch had had no previous involvement with the United States and no motive for attacking. Nor are they a particularly religious people. Yousef much preferred Karaoke bars to mosques.
On July 16, 1996, the Islamic Change Movement issued a communiqu? that read in part, “The mujahedeen [holy warriors] will deliver the ultimate response to the threats of the foolish American president. Everyone will be amazed at the size of that response.” Mylroie believes the Islamic Change Movement to be the name used by Iraqi intelligence to take credit for terrorist acts.
On July 17, 1996, National Liberation Day in Saddam’s Iraq, the most important day on Iraq’s revolutionary calendar, Saddam gave what Mylroie calls the “most angry, vengeful speech of his entire life.” He condemned the U.S. for its troops on Saudi and Kuwaiti soil and demanded the lifting of sanctions.
On July 17, 1996, at 8:31 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, at least 270 people – FBI figures – watched streaks of light ascend from the horizon with burning tips and white contrails, arc over, and explode. At least 750 people then saw the flaming wreck of TWA Flight 800 fall from the sky.
Within minutes of the blast, Ramzi Yousef, in jail in New York City for the Bojinka plot, sent out a message to his external contacts through what he thought was a secure line. The FBI, however, had been using a mob informant to get Yousef’s confidence and was listening in on Yousef’s communications, which were typically in Arabic.
The FBI interpreters, however, could not understand the message. They sent it to the NSA, which in turn sent it to the Defense Language Institute. I have had two independent sources within the NSA confirm this. The message read: “What had to be done, has been done, TWA 800” (last two words unintelligible). It was in Baluchi.
“I KNOW THE F***ING TRUTH,” the one confirming source e-mailed me, using caps and self-edited profanity to express her outrage. “I WAS THERE. I SAW THE REAL-TIME, INTELLIGENCE, DISTRIBUTED TO SELECT PERSONNEL WITHIN THE AGENCY, AND DISCUSSED IT WITH A LINGUIST/ANALYST WHO ALSO SAW IT.” She added in lower case, “The ‘800’ victims’ families and the public deserve to know the truth.”
If Yousef were, in fact, part of a larger cadre of trained Baluch operatives employed by Iraq, several pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place. For one, the scale of the operation no longer seems beyond Yousef’s reach. For another, Osama bin Laden’s failure to take credit for it becomes understandable. Saddam would not have publicly done so either – at least not in Iraq’s name – knowing the hell that such a boast would have provoked.
On July 18, 1996, Yousef, representing himself, argued before a federal judge that a terrorist attack on an airliner in New York would surely prejudice a New York jury against a man accused of plotting to blow up American airliners. He asked for a mistrial. Happily, the judge denied his request.
On July 18, 1996, the Islamic Change Movement released still another communiqu?, this one through well-established Islamist terrorist channels in Beirut. It read: “We carried out our promise with the plane attack of yesterday.”
The question needs to be asked: Was it Iraqi intelligence that introduced these Baluch hard guys to al-Qaida? Before hooking up with KSM and crew, Osama bin Laden was scarcely more threatening than Terry Nichols had been before he – almost assuredly – fell in with Ramzi Yousef and company in the Philippines.
As they say, my enemy’s enemy is my friend.
Related special offer: