Evidence is growing that terrorists – possibly orchestrated by Iraq – bear ultimate responsibility for the demise of TWA Flight 800 in July 1996, according to authors Jack Cashill and James Sanders.

Their recently released book, “First Strike: TWA Flight 800 and the Attack on America,” persuasively argues that mechanical failure could not have destroyed the Paris-bound Boeing 747. But it also presents a compelling theory that places Baghdad at the center of a pre-Sept. 11 plot to turn an aircraft into a flying bomb.

Wreckage from TWA Flight 800

On July 16, 1996, one day before the airliner went down off the Long Island coast, a communiqu? was issued by the Islamic Change Movement – the name apparently used by Iraqi intelligence to take credit for terrorist acts, says Iraq scholar Laurie Mylroie.

It read in part: “The mujahideen [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.”

The message warned, “Their time is at the morning-dawn,” which corresponded to dusk in New York, the moment of TWA Flight 800’s demise.

On July 18, the Islamic Change Movement released another communiqu? through well-established Islamist terrorist channels in Beirut that read: “We carried out our promise with the plane attack of yesterday.”

Mylroie points out that Islamic Change took responsibility for the Khobar Towers attack in Riyadh one month earlier that killed 19 Americans. She notes that the date of TWA 800’s destruction is the most important day on Iraq’s revolutionary calendar, marking the coup that brought Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party to power in 1969.

On July 17, 1996, Saddam gave the “most angry, vengeful speech of his entire life,” blasting the U.S. for its troops on Saudi and Kuwaiti soil and demanding the lifting of sanctions, Mylroie told WND.

“That night, July 17, Iraq’s national day, that plane goes up in a fireball,” said Mylroie, author of “Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein’s Unfinished War Against America.”

On the same day, she adds, Ramzi Yousef, believed to be an Iraqi agent, was on trial in New York for his role in a 1994 plot to blow up 11 American airliners over the Pacific almost simultaneously.

“I don’t have background to judge whether it was a missile or a bomb that brought down [TWA 800],” said Mylroie. “But for me, that’s too many coincidences.”

Apparently without knowledge of the second communiqu?, however, a State Department spokesman downplayed Islamic Change’s initial message, stating, “While it’s up to those leading the investigation to make a judgment on what this means, we think that this is a common type of political tract circulated commonly in the Middle East, and that the only connection is a vague chronological one – that this thing surfaced at this dreadful time.”

Of particular interest to Cashill, is information from Yousef’s laptop computer that was seized from the Manila apartment he shared with Pakistani pilot Abdul Hakim Murad. The author notes that one element of Yousef’s plot, known as Operation Bojinka, mirrored his most successful crime, the truck bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. If one could stuff a thousand pounds of explosives into a van, reasoned Yousef, why not stuff a comparable amount in a small plane and strike real terror?

Cashill notes that Col. Robert Patterson’s new book “Dereliction of Duty: An Eyewitness Account of How Bill Clinton Compromised America’s National Security,” refers to the officer’s task of delivering the Pentagon’s presidential briefing reports to Clinton. Patterson says that in the late summer of 1996, he presented the president with a year-old report on Operation Bojinka, which described the plan to turn small planes into flying bombs.

“We find it particularly interesting that the president would be reading about it right after TWA Flight 800 went down,” Cashill said.

Cashill believes it was just such an aircraft, packed with TNT, that touched off the events leading to the destruction of TWA 800, pointing to a variety of sources, including eyewitnesses and radar data, that placed a private plane in the path of the doomed jet.

Did Navy missiles meant to intercept the suspicious aircraft take down the 747 instead?

“I am 100 percent confident it was not mechanical failure,” he said. “I can prove 20 times over that the investigation was corrupted. I’m about 90 percent confident on our scenario of a terrorist airplane, and getting more confident everyday, because every time new information comes in, it only supports it.”

Cashill presents the testimony of U.S. Navy electronic warfare technician Dwight Brumley, who was traveling north to Providence, R.I., aboard a US Air flight in the vicinity of TWA 800. Brumley described to the FBI a “small private plane flying pretty much at a course right at the US Air flight” that passed just a few hundred feet below him.

Brumley said that just 10 seconds after the small aircraft passed, he noticed what appeared to be some kind of a flare that rose up from the surface, then traveled parallel to US Air 217, heading straight for TWA 800.

Since writing the book, Cashill has discovered even stronger supporting testimony, from a man who was sitting sitting behind Brumley, James Nugent.

“He drew a map for the FBI – incredibly specific and damning – in which he shows an entirely different plane merging right with TWA Flight 800 from a different direction,” Cashill said.

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