A terror group from Malaysia plotted in the weeks after 9/11 to attack an airplane using explosives hidden in their shoes, according to a former terrorist who claimed to have supplied the bomb.
Saajid Badat, a British national and terrorist-turned-government witness, told a New York court Tuesday that he met the group of Malaysians, which included a pilot, in late 2001 and claimed they planned to blow open a plane’s cockpit door in order to carry out a 9/11-style hijacking.
Badat said he had two shoe bombs for his own terror plot before he gave one to the Malaysians for their “operation.” Badat wore the other as he flew from Karachi, Pakistan to Holland and from there to England in December 2001. He did not detonate the device on those flights, he said, because he wanted to save it for an attack on an American airline – an operation he was planning with now-convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid.
Once in the U.K., however, Badat said he backed out of his operation after speaking with his parents, leaving Reid to go it alone. Reid was arrested after he failed to detonate explosives hidden in his shoes while aboard American Airlines Flight 63 on Dec. 22, 2001.
Badat was arrested in England in 2005 and pleaded guilty to a count of “conspiracy with others to destroy a passenger airliner whilst in flight by igniting a high-explosive device,” according to British authorities.
For whatever reason, it appears the Malaysia plot never went ahead. Badat did not name the group in question in his testimony and the National Counterterrorism Center does not list any major terrorist groups being based in Malaysia. Department of Justice prosecutors declined to elaborate on Badat’s testimony and the CIA declined to comment. A senior intelligence official would only say American intelligence was “aware of the Malaysia 2001 plot.”
In 2006, then-President George W. Bush said that in October 2001, Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, the so-called mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, had "set in motion" another plan to hijack planes, this time using terrorist recruits from Southeast Asia. Bush said the operation was foiled when one of the plotters was arrested in Asia. At the time, however, several counter-terrorism officials said the plot was not "definitive" and never got past the "thought" stage.
James Keith, former U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia, told ABC News Tuesday that Malaysia is not known as a harbor for terrorists and that country’s biggest threat when it comes to extremism comes in the form of spillover from its neighbors. For instance, Indonesia, to Malaysia’s south, is home to Jemaah Islamiya, the terrorist network blamed for a string of attacks in the 2000s including the 2002 Bali bombings, which claimed 202 lives. In recent years that organization has been “overshadowed” by splinter groups, according to the NCTC’s profile of the group.
Badat’s testimony comes as authorities in Malaysia are desperately trying to figure out what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared with 239 people on board in clear weather without explanation Saturday. So far authorities said they have discovered no evidence to suggest terrorism played a role in the growing mystery and top local, international and American officials have downplayed that possibility. Still, CIA Director John Brennan said Tuesday his agency has “not at all” ruled it out.
When asked Tuesday about al Qaeda’s presence in Malaysia, Brennan told the Council on Foreign Relations that the terrorist network extended “throughout Southeast Asia,” but did not specifically discuss Malaysia beyond saying, “There’s never been a place on the globe where al Qaeda said that they were not going to seek some type of presence.”
Badat was testifying in a New York court via video link from London for the trial of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden. Ghaith, who appeared at bin Laden’s side in propaganda videos following 9/11, is charged with conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and providing material support to terrorists. He has pleaded not guilty.