Let me start by saying that it is still too early to tell, but it is beginning to look like the flight from Brazil to Paris which went down over the Atlantic Ocean, was a terrorist bombing. I have to say that this looks far too familiar to other plots which have been carried out before. Let’s take a little look at the history.
As we all know, in 1993, the World Trade Center was attacked by Muslim terrorists. Despite several deaths and millions of dollars in damage, the objective of the attack (to bring down the towers) failed. The mastermind behind this attack was Ramzi Yousef. Years later, the Trade Center was attacked again on September 11th, 2001, and this time the towers came down. The mastermind of this attack was Khalid Shaik Mohammed. Most of these facts are common knowledge. What I didn’t know was that KSM is Yousef’s uncle. Of course as part of al-Qaida, their network is extensive. Currently, Yousef is serving a life sentence in federal prison for conspiracy. KSM is being held at Guantanamo Bay awaiting his disposition.
What is also not so commonly known is what Yousef was charged with. He was not convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing but for something called Bojinka. Bojinka is a Croatian-Serbian word which means “big noise.” The plan was to smuggle bombs onto a dozen international flights and have them all go off within a few hours of each other all over the world. This would naturally kill thousands on board the planes, but the plan was that hopefully the planes would fall from the sky killing thousands more on land. The technology for this bomb smuggling was designed by Yousef. He is a creative bomb-maker. I first learned of Bojinka when I was reading a book called “1000 Years For Revenge – International Terrorism and the FBI, The Untold Story” by Peter Lance. In the book, the author takes us from the design of the plot through the trials and finally to a successful detonation. The book covers much more than the Bojinka plot but we’ll stick to this for our purposes.
Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that the evil genius behind this plot was the way he was able to smuggle what would ordinarily be innocuous articles aboard an airliner and then once aboard, assemble them, plant them, and then have it detonate hours or days later. The plan was to plant the bomb over the plane’s fuel tanks so that the initial explosion didn’t need to be very large but it did need to hit the fuel cell so the plane would blow up. Yousef first tested this device in a Manila theater in 1994. Yousef had a friend plant the bomb under a seat in the theater and leave. Several minutes later, people and smoke started billowing out of the theater. This was his first successful test.
A month later, Yousef takes a flight from Manila to Cebu City in the Phillipines. While on the flight, he assembles and plants his device aboard a 747. In Cebu City, Yousef catches another flight back to Manila under a different assumed name. The 747 goes on from Cebu City to Japan. While in flight, the bomb goes off killing the person sitting in the seat, blowing a hole in the bottom of the plane, creating a lot of chaos, but failing to blow up the plane. The plane was able to land safely. Yousef had placed the bomb one row behind where it needed to be to ignite the fuel cell.
Yousef was unable to pull off the plot before he was arrested, but his uncle was still at large and had complete knowledge of the formula for the success of this plot. Follow the timeline here:
Late ’94 he test runs the Bojinka bomb
Feb. ’95 he gets arrested
In 1996, TWA 800, another 747, goes down just outside of New York City. Although the official explanation for this tragedy was faulty wiring, there is no doubt that it was the explosion of the fuel cell which led to the downing of the flight. After reading Mr. Lance’s book, I am convinced this was a successful execution of Bojinka. Mr. Lance points out that there are several chemicals which are found in the explosives Yousef was using for Bojinka that were found on the carpet of the recovered parts of Flight 800. The NTSB had some explanations for these but they wouldn’t normally be found on a 747. For me, this is the most plausible explanation for the downing of Flight 800: Bojinka.
Fast forward now to 2003, after the tragedy of 9/11. On March 1, KSM is arrested in Pakistan. Then in 2006, British police thwarted another plot to smuggle liquid explosives aboard airplanes heading to the US and Canada. This was the same method used in Bojinka. Clearly, Yousef’s design was still being used.
Now, in 2009, we learn of a plane missing off the coast of South America. The early explanations of a lightning strike seemed forced. Although there were storms in the area, it didn’t seem that a lightning strike could do the kind of damage needed to bring down a plane. In fact, yesterday, I heard an expert on the A330 Airbus say that it was unlikely to him that a lightning strike would bring the plane down. And today we have word that a bomb threat was made on this flight days ago. Clearly, the threat of Bojinka lives on.
So why the history lesson? Well, what is the point of terrorism? To kill as many innocents as possible thereby creating terror. Regardless of the disposition of this flight, the threat of terrorism looms. Right now, President Obama is traveling to the Middle East and proclaiming his Muslim heritage to try and curry favor with those who mean us ill. All of this has been tried before and we still have the legacy of Ramzi Yousef and his ilk who dreamed up Bojinka and carried it out. Now instead of keeping the pressure on, we are letting our foot off the pedal and going back to the tactics that allowed this generation of terrorists to gain a foothold. We can not take the pressure off.
Whatever our government decides to call it, terrorism is alive and well. The question is do we continue to go after the thousands of terrorists overseas or do we wait until terror visits us here at home again and then prosecute those few who perpetrated it? Or do we simply apologize for making them mad at us in the first place?