Feb 4 2002 issue
A GOOD PLACE TO LIE LOW
By Daniel Klaidman and Melinda Liu
The Gaeda fighter was ragged and underfed, just another prisoner dragged off the battlefield by the Northern Alliance. Searched by his captors, he turned over a small notebook with names and numbers scrawled inside. They didn’t mean much to the men on the front lines, but to U.S. investigators piecing together the September 11 terror trail, one name in the book leapt out. It belonged to an obscure Malaysian businessman named Yazid Sufaat.
For months before and after the September 11 attacks, evidence of Sufaat’s involvement with Al Qaeda kept popping up in documents. Last August, when FBI agents raided the Minneapolis apartment of Zacarias Moussaoui, they discovered papers from a Malaysian company called Infocus Tech. Among them were letters of introduction identifying Moussaoui as the outfit’s “marketing consultant” for the United States, Britain and Europe. They were signed “Yazid Sufaat, Managing Director.” Agents soon determined that Moussaoui was a Qaeda operative, and he was later charged as the “missing” 20th hijacker in the September 11 attacks. But Sufaat remained a mystery at that point.
While the Feds trailed Moussaoui in Minnesota, agents were also scouring New York and Los Angeles for two other Qaeda operatives. Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi had been red-flagged by the CIA for attending a January 2000 meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with top associates of Osama bin Laden. Despite the warning, Almihdhar and Alhazmi managed to slip into the United States. When American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, the two Saudis were at the controls. And soon agents discovered that the Kuala Lumpur meeting had been held in Sufaat’s condominium.
Who is Yazid Sufaat? U.S. intelligence now believes the former Malaysian Army captain was a member of Jemaah Islamiah, an Islamic extremist group that befriended bin Laden and helped him develop a support network in Malaysia and throughout Southeast Asia. A secret FBI report obtained by NEWSWEEK says that Malaysia, previously underestimated as a bin Laden stronghold, was a “primary operational launchpad for the Sept. 11 attacks.”
Sufaat’s suspected involvement in the attacks also helped investigators unravel Al Qaeda’s mazelike architecture. Bin Laden reached out to sympathetic and often obscure extremist groups around the Islamic world, where his operatives could fade into the Muslim community—extending Al Qaeda’s global influence and frustrating efforts to foil their plots. Over the last few weeks, Malaysian authorities have arrested 48 suspected Islamic extremists, including Sufaat himself. There have been similar roundups in Singapore and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
U.S. Special Forces are already on the ground as advisers and trainers in the Philippines, where Muslim radicals are believed to have ties to bin Laden. Washington also wants to resume training the Indonesian military, but such aid has been prohibited by Congress because of human-rights issues.
Investigators believe there may be dozens of bin Laden sympathizers like Sufaat sprinkled across Southeast Asia. Details about his life are still sketchy. Now 37, he studied in the United States, earning a degree in biochemistry. Returning home to Malaysia, he started seemingly legitimate software and trading companies. At the same time, he was leading a double life as a Muslim extremist, working as a midlevel warrior for Jemaah Islamiah, according to Malaysian investigators. But the January 2000 Kuala Lumpur meeting was the first time authorities tagged him as a potential Qaeda supporter. Sources have told NEWSWEEK that Sufaat was ordered to hold the meeting by an Indonesian cleric with ties to Al Qaeda. Immediately afterward, Almihdhar and Alhazmi, the two eventual hijackers, flew to the United States and enrolled in flight school.
Later that year Sufaat received another guest: Moussaoui, who was also on his way to the United States for flight training. During the visit, Sufaat fixed up Moussaoui with the employment letters later discovered in his apartment. According to FBI sources, Sufaat also agreed to pay Moussaoui $2,500 a month during his stay in the United States, along with a lump sum of $35,000 to get him started.
“Kuala Lumpur is the perfect place for Arabs to lie low,” says an intelligence source in the region. The city attracts many Arab tourists, and Malaysian law allows Muslims to enter and exit the country without visas. And unlike Somalia, Afghanistan and other backwaters, Malaysia is a modern country, with working phones and Internet access, a stable banking system—and world-class shopping.
Last December, Malaysian investigators discovered that Sufaat had ordered four tons of ammonium nitrate, a powerful explosive used in truck bombs. He was arrested as he returned home from a mission to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Authorities believe Sufaat and his fellow Jemaah Islamiah radicals planned to blow up the U.S. and Israeli embassies in Singapore, and authorities there have detained dozens of the group’s members. That seems to leave Al Qaeda with fewer friends in the world—and perhaps fewer places to hide.
January 27, 2002
``There is no Malaysian connection as far as we know with the attacks in the U.S.,'' Mahathir said. ``But, what we do know is there are some Malaysians who were trained in Pakistan and Afghanistan with the intention of destabilizing this country and raising tensions. They had a plan to overthrow the government with violence.''
Malaysia may sue Newsweek over `Launch Pad' claim
SHAH ALAM, Jan 31 2002 (Bernama) -- The government is studying the possibility of initiating a civil suit against Newsweek magazine for claiming that Malaysia was a launch pad for the Sept 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
"I've have already collected the various articles churned out by this magazine and have requested the Attorney-General's Chambers to study them and come up with a report," said Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Dr Rais Yatim.
The report was expected to be ready in a week or two, he told reporters after opening a "Thinkers Forum' at Universiti Teknologi Mara here.
Dr Rais said action could also be taken against the magazine under Malaysia's Printing Presses and Publications Act.
"I am confident that we can, using international, regional or national laws, see to it that stern action is taken (against the magazine) through the courts," he said.
Dr Rais said the Cabinet had asked the Home Ministry's Publications Division to scrutinise the contents of other international magazines that allegedly claimed that Malaysia was a source of terrorism.
"We have been accused of being the launch pad for terrorism. This is an extreme view, and the government is concerned over the stand of these magazines," he said.
Dr Rais said the article on Malaysia in the Feb 4 issue of Newsweek could have a political motive in view of the fact that the Malaysian economy remained sound unlike that of several other countries.
Quoting a secret FBI report, the article said Malaysia was a primary operational launch pad for the Sept 11 attacks.
It said US intelligence believed that former Malaysian army captain Yazid Sufaat was a member of Jemaah Islamiah, "an Islamic extremist group that befriended (Osma) bin Laden and helped him develop a support network in Malaysia and throughout Southeast Asia".
Yazid is currently detained under the Internal Security Act for his alleged involvement in the activities of the militant KMM group.
The Newsweek article also quoted an unnamed intelligence source in the region as saying that Kuala Lumpur was the perfect place for Arabs to lie low.
Noting that the city attracted many Arab tourists, the magazine alleged that Malaysian laws allowed Muslims to enter the country without visas.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Monday dismissed the claim that Malaysia was the launch pad for the Sept 11 attacks, saying that the United States itself was used as the base for the attacks.