January 29, 2002
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Malaysia was launch pad for Sept 11 strikes

Malaysia was a "primary operational launch pad" for the terrorist attacks in the United States, with a former army captain found to have had close links with the pilots of the hijacked planes and Osama bin Laden, a report quoting the Federal Bureau of Investigation says.

American intelligence sources believe that former Malaysian army captain Yazid Sufaat, a member of the Jemaah Islamiah, an Islamic extremist group that befriended bin Laden, helped develop a support network in Malaysia and throughout southeast Asia, according to Newsweek.

The magazine says in its upcoming issue that in January 2000, Sufaat held a meeting in his condominium with top associates of bin Laden. An Indonesian cleric with ties to the Al Qaeda had asked Sufaat to hold the meeting, it says.

Two of those who attended it -- Khalid Al Midhar and Nawaf Al Hamzi -- later went to the US to enrol in flight school. They were the hijackers piloting the plane that struck the Pentagon.

Quoting the FBI report, Newsweek says 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 US and Israeli embassies in Singapore, and have since detained dozens of the group's members, says the report.

Later in 2000, the magazine says, Sufaat hosted Zacarias Moussaoui, the only suspected terrorist who has been arrested in connection with the September 11 attacks.

Moussaoui was also on his way to the US for flight training. During the visit, Sufaat fixed up Moussaoui with employment letters, which were discovered in his Minneapolis apartment in the US. FBI sources told Newsweek that Sufaat also agreed to pay Moussaoui $2,500 a month during his stay in America along with a lump sum of $35,000 to get him started.

For months before and after the September 11 attacks, Newsweek says, evidence of Sufaat's involvement with the Al Qaeda kept popping up in documents.

Last August, when FBI agents raided Moussaoui's apartment, 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 US, Britain and Europe.

Agents soon determined that Moussaoui was an Al 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, the report says.

"Kuala Lumpur is the perfect place for Arabs to lie low," an intelligence source in the region was quoted as saying.

The city attracts many Arab tourists, and Malaysian law allows Muslims to enter and exit the country without visas.

America's War on Terror: The Complete Coverage
The Attack on US Cities: The Complete Coverage

The Terrorism Weblog: Latest Stories from Around the World

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