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The second of three articles.
On Jordan's Death Row, Convicted Terrorist Says He Has No Regrets (Jan. 15, 2001)
U.S. to Offer Detailed Trail of bin Laden in Bomb Trial (Jan. 13, 2001)
MAGAZINE: The Education of a Holy Warrior (June 25, 2000)
International: Middle East Home
From the Archives
Blast Kills Sailors on U.S. Ship in Yemen (Oct. 13, 2000)
Foiled Terror Plot on Tourists Linked to bin Laden Aide (Feb. 29, 2000)
Two U.S. Embassies in East Africa Bombed (Aug. 8, 1998)
23 U.S. Troops Die in Truck Bombing in Saudi Base (June 26, 1996)
Where Arab Militants Train and Wait (Aug. 11, 1993)
World Trade Center Bombed (Feb. 27, 1993)
Soviet Soldiers Leave Afghanistan (Feb. 16, 1989)
The Afghan Warriors (Dec. 31, 1981)
Present at the Beginning: bin Laden and His Associates (3 photos)
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fter weeks of advanced training in explosives at one of Osama bin Laden's Afghan camps, Raed Hijazi, a onetime Boston cab driver, was ready for his mission. The chemicals for the explosives were stockpiled. The targets were selected, the homemade detonators wired.
Western officials say Mr. Hijazi, an American citizen of Palestinian origin who has since been arrested, recently described for Jordanian investigators the moment that followed: his induction by one of Mr. bin Laden's chief lieutenants into Al Qaeda, the group that Mr. bin Laden, a Saudi-born multimillionaire, founded 13 years ago to wage jihad, or holy war, throughout the world.
Mr. Hijazi told investigators that he had been given a piece of paper and had recited the words on it: "In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate. I promise to ally myself to Osama bin Laden for the sake of God."
It was late November 1999, and Mr. Hijazi was about to go from Afghanistan to Jordan where, Jordanian investigators say, he was planning to carry out what would be a devastating terrorist act: the killing of hundreds of Americans, Israelis and others who were visiting Jordan to celebrate the dawn of the millennium. Initial targets, Jordanian officials say, included the fully booked 400-room Radisson Hotel in downtown Amman, two Christian holy sites and two border crossings into Israel.
Under the plan, a second wave of attacks would follow.
Mr. Hijazi never reached Jordan. The Jordanians say they foiled the plot, arresting more than a dozen local militants. One by one, prosecutors said, the detainees described a conspiracy that had been years in the making and, until the bin Laden group's help in its late stages, mostly home-grown.
Jordanian and American officials say what nearly happened in Jordan is a case study of how Osama bin Laden and his deputies, isolated in Afghanistan, greatly extend their reach by aiding locally initiated terrorism.
The Jordanian plotters dreamed of striking a blow for Islam, and they financed their local cell, the authorities said, through the sale of forged documents, robberies and Mr. Hijazi's savings in Boston. Jordanian officials said the men had traveled to Lebanon and Syria to buy weapons, get military training and stockpile chemicals for explosives.
But according to Jordanian and American officials, their plans gained powerful support from Mr. bin Laden's Al Qaeda, which trained Mr. Hijazi in explosives, approved the targets chosen by the local cell, set the timing and blessed the operation as its own.
"If you want to understand the modern face of global Islamic terrorism and how it functions, look at Jordan," said Richard A. Clarke, the White House's senior counterterrorism official. "The Jordan plot is the template."
During the Jordanian trial last year, the defendants protested their innocence and said they had been tortured into confessing, an assertion that Jordan vehemently denies. In September a military court convicted 22 of the 28 men charged, sentencing 6 to death, including Mr. Hijazi, who was then still at large, and the man the Jordanians say inducted him into Al Qaeda.
In October, Mr. Hijazi was arrested in Syria and sent to Jordan, where this month he is to be retried on the same charges. His lawyer, Jalal Darwish, said Mr. Hijazi was not guilty and would be proven so in the new trial.
But Jordanian and American officials said Mr. Hijazi had given them new information about the plot and about its ties to Al Qaeda, including the account of his initiation, some of which came from Western officials familiar with his statements.
The American authorities, who get significant amounts of intelligence about Arab militants from Jordan, say they are persuaded that the Jordanians' account of a deadly plot is accurate.
A portrait of modern terrorism emerges in unusual detail from the confessions of those charged; the prosecutors' statement in court; and interviews in Jordan with investigators, two of the defendants, their families, friends and foreign officials.
The version offered by prosecutors and the court record has inconsistencies. Some of the defendants' statements are contradictory or vague. But the record suggests that the Jordanians were eager to join forces with Mr. bin Laden's group, which shared their vision of replacing secular governments with, as they define it, truly Islamic states.
Mr. Hijazi appreciated the mutual advantages of such assistance. When the attacks were completed, he boasted to the other plotters, according to accounts of their confessions, "there won't be enough body bags in all of Jordan to hold the dead."
A Long Trail in Several Countries
Jordanian prosecutors trace the plot's origins to May 1996, when Mr. Hijazi met Khadar abu Hoshar, a longtime foe of the Jordanian government, at a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria.
The two Palestinians were natural allies despite their different backgrounds. Mr. abu Hoshar, now 36, had fought with the Afghan rebels against Soviet forces in the late 1980's. Seared by the experience, he had returned home with a passion for Islamic fundamentalism and the conviction that even superpowers could be defeated by true believers.
"When I arrived back in Jordan, the intifada was at its peak," Mr. abu Hoshar said in an interview in prison late last fall. "The thinking about the fighting in both places was the same: Everyone in the world thought that powers like Russia which occupy Muslim land can only be removed from the land through force."
Mr. Hijazi, now 32, shared that conviction. Born in California to relative privilege, he had grown up mostly in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. He told prosecutors that he had been converted to the Islamic cause while studying business at California State University in Sacramento. Mr. Hijazi began attending a mosque and cultural group in Sacramento called the Islamic Assistance Organization. It was there, he told Jordanian investigators, that he met a Muslim from the Fiji Islands who schooled him in radical Islamic philososophy and persuaded him to go to Afghanistan.
The mosque, he told investigators, helped arrange his training at the Khaldan camp near Khost in eastern Afghanistan. Mr. Hijazi proved an excellent student, especially with mortars, a favorite weapon of the Afghans. He became known by his noms de guerre, Abu Ahmed the Mortarman and Abu Ahmed the American, according to Mr. abu Hoshar's statement to the prosecutors.
When the two men met in 1996 at the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, a state-controlled camp in Syria, prosecutors say, Mr. abu Hoshar was trying to found a Jordan-based group of militants.
Mr. Hijazi had his own ideas about how to bring the jihad home. A burly, intensely suspicious man, Mr. Hijazi revealed little about himself. Accompanied at the refugee camp by his younger brother, Saad, prosecutors say, he was introduced to Mr. abu Hoshar only by his noms de guerre.
Although the two worked together closely during the next three years, Mr. abu Hoshar told investigators that he had never learned his associate's true name, and had not known that the younger man accompanying him that day in Syria was his brother.
According to the prosecutor, Mr. abu Hoshar and the Hijazi brothers discussed "the issue of jihad while agreeing on the necessity of training on rifles and explosives." Their intent, the prosecutor's statement continues, was "to carry out terrorist attacks against the Jews and American interests in Jordan."
Their plans suffered an early setback at the end of 1996, when the Jordanian authorities arrested Mr. abu Hoshar as he entered his homeland from Syria. He was jailed for 18 months.
In early 1997, Mr. Hijazi moved to Boston, where he had a friend from his years in Afghanistan. He has told Jordanian interrogators that he took a job driving a taxi to raise money for his military activities back home. He got a taxi license, records show, and drove for the Boston Cab Company. Prosecutors say he sent a total of $13,000 to his cell in Jordan.
The plot, Jordanian prosecutors say, appears to have resumed in earnest in 1998, soon after Mr. abu Hoshar's release from prison. According to the prosecutors, he and Mr. Hijazi, who traveled between Jordan, Boston, Turkey, Syria and many other places, recruited at least 10 others.
It was at this point, prosecutors say, that they made a crucial connection.
Mr. abu Hoshar asked an Algerian member of his group, Hussein Turi, if he knew anyone in Al Qaeda who could arrange training in Afghanistan for his cell. Mr. Turi told investigators that he had sent a message through an intermediary to Abu Zubaydah, the bin Laden aide responsible for contacts with Islamic militant groups around the world.
Abu Zubaydah was the nom de guerre for Zein al-Abideen Muhammad Hassan, a 27-year-old Palestinian and former Afghanistan veteran who had risen quickly in Al Qaeda's ranks. Middle Eastern and American officials describe him as a pivotal figure in the bin Laden network, a trusted militant who assigned candidates screened at his Peshawar, Pakistan, guest house to the dozen or so Afghan camps financed and run by Mr. bin Laden.
According to Col. Mahmoud Obeidat, the Jordanian chief prosecutor, Abu Zubaydah was a crucial link between local initiative and central command.
Abu Zubaydah sent back a fax to Mr. abu Hoshar, setting the rules for his dealings with the Jordanian cell, Mr. Turi said. Contacts with him must always be made through one person, who must vouch for those sent to be trained. No one should be coerced into a mission. And those sent to Afghanistan through Pakistan must never call him from the airport or their hotel. The cell readily agreed to the conditions.
With the training arranged, the plotters began to focus on the most difficult aspect of their mission: securing the explosives and detonators for their bombs.
In late 1998, Mr. Hijazi abruptly left Boston, leaving unclaimed his $150 deposit on his cab, a spokesman for the Boston Cab Company said. Using his American passport, he went to London and bought five Al Bico two-way radios at an electronics shop on Edgewater Road. The radios can be converted into remote-control detonators, investigators said.
Traveling to Jordan via Israel, prosecutors said, Mr. Hijazi chose a route through the Arava crossing, which allowed him to look over the border post there as a possible target.
He then began buying the acids and agricultural chemicals needed to produce powerful explosives. Using a forged Jordanian gold dealer's license, prosecutors said, he gradually accumulated sulfuric acid and 5,200 pounds of nitric acid, a substance that cannot be bought in Jordan without such a permit. When properly mixed, the chemicals can produce an explosive more powerful than TNT.
The group also rented a house in Marka, a poor suburb of Amman, and one of its members, skilled in construction, dug a large hole in the basement to hide the chemicals. The concealed chamber was more than 9 feet deep and 45 feet wide, bigger than the house's foundation. The chamber took two months to build, according to a statement from the cell member who built it, a Jordanian who had befriended Mr. Hijazi in Afghanistan in the early 1990's.
The group began experimenting with explosives. Following instructions on a computer disk that contained a 10-volume, 5,000-page guerrilla manual, the Encyclopedia of Afghan Jihad, Mr. Hijazi prepared samples on his family's farm about an hour's drive from Amman, his brother Saad told the police.
In June 1999, Mr. abu Hoshar told the police, he called Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan, using a cell phone as instructed, and said he was sending Mr. Hijazi and three others to Afghanistan for training.
The four men traveled to Turkey, each by a different route, to avoid detection. Then, together, they went on to Pakistan and into neighboring Afghanistan. Mr. Hijazi has told Jordanian prosecutors that he went to a camp operated by Mr. bin Laden that specializes in advanced explosives training. He also visited Kabul, where, he said, he met other members of Al Qaeda.
When his training was over in late November, Mr. Hijazi told investigators, Abu Zubaydah met with him privately to give him the oath of allegiance. Abu Zubaydah told him that from then on, he was authorized to act in Mr. bin Laden's name "anywhere in jihad territories."
He then traveled to Syria. Prosecutors say he planned to enter Jordan on Dec. 6, accompanied by three suicide bombers who would attack the border crossings and a Christian baptism site. The prosecutors said the plotters knew that the sites would be thronged "in light of the approaching millennium festivals."
It was also a religiously propitious moment for such an attack. Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of dawn-to-dusk fasting, began on Dec. 9. Under Islamic tradition, anyone martyred during that time is promised a prominent place in paradise.
In the early morning of Nov. 30, Abu Zubaydah called Mr. abu Hoshar. "The training is over," he said, according to Mr. abu Hoshar's statement.
Preventing a Disaster in Millennium Day
The phone call came as no surprise to Jordanian officials. A year earlier, in 1998, Jordan's intelligence service had picked up a vague but menacing tip that Mr. bin Laden's group might be planning an operation somewhere in the region, perhaps Israel, perhaps Jordan.
The Jordanians now suspect that Mr. bin Laden's group might have gotten involved in the plot as part of its determination to retaliate for the worldwide crackdowns that followed the 1998 bombings of two American Embassies in Africa.
By the summer of 1999, investigators had determined that the plot was in fact aimed at Jordan. They began watching suspects, some of whom they knew only by sight.
The Jordanians were listening on Nov. 30 as Abu Zubaydah gave the orders to begin carrying out the plot, which he referred to as "al yom alfieh," or the day of the millennium. "We knew we could wait no longer," said Colonel Obeidat, the Jordanian chief prosecutor.
At 2 a.m. on Nov. 30, police squads raided several houses they had put under surveillance, arresting 16 people, among them Mr. abu Hoshar. He said later that he was on the phone with Abu Zubaydah when the raid began.
The Jordanian authorities said they had immediately began to question the suspects. Among the first to talk was Hussein Turi, the Algerian, who had a French passport.
Mr. Turi eventually disclosed that he was Algerian and that his passport was forged, the prosecutors said. He also told them that he had hidden material for the plot in his home in the Weidhat refugee camp in Amman.
Another suspect, Osama Sumar, who had built the underground storage chamber, disclosed the existence and location of a second safe house. On Dec. 5 at 2 a.m., the police raided the building, No. 24, a nondescript two-story house on a quiet street in the Marka neighborhood. In a convertible sofa in a small room on the first floor, the police said, they found fake Saudi passports and a book in English that they later learned Mr. Hijazi had brought with him from the United States. It was a how-to manual on disguises and altering one's appearance.
When they picked up a stereo and shook it, they heard a strange rattle. Inside were the five remote-control devices that Mr. Hijazi had bought in London.
On the far side of the room, the police said, was a freshly plastered strip of wall that appeared to cover what had been a long crack. But they could not find the storage chamber or any trace of the explosives that Mr. Sumar had described.
Two hours later, the police returned to the house, this time accompanied by Mr. Sumar, whom they had roused from his prison bed. "He took us in and pointed to a section of the floor," one policeman recalled. Four square cinder blocks had been perfectly cast to resemble the rest of the blocks on the floor, but they covered an iron hatch. Attached to its far side was a ladder leading into a basement chamber.
"When we opened the hatch, we couldn't believe it," said Kamel al-Naj, an explosives expert who accompanied the police that night and testified at the trial. "The smell was so foul we could hardly breathe. It burned my esophagus."
The chamber, its walls covered with thick plastic sheets, contained 71 large containers of acid, some dark green and some white. The dark green plastic containers held nitric acid; the white containers were filled with sulfuric acid. Several were leaking. The floor of the hidden chamber was two inches deep in flammable liquid.
"Only an hour before," Mr. Naj exclaimed, "we had all been walking around the house smoking! The house could have blown sky high had one of us dropped a match."
Attorneys for the defendants said the acids were intended to make fertilizer for the Hijazi family farm, but Mr. Naj disputed that assertion. He said he saw only one practical purpose for chemicals of that kind: to make explosives. And he estimated that the plotters had enough explosive ingredients to make the equivalent of 16 tons of TNT, which would flatten not only the Radisson but entire neighborhoods.
Other defendants, learning that Mr. Turi and another plotter had begun talking, also began to confess. Investigators found out that the group had planned a second wave of bombings against landmarks in Amman, including an airport in Marka and the Citadel, the popular tourist site that includes the Temple of Hercules, the Omayyad Palace and a celebrated Byzantine church.
Colonel Obeidat, the military prosecutor, said the attack would have been "the worst terrorist incident ever in Jordanian history."
Mr. Hijazi's lawyer said the convictions would be overturned. The defendants, he noted, were all acquitted of charges of belonging to Al Qaeda under a law that requires prosecutors to show that the group has a formal structure and membership on Jordanian soil.
Mr. Hijazi's father, Muhammad, said in an interview in Amman late last fall that both his sons were innocent. Interviewed by telephone last week, Mr. Hijazi asserted that Raed had been tortured into confessing.
Raed, Mr. Hijazi said, had gone to America to begin a new life that his wife and three children in Amman would some day join.
"What kind of anti-American terrorist," he said, "wants to move his wife and children to the United States?"