A U.K. man who admitted he plotted to bomb passenger jets with explosives hidden in his shoes told a Manhattan federal jury he “brainstormed” with Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Saajid Badat, 34, testified today via a closed-circuit television hookup from an undisclosed location in the U.K. in the terrorism case of bin Laden’s son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghayth. Prosecutors say Abu Ghayth, the most senior al-Qaeda member to be tried in U.S. civilian court, acted as a spokesman for the group and had advance knowledge of its plots to attack Americans by various methods, including detonating shoe bombs on commercial jetliners.
Badat’s testimony comes amid renewed scrutiny of potential terrorist threats against jetliners as authorities search for Malaysian Airline System Bhd.’s Flight 370, which vanished from radar screens on March 8 en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur with 239 people. Two passengers used passports that were reported stolen by Austrian and Italian nationals in Phuket, Thailand, the Royal Thai Police said.
Airlines were warned by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in mid-February of credible threats about shoe bombs. The cause of the Malaysian Airline flight’s disappearance hasn’t been determined.
Badat, who pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in the U.K. and is in protective custody, said he had discussions with al-Qaeda’s top leadership while in Afghanistan from October 2001 and December 2001, and worked with another man he met there, Richard Reid.
During the trial, jurors have seen photographs and videos in which Abu Ghayth appeared after the 2001 attacks with the same men Badat consulted, including one on Sept. 12, 2001, with bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Badat testified Reid was a “co-conspirator” in the airline plot and said he met with him to discuss planning after leaving Afghanistan and returning to the U.K. Reid was convicted in the U.S. of attempting to blow up a transatlantic flight with a bomb hidden in his shoes during a flight from Paris to Miami in December 2001 and is serving a life prison term.
Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Lewin, Badat said he withdrew from the plot in late 2001 and was arrested by U.K. authorities in 2003. He told jurors he doesn’t want to come to the U.S. to testify because he’s under indictment by federal prosecutors in Massachusetts and faces possible life imprisonment if he’s convicted.
Badat testified there were three plans; the first was to bomb a domestic U.S. aircraft in American airspace. The second was to set off explosives on a plane traveling from Europe to the U.S. and the third was to detonate a bomb on an aircraft as it traveled over Europe.
‘Brainstorming of Ideas’
“There were discussions with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,” Badat testified. “It was more what I’d call it brainstorming of ideas.”
Badat said he was later released from prison after he agreed to cooperate with British and American authorities and testify in terrorism cases, especially after hearing that Mohammed, who he referred to as “KSM,” had been captured and would be tried in the U.S. for the Sept. 11th attacks.
“I heard KSM was to be put on trial for 9/11,” Badat said. “That was the primary reason, I wanted to provide evidence against him for this.”
Mohammed is now being prosecuted in a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after the Obama administration reversed its plan to put Mohammed on trial in a civilian court.
Abu Ghayth, 48, is charged with conspiring to provide material support to the terror group and aiding al-Qaeda by bringing in recruits for further attacks. Abu Ghayth, who has pleaded not guilty, faces as long as life in prison if convicted.
Just before Badat testified, the jury was shown videos prosecutors said Abu Ghayth made on behalf of al-Qaeda in October 2001, referring to the hijacked planes on Sept. 11, 2001, and promising similar attacks.
“The storms shall not lessen,” Abu Ghayth said in an Oct. 13, 2001, video. “Especially the storm of airplanes. These storms will not calm down until you withdraw from Afghanistan in defeat.”
He also said: “We strongly advise Muslims in America and Britain not to board airlines, not to live in high-rises and tall buildings.”
The case is U.S. v. Abu Ghayth, 98-cr-01023, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).