Officials - suspect gave terror group's 'wish list' of targets
MANILA, Philippines -- Top Asian terror suspect Hambali devised several plots against American targets in the Philippines -- including crashing bomb-laden speedboats into U.S. warships -- but the error-filled schemes were never attempted, security officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
The plots developed for the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah terror network appeared to be more of a "wish list" than an action plan, the officials said on condition of anonymity.
The targets -- chosen because Americans and other foreigners frequent them -- included the U.S. Embassy, a five-star hotel and a floating restaurant that he said was in Manila's financial district, the officials said.
Hambali's statement was shared with Philippine security officials by Americans questioning him at an undisclosed location since his August arrest in Thailand, the officials said.
"He seems to have been talking off the top of his head, without detailed knowledge of what he was saying," the official told AP. "It sounded more like a wish list that needed to be further studied."
Hambali, an Indonesian whose real name is Riduan Isamuddin, was allegedly Osama bin Laden's key operative in Southeast Asia and the operations chief of Jemaah Islamiyah, a loose network of Islamic militants.
Blamed for Bali bombings
The group is blamed for the October 2002 nightclub bombings on Bali that killed 202 people and an August hotel bombing in the Indonesian capital that killed 12.
Hambali has been linked to major al-Qaida and Jemaah Islamiyah plots in recent years. He reportedly set up a meeting between al-Qaida and two of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers, and the White House said in August he was assigned to recruit new pilots for another wave of suicide hijackings in the United States.
Information about Hambali's "wish list" comes as security tightens in the Philippines ahead of President Bush's visit Saturday. Bush will spend eight hours in Manila en route to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Thailand.
According to a copy of a confidential interrogation report shared with Manila, Hambali disclosed a plot to attack the seaside U.S. Embassy compound, but said security was too tight. Other potential targets were cased but attacks were not carried out for unknown reasons, according to the report and Filipino security officials.
One plan called for attacking U.S. Navy ships in the southern port city of Zamboanga, where American forces are training Filipino troops in counterterrorism, the report said. The method -- ramming a bomb-laden speedboat into a ship in port -- echoed the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 American sailors.
Bars frequented by American soldiers also were on the list of possible targets, the report said.
However, the terror plots contained erroneous details, indicating they may have been in the preliminary stages. Hambali also may have made deliberately misleading statements, one official said.
For example, there is no floating restaurant in the landlocked financial district, Makati, although there is a floating restaurant in a nearby district. Also, American warships have not been stationed recently in Zamboanga, except for a brief stop by a Navy transport ship that unloaded construction equipment and Marine engineers last year, the official said.
The five-star hotel mentioned by Hambali is more popular among Asian and Mideast nationals than Westerners and may have been noted because he stayed there in December 2000, allegedly to discuss bombings that killed 22 people later that month in Manila, the official said.
Hambali also allegedly disclosed that he sent money in July to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the main Muslim separatist group in the southern Philippines, the official said. Rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu denied that, saying his group has no terrorist links and has enough resources of its own.