INDEPTH: PASSPORT TO TERROR|
Singapore in the cross-hairs
CBC News Online | October 11, 2004
Reporter: Terence McKenna
Producer: Michelle Gagnon
Editor: Dominic Rioual
Camera: Douglas Husby
In late October 2001, Mohammed Mansour Jabarah and the other al-Qaeda operatives were looking for potential bombing targets in Singapore, targets that would be easier than the ones in Manila.
The al-Qaeda cell in Singapore had been conducting video surveillance of targets for some time, and their videotapes provide a chilling record of their terrorist plans.
Their surveillance tape shows the Yishun mass transit station, which is regularly used by servicemen and women from nearby military bases. Though their intended targets were U.S. personnel passing through the station, the tape includes a commentary about how they would place explosives into boxes on bicycles or motorcycles to blow up nearby pedestrians.
Jabarah and his accomplices also made a tape of the U.S., Australian and Israeli embassies. Another tape showed surveillance of an U.S. warship visiting the city.
They drew up detailed plans for attacking the warship, which showed what they called a "killing zone" - a narrow passage out of the harbour where the warship could not escape a small suicide boat filled with explosives.
This was the exact method al-Qaeda had already used in October 2000 to attack the USS Cole in Yemen, an attack that killed 17 US sailors.
Copies of the videotapes and drawings outlining the plot in Singapore had been sent to al Qaeda headquarters in Afghanistan.
When the al-Qaeda military compound in Afghanistan was overrun by American forces in December 2001, those tapes and drawings were discovered, and sent to Singapore's minister of home affairs, Kan Sen Wong.
Kan Sen Wong
One video was found in the rubble of the Kabul house belonging to Mohammed Atef, one of the leaders of Osama bin Laden. "It shows that there is a link between the Jemaah Islamiyah and the al-Qaeda at the time." says Wong.
Bombing plots revealed
In November 2001, Jabarah went to City One Plaza in Kuala Lumpur several times to meet al-Qaeda's chief financial officer in Southeast Asia. He received $10,000 US on each visit, which he transferred to the men who were to carry out the bombings.
Then in December, he received an e-mail entitled "Problem," which informed him that some of his accomplices in Singapore had been arrested.
The arrests caused panic in al-Qaeda circles.
Jabarah fled north to Bangkok, where he had a critical meeting with al-Qaeda's military commander for Southeast Asia, a man named Hambali.
Maria Ressa says Hambali was the operations chief for Jemaah Islamiyah and a member of the al-Qaeda leadership council.
"Anything that happened in Southeast Asia - anything that al-Qaeda wanted to do-had to get cleared by Hambali. Anything Jemaah Islamiyah wanted from al-Qaeda passed through Hambali," says Ressa. "He was the conduit and he made things happen between both these groups."
After the arrests in Singapore, Hambali met with Jabarah in Thailand, says Rohan Gunaratna. Hambali knew how important Jabarah was and that he would be identified and picked up if he remained in Southeast Asia.
Hambali urged Jabarah to leave Southeast Asia immediately for the Middle East, which he did.
According to the FBI Interrogation report, Hambali gave Mohammed Mansour Jabarah a critical piece of information in that Bangkok meeting. He said that Al Qaeda would now move on to attacking undefended targets such as "nightclubs frequented by Westerners" in Indonesia and elsewhere.
"Why did Hambali tell this information to Jabarah?" says Gunaratna. "Because Jemaah Islamiyah was dependant on al-Qaeda money, and that money, $70,000 was provided to Jemaah Islamiyah by al-Qaeda through Jabarah."
So Hambali fulfilled an obligation to share that crucial piece of information about the future intended targets with Jabarah before he left Thailand for Oman, according to Gunaratna.
Arrest in Oman
In January 2002, Jabarah flew to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. There, according to his interrogation reports, he met with his brother Abdul Rahman. By this time both Jabarah brothers were wanted al-Qaeda suspects.
In March 2002, Jabarah moved to neighbouring Oman, where he was arrested by Omani authorities. Before long, he confessed everything to Omani police.
Rohan Gunaratna suggests that the Omanis mistreated Jabarah while he was in their custody.
"Jabarah co-operated with the Americans when he was arrested because, I believe, when he was arrested in Oman, he underwent some distress. He was perhaps subject of some interrogation which was improper and by the time the Americans received him he was already broken," he says.
Jabarah's father, Mansour, says he believes his son was coerced into signing a confession. "He did not make this confession by himself� I believe that they made him sign this paper," says Mansour. "They made him sign this paper."
It is not just the confession that incriminates Mohammed Jabarah. Because he traveled on his Canadian passport and left a trail of documents around Southeast Asia, the police now have much more evidence that he actually did what he confessed.
Gunaratna adds that Jabarah fully co-operated with the Americans. "He believed that in return for his co-operation, that he would get a lesser sentence."
After his interrogation in Oman, Mohammed Jabarah was transferred to Canadian custody and flown first to London, England, and then back to Canada on April 18, 2002. In Canada, CSIS interrogated him for four days.
'CSIS tricked me'
CSIS officers took a photograph of him at Niagara Falls just before they passed him over to U.S. authorities. He was also allowed one short telephone call to his father.
"He phoned me with a very nice voice: 'Hi dad, how are you? I am close to you. I am going to see you soon.'" says Mansour. "I was really, really happy at that time."
But at the time, Jabarah didn't tell his father where he was or that he would be heading for the United States. "The only thing I told him was, 'Are you OK?' He told me yes," says Mansour.
In a letter from prison, Jabarah told his family some things that happened in Niagara Falls, including an incident involving a CSIS agent named Mike.
"Mike forgot some papers concerning the accusation against me," wrote Jabarah. He forgot them in the room. When I read them, it was written in the papers: 'There is no evidence or not enough evidence to find Jabarah guilty. We did our best to convince the Omanis to convict him, but they said there is no evidence against Jabarah.'"
Jabarah was transferred to American custody at the Niagara Falls border crossing on April 22, 2002. CSIS says he went voluntarily, but there are many questions about the legality and fairness of the handling of the case.
Alan Borovoy, general counsel for Canadian Civil Liberties Association, has requested an official investigation by the Canadian government. He said the fact CSIS claims Jabarah went to the U.S. voluntarily raises suspicions.
"It would hardly be in his interests to have gone to the United States - we know that that it was a hazardous thing for him to do," says Borovoy. "So the question we have to ask is, why did he decide voluntarily to go to the United States? What produced that? The suspicion this provokes is that somebody may have mishandled him somehow."
Jabarah's father agrees: "Mohammed told me that, 'CSIS tricked me to go over to the United States,' and I told him, 'How did they trick you?' He told me, 'They made me sign a small paper to go and I did not know what's on it � to go over to the United States. And we are coming after two, three hours back home to Canada.'"
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has written several letters to the government asking the Canadian Security Intelligence Review Committee, Canada's spy agency watchdog, to investigate the Jabarah case, but no such investigation has taken place.
According to the Criminal Code of Canada, Mohammed Jabarah could have been charged and tried here. Why did that not happen?
The CBC has written to the minister responsible, Anne McLellan, minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, asking for an explanation, but she refused to provide any answer.
"The government of Canada, and especially the CSIS people, they misguided my son Mohammed," Mansour says. "They tricked him by like handing him over to another country. To put him in a golden plate and give him to another country - it's not right. It's not fair."
A death in Saudi Arabia
After the arrest of Jabarah, Mansour heard from his other fugitive son, Abdul Rahman, in Dubai.
"I told him, 'Listen Abdul Rahman, the police in Canada are looking for you,' and he told me why. I told him, 'They told us just to be safe and they would like to give you a shelter to be safe.' I told him, 'Son, if you feel unsafe go to any Canadian embassy.' He told me, 'I am OK. Don't worry, I am doing fine.'"
The next news Mansour heard about his son, Abdul Rahman, came in a July 2003 TV news report from Saudi Arabia about a shootout between al-Qaeda suspects and police near the city of Jeddah.
Abdul Rahman Jabarah was killed. His parents have not been allowed to recover his body or even to see it.
"We don't know if it's true or not - has he been killed or not?" says Mansour. "His youngest brother asked me one day, 'Am I going to see Abdul Rahman again?' I told him, 'Yes�in paradise.'"
Awaiting a son's return
Rohan Gunaratna says it's difficult to say what really happened in the case of Mohammed Mansour Jabarah.
"I think that parents whose children go and join these extreme terrorist groups � have to take partial responsibility for the part taken by those children," says Gunaratna. "I think that if you send your children to radical mosques, and allow children to associate with radical leaders and friends who are into radicalism� I think it's a question of time before they become radicals themselves."
For his part, Mansour says he thinks his imprisoned son will be coming home. "We already lost one, Abdul Rahman, and we don't want to lose the other, everybody is waiting for him," says Mansour. "For sure, this is my feeling, his mother - my wife's - feeling: He is coming soon. He is coming soon."
'Victory is coming'
Jabarah is currently in the Manhattan Metropolitan Correctional Center. Although the proceedings against him have been held in secret and no documents are officially available, the CBC has obtained the indictment against him.
In the document from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, the defendant is listed as Mohammed Mansour Jabarah also known as "Abu Hafs al Kuwaiti," his al-Qaeda code name, and "Sammy," the name he used in Singapore.
His has been charged with five counts including:
He has apparently pleaded guilty to the charges, and in a letter to his family from prison last March, he explained why.
- Conspiracy to "murder U.S. nationals at the United States embassies in the Philippines and Singapore."
- Conspiracy "to use weapons of mass destruction, to wit, bombs, against nationals of the United States."
- Making "a materially false and fictitious statement" to U.S. authorities in New York.
"The only reason for my confession of guilt before the judge is because�at the time of my incarceration with the FBI�they said if I didn't confess my guilt they would put me in prison," Jabarah wrote his family.
After co-operating with the American authorities for so long, Jabarah feels tricked and betrayed.
In the letter he says: "Victory is coming, whether Bush and his gang like it or not." The letter concludes with his signature and code name, "Abu Hafs".
A time for leniency?
Rohan Gunaratna believes that if the Canadian and American governments are wise, they will be more lenient with Jabarah.
"It is important to give lesser sentences to terrorists who co-operate," he says. "That is the only way you can break a terrorist model, that is the only way you can get a person to defect out of terrorist organizations� If you give harsher sentences to terrorists who co-operate that is revenge - that is not proper counter-terrorism."
Jabarah's father, Mansour, says he still has hope for his son. "If there is a bad person, we don't have to push him to be more bad," he says. "I think we have to educate him, to teach him, to take him to society.
"But I believe in God 100 per cent, and I have a feeling that Mohammed is going to join us very, very soon. His age is still young, he can build a very nice future. And he is willing to be a very good person ... as he is good."
During his interrogations by the FBI in August 2002, Jabarah clearly stated that al-Qaeda was planning attacks against undefended targets in Southeast Asia. He even mentioned "nightclubs frequented by Westerners in Indonesia." He told his interrogators that al-Qaeda had a code name for the American civilian targets: "White Meat."
The warnings that Jabarah provided to the FBI were not widely circulated in Southeast Asia in the weeks that followed. The patrons in the nightclubs of Bali, Indonesia were left completely unaware that members of al-Qaeda were moving in for the kill.