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Correspondent Friday, 13 June, 2003, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
The origins of 11 September?
Bar in Manila with plane
Did this bar in Manila inspire the 11 September attacks?
Far from being invented by terror masterminds, the idea behind the 11 September attacks may have come from an unlikely group of playboys who frequented bars in Manila, the Philippines, BBC Two's Correspondent reveals.

The landlady showed me two rooms, both the same price.

The first was large, quiet and had a huge lounge with separate kitchen.

The second room, apartment 603, was smaller, darker, and overlooked a noisy main road.

"Perfect", I said in the second room, hoping she wouldn't ask me why, as the other room was so obviously better.

Bomb-making perspectives

Nine years ago someone else had gone through exactly the same process and I found myself thinking as he must have thought; the open-plan kitchen would provide great space for making bombs, the view over the main road would be perfect for assassinating the Pope.

The man was Ramsi Yousef, and he was then top of the FBI's 10 most wanted list.

I started to doubt that Ramsi Yousef was the 'evil genius' I had read so much about in the papers

His plan had been to blow up 11 planes as they flew from Asia to America.

As a "diversion" he also planned to blow up the Pope, who was due to drive along Quirino Avenue, the main road outside, in January 1995.

But the more I learnt, the more I started to doubt that Ramsi Yousef was the "evil genius" I had read so much about in the papers.

And for all the talk about Islamic fundamentalism, Yousef and the two colleagues who later joined him in Manila had lived like playboys.

Hapless

Yousef had achieved fame after bombing the World Trade Center in 1993.

But the attack had failed in its stated aim of toppling one tower onto the other, and the planning suggested Yousef was far from a criminal mastermind, operating with the backing of a billion-dollar international network.

Ben Anderson
Ben Anderson travelled around the Philippines investigating terrorism
At times he seemed more like terrorism's Hugh Grant, getting himself into disastrous situations, and making things worse with his attempts to get out of them.

Even the van he rented to plant the WTC bomb was overdue, and had been reported as stolen. On his way to the WTC Yousef had to fake a breakdown to avoid the attention of a passing police car.

He later had to abort an attempt to blow up the Israeli embassy in Bangkok, after crashing into a motorbike-taxi and another car.

And he had already been hospitalised after one of several crashes during practice runs for the WTC bombing.

Suspicions alerted

In the Manila apartment where I now stood, in 1994 Yousef desperately tried to put out a fire he had started while making the bombs he planned to use to blow up the 11 US bound planes.

FBI website showing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
Yousef had links with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, also wanted by the FBI
But the local fire department had been called, and they had called the local police after noticing the suspicious fumes.

Yousef fled, but within an hour sent his childhood friend Abdul Hakim Murad back to retrieve their laptop.

He was arrested on the spot and, after the "relevant pressure" had been applied, began to squawk.

Surprise revelations

The information he revealed was startling.

Yousef had been joined in Manila by his uncle, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the man recently arrested in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and dubbed variously as "the brains behind 11 September" and the "CEO of al-Qaeda".

Murad first had the idea of flying planes into important American buildings

Yousef, Murad and Mohammed used to tour the area's strip clubs and bars.

Mohammed was regularly seen in Manila's swankier hotels wearing a white tuxedo and wining and dining a whole host of go-go dancers.

But the biggest surprise of all is just two streets away from apartment 603.

'A good idea'

The area is still fairly seedy, although it has been cleaned up a great deal since 1995, when it was Manila's darkest red light district.

One of the bars retains its main feature, an actual plane attached to the front of the building, as if it was crashing into the first floor.

Murad said it was he who first had the idea of flying planes into important American buildings, specifically the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

He had put the idea to Mohammed and Yousef in apartment 603.

They agreed it was a good idea, and promised to "think about it".


Terror in the Philippines was broadcast on BBC Two on Sunday, 15 June, 2003 at 19:15 BST.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Rodolfo Mendoza, Philippine National Police
"He told us the plan to blow up commercial jet liners"
Congresswoman Imee Marcos
"There are those who talk of the re-colonisation of the Philippinnes"
Links to more Correspondent stories are at the foot of the page.


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