- Daily Insight - April 19, 2002
Issue date: 05/06/02
Insight Online World Exclusive
By Kenneth R. Timmerman
The retirement of career FBI Special Agent Danny Defenbaugh, accused by defense attorneys and plaintiffs in the Oklahoma City bombing case of withholding key evidence, wasn't the only dramatic development in the continuing controversies surrounding the April 19, 1995, attack that killed 168 people.
Insight has learned that the widow of Philippine-government intelligence agent Edwin Angeles has provided audiotaped testimony to an investigator working for the American victims' families that directly ties Iraqi intelligence agents to Terry Nichols, the man sentenced in 1998 to life in prison for his role in bombing the Alfred P. Murrah Building seven years ago.
Elmina Abdul is the 27-year-old widow of Angeles, one of the cofounders of the Abu Sayyaf group, a Muslim separatist terrorist organization in the Philippines whose members trained in Osama bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan. Her astonishing story, revealed in this exclusive story for the first time, could blow the lid off what a growing number of people believe is a U.S. government cover-up of vital evidence in the Oklahoma City bombing case. It also exposes an alleged plot ginned up by former Philippine president Fidel Ramos to manipulate Abu Sayyaf as a means of enhancing his personal political power.
With the knowledge that she was dying of liver disease, Elmina agreed to meet with Dorian Zumel Sicat, a Manila Times correspondent serving as an investigative liaison in the Philippines and the Pacific Rim for Oklahoma City lawyer Mike Johnston, who represents the victims' families. "I want to tell the truth of what I know of my late husband," she said in a taped audio statement.
Angeles was "what they call a 'deep-penetration agent'" who was working for "some very powerful men in the DND," the Philippine national defense-intelligence agency, Elmina said. Angeles was arrested in 1995 after he had negotiated a deal to turn himself in to the Philippine authorities. By that point, the Abu Sayyaf he had helped create in 1991 with bin Laden protÈgÈ Abdurajjak Abu Bakr Janjalani had carried out a series of terrorist attacks. These included a failed assault on a U.S. Information Agency library in Manila in January 1991 that was part of a worldwide terrorist campaign against U.S. interests orchestrated by Iraq during the Persian Gulf War.
"Does the name 'Ramzi Yousef' mean something to you, Mr. Sicat?" Elmina asked. Angeles had extensive meetings with Yousef and two Americans, including one whom he called "Terry" or "The Farmer," she said.
Angeles ultimately was cleared of terrorism charges at trial, when documents proving he was working as a government agent were produced. He was released from prison in 1996 ó but not before he provided astonishing details during a videotaped interrogation by Philippine police authorities of his activities with Abu Sayyaf, including the secret meetings with Iraqi intelligence agent Yousef, Nichols and the second American identified in the document as John Lepney.
The earliest meetings took place at a Del Monte canning plant in Davao in late 1992 and early 1993 ó just prior to the first World Trade Center bombing. Later meetings with Nichols, Yousef and the second American ó whose name has never been revealed until now ó took place at Angeles' house in late 1994, according to a report on that interrogation which has been obtained by investigators working for attorney Johnston, who has been joined by Judicial Watch in representing families of those murdered in the Oklahoma City bombing.
Angeles also revealed the meetings to Elmina, who became his third wife in 1997, "because he knew that he would soon be killed," she said in her audiotaped statement with Sicat, which was witnessed by a Philippine-government official. "He wanted me to know everything so that if anything happened to him I could tell others." Also present at those meetings was a half-brother of Yousef, who was using the pseudonym Ahmad Hassim, she said.
"They met almost every day for one week. They met in an empty bodega [warehouse]. They talked about bombings. They mentioned bombing government buildings in San Francisco, St. Louis and in Oklahoma. The Americans wanted instructions on how to make and to explode bombs. He [Edwin] told me that Janjalani was very interested in paying them much money to explode the buildings. The money was coming from Yousef and the other Arab."
When asked if Angeles had told her the results of those conversations, Elmina replied: "He told me that the Americans exploded one bomb in Oklahoma in 1995, after he was arrested and after we first met."
Later in the interview, she chided Sicat for not knowing that Yousef was "representing Iraq and Saddam Hussein."
"Did Edwin tell you that?" Sicat asked.
"Not only Edwin, but others that were close to us, before he was killed," Elmina said. "One time, a [Philippine-army] soldier and Edwin were talking secretly. I was there because Edwin demanded [it]. The soldier ordered Edwin never to tell anybody about the Iraqis."
On Jan. 14, 1999, Elmina was waiting for her husband in an open-air market in Isabela, the provincial capital of Basilan province. Suddenly, as he emerged from a nearby mosque, she watched as two of his former associates walked up behind him and, with .45-caliber automatics, pumped six bullets into him. He staggered toward her and died in her arms.
The video interrogation linking Nichols to Yousef, bin Laden and Iraq initially was obtained by Stephen Jones, the defense attorney who represented convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. But at the insistence of federal prosecutors, trial judge Richard P. Matsch refused to admit it into evidence.
The judge also refused to admit into evidence the testimony of Yousef coconspirator Abdul Hakim Murad, who was a federal prisoner at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City. Murad was awaiting trial for his part in Project Bojinka, a plot hatched up by Yousef to blow up 11 U.S. 747 jetliners over the Pacific Ocean in 1995 (see "Iraqi Connection to Oklahoma Bombing," April 15). On the day of the Oklahoma City bombing he told his jailers that Yousef had orchestrated the plot.
"Why should Murad be believed?" Johnston asks rhetorically. "For one thing, Murad made his 'confession' voluntarily and spontaneously. Most important, Murad tied Ramzi Yousef to the Oklahoma City bombing long before Terry Nichols was publicly identified as a suspect."
Johnston informed Jones last week he would be serving him with a desk subpoena to obtain this and other materials that were either sealed by the court or not admitted as evidence in the McVeigh trial. Shortly after Johnston got off the phone with him, Jones received threatening calls from federal prosecutors in Denver and Oklahoma City, warning him not to release the materials, Insight is told by a close associate of the lawyer. Jones did not return several calls by press time.
FBI spokesman Bill Carter tells Insight the FBI was unaware of a "foreign terrorist connection" to the Oklahoma City bombing. "There is no evidence of a foreign connection in our files," he says. "The Oklahoma City bombing was investigated thoroughly by the FBI; no evidence was found that would tie it to any foreign terrorist group. If we had found any evidence, it would have been presented."
That statement, like so many others from the government in this murky case, appears to be extraordinarily misleading to the families of victims still not convinced that they or the American public know the full story of what happened seven years ago.
In the Philippines, the real story of the Abu Sayyaf and its ties to Iraq, bin Laden and to former president Ramos ó who is planning a comeback into Philippine politics ó is a dangerous topic.
In his videotaped interrogation, Angeles says Yousef first approached him in July 1989 as the "personal envoy" of bin Laden to set up a new base for regional Islamic expansion on the Muslim island of Mindanao. At the time, bin Laden's brother-in-law, Mohammad Jamal Khalifa, was operating commercial front companies in the Philippines for bin Laden. This apparently led to the creation of the Abu Sayyaf.
A former CIA station chief in Manila confirms to Insight that bin Laden came to the Philippines personally in 1992 and was flown down to Mindanao in a government C-130 aircraft by then-president Ramos. "Bin Laden presented himself as a wealthy Saudi who wanted to invest in Muslim areas and donate money to charity," the former CIA officer says.
While Yousef was collecting money from bin Laden, he was taking orders from Iraq and is believed by U.S. intelligence officials to have carried out the June 20, 1994, bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine in Mashad, Iran, on orders from Iraq. Yousef reportedly carried out that attack with help from his own father and a younger brother, Abdul Muneem, in conjunction with an Iraqi front group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization, also known as the People's Mujahideen Organization of Iran.
Angeles "knew he was going to be killed by his own people once he was released from jail," Sicat tells Insight in a telephone interview from Davao, a city on Mindanao. "The question is, who were his own people? Abu Sayyaf, or the cabal who had Angeles help set them up?"
Angeles' second wife, who had prepared the meals for Nichols and Yousef, was gunned down during a government raid on an Abu Sayyaf safe house in 1996. Elmina died last month just days after giving her taped audio statements to Sicat, who tells Insight that he has received death threats and been shot at in recent weeks by unknown assailants. He recently has been given round-the- clock police protection by the government, which is investigating the attacks.
If the remaining witnesses live long enough, the only question left is whether the Bush administration will order the FBI to reopen its files. Or, as some of the lawyers in the case and their clients fear, the administration will endorse what they believe ó and testimony now in hand suggests ó was a wider conspiracy that was hidden by the Clinton administration and Janet Reno's Justice Department. It may require full and open congressional hearings if the current administration refuses to help or otherwise blocks the federal courts from re-examining the case to find out why the U.S. government shut down preliminary investigations into possible overseas links to the murder of Americans in downtown Oklahoma City.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight magazine.
Read the deathbed confession.