Al Zawahiri, Bojinka and the Disappearance of Flight MH370
Posted on September 7, 2022
The AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground guided missile was built to kill tanks. On July 31, 2022, two of them, launched from a United States Air Force unmanned drone over Afghanistan, killed Ayman al-Zawahiri instead. Al Zawahiri had been leader of al Qaeda since the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011. In bin Laden’s time he was the organisation’s operational brain.
On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 flying from the Philippines to China disappeared over the Indian Ocean. While traces of its debris have washed up as far off as Africa, the term “disappeared” remains all we can say about it today. The plane’s resting place has never been found.
Yet, we did know a few things back then. Three years after the death of bin Laden, al Qaeda still existed and the Global War on Terror still raged. At airports worldwide, passengers still needed to declare their liquid carry-ons because in 1994 terrorists had trialled a plot called Bojinka.
What follows, is a submission I made to a mainstream news outlet in 2014 outlining my MH370 theory. It was declined for publication because war weariness then made its premise risky. Eight years later today, however, the assassination of al Zawahiri vindicates it.
May 1, 2014
In 1994, under a plot named Bojinka, Al Qaeda kingpins Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed conspired to explode passenger jets over the Pacific Ocean and South China Sea.
In a test run, Yousef boarded a Philippine Airlines Boeing 747-200 flying from Manila to Narita, Japan. Mixing his bomb in the plane’s lavatory, Yousef attached a timer and stowed the finished device in a life jacket beneath his seat. He then deplaned in Cebu during the flight’s interim stopover.
Four hours later Haruki Ikegami, a businessman, died when the life jacket at his feet detonated. Pilots managed to steer the crippled Jumbo, carrying a further 272 passengers, to safety: by fluke, their aircraft’s particular configuration spared shrapnel piercing its centerline fuel tank—the bomb’s incendiary target.
Thanks to inspired multi-agency detective work, Yousef and Mohammed now occupy jail cells in the United States and Guantanamo Bay respectively.
Visitors to airports in the world’s developed countries continue to restrict their liquid carry-ons.
Two months ago, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, carrying 227 passengers aboard a long-range Boeing 777-200 disappeared, at first thought, over the South China Sea. Speculation now extends to the Indian Ocean.
Initial reports placed the plane at “its safest part in its journey”, in “perfect weather” and captained by a “veteran” pilot. We’ve since heard that two passengers boarded the flight via stolen passports, a security breach on the part of Malaysia, Thailand and China.
The mystery of Fight MH370’s fate points to a series of possibilities including structural malfunction, maintenance shortcoming and pilot error. More worrying is the potential for pilot suicide, missile shoot down, covert interception or hijack.
Its most ominous explanation rests with Bojinka.
Its DNA is telling: the flight’s Asian origin, its presumed over-water locale on disappearance, its tanks well-filled with avgas, its apparent lack of mayday transmission, and its sudden vanishing—the latter pointing to a cataclysmic mid-air conflagration.
The answer resides not with the confused search and rescue efforts still underway nor with the jumbled radar plots of the Malaysian air ministry, but with the National Security Agency of the United States.
At a time when bugging and electronic surveillance by the NSA are at unprecedented levels, it would seem incomprehensible that the agency’s $70b per annum intelligence network has no COMINT (communications intelligence), SIGINT (signals intelligence) or ELINT (electronic intelligence) indicating the flight’s story.
The worry is that Bojinka’s original aim was never the downing of one aircraft.
Its goal was the obliteration of many, a hallmark of Al Qaeda’s patience.
Keep this in mind as the months continue to roll on, with search and rescue once probing the heights of Mount Everest to the steppes of Kazakhstan, now in the seas off Australia’s west coast.
Twenty years after that flight to Japan, so long as passengers are asked to rejig their liquid carry-ons the threat of Bojinka remains real.
In the meantime, look for the name Ayman al-Zawahiri. He still has a $25M bounty on his head as the post-bin Laden leader of al Qaeda.
Find him and you might just discover the fate of Flight MH370. A perfect reason for US Intelligence to play its cards close to its chest for now.
© 2022 Adam Parker.
Picture Credit: © 2022 Adam Parker.