On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

The Web of Terror Special Reports

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 On the trail of the second wave

May 30, 2006


            MASRAN Arshad keeps to himself, mostly, at the Kamunting
Detention Centre, where he is now being detained under the Internal Security

            There is little indication that the name of this 32-year-old man
from Semanggol, a small town in Perak, has been on the radar screen of every
major intelligence agency.

            He has tried to impress upon his fellow detainees and
interrogators that he is a tough man. To them, he is a firebrand who is
proud of his background.

            Masran has led a double life. He has travelled to Pakistan and
Afghanistan, spending his time in countless religious schools, which dot the
two countries.

            In Afghanistan, he met one man who changed his entire life –
Osama bin Laden, head of the al-Qaeda network of terrorists, who is now on
the run.

            Fired up by the passionate sermons of Osama, Masran decided to
dedicate his life to the shadowy work of al-Qaeda. More than that, he swore
his allegiance to the Saudi Arabian prince, who had given up his wealth for
his jihad.

            Together with Masran were three other Malaysians – Nik Abdul
Rahman Mustaffa, Mohd Farik Amin @ Zubair and Nazir Lep @ Lilie.

            Burning with idealism, Masran was ready to please Osama.
Watching his movements closely, the al-Qaeda operatives in the Taliban
capital of Kandahar found Masran to be hard-working and trustworthy.

            "Masran impressed them further when they found out that he is
also the son-in-law of a former top Jemaah Islamiah (JI) leader. His
father-in-law has since been arrested and sentenced to prison in Indonesia,"
said sources.

            To try him out, he acted as a courier for the al-Qaeda,
travelling through the mountains, to pass money and material to al-Qaeda
operatives in Pakistan.

            In South-East Asia, Hambali, the 39-year-old key al-Qaeda man
for the region, was their contact person. The Indonesian terrorist has since
been arrested by the CIA and detained in an unknown detention centre.

            Soon, the al-Qaeda set their eyes on Masran for a bigger job. It
was a mission Masran could never have imagined – to head a team to crash a
plane, which they would hijack, into the 73-storey Library Tower/US Bank
Tower, the tallest building in downtown Los Angeles.

            No date was given for the mission but the plan, which has now
been termed Project California, was supposed to be the biggest after the
Sept 11, 2001, attack on the Twin Towers in New York.

            "His main task was to carry C4 (plastic explosives) with him and
to take control of the plane by overpowering the cockpit crew," said one
intelligence official.

            Terrorism experts have described the plan as the "Second Wave"
to mean the follow-up attacks by the various al-Qaeda suicide bombers
worldwide after Sept 11.

            The fifth Malaysian – Zaini Zakaria – was given the job of
piloting the plane and to crash into the US Bank Tower in the central
business district in downtown Los Angeles.

            "It was to be an act which would get international attention
because it would be so awesome. This was supposed to be al-Qaeda's grandest
act of terror after Sept 11," another official added.

            Last month, Bush named Zaini, an electrical engineering graduate
from Western New College, Massachusetts, as being one of those picked for
the attack.

            Regional intelligence sources said Khaled Sheikh Mohamed, a top
al-Qaeda leader, personally chose the five Malaysians for the mission, with
blessings from Osama.

            According to security expert Ken Conboy in the book, The Second
Front, the Malaysians were chosen for al-Qaeda's second wave of attacks
because the movement was aware that intelligence forces were already keeping
an eye on Middle Eastern men.

            In what could possibly be an all-Malaysian terrorist team,
intelligence sources said their ability to speak English, although not
perfect, was an added advantage.

            Zaini, 39, was among the first Jemaah Islamiah members to be
selected by the al-Qaeda for formal training for foreign fighters in

            Although all were recruited before 2001, no date was given for
Project California, but the plan began to fall apart after that.

            "The Americans started attacking Kandahar and many al-Qaeda
leaders were on the run. Hambali started to set his eyes on less grandiose
attacks in South-East Asia," said intelligence sources.

            By then, regional intelligence officers had stepped up their
surveillance. The arrests of key al-Qaeda operatives shed more light on what
the Malaysians had planned to do and they began watching closely the five

            Masran and Nik Abdul Rahman sneaked back into the country in
2002 and were immediately arrested.

            "Upon interrogation the authorities learnt that they were
involved in planning a second wave attack on the US.

            "The swift action by the Malaysian intelligence officers
prevented what would have been a similar incident to 9/11," the sources

            It is learnt that acting on the information the Thai police
picked up Mohd Farik and Nazir in Ayutthaya, Bangkok before arresting
Hambali a couple of days later. They were handed over to the CIA.

            Like Hambali, the whereabouts of the two Malaysians remained
unknown, although there is talk that he is being held in a US facility in a
West Asian country.

            Hambali has been regarded as one of the planners of the
nightclub bombings in Bali in 2002 and the 2003 bomb attack on the JW
Marriot Hotel in Jakarta.