The mainstream press finally has started paying attention to a story the L.A. Weekly broke 10 months ago about warnings that Middle Eastern terrorists were plotting an attack against the U.S. around the same time as the Oklahoma City bombing.
Seventeen days after the 911 attacks, we reported that the U.S. House Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare had issued a series of confidential alerts to federal law-enforcement and intelligence agencies warning that Middle Eastern Islamists, under the leadership of Iran, were preparing a series of assaults in 1995. Last month articles about the warnings began appearing on the Associated Press, MSNBC.com and Fox News‘ Web sites.
The first alert came on February 27, 1995, less than two months before the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Possible targets included “airports, airlines and telephone systems,” the White House and the U.S. Capitol building. On March 3, 1995, the task force issued an update that the terrorists had shifted their target list to America’s heartland.
One month before the Oklahoma City bombing, Israeli intelligence had warned U.S. agencies that the impending terror campaign would use so-called “Lily Whites, people without any distinct background, record of any kind . . . who will never be suspected members of a terrorist group.” It was a description that fit convicted bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.
The Weekly‘s information was included in an article [“Heartland Conspiracy,” September 28–October 4, 2001] about an investigation by Jayna Davis, a former Oklahoma City TV reporter. Davis detailed alleged connections between Samir Khalil, a Palestinian-born businessman in Oklahoma City, a group of Iraqis working for him, and McVeigh. Her investigation also included reports on the elusive John Doe No. 2, a man police initially said had been seen with McVeigh moments after the explosion.
Davis aired a number of stories on KFOR-TV, but her investigation was cut short. Although he was never identified by name or photo, one of the Iraqis, Hussain Alhussaini, stepped forward and publicly identified himself as the supposed John Doe No. 2 suspect in her stories. He demanded a retraction and eventually sued Davis and her station for defamation. KFOR froze the coverage because of the lawsuit.
During the case, the station was sold to The New York Times, which killed the story. Davis then quit, taking her research with her. A federal judge eventually dismissed Alhussaini’s suit. He appealed the ruling and a decision is pending.
Davis obtained the confidential warnings from Yossef Bodansky, the executive director of the House Republican task force. “I got this material in late May of 1996,” Davis says. Bodansky gave her permission to use the alerts in her reports. But then he called back and asked Davis not to air them. “He said the issue had gotten too hot, and no one wanted to deal with it. So I honored his request” at the time, she says. The warnings were never publicized.
Bodansky also requested copies of Davis‘ 22 affidavits — she now has 26 — and all of her taped interviews, totaling more than 100 hours. She sent him the material, and the task-force director has now passed it on to the U.S. House Government Reform Committee, headed by Representative Dan Burton (R-Indiana). The committee is reviewing the tapes and affidavits in preparation for hearings on alleged Middle Eastern connections to the Oklahoma City attack.
Ever since McVeigh and Nichols were arrested, the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI have steadfastly maintained there was no evidence of Middle Eastern involvement. The agencies have also demonstrated an inexplicable disinterest in following leads that might challenge that position. Davis tried twice to pass on her material to the bureau, once in 1997 and again in 1999.
It may well be that McVeigh and Nichols acted alone. But questions remain, whether or not the government wants to answer them.