With the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 expanding far into both the Indian Ocean and southwest towards Australia, a court testimony by an al-Qaeda supergrass that he helped Malaysian al Qaeda members organize a plane hijacking is getting renewed scrutiny.
The report surfaced in the UK Telegraph late last night. Saajid Badat, an al Qaeda member testifying at the trial of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, said that he gave “Malaysians” a shoe bomb difficult to detect by airport security. The Malaysians, who he did not name, expressed concern that, once on the plane, they would not be able to access the cockpit. The shoe bomb would be able to destroy any locks on the cockpit door.
Badat testified that al-Qaeda leaders instructed him to help Malaysian terrorists with such a plot in 2012, but repeated these claims in relation to a different terror trial last Tuesday. Corroborating the argument that he may have helped individuals involved with Flight 370’s disappearance, Badat told the court that one of the extremists he had met with was a pilot.
After a week of wild speculation, Malaysian authorities have confirmed the belief by American and other authorities that someone “with aviation skills” and, perhaps, commercial airline experience, diverted the plane deliberately, and had sufficient knowledge of commercial jetliners to disable the plane’s civilian radar and transponder.
One official speaking anonymously to the Associated Press said that the possibility of a plane hijacking was “conclusive,” though authorities had yet to conclude whether an outsider or one of the pilots themselves redirected the aircraft, and for what motive. Malaysian authorities searched the homes of the missing pilots this weekend after turning the search into a criminal investigation. Such a theory also bolstered the possibility that the plane flew for hours long after disappearing from the airports’ radar, a claim Malaysian authorities called “inaccurate” for days before shifting the nature of the investigation from an accident to a crime.
Malaysia has a long history of al-Qaeda activity, in 2000 hosting the infamous summit of terror leaders that birthed the plot to take down the towers of the World Trade Center. The Telegraph speculates that, given the evidence that the plane began to turn around before fully disappearing off the radar, one potential target could have been the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. That the plane appears to have flown for up to seven hours after an hour in the air in directions as diverse as Afghanistan or Australia clouds any theory regarding the use of the plane as a “9/11 style weapon,” however.
The investigation into the pilots of the plane have produced evidence that at least one pilot had ties to political activism, but none that he had been radicalized by Islamist agitators. USA Today reports this morning that authorities are inspecting the laptop of pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah, who had “close ties” to opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, convicted of sodomy this month. “He is a political activist, yes. And yes, he was in court for Anwar’s trial and he is our strong supporter, but that does not make him a terrorist,” a friend of Zaharie’s told the newspaper.
The Malaysia Chronicle describes the pilot’s relationship with the opposition leader differently: Zaharie was “obsessed” with Anwar Ibrahim. The Chronicle goes on to wildly speculate that the plane disappearance–one day after Anwar’s conviction–was a “godsend” for the current Prime Minister in that it diverted attention away from the sodomy trial.