Was alleged al-Qaeda dirty bomber Jose Padilla anywhere near Oklahoma City on
April 19, 1995, when Timothy McVeigh blew up the city's Alfred P. Murrah
Federal Building in what was, before Sept. 11, 2001, the single worst act of
terrorism on U.S. soil?
That's the question being asked by OKC bombing case skeptics this week, who,
within 24 hours of Padilla's arrest, noticed his astonishing resemblance to a
police artist's sketch of vanished OKC bombing suspect John Doe No. 2.
For days after the 1995 bombing, witnesses said they saw a Middle
Eastern-looking man in McVeigh's company before and after the explosion. The
reports were so widespread that investigators were compelled to put together
When weeks of investigation failed to turn up the McVeigh accomplice, the FBI
simply dropped John Doe No. 2 from their scenario. McVeigh himself never
implicated a partner at the scene of his crime.
Enter al-Qaeda dirty-bomb suspect Jose Padilla, aka Abdullah al Muhajir,
who looks like he could be the twin brother of the man in the John Doe sketch.
The striking coincidence emerges against a backdrop of evidence that
increasingly suggests an al-Qaeda connection to the crime.
Stephen Jones, lawyer for the now-executed McVeigh, has long maintained an al-Qaeda link through McVeigh co-conspirator Terry Nichols. Nichols reportedly
traveled to the Philippines repeatedly in the early 1990s and met there with
Larry Johnson, a former senior State Department counterterrorism official,
says witnesses place al-Qaeda members at the same Oklahoma motel where the
1995 bomb plot was hatched.
Then there is last month's little-noticed but potentially devastating report
in Insight magazine, which revealed that Abdul Hakim Murad, a key member of
the Philippines cell, actually confessed to the FBI that al-Qaeda was behind
the 1995 bombing just hours after it happened.
Another eerie twist: Aside from the resemblance between Jose Padilla and
John Doe No. 2, the maiden name of Terry Nichols' ex-wife Lana just happens
to be Padilla.
That's a lot of dots on the table. But do they connect?
At this point, the only tie between the ex-Mrs. Nichols and the dirty-bomb
suspect seems to be their last name, which, after all, is fairly common.
The far more serious question has to do with Padilla's whereabouts when, in
the words of the early FBI reports, McVeigh and "others unknown" blew the
front portion of the Murrah building to smithereens.
So far at least, the dirty-bomb suspect seems to have spent most of the
1990s in Florida, with no report to date placing him in Oklahoma or anywhere
else in the Southwest.
On Saturday the New York Times offered the most comprehensive chronicle yet
of Padilla's odyssey from Chicago street gang member to al-Qaeda recruit.
After migrating to Florida, Padilla was arrested for firing a gun at a
passing car. The charge, combined with his lengthy rap sheet as a youthful
offender, bought him a year in a Broward County jail.
He was released on Aug. 5, 1992, after which he ended up working at a Fort
Lauderdale Taco Bell.
The fast food restaurant's owner, Mohammed Javed Qureshi, told the Times that
Padilla approached him for advice on converting to Islam. Padilla did so on
his own, Quershi claimed, without any help from him.
The al-Qaeda suspect reportedly left the Taco Bell in mid-1993, when he went
to work for the Coral Ridge Golf Course, also in Fort Lauderdale.
Sometime in 1994, Padilla legally changed his name to Ibrahim. During the
mid-1990s he reportedly attended the Masjid Al Iman mosque in Sunrise,
He stayed in Fort Lauderdale from mid-1993 to mid-1995, the Times said, a
period that would cover the planning and execution of the Oklahoma City
Another problem with the Padilla-OKC theory: He didn't receive his explosives
training till he left Florida for Afghanistan in 1998.
Does all this mean that Padilla and John Doe No. 2 could not be one and the same?
Both South Florida and Oklahoma City are known hotbeds of al-Qaeda activity.
And, as with the 9-11 hijackers, just because Padilla lived at one address
doesn't mean he didn't spend extensive time traveling.
But so far, at least, no evidence currently in the public domain places the
suspected dirty bomber in Oklahoma City in April 1995 or anytime before.
Read more on this subject in related Hot Topics:
War on Terrorism
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