The War Diaries

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Archive for the ‘Thailand’ Category

On the Banana Pancake Trail

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The Club on Khao San road, apexing. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

Bangkok- My last full day in the city was a fairly quiet one. I went out for the day and my Blackberry battery died and kept to myself by getting a rigorous Thai massage trying to exorcise the demons of some old, nagging injuries that affect my locomotion from time to time. While I was getting turned into a pretzel on Khao San road, a bomb detonated at a bus stop in front of a chain supermarket injuring eight or nine Thais and a Burmese woman. I got back to my hotel and finally plugged in my phone to charge and got a text from a friend that read; “Bomb went off, Rathcadamri. Ten injured, some serious. THEY ARE BACK.” By they, I assume my friend was referring to the claims by some violent members of the Red Shirt (Puea Thai) movement that they would bomb downtown Bangkok if the status quo remained unchanged. They made good on their threat and one of the injured died. There was an election today in Bangkok’s far flung 6th district (where I made a fruitless journey the previous day exploring the possibility of doing a story today) that pitted a Red Shirt candidate, currently imprisoned on charges of terrorism, named Korkaew Pikulthong supporting the return of the exiled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, versus the Yellow Shirt (People’s Alliance for Democracy) candidate Panich Vikitsreth, who supports the current pro-army, pro-business establishment PM Abhisit Vejjajiva, who subsequently won.

While all of this was going, I was buying a bus ticket to throw myself into the mellow maelstrom of the “Banana Pancake Trail,” the beyond well-trodden backpacker trail carved out of Southeast Asia by Australians and other assorted Westerners over the last 25 years, epitomized in the famous “Yellow Bible” (aka the Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring). The trailhead begins on the Khao San road, where I crashed in a dingy guesthouse the first few nights, and spirals out eastward into Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam and southward into Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. I’m making my way through the latter, via Krabi.  Last night, I went with my friend Patrik of to The Club on Khao San (see above photo) and the place was a madhouse with most patrons decked out in the Australian national dress (board shorts, tank top, and flip flops…sorry, thongs) and fully reveling in blasting techno not caring about red or yellow shirts. All hail the Banana Pancake Trail! For more on this subject, you can read the lyrics to the accompanying song “Banana Pancakes” by Jack Johnson.

Typical Thai street food stall. Thong Lo stop off of the sky train. You like spicy??? ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

July 25th, 2010 at 1:29 pm

“Little Arabia” and the “Planes” Operation

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A woman locks her eyes with my lens while exiting Bangkok's Little Arabia enclave. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

Bangkok- I took a very interesting meander through Bangkok’s bustling “Little Arabia” cluster today in more of my seemingly never ending investigation into the road to 9/11 and more specifically following in the footsteps of the so-called San Diego cell of Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi. Here’s why: according to the 9/11 commission section entitled Section 5.2 The “Planes” Operation:

“While in Kuala Lumpur, Khallad wanted to go to Singapore to meet Nibras and Fahd al Quso, two of the operatives in Nashiri’s ship-bombing operation. An attempt to execute that plan by attacking the USS The Sullivans had failed just a few days earlier. Nibras and Quso were bringing Khallad money from Yemen, but were stopped in Bangkok because they lacked visas to continue on to Singapore. Also unable to enter Singapore, Khallad moved the meeting to Bangkok. Hazmi and Mihdhar decided to go there as well, reportedly because they thought it would enhance their cover as tourists to have passport stamps from a popular tourist destination such as Thailand. With Hambali’s help, the three obtained tickets for a flight to Bangkok and left Kuala Lumpur together. Abu Bara did not have a visa permitting him to return to Pakistan, so he traveled to Yemen instead.

In Bangkok, Khallad took Hazmi and Mihdhar to one hotel, then went to another hotel for his meeting on the maritime attack plan. Hazmi and Mihdhar soon moved to that same hotel, but Khallad insists that the two sets of operatives never met with each other or anyone else. After conferring with the ship-bombing operatives, Khallad returned to Karachi and then to Kandahar, where he reported on his casing mission to Bin Ladin.

Bin Ladin canceled the East Asia part of the planes operation in the spring of 2000. He evidently decided it would be too difficult to coordinate this attack with the operation in the United States. As for Hazmi and Mihdhar, they had left Bangkok a few days before Khallad and arrived in Los Angeles on January 15, 2000.”

I find it quite suspect that there is so much vague detail in the 9/11 commission report looking back on it all these years later. Do they (those on the commission chaired by Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton) mean to tell us that they nor their contacts here in Thailand don’t know the names of the hotels in Bangkok? If one looks carefully, there’s an immense amount of detail missing from the finalized 9/11 report. If the people of Alec Station, the CIA’s Bin Laden unit based in Virginia, that was tracking these two and monitoring the Kuala Lumpur AQ summit at Jemmah Islamiyah operative Yazid Sufaat’s condominium, stop tracking them while in they were in Thailand before they went to Los Angeles and rendezvoused with Saudi (agent) Omar al-Bayoumi? Judging by the fact that al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi spoke (supposedly) very limited English, I am guessing that when they arrived in Bangkok, they likely headed straight for Little Arabia where Arabs from the Mashreq, the Maghreb, and the Gulf all seem to congregate here. When al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi arrived in Los Angeles on the flight from Don Mueang airport, they are believed to have immediately gone to a halal restaurant on the border of the Palms neighborhood and Culver City on Venice Boulevard where they met al-Bayoumi (the commission report is sorely lacking in detail on this very clutch episode as well). Now I have no way of proving this is where the two spent there last days before leaving for Southern California but I also don’t have any reason to believe they would have spent their time anywhere else in Bangkok. If you didn’t see Thai women in tank tops and short shorts, you could think you were in a down at the heels part of Amman or Abu Dhabi. The only person I think who would know the answer to this question is the former head of Alec Station but he thus far has not responded to my email query. There remain so many questions still to be answered about 9/11 it boggles the mind.

If I can’t know the answers, I need to at least ask the questions. How long were the hijackers in Bangkok? Who else did they meet with here? How many days were they here and what hotels did they frequent? I am I the only one who desires to know all of these minor but important details? And lastly, why is so much information left out of the 9/11 report?

An Egyptian shisha restaurant frequented by Gulf Arabs in Bangkok's Little Arabia enclave. Note the Saudi flag. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

July 23rd, 2010 at 6:52 am