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Would-Be Shoebomber Testifies Against Bin Laden's Son-In-Law


A would-be shoe-bomber for al-Qaida told his story to a jury in New York City yesterday. Saajid Badat testified in the trial of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. That's the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden who, the government says, was aware of the shoe-bombing plot. The witness has told some of his story before. He's in Britain. He's cooperated with authorities there and in the U.S.

But some of what he said was new to Benjamin Weiser, of The New York Times, who's covering this trial and who joins us from New York. Welcome to the program.

BENJAMIN WEISER: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Who is this Saajid Badat?

WEISER: Robert, Badat is a cooperating witness for the government. He was arrested back in '03, after deciding not to go ahead with a shoe-bomb plot that he had agreed to initially. We're all very familiar with Richard Reid, who did try to carry out such a bombing on a Paris-to-Miami flight in late 2001. But a second plot had been underway and this fellow, Badat, was going to do it and then backed out at the last minute.

He subsequently began cooperating with the British authorities and since then, with United States authorities, and spoke yesterday in the federal court about his whole experience.

SIEGEL: But as for his days as someone who intended to be a shoe-bomber, he'd actually had been outfitted in Afghanistan, and met with Osama bin Laden and with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 plot - I gather.

WEISER: That's right. He had been asked whether he would undertake this plot along with Richard Reid; they both said yes. They were presented with shoes that had bombs concealed inside, by the designer himself. And they even practiced lighting the fuses on these things. But at one point, Badat actually went to meet with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. They sat together, along with Richard Reid. And based on Badat's testimony, they discussed how this attack would be undertaken.

And at one point, Badat said, Khaled Shaikh Mohammed took out an almanac that he had, and showed him a page with a list of the world's tallest buildings, which obviously included the World Trade Centers. And as Badat said in court, he got the pen out and crossed them out. And Badat said - he was ashamed to say this - but when he did it, it was as a joke, to make them all laugh.

SIEGEL: This was just a couple months after 9/11 that this was happening.

WEISER: That's correct. That's correct.

SIEGEL: The story of how he decided not to go ahead with any of this is a fascinating one. It's all about his parents.

WEISER: Yeah, you know, the parents came through. He said he returned to home in Britain. He is a British citizen; at the time, he was in his early 20s. His parents, he said, knew he was in Afghanistan. They weren't quite sure who he was working with. He, of course, had been hanging out with al-Qaida. And his parents sat him down, he said. And he said his father warned that he'd better not be one of those sleepers. And he said: My mom also said that, I wouldn't want my son to be one of those sleepers.

And, of course, sleeper is a reference to an operative who remains hidden - sometimes, for years - before surfacing to carry out an attack. And he said that was when he decided to back out of his mission.

SIEGEL: Now, in his story in court yesterday, in the Abu Ghaith trial - well, what was new? What was it that you hadn't heard before?

WEISER: Well, one of the things that Badat had spoken about in 2012, when he did a videotaped testimony in a trial - a terrorist case in Brooklyn, he talked about giving one of the two shoes he had been given to a group of Malaysian terrorists. He had two shoes; each had a bomb in it. He gave one to the Malaysians. This group he said, at the time, had planned to carry out their own version of a 9/11 hijacking.

He elaborated on that in court yesterday, offering more detail that he had not talked about in Brooklyn. He noted that one of the Malaysians was a pilot. And he also gave a little bit more detail about this plot. It has a kind of eerie resonance, given what's now going on.

SIEGEL: The coincidence of a missing Malaysian airliner, but there's no connection implied here.

WEISER: There is - appears to be no connection, yeah.

SIEGEL: We don't know whatever became of those shoe-bombs.

WEISER: That is correct. There's been no testimony about it. And it's unclear whether the Malaysian government interrupted that plot, how real it was. But there appears to be no question that this man turned over one of his shoe bombs to a group that included a pilot, back in '01.

SIEGEL: Ben Weiser, thank you very much for talking with us about it.

WEISER: Thank you so much for having me.

SIEGEL: Ben Weiser is covering the trial of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith in New York, for The New York Times.



This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.