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60 Minutes //:The Millennium Plot
Dec. 26, 2001

It almost happened once before, a little more than a year and a half ago. That's when the world was getting ready to ring in the new millennium. It's also when Islamic terrorists, directed from Afghanistan, were preparing to mark the occasion by killing Americans, here and overseas - in a series of spectacular bombings. The operation was foiled at the last minute. But it came so close that it should have served as a wake-up call to all Americans. The millennium plot revealed, in startling clarity, exactly how the Osama bin Laden network operated and how it would operate in the future. The single most important piece of evidence was the mind of an American citizen. Raed Hijazi was born in California. He wound up in a cage in this Jordanian courtroom last month because he is accused of playing a leading role in the plot to kill other Americans. His father, Mohammed, a civil engineer who lived in California for eight years, can't believe it. He studied there, and he lived there," says his father. "Yeah, he got American custom. But he remained as really Islamic religious man. But ordinary. Not terrorist." Hijazi has bruises on his forehead. They come from a lot of praying. In the Middle East, they are seen as the mark of a more-than-ordinary religious man. He wasn't always so religious. In the mid '80s, Hijazi looked like an exceedingly ordinary American teen-ager. He went to study business at Cal-State-Sacremento. In 1990, he went to Pakistan to help Afghan refugees. At leas.t that's what he told his father. He stayed in the region for four years. His father says his son didn't tell him much about his work. At around this time, Jordanian intelligence began hearing about a radicalized American in Afghanistan. He was known to his comrades in the jihad camps as Abu Ahmed the American. His specialty was explosives. In 1997, Hijazi went back to America, this time, to Boston where, in the shadow of Fenway Park, he got a license to drive a taxi for a Boston Cab Company. He stayed for a little over a year, sending; money back to his father and, as the Jordanians would later learn, to some new friends. ~ V

"He used some of his money to buy some ingredients to manufacture explosives and other things for later use in military operations in Jordan," says Colonel Mahmoud Obeidat, Jordan's chief military prosecutor. But the Jordanians didn't know that then. They became suspicious only at the end of 1998, when they started hearing about an operation called Bethlehem 2000. Around the same time, Hijazi left Boston and, traveling on an American passport, stopped in London, where he bought five two-way radios. Then he disappeared. Back in Amman, Jordan's capital, the intelligence services started picking up clues that a terrorist cell was being activated. The remains of a biblical city and the ruins of the Roman Temple of Hercules lie in the heart of Amman, a reminder of the glory that was Jordan 2,000 years ago. In Decembel 999, just after Christmas, the terrorists were planning another kind of reminder. Hundreds of American tourists were expected here for the millennium celebrations. The terrorists planned to mark the occasion with a bomb. They wanted to ring in the New Year by killing Americans. Other holy sites were on the hit list: a hill near the Dead Sea where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Thousands of pilgrims were expected there. Another target: Mount Nebo, which Moses climbed to see the promised land. But the top target was the Radisson hotel in downtown Amman, its 400 rooms fully booked by Americans and Israelis for the big millennium party. Jordanian agents got word that the man known as Abu Ahmed the American was boasting there wouldn't be enough body bags in Jordan to hold all the corpses. Everything was set. The planning had been completed, the explosives were hidden^n Amman. Abu Ahmed the American was about to return here from Afghanistan. It might have come off if Jordanian intelligence hadn't

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6/19/03