Biochemist Yazid Sufaat, the sole Malaysian linked to the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States, has been freed after serving his latest prison sentence but will be closely monitored by police, Malaysia’s top counterterror official said Wednesday.
Yazid, who once attempted to cultivate anthrax as a chemical weapon for al-Qaeda, was released Wednesday from Simpang Renggam prison in Johor state following a decision made by the Malaysian Prevention of Terrorism Board on Monday, Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, chief of the national police’s counter-terrorist wing, told BenarNews.
“The board has decided to free Yazid on several conditions. He is free to go home but his movement is restricted [as] part of the conditions set,” Ayob said.
According to the 9/11 Commission Final Report released in July 2004, Yazid met four key al-Qaeda members at his home in Kuala Lumpur, where they “spoke about the possibility of hijacking planes and crashing them” months before the terror attacks unfolded in the U.S. in September 2001.
Two of the four men – Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf Muhammad Salim al-Hazmi – were among the Sept. 11 hijackers.
That meeting, the report said, was made at the request of Hambali, an Indonesian national and prisoner in U.S. military custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who was accused of masterminding the 2002 Bali bombings in Indonesia that killed more than 200 people.
Al-Qaeda, a Muslim militant group founded by Osama bin Laden, carried out the attacks that killed almost 3,000 people and injured more than 25,000 others, when hijackers flew airliners into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon outside Washington.
A fourth hijacked plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania when passengers reportedly fought back to bring down the airliner before it could strike another target. Bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan in May 2011.
As part of the conditions for his freedom, Yazid was required to wear an electronic monitoring device for two years, starting Wednesday. Authorities also prohibited him from surfing the internet and ordered him to report to the district police, Ayob said.
“We also imposed a curfew, from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily, which means he has to be home during those times,” Ayob said, referring to Yazid.
Yazid, 55, was in Afghanistan during the Sept. 11 attacks and later fled through Pakistan to Malaysia, where he was caught by authorities and sent to prison under the now-defunct Internal Security Act (ISA) in December 2001. He was detained at the Kamunting Camp prison, which housed convicted terrorists and political detainees.
Investigators said Yazid, who received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from a university in California, joined the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) militant group shortly after its founding in 1993. Al-Qaeda helped create JI, an extremist group headed by Indonesian militants with cells scattered across Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, according to security analysts.
Yazid became a leading figure in al-Qaeda’s push to develop weapons of mass destruction when he spent several months attempting to cultivate anthrax in a laboratory he helped set up near the Kandahar airport in 2001, according to the 9/11 commission report. He received training in Afghanistan under the command of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian militant who succeeded bin Laden, the report said.
A year earlier, investigators said, Yazid acquired four tons of ammonium nitrate in 2000 in preparation for a foiled bombing plot in Singapore.
Malaysian officials said Yazid was released in 2008 but re-arrested in 2013 under SOSMA – the nation’s anti-terror law known as Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act – on charges of recruiting new members for the Islamic State militant group. He received a four-year prison term.
After serving his sentence, Yazid was again arrested in December 2017 after authorities discovered that he had been recruiting fellow inmates to join al-Qaeda.
Before he was accused of becoming an extremist, Yazid was an army captain who had served the military in Bosnia, where investigators said he had expressed his sympathy for the Muslims who were killed by the Serbian army.
Yazid is married to Chomel Mohamad, an Indonesian, with whom he has four children. The couple once worked as caterers at the Kuala Lumpur High Court canteen.
Chomel declined to comment about her husband’s case when approached by a BenarNews reporter several weeks ago. She now owns a restaurant near the nation’s capital.