The official explanation is that the fuel tank exploded. It probably did, but what was the detonator?

Christopher S. Carson, in Frontpage Magazine, reviewed the evidence for terrorist involvement in this article from December 2004. Some key points:

After Yousef’s team detonated the World Trade Center bomb in February 1993, the “Mozart of Terror,” as author Lance dubbed him, flew to Pakistan to see uncle KSM, another Baluch ethnic who was already planning “Operation Bojinka.” (Bojinka was an insanely ambitious plan to blow up 11 commercial airliners simultaneously over the Pacific Ocean, kill the pope and poison President Clinton in a cloud of chlorine gas. It was foiled in 1995 during the last stages of planning by a chance kitchen fire in a dingy Manila apartment.)

In 1995, it was time for a “wet test” of Bojinka. Yousef needed to be sure his bombs would work correctly, so he tested one on an actual airliner filled with people. He planted a tiny Casio-watch-timed bomb with Nitro “gun cotton” chemical on a Philippine Airlines flight to Japan. As Peter Lance reports, Yousef’s bomb, unlike the Semtex bomb that brought down Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, was really only a trigger that was supposed to ignite the center wing tank of the Boeing, sending the plane down in flames.

Yousef put the Casio trigger too far away from the tank, however. The timer went off, killing a man and blowing a hole in the plane, but the Filipino captain heroically maneuvered to keep the jetliner stable enough to land safely. Watching the news of the crash-landing on CNN in a bar that day, Yousef figured he’d get it right the next time.

Yousef got to make a lot of calls from jail, even to his terrorist “uncle” Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM), future chief operating officer of al-Qaeda. FBI Special Agent in charge, James Kallstrom, was initially happy about Yousef’s calls because his men would be able to listen in. He brought in Arabic translators for the listening sessions.

The problem was, Yousef chose to talk in the Baluch language to “uncle” KSM and others, as Peter Lance revealed, so Kallstrom came up empty.

But, as Peter Lance wrote, “three days after that, the mercurial Yousef told Scarpa that he thought the government want[ed] to sabotage his case.” Yousef told the court that he was going to have Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Garcia killed because he thought that Garcia had smirked at him, and Judge Kevin Duffy wasn’t amused. To make matters worse, Judge Duffy was looking as if he was going to let in the written confession of Abdul Murad, which talked about Yousef’s involvement in Operation Bojinka.

It was time to pull the trigger on America and Yousef, “Rashid the Iraqi,” was going to celebrate Saddam’s Liberation Day with a bang—and hopefully get his mistrial.

As the sun dawned on the Arabian peninsula, it was setting off New York harbor. At 8:31 p.m., more than 270 eyewitnesses saw streaks of light shooting toward TWA Flight 800. After a ghastly series of explosions, 230 innocent Americans careened into the Atlantic in a death plunge.

Yousef showed up in court with his standby counsel and asked Judge Duffy for a mistrial, citing the “unfortunate confluence of circumstances” in the downing of the jetliner and its similarity to the Bojinka charges. Judge Duffy, a tough Irishman, was in no mood to do Yousef any favors. He polled the jury, first saying: “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Last night near Moriches Inlet out in Long Island, an airplane blew up. TWA Flight 800. … All we know is that there was an explosion and the airplane went down. It’s a tragedy, there is no two ways about it, but that had nothing to do with this case.” Motion denied.

As everyone knows, the official government position to this day is that the center wing tank of the jumbo jet mysteriously self-ignited shortly after takeoff, without any human cause. But in addition to all the hard physical evidence of a terrorist bomb or missile strike recounted in his book, including Yousef’s favorite explosive residues, RDX, PETN and Nitro on multiple seat cushions pulled from the ocean floor, Cashill’s later comment about the attack occurring on Iraq’s Liberation Day is shattering in its impact: “Were Mecca to be bombed on the 4th of July, the disinterested observer would logically conclude that either the USA was responsible or that some provocateur did it to implicate the US.”

As Dr. Laurie Mylroie first established, Ramzi Yousef was Saddam’s man. Yousef, with the assistance of his New York cell, KSM and Osama bin Laden abroad, and indeed Saddam himself, wanted to salvage something from the foiled Bojinka plot. They conceived to destroy a U.S. airliner from New York to get Yousef a mistrial and time to get sprung, acquitted or traded back to Iraq. To celebrate the Great Uncle of terror finance, Saddam Hussein, they set the day for July 17, 1996: Iraq’s 35th Liberation Day.

I suppose that if Yousef’s plotting had downed ten aircraft we would know what ignited TWA Flight 800’s central fuel tank. Yousef’s first test run showed that it wouldn’t take much of an explosion to cripple a 747. Those British lads with their little bottles liquid explosives were a deadly threat.