By Paul Cruickshank and Nic Robertson
It is very unlikely there is any link between the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 and an aborted hijack plot involving Malaysia militants in late 2001, current and former U.S. intelligence officials tell CNN.
A former British al Qaeda operative, Saajid Badat, outlined details of the Malaysian plot in federal court in New York last week, fueling media speculation about a possible link.
He testified that he spent time with a small group of Malaysians in Afghanistan and Pakistan in late 2001 tasked with hijacking aircraft in Southeast Asia.
In the weeks after 9/11, Badat was one of two British recruits directed by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to detonate shoe bombs simultaneously on separate passenger aircraft over the United States.
Badat never followed through with his plan, but his co-conspirator, Richard Reid, tried and failed to do so on an American Airlines flight between Paris and Miami in December of that year. Reid was convicted and remains in a U.S. prison.
Badat testified that he left Afghanistan for Pakistan with several Malaysians assigned by al Qaeda to hijack aircraft.
"They had their own group of four or five individuals which even included a pilot," he said.
Badat said that he gave the Malaysians one of his explosive shoes.
"So it was the Malaysian leader and Richard Reid talking and then I was just listening in. ... They began to discuss that what if the cockpit is locked, is closed? And it was then, yes, unfortunately, it was me that said 'how about I give you one of my shoes.'"
CNN first reported on the Malaysian hijacking plot in 2012 after Badat revealed it during an earlier trial in New York. Badat started cooperating with authorities after his arrest in the UK in November 2003.
The plan stemmed from the 9/11 conspiracy. According to a 9/11 Commission report, al Qaeda initially planned to hijack a dozen airliners in Southeast Asia at the same time as in the United States, but Osama bin Laden scrapped the non-U.S. part of the plan.
According to a senior U.S. counterterrorism source, Mohammed originally intended the Malaysian group to participate in the Southeast Asian attack.
In the weeks after 9/11, he revived a whittled down version of the plan by tasking the Malaysians to carry out a hijacking.
The source said intelligence agencies were aware of the plot well before Badat was arrested and Malaysian authorities took steps to neutralize the threat by making arrests.
The source added that the Malaysian group never included a qualified pilot. Investigations revealed the "pilot" Badat referred to in his testimony attended a flight school in Malaysia before dropping out shortly after 9/11. Badat never met this man.
A senior aviation security source also said the threat from the group had been removed.
"The Malaysians got on top of this," he told CNN.
And a U.S. intelligence official told CNN's Barbara Starr they did not believe there was any connection between the 2001 plot and the disappearance of Flight 370.
The 2001 Malaysia Hijacking Plot
U.S. intelligence sources provided extensive new detail to CNN on the Malaysian terrorist cell planning to hijack aircraft in 2001. It includes information from Badat's lengthy debriefings with U.S. officials.
According to those sources, the Malaysia group consisted of half a dozen young men linked to the Indonesian al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah who travelled for training in Afghanistan in the period before 9/11.
When they got there, they were recruited into Mohammed's eventually aborted plan to target a dozen aircraft in South East Asia.
After 9/11, those still in Afghanistan were tasked with carrying out a smaller-scale version of the plot, with the idea being that Reid and Badat would target aircraft over the United States around the same time, the sources said.
To refine these plans, Mohammed dispatched Reid, Badat and the Malaysians to see his nephew, Ammar al Baluchi, in Karachi. The group travelled in a convoy of three vehicles from Kandahar via Quetta and were lodged by al Baluchi in several safe houses in Karachi.
The Malaysian group refused to have Reid stay with them because they judged him "too crazy looking," according to the intelligence sources. Their ringleader was a man in his late 20s known as Abdulaziz. He was 5 foot 6, slim, had a goatee, wore glasses, and spoke some English.
Badat, Reid and Baluchi met several times in a McDonald's between December 1-5, 2001. They discussed targeting planes over the United States with shoe bombs, the sources said.
Badat later revealed that the plan was for them to sit near the window so they could blow a hole in the fuselage. They did not expect their devices to blow the planes out of the sky. Rather, they hoped to bring the planes down by blowing open a large hole to rapidly depressurize the aircraft.
Badat and Reid also spent time with Abdulaziz and his Malaysian cell in Karachi. It was at this time that Badat handed Abdulaziz one of his shoe bombs. Reid asked Abdulaziz about his comrade in Malaysia who had attended flight school. Abdulaziz replied that he did not know if the man had yet learned what he needed to.
During the meeting, Badat got the impression the Malaysians were not too worried if, in later trying to blow open a cockpit door with his explosive shoe, they brought down the plane, but that was not their original intent.
But if they were going to use one of Badat's shoes, the Malaysians had to make an additional purchase. In Karachi, they bought an identical pair of shoes so they could match up his explosive footwear.
Walid bin Attash, a Yemeni al Qaeda terrorist, also assisted Mohammed in the Malaysia hijacking plot, according to U.S. intelligence sources. Bin Attash and al-Baluchi were arrested in Karachi in April 2003 and later transferred to Guantanamo.
Two Jemaah Islamiyah operatives responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings - Hambali (real name: Riduan Isamuddin) and Ali Ghufron (real name: Huda bin Abdul Haq) - are also suspected of having had a role in the plot, according to the U.S. intelligence sources.
CNN's Evan Perez contributed to this report.