Osama bin Laden came within minutes of killing Bill Clinton
Former President Bill Clinton came within minutes of being assassinated in the Philippines by terrorists controlled by Osama bin Laden, a new book has revealed.
Tom Leonard in New York
7:00PM GMT 22 Dec 2009
Bill Clinton came within minutes of being assassinated in the Philippines Photo: AP
The US leader was saved shortly before his car was due to drive over a bridge in Manila where a bomb had been planted.
The foiled attack came during Mr Clinton's visit to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in the city in 1996.
At one point during his stay, he was scheduled to visit a local politician, his route taking him across a bridge in central Manila.
But as the presidential motorcade was about to set off, secret service officers received a "crackly message in one earpiece" saying intelligence agents had picked up a message suggesting an attack was imminent.
The transmission used the words "bridge" and "wedding" – a terrorists code word for assassination.
The motorcade was quickly re-routed and American agents later discovered a bomb had been planted under the bridge.
The subsequent US investigation into the plot "revealed that it had been masterminded by a Saudi terrorist living in Afghanistan – a man named Osama bin Laden".
Although al Qaeda members have admitted targeting Mr Clinton in the 1990s, no evidence has previously emerged suggesting the group's leader was involved or that the terrorists came close to succeeding.
Ken Gormley, an American law professor, said he was told by Louis Merletti, the former director of the Secret Service, of the bomb plot.
In The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs Starr, Prof Gormley wrote: "The thwarted assassination attempt was never made public.
"It remained top secret except to select members of the US intelligence community."
At the time, there were media reports about the discovery of two bombs, one at Manila airport and another at the venue for the leaders' meeting.
However, they were linked to a communist insurgency in the Philippines rather than as an external attempt to kill the US president.
A spokesman for the Secret Service refused to comment on Prof Gorman's allegations.
Commentators in the US questioned why the Clinton administration would keep quiet about the assassination attempt when it later needed to justify missile attacks on al-Qaeda training bases.
It could also have ramifications for the widely-held assumption that the Bush regime could not have anticipated the September 11 terror attacks.
Ramzi Yousef, the al-Qaeda member who used a truck bomb to attack the World Trade Centre in 1993, has admitted he plotted to assassinate Mr Clinton after fleeing to Manila, but was dissuaded by his high level of security.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described 9/11 mastermind, also lived in the Philippines in the mid-1990s and has admitted he considered trying to kill Mr Clinton.
The president and his national security team have been accused of passing up several opportunities to capture bin Laden and his associates in the 1990s when they were living in Sudan.
Mr Clinton has rejected such claims, insisting he was "obsessed" with the al-Qaeda leader during his time in office.
In the years leading up to the September 11 attacks, al Qaeda was blamed for bombing two US embassies in Africa and attacked the destroyer, the USS Cole.
However, Marisa Porges, a former government counter-terrorism advisor and an expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, a US think tank, said the assassination plot, if true,would suggest al Qaeda was more developed than some thought it was prior to 9/11”.
Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, said earlier this month that it was important to capture bin Laden, a goal that some believe has slipped down America's list of priorities in the years since the September 11 attacks.
Prof Gormley’s book, for which he interviewed Mr Clinton three times, focuses mainly on the former president’s pursuit by Ken Starr, the independent counsel.
Mr Starr’s conclusion that Mr Clinton lied during a sworn deposition about his affair with Monica Lewinsky led to the president’s impeachment.
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