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Context of 'January 14, 2008: Taliban Militants Protected by ISI Attack Luxury Hotel in Afghanistan, Killing 6'

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An armed attacker in the lobby of the Serena Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, on January 14, 2008. An armed attacker in the lobby of the Serena Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, on January 14, 2008. [Source: TV2 Norway]Militants attack a luxury hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, with machine guns and a suicide bomber. Six people are killed and six more are injured. The suicide bomber blows himself up and one of the machine gunners is killed, and two other attackers apparently escape. The target is the Serena Hotel, a heavily guarded five-star hotel frequented by Westerners. A Norwegian journalist and a US citizen are among those killed. A Taliban spokesperson immediately takes credit for the attack. [BBC, 1/15/2008] Months later, the New York Times will report that the attack was actually masterminded by a leader of the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban, which is largely based in Pakistan. The leader is not named, but Sirajuddin Haqqani will later boast in an interview that he planned the attack (see March 25, 2009). According to the Times: “Pakistani forces have been reluctant to move against the Haqqanis. According to European officials and one senior Pakistani official, [top leader Jalaluddin] Haqqani has maintained his old links with Pakistani intelligence [the ISI] and still enjoys their protection.” In a video, Jalaluddin boasts of his role in an attack on a hotel, which presumably is the Serena Hotel attack, as well as boasting of other attacks. Jalaluddin is Sirajuddin’s father. [New York Times, 6/17/2008]

Entity Tags: Sirajuddin Haqqani, Jalaluddin Haqqani, Haqqani Network, Taliban, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Hamid Karzai on parade, April 27, 2008.Hamid Karzai on parade, April 27, 2008. [Source: massoud_hossaini_afp_getty]On April 27, 2008, there is an attempted assassination of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as assailants fire guns and mortars towards him, scores of senior officials, and foreign diplomats during a military parade in downtown Kabul. Karzai escapes unharmed, but three Afghans are killed, including a member of parliament. Two months later, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency accuses the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, of organizing the assassination. The agency claims that phone calls from the cell phones of those arrested show a Pakistan link. Investigators suspect one assassin tried to call his supervisor in Pakistan from a nearby hotel to ask for instructions because he could not get a clear shot at Karzai from the hotel window. Investigators believe Jalaluddin Haqqani, a Taliban leader based in the Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan with long-time ISI ties, instigated the plot. Karzai’s spokesman makes the same accusation against the ISI more obliquely, “Evidence shows the hallmark of a particular foreign intelligence agency which we believe was behind this attack.” [Agence France-Presse, 6/25/2008; Washington Post, 6/27/2008]

Entity Tags: Hamid Karzai, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Jalaluddin Haqqani, National Directorate of Security (Afghanistan)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

According to a later book by New York Times reporter David Sanger, in May 2008, US intelligence records General Ashfaq Kayani, head of Pakistan’s military, referring to militant leader Jalaluddin Haqqani as “a strategic asset.” Haqqani heads a group of militants in Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region, that is known as the Haqqani network. It is considered a semi-independent branch of the Taliban. The surveillance was ordered to confirm suspicions that the Pakistani military is still secretly supporting the Taliban, even though the US gives aid to help fight the Taliban. The transcript of Kayani’s comments is passed to Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell. US intelligence will later intercept calls from Pakistani military units to Haqqani, warning him of an imminent Pakistani military operation in the tribal region designed to make it appear to the US that Pakistan is taking action against militant groups. An unnamed source will later explain, “It was something like, ‘Hey, we’re going to hit your place in a few days, so if anyone important is there, you might want to tell them to scram.’” Further US surveillance will reveal a plot between the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and Haqqani to bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008). Pakistani officials deny they are supporting Haqqani. [London Times, 2/17/2009] An unnamed senior Pakistani intelligence official also called Haqqani an asset in 2006 (see 2006).

Entity Tags: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Haqqani Network, Jalaluddin Haqqani, Mike McConnell, US intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

A suicide bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, kills 54 people and injures 140 others. The main target appears to be a diplomatic convoy that had just entered the embassy gate, directly followed by the suicide truck. Among the dead are two senior Indian diplomats, including the military attaché, Brigadier Ravi Mehta. Many of those killed are people standing in line waiting for visas. [London Times, 8/3/2008] The Indian government received at least one warning about an attack on the embassy, and it took extra security precautions that helped reduce the loss of lives (see July 1, 2008). The Afghan interior ministry quickly asserts that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, helped the Taliban with the attack. A presidential spokesman states at a news conference, “The sophistication of this attack and the kind of material that was used in it, the specific targeting, everything has the hallmarks of a particular intelligence agency that has conducted similar terrorist acts inside Afghanistan in the past.” The Afghan government has asserted that the ISI is responsible for other attacks in Afghanistan, including an attempted assassination of President Hamid Karzai in late April 2008 (see April 27, 2008). The Indian government also quickly blames the ISI and the Taliban. [Financial Times, 7/8/2008; Taipei Times, 7/9/2008] The Taliban deny involvement in the attack, but the New York Times notes that the Taliban usually deny involvement in attacks with a large number of civilian casualties. [New York Times, 7/8/2008] Less than a month later, US intelligence will accuse the ISI of helping a Taliban-linked militant network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani to plan the bombing (see August 1, 2008). President Bush will even directly threaten Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani with serious consequences if another attack is linked to the ISI (see July 28, 2008).

Entity Tags: Ravi Mehta, Jalaluddin Haqqani, Haqqani Network, Taliban, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Yousaf Raza Gillani.Yousaf Raza Gillani. [Source: Public Domain]Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, visits the US and meets with President George Bush in Washington, D.C. Bush privately confronts Gillani with evidence that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has been helping the Taliban and al-Qaeda. US intelligence has long suspected that Pakistan has been playing a “double game,” accepting over a billion dollars of US aid per year meant to help finance Pakistan’s fight with Islamic militants, but at the same time training and funding those militants, who often go on to fight US soldiers in Afghanistan. The London Times reports that Gillani “was left in no doubt that the Bush administration had lost patience with the ISI’s alleged double game.” Bush allegedly warned that if one more attack in Afghanistan or elsewhere were traced back to Pakistan, the US would take “serious action.” The key evidence is that US intelligence claims to have intercepted communications showing that the ISI helped plan a militant attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier in the month (see July 7, 2008). US officials will leak this story of ISI involvement to the New York Times several days after Bush’s meeting with Gillani (see August 1, 2008). Gillani also meets with CIA Director Michael Hayden, who confronts him with a dossier on ISI support for the Taliban. Pakistanis officials will claim they were shocked at the “grilling” they received. One Pakistani official who came to the US with Gillani will say, “They were very hot on the ISI. Very hot. When we asked them for more information, Bush laughed and said, ‘When we share information with your guys, the bad guys always run away’.” When the story of Bush’s confrontation with Gillani is leaked to the press, Pakistani officials categorically deny any link between the ISI and militants in Afghanistan. But senior British intelligence and government officials have also told the Pakistanis in recent days that they are convinced the ISI was involved in the embassy bombing. This is believed to be the first time the US has openly confronted Pakistan since a warning given several days after 9/11 (see September 13-15, 2001). The US is said to be particularly concerned with the ISI’s links to Jalaluddin Haqqani, who runs a militant network that the US believes was involved in the bombing. And the US is worries about links between the ISI and Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistan-based militant group that is said to have been behind a recent attack against US forces in Afghanistan that killed nine. [London Times, 8/3/2008]

Entity Tags: Yousaf Raza Gillani, Jalaluddin Haqqani, Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush, US intelligence, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban, Michael Hayden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

The US places a $5 million bounty on the head of militant leader Sirajuddin Haqqani. Haqqani has been slowly taking over leadership of the Haqqani network from his aging father Jalaluddin Haqqani. The Haqqani network is a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban and is based in Pakistan. The US State Department announcement of the bounty claims that Sirajuddin Haqqani “maintains close ties to al-Qaeda,” and it further claims that he admitted planning a January 2008 attack on a hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed six people, including a US citizen (see January 14, 2008), and he also admitted planning the April 2008 assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai (see April 27, 2008). [US Department of State, 3/25/2009] However, the US has yet to officially blacklist the Haqqani network itself. Nor has the US put a bounty on Jalaluddin Haqqani, even though he continues to lead the network with Sirajuddin. US intelligence believes the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has long-standing links to the Haqqani network, and to Jalaluddin Haqqani in particular (see July 28, 2008).

Entity Tags: Jalaluddin Haqqani, Haqqani Network, US Department of State, Sirajuddin Haqqani, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest kills five CIA officers, two private US military contractors, a Jordanian, and an Afghan at a remote base in Afghanistan. Six others are wounded. The chief of the base is one of those killed. The attack at the CIA base known as Forward Operating Base Chapman is in Khost Province, only 10 miles from the Pakistan border. It is one of two bases in Afghanistan directly run by the CIA; both are used in the effort to hit al-Qaeda targets with Predator drones in Pakistan.
Triple Agent Suicide Bomber - The suicide bomber, Humam Khalil al-Balawi, is a Jordanian doctor. He also turns out to be a triple agent. Originally a supporter of al-Qaeda and other Islamist militant groups, he was recruited to be an informant for Jordanian intelligence. (The Jordanian killed in the suicide attack, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, was his handler.) Then the Jordanians passed him on to the CIA and he was an informant for them too. For months, he fed both intelligence agencies information that was used by US forces in Predator drone strikes. However, none of the targets were important, and this apparently was just a ploy to gain the CIA’s trust. He also was able to provide details on al-Qaeda sites in Pakistan in a way that proved he had been there. He even turned over photographs that gave “irrefutable proof” he had been in the presence of al-Qaeda’s top leadership.
Promising Meeting - Having gained the CIA’s trust, al-Balawi was able to enter the base through three checkpoints without being closely checked, although even visiting dignitaries must be checked. He promised important information about the whereabouts of al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. This was considered the best lead on al-Zawahiri in years, and the White House had been told to expect important information from al-Balawi’s debriefing. Typically, only one or two intelligence officials are present in informant debriefings, but his information is considered so important that eight people are near him when his bomb goes off. [London Times, 1/6/2010; Washington Post, 1/10/2010]
Base Commander Is 'World Class' Al-Qaeda Expert - Previously, al-Balawi had only met with Jordanian intelligence, but he was considered such a promising source that the CIA wanted to talk to him in person. The locale was chosen in part because the base commander, Jennifer Lynne Matthews, was considered a “world-class expert on al-Qaeda and counterterrorism operations,” who spent nearly 20 years in the CIA. She had been part of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, back in the 1990s. After 9/11, she was “integrally involved in all of the CIA’s rendition operations,” according to an intelligence source. For instance, she managed the operation that located and captured Abu Zubaida in 2002. From 2005 to 2009, she was the chief of the counterterrorism branch in London, and had a key role in breaking up a 2006 al-Qaeda plot to blow up airplanes. Then she volunteered to work in Afghanistan. [Washington Post, 1/10/2010; Washingtonian, 1/2011]
Seven Americans Killed - The CIA officers killed are Matthews, Darren LaBonte, Elizabeth Hanson, Harold Brown Jr., and Scott Michael Roberson. Blackwater private military contractors Jeremy Wise and Dane Clark Paresi are also killed in the attack. [Washington Post, 6/8/2010]
Lax Security Leads to Deaths - Al-Balawi is still outside when he is greeted by several CIA officials. Just as he is about to be carefully searched, he sets his bomb off. The blast is so powerful that it kills people standing some distance away. The CIA will later conduct an internal investigation and conclude that there were crucial security mistakes in letting him get so far into the base without being searched. [Washington Post, 1/10/2010; Washingtonian, 1/2011]
Militant Groups Claim Credit - Several days after the bombing, a video will emerge of al-Balawi sitting next to militant leader Hakimullah Mahsud. In it al-Balawi says that he will martyr himself in revenge for the 2009 killing of militant leader Baitullah Mashud. Baitullah led the Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban), and was replaced by Hakimullah after his death. The video makes obvious that the Tehrik-i-Taliban had a major role in the attack, but other Islamist militant groups take credit as well. Al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid also will take credit for the attack on behalf of al-Qaeda. He will say it is in revenge for Baitullah’s death, plus the death of two other militant leaders killed in Predator drone attacks. Since, as previously mentioned, al-Balawi apparently had photos and other evidence showing his al-Qaeda connections, it seems al-Qaeda has a role as well. Additionally, the CIA base is just across the border from North Waziristan, the center of power for the Haqqani network, which is a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. US officials believe that nothing happens in the region without the knowledge of the Haqqanis, and that network is probably involved as well. In the days after the suicide attack, the US will respond with an unusual number of drone attacks, most of them targeting Haqqani sites. US analysts fear the attack shows that the Tehrik-i-Taliban, Haqqani network, and al-Qaeda are effectively working together. [ABC News, 1/7/2010; New York Times, 1/9/2010] A later report will suggest that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, could have supplied the explosives used in the bombing (see January 6, 2010).

Entity Tags: Jennifer Lynne Matthews, Jeremy Wise, Taliban, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, Scott Michael Roberson, Tehrik-i-Taliban, Harold Brown Jr., Haqqani Network, Humam Khalil al-Balawi, Elizabeth Hanson, Al-Qaeda, Baitullah Mahsud, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Dane Clark Paresi, Central Intelligence Agency, Hakimullah Mahsud, Darren LaBonte

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) urges the US State Department to blacklist the Tehrik-i-Taliban (also known as the Pakistani Taliban) and the Haqqani network, but this does not happen. Both the Tehrik-i-Taliban and the Haqqani network are militant groups closely linked with the Taliban, but are mainly based in Pakistan. Feinstein, the chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee, claims that the US blacklists foreign groups that engage in terrorism and threaten US citizens and US national security, and both groups “clearly meet” the criteria to be blacklisted. Agence France-Presse reports that the US “has hesitated” to blacklist these groups “in part out of consideration for relations with Pakistan, where anti-Americanism runs rife and whose government is keen to be seen as fighting the Taliban on its own terms.” The Haqqani network is believed to have taken part in a number of terrorist attacks (see January 14, 2008, April 27, 2008, July 7, 2008, December 30, 2009), and in 2009, the US put a $5 million bounty on leader Sirajuddin Haqqani (see March 25, 2009). The Haqqani network is also believed to be a strategic asset of the Pakistani government (see May 2008). Tehrik-i-Taliban was recently implicated in a failed bombing in Times Square in New York City. [Agence France-Presse, 5/13/2010]

Entity Tags: Dianne Feinstein, US Department of State, Tehrik-i-Taliban, Haqqani Network

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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