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A young Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.A young Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. [Source: Public domain]Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar emerges as the most powerful of ISI’s mujaheddin clients, just as Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-TX) and CIA Director William Casey, along with Saudi Intelligence Minister Prince Turki al-Faisal, are pouring “hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of new and more lethal supplies into ISI warehouses” (see 1983). Hekmatyar is among the most ruthless and extreme of the Afghan Islamic warlords. [Coll, 2004, pp. 119] Casey is said to particularly like Hekmatyar because they share a goal of extending the fighting beyond Afghanistan into the Soviet Union itself. [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 268] Hekmatyar receives about half of all the CIA’s covert weapons directed at Afghanistan despite being a known major drug trafficker (see 1982-1991). He develops close ties with bin Laden by 1984 while continuing to receive large amounts of assistance from the CIA and ISI (see 1984).

Entity Tags: Charlie Wilson, William Casey, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Turki al-Faisal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Bin Laden first works for Maktab al-Khidamat from this building in Peshawar, a former British government guesthouse.Bin Laden first works for Maktab al-Khidamat from this building in Peshawar, a former British government guesthouse. [Source: PBS]Bin Laden moves to Peshawar, a Pakistani town bordering Afghanistan, and helps run a front organization for the mujaheddin known as Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK), which funnels money, arms, and fighters from the outside world into the Afghan war. [New Yorker, 1/24/2000] “MAK [is] nurtured by Pakistan’s state security services, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, the CIA’s primary conduit for conducting the covert war against Moscow’s occupation.” [MSNBC, 8/24/1998] Bin Laden becomes closely tied to the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and greatly strengthens Hekmatyar’s opium smuggling operations. [Le Monde (Paris), 9/14/2001] Hekmatyar, who also has ties with bin Laden, the CIA, and drug running, has been called “an ISI stooge and creation.” [Asia Times, 11/15/2001] MAK is also known as Al-Kifah and its branch in New York is called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. This branch will play a pivotal role in the 1993 WTC bombing and also has CIA ties (see January 24, 1994).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Central Intelligence Agency, Maktab al-Khidamat, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Fawaz Damra.Fawaz Damra. [Source: Associated Press]By the mid-1980s, Osama bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam jointly founded a charity front based in Pakistan which is called Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) (which means “services office”) and is also known as Al-Kifah (which means “struggle”) (see 1984). Branches start to open in the US; the first one apparently opens in Tucson, Arizona, where al-Qaeda has a sleeper cell (see 1986). But around 1986, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, the right hand man of double agent Ali Mohamed, informally founds the branch in Brooklyn, New York, and it soon becomes the most important US branch. [New York Times, 10/22/1998; Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 269-270] On December 29, 1987, three men, Mustafa Shalabi, Fawaz Damra, and Ali Shinawy, formally file papers incorporating Al-Kifah, which is called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. At first, it is located inside the Al Farouq mosque, which is led by Damra. But eventually it will get it own office space next to the mosque. Shalabi, a naturalized citizen from Egypt, runs the office with two assistants: Mahmud Abouhalima, who will later be convicted for a role in bombing the World Trade Center in 1993 (see February 26, 1993), and El Sayyid Nosair, who will assassinate a Jewish leader in New York in 1990 (see November 5, 1990). [New York Times, 4/11/1993; Newsweek, 10/1/2001; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 11/4/2001] Jamal al-Fadl, a founding member of al-Qaeda and future FBI informant (see June 1996-April 1997), also works at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in its early days. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 155] The Brooklyn office recruits Arab immigrants and Arab-Americans to go fight in Afghanistan, even after the Soviets withdraw in early 1989. As many as 200 are sent there from the office. Before they go, the office arranges training in the use of rifles, assault weapons, and handguns, and then helps them with visas, plane tickets, and contacts. They are generally sent to the MAK/Al-Kifah office in Peshawar, Pakistan, and then connected to either the radical Afghan faction led by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf or the equally radical one led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. [New York Times, 4/11/1993] The CIA has some murky connection to Al-Kifah that has yet to be fully explained. Newsweek will later say the Brooklyn office “doubled as a recruiting post for the CIA seeking to steer fresh troops to the mujaheddin” fighting in Afghanistan. At the same time, the Brooklyn office is where “veterans of [the Afghan war arrived] in the United States—many with passports arranged by the CIA.” [Newsweek, 10/1/2001] Robert I. Friedman, writing for New York magazine, will comment that the Brooklyn office was a refuge for ex- and future mujaheddin, “But the highlight for the center’s regulars were the inspirational jihad lecture series, featuring CIA-sponsored speakers.… One week on Atlantic Avenue, it might be a CIA-trained Afghan rebel traveling on a CIA-issued visa; the next, it might be a clean-cut Arabic-speaking Green Beret, who would lecture about the importance of being part of the mujaheddin, or ‘warriors of the Lord.’ The more popular lectures were held upstairs in the roomier Al-Farouq Mosque; such was the case in 1990 when Sheikh [Omar] Abdul-Rahman, traveling on a CIA-supported visa, came to town.” One frequent instructor is double agent Ali Mohamed, who is in the US Special Forces at the time (see 1987-1989). Bin Laden’s mentor Azzam frequently visits and lectures in the area. In 1988, he tells “a rapt crowd of several hundred in Jersey City, ‘Blood and martyrdom are the only way to create a Muslim society.… However, humanity won’t allow us to achieve this objective, because all humanity is the enemy of every Muslim.’” [New York Magazine, 3/17/1995] Ayman Al-Zawahiri, future Al-Qaeda second in command, makes a recruiting trip to the office in 1989 (see Spring 1993). [New Yorker, 9/9/2002] The Brooklyn office also raises a considerable amount of money for MAK/Al-Kifah back in Pakistan. The Independent will later call the office “a place of pivotal importance to Operation Cyclone, the American effort to support the mujaheddin. The Al-Kifah [Refugee Center was] raising funds and, crucially, providing recruits for the struggle, with active American assistance.” [Independent, 11/1/1998] Abdul-Rahman, better known as the “Blind Sheikh,” is closely linked to bin Laden. In 1990, he moves to New York on another CIA-supported visa (see July 1990) and soon dominates the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. Shalabi has a falling out with him over how to spend the money they raise and he is killed in mysterious circumstances in early 1991, completing Abdul-Rahman’s take over. Now, both the Brooklyn and Pakistan ends of the Al-Kifah/MAK network are firmly controlled by bin Laden and his close associates. In 1998, the US government will say that al-Qaeda’s “connection to the United States evolved from the Al-Kifah Refugee Center.” Yet there is no sign that the CIA stops its relationship with the Brooklyn office before it closes down shortly after the 1993 WTC bombing. [New York Times, 10/22/1998]

Entity Tags: Jamal al-Fadl, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Mustafa Shalabi, Maktab al-Khidamat, Osama bin Laden, Fawaz Damra, El Sayyid Nosair, Mahmud Abouhalima, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Central Intelligence Agency, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, Al Farouq Mosque, Abdullah Azzam, Ali Shinawy, Ali Mohamed, Al-Kifah Refugee Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

The Boston Herald reports that an internal CIA report has concluded that the agency is “partially culpable” for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993) because it helped train and support some of the bombers. One source with knowledge of the report says, “It was determined that a significant amount of blowback appeared to have occurred.” A US intelligence source claims the CIA gave at least $1 billion to forces in Afghanistan connected to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. More than a half-dozen of the WTC bombers belonged to this faction, and some of the CIA money paid for their training. The source says, “By giving these people the funding that we did, a situation was created in which it could be safely argued that we bombed the World Trade Center.” Those connected to the bombing who went to Afghanistan include Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, Clement Rodney Hampton-el, Siddig Siddig Ali, Ahmed Ajaj, and Mahmud Abouhalima. [Boston Herald, 1/24/1994] Additionally, Ramzi Yousef trained in Afghanistan near the end of the Afghan war, and there are claims he was recruited by the CIA (see Late 1980s). “Intelligence sources say the CIA used the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn—founded to support the Afghani rebels fighting Soviet occupation—to funnel aid to Hekmatyar, setting the stage for terrorists here to acquire the money, guns and training needed to later attack the Trade Center. CIA support also made it easier for alleged terrorist leaders to enter the country.” [Boston Herald, 1/24/1994] It will later be alleged that the CIA repeatedly blocked investigations relating to Al-Kifah, which was al-Qaeda’s operational base in the US (see Late 1980s and After).

Entity Tags: Siddig Siddig Ali, Ramzi Yousef, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Clement Rodney Hampton-El, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Mahmud Abouhalima, Ahmad Ajaj, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Congressional conservatives receive a second “alternative assessment” of the nuclear threat facing the US that is far more to their liking than previous assessments (see December 23, 1996). A second “Team B” panel (see November 1976), the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, led by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and made up of neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz and Stephen Cambone, finds that, contrary to earlier findings, the US faces a growing threat from rogue nations such as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, who can, the panel finds, inflict “major destruction on the US within about five years of a decision.” This threat is “broader, more mature, and evolving more rapidly” than previously believed. The Rumsfeld report also implies that either Iran or North Korea, or perhaps both, have already made the decision to strike the US with nuclear weapons. Although Pakistan has recently tested nuclear weapons (see May 28, 1998), it is not on the list. Unfortunately for the integrity and believability of the report, its methodology is flawed in the same manner as the previous “Team B” reports (see November 1976); according to author J. Peter Scoblic, the report “assume[s] the worst about potential US enemies without actual evidence to support those assumptions.” Defense analyst John Pike is also displeased with the methodology of the report. Pike will later write: “Rather than basing policy on intelligence estimates of what will probably happen politically and economically and what the bad guys really want, it’s basing policy on that which is not physically impossible. This is really an extraordinary epistemological conceit, which is applied to no other realm of national policy, and if manifest in a single human being would be diagnosed as paranoia.” [Guardian, 10/13/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 172-173] Iran, Iraq, and North Korea will be dubbed the “Axis of Evil” by George W. Bush in his 2002 State of the Union speech (see January 29, 2002).

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, J. Peter Scoblic, Paul Wolfowitz, Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, Stephen A. Cambone, John Pike

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

According to the trade publication PR Week, the ad hoc government public relations organization dubbed “The Rumsfeld Group” (see Late May 2001) is quite successful at sending what the publication calls “messaging advice” to the Pentagon.
Marketing a Link between Iraq, Islamist Radicals - The group tells Pentagon PR chief Victoria Clarke and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that to get the American public’s support for the war on terror, and particularly the invasion of Iraq, they need to fix in the public mind a link between terror and nation-states, not just fluid and ad hoc groups such as al-Qaeda. Reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will write, “In other words, there needed to be a fixed target for the military campaigns, some distant place to drop cruise missiles and cluster bombs.” The Rumsfeld Group comes up with the idea of labeling Iraq and certain other nations “rogue states,” an idea already extant in Rumsfeld’s mind, and the genesis of the so-called “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002 and After January 29, 2002).
Veterans of the Gulf War - The government allocates tens of millions of dollars, most of which is handed out to private public relations and media firms hired to spread the Bush administration’s message that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein must be taken out before he can use his arsenal of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons on US targets. Many of the PR and media executives are old friends of senior Bush officials, and many had worked on selling the 1991 Gulf War to the public (see October 10, 1990).
Media Complicity Ensures Success - St. Clair will later note that while the PR efforts are, largely, failures with US allies, they are far more successful with the American population (see August 13, 2003). He will write: “A population traumatized by terror threats and shattered economy became easy prey for the saturation bombing of the Bush message that Iraq was a terrorist state linked to al-Qaeda that was only minutes away from launching attacks on America with weapons of mass destruction. Americans were the victims of an elaborate con job, pelted with a daily barrage of threat inflation, distortions, deceptions, and lies. Not about tactics or strategy or war plans. But about justifications for war. The lies were aimed not at confusing Saddam’s regime, but the American people.” St. Clair places as much blame on the “gullible [and] complicit press corps,” so easily managed by Clarke (see February 2003). “During the Vietnam war, TV images of maimed GIs and napalmed villages suburbanized opposition to the war and helped hasten the US withdrawal,” St. Clair writes. “The Bush gang meant to turn the Vietnam phenomenon on its head by using TV as a force to propel the US into a war that no one really wanted. What the Pentagon sought was a new kind of living room war, where instead of photos of mangled soldiers and dead Iraqi kids, they could control the images Americans viewed and to a large extent the content of the stories. By embedding reporters inside selected divisions, Clarke believed the Pentagon could count on the reporters to build relationships with the troops and to feel dependent on them for their own safety. It worked, naturally.” St. Clair notes the instance of one reporter on national television calling the US Army “our protectors,” and NBC’s David Bloom’s on-air admission that he is willing to do “anything and everything they can ask of us.” [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Jeffrey St. Clair, US Department of Defense, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, “The Rumsfeld Group”, Bush administration (43), David Bloom

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Richard Perle, head of the Defense Policy Board and foreign policy adviser to Bush, is asked about new challenges now that the Cold War is over. He cites three: “We’re concerned about Saddam Hussein, We’re concerned about the North Koreans, about some future Iranian government that may have the weapon they’re now trying so hard to acquire…” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 8/6/2001] Note that these three nations are the same three named in Bush’s famous January 2002 “axis of evil” speech (see January 29, 2002). [US President, 2/4/2002]

Entity Tags: Richard Perle, North Korea, Iran, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

On September 15, 2001, President Bush says of bin Laden: “If he thinks he can hide and run from the United States and our allies, he will be sorely mistaken.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/16/2001] Two days later, he says, “I want justice. And there’s an old poster out West, I recall, that says, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.’” [ABC News, 9/17/2001] On December 28, 2001, even as the US was declaring victory in Afghanistan, Bush says, “Our objective is more than bin Laden.” [Associated Press, 8/21/2002] Bush’s January 2002 State of the Union speech describes Iraq as part of an “axis of evil” and fails to mention bin Laden at all. On March 8, 2002, Bush still vows: “We’re going to find him.” [Washington Post, 10/1/2002] Yet, only a few days later on March 13, Bush says, “He’s a person who’s now been marginalized.… I just don’t spend that much time on him.… I truly am not that concerned about him.” Instead, Bush is “deeply concerned about Iraq.” [US President, 3/18/2002] The rhetoric shift is complete when Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers states on April 6, “The goal has never been to get bin Laden.” [Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields, 4/6/2002] In October 2002, the Washington Post notes that since March 2002, Bush has avoided mentioning bin Laden’s name, even when asked about him directly. Bush sometimes uses questions about bin Laden to talk about Saddam Hussein instead. In late 2001, nearly two-thirds of Americans say the war on terrorism could not be called a success without bin Laden’s death or capture. That number falls to 44 percent in a March 2002 poll, and the question has since been dropped. [Washington Post, 10/1/2002] Charles Heyman, editor of Jane’s World Armies, later points out: “There appears to be a real disconnect” between the US military’s conquest of Afghanistan and “the earlier rhetoric of President Bush, which had focused on getting bin Laden.” [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard B. Myers, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

In May 2002, Time magazine will report, “By the end of 2001, [US] diplomats were discussing how to enlist the support of Arab allies, the military was sharpening its troop estimates, and the communications team was plotting how to sell an attack to the American public. The whole purpose of putting Iraq into Bush’s State of the Union address, as part of the ‘axis of evil,’ was to begin the debate about a possible invasion (see January 29, 2002).” [Time, 5/5/2002]

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

President Bush’s State of the Union speech describes an “axis of evil” consisting of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Osama bin Laden is not mentioned in the speech. [US President, 2/4/2002] Bush says: “States like these and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.” Bush goes on to suggest for the first time that the US might be prepared to launch pre-emptive wars by saying, “The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004] When Bush advisor Richard Perle was asked one month before 9/11 about new challenges the US faced, he replied by naming these exact three countries (see August 6, 2001). Michael Gerson, head of the White House speechwriting team at the time, will later claim that, as Newsweek will later put it, “Bush was already making plans to topple Saddam Hussein, but he wasn’t ready to say so.” Iran and North Korea are inserted into the speech in order to avoid focusing solely on Iraq. The speech is followed by a new public focus on Iraq and a downplaying of bin Laden (see September 15, 2001-April 6, 2002). Prior to the speech, the Iranian government had been very helpful in the US fight against the Taliban, since the Taliban and Iran were enemies. [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] At the time, al-Qaeda operatives had been streaming into Iran from Afghanistan following the defeat of the Taliban. Iran has been turning over hundreds of suspects to US allies and providing US intelligence with the names, photographs, and fingerprints of those it is holding. [Washington Post, 2/10/2007] Newsweek will later say that it is “beyond doubt” the Iranian government was “critical… to stabilizing [Afghanistan] after the fall of Kabul.” But all this cooperation comes to an end after the speech. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Hossein Adeli will later say that “Those [inside the Iranian government] who were in favor of a rapprochement with the United States were marginalized. The speech somehow exonerated those who had always doubted America’s intentions.” [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] In August 2003, reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will write that “the Axis of Evil [is not] an ‘axis’ at all, since two of the states, Iran and Iraq, hate… each other, and neither [have] anything at all to do with the third, North Korea.” [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Mohammad Hossein Adeli, Jeffrey St. Clair, Michael Gerson

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations

When asked why he included Iran in the “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002), President Bush answers: “It is very important for the American president at this point in history to speak very clearly about the evils the world faces.… I believe the United States is the beacon for freedom in the world. And I believe we have a responsibility to promote freedom that is as solemn as the responsibility is to protecting the American people, because the two go hand in hand.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 247]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Uzi Arad.Uzi Arad. [Source: Jerusalem Post]Israeli officials tell Bush officials shortly after the president’s “axis of evil” speech (see January 29, 2002) that of the three countries on the list—Iran, Iraq, and North Korea—Iraq is a distant third as far as posing any threat to its neighbors. But Bush officials have a plan. According to former Mossad director of intelligence Uzi Arad, who served as Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy advisor, those officials respond, “Let’s do first things first. Once we do Iraq, we’ll have a military presence in Iraq, which would enable us to handle the Iranians from closer quarters, would give us more leverage.” (Netanyahu, in the years following his term as Israel’s prime minister, will become an outspoken advocate for military strikes against Iran—see November 17, 2006). [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Benjamin Netanyahu, Bush administration (43), Israel Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks (Mossad), Uzi Arad

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Flynt Leverett.Flynt Leverett. [Source: Publicity photo]In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Iran is supportive of US efforts to defeat the Taliban, since the Taliban and Iran have opposed each other. In 2006, Flynt Leverett, the senior director for Middle East affairs on the National Security Council in 2002 and 2003, will recall this cooperation between Iran and the US in a heavily censored New York Times editorial. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a notorious Afghan warlord with close ties to bin Laden (see 1984), had been living in Iran since the Taliban came to power in the 1990s. Leverett claims that in December 2001 Iran agrees to prevent Hekmatyar from returning to Afghanistan to help lead resistance to US-allied forces there, as long as the Bush administration does not criticize Iran for harboring terrorists. “But, in his January 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush did just that in labeling Iran part of the ‘axis of evil’ (see January 29, 2002). Unsurprisingly, Mr. Hekmatyar managed to leave Iran in short order after the speech.” [New York Times, 12/22/2006] Hekmatyar apparently returns to Afghanistan around February 2002. He will go on to become one of the main leaders of the armed resistance to the US-supported Afghan government. Iranian cooperation with the US over Afghanistan will continue in a more limited manner, with Iran deporting hundreds of suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives who had fled Afghanistan, while apparently keeping others. But the US will end this cooperation in 2003. [BBC, 2/14/2002; USA Today, 5/21/2003; New York Times, 12/22/2006]

Entity Tags: Iran, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Bush administration (43), Flynt Leverett

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Secretary of State Colin Powell gives testimony before a Senate committee, following President Bush’s State of the Union address labeling Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as the “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002). Powell promises that there is no plan start a war with Iran or North Korea, but “with respect to Iraq it has long been, for several years now, a policy of the United States government that regime change would be in the best interests of the region, the best interests of the Iraqi people. And we are looking into a variety of options that would bring that about.” Afterwards, unnamed senior administration officials tell the New York Times, “There [is] a consensus within the [Bush] administration that [Saddam Hussein] must be overthrown and that plans to do so are being drawn up. But there is no agreement as to how precisely that should be done or how long the United States should be prepared to wait for action.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Saad bin Laden.Saad bin Laden. [Source: NBC]In the spring on 2002, as the Taliban is collapsing in Afghanistan, many al-Qaeda operatives flee into neighboring Iran. About 20 to 25 operatives composing much of al-Qaeda’s management council are said to wind up in the custody of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Prior to this point, the Iranian government has been turning over most al-Qaeda captives to other countries, but after President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech criticizing Iran (see January 29, 2002), Iran decides to keep this group. [Washington Post, 7/9/2004] Iran does not officially admit to holding them, and their status is unclear, but they all seem to be living in a village near the Caspian Sea. One senior US intelligence official says, “They are under virtual house arrest,” and not able to do much. Those said to be in Iranian custody include:
bullet Saif al-Adel, one of al-Qaeda’s top military commanders.
bullet Suliman abu Ghaith, al-Qaeda spokesman.
bullet Saad and Hamza bin Laden, two of Osama bin Laden’s young sons.
bullet Abu Dahak, who served as al-Qaeda’s liaison to the rebels in Chechnya.
bullet Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, a financial expert.
bullet Two unnamed top aides to Ayman al-Zawahiri. [MSNBC, 6/24/205]
bullet Thirwat Salah Shehata, a member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council, who is probably one of the al-Zawahiri aides mentioned above. [MSNBC, 5/2005]
bullet Mustafa Hamza, head of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, an Egyptian militant group, and an al-Qaeda leader as well (see June 26, 1995). In late 2004, he will be extradited from Iran to stand trial in Egypt. [Reuters, 1/9/2005]
At first, these operatives appear to be capable of communicating with operatives outside of Iran. Saad bin Laden is said to play a major role planning the attack of a synagogue in Tunisia in April 2002 (see April 11, 2002). But the Saudi government will suspect that some of the operatives in Iran are involved in a 2003 attack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (see May 12, 2003), and they will successfully press Iran to tighten the house arrest of the operatives in Iran. Iran will propose an exchange of these prisoners around the time of the Riyadh bombing, but the US will reject the offer (see Mid-May 2003). Since that time, these leaders apparently remain in a state of limbo. CIA Director Porter Goss will say in 2005, “I think [the] understanding that there is a group of leadership of al-Qaeda under some type of detention—I don’t know exactly what type, necessarily—in Iran is probably accurate.” [MSNBC, 6/24/205] Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will later ask, “The question is, what does house arrest mean in the Iranian context?” He suggests that Iran could release the group or loosen their restrictions depending on how relations evolve between the US and Iran. “They’re a guarantee against bad behavior.” [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] In 2006, it will be reported that Saad bin Laden has been freed. [Reuters, 8/2/2006] Also in 2006, al-Yazid will emerge as a leader of al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan and may never have been in Iran. [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] In 2007, the still teenaged Hamza bin Laden will reportedly appear in Afghanistan. [Associated Press, 9/11/2007] In 2008, it will be reported that the US still knows little about the al-Qaeda figures detained in Iran, but US officials say they believe Iran has largely kept them under control since 2003, limiting their ability to travel and communicate. One US official will say, “It’s been a status quo that leaves these people, some of whom are quite important, essentially on ice.” [ABC News, 5/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Thirwat Salah Shehata, Saad bin Laden, Saif al-Adel, Mustafa Hamza, Porter J. Goss, Hamza bin Laden, Michael Scheuer, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Suliman abu Ghaith, Abu Dahak

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline

North Korea announces that it is withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (see December 12, 1985). Since its attempts to reopen diplomatic talks with the US were rejected (see October 27, 2002 and November 2002), it has announced its restarting of its nuclear energy program (see December 12, 2002) and expelled international inspectors (see December 31, 2002). Around this same time, it begins removing some 8,000 spent fuel rods from storage, a direct indication that it intends to restart its nuclear weapons program. This is a burgeoning crisis for the world, as North Korea is, in many experts’ view, the definition of a “rogue nation,” but the Bush administration refuses to recognize it as a crisis. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “President Bush, focused on Iraq, refused to label it as such.” North Korea has enough nuclear material to make six to eight nuclear weapons; some experts believe it already has one or two. With the inspectors gone, the world has no way to know what North Korea is doing with its spent fuel rods, or where they are being stored—removing the possibility that the US could destroy them with a targeted air strike. Bush’s response to the North Korean crisis is contradictory. While labeling it a member of the “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002), and sometimes acting belligerently towards that nation (see March 2003-May 2003), he also insists that the US will not use military force to restrain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Diplomacy is the answer to the crisis, Bush says, but his administration refuses to talk to the North Koreans (see November 2002) until later in the month (see Mid-January 2003). [BBC, 12/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 239-240, 242]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), J. Peter Scoblic, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

A Wall Street Journal op-ed claims that President Bush never claimed the Iraqis posed an “imminent threat” with their putative WMD programs, and that former ambassador Joseph Wilson is unfairly “moving the goalposts” by saying that the threat posed by Iraq’s WMD never passed what they call the “imminent threat test.” As far back as September 2001, after the attacks on New York and Washington, the Bush administration began claiming that Iraq posed a serious threat to the US (see September 11, 2001-March 17, 2003, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 14, 2001, August 2002, and September 6, 2002). Bush had apparently characterized Iraq as an “imminent threat” even before becoming president (see May 17, 2000). Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has used the term “imminent threat” (see September 18, 2002), as have other members of the administration, such as press secretary Ari Fleischer, communications chief Dan Bartlett, and Defense Policy Board chief Richard Perle. Vice President Dick Cheney had publicly threatened Iraq with military action as far back as December 2001 (see December 11, 2001). Bush had included Iraq as one of the now-infamous “Axis of Evil” in early 2002 (see January 29, 2002). And Bush, Cheney, and top White House officials had characterized Iraq and Saddam Hussein as a threat since March 2002 (see March 24, 2002, August 15, 2002, August 20, 2002, August 26, 2002, Fall and Winter 2002, September 7, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 13, 2002, September 18, 2002, September 19, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 26, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 3, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, January 10, 2003, and March 6, 2003). Wilson will later observe, “While the Journal may have been technically correct that the president had not uttered those exact words, he [and his top officials] walked right up to the phrase.” He will note that Bush’s “staff and administration allies, of course, had been less concerned about splitting hairs as they promoted the invasion.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 367-368]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Ari Fleischer, Dan Bartlett, Richard Perle, Wall Street Journal, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Former director of Israeli intelligence Uzi Arad says that many Israelis were keenly disappointed in the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq and not Iran. Arad says: “If you look at President Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ (see January 29, 2002), all of us said North Korea and Iran are more urgent. Iraq was already semi-controlled because there were [UN-imposed economic] sanctions. It was outlawed. Sometimes the answer [from the Bush neoconservatives] was ‘Let’s do first things first. Once we do Iraq, we’ll have a military presence in Iraq, which would enable us to handle the Iranians from closer quarters, would give us more leverage.’” Arad’s words are almost verbatim echoes from three years before (see Late January 2002). [Unger, 2007, pp. 307-308]

Entity Tags: Uzi Arad, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Author and media critic Frank Rich publishes a book entitled The Greatest Story Ever Sold about the Bush administration’s PR efforts. One of his conclusions is that, despite the administration’s foreign policy efforts, “all three components of the ‘axis of evil’ [Iraq, Iran, and North Korea] (see January 29, 2002) are more dangerous than they were when that phrase was coined in 2002.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 210]

Entity Tags: Frank Rich

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Two former CIA officials directly involved in producing intelligence estimates on Iran’s nuclear program (see August 2, 2005) say that the Bush administration’s policy of threatening to use military force against Iran is a driving force behind that nation’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran is fearful of such an attack, the two officials say, and therefore wants nuclear weapons as a way to divert such a threat. Paul Pillar, who managed the writing of all NIEs on Iran from 2000 through 2005 as the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, says, “Iranian perceptions of threat, especially from the United States and Israel, were not the only factor, but were in our judgment part of what drove whatever effort they were making to build nuclear weapons.” Had the US tried to reassure Iran on its security fears, Pillar says, that would have had a significant effect on Iranian policies. Iran has made several diplomatic overtures to the US since 2003 (see May 4, 2003), Pillar says, that have not been reciprocated by the Bush administration. While Iran wishes to be the “dominant regional superpower” in the Middle East, the NIEs state, it is not pursuing that aspiration by means that would jeopardize the possibility of thawed relations with the US. According to Ellen Laipson, who managed several NIEs on Iran as national intelligence officer for the Near East from 1990 through 1993, and closely followed others as vice-chair of the National Intelligence Council from 1997 to 2002, says the Iranian fear of a US attack has long been “a standard element” in NIEs on Iran. Laipson is “virtually certain the estimates linked Iran’s threat perceptions to its nuclear program.” The 1991 Gulf War heightened fears of US attacks on Iran, Laipson says, and the recent belligerence of the Bush administration have again agitated Iran’s rulers. Iran’s 2002 listing as one of seven countries that might be targeted by US nuclear weapons, and President Bush’s 2002 naming of Iran as a member of the so-called “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002), further heightened Iranian fears of a US strike. In return, Iran has tried to counterbalance that threat with the threat of its own nuclear weapons as well as attempts to shore up relations with the US. Non-proliferation expert Joseph Cirincione says that US attempts to ease Iran’s fears would go a long way to convincing Iran to give up its nuclear program. “No nation has ever been coerced into giving up a nuclear program,” Cirincione says, “but many have been convinced to do so by the disappearance of the threat.” He cites the examples of three former Soviet republics, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, and Libya as nations who gave up their nuclear ambitions after fundamental international or internal changes eliminated the security threats that were driving their nuclear weapons programs. [Inter Press Service, 2/10/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Ellen Laipson, Paul R. Pillar, Joseph Cirincione, National Intelligence Council

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

A deputy to Richard Holbrooke meets with a representative of Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to discuss the role his group, Hizb-i-Islami (HIA) could play in ending the Afghan conflict, according to Afghan media. The HIA is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and Hekmatyar has a reported $25 million price on his head. The meeting is held with Hekmatyar emissary Daud Abedi. The US-Hekmatyar meeting is the most recent in a series of meetings and negotiations reportedly involving Hekmatyar representatives and the Afghan government, Taliban representatives, and the Saudis, inter alia (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008 and February 2009). [Daily Telegraph, 4/8/2009]
Withdrawal of Foreign Troops a Top Priority - In an interview with Asia Times reporter and analyst Syed Saleem Shahzad, Mr Abedi will recount the meeting, which he describes as positive, adding that he participated on his own initiative, was given Hekmatyar’s approval, and did not involve Pakistani officials. Abedi will not name the US official(s) he met because the talks are, he explains, ongoing. He says a ceasefire is possible in Afghanistan once talks are concluded and an exact schedule for the earliest possible departure of foreign troops is known: a top priority for the HIA. “I know what the HIA wants and what the Taliban wants in order to see if we could make a situation possible in which foreign troops leave Afghanistan as soon as possible,” he will say. Abedi denies that there is any chance the HIA will join the Afghan government in the near future. Insurgents loyal to Hekmatyar hold complete command over Kapissa province’s Tagab valley, only 30 kilometers north of Kabul. Syed Saleem Shahzad will suggest that the HIA, whose political wing has offices all over Afghanistan and keeps 40 seats in the Afghan parliament, is fully geared to replace President Hamid Karzai in the upcoming presidential elections. [Asia Times, 4/10/2009]
Deep Ties to Major Players in Region - Hekmatyar, among the most ruthless and extreme of the Afghan Islamic warlords, has had deep ties to Osama bin Laden, the CIA, the ISI, and the drug trade (see 1984), 1983, and (see March 13, 1994).

Entity Tags: Richard Holbrooke, Daoud Abedi, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Hezb-i-Islami

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

On the eve of the Afghan elections, Hezb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar speaks out on the war in Afghanistan in statements to various media outlets. In a statement given to CNN, Hekmatyar says that he is willing to “help” the US and NATO forces if they announce a pullout timeline and prepare to leave Afghanistan. “We are ready to help with the United States and… other coalition forces if foreign troops announce the time frame for the pulling out their troops from Afghanistan,” he says in the statement. “I am sure Afghans will fight US forces and will continue Jihad against them like they fought against Russia before if they don’t leave the country,” he adds. Hekmatyar does not define what he means by “help,” nor is it clear if he would agree to join coalition forces against the Taliban and other insurgents. [CNN, 8/17/2009] In an interview with Sky News on the same day, Hekmatyar elaborates. He emphasizes that he is open to negotiation and a political process, but says his forces would stop fighting only if negotiations for an end to the occupation are made in good faith: “We are not against [a] political solution.… We are ready to negotiate with friends and enemies, with Afghans and non-Afghans. We will not close the door to negotiations.” However, he reaffirms his demand for an end to foreign occupation and also rules out participation in any Afghan government formed under US and NATO occupation. “We never want to take part in a puppet government under foreign dictators and to end occupation and establishing an Islamic government in a free Afghanistan via a free election,” he says. Hekmatyar also says he is open to negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, but points out that there are some Taliban who refuse to cooperate with the Hezb-i-Islami to form a united Islamic front. The United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia, and the Afghan government have been engaged in negotiations with Hekmatyar representatives over the last year (see February 2009 and Early April 2009) to discuss possible arrangements in which Hekmatyar, who is wanted by the US government for terrorism, is granted immunity and a role in a future Afghan government. In the Sky News interview, Hekmatyar denies negotiations with Britain, but acknowledges having had contact with the Afghan government, which he describes as a “dirty swamp” of corruption under foreign control of which he wants no part. He indicates that Kabul is powerless and unwilling to implement the advice (and conditions) he sent it for “ending the war.” [Sky News, 8/17/2009] Hekmatyar is considered to be among the most ruthless and extreme of the Afghan warlords and has had deep ties to Osama bin Laden, the CIA, the ISI, and the drug trade (see 1984, 1983, and March 13, 1994).

Entity Tags: Hezb-i-Islami, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Hamid Karzai, Taliban, North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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