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Context of 'February 5, 2002: Saeed Sheikh Secretly Turns Himself In to His ISI Bosses'

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The ransom for a wealthy Indian shoe manufacturer kidnapped in Calcutta, India, two weeks earlier is paid to an Indian gangster named Aftab Ansari. Ansari is based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and has ties to the Pakistani ISI and Saeed Sheikh. Ansari gives some of the about $830,000 in ransom money to Saeed, who sends about $100,000 of it to future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta. (Watson 1/23/2002; Popham 1/24/2002) The Times of India will later report that Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed, the director of the ISI, instructed Saeed to transfer the $100,000 into Atta’s bank account. This is according to “senior government sources,” who will claim that the FBI has privately confirmed the story. (Joshi 10/9/2001) According to some accounts, the money is moved through a charity, the Al Rashid Trust. Some of the money is also channelled to the Taliban, as well as Pakistani and Kashmiri militant groups. (NewsInsight 1/4/2002; Press Trust of India 4/3/2002) The money is apparently paid into two of Atta’s accounts in Florida (see Summer 2001 and before). The Al Rashid Trust will be one of the first al-Qaeda funding vehicles to have its assets frozen after 9/11 (see September 24, 2001). A series of recovered e-mails will show the money is sent just after August 11. This appears to be one of a series of Indian kidnappings this gang carries out in 2001. (Mitra, Chakravarty, and Ghosh 2/14/2002; Srivastava 2/14/2002) Saeed provides training and weapons to the kidnappers in return for a percentage of the profits. (Swami 2/2/2002; India Today 2/25/2002) This account will frequently be mentioned in the Indian press, but will appear in the US media as well. For instance, veteran Associated Press reporter Kathy Gannon will write, “Western intelligence sources believe Saeed sent $100,000 to Mohamed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the Sept. 11 terrorist hijackings,” although they apparently think the hawala system was used for this. (Gannon 2/9/2002) Some evidence suggests Saeed may also have sent Atta a similar amount in 2000 (see (July-August 2000) and Summer 2000).


Daniel Pearl.
Daniel Pearl. [Source: Publicity photo]Wall Street Journal report Daniel Pearl is kidnapped while investigating the ISI’s connection to Islamic militant groups. (O'Carroll 1/25/2002; BBC 7/5/2002) Saeed Sheikh is later convicted as the mastermind of the kidnap, and though it appears he lured Pearl into being kidnapped beginning January 11, the actual kidnapping is perpetrated by others who remain at large. (Anson 8/2002; Levine 1/23/2003) The Guardian later suggests that Pearl must have been under ISI surveillance at the time of his kidnapping. “Any western journalist visiting Pakistan is routinely watched and followed. The notion that Daniel Pearl, setting up contacts with extremist groups, was not being carefully monitored by the Secret Services is unbelievable—and nobody in Pakistan believes it.” (Ali 4/5/2002) Both al-Qaeda and the ISI appear to be behind the kidnapping. The overall mastermind behind the kidnapping seems to be Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, also mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. (McGirk 1/26/2003; Ressa 1/30/2003)

Sheikh Sheikh photographed while in secret custody in February 2002.Sheikh Sheikh photographed while in secret custody in February 2002. [Source: CNN]Pakistani police, with the help of the FBI, determine Saeed Sheikh is behind the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl, but are unable to find him. They round up about ten of his relatives and threaten to harm them unless he turns himself in. Saeed Sheikh does turn himself in, but to Ijaz Shah, his former ISI boss. (Donnelly 2/7/2002; Anson 8/2002) The ISI holds Saeed for a week, but fails to tell Pakistani police or anyone else that they have him. This “missing week” is the cause of much speculation. The ISI never tells Pakistani police any details about this week. (Moreau et al. 3/11/2002) Saeed also later refuses to discuss the week or his connection to the ISI, only saying, “I will not discuss this subject. I do not want my family to be killed.” He adds, “I know people in the government and they know me and my work.” (Klaidman 3/13/2002; Anson 8/2002) It is suggested Saeed is held for this week to make sure that Pearl would be killed. Saeed later says that during this week he got a coded message from the kidnappers that Pearl had been murdered. Also, the time might have been spent working out a deal with the ISI over what Saeed would tell police and the public. (Moreau et al. 3/11/2002) Several others with both extensive ISI and al-Qaeda ties wanted for the kidnapping are arrested around this time. (Anderson and Baker 2/23/2002; Hussain and Whitworth 2/25/2002) One of these men, Khalid Khawaja, “has never hidden his links with Osama bin Laden. At one time he used to fly Osama’s personal plane.” (Pakistan News Service (Newark, CA) 2/11/2002)

Saeed Sheikh, already in ISI custody for a week, is handed over to Pakistani police. Shortly afterwards, he publicly confesses to his involvement in reporter Daniel Pearl’s murder. Later he will recant this confession. It appears that initially he thought he would get a light sentence. Newsweek describes him initially “confident, even cocky,” saying he would only serve three to four years if convicted, and would never be extradited. (Moreau et al. 3/11/2002) He is sentenced in July 2002 to hang instead. Pakistani militants respond to his arrest with three suicide attacks that kill more than 30 people. (McCarthy 7/16/2002)

Six alleged members of the fertilizer bomb plot: Salahuddin Amin, Anthony Garcia, Waheed Mahmood,  Momin Khawaja, Jawad Akbar, and Omar Khyam.Six alleged members of the fertilizer bomb plot: Salahuddin Amin, Anthony Garcia, Waheed Mahmood, Momin Khawaja, Jawad Akbar, and Omar Khyam. [Source: Metropolitan Police/ CP Jonathan Hayward]In early 2003, the British intelligence agency MI5 is tracking a suspected al-Qaeda leader living in Britain known as Mohammed Quayyum Khan (a.k.a. “Q”) (see March 2003 and After), and they see him repeatedly meeting with a Pakistani-Briton named Omar Khyam. Quayyum is believed to be an aide to al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi. (BBC 5/1/2007) By around March or April 2003, investigators begin monitoring Khyam, and soon discover he is a ringleader in a fertilizer bomb plot on unknown targets in Britain. (Taylor 4/30/2007)
Surveillance Intensifies - By the beginning of February 2004, surveillance intensifies. Thousands of hours of audio are recorded on dozens of suspects. The investigation soon focuses on a smaller group of Khyam’s close associates who are originally from Pakistan and had attended training camps in mountainous regions of Pakistan in recent years. Most of these men have links to Al-Muhajiroun, a banned Islamist group formed by radical London imam Omar Bakri Mohammed. The plotters are monitored discussing various targets, including nightclubs, pubs, and a network of underground high-pressure gas pipelines. In February 2004, MI5 intercepts a phone conversation between Khyam talking to his associate Salahuddin Amin, in Pakistan, about the quantities of different ingredients needed to construct a fertilizer bomb. An al-Qaeda operative in Pakistan had encouraged Amin to bomb targets in Britain.
Fertilizer Found and Replaced - Later in February, employees at a self storage depot in London call police after discovering a large amount of ammonium nitrate fertilizer being stored and suspecting it might be used for a bomb. Investigators discover the fertilizer belongs to Khyam and his group, and has been stored there since November 2003. The fertilizer is covertly replaced with an inert substance so a bomb cannot be successfully made from it.
Arrests Made - Investigators discover that Khyam is planning to fly to Pakistan on April 6, and the decision is made to arrest the suspects before he leaves the country. On March 29, a bomb plotter named Momin Khawaja is arrested where he is living in Canada. Weapons and a half-built detonator are found in his house. The next day, Khyam and seventeen others are arrested in England (see March 29, 2004 and After). Aluminum powder, a key bomb ingredient, is found in a shed owned by Khyam. Amin, still living in Pakistan, turns himself in to authorities there a few days later. Another key member of the group, Mohammed Junaid Babar, is not arrested and flies to the US on April 6. But he is arrested there four days later and quickly agrees to reveal all he knows and testify against the others (see April 10, 2004).
Five Convicted in Trial - The suspects will be put on trial in 2006 and Babar will be the star prosecution witness. Five people, including Khyam, will be sentenced to life in prison in 2007. Trials against Khawaja in Canada and Amin in Pakistan have yet to be decided. Curiously, Quayyum, who has been alleged to the mastermind of the plot and the key al-Qaeda link, is never arrested or even questioned, and continues to live openly in Britain (see March 2003 and After). (Cobain and Norton-Taylor 5/1/2007)

Omar Khyam somewhere in the mountains of Pakistan, date unknown.Omar Khyam somewhere in the mountains of Pakistan, date unknown. [Source: Public domain]A man on trial in Britain for participation in a fertilizer bomb plot halts his testimony, claiming that Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency has threatened his family in Pakistan if he continues to talk. Omar Khyam, a Pakistani-Briton, is accused of leading an al-Qaeda linked plot to blow up an unknown target in Britain (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). Six others are on trial. In testimony on previous days, Khyam confessed to attending a militant training camp in 2000 in the mountains above Rawalpindi, Pakistan. He says that the camp was run by the ISI, and he trained with AK-47 rifles, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades. But on the third day of testimony, when asked if he had bought the fertilizer to make a bomb in Britain, he responds: “Before we go on to that topic, I just want to say the ISI in Pakistan has had words with my family relating to what I have been saying about them. I think they are worried I might reveal more about them, so right now, as much as I want to clarify matters, the priority for me has to be the safety of my family so I am going to stop.” He adds, “I am not going to discuss anything related to the ISI any more or my evidence.” (Vasagar 9/19/2006; Smith 4/30/2007) The ISI has a reputation of arresting family members and threatening them to accomplish their goals. For instance, when Saeed Sheikh was wanted for the murder of reporter Daniel Pearl, the ISI reportedly rounded up 10 members of his family and threatened to harm them, forcing him to turn himself in to the ISI. He later refused to discuss his connection to the ISI, only saying: “I will not discuss this subject. I do not want my family to be killed” (see February 5, 2002). (Anson 8/2002) Khyam will be found guilty and sentenced to life in prison (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004).

On October 4, 2007, after secret talks with former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in London and Dubai, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf issues an amnesty from prosecution for Bhutto and other exiled politicians. Bhutto and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have been living in exile as both had been facing corruption charges in Pakistan. Both are now free to return. As part of a deal, Bhutto agreed that the members of the main opposition political party she leads, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) will abstain from voting when Musharraf runs for a second term as president two days later (in Pakistan, the president is chosen in a parliamentary vote). This ensures Musharraf’s victory (see October 6, 2007). Bhutto will return to Pakistan on October 18. (Rashid 2008, pp. 386-387)

Benazir Bhutto’s motorcade bombed in Karachi.Benazir Bhutto’s motorcade bombed in Karachi. [Source: BBC]Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto returns to Pakistan after eight years in exile. Earlier in the month she had made a deal with President Pervez Musharraf that gave her amnesty in return for not opposing Musharraf’s reelection vote (see October 4, 2007). Bhutto, Pakistan’s most popular opposition politician, is greeted by large, enthusiastic crowds as she arrives in the city of Karachi. But as her motorcade is moving through the crowd at night, a suicide bomber approaches on foot and throws a grenade to attract attention. Then the bomber sets off a larger blast that kills at least 139 and injures around 400. Bhutto is not hurt, as she had just moved inside her vehicle from the roof moments before. CNN reporter Dan Rivers, filming the motorcade just before the attack, later comments on the lack of security. He says it was possible to walk right up to the side of her vehicle without being stopped. (CNN 10/19/2007)
Bhutto Assigns Blame - The next day, Bhutto says, “I am not accusing the government [as a whole], but I am accusing certain individuals who abuse their positions, who abuse their powers.… I know exactly who wants to kill me. It is dignitaries of the former regime of General [Muhammad Zia ul-Haq] who are today behind the extremism and the fanaticism.” She has long accused the ISI of opposing her. Aides close to her say that she specifically names Ijaz Shah, a former ISI official linked to Saeed Sheikh (see February 5, 2002) and the director general of the Intelligence Bureau, another Pakistani intelligence agency. She also says that an unnamed “brotherly country” had warned her that several suicide squads were plotting attacks against her, including squads from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. She says this government gave the Pakistani government the phone numbers the plotters were using, but implies investigators did not take advantage of the lead. She further says the street lamps had been turned off along the motorcade route, making it difficult for her security detail to scan the crowd for possible bombers, and demands an investigation into this. (Gall and Masood 10/20/2007)
Others Assign Blame - Her husband Asif Ali Zardari is more direct, saying, “I blame the government for these blasts. It is the work of the intelligence agencies.” The government by contrast complains that the security situation was extremely difficult. She was taking a big risk, moving though crowds of hundreds of thousands in a notoriously violent city of 16 million people. (Loudon 10/20/2007) The US by contrast, quickly blames al-Qaeda. Only one day after the bombing, US State Department officials say they believe there is a “strong al-Qaeda connection” and that it “bears the hallmarks” of an al-Qaeda attack. (CNN 10/20/2007)

A new audio tape is released by a man thought to be Osama bin Laden. The voice on the tape tells the various groups in Iraq fighting the US to unify, but contains no dated references, so it is unclear when it was made. The voice says, “Beware of your enemies, especially those who infiltrate your ranks,” and, “You have done well to perform your duty, but some of you have been late to another duty, which is to unify your ranks and make them into one line.” (CNN 10/22/2007)

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto gives an interview to David Frost of Al Jazeera in which she makes a number of noteworthy statements:
bullet She says that Saeed Sheikh is “the man who murdered Osama bin Laden.” Saeed helped kidnap Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was later murdered (see January 23, 2002), is said to have provided money for the 9/11 hijackings (see Early August 2001), and is thought to have been in prison in Pakistan since 2002 (see February 12, 2002). Although bin Laden is thought to be alive at this time (see October 22, 2007), Frost does not ask a follow-up question about bin Laden’s alleged demise. (Al Jazeera 11/2/2007) When a video of the interview is posted at the BBC’s website, this section is initially edited out, as the editor thinks Bhutto must simply have misspoken. However, the BBC accepts this was an error and later posts a full version of the interview. (Herrmann 4/1/2008) This is the only known occasion that Bhutto makes this claim.
bullet Based on information from a “friendly country,” she names four people and/or organizations that might attack her: al-Qaeda linked warlord Baitullah Mahsud; Hamza bin Laden, son of Osama; the “Pakistan Taliban in Islamabad”; and an unnamed group in Karachi.
bullet While she thinks that such groups may be used for an attack on her, they are not pulling the strings, she says. She suggests three people may be behind an attack by one of the groups. The reason these three are said to want her dead is because she could stop the rise of terrorism in Pakistan. One of the three is former ISI officer Ijaz Shah, a “very key figure in security,” who she thinks has turned a blind eye or even colluded with militants, and who is an associate of Saeed Sheikh (see February 5, 2002). (Al Jazeera 11/2/2007) Shah, a government official, will actually be in charge of protecting Bhutto from assassination when she is assassinated. The names of the other two said to be “pulling the strings” are not certain, but they are a prominent Pakistani figure, one of whose family members was allegedly murdered by a militant group run by Bhutto’s brother, and a well-known chief minister in Pakistan who is a longstanding opponent of Bhutto. (Walters 12/30/2007)


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