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Context of 'May-Early June 2002: US Filmmaker Sees Hundreds of Taliban and Al-Qaeda Living Openly in Pakistan'

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During the investigation of the August 7, 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), FBI counterterrorism expert John O’Neill finds a memo by al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef on a computer. The memo shows that bin Laden’s group has a keen interest in and detailed knowledge of negotiations between the Taliban and the US over an oil and gas pipeline through Afghanistan. Atef’s analysis suggests that the Taliban are not sincere in wanting a pipeline, but are dragging out negotiations to keep Western powers at bay. [Salon, 6/5/2002]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Atef, United States, Taliban, John O’Neill, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Robert Grenier, head of the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, later says that the issue of fugitive Taliban leaders living in Pakistan was repeatedly raised with senior Pakistani intelligence officials in 2002. “The results were just not there. And it was quite clear to me that it wasn’t just bad luck.” [New York Times, 8/12/2007] For instance, in December 2001 the Guardian reported that many Taliban leaders are living openly in large villas in Pakistan (see December 24, 2001). But Grenier decides that Pakistan will not act on the Taliban and urges them to focus on arresting al-Qaeda operatives instead. “From our perspective at the time, the Taliban was a spent force. We were very much focused on al-Qaeda and didn’t want to distract the Pakistanis from that.” Zalmay Khalilzad, US ambassador to Afghanistan, US military officials, and some Bush administration officials periodically argue that the Taliban are crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan and killing US soldiers and aid workers (see August 18, 2005 and June 18, 2005). But it is not until some time in 2006 that President Bush strenuously presses Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf about acting on the Taliban leaders living in Pakistan. Even then, Bush reportedly tells his aides that he worries the ties between the Pakistani ISI and the Taliban continue and no serious action will be taken despite Musharraf’s assurances. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]

Entity Tags: Zalmay M. Khalilzad, George W. Bush, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pervez Musharraf, Robert Grenier, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

A US filmmaker is able to penetrate al-Qaeda and Taliban strongholds in Pakistan. John Christopher Turner is a US citizen from Missouri, but he lived in Pashtun tribal areas and fought with the mujaheddin against the Soviets in neighboring Afghanistan in the 1980s, speaks fluent Pashto, converted to Islam, and has a long beard. As a result, traveling under the protection of a clan chief, he is able to penetrate the province of Baluchistan in the far west of Pakistan. Turner will later tell the Washington Post that Baluchistan “is where the Taliban and al-Qaeda are comfortably living right now. There’s nobody trying to run them off. In fact, they’re honored guests.… I probably went to ten hornets’ nests, and there were always two or three al-Qaeda in supervisory positions—overseeing, I’d say; the last thing you can do is boss a Pashtun. But obviously they were conduits for money.” He claims to have seen hundreds of Taliban living openly in Baluchistan, with a smaller number of al-Qaeda who are using posing as charity workers. He also runs into al-Qaeda operatives elsewhere. “There are madrassas [Islamic schools] right outside Karachi that are full of al-Qaeda. You go to any madrassa and the al-Qaeda are out there.” He claims to have long philosophical discussions with al-Qaeda figures, and shoots extensive video footage of the militants he meets. US officials say they find Turner’s account credible. ISI agents followed Turner to the vicinity of al-Qaeda safe houses in north Karachi. Turner is extensively interrogated by the FBI after returning from Baluchistan, and they also watch the video footage from his trip. He is put on a plane back to the US. The documentary Turner is planning about his Pakistan trip apparently is never made, as there are no subsequent references to it. [Washington Post, 8/4/2002]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, John Christopher Turner

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The US indicts leading radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, shortly after his arrest in Britian (see May 27, 2004). Abu Hamza is indicted on eleven counts, covering his part in a kidnapping scheme in Yemen (see December 28-29, 1998), the recruitment of a radical named Feroz Abbasi to attend a training camp in Afghanistan (see December 2000-December 2001), and a conspiracy to open a jihad training camp in Oregon (see November 1999-Early 2000).
Alleged Contact with High-Ranking al-Qaeda Terrorists - At the extradition hearing, the lawyer acting for the US describes Abu Hamza as having “engaged in a systematic pattern of terrorist activity since at least 1998….” The lawyer also points out: “He is no less than a supporter and facilitator of terrorism. He has been in contact with and provided support for terrorist groups and people associated with terrorist groups… He has had contact with high-ranking terrorists in the Taliban and al-Qaeda.” Abu Hamza declines to go to the US voluntarily and decides to fight the extradition request.
Indictment Is Media Event - The arrest and indictment is major news in the US and television programming is interrupted for a live press conference by Attorney General John Ashcroft. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later comment: “The Americans were jubilant, so much so that they insisted that daytime soap operas were interrupted to carry live television coverage of a press conference hosted by John Ashcroft, then Attorney General in the Bush administration. Ashcroft was joined on the platform by a crowd of smiling deputies, federal prosecutors, FBI officials and police chiefs. Just in case the public did not grasp the message, there was a huge portrait of Abu Hamza alongside them, caught in mid-rant, his one eye glaring, the steel hook raised.” Assistant Attorney General Christopher Wray calls Abu Hamza “a terrorist facilitator with a global reach,” and New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly says, “Think of him as a freelance consultant to terrorist groups worldwide.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 282-5]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Daniel McGrory, Raymond Kelly, Sean O’Neill, Christopher Wray

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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