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Context of 'May 22, 2011: Militant Camps Have Existed near Bin Laden’s Abbottabad, Pakistan, Hideout since 1990s'

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Waheed Ali.Waheed Ali. [Source: Metropolitan Police]In 2008, a British Muslim named Waheed Ali will testify that he and Mohammad Sidique Khan, the head suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), attended militant training camps and fought with the Taliban. Ali is charged with assisting the 7/7 bombings, and while he denies those charges, he describes his trip with Khan. He says that the two of them flew to Pakistan in July 2001. They were picked up at the Islamabad airport by members of the Pakistani militant group Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and were driven to a training camp at the village of Mansehra, in the mountains of Pakistan near the border of the disputed province of Kashmir. They received special treatment because they were from England, which was unusual. They learned to shoot Kalashnikovs. Then the two of them went to a Taliban camp near Bagram, Afghanistan, about one mile from the front line in the civil war with the Northern Alliance. There, they became very ill with diarrhea and did not do much. However, Khan recovered enough to go the front line a few times. [Guardian, 5/21/2008]

Entity Tags: Waheed Ali, Mohammad Sidique Khan, Taliban, Harkat ul-Mujahedeen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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. [BBC, 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). [Guardian, 5/1/2007]

Entity Tags: Salahuddin Amin, Mohammed Quayyum Khan, Mohammed Junaid Babar, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, Al-Muhajiroun, Al-Qaeda, Omar Khyam, UK Security Service (MI5)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in flames. Apparently, the fires are mainly due to a crashed US helicopter. The picture comes from a neighbor’s cell phone.Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in flames. Apparently, the fires are mainly due to a crashed US helicopter. The picture comes from a neighbor’s cell phone. [Source: Reuters] (click image to enlarge)Osama bin Laden is shot and killed inside a secured private residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, according to US government sources. The operation is carried out by US Navy SEAL Team Six, the “Naval Special Warfare Development Group.” The covert operation takes place at 1:00 a.m. local time (+4:30GMT). Two US helicopters from bases in Afghanistan fly low over the compound in Abbottabad, and 30 to 40 SEALs disembark and storm the compound. According to White House sources, bin Laden and at least four others are killed. The team is on the ground for only 40 minutes; most of that time is spent searching the compound for information about al-Qaeda and its plans. The helicopters are part of the 160th Special Ops Air Regiment, itself a detachment from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The CIA oversees the operation, but the operation is tasked to, and carried out by, Special Forces. When President Obama announces bin Laden’s death, he says: “His demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity. Justice has been done.” Of the soldiers that eliminated bin Laden, and the other military personnel deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere, Obama says: “We are reminded that we are fortunate to have Americans who dedicate their lives to protecting ours. We may not always know their names, we may not always know their stories, but they are there every day on the front lines of freedom and we are truly blessed.” The members of Team Six are never identified, and it is unlikely their names will ever be made public. [CNN News, 5/1/2011; ABC News, 5/2/2011] Bin Laden is said to have ordered the 9/11 attacks, among other al-Qaeda strikes against American and Western targets. In a 1997 CNN interview, he declared “jihad,” or “holy war,” against the US. He had been number one on American military and law enforcement “Most Wanted” lists well before the 9/11 attacks. [CNN News, 5/1/2011]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, US Department of the Navy, Obama administration, Al-Qaeda, Leon Panetta, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), US Naval Special Warfare Development Group, Joint Special Operations Command, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Radio Free Europe reports that RAW, India’s external intelligence agency, had long known Abbottabad, Pakistan, was a major al-Qaeda and Taliban operations center. RAW had put the town on a list of such operations centers prior to the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011). The article claims that “[t]he US was watching carefully as well.” For instance, Abbottabad was used by Islamic militant groups to train new recruits for at least a decade (see July 2001). [Radio Free Europe, 5/6/2011]
History of Militant Links - Several militant camps have existed near Abbottabad since the 1990s (see May 22, 2011). Key al-Qaeda leaders lived in the town around 2004, and US intelligence was aware of this (see 2004 and After April 2004). An important Indonesian militant leader, Umar Patek, was arrested in Abbottabad in January 2011 (see January 25, 2011). One day after bin Laden’s death, neighbors told the Wall Street Journal that there had been a recent influx of suspicious Arabs in the town. [Wall Street Journal, 5/3/2011]
Completely Contradictory Accounts - On May 4, an unnamed senior US official told the Wall Street Journal that Abbottabad was “a place we always looked” because “we always figured that Osama bin Laden would not be in a cave.” [Wall Street Journal, 5/4/2011] Yet, on May 5, an unnamed former US intelligence official involved in trying to find bin Laden told the Washington Post, “Abbottabad is not a place where Islamic extremists went, because it wasn’t a stronghold.” The official added that when analysts considered likely locations for him, “Abbottabad wouldn’t be on that list.” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, US intelligence, Research and Analysis Wing (Indian external intelligence agency), Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Associated Press reports that three active Islamist militant training camps have existed for a long time just 35 miles from Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was killed earlier in the month (see May 2, 2011). The camps are in the Ughi area of the Mansehra district, a more mountainous and remote region than Abbottabad. The Associated Press claims to have spoken to many people, even some of the militants in the camps, and has learned the three camps together house hundreds of militants.
Camps Operate with Government Knowledge - The Pakistani military claims to be unaware of any such camps, but villagers near the camp say this is impossible. They point out there even is a military checkpoint on the road to one of the camps. There have been militant camps in the area since the 1990s. One camp attendee says that attendees can take part in a four-week course of basic military skills, or a three-month course on guerrilla warfare. Promising graduates are then sent to the Pakistani part of Kashmir for more training. The camps are very close to Kashmir, a region disputed between Pakistan and India, and most of the camp attendees presumably aim to fight India in Kashmir with Pakistani government approval. But there are inevitably some trained in the camps who get involved with other militant activities and groups instead. [Associated Press, 5/22/2011]
Militant Groups and Bombers Linked to Camps - Radio Free Europe has also claimed that militant groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed have long been active in the Abbottabad area, “seemingly tolerated by the Pakistani military and intelligence services,” and the Taliban have a strong presence in the area as well. [Radio Free Europe, 5/6/2011] Some of the suicide bombers in the London 7/7 bombings trained in the Mansehra area (see July 2001), and five British Pakistanis found guilty of a 2004 fertilizer bomb plot (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004) trained there too. [London Times, 5/8/2011]
Operational Link between Bin Laden and Nearby Camps? - The militant group Harkat ul-Mujahedeen has training camps in the Mansehra area as well, and Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, bin Laden’s trusted courier who lived with him in Abbottabad, had numerous Harkat phone numbers in his cell phone that was confiscated in the US raid that killed bin Laden (see June 23, 2011). He also visited a Jaish-e-Mohammed camp in the Mansehra area at some point. [New York Times, 6/23/2011]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Pakistan, Taliban, Lashkar-e-Toiba

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

A cell phone could link Osama bin Laden to an Islamist militant group with ties to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the New York Times reports. The US military raid that killed bin Laden in his Abbottabad hideout on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011) also killed a courier who had links to Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen, an Islamist militant group in Pakistan with links to the ISI. This suggests that the ISI may have been indirectly linked to bin Laden in his hideout.
Links to Harkat Could Lead to ISI - The cell phone of bin Laden’s trusted courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (also known as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti) was recovered by US forces during the raid. The New York Times reports that senior US officials say the cell phone contains contacts to Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen. This group has long been considered an asset of the ISI. Tracing the phone calls, US intelligence analysts determined Harkat leaders in communication with Ahmed had called ISI officials. One Harkat leader met an ISI official in person. No “smoking gun” showing the ISI protected bin Laden has been found so far. However, the Times says that this raises “tantalizing questions about whether the group and others like it helped shelter and support bin Laden on behalf of Pakistan’s spy agency, given that it had mentored Harkat and allowed it to operate in Pakistan for at least 20 years.”
Harkat Has Strong Local Presence - Harkat is said to have a strong presence in the area around Abbottabad. The group has training camps and other facilities in Mansehra, only a few miles away. Bin Laden’s courier Ahmed appears to have stopped by a camp in Mansehra belonging to a Harkat splinter group, Jaish-e-Mohammed. Members of Harkat are able to move freely within Pakistan. Even now, the group’s top leader, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, lives openly in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, about 30 miles away from Abbottabad. Analysts suspect this support network could explain why bin Laden chose to hide where he did. Harkat also has a presence in Pakistan’s tribal region where many al-Qaeda operatives are believed to live, so bin Laden could have used it to send money and messages back and forth to the tribal region.
Harkat 'Very, Very Close to the ISI' - Former CIA officer Bruce Riedel says that Harkat “is one of the oldest and closest allies of al-Qaeda, and they are very, very close to the ISI. The question of ISI and Pakistani Army complicity in bin Laden’s hide-out now hangs like a dark cloud over the entire relationship” between Pakistan and the US. [New York Times, 6/23/2011]

Entity Tags: Jaish-e-Mohammed, Al-Qaeda, Bruce Riedel, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, Osama bin Laden, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, Harkat ul-Mujahedeen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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