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Context of 'June 23, 2011: Cell Phone Data Suggests Militant Group with ISI Ties Might Have Helped with Bin Laden’s Abbottabad Hideout'

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A secret CIA report indicates the Pakistani ISI is giving “at least $30,000 - and possibly as much as $60,000 - per month” to the Harkat ul-Ansar, a Pakistani radical militant group that will be renamed Harkat ul-Mujahedeen (HUM) one year later. By this time, US intelligence is aware this group kidnapped and killed Americans and other Westerners in 1995 (see July 4, 1995). The CIA reports that Pakistan says it is reducing some of its monetary support to the group, presumably in an effort to avoid being placed on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism. But apparently this is just posturing, because in 2001 the State Department will report that the ISI is continuing to fund HUM (see April 30, 2001). The CIA also notes that HUM “might undertake terrorist actions against civilian airliners.” Saeed Sheikh, an alleged 9/11 paymaster, is a leader of the group (see April 1993), and in 1999 an airplane hijacking will free him and another HUM leader from prison (see December 24-31, 1999). [Central Intelligence Agency, 8/1996 pdf file] Several months later, another secret US report will note the growing ties between HUM, Osama bin Laden, and the Taliban. But the US will not take any serious action against HUM or Pakistan. [US Embassy (Islamabad), 2/6/1997 pdf file] HUM deputy chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil will be one of the cosigners to bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa declaring it a Muslim duty to kill Americans and Jews (see February 22, 1998). [Scott, 2007, pp. 172]

Entity Tags: Saeed Sheikh, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, Osama bin Laden, Taliban, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil

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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