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Context of 'December 20, 2001: US Bans Pakistani Militant Group, but It Continues Operating Under New Name'

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In the early 1990s, future Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is an up-and-coming military general, who is in charge of military operations. He is a pupil of Hamid Gul, director of the ISI in the late 1980s and a long-time and open supporter of Osama bin Laden. Around 1993, he approaches Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto with a special plan to undermine Indian forces in the province of Kashmir, disputed between India and Pakistan. As Bhutto will later recall, “He told me he wanted to ‘unleash the forces of fundamentalism’ to ramp up the war” against India in Kashmir. Bhutto gives Musharraf the go-ahead, as she had lost power once before by opposing the Pakistani military and ISI, and “Second time around I did not want to rock the boat.” Musharraf approaches several Islamic organizations and commits them to supply volunteers who could be trained to fight as guerrillas in Kashmir. One group he works with is Markaz Dawa Al Irshad (MDI), founded several years before by followers of bin Laden. The MDI already has a military wing known as Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). Musharraf is allowed to use LeT’s fighters for his purposes in Kashmir and elsewhere. Other groups effectively created by Musharraf include Harkat ul-Ansar, later known as Harkat ul-Mujahedeen (see Early 1993). In the following months, the level of violence in Kashmir grows as the militias begin sending their fighters there. Around the same time, Musharraf sees early successes of the Taliban (see Spring-Autumn 1994), and along with Interior Minister Nasrullah Babar, begins secretly supporting them and supplying them. The two policies go hand-in-hand, because the militant groups begin training their fighters in parts of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban. The Pakistani policy of tacitly supporting these militias and the Taliban will continue until Musharraf takes power in a coup in 1999 (see October 12, 1999), and beyond. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 239-243]

Entity Tags: Markaz Dawa Al Irshad, Benazir Bhutto, Hamid Gul, Nasrullah Babar, Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, Taliban, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Pervez Musharraf

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood.Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood. [Source: BBC]Two retired Pakistani nuclear scientists create a charity to help the Taliban. The scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, had both retired the year before after long and distinguished careers, and had both become radical Islamists. They set up a charity, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), purporting to conduct relief work in Afghanistan, including helping to guide the Taliban on scientific matters. A number of pro-Taliban Pakistani generals and business leaders are on the board of directors, including Hamid Gul, a former director of the ISI. But not long after setting up an office in Kabul, the two scientists meet with Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, and discuss weapons development. During a later visit, Mahmood provides one of bin Laden’s associates with information on how to construct a nuclear weapon. [Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 264-265; Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 310-311] The two scientists will have a more extensive meeting with bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in August 2001, and will discuss how al-Qaeda can make a radioactive weapon (see Mid-August 2001). Shortly before 9/11, the CIA will learn of this meeting (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001), and also learn that UTN offered to sell a nuclear weapon to Libya, but the CIA will take no effective action against the group (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001). In late 2001, the Wall Street Journal will report that “One Pakistani military analyst said it was inconceivable that a nuclear scientist would travel to Afghanistan without getting clearance from Pakistani officials and being debriefed each time. Pakistan maintains a strict watch on many of its nuclear scientists, using a special arm of the Army’s general headquarters to monitor them even after retirement.” Furthermore, a former ISI colonel says the ISI “was always aware of UTN’s activities and had encouraged Dr. Mahmoud’s Afghanistan trips. He said the ISI learned last year that Dr. Mahmoud had recently discussed nuclear matters with Mr. bin Laden, and Dr. Mahmoud agreed not to do so again.” [Wall Street Journal, 12/24/2001] The US will finally freeze UTN’s assets in December 2001 (see Early October-December 2001).

Entity Tags: Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, Osama bin Laden, Hamid Gul, Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, Mullah Omar, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

March 1, 2001: Britain Finally Bans Al-Qaeda

Britain officially bans al-Qaeda and 20 other alleged terrorist groups, including the Pakistani militant groups Lashkar-e-Toiba, Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, and Jaish-e-Mohammed. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 414] Britain is behind the US on al-Qaeda, as the US officially declared al-Qaeda a foreign terrorist organization in 1999 (see October 8, 1999). However, the US will not declare Harkat ul-Mujahedeen a terrorist organization until September 25, 2001, Lashkar-e-Toiba until December 20, 2001, and Jaish-e-Mohammed until December 26, 2001 (see December 20, 2001).

Entity Tags: Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Hafiz Mohammed Saeed.Hafiz Mohammed Saeed. [Source: BBC]In April 2001, the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) holds its annual public meeting in Pakistan. Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan attends the meeting as an honored guest. Accompanying Khan at the podium is Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, another Pakistani nuclear scientist who had met with Osama bin Laden the year before (see 2000). He will meet with bin Laden again shortly before 9/11 and advise him on how to build a “dirty bomb” (see Mid-August 2001). [Asia Times, 6/4/2004] French journalist Bernard Henri-Levy, the author of a book about Pakistani militant Saeed Sheikh, will later claim in the Wall Street Journal that Khan was a secret member of LeT. [Wall Street Journal, 2/17/2004] The US will ban LeT after 9/11 because of its involvement in a string of attacks against India (see December 20, 2001). LeT is considered linked to al-Qaeda, and bin Laden addressed the annual LeT meeting by phone in some past years. Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the founder and leader of LeT, has publicly declared that Pakistan should share its nuclear technology with other Islamic nations, a position also advocated by Khan. In 2002, he will claim that people loyal to his organization “control two nuclear missiles.” [Asia Times, 6/4/2004]

Entity Tags: Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Abdul Qadeer Khan, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

According to a 2007 book by former CIA Director George Tenet, shortly before 9/11, the CIA learns that a Pakistani charity front has been helping al-Qaeda acquire weapons of mass destruction. The charity, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), was founded in 2000 by two prominent nuclear scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed (see 2000). UTN allegedly is conducting charitable projects in Afghanistan, but a friendly intelligence service tells the CIA that UTN is really helping al-Qaeda build weapons, especially nuclear weapons. Tenet will claim that he presses “all of our contacts worldwide to find out anything we could about the people and organizations with WMD that might be wiling to share expertise with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.” Ben Bonk, deputy chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC), meets with Musa Kusa, head of Libya’s intelligence service, and Kusa tells him that Libya had contact with UTN. “Yes, they tried to sell us a nuclear weapon. Of course, we turned them down.” According to Tenet, this confirms other information from a different intelligence agency that UTN approached Libya with an offer to provide WMD expertise. The CIA then informs the Pakistani government of this, and Pakistan brings in seven board members of UTN for questioning. But according to Tenet, “The investigation was ill-fated from the get-go” and the UTN officials “were not properly isolated and questioned.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 262-263] Also shortly before 9/11, the CIA also learns that the two nuclear scientists who founded UTN had recently met with Osama bin Laden and advised him on how to make a nuclear weapon (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001). But despite all this the US takes no other action against UTN before 9/11, not even freezing the assets of the charity until December 2001 (see Early October-December 2001).

Entity Tags: Musa Kusa, Ben Bonk, Central Intelligence Agency, Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, George J. Tenet, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Ummah Tameer-e-Nau’s headquarters in Kabul.Ummah Tameer-e-Nau’s headquarters in Kabul. [Source: CBC]In early October 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Pakistan and discusses the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. He offers US technical assistance to improve the security of Pakistan’s nukes, but Pakistan rejects the offer. Powell also says that the CIA learned of a secret meeting held in mid-August 2001 between two Pakistani nuclear scientists and al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Mid-August 2001). As a result of US pressure, Pakistan arrests the two scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, on October 23. The Pakistani ISI secretly detains them for four weeks, but concludes that they are harmless and releases them. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 264-268; Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 269-271] In mid-November, after the Taliban is routed from Kabul (see November 13, 2001), the CIA takes over the headquarters there of Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), a charity founded by the two scientists. In addition to charity material, they find numerous documents and pieces of equipment to help build WMD, including plans for conducting an anthrax attack. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 322] As a result, on December 1, CIA Director George Tenet, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, head of the CIA Counterterrorist Center’s WMD branch, and a CIA analyst named Kevin make an emergency trip to Pakistan to discuss the issue. Accompanied by Wendy Chamberlin, the US ambassador to Pakistan, Tenet meets with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and urges him to take stronger action against the two scientists and their UTN charity. Musharraf reluctantly agrees, and the two men are rearrested. According to a 2007 book by Tenet, after being tested by a team of US polygraph experts and questioned by US officials, “Mahmood confirmed all we had heard about the August 2001 meeting with Osama bin Laden, and even provided a hand-drawn rough bomb design that he had shared with al-Qaeda leaders.” During the meeting, an unnamed senior al-Qaeda leader showed Mahmood a cannister that may have contained some kind of nuclear material. This leader shared ideas about building a simple firing system for a nuclear “dirty bomb” using commercially available supplies. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 264-268; Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 269-271] However, on December 13, the two scientists are quietly released again. The US does not officially freeze UTN’s assets until December 20, and Pakistan apparently follows suit a short time later (see December 20, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 12/24/2001; Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 271]

Entity Tags: Wendy Chamberlin, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pervez Musharraf, Al-Qaeda, Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, Colin Powell, George J. Tenet, Osama bin Laden, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

After US forces conquer Kandahar, Afghanistan, in early December 2001, al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida gets Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) to help al-Qaeda operatives escape from Afghanistan to Pakistan. LeT has already given operatives safe houses in the Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Muzaffarabad, trained them there, and helped them travel to Afghanistan to fight US troops. This is according to US government documents leaked by the nonprofit whistleblower group Wikileaks in 2011. These documents provide some details:
bullet In 2002, three suspected al-Qaeda operatives are arrested in a safe house in Lahore, Pakistan, run by a LeT member. This person had been helping al-Qaeda operatives and their families move to Lahore. Pakistani officials transfer the three al-Qaeda suspects to US custody, but they release the LeT member. [Express Tribune, 5/12/2011]
bullet On December 11, 2001, a Saudi named Abdul Aziz al-Matrafi is arrested by police at the Lahore airport. Al-Matrafi is the director of the Wafa Humanitarian Organization, a non-profit organization that the US officially designated an al-Qaeda front in late September 2001 (see September 24, 2001). Al-Matrafi had been staying at an LeT linked non-profit in Lahore, and LeT provided him with a visa and exit paperwork to leave Pakistan. Al-Matrafi is handed over to US custody several days later, and he will eventually be sent to the US-run prison in Guantanamo. [US Department of Defense, 10/25/2007; Express Tribune, 5/12/2011]
bullet A Saudi named Jabir Hasan Mohammad al-Qahtani, a suspected al-Qaeda operative who also works for the Wafa Humanitarian Organization, is captured in Kabul, Afghanistan, in mid-November 2001. He is discovered to possess 16 $100 bills. He will later be transferred to the Guantanamo prison. An intelligence analyst will later note: “There were individuals passing out $100 notes to al-Qaeda fighters fleeing Afghanistan for Pakistan. This may have been a part of the help that LeT provided al-Qaeda members.” [US Department of Defense, 2/11/2005; Express Tribune, 5/12/2011]
bullet When al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan, on March 28, 2002 (see March 28, 2002), more than 30 other suspected al-Qaeda operatives are arrested at the same time. These arrests take place in two safe houses in Faisalabad run by LeT. The safe houses are apparently run by Hamidullah Khan Niazi, an educational professor and head of the LeT in Faisalabad. Niazi’s house is raided at the same time, and he and 11 others are arrested. According to media reports shortly after the raid, electronic intercepts show that Niazi’s home phone was used by Lashkar-e-Toiba members to help al-Qaeda. However, Niazi and the others at his house are released several days later. [Observer, 4/7/2002; New York Times, 4/14/2002; US Department of Defense, 11/11/2008] But The Observer reports that local police nevertheless say Niazi’s “apparent links to Zubaida are evidence that Pakistan’s militant Islamic fringe is providing key assistance to al-Qaeda as it tries to regroup.” [Observer, 4/7/2002]
bullet In 2003, the London Times will report, “US intelligence says [Lashkar-e-Toiba] smuggled [Zubaida] out of Afghanistan, taking advantage of the fact that police never stop their distinctive Landcruisers, which have tinted windows and Free Kashmir numberplates.” [London Times, 3/30/2003]
As some of the examples above indicate, al-Qaeda operatives are often taken into US custody while LeT members are often let go, even though the US names LeT a terrorist group in December 2001 (see December 20, 2001). This may be due to ties between LeT and the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. For instance, a 2009 diplomatic cable by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will note continued links between the ISI and LeT (see December 2009).

Entity Tags: Abdul Aziz al-Matrafi, Abu Zubaida, Hamidullah Khan Niazi, Jabir Hasan Mohammad al-Qahtani, Al-Qaeda, Wafa Humanitarian Organization, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

A terrorist lies dead near the entrance to the Indian Parliament building.A terrorist lies dead near the entrance to the Indian Parliament building. [Source: R. V. Moorthy]The Indian Parliament building in New Delhi is attacked by Islamic militants. Fourteen people, including the five attackers, are killed. India blames the Pakistani militant groups Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Toiba for the attacks. Twelve days later, Maulana Masood Azhar, head of Jaish-e-Mohammed, is arrested by Pakistan and his group is banned. He is freed one year later. [Agence France-Presse, 12/25/2001; Christian Science Monitor, 12/16/2002] The Parliament attack leads to talk of war, even nuclear war, between Pakistan and India, until Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf cracks down on militant groups in early January. [Daily Telegraph, 12/28/2001; Wall Street Journal, 1/3/2002; Guardian, 5/25/2002] As a result of the rising tensions, Pakistani troop deployments near the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan are halted, allowing many al-Qaeda and Taliban to escape into Pakistan (see December 10, 2001). It appears that Saeed Sheikh and Aftab Ansari, working with the ISI, were also involved in the attacks. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002]

Entity Tags: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Maulana Masood Azhar, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Saeed Sheikh, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Aftab Ansari

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Red Fort in Delhi, India, shortly after being attacked in 2000.The Red Fort in Delhi, India, shortly after being attacked in 2000. [Source: BBC]The US officially blocks the assets of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), a Pakistani militant group, and Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), a Pakistani charity front. [White House, 12/20/2001] LeT has frequently attacked targets in India with the tacit support of the Pakistani government. For instance, LeT took credit for an attack on the Red Fort in Delhi in 2000 that killed three people. [BBC, 3/17/2006] But the US fails to mention Pakistani government support for LeT, particularly long-time support by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who is now president of Pakistan (see 1993-1994). The Pakistani government officially bans LeT one month later. But the group changes its name to Jamaat-ud-Dawa and continues operating, though less openly than before. It is said to be closely linked to al-Qaeda. The US action comes just days after LeT was implicated in an attack on the Indian parliament (see December 13, 2001). [Asia Times, 6/4/2004] India will blame the group for major attacks in 2003 and 2005 that each kill about 60 people. [BBC, 3/17/2006] UTN was founded by Pakistani nuclear scientists (see 2000). The CIA was aware before 9/11 that UTN had proposed selling a nuclear weapon to Libya (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001), and that two UTN scientists met with Osama bin Laden (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001), so it is not known why the US waited until now to act against it.

Entity Tags: Pervez Musharraf, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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